Under30CEO » Funding http://under30ceo.com Wed, 23 Apr 2014 17:00:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.6 Under30CEO interviews successful young entrepreneurs to hear about their story and journey while starting their company. These young founders have over a million dollars a year in revenues and have been through many ups and downs to get there. These stories are meant to inspire, educate and motivate more young people to take a leap and do what they are passionate about. Under30CEO clean Under30CEO jared@under30ceo.com jared@under30ceo.com (Under30CEO) Under30CEO Interviews with Young Entrepreneurs on Starting Businesses entrepreneur, business, interview, young entrepreneur, business advice, startup advice, founder interview, ceo Under30CEO http://under30ceo.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/u30logo300x250.png http://under30ceo.com/category/entrepreneurship-2/funding-2/ How To Raise $10,000 For A Project You Care About http://under30ceo.com/raise-10000-project-care/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=raise-10000-project-care http://under30ceo.com/raise-10000-project-care/#comments Mon, 24 Mar 2014 13:00:22 +0000 danieldipiazza http://under30ceo.com/?p=38839 We have all these plans for projects, and dreams of things that we want to accomplish — but it’s SO hard to see them through to completion, isn’t it? How many of us have goals, and in our hearts, we’re just not sure if we’ll ever accomplish them? I know I’ve been there. However, there’s […]

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We have all these plans for projects, and dreams of things that we want to accomplish — but it’s SO hard to see them through to completion, isn’t it?

How many of us have goals, and in our hearts, we’re just not sure if we’ll ever accomplish them?

I know I’ve been there.

However, there’s also something very special and unique about our generation.

Check out this email that I got from a reader on my site, Rich20Something — she describes it perfectly:

The upside is that our generation is way more entrepreneurial than the generation before us. If we aren’t getting the jobs we want, we are creating them for ourselves through small companies and innovative projects. We are daring to step outside the box and make our dreams a reality. We need more of this, we need to see an hear more of this. There is a huge change taking place and we are at the fore-front, all kinds of paths should be recognized, not just the traditional routes. When we can all learn to encourage an be more accepting of these different ways of living, I think we can pull ourselves out of peer pressure and depression. You are already doing it with your blog :)

What do you think? I think she’s spot-on.

And that’s why I wanted to share the story with you today about how I raised money to do something that was really, really important to me — and how you can do the same.

NOTE: This article below is about how I rallied a community, raised almost $10,000 and made a film — but remember, the most important takeaway here is how I started with nothing, came up with an idea, defied the gatekeepers standing in my way and made the project a reality.

Would the ability to do that be useful in your life right now? If so, keep reading.

*******

When I graduated with my Bachelors degree at 20, I knew that I didn’t want to go back to school.

But I also knew that I didn’t want to jump into some lame corporate job that I hated just to bring home a paycheck.

I wanted to do something creative, self-directed and something with the unique possibility to make 7-figures or more.

So I chose…

Acting?

Hmmm, maybe it wasn’t the best move, considering the fact that actors generally take orders from producers and directors (they’re not “self-directed”).

And then there’s the fact that 99.997% of all “working” actors barely crack $1,000 per year. So there goes 7-figures.

But, on the plus side, it definitely fulfilled the creative criteria. And I had a lot of fun.

Florida and Georgia have a surprising amount of film work, and I got to work on some really fun, interesting projects.

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Lots of fun roles. Although I seem to die or get beat up really badly in every one. Hmmm…

  • I got to jump out of a moving Blackhawk helicopter in full gear
  • I trained for months with pro fighters and filmed a professionally choreographed action movie
  • I ran around Tampa at 3am with a Glock, while police barricaded the streets
  • I died twice
  • I played a gay, homeless murder witness with AIDS

All childhood dreams, naturally.

But acting is definitely a grind of the highest order — and it’s a numbers game. For every role I booked, I got dozens of rejections. The rejections didn’t really bother me, though. What bothered me was the reason BEHIND the rejections.

 

The moment I said “f*** it”

I remember the moment with something “clicked”…(or was it snapped??)…inside of me.

I’d been called in to audition for a role on AMC’s hit show The Walking Dead. It wasn’t for any big role. It wasn’t even for a supporting role. It was for the role of…you guessed it…a zombie.

I got into the casting room, and a scene partner came with me. We both stared at the CDs (casting directors, for the uninitiated).

There weren’t any lines for us to read…because zombies kinda just moan, right?

So the casting director said:

“Alright guys…act like zombies.”

So we extended our arms, shuffled our feet and started moaning as painfully as possible.

“NO, NO, NO. Zombies would never act like THAT. Be more REALISTIC.”

Ok. Realistic zombie? That’s an oxymoron, and you’re a moron.

So we started doing different things — we tried the “undead” face, the “contorted” face and even the “on the verge of throwing up” face.

We tried more sounds. Less sounds. Different postures. Different mouth shapes.

The just didn’t like any of it…

“Ugh. This just wasn’t what we were looking for” (exasperated).

Ironically, I actually walked out of the room feeling a little more dead inside.

I know I’m supposed to take some lesson from every rejection…but all I got from that interaction was that some people don’t think I’m good enough to play an undead, infected freak with no lines or discernable facial features.

zombie gif

I totally think I could have pulled this off.

The worst part was…

I could be an AMAZING zombie, with a flawless audition, and not even realize that the producers had already filled the role I was auditioning for before I ever got there.

Most people don’t know that oftentimes, CDs continue the audition process, even after they’ve already made their decsion. It’s a politically correct move to make sure agents/actors don’t feel slighted or feel like they’ve wasted their time (this happens quite frequently — Ryan Gosling agrees).

After what I’m calling “The Zombie Episode,” I knew it was time to dive into something that I had a little more CONTROL over.

Acting was fun, but at the end of the day, it was all based on whether the casting director thought I had the “look.”

I didn’t have control over it. It wasn’t up to me, no matter how good I was.

And then I had an epiphany…

 

“Why don’t I just make my own films and cast myself?”

If I wrote my own material, I could be the star. I could have complete creative discretion, and I wouldn’t have to answer to anybody.

But even suggesting it made me feel dirty and unorthodox.

I liked the idea of having more control…but somewhere deep down, I didn’t know if I was “worthy.”

Immediately, all the doubts started popping up in my mind. The same type of doubts that make us the serial killers of our own dreams and leave us with dozens of half-finished or never-started projects.

Doubts like:

  • What if this doesn’t work..
  • I’ve never done anything like this before. I didn’t go to school for this…
  • I have no idea where to begin…
  • This is going to be expensive. I could never raise the money…

What I didn’t know at the time was that none of this stuff even MATTERS because you don’t need to be perfect to pull off an amazing project. In fact, there’s a HUGE margin for error.

Focusing on perfection is the absolute fastest route to Never-Started Land. It’s not a fun place to be.

Somehow, I gathered the courage to start. So many good things were in store.

 

Taking the first step

One of the most common frustrations with starting any new project is simply not knowing where to begin.

The paralysis of the unknown keeps us from moving. Don’t give in to that.

The solution to “where do I begin?” is to begin at the simplest, most obvious starting point. 

For me, that was just writing the movie. I had to write the damn thing, otherwise, everything else was just talk.

Honestly, of the entire production, this was my favorite part. Every day, I came home from work at the restaurant and sat in my dark apartment with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine…and just wrote whatever came to my mind.

I didn’t know what I wanted my film to be about, but I knew I needed to flex my creative muscles and become an idea machine (hat tip, J. Altucher) — so I also spent a lot of time surfing the web, specifically looking for things that inspired me.

And one day, I ran across this video. I can’t place my finger on why or how, but It changed me inside:

As if by osmosis (is that the right word?) the entire script just came to me. I knew exactly what was going to happen. I knew the characters. I knew the plot. I knew how it would end.

In an instant, I had my movie. Now, I just had to write it. So for the next week, I poured into it. Here’s what the script looked like — I wrote it using a free program called Celtx.

[Download the Blossoms For Clara script]

(BTW, I think the script is really good. Read a few pages and see if you like it.)

Building the crew and getting the money

Once I had this script in hand, things became real. I knew I had something special and valuable. I was motivated to actually follow thorough because I wasn’t just “thinking about making a movie.” I had a movie in my hands, and it had to get made.

So I went to work raising money and building a crew.

The goal of this article is to give you actionable strategies so that you can complete whatever project you want — but I hate to disappoint you. The strategies aren’t that complex.

There are no magic tricks, but there are a handful of things that work pretty well.

Again, think about your dream project, and how you could use this to your benefit.

 

1.) Getting the crew together and creating the budget

At this point, I’d been acting for a few years, so I had a collection of friends who were actors, cinematographers, and producers. They were people that loved film, had skills and wanted to do fun, interesting projects.

The important point to note here is that I laid the groundwork early for my project by making friends and connections.

I got involved with projects that others were working on that had no direct benefit to me, knowing that later, having these friendships would be valuable.

I volunteered for dumb projects on Craigslist.

I worked at film festivals and participated in events like the 48 Hour Film Project.

I went out to coffee with people who were doing cool projects, just to let them talk about their work, with no agenda or ulterior motive in mind.

Are you doing selfless, fun things like this just to help other people and surround yourself with potential partners? This is simply the best way to meet people, make connections and get things done in the future.

I started recruiting my friends and putting together production team. If I needed a particular skill set, I asked friends of friends until I found the type of person I was looking for, and I pitched them the project.

The idea here was to spend most of our money on the making the film look great and keeping the actors comfortable. Our entire budget went to locations, actor salaries, film crew expenses and misc.

The producers didn’t make any money. I was the only actor who didn’t get paid.

But we were happy to work on something that we were passionate about. In effect, the production team was doing the same thing for me that I’d done for them in the past — getting involved in a project for a friend to build a relationship.

That’s powerful.

(So powerful, in fact, that one producer even bailed me out of jail years later. But that’s another story for another day. Ahem.)

After I assembled the production team, I leveraged my network of actor/producer/director friends to help me find a talented film crew. I needed the movie to look amazing. But I also knew that we basically wouldn’t have any money.

So I called up the director of a film I’d worked on the year before and asked him to connect me with, Brian Bourke, the one of the cameramen from that film.

Brian agreed to be DP (Director of Photography), and a few days later, I had an agreement to shoot my film which I can only classify as a GIFT. It was such a bare bones project, but I wouldn’t have been able to do it without him.

(See how that happens? Work on someone else’s project >> do great work >> build a relationship >> have them work on your project >> repay the favor by referring them more business. Why aren’t you doing this???)

Next, I had to put together the budget.

I really had no idea how much all of this would cost, but after reading some books about putting together film budgets, choosing some arbitrary numbers and adding them to what I knew the fixed costs were, I came up with $10,000.

(Here’s a look at the rough budget I drew up.)

I would need $10,000 to make this happen. All the other pieces were in place. Now I just had to find the money.

 

2.) Raising the money

Now, something you need to keep in mind here is that a project with momentum is inspiring. When you’ve told people about your project and you’ve already gotten the machine moving, there’s no turning back.

For that reason alone, I’d always recommend that you set other pieces in motion first before worrying about money. If you have enough people involved, money will come — often from unexpected places.

As Paulo Coelho says in The Alchemist, “When you want something, the whole universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

To raise money I:

  1. Started an Indiegogo campaign: then shared it on FB, Twitter, etc. This didn’t raise the most money, but it brought awareness so that I could ask family and friends later.
  2. Asked friends and family: but not begging, and not spamming. I literally went down my entire Facebook friends list, and wrote personal messages to EVERY single person that I thought might donate, mentioning something specific about our relationship so that they knew I wasn’t spamming, and asked them to donate anything they could. Literally over 400 PERSONAL messages. This took me about 3 weeks. But it WORKED.
  3. Talked about the project passionately at gatherings, parties and events: the craziest things happened. One guy, who I’d never met in my life, took out his check book, wrote me a check for $500 and said “good luck.” He didn’t want anything in return.

So amazing.

As simple and stupid as it sounds…the money just came.

Little by little, the entire team came together, and we were able to do amazing things – like turn an old warehouse into a 40′s jazz club:

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I also try to put my parents in everything I work on. At least for one shot:

167826_960429823821_5420922_n

It was no more complicated than that.

So you see, you can do this. It just takes guts, brains and the willingness to put yourself out there.

Can you do that? I know you can.

PS – here’s the final cut of the film Blossoms For Clara, (the best $714/minute I’ve ever spent):

 

Ready to launch your project? Grab the Startup Series.

I love the Under30CEO community, so I wanted to give you something special as a “thank you” for reading this article — and also give you some useful tools to help you get started on your dream projects TODAY.

Grab my free Startup Series.

It’s a 3-part “mini-course” that will show you how to become more productive with your time, avoid the most common mistakes, and learn to launch a business/project in record time. It’s free, so just give me your email here and I’ll send it right away :)

Click to get the Startup Series for free

Parts of this post were originally published by Daniel DiPiazza at Rich20Something.com

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Going International: 5 Tips for Meeting KYC Requirements http://under30ceo.com/going-international-5-tips-meeting-kyc-requirements/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=going-international-5-tips-meeting-kyc-requirements http://under30ceo.com/going-international-5-tips-meeting-kyc-requirements/#comments Sat, 28 Dec 2013 18:00:01 +0000 GuestAuthor http://under30ceo.com/?p=37151 Since the implementation of Know Your Customer (KYC) regulations, international business has been forever changed. Governments, banks, and businesses must comply with tightened security measures to combat money laundering, identity theft, and possible terrorist funding. Navigating different nations’ specific requirements can be tricky, but doing so will enable your business to expand. Here are five […]

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international business

Since the implementation of Know Your Customer (KYC) regulations, international business has been forever changed. Governments, banks, and businesses must comply with tightened security measures to combat money laundering, identity theft, and possible terrorist funding.

Navigating different nations’ specific requirements can be tricky, but doing so will enable your business to expand. Here are five ways to manage the process:

1. Know Your World

For many industries, following KYC regulations is not optional. Banks, markets, and financial institutions unfortunately become prime targets for fraudulent organizations. Your business could unknowingly support illegal and violent parties without following the appropriate KYC requirements.

Within the United States, these regulations were supported by the Patriot Act of 2001 and made mandatory for all banks by October 2002. These regulations were made more stringent with the enactment of the Dodd-Frank Act in 2010.

The Reserve Bank of India introduced KYC guidelines to all its banks in 2002. Several other nations, including South Africa and New Zealand, have instituted KYC guidelines. However, no set of completely consistent guidelines exists across borders yet. Each nation can institute different practices and procedures to ensure legal activity.

Today, more businesses are seeking global opportunities. Giant multinationals, as well as home-based services, strive for international markets. Within this framework, it’s vital to identify potential threats and valuable resources. Research your intended markets thoroughly to make sure your practices comply with existing guidelines.

2. Use Available Resources

Your most significant resources are available databases that allow you to verify client information instantly via electronic means. They can provide convenient and secure service to your business and potential clients.

Many businesses limit their operations to nations where databases are readily available. While this practice aids expediency, it could also limit your customer base to select markets. In addition, technology and access costs can mount quickly, depending on your potential target markets.

Old-fashioned methods can also be used to verify data, such as phoning or writing to clients. Hybrid mail services enable verification letters to be mailed globally from international locations so they reach clients quickly. Several financial services organizations meet KYC requirements by incorporating these non-digital verification systems.

3. Build Relationships

Working with regulatory agencies can be complex and challenging. Building healthy, productive relationships with these governmental bodies is essential — these agencies have the power to halt your trades and even shut down your business. Governments do not, however, dictate exactly how you operate. The ruling guidelines can — and do — change as circumstances change.

Government compliance teams should continually work with these institutions to maintain secure and successful commerce. Remember that overnight answers might not be possible, but long-term relationships can be forged with these regulatory agencies. Governments naturally want to encourage commerce in a secure and effective manner.

4. Create Solutions

Think creatively to meet your KYC requirements. Online databases and automated verification programs can certainly ease the way, but you might have to seek other solutions. Common alternative verification approaches include phone calls, certified documentation, and activation codes sent to customers’ residences to confirm applicants reside at their given addresses. These avenues may be the most feasible — depending on the size of your operation — and modern hybrid mail solutions and automated calling options can result in faster response rates than were previously possible for businesses with global client bases.

Keep in mind that criminals are continually able to find new ways to circumvent digital security programs to further complicate KYC matters. In light of evolving criminal activity, due diligence obligations are frequently updated and altered.

5. Personalize the Customer Experience

Staying ahead of the game and establishing viable means of compliance is critical. However, a creative and possibly “antiquated” approach could actually improve your connection to clients or customers.

Businesses constantly work to improve customer satisfaction and service to retain lifelong connections and referrals. In an era when many customers feel distanced or disgruntled by strictly digital, automated interactions, taking the time to connect on a personal level can work to your advantage.

Something as simple as a personalized letter, email, or welcome survey can work to fulfill KYC requirements, as well as provide you with important information to tailor your service. With this perspective, KYC is not a burdensome regulation to complete — it’s a chance to raise your customer knowledge and support to the next level.

The convenience and immediacy of digital business are, regrettably, balanced by criminals looking for profitable opportunities. KYC rules help provide protection from these elements. By raising your awareness of current regulations, working with government agencies to create solutions, and embracing customer service, you can grow your business in international markets.

Peter C. Harris is the founder and managing director of QiQ. Following a move to Australia in 2001, Peter recognized the potential for an affordable mail service that combined traditional mail with the speed of the Internet. This led to the development of the business’s first hybrid mailing solution, L-Mail.com, and more recently, Docsaway. These solutions are frequently used by businesses wishing to meet KYC requirements. You can reach out to Petter on Google+.

Image Credit: www.captivate.com 

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The Dating Game: Preparing Your Investor Pitch http://under30ceo.com/dating-game-preparing-investor-pitch/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dating-game-preparing-investor-pitch http://under30ceo.com/dating-game-preparing-investor-pitch/#comments Sun, 24 Nov 2013 19:00:49 +0000 GuestAuthor http://under30ceo.com/?p=36392 Maybe you’re still immersed in the dating scene. Perhaps you haven’t ventured into that realm for more than 20 years. Either way, if you’re getting ready to pitch investors on your company, you need to practice your wooing skills. Linking up with investors requires you to impress, and there isn’t much difference between a bad […]

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investorpic

Maybe you’re still immersed in the dating scene. Perhaps you haven’t ventured into that realm for more than 20 years. Either way, if you’re getting ready to pitch investors on your company, you need to practice your wooing skills.

Linking up with investors requires you to impress, and there isn’t much difference between a bad pickup line and a poorly formulated investment pitch. Here’s how to make your pitch perfectly irresistible.

Make Sure You’re Ready for the Relationship

When you walk into a pitch — similar to approaching someone at a bar — both sides know you want something. At the bar, you’re looking for companionship; during a pitch, you’re looking for money. In either case, if you don’t have anything to offer, you’re going to get rejected.

Before making a pitch, you have to be sure you’re clear about what your business has to offer investors. What is your company’s growth potential within your industry? Is it likely to be acquired? Who are your competitors?

Outline the overall growth of the market, as well as its future potential. Have a firm understanding of not just what problem you are solving, but also the opportunities in your industry. You should prove that your focus is not limited to just your product or service. Demonstrate that you’re considering every stage of growth.

Once you have a solid knowledge of everything pertaining to your business, its place in the industry, and the benefits of investment, it’s time to start building your pitch.

Building a Great Pitch

You’ll only have one shot to make a great impression, so you need to present a pitch that resonates. There are three things you can do to make your pitch and product shine:

  • Practice more than you think is reasonable. Present your pitch to as many people as possible — family, friends, colleagues, or whoever else will listen and provide feedback. Do it so many times that everyone is sick of hearing it. Eliminate unnecessary mannerisms and fidgets. Decide where you’ll move and how you’ll gesture. Ask yourself what you’ll do if they hand you a microphone. Every aspect of your pitch should be so thoroughly planned and practiced that it becomes engrained in your mind.
  • Do your homework. Who are the investors you’ll be pitching? What kinds of companies do they usually invest in? What types of questions are they likely to ask? Are you able to connect with any of them before the pitch in order to build a relationship? Find out as much as possible to develop a highly compelling case.
  • Get creative. Think of methods of communicating the creativity of your team through an interesting and unique presentation. Can you do something more intriguing than just another PowerPoint? What’s the most interesting way to experience your product or service? Investors listen to one pitch after another, so you need to find a way to stand out from the crowd and give them something to talk about. Their friends are likely investors as well.

Once you’ve prepared a solid presentation, it’s time to deliver.

Delivering a Pitch That Inspires Confidence

Your product might be revolutionary, but truthfully, investors are more concerned with how your product will change the current landscape of the market. As an entrepreneur, it’s up to you to inspire confidence in investors that your business will do just that.

You should never seem ambivalent nor insincerely enthusiastic, and your goal should be to produce a sense of excitement that makes VCs not only want to invest, but also share information with their contacts about the great new business they’ve discovered.

The biggest mistake you can make, just like in dating, is to focus entirely on how great you are. Your presentation should showcase how great you and the investor would be together. What changes and improvements can an investor influence? Showcase how the investor would make a difference in your business, now and in the future.

It’s possible to pitch effectively as long as you’re thoughtful about what benefits you can provide investors. Communicate your enthusiasm and dedication. By learning everything you can about your industry and the investors who are likely to be interested in it — and finding a creative way to talk about your business — you’ll be prepared to deliver an exciting pitch that will inspire confidence in your investors.

Finding “The One” can be challenging, but in the end, it’s worth the effort.

Wheeler del Torro is an entrepreneurial consultant and speaker. He has also made a name for himself as a professional chef, starting his career by hosting pop-ups and dinner parties, which led him to invest in small companies. He currently spends most of his time traveling across the globe to host pop-up restaurants and workshops on how to start a business. He wants to educate entrepreneurs on all aspects of starting a business, from conceiving an idea to gaining funding.

Image Credit: nibletz.com

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Make Solicitation a Company Value (in a PG-13 Way) http://under30ceo.com/make-solicitation-company-value-pg-13-way/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=make-solicitation-company-value-pg-13-way http://under30ceo.com/make-solicitation-company-value-pg-13-way/#comments Sun, 10 Nov 2013 16:00:35 +0000 GuestAuthor http://under30ceo.com/?p=36124 Policies shift dramatically in the wake of an economic disaster. Four years after the stock market crash of 1929, regulations were enacted which barred privately owned companies from publicly seeking investment. This ban on general solicitation essentially decreed that all fundraising had to occur behind closed doors. Then, in 2012 — once again, roughly four […]

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General-Solicitation

Policies shift dramatically in the wake of an economic disaster. Four years after the stock market crash of 1929, regulations were enacted which barred privately owned companies from publicly seeking investment. This ban on general solicitation essentially decreed that all fundraising had to occur behind closed doors.

Then, in 2012 — once again, roughly four years following the onset of recession — President Obama instituted the Jumpstart Our Business Startup Act, better known as the JOBS Act. This bill was set in place to get small businesses moving again, and it featured seven main provisions, notably a drop of the general solicitations ban. As of September 23, 2013, it became legal for companies to advertise to potential investors for the first time in nearly 80 years.

For many startups, this is a big deal. Suddenly, they have the ability to seek out investors in ways they can actually afford — social media, TV or newspaper ads, crowdsourcing, human billboards, skywriting, or whatever else they dream up. Essentially, the end of the general solicitation ban means that small businesses now have the opportunity to seek a wider range of investors more easily and secure funding more readily, and they can do so without paying large fees to investment banks or registered broker dealers.

But there are a number of benefits that lie outside the realm of basic fundraising.

The Pros

  • Marketing: When a company advertises its fundraising efforts, it not only gets its name and product out to potential investors, but to potential customers at the same time. Even if a person can’t invest, he might be interested in patronizing your business.
  • Traction: Oftentimes, an investment firm wants to see that a company has produced some traction before it will even consider a large investment. If a company can gather what it needs to get off the ground from public sources, investment firms are more likely to open their doors when they see the company is already moving forward.
  • Champions: If you’re able to collect a lot of investors, then you’ll find yourself with an established word-of-mouth network that will pull in both investors and customers.
  • Support for small businesses: It’s no secret that small businesses play a key role in the U.S. economy, and the end of the general solicitation ban will help grow this important sector. This will lead to an overall boost to the economy as new jobs are created and people gain the opportunity to spend and invest more.
  • More investments broken into small amounts: In the past, if you wanted to raise $1 million, it would have been difficult to find 200 people willing to invest $5,000 each; all too often, you would have ended up looking for one or two big investors with enough capital to finance your whole operation. Now, a business has a much better chance at gathering funding in smaller chunks, minimizing the likelihood that it will end up dealing with the pressure leveraged by big-fish investors.
  • New investor opportunities: Investors will now have access to a wider range of deals.

While the end of the general solicitation ban opens a lot of new doors, it isn’t devoid of downsides.

The Cons

  • Verifying accredited investors: One important part of the new general solicitation option involves the rule that only accredited investors are allowed to participate. While there are a variety of institutions that fall under this distinction, individuals must either have a net worth in excess of $1 million (excluding the value of their primary residences), or possess a yearly income exceeding $200,000. Under the new rules, it’s up to the issuer of stock to verify a potential investor’s accreditation. This can be done through a number of means, such as reviewing an investor’s tax information and bank and brokerage statements. It does involve a great deal of effort on the part of the issuer.
  • Costs: While a small business does avoid paying hefty fees to an investment firm, general solicitation does come with costs, particularly legal ones, as you’ll want to be sure that all documentation is straight and that all investors are properly checked for accreditation.
  • Giving up stock: There are clear benefits to selling parts of your company, but there can also be downsides. Remember — you do have to answer to your shareholders. And the more shareholders you have, the more meetings, votes, and work you take on.
  • Exit strategy: Smart investors will often ask about your exit strategy, and saying that you hope to be acquired by Google might not go over well. There’s a possibility that shareholders will want to go public. Consider your options carefully.
  • Scams: The biggest criticism leveled at the law has been centered on its potential to lead to a lot of scams as companies may not have to undergo as much due diligence. Much of that task has been placed upon the investor. This is why it will be very important for investors to gather as much information about a company seeking funds as possible.

In the end, what we’re left with is a huge opportunity for small businesses, accompanied by equally massive responsibilities and liabilities. But when it comes right down to it, isn’t the risk of opportunity always partnered with the troublesome burden of obligation? Isn’t that part of what makes business so exciting?

Nicolas Gremion is the CEO of Free-eBooks, the Internet’s #1 online source for free eBook downloads, resources, and authors. Nicolas is a culturally curious traveler and entrepreneur who lives in Costa Rica with his wife and his dog, Frankie.

Image Credit: www.startuplawblog.com 

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Ten Ways for Bootstrapped Students to Finance Their Business Ideas http://under30ceo.com/ten-ways-for-bootstrapped-students-to-finance-their-business-ideas/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ten-ways-for-bootstrapped-students-to-finance-their-business-ideas http://under30ceo.com/ten-ways-for-bootstrapped-students-to-finance-their-business-ideas/#comments Fri, 09 Aug 2013 15:00:00 +0000 Under30CEO http://under30ceo.com/?p=33131 You’ve learned it the hard way: college is your wallet’s biggest nightmare. You juggle student loans, housing payments, meal plans, textbooks, and all of the expenses that go along with the college experience. How can you possibly stake any money into that brilliant venture you’ve always wanted to launch? Unless you have one of those […]

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Finance Business Ideas

You’ve learned it the hard way: college is your wallet’s biggest nightmare.

You juggle student loans, housing payments, meal plans, textbooks, and all of the expenses that go along with the college experience. How can you possibly stake any money into that brilliant venture you’ve always wanted to launch?

Unless you have one of those legendary rich uncles, you’ll need some of your own cash to get things moving.

Nowadays you don’t need a huge investment. You want to be as resourceful and lean as possible, but any money that you add to the cause will definitely help. Here are a few great ways for you to add some extra cash to your idea:

1.) Enter Business Plan Competitions

Business plan competitions give you an opportunity to earn prize money and access countless nonfinancial rewards. The whole process ensures you fine-tune your pitch, gain professional feedback, network with people who can help you, and open yourself up to any number of serendipitous opportunities.

If your school doesn’t have an annual or semi-annual competition, check out events in nearby cities. Search the web for competitions or look at http://www.bizplancompetitions.com.

2.) Find a Part Time Campus Job

Taking on a campus job or an internship might be the perfect option for you. The key is to find a position that doesn’t totally kill your schedule. Try to set up hours that fit with most of your current routine. There’s a good chance you can squeeze some work between classes or during nights/ mornings when you’re free.

3.) Use Your Skills to Service

Everybody has some talent or ability to offer—think consulting, marketing, design, software development, social media, or even something as simple as a student laundry service. Get creative: go to local businesses and community organizations that might benefit from your assistance. If you opt to raise cash this way, you might potentially start a freelancing or service business in the process.

4.) Sell Creative Apparel

College campuses are excellent markets for clothing and accessories like T-shirts, tank tops, hoodies, hats, sunglasses, and wristbands. Build a design, estimate your sales forecast, and use your favorite custom apparel website for the order.

Tip: Watch out for copyrighted or trademarked material—law enforcement and university officials occasionally sack these operations because of legal issues. You also want to be careful about where you sell your apparel; if you don’t have your school’s permission, you may run into problems. Social media sites and scheduled pick-ups can eliminate this problem.

5.) Crowdfund Your Idea

Crowdfunding is best suited for physical products, but there are some platforms out there that support service-oriented businesses too. This can be an excellent option if you have a functional prototype and a sound plan of attack. Crowdfunding has great perks including built-in marketing and early adoption, but it also carries added responsibility. When you meet your pledge goal, you’re immediately accountable to your backers—so make sure you are prepared before you begin the campaign.

6.) Tutor a Student

You might still think Calculus is an alien language, but if you’ve made it this far, you probably mastered the basics of elementary and middle school. Every community has a younger generation of kids who can benefit from an extra push in academics. Become a private tutor for a local student and make a difference in somebody’s life. You’ll earn money for your business and leave a real impact.

7.) Make Cash Online

The Internet is loaded with opportunities to make money, from selling your belongings on ecommerce sites to completing low-wage projects with Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Think about what you like to do, and see if there’s a way you can earn a few bucks doing it. Blogging, running ads on your web page or YouTube channel, writing, design, and photography are a few ideas. Explore your talents or search for a marketplace that fits you.

8.) Sell Your Textbooks

Students are well accustomed to the crazy prices of textbooks. Luckily, print editions retain a good chunk of value in second hand sales. If you have any old books lying around, you can sell them online to make a nice reward. Many schools also support book buy back programs. If you join one of these organizations, you can earn a fixed amount plus commission by purchasing other students’ used books for the program.

9.) Get Domestic

You may never have considered it, but teachers and administrators are people with needs too. If you ask around, you can probably find some faculty members who need a babysitter, dog sitter, or occasional extra help. Successfully land one of these gigs, do a great job, and you might build a reputation among the community as the go-to aide.

10.) Become the Instructor

Wherever your interests lie, you can probably bestow some of that knowledge upon the next generation. Identify one of your major hobbies and try to get paid helping local kids develop that skill. If you’re an athlete, consider coaching. If you like art or dance, try getting involved at a local studio. This is a very rewarding alternative that can add a lot of money to your startup plans.

It’s easy to say that you’re “looking for investors” as a reason to delay your project. The truth is, your fate is in your own hands. You need to make the initial investment with time, sweat, and a little bit of sacrifice.

Mike Darche is currently a senior at the University of Notre Dame. His mission is to inspire and encourage other like-minded young entrepreneurs.

Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

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Strange But Inspirational Crowdfunding Projects http://under30ceo.com/strange-but-inspirational-crowdfunding-projects/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=strange-but-inspirational-crowdfunding-projects http://under30ceo.com/strange-but-inspirational-crowdfunding-projects/#comments Fri, 02 Aug 2013 15:00:00 +0000 Under30CEO http://under30ceo.com/?p=32529 Banks deal in financing real businesses – retail businesses, manufacturing businesses, educational institutions – things that make profits. In the Carrey movie Yes Man, the bank that Carrey works for doesn’t even like to fund tiny home businesses – little home birthday cake bakers and the like. What do you do if your idea is […]

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Crowdfunding Social Media Tips

Banks deal in financing real businesses – retail businesses, manufacturing businesses, educational institutions – things that make profits. In the Carrey movie Yes Man, the bank that Carrey works for doesn’t even like to fund tiny home businesses – little home birthday cake bakers and the like. What do you do if your idea is even more off-the-wall then home bakeries? What if you wanted money for something that you cared about but that didn’t stand a prayer of making any money? Then, you would turn to crowdfunding.

If yours is an unconventional idea that anyone would dismiss out of hand, you could try it out on a crowdfunding website like Kickstarter or IndieGoGo. If your idea strikes a chord with people somewhere, you could find out quickly on these websites. You could either turn a surprise hit or fade anonymously. There’s no harm done.

Here are some of the strangest crowdfunding ideas that people around the world have voted for with their money. Most people would never know that these were valuable ideas if it weren’t for their crowdfunding success.

Suits for Wall Street

Whatever people may learn in school about not judging a book by its cover, the cover is how books get judged all the time. There are nonprofits that provide people fresh out of jail with decent clothes so that they are taken seriously at job interviews.

Suits for Wall Street had a similar angle. When people gathered for the Occupy Wall Street protests in Zucotti Park in New York City, often, they were people without resources. They would camp out there for days on end and end up looking disheveled. They would get no respect from the police or the media. While being a hippie won you respect in the 60s, in 2011, it just got you dismissed out of hand.

Suits for Wall Street was a crowdfunded project that offered a way out. It wanted to raise $800 to buy every protester at Zucotti Park a business suit. The idea was a great success. People hated Wall Street enough that they raised nearly $3000 on IndieGoGo.

Extra Credits 

Are you a fan of the Extra Credits webseries? It’s a very popular niche show for people who wish to see the world accept that video games are an art form.

How does a strange idea like this win more than $100,000 in crowdsourced funds? To begin, the group of people behind Extra Credits marketed their idea very well. It also helped that millions of people in the world or fanatic about the videogame cause. They would really like to see the world accept that video games are artistic, beautiful and meaningful. It’s no surprise that they would back an effort to popularize this view.

Do you love pizza?

What if your love of pizza was so great that you wished to open a shrine to it? It wouldn’t make much money, of course. You would stand a chance to build something that meant a lot to pizza devotees, though. You can look up one such effort on the Guinness Book of World Records – it’s called Pizza Brain. The idea of creating a museum to “all things pizza” kicked off on KickStarter in the year 2012. This year, they are already on the Guinness Book for being the largest museum dedicated to the pizza. They collected $16,000 and change.

Sometimes, it doesn’t matter that you don’t stand a ghost of a chance of turning a profit. You just need to stand up for something. You give voice to the feelings of many like-minded people then and they support you.

Elizabeth Garvey is an accountant for various upstarts. She enjoys passing on her new business knowledge and ideas through blogging. Visit the NextDayLenses.com to see how they serve their customers.

Image Credit: commandpartners.com

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Is Crowfunding Right For Your Business? http://under30ceo.com/is-crowfunding-right-for-your-business/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=is-crowfunding-right-for-your-business http://under30ceo.com/is-crowfunding-right-for-your-business/#comments Tue, 23 Jul 2013 15:00:00 +0000 Under30CEO http://under30ceo.com/?p=32446 Crowdfunding has taken the startup world by storm and has given business owners another choice at raising capital for their cash stricken business. Most start-ups are suitable for websites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo but some should be cautious! Outside investment can be hard and challenging but having an unsuccessful Crowdfund campaign could not only waste […]

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crowdfundingCrowdfunding has taken the startup world by storm and has given business owners another choice at raising capital for their cash stricken business. Most start-ups are suitable for websites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo but some should be cautious! Outside investment can be hard and challenging but having an unsuccessful Crowdfund campaign could not only waste time and money, but also kill your drive. Ask yourself the questions below and find out whether your startup is ready to launch a Crowdfunding campaign to help reach your funding goal.

Is your concept innovative and exciting?

Crowdfunding is all about the journey for the backer!  They watch you build your project every step of the way and each backer is willing to wait months to receive the finished reward.   If they have seen your idea done before, that excitement for them is reduced significantly.  Your goal is to educate them on your new concept and give them a reason to fund YOU.  Only then, will they take a chance with you on this new and exciting idea.  Adding features people have not seen and including extra benefits will dramatically help your campaign.

Are your rewards tangible?

People love stuff they can touch, receive, and show off to others.   Your campaign is off to a good start if your idea/concept is an actual tangible product that you will eventually have to ship.  Many campaigns fail simply because people don’t want to wait 3 to 6 months to actually see the final version or watch it slowly built on the web.

Exceptions – movies/documentaries, app games, supporting a cause

What is the reason behind what you’re doing?

Backers want to support campaigns that have a real story behind them.  They want to know the “why” you are doing this and “how” you got started.  So give them what they want and make it easily understandable in your video. Let potential backers know the struggle that went along with making this dream a reality.  They want to feel like they helped you overcome the obstacle that was stopping you from bringing your product/idea to life. Also make sure to let them know “who” you are and even “where” you are located just to help people feel a real connection with you.

Do you have social influence?

Leveraging your large personal network and knowing key influencers who are willing to promote your campaign, can dramatically increase the chances that your campaign is successful.  Friends, family, co-workers, acquaintances, as well as followers on social media platforms give you an easy outlet to share your message. Don’t be afraid to reach out individually to people in your network and ask for them to donate.  You have one chance to raise this money so be proud and don’t be shy!

Have you found the right Crowdfunding platform?

Before creating your campaign and coming up with a marketing plan, you should decide which platform you will be using.

Kickstarter receives the most exposure and has the biggest fan base but is also the hardest website to get your campaign approved on.  There is a rigorous application process and they don’t allow certain industries or ideas.  It is important to review their rules and regulations before considering using this platform.

Indiegogo allows anyone to start a campaign and attempt to raise money.  They don’t have as strong of a following as Kickstarter, but this is the top website to use if you are not approved for Kickstarter.  They also take a much smaller fee of your funding goal so take this into consideration.

Also look into other Crowdfunding websites like… Crowdfunder, Rockethub, Crowdrise, Fundable, and more.

Is your idea right for Crowdfunding?

Scroll through the Crowdfunding website you select, and see if your industry has similar projects that have been successfully funded.  This will give you good examples to research so you can get ideas for your video, rewards, or description layout.  You can even contact the creators for advice.  One thing I have realized about Crowdfunding is that project creators love to help and share their wisdom.

Are you going at it alone, or do you have a team?

Crowdfunding is already very demanding, more so if you are a full-time student or busy with work, so it might help if you have a partner or two working on this with you.  Dedicate a few hours each day to marketing your campaign throughout its duration.   The real work comes before as you plan your marketing strategy and get organized for the launch.  Another plus to having more team members is that you are able to reach out to different networks of family and friends!

Is your business ready to Crowdfund?  

Austin Glenn is the CEO and Co-Founder of Jamboo Headphones, a San Diego based company that was successfully funded on Kickstarter.  He is also the Co-Founder of Campaigner Crowdfund Consultants at letscampaign.com! Feel free to contact me with any questions you have about Crowdfunding.

Image Credit: http://fundstlouis.org

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From Concept to Sale: How a Video Launched Mailbox — and Helped Them Exit http://under30ceo.com/from-concept-to-sale-how-a-video-launched-mailbox-and-helped-them-exit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=from-concept-to-sale-how-a-video-launched-mailbox-and-helped-them-exit http://under30ceo.com/from-concept-to-sale-how-a-video-launched-mailbox-and-helped-them-exit/#comments Thu, 16 May 2013 15:00:00 +0000 GuestAuthor http://under30ceo.com/?p=30300 Each year, a variety of tactics appear that promise instant success if included in your inbound marketing strategy. First, there was tagging, and then keyword placement, which was followed by infographics and long content. For a few years, some of these strategies worked well, but they weren’t designed with a changing economy in mind — […]

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Video-MarketingEach year, a variety of tactics appear that promise instant success if included in your inbound marketing strategy. First, there was tagging, and then keyword placement, which was followed by infographics and long content. For a few years, some of these strategies worked well, but they weren’t designed with a changing economy in mind — or the notion that Google would make serious changes to its algorithm. The latter pushed many companies to the end of the line. Many businesses lost a tremendous amount of money and, in some cases, had to close.

A new technique was needed — one that produced long-term results and wouldn’t be affected by the economy or Google’s updates. Dropbox and Mailbox stumbled upon this technique, and since their success, many companies have started imitating them. What is this technique that created such buzz in the business and marketing worlds? The answer is a simple one: explainer videos.

How Dropbox Became a Success with Just Two Elements

Many businesses have used explainer videos, but the vast majority of them didn’t yield the results they wanted. Their downfall was found in webpages they inadvertently overloaded. Customers would click on a landing page and be greeted with pop-ups, adverts for other companies, downloads, hyperlinks, and jarring graphics. It’s a common mistake that too many online businesses make. A good inbound marketing strategy is useless when overshadowed by five other marketing strategies.

Dropbox did it right. It created a simple, clean website to bring more focus to its product. In fact, the site only features an explainer video and a download button. The video explained the purpose of the product and gave the customer a chance to be sold on the idea of downloading it in the first place. Using this technique, Dropbox was able to pull in more than 100 million users. It was advertising at its best, and it was insanely simple. An explainer video, plus a user-friendly website, creates better customer retention.

Mailbox: A Success before Launch

Mailbox is similar to Gmail, but it promises improved visibility and a better layout than what’s currently being offered by other email providers. Since most people are comfortable with the email interface they currently use, it wasn’t going to be easy to get users to switch.

To make a consumer want to purchase or use a new product, he needs to understand why the product is better than what he is currently using. Mailbox did this with an explainer video as well. Not only did interest in Mailbox surge, but it became popular before the program actually launched. Within 24 hours of the video launching, the service already had 250,000 people waiting to sign up. The response was so enormous that the company had to create a unique reservation system to keep the traffic from shutting its servers down: Customers were placed in a virtual line to wait until their number was up and they could download the app. How is that for overnight success?

Why Did Videos Work So Well for Them?

Dropbox reaped so much success because it allowed the customer to establish a certain level of interaction with the company before signing up for its service. This increases trust among customers, which helps to fuel the best kind of advertising: word of mouth. This word-of-mouth advertising, combined with its no-frills website, helped increase its conversion rate by 10 percent — and added an extra $48 million in revenue in 2012. This is a massive financial conversion, considering they only had a 10 percent sign-in increase.

Another reason why explainer videos were so successful for these two companies is because videos stimulate the senses. Studies show that people retain 58 percent more information when they can hear and see something at the same time. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Clear, concise language and quick-hitting facts and details are also known to stick out in the brain, making it easy for people to remember those facts.

The more we revert back to those facts in our brain, the more we associate the business with them. This increases our chances of eventually buying a product. Explainer videos stimulate both the mental and visual parts of our brain, which are used when learning something new. Advertising that combines compelling language with related imagery will stimulate the viewer’s senses. If you want to be remembered, this is how you should do it.

These two businesses’ successes show that less actually is more when it comes to inbound marketing. If you can get the customer to come to you, your website should make the next step easy and self-explanatory. A video saves the customer from calling customer service to understand how a product works or calling sales to understand why he should use it. Explainer videos are short, fun, clear, and informative — all the things an online commercial should be.

Andrew Angus is an author, speaker, and founder/CEO of Switch Video, a video animation company that produces simple videos that “explain what you do” in an engaging and compelling format. Andrew is a thought leader in the online video industry, writing and speaking about the brain science behind making your company’s story stick. He welcomes people to reach out to him on Twitter or Google+, and he can be booked to speak on Speakerfile.

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Keeping Quality Real and Costs Low http://under30ceo.com/keeping-quality-real-and-costs-low/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=keeping-quality-real-and-costs-low http://under30ceo.com/keeping-quality-real-and-costs-low/#comments Sat, 27 Apr 2013 13:00:02 +0000 GuestAuthor http://under30ceo.com/?p=29381 Depending on your point of view, your company’s internal costs can be a minor nuisance or the bane of your existence. It’s a real balancing act to figure out just how to maintain a high level of service that’s also financially sustainable. Luckily, there are a number of ways to cut costs while maintaining the […]

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Cut CostsDepending on your point of view, your company’s internal costs can be a minor nuisance or the bane of your existence. It’s a real balancing act to figure out just how to maintain a high level of service that’s also financially sustainable. Luckily, there are a number of ways to cut costs while maintaining the quality your client base deserves.

The Prime Cut

What some business owners don’t realize is that there are a lot of money-saving techniques that won’t directly affect the quality of your product or service. For example, if your company is developing a new type of envelope adhesive, don’t look to the R&D department to make cuts. Instead, put your traveling sales reps up at a Super 8 instead of the Hilton. This cost-saving measure isn’t likely to directly affect the quality of your new adhesive.

You also don’t have to make drastic changes in where you’re already buying supplies. A lot of the time, you can negotiate shipping prices with vendors your company is already using, or go in on a group discount program to help reduce your overhead. Your business can join buying networks for things as diverse as travel costs and office supplies, usually without changing vendors and always without directly affecting the quality of whatever your business showcases.

Specific Tools You Can Use

There are three specific money-saving programs I recommend:

Office Depot Discount Program

* It sets you up with a Business Solutions Consultant to cater to the specifics of your orders.

* Your business can save up to 85 percent on more than 75 of the things you use most frequently, and up to 50 percent on about 10,000 other items.

* When you spend more than $50, you get free next-day delivery.

Office Depot’s is a viable (and valuable!) rewards program, and most businesses find the Business Solutions Consultant to be a really helpful perk. It’s tailor-made ordering at its most helpful.

UPS Discount Shipping Program

* An account with this program saves you up to 28 percent.

* You get a discount each time you ship, so the more you ship, the more you save.

* You can order shipping supplies, print labels, and schedule pickups, all through an online account.

UPS’ discount program is a perfect fit for businesses that do a lot of shipping. It may not seem like an enormous amount of savings at first glance, but a penny here and a penny there don’t take too long to add up.

Hertz Business Rewards

* This program is geared toward small- to medium-sized businesses.

* You can earn free Hertz car rentals and other discounts.

* When you sign up, your business is permanently linked to pricing discounts, including up to 20 percent off every rental.

I’ve found that Hertz greatly values its business customers by making renting a vehicle incredibly easy and ensuring that clients always get the best deal possible. Hertz is sometimes used so often by a business that it can earn free rental days, which are great perks for hard-working employees when they’re on vacation.

If we momentarily jump back to our friendly envelope adhesive, the purchase of office supplies, the shipping aspect, or the car rental service are unlikely to affect the quality or the sale of the sticky substance. These are all safe and effective ways to reduce your overhead while leaving the quality of your product intact.

Whether it’s running your back office, shipping your product, or paying for airfare, restaurants, pencils, or hotels, there’s usually some sort of cost-effective program that helps your business reap benefits without carrying through to your main product. Find a way to cut costs without cutting into your bottom line, and your path to success will be paved for you.

Jack J. Bergman is the President of Allied Business Network,a business membership program that offers small- and medium-sized businesses discounts on items that they use every day. Jack is a business thought leader and brings businesses together with abnsave.com, smartbizsavings.com, and businessadvantageplus.com. He welcomes anyone to reach out to him on Twitter or Google+.

Image Credit: Shutterstock.com

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What I Learned From Raising a Series A http://under30ceo.com/what-i-learned-from-raising-a-series-a/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=what-i-learned-from-raising-a-series-a http://under30ceo.com/what-i-learned-from-raising-a-series-a/#comments Fri, 26 Apr 2013 15:00:08 +0000 theyec http://under30ceo.com/?p=28111 Recently, we announced a $5 million Series A round of financing. We started raising this round and talking to investors in late fall of last year. As you can probably imagine, going through this process involves taking a step back from the day-to-day work and looking at our overall strategy and evolution. Fundraising forces you to […]

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Series A FundingRecently, we announced a $5 million Series A round of financing. We started raising this round and talking to investors in late fall of last year.

As you can probably imagine, going through this process involves taking a step back from the day-to-day work and looking at our overall strategy and evolution. Fundraising forces you to come up with a coherent way to explain your business model to someone unfamiliar with the concept. You have to show what sparked your idea, articulate what problem you are solving, demonstrate progress, such as genuine market adoption, and present your longer term vision.

Given that we just closed the round, it seems like a good opportunity to reflect on BetterCloud’s story so far, as well as give some insight into what we learned throughout the entire process so other entrepreneurs can learn from our story, too.

WHERE WE CAME FROM

BetterCloud was founded in November 2011 with a very specific idea in mind. The original vision was to build an array of discrete products that would cover the needs of both Google Apps end users and administrators – security software, management tools, contact sharing, even a product exclusively for email signatures.

But after speaking with some of our earliest supporters, it became very obvious that we had the wrong idea. The last thing Google Apps administrators wanted or needed was a dozen separate applications to manage various parts of the Google Apps suite. Most administrators told us that they would prefer to invest their team’s time, energy and money into one all-encompassing application. They felt, correctly, that everyone could be trained on one interface and, from there, responsibilities could be delegated to the appropriate team members. Even from a mental standpoint, it would be far easier to keep track of just the one application.

So we scrapped the multiple products concept and decided to focus on building a single management and security platform that would cover the entire Google Apps suite. We would still build all of the same features and capabilities, but in one product, instead of many. Enter FlashPanel.

We launched FlashPanel in the Google Apps Marketplace on July 17th and, in less than 6 months, it was installed on over 15,000 Google Apps domains with over 5.5 million users in 114 countries.

Lesson Learned: Redefining our initial concept wasn’t easy (we had to retire some products, websites and brands), but in the end listening to our supporters was the right move. I learned that having an open mind is important and flexibility pays off in the end. Avoid tunnel vision.

BUILD THE BEST PRODUCT POSSIBLE

Our team believes that when it comes to an enterprise cloud management tool like FlashPanel, our customer (the Google Apps Administrator) knows best. We’ve made a point since the beginning to seek out customer feedback aggressively, and incorporate that feedback into our product. Alone, I’ve probably talked to 200 customers and our CTO has probably spoken with 100 more.

My conversations are about listening to the customer – what are his or her pain points, ideas and feedback. And every time we plan a development sprint, we look at the notes from these calls to make sure we’re building features that truly fit our customers’ needs.

I need to say THANK YOU to every single one of our customers who has helped us throughout the process of building FlashPanel. Our success is due in large part to the interactions we’ve had with you and the feedback and support you’ve provided through UX testing, phone calls, hangouts, webinars, emails and Marketplace reviews.

Lesson Learned: Getting honest feedback from customers is invaluable, but customers won’t necessarily line up at your door to give it to you. Being open and transparent about things like our roadmap for FlashPanel helps tremendously. I learned this the hard way at a previous company where we rarely sought out customer feedback, and as a result built a number of features into our product that customers didn’t use. Figure out what you need to do to get real opinions from customers.

WHERE WE’RE HEADED

Of course, raising any sort of money comes with responsibility and expectations. We’ve had a great first year, but we can’t slow down now. This year, we plan to expand FlashPanel to cover even more of Google Apps and the Google Enterprise Cloud in general, including Google Calendar, Google Sites and mobile devices.

We’ll be delving deeper into some of FlashPanel’s most-used features — and this spring, we plan to roll out extensive UI changes to give our users an even better experience inside the application.

We’ll also focus closely on partner relationships and expand our engineering team to ensure we keep up the rapid pace of development and will be building out sales, marketing and support efforts.

Lesson Learned: No matter how quickly we move, we’ll never be able to deliver every feature that our customers request. But by focusing on a specific space (which to some may seem too niche), in this case Google Apps, we’re able to fully embed ourselves in the community. Especially as a small company, this strategy makes us a whole lot more effective in the long run.

INVESTMENT

Over the period of three months, I traveled all over the country and had the opportunity to have strategic conversations with some of the most successful investors in the world. Some told me that Google Apps as a platform was never going to reach critical mass, some didn’t know what Google Apps was and some thought it was the apps on an Android phone. At the beginning it was a little frustrating, but then I found investors that really “got it.”

There are a handful of investors that have actually been looking at this space for the last couple of years and completely understand the shift that is occurring (Google has a great long term play with Google Apps) and the value that our product delivers to an enterprise.

At the end, there was a clear synergy with three firms: Flybridge Capital Partners, Greycroft Partners and TriBeCa Venture Partners. Every person that I’ve interacted with at all three firms has been knowledgeable, professional and genuinely excited about what we’re doing. It was a perfect mix of location, understanding of the space, belief in the vision and, honestly, personal chemistry.

Lesson Learned: Raising funding is all about the personal chemistry – you want to work with people you like, respect and trust. If you’re lucky enough to find those people, then you should do what you need to make the deal happen.

The last year has been amazing, we’ve put together an incredible team from top to bottom, and we look forward to doing all we can to bring our customers and reseller partners the best cloud management and security tool on the market.

A version of this post originally appeared on the author’s blog.

David Politis is the founder and CEO of BetterCloud, the leading provider of cloud management and security tools for Google Apps. David is a native of New York City and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from Emory University. Follow David on Twitter @DavePolitis.

The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, the YEC recently launched #StartupLab, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses via live video chats, an expert content library and email lessons.

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