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Keys to Boostrapping Your Startup.

Earlier this week, I spoke on a panel about the keys to bootstrapping a startup. The audience was a mix of current and soon-to-be entrepreneurs; some bootstrapping by choice and others by necessity; some who see bootstrapping as the dream and others as a means to venture financing. It's a subject near and dear to my heart since I bootstrapped beRecruited alongside Russell Cook from our Duke dorm room and our spare bedrooms (while I was at eBay and he was at Microsoft). Even in hindsight, I wouldn't have done it any other way as it proved to be the right thing for the business and for us... which is a bit ironic since I am now in the business of making investments and often challenge bootstrapped entrepreneurs to think about whether investment is what they *really* want and need (sometimes is, sometimes isn't).

I wanted to give a quick recap of the themes I discussed. And you can read more from my 2008 post "Bootstrapping Your Startup – 12 Rules of Bootstrapping", which is one of the most read / visited posts from this blog.

Be efficient. Be lean.

From my 2008 post - and it remains the most important aspect: "Sounds obvious. Sounds easy. But it’s neither. As a bootstrapper, you’re short on time and money. That means that efficiency is key. Before engaging in any single task, ask yourself (and/or your team) if this is worthwhile and priority #1."

Revenue is king. Profitability is better.

This is a key difference with venture-backed companies, who often aren't advised to focus on revenue early on - rather, they focus on growth and usage. Bootstrapped companies usually do not have that luxury and have to focus on self-sustainability. Of course, that means that revenue (and profitability) are king.

And when you get there - that buys you the ultimate luxury: optionality. You are in the luxurious position of choice: continue to operate, fund and accelerate the business, or exit the business. Profitability affords these choices.

Understand business financials, levers, potential scale.

To reach profitability, you must have a deep understanding of the business. You are likely resource constrained - so each task, priority and function comes at the expense of something else. It is a constant balancing act. Furthermore, this is how you gain an understanding of the next two points:

1) what the key business levers are and how you can accelerate growth with funding 2) how big the business can become... which is how you determine whether funding makes sense

Spend money on key business levers.

Within reason, you must open the marketing floodgates to understand: what works, whether it scales and what you might need (partnerships, people and/or investment). I commonly see pitches where entrepreneurs have very efficiently spent very small amounts of money - but they have no understanding of whether that scales (amount of efficiency).

Understand the consequence of investment / capital.

If you are in the luxurious position of considering whether to continue bootstrapping or take on investment: congratulations, optionality is your most valuable asset. There are obvious benefits to taking on investments: the two most obvious being:

1) you can accelerate growth more freely (and therefore grow your enterprise value) 2) you bring more partners and thinkers to the table

However, there will be considerations you didn't have before and you have to think through the consequences: How big is the opportunity? How big can this become? What's your long-term goal: scale, ownership, financials, etc? Are my goals in line with the investors'? How does dilution weigh against outcome and exit opportunity? Are the investors my ideal business partners? Comfort with adding partners, board members, equity holders, etc?

Most importantly: can you achieve your goals with or without investment? Ultimately that determines the answer.

Apple's Gorgeous iOS 6 Product Page.

So much has already been written about Apple's WWDC and their iOS 6 announcement... and I too will pile on a couple short (and late) reactions. This one really has nothing to do with the hardware or the software... but rather the store page Apple created to showcase iOS 6. I tweeted about it last night:

Having reflected a little more on it - and the many discussions I have had over great product / merchandising pages (from eBay to portfolio to here on the blog) - I think it is worth showcasing this page once more.

A couple quick notes, which will essentially just expand on my 100 character tweet:

1. The page is entirely on-brand for Apple. Familiar.

2. It's a single page. Yet it is very easy to navigate. The icons atop the page move you throughout.

3. It is content heavy... but you wouldn't know it. Secondary elements are tucked away within each feature - for instance, the Facebook section has three sub-bullets which navigate horizontally - meanwhile, the core features navigate vertically.

4. It reads like a newspaper. The headlines are atop. The supporting content is ordered by importance. And the tertiary content (smaller features, developer kits, compatibility) are tucked at the bottom and formatted differently.

5. It's visual. Great looking and easy to consume.

And it's applicable beyond products. This page (it's layout, characteristics, etc) is relevant for merchandise (ie physical product), services (ie subscriptions, SaaS), about-us (ie informational content) and beyond.

Amazon Begins Including Pinterest Buttons on Product Pages

First movers get rewarded... just ask Spotify on Facebook or Loopt on iOS. This of course assumes that you are a first mover on a big, impactful platform. There is little question Pinterest is both big and impactful. So Amazon is experimenting with it.

Here is a screenshot of the Pinterest button on an Amazon product page - beside email, Facebook and Twitter buttons. For e-commerce companies - Pinterest is arguably more relevant here than either Facebook or Twitter. It is probably most valuable to get a Facebook share - but users are probably far more inclined to post to Pinterest... and for many of those users, Pinterest will then post back to Facebook.

Fascinating to watch.

Leveraging Facebook for Startups: Part II, On-Facebook

Note: this article originally appeared on TechCrunch: 10 Ways to Leverage Facebook for Startups: Part II, On-Site Part I: Off-Facebook Strategy Part II: On-Facebook Strategy

Yesterday I discussed how to improve user acquisition, activation and activity by building Facebook directly into your web experience. There is of course another half to the equation: leveraging Facebook.com to expand your reach and engage your users. On-Facebook success is less product-heavy than success off-Facebook, although they both ultimately aim for the same outcome: engagement. While it is as much an art as a science, if you optimize for engagement and continually test your way across Facebook’s myriad of products – you may well find yourself sitting alongside The Rock (Facebook’s best personality?) and Spotify (terrific example of being a platform first-mover).

As a startup, you may not reach the scale Spotify or the brand / reach of Starbucks (27 million fans) – but this guide will help you think about strengthening relationships with your fans, expanding your fanbase and unifying your off-Facebook experience with your on-Facebook presence.

View more presentations from Ryan Spoon

How to Leverage Facebook for Startups: Part I, Off-Facebook

Note: this article originally appeared on TechCrunch: 10 Ways Your Startup Can Hook Into Facebook, Part I: On The Web Part I: Off-Facebook Strategy Part II: On-Facebook Strategy

Having already covered how startups can use search and Twitter to find customers, here’s 10 steps for finding people on another key marketing platform: Facebook Facebook has evolved from a social network into the fabric with which much of the web is constructed: identity, product, data, experience and so on. Even if you chose to no longer use it as a social destination, you would still find immense value in it through your every-day web usage: registration, personalization, sharing, interaction, etc.

This is of course a huge opportunity for consumer-focused startups. Facebook plays a core role in touching each step along the standard product / user funnel:

- Acquisition: virality, referrals, paid traffic - Activation: conversion paths from new to active users - Activity: user engagement and retention

Below is a slide presentation with five ways to think about leveraging Facebook to affect those three steps on your web experience. Tomorrow I will share five ways to find success on Facebook.com.

View more presentations from Ryan Spoon

How to Grow Your Brand on Twitter. 5 Overarching Guidelines. Tons of Examples.

Note: This article originally appeared on TechCrunch ("5 Ways for Startups to Grow Their Brands on Twitter”). Last week I began an effort to answer those questions I get asked most frequently, starting with how to create an early-stage pitch deck. Today, I address the next most popular question: how best to grow your brand on Twitter? Twitter is the ultimate marketing platform. But the scale of Twitter is so extraordinary (250 million tweets / day) that it is actually quite easy to get lost in the noise.

Separating yourself from the masses really begins with the recognition that Twitter is first and foremost a platform for conversation. If you believe that, you avoid the mistake most brands make: treating Twitter as a mechanism to push content rather than create engagement.

And once your goal is to foster conversation and engagement, you can follow these five guidelines:

1. Listen. 2. Be authentic. 3. Be compelling. 4. Find the influencers. 5. Extend off-twitter and onto your site.

In the below presentation, I breakdown these core themes and provides examples of people and companies successfully using Twitter to drive engagement and grow their brands.

How to Create an Early-Stage Pitch Deck

Note: This article originally appeared on TechCrunch ("How To Create An Early-Stage Pitch Deck For Investors"). It is the first in a series of posts / decks that I will be doing on those questions I get asked most commonly. Of course we will start with the question I get most: how to create a great pitch deck!

When raising capital, a combination of your company’s product, vision, team and execution are what ultimately attract investment. And while the pitch deck is ultimately less important than vision and product, it exists to convey both elements and get investors hungry for more.

Like other investors, I come across hundreds of pitches each month — some in person, others in email; some as PowerPoints, and others as full-fledged business plans. Your goal is to craft a deck that is both:

- crisp: succinct enough that it is easily digestible (in person, email, etc)

- and complete: thorough enough that it conveys the big vision and current traction

I looked back on many of the pitches I reviewed over the last couple years (good and bad) and compared it to public pitch decks of familiar, successful companies like Airbnb, Foursquare, and Mint. The output is this guide to creating an early-stage pitch deck. It’s intended for companies seeking seed and series A investments.

There are five core themes followed by a suggested structure:

1. Have a great one-liner 2. Know your audience 3. Keep it to 10-15 slides 4. Beware of the demo 5. Expect the deck to be shared

And remember: it’s the story and the conversation that is important – not the imagery and colors. If you can convey the passion that drives you (and your users / customers!), you will have created a powerful pitch deck.

Robert Scoble & Building43 Visit Dogpatch Labs

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Robert Scoble of Building43.com and taking about Dogpatch Labs, entrepreneurship and Polaris Venture Partners. Scoble just posted the article, "Dogpatch Labs gives startups the room—and expertise—to thrive" and the video chat is included below.

I was first introduced to Robert at other Dogpatch Labs events - the most recently of which he gave a speech about the five companies and trends he is most excited about (if you are a Scoble follower on blog or Twitter, you know that Flipboard was absolutely in that list!). He enjoyed the space and the community of entrepreneurs, and we decided to do a piece on Dogpatch Labs: