The Startup Bus

On August 31, seven buses filled with entrepreneurs will embark on the road trip of their lives. Once on the bus, they will divide into teams and their mission is to conceive, build and launch a startup with a group of strangers within 72 hours.

Each bus will depart from a different North American city: St. Louis, New York, New Orleans, San Francisco, Cleveland, Tampa and Mexico City. And they’re all headed to New Orleans. (The New Orleans bus will do a lap throughout the south and then head back home) Not to take away from New Orleans, but the destination is perhaps the least interesting part of the StartupBus experience.

“It’s like getting on a bus and [figuratively] driving it off a cliff. But you’re not falling alone, and that’s where the activation happens,” said Ray Lewis, a former bus entrepreneur who is co-director of the North American StartupBus trip this year.

Lewis had his first StartupBus adventure in 2012, on a bus trip from Las Vegas to the tech-centric SXSW festival is Austin. Not only was he inspired by his experience on board the bus, the startup he co-created on that bus turned in a viable and profitable business that now has more than 50 employees. The company, called Wastebits, assists clients with waste management and is based in Akron, Ohio.

Founded in 2011 by Elias Bizannes, StartupBus road trips also culminate with a startup competition in the destination city. But as the cliché goes, StartupBus is “not about the destination.” It really is about the “journey,” and “the ultimate goal is to create the largest network of tested entrepreneurs on the planet,” according the company website. When bus entrepreneurs are not working intensely on the bus, which is equipped with outlets and sometimes spotty wifi, they stop off to work at coworking spaces and incubators along the way.

So how do you get on a Startup Bus? There is an application process that includes a video interview and submissions relevant to your skill set. According to Lewis, you can apply to join the bus as a designer, coder, business development person or maker. A maker is someone knowledgeable about hardware.

And you don’t have to be a 19 year-old college drop out.

Lewis explained that a great StartupBus entrepreneur might be a senior engineer who is now ready to leave the security of a day job. On last year’s Akron, OH bus, out of 30 riders, five were over 50 years old, according to Lewis.

Not every bus entrepreneur’s experience is as neat as Lewis’s, where a version of his startup morphed into a profitable company.

But it seems that most everyone changes in some way on the StartupBus road trip.

Will Yaworsky is this year’s Director of the North America StartupBus trip, and he remembers his video interview clearly.

“It went terribly,” he said of the interview, which ultimately landed him on his first StartupBus trip from Chicago to Nashville in 2015. “The lady asked me what the craziest thing I’d ever done was, and I just didn’t have an answer. ”

But that lady could tell he was smart and saw that he had potential.

“[StartupBus] was life-changing for me,” Yaworsky said. “I’m completely different. I’m so much more open to adventure and not as risk averse. Startup Bus is about showing people what they’re capable of in a short amount of time.”

Who was the lady who interviewed Yaworsky? She was simply another entrepreneur who had experienced a StartupBus trip and had joined the StartupBus alumni community. While StartupBus is technically a for-profit organization, it is operated by unpaid alumni volunteers, and StartupBus either runs at a loss or just breaks even, according to Lewis.

StartupBus could not exist without the dedicated efforts of its alumni, who derive great value and shared experience from StartupBus, not unlike alumni of a startup incubator. There are currently about 1,600 alumni throughout the world (there are StartupBus trips in Europe) and alumni-founded companies have cumulatively raised more than $400 million. Some StartupBus alumni have founded large companies including Cincinnati-based Lisnr and the multi-billion dollar San Francisco-based Instacart.

In order for a bus to take off from a city, alumni entrepreneurs must volunteer to promote the trip and to find sponsorship for it. StartupBus entrepreneurs pay $299 for the trip, and they pay for their hotel and some food costs. Even so, the $299 isn’t enough to cover the bus rental and other expenses, according to Yaworsky.

So alumni have found sponsorship from major companies, including Google, AT&T, Spotify and Indiegogo. But alumni founders of successful companies, like Lewis’s Wastebits, also lend their support.

While Wastebits was a wonderful byproduct of Lewis’s experience with StartupBus, he said, “The goal of StartupBus is not to build companies. The goal is to build people.”

 

By Todd Stone


5 Billionaires Who Were Fired

No matter who you are, someone along the way will doubt you. Here are the stories of five people who were fired who went on to become billionaires.

Steve Jobs 

Net Worth: $10.2 Billion

One of the most famous firings in all of business history was when Steve Jobs was fired by Apple. In 1983, Steve Jobs convinced Pepsi executive John Sculley to run Apple when he famously asked him, ‘Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water, or do you want a chance to change the world?’. It wasn’t long before the two were butting heads. On September 17, 1985, after mounting pressure from the board, Jobs was forced to resign from the company he founded. By August of 1997 with sales trailing far behind Microsoft's, Apple re-hired Jobs, and the rest - as they say - is history.

 

Michael Bloomberg 

Net Worth: $53.2 Billion

After graduating from Harvard Business School, Michael Bloomberg took a job at the investment bank Salomon Brothers and stayed there for fifteen years. He eventually made general partner. Then in 1981, when the company merged with the publicly held commodities trading firm, Phibro Corporation, Bloomberg’s position was eliminated. After fifteen years, ten as a general partner, he was let-go. He was offered no severance, but as a partner owned $10 million equity. He used this money to create his own information technology company which developed a computer terminal for bond traders that revolutionized the market. And made himself vast sums of money in the process. To this day, Bloomberg still credits that moment as essential to the creation of his fortune.

 

Walt Disney 

Net Worth: $5 Billion ($55 billion today)

When trying to raise money for his first Mickey Mouse cartoon, it is said Walt Disney's loan was rejected by over 300 banks. This was only the latest in a long line of rejections. In 1919, fresh out of the service, and unemployed, an eighteen-year-old Disney moved to Kansas City to work at the Kansas City Star newspaper as an artist. The arrangement was short-lived, and less than one year in, the newspaper’s editor fired Disney because he, ‘Lacked imagination and had no good ideas.’ Needless to say, Disney went on to create one of the most imaginative brands ever seen. According to Forbes, today the Walt Disney Company is worth over $178 billion.

 

Oprah Winfrey 

Net Worth: $3.1 Billion

Born into severe poverty, and to an unwed, teenage mother in the segregated deep south in 1954, few people have overcome more than to earn their success than, Oprah Winfrey. After receiving a scholarship to Tennessee State University and graduating with a degree in communications, Oprah set out with the goal of becoming the next, Barbara Walters. In 1974 at the age of 19, Oprah became Nashville’s first African American female news anchor. Two years later in 1976, she was recruited to co-anchoring the nightly news in Baltimore on, WJZ. It was a dream come true. And it wouldn’t last. Soon after accepting the job, Oprah was let-go for being 'dull and stiff' on air.  Rather than let her go completely, the station allowed her to host one of their failing talk shows. She blossomed. Today, she’s one of the most successful female entrepreneurs ever.

 

Mark Cuban 

Net Worth: $3.4 Billion

In 1977, as a broke recent-grad living in Texas, Mark Cuban took a job selling PC software. He received a salary of $18,000, plus commission. Roughly nine months in, Cuban had the opportunity to make a $15,000 sales. It meant $1,500 of commission. The amount was huge for him at the time. He called his CEO with the great news and when he informed the CEO that he was going to pick up the check, the CEO told him not to make the sale. Cuban surmised his boss would change his tone when he arrived back with the check, so he went and made the sale anyway. When he returned to the office, Cuban was terminated on the spot. The reason given, was he didn't listen. Cuban said it was that moment that was the determining factor in his business life - and when he decided to start his own company. He vowed then, never to work for anyone else, ever again. He hasn't. And things turned out pretty okay for him.

 


Just Did It. How Nike Was Built

JUST DID IT

With market capitalization over $100 billion, by any measure, Nike is one of the most lucrative companies in the world. So what traits allowed the company founder, Phil Knight, to grow his company from selling shoes out of the trunk of his car to one of the most well-respected companies of all-time? The answer is a never-say-die attitude, and by getting out there and Just. Doing. It.

The Early Days

Knight had run track at the University of Oregon and revered the team’s head-coach, Bill Bowerman with an admiration that bordered on the divine. Bowerman admired shoes. He was constantly modifying and perfecting the team’s footwear to make them lighter or faster. After graduating from Oregon, Knight attended Stanford's Graduate School of Business where he wrote a paper entitled, 'Can Japanese Sports Shoes Do to German Sports Shoes What Japanese Cameras Did to German Cameras?’.

The Idea

At the time Adidas was the biggest name in the athletic shoe game. Knight’s idea was that the cheap, precisely made Japanese athletic shoes could be a viable rival the Adidas. So, in order to test this theory, instead of calling or writing, in typical Knight fashion, Knight boarded a plane and flew to Japan to learn more.

Just Doing It

At 24 years-old and without a dollar to his name, Knight cold-called one of the largest shoe manufacturers in Japan, the Onitsuka Company. He told them he wanted to be their sole distributor in US. When they asked what the name of his company was, all Knight could think of were the blue ribbons he’d won running track, and said, ‘Blue Ribbon’. A year later he received 15 pairs as samples and promptly sent 2 pairs to his old university coach Bowerman for approval. He gained more than approval, he gained a partner. On January 25, 1964, with nothing more than a handshake, Blue Ribbon was formed.

The Journey of a Thousand Miles

That first year, Knight drove to local track meets and sold shoes out of the trunk of his car. He managed to sell 1,300 pairs for $8,000. The following year, he doubled that selling $20,000 in shoes. In fact, sales would double every year for the next five years and by 1969, Blue Ribbon had sold over $150,000 worth of shoes. Even so after five years of steadily growing sales, Knight could still not afford to pay himself a salary. The company was cash poor.

By 1970, to keep the company growing at his current rate a $1 million loan was needed. This was an enormous amount of money for the time, so rather than comply, his bank told him his credit was maxed out. The company couldn’t even afford the $20,000 cost of shipment for the new order from Japan. Knight decided the best course of action was a small capital raise.

The Capital Raise

It was decided that Blue Ribbon would sell 20% at $2 a share in order to raise $300,000. One month after the offering, they had only sold 300 shares. And these were mostly to family and friends. At that point, the offer was withdrawn. Things were so bleak at that time, that at one point, Knight was forced accepted the last $8,000 one of his employee’s parents had saved, just to keep the company afloat. At the end of 1970, though sales were doubling annually, Onitsuka voiced dissatisfaction with Knight. By 1971, with over $1.3 million in sales and no cash on the books, Blue Ribbon’s bank terminated their relationship.

After finding another small line of credit at the Bank of California, Knight began talks with the Nissho Iwan Company, a Japanese trading company then doing more than $100 billion in sales annually. Nissho dealt in huge volumes, on loan, on margin, and loved growth companies with big upsides. For them, Blue Ribbon was a goldmine. It all seemed perfect. Better still, Nissho was willing to take a second position to the banks on Blue Ribbon’s loans. Nissho informed Knight there were many other shoe manufacturers in Japan, besides Onitsuka. But Knight was averse to ending his partnership. When Knight learned that Onitsuka was actively seeking outside US distribution however, he opted to buy a shoe manufacturing plant in Guadalajara that was once owned by Adidas. When Knight refused to sell Onitsuka the majority share of his company, Onitsuka nullified the distribution agreement. Knight was free to pursue this new company unfettered.

Birth of a Brand

In order to make this new company as a success, he would need a name and a logo. For $35, he paid a local college student Carolyn Davidson, to design a logo that conveyed ‘motion’. After three tries, she sent the iconic, ‘swoosh’. Not long after, a huge sample order was due and the name was needed. After weeks of debate, it was down to four choices: Falcon, Dimension 6 (which Knight really liked), Bengal, and Nike. The last name came to employee Jeff Johnson the night before in a dream. Reluctantly, because it was short, and because the winged God of victory appealed to him, Knight went with, Nike.

By late 1971, the company was still booming. But still needed cash. It was then that the decision was made to try another public offering. This time however it would be with convertible debentures. Debentures would incentivize investors to hold onto them for 5 years, after which they could convert them into common stock or received back the purchase price with interest. In June of 1971, they offered 200,000 debentures, at $1 each. This time the shares sold fast.

A Partner With Power

Now that it appeared Nissho would make a good business partner, Knight had to lay down some ground rules. Knight told them they would never receive equity in the company. Ever. Nissho agreed, but wanted a 4% mark-up off the top, and market interest rates after that. The deal was reached and soon Nissho paid off Blue Ribbon’s loan from the Bank of California in full. They also told the bank they would no longer do business with them at either of their locations as a result of the way they had treated Blue Ribbon in prior years. They then found Blue Ribbon a new bank that promptly opened a $1 million line of credit for them.

Sales continued to skyrocket. In 1976, Knight thought people might like a 'waffle trainer' (named for the shape of the sole) in blue to match their blue jeans. He was right. Sales exploded. Sales always exploded. Sales were not the problem. The problem was production. Demand was too high, and volume too low. They needed more manufacturing. They needed to move to a place with many readily available plants. That place was Taiwan. By 1976, Nike saw a boom in assets and inventory. And as is typically the case with any growth company, this put a further strain on cash reserves. Knight would not slow down. Grow or die was his attitude.

A U.S. Customs Disaster

In 1977, they received a bill for $25 million from U.S. Customs. It seemed their competitors had used a dirty trick to have this judgment leveled. At the time, duties on imported shoes were set at 20% of their manufacturing cost, unless a similar shoe was being manufactured by a company in the United States. If a similar shoe was being manufactured in the United States, the duty of the imported shoe would be 20% of that domestically made shoe's sale price. Knowing this, several of Nike's competitors decided to make shoes that were similar to the imported Nikes, then priced those shoes extremely high in order to send Nike's import duty through the roof. The plan worked, and Nike was slapped with a retroactive tariff in the amount of $25 million - a fatal amount. Again, never one to sit around, Knight jumped on the first plane he could for DC. After getting nowhere with customs, he lobbied every senator he could find to tell him about his plight. Eventually, he came across a senator from his home state of Oregon, Mark Hatfield. Hatfield wanted to help and said he would do whatever he could. Eventually, the fee was reduced from $25 million to $9 million. Still a staggering sum, but survivable.

By 1980, Nike decided it had to be the first US shoe company into China. In order to sell shoes in China you didn’t apply, you had to ask to be invited to apply. To help with this process, Knight hired a savvy Chinese Princeton grad who knew the market well. In order to be allowed to sell anything there, they would need to manufacture there as well. This was a dream come true for Nike. China's population had recently surpassed 1 billion people. 1 billion people meant 1 billion pairs of feet, which meant 2 billion shoes. Immediately again, Knight hopped on a plane to China. This time, he took his A-team to help with the sale. Two weeks later, the team secured a two factory deal and became the first US shoe company to crack the Chinese market.

A Public Offering

With sales from 1979 over $70 million, the day had come for the a public offering. This was an idea Knight had always been against because he never wanted to lose control of his company. But he needed the money. In order to alleviate both concerns, it was decided that they would issue two classes of stock: Class A, and Class B. Publicly available Class B stocks would receive one vote per share. Class A stocks were to be held by founders and early investors who would name ¾ of the board of directors. This would allow the company to raise enormous sums of money, turbo charging its growth, all while allowing Knight to retain control. It was decided that Nike would offer 20 million shares of Class A stock and 30 million shares of Class b. Of the 50 million shares, nearly 30 million would be held in reserve. That left 2 million Class B stocks to be sold to the public. The remaining 17 million Class A shares would be held by the insiders. This amount equaled 56% of the company. 46% of which would be held by Knight. The number was high but needed to be that way in order for the company to be run by a single voice.

Over the next 10 days, Knight and the team crisscrossed the country doing a dog-and-pony show for potential investors. They visited 12 cities in those 10 days. It was soon after that the price of the shares needed to be decided. Knight insisted on $22 per share. It was at the high end, but he rationalized it by saying there was another company going public that same week who was demanding $22 a share as well. And his company was better. That company was Apple. Knight received his price. The next day when the markets closed, Knight alone was worth $178 million. The IPO was so successful that even the $8,000 investment his employee’s parents had put in years ago was worth $1.6 million.

Today

Today according to Forbes, Phil Knight’s net worth sits over $27.1 billion. For Knight however, it was never about the money. That was never why he got into it. At the close of his book Shoe Dog, Knight remarks, ‘When you make something, when you improve something, when you deliver something, when you add some new thing or service to the lives of strangers, making them happier, or healthier, or safer, or better, and when you do it all crisply, and efficiently, and smartly, the way everything should be done but so seldom is, you’re participating more fully in the whole grand human drama. More than simply alive, you’re helping others to live more fully. And if that’s business, all right, call me a businessman.’ On those terms, Phil Knight can truly be called one of the most successful businessmen of all-time. And he would never have gotten to where he is today without getting out there and Just Doing It.


NYC Chooses NYU to be Hub for Virtual Reality Innovation

New York City is a center for virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) innovation. And the city wants to keep it that way. At the end of June, the de Blasio administration announced that it had chosen New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering to develop and operate a hub for virtual and augmented reality at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, plus a workforce development center at CUNY Lehman College in the Bronx. Funding for this comes in the form of $6 million from the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) and the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME). The new lab, which is expected to open at the end of 2017, will occupy approximately 15,000 square feet of space in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, according to NYU’s Tandon School.

“We thank the city for this opportunity to lead New York toward becoming the epicenter of research and economic opportunity for this quickly emerging medium,” said the Tandon School Dean Katepalli Sreeivasan.

The Brooklyn lab, and development center in the Bronx, is meant to fulfill the following core functions:

  • Support New Ventures. Provide workspace, equipment, infrastructure and early stage capital to startups, and connect them to a community of mentors and investors through key program partners. Foster the creation of new companies through entrepreneurial programming and resources.
  • Increase Access and Expand Talent Pipeline. Establish presence at CUNY Lehman College’s VR/AR Training Academy to develop a citywide VR/AR talent pipeline. Build a curriculum of executive and professional education programs. Offer hands-on learning opportunities, apprenticeships, and scholarships for students.
  • Research. Create the preeminent VR/AR research center in the country by drawing on the expertise of faculty and students from NYU, Columbia University, CUNY, The New School and other partner institutions in order to push the boundaries of technological advancement in these fields and create breakthroughs that lead to the formation of new ventures.
  • Build VR/AR Community. Convene investors, university researchers, cross-industry leaders, and civic and cultural partners through programming and events.
  • Spur Corporate VR/AR Innovation. Offer membership and consulting services to companies, including access to startups and projects, and corporate innovation programs designed to prototype new solutions and launch new ventures.

According to the NYCEDC, the Tandon School was chosen because NYU has established an unprecedented partnership network with a range of university, industry, civic and cultural organizations such as the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, the CUNY Macaulay New Media Lab and the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. This vast network can ensure that the lab is accessible to a diverse group of New Yorkers and can aid in job creation, a central goal behind this investment.

“[The lab] is a significant piece of our strategy to spur 100,000 good-paying jobs in 10 years,”

said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in a statement. “And particularly in creative and entrepreneurial sectors that speak to our city’s current and future generations.”

The East River-facing Brooklyn Navy Yard, which was established in 1801 to build U.S. navy ships, is no stranger to startup life in recent years. It has become a large hub for hardware-centric startups, such as Voltaic Systems, which makes solar-paneled backpacks than can charge devices as you walk.  And Waverly Labs, which makes an earpiece that translates languages in real time.

"Once again, Brooklyn is proud to be home to the incubation of innovation. Our burgeoning VR/AR sector has boundless potenti

al for technological breakthroughs and accompanying job creation. The Brooklyn Navy Yard and NYU Tandon will make a gre

at team to lift this publicly-funded lab and its ventures into the upper echelon of this industry," said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams

Written By Todd Stone

 

 


24 Hours in Tesla's Model X

While back in my hometown of Pittsburgh, I decided to rent a Tesla Model X from the car sharing app Turo. I was curious about the technology, the car and especially the self-driving capabilities. As the home of Uber's self-driving fleet and Ford's recent billion dollar investment in Argo.ai it seemed like the perfect place to test out the Tesla's capabilities.

The video below is taken from Tesla's website, highlighting Tesla's ability to provide level 4 autonomous driving (fully self-driving vehicle).

Unfortunately, the Model X I drove only offered Level 2 self-driving. Check out the chart below for a bit more details on the 5 classifications of self-driving vehicles. You may need to zoom in.

As far as I can tell Level 2 self-driving essentially means that the Tesla can drive a little bit on its own, but will crash if you are not careful. Tesla does a nice job of requiring you touch the wheel every few minutes to ensure you are both paying attention and have hands on the wheel. The self-driving performed well when on the highways when the vehicle can read clear lines painted on the road. However, in the city or suburbs, self-driving became very dangerous and almost unusable.

Below is a quick video I shot while the car drove on a 4 lane highway while using self-driving and changing lanes.

One of the largest dangers with the self-driving feature was that it did not detect red lights. Self-driving was good in traffic as it detected other vehicles around you but if you were the first person at an intersection with a red light you could easily cause an accident.

Battery & Charging

I was impressed with the range of the car. This was my first experience with an electric vehicle and with over 250 miles of range, I felt that the vehicle would make an excellent daily driver as long as you were staying within one city. However, that's a bit short for a drive from NYC to Pittsburgh.

A quick charge estimator below shows that 100 miles of charge will take just about 2 hours and cost $4.55 from a home outlet. Although, charging may be difficult for people who live in apartments without charge stations.

The Catch 22

Tesla's current self-driving is great for long highway trips but not great for commuting around the city. Tesla's battery range is great for commuting around cities but not great for long highway trips. Despite cool technology this limits the functionality of self-driving. However, it is obvious that they are making strides on both battery range and self driving so I am excited to see both improve.

Gadgets Gadgets Gadgets

Having only 24 hours with the Model X I felt like I barely scratched the surface of what the car was capable of doing. A few of the cooler features of the car are below.

  • Summon- Press a button on your phone and the car backs out of your parking spot or garage
  • Brake Hold- A pretty cool feature where you don't have to hold the brake at a traffic light
  • Phone App- The app has many cool features including checking your range on your car
  • Valet Mode- Drastically slows down the car and limits the top speed to 70mph and kills access to glove box and front trunk

Falcon Doors

A topic of much debate.  Aesthetically they look cool but using them on a regular basis just feels weird. Trying to get in and out of the grocery store feels like a real production rather than a cool innovation.

Every time the doors opened I kept thinking of Russ Hannevan from Silicon Valley.... "These are not the doors of a billionaire Richard"

 Video Contains Explicit Language

 

Speed

The car is fast. Really fast. Insanely fast. 0 to 60 in 3.2 seconds, a quarter mile in 11.6 seconds.  Truly one of the fastest cars on the road.  Check out the video below of a model X smoking a Ferrari F430 on the drag strip.

Conclusion

The Tesla was very cool. It had more advanced technology than any vehicle I have driven and is one of the fastest SUVs in the world. Some of the technology is a bit unrefined but overall it is an amazing accomplishment by Tesla and Elon Musk. It is exciting to think what will be next for Tesla and self-driving vehicles.

 

Josh Bobrowsky- CoFounder & CEO


Martin Strutz, Co-founder of AND CO Interview

Interview with Martin Strutz by Todd Stone

AND CO provides invoicing and time tracking services to freelancers, from developers and designers to writers and consultants. Among other features, users can input their work information and AND CO generates and submits invoices once the user’s work has been completed.

It was founded in 2014 by Strutz and Leif Abraham, both of whom worked at creative digital agencies. AND CO has received funding from BoxGroup (David Tisch and Adam Rothenberg) and Thrive Capital.

Strutz and Abraham met more than a decade ago working in advertising and created AND CO while working together at Prehype, a company that helps corporate clients become more entrepreneurial.

Q. I see the Gold membership for $14 per month. Do you have other revenue streams?

That is very much our primary revenue stream at present. Going forward, we’re excited to [make money] by facilitating payments to freelancers from clients. There's an opportunity to earn a portion of the processing fees charged by the likes of WePay, Stripe and PayPal. Beyond that, we’re always interested in thinking about what other services independent workers are lacking, what problems they face, and how we can contribute to a solution. We expect those to provide additional revenue opportunities.

Q. About how many users do you have?

Our user base is comfortably in the tens of thousands.

Q. What is the salary of your average user?

Our user-base tends to be made up of high-skill professionals; the annual salaries we see reflect that. These are individuals that have, typically, held impressive positions in leading agencies, consultancies, and design firms. Their income reflects that expertise.

Q. Have you had any big surprises?

Too many to count! One in particular I’d cite: at first, AND CO placed a greater emphasis on connecting freelancers to professionals they might need to talk to: CPAs and lawyers, for example. What we learned is that those needs are infrequent, and not typically high-priority. There is considerably more demand for robust tools that remove the need for those conversations to begin with. For example, strong, intuitive contracts.

Q. Would you say that AND CO empowers freelancers? If so, how?

Definitely, it does. It frees up valuable time to focus on growing your business, personal growth, etc. and gives freelancers access to the professional tools they deserve.

Companies do some things phenomenally well when compared to freelancers. Typically, those are things related to process: payroll, accounting, internal protocols. We don’t want that expertise to remain solely in the domain of corporations.  AND CO sets freelancers free from taking that on themselves.

Q. Tell me more about the Standard Freelance Contract you created in partnership with the Freelancers Union.

We launched on February 22nd, 2017 and it has been one of AND CO’s greatest successes. It’s something we’re immensely proud of. We’re seeing really strong uptake across professions and countries. That was a major goal of ours: to make this as universal as possible, and as applicable as possible.

We’ve had thousands sign-up and use the Standard Freelance Contract already. It has proven to have filled a real need for independent workers.

Q. What are some of the benefits of operating AND CO out of New York City?

New York is an ideal city for us to be headquartered in. The freelance scene is especially strong, and perhaps more critically, diverse, which is true of NYC more generally. Whereas other hubs spike on one industry in particular, NYC is multi-talented. That means we’re close to freelancers from a ton of different industries. We’re grateful to learn from them all. It’s also great to be so close our friends at the Freelancers Union.

Q. To me, being a freelancer is a lot like being an entrepreneur. You control your time and make your own decisions. Can you see an application of AND CO for entrepreneurs?

First of all, I 100% agree. Freelancers are entrepreneurs -- the company their running just happens to be themselves! That’s a trend we’re seeing across industries and job types -- individuals are increasingly running themselves like a business.

In the short-term, early stage entrepreneurs and small business can definitely benefit from using AND CO. Creating contracts, tracking time, invoicing, income management and task management are all features relevant to those individuals.

In the longer-term, we hope AND CO will develop into a tool that will make life simpler for every type of worker. As more people switch between full-time, part-time, freelancing, side-hustling, and entrepreneurship, the need for an underlying infrastructure for work becomes all the more vital. That’s what we’re building.

 


Company of Entrepreneurs Brings Lean Startup to the Fortune 1000

Written By Todd Stone

As the leadership of corporate America continues to recognize the value of startup methodology in preventing atrophy and inspiring innovation, CEOs of large companies continue to evaluate how best to incorporate entrepreneurship into their massive organizations.

Big Company Startup Strategies 

Some companies have pursued the mergers and acquisitions path, acquiring successful startups, holding onto those teams and having them operate either independently or as part of the bigger company. Other large companies have created innovation labs, or incubators that operate like startups and exist as separate entities within the company. Both of these can work to bring innovation to a bureaucratic behemoth.

But there is another, and probably better, way.

Arshad Chowdhury is a successful serial entrepreneur who now works for a New York City-based company whose motto is “an army of entrepreneurs.” His title is Entrepreneur and the company is called Bionic. What the company does is bring lean startup methodologies to some of the world’s largest companies. That includes validating assumptions, being agile, celebrating failure as an educational tool, and failing fast. Not unlike a consultant, Chowdhury and his colleagues make trips to the offices of their Fortune1000 company clients. But instead of simply offering advice, they implement a system they call the Growth Operating System (OS) that mirrors a real startup ecosystem.

Growth OS includes the creation of what Bionic calls validation teams, which are essentially early stage startups. Bionic’s entrepreneurs assist these teams, composed of the client company’s employees, many of whom have expressed interest in the system. The teams generally have ideas about a new product or program and Bionic entrepreneurs like Chowdhury help them figure out if their assumptions are correct. If they’re not, then on to the next idea.

“What’s very important about these validation teams is that they’re doing very low cost, on the ground, gritty experiments that barely make a dent on a large company’s balance sheet,” Chowdhury said.

Finding the Great Potential

Chowdhury regularly sees great potential in the people he works with. “There’s a lot of untapped talent in large American companies,” he said, “And large companies have resources that are the envy of every startup – from cash to talent, experts, offices and reputation.”

Unlike other approaches to incorporating entrepreneurship into large companies, Bionic installs a governance body, called a Growth Board. This group is composed of the company’s senior leadership, and they are coached by Bionic to act as venture capitalists.

“We say no to work when we realize that there isn’t [commitment] from the CEO. If there’s noopportunity to have a meaningful relationship with the decision makers who can turn well-validated ideas into supported businesses, we don’t proceed,” Chowdhury said.

Venture Capital

Venture capitalists are a crucial part of any startup ecosystem, and Bionic believes that they, too, must be replicated inside a large company in order for the system to work. Hence, the aforementioned Growth Board. In the real world, a startup will not continue to be funded unless it reaches certain benchmarks. Investors don’t want to lose money on companies that are clearly failing. So why should a large company sustain a project or product that is also clearly failing?

“We teach around the lean startup methodology, but we also coach around funding, starting with seed funding and followed by rounds,” said Christina Wallace, VP of Growth at Bionic.

Wallace explained that sometimes a large company will put millions of dollars behind a product that hasn’t even been validated – that doesn’t have a proven market or is based on incorrect assumptions. This is exactly what Bionic is trying to prevent. According to Wallace, helping to prevent massive time and financial waste on un-validated projects is just as important as creating new profitable products and businesses.

How Bionic Started

Started in 2013 by veteran entrepreneurs David Kidder and Anne Berkowitch, Bionic has operated largely under the radar. Its first client was General Electric, which they worked with to create FastWorks, the name of GE’s implementation of Growth OS, according to Wallace. Beth Comstock, then GE’s Chief Marketing Officer, was instrumental in developing FastWorks with Bionic, evidence that involvement with senior management from the outset is crucial.

Bionic is not the only company of its kind. There are a handful of others that are also capitalizing on the need of big business to innovate by operating more like a startup. But Bionic’s Growth OS is definitely thorough. And the caliber of its entrepreneurs is impressive. Wallace herself, who is even an “Entrepreneur” at Bionic, founded two companies prior joining to Bionic.

Why entrepreneurs work with Bionic

Now, why would a serial entrepreneur with successful businesses under his or her belt be interested in working for a company like Bionic? After all, don’t entrepreneurs want to be their own boss? Yes, that’s true. However, Bionic entrepreneurs get to build startups constantly – and they get a paycheck.

“I really thrive on focusing on the early stages of a company – trying to validate things that work and don’t work,” Chowdhury said. “So Bionic is perfect for me because it distills my skills down to those core attributes I think I’m best at.”

Plus, Wallace says that the organizational structure of Bionic is very decentralized. Inspired by a book written by U.S. General Stanley McChrystal about organizing army units in the war in Afghanistan, co-founder Kidder consciously chose to create highly independent workteams. As Wallace said, the teams “join together, and then disperse.”

Speaking of being inspired by books, Kidder is also the author of the acclaimed “The Startup Playbook.”


Twitch: How Pivoting and Passion Led to Billions

In late 2006, Justin Kan and Emmet Shear set out to create a javascript based web calendaring application. The venture quickly failed, but unbeknownst to the pair at the time, had set in motion the events that would lead to the founding of the billion-dollar company Twitch.com. As the pair drove home from a meeting one night, they began to toy with the notion of livestreaming their conversations to the web, a novel idea at the time. During the course of the conversation, the idea eventually evolved into livestreaming video, then into the idea of livestreaming someone's life 24 hours a day. Justin even volunteered to be the subject should the time ever arise, and the working name for the venture was given, Justin.TV. At the time, the idea seemed fun to talk about but hardly a serious business consideration.

Getting Serious About Business

That all changed later that year when the pair took a meeting with Paul Graham and Robert Morris. The idea that got them through the door was a web-based app that would allow users to print out their blogs one page at a time in the form of a magazine. Graham was not particularly interested in the idea, but toward the end of the meeting asked them what else they had. It was at this point that Kan blurted out, ‘Justin.TV’. Kan then proceeded to excitedly relayed the idea and explain how it would be a new form of reality TV. As Kan later recalled, at one point Morris remarked, ‘I’ll fund that just to see you make of fool of yourself’. Not long after that, the pair left with a check for $50,000.

Soon, the two recruited two more friends to the team and Justin.TV went live.

At the time, the team had no real plan. They believed if the show became successful they might be able to sell ad sponsorships for it. But what they lacked in a plan, they made up for with passion. They were so excited for the venture that every person they talked to instantly became excited about it too. Their energy was infectious and the team worked well together. Looking back, Kan relates that he believes it was for these reasons Graham initially invested; investing in the people more than the product. He also believed that Graham had faith they would be able to pivot in ways that would allow the idea to become successful.

Knowing When To Pivot

And pivot they did. After eight months of livestreaming himself and gaining significant media attention in the process, Kan stopped ‘lifecasting’ himself. This was perhaps, due in part to the fact that viewers had learned that they could quickly spice-up the show by sending fire trucks or police to his house. But more than this perhaps was the fact that the team recognized a new opportunity was developing. Even after Justin had stopped livestreaming himself interest in the site remained high and in mid-2011, Justin.TV added a feature to allow other users to broadcast their own livestreams as well. The site continued to add features, like a Reddit-style upvoting system, and soon saw over 30,000 individuals livestreaming. As a result, on October 1, 2007, Justin.TV received $8 million in Series A funding from Felicis Ventures and Alsop Louie Partners.

Growth to Exit

Over the next 4 years, Justin.TV continued to iterate, grow, and evolve. One particularly important development was the separation of the site into sub-categories. It wasn’t long after this that one category had taken over the lion's share of all site traffic  – video game streaming. By mid-2011, the video game section had become so dominant that Kan and his partners realized they had another opportunity on their hands. And on June 6, 2011, the video game section of Justin.TV officially spun off as its own entity and Twitch.com was born. One year later, more than 20 million unique viewers were using the site. Then in September of 2012, Twitch secured $15 million in Series B funding. And one year after that, in September of 2013, it received another $20 million in Series C. Then, in August of 2014, with over 55 million monthly users on the site, Amazon.com announced it had acquired Twitch.com for $970 million.

Modern Day Twitch

Today, Twitch.com competes in a space with YouTube, and ESPN, and is known as one of the premiere sites in the world for live online eSports viewing. Twitch currently has over 300 million viewers a year. Its development remains testament to the unexpected success a company can have when its founders are willing to follow their passion and adjust to new opportunities as they arise. It’s hard to imagine the pair ever envisioned the meteoric success their idea would have during that first conversation back in 2007.

 


7 Tools Every Business Should Know About

Here are seven of the most popular tools founders and their teams are relying on to increase their effectiveness.

  1. Trello

Trello is a project management and collaboration platform that enables users to easily track how specific projects are progressing. Earlier this year, Atlassian acquired Trello for $425 million.

Trello allows founders to create boards that they can store different lists on. For example, a startup media company might create the following lists: “Story Ideas,” “Assigned Stories,” “Ready to Edit,” and “Editing Complete.” Users can also create individual “cards” that can be added to any list and moved from one list to another. As progress is made on an individual task, cards are moved from list to list, enabling users to see how far along certain projects are instantly. When cards are moved, relevant stakeholders are sent email notifications automatically, thereby ensuring everyone stays on the same page.

  1. Calendly

Calendly is a platform that automates meeting scheduling, so users don’t have to participate in never-ending email chains to find time to meet.

Here is how it works: a user fills out their availability on Calendly and includes a link to their schedule in their email signature. Clients, employees, colleagues, business partners and vendors can then click that link to schedule a meeting that works with their own availability. As a result, a long process is accomplished in one simple step. Users don’t have to worry about time zone-related mistakes, either.

  1. MailChimp

MailChimp is a popular email automation platform that simplifies email marketing. According to Built In NYC, 61% of New York City-based startups use MailChimp to engage customers and prospects without spending an endless amount of time doing so.

MailChimp provides startups with a ton of functionality, including A/B email testing, email segmentation, and the ability to create customized, brand-specific email templates. The platform also features many integrations with other applications, providing even more utility.

  1. Zapier

Zapier enables startups to automate their workflows in a customized way. For example, you can use Zapier to make sure that whenever you get an email that has an attachment, the attachment is automatically copied to your Dropbox account and you are notified in a designated Slack channel.

To date, Zapier works with more than 750 apps. No matter which platforms you rely on, Zapier will almost certainly save you a lot of time. Check out this list of some of the more popular “Zaps” to get started.

  1. Evernote

Evernote is a cloud-based organizational and note-taking platform that enables users to archive and store articles, notes, or other data they want to access later. All of that information is then accessible from any connected device.

Thanks to Evernote, even the busiest founders are able to stay on top of industry trends. If they don’t have time to read an article during the day, for example, they can easily save it on Evernote and pull it up to read when they have a spare moment, without having to search their email or Slack chain.

  1. Slack

Slack is a real-time business messaging and project management app that enables teams to stay connected across geographies and time zones as an alternative to email. Users can either chat with one another in channels or private messages in real time, or they can collaborate with each other asynchronously at their own convenience. Slack has been linked to buyout offers worth as much as $9 billion.

Slack holds the record as the fastest company in the world to hit a $1 billion valuation.

  1. Buffer

Buffer is a social media management platform that lets users schedule social posts ahead of time across a number of networks. The tool also allows users to seamlessly schedule posts to highlight content they come across on the web.

This is a more efficient way to handle social media. By optimizing workflow users ensure they are maintaining strong presences on social media without managing multiple platforms.


Inspirational business advice from Simon Sinek

How great leaders inspire actions

Simon Sinek is a British/American author and motivational speaker. He takes a unique look at the psychology of how and why people work, and what it takes to be a great leader.

Concepts

Opening transcript. 

"How do you explain when things don't go as we assume? Or better, how do you explain when others are able to achieve things that seem to defy all of the assumptions? For example: Why is Apple so innovative? Year after year, after year, they're more innovative than all their competition. And yet, they're just a computer company. They're just like everyone else. They have the same access to the same talent, the same agencies, the same consultants, the same media. Then why is it that they seem to have something different? Why is it that Martin Luther King led the Civil Rights Movement? He wasn't the only man who suffered in pre-civil rights America, and he certainly wasn't the only great orator of the day.Why him? And why is it that the Wright brothers were able to figure out controlled, powered man flight when there were certainly other teams who were better qualified, better funded -- and they didn't achieve powered man flight, and the Wright brothers beat them to it. There's something else at play here."

People care why you do it

"Every single person, every single organization on the planet knows what they do, 100 percent. Some know how they do it, whether you call it your differentiated value proposition or your proprietary process or your USP. But very, very few people or organizations know why they do what they do. And by "why" I don't mean "to make a profit." That's a result. It's always a result. By "why," I mean: What's your purpose? What's your cause? What's your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care? "

Hire based on passion

"The goal is not just to hire people who need a job; it's to hire people who believe what you believe. I always say that, you know, if you hire people just because they can do a job, they'll work for your money, but if they believe what you believe, they'll work for you with blood and sweat and tears."

Your passion leads to success

"Orville and Wilbur were driven by a cause, by a purpose, by a belief. They believed that if they could figure out this flying machine, it'll change the course of the world. Samuel Pierpont Langley was different. He wanted to be rich, and he wanted to be famous. He was in pursuit of the result. He was in pursuit of the riches. And lo and behold, look what happened. The people who believed in the Wright brothers' dream worked with them with blood and sweat and tears. The others just worked for the paycheck."

 

Why good leaders make you feel safe

Concepts

Origins of good leaders making us feel safe

"If you go back 50,000 years to the Paleolithic era, to the early days of Homo sapiens, what we find is that the world was filled with danger, all of these forces working very, very hard to kill us. Nothing personal. Whether it was the weather, lack of resources, maybe a saber-toothed tiger, all of these things working to reduce our lifespan. And so we evolved into social animals, where we lived together and worked together in what I call a circle of safety, inside the tribe, where we felt like we belonged. And when we felt safe amongst our own, the natural reaction was trust and cooperation. There are inherent benefits to this. It means I can fall asleep at night and trust that someone from within my tribe will watch for danger.

Creating safety allows the group to be greater than the sum of its parts

"You see, if the conditions are wrong, we are forced to expend our own time and energy to protect ourselves from each other, and that inherently weakens the organization. When we feel safe inside the organization, we will naturally combine our talents and our strengths and work tirelessly to face the dangers outside and seize the opportunities."

Authority vs leadership

"Leadership is a choice. It is not a rank. I know many people at the seniormost levels of organizationswho are absolutely not leaders. They are authorities, and we do what they say because they have authority over us, but we would not follow them. And I know many people who are at the bottoms of organizations who have no authority and they are absolutely leaders, and this is because they have chosen to look after the person to the left of them, and they have chosen to look after the person to the right of them. This is what a leader is."

A lesson from marines

"I heard a story of some Marines who were out in theater, and as is the Marine custom, the officer ate last, and he let his men eat first, and when they were done, there was no food left for him. And when they went back out in the field, his men brought him some of their food so that he may eat, because that's what happens. We call them leaders because they go first. We call them leaders because they take the risk before anybody else does. We call them leaders because they will choose to sacrifice so that their people may be safe and protected and so their people may gain, and when we do, the natural response is that our people will sacrifice for us. They will give us their blood and sweat and tears to see that their leader's vision comes to life, and when we ask them, "Why would you do that? Why would you give your blood and sweat and tears for that person?" they all say the same thing: "Because they would have done it for me." And isn't that the organization we would all like to work in?"

 

The videos and transcripts are from Ted Talks an amazing collection of inspirational videos.

 

Josh Bobrowsky- CoFounder & CEO