How to stop giving a F@$% what people think. Start living your life. Via. @sseankim

This article was inspired by the work of Julien Smith & The Flinch.
I share with you the struggles and lessons that I’ve learned from my own journey.

We‘re all guilty.

Everyday from the moment we wake up, we live our lives caring what other people think of us.

We accept the status quo for what it is because everyone around us does.
We tip toe our way through life by doing things in order to please others, not because it’s what we believe in. Eventually our actions, appearances, and lives become moulded by how we think other people perceive us.

How are these pants going to make me look? What will my colleagues think if I spoke out? Are those people talking shit behind my back? If I take this job, what will my friends and family think of me?

Just writing that paragraph alone gave me a headache…
It’s exhausting. It’s dreadful. It has to stop.

Living a life that follows the ideal notions of what other people think is a terrible way to live. It makes you become the spineless spectator who waits for other people to take action first. It makes you become a follower.
Worst of all, it makes you become someone who doesn’t take a stand for anything.

Today is the last day we live a life dictated by others. Today, we’re going to get to the bottom of the truth. Today is the day we stop giving a F@$%.

No one really cares

Believe it or not, we’re not that special.

We go through our days thinking about how other people might be judging us. But the truth is — those people are thinking the exact same thing.

No one in today’s “smartphone crazed” society has time in their schedule to think more than a brief second about us. The fact of the matter is, when we do have time get our thoughts straight, we’re too busy thinking about ourselves and our own shortcomings — not others.

A study done by the National Science Foundation claims that people have on average 50, 000 plus thoughts a day. This means that even if someone thought about us ten times in one day, it’s only 0.02% of their overall daily thoughts.

“You’ll worry less about what people think about you when you realize how seldom they do.” — David Foster Wallace

It is a sad but simple truth that the average person filters their world through their ego, meaning that they think of most things relating to “me” or “my.” This means that unless you have done something that directly affects another person or their life, they are not going to spend much time thinking about you at all.

I’ve always enjoyed watching performers trying to hustle some change at the New York City train stations. These guys simply don’t give a F@$%.
But the more interesting observation I made is how the spectators react. Rather than watching the actual performers, most people are looking around to see how other people are reacting. If people were laughing, they would start laughing too. But if people weren’t paying attention, they would also pay no mind.

Even when provided the blatantly obvious opportunity to judge someone, people are still thinking about how others may perceive them.

Once you understand that this is how people’s mind works, it’s a big step towards freedom.

You can’t please everyone

It’s impossible to live up to everyone’s expectations.
There will always be people — no matter what we say or how we treat them — that will judge us. Whether you’re at the gym, at work, taking the train, or even online playing Call of Duty. Even now it‘s happening. You will never be able to stop people from judging you, but you can stop it from affecting you.

Think about the worst thing that could possibly happen when someone is judging you or what you’re doing.

I guarantee that chances are — nothing will happen. Absolutely nothing. No one is going to go out of their busy lives to confront us, or even react for that matter. Because as I mentioned before, no one actually cares. What will happen, is that these people will actually respect you for claiming your ground. They may disagree with you, but they’ll respect you.

Start standing up for what you believe in — causes, opinions, anything. You’re going to have people that disagree with you anyways, so why not express how you truly feel?

“You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something in life.”— Winston Churchill

I’ve learnt that it’s better to be loved by a few people you care about, than to be liked by everyone. These are family, friends, spouse — the people who love you for who you are, and the people who will be there for you during your worst times. Focus on these people. They’re the only people that matter.

You reap what you sow

Worrying too much about what other people think can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, because the way we think starts to become the way we behave. These individuals become people-pleasers and overly accommodating to others, thinking it will stop them from being judged.
In fact, the opposite is true. Most people don’t like push-overs and are turned off by it. The behaviour we use in an attempt to please others, can actually cause the opposing effect.

If how we think affects our behaviours, then how we behave affects who we attract.

This means that if you’re a push-over, then you’re going to be attracting others in your life who are also push-overs. Vice versa.
This can be quite a dangerous path to go down if you don’t recognize its consequences.

It’s been said that we are the average of the five people we hang out with the most. When we start to attract and associate with the same people that share our weaknesses — we’re stuck. We stop growing, because there’s no one to challenge us to be better. We start thinking that this is the norm and we remain comfortable. This is not a place you want to be.

Now let’s talk about the cure. Here are 5 ways to stop giving a F@$%.

Reclaiming your freedom

1. Know your values

First and foremost. You need to know what’s important to you in life, what you truly value, and what you’re ultimately aiming for. Once you know who you really are and what matters to you, what other people think of you become significantly less important. When you know your values, you’ll have something to stand up for — something you believe in.

You’ll stop saying yes to everything. Instead, you’ll learn to say no when friends pressure you to go bar-hopping, or when a tempting business opportunity that distracts you from your business.

When you have your values straight, you have your shit straight.

2. Put yourself out there

Now that you know what your values are, it’s time to put yourself out there.

This can be done several ways. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Blogging
  • Wearing a polka-dot sweater
  • Public Speaking
  • Flirting/Asking someone out

Keep in mind that when you’re doing any of these activities, you have to speak your mind. Be honest with yourself and what you share, because the world doesn’t need another conflict-avoider who does what everyone else does.

3. Surround yourself with pros

Surround yourself with people who are self-assured, and live life without comprising their core values. These people will rub off on you quickly.

One of my best friends, Cody, has been a big influence on me. Having spent the summer with him, I’ve observed countless times where he strongly voiced his opinion on controversial topics. What I learned was that he was simply voicing opinions that people already had in their heads, but were too afraid to voice. People admired him for being so honest and direct, even when they disagreed with his views.

Thanks for not giving a F@$% Cody.

4. Create a “Growth List”

OK, now we’re getting personal.

I haven’t told anyone this, but I have this list called the “Growth List.”

A Growth List is comprised of all the things in life that makes you uncomfortable. These are fears, insecurities —anything that gives you the jitters.

My Growth List

Here’s how it works.

You start by writing all the things that make you feel uncomfortable.
Then one-by-one, you do them. Once you complete the task, you move on to the next. Repeat.

My first growth task was taking a cold shower (The Flinch). I turned the water as cold as it could get, and I could feel my body shake before I even entered the shower. This was the inner bullshit voice in my head talking.

It was hard at first. But surprisingly, it got easier the second time. Then even easier the third time. Before I knew it, my body stopped shaking — I was no longer uncomfortable, I’ve conquered my fear.

This exercise does wonders. I have yet to find a better way to get out of my comfortable zone. You can read all the books in the world about being confident or getting over your fears, but if you don’t take action, you’re just someone who’s read how to ride a bicycle without ever having ridden one.

5. Travel alone

If you’re looking for an ultimate transformation that combines all of the points above, you should travel alone. Traveling with other people can be fun, but you won’t get the opportunity to truly get out of your comfort zone.

You’ll be exposed to different social cultures, break social norms that you didn’t even know existed, and ultimately be forced to burst out of your small bubble.

Bring as little as possible, and fit everything into one backpack. Plan nothing, except for a one-way flight ticket to your destination — figure everything else out when you’re there. Trust me, you’ll be just fine.

It won’t be easy initially, but don’t get discouraged. Being comfortable with the uncomfortable will grow with time. I continue to struggle with it everyday, as do many others. But you need to get started today.

The world is already full of people who obey the status quo. But the people who don’t give a F@$% are the ones that change the world.
Be the latter.

Start living life the way you want, be fearless like you once were as a child, and always, always stand up for the truth.

Someone has to.

If you found this article helpful, give it a big fat Recommend and share it with your loved ones. You can find me on Twitter @sseankim.

Inspirational credits to: Julien, Jerome Jarre, Mark Cuban

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Stock photos that don’t suck

A list of places to find the best free stock photos

Finding great stock photos is a pain. You’re left with either low-res amateur photos, people wearing cheesy headsets, or photos that are out of budget for the project you’re working on. Below is an ongoing list (so bookmark it) of the best stock photo sites I’ve come across.

Know of any other great sites? Leave a note here and I’ll add it to the list.

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Welcome to the Era of the Hardware Startup

As new technologies go, 3D printing is a bit of an attention hog. In recent years, we’ve seen printers with increasingly amazing capabilities: from ones that extrude plastic to create small objects to machines with lasers that melt metal powder into amazingly intricate jet engine parts.

But the cool factor of 3D printing sometimes obscures a movement in manufacturing that could have an even bigger impact: platforms that help us share ideas, suppliers and marketplaces. That emerging network is why I’m optimistic that 2014 marks the rise of the hardware startup.

Anyone who toured the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas would understand that optimism. The booths for hardware startups dotted the floor and competed for attention with the big manufacturers. As former Wired Editor Chris Anderson, who is now a hardware startup guy himself, noted, “‘Three guys with laptops used to describe a Web startup. Now it describes a hardware company, too.”

Several years after Anderson made this prediction, a number of factors are converging to make it come true. First, low-cost cloud computing is helping hardware teams, as it becomes embedded in the making process. Even more profound is the impact of small manufacturing operations that allow startups to do rapid prototyping at a fraction of what it used to cost, thanks to globalization and digital markets.

Maker spaces ranging from TechShop to NYC Resistor provide space for people to hone their making skills with access to manufacturing equipment at a fraction of the costs. Adafruit and Seeed Studio will build you a circuit board and ship them, along with DIY parts for more customization; Kickstarter and Indiegogo have made the fundraising process much easier.

Companies like Dragon Innovation help well-funded concepts get from prototype to manufacturing; Quirky makes invention accessible to anyone with a good idea and community support. Incubators like Lemnos Labs are making the hardware garage accessible to a range of entrepreneurs looking to take on well-established manufacturing OEMs in retail, logistics and health.

What I love about hardware startups is their willingness to take on and transform dauntingly complicated industries. Until recently, manufacturing had been almost exclusively the domain of big companies that can afford to build at scale. Now, these makers are turning the tables and showing the value of being both adaptable and close to your customers.

At GE, we’re emboldened by the marriage of the physical and the digital; the industrial and the analytical. We’re seeking out the new generation of inventors who are transforming making as we know it. It’s exciting to think how many burgeoning Thomas Edisons could be liberated to invent something world-changing.

Photo: opensourceway / Flickr Creative Commons

Posted by:Beth Comstock

Gut investing

I’ve always admired deep-thinking tech investors. The ones that construct a big overarching thesis to frame their investment philosophy. “Software is eating the world,” “the bottom up economy,” and “investing in thunder lizards” are a few of my favorites.

Just before heading out on stage at a tech conference, TechCrunch Founder Michael Arrington asked me, “How do you pick your companies?” I responded, “I don’t know, I trust my gut” — he seemed unsatisfied and told me, “You’ve got to come up with something better than that.”

It’s been a couple years since that conversation and I’m slowly starting to piece together what it means to “gut invest” for me. I’d like to share a couple examples.

Going with your gut or trusting your gut simply means running with an internal emotion or reaction to events and data. I then take this emotion and apply it to a timeline — seeing if the feeling comes back amplified.

When I first discovered Twitter, my gut took me to the following model — users tail or follow people they know. This threw the more popular bidirectional friendship model out the door. My gut noticed a few things: 1) This is fun. Building an audience and increase your followers had a very game like feel to it. 2) This is easier than starting a blog. The fear associated with long posts is nonexistent, and 3) What if celebrities adopt this? I took those gut insights and applied them to time. E.g. What does this look like and how big will it be 1, 5, 10 years from now. These feelings led me to my investment in Twitter 5 years ago.

Earlier this year my gut led me to invest in Tesla Motors. But not for the reasons you might think. My friend David Prager is the proud owner of a new Model-S. The second he got the car he did the rounds letting us all drive it (thanks Prager!). What struck with me most was not the car, but the sound it made. When he dropped me off, he stepped on the peddle and was whisked up a large San Francisco hill. All I heard was the electric swish/hum of acceleration. For me, it sounded like so many sci-fi movies I had seen growing up. It sounded like the future. A few days later I remember hearing a large city bus trying to climb the same hill, the diesel engine rattling and struggling almost as if it out of shape, fighting for its next breath. Taking these feelings, some data, and applying that to time led me to my investment in Tesla.

It’s important to note that I’m also a believer in data and using that data to inform your decisions. Especially in later rounds of financing. But in the early stage, at the seed of an idea, for me, I go with my feelings, my gut, around the product and it’s features — and how that might fit within the market over time.

Of course, my gut isn’t infallible, it’s certainly been wrong — but it is the intangible, emotional data that I lean on when looking for the next big thing.

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“How will they make money?” is the wrong question

Seems like every year we hear about a few new consumer networks raising large amounts of money at high valuations. And right on cue, we hear cynics asking, “But how will they ever make money?” let alone “enough money to justify the valuation.” Just this weekend, the rumors (and doubts — for example, read the comments) were all about Snapchat.

This is not a new phenomenon. Back in 2004, I had left business school to join LinkedIn, and a group of my friends came to do a project on LinkedIn and its future. They got a C+ on the report, and the professor said he thought social networking would never make any money. Oops. When I joined Twitter in 2009, many of my friends were equally shocked. The company had just been valued at $1 billion and had zero revenue; most of my friends didn’t use it and couldn’t figure who cared about what other people were having for breakfast.

In all of these cases, the primary challenge with building a large consumer company is not “how will you make money,” but “how do you get to be a long-standing durable network and define a new set of behaviors or verbs?” Once you can do that, it’s very likely you will be able to monetize at significant scale. (Side note: Not all businesses need to look like these large platforms and networks. There are plenty of other ways to build a successful and profitable company. I’m specifically focusing on that kind of large social network here.)

The key question I ask when I see interesting new consumer networks is whether they are durable, or just fads or flash-in-the-pans. From a user behavior perspective, I like to ask four things:

1. Is there a new behavior here that you can see 100M+ people doing?

No metrics can tell you this. You have to believe whether or not the product addresses a core need people have or don’t know they have yet. It helps to have the entrepreneur paint a vision for this new world and define the path for how adoption will grow. When I joined Twitter, the founders described a new world where information flowed faster, more accurately, and more openly. They convinced me that Twitter could become that primary way for people to access what they were interested in and what was happening in real time.

One way I like to think about this is whether there is a default “verb” that is changing the way people think about the world. Five years ago, we were not a world of sharers, but Facebook changed that. Now, when we see an interesting link or picture, for many people, the first instinct is to “share” it with friends. Tweet, Snap, Connect, Friend, Pin, Check-in — all are on that path of changing behavior.

2. Is the product evolving in a way where people are getting more and more engaged and committed over time?

Often, you can see this from data — both qualitative and quantitative. Good cohort charts can show how early users are contributing more and more to the system each month they use it, and can also show ongoing engagement. Evernote is a great example: As you add more and more notes over time, they see further and further into your commitment to the product. With Facebook in the early days, once the product was active on a university campus, people used it more and more every day and filled in more and more information such as their classes, activities, and friend lists.

3. Will the growth be sustainable?

The best growth of a product happens when someone is using a product so actively, they tell all their friends about it and try to drag them into the product. This can happen via viral channels like invitations or general word of mouth. But more than just rate of growth, it’s important to see that new users are becoming locked in similarly to early users. Later users are less likely to work as hard to join and learn a new product, so it’s crucial that over time, the product and network draw them in more directly, and the product improves to help them.

Some data on activation rates of new users, sources of new users, viral strength, and engagement and conversion over time can really help you determine this. It’s also important to understand qualitatively why people are signing up and whether the product is addressing what they were looking for in the first few sessions.

4. If the product succeeds at scale, can you monetize the key behaviors?

Lastly, monetization does matter. If you believe that the behavior can be big, and can grow big, then you’ve answered the biggest questions. But once you have that, it is a good idea to gut check whether at scale there will be enough of the primary use case and behavior that can be monetized in a meaningful way. Monetization is generally either direct spend by consumers or advertising to get your users to spend $$ somewhere else. With Twitter, people go to the product many times a day to see what’s happening in the world, so introducing advertising to help people see other interesting things happening seemed like a reasonable idea. With Pinterest, people go to the product to discover new interesting products and images, so it seems likely you can monetize this with either advertising or directly from purchases.

I think Ev Williams captured this best in his answer to a related question on Quora:

Having a large number of users and the inability to monetize them is a non-existent problem. People talk about it all the time, but it doesn’t really happen—at least it doesn’t happen in today’s world. I’m not even sure it ever did.

While valuations may seem high when they happen, in the case of a network like Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter, where the behaviors stick at scale, they end up looking like bargains. And in the cases of networks that don’t end up scaling and remaining durable, those crazy valuations look like a big mistake. So back to Snapchat — the big question here is whether it will stick, and not how it will make money.

Some related reading: Semil Shah on Cynics,Fred Wilson on Product > Strategy > Business Model

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Reality will always trump money

With income inequality on the rise, is money politics undermining democracy? I recently addressed this question on a panel at the World Economic Forum. Asked at the same time our country marked the fourth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case, which established that the First Amendment of the US Constitution prohibits government from restricting independent political expenditures by associations, labor unions and corporations, it was a poignant question.

Since the Supreme Court’s ruling, tens of millions of dollars have been spent on tilting the vote. Numerous Political Action Committees have sprung up, supporting the campaigns of their favorite politicians here, there and everywhere.

It’s a conspiracy theorist’s dream. Just look at all those billionaires, stirring the masses with wall-to-wall TV spots and front-to-back print ads. Surely, the critics say, all this money is corroding the system. It must be undermining, even hijacking, the democratic process.

Reading the commentary one can’t help but picture some sort of billionaire James Bond nemesis sitting in his lair, stroking a white cat, quietly muttering: “We’ll see who owns this election.” There seems to be a palpable fear that the vote will be stolen by some future Darth Vader PAC or Daddy Warbucks Inc.

But there’s another view as well. It goes back to what the Supreme Court’s ruling actually means: The majority of Justices believe that the first amendment allows people and organizations to use their means as a bullhorn. After all, we live in a world of competing ideas – and it’s up to the voter to decide where the cross on the ballot goes, not the billionaire in his lair.

A lot has been said about whether money matters in the electoral process; the research so far has been inconclusive. However, with the upcoming Congressional elections and the 2016 run for the Presidency – we should remind ourselves of a few key facts:

  1. Money Matters: There is little doubt about that. After all, whatever the election is about, to gain visibility and make a candidate viable, the campaign needs to spend a minimum amount of money. And if you are in a position to spend much and spend it early, you can set the agenda, and tar your opponent. But just as in real life, while money can make things easier, it’s no guarantee of success.
  2. Ideas Matter: And usually they matter much more than money. If a political candidate says something unacceptable – for example that women can shut down a pregnancy after being raped – not even a deluge of money pouring into their coffers can rescue the campaign. Voters are much smarter than the elites give them credit for.
  3. Message matters: Where the vote is tight, the right message matters as much if not more than money. That’s why Republicans have been struggling recently, because the Democrats managed to fine-tune their campaign rhetoric to go after the 52 (or 99) percent. “Income inequality,” “fair share” and “us versus them” are compelling messages and have left Republicans tongue-tied – even though they ignore that America never worked that way. This country is about equal opportunity, not equal outcomes. Republicans, therefore, have to work on their messaging, because they have explaining to do. No amount of money sunk into campaigns will lead them to victory until they can clearly put forward their ideas.
  4. System matters: Money has always been part of America’s political process – starting well before the revolution and the nation’s founding. Of course, it would be great if life was fair, but we all know life isn’t. Don’t forget, the system that generates and supports our elected officials depends on money, so it’s hard to imagine a scenario where our politicians vote to scrap the current system. There will always be enough people confident that they can raise enough money to fight another day – and so there’s no incentive to stop aggressive fundraising.
  5. Creativity matters: Those who worry that they are at a financial disadvantage should start thinking like an entrepreneur, and get creative. How can you make a lot with just a little? If you run a start-up, you make your money work hard. You get creative, use your resources for maximum impact. That’s what we learned during the 2012 campaign: throwing money at things doesn’t work. So get creative and organized –and make sure you turn out the vote instead of spending millions to achieve supremacy on the airwaves.

I predict both parties in the US political system will continue to raise more or less equal amounts of money. However, candidates need to focus on the message. How about going for openness, and clarity? How about telling the truth about today’s political and economic situation? When you spend money, think like an entrepreneur. Spend it wisely; surprise your voters like a breath of fresh air. Your message, your policies should make the voters sit up and think: “Hey, I was thinking that! This person actually has a plan and I am finally going to get to vote for somebody that is telling me the truth.” As a nation, we are ready for that. “Realness” will always overpower money, regardless of the amount.



Dick Costolo On User Growth: Twitter “Will Reach Many More People” In 2014

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Twitter CEO Dick Costolo answered repeated questions this afternoon about the company’s user growth. His big point seemed to be that (despite what appears to be a decreasing number of new users joining the service), “We feel very well-positioned for growth,” and the company “will reach many more people” this year.

For one thing, Costolo offered some justification for the 7 percent quarter-over-quarter drop in timeline views, which Twitter provides as a measure of how much content users are consuming. He suggested that some of the user experience changes that Twitter made recently, such as threaded conversations, have reduced the number of timelines that a user needs to load.

At the same time, Costolo argued that each timeline view is actually becoming more valuable — something that’s certainly true from the perspective of ad revenue.

Analysts asked if there were similar mitigating factors in terms of Twitter’s monthly active users (a number that only grew 4 percent quarter-over-quarter), but Costolo didn’t mention any. Instead, he suggested that until last year, Twitter’s growth was “viral and organic.” In other words, “growth was something that happened to us,” rather than something it actively pursued. However, starting in the final quarter of 2013, Costolo said Twitter has been introducing more features to increase user engagement. He added that the early results are promising, so the company plans to continue introducing more features in areas like new user on-boarding, content discovery, and one-on-one conversations.

Ultimately, Costolo said there’s a “collection of these things that we want to do over the arc of the entire product,” which together will “develop the change in the slope of the growth curve” that the company is hoping for.

Another analyst asked if Twitter might consider releasing a variety of different apps (something that Facebook seems to be doing). Costolo replied that, rather stealing users from each other’s apps, a successful social app “carves out a use case and tries to do that job better than anyone else.” He suggested that as long as Twitter stays focused on that idea, he doesn’t need to have “any particular religion” on a strategy of one app versus multiple apps.

That Secret App Is Becoming Silicon Valley’s New Blind Item

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“I work at Evernote and we’re about to get acquired… Watch this space”

That could be the first big acquisition rumor to have found its way onto Secret, the new “anonymish” sharing app launched late last week. But it won’t be the last.

(FWIW, Evernote CEO Phil Libin says it’s not true. And Dustin Curtis claims he’s the one who posted it.)

Forget about the passive-aggressive personal attacks that have found their way onto the app for a second. The real fascinating aspect, for me, is in determining how true that acquisition rumor is. And, true or not, who stands to gain by floating it.

Secret, by design, obscures the identity of the people who post there — but only to a point. Based on your address book, the app tells you whether something was posted by a friend, or a friend of a friend, or if it simply became popular and thus is available for all to see. In that case, it can tells you the location of the person who posted it.

And if posted by a “friend,” it then becomes a guessing game as to who you might know that posted something.

In the last couple of days since launch, Secret has been graced with a slew of juicy tidbits from apparent insiders, relating the dark underbelly of the startup ecosystem. And those tidbits are causing some of us to do the mental guessing games associated with the typical blind items you might find in the tabloids.

I may have made a $100 million mistake.

The author of that Secret follows up in the thread to say that he “let moral obligations from my LPs get in the way” and he should have invested personal money into a startup. That he didn’t actually have the money from LPs on hand yet, but decided not to invest out of consideration for them anyway.

This causes me to think about which investors have recently raised funds, but could have made an investment in some hot new startup over the last few years. And which of those investors are in my circle of friends.

If the boards of my last 2 companies let me sell when we had offers, those sales would be worth more than $1B now and I’d be hailed as one of the most successful entrepreneurs in SV. Instead I’m now [someone] that you ask, ‘what are you working on these days?’

For those of us who have been following the space for a while, it’s probably not difficult to narrow this one down: Serial entrepreneur with acquisition rumors floating about but never quite sold. Also in my friend circle.

I know a startup CEO that illegally inflated numbers to raise a huge round of funding from a tier 1 VC.

A commenter in that thread asks, “Does it rhyme with S’moreScare?”*

I have to be so positive in my public VC life now, I’m afraid that all I can offer Secret is my pent up rage. And that’s probably not good for Secret.

Investor with public good guy attitude who has a dark side he doesn’t want to show? Ok, maybe that one will be tougher to narrow down.

But the real “secret” to the app is that you can’t know what’s true and what’s not, who it came from and why.

All of which calls to mind another post I saw on Secret just a few minutes ago:

You could really fuck with journalists on here.

The author of that Secret could also be Curtis. But the truth is, I’ll never know.

* I’m ashamed to admit that I was too dense to catch which company was being referenced at first. Alexia laughed at me.

Entrepreneurship Guide for MBA Students


The entrepreneur path is not for the weak of heart. When you start down this road, you will face extreme unknowns and take on major risks. As a business owner, you will need to trust your ability to lead an organization through its growth and an unstable future.

However, the rewards for successful entrepreneurship are great. You are your own boss, and you get to call the shots. You will have the opportunity to watch a startup team develop and take your organization to new heights. Owning a business allows you a wide range of freedom for career direction and growth.

I. Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Begin

Time to sit down and get some answers before moving forward with an entrepreneurial career shift. It may help if you write down the answers to these questions. You may also have a close friend, family member, or association listen to your answers and provide feedback.

Are you a natural leader?

Do you prefer to delegate work or are you more interested in completing tasks that are given to you? Do you enjoy doing very specific types of work, or are you a Jack-of-All-Trades? If you decide to pursue your own venture, you will initially need to rely on yourself to fill multiple roles. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself toiling into the late hours managing payroll, finishing client projects, and cleaning up the office.

Are you ok with taking risks?

Think about your current lifestyle. Would you be able to live with less? It is a distinct possibility as you launch and grow your business. Do you have family members who are dependent on you? If so, what is your contingency plan if things don’t work out right away or at all? The steps you take to prepare may inform your willingness to start a new career path.

Many startups suffer from large setbacks and failure. Examine your history with career obstacles and think about how you might react. Some CEOs will just scrap an idea and move on to their next business venture. Will you be able to bounce back if your startup doesn’t work out the way you’d like?

How imaginative are you?

It is no surprise that creative individuals tend to be the most successful entrepreneurs. Even if a product isn’t particularly innovative, business owners are usually able to envision marketing tactics, operations, and distribution methods that their competitors cannot even imagine. How willing are you to think outside of the box?

Is this idea financially viable right now?

Before leaping into a new business, you will want to seriously consider whether it is the best timing for your financial situation. Some people don’t get to choose – if they’ve been laid off or unemployed, many turn to entrepreneurship out of desperation. But you still need to manage startup costs and living expenses before you get a business off the ground. You will most likely need to be frugal in the early stages of your venture. Being a spendthrift can sink your entrepreneurial efforts into the ground.

II. Know the Habits of Highly Successful Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs have certain traits in common. They are often passionate about their own ideas and work and organized with their time and finances. Entrepreneurs cannot be shy when it comes to self-promotion. They understand the value of networking, word-of-mouth, and a solid online portfolio. Business owners will spend so much time thinking and researching their industries, that they will eventually become subject experts.

As an entrepreneur, you must be willing to learn from your setbacks and correct your course. Indigo Johnson, the CEO of employment management firm Careers in Transition, describes her struggle to leave behind her strict leadership behavior, cultivated during her time with the Marines, in favor of a more flexible approach. This shift helped her organization retain their top-notch employees, who have room to grow and learn within the company.

As a business leader, you must become known as an expert within your field. Min Cho, the founder of Nova Datacom, earned nearly two decades of banking industry experience before she launched her small business. Nova Datacom has since grown into a multimillion-dollar organization. Once you launch a company, you must continue to grow and learn, in order to maintain your expert status. Entrepreneur Elon Musk, the brainchild behind SpaceX and Tesla, uses his high-tech engineering lab to keep on the cutting edge of innovation.

III. Solidify and Assess Your Big Idea

Are you brimming with excitement, ready to test out your grand, new business venture? Slow down, before jumping in, you will need to test out the stability of your project and work out the details of market demographics, investors, and operations. You’ll also want to examine case studies of other businesses in your market, so that you can learn from their successes and failures. Once you’ve done that, ask yourself some hard questions about your next steps forward.

  • Who will my product and service help?
  • What is the market landscape? Is there a need for this product or service in the long run?
  • Who are my best resources and will they be able to help me start a business?
  • Financially, can I handle not earning money until this business has grown?
  • How will I protect my work using copyrights and patents?
  • Do I need a mentor?

We’re living in an era of struggle for startup ventures. In post-Recession years, employment rates at startups have been only 45% of the 1999 rates, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy. How likely is it that your startup will survive past its first four years? In the information industry, only 37% of organizations make it through this period. The industries with the highest four-year survival rates are finance, insurance and real estate, holding strong at 58%. These rates will fluctuate depending on the current state of the economy, but it is a good idea to research your niche industry first.

Before making the leap, plan out a timeframe. Depending on your business plan and capital needed, it can take you a few months to reach “ramen profitability,” a term for having enough funds to run your business and live without outside income. Investor Paul Graham encourages startups to share the load with a founding team, rather than an individual founder. While your equity will be split amongst the other founders, your chances of success will be far greater.

IV. Map Out a Realistic Business Plan

Before you knock the business plan, think about how many doors this brief document can open. A well-crafted business plan can show VCs and angel investors that you have both the vision and the credibility to carry your ideas into fruition. This will help you secure the necessary funding to take your plans to the next level. Enloop is an excellent, free online tool that can help you start a business plan and compare your projected success rates to similar startups. Your business plan should also give you a roadmap to follow for your upcoming years of growth.

Retail Business Plans

Startups account for 52.6% of all retail sales in the United States, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. You will need to do in-depth research into operations, shipping, sales predictions, wholesalers, market statistics, and marketing as you write out a business plan for retail. Consider how much risk is involved with your particular product, as you consider how to approach investors. A strong marketing strategy will be crucial, since your predicted sales will rely on brand visibility and recognition.


Some of the most popular professional services industries for startups include temporary staffing, healthcare technology, self-improvement consulting, and accounting. The success of a service will hinge on your influence amongst key demographics. In many ways, you will need to concern yourself with similar issues retail businesses face. Place an emphasis on building a team of sales associates who can convey the true value of your services. Exposure will be crucial with a service-based career, where people learn about you through word-of-mouth or your online presence.

Food Industry

The National Restaurant Association predicts that over $660.5 billion will be generated by restaurant sales in 2013. This doesn’t even include the huge amount of revenue generated by bars, bakeries, cafes, and food trucks. As you generate a food-service business plan, you will need to read up on FDA food regulations, to make sure that your proposal is compliant with federal government regulations. Many food businesses rely on additional forms on income, including space and stage rentals, which should be includes within your projected revenue graphs.


There are specific business plan elements that must be addressed, no matter what type of venture you’re exploring. This is a list of the most common components you will need to address during the business plan drafting process.

  • Executive Summary: This is the crux of your business plan. Here, you will outline your company mission, objectives, and background.
  • Company Summary: Who are the founders and how do they split ownership? Create graphs of your expenses, assets, and investments.
  • Products or Services: Go in depth with the project management steps for the development and creation of your products and services.
  • Market Analysis: Who is your target demographic? Show market testing and research that supports these audiences. Are there hidden demographics that would benefit from your products and services?
  • Implementation and Forecasts: You will want to examine two possible futures with your forecasts: conservative and optimistic.
  • Financial Plans: Have you worked with a financial advisor to see if this venture is economically feasible? What are the hidden costs? Create an expense budget, cash flow statement, and a projection for breaking even.

V. Gain Exposure and Funding

Before you start getting your brand name out there, you will need to establish a solid online presence. This includes professional social media profiles, an engaging website, and a blog. Contact industry experts to see if they will contribute content in the form of guest blog posts and partner up with other companies online. These well-known figures and organizations have access to massive social media audiences. Your search engine rankings will climb as authority websites feature your startup. Once you have gained an online audience, it will be time to start the funding search.

Venture Capital

Look into investment companies such as Diamond State Ventures, Madrona, and NewSpring Capital, which can match your organization with the best venture capitalists. Make sure that your startup team and your business plan are polished – you will need to be prepared when networking with potential investors. Don’t go into VC meetings empty-handed. Practice pitching your startup and take your best team members with you. Don’t spam VCs with funding requests – the key is to build meaningful relationships with investors who believe in your cause.


Project campaigns on Kickstarter raised $176 million from backers who were excited to see these ideas come to fruition. If you have a clearly defined business plan and a compelling video presentation, your company may be able to earn startup funds through websites like Indiegogo, Kickstarter, and GoFundMe. Crowdsourcing is most effective when it is partnered up with a solid web presence and media production. Consider hiring a web designer, filmmaker, and photographer to create the best content for your funding page.


Some of the most popular small business loans include the 7(a), 504, and the 7(m) microloan program, which are offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration. However, you don’t want to rely on loans for the bulk of your financing, as they have low approval rates in this economy. During the 2013 Fiscal Year, only 27% of startups were approved for the 7(a) Loan and 14% of startups qualified for the 504 Loan. Your startup should partner with a financial advisor to complete the extensive paperwork required to apply for an SBA loan.


It is rare to find grants that can be used for startup purposes, unless you intend to open in developing areas, conduct specific types of scientific research, or develop environmentally friendly products. However, is an excellent starting point to see if your organization will qualify for a grant.


While this funding method can place your personal finances at risk, it is a great way to start moving toward your vision quickly. Your 401(k), life insurance, and a home-equity loan are just some borrowing avenues you can explore.

VI. Get a Legal and Licensed Start

Before you start moving forward with business operations, you will need to acquire the right businesses licenses, file tax paperwork, and adhere to employer laws. The following checklist and resources will walk you through the ins-and-outs of business structures, accounting, taxes, and legal requirements.

  1. Choose a business structure based on your size and operations. Your categorization as a sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, S corporation, or LLC will affect your company’s tax responsibilities.
  2. Obtain an Employer Identification Number.
  3. Obtain your state and city business licenses.
  4. Apply for local permits for applicable factors like zoning, building construction, and signage.
  5. Work with your accountant on your startup’s tax form schedule.
  6. Prepare for tax filing by collecting records of all sales, expenses, and inventory.
  7. Review federal and state employment laws.

VII. An Entrepreneur’s Essential Toolkit

Essential Software and Apps

  • LinkedIn: This is the industry standard social media platform for entrepreneurs to network and talk shop.
  • MailChimp: Manage your email marketing campaigns and connect with vast audiences with easy-to-use templates.
  • Crunchbase: This mobile app connects you to a vast database of tech companies, angel investors, and leaders.
  • TaskRabbit: Hire a virtual assistant or messenger to get tasks done on the fly.
  • Uber: Your own personal transportation service. Hire a driver for custom arrival points and destinations within seconds.

Entrepreneurial Education

  • Khan Academy: This non-profit institution offers free courses across a multitude of educational topics, such as chemistry, physics, finance, and art.
  • CreativeLIVE: Creative media and business experts host streaming courses and seminars, which are free if you catch them live.
  • Coursera: Over 80 universities around the world host over 450 free courses on this educational platform.
  • iTunes University: Get a taste of Ivy League education by downloading free video lectures, textbooks, and assignments from the top universities in the world.

Startup and CEO Publications

  • FastCompany: This publication is dedicated to tracking innovative trends in design and tech.
  • Inc.: A digital magazine dedicated to startup guides, money news, and industry leaders
  • Forbes: A biweekly print magazine that focuses on national finance and marketing. The online version offers a wide selection of columns featuring tech and business trends.
  • Harvard Business Review:This print and web publication engages the worlds of academia, management, and enterprise with the most current business news.
  • Entrepreneur: This web platform explores startups, technology, franchises, and marketing strategies within the U.S.

Images are great for SEO!

Recently I have talked about what makes a blog picture great in “Catchy Blog Picture matters” blog post. Today I would like to reveal some tips which I have learnt from my own experience when blogging with Joomla! Indeed, one of the important things in blog is the picture and if you care to optimize your blog image properly, it will surely boost your website’s SEO! Here are some simple must-know tips for you to make the most out of the image you use to benefit your website’s SEO.

Give your image a NAME!
Images also need and should be named, just like humans. Imagine if none of us had names, how difficult it would have been for others to call us, recognize us. Names are our inseparable parts which make us unique. So, name your images, thus identifying them. Having proper descriptive keywords for the image name helps your website PageRank. Care for your visitors who will be searching for images on your website — They certainly do not search for DCM1223579.jpg.

It is also important to make sure you have the decent metadata for the image. When adding an image in the article with an editor in Joomla!, fill in the proper information for the image, caption it!

Make sure you optimize the Alt tags
Google robots do not know what’s on your picture until you let them know. How? Use Alt tags!

No wonder you searched for your products in Google Images and never saw them show up. This is one of the best SEO practices for optimizing your images. Add appropriate alt tags which are relevant to your image and make sure you do not exceed the wording over 15 words and more or put too many keywords. Google recently punished websites with keyword stuffing.

What are the Alt Tags? Go to any webpage with an image, view source code and look for image source. This is what you will find. And the second part with Alt is where you should fill in the information for Alt tags of your image.

For more detailed information on the importance of Alt Tags you are welcome to refer to this video talk by Matt Cutts.

Do not go over with the Image size

CAUTION: Large-size images on a webpage increase your website’s load time!

If you want to give your users a nice chance to have an ultimate user experience and view larger images, make sure, you go through Photoshop with those pictures; use “Save for Web” option keeping the image quality and the possible lowest size at the same time. An alternative to this can be having properly-sized image and an option to view the image larger in the pop-up or in a new tab.

Also mind, Google uses page load time as a factor in their ranking algorithm.

JPEG, GIF or PNG? This is another story, to cut it short I would advise for PNG and then JPG for many reasons, but choose carefully depending on your needs and the features these three image types offer.

Use the images you are allowed to

The laws with images protected by copyright and many other things which you should know will take a whole lot of time and effort from you to examine, but you need to know.

Negative side effect? Yes, you cannot just search for some images in Google Images and use the one you like in your blog. If you did not create the image then it’s not yours to use unless you have the permission. As from my own experience, I mostly use images which we create ourselves, very rarely do I purchase an image.

Where to get images if you cannot create and do not have money to spend on? There are some great free resources such as Creative Commons, Smart Photo Stock and also Flickr (in the latter make sure you search for images filtered by Creative Commons).

I would strongly advise you to go outside and take pictures yourself! You owe it, you have the right use it!

Optimizing your blog picture is an art that you want to master especially if you are frequently blogging. Attract visitors, cut off the loading time, and make them easily recognizable for Google and for those searching for it.

Further Reading

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