What The Best Presenters Always and Never Do

Presentations take on many forms, from slideshows to the more stunning videos that are becoming more commonplace on the internet. As a matter of fact, Computing Forever tells us that of the seven most popular types of videos on YouTube, three of them are in presentation form showcasing: How-To-Guides and Tutorials Consumer Buying Advice Lifestyle, Fitness and Self-help Even a couple of the other topics, video game walkthroughs, celebrity and entertainment gossip, will use some type of a presentation format. We’ve come a long way from Toastmasters, helping ...

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How Michael Slaby Utilized Technology to Win the ’08 Obama Campaign—and Forever Changed Political Campaigns

Whenever I heard about the role technology played in Obama’s campaigns, it read something like this: “Obama seizes victory with social media,” or, “Bush campaign lags in use of digital…leads to GOP failure.” What most of these articles miss is not the integral role technology played in Democratic success, but the mobilizing forces and deliberate thought processes that were behind the deployment of that technology. Michael Slaby, former CTO then Chief Innovation & Integration Officer at Obama for America (OFA), was one of the driving forces behind the ...

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Should a Non-Technical Founder Learn to Code?

"Should I teach myself to code today?" I could spend the next 2 years teaching myself a programming language, and I’d still be a more efficient marketer than coder. I know this, and that’s what continues to hold me back from dedicating time to learn more about the mechanics of the web. Despite the evidence that affirms this hypothesis, this question still haunts me on a daily basis. A smart person once told me that a good leader today has to know how to manage two kinds of employees: 1) Humans 2) Machines Not knowing how to code means I as a CEO/Co-fou...

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Skinny Cows

Many businesses want to generate a steady return of profits and keep their costs down.  So how can you become a cash cow while maintaining a lean startup business model? A cash cow is a business venture that generates positive cash flow far above what is needed to run the business. Cash cows typically represent significant competition in its market. A cash cow typically produces innovative and interesting products that capture even-larger market shares.  Cash cows also attract customers with an array of products and favorable pricing schemes. Although, some cash cows, ...

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Startups: What to Do if One of Your Customers Goes Bankrupt

Bankruptcy. It’s a pretty scary thought but not an uncommon one to most starters who stare down financial ruin every day. For a minute, forget about your own business or personal bankruptcy and the related specter of ramen noodles and urban foraging.  Instead, think about this: what if one of your customers goes bankrupt? It’s intuitive that a startup whose customers go bankrupt might suffer the same fate at some point.  But remember that “bankruptcy” isn’t equivalent to “going out of business.”  Many companies have gone into bankruptcy and later ...

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You are Wasting More Time on Social Media Than You Think

In a single day, this is the number of times I checked the following applications, whether on my phone, tablet, or laptop: Facebook: 9 LinkedIn: 5 TweetDeck: 17 Instagram: 4 Now, let's say I spent an average of 4 minutes on site every time I checked one of these social media platforms: 35 x 4 minutes = 140 minutes = 2.3 hours Unbelievable. Let's say, on average, I can produce $1,000 in revenue with an hour of my time if I'm working on the right project. That means I lost $2,300 in revenue in a single day in order to check social media platforms ...

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Six Months Later: Impact Engine and Social Enterprise are Killing It

Less than a year ago, I asked a prominent figure in Chicago’s startup community about local investors’ interest in the social enterprise model. She told me flatly, “No one cares.” Well, they care now. Since Impact Engine’s Investor Day in December 2012, five of the eight members of the initial cohort have closed a round of funding. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s 62.5%, compared to 6% or less for startups in general. (Paying attention, #socent startups? The deadline to apply for Impact Engine’s next class is June 30th.) Six months ago, I ...

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5 Critical Startup Lessons from DoNotRent.com CEO, Mike Cerny

Mike Cerny, CEO and founder of the startup DoNotRent.com, a national apartment review and ratings website based in Chicago, knows the challenges of building a company from the ground up. He has faced the typical trials startup founders face, including gaining traction as a self-funded bootstrapped company and competing with well-established brands with large marketing budgets. So, what are some actions you can take not to get discouraged along the way while dealing with these challenges? New entrepreneurs, listen up—because if you’re in the early stages of a ...

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13 Smart Ways to Spend and Manage Your Startup Money

"What's the best financial decision that you've made for your company in the last six months?" This is the question that was posed recently to 13 members of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. Here are their tips for making great financial decisions for your startup. 1. Raised the roof I gave my employees raises across the board. They earned it after we had a great year in 2012, and they are also intelligent and loyal employees. Why not share the success with them? -- Sh...

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The 8 Commandments of Growth Hacking

The term “startup” is overused. Too often, we causally connect “startup” with any newly opened organization. I get it, too: startups are exhilarating. Saying you opened a pizza shop or wrote a fledgling business plan just does not pack the same punch. Startups scream sexy and romanticized business; but in reality, a startup is just one thing: growth. Enter: Paul Graham. Paul’s definition of a “startup” is the most honest I have ever heard: “startup = growth.” While startups can involve developers, designers, investors, etc., none are requirements. ...

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Rent the Runway Co-Founder Jenny Fleiss: Always Keep a Pulse on Your Customer & Company Culture

Jenny Fleiss is an entrepreneurial force to be reckoned with. She started her career as a strategic planner at Morgan Stanley, and then Lehman Brothers. After a few years of strategy work, she went off to Harvard Business School in 2007. When she first started at HBS, Jenny couldn't have predicted how going to business school would forever alter the trajectory of her career. But, that it did. It was during those two years that she met her future co-founder, Jennifer Hyman. While in business school, they launched Rent the Runway, a one-stop shop to rent dresses ...

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Lightbank & Chicago Tech Academy: Innovation Comes From The Most Unlikely Places

Chicago Tech Academy is not your average high school. Tucked away in Pilsen, it might look like a typical Chicago Public School–fluorescent lighting, teachers busy moving students from one class to another, students in “Chi Tech” shirts, locker-lined hallways. But once you step inside a classroom, you will immediately see that this is not the case. You’re surrounded by innovative minds in the most unlikely of places. Finding the undiscovered talent Something unique is happening at Chi Tech Academy. It’s where the next generation of tech leaders and entrepren...

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The Challenges and Rewards of Growing a Company in Omaha

Real-time online auction marketplace Proxibid is not a new company, but it has certainly stayed fresh since being founded in 2001 by four Omaha-based entrepreneurs. That’s because technological innovation has remained a key priority for the company. “We believe strongly that we can never stop innovating,” says Proxibid CEO and President Ryan Downs. “So we invest a significant portion of our budget in new features and capabilities.” Considered one of the fastest-rising tech companies in the Midwest today, Proxibid was established originally as a tech and ...

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5 Major Takeaways from the Quantified Self Conference in Amsterdam

I want to begin at the end: “Imagine you are lying on your deathbed. Life is almost over.” This is the request that was made at the closing talk of the Quantified Self conference in Amsterdam earlier this month. The room was silent. Everyone's thoughts were diligently projecting into the future and reflecting on the past. “What do you remember? What do you regret?” Here we were, 350 self-trackers who came together based on a passion for hard, quantitative metrics—and we were reflecting on the soft, qualitative emotions that will inevitably accompany our ...

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Should One of Your First Employees Be a…Lawyer?

At a startup, once funding, revenue, or both are in the bank, typically the company will hire new employees. But, instead of filling up the team with designers, developers, marketers, and salespeople, should a startup consider bringing on a lawyer? A standard business rule of thumb for hiring an in-house attorney is (give or take) $100M in revenue or 100 employees.  But, there is a big difference between hiring someone to be an “in-house lawyer,” and hiring someone who has a legal skill set. Startups do not need a traditional general counsel.  In other ...

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Startups, Stop Worrying About How You’re Going to Scale

"How am I going to scale that?" I hear the above question constantly from fellow early-stage entrepreneurs, and I find it baffling and arrogant. If the founder of a 50-person company asked me that question, I would understand and empathize with their situation. At that level, it becomes much harder to offer a personal touch to prospects, customers, and other stakeholders. But when I hear it from startups that are a couple of founders pushing an MVP, it seems illogical and lazy. The "personal touch" doesn't scale well, but having it can help cause your company to ...

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Why You Lost Your Startup Passion—and How to Get it Back Again

It happens to everyone. You’re plugging away on a project and it hits you: What am I doing? Why am I here? Should I be doing something else with my life? It’s a fact: a lot of people lose passion for their work. As a startup owner, it’s critical to have passion for what you do. If you don’t love your work, it’s going to make it that much more difficult to pour your heart into your business. Startup owners often don’t have the luxury of a typical 9 to 5 day and are taxed with overseeing multiple aspects of their business. Sometimes, they are the business and ...

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The 5-Step Process for Finding the Best Designer and Developer for Your Business

Building a website for your small business is a lot like breathing.  It’s an essential.  If you read my last post, you heard about my unpleasant experience with building my own site.  My experience was an extreme one.  Still, almost every small business owner will tell you that finding a reliable person or team to execute your dream website is not an easy task. Now, you can go with a high-end design/development team (I love the brilliant Jennifer Elsner of Viewers Like You, for example) and guarantee an amazing working relationship and end product.  This option ...

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Mark Achler Shares Redbox’s Secret to Success

Mark Achler thought Redbox was a stupid idea. How can a company invest all the time and money necessary to manufacture, ship, maintain, and stock big kiosks full of DVDs all over the country—and only charge customers a dollar a day per movie? Before an audience of startup founders and employees at Catapult Chicago last month, Mark openly answered this and many other questions while riffing on his career path as a serial entrepreneur—which included, as it turns out: SVP of Strategy, Innovation & New Business at Redbox. He made it clear there is no secret ...

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If You Want to Start Something You’re Passionate About, You Just Need 10 Minutes

“Got ten minutes? Go.” This was the subject line of an email that Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia sent Jamie Wong several years ago. At the time, Wong hadn’t yet founded Vayable—she already had the idea for the online travel marketplace, but she was still reluctant to execute it. “I felt for some reason like I wasn’t ready,” she says. When Wong, then an Airbnb host, encountered Gebbia at a meetup, she talked to him about how she really wanted to start her own company. “I asked him if we could grab a coffee, and we did,” Wong recalls. “Then afterwards ...

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Every (Successful) Strategic Startup Vision Begins with Some Serious Introspection

There’s something oddly remarkable about entrepreneurs these days. So many of them are prepared to suffer for their business strategies, yet so few actually take the time to learn how to strategize. Part of the problem, I suppose, is that it has become quite fashionable to call oneself an entrepreneur without really knowing what the word means. Or what the title requires. But, necessity is the mother of fashion. When the economy as we once knew it dropped dead in 2008, many Americans suddenly realized: taking control of one’s own destiny and going it alone was ...

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The 7 Important Entrepreneurial Lessons I Learned at Big Omaha (They’re Not What You Think)

I just came back from Big Omaha this past week, which is pretty much the best conference in the country for entrepreneurs. The event is thrown by a truly spectacular team, and it is evident the moment you walk in to a Big Series event that they really care about creating an unforgettable event experience for everyone who attends one of their events. Check out the in-depth coverage of the event, and stay up to date on Big Omaha news. I had the privilege of interviewing some incredible entrepreneurs and investors during the conference, including: Tony Conrad, Dave ...

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4 Valuable Lessons on Growing Your Startup from: Neil Patel, Emerson Spartz, Aaron Ginn, and David Petrillo

The Technori Growth Summit, a one-day conference on business growth strategies for entrepreneurs, was held recently at the Gensler HQ in Chicago. The event gathered 150 founders, developers, and marketers from in and around Midwest, and featured a carefully selected lineup of speakers with proven track records in building and growing businesses. Looking to grow your startup but missed the event? Don’t worry. Here’s a recap of four valuable lessons we learned at the Technori Growth Summit: 1. “Test early and often.” - David Petrillo As the inventor and ...

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Now That We Have All This Big Data, What Should We Do With It?

"Nobody gets into marketing because they love math." That sentiment came from Erik Severinghaus, founder of SimpleRelevance, at the April 25th Evening With An Expert event hosted by the Chicago chapter of the American Marketing Association at the 1871 tech incubator. Math may not be the inspiration for marketers, but now it’s become a necessity. There’s simply too much valuable information buried in big data for them to ignore it any longer. Severinghaus was part of a discussion on how marketers are using big data. He was joined by Doug Laney of Gartner and Dan ...

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31 Things You Need to Cover in Your VC Pitch Deck

When preparing your company’s financial and business models for a VC pitch deck, you need to make them compelling, eye catching, and to the point—they have to get the deal done. Your VC pitch deck should be a great snapshot of your company. When an entrepreneur goes for funding, he or she needs to present a financing package to potential investors and understand all the details and assumptions behind the numbers.  The financial model is the key tool entrepreneurs can use to share their perspectives with investors.  The VCs will have their own smarty pants accoun...

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