Avoid This Advice From Robert Scoble

Don’t take business advice from Robert Scoble. At least not this advice.

He means well. But some of the advice he gives could cost you money, or even sink your startup.

Since Robert’s post has been circulating around my entrepreneur circles, I’m writing this post to provide an alternative set of advice burgeoning entrepreneurs might follow.
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6 Business Model Canvases from Startup Weekend

Two weeks ago I attended Business of Software 2011 and saw a talk by Alex Osterwalder on the business model canvas, a tool for documenting and exploring business models. Then last weekend I attended Charlotte Startup Weekend 3 and explored the business model canvas in more depth.

If you’re not familiar with Startup Weekend, it is an event where programmers, designers and business people team up to create a startup business within 54 hours. It starts on Friday night and ends Sunday night when each team presents their business to a panel of judges. You can read more about my experience at Startup Weekend Boston here.

I participated on the WiFi Crowd team with eleven other people. During the weekend, as we discussed the business model, I downloaded the Business Model Toolbox app onto my iPad so we could use it in exploring our business model.  Business Model Toolbox allows you to quickly create business model canvases and document the key parts of your model.

We used the tool to help us think through our business model. But I was on the tech team and didn’t get a chance to use it as much as I had wanted. So, during the presentations, I decided to attempt to document each team’s business model based on their presentation. In this post, I present the results of that experiment. Click any business model below to see a larger version.
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5 Tips for Effective Virtual Teams

Last Friday I hosted a session on the pros, cons and best practices for building and managing virtual teams at the MassTLC Innovation unConference.  In that session, I presented the research I had done over the past two weeks and people shared the techniques they were using for their virtual teams. In this post, I summarize the lessons learned and add a few new links to resources for managing virtual teams.

If you haven’t read my original article introducing the session, you can read it at Virtual Teams: Pros, Cons & Best Practices.

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Business of Software 2011 Schedule

Business of Software 2011 will be streaming the sessions live this year. To register, visit the web site.

Unfortunately, the Business of Software web site is scant on details of the sessions. To help friends to schedule their days, I’ve copied the schedule here and filled in details from the conference brochure. Times not listed are for breaks, meals and networking. See the full schedule here.

If you want to follow the live discussion from the conference on Twitter, the hash tag is #BoS2011.


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Virtual Teams: Pros, Cons & Best Practices

Tech companies in Boston and Silicon Valley have a talent crunch. They can’t find enough programmers. Yet in small towns and cities across the country, and in countries around the world, programmers struggle to find good jobs.

Why the disconnect?

Large tech companies have been giving workers telecommute options for years. Teams comprise of members all around the world. Research has shown virtual teams can even outperform on-site teams when the right processes are in place. Yet most startups in Boston and Silicon Valley require you to work on-site. The assumption is that startups require teams to be co-located to be effective.

With the current discussions surrounding the talent crunch in Boston, I want to challenge that assumption.

At the MassTLC Innovation 2011 unConference this upcoming Friday, I plan to host a roundtable discussion on the pros, cons and best practices of virtual teams, and challenge the assumption that Boston startups should be building teams locally. This post explores some of the issues I’ll be bringing up.  Continue reading >

The Startup Weekend Experience

I attended Startup Weekend Boston this past weekend, had enormous fun and helped launch a new business.

If you’re not familiar with Startup Weekend, it’s a weekend-long event where teams compete to bring businesses from concept to launch in 54 hours. Today’s post provides a play-by-play of what one of these weekends looks like–or at least my experience of the weekend.

[Disclaimer: I wrote this over the past three days and my memory has failed me on many of the details. If anyone who attended sees anything I missed or that I got wrong, please let me know and I'll update this post. I'd also love to know who won each category at the end and who the judges were. I remembered a few, but forgot to write the rest down.]
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Why Economic Developers Need Lean Startups

An underground movement stirs in isolated groups of entrepreneurs across the country. It aims to reduce failure when starting a new business, and when failure does occur, to force it to happen faster so less time and money gets wasted.

That movement is called The Lean Startup.

Started in the world of high growth Internet startups, entrepreneurs are applying its practices to all types of businesses. And just as lean manufacturing transformed manufacturing, the Lean Startup movement will transform new business development.

Economic developers pay heed. By teaching your burgeoning entrepreneurs the lean startup methodology, you can increase your success rate and reduce the impact that failed businesses have on their owners. Continue reading >

Learn Poker To Improve Your Business Acumen

Photo by Chris Chappelear

If you run a business, you should learn poker.

Let me clarify. You should learn Texas Hold ‘Em Poker. In person, around a table, with five to ten other people.

Poker will teach you on a gut level many of the key skills of business, from distinguishing good opportunities from bad ones, to the best strategies for playing out those opportunities. Texas Hold ‘Em, in particular, balances luck with skill, strategy with tactics, mathematics with psychology, and internal discipline with social dynamics.

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Mixed Signals

Earlier this year, Jason Fried and David Hansson from 37 Signals released Rework, a book of advice to entrepreneurs. Several weeks ago, Darmesh Shah of HubSpot wrote a post at OnStartups listing his 37 favorite insights in the book.

Now, I’ve read a bunch of posts from Darmesh Shah and he’s a bright guy. And I respect 37 Signals for challenging conventional wisdom. However, the comments from the post and the reviews of the book tout this book as the new conventional wisdom. And that I think is dangerous.

There are no absolutes in life, and there certainly aren’t any absolutes in starting up a company. And while the insights may work for some startups, they can be disastrous for other startups. The key to successfully using insights like these, is knowing when they apply. So this post is a devil’s advocate post that attempts to provide some context to these insights, based on my own experience starting and running several companies over the past 13 years.

To be clear, I have not read Rework. I’m specifically commenting on the insights posted by Darmesh, since these are similar to many nuggets of wisdom I’ve been told over the years without being told when they apply. It’s not that these nuggets were wrong; they were just incomplete and lacked context. Many of the mistakes I’ve made have come from applying the right solution to the wrong problem. Continue reading >

Improve Your Business By Reading

The New Year is often a time of reflection. It’s a great time to question what you are doing and what you could be doing better. This year I’m learning how to be a better manager and to delegate my work and focus on strategy.

I’ve also been doing a lot of reading lately about sales, marketing and management, and wanted to pass along some great articles I’ve recently read.

First up is Don’t just roll the dice: A usefully short guide to software pricing by Neil Davidson. Pricing can be difficult to get right and this book is an excellent primer on the subject. Even if you think you already know everything about pricing, I recommend you read the book. You’ll be reminded of things you already know, but may have forgotten. If you are short on time, you can read Darmesh Shah’s review, How To Price Software Without Just Rolling the Dice. Though it really is no substitute for reading the book; Neil details all the dimensions of pricing, while Darmesh covers only a few basic principles. Continue reading >

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