Posts Tagged ‘startups’

Mistake Bank Podcast #5 – Monica Gould of Strategic Consulting Partners

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

Mistake bank logo#5 in our series of interviews with successful entrepreneurs in which they talk about the mistakes that helped shape their careers. Our guest is Monica Gould, who founded her business, Strategic Consulting Partners, after a successful career at MCI, and has sustained it for more than 10 years.

Monica, like so many of the entrepreneurs I’ve talked to, is very candid and self-reflective, and willing to talk about mistakes, to teach others and to ensure they themselves learn from them. I was struck by Monica’s sense of humor when she discussed the cobbler’s kids dilemma – while she helped companies improve their planning she tended to neglect planning for her own business (something I’ve experienced myself). I’m sure you’ll enjoy the interview.

Monica Gould podcast (31:24)

Content:

0:30 How she got started
11:10 An early mistake…the “we can help you with anything” brand
13:30 Consequences of a consultant losing focus
15:15 A more recent mistake: how long to try to break into a new market?
17:10 “Time is your biggest commodity”
18:50 A difficult situation with a subcontractor
23:45 A final thought on planning…

(audio content copyright 2010 John Caddell)

If you are interested in contacting Monica , please visit her website.

Previous podcasts can be found here.

Silicon Pasture Report – Refurbished is the New New

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

When our Wii tumbled off its rack the other week and crashed to the floor, subsequently losing the ability to read game disks, it wasn’t only my kids’ hearts that sank. Mine did as well at the thought of paying another $200 to replace it.

As it turns out, you can ship your broken system to Nintendo (actually, you send it to a subcontractor), who will fix it and send it back for $85, including shipping.

It seems like only a few years ago that electronics were disposable. They were cheap to buy and hard to repair. Things have changed a lot. Refurbished is the new “new.” My MacBook Pro is a refurb. Our workhorse of a coffeemaker was fixed under a program similar to the Wii’s. If your cellphone breaks under warranty, the replacement will be a refurb.

There’s a company here in Silicon Pasture (Harrisburg-Lancaster-York, PA) called recoupIT, and it collects unused, returned or excess consumer electronics, fixes them up, and resells them through its website to people around the country. [People familiar with this area's thriftiness would not be surprised that a powerhouse vendor of reconditioned electronics is headquartered here.]

Besides offering great deals on cool electronics, recoupIT provides a service to manufacturers, retailers and large purchasers, who end up collecting piles of product without a good process for dealing with it. recoupIT manages the entire asset recovery process: it takes a company’s surplus equipment, repairs and sells the usable product, and recycles the rest. It’s not only good business, but good for the environment.

According to the Central Pennsylvania Business Journal, recoupIT’s revenues approach $7MM annually. That’s a lot of green.

[Disclosure: I know the owners of recoupIT. Our kids went to preschool together. Everyone is connected here in Silicon Pasture!]

Other Silicon Pasture Posts:
Charlie Crystle’s Focus
What In Hell Is Collectivus?
Report from Silicon Pasture 2

Mistake Bank Podcast #4 – Donald McFadden on Due Diligence in a Real-Estate Transaction

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

Continuing our look at successful entrepreneurs and the mistakes that shaped their careers. This video was part of the Mistake Bank Ning site, and I was reminded of it as we toured the city of Wilkes-Barre, PA, last weekend. My wife was driving, and from time to time she’d point to a building and say, “My dad owned that one.”

This story was from the beginning of my father-in-law’s real-estate investment career, and to me says a lot about due diligence. I’ve heard many entrepreneur mistake stories where inadequate due-diligence was at the heart of the issue. On the other hand, diving into a deal without having everything figured out, and then making it work, eventually brought these business owners to another level of success.

So: mistake or bold move? Discuss.

Don McFadden on Due Diligence in a Real Estate Transaction – a Mistake Bank story from John Caddell on Vimeo.

Prior Mistake Bank podcasts:
Tim Berry of Palo Alto Software
Charlie Crystle of Chilisoft
John Bliss of BlissPR

Silicon Pasture update: Treff’s 10 reasons

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

Treff LaPlante of WorkXpress, a Carlisle-based software and IT services company, knows what it is to start a high-tech business in Central Pennsylvania. He’s written a guest post for the Central Pennsylvania Business Journal’s Gadget Cube (the author of which, Andréa Maria Cecil, is also a great friend to the region’s entrepreneurs) listing “10 Great Reasons To Start a Software Company in Central PA.”

If you’re local to our area, and you’ve got an idea for a great company or product, read Treff’s post for some helpful tips. And join the New Tech Meetup of Central PA to get to know some fellow travelers.

[Silicon Pasture is our partially tongue-in-cheek term to describe the tech startup environment in the Harrisburg-Lancaster-York, PA, area, known more for candy, snack foods and dairy products than startups. But perhaps that will change. You can read more Silicon Pasture posts here.]

In startups, leaders and backup musicians are both important

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

Via social media you can encounter and build relationships with fascinating folks you’d never have a chance to meet otherwise. One of my favorite examples is Southern California-based Fran Ten, the bassist for West Indian Girl & I Will Never Be The Same. I heard West Indian Girl’s music first on a KEXP podcast, then saw that Fran was on LinkedIn, and began following him on Twitter. We corresponded a bit, and eventually did a fun podcast discussing the (fairly dismal) state of the music business.

Fran mentioned to me on a phone call that while being a group leader, as he is with West Indian Girl, is fulfilling, it’s also great at times just to be the bassist – in IWNBTS he shows up on schedule and rocks out. My sense is that each role exercises different muscles & each is fulfilling in its own way.

I’ve been observing the startup community here in Silicon Pasture for the last couple of years & have seen something similar with startup teams.

There’s a bunch of folks in any area who like & have a talent for startups. They gravitate to some sort of community forum (such as a Meetup, or a BarCamp). People share ideas, and perhaps one pushes one idea forward, & gathers a group of people to help him/her realize it. That project moves ahead. It grows into something sustaining or runs out of steam at some point.

Meanwhile, another of the team members has an idea to pursue. He/she gathers some folks, often including people from that earlier effort, and leads that project forward. Perhaps the leader of the first project is a contributor to this team, too. [Something like the Judd Apatow/Seth Rogan/Jonah Hill/Paul Rudd/etc. movie-making posse.]

People aren’t locked into roles, & it’s recognized that strong complementary players who can thrive in the startup environment may be as vital as the leader. A startup needs strong leaders, and it needs great bass players, too.

Related posts:
Fran Ten Podcast
The New Tech Meetup

Mistake Bank Podcast #2 – Charlie Crystle of Chilisoft and Mission Research

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

Mistake bank logoHere’s our second podcast focusing on the mistake stories of successful entrepreneurs. Our guest is Charlie Crystle, who founded Chilisoft, a web infrastructure provider which in 1999 was sold to Cobalt Networks for $70 million. He and two partners later started Mission Research, which offers low-cost business software to support nonprofits. Now he is working on a new venture and advising startups.

Download the Charlie Crystle podcast (28:27).

Content:

1:10 Investing in someone else’s dream
4:00 On breaking up with a business partner
5:53 “Lessons learned doesn’t necessarily mean lessons applied.”
7:40 Personnel mistakes
12:50 Knowing when to step aside
16:45 On mistakes by your employees
20:00 Consequences of a culture of withholding information
21:00 “Startups have a lot to do with learning along the way”

(audio content copyright 2010 John Caddell)

Silicon Pasture Week: what in hell is Collectivus?

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

collectivusOne of the newest projects to emerge from the Silicon Pasture community is Collectivus, currently “a test of a prototype before a beta.”

I’ve been playing with Collectivus for a couple of weeks now, and I can say this: it is location and check-in a la Foursquare, only people encounter “thingies” out in the world (see picture above) and register their encounters. Note that first-generation Thingies bear a strong resemblance to rubber ducks.

It goes something like this: someone finds or is given a “thingie,” registers it on the Collectivus website, optionally uploads a picture. Then, “Move me, give me or leave me somewhere,” says the instruction sticker on the thingie’s underside. You can subscribe to follow your thingie on its journeys, in which case you get a message when it resurfaces somewhere.

It’s like sending out a message in a bottle and see where it floats to. Times a thousand. One can imagine thingies crisscrossing the world, others immediately discarded, others staying in one place.

Many people I’ve described this to don’t get it. Probably a combination of my inarticulateness and the difficulty of putting this kind of complex, serendipitous, emergent experience into words (see above). In the end, Collectivus, as Twitter has demonstrated, will become what its users make it to be. The Collectivus team has created a wide-open platform to explore movement, giving, and attachment to objects. Time will tell how it ends up. Perhaps people will be registering encounters with battered thingies twenty years from now.

Collectivus is on its way to the South by Southwest Interactive Conference in Austin this week. If you’re there, keep your eyes open for thingies!

Related posts:
Silicon Pasture Week: The Meetup
Silicon Pasture Week: Update

Silicon Pasture week: The Meetup and why it’s valuable

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Sunday’s NY Times article on the New York tech startup scene referenced a monthly series of gatherings, the New Tech Meetup, as an important part of the city’s entrepreneurial community:


A recent installment of…the New York Tech Meet-Up, held in Chelsea, drew 700 tech enthusiasts.

The buzz surrounding these gatherings is just the latest sign that a decade after the dot-com bust, the Internet economy in New York is springing back to life.

We have one of those here in Silicon Pasture too: the New Tech Meetup of Central PA. Each month a group of tech enthusiasts – developers, marketers, attorneys, etc. – gets together to watch 10-minute demonstrations of new products and presentations on topics of interest to entrepreneurs. We get slightly fewer than 700 attendees to our monthly gatherings (more like 20-40), but, nonetheless, the group is creating its own buzz. (A company that started out in Hershey, CoTweet, the CEO of which began our New Tech Meetup, was sold last week to Exact Target, an email marketing company, for an undisclosed sum.)

Why, given that technology that makes location irrelevant is cheap and widely available, are in-person gatherings important to tech startups?

Fellow traveler syndrome: simply sharing war stories can make the work involved in developing a new tech product and bringing it to market a little less lonely.

Sharing ideas: discussion can unstick problems you’ve wrestled with unsuccessfully on your own.

Finding collaborators: sometimes tech people have an idea but not a concept of the market. Sometimes businesspeople have an idea for a tech product but need someone to write the code. The Meetup can help bring these people together with others who can help them.

Serendipity: this may be the most important factor. By putting people together in a room to talk about what they do, sparks can result. Like what? You’ll have to come to the Meetup to find out.

The April 2010 New Tech Meetup will be held on April 5, at 7pm, at Wagman Construction in York. Interested? Sign up here.

[Disclosure: I am the organizer of the New Tech Meetup of Central PA]

Related posts:
Report from Silicon Pasture 2

Nuts & bolts: a simple collections procedure

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

[Nuts & Bolts is a new category focusing on basic business practices for the entrepreneur or established business. Look for new Nuts & Bolts posts approximately weekly.]

I saw my brother-in-law over the holiday, and he mentioned a friend who had started a business selling duck calls. This friend was having trouble collecting from his retailer customers, with the result that he had outstanding receivables of $20,000. Did I have any advice as to how he could collect better?

Collections is the lifeblood of any small business. It’s easy to get intimidated by big customers’ payment processes, or get distracted by other urgent matters in the business. You can also lose confidence in the value you’re delivering to customers. The result is tolerating slow-payers, short-payers, or no-payers. I have three words of advice for you if you’re in this situation:

CHANGE THINGS IMMEDIATELY.

At my last full-time job I ended up being the collector of last resort, which was a bit stressful, but also rewarding when I was able to collect on a long-overdue, big invoice. I also helped a lawyer friend unstick a bunch of payments tied up in the bureaucracy of his state government customers.

My experience taught me that collections is 1/3 attitude (If I give you service, you need pay me), 1/3 strategy (invoice timely, and don’t delay on collections activities), and 1/3 raw tactics.

I wrote up a simple procedure for my brother-in-law to share with his friend, and I thought it might be useful to print here.

Simple Collections Process:

Recommend setting these reminders automatically in QuickBooks. Be especially vigilant of new clients, with whom you don’t have a payment history. The longer you take to collect, the less chance you’ll collect 100% of your invoice. This process stops, of course, when you receive full payment for the invoice.

Day 1: Invoice, net 30. (If payment terms are shorter or longer, adjust timing of following steps accordingly.) Send invoices by email if possible, rather than snail mail, to save some time.

Day 20: Courtesy letter/email. “Making sure you got invoice; any questions, any disputes?”

Day 30: Call. Payment now due. Have you sent it? If not, what is holding up the process? Any questions? When will you send it? Try to ask closed-ended questions to eliminate ambiguity, such as: “You’re telling me, then, that the payment has been approved and a check is being cut Tuesday?” Ambiguity in payment processes helps the payer, not the collector. [If client blames his accounts payable process for the delay, ask him/her to detail that for you. Who approves what? What is the next step? Etc. Then you can follow up on individual steps… but if the amount is not large, say less than $10,000, you shouldn’t have to get involved in this level of complexity.]

Day 45: Follow-up Call. Where is payment in process? When can I expect it? What if anything is holding it up? Is there anyone else I need to talk to to get this moving? (The last question often spurs people to action.)

Day 60: Letter. Demand payment. Reinforce that you have provided value and that value must be repaid. Refer to contractual terms (ability to terminate contract, cease providing services) if appropriate.

Day 90: Registered letter. Demand payment immediately. Make it clear that you will not service clients who don’t pay. Don’t sell any more to this client (assuming your contract allows this) until all old amounts are paid. If they hold unpaid inventory, demand that it be shipped back to you. Consider moving past due amount to bad debt.

Notes:

— if client wants new products or services from you, make sure payments are up to date before shipping new product or doing any new services. Make new shipments contingent on receiving past payments.

— if client promises to send a check “Monday,” call on Monday to ensure it was sent as promised.

— the client’s cashflow issues are not your problem. If they bought your product, got value from it, they need to pay. It’s the most basic transaction of business. Let them short-pay someone else.

— always assign payments to oldest outstanding invoice. That is, don’t let them pay the current invoice but keep the older ones unpaid. If they send a payment, they pay the oldest ones first.

If you have any suggestions or recommendations to improve this process, please post them in the comments. Businesspeople everywhere will appreciate it.