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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Beta Success!

Last week we launched the new beta site for Grouvia.com.

It was a thrill and a relief. This is a major milestone for Grouvia and it was only a month late.

There are 170 bugs in the application right now.  And that’s down from about 400 a month ago, so it’s actually not as bad as it sounds.  Only 19 of them are considered “major” and that’s just my personal assessment of their severity.  The vast majority of them are typos, layout issues, alignment problems, and missing “nice to have” features.

So if you haven’t looked at grouvia lately (or at all), please go take a look.  I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

I have made one huge sacrifice in the past month about which I am more than a little concerned.  I have completely let our marketing efforts go.  I have barely eked out these blog posts, and have done no posts to the Grouvia Groove blog.  I have stopped reading/commenting on other blogs, I have stopped reading/commenting on LinkedIn discussions, I have stopped all tweeting.  Basically the Grouvia marketing efforts are now in disaster mode.

I’m not sure if I have made the right choices, but I do feel that the quality of Grouvia was too important to let slip.  So I have spent the last month testing, documenting bugs, retesting fixes, and doing my own light coding of the user interface.  I think these efforts have paid off, because Grouvia looks a thousand times better than it did last month, but at what cost I am not sure.  I may not know for a while, if ever, what price Grouvia will pay for this.

I still have some cleanup work to do over the weekend, and then I can leave the developers alone for a while so they can implement the rest of the missing features.  They believe we can have the entire project wrapped up by the end of January.  I am cautiously optimistic but I’m not holding my breath.  There have been too many disappointments on this project so far to believe that sunny days will always shine on us.

But today it’s sunny, and I intend to enjoy it.

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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Grouvia Alpha 1 Is Here!

I’m so excited, today is the launch of the first release of Grouvia.com. My small team and I have been working on this site for seven months now, and I am thrilled that this day has come at last. This is the first step in what I’m certain will be a long and successful series of great releases for Grouvia.com.

The past several months have seen many long days, sleepless nights, and seven-day workweeks. The Internet changes at lightning speed and for an Internet application such as Grouvia to succeed we have to keep up the pace. Working on a tight budget has not hampered us, it has honed our efforts to almost razor sharp precision. Our focus is tight and our tactics are relentless.

The Social Media PR campaign is starting to show some great results, as Grouvia is seen more and more in the online universe. Thank you to Grouvia’s amazing PR man, Karl Schmieder at MessagingLab, who has also become my friend and marketing mentor.

The developers have done a nice job of implementing Grouvia’s preliminary set of features. And it’s no surprise because they have a very thorough and clear set of requirements to work with, thanks to the incredible talents of Regina Rubeo, an IT consultant and great friend who has tenaciously stuck with me through the ups and downs of the last six months. Regina, I could not have made it this far without you and I am oh so grateful for your help and strong shoulders.

Dad, Mom, Brenda, Karamjit, Deepak, Tajinder, Vishal, David, Vicki, Pie, Johnny, Patty, thank you all for the various roles you’ve played in making this day happen, whether that was offering time, understanding, support, friendship, great work, or helping to spread the word.

And while I’m at it I might as well thank David Meerman Scott, Norm Brodsky, Joel Spolsky, Timothy Ferriss, Guy Kawasaki, Robert Kiyosaki, Jacob Nielsen, Steve Krug, Michael Gerber, Dan Kennedy, and Markus Frind for sharing your knowledge and stories in the form of books, blogs, articles, and even personal assistance in some cases. The knowledge I have gained from these materials has been incredible.

And most important of all — I have to thank my loving husband Gus, who has supported me like a rock through it all. You’re the best, baby.

See you all next week!

[BTW, if you haven’t signed up to be on Grouvia’s mailing list, you should do that now :-).]

How (Not) to Become a Business

Here in lower Northern Virginia, we live amidst a sea of chains and franchise businesses. Every once in a while a unique little place opens up and sometimes they stick. And sometimes they don’t.

Last year Don opened Blackstone Coffee, a delightful but tiny place in a good location, at a light, in a little strip mall across the street from a big strip mall. Don is a coffee roaster and he is very good at his job; his coffee blends are delicious. He also sells a small assortment of pastries, but people come there for the coffee. And people come to see Don.

Don *is* Blackstone Coffee. He’s not just the master roaster, he’s gregarious and happy and funny and remembers everyone’s name and what they like and how they like it. There are a couple of stools at the end of the counter, and they are always occupied. My only problem with Blackstone is that if I am in a hurry I won’t stop there because I know it will take at least 10 minutes to get my cuppa joe. When not in a hurry, this is a fun way to spend 10 minutes, as the place is so small you can’t help but feel intimate with every stranger in there with you. When two people are having a conversation, the whole place is involved.

Last Spring, it seemed that Don got really busy for a couple of weeks or so and couldn’t always be at his store any more. He hired a couple of nice college-age kids to work the counter for him when he was out. These kids could have been plucked right out of the Starbucks a mile down the road. Perky, pretty, chatty girls. One of them had a nice boyfriend who sat on one of the stools while she was working.

Can you guess what happened? Blackstone was completely, and I mean *completely* a different place. Suddenly the place was quiet, and people didn’t hang around any more. The girls were nice but they didn’t know anybody, or what they wanted or how they liked it. They were 19 or 20 years old and didn’t have the conversational skills to engage the 30- or 40-something customers. They weren’t Don.

So, within a week or so, the business seemed to sag. I’m sure Don knew (how could he not know?) although I never said anything. Eventually, after a few weeks or maybe a month or so, Don came back, the business came back, the crowds and conversations came back. I stopped in there this morning for my $2 cup of “Zimbabwe Blend” or whatever it was. It didn’t actually take 10 minutes, I think it only took eight. There were at least six customers inside (including two police officers — regulars) and two more customers sitting outside having a business meeting, paper coffee cups in hand. Everyone was lively and chatty and Don and his teenage son were working the crowd from behind the counter.

I love Blackstone Coffee, but I feel a little sad for Don, because his business can’t survive without him. The business is built around his personality, his friends, his personal brand. If he wanted to take some time off or even retire someday, how will he turn over his business to someone else? It couldn’t survive under different ownership, e.g. “non-Don” ownership.

In the meantime, Don loves his business and we, his customers, love him.

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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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