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Jordan L. Lewites

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7 Lessons Every Young Entrepreneur Can Learn From ‘SharkTank’

It’s simple. Follow these 7 rules. I like to refer back to this article from time to time because who in America doesn’t love watching wannabe Entrepreneurs make it or break it on SharkTank? 

7 Lessons Every Young Entrepreneur Can Learn From ‘SharkTank’

When ABC’s SharkTank debuted three years ago, I was instantly hooked. But, of course, I wasn’t the only one. It quickly became a favorite among millions across the country and helped garner attention for entrepreneurs and business owners who are tasked with finding the funding to make their dreams a reality every day.

While the TV show SharkTank gives entrepreneurs the opportunity to pitch their businesses to a panel of five very successful (and often intimidating) investors, off camera many newbie treps are taking notes. And though dozens of entrepreneurs have landed an investment, even the misses offer a learning experience to young entrepreneurs who may one day pitch their big ideas to a room full of sharks.

Below are some of the lessons I believe every entrepreneur — young and old — can take away from SharkTank:

1. Be passionate. Whether you are pitching to investors, talking to customers or riding the elevator with some moneyed stranger, the passion for your company should be evident. To become successful you better love what you’re doing. Otherwise, it won’t keep you going when times get tough — and you can forget landing funding too.

2. Have hustle. A consistent characteristic in every entrepreneur is the ability to execute. Whether you’re building a product or going after new customers, prove that you can get things done. Don’t approach investors or enter any shark tank until you have shown a knack for creating value and the willingness to go the extra mile.

3. Create a strong team. I’m not saying that solo-founder companies can’t be successful, but I guarantee investors will always prefer a cohesive team consisting of hard-working individuals with complementary skills. If you simply can’t find the right co-founder, then surround yourself with mentors and create an advisory board of knowledgeable and reliable business professionals.

4. Know your pitch. No matter if you’re on SharkTank, at a cocktail party or sitting in the airport, you never know who you might run into and whether they might become an asset to your business. Always be able to explain what your company does in less than three minutes and confidently answer any questions. For an optimal and memorable pitch, explain the problems you want to solve, how you’re going to solve them, why your team is the best option for solving them and the value you’re bringing to the market.

5. Make your product a must have. If you think about the most successful companies, many of them created products and services that people “needed to have.” Every entrepreneur should aim for this. On SharkTank, it’s a frequent sticking point because unless you’re Apple, it’s extremely hard to build a big business based on something that’s only “nice to have.”

6. Have many plans. I’ve never been a huge advocate for creating massive business plans because once you get started, things will inevitably change — rendering your fancy 50-page business plan a useless stack of papers. However, I do recommend crafting an executive summary, business outline, market analysis, financial projections, investor presentation and a marketing plan. On SharkTank, I’ve never seen an entrepreneur whip out a business plan, but you can usually tell who came prepared.

7. Think big. One reason why internet companies have exploded in the last few years is, they have easier models to scale than other businesses. Leveraging the internet and mobile devices not only requires less capital, but also the ability to reach billions of potential customers in an instant. If you’re building a more traditional business, be mindful of the additional fixed and variable expenses, how your cost structure will manage scaling up and the ability to keep operating margins strong and profitable.

-Jonah Lupton

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.

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.

Facebook Below $20: Is It a Buy? 

Steven Russolillo of the WSJ gives his analysis on why and why not $FB is worth holding for the long term. It’s pretty unbelievable watching CNBC all week and hearing nothing but how this stock is tanking.

I can explicitly remember sitting in my dorm room in ‘06 watching Maria Bartiromo talk about nothing except the Dow, Oil, and the War on Terror…All of this going on while college kids across the country surfed theFacebook.com….

Little did they know we were all on the verge of a technology revolution.

Facebook has changed our lives forever…and although it may need a few quarters to bottom-out….I wouldn’t be placing it on the same levels as Zynga, Groupon, etc as many analysts have.

It’s not even in the same ballpark. 

We were inspired by Zuckerberg’s Law — yes, that Zuckerberg — which states that the amount of online data about you doubles each year.
Vizify co-founder, Todd Silverstein

"I like you Siri, you’re going places." 

This is what $99 Billion in cash to spend on Advertising will get you. Worth every penny. 

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