Mark Cuban’s 12 Secrets for Startups

Mark Cuban is one of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs, starting Audionet at the beginning of the streaming media generation, turning it into and then flipping it to Yahoo for a fortune. In this article,  he shares his 12 secrets for startup success.

I think Mark’s most debatable comment is a combination of his first 2 points:

  1. Don’t start a company unless it’s an obsession and something you love.
  2. If you have an exit strategy, it’s not an obsession.

Mark’s basically implying that if you go into a business idea with an exit in mind, you won’t have the passion to see the company through to that exit.

Whether you agree with Mark or not, it is important to understand what people like him believe are the keys to building a successful startup. In most cases, entrepreneurs will be approaching people like Mark for venture capital. Understanding what they are looking for saves everyone a lot of time and improves the probability of raising those funds.

If I had the chance, I’d ask Mark when he thinks it’s necessary to think about the exit. After all, at some point the team had to consider how to turn their nice little business into the $6B exit it became. Who made the company make that pivot, and when did it happen?

I’d suggest anyone considering a startup should read all of Mark’s 12 points. It’s a great summary on entrepreneurial Do’s and Dont’s.

Rich Barton Urges Seattle to Think Huge

(Note: Most of this is also reposted at the blog)

Working in an emerging industry like social media, and with clients from Microsoft down to small startups, we’re in a unique position to see a ton of entrepreneurial start-ups. We play with tools from Simply Measured and Visible Technologies, work with WordPress Plug-ins and developers, and see everything from new Facebook radio applications to sports energy drinks.

So, when a publisher like Geekwire sets up a Fireside chat with Rich Barton, it’s kind of a can’t miss event. I’ve seen Rich speak a number of times, and his mantra about online marketing carries with me whenever I see a new business plan. His line is simple to remember and generally dead on: “Whatever can be free will be free, whatever can be found will be found, and whatever can be rated will be rated.”

But last week at Spitfire, Rich added one more message to the Seattle VC and entrepreneurial community. He said (and I paraphrase here), “The problem with the Seattle Entrepreneurial community is that no enough people swing for the home run. It takes just as much energy to walk out of the dugout and bunt as it takes to walk out of the dugout and swing for the fences.”

It’s a fair and accurate comment, and something even more extraordinary when you consider that besides Barton, there are at least 4 or 5 other Seattle based entrepreneurs who went long a decade or more ago:
– Bill Gates, who put a PC on every desktop.
– Howard Schultz, who put a $4.00 cup of coffee in everyone on the planet’s hand.
– Jeff Bezos, who made it possible to buy anything from anyplace, anytime for a market price, and get it delivered almost overnight.
– Paul Allen, whose goals are so big and audacious he probably overshoots them by a few years (ie space travel.)

Barton’s message which every marketer should hear as well – “Pick a Big Hairy Audacious Goal and don’t surround yourself with any team members who don’t think that big. People have an amazing capacity to do huge things if a huge goal is set before them.”

It seems like a good lesson for all of us in either digital marketing or entrepreneurship.

Two Fun New Projects Enter Alpha

As we enter Q4, the team over at Social3i is happy to release two new products into a private alpha stage.

Relaborate is a tool for helping professionals with Blogging. We’ll debut publicly at NWEN’s First Look Forum.
Animakast is a project we’re doing with our friends at FlyingSpot. It’s the simplest, easiest and cheapest way to turn new or existing audio content into compelling animated video.

We love the prospects of both these little start-ups. Let me know if you would like to join our private alpha program for either.

Looking Forward to NWEN’s First Look Forum

I’ve been a fan of the Northwest Entrepreneur Network’s First Look Forum for a few years now – and not just because I’m on the NWEN Board. The Seattle entrepreneur community has a lot to offer, and while you probably aren’t going to see the next Google or Amazon pop out of it, First Look Forum could be a spot to watch for your next Gist or Tippr.

Now, I’ve been in and around a number of startups over the years, including partner roles (Spring Creek Group, Social3i) and marketing consulting roles (Imagekind, GotVoice, Savester, Movaya, Golazo, Lilipip). I’ve also worked on wild and fun side projects with no revenue model to speak of (MyElectionChoices) and non-profit philanthropic efforts with even less of a revenue model (EvigSeattle). On every company, there’s a little something to learn.

But this is the first year I worked on a team taking a startup through the First Look Forum process. For the last 6 months at Social3i, we’ve been building and testing a number of social media related products, and are now in the alpha stage of two separate ones. One of them will make it’s debut to the NWEN investment community on Oct. 18, thanks to FLF. (The other you’ll have to keep an eye out for – it’s coming soon.)

So what’s the point of this post? Well, First Look Forum has been a great experience for us, serving as a forcing function to hit deadlines and milestones. Plus, throughout the process, we’ve been able to meet with investors and entrepreneurs who’ve provided excellent feedback on a wide array of topics relevant to launching a new product. Being on one side of the First Look Forum process for a few years had given me one perspective. But now being on the receiving end of the help, I really think FLF should be on the top of the list for anyone thinking about launching a new venture.

Anyway, if you’re an investor or angel, go beg Daniel and Caitlin to let you have a ticket to the event in October. If you’re a would-be entrepreneur in corporate clothing, get your team together and make a run at FLF in Spring 2012. It’s definitely worth the time you’ll put into it.

Startup Riot 1.0 Rolls Through Seattle

I hear a lot of stories about Seattle’s start up scene, and that for all it’s tech prowess, we don’t really garner the attention of the VC community when it comes to launching fundable companies.

Well, I have to say it’s not due to a lack of trying on the entrepreneur side, as everywhere you look, people are trying to get out of their garage and onto Sand Hill. In the last year alone, I’ve attended or been a part of the UW Biz Plan Competition (~80ish companies), Start-Up Weekend (~100ish attendees) and NWEN’s First Look Forum (~50 companies). The area also has hosted Mobile Hackathons, Thinkcamps, more Startup Weekends, Angel investment groups, and even more places where would-be entrepreneurs are pitching ideas.

Wednesday, we saw a new entry to the Seattle space – StartUp Riot. Originally started in Atlanta, StartUp Riot has a familiar model. 25 start-ups do 3 minute pitches and do 3 minutes of Q+A from a table of esteemed judges. To keep the event from being monotonous, they split the 30 companies into 3 blocks, and inserted 2 keynotes and a long networking lunch. SoDo Showbox proved to be a great venue for this kind of event, and added a little bit of a “cool” factor.

So what did we see?
If you go to enough of these events, you start to see some of the same companies. And that really is a great thing, because you see people who are passionate and committed enough about their idea that they are taking feedback, evolving their company, and putting it out there again and again. It’s really easy for someone who has never tried to start a company to bash ideas that aren’t all the way baked. And it’s even easier for the entrepreneurs to just give up when they get that feedback.

On the other side, I did hear the comment that StartUp Riot had a lot of “Apps,” but not a lot of “Companies.” That’s probably a fair point. Things like NWEN’s First Look Forum have a longer vetting process, so you’ll see more companies with full business plans there. But even Apps need to start somewhere, and StartUp Riot presenters threw out enough interesting concepts to keep you entertained and your brain stimulated.

So what did we learn?
If you peel yourself away from listening to the presentations a little, and focus on the judges feedback, you catch a few trends.

  1. “Is your product solving a problem? And is it really a PROBLEM, or simply a nuisance? And if it really is a problem, how many people have this problem?”
  2. “I have no idea what you actually do. I see your slides, I heard the market stats, but I don’t get what the product actually DOES.”
  3. “Why doesn’t (Google, eBay, Amazon, etc….) already DO THAT? And what is stopping them from throwing 3 developers at it next week?”
  4. “And HOW are you guys going to make any money? Who would pay for that?”

All in all, StartUp Riot is a good addition to the Seattle scene. The more chances entrepreneurs have to get constructive feedback from people who invest in Bay Area companies, the more chance we have at getting some more of that money. Make sure to check out the next one when it comes to town.

Recap of Startup Weekend

A few quick notes on a fun event I attended the last few days.  Startup Weekend is a 54 hour event that provides the networking, resources, and incentives for individuals and teams to go from idea to launch.

In a nutshell, I was one of 80 people to show up on Friday evening, where 28 people pitched ideas for products/companies that they wanted to build in the next 2 days, with this event being focused around mobile and gaming.  We whittled the 28 ideas down to 13, and everyone split into teams to tackle the projects.  

The crowd was an eclectic mix of developers, designers, database guys, product managers and a few random biz dev and marketing guys thrown in.  I’ll admit I was a little nervous venturing into this crew.  I’m a marketing guy, so I get pretty intimidated by guys who have the technical firepower to make things suddenly appear.  But the goal of something like this is to surround yourself with big brains and meet people who inspire you through their expertise and accomplishments, so I tried to dive right in and meet as many interesting people as I could. 

The product ideas ranged form the ridiculous to the useful, to the obscure to the just plain odd.  But at the end of the weekend, a few groups had launched some pretty cool stuff.  And even though some of the projects weren’t fully baked by Sunday night, there were definitely a few things to watch out for.  A few highlights:

(Keep in mind that these projects went from an idea to execution in 54 hours…)

Nubi Nubi: A bunch of talented artists and dev guys created a little app where a little avatar would dance to the beat of music you picked for him.   You could change the dance moves by clicking on different buttons.  Cool revenue opps as you buy more avatars, dance moves, music, and more.

Doodle A Doodle: The winner of the event, this iPad app is designed so that kids can learn to draw (or trace) by tracing over images on the screen.  There’s a social network component that parents and kids can enjoy.

Hold It: The crowd favorite for humor.  In this game, you are a Men’s room Attendant, and you must coordinate what people get to use what stall in the john.  Some characters need privacy, some need space, some are obnoxious, etc…  But you must use your skill to gain points by putting people at urinals and toilets they feel comfortable at.

Happy Food:  Think a cross between Foursquare, Yelp and Urbanspoon.  This app allows you to search for restaurants that cater to special diets, such as Vega, Gluten Free, Nut Free, etc…make recommendations, and provide useful feedback.

Task Me: I dug this organizational app, even though it’s not done yet.  I spend enough time using iPhone’s Notepad as a To Do list, that this would be huge if they get it done.  Please do it guys…

There were a ton of other cool ideas, and the density of super smart people and knowledge sharing was something I hadn’t been part of for years and years.  It was amazing to see such a spirit of collaboration amongst people who don’t know each other.  Plus, many of the people there were actually doing pretty interesting things with their real job.  

Startup Weekend is one of those events where you can just go and get energized by the spirit and collective intelligence of the people in the room.  On one hand, it’s a great place to get humbled, as you see people doing things in real time that shouldn’t be possible to do that quickly.  On the other hand, you get an ego boost, because you are able to make an impact and provide your area of expertise to a group of people whose skills you admire, but who have no ability to mimic your own abilities.

I have 100 good stories to tell you about my team.  My group’s leader was a fascinating guy by the name of Michael Crick.  He would tell these random stories all thru the weekend, and many of them would make me stop what I was doing, look over with a curious stare and say, “Shut the h— up, you did not do that.”   Here’s a teaser.  I was trying to bang out a marketing plan, while Michael offhandedly told a story of a video game he built long ago.  I almost broke my neck when I asked, “Wait a sec.  You wrote the spec for the original Madden Football?” I can’t even do the rest of the stories justice in print, but trust me, they are worth buying me a beer to hear.

Moral of the story.  Whether you can market, develop, design, or whatever other talent you have, get yourself to a Startup Weekend.  Because anything else you have planned for the weekend is less fun, less interesting, and will get you less satisfaction.  Bring a good idea, build a team, and make cool stuff happen.

social3i Launches – The next great adventure

A friend of mine recently commented that they never quite understand what I do for a living, but it always seems cool.  I couldn’t agree more.

Whether it be building batting cages and selling corporate ticket packages in minor league baseball, writing press releases and guiding customers on the top of a ski resort, working for a future Senator and selling the idea of audio and video on the internet, assisting professional athletes and their families raise money for charities, aiding venture backed startups with Go-To-Market campaigns, or most recently, helping guide a social media and community management agency go from 2 to 35 employees, the two common threads have always been challenge and fun.

So July 2010 marks the start of the next great adventure – social3i Consulting.  Xavier Jimenez and I will team up for the 3rd time now, taking what we’ve learned from our last few years working with the largest social media team in the region, and reshaping it to a more focused, strategic, and consultative presence that can work for exemplary brands, where size doesn’t matter.  

Our old colleagues at SCG continue do fantastic work in the realm of community management, and we wish them continued success as they drive forward.  But the focus of social3i will be different.  We’re going to be doing more classic strategic consulting, and lots of team building, training and development.  Rather than execute long-term tactics and serving the role of outsourced engagement and analytics, we’re going to use a data driven approach to deliver Insight, Ideas and Influence (hence, the 3i) to clients tasked with building their own in house programs.  We believe our past experience building these types of teams and our history of working with some of the largest technology brands, positions us well to solve huge social marketing problems for brands that we’re excited to help out.  Plus, we’re going to be able to join forces with some folks down in the Bay Area who I’ve been hoping to work with for years.  It’s too early to talk about now, but it will add a neat new angle to typical marketing analysis.

Like every new venture, I’m sure we’ll have our share of hiccups and bugs along the way.  But it’s an exciting time and I hope you’ll come find us and follow us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.  We’ll look like a bunch of clowns if we only have 4 followers, so if you read this blog, consider following social3i in these social channels the tax you need to pay for all the free content you’ve gotten over the years 🙂

Thanks again to the SCG team for what has been a fun couple of years.  But I’m not sure I could ask for a more exciting way to open up the 2nd half of 2010 than launching social3i.

The Sustainable Group

I’ve been meaning to endorse / promote / plug this company for awhile.  I’m a big fan of The Sustainable Group, an organization run by Brant Williams.  In a nutshell, imagine if all the binders, notebooks and other office items you buy, lose and throw away could be made of bio-degrabable materials instead of plastic.  Now imagine that there are even more benefits.  

Rather than try to convince you, I’ll just provide a link over to their web site.  Check it out, and email Brant if you have ideas for how to get the word out.

When Does Something Stop Being A Start-up

TechFlash details the latest version of Marcelo Calbucci’s Seattle Startup Index.  The index tracks the Web traffic of Seattle based startups.  TechFlash trumpets that once again, is at the top of the ist.

Now, I’m not trying to be ornery, but there’s something about being at the top of a list of “Start-ups” for multiple years, that feels akin to winning Rookie of the Year 3 times.  I see a lot of names on the Start-up list besides Zillow that have been around for quite awhile.  Names like Payscale, WetPaint, Jobster and Widgetbucks (formerly  

You might ask, “Who cares?”

Well if you are a start-up that launched in 2008, you certainly care that your traffic numbers are being compared to those of a companies that are reaching their 4th birthday.  Especially if some of them have geenrated serious rounds of funding already.  One would assume that a senior in his 4th year playing basketball would have more cumulative points than a freshman, no matter how exciting that freshman is.  

It all just makes me wonder how a “Start-up” is defined these days.

Bonanzle on KING 5 TV

Frequent readers of this column may remember Bonanzle, a fun young company that you should check out if you are selling or buying things this holiday season.  

Most small companies believe they need huge expensive PR firms to get on local TV, but this story proves that an entusiastic customer base can bejust as  valuable for generating new PR opportunites

Check out this Bonanzle company profile produced by KING 5 this week.