Competitive Edge
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Social Media is Hard: The 2013 Landscape of Social Networks in one Infographic

Social Media is Hard: The 2013 Landscape of Social Networks in one Infographic | Competitive Edge |
After almost two-and-half years, it is with great pleasure that I officially unveil the fourth edition of The Conversation Prism. Viewed and downloaded millions of times over, The Conversation Prism

Via Ally Greer
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Cool images of the ever changing social media environment. Explore.

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Witmer Group's curator insight, December 7, 2013 5:31 PM

LOVE this visual!  

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Very cool.

Competitive Edge
Creating your Unique Value Proposition to gain your Competitive Edge.
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Positioning Your Startup is Vital Here's How to Nail It

Positioning Your Startup is Vital  Here's How to Nail It | Competitive Edge |
First Round is a seed-stage venture firm focused on building a vibrant community of technology entrepreneurs and companies.

When Arielle Jackson started to develop the marketing and communications plan around Cover (the Android app quickly snapped up by Twitter), she brought a lot of firepower to the job. During her nearly nine years at Google, she managed product marketing for Gmail, Docs, Calendar and Voice. She then moved on to Square, where she led go-to-market plans for new hardware products like the Square Stand. At Cover, she put everything she learned to work to help make the product uniquely valuable. Today, she does the same as an advisor to multiple startups.

What’s surprising for many people, she says, is that marketing is actually highly tactical. There are frameworks and distinct steps founders can take to define what their company is doing, why it’s important, and why — above all the noise — people should listen to them.

In this exclusive interview, Jackson shares exercises entrepreneurs can use to nail their product positioning, develop the right assets (including a name that strikes the right chord), and make a stunning first impression on the market — whether they’re launching a new feature or an entire company.

How to Position Your Business

At its core, positioning is a statement. It’s a sentence or two that clearly defines the problem you're setting out to solve and why your solution is compelling. Your positioning statement should remain internal, but it’s critical to everything that follows: Aligning teams, hiring the right people, developing the best product, communicating the value of your work — the list goes on. It all starts with positioning.

“You need to position your product in the mind of your user,” says Jackson. “And that requires taking your potential users into account, assessing the product’s strengths and weaknesses, and considering your competition. There are so many products out there, and people are busy. You have to know who you are.”

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“You can't be everything to everyone, but you can be something great for someone.”

So what does a positioning statement look like? A lot of good advice is contained in the foundational marketing guide Positioning, Jackson recommends. But in particular, she cites a formula she learned from former Google Head of Marketing and Communications Christopher Escher when she was an associate product marketing manager:

For (target customer)
Who (statement of need or opportunity),
(Product name) is a (product category)
That (statement of key benefit).
Unlike (competing alternative)
(Product name)(statement of primary differentiation).

Using this framework, you can explain your product or service in as plain of English as possible. This requires some pre-work. Answering the following questions can help you get to a concrete statement:

  • What’s different about the way your product/service works? 
  • Why do you do what you do? 
  • What is your broadest circle of prospective customers? Start with something like “Android users” or “people without cars,” and then try to get more specific, ending up with a profile of an individual model user.
  • What pain points are these customers experiencing? Be as clear and specific as possible. What emotions do customers associate with these pain points?
  • What other companies solve similar problems? Don’t just list your competitors but also their strengths and weaknesses compared to what you’re doing. 
  • Avoid all buzzwords. If there’s one word that describes your positioning statement, it should be “human.”

With these factors accounted for, positioning statements can be written for all kinds of companies. Amazon’s early positioning statement is a prime sample:

For World Wide Web users
Who enjoy books,
Amazon is a retail bookseller
That provides instant access to over 1.1 million books.
Unlike traditional book retailers,
Amazon provides a combination of extraordinary convenience, low prices and comprehensive selection.

To give an example outside of technology, Harley-Davidson publicly shared their positioning statement:

The only motorcycle manufacturer
That makes big, loud motorcycles
For macho guys (and “macho wannabes”)
Mostly in the United States
Who want to join a gang of cowboys
In an era of decreasing personal freedom.

As you can see, the format can be flexible as long as you've addressed the key components. The goal isn’t to use this statement verbatim in your marketing or advertising, but to get people inside the company excited and on the same page about why your idea is special and going to help people attain something they want.

Some people mix up taglines and positioning statements, but taglines serve a much different purpose: They're externally-facing catch phrases or slogans that are in line with your positioning. As an example, one of Harley's taglines is: “American by birth. Rebel by choice.” It wraps up a lot of the same ideas in a neater, more concise package.

“As a rule, it’s always an advantage to be first in your market, because you’re memorable. If you can be first and best that’s great — but that’s also really hard, and it’s okay if you’re not,” says Jackson. “Positioning statements help you create the right message for the right person at the right time.”

This is especially relevant if you’re launching in a crowded space, or if there’s a clear incumbent. Having a strong positioning statement can differentiate you as a premium offering, or a discount offering, or as the perfect product for a certain segment of customers. NyQuil, as the book Positioning explains, succeeded by billing itself as a cough syrup to be used by cold-sufferers specifically at night.

“Nailing down your positioning from the beginning makes everything else easier.”

In Jackson’s opinion, having your positioning down is even more important than having a name for your company. That name, and eventually all of your messaging, website copy, branding, and even product features can all spring from your positioning.

“A question everyone hears and asks a lot is: ‘Is this on brand? Are we making an on-brand decision?’” she says. “If you have a strong positioning statement that everyone believes in, that’s the best guide for answering those questions. Is the decision you’re making in service to the customers you’ve identified? Does it strengthen the ways you’re different from your competitors? It’s all more clear cut.”

On top of that, a well-expressed position can be an incredible asset in fundraising conversations, so it shouldn’t be postponed, Jackson says. “I think if you actually include your positioning statement in your pitch deck, people would be impressed with the clarity of thought."

In terms of what comes first, product or positioning, Jackson suggests that the two should grow up side-by-side.

“You can’t start positioning before you generally know what you’re building, but I think it does inform the product and vice versa,” she says.

With Cover, the founders knew that they wanted to build a context-aware layer that would replace the standard Android lock screen and leverage capabilities on Android not available on iOS or other platforms. But that was about it.

“We knew some of the basic functionality but not exactly what it would look like,” says Jackson. “Once we had nailed the positioning, it became more clear what features we’d need to build to win over Android users who had tons of apps. It also really shaped the whole website, including the ‘about us’ page and the way we talked to prospective candidates.”

One step that many companies skip is seriously evaluating their competition while drafting their positioning. This is a mistake, Jackson says. “It’s critical that you understand how you fit in your space where competitors are operating. Often, drawing the comparison can be really helpful in explaining your product or service. When the first ever car came out, it was advertised as the horseless carriage — and that explained something that could have been impossible to grasp in a way that was compelling for people.”

“People understand what's new and different by comparing it to something they already know.”

But this type of language may only appeal to a specific audience. Saying that you are “like Uber for X” is probably only relevant to a narrow, tech-savvy sliver of the populace. While Jackson recommends having one overarching positioning statement for your company or product, she acknowledges that you may eventually want to tweak it as you try to appeal to different demographics.

“You may be positioned one way for an audience of San Francisco yuppies and another way for a major national campaign, but you always want to have that one dominant statement that everything rolls up to,” she says. Identifying what is broken and generally how your company or product is solving it shouldn’t be a moving target.

If you have a hard time writing a positioning statement that fits the framework above, there might be something wrong with your product. Especially if you can’t clearly define your target market or explain how you’re doing something distinguishable from others, you should back up and do that homework. “If you have a compelling product that people actually need, you should be able to write a decent positioning statement. If you’re struggling, that’s a sign," Jackson says.

How to Name Your Company

One of the biggest challenges young startups face is picking a name that reflects the qualities they want to project, sticks with customers, and allows them to snag a slick domain and social media handles. Seems like an almost impossible feat, and Jackson has seen a number of companies get stumped when it comes to choosing a name. Today, she has a system for breaking down this roadblock.

There are three routes you can take when it comes to naming:

  • Descriptive: Fairly explicit about what your business is and does. Examples include Whole Foods, Toys "R" Us and PayPal.
  • Suggestive: Evokes or suggests what your business or product is about, often via metaphor. Examples include Amazon, which suggests a giant river/huge selection, and Mint, where money is created.
  • Fanciful: Has nothing directly to do with your company’s offering. Examples include Adobe and Apple.

“A good way to see the difference here is to look at web browsers,” says Jackson. “Internet Explorer is about as descriptive as you can get. Safari is suggestive, connoting this idea of exploration, and then you have FireFox, which has absolutely nothing to do with the internet.”

While fanciful names risk being too obscure or complicated, they do come with some advantages: They can be more memorable, and it can be easier to get the trademark, domains and handles. You just have to be willing to do more work marketing your product or service. “You have to be prepared to do a lot of explaining and marketing to get mindshare and really forge the association between your name and your business. Alternatively, a descriptive or suggestive name will do some of your positioning work for you,” she says.

According to Jackson, you should also ask yourself the following questions as you decide which one of these roads to go down:

  • What are the names of related or competitors' companies or products? You want to build differentiation into your name. Especially if you are launching into a space like online payments, you may want to steer clear of the word “pay,” because many companies have the word “pay” in their names, and it will be too hard for customers to remember you.
  • What brand values do you want to communicate? These might include words like simplicity, security, etc.
  • Do you need the exact domain name to be available or can you get away with a verb-noun combination like many other companies have tried? Examples include for Square, for Caviar, and for lending startup Earnest. These can work.

Guidelines help, but when it comes to actually sitting down and doing the work of brainstorming, naming can still seem like a staggering task. When this is the case, Jackson advises founders to go back to their positioning statement.

“First, create three buckets for descriptive, suggestive and fanciful names. Let yourself be open to all three,” she says. “You don’t know if you’ll happen upon a name you’ll fall in love with.”

Second, take your written-out positioning statement and break it into nouns and verbs. For every meaningful word you can isolate, create a full list of synonyms. “Go to and just capture them all. Make a huge list,” Jackson says. “Once you have this list, you can try all kinds of different combinations.” She suggests working through this list of options:

Real words: Repurposed words (Examples: Apple, Gain, Square)

Compounds: Two words fused together (Salesforce, Facebook)

Blends: Part of one word combined with part of another (Pinterest, Microsoft)

Affixes: Tack something on like -er or -ly (Blogger, Contently)

Truncations: Shorten a word or concept (Cisco is a clipped version of San Francisco)

Other languages: Words that mean or suggest what you want to convey in other languages (Reebok, Asana)

“You want to do this exercise in a group,” Jackson says. “A lot of times founders do this alone, or just with their co-founder. That can be a good starting point, but you definitely want to bring in your other employees and even friends and family. Create your short list of options and then see how they resonate with a variety of people.”

After this brainstorm, you need to look at your priorities when it comes to naming your company. In most cases, this is how your ranking should look (for practical and creative reasons):

1. Trademark and domain availability
2. Distinctiveness
3. Reflection of your key messaging
4. Sound and ease of pronunciation (more important than you might think)
5. Appearance (literally, how pleasing or logical is it to the eye?)
6. Length (a two-syllable word can be preferable because it’s not too long but more distinctive than a single syllable)

Some of these sound elementary, but are actually critical to the success of your name. “People often don’t think of things like, is this easy to spell? Does it feel natural in your mouth when you say it?” She points to used furniture marketplace Move Loot as an example. While the name might sound like a tongue-twister at first, the rhyming is actually easy to both say and remember.

Lastly, be careful when using working or code names in case you get too attached. It’s easy to get stuck on one name even if it’s not ideal. To prevent this from happening, choose a crazy interim name that you know definitely won’t work or isn’t available, Jackson advises.

How to Pull Together Branded Assets

To create a comprehensive brand, you need a logo, landing page, video, etc., and all that starts with something called a creative brief.

In a short amount of time and space, you can provide all of the information you need to define the look and feel of a whole company or an individual feature or product (even something as small as a new banner ad) — whatever you’re developing or announcing.

“A creative brief is really a documented guide to creative work. You can use it to develop the assets you need to go to market,” says Jackson. “Some people don’t think you need to write it down — that you can simply have a kickoff meeting with a creative agency or your in-house creative team and leave it at that. But in my experience, it’s really helpful to write it down. Not only does it help the people you may be working with, but it helps you further internalize how you want to talk about and express things.”

Entrepreneurs working on a smaller budget may need to do all the creative work themselves or with a small number of contractors. Creative briefs are equally helpful in these cases as when working with big agencies.

In some sense, this brief is prescriptive: You can define targets — the types of people you want to reach, how many, and the assets you hope to get out of the process (a logo, website, tagline, video, etc.) But you don’t want it to be overly explicit in what it’s asking for, Jackson says. You want to leave room for play and inspiration.

“A creative brief should be just that — brief.”

“You should keep your creative brief to one or two pages — I’ve literally heard of agencies that won’t accept one that is more than a page,” she says. “As directly as possible, you want to communicate the background on your product, what you're trying to do with it, your perspective on timing and budget, and also what the competitive space looks like.”

A comprehensive creative brief has the following components:

  • Background: Your company or product name, a quick description of what it does and the value it creates, and a rough launch plan.
  • Audience: Your target audience should be defined both by the demographics you are going after and a profile of your model customer (more on this later). 
  • Positioning: Your positioning statement with no frills.
  • Competitive audit: A list of 5 to 10 companies that are playing in the same space, with your main competitor highlighted. You may also include single sentence descriptions of how they overlap with you and your business.
  • Messaging: The key takeaways you want your audience to internalize about your product or company. This may also include your tagline if you have one (more on developing messaging below). 
  • Current perception: If you’re already in the market, how do people see you? What feelings do you produce in people? Try to be as objective as possible, including whether you want to change this perception.
  • Brand attributes: A list of adjectives that you feel accurately describe the personality of your company.
  • Inspiration: Any examples of brands, logos, verbiage, websites or advertising that you like. Explain very quickly what you like about them and/or what aspects you might like to see incorporated into your own creative work (clean font, an abstract logo, etc.). This can help provide some early direction.
  • Deliverables: Do you just want a logo? Or a full brand identity with fonts, colors and brand guidelines? A website? A video? Define what you want to get out of the process, even if you’re running it on your own. 
  • Delivery date: Set a firm deadline for both concepts and final deliverables so you know you’re on track. Make sure the people doing the work agree to this timeline.
  • Budget: Especially important if you’re working with external help, either a contractor, agency or creative firm. Do your best to stick to it.
  • Sign off: Make it clear who has the authority to review and approve different deliverables. The buck should stop with one person.

“A lot of times you won’t see competitors or inspirations included in creative briefs because clients assume that agencies will go out and do that kind of research themselves, but if you think about it, you could save the time and money it will take for them to do that simply by including them in your brief,” says Jackson. “You want to see at least preliminary results as soon as you can.”

Clearly identifying your audience and model customer can also help expedite things. “Your target audience is a broad concept of who you want to go after with your product or service,” says Jackson. “If you’re talking about ZipCar for example, it’ll be something like ‘urban people who don’t own cars.’ This is still pretty broad.”

There’s a lot of benefit to boiling this larger group down to a single, well-drawn individual.

“Paint a picture of your perfect user. If you've done everything right, they should be a slam dunk.”

“In the UX world, people often talk about ‘personas’ in this way,” says Jackson. “You literally say, ‘Meet Sally, she’s 31, lives in San Francisco and cares about the environment. She used to own a Prius but the cost of maintenance was too high, so she donated it and now relies on ZipCar to get out of the city on weekends.’ You want whoever is receiving your creative brief to feel like they know exactly who this person is and what they're motivated by.”

This doesn’t mean that the company or product will only appeal to people like Sally, but it will give it an edge with the wider audience that resembles Sally, she says. “You can start to ask questions like, okay so if this is our audience, how do we get in front of them? How do we get them to remember us? How do we draw them in?”

How to Prepare for Launch

Launches and campaigns all require key messaging that touches on these questions and explains more about why people should care. To arrive at clean, simple messaging that makes your point loud and clear, you should rely on two acronyms:

SOCO (Single Overriding Communications Objective): Whether you’re developing a brand identity or campaign work or a video, you want to be able to articulate the one most important thing you want the work to communicate. Just one thing. Know it by heart.

SOCA (Single Overriding Communications Avoidance): The complete opposite of your SOCO, this is the one thing that is the most important for you to avoid communicating. What is the one message, weakness, problem or liability that you absolutely don’t want users or the press to hear? Everyone who may be talking about your product for your company should have your SOCA firmly in mind. 

A good example of a SOCO is an early line used by Dropbox: “It just works.” It relays all of the simplicity, security and user ease that the brand wants to project, and it's easy for people to repeat over and over again.

A good example of a SOCA may be the idea that you’re just like every other cloud security solution. When Jackson was working on Cover, it was very important that the service didn’t seem like it would get in the way or interfere with the way Android users wanted to use their apps. Accordingly, the company’s messaging largely emphasized how it would make life more convenient for these users.

Your other key messages should orbit around your SOCO. For example, if you’re giving an interview to a reporter, most of your responses to whatever questions they ask should bridge back to that one objective or idea that you want people to remember.

Jackson recommends compiling all of your messaging — including answers to all possible questions you could get about your company or product — into one communications document. At Google, every product had its own corresponding comms doc that anyone on relevant internal teams could dip into to learn how to talk about the product, who it was for, and why it was useful or important.

“Before you launch anything, you want to crowd-source as many questions as you can from people you know and trust. Put all of them and your best answers to them in the doc,” says Jackson.

“Then, every time you get a question you weren't prepared for, add it to the doc, even after launch. It should be a living document that is constantly evolving and becoming more refined.”

The goal isn’t to memorize everything in your communications document before heading into interviews, it’s simply a study guide, she says. You should review it so many times that you can hit all of the points without sounding rehearsed. You should be able to organically move from topic to topic as you field questions. This is how you’ll be able to stay nimble in interviews or presentations.

“At the end of all of this, you want to feel completely comfortable with the brand, the product, and how you talk about it,” Jackson says. “It all starts with nailing down your positioning. Everything stems from that. If you’ve done it right, you'll be able to tell everyone why what you’re doing matters in a way that will make them listen and respond.”

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

This should be known and understood by all startups, fabulous article.

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Gene Simmons to Entrepreneurs: 'Unleash Your Inner Rock God'

From a Kiss rock 'n' roller to an entrepreneur who oversees a record label, a sports team, and a restaurant chain, Gene Simmons is all about building brands. Here's what he has learned along the way.

Best known as the bass guitarist behind the legendary rock band Kiss, and more recently for his family's reality TV series, Gene Simmons is also an entrepreneur who owns a record label, a sports team, and a restaurant chain.

Now he wants to teach you how to "build an army of one, unleash your inner rock god [and] win in life and business."

So reads the subtitle of his new book, Me, Inc., a plainspoken riff on Sun Tzu's The Art of War with 13 principles that Simmons dubs "the art of more." In an interview with Inc., Simmons shared some of the lessons that he has learned over the years while building his portfolio of ventures.

1. Self-confidence is your greatest business partner
Self-confidence isn't genetic or inherent, Simmons argues, but learnable--and essential for success.

"You are the resume," he says. "You better stand up straight, look somebody in the eyes and--if you're not confident--fucking fake it. It's the only way to survive."

2. Learn from the masters
Who are your role models? Your idols? What can you learn from them--if not in person, then through a book?

"I was a voracious reader and still am," says Simmons. "I read all sorts of things I'm not interested in, and therein lies something important: In order to learn something, especially something new, it might not be that you're interested in it... The library, as far as I'm concerned, is the house of God."

3. Find partners who complement you
Entrepreneurs who try to go at it alone are destined for a small, limited venture, according to Simmons. Partners can help bring in new ideas and help with expansion plans, though he notes the key is not to trust those individuals. It's trusting your judgment of people that is most important.

"I don't trust anybody," says Simmons. "I believe and I verify."

How? By spending time talking to others who know the potential partners, having a legal team research them, and watching them in action. In business terms, do your due diligence.

4. Know when to pull the plug
Failure, in Simmons's eyes, means "nothing," and a crucial, learnable skill is having the ability to fail then picking yourself back up.

"I fail every day in my life, in business and in decision-making," he says. "So what? You know who else failed? Henry Ford went bankrupt. Oprah Winfrey failed. I've failed. All the big guys failed--many times--and that's what made them succeed. You're in good company."

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Build It or Buy It? 7 Things for Startups to Consider

Build It or Buy It? 7 Things for Startups to Consider | Competitive Edge |

When faced with a new technology need, should you build your own software – or stitch together solutions already available on the market? It’s easier (and cheaper) than ever to do the latter. But before calling up your CTO or signing up for the SaaS product you read about this morning, figure out which is really the better option for your business.

I asked 7 entrepreneurs from YEC what they thought were the most important factors to consider when making this choice.

When considering building new technology to serve his or her business vs. using an existing SaaS product, what is the most important factor an entrepreneur should consider?

Their best answers are below:

1. Whether Your Business Could Survive Without It

You need to ensure you own the technology if your business could potentially fail without that product and you can’t easily replace one vendor with another. Also, if your requirements need heavy customization that aren’t easily replaced by an off-the-shelf product, you should build your own.

– Mark Cenicola,

2. Internal Versus Client Use

What will you use this software for? If it’s for customer or fan use and there’s a good SaaS solution, then partnering or white labeling is the smart play.

Most SaaS products are for internal company use only. If there’s a good SaaS solution that does what you need, then use it. Your company resources can be more profitably used solving other problems, not ones there are already good solutions for.

– Joshua Lee, StandOut Authority

3. Are the Features Essential to the Success of Your Business?

Many SaaS products are highly customizable and provide a wide range of services. If you require something specific to your business that can’t come out of a box, then it’s time to consider building a new technology. If this is the case, then you have a great opportunity ahead of you. And chances are, someone out there is looking for a way to meet those needs as well.

– Jyot Singh, RTS Labs

4. Can an Existing SaaS Serve as a Buffer?

If you could potentially go either way, an existing SaaS can be an excellent stopgap while you build your own custom solution. Employing the SaaS in your daily workflow will allow you to see exactly where it works or doesn’t work for your unique situation, and you’ll have a much clearer picture of what you want to build.

Or you might find that the existing solution fits your needs better than you thought. The SaaS provider may even be willing to work with you to customize their solution for your needs.

– Laura Roeder,

5. Cost Versus Value

It’s incredibly expensive to build and sustain an effective software tool. Weigh the value and costs of building your own with subscribing to another SaaS product. If there aren’t sufficient tools to support your needs, and it’s absolutely necessary to build your own product, then it might be worth the investment.

Otherwise, it may be a better option to use an existing SaaS product.

– Brock Stechman, DivvyHQ

6. Will It Scale?

In many cases, your business needs can change quicker than you can develop matching solutions. That said, it’s important to consider whether or not a homegrown tool will suffice long term.

A provider that’s dedicated to building a specific product exclusively is likely going to be your best bet as you scale, unless you have incredibly particular needs that even specialty services cannot fulfill. Sometimes, your SaaS provider might even build in functionality you’ll love but didn’t anticipate.

– Firas Kittaneh, Amerisleep

7. Quality of the SaaS Product

When you’re looking for a solution it can feel like all SaaS platforms are the same. Their websites, their instructional videos, etc are often very similar. However, there can be an enormous difference in quality from product to product.

When doing your research, use the website G2Crowd. This is like “Yelp for Saas.” Use these ratings as a guide when beginning your search; I’ve found them to be pretty accurate.

– Adam Stillman, SparkReel

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Good question, many answers and great points made.

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7 Ways to Nail Your Next Startup Job Interview

7 Ways to Nail Your Next Startup Job Interview | Competitive Edge |
Skills can be learned, but you either have ambition, drive and a willingness or you don't.

I’ve interviewed hundreds of job candidates. Occasionally, I’m blown away but, more often than not, I immediately regret that we’re going to spend the next 30 minutes wasting each other’s time.

Below are seven lessons every person should keep in mind before his or her next job interview at a startup.

1. Punch above your weight class

Serial entrepreneur turned VC Mark Suster wrote a solid post a few years ago about why startups should only hire people who want to punch above their weight class. This is true for the startup world, and beyond. Superstars don’t become superstars because they’re naturally gifted. Superstars are exceptionally ambitious. They are confident they can learn or do almost anything. This means that you should absolutely apply for jobs that you don’t technically qualify for on paper. Once you get the interview, prove why you’re going to kill it anyway.

2. Openly discuss your weaknesses

World-class people are acutely self aware. They can acknowledge that they’re terrible at many things. Employers want to hear from your mouth, with zero hesitation, what your biggest flaws are, and how you plan to offset those weaknesses, so that your presence is a net positive to the company.

3. Demonstrate why you’re world class

You will be hired for the one thing that you can do better than anyone in the company, despite your many flaws. Find a way to demonstrate this skill in the first interview.

4. Be prepared to have a deep discussion

Research the backgrounds of the company’s core staff, especially those who will be interviewing you. Devour every major article ever written about the company. Digest every detail. Most importantly, obsessively study the company’s market and develop original thoughts on what’s next. Be ready to talk in-depth on a variety of subjects. The interviewer should learn something from you in the process.

5. Request a project

It’s hard to prove what you can do in a first discussion. If you can competently turn around a difficult project in an insanely short period of time, you’ll prove you’re either a domain expert or that you have the appetite and capacity to learn quickly. Either way, this alone will likely get you a job.

6. Say why you can’t imagine yourself anywhere else. And mean it

When you take a job at a startup, your employer expects you to do the best work of your life, the most work of your life and to help others accomplish the same. As such, if you’re not obsessed with the company and the opportunity, save yourself the time and don’t apply. Show up with a clear understanding of where this company fits within your overall goals. Demonstrate that you will do anything it takes to prove how hungry you are.

7. Be honest

It sounds ridiculously obvious, but you’d be amazed how many candidates lie in interviews. Be honest about your background. We’ll pick up the phone and verify your credentials when you leave. Be honest about your skills, too. We’ll find out the minute we give you a project if you have them or not.

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Written from experience, this article gives you the right ways to get noticed and hired.  Don't be mediocre.

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9 Ways to Fix a Bad First Impression

9 Ways to Fix a Bad First Impression | Competitive Edge |
Bungled that all important first meeting? All is not lost if you follow this advice.

"You never get a second chance to make a first impression," the old aphorism tells us, and both science and lived experience testify to the truth of this everyday wisdom. First impressions are quick, powerful and lasting, which is why it's so important to do everything you can to make a good one.

But sometimes, despite your best efforts to be charming, something goes wrong. Personalities clash, jokes fall flat, nerves get the best of you, or one party is simply having an off day, so a relationship starts with a fizzle rather than a bang. Is there anyway to bounce back from this sort of lousy first impression?

To the relief of entrepreneurs, job seekers, and anxious daters everywhere, experts agree that while changing a first impression can be difficult, it is often doable. Here are some of their top tips for turning things around.

1. Decide whether it's worth sweating

Not everyone gets along with everyone. That's OK. You don't have to please every Tom, Dick and Harriet you meet. So your first response to the sense that you and a new acquaintance didn't get off on the right foot is to assess whether it's worth worrying about in the first place.

"I'm all about building a confident first impression but sometimes people get too caught up in having to make a perfect first impression," leadership trainer and host of the Coaching for Leaders podcast Dr. Dave Stachowiak told the Art of Manliness (you'd have to assume this tip applies to the ladies as well). "Does it really matter to try to fix it? Is it really a big deal? If not, let it go."

2. Stop pretending

One common way to muck up an introduction is to stress yourself out pretending you're something you're not. Not only is this bound to make you awkward and unhappy, almost everyone can sniff out this kind of falseness and very few will respond positively to it. If your nerves got the better of you and you put on airs, the fix is simple, according to Tom Jaffee, a dating service CEO who has no doubt seen plenty of first meetings gone wrong. His solution: confess and stop.

"Your best hope is to be honest with the person," Jaffee told Real Simple. "Admit you were just trying to make a good impression." Follow that spoken honesty up by acting like yourself the next time you meet.

3. Apologize...

If you got off on the wrong foot because of a simple stumble on your part, own it and apologize. "Sometimes bad first impressions are caused by genuine mistakes. Perhaps you discussed a touchy subject unknowingly or mistook your new contact for someone else. Simply apologize for your mistake," advises career expert Heather R. Huhman.

4. ...but don't over-apologize

While admitting to to a misstep or to letting your nerves get the best of you can pay dividends, according to counselor and coach Susan Fee, you should nevertheless avoid over-apologizing for a dicey first meeting. "Saying you're sorry is important, but overdoing it can create another uncomfortable situation," she has written on her blog. "It puts the other person in the uncomfortable position of having to constantly reassure you."

5. Don't let your imagination run away with you

Fee also cautions against assuming your impressions of the meeting match up with those of the other party. Sometimes we think we screwed up far worse than we did. "Usually what we imagine is far worse than reality. Approach your apology by owning your feelings rather than telling others how you assume they feel. This gives you a chance to test their perceptions and get a real handle on the situation," advises Fee.

"So, instead of starting out with, 'You must think I'm a total idiot.' speak for yourself, 'I'm uncomfortable with how I behaved yesterday because I realized I might have offended you. Did you feel the same way?'" she suggests. That way you'll avoid over-apologizing.

6. Pivot

If a straight apology doesn't seem to suit the situation, you can always try pivoting instead. "One of the best approaches for recovering from a bad first impression is to pivot by showing off a different and more favorable side of your personality. In other words, if you tried to crack a joke and it fell flat, then demonstrate sincerity. Or if you tried to be sincere and it rang hollow, then demonstrate compassion. Pivoting to focus on a different aspect of your personality may help to reshape the perception of your character and value," explains the Art of Manliness.

Huhman agrees. "If you're a generally shy person, that shyness may come off as being rude or inconsiderate. Similarly, a feisty personality may be perceived as overbearing and disrespectful. Whatever the case, try to adjust your responses to balance this personality trait. If you're shy, smile more and initiate conversation. If you're too outgoing, take a step back and listen," she advises.

7. Ask for advice

This tip comes from persuasion guru Robert Cialdini via a Dorie Clark Forbes post. If someone dislikes you, one way to put the relationship on a fresh footing is to ask the person for advice. Not only is this flattering to the person being asked, but also offers an opening for further positive interactions. Say you ask for a book recommendation. "Suddenly, you have the basis of an interaction, because now when you return it, you can return it with a book you think he or she might like," says Cialdini.

8. Be persistent...

If you're really determined to win someone over after a rough start, be warned that your efforts may take some time. "A Harvard study suggests that it will take eight subsequent positive encounters to change that person's negative opinion of you. In this context be persistent and patient," leadership specialist Roz Usheroff reports on LinkedIn.

9. ... and consistent

While a sustained effort over time may be required to change a bad first impression, it's not sufficient. You also need to be stable in your subsequent behavior, Fee cautions: "Overcoming a bad impression requires that all future behavior be consistent with how you want to be perceived."

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Via TechinBiz
Marc Kneepkens's insight:

I think 2 and 7 are my favorites. Be honest and don't pretend, that's the main one.

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Positioning Your Startup is Vital — Here’s How to Nail It

Positioning Your Startup is Vital — Here’s How to Nail It | Competitive Edge |

When Arielle Jackson started to develop the marketing and communications plan around Cover (the Android app quickly snapped up by Twitter), she brought a lot of firepower to the job. During her nearly nine years at Google, she managed product marketing for Gmail, Docs, Calendar and Voice. She then moved on to Square, where she led go-to-market plans for new hardware products like the Square Stand. At Cover, she put everything she learned to work to help make the product uniquely valuable. Today, she does the same as an advisor to multiple startups.

What’s surprising for many people, she says, is that marketing is actually highly tactical. There are frameworks and distinct steps founders can take to define what their company is doing, why it’s important, and why — above all the noise — people should listen to them.

In this exclusive interview, Jackson shares exercises entrepreneurs can use to nail their product positioning, develop the right assets (including a name that strikes the right chord), and make a stunning first impression on the market — whether they’re launching a new feature or an entire company.

How to Position Your Business

At its core, positioning is a statement. It’s a sentence or two that clearly defines the problem you're setting out to solve and why your solution is compelling. Your positioning statement should remain internal, but it’s critical to everything that follows: Aligning teams, hiring the right people, developing the best product, communicating the value of your work — the list goes on. It all starts with positioning.

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First Round is a seed-stage venture firm focused on building a vibrant community of technology entrepreneurs and companies.

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

This is a long and very detailed article. Go to the original article on the FirstRound site (see link) to read more of it. It is very clear and detailed in how a startup can position itself with its new product or service. Good reading and learning!

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Can These Young People Save the World? 50 Emerging Global Entrepreneurs to Watch |

Can These Young People Save the World? 50 Emerging Global Entrepreneurs to Watch | | Competitive Edge |

From South Africa to Silicon Valley, young entrepreneurs are employing a variety of strategies to help their new companies thrive. 

From overcoming education hurdles to finding a new use for agricultural byproducts, many of today’s young founders aren’t just dreaming up big business ideas--they’re attempting to save the world.

To get a better s

ense of who is making waves in the global business community, we tapped the Kairos Society, an international organization seeking to develop entrepreneurs worldwide. Each year, Kairos names 50 promising ventures with founders under age 25. Those who make the list receive huge exposure and networking opportunities, including tickets to this year’s Kairos Global Summit on October 17-19 in Laguna Niguel, California. Before they present their ventures at the Kairos 50 Demo Day, we landed a sneak peek.

Meet this year’s 50 global entrepreneurs to watch: click on the image.

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Great to see young people come up with true change in all aspects of business.

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Is Your Product Roadmap Just Burning Your Money? - Enterprise Irregulars

Is Your Product Roadmap Just Burning Your Money? - Enterprise Irregulars | Competitive Edge |

The number 1 mistake I have seen companies of all sizes make is to let the customers, sales people, engineers and tactical product managers decide the product roadmap by adding one feature after another.

If you have product market fit and are doing more than a few million dollars in ARR (annual run rate), you don’t need new features to sell your product. If your product is good enough for a few customers with little marketing then it is reasonable to expect that there are many more customers for whom the product is good enough.

Your sales people will complain when they lose to a competitor because of feature X but will likely not be ready to commit to a bigger quota. This is a tell tale sign that this is not a true gap.

Given my experience with 10+ startups and at, here is my key learning: most product roadmaps do very little to move the needle on growth.

Ask the Hard Question: What if we did no new features for a year?

The way to tease out what is truly strategic and important is to start by framing the problem differently. Think of it as zero based budgeting. – you don’t assume that you keep doing the old stuff, you question everything.

I usually ask the management team – CEO, VP of product, VP of sales – to individually assess the change in top line revenue 1, 2 and 3 years out if we stopped building all the new features except bug fixes and just plugging gaping big holes.

The answer is usually shocking – most startups (and big companies) spend most of the R&D budget building features that are unlikely to move the needle.

What would you build to increase revenue 24 months from now?

There is very little that a product can do to truly change the revenue trajectory for a post product-market fit company in the short term. But if you invest in the right areas, it should impact your longer term roadmap. For example, HubSpot adding CRM to its feature set is definitely going to impact its TAM (total addressable market) unlike adding lots of bells and whistles to email marketing. Workday needs to build all the HCM features out but real top line growth from R&D comes from building Financials or Supply Chain products.

Great companies and great product leaders are naturally good at this. They intuitively understand what the market wants and deliver it.

We all intuitively know this for companies that ship hardware. Everyone is asking for the next iPad, the next iPhone – not just a slightly better Macbook. Its important to finish what you started – and there is whole blog post on this – but its important to know that the two buckets are different.

You will never build an iPhone by incrementally improving your Macbook. 

Similarly, a software company that keeps adding features to its one product without thinking in terms of new editions, new product lines or new go to market – will end up with a bloated product not a richer set of products that can alter the future of the company.

I leave you with this thought – what features are you building today that will truly significantly change the your future? Are you building the next iPhoneor are you just adding the 10th button and the 7th app on a Blackberry?

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This Woman's Revolutionary Idea Made Her A Billionaire — And Could Change Medicine

This Woman's Revolutionary Idea Made Her A Billionaire — And Could Change Medicine | Competitive Edge |

She created an amazing blood test that can be done without a doctor and is incredibly cheap. The new testing methods developed by Holmes' startup Theranos, that lone drop can now yield a ton of information.

The next time you get a blood test, you might not have to go to the doctor and watch vials of blood fill up as the precious fluid is drawn from your arm.

No more wondering to yourself, "Ah, how much more can they take before I pass out?"

Instead you might be able to walk into a Walgreens pharmacy for a reportedly painless fingerprick that will draw just a tiny drop of blood, thanks to Elizabeth Holmes, 30, the youngest woman and third-youngest billionaire on Forbes' newly released annual ranking of the 400 richest Americans.

Revolutionizing the blood test is a golden idea.

Because of new testing methods developed by Holmes' startup Theranos, that lone drop can now yield a ton of information.

The company can run hundreds of tests on a drop of blood far more quickly than could be done with whole vials in the past — and it costs a lot less.

A Billion-Dollar Idea

Holmes dropped out of Stanford at 19 to found what would become Theranos after deciding that her tuition money could be better put to use by transforming healthcare.

Traditional blood testing is shockingly difficult and expensive for a tool that's used so frequently. It also hasn't changed since the 1960s.

It's done in hospitals and doctors' offices. Vials of blood have to be sent out and tested, which can take weeks using traditional methods and is prone to human error. And, of course, sticking a needle in someone's arm scares some people enough that they avoid getting blood drawn, even when it could reveal lifesaving information.

Holmes recognized that process was ripe for disruption.

It took a decade for her idea to be ready for primetime, but now it seems that her decision to drop out was undoubtedly a good call. Last year, Walgreen Co. announced that it would be installing Theranos Wellness Centers in pharmacies across the country, with locations already up and running in Phoenix and Palo Alto, California. And Holmes has raised $400 million in venture capital for Theranos, which is now valued at $9 billion (Holmes owns 50%).

The other two 30-year-olds on Forbes' List, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his former roommate and Facebook CEO Dustin Moskovitz, also have access to a wealth of information about people — but their data is less likely to directly save a life.

How It Works

One closely guarded secret is what MedCityNews calls "the most interesting part of [the Theranos] story": how exactly the technology behind its blood test works. The company's methods are protected by more than a dozen patents filed as far back as 2004 and as recently as last week.

In an interview with Wired, Holmes hinted at some of the key ideas behind Theranos.

"We had to develop ... methodologies that would make it possible to accelerate results," she said. "In the case of a virus or bacteria, traditionally tested using a culture, we measure the DNA of the pathogen instead so we can report results much faster."

While we can't yet assess independently how well that method works when compared with traditional blood tests, it already seems to be upending the old way of doing things.

Why Blood Tests?

Holmes told Medscape that she targeted lab medicine because it drives about 80% of clinical decisions made by doctors.

By zeroing in on the inefficiencies of that system, the Theranos approach completely revolutionizes it.

The new tests can be done without going to the doctor, which saves both money and time. Most results are available in about four hours, which means that you could swing by a pharmacy and have a test done the day before a doctor's visit, and then the results would be available for the physician.

Quick tests that can be done at any time are already a total change, but the amount of data the company can get from a single drop of blood is amazing.

Blood samples have traditionally been used for one test, but if a follow-up was needed, another sample had to be drawn and sent out — making it less likely that someone would get care. The Theranos approach means the same drop can be used for dozens of different tests.

It's cheap, too. One common criticism of the healthcare system is that the pricing structure is a confusing labyrinth that makes it impossible to know how much anything costs. Theranos lists its prices online, and they're impressive.

Each test costs less than 50% of standard Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates. If those two programs were to perform all tests at those prices, they'd save $202 billion over the next decade, Holmes said in an interview on Wired.

Plus, people get access to their own results.

As an example of how helpful that can be, Holmes told Wired that Theranos charges $35 for a fertility test, which is usually paid for out-of-pocket and costs up to $2,000.

But she also said that this data could be useful for anyone looking to gain a better understanding of his or her health.

"By testing, you can start to understand your body, understand yourself, change your diet, change your lifestyle, and begin to change your life," she said.

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Via Justin Jones
Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Great idea and lots of work: 10 years.

malek's curator insight, October 5, 12:53 PM

The "Steve Jobs"  of blood analysis innovation.A woman, entrepreneur and youngest Forbes 400 self-made billionaire. 

M. Philip Oliver's curator insight, October 6, 7:24 PM


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Microsoft Research leaves Silicon Valley: Why big companies aren't startups

Microsoft Research leaves Silicon Valley: Why big companies aren't startups | Competitive Edge |
Microsoft is in a buy not build mode these days, and the closing of the Silicon Valley Campus branch of Microsoft Research confirms this will be true for some time to come.

VCs often cite how easy it would be for a “Microsoft” or “Google” to come along and crush the little startup that is pitching them, but that rarely happens.

There was a time when Microsoft was a monopoly and would throw together a team to build a product specifically to compete in a newly realized software market, but those days are over. Microsoft is in a buy not build mode these days, and the closing of the Silicon Valley Campus branch of Microsoft Research confirms this will be true for some time to come.

Microsoft has been cutting jobs. In July 2014, it announced it would be laying off 18,000 employees. And on September 18, it laid off 2,100. 160 of those were in California, and the largest group of those in California were from Microsoft Research.

Microsoft Research is the group responsible for innovation rather than progression. The idea behind Research is that some of the best ideas aren’t ready to be tested in products; they need to be fostered by mad scientists so that product managers can come see what they have been playing with and determine which can be integrated or productized.

Microsoft Research is responsible for tablets, large screen touch devices, home automation, smartphones, and more. Microsoft built, tested, and demoed products that looked almost identical to iPad, Nest Thermostats, Siri, Roku, and more. The right founder likely could build startups based entirely on things Microsoft has abandoned, and that is what is wrong with Microsoft today.

Microsoft is not Apple or Google. When people talk about big business and how they are slow to move, or innovate, they are talking about Microsoft and IBM. Microsoft and IBM have always relied on business-to-business sales for the majority of their revenue, and as a result they have been hesitant to build anything they might have to abandon, or that wouldn’t be compatible with the rest of their products. This has always made Microsoft Research a bit of a graveyard for products.

Whereas Apple decides what features need to exist in five years and assigns a team to build those features, Microsoft tends to look at what products might be possible in the future and doesn’t worry about how much those products would cost the consumer. That difference of products as opposed to features has lead Microsoft to come up with some great concepts that no one could afford, and then because there is no viable market, the company shelves the product and it dies.

VCs love to invest in software for a very simple reason. It doesn’t cost anything to sell the second copy. Microsoft Research has done cool software projects, but most of the things that come out of Microsoft Research have been a blend of hardware and software. With no rules on the cost of the build of materials Microsoft often presents solutions like the 50-inch Microsoft Surface, which had a $30,000 price tag. It came out with 11-inch convertible tablet PCs for $2,200 in 2003, when the typical laptop cost half to a third of that.

Many of the cool software products that came out of Microsoft Research also never found a way to be monetized. From “Mouse without Borders” to “Photosynth,” there are all these pretty great products that others would charge money for and make a few million dollars on. But they’re too small for Microsoft to bother with. Without that “bother,” Microsoft doesn’t seem to be able to create new billion-dollar products.

For example, there is a fun little piece of software that came out of Microsoft Research with the rather cumbersome name “Automated video looping with progressive dynamism.” The tool lets you take a video, and it will find five seconds of that video to make a loop of, even if there was no looping in the video in the first place. This is enough of an app to build a “Vine” competitor, or to inspire millions of animated Gifs on Reddit, but at Microsoft it will be an EXE that sits on the company’s server and goes unnoticed (other than the mention in this post and a side note in a patent). It could have been some funky-named dot com: Dynavloop, maybe. Or Autamaloop?

What it really comes down to is that Microsoft doesn’t have what every startup that succeeds has: business sense. VCs don’t invest in a really cool technology, they invest in a large potential return. When you point engineers and people with doctorates in various fields at a problem, you may get a result, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get a business.

Brandon Wirtz is a former Microsoft employee who now works with startups to grow their reach, develop their products, and determine their place in the competitive landscape as CEO of

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Insightful article showing how big corporations think and where there are opportunities for startups.

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Want to rock your next presentation? Consider asking a question.

An expert on public speaking explains how to become a more compelling--and confident--presenter by asking, not telling in the right situations.

Of all the tools and techniques a speaker can use to make a presentation more effective, the simple question is the most versatile. Think of it as the Swiss Army Knife of presenting. A well-timed question can accomplish a myriad of communication tasks, from building intrigue to fostering audience engagement, helping you remember what to say, and even calming your speaking anxiety. Leverage questions, and you can become a more compelling and confident presenter. Here's how:

Questions Connect with the Audience

Audience connection is the key characteristic that distinguishes a memorable presenter from an average one. Are audience members participating with the speaker, or simply listening to the speaker? Questions provide a great way to foster engagement. Questions by their very nature are dialogic. They're two-way: You ask and your audience responds. I recommend using three types of questions throughout your presentation to get your audience's attention:

Rhetorical questions build intrigue.

Asking your audience a question for effect (rather than one you expect them to actually answer) prompts them to think about the issue.

Example: "Would you believe that companies are making robotic honeybees to pollinate crops in locales where bees are dying off?"Polling questions make the audience part of your point.

When asking your audience to respond to your query, be sure to signal how you want them to do so (e.g., model raising your hand as you ask your question, or explain how the online poll works if you are virtually presenting) and comment briefly on the response you get (e.g., "Just as I expected, about 50% of you … ").

Example: "How many of you have ever been stung by a honeybee?"

"What if?" questions root your presentation in time.

Inquire about a possible future or the historical past; and as with rhetorical questions, you may not expect a literal response, but you definitely focus your audience’s attention on the time period you’re describing.

Example: "What would it be like if all crops were pollinated by robo-honeybees?" Or, "Remember when modern science made it possible for genetically modified vegetables to yield more crops?"

Questions Build Your Confidence

Many speakers are anxious because they feel they are under the harsh spotlight of an audience who is constantly evaluating them. But, interestingly, incorporating questions from the moment you start planning can help you feel more confident about every aspect of presenting. Here are two ways to use questions in planning to improve your delivery:

Ask yourself, "What does my audience need to hear from me?"

Instead of seeing speaking as a performance, think of it as being in service of your audience's needs--this shifts the attention away from you and onto your audience. The most useful way I know to focus on your audience is to start by asking yourself the simple question: "What does my audience need to hear from me?" This not only helps you tailor your message to your audience, but it also reminds you that they are the ones in the spotlight. Make this question your mantra as you prepare and practice your presentations.

Outline your talk using questions.

When writing your next outline, create a list of questions to serve as prompts for what you intend to say. I loathe speaking manuscripts and full-text speaker notes, which only invite memorization and actually increase performance anxiety. An outline, on the other hand, is a very practical tool to help speakers prepare and deliver. And the power of a question-based outline is twofold: First, it allows you to feel more confident because you know the answers to your questions--you no longer need to worry you might not know what to say. Second, you will be more conversational, since you are simply answering your audience's unasked questions, and conversational delivery is often better remembered by audiences.

When you next face preparing for and delivering a presentation, consider using the MacGyver of communication tools, the question. For just about any task at hand, it can yield all kinds of benefits for you and your audience.

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Present better, here are some good tips.

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You Should Run Your Startup Like a Cult. Here's How - Wired

You Should Run Your Startup Like a Cult. Here's How - Wired | Competitive Edge |

No company has a culture; every company is a culture. A startup is a team of people on a mission, and a good culture is just what that looks like on the inside. The first team that I built has become known in Silicon Valley as the “PayPal Mafia” because so many of my former colleagues, including Elon Musk, Reid Hoffman, and David Sacks, have gone on to help each other start and invest in successful tech companies.

We didn’t assemble a mafia by sorting through résumés and simply hiring the most talented people. I had seen the mixed results of that approach when I worked at a New York law firm. The relationships between lawyers I worked with were oddly thin. They spent all day together, but few of them seemed to have much to say to each other outside the office.

Why work with a group of people who don’t even like each other? Taking a merely professional view of the workplace, in which free agents check in and out on a transactional basis, is worse than cold: It’s not even rational. Since time is your most valuable asset, it’s odd to spend it working with people who don’t envision any long‑term future together.

Rule 1: The Best Startups Work a Lot Like Cults

In the most intense kind of organization, members abandon the outside world and hang out only with other members. We have a word for such organizations: cults. Cultures of total dedication look crazy from the outside. But entrepreneurs should take cultures of extreme dedication seriously.

The extreme opposite of a cult is a consulting firm like Accenture: not only does it lack a distinctive mission, but individual consultants are regularly dropping in and out of companies to which they have no long‑term connection whatsoever.

Every company culture can be plotted on a linear spectrum:

The best startups might be considered slightly less extreme kinds of cults. The biggest difference is that cults tend to be fanatically wrong about something important. People at a successful startup are fanatically right about something those outside it have missed.

Rule 2: Giving People a Chance to “Change the World” Is a Lousy Way to Recruit Employees

Recruiting is a core competency for any company. It should never be outsourced. Talented people don’t need to work for you; they have plenty of options. You should ask yourself: Why would someone join your company as its 20th engineer when she could go work at Google for more money and more prestige?

Here are some bad answers: “Your stock options will be worth more here than elsewhere.” “You’ll get to work with the smartest people in the world.” “You can help solve the world’s most challenging problems.” Every company makes these same claims, so they won’t help you stand out.

You’ll attract the employees you need if you can explain why your mission is compelling: not why it’s important in general, but why you’re doing something important that no one else is going to get done. However, even a great mission is not enough. The best recruit will also wonder: “Are these the kind of people I want to work with?” You should be able to explain why your company is a unique match for him personally. And if you can’t do that, he’s probably not the right match.

Rule 3: Everyone at Your Startup Should Have Just One Job

Internal peace is what enables a startup to survive at all. But most fights inside a company happen when colleagues compete for the same responsibilities. Startups face an especially high risk of this since job roles are fluid at the early stages.

The best thing I did as a manager at PayPal was to make every person in the company responsible for doing just one thing. I had started doing this just to simplify the task of managing people. But then I noticed a deeper result: Defining roles reduced conflict. Eliminating competition makes it easier for everyone to build the kinds of long‑term relationships that transcend mere professionalism.

Rule 4: Hire Employees Who Are Excited to Wear Your Logo on Their Hoodies

Startups have limited resources and small teams. They must work quickly and efficiently in order to survive, and that’s easier to do when everyone shares an understanding of the world.

It’s a cliché that tech workers don’t care about what they wear, but if you look closely at the T‑shirts people in Mountain View and Palo Alto wear to work, you’ll see the logos of their companies—and tech workers care about those very much. The startup uniform encapsulates a simple but essential principle: Everyone at your company should be different in the same way—a tribe of like‑minded people fiercely devoted to the company’s mission.

Above all, don’t fight the perk war. Anybody who would be powerfully swayed by free laundry pickup or pet day care would be a bad addition to your team. Just cover the basics and then promise what no others can: the opportunity to do irreplaceable work on a unique problem alongside great people.

Excerpted with permission from ZERO TO ONE: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel with Blake Masters. Copyright 2014 by Peter Thiel. Published by Crown Business, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company.

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Via Raj Nadar
Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Another great article from Peter Thiel. How do you run your startup. Does everyone believe in what you're doing, or is it just a job?

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4 Key Marketing Strategies from the Startup World

4 Key Marketing Strategies from the Startup World | Competitive Edge |

Chicagoland is home to several global powerhouses like Walgreens, Abbott, McDonalds, Kraft, and Wrigley. Simultaneously, Chicago’s exploding tech scene has been garnering a lot of attention in the media. Taking note of this, the Business Marketing Association invited me and fellow Chicago entrepreneurs to talk about marketing lessons from the startup world that apply to all marketers.

Kevin Willer, president and CEO of the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center, moderated a great group discussion among the following panelists and myself:  Mike McGee, Co-founder of The Starter League, Jack Philbin, CEO of Vibes Media, and Amish Tolia, Founder & Co-CEO of Apparel Media Group.

The following is my spin on the common themes that emerged as we all shared our marketing experiences:

Be purposeful.

In order to establish yourself as a thought leader, be purposeful in your strategy. Don’t do something just to check a box. Before you decide to jump on an initiative, take a step back to evaluate the following:

(1) Does the initiative help establish credibility for your brand?

(2) Will you be reaching influencers and decision makers?

(3) How you will measure success?

This mentality helps to frame future marketing decisions, leading to more successful efforts overall.  Take social media as an example (I see this come up over and over again when talking to marketers). If you want to ‘do’ social media, make sure it serves a purpose for your company. You must select the right channel(s) to focus on—Facebook may not be the optimal channel for your company—and have a unique point of view to share.

New tactics: Make them happen quickly.

If you want to try a new marketing tactic, you must put yourself and your team on an aggressive timeline. This even holds true for those of you that work in an environment that has complex organizational hierarchies and legal processes; it just means that you will need to get your part done even quicker.  New tactics often get pushed to the back burner as one gets absorbed in putting energy and resources behind tried and tested ideas. However, these new tactics are what could change the course and success of your marketing efforts.

Use trial and error, then scale.

When executing new initiatives, embrace the process of trial and error. Carefully watch the results of the initiative, and if it works, double down. If it doesn’t work, tweak it, try again, and drop it if it ultimately doesn’t work. This tactic has been used by many of the panel participants to reach and/or expand their customer base, but it certainly applies to marketing and PR initiatives as well.

Improve what already is working.

This may seem obvious. But when a marketing tactic is working, it’s easy and tempting to say, “don’t fix what’s not broken.” Even when something is working, it’s important to fine tune your approach to ensure you’re putting forth your best possible marketing efforts. You may be weary at first, thinking you might mess up a good thing, but you will likely discover a more efficient, innovative process along the way.

Regardless of whether you’re at a lean startup or a large corporation, you will face limitations as a marketer. Above all, the biggest lesson learned from startups is that you have to be open to trying new and unconventional tactics. We do it every day, and we’re better for it.

Gauri Sharma is the CEO of Lab42, a next generation market research firm that creates and fields surveys among social media users, customizes compelling infographics, and compiles insightful research that helps businesses unclutter and prioritize goals. Lab42 provides quality, accurate results with quick turnaround for small businesses and Fortune 500 companies alike. Connect with Gauri on Twitter @gaurisharma.

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How to Design for Habit: The Secret to Making Great Products

How to Design for Habit: The Secret to Making Great Products | Competitive Edge |

Let’s say you created a product. A product that solves a common specific problem for many people. Yet, after a sign-up or an application download for your solution, people continue to have the same problem and do not use your product.


Why might someone continue to have a problem or use an inferior solution? These people already have routines based around their current solution. They may not even recognize they have a default routine. Help them use your product by developing new habits around what they already do. [1]

Design is making the unintuitive intuitive.

John Maeda

Designing products that people use is a process. Ideally, this process starts as a small conscious change in their routine and incrementally grows until the product becomes the individual’s go-to. At this point, the individual will have developed a new default routine for their use case.

Any new product trying to solve a person’s existing problem is in a tough position. This person regularly encounters a problem, has noticed it, and does not go out of their way to solve it. This problem has been part of their routine. Part of your solution must make this new behavior intuitive. Your product must fit into what an individual does regularly.

Penrose stairs are impossible stairs, they descend or ascend to form a continuous loop. This photograph (not Penrose stairs) is beautiful yet disorienting. People probably take these!

This article is about how to best design software products into the routine of what users already do.

What do people already do?

Designers should be thinking about how their solution fits into the workflow that already exists. Let’s take Evernote, one of my favorite applications. Evernote is a suite of software and services for taking notes that act as “an external brain.”

Bob is a student who has a problem with synchronizing notes across devices. He currently uses Microsoft Word for class notes. Microsoft Word works pretty well on his Mac, but doesn’t work on his iPhone and doesn’t have a way to synchronize online between his two computers. He wants to address some pain points:

  • Bob wants to take notes.
  • Bob wants to synchonize his notes online.
  • Bob wants to be able to change devices and take notes.
  • Bob wants to be able to take notes with consistent formatting.

The principal of least surpise: the person using the application should not be surprised by a software’s behavior.

The note taking process in Evernote is straightforward (see the “Getting Started” guide here). Bob might install Evernote on each device (PC, Mac, iPhones). Notes synchronize automatically between each of these devices (without the person needing to worry about copying or emailing the document). When Bob opens any note, the formatting stays consistent (Evernote looks the same and does not add additional “paper” formatting Word might).

The best software software should delight in only making small suprises— surprises that are subtle and seem intuitive. Intuition = non-intrusiveness. Design should give the right amount of information to guide the user through their interface.

A few years ago, Evernote released a usage graph they called the smile graph:

In this graph, during the first year of install, the number of users that use Evernote on a monthly basis drops off from over 40% to 20% . Then over the course of the next two years, the percentage of individuals that use this tool increases. Many software products have a graph that is strictly decreasing. Evernote’s monthly user graph is different— over the course of the tool’s lifetime, the number of people actually increases over time. Interpretation: people start to recognize how useful Evernote. Bob may start using the tool even though they did not use the tool at first.

Software designers should design their tools to be adopted by hooking into what the user already does.

Fit into workflows


We are what we repeatedly do


Starting to use a new application requires you to think about how to start a new habit. Experts say it generally takes 21 days to establish a new habit [2]. In the world today, the world of applications, tv, consistent and constant notifications, and a bleed between work and non-work situations, new software products live in a tenuous spot. These habits compete with the automatic and established habits we already have.

Similar to creating new habits [3], there are effective patterns for software designers to create consistency:

  • Change environmentSoftware should change parts of the user’s environment to help them use this new tool.
    • Software automatically start at system boot-up, so it is consistently at the taskbar.
    • Software can add extensions to applications that are already used, such as browsers plug-ins or integrations.
  • Notifications Software can add notifications to mobile phones so users can have another interface to its functionality
  • Import Software should import existing data. With any habit, there is always a bit of inertia to keep using the same pattern as before. Importing data from previous tools should help users bridge the gap between new and old by having all of the older data inside.
  • Trigger Software can change the operating system hook. Upon install, a software can ask a user to change this default to open your product.

Exceptions to the rule:

  • Disruptive technologies Software may create an entire new market and value network based around some value prior work did not have. Wiki link. Because no prior behavior or habits existed, this type of software establishes an entire new set of habits.
  • Inertia Software may have a high inertia that makes movement very difficult. Services and platforms build ecosystems around use, and switching is hard. For example, I’ve heard many twenty-somethings whine about Facebook and their dislike of the privacy controls, yet many of these individuals still use the service. “It’s what my friends use.”
Building Products as Habits

The most innovative and useful products of the future will be those that create lasting behaviors. Designers that understand how products fit into workflows can then better help their users find success in solving problems.

Now I want to ask you all a question:

  • What tools do you use do you use everyday? What makes them indispensible? (Extra credit: Is it for the same reason you used it in the first place?)

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Essential truth in making new products and designing them to be used. Especially software. Read this before marketing 'the big idea'.

Marc Kneepkens's curator insight, October 22, 3:07 PM

Important when designing apps. Highly recommended.

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7 Principles for Propelling Your Startup to Success | New Beginnings

Want a venture to succeed?

I developed seven principles that can help a startup improve its odds at success based on analysis of more than 1,500 public companies that I did for my book Value Leadership.

Companies that followed these principles the most closely (I call them value leaders) grew sales 35 percent faster and generated 109 percent higher net margins than their peers and increased shareholder value almost five times faster than the market in the 10 years before 2003. Companies that do a better job of creating value for key stakeholders, such as employees, customers and communities, also happen to generate more value for shareholders.

The organizations that apply all these principles will outperform those that skimp on some. For example, one of Google’s glaring weaknesses today is its inability to create a significant new source of revenue beyond advertising. That does not seem to hurt the company too much now but it could in the future.

Although I developed the following seven principles years ago, I believe they can help a startup succeed today as has been borne out by recent company history

1. Value human relationships.

Entrepreneurs can’t do it all themselves, which means they need to hire talented people. Treat talented people with respect and be sure they are a good fit with the values of the company.

For example, Google hires very smart people who fit with its unconventional approach to problem solving. Google has used its famous data-driven approach to decision making to identify traits associated with effective management. And it has used those insightsto hire and promote peope who demonstrate these skills.

2. Foster teamwork.

If an entrepreneur hires talented people, he or she should demand that they debate solutions. Ask them to use their skills to develop better solutions from working together than they would by toiling on their own.

In the last few years, Google has encouraged more teamwork, which has helped the company bring new ideas like Google Glass to fruition.

3. Experiment frugally.

Startup CEOs must resist the urge to perfect their products before launching them. Instead, they should build fast, inexpensive versions of their products, receive feedback from the market and improve the product in response.

Google encouraged this kind of frugal experimentation by letting its employees spend 20 percent of their time working on projects of personal interest.

In 2011 new CEO, Larry Page, decided he wanted to “put more wood behind fewer arrows” and phased out 20 percent time while phasing in the Google X lab to work on innovations, Quartz reported.

4. Fulfill commitments.

A startup will not succeed unless the team knows the management’s intentions and then leaders act accordingly. And leaders who tell their people they’ll do one thing but do the opposite will lose trust.

Google has certainly tried to follow through on its oft-stated value “don’t be evil.” Sadly, it has not always succeeded, such as when it decided tocensor search results in China in 2006. It stopped in 2010.

Don’t make the same mistake. It’s better for a startup to give up on a business opportunity than to violate its core values.

5. Fight complacency.

Don’t let the success of a particular product or service keep the company from searching for better ways to meet customers’ needs. Remember Blockbuster? To fight complacency, maintain a healthy paranoia and always be on the lookout for how to adopt new technologies that will give customers superior value.

Consider how Netflix transformed itself from a DVD-by-mail service to an online streaming provider. Not only has Netflix managed the transition masterfully, it has also added new capabilities like creating popular shows and managing relationships with high-bandwidth service providers.

6. Win through multiple means.

Don’t let the startup become dependent on one product that competitors can copy. Protect sources of revenue and profit by being good at a few key skills that are difficult for rivals to copy.

Under Steve Jobs, Apple could enter into existing businesses (like MP3 players, smartphones and tablets) and cut itself a big slice of the profit pie. Apple won through multiple means: It had great product design, superb marketing and customer service, an efficient supply chain and the ability to motivate third-party providers as evidenced by the success of iTunes and the App Store.

7. Give to the community.

Running a startup is especially challenging because business owners can’t pay enough to attract top talent. But they can make up for the smaller pay packet by developing a meaningful mission.

Consider the case of Embrace Innovations, whose CEO, Jane Chen, I interviewed in June 2011. The social enterprise was started in an attempt to save the lives of premature babies in developing countries. In India, many premature babies died after not being kept warm during a four-hour journey to the hospital.

Because of its inspiring mission, the company attracted talented employers, who developed a tiny sleeping bag of special materials able to keep infants at the right temperature. This saved many lives.

This week my class of 30 Babson College undergraduates explored how Google has applied these seven principles: The students concluded that despite some flaws, notably in its privacy policies, Google is a value leader. The students concluded that Google excels at valuing human relationships, winning through multiple means, experimenting frugally and fighting complacency.

Ready to try these principles? In my book I listed 24 specific activities that companies should perform to follow the seven principles as well as 107 more detailed tactics to accomplish these activities.

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Good principles to keep in mind when doing business.

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The 100-Year-Old Startup

The 100-Year-Old Startup | Competitive Edge |

More than 100 million users count on Evernote’s Swiss-army-knife capabilities on almost every smartphone, tablet and laptop. CEO Phil Libin and his team have gotten the world hooked on productivity. That was the point, Libin says.

Evernote had the features the team wanted themselves—a note-taking, web-clipping, project-managing, almost-anything-you-can-think-of app that’s free for the taking in its basic format. And they know that once users start depending on Evernote, they may very well want to upgrade to the $45 per year Premium or the $120 per year Business versions.

But all of it almost didn’t happen. In 2008 the company was running out of money. Libin had decided to shut it down the next day. At 3 a.m., he was preparing to turn in for the night when he decided to check his email one more time.

Against all odds, there was an email from a Swedish investor and Evernote fan in his inbox. The investor eventually wired $500,000, enabling Libin to keep the company afloat.

Q: You have said that you want Evernote to still be a startup in 100 years. What do you mean by that?

A: A lot of entrepreneurs are taught to think: What’s the exit strategy? We were tired of that. We wanted something that would be our life’s work. You don’t need an exit strategy for your life’s work.

We asked ourselves, How might we design something that could be around for 100 years? Thinking about doing things that are durable is different from thinking about how to maximize profitability short-term. But we don’t just want to be a 100-year-old company—we want to be a 100-year-old startup. In 100 years, we want to still make quick decisions and not become bogged down by internal bureaucracy and politics.

Q: I read that you said that you have people working for you now who have worked for you in previous companies. How do you choose your team?

A: There are lots of people who’ve never had a job other than working with me. There’s this high chance that once we’ve worked together a few years, you’ll never need to work with anyone else, because either we will stay together in the company for a long time or you should have made enough money that you won’t ever have to take a job you don’t like.

For me, it’s always easy. I just always work with my friends. I have a lot of brilliant friends, and I work with more or less all of them. The first people you bring aboard are friends, and the others are the friends of friends. It just grows from there.

Q: What about co-founders? How do you know who will be a good partner?

A: There are no shortcuts. You just have to go with the best people you know, people with whom you share a common vision.

You don’t necessarily need to know them for a long time. Stepan Pachikov—the person who originally started the California team that became Evernote—and I had a team in Boston. He and I had met only a few months before we decided to combine the teams. But we hit it off right away.

Building and cultivating the team at every level—it starts with co-founders and then goes to early employees and later-stage employees—that is the central thing.

Q: You’ve said you shouldn’t hire anyone unless you’ll be able to fire them. And yet they’re also your friends.

A: If you want to be an entrepreneur, you’re not optimizing for the easy path. You’re not optimizing for fun. You’re optimizing for impact. There are a lot of things you have to know how to do or you shouldn’t be in this business. You have to be able to fire people.

It’s tough to give people a chance if you know that if it doesn’t work out, you can’t end a relationship correctly. And if you know that you can, it lets you give people a chance. It lets you hire people whom you’re pretty sure are going to be a perfect fit, but you don’t have to be 100 percent sure.

If you lose friends that way, it sucks, but there’s really nothing good to say about it other than the alternative is to never work with your friends, and that’s much, much worse.

Q: What would you say to people who would like to take the plunge into entrepreneurship?

A: Work on something that you honestly believe deserves to exist. Ask yourself, Is the universe better off because my company exists? If you can’t honestly say that, then you shouldn’t do it, even if you think it’s a good way to make money. Because you can never guarantee financially what your outcome is going to be. Being an entrepreneur takes up so much of your time, your life, your energy. If it were just about money, then I wouldn’t do it.

Q: How can small-business owners or entrepreneurs find success in a marketplace that always seems to change?

A: Focus on the product. Make products and provide services that you yourself want, love and use. It’s very hard to make something great if you’re making it only for somebody else, because you don’t have a gut feel for it.

A lot of young entrepreneurs ask, “What does the market need?” Then they come up with some idea that isn’t something they deeply care about. Unless you’re making the product for yourself first, it’s hard for you to know what is good. It’s hard for you to make it great. And products that aren’t great just aren’t going to succeed.

You have an infinite number of things that you could work on. Choose to work on things that you know about, understand, use, are in love with and want to work on for the rest of your life.

And that gives you the best chance of making something great enough to succeed.

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Coca-Cola Launches New Program To Recruit Startup Founders

Coca-Cola Launches New Program To Recruit Startup Founders | Competitive Edge |
Coca-Cola Founders is a new way to create startups, the company's vice president of innovation and entrepreneurship declared.

Coca-Cola announced the launch of a new entrepreneurship program at Fast Company’s Innovation By Design conference today, in conversation with Fast Company senior writer Linda Tischler. David Butler, Coca-Cola’s vice president of innovation and entrepreneurship, (who has written a book with Tischler) announced the Coca-Cola Founders program, a way for startups to gain access to Coca-Cola's tremendous reach and for Coca-Cola to tap the ideas of independent entrepreneurs. The company goes into startup communities around the world and hand-selects founders, giving them insider access to Coca-Cola--both the company’s assets and its challenges. The founders’ ideas are then shaped by what they see inside Coca-Cola.

“It allows us to move much faster than we could internally using the least amount of money,” Butler said. “What they struggle with is scale,” he said--something that Coca-Cola does better than almost any company around. According to Butler, Coca-Cola is local in 207 countries, and sells roughly two billion servings of its products a day. The ideas--all still in development--that have emerged from the initiative include a food startup in Berlin, a mobile convenience store, and even a company related to wearables.

“The normal model working with a startup, you’re trying to find your strategic partnerships,” Butler said. “Startups come to big companies and try to get in. On the big company side, they pitch their thing, but how do we connect that [to what Coca-Cola does]? It’s very difficult.”

With the Coca-Cola Founders program, he said, “We’ve designed a new way to create startups”--one that not only helps grow Coca-Cola as a company, but allows them to churn out new products and services faster and cheaper.

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Integration of startup founders with a big multinational company. It's a great idea since there will be a great exchange of innovation and experience.

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Why You Shouldn't Envy The Lives Of Some Billionaires

Why You Shouldn't Envy The Lives Of Some Billionaires | Competitive Edge |
Money can take all the serendipity out of life.

Poor Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg. They're worth billions of dollars, and that makes life hard.

Actually, it kind of does, and Y Combinator co-founder Paul Graham explains why. Graham's startup accelerator program yielded a few billionaire founders of its own, including Dropbox's Drew Houston and the founders of Airbnb.

Graham points out that Google and Facebook run Page and Zuckerberg as much as they run their companies. They can never enjoy regular activities or do things spontaneously the way the rest of us can.

"Mark Zuckerberg will never get to bum around a foreign country," Graham writes. "He can do other things most people can't, like charter jets to fly him to foreign countries. But success has taken a lot of the serendipity out of his life."

What adds to the stress: billionaires can never publicly complain about how tough their money-filled lives sometimes are, because everyone else will freak out.

In a Stanford talk about how tough it is to be an entrepreneur, Graham says how all-consuming running a startup — even once it becomes a multi-billion-dollar company, can be. Here's an excerpt:

Larry Page may seem to have an enviable life, but there are aspects of it that are unenviable. Basically at 25 he started running as fast as he could and it must seem to him that he hasn't stopped to catch his breath since. Every day new shit happens in the Google empire that only the CEO can deal with, and he, as CEO, has to deal with it.

If he goes on vacation for even a week, a whole week's backlog of shit accumulates. And he has to bear this uncomplainingly, partly because as the company's daddy he can never show fear or weakness, and partly because billionaires get less than zero sympathy if they talk about having difficult lives. Which has the strange side effect that the difficulty of being a successful startup founder is concealed from almost everyone except those who've done it.

...Mark Zuckerberg will never get to bum around a foreign country. He can do other things most people can't, like charter jets to fly him to foreign countries. But success has taken a lot of the serendipity out of his life. Facebook is running him as much as he's running Facebook. And while it can be very cool to be in the grip of a project you consider your life's work, there are advantages to serendipity too, especially early in life. Among other things it gives you more options to choose your life's work from.

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Failure is good, but here are 10 mistakes your startup should never make

Failure is good, but here are 10 mistakes your startup should never make | Competitive Edge |
If you believe you need to fail before you can succeed, at least make sure you fail in an original way.

Failure is the fertilizer of Silicon Valley, or so we would have you believe. Like fraternity hazing, we take excessive pleasure in warning plebes (aspiring entrepreneurs) that 80 to 90 percent of all startups fail.

But failure, when you get right down to it, is neither inevitable nor anything to brag about. As Silicon Valley veterans — Oracle, Sun, SynOptics, and over 40 startups and tech giants — we’ve had ringside seats to some of the greatest successes and flame-outs in tech history. And while everyone associated with technology startups knows that you need to kiss a few frogs at times, we’ve created an early warning ‘failure list’ that we consult before we pucker up:

  1. It’s the technology, stupid. If they take this approach, they’re lost before they start — and yet it’s the single largest startup sin. The founders have spent years creating their technology and so assume it’s as compelling to others as it is to them. It isn’t. It’s not what the technology can do (speeds and feeds), it’s what it can do for the customer. Solutions sell, technology doesn’t.
  2. Make the CEO a rock star. Too many first-time CEOs think they’re the next Steve Jobs — down to the bullying behavior and grandiose statements. But even Jobs had his Wozniak. VCs invest in teams, not individuals. As Walter Isaacson’s new book The Innovators attests, if a CEO doesn’t bring in a strong exec team, listen to them, and share the credit, the startup will soon be a true one-man operation for all the wrong reasons.
  3. Spend early and big on branding. Don’t create your brand in a cocoon, or with the help of a high-priced branding agency. Let it evolve organically, based on your company culture and customer reactions. The resulting brand will be truer — and cheaper.
  4. Give the UX director power over the brand. A powerful UX director, strong on visuals and light on Marketing, can do great damage to your marketing efforts. If you’re not going to let your VP of Marketing design your UX, don’t let your UX director have control over your brand.
  5. Let your people choose their own job titles. Then consider what titles like “sales guru” and “growth hacker” are costing you in enterprise sales.
  6. Print T-shirts to mark product milestones instead of customer milestones. The more t-shirts your company has before its first major sale, the quicker investors should head for the door.
  7. Go virtual from the start (flex time over face time). This is a tough one, since we know how hard it is to hire these days, especially with Google and Facebook poaching the best talent. But hiring remotely from the start is a recipe for failure. Too many of a startup’s best ideas happen in ad hoc meetings and shared work space. Bottom line: Face time trumps flex time, at least in the early, formative days of a startup.
  8. Revise your value proposition early and often. Many companies, having read The Lean Startup, think that just because they can throw their product out into the market, gauge initial reaction, and quickly respond, they can do the same with their core value proposition to the customer. Nope. Playing with your core customer value doesn’t make you look responsive, it makes you look indecisive. Challenge and iterate your positioning and messaging before you launch, then go through one sales cycle before you make any major changes.
  9. Leadership, not management, is the key to success. “Vision” (usually the domain of the CEO) is critical to a strong launch. But once you’ve had a strong start and early sales success, it’s time to focus on growth and execution. The days of everyone reporting to the CEO are over, as are the days of the CEO making every major decision. It’s time to manage — in some cases ‘manage managers’ — an entirely new (and essential) skill. If the CEO can’t make the transition, make him/her ‘Chief Evangelist’ and find a new CEO.
  10. Let your Board of Directors be very hands-on. The more you see board members on-site at a startup, the better the chances that the company is flailing. A strong CEO needs to rely on the BOD without depending on them.

So, if you believe you need to fail before you can succeed, make sure you fail in an original way. Because all of the above are avoidable.

Tom Hogan and Carol Broadbent are the founders and principles of Crowded Ocean, a Silicon Valley marketing agency that has launched over 30 startups, with 10 of those companies being either acquired or gone public.

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Wow! Lots of wisdom and experience here. Startups, listen to this.

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6 of the best ways IBM's Watson is powering startups and projects

6 of the best ways IBM's Watson is powering startups and projects | Competitive Edge |
In the past year, IBM's Watson supercomputer has gone from something which had the potential to change the world to something that developers could actually take advantage of.

In the past year, IBM’s Watson supercomputer has gone from rarefied ivory-towered (yet potentially world-changing) object to something that developers could actually take advantage of.

Yesterday, IBM announced that over 100 partners and companies are already using Watson worldwide. And it’s laying the groundwork for even more developers to take advantage of its unique cognitive computing technology.

IBM highlighted several Watson-powered companies at its brand-new Manhattan Watson headquarters yesterday, which ranged from a smattering of healthcare solutions to something as simple as helping mobile carriers figure out the best plans for a potential customer.

Unlike the computing paradigm we’ve been relying on for decades, Watson is focused on cognitive computing, allowing it to automatically unearth insights from huge amounts of data and learn over time. It can also understand plain English — you don’t need specialized search strings.

Below, check out the companies and projects using Watson that I found the most intriguing.


Travelocity founder Terry Jones didn’t need to start another company — he’s already a chairman and co-founder at Kayak, a special venture partner at General Catalyst, and a prolific speaker — but when he saw the potential behind Watson, he couldn’t help himself.

With WayBlazer, Jones is going a step beyond booking travel — it uses Watson’s smarts to give you insights and recommendations on where you’re headed. If you’re flying from somewhere warm to a chilly locale, for example, it could recommend that you pack a jacket.

In a demo for the city of Austin (Wayblazer’s first customer and also where the company is based), a search for “live music” revealed some useful tips about certain venues. It’s the sort of thing you could eventually find after several web searches, but Watson’s cognitive engine makes that unnecessary. WayBlazer searches websites, social media recommendations, and online reviews for its data. When it gives you a tip, you can also dive deeper to see how it came up with a particular recommendation.

“The coolest thing is that these people living in Austin are finding their ‘aha!’ moments,” Jones said in an interview with VentureBeat. “We didn’t think this would necessarily be a good product for people who live in Austin — now we think it is … It’s exposing insights. We think eventually it’ll be insights as a service.”

WayBlazer has received seed funding from the The Entrepreneurs’ Fund, and it’s currently seeking its next round.

Findability Sciences

Here’s a company that’s bringing Watson to the nonprofit arena. Findability Sciences’ “Impact Measurement & Analysis” (IMA) product uses Watson to give donors an easy way to ask questions about potential investments. In particular, it gives donors a way to measure the impact of specific organizations, which could entice them to donate multiple times.

In a brief demo, Findability CEO Anand Mahurkar used IMA to see if school buses presented any cancer risks. The results: Yup. And just like other Watson-powered companies, you can see directly where IMA is getting its results from.


Watson has quickly become the doctor’s best friend. Several hospitals and health startups are already using it to help improve their medical diagnoses — but LifeLearn is the first company I’ve seen to use Watson for animals.

Just like other Watson health solutions, LifeLearn’s Sofie tool gives medical professionals a quick way to figure out what’s wrong with their patients. The only difference here is that the patients tend to be a bit furry.


The winner of IBM’s Watson mobile developer challenge, GenieMD gives patients and their caregivers a way to keep track of their health profiles across multiple devices, as well as easily diagnose potential issues. The company also builds a personalized profile of every patient, which allows Watson to deliver health suggestions customized just for them.


This company is pioneering “cognitive security analytics.” SparkCognition claims its Cognitive Security Insights app handles cyber threats as an actual security researcher, not just as a dumb security service, would.

“SparkCognition’s best-of-breed algorithms, coupled with Watson, represent a novel way to handle security challenges,” wrote Usman K. Shuja, VP of market development at SparkCognition, in a blog post yesterday. “The bleeding edge assessment, research and remediation capabilities are designed to help security admins save time by triaging alerts, automating research, and providing in-context help. These are massive, unaddressed challenges in the security space.”


Chef Watson

I’ll admit, this choice is a bit of a cheat (and it already made headlines at SXSW earlier this year), but it’s still worth mentioning: Chefs at the Culinary Institute of America used Watson to create the menu for IBM’s media event yesterday, and it led to some truly mind-blowing flavor combinations. Among the highlights were a pork and apple pie, a beef burrito with chocolate powder, and bread pudding with bacon.

On the face of it, few of those flavors make sense together, and I’d imagine they wouldn’t be among the first choices for most chefs. But Watson gives chefs the ability to predict how well certain flavors will work together, which ultimately unlocks new creative recipe combinations for chefs.

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Amazing machine.

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Delighted Makes It Easy For Startups And Other Businesses To Collect Customer Feedback | TechCrunch

Delighted Makes It Easy For Startups And Other Businesses To Collect Customer Feedback | TechCrunch | Competitive Edge |

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Delighted, a startup that aims to help businesses collect and analyze customer feedback, is ready to move its product out of private beta testing and make it available to any customer.

In addition, the company is announcing that it has raised funding (it won’t say how much) from Google Ventures, Shasta Ventures, SV Angel, Designer Fund, Fuel Capital, Relay Ventures, Ben Ling, Bobby Goodlatte, Jason Shellen and Fred Reichheld.

Delighted was founded by Caleb Elston, Mark Dodwell and Mike Gowen. The three of them worked together on the Mosaic iPhone app for photobook company Mixbook, and Elston and Gowen also worked together on Yobongo, the mobile chat startup that Elston co-founded (which was eventually acquired by Mixbook).

It’s been more than a year since I wrote about the company — Elston (who’s also Delighted’s CEO) said at the time that the team would do something related to customer feedback, but it was too early to get specific about the product. Since then, Delighted has been testing its product with a number of businesses. In fact, if you’ve responded to a customer survey recently from Design Within Reach, Bonobos, Eventbrite, Goodreads, TaskRabbit or Hotel Tonight, it was probably created and sent via Delighted.

So what makes this different from the other survey tools out there? Again, the aim is to be super simple, both on the customer side and the business side. Hopefully, that can mean the business gets feedback from a larger, more representative group of customers, not just the ones with big complaints or who need assistance.

Elston gave me a quick tour of the product to illustrate his point. When you receive an email survey (on desktop, mobile or tablet), you’re asked to respond with a single click that indicates how you’d rate your experience with a given product or service. You can offer a more in-depth explanation, but all you need to do to complete the survey is make one click.

It’s pretty simple to create those surveys, too — Elston whipped one up in just a few minutes during the demo. And once a survey goes out, businesses can track their Net Promoter Score, to get a general sense of how they’re doing. Then they can dive deeper into the numbers by searching for specific terms or filtering by different customer types.

Other features include the ability to trigger surveys with certain in-product events, to cap the number of surveys that a customer has seen (not just from you but from any Delighted business), and to send team members email digests highlighting positive and negative feedback. Elston also noted that Delighted doesn’t charge per seat, which means there’s nothing stopping a company from making customer feedback available to anyone on the team.

Asked if he’s interested in going beyond email surveys, Elston said Delighted is also looking at things like live chat, but he suggested that email will likely remain at the core of the experience.

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Customer communication is essential for a startup to succeed. Simple straightforward surveys are a great idea.

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5 Ways To Build An Accidental Business Into An Empire

5 Ways To Build An Accidental Business Into An Empire | Competitive Edge |
Down and out in Beverly Hills, Meridith Baer parlayed her passion into a blockbuster business.

Baer shared with me five ways she has grown her business into a $25 million empire.

1. Do what you love
Baer had always loved fixing up her home, and doing what you love is one of the reasons American women entrepreneurs are among the happiest people in the world.  Now Baer could do this for others and get paid for doing it. What could be better?

Staging had another significant advantage for Baer. As a screenwriter, you work on a project for years. Someone finally buys your script then changes your vision for it and, worse, has someone else do the rewrites.

In staging, you complete your vision in a few days and get immediate feedback. Better still is when the home sells quickly—on average a staged property sells 80% faster and for 20% more than a non-staged one. Talk about instant gratification!

2. Dream big
In 2004, Baer hired her nephew Brett, who had an M.B.A.  At first his plans for growth terrified her—now, she’s pushing him. The business doubled from last year and is projected to generate $25 million in revenue in 2014. Meridith Baer Home employs approximately 140 people.

Meridith Baer Home’s clients include more than 300 billionaires and celebrities, including Christina Aguilera, Gwyneth Paltrow, Harrison Ford, Matthew Perry and Brad Pitt. Staged to Perfection, a TV series that aired in the U.S., followed her and her team of 18 designers as they transformed homes that were stalling on the market into the stuff real estate brokers dream of selling.

3. Expand your product lines
Baer works for the rich and famous. When Robert De Niro does a movie in Los Angeles, the studio rents him a home and Meridith Baer Home decorates with leased furniture. In fact, renting furniture has become its most profitable line of business.

Some clients purchase some or all of the furniture used in a staged home, which is common for wealthy, divorced men who are setting up house for themselves and their children. Others want Baer’s team to decorate the home they just purchased even when the company hadn’t staged it. Upscale developers also use Meridith Baer Home to decorate models.

While the demand was clearly there, Baer had a problem. She and her team couldn’t always find the furniture they wanted. Meridith Baer Home now manufactures furniture in China, Mexico and the U.S.

Meridith Baer Home has expanded geographically to Manhattan, the Hamptons and Connecticut. Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Florida, and San Francisco are on the horizon.

4. Learn to speak finance
Baer tried to get financing several times, then gave up. She didn’t know how to explain that she was reinvesting all of her profit into growing her business and therefore couldn’t show a favorable bottom line. Then she hired a Stanford MBA as CFO. On his first day, he was able to get the company a $3 million line of credit at a very low interest rate. Now banks are fighting to get her business.

Meridith Baer Home also spends about a half-million dollars on a corporate charge card per month, which she pays off at the end of the month. The benefits: Baer doesn’t have to pay interest on it for 30 days and earns an avalanche of miles, which she both uses and gifts to family members.

5. Don’t forget to protect yourself
In the beginning, Baer learned the hard way. Her second client, some hot-shot from the music industry, tried not to pay—he claimed selling his home was an opportunity for her to learn the business.

When Baer went to his home to remove her furniture, he had changed the locks. His broker and her attorney warned Baer not to mess with him. Little did she know that her attorney was sleeping with the music man! Baer would not be bullied, going back with her team to remove the furniture. She stood up for herself and got paid.

In another instance, one of Baer’s first hires tried stealing clients. Instead of handing out Meridith Baer Home cards, she handed out her own. Never wanting to repeat these mistakes, Baer now relies on contracts which, she says, “ really do hold up in court.”

How will you apply these lessons learned to your business?

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Via Deb Bailey, malek
Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Very nice article and some excellent advice.

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Six Great Marketing Techniques for Innovative Startups -PromotionWorld

The hardest challenge startups face is getting their name out there. While it isn't necessarily easy to build a quality product and business infrastructure, the old adage "if you build it, they will come" doesn't always hold true. That's why startups need innovative ways to market their business to generate customers or users.


An often overlooked branding effort for startups is partnerships. Teaming up with local community leaders and businesses to offer your product or service for free in exchange for a positive review or endorsement not only helps boost your brand's image, it also cross-pollinates brands between each other's customer base. Innovative startups can try and partner with local musicians or community events to increase exposure quickly.


The best and sometimes fastest way to increase a startup's exposure is by crafting a strong web presence. This is done through search engine optimization that optimizes a website's metadata and through content marketing that helps users who are in the market for your product find you at the top of search engine results with relevant information. While SEO practices run deep, it all usually boils down to creating quality, organized content for your website on a regular basis.

Referral Programs

Referral programs work in two positive ways. First, by giving an incentive to existing customers to refer their friends or family members to your product, you can create a stronger relationship with that customer. Additionally, if the person being referred becomes a new customer, their initial relationship with the brand is going to be stronger because of the friendly referral.

Branded Content

Knowing that trust helps drive sales in the long term, startups should focus on building branded content early on to show their dedication to impartial information for their customers. Brochures or articles with honest strategies or tips for your industry that take the focus away from your brand and instead place it on the content are an excellent way to build trust in your brand.

Trade Shows

For a low entrance and space rental fee, trade shows allow startups to get to know other players in their industry and network with the people who can help them move forward. A specialist from Truss Kits recommends that startups use trade shows as an opportunity to establish their image while displaying their products and services. A professional booth and presentation will not only accomplish this, it will get visitors to come and say hello and encourage them to get back in touch with you when the trade show is over.

Customer Service

Even with a product that's destined to change an industry entirely, great customer service is paramount to success. Don't forget to allocate the necessary funds to ensure that your customer service team is always available to help a new or existing customer.

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Some basic marketing techniques waiting for implementation.

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A list of great Startup Tools to ensure success for your new Business Startup

A list of great Startup Tools to ensure success for your new Business Startup | Competitive Edge |
Are you a startup owner then here are some startup tools for you to make your small business successful.

Job designation such as a “Startup Owner” may sound fantastic to many but actually it’s a 24/7 job that comes with  hectic situations and frustrations being caused by various reasons, which multiplies by 2x if you have an application as a product that helps users in some way. In this post we look at some startup tools that can help you on your way to success.

One of the main reasons why a startup owner may face tough situations could be due to the problems that may arise during the development phase of the application. Besides, there are financiers’ expectations and once the application is launched, you have to get your hands dirty with user experience, satisfaction and their expectations’ fulfillment.

In this tough and constantly challenging situation, it’s impossible for them to keep a track of everything unless they have some tools and apps that may assist them in managing and speeding up their work.

In the following article, I am going to list down the tools and apps that startup owners must have in order to keep track of everything and run the errands efficiently.

Pre-development Phase

Below is a list of applications that start up owners should have in order to stay ahead of everything in terms of managing a team, keeping oneself updated with industry news and more.

Not necessarily for the startup owners only, but feedly is a kind of tool that is helpful for anyone who frequently reads internet blogs, magazines and newspapers and wants to stay updated with  every news pertaining to  the industry.

For startup owners, it is important to stay up-to-date with all the new happenings in the app world as well as the niche that they are targeting and Feedly can help them do the same in minutes.

Before the application development phase, there is a complete round of crazy sessions including the idea development, brainstorming of ideas and more. In case you need to share these product development ideas as files over the Internet, it might turn out to be a little difficult sharing them on emails. This dropbox (alternate options could be box and Google Drive) utility can be very effective as this allows people to share one file with multiple users without sending emails, etc.

This is an amazing tool that cannot only be used in the pre-development phase but it can help one throughout the entire project. This tool helps you communicate with the team members who are either in-house or virtually working for you.

Under-Development Phase

In the following paragraphs, I am going to discuss the tools that you need when you are developing your application, a website for it and more.

This is a very important tool that almost every startup owner should use so that they can create multiple landing pages of their website and see which version is working well and which does not interact better with the audience.

Startup owners should have this tool so that they can gauge the performance of their marketing website in terms of how it is going to interact with the target audience and how they will respond to it.

Another tool that should be owned by the startup owners is Trello. This helps them divide the work amongst different departments and keep a track of it on real time basis.

This is actually an ideal tool for developers; however, if the startup owner is technically sound, s/he can double check if there are any security issues within the application.

Most of the applications are usually being launched without a proper check, and therefore, a number of security and code issues are detected in the later stage. This tool helps you get rid of all the problems before the actual application is being launched.

Beta Testing Phase

Google Analytics allows you to track the visitors of your website and learn more details about the web traffic that is visiting the website and the application itself.

This is an important tool for startup owners as this helps them understand the audience of the website, on the basis of which, they can perform tweaks and make other business decisions.

Cyfe is a marketing and CRM dashboard that allows startup owners to keep a track of the whole project under one roof.

Tout App is another important tool that not only helps you in the beta testing phase but it would also help the business once the application is being launched.

Tout App tells you what happens after you send the email to your preferred beta testing list. ToutApp also keeps you posted about details as in when people open your emails and click on the links. It helps you provide customized follow-up, either through another email or a phone call.

After the Final Launch

This is an email marketing tool that allows you to send customize email to your email list and see how they are interacting with the website and the application.

This tool is great not only to see how your list is reacting to your emails but it also helps you interact with your team more efficiently.

This app   helps you schedule your social media messages and sends them at a time when your target audience is found to be active. Buffer also keeps a track of how your audience is interacting with your social messages.

Mention is another important tool for the startup owners once they launch the app. Mention keeps a check on the web and sends you an email if someone mentions your application with the name somewhere, so that you can respond to it accordingly.

There are several apps being available in the industry but the above-mentioned ones are a few that can help startup owners keep track of the whole project and allow them to stay up to date with everything during the entire development process.

Are you a startup owner? Are you using any other applications and tools that help you work more efficiently? Please share with us in the comments section.

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Via TechinBiz
Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Excellent list with great tools.

BSN's curator insight, October 1, 7:25 AM
Are you a startup owner then here are some startup tools for you to make your small business successful. #business #startup #tools
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5 Ingenious Ways to Make Your Mark on the Business World

Solid branding plays an integral role in the success of any business. Here are five ways that you can further develop your brand and make your mark on the business world.

The way that you communicate in the business world is through your brand. It's what speaks to your customers and investors and allows them to get a better understanding of your company and the products and services you offer. Branding is something that has to be done subtly and by those who truly know what they are doing--there is a little bit of art involved, a little bit of psychology, and a little bit of bare bones business that goes into it, which makes branding something of an art form. The following are five ways to enhance your branding and really make a mark on your customers--and the market as a whole.


In order for a brand to have staying power, it needs to remain adaptable. Brands that have logos with a dated air to them will never stick around for long in a world that is changing more and more rapidly every year. Having something that is simple, clean, and leaves room for embellishment when need be is going to be a brand that sticks in the minds of customers and has the staying power that every business seeks for its image and public persona.


Above all other things, your brand needs to be memorable. Everybody can tell you what the company attached to "Just Do It" is. Having a simple, memorable slogan like that will be what sets your business ahead if you decide to go the slogan route with your branding (not every brand has or needs a slogan). Even the logo for your brand needs to be memorable and unique--trying to piggyback off of the success of other popular logos will just lead to your brand being forgotten in the shadow of the established brand with that logo.


The brand needs to be connected to what the business actually offers. The brand needs to be something that customers can touch on and identify with, and something that clearly conveys what the company will provide for the customers through imagery and atmosphere that the brand's logo, slogan, and other marketing materials provide. This needs to be something that gives an authentic representation of the brand's attitude and public goals and maintains the other important parts of branding at the same time (one of which is simplicity). Choosing a logo or a slogan for your brand should not be done offhandedly, as you will need to stick with it forever.


In order for your brand to stick in the minds of your customers, there is going to have to be something about it that is likeable, even if it is on a subconscious level. Having linguistic elements like alliteration and rhyming will make your name easier to stick in the mind. Tying your name to a popular concept or having it be a play on words is another good way to get it to make an impression upon your customers.


Given that some of the largest portions of the market are growing foreign marketplaces, you should keep in mind the translation of your slogans, advertisements, and name into different languages. Inherent meaning can easily be lost in translation, so to avoid marketing faux-pas (the Mexican marketing of the Chevy Nova comes to mind), so settle on something that can easily be ported to another language or country and still works as effortlessly as it did in your native language. This kind of preparation can only help your business in the long run, as adaptability to different markets will give you more of an advantage over your competitors than anything else.

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Marc Kneepkens's insight:

Excellent ideas for branding. Keep in mind when coining your business name and logo.

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