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Simplify Your SEO Program : 5 Strategies

The SEO industry is in a constant state of flux depending on Google’s algorithms, but that doesn’t mean that you need to revamp your entire strategy every time a new update rolls out. Instead, use the following five strategies to implement a simplified SEO program that’ll stand the test of time — no matter what changes the search engines make.

Focus less on keyword research. “Old school” SEO put a heavy emphasis on keyword research, requiring that webmasters spend hours measuring anticipated search volume against the relative competitiveness of each query. Not only does this take an excessively long amount of time, it’s becoming a far less viable approach as Google restricts the amount of keyword data made available to SEO workers.

Instead of wasting time chasing data that isn’t readily available (or accurate, when it can be found), simplify your research process by brainstorming a list of the keywords you believe your customers are most likely to search for and building content around these phrases. Check your stats after a month or so and then either add more content for phrases that are performing well or refocus your efforts on a new set of potential search queries.

Use SEO tools effectively. Even if fields such as page or post meta descriptions don’t have the SEO impact they used to, it’s still worth including them from a usability standpoint. If you write an extra-compelling meta description that displays in your search results listing and causes a user to click through to your site (versus your competitor’s), that’s a win for your site in terms of both overall performance and SEO.

Instead of coding these fields by hand, look for SEO tools that’ll simplify the process for you. WordPress extensions such as Yoast SEO (free) or All-in-One SEO (free) make managing blog SEO a snap, while programs such as QuickSprout Tools (free; paid versions available) or Moz SEO ($99+ a month) help you to tackle other SEO processes from a single, centralized location.

Invest in viral content pieces. Backlinking is a continual challenge for the SEO world. While it’s important to obtain backlinks from well-regarded websites, it’s best to do so in a natural fashion. But even if you do pursue links as part of an SEO campaign, you’ll find that the backlinks that will do the most for your site’s performance are also the hardest to get!

All of these challenges go away if you redirect your efforts towards producing viral-style content pieces, rather than proactively seeking link sources. As an example, one well-produced infographic could go on to earn you hundreds of backlinks from great sources — with no extra effort on your part beyond the initial creation of the graphic and any early seeding of your content that you decide to do. While it’s true that you won’t “go viral” on every content piece you create, just a few wins using this strategy can do more for your site’s external SEO than weeks or months spent trolling for backlinks.

Use responsive website design. When you use responsive website design on your site, both your desktop and mobile site versions come from the same URL — only their relative displays are altered. Contrast this with hosting two separate sites for desktop versus mobile visitors. If you have two separate websites entirely, you’ve got to run two separate sets of SEO campaigns. Using a single site that displays differently depending on the platform can cut your SEO time in half!

Outsource repetitive monitoring tasks. Finally, consider outsourcing some of the repetitive monitoring tasks that are a part of any good SEO campaign. For example, a few of the tasks you could pass on to others include:

  • Checking your monthly search engine results page rankings (if you don’t already have a tool that does this for you)

  • Conducting competitive research on the keywords and keyword phrases your competitors appear to be targeting

  • Making sure all the content on your site is accessible to the search engine spiders

  • Adding new page links to your website directory (if they aren’t added automatically)

  • Monitoring SEO news sites for algorithm changes that could require your attention or substantially change your strategy

When outsourcing tasks, you can work with either SEO agencies or individuals who are knowledgeable about these tasks. Be sure to do your research and understand the relative pros and cons of each option before bringing on a person or a team to assist with your SEO. Instead of simplifying things, failing to do the proper due diligence could actually make your SEO strategy more complicated than ever!

Have you implemented any of these strategies? Or are there other things you’ve done to simplify your SEO strategy? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

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These 7 Trends Will Make You Incredibly Optimistic About The Internet Business In 2014

JP Morgan analyst Douglas Anmuth and his team are incredibly optimistic about the Internet industry in 2014.

In an email he just sent out to clients, Anmuth says that Internet stocks increased in value 78% during 2013 thanks in large part to seven “key” trends.

He says, “We believe those underlying dynamics should continue in 2014.”

Here are those key trends:

Mobile revenues will catch up to mobile usage.

In 2013, it finally happened: people use the Internet more through their mobile devices than they do through their desktop computers. But even though mobile usage was up, popular mobile products still did not have as much sales as desktop products. Anmuth and his team think this will start to change in a big way in 2014. He says users will become more savvy and comfortable with mobile devices. Apps will become more functional. More desktop sites will become mobile-optimized. This trend has already started, as mobile shopping on Cyber Monday was up 28% year-over-year to $5.8 billion.

 

jpmorgan2014chart01JP Morgan/Comscore

 

 

The kinds of ads you see in you Facebook News Feed are going to start showing up everywhere.

Facebook makes the majority of its advertising revenue selling units that appear in its “News Feed” – that center column of photos, status-updates, news stories, videos, and ads you see every time you open a Facebook app or go to Facebook.com. Twitter also makes almost all of its money through ads that appear in-stream. Anmuth and his team believe that in 2014, more companies will start to make such “Native Ads” their primary ad unit. Yahoo and LinkedIn will make the shift first. This is a positive trend for the industry because in-stream, “native” ads have “significantly higher click-through rates than traditional display ads, which leads to higher pricing over time.”

 

How Popular Are Native AdsJP Morgan/eMarketer

 

 

Advertisers will pay a lot to reach you on the right device at the right time.

Smartphones and tablets aren’t making it so people get on the Internet less through the desktop. They are making it so that people are on the Internet more during the day. Studies show that people use their tablets in the morning, their desktop computers during the day at work, and their phones at night. Companies like Google and Facebook are busy making tools that not only allow advertisers to specifically target you with an ad – but target you when you are using a particular device at a particular time. This will allow advertisers to target consumers when they are in the “right mood” to see a product and complete a transaction.

 

When people use which Internet-connected deviceJP Morgan/Comscore

 

 

Advertisers will finally be able to make apples-to-apples comparisons between Internet ads and TV ads, and Internet ads will prevail.

For a long time, Google, which owns YouTube, did not allow the companies that measure how popular TV shows are to use the same tools to measure how popular online videos are. In 2013, that changed. And then, when the apples-to-apples comparison between YouTube and cable channels finally came out, it was revealed – in a language that TV advertisers understood – that YouTube is massive. For example, among males aged 18-54, it is bigger even than ESPN. Now that TV advertisers can see this, they are going to do two things. They are going to spend more on Internet advertising to reach audiences on the Internet, and they are going to spend more on Internet advertising to convince the audiences there to turn on the TV – where they will see TV commercials.

 

YouTube reach versus cable networksJP Morgan/Nielsen

 

 

It will become more common to buy goods like food or wallpaper online because shipping will be more immediate.

Right now, 10% of all retail spending is done online. That number is going to increase in 2014, Anmuth and company believe, because e-commerce companies are getting better at shipping goods the same day they are ordered online. Companies are doing this two ways. Pure e-commerce companies like Amazon are building more local distribution centers. Traditional retailers are allowing online shoppers to buy goods currently held in inventory by local stores.

 

The 2014 ecommerce opportunityJP Morgan/US Census/Forrester Research

 

 

Amazon and Google have lots of spare computers, and more Web companies are going to pay to use them in 2014.

Google and Amazon have massive server farms located all over the world. These server farms aren’t even close to being maxed-out by Amazon and Google products and services. So, Amazon and Google sell some of the spare capacity to other Web companies. Netflix, for example, is powered by Amazon computers. The JP Morgan analysts think that more companies will buy Internet computing capacity from Amazon and Google this year. Anmuth says this will create a “virtous cycle” in which businesses pay less for infrasctructure, charge consumers less, and bring more consumers online.

 

content stored on Amazon's serversJP Morgan/Amazon

 

 

The insanely competitive online travel industry is expanding to mobile and overseas.

Anmuth and his analysts believe four factors will drive consumers to use online travel agencies more in 2014. 1) Heating-up competition between big companies like Priceline and Experdia will force them to buy more ads and offer more deals. 2) Sites that sell tickets to consumers and sites that help consumers find sites that sell tickets are becoming the same thing. 3) Online-travel booking is getting more popular in international markets. 4) People are starting to book travel from their mobile devices, and for more than just that same day.

Innovations For Sustainability

In India, this quote by Yunus continues to be relevant even today as a majority of its population battles poverty. Socially focused ventures that provide innovations for low-income markets and create opportunities for a better lifestyle have however made significant progress in fighting this battle – especially since India got independence from colonial rule in 1947.

As India celebrates its 67th year of freedom it seems poignant to therefore pause and reflect on eight milestones that have played an important role in shaping India’s social enterprise landscape and the lessons they teach us.

1. Founding of Amul Dairy Co-operative (1946 – 1950)

The founding of the Kaira District Co-operative Milk Producers Union in 1946 and the Amul Dairy in 1950 has over the years given thousands of dairy farmers access to a wide range of domestic markets and spurred India’s milk revolution. The diagram explains in detail how the Amul co-operative benefits numerous dairy farmers across India.

 

Amul demonstrated that the elimination of middlemen and the professional management of milk procurement could result in low-income farmers getting access to new markets thereby lifting them out of poverty. While Amul was not conceived as a social enterprise, it is a historic example of supply chain management that is relevant even today.

2. Beginnings of Fabindia (1960)

Founded by John Bissell to market the diverse craft traditions of India, Fabindia started as a company exporting home furnishings. By linking over 80,000 craft based rural producers to modern urban markets, Fabindia impacted rural artisans at a scale similar to that of Amul for dairy farmers.

Fabindia’s unique ‘community owned company’ model that promotes inclusive capitalism can be credited for the impact they have created. By providing a minimum 26% shareholding to companies co-owned by artisan communities, Fabindia not only offered artisans a regular income but also dividends from the company’s growth. Today, with a pan-India presence, Fabindia is the largest private platform for products that derive from traditional crafts and knowledge.

3. Founding of Ashoka in India (1981)

Ashoka laid the foundation for the concept of social entrepreneurship around the world and started working in India in 1981. Their yearly batches of Changemakers – a community of social entrepreneurs that work to launch, refine and scale high potential ideas for low-income markets – has proven to be a successful model that has been adopted by several accelerators globally.

 

Ashoka’s establishment in India highlighted the importance of non-financial support in the form of networks, mentors and beyond to accelerate the growth of entrepreneurs working with innovations for low-income markets. Since inception in India, Ashoka has identified and worked with more than 350 fellows with innovative solutions from diverse fields and provided them access to funding, expertise and the global networks necessary to grow operations and scale impact.

4. Establishment of SELCO Solar (1995)

SELCO Solar was established with the mission to dispel the myth that low-income communities cannot afford or maintain sustainable technologies. SELCO resolved this challenge by not only creating low-cost solar solutions for lighting, water pumping and computing but also by providing a complete package of product, service and consumer financing through grameena banks, cooperative societies and micro finance institutions.

In a time when only a limited amount of financial and non-financial support was available to socially focused entrepreneurs and affordable solar power was a distant dream even in developed countries, SELCO not only sold and serviced solar lighting systems but also developed and scaled a business model for bringing rural services to poor families. In the past 18 years, SELCO has sold over 1,35,000 solar home lighting systems.

5. India’s First Impact Investments (2001)

It was in 2001 that Acumen Fund; a powerful catalyst for socially focused ventures internationally, brought its approach to India and made its debut investment in Aravind Eye Hospital. Acumen went on to open its India office in 2006 and has since invested USD$36 million in 26 different social companies in India.

In the same year, Vineet Rai also founded Aavishkaar, India’s first for-profit impact investment fund. Aavishkaar now oversees four investment funds and over 25 portfolio companies across sectors such as agriculture, dairy, healthcare, water, sanitation and beyond in India.

The introduction of both Aavishkaar and Acumen in India showcased the demand for early-stage investments in socially focused enterprises to scale both operations and social impact.

6. Social Enterprise Reaches Indian Universities (2007)

Education has often been seen as a stepping-stone towards positive change. The introduction of the Masters in Social Enterprise at one of India’s leading academic schools, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in 2007 heralded a small but growing trend to provide formal training for entrepreneurs aspiring to create social change.

The founding of this masters program raised the academic profile for social enterprise as a career and created a viable pathway for the next generation of socially focused leaders.

7. Introduction of the Sankalp Summit (2009)

Sankalp Forum’s annual summit in 2009 was the first such event of its kind in India that brought together multiple stakeholders such as entrepreneurs, investors, experts and development partners to review the progress made within the sector and to set course for the future. It was initiated with the vision of catalyzing impact investments into social enterprises globally and has today evolved into a community of over 350 socially focused enterprises, 300 investors and 300 sector stakeholders.

The popularity of Sankalp Forum brought to the forefront the importance of local and regional events for the convergence of global knowledge and investment dialog necessary to further the inclusive ecosystem in India.

8. Passing of the Companies Bill (2013)

The passing of the Companies Bill and along with it the mandatory 2% of profits spend on CSR activities is a historic piece of legislation. While the impact of this spend has been a topic of much debate, including criticism that CSR is simply a public relations exercise, the new bill is an opportunity for Indian corporates to embrace a few large social problems that government benefits have been unable to resolve satisfactorily.

Moreover, the bill is aimed at providing important financial resources to NGO’s, social enterprises as well as incubators and accelerators with the ultimate intention being for corporates to play a greater role in eradicating social problems such as hunger and lack of education which continue to fester in India.

Steve Jobs – though unrelated to social enterprise – said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in the future.”

Similarly, not only do these eight milestones define India’s social enterprise landscape but they also act as important opportunities for reflection on the way forward – for entrepreneurs, investors, accelerators and governments alike.

Content is Key to Internet

Internet landscape in India is transforming very fast thanks to mobile penetration. The latest IAMAI report says India has 200 million internet users. As of June 2013, India had 873.36 million mobile subscribers of which 176.5 million users accessed internet through their mobile device.  Every month India adds three million mobile internet users.

Trends

The media in India is focusing a lot on e-commerce portals for the past few years but there is a considerable amount of activity in the content space too.

Content portals are not limited to news and entertainment alone. That was true a decade ago but now there are several speciality portals, or verticals, in content space – lifestyle, automobile, education, sports, health. Comscore reports repeatedly demonstrate that the consumption of content portals is on the rise. This is expected because internet now is used by all sections of the society – students, professionals, retired people and women.

But there is a huge misconception even today that internet is largely for English speaking people. We at Oneindia have been investing in the language space for over a decade now. Language portals did not take off for a long time because internet penetration was limited to Tier-1 cities. Today, with mobile internet being available at affordable prices, we see a huge surge in consumption of various online services, leading to a number of trends as described below.

1. Infographics

The attention span of readers is shrinking by the day. Alerts from Facebook, Twitter, SMS, and phone calls all interrupt you while reading long-form content. Users want to get the same amount of information but not necessarily in text form – especially as an infographic.

Creating good infographics can be expensive as you need resources with various skills. A designer cannot create a good infographic unless an analytics person presents the information.

2. Content for mobile

Earlier we created content for the desktop user. Mobile data in India became popular by way of SMS; many SMS companies grew aggressively but they died because of the government regulations (SMS limit and DND list).

According to the latest reports, the mobile internet user base is bigger than the desktop internet user base in India. The presentation of content has to be different for a mobile and tablet device. Are publishers geared up for that?

3. WhatsApp replaces SMS

We love anything that is “free”. WhatsApp was the perfect product we were looking for. BBM from BlackBerry offered a similar functionality but limited the circle to BlackBerry users. The cross platform availability of WhatsApp is very attractive. Major political parties are using WhatsApp for interacting with their volunteers. Content publishers should look at generating content to share on WhatsApp with the hope it would get viral.

4. Responsive design

Responsive design (RD) is one of the best ways to render the same content differently depending upon the type of device. While RD is not difficult for simple sites it can get tricky while implementing for complex sites. The best way to tackle RD is by coming to terms with what will be displayed for desktop user vs. a mobile user. It is not necessary to display every pixel of your busy homepage for a mobile user; instead render a simpler version of your homepage for a mobile device while still maintaining the same URL.

5. Content for social media

Content publishers will have to pay a lot of attention to social media users. Facebook penetration in India is very high and the digital marketing team has already started treating it as an important referral source, may be even more than Google.  This means you will need to have a dedicated social media team, just as you have SEO team.

6. Local language

The mobile internet penetration is increasing in non-urban areas. These consumers will want to read content in their local language. In fact, many e-commerce services will need to have a language version to serve this big user base. Local content in local languages on the mobile will be a truly amazing combination.

7. Elections and social media

I have written on my blog about the effect of social media in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. The election fever can already be felt on social media. Political parties and politicians will be using social media mainly as a two-way communication tool. They will keep a tab on the voter pulse through this medium. The advantage of social media is that politician can see the reactions first hand and in real time.

8. Video

The user base for online videos is very large because literacy doesn’t play a factor here. According to Google, almost one-third of the YouTube viewers in India access videos on their mobiles and spend over 48 hours a month on the website.  The popularity of online videos among all age groups is immense.  Earlier, YouTube was the primary platform to watch videos; today Facebook and Google+ have considerable amount of video content. Video has always been popular it will only get more popular in 2014.

Overall 2014 will be an exciting year for content players in India because of the growth of mobile internet, upcoming elections and increase in use of social networks like Facebook. Content publishers have a lot of work to do in 2014!

Small Business, Big Vision

There is so much written these days about how to attract investors that most entrepreneurs “assume” they need funding, and don’t even consider a plan for “bootstrapping,” or self-financing their startup. Yet, according to manysources, over 90 percent of all businesses are started and grown with no equity financing, and many others would have been better off without it.

According to the book, “Small Business, Big Vision,” by self-made entrepreneurs Adam and Matthew Toren, it’s really a question of need versus want. We all want to have our vision realized sooner rather than later, but it can be a big mistake to bring in investors rather than patiently building your business at a slow, steady pace (organic growth).

In fact, most of the rich entrepreneurs you know actively turned away early equity proposals. Too many founders are convinced they “need” equity financing, for the wrong reasons, as outlined in the book and supplemented with a bit of my own experience:

  • Need employees and professional services. Of course, every company needs these, in due time. In today’s Internet world, enterprising entrepreneurs have found that they can find out and do almost anything they need, from incorporating the company to filing patents, without expensive consultants, or the cost to hiring and firing employees.
  • Need expensive resources up front. Many people think that having a proper office and equipment somehow legitimizes their business, but unless your business requires a storefront, everything else can be done in someone’s home office, or a local coffee shop, on used or borrowed equipment. Consider all the alternatives, like lease versus buy.
  • Need to spread the risk. Some entrepreneurs seem to get solace and implied prestige from convincing friends, Angels, and venture capitalists to put money into their endeavor. If nothing else, these make good excuses for failure – no freedom, wrong guidance, etc.

On the other hand, there are clearly situations where your needs call for investors. Even in these cases, all other options should be explored first:

  • Sales are strong – too strong. If you are not able to keep up with demand due to lack of funds for production, and your company is too young for banks to be interested, you will find that investors love these odds, and are quick to go for a chunk of the action.
  • Your company has outgrown you. Some entrepreneurs are quick with creative ideas, and even excellent at managing the chaos of initial implementation. That’s not the same as instilling discipline in a larger organization, where most the challenge is people.
  • You need a prototype. When you have invented a new technology, you need expensive models and testing, including samples for potential customers. If you don’t have the personal funds to make these happen, investors might be your only option.
  • You need specialized equipment. If your solution depends on high-tech chips, injection molding, or medical devices, and you can’t get financing from suppliers, giving up a portion of the company to investors is a rational approach.
  • General startup expenses are beyond your means. Investors are not interested in covering overhead, unless they are convinced that you have already put all your “skin in the game” (not just sweat equity), and have real contributions from friends and family.

When deciding whether and how an investor can help you, remember that finding outside investors requires a huge amount of time and work, perhaps impacting your rollout more than working with alternate approaches and slower growth. Perhaps you really need an advisor rather than an investor.

Even under the best of circumstances, working with an investor requires give and take. More likely, you now have a new boss – which may be counter to why you chose the entrepreneur route in the first place. Maybe that’s why bootstrapped startups are the norm, rather than externally funded ones. You alone get to make the big decisions on your big vision.

[Book Review] Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 Steps to a Successful Startup

Many believe that entrepreneurship cannot be taught, but it is possible to teach people how to make great products and thus create a successful startup, as clearly illustrated in the insightful and actionable guidebook, ‘Disciplined Entrepreneurship.’

Bill Aulet is the managing director in the Martin Trust Centre for Entrepreneurship at MIT and also a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management. He has launched initiatives like the MIT Clean Energy Prize, Energy Ventures Class, Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program (REAP), “t=0” Entrepreneurship Festival, Beehive Cooperative, Entrepreneurs Walk of Fame, Corporate Innovators Sponsor Group, and Global Founders’ Skills Accelerator.

Bill has had a 25-year track record of success in business himself. He has directly raised more than $100 million in funding for his companies and led to the creation of millions of dollars in market value in those companies.

Many of the case studies in the book feature the company he founded, SensAble Technologies. The other case profiles in the book are from Aulet’s course, with startups in sectors such as footwear, water filtration, furniture shopping, baseball fantasy games, wind turbines, bio-sensors, landfill technologies, silent alarm clocks, arts education, skin care, digital marketing, and e-commerce for handicrafts.

The book also has a companion Web site (http://disciplinedentrepreneurship.com/) with case studies and other resources. Entrepreneurship is a team sport which can be taught and should be considered a legitimate profession and discipline, according to Aulet.

The book covers many iterative loops along the startup roadmap, and the steps are illustrated by Marius Ursache. It is not knowledge that sets you free, but action, Aulet explains. To begin with, entrepreneurs must have an idea, a passion, and preferably a tech breakthrough.

One chapter is devoted to each of 24 steps in the startup toolbox, and I have summarised them briefly in Table 1 according to six themes; each chapter makes for a superb read and is backed with references and resources.

Table 1:  Steps to a Successful Startup

Theme Steps Activities and Items
Customer identification Market segmentation, beachhead market, end user profile, TAM size, persona; next 10 customers Primary/secondary market research (users, benefits), word of mouth channels, qualities of customers, top-down and bottom-up determination of total addressable market
Customer offering Full life cycle use case, product spec, value proposition, core definition, competitive positioning Product acquisition/installation/payment, brochures and mock-ups, USP (‘secret sauce’ – eg. network effect, UX), meeting customer needs better than existing offerings
Product acquisition by customer Customer’s decision making unit, acquisition process of paying customer, sales process mapping Decision makers and primary/secondary influencers, budget cycles and times, adjacent customers, sales activities over near/medium/long term
Monetisation Business model, pricing framework, lifetime value (LTV), cost of customer acquisition (COCA) Models to capture value from customer (eg. subscription, licensing, ads), price points and ranges, charges and recurring fees, top down costs of lead generation and conversion
Product design and development Identifying key assumptions, testing assumptions, minimum viable business product (MBVP), proof of purchase List assumptions in the market and customer mindset, test through observations and polls, design basic product which customer will pay for and give feedback, demonstrate intent to purchase and engage
Scaling the business Calculate TAM size of follow-on markets, develop a product plan Determine product features for beachhead market, determine adjacent markets and product changes needed

Aulet distinguishes between SME entrepreneurship (more focused on non-tradeable jobs such as running a restaurant, with linear growth rates) and innovation-driven entrepreneurship (with investments, more risk, and potential of global exponential growth and profits).

He also highlights the unique nature of ‘two-sided’ markets which need two kinds of communities to succeed, for example buyers and sellers (e-Bay) or readers and advertisers (AdWords). This calls for multiple total addressable market (TAM) calculations and persona descriptions for each.

“Beachhead TAM calculation is your sanity check that you are headed in the right direction,” Aulet flags off in the beginning. It is a combination of customer base and estimated product price. Value proposition itself is a combination of how the product makes life better, faster, cheaper or less risky for the customer.

Entrepreneurs should stay out of the ‘reality distortion zone’ and not fall victim to their hope and hype; dealing with customer feedback – even from naysayers – will help focus on real solutions, Aulet advises.

‘Core’ aspects of the startup would be unique features such as network effects, outstanding customer service, lowest cost or best user experience. This will then need to be backed up with business models such as up-front charge, hourly rates, subscription, license, ad support, reselling of analytics, transaction fees, tiered models, shared savings and franchise.

Pricing should be flexible for a range of customers, example for early testers, lighthouse customers and co-creators. Lifetime value calculations are important to gauge the long-term viability of current and future products, and go hand in hand with calculation of customer acquisition costs.

Once a product has been launched, the startup founder then needs to address the challenges of building company culture for the long term, HR strategies, cash flow skills, and corporate governance.

“The world needs more and better entrepreneurs because our world’s problems are becoming more dire, complex and ubiquitous,” Aulet concludes.

The book has a number of witty and inspiring quotes, and it would be nice to end this review with some of them.

“Entrepreneurship is not only a mindset but a skillset.” – Mitch Kapor, Founder, Lotus

“While the spirit of entrepreneurship is often about serendipity, the execution is not.” – Joi Ito, Director, MIT Media Lab

“Ideas are a dime a dozen but great entrepreneurs are what create value.” – Paul Maeder, National VC Association

Start Up Phases and Tips

“Entrepreneurs are able to walk the fine line between being focused yet agile, and visionary yet reactive,” the authors begin. “Knowledge alone isn’t power, it’s potential power. Knowledge combined with action is power,” they explain.

Starting up is a mix of art, science and business. It involves the steps of questioning, observing, hypothesising, experimenting and analysing – with lots of creativity and instinct thrown in between.

“You must become a scientist and look at your startup as a science experiment,” the authors advise. I have summarised the authors’ startup phases and tips in Table 1 below; each chapter explains them in more detail.

The book is packed (almost half of it) with illustrations but not all of them add value and the book could be much shorter; more industry examples for the principles would have been a good addition.

Table 1: Agile Startup Phases and Tips

Phase Insights
Understanding Agile Philosophy Have fun! Understand and align with your motivation. Grapple with reality. Be prepared for highs and lows. Understand the scientific method. Focus on problems and not just solutions. Listen to customers and don’t worry about embarrassing yourself. Launch to learn. Fail fast and often; beg for forgiveness rather than ask for permission. Understand and contain risk early.
Understanding Feasibility Repeatedly ask and examine whether customers will buy your product/service. Double your worst-case scenarios. Test mock-ups. Go beyond the idea to a product/service. Ask open-ended questions in surveys, not leading questions. Go beyond surveys to actual observations. Are you offering a cure, painkiller or vitamin? Think like a VC.
Customer and competitive strategies Ride the wave or create it. Understand the market and the customers’ pain points. Ask people “what sucks” about your product. Focus on core customer segments. Draw up a competitive matrix. Beware of fast followers.
Revenues and profits Draw up a comprehensive business model (eg. inventory, sales, contractors, office costs). Examine hybrid revenue models. Balance variable and fixed costs. Get the minimum viable product into the market fast. Calculate how much runway you have left. Monitor KPIs.
Marketing Get the positioning right. Go to press only when ready. Use different strategies for old and new markets. Sell wants, but deliver needs (“emotion + reason”). Address customer needs not just product features. Test messages. Leverage guerrilla tactics (eg. Red Bull’s stunts). Create and frame customer personas. Promise but overdeliver.
Team building Sign a ‘pre-nup’ with co-founders and partners. Find the right people, get them to the right positions. Align visions along the company’s evolution. Be prepared to move aside and let professional managers take over from founders in the scale stage. Design the vesting stages, amounts and periods carefully. Delegate but don’t abdicate. Form an advisory board.
The Startup Pitch Develop the tagline, one-liner, elevator pitch and full presentation. End the pitch with a call to action. Get used to rejections and learn from them. Strengthen the use-case scenario. Reiterate key takeaways. Stress the hot buttons. Fake it till you make it. Don’t dumb it down but aim for simplicity.
Investors Show traction, otherwise you are just a ‘wantrapreneur.’ Show your obsession with the company. Pick your investor based on portfolio match. Find the balance between money, power, control and lifestyle. Dialogue with serial entrepreneurs, startup experts and industry veterans. Chart key milestones. Use demos to pitch effectively. Fundraising alone is not a sign of success; valuation isn’t everything. Factor in long-term defensibility of the product with your team.
Building the business Nail it before you scale it: get the business model right. Jot your thoughts down to track key issues. Sharpen a sense of clarity and purpose. Manage meetings effectively. Be prepared for the worst, expect the unexpected. Be your own customer. Thing big, but also execute the smallest details. Design a short rallying mantra which is inspirational, aspirational, attainable. Evolve your metrics. Your network is your net worth. Leverage the underdog story, and a tangible enemy. Guard your reputation. Hire other rainmakers also. Be frugal but not cheap. Know when to quit, there is no shame in shutting down.

The authors identify five kinds of risks faced by entrepreneurs: product (will the technology work), market (will people buy it), financing (can you get off the ground and thrive), competition (are there fast followers/incumbents), execution (can you pull the whole thing off).

“The most important thing you should do as an entrepreneur is to turn assumptions into facts as quickly as possible,” the authors advise.

A solid customer-acquisition strategy is one of the most important aspects of the go-to-market plan. The value proposition must be 10X better than that of the competition, and a moat strategy will be needed to build sustainable competitive advantage (eg. via patents, secrets, speed, brand, cost advantage, regulations).

Marketing is one of the hardest things to get right in business, making it a common startup killer, the authors caution; marketing is as important as product development for a startup. “Luck is not a plan,” the authors add.

“Marketing that leads with emotion and justifies with reason delivers sales,” they explain. Customers buy with emotion, but also justify it with reason.

Entrepreneurs should factor in a range of parameters such as customer acquisition costs, customer switching costs, customer lifecycle value, length and cost of sales cycles, serviceable available market, and serviceable obtainable market.

In the entrepreneurial journey, it is important to get alignment with the team’s basic human needs: certainty, variety, significance, connection, growth and contribution. Startups offer employees a unique mix of flexibility, challenge, variety and the feeling of accomplishment.

“Investors are an indispensable part of the startup landscape, especially when it comes to technology companies,” the authors observe. Seed investments are usually less than $2 million; VCs typically want to own 20-40% of a company in exchange for a $2-10 million investment.

The authors also cut through the media hype about startups by explaining that almost 98% of startup work is monotonous and painstaking; there are many near-death moments; there is a strong sense of isolation; and there can be severe family pressures.
The average age of an entrepreneur is 39, and rather than physical age the most important success factor is emotional age and resourcefulness. Having sounding boards with mentors and other entrepreneurs is a big help.

“It’s not a startup until you build something, and it’s not a business until you sell something,” the authors conclude. “Building a successful business from scratch is nothing short of amazing. Start living your entrepreneurial dream,” they add.
It would be fitting to end this review with some of the useful inspirational quotes in the book:

Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” – Dwight Eisenhower
When you assume, you make an ass out of u and me.” – Oscar Wilde
Every business has two major functions: innovation and marketing.” – Peter Drucker
If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” – Isaac Newton
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” – Leonardo da Vinci
Skate to where the puck is going to be.” – Wayne Gretzky
Fail fast, succeed sooner.” – David Kelly, CEO, Ideo

Offline Retailers Launch Online Protest “We Will Act’ For Price Undercutting By Ecommerce Sites

I have heard this from number of my friends who run physical stores – This year they have experienced much lower footfalls from consumers, especially in the electronic and apparel segment. And many of them believe it is due to rise in ecommerce in India. People now increasingly prefer shopping online rather than going to physical stores.

And this trend will only increase…and why not, consumers buying online are getting much better deals, sometimes nearly half the price at which local offline retailer will offer you.

While this is great for consumers, have you thought how this is affecting lakhs of local offline businesses? Obviously, they now see online retailers as their biggest enemy.

So what do offline retailers do to overcome this?

These physical store owners are now getting together to protest against the undercutting of prices by online retailers. They have launched a website – We Will Act – that condemns the business practices undertaken by ecommerce sites (mind you, in very strong words). They have also written to the Competition Commission of India, complaining that their online counterparts are selling goods below cost and skirting Indian laws on foreign direct investment in retail.

We Will Act | Offline Retailers Launch We Will Act Protest For Price Undercutting By Ecommerce Sites

The website wewillact.com have put up Appeals to Government of India, Political parties of India, to consumers, to manufacturers and vendors and even to Venture Capitalists who are putting millions of dollars of investment.

Sample this – Here is what “We Will Act” asks consumers to do, in their own words:

?Let’s take some small steps

We will not purchase or supply anything to these unethical online retailers. ( XKart, Ydeal, KBong..)

?Lets boycott them.

Let’s now punish them:

1- Let’s place Cash on delivery orders for Rs.40000.00 rupees items every alternate day and cancel when delivery boy comes to delivery. This will make them to lose their fat by Rs.1000.00 at least.

2- Whenever you are free call to their customer care and waste their time. This will increase their customer care expenses.

Here is what they say about online retailers:

Some online retailers in India are like BIGDE BETE of their BIG PAPA of USA. They are getting so much money for doing so much of experiment in India and kind of playing GAMBLING. Every six months they are changing their business models, spending heavily on advertisements, selling everything to everyone at much below their cost prices, running business in huge operating losses and that is adversely affecting the traditional physical retailers.

There can be possibility if some enemies of our country or terror outfits giving funding to these MONKEYS to do so much drama and make lakhs of retailers loose their piece of mind and livelihood.

Will This Protest Help?

I really don’t think this it is going to make any difference. While they have a right to be frustrated with price undercutting, it is a business model which online retailers are following with a view of garnering consumer base in long term. I don’t think anyone can object online retailers’ business practices.

Rather than doing a protest like this, they need to accept the new world order and join the flow. They have to find a way to compete and probably move their business online.

Six things Entrepreneur should Avoid !!

Entrepreneurship is like creating your own world with your own rules.

A world where you are the King, and your decisions will make or break your world. Not surprisingly though, there are more failures in entrepreneurship than success.

And this clearly shows that not every Entrepreneur is capable of making the right decisions. Heck, even most of the human beings are not able to take the right decisions at the right time.

But that doesn’t mean that decisions should not be taken or the fear of failure should make you hide. Bad decisions are of course bad and should be avoided. But the brave makes the decisions and then makes them right.

In this same endeavor, let’s go through some of the decisions which can make or break a business enterprise.

Entrepreneurship advice | 6 Things an Entrepreneur Should Always Prevent From Happening

If you are the entrepreneur, then these 6 things should be clearly avoided:

1) Lots of Thinking and Very less Action

Don’t be late and miss the train. Lots of new entrepreneurs and startup founders face this dilemma in the early stages. And there are some seasoned entrepreneurs who go through this phase as well: the period where lots of thinking and brain storming is done but nothing concrete comes out. If you have an idea and have a vision of making it big, then just do it.

Solution: This small formulae can help you: Think Big ; Start Small ; Scale Fast.

Yes, you are thinking big and its very appreciable but start small. And focus on scaling fast.

2) Focus on raising VC money

The main focus of the entrepreneur should always be on building a great product; nurturing a great team and finding out what your customers want. Venture capital will follow suit automatically. If you primary focus is to grab the millions which VCs have, then it can prove disastrous for your business.

It is said that the VCs find the best Businesses to invest in and rarely it’s the other way round. 9 out of 10 VC funded companies actually fail!

Solution: Instead of looking for VC money, you should rather be focused on finding the true 1000 fans for your business.

3) Over-promise and Under-deliver

Human psychology tells us that we humans tend to remember negative things more than we remember positive things. And the news channel and newspaper know this fact. This is the reason bad news sells faster than good news. Our brains are wired this way; we can’t help it.

Now, if you are a new entrepreneur and just starting your journey then one thing you will definitely do is over-promise. And once you do that, you have lost an excellent chance to impress your customer or clients.

Over-promising leads to under-delivering most of the times and it creates a bad impression in front of your customers and clients. And this bad impression will remain longer than you expect.

Solution: Under-promise and over-deliver to your customers, which can turn the tables in your favor, instantly. Over-delivering is an art and when rightly used, it can pave your way to success.

4) Scarcity of new ideas:

Today’s information age is all about innovation and ideas. Being an entrepreneur, you should always and always look out for new ideas inside your domain. If you are not able to find the ideas, then hire a person who can.

But at any cost, bring on new ideas! Failure to embrace innovation will result in your company’s downfall. Even Blackberry and Nokia couldn’t stop it.

Solution: Bring in the idea guy into your team. Find a person who has lots of ideas in store, and use it. Don’t discourage anyone from sharing anything. Even a stopped clock shows right time twice a day!

5) Going Solo

An entrepreneur’s mind is like a puzzle, which gets complicated with each passing day. There are plans which are in the pipeline and the operations which should be taken care of right now. There are tax related issues which should be handled with care and there are angry clients wanting your attention.

Admit it, you can’t make it to the top all alone. You need a team which supports you and believes in you. Going solo is the worst decision any entrepreneur can ever make. And here is a small VC tip which comes from straight from a VC: They don’t invest in companies; they invest in teams.

Solution: Find a co-founder as fast as you can. If not a co-founder then atleast find a person who can handle the operations when you are not around. Focus on building the team, and the team will build you.

6) Stop Marketing

When I asked one of my entrepreneur friends about their marketing efforts, he replied me, “Who needs marketing when your products rock?” 6 months down the line, he is begging me to spend money on PPC to bring in business.

PPC is instant marketing, no doubt. You spend dollars and you get instant customers. But the real marketing is when you get customers organically, absolutely free of cost, without spending a penny on PPC.

We call it Content Marketing, which actually rocks.

But more than often, entrepreneurs fail to understand organic marketing practices and lose a big chunk of profits and business. It is said that marketing should be started even before you launch your product.

Solution: First find your customers and then sell your products. Here is an interesting blog by Seth Godin (America’s greatest Marketer) about this question here: Which comes first, the product or the marketing?

Do you want to share any story related with Entrepreneurship? Any decision which you wished that you had made? Or any decision which you shouldn’t have made! Please share your views right here.

 

Start Business in 10 Days.

Day 1

Draw up a business plan

When launching College Hunks Hauling Junk in 2004, the first move for friends Nick Friedman and Omar Soliman was to dust off the business plan they’d written in college a couple of years prior. “Ultimately, it was a really valuable guide for us,” Friedman says. In fact, it helped turn their $80,000 initial investment ($30,000 of which was their own money) into a powerhouse with some 500 employees and 47 U.S. franchises.

Whether written on the back of a napkin or a highly detailed 25-page document, a business plan is critical for startups seeking the fast route to profitability, asserts Ken Yancey, CEO of SCORE, a small-business mentoring organization that offers free, generic business-plan templates on its website.

Day 2

Study the market

Market research is vital to a startup looking to hit the ground running, according to Yancey. You want to create a snapshot of the competitive landscape you’re entering: how your products or services compare to what’s available, who your target customers are and what government regulations and licensing requirements to expect. The SBA’s SizeUp tool provides access to meaningful demographic data, mapping potential customers, competitors and suppliers, as well as identifying possible advertising avenues.

When he was preparing to launch National Storm Shelters in 2010, company president Jeff Turner conducted market research at trade shows and held discussions with potential customers and competitors. This confirmed what his instincts told him: that he had a winning product. The Smyrna, Tenn.-based company, which designs, manufactures and installs above- and below-ground safe rooms and storm shelters, was profitable virtually since day one and now generates about $1.5 million in annual sales.

As valuable as prelaunch research and planning can be, beware of paralysis by over-analysis, especially when you lack the luxury of time, cautions Fish from Integra Staffing. “Defining your sandbox is important. But don’t over-think or over-plan, and don’t put a lot of stock in sales forecasts.”

You’re bound to have questions about strategy and practicalities leading up to launch. To get answers without ringing up an expensive consulting tab, enlist someone with the acumen and willingness to provide advice, coaching and skills to augment those you lack. A former boss provided free advice to Ostermiller initially, then became a paid advisor once Altitude Digital could afford the expense.

Day 3

Build out your brand

A brand identity, including a name and a professional-looking logo, can bring instant legitimacy, even before launch. For DIYers, online tools like LogoMaker offer libraries of icons, color combinations and other elements to help develop a logo fast–no design expertise required. Services such as Logoworks are available if you want the work done for you quickly and inexpensively. Once you have your logo nailed down, take your file to a quick-turnaround print service for letterhead, business cards and marketing collateral such as posters, mailers and sales sheets.

In most cases, startups need some kind of web presence to solidify their brand identity (see “The quick-start startup” on page 20). Don’t forget to stake out a position on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and LinkedIn. You may not use social media right now, but you want to plant your flag ASAP.

Day 4

Incorporate the business

The nature of the startup dictates the extent to which it should rely on an attorney to incorporate, trademark ideas/products, formalize partnership agreements, etc. While it’s best to let an attorney tackle any complex legal matters, Friedman of College Hunks Hauling Junk suggests considering some of the numerous online tools available to help you handle simple undertakings yourself. “Our first bill from an attorney to set up an LLC was $1,500. Little did we know we could have done that ourselves for $300 online,” he says.

Day 5

Set up a lean machine

With the clock ticking toward launch, Ostermiller needed help. He found it on Craigslist, taking on two unpaid interns (both recent college grads) whom he immediately put to work–one on sales and one on operations–with the promise to hire them full time after 90 days if things went well.

With no office yet, Ostermiller’s interns worked from coffee shops while he did so from his kitchen table. Likewise, Friedman’s parents’ basement served as the first office for College Hunks Hauling Junk. For Fish and Integra Staffing, a modest office, spartanly furnished with used furniture, sufficed. From the outset, she says, the goal was to “minimize the monthly burn.”

Another tip: Beware the glowing promises of efficiency and speed from shiny new technology and software. “Unless technology is part of your core competency, you need to be careful how much you invest in technology early on, because it can become very expensive very quickly,” Friedman says. “You really need to fine-tune your model before investing a lot in technology solutions.”

Day 6

Start selling

Bringing in profits means making sales. Ostermiller and his interns chased leads even before his company launched officially. Fish’s sales efforts began with tireless networking. “I didn’t have any money then, so I got my ass out of the chair and into the community,” she says. “Any event in town with more than 25 people, I was there. Breakfast, lunch or dinner–it didn’t matter.”

To lay the marketing and sales groundwork for his startup, Friedman let people in his personal network know about his new venture. “We had a support network, a group of cheerleaders who were really inspired to help us with our idea before we launched.”

Day 7

Work the media

To generate buzz and sales, make media relations a priority. As Turner and Friedman discovered, media outreach by a business owner can pay quick and substantial dividends. “I called different TV stations the first day we went to market to tell them about [National Storm Shelters] and ended up on the 5 o’clock news,” Turner says. “That was huge!”

Similarly, right around the time of its launch, College Hunks got a major boost from an article that landed in The Washington Post thanks to Friedman placing a call to a reporter there. “We shot high, and it got us on the front page of the Metro section,” he says. “Our phone rang off the hook from that article.”

Day 8

Fake it to make it

Success is often a self-fulfilling prophecy. However modest your beginnings, however short your track record, think big and act like you belong. “We were scraping by, but we walked, talked and acted like a bigger company,” Friedman says.

College Hunks launched with an 800 number, a memorable logo and a website that provided e-mail addresses for a range of company departments (pr@…, marketing@…, HR@…), all of which funneled back to Friedman and his partner. “It made us look like we were an established business,” Friedman says. “Having that image not only gave us confidence, it established a level of credibility and confidence in the consumer’s mind. I think that’s what got us those large corporate accounts early on.”

Fish took a different tack. She says she invested in a receptionist prior to launch, primarily to impart a sense of professionalism to callers.

Day 9

Work in and on your business

For startup entrepreneurs, the fast route to profitability often means working in and on the business concurrently–at least in the first days and weeks. It’s a constant battle for time between hustling up new business and taking care of new customers with outstanding service. “We were at the dump at 5 a.m., doing all the physical stuff, while also doing all the customer-facing stuff whenever we could,” Friedman says.

When the day-to-day workload from the business becomes too heavy–a good sign, because it means you have customers–it’s time to move tasks such as strategic planning, hiring and marketing programs to the back burner. Focus on generating cash flow first, Friedman suggests.

Day 10

Throw a party

With the foundation for your business set, invite your network of contacts, vendors, friends, family, customers and prospects to a grand-opening celebration to generate buzz and goodwill within your community. Doing so solidifies your image, telling people you’re open for business and you mean it.

At the party, take a breath, sip some champagne, make a speech thanking everyone who’s helped and seek feedback from your guests. In short order, you’ve created your first focus group, one that will likely provide you with a laundry list of tweaks, ideas and improvements that you can start on tomorrow.