Category Archives: Entrepreneurship

Female Investors – “Ladies, we got this!”

July 26, 2012 Business, Entrepreneurship, Startups, Uncategorized, Venture Capital, Women in Business

Per usual these days, much is being written about the lack of women in tech and the difficulty for women to get funded. The always honest and entertaining Dave McClure (his 500 Startups blog is a must read) had some hard-hitting words this week in an article titled “Women in Tech: Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is.” While I don’t agree with the entire piece, and the problem is much bigger than the lack of female investors, I do give kudos to Dave’s new project, Women Investors NOW.  WIN challenges women to publicly commit to invest a total of $15,000 in three start-ups over the next year. Per Dave, “I’d like to CHALLENGE every woman in tech who’s a) got a nice care, b) owns a nice house, or c) is making over $125K a year to start thinking of themselves as the next Ron Conway or Esther Dyson in the making and commit to investing in startups…”

I often talk (and write here) about the need for women to help women. And this is a GREAT way to do it. Once I get a few months of my new gig behind me (more on that soon!), I am totally up for this challenge – and I hope you are too.  Click here to learn more about the WIN Challenge.  Personally, I plan to be a force in the LA Angel Investing community.  There are definitely not enough women funding and advising companies in Silicon Beach.  Yet, there are a ton of  successful entrepreneurial women here.

Speaking of kickass chicks, I am adding Kirsten Green to my list.  Her female-only VC, Forerunner Ventures, announced is raised $40 million today.  How do you like that, Mr. McClure!  I had not heard of Forerunner before, but they already have a stellar portfolio that focuses on consumer facing ventures that are predominantly in the digital commerce space.  They have funded a number of companies I love, including Warby Parker, Birchbox and Chloe + Isabel.  Also, I went into online stalker mode on Kirsten and discovered she is married and has a kid.   This might upset all the authors/bloggers who took part in the “Women Can’t Have It All” meme a few weeks back.

 

Female Powerhouses – Sheryl Sandberg & Oprah

September 14, 2011 Books, Entrepreneurship, Startups, Women in Business

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, has emerged as a tremendous inspiration to female executives and working mothers everywhere. As a woman in the tech startup space, I admire her greatly. I don’t agree with everything she says, but I love that she says it – as she sees it. She is a no bullshit kinda chick who is also very witty and fun. Sheryl throws a monthly dinner at her home to bring women in business together. I have been wanting to emulate this in LA (lots of amazing female tech founders and business executives here in LaLaLand!) for a while now, and my first event, called LA Women Rising, is happening this Monday. So excited!!!  (a recap to come of course)  If you are new to the fabulosity that is Mrs. Sandberg, read this New Yorker article title, ” A Woman’s Place: Can Sheryl Sandberg upend Silicon Valley’s male-dominated culture?”   Also, check out her TED talk, “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders.

As for Oprah, I will admit here that I participated in her Eckhart Tolle “A New Earth” online classes, and they truly helped me improve myself and my life. Probably gonna sound like “O” here, but I am all about becoming the best person I can be – and Oprah has been an amazing personal and spiritual growth “coach” for me. As a high-energy, uber-passionate worker bee living in NYC at the time of the classes, I had some major “Aha moments” re: the importance of awareness and how to “breathe” and be present.  In startupland, speed is everything. Being 100 steps ahead of the game is crucial to success, and can lend itself to focusing on the destination rather than journey.  I, as we all are, am a work in progress, and Oprah has been instrumental to that progress.  Oprah and her show have elevated the world by influencing countless individuals to empower themselves and live their most authentic life (not to mention read books, volunteer/donate to worthy causes, and know what to buy for Christmas). And, of course, it probably goes without saying that I also am obsessed with “THE Oprah” because she is a fierce businesswoman, entrepreneur and mogul.

BTW Oprah is doing new online “life classes” starting in October.  Highly Recommend! http://www.oprah.com/own/About-Oprahs-Lifeclass

Both these women are beyond authentic and inspirational. Watch this and see for yourself:

Watch live streaming video from facebookguests at livestream.com
biz2beach

Biz2Beach 2011

September 8, 2011 Business, Company Culture, Entrepreneurship, Startups

I recently had the honor of participating in the inaugural Biz2Beach event held by Callfire, a kickass Silicon Beach cloud telephony company.  The event was dubbed as an “unconference”, and it made for a terrific experience.  In lieu of having a speaker or panel of speakers talk at an audience, discussion leaders sat at round tables with no more than 10 attendees.  There were 8 tables/topics and attendees were able to rotate to 4 tables.  It was more like a co-working, ideas-sharing day for all kinds of entrepreneurial folks.  The event ended with an amazing meal atop the Huntley Hotel at sunset.  Kudos to Kim Kohatsu and all the Callfire folks for pulling of such an unique and worthwhile day!

Below is an interview with yours truly, published by TalkTech Communications (thanks Rebekah Iliff), about my startup life and the importance of people to the success of any business.  Not gonna lie – I don’t mind being called a Startup Rockstar.

Robyn Ward has been consulting, advising, and working at early-stage Tech/Internet businesses in LA and NYC for over a decade. Most recently, she was VP Business Development at fast-growing LA startup, Docstoc. Currently she works for BetterWorks, where she is known as the “Startup Rockstar,” responsible for business development and sales.

At the upcoming Biz2Beach event hosted by CallFire, Robyn will speak about fostering a positive and productive work environment for employees, including the BetterWorks next-generation platform that makes it easy and affordable for SMBs to recognize, reward and motivate talent.

I sat down with Robyn to find out a little bit more about BetterWorks, but also learn what she believes is important for finding success in the startup and small business environment. Needless to say, I now understand where her nickname comes from….total, and utter…Rockstar.

RI: What is the background of BetterWorks, how did the idea get started, who are the key players, etc?

RW: BetterWorks was founded by Paige Craig, Zao Yang, and George Ishii, who combined their experience in consulting (investing in and advising) over 50 startups, and SMBs. Paige was a prolific Angel investor, Zao was one of the founders of Farmville, and George had extensive experience, from his early days of PayPal, of making simple UIs focused on user-friendliness. Pulling from these various experiences they identified the need for an easy, affordable solution for the “smaller guy” to recognize and reward employees. Now at over 30 employees, I can say that the “secret sauce” of BetterWorks is how we hire and engage talent. So we literally walk the talk. This is my 5th startup and I can honestly say we have the most cohesive team and culture, it’s truly remarkable.

RI: What is your role there? Give me your day to day?

RW: My main focus during the first 5 months was on the company’s launch stage – how do we best position and differentiate ourselves, marketing and sales, understanding what is resonating and fine tuning the pitch. I was also responsible for signing on alpha clients, relaying to product team what can be fixed, and what to add. I now spend the lion’s share of my time figuring out partnerships and alliances.

RI: What are some of the challenges you face as a startup and small biz?

RW: One of biggest challenges is hiring the right team and keeping the right team. Regardless of the recession, it’s still a hot market for startups and tech.  This is one of the things the BetterWorks Perks platform is built to address. It’s not about an idea, it’s about execution (human capital); managing growth plus hiring really good people that fit the culture. For many new startups, another challenge is knowing how to “get out there” and tell the right message so that the brand looks unified and “buttoned up.”

RI: What do you find inspiring?

RW: I come from a small biz background, so I know what we are doing is helping people, so I am inspired daily by BetterWorks and the stellar team. In general, the entrepreneurial environment is inspiring to me; I’m not an artist, a cook, or a fashion designer…but I know how to put together a company. Another thing is this whole shift towards “social innovation” and all of these inspiring platforms that are popping up built to create social change. I’m so excited to be a part of this shift and to be involved in the startup world here in LA…there is so much going on!

RI: On that note, what excites you about the LA tech scene?

RW: The thing I love about the LA tech scene is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. There are so many industries in LA. Obviously, Hollywood is a leading industry and the one that LA is most well known for, but there are so many others that are innovating left and right; automotive, green tech, energy, B2B platforms.

What I think is fun about the LA tech scene is the surfer-come-CEO…waltzing into his Venice office fresh from a jaunt in the ocean. Second to that is the CEO in dreadlocks. I mean, it’s just so cool and fun…people obviously embrace the “Silicon Beach” culture.

RI: Thoughts on females in tech?

RW: Well, I’m on the business side of tech and not a female technologist per se, but I think that encouraging more girls to explore science and math early on would be beneficial…and this is an issue that women and men together need to address.

In general, as far as women in business goes, I would like to see more constructive relationships built between women. We need to come together and work diligently to redefine our roles in business, but also support each other in what we are doing. It’s also important that we take the mentorship of young women seriously. This is an extremely important step, but we need to stop talking about it and do it.

RI: What are a few of the topics you’ll be covering at Biz2Beach?

RW: I’m going to focus on the importance of people – instead of talking about technology, my role is to talk about how to build and maintain teams and culture …recognizing and appreciating your folks. So, I will encourage attendees to answer questions like: What is our culture? How are we rewarding? How are we communicating to people that we value them? What are the little things we do in between and how do we let them know they are the most important thing and are the biggest assets?

RI: Ok I have to know; iPhone, Android or Blackberry? Hmm?

RW: I will NOT lose my personal Blackberry. BetterWorks paid for my iPhone, so I carry it, but hate it. I do love my iPad, though. I carry it with me for demos.

Follow Robyn on Twitter: @rmward
Follow BetterWorks on Twitter: @betterworks

BetterWorks, My New Adventure

December 14, 2010 Adventurer, Bootstrapping, Business, Business Development, Entrepreneurship, Startups, Uncategorized

Last Tuesday I started a new gig at yet another early-stage company.   The company is called BetterWorks, and we are located on 3rd Street Promenade (very close to where I live – this is always ideal when living the “startup” life).  I did not, of course, take on this new adventure solely due to location.   I was an immediate fan of the idea and business model, but was truly sold upon meeting with the founders.   After all, building a successful company is not about the idea, it is about the execution.   And the three founder of Betterworks have a long history of “crushing it.”  BW was founded by three serial entrepreneurs: Paige Craig – founder of The Lincoln Group and LA’s most prolific Angel Investor, Zao Yang – inventor of Farmville (sold to Zynga), and George Ishii -co- founder at Yammer and Geni.com.

The below is a ThisWeekInStartups clip of my former Docstoc CEO, Jason Nazar, talking with my current bossman, Paige Craig, about investment themes, startups, and Paige’s military background. Watch, listen and learn as this is a good one!

You are probably wondering what we do at this point.  I can’t share that yet, but look forward to posting more about our offering and our progress soon. For now, you can learn some info by checking out www.betterworks.com and following our blog.

BW is moving faster than any startup I have either worked at or with. Pretty exhilarating!  I have been moving at lightspeed since the second I walked in the door and I am loving every minute of it.  Speed is key in building a successful company, particularly in the tech space. In fact, it is a part of the 8 key drivers of the BW culture (TIP: if you do not have the defining points of your culture written down and shared with your employees, do so now! And while you’re at it read Delivering Happiness by Zappos’ CEO).

One last share- for those that think the early startup life is glamorous, check out the below photo.  That is our office – 4 people in 100 sq ft. room with cardboard tables and empty computer boxes for desks.  Nothing like a little sacrifice to make the reward of building a kickass company that much sweeter.

Early Stage BD -What Exactly I Do?

November 29, 2010 Business, Business Development, Entrepreneurship, Sales & Marketing, Startups, Venture Capital

When people ask me what I do, I often say I help build very early stage Internet/technology companies.  This often leads to the follow-up question – “What exacly does that mean?”  On the flip side,  I meet countless Business Undergrads, and even MBAs, who tell me they want to work in startups, but seem to have very little idea of exactly what the job entails.  I recently came across a great post on 500Startups about what it means to be the “Business Guy at a Startup” by Charles Hudson (@chudson).  It is dead-on (for pre-RevGen stage), so I am sharing just about all of it below:

Being the businessperson at a startup is not easy. While the engineering team is busy checking in code and the product team is busy revising the product plan, you’re out meeting with people. Everyone else, from the finance person to the engineering team has measurable and observable deliverables in terms of code checkins, PRDs, and other key tasks that show up on a weekly progress report, while what you’re doing isn’t easy to measure. You’re not closing deals because you don’t have a product. You’re not generating revenue because the product is still in development. You’re out trying to sell a dream (literally) – some day the startup will live up to all of the promises you’re making to potential partners. So what should you do every day?

I believe there are 4 core activities that every startup business guy should do if you join in the early days:

1. Be an early advocate for a business model and revenue model discovery. Everyone in your organization is going to be focused on building a killer product that users will love. But someone has to worry about the business model and distribution strategy. The good news for you as the business guy at your startup is that you can focus on that issue as a core part of your day. Even if the business model isn’t clear, it’s your job to take advantage of your seat at the table to advocate for potential business models, run early experiments with customers who believe in what you’re doing, and constantly make the case that what you’re doing has to turn into a business if the company is to ultimately be successful. If you don’t agitate for revenue and customer development and discovery, it’s easy to have that work deferred into the future. It’s never too early to start thinking through those issues.

The other natural byproduct of working as a revenue and business model advocate is that it forces you to get more involved in understanding the product roadmap and prioritization of pending features. It’s critical that you find a way to be a part of those conversations early on. Most great Internet startups are driven by product and engineering people who have strong views about where the product should go and which features should be prioritized to achieve that end. If you wait until the product is nearly complete or about to ship, it’s too late; the major opportunities to influence the direction of the product or at least understand why and how key features are being prioritized has been lost. The most frustrating experience many early businesspeople I’ve talked to encounter at startups is a feeling that the product people “just don’t get it” when they come in with a big revenue opportunity, partnership, or deal. You’re right – they probably don’t get it. They’re focused on building the product that they believe customers want. If you haven’t invested the hours it takes to get to understand the product and engineering teams longer term plans, why they want to do what they want to do and when, and to build relationships with them, you’ll never be a part of the process. Spend the time to connect with those teams and work with them – yu can rarely get anything meaningful done if it doesn’t fit into the company’s longer term product plans and vision.

2. Be the one man or one woman combination of sales, business development, and marketing. In the early days of any startup, you’re probably going to be the only person responsible for the “business stuff.” You’re not going to have business counterparts in other key business functions such as marketing and sales. If you’re nominally the VP of Business Development, that’s not actually your job. Your job is to drive all of the business functions to the best of your abilities. Someday you might have a counterpart in sales, marketing, or other key business functions. But until you do, it’s your responsibility to drive those functions forward to the best of your ability and help the company better execute across all business functions, even though you’re only one person.

For those of you coming from big companies, this can be a jarring transformation. I know it was from me. For my first full-time business development role, I went from Google (15,000 employees when I left) to Gaia (about 65 employees at the time I joined). The nice thing about larger companies is that you can afford to staff all of those other business functions – if you’re in business development, it’s not your job to run marketing. And let’s not overlook one critical difference between being at a big company such as Google, Yahoo, or Microsoft. When you call, people will pick up the phone because of the company you represent. Getting meetings is relatively easy. Getting small and large partners to line up behind your new product or vision can be easy when you have the power of a big brand behind you. That is rarely the case at a startup – you have to make it happen and it will take a lot of hustle to do so.

3. Start building relationships that will pay off when your company starts to scale. Similar to the points raised in the first point, there are key relationships you want to start building early, even before it’s entirely clear how the product will turn out. In every early stage business, the management team knows the initial market you’re planning to target. And in every market, there are key other ecosystem participants you want to get to know for distribution relationships, corporate development opportunities, or for other reasons that will help both of your businesses. It’s never too early to start those conversations. The best part of starting those conversations early is that you get an opportunity to better understand how other people in your ecosystem are thinking about the problem you’re trying to solve. Do they have internal efforts already underway? Are they desperate to partner with someone else who has traction? Do they have strongly held beliefs about how the space you’re in is going to play out? These are all things that are good to know as you plot your strategy. And as the person who is focused on life outside of the four walls of your company, this is valuable intel you can bring back to everyone else in the company.

4. Keep your ears open about the chatter in your industry so you don’t get blindsided. Don’t forget that the vast majority of your colleagues are focused on the internal issues that could keep your startup from succeeding. They’re working on product planning and customer development issues that are unique to the product your company is building. But that’s not 100% of what you need to know to succeed. Sometimes it’s really important to know what’s happening in your industry. Is one of your competitors raising a major round? If so, what does that mean for your company? Will that major round allow them to out-spend your on sales and marketing or hire more engineers? Is there a big deal out for bid that doesn’t involve you? If so, what would it mean for the space if one of your competitors closes that deal? Is there a big public company actively looking to acquire someone in your space? These questions and 500 others are important to know if you’re running a startup. Those things can impact your startup’s perceived chances of success. As the business person at a startup, it’s your job to stay on top of industry chatter to make sure your startup isn’t left out in the cold if changes are afoot in your industry.

Last but not least, you need to get comfortable with the fact that many of the activities you’re doing won’t show up in a weekly progress report. Building relationships, pushing for revenue models, and staying up to speed on what’s happening in your industry might not pay immediate dividends in the same way that code checkins and PRD revisions do. But nothing hurts startup morale more than being blindsided by a major industry development that you hear about on TechCrunch without being part of the conversation.

You can read the entire post here:  http://blog.500startups.com/2010/11/08/what-does-that-business-guy-at-your-startup-do-anyway/

5 Educational AND Entertaining Business Books to Read NOW

November 3, 2010 Books, Business, Entrepreneurship

I love to read.  And I almost exlusively read business books.  My favorites are both educational and entertaining.   Yes, business books can be entertaining – and even exciting.   For me, these are the ones that tell true accounts of the failures and successes of entrepreneurs/startups, and provide gems of wisdom, and lots of humor, along the way.   Below is a list of 5 of my 2010 favorites.  They make for great Holiday reading as well as great Holiday gifts.

1) Stealing Myspace – the myspace story is one of countless twists, turns, villains, and saviors.  Not only does it include a Who’s Who in today’s Internet space (Richard Rosenblatt of soon-to-go public Demand Media, Ross Levinsohn who was literally just hired last week to take control of  Yahoo!  Americas, and countless others), it also includes Sumner Redstone and Rupert Murdoch.   It reads like a great fiction book, but is an accurate account – which makes it all the more entertaining.

2) CRUSH IT – if you don’t know who Gary Vaynerchuk (“Gary Vee of WineLibraryTV”) is by now, get with the program.  This guy has more passion and energy when it comes to business development than I do – I am a HUGE fan!   The book is a quick read and a must read.  Its all about hustling and the best ways to leverage social media to build your personal brand and “cash in on your passion”.   Here are Gary’s 3 Secrets to Success – which I LOVE:

        Love Your Family
        Work Superhard
        Live Your Passion

Be entertained and educated by Gary daily by reading his blog www.garyvaynerchuk.com  and following him on Twitter @garyvee.

3)  The Accidental Billionaires – you have most likely seen (and loved!) The Social Network. This book is just as good, if not better. It is a tale of sex, money, genius and betrayal, and also a tale of how one of today’s most prominent and dominant Social Networking/Internet companies came to be.

4)  Delivering Happiness – this is a book by an amazing entrepreneur and human, Tony Hsieh.  I had the privilege of listening to him speak at last month’s PerfectBusiness Summit 2010.  DH is an important book, as it is as much about passion and purpose as it is about profits.  It tells the story of Zappos and provides great insight into the importance of company culture in building a brand and growing a company.  It also includes thoughts on tribal theory, happiness, and what one can learn about business by playing Poker.

Keep up with Tony by following @zappos on twitter.

5)  Do More Faster – this book was put together by David Cohen and Brad Feld of Techstars.  They, as I, believe that mentoring and community are key factors in flourishing entrepreneurial ventures.  There is no better way to avoid the many pitfalls of launching a business then learning from those who have gone before.  This book is filled with 1-2 page chapters by Techstars Mentors and Mentees and is chockfull of great insights.  I read this book in 2 days and bet you will too.

I have learned a great deal by reading Brad’s blog site Feld Thoughts . You should definitely check it out as well as follow him on Twitter @bfeld

Happy reading!  Please share your must-reads with me via the Comment Box.

Architects of Change – Maria Shriver, The Women’s Conference, Empowering Women/Female Entrepreneurs

October 26, 2010 Business, Entrepreneurship, Women in Business

I have long been a fan of Maria Shriver.  She is a strong woman who uses her voice to implement change and do good. She authored one of my favorite books – “Just Who Will You Be.”  It is a small book with a big message.   In it, she offers up a very candid look into some of her own struggles with her identity and purpose in life.   She then shares a poem that she read at her godson’s college graduation.   The crux of the book is “It is not what you do in your life that matters, it’s who you are”.   The book is ideal for high school and college kids, but really appeals to anyone looking for a life of meaning (which I hope is everybody!).   This book was my Holiday present to absolutely everyone of my family and friends a few years back.

In 2004, Shriver became First Lady of California and took over what, at the time, was a small conference called The Women’s Conference.   She has since turned into the largest one-day conference for women in the nation.   As such, TWC attracts high-profile speakers – world opinion leaders, entrepreneurs, visionaries, tastemakers, spiritual figures, authors, journalists, artists, and, yes, THE OPRAH WINFREY.   It is an event in which women from all walks of life to share perspectives, find common ground, and undergo transformative experiences.   If you are not familiar with this conference, you must spend some time at www.womensconference.org.     This year’s speakers included  Jane FondaDeepak Chopra, Carol Bartz, and Michelle Obama, among a long list of others. You can check out the First Lady’s emotional speech here:  http://www.womensconference.org/michelle-obama/.

 

One of my favorite aspects of TWC is its emphasis on entrepreneurship and women in business.  I believe it is very important for successful women to share their knowledge and experiences with other women through networking and support groups.  I am also a strong proponent of investing time, through volunteer work and mentoring, to teach young women entrepreneurship, as it empowers them to achieve their dreams and take control of their destinies. Check out Ladies Who Launch and SMARTYpeople for the former and Girls Leadership Institute, Girls, Inc., and Girls CEO for the latter.   The following  is a Women’s Conference compilation of “How I did it” stories from successful female entrepreneurs – http://www.womensconference.org/how-i-did-it .  Make sure to read the amazing story of the first female space explorer ANOUSHEH ANSARI, Co-founder of Prodea Systems.   Some of the tips that most resonate with me and the advice I often give to young entrepreneurs are:

Believe in yourself and in your success
Be humble enough to seek guidance from others
Stay flexible
Pay attention to your team and their needs

The last gem I will share about Maria Shriver and her legacy of empowering women is her 10 Ways Women Can Be an Architect of Change.  I am sharing it with every woman I know and I hope you do the same.  My favorite Ghandi quote is  “each of us must be the change we want to see.”   Read this list, get inspired, become empowered, take action, and impact change.

1. Find your own unique voice and listen to what it’s saying.

2. Empower a young woman. Become a mentor by connecting with a young woman in your workplace, neighborhood or place of worship. Find small ways to reach out, listen and support her.

3. Act locally to make a difference globally. Make informed choices about what you buy and consume, as well as how you dispose of items. Reduce your carbon footprint, use energy and water responsibly and green your life.

4. Advocate for a cause that you care deeply about. Your time and expertise could help make a difference as a volunteer, counselor or board member.

5. Invest in women entrepreneurs. Join Team Maria in the WE Invest/Kiva partnership to give women the tools to start or expand their own businesses. For as little as $25, you can “Become a lender. Change a life.”

6. Speak up & ask for what you need. If you need to take time off of your job to care for a child or parent, ask for it. Families need more flexible work schedules, better child care policies and changes in family and medical leave. We need to use our voices collectively to improve workplace policies.

7. Engage your children in the world. As a mother, get your children involved at a young age in seeing the world through the eyes of others, respecting diversity, developing empathy and understanding the gift of giving back.

8. Donate to nonprofits that help women. Instead of purchasing a birthday, anniversary or holiday gift for family, friends and colleagues, make a donation in someone’s name to a nonprofit that works on improving the lives of women and girls.

9. Be an informed citizen. Educate yourself about the world you live in, share your knowledge, educate others and ignite a conversation.

10. Invite 10 of your friends to join The Women’s Conference online community at WWW.WOMENSCONFERENCE.ORG — The Home for Architects of Change.

Startups Uncensored #19 – BOOTSTRAPPING

October 21, 2010 Bootstrapping, Entrepreneurship

Last night was Docstoc’s StartupsUncensored #19. We started SU two months after I began working at Docstoc. The idea was to build up the LA tech community  (a la the kids up North) by holding monthly educational and networking events. The first SU was about 20 people.  It grew quickly and we changed venues to the Santa Monica Library, with folks heading to Docstoc for food, drinks networking after each panel.  Tonight’s event blew my mind, as there were over 400 folks at the Milken Institute and, instead of packing like sardines into the cramped Docstoc office, the “after-party” was also at Milken –  fancy patio with heat-lamps and all.   Congrats to Jason Nazar for creating such an amazing, monthly event!  If you are local and want to attend these events, check out http://www.jasonnazar.com or feel free to contact me.

Tonight’s talk was on bootstrapping.  As a Bus Dev Exec and entrepreneur, I go to ALOT of events, and have helped to organize and produce a number of panels and conferences (see PerfectBusiness 2010 post).  It has always bewildered me why the VCs are the superstars in the room and why there are so many panels on how to raise Venture Capital. First off, most attendees are nowhere near ready for VC money. And, lets be honest, most entrepreneurs will never receive VC money. VC’s are only interested in a BIG idea – a game-changing one – one that will give them a 20x exit. Most upstarts do not and will not qualify.  The fact of the matter is that most businesses are funded via family, friends and taking on some (or a lot) of debt.  And they are built the “old-fashioned” way – through hustle, hardwork and being smart about expenditures & cash flow.

None of the panelists tonight came from money and none of them took VC money to start and grow very successful businesses. T hey were driven by their vision and did whatever they could think of – maxing out their credit cards and taking equity lines of credit – to realize it.  The panelists were:

Paige Craig – successful entrepreneur and one of today’s most prolific Angels
Mark Verge – owner of westsiderentals.com, among 8 other ventures
Josh Hartwell – Co-founder and now CEO of MobileDelux

Here are some of their bootstrapping tips (with some added thoughts from yours truly):

1) Leverage your past relationships – this is why networking is so important folks. And, as a rule, always think about how you can help the person you meet so that when you need something, they are compelled to return the favor.

2) Don’t take office space until necessary – we live in the “cloud” now folks. There is no reason to spend money on office space until you have a team. Even then, I would look into co-working locations, suchas CoLoft in Santa Monica.

3) Make your company seem much bigger than it is. Have someone else leave your voicemail message so it seems as if there is an assistant or office manager. Refer to other departments, even when you may be completing those functions/roles as well.

4) Get creative, go guerilla.  Hosting Startups Uncensored has done a tremendous amount to build up the Docstoc brand amongst our core target market – entrepreneurs and small business owners.  And it has helped to make Docstoc CEO, Jason Nazar, one of the most recognizable names in the Los Angeles Tech game.  The point is – think outside of the box and do whatever it takes to build brand awareness with as few dollars as possible.

5) Be willing to LOSE MONEY on your first customers. Consider them loss-leaders – just make sure you take care of them so they will make referrals and provide testimonials.  This means get to know them –  what are their hobbies, do they have a family, what sports teams do they like, etc.

6) Convey absolute CERTAINTY and FAITH in your vision so that you can defer payments and/or provide equity in lieu of payment. This can help you get employees, legal work, vendors, etc. without, or with very little, cash spend.

7) Last, but certainly not least, build the best possible product or service that you can and deliver it with the best possible customer service that you can.

PerfectBusiness Summit 2010

October 21, 2010 Bootstrapping, Business, Entrepreneurship, Uncategorized

Wow!  I’m exhausted and exhilarated at the same time.  Just got back from The Perfect Business Summit 2010 in Las Vegas.  It was the first-ever national conference for Entrepreneurs & Investors  and, by all accounts, it was a huge success!  The Summit was produced by Dan Bliss, co-founder of PerfectBusiness.com, a  site dedicated to entrepreneurship that provides professional business planning software, startup resources and inspiring interviews with leading entrepreneurs.  PerfectBusiness was one of our first Docstoc partners so I have gotten to know Dan well.  He is a scrappy entrepreneur from the Midwest, as am I, so we have become good buddies.  When Dan shared with me his intention for the Conference, I immediately hopped on-board. 

 As we all know, there is no lack of Conferences or Trade Shows these days.  But they tend to be industry-specific.  There really was no broad-based, national conference addressing the key issues any entrepreneur faces when launching a new venture, regardless of whether he/she is opening a store, has invented a product or is delivering and product or service via the Internet or mobile app.   My role was to wrangle kickass speakers, VCs and angels to participate and solidify marketing partners.  Basically, it was a Bus Dev role for a startup Conference that was focused on starting businesses.  A dream come true for someone passionate about entrepreneurship and fascinated by entrepreneurs and their stories.

 The speaker list for the Conference was outstanding.  We had over 60 great entrepreneurs, across many industries, discussing all manner of relevant concepts from bootstrapping to how to get your invention into stores and how to drive traffic to your site.  Some of the keynote speakers and panelists were:

Tony Hsieh of Zappos.com – his book Delivering Happiness is a must-read.  This is my favorite Tony quote: “Profits are like oxygen. You need it to survive, but ultimately what matters is passion, growth, and a higher purpose.”

Jeff Taylor of Monster.com – this guy is wildly entertaining and lists being a DJ as one of his best talents.  According to Jeff, “Some people think that they’re great at everything. I happen to know that I’m terrible at a lot of things, but I’m good at a few things. So I had the advantage as an entrepreneur of hiring into my weaknesses.”  Love this statement as it is so important to hire a great team that fills your “holes”.  Of course, being able to actually delegate to them and let them take ownership and shine is also another great skillset of successful entrepreneurs.  For more info on Jeff and his fellow panelists on the CEO Roundtable, check out this great article from moderator Laura Petrecca of USAToday.

Kimberly Fowler of YAS Fitness Centers – Kimberly was the lone female entrepreneur on the main stage.  Her talk on bootstrapping and perseverance was inspiring and educational. If you want to learn from her story – check out her amazing DVD Overcoming Obstacles.

You can check out the entire line-up and a schedule of all the break-out session topics here: http://www.perfectbusiness.com/summit/

For more insight into the successful entrepreneurs that shared stories of their “start”, check out this great blogpost from Tina Ong

Hope to see you at next year’s Summit!

 

Greetings WORLD WIDE WEB!

January 5, 2009 Adventurer, Business, Entrepreneurship, Outdoor Adventure

Does anyone really call it that anymore? No need to answer. I think I just like the dramatic impact of “WORLD WIDE WEB.” I certainly have been told I have a flair for the dramatic.

So it is the first of the year and I am finally creating my first blogpost. I am officially a blogger in the blogosphere! Of course there are umpteen million blahblahblogs so I’ve been thinking about how to differentiate myself (yes, I’m a business chick). I’ve put some thought into why anyone (YOU) would want to read my musings over all the rest of the blahblahbloggers. I’ve also thought about why/how I came to read the blogs that I frequent. I concluded that I pick my blogs upon a mix of the 2 Es: education and entertainment. I am always reading to expand my mind but I need that entertainment factor – which most often comes in the form of the tone, presentation and overall personality conveyed by the blogger. So I figure if you somehow landed at www.robynmward.com, you are going to want to get a very quick taste for I’m all about to decipher whether or not you’ll visit me again.Pictures speak 1,000 words so here is my photo introduction to myself (man, this is a bit new and weird) – Robyn the Adventurer.


Yes, my “Robyn the Adventurer” intro qualifies as cheesy, but I think the photos back me up and prove me an adventurer in the truest sense. Indeed, my life has always been defined by exploration and adventure. It is what led me from the Midwest to Los Angeles for college and then New York City for an amazingly adventurous decade and now back to LA. In my professional life, I am an entrepreneur, which is absolutely synonymous with adventurer. I have been at some very successful and some very, well, not-so-successful start-ups over the past decade and man has it been quite a ride! My newest career adventure is heading up Business Development for www.docstoc.com. Go check it out – trust me you will want to add it to your favorites so you can find any document/template you will ever need fast, easy and, oh yeah, for FREE.

I will wrap it up here and hope I have won you over. I certainly promise to both educate and entertain you with stories/insights related to all my adventures in business, travel, spirit, and life in general.

Stay tuned ……………..And always ask yourself “what would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”