Tag Archives: startup

Sustainable Startup: Worthwhile Wine From South Africa

Tom_Miranda_Zumas_smallTom Lynch’s new company really began on a father-daughter trip. He and his 13-year-old Miranda were planning a trip to South Africa, and decided they should spend a week of their time there doing something to help. They ended up in Nzinga, a remote village of mud huts, where Miranda read books to the children and helped out in the school while her dad was put to work planting potatoes and working in the communal garden.

On the trip home, Miranda told her father they couldn’t just leave and do nothing else. She wanted to keep working to help this village. Tom agreed to help her launch a non-profit, which Miranda named Isopho, a Zulu word for “gift” and the children’s nickname for Miranda. While they were sitting there waiting for the plane, Tom searched for available URLs and registered Isopho.org then and there.

Eventually, Tom began to feel a disconnect between his work with Isopho on nights and weekends and his daytime job as a VP of Strategy & Planning for a large digital agency. Doing more of the same each day at work felt insufficient, in light of the challenges he’d accepted in Nzinga. When the company began to consider layoffs, he suggested a mutually beneficial exit agreement for himself so that he could spend more time on Isopho.

He also began thinking about starting a company that might be a better complement to Isopho. On one trip to South Africa, he stayed an extra few weeks to visit an extensive list of wineries he had culled from an even larger list.  His first requirement was that the vineyard consistently win awards for great wine. And the second was that it contribute to sustainability in some major ways. Despite its unfortunate history, the South African wine industry is now one of the most progressive in the world.

The result is Tom’s new company, Worthwhile Wines, which will import 261 sustainable wines from 21 different South African Vineyards. Although the history of winemaking in South Africa is oppressive at best, the vineyards Tom selected are doing things like putting a third of the land in the names of the Black workers, providing school and decent housing for the families working there, developing ways to use fewer pesticides, using organic grapes and employing Blacks in management roles.

Most of us would choose a sustainable product over a similar one that’s not sustainable. But few of us want to go to much trouble to figure that out. Choosing a bottle imported by WorthWhile Wines will be a quick and easy way for consumers to know they’re a) getting a good wine, that B) is from a vineyard that ‘s doing good.

Worthwhile Wines will also be a way Tom Lynch can a) run a good business that b) does some good in the world.

The Weird Resumes That Lead To Successful Entrepreneurs

ML hurdles026

Marilou (in white) hurdles toward her future startup

The path to entrepreneurship often covers exactly the right ground, in ways we could never predict. Interests and experience that seem to be unrelated eventually turn out to be precisely the preparation a specific new venture requires.

Marilou McFarlane, for example, has recently launched Vivo Girls Sports, an online community for athletic girls aged 13-22. If she had known when she was a kid that this was the company she’d start at age 48, she could not have plotted a more useful resume of stepping stones to this moment.

Sure, Marilou played sports as a girl. Soccer and track and tennis and more. She also grew up around college sports, since her father, Jim Heavner, announced many of the Tarheel games for WCHL,  the radio station he started in Chapel Hill. (Being the daughter of an entrepreneur also helps pave the way for starting your own gig later.) After college, she worked for Turner, back when Ted still owned it all, so that gave her some good experience in media, as well as a chance to work for another entrepreneur who thinks big. Later, in San Francisco, she was a media rep for KCBS for many years, before she started her own company, McFarlane Marketing. She had two daughters, both athletic, and was involved in season after season of their sports. For two years, she served as president of their soccer league, a full-time volunteer position she handled while continuing to build her marketing company. She also started an offshoot of  her marketing company that targeted colleges specifically. And now her oldest daughter, Kelly, will be playing for the Tarheels in Chapel Hill starting next year — on their very impressive women’s soccer team.

Marilou knows sports and she knows marketing. She understands teenagers and college students. She has a deep affinity for the issues that girls in those age brackets are facing. She’s savvy to the incredible buying power of this group and its appeal to marketers. And she’s not afraid to start something  new.

Starting a company is not just a way to make a living. Sometimes it’s how we reconcile and integrate everything we are.

After a baby, is starting a company a better idea than going back to work?

babyMaggie would really rather be at home with her new baby, but went back to her job after a standard maternity leave because she and her husband decided they couldn’t afford for her not to work. Several months into it, she’s figured out that after paying for childcare and other expenses associated with the job, she nets about $300 a month. So, in her words, she’s working “to pay for a couple of tanks of gas and some groceries.”

Is there not a better way to make $300? Maggie is the sister of a friend of mine, and I’ve only met her once or twice, but I can’t quit thinking about her situation. I remember what it was like to have a new baby and be torn away by work. And I loved my work at the time, although I understand Maggie is not crazy about her job. I do know she comes from an entrepreneurial family, so the idea of starting her own business is probably not foreign to her.

What sort of business could she start that would mean limited time away from her baby? We’re not talking about the kind of all-consuming startup that requires 80 hours a week or depends on venture capital to get off the ground. To quit her job, Maggie would only need to create $3,600 a year in net profit. That’s not so hard to do. Let’s look at some hypothetical possibilities, making some huge assumptions about what sorts of skills and talents she might have to offer — and the kinds of things she’d actually enjoy doing.

A good solution would be something she could bill by the hour, for only a handful of hours a week. Let’s say she’s a talented tennis player and could give tennis lessons, or fluent in French and could tutor high school students, or a math whiz and could serve as an SAT coach for kids trying to raise their scores. If she charged $50 an hour, or even $35, she could work a very short week and clear her $300 net, even if she had to pay a babysitter. Although, she also might schedule some of those hours during the weekends when her husband could be with the baby.

Let’s say she’s been keeping the company books on Quickbooks at her current job. So many small businesses use that accounting software, many of which might not be large enough to have a full-time bookkeeper but would like to outsource the accounts payable, accounts receivable and basic financial reports. She could handle the books for one or two small companies by going in just a morning or so a week and come home with that $300 or more.

What about starting a company that would provide something needed by other mothers with young kids? I remember several years ago a  woman in New York had the brilliant idea of an exercise class in Central Park that incorporated baby strollers (and babies) into the fitness routine. Maybe Maggie was a lifeguard and swim instructor in her youth and could start a group swimming class for mothers and babies using her mom’s backyard pool.

One trick to making this plan work would be choosing a business that offers the chance of recurring income from the same clients month after month. In other words, she signs up one student for tennis lessons and sees them once a week for months on end. Or connects with a small business who could use a freelance bookkeeper and continues to do their books until they’re large enough to need someone full time. Otherwise, she’ll need to spend a large amount of her time marketing her services so she can create new clients over and over.

Selling your hours adds up more quickly than selling a thing. Particularly a thing that requires hard costs for materials or equipment.  This is not always true, but I think would be for the types of things I can imagine someone like Maggie selling, like homemade greeting cards (she’s very crafty) or hand sewn baby bonnets or fresh-baked birthday cakes. She would have to sell a whole bunch of any of those to make her $300 each month. If you have a skill or talent that allows you to charge a significant hourly rate, that can be an easier path to doing without a paycheck.

Starting a company as a mompreneur doesn’t have to be complicated. If you don’t need to rent office space or hire employees or buy expensive equipment, the startup doesn’t have to cost much either. This is not meant to be a pushy plug for our products, but the Start Your Own Company application for the iPhone is just .99 and could walk Maggie through the basic steps of launching a business. Or she could try the more comprehensive Start Your Own Company printed deck from Starter Cards, which also includes information on the Launch and Follow-Through phases as well as the Launch phase. Either one could be a simple first step to creating a life-sized business that works for this stage of her life.


Start your own company — with your iPhone

APP-001-ScreenshotPageOne-v1Now would-be entrepreneurs have a new tool to make launching a business easier: the Start Your Own Company app for the iPhone. This .99 application offers a streamlined, step-by-step approach to becoming your own boss — and is the first iPhone app to actually walk users through that process.

The Start Your Own Company app  is like a series of flash cards, with a basic step on the front  of each card– and more information on the back about how to tackle that step. (You can see a video of our young copywriter doing a demo of the app on YouTube at http://tinyurl.com/startercardvideo .)

The app is actually a mini-version of the printed Start Your Own Company deck we developed for Starter Cards, the division of Tribe we opened recently to develop tools for entrepreneurs. If this version is well-received, we’ll release the full 52-card deck as an iPhone app down the road.

APP-001-ScreenshotPageOne-v1aAnyone who’s ever started a company knows there’s no shortage of information out there about starting a business. Enough information, in fact, that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Our goal with this app was to present the information in bite-sized pieces, so that it’s easier to see the bare bones of the plan. Like any major goal, launching a company can be broken down smaller, more manageable tasks. Take the process one task at a time, and before you know it you’re up and running.

Our other goal was to offer some help to the many people who now find themselves accidental entrepreneurs. Some of us always dreamed of running our own show, but in the current economy, many frustrated job seekers are deciding that the best way to replace their income might be by creating it themselves.

Know someone who’s been kicking around the idea of starting a company? This app could be a great first step for them. And if they have any comments or suggestions for improvement, we’d love to hear them.

Jobless at 58 sounds like an entrepreneur to me

Yesterday the New York Times ran a headline that read, “At 58, a Life Story in Need of a Rewrite.” The article was about Michael Blattman, who’s been out of work since January of 2008. Blattman is a 58-year-old MBA with a strong resume in financial services who once earned $225,000 a year.

After a year and a half of an unfruitful job search, it seems obvious that this guy should start his own gig. It’s unlikely that the financial sector will be in a hiring frenzy anytime soon. Blattman has applied for 600 jobs, according to the Times, and has scored exactly three interviews, only one of which was in person. It doesn’t look good for him being gainfully employed at a hefty salary anytime soon.

startercards.0626When I hear about people like Blatmann, first I want to shake them and then I want to find their address and send them a deck of our Start Your Own Company cards. He clearly has experience and expertise to share, having worked with the Federal Reserve and the Sallie Mae student loan program, as well as teaching business classes at the University of Maryland.

Why is he not starting his own company, or at least hanging out his shingle as a consultant? The cost of going into business for yourself needn’t be much of a hurdle, in an age when you can incorporate online with LegalZoom for $139 and launch a website with a free template. Perhaps there’s a growing need for guidance in applying for student loans, or maybe he could consult with schools on some aspect of providing financial assistance. Or it could be that his real passion is wine or carpentry or backpacking or piano and this is his chance to start a company doing what he loves.

He’s clearly got time on his hands that might be put to better use. He mentioned to the Times reporter that he had “zero” planned for the coming week, and he admits to driving two towns over for groceries, just to kill an hour or so. Blattman is divorced, but has given up on computer dating sites for now, because women apparently don’t show much interest in 58-year-old guys who are unemployed. It seems his life could use some positive momentum.

Blattman comes across as intelligent, likable, capable. He has years of contacts and a strong reputation in his industry. Why not use the thick skin he’s no doubt developed over his 18-month job search to sell the services of his own company, rather than trying to get hired by someone else?

He may have excellent reasons for continuing to job hunt rather than creating his own income. But I wonder if he just doesn’t realize that starting a company doesn’t have to be that hard. When I run into someone stuck in that spot, I want to get up on my soapbox and shout about how Starter Cards take you through the process, one manageable step at a time.

This is the era of unintentional entrepreneurs. People who never considered themselves the entrepreneurial type are creating their own work when they can’t find suitable jobs. But unintentional or not, every entrepreneur has to summon the guts to take that first leap.

Like anything else, launching a business can be broken down into a series of smaller tasks. If you know a Blattman out there,  send him or her to the Starter Cards website  for that Start Your Own Company deck. And if you’re Michael Blattman, give me your address and I’ll mail you a deck as my gift.

4 important reasons to start a company when you can’t find a job

woman blank biz cardIn this recession, many companies are being launched by people who never meant to be entrepreneurs. These people haven’t long harbored the dream of being their own boss; They just haven’t been able to find a job and are thus taking matters into their own hands. The New York Times published an excellent piece yesterday  titled “On to Plan B: Starting a Business,” by Mickey Meece that touched on several of what I consider to be important themes in today’s entrepreneurial landscape.

1. It’s not crazy to launch a business during a recession. Contrary to the general assumption that  starting a company during an economic downturn is particularly risky, it appears to be no more risky than at any other time, according to a 2009 report from Ernst & Young. In fact, the survival rate is about the same for companies started in good times or bad. The Kauffman Foundation offers some reassuring statistics supporting the idea that companies fare no better or worse when launched in a recession or bear market.

2. Technology and social media make it easier than it’s ever been to start your own company. Just imagine how much harder it would be to start a company a decade or two ago — without the Internet, without email, without cell phones. You can research competitive companies and potential customers online. You can find legal services online, so you can incorporate without even leaving your desk. Creating a website no longer requires the services of a programmer, since there are numerous website templates and tools out there, from inexpensive to free. You can even use social media to market your products and services. A tremendous amount of business resources are available now that just didn’t exist before.

3. Starting your own business can give you some measure of control over your future. The current job market can be tough on egos. While the jobless rate is almost in the double digits, many companies are sidestepping much of the etiquette that once was common practice. You send out resumes, email decision makers and place phone calls, and it might seem as if you’ve just launched them all into a black hole somewhere, judging from the response you get. You may score an interview, but then never hear back from that company again, even to tell you that you didn’t make the cut. Launching a business at least gives you some concrete actions you can take that will result in visible progress. Week after week, you can see that your efforts are beginning to materialize into a company you created out of thin air.

4. Even if you get another corporate gig, it’s still good to have that Plan B. Let’s say you launch your company and then you get that big job offer you’ve been waiting for all this time. If your business is something you can continue to do on the side, it might be helpful to  have that additional income. That side business is also just as useful for your mental health. When you have a bad day at work, or your job future seems  uncertain, it can be enormously reassuring to know you’ve got something else to fall back on.

Small Business Strategies: How many hours should you work?

woman clockFirst things first. Don’t buy into that myth that all entrepreneurs have to work 24/7 to make a go of it. I mean, you can if you want. But I know a whole lot of successful business owners who never did.

On the other hand, Timothy Ferriss may underestimate what it takes for most people. His bestselling “4-Hour Workweek” suggests that you should be able to join what he calls the new rich with less than an hour’s effort a day.

For most of us, the right-sized workweek lies somewhere in between. I’m a fan of the high tide-low tide approach. I can handle the occasional high water mark of long days for a week or two or three at a time. But only if those stretches are broken by weeks of lighter work loads and shorter hours. The more tired I get, the longer the recovery period to get me back at the top of my game. 

You have to consider what it costs the company for you to work long hours. I’m not talking about dollars so much as what it costs in terms of your ability to lead. If you work too hard for too long, you’ll find yourself depleted and exhausted. Wouldn’t it be better for the company to have you refreshed and energized? Does your company’s success depend on the hours you work or the quality of your ideas, relationships and vision?

However, running your own business requires some effort. You can’t expect your company to flourish if you don’t give it the time it needs. Up to a certain point, working hard and being intensely engaged in my work gives me even more energy. But after a few long weeks, I find myself spending more time being reactive to situations and less time proactively planning. If a workweek includes a long day or two of business travel, I know I won’t be my sharpest the next morning. The law of diminishing returns sets in, and I eventually realize I need to back off so I can come back fresh and renewed. Like the tides, it’s a cycle, and develops its own rhythm.

The trick is to recognize that thin line between working too hard and not working hard enough. Only you can know where you hit your stride and where your performance begins to deteriorate. In most cases, it’s not about the hours you put in; it’s about the caliber of work that comes out.