Competitive Edge
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Competitive Edge
Creating your Unique Value Proposition to gain your Competitive Edge.
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Accelerators Are The New Business School

Accelerators Are The New Business School | Competitive Edge |

It’s no secret that most startups fail. What’s a bit less obvious is that most startup accelerators also fail. While a few top-tier programs get the cream of the crop unicorns of the future, the hundreds of others struggle to attract teams that will produce the investment-grade companies on which their models so depend.

As the true business school of the future, most of them provide tremendous educational value to these budding entrepreneurs — who very well may produce a valuable company some day. Overwhelming odds are, however, that those initial projects that accelerators get a piece of, for their cash and time investment, aren’t the ones with which the entrepreneurs will ultimately succeed. For accelerators to survive long term, their business model has to change. Read more: click on image or title.

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Some history and evaluation of the start up accelerator model.

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Nine Tips For A Successful Startup On Foreign Soil

Nine Tips For A Successful Startup On Foreign Soil | Competitive Edge |
What advice do those who are experts on creating startups on foreign soil give? Listen to what a venture capitalist in Latin America, a professor at Stanford, an executive at Spotify in Asia, and others have to say.

Growing and scaling a startup, whether it’s in an exciting new market or a competitive and saturated one, may not be as straightforward as you’d like — especially if you want to launch in a foreign country. From inadvertently designing offensive logos, to failing to protect your intellectual property or simply being unable to penetrate your target market, a lot can go wrong. It takes some savvy business skills to ensure you don’t return home with your tail between your legs.

What advice do those who are experts on creating startups on foreign soil give? Read more: click on title or image.

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Wise advice from someone who has been there and done it. Joshua Steimle is a CEO and has offices in Hong Kong and the US.

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What I Learned Building A Startup like Dogster, Inc.

What I Learned Building A Startup like Dogster, Inc. | Competitive Edge |

This just won’t work in paragraph form as nothing in a startup happens in a linear manner. It’s all happening at once, and the realization of any learnings come to you in no particular time frame after that.

In startup land, if you build a sustainable profitable business that is not growing greater than 50% a year, everyone will respect you individually, but few will respect the actual profitable, sustainable business. Seek their respect at your own risk.

If doing what you love (in my case making Internet products that help people connect) allows you to make a business out of it, you’ll end up hating what you created because all you get to do is manage a very complex, challenging business.

Once I created a successful service and business out of nothing I became a lot more scared of blowing it than anything else, when really I should have just been content that I had succeeded at each previous step. It’s important to yell out loud “I did it!” to no one in particular when you realize you achieved what what once a goal.

If you do not prioritize friends, family, loved ones, pets, plants, hobbies while working on a start-up they will decay and extinguish. All you will be left with is a startup. Read more: click image or title.

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"I loved working with Growthink. The staff are passionate about their work and committed to what they do in a way that can only be achieved when you love what you do. They helped keep us on track to achieve our planning goals. I am looking forward to continued success working with everyone from Growthink in the future."
- Venus Williams, Professional Tennis Player and CEO, V Starr Interiors

Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Welcome to #startup land. This article is written in the style that startups are managed: pretty much everything at the same time. It gives an impression as to what being part of a startup is like.

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Startup Advice: Stay Alive - A Guy Who Sold His Startup For $200 Million Has Simple Advice For Founders - Business Insider

Startup Advice: Stay Alive - A Guy Who Sold His Startup For $200 Million Has Simple Advice For Founders - Business Insider | Competitive Edge |
Stay alive.

What's the number-one reason startups fail?

Some studies find it's a lack of product fit. Others say it's because companies run out of cash.

But a common reason startups fail is because the founder doesn't want to run it any more, and he or she decides to quit.

Bryan Goldberg cofounded Bleacher Report and sold it for more than $200 million to Turner. He now runs Bustle, a media site that targets women and earned 11 million monthly readers within its first year. Goldberg's recipe for startup success is pretty intuitive: Just stay alive. 

If you keep your startup alive long enough, you may break through a traffic barrier, earn traction, or outlast a competitor and gain industry recognition.

"Winning in startups, and in media specifically, is very much about refusing to give up. Resilience matters," Goldberg told Business Insider in an email. "It takes a long time for a media publication to gain mindshare with the general public — in the case of Bleacher Report, it took five years until people at parties or networking events told me, 'Yeah, I know you guys.' That's a long time for a startup, especially when each day brings growing pains, financial complexities, and potential fire drills. But you have to stay alive...Tough, nimble, spirited media startups are going to thrive, so long as they stay focused on their mission and have the patience to endure."

Paul Graham, the cofounder of startup incubator Y Combinator, calls this refusing-t0-die mentality being a cockroach.

In 2008, when he let Airbnb into Y Combinator, he told the cofounders that he appreciated their hustle (Airbnb used to sell boxes of cereal to fund itself when no investors wanted to give it cash.) 

"[Paul] was basically looking for cockroaches," Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said at a South by Southwest talk. "He said we were cockroaches and that's why he funded us." Now Airbnb is valued at about $10 billion.

Graham believes failure is often a founder's choice. They could choose to keep their startups alive — they just don't want to.

"You should shut down the company if you're certain it will fail no matter what you do. Then at least you can give back the money you have left, and save yourself however many months you would have spent riding it down," Graham wrote in a recent blog post. "Companies rarely have to fail though. What I'm really doing here is giving you the option of admitting you've already given up."

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Why I Look for Obsessive and Competitive Founders

Why I Look for Obsessive and Competitive Founders | Competitive Edge |
  Obsession. The drive to succeed at all costs. When second place isn't good enough because we live in winner-take-most markets. The desire to be better

This blog started from a series of conversations I found myself having over and over again with founders and eventually decided I should just start writing them.It would often make my colleagues laugh because they’d hear me like a broken record and then the next week read my ramblings in a post.

Last week’s obsession was about obsession itself.

10 days ago I saw the film, Whiplash, which is one of my favorite films of the year. I would be shocked if it doesn’t win at least one Oscar. I won’t have any spoiler alerts here, don’t worry.

The protagonist in the film, Andrew, is a drummer and the story is his experiences in his freshman year of one of the most elite music conservatories in the country. He wants to compete to be the lead drummer in the competitive ensemble and study under Terence, an obsessive instructor who is hell bent on winning competitions for the school.

I absolutely loved the film. I loved the music. I loved the intensity. I loved the drive to succeed, to compete and to be one’s best. As you can imagine – all great films have conflict and the tension is this – what is an acceptable level of obsession to put into success, whether instructor or student?

The rest you should see for yourself.

But the film has my brain buzzing all week about obsessive and competitive people. Think about Kobe Bryant. Kobe is famous for waking up crazy early every morning and practicing for longer and harder than nearly anybody else in the NBA. Kobe isn’t Kobe just because he was born naturally tall and athletic – although that is a sine qua non.

Kobe is kobe because he practices more than even the most elite professionals in a hyper competitive industry and because he is simply more dedicated to his success than many other people are.

In our society we revere athletes. We revere musicians. We glorify their successes and we marvel at their achievements.

Yet somehow many people think that startups intended to operate at massive, Internet scale can be casual affairs. I see founders who think they can be at every conference, advise multiple companies, do side investments in angel deals, leave the office at 6pm and have a balance life. I don’t believe it’s possible to compete at Internet scale and have balance.

I’m not making a qualitative statement that I believe obsession in startups is necessarily a good thing. In fact, I have written about the negative health consequences and sometimes mental consequences of doing so.

But I would make the observation that if you stumble on to a really important idea that has the potential to be really valuable know that others will enter into the market precisely because markets are competitive and a lot of money and prestige is at stake. In fact, think about it. Even MORE money is at stake than what Kobe or even the best rock bands in the world can make by being at the top of their game. Zuckerberg. Larry / Sergey. The founders of DropBox, Airbnb, Uber – you name it.

So if you’re going to raise venture capital and compete in large, growing, winner-take-most markets you had better be prepared for other people to want to knock you off your stool, steal your limelight, grab your customers and muck you up.

I don’t know Mark Zuckerberg. But I’m willing to bet (and certainly from the profiles I’ve read) that he was pretty obsessive and all in at Facebook for many years (if not still) to drive their success. It isn’t as if there weren’t other people trying to dethrone Facebook all along.

I write all this because I am constantly asked “what I am looking for when I make an investment” and the most honest answer I can give is that I’m looking for maniacally driven individuals who are obsessive in their pursuit of an idea and who are so competitive and driven that they can’t accept failure.

I know it sounds cliché.

But I would ask you this. If it takes compulsive individuals to be at the absolute peak in sports or music – why wouldn’t it take the same to create a disruptive product or service that can change an industry. It’s not a 9-to-5 job. It’s not for people with soft elbows or compressed egos.

I look for many things. I’ve even written about the Top 12 attributes of an entrepreneur here (each number is clickable).

But I’ve also got to be able to observe the inner Whiplash.

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Creating a startup, or even simply your 'own' business, does not come easy. This blog from a world renowned entrepreneur illustrates that very well.

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Top tips for women startup leaders

Top tips for women startup leaders | Competitive Edge |

Two years ago, I was hired by the four cofounders of mobile Ad-tech startup ClicksMob to lead their company.

They hired me because I shared their vision of growing the company exponentially, and because they believed I was better positioned to run it than they were. Shortly after beginning my position as CEO, I discovered I was pregnant. It’s been a wonderful journey being a mother and chief executive, and I’m due any day now with my second in 14 months.

But it hasn’t been easy. The work culture at startups is fast-paced, incredibly demanding and — especially in my field — tends to be male-dominated.

It has taken careful steering through the industry’s “boys club” to successfully lead the company and to balance my ambition with all the other aspects of who I am.

Here are some things I’ve learned along the way:

Your startup is like a newborn. The very early stages of a startup are critical for its future development, so creating a positive work environment — which involves how you hire and treat employees — is essential for building the company you envision. So, for example, legal issues aside, there is still a stigma at many startups around hiring expecting mothers. This couldn’t be more wrong-minded. An employee who has been supported through the various stages of motherhood — or any other lifecycle event for that matter — is more likely to feel valued and that will be reflected in their dedication and loyalty for the long run. That goes for a startup of three to a company of three hundred, as those who are with you from the early stages will be an integral part of the company’s future success.

In short, always hire the right person for the job, period. From our experience, from top to bottom (with more than 50 percent female employees at ClicksMob, including top management), it always, always pays off.

Fake it ‘til you make it. Improvising and “putting on a brave face” even in the face of uncertainty are leadership qualities too often associated with males, but I assure you, women do them equally as well, if not better. You will be overwhelmed at times balancing work with the rest of your life — it’s only natural.

By putting on a brave face, you won’t only steady others in stormy seas, you will convince yourself of your own strength.

Build a support team.  It is of crucial importance that as you build your budding startup team, you also build an all-star support team outside of work. Your life partner is like your cofounder, choose a good one and it’s the best move you’ll ever make. Steadfast friends are like your leadership team, they will be your rock during feast or famine. Babysitters are like your star hire — worth their weight in gold.

In short, build strong relationships with a network of people who support your executive leadership role and whom you can lean on, both on the job, and off.

Let go. It’s OK to relinquish control of some of your duties. Delegation is smart and indicates foresight, talent, strength and confidence. It should never be considered a sign of weakness – whether in your professional or personal life.

It can be deliciously lonely at the top. Make sure you schedule time for yourself. If you can find the time to sit it on a conference call about a lone unpaid invoice or for a long discussion with a manager about their concerns, you can also make time for yourself. Go to the gym, for a walk, to meditate, or just be alone with your thoughts. It’ll keep you sane and it may just be your most important meeting of the day.

There has never been a better time for women leadership in business — just look at Marissa Mayer, Sheryl Sandberg, and Indra Nooyi. A new crop of startup CEO’s is following suit — keep your eye on us and you’ll see … tech will never be the same.

Chen Levanon is the CEO of ClicksMob, a fast-growing mobile performance advertising network.

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Great tips, not just for women.

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7 Warning Signs Before Your Startup Fails

7 Warning Signs Before Your Startup Fails | Competitive Edge |
A startup can be seen as a series of trials and errors - some things work others do not. Here are some early warning signs that you might be in trouble.

Andrew Condurache is the founder of Closed Club, a startup that archives closed down startup products and key lessons learned

A startup can be seen as a series of trials and errors – some things work others do not, but you keep pushing on. Sometimes you think you are on the right path and everything is going smoothly… then out of nowhere, an unexpected obstacle stares you right in the eye. What do you do?

Below are some early warning signs that you might be in trouble.

1. Your sales cycles or customer acquisition time is getting longer

You may have launched an awesome product, received a lot of buzz and lots people signed up to your mailing list. However, you have noticed your acquisition rates are declining or are starting to take longer than previously.

2. You don’t really know your end user

You created something that you assumed people wanted, people told you they wanted it before you built it, you built it then people said “Cool, I will probably use this one day, good luck with it all!”

You are still trying to work out why a gush of users didn’t come flocking with open arms.

3. Your market is gradually shrinking

Being in a market that has declining demand rates is not a good idea if you want sustainable long term growth. If you have noticed demand decreasing and it’s nothing to do with your product, competitiveness or pricing strategy, it’s time to rethink the industry you’re in.

Declining demand is an early warning sign that you might need to consider diversifying into a new market or pivot away from the product or service you currently offer.

4. You don’t have time to focus on your core product

You understand the product is paramount to your success; however, unexpected things have popped up which means that resources and time are now getting allocated to something else.

When you deviate away from improving upon your core offering, i.e. your product or service, you might find yourself in trouble later on. Competitors might “come out of nowhere” with a better product offering while you were focusing on “more important things.”

5. You have no real plans for monetization

It’s okay if you don’t want to monetize your product immediately or in the near future, but experimenting with potential monetization options early on gives you insight into probable scenarios regarding how you could profit in the future.

Expecting to just flip a switch on when the “time comes” is slightly naive and you might find yourself with unexpected obstacles. Experimentation improves your learning curve and provides greater insight when you do decide to monetize if you have not already done so.

6. Price wars are coming your way

When you start feeling your competitors squeezing your last drip of margin real tight, you’re most likely experiencing a price war. This occurs for many reasons, one of which could be that you are in a commodity market, a market driven purely by price differentiation.

This could be okay if you are prepared to fight back with an ever declining pricing strategy. If you are not in that position, you might find yourself in trouble.

7. You are getting bored of it all

If you are finding that the excitement of running your business is wearing off and the thrill behind creating something of long term value is depreciating, then you’re more than likely in trouble. This is a very early sign of the potential demise of your business.

If you’re not passionate about your company anymore, it will show in your product and the way you manage your business.

Watching your startup decline is not easy, but as many entrepreneurs will tell you, failure teaches you to succeed. Don’t be discouraged if you find yourself in this position – you may just be experiencing a little serendipity and all might work out in the end.

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Warning signs to know about early and make adjustments or pivots.

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5 Reasons You Should Work For A Startup At Least Once

5 Reasons You Should Work For A Startup At Least Once | Competitive Edge |

They say in business you should think big. But when it comes to your career, have you considered thinking “small”? In my experience, a startup is a roller-coaster ride that can offer you incredible career experiences and teach you some invaluable life lessons.

Startups can make you more efficient than you’ve ever been, and they can help you expand your responsibility and knowledge and learn how any business, despite challenges, can effectively get off the ground.

  1. Start Doing Real Work

The feeling you get when you work for a startup is rather hard to describe. In some respects, it’s a little like taking the red pill and getting ejected from the Matrix. Everything you do in a startup makes a difference. No longer are you surrounded by a safety blanket world where you’re a small cog in a large machine. In a startup, everything you do will contribute to the ultimate success or failure of the business.

In my experience, leaving a large organization and heading to a startup felt liberating. In the early days, it felt like every piece of code I wrote was making a difference. In fact, startups actually push you to identify and focus on what’s absolutely critical, forcing you to think more creatively about how you approach projects and create value. And best of all, you’ll often get to see results first-hand and share in the rewards and glory.

  1. Learning and Responsibility   

I unequivocally say I learned more in my first two months in a startup than I did in the previous five years of my professional career. The reason for this is that everyone in a startup is expected to wear multiple hats. A startup forces you to adopt new skills and responsibilities to make up for the small-sized taking on the huge challenges of building an empire.

In startups, fast learning can also lead to increased responsibility and multiple opportunities to both utilize and accelerate talents and knowledge. All of this can translate into powerful position in the business world and means you’ll have much more to offer as an individual, particularly when it comes time to move on or even start your own business.

  1. Shape the Culture Around You

One of the areas that I’m most proud of at DesignCrowd is that we have built a culture where talented people come together and make work fun (work doesn’t feel like work). There’s nothing more rewarding than feeling excited to come into the office in the morning to tackle the next challenge the world has thrown at us.

You will also find that in startups, you get to shape the culture around you. Entering a larger organization usually means that you’ll be stepping into a predetermined culture, set with existing practices, customs and values. Joining a startup, on the other hand, often means that you can directly contribute to the creation and growth of the business culture, offering ideas and practices that can help shape the working philosophy of the company.

  1. An Environment of Innovation

One of the most rewarding things about startups is that you can find yourself working with a team that is highly passionate and enthusiastic. This can spark inspiration on every level, leading to truly innovative ideas and developments that can help the business stand out against competitors in the greater industry.

Being part of an entrepreneurial team is also a wonderful way to learn how to innovate. Entrepreneurs are great people to learn from — they identify a problem and need to find a new efficient way to solve it.

  1. Starting Your Own Venture

Joining a startup gives you the opportunity to start learning what it takes to be your own boss. While they take personal and financial sacrifice, startups pay you back in opportunities and knowledge on how to take charge of your own venture.

If you’re toying with the idea of one day being your own boss, working in a startup is the ideal place to educate yourself on how to set goals, execute strategies, take your product to market and implement strong business operations. You can also be required to take on other, more administrative business tasks, which can actually equip you with great business know-how.

“You learn that there are lots of details in any enterprise,” says CEO Richard A. Moran. “You might have to name the company, design a logo, find office space, figure out the legal entity, find an insurance carrier and all the thousands of mundane activities that one takes for granted in a larger company.”

The key startup lesson in all of this is to never underestimate the power of working for a startup organisation. Startups can equip you with invaluable hands-on tools and experience, growing your skills, knowledge and even responsibilities rapidly – and that’s something that’s difficult to come by in a medium or larger-sized organization.

Editor’s note: Adam Arbolino is co-founder and CTO of, a logo, web and graphic design marketplace.

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Haha, "Start doing real work"! I like this article.

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10 Things Great Talent Always Does

10 Things Great Talent Always Does | Competitive Edge |
Recruiting top performers for your company can multiply its success.

Finding amazing talent is a tricky process. Making talent recruitment a top priority can multiply the success of an organization.

To recognize great talent, hiring managers can look for the following signs instead of paying attention only to resumes and cover letters.

Here are 10 things people possessing great talent always do:

1. They talk about their long-term goals.

Talented candidates aren’t afraid of their future. In fact, they’re excited about their career and what’s in store.

Ask candidates about their long-term goals during a job interview. Those with great talent will talk about their prospective future with the company and what they plan to accomplish if hired.

2. They’re resourceful and prepared for anything.

Great talent is prepared for any situation. The ability to think and act on the spot is a quality few people have.

People with top-notch talent know their resume inside and out, have their portfolio ready and can answer interview questions without stumbling over their thoughts.

3. They display confidence in any situation.

There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance when identifying top talent. Confident individuals, however, can handle any situation and accept the reality that it’s OK to be wrong.

During the interview, ask candidates about their weaknesses. Look for a candidate who can confidently speak about weaknesses and explain the lessons they have learned.

4. They market their versatility.

Individuals who are truly talented possess a wide range of skills and can transfer them to different roles and succeed.

Ask candidates about a time when they had to try something new or apply their skills in an unusual situation. A good candidate will be able to share an experience or two.

5. They prioritize results.

Talented people care about results. They have a burning passion to accomplish their goals, both in their personal life or career.

Those who possess top talent will talk about what they want to accomplish once hired without the interviewer having to ask.

6. They ask smart questions.

Bright individuals are curious people. Because of this, they’ll ask questions to learn more about an organization and how it functions.

During the interview, a talented candidate will ask questions about what he or she is expected to accomplish if hired. They will inquire about the attributes of the top performers at the company and about what it takes to drive results.

7. They’re extremely flexible.

Many organizations continuously update their goals and implement new strategies. Top talent can adjust to such changes without becoming derailed from success.

Ask candidates about a time when they had to quickly adapt to a new situation and what happened.

8. They’re comfortable with taking risks.

Risk taking is involved at any business. Talented people aren’t afraid of pushing the envelope to discover new ideas.

Ask candidates about a time where they had to take a risk. Their response should provide enough insight about whether they can take big enough risks.

9. They bring passion to the position and organization.

This might seem like a cliché, but passion is a quality that sets apart those with great talent from lackluster candidates.

When a talented person is passionate about what he or she does, that individual is not afraid to tell a prospective employer. In fact, when someone is truly passionate, a hiring manager can see it in the individual's personality and previous experience.

10. They communicate effectively with a variety of stakeholders.

Strong communicators have the ability to take organizations to the next level.

When speaking to candidates over the phone or in person or exchanging emails, pay close attention to how they communicate. This gives employers a better indication of their communication skills.

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Delivering World-Class Service on a Startup Budget

Delivering World-Class Service on a Startup Budget | Competitive Edge |
Top-notch customer service doesn't need to be costly. Here are three ways new ventures can provide amazing service without breaking the bank.

The late Maya Angelou once said “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This is as true in business as it is in life: Outstanding service can help a company stand out and be remembered in a crowded marketplace.

Unfortunately, many startup founders believe that great customer service can’t be delivered until their company has reached sufficient scale. While it’s true that customer service can’t be streamlined and automated to the same extent as some other business operations, even the leanest of startup teams can create a wonderful experience if they have the right mindset.

Here are three ways your company can provide world-class service on a startup budget:

To read the full article, click on the title or image.

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Your startup is loved locally, but how do you expand it globally?

Your startup is loved locally, but how do you expand it globally? | Competitive Edge |
Introducing a new idea into the market and turning a profit is a feat in itself. But what happens when your startup has reached its limits on a local scale, tempting you to see how far your company can really go?

As a company that started locally in Canada — and currently making a push to expand into the US market and other countries — we have taken on a number of strategies that will help many entrepreneurs work around the challenges that continue to face small business expansion overseas.

If you approach the process of expansion as an almost entirely new venture, that mindset may allow you (as the hopeful entrepreneur) to take the right steps to build a successful international company.

From the beginning, a startup leaving its comfort zone and established consumer base needs to realize that a new strategy for a particular location will not necessarily work everywhere. Regardless of the scale, it is important to note that each region, city, or market will have its unique need for the same service.

Also, unless the company is a well-known household name, consumers in foreign markets tend to trust and be more aware of local brands. This awareness and trust spills over into the workforce of a company, whether they are local or outsourced — a factor that can turn customers on or off in many markets.

For these reasons, I believe that there are three key points that an established startup needs to take into account for preparing itself in an expansion strategy. Read more: click image or title.

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Expanding globally is like starting your business all over. It's not the same as what you did before. You did gain some experience locally, but doing business with different cultures comes with challenges.

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As a startup CEO, how do you decide whether to keep pushing on with a new startup or throw in the towel? - Quora

As a startup CEO, how do you decide whether to keep pushing on with a new startup or throw in the towel? - Quora | Competitive Edge |
Jason M. Lemkin, Co-founder/CEO EchoSign, acq'd by Ado... (more)
460 upvotes by Marc Bodnick (Co-Founder, Elevation Partners), David S. Rose (Founded six startups, two angel groups, three f... (more) ), Leo Widrich, (more)
Never, ever, ever, never quit if you can get to 10 paying customers (that aren't your friends, relatives, ex-bosses).


Until the last nickel is gone, until they shut off the power (and even then, you can go to Starbucks).


Because ... no one needs Yet Another Paid Product.  No one.

If you got 10 paying customers ... you can get 100.  You will get 100.  At some point.  If you don't quit.

And if you get 100 ... 1000 isn't impossible.  There are 6,000,000 businesses in the U.S. alone.

Break it up into 10x chunks.  One order of magnitude growth.

Quit if you never get 10 paying customers within 6, 12, 24, 200 months of launch, and have no ideas about how to tilt to get to 10.

But ... product-market fit for paid SaaS products is just so much rarer, and harder, than people realize.

Don't quit if you have 10 customers.

Find a way.   Push through. Read more answers: click image or title.

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Never give up fighting. Find a way.

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An 11-Step Plan for Launching Your Startup

An 11-Step Plan for Launching Your Startup | Competitive Edge |
Disclaimer: the headline on this article promises you 11 steps to launch a startup. It does not promise you 11 easy steps or 11 simple steps or 11 anyone-could-do-it-before-breakfast-without-breaking-a-sweat steps.

Launching a startup is difficult—there's no way around that.

In the best of markets, 75% of venture-backed firms fail to deliver returns on their investments, according to 2012 research from Harvard Senior Lecturer Shikhar Ghosh.

Today, VC firms are debating whether that grim statistic might be exacerbated by a forthcoming tech bubble. Nevertheless, many entrepreneurs decide to launch companies every year.

If you're determined to join their ranks, here's what you need to know about how to launch your business so it lasts.

by Melissa Cohen

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"Our work with Growthink was very helpful for creating a business plan to focus our efforts in the short term and increase our value over the long term."
Jack Bergstrand, CEO
Brand Velocity, Inc.

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It takes some good planning to create a start up. Don't underestimate. Creating a business plan may help to uncover flaws or import aspects that may have been overlooked.

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What a letter from 1855 can teach us about startups today

What a letter from 1855 can teach us about startups today | Competitive Edge |

In 1855, Daniel McCallum wrote a letter to his bosses at the New York & Erie Railroad. McCallum had risen up through the ranks from carpenter, to bridge engineer, to chief of bridges, to regional manager of the Susquehanna division of the railroad. His latest promotion, to general manager of the entire railroad, was a big one.

So he picked up his pen and put his ideas about managing the railroad down on paper. It was the first time we know of that anyone ever did this.

McCallum’s biggest problem was cost-per-mile. As fast as the railroad grew in size, operating costs grew faster. Where the company should have seen productivity improvement (declining cost per mile), it saw the opposite. Communication, coordination, operations, sales — all became more difficult, not less so, as the railroad grew.

For McCallum, a productivity problem was a general management problem. And his ideas about general management marked a turning point in business history.

Fast forward not quite two centuries and many talented people in Silicon Valley are in McCallum’s shoes. They’ve risen rapidly in their careers because they were great at their jobs, because the company was growing like crazy, or both. They are getting shoved into leadership and management roles. And it is the hardest transition many of them have ever faced.

Against all their hopes and dreams, the bigger the company gets, the less well things work. Instead of productivity and happiness, there’s the opposite. These companies often have plenty of financial runway. And they have raw talent that’s the envy of the world. But they grind the gears on general management — burning too much cash, energy, and time setting goals, organizing the work, getting it done, and improving performance. The gears grind, people get frustrated, and the runway gets a lot shorter.

McCallum was at the height of his career, still prototyping how to manage. Remember, there were no business schools or how-to books in 1855. No general manager apprenticeships. McCallum had been taught to engineer and build bridges, not to manage thousands of people across half a continent.

McCallum’s letter outlined five key challenges:

  • How do you get a group of people to work together to common goals?
  • How do you give people the right amount of responsibility?
  • How do you make sure the job gets done?
  • How do you know how things are going?
  • How do you do all this with respect for others?

McCallum designed his railroad’s management structure and operation to answer those questions. He created a custom blend of hard assets, people and technology — for instance, he used the telegraph the way we use email or the internet today — to make the railroad work.

I believe that McCallum added years to the life of the New York & Erie railroad. The railroad had financial capital. It had engines, rail cars, all the physical assets it needed. It had fleets of talented people at every level of the organization. What the railroad needed was great general management to amplify the productivity of the capital + labor combination, to extend the life of the business. Great general management adds runway.

OK so what do we do with this story? Daniel McCallum. Interesting person. Hard problem. Railroads matter.

McCallum accidentally gave us a beautiful scorecard for general managers.

Take a look. Here are McCallum’s five challenges:

  • Group works together on common goals.
  • People have the right amount of responsibility.
  • Team gets the job done.
  • General Manager knows how things are going along the way.
  • People feel respected.

By each, write a score for your team from 1 to 10, with 1 being the worst and 10 being the best.

McCallum’s scorecard is an optimistic one. It’s based on the idea that sometimes you can get better in each of the five areas. So don’t be shy about giving a low score.

Now go back and spend time dissecting the low scores. McCallum took his lowest scoring areas and prototyped improvements. He changed procedures for communication. He changed the organization design. He added some steps and removed others in key process. You can do the same thing.

If you are grinding the gears in your work, the company’s spiritual and financial runway is shorter than it could be. It’s kind of surprising that in the mid-1800s there was a person who struggled with what it meant to be a good general manager. His struggle can save you time and worry. Borrow McCallum’s ideas to put grease on the gears.

Michael Dearing is the founder of the venture capital firm Harrison Metal. He has held numerous executive roles at companies including eBay, Filene’s Basement and the Walt Disney Company.  He most recently served as an associate professor at Stanford University’s

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Lots to learn, even from struggles long times ago.

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Why Ben Picked Jerry

Why Ben Picked Jerry | Competitive Edge |
Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield launched the legendary ice-cream brand Ben & Jerry's in 1978. And they're still friends today.

In the early days of launching their now legendary brand, Ben and Jerry lived and breathed ice cream. They would sleep on their freezers some nights. But one thing was always more important than their business: Their friendship.

That, says Ben Cohen -- the “Ben” who founded the famous Vermont ice-cream in 1978 -- is the secret to their long-lasting working relationship. It’s what got them through some long, stressful days, and helped them avoid serious clashes.

“We chose to make our friendship the most important thing. The way we worked, whoever felt the most strongly about it got their way,” Ben told Entrepreneur during The Feast social entrepreneurship conference in Red Hook, Brooklyn, earlier this fall.  

That kind of co-founder compromise allowed Ben and his co-founder Jerry Greenfield to survive through many ups and downs, including the company’s takeover by consumer-products conglomerate Unilever in 2000. “It really helps to have a solid friendship with whoever you are doing it with before you start the business,” says Ben.

Ben and Jerry met in gym in the seventh grade. (“Running around the track, we were the two slowest, fattest kids in class.”) The two remained friends through college. Jerry failed to get into medical school, and Ben dropped out of college to pursue a career as a potter, but wasn’t making many sales.

The out-of-luck hippie duo decided to make a right-angle turn and go into business together. “The only thing we really liked doing together was eating and we decided it should be a food business.”  

Ben & Jerry’s was almost a bagel business. With $8,000 between them, Ben and Jerry had decided they wanted to bring a trendy food concept to a rural, college town. They narrowed it down to bagels or ice cream.

Fortunately, the bagel idea turned out to be too expensive. The friends went to a used restaurant-equipment shop outside of Albany, N.Y., and tried to negotiate the cheapest possible prices on a rotary oven and other equipment. The old, cigar-smoking shop owner, Lou, promised to give Ben and Jerry the best prices he could, but it wasn’t enough. “We couldn’t afford the bagel stuff. And that’s why we decided it had to be ice cream,” says Ben.

The would-be doctor and would-be potter taught themselves how to make ice cream through a correspondence course from Penn State University and with the textbook Ice Cream by  Wendall S. Arbuckle, who Ben calls the “father of American ice cream.” To brush up on their business skills, they bought how-to booklets written by the Small Business Administration for as little as 15 cents a piece.

Ben and Jerry often worked seven days and 100 hours a week to get the first shop up and running. Some nights, they didn’t bother going home, opting to snooze on top of the industrial freezers instead. Slowly, they went on to grow their first ice-cream shop -- in a renovated gas station in Burlington, Vt. -- into a $300 million business famous for quirky flavors such as Phish Food and Cherry Garcia.

Later career success belied early startup struggles. “Most of it was we were just trying to survive each week.”

As partners, Ben and Jerry each had absolute veto power if either of them felt strongly that a certain decision would send them in the wrong direction. But this decision-making authority was used “very, very rarely,” says Ben. Primarily, the childhood friends turned multimillion-dollar business partners would either agree on what to do, or agree on whose opinion was the deciding factor in a particular situation.

Ben and Jerry aren’t making each pint of ice cream anymore, but they are still involved with their namesake company’s social missions and the two remain friends today. The company they created is a leader in the movement to bring ethics into business -- which makes sense. From the beginning, it was built with an ethos of “friendship always comes first.”

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Google's Larry Page: The most ambitious CEO in the universe

Google's Larry Page: The most ambitious CEO in the universe | Competitive Edge |

As Google's core business continues to thrive, Larry Page is making huge bets on new technology that could define the future.

There’s a joke about Larry Page that’s been making the rounds at Google X, the “moon shot” factory where Google is developing self-driving cars, high-altitude wind turbines, and a fleet of stratospheric balloons to blanket the world with Internet access: A brainiac who works in the lab walks into Page’s office one day wielding his latest world-changing invention—a time machine. As the scientist reaches for the power cord to begin a demo, Page fires off a dismissive question: “Why do you need to plug it in?”

It’s a tall tale that is repeated affectionately by the whizzes inside the futuristic lab because it captures the urgency and aspiration of their boss to move technology forward. The Google CEO is the kind of guy who thinks the improbable is a given and the seemingly impossible is likely. He’s not one or two steps ahead of his engineers and research scientists; he often seems to inhabit an alternate universe, where the future has already happened.

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What makes Google tick?

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How to keep your startup spirit when your business takes off

How to keep your startup spirit when your business takes off | Competitive Edge |
When grew from two to 20 people in two years, its founders worried the business had lost its spark

ust four years ago, were two people. Two years later we were five, and today, we are 20. Just four years ago we were working from Starbucks. Today, we are in an Old Street open-plan warehouse office space. The journey has been short but the expansion has been big.

Last week my business co-founder Andrew and I sat down and wondered if we had lost our startup spirit. As a brand new company, it was easy to get washed away with the excitement of being a startup – few bills to pay, few clients to worry about, only a few new members of the team. This was why we left our corporate snooze jobs; working hard for the boss wasn’t cutting it for us.

Two years on, we had a serious discussion about whether this was going to work and as fate would have it, an angel landed in our lap. A group of angel investors, in fact, who decided to invest £250,000 into our dream. While this was obviously life-changing for us, it also quickly changed our startup dynamic. Suddenly we had to put together serious five-year plans, forecasts, cashflow projections and growth strategies … and, moreover, had to be accountable for them.

This of course brings a whole new excitement to the table too. We were now in a position to create a viable company and one that could grow quickly, and here we had angel investors – of Friends Reunited,, Vodafone and Quidco fame – all believing in the business plan. The startup engines were on fire, with a fancy new office, 10 hires and a sizeable marketing budget to play with. The following year saw a further £250,000 invested allowing us to grow to a team of 20 with an even fancier office and managing to poach talent from the likes of Google and Accenture.

After four years of strong growth, we witnessed more and more desks filling the office, HR policies being put in place, new managerial structures, but fewer opportunities for impromptu fun nights out with the team (after all we had budgets to stick to). The lack of atmosphere became noticeable. Our fantastic team had joined DesignMyNight because of the whirlwind fun and unpredictability of a startup, and we had lost that spirit.


At a startup, your most important asset is your team. For our team, DesignMyNight is their baby as well as ours and we’d forgotten to keep the dialogue open with them. We had an open lunch with the team to ask them what they wanted and a few weeks later we had installed a ping pong table, darts board, new lounge/chill out area, regular top-ups of fruit, tea and coffee. We started having more regular team nights out, and handed the office decoration over to them. We were reminded to thank and praise the team more than we did, and began announcing “weekly wins” and wind down Fridays (where we shut laptops at 5pm and enjoy each other’s company, and a few cocktails), as well as randomly rewarding the teams with lunches and gifts if there had been noticeable achievement.

These simple, yet inexpensive, improvements instantly re-injected the team and the office with that entrepreneurial startup spirit again. A happier team equals better results. As founders of a new business it is vital to remember why you entered this crazy startup world … because it shouldn’t be simply for the money.

You must regularly step back from the pressures of targets and have fun: enjoy the job, enjoy the emotional rollercoaster, enjoy the freedom and most of all enjoy your team, otherwise you might as well go back to that snoozy corporate job.

Nick Telson is co-founder of

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Via Zonata
Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Great story. Keep that spirit alive, but don't be foolish.

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Stanford Professors Want To Teach You How To Scale Your Business Without Screwing It Up | TechCrunch

Stanford Professors Want To Teach You How To Scale Your Business Without Screwing It Up | TechCrunch | Competitive Edge |

After eight years of studying best practices for expanding a business, a pair of Stanford professors are scaling up the size of their classroom with their first foray into massive open online courses (MOOC).

Huggy Rao and Robert Sutton, the authors of “Scaling Up Excellence: Getting To More Without Settling For Less,” will bring the lessons they learned from their research to the virtual classroom. When their five-week, free MOOC launches on Sept. 15, it will feature interviews with prominent investors like Ben Horowitz and Michael Dearing.

Normally Rao and Sutton teach the book in their executive education classrooms, but true to their research, they found the MOOC to be a scaling tool that could help them reach more readers.

“They can not only consume the book as in reading it, but more importantly they can actually apply it to their own venture or startup idea,” said Rao, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Sutton, a professor at the Stanford School of Engineering, said the pair has experience in teaching for-credit online courses in the past. He said this is most likely the only time that the course will be offered in the free MOOC format.

“It will particularly be helpful to entrepreneurs trying to scale their ventures [...] because when people think about scaling they think about the footprint,” Rao said. “The footprint won’t survive and it certainly won’t thrive unless you have a mindset to sustain it.

Because the course is a MOOC, it is open to everyone, but Rao and Sutton said fledgling entrepreneurs would benefit the most from the class. The course specifically focuses on what small ventures can do once they get funding and are looking to scale their businesses. In addition to offering advice from famous investors, Rao and Sutton will include interviews with successful entrepreneurs, including some who they used for their own research.

The course will include an interview with the founders of Pulse and an executive from Survey Monkey.

Sutton called the Pulse founders Ankit Gupta and Akshay Kothari “stars” of the scaling book, saying they told a story that gave him and Rao important perspective that they hope to share with the MOOC students. When Gupta and Kothari were scaling their business, they began to run into many more problems. They realized that by splitting into smaller subgroups and then reporting what each group did at the end of the day, they could be more effective and efficient.

“To us that’s a scaling problem that comes up quite frequently,” Sutton said. “It’s one that a lot of founders run into.”

When it comes to scaling a venture, Sutton said there should be three ideas that students take away from the course. The first is that it’s a process of both addition and subtraction.

“There’s always the stuff that’s getting in the way,” Sutton said.

The second is that there needs to be a combination of patience and impatience. Founders need to work aggressively everyday, but also be patient for the long-term awards that work will bring. The third lesson is what Sutton calls “the grass is browner problem,” which means scaling startups is more messy than stories and research after the fact would lead you to believe.

“Scaling requires that you drop your tools and develop new tools,” Rao said.

“What got you there won’t get you to the next level,” Sutton added.

Students must register for the course by Sept. 12.

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Richard Branson's 5 Steps for Startup Success

Richard Branson's 5 Steps for Startup Success | Competitive Edge |
The billionaire entrepreneur’s basic rules to get a business off to a strong start.

No matter where you start, or what products and services you provide, Virgin Group founder and CEO Richard Branson has five basic rules for any successful entrepreneur:

Related: I Admit It. I Have No Idea What I'm Doing. (And That's a Good Thing.)

  1. Be financially savvy. As you raise capital, think about what you really need. While a swank office can be nice, the money could be better spent on new hires or technology.
  2. Choose a dynamic name. Convey what you're selling and help customers keep you at the top of their minds.
  3. Sell memorable merchandise. Be a source for products that are unique and that won’t be replicated elsewhere. Put your stamp on everything you do. 
  4. Make waves. Learn your industry inside-out and find ways to set yourself apart from the competition.
  5. Follow through. Keep in touch with you customers and build lasting relationships with them through attentive, personalized service.

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Via Luis Costa
Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Good advice from a master in business.

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Join the League of Extraordinary Bosses: 4 Habits to Cultivate

Join the League of Extraordinary Bosses: 4 Habits to Cultivate | Competitive Edge |

As most employers grapple with low employee engagement, many workplace observers wonder just how the downward spiral begins.

Sometimes the low level of employee engagement is triggered by poor leadership pervading the entire company. This can be overcome, however, if leaders come to understand what makes an effective boss.

The most effective managers are those who value transparency, practice two-way communication, provide constructive feedback and above and beyond to serve their employees.

Take a look at one of America's most effective business leaders, Mark Zuckerberg. The Facebook CEO believes not only in his company and product but also his employees. He listens to his employees, values transparency and builds relationships.

Good bosses also ensure that staffers have the resources and guidance needed to accomplish their goals.  

To become a highly effective boss, embrace the following four habits:

To read the full article, click on the title or image.

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Via Anne Leong, Michael Binzer
Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Bosses or managers who don't respect those rules are into power tripping. They don't last long in this ever changing business environment. If they do, they take the company down with them.

Michael Binzer's curator insight, July 5, 2014 7:17 AM

I believe in this - transparency, openness, no hidden agendas and first and foremost to serve my COLLEAGUES.