Tag: Technology

Don’t Be Afraid of Competition

I just got back from a trip to New York.  While I was there, I met with a promising entrepreneur who has a great startup that has been pretty successful so far.  He is in the middle of expanding his business nationwide.  We came upon the topic of competition and how to deal with it.  I realized that many people have some misconceptions about competition.

My advice was “don’t be afraid of competiton.”  I learned this lesson when I was running ExchangeHut and talked about it at last year’s Entrepreneurial Deli event in Madison.  While we were running ExchangeHut’s trading platform for college students, our biggest fear was that Facebook would launch a marketplace that would crush our competitive advantage.  When we heard that Facebook was launching its marketplace, we changed big parts of our strategy to react to the new competition that had yet to launch.

Big mistake.  When marketplace first launched, it was fairly useless and was not a competitor to our business.  We had changed some of our bigger plans because we were afraid of competition and did not expand as quickly as we had planned because of it.  Our competition did not hurt us.  My point is that you never know if your competition will actually be successful.  If you have a great idea, don’t immediately change your plans if you hear about competition.  Execute on your ideas and let the chips fall where they may.  If your idea is good and you execute well, you will be successful.

Another point on competition:  Don’t be afraid to get in contact with your competition.  This isn’t t say that you should tell your competitors (or the world) every last detail of your plans to conquer the world, but you should be on good terms with the other people and companies in your space.  We found that it paid off to get to know the other startups that were in our market.  We talked to just about everyone in our market.

We even ended up being able to work out some great deals with competition because we were on good terms with them and they knew we existed.  There really is no downside to being on good terms with the others in your market.  You never know when a great opportunity will present itself to you or one of your competitors that will be beneficial to both of you.  Plus, if you plan to start another company, these contacts will be valuable later.  If we had been afraid of competition and not talked to them, we would have missed out.  Moral of the story: don’t be afraid of competition, get to know them, but don’t tell them everything!

Entrepreneurs Come in All Shapes and Sizes

I’ve been writing a lot about entrepreneurship lately, focusing on how it is easier than many people think and how people should view getting involved in a startup as a viable alternative to getting into the job market, especially during college and in this economy.  One of the most common responses to these posts have been “I’d love to start my own business, but I don’t know the first thing about technology” or “running a big technology startup is too hard and I don’t want to move to the coasts.”  I want to clear up this common misconception.

There are all kinds of entrepreneurs.  They come in all shapes and sizes and start all sorts of industries.  I think everyone agrees that high flying Silicon Valley tech startups and cutting edge biotech companies are clearly founded by entrepreneurs, but there are so many more examples of entrepreneurship that many people overlook.  Founders of small businesses like gas stations or restaurants are entrepreneurs.  So are people who start non-profits, people who start bands, artists who sell their paintings and people who create custom designed t-shirts.  Self-employed consultants, programmers and graphic designers are entrepreneurs.  So are people who sell parking on football Saturdays and Sundays around the country.  The examples are endless.

Jean-Baptiste Say, a French economist and the person who coined the word entrepreneur, defined an entrepreneur as someone who “undertakes an enterprise, acting as intermediary between capital and labour.”  I like his definition, but will add that an entrepreneur has to accept full responsibility for the endeavor’s success or failure.  All of these endeavors fit this definition.

Whenever I talk about entrepreneurship, I’m referring to all of these different ways to be an entrepreneur.  I think its critical for people who are thinking about starting something on their own to realize that they can be an entrepreneur and live the entrepreneurial lifestyle without raising hundreds of thousands of dollars, hiring huge amounts of employees and inventing something that will change the world.  These other types of entrepreneurship are just as important, if not more important, than many of the big high tech, high visibility startups that you hear about in most newspapers.  I think this distinction is really important and try to break it down whenever I talk with potential entrepreneurs.

I Trust Google With My Life…Almost

My internet went out the other day for a few hours when I wanted to get some work done (thanks Charter!). I couldn’t access my email, so I figured I’d do some work on my business plan. I quickly remembered that I store most of my documents on Google Docs, meaning that I couldn’t access them from home either. I spent the next few minutes writing this post on old fashioned college ruled notebook paper.

I trust Google with my life….almost. I have my email, calendar, documents, contacts, advertising campaign, photos and website analytics all in Google’s hands. I use Google maps to find out where I am going (google maps), view business reviews (search), and upload and view videos (youtube). I get my news in part from Google News. I used to use blogger, another Google service, to host my blog, but have since moved to hosting my own site on a wordpress platform. Google is so much more than a search engine and millions of people around the world trust google to protect and store their important data. Google Creep, as I like to call it, is Google’s amazing ability to become useful, if not necessary, to our daily lives.

I’ve never been one to put all of my eggs in one basket, but I realized I pretty much have with google. In the unlikely event of Google’s bankruptcy, failure due to hacking or natural disaster, I would be pretty much screwed. I bet millions of others would be in my shoes, too. Its amazing that we have not only allowed a company to permeate our entire lives as much as Google has, but we have embraced it, always asking for Google to do more.

Google is now pushing into electronic medical records, mobile phones and even renewable energy. It will be interesting to see if there is any backlash in the coming years about how much we depend on Google. As people move from hard drives toward storage on the internet, more and more people will become dependent on Google.

After I got my internet connection back up, I backed up all of my contacts and google docs onto my hard drive, which is backed up by Mozy. This is not an anti-google post and I doubt anything bad will happen to Google, but it was shocking to find how dependent I had become on Google and its services. I probably won’t change anything, but its pretty amazing. I can’t think of any other company that took over like Google has in the history of America.

What do you think? Are you as dependent on Google as I am? Do you have any strategies to combat Google creep as it takes over even more facets of our online lives? Do you think it is a bad thing?

Mozy: Branding Gone Right

In my last post, I talked about the state of Wisconsin and its branding gone wrong.  I wanted to use this post to show an example of a company with excellent branding and customer relations: mozy.com.

Mozy is an online data backup company that stores and protects files on your hard drive.  Here’s how it works.  You sign up for an unlimited storage plan for $4.95 per month and install the Mozy client onto your computer.  You tell Mozy what you want to back up and then the application does the rest.  The client runs in the background when you start up and shut down your computer, saving any files that have been modified in the interim.  If you computer dies, is stolen or somehow gets damaged, you can load the Mozy client onto your new machine and have your data back in as little as three hours.

There are a myriad of online backup companies, but I think Mozy has the best branding and advertising (I use Mozy to backup my computer).  Check out their homepage and see if you agree.  

I wanted to focus on an email they sent to their customers last week.  Its simply brilliant.  Here is the email:

Monthly Newsletter – April 2009

Flight 1549



Flight 1549Paul Jorgensen had just come from a meeting at Goldman Sachs when he boarded US Airways Flight 1549. He sat down in seat 1A next to the window, pulled out his notebook to capture of few thoughts, then put it away and prepared for takeoff.

Seated one row behind Jorgensen was Bill Wiley, also traveling for business with a computer onboard the plane. In fact, he brought a couple of notebooks with him. But he, like Jorgensen and all passengers, abandoned his personal belongings and focused on saving his life when the plane crash-landed into the Hudson River.

Both men had been backing up regularly. The difference is Jorgenson backed up online with Mozy, and Wiley backed up his two computers to thumb drives. Jorgensen retrieved his data back from Mozy, but Wiley lost 250 GB of his employer’s information. The stories were detailed in USA Today and ComputerWorld.

In moments of disaster, those who use Mozy are able to focus on other things than backup without the fear of losing their data. At Mozy, we’re grateful that all passengers on Flight 1549 were in the hands of such an skillful crew and were able to return to their loved ones without any loss of life or significant injury. 

Be safe,
Devin Knighton


This story is the perfect example of a sticky message.  Most Americans know about the crash landing in the Hudson.  Everyone can picture what they would do if they were in a similar situation and everyone can picture what they would feel like if they did not have Mozy to protect their data.  This email is another piece of brilliant marketing from Mozy.