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One of Philly’s “15 Most Daring Entrepreneurs”

One of Philly’s “15 Most Daring Entrepreneurs”

The word “entrepreneur” is overused. Hackneyed. Trite.

But what other word is there?

My definition is somewhere around here: an entrepreneur is someone who can create new energy and then guide that energy to a beneficial, outsized outcome. At some level, however, he/she is an artist — which I generally define as this: someone who can reorganize reality into a novel state which impacts those who see it or interact or experience it.

Definitions sometimes are the problem. Seeing, knowing, doing, sharing — action takes you closer to the definition.

I’ll just share this tidbit and say thanks Main Line Today for the exposure of what we’ve been doing at Walnut St. Labs!

Part innovation center, part work-space and part auditorium, Walnut St. Labs is a regional epicenter of tech entrepreneurialism. It hosts networking events, brainstorming sessions, and talks from the region’s most successful tech entrepreneurs. “We created an ecosystem, the purpose of which is to build and generate ideas,” says founder and CEO Chris Dima.

That wasn’t Dima’s goal when he got to Walnut St. Labs in 2013. Then, it was just shared office space. Dima was working for Economy.com while expanding his own software-development and marketing company when the lease expired. Five other entrepreneurs worked in the building. “No one wanted to, so I signed the lease myself,” says Dima. “I created a logo and hung a piece of paper on the front door with tape. Walnut St. Labs was born. Lesson learned: You can wait for other people to lead, or lead yourself.”

Grants from the Chester County Economic Development Council helped Dima transform the former taxi garage into an innovation center. “You need a clubhouse where like-minded people can gather,” he says.

In early 2016, Dima moved Walnut Street Labs to a new space—still in West Chester and with the same vibe. “I want to nurture tech entrepreneurship in the suburbs—and Chester County, specifically,” he says. “That’s who I am, and that’s the story I want to tell.”

Tim Burton’s Mom, the Key to Artistic Genius and What’s Wrong with America

Tim Burton — you know, Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Batman — well, there’s a great article on NYTimes.com — Tim Burton, at Home in His Own Head — that synthesizes, via a simple anecdote, a few key subjects I’m interested in:

  • Creativity
  • Child development
  • U.S. culture
  • Innovation

Tim Burton:

“If you look at children’s drawings, they’re all great. And then at a certain point, even when they’re about 7 or 8 or 9, they go, “Oh, I can’t draw.” Well, yes, you can. I went through that same thing, even when I started to go to CalArts, and a couple of teachers said: “Don’t worry about it. If you like to draw, just draw.” And that just liberated me. My mother wasn’t an artist, but she made these weird owls out of pine cones, or cat needlepoint things. There’s an outlet for everyone, you know?”

Thank you Tim Burton for making a few things prophetically clear:

  1. Don’t limit yourself. Do new stuff. Even if it’s ‘weird’ or not your typical thing. Your life depends on it.
  2. Kids do best when they get to follow their instincts.
  3. A culture that compulsively values (demands!) grandiose perfection — Lady Gaga or bust — is headed towards irrelevance.
  4. Innovation stems from having freedom to roam and having the freedom to produce “mediocre” stuff.

When my kids (5 and 3) say “I’m going to be an artist when I grow up!” I say proudly: “Well, that would be the finest thing one could ever be.”

To be clear: it’s not that I envision them in an art gallery or behind a drum kit. It’s not the profession that I care about — it’s the mindset… the mindset that looks through boundaries — or doesn’t even see them at all.

So, let’s make some weird owls out of pine cones, shall we?

Follow Tim on Twitter.

 

 

Someone Let Me Text A Personal Coupon To My Dad!

Here’s a radical mobile/coupon idea: let me text a coupon that I create to anyone.

Maybe call it MePon.

For example, I know my Dad never splurges for good coffee. I would occasionally get a kick out of texting him my own Starbuck’s coupon–basically a $2 voucher that he can redeem at Starbucks for some bold Cafe Americano (my favorite).

It would have to be a totally open platform–perhaps just a connection between me (my phone) and my bank account–and to a lesser degree, brands and establishments.

For example, perhaps I could text him this: “Dad, it’s raining today–a good day for some steamy espresso. No cookies though! STBCKS-173846”

That code would allocate $2 from my bank account to a specific vendor–in this case Starbucks. Upon redemption, the money would be withdrawn from my account and passed to Starbucks. Every user needs a unique code–and every establishment. Not too hard, right?

Here’s some icing for this cake: Every brand should look out for those VIPs who are couponing–or meponing–a lot and reward them with status (mayorship?) or redeemable points (my own free drinks?).

Ok, I’m on a roll: If you integrate check-in apps or perhaps NFC, you could theoretically buy a specific person a drink at a bar… without knowing their name or username–ripe for generation Y; or you could spot tip good service…

Does this exist already? It should!

 

Geo-Smart Reminders

Ok, I’m wearing my soothsayer hat and looking into my crystal ball:

I see a time when I can add a to-do item to my iPhone app that helps me organize my life (Things by the way) and I can define it so that it goes off when I enter a particular store or class of store.

For example: I always have a few to-dos related to the hardware store–but they’re never a priority. I’m forced to give them an arbitrary due date just to keep them in my mind. It never works that the arbitrary date is the day I walk into a hardware store!

Now, if there was some real smartness in my phone, it would know when I walked into a hardware store (Home Depot, Lowes, local hardware) and then beep and vibrate like crazy.

That would work for the grocery store or music store or… it would be cool and helpful.

Groupon’s Mojo: Simplicity

I don’t generally use coupons, but I think Groupon is brilliant in its simplicity.  When you arrive at the site, there’s really only one question.

Here’s a great quote from Andrew Mason, founder of Groupon (from ChicagoMag.com):

The premise is “dead-simple value that you can comprehend by looking at one page in three seconds,” says Mason.

In the age of TMI (too much information), this concept will make or break a business.

 

Would You Rather Spend $1 A Month Or $9.99 A Year?

Good points on Mark Suster’s blog, bothsidesofthetable.com, on pricing.

He’s talking to Gregg Spiridellis from JibJab about pricing:

How did you determine the right price points for your product?

Like many companies they experimented with many pricing models. The first did a “purchase credits” model like iStockphoto where you then burn down the credits you bought. They realized for them this was dumb because people didn’t want to use up their credits so viral adoption wasn’t happening quickly enough. They switched to a flat rate model and sharing went up immediately.  They tried lots of price points – $13.99, $9.99 per year – and nothing was amazing. When they increased price from $9.99 to $12 conversion went up!

Gregg says at $9.99 there was no frame of reference for the value.  At $12 / year he was able to frame users with the thought, “Am I getting a dollar of value per month from JibJab? Sure, of course I am. Sign me up.” Awesome. Counter-intuitive. The kind of thing you only learn by doing and testing. My key take away – frame of reference in pricing is important.

The concept of pricing with a frame of reference is a heady one. It doesn’t have to be based on a calendar, but you’ve got to look for something important to the customer and contextualize it for them. Kudos to folks who iterate like this.

Kitchen Knives Need to Be Sharp–Otherwise, What’s the Point?

If everything is a metaphor then look no further than your kitchen for some good ones.

I was slicing some veggies the other night and noticed my slice was off. My cuts weren’t smooth. Pieces ended up being different sizes–I had no mojo. So I took a break and tuned my knife up with a few pulls through the sharpener. Nice. Now my job was easier. My work was higher quality. My job satisfaction got a bump too. I turned from amateur to a chef with mad skillz.

So here’s the metaphor: your kitchen is your life.

Do you keep your tools sharp so your work is rad–and not a struggle? In other words, to get to the ‘Pièce de résistance’ and not the ‘piece of s$%t’ you’ve got to get past the basics–and stay past the basics.

Folks, if you want to create works of beauty keep your tools in tip top shape–otherwise, you’ll end up cutting your finger tip off.

Michael Jordan never went out on the court without tying his shoes really well (I’d bet pro athletes are obsessive over that stuff)…

Ben Folds–On Being Obsessive

Came across this great quote from Ben Folds:

“I spent maybe six months just running scales with a metronome like a freak,” Folds said. “I suppose that did something.”

Of course it did something Ben!

Fundamentally, it’s about knowing that being a maniac about something is the right thing to do sometimes–not as a way of life, of course, but as a way to build up expertise or a skill that you feel will be fundamental to your life sometime in the future.

When I learned HTML I think I went through hundreds of tutorials–just did everyone I could find. It was important to know everything–not just the things that were immediately involved in a project.

I also went through a phase when I underlined everywhere word I looked up in the dictionary–and then I’d review all the ones I’d ever circled–every week!  My wife gave me a weird look about that one.

Quote from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Folds.

Eighty Percent Of Success Is Showing Up

Thanks Woody (Allen) for highlighting this fact of life.  I was just reminded of it… was listening to my AltPopRock Pandora station and the Violent Femmes came on so I jumped over to Wikipedia for a refresh on their history and came across this compelling snippet of folk(rock) lore:

They were discovered by James Honeyman-Scott (of The Pretenders) on August 23, 1981, when the band was busking on a street corner in front of the Oriental Theatre, the Milwaukee venue that The Pretenders would be playing later that night. Chrissie Hynde invited them to play a brief acoustic set after the opening act.

The universe works in mysterious ways.  Actually, I’m sure the VFs were savvy–picking a great time to busk (first time I’m using this word–ever!). But it does just show you that if you do what you love, and you’re persistent as hell about it…  you’re 80% there.

Be Patient About Monetization and Ignore the Naysayers

Dave Morgan over at OnlinSpin said something that hits home.

Be patient about monetization…. Monetization efforts should be patient and not rushed. Google, Facebook, Craigslist and many others have proven that monetization will always catch up for the best services.

When I was trying to sell my local restaurant guide WestChesterMenu.com (because I was moving–not because I was abandoning the concept) my first prospect looked immediately past a great model and great metrics showing consistent growth in traffic and subscriber adoption (restaurants paying for hosted menus) and did a back-of-the-envelope calculation to determine what the financial payoff for his firm would be.  He wasn’t impressed.

That’s funny because I was immediately not impressed too!

It obviously didn’t work out but I learned something:  most people are not conceptual. Here I was trying to invent a new local model that would be sustainable (in fact, the site could really be focused on other things aside from restaurants)–knowing that money would follow when the model and supporting technology were improved.  He was all dollars and cents.

What’s the moral of the story? There’s conceptual folks and there’s folks that focus on minutiae. Granted, both are needed to run a successful business, but if you’re the visionary type who wants to try new things,  get used to folks wrinkling their brows at you.

Just wink back at them and get on with it!