Design + Technology + Media = Innovation

February 7th, 2012

This complex Chinese symbol for "Chaos" also means "Opportunity" - a gift given to me by a former intern

If you want to be where the action is in the next 5+ years, I suggest you get to the intersection of design, technology and media.

At a presentation held at Olin College in the Boston area last year, Ashwin Rangan, CTO of Edwards Lifesciences spoke about “The 3 Faces of Innovation.” He first talked about the difference between invention and innovation, using the business definition of innovation, but mostly focused on a wide view of the types of innovations that meet that business definition.

Ashwin articulated these three types: Breakthrough, Platform and Derivative innovations. Breakthrough Innovation is something that never existed before and generally “only happens once in a generation if you’re lucky,” he says, and he added that breakthrough innovation is now accelerating because of the increasing speed of information flow. Platform Innovations are new delivery mechanisms, bringing these breakthrough innovations to our lives and changing our habits. Derivative Innovations are incremental, evolutionary extensions of a breakthrough innovation (usually through a platform innovation) that makes it easier or better, and these are “happening all the time,” Ashwin contents.

I’ve seen this three-part definition of innovation before; only they named them differently: Revolutionary (breaking boundaries and creating new paradigms), Expansionary (doing things differently) and Evolutionary (doing things better). I especially like the way that Ashwin framed the middle type, calling it a platform innovation. In a business sense, this is where the big game is won and where evolutionally, derivative innovation can launch.

These three kinds of innovation play off each other. When Breakthrough Innovation accelerates, more Platform Innovations can happen, creating a bonanza opportunity downstream at the evolutionary, incremental and “derivative” innovation level.  Breakthrough Innovations are usually the domain of scientists. Platform Innovations belong to engineers. But Evolutionary Innovation is about making things better, convenient and easy. This is the domain of designers.

Here are few proof points: More designers are founding startups. Businesses are trying to learn how to use design thinking to be more innovative. And major companies like Apple and Google may be borrowing from each others’ strengths (Apple with design, and Google with engineering) to create more platform and downstream innovations.

Now consider media

New platform innovations (new devices, new channels, and new formats) are creating chaos for traditional media. Because of this, new services, apps and other evolutionary innovations can be created on these new platforms at a faster rate. This media environment has long been the domain of designers, creatives and the humanities and will continue to be.

What looks like chaos to some, is opportunity for others. This downstream innovation is happening and will continue to happen at the intersection of design, technology and media: with new services, new apps and more.

This party is just getting started.

Recently, FLOODGATE Fund partner Ann Miura-Ko spoke at Stanford and talked about how the Internet has NOT been hyped enough. Crazy, but she may be right! The effects of that breakthrough innovation from decades ago are still being felt… and still creating major downstream innovations.

It’s a great time to be a startup.

 

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New Classes, New Year, and the New American Entrepreneurs

February 1st, 2012

Digg's Kevin Rose is an example of the new breed of American entrepreneurs - especially in digital media startups

I feel energized and hopeful about the future, buoyed by the first full week of the new semester and a State of the Union Address where the President actually mentioned Entrepreneurship.

Meeting a new class of students usually has a positive impact on me. Fresh faces filled with enthusiasm, energy and determination. Heads filled with ideas, dreams and images of the future.

This semester, I am especially thrilled: I am teaching two classes on entrepreneurship. One is an introduction to the concept of The Lean Startup (ICC 300) for digital media startups; the other is a class (ICC 400/600) where students – grads and undergrads – will actually LAUNCH digital media startups.

I started the Lean class with a reading – as if from scripture – from the new book:  The Lean Startup by Eric Reis. (Uh-oh. Sacrilege!  If my Jesuit teachers could hear me now.)

Reis starts out the book with a familiar tale. [Cue the soaring and inspiring soundtrack.]

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Brilliant college kids sitting in a dorm are inventing the future. Heedless of boundaries, possessed of new technology and youthful enthusiasm, they build a new company from scratch. Their early success allows them to raise money and bring an amazing new product to market. They hire their friends, assemble a superstar team, and dare the world to stop them.

Then he debunks the myth. [Kill the music.]

Ten years and several startups ago, that was me, building my first company. I particularly remember a moment from back then: the moment I realized my company was going to fail. My cofounder and I were at our wits’ end. The dotcom bubble had burst, and we had spent all our money. We tried desperately to raise more capital, and we could not. It was like a breakup scene from a Hollywood movie: it was raining, and we were arguing in the street. We couldn’t even agree on where to walk next, and so we parted in anger, heading in opposite directions. As a metaphor for our company’s failure, this image of the two of us, lost in the rain and drifting apart, is perfect.

It remains a painful memory. The company limped along for months afterward, but our situation was hopeless. At the time, it had seemed we were doing everything right: we had a great product, a brilliant team, amazing technology, and the right idea at the right time. And we really were on to something. We were building a way for college kids to create online profiles for the purpose of sharing … with employers. Oops.

Yep. They were THAT close. “Almost Facebook,” you could say.

“It wasn’t supposed to turn out that way,” Reis continues in his opening. “In magazines and newspapers, in blockbuster movies, and on countless blogs, we hear the mantra of the successful entrepreneurs: through determination, brilliance, great timing, and above all a great product, you too can achieve fame and fortune.”

Yes. I’m terrible. I come to a class filled with youthful exuberance and hope for the future… and then I destroy their dreams by starting the semester with THAT reading.

But that’s not all. In my New Media Entrepreneurship class, I started the class by telling them: “Your idea is worthless… ALL ideas are worthless.” I even tell them that many of the ideas they have aren’t even worthy of being called ideas, they are mere notions, not even full-fledged ideas. Then I go on to say it is only with work – especially team work – that these notions can become ideas, ideas become concepts, and concepts can become SOMETHING: a plan, a demo, a prototype, and ultimately a startup.

And so begins the shiny, new year.

This is the first time I’m teaching both these classes. I developed the curriculum for the Lean Digital Media Startups class last year. I believe is the first of its kind in a media and communications school – following in the footsteps of Steve Blank and his Lean Startup class at Stanford Engineering. This is the second year (I think) for the New Media Entrepreneurship class, this time revamped around Alexander Osterwalder’s Business Model Generation approach, seasoned with lots of lean concepts. This is a class about forming teams around good ideas and working to turn those ideas into something with value.

I want to inform, inspire and support my students. Being at a major university, I remind them they are only a few minutes’ walk from an expert on nearly any topic or problem they might encounter. Since I’m teaching non-business media majors (in Advertising, Journalism, Television, Public Relations, Photography and Design), I also remind them they can take a walk down to the business school if they need a team member with skills in accounting, marketing, or logistics, or go up and woo an engineering or software student from those schools if they need help them with development or infrastructure or building something. I tell them business ventures are all about teams. I tell them they need to be leaders to attract great teams to their great ideas. That’s the only way to add value to the idea: having a team work on it to create something: a product, a service, a platform, something that didn’t exist before.

In his State of the Union address last week, President Obama was trying to rally Team USA to come together to fix our struggling economy and re-establish the role of America as the shining example of innovation and self-made success. He referenced the power of entrepreneurship to help.

It means we should support everyone who’s willing to work, and every risk-taker and entrepreneur who aspires to become the next Steve Jobs. After all, innovation is what America has always been about. Most new jobs are created in start-ups and small businesses. So let’s pass an agenda that helps them succeed. Tear down regulations that prevent aspiring entrepreneurs from getting the financing to grow.

I’m excited for the new year and new student entrepreneurs. And despite my opening words in both classes, I think the students are excited too. For some students, I’m turning on the lights to the idea of starting a venture. To others, I’m directing and adjusting those lights. But for some of these students – like Reis was, huddled in his dorm and dreaming of a bright future – my job is to get out of the way before I get run over.

The ideas are growing, the teams are forming and the action is to follow. These are the New American Entrepreneurs.

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Why entrepreneurship matters right now …and how the west was won.

January 15th, 2012

Notorious outlaw and beloved folk hero during pioneering of American West, Billy the Kid was really just a kid just trying to survive.

Some people have asked me if I really think that entrepreneurship is the solution for the recession and the American economic woes we have right now.

My answer is: IN PART.

New business ventures and startups will create jobs, but I don’t believe entrepreneurship will generate the volumes and kinds of jobs that we need to pull our economy out of this current situation. (See Steve Ratner’s charts from MSNBC’s Morning Joe program about this.) It won’t solve the problem of our out-of-control national debt, but it will help develop a new source of tax revenue and create wealth in our country. It won’t cure the affliction of this new strain of structured unemployment that we seem to have – where people who want to work are not skilled or interested in the job openings that exist. We need a multi-purpose plan to solve this. I know this and have written about it. I don’t pretend to have the solution, but I have some ideas.

I believe American Entrepreneurship will certainly help our economic situation in two important ways.

Startups will create new jobs

At first, new ventures will immediately create jobs for the founders who seek to start these businesses. They will be working, creating, producing and hopefully finding sources for income for their activities, in the form of customers paying them, investors backing them and/or competitors buying them out. If they work hard and are lucky, they will create wealth for themselves, their investors and their communities in the process. This is the good side of capitalism. (Yeah, Capitalism!) This will take some time, but we need to do this now, everywhere and often. This I believe.

Over time, these startups will create new long-term jobs. Kauffman Foundation research shows that startups and young companies generate nearly all the net-new jobs in our country in the last few decades. This is true even when factoring in the high failure rate of startups. Some of the largest, fastest growing companies in America right now are young companies. We need more.

Aside from this direct benefit, we need entrepreneurs and their startups to set a new tone in our country: to educate us, to empower us, to inspire us.

Startups remind us of our American pioneering spirit

We love the story of the successful, self-made American entrepreneur:

  • We have all heard the story about the college-dropout who starts a company with his friends in a dorm room, defies the odds and becomes a billionaire. Yes, that happens.
  • We love the rags-to-riches stories: Started sweeping floors (or in the mail room) and then goes on to buy out the company or start a competitor. Or better yet, we love the immigrant version of the story: came to this country penniless and builds a business through hard work, tenacity and access to opportunity.
  • We also love the image of the visionary who pronounces a new world order and then creates a company to make that vision into reality. Hollywood stuff. Love it. It happens too.
  • Then there’s the story of the scientist – or the genius in a garage – who discovers something amazing, works in obscurity for years and then finally finds success with a little company that grows into a juggernaut in technology or medical innovation.

These stories are just like our American legends of the pioneering days: like Casey Jones, Daniel Boone, Davey Crocket, and Wild Bill Hickok. And cult heroes, like Sitting Bull and Geronimo, Billy the Kid and Jesse James. We love these stories.

But the real pioneer heroes of the West were the men and women who left their lives, defied the odds, overcame amazing adversity and started new lives in ways small and large. For every one of these famous heroes there are thousands who did truly heroic, pioneering things. They were the ones who really advanced our country and made us who we are. And we did it again in the Great War and World War II. Our pioneering spirit is the heart of American-ism; it’s what attracts people to come to our shores.

That’s why we need to encourage American entrepreneurship. We need to motivate hundreds and thousands of pioneering men and women to seek new opportunity and better lives. We need to debunk some of the myths about what makes someone an entrepreneur. (See Saras Sarasvathy’s video on this. Great!) There are different types of entrepreneurs and different types of startups. We need them all.

In developing all this entrepreneurship and innovation, we will certainly create new heroes and legends. But more importantly, if we make entrepreneurship pervasive, understandable, supported, and a real option for more people, we can create a generation of doers and activators who can take charge of their lives, their futures and the future of this country. The end result will be a booming economy and a bold new American era, with activated, participating citizens.

This Great Recession can become the crucible for learning, working and innovating. There is a pattern in this American experiment in democracy and capitalism:

Great adversity produces Great American moments. It’s our moment.

 

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Cornell + NYC = Innovation Age Center of Commerce

January 9th, 2012

Roosevelt Island in NYC will be transformed by Cornell's new NYC Tech Campus, for sure. New York City will certainly benefit. But, will New York State?

Commerce in the Industrial Age was centered on the flow of goods to market and access to natural resources for industrial utilization and exploitation. Along these routes of commercial connectivity developed Centers of Commerce (usually cities): where goods met markets and where sources of natural resources met industrial and manufacturing centers. Here, these industries flourished, along with ancillary services, new industries and related markets. These hubs also became centers of culture, politics, media and arts.

New York City was just one of several hubs of commerce in the early American industrial age, because of its position on the Atlantic Coast, deep harbor and access to goods and natural resources via the Hudson River. By many measures, the Erie Canal changed all that when it opened in 1825, transforming NYC into the preeminent commercial city in the United States.

Prior to construction of the canal, New York City was the nation’s fifth largest seaport, behind Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New Orleans. Within 15 years of its opening, New York was the busiest port in America, moving tonnages greater than Boston, Baltimore and New Orleans combined. [NYS Canal Corporation: “The Erie Canal: A Brief History”.]

Today, modern commerce is centered on the flow of ideas and information and access to intellectual resources and innovation. Because of the Internet, this new kind of commerce is happening everywhere — in a fast and frictionless fashion. This changes the purpose of place and the role of Centers of Commerce, and I think that NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg is one of the few government leaders really tuned into this.

Centers of Commerce in this Innovation Age need to accelerate flow and access. These places need to add value by creating new flows through chance collisions of ideas and opportunity (preferably, near capital and intellectual resources). And access to highly mobile intellectual resources is very different from access to fixed natural resources. It’s now a social, human process — which calls for a rich cultural, artistic, and creative environment to attract, engage and inspire. Hey! Sounds like a real urban experience to me… Sounds like New York!

In the December 19th press conference announcing the Cornell University and Technion -Israel Institute of Technology team as the winner of the Tech Campus competition, Mayor Bloomberg and Cornell officials and even a Nobel Laureate talked about the dramatic impact and effect that the new NYC Tech Campus will have. I completely agree. I also think there were enough hints dropped that this is just the start: there will be more NYC-based technology campuses.

I’ve written before about the benefits of Upstate and NYC technology development and about the excitement and opportunity of the NYC tech startup hub. I think this addition of Cornell’s new campus is wonderful and a step for a bold and exciting future — for NYC and New York State. Now, it’s time for New York State to fortify its role and place in this innovation connectivity.

One speaker at the press conference stated “This is NYC’s Erie Canal moment.” (Go 45 mins into the press conference.) He’s right! I think the NYC Tech Campus IS another Erie Canal moment – and with the connection to Cornell in Upstate NY, it can be a generator of great innovation, wealth and power for NYC and NYS for a long, long time.

In watching the video of the press conference, you might think some of the pronouncements sound a bit overstated. Yes. Maybe. Much like what Governor DeWitt Clinton said at the start of the building of the Erie Canal:

 “The city will, in the course of time, become the granary of the world, the emporium of commerce, the seat of manufactures, the focus of great moneyed operations… And before the revolution of a century, the whole island of Manhattan, covered with inhabitants and replenished with a dense population, will constitute one vast city.” [NYS Canal Corporation: “The Erie Canal: A Brief History”.]

Pretty good prediction, Governor! [best when spoken with British accent]

Now Governor Cuomo and other leaders and businesses need to craft ways for Upstate New York to take advantage of this new Innovation Age connectivity. Some suggestions:

  • NYC is overtly developing these new tech campuses to meet the current and future demand for engineering and technical talent. Upstate NY has this intellectual resource at its 100+ colleges and universities RIGHT NOW.
    • Encourage Upstate NY academics and researchers to work with NYC firms – on sabbatical, in creative job-switching with Professors in industry, etc.
    • Encourage other NYS colleges and universities to have presence in NYC
  • Upstate NY colleges and universities graduate approximately 20,000 every year with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) degrees… plus, Upstate has more than 500,000 undergraduates and graduates in Upstate in ALL fields of study.
    • New recruiting avenues with NYC (and Upstate NY) startups
    • More Upstate and Downstate start-up internship programs (like HackNY)
    • Reverse Internships – where students go to companies and teach a topic
    • More student startups!! Funding, Grants, Awards, Programs
  • Hospitals in Upstateought to make stronger connections for innovations
    • Incent medical trials for new technologies developed in Upstate and NYC innovation centers
    • More Upstate/Downstate Hospital alliances to bring the medical talent from Upstate to NYC and from NYC to Upstate
  • Manufacturing of these innovations can take place anywhere so NYS manufacturing must develop competitive advantages of speed, cost and service to compete.
    • Develop Upstate Manufacturing Prototyping centers
    • Incent Upstate Manufacturers to work with NYS designers and innovators

One other historical point:

The building of the Erie Canal created demands for innovation and new tools. This partly led to the establishment of the first engineering college in the USA in Troy, NY, where the Erie Canal meets the Hudson River: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). How ironic that pattern reverses: the building of an engineering and technical college in NYC could be the spark that creates waves of commercial development across the city, state and region.

Hooray for Cornell. Hooray for New York City. Hooray for Michael Bloomberg.

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Hyperlocal industry set for hyper-speed changes and even more experiments

December 12th, 2011

Extra! Extra! Read all about it. Hyperlocal is the next big thing.

I think the hyperlocal publishing industry is set for hyper-speed change in the coming months and years — a compressed version of 200+ years of journalism. Taking on this opportunity are all varieties of entrepreneurs: from small one-person operations to large, publicly traded mega-media companies, and everything in between.

With small lean startups, smart journalists, new business models and larger platform systems, the future of hyperlocal may be the place where the future of journalism is crafted.

Some of the issues these ventures face are the same as the history of journalism:

  • People don’t want to pay for news;
  • Success gains political influence;
  • Maintaining journalistic standards in response to technological change; and
  • Balancing high journalism with mass appeal
  • Plus, the modern issue of advertisers not wanting to pay traditional media rates for digital media advertising!

Some of the locally-based owners of community news and information sites are like modern-day versions of the traditional newspaper publisher or owner of the local television or radio stations. Some are more journalistic; some are more community promoters or politically motivated; some are combinations. Another variety these community site owners are trying to be scalable business plays, where they are developing a repeatable business model for local news and information delivery – creating new value propositions, efficiencies and audiences, then looking to expand to other communities.

Both these types of community sites are a market for another type of player in the hyperlocal industry: service providers!

These smaller hyperlocal media publishers are competing – either head-to-head, or in preparation for head-to-head – with some the big media players in the hyperlocal space (such as AOL’s Patch, MSNBC’s EveryBlock, Topix, etc.) Although they are smaller operations, they need the same efficiencies, advantages and services as the large media players. This spells opportunity for several startups who can provide back-office and value-added services to these smaller community sites.

All of these (and more) are high-tech scalable businesses with platforms for efficiency, new services, new sources of revenue (some advertising, some not), as well as shared resources …much like the Associated Press did for its member newspapers a hundred years ago.

Here’s a few new companies and services to watch:

Broadcastr is a social media location-based service (LBS) platform that enables the recording, organizing, listening, and sharing of audio content via a map-based interface.

CityPockets is a digital wallet for daily deals that helps users import and keep track of all their pre-paid vouchers from multiple sites with a single login.

Goby is a new search engine that’s all about finding fun ways to spend your free time, from a weekend to a week off.

Google Currents is a new publishing platform for mobile devices from Google, launched this week with more than 150 publishing partners. “Content is optimized for smartphones and tablets, allowing you to intuitively navigate between words, pictures and video on large and small screens alike, even if you’re offline,” the announcement stated. But it also pointed out:

Alongside Google Currents, we’re also launching a self-service platform … For example, if you’re a small regional news outlet … you can effortlessly create hands-on digital publications for Google Currents.  

Group Commerce builds turnkey, white label group buying solutions that includes an extensive set of publisher administration tool and ecommerce design/marketing consultation.

LocalVox Media is a digital content hub for social media and search marketing of local neighborhood lifestyle news and editorial content.

Place IQ is a pre launch startup working on next generation location intelligence. PlaceIQ sifts through tons of data about locations to give marketers a mini-zipcode-like profile of each block.

POPVOX is a transparent, nonpartisan, neutral platform for advocacy and legislative data. It is a disruptive advocacy platform that delivers public input to Congress in a format tailored to actionable policy decisions and empowers users to leverage their expertise and numbers

SeeClickFix is a free mobile phone and web tool that allows citizens to report non-emergency issues, to communicate with public officials, and to engage with fellow citizens to help find solutions to problems in their neighborhood or town.

Tackable is a social journalism platform designed for news organizations, with a live media map of the world where you can create assignments and submit live photos and videos of things happening right in front of you.

Plus, there are a TON of Content Management Systems (CMS) providers who are playing to the hyperlocal news sites, providing search-friendly capabilities, user-generated content management, archiving and more.

The hyperlocal industry is an active marketplace with a lot of innovations, players, opportunities and experimentation to come.

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Eight steps for college grads to land jobs with startups

November 30th, 2011

"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the people to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea."-- Antoine De Saint-Exupery, author of The Little Prince

In my last post, I suggested that college students COULD be a perfect fit for startups to hire. According to a Kauffman Foundation study, nearly ALL of the net-new jobs created in this country in the last 30 to 40 years were created by startups and younger firms. No wonder this is where the action is, and why college grads ought to consider working for startups.

Young college graduates have unique attributes that are valuable in a startup environment, which older, more experienced employees don’t bring to the table. (Truth is, a startup needs both.) Staying focused on college students seeking jobs at startups and early-stage companies, I’d like to suggest eight steps college students should take BEFORE seeking these jobs with startups.

#1 – REALIZE STARTUPS ARE DIFFERENT

What’s different when startups consider hiring? Everything, pretty much. This is especially true with very early startups, but it is also true of startups as they shift into growth mode. For these startups and early-stage companies, job descriptions are different (or non-existent); job interviews are different (for better or for worse); resume reviews are different; and risks/rewards assessments are WAY different. That’s because THE JOB at a startup is WAY different from a job at a typical, established company – especially bigger companies.

For recent college graduates, the excitement of working at a startup can quickly fade when you realize how much work it will be. But if you are hooked on performance, love what you do, enjoy the thrill of building something, and don’t mind working long hours with cool, smart people… Startup jobs are for you!

#2 – RECOGNIZE WITH FREEDOM COMES RESPONSIBILITY

There are great advantages to working for a young startup or early-stage company. Startups usually have a younger focus, so there is usually less discrimination against a younger person with less experience.  There are more “field promotions,” so you are more likely to become the VP of something at a startup in two years than you are at ever making it to VP at an established company.

Overall, there is usually a lot more job growth, opportunity, freedom, and chances to succeed. But with this freedom comes great responsibility.  See the great Netflix presentation on their culture to get an idea of how this can play out in your job and in the corporate culture. In this presentation one main point is that they value: judgment, communication, impact, curiosity, innovation, courage, passion, honesty, and selflessness.

The other side of working at a startup: Expect to work long hours and have some kind of performance pay (bonus, options, equity, and more). Startups are about DOING, and paying for performance is the way to get everyone attached to the same goal. Depending on the size and culture of the startup, new hires will get more responsibility, more self-management, less training and specific guidance, and more chances to fail than in traditional, established companies. If this turns you on, Startups are for you!

#3 – PASSION AND CHEMISTRY ARE MORE IMPORTANT AT STARTUPS

As indicated in the Netflix presentation, culture is usually THE paramount consideration when startups and young growth companies hire. That works both ways. If you are not passionate about the product, service and people at a startup, do yourself and them a favor and walk away. This is not about selling yourself and convincing the potential employer that you are the right person for the job. If you convince the startup to hire you and you don’t understand or believe in the company, you have hurt yourself and them. New startups especially need to hire people who believe. The first hires set the culture.

#4 – TALENT CAN BEAT OUT SKILLS AND EXPERIENCE

There’s a debate in the startup community about this point. There are also two camps on whether to hire generalists or specialists. Startups should grapple with these issues, but from the point of view of the job seeker who is fresh out of college, you should seek startups that want Talented Generalists. Generalists are especially valuable in new startups, where everyone does a bit of everything. But even in startups and early-stage companies in growth stage, they may be seeking more specialists, but I feel they really need someone to handle a specific task, while having generalist sensibilities.

Overall, startups need talent. So talk about your talent, show your talent, back up your talent with action …and startups will be interested.

#5 – ACCUMULATE DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE AND SKILLS while in college

Take courses on startups so you can learn what makes them tick. Colleges should offer more of these kinds of courses, but they are out there. Some are in the business schools. Others are in corners of non-business schools, in engineering, IT, and other schools. Find them. Take them. Highlight these courses on your resume! Not only will knowledge of startups and startup thinking make you a better employee, but you will be better informed about what’s happening in the business; you’ll see the bigger picture.

Other things you can do while in college?

  • Intern at startups… especially ones where you would want to work, or at least in the field or type of business.
  • Start your own business in college. Entrepreneurs are doers. Better to say you did something than say you studied it. (Best to say both!)
  • Build something. A website. A product. An app. Go beyond the portfolio. Make it real.
  • Read startup blogs and get WIRED and Fast Company Magazine. Show you understand startup mentality. Know the current discussions and have an opinion.

Do as many of these things as you can, then highlight them on your resume and talk passionately and intelligently about them in your interviews.

#6 – SEARCH IN DIFFERENT WAYS AND PLACES

Startups don’t usually post their job openings in the local newspaper, or on the general-purpose job boards. When they do post, they post on startup jobs websites, forum sites and on their own websites. But many times, they don’t post the job at all, because they don’t have a job opening per se: they just have endless opportunity. Because of this, startups are constantly looking for new talent, so your job is to search so YOU are found. That means you need to find the right startups for you, then develop them.

You should read startup news sites (like TechCrunch and Business Insider), VC blogs and sites that list startups and search by your interest or industry. Keep your eyes open. This is how you search for jobs with startups: you find the startup that has a great product or service and you look for signs of growth and expansion: new funding, new customers, product announcements, new services, etc. Once you find ones that interest you, reach out to them. Use social media. Instead of asking for a job, tell them you about your passion for their business, market or service (see item #3, above) Have a conversation, and when the time is right, offer to work as a contactor first… or simply volunteer to work on nights and weekends. (That’s what startups do: they work on nights and weekends and it would be great to have someone come in as extra help or a reliever.)

#7 – ACT LIKE YOU’RE ALREADY HIRED… and if you can, act like a founder

Landing a job with a startup is easy if you are self-motivated, self-aware, self-disciplined, self-reflective and self-improving. These are the attributes of good leaders. Startups need good leaders who don’t wait to be told what to do.

Plus, be aware that startups should follow the old adage of “Hire slow, fire fast.” Keep this in mind. Don’t rush the process. Every hire is key, especially with early startups. There are some who believe that startups should contract or hire under probation first. This is a great idea with its pros and cons. Make this process a positive for you.

When you get started, remember this: Entrepreneurship is about DOING. Too often, we hear that entrepreneurs are great idea people. True, but we miss that entrepreneurs and all people in startups are focused on getting something done. In fact, most startups would rather have someone make a mistake and correct it fast. There are exceptions to this approach, but most startups prefer the approach made famous by General George Patton: “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.” (Now there’s a great leader for you!)

#8 – THIS IS YOUR TIME

My last point comes via Paul Graham of Y Combinator who bluntly stated twenty-somethings have stamina, poverty, rootless-ness, colleagues, and ignorance.

That’s why college grads are perfectly positioned to do what startups need: spend long hours (stamina), keep the costs low and think about ways to keep products and services low-cost (poverty), be available to move at a moment’s notice (rootless-ness), have lots of connections and friends to help jumpstart and grow the startup (colleagues), and a blind passion, belief and unshakable tenacity to make something work (ignorance… as in the old line: “they said it was impossible, he’d be a fool to try, and the damn fool went and did it.”)

You have these attributes NOW. You will lose these over time. So NOW is your time.

Coming out of college and want to change the world? Join a startup.

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More thoughts and crazy notions on an innovation economy in New York State

October 23rd, 2011

NYC should look to Upstate NY for Main Street advantages and more in growing a statewide innovation economy

To understand what a complete innovation economy is, I think New York State needs to look at and really learn from Silicon Valley. Then we need to think BIGGER.

Silicon Valley has a wide and diverse technology economy, according to the Silicon Valley Economic Development Alliance (SVEDA), along with lots of services, small businesses and infrastructure. The Valley’s major areas of economic activity include the best known and most visible area: “Information Products & Services.” But it also has a robust Life Sciences and a growing Green/Cleantech Industry. Most importantly, the region also has four supporting industries Innovation & Specialized Services, Business Infrastructure, Community Infrastructure, and Manufacturing. SVEDA does a good job describing, and graphically illustrating, the overlap and interaction of these industries and services.

In Greater NYC, many of these support services can and will emerge as New York City grows to become a recognized, national/international tech and innovation hub. But as I stated in the three previous posts [1, 2, 3], Upstate NY already has some of these diversified tech industries (Life Sciences, Green/Cleantech and Nanotech) as well as some of the supporting industries, namely manufacturing. I believe this kind of Upstate/Downstate collaboration needs to start to gel right away, before the opportunity time cools. Plus, the lesson from Silicon Valley is that the economy is a LOT bigger than just the territory known as the valley, and this innovation economy needs to extend beyond NYC.

Silicon Valley is “home to 40 cities in the south San Francisco Bay Area which cross four counties: from San Mateo to Gilroy, Fremont to Scotts Valley, and beyond,” according to SVEDA. This wider and more diverse region offers all kinds of living, working, and additional advantages and synergies in support of and benefiting from Silicon Valley’s innovation economy.

I believe that New York State can and should build the same kind of wide and diverse innovation economy.

And, it needs to be a free-flowing, two-way economy with business flowing into and out of NYC to Upstate. Here are some ideas, suggestions, and examples (that I know of) to illustrate this supporting and benefiting regional value proposition. (This is an updated list of suggested actions from a previous post.)

  • Upstate/Downstate Deal Syndication and Startup Pitchfests. Fast-paced. Ruthlessly vetted. (Don’t waste investor time with un-fundable startups.) A big, single event? Have an Upstate version of Big Omaha meets AlwaysOn. Stream it, so investors in NYC can attend virtually.
  • Start new kinds of Upstate/Downstate Angels and other Investment Groups: There are all kinds of possibilities here. First off, the Upstate Venture Association has members all over Upstate, including some very active NYC firms: such as Stonehenge Capital and others. Examples of new activities: Alumni angel groups, like what RPI is doing and other universities are considering. New ideas include an Upstate Young Ex-pat Angel Groups: so young people who grew up in Upstate can socialize, reconnect, invest and grow together Upstate and Downstate. (Thanks to Steve Suhowatsky for this idea!)
  • Upstate/Downstate Business and Trade Groups could put together special offers (rev-sharing, investment-sharing) and special incentives to attract manufacturing and back office services to Upstate from NYC startups. Warehousing (w fully digital fulfillment), tech support centers, and more. There are examples of this kind of thing already happening. In this NY Times article, note the NYC-based tech company has its product manufactured in a small town in Upstate NY. [Are there any other examples? Let me know.]
  • Small businesses in Upstate can support and benefit from the Startup Scene in NYC too. We need new ideas and services in transportation (new limo services?), distribution, product design, and all kinds of services and events. Recommendation to Upstate business services: SHOW UP! Too often I hear laments in Upstate about business they could have gotten but didn’t. Go to these NYC startups and let them know about your services… and be world-class, or don’t bother.

New Industries that could thrive with Upstate/Downstate advantage:

  • Nanotech – between UAlbany, Cornell and Rochester resources
  • MedTech, Biotech and Life Sciences – across Upstate, but especially in Buffalo and Rochester
  • Advanced Materials – in the Southern Tier and Cornell (amazing stuff!)
  • Green/Cleantech – across Upstate, but especially in Syracuse and Northern NY (Adirondacks)
  • Energy – starting with Natural Gas from the Marcellus Shale in the Southern Tier (Let’s do it right!) and building to offshore wind in the Great Lakes and off the coast of Long Island (where Google is making billions in investment), and all kinds of wind, biomass and other kinds of other renewable energy sources. If done right: NYS could be the new ENERGY STATE.

These are big industry initiatives. But there are lifestyle and fun things to build too.

We need to create and encourage what the NY Times called the “Brooklynization of the Hudson Valley” in places like Beacon, Cold Spring, Tivoli, Red Hook, Accord, High Falls and Hudson, and small cities like Kingston and Poughkeepsie. These are becoming the hip towns for young families and creatives from Brooklyn and other parts of NYC. These are the exurbs of the Startup Community.

They need and want ALL the cultural living amenities (more!), without all the cost of the city. I see lots of related opportunities here: wired get-aways, 2nd homes with tech benefits, and more. I can foresee Plugged (and Totally Unplugged) recreation: rock climbing, camping, hiking, cycling, mountain biking,skiing, snowboarding, kayaking, etc. And, there ought to be more opportunity for deeper cultural opportunities: Glimmerglass, Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC), horse racing and new types of culture, with a technology angle, maybe?

And, one last wild idea: Let’s gamify the Thruway and other NYS toll roads.  Integrate EZ-Pass with Foursquare and Twitter (and more) so when you pass through a toll, it can tweet or check in, auto-posting the photo taken of your car as you go through the toll.  (We know they do it so they can track down violators. Let’s make it fun.

This is how we can build New York State into a fully-engaged community of innovation, design, ideas and fun. In doing so, we can build the vibrant innovation economy that we want and need. We have everything we need. Now we need the will to do it.

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Where are the women in this startup community?

October 17th, 2011

Rosie the Riveter. Rosie the Coder. Rosie the BD. Rosie the Founder. Rosie the Media Mogul. Rosie the Angel. Go, Rosie!

Since the start of September, I have had the enviable – and thoroughly enjoyable – opportunity to be the professor of a new class on digital media trends (COM 400/600), guiding a group of 24 smart media students ( grads and undergrads) as they look into their crystal balls to see what’s ahead. I’ve been thinking and talking about this class for a while. Now mid-semester, the lecture hall is abuzz with ideas and insights, and we are now in the segment of the class where we have guest speakers from different industries, outside the media, come to tell us what innovations THEY see in their industries that MIGHT impact the media of the future. Great stuff.

As director of the center for entrepreneurship at this prestigious media college, I regularly have meetings and conversations with students, faculty, alumni, and even parents (!) with ideas, concepts, startups, funding interests and job opportunities in the startup community. I’ve attended lectures by faculty and visiting digital media leaders, plus I am inviting founders from young digital media startups to come speak at our “Startups… with a side of ideas” series and some classes, as well. (Contact me if you’d like to be considered.)

My “office” hours are filled with brainstorming and advising budding entrepreneurs with ideas and concepts they want to take forward as ventures, as well as some who are still searching for their big idea. I also have frequent conversations with alumni and others with digital media startups: seeking contacts, resources and advice. I’ve pointed some to mentors, connected others to peers, and always try to help directly (or sometimes with students) to bring an idea or business forward.

Off campus, I am a partner in a small consultancy that works with early-stage technology companies. One of our clients just launched a new consumer product. It’s exciting to see product showing up on shelves in retail stores around the country. Other clients are in developmental and operational stages: running their companies toward a business or marketing objective. We provide general guidance and specialty services. Every week, I get to meet with other early-stage companies seeking funding, key personnel, new markets, and possible exits. One recent prospective client showed us an amazing new technology demo, and we are now working on staffing, funding and developing an online service to take this amazing technology to a new market. Isn’t this fun? It’s off-the-charts exciting!

In both my academic and business roles, I have been to all kinds of conferences in the last couple of months: on entrepreneurship, interactive marketing, social media, venture funding and more. I am slated to go to a handful of others in the next few weeks: namely Street Fight (on local news startups), a Bloomberg Link session on entrepreneurship, BizBuzz (a regional social media conference) and a roundtable discussion on innovation and entrepreneurship in the news media at the prestigious Paley Center.

So where are all the women? Well, everywhere!

Maybe it’s different for others, but I see women in places and roles where I rarely saw them in the 1990s during the dot-com startup days. Today, these women are playing bigger and more visible roles, and they are changing the conversation, tone, look and feel of startups. I like it.

Here are some examples from just the last few weeks.

Among the established early-stage tech businesses, there’s …

Nancy Spears of genConnect.com – looking for new content partners, venues, and market expansion — while talking to new investors about her online video experts service

Mary Song of Yuupon.com – looking for her next funding round for her fast-growing flash-sale travel startup

Rachel DeAlto – seeking ways to convert more of her amazing media coverage into sales …and to develop new retail partnerships for her FlipMe.com flirt cards …. While being nice enough to take the time to return to her alma mater to talk to students (at three Newhouse classes and our “Startups… with a side of ideas” speaker session) about starting her business, taking the plunge and innovating the flirt

Among the startups launching, there’s …

Professor Barbara Jones – with her hyper-local news startup, awaiting grant funding approval from the Canadian government, which kick- in all the other funding and resources she’s lined up over the last several months. (Fingers crossed, Barbara)

JJ Ramberg, host of MSNBC’s Your Business and advisory board member for my Center – taking the time to advise recent graduate and startup founder, Jason Blanck of Broodr.com, on a number of things from JJ’s experience starting goodsearch.com, as well as how he can transform some of his niche media coverage in the gadget world into big media coverage…You know, the kind that Rachel seems to be able to get with ease (Hmmm. Note to self: put Jason in touch with Rachel.)

Among the developing startups, there’s …

  • Camille – showing me the business idea that won her the Arkansas Business Plan competition last year, and the new social venture idea she has now,
  • Carli – with a new, multi-modal/multi-media “show” that’s essentially mixes Oprah with Dr. Ruth, and
  • Natasha – calling from Brooklyn with her social venture idea in Education.

And, then there’s Megan – deciding to “go for it!” – by showing me her concept for a new recruiting startup, after hearing a presentation in class by Larry Kramer, founder of Marketwatch.com, talking about his experience as a journalist, starting a business in the 1990s, and the roller-coaster ride you ought to expect. (Thanks, Larry! You were great.)

In the normal course of business, there’s…

  • Aileen Gallagher, professor in Magazine Journalism, being the first to send me the most amazing tech post I’ve read in a long, long time – yes, the Google+ Platforms rant
  • My almost daily interactions with Kate Brodock, of Girls in Tech and social media maven – a connecting me to colleagues and contacts to help my students and clients develop their business
  • As well as my irregular, frequent conversations on projects, tech markets, politics and the Boston Red Sox (ouch!) with my colleage and friend, Maureen Rogers, tech product marketer extraordinaire!

Women are everywhere in this space… at least for me. (Don’t tell my wife. She thinks that as a startup consultant and tech marketer, I mostly deal with geeky guys.)

At a lunch meeting this past week, I was recalling some key moments in my business in the mid-1990s, and mentioned one of our colleagues, who was credited for writing the first CGI script, back in the early days of web development. An astro-physicist, she had Marc Andreessen as a graduate assistant back at NCSA,  Barbara Mihalas (a.k.a. “Dr. Barbara”)  introduced me to one of the early versions of Mosaic, the first graphic web browser. I think she would agree with me. There are a LOT more women in the startup and tech startup world today…. And we need every one.

Yes, I still have the all-male tech meetings: all hovering around a computer monitor, looking at an amazing software demo or something. BORING!!! Ok, it wasn’t boring. Last week’s demo was amazing, and it was all men around the table… But, in looking at our staffing plan for this startup, I’m seeing more highly qualified women’s names on the list than ever before.

Ok. Ok. If I named this post “Women are EVERYWHERE in the startup community,” it would be somewhere between a lie and an overstatement. But their numbers are growing. And examples of highly successful role models are highly visible – especially in digital media. There are big names such as: Oprah, Martha Stewart, Ariana Huffington, and Catarina Fake. There are also lesser known entrepreneurs like the founders of Eventbrite, Slideshare, Gilt Groupe, and a ton of up-and-coming women with vision, ideas, and gumption.

If you took a poll of the men around that computer monitor and asked if they wanted more women in the mix, their answer would overwhelmingly be YES. I’m sure of that.

So what should women do?

Women should do what many are already doing:  Step on to the field and play. Start businesses. If you have startup experience already, mentor and advise young entrepreneurs… And, get out there and speak, be visible.  If you’ve had some financial success, join an angel group and get your money and your knowledge in the game. If you made a LOT of money, I’m sure the VCs have already been in touch.

Now, wanna talk about diversity? Don’t get me started. I need to photograph my meetings too?

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A farmer’s life in a digital world

September 25th, 2011

George Bernard Shaw, playwright and founder of London School of Economics: "I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live."

Both my parents gave me a strong work ethic, but I think my mother gave me something special with that work ethic which came from her growing up on a farm in Ireland. She once told me that she can’t really remember her father ever explicitly saying he was “going to work;” mostly because he was almost always working. He was a farmer, carpenter, wheelwright, husband, father, and neighbor – hard to separate and categorize when you have the life of a farmer.

I remember in the early days of the Internet talking to Gerry McGovern, expert in content strategy, about working online. Up early in the morning for conference calls in Europe, up late working on code or talking to a colleague on the West Coast. We were always on… even back in the mid-1990s. Gerry said we were “digital farmers.” Funny. Gerry grew up in the same area of Ireland that my mom did. He knew firsthand. That term always stuck with me.

I didn’t grow up a farmer, but I have my mom’s stories and memories. Some of her fondest were with the whole family together – mom, dad and children – usually out in the fields working. Or her memories family gatherings – so I thought, sometimes finding out it really was a ‘business event’ of sorts.

I remember one story she told of when the men, women and children would gather to put a burning hot metal tire on a new wagon wheel. My mom had such vivid memories of these times, that even I recognized them when I saw them depicted in a painting by William Brymner (I think) at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, years later. There were the men gathering in the foreground, smoking cigarettes and pipes, talking business and life. And in the background, the children played, getting ready for their big moment to pour buckets of water on the newly minted wagon wheel. My mom said she most remembered the great smell of steam and burning oak. She loved these times.

Today, we read and hear laments about the invasion of technology in our lives and how it blurs the lines between work and life. Long ago, that blur was sought. I talked about it in my last post. Certainly, there are parts of these laments that resonate with me, such as a recent blog post on work-life issues I received from my younger son, as he looks at his life in the software world and his love of coding and problem solving.

The other side to this technology and mobility factor

We can now hold staff meetings outside on a sunny day; keep in touch with our children while at the office, watch a ball game on our computer while working on a deadline, pick out that perfect birthday gift online while on break (or not). We can listen to our music on demand, watch news as it breaks on our phones, and I could go on and on.

“No, no!” some would say. “That’s home and family life; you should not bring that into the office.” I think the opposite – and I practice it in my life. I like to mix it up and live the full and complete life of a farmer in a digital land.

I love the work I do (most of the time). And, I’m happy when I’m working and mixing my family and person life into my work.

When working, I like standing versus sitting. I prefer to move around and change venues when I work. I work in various coffee shops, restaurants, and from home … in the basement office, on the back porch, in the kitchen, in the family room, from the living room comfy chair, and sometimes in the back yard by the pool. (No, I’m not going for the full “look at me, I’m successful” cliché; I’m usually on a phone call while vacuuming the pool. Pretty glamorous, right?)

I also work in the car. Hands-free since 1995, I use my car for phone calls all the time. I sometimes sit in the car while parked to take a private phone call. I live in a wonderful little village in Upstate NY and sometimes, I pop on the headset and make phone calls while on a walk. I have had conference calls by the swan pond, talked to colleagues, sent urgent emails, all while sipping a cup of coffee.

Multi-tasking isn’t a good enough description. I read articles online and check email and social media while working out. I work on planes, trains and all manner of transportation. I weave it all with music, people meeting, eating, and drinking more coffee.

At my office, I work while roaming the halls between meetings or where people congregate. Sometimes I’ll steal an abandoned conference room, or park myself in a public place, whatever seems to fit my mood and work. Sometimes I actually work in my actual office: how boring!

Is work invading my personal life, or is my personal life invading my work? I think both, and technology makes much of this possible. It’s our job to find our personal balance in all this. As George Bernard Shaw said: “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”

I look for ways to weave personal time into my work. When we had younger kids, I would take time in the middle of the day to go see their school play or show-n-tell as often as possible. I’ve always been a big believer in having business meetings in interesting places and mixing business and pleasure as often as possible. As for the work, I work on things I love, then the work isn’t a burden. It’s fun!

So, am I working or playing? You decide. I’m busy.

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Three things about The Recession, Jobs and American Innovation

September 12th, 2011

Entrepreneurs thrive on change. Our economy needs entrepreneurs and a lot of changes.

Well, the President received lots of encouragement, ideas and suggestions from all corners of the Internet — including my post – prior to his speech this past Thursday. I’m not going to comment on the speech. I’ll wait for the results. We need actions, not words.

Since the speech was just a speech and now the work begins (hopefully), here again are some of the suggestions from those who believe in the power of innovation, entrepreneurship, and American exceptionalism to help us rebuild our economy and our confidence.

1) Help entrepreneurs get it going

It all starts, I think, with the Kauffman Foundation’s March report: High-Growth Firms and the Future of the American Economy, where they showed that MOST of the new jobs created by the American economy in the last 40 years came from fast-growing startup companies. Then, the foundation went further and proposed specific POLICY to encourage growth of these startups and the creation of new jobs, with their announcement of the the Start-up Act, in late July. This proposal included:

  • Welcoming more immigrants to America to build high-growth companies by providing “Entrepreneurs’ visas” and green cards for those with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math.
  • Providing new firms with better access to early-stage financing, creating capital gains tax exemptions for long-held startup investments, providing tax incentives for startup operating capital, facilitating access to public markets, and allowing shareholders of companies with market cap below $1 billion to opt-in under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
  • Accelerating the formation and commercialization of new ideas by creating differential patent fees to reduce the patent backlog and providing licensing freedom for academic innovators.
  • Removing barriers to the formation and growth of businesses through the introduction of automatic 10-year sunsets for all major rules, establishing common-sense and cost-effective standards for regulations, and making assessments of state and local startup and business policies.

In August, two high-tech entrepreneurs wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, An Entrepreneurial Fix for the U.S. Economy where they pointed to many of the points from the Kauffman study and the Start-Up Act and got specific about how the US compares to the EU on this approach, calling for the President to “meet as soon as possible with congressional leaders to develop a menu of policy initiatives to reignite the startup job machine.”

So, yes, I think we could use federal policy to support entrepreneurship to solve our economic malaise. (Yes, I said it!) Do entrepreneurs NEED it? No. Do communities need to sit by and wait for a congressional act to do it? No.

This entrepreneurial approach to fixing the economy is not new. You could say it is the American Way — which would probably be true, but sounds mostly like lore.  Certainly, this national joblessness issue is urgent, and we need fast action and large federal assistance to make a big different, but we also need a long-term, sustainable solution … or we will become a country addicted to government stimulus packages.

This idea of an entrepreneurial fix for a down economy has been happening in small cities and regions around the country since the late 1980s, and is dubbed Economic Gardening. “Economic gardening is not a quick fix and it is not a silver bullet. It is a long-term strategy,” Christian Gibbons said in the 2010 summer issue of the Economic Development Journal. Gibbons should know: he is director of the Business/Industry Affairs department at the city of Littleton, Colorado, where they have been using this strategy successfully since 1987.

If we want to set the country on a new course and solve the URGENT need for jobs, federal policy changes would light a fire for a new era for startups across America.

2) America is losing it’s pioneering spirit and innovation advantage

There is growing evidence that the US may be falling from it’s top position for world innovation and entrepreneurship. In his Daily Beast story Is America Losing Its Mojo? in 2009, Fareed Zakaria wrote:

Americans like to think there is something about their culture that’s especially conducive to innovation—the open geography and frontier spirit; a flexible economy with limited interference by government; the Protestant work ethic; an immigrant workforce, constantly renewed by the next generation of talent from around the world. Other countries can perhaps emulate some of these traits, but none can replicate the creative cocktail that is America.

Then Zakaria goes on to warn there are indications of America falling behind. To sixth place and eighth place, in some cases.

In a short Forbes piece in August, Robert Picard commented on a global survey on Idea Generation for business. He wrote: “Many observers believe that Americans are very good at coming up with new business ideas.   That view, it turns out, is less true than many people think.”

A Pew Research study (Who’s winning the clean energy race?) gets specific: The U.S. is now the third largest investor in clean technology ventures as of 2010, behind Germany and China. It was the second largest investor in 2009. (See the VentureBeat story on the report.)

I can almost hear the chant now: “We’re Number Three! … We’re Number Three! …We’re Number Three!

3) Big ideas are coming from the left, right and center

Ideas to fix the problems of job creation and renewing America’s innovation and entrepreneurial status are coming in from all sides. Here’s my short list:

  • Let’s start with the Harvard Business Review and it’s November 2009 article on How to Jump-Start the CleanTech  Economy, saying we must look at this as a system, not a single technology and single fix. (Not intended as advice for the President, but pertinent at this time, I think.)
  • GOP candidate Huntsman suggests we rally around: “Energy Independence” as part of his Jobs Plan. I love it! (except no one is really rallying around his candidacy)
  • Former President Bill Clinton’s 14 Job Creation Ideas are great and  mostly about GETTING GOING with cash for startups and a focus on our energy policy as a driver for job growth. (Wow, do I hear some support in both parties, here?)
  • A litany of ideas come from these Democratic Congressional folks – prior to the President’s speech on Thursday. I didn’t read through all of it, but saw some ideas worth pursuing.

Many, if not all of these reference or explicitly point to innovation and entrepreneurship as the solution to the problem of American job growth. Tie this back to the Kauffman study and we can all agree, we need entrepreneurs to start businesses to pull ourselves out of this recession, but also to set the course for a new American business and innovation era.

My suggestion: We need to go BIG

TIME magazine summed things up this way: “… the stimulus has cut taxes for 95% of working Americans, bailed out every state, hustled record amounts of unemployment benefits and other aid to struggling families and funded more than 100,000 projects to upgrade roads, subways, schools, airports, military bases and much more …”

An article in the Huffington Post summed up the problem with this: “President Obama’s ideas for spurring job growth are fine as far as they go, but they don’t go nearly far enough. He needs to offer the country a new story of economic success, that once again makes America a dynamo of production and middle class job creation.”

And here’s my biggest problem with this stimulus approach so far: WE HAVE NOTHING REALLY TO SHOW FOR IT!

I’d like to take my grandkids to see something we built during the great Stimulus. So far, we have Nothing. No bullet Train. No amazing off-shore wind farms. No smart grid network-operations center.

We need to get our mojo back. We need something to make us proud again.

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Please, Mr. President!

August 30th, 2011

On May 25, 1961, President Kennedy delivered an address on "Urgent National Needs" to Congress and set a national goal to shoot for the moon.

I work with entrepreneurs who make things happen. I advise college students who want to be entrepreneurs. I am an entrepreneur. We all want to make the world a better place. We’re ready and energized! But we’re worried that our country is losing its pioneering spirit and its place as the world’s innovator.

Mr. President, our country needs to energize itself and set a course for a new future. We need leadership. We need a bold plan. We need a new moon shot, the next Manhattan Project. We need to build something AMAZING that we can show our grandchildren with pride. If you pick a worthy project, we’re ready to go.

I talked about this back in January with a post about the State of the Union Address. Here’s what I said back then, and still believe:

… NOW is the time to turn that bailout and stimulus money into an investment, and challenge the American people to shoot for the moon. Our economy doesn’t need shoppers, consumers and jobs. We need innovators, entrepreneurs and investments. We need people who make things. We need more smart people who want to start businesses and develop new inventions to make the world a better place. We need to continue to be the world magnet for smart, young people with ideas, and then we need to make it easy for them to STAY here and succeed...

Months have passed since your State of the Union, Mr. President, and things are getting worse.

While the economy has been choking and wheezing, entrepreneurs have been keeping busy. American Startups have been expanding and growing, and they plan to hire more. But, the ugly truth is, we’re falling behind in key areas like CleanTech, and other high-growth technology areas. We need policy help.

Overshadowed by all the nonsense and dysfunction in Washington with the Debt Ceiling Crisis in late July, the Kauffman Foundation announced an outline for a non-partisan legislative act to encourage high-growth startups in the USA: The Startup Act.  It calls for four basic things to spur the start and growth of new companies so they can create new American jobs.

  1. Easier H-1 visas for entrepreneurs who start businesses and hire Americans, and green cards for high-tech college grads, to help all American tech startups grow!
  2. More capital for high-growth startups, through extending the capital gains tax exemption for long-held startup investments, and by eliminating taxes on startups in the first year of business. Then, to encourage faster growth, the Act wants to help more startups go public by allowing shareholders of companies with market capitalization under $1 billion, to vote if they want the company guided by Sarbanes-Oxley rules.
  3. More commercialization of great research, by creating a patent expediting service, so companies can pay a fee to cut the line at the patent office (new revenue for the government; faster protection for new innovations), and by creating free agent licensing options in federal research grants so researchers can avoid the line at the college tech transfer office and get licensing done faster by private firms.
  4. Less bad regulation by creating a system whereby federal regulations are sunset automatically after 10 years, where all regulations are regularly assessed on cost-benefit, and where a federal scoreboard forces states to compete in a “Race to the Top” approach on state regulations.

Ok, this isn’t exciting stuff (watch the video of the press conference, and you’ll see what I mean), but it’s real and doable. With this, entrepreneurs, investors and the market will take care of the rest. America’s history is mostly a story of taking on big challenges and overcoming obstacles. (My father reminded me of this recently, too.) These few changes of the Startup Act will give us entrepreneurs the opportunity to build a new American future. And we need to build that future NOW…not after the election, Mr. President.

The Kauffman Foundation has done a wonderful job on the policy side here. Don’t mess with it. Go with it. And let American Entrepreneurs grow American jobs and prosperity, the way it has been for the last 30+ years.

But I have one other thing, Mr. President.

America has lost its mojo, and we need it back. Right now, American entrepreneurs are doing something we normally don’t do: we’re whining, we’re crying, we’re pleading to be set free to build our new future. But we need a vision and a big project, a HUGE project. We need something that captures the imagination — a human amazement moment — that will build enthusiasm, generate confidence in our economy and return pride to our people. This is your job, Mr. President. But don’t worry, you’ve done this before. I remember how my youngest son called me from college and yelled into the phone, telling me how excited and hopeful he was after you won the election in 2008. He felt like he had won; his generation had won. Hope had defeated pessimism.

You need to do that magic again. You need to stop thinking about how you can win re-election. You need to think about all the young people who believed in you. You can’t let them down. You need to think big and shoot for the moon, like one of your predecessors did. (Kennedy said: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.”)

You need to be bold and specific: You need to pick an objective, set a date and draw a vision of what it will look like. If you need any ideas, just give me a call.

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More on building an Innovation Economy throughout New York State

August 9th, 2011

The ABC's of creating community for an strong Innovation Economy and to Make NY Fun.

[This is the third in a 3-part series of posts about how New York City and Upstate can work together to encourage and accelerate the innovation and entrepreneurship that is growing throughout the state… especially in NYC.]

In previous posts, I highlighted how Upstate and NYC can, should and do share resources, opportunities and benefits they both have. (“NYC start-up scene can create positive effect in Upstate“) In last week’s post I talked about the problem of diversifying the tech startups portfolio that is budding and growing in NYC, and how doing that could help NYS develop into a true innovation economy. (“Building a new high-tech Empire State“)

Now let’s talk about what we can all do now to make it happen.

New York is very different from Silicon Valley. Some of those differences are east-coast cultural, others are particular to NYC. (Insightful and fun conversations about those differences can be found on Quora here and here.) Some are huge advantages to growing a new tech and innovation economy in New York, and others… well, let’s just say, we’re going to have to tawk. Upstate NY has some of these same cultural issues, as well as some of the antidotes to the problem areas. (outdoor recreation options, living options, etc.)

Vivek Wadhwa wrote in his Washington Post piece in response to Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to build an engineering school in NYC: “If I were to make a wager, I would put my money on New York as the one region able to rival Silicon Valley in the future. New York is dynamic and richly diverse.” He also pointed out:  “The problem lies here: Only 21 percent of the graduates of New York’s state universities start their companies there; instead they move elsewhere. Contrast this with California, where 69 percent of graduates start their companies.” And he ended his piece saying: “Most important, New York should create the types of social networks that define Silicon Valley. The mayor can’t create these networks, but entrepreneurs can.”

I agree, so here are my ABCs for building more social capital in and between NYC and Upstate, with some specific actions for helping the problem with tech graduates leaving the state. These are all things that entrepreneurs, investors and others in the startup community can do RIGHT NOW to support and accelerate the growth of an Innovation Economy in NYC and throughout New York State.

ADVOCATE

Know about the happening startups in NYC and in Upstate. And, take the time to find out about the up-and-coming ones. Not only will you be the coolest person on your block, but you will be helping to build awareness for a new startup that needs that attention. You can find top NYC startups listed here, here and here, and you can track Upstate startups here.

Stand up for each other politically, socially, economically… in meetings, on blogs, in all social media. Believe you are in this together and you are. Upstate entrepreneurs, support downstate entrepreneurs and startups. NYC entrepreneurs, get to know your Upstate startup brothers and sisters.

On my wish list:

  • Someone ought to publish a curated listing of Top NY Startups for easy reference. Include a listing of Up-and-Coming NY Startups, and maybe a list of obscure B2B and higher tech ones (i.e., startups in life science, advanced materials). [Note: I’m happy to help someone edit and track this kind of list, esp in Digital Media, and I’m looking at you, Julian and the gang at UNYstartups, as well as the folks at Business Insider/SAI).]

BECOME CUSTOMERS/USERS

No better way to show love to a startup than to become a customer or user … or beta customer. With so many consumer Internet based startups (in NYC and Upstate), this is easy. SIGN UP!

We should all know, promote and use the big-name NYC startups: Foursquare, Etsy, Boxee, Thrillist, Gilt Group, Tumblr, Bit.ly, MeetUp, Huffington-Post and many more. And some of the ones to watch, like Foodspotting, Hunch, Square, Groupme, Goodsie, i-ELLA.com, Solvemedia, and Lot18.  Some interesting Upstate NY startups serving consumers: Brand-yourself, oldversion, yuupon, and Broodr.

On the B2B startups, get to know the service and recommend it to someone in the target industry. Tell your publisher brother-in-law in Denver about a new service to make his content tablet-ready, (OnSwipe); tell your advertising college roommate that she ought to check out this service that helps protect brands online (Adsafe); tell your IT manager buddy in Boston about a cool cloud infrastructure monitoring tool that’s in beta (Datadog); and don’t forget that uncle Ned’s store in Connecticut should be using Stampede.it for great group coupons, versus the other guys. You get the picture.

On my wish list:

  • How ’bout a “Dev in NY” grassroots campaign, promoting NY startups versus others. You know: Foursquare vs Gowalla or Facebook Places (No brainer, right?). How ’bout Boxee vs Apple TV and Google TV and Roku. Use bit.ly versus other URL shorteners. I’m not saying you should back a bad product, but they’re NY family, right? You get it.

CONNECT & COLLABORATE

Ok, now reach out to each other. Say hi.”Hey, good job.”…”I know about your [service/product/device/etc].” Then ask what they need right now: engineers? designers? customers? contacts? Who knows? Maybe you can help. With all the social media options, there is no excuse for not connecting today. Many of us in Upstate have friends and family in NYC. And many of us in NYC have family and friends in Upstate.  These are easy connections and contacts. We all need to help each other.

And, we need to do this in person, too.

Upstate entrepreneurs, investors, and ANYONE in the startup space should hop in the car, catch a train or take a flight — regularly! — and get integrated into the NYC startup scene. There are plenty of hackathons, meetups and other opportunities to connect. And, the door is always open. This is the advantage we have versus Silicon Valley. We are a short drive or flight away. Just as the Nerd Bird helped connect Austin to Silicon Valley — and helped develop the Austin tech scene in the 1990s, Upstate entrepreneurs and tech investors should make regular pilgrimages to OUR tech hub: New York City. This physical interaction will help develop the tech startup scene in Upstate communities.

Conversely, NYC entrepreneurs and investors should make the trek the other way, too! Go see what’s happening in Buffalo with life science and biotech. Connect with nanotech experts in Ithaca (Cornell) or Albany. Check out the latest startups in Syracuse. Rochester or the Hudson Valley (all are making great strides and doing great things). Connect to some of the Upstate research centers and centers of excellence in green technology, energy, medical devices and biotech.

Hell, make a visit to your Upstate NY alma mater. Walk the campus and recharge your battery. Hear what’s the buzz on campus and get new ideas. Tell faculty and students about your startup and do a little recruiting. … Hey, get a life outside NYC. Upstate has always been the cultural and recreational playground for NYC. Hiking and rock climbing in the Catskills and Adirondacks. Wine tours in the Finger Lakes. Racing at Saratoga. Opera at Glimmerglass. And, some even make Upstate home.  (See “Williamsburg on the Hudson.”)

Once we make these personal connections, then we should collaborate. Consider manufacturing in Upstate. Consider a sales office in NYC. Co-branding opportunities. Syndicating venture deals. Tapping experts at universities for Advisory Board positions, research, product development and more. Entrepreneurs working together. I know, sounds like Silicon Valley Kumbaya. But, do it with NY style.

On my wish list:

  • Can I please have some high-speed rail to connect Upstate to NYC? Like the Erie Canal did 150+ years ago, we need to make that distance from Buffalo to NYC shorter. (Or, at least from Albany to NYC.) In the interim, some wifi on Amtrak would be nice. Ah, we could make it our “Brain Train,” instead of a “Nerd Bird.”
  • Let’s make Stewart Airport the new NYC choice for tech and business commuters. We need express trains to and from midtown Manhattan and more direct flights to tech centers: Austin, San Jose, Seattle, Raleigh, Boston, Manchester, London, Toronto, Ottawa and more. With all this, it could become Nerd Bird Central. Nice.

So, these are my ABC’s for personal action to build an innovation economy in NYS: Advocate, Become Customers, Connect & Collaborate. I also think universities and other economic development and business organizations should do these things, and here are some additional ideas and actions they can take to create social capital for innovation and entrepreneurship statewide:

Colleges and Universities (esp. Upstate ones) need to talk about and encourage their students to consider startups as a career option — and not just the techie students. Specifically, tech and design students need to know about the NYC startup scene and how cool it is… and how wanted they are. They should know about programs where students can get exposed to the startup world or where they can start a business! Programs like HackNY (Idea: how ’bout a hackUpstateNY?) and some of the summer startup accelerator programs (TechStars, OMD/GE, ER Accelerator, Syracuse Student Sandbox, and more).  Let’s have more student field trips (go tour the NYC Google offices, then go see other startups in the area), recruiting fairs for NYC startups on Upstate campuses, alumni startup job fairs (in NYC and Upstate), and more. Do it for your students.

On my organizational actions wish list:

  • Upstate/Downstate Deal Syndication and Startup Pitchfests. Fast-paced. Ruthlessly vetted. (Don’t waste investor time with un-fundable startups.) A big, single event? Have an Upstate version of Big Omaha meets AlwaysOn. Stream it, so investors in NYC can attend virtually.
  • Start new kinds of Angels Groups: Alumni angel groups like RPI is doing. Or, Upstate Young Ex-pat Angel Groups: make it so young people who grew up in Upstate can socialize, reconnect, invest and grow together Upstate and Downstate. (Thanks to Steve Suhowatsky for this idea!)
  • Upstate Business and Trade Groups could put together special offers (rev-sharing, investment-sharing) and special incentives to attract manufacturing and back office services to Upstate from NYC startups. Warehousing (w fully digital fulfillment), tech support centers, and more.
  • Small businesses in Upstate can support — and benefit from the Startup Scene in NYC too. We need new ideas and services in transportation (new limo services?), distribution, product design, and all kinds of services and events
  • New Industries that could thrive with Upstate/Downstate advantage: Nanotech, MedTech, Advanced Materials, Green/Cleantech. (helping NYC investors diversify their portfolios)… and maybe some new ones.
  • And, one last wild one: Let’s gamify the Thruway and other NYS toll roads.  Integrate EZ-Pass with Foursquare and Twitter (and more) so when you pass through a toll, it can tweet or check in, auto-posting the photo taken of your car as you go through the toll.  (We know they do it so they can track down violators.)

Why do we NEED to do all this? We need to build NYS into a fully-engaged community: a community of innovation, design, ideas and fun. A Community of Entrepreneurs — and with that, we can build the vibrant innovation economy that we want and need.

So. Let’s go! Let’s Make NY Fun.

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NYC start-up scene can create positive effect in Upstate

July 24th, 2011

Building a new high-tech Empire State?

[For the sake of anyone keeping track, I skipped posting last week since I was on vacation. I return refreshed, recharged and full of wild ideas.]

I’ve been thinking about the tremendous growth of the New York City startup scene and where it could lead. (See infographic of “Alley vs The Valley“)

There are plenty of signs that NYC is taking its place as a new center of venture-backed high-tech startups –  right there with Silicon Valley, Boston and Austin — especially in Online Retail & Fashion, Digital Media and Social Media. (See top startups to follow here, here and here.) I’ve seen first-hand that these young startups are nearly everywhere in Manhattan (especially Chelsea and SOHO) and Brooklyn. But there is a less concentrated set of startups throughout the greater NYC area and even in Upstate NY, clustered around major universities (Cornell, RPI, RIT, Syracuse, UofRochester and others) and research centers (such as Albany’s Nanotech and Buffalo’s Life Sciences/Medtech). All of this activity can be a very positive thing and a BIG opportunity for New York State, if the right things happen.

First, a little perspective

This overnight success of NYC’s start-up scene actually took several years. Some forget (I don’t, I was there) that this NYC tech growth started in the mid-1990s with the dot-com scene, when there were as many as 500 startups in the New York City area. (BTW This is when “Silicon Alley” nickname was first used. Some would like to sunset that name, I agree.) The dot-bomb really hurt this early growth, but it also provided important early lessons to the entrepreneurs and talent: 1) There will be booms and busts. 2) Lean, well-run companies can survive bad times. 3) Businesses fail, but entrepreneurs keep going… and more. All good lessons to grow on.

What started in the mid-1990s is now reaping rewards. For NYC, Online & Digital Media is a new growth industry to leverage (and add to) the other robust industries that make New York, New York. “The city is a major center for banking and finance, retailing, world trade, transportation, tourism, real estate, insurance, [media], theater, fashion, and the arts in the United States,” according to Wikipedia. Hell, some physical locations in New York have become iconic metaphors of these industries: “Wall Street,” “Broadway,” and “Madison Avenue” mean more than an physical address!

Because of these other industries, especially finance and media, NYC is perfectly positioned to be as the new tech start-up center. Wikipedia also rightly asserts: “New York is distinctive for its high concentrations of advanced service sector firms in fields such as law, accountancy, banking and management consultancy.”  And, these are the pieces startups need to get going and get growing. Now, with a growing and maturing startup scene, NYC also has more entrepreneurs (who can lead new companies, as well as be mentors and advisors), more VCs and Angels (with more experience with tech startups), more connections, and more services for startups. Clearly, NYC’s start-up scene is here to stay.

Upstate New York can benefit and support this NYC start-up growth. (In fact, this is already happening in many small ways.)

  • More graduates of NYS universities can stay in the state (a lament I’ve heard from NYS economic development and university people over the last 20 years).
  • Some of that NYC venture capital, entrepreneurial experience and knowledge can be shared with Upstate startups. This is already happening, and there is plenty of evidence that VCs and Angels like to stay close to their investments, so this should be encouraged as more NYC-based funders look to expand their deal flow and portfolios, with a short trip Upstate.
  • More interaction between tech startups in Upstate and NYC can happen because of physical closeness. These new startups can help each other by sharing experiences and resources, creating partnerships, outsourcing arrangements, co-branding, etc.
  • Upstate NY is the perfect place to go and grow for these NYC startups. History shows that success in the city will spill over to areas with recreational and cultural opportunities (hiking, camping, rock climbing, as well as cultural venues, living options and more). Aside from being the backpacking destination, Upstate NY can also be the back-office operation for many startups as they move into growth mode and need to keep costs lower. Certain Upstate NY markets also offer experienced labor markets in support, call center and other back-office services.
  • Conversely, there are also signs of Upstate NY startups, opening up offices in NYC, so they are closer to clients, partners and other industry players.

This is just a start, and it’s happening naturally and organically as NYC’s and Upstate’s start-up communities grow. These are great signs. [Any other insights or signs of interaction? Let me know.]

But, there’s another important lesson from the dot-bomb period, which can guide state policies, economic development and current actions. I’ll talk about that and how to turn that into a statewide opportunity in next week’s post.

 

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More thoughts on Bubbles

May 23rd, 2011
musical chairs

This is the Musical Chairs game we think we want. It's not. We need to have winners and losers, in a fair game.

The conversations continue about Bubble or No Bubble in the Internet and digital media start-up space. As I said before [and then expanded], I’m glad to hear the conversation; I think it’s a healthy sign.

For those bubble watchers out there, here are a few things to consider as you look at the landscape.

Is there a moral hazard in this “bubble,” or is it just that valuations are going higher and higher, some bad deals are being made, and some people are being overpaid? Hey, that’s Capitalism, right?! I think it’s ok if VCs are pushing valuations for personal gain. If they are pushing valuations to keep other investors out of the game, that’s ok too. If they are pushing valuations to drive a startup or early-stage business toward an IPO, versus acquisition, that’s ok. It’s a strategy to position one company as a market leader and then take that market. (If you disagree with a business valuation, don’t buy its stock when it goes IPO!) These are not moral hazards. These seem to be market dynamics at play in a hot, fast-moving marketplace.

Instead, look for someone giving false ratings or crazy BUY signs by supposedly credible third parties. Look for high employee stock ownership plans within some of these high flying startups, with no options for other investments. Look for unfair advantages where the system is being gamed. (Does anyone see any of these? If so, call them out!) These are the signs of moral hazard, and all strong signs of true bubbles.

So, is there  herd behavior in this “bubble?” You bet! We already see it. Investors want to get in on certain business deals. We know the big names startups. They are highly prized, but then there are others we don’t hear about initially. If the herd is turned away, that herd may turn to similar or imitator deals. Some of those are probably legitimate; some are stupid. This is where some of the bubbly feeling comes from: blindly following market trends. We should all be ware of this. Antidote: don’t follow the herd and don’t be a founder who reworks his/her pitch to lace it with all the buzz words. (See video below)

Is herding a sign of a bubble? Yes. But does it CREATE a bubble? No. The problem with herding is it creates an environment that supports the real culprit in a bubble: The Greater Fool Theory.

So, does this possible bubble have “greater fools?” That’s the question. If it does, the scenario would go something like this: A VC jacks the valuation on a startup because he/she knows the next investor is less informed and will fall for the dupe… or they are willing go along in hopes of finding a greater fool at the next stage. The company goes IPO and the early investors have convinced greater fools that this company is going to be hot, so the fools buy it — in spite of its financials and fundamentals. The early stock buyers are counting on the greater fools to buy that stock when they see the price rise — and they may even pump the price of the stock if they can — so the earliest investors can get out. Sound familiar? Sadly we know this process from recent dot-com and housing bubbles, but we also know how it is supposed to be played

We know this game from childhood. It’s musical chairs.  And we know how it is supposed to be played. Someone is going to be left without a chair when the music stops. That’s ok; that’s the game. But, will there be only one or two chairs with one or two people already sitting in them when the music stops — leaving most people without a seat? That’s not fair — especially if they have their fingers on the stop-the-music button.

In musical chairs and risk investing, someone is going be be left standing without a chair. That’s ok. There are supposed to be winners and losers. The venturing and entrepreneurship game is not for everyone; it’s high-risk, high-reward. If almost everyone is going to be left standing and only a few winners, that combines all the elements of herding, moral hazard and the greater fool that seem to make a true bubble. Right now, I don’t see this. At least not yet.

Reminds me of Warren Buffet’s “The Three I’s Rule:”

Charlie Rose asks Warren Buffet in a 2008 interview, “Should wise people have known better?” regarding what we can learn from the economic mess. Bill Taylor summarizes:

Of course they should have, Buffet replied, but there’s a “natural progression” to how good new ideas go badly wrong. He called this progression the “three Is.” First come the innovators, who see opportunities that others don’t and champion new ideas that create genuine value. Then come the imitators, who copy what the innovators have done. Sometimes they improve on the original idea, often they tarnish it. Last come the idiots, whose avarice undermines the very innovations they are trying to exploit. (20:45)

In other words, “The problem … isn’t with innovation itself — it’s with the imitation and idiocy that follow.”

Innovators, Imitators, then Idiots. That’s a perfect set up for this video that’s making the rounds: Enjoy.

Ah, reminds me of the good old dot-com days, for sure.

 

 

 

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Startup Jobs and College Grads: Perfect fit

November 15th, 2011

Graduation time is opportunity time... for graduates ... for startups... and for America.

I’m organizing a presentation for college students on how to prepare for, look for and find a job with a startup. (Thanks to the Newhouse School’s Career Development Center, for letting me do this on December 2nd with a great group of startups presenting.)

Startups and fast-growing young tech companies are the single most important source of job growth in America over the last 40 years. And yes, startups are happening in places where they have been happening for years: Silicon Valley, Boston and New York City, but they are happening more often at some of the budding new centers for innovation, such as Austin, Boulder, and Seattle. Nowadays, startups are emerging in Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Baltimore and places where major industries are undergoing change, and in places close to college campuses, such as Ithaca, Syracuse, Providence, Chapel Hill, Omaha and more.

YES. STARTUPS ARE EVERYWHERE.

Startups are also different in the way they hire and grow their teams. They hire in a less formal way. They are less process-driven. Often, they hire based on funding, but they are looking for talent and staff all the time. When they do hire, they often consider completely different skills and experience versus traditional, established business. The sources of new hires are different too. When it comes to hiring, startups are WAY different. [More on this in a future post.]

What startups want.

Paul Graham of Y Combinator fame offered some reasoning on why 20-somethings make great startup founders back in 2006. I think some of his key points also apply to why 20-somethings make good, key hires at startups. New hires who are fresh out of college have the same characteristics and assets Graham bluntly and succinctly articulated: they have stamina, poverty, rootless-ness, colleagues, and ignorance. And, I’ll add: they cost less.

Basically, college grads are perfectly positioned to do what startups need: spend long hours (stamina), keep the costs low and think about ways to keep products and services low-cost (poverty), be available to move at a moment’s notice (rootless-ness), have lots of connections and friends to help jumpstart and grow the startup (colleagues), and a blind passion, belief and unshakable tenacity to make something work (ignorance… as in the old line: “they said it was impossible, he’d be a fool to try and the damn fool went and did it.”)

[More on WHAT STARTUPS WANT and how it applies to college grads getting jobs with startups in a future post. PROMISE.]

So, let’s summarize:

College graduates are looking for entry-level positions in a fast growing industry with opportunities for advancement. (Sound familiar? That’s what nearly every graduate’s resume states.) These are EXACTLY the kinds of jobs that startups have. It’s ALL they have! All startup jobs are “in a fast growing industry with opportunities for advancement.”

What a perfect fit!

Our country needs more innovation and new ideas for businesses.  We need more growth and wealth-creation. Many of these startups are starving for talent, and the lack of talent is curtailing their growth. Meanwhile, students need to land entry-level jobs so they can begin to contribute to society, start their careers, and pay off those college loans. The more I learned about this space and process, the more I wondered why there isn’t a big push to encourage new college graduates to seek jobs at startups.

Then I found Venture for America and how they are using this wonderful alignment of needs: college grads need jobs, startups need talent. A social venture startup themselves, Venture for America is modeled on the highly successful Teach for America to bring teachers into regions with high need for new teachers. Right now, Venture for America is operating in only a handful of cities and regions right now, but I think every region with a budding entrepreneurship community should be in touch with these guys… or they should be starting a similar type of service.

Here are my take-aways:

  • If you are a college graduate, or plan to be soon, consider working for a startup. It’s great experience, you will learn a lot, you will be given a lot more opportunity to do things you never thought you’d do, and you will get one-of-a-kind training toward launching your own startup. In addition, you will increase your chances for significant promotion – if the business survives!
  • Startups should find more ways to hire recent college grads. Aside from the advantages mentioned above, many of these recent graduates can stay on their parents’ healthcare insurance, additionally reducing the cost to your startup. (Thank you, Obama Administration)
  • And, speaking of the Obama Administration and the federal government, I feel strongly that Venture for America could be an exemplar for a major governmental initiative: “Jobs for Startups.” (Note: this could also be done on a regional and statewide level, too.) Then, the government could use this opportunity to go a step further and offer to eliminate – or at least defer – student loan repayment to anyone who goes to work for early-stage and start-up companies – especially in target industries, important to our national competitiveness: Energy, Greentech/Cleantech, Biotech, Nanotech, as well as Education and Healthcare innovations.

Let’s put this great resource of talent to work. If we don’t act fast, we’ll have a damaged generation of college graduates – and that doesn’t bode well for repayment of those ever-rising student loans. (Don’t get me started.)

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Hyperlocal offers the full spectrum of entrepreneurial opportunity

October 31st, 2011

Today's hyperlocal entrepreneurs are similar to some of the early pioneers of American journalism... except it's not just a bunch of white guys this time.

This past week in New York City, I attended the inaugural Street Fight Summit (great name!), covering the business side of hyperlocal publishing. I’ve been following specific businesses and general developments in hyperlocal, but never got the kind of deeper look that only a focused trade conference or research report can provide. Street Fight delivered that last week, and I plan to follow this conference’s growth. (Good things ahead, I suspect.)

Highlights from the (#SFS11) conference can be found here, as well as good pieces on lessons learned and takeaways. I agree with much of what is said in these articles and in the coverage of the conference by PaidContent. My main takeaway from the conference is different – maybe because I’m new to the industry, maybe because I’m an outsider looking in, maybe because I’m inclined this way.

First off, a side note

At the conference, I was struck by the quiet. Clearly there was high interest and enthusiasm about the opportunities, strong opinions about striking a balance between journalistic and business objectives, great attention to new technology and developments, but the attendees were quiet and reserved. There wasn’t a lot of open deal-making and networking. Maybe they were just a serious crowd. Maybe it was the set-up of the venue. (Partly, I think.) Maybe people were struggling with the tradeoffs between journalism and business. Maybe folks were secretive about their next move. I’m not really sure, but the mood reminded me of a conference I attended in DC several years ago for the intelligence community, looking at open source. (Not the kind you think.) There was excitement about the opportunities and developments, but there was quiet angst in the room. (I’d expect that at a “spooks” conference, where people are known to have business cards without any email address or phone numbers on them. “We’ll be in touch,” they’d say.)

My main takeway

The Street Fight Summit attracted a wide spectrum of attendees and speakers – from small one-person operations to large, publicly-traded mega-media companies, and everything in between. Amazing for such a new and small-ish conference.

Some of the community site owners seemed to be modern-day versions of publisher/journalist/inventor Benjamin Franklin (and his lesser-known brother, James): creating new, local publications, while setting an editorial policy and style, adding features to attract readership, developing business models to make it pay, and even tinkering with the digital “printing press” to keep the operation rolling. These are the lifestyle business entrepreneurs.

Others were mid-sized businesses, looking for efficiencies and new sources of revenue, features to attract traffic (and readers), and funding. Some of these were looking toward expansion to other communities, others were focused on being self-sustaining and beating the traditional media competition down the street. Some were from larger communities (many from NYC), and some from smaller communities and suburbs. These are the small business entrepreneurs.

The big media companies were present with their approach to hyperlocal: shared assets and resources across many locations. They seemed to be looking for interesting ideas and ways to drive traffic, develop readership in new communities and control costs. (Maybe this is why the quiet. The small guys don’t want to give the big guys any ideas. Hmmm) These are the big business intrapreneurs.

Then there were are the social venture entrepreneurs: founders of mission-driven community sites that were non-profit by design. They were seeking new forms of funding and revenue, operational efficiencies and new ways to maintain their presence in the community.

Serving all these segments, were a handful of high-tech scalable business entrepreneurs with their platforms for efficiency, new services, shared resources (much like the Associated Press did for its member newspapers), new sources of revenue (some advertising, some not) and more.

In their own ways, ALL of these businesses are innovating, business modeling and grappling with the issues of the day and the industry. Some are journalism entrepreneurs, others are market-driven entrepreneurs and still others are tech entrepreneurs. The Street Fight Summit brought together all these types of entrepreneurs in the hyperlocal industry, all seeing opportunity.

Based on all I heard and saw, the hyperlocal publishing industry is set for hyper-speed change in the coming months and years — a compressed version of 200+ years of newspaper developments. Looking back at history, some of the issues are the same!

Here are some of the big issues from the early days of newspapering — repeating themselves in this hyperlocal space: (from the Wikipedia entry for The History of American Newspapers, based on The Cambridge History of English and American Literature).

People don’t want to pay for news:

“Newspapers became a form of public property after 1800. Americans believed that as republican citizens they had a right to the information contained in newspapers without paying anything.”

Sound familiar?

Success creates political influence:

“New England papers were generally Federalist; in Pennsylvania there was a balance; in the West and South the Republican press predominated.” And one early editor was called  “a deceitful newsmonger …  “a prostitute wretch”, “a great fool, and a barefaced liar.”

Wow! Makes great blog material!

Maintaining journalistic standards
in response to technological change:

“The men who wrote from the news centers of Europe were persons of wide political knowledge and experience, and social consequence. They had time and ability to do their work thoroughly, carefully, and intelligently, innocent of superficial effort toward sensation, of the practices of inaccurate brevity and irresponsible haste, which began with the laying of the Atlantic cable.”

Wanna talk about SEO, aggregation, algorithms or what?

Balancing high journalism with mass appeal:

“… the blatant methods by which the cheap papers were popularized aroused the antagonism of the older papers, but created a competition that could not be ignored… The gentler pejorative “infotainment” was coined more recently to refer to generally inoffensive news programming that shuns serious issues, but blends “soft” journalism and entertainment rather than emphasizing more important news values…”

Ah, the clash of the establishment versus the upstarts has a long history.

The Street Fight Summit brought together the hyperlocal publishing industry, and therefore brought together ALL these players, elements, issues and more. (Thanks to Laura and David and everyone at Street Fight Magazine.)

Hyper-speed change is ahead, and it’s a great time to be an entrepreneur in hyperlocal — no matter what type entrepreneur you are.

 

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