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5 Tips to Recruit a Star Candidate

May 17, 2012

5 Tips to Recruit a Star Candidate

You know the scenario: You have a mission-critical position open at
your company, and the right candidate has been impossible to find.

You might be looking for the head of product with specific industry
experience, the sales person who blows out her numbers every year, the
engineer who knows how to properly scale large web apps, or the user
experience lead whose design is so smooth that it makes butter melt. You
know this is one of the most crucial hires for your team. Ultimately,
if you bring on the right all-star A-player, the impact will be
substantial to the overall success of your business.

But you're concerned because you have been looking for a while and
can't seem to find the right fit for one reason or another. You start to
doubt whether or not the ideal candidate is out there. You know, the
old needle in the haystack analogy. But you're not a quitter, and you'd
like to stick to your mantra, 'Never settle for second best.' I don't
blame you.

As a recruiter for start-ups, I deal with this challenge every single
day! I know the feeling and have compassion for you. I also know that
if you put in the time, energy, patience, and dedicated focus, you can
find that ideal candidate.

Here's how to hunt down the best of the best:

1.     Network, network, network

I can't stress the importance of networking enough. The more time you
spend meeting and talking with new talented people, the more valuable
your network will become.  Networks are like spider webs; great people
know other great people and when the need arises for you to inquire with
your network for candidate referrals, you'll increase your odds of
finding your ideal candidate exponentially.

2.     LinkedIn groups 

If you are looking for someone with a very specific skillset or work
experience, check out LinkedIn groups. LinkedIn has a group for almost
every industry or topic and the odds are high that potential candidates
are a member of a group that is targeted toward their professional
background and interests.

If you are looking, for example, to hire a user experience person, you probably want to poke around a LinkedIn group called UX Professionals.
It has more than 23,000 members. Yes, 23,000!  Join the group and then
search for people within it that are located in your targeted location.

3.     Meetups

Like LinkedIn groups, there is a Meetup just about everywhere on almost every topic. If you're looking for a mobile developer in New York, for instance, check out the New York iOS Developer Meetup,
which has more than 2,200 members. Meetup has a search function that
allows you to search for groups via keyword and location. Join the
relevant Meetups and then start attending in-person gatherings.

4.      Quora

Quora is a community website
where questions are asked and answered on a wide variety of topics. It
is a great online forum for people to share expertise and get recognized
as subject-matter experts.  The site has a search function that allows
you to mine through questions and discover the most relevant and
intelligent answers—and maybe even, in the process, that ideal job
candidate.

For example, if you did a search on Quora for "web analytics" you'd
find that it is a designated topic with a variety of questions
underneath. It also has a list of "top answerers"—people who have
responded to the most questions on the topic—as well as a list of people
who are "following" it. In the case of "web analytics," it has more
than 3,000 people. 

The only downside of Quora is that it's tough to search the site for
people in a specific location. It's time-consuming to review each
person's profile to find out where they are based.

5.     Hire an up-and-comer

You probably remember a time in your career when someone gave you a
shot to step up and take on more responsibility. You were ready for it
and, once given the chance, highly successful in the new role. Now might
be a good time to give someone else the same opportunity. This can be
an especially useful idea if you run a start-up and need someone to be a
leader, but also involved in hands-on day-to-day execution of the
business. You might find this now gives you a larger pool of
exceptionally talented people, those who are at a crossroads in a
current position and ready to take the next step forward. One caveat: Be
sure you do due diligence to ensure a proven track record of success,
and that the up-and-comer is really ready to tale this next step.

Happy hunting!

Keith Cline is the Founder of VentureFizz and Dissero (a recruiting firm focused on startups).  This blog post originally appeared on Inc.com.  You can follow Keith (@kcline6) on Twitter by clicking here.

The Perfect VC Pitch

May 15, 2012

The Perfect VC Pitch

Ok, sure, there obviously is no such thing as a perfect pitch, I’m just trying to get better at using titles that actually attract readers (I’m gonna do a summer internship at Business Insider to really master the art).

But I just received a pitch deck that was so clearly a really good pitch that I wanted to share what I found so effective. So here goes a slide-by-slide narrative of why the deck worked for me.

SLIDE 1: WHAT WE’RE DOING.  Two sentences, 22 words, plain english. One buzzword, but used appropriately. Immediately conveys the idea. Check.

SLIDE 2: TEAM. Yup, that is exactly what I want to see next.

SLIDE 3: THE PROBLEM. Plain english describes the problem and why current solutions are a pain in the ass.

SLIDE 4: THE SOLUTION. Clear description of what
this app would allow me to do. Concise but makes it intuitively obvious
why this solution would offer real value.

SLIDES 5-8: 2 EXAMPLE PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS.  Very
discrete and understandable real world illustrations of how I might
experience the problem in the course of my life and how the app would
solve it. If it were an actual meeting and not just a deck this is where
the demo would be.  But in the absence of a demo, the slides do a
really good job of describing how the app works and why I would like it.
 This is where he got me.  I am often kinda slow on the uptake, but I
really, really need an entrepreneur to give me really concrete and clear
examples of how their product actually works. My advice: if
you can’t give really discrete examples of how your product works that a
very average user will understand, you aren’t ready for VC pitches. 

SLIDE 9: MARKET. Ideally it is big, right?

SLIDE 10: BUSINESS MODEL. You don’t always need this for seed stage pitches. But it helps.

SLIDE 11: INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY.  Duh.

SLIDE 12: USE OF PROCEEDS. Don’t forget to include how long this amount of capital will last you without revenue.  (This guy gets a ding here. But 11 out of 12 is pretty good).

If you are going to send or give me a pitch and happen to follow this format, extra brownie points ;-)

Mike Hirshland is the Founder of Resolute.vc.  You can find this blog post, as well as additional content on the Resolute.vc blog located here.  You can also follow Mike on Twitter (@VCMike) by clicking here.

Think Twice Before Starting a Company

May 14, 2012

Think Twice Before Starting a Company

I sent a tweet out last week that resulted in some healthy debate:

“three years ago, I was telling everyone I met to start companies. These days, I’m telling everyone to think twice”

Of course, it’s not fair to give general advice like that.  But what I
meant was, 3-5 years ago, when I met someone who was thinking about
starting a company, my bias was one of action. Today, my bias is one of
caution.

What’s changed?  Couple thoughts:

1. First, part of my perspective is just driven by my natural
instincts to be counter-cultural. When there seems to be a lot of hype
around an area or activity, I find myself pretty un-attracted to it.
 Bill Sahlman has a wonderful chart he shows students about the trends
in the industries that HBS students tend to flock to, and the subsequent
performance of those industries.  When a surge of students start
pursuing an area, you can almost predict that a crash is coming. I can
tell you that the surge of HBS students pursuing startups right now is
at a new high.

I also tend to be attracted to founders who do are also contrarian.  I invested in David Vivero when he started RentJuice
several years ago, before the trend in entrepreneurship in business
schools was “hot”.  A couple years later, when most business school
students were starting daily deal sites or fashion companies, we
invested in Fred Shilmover
who was building a company focused on business intelligence for SMB’s.
 Not that great companies can’t be started right in the thick of a hot
and crowded category. But it’s much easier to identify authentic
entrepreneurs going after non-obvious opportunities.

2. The short term realities of starting a business are currently less
favorable, in my opinion. Sure, there is more availability of seed
capital in the past, although if you watch carefully, you will notice
that most of the elite seed funds have slowed down their pace
considerably over the last 12 months. But even still, the pace of new
startups in the internet space is very high.  More volume has lots of
repercussions, but it’s most simply just harder to stand out in all
aspects of one’s business.  Hiring is ridiculously tough, and pools of
talent and diffused across many companies.  Getting media and PR
attention is tough, because there are hundreds of companies pitching the
same people and trying to get them to tell their story. End users are
getting inundated with more and more options, making it tougher to get
traction.  We mainly read about the outliers of companies that are
taking off, but it’s really easy to forget that 99% of startup efforts
fail.  Plus, even the companies like look like overnight successes are
actually many many years in the making, often going through several near
death experiences.

3. I’m increasingly of the thought that we are in a place in the
innovation cycle which isn’t particularly favorable to a) founders with
limited prior startup or founding experience and b) founders without a
deep tech background. I won’t get too deep into this now, but I see the
world very similarly to what Mike Maples and Roger McNamee are
articulating in their excellent blog.
In many ways, we are at the end of one innovation cycle and at the
beginning of a new one.  At the tail end of the last cycle, much of the
innovation occurred at the application layer, which on balance is a bit
more hit-driven and presents more of an opportunity for less experienced
and less technical founders to build something that gets broad
adoption.  But given that we are in the relatively early stages of this
new innovation cycle (the “hypernet” or whatever it should be called)
more opportunity will be found (in the short term) in enabling
technologies and platforms.  And on balance, I think those types of
businesses have a deeper technical component, and tend to lend
themselves a bit more to founders that are more experienced.

So, those are my quick perspectives.  To summarize: I am increasingly
cautioning folks thinking about taking the startups plunge to think
twice.  I’m concerned about 1. Founders who are not contrarian but
following the masses, 2. The hightened practical challenges of starting a
business due to the difficulty of standing out, and 3. That we are at a
stage in the innovation cycle that is not favorable to less experienced
and less technical founders.

In my next post, I’ll share some thoughts on what I think would be
worth doing instead, if you really are gung ho about entering into the
entrepreneurial game (which I hope everyone is!).

Rob
Go
is a Co-Founder and Partner of a seed investment firm called
NextView VenturesYou
can find this post, as well as
additional content on his blog called robgo.org.  You can also follow Rob (@robgo) on Twitter by clicking here.

Plate Techtonics - When unstoppable forces meet immovable objects

May 13, 2012

Plate Techtonics - When unstoppable forces meet immovable objects

Aloha. My name is Jesse Waites, and I am going to be communicating to you regularly, through text, via this column for a little while. Why, you may ask? The answer to that is that we are living in a very exciting time. Old business models are crumbling before our very eyes (the newspaper industry is just one of hundreds of examples) and some very powerful  people are really freaking the hell out. There are a lot of people in expensive suits having daily meetings with "consultants" trying to figure out how to continue selling newspapers when people simply do not want them anymore. The MPAA (That's the official organization of all of the film production companies, the same studios that brought you Jack and Jill with Adam Sandler) would rather spend money on lobbyists to pass dangerous, economically harmful laws like SOPA and CISPA that attempt to regulate the entire internet rather than to simply stop making exceptionally bad movies.

Yes, the old system is in shambles, but not everyone is worried about this.

I am a technology entrepreneur, and I work out of the Cambridge Innovation Center in Kendall Square. I can report to you first hand that there are a lot of very smart young men and women out there that "get it". Rather than stand by and watch greedy people attempt to resuscitate dying business models with mountains of cash, these people are creating their own economic realities. Filmmakers are using crowdfunding to raise money for documentaries that people actually want to see, and inspired Makers are creating hardware prototypes with 3D printers in their own garages. The economy isn't dying, its just finally getting around to being networked.

With that, I bring you full circle back to the original question: Why am I writing this column? The answer is because I "get it", the people I know "get it", and if you're reading VentureFizz, chances are that you get it, too. I interact with a lot of different entrepreneurs all day and have a unique aerial perspective on these shifts in technology and attitudes towards funding and business. The VentureFizz team and I are committed to documented this changing world for you simply because this story is important and it needs to be told. Now I am certainly no better or nearly as experienced than my friends Scott Kirsner or Robin Wauters, true tech reporters, but I am honored to work towards the same goals that they seem to strive for, which is to tell the stories that need to be told and to provide a voice to those entrepreneurs that need it the most.

I intend to conduct myself in a completely transparent manner and I answer to nobody but myself. Not to advertisers, and certainly not to the MPAA. Some of the businesses I write about may in fact be owned by some of my friends, but that will be disclosed every time. After all, entrepreneurs in Boston are a tight knit community and to be honest I can't throw a stone without hitting somebody I know in this town. With that being said, If you're an entrepreneur and you are working on something cool, tweet to me @jessewaites or use the hashtag #techtonics and tell me about it. I can't promise you that I'll write about it, but I can promise you that I will look into it. I am looking forward to showing you the perspective from the ground and telling your stories. Consider me an embedded reporter in the entrepreneur battleground.

Now let's make some noise.


Jesse Waites is an
animal lover, writer, technology activist, and the founder of PNTHR.com.
 You can usually find him walking his dog Finn in and around Boston or
reading physical novels made out of actual paper in locally owned coffeeshops.
He can be reached @JesseWaites on Twitter.

Raising VC money: getting a strong start with your VC

May 10, 2012

Raising VC money: getting a strong start with your VC

This is the eighth and final post in a Friday series on “raising
VC money
.” I hope the series has been helpful to entrepreneurs. If you
liked it, please consider Tweeting it or linking your blogs to it, so
that other entrepreneurs can find out about it?

Today, we’ll cover the topic “getting a strong start with your VC.”

So, you’ve finalized the legal documents with your VC (more here). What now?

Well, first up, you’ll sign a bunch of papers. The closing of a
financing is a bit like closing on a house. Your lawyer tells you where
to sign, and you do it.

Then, company counsel will file a charter with the State of Delaware.
Once that has happened, the VCs wire their money to the company bank
account.

That’s it. You’re done!

It’s a bit anti-climactic, actually. Your fundraising process is a
time of intense adrenalin rushes, and suddenly, it ends. Your company
has an eye-popping amount of cash. You’ve done it. You closed a VC
financing.

Unfortunately, the work is now just beginning. Many entrepreneurs
today shoot for a big financing at a high valuation. That can be a good
thing.

But, remember this: VC money is like credit card debt.
You have to pay it back and with interest. VCs are targeting 30%+
annual returns on their money. That’s a steep interest rate.

Sure, company failures happen all the time, but the more VC money you
lose, the more “explaining” you’ll have to do regarding “what
happened.” If you try to raise VC money for another start-up in the
future, other VCs will definitely call your first VC for a confidential
reference check.

VCs are very honest with each other on these calls. There’s an
unwritten rule in the industry that you help each other out when you get
a call like this about an entrepreneur. After all, tomorrow, you may
be calling that same VC to return the favor.

The best way to have a great relationship with your VC is to kick
total butt in your business plan. After all, isn’t it easy to get along
when things are going well?

But, what happens when things don’t go well, which is usually the
case for a period of time? In spite of your best efforts, your start-up
will face challenges and likely have to pivot away from danger and
towards a more promising market segment.

Here’s my advice: your first 30 days with your VC will set the tone. So, work hard to build a mutual relationship of trust and productivity. Some thoughts on that:

Advice #1: Clearly establish up front what will be “”success”.
I encourage entrepreneurs to get the VC’s buy-in (ideally before
closing) on the milestones that start-up will be shooting for. If your
business is mature enough to have key performance indicators, which
would be ideal. If not, you should articulate what you can accomplish
that will clearly increase shareholder value.

There’s an old saying: “activity isn’t always progress.” Nearly all
entrepreneurs I know are insanely busy. Yet, there’s always an 80/20
effect. A handful of items really matter and will move the needle on
shareholder value. Then, after that, are a bunch of nice-to-have items.

Another important reason you want to do this up front is to put your
VC “on the hook.” Let’s say that you do everything you say you’re going
to do, but you cannot find a new investor to price your next round.
You want to be able to go to your VC for an insider-led financing then.
Agreeing on the metrics for a report card ahead of time will help you
get there.

The Series B is the hardest round for which to find a new investor,
and it will increasingly be that way. So, it’s very important to grease
the skids to an inside-led financing as early as possible.

A friend of mine is an entrepreneur, and he had a very frustrating
time working with one of his VCs. That VC would not articulate what he
wanted to see before he would be willing to go forward with an inside
round. This entrepreneur also takes blame because he did not establish a
baseline plan for his company up front. He tried to do so much, much
later, but by then, his business was not generating much traction. So,
the VC was reluctant to be put “on the hook” when the company was
clearly going sideways.

Advice #2: Set expectations of what you want from your VC. I remember a board meeting with Gordon Hoffstein
of Be Free. Gordon is very savvy. Be Free went public and then sold
to another company. He did all this before, during and after the Web
1.0 Bubble and Collapse. Incredibly stressful times. Gordon knows what
he is doing.

At the first board meeting, he kicked it off with a bunch of “ground rules” written on a flip chart. Some of them included:

  • Start Board meetings on time. He promised that if the VCs showed up on time, he would end on time.
  • No checking email during Board meetings. His view was, “Let’s maximize the value of our time together.”

He had a bunch of other ground rules, all of which made so much
sense. Here’s what’s scary, though. I’ve been in VC since 1998.
Gordon is the only entrepreneur I know to set up ground rules. I think more should.

Advice #3: Be honest about problems, but also, propose solutions. Unfortunately, the VC-entrepreneur relationship is asymmetrical. The VC can fire you. You cannot fire the VC.

So, given this, you must always be honest about concerns about the
start-up. When an entrepreneur hides problems, the truth usually comes
out, and that really makes Board members angry. However, you must also
keep in mind that you must be the author of the solutions. You are at
the company every day, and the VC is not. So, always be open about
problems, but also, recommended solutions.

If you honestly do not have a pre-determined path, then it’s OK to
propose a handful of proposed solutions and to brainstorm together. I
think the best entrepreneur-VC relationships are ones whereby the VC
wants to help the entrepreneur and doesn’t see investments like lottery
tickets, where you chuck out many small checks each year and hope that
one “hits” (more here).
I know this is a self-serving comment, but nearly all of our in-bound
flow at Kepha is from founder-to-founder word of mouth. So, being
helpful and transparent is great for business.

So, that’s it. With that, I’ll conclude this Friday series. Thank
you all for the kind words of support! I’ve really enjoyed the
opportunity to connect with so many new people. I hope these posts have
been helpful to you.

Jo Tango is a Partner with Kepha Partners in Waltham, MA.  You can find this blog post, as well as additional content on his blog, which is located here.  You can also follow Jo on Twitter (@jtangovc) by clicking here.

Play On: Accelerate your Gaming Venture at Betaspring this Fall

May 9, 2012

Play On: Accelerate your Gaming Venture at Betaspring this Fall

In 2012, Betaspring expanded it's focus on accelerating
gaming-related companies.  Building on a strong design/CS community and
mentors with expertise in the industry, we're growing a roster of alumni
companies pursuing gaming-related ventures. And we  look forward to
welcoming more gaming-related companies into our fall session, which
kicks off August 20. 

One catch: founders looking to accelerate their gaming company better get to betaspring.com soon.  The early application deadline  for our fall accelerator is May 21. Final application deadline is June 5.  Companies who apply by May 21 are eligible to attend a private event for prospective applicants on June 11 at Betaspring HQ. 

Here's a quick glance at some of Betaspring's activity in the gaming space…

Spring 2012 alum MoveableCode
is a mobile entertainment publishing company built on truly great play.
MoveableCode makes a range of mobile apps for a variety of audiences.
They launched its pre-school edutainment brand in December 2011 and have
secured licensing agreements with major properties including Caillou,
VeggieTales and Smokey Bear. The company announced its expansion to the
core gaming market at Betaspring's spring Launch Day with a preview of
Incantor™, a new mobile gaming format that shatters the barriers between
digital gaming and the real world.

Incantor is a mobile-based, fantasy-action game with all the depth
and expandability of a big MMOG combined with the rich strategy of a
Trading Card Game. It is played in the real world with a smartphone, an
Incantor wand and your friends. Hot stuff.

2010 alum GreenGoose have
created a genius at-home product that uses wireless sensors to turn
everyday activities and household products into interactive fun. Put a
sticker onto an object and presto, you've got an internet-connected
sensor. Measure, monitor, play. 

GreenGoose's lifestyle game platform is enabled by wireless sensors
that automatically measure personal behaviors with sensors embedded into
small stickers that stick to objects such as toys, pets, water bottles,
toothbrushes, and household objects. Online games are played by doing
things in the real-world that are wirelessly transmitted to the
GreenGoose platform. GreenGoose has packaged the system into a small,
sleek kit--the wireless sensor receiver is about the size of an
egg--usable by anyone.

In our mentor network, Betaspring game companies can tap into the
insights of people like Harmonix Art Director and Guitar Hero co-creator
Ryan Lesser, GTECH CTO Don Stanford, 38 Studios' Gavain Whishaw and Valve Software's Brian Jacobson

In addition to neighbors 38 Studios and GTECH, Betaspring also draws a
lot of inspiration and resources from other New England companies,
including Hasbro, which recently opened a second Rhode Island office
just a few blocks from Betaspring HQ. The Rhode Island School of Design
and a powerhouse CS department at Brown University add to Providence's
ecosystem, and with Boston only 50 miles north, the network gets deep
fast.

So get your game on this fall at Betaspring. And remember, you can only play if you apply!

Melissa Withers is the Chief of Staff at Betaspring in Providence, RI.  You can find this blog post, as well as additional content on Betaspring's blog located here.  You can also follow Melissa (@MizWithers) on Twitter by clicking here.

Thinking about student entrepreneurship…Boston can do better!

May 8, 2012

Thinking about student entrepreneurship…Boston can do better!

Below is a terribly written note, but I hope it conveys the point I am trying to make…

May is a special time in Boston. With finals & graduation around
the corner, students make their push to complete the semester and
finalize their summer/next year plans. This is typically also when
student projects either turn into real companies, or die as students
move into other career paths.

I had the fortune of meeting many students in the last few weeks,
including those who joined us at General Catalyst’s annual Entrepreneur
Forum (700-800 entrepreneurs attending). I also got to meet some
students who have been selected in to the Y-Combinator program, and some
who are Thiel fellows. Their brilliance is mind boggling. But it was
also a bit disheartening to see how many of them had plans to quickly
move to the west coast to either build their companies there, or work at
one of the more well-known startups under a charismatic CEO, CTO or
founder.

As someone engaged in the local Boston startup ecosystem, I walked
away from all my discussions thinking Boston is really not doing a good
enough job meeting, mentoring and supporting the next generation student
entrepreneurs. No, I do not mean this post to de-ride all the amazing
work that our local ecosystem has done in the past few years to bring
back its mojo. But I think Boston can do better.

As a broad generalization, I feel students fall into three broad
categories in terms of their readiness to start companies, and trying to
reach them all with a broad brush of activities is not helpful. At a
recent angel bootcamp dinner my friend Michael Grinich asked a poignant
question of all angels present “how do you even find the best young
entrepreneurs?”. Unfortunately the question went unanswered…but by
focusing on finding the best student entrepreneurs, and providing them
with what they need, we can do much much better at retaining talent
here.

  1. Maniacally product-focused entrepreneurs. These
    students know exactly what problem they want to solve, and are often
    discovered after they have already started hacking away at it in the
    confines of their dorm rooms or in academic ‘projects’. These guys are
    not interested in casual networking, chit-chat, or generalized dialogues
    on entrepreneurship skills. They don’t want to meet someone unless they
    know in advance that it will be a useful meeting. This is the group
    that is most likely to produce the next Zuckerberg or Drew Houston, and I
    believe it is often the most neglected group in Boston. While founders
    of companies like DropBox, Square and others fly in to try and recruit
    them, our VCs/angels sometimes don’t even know these entrepreneurs exist
    in our midst. So what can we do better? I believe our product centric
    founders and CEOs need to more active on college campuses as advisors
    and mentors and especially accessible to these students. Frankly,
    product centric founders are also more likely to identify these special
    students early rather than VCs and/or angel investors. Once identified,
    we should find out who is it that these students wish to meet and work
    our butts off to make those connections happen. If they want to bounce
    their idea off Dave Morin, or Drew Houston or Kevin Systrom, we should
    make that happen…not our peers on the west coast. These guys are
    shooting for the stars and we better match them in their ambition or
    shame on us. If we are unable to inspire them and show we can be
    resourceful on this coast, CA is only a short $300-400 flight away.
    Reality is we are losing student entrepreneurs to the west coast
    relatively rapidly.
  2. Brilliance looking for inspiration/focus: A
    significant part of our student entrepreneur community tends to be
    super-excited about entrepreneurship but still searching for something
    that they could dedicate a few years of their life to. Kudos to them
    that in addition to their regular course-work and partying (which is
    what their peers do with their free time) they find time to build a
    network in Boston and familiarize themselves with the eco-system. They
    have caught the bug of entrepreneurship but are still searching for
    inspiration. I believe it should be dead simple for these students to
    find apprentice-type roles directly under founders & senior product
    guys at startups. They shouldn’t spend summers coding away at
    Google/Microsoft or even Kayak, but should be spending time closer to
    Paul English, Paul Sagan, David Cancel, Jeremy Allaire and others who
    are inspiring individuals and who can help these students find a product
    focus. Some such relationships tend to develop in ad-hoc ways (for
    example me sending one of them to a CEO I know well) but there is no
    coordinated activity that I can think of.
  3. Future entrepreneurs: One of the biggest strengths
    of the Boston startup ecosystem is the amazing student community that
    exists here. I am a strong believer that every student here should
    seriously consider a career in startups (as a founder or otherwise)
    before taking on any other job. I talk about this plenty when I am
    invited to speak at local colleges, but I think we can do better than
    that. We need to make it easy for students to not only understand what
    startup life is like, and the joys/pains of the roller-coaster rides
    that accompany company building, but also find ways for students to
    easily find practical experience inside startups. It is unbelievable but
    until StartLabs.org started their annual startup career fair there was
    no such thing even at MIT. Now I hear there is an effort across multiple
    campuses to do the same. Not everyone interested in startups may be
    prepared to take on a founder role, or have an idea that inspires them,
    but they may benefit tremendously by spending time at a company that is
    rapidly scaling to understand what life is like in the fast lane. (As
    pointed out by an entrepreneur, they may not be ideal hires into a
    pre-series A startup but by Hubspot, Jumptap, Kayak etc.)

Boston community has rallied wonderfully around young entrepreneurs,
especially if you look at the TechStars eco-system. But the student
entrepreneurship community is more fragmented, harder to meet, short on
time, and often needing a different set of advice than fully-formed
startups do. It needs more attention by us, but not in the form of
generalized talks, gatherings, lectures & group therapy sessions.
Students are getting bored of that, and the best of them don’t find them
inspirational. They want dialogues around products, around specific
startup issues, and around decisions they are about to make in their
lives. By having our successful founders, CEOs and product focused
entrepreneurs become more active and accessible alongside investors we
can hopefully improve our chances that the next big student startups
would stay and grow here.

Bilal Zuberi is a Principal with General Catalyst.  You can find this post, as well as additional content on his blog called BZNotes!  You can also follow him on Twitter - @bznotes.

How Collaborative is Your Approach to Selling?

May 7, 2012

How Collaborative is Your Approach to Selling?

I read a fascinating article in the Harvard Business Review  about teamwork.  One of the sentences that caught my eye was this, “Team
members are more likely to want to collaborate if the path to achieving
the team's goal is left somewhat ambiguous.  If a team perceives the
task as one that requires creativity, where the approach is not yet well
known or predefined, its members are more likely to invest more time
and energy in collaboration.”

Basically, teams are more likely to be engaged and involved if they
feel that they have a role greater than just facilitator.  People want
to be involved with the creation of the solution.  Nobody enjoys a
meeting where the boss pretends to be collaborating, but in reality he
is simply launching his own plan.  We have all been there before,
haven’t we?

So, let’s apply this principle to sales where I believe it has a very compelling lesson.

Do your customers want to be told what to do?  Do they simply want to
listen to you launch an initiative or a program?  Or, do they want to
feel like they have collaborated with you on something?  Do they want to
feel like they had a share in creating the solution?  Obviously, they
want the latter.

Dr Covey says, “Seek
first to understand and then to be understood.”  That is because people
want to know you understand them before you diagnose and offer help. 
What if we were to say, “Seek first to hear their solution before
offering yours”?  (Of course, there is a time to simply be the expert
and make a recommendation, but that happens late in the process, when
they probably already have decided that they want to work with you.)

That said, what are some high-gain questions that will allow the
prospect or client to feel “creative” and as if they are “having a share
in the collaboration”?  Here are some options:

  • Of which parts of your business does someone like me need to have a better understanding  in order for us to work together?
  • Is there some part of your business that seems very difficult, and
    yet if I could help you do it, a dramatic impact would occur?
  • Which type of resources could I provide that might help you lead your company more effectively? 
  • What would you like to understand better about my work in order for us to work together?
  • If you had the right help, what kind of ideas would you be trying to implement in order to get to where you want to be?

These questions convey very subtly the idea of exchanging information and of understanding each other fully. The
focus is on a long-term business relationship that is collaborative. 
They setup an open environment - a two-way street with room for both
your and their ideas.

Watch what happens when you allow your client to share and
collaborate.  Do not give up control of the process, but do invite them
to share their ideas.  As members of a team, they will be more engaged
and committed to the results toward which you are working together.

Frank Belzer
is the VP of Corporate Training at Kurlan & Associates. You can
find this post, as well as additional content on his blog clocated here.

Videos from Betaspring's Launch Day

May 7, 2012

Videos from Betaspring's Launch Day

Videos from our spring accelerator Launch Day are here.  The vids are not much produced, but of high enough quality for you to check in on the companies that caught your fancy this spring. Thanks again to the mentors, alumni, investors, sponsors and other partners who participated in this spring's session, one of the strongest sessions yet. You can also see the wrap up of media coverage of the event here.

Watch vids below:

121Nexus helps political leaders and campaign managers create personalized connections with constituents and deliver highly relevant digital content via web and mobile.

Autoshag enables car buyers to purchase used cars directly from dealer auto auctions at significant savings.

Care Thread’s real-time, patient-centered communications platform for web and mobile improves communication and collaboration for medical teams -- saving time, money, and lives.

GBooking is a web platform for search, comparison and booking for services that uses stochastic algorithms for re- source optimization of service providers.

JumpOffCampus streamlines the off- campus housing experience for students, landlords, and universities.

A Curated World by Kay McGowan is an online retailer of handcrafted home and luxury goods sourced from the hottest international destinations.

LessonWriter automatically turns today’s media content into structured lesson plans for classroom teachers, bringing the world to your textbook.

Moveable Code is building the “Hasbro of Mobile,” combining deep knowledge of play and technology to create a port- folio of engaging products for carefully targeted audiences.

Prepmatic test prep tools dramatically increase standardized test scores through a fun, proven approach to memorization.

RecoVend is saving universities time and money by streamlining their purchasing process through a collaborative suite of decision-making tools, a digital RFP marketplace and powerful analytics that lower costs and increase efficiency.

Socialping provides real-time Twitter analytics, account management and compliance solutions to businesses.

Splitwise enables roommates, friends, and other groups to quickly and automatically track and calculate expenses in sensitive cost-sharing situations.

Sproutel creates interactive teaching toys to help children diagnosed with a chronic illness cope with their disease.

Thryve helps people live healthier by easily tracking the connection between the food we eat and the way we feel.

Thumbs Up is creating a platform that lets viewers rate TV moments in real time and see how their friends are rating those same moments.

TWOBOLT’s marketing platform enables businesses to build, launch and man- age their own multi-channel marketing campaigns without hiring an agency.

 

 

Comments

Why One of Your Board Meeting Goals Should Be Addressing the Elephant in the Room

May 6, 2012

Why One of Your Board Meeting Goals Should Be Addressing the Elephant in the Room

When you look up the phrase “the elephant in the room” in Wikipedia you get:

“Elephant in the room” is an English metaphorical idiom for
an obvious truth that is being ignored or goes unaddressed. The
idiomatic expression also applies to an obvious problem or risk no one
wants to discuss.

The
first quarter ended and now is when board season begins for founders
and or CEO’s, their investors, and independent board members. Board
meetings begin and board meetings will end, and unfortunately many of
them never get around to talking about that prickly pachyderm, “the
elephant in the room.”

What could be going unaddressed? Examples include:

  • Board members may not have confidence in the Sales VP’s (or feel
    free to substitute any management title including CEO) ability to
    execute
  • The company’s DSO is growing
  • The win/loss ratio is going in the wrong direction
  • Development does not appear to be able to deliver the product on time or in a quality manner
  • The management team is not strong enough or broad enough to take the company to the next level
  • The company’s competitive messaging and marketing does not resonate with the market segment they have targeted
  • The company looks like it will miss its budget and it is only the first quarter
  • There’s not enough capital

And the list goes on and on…

At OpenView, it is our objective to make sure this does not happen in
the board meetings with our portfolio companies. After all, nothing
impedes an expansion-stage company’s progress more than an elephant in
the room that does not get addressed, talked about, and remedied.

Everyone who is involved at the board level needs to make it their responsibility to talk about the elephant, or, more likely, the elephants
in the room (because when you have a company that is growing rapidly
and trying to scale there is often more than one) during the board
meeting. If you’re not, a simple but effective way to make sure you do
is make to it the last item on the board agenda for every meeting. You owe it to yourself and everyone in your company to discuss problems and issues no matter how uncomfortable they might be.
Otherwise, you risk never living up to your potential, or, worse yet,
you might just become another company that does not succeed in the
market place.

Think about it…

All the best!

G

George Roberts is a Venture Partner with OpenView Venture Partners.  You may find this post, as well as additional content on OpenView's blog located here. You can also follow George (@GeorgeJRoberts) on Twitter by clicking here.

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