12 Ways to Gain Insight Into What Your Customers Are Thinking

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 unique way to gain insight into what your customers are thinking?


1. Launch a Chat Service on Your Site

Aaron SchwartzEvery time we make a major product change, we open a chat service on our site so fans can give us immediate feedback. Our preferred product is Olark, since it’s extremely easy to integrate and truly affordable. You can wait for folks to ask questions, or you can even interrupt them and ask, “How can we help?” The more you can ask for feedback in real time, the better.

– Aaron Schwartz, ModifyWatches.com


2. Use Heatmaps

Adam SteeleHeatmaps are one of the most interesting things to happen to e-commerce, in my opinion. Tracking the movements of people’s eyes hasn’t only told us how to arrange our web pages better, it’s also taught us things like which product angle attracts the most attention or which features customers read first. I think they give you more than a customer would even know how to tell you.

– Adam SteeleThe Magistrate


3. Ask Them

Elliot BohmPick up the phone and call a random sample of customers. You’d be surprised at the suggestions and comments you receive. There are survey and website tools, but phone calls can get the best response and show customers you care.

– Elliot BohmCardcash.com


4. Poll Them

Jonathan LongSend out a survey to your customer base using a platform like SurveyMonkey or a similar service. If you really want to trigger a high response rate, offer a discount or special offer as incentive. You will see a much higher completion percentage if you offer something of value. Even the smallest of “bribes” will result in a much larger data pool of feedback.

– Jonathan LongMarket Domination Media


5. Beta Test Your Product

Andrew ThomasBeta testing is a great way to learn about your customers before releasing your product. In our experience, beta testing gives us real user feedback that lets us challenge our assumptions instead of guessing how a customer will use our device. Make it clear in the beginning that you want their unbiased feedback. This gets them excited about being heard and contributing to the process.

– Andrew ThomasSkyBell Video Doorbell


6. Have Your Team Ask and Listen

Darrah BrusteinI’m in the business of events, so I have the fortune of being face-to-face with my customers. I tend to find I only get the extremes of feedback as the founder, so I utilize my team to talk with everyone else and get their real thoughts, praises and critiques. After each event, I have my team submit that feedback to me while it’s fresh so we can process it and do with it what is needed.

– Darrah BrusteinNetwork Under 40 / Finance Whiz Kids


7. Try Popup Chat Boxes and Surveys

A great way to learn about your audience (while also increasing conversions) is to implement a popup chat box or survey while users are live on your site. This is a great time to approach them with a simple popup that says “How can I help?” You’ll be amazed by how many different questions you’ll receive while also potentially seeing a nice jump in signup conversions.

– Zac JohnsonHow to Start a Blog


8. Try Usability Testing Videos

Marcela DeVivoPay for a service like usertesting.com to film your actual customers using your site. Having that kind of direct insight into different segments of your customer base can help you fine-tune your design, marketing materials, images, etc. It’s one thing to “think” about how they’ll use your site, and another to physically watch them doing it. There’s much to be gained!

– Marcela De VivoBrilliance


9. Start a Facebook Q&A Group

Joshua LeeWe follow our friend Ryan Levesque’s “ask method.” Attempting to mind read your customers is often as successful as throwing darts in a pitch black room with no dartboard on the walls. Start simple. Create an open company Facebook group dedicated to Q&A. Set a company representative to monitor the group and answer quickly during business hours. Publish those business hours to set expectations.

– Joshua LeeStandOut Authority


10. Get Feedback on Product Pages and Immediately After Checkout

Patrick BarnhillThe lack of human touch with e-commerce can make it hard to get valuable feedback. Try embedding a simple “Was this product description helpful” button after the content section of product pages. Also add a simple way to collect feedback right after a customer checks out.

– Patrick BarnhillSpecialist ID, Inc.


11. Learn From Those Who Didn’t Buy, Rather Than Only Talking to Customers Who Did

Jake DunalpWhen we talk about bridging the gap between sales and product, it’s important to make sure the product is talking to customers who didn’t buy as often as those that did buy. Gravitating only toward people who liked us makes us miss out on key learnings about why others didn’t. This is key for increasing conversions and reducing churn.

– Jake DunlapSkaled


12. Listen to Your People

Kevin ConnerYour sales and customer service teams know your customers better than anyone. But to get this information from them, you need to be intentional in gathering it. Schedule a time to meet with them about this. Prior, be sure to formulate great questions, such as: Who is our ideal customer? What do our customers love/hate about us? What do we not offer that our customers need or expect from us?

Kevin ConnerWireSeek

15 Unusual Ways to Find an 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.

Name one unusual way I might find an investor.

1. Your Former Boss

Brian PallasHaving known you professionally from a previous work experience, your former boss might be the best person to invest in your company in case he or she likes the idea.

– Brian PallasOpportunity Network


2. An Angel Group

Nick ChasinovThere are angel investing groups all throughout the United States that are actively seeking prospective new members. One unusual way to find an investor is to attend an angel group meeting as a guest to evaluate the opportunity as a prospective member. You will have full access to all attendees and an opportunity to network with a potential future investor in your company.

– Nick ChasinovTeknicks


3. Friends and Family

Nicole MunozThose closest to you might be more inclined to invest in you. Offer them a fair return on their investment, and make sure you stick to it. When you start small with those you know and who know you, you can fine-tune your process so that when it’s time to reach out to larger investors, you’re confident, professional, and well aware of what it takes to do business.

– Nicole MunozStart Ranking Now


4. An Adventurous Hobby

Adam SteeleFinding an investor who is passionate about your work is the holy grail, and finding them is easier when you already share a passion. Active hobbies like skiing have made it easy for me to meet people who work as hard as they play, and some of them have been in a good position to invest if I wanted to pursue that.

– Adam SteeleThe Magistrate


5. Customers

Nicolas GremionThey know your products and/or services. Hopefully they also enjoy using them, and they have some money to spend. So who better to ask? Done the right way, your customers should also appreciate that you’re trying to grow and offer better products/services. By demonstrating you have their best interest at heart it’s a win-win.

– Nicolas GremionFree-eBooks.net


6. Thought Leadership Articles

Brittany HodakI write regularly for Forbes — and semi-regularly for several other outlets — and although I’m not explicitly writing about my company, every piece is a reflection of it. I’ve had multiple VCs inquire about ZinePak because they landed on an article I wrote and saw that I have a marketing company. Writing is a wonderful way to boost your profile and reputation as an expert in your field.

– Brittany HodakZinePak


7. Social Clubs

Peter DaisymeSocial clubs are reemerging in major cities around the country and world for professionals and entrepreneurs to meet up and socialize. This offers a more low-key way to network that could potentially connect you to an investor over a social event, game of tennis or round of golf.

– Peter DaisymeInvoicing


8. First Class

Carter ThomasWhile this isn’t groundbreaking, it’s definitely not an actively pursued strategy for startups and founders. I’ve met some of the most influential people in first class simply because I have no competition for attention and the environment is self-qualifying. They know I’m legit because I’m there and I have to time to build a relationship before the pitch because I have more time than others would.

– Carter ThomasBluecloud Solutions


9. Someone You Don’t Expect

Christopher KellyTreat every person that you meet as being, at most, one degree removed from being your future investor, because they probably are. Next time someone asks, “What do you do?” answer as if they asked, “How can I help you?” This format works for investment, but it is just as applicable to business development or any other thing that you are trying to develop.

– Christopher KellyConvene


10. Vendors

Piyush JainWe are an IT services company and work for lots of startups. Sometimes, when a project is really good and our client lacks some funding, we also take some equity in the project. Lots of IT (also non-IT) vendors provide this option. Talk to your vendors and see if they would be interested in investing. It not only brings you money, but can reduce your cost.

– Piyush JainSIMpalm


11. Local Business Owners

Ismael WrixenIt might seem counterintuitive if they have a brick-and-mortar store and you’re starting a business in the online space, but you might be surprised to find that there are owners out there with enough capital and enough interest in modern business to want to invest in a startup.

– Ismael WrixenFE International


12. Meet Walter

Brian David CraneI really like Meet Walter, which is a powerful data-backed tool to help narrow down whom you should be pitching to. This is an “unusual” way to find an investor in that the tool can present people you’ve never heard of and who’ve invested in companies like yours.

– Brian David CraneCaller Smart Inc.


13. School

Drew HendricksIn more universities and colleges, there are programs and seminars led by investors and business people interested in moving into the investment world. As a student with a potentially good business idea, this is a good place to connect as the instructor may want to mentor and fund you after working with you over the course of a semester or other program.

– Drew HendricksButtercup


14. Outdated Advertising Platforms

Nathan HaleWith all the new ways we can get and stay in touch, we often forget there are still other avenues of communication. There are investors who aren’t on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook, who still read the local paper, and who may know how to use Craigslist but have never been on Instagram. Use those odd channels to fish out potential investors; you’ll be surprised with what you find.

– Nathan HaleFirst American Merchant


15. Your Parents’ Circle

Alexandra Levit 2Millennial business owners often have high-performing parents. These parents and their friends, who are usually members of the Baby Boomer generation, are retiring from traditional work and looking for smart and intriguing places to invest their time, expertise and money. Work with your parents to host a party or outing where you share information about your business without a hard sell.

– Alexandra LevitInspiration at Work

13 Tips for Determining Your Company’s Valuation Prior to Starting Fundraising

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 top tip do you have for determining your company’s valuation prior to starting fundraising?

1. Determine How Much Cash You Need Over the Next 18 Months

Mark CenicolaTry to raise money at a valuation that will leave you and your founders in control and provide you with enough cash to execute your plan over the next 18 months. If you can’t do that, then either change your plan or seek other investors. It may take a lot of no’s before you find investors who say yes.

– Mark CenicolaBannerView.com


2. Look at Comparables

Jonny SimkinThe easiest thing to do is find comparable companies, see how much they raised and what their valuations were. A great resource is angel.co for tech companies. Once you have a sense of what the market will value your company at, start talking with investors and test that valuation. If they think it’s reasonable, proceed. If they laugh at your valuation, revise and try again.

– Jonny SimkinSwyft

3. Find Balance

Omer TrajmanThere’s no hard and fast rule for setting valuation. It’s a negotiation between the company and investor. The company needs to have several interested investors (multiple term sheets really) in order to negotiate. Most important is finding a balance between cash needs and the implicit expectations that come with the valuation. The non-financial terms of an investment are often just as important.

– Omer TrajmanRocana

4. Ignore Industry Buzzwords

Matthew MoisanValuation of a pre-revenue company will always be tricky. Avoid the industry pitfalls of focusing on buzzwords like “traction” or “hotness,” and instead consider the following: Calculate how much you need for 18 months of growth. Then, figure out how much of the company you are willing to give in exchange. Let’s say you want $200,000 for 20 percent — then the range of valuation will be around $1 million.

– Matthew MoisanMoisan Legal, P.C.

5. Have as Many “Friendly” Meetings as Possible

Aaron SchwartzEarly on, there is no easy way for you to independently set valuation. You might be profitable, or you might be growing, but there are no companies on your same trajectory. Before any formal fundraiser, I spend a few weeks with investors and founders whom I know will not invest. Multiple viewpoints will help you narrow in on value, and friends tearing apart your pitch makes you better for primetime!

– Aaron SchwartzModify Watches

6. Do Your Homework

Zohar SteinbergEarly on, valuations are a function of the impression you make on your investors. Investors are looking to make as much money as they can and reduce the risk they are taking. Showing examples of similar companies’ valuations in different stages will do just that. Show your investors that you did you homework and that you’re basing your valuation on a proven model.

– Zohar Steinbergtoken

7. Know What Details Are Important

Jordan FliegelRely on your investor to make an offer and place a value on your company. You don’t need to mention or hint at what you expect the valuation to be. You do, however, need to be prepared to say how much money you are raising, and what you plan to do with the new funding to grow your business. Once you have a lead investor, it’s easier to fill out the rest of the round on the same terms.

– Jordan FliegelCoachUp, Inc.

8. Focus on Growth Potential

Obinna EkezieWhen raising capital, focus on growth potential versus how your business is currently performing. If you are going to raise money from a VC, you’ll want to put together, at a minimum, 24-month revenue projections. If your business will take longer to develop into a revenue producing machine, you may want to project out 3-5 years. Leverage revenue growth to shoot for highest valuation possible.

– Obinna EkezieWakanow.com

9. Use a Third Party

Adam RootIt will have more credibility than pulling a number at random. Early Growth Financial is great for very early stage companies and Silicon Valley Bank is helpful after you have received funding and want a 409A valuation or deep analysis on what other startups similar to yours are worth.

– Adam RootSocialCentiv

10. Listen to the Market

Mattan GriffelIn the early stages, determining a valuation for fundraising is more of an art than a science. It’s more about what you can convince investors you’re worth than about applying a multiple or doing a discounted cash flow analysis. Start out with a fairly conservative number based on comparable valuations, and don’t be afraid to adjust it based on how the investors you talk to respond.

– Mattan GriffelOne Month

11. Seek Input From Peers

Douglas BaldasareIf this is your first round, get input from peers about what you can realistically raise based on your industry and stage. Then soft circle to a few friendly investors (friends and family) with your desired terms. It’s harder for new investors to change the terms once you have already raised some of the round. I also recommend Fenwick & West’s venture surveys. They offer data on average valuations.

– Douglas BaldasareChargeItSpot

12. Don’t Get Caught Up

Katrina LakeMost outcomes are binary. You’re going to make money, or you’re going to make none. I see a lot of entrepreneurs nickel and dime valuations and focus on dilution at the expense of a quality investor. You should focus on what is most likely to get you on the successful side. Valuation and dilution are only one element of the decision you are making and I encourage people to have a long-term approach.

– Katrina LakeStitch Fix

13. Know the Demand and Longevity

Fam MirzaCompany valuation should be determined by demand and longevity of a business. Most tech company valuation is built off the growth of a user database. The goal is to build up a massive amount of users to monetize on them somewhere in the future, usually in the form of ads and data capitalization. However, for product based companies, it’s based off demand for the product and lifecycle of the brand.

– Fam Mirza1:Face

13 Skills You Should Learn Before Starting Your Business

We all have business skills we wish we learned sooner. For some it’s sales, for others it’s office politics. For me it’s how to fix a damn paper jam. Regardless of your situation, one thing is clear: We all could stand to learn things sooner rather than later. Today, 13 Entrepreneurs answer the question:

What’s one skill you wish you learned earlier that would’ve helped you launch your business?

John Rood1. Basic Bookkeeping

Starting as a solopreneur, it was easy to keep books in a simple spreadsheet. However, I kept at that for a year longer than I should have. It’s worth investing a couple thousand upfront to get someone to set up your books and accounts the right way.
John Rood, Next Step Test Preparation


Corey Blake2. Grace

I have always been agenda driven. As I get older, I find that I’m learning the skill of grace, which is about being present with people where they are, with no agenda. So rather than approaching sales from the standpoint of closing, grace allows me to approach sales from the standpoint of alignment. That saves massive headaches down the road, breeds confidence and adds value, which adds revenue.
Corey Blake, Round Table Companies


Mark Krassner3. Leadership

When I first started out, I thought that leadership was about being nice and making people’s lives as easy as possible. While I do still think it’s paramount to be kind and compassionate, I’ve learned that leading means challenging people, and encouraging them to do something that’s outside of their comfort zone. This perspective shift has helped accelerate my business at high-octane speeds.
Mark Krassner, Knee Walker Central


Martina Welke4. Adaptability

In retrospect, I think one of the things that slowed us down in the early days of our business was our attachment to our original vision and expectations of how it would evolve. Instead of learning from moments of resistance along the way, we tried to force our assumptions into reality. Now, I try to remain open to surprises and change course accordingly.
Martina Welke, Zealyst


Ryan Flanker5. Focus

Avoid spreading yourself too thin and focus on one thing instead. At VerbalizeIt, we try to avoid the word “and,” as in, “we focus on this and this and this.” We made mistakes early on by trying to create a solution for every customer use case. Eventually we learned that doing so was not sustainable. It’s okay to say no and to focus on one’s core vision.
Ryan Frankel, VerbalizeIt


dave-nevogt6. Reverse Thinking

Earlier in my career and when I first launched my business, I thought very much in terms of the “next step” without giving as much attention to the impact those decisions would have on my business down the road. Now, my decision making process involves reverse thinking. It works by taking the desired end result and building the required steps leading up to it.
Dave Nevogt, Hubstaff.com


Brittany Hodak7. Graphic Design

I own a content creation company but have no design experience. When it’s difficult to express an idea or concept, I have to try to hack my thoughts together on paper or in PowerPoint. I wish I’d taken the time to learn InDesign in college.
Brittany Hodak, ZinePak


Andrew Thomas8. Risk Assessment

The ability to accurately assess risk is a skill I have learned over time yet wish I had learned earlier. I can certainly point to opportunities that I did not pursue because I overestimated the risk. You can take a few more chances when you are young and I wish I had approached those opportunities from the “why not” perspective that I do now.
Andrew Thomas, SkyBell Technologies, Inc.


Brennan White9. Sustained Networking

Early on in my career, I thought of networking as a discreet task that could be started and finished. I’ve come to learn that networking never ends and is simply an extension of relationship (and friendship) building, which is something I’ve always been great at. Once I took the label away and realized I already possessed the needed skills, my businesses have taken off in new, exciting ways.
Brennan White, Watchtower


Liam Martin10. Employee Management

The skill I’m really trying to learn is how to become a good manager. I’ve discovered that employee management is a lot more difficult than I thought, and that to continue to scale I have to spend more time managing people than actually doing tasks. For entrepreneurs this can be difficult, and if I had worked under a good manager previously it probably would have helped me considerably now.
Liam Martin, Staff.com


Janis Krums11. Coding

Finding quality developers inexpensively is really difficult. Had I known how to code, I could have not only built a prototype of our business model much faster, but also increased the rate at which we developed the actual platform. What at times has taken months to complete would have taken days — which would have allowed the company to quickly understand what worked and what didn’t.


Juha Liikala12. Delegation

Money is always tight in the startup phase. Don’t let that lure you into trying to do everything yourself. Focus on your strengths, utilize them and delegate other mission critical roles. You might have to hire a professional, but when compared to the fact that you might not launch at all because of your DIY approach? It’s just not worth it. Value your time and delegate.
Juha Liikala, Stripped Bare Media


Ioannis Verdelis13. Marketing Savvy

I should have learned more about marketing and PR. It is now a strong part of our business, but we learned how to do this by making dozens of mistakes first.
Ioannis Verdelis, Fleksy

From Powder Keg to Silicon Valley

As Indy prepares to pitch for Super Bowl 2018, it seems fitting to reflect on the Powder Keg Startup Bowl of 2012. Just 18 months ago Marc Kleinman and I took the stage at the inaugural PowderKeg to pitch Diagnotes, a health IT venture based in Indianapolis.

diagnotes at powder keg
Please vote here to support Diagnotes, an Indiana HIT venture!

Verge put together a great event, with the Startup Bowl just one of many awesome activities that gained national attention. We joined 10 other finalists in a competition fitting the location, Lucas Oil Stadium.

It was an honor to share the stage with up and coming entrepreneurs like Max Yoder of Lesson.ly and Santiago Jaramillo of BlueBridge Digital, ventures that have themselves gone on to accomplish great things. While billed as a competition, from a great MC in Pete the Planner to an outstanding judge panel the event truly reflected the passion and cooperative spirit that embodies the Indiana venture community. Of course, it was even more special to me personally given that my daughter Lindsey, a new addition to the local venture scene after graduating from Rose-Hulman in 2012, helped organize (and write about) the event.

Diagnotes Pitches at Powder Keg

The Startup Bowl marked a key transition for Diagnotes. For over two years technical founder Bharath Bynagari had led development of the core technology in conjunction with partner Community Health Network to sow the seeds of what is now Diagnotes. Following a successful pilot project, we were able to lure Dave Wortman, serial entrepreneur and longtime IT visionary, to lead Diagnotes startup team as CEO in the transition from a cool project to a high-potential venture.

We engaged DeveloperTown as a partner to develop a kick-ass interface and a scalable technology platform.  Marc joined the team, and we enjoyed a series of wins in 2012 including the Hoosier Healthcare Innovation Challenge and Biocrossroads venture competition. All the accolades culminated in raising over $1.5 million in funding in 2013, allowing Diagnotes to build a team and begin to scale. In 2014, Diagnotes has a core group of paying customers with hundreds of doctors using the system.

Today, Diagnotes is a finalist in a global venture competition called Launch: Silicon Valley World Cup Tech Challenge being held on May 20 at Microsoft’s campus in Mountain View, CAWe are neck-in- neck with an Israeli venture in the HealthTech category as well as several other strong contenders. 

Please follow this link to vote: http://www.launchsiliconvalley.org/healthTech. You can vote on every device you own, so don’t be shy!

This competition in and of itself won’t create further success for Diagnotes—but just as  being a finalist in the Startup Bowl, it could be another key milestone in a journey bringing national recognition, jobs, and investor returns to the Indiana venture scene. You can view some of the original pitch in an Indianapolis Business Journal article here.

Thanks for your help and support! And please plan to join the next pitch fest at the Innovation Showcase in July (see www.theinnovationshowcase.com).

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

10 Startup Trends We Can Really Live Without (Seriously)

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’s one so-called startup “trend” you can’t wait to see GO AWAY ASAP, and why? (Be specific about the what and why, please.)

Tim Jahn1. Made-Up Titles
I can’t wait to see terms like “growth hacker” go away because they don’t make any sense. A “growth hacker” is simply a data/analytics person, a role that has been around for years and years. Startup folks love to make up new titles for decades-old roles every few years.
Tim Jahn, matchist



Ryan Buckley2. Lobster Font

I’ll admit that when we changed our logo to the lobster font over a year ago, I loved it. We hired a designer on 99designs for a new logo. The whole team loved it. We trashed the fancy logos.

Now, I see lobster font everywhere, both in print and online. It seems like every new startup is putting its logo in lobster. It’s practically a startup meme. In fact, we made a website
(http://f***yeahlobster.tumblr.com/) — replace the ***– to track the deployment of lobster font around the Internet and Bay Area!

Ryan Buckley, Scripted, Inc.

Derek Shanahan3. Launch Parties

Launch parties make you a joke in my book. I’m not talking about launch events, like conferences or even self-hosted events to attract your target market to your company as part of a launch strategy. I’m talking about parties that celebrate a company launching its product. Seriously? You couldn’t find something smarter to do than burn up a cash bar? I never root against entrepreneurs but, if I started, these are the ones I’d pick first.
Derek Shanahan, Playerize


Aaron Schwartz4. Unremarkable “Pivots”

A startup “pivot,” popularized by Eric Ries and the Lean Startup model, has many meanings. Most frequently, a “pivot” is a change in your business model, a strategic move that a company makes after lots of experimentation and customer feedback.

Many companies seem to use the term as a badge of honor: “Yes, we have tested and listened to customers! We’re a lean startup!” Too often, however, the company has only made a small shift in a small part of the business. Changing an email template is not a pivot. Nor is rearranging a customer service flow. Change your business, then own your pivot!

Aaron Schwartz, Modify Watches

kelsey Meyer5. Mastermind Groups

I am a proponent of entrepreneurs sharing ideas and bouncing ideas off each other. I’m not a fan of mastermind groups that charge a $20,000 entry fee and appear to be more about ego than real idea-sharing. I’ve seen a trend lately of entrepreneurs talking about what mastermind groups they are in before they discuss which companies they work on. I don’t think that’s a positive trend.
Kelsey Meyer, Influence & Co.


Kim Kaupe6. Overwhelming Apps

“So, do you have an app?” is always one of the top three questions off the bat at any “entrepreneurial” or “startup” networking event. The minute it becomes apparent that I have nothing to do with apps (and that I happen to be tech illiterate!), it’s as if I told the Mean Girls to add me to the Burn Book. The last time I checked, the $10 million consumers spent on ‘ZinePaks in 2012 outweighed the 10,000 people who downloaded your app in the last year. Don’t be so quick to discount something that doesn’t come from the App Store.
Kim Kaupe, ‘ZinePak



Kit Hickey7. The Belief that the Amount of Money Raised is Equal to How Successful You Are

As an entrepreneur at business school, the first question my classmates always ask is “how much have you raised!?” as if success is tied to funding amount. \I hope people quickly realize that raising a lot of money doesn’t equal success, rather, that success should be judged by an amazing product, market demand, a strong brand and a great team.
Kit Hickey, Ministry of Supply



Andrew Schrage8. BYOD Policies

The trend of establishing a BYOD (bring your own device) policy at a business should probably just go away. It’s debatable whether it makes employees more productive, and it can cause plenty of security issues. You also run the risk of overloading your IT department, as well as alienating older staff members who may not want to buy a mobile device just to comply with the policy.
Andrew Schrage, Money Crashers Personal Finance


Thursday-Bram9. Exit-Oriented Planning

Plenty of startups are founded with the goal of a short-term exit. I’m not necessarily against looking for exit opportunities for a new company, but if that’s your only plan — starting a new company, just to sell it off within a few months or a year — you’re doing it wrong. Even assuming that you can be sure you’re building something that another company will want to purchase, the attitude that you’re not in it for the long haul can make it hard to create a quality company worth selling.
Thursday Bram, Hyper Modern Consulting



10. Mashup Descriptions

I’d love to see people stop describing their startups in terms of other companies. I cringe when I hear things like “It’s Yelp meets LinkedIn, with a twist of Airbnb running cloud-based apps on AWS.” Find a simple way to describe what you do, nicely and elegantly. Latching on to successful companies is not a recipe for success, and it’s more likely to confuse people.
Anderson Schoenrock, ScanDigital

9 Ideas for Finding Great Startup Mentors and Connections (No Matter Where You Are)

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’s your best little-known advice for finding/meeting awesome people to help your startup outside the major tech hubs?

Tim Jahn1. Get Out
Go to local industry events in your area, no matter how small they might appear to be. Search sites like Eventbrite and Meetup to see what relevant events are happening near you. Get out and meet people in person!
Tim Jahn, matchist



kelsey Meyer2. Attend Conferences

A few of my team members attend about one conference a month. Some of the best ones we’ve gone to for networking are the Everywhere Else Startup Conference and Underground. These are great ways to meet potential partners, customers, advisors, etc., outside of your geographic region.
Kelsey Meyer, Digital Talent Agents



Aaron Schwartz3. Leverage Startup America

Register for Startup America. This is a two-year-old organization backed by the White House, Kauffman, Case Foundation and many large companies. There are regional leadership groups in most states that are helping to connect the local entrepreneurial scene. Each region hosts events, and the leadership is comprised of volunteers — normally entrepreneurs — who simply want to help.
Aaron Schwartz, Modify Watches

4. Ask for Intros

Martina WelkeWhen I travel, I usually email a few key contacts in each city before I arrive, asking them who else I should meet while I’m in town. The key when making this request is to understand your own needs so your contacts can introduce you to the right people. It’s a great way to lay the foundation for serendipity!
Martina Welke, Zealyst



5. Look at a Map of Your Industry

Emerson Spartz

LUMA Partners makes industry maps that show you the different companies in your industry and what they do. This is a valuable tool for researching all the partners and v

endors who could elevate your business to the next level. Cold call or email the most relevant companies — you don’t need to be in the same city to create value for each other.- Emerson Spartz, Spartz


6. Start With Incubators and Accelerators

Technology and startup crowds cluster around innovation hubs, so in most smaller cities, this activity is centered around incubators, accelerators and

startup co-working spaces.

Derek ShanahanThis is usually ground zero for founders, vendors, investors and mentors, and this is often where you’ll find the local startup community’s heartbeat. Go there and introduce yourself to everyone!

Derek Shanahan, Playerize



Thursday-Bram7. Introduce Yourself

I make notes on interesting people I want to meet — people who have written great blog posts, been on TV, etc. — and I make a point of contacting three people off my list every day. It may be a simple introduction, or there may be something I have in mind for the process. Either way, you can’t wait around for other people to network for you.
Thursday Bram, Hyper Modern Consulting


doreen-bloch8. Use Clarity

Clarity is a really neat site started by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs. The goal is to make it easy for early-stage founders to find and speak with experts across the startup ecosystem. Whether you’re seeking a mentor, an advisor, an investor or something else, Clarity may be the one-stop site you need, especially if you live outside a major tech hotbed.
Doreen Bloch, Poshly Inc.


Brittany Hodak9. Surf Like a Stalker

Think like an Internet stalker … except less creepy. My co-founder and I regularly play the “six degrees of separation” game with our LinkedIn and Facebook connections. When we find someone who looks interesting, we ask for an introduction (or, if we’ve veered REALLY far from the original connection, we make a cold call). The Internet is a beautiful thing — use it to your social advantage.
Brittany Hodak, ‘ZinePak

Awesome startup communities create ‘Startup Triangle’ in SW Indiana.

The startup scene has really taken off in southwest Indiana over the last several months. Terre Haute, Evansville and Bloomington seem to form a ‘startup triangle’ for the region.


For starters, there has been no lack of Startup Weekend events. The first Crane event launched on October 5th, 2012. Bloomington on November 9th, 2012. Terre Haute‘s first ever event on February 8th, and right on it’s heels Startup Weekend Evansville 2.0 kicked off on February 22nd. Not to be left out, a little outside the triangle Louisville, Kentucky fired off an event the following weekend!


As we prepared for Startup Weekend Terre Haute, Demi Wetzel was kind enough to Skype in and give our ‘How To Prep meetup a great Q & A session. Demi hails from Evansville and after attending her first Startup Weekend, she found her calling. Demi now works for Startup Weekend HQ in Seattle Washington!


As I watched the Sunday night pitches in Evansville this year, Andrew Moad and his team walked away with 1st place honors. Andrews startup is a physical product called Fence Chips. Andrew had joined my team at Startup Weekend Crane in 2012 and was a huge help pushing through those 54 hours.


Another very active team in the Indiana startup scene is Matt Burris and Jessica Falkenthal. I had the pleasure of meeting both at Startup Weekend Bloomington back in May 2012. Jessica graciously agreed to lead my team at that event. Both are at every Bloomtech and Verge Bloomington meetup I’ve ever attended! Plus they have been the facilitators at Startup Weekend events in Bloomington, Crane, Terre Haute and Evansville. Wow!

Bloomtech meetup

Of course I can’t leave out Bloomington’s own Nick Tippman. Nick has helped organize Startup Weekend events and was recently invited to speak at Evansville’s event in February. Nick is no stranger to the startup life and is now CEO of a relatively new – and very cool startup based out of Memphis, TN called Nibletz – ‘The voice of startups everywhere else’.


Another tie to both Bloomington and Evansville is Andrew Heil. Andrew mentored at the first Startup Weekend I attended held in Bloomington and organized Evansville’s events. These days he works his 9-5 in Evansville then jets off to Bloomington each evening to work on his new startup – Tourize. I talked to Andrew recently about this cool new app. Here is what he said:

Tourize (www.tourize.com) is a new way to travel. We are creating a mobile platform to consume tours from professional guides. We believe that often times knowledge is missing as each tourist experiences a new attraction or is planning a new trip. I will be able to take you on a demo soon..

Currently, we are working through RunUp Labs. Runup labs is a travel startup accelerator which is a 10 week program and helping 7 companies launch. It’s been great. My team and I have been working around the clock and of course learning a whole lot.

The interesting part of the story: As you may know it is March Madness season and I decided that it was time to incorporate the signup process with the time of the year to peek interest in our travel startup… This was no longer a sign up form, but a bracket of people interested in travel fighting for the number 1 seed.

This turned into a road to the early access of tourize and not just a launch rock page. This is a big dance tournament where each person that signs up is given information and a link to share. The more each link is shared – the more you score and the more you win.

When I set out to launch this, I thought if “Hipster” could get 10k signups with just a launch page and mailbox app could make a que of 600k signups, certainly I could make madness in march happen!

And it’s starting to – we launched on Sunday 3/24 and have already passed 1,000 page views rather quickly in the first 5 hours. We’ve continued to that rate and are at 2,500 page views in the first 36 hours. After reaching out to people who have signed up, people are interested in the hype of a new way to travel and of course, being part of the tournament!

We can’t wait to see where the next 6 days goes and all the way down to the final four early adopters of Tourize!

The link is www.tourize.com – please sign up and play! “

You can find Andrew at most Evansville Tech on Tap meetups each month.

Tech on Tap Meetup

One of southern Indiana’s startup scene champions is Drew Peyronnin. Drew hosts the Tech on Tap meetups in Evansville and has become a Startup Weekend regular like most of us! Tech on Tap is a great networking event and has grown by leaps and bounds over the last year. Drew has been involved in many of the ‘startup triangle’ events and was the keynote speaker at our Terre Haute event. A huge applause is standard fair after his insightful talks.


It’s amazing how the Indiana startup communities are tied together and support each other. Maybe that’s Hoosier hospitality showing itself.


Over the last few weeks Bryan Jackson and I have been discussing the next step in the evolution of the Wabash Valley startup, tech and innovation community.  We both want to see the startup and tech community grow to foster a living, breathing culture that benefits everyone. Bryan started the Tech Haute meetups with similar goals as Terre Haute Tech and has hosted great seminars on popular social media tools and how to use them in business.


After discussing the benefits and future possibilities we have decided to join forces and merge both groups, combining memberships.  This will foster even more great connections in our startup community. Bryan has been working on the new Tech Haute site as the next step in this exciting merger.  We are planning some awesome things for our members and the Terre Haute startup scene.


It’s been very exciting to see the startup culture grow and to be a part of it. There are many others not mentioned here that make this community thrive, but that’s for another day. If your not involved in your startup community and events, now is the time! The connections, learning and business opportunities that happen at each event are hard to put a price on. So join a startup meetup and get plugged in to this amazing southwest Indiana startup triangle!





Ramping Up Your Indiana-based Startup This Year? This Could Be Your Golden Ticket.

UPDATE: Deadline extended to 2:30 PM, Fri. January 4

They’ve given away hundreds of airline tickets to entrepreneurs. They’ve granted millions of dollars worth of software. And they’re looking for a handful of founders who want ramp up their business in 2013.

Come on, you know who I’m talking about…

Startup Golden TicketStartup America has been known to leverage their partnerships with companies like American Airlines, Intuit, Microsoft, and the New York Stock Exchange to pull in massive favors for growing companies. Just take a glance at their board, which includes a LinkedIn co-founder, Netflix CEO, the CEO at FedEx, and Magic Johnson (as in the former-NBA-superstar Magic Johnson).  These “Wonkas” of the business world are connected and have offered to plug up to 10 fast-growing Indiana companies into their network and resources to ramp up that business in 2013.

Looking for that next national brand to sign on to your product as a customer? Or in need of some high-powered promotion to spread your brand success story?

Startup America is going to help through it’s local Startup Indiana chapter. But you have to take the first step, and it’s down to the wire.

Here’s how to apply…

This golden-ticket opportunity for companies with proven traction and momentum. Startup America will assist you by pouring gas on the fire. This is what we’re looking for our Startup Indiana ramp-up company:

That’s it. But you MUST apply by noon on Friday, January 4 if you want a chance to win this golden ticket. I know that’s a quick turnaround time, but that hasn’t stopped you in the past from taking advantage of big opportunities, has it?

Don’t put this off.  Even if you don’t win the golden ticket, our team at Startup Indiana will help you out in any way we can.