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Most ‘Tech Startups’ Aren’t Really Tech Companies at All December 30, 2010

Posted by Jim Price in Business, Entrepreneurship.
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More and more of the potential entrepreneurs I meet aren’t interested in launching technology companies.  They’re focused on addressing certain specific, unmet market needs.  New-fangled technology tends to scare them off. 

And I think that’s great.  How can I say that as a serial technology entrepreneur?

Because if you step back and think about it, the vast majority of what most people think of as “tech startups” aren’t really technology companies at all.  And that includes most of those that I’ve been involved with as founder, officer and/or investor. 

Rather, most tech startups tend to be businesses that intelligently apply existing, off-the-shelf technology to do a dramatically better job addressing a common issue faced by a targeted customer set. 

So if you think of companies in fields ranging from mobile gaming to e-retailing, from SaaS (software-as-as-service or cloud-based apps) to mobile advertising, from RFID apps to social networking plug-ins, they’re not really tech businesses in my book. 

They’re technology-enabled businesses

These companies aren’t inventing and introducing any new technology.  No need to.  Instead, they’re applying existing, proven platforms already established on the market – e.g., the iPhone, Google Android, Facebook, RFID technology, Microsoft HealthVault, ERP apps, Google Earth, etc., etc. – and using established vendors’ application development environments or SDKs (software development kits) as well as open-source toolkits.  From that baseline, startups can solve vertical-market-specific problems remarkably quickly and cheaply without reinventing the wheel with the underlying technology. 

Cool.  Because customers and investors (and smart entrepreneurs) aren’t fans of technology risk – read: technology for its own sake, or science projects.   They’d much rather have a solution built on existing, market-proven platforms.

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“The Contributor” Street Paper: a Case Study in Helping People Help Themselves December 26, 2010

Posted by Jim Price in Business, Entrepreneurship.
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In my Christmas Day post, I mentioned “The Contributor” of Nashville, Tennessee as an example of a vibrant street paper.  “Street paper” describes a whole category of over one hundred print newspapers that have sprung up in recent years in over 38 countries around the world; they all tend to focus on the issues concerning poverty and homelessness, and are actually sold by homeless and formerly homeless individuals on the street as an alternative to panhandling.

Tasha French, The Contributor’s  director, pinged me after yesterday’s post, which motivated me to visit her organization’s website (http://thecontributor.org).  Allow me to directly quote Tasha here:

“An excited vendor recently approached me with an exclamation I’ll not soon forget:  ‘Last night I slept on my very own floor!’

“Imagine fewer Nashvillians sleeping on the street. This is the result of your financial support of The Contributor.

“Without a doubt, 2010 has been a tremendous year of growth for us—from a print run of 15,000 in January to 100,000 in December.

“As we celebrate our third anniversary, our circulation has already exceeded every expectation and dream we ever had for the life of The Contributor – creating a direct income of nearly $1,000,000 for homeless and formerly homeless Nashvillians this year alone.

“Our newspaper vendors have spread far and wide and are distributing far more than papers as they go. They are spreading hope and inspiration to our community. New customers are learning about us every day and are providing dedicated vendors with a valid income – the end result being fewer Nashvillians living on the street. Lives are being changed by every face-to-face interaction.”

Wow – that’s social impact!!  The Contributor, like its fellow street papers (see, for example, the North American Street Newspaper Association www.nasna.org), is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, so contributions to the organization are, as with other charities, tax-deductible. 

But what I see as truly special about social entrepreneurs such as Tasha and her team is that for every charitable dollar donors contribute, the street paper organization is, by its very nature, producing an enormous amount of leverage.  They’re creating a self-reinforcing ecosystem in which the less fortunate can lift themselves up – learn job skills, work for earnings rather than panhandling, all while developing constructive, two-way interactions with their regular customers.

Please consider a donation to “The Contributor” or your local street paper during this holiday season.

As Traditional Newspapers Disappear, a New Wave of ‘Street Papers’ Gives the Homeless Work and Hope December 25, 2010

Posted by Jim Price in Business, Entrepreneurship.
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We all understand that traditional print newspapers are in a world of hurt.  Why?  Because they’ve traditionally prospered based on a 4-pronged business model:  want ads, display advertising, subscriptions, and newsstand sales.  Of those four sources of revenue, by far the largest source of revenue and profit came from want ads.

What happened to change newspaper economics for the worse?  A little company called Craig’s List killed the want ads business.  In parallel, competition from the rest of the Internet and mobile technology have steadily eroded the profitability of newspaper display advertising (full-page ads, inserts, etc.) while also driving down newspaper circulation in a vicious cycle.

Traditional newspapers are struggling for their very existence or actually closing down.  (See:  the 85-year-old Albuquerque Tribune shuttering in February 2008; “The Capital Times” of Madison, Wisconsin in April 2008; the 149-year-old “Rocky Mountain News” in February 2009; the 146-year-old “Seattle Post Intelligencer” in March 2009; the 174-year-old “Ann Arbor News” in July 2009.  So much traditional out the window… and there’s worse to come.)

So who would have thought that, in this midst of this maelstrom, social entrepreneurs would think of launching new print newspapers, of all things, as a way to help poor people?  Go figure.  And better yet, it’s working, and working well.

Listening to the car radio on Christmas eve, I heard a story on NPR about so-called “street papers” (http://www.npr.org/2010/12/23/132291799/Street-Papers-Sold-By-Homeless-Are-Thriving), a new breed of newspapers that have popped up successfully around the country (actually around the world) in recent years.

As described on the website of the International Network of Street Papers (www.street-papers.org), these are independent newspapers and magazines that are sold on the streets of cities around the world by homeless people.  The deal is that the homeless buy the papers a little above cost, for say fifty cents, sell them at the cover price of a dollar, and keep the fifty-cent (100%) mark-up.  They make money selling street papers instead of panhandling.  Maybe not enough to pay for rent and get off the street, but it can be a really strong springboard.

Examples of street papers are “The Contributor” in Nashville, which NPR’s story mentioned sold 75,000 copies of its November edition, “StreetWise” in Chicago, “What’s Up Magazine” in St. Louis, and “The Denver Voice,” “Street Sheet” in San Francisco and “Spare Change News” in Cambridge, Mass.

Street papers (see also the North American Street Newspaper Association www.nasna.org) are independent outlets for news and information, highlighting voices from the street and perspectives that would otherwise go unheard.  In selling street papers, people living without shelter are offered a unique employment opportunity, giving the most disadvantaged people a chance to earn a dignified income and rebuild their lives.  And because much of the content is developed by the homeless themselves, writing and art workshops are conducted alongside job training in such skills as sales, leadership and the like.  Street papers serve as a constructive source of social support, helping people rebuild their sense of self-worth while building an income, finding service referrals and learning life skills.  Meanwhile, these papers – through both their journalism as well as the simple human interaction that occurs in the selling process – serve as a long-term tool that connects people across corrosive social barriers.

This is social entrepreneurship at its best.  Warm best wishes for the holidays.

A Reminder for the Holidays: Entrepreneurs Create Jobs, Put Food on the Table for Employees and Their Families December 24, 2010

Posted by Jim Price in Business, Entrepreneurship.
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I’d like to offer warm wishes to all my friends and colleagues for the holidays.  I’m truly grateful for having had the opportunity to work and interact with so many of you over the past year. 

Allow me, during this season of reflection, to offer a thought about why so many of us work so very hard crafting and building new businesses:

I find that a personal driver for so many entrepreneurs is knowing that building a new business has potential to create dozens, perhaps hundreds, of rewarding  new jobs and put food on the table for those employees and their families over many years.  As a company founder, I know I take this as something of a sacred trust between me and my employees.

I think the general public would be surprised if we took a random sampling of 100 entrepreneurs and gave them a shot of sodium pentothal – you know, just enough to act as truth serum, not enough for general anesthesia.  If, once in a trance, we were to ask what their top five motivations were for being an entrepreneur, I’ll bet creating jobs would rank in the top 5, and making money wouldn’t.

Cielo MedSolutions grew 100% last year December 8, 2010

Posted by Jim Price in Business, Entrepreneurship.
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With the increased focus on finding sensible technological solutions to the challenges facing the nation’s $2.4 trillion/year healthcare albatross, medical software application companies are starting to get more traction in the market.

For example, Cielo MedSolutions, the healthcare SaaS (software-as-a-service) company I cofounded 4 years ago,  grew 100 percent last year and is expecting to redouble again in 2011 — see this article http://researchcorridor.com/inthenews/cielomedsolutions0003.aspx.

GrowthJuice.com — a great new blog on breakthrough growth & innovation December 7, 2010

Posted by Jim Price in Business, Entrepreneurship.
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On the topic of corporate new-business development, I’ve added a link on my blogroll to something quite cool, GrowthJuice.com (http://growthjuice.com/).  It’s a great new resource and discussion forum that’s worth following. 

Moderated by Dave Hatfield, a savvy veteran of corporate bus-dev at Dow Chemical and, over the past several years as a top-flight management consultant, GrowthJuice promises to bring us the latest in managing risk in breakthrough new-business opportunities.

Dave has a thought-provoking and incisive approach to the field of corporate innovation, growth management and intrapreneurship.  Listen to him.

Some of my best friends are corporate types (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) December 6, 2010

Posted by Jim Price in Business, Entrepreneurship.
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One of the fascinating, but counter-intuitive, things about being a serial entrepreneur and a professor of entrepreneurship is that many of my kindred spirits — the folks I hang out and network with — are people working in big companies. 

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

As often as not, the folks I find myself advising and coaching are corporate CEOs, innovation executives and new-business-development  executives.  That may sound odd, since, as a serial entrepreneur who hasn’t worked directly for Big Corporate America for over 20 years now, one might consider me fundamentally unemployable, right?   So why would these corporate types want to hang out with me, and what would I see in them?  There are two basic reasons for the attraction: 

First of all, it’s never been lost on me that a lot of innovation and “entrepreneurship” in this world takes place in the form of intraprenuership — that is, launching new businesses from under the corporate umbrella. 

And second, corporations often accelerate their way into new markets and technologies by tracking, forming alliances with, investing in, and eventually acquiring innovative startups.

For both of these reasons, corporations can benefit greatly from thinking and acting more like entrepreneurs.  That’s a topic I’ve written at some length about, and am often invited to speak about.   [See, for example, “Nurturing Your Entrepreneurial Side” http://execed.bus.umich.edu/media/oct09article2.aspx, and “Shedding the New Venture Mystique” http://www.bus.umich.edu/NewsRoom/ArticleDisplay.asp?news_id=16725.]

We continue to see evidence of this business ecosystem every day.  Google and other mega-players flirt with paying mega-bucks to acquire local-advertising phenom GroupOn… but only after the entrepreneurs at GroupOn have wrung the market risk out of the system by proving out the business model.  That’s the ubersexy deal dominating the headlines right now.  But for every GroupOn, there are hundreds of smaller projects and deals bubbling behind the scenes that are great illustrations of this business development ecosystem.

Telegruv Featured in Chicago Tribune December 5, 2010

Posted by Jim Price in Business, Entrepreneurship.
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In an article entitled, “10 games to help get your party started,” (http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/sc-cons-1202-cool-games-20101202,0,1148521.story), the Chicago Tribune gives a great review to Telegruv, the first game offering coming out of Sarika Gupta’s hot startup Dance Telephone, Inc.  

(See my earlier post https://jimprice.wordpress.com/2010/11/13/sarika-guptas-game-startup-has-a-winner-in-telegruv/)

Spread the word:  Telegruv makes a great gift!   Order the game at   http://www.telegruv.com/