Be Unique, Get Funded

Be Unique, Get Funded

This is Guest Blog post from CONNECTpreneur Coach and partner Ines LeBow.

Attracting investors to get your business funded is all about being unique, even if the product you’re presenting isn’t a new invention or innovation. Earlier this year, I highlighted 7 Factors for Startup Success based on the philosophies of Shark Tank star Mark Cuban.

He believes that you need to find a way to make at least one aspect of your product or service uniquely your own. You can do so by thinking about the special characteristics your product will have, to whom you will market it, and how you differentiate it from the entrenched competitors. Trying to be the same results in competition based on price, which is not how you want to compete.

In Mr. Cuban’s own words about being unique:

Creating opportunities means looking where others are not

and

When you’ve got 10,000 people trying to do the same thing, why would you want to be number 10,001?

Not Just Socks

Socks have been around for a long time. Even the athletic sock category has been pretty saturated, but that didn’t stop Bombas from their start-up business focused on making a better athletic sock. I covered the case of Bombas in an earlier article entitled 5 Keys to Convince Investors Your Product Can Make Money.

They invested a lot of time and effort into identifying what made athletes, fitness junkies, hikers, runners, speed walkers, and other heavy users of athletic hosiery disappointed, frustrated, and annoyed about their existing sock of choice. They designed and produced their socks to address those issues, conducting significant product testing to ensure the user feedback hit the bullseye.

Successful Close

If you are an early Shark Tank devotee, you’ll know that the founders of Bombas went on the show and left with $200,000 in funding. That’s right…$200,000 of someone else’s money to launch an athletic sock. So it wasn’t about an exciting new technology product but about a unique take on a product for which there was already a defined, established market with committed customers who are continually looking to improve the equipment and accessories they use to perform their activity.

So what is unique about your product? Perhaps you can approach real-life users who are enthusiasts and get their perspective on the unique benefits your product offers. Often, it’s the little things that make the biggest impact to your target audience, which translates to how you differentiate yourself to potential investors.

To learn more on how to stand out with an epic fundraising story, contact me for a complimentary consultation by phone at 314-578-0958 or by email at ilebow@transformationsolutions.pro. You find her on LinkedIn Profile at www.linkedin.com/in/ineslebow or her ETS website at www.transformationsolutions.pro.

Mark Cuban’s Beatitudes: 7 Factors for Startup Success

This is a Guest blog post from Ines LeBow.

Mark Cuban’s Beatitudes: 7 Factors for Startup Success

Shark Tank star Mark Cuban has been a startup investor and serial entrepreneur since his teenage years selling garbage bags, creating chain letters, offering dance lessons, and even running newspapers from Cleveland to Pittsburgh during a strike of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Mr. Cuban is ranked #177 on the Forbes 400 list for 2020 with an estimated $4.3B in net worth.

Anyone who has listened to Mark knows that he has a lot to say and has very strong opinions on many topics. My goal here is to summarize how to be successful in business, especially for entrepreneurs in the startup arena. I’ve distilled Mark’s approach down to 7 key factors.

Be Passionate

Passion is at the core of everything in business, especially a startup business. Our passion will dictate the energy we bring to our work and will transmit our excitement to prospective customers, vendors, and partners.

“Love what you do or don’t do it.”

Be Ready

The ideal time is now, according to Mark Cuban. You need to always be moving forward in a tangible way to achieve your business and startup goals. You’ll always have doubts and the world will always put doubters in your path to throw up obstacles, to hurt your confidence, and to smother your passion. Don’t let them stop you, and don’t let changing circumstances keep you from doing it now (see “Now’s the Time to Get Your Business Funded: Coronavirus Edition”).

“Always wake up with a smile knowing that today you are going to have fun accomplishing what others are too afraid to do.”

Be Bold

Dictionary.com defines bold as “not hesitating or fearful in the face of actual or possible danger…courageous and daring…beyond the usual limits of conventional thought or action; imaginative.” For a startup to be successful, an entrepreneur must be bold but not blind. They must have a clear understanding of what they are doing and why as well as what they’re strengths and weaknesses are. You really aren’t bold or courageous if you don’t recognize the challenges or dangers that you need to overcome to succeed. See my recent article on being bold in getting investor funding (“How Far Will You Go to Get Your Business Funded?”).

“It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve failed. You only have to be right once.”

Be Knowledgeable

Knowing the business, the market, the players, the customers and their sentiments are all essential to being prepared to succeed in a startup business. Whether you need to convince Angels or PE/VC investors to fund your business or you are bootstrapping it, you need to know what it will take to win. Without this knowledge you have almost no chance to succeed. By the way, as your business grows and the market changes, you need to continually upgrade your knowledge to improve what you do and how you do it.

“Because if you’re prepared and you know what it takes, it’s not a risk. You just have to figure out how to get there. There is always a way to get there.”

Be Honest

Entrepreneurs who lie to themselves about their products, services, competitors, customers, and market conditions aren’t going to be in business very long. Don’t just make assumptions but deal in facts. If you’ve already formed assumptions, work hard to validate or invalidate them so you can prepare a genuine SWOT analysis. This will help you launch the business and bring the right product to market at the proper place and price with the proper message.

“One problem people have is that they lie to themselves…rarely is talent enough. You have to find ways to make yourself standout. You do so by playing to your strengths and making people aware of those strengths.”

Be Humble

Every startup entrepreneur wants to believe that their product or service has never been done before, but the ones who proceed with that mindset are inviting peril. Be a student of history. One of the first things you learn is that humankind doesn’t learn from history because we keep repeating the same mistakes. Humility will make you realize that somebody somewhere has probably tried this before. Do your research…and not just a quick Google search. Find out who tried and how they failed. Use their experience to learn the hard lessons without suffering the personal setbacks.

“One thing we can all control is effort. Put in the time to become an expert in whatever you’re doing.”

Be Unique

While your product or service may not be completely new, you need to make at least one aspect of it your own. Consider what characteristics you bring to the product, to how or to whom it is marketed, or how it is delivered to differentiate yourself from your competitors. If you try to be the same, you have no basis other than price on which to compete, and someone newer and cheaper can easily come along to take your market away from you.

“Creating opportunities means looking where others are not.”

“When you’ve got 10,000 people trying to do the same thing, why would you want to be number 10,001?”

“Success is about making your life a special version of unique that fits who you are – not what other people want you to be.”

If you aggressively pursue these 7 areas, your chances of startup success increase dramatically. What are you waiting for? As Mark Cuban says, the perfect time is now.

To learn more on how to stand out with an epic fundraising story, contact me for a complimentary consultation by phone at 314-578-0958 or by email at ilebow@transformationsolutions.pro. You find her on LinkedIn Profile at www.linkedin.com/in/ineslebow or her ETS website at www.transformationsolutions.pro.

Internet Legend Doug Humphrey and Sid Banerjee, CEO of Clarabridge Featured at Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Fall, 2014 Forum

bigidea_logo_transparent
 
The next Big Idea CONNECTpreneur FORUM is coming up this Thursday, September 11, 2014 in Tysons Corner, Virginia.
 
Doug Humphrey, CEO of JETCO Research and Founder of DIGEX and Cidera, will moderate the Panel of Venture Capitalists and Angel Investors.
 
Sid Banerjee, Founder and CEO of Clarabridge, will talk about his company’s story, growth, and bright prospects for the future.
 
The Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Forums are quarterly gatherings of 300+ of the DC Region’s TOP Entrepreneurs, Business Leaders, CXOs, Angels, and VCs.
 

The event is regarded by many as “The Best Networking Event in DC.” InTheCapital calls CONNECTpreneur a “NETWORKING JACKPOT” of the DC Region’s TOP Entrepreneurs, Business Leaders, CXOs, Angels, and VCs.

CONNECTpreneur events are “essentially the be-all-end-all of networking events in the city” 

The “premier networking event in DC tech and investing”, CONNECTpreneur is “networking on steroids”

The Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Forum is a “Networking Jackpot.”

Presented by appnetic, Tech 2000 and LORE Systems, this UNIQUE EVENT is like NONE OTHER in our region, because of the high quality of its attendees, speakers and presenters.

And YES, the networking is unprecedented!

 
 
Program Highlights:
 
  • We expect 300 business leaders, includng 175+ CEOs & Founders, as well as 60+ angels & VCs
  • Conversation with Sid Banerjee, Co-Founder and CEO of CLARABRIDGE
  • All-Star Panel of INVESTORS
  • SHOWCASE of Emerging tech companies
  • Heavy NETWORKING before, during, and after the event
 
The venue is the Tysons Corner Marriott in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia.  A plated breakfast is included.  CONNECTpreneur is a quarterly networking mashup, which has been attended by over 2500 business leaders in the past 3 years. We expect another SELL OUT crowd, so there will be no on-site registration.
 
All attendees MUST BE pre-registered.  Register now!
 
 
And visit our Website.
 
 
DATE:  SEPTEMBER 11, 2014
 
AGENDA
 
7:00–8:15 am – REGISTRATION / NETWORKING
 
8:15 – 8:20 am – WELCOME
 
8:25 – 9:15 am – FIRESIDE CHAT with SID BANERJEE,Co-Founder and CEO of Clarabridge
 
9:15 – 10:15 am  –  COMPANY SHOWCASE
 

10:15 – 11:15 am –  ALL STAR INVESTOR PANEL:  LATEST TRENDS IN VENTURE CAPITAL AND EARLY STAGE FINANCING

 
Introductions: JEFF REID, Founding Director, Georgetown Entrepreneurship Initiative
 
Moderator:  DOUG HUMPHREY, Serial Entrepreneur, Angel Investor, Internet Pioneer, President of JETCO Research; Founder and CEO of DIGEX and CIDERA.
 
JOHN BURKE, General Partner, True Ventures
JIM PASTORIZA, Managing Partner, TDF Ventures
 
11:15 am – NETWORKING
 
 
EXPECTED INVESTOR PARTICIPANTS (partial list):
 
We expect 65+ angel and VC investors including Core Capital, Grotech, Novak Biddle, New Atlantic Ventures, Revolution Ventures, True Ventures, Edison Ventures, Amplifier Venture Partners, SWaN & Legend Venture Partners, RLMcCall Capital Partners, Multiplier Capital, Updata, Saratoga Investment Corp., DFW Capital Partners, Farragut Capital, NextGen Angels, CIT GAP Funds, New Markets Venture Partners, BluVenture Investors, Leeds Novamark, Maryland Venture Fund, TEDCO, 1776 / K Street Capital, Fortify Ventures, Acceleprise, US Boston, VentureCross Partners, Berman Enterprises, Dingman Center Angels, Neuberger & Co. Ventures, McLean Capital, Angel Venture Forum, Exhilirator, National Capital Companies, Enhanced Capital, MTECH Ventures, Mosaic Capital, Opus8, Starise Ventures, Blue Heron Capital, Duncaster Investments, Private Capital Network, Next-Stage Development Group, Lancaster Angel Network, Harrell Partners, Stanford Venture Advisors, MD Center for Entrepreneurship, Conscious Venture Labs, Great Falls Capital, Hafezi Capital, and Keiretsu Forum.
 
 
EVENT PARTNERS:
 
 
 
 

Seth Goldman of Honest Tea headlines CONNECTpreneur Fall Forum

Seth Goldman, Co-Founder and TeaEO of Honest Tea

The Big Idea CONNECTpreneur FALL FORUM will be held on September 10, 2013 at the Tysons Corner Marriott in Tysons Corner, Virginia.

Seth Goldman, TeaEO of Honest Tea will do a fireside chat to discuss his new book, Mission in a Bottle: The Honest Guide to Doing Business Differently – and Succeeding.

The Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Forums are quarterly gatherings of 250+ of the DC Region’s TOP Entrepreneurs, Business Leaders, CXOs, Angels, and VCs.

InTheCapital says CONNECTpreneur events are “essentially the be-all-end-all of networking events in the city”

Presented by LORE Systems and Tech 2000, Inc., this UNIQUE EVENT is like NONE OTHER in our region, because of the high quality of our attendees, speakers and presenters.

Program Highlights:
  • We expect 250 business leaders, includng 150+ CEOs & Founders, as well as 60+ angels & VCs
  • Conversation and BOOK SIGNING with SETH GOLDMAN, Co-Founder and TeaEO of HONEST TEA
  • Attendees will receive a COMPLIMENTARY copy of Seth’s brand new book,Mission in a Bottle
  • All-Star Panel of INVESTORS
  • SHOWCASE of Emerging tech companies
  • Heavy NETWORKING before, during, and after the event
The venue is the Tysons Corner Marriott in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia.
A plated breakfast is included.
CONNECTpreneur is a quarterly networking mashup, which has been attended by over 1200 business leaders in the past 18 months.  This event promises to be our best one yet!
DATE:  SEPTEMBER 10, 2013
 
AGENDA
7:00–8:15 am – ARRIVAL / NETWORKING
8:15 – 8:20 am – WELCOME
S. TIEN WONG, CEO of Tech 2000, Inc. and Chairman of Lore Systems, Inc.
8:20 – 9:05 am – ALL STAR INVESTOR PANEL – “State of the Capital Markets”
 
MODERATOR:  JOHN BACKUS – Founder & Managing Partner, New Atlantic Ventures
 
EVAN BURFIELD – Managing Partner, K Street Capital; Co-Founder, 1776and Chairman, Startup DC
 
JOE BURKHART – Managing DIrector, Saratoga Investment Corp.
 
DOUG GILBERT – General Partner, DFW Capital Partners
9:05 – 10:15 am  –  COMPANY SHOWCASE
APPNETIC
CONSCIOUS VENTURE LAB
10:15 – 11:05 am – FIRESIDE CHAT with SETH GOLDMAN, Co-Founder and “TeaEO” of HONEST TEA;  Co-Author, MISSION IN A BOTTLE, The Honest Guide to Doing Business Differently – and Succeeding
11:05 – SETH GOLDMAN BOOK SIGNING and NETWORKING
Attendees will receive a complimentary copy of MISSION IN A BOTTLE
 
EXPECTED INVESTOR PARTICIPANTS (partial list):
We expect 60+ angel and VC investors including Grotech, Novak Biddle, Core Capital, New Atlantic Ventures, Edison Ventures, Updata, Saratoga Investment Corp., DFW Capital Partners, Farragut Capital, Revolution Ventures, CIT, New Markets Venture Partners, Leeds Novamark, Maryland Venture Fund, TEDCO, DFW Capital, BluVenture Investors, 1776 / K Street Capital, Acceleprise, US Boston, VentureCross Partners, Berman Enterprises, Dingman Center Angels, Neuberger & Co. Ventures, Saratoga Investment Corp., Multiplier Capital, McLean Capital, Angel Venture Forum, Endeavor DC, National Capital Companies, Enhanced Capital, MTECH Ventures, Mosaic Capital, Opus8, Starise Ventures, Blue Heron Capital, Duncaster Investments, Private Capital Network, Next-Stage Development Group, Lancaster Angel Network, Harrell Partners, Stanford Venture Advisors, MD Center for Entrepreneurship, Great Falls Capital, Hafezi Capital, and Keiretsu Forum.
EVENT PARTNERS:  
 

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
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InvestMaryland Wins Big, Raises $84 million for VC program

Last week, the State of Maryland became the first state in the USA to use an online auction to raise funds for a venture capital program.  The auction yielded $84 million, a whopping 20% more than the original forecasted goal of $70 million.  On September 24, 2011, I wrote a brief summary of the InvestMaryland program.

InvestMaryland will invest in the State’s promising start-up and early stage companies, as early as this summer.  The $84 million raised was generated through an online auction of premium tax credits to 11 insurance companies (including Hartford Insurance, New York Life, Chubb, GEICO, and Met Life) with operations in Maryland.  The inaugural round of investments will be made in innovative companies this summer through several private venture capital firms and the State’s successful Maryland Venture Fund (MVF),

Said Governor Martin O’Malley, “Our State is well-positioned to be a leader in the new economy as a global hub of innovation – a leader in science, security, health, discovery and information technology. That’s why last year, together with business leaders from across the State and the General Assembly, we chose to invest in our diverse and highly-educated workforce and the skills and talents of our people for the jobs and opportunity of tomorrow.”  

The InvestMaryland program is being implemented through the Maryland Venture Fund Authority, on which I am very proud to serve, as well as the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development (DBED).

Earlier this year, the Authority selected Grant Street Group to prepare for and run the tax credit auction and also recently selected Altius Associates, a London-based firm, to oversee the selection of three to four private venture firms to invest the InvestMaryland funds. The private venture firms will be responsible for investing two-thirds of the funds, which will return 100 percent of the principal and 80 percent of the profits to the State’s general fund. The remaining 33 percent will be invested by 17-year-old Maryland Venture Fund (MVF).  The Maryland Small Business Development Financing Authority (MSBDFA) will also receive a portion of funds for investment. Returns on the funds invested through the MVF will be reinvested in the program.

InvestMaryland has the potential to create thousands of jobs in Innovation Economy sectors – life sciences and biotechnology, cyber security/IT and clean/green tech and attract billions of follow on capital.

Maryland has an outstanding infrastructure to support an Innovation Economy. The Milken Institute ranks Maryland #2 in the nation for technology and science assets. According to study results, while Maryland received high rankings in human capital investment, research and development inputs, technology and science workforce, and technology concentration and dynamism, it lagged behind other states in risk capital and entrepreneurial infrastructure, demonstrating the need for InvestMaryland and other programs.

How will Altius select the Venture Capital firms?  Altius will be evaluating venture capital funds based on management experience, firm experience, investment performance and criteria defined in the legislation.

When will the firms be selected?  Venture capital firms will be selected starting June/July 2012 for a projected18-month period and make first round of investments in summer 2012.

What is the investment return to the State? The selected venture firms will return 100 percent of the principal investment by the State before taking any distribution of profits and will then pay 80 percent of the profits to the State.  Any returns on investments made through the Maryland Venture Fund go back into the fund for an evergreen program.

What is the projected average investment with venture capital companies? Investment will likely range from as low as $250,000 upwards to $10M.

Is there investment funding available from MVF?   Maryland Venture Fund will continue to invest in early stage companies (tech, biotech, clean energy) from $50,000 to $500,000 as initial investments.

Maryland Venture Fund Authority (MVFA) will perform a monitoring role to ensure that  investments and reporting meet the legislative guidelines.

In summary, as a member of the MVFA, and as a resident and business owner in Maryland, I am very excited to see this InvestMaryland program being implemented:

  • This program brings great benefit for taxpayers.  It helps create the jobs and companies of tomorrow and builds an economic climate where the most promising ideas and innovations have a chance to mature.
  • This is a win-win for all constituencies within the State of Maryland. Through this initiative, we can:
    • Infuse much needed capital into our seed and early stage companies
    • Recapitalize the State’s successful Maryland Venture Fund
    • Ensure no up-front cost to taxpayers
    • Provide a tax benefit to insurance companies who bid today, who can begin claiming credits in 2015.

Thanks for reading.  I’d appreciate any Comments or feedback you may have on InvestMaryland.

Featured image courtesy of Anosmia via Creative Commons.

Yanik Silver’s 34 WINNING Rules for Maverick Entrepreneurs

My friend Yanik Silver is a successful, young, internet marketing expert.  A self-made millionaire by the age of 30, Yanik exudes creativity, energy, and passion.  He’s a veritable idea factory, and I am impressed by his knowledge and wisdom at such a relatively young age.  His Twitter handle is @yaniksilver and his main Blog site is InternetLifestyle.com.

Yanik has, through reflection and analysis of his business experience and interactions with dozens of the world’s top entrepreneurs and business leaders, developed what he calls his “34 Rules “  They can also be found on one of his Blogs:  maverickbusinessinsider.com.

So here are YANIK SILVER’S 34 RULES FOR MAVERICK ENTREPRENEURS  (I added some commentary of my own in BOLD text below.)

  1. It’s got to be a BIG idea that you, your team and your customers can “get” in seconds.  Agree 100% that THINKING BIG is one of the most important things you can do in business.  See my Blog Post on “5 KEY LEARNINGS.”
  2. Strive to create 10x — 100x in value for any price you charge. Your rewards are always proportionate to the value you provide.
  3. You must charge a premium price so you have a large margin to provide an extraordinary value & experience.  This is right out of the Steve Jobs Playbook!
  4. Provide a ‘Reason Why’ customers should do business with you and pay you a premium.
  5. Get paid before you deliver your product or service. And when possible figure out how to create recurring revenue from transactions.  Collecting cash early allows you to finance your business, and ecurring revenue creates maximum shareholder value.
  6. You get to make the rules for your business. Don’t let industry norms dictate how you’ll work or who you’ll work with.  Another Steve Jobsism.
  7. Create your business around your life instead of settling for your life around your business.
  8. Consistently and constantly force yourself to focus on the ‘critically few’ proactive activities that produce exponential results. Don’t get caught up in minutia & bullshit.  Focus!
  9. Seek to minimize start-up risk but have maximum upside potential.
  10. Get your idea out there as fast as possible even if it’s not quite ready by setting must-hit deadlines. Let the market tell you if you have a winner or not. If not — move on and fail forward fast! If it’s got potential — then you can make it better.  The one great characteristic of internet-based businesses is that the feedback loop is shortened and rapid iteration can be done to perfect the model.
  11. Find partners and team members who are strong where you are weak and appreciate being paid on results.
  12. Your reputation always counts. Honor your obligations and agreements.  There’s nothing more important than INTEGRITY.
  13. Never, ever get paid based on hours worked.
  14. Leverage your marketing activities exponentially by using direct response methods and testing.
  15. Measure and track your marketing so you know what’s working and what’s not.
  16. Bootstrap. Having too much capital leads to incredible waste and doing things using conventional means.  I love this concept.  Bootstrapping builds a culture of resourceful and a “lean and mean” operating philosophy.
  17. Your partners and employees actions are their true core — not what they tell you.
  18. Keep asking the right questions to come up with innovative solutions. “How?”, “What?”, “Where?”, “Who Else?” & “Why?” open up possibilities.
  19. You’ll never have a perfect business and you’ll never be totally “done”. Deal with it.  Warren Buffett has said that it’s not necessary to do extraordinary things to get extraordinary results.  See my related Blog Post on Buffett.
  20. Focus most of your time on your core strengths and less time working in areas you suck at.
  21. Make it easier for customers to buy by taking away the risk of the transaction by guaranteeing what you do in a meaningful way.  If you are supremely confident in your product or service, you should have no problem guaranteeing it, and every customer loves a guarantee.
  22. Always have something else to sell (via upsell, cross-sell, follow-up offer, etc) whenever a transaction takes place. The hottest buyer in the world is one who just gave you money.
  23. Always go back to your existing customers with exceptional offers and reasons they should give you more money. It’s 5x less expensive to sell to happy customers than go find new ones.
  24. However the flip side is – fire your most annoying customers. They’ll be replaced with the right ones.  I have done this and it has worked miracles in getting my Team focused on the higher-value customers.  Figure out how to “score” or rank your customers and rationalize the lowest value ones.  You can then apply the scoring system to new business opportunities you evaluate, so that you accept the customers you want.
  25. The marketplace and competitors are always trying to beat you down to a commodity. Don’t let that happen.  I agree that getting into a commodity position is a losing proposition because someone will ALWAYS be lower in price.
  26. Develop and build your business’s personality that stands out. People want to buy from people.
  27. Create your own category so you can be first in the consumer’s mind.
  28. Go the opposite direction competitors are headed — you’ll stand out.  It’s amazing how so many of successful business leaders and investors are CONTRAIAN in their thinking.
  29. Mastermind and collaborate with other smart entrepreneurs if they have futures that are even bigger than their present.  You can’t win by yourself.  You need peers, advisors, mentors, and others who can help you.  Create a group, join a YPO or EO Forum, or a Vistage Group.  I am in a YPO Forum and the learnings and experience have been priceless.
  30. Celebrate your victories. It’s too easy to simply move on to your next goal without acknowledging and appreciating the ‘win’.  This is a good one.  Oftentimes, you see Founders relentlessly clamoring for “more, more, more!” without stopping to celebrate success.  This is super important for morale.
  31. Make your business AND doing business with you FUN!
  32. Do the unexpected before and after anything goes wrong so customers are compelled to ‘share your story’.
  33. Get a life! Business and making money are important but your life is the sum total of your experiences. Go out and create experiences & adventures so you can come back renewed and inspired for your next big thing.  Life is very short, so enjoy your moments at every opportunity.
  34. Give back! Commit to taking a % of your company’s sales and make a difference. If this becomes a habit like brushing your teeth pretty soon the big checks with lots of zeros won’t be scary to write. If you think you can’t donate a percentage of your sales simply raise your price.  The more you give, the more things come back to you. Giving is great for the community, for your company, and your teammates.  
This is a big list and, for me, I like #1, #6, and #8.  I believe in “Thinking Big.”  You’re going to be thinking anyway, so why not Think Big?  As for #6,  your business will definitely differentiate better if you follow your voice and make your own rules, as opposed to following someone else.  The great companies create their own products and solutions.  They set the trends.  Finally, I can’t say enough about FOCUS (#8), because that’s one of the TOP 5 necessities for success.  I blogged about this in my very first Blog Post, SUCCESS FORMULA.
Which one of these 34 RULES do you like best or find most relevant to your business?  
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Featured image courtesy of Ralph Zuranski, licensed via creative commons.

InvestMaryland, Winning by Fueling Innovation + Creating Jobs

The State of Maryland is creating a $70 million investment fund to deploy into venture capital funds to stimulate innovation, spur economic growth, and create jobs.

This initiative is called “InvestMaryland,” and I am proud to have been appointed by Governor Martin O’Malley as a Member of the Maryland Venture Fund Authority, which will provide guidance to and oversight of the program.

This is a groundbreaking effort by the State of Maryland, and I applaud all of the various business and political constituencies who made this happen.

The State plans to raise at least $70 million by auctioning off tax credits to insurance companies.  About 2/3 of these proceeds will be invested into private venture capital funds, and 1/3 will be given to the Maryland Venture Fund, which will in turn invest in emerging companies in industried such as information technology, clean energy, and life sciences, among others.

Maryland is not the first state to employ this idea.  Eleven other states already have programs similar to InvestMaryland.  The expected benefit from InvestMaryland, according to some, is the creation of 2000+ new jobs while supporting at least 200 businesses.

Here is the the link to Gazette.net’s article in February, 2011 which covers the announcement of the program.

I am encouraged by these kinds of initiatives and would love to see more states embrace these kinds of public-private efforts to stimulate capital formation, and help create jobs and nurture new technologies and emerging companies.

Thank you for reading.  Let me know your thoughts about the InvestMaryland program or other ways in which technologies and small businesses can be supported.  And please sign up for my Blog!

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Mentoring Entrepreneurs the FounderCorps Way

What is Mentorship?

My colleagues at FounderCorps have worked diligently to define what Mentorship is, and how we want to work with entrepreneur mentees.  This post summarizes and paraphrases some of the highlights from Jonathan Aberman’s post on the FounderCorps Mentorship Best Practice page.

The mentor/mentee relationship is a unique and personal relationship, which transcends a mere advisor or board relationship. It is one of the most rewarding things people can be involved in outside of their family relationships.  Mentorship doesn’t happen by accident. Both the mentor and the mentee have their parts to play in a successful mentor/mentee relationship.

A “mentor” is a person with professional and life experience that can be shared to help others learn and develop.  The mentor is willing to share these experiences in a manner that the mentee can react to and understand.  While there may be commercial aspects to a mentor’s engagement, at its best the advice and help that is offered is provided freely and without expectation of immediate reward.

A mentee is willing to be engaged and respectful of the mentor’s time and should understand that the best mentors are not motivated by money but by personal satisfaction.

Mentorship is not merely advice. It is a bilateral commitment between two people, based upon mutual trust and a commitment.  The commitment of the mentor is to provide advice and help to the mentee with the mentee’s best interests in mind.  The commitment of the mentee is to be ready to listen to the advice and take the help and act upon it.  The currency of the mentor/mentee relationship is personal satisfaction and shared accomplishment.

Is Mentorship the Same Thing as Providing Advice?

A mentor/mentee relationship often is centered upon the giving of advice; however, a mentor/mentee relationship is more than merely providing advice; it is a bi-lateral relationship where the mentor and the mentee both work with and benefit from the other. There is a very important aspect of shared mission that exists at the core of a mentor/mentee relationship.   A mentor doesn’t merely provide war stories or open ended advice. Instead, a mentor provides advice in context with the best interests of the mentee in mind.

Mentorship Must be Free of Conflict

Conflict in itself is neutral – it is merely a lack of congruence between the best interests of the person giving advice, the person getting the advice, and the organization (if any) through which the advice is given.  The conflict does not mean that the various parts of the relationship are destined to fail, or that the conflict cannot be resolved in a way that serves the best interests of all.  In an ideal situation, any conflict should be identified and discussed.  We believe that in any advisor/advisee relationship conflicts should be identified and acknowledged.  This does not defeat the possibility of a successful mentorship, and results in an honest relationship where parties will know which best interests will ultimately control.

The mentor/mentee relationship should usually be free of conflict.  The best interests of the mentee should be tantamount.  Following from this is an expectation that the mentor is not exposed to liability or financial obligation.  The best mentor/mentee relationship is based upon advice and support freely given and freely ignored. 

What Supports a Successful Mentor/Mentee Relationship?

The currency of a successful mentor/mentee relationship is personal satisfaction. It is not a commercial relationship, and relies upon participants deriving psychic benefits.

How Does the Mentor/Mentee Relationship Begin?

Mentorship can arise out of formal relationships; however they cannot be created formally. Directors, Advisory Board members, and supervisors may offer advice, but they are not mentors.  The mentor/mentee relationship arises informally through positive association over a period of time.  Its success requires a personal relationship, based upon trust. This allows it to be more useful for the mentee, but also more difficult to obtain.  As is the case of any personal relationship, consistency and integrity over an extended period are usually required to establish the deep connection of a mentor/mentee relationship.

Does That Mean Mentor/Mentee Relationships Should Always Be Informal?

The mentor/mentee relationship has to work for both parties.  This often means that the best relationships are those that have clarity of expectations, for example, time commitment per month or time period.  Both parties should acknowledge that most mentor/mentee relationships have an end point, where they do not work for one or the other.  Therefore, the best mentor/mentee relationships often arise out of a formal interaction, for example, assisting in a business plan competition.  Or, around a specific time period.  In the absence of a formal initial structure, mentors/mentees should include in their interactions a regular check-in discussion, to make sure that both are getting the positive benefits they need for it to be a rewarding relationship.  Expectations and motivations need to be understood and acknowledged at all times.

What is the Best Way to Find a Mentor?

Mentorship can’t occur until the mentee is ready for a mentor’s assistance.  Mentors are best found through a variety of ways including personal networking, positive interactions in a formal advisory setting, and via an introduction from a trusted referral source.  Formal vetting programs, like an advisory program operated by a University or community group are great ways to find mentors.  Professional service providers are also a potential good source of mentors, because of their deep relationships with many experienced people who could be suitable mentors.

What Are the Most Important Attributes of a Successful Mentor/Mentee Relationship?

The most successful mentor/mentee relationships have many of these characteristics.

  • Understanding of each other’s “winning strategy.”  In order for mentors and mentees to communicate well they must appreciate how the other deals with challenges, and speak to each other in a way that the other can hear. Mentors/mentees don’t have to have the same winning strategy, but when they don’t match up there is a need for a higher level of sensitivity and care.
  • Both mentor and mentee have to be coachable. Both parties must be self-aware and able to take criticism and modify their behavior. Without coachability you don’t have a real exchange of information and a shared experience – you have one-directional communication.
  • Both are respectful of time commitments.  It’s not always convenient from a work-life balance perspective to be a mentor or mentee. It’s essential that each party be flexible whenever possible, and tries to limit emergencies to real emergencies.
  • Both must act on information received. Each party must listen to the other and demonstrate through conduct some sort of acknowledgment. A good mentor does not need to have her advice followed, but if a mentee continually ignores advice and thoughts without discussing why, he runs the risk of creating for the mentor the sense that she is wasting her time. For the mentor, not listening to the mentee and modifying advice or how it’s delivered, creates for the mentee a sense that the mentor isn’t really interested in a bilateral relationship.
  • There must be honesty and transparency. The best mentor/mentee relationships are valuable because there is a real exchange of viewpoints and feedback. This can’t happen if critical facts are omitted, or words are measured to protect feelings.
  • Mentors must be willing to provide substantial benefits.  Mentees look for mentors to provide support, empathy and contacts.  They should also look to their mentors to provide an external monitoring process of the mentee’s progression against the shared goals identified by the mentor/mentee.
  • Mentees must not embarrass or abuse their mentor’s trust.  Mentees should ensure that any introduction or other extension of assistance by the mentor is treated with respect and that there is follow through.  There needs to be an appreciation that when a mentor acts to assist a mentee by making introductions or otherwise using his own influence, there is a reputational risk to the mentor if the mentee does not perform.
  • There must be discretion. Along with honesty, keeping confidences is essential, since personal information and feelings are shared. The more comfortable the participants are in sharing sensitive information, the more valuable and lasting the mentor/mentee relationship.
  • Each party must be open to having the relationship change over time. As in any other personal relationship, the mentor/mentee relationship evolves. Many relationships are situational, or are relevant for a limited time period. Also, at times one party “outgrows” the other. “Breaking up” with a mentor/mentee can be emotionally difficult. It’s essential to be professional when the relationship is no longer satisfying to one party or the other.
  • A mentor/mentee relationship is not a family relationship.  A mistake that many mentor/mentees make is to analogize their relationship to a family relationship, like a big sister or uncle. But mentors/mentees are not your relatives. They are people who are in a mutually beneficial relationship, based upon positive psychic rewards. You should never take a mentor/mentee for granted.
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