Three Words of Wisdom

Oops, almost missed the memetrain on this one. Here’s an oldie but a goodie: Dharmesh Shah’s Startup Triplets, with a few from Guy Kawasaki.

These are basically three-word phrases for entrepreneurs. A ton of great ones have already been voiced. Here are mine:

I hope Shah doesn’t mind my using his awesome tweet link idea. Internet memes are fun!

Passion for Your Business

So true:

Whatever your company does, you need to believe in your gut that it’s the most interesting, exciting, worthwhile enterprise you could be engaged in at that moment, or you’re going to have a hard time convincing anyone else – employees, customers, investors, whoever – to make commitments to you.

That’s a quote from Norm Brodsky’s new book The Knack: How Street-Smart Entrepreneurs Learn to Handle Whatever Comes Up.

You gotta have passion for your business. Otherwise, why put up with all the bullshit if you don’t really care about what you’re doing? If you’re in it just for the money, you will be beaten by a competitor who really cares. But if you do it because you love doing it, your passion & enthusiasm will shine through.

Biz Idea: Reviews of Business-to-Business Services

No business owner wants to do this, but every single one has to – hunt around for a good business card printer.

There are tons available, but they vary wildly in quality. Especially online.

If you are as picky as me, this can be frustrating. I have gone through three vendors so far and was unimpressed by each. The card stock was poor, the colors were washed out, the ink scraped off easily. Bleh. I’d love to get a large number of reviews for my fourth attempt, so I can go with a vendor with a good reputation.

Hence the idea of a ratings and reviews site of business to business services. It’s like a Yelp for business owners, as opposed to end consumers.

Such a site could list services that provide logos, signage design, insurance, software programming, car rentals, employee benefits, legal services, accounting, etc. How many times have you sought such services and had no idea how to find hem? For me, lots.

Ratings and review sites tend to use advertising as their primary revenue streams, through either sponsored listings or advertising spots. I’m generally not crazy about such business models, but I’m not sure what other methods will work. Affiliate programs, perhaps. But that could pose a logistical and data quality nightmare. Such as: what if the service didn’t have an affiliate program? What if they all use different ones? Would services offer a higher affiliate rate in return for a better ranking, and how would that conflict with a sponsored listing?

Other challenges include initially populating the database with seed data, enticing business owners to write reviews, and most importantly, how do we cross the threshold of a self-sustaining community from a struggling one without enough reviews? Those are monumental problems that all ratings & reviews sites encounter. Many never cross the threshold because they cannot solve those challenges.

There are also competitive sources of similar information, most notably LinkedIn, though it would require effort to get such information. (Side idea: perhaps this could work as a feature on LinkedIn?)

Personally, I’d love a service like this, especially if it had good, reliable information. If I am in a rush, have a ton of tasks on my plate, and know of a good source of B2B ratings & reviews, I would gladly use such a site in a heartbeat.

What do you think? Does something like this exist already?

Photo by: FranciscoDiez

Psychology and Business

Homer Simpson's Brain The foundation of business is psychology. That is to say, if you understand psychology – especially the psychology of your customers – you’ll significantly increase your business’ chances of success.

Yup, and the sky is blue. Pretty obvious stuff. Hopefully.

What isn’t as obvious is how the actually mind works, how psychology actually plays out.

Fortunately, I just found a gem of resources from PsyBlog – How the Mind Reveals Itself in Everyday Activities. This collection of articles offers explanations and insights into practical applications of psychology, each of which could lead to potential business benefits. For instance:

Ask for help: Why people are twice as likely to assist as you think

This research concludes that, “if you want help, just ask. People are much more likely to help than you think, especially if the request is relatively small.” Also, “the other side of the coin is that most of us don’t realise just how hard it is to say no to a request for help.”

I suspect this only pertains to real-world interactions, rather than online interactions. I’m not sure how this would play out online. Or perhaps Yahoo! Answers (YHOO) is a good example – meaning it would play out pretty well.

This insight also means you could enlist the help of friends and family during these days of economic distress. If you’re worried about being overbearing, give them an easy way to say No. But chances are, you’ll be surprised at how many will really say Yes.

Mondays are not as depressing as you think

Apparently, Wednesdays are the worst days of the week, with Tuesday actually being pretty good. Perhaps your business could take advantage of that.

Want to do a giveaway of free ice cream, smoothies, or pastries? Call it a “Feel Good” deal and give them away on a Tuesday! Or perhaps do it on Monday, since that’s the perceived worst day of the week. Sometimes perception go much further than reality.

Why loud music in bars increases alcohol consumption

I’ve heard that salty snacks like chips and peanuts can make people thirsty, and thus more likely to order more drinks. Well, guess what? So can loud music.

It’s just a casual relationship though; studies haven’t determined if the volume of the music itself is what causes extra drinking, or the fact that people can’t hear each other as well, and thus they drink instead.

I wonder if this applies to food too. Perhaps you could play loud music at a fast food restaurant, thus encouraging patrons to eat quickly and leave. Hmm!

And that’s just a few of the ways understanding psychology can help your business. Good stuff, everyday psychology!

Props to ReadWriteWeb

ReadWriteWeb I often check out Techmeme for my popular technology news. Then I’m off to Google Reader for further news.

A new realization struck me today. Every time I dig deeper into a story on Techmeme, I click on ReadWriteWeb’s related entries to get more detail. Once upon a time, Iwould turn to TechCrunch for story details & commentary. Now it’s RWW.

I’m not quite sure when RWW replaced TC, but I enjoy their longer posts, thoughtful insights, and occasional personal commentary. While I don’t always agree with their writers, it’s nice to see that personal flavor in there. They cover all the same popular topics that TC, Mashable, GigaOM, and all those guys do, but sometimes I like a longer, more in-depth article than a quick 2-paragraph “Wham, Bam, Thank you Ma’am” kind of post.

So here’s my very non-RWW, “Wham, Bam, Thank you Ma’am” post to give props to RWW’s founder Richard MacManus and his team of writers. Nice job guys!

The Five Key Evolutions of Entrepreneurship

Oh wait, there’s more. Yesterday, I cited a quote from the article “How to Thrive in 2009” by Bo Burlingham of Inc. Magazine. In it, he interviews Jim Collins, author of Built to Last and Good to Great.

Collins also talks about what he calls the “five key evolutions that have helped bring to life the idea of entrepreneurship as a systematic, replicable process” since the 1970s. Before that era, starting your own company was a momentous task that was done without any kind of support. Now, these evolutions have allowed countless individuals to become entrepreneurs:

  • Raising Capital

    There are all kinds of ways to raise capital now, as compared to the 1970s: venture funds, angel networks, private equity, search funds, IPOs, etc. These new methods have enabled many more businesses to grow.

  • Learning To Be An Entrepreneur

    Starting a new business is now considered a learnable process, as opposed to something just wacky, gutsy people do on their own. There are now entrepreneurship classes, seminars, workshops, books, and websites galore, all geared towards teaching someone how to start a business.

  • Being a Hero

    In the 1970s, the role of an entrepreneur was seen as exploitative and sleazy, sort of like a used car salesman. Somewhere along the way, the role did a 180 and is now socially acceptable, even heroic, in some cases. What a flip-flop!

  • Building a Better Process

    Remember the phase, “build a better mousetrap”? That was what being an entrepreneur meant in the 1970s. Now, it means building a better process.

  • Going Through the Stages of Entrepreneurship

    Entrepreneurship has evolved through three stages so far, with a fourth that has been emerging. They are:

    Stage One
    You have a great idea.
    Stage Two
    You build a successful business.
    Stage Three
    You build a great company.
    Stage Four
    You start a movement.

Wow, I got two blog posts out of one Inc. article. Nice!

Photo by: foundphotoslj

Amazon Kindle for Textbooks

Amazon Kindle 2 Wish I could say I called it first, but it was an obvious idea from the start.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Amazon (AMZN) “plans to unveil a new version of its Kindle e-book reader with a larger screen and other features designed to appeal to periodical and academic textbook publishers.”

Beginning this fall, some students at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland will be given large-screen Kindles with textbooks for chemistry, computer science and a freshman seminar already installed, said Lev Gonick, the school’s chief information officer. The university plans to compare the experiences of students who get the Kindles and those who use traditional textbooks, he said.

Five other universities are involved in the Kindle project, according to people briefed on the matter. They are Pace, Princeton, Reed, Darden School at the University of Virginia, and Arizona State.

Lucky students! I wonder how they picked these universities.

Not everyone feels this way though. Frederic Lardinois of ReadWriteWeb doesn’t think students will use a Kindle for their studies, mainly because taking notes is different (he says “clunky”) on a Kindle and laptops exist as a viable electronic alternative. He’s made good points, though I respectfully disagree. Here is how I think it will play out:

Some students will rush to buy it, some will totally avoid it, and some will watch their friends use it and perhaps pick one up after an intelligent evaluation. As the Kindle becomes synonymous with education and books, these students will graduate and continue using their Kindles outside of college.

Hey, that strategy kind of sounds familiar. Apple (AAPL), ahem.

Who will avoid it?

  • Students who like the tactile feel of a heavy textbook and using a highlighter & pen to take notes
  • Students who don’t want to pay the upfront cost of a Kindle
  • Students who just don’t like the device (too ugly, too unusable, etc)

Who will buy it?

  • Students who determine that a Kindle and its e-books are cheaper than purchasing used textbooks
  • Students who like the latest tech gadgets and toys (don’t underestimate the size of this group!)
  • Students who have to carry around enormous textbooks and don’t want the added weight

I suspect that those who buy a Kindle will adopt new ways of note-taking as well. Students are adaptable and sharp that way. Maybe they’ll use Kindle’s built-in note-taking features. Maybe Amazon will add more features to improve this. Or maybe they’ll adopt other practices, like writing down important points in a notebook. I often did this because the act of writing helped me memorize information.

Point is, any shortcomings the Kindle has with note-taking features will probably be easily overcome by students who like the device for its price, portability, and weight.

They’ll most probably have a laptop too and see both devices as complementary instead of competitive. I can see students carrying both. They may even have both on the desk simultaneously – the Kindle with their e-textbook, their laptop with a few chat clients (procrastinators!), and perhaps some pens and paper for notes. Swap out the Kindle with a stack of textbooks and that’s the typical study set-up.

And that is a point I suspect is more important than Lardinois realizes. I don’t know which classes he took, but if you had classes with a ton of heavy textbooks, you’d probably do anything to relieve yourself of that burden. A Kindle is the perfect answer.

One more quick point: the Kindle’s Wikipedia and dictionary integration could be hidden gems. Students use sources like those often for research reports. While a laptop might still be easier to capture long paragraphs from Wikipedia, being able to look up a quick fact would be sweet awesomeness.

All Amazon needs is a few key students (read: connectors and social hubs) to enjoy their Kindles. Word of mouth marketing is huge on college campuses. It’s a great target market in a great WOM environment.

Man, thinking about all this kind of makes me wish I had a Kindle when I was a college student.

4 Great Businesses Coming from Recessions

McDonald's Some of the world’s greatest companies were born during economic recessions. Bet you didn’t know that.

An article from Entrepreneur Magazine highlights some of the most innovative ideas to arise from economic slumps. From that list, I noticed four great companies:

The Great Depression (1930 – 1939)
1939 – Hewlett-Packard (HP)

Eisenhower Recession (1954 – 1961)
1955 – McDonald’s (MCD)

Vietnam, Stagflation, Oil Crisis (1973 – 1975)
1975 – Microsoft (MSFT)

1980’s Recession (1981 – 1983)
1981 – MTV (VIA)

The article also cites some pretty important ideas, such as scotch tape (1930), fluorescent light bulbs (1938), disposable diapers (1961), Post-It Notes (1974), Prozac (1987), the World Wide Web (1991), and the iPod (2001), all of which were born during recessions.

So you see, this isn’t a time for gloom and doom. It is a time to create and elate! After all, recession is the mother of invention.