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"In today's complex and fast moving world, what we need more than foresight or hindsight is insight."

BrandView Communications is a consultancy founded by Laura McGowan Fry.  Laura is a customer insights professional who specializes in digital strategy, ux testing, and market research.
 

Top Ten Key Learnings from Project Entrepreneur - Washington D.C.

I spent last Saturday, a beautiful fall day, in Georgetown. The morning was spent walking the beautiful cobblestone streets, exploring the business school at Georgetown University and walking the quaint-historic neighborhoods with my husband, Stephen.

The afternoon was spent networking with a host of nationally acclaimed female entrepreneurs + a host of aspiring business owners in Halcyon House, an incubator for social change. 

The event, targeted at female entrepreneurs was sponsored by UBS.  I learned a great deal from those two steps ahead of me and am pleased to share some of my learnings from the afternoon.

Fifteen factoids from my afternoon attending “Project Entrepreneur” …

1.     According to The 2014 State of Women-Owned Businesses by Womenable, “Women start companies at a rate 1.5 times the national average but account for less than 10 percent of founders at high-growth firms.”  The full report can be found here

2.     Jenn Hyman, Co-founder of Rent the Runway advises women entrepreneurs to “Run as quickly as possible at your idea.”

3.     There is money out there for female entrepreneurs. A fear of funding should not keep you from launching. Get creative. Options include: angel investors, crowd funding, venture capital, marketing contests, self-funding/bootstrapping, and the list goes on. (Angela Lee So, CEO/Founder of 37 Angels)

4.     Women are far less likely to seek and obtain business loans in this country. (Angela Lee So, CEO/Founder of 37 Angels)

5.     Chief Communications officer for UBS Group Americas, Marsha Askins, stressed the very real commitment UBS has made to support female entrepreneurs. UBS’s sponsorship of Project Entrepreneur is proof positive.

6.     Ask for money from business lenders you have no intention of accepting money from for your business. Make note of their questions and concerns. Prepare a well-developed funding pitch presentation that proactively addresses all recorded questions and concerns. Then, and only then, do you request funding from your preferred lenders. (Jenn Hyman, Co-founder of Rent the Runway)

7.     Test your ideas early and regularly. Make sure your idea is a viable one and that people are willing to pay for your idea/product/service. Do not assume that because you find your business idea compelling, others will too.

Build a personal advisory board made up of friends who are at the same stage in their entrepreneurial journey. Your board should be made up of people who are willing to tell you the truth.  Parents, BFFs, etc. do not make good board members. They want to tell you what you want to hear not what you need to hear. (Jenn Hyman, Co-founder of Rent the Runway)

8.     If possible, partner. Investors tend to prefer investing with teams rather than solo entrepreneurs.  Many believe it is difficult for one person to be good at everything. (Angela Lee So, CEO/Founder of 37 Angels). Jenn Hyman recommends you select someone that compliments, not duplicates, your greatest skills.

9.     Learn to accept the uncertainty of entrepreneurship. Sophie Kallinis LaMontagne, Co-founder of Georgetown Cupcake and co-star of TLC’s DC Cupcakes, admits that the early days of launching a business can be unsettling. “You are always wondering if people are going to walk through your doors,” she admits. The key to happiness as an entrepreneur is to become comfortable with the uncertainty of your new journey.

10.   Sophie’s sister and business partner Katherine Kallinis Berman elaborates explaining one of her greatest lessons was learning to trust herself and her personal marketability, knowing that if the cupcake business failed, she and her sister could always find work elsewhere.

11.   Let data drive much of your decision making – know who is buying your product, what they are buying (flavors, etc.), when they are buying it (time of day, day of the week, month of the year, etc.), how they are buying it (brick & mortar vs. online sales), where they are placing their orders, where the items are being delivered. These statistics will inform future product offerings, purchasing decisions, product promotions, etc. (Sophie LaMontagne Kallinis, Co-founder of Georgetown Cupcake and co-star of TLC’s DC Cupcakes)

12.   Connect with your customers. Utilize social media to foster dialog. Be charitable by giving back to those in your target audience – in person events where you interact with your community are best.  Be seen working hard in your retail space. Sophie LaMontagne Kallinis shares how she dons an apron and is seen boxing cupcakes in each of she and Katherine’s stores. Customers are always pleasantly surprised to see her completing day-to-day tasks.

13.   Be careful of becoming too loyal to your suppliers. Evaluate your suppliers’ pricing, services and product offerings regularly. Georgetown Cupcake admits that they have stuck with some suppliers longer than they should have – purely out of a sense of loyalty. (Sophie LaMontagne Kallinis, Co-founder of Georgetown Cupcake and co-star of TLC’s DC Cupcakes)

14.   The ten slides you need to include in your funding pitch presentation:

a.     Elevator pitch: Be able to explain exactly what your business offers – avoid scope creep

b.     Problem: Know your prospective customers’ main pain points

c.     Solution: Your product/service must be the solution to your customers’ problem

d.     Team: Include an overview of you and your current team.  Include timing of bringing on additional team members and the roles these team members will play.

e.     Market size: Your product is not for everyone. Know your target audience, how big the target it, what differentiates this target from the masses

f.       Business model: have a clearly developed business plan

g.     Customer acquisition – know how much money it takes to acquire a new customer and how much each customer is worth

h.     Traction – show investors that you have a viable business with paying clients – clear – quick – timeline to profitability. Now your number inside and out!

i.       Competition: Know your competition. Know what differentiates you and your product/services from the competitive set.

j.       Deal terms: How the worth of your product/service and the terms you are offering and willing to agree upon.

                (Angela Lee So, CEO/Founder of 37 Angels)

 

15.   Speakers stressed the importance of staying abreast of trends and gaining tips for further success by reading.

a.     Angela Lee So’s reading recommendations focus on productivity. Books and articles that share Cal Newport’s productivity advice are at the top of her list.

·      So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love and

·      Eric Barker’s article featuring Cal, How to be the most productive person in the office and still get home by 5:30

 

b.     Sophie LaMontagne Kallinis recommends you stay abreast of trends by reading books designed for educating entrepreneurs - Fast Company, Entrepreneur and Inc. are on she and her sister Katherine’s “must read” list.

 

And, my favorite quotation of the day …

“Nothing grows straight to heaven without troubles," Sophie Kallinis LaMontagne, Co-founder of Georgetown Cupcake

 

10 Reasons Why I Still Believe in Persona Based Design

Persona based digital design continues to go in and out of vogue.  Three years ago I found myself needing to defend persona based design - critics claiming persona based design had gone out of vogue.  So, I compiled a list of key reasons why I support the process.  

I find that today it is needed more now than ever and thought it would be a good time to revisit my "top 10 list."    Please see my post below:  

Despite its fluctuating popularity, I have remained a steadfast true believer. I find web development that incorporates representatives from a variety of disciplines (e.g., digital research, strategic planning, information architecture, design, development, and account services) invaluable.

Below you will find ten reasons why I am still an advocate of persona based design and development. Persona based design:       

  1. Focuses on the user. Plain and simple.

  2. Brings the user to life. The carefully crafted persona becomes someone with clear wants, needs, and digital capabilities.

  3. Fosters team based design bringing the left and right brains together.

  4. Brings unique perspectives to the design process.

  5. Marries data driven design with the “cool” factor.

  6. Gives all core team members equal footing in the design process.

  7. Streamlines user needs into a critical few.

  8. Mitigates team and client/agency conflict when prioritizing site needs.

  9. Focuses on the user not external forces when prioritizing site features and functionality.

  10. Provides developers with a clearer understanding of the unique qualities of primary and secondary audiences.

Several years ago I attended a usability workshop held at Nielsen Norman Group’s annual conference. The course instructors were John Pruitt (Microsoft) and Tamara Adlin (Amazon.com). It was fantastic. The course reviewed how best to take quantitative and qualitative research along with creative insights to create personas that are based on sound data and creative pizzazz.

Soon after completing the course, their book, The Persona Lifecycle: Keeping People in Mind Throughout Product Design (2006), was published. It quickly became a staple on the bookshelves of UX specialists worldwide. It is available on Amazon if you are interested in purchasing it for your personal library.

The Digital Road Warrior: Ten Apps that Simplify Life on the Road

As a marketing professional, I have put in my share of time on the road.  Business tavel has its perks but it also takes me away from my home making it difficult to stay connected to my loved ones and manage household tasks.

My Smartphone and tablet have proven invaluable helping me keep it all together.

The following apps help me stay in touch with loved ones when I’m traveling and keep our household humming.

Expensify has been a fantastic way to track all of my business expenses, mileage, time on projects and to scan receipts all from my phone or tablet.  I frequently travel the toll roads of metro Chicago.  Not all booths provide receipts.  Expensify has made keeping track of these expenses much easier. 

Facetime has made traveling for business a little less lonely.  As I eat dinner alone in snazzy restaurants around the country, I am now able to chat with my husband face-to-face, hear about his day and get a glimpse of our cocker spaniel.  The only drawback I have found is that it’s a little more difficult to say goodnight and sign off.

Evernote is a browser based tool that allows me to input and access (text, pictures, etc.) information from my Smartphone, tablet or computer.  Evernote helped me plan my wedding when traveling extensively for work.  I took pictures of flowers, cakes, dresses that I noticed during my travels.  I would then upload the pictures to my Evernote account, make notes to myself about where I saw them, what I liked about them and then emailed the pictures to service providers (e.g., pastry chef who made our cakes, the florist who made my bouquet, etc.).

Flight Stats gives me updated information on my flights (i.e., delays, cancellations, etc.) and  airport conditions.  This has proven incredibly valuable during bad weather and particularly busy travel times.

Chase’s app gives me the ability to deposit my expense checks outside of normal business hours by taking a picture from my Smartphone and inputting it into the Chase app. 

Weight Watchers eTools keeps me honest.  Dining in restaurants sounds great until you start to watch the weight come on.  eTools allows me track everything I am eating along with my daily exercise via their proprietary points system. 

Flipboard keeps me abreast of the latest world news.  It’s “flip-like” navigation is fun to interact with and allows for customization – you pick the types of content you want to have access to on a regular basis (e.g., design, technology,  photography, business, etc.) and Flipboard serves it up in real time.

Starbucks makes paying for my latest caffeine fix a breeze – and fun!  I put money on my account via my credit card.  When paying I swipe my phone across the store’s reader and my account is automatically debited.  The app also provides weekly free song downloads, free beverage awards, free in-store refills when you reach Gold status, eGift cards, and a store locator (essential for the business traveler).

TripIt keeps my travel itinerary in one easy to read app.  It chronologically organizes all of my travel plans: hotels , flights, meetings, rental cars, etc.  It also stores confirmation numbers, driving directions and local maps.  It’s a social tool allowing me to keep track of the travel plans of colleagues and friends, as well.

RunKeeper was one of the first apps I downloaded when I got my first iPhone about five years ago.  It has never let me down.  It maps my runs, tracks my mileage, and records my pace.   It’s fun looking back on all of the maps – a bit of a diary of where business and running has taken me over the past few years.

There are times when I curse technology.  There are times when I feel handcuffed to my iPhone and iPad.  But upon reflection, technology really does keep me connected (good or bad) and simplifies my life a bit.

Note: This post has also been submitted to CNN iReports

Starbucks-cum-Office

This morning I enjoyed reading a Fast Company article, "Why you Should Work From a Coffee Shop, Even When You Have An Office", by Wesley Verhoeve.  The article calls to light the many benefits of working from a local coffee shop along with some etiquette  lessons for doing so.  

What Verhoeve didn't address was the wise, savvy business acumen of the king of coffee shops, Starbucks.  Not only does Starbucks "not mind" us using their space as as office, they digitally encourage us to linger.

5 Green Stars to Linger

5 Green Stars to Linger

Starbuck's Smartphone app allows us to pay for our coffee, engage with their brand via free music downloads, coupons, a free coffee on your birthday.  And for those who have purchased a coffee or tea via the Starbucks app, at lease thirty times, receive the benefit of free refills during their stay.  All they need to do is flash the app at the barista and a refill is coming right up!

Now, what I am most curious about are the real psychological and physical reasons why many of us are at our productive and creative best when banging away on our laptops in coffee shops across America.  Yea, I know many will tell us there are fewer distractions, the chairs are comfy, etc., etc., .... but really, what are the real reasons?