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.

 

 

12 Days of Zen

It’s that time of year again… THE HOLIDAYS.

Yep. Cue: family craziness, crowded shopping malls, and overbooked schedules. I’m not a scrooge by any means. I love Christmas. As an entrepreneur, this is really the only time of year I have to relax & refresh for a brand new year of kicking butt.

The problem? The holidays can get really stressful. It’s easy to get caught up in the mania, and, before you know it, it’s time to get back to work.

12 days of Zen is a mini-series with daily tips stay mindful this holiday. Don’t let the holiday season whiz by you in a hectic blur. Use this time to rejuvenate, celebrate, and be happy.


Day 1: Let go of expectations

12-days-of-zen-day-1

Things turn out the best for people who make the best of the way things turn out.~John Wooden

Drop your expectations of what you think this holiday season should be like. We’re bombarded with ads, movies, and social media that our perspective of what the holidays are actually like is tainted.

The truth is, the holidays are… messy. There’s a reason why this is the only time of year you see some extended family of yours.

It’s not always going to be perfect (or even enjoyable) the whole time, but if you can adjust your expectations, you can still be happy. How? Change your thoughts, adjust your perception, and decide that this holiday season is great.

 


Day 2: Stop obsessing over outcomes

12-days-of-zen-5

Let go or be dragged.- Zen Proverb

Entrepreneurs are obsessed with outcomes. Our discipline constantly keeps us in check. Right now, we’re more focused on outcomes than ever as we plan for the next 12 months.

Our passion for defining what success looks like and making a plan to get there carries over into our personal lives, too. This time of year, it’s hard to get our heads out of that mindset. Self-criticism can dominate your thought process & perspective.

Here’s the truth: Things won’t go as you planned. That’s okay. Your family might not get along the whole time. That’s okay. Instead of spending this entire holiday season trying to make things perfect, take time to enjoy the experience, no matter how chaotic it might be.

Let it be.


Day 3: Cut your family some slack.

If someone isn’t what others want them to be, the others become angry. Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own. -Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

You know those dysfunctional family members of yours? It’s like they live in a completely different world (or universe, for that matter) than you.

From the outside looking in, it’s easy to judge them, as if you’ve suddenly become an expert in family psychiatry. It’s just as easy for them to judge you, too. In fact, they probably think your family is dysfunctional & weird, too.

Instead of judging them, embrace your differences. Let things slide, avoid taking sides, and try to be a peacemaker. You’ll have more mental energy to put into what you can control, your happiness.


Day 4: Giving Back

No-one has ever become poor by giving. – Anne Frank

As an entrepreneur, you’re in a constant battle to make it to the top. It can be hard not to always think about “what is in it for me?” when doing just about anything.

There is so much more to have in mind though, Others.

Think about the last time you were going through a difficult situation and how powerful it was to have someone offer you help. Putting people before profits leads to a life richer than you can ever imagine.

This holiday season remember how powerful it can be to give. This year I encourage you to ring a bell for the Salvation Army, donate to Toys-for-Tots, find a way to get involved and give back. Do it with the right intentions, of receiving nothing in return, and you will find a much-needed moment of peace.


Day 5: Enjoy Doing Nothing

Beware the barrenness of a busy life.- Socrates

There’s always a little part of me that feels guilty whenever I’m not being productive. I’ve found out, however, that always being busy can actually be counterproductive.  If you can never turn your brain off, you can never get some real rest.

Going through your mental to-do lists when you’re trying to get into a good movie is the opposite of relaxing.

Burn-out is real. The good news? It can be easily avoided. Take some time this season to shut that mind off. No family stress, no work, nothing. Take a walk and admire Christmas lights, make hot chocolate to sip by the fire, or curl up and watch your favorite holiday movie. Enjoy doing nothing, even if it’s for just 15 minutes a day.


Day 6: Realize It’s Okay to Say ‘No’

It’s only by saying ‘no’ that you can concentrate on the things that are really important. – Steve Jobs

In the age of FOMO and not wanting to miss any opportunity that comes your way we have all become ‘yes’ people. Sometimes you just have to say ‘no’.

Instead of feeling like you have to go out of your way to make others experiences great, try to put yourself and your experience first. You don’t have to go to every holiday party, get together, or gift exchange you’re invited to. It’s okay to sit it out and get some much needed R&R time to yourself.

Holidays are a time for rest and relaxation, running around like a chicken with your head cut off will just make you more insane.


Day 7: Schedule Time for Yourself

It’s not selfish to love yourself, take care of yourself, and to make your happiness a priority. It’s a necessity. – Mandy Hale

It’s just as important that you take time this holiday to attend to YOU. With only a few days left until Christmas and New Years, your calendar is probably full (if not overbooked).

Block out a few hours over the next few days for yourself. Catch up on to-do’s, get some last minute holiday shopping done, or simply watch a few episodes of your favorite Netflix show. Whatever will make you happy and ready to take on the rest of your festivities full-throttle.

If you don’t designate this time for yourself in advance, something will come up to take its place!


Day 8: Embrace Instability

Change is never painful, only resistance to change is painful- Buddha

We’re at a pivotal point in our lives where nothing seems to be stable. Friends graduate, move, & get real jobs. Families grow up. Traditions change. Chances are, the holidays aren’t the same as they were when you were a kid.

I’m all for nostalgia, but sometimes, dwelling on the past can backfire. It’s hard not to miss the carefree days of winter break when our biggest concerns were what made it on our Christmas lists.

Instead of letting change make you feel unsteady, embrace it.  Change opens the door to let something new into your life. It’s up to you to make the most of it. The holidays are a time to go with the flow, not get caught up in play-by-play plans or expectations (see day 1!).


Day 9: Adjust Your Perception

We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses- Abraham Lincoln

Your life is what you perceive it to be. Whether your life is good, bad, or in between is completely up to you.

For example, I made a lot of mistakes during my first year as an entrepreneur. The fact I’m still living at home is enough to show you I haven’t figured everything out quite yet. I can look back on this year and think about what I didn’t do right. I could look at this year as a failure.

Or, I can change my perception & make this year a success. I can choose to focus on the progress I’ve made. The fact I was able to launch my first beta test, make my first dollar on my own, and inspire other student entrepreneurs is worth celebrating.

It takes a lot of discipline to get control over your perception. You constantly have to play devil’s advocate to your own mind and opinions. Like everything, it takes practice. Meditation has done wonders for me, but simply being mindful of how you perceive something is enough to start getting control of it.  


Day 10: Take a Break From Social Media

Comparison is the thief of joy – Theodore Roosevelt

Social media alters our perception to see the world through a filtered lens. Right now, your social feeds are probably flooded with pictures depicting the perfect holiday season. As you scroll through, you might compare your holiday experience to theirs.

Just remember you’re seeing a filtered version of reality. You’re seeing what people want you to see, not how things really are.

This is a time for you to mentally prep for 2017. Taking a break from social media allows you to come back to the present moment and focus on you and your own happiness.

 


Day 11: Start Visualizing 2017

Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world. – Harriet Tubman

There are less than 48 hours (!) until Christmas. You’re knee deep in family & festivities by now, in dire need of a little TLC for yourself.

For an instant uplifter, start visualizing what your want 2017 to be. In the midst of the hustle & bustle, let your mind drift to your biggest hopes and dreams for the next year.

Tune out your bickering nephews, drunk uncle, or nagging grandma & use that time to conjure up your best year yet.


Day 12: Count Your Blessings

I cried because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet. Life is full of blessings. Sometimes, we’re just too blind to see them. – Unknown

As entrepreneurs, we’re always looking for new opportunities. We’re always chasing the next best thing. We have to pause and remember what we have accomplished in both our work and personal lives. This time of year is truly about celebrating the good in our world.

Count the blessings that you have in our life; loved ones, friends, family, food, a roof over your head, even having internet to read this. Our culture makes this season about receiving new gifts, instead of remembering the ones you already have in your life.

This Christmas, remember the reason for the season. Find some peace in the blessings you already have in your life & prepare yourself to receive new blessings, no matter how big or small, in 2017.


Happy Holidays!

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.

 

 

#SPURmoments: Olia Bosovik

Founder | Travabond
Assistant Director | Venture Development Center at UT Dallas

Olia Bosovik is a world traveller from Eastern Europe and an aspiring entrepreneur, who along with a few friends co-founded Travabond- a web platform for planning unique off-the-beaten path bachelorette trips and girlfriend getaways. Her team recently had a successful campaign on SPURstartup, that you can see here, to get this business up and going.

She graduated with an MBA from UT Dallas in December of 2015 where she came up with the idea for the startup and where her team took third place in UTD’s Business Idea Competition.Prior to joining UTD as an Assistant Director of the Venture Development Center, Olia worked in commercial lending for Comerica Bank where she got to work with small businesses, real estate development, and oil and gas exploration companies. When she’s not traveling, working on her startup or at work you can find her doing Pilates, playing tennis and sand volleyball, hanging out at a local coffee shop, and trying out new venues and things to do around Dallas.

 


Why do you want to be an entrepreneur?

I am passionate about working with smart, driven and creative people and about helping others. I get excited thinking  that one day something I created will make someone else’s life better and add value to them. I also like to be in charge of my own life and destiny.  I don’t like to be confined by rules and hierarchy. It was difficult to work for a large financial institution because of that. I am a self-motivated, fast paced, efficient, and impatient. I like getting things done and prefer to fix things that don’t work then wait forever to get something done just right. Most large companies do not operate this way, so I found myself feeling stuck working in that environment. I have also failed numerously in my life and have always come out stronger and with lessons that taught me how to do better next time. i think it’s important to understand that and be ready going into entrepreneurship.

 


How do you balance school, work, and your startup?

It’s all about time management. I worked full-time while I was getting my bachelors degree full time, so juggling multiple things  at once is not new to me. Prioritizing and making to-do lists is key an making sure to put everything in the calendar is what I try to do so I don’t forget where I have to be and when.

 


What inspired you to start Travabond?

I love traveling. It has always been my passion and a source of inspiration. I love learning about new places, meeting new people, emerging myself in a local culture, it changed my perspective of the world, and made me  realize how small we are compared to the rest of it. My passion for traveling and recognizing the pains of planning group trips inspired me to start the business.

 


What is it like working for IIE when you are a new entrepreneur yourself?

It’s amazing! Best decision I’ve ever made. It’s true they say: we must align our actions with our goals. I take pride in being  a part of someone else’s journey and supporting them, creating programs and finding resources to help other startups. One day tables will turn and I will be in need of support and I will have a network of people and resources to offer me the help and support.

 


What advice do you have for other aspiring student entrepreneurs who want to start their business in college?

Now is the best time. Quit planning and start doing. I wish we would have launched our website sooner. There is nothing to lose, I mean literally nothing. Most of us don’t have families, kids, mortgages etc to worry about, so even if the idea completely fails you’ll be so much more equipped to succeed with the next one.

TRUSTFALL: 3 ways to build your company around trust

Trust is arguably the most valuable business commodity. It takes time to earn and only seconds to loose. Transparency in the way you work is one of the most important aspects of business and ultimately leads to failure if not done properly. Why? When trust is earned in your business, relationships flourish and opportunities come faster.

You don’t have to be a shrink to integrate trust into your startup. Here are three easy ways to make sure trust is the backbone of your team.

 

  1. Be loyal to each other. Startups have enough obstacles to get through and your team should not be one of them. Failure will happen, learn from it together and move on.
  2. Make your office a judge-free zone. Ask why something is the way it is before making assumptions.  It keeps innovation going and allows for growth.
  3. If you see a problem, handle it. Build your team around trust by having each other’s backs at all times. Get things done even if it is “not your job.” 

 

I have witnessed all of these first hand at one point in the various jobs I have had. Let it be someone looking to get ahead at the expense of someone else, seeing a situation and assuming the worst, or being challenged with a problem and avoiding it all together. It takes the action of one person to make a difference and lead by example, but it takes a team to excel and create trust with each other to find opportunities that will grow the business.

 

When trust is built within the team, relationships can expand and opportunities with others begin to open up. Connections with fellow entrepreneurs and customers culminate and enable your team to find answers to the questions you did not know you had.

 

Entrepreneurship is like a game and you can think of your startup like a puzzle. If trust is not there, pieces will be missing, the picture is not clear, and you find there are holes in your business. Without trust, your startup will never have a chance. Trust is the binding glue needed to help a business grow, let it be big or small.

 

6 Ways to be a great entrepreneur, grom a Shark Tank insider

blog-robyn

Business Development Manager | Mark Cuban Companies

Robyn is the Business Development Manager for Mark Cuban Companies and advises the SPUR team on all things startup. When she’s not getting me through another quarter-life crisis, she’s advising teams from Shark Tank and networking with every VC in the Dallas startup scene. Here are six ways to be a great entrepreneur, from someone who has mentored the best (and sometimes… the worst).

 

  1. Own your intensely fearless personality. “I love working with entrepreneurs because they aren’t afraid to try new things or think outside of the box. It’s invigorating to be around that energy!”
  2. Ask yourself, ‘is this the path of least resistance to something better?’ “Mark made this point to me once and it has stuck with me. What it means is ask yourself does this make someone’s life easier and when it comes to selling your product, put yourself in the shoes of your customer.”
  3. Know your customers and industry better than anyone else. “So many sales people try to push their ideas onto their customer but don’t find out what their customer needs to be successful and achieve their goals. Do this and then try to help them do it!”
  4. Teams are everything. “Persistence, time management and the ability to recognize your shortcomings” are characteristics Robyn looks for in good entrepreneurs. But no entrepreneur is good enough on their own. “Surround yourself with those who can have those skills. A leader is only as good as his team!”
  5. Don’t forget to thank those that help you along the way. “As new entrepreneurs, you’ll meet many people along the way that make introductions or mentor you if only for a short period. Keep track of these people and keep them close, nurture those relationships and don’t forget to thank them for their help.”
  6. Just ask! The best way to be a good mentee is to simply “ask for what you need!”

Mentor of the Week: Philip Zeller

Project Manager | Netsync Network Solutions

Phil is a Project Manager with Netsync Network Solutions, overseeing network and server infrastructure deployments for customers in the education and healthcare vertical markets. In his career in IT services, Phil has delivered projects for household brands and Fortune 500s like Best Buy, American Airlines, LEGO, and large public sector clients including the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Parkland Memorial Hospital, and the University of Texas system.

Aside from his love for meeting business challenges with IT solutions, Phil is a devoted husband, father to an adopted golden retriever, econ and markets geek, Feed My Starving Children supporter, dance music addict, occasional cyclist, and cancer survivor.

 


Advice for 1st time entrepreneurs:

“Sell, sell, and then collect a profit! Many of today’s entrepreneurs grew up in the age of low interest rates and cheap, readily accessible capital. When Silicon Valley companies that have never delivered a profit  have market capitalizations comparable to Dow 30 components, it’s easy to get caught up in the fallacy that product is more important than profit. While this may hold true in the short run, in the history of market economies, consistently selling products that are both in demand and profitable has never completely gone out of fashion.  To that end, carefully evaluate and understand the risk-to-reward when considering any form of debt or leverage when developing a product. Leverage by definition amplifies any outcome–good or bad.”

 


Biggest learning experience of his career:

Perspective is key, and your customer’s is the most important. Several years ago, I had a demanding customer who had little understanding of the technology we delivered, but was nonetheless under a lot of pressure from his management to have it delivered within a certain timeframe. It was a customer that represented a lot of revenue, and the project itself was fairly small. We encountered substantial, and frequent delays due to the lack of preparation on the part of the customer. It reached the point where the project had exhausted its labor budget and was past the intended due date. Suffering from myopia, I issued a change order to the customer and said that project work would be stalled until additional hours were purchased. Hindsight being 20/20, I should have realized that more so than delivering a project, my goal was to help the customer meet its goals. In the end, the matter was escalated, and my company finished the work for no additional charge. While I may have been right in following the official process, in accordance with our contract, I ignored the customer’s perspective and put our relationship in jeopardy.”

 


What keeps him motivated:

“In all of my pursuits, I focus on the positive impact of my work. When I’ve overseen upgrades of wireless networks for hospitals, I’ve thought about how a faster, more resilient network enables nurses to make patients more comfortable, doctors to diagnose more effectively, and keep patients entertained on their portable devices. In deploying virtual desktop environments for school districts, I think about the enhanced quality of instruction that comes from teachers and students can access their lessons and homework from any computer or device. The greater the outcome of my work, the greater my motivation.”

Manageing scope creep, the key to tackling big ideas

This week is Dallas Startup Week. In the hustle and bustle of networking, brainstorming, and coffee-drinking, I had the chance to sit down with a local startup, Code Authority, and get their tips for being successful. Their key to success, managing scope creep.

Projects get too big, features get added, and today- speed to market matters. Their advice for navigating through the chaos is to solidify your MVP (minimum viable product). An MVP is a product that takes least amount of time, money, and features to get proof of concept. “An MVP is essential to manage scope creep,” says Jason Taylor, the founder of Code Authority. “The opposite of an MVP is gold plating…at that stage, you’re just guessing.” Jason stressed that it’s human nature to want to gold plate and make everything perfect.

How do you combat the desire to gold-plate and stay focused on you MVP? He introduced two elements to define your MVP scope.

  1. User and Market Interviews– Actually get out and talk to your market. Test your assumptions.
  2. Proof of Concept– What prototype can you build that someone can interact with? Even if they’re wire-frames, you need to get your idea out on paper.

Managing project scope is hard. Companies of all sizes struggle with it! Our course, FirstGear, helps you define your market, conduct valuable interviews, and define your MVP. Sign up here!

Mentor of the Week: Jeremy Vickers

Dean of the College of Professional Studies | Dallas Baptist University

Executive Director | The Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at UTDallas (previously)

His students are now raising money on SPURstartup to bring their dreams to life, here.

Prior to UTD, Jeremy was at the Dallas Regional Chamber from 2011 to 2015 as the Vice President of Innovation where he led strategy and program implementation to support building the North Texas innovation ecosystem.His efforts were to support university research growth, technology commercialization, startup resource support, and startup capital access. Specifically, he was involved in the launch of the Dallas Entrepreneur Center as a Co-Founder, the Texas Research Alliance, and InnovateDFW, which is now a part of LaunchDFW.com.

 


Advice for 1st time entrepreneurs:

“Execute! Don’t get caught up in the minutia and don’t day dream about what kind of CEO you’ll be once you’ve hit the $100M  mark in revenue. Build something, get it in front of customers, and then make it better. Entrepreneurship is 90% figuring it out and 10% knowledge/experience.”

 


Advice for bring a great mentee:

“Be prepared when you meet with a mentor. Remember that your objective is to leverage the mentors knowledge, skills, and network. A good mentor should be able save you 40 hours of work with 1 hour of robust dialogue. Research the mentor, understand their skills, and ask for specific advice or introductions. Don’t forget to follow up with mentors afterwards and let them know that you’ve done what they’ve asked. It will motivate them to stay engaged.”

 


Why do you like being involved with student entrepreneurship:

“I am passionate about the stage of entrepreneurship between idea and launch. There are so many opportunities to screw up. Students often don’t know what they don’t know and I love coming to support them in this phase. I believe there is no better time than to try to start a company than when you are a student. It is the perfect environment to try and fail. I firmly believe that failing as a student is far better than failing when you are in your forties and are risking a mortgage and a marriage.”

 


How has working with SPUR helped your teams:

“It is been exciting for our entrepreneurship program to pilot campaigns with SPUR. We have seven teams that are all trying to launch businesses this semester. The SPUR program enables them to engage prospective customers, users, and partners while generating small sums of capital that they can use to build prototypes and begin marketing.”

 


You can learn more about some of the initiatives that Jeremy is behind below.

Don’t for get to check out SPURstartup and the awesome campaigns coming out of his program at UTD here.