I’m sitting in on a packed breakout session at the SxSW conference with Charlie O’Donnell of First Round Capital.
If you’re interested in creating technology-driven businesses, you should know about Charlie.
I like Charlie because he’s worked both sides of the fence (founder/CEO of businesses and venture capitalist); and he’s extremely well-networked .
His current employer First Round helps entrepreneurs with their early financing (before the big venture capitalists get involved).
Note: If you want to know more about the different stages of raising money, check out The 5 Major Stages of Startup Funding article I wrote.
Think of them as a “feeder fund” to the larger investors. If you can sell First Round on investing in you, you’re about 100X as likely to get larger funding from more venture capitalists.
Here are some tips he shared with entrepreneurs:
Ask For Advice (not money)
He says: “If you ask for advice (from venture capitalists), you get money…if you ask for money, you get advice.”
Vet Your Product/Product Management is Key
Most startups have a biz person and a techie…but it’s the translation in the middle that’s key (someone to focus on what the milestones are, priorities, etc. for the product).
Simple things like getting wireframes of your products nailed down before you start coding can be a huge time saver.
“The best ideas are the ones that nobody thought would work.”
Everyone is good at coming up with feature ideas…it’s a lot tougher to pick the ones to prioritize on.
So, be very clear about who is in charge of product management.
Things Take Longer And Cost More Than You Think
Building a company will take three times as long and cost twice as much; or take twice as long as cost three times as much.
Have 2-Week Plans (not 6-month plans)
Focus on Small/Short Milestones
This is tougher but will make you more efficient. Again, this is where someone with product management is key.
Hiring Is Harder Than You Think
On-boarding is harder and takes longer than you think. A programmer, for example, takes awhile to get to know your systems.
Venture capitalists, O’Donnell adds, don’t always help: “VCs look only at top-level employees…and never ask details about lower level hires.”
Find people who have failed in your space because they’ve learned the most — don’t just talk to people at a successful company like Twitter.
You Might Consider Selling Customers First, VCs Later
It’s way easier to ask a venture capitalist for money than it is to ask a customer…but you should focus on getting sales from customer to increase your leverage with VCs.
For example, Square Space in New York focused on generating sales (as opposed to raising money from VCs) and is now in a position of greater control with raising money from VCs.
PR is really hard to do…there are not that many people who do it well.
You may get a bunch of public relations on the launch day, but it will be much tougher to get PR a few months later (unless you have a new milestone) — again, having greater frequency of milestones is a theme here.
Building a Startup Is All About “Unfair Advantages”
A key leverage point with VCs is your “unfair advantages.”
Examples of unfair advantages:
For example, Gary Vaynerchuk can jump on his Wine Library video blog right now and get a developer hired immediately — that is a good “unfair advantage” he has over his competition.
3 Must-Haves To Attract A VC
Caution: Don’t Idealize Strategic Investments
Don’t assume that when a strategic investor puts money in you that you’ll get everything from that company that makes sense.
He points to his startup Indeed raising $1 Million from the New York Times and assuming that the newspaper would promote Indeed on its highly-trafficked Jobs Web pages (which it wouldn’t do).
Start The Wind-Down Process Early
When you’ve raised venture capital and your business isn’t working out, leave yourself enough time to sell your assets.
That’s because the “wind-down” period of a business goes very fast and selling your remaining assets takes time and energy.
I’m here at the South By Southwest (SxSW) conference listing to blogger Darren Rowse give a talk on blogging.
If you are interested in blogging, you should listen to what Rowse says; his three blogs are among the highest ranking Web sites, according to Alexa:
Here are some tips he shared on turning your blog into a six-figure a year business (all specifics and examples are related to his Digital Photography School) :
1) Start With Content
How frequent should you post : He believes you should post at least one to two blog articles a day (to build up your content library for the search engines to index).
In addition to posting content himself, he hires other writers who he pays about$60 (U.S.) per post.
His other bloggers can come up with their own topics though Darren also gives them ideas on topics.
Ask yourself: Where are my readers gathering already (and then go and find them).
Chances are your audience is hanging out already in places like Twitter, Facebook and forums.
He recommends using forums in addition to blogs. While Darren and I chatted later in the day he told me that forums appeal to a different community than his blog does.
However, he pointed out that Google and the search engines don’t crawl his forums content as much as they do his blog content.
He also recommends engaging the audience in polls — For example, a member of his photo site asked for advice on how to photograph their dying grandma and they generated 100+ responses.
4) Capture Contacts — Find a way to stick visitors to your site
Of the 410, 000 subscribers, over 300,000 are email (versus 100,000 for RSS feeds)
Traffic is three times the volume of normal days when he sends an email update out. Advertising revenue goes up too.
5) How to Monetize Blogs
In years 1 and 2, he used ad networks and affiliate markets.
In years 3 and 4, he hired 50 writers initially (from his audience) (now it’s 12 writers writing 50 posts per week).
He says he generated $13,000 in Amazon affiliate revenues last month.
How he monetizes his blogs now:
I heard a cool thing listening to a GetAltitude interview of Brendon Burchard by my business partner Eben Pagan in my car this week– Brendon mentioned four things an expert needs to do to be successful.
I love frameworks so I’ve listed the four items that Brendon mentioned below along with my take on each.
Listing just the framework felt dull so I decided to give an example of each step using the topic of “Social Media? (since Social Media “Experts” are high in demand these days).
An expert needs to break down the abundance of information available to most people into just a handful of key bullets.
For example, if you’re an expert social media, you might suggest to your listener that the four social media tools to focus on are:
You need to tell customers what things mean and why they are important.
Continuing on the Social Media example, you would tell your audience that social media is critical to their business because it can generate half of their Web site traffic.
And this traffic can be unpaid (i.e. you don’t have to pay direct advertising costs to do it).
Experts should focus on how different pieces of something work…as well as how they all work together as a whole.
For example, you might tell your customer that the different Social Media platforms work in the following ways:
A good expert shows their audience the future.
E.g: You can tell your audience that you predict that their Web site will have the following as the top five traffic sources by the end of 2010 if they follow your advice:
If you work on these four things, there’s no doubt you’ll improve your reputation as an expert in your field.
Thanks for the idea, Brendon!
You’ve likely heard of Twitter by now…seeing as 50 million+ people have signed up to try this service that let’s you type in 140 character messages (tweets).
I signed up for Twitter almost a year ago but have only recently started to get the swing of it (you can see my profile at RobDunsonKelly).
Here are some answers to basic questions you might have as you get started on Twitter:
Anyone can — whatever you type into the “What’s Happening?” field can be seen by anyone who is “following” you (see below) or even a stranger who finds your posting by browsing and searching Twitter (unless you send a “direct message” (see below).
People may follow you simply because they saw your Twitter address in your auto-signature, on your LinkedIn or on your blog or you told them about it by phone or in person.
But most important is that people will follow you on Twitter through the valuable tweets you contribute.
As mentioned above, strangers will follow you as they find your tweets — so Twitter is a great way to meet new people.
Here’s a good Top-10 list of Ways To Increase Your Twitter Followers
You can follow anyone on Twitter you want as long as you can find their Twitter name (which you can do by clicking “Find People” from the upper right hand of the Twitter home page and searching them by name (even if their Twitter name is not their actual name).
When you first sign up for Twitter, it will ask you if you’d like to import your email addresses into Twitter and see who of your contacts is on Twitter (and then you can automatically follow them all or just select ones).
You can also follow people you don’t know whether it be a celebrity like Britney Spears or Bill Gates – go to TwitterHolics to find the most popular Tweeters — or a random stranger you find browsing through some of the Twitter lists.
Unlike LinkedIn or Facebook, Twitter does not require that two people follow each other. In other words, you can follow a celebrity like Bill Gates and he does not have to follow you.
If you want to type a message to someone on Twitter (and have only them see it), you type the letter “d” (for “direct”) immediately before their Twitter name (note: you can only do this to someone who is following you).
Check out here for more on How You Send a Private Message.
If you see a tweet that you think your followers will find valuable, then you can retweet it by clicking the Retweet icon next to the tweet (that Tweet will now show up on the list of tweets that your followers will see).
Check out this link for more on How ReTweeting Works.
The Twitter community came up with its own way to categorize Tweets called “hash-tagging.”
So, if you want your Tweet to be grouped with other like Tweets (so that they can be found by Twitter’s search engine or by other sites such as HashTags.org, you simply add a “#” symbol before a word in your Tweet.
For example, if you were going to an industry conference called the “Awesome Summit,” you could do a tweet that says: “I’m headed over to the #AwesomeSummit” and then your tweet will be grouped with anyone else’s tweet that also tagged “AwesomeSummit.”
That way, you and the other folks who have that hash-tag in common can more easily find each other.
Twitter provides lists of popular hash-tagged terms.
Here’s a list of tweets about the subject Warren Buffett.
To mention someone, you simple type the @ sign before their Twitter name into the “What’s Happening?” field on Twitter
So, for example, if you wanted to refer to me in your Twitter post, you would say something like: “Congrats to @RobDunsonKelly on his useful blog.”
If one of your followers clicks on the “@RobDunsonKelly” then they will see my Twitter page with all my most recent posts
note: the person you mention can see that you mentioned them through the right-hand side of their Twitter home page (or by using one of a number of tools such as TweetDeck).
Twitter can be a more efficient way to reference a Web page than the traditional method of email since it’s faster for you to do (you don’t have to type in the recipients names into Twitter) and it is then searchable by the Twitter community (your email isn’t searchable by others).
To reference a page on the Web using Twitter, you can: A) Paste in the URL into the “What’s Happening?” field on Twitter (e.g. @RobDunsonKelly wrote an interesting article on Twitter Tips at
How to Shorten a URL
To shorten a URL, you can use a URL shortening service such as bit.ly or tinyurl.com. I prefer bit.ly since its URLs are shorter and it also provides analytics (so you can see how many people click on the URL you put up on Twitter).
To shorten a URL on bit.ly, for example, just go to http://bit.ly and type the URL you want shortened into the field at the top and then bit.ly will provide you with a shorter URL (which will forever point to the original URL you wanted to share (unless bit.ly were to go out of business and screw the people who have shortened hundreds of millions of link).
There are also services such as TweetDeck which will automatically shorten a URL for you (you just type in the original URL and TweetDeck will shorten for you using bit.ly, TinyURL or another URL shortening service you choose).
I’ve found it super-useful to refer to job postings I know about using Twitter/bit.ly — it’s quick and I can then see how many people clicked on the URL and where they came from (Twitter versus LinkedIn or Facebook (assuming I posted the job there too which I often do).
Finally, if you use more than one of the following social networks: Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or MySpace, you may want to try one a tool such as TweetDeck or HootSuite or Seesmic.
These tools can allow you to both read and post through multiple social networks at once!
I use TweetDeck which requires you to download software to your hard drive. HootSuite is a competing tool that offers a little less functionality than TweetDeck but it is Web-based so it can be used by you on any computer that has Web access.
Check out this video that gives you a quick demo of TweetDeck, HootSuite as well as two other related tools called NetVibes and Ping.fm…Seesmic is another player in this space though they’re not in the video.
And if you want to follow me on Twitter, just go to RobDunsonKelly and click “follow.”
Imagine if you had x-ray vision about your competitors…and even your partners and clients!?
Well, lately, I feel like I do.
I’ve been using a free tool for a month now and it allows me to instantly see the following things about almost any Web site:
It’s called the SEO Toolbar (instructions on downloading it are below); it provides you a toolbar on your Firefox Browser that you can turn on or off while you’re using the Web.
Let me explain a few of the top ways I’m using this SEO Toolbar (using eBay as an example)
In the first screenshot, I hit the blue info button in the upper left-hand corner to get the pop-up yellow screen of information about eBay).
Doing so tells me the following about eBay (I’m going to pick highlights):
In the next screenshot, I’m showing the Rank Checker feature which allows us to type in any keyword (search term that people type into Google) and see where any given Web site ranks on the search results for that keyword.
So, as you can see in the screenshot, ebay would rank in the following position on Google (on the left-hand “organic results” if you searched those terms):
Rank Checker allows many keywords (at least 100 at a time) to be ranked.
Now, I highly recommend you couple this Rank Checker tool with Google’s Keyword Tool (which tells you how much any keyword is searched on Google) which SEO Toolbar also includes.
So now you can tell how well a Web site is doing in terms of its relevancy on the most popular keywords in your business!
If you use Google Analytics on your own Web site, you can simply copy and paste your top keywords from your Analytics account into Rank Checker and see where you’re ranking on Google.
The Rank Checker also shows you where a Web site ranks on Yahoo and Microsoft Bing — I just didn’t have room in the screenshot to show it!
There’s a lot more to the SEO Toolbar than this, but those are some highlights for me.
Here’s how you get SEO Toolbar:
Go to SEO Book Tools and download all three of the tools:
And if you have questions on any of this, feel free to post comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them.
If you like this article, you may want to check out my Got Googlejuice? posting.
Best of luck!
Here’s the 3 best ways of building teamwork my friend James learned from watching his coach…
They include some teamwork exercises that can easily be applied to business.
In training after two athletes have competed against each other (sparring) it is very important to him that they both sit down and share what they learned with each other.
He facilitates the conversation and asks both what is one thing your opponent did well and one thing that you think they could do better?
**Important distinction he gets the athletes to speak to each other NOT him…
After they are done sharing with each other he will tie it all together, praise each of them and reinforce that if they keep working together and talking to each other they will both get better faster.
Having had many of these conversations I find there is something different when I get feedback directly from an opponent or a teammate than from my coach.
Applying to business: We have started doing this on our team through daily huddle calls. Sharing with each other what’s working, what’s not, etc. Very effective and creates great bonding opportunities.
Let me give you an example:
Typical boxing coach would have each individual athlete do separate drills on a heavy bag. Since it’s an individual sport the athlete will be focused on what they doing and not really have an interest in anybody else. In that situation some will work harder than others with no real consequence.
Coach Grant will sometimes set an environment where each individual participating in the drill is apart of the whole and he judges the result as a “team effort”. Therefore if somebody on the team isn’t trying their hardest or “fades” (gives up at the end or slows down)
EVERYBODY does the round again even if individually they were working as hard as they could.
What makes this really interesting is he typically saves a situation like this for the END of a work out when everybody is physically exhausted and just wants the work out to end!!! He doesn’t take any pity or make it easy. Instead he gives a challenging drill.
He does this intentionally because it’s how he gets us to develop the habit of “finishing strong” and develop superior mental toughness because at this point in the work out its ALL mental.
VERY Vince Lombardi like.
As you can imagine this creates an environment where EVERYBODY works together because if one of us doesn’t do our best everybody suffers the consequence. Trust me at this stage of the work out nobody wants to do another round.
So you can see how this plays out. Instead of just focusing on yourself everybody is now encouraging each other to do their best! Coach Grant will monitor and prompt us when somebody is performing below his standards…
“Looks like Johnny is fading on me… If he doesn’t pick it up everybody is going to be doing this round again”
EVERYBODY then starts encouraging and coaching Johnny…
“You can do it Johnny, Let’s go… only 30 seconds left, don’t give up… keep going…”
Incredible seeing this happen.
When the drill is complete the team naturally bonds because we ALL just helped each other push ourselves beyond what we thought possible.
If you are into football I read Coach Belichick once used a similar strategy. It was Friday the team was exhausted and wanted to get off early. He said everybody can get off early if one of of the offensive linemen could catch a punt successfully….
Only once chance and if he doesn’t catch it everybody has to do laps.
Offensive linemen never catch footballs so it was a huge challenge.
What happened is all the wide receivers were coaching him, the punter was coaching him. Everybody was working together and bonded. He caught it and the team got off early because they all worked together.
Despite being the clear leader of the gym and head instructor during training Coach Grant frequently let’s OTHER coaches or students lead drills or give feedback.
Example: Bridget is going to lead the warm up today…
After doing some technical drills he won’t give feedback he’ll get another coach to share.
Sometimes during sparring he’ll get another student to “work the corner” and coach.
During competition or critical times of course he leads the whole time..
It’s very impressive how in a subtle way once again he gets EVERYBODY involved and does 3 things in the process: creates an incredible team atmosphere, helps others develop leadership skills and creates multiple feedback channels.
I was speaking to colleague James the other day and he was praising his VP of Sales as an amazing leader.
I asked James to outline what leadership skills he appreciated about his boss, and he shared the five tips below.
These leadership tips apply to any team situation you’re in:
This is #1 by far: he REALLY gets how to shout praise and whisper criticism.
On a daily basis he ALWAYS tells us “great job”, “good work”, “I like what you did there”.
Praise has such an impact!!!
What’s very interesting is even when I don’t get the desired outcome (In my case a sale) he STILL finds a way to praise me for what I did do great.
He’s so good I let him know and asked him about it. He mentioned his mindset is: “I’m always looking for when people are winning”
He’s out there selling just like I am…
Even if that isn’t the case in the future as things expand, I know he’s capable of it and he is speaking form a place of experience.
He is genuinely interested in hearing ideas or thoughts from our team that might help him or others get better.
This = our opinions are valued.
This item is so in-depth that we’re dedicating a 3 Easy Ways For Building Teamwork posting to it.
He keeps us informed what he is working on and what is coming up. Example:
“Hey guys the marketing pieces I’m working on are coming along great we’ll probably send those out next week to get us some leads.”
This = Makes me feel involved, helps me see the vision and be apart of it.
Note: If you enjoy the subject of leadership skills, check out these articles on leadership tips that I and others have written for you.
I chatted with DocStoc Founder & CEO Jason Nazar the other day.
You should know abut Jason and DocStoc because Jason is an amazing networker (among other things) and DocStoc has been one of the fastest growing Web sites in the last few years (ranked 407th by Quantcast with 15 million unique visitors per month, according to DocStoc).
Jason and I had a little chat in which I asked him a few questions. He agreed to let me share it with you.
Q: Hi Jason, you really value business networking — tell me your philosophies.
I personally enjoy networking. I like meeting smart, interesting successful people.
From a professional standpoint, I believe the principal of it’s “who you know not what you know” is very true.
One thing about the Internet is that we spend a lot of time behind our computers…you’ve got to get out there and meet people.
Typically the larger the network you have, the more opportunities you have.
We spend a lot of time behind our computers…but business still gets done in person.
People want to work with other people they like, trust and respect.
And you don’t do that by just sending emails and sending IMs…you have to get out and meet people.
And if you want to have opportunities such as getting hired, raising money, building your company, and hiring the right people…you need to have a large network.
Typically, the larger your network is the more opportunities you have.
The business we’re building is a consumer-facing Internet company – we’re trying to get pretty much everyone in the world to use DocStoc. …