When In China…
Oct 15 2011

Great Wall of China - October 2011

I recently got back from a fabulous trip to China.  I signed up for a 9 day tour coordinated by the Austin Chamber of Commerce.  We had an aggressive itinerary and hit most of the major highlights in Beijing, Suzhou, Hangzhou, and Shanghai.  While I was there Steve Jobs passed away and pretty much everyone in China was talking about it too.  I’m not sure why I was a little surprised, but there were iPhones and iPads in China despite access to Google and facebook not being allowed.  What a profound affect Mr. Jobs had on the entire world, but in the end we still cannot avoid death.  In his life, he accomplished more and touched more lives than probably any before him.

His death with the background of ancient China was sort of appropriate in some ways.  The people who built The Great Wall, one of the 7 man made wonders of the world and visible from the moon, are not remembered but the Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, who directed it’s construction is remembered.  Although 99.99% of us won’t be remembered much past our life times, hopefully we will have a positive impact on those around us so they continue to spread our wisdom to future generations.

Today I ordered an iPhone 4S at a nearby AT&T store. Rest in peace Steve and may your entrepreneurial stardust land on a few of us left here on earth.

I am going to try to find time over the next few weeks to blog about my trip  and include some photos.

Author: | Filed under: entrepreneur, entrepreneurship, steve jobs, success, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

My Calves Hurt But My Toes Are Fine – SXSW Interactive Days 1 and 2
Mar 12 2011

The second day of SXSW Interactive is still going on in downtown Austin.  I called it a night early since I’m too old for this stuff it’s become too mainstream and there are too many people.  I’m not a big crowd person, which is one of the reasons I have no real interest in going to Mardi Gras in New Orleans…I like a little bit of personal space.  As I mentioned in my first post about the conference, I was approaching this one in a zen-like, floating manner and so far I’m succeeding and my stress level and need to stay late at events has been very much reduced.

Yesterday, I made it to the keynote by Marissa Mayer, vice president of consumer products at Google.  As some of the panels/keynotes at SXSW Interactive are, her talk was pretty much a big commercial for Google.  They are focusing on location based services and maps.  I love Google Maps.  I don’t know how I lived without it since I’m directionally challenged and having a map on my iPhone telling me where to go, despite it being wrong about 10% of the time, has saved me much angst.  I have since transferred that angst to other things in my life, but still.

I then went to the Entrepreneur’s Lounge, co-hosted by the Austin Technology Incubator, where I work, (awesome new website alert!! - designed by Clutch Creative) and connected with people I hadn’t seen in a while and met some new people.  After that I went to Ignite Austin, but didn’t stay long because it was very loud so my friend Karen Banteverus who founded VolunteerSpot and I went next door to a restaurant to have hot tea and tortilla soup and catch up.  I did see Michael Dell and his brother Adam who were sitting a couple rows ahead of me at Ignite Austin.  I had met Adam for lunch with a couple of my co-workers before, but had never seen Michael that up close and personal before.  Then I went home.

I checked out the Blogger’s Lounge (sponsored by Samsung) yesterday and today and was surprised at how few people I knew there.  In just a few short years, the people I know/knew either aren’t here or aren’t at the Blogger’s Lounge.  Things and people move on fast in Internet time.

Today, I saw the keynote by Seth Priebatsch, chief Ninja at SCVNGR.  He’s something like 21 years old and dropped out of Princeton after his first year.  I was really impressed with his talk and how he delivered it especially given his age.  I think he’s someone to watch who will be doing some game changing things in the future.  It made me wish I was 21 again and knew what I knew now…how differently I would approach life and business.  He basically spoke about ways to apply a gaming layer to the world.  In other words, applying game theory to solving some of our biggest problems.  It’s not the first time to hear someone talk about this, but he presented it in a unique way.  The room was completely full and there were several overfill rooms where his talk was being simulcast.

Then I headed to the Entrepreneur’s Lounge again this evening and then to the uShip party at their new offices on 3rd and Brazos (sweet!).  I know the uShip founders from activities around the UT Austin business school and the CEO/Founder and I used to be in a Business to Consumer (B2C) group when I was running Babble Soft.  After that party, I realized my calves were killing me from all the walking around downtown in my Skechers, but my toes/feet were fine because I wasn’t wearing heels!  So I headed home to write this blog post and to see if there was a new episode of Grey’s Anatomy this past week that I could watch.

Author: | Filed under: austin technology incubator, conferences, entrepreneur | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

5 White Men, Rebranding, and Dads
Mar 22 2008

What do 5 White Men, Rebranding, and Dads have in common?  Well other than the fact that Dads are usually men, probably not a whole lot.  These are just some of the interesting things happening around the blogosphere.

5 White Men Talk About Social Media was written by Connie Reece at Every Dot Connects.  Connie is a huge presence in the world of social media especially here in Austin, yet was overlooked for a panel on Social Media the Chamber of Commerce was putting on.  She voices her frustration at women still being “invisible” even when they are playing a major role in the world of social media.   Connie got me started in blogging almost a year ago!  She is also one of the main reasons the Frozen Pea Fund initiative got started as a result of Susan Reynolds struggle with breast cancer.  Here’s a quote from her post:

This afternoon I got an email from fellow Dot-Connector Brenda Thompson with the subject line: “Five White Men Talk About Social Media.” That got my attention and I opened the email right away. …

It irked me too. It’s not like the organizers would have had to look very far to find some outstanding women to speak, and I’m not just referring to myself. In less than 30 seconds, Brenda and I came up with a list of five or six local women who would have made great panelists.

See, lists are easy to make. But women on lists are still invisible if conference organizers aren’t looking for the list.

Looking Minnesota. Feeling California and The Gaping Void Between Our Brand And Our Audience were two recent posts written by Wendy Piersall of eMoms at Home.  After her recent trip to SXSW Interactive, she realized she needed to rebrand because many of her readers are not eMoms or even parents!  I love Wendy’s blog for a variety of reasons but mostly because she is open and honest about her experience as an entrepreneur and she readily shares her blogging and business tips.  We met through our blogs, had a couple of phone conversations and when we finally met in person at SXSW, it was like we just “got each other” as entrepreneurs and as moms!  I’m not sure if she has come to a decision on the new name, so go check out her posts and give her your 2 cents!

AllTop Dads launches.  Thanks to Guy Kawasaki of How to Change the World my entrepreMusings blog is near the top of AllTop Moms blogger list.  It’s a great place to go to check out all the top mommy and daddy bloggers.   If you don’t know Guy, he was once asked to interview for the CEO position at Yahoo! take on the CEO position of Google and he turned the opportunity to interview down thinking there’s no way Google Yahoo! would amount to much.  He often refers to it as his $4 billion dollar mistake, but he reflects back and realizes that instead he was able to be involved in his children’s lives, which is priceless!  

So as I said when I began this post, there isn’t much in common between these links, but all are great reads!

Author: | Filed under: blogging, dad, diversity, father, mom, mother, parenting, random stuff, social media, working dad, working father, working mom, working mother | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

A Story About Angels And Venture Capitalists
Feb 5 2008

angel_button_frame.jpgSeveral readers who saw my Fundraising Toolkit post have asked me about my experience raising funds from angels and VCs for my first entrepreneurial endeavor.  We raised about $15 million of which $3.5 million was from angels or what I would call boutique VC firms (i.e. a group of angels under one investment roof).   Keep in mind that was all before the bubble burst back in 2001.  Here are some of my observations based on my experience and from stories I’ve heard from other entrepreneurs.


Angels

They tend to invest their own money and reputation in earlier stage companies that can benefit not only from dollars but also their advice and contacts.

The really good ones (yes, there are fallen bad ones) have built their own businesses from the ground up.  They have a great appreciation of what it takes to build a business and are creative with solutions to the inevitable unexpected issues that arise.

They tend to get their ‘hands dirty.’  Our lead angel investor for my first company was Marc Seriff, founding CTO of America Online.  You may recall that in 1999/2000 talent was scarce and the Internet bubble was close to its biggest.  Marc actually manned a career fair booth that we had at The University of Texas at Austin.  He also participated in the interview process of finding great developers!  Needless to say we found some good people.  Since Marc was our lead for our first round, he even assured our vendors that he would make sure (i.e. personally guarantee) they got paid if for some reason we couldn’t close the round! 

They tend to bring their friends along for the ride.  Marc and another of our angel investors, Jack Baum, brought in their friends and contacts making the fundraising process a little bit easier.  Jack also introduced us to the owners of our very first big paying customer who ended up doing a nationwide rollout with us.  I remember framing the check! He and his partner Steve Winter brought in two of our three venture investors.  The two good ones!  Steve even served as our interim-CEO between the time we parted ways with the first CEO we hired to replace me until we found the next one.

They don’t necessarily have to invest money to be an angel.  Richard Benkendorf was one of our advisors who introduced us to our first key customer in the Coca-Cola bottling system that helped us achieve our first $1 million in revenue!  We framed that check too!

When the dollars needed get big for future financing rounds, angel investors usually voluntarily step back or can’t provide the needed growth capital.

Some of them may not have sat on a Board or been involved in building their own businesses making some board meetings interesting to say the least.  In other words, an angel who made his/her money from their own business versus someone who came in later at Google, Microsoft, or Dell have different perspectives and experiences.

Venture Capitalists

They tend to invest in later stage companies with some revenue, product completed, and market traction.  They seem to like to come in after an initial angel round of investment (if the deal structure is not too messed up).

The really good ones (yes there are bad VCs – in case you haven’t heard) have had repeated success with other portfolio companies, have built their own businesses, and come with a big rolodex of contacts and partners to help you cross some of the early hurdles.  One of our venture investors, SAP Ventures, led by Jeff Nolan who blogs at Venture Chronicles (the only former investor I found who blogs publicly) introduced us to departments within SAP who were targeting the same customers that we were.  He also gave me a copy of The Monk and The Riddle by Randy Komisar (see below for book link) that was a great read at a time when I think he sensed I was no longer enjoying the journey.

They tend to be more bankers/financiers than operating (i.e., built their own business) people.  They tend to look at a business with a black/white eye on numbers and how fast they can get their money plus a nice return on their money out.

The good ones will often bring along investment partners in what is called a syndicate.  A few VC firms who have worked together before will join forces to fund a deal which makes life easier for the founders because they can go back to building the business versus fundraising sooner.

They seem to use and apply a formula that they have achieved financial success with before which often means replacing the founding CEO or other key founders with people they have worked with many times before.  If more often than not something has worked for them with a portfolio company in the past, they’ll apply the same logic to future deals companies.

They are investing other people’s money (i.e. their limited partner’s money – insurance companies, wealthy individuals, other corporations) and if they perform well those people will give them more money to invest.  In other words they are risking more than just their finances and reputations, they are risking other people’s finances and reputations as well.

Who To Choose?

Personally, I think it all comes down to the investor fit and the stage of the start-up game you are in.  It’s definitely better to have people who have built businesses on your side.  It’s also good to have people who have backed high-growth businesses if you plan to IPO or sell to an established business in the near future. 

Most technology start-ups don’t make it big.  It’s a unique combination of talent, dedication, luck, timing, and great people that make the difference between the companies who become household names and those who shut down on the wayside or find another comfortable existence.   We often forget that it is more than OK to start a good profitable business that provides value to your local community.  If you want to play with venture capitalists, then you need to aim for the ‘household name’ category like Google or Yahoo! even if chances are high you won’t make it to an IPO.

My biggest learning was how important it was to be able to communicate with your investors openly and honestly.  Trust your gut and if they respect and trust you as a person and you respect and trust them, it will be much easier to weather the inevitable storms.  It’s easy to take money for money’s sake but in the end it can end up being more costly than what it was worth.

As Ben Yoskovitz says in his Startup CEO School of Hard Knocks post, you must have fun!  When you are no longer enjoying the journey, take a break and look around to make sure you are doing what you should be doing.  Make sure you are in the right place at the right time for yourself and don’t be afraid to make changes.

Author: | Filed under: angels, entrepreneur, entrepreneurship, fundraising, marc seriff | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments »

My Blog Has a PageRank of 5
Nov 7 2007

After doing my post on The Google Trap, I happened upon Pearl’s post at Interesting Observations on Find Page Rank of Every Page of Your Site.  She found a link to a site called Live PR where you can enter your URL and it tells you the page rank of your landing page and all other pages associated with your blog.

As I mentioned in my Google Trap post, I honestly had no idea what the page rank of my blog was.  Well after entering it at the PR Live site, it turns out it’s a PR 5 which apparently is a pretty good thing!  Many of my individual posts range from 0 to 3 rank, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that the http://www.entrepremusings.com/ was a PR 5.

Oddly, it says a post of mine called New Web Template Site is PR 5, but I don’t have a post that has that name.  Also, the number one viewed post on my blog on planning my son’s transformer themed birthday party has a PR 0.

I then asked Pearl in the comment section of her blog what PageRank really meant, and she sent me the following links:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PageRank
http://www.google.com/technology/

PageRank Explained

PageRank relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page’s value. In essence, Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B. But, Google looks at considerably more than the sheer volume of votes, or links a page receives; for example, it also analyzes the page that casts the vote. Votes cast by pages that are themselves “important” weigh more heavily and help to make other pages “important.” Using these and other factors, Google provides its views on pages’ relative importance.

Of course, important pages mean nothing to you if they don’t match your query. So, Google combines PageRank with sophisticated text-matching techniques to find pages that are both important and relevant to your search. Google goes far beyond the number of times a term appears on a page and examines dozens of aspects of the page’s content (and the content of the pages linking to it) to determine if it’s a good match for your query.

Thanks Pearl!  Because of you I know more today than I did yesterday about PageRank. :-)

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

The Google Trap
Nov 5 2007

Since the primary goal of this blog is not monetization, I was intrigued by many other bloggers outcries at the recent changes made by Google that drastically affected their Google page ranks.  Since many bloggers are trying to make a decent income from their blog, this action by Google apparently really hurts them with regards to interest by other advertisers, impressions, visits to their sites, search optimization, etc.

Honestly, I don’t even know what the page rank of my blog is.  (UPDATE: I now know my blog has a PageRank of 5) Someone once told me that you can get a tool bar add on from Google that tells you the page rank of every page you are on, but since I’m not really into page rank yet, I haven’t devoted the time to finding that little toolbar.  I’m sure I’ll get around to it some day and may be the relevant thoughts on the subject that I found below will engender a new thought about the plight in the future.  I do use Google Analytics so maybe I’ll find my rank noted in my account.

One thing I did notice was that when I removed the widget for Text Link Ads from my side bar, traffic to my blog almost doubled.  Now I don’t know if there is any direct correlation or not because there are so many variables that affect the amount of visitors, but it may be a part of it.  I wasn’t getting any revenue from them anyway so it was not a hard decision to make.  I wonder if I reactivate my Google AdSense account if I’ll get even more visitors…

Here are some great articles on the Google Monopoly Trap topic:

Composing the perfect letter of surrender on Search Engine Guide.  A hilarious conversation between Jennifer Laycock and Robert Clough.

Frustrating Yes – But I Want Google To Be My Friend by Yaro Starak at Entrepreneur’s Journey.

4 Search Engine Optimization Rules That Were Supposed to Actually Matter by Wendy Piersall at eMoms at Home.

Don’t let it bring you down! by Pearl at Interesting Observations.

Dear Google, I’m the Relationship Blogger by Liz Strauss at Successful Blog.

Author: | Filed under: blogging | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments »