Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Start-Up Story - Zylie the Bear

Last week, I met the creator of a new toy and a new business -- Zylie the Bear. Wow. I've been working with entrepreneurs since 1994, and very few of them really impress me with their ideas or their abilities to transform their ideas into a business.

I met Mary Beth Minton at a Wharton Alumni networking breakfast, but it was clear that a few others in the group had already met her over a year ago. At that time, she was just talking about her idea for a toy and a book to go with it. When Mary Beth took her toys and books out of her bag, everyone's eyes popped open. The excitement around the table shot up.

Within one year, Mary Beth had actually produced the toy -- Zylie the bear -- and a book -- The Adventures of Zylie the Bear - New York -- and another toy - Shen (Zylie's friend in China, who is a really cute Panda) complete with book about adventures in China. The bears are top quality, as are their clothes and accessories. The stories are adorable and educational. Truly, what's not to love? These toys and books are of physical and conceptual quality equal to American Girl Dolls, but without the girlie trappings. Both boys and girls can love these darling plush toy bears. It made me wish I had little kids again.

Even better, Mary Beth has turned her company into a family enterprise, tapping her son's expertise in social media, interactive websites and marketing. Take a look at the website: and the Facebook page, which gives discounts to "friends":

What I really love is how Mary Beth took her idea, created her plan and then executed it. She figured out how to design, write, manufacture and sell. Now, she is marketing and creating and managing. I hope I'm right about this business and will watch it grow, live long and prosper.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Avoiding Death by PowerPoint

I just received the following email:

Hello Wyn-
I am trying to merge the marketing plan and financial statement, add narratives, and produce an efficient power point by this Saturday.  Any friendly advice for a desperate novice?
Here is my answer:

No more than 3 lines to a page. No more than 12 slides all together.
Be brief. You want people paying attention to you -- not the slides.

Read "Death by PowerPoint"

Write with these questions in mind:
  • Who is your audience? 
  • Who is listening to you? 
  • What do they really need to learn? 
  • Why are you doing this? 
  • What is the goal of your presentation? 
  • What actions are your listeners supposed to make after hearing it?

One more thing. If this is an investor who is listening -- remember that the numbers tell the story. But don't make the eyes glaze over.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Mubi - A Movie Site That Might Make It

I love it when really smart people put their passion into a start-up. And that is what the entrepreneur behind The Auteurs has done. He is a Turkish Silicon Valley technologist named Efe Cakarel. Efe's passion is film -- classic films & independent films. He wants the public to have more access to such films. I say "bravo!" Just this year the son of a friend got a job working for The Auteurs, which is why the company is even on my radar.

Now, The Auteurs has changed its name to Mubi. Cakarel says it will make the site more accessible to people because they didn't know what The Auteurs meant. I don't know, but then, I can read some French. I'm always a little dubious when start-ups change their names. I've worked with two that tanked after changing their names. But they also changed management (Findwhat becoming MIVA is one example.) We shall see.

Nevertheless, I'm excited by what Mubi aims to do, and I hope it is successful. For years I've thought that the independent movie world needed a way to enable more people to see independent films. In 2005, my daughter, Drew, was an art department intern for an indie film called "Brother's Shadow". I saw the movie with her at the Tribeca Film Festival and was surprised at how good it was, despite having a budget of only $1 million. Drew's name was in the credits, which was very exciting for me as a mom. But it was also exciting to hear her stories of how they saved money. (One way was paying her with lunch, screen credit and experience - but no real pay.)

Read more about Mubi - link below.

The Auteurs is Now Mubi - Thompson on Hollywood

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Believe in Yourself

When I read the story about the A's Dallas Braden pitching a perfect game, it made me think of entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs. If there is any business that is filled with people not believing in you, it's entrepreneurship. Fully 99% of business plans do not get funded by venture capitalists or angels. That means you probably have to bootstrap, rely on friends and family or put up your own money. In other words, you have to believe in you own abilities and your own ideas.

It is good to get advice and coaching. I doubt Braden could have pitched a perfect game without coaching or learning how to play well in a team. Entrepreneurs, inventors, business owners need to be able to take coaching. They also need to have a good team assembled.

But Braden has something extra. He can stand up for himself -- telling A-Rod not to cut across his mound. Maybe that strength came from overcoming adversity. His mom died when he was in high school. But he also had emotional support from his grandmother. That had to have helped.

Read the Dallas Braden story in SI. Believe in yourself.

With perfect game, A's Dallas Braden is making us believe in him - Joe Posnanski -

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Business Incubator in NYC

The concept of an incubator has been around for several decades. And I'll admit, I've always liked the idea. An incubator makes it easier for young companies to get started and grow. The businesses can share resources, ideas and expertise.

Yesterday, the New York Times ran an article about a technology incubator in New York City called Betaworks. It played a role in nurturing the growth of TweetDeck, one of the cool applications people can use with Twitter to help manage Tweets and other social networking. According to the article, Betaworks provides access to expertise, which is a much needed resource that is very hard to find. It also provides access to funding. I found the article to be quite fascinating because this model of incubator seemed different than the ones I'm familiar with in Connecticut. Worth reading...