The secret sauce of an entrepreneur

9 02 2010

The week after I posted my simple business plan, I was workin’ it.  I did everything I could to make at least one sales call per day to keep the momentum going.  I always found that after that first call I found energy and motivation to make a few more.  It’s always getting started that’s the hard part.

And so I’ve been thinking about what makes a good entrepreneur.  And one quality I keep coming back to is determination.  Or to better phrase it, “pigheaded discipline and determination“.

This means making non-negotiable disciplines truly non-negotiable, and relentlessly pursuing my business goals every day, whether I feel like it or not.

Add a dash of passion and focus, stir it up with some momentum, and I believe you’ve got the secret sauce of an entrepreneur.

Of course, the sauce isn’t the meal — you have to actually have an idea too 🙂  Anything missing from this secret recipe?





Fun email marketing with MailChimp

28 05 2009

mailchimp2With the recent release of ClimbPoint 0.8 I decided to take another look at email marketing software and was pleasantly surprised — no, delighted — by MailChimp.

Prior to discovering MailChimp, I used generic mailing lists in Gmail and squandered a 60 day trial of Constant Contact (I think I sent out only one email).  This article has a good summary of the major features that MailChimp offers, but there are three that appeal the most to me.

1. Easy to use

First and foremost, it’s incredibly easy to use.  In fact, I was able to just copy and paste my list of contacts from Excel directly into MailChimp.  Creating the email was pretty painless too, no webinars required!

2. Fun and entertainingmailchimp

Sending emails sounds about as dull as it gets, but I have to admit that I truly enjoy using MailChimp.  I think it’s mostly due to the chimpy compliments, but the stats are entertaining as well.  Who knew looking at stats on the most recent mailing campaign could be so addicting?

Thanks to MailChimp, I now know that about 30% of my list members actually opened and read the recent email that I sent, and about 15% actually clicked one or more links.

mailchimp3

3. Priced for startups

I plan to send under 100 messages a month, so I could never really justify spending $180 a year on a Constant Contact subscription — that’s 15 cents an email!  MailChimp has a sweet pay-as-you-go plan which ends up running about 3 cents an email.

My recent campaign cost me all of about $5, and it looks very professional.  If you’re interested in checking it out, sign up using this link and get a $30 account credit if you decide to join!

Kudos to the team at MailChimp for a job well done!





Building a sales machine

9 09 2008

I’ve been getting quite a few good ideas about business while reading The Ultimate Sales Machine, some of which I hope to post about here soon.  In the meantime I’d like to fill you in on an initiative that I started a couple weeks ago that’s helping me apply what I’ve been learning.

My goal is to sell four licenses of ClimbPoint by the end of September, which will enable me to travel to AORE out in San Diego to talk with others in outdoor education who are likely to have climbing walls in their rec centers.

Four sounds like a lot to me, but I think it’s doable.  I have a list of over two hundred universities with indoor climbing walls, and my plan is to call about ten universities per week over the span of six weeks.  I’ve already contacted about thirty universities, with mixed results.

Ideally I’d like to contact about a hundred universities by the end of the month, as it would mean that I’d need about a 5% conversion rate to achieve my goal.  We’ll see if the ideas in The Ultimate Sales Machine help me hone my selling skills and ramp up the number of sales calls I can make in a week.

Setting the bar high with a crazy goal like this has been motivating for me.  It also helps that AORE is in San Diego, a place I enjoy visiting.  If I make it there, I’ll definitely spend some time surfing and hanging out on the beach.

For now though, it’s back to working on the machine 🙂

 

Side note: I realize that in dealing with universities it’s highly unrealistic that I’ll be able to introduce them to ClimbPoint, convince them to buy, and collect the cash all in a month’s time.  It may be a long shot, but I have to try!





An experiment with Google AdWords

5 09 2008

In purchasing my hosting package from 1&1 I received a $25 voucher for Google AdWords.  With the recent release of ClimbPoint 0.7, I figured this was a good opportunity to see what all the fuss was about

ClimbPointAd

After deducting the $5 setup fee for Adwords, I had $20 left in my AdWords account to spend on clicks.  I didn’t have a clue how much a click would cost, but I was guessing $20 would buy me a couple hundred clicks.

It seems I underestimated the value of a click, as Google charges anywhere between $1.07 and $2.05 depending on the going rate for an ad click.  At first I thought Google was randomly choosing a price, but this page of the FAQ cleared that up for me.

So in the span of about two weeks I bought 21 clicks at a cost of $18.31.  After that, I paused my campaign and then set the cost per click that I was willing to pay down to $0.25.  We’ll see what difference that makes in the number of views my ad gets.

Many of the clicks that I purchased were one-and-done’ers (they didn’t really check out the site) — so I didn’t notice a dramatic jump in site traffic over at ClimbPoint.com.  In contrast, most of the clicks that come from generic Google searches result in at least a few page views.

This was opposite of what I would have expected, but as I think about it I know that most of my AdWords clicks are “impulse” clicks — I’m not explicitly searching for a product or service but notice an AdWord that seems compelling, so I click just to see what it is.

So I think AdWords helped increase my visibility, but I don’t know that I targeted my ads appropriately before starting my campaign.

Anyone have any good tips on getting the most out of AdWords?  I did a quick search but was overwhelmed by the number and sleaziness of results 🙂





SEO for beginners

3 07 2008

Let me begin this post by stating that I don’t, by any stretch of the imagination, consider myself an authority on search engine optimization (SEO). I do, however, feel somewhat qualified to write this post because 1. I am a beginner and 2. my site ClimbPoint is second on Google for a couple key searches.

Those who are well versed in SEO probably do not measure success only by their ranking on Google, but I do 🙂 Anyway, here are a few things that I think have helped me get on Google’s front page:

Write a blog
I know, I know, blogging consistently can sometimes seem like work — but it can also be fun and can serve a couple purposes. First, it can get your site associated with keywords in your industry (assuming that you’re blogging about industry-related topics, which I recommend). Second, Google seems to love websites that are updated frequently, thus it loves blogs (especially WordPress, it seems). Finally blogging can connect you with others who share your interests, and you never know where those connections could lead.

Be smart with your wording
This goes along with the first point, but also applies to your commercial website (assuming that your blog and website are separate). There are a number of articles on seo and keywords, but here is an inadequate summary: titles are important, use headings and links, and format as appropriate. If you’re blogging you can also tag and categorize your posts. This helps your ratings because WordPress tends to create index pages for popular tags, and your posts can show up on these pages, driving traffic to your site.

Show some link love
There are blogs out there that obviously only exist to post links on some topic like insurance or drugs to cure impotence. This is not the kind of link love I’m talking about here. By linking to relevant sites and articles you’ll both increase your site’s authority in Google’s eyes, increase the chances of someone linking to you, and possibly get a few visitors if the sites you link to show pingbacks.

Give it some time
Lastly, even though Google will soon be ruling the world it can still take a few weeks or even a couple months for them to update their indexes of the entire interweb. This means that those blog entries with carefully chosen keywords and well titled pages will take some time to make it into Google’s index. In the meantime, just keep writing — and take note of the sites that are listed on the front page for the search terms you’re interested in.

Again, I’m by no means an authority, but I felt I could offer some advice because of my success to date. It’s probably the case that the keywords that I was interested in weren’t that popular (only 237,000 pages on climbing wall software as of this writing). Hopefully though this post has given you a few ideas. Feel free to post other links and resources in the comments!





Adventures in graphic design

3 05 2008

Since I last blogged about The Art of the Start I’ve been busy starting…but I’ll get the last post in that series up in a few days, hopefully.

A couple weeks ago I got a decent logo from Gary Simon, and since then I’ve been busy polishing up a brand new website and creating some slick business cards…all in preparation to head to Boulder for the CWA Summit.

The new logo is front and center on both the website and business card design, and I’m really glad that I decided to pay someone else to do it. I’ve done some graphic design before, but even now it often seems tedious and frustrating to me.

I ended up having Gary design my business cards as well, and I thought he did a pretty good job with the overall style of the cards. And while I liked the original concept that he sent me, I felt it was a bit cluttered and decided to clean it up a bit before sending it off to OvernightPrints.

Here’s the finished product:
ClimbPoint business card

Side note: for those of you who know me, that phone number is courtesy of GrandCentral.

While I was waiting on the business cards to arrive I decided to polish up the website. I chose WordPress to host the site, at least initially, because I figured it would be relatively easy to set up provided I could find a decent theme. It was also dirt cheap to add the custom domain of climbpoint.com (I think it’s about $15/year).

Here’s the header I came up with:
ClimbPoint header

One last side note…The header, while relatively simple, took a long time to design. I blame this on my ineptitude with PhotoShop and Adobe Illustrator. I spent about 45 minutes just trying to add the picture of the rock into Illustrator. Finally a friend pointed out that I just needed to choose File->Place from the menu. Place? Seriously, that makes no sense to me…so I’ll likely continue to outsource my graphic design.

Anyway, the site is now live. Take a look and let me know what you think!






Learning the Art of the Start – Part 4

17 04 2008

This is the fourth in a series of posts on The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki. Part one was on “why you’re starting”, Part two covered “describing what you do”, and Part three was on “getting cash and getting going.” Look for the final installment this time next week.

Proliferation: Connect with customers and start selling

Of all the sections of The Art of the Start, this one on partnering, branding, and selling seemed to connect most with where I’m at (or where I’ll be next) in the startup process. I could create a post about each chapter in this section, but I think for now I’ll stick to the art of branding, which according to Guy requires

“creating something contagious that infects people with enthusiasm, making it easy for them to try it, asking them for help in spreading the word, and building a community around it.”

I like the use of the word contagious in Guy’s description here. At this point, while ClimbPoint has been effective in infecting its users with good vibes and enthusiasm, it hasn’t been contagious: it’s hard to catch, and hard to spread.

Making a product easy to catch

So my first task in branding is making ClimbPoint easy to catch by offering a free trial and the ability to painlessly purchase the full version online. To this point I’ve gone back and forth on what to charge for the software, but I now feel more comfortable going with the lower of two numbers I’ve been kicking around. Guy contends that “a reasonable price that fosters the creation of a brand can produce large returns later.”

I’ll probably sit down one last time with the product pricing primer from Eric Sink on the Business of Software and just pick a number.

Making it easy to spread

Once people have your product, there are lots of ways to help their enthusiasm for the product spread to others. Among them:

  • Ask them for help in getting the word out, and give them tools to do it
  • Build a community around your users…if they like it they’ll invite others to join
  • Exude humanness as a company (feature customer stories, give to a cause). This helps people connect
  • Find and lower the barriers to adoption
  • Make it easy for people to leave if they choose. They’ll respect you for that and be more willing to recommend the product to others

I took a lot of notes on this section and am looking forward to putting them into action soon. The chapter on partnering with other individuals and businesses may come into play in a couple weeks when I attend the CWA Summit, and I plan to begin “rainmaking” (bringing in sales, according to Guy) after I return from the conference.

—–
But let me end with a brief call to action for myself. I’m good at analyzing and planning, and I like to read about startups in their early days…but frankly, I haven’t found too many startups who are blogging about their experiences. I believe it’s because they decided to…

Stop talking, start doing (yeah from the IBM commercial)

So enough with the ideating already! 🙂 I’m not going to post here again until I have 1. a logo or 2. a website, or both.






Learning the Art of the Start – Part 2

4 04 2008

This is the second in a series of posts on The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki. Part one was on “why you’re starting” and part three covers “getting cash and getting going”.

As I mentioned in part one of this series, the second section of The Art of the Start (articulation) is basically a guide on how to describe what you do as a business. The first part of this section covers positioning, which according to Guy should “represent the heart and soul of a new organization”.

The first question posed in this section is simple: What do you do?

The answer to this question should be (among other things) self-explanatory, customer-centric, positive, relevant and empowering. Here are a couple answers that I came up with:

We make life easier for climbing gym managers through intuitive software to centralize and streamline indoor climbing operations.

We provide peace of mind for climbing gym managers by enabling them to centralize and streamline their indoor climbing operations.

Making the above positioning statement customer-centric for me was a bit of a challenge. As a geek I tend to talk more about the product than about the people it helps and how it helps them. Guy suggests making the positioning statement personal so that it truly connects with the intended customer. In my case that might mean my positioning statement could include phrases such as “Enables you to grow your climbing gym”, “helps you know your wall”, or “Keep Frank the first time visitor from slipping through the cracks”.

My positioning statement also contains a few words that are positive but not specific, such as intuitive, streamlined, and powerful. Guy suggests further explaining these to give them real meaning. For example, intuitive means that you can set it up in less than an hour, and users need no training. Streamlined means that only the features you need to see are there, and there is no confusing or complex program to learn. Powerful should convey the idea that all the features you need to run a climbing wall are included.

Guy also covers pitching to investors and customers in this section, along with how to name your product and churn out a business plan. I’ve got the name covered (that was quite an ordeal), and I feel prepared to give a product pitch…but I don’t think I’ll formalize my business plan, even though there may be some value in it.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t have a business model and haven’t thought through a realistic estimate on the number of sales I could generate. Check back next week for a few of my thoughts on the third section of The Art of the Start (activation), which has some great tips on raising capital and getting going.