Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Does Your Business Need a Blog?

You are a busy business owner. Should you make time to blog? If so, what should the blog look like? And what should you say?

One of my clients is considering blogging and last week sent me to a Roundtable Discussion run by a local branding agency called 341 Studios LLC. She wanted me to report back on all that I learned. The panel consisted of Jane Pollak (author, artist, coach and one of my favorite bloggers), Mary Callahan (web specialist at 341 Studios) and Rhonda Hurwitz (341's social media expert).  

Why and How To Blog
I realized afterward that I should share key points of the discussion with my own readers. The best points of all were made by Jane: Blogging makes her feel connected, increases the depth of her relationships with readers, makes her excited about life and increases her visibility. Wow! Imagine feeling more connected with your current and potential customers while generating greater awareness. Imagine helping search engines to find your website.

What else did I learn? They recommended Wordpress as the best platform. Blogs should have good design, featuring your logo. And they should be part of your website. I break all three rules. I use Blogger and Blogger's design templates and have no logo. And my blogs are separate entities linked to my website. (Tmblr was also mentioned as a new, hot platform loved by younger bloggers.)

Blog Content
As for content, I learned that short blogs are best. If you have a lot to say, you can cut the blog into chunks and spread your content over a few days. It's also good to mix things up - some short posts, some longer, and to post photos and videos. And you can serialize content or establish content patterns with something like: "Finance Tuesdays" or "Entrepreneurial Fridays". You get the idea. 

After the presentation, I wondered what I could charge to ghost-blog for businesses? Everyone at the discussion either was already blogging or was looking to blog in the near future. What would be a fair price?

Whether you outsource the blogging or do it yourself, don't put it off. Get blogging now. It's not that hard. And you can do it for free! (My other blog is My websites are: and

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Occupy Wall Street Protesters Publish a Real Newspaper

I had to smile when I read in the New York Times that the Occupy Wall Street protesters were publishing a newspaper called The Occupied Wall Street Journal. According to the article, it is a well written, well produced four-page paper that explains the purpose of the protest. I love this endeavor for two reasons:

First, that a protest which has grown via use of various digital media is finding value in the power of the printed word in a real newspaper. They are following the traditions of upsets and revolutions of the past - put it in print. (Thanks, Ben Franklin and Martin Luther.)

Second, that in order to publish the paper, they had to raise funding (venture capital for an anti-capitalist movement). They put out a request via  and also wound up getting some of their funding from none other than Michael Moore. Even people who would love to overthrow our current system still find that money is useful, in addition to traditional media.

Read the whole article:
Published: October 9, 2011
Even in an environment preoccupied with digital media, a newspaper has gained traction as a tool of protest at the Occupy Wall Street rallies.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Contrarian Thoughts About Steve Jobs

Like most people who use technology, I keep thinking about Steve Jobs.

Partly because I didn't want Jobs to be dead, I watched his Stanford commencement address, in which he talked about how to live before you die -- and about death. Most people are posting quotes from the speech  -- death clears the way for the living, pursuing your passion, connecting the dots and not listening to what other tell you to do.

It's all great stuff, except that last piece of advice, which keeps bugging me. Steve said not to listen to others' advice because then you live their lives, not your own. Steve Jobs was one of the few people who could actually get away with living and working that way. He got away with it because he was so creative, so intelligent and had such amazing vision. He never listened to the public. He created things and told the public what they wanted. Millions are living with Jobs's visions - living the way he thought they should, using his devices to alter their day-to-day lives. How ironic.

I simply do not believe that you should not listen to advice. Advice my mom and dad, various bosses, some colleagues, my husband, my kids and many educators have given me over my life I believe have made me a better person and have enabled me to live a richer and more successful life. And I believe that some of the advice I've imparted to others has enriched them, too.

I guess you can tell that I'm a bit of a contrarian and that I've never been an Apple evangelist. But I still believe that Steve Jobs was an amazing person who truly changed the world. And I will miss him and am truly sorry he died so young.

Friday, September 30, 2011

How To Attract Paying Customers

How to attract paying customers: Try saying "Hello!"

I was just in Rome, Italy. Intrigued by some attractive handbags, my friends and I walked into a leather shop, looked at merchandise, and the clerk (or owner?) just kept reading his paper.  No greeting. Nothing. We walked out.

Later, seeking lunch, we looked at a menu outside a tiny restaurant on a side street. The owner came out and said, "Buongiorno!" He invited us in, and we followed him. Then, he even suggested what we should eat. He closed the sale.

Great lessons learned!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Four Lessons From Irene

A week ago, we began our recovery from Hurricane Irene. Since then, I've been thinking of the business and life lessons I have drawn from the experience and have decided to share them with you:

1. Think creatively, make a plan and be ready to execute it. With dire predictions of Irene coming our way, I knew if we lost power that I would not want to open my freezer or refrigerator for at least 24 hours. That way, the insulation of the appliance would keep everything safely cold and frozen. So I planned meals I could serve without the need of the fridge. I didn't buy more food that could perish. Instead, I baked banana bread for a tasty breakfast, made sun tea and left it out, had bottled juices ready, as well as shelf-stable food I could cook on the grill. The plan worked really well. By the time I finally (and very briefly) opened the fridge, the high-cost items were still partly frozen. And we used them as they began to thaw over the course of three days -- yes - three days.

To wash the dishes, I put pots of water in the sun and heated them with "solar power". Worked like a charm! And I used a Girl Scout trick of adding a little Clorox to the rinse water. (Prior to the storm, we also stocked up on cash, filled the cars with gas, took inventory of our candles, batteries, flashlights, and bought a car charger for my cell phone - a very wise choice. After the storm, we used as little hot water as possible - reserving it for very short showers.

2. If you can help, give it. If people offer help, take it. When our neighbor's tree fell into our yard and partly blocked our driveway, he came over with a chainsaw and worked with my husband to remove enough branches so that we could get our car out.

We actually didn't lose power during the storm, but when our other neighbor did, we took in her food. However, the following evening, the electric company's tree workers were removing a tree from downed wires and knocked out our power in the process. As we cooked up our defrosting food another 24 hours later, I offered some to still other neighbors who couldn't cook. One gratefully took it. Since he had a generator, he gave me ice, which I used to preserve some of my food. Still another neighbor who had power took in my food which by then was in real need of refrigeration. I gave him some tomatoes from my garden.

These were good deeds and trades that came naturally. It showed me how kind people can be.

3. Take advantage of local resources. We discovered that our local public library has a huge generator and offered to stay open until 10:30 pm just to accommodate people. It became the center of our town. It seemed like the entire population of Darien descended on the library to use its computers, electricity and wifi. The library even serves coffee and snacks from a small coffee bar. What a God-send! Always remember the library is one of your greatest resources.

Before the storm, the town kept the dump open and supplied piles of sand and bags to enable residents to make sandbags. After the storm, they stayed open late to allow people to dump brush. And the high school became a shelter for families who had to evacuate their homes. Sometimes a government can do good things.

4. Keep a positive attitude. As we saw the pictures of devastation from all over the northeast, people in our neighborhood kept saying how lucky we all were. We came out of our houses and checked on each other. We allowed the storm to bring us together.

Count your blessings. Help others. Be creative.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Do You Have What It Takes To Be an Entrepreneur?

Laid off? Can't find employment? Have you always dreamed of the independence of having your own business? Do you feel that this is your chance to finally realize your dream? You are not alone. This past recession, like the one 15 years ago, has driven huge numbers of people to start their own enterprises. The Kaufman Institute says that in 2010 over 565,000 Americans a month began a business.

If you're thinking you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur, you should take the time to read not only this blog, but also the lead article in the August 14, 2011 Sunday Styles section of the The New York Times: "Maybe It's Time For Plan C." The article illustrates how very hard the transition can be from a corporate office job to running everything yourself. In fact, starting a business ("Plan B") has become so hard for some people that they are moving to "Plan C" -- going back to work for someone else.

From 1994 to 1998, I worked as a mentor and teacher to people who wanted to start businesses. Out of hundreds of people my colleague and I counseled and taught, only a fraction decided to actually start a business. We found in many instances that the people we met with or taught were shocked to learn all that they had to do to have success as a business owner. The ex-bankers who were used to the support system of an office just couldn't get used to the idea that they would have absolutely no support and that they would have to invest some start-up capital before they could even earn a dime. Others were genuinely surprised at how really hard it was to get a loan from a bank or equity investments from professional investors.

The people who did start businesses, and the successful entrepreneurs I worked with as a consultant and business planner between 1999 and today were the ones willing to do as much as they could themselves. They used their personal savings, buyout bonuses, credit cards, home equity (when people had home equity), loans and investments from friends and family to get their seed capital. They did the homework of researching the need in the marketplace, finding the lowest cost space, best raw materials, best people to join their team, and the best outside resources to do the things they couldn't do themselves.

They made big picture, as well as detailed plans. They had the goal, the strategy and the tactics thought out. They had a business model that made sense. And they executed their plans. The smartest ones also had good lawyers to help them with the legal ins and outs.

They knew that starting and running a business is more than a full-time job. It truly is all consuming. So if you're thinking of starting a business -- or sticking with the one you have -- you have to ask yourself if you are willing to do what it takes to be successful. Do you believe enough in your goal and yourself?

If you do, then go for it! (But seek help when you need it. The help is out there from free sources and paid professionals.)

Monday, August 8, 2011

Where Is the Right Kind of Stimulus?

Now what? We raised the debt ceiling, and S. & P. lowered our country's credit rating. Congress voted to cut spending, but our deficit will still keep growing. Where is the action that will really make a difference? Where is stimulus we can believe in?

If new business is the traditional the engine of growth for our nation, why aren't the government and our financial institutions freeing up the capital to fund start-ups? Experts are saying since few organizations are hiring, we'll have to invent our own jobs. That means more people will need to become entrepreneurs. But where will the money to hire yourself come from?

We got out of the recession of the early 1990s through the growth of new businesses and the invention of new technologies. But capital was freely available to fund all that growth. Why isn't it now? We need members of Congress to take action in this and other areas, if we are going to pull our nation out of this steadily deeper trench.

Yesterday, Thomas Friedman, writing in The New York Times Sunday Review ("Win Together or Lose Together" - August 7, 2011), said we need a smarter long-term fiscal plan. He said we need to invest in "the pillars of our growth, wtih special emphasis on infrastructure, research and incentives for risk-taking and start-ups." I couldn't agree more.

In fact, I found myself in agreement with his entire piece on dealing with our "Great Contraction". We need some real leadership to come forward and get us going on rebuilding, on genearting a "national renewal," as Friedman calls it. He says we need to treat our situation as the emergency it is, and get people behind the changes we need to make.

After reading Friedman's opinion piece, I really began to believe that we can have a balanced approach to cutting expenses, raising revenues and catalyzing growth through business formation. The big question is whether there is anybody out there who can take the helm and steer us in the right direction? Anyone?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Perspective and the Pea

I thought I had picked all the sugar snap peas on my flourishing vines. So I set the bag of peas aside and went on to pick lettuce and weed the peppers. But wait! When I turned around, I suddenly could see several peas that I had missed.

"Where did those come from?" I wondered.

Pea pods have the perfect camouflage. They are the exact same color as the vines and leaves. When I moved away from the vines, I could see things in a different light and from a different perspective. Pods that had been hidden by leaves or had previously blended in appeared. Suddenly, I could see what I had missed when I was up close, looking straight down or straight at the vines.

This made me think about life and business. Sometimes you really need to step back from what you're doing to see the hidden value. The bounty can be right there in front of you, but you're just too close to see it.

That's one reason companies hire consultants. When consultants come in, they are not caught up in the group-think of the organization. They can point out obvious sources of new revenue, discover forgotten assets, or reveal potential cost savings. They can uncover the hidden value by asking the right questions or just by seeing things from a different, outside perspective.

But I believe that you can do this for yourself. You just have to be willing to look at your business in a new light. Step back, bend down and look low. Go up high and look down. Step away and walk around. Try looking with new eyes and an open mind. Look with your customers' eyes. Look with investors' eyes. What is there that you haven't seen before?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Connecticut Ventures

The Connecticut Venture Group has changed its name to Crossroads Venture Group, and it has a new website:  I first learned of CVG in 1995, when I helped run the Business Formation Network at Norwalk Community College.

CVG has been instrumental in promoting venture funding in our state.

I've gone to their Crossroads Venture Fair, their networking events and their presentations for entrepreneurs. Every time, I learned something new and met amazing people -- investors, lawyers, accountants and potential clients. A few times, I was fortunate enough to attend their boot camps for entrepreneurs along with my clients. The boot camps were set up to help people know how to make a good pitch to investors.

A couple of times, I got to be a judge, screening the applications to present at the venture fair. That was absolutely fascinating. I couldn't believe how many people failed to follow directions when filling out their applications to present. It made me wonder if people were actually reading the questions.

Over time, the organization has morphed. In the dot-com boom, hundreds of people packed their conferences. And investors were willing to hear pitches from pre-revenue companies. But after the meltdown in 2000, investors became far more picky. And the Crossroads fair only allowed growth stage companies to present.

I'm interested to see what happens to CVG in its new guise and to see if more new ventures can be encouraged in Connecticut. We need something to help our economy get going again.

Monday, June 13, 2011

How Not To Use Social Media

Thinking of using social media to build your brand? This week, I was struck by four different approaches - two that seem to work really well, and two that were really poor. Let's see if I can summarize.

The good approaches I noticed are being used by two entrepreneurs who are building brands based on inspiring other women to become successful -- successful in life, successful in business, successful as entrepreneurs. These women are Tory Johnson and Jane Pollak. Tory Johnson is an inspirational speaker who puts on major events. I learned about her through another woman entrepreneur and speaking coach, Ruth Sherman. Jane Pollak is an entrepreneur, speaker and author whom I met over 15 years ago at the Entrepreneurial Women's Network. Jane started out as an artist creating exquisite dyed eggs.

Tory Johnson is using LinkedIn brilliantly. She posts truly excellent questions. She has myriad categories of discussions going on, and she has her many fans and followers posting questions and starting discussions. One of these followers suggested that we all share our professional Facebook pages via that particular LinkedIn conversation. Fabulous idea! As soon as I did this, I had more followers of all sorts. ( 

Jane Pollak has a blog connected to her website. The blog is, in turn, connected to her Twitter account. I saw a great topic on Twitter that she had posted -- What I've learned in 3 Years of Blogging. The biggest lesson I learned by reading the blog post was that Jane had learned to be disciplined. She makes sure that she posts on a regular basis, unlike me. I only post when I have the time to think of something that that I believe will be valuable to others. But Jane posts stuff that has lessons for life and starts conversations on a regular basis. This provided inspiration to me. She has learned to create a virtuous circle.

Aren't we all seeking to create virtuous marketing circles that build our brands? Aren't we seeking to start conversations? To me, that is one of the beauties of social media. It's interactive. It can serve to build relationships.

The examples of how not to use social media come from major corporations and a politician. So many corporations are trying to engage their customers in relationships and dialogues, but frankly, the copy almost always sound chirpy or just plain canned and corporate. Too much thought, too much editing, too much corporate speak. It cloys at me. When I see a LinkedIn site or Facebook page that poses a question, and I see that it's from a corporate employee, it's almost always a question that is self-serving. (Entrepreneurs do this, too.)

If we're going to talk to consumers, I believe we need to seek real opinions. We need to listen.

Of course, I know you're going to guess right away about who the politician is. Weiner not only Tweeted lewd photos, his political Tweets on Twitter were always destructive and disruptive. He openly said he was out to be disruptive to the Tea Party's Tweets and activities.

Our nation is in a state now when we need to be trying to work together - not tear each other down. Social media should be used by politicians to get a better pulse on the electorate and to let the electorate know more about where these public officials stand. Let's use social media to come together and solve some problems.

Read more:
What Marketers Can Learn From Weiner-Gate | Bob Garfield - Advertising Age

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Groupon, Competitive Advantage, Loyalty and Money

I just read a great blog on by Peter Cohan about Groupon ("Memo to SEC: Groupon Has No Competitive Advantage, Stop Its IPO") and why it should not be going public. Basically, the company is not capturing value because it has no competitive advantage. The article goes on from there. This blog has so many really basic business concepts contained in it that I urge anyone with a business, or who is starting a business, to read the blog - more than once. I promise this blog will not make your eyes glaze over.

According to Cohan (and I agree), Groupon is raging ahead on revenue, but is missing the mark on so many other business basics, such as capturing value.

1. Groupon's cost of revenue is too high. For every dollar it brings in, it's spending more than a dollar. No business can grow and prosper with such a business model.

2. Its costs are rising as it grows. That means it's not scaling properly. Costs should become a lower percentage of revenue as you grow. (Ever hear of economies of scale?)

3. The point of most marketing efforts is to generate loyalty. Groupon only rewards people for trying something they normally won't try by offering them a deep discount. That's rewarding trial - with no reinforcement for loyalty.

4. It has no competitive advantage - there are dozens of other daily deal companies out there all offering the same thing.

5. It's not reporting its financial picture properly or accurately. And it's slow in paying its vendors. (See the blog for the details.)

Read Cohan's blog. Study it. Click on the links. You'll gain a lot of wisdom about how not to run a business, which will save save you a lot of trouble as you plan, start or grow your own venture.  

Monday, June 6, 2011

You Can Make Great Presentations

One of my former business colleagues was fond of saying, "You only have one chance to make a first impression."
If you're going to be presenting your pitch to potential investors or to people who might buy your goods and services, you'd better be prepared to make a great impression. But how do you do that?

I believe the first step is not to think about yourself. (Thinking about yourself can make you nervous.) Instead, think about your audience. Who are they? What will they be listening for? What do you want them to do afterward? And what can you say or show that will move them toward the action you desire?

The second step is to make your presentation simple. Tell a story with as few slides with as little verbiage as possible. (Think Steve Jobs.) And tell the story from your audience's point of view. You have just invented something that will change their life for the better. Hook your audience in with a question that makes them think about their need for your product.

But the single most important thing you can do is practice. I mean practice saying your talk OUT LOUD. Read it to yourself out loud and with expression. You'll see where you stumble. You'll hear awkward phrases that you can smooth out. But most of all, you'll internalize the talk. Then, you won't have to read your notes or your slides. Say your speech out loud in the car as you drive to the venue. Then, you can look at your audience and engage them.

Watch a TED talk. The TED presenters are the best I've ever seen. Use them as inspiration. They have clearly practiced.

Over the weekend I read more about practicing for a presentation in the Wall Street Journal. I commend the article to you:

Friday, May 27, 2011

More on Valuations

Right after writing about the basics of valuing a business, I read another piece on valuations that make a great follow up. This piece is about the mistake of establishing a company's value based upon its revenue stream. Revenue is NOT income, folks. I'm always amazed with how many people make that mistake. Revenue is what you take in from your sales. Income (or earnings) is what's left after all your expenses have been taken out. *Cash flow is something altogether different and will be tackled later.)

Don't let the mathematical formula and charts scare you. Bill Gurley, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist and former Wall Street analyst, has written a readable piece about Price/Revenue valuations. His blog posting explores the dangers of looking at revenue streams in a vacuum. "All Revenue Is Not Created Equal" is a good piece because it gets into the difference between sustainable revenue that can feed real profits and create true equity value vs. the crude measures used by people caught up in the hype. The article talks about the inputs to the revenue and how the company is really going to make money. He tells you the questions to ask, such as "What are their margins?" When companies are starting out and growing, margins change and forecasting expenses and capital expenditures can be very fuzzy.

That's why Gurley tells people to beware and to think analytically. Price/Revenue ratios can be as low as 4X and as high at 100X. So when you're looking at hot investments, or if you're looking for people to give you capital for your own business, think critically about the sort of multiple of revenue or earnings or EBITDA your business really deserves. Don't rely on hype. Do your homework.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

50 Fascinating Factoids About Our Aging Population

Did you know that our life expectancy is increasing at an increasing rate? Recently, a follower of this blog sent me a link to their site: Masters in Health Care and to a blog posting of their own: 50 Fascinating Aging Facts for Older Americans Month. Some of the facts, like the one above, are mind boggling, some a bit worrisome.

Valuing Your Business

What is your business worth? How much of your business should you give away when negotiating with investors?

These are two of the most commonly asked questions by entrepreneurs. While most valuations in start-ups are pretty much a function of negotiation with potential investors, there are still some good rules for determining a company's worth. The one you choose to use depends a great deal upon the circumstances and the age of your business, as well as the purpose of the calculation. Are you going to a bank to borrow money? Are you looking for equity investors? Are you looking to sell your business?

American Express has posted a short piece on valuation. It's worth reading, as it explains the most common methods: book value, discounted cash flow, publicly traded comparables, and transaction comparables. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Behind Your Website

I just finished doing the copy for two websites: one a nonprofit, the other a company being started by seasoned entrepreneurs. In both cases, it paid to step back and ask basic questions before starting the actual writing and design of the site architecture.

Here are the basic questions you need to ask yourself before doing your own site:

What is the purpose of the site?
Who is the target audience?
What do I want them to do after visiting the site?
What information is the visitor likely to be seeking?
What do I want to tell them?
How do I want the visitor to contact us?
Have I made it easy to contact us and to navigate from one place to another on the site?

I know all this may be pretty basic, but in our rush to get things done, we often forget to ask these important questions.

Here's the nonprofit site:

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Learn About Kickstarter Helping the Creative

An inventor friend of mine told me about Kickstarter, a unique, online source for raising funding for creative projects and start-ups that make actual things. The very next day, I read about Kickstarter in the New York Times Business section ("A Web Edge For Makers Of Real Stuff", April 12, 2011).  

The Times article made the site seem like a great resource for inventors who want to create stuff that you can hold in your hand and use. Kickstarter calls itself "A New Way to Fund and Follow Creativity" and lets entrepreneurs, inventors and others make a pitch for funding for a creative project. Kickstarter then invites people to invest in projects or small products that can be easy to make and distribute.

The article profiled a couple of mechanical engineers who devised steel shells called Coffee Joulies to put into coffee to cool it without diluting the brew. The engineers put their own money into creating prototypes but quickly realized that they needed more money to ramp up their business. They turned to Kickstarter.  The Coffee Joulies website now even has a big banner talking about the NY Times article and offering to sell the product via Kickstarter.

When I visited, it looked to me more like a place to find funding for creative projects like films, books and music than a source of funding for inventors. Indeed, that was its original intent. But its purpose has expanded. The cool thing is that inventors and other creative folks who may not want to take the time to create a website, can use Kickstarter to sell their product. The Coffee Joulies owners have a video on Kickstarter.

Find out more for yourself by visiting Kickstarter. If you read the Times article, you'll also learn about other online resources for inventors and the explosion of interest in new gadgets and in hardware associated with smart phones. It's articles like these that make me believe America's collective creativity will help us recover.

Happy Creating!

Friday, April 22, 2011

It's a Heady Time for Start-Ups

Are we returning to the frothy, heady times of 1995 and 1999 in the tech. start-up world? Are we in another, as the Wall Street Journal put it, gold rush? In other words, are we just seeing froth from the exuberance that money is finally loosening up and coming off the sidelines? Or are we forming another dangerous bubble that will burst just as the dot-com bubble burst in 2000?

For answers, I read and reread "In Silicon Valley, Investors Are Jockeying Like It's 1999" in The Wall Street Journal (front page, Tuesday, April 19, 2011). Valuations of certain early stage companies are really skyrocketing. Deals are getting done faster, with multiple venture capitalist competing to invest in certain start-ups. One example the Journal used is Uber, which raised nearly $12 million in funding, pegging its valuation at $60 million. Uber lets people order car service from their cell phones. That's right, not just smart phones, plain old cell phones, too.

The article (and many others like it) went on to say that Silicon Valley investments are hot. For the past three years, venture funding has been in the doldrums. But in 2010 venture capital investments rose to $21.8 billion  from $18.3 billion in 2009, which had marked a 12-year low. Some say the resulting mood is like 1995 when Netscape's IPO set off the dot-com boom. The new possible boom is being fueled by interest in social media, mobile applications and the game layer. 

To me, a sudden rise from a 12-year low does not a bubble make. There is simply too much ground to be made up from the recession and the dot-com meltdown. Do I believe that too much money is being thrown at some early and growth-stage companies? Yes. I still do not understand Twitter's business model. No one knows how many of its 200 million users are active. And given the company's recent management turmoil, I don't think even they can agree on the direction Twitter should take. Is it a service? What value is there in advertising on it? eMarketer estimates that the company had $45 million in advertising revenue in 2010 and could grow it to $150 million this year. Someone thinks Twitter has great potential, as its shares trade actively in secondary markets, and a financing at the end of 2010 put its valuation at $4 billion.

While I'm not worried about a bubble, I am seriously concerned about the private trading of stocks like Twitter in the secondary exchanges. Instead of heading to an IPO stage, private companies' stock stays private, with Wall Street investment bankers loading up on the shares. The Goldman Sachs Group funding deal with Facebook is a prime example. That deal set Facebook's valuation at $60 billion and only a chosen few could invest. It really bothers me that shares in a company like Facebook can't be owned by the general public, spreading the wealth as true capitalism should.

On the other hand, maybe I should be happy that there is this private secondary market because it is bringing more capital out of the woodwork. Funds have been started simply to trade shares of these privately held companies. This frees up capital by allowing for angels and VCs to believe that they can get a better return on their investments faster. Private equity money is flooding the market. And private equity used to stay away from start-ups. All this activity is lending to the excitement. More entrepreneurs are willing to take the risk of starting businesses, and more private investors are willing to invest in start-ups. This may be the catalyst that will reignite the economy.

The private trading of non-public shares also imposes fewer accounting restrictions on the firms. Sarbanes-Oxley has made IPOs almost cost-prohibitive for many growing companies. I've heard it costs a least $1 million a year for a small company to comply with the accounting requirements.  

If you want to get a feel for the excitement in the venture world, read the Journal article. Look up the companies it highlights: Twitter, Uber, Zaarly, weatherbill, Square and greengoose. Ask yourself if you would invest in these companies. What value do they have? What value did the dot-com companies have that made it vs the ones that didn't. Why did Netscape fail? What do Google, Amazon, Ebay, and Facebook do that have made them so successful? Are you an entrepreneur with the next big idea and great management team to pull it off?

What will be the disruptive technology and the brilliantly run companies which will make a difference in our lives? These will be the ventures worth investing in. And that is why the renewed excitement about investing in start-ups is most welcome.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Can Studying The Beatles Help You Collaborate Better?

Here's an interesting premise: Can studying the way The Beatles worked together to create great songs, even in times of conflict, help you be a better business person. There's a new book out on the market that says, "Yes."

The Sunday Business section of the New York Times ran an article about the new book, "Come Together: The Business Wisdom of The Beatles" by George Cassidy and Richard Courtney. The article begins with an anecdote of how Paul and John collaborated on "Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da." Paul wrote the song. John didn't like it but still came up with its beginning after storming out the of studio and returning. The authors said this showed how John Lennon and Paul McCartney were able to put the common good ahead of their own feelings to get the work of songwriting done.

It's hard to find people with whom you can collaborate and find a common ground on which to grow your business. So why not look to unusual models that worked? It certainly makes for a different approach to a business book. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Here's a link to the Times article. You can also order it on Amazon. Happy reading.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Six Tips for Great PR

I may have an MBA in marketing from Wharton, but it took the local Girl Scouts to teach me the basics of great local PR. That's right, the Girl Scouts of Southwestern Connecticut didn't care squat about my MBA. If I wanted to be the Public Relations volunteer for the Darien Girl Scouts, I had to take a one-day workshop.

Guess what? The workshop was really worthwhile because it taught me how to deal with local media. And I've taken what I learned from the Girl Scouts, plus my marketing training and corporate advertising experience, and used them to do great campaigns for my clients and for local nonprofits. Recently, I've been expending my energy on the PR for the Darien Antiques Show, which opens today. My church (The First Congregational Church of Darien) runs the show to support local charities. I've had a great partner to work with who understands PR and does it for a living. That made the job a pleasure -- even fun!

 We've used traditional and new media to get the word out about the show. And we've applied a few tricks of the trade.

1. We had a hook -- we highlighted something uniquely special about the show.
2. We wrote up the facts in an interesting way - who, what, where, when, why
3. We used interesting opening sentences
4. We tailored the copy to the needs of the media.
5. We sent in eye-catching photos that we either took ourselves or got from our antiques dealers.
6. We worked with the show chairs to make sure their needs were being met, too. Were we targeting the right audiences and communicating specifics that needed to be communicated?

You, too, can develop and execute a PR plan like ours. Take a look at the result:
You can try this at home! Or contact me, if you want some professional help.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

10 Reasons to Visit the Darien Antiques Show - March 4-6

10 Reasons to Come to The Darien Antiques Show
The Best Winter Weekend Activity Around
Preview Party – March 4. Show – March 4 – 5.

You don’t have to be an antiques collector to enjoy The Darien Antiques Show. There’s a reason for everyone within driving distance of Darien, CT, to visit the show:

1.    See the halls, rooms and nursery school of the First Congregational Church of Darien magically transformed into a collection of booths filled with gorgeous antique furniture; antique and estate jewelry; fine art; accessories like Inuit carvings, colorful pots, ceramics or Chinese porcelain; sailors’ woolies; fireplace accessories; antique silver; and mid-century art, furniture and accessories – which can complement any décor and fit any budget.

2.    Support the church’s outreach efforts. St. Luke’s LifeWorks is the primary beneficiary of the Preview Party. It is a not-for-profit organization that plays a critical role in providing learning opportunities, housing and support services to people overcoming homelessness right here in Fairfield County. Additional proceeds from the party and the show benefit other organizations selected by the Board of Outreach including: A Better Chance in Darien, Person-to-Person, Aging In Place in Darien, Norwalk Emergency Shelter, Carver Center and more.

3.   Support the entrepreneurial efforts of the 37 antiques dealers at the show. They come from all over the Northeast. These are top dealers who guarantee all their merchandise. Some have been in the business all their lives, some are new. All have lovely items.

4.    At the Preview Party, do some in-person social networking, see old friends, enjoy fine wine, good music, yummy hors d’oeuvres, while browsing through the beautiful booths.  Bid on great items at the Preview Party Silent Auction and Live Auction.

5.    Get a family heirloom appraised, road-show-style, by Christine Downing from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm on Saturday and Sunday.

6.    Look, ask questions and learn. Our dealers are very friendly and are eager to share their knowledge.

7.    Meet our new dealers who are bringing fine art that reflects our region and other one-of-a-kind items that can lift your home décor to a new level.

8.    Connect with the past by browsing and buying. Items like the ones on sale at our show aren’t made anymore.

9.    Enjoy a home-cooked lunch or afternoon treat at the Café.

10.    Uphold a tradition from the 275-year-old church First Congregational Church of Darien. This is the show’s 44th year.

Quick Facts:
Sponsored by the First Congregational Church of Darien - 14 Brookside Rd., Darien, CT.
Just south of Exit 13 from I-95.

The fun and festive preview party on March 4th – 7:00 pm – 9:30 pm, $45 advance sale, $50 at door, patrons: ($55 New Collector, $75 Collector, $100+ Connoisseur).

Show Hours:
Saturday: 10:00 am – 5:00 pm, Sunday: 11:00 am – 5:00 pm
Admission: $10, $8 for seniors.

Further information, discount cards and photos are at  And visit the Darien Antiques Show on Facebook – become a fan and help spread the word!

Show Sponsors: William Pitt – Sotheby’s is a platinum sponsor of the show, People’s United Bank is a gold sponsor and Moffly Media is the media sponsor.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Stagnation and Entrepreneurial Energy

Yesterday, David Brooks wrote in the New York Times about a new book which explains why our economy and nation are stagnating, while at the same time people feel happier (February 15, 2011, Opinion). Wealth building and living standards have diverged. He makes a case that all the high tech gadgets and online services we have make people feel like they have a lot, but they don't employ a lot of people to create or manage the goods and services. People aren't conflating wealth building with hard work on real things. It made me think of the interview I heard with Mark Zuckerberg (founder of Facebook) in which he talked proudly of how few people he employed to manage so many users (half a billion and counting). Brooks says this sort of thing is leading to stagnation. But it made me wonder what opportunities there are for other people with entrepreneurial energy.

There are still plenty of men and women out there who want to create new and exciting things. They want to put energy and hard work into building something great -- something that fills a gap in the marketplace or meets a real need. And needs are evolving. Call me an optimist, but I believe the entrepreneurs will continue to innovate and build. Excellent brains will be put to work, unless they are taught that hard work does not pay off. The problem is, as Brooks points out, many of the new innovations don't employ many people to make them.

The column also made me think of all the moms I know who just want their kids to be happy. They don't want to teach their kids the value of hard work or sacrifice or producing for the common good . (These are obviously not your "Chinese Tiger Mothers".) They don't seem to care what kids are learning in school, as long as they're happy. That frightens me. It's this kind of mindset that does lead to stagnation and does not create entrepreneurs.

Read the article and decide what you think. It really is a great piece of food for thought.

The Experience Economy
Published: February 14, 2011
What happens when wealth and living standards diverge?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Best Super Bowl Ad Ever - What Does That Say About Us?

What do you think is the best ad ever to air on the Super Bowl?

Advertising Age (see below) has been running a poll, and the top two contenders are "Mean Joe Green" from Coke and "1984" from Apple. Some pundits say that the 1984 commercials established the Super Bowl as the place to air really creative, radical new ads -- and made watching ads and rating them as much as a sport as football.

Before voting, I watched the commercials. In view of the uprisings in Egypt, the "1984" commercial really spoke to me. It takes individuals to free us from tierany. Then I thought of what Apple has become, and how its iphones, ipads, ipods and personal computers like the Macintosh have us staring at screens -- all mezmerized -- and I couldn't help but think of the irony the ad holds now. They've freed us and enslaved us.

The "Mean Joe Green" commercial, on the other hand shows the power of kindness. And in our increasingly uncivil society, I long for commercials that once again teach us how to be better human beings. OK, it's a corporation doing it. But with so few people attending church and learning the Golden Rule, maybe that's not a bad thing. We need corporations and businesses of all sizes to do the right thing, now more than ever.

So I voted for the Coke ad. What do you vote for? --

Mean Joe:
Piece from Ad Age:

Coke's Mean Joe Greene vs. Apple's '1984' Face Off for Super Bowl Championship

Feb. 3, 2011

After more than a week of voting for your favorite Super Bowl spots of all time (or, in some cases, the spot created by your employer), we've come down to two finalists. Now you must choose a victor. Is it going to be the sentimental grid-iron classic for Coke featuring Mean Joe Greene? Or will it be the perennial adland favorite, the Apple "1984" spot that boosted Super Bowl creative into the stratosphere?

POLL QUESTION: Who will be the all-time Super Bowl ad champion?


Friday, January 14, 2011

Small Business and the Economy

Yesterday, I tried watching CNBC's Small Business Forum. But they kept cutting away from the answers, every time a question was asked. It really frustrated me.

The only positive thing I heard was that the Federal Reserve has an Ombudsman, and if you feel that your bank isn't treating you right or is denying you credit you believe you deserve, you can contact the Ombudsman.

Fed Head Ben Bernanke said that community banks have stepped into the lending breach left by the big banks. He claimed that a strong balance sheet and good cash flow should enable a business to get a loan or a line of credit. FDIC head Bair said banks should not be saying your business is no longer creditworthy just because your collateral has fallen in value.

But after listening for awhile, I decided that our economy is dead because Bernanke has bored it to death.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

WikiLeaks and Stieg Larsson's "Girl" Books

As I read Forbes Magazines' cover article on Julian Assange and the WikiLeaks, my mind kept flashing back to moments in the Millennium Trilogy books ("The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" books by Stieg Larsson). This wasn't the first time I had sensed parallels. All along, the WikiLeaks reminded me of these books.

The main character, Lisbeth Salander (the girl), is an extraordinary computer hacker. She works with other hackers and is able to uncover all sorts of information, some of which is very much akin to what we've seen in the WikiLeaks (and may see in the future). The other main character, Mikael Blomkvist, is an investigative journalist who uses information he unearths himself and also from Salander to bring corporate and government malfeasance to light. Sound familiar? (There's much more to the books than this, however.)

Over the course of the books, Blomkvist is smeared in a libel suit in Sweden and jailed. Salander is also tried for violent crimes and is portrayed in the press as an anarchist, trouble maker, lesbian punk rocker. This all reminds me of the rape charges being brought (in Sweden) against Assange. The only place the parallels fall down is that Blomkvist is anti-Nazi, and supposedly Nazi sympathizers work for WikiLeaks. (Who knows?)

If you haven't paid attention to the WikiLeaks, you should. Try reading them and about them in the New York Times. And read the Forbes interview and article . Make up your own mind. Are the leaks doing good, or are they harmful?

Also read the Millennium series, whose author, Larsson, died of a sudden heart attack at midlife before the novels were even published. Kinda makes me wonder what he knew and what else he might have written.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Resolved to Start a Business in 2011?

Did you make a new year's resolution to finally start your own business? As you begin, take time to answer some key questions. You can do this in your head, but I suggest writing down your answers in a notebook (yes, with pen and paper), or writing them on a screen and saving them in a special file. You can return to your thoughts and modify them as often as you like. But once committed to paper or screen, your ideas will become more concrete and will help you move toward your goal. In fact, that is the first question (see below).

America is a great country partly because it is made up of so many independent businesses. Just drive down any street in any town or city and see all the shops. Go online on Ebay or Etsy and see all the small businesses selling a variety of items. Look at the successful big businesses. They all started with a person with an idea for a better way to fill a need. Ford, HP, Apple, Facebook, Google, IBM, AT&T...
1. What is your goal? Freedom? Independence? Making money? Being Creative? Making the World Better?
2. What is your big idea?
3. What need do you see in the marketplace that your idea will fill?
4. Who is your target audience? Who will buy what you have to offer?
5. What resources will you need to tap to bring your idea to fruition?
6. What will you need to spend? (How cheaply can you execute?)
7. Will you do this on your own or with a team? Have you assembled the team?
8. How will you market your idea?
9. How will you make and deliver your product or service?
10. What will you live on while you do this? How will you finance your business?

Feel free to contact me if you'd like help in working through these questions, or if you need a guide for a plan. That's my business -- helping entrepreneurs turn ideas into reality and crafting plans that answer the questions investors ask most often. - - Twitter: @upstartwyn