15 Smart Ways to Vet a Potential Investor Before Partnering

Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

What’s one smart way to vet a potential investor before sealing the deal?

1. Talk to Other Companies They Have Invested In

Diana GoodwinBy reaching out to Founders and executives at other companies that your potential investor has invested in, you’ll be able to get a sense of how hands on they will be, what type of advice or value-add they provide (aside from cash), and overall whether or not it was a good experience. This type of information will help you decide whether that particular investor will match what you are looking for.

– Diana GoodwinAquaMobile Swim School

2. Find Out What Value They Provide Beyond Money

Andrew ThomasAsk your investor to articulate exactly what value they will provide beyond writing a check.  If they can’t confidently and clearly articulate their value, you should not move forward in working toward terms. Ask them to explain how they delivered this value to other investments and how they can do the same specifically for your startup.

– Andrew ThomasSkyBell Video Doorbell

3. See How They Handle Negative News

Sean KellyThe only way to truly know a potential investor’s character is to go through tough times with him or her. To simulate that, strategically surface negative news and gauge their reaction. How they handle it will speak volumes.

– Sean KellySnackNation


4. Research the Investor Online

Shawn SchulzeIt’s amazing what you can find out about a person or entity by doing some thorough searches online. Research their background, prior investments, LinkedIn, business websites, online articles, press mentions, etc. Look for any red flags and validate any statements made. With social media and the amount of content published online, you can verify and uncover a lot about most individuals or entities.

– Shawn SchulzeSeniorCare.com

5. Break Bread Together

Nick BraunAlways meet in person before taking on a new investor. I recommend dinner or drinks to allow enough time for a thoughtful conversation. Too many entrepreneurs rely solely on email, social media and conference calls, but that will only tell you part of the story and can get you burned. I know it’s old school and a bit inconvenient, but all the research in the world can’t replace a handshake.

– Nick BraunPetInsuranceQuotes.com

6. Consider a Lawyer

Elle KaplanWhat many fail to realize is that you usually aren’t your own boss after getting funding. Investors can say that they’re on board with your company’s vision and core values, but might be singing a completely different tune after you sign the papers. That’s why I’m a huge fan of bootstrapping. If you really must get funding, do the research and consider a lawyer to make sure you retain control.

– Elle KaplanLexION Capital

7. Ask for References

Jordan FliegelIt’s important to ask for references of entrepreneurs the investor has previously backed. Set up calls with the founders to get the inside scoop on their experiences with the investor. A good investor will open up their Rolodex of contacts and offer to make an email introduction. If they are not willing to do so, it is a huge red flag.

– Jordan FliegelCoachUp, Inc.

8. Back Channel References

Joseph WallaAsk a lot of questions. If you really want to do a full vet, find out who they’ve invested in and do back channel references on them. You’d be surprised, not all VCs have sterling reputations within the community. Conversely, there are a lot of less well-known VCs who are both extremely helpful and have amazing reputations. The only way to find out is by doing back channel references.

– Joseph WallaHelloSign

9. Find Out if They Want to Learn From You

Julien PhamThere should be an obvious pattern. Look at their portfolio and the relationships they’ve maintained with the people they’ve invested in. A good investor is first and foremost a people person — someone with broad knowledge or experience and a thirst to learn through you. A good investor will trade their money and experience in exchange for an opportunity to grow and learn from you.

– Julien PhamRubiconMD

10. Discover if They Have a Willingness to Participate in Follow-on Rounds

Vishal ShahUnless your startup is witnessing hockey-stick growth, expect to raise multiple ‘bridge’ and/or ‘seed’ rounds before you raise Series A. If existing investors decide not to join a follow-on round, it sends a negative signal to other investors. Dig into the investor’s past track record and measure how often they have participated and/or led subsequent bridge rounds. Stay away from the one-timers.

– Vishal ShahNoPaperForms

11. Know Whether They Can Take on a Lead Role for You

Andy KaruzaInvestors typically know and work with other investors. Should you have to raise more money, they should be willing to take the lead on helping you raise. This type of investor is very important to have early on in your company as it will dictate success in future rounds.

– Andy Karuzabrandbuddee

12. Flip the Script

Aron SusmanAsk them how they view your company, what they see your company accomplishing, and their ultimate growth goal with your company. It’s ideal to find an active investor, instead of one who plans to put in some money and leave it at that.

– Aron SusmanTheSquareFoot


13. Talk to a Previous Company That Had A Period of Failure

Trevor SummersThe true test of a great investor is how they react when times are tough. Do they disengage? Provide helpful guidance and introductions? Do they redouble their efforts? Every investor has had struggling investments. Find out who in their portfolio went through tough times and getthe skinny about what it’s going to be like for you when you face your most important challenges.

– Trevor SumnerLocalVox

14. Focus on Investors Who Grasp Your Business Quickly

David CiccarelliHaving raised around $5,000,000 from a variety of investors, I’ve learned that those who grasp the business quickly will be the bestinvestors. Don’t waste time explaining your business model, including your value proposition, profit model, key resources and core processes to an uninformed investor. Instead, focus your time and energy with those who intuitively appreciate the opportunity.

– David CiccarelliVoices.com

15. Share Your Vision

Shilpi SharmaDo you share your vision with the VCs you are looking to get money from? Two things you would get to know: 1) Whether the VC would be a partner in your vision and help you refine it as you progress, and 2) If there is disagreement regarding the vision of the company, how would you two sort it out? It is very important for you to be open and transparent with VCs since you are looking for a partner for next three or four years with them.

– Shilpi SharmaKvantum Inc.

11 Tips for Starting a Conversation With a Potential Investor

Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

I landed a short meeting with a potential investor thanks to a warm introduction. Where do I start the conversation?

1. Get to Know Them

Diana GoodwinBefore diving into the details of your business, start with some lighter conversation topics, perhaps by bringing up the person who made the introduction. And let the conversation naturally flow to business talk. The meeting shouldn’t just be about money — it’s important to make sure you get along on a personal level as well.

– Diana GoodwinAquaMobile Swim School

2. Be Clear and Concise

Zachary BurkesLook, we’re all incredibly busy — imagine having people pulling you in every direction to invest in their next great idea. It has to be exhausting. One way to separate yourself from the pack is to be clear, concise and effective in how you communicate your company and product. If you can’t explain your company in 30 seconds, it’s either too complex or you don’t understand it well enough.

– Zachary BurkesGatekeeper Innovation Inc.

3. Start With Background

Mark CenicolaThe first step is getting to know each other. Find out as much about the investor’s background as possible and provide them with your background. Keep in mind that an investment doesn’t happen in a single meeting. Finding common ground can create mutual trust, create a basis for an ongoing relationship and ultimately lead to an investment.

– Mark CenicolaBannerView.com

4. Sell Your Method, Not Your Product

Murray NewlandsTell the investor how big the market is and how much money they are going to make from investing in your company that is inevitably going to succeed. Far to many founders start with demonstrating the product and talking about functionality without selling the problem and the business case first. If there is no problem or business case, it doesn’t matter how great your product is.

– Murray NewlandsDue.com

5. Ask Questions to Build Trust

Joseph WallaYou’re either raising or you’re not raising. And unless you’re having five investor meetings a day for weeks on end, you’re probably not raising. In this case you should use the meeting as an opportunity to build the relationship without indicating that you want money. Ask the investorsquestions to qualify them. Building trust in a genuine way is priceless, so take advantage of the not-raising mindset.

– Joseph WallaHelloSign

6. Discuss the Person Who Made the Introduction

Jason LaYou should start the conversation by talking about how you know the person who made the introduction, including why the person thought you and the investor should meet. You want to demonstrate that you’ve done your homework by displaying knowledge of the investor’s past projects. The next step is to present your pitch. Investors are busy, so don’t waste time.

Jason LaMerchant Service Group, LLC

7. Find Out What Caught Their Eye

David CiccarelliInvestors hear about thousands of ideas each year and sit through hundreds of pitches; they’ve seen it all. The fact that you’ve landed an in-person meeting means that you are doing something new or have a unique approach. Find out what that is. I’d open the meeting with, “Before we get started, can I ask what specifically caught your eye?” That becomes your hook for future meetings.

– David CiccarelliVoices.com

8. Ask Questions About Past Investments

Jayna CookeIt is so important to understand what the potential investor is looking to invest in. Ask them questions about their past investments that have done really well. Find a way to compare yourself and your ideas with them. Take this as a launching point and have your deck ready with information that you know they will want to talk about.

– Jayna CookeEVENTup

9. Build Rapport

Joshua LeeStart by building rapport. They’re already warm to you so let them get to know who you are and what you’re about outside of your company. Investors want to know your character and a big part of that is what you stand for outside the business arena. They’re looking to reduce risk. Knowing the reason you’ll fight so hard for your business and your big “why” signals to them how serious you are.

– Joshua LeeStandOut Authority

10. Find Common Ground

Christopher KellyFind some common ground and keep the conversation lighthearted before diving into business. After you have established a personal connection, the investor is more apt to help you. This help could come in the form of honest feedback, connections, added time or maybe even funding.

– Christopher KellyConvene

11. Be Prepared

Alfredo AtanacioBecause investors have limited time, you need to be prepared with a pitch that explains your business or idea in 30 seconds. You need to show the value you will deliver to the market and how the investor will get his money back. Remember that the meeting is not about you; it’s about the investor and what can you offer them.

– Alfredo AtanacioUassist.ME

11 Ways to Handle Objections When Selling Your Product

Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.

How do you handle objections during the sales process?

1. Stay Positive and Focus on Your Strengths

When discussing capabilities and differences with clients about competitors, always highlight the competitive advantages and increased capabilities of what your company offers. If your focus is degrading your competitors, it comes across as petty and focuses the client on the wrong brand, partner and service provider.

– Parker PowersBig Brand Media

2. Explain That You’re the Expert

It happens often; a client doesn’t want to sign on for a marketing service that I know they need. When this happens, I make sure to fully establish that they are the fill-in-the-blank expert, but I’m the marketing expert. I know what I’m doing, I know what works and I am going to be honest about that. I’m not selling frisbees here — I’m selling services that get leads.

– Maren HoganRed Branch Media

3. Pause, Listen and Address

Naturally, hearing “no” can induce anxiety. Personally, I pause to ensure I provide a composed reaction. But before I do that, I also listen carefully to what the prospective customer is genuinely hesitant about. In many cases, they are not upfront with their true reservations. After digging deeper and identifying the real underlying problems, I address each and every one honestly and openly.

– Firas KittanehAmerisleep

4. Discuss Specific Cases

During a sales call or meeting, the potential client might disagree with an idea or method of doing things. I like to bring up facts to support my team’s methods. Talk about how you’ve helped past clients in a way that relates to them. If they still object, take a moment to listen to their reasons. It’s better to keep the relationship solid than to force something upon your potential client.

– Michael QuinnYellow Bridge Interactive

5. Build Crediblity by Telling Prospects Not to Hire You

To build trust with a prospect, simply state that you may not be the right partner for them. Provide suggestions for other types of services they can hire instead. This way you’re still providing value even if you don’t end up working with them. Most prospects will be surprised at this answer and will genuinely come to trust your organization. This will help possibly land the sale either now or in the future.

– Brian HonigmanBrianHonigman.com

6. Identify the Nature of Their Objections and Respond Accordingly

First, I try to determine if the person I’m talking to is really a qualified prospect. If the person objects because they really aren’t a good match for what I’m selling, I acknowledge this and politely end the discussion. On the other hand, if the objection is due to a misunderstanding, I try to supply the missing information that will help them understand what I have to offer.

– Shawn PoratFortune Cookie Advertising

7. Prepare Answers

Most objections you encounter are the same: it’s too expensive, now is not a good time, etc. Prepare for them by coming up with succinct answers (1-3 sentences). When the client brings up that objection, you can respond promptly without having to mentally compute your answer. Embrace objections. They move the sales process forward and help you better understand the prospect.

– Steli EftiClose.io

8. Find the Real Reason for the Objection

A customer will often give you two reasons for an objection: the reason that sounds good and the real reason. Most people dance with the first. The key is to listen and ask guided questions to help understand the real reason they are reluctant to move forward. Perhaps it’s something you can address and help them understand for themselves.

– Andrew ThomasSkyBell Technologies, Inc.

9. Be Proactive

The truth is we likely know what the objections or challenges will be if we have done our homework. Rather than exclusively selling with the positive, I address these possible objections head-on. It shows I’m paying attention and truly want more than their business — I want a relationship. On their end, it builds trust and allows them to be open to other concerns.

– Suzanne SmithSocial Impact Architects

10. (Re)connect With Success Metrics

If someone is unsure at the end of a sales call, I like to ask, “What results would you need to achieve from our engagement to make it a priceless, grand slam investment?” That question directly connects them to what might make the financial commitment worth it, and has a great secondary benefit: it will help us get crystal clear on exactly how to proceed if/when they do enroll.

– Jenny BlakeJenny Blake

11. Sell Your Knowledge, Not Your Product

Personalize your sales pitch using your potential customer’s concerns as a refining tool. Listen to what they are saying and acknowledge that they have a legitimate concern by repeating it back to them. This may feel strange at first, but studies show that hearing someone else say a problem aloud conveys a sense of understanding. Finally, tailor a solution to the specific situation.

– Simon CasutoeLearning Mind

Big News from Tesla and Amazon, and Other Stories in Verge’s Week-in-Review

The World Cup is in full swing, it’s almost officially summer, and the Innovation Showcase is just a few weeks away. Check out the best innovation and tech stories from this past week…

Tesla Charges (and Recharges) Ahead

TeslaOkay, this technically happened last week, but Tesla made headlines with CEO Elon Musk’s recent announcement that the company would open up access to its patents. Though a bold step, it echoes recent moves towards encouraging innovation from Twitter, Pixar, and other technology leaders. Bringing in more competitors will also help bolster the size of the electric car market. The company’s stock price has already climbed. Time will tell, but maybe nice guys – or at least nice, strategic innovators – can finish first.

Amazon Heats Up Smartphone Competition

Confirming rumors, Amazon revealed its long-awaited smartphone, the Fire Phone, this past Wednesday. Though a latecomer to the game, Amazon’s entrant brings some unique features, such as “dynamic perspective,” which uses front-mounted cameras to render 3D graphics in relation users’ head movements. Another feature, called Firefly, can recognize over 100 million items like books, songs and kitchen products and help you find more information on them or – not surprisingly – buy them on Amazon. What do you think: will the Fire Phone be a success, or even steal market share from Apple and Samsung?

For your regular old iPhone or Android, check out our “Top Productivity Apps for Entrepreneurs.”

Stand-up Meetings. Literally.

the anvilYou’ve probably heard about how unhealthy it is to sit for too long, but a new study shows a new reason to stand tall. According to Washington University business professor Andrew Knight, standing during meetings encourages teamwork and creativity. Participants in two teams, one standing and one sitting, were asked to work together on a project. Wrist sensors showed that the standing team had greater “physiological arousal” – the way the body get energized when creative juices are flowing, and were less protective of their ideas.

It’s no wonder that the new coworking space of the Anvil, where Verge holds meetups in West Lafayette, will include plenty of options for taking a stand.

A Tech Victory at the World Cup

An invisible but crucial player during the World Cup is the new goal-line technology, GoalControl, German-engineered to avoid a repeat of 2010 controversies over incorrect goal rulings. Claimed to be 100% accurate, GoalControl can detect goals in real time and take 500 photos per second. As far as France’s victory over Honduras, the technology might as well be an MVP. When confusion arose after the ball bounced off the Honduran goalie’s hand near the goal line, the goal-line technology came to the rescue with an accurate ruling of “GOOOOAAAL.”

And now I’m imagining what a pitch for GoalContol at a Verge Innovation Showcase would have been like!

Eyes on the Prize

the innovation showcaseSpeaking of the Innovation Showcase, we recently revealed the 81 exhibiting companies. There’s no doubt they’re working hard on their pitches, but a recent study involving cartoon cereal mascots (no, we’re not making this up) underscores the importance of making eye contact.

Cornell University researchers manipulated the gaze of the Trix Rabbit on cereal boxes to look at the viewer or look down. They found that adult subjects preferred Trix over competing cereals and felt more brand trust if the rabbit was looking at them rather than away.

Not convinced the eyes have it? Check out 10 reasons why presenters should make purposeful eye contact with their audiences. Then, check out our quick-start guide on how to get seed funding.

And don’t miss these presentation tips from our interview with the legendary Thaddeus Rex.

Or come hear from Thaddeus for yourself at this Thursday’s Verge pitch night at DeveloperTown! There’s still time to RSVP. Register here >>

How about you? What’s coming up in your week ahead?

Grown Up Lessons For Your Startup’s Next Pitch

startup pitching lessons from thaddeus rexAs they gear up for this year’s Innovation Showcase, over 80 founders from across the nation are honing their investment pitches. They have read every book, every blog, and consulted a half dozen mentors, but this month, Verge is bringing in an incredible resource for honing your pitching skills who has a surprising background.

Thaddeus Rex is an extremely well respected public speaker and consultant. Today he works with marketers and salespeople across the country on building and leveraging world-class brands. Sounds cool, right? He must have spent his youth hopping from Madison Avenue Ad Agency to Madison Avenue Ad Agency, learning the biz better than anyone in the world.

Not quite.

Thaddeus didn’t start off as an advertiser or a sales guru. In fact, he got his start as a children’s singer. Thaddeus began his career as a musician on PBS followed by a decade’s worth of touring performing for schools and family groups.

So what could this possibly have to do with crafting an investment pitch? Thaddeus sat down with the Verge crew for a Google Hangout to chat more about the lessons he’s learned about crafting brilliant presentations and building winning brands.

The Magic to a Perfect Pitch? Appealing to Dual Audiences

It’s extremely easy to get caught up in the minutiae of a pitch deck. To Thaddeus, it’s all about understanding who your audience is (and why only thinking about one audience is never enough.)

“If you’re writing songs for kids, you’re really writing songs for parents. It’s about appealing to two audiences.”

So how do you apply that to a startup pitch? When you’re pitching to an end user, it can be extremely easy to forget about the business and focus on the features and benefits. When you’re pitching to an investor, discussions of market cap and revenue streams may clutter what the product actually does. To hone your pitch, you need to choose a defined target audience and put investors in those shoes. Make sure that your investors can see the end user experience while still appealing to their pocketbook.

If you’re pitching in the Innovation Showcase, you may be wondering “How do I fit all this in 60 seconds?!” Thaddeus has a quick three-step solution to taking this solution and fitting it in a tight time frame.

1. Develop intrigue and connection and immediately by highlighting an issue and making them feel a part of that problem.

2. Help them imagine the solution to that problem.

3. Surprise them! You have the solution.

Want Your Brand to Tell a Better Story? Give It Vocal Lessons

The biggest challenge brands face can be trying to take a product that no one really cares about and giving it value. Because of this, many marketers go on and on about brands telling a story.

“A story is important, but a song is linear, a song has a theme.”

Thaddeus Rex – Your Brand is Like a Song (a Rainmakers’ “Sparks Talk” event) from Thaddeus Rex on Vimeo.

It’s Time To Sharpen Your Ax

We’ve all heard the Lincoln-ism “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six hours sharpening my ax.” Well if you’re going to be looking for funding any time soon, this month’s Verge event is your time to sharpen your ax. With all of the investor insights we’ve given you in the past, Verge has never provided such a great resource in the art of public speaking and honing your message.

On top of that, we’ve got two killer pitches, one from a well-known neighbor to many of our friends at the Speakeasy and another from a newcomer to the Indy startup scene who is already working with some SERIOUSLY big name clients! You also have the opportunity to meet the Hoosiers vying for over $100k in funding at this year’s Innovation Showcase and meet Indianapolis’ newest superstars, the Indy Xterns. 

KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR INBOX. Tickets are going live tomorrow AM (Wednesday, June 18th) and with the interest we’ve seen from founders and investors alike, they won’t be open for long. In the mean time, beware! Dinosaurs are everywhere!


Processes and productivity hacks for entrepreneurs

The following answers are provided by members of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.

What is your top “hack” for making more impact on your business faster?

Liam Martin1. Taking Shorter Meetings
I’m constantly surprised by employees who are allowed to set up several-hour-long meetings. Next time you’re in a meeting, ask yourself how much money is going down the tube every minute the team sits there. Instead, we switched everything to email and project management software and have online meetings that anyone can jump in or out of at any time.
Liam Martin, Staff.com


Tim Jahn2. Maintaining Accountability

What is your best productivity or process hack? What’s the most “out there” tactic you’ve tried?

Far too often, your team will have a meeting that produces next-step action items. But then nobody actually executes on those action items, and you’re back at square one. Ensure everyone is accountable for those action items, and keep the progress written down somewhere with a tool such as Trello or a Google Doc spreadsheet.
Tim Jahn, matchist


Ryan Buckley3. Attending Retreats

Retreats sound counterintuitive, but there’s no substitute for getting your team on the same page. This usually requires food and a change of scenery. It’s a relatively inexpensive way to think creatively and get inspired. It’s true what they say: your environment fosters habit.
Ryan Buckley, Scripted, Inc.


Andrew Schrage4. Avoiding Multitasking

Unless you’re knocking out two relatively mundane tasks at the same time, you’re better off concentrating on projects individually, completing them without any interruptions whatsoever and then moving on to the next item. Multitasking is overrated, and it can easily lead to you becoming less productive.
Andrew Schrage, Money Crashers Personal Finance


Matt Murphy5. Using a Freelance Team

Establish a “follow the sun” model by using freelancers. If your business is operating from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., you’re only utilizing a third of the day. Overseas freelancers are available to continue projects as you sleep, which moves things along two to three times faster.
Matt Murphy, Global Citizens Travel


Alexandra Levit 26. Using Sophisticated Apps

In particular, If This Then That connects up to Google Apps and allows them to talk to each other without your intervention. Basically, you create your own recipes so that if a particular trigger is present, an action is generated. One example of a recipe: “If I am endorsed on LinkedIn, publish a tweet on Twitter.” It’s the Holy Grail of automation.
Alexandra Levit, Inspiration at Work


Cody McKibben7. Creating More Systems

If you want to really scale and grow, your primary job is never to continue doing the work. Your job is to continue building processes. Spend your time learning about systems, turning business processes into clear step-by-step procedures and creating thorough standard operating documents. Then, find reliable people to whom you can delegate those processes. Work on your business, not in it.
Cody McKibben, Digital Nomad Academy


Derek Flanzraich8. Investing in Faster Internet

It’s stunning how often faster Internet is overlooked, but we basically invest as much as people will allow us to on our Internet speed. We’re on it all the time, so nothing relieves stress and improves efficiency like blazing fast Internet.
Derek Flanzraich, Greatist


Robert-J.-Moore9. Displaying Performance Data

We have wall-mounted TV screens that display up-to-the-minute company performance data. This keeps everyone on the same page about what’s important and motivates everyone to make as big an impact as possible.
Robert J. Moore, RJMetrics

Lessons from out West: Building Entrepreneurial Culture

Show it. Don’t say it.

That is a tricky bit of advice given to any aspiring writer—tricky, first, because it’s spoken and, second, because you can’t take it literally and still be a writer. It’s a metaphor. And it is a metaphor borne out in the cultures of some of the most entrepreneurial companies in the San Francisco Bay area. They show it, even when they say it. Often they don’t have to say a thing.

Show it. That was our mission when my boss and I took a troupe of twelve aspiring entrepreneurs, designers, techies, and businessmen from Wabash College to the Bay. Four of our students will blog about the experience for Verge in the coming days. We came back bearing gifts—lessons from out west—and with some luck and skill, we’ll show you what we saw.


This is the first thing you see when you enter Indiegogo’s offices on Mission Street in San Francisco. The imprint of this imperative was palpable as we spoke with our new friends at the crowdfunding company. They empower entrepreneurs, artists, and anyone with a vision to act on their ideas. They empower their employees to play leading—frankly exciting—roles with their customers through gold standard customer service.

The way this plays out can be subtle. Did you know that an Indiegogo campaign can put invaluable market research as it primary focus, and provides excellent back-end analytical tools? Did you know that a real human being will patiently work with you to design your best campaign? Indiegogo is a place filled with enthusiasm for what happens when you link power to possibility.

I have heard chatter about measuring culture. Whatever merit this management tactic has, it can only apply to the extent that you can also measure how much a house is a home.

We asked our students to prepare startup ideas to pitch during our visit to Indiegogo. Given the constraints on the exercise, the pitches were only quarter-baked. But our host came instantly alive to the ideas, ready to develop, assess, and campaign for them. I don’t know what you would measure to quantify her efforts, but it was clear this was her house, and she was at home.

That’s not all. Throughout our visits to places like Google, Twitter, Red Rock Coffeehouse, and Wikimedia, we constantly found houses made into homes. Employees live in their native settings, ready to add value and act on their strengths in ways that amplify the vision they all share.

So let’s start with two lessons: show it, don’t say it; and make your house a home. But I would caution against taking these lessons too literally.

20 Quotes From History’s 20 Top Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneur quotesAs you may have seen, we have compiled an infographic of the top 20 startups of all time. Revenue numbers are awesome, but what got them there? What sort of ideologies and ideas did it take to escalate these 20 people into this pantheon of awesome entrepreneurial talent? What can we learn from that to apply to our businesses? To answer these questions, we sat down and compiled our favorite quote from each entrepreneur on our list. This list of quotes on business, entrepreneurship, and startups contains wisdom from managing your time to managing your people. Here are our top 20 entrepreneurial quotes of all time. Continue reading

First-Time Startup Founder Advice: Don’t be Alone and Clueless, Get Help!

first-time startup founder advice adprovalAdproval evolved a lot as a business in 2013. This candid post by Adproval founder Matthew Anderson shares first-time startup founder advice worth noting. Now, here’s Matthew… 

Sup, nerds.

I’m glad to share lessons I learned last year as the founder of  Adproval and really look forward to your feedback. I discovered that being alone sucks when you don’t know what you’re doing, so first time founders need to seek help and learn from peers and advisors.

Absorb these lessons from this post so you don’t have to learn them the hard way. You’ll have more fun and be happier in the long run.

First-Time Startup Founder Advice

1. Being alone sucks

Quick history: Development on Adproval began shortly before I graduated from Indiana University in May of 2012. After a late 2012 soft launch, Adproval started 2013 in a private beta and drifted to a public service in the Summer. Soon after, I experienced what you may know all too well… the smack of reality that hits you after the hype of being a young “entrepreneur” dies down and you’re alerted you to what you’ve really gotten yourself into.

Adproval Matt Anderson

This smack delivered my first lesson of 2013: Being a sole founder of your first real venture is hard, and the “loneliness” that comes with it sucks. It presents so many new challenges, and you’re largely alone to face them. Fortunately for myself (and I’d imagine most, if not all, entrepreneurs), I love every unique challenge I’ve faced. Unfortunately, I did a bad job of overcoming several of those challenges out of the gate. Specifically, I poorly managed resources allocated for development of an “MVP” and took too little initiative in seeking fellow entrepreneurs to serve as healthy, consistent places to vent and receive advice. As much as I’d love to pass the blame for that onto someone else (Bush, Obama, Sauroman, etc.), it’s on me.

I’m glad I learned these lessons the hard way. Being alone sucks, but finding seasoned entrepreneurs to meet with, regardless of their industry, was a huge spirit lifter and healthy place to discuss my challenges at the end of 2013 that I look forward to carrying into 2014. Also, learning to bring down the fiscal jackhammer on building you MVP prior to development with a well refined roadmap and then finding development partners you trust with that roadmap (Foxio shoutout chyeah) is crucial at an early stage.

But that’s not all…

2. Being alone when you have no idea what you’re doing is a bad time to be alone

I know this one will get the investors chomping at the bit to throw stacks of money at me, so here goes… Not only am I the sole founder of Adproval, but I am a sole, first time, non-technical founder of a tech company. Told ya, investors, get at me here: takemymoney@adproval.com

At the start of this venture in 2012, I admittedly had no idea what I was doing. In general, I don’t think you can blame young first time founders for having no idea what they’re doing. It’s not that I doubted my capability, I just had no frame of reference. I was like a child who wanders into the middle of a movie and wants to know…

I’m not sure I learned a lesson here other than how hard it is to do things of great magnitude that you’ve never done before (profound, I know). But, it does lead me to ponder how a town like Indianapolis can better “jumpstart” the credibility building process for fresh young founders? Is there a way to warrant the attention of potential angel investors and advisors without needing to “learn the hard way” by grinding alone for awhile first, or is that just part of the process?

Concluding lesson…

3. Intentionally engage peers and advisors

There is a welcoming community of peers and potential advisors in Indianapolis, albeit a small community, that will help if you intentionally seek it. The brutal lessons learned being a “lonely first time founder with no idea what he’s doing” are driving me to intentionally seek the counsel of peers and advisors, and, I am so grateful for the benefits of mentorship and success I’m experiencing.

So, moving into 2014, I have an incredibly gracious group of “advisors” that have agreed to either meet with me consistently every month or be available in more organic, as needed fashion. With this arrangement moving forward, I have two questions, and sincerely want your help:

adproval foxio peter lockhart

a) How can I make sure I am not wasting the time of an advisor? Maybe this is better posed to those who have acted as advisors/counsel to young entrepreneurs before: What have those you are advising (say, for one hour a month) done that you saw as a waste of your time?

b) How can I make the experience fulfilling for my advisors? I am so grateful for the time I have been getting from select people in Indianapolis. I feel like I am busy now – I can only imagine how busy these individuals must be. What can I do to make sure working with me is a fulfilling experience for them beyond just my verbal appreciation and letting them buy me lunch?

I really would appreciate your comments on how to make the most of the time I’ll be spending with peers and advisors based on your experience.

Thanks for your help – I’d really love to see a good conversation get rolling here as I know I won’t be the last naive young founder to get his start in Indianapolis.

And happy New Year – let’s party.

Check out Adproval’s bold mission in Matthew’s original Adproval pitch at Verge and learn more about disrupting the online advertising space in this interview with Adproval founder, Matthew Anderson. Join the convo in the comments to give feedback, ideas, or kudos. 

Founder Lessons: What 2 Entrepreneurs Learned in 2013

Founder LessonsLast week, we talked to four Indy founders about the biggest lessons they learned from their business from 2013. Today, we want to highlight two very well-respected and well-established founders who wanted to get in on the conversation.




Andy Medley, PERQ Marketing

Above all, create true value.

The game of true value creation is my biggest lesson. Having been at this for 12 years now, I thought revenue generation was the same as value generation.  It is one thing to grow revenue, but it is another to create it in a way where the long term value of the company grows with each step you take.

For PERQ, this is done by understanding the opportunity the market presents and aligning that opportunity with your company’s current assets through a clear vision and compelling strategy. Easy to take at face value, but entirely different to implement.  Execution is obviously what makes this all happen, and we do that through an engaged culture while treating business as a game.   Our stakeholders (customers, vendor partners, employees, shareholders, and Scott and I as owners) truly win when meaningful value creation is realized.  That is where real opportunity is created and it’s the game we are playing now.

Michael Cloran, DeveloperTown

You have to aim past it.

2013 was a year we relearned a pretty basic lesson lesson.

Years ago at a well-funded, 100+ person startup we had a fridge filled with software’s raw ingredient, caffeinated drinks. There was a pile of drinks next to the fridge and a sign that said “Take one, replace one!” Our startup spirit meant 80-90% good startup citizens and yet the fridge was frustratingly empty some mornings. Warm drinks do not make good software! Changing the sign to read “Take one, replace two!” changed the equation and luckily the good corporate citizens were smart enough not to cram in the second one when the fridge was already full. The now full fridge of drinks chilled over night each night, great software was built, and there was great rejoicing.

At DeveloperTown in 2013, we learned that, in a subtle way, we were building the business around expecting too perfect execution on every step in our key processes. It left us without enough slack to make up for unexpected twists and turns on individual tasks caused by external, or yes, even the occasional internal challenge. We reconfigured the business to define just two core products with clearly defined end outcomes and a bit of slack to get there. Suddenly we found ourselves with much happier clients, happier employees and the means to go above and beyond when we can. While we still have ridiculously high expectations for ourselves, the quality of our end product, and the value delivered on a price/performance basis, this newfound “anti-fragility” has given us a path to a much more sustainable and enjoyable business!

What are your key takeaways from Michael and Andy’s stories? What were your biggest lessons from 2013?