Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Never Eat Alone, The Simple Dollar, PosiPair, and Building Your/My Company.

For awhile now I've subscribed via email to the free newsletter called "The Simple Dollar". The author Trent Hamm is, as I am, learning constantly about how to live on less, what in life is most important, and how to write well. You can see why I find his site helpful.

He's also done a series of book reviews that I've found really useful. His most recent, "Never Eat Alone" by Keith Ferrazzi sparked my interest enough to get the book from the library. The main point of the book is that people are your main source of success, whether personal, professional, community, family, or other. And the larger the network (the sincere type, not the sleazy type) you can create, the more success you will have.

I heard this echoed in person today, when the CEO of PosiPair, Sarah Manski, agreed to meet me for an hour at Ancora to discuss my business idea, which started as the nightlight and has grown to create a portal for dual use educational products. She was a MAJOR help in the next set of steps I should take. She is launching an internet company, an online marketplace for the green economy, and is about a year ahead of me, so I'm able to sort of walk in her footsteps.

We first met because she wanted feed back from potential customers about her idea. I told her everything I could from my perspective, then came home more excited than ever to start my own business. About the same time I attended the All Things LIfe Sciences venture capital forum and decided to take the leap.

Let me share with you some of Sarah's advice to me today in the hopes it might also help those of you who are starting a business this year. These are the ideas she suggested.

1. For the past year, much of her work has been building a network of business owners, investors, potential customers, etc. She has set a goal of three one hour meetings a day and says nothing else she has done could match how helpful that's been. She gets new ideas from each contact. She suggested I make a list of people that might help, such as some of the baby/learning stores in the area and ask the owners what sells, what doesn't, and what some of the voids are in the market.

2. I should consider entering the Governor's Business Plan competition, for which she was a finalist last year and got free office space as her award. The initial entries, just 500 words, is due in December, so I am going to look into that. Many states have something similar so even if you're not from Wisconsin, a quick google search can give you some leads.

3. I need to get a URL with some sort of .com address soon. I'm still stuck on a the perfect name - suggestions?

4. I should be CEO (which was my plan) because there are many CEO breakfasts that are networking events that only CEO's can go to. She also said when you call someplace and identify yourself as a CEO, you're much better positioned to talk to the CEO of that company.

5. There is an early stage company symposium coming up that will have a number of venture capitalists. She suggested I have business cards by then and try to attend.

6. I already have enough to submit my application to the mentor program. She said they don't expect a full out business plan and the a 500 word summary is enough. There are lots of these mentoring programs, so look into this if you haven't already. Two heads are better than one, and if one has already built a successful company, that's like having three or more heads;-). SCORE has a lot of mentor programs and the Small Business Administration can be a great source as well. So I will have this sent off by next Tuesday

7. Starting a website can run around $2,000 for a basic website with a shopping cart, but to start getting custom work gets into numbers like $20,000 to $100,000. And even the $20,000 would not include user testing and scalability if you need to be able to have hundreds of thousands of people checking your site after an article in The New York Times comes out.

8. I should build the website using drupal as it has a good security track record and most of the programmers I might eventually hire would be familiar with it. It's also very standardized. She mentioned Obama may be switching many government programs to this system.

9. I should have a media tab on my site- so I can do press released on anything from the launch to any grants or presentations or other news. She highly recommended getting a media list to email all the press releases to. She's been on television and radio and she said much of this was having a well-put together story that makes it easy for media to slot you in.

10. I will need to do a lot of consumer research and ask parents what they want to see in the the dual use educational market, what they would buy and what they wouldn't and why.

11. The hardest part is to get people to come to your site. What else do you offer other than buying the product? Here there could be educational news, interviews, blogs, early childhood studies, etc.

So in closing, I have a lot of homework for the next few weeks. Thanks Sarah from Posi-Pair for all your time and suggestions. And thanks Trent for the book review, which helped me find a book I probably would never have otherwise.

Best wishes! Eileen

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