5 years as an entrepreneur | Advice on how you can build your own business throughout this pandemic

This is a Guest blog post from Thomas Ma, an awesome up and coming entrepreneur whom I have had the pleasure of watching grow these past few years. He is the LA-based Co-Founder of Sapphire Apps Media.  This is great reading for any young person or aspiring entrepreneur.  Lots of lessons learned. Enjoy!!

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I still remember it like it was yesterday. I was heading home from my last final of the semester to wrap up my junior year in college.

I had no internships lined up, and no idea what I wanted to do with my life. All of my friends had internships and it seemed they had their professional career figured out.

Nope not me. No one called me back. Since it was the last day, I decided to take one final stop at the college career center to see if they could help me out.

This is when I bumped into one of my friend at the career center and we started talking. Suddenly I started to get all these ideas in my head.

From that moment, I went back to my apartment, and continued to carve out my idea. I didn’t stop. I put 100% into it from that day. Of course it started out slowly. I had a lot to learn.

One Fun Fact:

It took me from May 9, 2015 — April 2017 before I had my own company bank account. That’s nearly 2 years!

In light of this 5 year mark, I wanted to put time and share what I would do today especially in this pandemic. My hope is to get other people to progress with their own journey. This advice is good for any type of industry.

Chapters:

1. Marketing yourself on upwork.com

2. Building out your network

3. Be vulnerable and share your journey

4. Learning a New Skill

5. Tools that you should know about

6. Outsourcing Talent

7. Digital Marketing

8. Building your digital brand

1. Create an upwork.com account to market yourself

Study other people in your industry. If you are into consulting, you look up consulting on upwork.com

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Look at the following:

Hourly rate, $ they’ve earned, success rate, and country their from.

In this case, Kim has a great profile. He has a high success rate and over 6 figures earned.

Here’s his profile:

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Look at is his hourly rate, title and what he is putting in his summary. It’s clear that he’s getting reached a lot.

Below his profile is his work history. Study how much he has earned and how much people are paying him.

Do this for 5–10 of the top earners int his category. This is the benchmark.

Try your best to optimize your profile so that it matches up with some of the best on Upwork. When you apply, at least you will stand out.

As you build your account in the beginning, it’s going to be tough. You’re going to have to be relentless. This means applying to as many jobs as you can. It may even mean not making a lot of $ to build up your profile.

Review and job success rate is critical to standing out as an applicant.

2. Build out your network

When starting out, it’s critical that you have a network. In order to thrive in what you do, you have to surround yourself with like minded people. These are the people who you will hang out with the most and learn from. You will also progress with these people and it’s amazing to celebrate milestones together and also being there for one another when things don’t go as planned.

If you don’t have a business network, it’s okay 🙂 I will share some of the things that I would recommend.

Before you build your network:
Make sure to optimize your social media profile with what you do. That includes Instagram, Facebook, Linkedin, etc…

This way people get a sense of what you do when you connect with you.

Here are a few places you can find events or meet people:

The strategy applies to all the platforms below: When you join the platform, go to the search bar and enter keywords that relate to your niche. If you were in fitness, you could try wellness, health, fitness, coaching etc.

Facebook Group:

Eventbrite (Tons of free online events)

Meetup:

Linkedin

Instagram DM (search out hashtags in your industry and engage with people)

If you join a new group, read what members are posting. Engage with their post if you like it, and add them as a friend.

If they accept you as a friend, shoot them a compliment and let them know you liked their post. If they respond, ask if they are interested in connecting with you via zoom.

While on zoom, spend time genuinely getting to know the person.

Things you can talk about:
How covid has impacted you

Your background on how you started

Sharing what you’re passionate about

Favorite books

Why you started

The purpose of this is to build your own network. If people genuinely get to know you, they’ll support you. You never know who they know.

After you connect, you continue to stay in touch with them and invite them to events that you hear about.

As you continue to evolve your network, you will have access to more events.

This strategy can even be applied to zoom hangouts. To engage on zoom, you can send them a private message and use the same strategy.

In the space of creating your own brand, showing up is half the battle. You have to show up and build your network every day. Make it a goal to fill up your entire calendar with zoom events and zoom meetings.

Things to avoid at networking events:

1. Don’t ask the “what do you do” question. That’s straight to the point of what they do and it shows you don’t even want to get to know them for who they are

2. To be efficient with your time, you can state that you have 30 minutes or whatever at the beginning.

3. Don’t talk too much about yourself unless people ask you questions. If you talk a lot, you’ll never be able to learn about the other person. You have to make the other person feel special that you are talking to.

A small recap on networking:

If you are starting out, you can do the following to ensure you progress every week.

  1. Start off by booking one event per day on your calendar
  2. Make a goal of how many zoom connect meetings you want to take. Maybe in the beginning, make a goal to meet 5 people per week and then scale up.
  3. If you meet someone and share common interest, offer to collaborate with them. You can collaborate by co hosting a happy hour with your joint network. This way you meet more people and so does your new friend.
  4. If you are able to host events, you become the go to person for that event. People will get to hear you. This way you expand your network at a faster pace.
  5. If you host great events, make sure to do it on a weekly bases. As you host more events, people will bring their own network.

3. Be vulnerable and share your journey

When I started, I used to take a selfie photo everyday of my Starbucks cup or wherever I was at in the world. I’d post most of the stories on Linkedin.

I wanted to show people what the journey was like. Overtime, I was able to build more followers because people liked hearing my story.

The reason for doing this is because it builds your digital brand. The more people know about you, the more they can potentially help you.

One networking tip here is to connect with people who like your post. Right away you have something in common.

4. Continue to learn

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One of my favorite podcast to listen to is NPR how I built this by Guy Raz. It has stories from some of the great entrepreneurs in the world.

It’s nice to hear how someone started and made traction.

Read articles on medium.com especially the entrepreneurship articles

Stay active in the reddit entrepreneur community. A lot of people post insightful advice on there, and it’s an easy way to connect with a small group

5.) Tools/Sites you should know about

http://www.hemingwayapp.com : Spell checker you can use before you post or email someone

https://unsplash.com: Website with great stock images you can find

https://clipchamp.com/en/video-compressor/ : Compress large files

https://www.squarespace.com : Easy website builder. When you make your website make sure it’s optimized for mobile

https://hunter.io : Tool that lets you find emails from brands you are trying to reach

https://apps.apple.com/us/app/inshot-video-editor/id997362197 : App that lets you edit videos. You can put around a white border and text over your content

6. Outsourcing Talent

What does this mean? It means you are hiring someone remotely to complete the work for you. They can be from anywhere in the world!

Talent you can hire for: video editing, graphic design, app development, website, basically anything you can think of is on there.

As you expand, you are going to need help. Upwork is the best place to find remote talent.

If you want to save cost, I would highlight recommend looking for talent in Philippines, India, and Ukraine.

When you have your job list up, you can filter for people in those countries and invite them to your job.

I highly recommend upwork.com

Here are some tips to hiring talent:

When you make your job listing, you want to have the following:

-Catchy Header (study other people)

  • Clear instructions on exactly what you want and keeping it short and brief
  • Follow up questions that the applicant should respond to

Here are some I recommend:
What is your hourly rate

What is your working hours
Have you read the instruction? If so, how much and how long would it take to complete

Do you have a portfolio?

All the questions above help filter out who is a good candidate and who isn’t.

If you like their answers, you can give them a small paid tester. If they pass it, you can give them a larger project.

Always let people know if they do good work that you will have more projects for them.

When you find someone you like, you can add them to your roster.

If you master the ability to outsource, you can scale a creative agency. This means you can find clients who need a service. An example is if you had a bunch of designers you liked, you can market yourself as a creative agency who does graphics.

Add your creators work to your portfolio. Show people your work. Find clients who are willing to pay.

Once you find clients who are willing to pay, you give the work to the person you liked.

Recap for Agency via Outsourcing

  1. Find talent
  2. Test talent. If their good, add them to your roster
  3. Show case their work
  4. Find clients who are in need
  5. If client is in need, then they will pay you for the services.
  6. Give the project to the remote person. Make sure they meet your deadlines

7. Digital Marketing:

Learn how to run paid media ads on Facebook.

Steps I would suggest:

  1. Start to do a deep dive on free courses that they offer online

Free Resources that I like:

Tristan’s Facebook Ads Course: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_Ic8HZSPfIW9TES3jPgpCg

Once you learn one platform, you can figure out other platforms such as Snapchat etc..

A few advice:

Start small when you run Facebook ads campaigns. Learn how to track your ROI (return on investment)

At the end of the day, your goal should be to make profit.

Study your competitors advertisement through the Facebook tool. You can look up every single company and what ads they run.

8. Building your digital brand

I never envisioned myself as a live fitness coach, but I found a new passion.

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What started out as an opportunity to learn turned into something that I look forward to every week.

I had no idea what it was like to coach. I wanted to change that. To build a great brand, I wanted to learn everything. The coaches are important. They are the ones leading the tribe for ~1 hour.

My first class had 4 people. My second class had 4 people.

Week 2: Started to get 10–15 people for my two class

Week 3: Averaged 30 people for my two classes. This time people are referring their friends and family to join.

I love this because it’s so fun to see people enjoying something that I teach and having them bring their friends.

Take a look at the Eventbrite photo. Eventbrite drove over 100 users to my listing.

Eventbrite drove over 100 email sign ups to my fitness class. Facebook drove ~30 and I spent about $150.

Here’s how you can build out your digital brand throughout this pandemic

List your events on the following platforms:

Meetup (Yes you have to pay $30 group fee, but you will gain users over time. Study other groups in your niche and optimize your group title)

List your events on all the builtin websites. They have cities in Austin, NYC, Chicago, etc. It’s FREE!

List your event on Facebook Events. Make a page. This is the group I made:

Facebook

Log into Facebook to start sharing and connecting with your friends, family, and people you know.

List your event on Linkedin Events. Invite all your network. Yes it’s tedious, but you have to hustle when you’re building something new.

DM people on Instagram. Find hashtags that relate to your target demo. In my case, it’d be #fitness #peloton #soulcycle #boxing

Find people commenting in fitness related post.

LIST ON EVENTBRITE. YES IT’S BOLDED FOR A REASON.

OPTIMIZE the keywords. They give you 10 for a reason. Think of words people would search if it was someone looking to attend your online class.

Leverage all the keywords in the main title

State the time, timezone, day, and date in the header

Find a clear stock photo that stands out. I use Unsplash.

Add questions they have to answer. In my eventbrite, I ask people where they come from. I also suggest they join my Facebook fitness community.

Facebook Groups are key! It reaches more people. If you post an event, you are able to invite every single member in the group.

Nurturing your audience:

Engage with people before class. Ask them where they are from

Throughout your class find a way to get users to engage. In my fitness class we do virtual high fives and fist bumps

Bring people together after the event. At my events, we take a group photo online

Reach out to people who attended your class and thank them. They’ll appreciate it

Remember people’s first name. Especially if they come back.

Livestream your events. This way more people have access.

Why you should build out a digital brand:

People can learn about you. If they like what you do, they will come back. If they continue to come back, they will bring friends to join them. Overtime, this is your fan base that supports you. It’s important that you are able to identify your super fans.

My hope is that this will give you the small push to get you started.

No matter what happens, be proud of what you do. Do things because you want to. Don’t do it because of someone else telling you what they want for you. It’s your journey. Make sure you can smile and have fun with your choice.

If you are looking for a good community to join, this is the one I created:

Sapphire Stories: A Community of Passionate Doers

Community of Doers who are pursuing their passion. Our goal is to connect and inspire you with your own journey. Follow…

If you’d like to stay connected with me, you can always reach out @boredwithtom on Instagram

 

 

MindShare Still Pumping Up Washington Tech CEOs

Following is the unedited version of my December 19, 2012 Blog Post in the Washington Business Journal.

News flash:  Contrary to some reports questioning its relevance in the DC Tech community, MindShare is alive and well!  This “exclusive forum” for CEOs of young and emerging tech companies is, in fact, thriving and very active!

Mindshare Organizing Board with Mindshare Class of 2012 Graduates
MindShare Organizing Board with MindShare Class of 2012 Graduates

In early December, I graduated along with 51 other Classmates.  Over 200 people including MindShare alums, Organizing Board members, VIPs and sponsors packed the upstairs dining room for the ceremony at Clyde’s in Tysons Corner.  We now have 665 alums, with notables including Charlie Thomas (Net2000 and now Razorsight), Phillip Merrick (webMethods), Amir Hudda (Entevo and now startup naaya), Rick Rudman (Vocus), Reggie Aggarwal (Cvent), Joe Payne (Eloqua), and Tim O’Shaughnessy (LivingSocial), and Henry Sienkiewicz (DISA and Open Travel Software). Nominations for the Class of 2013 closed in mid-December, and demand was super high.

MindShare History – In 1995, Harry Glazer and Anne Crossman, with the support of Kathy Penny, were chairing the Northerm Virginia Technology Council’s Emerging Business Committee, which sponsored informal “coffee and bagels” meetings for regional entrepreneurs.  They attracted great speakers, and the format was very similar to the format used by MindShare today. At the beginning of each meeting, attendees would introduce themselves and give an “elevator pitch” on themselves and their companies. These intros would be followed by speakers, and then end with further networking.

By 1997, Harry and Anne formalized these meetings into MindShare. The mission, from the start, was to provide a forum for CEOs of emerging technology companies to get to know the leaders of other early-stage companies, to learn from each other, and to interact with experts on subjects that were relevant to their growing businesses. At the end of the first year, the Organizing Board of senior leaders in the community decided that the members of the group would “graduate” and become alumni, and a new “class” of members would be selected for the following year. The organization quickly began to develop serious awareness and cachet as Washington Technology referred to a MindShare invite as “the hottest ticket in town,” and the group had no problem recruiting 40-50 CEOs from the region’s most promising early-stage growth companies. Even as the tech bubble deflated, MindShare continued to grow more prestigious and continued to attract the most promising entrepreneurs in the region.

Fast forward to today – the MindShare alumni network is a thriving “Who’s Who” of tech entrepreneurs and CEOs in the region.  Events and reunions are incredibly well attended, and alums stay connected and help each other through the ListServ, which is one of the most valuable and effective databases of its kind in the region.  At December’s CIT GAP 50 Entrepreneur Awards, 45 of the 93 finalists (and 11 eventual winners) were MindShare alums including several from recent Classes.

So I guess I am saying that MindShare is one of the anchors of our community.  It’s played and will continue to play a critical role in binding together the region’s top tech CEOs, and helping the “next generation” of tech companies succeed.  With 665 alums, the vast majority of whom are still active as CEOs, angels, mentors, and Advisors, MindShare is a force for good, and as one of the cogs in the wheel that is the DC regional tech community.  I am very grateful to benefit from all the great things that have come out of MindShare.

DC “Networking Jackpot” – Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Fall Forum, September 13, Tysons Corner

LORE SYSTEMS is pleased to host our quarterly Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Forum, one of the most exciting angel and entrepreneurship networking forums in the DC Region on September 13, 2012 at the Tysons Corner Marriott.

InTheCapital called our June Forum “The Best Networking Event in DC.”

We also appreciate InTheCapital’s latest article on our upcoming Fall Forum: “Three Reasons Why You Should Attend the Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Forum.”

Please come out!  CLICK HERE to Register via the Eventbrite link.

The Big Idea CONNECTpreneur FALL Forum is a “NETWORKING MASHUP” of 210+ of the DC Region’s TOP Entrepreneurs, Business Leaders, CXOs, Angels, and VCs.  Most of the attendees are “INVITATION ONLY,” and we are limiting service provider participation in order to maximize the experience for our Attendees and Sponsors.

Presented by LORE Systems, this UNIQUE EVENT is like NONE OTHER in our region, due to the high quality of our attendees and participants, as well as our program and unprecedented networking.

Come see what happens when you put a group of “A List” business leaders and entrepreneurs in one room for a few hours!

Program Highlights:
  • Over 210 attendees, includng 120+ CEOs/Presidents and 40 angels/VCs
  • Conversation with CEO, VC Advisor, & Angel Investor Christopher M. Schroeder
  • Discussion with UBER Tech Entrepreneur David A. Steinberg
  • SHOWCASE of Emerging tech companies
  • NETWORKING sessions before, during, and after the event
The venue is the Tysons Corner MARRIOTT.  A plated breakfast and unlimited coffee are included.

FINAL AGENDA
7:00–8:00 am – ARRIVAL / NETWORKING
 
8:00 – 8:10 am – WELCOME
 
8:10 – 8:45 am – Conversation with Christopher Schroeder,
Renaissance Man, Entrepreneur, CEO, Advisor, Angel Investor, and Author
Author, Arab Inc(ubate)
Co-Founder and CEO, HealthCentral, formerly DrKoop.com (an InterActiveCorp company)
CEO, Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive
CEO, LEGI-SLATE
 
8:50 – 9:25 am  –  Conversation with David A. Steinberg,
UBER Tech and Marketing Entrepreneur
Chairman & CEO, CAIVIS Acquisition Corp.
Founder, Chairman & CEO, InPhonic / Simplexity (NASDAQ:INPC)
9:30 – 9:45 am – NETWORKING BREAK
9:50 – 11:15 am – COMPANY SHOWCASE
11:30 am – NETWORKING
CONFIRMED PARTICIPANTS (partial list):
Over 120 CEOs/Presidents, plus 40+ angel and VC investors including New Enterprise Associates, Novak Biddle, Core Capital, CIT, Blu Venture Investors, Blue Water Capital, Dingman Center Angels, Neuberger & Co. Ventures, Saratoga Investment Corp., Washington DC Archangels, Angel Venture Forum, Fortify.vc, Endeavor DC, Maryland Venture Fund, National Capital Companies, Enhanced Capital, White Hall Capital,  MTECH Ventures, Mosaic Capital, Opus8, VentureCross Partners, McLean Capital, Starise Ventures, Blue Heron Capital, Duncaster Investments, Private Capital Network, Next-Stage Development Group, Berman Enterprises, Grindstone Partners, Next Stage Development Group, Atlantic Capital Group, Lancaster Angel Network, Harrell Partners, Stanford Venture Advisors, MD Center for Entrepreneurship, Skada Capital, Great Falls Capital, Bayberry Capital, Hafezi Capital, Keiretsu Forum, and CADRE.
EVENT SPONSORS:  
 
LORE Systems
BDO
Wilson Sonsini
Deloitte.
Cooley LLP
Meltzer Group
AH&T Insurance
McBride Real Estate
Ryan & Wetmore
Washington, DC Archangels
Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship
Angel Venture Forum
Print 1 Printing

“The Best Networking Event in DC” – Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Summer Forum, June 6, Tysons Corner, VA

LORE SYSTEMS is pleased to host our quarterly Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Forum, one of the most exciting angel and entrepreneurship networking forums in the DC Region on June 6, 2011 at the Tower Club in Tysons Corner, VA.

InTheCapital calls this Forum “The Best Networking Event in DC.”

Please come out!  CLICK HERE to Register via the Eventbrite link.

EVENT IS NEARLY SOLD OUT!!

The Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Summer Forum is a “NETWORKING MASHUP” of 165+ of the DC Region’s TOP Entrepreneurs, Business Leaders, CXOs, Angels, and VCs.  Most of the attendees are “INVITATION ONLY,” and we are limiting service provider participation in order to maximize the experience for our Attendees and Sponsors.

Presented by LORE Systems, this UNIQUE EVENT is like NONE OTHER in our region, due to the high quality of our attendees and participants, as well as our program and unprecedented networking.

Come see what happens when you put a group of “A List” business leaders and entrepreneurs in one room for a few hours!

Program Highlights:
  • “TURBOCHARGING Entrepreneurship” Discussion
  • “ART OF THE PIVOT” with “UBER” technology entrepreneur Reggie Aggarwal of CVENT
  • 9 Emerging tech companies seeking funding will briefly tell their stories
  • Networking sessions before, during, and after the event
The venue is the Tower Club in Tyson’s Corner, Northern Virginia’s premier private business club.  A plated breakfast and unlimited coffee are included.
AGENDA
7:00–8:00 am – ARRIVAL / NETWORKING

8:00 – 8:05 am – WELCOME

8:05 – 8:45 am – SESSION 1 – “TURBOCHARGING ENTREPRENEURSHIP IN THE DC REGION” with Uber entrepreneur and angel investor Doug Humphrey, CEO and Founder, CIDERA;  Co-Founder, DIGEX

8:45 – 9:20 am  –  SESSION 2 – “THE ART OF THE PIVOT” with Uber entrepreneur Reggie Aggarwal, Founder and CEO of CVENT
9:20 – 9:45 am – NETWORKING BREAK
9:45 – 11:30 am – SESSION 3 – COMPANY PRESENTATIONS (all confirmed)
AthleticMD
DeviceCloudNetworks
Glimpulse
HITCH
11:30 am – NETWORKING (ATRIUM)
EVENT SPONSORS:  

Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Spring Forum, March 7, Tysons Corner, VA

LORE SYSTEMS is pleased to host one of the most exciting angel and entrepreneurship networking forums in the DC Region on March 7, 2011 at the Tower Club in Tysons Corner, VA.

Please come out!  Here’s the Eventbrite link:  http://connectpreneur1.eventbrite.com

The Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Spring Forum is a 1/2 day “NETWORKING MASHUP” of the DC Region’s TOP Entrepreneurs, Business Leaders, CXOs, Angels, and VCs.

Come see what happens when you put a group of “A List” business leaders and entrepreneurs in one room for a few hours!

This UNIQUE EVENT is like NONE OTHER in our region, due to the high quality of our attendees and participants, as well as our programming and unprecedented networking.

The Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Forum is an exclusive “mashup” of 170+ of the DC Region’s top entrepreneurs, business leaders, CXOs, angels and VCs.
Most of the attendees are “INVITATION ONLY,” and we are limiting service provider participation in order to maximize the experience for our Attendees and Sponsors.
Program Highlights:
  • “Hypergrowth – Zero to $500 million in 8 years” discussion
  • “Entrepreneurs with a Higher Purpose” panel
  • 8 Emerging companies seeking funding will briefly tell their stories
  • “Disruption, Disintermediation, and Destruction” luncheon discussion
  • Networking sessions before, during, and after the event
The venue is the Tower Club in Tyson’s Corner, Northern Virginia’s premier private business club.  A plated brealkfast and plated lunch are included.
AGENDA7:00–8:00 am – ARRIVAL / BREAKFAST / NETWORKING

8:00 – 8:05 am – WELCOME

8:05 – 8:45 am –  “HYPERGROWTH – ZERO TO $500 MILLION IN 8 YEARS!” – a conversation with Tony Jimenez, Founder and CEO of MicroTech
8:45 – 9:30 am  –  “ENTREPRENEURSHIP WITH A HIGHER PURPOSE”
Jim Cheng, Secretary of Commerce, Commonwealth of VA; Founder and CEO, Computer Hi-Tech Mgt, “Entrepreneur Turned Public Servant”
Dr. John Holaday, CEO, QRx Pharma, an ex-Army officer, Professor, and serial entrepreneur who has founded and taken 3 companies public, “Entrepreneur Seeking a Cure for Cancer”
Seth Goldman, Founder and TeaEO, Honest Tea, beverage industry innovator, “Entrepreneur  leading the Green Movement”
9:30 – 9:45 am – NETWORKING BREAK
9:45 – 11:30 am – COMPANY PRESENTATIONS
Fresh Tax
Pixspan
11:30 – 11:45 am – NETWORKING BREAK
11:45 – 1:15 pm – LUNCHEON DISCUSSION – “DISRUPTION, DISINTERMEDIATION, AND DESTRUCTION”
Duke Chung, Founder of Parature, CRM industry pioneer
Mark Walsh, Founder and CEO, GeniusRocket;  Chairman, DIngman Center for Entrepreneurship;  Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Union College;  Founder and CEO, VerticalNet
John Backus, Managing Partner of New Atlantic Ventures, Founder of Draper Atlantic Venture Fund, former CEO, InteliData
1:15 pm – MORE NETWORKING AND DEALMAKING
CONFIRMED PARTICIPANTS (partial list):
Over 110 Entrepreneurs and CXOs, plus another 40+ angels and VCs including Core Capital, Novak Biddle, New Atlantic Ventures, CIT, Capital Source, NEA, Maryland Venture Fund, MAVA, MTECH Ventures, Maryland DBED, Ruxton Ventures, Opus8, VentureCross Partners, McLean Capital, National Capital, Starise Ventures, Dingman Center Angels, Blu Venture Partners, Blue Heron, Washingon DC Archangels, Fortify.vc, Endeavor DC, Private Capital Network, APPTEL, Stanford Venture Advisors, MD Center for Entrepreneurship, SunWalker Group, Skada Capital, Keiretsu Forum, CADRE.
EVENT SPONSORS:  


Winning by Un-Networking, the CADRE way

Have you ever wondered whether there was a better way to network with other professionals and peers?  Tired of getting business cards thrust at you and having to listen to dozens of elevator pitches at each networking event?  Frustrated at the lack of follow-up with someone you met?  Feel like you’re wasting valuable time going to the wrong events and talking to the wrong people?

Derek and Melanie Coburn may have found the better way!  They call it Un-Networking, and it’s practiced by the members of CADRE, the community of remarkable professionals that they founded earlier this year.

The idea for using the term Un-Networking came from one of Derek’s favorite business books, Un-Marketing by Scott Stratten. What Stratten suggests about marketing, also applies to networking. In the “typical” networking experience, most people approach others in a way that they would hate if they were on the receiving end. As David Siteman Garland says, a lot of professionals are looking for one night stands at networking events, instead of looking to connect with people with whom they can build meaningful relationships. Most people attending networking events are focused on themselves and what they can get out of it: Here’s my card, do you need what I’m selling, can we meet for lunch so I can tell you even more about how awesome I am, etc.? This approach doesn’t work for top-notch professionals.  Un-Networking undoes some of our existing habits and turns on its head what we have previously accepted as the “correct way” to network.

Un-Networking Lunches provide conducive environments for efficiently and effectively meeting other remarkable professionals who are also committed to developing mutually beneficial relationships. During each dutch-treat lunch of 8-10 CADRE members, each attendee has 5-7 minutes to tell the story about his or her business and how the group can identify potential opportunities. Lunches are moderated by Derek who, by intimately knowing each attendee’s business, can facilitate ideal connections and even chime in to add color to each person’s story.  Feedback sheets are filled out and turned in, and post-luncheon commitments are followed-up on and checked by Melanie to insure accountability.  This last part is key, as it’s the following up part of connecting that often fails.

And what is CADRE? “CADRE” is an acronym for “Connecting Advocates, Deepening Relationships,  Exclusively.”  CADRE is a group of 85+ (and growing) like-minded members who believe in giving first, helping others altruistically, and advocating for each other.  It’s a powerful concept that I have not seen before.

According to Derek, “The idea for CADRE really came about after I hosted a round table lunch in November, 2010. I did this regularly for my clients and strategic partners, as a way to add value within my wealth management practice. About five days after this lunch, which seemed like a huge success, I noticed that no one had really done any follow up. I couldn’t understand. So that evening, I sent out 35 emails re-connected the folks who had met that day. 15 meetings were set up, and at least five acquired new clients, either directly from one of the others, or via referrals. The light bulb went on.  I knew there could be real value in creating a business model that provided a system for helping successful professionals in following up with meaningful connections.”  I was personally so impressed by Derek and Melanie and their concept that I immediately signed on as a member and Advisory Board member, as well.  The experience has been excellent and very rewarding.  It is refreshing to get to know and interact with a group of A Players who believe in helping others, even before helping themselves.

The Coburns’ vision for CADRE is to bring together the best of the best, and adding as much value as possible for them. Derek says, “I feel like we are building a business from the outside in. Most businesses start with a clear offering, try to make money, and then worry about ideal clients, providing incredible service and building a great culture. We are starting with all of these and are excited about how it is unfolding. I recently read a book called Little Bets and it was all about trying a lot of different things within a business, and then build on the ideas that are successful. We are definitely taking this approach within our community. We are getting great feedback from our members as to what is working and what is not, and ultimately, they will mold the vision for CADRE.”

By revolutionizing the way networking is done and the way a startup can be grown, Derek and Melanie are certainly blazing new trails.  Judging by the tremendous buzz generated so far, as well as membership growth and member satisfaction, CADRE will be here for a long time.

What do you think?  Please share some of your best tips for networking and connecting. What works best for you?

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Featured image courtesy of Sean MacEntee licensed via creative commons.

Power Networking – Put a group of Winners in one room and let them have at it!

Tonight the good folks at WalkerInformation of Indianapolis (walkerinformation.com) and Lore Systems (lore.net) co-sponsored an “Execs Night Out” at Zola Wine and Kitchen in DC.

It was Power Networking at its finest.  We put a couple of dozen regional business leaders together and it was magic.  The group included Luis Fiallo, Managing Director of China Telecom Americas;  Steve Graubart, Managing Director of University of the District of Columbia; Frank Walker, Managing Director of Baker Tilley;  Matt Curry of Curry’s Auto Service;  serial CFO David Samuels;  Rob Klingensmith, SVP of The Washington Group; Paul Innella, CEO of TDI;  Colin Eagen, CEO of EGroup;  angel investor and mentor Glen Hellman of Driven Forward; Co-Hosts Steve Walker and Jackie Ross of WalkerInformation; and Patrick Binsol, Dwight Fischer and Laurie Freeman of Lore Systems.  New connections were made, old ones nurtured, and it was great to see deals being done!

The focus of the event was “Customer Challenges” and each attendee shared what they felt was their top customer challenges.  Terrific insights, and the interesting thing was that, despite the disparate industries and businesses represented, we all were saying the same thing:  The consensus theme was that we absolutely MUST bring real value for our customers today.  They are more demanding than ever, and have more choices than ever. It’s no longer enough to do our jobs well.  We need to go above and beyond merely delivering our actual solution sets.  What’s this mean?  In order to win and retain business, we need to help our clients achieve their goals, whatever they may be: strategic, financial, political, efficiency, operational, governance-related, etc.

This is the correct approach to business today in the new reality of the hyper-competitive marketplace, so the Winners will be those companies who keep practicing this habit well into the future, long after we recover from this recession.

The food and wine were great also, so yes, this is an endorsement for Zola Wine and Kitchen.