Archive for the ‘advice’ Category

Do I Ask Too Many Questions?

I work with a lot of smart, committed, enthusiastic people. That simple fact makes it hard NOT to solicit feedback wherever possible.

(As a side note, they’re also fun, funny and charming people, which means I definitely talk too much in general because I enjoy my conversations with them. But that’s a separate post about how I need to start looking to see if people are wearing earbuds before talking to them…).

In regards to ‘questions’ however, it’s more difficult, because we all sit together, everyone is willing to help most times and they have incredibly valuable thoughts to contribute to any decision. But there’s a point of diminishing return that is challenging to measure, because efficiency requires decisions to be made – and sometimes made solo, quickly.

As things now stand, I solicit a lot of discussion and feedback. Which helps me a great deal, but potentially helps my colleagues less. I’m looking for approaches to help walk that line if anyone has some. For now, I think I’m going to only ask one question of a person a day. Basically, force prioritization on myself.

If I can only have someone’s full attention for one minute, what would I need to have answered?

Guest Blogger: Brianne Warner of Precision Ads on “Bootstrap Maryland”

Another guest post- this one from Brianne Warner, who you may remember from Dobro Media, the company I profiled from the UVA VC Summit (see a description of Dobro Media Precision Ads here and here).

Brianne was just elected President of the Venture Capital & Entrepreneurship Club at Darden and stays very linked in with events in the area. She wanted to preview a very cool event this coming weekend- Bootstrap Maryland. It takes place April 10 (9-5) at University of Maryland. Brianne’s post below starting at *****

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On April 10, I’ll be back at my alma mater, University of Maryland for a pretty cool entrepreneurial event. A friend and fellow Terp, Jared Goralnick, will be putting on his second Bootstrap Maryland. This day-long event features experienced entrepreneurs who have build companies by listening to their customers and responding to the markets – “bootstrapping” their businesses, rather than relying on a huge influx of VC cash.

Jared bootstrapped his own business, Set Consulting, and then started AwayFind, a web application designed to keep you away from the suck of e-mail and focused on productivity. He speaks at conferences regularly and organizes cool stuff generally. I’ve always found his career path inspiring, and when we chat, I get the sense – as I do when I talk to most entrepreneurs – that the world is full of possibilities if you think things through.

Curious, I asked him a few questions about the April 10th event:

How did Bootstrap Maryland get started? Where did you get the idea?

When I got started, I would’ve benefited a lot from a group of peers to explain the unique needs of a web startup.  And before that I could’ve used advice about starting a small tech business as a 20-something.  Bootstrap Maryland fills those voids for tech companies in the DC area.  For much more on why I started Bootstrap Maryland, see here. (http://www.technotheory.com/2009/03/dc-md-va-entrepreneurs-and-bootstrap-maryland/)

Who should attend? Who shouldn’t attend?

People who are or hope to be building tech companies, particularly on the web.  It doesn’t matter how much experience one has–the topics and activities are not what you’ll learn at a typical business or technology event–they’re nontraditional, often personal lessons-learned from young entrepreneurs.  It’s especially relevant for folks who haven’t seen how tech startups are built outside of this area–we’ll focus on some of the advice and current practices taking places in some of the tech hotbeds like Silicon Valley.

People who are deadset on business plans, and believe there’s a clear line between technology and business are probably not going to enjoy our perspective.

What have you changed since last year and why?

Last year’s event was a bit more Business 101.  This year’s topics are more focused and somewhat more advanced.  We’ll talk a lot about aligning our businesses with our (real) customers…and discuss how software built today can involve customer-learning (or even billing) at the very earliest stages.

Tell us about one or two sessions that you are really looking forward to and why:

I’m excited for Jill Stelfox’s talk on marketing–I spoke alongside her at Founder Institute and she’s both engaging and direct in the way she delivers her nontraditional advice.  She’s sold billion dollar businesses before and yet she knows how to give down-to-earth, practical advice.

The range of speakers and industries (though still focused around web startups) is pretty awesome.  I’m excited that it’s not just geeks talking about blogging–it’s technology people who get business (or the other way around).  One of our speakers has 90 million monthly users, for instance–his company is doing well.

You are an experienced conference-goer, speaker, and maker of lists. What should we bring? Anything we should do to prepare and get the most out of the day?

Research the speakers and attendees, so you know who you want to get to know.  Bring questions.  Stay late.  Feel free to ask for introductions or just introduce yourself–while the panels will be great, make sure you get a chance to build a relationship or two that lasts well past our event.

And just for fun: If we get to College Park early or stay that evening, what are a few spots worth checking out?

Ha.  Try our authentic College Park Diner or enjoy some veggie food at Berwyn Cafe (not so easy to find, closes around 7).  But your best bet is really to walk around the campus, which will be quite lovely at this time of year.

Intrigued? Register at www.bootstrapmaryland.com. $25 for entrepreneurs or a mere $10 for full-time students!

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It sounds pretty damn cool – I’m out of town so can’t make it but drop a comment if any of you are planning on going /go to it, and let us know about it.

Why Have a Blog?

This recent blog post from Fred Wilson really captured the main reason I’m trying so hard to make this blog a sustainable success. His post is about owning your online brand, and a few of the main reasons to do that:

  • You don’t control the internet. Unless Google is reading this. In which case, I’m sorry. For most of us, others are going to write things and post pictures of us. Our image, whether good or bad, is portrayed in a context that is out of our control at certain points. Yes, we can ask friends to take a Facebook photo down ( ibanking and consulting-track MBA students do that all the time during recruiting), but some things are out of our control. By owning a blog, or twitter, or creating specific themes in our social media profiles, we can offset those portrayals and tilt them towards the image we prefer.
  • Blog as Resume: When you don’t have a background in a specific area, or even when you do, and when you want to highlight that experience, a blog allows you the chance to showcase your thoughts, what you’re learning, and really drive home your dedication to certain areas. By the time I graduate with an MBA, I want to be able to point back to my blog and say- “I’ve been writing about tech, innovation, and start-ups for two years; here is how I think.” Fred has a nice quote:- “We have hired all of our junior investment professionals largely on the basis of their blogs, not their resumes or linkedin profiles. You can learn so much more about a person by reading their blog.”

I’ve talked to other students at Darden about blogging- there are two main reasons they don’t blog. The first is time, which I understand. If it isn’t a priority for you, you won’t write, and the blog will die. So yeah, time is hard, especially if it isn’t really important to you.

The second reason is a bit stranger though- a lot of people say they’re worried that they’ll be punished for what’s on their blog. Punished in the sense that a future employer might not respect what what they’ve written, or might disagree with them. Punished in the sense that they may seem ignorant in what they write, and that  might count against them.

I hope they’re not right, but I don’t know. What do you think?

“Don’t work in VC” – (cont’d advice from VCs)

So this piece of advice is one specifically from the venture capitalists I spoke with and it’s pretty straightforward:

DON’T GO WORK FOR A VENTURE CAPITAL FIRM RIGHT OUT OF SCHOOL.

Sounds kinda harsh – but remember, this isn’t my advice, it’s advice from VCs. Every single GP or MD I spoke with said this- some kindly, others more bluntly, but the same points. The first reason isn’t a philosophical one, but several of the others are:

  1. There are no entry-level jobs in VC right now. I participated in a three-day “VC Bootcamp” that Darden put on over winter break, where a group of Darden students met with Virginia and D.C. venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and angels (huge thanks to Cooley Godward for office space and John May and Tim Meyers for setting this up with the EVC Darden Club and the Batten Institute- amazing experience). A lot of VCs talked about trouble with investment exits right now, and how the pipeline they have that is doing well are sucking up their cash, leaving them without money to make a lot of new investments. That’s compounded by the fact that they don’t want to cut loose companies that are doing well, but IPOs aren’t an option and M&A isn’t blowing up either. So they’re not hiring- they’re keeping expenses. Continue reading