May 15 2012

In Defense of Business Plans

John

(I’m cross posting this from my Blog since I think it makes sense here too)

An interesting conversation took place at DOCC (Denver Open Coffee Club) that easily could have filled that hour. It was about Business Plans. Those in favor of them were in the minority by a large margin. WHile I’m not 100% business plans are evil, I think they’re a crutch like Brain crack.

I didn’t chime in during the conversation, because as I said that topic alone could have filled that hour, and I love DOCC for it’s variety. That doesn’t mean i can’t expand here tho :)

And despite the title, I’m anti business plan. Tom and I started 360|Conferences without one. We’re not rocking millions worth of sales and such, but we’re doing ok.

My strongest (and it came up at DOCC) argument against a business plan is that it forces you into the conventional wisdom of the sector you’re looking to get into. Had we known about conferences we either wouldn’t have started the company, or would have started YAOC (Yet Another Overpriced Conference). But not knowing anything about events helped us to avoid that path. And frankly if you look at the market, we led the space on conferences that don’t cost an arm and a leg to attend.

I watched Tom try to do a business plan for another company (he fired me from it) and it went nowhere. He spent weeks, maybe months fussing about the business plan, making it just right etc. And since he wasn’t shopping the idea for funding the plan really just sat there.

Like I said I’m not 100% Plans are bad, it might make sense for you. But the argument that you can’t start without one is bunk. It was funny, we talked about white boarding and the pro plan folks threw out “That’s a business plan too” which i don’t know that I agree with.

So yeah, play it by ear on your needs, but if someone tells you that you won’t succeed without a business plan, they’re trying to sell you their services in writing business plans. Or they’re not running a business and are trying to scare you out of doing it too.


Jul 6 2011

Our Startup Story: Introducing Uncubed (Denver Coworking)

John

This post won’t mean much to you if your’e not in Denver. Though if you ever find yourself passing through, know that there’s a desk waiting for you, no charge.

 

I haven’t gotten bored of 360|Conferences yet, in fact after a successful and profitable 360|Flex 2011 I’m very much excited for the future of 360|Conferences. That doesn’t mean I can’t explore new avenues.

Last week we signed a lease for a large warehouse. Large like 6000 sq/ft. It’s going to be called Uncubed, and it’s a coworking (among other things) space.

There’s no shortage of coworking spaces in Denver, I won’t lie, I can think of 4 off the top of my head and know of a few more opening. That said, there really is room for more, as the ones I’ve visited so far couldn’t be more dis-similar from each and for the matter from what we’re planning to do.

Most cater to some degree to creatives, as those communities are the ones most dialed into the coworking ‘thing’, but none are exclusive to those communities. Some have plastered fliers around Denver and no doubt have a really wide range of “butts in seats”.

While making money (at least not losing it) is a huge motivator for us (as it is with any business) our primary goal will be creating a space where the right people are hanging out. A place where we’re all in one room, with comfortable chairs, fast internet, great coffee, and most importantly, people we want to be around, and want to be around us.

To put is succinctly… Makers.

 

We’re just getting started, so stay tuned. But if you’re in Denver working from home or a coffee shop or (not to be too poachy) another coworking space. Check us out, we’re all about Denver Coworking. Right now the website is just a landing page (but feel free to sign up for the email blast that will let you know more) with all the regular social links, etc.


Jun 1 2011

Our Startup Story: No Money, No Problem

James Kim

You’ve got the idea and you know all about the business solutions that are available to help get your business off the ground. Trouble is, you don’t know where to get the money. To help get your dreams of starting a new small business on track, here are some of the most common ways to get funding:

 

Personal

Before looking anywhere else, you’ll want to figure out what your options are personally. You can go to a site like guidantfinancial.com to learn how to get money through loans against your 401K or IRA funds. In addition, you can just take the traditional approach and go to a bank and get debt financing, which is just paying a set interest rate at a scheduled set of repayments. The advantage of these options is that they don’t require you to give up any control in your business and keep your reliance on others to a minimum.

 

Friends and Family

Friends and family are an ideal source to get money from if you don’t need too much. You’ll be working with people you trust and you’re bound to get a better deal from them than you would from the nearest bank. However, the most important thing to remember when getting funding from people you know is that you should always write up a contract. It might seem silly, but you really don’t want to end up in a situation where there’s a disagreement later on that breaks up your relationship.

 

Angel Investors

An angel investor is just someone who will give you money for your business in exchange for either equity or convertible debt. If you trade for equity, you lose some control over your business, but you’ll also have a partner that might be able to help move things along. In order to find angel investors, you can go to directories at places like inc.com or keiretsuforum.com.

 

Business Accelerators

Business accelerators are just companies that will usually give you around “$25,000 for a 6 percent ownership stake” in your business. However, even though you’re giving away equity, you get a lot in return. A business accelerator will teach you how to start up your business and will be a true partner. Basically, they’re going to ensure to the best of their ability that their initial investment in you pays off.

 

These common methods of funding have hopefully struck a chord with you. If you’re able to secure the funding you need, you should be well on your way to successfully starting up your business.

 

James Kim is a writer for Choosewhat.com. ChooseWhat is a company that provides product reviews and test data for business services and products.  Their goal is to help small companies make informed buying decisions on business solutions that help their business.


Nov 20 2009

8 Secrets of Success

John

Some dude I’ve never heard of, has 8 words that are the secret of success. They’re below with my thoughts on them. I found them over on Small Biz Bee.

1. Passion – Duh. If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, why are you doing it. I’ve found (although i never would have guessed it) that I’m passionate about bringing people together, helping people meet, creating an atmosphere were great things are born.

2. Work – Yeah it’s work. Doing what you love feels less like work, but it’s still work, it’s still hard. Possibly harder than a “job” since failure is on you, you don’t just punch a clock go home, and not care.


3. Focus – This is hard. Tom and I have struggled with this. We’ve been lured to Europe earlier than we probably should have (though we learned good lessons there). We’ve tried to expand into things without looking, etc. Focus is important it’s something I’m trying to get a better grasp on.


4. Persist – I can’t agree more. It’s hard, at least weekly I wonder if I should fold up. Do our last two events and try to find a job. It’s hard, we’re not making much right now, though I feel that’s on the verge of changing, i know it is, but i’m in the now financially, which is tough. I know though, if I persist and work hard and as Gary Vee would say, “Crush It” I’ll succeed.


5. Ideas – This is the fun part. I’m usually not short on ideas. Ditching paper surveys, USB Drives instead of CDs, an AIR app for surveys, etc. It’s fun to think of ways to 1. be a better company, and 2. innovate the completely whacked out, old school conference business. Some ideas are awesome, some, not so much. Tom and I are at our absolute best when we’re throwing ideas at each other, sharing the “Ah snap! That’s awesome!” moments.


6. Good – This is important. Tom is a bible thumper :) I’m not, but I do believe in Karma, and we both agreed, even before we had money to give that we’d make sure we gave 20% of each event’s profit to charity. Whether it’s a check, or service, or something else. We agreed, and as Tom moves on I intend to continue the tradition, that 10% goes to the community out event serves, and 10% will be to a charity making the world a better place. I firmly believe that any business not doing good for the world around it, isn’t doing enough. We haven’t always been in a position to write a check, and it makes us sad, but when we are, it’s the best feeling on Earth.


7. Push – This is tough. My wife pushes me. She pushes me because she wants to see me succeed, and she pushes me because she wants the company to make money so we can pay the bills. Both are incredibly important. I also push myself, for both of those reasons, but also I push myself (And I push Tom for a few more months) because I think we’re doing a good thing, and I want to continue to do that good thing.


8. Serve – Easy. Tom and I have never lost sight of who we serve. We serve two masters; sponsors, and attendees. Sponsors pay us to get in front of our attendees, to meet them, to introduce them to their product or service. Sometimes they sponsor just to help the community. But we owe it to them to make the event the best it can be, have the most attendees we can, etc. The attendees on the other hand, pay us to see and hear the speakers, to meet the rest of the community, and to learn. We owe it to them to make sure the event delivers all that and more. It’s not always easy, but we’ve never lost sight of why we do events. We do them to serve the community with something we believe it lacked. We’ll continue to serve them, until they tell us otherwise :)

I’m not sure these were necessarily secrets, but they’re truths for sure. At least in my opinion. What do you think? Are there more? Are there other ‘secrets’ you think valuable?

Watch the video it’s a good use of 3 minutes. My take away. Success is charging people $4000 to attend an event, that they they have to be invited to… ok it’s not, but damn talk about reinforcing “A fool and his money…”


Nov 5 2009

Philly Startup Leaders Interviews.

John

Jeff tweeted about this, and I had to write a post about it.

I had no idea this group/organization existed, but Philly Startup Leaders has a video  series (6 deep at the moment)

Screen shot 2009-11-04 at 9.22.21 AM

I just started watching the videos, which I plan to rip and put on my iPod (sorry youtube, but these are gonna be gold mines I’ll want offline), but what’s nice it’s not your typical tech startup schmoes talking about how great they are, how hard it is, how cash flow something to worry about tomorrow, etc.

These videos talk about real entrepreneurship (IMO), not just the sexy tech startup stuff.

Great find Jeff!


Nov 4 2009

Because you can, doesn’t mean you should

John

I read this interesting interview with the twitter Co-Founders during Startup School.

The very first sentence is what struck me. “Biz Stone: We should start with Odeo, our older podcasting service. We realized we weren’t passionate about it. We were building it but we weren’t using it.

Tom and I have had discussions about this concept a lot, especially when looking at areas we thought bringing a community focused conference to would make sense. Sometimes we’ve ruled a community/industry out because while there were no events like ours (In our opinions) there were several events already, or even one big one, that weren’t worth fighting with for mind share. But more often than not it came down to, “Are we interested in that technology or community”

Stone: I remember earlier on when we were in Odeo, Ev went home and brainstormed for a weekend and thought about how we could make a successful business out of Odeo. And I thought it was genius. We were going to be the kings of podcasting. And then I slept on it. I told him I thought his plan was genius — but I asked him: do we want to be the kings of podcasting?

A perfect example was Microsoft Silverlight. It’s a growing community, much like Flex was when we started 360|Flex. We gave some really serious thought to a 360|Silverlight. The two main reasons we didn’t. Adobe would freak out, and it wasn’t worth the drama, but more importantly did we have an interest in Silverlight? Neither of us had plans to become Silverlight developers, nor did we even plan to tinker. Silverlight was out. I do hope someone steps up and does a Silverlight event like a 360|Conference. MS Devs need that.

This quote is funny, doesn’t really have anything to do with Conferences, but makes so much sense. “Early on people said Twitter is fun. It’s not useful. And Ev retorted, ‘So is ice cream. Should we ban ice cream?’ We realized we were engaged with it. It was right up our alley.

Williams: One of our biggest lessons time after time is to focus. Almost every time I meet with a startup and I give them feedback — it’s do fewer things.

I imagine one of the most common things i’ll write about on this blog is this. I hope that as a one man shop, focus isn’t as big a problem. Tom and I tended to feed off each other when it came to tinkering. Tom’s by far more easily distracted, but I’m easily sold on new ideas :) So we’re perfect for each other in the wrong way. We love to try new things, and in a tech startup there’s less issue (but I agree, control it buddy!) but trying out a new event, that’s risky. There’s a ton of investment (money and time, and brain cycles) in creating a new event, and if it doesn’t pan out, that’s that, you’re potentially really screwed, or just out some money and time, and possibly other events suffered a lack of attention.

The entire interview is a good read, i was really impressed. Startup School as an event looks really interesting as well.


Nov 2 2009

A Bird in the Hand…

John

Tom and I had an interesting discussion the other night.

In looking at past sales Tom noted that offering a Team price, resulted in about $10,000 more in profit at the end of the day (the last day of the event, for the sake of discussion), vs. our current model of offering 100 tickets at a reduced price, typically $100-$200 off the regular price.

It was interesting because while $10,000 is certainly nothing to scoff at, at this point in the business, early sales are more important. While I hate the concept of early bird ticketing to inflate early numbers, I do like offering those who want to save some money, the opportunity, AND I like having some early money to pay the bills

So is $10,000 down the road, worth no sales, and no income in the short term? Currently, my answer is no. In the longterm, I think the answer is different, obviously I want to do right by my customers, and make money, so I’m not sure it’s ‘either or’, but I do think things with change down the road.

You?


Sep 2 2009

Motivation is hard

John

This is another blog post that has been sitting as an open tab in Firefox a long time. It’s a fairly important topic, at least for me. Having had motivation troubles as a consultant looking for new projects and now as a business owner trying to keep a good noise level going for my events.

Motivation is hard. I mean, it’s really hard sometimes to sit at your desk and think up your next blog post, or tweet, or phone call or whatever. It’s especially hard when you’re in a funk or not where you wan to be (in our case) sponsorship wise or attendee wise.

I’ll paste all of the points here and talk about them, but definitely hit up the original post, give them some traffic love for sure!

Let Fear Take Hold
Fear is one of the strongest motivators we have. The “fight or flight” response is dependent on feeling fear as its source. So, let fear work for you. If you’re genuinely concerned about what’s going to happen now that you’ve lost your job, and you don’t know where the money is coming from to pay the rent, you’re going to do whatever needs to be done. Issues that seemed to be obstacles before are going to fade to the background.

I learned this one from Friends actually. I don’t remember who said what to whom, but the jist was “quit your job, you’re not gonna get a better one or do what you want to do if you’re nice and safe in your current job” I totally agree. Sure you should save up, be prepared for the poorness and hardship, but nothing motivates you to succeed like having a mortgage payment due. A friend of mine pointed out that “people will live up to their obligations” so those companies that don’t offer high salaries because the can’t afford to hire the best, are creating a self-fullfilling prophecy. If you’ve got bills to pay you’ll do your damndest to pay them.

Keep the Finish Line In Sight

A lot of folks have a tendency to look at the next step, rather than the big picture. While this technique has its merits, it’s important to look up at the finish line occasionally. If you don’t, and you’re constantly focused on the day-to-day minutiae, you’ll eventually wonder why it is that you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s important to remember the payoff, because that’s what got you excited in the first place.

This one is a bit of a misleader as far as I’m concerned. Often i feel we’re not focused enough on small things, returning emails, calls, following up when we should etc. It’s great to not get bogged down, but don’t focus so much on the “business at large” that you don’t do what you need to do to keep it running.

Make It a Game
This one works wonders with little kids! If your goal is to clean up toys before bedtime, you parents know that it’s often beneficial to race your kids to see who can pick up the most toys in the shortest amount of time. The same thing works with yourself. If you’re training for a marathon, you can continually try to improve on your overall time, or your split times, or whatever. Find ways to measure yourself, and constantly try to set personal bests.

This I’ve never tried but it might be worth looking at. One of the biggest problems (to me) that Tom and I have is our distance, we rarely know what the other is doing, which either leads to duplication of effort or “are you pulling your weight” both are bad. But with a measurable goal and a time frame it might alleviate some stress. Of course there’s not much repercussion for failure, but we could figure something out.

Remove All Other Options
Hernán Cortés landed in Mexico in 1519 in order to secure lands for the Spanish crown. One of his first orders to his men was to burn the ships that they had arrived on. This was to remove any thoughts of retreat from their minds. When things were going poorly, the men didn’t have the option of thinking, “well, we can always go home”. This is a scary step, but sometimes it’s the only one that will work. For a person who wants to work for themselves, even if they have developed a substantial business on the side of their full-time employment, quitting that secure day job is a “burn the ships” moment. There isn’t anything to fall back on, and they have to succeed.

This kinda fits in with the fear thing. It’s tough, but I truly believe you’ve gotta be fully invested. I haven’t written a line of code in over a year, well that’s a lie, I’ve written a few here and there, but I’m certainly not the active coder I was. I’m fully invested; heart, soul and money into making 360|Conferences something I can draw money from. It’s a struggle, to say the least, and failure looms large, but I’ve done the part time entrepreneur thing, and know the perils

Tell Someone Else
If you have a goal you want to reach, don’t keep it to yourself. Be sure to share it with people you respect. Once you’ve publicly acknowledged it, it becomes harder to give it up. You’ve made a verbal contract in a sense with people whose opinion you care about. If you were to give up on your dream, you would lose face with them. Most folks don’t want this to happen, but because they’re scared of failure, they keep their dream to themselves. However, if you want to succeed, you’ll tell as many people as you can.

I’ve never really thought about this one. I’m not really a “This by X person” I’m much to now now now, so my goals (in my head) are usually set to just outside the time frame it took to think the idea up. I guess the one place I’ve done this is the business. When I did consulting I never really thought about it and didn’t have a goal that consulting would be my “Thing” or that I’d have other folks to source, etc. But I’ve said to many that I want 360|Conferences, to be my “job”. I want to draw salary, get up every morning and spend the next waking 10-12+ hours making it a success.

Tell Yourself Daily
Make an affirmation to yourself about your goal. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the concept of daily affirmations, it goes a little something like this. You write down a sentence or two that specifically details what it is you’re going to achieve. You need to make it specific, and you need to keep it short. Then, just before going to bed, first thing when you wake up, and at various set points during the day, you read your affirmation aloud to yourself.

This sounds a bit hokey to some, but it serves to keep your mind focused on what it is you’re working toward. It keeps your mind on the task at hand, even when there are many other things that are demanding your attention.

My wife once told me about the “Chicken Soup for your Soul” author taping a Million dollar bill to his ceiling, so that the first thing he saw in the morning and the last thing he saw at night was that goal. That’s awesome. I’ve know that story for a few years, and never tried anything like it. Thinking it’s time.

Recruit a Group
In the course of telling people around you about your goal, you may run into a few of them that are excited about what you’re doing. They may be so excited that they want to do something like it. If you talk to enough people, you’ll find some that have goals just like you. You can take the initiative to lead these folks into a group that supports each other in reaching each of your destinations.

By having an accountability group, you put yourself in a situation where you’re not only afraid of losing face with the other members, but you also have people available to provide ideas and brainstorm ways to keep going when you get stuck. It’s amazing the things that members of an accountability group can accomplish together.

That I’m more or less doing when and where I can. I’m being as active as possible in other groups around Denver, from Refresh, to the Adobe User Groups, and the new Cocoaheads group, and even less techy events. I think it’s important that since my focus is events, that I be involved as either an attendee or an organizer on as much as I can. I don’t however have an ‘accountability group’ as it were. I’m not sure how to get one…

Break It Up
While I said that you need to keep your eye on the prize back up in step #2, there’s nothing wrong with breaking up your big, huge, audacious goal into smaller goals along the way. If your goal is so big that it scares you, or you worry about not being able to achieve it no matter how hard you try or how many people you tell about it, this may be a good tip for you. Just break it up into chunks. The sub-goals you set for yourself should still be something you can be proud of on their own, but they should also advance you toward the main objective. By taking things in smaller doses, you won’t get easily frustrated.

This one is tricky, mainly because of the distance between Tom and I. Most days we only have about 4 hours of time when we can chat, and I never know what’s going on the other 20 hours, sometimes even those 4. So it’s hard to break things up since there’s a fundamental “If I don’t do this it won’t get done” thing. Which sucks ass. I’d rather it not be hanging over us, but it does, and there’s rarely a day goes by that something doesn’t get done that shoulda; some email never replied, some email never sent, etc. so it’s hard to break tasks up in general let alone between us.

So those are the 8 points to fight motivation troubles. I agree with most, and need to try the others, and make some work better, but i agree in general that keeping your motivation level high is hard. It’s not surprising that it’s even harder when things aren’t going well, but that’s when it’s the most important.

Do you have anything to add to this list? What tips or tricks do you have for maintaining motivation?


Apr 21 2009

Reid Hoffman is right. It’s about the startups

John

This is a TechCrunch post from March. If you don’t want to click over to TC (Don’t blame ya) I’ve pasted Reid’s big points and will expand with my thoughts.

1. Small business loans. Apply a micro-lending model that has proved successful in developing countries, extending credit lines up to $50,000.

Why? Because models of investment besides just venture capital can stimulate the economy. Let’s not neglect entrepreneurs who create coffee shops, florists, taxi services or other small businesses that help the economy thrive at the local level. Sometimes, a coffee shop becomes Starbucks. These don’t require venture funding; they just need a small business loan to get started and grow. Micro-lending has proved viable around the world — let’s do more of it at home. If a service like Kiva.org (disclosure: I’m a board member) can succeed in 12 countries, it can succeed here too.

I couldn’t agree more! 360|Conferences doesn’t need 9mil! We don’t want 9mil! We really (and currently) need just enough money to push us into Full Time employee status and pay ourselves salary so we can focus on more events, which drastically improves our money situation. Right noew we’re at a weird tipping point, needing more money for more events, but not being able to do more events because we have jobs and need the money to quit those. funny Interesting, not funny ha ha.

2. Abolish the limit on H-1B Visas. Remove the cap on H-1B visas and impose a 10 percent payroll tax beyond the benchmark salary for each visa. Then channel the proceeds from the payroll tax into US re-education programs.

This is a country founded on immigration. We should welcome the best and the brightest as our own. Abolish the H-1B cap, and give me an economic reason for preferring local. I’ll only do foreign if I need to. A 10 percent payroll tax for each H-1B visa can be reinvested in whatever it takes to get American talent up to the same level. This has been proposed previously, but a payroll tax ensures that H-1Bs are used for skilled labor, not cheap labor.

I’m really torn on the whole H1-B. Reid’s solution at least makes sense to me. I just can’t stomach the typical reason for hiring H1-Bs, which is to essentially get cheap indentured slaves. People can cry fould, but I’ve worked at more than 1 place with H1-B folks, and have known many others.  The fomer companies find the cheap labor, screwing US workers. When I hear “There aren’t any programmers in the US” my Bullshit alarm goes super sonic and dogs start barking.

I’ve also known H1-B folks that have had to stick with a shitty company, that’s in a slow death spiral, working them 12+ hour days because the Americans have long since quit for better opportunities, because the company held their paperwork. Weak sauce.

So while I’m no fan of the H1-B ‘thing’ at least Reid’s idea incentivises companies to really try to find local talent, and invests in our future. The US is in a death spiral of our own. When kids see adults losing their tech jobs left and right (to outsourcing and H1-Bs), what on Earth makes us think they’ll want to go into a tech field when they’re older. We’re sowing the seeds of our own demise, for short term profit bumps (executive bonuses).

3. Match funds for venture capital and angel investors. Match up to $100 million in stimulus funds for qualifying venture and angel investments if they create jobs in the US. Let these investors keep their normal return plus 50 percent of the returns on the matching funds, while the other half goes back to the government to revitalize further investment.

This one doesn’t apply to Tom and I, since we’re in the Taxi, Coffee shop, Florist realm, but I think it’s a good idea. Screw GM and the big banks bonusing out and partying on our tax dollars. Put stimulus money where it can do good, in start ups who are creating jobs in the US!  This is a win/win idea as far as I’m concerned.


Feb 19 2009

fighting brain crack

John

Brain Crack is bad, mmkay.

I’ve had a similar conversations with Tom many a times, He’ll chime in, I’m sure, but the two of us are very different when it comes to ideas and execution. He enjoys having them, even if he doesn’t act on them or observes from side lines. I do not, either act on it or drop it.

Brain crack, according to Ze are the ideas you have, that you never act on (so they can’t fail) that you keep rattling around as your “When I have time” ideas. The trouble is, there’s no time like the present, if it’s a good idea, do it. Don’t wait around, who’s to say you’ll ever have the time? All you end up doing is refining the idea in your head, until it’s perfect and you’re make believe successful.

I think as an entrepreneur brain crack is especially dangerous, it gives you a false sense of security, “Well come what may, I have this idea to work on.” or “I’ll write when there’s more time later in life.” except there’s no way to know what “Later” will hold. The other downside to brain crack is, it’s distracting. Why work on the hard or boring things, when you can day dream or putter on an idea you have no (let’s be honest) intention of ever pulling out of your head and putting into the real world.

I’m all for instant gratification, and the high you get from doing something. As I do more and more startup’y type things, I find more and more ideas bubble up. If I can start working on them, I do. If they’re not something I can do, they go away, or get recorded, either way, out of my head and off the table. Good or bad, and Ze is right, usually bad, it’s better to throw something out there and do it, than plan and plan, until the time to execute has passed. But at least your idea is safe in your head, where no one can hurt it.

Don’t let brain crack ruin your life.