Last night I attended the second Startup School (a.k.a. v2.0) presented by Voodoo Ventures and Tulane Entrepreneurship Association. Chris Schultz and Will Donaldson did a great job (I particularly liked Will’s attention to detail with his signage: see left), and attendance was more than double the first Startup School.
Speakers included Robbie Vitrano of Trumpet Group, Chris Schultz of Voodoo Ventures, Kyle Berner of Feelgoodz, and Chris Reade of Carrollton Technology Partners. These are some really talented guys, and it’s always a pleasure to hear them speak. Chris (Schultz) had some great advice about building your company NOW instead of waiting for a visit from the funding fairy. It’s more important to get customer #1 in the door than it is to do just about anything else. In a wiki post about bootstrapping, Chris says “Raising capital is hard. It’s distracting and time consuming. What if you put that effort into getting customer number one?”
Very good advice, especially when you consider how much everything changes if your company accepts VC funding. Another comment Chris made that resonated with me is this: charge more. He says that young entrepreneurs often charge too little for their services, and tend to undervalue their time. Though it’s probably true that when you start out you’ll be doing a lot of work for free, as Chris very wisely points out, you should continually raise your rates as you take on more work. You only have so many hours in the day; how long can you afford to keep working without making any money?
Kyle’s presentation was quite entertaining, and if you ever happen to meet him be sure to ask about the hotdog vending business he took over (after learning that working in the corporate world really is just like Office Space). This leads to a conversation wtih a world-travelling backpacker, who inspires Kyle to sell his car, buy a one-way ticket to Thailand and, well, the rest is history. (You can actually read Kyle’s story here.)
Enter Feelgoodz, a fair-trade brand of flip-flops imported from Thailand, and a company that’s breaking ground with a brand new business model–one that didn’t exist until Kyle invented it. I’m inspired by this story, because my own company is built upon a model I haven’t been able to find anywhere else, and until yesterday I believed this was not only a problem, but something I needed to fix. Now I’m of the opinion that doing something entirely new is a good thing, even if it’s arguably more difficult than creating a company based on a business model that already exists.
While Kyle encouraged the audience to think about their 30 year plan–the grand, crazy vision you have that motivates you to keep working every day–Chris Reade brought us back into the present with “the nuts and bolts” of starting a business. His presentation was a large part of the reason I came out for Startup School v2.0, because the first time I heard his talk I missed half of it, because I was determined to find the damn online LLC form that, as it turns out, is no longer available on the Secretary of State’s website.
Chris Reade has, as he puts it, “made every mistake you can possibly make” when it comes to starting a business. In his first company, there were 8 partners, they leased exorbitantly expensive office space, and burned the $80K given to them by friends and family, putting them out of business within six months. One way to learn things quickly is by screwing them up, and it sounds like he had a highly instructive crash course in “what not to do” when starting out in entrepreneurship.
If you ever get a chance to hear Chris Reade’s talk, I highly recommend it. Especially if you’re in the beginning stages of starting your first business. He’s funny, and smart, and knows a whole hell of a lot about what you need to be thinking about in the first few months of getting a venture up and running. Hopefully I haven’t ruined the entertainment value of his talk by relating parts of the story above, but at the very least you should go hear him in order to learn all the “relevant to your business” pieces I seem to have left out.
All the presenters were great, but I’d have to say the best part about Startup School v2.0 was the last half of the evening, when everybody got up to pitch their business. There were some really great ideas and smart people in that room, including companies like The Deltree, Cool Hand Nuke and PolicyPitch.com. My own presentation was something of a nightmare, but everybody was really nice (thanks for that, guys), and somehow figured out what the f-ck I was talking about, which gave me a lot of encouragement. I’m glad I had the opportunity to make a badly mangled pitch–the more times I do it, the better it will (hopefully) get–and I appreciate everyone’s encouragement and feedback.
Speaking of feedback, Will Scott was really, really helpful and had tons of great suggestions for virtually every idea that was pitched. Listening to him was one of the best and most instructive parts of the entire evening, and if you want to experience this for yourself you should follow him on twitter.
Overall, I was really impressed with Startup School, in spite of the tragic lack of beer. (I blame lack of beer for my awful, largely incoherent pitch, which was only slightly more useful than the VoodooTEQ website that exists but is entirely devoid of content.) Don’t forget to register for the Startup School v2.0 workshop on February 7th, and you might want to check out TEA’s website for details about the Tulane Business Plan competition. Pictures from last night are up on Facebook, and I hear there’s a video of the entire event, which I hope never to have to see in the name of maintaining my self respect. Toastmasters, here I come.
A while back, I started a Ning group called Louisiana 2.0, and had just about given up on the whole idea (of the Ning group, not the larger idea that motivated me to start it), but now two more people have joined the group. This may not seem like a big deal, but when you think about the fact that 2 people represents a 50% increase (more if you don’t count me as a member, which maybe you shouldn’t), and that these people not only joined the group without me asking them to, but even invited other people to join, well, makes me hestitate to write the site off as a failure before I give it a chance.
Louisiana Needs a Technology Database
That’s how this whole thing started. I was at lunch with Chris Schultz and Geoff Daily a few weeks ago, and one of the things that came out of our conversation was galvanizing me to make something happen toward cataloging all the awesome technology companies, initatives and resources we have going on in Louisiana. See Chris’s original Louisiana 2.0 blog post that was the inspiration for the Ning group’s name.
We’ve gone back and forth about the best way to go about collecting information for the tech database, and what platform we should use. Eventually, it should look something like Tech Crunch, maybe, which of course Ning is never going to be. That said, at one point I decided that the Ning group was part of a two pronged plan, which would eventually result in the Lousiana 2.0 database (which will probably be built with a wiki).
But then, I changed my mind.
Does Ning ever work? For anybody?
Okay. I know the answer to this question. Of course there have been successful Ning groups. Look at the Book Marketing Network, for one. This group was part of the reason I thought Ning would be a good idea for Louisiana 2.0, because the point is to create a platform for technology companies and geeks to promote themselves and find one another. The fact that you could search “author of three books” and come up with a list of results in the Book Marketing Network (try it–you’ll see), made me think that maybe you could search “ISP small business web host” and find what you were looking for in the Louisiana 2.0 network. Ultimately, that’s what I’d like to see happen.
Because right now, if you’re looking for some kind of technology product or service, you probably haven’t even bothered to look for it in Louisiana. For the most part, people assume they’re never going to find it here, because it simply doesn’t exist. This assumption is false, at least in part. My experience has been that a surprising array of technology companies exist in the state. But you’d be right to assume you’re never going to find what you’re looking for–not because it doesn’t exist, but because there’s no good way to go about finding it. There is no searchable database of technology companies in the state.
The question isn’t whether or not we need such a database. The question is how to go about building it when you’re one person and have zero money with which to build it. Hence, Louisiana 2.0 (beta) on Ning.
Louisiana 2.0 (beta) on Ning – Worth the Effort?
At first I was starting to think no, it’s not worth it. But then Paul Chaney joined, and reminded me exactly why this needs to be done in the first place. I’ve been so lucky to have worked with people in Lafayette, especially from Bizzuka, because they (along with the Greater Lafayette Business Journal, LITE, LANtec and others) made it possible for me to organize an LTC event in their city. And although the LTC thing seems to have died on the vine (that is a story for another post, and by “story” I mean “rant”), the relationships that were started as a result of this effort don’t need to. I think we’re finally ready to get over the political bullshit, the my city is better than yours attitude, and realize that we are stronger by working together, and if we cooperate we can start competing not at the local, New Orleans vs. Baton Rouge vs. Lafayette level where nothing important will ever come out of winning these childish games, but at the national level, where Louisiana AS A STATE becomes a viable economic competitor, particularly in the technology arena. We. Can. Do. This. “We” being the operative word.
So perhaps Louisiana 2.0 (beta) on Ning could be the start of making the invisible spirit of cooperation (that I know exists, you people can’t deny it anymore) visible. Tangible, albeit in a virtual, electronic way. But you’ve got to start somewhere if you’re going to build a network out of the relationships between cities, and between people. Maybe this is a viable first step?
Finally, after many many months of inaction, I’m finally following through on my promise to start at NetSquared group in New Orleans. Thanks to Javier for introducing me to Britt Bravo, and to both of them for blogging about it way back in March. Talk about making someone accountable! There’s even a picture, so no way I could deny that it was me. (Not the most flattering picture ever taken, but it’s already floating around on the internet so it’s not like I can keep anyone from seeing it.)
I’m really excited about Net2NO, and can’t wait to see how the first meetup goes. I’ve already met some amazing people as a result of this initiative; I look forward to actually meeting them in person.
If you’re not familiar with NetSquared, it’s a project of TechSoup.org and the goal is to “spur responsible adoption of social web tools by social benefit organizations…tools that make it easier than ever before to collaborate, share information and mobilize support. These tools include blogs, wikis, RSS feeds, podcasting and more.” Visit the NetSquared website for in-depth information about the project. (And to see the post about Net2NO that’s currently on their homepage! As of today, anyway.)
Although NetSquared is officially aimed at helping nonprofit organizations, I personally would like Net2NO to be a resource for startups, as well. In an invitation to members of Search Marketing Group – New Orleans, I emphasized the fact that you don’t have to be a nonprofit to particpate (and benefit from) the meetup. That’s because my interpretation of NetSquare’s mission is a little different than what’s being done in other cities–New Orleans’ situation is unique. Our needs aren’t the same as everyone else’s. Let me explain.
As far as I’m concerned, a “social change organization” in New Orleans is anyone who is working to make our city a better place to live, work, and start a business. Chris Schultz has some great posts about the “startup ecosystem” in New Orleans, and I think this is one of the most important things happening to New Orleans right now. My experience with nonprofits has been primarily in economic development, so I see helping a business grow–essentially helping a company make money–as being a legitimate mission of a nonprofit organization.
GNO, Inc., The Idea Village, Louisiana Technology Council, and virtually every Chamber of Commerce in the state are examples of nonprofits working to help companies grow. This is important, and it’s not just about increasing revenue. Economic development affects the very fabric of society, because it has an impact on the kind of people who decide to live here. The makeup of our economy determines the makeup of our community.
If, as has been done in the past, we focus on the business of tourism, we have a bunch of “tourism” related jobs. So the people who live here are the people who work in restaurants and bars, serving food, mixing drinks, shucking oysters. They’re the people who work in hotels, cleaning rooms, checking in guests, parking cars. They’re the people who work in t-shirt shops in the Quarter–specifically on Bourbon Street–selling shirts, selling beads, and yelling at you for donning a mask to take pictures (without buying it.)
This is awesome. These people make the city an interesting place to live, and they’re good at what they do. I can’t imagine our city without them. But they’re not nerds. Or geeks. Or entrepreneurs. They’re not making six figures, and they’re certainly not going to live in any of the condos people like Donald Trump seem to think need to be built here.
Something is missing. Do you see?
Where are all the professionals? The doctors, the lawyers, the IT companies. You can’t build a city on tourism alone. Can you imagine a city populated solely by tourists and the people who serve them? Summertime in New Orleans would be desolate, even more of a ghost town than it already is at the sweltering height of mid-August. Somebody needs to focus on the rest of the economic picture, because a society needs all kinds of people to thrive. And if the state, or the city, or whoever is in charge of making decisions about which industries to support with public funding, doesn’t do anything to encourage innovation and help create the kinds of jobs that bring (and keep) talented people here, then who is? Well, we are.
It’s not much, but groups like NetSquared New Orleans are a venue for people like us to hang out. It gives us a reason to keep on keepin’ on, when there’s little on the horizon to give us hope. I have little faith in the leadership of local officials, but I have a LOT of faith in our own ability to make amazing things happen. Startups are fragile creatures; they need support. And community. Just like nonprofits do. And New Orleans needs innovative businesses as much as it needs effective nonprofits, so Net2NO must be inclusive if it’s going to make a difference worth getting excited about.
That’s my vision for NetSquared New Orleans. Nerds and idealists unite! We don’t need good policy to succeed here. (Though obviously that would be nice.) What we need is a way to collaborate, and I hope Net2NO can help.
I’m reposting this from elsewhere, so forgive me if it seems out of context. Originally posted on Search Marketing Group – New Orleans ning site, and I believe it may have been a wasted effort because no one will ever see it there. Perhaps it will have a better chance of being read here. Perhaps. Even if it doesn’t make sense.
It’s been a while since the SEM New Orleans group had a meetup–it’s about time we got together, don’t you think?
That’s why I would like to invite all of you to the first meetup of NetSquared New Orleans, which will take place Tuesday, September 2nd at 7 p.m.
Location is still TBD, but will likely be near the CBD. I’m working on finding a sponsor to subsidize food and/or (ideally) booze. Failing that, at least there will be great company, conversation, and it’s a chance to network with technology people. Keep reading to find out what you can expect.
If you’re not familiar with NetSquared, it’s an initiative of TechSoup.org designed to encourage the adoption of social web tools–blogs, wikis, social networks, podcasts, et al–by “social change organizations.” This generally means nonprofits, but I think in New Orleans any innovative company, startup, or networking group like the one James Capparell started for SEM here, really qualifies as a social change organization.
It doesn’t matter if you are working for a nonprofit or a business.
The goal is to engage people like the members of this group, get them in a room together, and have a discussion. This will build stronger relationships in support of whatever you’re trying to improve in New Orleans, and improving our economy by building a successful, thriving business here is a good way to go.
And of course all social media tools are related to SEO/SEM. Clearly you all should be there. The format will be open–we want to encourage discussion–and this group has a lot of expertise to bring to the table. (If you’re already convinced, either email me at email@example.com or register at the Net2NewOrleans Meetup Site. Otherwise, keep reading.)
Now New Orleans will have a NetSquared Meetup Group. Just like “real” cities.
Net Tuesdays are monthly meetups for NetSquared members and friends: “Social changemakers and technological forerunners come together at Net Tuesday events to mix, swap stories and ideas, build new relationships, and reinforce the online NetSquared (http://www.netsquared.org) community.” These events are the real world component of the Net2 project, and they happen in cities all over the globe. Atlanta, Austin, Chicago, Houston, LA, New York, DC, Vancouver–you get the idea.
It’s the same thing James was doing when he started SEM New Orleans after moving to the city. I know there are enough of us here who are interested in events and groups like this–but it needs your support if it’s going to be a success.
The topic is going to focus on blogging, building communities, and transparency.
Chris Schultz of Voodoo Ventures has offered to lead the discussion and/or present to the group. We want this to be more like a BarCamp, though, so please come expecting to contribute.
Details are still being worked out, and suggestions are welcome.
I’ll do my best to create an agenda, find a sponsor, and will let you know when a location has been confirmed. (I have ideas for potential venues, but by all means tell me if you know of a good option.) What I really need from you all is confirmation that you’re going to be there, and what you’d like to talk about/take away from the meetup.
You can register at the Net Tuesday N.O. Meetup Site. Or if you’re a member of the Revitalization Social Aid & Pleasure Club (also on ning), you can RSVP on the event page I created on their network. (This ning group doesn’t have events enabled, but if James could fix that I’ll enable RSVPs here.)
Attendance will probably need to be capped at about 40 people. Please RSVP soon. If you’re even vaguely interested let me know ASAP. Again, you can contact me, Jessica Rohloff, at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Thanks so much for reading this excessively long post. I look forward to hearing from all of you! Please spread the word if you can.
Organizer – NetSquared New Orleans
P.S. If you use Twitter (which you should), follow Net2NO so you can communicate with attendees and stay up to date on details as they progress. You can also follow me: jeskaNOLA.
The first big project I’ve been asked to take on in my new role as Development Coordinator for the Legacy Donor Foundation is writing “presale” letters for our upcoming fundraiser, Soul Revival. Basically, this is our first “ask” for sponsorship dollars and ticket orders. It’s the first step in our campaign to raise $300,000 with this event.
Because I have no idea what I’m doing, and decided to rewrite our old letters from scratch, I spent a lot of time researching best practices for crafting a fundraising letters. Here are some of the best free resources I found. Maybe somebody else can benefit from the time I spent digging this stuff up. So here you go.
(I could just summarize my research, I suppose, but instead I’m just linking to the original authors. They know what they’re talking about, I don’t. Not to mention I’m not sure about the whole copyright/plagiarism thing when it comes to blogging and internet resources in general. You’ll notice the same themes come up over and over again, so presumably these suggestions must work. I’ll post again six months from now with my own position, when we’ve had time to see the results.)
- Top 8 Tips for Writing a Fundraising Letter – From nonprofit.about.com. A very straightforward and easy to absorb checklist of ways to improve your letter. Definitely worth a read (especially because it’s so easy to skim.)
- Fundraising letters that connect with your donors – You can thank The Fundraising Coach for this one. Be sure to check out other pages on this site; there’s a lot of good, free information.
Okay, so there are only two so far, but I’ll add more later when I find them. I was doing a recap of my research, and this is as far as I got before deciding to write this post.
Please feel free to share thoughts or other resources! I’ll add them to the list.
Evidently Pandora announced today that they would rather shut down than continue to pay 70% of their revenue in royalty fees in order to bring music to their listeners.
I first read about this on Twitter, when @BrittBravo posted a link to this article from TechCrunch. Here’s the comment I posted:
@David Damore That is exactly the question I think we should be asking: what can we do to help? Maybe Pandora can do a feasibility study for alternate revenue streams. At least to cover the costs of certain artists/labels who overcharge for the rights to play their music. Like if there’s an artist you truly love, maybe you pay $5 a year to add them to your station.
Or sell artist merchandise through the site. Or have “reseller” opportunities for bloggers who would like to provide Pandora as a service. Or only play music from artists and labels who don’t charge (then it’d be up to us to put pressure on the ones to do overcharge, and get them to come back).
I don’t know. It’s a complicated issue, and I’m not familiar with the regulations/laws/etc. But there’s got to be a way to keep Pandora around, and whatever it is will likely be one of the first steps toward a major revolution in the music industry (which is coming anyway).
A lot of people have argued (okay, maybe not a lot, I only saw one and am extrapolating) that music shouldn’t be free, implying that Pandora’s model–and the movement toward free music in general–means there’s no way to make money as an artist. This is simply not true. You just need to rethink the way that money is made in the music industry.
Just because I can download free mp3s of a band that I like, doesn’t mean that they’re never going to get any money from me. I LOVE live shows. Let me have your music, and let me know when you’re in town, and I’ll buy a ticket. Sell merchandise. Sell your music on vinyl. Or special collections. Or whatever it is that bands like Radiohead do to make money when they put music out for free.
There’s got to be a way to preserve Pandora’s place on the web. They can’t give in. How will I ever find new music?! Please don’t make me go back to the way it was before Pandora revolutionized my life, and fundamentally changed my relationship to music. It’d be a step backward in the evolution of the species. (Or internet. Music industry. You know.)
So who has a great idea and can fix this? Somebody does. Out with it! We need you.
Where to start? This blog has no purpose or direction as yet: there’s no theme, it lacks clearly defined goals, and I certainly don’t have a strategy or update schedule. Who knows what’s going to happen? And right now, who cares?
As the site evolves, patterns may emerge, and I’m sure it’ll be fascinating from some vantage point in the future, as we pause to reflect on everything that’s happened. In the meantime, though, let’s enjoy this for what it is–a blank slate, tabula rasa, a boulder perched high atop a mountain bursting with potential energy. Pure opportunity.
A website without content is not empty. It’s full of potential. Rife, even. Which brings me to my first and final point:
Blank Page = High Pressure