StartUP FIU Youth Entrepreneurship Program Selected as Citi Foundation Youth Workforce Fund Grantee to Prepare Miami Youth for Local Employment Needs

$3.75 million fund to increase access to apprenticeships, internships and vocational training for youth across the United States

 Miami (March, 18, 2019) – The Citi Foundation recently announced that StartUP FIU Entrepreneurship Program has been awarded a $250,000 grant from their 2018 Youth Workforce Fund, a national initiative that is supporting community organizations in key cities across the United states to help them expand their programming and connect low-income youth to a range of employment opportunities.

The Youth Workforce Fund is part of the Citi Foundation’s three year $100MM global Pathways to Progress initiative, which focuses on career readiness initiatives that provide youth job seekers the full range of services needed for long-term employment and economic success.

Through the Youth Workforce Fund, StartUP FIU Entrepreneurship Program will receive a grant of $250,000 to provide high school students with the opportunity to be micro-entrepreneurs and create wealth for themselves by learning about utilizing technologies and/or e-commerce platforms. This program is a transformational experiential learning program that prepares today’s youth for entrepreneurial pursuits. StartUP FIU Youth Entrepreneurship Program will also have access to technical assistance and opportunities to share best practices with other community organizations that are a part of this initiative.

“We are excited about the new initiative. StartUP FIU Youth is an opportunity to expose students to income generating opportunities through e-commerce and entrepreneurship. We are grateful to Citi Foundation’s Youth Workforce Fund for supporting our efforts to support Miami’s youth. We believe that our program will help provide students with tools to leverage the digital economy and access innovative pathways towards prosperity. We are thankful to our partners at Miami Dade County Public Schools’ Career and Technical Education Department for their continuous support.” Kiesha Moodie, Director of StartUP FIU Youth Entrepreneurship Program.

Access to apprenticeships, internships and vocational training is essential to empowering youth and preparing them to compete in today’s economy. According to the Citi Foundation’s Global Youth Survey: Economic Prospects & Expectations, 78% of young people surveyed believe that internships and apprenticeships are critical for career success, however, 60% say there aren’t enough of these opportunities in their cities.

“Youth Workforce Fund grantees are helping to equip local youth with the skills and training necessary to fill employment needs in their communities,” said Brandee McHale, president of the Citi Foundation. “By addressing the skills mismatch these organizations are opening new doors for young workers across America and introducing them to long-term, meaningful career opportunities in their local communities.”

 

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About StartUP FIU
StartUP FIU is a university-wide initiative to foster innovation and entrepreneurship to pursue opportunities in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. These opportunities include the development of breakthrough technologies, the pursuit of enterprises that close social or environmental gaps and the creation of companies that can create meaningful jobs of the future.

About StartUP FIU Youth Entrepreneurship Program
The StartUP FIU Youth Entrepreneurship Program is a transformational experiential learning program that prepares today’s youth for entrepreneurial pursuits. We nurture the culture of entrepreneurship by exploring and connecting Miami’s youth to income-generating opportunities in the digital economy.

About Miami-Date County Public Schools
Miami-Dade County Public Schools is the fourth largest school district in the United States, comprised of 392 schools, 345,000 students and over 40,000 employees. Located at the southern end of the Florida peninsula, the school district stretches over 2,000 square miles of diverse and vibrant communities ranging from rural and suburban to urban cities and municipalities. A truly global community, district students speak 56 different languages and represent 160 countries.

About the Citi Foundation
The Citi Foundation works to promote economic progress and improve the lives of people in low-income communities around the world. We invest in efforts that increase financial inclusion, catalyze job opportunities for youth, and reimagine approaches to building economically vibrant cities. The Citi Foundation’s “More than Philanthropy” approach leverages the enormous expertise of Citi and its people to fulfill our mission and drive thought leadership and innovation. For more information, visit www.citifoundation.com.

 

 

 

Product Zeitgeist Fit: A Cheat Code for Spotting and Building the Next Big Thing

By: D’Arcy Coolican

Originally published on a16z.com 

It’s a Silicon Valley truism that product-market fit matters most for a startup. A founder’s ability to achieve that elusive goal is what separates the mega-donkey-deca-unicorn success stories from the vast majority of startups that either die quick and sudden deaths or peter out slowly, unnoticed.

I’ve observed, both as a founder and in our conversations with startups, that finding product market fit is frustratingly vague: Everyone tells you you need it, but offer only hazy generalities on how to get there. Most guidance boils down to “listen to your users.” Good advice, but it still leaves open the question of how to get those critical first users—to say nothing of the people or capital needed to iterate.

The fact is that people need a different motivation to try something new, something that connects with them emotionally rather than functionally. It’s a seemingly simple idea can create powerful business advantages, a concept I call product zeitgeist fit (PZF): when a product resonates with the mood of the times. It’s the thing that makes users and employees want you to win. It’s also the thing that helps other stakeholders—media and trend watchers, big companies, other builders—spot the next big thing.

Download the full deck for “The Allure of Product Zeitgeist Fit” here.

Product zeitgeist fit: How does it work?

Harnessing and cultivating the zeitgeist buys you the time and energy you need to gain support on your way to product-market fit. Product zeitgeist fit helps answer the age-old question—beyond tech platform shifts and other factors—of why some things, especially in consumer tech, work and others just don’t. It helps explain why something that seems really weird and awkward, like letting a total stranger sleep in your house, can become a global phenomenon, and why something that seems really clever, like a private social network, just don’t… yet. And it can help explain why a concept like online pet food delivery can blow up in a bad way in one era, then blow up in a really good way 15 years later.

When you have PZF, the product resonates with users not because it’s better, but because it feels extremely culturally relevant at that particular moment in time for a particular group of people. Users may or may not love your product, but for some reason they want it to win. Maybe because they hate the competitor with the “better” product. Maybe it’s because the current product appeals to a particular value or aspiration. Regardless of what drives it, it’s an unfair advantage that can separate winners from the also-rans.

Most startups die not because they can’t get their tech to work or because their competition out-executes them. The death of most startups is indifference. Put simply, most companies fail to launch because no one cares: not users, not employees, not investors, and certainly not the media. It’s death by a thousand shrugs.

When you’re riding the zeitgeist, you’re able to catalyze energy from the four forces that can change the trajectory of a company:

  • Early adopters
  • Early employees
  • Angel and seed investors
  • The media and other analysts that cover these frontier ideas

When those four groups care about what you’re doing, impossible things suddenly become possible. It gives you the momentum to get started.

The death of most startups is indifference. Put simply, most companies fail to launch because no one cares: not users, not employees, not investors, and certainly not the media. It’s death by a thousand shrugs. CLICK TO TWEET

I want to be clear that finding PZF isn’t the end of the story, it’s the beginning of it. You still need to work your way to product market fit, a functional use case and mainstream adoption.  But finding PZF is like getting a thousand extra chances as you weave your way to product market fit.

There are several recent examples that illustrate how product zeitgeist fit plays out, beyond a mere philosophy.

Crypto

At the height of the financial crisis in 2009, anger at Wall Street and big banks spiked. Declining trust in traditional, centralized institutions was palpable. As the decade went on, there was growing momentum to do something about those large platforms and companies that adversely affect our experiences and societies.

Those ideas—frustration with Wall Street, mistrust of institutions, and, for lack of a better term, FAANGer— connected with what the crypto community was building.  It gave crypto the energy, excitement, and funding to get the flywheel spinning. We’ve had a lot of attempts at internet money before, but it was only in 2009 (when the Bitcoin whitepaper was published) that we really found that spark. If you don’t believe me, look at the Genesis block of Bitcoin, the first link in the chain.

In the comments section, Satoshi embedded a message about the financial bailouts. Though a precise motivation is unknown, the ethos around mismanagement of the traditional financial system fueled a lot of the enthusiasm around crypto in the early years.

But here’s the thing about crypto: for those in the mainstream, it’s still not that easy to use. Despite that, people are still using it, building on it, investing in it, and writing about it, allowing it to hold product zeitgeist fit as it moves toward product market fit.

Clean meat

Like the concept of internet money, the idea of a veggie burger isn’t new, but it’s something that’s found new life in the last few years as it resonated with the zeitgeist.We’ve seen an increased urgency around climate change in recent years, which has  inevitably fueled a conversation about the impact of the Western diet. At the same time, the media has brought a host of moral and ethical issues around industrial farming to the fore. Those two ideas—industrial farming and climate change—have given companies producing clean meat the boost they needed to make the idea take off this time.

But has anybody actually tried one of these burgers? Some are okay; some are (subjectively) disgusting; and there are open questions about the health benefits of them. Despite that, people are still lining up to buy them, talented scientists are still working on it, investors are still funding it, and big companies are still trying to partner with them. It’s not better than meat—yet—but it’s got a great chance to get there thanks to product zeitgeist fit.

Income Share Agreements (ISAs)

Income share agreements are a financial instrument in which someone (usually a student), gets something (usually tuition), in exchange for a share of his or her future income. Like internet money and veggie burgers, this idea isn’t new, but it’s something that seems to have found its moment.

The explosion in student debt in our educational system is dominating conversations across the news, social media, and politics. At the same time, trust in traditional academic institutions is declining, an attitude that becomes supercharged with every new admissions scandal, replication crisis, and marketing scandal. The two ideas—of distrust of academic institutions and of overwhelming student debt—have given ISAs and the companies and schools using them the boost they needed to really get going this time.

Of course, ISAs still need to navigate a complicated web of behavior change, consumer protections, regulation, and returns to investors. But despite that talented people are still working on it, talking about it, and trying to make it work. It’s unclear whether ISAs have product market fit just yet, but thanks to PZF they’ve got an incredible chance to get there this time.

These are just three examples; there are all kinds of things that are bubbling up in the zeitgeist today, whether it’s privacy products, frustration with the attention economy, the Marie Kondo-ification of everything including clothes, or the desire for a new social network (of which there have been many attempts lately). And the founders that are building on top of these ideas today all have a massive advantage today. That’s the thing about the zeitgeist: Just because something like a private social network didn’t work eight years ago, that doesn’t mean it couldn’t work today.

How to spot product zeitgeist fit

How do you identify something as ephemeral as the product zeitgeist fit? Here are four tests to spot it in the wild.

  • Nerd Heat”: Coined by my partner Chris Dixon, this is when the most talented, hardest working, and most in-demand people—the product managers, engineers, and data scientists—are so intrigued by a product that they’re working on it, excited by it, and trying to make it a thing.here’s a good chance that they’ll eventually make it happen, moving it beyond the fringes to the mainstream.
  • The “Despite Test”: When people are using a product despite the fact that it’s not the best thing out there, or, in some cases, that it’s straight-up terrible (see examples above), it’s a great sign. It shows that the product has a line into something emotional, not solely functional. Wanted, not just needed.
  • The “T-shirt Test”: If people with no connection to the company are wearing their t-shirts or putting their stickers on their laptops or wearing their socks, that  desire to associate with the idea indicates as much a movement as a product.
  • The “Eyebrow Test”: In the early days, things that have product zeitgeist fit often feel misunderstood or controversial. At first blush, the conceit may even raise a few eyebrows. But to the people who have been working on those products, they’re so clearly elegant, if temporarily imperfect, solutions to big and important problems that they seem almost obvious once they recognize it.

Product zeitgeist fit favors the upstarts

When observing what actually gets into the zeitgeist (and what doesn’t), I’ve noticed three trends that have important implications for innovation.

These things tend to be generational; they’re reactionary; and they’re usually organized around a really compelling villain. Because we always seem to react against the unintended consequences, excesses, and blind spots of the previous generation, the zeitgeist is constantly changing. That means there’s always going to be an opening for innovators and disruptors, especially in consumer tech. That’s why, despite all the talk of unbeatable incumbents and ossification, I’m optimistic about the next generation of technology companies.

Founders: Find something that is both important to you and resonates with a group of people at this particular moment in time. In the early days you’ll need to frame your story—to recruits, to partners, to investors, and to the entire outside world—along those lines. Talk about why your company matters, not just what it does. Make sure your product remains authentic and product decisions are connected with the mission. Finally, make sure the people you hire are as connected with these ideas as you are. Give everyone a reason to cheer for you. Because if you can get to product zeitgeist fit, you’ve got an unquestionable advantage in getting to product market fit.

And if you’re just trying to figure out what the future looks like, not just build it, look for the things that are broken and terrible but that people still really care about. Look for the four tests: the raised eyebrows, the T-shirts, the nerd heat, and the people that are still using a product, despite its shortcomings. Look for the things that are reacting against the previous generation and resonating with the mood of the times. Ultimately, that’s where the future lies: at product zeitgeist fit.

Gotta Startup Idea? Then Read This.

By: Shafeeka Hafeez

Originally published on medium.com

Most of our start-up ideas are stillborn. They rarely make it out of our head.

We are caught up in an illusion that everything needs to be perfect — and good enough to disrupt the existing system.

Don’t get me wrong. You need to aim for the moon if you want to land at least on a star. But if you wait for perfection — the perfect website, the perfect crew, the perfect product — to test the waters, you will have to wait forever.

Because none of the “perfect”products that are widely used today looked like that when they first came into the market.

In case you need a reminder… this is how the now-sleek Apple computer looked when it first hit the market.

Ed Uthman CC BY-SA 2.0

The first Google homepage doesn’t look that bad but I wonder if Larry Page had accidentally slept on it. (What’s it with all the exclamation marks anyway?)

Screenshot via web.archive.org

What’s Stopping You?

Probably many things. But everything can be summed up to a few phrases: The fear of failure.

“There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction.”

— Oprah Winfrey

  • Amazon’s biggest rival, Alibaba, is Jack Ma’s third company. It took him poverty in the midst of China’s communism, two University exam entrance failures, 30 job rejections and of course — the failure of Alibaba itself- to get there. Also, did I mention that despite founding a tech company, he still struggles with basic Math?
  • Angry Birds, that took the mobile gaming industry by storm, was the 52nd game created by the Finnish startup Rovio. It may look like an overnight success but it took the company 51 unsuccessful games to hit the jackpot.

Your startup idea might truly seem like a failure from the get-go. But the lessons learnt from testing the idea out will prove to be golden when your billion-dollar idea comes into play 10 years down the road.

Besides, didn’t you realize that failure is what made me bring up all these successful stories in the first place? Without failure, your own success story would look plain and boring.

Be Self Aware

Self-awareness must be the word of the 21st century. You probably have heard it more times than your own name.

It’s also the hardest, most difficult to phrase, advice ever.

But here’s the thing. I didn’t know what I was good at either. I still don’t to some extent. I’m still quite young and have a long way to go.

Not having a universal formula for self-awareness doesn’t help either. But all successful people are incredibly self-aware and they’ve achieved it by getting their hands dirty.

Reading about self-awareness won’t work, but putting all your interests to test will.

Love to swim? You can’t decide how good you will be at it by standing on a solid ground.

Love to sing? You gotta sing to some of your favorite songs (not in the shower of course) to know how you truly sound.

Love to play basketball? You need to quit being in the cheering squad and go do the fieldwork to know if you could be the next Jordan.

The key is to figure out what you and your startup team can bring to the table and then go all in.

“Self-awareness is being able to accept your weaknesses while focusing all of your attention on your strengths. The moment you decide to accept your shortcomings and bet entirely on your strengths, things will change. Trust me.” — Gary Vaynerchuk

Don’t Entertain the Idea of Overnight Success

Because you are bound to be disappointed.

When I started writing on Medium a week ago, I had two followers. Now I have twenty. That might not seem like a number at all, but I am happy because it is still a 900% growth.

I didn’t come here to succeed overnight — I came here to put my writing prowess to use while I read for my business degree and work on my start-up. And I won’t entertain the belief that I will wake up to see a million users overnight either. Which makes having even 2 users feel like a big deal.

Because it isa big deal.

“One is bigger than zero.” -Gary Vaynerchuck

The bottom line is — this mindset will help youenjoythe work and cherish every milestone even if you worked 18 hours a day like Gary Vee does. Those who hate on him aren’t getting his point, really. He is not a workaholic who works on worklike we do. He works on a hobby and finds joy in it.

Don’t Listen To Naysayers

Just don’t, please.

Because all naysayers have one thing in common: Nothing.

They either belong to the group that has achieved nothing, or to the group that complains about how the sky is too blue.

They are a miserable bunch and they want you to be miserable too.

The worst part? You will find them in every corner.

  • Rule number 1 — Block / mute them on social media. Don’t consume their content. If possible, avoid them like the plague.
  • Rule number 2 — If you can’t apply rule number 1 to naysayers in your family, try to minimize your interactions with them. More importantly, keep your ideas to yourself and brush their unsolicited advice aside — politely.

Telling a naysayer apart from someone who truly wants to see you grow could be a tough call.

Because you need criticism to improve your product idea. But it needs to be constructive, not discouraging.

If you find it hard to draw the line, notice whether their presence makes you feel like a deflated balloon.

If they feel like energy vampires, chances are, they’re a naysayer.

Then scroll up and follow rule number 1.

Be Prepared to Sacrifice

“To get GoPro started, I moved back in with my parents and went to work seven days a week, 20 hours a day. I wrote off my personal life to make headway on it. “— Nick Woodman

It’s like this. The bigger the idea is, the longer the list of things you will have to sacrifice to attain it.

In other words:

The bigger the sacrifice, the greater the reward.

You can’t have it both ways — and you might have to learn to accept it early on.

Give up on a couple of friends, parties, family gatherings, and meetups that won’t bring any lasting value.

And rethink how to strike a balance between work and life.

Either way, sacrifices will be inevitable.

“If you want something special, it should be hard.” — Gary Vaynerchuk

Or you can follow the crowd, and party on the weekends.

But sacrifice your startup instead.

It’s your call after all.

Final Words

Be serious about your idea — but don’t take it serious like your life depends on it.

This way, even when failures knock you down to the ground, you won’t just lay there.

But stand up stronger.

And eventually learn to be resilient even in the face of adversity.

P.S. I wrote this mostly for myself but I hope you find it useful too 🙂

The Top 7 Mistakes I Learned From Hundreds of Entrepreneurs

By: Paul Meyers

Originally published on medium.com

I talk with entrepreneurs all the time — Startup founders and Innovators. We talk about successes and failures. We talk about their journey, their vision, what worked and what didn’t. I talk to both established founders and newbies in equal measure, plus everything in between.

I really love my job.

Something that often comes up during these discussions is mistakes they’ve made and lessons learned in starting businesses, common mistakes, that elicit retrospective responses that begin with:

  • “I should have …”
  • “What I should have done differently is ..”
  • “I wish I hadn’t…”

The opening statements above indicate the learning process at work. Hence the reason for this article, which will discuss the top 7 mistakes learned from conversations with hundreds of Entrepreneurs.

Hope you Enjoy reading!

1.  Not Solving a Problem

If your Startup solves a problem then it will be easy to find customers and easier to scale. To reinforce this statement I’d highly recommend reading a recent article written by Stephen Moore about Letterdash.com, entitled: This Is What It Takes to Go from $0 to $1 Million in Less Than One Year.

As such, the opposite is true — Startups fail because they try to solve problems that nobody needs or cares about. Michael Sherman (Letterdash) found a niche and in doing so discovered that he is building something that people care about and need.

So if you launch your product or service and nobody buys it, you should work on solving a more important problem, a niche problem, as opposed to focusing on acquiring a bigger audience.

“By far the most common mistake startups make is to solve problems no one has.”

— Paul Graham

2. Obsessed with Perfection

Taking too long to launch a product or service is magnified in the pursuit of perfection.

When you start a blog or podcast series aimed at building an E-commerce audience, you can get stuck on the content curation. Spinning the “hamster wheel” for too long — months or years — without selling anything.

One reason why this happens is that Entrepreneurs are pursuing a magic audience number, “1,000 subscribers” for example, or “10,000 site-visitors”. Many Entrepreneurs I’ve spoken to do this to gain confidence, buy-in from others, in order to increase the chance of making a sale from their tribe.

Photo by Ricardo Frantzon Unsplash

In contrast some Entrepreneurs can’t find the time to blog, make videos or podcast while building a Product or Service at the same time.

It can be a double-edged sword — it’s tough.

Others talk themselves out of creating a product or service because of fear, afraid that no one will buy from them. A fear of failure after investing so much time creating content.

“You’re damned if you do and your damned if you don’t.”

— Bart Simpson

This is a fatal trap.

If you’re building a business, you must face the risks head-on. You must also develop key skills. The worst thing that can happen is that you’ll create something that no one will buy.

If so, start again — Pivot.

Furthermore, everyone needs practice at building and launching a product or service, so don’t waste this valuable experience, paralysed by fear.

Your first attempt(s) might well fail, the likelihood is that it will. So the sooner you put something out in the world the closer you get to generating revenue, even if its Zero to start.

“If you are the kind of person who is waiting for the ‘right’ thing to happen, you might wait for a long time. It’s like waiting for all the traffic lights to be green for five miles before starting the trip.”

— Robert Kiyosaki

3. Not Listening To Customers

Are you solving a problem? How do you know for certain? Listen to your audience — I mean really listento them.

Photo by Mohammad Metri on Unsplash

Listen to those customers who critique a feature, score 1 out of 5 on Trustpilot or buy your product but don’t use it. Listen to the consumers who say they won’t buy your product or service and ask why.

Don’t just listen to the customers who provide validation and approval — this will only stroke your ego, adding little value for continuous improvement.

“Who do you listen to? Who are you trying to please?”

— Seth Godin

So remember to pay attention, don’t just pay lip service to your customers because they have all the answers. Without customers you don’t have a business.

4. Choose Something You Care About

Whatever you choose to focus on, you need to have a deep subject knowledge on your topic, product or service, coupled with an abundance of creativity and unwavering stamina.

Follow your passion because without it your Startup will starve when it needs you most.

For many Entrepreneurs their Startup begins as a side-gig and scales from there. George J. Ziogas wrote a great article about How To Blog Your Way To A Second Income— “It’s certainly a lot easier and more enjoyable to write about something you’re passionate about” (George Ziogas, 2018).

“Imagine sitting at your desk in the morning, typing away and making a great living while everyone else is fighting traffic or their boss.”

— George Ziogas

Photo by KAL VISUALSon Unsplash

This doesn’t mean your Startup has to be your Number 1 passion in life or even your life’s work because most Entrepreneurs, most people for that matter, have more than one single passion in life. The point is, don’t make the mistake of choosing something that you don’t care about.

“Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

— Howard Thurman

If you’re passionate, stamina won’t be a problem. If you truly love your topic, product or service, creativity will flow and influence will unfold in time.

5. Thinking Too Much

Don’t dwell on your Lightbulb moment, take action.

Photo by freestocks.orgon Unsplash

Remember, nothing will happen without action, so 80% of your time must be Doingand 20% on Thinkingand planning.

“Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

— Thomas Edison

Initially you have to spend most of your time working INyour Business as opposed to ONyour business. Make steady progress each week.

Enough said.

6. The Lone Ranger

Most Entrepreneurs I’ve spoken to told me that their friends, family and colleagues wouldn’t let them quit. Honestly, they said “I felt like throwing in the towel” more time than they can remember but they wouldn’t let me. “They convinced me” otherwise.

Going it alone is a mistake.

No one succeeds in business alone. You need people, it’s Human nature.

People are everywhere — Your colleagues are people, your customers are people, your service providers and suppliers are people. Lean on them.

Most importantly, many Entrepreneurs get support from other entrepreneurs, those who’ve walked a mile in your shoes, those with more experience.

Connect more and connect often. Meet and get to know other entrepreneurs because you’ll no longer feel alone, crazy or insane. There’s solace in talking to others who face the same obstacles that you’re facing.

“The low points in a startup are so low that few could bear them alone.”

— Paul Graham

Photo by Keegan Houseron Unsplash

So reach out to other entrepreneurs and ask them to meet or chat. Share your thoughts, your struggles and your goals. Measure your progress too.

Try it — People are inherently good — you’ll be surprised how many people are willing to help others. Read about Brian Pennie or better, read his article on How To Connect With The Most Successful People In Your Country.

“People are nicer than you think, but it’s only by daring to dream that you can give them a chance to show you.”

— Brian Pennie

7. Not starting at all

This is biggest mistake of all. Don’t be that person who talks about ideas, talks about starting a business for years and does nothing. This is the only way to guarantee failure.

“If you don’t start, you will fail.”

— Seth Godin

Photo by Braden Collumon Unsplash

Final Thought

No Startup is a sure thing — it takes courage, guts, resilience, heart and intelligence — But you can only get better.

From personal experience, I always remind myself:

  • Don’t be afraid to make a mistake(s)
  • Mistakes are part of the process
  • Just dive in
  • Fail often
  • Fail early

When you fail, which is guaranteed, give yourself a pat on that back knowing that you’ve learned valuable lessons.

After you pick yourself up and dust yourself down — start again. Why? Because the world needs you — The Leaders of Tomorrow.

Ádh mór!Which translates to Best of Luck’ in Irish.

Emani Jerome

You need one of four things to make your startup a candidate for VC investment

By: Alan Jones

Originally published on medium.com 

I spend most of my consulting days with founders and teams ranging from idea stage to minimum viable product (MVP) to early commercialization, so I get asked one question a lot, “What will angel or venture capital investors want to see from us before we’re good candidates for investment?”

The long answer is: every investor is different

Every investor is motivated by a different risk/reward ratio, interested in different markets, business models and technologies, likes to lead other investors or likes to follow other investors, can only write a cheque smaller than X or no bigger than Y.

The short answer is: every investor is the same

If they know what they’re doing, they’re looking for startups that bring one or more of the following assets to the deal table:

1. World class team

Everybody’s definition of “world class” is different.

Some investors may be prepared to back raw talent and no prior experience, as long as they can get some evidence that your raw talent can produce results. But those results may have to be a really impressive/rapidly iterative MVP because most investors consider ‘team proof’ to be found in ‘product proof’. That kind of investor will be in the minority – most will look for relevant experience and skills.

Have you and your team successfully solved a similar problem for a similar kind of customer in the past? Have you had career success (read: been promoted) at another similar kind of startup, or at one of the big tech companies?

Are you a team rather than a solo founder? Founders who can prove they can recruit and lead a strong team are more likely to succeed at scaling. In the near-term, solo founder startups are a high risk of the founder being hit by a bus (hopefully metaphorically, not literally).

2. Unique intellectual property

Your startup can be valuable to investors if you’ve invented a unique business model, product feature or manufacturing process that gives your business a measurably unfair advantage over current or future competitors, if it’s difficult to reverse-engineer.

If it’s not difficult to reverse engineer it, it may still be valuable if you can show that you have a defensible lead in the race to take a dominant share of the kind of markets that tend towards a monopoly – most common in two-sided marketplaces and listings business models.

3. Customer growth

Can you show that your team is capable of acquiring unusually large numbers of users or customers? Can you show that the kind of users/customers you’re acquiring will be valuable when you have a large number of them? Can you sustain that unusually large growth?

You don’t always need to have big revenue growth – or even any revenue at all – if the users/customers you’re acquiring will be valuable to someone else in the future. For a great example of this, read up on why Facebook acquired Instagram. 

4. Revenue growth

Can you show not just that your revenue is growing, but that the rate of your revenue growth is itself increasing?

A startup showing steady, predictable 2% revenue growth each month will become a valuable businesses given sufficient time, assuming there’s a high enough ceiling to that growth.

But what really interests venture capital investors is evidence that the rate at which your revenue increases is itself increasing – that 2% this month becomes 3%, 4%, 5% in the months to come.

Extra bonus points for startups able to show that revenue growth and operating expenditure are not correlated – that due to the scaling effects of technology, you’re able to grow the revenue line of the business without growing the cost line of the business.

How much of these things do I need to show?

If you can show concrete evidence of all four of these assets, maybe you don’t actually need an external source of investment and you should instead fund growth through revenue, since all investment is a loan that eventually needs to be repaid, at a multiple. Maybe in some instances you should consider raising capital in order to acquire a competitor, add a new line of product or service, or fund your entry into a new geographic or economic market.

If you can only show you own one of these four assets, the higher reward/higher risk assets are the world class team and unique intellectual property (because teams can always fall apart, and IP can usually be copied and out-competed). The lower risk (and possibly lower reward) assets are the customer growth and revenue growth assets (they’re easier for spreadsheet jockeys to value, but most markets and most business models have a limit to scale, and history teaches us that the limit is usually invisible until you hit it).

When you’re considering what kind of investor to approach, keep that in mind: some investors are comfortable with taking big risks but want to believe there’s a massive opportunity waiting – that’s who you go to when you have a world-class team and/or some truly unique intellectual property. If you’re better at growing your customer or revenue metrics, consider approaching the kind of investors who have a track record of backing businesses that are already showing evidence of customer and revenue traction.

If you can’t yet show you own any of these four investible assets, you may still be a candidate for investment, but you may be limited in your choices to accelerator programs or a ‘friends, family and fools’ round – both important and valuable forms of investment that you shouldn’t discount, especially if their support might sustain you while you try to acquire one of these four investible assets.

Good luck!

5 Signs That You’ve Set Yourself Up for Failure

By: Andrew Medal
Originally published on entrepreneur.com 

How will you grow your business from $100,000 per year to $100,000 per month? How will you scale from 10 employees to 100 employees? How will you propel your business forward? My partners and I at Press Hunt are creating an incentivized roadmap to hit $1m/ARR from $5k/MRR in 12 months, and I’m going to share it bi-monthly in my column in order to illustrate the lessons we’re learning and provide the tactics we’re implementing. And this goal will be our primary driver.

Goals are like rocket fuel for your business. They help you envision a future where your business accomplishes more and help usher that future into reality. As Norman Vincent Peale once said, “All successful people have a goal. No one can get anywhere unless he knows where he wants to go and what he wants to be or do.”

1. The math doesn’t make any sense.

You’re an entrepreneur. You depend on quick-fire decisions, intense moments of passion and an unerring faith in yourself and your business. Goal-setting can be an exciting experience that triggers all your optimistic tendencies. That’s good! You should be optimistic. But you should also temper that optimism with a bit of realism.

Javier Sim, the co-founder of Bithumb Global — a company that has repeatedly ranked as one of the top cryptocurrency exchanges globally — offers this advice: “When setting goals for business, entrepreneurs should work the math backward. What is a reasonable target to aim for? What would be exciting to hit? And what is most likely possible? Factor in the timeline and the goal itself and honestly ask yourself, ‘Is this realistic or are we setting ourselves up for defeat?’”

2. You don’t know what actions will drive success.

If you look at your goals, get excited and then wonder how the heck you’re going to achieve it, you may have set yourself up for failure. After all, every goal needs a gameplan, just like every computer needs a hard drive. You’ll never hit any goals if you don’t have a clear and adaptable strategy for reaching them. The more aggressive the goal, the truer it will be.

I believe this is one of the biggest hindrances for entrepreneurs not accomplishing their goals. There’s no roadmap, you have no boss, no course to success, and not knowing what success looks like can lead to a paralysis of action. My biggest piece of advice here is to listen to entrepreneurs that you respect. Go read their content, listen to their interviews. This will help you understand some of the problems they faced and offer tips on how to accomplish the big goals. This is the entire reason I created my video show on Entrepreneur, to help other entrepreneurs see the path successful businesspeople have gone through to achieve success. One of my favorite interviews I did so far was with the late, great Nipsey Hussle. You can check it out here.

3. You don’t have an accountability plan.

Commitment is obvious, and we’ll touch on writing your goals down in the next point, but accountability? How does that work? Well, there’s no reason to set goals in a vacuum. When we set goals for our business, we write it down, we make sure all team members have easy access to it, and we tell everyone we can. I think it’s that unified effort that makes the goal achievable. Tell your friends about your goals, tell your business partner, your teammates, your coworkers, your employees and your family. The more people who know, the higher chance you have of success.

4. You haven’t put your goals in writing.

Something magic happens when you put your goals in writing. Maybe it’s because the goal becomes more permanent, maybe it’s because we perceive ourselves as having committed entirely to the goal, or maybe it is magic. Whatever the case, according to research conducted by Dominican University of California psychology professor Dr. Gail Matthews, people who write down their goals are 33 percent more successful at accomplishing them than those who just envision the goal in their heads.

It’s an easy thing to do and it gives you a better chance of success, so write down your goals and put them where you and your teammates can see them every day. That’ll give everyone accountability and make the commitment a whole lot more tangible.

5. The goal is arbitrary or meaningless.

Do you want to hit 5,000 users? Awesome! But why? Do you want to reach $100,000 per month? Cool! But why? Why did you set that goal? It might seem like a silly question, but it’s perhaps the most vital question to help determine how successful you and your team will be at meeting your goals. Why do you want to accomplish that goal? You must answer that question for yourself, and you must answer it for each team member. Or rather, they must answer it for themselves. If they don’t, then when the going gets tough (and it always gets tough), people are going to slack.

People aren’t inherently lazy. Some simply have weak goals, or rather, their goals do not inspire them. Uninspiring goals are perhaps the number-one killer of an entrepreneur’s vision for the future. A goal can be big and awesome and neat, but still uninspiring. You must answer why you want to accomplish a goal before you can truly commit to accomplishing it, and then you must ensure that the “why” behind your goal inspires you first and foremost, and then everyone at your company.

Daniela Cadena

How Startups Measure Success Before They Generate Revenue

By: Joe Procopio

Originally published on medium.com 

Let’s talk about whether or not you can determine a startup will be a success before it actually brings in any money. Because while there’s no good way to do that, there are some cheats.

First, let’s make sure we establish this fact: The only accurate way to measure the success of a startup is by using revenue as the basis of the measurement. In over 20 years of building and working with startups, I’ve learned that while revenue is not a predictor of success, it is the first objective marker. Until money comes into the picture, there’s no way to know which direction the business is ultimately going to go. Period.

Now, no one generates revenue on day one, at least not in a way that isn’t fluky or sketchy. Success takes time. And no one wants to waste their time on an idea that isn’t showing signs of being successful. Investors will all agree, I can assure you.

So while your startup has to get to revenue quickly, there are indeed a few signs that may mean you’re on the right track. Here’s how you read those signs correctly, along with some additional validation I like to see.

Audience Engagement

Before your startup has paying customers, it will have an audience. It could be a free-tier of customers, or it could be a collection of fans and followers. An audience is just the grand sampling of people who will become your customers once they discover your product, fall in love with it, and hand you money for it.

The sign that matters isn’t how large an audience you have, but how engaged they are. What you need to know is how many of them are using the product, how often, and for how long. If possible, you also want to communicate with them to know exactly how happy are they are with it, but more importantly, whether or not they can live without it.

That’s engagement. It’s hard to measure and easy to mistake. To illustrate how commonplace it is to misread this sign, I’ll relay a story from a founder of a B2B software company I know. Let’s call her Amy.

“I initially fell into the trap of getting as many betas confirmed as I could, but they were not using the product consistently. I had the wrong initial market, and instead of giving good signals to investors, they were bad signals.”

“Then we picked another market and started doing pilots with a path to conversion, giving them just two free months of the product with the opportunity to be an early adopter. Now we have weekly meetings with the pilots and track their usage. Our goal is that they use us at least once per week at the beginning, then almost daily after that. The ultimate metric will be the conversion of these pilots to paid customers.”

How I’d Validate: If I’m starting with a free-tier audience and tracking their usage and getting feedback, the validation I look for is when they start reaching out to me. It doesn’t matter if they’re asking for features I’ve promised, asking for other features they’d like, or even complaining about what’s missing or what’s not working.

If they’re taking time to contact me, they’re engaged. If no one is reaching out to me, there’s no metric.

Conversion

The strategy I use most often is to start with paying customers, and create my audience out of the ones that don’t want to pay. What that means is I end up working with much smaller numbers, which seems like it would take longer to get to growth, but it’s actually easier because conversion is the hardest step to perfect in the customer acquisition process.

No “hockey-stick” type growth chart starts with a lot of customers. Those charts all start with one customer, then a few, then a bunch. To get that jolt up and to the right, you have to perfect the conversion process. And once you learn how to convert a handful, you can repeat and do it over and over, with less noise to send you chasing false positives.

So how do you get that first handful of paying customers to start giving you signs of success?

Founders are usually shocked when I tell them they don’t have to offer full price out the gate. Look, it’s startup, this is new stuff, there aren’t any rules until you make them.

Usually the biggest hurdle in converting customers is the product learning curve. And usually the best way to learn the product is to use the product. This is how free tiers happen. But if we use penetration pricing instead, we eliminate a lot of the noise that happens in a free tier.

Penetration pricing means charging something, anything for the product for a trial period. Like right now I’m paying $1 a month for Hulu. That’s nuts, but if I decide I can’t live without Hulu, they’ve got me.

How I’d Validate: My founder friend Amy ended her quote above by stating her next goal was to convert her pilot audience to paying customers. Ideally, she wants to do this in two months. In return, she’ll offer them preferential pricing or treatment as early adopters, thus sweetening the deal.

Of course, Amy will convert some of these customers. But the question Amy needs to ask is not how many customers she can convert — she already played that game when she learned she was targeting the wrong market. To read the right signs of success, Amy needs to measure how quickly can she convert them and how much she has to offer to get them over.

Outside Investment

I’m a big believer in revenue before investment, and that means two things:

  1. I’d rather fund a startup with customers than with investors, if I can.
  2. It’s very, very hard to land outside investment. It’s much harder if you don’t have revenue.

If you do happen to be attracting outside investment, and by “attracting,” I mean checkbooks are out and term sheets have been discussed, this could mean a couple of things:

  1. Your idea is being validated using the best non-revenue measurement possible. People usually don’t write checks unless they mean it.
  2. You’ve done this before and they’re betting on you, not your idea.
  3. You’ve got a very investable idea. But note that this is no way automatically translates to an investable company.
  4. You’ve found a sucker.

How I’d Validate: The very few times I’ve been offered outside investment pre-revenue, I’ve not taken it, mostly due to reason #2 above, and I had issues with my own idea. But here are some steps I’ve taken to justify an investor’s confidence in my idea:

  1. Form a small syndicate. At pre-revenue there’s no harm in seeking multiple investors to validate each other. If you can attract one investor, you might just be lucky. If you can attract five investors, you might just be onto something.
  2. Refuse the investment and give them every single reason why they shouldn’t invest in your company. If they come back, they understand caveat emptor.
  3. Tell them to hold off until you can get to revenue. This will be good for both you and them.

In the end, no one gets a pass on revenue. Even the best repeat entrepreneurs hear the clock ticking the moment they take investment or invest in themselves. The key is to get to those pre-revenue signs early, and take them for what they are. Then go build that revenue-generating machine that you and everyone else believes in.

Are You Ready To Lead Your Startup Through the Growth Stage?

By: Joe Procopio

Originally published on medium.com

Most of us entrepreneurs chase success like a dog chases a car — we don’t know what to do with it when we catch it. That’s because most of us have at least one weakness in our growth game. And that’s because we don’t get a ton of opportunity to practice. And that’s because if we mess up it can be game over.

That can all be fixed.

There are no guarantees in startup, but we can improve our chances for success by breaking down the growth game into five parts, each of those requiring a slightly different plan of attack but all of which are rooted in the skills that got us here in the first place.

The Growth Stage Means New Problems

I’ve been through the growth stage more than a dozen times. I’ve learned that success in startup is a moving target. It shifts while we chase it and then the bar gets raised as soon as we reach it. There really isn’t an endgame, outside of an exit — and that’s only the end if we walk.

In other words, we never leave the growth stage, we just move the goalposts.

The growth stage starts with an extraordinary win, some kind of event that meets or surpasses where we had planned for our company to be in terms of its lifecycle. This can be landing outside funding, it can be a deal with a major partner or customer, or it can be an market land grab — that’s when our product launch performs way past our expectations.

Once we hit the growth stage, everything changes, in good ways and bad ways, whether we want it to or not. There’s no roadmap to scale our product or grow our company. But there are strategies at each part of the growth stage that we can practice and master, ultimately gaining confidence in the decisions we make.

If we do that, we’ll eventually be driving the growth stage, instead of it driving us.

Part 1: Launch — Focus on managing chaos

There’s a reason why the primary metaphor for the growth stage is a rocket. Like a rocket launch, there’s a boatload of planning and preparation, sometimes years in the making, that goes into a new company or a new product, all of it coming to fruition in one short moment when we put the rocket in the air.

At that point, we lose almost all control over arc, velocity, and direction. Whatever we programmed the thing to do, well, we just hope we were right. Or close.

We actually do have quite a few things working in our favor this early.

For one, we have plenty of time to recover if our trajectory was off. So don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

Also, the brute force of the blast is more of a requirement than finesse, meaning control isn’t a huge requirement yet. So be bold and worry about control later.

And finally, a launch usually comes with support, maybe from the VC that led our round, or maybe from a champion within the large customer we just sold. Don’t be shy, make sure you lean on that.

The secret to a successful launch is not to blast it as far as we can, but to set ourselves up for the next stage.

Part 2: Momentum — Pull signal from the noise

A launch is just a noisy and public proof of concept. Just because we got the rocket into the air doesn’t mean it’ll stay there. We need to get it into orbit, and for that, we need momentum.

There will be a ton of noise from a launch.

Externally, we’ll see a lot of false positives and probably some very compelling wild goose chases. Customers will buy our product, but that doesn’t mean that they’ll buy it again or that more customers will buy our product.

Internally, everyone will get freaked out. In efforts to sustain new growth, there will be overspending, second-guessing, forced formality, and an uptick in complaining. I’ve never seen a launch where all of those things, and more, didn’t immediately follow.

This is the time to take very measured chances, make very recoverable mistakes, and make very serious decisions on course correction.

I recommend establishing a product team, dedicated to pulling signal from noise. This will be a benefit externally, where we’ve now established an independent entity that can act in the best interest of product success. It’ll also help internally, taking some of the growth responsibility off of the rest of the org and centralizing it in one place.

Part 3: Narrowing — Focus on big decision making

Once we achieve momentum, we have the luxury of becoming proactive about what it is we’re building instead of being reactive all the time. This is the part of the growth phase where some big, risky decisions need to be made.

We’re narrowing the scope of our company by defining our attack on markets and refining the options of our product.

We may decide to broaden our market approach, or narrow it, or pivot and chase an entirely new market altogether. As we make those decisions, we’re also settling on the evolution path of our product. We’re looking at maximizing margins while increasing usage — difficult to do at the same time.

We’re going to be making a lot of decisions without a lot of data, and making a lot of assumptions about risk vs. reward:

  • Do we trust that the market conditions are right to take some big and bold steps?
  • Do we go after a particular set of desirable customers at the risk that they may dictate the future of our product and even our company?
  • Do we start chasing our B-story now: The risky path that’s going to lead to bigger growth and insane valuations?
  • Do we back off and raise (more) money in hopes of gaining a stronger foothold to attack a larger portion of the market?

To make these important decisions, we’re going to need some help.

I’d recommend tightening the executive process here, making a formal distinction as to who on the team should be giving input and calling the shots on the future of the company, and who shouldn’t.

I’d also formalize and start leaning on an advisory board and a board of directors. If we’ve chosen the right people, they’ll have enough experience in their rearview to guide us through the ramifications of each decision.

Part 4: Targeting — Construct Your Best Pitch

Targeting is where we know what we are, we can see the goal, and we’re making small moves that have enormous implications. Back at launch, all we needed was a big blast that wasn’t a disaster. Here, it’s all about accuracy.

When you see those startup companies that look great on paper, raise big money at massive valuations, maybe even become a part of the culture, and then stall and fall off and eventually shutter, it’s because they couldn’t manage targeting.

At this point, our pitch should be perfected, our market should be established, and our product should be robust. We’ll begin accelerating hard towards our eventual goal — could be market domination, could be acquisition, could just be a secondary offering.

I’d recommend creating relationships with any org that could buy us, invest in us, or with whom a partnership could potentially increase our size by at least 50%. At the very least, we just want to make sure we’re on their radar if we’re not already. That said, there should already be some inbound interest as well. Pay close attention to this inbound, as it will give us an idea of exactly where our value lies for the next step.

Part 5: Exit — Focus on negotiation

The closer we get to the goal line, the harder it is to cross it. The best entrepreneurs are the best at negotiating the endgame.

The good news is that by this time, we’ve had plenty of practice at negotiation with orgs large and small. We’ve probably lost a few deals and also landed a few that we didn’t deserve. All that practice comes into play now.

I’d recommend always starting high and negotiating down, and not just in terms of money, but also in terms of what we saw as the eventual purpose and outcome of the company we’ve spent so much time building.

It doesn’t matter if it’s an acquirer, a partner, a customer, an investor — we’ll want to make sure we get the best terms on the deal we’re making, because we’re likely not going to get a second chance at negotiating.

And Then Let’s Play Again

My first time through as a sole-founder entrepreneur was after having been through several growth stages as an employee and as an executive. Even then, I got through most of the later parts of growth stage with a lot of pluck and a little help.

But I’m going through a growth stage right now, and these days I’m pretty confident about every part of the process. It took time and practice, and once I started breaking the growth stage down and focusing on the specific demands at each part, everything got easier.