Monday, August 10, 2009

Entrepreneurial Freelancer

I'm gearing up to teach again, and I am trying to swallow some of my own medicine serving as the Purser for a restart-up: the Jon Anderson White riverboat. I find Sharon McLoone's articles on the challenges small business people face helpful. She has a knack for demystifying things reminding entrepreneurs that they are not really alone. And she made me sound pretty smart too in her online column in MainStreet.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Riverboat Redux

Mike LaValle, my good friend and hunting buddy, has restored his riverboat, and it is sailing the Des Moines River. Check out this video from local TV, KCCI. It was a real labor of love and stubbornness to get the newly christened John Anderson White ship shape. She's a beauty: mahogany trim outside, oak and gilded finishings inside, Mike led a shake down cruise yesterday. We departed from a new dock at a the Des Moines Botanical Center and cruised upriver and back in about an hour. With the skyline behind us, as we passed under the Second Avenue bridge and rounded a bend in the river, we left the chaos and commotion of the 21st century and cruised back to a time of gentile sociability, enjoyed wine and snacks, waved to passing boaters and watched all sorts of birds pass by. Mike and the John Anderson White are real treasures for Des Moines. Watch for us on the river; in the meantime please visit the website:

Thursday, April 23, 2009

More good pitching

Here is David Rose on pitching to VCs. He talks fast and covers a lot of ground. And yes he does not necessarily seem to follow his own advice, nor does he follow Guy Kawasaki's 10/20/30 rule. But get over it, he proffers good stuff; especially in the last 5 minutes. AND, he has the track record to back it up. I have attended dozens of investment conferences and met with many more entrepreneurs seeking financing. Frankly, I can not recall more than a handful of effective pitches, elevator length or ball room size. A good pitch, like a good curve ball, takes a lot of work and a lot of practice.

Any one seeking financing for anything can learn from these posts and these pros. Like getting to Carnegie Hall, practice, practice, practice. Your spouse or lover should refrain from rolling his or her eyes when you lay your pitch on yet another unsuspecting person. You should tell it so often that he or she can tell it too. Tell everyone what you are doing. Don't be shy. Most importantly tell them what you are doing to solves problem or relieve some pain and be sure to tell them how it will make or,even better, is making, money for you and for them.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Good Pitch

Here is an example of a good elevator pitch by a very energetic Kenny Lao, featured in a Forbes article and on Mr. Lao, pitching a very cool sounding and cash-flow positive dumpling restaurant concept touches all the bases in this pitch, and he does in in 45 seconds. Watch and learn. The article is pretty good too.

Check back tomorrow for more on good pitching from David Rose, the Pitch Coach. Rose is a successful serial entrepreneur and venture capitalist who presented 10 things to know before you pitch a VC for moneyto the TED conference.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

You can't Twitter Your Way to a Million Bucks...can you?

Do you Twitter? Tweet? what ever the heck it is called, and even though it doesn't make any money yet, and even though they claim to have 6 million Twitterers (Tweeters, whatever...) it is still a new thing. I really didn't get it, and maybe I still don't , but lately a couple of successful local business people have explained to me how they are using it for bidness. They are not prattling on about what they are eating or what errand they are headed to after they stop Tweeting. Instead, they are using this neat little microblogging tool to keep their members, clients and prospects up-to-date, up-to-the-minute. They provide "members" with special notices and deals. They offer pertinent links to other sites that are really of interest to their followers. They stir up p.r. and create a presence where before they had none. I haven't quite figured out how to use it in my investment banking business, but I could use it to post assignments for my entrepreneurship class, and I'd like to stop reading about everybody else's kids (note to young parents: nobody really cares what the little buggers just did or are about to do; let them Tweet for themselves...oooh, wait, they're too busy on Facebook.) I also just learned that Twitter helped turn a cute whale into a NY Times phenomenon, but not so much into a business success. Is there a there there?

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Uncommon Common Man

Two ol’ Dartmouth College buddies and I visited the Airport Diner in Manchester, NH not too long ago; Kathy was our terrific waitress (she was brand new too.) We enjoyed some first-rate old-fashioned diner grub and snagged a coupla cool paper hats (the kind the cooks wear). When I got home and modeled the hat for my fam, I noticed the web site for The Common Man family of restaurants.

What a great story. Alex Ray, founder way back in 1971, is a real entrepreneur. He has built a great business and pays it forward in the communities where he operates. I did not get a chance to meet him, but I hope I do someday. He embodies many of the traits of successful entrepreneurs we have observed in our Entrepreneurial Leadership class at Drake University.

My pals and I were on our way to northern New Hampshire to memorialize a great friend who died 10 years ago. We installed a small marker in his memory atop Diamond Peak in the Second College Grant, Wentworth Location, NH. Drilling a 4” hole in solid granite can be done in the wild. We got off to a great start for a great adventure in memory of a great guy, Richard C. Sunshine.

Alex, Kathy, and all your Common Man colleagues, I hope you will stop by if you ever find yourself in Des Moines.

The Drake Relays--Brian Brown, the LOVE doctor.

Dr. Brian Brown, Director of the Drake Relays and 1992 Olympic Silver Medalist in the high jump, spoke to the Des Moines Rotary Club recently. He is one cool cat who just radiates positive energy. His focus, and man, he is really focused, was the 100th Drake Relays.
The Relays are another treasure buried here in the Heartland. This year, though, thanks in large part to the tireless efforts of Brown and his boss, the also cool and focused Sandy Hatfield Clubb, Drake's A.D., the Relays will have a chance to shine like the medals awarded to the athletes. Dr. Brown has attracted a world-class field, and for the first time, the Relays will be broadcast on ESPN2.

I'd like to bottle the energy these two generate and share it with every entrepreneur I know. Wow, innovationa nd new businesses would be busting out all over. Dr. Brown (who by the way is married to Natash Kaiser Brown, Drake's coach for both the men's and women's track teams--more postive energy-- and another Olympic silver medalist and world champion in the 4X100 relay) offered some comments applicable not only to athletic success, but also to success as an entrepreneurial leader.

Organizing an annual event such as the Relays is a big job, more than one person could accomplish alone. It would be easy to develop a big head to go along with the job, but Brian Brown has avoided that. As he explained, he learned to love the people more than the position. Success is not about him at the top, but about the collaboration of many up and down the pyramid. He painted a great image of an effective leader as a river that flows by many people, NOT just a reservoir at the end of the stream.

He offered this advice in closing. He believes in LOVE:

O as in OBJECTIVITY--tell me the truth
V as in VULNERABILITY--take risks

Too cute for you. Maybe, but when he explained that he wants the people he works with to feel the roar of the crowd he felt when he won his silver medal, it made me want to work with him. I'd like to experience that feeling. The Doctor is in, and he is operatin'.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Real Entrepreneurial Real Estate--Be Prepared

We had another great visitor to our entrepreneurship class at Drake Univ. Shannon Morton, an associate at Ferguson Commercial Real Estate Services, stopped by to discuss how start-ups and other entrepreneurial businesses can work with real estate brokers. Shannon and I became acquainted shortly after he returned to Iowa; we hit it off immediately trading war stories about working in New York City. He's what I think of as a hybrid Midwesterner: deep roots, but a faster moving and more willing to try new things. Also polished and smooth, but very down-to-earth. (Like all real estate pros he also drives a cool car.)

Anyway, with no prompting from me, the first thing Shannon advised the students to do in preparing to work with a broker is to develop a solid business plan. As he explained, without a solid plan the entrepreneur appears not to understand his or her business, is unlikely to get any financing, and is more likely to waste the broker's time. And time is a real estate professional's most important asset.

The second important asset for most brokers, and the one that can be of the most help to an entrepreneur, is the broker's relationships. As with any business, an entrepreneur's success will be built on relationships. A real estate broker can offer terrific "relationship leverage" to an entrepreneur, particularly one new to a community or a neighborhood. Shannon walks the talk in this regard. He recently helped a local social venture get started; he not only found a great space at a good price, he also connected the entrepreneur with partners who financed parts of the new venture, and agreed to join the advisory board.

Frankly, I was a little skeptical about bringing a broker into the classroom. I've worked with stock brokers and real estate brokers all my professional life, and too many have only focused on the sale. Shannon emphasized working hard to develop a relationship, to support his clients, and to get a good deal done. And, of course, he urged the students to be prepared. That's good advice, not just for scouts and evil lions,

but for any entrepreneur.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

We are not fools after all

"No matter how efficient or inefficient markets may be, the returns earned by investors as a group must fall short of the market returns by precisely the amount of the aggregate costs they incur. It is the central fact of investing."
John Bogle, founder of Vanguard Investments, as quoted by Nick Kapur in his column in The Motley Fool.

My kids and I own Vanguard index funds, and I have been wondering if I was a fool for sticking with them. Maybe not. An excellent article summarizing some of the data that supports Mr. Bogle's sage advice appeared this past Sunday in a solid NY Times piece written by Mark Hulbert, The Index Funds Win Again. Mr. Hulbert cites a new study by Mark Kritzman, president and chief executive of Windham Capital Management of Boston. The upshot, after all the commotion, according to Mr. Kritzman: “It is very hard, if not impossible to justify active management for most individual, taxable investors, if their goal is to grow wealth.”

In other words, even in these parlous times a well diversified stock portfolio (think globally) is probably the best bet for most of us, and those of us who can't find our way into a hedge fund need not feel inadequate or worry that we're missing out. In fact, we might just make out and have the last laugh.

I believe the United States is on sale; theUunited States will lead the world back on track, and we will have a once in a lifetime opportunity to buy a piece of the future.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Madness in their Method

It took a lot of digging in the wrong place, and then a serendipitous (try typing that fast) perusal of Inc. to find this cool statement about the importance of keeping it weird. I push my students to follow Tom Peters' advice in Re-Imagine to "Think Weird." Well, stodgy ol' Microsoft features Eric Ryan from Method Home. I heard the ad, but didn't see who it was; I did see that it was for that cool soap company. Thought their name was "Simple." It's not. Couldn't find it; gave up. Then today, while reading Inc. I came across some advice from Ryan about working in these tough times and I re-remembered what I was looking for. Weird, but real.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Cool jets

It's Friday. Normally, no big deal; I like every day, but it is also Science Friday, hosted by the very cool Ira Flatow on NPR. Today SF featured a cool bit on jets. New high-, really high-, speed video has allowed scientists to capture the intricate and previously mysterious reactions caused by things falling in water and, amazingly, sand and baking powder. I love the scientists' child-like curiosity and amazement. Entrepreneurs would do well to preserve that sense of wonder and awe about the world around them. Budding entrepreneurs should be asking questions about what goes on around them; especially "why" and "why not." There are a million questions out there, and some of them could lead to great entrepreneurial opportunities.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Pitchman Extraordinaire--RIP

I bought a peeler from this gentleman years ago. Great street theater; great salesmanship, and I still use it all the time.

Entrepreneurs, budding entrepreneurs, and salespeople can learn a lot from him.
Thanks to Mark Frauenfelder at BoingBoing for posting this.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Yo; dis is pizza

Quick shout out to George Formaro and Centro Restaurant in Des Moines, my home (as I tell people, I live in Des Moines, but I'm from New Jersey; sheesh, after 14 years I still can't claim to be from Des Moines, anyway). My sweet sister Sue (now, she's really from Jersey and talks the talk) called to let me know that George and his terrific pizza were mentioned in her local paper, the Daily Record. But for a little geography mix-up in the caption to the photo of George (no Centro in Indianapolis), it is a terrific article that features George's heartfelt advice that we should all try making our own 'za. I'm going to try it one of these days, but in the meantime we will continue our weekly large, 1/2 pepperoni, 1/2 mushrooms & roasted red peppers. Tastes like home.

Friday, January 30, 2009

American Prosciutto

Our good friends Herb and Kathy Eckhouse are featured in a delightful NY Times article about their terrific entrepreneurial adventure, La Quercia. Herb was kind enough to visit my Entrepreneurial Leadership class last fall and share his story with Drake Univeristy undergrads. What he and Kathy have accomlished is a tribute not only to their creativity and tenacity, but to the entrepreneurial imperative that sets us apart from the rest of the world. Herb sums it up nicely in the article as follows:

“One of the things in the U.S. is we don’t have the thousands of years of tradition of making prosciutto — or of making anything,” Eckhouse said. “But we have a much broader perspective. I feel like for the guys in Parma, they’re somewhat limited in what they can do to make the product better.”
Now there may be guys in Parma developing new prosciutto (over their grandfathers' dead bodies) or a new digital gadget. Why not? But, I'm betting it happens here first.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Mourning and celebrating

We gathered yesterday to remember and mourn Mike Brown, husband, father, outdoorsman. The Rev. Jim Wallace presided over the service. Despite, or perhaps because of, the ponderous sadness and confusion wrought by Mike taking his own life, Jim eloquently provided comfort and solace to the many friends and family in attendance. Referring to a prayer form the Anglican Church, he suggested that we "let not the manner of his death cloud the good memories of his life." While I struggle with faith constantly, I took great comfort in Jim's words and in the notion that we are all members of a greater community.

Then today, I watched a young man, younger than me anyway, ascend to the highest office in our land. President Obama (still hard to fasthom the meaning of those words) eloquently acknowledged the honor and duty bestowed on him while admonishing all of us that we must do our part to lift the burdens of these times. Again, I take great comfort in the sense of community. I really believe we can overcome; we can not only endure, but prevail and prosper.