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Kindshares Launches Website 09/16/2011

Posted by johndex in Entrepreneurship.
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I’m pleased to introduce Kindshares, my first startup. The company helps people direct more of their wealth to the non-profits they support, by simplifying stock donation to charity. After founding the company earlier this year, we’ve been working towards an important milestone, our website launch.  This is the first step on a long journey. I invite you to follow us as we grow.  Visit http://www.kindshares.com.

Stock donation to charity is a tax-smart way to donate to non-profits.  When you donate appreciated stock to charity, not only does the gift qualify for an itemized deduction, but you can avoid long term capital gains taxes as well.

The website features the Donate Stock blog (http://www.kindshares.com/donate-stock-blog), which provides content related to the topic for donors, non-profit managers, and personal tax and financial advisors.  As we grow we intend to add more services for our clients.  Please join our mailing list to keep in touch.


About Backups and Password Security 03/18/2011

Posted by johndex in Entrepreneurship.
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Backing up your data and making sure it stays secure is dull but essential.  While you can manually store files in the cloud using Google docs for example, I find my personal computer to be faster and easier to use.  And I admit that I am a bit paranoid about so much of my personal and business data aggregated on Google.

If you create and save work on your laptop or personal computer for your business, you need to back up your files.  Laptops can be stolen, dropped, destroyed in an accident or fire, fried in a power surge, or any number of horrible catastrophes for you and your business.   I am not disciplined enough to remember to make manual backups.  For my piece of mind and convenience, an online backup service such as industry leaders Carbonite or Mozy provide “insurance” against laptop disaster for less than $5 per month.  Both have been around for a while, specialize in this niche, and are well reviewed.  I chose Carbonite which appeared to offer better support options.  Now my files will automatically be backed up, and if my computer ever fails me, I can recover what I need quickly on another PC or even my iPhone.

Having covered backup, I also decided to ensure strong password security in the online services that we will be using.  My business is keeping as much as we can “in the cloud” to keep capital investment down and to support future plans for remote workers.  That means many remote services, many accounts, and many passwords.  It was time for a secure password manager.  I selected LastPass, which allows me to remember only one “Master Password” but creates and remembers unique and complicated passwords for each online service I join.  It will become company policy to use a password manager when using accounts for business.

With  these two tasks taken care of, I have significantly lowered risks of data security in my business with very little effort on my part.  Carbonite and LastPass are highly automated, and require little new behaviors on my part.  In fact LastPass makes it easier because it remembers passwords from sites that I don’t visit frequently, and has helped me avoid the frustration of password guessing and recovery.

Crowdsourcing Logo Design 03/16/2011

Posted by johndex in Entrepreneurship, Management.
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One of the first things you need to get going and feel legit is a company logo. Going with a known graphic designer can be the right way to go. I also believe that establishing a relationship with contractors locally who operate within your entrepreneurial community can be a plus as you build a network. I considered this option but as I didn’t have a favorite local designer, I decided instead to crowdsource my logo design on 99designs.

99designs and other similar sites offer pros and cons. The biggest bonus is you get to see creative entries from many designers. For me, a non-artist, this was useful, especially when I had little idea of the design direction I wanted. On the downside, you may get a range of quality, and you’ll need to plan on quite a bit of interaction with your designers to get the most out of them. On a side note, there online help and customer support is very good. I found them to be responsive by email and phone.

In researching this option I identified the following best practices that I committed to:

  • Create a very well done design brief with a strong title and clear objectives.  This is absolutely critical. Spend time on this.
  • Price the contest at $495 or more to attract many quality designs and better designers.
  • Create a poll to get feedback from friends and colleagues. I will do this in a later post.  You can do this during the contest or after it ends (before you pick a winner).
  • Guarantee a winner once you see quality work.  (I did after 90 submissions from 15 designers).  More designers jump in when this happens.
  • Provide feedback regularly.  I underestimated the amount of time I would need to do this.  I spent more than 25 hours reviewing designs, redesigns, and providing feedback.  However, this led to very good revised work and a variety of high quality finalists.  99designs blog and help sections gave some useful guidance.
  • Invite designers whose work you like.  This requires a bit of research, but it pays off.  Do this by looking at other contests and also doing a search on Google for “designer profile 99designs”.  I invited about 30 designers.  Many responded with design entries.  I received more than 230 designs from 16 designers, which exceeded my expectations.

Check out my design contest.

Every Little Bit (Of Monetization) Counts 03/09/2011

Posted by johndex in Entrepreneurship, Revenue.
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This blog tells the story about building my first business.  It is run on WordPress.com, a popular blogging platform, and requires no out-of-pocket expense.  So far so good.  This blog isn’t my business–it is more of a diary and a place where I hope I can share some useful information.  But even though this is not meant to be a money-maker, there is no reason why I shouldn’t look for sources of revenue where I can find them.  As an entrepreneur, a little revenue is better than no revenue at all.

One very easy way to add revenue to your web-based business is by becoming an Amazon Associate and setting up an aStore. Essentially you become a lead generator for goods in Amazon’s vast catalog of merchandize, and earn commissions on sales. It is FREE and easy to do.  And it is fairly customizable–you can even embed it within your own site.

In my previous post I recommended some books by Rhonda Abrams that I found useful in business planning.  Through the aStore I can provide you with a quick and easy link to buy them.  Here is a link to My aStore.

Every little bit counts.

Starting A Business — Getting Up to Speed 03/03/2011

Posted by johndex in Entrepreneurship, Uncategorized.
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I figured that starting a business must be pretty straightforward, as there are millions of small businesses in the US, and they seem to pop up out of thin air. My thinking was, if other people do it, I should be able to as well. But when I began to investigate what was required I quickly became inundated with questions and faced with my own gaps in knowledge. What legal form should the business take? How do I start on a bootstrap but still get valuable advice from experts? Research and write a business plan or just jump in? There is a ton of advice out there but rarely is it structured.

I felt that the first thing I should do is develop a business plan. Quite a few experts argue that this is a colossal waste of time, but for me it was essential. I view this preliminary business plan as a critically important strategic and financial assessment of the idea. If you can’t make it work on paper at 50,000 feet, you probably don’t have an idea worth developing. This is when you are most optimistic, and most ignorant of the complexity and challenges ahead.

I knew that after I had the business plan completed, I’d have to do some grunt work on setting up the enterprise. This is the less-than-sexy, everyone-has-to-do-this-part stuff like getting business licenses, setting up office space, establishing legal and accounting aspects of the business, etc.  This is all new to me, and like any good entrepreneur, I knew I had to manage risk–in this case, my own ignorance. And all in the context of not only “What do I do?” and “How do I do it?” but also “How do I do it inexpensively?”

I found a very helpful source to get organized and focused on these tasks. To help build my business plan and start the business, I’ve relied on Rhonda Abrams’ business books and website. In Her book Six-Week Start-up is an excellent resource for the mechanics of moving from idea to execution.

These texts provide a useful framework for the advice I’m getting from my personal contacts and other resources within the entrepreneur community.

Vision and Motivating Your Team 02/15/2011

Posted by johndex in Leadership, Management.
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Back when I was a product manager, I saw that the most highly motivated teams were driven by a clear vision or purpose that went beyond “make this widget.” Self-aware teams ask for this, and good product leaders and entrepreneurs effectively project the big ideas that frame the business.

This video, which is remarkably engaging despite its 10 minute length, identifies Purpose, along with Autonomy and Mastery, as keys to motivating people. I culled this from a discussion on the Seattle Tech Startup email list.


Plugging Into Seattle Tech Startups 02/08/2011

Posted by johndex in Entrepreneurship, Seattle Startups.
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Success as an entrepreneur is as much about the people you meet and get to know as it is about your ideas and skills.  Seattle has a relatively small but supportive ecosystem for startups.  There are numerous groups and events that can help you connect, from membership organizations to informal coffees and happy hours.  Most of these are interconnected, so getting familiar with one or two of these communities tends to spill over into others.

A relatively quick and dirty habit that I’ve established is regularly scanning the Seattle Tech Startup http://seattletechstartups.com email discussion.  This in the trenches Q&A among local players is valuable for insights in technology, bootstrapping and management.  It is also a mechanism for you introduce yourself and share your expertise.  In my around the town discussions, I get the sense that this list is popular and well-used by the Seattle startup community.

In addition to providing a forum for discussion on startup topics, Seattle Tech Startup posts frequently include invitations to meetups, groups, and events that can help you grow who you know.

If you are reading and commenting (hello, out there?) I’d love to hear your views as to what you use to connect to the Seattle startup scene.


A Plug for Northwest Entrepreneur Network 02/02/2011

Posted by johndex in Entrepreneurship.
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Attended a seminar today sponsored by Northwest Entrepreneur Network (NWEN) entitled “Legalities for Founders.”  Nice program put on by attorneys from Davis Wright Tremaine.  This workshop, along with other events put on by NWEN throughout the year, have been an excellent source of information and inspiration for me.  NWEN events are generally well attended by entrepreneurs, service providers, investors, consultants and what executive direction Rebecca Lovell likes to refer to as wantrapreneurs.  Students and other folks asking me about the Seattle startup scene often ask about resources and the local entrepreneurial community.  I tell them to start at NWEN.

Starting something in Seattle 01/29/2011

Posted by johndex in Entrepreneurship.
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After a long hiatus I’m back on the blog.  These past months I’ve been refocusing my attentions from working for startups to deciding to start my own.  Right now we’re in “stealth mode.”  That sounds ominous and impressive, and even gives the impression that this project is more than just me at my kitchen table.  Truth be told if we sit down for a cup of coffee (in my other office) I’d tell you all about it.  So much for stealth.

I’ll be back here periodically telling a bit of the story, as it unfolds.

What CEOs and Product Leaders Can Learn from the Health Care Debate 12/17/2009

Posted by johndex in Product Strategy.
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The ongoing health care policy discussions in Congress provide a revealing lesson for CEOs and product leaders about the difference between Vision and Strategy, and why you need both. (more…)