A Million Things On My Plate

I am feeling particularly overwhelmed this week.

I am almost glad the Grouvia beta testing is going slower than I had expected.  I’d rather have one or two people finding a problem than a hundred.  Especially since the development team seems to be dragging their feet with bug fixing.  It’s getting old.

But that’s besides the point.

The point is, I can’t even keep track of all the things that need to get done.  My desk is a disaster, my email is piling up, my VAs are asking me what to do next, and I have an SEO job posting on oDesk that is a month old because I can’t find the time to interview candidates.  And that’s only the stuff I can remember at this moment.

Example: (spoiler! embarrassing moment coming!) I spent the entire drive to my networking meeting this week practicing a new elevator speech about how Grouvia helps groups with four key areas: promotion, communication, planning, and sharing.  My mind kept wandering and I had to keep forcing it back to the speech.  I arrived at the meeting place and got my buffet-style, brown-edged lettuce and mayo-drenched “sea legs” stuff they call salad (don’t ask, cuz I won’t admit where we meet).

Then I sat through small talk with the guy at the table, the president’s intro, the 10-minute speaker, and 16 other elevator pitches.  When it was my turn I started out strong.  Then right in the middle I forgot one of the four things.  OMG.

Of course somebody reminded me what the wayward item was, and I made a joke out of it, and the embarrassing moment was over… but still!

I read Meg Hirshberg’s latest piece in Inc. this morning on the treadmill (yeah, I switched topics, just stay with me for a minute here).  She has real insight into the entrepreneurial mind, and she’s seeing it from the outside (which probably provides a lot more clarity than being on the inside).  But it made me smile, because the lady gets it.  I wish I had her cool in times like this, when I feel like I’m about to totally lose it.  (If you don’t know Meg, pick up a copy of Inc.)

Meg + treadmill = illusion of calm.  It’s temporary but that’s ok.

This crazy week will end, just like all the others.  It’s all part of the journey.  We learn from it, and move on.  I’m not sure what I learned yet.  Maybe just that life is weird and unpredictable and fun.

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Professional Networking is Not Just Good For Business

A few months ago I joined a professional networking group in my town.  My husband and I are still relatively new to this area and so I joined to meet people as much as for business reasons.

I have never belonged to one of these groups before.  I thought it would be similar to Chamber of Commerce networking events I attended years ago with my prior company.  It’s nothing like that (which is great because I hated them).  Those people you meet once, get their business card and never hear from them again.  This group, on the other hand, meets regularly every week, and you really start to feel a kinship with each other.

This particular group is what’s known as an exclusive referral group.  The members (only one per business type is allowed) are expected to refer business to each other based on their contacts.  So if you are an auto mechanic and one of your customers happens to mention that her daughter just got engaged, you should be able to refer her to your group’s caterer, photographer, real estate agent, travel agent, etc.  You essentially become a salesperson for each of the other members of your group.  It’s a pretty simple formula.

My ability to be a productive member of this group meets with two challenges.  First of all my customers are not your typical sales leads.  It is hard to explain to the group the type of referrals that are valuable to me and to Grouvia.  (BTW – each person has 45 seconds each week to stand up and tell the group what they do and who would be a good referral for them.)  Although a few people have mentioned that Grouvia might help their <whatever> group, I have not gotten any solid referrals yet.

My second challenge is that since I work out of my home office 99% of the time, I don’t meet a lot of people who talk to me about their needs.  Grouvia does not have many users yet, so I don’t have a lot of regular contact with my customers like other businesses do.

However, I keep going to the meetings every week, in the hopes that one of these days things will click between this group and me.  I’ve met some very nice people, and some are even becoming my friends.  It gets me out of the house — I force myself to dress up a little and put some makeup on, instead of just throwing on jeans and a sweatshirt and a pair of slippers.

Another benefit?  Being an entrepreneur is a lonely job, and this helps me feel less lonely.

So the bottom line is that even though I have not seen any tangible business benefit yet, there is definitely a personal benefit, which is equally valuable.

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Same as Markus, Only Better

About a year ago I read an article about a man from Vancouver named Markus Frind.  Chances are you’ve heard of him.

His story struck a major chord with me that I will never forget.  Markus is one of the reasons I am doing what I am doing today.

To be fair, there are many entrepreneurs and marketing geniuses who have inspired me, but Markus’s story is unique in terms of what I got from it.

Markus Frind created a dating web site called plentyoffish.com.

Apparently he was a jobless slacker and decided to learn ASP to help get a job.  To learn ASP he needed a project to work on, so he created plentyoffish.com.  In three weeks.  All by himself.

He thought it was good so he published it, and as he tells it, the money pretty much started rolling in.  (I’m skipping over all sorts of details here, but keep in mind I read this a year ago and this is how I remember it.)

But the thing I remember most was something Markus said that gave me some insight into the way his arrogant mind works.  After the site had been up and running for a while, his customers started complaining about the site’s functionality.  They said it was ugly, the photos were distorted, and they wanted new features.

So, while Markus romped around with his girlfriend, raking in the dough and working only an hour a day, he completely ignored his users.

The most interesting point here is that he was doing it on purpose.  He had no intention of changing the site, fixing the distorted photos, or adding new features.

His reasoning?  The site was making him lots of money so why change it and possibly put that at risk.  In other words, his income was more important than his stupid users.

O.   M.   G.

I am almost embarrassed to say that I was inspired by his ability to jump into something new, build it by himself, publish it, market it, and manage its growth.  However, I utterly detest his complete disregard for quality at the expense of his customers.  It makes the hairs of my professional ethics stand up on end.

Yet here I am a year later, still thinking about Markus Frind.  Now I’m even talking about him.

The point of this post is that sometimes you get your inspiration from the most unlikely places.  Take it from wherever you can get it, and then take massive action and do what you think is right.

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Ten Reasons Why Baby Boomers Make Great Entrepreneurs

I read both Inc. and Entrepreneur Magazines every month, cover to cover. I also keep up with several popular startup-related online discussions and blogs. Clearly a new “age of entrepreneurism” has been gaining strength for about a year, primarily in reaction to the lack of available employment. The word on the street is “this is a good time to start a new business” and for the most part I’ve found this to be true.

The focus on these entrepreneurs, however, has been highly skewed to a young generation of 20-somethings. For example, I read an article in Inc. recently about a company called Y Combinator which is essentially an aggressive startup incubator in (where else) Silicon Valley. It provides seed money, office space, equipment, and mentoring to about 40 new businesses a year. This is an interesting, even admirable, mission for a company to have. Y Combinator takes a small equity stake in the startup, and ultimately gets it to the point where it has something to sell. It then helps get VC money, or leads for possible acquisition. Some of these startups have been purchased for millions within a year after launch. There was a two-page spread containing a photo of the Y Combinator founder, Paul Graham, and a dozen or so of his “favorite” past startup founders, all young men. Not a single woman and not a single entrepreneur over 30 (Ok maybe there was one). I won’t even mention the somewhat-creepy similarity to a certain famous painting about a supper from 2,000 years ago.

Until this morning I had no idea what my post today would be about, since nothing that happened this week was really worthy of an even remotely interesting blog post. And then I read this article in the Baltimore Sun about Baby Boomer Entrepreneurs. I so enjoyed reading this article, that I decided to develop a list of reasons why a more senior, experienced person would have a good chance of succeeding at a startup.

Top Ten Reasons Why Baby Boomers Make Great Entrepreneurs

  1. Baby boomers have solid business-related skills, honed over many years of performing increasingly complex tasks, probably in several different companies.
  2. They have good coping skills and have developed thicker skins and better strategies for dealing with difficult people and situations.
  3. They have good credit, having owned a few homes, several cars, and put kids through college. This will make it somewhat easier for them to get a business loan if needed.
  4. Baby boomers have more personal financial resources, having built up cash reserves, investment accounts, pension funds, and possibly real estate equity. All these assets can be used or borrowed against.
  5. Many of these folks are either retired or facing retirement from their current jobs, but they don’t want to stop working. They have time and the ability to pay their living expenses independent of their business profits (or initial lack thereof).
  6. They have a large circle of friends, colleagues, and acquaintances among whom they can either find investors or get referrals for potential investors.
  7. That same network will help spread the word about the new business and generate prospects.
  8. Baby boomers generally have well-developed communication skills and can articulate their business goals and objectives better, both verbally and in writing.
  9. They are generally well-read and well-informed, giving them a good sense of current trends and economics. This provides a good stage from which to launch a viable product or service.
  10. People with more experience have a better understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses, how to leverage their skills, and where to go to fill in the gaps.
  11. (Bonus Reason: They can get their kids to work for free, and they have access to an endless supply of interns with their friends’ kids.)

Personally I’m on the younger end of the baby boomer train, having been born at the end of 1960. I started my first business in 1998 when I was 38. Now, 10+ years later, I am starting my second full-time business, and have since compounded my experience to such a degree that I feel well-equipped to handle the upcoming bumps and bruises I am sure to get with this new venture. Imagine where I’ll be in *another* 10 years.

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16 hour days? No problem!

As I was winding down my last project at Verizon this past March, in preparation for starting my new company I was doing a lot of research on startups. I was reading books, magazines, blogs, anything I could get my hands on. This helped me get geared up and stay motivated at the same time I was feeling a little sad as I was leaving a great group of people I had worked with for many years.

One thing that kept coming up in my reading was that successful entrepreneurs work a LOT of hours and don’t get much sleep. A 60-80 hour workweek seemed to be the norm, with 4-6 hours of sleep each night. I thought to myself, “I can’t work that many hours, that’s crazy, I would burn out. And I need more sleep…” Etc. With all the things I had to worry about, that was one of the thoughts that really scared me. How can I make this project successful without having to put in ultra-long days for months and months on end with barely enough sleep?

Now it’s four months later, and I’ve been working 12-16 hours a day during the week, and at least 10+ hours on the weekends. I am not burned out, nowhere near it. I’m loving it. Every night I go to bed with a smile, thinking about all the things I accomplished that day. I get about 6 hours of sleep (I get in some extra on weekends), and every morning I wake up and immediately start thinking about what I’m going to do that day to keep the momentum going. Every problem I solve, every item I cross off the to do list, every page of requirements documentation I write, gives me an incredible sense of accomplishment. I am building something unique and valuable and worthy of my time. The sense of pride and achievement I feel every day gives me enough energy and optimism to keep me going and make me want to get up and do it again the next day, and the next. And the next.

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Letting Go of the (Bad) Past

I have this tenaciousness built into me that is extremely useful, both in my career as well as my personal life. It also has a downside — I have a hard time letting go of bad situations. I want to keep going back and fixing it, or making it turn out the way I wanted it to turn out. Letting it go feels like failure. My husband says, “Lisa, you hate to fail.” He’s so right.

But sometimes it’s really not failure. If the situation is truly out of my control, then my inability to move on creates stress and negativity in me and affects those around me.

I can be blind to these situations until after I’ve hit my head against the wall a few times, which knocks some sense into me. Let me try to help you by identifying some tell-tale signs, using a situation I recently had happen to me. Without going into boring detail, we were denied a mortgage on a rental property we own outright. I felt that we were denied it unfairly, and I spent weeks trying to fight this before I finally decided to hang it up. Looking back, I now recognize some fairly obvious signs:

1 The economy… hello? This was a no-brainer. All I needed to do was listen to the news. Lisa! The banks aren’t lending! Ok, got it. [Side note – this was not some little local town bank. This is a huge, national bank. Did I mention that I’ve had accounts with this bank (pre-mergers) since 1978???]

2. The mortage processor took days to call me back every time I left her a message. Clearly she was not going to fight for me or sympathize with me. She’s on the inside and she was giving me some not-so-subtle hints that this is not a battle worth fighting. Lisa, you can’t win this. Move on.

3. The reason the underwriter gave for denying the mortgage was unbelievably vague and not at all on point. This is a bank, not some teenager trying to get out of babysitting his little sister. This professional, trained analyst, with an arsenal of tools and high-powered financial calculators at her fingertips, was dissing us without feeling any need at all to give us a clear reason. [I’m still holding out for written documentation, though.]

4. The mortgage processor’s manager, while he answered the phone at least (unlike his subordinate), had no solutions to offer. Twice he said “I’ll look into it and get back to you”. Guess what? Right. No call.

5. My blood was boiling. Anger is a terrible thing. It gives you high blood pressure, insomnia, and stress. Not to mention it’s a huge time-suck. This is a sure sign I need to replace this negativity with something else, even something neutral.

So, while it still irks me when I think of it, I’m over it. Do I stress over the cash flow issues that this money would have alleviated? Sure, but I no longer feel like I need to fight. I just need to turn my sights to some alternative plan. Which I haven’t developed yet… but I will.

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Fitness While You Work

I am a shameless multi-tasker, and that has both gotten me in trouble and served me well many times, thankfully mostly the latter. At my previous company we once tried to have a “no multitasking day” and we all failed.

As entrepreneurs, we have to step up the pace, even more than what we would normally tolerate. We have more to do in less time, and one of the things that suffers is our health. Specifically, good eating habits and exercise. I’m not an exercise fanatic or anything, but I’m in my late 40’s and I realize the value of a consistent exercise regimen and healthy eating habits. I refuse to let work get in the way of this. What good will it do anyone if I die of a heart attack or have a stroke when I’m 60. Right?!?!

So, I read business magazines while I walk on my treadmill. I listen to audiobooks while I jog, I watch CNN while I lift weights in my basement. I do isometric exercises while I’m listening to conference calls, and I stretch while attending webinars. And I change things around often.

Don’t laugh. It’s the only way I can make sure I do it. Some day I’ll also talk to you about how I manage to eat right. But for now, the next time you’re on a conference call, do a stretching routine – neck, back, arms, legs. If you’re sitting in traffic, start squeezing that pelvic floor — better yet, listen to an audiobook at the same time.

Audible.com has most books available in digital format that can be downloaded to your mp3 player. I’ve been a member for years and the monthly fee is worth every penny!
– Many local libraries have downloadable books for FREE!
– Google “isometric exercises” or “easy stretches” to print off a quick list of brainless workouts to do while doing other things.
Wal-Mart and Target both have cheap hand-weight sets you can buy to keep in your home office. Or use soup cans or bookends or cans of paint if that’s all you can find. Be creative.

Just do it.