Resources for Startups

Social Enterprise Academy

Here’s a gallery version of these photos.

Today marked the first day of the Social Enterprise Academy run by the Center for Community Transformation at Fresno Pacific University. I’ve been privileged to get to work on this project as a writer, an entrepreneurship advisor, mentor, and instructor. Here are a few photos from the first day, along with some of the resources we used.

Worksheets

These worksheets are created and copyrighted by Strategyzer.com and Strategyzer AG, and used by permission. These are the same team who produced the wonderful Business Model Generation book.

Here are my slides from today’s presentation:

Thanks to everyone who joined us today! Please let me know if there are questions I can answer or additional resources I can add. I look forward to 3 more good sessions!

Businesses my students are launching

I’m privileged to teach business and entrepreneurship at Fresno Pacific University. This semester, my students in Seminar in Strategic Management are launching businesses. Here are a few of the projects they’re working on:

For Freedom Flags

These patriotic decor pieces are great gifts for veterans, police officers, firefighter, and other heroes and patriots.

Altered Marketing

This dynamic duo is offering social media marketing consulting for small businesses. Any business that needs more traffic or wants to sell more should look them up!

Wisdom Watchers

These caring helpers take care of the daily household needs of older people. They help people living on their own to stay independent for longer, and they provide peace of mind for anyone responsible for an older relative.

Cell Now

These recycle-preneurs take used or broken electronics and give them a new life before selling them overseas to people who don’t have access to the latest gadgets.

T.H.E. Detail Kings

These hard-working guys help to protect the investment you’ve made in your car. They make your used car feel like a new car for only a fraction of the price!

The.Design.Dude

These guys make unique stickers, delivered with a unique experience!

Renegade Shirts

These guys deliver custom, classy t-shirts for military members and firearms enthusiasts. They also offer military unit t-shirts at a good price and right when they’re needed.

String It On

This team makes custom string art wall art (backed by good stories) for home stagers and moms with kids.

Which project is your favorite? Which one(s) do you want more information about?

How valuable are brands?

Bumper sticker: There’s nothing a little Starbucks and Disney can’t fix

Taio Cruz, in his 2010 song Dynamite, sings,

“I came to dance, dance, dance, dance

I hit the floor ’cause that’s my plans, plans, plans, plans

I’m wearin’ all my favorite brands, brands, brands, brands

Give me some space for both my hands, hands, hands, hands.”

For Taio (and his fellow songwriters on that particular number), the clothing he wears makes a difference in the quality of his experience. But it’s not the cut, color, or look of the clothing, it’s the brand that matters. It’s the same reason Taio rolls up on a sick BMW motorcycle in the music video for this song. We define ourselves by the brands we choose.

In the (now-classic) Christmas movie A Christmas Story, the narrator (Ralphie) explains his father by saying, “Some men are Baptists, others Catholics. My father was an Oldsmobile man.”

As customers, we define ourselves by the brands we consume. Many people think of themselves as Marlboro Men or Lululemon girls. We create self-conceptions based on our status as Wal-mart shoppers or Whole Foods people.

If you’re crafting a brand, identify the hooks that your customers use to identify with your brand. Remember that your market doesn’t just want to buy a product or service – they want an experience with your brand.  Use the creation of a brand to make meaning and create community.

You know your brand is successful when your customers start identifying each other and interacting apart from you. Photoshop User Magazine and Photoshop World is a great example. Owned by Kelby Media Group, this community is a user group that collects Adobe’s fans and customers and allows them to celebrate and improve the work that makes them Adobe users. When your customers are willing to fly across the country to meet other like-minded customers, you have created a very engaging brand.

Here are some steps toward strengthening your brand:

  1. Identifying your brand’s values.
  2. Where are there people who care about what you care about? Who cares about this more than you do?
  3. How can you add value to these people’s lives?
  4. What tangible interaction points can you craft with your customers?
  5. What elements can you add to the customer experience to surface the things that you and your customers care about?

Use the Contact page if you’d like to talk about building your brand.

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!