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… Read more

Business Breakup: When your partnership falls through

“Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success”.- C.S Lewis When you’re a startup dealing with a more powerful, larger, and established partner, things get tricky. You become so focused on making the partnership work, that you get lost along the way. Like a crush, you begin… Read more

Broad or Narrow? Defining the Breadth of Your Market Niche

As entrepreneurs, we generally like to tell just about everyone about the fancy app or shiny gizmo we’ve been building. So when it comes to establishing our target markets, it is common to believe that everyone will think our product is as awesome as we do. Defining a new product’s market niche is challenging and… Read more

6 ways to keep learning (even if you don’t have an internship)

Entrepreneur = Lifelong Learner. While it’s tempting to spend all of your time outside of class binging House of Cards and letting the world go on around you, there’s so much opportunity to REALLY push yourself forward. After all, most of the important stuff is learned outside of class anyways. via GIPHY We say it… Read more

The Summer Student You Wish You Were VS The One You Are

At the end of the semester you day dream about summer and all the things you swear you are going to do once you have more time. You start dreaming of three blissful months filled with adventure, memories, and a beach bod. Well folks, were are one month in… how you holding up? Here are some… Read more

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.

 

Business Breakup: When your partnership falls through

“Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success”.- C.S Lewis

When you’re a startup dealing with a more powerful, larger, and established partner, things get tricky. You become so focused on making the partnership work, that you get lost along the way.

Like a crush, you begin to fixate on the potentials of the future. All your time and effort goes into the other person and you lose sight on the realities or needs of the present. When these feelings aren’t reciprocated, it sucks.

So what happens with a business realtionship doesn’t work out? This has happened to us, and it will happen to every entrepreneur at some point along their journey. Here’s what we learned when one of our partnerships didn’t play out as well as we hoped (along with some red flags that you can look for when finding the perfect partner for you).

  1. Don’t change your business model to make the partnership work. Our potential partner brought ideas to the table that we hadn’t previously considered. Which is great because we believed in this partner’s vision, but some of them went against our original objectives. We spent a ton of time working out a new business model that just wasn’t a good fit for us, but a great fit for them. This should’ve been a red flag that we were force-fitting the partnership to work.
  2. Don’t be so forward-looking that you neglect day-to-day business activities. The partnership kept us in the planning stage and never executing. We had action items in place that were dependent on this deal going through, and we invested a lot of time planning for those. We didn’t mind it, as we believed it would be worth it in the grand scheme of things. But we fell behind on some day-to-day operations. We focused too much on what’s ahead rather than what we had then and there. The constant balance between planning for the future and making the most of the present is tough to get right. If you find yourself planning and never really executing, you need to rethink your objectives.
  3. Set a deadline to cut bait if things aren’t working (and stick to it!). We had imposed a cut-off timeline saying, “If the partnership isn’t finalized by this date, we will move on”. But we ended up extending it, having hopes things would work out. Even though we had a feeling things weren’t working out, we were afraid of it falling through. We let the relationship drag on for too long, and it kept us distracted.

Although it’s never fun to have plans fall through, it’s better to find out a partner isn’t a great fit for you before committing to something long term. Plus, you can spend more time on the partnerships & relationships that are working for you.

MOST IMPORTANTLY: Never underestimate your abilities to go somewhere without a partner. Sure, you’re a startup, but you’re more innovative than any corporate partner could be. Tap into that, harness that, and you won’t be the little guy forever.

Broad or Narrow? Defining the Breadth of Your Market Niche

As entrepreneurs, we generally like to tell just about everyone about the fancy app or shiny gizmo we’ve been building. So when it comes to establishing our target markets, it is common to believe that everyone will think our product is as awesome as we do.

Defining a new product’s market niche is challenging and customers often behave differently than we expected. Despite this, having a strategy for deciding on our target market is still a valuable use of time as it gives us a consumer’s standpoint to view our product from, and it helps point us in the right direction.

When defining your target market, you should start broad and then focus in on the details. How broadly or narrowly we choose to set our market segment depends on a variety of factors and each has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Broad focus
A very broad market niche typically has the advantage of a larger customer base. Products that do well in a broad market usually appeal to a wide range of users. For example, Logitech is a manufacturer of computer peripherals such as mice, keyboards, and headphones.

They are known for their good quality and affordable prices. These qualities have shaped Logitech into a household name, with many computer users buying their products. Nearly everybody needs computer peripherals from time to time, and Logitech offers an affordable product with a trusted name.

But broad markets have their disadvantages, too. One of those disadvantages is building credibility and brand awareness. Although larger markets have more customers, they often also have more companies vying for a slice of the pie. With so many different names clamoring to be heard, it can be difficult to distinguish one company above the rest. Because there are so many different companies offering similar products, companies upstream and downstream from yours will hold a lot of influence over the market, your suppliers, distributors, and resellers have plenty of customers to choose from.
In order to succeed in a broad market niche you must be able to inform your customers of your product, while also keeping your prices competitive and maintaining good relationships with your producers and resellers.

Narrow focus
A narrow market usually means a smaller, but more active customer base. With a broad market product, like toothpaste, most people just buy whatever they are used to buying (or what’s cheapest). With a narrow niche product such as a guitar, the customer is much more actively involved in the purchasing process. Relatively few people will ever learn to play guitar, but those who do are likely to put time and effort into researching their instrument and accessories. If you are a guitar manufacturer, you have the challenge of not only building a high quality product, but convincing your relatively small audience to invest a significant amount into buying one. The hardest part of being in a narrow market niche is establishing an identity that your customer is looking for.

While it can be difficult to establish a good product identity, a narrow market niche product has a distinct advantage over a broad market product. You know your customer. A narrow market has very specific needs, and with the internet at our fingertips, it is simple to get in contact with your market for both market research and targeted marketing. Razer is a computer peripheral manufacturer like Logitech, but they market specifically toward gamers. In fact their byline is “FOR GAMERS. BY GAMERS”.

Even in their byline, they have immediately established that they are their own customer. This combined with their sponsorship of competitive gaming teams has allowed them to control a major part of their market.

TLDR
There are advantages and disadvantages to any market niche. I have tried to (briefly) describe some of these for both ends of the spectrum, but there are more than I could ever write about. Your best bet when establishing your market niche is to talk to potential customers, and trusted advisors in the industry. Find out what your customers value in similar products, and use that information to help decide how many people your product appeals to. Even if you later pivot and begin selling to a different customer, it is important to always have some form of direction to go in. It is well worth the time to determine the market for your product.

6 ways to keep learning (even if you don’t have an internship)

Entrepreneur = Lifelong Learner.

While it’s tempting to spend all of your time outside of class binging House of Cards and letting the world go on around you, there’s so much opportunity to REALLY push yourself forward. After all, most of the important stuff is learned outside of class anyways.

via GIPHY

We say it at SPUR all the time: doing is the best way to learn.

Internships are the epitome of learning by doing. They give you short-term real world experience, and long-term career connections. Unfortunately, there are only so many internships available in your field. And the search becomes harder if you are looking for those that pay (because, let’s face it, we have bills and it is hard to do things for free all the time).

So what if you didn’t get an internship this semester/summer, maybe you were late to game, maybe you didn’t get to try because you were preoccupied with your part time job, school, thinking about your next business idea? Trust me I’ve been there… The good news is, just because you don’t have internship doesn’t mean you shouldn’t and can’t keep learning!

Here are 6 other ways to learn by doing to get ahead in the game of life.

  1. Get a Mentor(s). In college, it’s ridiculously easy to find mentors. I had several teachers, older students, and even recent graduates that I turned to for help. The best thing is you can ask a mentor anything: questions on current projects, how to improve upon past ones, concerns about a new opportunity, even how to do taxes. Sometimes, it’s just nice to talk over coffee about life updates and new favorite books.
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    Speaking of books…

  2. Read a Book. Listen to the experts and READ something. And yes, we recommend physical books so you can make notes and highlight. The act of marking up and taking notes will help you retain the content. Cause let’s be honest, you only want to read a book once.
    P.S. One of my favorite books suggested to me by an entrepreneurship professor is Change by Design by Tim Brown.There is your first suggestion!
  3. Shadow Someone. This is most common in the medical field, but you can do it for every industry. Ask your mentors, family, and close friends if they know anyone you could shadow.
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    Use your student card! (There are so many advantages of this, but let’s not get into that.) When you reach out to someone, tell them you are student and would like to see what a day in the life of “you name it” looks like. Then, go learn by observing others. Come prepared with questions, and take a notepad and pen to write down what you learn.

  5. Take an online course. Strangely enough, college limits your ability to take the courses you actually want. You’re restricted to taking what’s required by your major. Thankfully, there are tons of online options where you can cherry-pick the perfect subject. Finding courses that get don’t teach you theory, but instead give you experience is key.
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    Our course, FirstGear, jumps you right into building your startup. Other courses train you specifically on a certain skill, like photoshop or coding, and usually are more affordable than tuition.

  7. Teach Someone. You slave away hours a week to learn a subject in class, and for what? To complete a multiple choice test & purge your brain of everything you learned to cram the next subject in? What a waste! The best thing that you can do is to use that knowledge as soon as possible.Teach what you learned to someone else and you’ll truly master the subject. Explaining concepts in your own way challenges your brain at a whole new level. And we all love an opportunity to inspire someone.
  8. Journal. No matter where your learning journey leads you, you should document as much of it as you can. Journaling is the great way to learn from yourself. Taking a deep look inward can lead to some of the biggest revelations.
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    If you’re telling yourself you don’t need to journal because you’ll remember it anyways, you’re lying. The brain has a way of purging info that it doesn’t deem necessary at the time. But what if it’s necessary later and you just don’t realize it?

These 6 way of learning by doing are guaranteed to put you ahead of the curve. Even if you just take up ONE of them, you’re further ahead than you were before, and typically, one merges into another. With as much as you learn in school, a lot of that info is just not applicable in the real world. It’s up to you to take matters into your own hands to pave your path forward.

The Summer Student You Wish You Were VS The One You Are

At the end of the semester you day dream about summer and all the things you swear you are going to do once you have more time. You start dreaming of three blissful months filled with adventure, memories, and a beach bod. Well folks, were are one month in… how you holding up? Here are some expectations VS reality: Summer Edition!

Dieting

Them
You

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Exercise

Them

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You

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Socializing

Them

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You

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Vacation

Them

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You

Sleeping

Them

You

Learning

Them

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You

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Maybe your summer is a lot like this. Maybe it’s not. But it’s not too late to turn it around!