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Double-Dip Recession: What it Means for Startups

Tonight I saw a few tweets about MSNBC’s article “10 signs the double-dip recession has begun” and Fox Small Business article “Small Business Still Feeling Recession’s Impact“. I read both articles and the first article points out 10 things which are pretty easy for the average American to see.

  1. Inflation
  2. Investments have begun to yield less
  3. The auto industry
  4. Oil prices
  5. The federal budget
  6. China economy slows
  7. Unemployment
  8. Debt ceiling
  9. Access to credit
  10. Housing

There are tons of negative articles out there and the news typically likes to focus on fear and bad news. If I’ve learned anything over the last three years while starting up a company in the worst economic times our generation has seen is that I personally can’t sit here and blame the economy or focus on the negative economic indicators. Here are the things that we’re going to focus on:

Customer Service

Just like when we started the first recession, we have to continue to focus on the customer. We need to listen to the customer and make sure that we’re providing incredible customer service. One of our core values is “Wow every customer, every engagement, no exception”. If we’re doing that we should be attracting the right customer and keeping our existing customers happy.

Differentiation

Seth Godin says it best. “Consumers are not loyal to cheap commodities. They crave the unique, the remarkable, and the human.” If your startup is differentiating itself by price alone, you’re going to have a brutal time in double-dip recession when your competition just sits there and lowers its prices. It’s certainly going to be a race to the bottom. You better differentiate yourself on something remarkable and human.

Setting Annual, Quarterly, and Monthly Goals

Every startup, small company better set annual goals. You can’t have a great year unless you have four great quarters. Breaking those quarters down to months and months to weeks is the only way to expect that you possibly achieve those goals. Otherwise, you’re going to end up hoping that you’re going to have a great quarter or hoping that you’ll have a great year. The one thing that we’ve been using is the One Page Strategic Plan. If you haven’t read “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits” by Verne Harnish, I would highly recommend it. It’s a practice that has certainly help us focus on hitting our goals and growing the company rather than focusing on the recession.

Get Two More Customers

I’m going to end this blog post with a quote that I heard from Patrick Thean, an instructor at the MIT Entrepreneurial Masters Program that I’m in. Patrick said “A small company doesn’t need to worry about the recession, what the small company should be thinking about is getting two more customers every month”. You will need to get out there and hustle, bring in new two new customers. If you do these things, you’ll be increasing your revenue, growing your business, and probably hiring employees. Isn’t it much simpler to think about the recession from that perspective rather than a bunch of variables that we can’t control?

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Vacation 101 for Small Business Employees

Summer is in full swing and everyone in the office wants to take a vacation, but there is a catch. When small businesses lose just one employee to vacation it means they have lost 15-20% of their staff.  This can be brutal for a small business, but with a bit of preparation you can rest assured knowing your coworkers and clients are taken care of.

1.   Decide if you will be “available” during your vacation
Let’s be honest, you’re either completely on vacation or you’re not.  There is no in between.  If you plan on working from the white, sandy beaches make sure you pack the necessities (laptop, Internet card, etc.).  If not, take the time to plan ahead before you leave town.

2.   Tie up loose ends
Have a deal you’re trying to close? How about that deadline the day you get back into town?  While it may be impossible to tie up all of the loose ends, try to get all of your projects to a point where you can let them be for a few days, even if that means working late.  If you know your vacation may impact specific clients, give them a heads up you will be gone and be sure to include an alternate contact.

3.   Create a cheat sheet for coworkers
This single document has the potential to make or break your vacation.  Depending on your position, you might consider including the following:
·         Detailed instructions for tasks that must be completed
·         List of potential questions that might arise
·         Your emergency contact information
When you’re finished, send it via email to your coworkers.  As they complete your tasks or help with projects have them send you the updates in one mass email at the end of your vacation.  The email updates will act as your own personal newsletter when you get back into the office all of the information in one place.

4.   Set your “out of office” email (don’t worry…this one is fun!)
Out of Office (OOF) replies are a necessity these days, but why not spruce your drab response up with a few OOF tips from Matt Heinz at Heinz Marketing?  I got my first OOF reply from Matt a few months ago and in addition to the standard, “I’ll be back in the office on…” Matt includes links to articles that might be of interest to his clients.

5.   Clean your workspace
Growing up, my mom always made us clean our rooms before we left on vacation so we would come back to a clean house.  The same applies to your workspace.  There is enough chaos to deal with upon your return and the last thing you want to face is a messy workspace.  You might even consider dusting your keyboard with that fancy compressed air?

Getting Crazy Motivated for a Half Marathon #sm21k

 

 

I recently got crazy motivated to run the half Seattle Marathon. Three weeks ago when I went to a “See you soon” party for Maya Bisineer, founder of MeMeTales, I was talking to a few friends at the event and that’s when a group of us (Maya, Shauna Causey, and I) decided to run it. It’s a bucket list item for us which makes it pretty special to knock this one off the list.

Freak out

After talking with friends in different circles, the group has increased in size to seven people. What made it all REAL and not just talk was when friends started to email me saying they registered for it. I remember responding to one friend “yeah, I tried to register last night but they don’t take AMEX”… his response was “yeah, but I know you have a VISA”. Ha! So I registered with my VISA and after that it really sunk in… I’m pretty much committed now and there’s probably very little I can do to get out of this one.

A friend, Betsy Aoki, introduced me to Andy Dunn (aka @The-Zman) on Twitter who provided these three running tips:

  1. Running tips 1… new shoes every 4 months even if they still look new…. Target does not sell proper running shoes ;-)
  2. Running tips 2. learn your chafe spots and buy plenty of body glide, nipguards.com save you from red shirt syndrome.
  3. Running tips 3… sign up for the race and tell everyone so that you cannot back out… train with friends to motivate

First-time Newbies

The distance (13.1 miles) of a half marathon is certainly not going to be easy. It’s also not so long that it’s completely out of reach. It’s a good stretch goal. So most of us are first time half marathon runners so if you’ve ever thought about running a half marathon but couldn’t find a fun and crazy group of people to run with, you now have no more excuse! If you’re interested in joining us, register for the Seattle Marathon and then every time you do a training run tweet out or update your status with the hash tag #sm21k. I think it starts to get pretty motivating when you look at your FB or Twitter stream and see comments with the #sm21k!

Come join us

We’re not looking to break any land speed records, we’re just looking to have a lot of fun and figure out a way to cross that finish line! Leave a comment and let us know you’re in! Also if you have any tips or words of encouragement for us newbies we’d love to hear them!

Seattle Mind Camp 7- August 20th at thinkspace

Chaos, creativity, and collaboration unlike anything else you’ve ever experienced. Join us for Seattle Mind Camp on August 20th-21st here at thinkspace. Seattle Mind Camp is a 24-hour self-organizing unconference designed for anyone interested in connecting with creative and technology obsessed Seattleites. “The Mind Camp experience seeks to leverage that idea by completely doing away with a pre-planned program of speakers. The day’s sessions will be designed by the attendees and the schedule will be created by the attendees themselves.”

Seattle Mind Camp organizer, Andru Edwards has extended a 20% off ticket discount code to our community. If you’re interested in attending Seattle Mind Camp, please RSVP using ‘think’ as the discount code when registering for Seattle Mind Camp.

If you live in the Greater Seattle Area, you really don’t want to miss this event.

Check out Seattle Mind Camp’s YouTube channel for some videos from past events. See you there!

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How to be Lazy, Productive and Successful

This is a guest post from one of our thinkspace members, Matt Heinz president and founder of Heinz Marketing.

Some of the most successful and productive people I know are lazy. They’ll tell you so.

David Allen, author of Getting Things Done and the godfather of productivity. Lazy. He will tell you this at the beginning of his seminar.

Seth Godin, who writes daily blog posts and has published four hundred books and continues to launch new businesses. Lazy. He told us so in a talk a couple weeks ago.

There’s a theme and a lesson here. You can be highly productive and very successful – but also lazy. The trick, of course, is to make better use of your time. Work smarter, not harder. Here are eight ways to do that.

1. Do the opposite of what the lizard brain tells you to do
Seth’s right, we all have a lizard brain telling us what to do. It’s what makes us procrastinate, keeps us from shipping, and leads us away from taking risks or having courage to do something new. Seth told a crowd in Seattle a few weeks ago that the secret to his success has been simply to do the opposite of what his lizard brain would prefer that he do. Not bad advice.

2. Delegate & outsource
No matter your role or level or experience, you shouldn’t be doing everything that’s on your plate. There are things you should delegate to others on your team, or outsource to someone who’s better suited to do it. Some activities should be delegated because they’ll get done better by someone else. Other tasks can be done faster or cheaper elsewhere. But be crisp about what your time is best spent doing, and what would be easier/faster/better to do elsewhere (for a fraction of your time to instruct and/or manage).

3. Do less (but choose wisely)
Cut at least 33 percent of the work from your current plate. Would you really miss it? Would it really impact your performance, your company’s performance, or your customer’s overall satisfaction? I’m not talking about short-term conversations or loss. It’s critical to triage what you have on your plate against what will have long-term, lasting and scalable impact.

4. Say “no” more often (or, stop volunteering so much)
Type-A people want to lead. They want to own things. They’re more likely to say “yes” to a new project, or volunteer for something new. Dial that back a bit. The potentially awkward and uncomfortable moment in which you need to decline a new opportunity will save you hours or days of time down the road.

5. Network
The more people you know, the more likely you’ll find people you can turn to when you need help, or for something that can help both of you. It doesn’t work if you’re merely adding volume to your network and follower lists. But if you genuinely and consistently add new qualified people to your network, the chances that they’ll be able to help you sooner or later increases exponentially.

6. Listen, watch or learn more
The next time you’re in a meeting, shut up. Spend more time listening to others, asking for their feedback, watching what’s going on. In too many meetings, people compete for attention. They talk over each other. They fight to see who can say the smart thing first. It’s a losing proposition for everyone. The more you listen, the more likely someone in the meeting will stop the conversation and ask what you think. At that point, all eyes are on you. In less time, and after listening to the preceding debate, your feedback will more likely be thoughtful, better received, and could drive the output of the meeting more frequently.

7. Have other people read for you
I could spend all day reading the various sources of content (print, online, Web, email, blog, video, etc.) that I subscribe to. My favorite sources of content are those where others have already done far more reading, and have filtered the best content up to me. Read less but learn more.

8. Stop working nights & weekends
The amount of work you have will consume the time you give it. And if you cut yourself off at 6:00 p.m. on weekdays and on Friday night, it forces you to be more focused and productive during your active work hours. You know that you’re checking ESPN headlines or Facebook or other non-work stuff during the workday. What if you cut some of that out and forced yourself to focus (and focus on the shorter list of work we identified above)? You’ll get more done, in less time, and feel better about refreshing nights and weekends.

What else do you do that’s both lazy and productive? Where have you cut back to be more productive and successful?

Read more from Matt Heinz’s blog at Matt on Marketing.

 

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Does Your Office Play Fantasy Football?

office fantasy footballOn Monday, July 25th the NFL Players Association signed a new collective bargaining agreement to end the 2011 NFL season lockout. For professional football fans, this is a huge sigh of relief. However, this announcement is also a celebration for the 15 million+ fantasy football participants. Are you one of them?

 

According to the Internet’s most credible source, the Urban Dictionary– fantasy football is defined as, “Dungeons and Dragons for meatheads,” and “a game for grown men that makes them regress back to childhood wherein they will turn on their best friends, argue to the death about anything, and become lifeless shells of their former selves.” –sounds like a healthy competitive outlet, right?

 

A more practical definition being, fantasy football is “a football competition with imaginary teams which the participants own, manage, and coach and with the games based on statistics generated by actual players or teams of a professional sport.”

For those of you who play fantasy football, have you integrated your fantasy football obsession into your workplace?

In order to stay competitive, fantasy football participants spend hours upon hours researching, studying, and analyzing the NFL. For some, fantasy football can be an awful distraction and an anti-productivity suck at the office. Essentially, fantasy football is a project manager’s worst nightmare.

NCAA March Madness pools are more commonly accepted and encouraged in the workplace- mostly because March Madness brackets are locked at the start of the tournament, and it’s only an office distraction for a couple of weeks. On the other hand, fantasy football leagues require active weekly participation, and a much longer time commitment for the 17-week season (not including playoffs). Employers may want to consider the implications of prohibiting fantasy sports in the workplace, and instead use fantasy sports as a tool to improve morale between coworkers, and to liven up the office chatter.

Why not start a fantasy league for your office? Here at thinkspace, we’re well aware that the word “office” means something different for everyone. Whether it’s your floor of coworkers, network of virtual employees, desk mates at your coworking space, or your fellow coffee shop entrepreneurs- you may want to consider starting a league at work.

Potential benefits of an office fantasy football league:
1.     Fun non-sales related competition
2.     Have something to talk about with people you usually have nothing in common with
3.     Fix your fantasy football addiction in healthy doses without having to go undercover
4.     Prize money
5.     Office Superbowl Parties

What do you think? Would you participate in a fantasy football league with your office? Employers, would you allow your employees to participate in a office fantasy league?

Most importantly, are you ready for some football?

Apple Discontinues the White MacBook

New white MacBookIs it really time to say a final farewell to the white MacBook?  Apparently Apple thinks so. Following the announcements of a new MacBook Air and Mac Mini, the white MacBook disappeared from Apple’s online store.

It seems that Apple thought that they would quietly discontinue the white MacBook. Apple made no announcement about the withdrawal of the MacBook from their online store and they have yet to comment on what has happened to the white MacBook, but I am assuming that they will make some sort of announcement as to the reasoning behind the pull. It has been speculated that it the white MacBook just may no longer be needed. On July 20th, Apple released updated MacBook Air models. One of those models is the 11-inch MacBook Air, which now starts at $999, the same pricing as the white MacBook. However, many Apple Users have expressed opposition to Apple’s choice to pull the MacBook off the shelves because of the history behind it. The original MacBook, available in white or black, was released on May 16, 2006 and has previously attracted many students and creative types.

The white MacBook has long stood as a symbol representing an individual’s freedom from the world of PCs. I, personally, am very surprised that Apple has discontinued this product. But, I want to know what you think. Do you think this was a smart move on Apple’s part?

Small Business Success by Seth Godin

Straight from Seth Godin’s blog — it’s an old one from 2007. I love reading older blog posts for the first time and looking at them as hindsight 20/20… especially from Seth Godin.

Small business success

Three things you need:

  1. the ability to abandon a plan when it doesn’t work,
  2. the confidence to do the right thing even when it costs you money in the short run, and
  3. enough belief in other people that you don’t try to do everything yourself.

My three word take away: 1) Flexibility; 2) Confidence; 3) Trust.

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The Founder Institute – Kick Start Your Business

The Founder InstituteLast week, I had the pleasure of meeting with Dave Parker, founder of Bundled.com and mentor at The Founder Institute. After showing Dave around the thinkspace digs, we sat down to chat a bit. I had never heard of the Founder Institute before, but getting to hear about it straight from one of their mentors was great and brought to light a couple of great points to consider.
1.     They aren’t soft. Founder’s Institute isn’t full of a bunch of people who are going to tell you that your business idea rocks. They are tough, they are direct and they aren’t going to cut you any slack. Less than 50% of the would-be entrepreneurs who start the program finish it. But don’t look at this as a bad thing. Look at this as being a perfect opportunity to test your business idea against some of the greatest business minds in the area. Just think, if you can make it through this, there is a good chance your business will make it too!
2.     They aren’t cheap. Submitting an application costs $50 up front. Founders who actually make it to the program pay $900 for the 16 week course (this covers all course costs and 14 plus meals). The founders who graduate are asked to contribute warrants for 3.5% of their company priced at fair market value into the shared equity Bonus Pool that is split between the other Graduates, the Mentors, and the Institute. And, finally, if the company is successful and raises any significant amount of outside funding, the Institute asks for an additional $4,500 to help the Founder Institue grow.
3.     They might be worth it. Going through the program at the Founder Institute is tough stuff. It’s not easy and it’ll be a pretty penny if you actually make it, but it just might be worth it. Take a second to consider what you get out of this course: the four month program has weekly company-building assignments guided by a network of over 500 Mentors that are business founders themselves. The topics of the weekly lectures range from Startup Legal to Fundraising. I think Dave said it best, “You will have to do this stuff to start up your own business eventually, The Founder Institute gives you the push to do it faster and better than you would have on your own.” Not to mention, if you are a graduate, you get 1% of the Bonus Pool of your graduating peers – not too shabby!

5 Fitness Apps to Keep You Moving

This is a guest post from our friends at Salty Waffle.

These 5 mobile apps will turn you into a fitness freak. There are apps here for all kinds of exercise so give them a try and let us know if you see some results!

  1. DailyBurn App: The DailyBurn takes their social networking approach to fitness mobile. Login to your profile and track workouts as you do them and record your nutrition information on the go. DailyBurn is excellent at keeping you working toward your goals and providing a convenient way to log your workouts and nutritional information.
  2. Lose  It: The go-to app for tracking calories and accomplishing nutrition goals. The interface is simple and quick so keeping to your diet doesn’t become a time-consuming ordeal. For now, iPhone only, but there are some similar Android alternatives in the Market.social media, apps, fitness, resolutions
  3. My Tracks: This one is Android only for the time being but offers a unique approach to staying healthy. Using the GPS on your phone, the app allows you to track any movement whether it be hiking, biking, walking, running, or whatever and then upload that information to a spreadsheet, for other users to see, or even visualize in Google Maps. While on the move you can get live statistics on your workout like speed, distance, time, and even elevation.
  4. GymGoal: This is a great app for tracking workouts as well as body fitness goals like BMI, weight, body fat, BMR and others. It has built in exercises to easily pick from and shows a workout history that highlights areas you have been neglecting based on that history.
  5. RunKeeper: Available on Android and iPhone, this app focuses on runners by offering a way to easily track runs. It provides vital information like distance, speed, mile splits, pace, and also allows you to visualize your runs on a map. For those with the old iPhone this has the extra benefit that it allows you to listen to your music while running the app at the same time. If you are a runner this and My Tracks are for you.