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Innovation Fridays: Electric Bicycles

Posted on September 26 2011 | Author: Admin

In much of the world, biking is the main mode of transportation. In China or Denmark for example, it's not unusual to see more bicycles than cars on the road. However, in North America, this is not the case.

Thanks to electric bikes, getting around via bicycle has become more practical and efficient than ever. Your own energy and an electrical motor combine to make cycling up hill or long distance much faster and easier. Needless to say, if electrical biking catches on, city traffic can be minimized and carbon emissions drastically reduced. 

Watch our Innovation Video of the Week.

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6 Things Every Entrepreneur Should Know

Posted on September 26 2011 | Author: John Pickard

Every once in a while an entrepreneur will ask me, “What is the most important thing I need to know?”. My stock answer is always the same. “Your rich Uncle’s phone number.” Yes, I know, I’m the Chris Rock of the business world.

Over the years, I’ve assembled a bit of a list of “The Most Important Things” you need to know to succeed with your business. The entire Wikipedia of my learning. Usually the hard way. Here goes:

  1. Business Plan. This is boring, I know. But it’s essential to take the time to write one. My first one took me about 3 months. I used a software template and this worked great because every page of it spawned a new question that I hadn’t really thought about in the context of my business. The Plan gets ideas out of our head. It lets you share your vision with the rest of your team. Investors will want demand to see it. Write it yourself.
  2. Bankroll. At Bioenterprise we see about 100 entrepreneurs each year. A good percentage of them are broke. They may have lost their job and decide that starting a business is the way out. This is not the time to start a business. It costs money to do a start up. Many entrepreneurs think that the government will fund their start-up. Not so. Government funding can help with certain aspects (usually the R&D), but they won’t pay for your equipment, rent and other assets. Banks are not in the risk business. They loan money against some hard assets that you are willing to put up…like your house. They don’t lend unsecured money to a business with no revenue. Set a limit as to how much of your own money you can put into a business. Once it’s gone, you should re-evaluate your plan.
  3. Cash Flow is the lifeblood of your company. If you are a non-financial manager, find someone who can teach you about cash flow and how to recognize when your company needs more cash (loan or investment). Projecting your cash flow as a start up will tell you how much money you will need to get your company to profitability, and when you will need it.
  4. Find a first customer. You can do this early in your planning stages. Talking to a potential First Customer can help you see what is important to them. It teaches you how to serve them. It focuses your business…FAST. A customer forces you to complete all the parts of your business. You need to figure out customer service, accounting, legal, and distribution in order to write and ship that first order. Oh, and by the way, the best way to finance your start up is through revenue from sales. A customer is the key trigger for investors.
  5. Find a critic. No, I don’t mean your spouse. I mean someone who’s been there. Successfully. Someone who is independent. A good critic (aka Mentor) will network you to partners, help you avoid the potholes and tell you when to quit or not to quit.
  6. Don’t do it alone. This is a lesson I noted in my One Man Band blog of a while back. Build a team. Add the expertise you don’t bring. Find Strategic Partners who might be customers, suppliers, or distributors. Somebody with interests that parallel yours. Lastly, a financial partner is the best partner to bring along for the ride.

So there you have it. The contents of the best seller I was going to write…all in one page. Consider yourself advised.

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Why There Are No Successful One Man Bands

Posted on September 20 2011 | Author: John Pickard

As a child, I can remember watching the Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday night. It was what you did on Sunday night back in the day. About once a month they would have a One Man Band take the stage and play some contraption consisting of a large drum, cymbals, a harmonica, and a xylophone…..all at once. The “musician” would play the drum using a series of levers attached to a drum stick that he controlled with his foot. The cymbals would be strapped between his knees and he “clapped” his knees together to….well…. make a noise. All the while his right hand flailed at the xylophone. Of course his mouth was busy with the harmonica. It was more comedy than music and that was the intention. A novelty act.

I sometimes wonder what happened to the One Man Bands. Well, they died. And to be blunt, they died because they sucked. One person couldn’t do what four or five accomplished musicians could do… each a master of his or her own instrument.

I learned the lesson of the One Man Band during my first adventure as an entrepreneur in the telecom world. Having had a successful experience as the #2 guy in a very similar business, I thought that I had all of the parts to reproduce the start-up, early stage and exit surrounding my proposed venture. I wrote the business plan, cobbled all of the pieces of my technology together, arranged production of prototypes and sample product, secured telecom network access, worked on package design, and started the search for real money to take the venture forward.

However, I had no team around me. Despite the fact that I had most of the pieces assembled, no investor was going to take a chance on a “One Man Band”. Experienced investors realize that no individual can play all of the instruments (at the same time) well enough to be successful. What happens if the One Man Band falls off the stage and breaks a leg? …No more cymbals and no more drums. And in business? …Well, no more business.

The logic applies to having a management team around you. They might not be full-time, or even on the payroll. However, they are people that can play a role in Marketing or Finance or Operations once the company “takes the stage”. Get professionals who you trust, and work well with, involved in your venture. This support team will play the roles that you can’t, or shouldn’t. You will get better ideas and better quality of execution with specialists on the team.

The “team” might also consist of strategic partners as well. Customers, suppliers or distributors that know something about a piece of your business and are willing to support you (likely because they can see what’s in it for them down the road). They bring stability, experience and resources to the enterprise and will re-assure everyone that you are serious and that someone other than you believes in the success of your endeavour.

Once you have a strong team, take them with you to those investor meetings or sales calls to assure those who you are selling to that you are not a One Man Band, in fact, you have an entourage.

Got your own One Man Band comment? Let’s hear it.

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Posted on 2011.10.19 | Author: Diandra

Free info like this is an apple from the tree of knowledge. Sinful?

Consumer Research on a Dime

Posted on September 13 2011 | Author: Crystal Sarantoulias

What you need to know.

Knowing who it is you are targeting in terms of their age, gender, household income, and education can be a starting point to understanding who your customers are. There is, however, other practical consumer information that can be collected that can be invaluable in making business decisions.
So how do you go about getting this type of information?
The simple answer is … ask your customers!

The key to conducting effective consumer research is to keep track of your customers. With their name and phone number or email address, one way to carry out consumer research is to conduct a survey to get at some key insight that can only come from your consumers themselves. This contact information can be collected at the point of checkout or by online product registration.

Surveys can be conducted in person, over the phone or via mail or email, each of which requires a different amount of effort, time and money. Survey host sites such as SurveyMonkey.com are often inexpensive and easy to use.

Telephone interviews are more time-consuming and resource-intensive. However, there is benefit to speaking to someone, as there is opportunity to deviate from the interview guide and get at some insight that would not have otherwise been uncovered in an electronic survey. Hiring summer or cooperative education students is a great, inexpensive way to get some of this type of research done.

The first step in designing a survey is listing everything you would love to know or your objectives for engaging in consumer research. These objectives can relate to the strengths/ weaknesses of the product or service itself, effective marketing outlets, price points … the list goes on. From here, it is best to design questions that are open-ended in nature, where your customers are required to respond with more than “yes” or “no” answers. Next, it is important to test your questions on a few customers to ensure that you are getting the type of information you are looking for.
Now what? You’ve collected this information, but what’s next?

Once the surveys have been completed, the information can be reviewed for common responses and suggestions for improvement. As a new company, you may be trying to figure out what your selling proposition, or “secret sauce,” is with your consumers. Research can provide insight into the perceived value of your product or service and allow you to better develop and execute effective marketing strategies with this in mind.
It is important to remember:

  • Not every customer will be willing to take the time to provide you with feedback on your product or service – and that’s okay!
  • Both negative and positive feedback is valuable as it can be used as the basis for moving forward in your business.
  • Think about what it is you want to learn before jumping into consumer research and avoid these common mistakes.

Crystal Sarantoulias
Market Research Analyst and Independant Consultant


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Why Knowing Your Consumer is an Investment Worth Making

Posted on September 12 2011 | Author: Crystal Sarantoulias

As we’ve learned from my last post, getting to know your customers is one of the greatest challenges facing business owners, especially when starting out with a product or service that consumers are not familiar with.

Collecting information about your consumers, or conducting consumer research, can however be one of the single most effective uses of your time and marketing resources.

So what is consumer research?

Consumer research is a look into what is really driving consumer behaviour and decision making (http://www.ehow.com/about_5057780_consumer-research.html).

Why is consumer research so important?

As a business owner, knowing your consumer saves you money, helps you make informed business decisions, equips you to identify new opportunities before the competition, and minimizes your business risks. Here’s how you go about conducting your own research:

  1. Identify your demographic. Understand who it is that is using your product or service. It can help you get feedback on your product. Both positive and negative insight is critical to further product or service development. True intelligence is most valuable when coming from the end user themselves.
  2. Invest your marketing dollars strategically. Marketing is only effective if it is reaching the right audience – by understanding which outlets are popular among your target consumer group, your marketing dollars can be strategically invested in targeted messaging that your customers can relate to.
  3. Determine how to best communicate with your customers directly. For example, if your customers are mainly using email and online networks as a primary form of communication – spending money on a mail out campaign is not the most effective way to reach your audience. On the other hand, it may be an effective way to get new customers.

Knowing your consumers can shed light on the real value proposition or benefit of your product or service. This gives you strong insight when targeting your marketing efforts. For example, if your product or service helps your customers save time and money, then perhaps you could showcase an online testimonial section on your website where consumers can share their experiences.

Without understanding the value in your product from a consumer perspective, marketing strategies are a shot in the dark.

Crystal Sarantoulias
Market Research Analyst and Independent Consultant



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Posted on 2011.10.18 | Author: Torie

Furrealz? That's marvelously good to know.

The Greenest Building in the World

Posted on September 09 2011 | Author: Admin

Ready for another Innovation Friday Video?

The Port of Portland is a large quasi-state agency in Oregon, which operates 3 airports, and several marine terminals along the mighty Columbia River, and sees thousands of tons of cargo come through its facilities every week.  When they recently decided to relocate their headquarters from a downtown highrise to the airport, they had a prime opportunity to go green.

Check out this weeks video featuring one of the greenest buildings in the world (according to Forbes).

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Trying to Stretch your Marketing Dollars?

Posted on September 07 2011 | Author: Crystal Sarantoulias

Why your consumers can be your best marketing investment.

Gaining consumer trust can be a difficult task for brand managers. With loads of deception and washed out marketing techniques, consumers today are second-guessing everything they read and see.

So how do you gain their trust?

You need marketing strategies and tactics that really hit home for your consumers. You want your consumers or prospective consumers to feel comfortable and relate to the problem, or unmet need, that your product or service is addressing in the market.

An effective way to do this is to use “champions” or testimonials that will tell your story for you.

A testimonial is essentially a hyped-up reference or recommendation given by a real customer. They give this reference by sharing their personal experience with your product or service. This is important because consumers can relate to other consumers, well, better than they can relate to the perceived, profit-oriented business owner or paid actor/actress.

If your product or service really does provide a benefit to consumers (one should hope!), then have your champion tell their story about their experience with the product.

For example, if your product or service helps consumers save money, then the most effective way to demonstrate to prospective customers that it works is to have them share exactly how much money it helped them save over a period of time or season.

Now, should you offer your champion some sort of incentive? That is up to you. In the case of a subscription product for example – you could offer them a 6 month or 12 month subscription for free. The idea here is that the champion is freely giving their testimonial, and is speaking from personal experience. In other words, they should not be convinced to participate by way of an incentive.

So how do you go about putting together a testimonial?

First, you need to identify that champion. This could be a customer that often compliments your product or service or someone that has taken the time to personally discuss their experience with you.

Secondly, you need to have them agree to share their experience with you. Testimonials can be written or verbal. Either way is effective, as you can easily offer to write the piece from an interview with the champion or record a video of the testimonial. The key to credibility is to always include a picture in the written pieces to make it more personable as well as have the customer sign the piece with their first name.

Finally, post your testimonial where ever you can, including: on your website, in your retail space, on your business cards – anywhere your customers will see it.

For more tips and tricks to getting and using testimonials effectively, check out: http://www.understandingmarketing.com/2010/03/25/new-rules-of-testimonials-in-small-business-marketing/

Crystal Sarantoulias
Market Research Analyst and Independent Consultant



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The Perceived Link Between Price and Quality...

Posted on September 06 2011 | Author: Crystal Sarantoulias

What’s really going on in your consumers’ minds?

From a functionality perspective, there is a clear difference between the quality of one product versus another. What’s not so straight forward is how consumers perceive the quality of a product and more specifically, the relationship between price and quality.
So, how do consumers relate price and quality to value in their decision regarding a product and service? This notion is actually far more complicated than you would initially think.

Although it is common for consumers to assume that the most expensive version of a product is the best quality, there are other factors that are influencing this perception.

While quality can be broadly defined as excellence or superiority, perceived quality has a significantly different meaning. It can be fairly abstract as opposed to focused on a particular attribute, and it can be related to the consumers’ attitude or judgement.
Essentially, the perceived value of a product or service really depends on what the consumer expects to receive in terms of benefits versus what they are going to pay. It’s a trade-off. 

What consumers are willing to pay for your product and what they expect in terms of features is ultimately what entrepreneurs and business owners should try and understand in order to effectively meet their consumers’ needs.

The first step is understanding that there is a perceived relationship between price and quality. The second step is trying to determine the product or service features that consumers value – this will shed light on what’s going on in the minds of consumers and can be very beneficial in determining an appropriate price point. Pricing too high and not delivering quality, as well as pricing too low and leaving an impression of poor quality, can both be detrimental to sales. 

As you can see in this article from the Globe and Mail, perceived consumer value can also help to determine when and if it is appropriate to raise your prices. 

It is important to keep in mind that there’re always going to be customers who think your product quality is terrible, but there will also be those that are extremely happy with the quality of your product. It’s about finding a balance between these two groups – this is your target consumer group. Your marketing campaigns, sales and promotions should be targeting these individuals, the features they value and a level of quality that is worth the price you are charging. 

When making these business decisions, remember to always think as a consumer. Recall a time when you are contemplating between 3 products that essentially do the same thing – a shower head for example – are you more likely to select the $29, $59 or $99 dollar product? What do you look for? What features indicate quality to you? Your customers are thinking the same way when contemplating the purchase of your product.

Crystal Sarantoulias
Market Research Analyst and Independent Consultant


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Innovation Fridays: Plastic from Corn

Posted on September 02 2011 | Author: Admin

The majority of plastics today are oil-based. Not only does plastic consume 10% of the world's oil supply, but it also increases global warming, and can take over 1000 year to degrade. Plastic made from corn is biodegradable, carbon neutral, renewable and even edible.

The long chains of carbon molecules in corn starch are remarkably similar to the chains of carbon in oil-based plastic. The pellets of corn polymer can be melted down and formed into any shape and size of biodegradable plastic. Find out how it's made...

Watch our Innovation Video of the Week:

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Posted on 2011.10.19 | Author: Donte

IJWTS wow! Why can't I think of things like that?

How to Explain Your Idea to a VC

Posted on September 01 2011 | Author: Admin

Written by Brad Feld, re-posted from feld.com.

Allen Morgan at Mayfield has a nice series up on his blog about the ten commandments for entrepreneurs. His post today is Commandment #6: Explain Your New Ideas by Analogy To, or Contrast With, Old Ideas.

He’s right. Mostly. At the end of his post, he asks for ways to “categorize the new ‘It’” (if they are VCs). My constructive addition to his post is the notion of the analog analog (also known as the “analog analogue”, but I like my version better).

In the mid 1990’s, I met Jerry Colonna, we invested in a few companies together, and became very close friends. I love Jerry and – while I rarely see him since he’s in NY and I’m in Boulder – I feel connected to him in a way that’s unique. Maybe it was our joint experiences together, maybe it was something we drank one night, or maybe it was merely a cosmic connection – in any case, I smile whenever I think of the things I’ve learned from him and the experiences we have had together.

One day, when we were talking about a deal, Jerry knocked me on my ass by saying “what’s the analog analog?” In true Feld fashion, I responded with a “huh?” Jerry went on to explain his theory of the analog analog (which I’ve written about before) – specifically that every great technology innovation (or technology business) has a real world, non-digital analogy. It’s not the “nothing new is ever invented” paradigm – rather it’s the “learn from the past” paradigm.

I’ve found this to be a much more powerful lens to look through when evaluating a new business than the “technology analog” lens (which is the one Allen is describing in his post). While “Tivo for the Web” or “eBay meets CNN” are useful analogies, I recommend entrepreneurs take a giant step back – out of the technology domain (or at least our current technology domain) – and get to the core analogy – optimally a non-digital one. Then – walk forward from the analog analog through other analogies to the current idea.

Throughout my life, I’ve heard the cliche “history repeats itself” over and over again. This is never more true then in the computer industry. Earlier this morning, I wrote about Ryan’s post on Mr. Moore in the Datacenter and alluded to the migration from mainframe to web to ASP to SaaS (aren’t they all different versions of the same thing?).

All hail the analog analog – the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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