Tag Archives: Startup Life

Venture Files

10 Ways to Make Your Workspace More Productive

After Jason Calacanis wrote this about saving money with your startup, I thought I would republish something I wrote on Startup Spark about a year ago. It is workspace focused but it is funny how many of the things he says match up. Enjoy…

10 Ways to Make your workspace more productive
I was motivated by Anne Zelenka’s article “Redo Your Workspace for Productive Web Working” to evaluate my workspace and since I can’t change the Starbucks I work out of most of the time I focused on the home office.

In a word – depressing. No wonder I escape the house to drink coffee, talk to the regulars (including Aaron Brazell of B5) and meet with clients.

Anne’s list is the following:

  1. Lift up your laptop – DONE
  2. Eliminate wire – Yeah, right….
  3. Organize remaining wires – I tried, still a rat’s nest
  4. Arrange displays according to work activities – Multiple monitors required here
  5. Coral office supplies – Does throwing them all in a closet count?
  6. Put your daily to-do list in a special spot – Does the same closet count for this one too?
  7. Make sure your ongoing list is easily available – I guess opening the closet door counts, so DONE.
  8. Straighten your piles – gotta love that closet

So obviously I need ALOT of work on the home office. Here is my list of 10 Ways to Make Your Workspace More productive:

1. Identify “turn-off” time and stick to it

– I find that have times of the day where there are no distractions allows me to do better brainstorming and thinking. Around 3pm I turn off the phone and shut down the e-mail to do this kind of work for about an hour. You will find yourself more productive.

2. Use multiple monitors

– These are fairly inexpensive now and you should have at least two and probably three

3. Leverage the GTD methodology

– Read and re-read the book “Getting things Done”
– Read 43 Folders by Merlin Mann
– Buy 43 actual folders at Office Depot

4. Get a stand up desk

– I did some contract work at the Capital during Speaker Gingrich’s reign and when I was in his office the one thing that stuck out – no chairs. He had a stand up desk and to the left was a sofa with banks of phones sitting on top. There was a huge conference table with no chairs. What this meant it that when he was at his desk he didn’t waste time and when people came into brief him they were to the point and didn’t waste his time. If you can get one of these, you will be more productive. I guarantee it.

5. If you must sit, spend the most money on your chair

– Many of us are not able to stand all day and we must sit down to work. SO GET A GREAT CHAIR! I can’t emphasize this enough. People spend $50,000 on a car with amazing seats the sit in for an hour a day and get all cheap on the office chair they sit in 8-16 hours a day. Spend the $800-1200 on a chair. You will be more alert and you will be more productive.

6. Toys
– I love toys. Maybe because I believe everyone should find their inner eight year old or maybe because it is not how old your body is, it is how old you mind tells you that you are. Toys are a nice and fun distraction. Distractions are important and make life fun. I have a USB missile launcher. Totally geeky but fun and a nice distraction when I put something (like a bill) across the room and aim for it. Good toys include stress balls, puzzles, etc.

7. No food in the office
– Yeah, I know you eat at your desk, don’t deny it. It makes you more efficient? Right? Wrong. While eating at your desk might allow you to get that hour in of work you never quit early and you just miss an important break which can make you more productive in the afternoon. Read the book “Never Eat Alone” by Keith Ferrazzi. It is about building business relationships and keeping your network fresh. Plus, when you get back to the office you will feel up and energized to be productive for the rest of the day.

8. Buy good storage containers to get rid of the clutter
– Anne mentioned corralling supplies and organizing piles. The best way to do this is with containers. File cabinets, plastic bins and rollable drawers can really get you organized and with this out of sight the distractions will help you focus and be more productive.

9. Implement Zen – music, fountain, plant or portable fan
– I am not going get all Feng Shui on you but I will say that there are merits in that concept if you do it right. If there is not a good way to do it, you should at least bring in the environment that helps you relax and becomes part of a meditative background that improves your productivity. You can accomplish this with your favorite music, a portal fountain, some plants and even a fan. Just find what works for you.

10. Get rid of the stink
Nothing is worse than an office that smells too much like, well, you. This is linked with the eating in your office thing. Trash and all kinds of stuff add the odor and when you have clients or colleagues over, they like you but they really don’t want to smell your presence – literally. Add some air fresheners and aromatherapy. Those types of scents can also help you stay alert contributing to your productivity.

I would love to hear if you have tried any of these things and they have worked or not worked. Let me know if you want more content on the productivity topic and I will make this a regular subject.

Venture Files

Writing for B5 Media – Come on over to Startup Spark

Hello all, just wanted to let you know that I have been offered an opportunity to write for a great blog on the B5 Media Network.

The blog is called Startup Spark and is similar to Venture Files but is a broader version on all types of entrepreneurship.

I invite you to check it out and subscribe. This blog will continue but in the coming months I will be focusing this blog more on innovation topics and will be unveiling a new design.

So keep reading Venture Files and add Startup Spark to your feed reader and your daily viewing.

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Business Plan Series: Part 4 – Products and Services

Last time we discussed what you should put in the company overview section and the different formats it may take depending on the stage of your company.

In this part, Part 4, we will get at the heart of your company – its products and services.

This section covers what you provide to customers and how you deliver it. It is the reason you are in business. There is something here you decided would revolutionize a market, fill a need that has been desperately looking for a solution or provide something that rides a hot trend.

In most cases you will want to answer in an summary format what your company is providing and why it is so different. This should catch the reader’s attention and make them want to read the detail supporting your intro paragraph.

After you have caught their attention and told them how and why your offerings are so great/revolutionary/needed, you need to include the following things:

Product Offerings – This describes your products in more details and should communicate why you are unique. If you are not providing a physical product (i.e. widget, web site) then go right to the next part.
Service Offerings – This covers the services you offer and really needs to communicate how you are going to stand out because services are not as tangible. If you are providing products this is where you discuss services that support the product and complimentary services that will increase your revenue potential.
Pricing and Revenue Strategy – After you have discussed what you are offering you should discuss how you are pricing everything and how you are going to go about making money with these product and service offerings.
Goals and Objectives
– This is the place for major milestones including your pricing and revenue strategy, customers and other important metrics.
Methods and Differentiation – Here is where you really need to show how you will stand out against competitors and differentiate your company as a whole with its products and services.
Relationships and Partnerships – This section is to build on your offerings and demonstrate your success and reach with important vendor relationships and partnerships/joint ventures you have established to increase your revenue potential. You might also want to include customers and important case example to demonstrate the success your offerings have already achieved.

NEXT TIME: COMPETITION– After you have explained how compelling your products and services are you will need to discuss the who else it out there doing something similar and how you will stand out and beat them.

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Business Plan Series: Part 3 – Corporate Overview

Last time we discussed the importance of analyzing the market and setting up the problem(s) that exist so you can address.

Some cases you will want to answer in a shorter format what your company does and the problems it is fixing. This also the time to discuss vision and overall goals. This is what many call the “Company Overview”. Think of it like a birds-eye view of the company as it currently exists and where you envision it to be in the future. This is almost a quasi executive summary because you are trying to tie a number of elements into a picture that people understand and see where you are coming from.

You need to include the following things:

Company Description – This is a paragraph or two that is the core message and history of the company and if people read only this they should get what you are trying to do.
Mission – What are the guiding vision points for this company? Provide X, Support Y?
Goals and Objectives – This is the place for major milestones including revenue, customers and other important metrics.
Structure – This is for legal and tax structure plus owners/stockholders
Core Competencies – This is to close up the section with powerful value propositions and differentiators that will go into more depth in the the sales and marketing section. Right now it is about showing that you have the resources and wherewithal to build the business.

You might also want to include investor and company highlights to build the story you are trying to tell.

NEXT TIME: PRODUCTS AND SERVICES – After you have explained how compelling the problems and needs are and your vision for the company you will need to discuss the solutions your company provides to answer the problem.

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Business Plan Series: Part 2 – Market Analysis

In my previous post I discussed the basics of framing your plan and how to set it up.

Moving forward, I would like to take more of the startup/entrepreneur/VC type of plan approach and start with the market analysis. This is because if you started with the corporate overview there wouldn’t be a whole lot to talk about at this point and if there was and there were prior rounds of funding I might start with that. If you are doing something really different you need to give it context and tell the story of why you should exist. I will of course cover the Corporate Overview section later.

You will also notice that I skipped the Executive Summary. Since it is a summary of everything I will talk about this last once we have covered all of the sections.

There are some basic things you should try and answer with the market analysis:

  • Do you have a market?
  • Is there a viable niche that makes sense to focus on first?
  • Does your product or service fill a need or solve a problem?
  • Can you appeal to cross-segments within your market by highlighting different aspects of your product?
  • How should you price your product or service?
  • Who are your potential customers? What are the various customer profiles?
  • How will you deliver your product to the customer?

I break down the Market Analysis into four sub-sections:

  1. Market Overview – describe the market you are in or the market you are planning to enter: product coverage area, environment, additional product area if necessary and potential customers.
  2. Market Background – This provides historical data (i.e., market size, demographics, psychographics), needs and trends; buying patterns; preferences and market growth
  3. Market Challenges – Here is where you analyze data and focus on the unique issues that create the challenges and problems you see could be solved.
  4. Market Opportunity – This is where you used data in the previous to explore the problems and expose the opportunities that exist to discuss the opportunities to be solved.

NOTE: Remember to properly cite your sources of information within the body of your Market Analysis as you write it. You and other readers of your business plan will need to know the sources of the statistics or opinions that you’ve gathered from others. This is important that they see that the basis for your analysis comes from well known sources.

NEXT TIME: COMPANY OVERVIEW – After you have explained how compelling the problems and needs are, you will need to pitch who you are and what you do.

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Business Plan Series: Part 1 – Framing your plan

First, let me start by saying that by the time you are done with your business plan your first draft will look completely different than the one you share with everyone.

There are a few different forms that your business plan will take:

Business Plan Type #1 – Business Plan for You
Essentially a data dump with headings, this is the one that gathers your thoughts and gives you peace of mind if you are a “J” on the Myers Briggs. I always think that these should be written first because it is essentially a knowledge dump and since there is no audience but you there are no limitations.

Page Range: NONE

Business Plan Type #2 – Business Plan for Internal Strategy and Operations
I call this type of plan the “roadmap plan”. Think of this a providing your company and board with a look inside your brain and the brains of your management team. This type of plan is about alignment and communication of vision. It goes into deeper depth of product roadmaps, long term operations and greater performance planning. This means that the products and services section along with the competitive and operations sections will go a level deeper.

Page Range: About 60 pages but it depends on the maturity of the business so it could be longer.

Business Plan Type #3 – Business Plan for Investors and Raising Capital
This plan is what I call the “money plan” and many VC’s will say that they don’t read them, most see the value in them and all say that the exercise is necessary and important to address any issues that may arise in due diligence. Just because investors may not read them doesn’t mean you don’t have to do them. While this may be true for more experienced investors and an executive summary is good enough, you can bet that those on the the committee who need to be convinced to approve the investment will want to read it and the associates at the firm will be reviewing it in detail and putting their “quant jock” hats to run the numbers to see if something weird pops up.

Granted, this type of business plan is half sales pitch/half business strategy and it must communicate that not only is there a market for your products/services but that there is a HUGE need for your product, it is scalable with the right investment, you have an A-team to execute and that you will be able to exit for a large amount that will see a double digit return on their investment.

Page Range: About 15-30 pages depending on how developed the business is and how complex the product/service offering is that you are providing.

Because each version of the plan has a different audience you will want to start it differently. Granted, the Executive Summary comes first but for an operational business plan it is good to start with the company summary to establish the vision and mission for internal reader. They want to have context and see how you are going to execute on the vision and plan you have placed in front of them.

For investor focused business plans you need to start with the problem which means that you need to talk about the market and the analysis you have done to conclude there are problems which will lead to the next section about how you will solve them. So start with Market Analysis. You might need to educate some investors on your market so don’t assume they know your business or sector.

There are many different books and resources with their own format, I don’t prescribe to one but I would include, not in any particular order, the following to start with:

  • Market Analysis
  • Management Team
  • Competitive Analysis
  • Operations
  • Implementation Plan
  • Products and Services
  • Marketing and Sales Strategy
  • Technology and R&D
  • Financial Plan and Projections
  • Funding Requirements and Exit Strategy

Making this a team exercise
I have found personally that when you are a lone entrepreneur, you have no one to do this with but yourself. As you add people to the management team and advisors get more involved they become critical to bring in different expertise and perspectives to make the plan complete and presentable. If the team is established, I find that this is the best way to have an off-site strategy meeting. You should have each one of your management team take a crack at writing the plan or improving on the previous one. Publish an outline they have to stick to but other than that, they are on their own. It will be interesting to share and extract the points that everyone likes and can debate about. You are the ultimate and final decision make but this is far better than having people work in a vacuum in their departmental silo.

Also, hire a third party to run the session, gather notes and lead the session. You don’t want to be doing two jobs and participating is far more important than managing the meeting.

NEXT TIME: We discuss “Market Analysis”. Most plans need to detail the situation, the problems and the market potential.

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Venture Files

New Series: Practical Advice for writing a Business Plan

I have been thinking a lot about how many entrepreneur’s ask “should I write a business plan?” and regardless of what you think should go in one or what format it may take, the answer is essentially yes.

Then I started to look at all my previous business plans and those I have advised on and reviewed for feedback. Most were written for the purpose of presenting to investors with varying degrees of success. The others were operational and an exercise in strategy and vision to ensure that everyone understand where the company is going so there is proper execution.

Now there are many people that are WAY MORE knowledgeable about writing these types of documents and many have written good blog posts on “writing business plans“. What I would like to do is take a look at this document and provide all of my readers out there with some real practical lessons and how it should be written if it is an internal use document or one for investors.

Look for this start next week and I will do about a section a week. For those of you out there with experiences to share, comment away. For those of you who have written them I hope to make you laugh and I look forward to your perspective and anecdotes.

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