Category: Startup Tips

Zaplee: An Update

I wrote a post a week or so ago that introduced Zaplee – very exciting software that gives small and medium sized businesses access to call centers via Skype which does away with expensive infrastructure and significant delays in setup. A free trial has literally just been launched via Skype Extras. Check it out! https://extras.skype.com/1091/view

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3Luxe: A $500K Virtual Investment

3Luxe.com is a product search engine with a difference…other search engines use algorithms, numbers and fractions as the cogs and wheels to regurgitate a whole string of very near misses to everyone that plugs in a search phrase. 3Luxe uses no algorithms or numbers…it more relies on the taste and interpretive skills of its founder and pooled review site results to determine the top 3 products currently available. 

Like Flash floor cleaner and hundreds of P&G commercials, draw a line down the middle of your computer screen and compare and contrast – on one side you have a big complicated machine delivering a homogenized gloop of product results to anyone that asks and on the other side of the screen, the three best products in any given category according to the 3Luxe founders.

Business Model:

  • Advertising from key manufacturers who are ultimately lucky enough to have their product/s in one of the top three results
  • Affiliate links with Amazon or Shopzilla et al when people take the next step after the search and review and treacle forward towards purchase
  • Google ads (ugh!)

Some Core Functionality/Elements:

  •  Um…Search!
  • 3 Results only of perhaps the most expensive but kick butt products you can find in any given category
  • Thumbs up or thumbs down vote for any of the items returned
  • A very cool drop down of review results from cnet and others, along with consumer reviews from other sites
  • Bookmarking
  • Send to friend
  • Comment posting for all items

Likes:
Like, Like, Like.  This site is well built, thoughtful, intuitive and not surprising the Worple Brothers have got it right…I say not surprising because Doug Worple, the CEO is another former proctoid that went on to create what looks to be a very cool creative / advertising agency called Barefoot.  Like it or not, the great advertising agencies are helping to shape the tastes and desires of us all…so is it a shock that by combining their own tastes for items with consumer reviews from multiple sites they are delivering product results that actually seem to be the best 3 luxury items.  I guess my original concern was “What makes these guys able to choose the best three items that I’m going to like?” – but in a sense, better to combine the science of review sites such as cnet with some degree of taste than relying upon the Google number crunchers. This business model opens up a number of now obvious business opportunities i.e. segmented product search engines according to demographics – so now we have the ‘A’ search engine, anyone up for creating the ‘B1′ product search engine?

Dislikes/Suggestions:

  • The home page has more of a ‘website’ than a search engine feel.  You could argue that this is so different that going for the minimalist search format is wrong – but the current look and feel of the home page is almost of a templated website.
  • Taking a note from P&G brand training – too many fonts, and no clear obvious focus for the eye causes confusion in terms of what are the priorities on the page.  We have caps competing with flowing scripts with more modern fonts, moving photos and all in all its a great concept which, from a design perspective, needs some tweaks.

My Virtual Investment:
With my virtual $1M, I would consider it a luxury if I were able to make a $500K virtual investment in 3Luxe. Good luck Guys!

http://www.3Luxe.com

Interested in other articles about Its Our Movie?

Andrew – Founder
http://www.AdvisorGarage.com/community

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Overcoming Isolation as a Home Business Owner

As a home business owner, you will be faced with many obstacles. One of the most unexpected challenges for many home business owners is the feeling of isolation. New and seasoned home business owners encounter feelings of being isolated from the rest of the world, and even loneliness, at some point during their careers. The quiet home office is certainly a change from a populated office space at previous jobs.

Owning and operating a small business from home has many advantages, but working in an office with others has the social aspect that a home office lacks. This social aspect is a double-edged sword; most home business owners chose to work from home based on office politics or the independence that comes from going solo. Like it or not, co-workers, colleagues, and supervisors did keep you company at your old job.

How can you fight these feelings when your home office is quiet and you’ve been working alone for hours on end? The key is to feel as though you are part of society while not being distracted. There should be a balance between interruptions and total solitude. There are a few ways that you can feel as though you’re not the Lone Ranger while remaining productive.

Turn On the Radio or Television

Depending on your level of distraction and whether you are taking telephone calls, you could turn on the radio or television to keep you company. Light classical music works wonders, and some people find that having background noise helps cure loneliness. Other people find they get caught up in what is on television or are distracted by music.

Take the Dog (or Cat) to Work

The family dog or cat will definitely keep you company. Dogs are great, because you can also take them out for a walk to get some fresh air. Cats are perfect, as they are usually not distracting and need little attention to be content. If you have no pets, it may be a good time to consider getting one, simply for the companionship they provide. Unlike humans, pets do not require conversation to be companions.

Arrange Business Lunches

Arranging business lunches with clients and colleagues is a great way to network, build relationships, and socialize. Pleasant afternoon coffee outings and lunches with clients will also lead to quality word of mouth advertising. Many professional associations, including local Chambers of Commerce, have weekly or monthly business lunches. These are wonderful resources for new business and to simply get out and meet people in your community.

Join an Online Home Business Forum

There are forums online where home business owners from around the world gather to socialize and share ideas. These are a wonderful way to interact with others with little pressure to keep up a long conversation. Beware the vacuum of the Internet – hours can seem like minutes. Online communities such as Girls with Goals are huge distractions for many people; yet when visited in moderation, they are excellent a great source of human interaction.

Pick Up the Phone for Human Contact

If you are feeling isolated, call one of your clients to “touch base”. Maintaining contact with clients is always welcome; keeping open lines of communication allows you to better understand their needs while you are maintaining a positive presence.

Perhaps your line of business requires cold calling for sales or business leads. When you are feeling lonely, there is no better time to cold call potential customers and pitch your business.

You can plan a predetermined amount of time in your day for personal calls with friends and family. These calls will help you to feel as though you are still part of society even though you are working alone. Friends and family will usually be supportive and help you to remain positive during tough times. It is important to set a time limit, otherwise you may find time slipping away from your business matters.

Remember: You Are Not Alone

Every home business owner has the occasional day when they feel isolated, lonely, and even depressed because they miss daily interaction with co-workers. After hours and hours of being alone in a home office, a trip to the grocery store or dry cleaners can seem like a treat. It is important to remember that you are not alone. There are thousands of people, working frantically in their home offices who also feel isolated from time to time. Focus on your work, maintain a healthy lifestyle away from the home office, and follow these pointers. You’ll feel much better during your busy day.

__________________________

Erin Hurry
Girls with Goals
“Our Goal is Your Success”

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Word of Mouth Marketing

If you’re trying to market a product on a limited budget, you know what a challenge it can be. Why not harness the power of word of mouth marketing? Word of mouth marketing is one of the best forms of free advertising available to the cash strapped marketer.

To make word of mouth marketing work for your business, you must have a good product at a reasonable price. If customers are impressed with the value your product offers, they’ll enthusiastically spread the word to their friends and family. This is free advertising at its best! Here’s how to put the power of word of marketing to work for your business:

Girls with Goals Steps

1. When you sell a product, give your customers extra business cards or flyers to give to their friends and family. People love to share new discoveries with their acquaintances. Make it easy for them by giving them some of your sales literature.

2. Take brochures and business cards with you wherever you go. Pin them up on bulletin boards, put them into fish bowls at restaurants, and hand them to people you meet throughout the day. This is a quick and easy way to market your business. It’s a great form of free advertising.

3. Tell everyone you know what you do for a living. It’s said that every person you meet knows over 200 other people. By telling one person what you do, you’re reaching a large universe of potential customers. Use word of mouth marketing to spread the word.

4. If you get feedback from a particularly satisfied customer, ask if you can use their comments as a testimonial in your next brochure. Jot down their comments as well as their name and address. Before publishing their comments ask for their written permission by mail. After receiving their written permission, add their testimonial to your marketing brochure when you next update it.

5. Offer your customer a future discount for each person they refer to you. When your customer’s name is mentioned as a referral source, keep track of it in a notebook so you’ll remember to give that customer a discount on their next purchase from you.

6. When a customer buys a product from you, give them a coupon for a 10% discount on their next purchase. At the same time, give them several extra coupons to give to friends and family. People love discounts and will express their gratitude by giving you free advertising.

7. Always over deliver! Give your customers such amazing service that they can’t wait to tell their friends. Truly good customer service is rare these days. Go the extra mile and watch your sales skyrocket!

Isn’t it time for you to harness the power of word of mouth marketing to promote your own product or business? It’s a great form of free advertising. Give it a try and prepare for some great results.

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Startup Techniques: Understand Yourself and What the Business Needs (3)

This is the third ‘Startup Techniques’ blog posting on creating and moving your own Winning Startup Idea into the real world.  The first posting “Startup Techniques: Creating Your New Business Idea” included techniques to create your own winning startup idea and the second post “Startup Techniques: Qualifying Your New Business Idea (2)” gave some tips on how to qualify the idea to make sure it’s really the one that you should be investing your heart, soul and time on.

So what do I do next when moving a Winning Startup idea forward? If the idea has really grabbed me my temptation is to start figuring out all of the pieces that are needed to move it from idea to real business.  To start thinking about the people I’ll need to find, figuring out how to test the idea, how much money it’s going to need and the 101 other elements.  It’s at about this time when you need to figure out a few things before you start getting carried away.

Normally at the top of my list is how do I fit in with this idea?

For a product let’s consider just a few of the different steps in the process from idea to real product:

  • Developing product drawings (Engineering Skills)
  • Developing a prototype (Engineering)
  • Prototype testing (Engineering)
  • Determining how to produce it in larger quantities (Engineering)
  • Testing the Market (Marketing)
  • Determining Price Point considering the margins required by the sales channel (Marketing)
  • Sanity checking the numbers (Production costs vs. price point to sales channel) (Finance)
  • Understanding and selling the product into the sales channel (Sales)
  • Marketing the product to retailers and the end consumer (Marketing)
  • Managing the invoicing, customer service, tracking cash (Finance etc)

These are just a few broad steps on the road to making a product idea real.  This list is by no means all inclusive.  The point here is that there are multiple component parts necessary to build a business whether it’s a product, service or website.  When you are sure this idea is the one, begin to map out what the idea needs and to overlay that with your own strengths and capabilities.  This will act as a pointer for you ~ it should help make obvious who you will need to find to join the team either actually or virtually.

Thankfully whether your winning startup idea is a product, service or website there are some relatively fixed ‘categories’ that need to be considered whatever the business. Here are some of the key categories and a few thought jogging questions, there are many more:

The Customer:

  • What are their needs?
  • What are they prepared to pay for? How Much?
  • How do they buy products like this? A store / website / telephone / television? 

Competition:

  • Where do customers currently buy or go to use products like this?
  • What products or services do they offer?
  • How much do they charge?
  • How do they sell and market their products?
  • How many competitors are there?

The Product:

  • What does it need to do?
  • How will it be much better than what the competition offer?
  • Who can prototype and build it?
  • How much does it cost to produce?
  • What is necessary to produce it?
  • Who will produce it?

Sales:

  • Where will you sell this product?
  • Who will sell it for you?
  • How will you pay them? Salary or commission or both? Yes, there are sales people who will work for just commission (Blog Post to come)

Marketing:

  • How does it meet the customer need?
  • How is it better than what the competition offers?
  • How much can we reasonably charge?
  • Are we looking for volume of customers or a select group of customers?
  • What do customers need to know that will make them want to buy it?
  • What are the ways to tell potential customers about the product?
  • How much do they cost?
  • Are there any ways of telling potential customers about the products cheaply?

Some of these questions may not work for your idea but most should.  As you go through them more questions should pop up. And don’t worry if you don’t know all of the answers, you won’t. Fact. But you will probably be able to make some really educated guesses in the areas that relate to your personal strengths and won’t have a clue in those areas that are too far out of your own skills and experiences ~ another good pointer the types of people you will need to flesh out the idea and really start the tactical planning of “How to Launch Your Winning Startup Idea”. But again, that is the subject of another blog posting.

I hope this posting helps. Again, questions, comments, relevant rude remarks always welcome and ‘Yes’ this posting could have included much more, in fact, it could have gone on for at least another 50,000 words but like most entrepreneurs I have a tendency towards ADD. Let me know where I should dive deeper and I’ll do my best!

Andrew
http://www.AdvisorGarage.com/community

NOTE: I grant permission for every reader to reproduce on your website or blog the article you are now reading. But copy this article ONLY, without any alteration and please Include the copyright statement. (NOTE: I am giving permission to host on your website this article AND NO OTHERS. Reprinting or hosting my articles without express written permission is illegal, immoral, and a violation of my copyright.)“Copyright © 2007, Advisor Garage LLC. Advisor Garage Blog. All rights reserved. Permission granted to reprint this article on your website without alteration if you include this copyright statement and leave the hyperlinks live and in place.”

Startup Techniques: Qualifying Your New Business Idea (2)

Hopefully you read the previous post “Startup Techniques: Creating Your New Business Idea” and tried one of the following suggestions for coming up with your personal ‘Winning Startup Idea’.

Just as a reminder:

  1. Product Design New Application: Think of how one product or design can be re-deployed to solve other problems
  2. What If?: How could a great product or business be a ‘world class’ business? How does it need to change or improve?
  3. The Pissed Off Brainstorm: If only X did it this way….why couldn’t they just do Y?

Great!  Have you found that idea that makes sleep near impossible? THE idea that is now starting to bloom and grow in your brain whether you want to think about it or not?  If you are reading this and even now the idea is demanding attention then maybe you’ve found your own Winning Startup Idea.  Is that all there is too it?  Of course not. This is just the beginning but it is one of the most challenging elements…

The frank reality is that the idea you’ve just conceived is at the start of it’s life and I can promise you that as you move it forward, it will shift and change to the point where when it becomes ‘real’ you probably won’t even recognize it as the same idea.  That’s OK. Every winning startup idea grows up eventually when it hits the real world and spends some time with it’s initial customers. These initial steps are what this post is about.  Initial steps to take a fantastic and very personal winning startup and make it ready to be shared and experienced by it’s customers.

So here it is, your very own winning startup idea – what’s next?

At this stage I normally take a look at myself and examine whether I’m passionate enough about the idea to really grab a hold of it with both hands and push it forward no matter what.  No matter what! Any obstacle, any person telling me that it won’t or can’t happen.  There are always people who will tell you 101 reasons why your idea will fail.  If I’m only half hearted about it now then sooner or later I’ll run out of steam and waste time. My own time (forgivable) and other people’s time (unforgivable).  So this is usually the point where I decide to sleep on it.

OK, so I’ve slept on it and the first thought that pops into my head when I wake up is my winning startup idea…even while mentally sweeping out the cobwebs of sleep my brain starts to turn over the idea and look at it from different directions.  As I mull it over I start to see how it can be made better, how it could be not just a winning idea but Great one.  Yippee, this is one of those ideas – one of the one’s that even if I wanted to, I can’t push side.   That mental shot of near caffeine has happened again. Isn’t life great?

Next, I write the idea down and I don’t worry if its rough…I’m not going to use this document to raise money…just as a tool to develop the idea and test it out.  After getting every part of the idea down on paper I promise to give myself 24 hours before coming back to it. I cheat…I can’t help it, a few really interesting elements come to my mind an hour or two later and I have to add them to the document in case I lose them.  OK.  That’s it. 24 hours. Right.  So next day I read it through and see what other refinements or ideas come to mind. 

Yep, the document makes sense. So who do I know that has expertise relating to this type of business or perhaps know someone who does?  Let’s take the drive through whole food deli idea from the previous post.  Who do I know that has some business experience in restaurants?  Scratching my head the honest answer in my case is ‘no one’.  Damn! 

Lucky for me the internet has websites and forums such as Advisor Garage (http://www.AdvisorGarage.com/community) with advisors with experiences across multiple industries.  So, my next step is to find someone that really understands this space and connect with them.  Keep your own reach out at a high level, give them enough information that they can get the gist of the idea without giving away the crown jewels. Remember, not everyone is ethical out there. But likewise, without some risk, this idea will remain in your head and will never become a reality.

OK, now it’s your turn – you’ve run your winning startup idea by someone who understands the space and if you’re lucky, they’ve given you some more ideas, some contacts, told you about potential competitors and if there aren’t any, have probably told you you’re mad.  Don’t sweat ‘mad’, so was Thomas Edison and Marconi in their early days. These are your early entrepreneurial days, take pride in mad…mad is better than bored and boring while watching TV. Sorry NBC!

If there was chemistry between you and your advisor, start cultivating that person as your mentor.  Be appreciative of their experience, let them know that they could be the key to your success – they actually might be.  If they have helped you identified similar business models or competitors, make it your first business to know everything about them. What do they do, how do they do it, what do they charge and most important, what do their customers think of their product or service? See any chinks in their armor? If so great!  This tells you what you’ll need to do better to start pleasing your customers, making money and building your market.

But one person, a winning startup idea and a rough idea draft is not a business.  You’ll need some critical elements and no surprises for what they are:

  • People
  • Money
  • Product
  • Initial Customers
  • Business infrastructure

But securing those elements is material for the next few posts…if you have thoughts, questions, comments or rude remarks about the above, let me know.

Andrew
http://www.AdvisorGarage.com/community

NOTE: I grant permission for every reader to reproduce on your website or blog the article you are now reading. But copy this article ONLY, without any alteration and please Include the copyright statement. (NOTE: I am giving permission to host on your website this article AND NO OTHERS. Reprinting or hosting my articles without express written permission is illegal, immoral, and a violation of my copyright.)“Copyright © 2007, Advisor Garage LLC. Advisor Garage Blog. All rights reserved. Permission granted to reprint this article on your website without alteration if you include this copyright statement and leave the hyperlinks live and in place.”

Startup Techniques: Creating Your New Business Idea (1)

I’ve have never tried to get this very personal process down in one place before.  From idea through to a real business step by step with as many of my own personal techniques and suggestions thrown in as we go.  There are rainforest amounts of books printed about people’s startup experiences – what I’d like to try here is to write about the real techniques and steps I have been through many times before when taking a new business idea and working to move it through to a real product or service.  Hopefully a more grounded approach than some of those ‘How to’ or ‘My experience as an Entrepreneur’ books. Well, we’ll see. Questions and comments very welcome!

So, want to start a business? Have the necessary passion to start a new business but are unsure where to start? Looking for that new, innovative, winning new business idea? Or perhaps you’re waiting for divine inspiration to serve up that winning idea like money from heaven before you actually get up off that sofa and GO FOR IT.  Sorry to burst your bubble – waiting won’t make it happen.  You have to ‘create’ it yourself.  But maybe it’s closer and easier to get than you think, maybe you can come up with that idea today.

Here are a few ways that work for me – so much so that they’ve become almost unconscious processes that happen on autopilot and better yet, their easy. Give them a try.

When asked where my ideas for new business come from I often joke that it’s a ‘disease’, something which is uncontrolled, being delivered in the grey matter between my ears without conscious thought or a process.  That’s close, but not exactly how it happens.

During my first interview for a role at Procter & Gamble fresh out university one interview question still sticks with me.  The interviewer passed a glass across the table and asked me to name ten uses for it.  Use number 1 was…a glass, she was unimpressed. Use number 2 was a paper weight, (better but still no cigar), number 3 was a lens to read small print in a document and before I knew what had happened, ten different and increasingly creative (read – crazy) uses had spilled out in the interview room.  That process is not too dissimilar from the process you could try. This redeployment of one product idea (in my case stackable Pringles) into another product category (Fire Escape Ladders) helped me come up with the idea for my first company, X-IT Products to produce an idea I’d had for the world’s smallest, safest, strongest fire escape ladder.

A refinement on that creative free thinking is what we’ll call ‘What if’.  Find a product, web service or business that is in the space that you are passionate about and really impresses you.  Thought of it? 

What’s great about that business? What do you really like about it?  Now think about what would make it even better? That would take it from being a great business and make it a world class business.  Write down every idea that comes to you….when you feel yourself drying up, read through the list and see if that squeezes any more ideas out of you.  Take a read through that list and see if any light bulbs go off in your head – any really obvious improvements or refinements to that already great business?

The third approach that might work even better for you is what I’ll call the ‘Pissed Off’ brainstorm.  Has a product, service or business failed to live up to it’s promise?  Maybe they over sold you or your expectations were mis-aligned with the reality of the business.  Maybe they screwed up or the product was faulty. Perhaps they don’t exactly meet your need.  But who cares? You do, because this is an opportunity to figure out what the business or product needed to do to deliver on it’s promise, to meet and exceed your expectations.  And if they aren’t meeting your needs because of some flaw, figure out what needs to happen to solve it. 

Let’s try an example, I’m driving from New York to Philadelphia – it’s lunch time and I’m hungry.  Watching the signs as I travel, what are my options?  Ah, here we are – McDonalds, Wendy’s, Dunkin Donuts and a few no-brand obscure Italian restaurants. More often than not if I’m hungry enough, I’ll drive through and buy something.  But just once, wouldn’t it be good if I could get something that was healthier.  It’s true that most of these places sell salads but then the light bulb goes off!  Before Whole Foods selling organic and more ‘wholesome’ food, most supermarkets were similar. Whole Foods changed the supermarket ‘game’ – what about a motor way food joint that changes the game in the same way as Whole Foods?  A quick, drive through that offers freshly prepared, all organic, non-greasy, non-salad food?  As of today, at least on the routes I drive, they would be the only food chain of its type. Talk about cornering an underserved market. Surely not everyone want’s a burger or a slice of pizza? Is this a winning idea? Who know’s but it could make someone a lot of money if it takes off. Don’t forget my percentage if you make this one a reality! -)

So, there are other ways that these ideas are created but hopefully these few are good as a start, so:

  1. Product Design New Application: Think of how one product or design can be re-deployed to solve other problems
  2. What If?: How could a great product or business be a ‘world class’ business? How does it need to change or improve?
  3. The Pissed Off Brainstorm: If only X did it this way….why couldn’t they just do Y?

Try these approaches and see where they take you.  Feel free to come back and post how you get on.  Maybe then I can write an article on some ‘what to do next’ steps for your new winning idea.  When you find your winning idea then you are already further along than most ‘would be’ entrepreneurs, now to go an make it a reality. Let me know if there’s any interest in those thoughts.

Andrew
http://www.AdvisorGarage.com/community

NOTE: I grant permission for every reader to reproduce on your website or blog the article you are now reading. But copy this article ONLY, without any alteration and please Include the copyright statement. (NOTE: I am giving permission to host on your website this article AND NO OTHERS. Reprinting or hosting my articles without express written permission is illegal, immoral, and a violation of my copyright.)“Copyright © 2007, Advisor Garage LLC. Advisor Garage Blog. All rights reserved. Permission granted to reprint this article on your website without alteration if you include this copyright statement and leave the hyperlinks live and in place.”