Mirror Fogging

The first few years of starting a business have been a roller coaster for me. My biggest question that has yet to be totally answered is, “How do I know who to trust?” A huge obstacle I’ve faced personally is having people fall short on their commitments to me, or even worse, not follow through at all.

The truth is, certain people will fog your mirror and distract you from what’s important.

When someone fogs a mirror, it means they are trying to deceive you by distorting the truth, or baiting you to see reality as something it is not. This happens a lot in deal making and it’s not always intentional. Someone has fallen short of a promise, but doesn’t want the deal to fall through. Another may coin themselves as an asset to your business but never bring enough to the table. As a result, they keep you chasing after empty promises and waste your time.

Long story short: They don’t deliver on their initial promises, but dangle something else to distract you from their mistake.

Nothing has made my startup journey more difficult than navigating through the mirror-foggers. And I’ve come across multiple of them. I’ve had some relationships that dragged out for months that I wish I would’ve cut bait on sooner. I had an instinct that something didn’t seem right, but didn’t trust it.

Many of these people have been much older and much more successful than me. I wanted to trust what they were saying over my own instincts. I’m learning the hard way that was a mistake. But sometimes we have to do that to really understand something.

The key is to spot it early on. Know when to cut bait if someone is deceiving you.  Especially if you have a personal relationship with them or if they are charismatic people, try to see through the illusion and think, “is this person adding value? Is this deal ever going to be official? Will this partner follow through?” You might have to have some hard talks to get these answers.

Don’t underestimate your gut because you aren’t as experienced in the startup world. Good gut instincts make a great entrepreneur. Learn to trust them early on and you’ll set yourself up for less stressful relationships to manage and more progress on your business. When these people are out of your way and you’ve found yourself in good partnerships, a path to success becomes much more clear.

 

What it REALLY Takes to Put Your Customers First

To be honest, I’ve struggled figuring out where take SPURstartups content. How am I going to stand out to my audience, who’s bombarded with content every time they hop online?

Trendy blog content is laced with promises like, the “Do this ONE thing and you’ll be successful.” I was tired of reading post after post of empty promises and quick fixes. I thought, am I the only reader who feels like bloggers have completely forgotten about their reader? Since when was quantity better than quality?

That’s why when I heard about ConvertKit’s new Netflix-style blog structure, I had to reach out and thank them for bringing sustenance back into blogging.

ConvertKit publishes content in the form of magazine-style issues once a month. That content is launched Netflix-style in the middle of each month, every month. “Too many blogs are written for search engines, not humans. They lack focus on the reader, lack originality in the content, and generally leave something to be desired in the overall experience,” said the ConvertKit team.

I had an opportunity to pick the brain of Barrett Brooks, ConvertKit’s Director of Marketing. Not only did he give me some great advice for blogging, but also shared wisdom for being a successful business owner.

When I asked Barrett how to stand out in the digital marketplace and position yourself for long term success, his answer was simple: take time to understand what your customers want & tailor your content and product around that.

Easier said than done.

Here’s three takeaways from our conversation to remind you how to stay focused on what matters most in your business: your customers.

 

1. Stop thinking about yourself

You’ll naturally stand out to your customers if you are truly solving their needs, not your ideas about what they need. To do this, you have to stop putting yourself first.

“Part of what’s wrong with making digital products, what makes me sad about this industry, is that too many people just care about making money,” he said.

“As an entrepreneur, it’s important to know why you do what you do. How will starting a business change your life? How does your work connect to your own sense of purpose and meaning? What are your goals for your family and how will the business serve those goals? But your customers won’t buy from you because you want to put your kid through college. They won’t buy what you sell just because you love sports and decided to start a business around sports.”

 

2. Prioritize the outcome for the customer over the outcome for yourself convertkit-image-1

In college, one of my Entrepreneurship professors taught me that your bottom line mattered more than your customer’s experience. He believed that sacrificing customer service was worth it push came to shove for profitability. Something about that lecture was unsettling to me, and Barrett showed me how my professors theory couldn’t be more wrong.

He said, “If you’re so focused on you, you’re never going to make things that your customers benefit from. Think about how your customers want their lives to change and less about how you want your life to change. The outcome for the customer is more important than the outcome for you.”

“Yes, have goals for your life and your business. But don’t expect anyone to buy from you just because you want a better life. They’ll buy from you if you help them live a better life…The only thing that matters is what your customers want and need,” said Barrett

 

3. Know that success takes time, and that’s okay. 

Remember that success doesn’t happen overnight, or in a week, or a month. It can take years. Just remember that making progress on a small scale is the first step to making progress on a giant one.

Barrett reminded me that I can only move one step at a time. “You’ve got to get to 10 people before you get to one million. Before you can be the best in your state, you’ve got to be the best in your town,” he said.

Barrett’s mindset is what makes ConvertKit’s blog so fantastic. It and what inspires me to make our blog better than ever. They’ve taken a risk to change the way people interact with blog content. But that risk revolves around what they believed their customers wanted. Only time will tell if this strategy will work, but something inside me says it’s already a success.

Ready to start putting your customers first? Check out ConvertKit’s blog here and email marketing tools, here.

 

 

How to Find and Build a Network without Selling Your Soul

Tell me if this sounds familiar: You’re shuffling across a gym floor with a name badge around your neck and 2 dozen copies of your resume in a manila folder, hoping to make some good connections at a job fair…but secretly dreaming of getting home to watch Netflix as soon as possible.

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Or, if you’ve been out of school for a while, maybe this scene looks more like a conference center and you’re thinking of a way to hand out your pocket full of business cards so you can head back to the hotel.

To me, these kinds of formal networking settings have always felt artificial, and often pretty uncomfortable. It’s hard to connect in an honest way when you’re worried about making a good impression and talking to the “right” people.

And at the end of the day, you want to see the time and energy you put into networking pay off. Often after talking to dozens of people and attending hour after hour of panels, you aren’t sure if you’ll see any real career benefits for attending!

All this is frustrating when you consider just how important it is to your career to build relationships. (For reference: I haven’t applied for a job since graduate school, because they have ALL come about through personal and professional connections.)

Now, a formal networking event doesn’t have to be a gauntlet of social anxiety or feel like a waste of time. In fact, shifting the way you think about and prepare for these events can make them productive…and even fun! Here are a few strategies from the guide I put together that have worked for me:

3 Tips for Making the Most of Networking Events

1. Make a personal goal before every networking event so you don’t get overwhelmed.

Fact: Networking events are intimidating for virtually everyone. There’s nothing more awkward than entering a room full of people you don’t know and being forced to talk to them (while trying to make genuine connections). When you put pressure on yourself to meet every single person in the room and get to know all of them, that only makes you less likely to actually go to the event and have a good time.

To keep from psyching yourself out, create a personal goal for each networking event. Whether that’s simply talking to at least three people or meeting at least one person at your dream company, start small and manageable, then work your way up.

2. Give yourself a deadline.

You don’t need to stay for the entire event! Start by making an appearance for 20–30 minutes, and set a goal for how many people you’d like to meet. Once you start getting to know people in the same circles and run into them when you head to events, it gets easier to stay for longer periods of time.

The bottom line: No, you don’t have to stay for an entire two-hour event!

3. Check out niche networking events.

Going to gigantic tech meetups is one of the most intimidating and overwhelming experiences for people who are new to the industry. Instead, start small with a local tech meetup, or one that is specific to a particular part of the tech industry (for example, women in tech, or product managers or programmers).

A couple of networking series to check out that are available in several cities:

Be sure to check with friends or colleagues to see if other niche networking events are offered in your city.

This approach has really taken down the stress factor for me and helped me actually get something tangible out of networking events. That said, networking is a lot more than attending formal events and trying to make a good impression.

In fact, every professional encounter (and some personal ones too!) are opportunities to build the relationships that can make a real difference in your career.

Networking is More Than Conferences and Cocktail Hours

These days, in the tech industry in particular, networking happens online too. One of my coworkers at Skillcrush was hired because she left such a good impression on Twitter, and I’ve started long-term marketing partnerships with brands and influencers based on blog comments.

So that’s great! If you don’t want to brush elbows at cocktail hour to get your tech career or business started…you don’t have to! 

I created The Ultimate Guide to Networking in Tech to walk you through exactly what it looks like to network in the tech industry.

In the guide, you’ll get:

  • Tried and true tips for overcoming paralyzing networking jitters
  • 4 foolproof networking dos and don’ts
  • A complete plan of action for conquering networking events
  • 3 done-for-you email templates for following up with new connections
  • EXACTLY how to leverage social and other online networks in your favor
  • A roadmap to one-on-one networking that makes everyone happy, plus tips for keeping communication open for the long haul
  • The definitive list of how to (and NOT to) cash in on your connections

[DOWNLOAD THE PDF GUIDE]

 

3 Ways Building my First Prototype Turned me into a Real Entrepreneur

3 reason to build a prototype

This previous March I finished out my very first crowdfunding campaign! It was a daunting task, having had no experience with building and managing one whatsoever, but I exceeded my goal thanks to SPURstartup’s team. I knew the newly acquired funds would be perfect for building a prototype. After a break over the summer I cranked out a couple prototypes and my eyes were opened. Running a crowdfunding campaign was a huge learning experience in and of itself, but building a prototype brought light onto so much more for me, as well and I’m here to share it with you!

    1. Just finish SOMETHING
      As I had mentioned, I took a break from my idea over the summer so I could continue school and begin internships. In all honesty, I also put it off because I had all these funds, I didn’t know HOW to use it on building a prototype. I didn’t want to disappoint all the people who supported my idea. I got advice from Jeremy Vickers, the Innovation and Entrepreneurship director at my University, to just go to Home Depot, get some materials and slap it together. I still put it off for a while, but this September we finally got around to it and I was amazed! Not by our roughly made prototype but by how many ideas and approaches came to mind for our next one.

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      When you have been apart of the process of putting it together, you are forced to think about things you couldn’t have predicted when you were just speculating. When you have something real in front of you, the idea fireworks WILL go off. No matter how scared you are of how something will turn out, remember it’s better to have something bad to work with than nothing at all.

 

    1. Resources are all around
      By having a physical prototype, we were able to show people! A fellow classmate took a look and kindly informed us that a vacuum form would be the perfect tool for making our product faster and look cleaner. He told us about a tools lab on campus with power tools, a 3D printer, and, what we needed, a vacuum form. We were thrilled and tried it out the next week!Stencil FR (2)Definitely ask around your school or area for any tools and spaces that are open for you to use. If you pay for tuition you might as well get what you can out of it! That same week were building prototype two, we went to 1 Million Cups, a coworking space in Dallas. The collaborative entrepreneurship hub offers free-coworking-Wednesdays! I discovered a great space to take advantage of all the startups working there, get advice, and potentially gain resources. Dallas has proven to be a very nurturing place for entrepreneurs. It only makes me more excited to plug-in and utilize all the lovely things Dallas has to help us succeed.

 

  1. It opens doors
    Building a prototype has allowed my team to progress so much more than when it was just a concept. I used Prototype Two to take nicer pictures, which became the center of our official website IcingAid.com. Having a real site that depicted our concept well gave us leverage to share it with potential customers and companies we wanted to connect with. We are now able to collect emails and begin analyzing feedback. We also feel more comfortable to enter business idea competitions–three to be exact– which may also bring us closer to success!
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I hope this inspires you to go out and starting finishing those baby steps! Start with what you know, and before long the right things will come into your life to bring you closer to a running business.

 

Why asking for help makes you a startup rockstar

Image: you’re on a stage, with the spotlight shining on your super suave outfit and a crowd of hungry eyes laser-focused on you. You’re getting recognized for your booming business that has the whole world buzzing. You are a startup rock star.

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Most of us have had this daydream before. Want in on a something not-so-secret? You have what it takes to get there with the help of the right people.

Okay, truth time. Have you ever discouraged help from others?  Sometimes the internal bragging rights to feel like the next Chance The Rapper makes too many entrepreneurs too proud to ask for help.

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Reality check! There is not ONE successful business person that has never openly searched for criticism. They all asked questions and utilized their networks to get as much feedback as possible. The very process of refining your idea and making progress is based solely on the input and help of others. So not only is it totally okay to ask for help, it is ESSENTIAL to do if you ever want to make progress on your business.

The badass musicians we see on our screens today have all, at some point, gotten input from friends on songs, had a team produce their music, and another team to prepare their press and concerts. So what looks like a one-man band killin’ the show, is actually more like this:

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Sometimes it’s a little intimidating, but everyone gets stage fright… Getting better takes practice, and every rocker knows that. The best way to get help is to simply speak up and ask around for what you need. Be forward and you’ll find you get put in touch with the right people. You will be surprised what resources are right under your nose if you opened up and got a little out of your comfort zone.

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Still need help with something? Join our free mentorship community HERE and tell us what you need. We’ll help you navigate the best way forward.  

 

Tackling Summer Burnout

This summer my brain has really been in a funk. We’ve grown up taught that summer is a time to take a break in life to have fun. It’s hard to shake the mentality.

When you’re working around the clock and balancing school, it’s easy to get stuck in a mental rut. You need a mental tune up. Here are my three favorite tricks to feel rejuvenated and accomplished during the dog days of summer. (Spoiler alert: Netflix & chill is NOT one of them).

1. Make a reverse to-do list. You may feel like you are being unproductive, but you’re accomplishing more than you think. Stop thinking about what all you need to get done and start thinking about what all you have done (glass half full kind of thing). Write down what you accomplished at the end of each day to track your progress.

2. Meditate (really!). This one is coming from personal experience. When you’re running at a bazillion miles an hour, it’s no wonder you get stuck in a rut. Meditation does ~wonders~ for my brain that never seems to calm down. Peace is Every Step is my favorite book to learn about meditation. It’s a quick read and transformed the way I work!  

3. Pick up a new hobby. Push your brain to a new limit and channel your creative flow. When I’m not working on SPUR, I spray paint murals and play the drums. This keeps me sane and makes me more productive. When there’s a day I can’t seem to get anything done, I take it off to work on my art and music. This lets me refresh my brain and my soul.

Incorporate things that challenge your brain in new ways into your daily life. You’ll avoid exhaustion, mental fog, and, most importantly, burnout.

 

 

So, your brand walks into a bar…

By now, you’ve already heard how important your brand is to your startup.  It’s what defines you.  It’s what you stand behind. It’s the fuel that feeds the beast.

But where do you start when you begin to develop your brand? I have a fun way to define what your brand stands for. Ask your team, “If our brand walked into a bar, what would it look like?  How would it act?  How would it sound?”

Let’s look at a couple of examples and give them a name:

Veronica

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Veronica is the girl that only goes to the most high-end bars in town and never pays for her own drinks. She’s dressed in a sleek dress, high heels, and hair that’s defying gravity. This chick drinks cranberry and vodkas and marches to the beat of her own drum.

Example Brands:  Aston Martin, Christian Louboutin

Brian

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Brian is like your drunk uncle who loves forcing having conversations with anybody and everybody in the bar. He’s dressed in a t-shirt with moccasins that barely pass as loafers. If a conversation goes on for long enough, he will likely buy the whole group a round of shots. Brian wants to make sure that everyone is having a good time and that he comes off as very accommodating.

 Example Brands:  Amazon, Zappos

Charles

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Charles is the typical humble bragger who can kind of get away with it. He’s dressed in a perfectly tailored suit, drinks scotch, and kicks back in the cigar lounge. Charles only wants to have conversations with people that are “on the same level” as him when it comes to sophistication and educational background.

 Example Brands: Jaguar, Louis Vuitton

This is always a fun whiteboard session with the team. This will help the entire team get on the same page and help you when determining where to position your brand in the marketplace.

This is always a fun whiteboard session with the team. This will help the entire team get on the same page and help you when determining where to position your brand in the marketplace. Ready to define your brand? Click CLICK HERE to download our brand persona worksheet and share your results in our community!

An open letter to my mentor

Dear Mentor,

Thanks for saving my ass. For the late night phone calls. For the tough love, pep talks, and guidance. Although I’m naive, inexperienced, and stumble along to accomplish things you can do walking backwards with your eyes closed in high heels, you saw my potential. You taught me I can’t change the world alone. I know I can ask you for help with anything (like editing this letter before I post it online) and you won’t judge me.

I want you to know the hours on the phone, afternoon meet-ups for coffee, and the occasional wine night have brought tremendous value into my life. Your guidance goes beyond career advice. You’ve helped me navigate through the chaos of being in my twenties. I don’t know where I would be without you, but I sure as hell know I wouldn’t be running my own company.

Because of you, I’m fearless. You have given me the ability to spread my wings and unleash my soul knowing that when I crash (not if, but when)you will be there to help me get back up. Your words of wisdom help me navigate through the never-ending chaos of starting a company. I’m convinced you have the powers of a master jedi. While you’re mentoring me through the crisis of sending out the wrong email on MailChimp, you’re managing your boss lady career at the same time.

I can’t help but compare myself to all that you have been able to do. I’ve learned more by watching you than I did my entire undergrad. While you stress the value of my 4.0, you and I both know the secret to success lies in mastering uncharted territory, territory you are willing to let me explore with you. Why? Because you see parts of yourself in me. And that is the biggest compliment of all time.

Thanks for everything that you do. Together, we will change the world.

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3 top criteria investors look for and what you can do about it.

You might think that investors are key to starting your business. In fact, sometimes you feel like your very existence is dependent on finding one.

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The truth is, you need to start your business before you get an investor. Think about it! Investors want to invest in something that will grow their wealth. Sure your idea might be the best thing since Snapchat, but you have to prove it. 

There are three criteria most investors look for when they’re analyzing a startup opportunity:

  1. That you have a killer idea
  2. There is a market for your idea- AKA people will pay for it
  3. That you are a talented entrepreneur

Combined, what do all three of these criteria prove? That a startup can make money and generate CASH. And how do you get cash? Sales. Here’s the ugly truth: To get most investors attention, you have to show sales first.

 

Every investor I spoke to about starting SPUR said the same thing: ‘Come back when you have some sales.’ I thought, ‘How!? You’re asking me to create something out of nothing!’ 

I know that you’re thinking the same thing as I was, ‘I don’t have a product to sell. What now? How can I find an investor?’ I have one word for you: CROWDFUNDING

Crowdfunding lets you raise cash from your social networks that are packed full of people who are passionate about you and your project. But here’s why crowdfunding is perfect for you: it helps you find an investor. Running a successful campaign proves to investors you meet the three criteria I outlined earlier. In addition to finding an investor, crowdfunding unlocks a ton of benefits and insights that every successful entrepreneur needs to know and we are here to help you reap the rewards.

Not only can you raise money on our site, we’ll help you do it, too. In Startup School, we’ll walk you through the entire process to help you get funded and launch your dream business. 

STARTUP SCHOOL: CLICK HERE & SIGN UP FOR FREE

With our help, you’ll be cashing out in no time. 

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Ready to make an opportunity that investors would be crazy to pass up? 

CLICK HERE & SIGN UP FOR FREE

Turning your passions into profits: How being creative landed this designer her own TV show

See how Kayln did it in this candid Q&A.

Entrepreneurship is totally a family thing, at least it is more me. From my intrapreneur sister, Lila, to my designer-turned-TV host cousin, Kalyn. Kalyn Rothaus, the host of Office Spaces, knows what it takes to work hard and break through even the hardest of industries. I can remember back to the days when she was in college bringing home her designs, my Aunt Kit looking at them and asking my 14-year-old self what I thought about it all. (Aunt Kit is the person I credit with kicking off my career- but that’s a story for another day). Kalyn has come a loooong way since college. She has her own TV show, just tied the knot, and is kicking some serious butt. I picked her brain for the quick-and-dirty about what it took to get here and how to brand yourself. Get the deets below!

 


What inspires you to work so hard?!

I am a goal setter and always have been. When I have measurable goals it is easy to work hard to get there faster and enjoy the hard work with perspective on the outcome!

 


How do you stay motivated to break through in such a difficult industry and always believe in yourself?

I truly believe I have always worked hard, but I have also had some luck! I think the combination of being at the right place at the right time in conjunction with hard work creates this magical formula in my life for opportunity.

 


You think outside of the box with your designs- how do you apply your creativity and innovation to everything in your work life?

I apply my creativity to everything in my life. I try my best to be silly, and not take myself too seriously which helps my creativity flow more freely. I find that when I was afraid of what people thought, I couldn’t be as expressive in my work and in my life. I am constantly reminding myself to trust “me” the most. Although, I do have to make clients happy too, so there is a fine line.

 


What is the number one piece of advice to you have for someone who wants to make a name for themselves and be successful?

Say yes. When I was asked to be the on camera Host for Office Spaces, I said yes, even though I was terrified (to say the least). I began to soak up everything around me and learned from everyone I could- from the camera operator to the production assistants, constantly asking what I could do better. I also watched myself on the monitor after shoots to understand how I could improve. The bottom line is, I said yes, in spite of not knowing what yes meant. The truth is, I believe I am smart enough to figure anything out AND ask for help when I need it!

 


Do you think having a personal brand is important? What advice do you have for branding yourself?

Well, before I knew I would have a TV show, I thought about this question a lot. I had no idea how to start. Then, I was thrown into an on camera role, and the most important thing I can do for my “brand” is be me. I am constantly being told what to say on camera, but I always pause and think about how to say things in my own words and express what I believe.  If you are your own brand (especially in a creative industry where we sell ideas and dreams that are not tangible at first) be your unique self and believe in what you create.