Tag: Entrepreneurship

Why I Won’t (might not) Vote For Russ Feingold in November

Update 1: May 2010: Shortly after I wrote this post, I got a follow up email from a member of Sen. Feingold’s staff with the correct email response.  The next day, I got a phone call from a different member of the staff apologizing and asking if they could do anything else to help me and yesterday, I received an snail mail copy of the email response with Sen. Feingold’s signature.  This morning, I got an update from one of his staffers about new changes to the Banking Bill that seem to help change the original problems.  While it did take a negative blog post to get the correct response, I am impressed that Feingold’s staff has been this diligent about my blog post.  I changed the title to add “(might not)” because I don’t think it’s fair that when people Google “vote Russ Feingold” my post comes up 5th.

Update 2: October 2016: After six years of Sen. Ron Johnson and Russ Feingold’s seeming rejuvenation, I’m supporting Russ for Senate in 2016. We need a Senator who will bring a different perspective than the vast majority of senators and isn’t afraid to stand up for things he believes in. We need the only Senator to vote against the Patriot Act back in government.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the new banking bill would screw up angel investing in the US.  The bill plans to raise accredited investor levels by over 2x and institutes new regulation on angel investment.  It treats angels like hedge funds, which is wrong.  In the comments, someone asked how we could fight the bill.  I answered that I didn’t really know, but would email both of my Senators, Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl.

I sent them both a shortened version of my blog post with a little background about me through their official Washington senate emails.  I have yet to hear back from Senator Kohl, which is what I expected.  Aside from making sure that the Milwaukee Bucks stay in Milwaukee and donating $25m to get his name on the Kohl Center, Kohl really hasn’t done anything for as long as I can remember.

I figured that I would get a response from Senator Feingold, since generally more involved and he’s up for re-election in November and some are predicting it will be a close race.  He (or more likely someone from his staff) emailed me back today, 3 full weeks later, which isn’t too bad.  I assume he gets hundreds, if not thousands of emails every day.

So here’s why I won’t vote for Feingold in November.  I wrote to him about the angel investment changes in the tax bill, but here’s what I got back (emphasis added):

Dear Mr. Lustig,

Thank you for contacting me regarding your support for having private student loans be regulated by a consumer financial protection agency. I appreciate hearing from you, and strongly agree with you.  In fact, I am a cosponsor of an amendment to the financial regulatory bill which would extend consumer financial protection agency regulations to student loans.

Access to high quality public education should be available to all children, and access to higher education should be based on a student’s desire to gain knowledge and skills, not financial resources. As I travel throughout Wisconsin, I hear from many individuals who cannot attend college or other post secondary training programs without financial aid. I also hear from students who are extremely concerned about their growing debt as they try to finance their education. I support efforts to make education beyond high school available and affordable to qualified individuals who wish to pursue it.

Thank you again for contacting me. For more information about my work on behalf of Wisconsin, you can subscribe to my monthly e-newsletter by visiting http://feingold.senate.gov/newsletter.cfm. I look forward to hearing from you in the future.

Feingold (or his staff) couldn’t be bothered to actually respond to my email.  I took the time to write him an email, the least he could do is make sure he wrote me back about the issue I wrote about!  I understand it is most likely a mistake, but it’s a mistake that shouldn’t happen.  It shows that he (or his staff) don’t really care about the people who write him emails.  I know I’m not the only person who’s had a similar experience, as I’ve talked to two other people who have written to Feingold and never gotten any response.  To be honest, I’d have rather not gotten any response than the one above.

Burrill Business Plan Competition 2010 and a Look Back

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The 2010 Burrill business plan competition was held yesterday at UW.  One year ago today, Jesse and I won the students choice award for Entrustet.  Writing the plan, talking to the judges and presenting at the competition helped us launch the company.  Almost one exactly year later, we had our launch party in Madison and we’ve been featured on Mashable, The Financial Times and tons of other media.  It’s amazing what a year of hard work on a cool idea can bring!

I went to the 2010 public exhibition yesterday to check out the new companies and invite participants to join Capital Entrepreneurs.  It’s safe to say that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well on campus.  There were some really cool ideas this year, with the top prizes going to im-Bed Biosciences ($10k), Sector 67 ($7k), ProPov ($4k) and MycoLogyx LLC ($1k) with Student Spill taking home $1k and free office space in the Metro Innovation Center.  Buffalo Shoals took home the Green Credit worth $1k.

I took some pictures of some of the cool new businesses I checked out.  I only had my iPhone camera, so the picture quality does not match the business quality.  Sorry for that.

Sector 67 – Chris Meyer

Sector67 is a start up TechShop / Hacker space / Makerspace / Collaborative Environment in Madison, WI dedicated to providing members the opportunity to work on tomorrow’s technology; to build, collaborate, learn, and teach about next generation devices.  It’s basically a place for engineers and others who are trying to improve products or create new ones to use shared equipment and shared space.  Sector 67 is a non-profit and will be an awesome addition to the Madison community.  Chris is also one of the original members of Capital Entrepreneurs.

Student Spill – Heidi Allstop

SPILL is “an anonymous network of students who have formed a venting outlet for college problems that everyone seems to go through, but few people want to LISTEN to. We’re an email based support system FOR and OF college students …just to provide a place to spill your guts or console others who need to vent.”

Allstop started Spill as a student organization and has successfully helped students all over campus.  She has the potential to expand to other campuses across the country and won $1k plus free office space for a year.  Heidi is also a CE member!

ArcherVision Concepts – Raul Correa, Rahul Kamath, Alexander Jacobs, Divya Seethapathy, Sriraman Santhanvaradan

This team has a really cool product.  Many bikers use helmet mounted mirrors to see what’s behind them.  The team created a prototype that updates this system for the 21st century.  They have a camera that goes on the back of the helmet which transmits to a front mounted LCD screen.  They are in the early stages, but have a cool prototype.  Their goal is to embed the camera and the wiring into the helmet so that it will not hurt you if you crash.  Bikers love to spend money on the latest  gadget, so if done right, I could see it catching on and becoming profitable.

Flyboy Carnival – Kevin Burgess, Christopher Martinez

Flyboy Carnival is a cool tshirt company based out of the UW business incubator in the Univesity Square building.  They have some cool shirts, but my favorite part is their creative packaging.   They sell their tshirts in red and white striped popcorn boxes with their tshirts inside. Check out the picture below.

ProPOV – Jon Mumm

Jon has a really interesting backstory. Originally from Milwaukee, he got really good at the first person shooter Counter Strike.  He was so good that he was able to turn pro and earns money playing the game on the pro circuit.  I know many of you are thinking, “what? turning pro to play video games?” but there is actually a well developed professional video game circuit in the USA and an incredibly popular one in Asia.

Jon always had people asking his for tips on how to get better at the game, so he started a website called JuanSource to help teach counter strike players the tips they would need to get really good at the game.  He saved video of him playing the game and commented over the action, helping people get better.  Naturally, he charged money for the commentary and started to have a profitable online business.

His new software the he developed, ProPOV, takes in game commentary to the next level, allowing gamers to comment live over the game.  ProPOV has a nice niche that could be very profitable as it gets rolled out.

Summary

Overall, I was impressed by the quality of this year’s ideas.  You can watch all of the presentations in full on the Burrill website.  I’ve been involved in the competition as a participant or viewer since 2006, and it seems like the ideas keep getting better each year.  30% of this years entries had at least one female on the team, which I believe is a big improvement over past years.  What was even more impressive is that most of the women who entered the competition were doing so outside of fashion, which is a great improvement.  Imagine how many more cool companies there would be if women started startups at the same rate that men do?

Introducing Entrepreneur 101

A few different people have asked me “what sorts of things should be taught in a college level beginning entrepreneurship class?”  I always had a few answers, but never came up with a comprehensive syllabus.  After speaking in a class earlier this week at the UW Business School, I decided to write up a basic syllabus for a 16 week college course that I’d call Entrepreneur 101: A Practical Guide to Starting A Business and added it as a page to my site.  I would love to teach a class like this on the college level for interested entrepreneurs.

Introduction to the Course

Too many classes focus on theory and large, overarching issues instead of practical things that you will need to know to start a business.  Hopefully this class will prepare you to actually start your business by giving you the tools to do all of the nitty gritty work that is necessary to get started.  At the end of the semester, students will compete in a business plan competition in front of a panel of judges.

Week 1 – Introduction to Entrepreneurship

Class: There are many types of entrepreneurship, not just high tech.  It’s easier than you think and college is the best time to start. How to Live Before You Die.

Required reading: How to Start a Startup, What Startups are Really Like, The 3 Advantages of a Startup, Entrepreneurs Come in All Shapes and Sizes

Week 2 – Idea Generation and Business Plans

Class: How do you take an idea to a business plan?  How do you write a business plan? Malcolm Gladwell on Spaghetti Sauce

Required reading: The World is Flat, 9 Business Selection Criteria, 13 Sentences, College is the Best Time to Start a Business

Homework: Start thinking about a business to start for the business plan competition.

Week 3 – Types of Businesses Organization

Class: What type of entity should I use? LLC, Corporation, Non profit?  Learn how how to sign up for LLC.

Required Reading: 18 Mistakes that Kill Startups , The Top Ten Lies of Entrepreneurs

Homework: Sign up for an LLC, but don’t pay for it.  Start working on your business plan.

Week 4 – What are the Necessary Legal Docs Required?

Class: Operating agreements, partnership agreement and their  importance.  Guest speaker: A lawyer familiar with these issues.

Required Reading: Top 10 Geek Business Myths, The PayPal Wars

Week 5 – Taxes, Banking, Accounting

Class: How to setup a FEIN, get a free business bank account and start learning about Quickbooks.

Homework: Go to a bank and get a free business bank account set up (you don’t actually have to sign up), start exploring Quickbooks.

Week 6 – Quickbooks

Class: How to use Quickbooks in a small business or startup

Homework: Create a Quickbooks file for a hypothetical startup.

Required Reading: How to Get Taken Seriously Running A Startup Under 25

Week 7 – Credit Card Processing

Class: Teach how credit card processing system works, fill out forms

Homework: Call multiple resellers and see who can get the best rate.

Week 8 – Servers and SSL

Class: Overview of types of servers, server companies.   What is an ssl? Overview of ssl companies.  Test on first half of class.

Required Reading: Don’t Be Afraid of the Competition, My Rules for Startups

Homework: First draft of business plan due

Week 9 – Overview of Programming

Class: Types of programming languages, how programming works works, explanation of databases, what to look for when hiring a programmer.  How to register a domain name.

Required Reading: The Tipping Point

Homework: Register a domain for under $8.

Week 10 – Legal

Class: What to look for in a lawyer, what you need from them and the importance of a legal advisor.

Week 11 – Mentors

Class: Overview of why you need a mentor, who is willing to help, how you should look for a mentor.

Required Reading: Every Startup Needs a Mentor Team, The Entrepreneurial Push

Homework: Connect with a potential mentor on Linkedin, Twitter, email or phone.

Week 12 – Networking

Class: Why you need to network, strategies for successful networking, how to stay in contact with people.

Required Reading: The Business of Meeting People, Freakonomics

Homework: Get business cards for yourself, check out Brazen Careerist.

Week 13 – Blogging and Online Stores

Class: How to set up a blog, overview of WordPress, Blogger etc.  Overview of online shops.  Intro to Shopify.

Homework: Set up free wordpress blog.

Week 14 – Online Advertising, Social Media, Analytics, Document Sharing

Class: Overview of online advertising, CPM, CPC, Twitter, Facebook.  Intro to Google Adwords, Analytics, Docs and Calendar.

Required Reading: Made to Stick

Homework: sign up for Google docs, share a document with me.

Week 15 – Guide to Raising Money, Office Space

Class: How to value your business? Overview of friends & family, angel investors, VCs.  When is the right time to get an office?  How do you get the best deals?  Where should you look?

Required Reading: The Top Ten Lies of Venture Capitalists, To Office or Not to Office

Week 16 – Business Plan Competition

Final Exam – Business Plan Competition with panel of judges, based on Burrill Business Plan Competition.

I really think that this sort of course would be incredibly beneficial to a student who is thinking about starting a business or even thinking about working for a startup.  These types of skills will give students a nice foundation so that they can start their own business.  Check out my full list of resources on my Entrepreneur 101 page for links to all of the companies I would use for each of these lessons.

So help me out: What am I missing?  Would you take a class like this?  Do you think universities would be willing to offer a class like this?

Thomas Friedman’s Advice to President Obama is Spot On

From time to time, Thomas Friedman writes something that has the power to change lives.  So far, Friedman’s The World Is Flat has had the greatest impact on me, as it inspired my business partner, Jesse Davis, to start work on our startup, Entruset.  The ideas in his book are still reverberating through our company today, as we got our first mention in the press in today’s Washington Post and continue to work to solve the problem he identified in the book.  You can read the entire story over on our company blog in a post called How Thomas Friedman and The World Is Flat Helped Spawn Entrustet.

I think his latest piece titled More (Steve) Jobs, Jobs, Jobs, Jobs has the potential to impact the lives of even more people.  Friedman says:

The most striking feature of Barack Obama’s campaign for the presidency was the amazing, young, Internet-enabled, grass-roots movement he mobilized to get elected. The most striking feature of Obama’s presidency a year later is how thoroughly that movement has disappeared.

I remember getting inundated by posts from my friends on Facebook in the weeks leading up to the election urging me to support Obama, attend rallies or make sure to go out and vote.  The movement continued for the next few weeks, but has completely lost steam.  Even the most ardent Obama supporters among my friends aren’t engaged via social media anymore.  This in itself is pretty amazing, but not Friedman’s main point. He wants President Obama to re-engage America’s youth and doesn’t believe that going after Wall Street or other negative methods will work.  He continues:

Obama should launch his own moon shot. What the country needs most now is not more government stimulus, but more stimulation. We need to get millions of American kids, not just the geniuses, excited about innovation and entrepreneurship again. We need to make 2010 what Obama should have made 2009: the year of innovation, the year of making our pie bigger, the year of “Start-Up America.”

Obama should make the centerpiece of his presidency mobilizing a million new start-up companies that won’t just give us temporary highway jobs, but lasting good jobs that keep America on the cutting edge. The best way to counter the Tea Party movement, which is all about stopping things, is with an Innovation Movement, which is all about starting things. Without inventing more new products and services that make people more productive, healthier or entertained — that we can sell around the world — we’ll never be able to afford the health care our people need, let alone pay off our debts.

I am 100% behind this idea.  It makes perfect sense and would appeal to both sides of the aisle at at time when partisanship is at a seemingly all time high because of the fight over health care.  It would harken back to the Obama that many young people voted for, rather than the less than inspirational version of the President who we have gotten to know since his election.

I believe that entrepreneurship is our best hope for saving the US from its mammoth debt obligations.  We need to find ways to “grow the pie” rather than trying to raise taxes on a stagnant (or shrinking) pie.  I believe that all kinds of entrepreneurship are going to be necessary to solve our problems.  We are going to need traditional entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, but we will also need social entrepreneurs like Muhammad Yunus and the social entrepreneurs featured in Business Week.

I think that if President Obama were to make entrepreneurship a central portion of his presidency, he will find a huge groundswell of willing entrepreneurs who will be willing to help.  Friedman mentions National Lab Day and the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship as examples of organization that are helping young people get interested in innovation.  Both programs would not be able to survive without older, successful mentors.  I think that entrepreneurs are willing to help out as mentors and young people are waiting to be entrepreneurs, but some are just waiting to be pushed.  Inc. Magazine contributor and author of Upstarts!, Donna Fenn says:

Over 75% of the entrepreneurs I interviewed for my book, Upstarts! said that they were very or highly likely to start another company; most had already founded two or more.”  She continues, “70% said their companies had a social mission. But make no mistake: they’re laser-focused on the bottom line as well and they understand why growing a profitable, sustainable company that creates jobs is a social good in and of itself. It’s pretty clear to me: this is a generation worth investing in.

Fenn‘s point is important because many startups are not only creating jobs and coming up with new solutions to problems, but they are also trying to make the world a better place.  If we can get more people to think with this mindset, the US and the world will be a better place.  So President Obama, please follow Friedman’s advice.  This is a no lose issue for you and the country.  You should be able to get support from both sides of the aisle.  You should be able to reconnect with an electorate that wants to support you, but has not because you have abandoned what got you into office.  Go back to the politics of hope, propose real solutions that everyone can get behind and see what happens.  I bet it will change lives.