15-40 Segment 1: Starting a Business: Making the right decisions and creating community

What does it take to be a successful entrepreneur? A hot idea? Venture capital money? A lot of internet buzz? Those things help, but our two guests, who are both successful entrepreneurs and businessmen, say there is a lot more to it, especially if you do business solely or mostly on the internet. They’ll give us advice on picking the best partner, why financing your venture is a family affair, and how to present yourself in the best way to internet customers.

Host: Gary Price. Guests: Dan Shapiro, the CEO of Glowforge, creator of the board game Robot Turtles, and author of the book, Hot Seat: The startup CEO guidebook; Bryan Kramer, CEO of PureMatter, author of the book, Shareology: How sharing is powering the human economy.

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Starting a Business: Making the right decisions, and creating community

Gary Price: It seems that every week there’s a new, exciting business venture on the scene that everyone’s talking about. Often, though, these businesses are gone in a matter of months, leaving people to scratch their heads and wonder “why?” How can a business that was so innovative and so promising suddenly disappear from the public’s consciousness? Our guests have some ideas about that, and some advice on how to create a company and an atmosphere that has a better chance of surviving in a crowded market. First is Dan Shapiro, the CEO of Glowforge, a company that makes 3-D laser printers. He’s also the creator of the board game Robot Turtles. He’s distilled the knowledge he gained from leading these and other tech companies into his new book, Hot Seat: The startup CEO guidebook. He says that for every big success that you hear about in the tech industries, there are many, many more failures…

Dan Shapiro: There’s a huge variety of what you see in the start-up world. And, the sad thing is for everyone of those successes that you see in the papers there’s probably five or ten failures that you don’t hear about. And that’s one of the things I really wanted to tackle in the book is both the stories of what goes wrong as well as what goes right, the lows as well as the highs. So you have people from a number of different walks of life, but the things that tends to happen in common is for these fast-growth technology companies they’re people who have some sort of technical background, they may have taught themselves to code or they may have gone to school for computer science, they tend to have a real passion around the technology they use and they tend to be willing to take a whole lot of risk because there’s a whole lot of risk necessary to go start one of these companies.

Price: Shapiro says that one component in the success of many of these high-flying startups is something you can’t really bank on…

Shapiro: If I was to pick just one thing, unfortunately it would kind of be luck. The good news is, it’s kind of the luck that you can help make for yourself. So, being able to create the opportunities for success, to talk to people, to explain why you’re passionate about what you’re doing, to get people excited about what you’re doing, to go sell your vision and sell your dream and let those opportunities arise, that’s really what makes for a great start-up founder, for a great start-up CEO. Because at the end of the day, most of the wonderful things that I’ve the fortune to come into along the way have been things that were totally unpredictable.

Price: His company, Sparkbuy, is an example of how the most unlikely chain of events can result in success…

Shapiro: I sold my company, Sparkbuy to Google because I met a guy from Google on a plane who happened to be sitting next to me, happened to have struck up a conversation with him. His co-worker happened to have interviewed with me five years ago and, even though he turned me down for a job, liked me and thought I was a decent person. And just the string of coincidences that all just amounted to, over the years, telling enough people about what I was excited about and getting them excited too, added up to opportunities that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. So, if there’s just one thing, I’d say it would be luck but it’s the kind of luck that you can help make for yourself. It’s sort of this equal measure of effort and opportunity stringing along that I think, ultimately, makes for the great opportunities.

Price: One component that can be determined by the CEO is finding the right partner to help lead the company. Sure, there are some big enterprises such as Amazon that have made it with a single individual at the helm, but Sharpiro says this is the exception. Good partners will understand their strengths and weaknesses, and turn their attention to doing what they do best…

Shapiro: The one weapon that a tiny little company with just a few people and a good idea has is the ability to move quickly. And having twice as many people involved in the decision – like two instead of one – does not make the idea twice as good, but it makes it take twice as long. And so the secret, the thing that co-founders have to figure out early is ownership and delegation. So the CEO says, “these are the decisions that I am in charge of, and I’m going to ask your advice and I’m going to make the decisions quickly and run. And these are the decisions that you’re in charge of as the CTO or as the Chief Design Officer or Product Officer, whatever all they have, and you’re going to ask my opinion about it and then you’re going to run really fast.” And so it’s not the boss and the lackeys who listen, it is a model where people are empowered to get their job done and to some extent give up the “I’m going to be a part of every committee and a part of every decision team.”

Price: Finding funding to get started is another hurdle the entrepreneur needs to clear. For a small business, Shapiro recommends that you start with family and friends before you look into bringing your business plan to venture capitalists banks or “angel investors”…

Shapiro: Most companies take money from the founders, and from the family and friends of the founders. And, in fact, if they don’t then everybody else you go to for dollars, like angels and VCs, will say “If you can’t get the people who already know you to bet on you, then why should I do that?” So that’s often a very important piece of it. And then the last, newest, entrant to the field is crowdfunding which is amazing, because platforms such as Kickstarter have made it okay to collect dollars from your customers before you ship your product. And this is magical, because it means you get not just dollars up front, it means how many of your product you need to build, so you don’t have forecasting challenges. It means that you have a devoted and loyal community of people who is rooting for you. Because those Kickstarter backers, like when I raised money for the Robot Turtles board game, weigh in and tell you about what their hopes are, what they’re dreams are for the product, they evangelize the product to other people and help spread the word, they serve as an early proof to other parties that there’s demand for this. Target picked up Robot Turtles because of its success on Kickstarter.

Price: Many tech companies do all of their business online, without a brick-and-mortar destination for the public to see their product or service or meet their employees. Bryan Kramer says that these businesses need to develop a sense of community with the public. Kramer is the CEO of PureMatter, and he lays out how to build that community in his book, Shareology: How sharing is powering the human economy. But how do you forge a connection with the public when you are communicating via email, a website or phone?

Bryan Kramer: Look people in the eye digitally. I also talk about something called creating your social and digital body language. Now, now we lose our physical body language online, which is roughly 50% of what people see when we’re all in-person, and we lose that. But what we can gain is the ability to see beyond what it is that they’re saying. We can look at their profile, we can look at their Tweets, we can look at their posts if we’re connected and see what they’re saying, and who they’re like and what they’re interested in. And if we can start to form a little bit of an idea around that then we can start to organize a more personalized approach. And I don’t mean be creepy, what I mean is it’s okay to actually do stuff that’s going to be what that person’s interested in. You always want to meet somebody on their level on what they’re interested in. That’s going to get the best rapport.

Price: Kramer adds that getting to know someone digitally via their online persona isn’t a substitute for face-to-face communication. He says that the point of it is to forge a relationship via the internet or phone so that you might be able to one day shake their hand in person. Talking is not the only thing that helps build relationships. Kramer says that you need a very good “listening team” that will find out what people want from your business and then provide it …

Kramer: The idea behind social listening is to find the needles in the haystack – the things that people are talking about that make sense for you and what you either engage it, or maybe something where you can find out a little bit more about your dog walking business, going back to your example about how to break into the dog walking business. Well, first of all, listen. Go online and look for who’s talking about walking their dog, or not liking to walk their dogs, look for the reverse, and I’ll bet you’ll be able to find support groups. There’s different groups, inside of Facebook, there’s hundreds of thousands of groups inside of Linkedin, and Facebook and people talking about it on Twitter, and listening allows you to find those conversations. That’s the best part of social media. We’ve got all this great data, and to be able to actually cull it and use if for whatever it is, whatever niche you’re in, is only going to make it easier for you.

Price: Telling people about yourself and your company is also important. But how do you know what to share online and what not to share? Some companies post information that isn’t very interesting just to have new posts. Kramer says that everything you share contributes to who you are and adds to that digital body language your company exhibits. He says to be careful not to include insulting posts or content that doesn’t jibe with who you want your online followers to think you are…

Kramer: When you share content, the content or source that you share is in direct relationship to how people will perceive you. So let me say that even more simply: you are what you share. So when you share something, let’s say you were to share for the next five days, you were to share the Economist. And all you shared was the The Economist. Guess what people would start thinking about you? They would start thinking that you are interested not only in the The Economist, but this is a major point of information that you’re looking into, you’re researching that maybe it has to do with your career, but either way they’re going to start associating The Economist with you or you with The Economist.

Price: And what kind of perception would the public have of someone who is that interested in the business magazine The Economist? Maybe that you were intelligent, concerned about world economic affairs, and perhaps a bit of an Anglophile. Kramer says that you can change the perception of who you are just by changing what you share with others. How you go about sharing is another way to encourage or discourage community. He says that if you host online forums about a topic, there is a way to behave that can show you in a positive light…

Kramer: It’s kind of like hosting a cocktail party. If you are going to host a party then the same rules apply. You want to really treat everybody with respect, make sure everybody gets a drink, so to speak, everyone is introduced to each other, that you’re really building conversation, that you’re introducing topics, that you’re helping people to connect. And when people leave the party they feel good about participating. That they feel like you were a great host. And imagine just being at a real cocktail party how you want your guests to feel, is exactly how you want to host a group online.

Price: Bryan Kramer has much more advice on creating a human side to a business in his book, Shareology, available in stores and on his site Bryan- with a “y”, Kramer – with a “k”.com. For a detailed guide to starting and running your own company, pick up Dan Shapiro’s book, Hot Seat, also available in stores an on DanShapiro.com. To find out more about all of our guests, visit our site at Viewpointsonline.net. You can find past archives of programs there as well as on iTunes and Stitcher. I’m Gary Price.

 

 

 

 

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