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The latest news on Entrepreneurship from Business Insider

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    double robotics

    Most startups today are building some kind of app or software—like the next big-time photo-sharing app.

    Double Robotics is the rare startup that's actually building a solid piece of hardware that you can actually see in action, in the real world.

    Right now, Double is building motorized mounts for your iPad. You plug your iPad into the robot to turn it into a roaming camera.

    The applications are pretty much limitless: remote videoconferences, campus tours, even doctor's visits.

    Still, building a hardware startup is tough. The weakhearted need not apply. 

    We caught up with cofounder Marc DeVidts to find out what it's like running a startup that's also a hardware company. Here's what we learned:

    • Rapid-fire prototyping is a must for all startups, whether they make hardware or software. Even if your robot is going to crash into a wall, you still need to find ways to get customer feedback as quickly as possible.
    • Good advice is universal—don't assume it won't work for you. Y Combinator is best known for software startups like Airbnb and Dropbox. But DeVidts found there were ways to apply the coaching and advice he got.
    • Always look for the next step. For Double Robotics, that means it can't just build robots. Now it has to teach them how to be better robots capable of climbing stairs, opening doors, and all the other things humans do.

    Here's a lightly edited transcript of the interview: 

    BUSINESS INSIDER: Can you tell me a little bit about your history and the team?

    MARC DEVIDTS: My cofounder David (Cann) and I met at a TV show, BattleBots, back on Comedy Central 10 years ago. He was a software developer. He was writing their management software. I was a competitor and was on the TV show for one season before it got canceled. We met there and we didn't really collaborate on anything until we ended up moving to Miami together because we had mutual friends there. We each had our own jobs, he was doing iOS app contract work, I was doing software on medical devices.

    We started working on a product in 2009 that was a kid's toy, it was a Furby crossed with a Tomagotchi crossed with an iPhone. It was a plush doll that kids could play with using their iPhone or their parents' iPhone. We were trying to manufacture that in china. We thought China would wave their magic wand and make it cheaper and we found it was difficult to communicate with them. Around that time we were trying to figure out how to talk to China better and we decided there were telepresence robots out there, but they were expensive and clunky. This was around the time the iPad 2 came out and we said, maybe there was an opportunity to make something that replaces all these clunky robots with an iPad. So we went full-time on it about a year ago, last November, been working on it ever since.

    The toy got put on the back-burner, because it was too hard to make margins on it. Maybe we'll make it again, there's a lot of new advancements since 2009 and prices have definitely come down.

    BI: What's it like working on a hardware startup?

    MD: We were in Y Combinator, the main issue was that most of the advice, a lot of it, was tiered toward software companies. us hardware guys, we had like five hardware startups in our batch. We were sitting in the back corner saying, does that apply to us, i don't think that applies to us. We had to paint our own paths different ways. A lot of ways it was useful, it's interesting on hinting how to use that advice that they're giving to software startups, how it applies to you. While hardware is a lot harder to do, they say, we're finding that out now, we actually had a great time in Y Combinator and a totally great time demoing. It's so much easier to demo a piece of hardware that you can carry around and people see immediately, rather than having to pull out your phone or laptop and showing them a website. It just kind of sells itself.

    BI: What are some of the challenges to running a hardware startup?

    "For us, it was difficult, because if our product isn't done, it falls over or smashes a wall."

    MD: The big challenge for any software startup is probably the chicken or egg problem—getting users. So it's easy for someone to say, software might not be done yet, but you have some sort of presence on the site so people can use it and you can get feedback. Your product doesn't have to be done. But for us, it was difficult, because if our product isn't done, it falls over or smashes a wall.

    Still, we ended up really taking that advice—it's amazing when you try to apply that advice, which is totally crazy for a hardware startup, and it totally works. Everyone wants their product to be perfect and when we finally got over the initial hurdle of realizing it's never going to be perfect, we really took that advice and started doing that and it's worked out really well. Another piece of advice was to start selling them even though they aren't done, try to sell features that don't exist yet. We stepped back a little from there, but said maybe we can do a beta program. We sold some of those, gave some away, to get that good feedback from people. We really did take that advice. 

    BI: So what's the point of the robot?

    MD: It's primarily a telepresence robot, though we're opening up a lot of new doors with customer feedback. Our typical customer is a business with multiple offices that wants to stay more connected. We're getting a lot of doctors that want to visit patients, schools offering campus tours, museums wanting to offer tours, new doors are opening up that you never even thought about. A museum in Europe is closed at night, but nighttime is actually daytime in the U.S., so all that time they're actually losing money when they could be offering the museum to U.S. residents with these robots. It doesn't require that much extra staff because it's just, well, robots.

    "It doesn't require that much extra staff because it's just, well, robots."

     The other interesting thing is helping people with disabilities, we hear stories about what people are trying to overcome with our robots. We say, think about what you really want to use it for before you buy it. We don't want people to think, well that was cool, and then put it on a shelf. We want people really excited about it, and there's a lot of people like that. I wouldn't say we're going as far as revolutionizing travel, we're certainly in some cases it makes sense to send a robot.

    BI: What are you guys working on next?

    MD: Right now we have our hands full building this thing, but ultimately we see if the price gets down low enough it could be a consumer thing. Everyone could put it in their home to check on it while they're away.

    I do agree the price is still a little prohibitive. It's interesting, when choosing the price we didn't say we're gonna do $1 million in research and figure out how much we can charge based on that. We said, what are people wiling to pay to attend a meeting remotely or drive around remotely and said, how do we do that, and we came up with this. We approached it from the bottom up, not the top down.

    Next up, we're researching things like walking up stairs, manipulating things remotely, opening doors. It's not crazy to think that 50 or 100 years from now people will be doing more things remotely.

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    Bastian Lehmann

    Same-day delivery is the next most important problem for technology to solve. Some of the hottest startups in Silicon Valley are already working on ways to attack it.

    Some of the biggest, most innovative technology companies in the world are also working on their own solutions for it, too.

    We've heard whispers that Google is reportedly working on same-day delivery, and Amazon has its own version of same-day delivery. eBay has its own version of same-day delivery, which lets you buy things and have them delivered in an hour.

    It's becoming more and more clear that—alongside a powerful discovery engine (Pinterest, valued at $1.5 billion) and finally creating a sexy solution for paying for things with your phone (Square, valued at $3.2 billion)—same-day delivery is the next holy grail for  technology-driven commerce.

    FedEx is worth $28 billion today. UPS, nearly $70 billion. There will always be a market for logistics across all kinds of timeframes. But for e-commerce, the last big hurdle is matching or beating the convenience of walking into a store and walking out with the thing you want.

    What if you could get the Kindle you ordered from Amazon, while you were at work, in about an hour—without having to leave your desk, drive to a store, park, wait in line, pay, and head back?

    Same-day delivery is getting to the point it can no longer be ignored or written off as a simple experiment or an idea that is destined to fail. Here's why:

    • Same-day delivery helps you do more, faster. By removing the need to go to the grocery store or run other errands, it cuts hours of transportation and menial tasks out of your day.
    • If the largest, most innovative companies in the world are attempting to do the same, then they recognize it as a huge opportunity. Companies like Google and Amazon don't go after new spaces lightly, so they have to be large enough to add something significant to their already hundreds of billions in market cap.

    Consumer startups might be a little boring, according to our own Alyson Shontell, but that's because they've stopped tackling real problems with real money to be made.

    Here's to the next billion-dollar startup: Whoever can finally master same-day delivery.

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    You might think you need to be a master programmer to start your own company.

    But that's not actually the case, says entrepreneur David Rose on Quora. In fact, the single most important person at a startup is "the entrepreneur:" basically the guy that gets the startup off the ground.

    The entrepreneur isn't necessarily a technical master, but has a "combination of vision, passion, leadership, commitment, communication skills, hypomania, fundability, and, above all, willingness to take risks, that brings together all of the pieces and creates from them an enterprise that fills a value-producing role in our economy," Rose says.

    So, even if you aren't a master coder, it doesn't mean you shouldn't try to start a company.

    Check out his full response, embedded below:

    Read Quote of David S. Rose's answer to How good of a programmer does one need to be to found a startup? on Quora

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    ben kaufman

    Quirky, the super-hot New York startup founded by 24-year-old Ben Kaufman, just raised another $68 million in Series C funding.

    That brings the total raised since it was founded in 2009 to $91.3 million.

    This round was led by Andreessen Horowitz, with significant participation from new investor Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. So it also gets two new board members: Andreessen Horowitz's Scott Weiss and Kleiner Perkins' Mary Meeker. Weiss is perhaps best known as employee no. 13 at Hotmail before it was bought by Microsoft and the co-founder of IronPort (bought by Cisco).

    Meeker is known as the "Queen of the Net" from her days as a powerhouse Morgan Stanley Internet stock analyst. Today she's known for investing in companies like Groupon, Square and Spotify.

    Quirky makes it super easy for people to turn their ideas into real life products. People submit ideas for $10 and other readers choose which are best. If an idea is chosen, Quirky will make the product and pay a lifetime royalty for it.

    Quirky has so far launched more than 200 products, many sold at retail stores. Big hits include Pivot Power, Cordies and Crates. It has paid out over $2 million in royalties to inventors and has 260,000 people participating on the site.

    Don't miss: Here's What It's Like To Work For Quirky

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    john zimmer lyft

    In San Francisco, a hotbed of transportation innovation from ferries to cable cars to high-speed rail, the latest way to get around is sporting a giant, pink, fluffy mustache.

    If you see a car with that hood decoration, you're looking at a driver for Lyft, a new app from a startup called Zimride that lets you order a car ride from one point to another on demand.

    Instead of working like Uber, a similar service for professional limo drivers, Lyft has more of a community aspect, focusing on regular car owners who want to help their friends and meet new people.

    We caught up with John Zimmer, chief operating officer and cofounder of Zimride, the maker of Lyft. Here's what we learned:

    • After being out for about three months, Lyft has served thousands of rides. Right now it's only available in San Francisco, but it should be expanding to other cities "once it gets San Francisco right," Zimmer says.
    • The average cost of a Lyft ride is about $10. Most Web-based apps like Uber charge a lot more than that.
    • For Lyft, it's more about the community. Think of Lyft as an Airbnb for cars. You can't quite turn it into a job yet, but you can make some money to recoup the cost of your auto bills.

    Here's a lightly edited transcript of the interview:

    BUSINESS INSIDER: Can you give me a little bit of background on Zimride and Lyft? 

    JOHN ZIMMER: Lyft started three months ago, and Zimride started about 5 years go. Zimride and Lyft were founded by myself and Logan Green, my cofounder and CEO of Zimride. He has a background in transportation hacking, he built the first car-share program at University of California at Santa Barbara, before even Zipcar. He was on the transportation board in Santa Barbara working on buses. He was frustrated that public transportation was based on tax revenue, so only about 30 percent of the operating costs were covered by fares. When a bus line folded, he couldn't add more bus lines, so he wanted to build a transportation form that would get better as it got used.

    alexia tsotsis day in the life 21I went to Cornell's hotel school. I studied hospitality and when I took a green cities class, we were looking at transportation. I saw a slide on the evolution of transportation, from canals to highways, and I thought about what would be the next slide. I thought it would be a layer of efficiency on top of our current cars and road systems, going back to that idea of occupancy I was learning in the program. 80 percent of our seats are empty and I thought if you could get that 20 percent occupancy up by even 10 percentage points, you'd have an incredible social, financial and utilitarian solution.

    BI: So, I have to ask, what is the deal with the mustaches?

    JZ: Every car has this "carstache," it's the pink furry mustache. When we were designing the app experience and the in-car physical experience, we wanted to create something that would help people recognize the car. It's a person's private vehicle, so they're all different. We wanted something for riders to identify. It's created a ton of buzz because people see these cars all the time in San Francisco, asking, "What is that?"

    BI: What's the point of Lyft? Why shouldn't I use Uber, or Sidecar?

    JZ: It's all part of the same mission to change the fact that 80 percent of seats are empty. Zimride was long-distance trips, we have saved $100 million for the population with our long-distance service. We said, with that milestone, "How can we do this even faster for more people?" We had long-distance, we should also tackle short-distance. That's where Lyft was born. We decided it was the product we wanted to build. Three months later, we've done thousands of rides.

    BI: But what about cost?

    JZ: The average ride is about $10, it's a little less expensive than a cab, and a lot less expensive than an Uber. It's about a third of the cost of Uber. The experience is different too, there's a professional driver feel to Uber and Sidecar. There's more of a community-powered feel to what we're doing. 80 percent of our passengers sit in the front seat when they get in the Lyft. The concept we're going after is "your friend with a car, on demand." We have a community and culture—we have pink mustaches on every car. It's part of that community experience, you smile when you see it, the passenger smiles, the driver smiles, it breaks the ice. The drivers often do a fist bump as part of welcoming someone into the culture. They're encouraged to express themselves. We've had drivers make coffee in the morning, it's like Airbnb with hosts. It's more of that feel.

    "We've had drivers make coffee in the morning, it's like Airbnb with hosts. It's more of that feel."

    BI: What's the advantage to drivers?

    JZ: I don't have an exact number, but the basic idea is if people have a few extra hours in their days and they want to help others out in the community, they can fill their time and make some money using Lyft. It's similar to Airbnb, where you have extra space and need to do something with it. They're able to make some money and reimburse themselves for some of their auto expenses.

    We've had people meet their new best friends, they've met people who they've hung out with several times outside of the experience. We've had people start a band because they met someone who's had similar music taste. There are some that do it more than others, the average is more in the 10 to 20 hours a week range, that's more of a side job. It does range from people doing it a couple hours to people doing it more. 

    BI: What are you guys planning on doing next?

    We want to do San Francisco really well, it's a market we understand. There's a transportation void that needs to be filled. In a few months we'll look to find other cities where that's also true.

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    jeff tseng kontagent

    When Kontagent CEO Jeff Tseng wanted to find out how well his app was doing, he couldn't find a way to track his users and whether they were buying anything.

    So he decided to build the app himself — and it worked. Unfortunately, it also showed that his app was actually pretty bad.

    So instead of trying to change his app, he decided to change the direction of the company to sell the same technology he and his team built to track the app as a service to other business.

    Now, the company tracks more than 200 million monthly active users. It helps business find out what to change and what to tweak to ensure that users are enjoying the experience and are paying for in-app purchases.

    We caught up with CEO Jeff Tseng and chief science officer Josh Williams to find out what Kontagent does. Here's what we learned:

    • Kontagent tracks hundreds of millions of app users, amounting to hundreds of billions of actions. It helps businesses track users from the moment they click on an advertisement to install an app all the way to the point that they decide to buy the equivalent of a FarmVille cow.
    • More than half of Kontagent's traffic now comes from mobile. There was a big change-over from Facebook and desktop web surfing to mobile apps, and it only happened in the past few months.
    • Kontagent has more than 100 employees and it's raised about $18 million. After starting off as a consumer app company, it's since enjoyed the ride as an enterprise startup.

    Here's a lightly edited transcript of the interview:

    BUSINESS INSIDER: Can you tell me a little bit about what Kontagent does?

    JOSH WILLIAMS: We help business track and optimize their customer economics and customer experience in their social applications, mobile applications and websites. We track more than 200 million monthly active users across social and mobile applications. We handle more than 100 billion in-app user actions. We crunch all the data and track it in real-time as well as enabling deeper analyses. We give businesses tools and infrastructure to do that as well by providing a dashboard that delivers all that data back to them in reports and in a semi-real time basis.

    JEFF TSENG: Mainly we're helping our customers, the businesses, efficiently spend their marketing dollars to acquire customers. In the case of social gaming companies, a company being like Zynga, or our customers like EA, they have to spend money to acquire users to play their games. We provide metrics and dashboards around which types of channels and advertising are most effective toward driving high-value users. We help companies optimize the value of the customer experience, showing them what changes they can make to the user experience that increase the likelihood of the user spending money or using the app more frequently.

    For example, in the case of a company that heavily uses mobile, like Uber, we'd show them what parts of the customer experience are stopping me from booking more tabs or spending more money. If they analyze my behavior they'd see me keep clicking UBERx and see there aren't enough cabs, so they might want to sign up more drivers. 

    Anywhere there's an advertisement where it's run online, we can track the users who click on the ad and actually register — download an application or install a Facebook application and do something within the application. We can track the user all the way from when they click the ad all the way to when they generate revenue in the appellation.

    JW: We do all that, but take it a big step further and we follow users through their lifetime engagement with your service and can show you, hey, the group of users that saw this specific ad on this platform in this time window had greater attention that other users who clicked on a different acquisition channel. This sort of user sticks around longer so you should target more of them.

    BI: Can you tell me more about how the company got started?

    JW: In the early days, Kontagent was an app developer for mobile and social on Facebook. We wanted to understand what was going on inside their applications and realized there wasn't a good analytics service to use off the shelf. We started to build something internally, but once the data was available we realized our app wasn't that great. I mean, it was great that the analytics worked to show us that, but we needed to change the business.

    "We started to build something internally, but once the data was available we realized our app wasn't that great. I mean, it was great that the analytics worked to show us that, but we needed to change the business."

    By that point we had a cool analytics system and started to look at an enterprise model. It started taking off and we started signing up more and more customers over time. I came on a couple years ago as an investor and also as our president and head of data science, which is something we take really seriously. 

    BI: What exactly is a "data scientist?"

    JW: In general, data scientists have skills that are a combination of mathematics and computer science, and generally you need to be an expert in driving significant conclusions from large sets of data. What this means, if you had your own application and just started collecting data, unless you had a great deal of experience, it'd be difficult to measure things. We'll look at user retention and we'll try to boil it down to the most actionable ways. We'll try to help you as an organization learn how to be more data-driven and make decisions based on certain reports.  

    BI: How do you guys feel about the big shift to mobile? It seems like it's just happened in the past few months.

    JW: We were either smart or lucky that we started making the transition a long time ago. We started working with our first mobile customers a year ago before a lot of the changes happened with Facebook. We did that based on the data that we saw, talking with a lot of customers, realizing a lot of our customers were expanding into mobile. We started working with our first mobile customers over a year ago and we started building our mobile expertise in front of that. The vision has always been to be multi-screen and multi-channel, so we want to help you optimize your customer economics and customer experience regardless of where your users are. Your mobile, your social apps, your business, your tablet, if that's all you care about, we'll be there. We've been cross-platform for a long time. 

    JT: Potentially, the usage can be a lot higher on mobile. Even through we still have a lot of customers on the social gaming side, over half our traffic, our data, is coming from mobile these days and that's only happened over the last few months.

    "Even through we still have a lot of customers on the social gaming side, over half our traffic, our data, is coming from mobile these days and that's only happened over the last few months."

    You see some pretty high engagement numbers throughout the day, I think that's a pretty big trend. We're also seeing a lot more people going in between tablets and phones and PCs, the experience is expanding to multiple touch points. When we looked at this there were a lot of gaming companies that were talking bout being able to provide user experiences that spanned multiple screens and now we're seeing a lot of companies adopting that.

    BI: How do things look now?

    JT: We've raised about $18 million to date, a little over that. We did our last round in November, from battery Ventures. We're pretty much exceeding the 100-person in the company right now. We've more than doubled our headcount every year over the last few years. If you look two years ago we were 7 or 8 people and now we're over 100. There's been very significant growth.

    We're working with a few hundred enterprise customers, some of the companies we've disclosed are EA, Ubisoft, a bunch others. A lot of the big guys on Facebook and mobile now. Outside of gaming, we work with a number of companies like Whaleshark.

    BI: What's it like running an enterprise startup instead of a consumer startup?

    JT: Stressful in a different way, when we're on the consumer side it's on an hourly basis that things can change. On the enterprise side it's actually been a lot of fun because you can be a lot more strategic, you can plan things over longer periods of time. You don't have to be quite as reactive in how you plan products or how you plan marketing campaigns. It's also pretty satisfying to be able to help business change their business. It's been a really cool part of engaging with their teams, when we do see them actively using their products, it's really satisfying.

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    Boot campThe middle class in America is changing. At one time, being middle class was an accomplishment—you weren't rich, but “comfortable.”

    But in the last decade, the middle class has watched their wealth and comfort level decline.

    According to a recent report from the Pew Research Center, since 2000, the middle class has shrunk in size and fallen backward in income and wealth.

    Eighty five percent of self-described middle class adults polled say it is more difficult now than it was a decade ago for middle class Americans to maintain their standard of living.

    The middle tier now takes in 45 percent of the income pie, down from 62 percent four decades ago.

    Median income fell 5 percent in the last decade and median wealth (assets minus debt), declined by 28 percent to $93,150 from $129,582, primarily because of the housing crisis.

    About 42 percent of middle-class adults say their household's financial situation is worse now than it was before the recession; about half of them say it will take at least five years to recover; and 8 percent say they will never recover, according to Pew.

    With such dreary numbers, there's all but been a funeral for the middle class. But at the same time, plenty of middle class Americans are continuing to hang on. The Great Recession may have shaken them up, but it also forced them to finally get their finances together.

    Aggregate consumer debt fell by $53 billion in the second quarter, continuing the deleveraging trend in outstanding household debt since its peak in 2008. Couponing has become a national obsession.

    Here’s how three middle class Americans have coped:

    1. The Young Parents
    “When I got pregnant in 2010, we wanted to be sure we were prepared for any financial disaster that struck. In two years we've saved $8,000-$10,000 and been slowly paying off debt,” says Rebecca Desfosse. She runs a frugal living blog, Doggone Thrifty, and lives with her husband and two year old son in Brick, New Jersey.

    Desfosse and her husband have cut back on spending and are building an emergency fund to keep them going for at least nine months. She's turned to do-it-yourself alternatives for many cleaning and beauty products. She shops for fresh produce, instead of more expensive pre-packaged foods, scrubs pots with baking soda, makes homemade laundry detergent, window cleaner, and her own deodorant. They shop local farmers’ markets and thrift stores. She creates a weekly meal plan to make sure she buys only what's needed. Little changes add up. “Monthly we're saving $300-$500.”

    2. The Health Benefit
    Ron Williams and his wife switched to a vegan lifestyle and he quit smoking. “Our monthly food bill with restaurants and groceries was around $680-$750 and I spent $160 a month on cigarettes. After going vegan, our food bill is about $200-$250 and with no cigarettes, we're saving about $660 a month,” says Williams who lives in Portland, Oregon. Much of that savings is being socked away, but the Williams are putting $60 a month toward a gym they joined and $80 toward fitness supplements, which nets them around $500 extra a month.

    3. The Relocator
    Others made drastic changes. Anne Nicolai left her suburb of Minneapolis, MN and moved to San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. “My cost of living is about one-fifth of what it was. My partner and I pay the equivalent of $120 a month to rent a two bedroom house. Dinner at a high-end steakhouse for the two is about $45, including wine. Two huge bags filled with fruit and vegetables from the market are $6. We have no heating bills,” says Nicolai.  She shares her secret, “I no longer use credit cards and magically, I spend less. I don't go to the mall unless I'm looking for something specific. When I visit the U.S., I don't shop at Nordstrom and Bloomingdale's anymore, but Marshall's and Target. It's not important to live in the same kind of home as I did in the U.S. – four bedrooms, huge lawn, two-car garage, heated pool. In fact, I'm quite comfortable living more simply and with less stress. The sunshine and flowers, the mariachi music in the town square, the salsa dancing four nights a week – don't cost a thing.”

    Despite a decade of financial disappointments and setbacks, if you're willing to make adjustments, here are some tips from the experts on how to get yourself back on track. 

    Stay invested. The rollercoaster stock market has soured many, but historically the long term total return from the stock market is nearly 10 percent. Valuations of most assets, including stocks, are dramatically lower than they were in 2000 before the dot-com bust or in 2007, before the financial meltdown, says Daniel Wildermuth, author of Wise Money and CEO of investment brokerage firm Kalos Capital. His advice: “Add international equities, including emerging markets that are growing at much higher rates than the developed world. Invest in indirectly held assets with less liquidity such as real estate, private equity debt, private equity, managed futures and various types of commodities such as oil and gas.”

    Downsize. Create a realistic spending plan and learn to live within it. Bank the excess to build an emergency fund. “You can regain ground quickly by not making the mistakes most of the middle class made the first time around – living larger than their incomes could afford. This means not buying too much house, too much car, or other items that simply aren't affordable,” says Ted Jenkin, CEO of Oxygen Financial.

    Set realistic expectations for your kids. “You aren't likely going to be able to fund 100 percent of their education and to save for your retirement, so don't live in fantasy land and think you can do it all. Be clear with your kids about what you can and cannot do.”

    Stop using credit unless you can pay your balance monthly. Make reducing and eliminating debt a priority.

    Increase your skills. The quickest way to gain ground is to figure out how to increase your income, whether at your company or another. The number one investment you can make is to increase your competencies and skills that will boost your income.

    Be entrepreneurial. “Millionaires are the largest buyers of personal services. Start a lawn care, maid, or handyman business,” says Steve Siebold, author of How Rich People Think. “Come up with solutions to problems. Money flows like water to great ideas; turn on the faucet.”

    Incorporate changes into your everyday life. “The economic conditions and circumstances of the past 50 years are not likely to be repeated in the decades that lie ahead,” says Villanova School of Business Finance Professor Robert LeClair. “Those forces, which boosted so many individuals and families into economic prosperity, are likely to remain flat, or even decline in the decades ahead.” That's no reason for despair though. While you can't control the economy, focus on what you can control – the choices you make every day that determine your financial future.

    NOW READ: If You Use A Big Bank, It's Your Fault If They Treat You Like Dirt >

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    Rap super star and entrepreneur Jay-Z ripped on the anti-corporate Occupy Wall Street Movement in the New York Times Magazine

    From the NYTimes Magazine: (emphasis ours)

    ...He gets a little agitated when the subject of Zuccotti Park comes up: “What’s the thing on the wall, what are you fighting for?” He says he told Russell Simmons, the rap mogul, the same: “I’m not going to a park and picnic, I have no idea what to do, I don’t know what the fight is about. What do we want, do you know?”

    Jay-Z likes clarity: “I think all those things need to really declare themselves a bit more clearly. Because when you just say that ‘the 1 percent is that,’ that’s not true. Yeah, the 1 percent that’s robbing people, and deceiving people, these fixed mortgages and all these things, and then taking their home away from them, that’s criminal, that’s bad. Not being an entrepreneur. This is free enterprise. This is what America is built on.”

    So Jay wants OWS to concentrate on Wall Street specifically. Thanks, Jay.

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    reverend billy, protestors, excitement, clapping, emotional,  zuccotti park reopened, reopen, ows, occupy wall street, november 15 2011, bi, dngThis post originally appeared at Open Forum.

    To build a successful organization, there needs to be a variety of people playing different roles in order for things to run smoothly.

    Some of these roles are easily defined while others may have more confusing boundaries, such as the difference between a manager and a leader. You can be a manager and a leader at the same time, but just because you're a phenomenal leader doesn't guarantee you'll be a great manager, and vice-versa, so what's the real difference?

    In his book On Becoming a Leader, Warren Bennis writes about a few crucial differences between a leader and a manager. Here are some key differentiators from the book, as well as insights from Gene Wade, founder and CEO of UniversityNow, and late management guru Peter Drucker.

    1. The leader innovates whereas the manager administersThis means that the leader is the one who comes up with new ideas and moves the rest of the organization into a forward-thinking phase. This person has to constantly keep his eyes on the horizon and develop new strategies and tactics. He needs to be knowledgeable about the latest trends, studies and skill sets.

    "You got people who are just going to work instead of thinking about why they're doing what they're doing, and then you have the leaders," Wade says.

    On the other hand, a manager maintains what has already been established. This person has to keep her eye on the bottom line and maintain control or else there might be disorder within the organization. 

    In his book The Wall Street Journal Essential Guide to Management: Lasting Lessons from the Best Leadership Minds of Our Time, Alan Murray cites Drucker as saying that a manager is someone who "establishes appropriate targets and yardsticks, and analyzes, appraises and interprets performance." Managers understand the people who work alongside them and know which person is the best person for specific tasks. 

    2. The leader inspires trust whereas the manager relies on control. Wade says that a leader is someone who inspires other people to be their best and knows how to appropriately set the tempo and pace for the rest of the group. 

    "Leadership is not what you do—it's what others do in response to you," he says. "If no one shows up at your march, then you're not really a leader."

    And if people do decide to jump on board because you've inspired them, then it means that you have created a bond of trust within the company, which is essential especially if the business is rapidly changing and needs people to believe in its mission. 

    As for managers, Drucker wrote that their job is to maintain control over people by helping them develop their own assets and bringing out their greatest talents. To do this effectively, you have to know the people you are working with and understand their interests and passions. 

    The manager then "creates a team out of his people, through decisions on pay, placement, promotion and through his communications with the team."

    "Managing a project is one thing, empowering others is another thing," Wade says. 

    3. The leader asks "what" and "why," whereas the manager asks "how" and "when." In order to ask "what" and "why," you have to be able to question others why certain actions are occurring—and sometimes this involves challenging your superiors. 

    "This means that they're able to stand up to upper management when they think something else needs to be done for the company," Wade tells us. "I always tell my folks, 'I don't expect to be right all the time. I expect to be wrong a lot.'"

    If your company experiences failure, a leader's job is to come in and say, "What did we learn from this?" and "How do we use this information to clarify our goals or get better at it?"

    Instead, managers don't actually think about what the failure means, Wade says. 

    Their job is to ask "how" and "when" and to make sure they execute the plan accordingly. Drucker wrote that managers accept the status quo and are more like soldiers in the military. They know that orders and plans are crucial and their job is to keep their vision on the company's current goals. 

    Although the two roles may be similar, "The best managers are also leaders," Wade says. "I think you can do both, but you have to take the time to cultivate it." 


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    Asian woman business phone

    If you’re starting a new project, or a new business, in September, you’re in good company.

    This is the month that moms and dads, recent grads and others decide to jump into a new endeavor or restart some project shoved aside in the summer months.

    They need to balance this with the demands of their day job – and the boss may or may not be supportive of your Etsy shop or your new business. Yet these slash careers or side pursuits can make you “more rounded, develop additional skips, develop additional business relationships” and more, said Donna Schilder, a career coach who has had a string of side businesses, from editing and resume writing to an e-course on creating success through LinkedIn.

    So as you ramp up your second income stream or an active volunteer activity, consider these five pointers:

    1. Ask permission or ask forgiveness. Read up on your employer’s policies about outside jobs and interests. Find out whether you are expected to notify someone in HR or elsewhere. Then consider your direct supervisor’s views – if she’s laid back and involved in many community activities, she may not sweat your tiny start-up. Then decide whether to fly below the radar for a while, or be completely upfront and tell everyone what you’re working on from the start.

    2. Carve out time. Use your lunch hour or time spent waiting for a doctor’s appointment or anything else on your project or business, suggests Schilder. Take the time on airplanes or on a bus, and the hours before your family gets up or after they’re in bed to move things forward. Change your commute so the time can be spent working on your side business, she suggests. And always carry your projects with you, with an iPad or notebook to make this easier.

    3. See synergies and share them. “Let the boss know what’s in it for him or the company,” Schilder said, such as promoting the company when you are published or do public speaking. Find ways to use the skills or research from your personal passion in your day job.

    4. Make the boss look good.  It’s hard to argue with success, so make sure your work is a stellar success for your supervisor and your company. Exceed your numbers and offer suggestions that allow your boss and your department to shine.  “Ensure you always meet your bosses’ deadlines,” she said.

    5. Know when to say no.  If a client wants you to cater a big event during the busiest week at your day job, decline the job. Avoid clients that require 24-hours-a-day attention and turn down work that conflicts with your main career. Sometimes you also may need to decline – politely, professionally – extra assignments or a promotion at your day job too, especially if they require more hours or relocation. You always must work the hours you’re employed for, Schilder says, yet some people negotiate for a reduced work schedule or sabbatical so they can build their business. “If you don’t ask, it won’t happen,” she says.

    The key, of course, is creating a win-win situation so that as you grow your own project or business, your employer also is winning. Or as I used to say to colleagues who published books or started enterprises while working for major newspapers, “I bask in your reflected glory.”

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  • 09/13/12--07:30: How To Meet Mark Zuckerberg
  • Mark Zuckerberg jumps out of a van

    If you want to meet Mark Zuckerberg, all you need to do is build something.

    More specifically, start a promising company that connects to Facebook's open graph, and Zuckerberg will likely reach out.

    At a tech conference this week, Mark Zuckerberg said that's how he met Instagram's Kevin Systrom.

    He likes to meet entrepreneurs and help them. He especially likes to meet entrepreneurs who are building cool things on Facebook's platform.

    Zuckerberg also referenced Runkeeper, Spotify and Airbnb as startups that were "killing it."

    He explained:

    "The way that I got to know Kevin [Systrom] is they started off building on top of our platform. They had just a great open graph integration that made it so you could take pictures with Instagram and share them to Facebook and it's really first class…One of the things that I like to do is, with all of our big developers, I just like to reach out and get to know them personally. Partially because I'm just really interested in entrepreneurship and helping other entrepreneurs, but also I just want to get to know the people who are doing great stuff on top of our platform."

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    Adam Rich, Thrillist

    Today's advice comes from Adam Rich, co-founder of Thrillist, via his interview with Inc.:

    “Everybody warned us, starting up a business is really hard, you’re gonna work a lot of hours, and we thought okay, we can do that. But what I don’t think anybody really kind of made an issue of, [and what] we probably found to be the most strenuous element of it, was the emotional toll of the project.”

    Rich says that when he and his business partner, Ben Lerer, were just starting out, they were disagreeing about every small detail related to the company, and it's because they were both so emotionally invested in the project.

    Looking back on these discrepancies now, Rich says that “it’s never a question of do or die on any one little thing. It’s all a part of an overall effort.” He says it’s normal to feel emotional about your business, but not to let this get in the way of the bigger picture of what you want to accomplish.

    “I think Thrillist was an especially emotional one because one of the strengths of it for us as first-time entrepreneurs was that it was a very personal project... It’s totally understandable to be stressed out about those little things, to have those keep you up at night... but here we are seven years later and we’re successful.”

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    I originally wrote this almost 4 years ago. It’s amazing how it still fits.

    Oct 23rd 2008 7:16PM

    I would hate to be the winning Presidential candidate. Both candidates are delusional in thinking  their economic policies will drag us out of a recession or even improve the economy. The reality is that the solutions offered by both are the equivalent of shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic. They are meaningless.

    You can cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans and raise taxes for the rest. You can cut taxes for businesses and retain the Bush Tax Cuts. You can increase or decrease the capital gains tax five or 10 percent either way.  Under both programs the deficit for the country will increase, we will borrow and print more money. Five or 10 percent variance either way, given the big hole  our economy is in, won't matter.

    The cure for what ails us is the Entrepreneurial Spirit of this country. We are a nation of people who encourage, support, and invest in those of any and all age, race and gender who will use their ingenuity and come up with a new idea.

    It's always the new idea that re-energizes this country. Industry, manufacturing, transportation, technology, digital communications, etc.—each changed how we lived and ignited our economy and standard of living. Tax policy has never done that. The American People have.

    Entrepreneurs who create something out of nothing don’t care what tax rates are. Bill Gates didn’t monitor the marginal tax rate when he dropped out of Harvard and started Microsoft (btw, it was a ton higher than it is today). Michael Dell didn’t wonder what the capital gains tax was when he started PCs Limited, and then grew it into Dell Computer. I doubt that any great business or invention started with a discussion or even a consideration of what the current or projected income or capital gains tax was or would be.

    The impact of tax rates on productivity and development is something economists masturbate about, but  entrepreneurs don’t waste their time thinking about it. We have business to do.

    Entrepreneurs live to be entrepreneurs. I have never had a discussion with anyone about starting a business that included tax rates. Ever. If anyone that wanted an investment from me made a point of discussing tax rates as an impact on their business, I wouldn't invest in them. Ever.

    Entrepreneurs live for the juice of making their dreams come true. Of having a vision and fighting to see it come true. The joy of mission accomplished and the scoreboard of the financial rewards.

    We are in an economic mess right now. It doesn’t matter who caused it. It’s here. It doesn’t matter what our presidential candidates and their economic advisors come up with. Its meaningless.

    The cure to our economic problems is the Entrepreneurial  Spirit of All Americans. Instead of bitching at each other, could one presidential  candidate please show even the least bit of leadership and character and stand up for and encourage the entrepreneurs in this country?

    I don't care who is friends with whom, who preached when you went to church, whether you know the actual role of the Vice President, whether you voted with President Bush. I don't care about any of the mudslinging going back and forth. All it does is waste the time of every potential voter. All of that is meaningless.

    What we need is our candidates to stop yelling at each other and starting looking at the American people and encouraging the best of who we are. That is who I want to get behind. That is what I would like to see for our country. That is what will energize and motivate people to create companies and invent products that will  turn the economy.

    The best time for little guys to start a business is when the big guys are worrying about surviving in theirs. You don't need to raise money. You need to be smart and be focused.  I had no idea until this current financial crisis that when I started MicroSolutions, my first company, it was in the middle of a very bad recession. I had no idea whatsoever. I didn't know what the tax rates were, and I didn't care. I had an idea, a floor to sleep on and a lot of motivation.

    Now is the time for Entrepreneurs to step up and do our part for our country. It's up to us to start businesses and create jobs. That is the cure to this country’s economic problems.


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    Whether you’re looking to start your own business, are a recent college grad looking to embark on a more traditional career path, or are un(der)-employed and looking for a fresh start, we all face the same obstacles. Three of them, in fact — and they hold us back from finding the job of our dreams, embarking on the career that will finally fulfill us or working towards creating the startup we’ve always wished for.

    Obstacle #1: Fear of Failure

    The vast majority of us (especially women) consistently and unequivocally grew up trying not to fail. In class, on the field and in relationships, we heard one message loud and clear: failure is bad. You avoided an F on an exam like it was the black plague, only tried out for the sports teams you thought you had a relatively good chance of making, and have likely – at one point or another – compromised yourself in the context of a relationship just to avoid failure.

    However, failure is a necessary step on the path to success. It allows you to push past your comfort zone and find the true limits of your success without regard to what you think those limits may be. As Michael Jordan once said, “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

    In careers, our fear of failure is present when we don’t apply for a job because we’re not sure we’re qualified (that’s why there are applications, you’re not supposed to know) or when we put our brilliant startup idea on the back burner because it may not work out (most don’t, that’s part of the process).

    To get over this fear, ask yourself one thing: “What’s the worst that can happen?” Moreover, you need to write down all of the ways you could possibly fail and what exactly that would look like. Every. Single. One. You may think that writing it all down and thinking it all through is a defeatist way of embarking on a career, but it’s quite the opposite. In addressing all of your fears, you will realize that even if every single one of them comes true, it wouldn’t be that bad. The fear of failing will not only become more manageable, but also likely become less palpable than your fear of regret. From here, you’ll be well on your way to the job of your dreams.

    Obstacle #2: Pursuit of Perfection

    In working so diligently not to fail, many of us have become obsessed with perfection. When I was first launching, I was intent on it being perfect. I remember meeting Lewis Howes at a sports networking event prior to launch and he said something like, “What are you waiting for? Done is better than good.” I resisted, sure that I knew best and that perfect was precisely what I was going to launch with.

    Three years later I can say two things: first, Lewis was completely right (sorry about that!) and second, nothing is ever perfect. When we let go of the idea of perfection and embrace the mantra, “progress, not perfection,” we are able to take chances, knowing that a step forward is better than waiting around.

    Perfect doesn’t exist. It never will. And while you’re sitting around waiting for it, someone else is making progress. Don’t worry too much about figuring out exactly what you want to do with your life right now. It will change. Often! Instead, take a step in the right direction.

    Obstacle #3: Fear of Quitting

    “No one likes a quitter” — or so they say. Well, they are wrong. Quitting is actually great, if you do it correctly. As Seth Godin has said, “You should quit if the project you’re working on has a Dip that isn’t worth the reward at the end.” If that’s the case, it’s to your best advantage to quit often and quit fast.

    One of the most limiting lessons that many of us have internalized is this idea that once we’ve already put a lot of work into something, we should see it through to the end. However, if you know something is going to fail (which isn’t a bad thing) or if you just aren’t enjoying it anymore, then the work you’ve already put in is a sunk cost. It’s done; it’s time you’re never getting back. Accept this and move on, because the more time you continue to put in to pursuing something that won’t come to fruition – either due to your lack of passion or possibility – the more time you’re wasting.

    Remember: failure is essential, perfection is overrated, quitting is smart.

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    mom-laptop-babyThis post originally appeared at Open Forum

    While it may be difficult to balance your career with a family, it's not impossible—especially if you run your business from home.

    According to a study conducted by the Small Business Administration, the number of self-employed women is increasing. "Recent research suggests that women enter self-employment for different reasons than their male counterparts," the study reports.

    "For example, women appear to base their decisions on lifestyle and family factors, whereas men are motivated by earnings potential."

    Ellen Parlapiano, co-founder of, a Website that aims to provide resources for stay-at-home entrepreneurs, says the number of moms who work from home will continue growing. "Over 90 percent of the moms we've interviewed said the desire for family flexibility is the number one reason they work from home," she toldParenting magazine. "Another big change we've seen in the past 15 years is acceptance. In the past, moms have been reluctant to tell clients they work from home. Now it's commonplace, even respectable."

    Here are three "mompreneurs," who share how they achieve their own work-life balance:

    Find Something You Love

    Rochelle Randazzo worked in sales advertising at the New York Postbefore she had her first child. When the baby was born, she and her husband decided that she would stay home to take care of the newborn.

    "I never in a million years imagined not having a job," Randazzo told the Huffington Post. "But one of us had to make a choice."

    As a result, the Italian mother turned to cooking and used her sales-savvy skills to host parties while marketing her homemade pasta sauces.

    Eventually, an employee from a natural food chain tasted the sauce and before long, Randazzo's "Honest To Goodness" brand was sold in Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey.

    "Find something you love and find a way to do it with realistic expectations," advises Randazzo. "But you have to know how much you can handle. I send my kids to school and that’s the time I use to make appointments, to do demos and to develop new products. And when they get home, I take them to sports practice and help them with homework. You don’t want to sacrifice the happiness around you."

    Always Schedule

    In 2011, Mollie Flatley's unique Norajane shop, which sells stamps and other "lovely things", was rated the fourth highest-selling handmade seller on Etsy—and she achieved this while taking care of four kids. 

    For Flatley, the key to juggling her online business with the kids is to maintain consistency. "Each day is pretty different, but scheduling is the key," she says. "Making stamps or pillows is sprinkled around what activities I am doing with my kids. The key for me is to make sure that my children's schedule stays pretty much the same every day, while my work changes—some days I am assembling stamps, other days mainly working on customer service. We all need the structure."

    Flatley believes that it's hard for any woman to achieve a perfect balance, regardless of her profession. "But you do what you can and use what you have," she says. "That being said, I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to stay home with my children while building a business."

    Know When You Need Help

    Tisha Marie Pelletier is the author of "When A Universe Throws A Curveball: How A Mom Entrepreneur Went From Disappointment To Living Her Passion." She is also the owner of Simply Put Marketing Communications and Details Event Management.

    "Being a mom entrepreneur is probably the biggest challenge you'll ever face," she told Go Gilbertmagazine. Whether you recruit your husband to take on more household duties, hire a bookkeeper, or employ an assistant, Pelletier says it's essential that you have help.

    "Realize you can’t be 100 percent effectively working while watching your children," she says. "You need time to focus on the project in front of you; you absolutely cannot do it alone."

    Still, Pelletier considers herself one of the lucky few. "I get the best of both worlds—I get to be creative and grow a business that’s mine and no one else’s, and I get to spend time with my son watching him explore and learn new things around him. I also get to do it on my time, when others are confined to their desks from 8 to 5."


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    United Colors of Benetton has always been known for their politically-conscious ads. 

    In its recent ad, the company — for the first time — will be taking a step toward trying to solve the problem, not just making others aware of it. 

    The campaign is called "Unemployee of the Year" and — "devoted to the problem of youth unemployment" — the Italian apparel company is requesting all unemployed people from the ages of 18 to 30 to submit project ideas they have that will benefit the community. 

    The 100 winning projects will receive around $6,500 each, or about $650,000 in total. 

    The campaign is meant to counter the belief that young people are "lazy” or being “anarchists,” Alessandro Benetton, chairman of the Benetton Group told Stuart Elliot at The New York Times.

    The contest will run from Sept 18 through Oct. 14.

    Here's the ad below:

    United of Benetton

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    Kathleen KingThis post originally appeared at Open Forum.

    For 23 years, Kathleen King worked hard, creating recipes for her growing bakery in Southampton, NY. To help with some of her overwhelming duties and the business end of things, King decided to take on two brothers as her partners. She agreed to split the company evenly amongst the three of them. 

    Losing Everything

    Six months later, the two brothers teamed up to get ownership of Kathleen's Bakery. In January 2000 she went to work and was confronted by her partners blocking the door and holding paperwork that would evict her from her own bakery. When she returned the following day, security guards with guns had been hired by her partners. 

    "They wanted to portray a picture of me to the community that they needed this because I was crazy," she told Inc. "I didn't do what they wanted me to, which was to just walk away."

    She filed a lawsuit against the brothers, but was granted nothing more than the building the bakery was housed in. After eight months of fighting the outcome in court, King was left with $200,000 in debt. The settlement gave her former partners the rights to keep the bakery's name and recipes. 

    "They were allowed to use my recipes, but never once did they duplicate them in the quality and consistency that I did, so I felt in the big picture they really didn't have my recipes," says King. "They weren't interested in quality control—they were interested in the bottom line."

    And she was right. In just a few months, Kathleen's Bakery had accumulated $600,000 in debt, and eventually had to shut down. 

    "I never saw something so valuable get destroyed so fast," says King. "And as they were driving everything into debt, it was still my name on the business."

    Building a New Business

    To get out of her own debt, King re-financed the retail location she had won back in court to start a new bakery called Tate's Bake Shop.

    "Losing the name 'Kathleen's' was hard, but in the end I am grateful because I prefer the name Tate's," says King. "I appreciate being the person behind the name and not the name. This allows me to have less emotional attachment, which is a positive business attribute."

    Currently, Tate's chocolate chip cookies are regarded as the number one cookie in America by Consumer Reports. They produce about one million cookies per week and distribute to 42 states. According to Inc., her company profited $6 million in 2009.

    Considering how far Tate's has come, King has little regrets about the past.

    "It was the most challenging time of my life, but if that's what I needed to go through to get where I am today, then I would go through it again. I was naive, but I learned from my mistakes and now, I know so much more about the business end and have made more secure decisions."

    King's Final Advice

    King warns business owners to think before bringing on partners. "I would advise people before going into a deal with anyone, to make sure they have a good lawyer and listen carefully to the advice that you are paying for," she says. "Don't think you know the person, because people can change after signing—be protected on all ends. Try to maintain control and hire professionals in your weak areas as opposed to taking on partners. Having a partner can make you feel safe in the beginning, but in the end it can be your biggest challenge."

    King tells us she won't ever take on another business partner, even with legal protection. Instead, she hired a business manager for her current bakery to take care of things on the financial end so that she can focus on doing what she does best. 

    "The business manager was excellent in finance. He showed me how we could go from A to B to C and with that kind of help and support, it happened."

    King hasn't spoken to her former business partners since they forced her out of her bakery. When asked what King would say if she could speak to them, she took a long pause before answering.

    "You know, I don't wish harm on anyone," she said. "That being said, I have nothing to say to them; I think my success speaks for itself."


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    high five

    The tough job market has forced many people to consider starting their own business. But necessity doesn’t guarantee success. Often, success depends on the reasons you decided to start the business to begin with.

    “A lot of times I hear somebody talking about starting a business because they hate their job or hate their boss,” says Gary Shouldis, a small business consultant and coach. “That’s not a reason to start a business. Maybe they need to find a new career or a new company.”

    Before you trade in your time card for an expense account, consider these five signs you’re ready to go out on your own:

    1. You’ve been pondering it for sometime

    Starting your own business isn’t an idea that pops in your head one day and the next day you’re marching into your boss’ office to quit your job. For many successful business owners, it’s an idea they’ve considered perhaps for many years. “It’s something they’ve been thinking about for a long time. They’ve explored other avenues, tried to do the career, but felt like for their own personal growth they needed to pursue their own business,” says Shouldis.

    2. You can do it better

    For some people, the light bulb to start their own business goes off by watching the mistakes of their own boss. Maybe their current employer doesn’t execute correctly or the company mistreats its customers or clients. Whatever the reason, the impetus for many small business owners was the realization they would do it differently, says Jeanne Yocum, founder of the blog Succeeding in Small Business. “If you are questioning the decisions on a routine basis, you may want to go out and see if your way is better,” says Yocum.

    3. It doesn’t come from a place of unhappiness

    If you think starting your own business is going to bring you happiness because you’ll be your own boss or can set your own hours, think again. According to Shouldis, the people who struggle the most when they go out on their own are the ones who do it because they hate their job. “You’ll never work harder than for yourself,” says Shouldis. “You are going to make demands on yourself and your business that you never experienced.”

    According to Shouldis, the people who are successful are the ones that don’t hate their career, but rather have a different calling. They aren’t doing it for money or for more free time, they are doing it out of passion.

    They also aren’t shackled by a paycheck. “If you start to see your pay check as a ball and chain rather than a benefit, that’s a real sign,” says Yocum.

    4. You have the expertise and confidence

    In order to be a successful business owner, you have to know what you are doing and do it well. That’s why career experts say before you go out on your own, make sure you have the expertise and experience to run your own business. If you do have that, you’ll be confident in your dealings with customers and business associates, which is key to running a successful business.  “You have to feel confident you can do it,” says Yocum.  “It comes at different times for different people.”

    5. You have a desire to keep on learning

    In a career, chances are you’ll spend your time doing one thing really well. When you own your own business you wear many hats whether its receptionist, sales associate, book keeper or IT manager, which is why you have to possess a desire to learn. If you are the type of person that is always looking to better yourself and wants to learn new things then chances are you’ll do well as a business owner.

    “You always have to branch out and grow,” says Shouldis. “As a small business owner, you don’t have a marketing department, a finance department or a janitorial department. The ones that do it well are always interested in learning new things and are always trying to better themselves.”

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    I dropped out of college to pursue my business goals instead of completing a degree. While I wouldn’t say that college is a waste of time for everybody, I do think that there are plenty of important entrepreneurial skills that just aren’t covered in obtaining a traditional education.

    So, if you’re thinking about pursuing your own startup business, I recommend brushing up on the following skills, either instead of or as a complement to your ongoing education:

    1. How to handle SEO. Business is digital these days – so if your website (regardless of what type of business you have) isn’t getting noticed by the search engines, you’re unnecessarily hindering your own startup’s growth. To avoid this, take the time to learn basic SEO principles and put them into practice every day.

    2. How to live off of little to no money — and raise it. Funds may be slim when starting up, so it’s critical to bootstrap both your business and personal expenses to cope with low cash flow situations. Don’t just learn how to raise money from venture capitalists, angel investors, crowd-sourcing platforms and other sources. Learn when to seek capital investment and what types of funding will suit your business’ needs best.

    3. How to relieve stress. Running a startup company is a stressful process, but it’s vital that you find ways to alleviate these tensions regularly. Allowing stress to build up can lead to negative health consequences, so find an activity like running, gardening, writing or singing that you love that allows you to blow off steam every now and again. Set a cutoff time each night to denote when you’ll “unplug” from the digital world, and aim for regular vacations that let you rest and recharge away from the office.

    4. How to train and manage employees. When your company reaches the point that it’s taking on staff members, don’t simply hand new employees a punch card and an office key and hope for the best. Invest in developing a good onboarding program so that the rock star talent you’ve brought on will stick around for a while. Employees need feedback, guidance and coaching to be successful – and if they don’t get it from you, they’ll get it from another company.

    5. How and fire employees. Firing isn’t fun, but it’s necessary. Instead of hanging on to “dead weight” employees long past the point of usefulness, learn how to fire employees in a respectful manner and when to use these techniques to keep your office running smoothly.

    6. How to negotiate. Very few things in this world aren’t open to negotiation – but you won’t know that until you begin trying to get price tags knocked down! Yes, you can negotiate for your car, your house and your office lease. However, you can also negotiate for your cell phone contract, the terms of your Internet connection, your office supply discount or just about anything else you can think of. As a bonus tip, if you can’t get the price knocked down, consider learning how to negotiate to have extra features or perks added to your purchase instead.

    7. How to delegate. You can’t do everything on your own. Whether you’re working with outsourced workers, virtual assistants or an in-house staff, learning how and when to delegate tasks to others is a critical part of entrepreneurial success.

    8. How to code. I’m not saying you need to learn enough code to find work as a developer, but understanding the basics will go a long way towards helping you to work more effectively with your technical staff. Getting your coding skills to the point where you’re able to make minor tweaks on your own will save you big in the long run, when compared to the costs associated with hiring outside developers.

    9. How to work with Web images. Images are hugely important to your company’s web presence and marketing materials, but hiring a photographer to create custom pictures can get pricey. Instead, hone your photo-finding skills by brushing up on image royalties and rights, and then learn how to use any of today’s affordable editing programs (my favorite is the SnagIt Editor) to modify your pictures as needed.

    10. How to A/B test. A/B split testing isn’t just for websites (though it’s an incredibly important part of operating a profitable site). It can also be used to make meaningful improvements in different aspects of your daily life, so take the time to get to know this process!

    11. How to network and communicate up. If you want to work with high-level clients, you need to know how they think, how they speak and how they make decisions. Learn how to make small talk, project a confident presence and engage with new people – whether or not they’ll be able to help you directly. It takes practice, but learning to communicate up to clients or prospects on this level is incredibly important.

    12. How to deal with failure. We all fail, but it’s how you handle it that makes a difference. Fail fast enough that you learn how to draw lessons from your failures and move forward without being tied down by past regrets.

    13. How to build a personal brand. Brands matter, from both a customer engagement and an SEO standpoint. Take the time to learn more about the elements that constitute an effective brand, as well as how you can spread the word about your own personal brand.

    14. How to balance multiple priorities. I probably don’t need to tell you that entrepreneurs juggle lots of different tasks. It isn’t always easy to balance multiple priorities, but learning how to identify, analyze and rank these priorities in terms of how they should be completing is a necessary skill to keep yourself sane and productive.

    15. How to write well. Even if you aren’t ever planning to write a “tell all” book on the stories of your success, take the time to build your writing skills. Being able to communicate clearly – whether in emails, blog posts, white papers or social networking updates – is an incredibly important part of business growth.

    16. How to choose a business/taxation structure. Setting things up right from the start is an important part of maintaining your business’s longevity. If your skills lie outside the realm of financial decision-making, focus instead on finding an accountant or lawyer who can advise you.

    17. How to connect on social networking websites. Knowing how to log on to your personal Facebook profile is a lot different than the skills needed to connect and build an audience across the vast social media landscape. This is one of those skills that you have to learn by doing, so start trying to build relationships with your audience right away and hone your methods based on what’s worked.

    18. How to close sales. Asking for sales isn’t easy, but it’s crucial. If you don’t feel comfortable closing deals with prospective customers, invest in a sales training program that’ll help improve your skills in this area.

    19. How to build and manage a website. Today’s Web technologies are so easy to use that it’s entirely possible to build and maintain your site on your own – without paying a designer tens of thousands of dollars. Learn basic Web design practices and use them to either build a new website for your startup or to manage your existing site.

    20. How to beat procrastination. Procrastination and creativity blocks happen to even the most motivated of entrepreneurs, which makes taking the time to understand how you handle them best a vital business skill to master. I use tons of different tools to help me be more productive, including programs like Trello and SaneBox. Find the tools for you and put them into practice to maximize your efficiency.

    21. How to conduct market research. Market research doesn’t have to be scary! Learning how to poll your customers or interpret market trends from industry blogs, social networking status updates and other sources is incredibly important in providing direction for your business’s future growth.

    22. How to select performance metrics. What gets measured, gets managed – which makes the art and science of selecting the appropriate performance metrics against which to measure your success an important skill that all entrepreneurs need to have.

    23. How to back it up. Don’t risk losing all of your company’s data to a computer failure or other emergency. Instead, choose a backup system that automatically catalogs files and stores file updates as they occur.

    24. How to say “no.” Not every client you encounter or project you’re invited to join will be a good fit for your business objectives. Spend some time determining how to strategically grow your business, and then be ruthless about turning down opportunities that won’t help to advance these goals.

    25. How to catch growing trends. Being the first to jump on a new trend can be hugely profitable, so get in the habit of reading industry news sites regularly and monitoring social networking sites for indications that a concept or product is about to hit it big.

    26. How to attract press. For a growing company, a single press mention can mean the difference between success and failure. Make it a habit to connect with journalists early on and learn how to cash in on these relationships when necessary in order to promote your business.

    27. How to inspire others. Part of what makes entrepreneurs so successful is their obvious passion. Learn how to use your own unique story to inspire the people around you – whether that includes your employees, your customers, members of the press or any other contacts.

    28. How to have fun. Entrepreneurship doesn’t have to be all work and no play. Take the time to embrace how exciting it is to be pouring your heart into a startup that you’re passionate about, and have some fun with the whole process!

    Sujan Patel is the founder and CEO of Single Grain, one of the top Digital Marketing agencies in San Francisco, CA. With more than 10 years of Internet marketing experience, Sujan leads the digital marketing strategy for companies like Sales Force, Yahoo, Intuit and many other Fortune 500 caliber companies.

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    race carsThis post originally appeared at Open Forum. 

    Terms like "big data" and "revenue management" can seem very intimidating to small-business owners, but big data has revealed some great insights that are applicable to businesses of any size.

    I spoke to Wendy Barber, Director of Strategy Consulting at Revenue Analytics, who works with companies to use insights about customer behavior to better manage revenue and improve profit margins.

    Revenue Analytics works primarily with Fortune 500 companies because they have the volume of data needed to run their advanced algorithms, but here are some strategies gleaned from working with big data that small business owners can use this holiday season.

    The Power of Price

    One important thing big data reveals is that "price sensitivity," or how much a customer cares about changes in price, drastically differs depending on the product and time of year. Barber gives the following example, which small businesses can use this holiday season. 

    "There are at least two types of customers shopping for Christmas gifts. You have what we call deal-seekers who are out early and are looking for the black Friday deals and for those deep discounts at the very beginning of the season. Then we have procrastinators who are shopping on December 24th. Frankly, the priority is to get something and to get it as close to what their intended recipient wants, and to be able to do it quickly. So you can even infer just from those two descriptions that there are different levels of price sensitivity for those two different types of customers."

    Capitalizing on Price Sensitivity

    Smart businesses can make more money by approaching the two differently. Offer deep discounts at the start of the season to capture those deal seekers, and make sure to hold onto some inventory at the very end to capture procrastinators at higher prices.

    The type of product also matters a great deal. Barber describes a certain subset of products as "key value items." She explains that the key value items are the products that a retailer carries that best represent that brand's price perception. So those key items are front and center in a consumer's mind when they think "Oh, retailer X is expensive" or "retailer Y is a good value."

    Outside of these core products, customers don't care quite as much. Keep a close eye on the price of core products related to online and local competitors, but see if there's wiggle room in other places. 

    SEE ALSO: 

    Seth Godin's 9 Tips On Creating A Remarkable Product > 

    CEO Tells Us Why He Reveals Everyone's Salary At His Company > 

    The Psychology Behind Why Good Employees Do Bad Things > 

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