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:
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.
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!
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?”