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Startup Flight Checklist Item #2: Website Design and Hosting July 12, 2011

Posted by Jim Price in Business, Entrepreneurship.
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In most cases, the same online companies that offer domain-registration services also offer a complete menu of website-building
and -hosting  services.  Just Google or Bing “website hosting” and you’ll get a plethora of options to choose from, and the pricing is very competitive.

Basic website hosting can cost as little as $10/month and range up to significant multiples of that for higher-end sites that require, for example, unlimited data storage, multiple  servers, offsite backup, professional administrative  controls, and so on.

Website-building and -hosting services provide you with all the basic online tools and templates you’ll need to quickly build a site from scratch that looks pretty professional and fairly customized.  You don’t need any programming or graphics experience to do it, although patience and persistence certainly help.

Alternatively, you may can always hire a freelancer or small agency to build your website for you.  If you go that route, it’s a good idea to have them build the site using a widely-used framework or toolset, such as WordPress, Adobe Dreamweaver, Microsoft Frontpage, so that you can take what they’ve built and edit it yourself (or hire someone in the future to do so).

As with most startups, time is of the essence, so my partner and I decide to put up our GemGuitars.com website as quickly as possible. With time and money at a premium, we decide at the outset not to worry about designing a unique logo or mark – that can come later. We find, instead, that it works just fine to select one of the many available site templates as our basic site layout, customize that with our own pictures and graphics, and to select a specific, stylized font for “GemGuitars.com” in the site header as our “logo.”  Later on, when we have more time and money, we may decide to hire a designer for $500-1,000 to design a logo for us, or perhaps run an online logo-design contest for even less.  But for right now, that’s not a top branding priority.

And remember, you don’t need to do everything at once.  You may wish to consider first launching a simple “brochureware” website just to quickly get something out there that tells people who you are, how to find you, and how to contact your business.  You can then follow up later with an expanded site that adds other features such as a blog, customer success stories, shopping features, and so on.

Startup Flight Checklist Item #1: Branding July 10, 2011

Posted by Jim Price in Business, Entrepreneurship.
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When you’re launching a new business, let’s face it, you want people to be able to find you on the Web.  That means that, for starters, it’s probably a good idea to come up with a name for which you can obtain a corresponding Internet address – also known as a URL (uniform resource locator), or domain name.

One of the first things you might want to do is sit down over a cup of coffee – or a beer or a Red Bull or tequila shots or whatever floats your boat – with a friend or loved one, and log onto one of the web registration engines such as register.com, bluehost.com, justhost.com, godaddy.com, etc.   Some of these registration engines are easier to search through than others, but the gist of it is that they all let you search for Web domain names that are still available.

So, rapid-fire, you can type in various domain names and immediately see if they’re available with the .com suffix, as well with other Web suffixes such as .net, .org, .info, etc., etc.  In general, if you’re launching a business, I recommend that you try to find a URL with a dot-com suffix.  That’s what people tend to look for first.  (Most other suffixes carry certain implications, for example:  .org implies that you’re a non-profit;  .net implies that you’re a member-based organization or a service;  .info implies that you’re an information-only resource;  .ca implies that you’re a Canadian-based site;  and so on.)

Let’s say my buddy Adam and I are launching a business buying and selling high-end, used guitars on the Internet.  We start out with a few basic branding principles, as follows:

  1. We want our name to include the word guitar or guitars.
  2. We want the name to be easy to remember (to facilitate referrals).
  3. We want to have a name for which we can obtain the URL with the .com suffix.
  4. We want the name to be difficult to misspell (for when people are searching).
  5. We want the name to be difficult to mispronounce (for when guitar aficionados are talking about us).

So we start out our search on GoDaddy, suspecting that a lot of the basic names are already taken – and we’re right.  We’re able to quickly rule out such obvious names as Guitars.com, FineGuitars.com, MyGuitars.com, GreatGuitars.com, BestGuitars.com, OldGuitars.com, etc. (with guitar spelled in both singular and plural) as “already taken.”

But we quickly find, to our delight, that some really appealing names such as SingingGuitars.com, GemGuitars.com and HeavenlyGuitars.com are available!

(By the way, we’ve decided we don’t want to name the business after ourselves.  Using our first names doesn’t make sense, because “Jim’s and Adam’s Guitars” has two apostrophes in it, and it looks stupid spelled without the possessive apostrophes.  Our last names don’t work much better.  My last name is Price, so “Price Guitars” implies discounting that we certainly don’t want to imply, and Adam’s last name is Schmulewicz, which doesn’t exactly, well, roll off the tongue or lend itself to a memorable, searchable company name.)

Let’s say we settle on GemGuitars as the name of our new business.

Once we know that we can reserve the dot-com version of our chosen website name – which, depending on the registration engine you’re using, only costs $9-13 per year – we simultaneously also reserve the same name with the suffixes .net, .org, .info, .co, etc.  (Reserving the same name in multiple suffixes, and for multiple years, often results in discounts.)  Our rationale for reserving the other suffixes is not to use all those URLs, but rather to prevent others from doing so – that is, to “bracket” our chosen brand to prevent a competitor site from popping up with the same name but a different suffix, such as GemGuitars.net.

Now that we have our business name chosen and our domain name reserved, we can quickly move to build a basic website.  We’ll cover that in my next post.

Automation Alley Accelerates the Launch of Dynamic Startups Like Cielo MedSolutions July 9, 2011

Posted by Jim Price in Business, Entrepreneurship.
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Dave Morin, my cofounder and our CEO at Cielo MedSolutions, just wrote a great post about how we got the company launched — viewed through the lens of how Automation Alley leveraged our efforts.  Definitely worth a read:

http://www.automationalley.com/Page?pageid=a0E60000003WW1w

A Startup Flight Checklist for Launching Your Business July 5, 2011

Posted by Jim Price in Business, Entrepreneurship.
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It’s never been easier to cobble together your own business from scratch.  With so many inexpensive outsourcing options and powerful and easy-to-use Internet-based tools available to the masses, you no longer need a whole lot of time, money or business expertise to get your new venture off the ground.

Before getting started, you first need to be able to explain your business concept – to articulate your business model. It’s often easiest to apply the paradigm of the 4 Ps (Product, Price, Place and Promotion), as follows:

  • Product – Exactly what product and/or service are you selling, and to what set of target consumers or business/institutional customers?
  • Price – How does your business plan to make money? How are you planning to extract fair economic value for your product and/or service?
  • Place – What are your distribution channels? That is, howare you taking your products and/or services to market, so that your target customers can access and buy them?
  • Promotion – How will you make your customers aware of your products?

But once you’re ready to launch your new business, the following is a 12-step Startup Flight Checklist™ you might find useful.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll drill down on each element in this checklist to explore each one in greater depth.

1. Branding

  • Pick a name that’s memorable, simple, and for which you can get a good URL (web domain address)
    • Registration engines such as JustHost, Register.com, BlueHost, etc., etc.
  • Logo design
    • Freelance designers
    • Online contests

2. Website Design and Hosting

  • GoDaddy, 1 and 1, iPage, HostPapa, etc., etc.
  • WordPress, and other blog-oriented services
  • Social networking “like” widgets for Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn

3. Content Management

  • Blogging sites such as: WordPress, ……
  • Document sharing and storage through Dropbox and its cloud-storage and cloud-based doc-sharing competitors….

4. Generating Revenue Through Advertising

  • Google AdWords
  • Selling ad space through ad networks
  • Selling ad space directly

5. Generating Revenue Through Affiliate Sales

  • The concept of affiliate sales
  • Signing up through affiliate sales networks such as Commission Junction, Affiliate Scout, Clix Galore, and AffiliateBot

6. Traditional Online Retail

  • DIY (do it yourself) online stores
  • Amazon stores
  • Shopping carts come with website building/hosting services, and usually include: PayPal, credit card processing

7. Operations and Logistics

  • Easy and inexpensive to outsource storage/warehousing of product inventory, packaging, and drop-shipping
  • FedEx, UPS, USPS
  • Private warehouse operators

8. Website Promotion

  • SEO – search engine optimization–basic ability included in website hosting services
  • SEM — search engine marketing — buying Google AdWords, etc.

9. Direct Marketing

  • Constant Contact, similar vendors’ offerings — for e-mail newsletters and similar opt-in outreach campaigns

10. Finance and Accounting

  • Quickbooks / Intuit and competitors’ offerings for online…
  • Bookkeeping and accounting
  • Banking
  • Reconcilliation of company books with bank accounts
  • Accounts payable (A/P)
  • Accounts receivable (A/R)
  • Payroll
  • Taxes

11. Hiring and Managing People

  • The advantages of outsourcing and contractors
  • Things to consider when you bring on full-time employees – HR administration issues

12. Corporate and Legal

  • Legal formation
  • State and federal tax filings
  • State DBA (“doing business as”) filings
  • Development of standard “form” legal agreements for your business

Depending on your startup business, you may not need to address every topic in the Startup Flight Checklist™.  For instance, if you’re selling e-books or music downloads, there’s no need for the topics in the “Operations and Logistics” section.  Similarly, if you don’t have employees yet, you can ignore the “Human Resources Administration” section.

But the very cool thing is that, these days, Internet-based tools provide us entrepreneurs with an astounding amount of leverage to address each point in the checklist – rapidly, efficiently, correctly and inexpensively!

Again, in upcoming posts, I’ll explore each of these ten points of the Startup Flight Checklist™ in greater depth.

IPOs Signal a “New Bubble”? More Like the “Big Thaw” July 2, 2011

Posted by Jim Price in Business, Entrepreneurship.
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San Francisco-based Zynga, the maker of the popular Facebook-based games Farmville and Cityville, filed for its IPO yesterday, and its market cap could exceed $20 billion.  This is the latest in a recent wave of initial public offerings, triggered by the successful offering of business-social-networking site LinkedIn in mid-May, followed by the mid-June IPO of Internet radio service Pandora, and the IPO filing’s of Groupon, among others.  And, of course, the mother of all IPOs, that of Facebook itself, is looming possible in early 2012, probably at a valuation to beat all valuations, along with several other ringers including Twitter.

And as this wave has crested, folks have been fretting that these IPOs signal a new bubble comparable to the Internet bubble of the latter half of the 1990s  that burst in April of 2000, caused the crash of the Nasdaq, and permanently destroyed trillions of dollars of shareholder wealth.

My reaction:  Relax.  We are a long, long ways away from returning to bubble territory.

Eleven years after the bubble burst, the tech-heavy Nasdaq is still trading at only two-thirds of its pre-crash level.  Largely as a result, successful “liquidity events” for privately-held startups have been really hard to come by.  The crash slammed the IPO window shut pretty much for the past decade, which in turn has put a huge damper on M&A exits.  And as company sales have picked up relatively recently, the valuations haven’t been remotely as high as they once were, because (a) the privately-held companies didn’t have the bargaining alternative of an IPO, and (b) the acquiring companies had relatively lower stock prices as currency.

So whereas some of these IPO valuations may look frothy at first, they’ll calm down after a few months.  They always do.  And meanwhile, I know bubbles, and this, my friends, is no bubble.  This is a gentle thaw after a long nuclear winter.  It will probably have a downward-cascading effect on loosening up the merger-and-acquisition market, enabling more good company-sale exits for entrepreneurial companies.  And, cascading further down the food chain, that will open up more funding for startups from VCs, which will in turn open up more startup funding from angels and other early-stage sources.

Welcome to the Big Thaw! A rising tide floats all boats.