Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

All Aboard the M.E.S.S. Express!

Friday, February 19th, 2010


Note: I am writing this post in support of the MESS Express company and my friend Matt Kochman. My hope is that after reading the short article below you will join me in supporting his business and the company’s mission.

Matt’s goal is to raise $6,500 in order to attend a business incubator for social enterprise called the Unreasonable Institute. Any contribution amount would help to achieve this goal. Only the first 25 of the 33 finalists to raise the necessary funds will be selected to attend the incubator program for 10 weeks, where each entrepreneur will receive coaching and numerous networking opportunities to expand their start-up companies.

I’ve known Matt Kochman for over a year now. Him and I were classmates at Cornell when he started his uniquely branded student transportation business, M.E.S.S. Express LLC. “M.E.S.S.” stands for Moving Every Student Safely, but it’s also a joke, since college kids can be a “mess” after partying or staying out too late. MESS Express helps college students to avoid having to make what can be a fatal decision: to drive home while intoxicated.The company seeks to help the 2.6 million college students who make this poor decision every year by transporting them safely across campus via group busing and taxi services. From a high level point of view, it’s best described as a for-profit social advocacy group.

Last year the company grew quickly, and generated six figures in revenue providing busing services for students at 2 college campuses. The company is profitable and already preparing to expand to Syracuse later this year.

In addition, Matt has begun pushing forward on the taxi cab front, which he believes offers a more scalable expansion opportunity for growing the business and the brand. Students or their parents will be able to purchase pre-paid taxi cards which the student can use at their discretion throughout the semester to catch a ride back to their dorm or apartment. Payment will be simple: just swipe your card through a card reader located inside the taxi–tip is included.

Matt’s business model works and his push into implementing the pre-paid taxi cards shows a strong desire to scale the company into something much bigger. Some potential investors may criticize the business for having little that is proprietary. To the contrary, the partnership deals that MESS Express is cutting with local transportation companies, student organizations, and universities provides a significant barrier to any potential competitor looking to copy this model. In addition, the brand is unique, perfectly humorous and serious at the same time, as well as trademarked.

Matt and the MESS Express team are seeking your support in order to help them further their mission to provide safe and timely transportation for every college student across the country. Please consider investing in the company and the cause today.

Persistently Positive: Character Lessons from My Friend, Kerry Motelson

Friday, November 13th, 2009

kerry motelsonKerry and I have been friends since our junior year in college, over two years now. The first time I can recall meeting Kerry, I remember feeling sort of amateurish in her presence because I thought at first that she had the hurried air of a graduate student or an aspiring PhD. I had to hustle alongside her in order to keep up and make plans to talk again. From that first encounter she was kind, enthusiastic, and, above all, persistently positive.

They say you can tell when a person is truly smiling because the muscles around their eyes are engaged, crinkled, making them squint from the happiness radiating from their smile below. Kerry’s smile is always true, especially from that first time that I met her, wherein she knew nothing about me.

Kerry loves people, and that is why anyone who has met her is instantly drawn into the desire to know her better. People are attracted to Kerry because she is able to see the good in anyone upon first meeting them. She is confident in her belief in that goodness and everyone she meets is no doubt validated and grateful because of it.

In classes that she and I took together, I couldn’t help but notice how Kerry excelled. When she answered a Professor’s question, the students around me would scrunch up their eyebrows into strange formations of incredulity because the conscious, knowledgeable manner with which she answered was stupefying to them.

Kerry worked hard, much more diligently than the rest of us and that’s why she always knew the answer. Kerry is too modest to bring it up, but she did in fact graduate a year ahead of our class as valedictorian, and then went on to get her masters in a single year. I should also mention that she did this while working three jobs simultaneously. A mutual friend of ours was once baffled by the site of her open notebook planner because every portion of her day was crammed with meetings and scheduled down the minute… for the next two weeks.

There are a few key character lessons that I’ve learned from Kerry. First of all, you are only limited to what you can achieve in so much as you believe that there is a limit. “What drives you, Kerry?” I once asked. “Always raising the bar,” she responded.


Second, the rule of positive attraction applies in life; this means that if you know what you want, you believe in yourself, and you act with the greatest passion, enthusiasm, and work ethic toward that goal, you will achieve it. I consider myself a very capable person, but there were a few times that I needed someone to lean on. At times like those Kerry would listen and remind me of this principle, even though she probably was not explicitly aware of it at the time.

Third, and finally, everyone has potential. As much as you believe in your own ability, you must believe in the ability of others. People will fail, they will make mistakes, and they will let you down. However one must realize that the best talent in the world is not innate, but is instead developed over time and with practice.

Kerry has repeatedly taught me these lessons over the last two years. They continue to inspire me to be a better entrepreneur and a better person. If you never have the opportunity to meet Kerry, I hope you will at least take these same lessons to heart.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself about Your Business Idea (Before Investing)

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

roll the dice

Have you ever had a business idea? If you’re like most people, you’ll have at least a few ideas for possible businesses in your lifetime. But how would you know if your business idea is any good? The following five questions to ask yourself before investing your time and money should help guide you to the answer:

How does my business make money?

Money is the lifeblood of your business. Don’t get all idealistic on me and start talking about community and users and growth and puppies and kittens. I don’t care and more importantly your customers, the people who pay the bills, won’t care. Explain how your business is going to make money and keep it simple. What will be valuable about what your company makes or does that will motivate a customer to buy from you? Customers will likely buy from you if you are meeting a need or solving a problem.

For example, “We sell state of the art podcasting software that records sound crisper and clearer than anything else on the market, at only $10 per download,” or “We let visitors to our site send large media files over the internet for free, and charge a premium fee for sending files larger than 2 Gigabytes.”

How soon can the business start making money?

The easier it is for your business to start making money sooner rather than later, the more likely it will survive long enough to grow and thrive. Starting a consulting business can be great because you can start making money immediately and start up costs a very low, if any.

For instanceI’ve done a few website design jobs in the past to pull in some extra cash. Those opportunities came from acquaintances, friends, or networking. If you’re interested in making millions and building a business that’s larger than just you, this can be a poor model for entrepreneurial success, but it will pay the bills.

If you’re not going to start a consulting business, but say instead, a web-based business, how soon can you start making money from your idea? Well let’s see, you’ll need the website, a payment solution, traffic to the site, oh yeah and customers who are motivated to buy! It’s a similar story with a brick and mortar type of business, though the fixed costs and start-up costs will be significantly larger.

Building the core operating components of your business takes time, and during that time money is flowing out of your bank account without any flowing in. The sooner you get to be cashflow positive, the more likely you’ll succeed in the long run.

How risky is it?

The level of risk you will undertake in bringing your business idea to market is directly correlated, unfortunately, to how unique it is and second, how crowded the market space is. There is an inverted relationship between uniqueness and how crowded the market space is (e.g. the more unique your concept, the less competition you have to deal with, but also the less likely you can be confident that it will succeed).

To use my own start-up as an example, Bluesky Local is marketed as a unique service with respect to it’s focus on helping restaurants to fight the negative sales effects of weather, seasons, and time with automated coupon marketing. This is risky because there are no other examples of successful companies trying to solve the specific problem we are and in a similar manner that we are proposing to solve it.

Why will your customers care?

This deals with your value proposition. By how much is your service better, faster, and cheaper than what’s already on the market? Does your product of service help your customers to make money or save money? How much will they make or save with your service, what are the specific numbers?

In answering this question you need to understand that creating a successful product requires a focus and understanding of what the customer wants. Most of the time customers don’t know what they want until you give it to them and say, “Here, use this.”

As an entrepreneur it is your job is understand your customer’s needs and desires, and then feed him a product or service that fits into those needs like a perfect puzzle piece.

Why will it fail?

This is a critical question and one that is difficult to answer objective (because of your passion for the idea) and before you execute a business plan (sometimes crazy ideas will work, life can be unpredictable).

The best place to start in answering this question is to look at the key assumptions needed in order for your business model to work. Again I will take Bluesky Local as the example here. In order to work Bluesky Local needs:

  1. Restaurant owners or managers to log in to our website to use the service, such as sending out promotions manually, scheduling them for a later date, or automating them to happen on a regular basis. If the business owner doesn’t do at least this, than they will see no results because no coupon promotions will be sent.
  2. The restaurant needs a customer contact list to distribute it’s promotions to, and for best results it needs to be permission-based. If they don’t have or work to build a customer list, then they will see no benefits from the service.
  3. Customers receiving the coupons will be motivated to redeem the offers.

After you understand you core assumptions you want to work to minimize them as much as possible. The assumptions I listed above are already minimized (and there used to be more core assumptions than that). To further minimize them however we have (or might in the future) take the following steps:

  1. Provide suggested coupon offers that work to minimize typing and thinking; rig the service to automatically send the best possible coupon at the best time without any additional input from the business owner.
  2. Allow business owners to import an existing customer list that they might have; implement viral features that allow them to build a customer list extremely quickly through friendly, web-based referrals; leverage an distribution they might already have, such as through Facebook.
  3. Make it easier for customers to redeem by developing an IPhone or Android app to display the coupons so they don’t have to print the coupons; send the coupons in the form of text messages to customers cellphones.

By minimizing your model’s core assumptions you increase the likelihood of success.

The Bottom-Line

Most business ideas will fail. By asking yourself these tough questions upfront you will maximize your chances of success. In the end if you’re serious about being an entrepreneur, you’re going ot have to take a risk somewhere and you’re going to have to work hard to achieve your business goals. Fellow entrepreneurs like myself as happy to lend a hand along the way, so don’t be shy to ask for help or advice.

Are there any other questions entrepreneurs should be asking themselves before they invest?

The Symphany of Entrepreneurship

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

Successful start-ups are like an orchestra. You ultimately aspire to have an organized group of people with varying skills working together to make something beautiful and valuable (an end product or service). Meanwhile you, the founder, stand at the podium and conduct the organization’s beat and tempo during the performance.

I look at companies like Great Black Speakers and I think there is no better analogy than this. GBA was founded by a friend of mine named Lawrence Watkins. The company is profitable and has therefore reached “cruising altitude” to take a phrase from Paul Graham‘s latest essay.

Lawrence would be the first to tell you that before you he was able to reach the point where he is today as the conductor of his business, he had to start out by learning to play many instruments and fill multiple roles within the company. (more…)

The Bootstrapped, Scalable Start-up: Charlie vs. Ted (Part II)

Saturday, October 24th, 2009

When we last left off, Charlie and Ted were pushing hard to get their start-ups off the ground. Both are now about 5 months out of the gate. Charlie has 4 customers and is charging $75 per Digi-Widget, while Ted has 10 customers and is charging $100 per Digi-Widget. Both believe that the service is at a point where they can begin to scale the service.

Chapter 3: Growing Pains


  1. Kicks it up fundraising efforts a notch, goes to Angels and a few VC’s to make presentations on why they should invest in his Digi-Widgets company. (more…)

The Bootstrapped, Scalable Start-up: Charlie vs. Ted

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

Charlie and Ted are two web entrepreneurs, equal in brain power and wit.

Chapter 1: Background Stats

  • Charlie’s company, Charlie Inc., has hired 4 employees and has $100,000 of his own money in start-up capital; Ted Inc. has brought on board one business partner to work on the tech side of things and has $1,000 in capital.
  • Charlie Inc. and Ted Inc. both have the same web-based B2B product idea, called Digi-Widgets.
  • Their target customers are small to medium sized businesses (SMB’s)
  • This is Charlie’s first start-up, while this is Ted’s second (his first one failed)
  • Both Charlie and Ted happen to start work on their businesses at the exact same moment on the exact same day…

And they’re off!


The Biggest, Dirtiest, Slimiest Internet Marketing Lie

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

Many internet marketers are peddling false promises on the internet today and appealing the worst in people. “Make $20,000 a month sitting at home, doing nothing.” We’ve all seen this kind of junk. About once a day I’ll get a Twitter user following me who is some sort of “Multi-level Marketing System Rep.”

The lie internet marketers are implicitly and explicitly putting forward is that to run a successful online business you don’t have to work hard or know much of anything, besides their so-called “secrets.” Don’t believe a word of it because it’s all garbage.

Most of these charlatans (who poison the waters for honest entrepreneurs like you and I) are piggy-backing on the advice and concepts of more legitimate businesses. For example, HubSpot recently put out a book on Inbound Marketing. It talks about building web traffic and online sales primarily through the creation of interesting content (blog posts, videos, simple & free web services, etc.) among other tactics. I have not yet read the book, but I am very familiar with its concepts, which, at the moment, can work for an online business if done right and can deliver sustainable value.

However the false prophets of the web today are pushing blatant lies with regard to start-up search engine optimization, link building, improved page rank, viral traffic, blah blah blah. I won’t call anyone out specifically in this post, but it’s important to recognize a bad opportunity when you see it.

I also see some shades of gray with regard to books like The 4-Hour Work Week which is both an interesting and an entertaining read. I see shades of gray because the book appeals to an easy human sentiment, which is that most people dream about making a ton of money, quitting their day-jobs to retire to the Bahamas, and telling their boss to f*ck off.

If you’re one of the “true believers” I hate to break it to you but the fact is, sustainable valuable can not be created, maintained and grown if you have a minimal work ethic. Those who have succeeded in the implementation of some of the ideas that 4HWW pushes (business systems, talent outsourcing/ delegation) succeeded because they were willing to work hard upfront, and actually enjoyed the work to a large extent!

That brings me to the point of this post which is this: real value is sustainable over a period of time and the creation and dissemination of real value can require a large investment of capital and labor.

But what do YOU think? Am I off-point or being too vague?

6 Reasons for Not Starting a Business that You Should Overcome

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

At one time or another we’ve all dreamed of striking out on our own and starting a business. However for most of us, those dreams get postponed indefinitely for a few key reasons. After reading this post you’ll understand better why this is the case and why most individuals, perhaps yourself included, are apprehensive about the idea.

Here are the most frequently cited reasons:


Top 10 Tips for How to be a Social Media Douchebag

Monday, September 21st, 2009

Author’s Note: I am aware that this post may seem a little out of character in comparison to previous posts that I have written on I recently got bored and annoyed with some (only some) of what I’ve observed in the so-called social media realm on the internet. This post is how I express that benign frustration. No one (who I know) should take this post personally. Everyone else should feel free to be offended, but hopefully more amused. Admittedly I do not claim to have never followed any of these “tips.” Oh the irony… Enjoy.

Hi, my name is Johnny Full-of-Shit. I’m 27,  and a graduate of Appleseed online virtual college and I am a Social Media ROCKSTAR (that’s right show me the follow-love @JohnRocksMajorSox on Twitter). I secretly live in my mother’s basement but make frequent references to my real life where I abscond to far away places to get drunk and prentend to sleep with good looking women all thanks to my monthly six-figure pay check from Scammer’s Inc.

Question: Are you a lazy, naive visitor whose come across my website in your desperate search to make lots of money without even lifting a cheek to fart? Well, then you’re in for a treat because this blog post is going to reveal the secret, awesome POWER of Multi-Level Affiliate Scheming Social Media Media Guru-ness. In other words, I will teach you how to be a ROCKSTAR, just like ME. Listen up:

10 ) Be immodest. Promote yourself and the “secrets” to online marketing that you know but will never quite reveal (until people buy your e-book), and do it 24/7.

9 ) Author shitty e-books (like, “How to sign up for a Twitter account and send your first tweet”), just as long as people leave their email address and pay you $13.54. Gotta love the green :: sunglasses… on ::  8)

8 ) Read the book “Never Eat Alone” and the “4-Hour Work Week.” Then call yourself an entrepreneur in your Twitter 1 line bio, but spice it up up with adjectives like “guru” and “extraordinaire” and, my favorite, “Rockstar.” boo yah bitches.

7 ) Be a thought-leader and create the impression that you are elite, the butter of the cream of the crop, by creating and promoting your own personal-brand-ish-nish. Trust me, people are dumb, they won’t know you were actually drunk in that photo or that you weren’t wearing pants! Thanks Photoshop.

6 ) Spam your friends on Facebook whenever you write one of your super-awesome, thought-leader-ing blog posts. Pressure them to re-post and comment it. Do the same on Twitter. Viral like a virus, oh yeah!–Cheers Malcolm Gladwell.

5 ) Diligently point out spammer comments on Techcrunch. Pointing out blatant comment astroturfing will also score you some major net-props. Damn straight.

4 ) Waste your time reading repetative blogs posts about entrepreneurs launching un-inspired startups who are only slightly more motivated than you. “What pioneers they are! What risk takers–launching a web-based business in this economy, GOLLY!”

3 ) Tweet like a douche bag. That’s right, tweet all day, everyday. Better yet, do the smart thing and set up robots to converse with people for you. You’ve got to get in the conversation, dammit!!

2 ) Make shitty top 5 or top 10 lists (remember it ‘s great link bait on Digg and other social uh stuff).

1 ) Finally, be COMPLETELY un-original, but then claim it was you who wrote it or originally thought of it. Remember, recycling is good for the environment baby.

That’s all I got for now kids. Oh BTW, add me on Facebook, LinkedIn, Youtube, Deliciousness, and everything else. And just so you know, I won’t accept your “add to network” request on LinkedIn since we haven’t done business together, but I’m still flattered so try it anyway.

K thx bye.

Not sure how to network? It helps if you know how to dance.

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

A friend recently asked me for some tips on how to get the most out of an upcoming networking event. I thought I could give her the best, most complete answer if I took the time to formulate my thoughts into a article.

The thought of “networking” can be a scary thought if you haven’t done it before or only have a vague idea of what it means. It might conjure up thoughts of your first middle school dance where there were all these people around, but no one thought you were cool enough to dance with. Of course, networking at conference or a local event has nothing to do with the awkwardness of adolescence right? Well, there are some similarities so lets walk through it.

Step #1: Know what to you want

If believe you will get the most out of the “dance” by sitting on the sidelines and being a wallflower then that’s fine, do it, see what happens. But remember the point of a networking event is to meet people just like the point of a dance is to dance. So if you don’t dance why bother leaving home?

Let’s assume what you want is to generate leads for new job opportunities. Now get more specific than that: what sort of job are you looking for? Does geographic location outweigh the importance or whatever type of job it is? What type of job do you NOT want? What are some examples?

Defining what you want is the first step to networking success.

Step #2: Know how you’re going to get what you want

After you know what you want, you have to understand the tactics you must undertake in order to attain it. For example, one of the most important first steps you can take is to find out if there is a list of the names of individuals who will be at the event. By doing some research in advance on who will be in attendance you target 2-3 individuals who you presume have the resources to give you what you want or who can introduce you to someone who can.

Without such a list at your disposal your ship isn’t sunk, but you will have to keep focused on what you concluded from step one. To do so, prepare 2 or 3 introductory questions in advance that will help you strike up conversation with different attendees at the event. The questions should be specific enough that anyone answering them will be sure to give you the pertinent information you need to determine if the conversation is worth your time to continue having. If not, be polite, look for an exit, and then move along to the next person.

There are other fish in the sea and realize you don’t have to slow-dance with everyone.

If you meet someone who can help you, make it clear that you are interested in learning more and that they have the power to help you. Sometimes, it can be as simple as making sure to get that point across. Otherwise be prepared to show how you can help them in return, what is the benefit to them helping you? Specifically what do you have to offer?

Step #3: Act to get what you want

After you know what you want and how you intend to get it, the last step is to actually do it. Be prepared for rejection and be prepared to reject.

As you seek to “bust a move,” remember the importance of being polite, and the supreme importance of listening to other people. If you are perceptive you will be able to quickly determine what it is the other person wants. At that moment you should be thinking in your head of someone or something you know that could help that person. If you have an answer, exchange contact information and then seek to make a positive exit to the conversation. The assumption is this example is that although you could help them, that individual is unable to help you (at least, at the moment, and that should be part of the long term motivation for you to help them).

Recognize that not everyone you meet can help you and vise versa. Meeting new people is great for the fun of it, but stay focused on your goal as well.

Last Number

Perhaps you’re thinking, “Matt, I’ve got a problem with some of this advice–much of it completely self-interested. I don’t want to be like that.”

The truth is it is and it isn’t. It is in the sense that you are actively looking out for yourself and your best interests. It isn’t in the sense that you will (presumably) add value where you can and then continue along in your search for someone else where your interests are mutually aligned.

Going back to the dance example, if you’re in a crowd or people there’s bound to be a diversity of personality and physical attributes. Some you will find attractive enough to dance a number or two with, others not so much.

In life we will temporarily plug ourselves into any number of potential relationships with others. The chance for a successful outcome to those interactions is dependent on whether or not there is some sort of mutually aligned interest for both parties.