Q and A: Venture Capital Resources; My Mom

For whatever reason I cannot post a comment to my own blog, which I find highly annoying – so, I am making a Q&A post. Here are two questions people have asked me in emails/tweets/and posts.

1. Is your mom okay?  (From many).

I was really touched by this question. Thanks, so much. Yes. She is a new woman. (As some of you may have seen, my mom had a near-death experience due to truly weird complications after knee surgery.)

2. Any ideas on VC resources? (From Brent in Hawaii)

First of all, your site www.greencollartech.com is cool. Okay, re VC resources… 

Brent, Without knowing more detail on what kinds of VC resources you’re looking for (e.g., finding avenues for deal flow, etc.) I make the following assumption:  You’re LOOKING for financing.

 

Below are some general links for learning about and connecting with VCs. Pardon the “square 1″ discussion if you already know all this. Of course, the #1 thing is usually a connection into the firm, so asking around is key. The #2 thing is understanding what stage they invest in, as well as their “personality” to make sure you all will play well together. If you are the CEO, prepare to get ousted and lose control if you bring in a VC. That is the worst case scenario aside from failure. (Is that very doomsday? Sorry if so. But, gotta put on your big boy/big girl Underoos to play with VCs.) I would go to a VC for two things:

 

 A. Money (a lot) to get big fast, and

 B. Expertise and connections.

 

 If you have B, you could go to an angel. Most entrepreneurs start with FFF first (friends, family, fool hearty). RE: debt – this is a tough market for debt, as many know. 

 

 Here are some places I would start for VC info:

 1. Guy Kawasaki (since you got to us via his Twitter stream) http://blog.guykawasaki.com/2006/09/venture_capital.html (good link from his blog, there are many others).

 

 2. The people at Angel Soft: http://www.angelsoft.net/ “The ecosystem for early stage investing”

 

 3. The people at NCVA (National Venture Capital Association) http://www.nvca.org/

 

 4. The people at EMPEA (if you’re into emerging markets) http://www.empea.net/

 

 5. The MIT Enterprise forum – http://enterpriseforum.mit.edu/. Don’t see one in Hawaii, but, if you know a motivated MIT alum, maybe you could start one there. Otherwise, just try to get in on the CA ones (if they’re any good). Here in DC, they seem to be one of the most visible entities for bringing investors and entrepreneurs together.

 

 6. TAG (The Accelration Group) – http://www.acceleration-group.com/.

Connecting angels and entrepreneurs when I last spoke with them, always looking for deal flow.

 

 EXTRA BONUS RESOURCE for WOMEN: Springboard Enterprises

http://www.springboardenterprises.org/

 

 7. UNIVERSITIES – always a good locus for VC activity. E.g., Any local business plan contests at universities near you in which VCs are involved. For instance, when I search for “Hawaii University Venture Capital” many relevant links come up, particularly the following:

 

http://www.bizjournals.com/pacific/stories/2008/01/21/daily45.html?jst=s_cn_hl

http://www.hawaii.edu/cgi-bin/uhnews?20080811105425

http://www.hvca.org/

 

You will also be in an interesting situation due to your location because my guess is:

 

A. Lots of pretty well-off VCs and Angels have homes/retire in Hawaii

B. They didn’t get rich by sitting on their tush, and are probably looking for an occasional venture or cause with which to involve themselves part time, even if they are “retired.”

 

 Hope this helps!

 

 P.s. Here is my basis for answering your question (about VCs, not my mom):

1. Hanging out with entrepreneurs

2. Hanging out with VCs

3. Raising $8 from New York Life with a sr. mgt team (of which I was a part) for an aging/health venture (after speaking w/ many VCs)

4. Teaching

5. Being taught (e.g. going to these forums – and even back to my MBA – and getting the scoop from VCs…which, theoretically, is #2).

 

P.s.s. And, BTW, just when you think $2 or $5 or $8 million is a lot, talk to someone who invests tens or hundreds of millions in ventures. In a strange way, it can make things less intimidating. We know someone who invests only $50 to $500 million! Ha! Asking for $5k or $20k sponsorships seemed less intimidating after learning that.

 

P.s.s.s. Feel free, everyone, to comment on your favorite resources or push back on my assessment. This is just a quick and dirty.

 

Building a Million Dollar Business Part Time #11: Top 7 Low/No Cost Stuff To Use In Business

The alternative title to this post is, “How to fake like you’re a big company” or “Running it lean and mean.” Let’s get right into it since I’m on vacation in Vermont.  One little story, then onto the top 7.

(Note: See past posts for our long-standing, co-dependent relationship with coffee. Nintendo recently rejected a sponsorship request from us. Starbucks MUST be involved in some way. WE ARE SOLICITING ANY AND ALL IDEAS FOR SPONSORS FOR OUR CASE STUDY LIBRARY, KICKED OFF BY OUR COMPETITION OCT 13.)

Intern for the Hot Mommas Project? Now that's a man confident in his masculinity.

Intern for the Hot Mommas Project? Now that's a man confident in his masculinity.

Hey everyone, welcome Achin to The Hot Mommas Project! He is a George Washington University MBA student. Here, he holds the Indian equivalent of Starbucks.  He is in India right now and will join us in the fall.

 

 

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INTERLUDE [Samba music plays, rudely interrupted by "You are My Friend" the horrific Barney  themesong]

Setting: The Posh Frey Honda Pilot (recently downgraded from an Acura MDX as Kathy has a gripping phobia of investing in depreciating assets).

Location: Driving from Lake George (our rainy-day plan) back to Vermont (our vacation location, where there is nothing to do in bad weather).

Josh (my husband): [Seeing a shirtless, blonde Grizzly Adams looking hitchhiker] “Hey! Let’s pick him up.”

Kathy: “Ha! Yeah.” [Pause] “Well, we do need to start looking for a new au pair.”

Josh: [After passing shirtless Grizzly Adams] “He could have been a good one.”

Kathy: [Feigning "interested friend" voice] “Your new aupair is so great! Where did you find him?” [Feigning response] “Oh, we found him on the side of the road one day on vacation.”

Josh: [Feigning response] “Yeah! Just south of a federal correctional institution in New York! No problem.”

And so goes the cost-effective search for a new au pair for the Frey family.

END INTERLUDE [Barney Theme song ends]

P.s. Did you know there is a full-on anti-Barney trend? Riveting.

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This is a really odd, tangential method of transitioning into the Top 7 Low/No Cost resources for businesses (no, we will not suggest you pick up Grizzly Adams hitchhikers for subsidized staff members):

1. Advice. Advice is the best free thing you can get.  How to get good advice:

- KNOW WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW. If you are someone who thinks, “Oh, I’ll just figure it out” you’re in trouble.  I’ve noticed the willingness/ tendency/ propensity in certain people to spend 5 hours on the internet searching for something versus 5 minutes on the phone solving the problem.  I make sure my interns don’t do this (see item #7). I have a list: “STUFF I DON’T KNOW THAT IS CRITICAL TO THE SUCCESS OF THE HOT MOMMAS PROJECT.” Then, I search for smart people who can help me with those issues (see next item).

- HOW TO GET A NETWORK: Social media allows for relationships never before available to folks outside of the right schools or social circles. Go to www.Alltop.com to see who the players are in your industry. If they’re blogging, you can reach them.  I have also seen entrepreneurs benefit tremendously from EO (forum) and like groups. Personally, I have relied on all of the above plus I have specifically sought out role models/business luminaries I admire and am in varying stages of contacting them/working with them. For example: Ted Leonsis, Bob Prosen, Guy Kawasaki, and Stewart Friedman. The latest are Tim Ferriss, Chris Brogan, Robert Scoble, and I am trying to get in touch with Gina Bianchini who co-founded Ning with Marc Andreesson of Netscape.  Based on this, Esther – my right hand woman – approached Senator Lieberman (whom she idolizes) at the movies, told him about the Hot Mommas Project, and is emailing with him. Go Esther!

- EXAMPLE: I posted the following on Twitter the other day

how atrocious is our website? We need free help for exposure. anyone? www.hotmommas.org

2. Low Cost Web Templates. I thought I was all cost efficient using the $5 GoDaddy template when I first took the Hot Mommas Project online.  Good: It’s cheap. Bad: It sucks. As we became more tech-savvy, I realized: a. It was pathetic-looking and b. It was incredibly slow  (shared server, not dedicated server).  Here are some resources suggested by Frank Gorton (fgorton on Twitter), who is a social media expert and worked with AOL and Monster.com, among others, during his career:

http://www.wordpress.com –  Good templates, says Frank.  Even though I am doing our insiders blog on wordpress, I didn’t realize that you could use a wordpress template for your whole site (click here for Hot Mommas Project non-insiders blog). Frank recommended this to us based on our needs at this stage of the project (Nutshell of our project: Building world’s largest women’s case study library. Kicking off w/ case study competition launching October 13, 2008. Read more here.)

- http://www.templatemonster.com- Frank told us about this, and Achin (new intern) had heard of it too. I have zero time (as I am doing this part time, have two kids, and yada yada) and really need to rely on others to cut through the mess and act as the social media Consumer Reports for me.

- http://www.ning.com. Everyone thinks Ning is awesome (“awesome” word count from past 2 blog posts: 3). You can start a community for free using their software (with a Ning address), and for a nominal fee use your own address. It was founded by Gina Bianchini and Mark Andreesson.  Here is a cool video c/o Robert Scoble.

3. Low Cost “Other Stuff” for Our Site. Aside from the basic “how to pimp out your blog” items (see first post reference to Seth Godin’s article on this), Frank specifically noted the following beyond the basic widgets and RSS stuff:

- www.Vimeo.com – get a free account and build video content. Frank suggested we film our Hot Mommas Project case study protagonists to connect people with our educational tools and take “role models on paper” to “role models on film.” We had dreamed of doing this for a long time, and were even approached by some Hollywood folk, but this is quick and does the job.

- www.Brightcove.com – Here are some syndication products from Brightcove (think “Alliare” – inventors of ColdFusion software).  This could be useful if the above (Hot Mommas video case studies) are a hit or there is other content we want to syndicate (like our research on best practices in work life balance).

-http://www.Twitter.com - Twitter – it’s everywhere. Frank suggested having a Twitter widget on our site would, again, humanize it and help connect people with our cause: Providing academic tools to serve as role models for women and girls (Cool Daddies beta – too!).

If you’ve ever gotten an email from Guy Kawasaki, here is something he uses that he lists as part of his signature: SpinVox(will convert voicemail to email). You can also usually find lots of fun widgets on Guy’s blog.

4. Low Cost Developers and Designers.  Achin, our newest addition, found a developer in India to convert our whole site onto a blog template if we don’t have the fortitude to do it ourselves. Frank uses a developer who charges him about $12 per hour. Contact Frank (fgorton) if you want to know who this is. Here is who Achin found for us: http://www.compose.co.in/.

P.s. Re Designers, I’ve heard of folks using eLance. I use Brad Imburgia who developed the Hot Mommas Project logo. I also used our interns to do some work. (see #7) I’m sure India also has designers.

5. Low Cost and Professional Sounding Phone System. In love with eVoice (I’m pretty sure these are the eFax people). Husband knows the guy who runs Got Voice Mail, also.

6. Low Cost and Professional Looking Printing. Big fan of Vista Print. If you plan far enough in advance, can be UNBELIEVABLY cheap.

7. INTERNS. This is a biggie, so, if you do not care about interns stop reading now. When thinking low or no cost, my personal favorite is interns. My favorite place to list them is at GW’s career site. You can also integrate your post in with NACElink which lists nationally. I also have friends who have used Craig’s list (under part time or your industry). In 1 or 2 years, these interns are going to cost someone $40,000 to $70,000 plus benefits. So, why not receive help from their fabulous brains NOW. I have had to learn to do the following to be successful with interns:

- LIST AT THE RIGHT TIME.  Think student. When are they looking for internships? Post in between January-April for the spring semester (by May you’ve probably lost them to finals). Post by early August for Fall. Post in the Fall before Thanksgiving for the Spring semester. I cannot tell you how many business owners contact me during finals in May and say, “Can you tell your students about this internship?” I give it a 1 in 100 chance at that point.

- BE GOOD AT TRAINING If you suck at mentoring, or don’t have the time or interest, don’t bother.

- HAVE AN “IT” or specific thing they can do.  There is no such thing as too much definition or clarity. Consultants, project managers, and individuals who think this way can usually easily get their brains around this.

- HAVE A WAY TO MONITOR the “it.” I discuss this in an earlier post. It is easier if you have done a good job setting a clear goal or “it” (mentioned above). I am CONSTANTLY adjusting this based on what I see in the person’s performance (e.g., If I sense they are overloaded, I stop sending lists of things to do and re-focus them a la “HERE’S WHAT WE MUST DO BY TODAY.” I will ask them to tell me, with hours by tasks, how they are spending their day…in this way, we work on time management together).

- HAVE SPACE FOR THEM. I have had experience with the student population through teaching. One thing I’ve learned is: It is HARD for most to work on their own and deliver what they say unless they are EXTRAORINARY. So, ixnay on the virtual/independent working.

- HAVE A COOL COMPANY NAME/INTERNSHIP NAME. We got infinitely more resumes with the Hot Mommas Project vs. Vision Forward. hot-mommas-internship-flyer_summer2008.

- SELECT GOOD ONES. I try to select interns where I see a minimum 1/4 ratio. That is, for every 1 hour I spend with them, they can do 4 hours of work. If I can combine several interns into the one hour, great, that is an exponential amount of work being done when everyone goes on their merry way to do a project.  A list of questions I ask is below:

HOW TO INTERVIEW INTERNS:

Interview #1: Phone interview. Min = 15 mins, Max = 1 hour

a. What drew you to the Hot Mommas Project? (Desired answer = They are interested in/passionate about the project. This is KEY.)

b. Tell us about _______________. (Ask about several items on resume to get a sense of  responsibilities). We ask about GPA if there is a problem. Below a 3.0 is a red flag (see “e” and “f” below).

c. What are your top 3 strengths? Draw from group projects, other internships? (We like to see social sophistication and a drive to succeed. If this is not apparent, we ask another question later).

d. What is something on which you’d like to work or improve. (We like to hear them admit a real weakness vs. some B.S. At this point we figure they are an over-achiever type anyway, a couple chinks in the armor show self-awareness which is ESSENTIAL for self-correction).

e. How do you organize yourself? Explain an example – beginning to end – using a major assignment or work project. (We like to see someone with an actual process for organization. If they suck at organizing themselves this means your tasks will not get done, as much as you may like them in the interview. You can turn a B+ into an A, you cannot turn a C or D into an A is our experience).

f. Do you tend to overextend yourself? (This is BEYOND CRITICAL for students who are doing MANY MANY things and often will get into the semester, freak out, then bail on you. Ask this up front. Dig a bit.)

g. What questions do you have for us? (We like smart questions, but, many are overwhelmed so we assign it to them for the next interview. We say, “Come with three questions to the next interview” if they proceed to the second round.)

h. Of the items I’ve described, what sound the most interesting to you? (If you have some flexibility and can match the intern’s interests to specific functions, you’ll have a greater chance of a happy worker.)

Interview #2 (if we ran out of time, but had a good vibe about the person, we’ll send some of the above questions for them to answer via email in between Interview 1 and 2).

a. What additional questions do you have about the project? (They should have been assigned 3).

b. What ideas do you have for the project? (They were assigned a “task” of coming up with 1-3 ideas to make sure they “get” the project).

c. Are you interested in the project (usually already apparent by end of first interview and email interactions in between interviews 1 and 2)?  (If we like them) Rate your interest from 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest. If not a 10, what would make it a 10? (Take notes to integrate into their job during the internship to – again – create happy workers).

d. (If we like them) We’d like to formally offer you the __________internship. (Discuss start date, weekly schedule, their ability to continue beyond one semester, confirming they understand the internship is unpaid, making for-credit arrangements, other logistics. WRITE THIS DOWN and make sure you EACH HAVE A COPY.)

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PARTING THOUGHTS: Gotta run, on vacation, need to go look for hitchhikers.