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My Advice for Starting a Business

Recently I encouraged my 13-year-old daughter Maia to start a vegan cupcake business, and it’s so exciting to watch her get started.

As I talked to her about starting, she had some worries:

  • She didn’t know how.
  • She didn’t know what kind of business to create.
  • She was worried she’d fail.

Do any of those sound familiar? Those were my worries too, when I had a day job and thought about building something of my own.

Worry about not knowing what to do, how to do it, and whether you’ll fail … these stop so many people from starting.

I’ve launched numerous ventures, from ebooks to courses to my Sea Change membership program and more. Next week, I’m launching a new video interview series called The Habits of Entrepreneurs , and can barely wait to show it to you.

Today, I’d like to share the lessons I’ve learned about starting a business, in hopes of encouraging you to get started making something you love.

  1. Look for opportunities . This is from my friend Hiten Shah, who will be featured in the Habits of Entrepreneurs series. Keep your eyes open for opportunities — what pain points do people have, what problems need to be solved, how can you make people’s lives better?
  2. If you can’t wait to get started, you’re onto something . Every time I’ve gotten my best ideas, I get excited. I tell people about it. I might even stay up at night thinking about it. I can’t sit down for long from the excitement.
  3. Start small . People try to build their new business into a massive launch, but this is a mistake. Start as small as possible, giving a minimum viable product to a few friends, and let them test it out. Then a few more people. When you try to do something massive at launch, you make it less likely that you’ll actually start, and you’ll take forever to launch, and you’ll build yourself up for failure, and you’re building something massive without any idea of whether it works or if people like it. Launch is just one moment in the lifespan of a business, and it’s not even one of the most important moments.
  4. Not starting is the biggest mistake . I told Maia that the worst-case scenario — if the business fails — is not even bad. If she starts the vegan cupcake business and fails, at least she got to make and eat some delicious cupcakes, and share them with friends, and learn some valuable lessons along the way. She can always start something new after that. In fact, this scenario of learning something and having fun along the way, even in “failure”, is demonstrably better than if she’d not started at all.
  5. Start a blog . The best way to market a business is by giving away free information. Show that you’re valuable, help people for free, and they’ll want more from you.
  6. Don’t do SEO or social media market or viral marketing . Those don’t add any value for your customers.
  7. Instead, be super valuable . Build something great, and word of mouth is all the marketing you need (including people passing on your best blog posts). Overdeliver. They’ll love you, and you won’t need to do slimy SEO techniques.
  8. Start lean . I started my businesses with zero money, and just found free or cheap services to start with. Only after I started making some revenue did I pay for anything, or hire anyone. Make money as soon as possible by selling something valuable.
  9. Advertising is a bad business mod el . When you make money from ads, what are you selling? Your audience’s attention. This is horrible, and your audience/customers won’t love you for it. Instead, do everything possible to delight your audience/customers, and give them incredible value, and they’ll gladly pay for it.
  10. Forget about numbers . More specifically, forget about hitting certain targets. A million pageviews, ten thousand subscribers, half a million in revenues. Those are meaningless and arbitrary. Instead, worry about how much you’re helping your customers. How much value are you giving them? How can you make them smile? Try putting some numbers on those things.
  11. The joy doesn’t come later . Lots of times people kill themselves trying to reach a goal, or hit an amazing launch. They hope that achieving this goal will change their lives. Then they get there, and their lives aren’t different. They move on to the next goal. The joy doesn’t come when you hit the goal, or have an amazing launch. The joy comes right now. This is the moment of greatness, of satisfaction with yourself and what you’re doing. Not later.
  12. Forget perfection . Too many people get caught up in trying to make a product, website, blog post, launch, etc. perfect. It’ll never be perfect. Perfection is stopping you from shipping. Instead, do what you can, get it out there, get feedback, improve it, repeat.
  13. Screw the business plan . Planning, like perfection, is useless and stands in your way. Sure, you want to think things through, but planning is based on faulty information (we can’t know the future). Instead, experiment. Get started. Do. Then see what happens, and adjust. Flexibility is much more important than a good plan.
  14. Start from home, and start with friends . You don’t need to have an office for most businesses … even a cupcake business doesn’t need a shop — at least not at first. Start with no extra money, in your spare time if you have to. Let your first customers be your friends, and ask them to be brutally honest. Then let them spread the word to their friends. That’s a Zero-Dollar Launch.
  15. Focus on important things . Too often people get caught up in statistics, social media, lots of little tasks that don’t matter. Instead, get moving on what matters most — producing something that will add value to your customers.
  16. Surround yourself with interesting people . Having friends who are doing fascinating things is inspiring, and they will give you great advice and feedback. The people around you, and their positive and inspiring attitudes, matter.
  17. Learn to be OK with not knowing . You won’t know what will happen with the business. The world is changing. Your business will change. You will change. You don’t know anything, really, and that’s OK. Read more.

Get started, my friends! You’ll love it.

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5 Entrepreneurs From Odisha Making Our State Proud

Being an entrepreneur may be the ‘in’ thing these days, but entrepreneurship is a tough task. You get to chase your dreams, live your passion and build something new – but all this comes with a bagful of risk and challenges. Be it concerned parents or future in-laws, a stable and secure job makes everyone comfortable. But a few young entrepreneurs from Odisha have chosen the path less travelled. Instead of being a job seeker, they have created jobs for others. We have listed 5 such young Odia entrepreneurs who have successfully raised millions of dollars of funding to get their start-up ball rolling.

RITESH AGRAWAL, FOUNDER & CEO, OYO ROOMS

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Ritesh Agarwal is the 21-year-old founder of hotel listings startup called OYO  Rooms. He is born and brought up in Bissam Cuttack, a village in Rayagada district. His venture OYO Rooms, partners with property owners across India and makes sure the facilities meet upto the standard with a starting price of 999 rupees. Through OYO platform, guests can check in and out instantaneously instead of waiting at a reservation desk. Ritesh Agarwal has raised $25 million (Rupees 150 Crore) from Lightspeed, Sequoia and others to build a branded budget hotel network across India.

SANTOSH PANDA, CO-FOUNDER & CEO, EXPLARA

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Santosh Panda founded an Event ticketing platform calledExplara in 2009. It handles about 1,000 transactions a day and expects revenue of Rs 50 crore for financial year 2015-16. Recently Explara has raised $500K (Rs 3.2 Crore) in its Pre-Series A funding from businessman Ness Wadia, Singapore Angels and Hyderabad Angels to enter into movie ticketing. Earlier it sells tickets in event categories such as sports, travel and food, now tied up with about 30 single theatres and multiplexes in Maharashtra and Gujarat. It will roll out the movie ticketing service next month, competing with market leader BookMyShow.

Our Recommended Books:

SUBRAT KAR, CO-FOUNDER & CEO, VIDOOLY

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Subrat Kar founded Vidooly, a video analytics start up which is recently listed as the top 10 hottest start-ups by the NASSCOM. It has raised about $1 million (Rs 6.4 Crore) from Bessemer Venture Partners. Founded last August, the company came up with a product that helps content creators and channels on Youtube to attract more viewers to their videos. It helps companies with advice on what keeps people interested in a video, better engagement, and revenue. This engineering graduate is born and brought up in Jajapur town of Odisha. Since there are no other players in India who do such products, Subrat and his co-founders Ajay Mishra and Nishant Radia expecting to leverage the first mover advantage.

SRIKUMAR MISHRA, FOUNDER, MD & CEO, MILK MANTRA

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Srikumar Mishra left a highly successful global corporate career in 2009 to founded Milk Mantra. He had prior 8 years extensive experience in setting up new market operations, brand sales & marketing. Milk Mantra produces a range of dairy products. The company has a structured ethical milk sourcing programme, through which it collects milk from more than 20,000 farmers in 500 villages. Its products are available in Odisha, Kolkata and Jharkhand. In June 2014 Milk Mantra has raised Rs.80 Crore from venture capital funds. The company has a vision of creating an exciting, pure and healthy dairy products brand in India.

SITAKANTA RAY, CO-FOUNDER, MY SMART PRICE

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Sitakanta Ray from Cuttack, Odisha along with his co-founder Sulakshan Kumar founded a venture called MySmartPrice, which is a price comparison and search site. Ray and Kumar are both graduates from National Institute of Technology, Rourkela. MySmartPrice, raised $10 million (60 Crore) this July as series B funding. They have plan to use the fresh influx of capital to grow its focus on the offline shopping experience. The company began life as a tech and gadget-focused price comparison service, but over the years it has added verticals and new components to the experience. Today, it is designed to navigate the maze of Indian e-commerce sites to find specific products, and at the best prices possible.

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Top 5 young Black entrepreneurs to watch in 2016

All of us have heard the word “entrepreneur” tossed around at some point in time. When you picture an entrepreneur, who do you imagine? Maybe you imagine Steve Jobs, Bill Gates or even Mark Zuckerberg. But they aren’t the only ones!

Here’s a list of the top five young African American entrepreneurs to keep an eye on in the year 2016:

#1 – Jaylen D. Bledsoe:

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This 17-year old entrepreneur is the founder/ CEO of Jaylen D. Bledsoe Group, and is a motivational and professional speaker on the topics of young entrepreneurship, digital strategy, brand development and youth rights. His company focuses on helping his clients develop their brand, and his clients include superstars like Steve Harvey and Jordin Sparks.

#2 – Essynce Moore:

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This 13-year old entrepreneur is the founder of Essynce Couture, a spa and boutique business for teens and tweens. She is also the author of a book entitled 6th Grade Middle School Chronicles, and is known in her community as a motivational speaker who speaks on the topic of entrepreneurship. She also has her own clothing line.

#3 – Sherron A. Stevens :

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This 20-year old entrepreneur is the CEO/ founder of Undercover Customer, a customer service consulting company that uses training and evaluations to help organizations generate more revenue by improving their customer’s experience. He has also published a best-selling book on customer service entitled Undercover Customer: 100 Ways to Fix Your Broken Customer Service.

Our Recommended Books:

#4 – Moziah Bridges:

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This 13-year old entrepreneur is the founder/ president of Mo’s Bow Memphis, a handmade line of bowties that has grossed over $55,000 in sales. He has always had a vision to bring back bow ties and make them very stylish. This young man has been featured on ABC’s Shark Tank and his bow ties have been worn by President Obama and Steve Harvey.

#5 – Maya Penn:

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This 15-year old is the founder of Maya’s Ideas, an apparel line that produces eco-friendly clothing and accessories. She is also a philanthropist, designer, artist, and animator. Her designs are sold all over the world, and she has customers in Denmark, Italy, Australia and more.

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7 quick tips for young entrepreneurs

If you often figure out creative ways to solve a problem or fix a challenge, you’ve got the uncooked skills for being an entrepreneur. And if you too are inspired by the ‘Be Your Own Boss’ fad, chances are you have already taken the first few steps in the direction.

Everybody will tell you to do your homework, spend time in preparing and becoming an expert, refining your idea, and network like crazy. However, as any entrepreneur worth his weight will tell you, the real challenge begins once you set shop: by setting up processes, understanding your market, giving structure to verticals, taking risks, doing things you’d never thought you’d do, and at the end of it all, challenging yourself to do better.

Here, I have listed a few decent tips for young entrepreneurs who are already on their journey to becoming a bigger and better version of themselves, who have dared to bet on their dreams, and who are willing to work for a change and vision that they believe in.

Starting out the venture is the most exhilarating part, but, as the business progresses, even the most successful entrepreneurs face bouts of turmoil. It’s impractical to avoid these situations, but you can use these tips to sail through them.

Exceed Expectations

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Always make it a point to impress. Impress your customers, your potential investors, your employees, yourself. Never promise or claim something that you already know you will not be able to deliver. You are as good as your word, and it might be tempting to suffix adjectives like ‘biggest’, ‘largest’, ‘fastest’, or ‘best’ while describing your organisation. But, refrain from using them unless they are objectively true.

Seek help

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A leader is as good as his or her team. Remember, as an entrepreneur and manager, you need to make sure the work is done, and not do all the work yourself. Erroneously, asking for help might be equated with weakness or ignorance, but seeking clarifications, knowledge and information from experts, mentors and from your team will give you invaluable insights. Find a trusted mentor who knows the industry you are working in. Set up a fund-raising team to take care of finances.

Be flexible

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Be open to changing the initial idea, concept, approach, partner, model, and works after testing it on ground. Until you hit the nail on the head, there is no harm in experimenting, and unless the stakes are high, experimentation will actually be a great learning ground. Be receptive to changes – suggested by employees, customers etc. It is very easy to get defensive and ‘this-is-my-baby’ mode, when someone suggests a critical feedback, but being honest, brutally so even, with yourself is the only way you can survive it.

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Pick your battles

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Once you have a set course for your destination, pick the battles and obstacles worth fighting. Do not lose sleep over petty operational challenges, instead focus on stabilising the main drivers of your idea and concept. You cannot afford to go around convincing everyone who doesn’t believe in you, for right now, others don’t see things your way.

Be patient

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Someone very wisely said that startups don’t fail, they commit suicide, for their founders give up too soon. Give yourself and your idea time to manifest itself. Disruptions, no matter how big, do not happen overnight. The golden rule of starting things from scratch is that it will take time, and the struggle will be manifold, but equally essential to the process.

Find a stress-buster

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You might not be doing every task yourself, but that doesn’t stop you from constantly worrying about it, does it? It is given that taking care of everything will get too much, and will get to you, maybe more than you anticipate it. You need to be able to find ways to disconnect and get in touch with yourself, to avoid being derailed from the path you set on, and to prevent yourself from getting too absorbed in the pieces to miss the bigger picture.

Plan-Review-Repeat

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It is easy to be thrown off-course and into chaos by the challenges that are thrown while running a company, but the only sureshot way of avoiding falling into the trap is maintaining elaborate plans – both micro and macros, and reviewing them periodically. What’s more, get more heads in the review stage to change and evolve them according to how your performance has been, and to identify where you have done good, and where you need to work harder. Remember, you just need to identify how to manage your energies, and time management will effortlessly align with it.

Don’t be afraid to work hard. Pick a time you feel your creative juices are high. Keep a record.

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Top 5 Tips for Long-Term Entrepreneurial Success And Getting Over The “Hump Year” In Business

Just like there is a “hump day” that falls on the third day of the work week, which once passed allows you breathe a sigh of relief with the weekend in sight, there is most certainly a hump day equivalent when you are starting your own business. Let’s call it the “hump year” aka the third year in a business’s history.

Year one is about the fun of getting your vision on paper and figuring out how to bring it to life with a client or two from within your circle.

Year two is about ironing out the kinks and really focusing on honing your product and service with several trusted clients willing to explore new ideas.

Year three is where the cake is ready to come out of the oven and it’s go time. The make or break period where you go big or go home. The moment where you step outside of your comfort zone of both people and things to really push towards profitability and market acceptance. It is often said that if a business can survive its third year, it stands a better than solid chance at success. I couldn’t agree more! As a result I have compiled a list of top five tips for how to best get over “the Wednesday” of business growth and development, the often-dreaded year three, with an eye on passing go and collecting $200 dollars. Well hopefully a lot more than that, but you get my drift.

1 – Develop Scale

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One of the most critical things that will make or break your business, to focus on in year three particularly, is scale. In my business Brand anthropologist we started out with a large gateway product that was designed for big companies only. At the end of year two we realized we were limiting ourselves with only one major offering and pushed ourselves to create a tiered product model that gave us scale, and the ability to serve different types of clients, with related, but different offerings.

Key takeaway: Don’t ever try to be all things to all people but do make your offering accessible to as many audiences as possible . Only through true scale can a business create the kind of depth required for long-term success. Scale can be anything from what you offer, to whom it is you are aiming to reach. The idea is to be the best at one thing, and do that one thing better than anyone else ala Steve Jobs, but do so in ways that make your best-in-class offering accessible to the broadest audience of potential clients or customers for your business.

2 – Success Takes Time

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Realize that success isn’t always immediate and that what it looks like will vary. While my business had a great cash flow run in year one and year two, we were faced with a stalled liquidity problem in year three as we focused less on taking on new assignments and more on growing the business offerings and diversifying the client base. We also created some free educational content for business leaders e.g. how to executive produce your brand learning series. While the goal of any business is to make as much money as possible, in order to do so, it is imperative to pause at times to reshape the arsenal you are using with the goal of achieving larger and more significant victories over the long-term.

Key takeaway: What success looks like varies at different stages of the business development cycle. Value goes beyond cash flow to everything from brand reputation, to new business pipeline, expansiveness and reach. In year three, it is critical to take a step back to assess what success looks like both today AND tomorrow, and then commit to executing the best path to reach your goals. This process may often sacrifice immediate profit in lieu of greater long-term gains.

3 – Invest In Your Business

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You have to spend money to make money and finding the right balance between the two is critical. The third year of business often requires upleveling marketing and promotional efforts with an eye on reaching new audiences in new places. While maintaining a positive cash flow is vital, investing in your business is required to reach new levels of growth and development. This may mean cutting back in different areas such as support staff or in your own salary if you are the owner. The point is, if you are to grow, you need to tap into capital you have earned and invest it in smart ways that will fuel new growth, be it organic or with new markets.

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Key takeaway: You get back what you put into your business and this is as true for marketing investment as it is for time, energy and resources. In order to push past the tricky three-year hump to ensure you don’t plateau or tank, you must constantly push yourself to identify and fund new methods of marketing and business development. In order to do this successfully, one must always maintain a long-term view as opposed to a short-term one. When building a thriving business that produces year-over-year growth, the old adage “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” does not necessarily ring true

4 – Push Past Your Comfort Zone

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When building a business and pushing it to new thresholds of success change must be viewed as friend rather than foe. Today change does not happen yearly or quarterly in business, it happens daily. While constantly being in a position of fluidity can create anxiety, it is also imperative to long-term success and critical to innovation. In year three of any business, a reexamination of the core offering against current market circumstances and competitors is vital. Resting back on ones laurels and being happy with whatever success your company has experienced to date will most certainly not guarantee a rosy future. One must constantly push pass their comfort zone to a point of discomfort to generate the type of innovation and disruption that can get a business to the next level.

Key takeaway: Change is vital and complacency and comfort are not options for long-term success and viability. In year three of your business especially, one must view innovation as a discipline and not a moment, and push to find new paths to growth and profitability each and every day in ways that satisfy market demands and yield competitive differentiation.

5 – Learn From Your Mistakes

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If you get to the third year of running your own business, it is likely that you have experienced some missteps along the way. Year three is a great time to look back at the past to see what worked and what didn’t, and use that knowledge to grow and improve. Being able to be flexible enough to learn from past mistakes, and have the ability at times to maybe go with a Plan B instead of a Plan A, is imperative to running a successful enterprise. Another way to assess past performance is to speak directly to clients to get open and honest feedback on services rendered, as well as to hear about new challenges they might be facing that could require new solutions. Opening up this dialogue will enable you to perfect your current offerings while also potentially creating some new ones that keep pace directly with culture and market need.