Thinking About Transitions
Dec 13 2010

I’ve been thinking about transitions.  Some people transition quickly and some slowly or shall we say not as quickly.  But those who transition quickly sometimes pay later because they act too fast which can result in suboptimal decisions.  Some act too slowly which also result in suboptimal decisions where they have to pay the piper painfully in pickled peppers.

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In the world of entrepreneurship, you have to make quick decisions as though you had the time to make a well thought out one, while at the same time having very limited data.  In larger companies, you have more time to research, prepare, and analyze before making a decision which could end up not working anyway.  Larger companies can spend millions of dollars on a bad product/idea and still survive.  Entrepreneurs/small businesses can’t.  They will lose people, money and time.

So how companies handle transitions depends on their culture.  It has been demonstrated that some of the most successful businesses transitioned many times during their existence and their starting business plans looked very different than the one that proved successful.

Think about how you handle transitions in your personal, parenting, and professional lives.  Are they similar or different?  Does it depend on the people you have around you and the strengths and weaknesses they evoke?  I’ve noticed that I’m strongly effected by the people around me during times of transition, and I try to move towards those who have a positive effect on me but am sometimes seemingly demonically pulled towards those who make the transition harder, but fortunately my inner core is more attracted to positive people. :-D

Ah, transitions…one of the things in life you can always expect to happen!

Author: | Filed under: entrepreneur, entrepreneurship | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

Encouragement
Apr 17 2010

Back late last year (November 21, 2009 to be exact) this quote fell into my in box from Jeffrey Fry’s daily quote email list: “The spirited horse, which will try to win the race of its own accord, will run even faster if encouraged.”  –Ovid. I think I’ve met Jeffrey (also an entrepreneur) twice, but we’ve exchanged several emails about our life’s journey’s.

That quote hit me for some reason.  And I just now realized that quote came in almost exactly a year after I stood at the Entrepreneurial Ledge (I wrote that post on November 20, 2008 with tears in my eyes) after having heard that the first company I founded had gone out of business.  I subsequently heard that the assets had been sold to a manufacturing company and some of the people went to work for that company so the technology in some form has survived.  I know that some people might find it cheesy or maybe even ‘girly’ to be so affected by such news because after all, it’s just a company.  But to me it was like a baby.  The people were important to me and I cared about them.  I have heard many of my entrepreneur friends refer to their businesses as their baby.  They equate the experience to one of giving birth to and nurturing it as best they can.  Starting a business is a wild financial, emotional, and physical ride very much akin to rearing kids!

At any rate, after letting that quote sit in my Outlook Inbox for a few days or weeks…I can’t really recall, I sent the following email to my fellow Director’s at the Austin Technology Incubator.

I think this [encouragement] is an important part of what we do.  As an entrepreneur (spirited horse) you have so many forces trying to bring you down, being critical, double guessing you, etc. that even the slightest amount of encouragement can keep you going and running faster.

Because our incentives are not set up like most investors/VCs, we can be liberal with our encouragement which I think is a huge intangible benefit we offer towards the success of our companies/entrepreneurs.

Giving someone (or a group) positive energy helps them see things they might not have been able to see or better said makes it easier for them to see things because they don’t feel threatened by criticism/limits.  I’d say a good example of this is what’s happening with [XYZ Company] with their big business model change.  But I can point to a few more companies as well who when encouraged and highlighted have increased their odds of success.

But that’s just me.  I believe in energy flows/vibrations at the sub atomic level and if you’ve noticed scientists have been proving and writing about this phenomenon.  And as someone who broke her arm at the age of 13 riding a big, black ex-race horse (whose name I think was Jude) who was inadvertently encouraged to run faster by another horse, I speak from experience.

I do believe that encouraging someone can go a long way to the success of that individual and/or the company.  Of course, encouragement has to be tempered with reality.  I don’t believe in the “let’s all win a medal for lifting a cup to our mouths” encouragement that some kids are subjected to because I think that sets them up for huge disappointment later.  As we all know, we don’t get medals just for showing up to work.  In fact, I like playing board games with my kids because someone has to lose and they have to realize that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose and in many cases the person who wins is determined by who draws the first card (e.g., Candy-land)! Plus when one of them starts to say ‘that’s not fair,’ it’s prime teaching time to let them know many things don’t seem fair in this world but they just have to deal with it.

But the right amount of encouragement, with a nice side helping of humorous perspective, can help someone (e.g., an entrepreneur) immensely especially during times when it seems like the rest of their world (investors, board members, employees, family) is pulling them down or doesn’t see or feel what they do.  I think the mere act of believing in someone, helping them focus on their strengths, and being there for them during a tough time, can have a huge impact on their ability to reach their full potential.

As usual the gorgeous photo is by my good friend Sandy Blanchard. When I look at it, I see a flower that was encouraged by the right amounts of sun, rain, and nutrients to open up and present such stunning beauty to the world…

Author: | Filed under: entrepreneurship, parenting | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

About Sleep
Oct 22 2009

Now for the third post in the “About” series.  The first was About Writing and the second was About Car Paint.  This one is About Sleep or the lack thereof.

Sleep is so important but for entrepreneurs and parents it’s often hard to come by…and not from lack of trying.  I consider my two kids two little ventures and I often say, I’ve now been involved in 4 start-ups, 2 being my kids.  Kids are unique and require special attention and you definitely don’t want to screw them up.  You can’t file bankruptcy on, sell, or shut down your kids!

There’s the physical sleep deprivation that comes from the newborn days and even as they grow older and wake up with a bad dream or just like us they sometimes can’t sleep.  I’m a light sleeper so when they come to my bed I usually can’t get back to sleep very easily.  There’s also the mental sleep deprivation that comes from trying to make sure you keep everything straight while your mind is exhausted from thinking about all the things you need to do.

I know many an entrepreneur even without kids who does not sleep well because they have so many things to think about from money to employees to product development, etc.  Now add worrying about your kids on top of that and it can be overwhelming on little sleep.  I see how tired some of the entrepreneurs are sometimes in the companies we have at the Austin Technology Incubator.  I sometimes want to tell them to take several deep breaths, take a walk, or take a break.  But most entrepreneurs (myself included) don’t hear that kind of advice.  I also see how elated they are win they get a big win which makes up for the long periods of time of spotty sleep.

I’ve seen entrepreneur’s mess up meetings with investors or customers when they haven’t had enough sleep because the words they mean to say don’t always come out coherently.  I know I certainly mix up words when the neurons aren’t firing correctly when I haven’t had good sleep.

The entrepreneurs and people I know who sleep well usually feel good about where they are in life, their company is doing well, or they are taking some serious drugs!  I’m actually amazed at how many people these days take sleep medication.  It’s actually quite common in my peer group and comes up often in conversation as we all try to manage the tons of responsibilities and information that comes our way.

I’m more amazed at how well many of us keep it together on such little sleep and present to the world an image held together sometimes with invisible glue, coffee, Red Bull, fake smiles & laughter, and quite often fear.

I wonder how much more productive we would be if we were all forced to take a nap just like babies and little kids do?  Or if we could go to bed when our kids go to bed around 8:00 or 8:30 p.m. and somehow by some miracle not wake up until 6:00 a.m. ish the next day.

It’s too bad there aren’t adult sleep sites like there are great baby sleep sites!  I wonder if there are positioners, pacifiers, or people who can rock adults to sleep. :-)

Ah to sleep, perchance to dream...

Author: | Filed under: entrepreneurship, sleep | Tags: , | 7 Comments »

The Dangers of Multitasking
Aug 3 2009

We’ve all heard about the pluses and minuses of multitasking.  We’ve also heard that women tend to be better at multitasking than men.  I think it depends on the person.  I’ve worked with some men who have been excellent at juggling many things, but overall I think women are wired to be better at it because of having children.   Children, especially more than one (I can’t imagine having 3 or more), tend to pull you in 5 directions at once and if you don’t have one eye on a kid, he could fall into a lava pit or a crocodile could eat her.

I’ve always been fairly good at multitasking or should I say serial tasking.  I can jump back and forth from thing to thing and get most things done timely.  It’s probably somewhat of an ADD trait that I’ve heard many entrepreneurs confess to having, but there’s a point when it becomes counter productive (see Dilbert comic below).

Dilbert.com

I’m dealing with about 5 really big things right now and each has its own complexities.  Way beyond what one person should advisedly handle at one time.   And because I can’t focus fully on one thing, everything seems to be suffering or shall I say I’m not executing 100% or able to play my A game at any of them.   I even published a blog post I didn’t mean to publish and I’ve never done that in the over 2 years I’ve been blogging!   There are constraints (time, money, stamina, fear, etc.) that seem impossible to work around in the near term and ‘impossible’ is a word that I usually smile at.  And in between there are birthday parties to plan and bills to pay.

I remember dealing with so many things when I was founding CEO of my first start-up from customers, suppliers, investors, board members, to employees, etc.  Each area needed special attention and invariably one or more suffers at some time or another.  You had to have your shit together when facing each constituent even if you felt like everything was just a hair away from falling apart.  You have to play the part superbly (no room to mess up your lines) and make sure your customers know you aren’t going to disappear tomorrow.  And you have to make sure your investors and Board haven’t lost faith in you and can see that the customers still have faith in you.  And you have to keep morale up with your employees and assure your suppliers you’ll pay them.  So many entrepreneurs get lost at times like these because it is hard to keep all those balls up in the air while at the same time making sure you take care of yourself (i.e., minimize the fast food and lack of exercise).

So what do we do?  We get up.  We put our pants/skirts on and we show up.  We put a smile on our face because we have to, and we know no one really understands how we sometimes feel like we are free falling with no safety net and no parachute.  Of course, if you aren’t anti-social, you have friends and family to listen to you when you feel like crying or punching the wall, but unless they’ve also walked a mile in your shoes, they can’t fully understand the sensations or lack thereof that you are processing.  And sometimes they let you down because they don’t know how to be there for you like you need and that hurts.  Or they think they are trying to be there for you and instead they inadvertently hurt you.  And most of the time when you feel like punching that wall, you can’t!  So you put your game face on.  You hide and fake it until it eventually turns around.  It does eventually turn around but it feels like a hurricane while you walk through high winds putting one step in front of the other.  As an entrepreneur, you have to be optimistic or at least optimistically pessimistic or is that pessimistically optimistic. :-)

And if you have kids, they can all of a sudden give you a reason to keep on going as my son did today.  One of my good friend’s father died last week and they are going to miss my son’s upcoming birthday party.  They have a son a year younger who he loves playing with, and I took both kids over to visit them this evening.  I told my son, let’s bring him one of the little Hot Wheel cars that we got for your goody bags since he can’t make your party.  He said, “Let me look for the best one…my favorite one.  I want to give him the best one.”  He knew his friend’s grandfather had died, although he doesn’t really know what death means.  He showed me the car he wanted to give him and it was the special one he had chosen for himself, and I started to cry.  I hugged him and told him how proud I was of him for doing such a nice thing and how special it was to show how much he cared for his friend during this time.  He hugged me back because he saw how happy I was with him.  My daughter asked me why I was crying, because I never cry in front of them (or cry often for that matter) and I told her I was happy that her brother was so thoughtful and she hugged me too.  I thought to myself “I guess I’ve done at least something right to have an almost 7 year old son with such a good heart.”

On the car ride over I told him to play with his friend and make him happy and laugh.  And he said “Just like I do with my sister when she’s upset?  I do this and that to make her laugh.“  They both started laughing in the car and I said “Yes, just like that.  It’s nice to make people smile in hard times.”  Then I cried some more silent tears of sadness and happiness at the two beautiful kids I have been blessed with.

So the moral of this post I guess is Don’t over multitask.  Have kids.  Although kids are a big cause of over multitasking, they help you keep things in perspective and give you the reason to wake up in the morning, put your pants/skirt on, put your smiling game face on, and figure out how to do the impossible! :-D

Author: | Filed under: entrepreneurship | Tags: , | 5 Comments »

Documents And Other Such Things
Jul 4 2009

In between doing some laundry, making beds, painting my daughter’s fingernails, and making grilled ham & cheese sandwiches for the kids, I spent much of today getting things and documents together that people who might be interested in taking in Babble Soft will want to look at.  I just finished up the typical “one pager” that entrepreneurs use to gain interest from a potential investor or acquirer. I got some great feedback from a couple of my co-workers at the Austin Technology Incubator that I think enhanced it quite a bit.  That’s one of the pluses of having a day job where the Directors review such docs for other technology start-ups.

The one pager can be different depending on who you are sending it to.  It’s much harder to write a one pager than a novel sometimes because you have to really figure out the best words to put down in a limited amount of space.  It’s a cross between a product sales sheet and a company highlights document.  A ‘teaser’ document that will hopefully get someone to call you to discuss your company further.

Since tweeting about us finding a home for Babble Soft, I already have more leads than I expected.  That is the power of a strong social network…so many people reaching out to help others.  I’ve started following up on those leads and they are interestingly quite different.  I also sent messages to some of my LinkedIn contacts to see if they might have connections to appropriate partners.

I’m not as organized as I should be about this process as I’m pulling together information in real time.  I guess I’m following a “fire, ready, aim” route instead of the proper one but it’s the best I can do at this moment in life so may the winds of favor smile on us. :-)   Thank goodness for smiley emoticons.

On an unrelated note, in the background today I’ve been playing music.  For all of my life, I’ve loved music but I haven’t been able to have it playing in the background when I work.  I usually have to have almost complete silence when I read, study, type, etc.  But for some odd reason that wasn’t the case today.  I found myself listening to Jim Croce, James Taylor, ABBA, Simon & Garfunkel (Feelin’ Groovy), Michael Jackson, and of course Backyardigan’s while working at my computer.  Not sure if that bodes well or not to the final product, but it’s an interesting new experience for me.  I guess I’ve just enhanced my multi-tasking abilities or maybe I’ve killed those brain cells that tell me I can’t listen to music and concentrate at the same time.

Just finished listening to I Am A Rock - by Simon & Garfunkel “And a rock feels no pain and an island never cries

My husband is just getting back from taking the kids grocery shopping, and now we’re off to take the kids to see Ice Age – Dawn of the Dinosaurs at the theater.

Author: | Filed under: babble soft, entrepreneurship | Tags: , , | 2 Comments »

Babble Soft Looking For A New Home
Jun 22 2009

This is a hard post for me to write, but there are times in life when the best way to handle hard things is to just deal with it head on.  I had some time and space to reflect during my recent beach vacation.

Babble Soft, an idea that I started tinkering around with after my first baby was born in 2003 (our first beta web app release was in 2007 and iPhone app in 2009), has reached a point where my partner, Nicole Johnson, and I can’t do it justice and build it to the company it could be.  We just don’t have the monetary and time resources that a consumer web and mobile (iPhone) based product Baby Insights and Baby Say Cheese require to become a household name.  I’ve been working on Babble Soft part time while balancing kids, the house, etc. for most of the company’s life.  I spent a few months full time on it just before I took a day job about a year ago and now the time has come to find a new home for it.  Nicole has been working on this part time, after hours, as well.

We are both discovering that Building A Web Business After Hours is hard to do with two small kids around.  And doubly hard when two ventures are trying to get off the ground in one household: my husband is starting the pre-K to 2nd grade Magellan School that’s scheduled to open this Fall and our resources are also being tied up with that and our kids will be attending the school.

Nicole and I both believe in web applications to help make parents of newborn’s lives easier, and we want to find a good home for Babble Soft with someone who can take our vision to the next level.  We will continue to support our existing customers and any future customers so please don’t worry about that.  We have a high bar set for customer service!  We just can’t take it to the level (with all the exciting new applications we have planned) where we know it could be right now in our lives, but we know there is someone or some company who can.

If you know of someone who might be interested, please email me at blogger(at) babblesoft(dot)com to discuss further.  Please pass a link to this post to everyone you know!

Motherhood is not always peaches & cream and being a mom entrepreneur adds a little extra challenge to the process so sometimes it’s the hard calls that can make the difference in a company’s and person’s success.

Thanks to all of you readers for your continued support and sticking with me through my unusual parenting and entrepreneurial journeys!

Aruni Gunasegaram
President/Founder
(512) 961-6002

Nicole Johnson
VP Product Development
(512) 961-6002

Author: | Filed under: babble soft, entrepreneurship | Tags: , , | 27 Comments »

Board Management
May 22 2009

On May 20, 2009, we held a board management Lunch & Learn at the Austin Technology Incubator.   We hold these monthly or bi-monthly.  Our next one is going to be on Building A Great Corporate Culture.  It was a very productive meeting and our companies learned a lot.   I served as moderator and the people on the panel (with the exception of Janice because she got struck by swine flu sick) were:

Richard C. Benkendorf, Co-founder/Managing Principal, Technology Impact Partners (TIP)

Dick, through his role at TIP, serves on the Board of Directors or Advisory Board of both private and public firms as well as investment partnerships including Wave Max, Open Scan, Care Data Systems, Revelation, Concentric Equity Partners, AllianceTech, Adtron, State Street, Murphree Ventures, Facilities Technology Group and CMIT Solutions as well as not for profit entities such hospital charitable or civic organizations.  Other current or very recent investees of TIP include @security, Globalscape (now public), Voxpath Networks, Pointserve, Tobin, Dwight’s Energy Data, Advent Networks, Liberty Fitness, Facilities Technology Group, American Telesource (now public), Reunion Ventures, and Affinegy.

Previously, Dick was a Senior VP of Ameritech and prior to that spent 16 years at IBM.  He founded The American Software Company (TASC) and was President of Telemed and Chairman of Execucom.  He founded T/D Technology, a private equity firm that acquired and operated software and information technology firms.  He also founded ISSS Ventures, a $155M venture capital fund.

Bob Bridge, Entrepreneur In Residence, Office of Technology Commercialization

Bob has been in management, marketing, and engineering roles at semiconductor and system companies for 33 years, including serving as founding CEO at three technology companies. One of those companies, Zilker Labs was sold to Intersil in December 2008. Bob has also served as an entrepreneur-in-residence at Austin Ventures, vice president of marketing at Agere (a network processor IC startup), and vice president and general manager for communications ICs at Crystal Semiconductor/Cirrus Logic. Additionally, Bob has held engineering and management positions at Motorola, AT&T corporate headquarters and AT&T Bell Labs. Bob holds a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from The University of Texas at Austin and a bachelor’s degree in Mathematical Sciences from Rice University.

Janice Ryan, CEO and Chairman of Social Dynamix

Janice Ryan has a 27 year track record of growing profitable sales organizations and venture-backed startups.  She is currently CEO and Chairman of Social Dynamix, an early stage venture focused on tools for social media performance measurement.  Prior to this, she was CEO of Sigma Dynamics, a predictive analytics software company in San Mateo, which under her leadership was sold to Oracle (ORCL) in August of ’06.  Prior to Sigma Dynamics, Ryan was the founding President/COO, of ROME Corporation, headquartered in Austin, Texas.  She was also a member of the founding executive team that launched Vignette Corporation (VIGN), an early internet enterprise software company which experienced one of the most successful IPOs of 1999.  As Vice President of Sales at Vignette, Ryan established the company’s sales infrastructure and management team, and was responsible for driving Vignette’s revenue through all channels worldwide, including direct sales, telesales and a network of systems integrators and resellers.

Ryan has served on several high tech Boards and Advisory Boards, and as an Interim Executive for multiple venture-backed companies in Texas and California.  Early in her career she held a variety of senior sales and leadership positions at IBM, Lotus Development, Filenet Corporation and ViewStar.  Active in philanthropic causes, Ryan has also served on various non-profit Boards, currently serving with the Center for Child Protection.  She earned her BBA degree from Baylor University with distinction in the fall of 1977.

Brian P. Wong, Director, Intersil Corp.

Brian was the President and CEO of D2Audio Corporation, a leading audio semiconductor and software company, which he recently sold to Intersil, a public company in August 2008.  He is currently running the D2Audio-Intersil business as part of Intersil Corp. Mr. Wong has more than 26 years experience as an executive and general manager in the sales, marketing and the development of semiconductors, firmware and software.  Market sector experience includes digital media, consumer, IT and computing, telecom, and storage.  His technology experience includes power management; digital audio, optical and wired datacom; data converters; semiconductors; optical, firmware/software.

Brian has closed over $130M from Venture Capital funds and corporate strategic partners.  He has formed Strategic Partnerships involving investment and/or licensing with AMD, Intel, Intersil, Delta Electronics, MediaTek, and Form Factor. Previously, Mr. Wong was CEO at Primarion Inc, a company focused on I/O and Power Management ICs, which was acquired by Infineon.  Prior to that, he was a senior manager at TRW and ran the Mixed Signal IC business, which included data converter, Clock/Data Recovery, PLL, and high speed digital ICs. Mr. Wong holds a BSEE from University of California, Los Angeles, a MSEE from University of Southern California, has taken graduate management classes at UCLA Anderson School of Management. He is the Chairman of The Austin Technology Council, sits on the Advisory Board for the UC Davis ECE Department, and served on the board of Integral Wave Technologies, a power management company.

The key takeaways were:

  • Pick and interview your board members carefully.  Pick people with skills that complement yours.
  • Make sure there are no surprises on the day of the board meeting, unless of course they are good surprises!
  • Equity compensation for board members ranges from .25% to 1.00% and is granted up front or vests over time depending on the board and the company
  • Sizes of the board ranges from 3 to 5 people at the very early stage.  Any more it becomes unweildy and unproductive.
  • Boards in small, start-up companies usually meet at least once per month.
  • After a successful board meeting, everyone should know the financial state of the company, people/equity grants, milestones achieved, and milestones to be achieved.

It was great to hear the war stories and I contributed some of my own.   They are truly battle scars.

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Above The Fray
Apr 26 2009

Is it possible to remain above the fray in times like these?  I think some of us if not most of us think we have some control over our destinies, our thoughts, or our feelings and it comes as a shock when we find ourselves in the middle of a tornado and we can’t figure out how we got there.  There are common sayings like “Life is what happens to you while you are making other plans.” or “Man plans, God laughs.” or “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” but most of us still feel like we have some control over what happens to us.  Of course, we have control over what shoes we choose to wear one day, but the big things that really seem to matter just seem to all of a sudden happen to us.  Take for example the recent outbreak of swine flu (NY Times)!

When something like your company is wildly successful or a terrible failure we try to make sense of it.  If it’s wildly successful we can self importantly point to the things we did right, giving some credence to that strange phenomenon called “luck.”  When it fails we can point to a few things we did wrong but more often we point outside of ourselves to the economy, other people, the market, timing, etc.

Companies are starting right now, companies are falling apart right now, companies are doing well and growing, and others are doing their best to survive.  I know of one great success story that happened to someone in one of my networking groups, but it’s not public news yet.  The internet is littered with stories of companies failing or going bankrupt.  Fred Wilson did a long post about one of his first investments in Geocities, a company that Yahoo is planning to shut down.  I mentioned the 11 companies who recently graduated from the Austin Technology Incubator in my guest post on Austin Startup and they are at varying stages of of the start up life cycle.

We often think we are above the fray, minding our own business when the sky falls, the funding arrives, a legal battle over patent infringement ensues, or when we find that perfect person for the job, but are we really?  I think this is especially true of entrepreneurs.  We think we are different and to some extent we are.  We think differently.  We view risk differently.  We are less afraid and more afraid at the same time.  We become defined a certain way but we still have to fit into a society that is mostly designed for non risk takers, and we realize but for a few minor genetic or family of origin differences we are all deep, so deep in the fray of humanity.

It’s an exhilarating yet at the same time humbling realization.  At least I think so.

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Building A Web Business After Hours at SXSWi
Feb 15 2009


South by Southwest Interactive is just around the corner!  I was honored to have my one and only panel idea selected and it’s called Building A Web Business After Hours.   The idea/thought came to me to submit this topic because I found myself living it when I took on a day job back in June 2008 so in October when they were looking for panel ideas….  If you keep up with my blog, you’ll realize that I get some strange thoughts sometimes and I’ve been known to unwittingly follow them.  This time I got lucky!  It will be on Monday, March 16 at 3:30 p.m.

Many entrepreneurs spend time after hours building businesses for a variety of reasons and let me tell you it’s NOT easy but given this economy, it’s a very viable bootstrapping option.  I have lined up some really credible, fun, and amazing people to be on the panel.  All of them have either built businesses after hours or are currently doing so now.  Here’s the info:

Building a Web Business After Hours
Room 18BCD
Monday, March 16th
3:30 pm – 4:30 pm

Many businesses are built after-hours or during odd hours of the day and night. Join us for a panel discussion by entrepreneurs who built (or are building) their Web/E-commerce/Other business while holding a day job, multiple jobs, or who are currently balancing two+ career options.

Gretchen Heber CEO/Co-founder,   NaturallyCurly.com

Jeremy Bencken Co-founder,   Buzzstream

Aruni Gunasegaram Founder/CEO,   Babble Soft LLC

David Altounian President/Founder,   iTaggit

Lisa Stone Co-Founder & Pres Of Operations & Evangelism,   BlogHer LLC

Please tell all your friends who are attending SXSWi about this really cool panel.  8)

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6 Companies Born During A Downturn
Feb 2 2009

Our Bioscience Director, Jessica Hanover, at the Austin Technology Incubator (ATI) sent out the following link today: 6 Companies Born During Downturns.  You may or may not be surprised at the names on the list (IBM, GE, Procter & Gamble, GM, United Technologies Corp., FedEx) but it just goes to show you that if you focus on the negative, you’ll have a hard time finding the positive reasons to be entrepreneurial right now.

I started to reply to her but decided I’d blog it instead in order to share with all of you.  Here were my initial thoughts.

Starting a company from scratch was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done (2nd only to taking care of little kids).  It almost doesn’t matter if it’s an up time or down time if you are serious about getting your company off the ground.  We started Isochron in an up time but weathered some down times.

There are just some companies and people (when combined in the right space/time) that will make it almost no matter what.  It’s recognizing that elusive pattern that is the holy grail of venture/equity investing. I think we have a few of those at ATI. And just because you recognize it…doesn’t mean it won’t change! But what do I know?  I certainly don’t fit the picture of a stereotypical VC!  Honestly, I think most VCs don’t really know how to see it or look for it.

Maintaining the passion and singular vision to take it through the numerous hurdles is quite a feat.  Anyone can falter on this tough road at any time and therein lies the biggest inherent risk.

Author: | Filed under: entrepreneurship | Tags: , | 6 Comments »

Giving Things Up
Jan 18 2009

This weekend I completely spaced on my daughter’s swim class.  Her class has been at 10:00 for the last 4 months but because of a few unexpected things that happened on Saturday morning (e.g., our house cleaner who comes every two weeks called in sick so I had to quickly start changing beds/washing sheets & towels and my husband was gone for activities surrounding the founding of The Magellan School) my mind somehow shifted into thinking the class was at 10:30.

We showed up at 10:30, and I wondered where the other kids in her class were when my son pointed through the window and said ‘there they are!‘  It still hadn’t hit me that I had gotten the time wrong and I walked in and the parents said ‘there you are‘ and in slow motion I said ‘did I miss the class?‘ and they all nodded.  I was in shock because I’ve never done that before.  I apologized profusely.  I asked the teacher if she could just get in for a little bit but she had to go to her next class.  One of the guy teachers who was nearby said he’d give her a mini-lesson and thankfully he spent about 20 minutes with her in the water.  I almost cried on the spot out of gratitude and not having to wallow in guilt while she cried about not being able to swim.  My son waited as patiently as he could on the other side of the window given that I had originally told him he could play a game on my new iPhone for a little while during her class.  The teacher was so kind to her and gave her piggy back rides while taking her under water.  She laughed and smiled.  He called her ‘sweet pea‘ and ‘sweetie pie‘ and if he wasn’t in the water, I would have given him a big hug for making/saving my day!   You can’t buy that kind of marketing and in that one instant, I wanted to tell everyone how amazing Emler Swim School is!

Well, last month I forgot to pay the mortgage or shall I say I remembered too late.  I’ve never done that either so we had to suck it up and pay a late fee much to my chagrin.  I can’t recall ever paying a late fee although I’m sure it’s happened at least once on something.

Oh and I didn’t win my longed for trip to Tobago mostly because I didn’t have the time or wasn’t able to come up with the right strategy in a timely manner to make it happen. Looking back, I think if I had taken off a week from my day job to make sure I won this week vacation, I would have won. :-)

UPDATE: After finishing this blog post, I went to a yoga class.  I got there only to realize I forgot my yoga mat (for the first time ever!) at home despite going back into the house before I left to get it and a towel.  I had to rent a mat and let’s just say a rental mat offers a sub par experience to your own purple mat.  My right ankle hurts a little bit now.

So needless to say these are signs that I have too much going on…some of which I’ve blogged about and some of which I haven’t and probably won’t.  I’ve started to look at the things I can give up in my life and I’ve given up a couple of things so far.  I gave up co-writing the series for the UT Alumni magazine and just last week I took a leave of absence from my weekly Blog Mastermind call with some amazing folks who I mentioned in the GigaOm article I did on finding a business parter online.  It was a tough decision but they were all supportive and told me I was welcome back at any time.  I’ve also started to unsubscribe from blogs, newsletters, etc. that I haven’t been reading anyway.  I’m taking a long hard look at my life and trying to figure out what I can give up without giving up anything I really want/need to do.

I may need to give up some things temporarily while I sort things out and find a way to integrate them back into my life once I deal with some of the other things going on in my life, but how does one do this without risking making the wrong decisions?  Sigh.

I wonder if we had a crystal ball if any of us would still in fact be able to make the perfect decision.  So far, I feel like I’ve been extremely lucky in the decisions I have made in my life and although I certainly wish I could change a few things, I don’t have any big regrets.

Have you given up something and felt relieved?  Have you given up something and later wished you hadn’t because you weren’t able to go back to doing it again?  Or as my friend Robb just asked “What is the biggest thing you have ever given up on?” and my answer was “Myself.” But I usually pull myself out of it pretty quickly when I repeatedly realize that I am my own worst critic and at times my own best cheerleader…

Author: | Filed under: entrepreneurship, parenting | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments »

Resolutions Anyone?
Jan 4 2009

Photo by Sandy Blanchardwhitetulip-sandybphotos

Last year I made New Year resolutions despite not normally liking to do so.  I even did a blog post called One Entrepreneur’s 2008 Goals.  And guess what? Some of them came true and some of them didn’t.  This year I’m not making any resolutions.  I’m going to try to go more with the flow.  Now that doesn’t mean I don’t have things I’d like to accomplish but I’m not going to make them goals.

Interestingly, I achieved all of my 2008 personal goals.  I lost 5 lbs (actually I lost more like 8).  I signed up for and took yoga as consistently as is possible with two kids and two jobs.  The yoga helped me lose 5 lbs, the other 3 I lost due to stress and an ongoing existential crisis.  I’m one of those people who doesn’t eat much and fidgets a lot when I get stressed.  I know some people hate me for it, but let me tell you the elevated crazy brain activity more than overrides the weight loss benefit.   I mean I don’t get as bad as seeing dead people, but I start saying and doing things that don’t make sense (at least to me), and I start making wild interpretations of other people’s actions (and non-actions) and words that probably don’t make sense but might and if they actually meant what I thought they meant, my world would be turned upside down.  Yeah, don’t even try to understand that last sentence.

I even laughed more and that’s because my son is a budding comedian, and I work with some funny people at my day job.  The only personal goal that I can’t say with 100% certainty I made significant progress in was “be less concerned with what other people think.”  I made some progress, but the trauma of “what will they think of me if I wear a purple peacock hat to a lunch meeting?” still plagues me.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve cared less but I’m waiting for that day I can walk into a room and say whatever is on my mind (well not whatever because it would shock the innocent) and not give a flying flip if people think I’m nuts, a crazy entrepreneur, or a hysterical brown woman because I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that what I’m saying is actually wise, intelligible, actionable, and worthy to be said.

I really only knocked out of the park one of my Babble Soft business goals and that was to “find great people to help make it happen.”  And that happened when Nicole Johnson joined me as VP of Product Development back in October.  We are slowly but surely making things happen and it’s so amazing to have someone as great as she is along for the ride.  We don’t know how it will all turn out yet given what’s going on in the world, but I feel honored to be working with such a talented, personable individual, who can fully relate to my life situation of a day job and two little kids!

The other business goals were thwarted by: the economy, my husband leaving his job to consult and start an amazing dual language immersion school called The Magellan School (i.e., hence the day job – health care benefits are very important when you have kids), having to unexpectedly pay a significant portion of my father-in-law’s triple bypass surgery expenses (yes, he was not insured), my mid-life crisis, and a random butterfly flapping its wings in China.

But you know what? Despite not making most of my business goals, life is great.  All my close family and friends are healthy.  My kids laugh and smile every day which makes me happy.  I enjoy my day job because although I’m underpaid (working on changing that slightly), it’s probably the best place I can be to help build the Austin entrepreneurial community and ride out this economic downturn.  Plus, I really like the people I work with.  I’m a huge believer in fostering an amazing work culture and a positive work environment, and we currently have that at the Austin Technology Incubator (ATI) and I have that with Nicole at Babble Soft.  So yes, overall my life is pretty darned good.

So my non-resolutions for 2009 are to sing more, laugh more, write more, make more funny faces at my kids, be less repressed, empower people, unashamedly love people, continue to take yoga, find a purple hat (any suggestions?), make some life changing decisions (I already got my hair cut short), and move the ball forward one day at a time on Babble Soft and at ATI.

So no resolutions for me, but I do like to get shit done and I’m hoping our brand new President of the United States feels the same, and I think he does! 

Oh, did I mention I plan to curse more too!  For most of my adult and teenage life many of my friends (most of them guys) have tried to get me to curse more and I saw no need for it.  Their jaws would drop on the rare instances I would curse, so I’ll see if I can work in more curse words into my daily (or weekly) discourse (mostly off the blog because I have a hard time writing curse words).  It might be awkward at first, but I’ll suck it up and overcome the awkwardness just like Dooce and The Bloggess have been able to.  They are some of the top cursing mommy bloggers on the Internet today and I cry laughing (or is that laugh crying?) whenever I read their posts.   I mean go read: This is one of those posts about how you can make money off your blog but instead of money you get a coupon for a burrito and tell me you don’t start laughing your ass off.  I’ll just have to remember not to curse in front of the kids…  Sorry mom!

How’s that for some non-Resolutions?!!

Author: | Filed under: entrepreneurship, fundraising, parenting, working mom, working mother | Tags: , | 10 Comments »

The Entrepreneurial Ledge
Nov 20 2008

I had to talk myself off the entrepreneurial ledge yesterday.  Of course there is the often publicized glamour of entrepreneurship and then there is the unsung story of the not so glamorous side.  I think most entrepreneurs are a little bit neurotic, myself included, so when I heard that the first company I was founding CEO of officially shut down recently, I entered a state of…well I still haven’t figured out what state that is.  

The company was alive for 11 years.  For 11 years it provided experience, salaries, products and services to employees and customers.  I left in 2001 and my husband, Erin, who was the CTO left in 2003, and we have had nothing to do with the day to day operations since.  But the profound affect it has had on me cannot be reduced to mere words.  In many ways, it was like my first child (without the diaper changing).  It was a difficult parting of ways for me both personally and professionally.  

I knew a few good people who were still there and through the years they have reached out to me to help them find another job or share their experiences about working there.  Good people came and went.  Some bad ones came and went and some bad ones stayed, but overwhelmingly greatness was among us.  I heard about the company shutting down a few weeks ago but just mentioned it to a group of college friends on an email group I’ve been a part of since 1995 (pre-social networking sites for people who love mushrooms, pre-blogging, pre-twitter).  I had convinced one of the guy’s in the group to join us for the journey and he replied by saying this: 

Aruni – I know I’ve poked at you and Isochron since I left but I have to say it was the best business class I could have taken. This piece of Oil Field Trash was polished quite a bit while in Austin. I do want to thank you and Erin for giving me the opportunity to be a part of it. From that trial I learned sooooo much. I’m not sure I ever put it together sufficiently for you guys to know what the experience meant for me. Thanks! You and Erin were a rock I could depend on during my time in Austin as well. It meant a lot.

When I read his note on my phone before going in to an invitation only IBM Women Entrepreneur’s Webcast event held at IBM, the flood gates cracked a little.  I was sitting in my car in the parking lot so I had to pull myself together and go in.  The rest of the day I was on edge and I still am. 

I had to walk into my day job after the IBM Webcast and deal with bureaucracy, with people wanting 5 approvals to get something done, with collections, with employee allocations, and with being extremely underpaid because I’m doing much more than I was hired to do.  I had to suspend reality to make it through the day.   I repeated to myself “floodgates don’t open at work” over and over.  If I was a man and punched the wall, it would be more acceptable.  I had a “What am I doing with my life?” moment.  I had a “I’m working for ‘the man,’ I have two kids, I’ve been married for 7 years, we have a house and car payment, I have to keep our insurance benefits, our savings have sunk due to the crazy economic situation, and I feel trapped” moment. 

I had already committed to guest lecture at an executive MBA class yesterday evening so I went in not knowing what would come out of my mouth.  I shared the ups and downs of entrepreneurship and received several questions about Babble Soft and my day job.  I was surprised at how calm I felt giving my talk given the emotional roller coaster I had been riding all day.  One of the students took my card and said he wanted to see if he could help me get introduced to someone for a possible opportunity for Babble Soft.

I also happened to receive an email through facebook from one of my former students (I taught entrepreneurship at The University of Texas at Austin) who happens to be expecting a baby.  He sent me a link to a new book by Randy Komisar who wrote The Monk and the Riddle: The Art of Creating a Life While Making a Living (a book I made required reading in my class) called This I Believe.  Komisar writes about the Deferred Life Plan and how we make excuses about not doing what we want to do and putting off things until the time is right.

So despite all of that, I talked myself off the entrepreneurial ledge because I live in the real world.  The real world is where I have two beautiful children who smile and laugh.  A world where I tell my son after he ate a big dinner tonight that he was a ‘hungry hippo’ and he immediately replies and says in a comedian (trying to make his voice sound deep) tone “There’s a Hungry Hippo in the House!“  My daughter laughs, and I look at him with a smile on my face and know instantly he got his sense of humor from me. 8)

[Hippo photo by my friend Sandy Blanchard]

So I take solace from some words my day job boss told me the other day.  When I asked him why he wanted to hire me he said ‘because he heard I was a natural entrepreneur and he wanted one on staff.’  When I thought about those words later in the day, my soul said ‘thank you grandpa’ because he is who I gained my natural entrepreneurial tendencies from…I just happen to be a woman girl.

I hope both my children will be able to express themselves throughout their lives in ways I was never able to in the past but aspire to in the future.

Author: | Filed under: blogging, entrepreneur, entrepreneurship, social networks, working mother | Tags: , , , , , , , | 18 Comments »

Business Is Like War; Easy To Begin But Hard To Stop
Nov 2 2008

The title of this post was inspired by a fortune cookie fortune.  For those of you who are new readers, I did some posts a while back using fortunes from fortune cookies as blog titles.  I thought this one was particularly appropriate given how challenging entrepreneurship can be and given the state of our economy.  But here’s the interesting part, the fortune cookie actually read: “Love is like war; easy to begin but hard to stop.” 

I felt myself nodding knowingly inside when I read it.  How true it is in relation to both Love and Business.  How relatively easy it can be to start a business or fall in love.  We tell ourselves, it’s just an idea/romantic feeling…let’s see where it goes.  One thing after another happens and if you don’t chicken out (or the playing field of potential significant others or stable jobs doesn’t pull you away), you find yourself: 

Business Love
   
Exploring ideas Dating
Incorporating your business Being in a committed relationship
Raising funds Getting engaged
Hiring people Getting married
Raising more funds Buying a house
Releasing new products Having kids
Hiring more people Hiring domestic help or losing your mind
Taking longer to break even Taking longer to adjust to life with kids
Laying off people Hiring a marriage counselor
Feeling an air of desperation Experiencing a mid-life crisis
Closing up shop or going bankrupt Getting a divorce
Becoming profitable and self sustaining Living happily ever after!

No one goes into business or marriage believing that one day it might ‘stop’ or end.  Yet, 80 to 90% of the time businesses (e.g., technology start-ups, restaurants, retail shops, side businesses) fail or barely break even, and last I heard 50 to 60% of marriages end in divorce and that rate has been increasing over the years.  So much so that venture capitalists are actually funding sites like Divorce360.com and Agreed Divorces.com.  They should also fund a site called ShutDownYourBusiness.com! 

Stopping a business or a marriage is not easy.  You get up every day and say to yourself: “Something will happen to make the business work.  I’ll get funding.  I’ll get that next customer.  I can’t stop now!“  You coast in your marriage thinking “I’ll keep myself busy and things will get better or make more sense.  We’ll  make it work for the sake of the kids.“  Many times it does get better (after the sleep deprivation wears off) but sometimes you end up like Archie Bunker and Edith Bunker or other such couples who can’t stand each other but stay together because they don’t know what else to do.  Or you end up a bitter, washed up individual who finds yourself going through the motions because you have defined yourself as an entrepreneur yet you could never build a sustaining business.  You then end up feeling that life is unfair and you never got your well deserved lucky break. 

I know this post might sound depressing, but these are the odds you are playing with when you start a business or marriage.  Many entrepreneurs will fold up (and have already started to) their businesses due to tough economic times (no funding, no customers, etc.).  They will use the bad economy as a welcome excuse for not making it.  It is, after all, a justifiable/less ego-destroying way to explain to people why your business didn’t make it.  

And by all means, take the opportunity to wrap things up if you can (for your and your family’s sanity) because it is going to be tougher than normal for a while.  However, at the same time, the opportunities (volunteer help, cheaper resources, less competition) for being creative will be abundant. 

The next few years are going to be interesting.  Companies/marriages may fall apart because the changing economy ends up being the straw that breaks the camel’s back.  Or they might outlast the downturn and be stronger on the other side.  Many successful entrepreneurs have emerged from down economies and their success is surely a prerequisite for the economy turning around and thriving! 

I, for one, am glad to be living in this day and age.  In no other time in history (or probably not in any other country) could I have done what I’ve done, tried what I’ve tried, say what I say, write what I write, do what I do, or dream what I dream without being squashed. 

What do you think? Is Business and Love like (the US war in Iraq)? Easy to begin but hard to stop?

Author: | Filed under: entrepreneur, entrepreneurship, fundraising | Tags: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Give A Man A Fish, He Eats For A Day…
Oct 15 2008

Teach her how to fish, she eats for a lifetime.  This year’s Blog Action Day theme is about poverty.  When I last checked the site over 10,000 bloggers had signed up to participate reaching over 11 million readers worldwide.  Last year’s theme was on the environment and I wrote Rock. Paper. Scissors. How Do We All Win? on the topic of the environment and cutting down on paper usage. 

How does one break the cycle of poverty? As an entrepreneur, I’m a strong supporter of those who try to make a difference by creating products and solutions that help their local, national, or global community.  All ideas are not created equal, but the people behind them are the ones who can cultivate them into something life changing or learn from their failures, pick themselves up and help others on their paths to create something great. 

Whether entrepreneurial drive is innate or learned one may never know, but we do know that it can be cultivated and nurtured by the right people, resources, and support.  It can also be squashed and abused by people who feel threatened by the passion behind the ideas. 

I have heard several of my favorite bloggers mentioned Kiva.org in the past and I thought it was a really neat concept. So for this year’s Blog Action Day, I’ve decided to donate $100 to a Kiva project.  However, it looks like I’ll have to wait because all of their projects are currently funded! 

Kiva is a site that enables people to give/lend money to entrepreneurs in third world countries who are trying to make a difference in their poverty stricken communities.  You can contribute money towards a small loan for an entrepreneur to help him/her get started or purchase some supplies.  It’s called micro-lending. 

Giving someone the means to try something entrepreneurial to build up their self esteem and add value to their community, is priceless.   Giving them the opportunity to learn about entrepreneurship first hand from the school of hard knocks is contributing to their life education.  

So take a look around you and be grateful for what you have despite the challenging economic times ahead for all of us.  If you are reading this blog post, chances are that you are not sitting in a hut somewhere without electricity wondering where your next meal might come from. 

Encouraging ideas, creativity, and entrepreneurship is the way we will see ourselves through this downturn.  Investing in good people with the entrepreneurial spirit is a fabulous thing to do.  Check out Kiva.org and when an entrepreneur and her project surface that you find interesting, consider lending her a few bucks to help her make a difference!

Author: | Filed under: blogging, charities, diversity, entrepreneur, entrepreneurship | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »