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Jordan L. Lewites

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Ten South By Southwest 2013 Lessons To Apply In Business

Started writing my own recap to SXSW 2013 - but Diana Kander pretty much summed it up.

Here are 10 SXSW Lessons to live by:

SXSW Interactive just wrapped up, and it’s been an intense five days. It was inspiring, exhausting and thought provoking. Not long into my first day I began to notice parallels between surviving SXSW and succeeding as a business owner, so I put together this list of lessons learned:

1. The plan is just a roadmap. You can plan and plan for what you think your SXSW experience will look like and what events you are going to attend, but most of what you’ll end up doing will be impromptu and off the schedule. You have to understand that the plan is just a roadmap; as long as you have a good idea of where you are going, you’ll really benefit from and enjoy all the detours you’ll inevitably encounter along the way.

2. People are much more likely to listen or help if you don’t try to sell them. I saw a lot of people try to push their ideas like street peddlers.SXSW attendees are tired of being repeatedly accosted, so street peddlers get ignored. Focus on helping others first. Listen to their ideas and passions, and their interest in your pursuits will follow.

3. You need a lot of energy! Just like SXSW, business life is non-stop. You have to figure out how to work until 2 a.m. or 3 a.m., get up at 7 a.m., and still function and produce day after day.

4. Follow up immediately after meeting someone. If you delay getting in touch with someone after getting their card, you’ll likely forget all the details of the interaction or what you were supposed to follow up about; and the longer you wait, the less they will remember about you.

5. Your pitch needs to be simple and easy to understand. Meeting hundreds of people who only give you a moment of their time really helps you hone your pitch. You quickly learn that if your explanation is not simple to understand or interesting, they are going to move on and talk to someone else. Tip: if you want to know if you have a strong pitch, occasionally ask someone to tell you what they think your company does after you introduce yourself.

6. There’s a lot of competition out there. There’s no place like SXSW to learn that no matter how brilliant your idea, there’s at least three other companies that think they are going to own the same market. When ideas are plentiful, execution is everything.

7. Potential mentors are everywhere. SXSW has the best and the brightest in attendance, but you have to be selective about who to solicit for advice. Critically assess who will provide the most value to your company and your personal needs and figure out a way to get them to listen. And don’t worry: If they say no, there are at least 10 more people around who can provide you with great advice.

8. Always be prepared to pitch. At SXSW, you never know who might share your elevator or literally bump into you as you round a corner, so look your best, have your pitch down, and always carry your product or something to demo.

9. Have a strategy to market your company. Don’t just give your card to anyone who makes eye contact. Your product or business isn’t for everyone. If you can narrow your focus to a target customer and think of creative ways to reach that target, you will get better results. Otherwise, you just look desperate and your ideas will be ignored.

10. Give yourself time to expand your mind. There are so many thought-provoking lectures and panels at SXSW that can have profound impacts on your business or your personal life. But you don’t need to wait for SXSW each year to reflect and learn something new. Opportunities to learn and develop are all around you, so remember to make time for them every now and then.

What did you learn from SXSW that will help you in your company? Use the comments to help keep the conversation going.

Diana Kander is an entrepreneur-in-residence at the Kauffman Foundation and an author at www.dianakander.com.

This was shared with me during an angel investor panel this past week in Austin - Numbers kinda shocked me 

6 Steps to Connecting With Influential People

A great piece in @ Entrepreneur this month - Here are his six steps to connecting with influencers in your industry.

1. Offer something.
"Give three things and ask for one," Babitsky says. In other words: Give more than you take. When he’s interested in making contact with an influencer, Babitsky first determines what he can offer that will be of value to the contact. He may be writing a white paper or book or be organizing a conference where he can offer the individual a speaking gig.

Of course, not everyone is writing books or organizing conferences every day. However, you can offer to interview the person for your blog or for a special report on your web site. Alternatively, you might be involved with a professional or trade organization where you can introduce the individual to your own network of influencers.

2. Do your homework.
It’s usually possible to research influencers’ past writing and speeches, interests, and pet causes with a simple online search. Don’t waste their time asking basic questions or for information that is easily available online. Instead, find common points and use those to find areas where you might connect.

3. Get in touch.
Babitsky likes to reach out via phone or email instead of social media because it’s more personal, he says. However, take your lead from the influencer’s cues. If he or she is active on Twitter or carries on online conversations on his or her blog, that might be a good way to get in touch, too.

4. Limit the ask.
When reaching out for the first time, make it short and sweet. Don’t ask for anything that will take more than 10 or 15 minutes — a brief interview or a straightforward question or two. People generally like to help, but they may not have time to answer lengthy questionnaires or get involved in a seemingly endless back-and-forth.

5. Keep in touch.
Maintain a database of contacts that also includes searchable keywords related to interests. That way, if you come across an article or information related to some of your contacts’ interests, you can easily send it along, keeping you relevant and memorable.

6. Ask to reciprocate.
If someone has helped you, Babitsky recommends asking the individual if there is anything you might do to help him or her. The individual may be dealing with a challenge you can help alleviate, he says. If not, the ask is another form of relationship building, showing the influencer that you’re interested in giving back.

To all friends who ask if they need a business plan to start a company….

Entrepreneurs: You’re More Important Than Your Business Plan

"Would you take a look at my business plan?"

Some member of our staff at Echoing Green, an angel investor and grantmaker in social enterprise, hears this request every week. And we are often happy to review these start-up plans — which include the typical elements such as a product description, competitive analysis, estimate of market size, and projected financials. But we are interested in much more than these traditional plans. We use other criteria to find new people and ideas that can create large-scale social change.

In short, the business plan is overrated.

Like the vast majority of start-ups, most new social enterprises are bootstrapping efforts. As Amar Bhide said in “Bootstrap Finance: The Art of Start-ups" (a 20-year-old HBR article that is an uncanny precursor to today’s "lean startup" meme), traditional business planning processes are less relevant to bootstrappers — where resilience trumps planning and energy trumps experience.

Applying a formal spreadsheet-type analysis to an early stage concept can be “disastrous.” Instead, we look at eight broad rules for success, half of which are about the entrepreneur herself (not her business plan). These are lessons we’ve learned from investing $30 million over the last 25 years in 500+ social start-ups about what make a promising social entrepreneur, but they are equally applicable to any entrepreneur.

Purpose and PassionDo they care deeply about this issue or community? Do we understand why?In 2012 Echoing Green invested in 28-year-old Marquis Taylor as one of our Open Society Black Male Achievement Fellows. Marquis created an organization called Coaching For Change to engage young Black men as entrepreneurs pursuing business opportunities related to basketball, football, and other sports. His passion was evident from his initial application — as the child of a single mother in South Central Los Angeles, basketball was his ticket to college. But he also understood that while a career as a professional athlete was extremely unlikely, sports itself was a multi-billion dollar industry with great opportunity as coaches, trainers, even youth camp organizers.

Perspective and ResilienceWill this person bounce back from the obstacles they will surely face in building this business? According to official statistics, more than 50% of new enterprises fail in the first 5 years. But in our experience 100% of new entrepreneurs face partial failure regularly. Even when a particular challenge doesn’t end the business immediately, the ability to bounce back is crucial. Although this is Marquis’ first entrepreneurial endeavor, his journey from academically struggling high school student to graduate student at Smith College demonstrated the grit and tenacity to consistently overcome obstacles.

Point of Entry and LeadershipCan you envision this person entering a field in a transformative way and inspiring others to action? All leaders must demonstrate authenticity and legitimacy with their customer base and other stakeholders. Marquis is building his organization in Massachusetts, a far cry from the Los Angeles of his youth. But his authentic presence and open attitude have given him access to the insular industry and geography where he now works.

Power Source and Resource MagnetismCan this person attract money, people, and other resources to their cause? At Echoing Green we’ve learned that more important than charisma is what we call resource magnetism. Whether or not the entrepreneur has a thousand-watt smile (and it just so happens that Marquis does!) it is much more important that she is able to quietly persuade people around her to volunteer their time, talent, and treasure. Somehow Marquis is able to use the most tenuous of connections to arrange a conversation with a busy but influential leader, and then walk out with a financial commitment or five more introductions.

Even the most entrepreneurial leader, of course, needs a great idea. Here are our four rules we use to evaluate the underlying business concept:

InnovationHas it been tried this way before? There are hundreds of organizations that use athletics as a way of engaging low-income teenagers. But too many of these organizations fail young people by neglecting to make the connection between athletic success and professional success. Marquis found a way to do this. Coaching For Change asks young people to build their own businesses around youth clinics, summer sports camps, and coaching. The kids develop discipline and focus, but also practical, marketable skills.

ImportanceDoes this organization tackle an issue that matters in the world? Our Fellows must not only have a clever idea — they need to tackle one of society’s major pain points. Marquis reminds us that nearly half of all young black men who start high school will not graduate. His work matters.

Potential for Big, Bold ImpactCould this organization directly, or by example, change a big system? Truly great organizations don’t merely grow, they also influence their field. Marquis is ambitious and he hopes Coaching for Change will work with as many young people as possible. Butreaching scale through copycat businesses is just fine and if Marquis can demonstrate the viability of his model, we believe it will be adopted more broadly and faster than Coaching for Change can spread it.

A Good Business PlanDoes the start-up plan (budget, timeline, staffing, etc.) seem thoughtful?Of course, the business plan remains an important element and we don’t neglect to look at it. While Marquis’ plan today is well-structured, the truth is that when we met him it was not the strongest part of his overall presentation. But we invested in him because we believe that helping an early-stage entrepreneur articulate a detailed plan is one of the ways that risk-tolerant investors can be most helpful.

Coaching for Change is by no means an established success. And even the most promising social enterprise take wrong turns. We are proud to have made early investments in the work of Andrew Youn, who founded One Acre Fund; Wendy Kopp, who founded Teach for America; and Vikram Akula, who founded SKS Microfinance. Each has led their start-up to massive impact for hundreds of thousands of people and influenced the way resources are deployed in their fields. But we’re equally proud of Angel Taveras, whose Echoing Green-funded mentoring program never reached scale, but who now pursues social change as the Mayor of Providence, Rhode Island. So while we know that Marquis Taylor meets our eight criteria and has a better than average chance of success, we’re still buckled in for what might be a bumpy ride.

The point is that a business planning process can be extremely valuable to an entrepreneur. But if we’re going to truly see change through entrepreneurship, we have to focus on the person first and the business plan second.

Never before in history, have entrepreneurs been able to create so much value for so little capital in so short a time.
Basil Peters
No one has gone to school to be a CEO—you don’t learn this except by getting in there and figuring it out.
Dennis Crowley, CEO Foursquare