Resources for Startups

Featured Entrepreneur: Pitman Farms

I had the privilege this week of visiting Pitman Farms, the company behind Mary’s Free Range Chicken. Though I didn’t meet Mary or her husband Rick, I did get to sit down with their son Ben. He told us about the family business, including their successes and their lessons. He shared with me this video.

Some of my favorite moments in the video:

  • When Rick Pitman said, “Our goal is to sell chickens, but our purpose is to create jobs.” He’s in an area of intensely concentrated poverty and high unemployment, and the risk taken by this family of entrepreneurs is making life better for hundreds of workers and their families.
  • Mary’s connection to her customers via her phone number on the bags. the feedback she gets directly from their customers is an extremely effective form of market research.
  • Rick didn’t wait when he heard about the plant available in Sanger. I’m sure he worked out the numbers, but he didn’t take a year to game out every scenario before pulling the trigger on the location.
  • This is a great reminder that family business is personal, and the successes and failures of family business are very personally felt.

If you want to read more about family business, I recommend buying a copy of Perpetuating the Family Business: 50 Lessons Learned From Long Lasting, Successful Families in Business by John Ward or The BraveHeart Exit: 7 Steps to Your Family Business Legacy by my friend Randy Long.

Money to start your business

Do you want some money to start your business? Of course you do! Otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading websites like this one. While you have many good options for financing a start-up, I want to offer you another one. This is the Jump Start loan program offered by the Valley Small Business Development Corporation.  This is a small loan, ranging from $500 to $10,000.

You can use it to buy equipment or inventory, improve your signage, or set up a website. There’s no minimum credit score and very little paperwork. If you’re interested in this startup loan program, contact Rich Mostert at the VSBDC. Rich can be reached at (559) 476-3975 or rich@vsbdc.com. I recommend working with these guys; they funded my first business loan many years ago. If this loan program isn’t right for you, they have others to look at.

If you want to read about funding a small business, take a look at Financing Your Small Business: From SBA Loans and Credit Cards to Common Stock and Partnership Interests.

*Disclosure: I’m not in any kind of relationship with VSBDC – I’m just passing this information on for your benefit. They don’t pay me any kind of commission or kickback.

Reading for Entrepreneurs: The Lean Startup

 The Lean Startup is a book that’s foundational for understanding much of the conversation around entrepreneurship today. But here’s the thing: if you haven’t read the book, it’s not what you think it is. I talk with business leaders and academics all the time. When I mention The Lean Startup, almost everyone makes an assumption about the title. They think that it means starting a business with resource constraints. But everyone who starts a business does so with constraints. Everyone feels pressure to do more with less.

But Lean Startup isn’t about doing more with less. Rather, it’s a fundamentally different approach to developing products and services that involves customers from an early stage of development. Eric Ries developed these concepts with Steve Blank and has tested them in his own businesses and with thousands of other startups around the world. This approach has wantrapreneurs start with a customer pain and develop the simplest possible solution to that pain. This is called an MVP, or Minimum Viable Product. The next step is testing the product with customers to see if it does, indeed, meet the customer’s need in the way that was intended. The entrepreneur then takes the product through a build -> measure -> learn process of iterative development. The whole idea is to develop in a way that proves the value being created for the customer at every step. This keeps entrepreneurs from developing a really cool product or service that no one wants.

This methodology works really well for software, where iterative development and easy customer testing are very accessible. But it can work across a whole range of products or services, and much has been written about how to do this. As a matter of fact, follow-on books to The Lean Startup have become something of a cottage industry. This is a mark of the book’s stature in the conversation.

I realized the centrality of The Lean Startup to our current dialogue when I took a bunch of students to the Startup Grind Global Conference back in February. Speakers kept referring to concepts like MVP and customer development. I kept leaning over to whichever student was closest and trying to summarize these concepts in a way that made sense. Most of those explanations ended with, “…You should just read the book.”

The ‘Lean’ in ‘Lean Startup’ comes from the lean manufacturing movement. Lean manufacturing is a continuous improvement methodology developed in Japan at Toyota by Taiichi Ohno. It was first called the Toyota Production System, of TPS. An understanding of the paradigm-busting thinking that goes into Lean manufacturing will help to set up the foundations for The Lean Startup. If you want a good explanation of Lean, I recommend Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation.

There’s plenty more to say about Lean Startup, but this should be enough to get you started. Will you read the book? What were your thoughts? What important concepts did I miss?

Enjoy the reading!

Reading for entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs are curious people. They’re driven to create, and part of that process involves learning from others. The most successful entrepreneurs read – a lot.

Much of my business education comes from the books I’ve read. As I was mentoring a young entrepreneur recently, he asked me for a list of books to read. Once I started the list, I realized it’s rather long. I’ve decided to share that list here with you, along with reviews to help you get the most out of these books (and prioritize them along with the rest of your work).

Books on a curving library wall

Image by Marcus Hannson, used in accordance with Creative Commons license.

What e-ship books do you think are must-reads?

Stay tuned for future posts on Reading for Entrepreneurs!

How to get started with hardly any money

This is a slideshow from a talk I gave at #SOENT17 last month.

It goes through some bootstrapping techniques used when starting a new business. This talk concentrated on Social Enterprises and the unique advantages and challenges of such. “What is a social enterprise,” you may ask. That’s a great question and a subject for another day’s blog post.

For now, please let me know if there are areas of the presentation that you’d like to see explained in detail. Leave a comment below if you’d like to talk about this further.

Company Visits: Manufacturing

I have the opportunity to take students inside four different manufacturing companies this week. These companies are really opening up to talk about sales, production, accounting, production scheduling, labor and personnel, and other useful business topics. Below are the first two company visits, posted over at a web site I created for the project, ePathway Academy. Follow along and enjoy!

Cru Winery

MEC Aerial Work Platforms

 

 

How entrepreneurs get things done

Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.Entrepreneurs are creatives. They’re pushed by external forces and pulled between ambitions that compete for mental space. Their dreams are rarely linear and often interrelated. Putting timelines to dreams is one of the hardest tasks an aspiring entrepreneur can face. They need systems for capturing, making sense of, and dealing with vastly disparate interests, from this month’s accounting to regulatory concerns to a new product direction. In a sense, entrepreneurs are the idealized type of the knowledge worker, but amplified to the furthest degree. Knowledge workers often have structures or supervisors to reign in their creativity, but entrepreneurs typically have neither. Their structures must be self-constructed if they exist at all.

Entrepreneurs walk along a cliff with a precipice waiting. Their challenge: how creative can I be without falling to the risk of not executing? For wannabe-preneurs to succeed, they need to build in an executive function that’ll allow them to turn dreams into timelines and timelines into reality.

Productivity is the answer to this challenge. My two favorite thinkers about productivity are David Allen and Leo Babauta.

Getting Things Done

David Allen wrote the outstanding book, “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity,” back in 2001. I was thrilled to find out that he’s written an update to the book, and that an Audible.com version was just released about a week ago. Allen lays out a simple, easy-to-implement system for getting more done with less stress. If you want to become a productivity ninja, this is your white belt training. I highly recommend this book, and David Allen’s approach.

focus

Leo Babauta writes the Zen Habits blog, along with a collection of books. They’re about working and living well. His book, “focus : a simplicity manifesto in the age of distraction,” is available both for free and for purchase. I started reading the free version and liked it so much that I paid for the full version. It’s a wonderful daily read for entrepreneurs and other people who have a lot of competing inputs.

Have you read either of these books? How do you balance your creativity, your responsibilities, and your business ideas? Leave a comment or let me know on Twitter at @LearnEShip!

When to register your trademark

One question I hear from a lot of first-time entrepreneurs is how they should go about registering their trademark. There area  few issues to consider here. First, let me state upfront that I’m not an attorney, not an expert in intellectual property, and I’m not giving anyone legal advice. But I hope that I can clarify the role of trademark in your company’s startup journey.

Interbrand's Top 8 brands of 2015

Interbrand’s Top 8 brands of 2015

Trademark Basics

In the United States, trademark is handled by the US Patent and Trademark Office. A trademark is the mark that helps customers to tell your product or service from those of your competitors. It’s an important part of your company’s brand identity. As with copyright, you don’t have to actually register your trademark to start using it. Unlike copyright (which costs $55 to register), it costs between $10,000 and $30,000 to register a Trademark. It’s so expensive because of the time needed to search for previous similar uses of the mark and the attorney’s fees required for the lengthy application process.

When to register

The biggest misconception I hear about trademarks is that you need to go through the extensive registration process before you begin selling products or services to customers. The truth is that this is NOT a preliminary step, and you can start doing business without registration.

I can almost hear the objection: “But what if someone rips off my trademark and starts using my before I can get it registered?” My response is that entrepreneurs shouldn’t rely on a trademark as the only differentiator between their products or services and those of their competitors.

If the only thing that makes you better than your competitors is a logo, then you don’t deserve to lead your intended market. Your goal as an entrepreneur is to create as many barriers to entry behind you as possible. Trademark will eventually be one of these, but you should also consider how to outperform your competition on cost, price, service, delivery, availability, quality, and usefulness.

It’s good to look better than your competition, but it’s preferable to BE better than your competition.

You should plan to register your trademark eventually. But your first task as an entrepreneur is to develop a product or service, get it into customers’ hands, start generating revenue, and focus of being the best (or cheapest or fastest) at what you do. Some of these tasks require money, but they all require hustle. And hustle is both free and rare.

Get out there and make it happen!

*Note: Below is a video that explains all the details of Trademarks and registration, straight from the US Patent and Trademark office. They provide the best technical guidance available. The video IS almost 42 minutes long, so strap in if you plan to watch the entire thing.

Pitching Your Idea

I spent today watching college entrepreneurs (including Stay Grindin’, who I’m coaching) give elevator pitches to potential investors. After watching business ideas all day, I have a few observations:

  1. Funding is not a rare commodity, but validated, vetted business ideas are.
  2. It’s vitally important to know the pain you’re solving for your customers. If you can talk to them, do it. If you feel the pain, make sure you’re not the only one.
  3. Scale, and your ability to multiply a business model to scale, matter a lot.
  4. Huge dreams are okay, but only if you can prove you have the ability to execute on them. How do you prove this? Partner with credible people who bring high-level skills to your team. If your idea is stupid, but you’ve been able to talk five PhD-level experts into leaving their jobs to join your team, I will take a hard look at it.

The talented student entrepreneurs I saw today encouraged me about the future, and reminded me that taking public steps toward your dreams is a great way to get closer to success. Take our quiz and let us know if you want to take steps toward your success!