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From Idea to Start-up: Where Do I Start?

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by Gabriela Escalante, Syracuse

There are two kind of entrepreneurs: the ones that have a million ideas and don’t know where to start and the ones that start right away without thinking about it. In terms of success rates, the second ones learn from their failures and improve as they go. Now, if you are the first kind of entrepreneur, I have some advice for you to narrow your focus and get started.

In the past, I struggled with getting things done and it wasn’t until I decided I wanted to succeed that I got better at executing. Once I made it into a habit, things got way easier and way more effective. Now, I’m running a startup called EB Active and sales are moving forward. I have to admit—I absolutely love this feeling. I’m thinking that maybe I do have what it takes after all—and I’m sure you do too!

Here, you can find five pieces of advice that will allow you to move forward if you’re struggling with many ideas:

Choose one idea. At this point, it doesn’t matter which one. Choose the one that will keep you motivated as you go and stick to it. Do not rest until you either prove yourself wrong or become successful.

Talk to your potential customers. It doesn’t matter what you think. It matters whether your product or service represents value to your customers. There’s no better market research than actually getting out there and starting a conversation with potential clients. Once you know what they want, you’ll know how to exceed their expectations.

Don’t aim for perfection. Chances are that you won’t achieve perfection right away or any time soon. All you can do is do your best and learn from your failures. My first start-up was highly well known, yet it didn’t make any profits.

Choose your goals and make an action plan to reach them. Most likely, you’ll have to readjust and that’s okay. What matters is that you have a clear vision.

Don’t go to bed unless you’ve made some progress. This will allow you to form the habit of executing your ideas. The sooner you start, the faster you’ll reach your goals.

Like one of my mentors always says “there’s no better time than the present.”

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Kill Your Darlings – And Other Creative Habits Learned from Authors

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by Lindsay Wickham, Syracuse

When it comes to entrepreneurship, creativity is key. If you’re launching or working to grow a venture, it can be difficult to hone in your vision and practice habits that can help you to achieve your goals and find success. According to the article 5 Creative Habits Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Novelists as originally published in Fast Company, there are five habits that entrepreneurs can practice to up their creativity and performance:

Image created by Lindsay Wickham

Image created by Lindsay Wickham

Practice and perfect your pitches: Writers don’t just walk into a magazine office or publishing house with the next bestseller. Like entrepreneurs, they spend many hours (and sometimes years) pitching story ideas to editors. Writers tend to know when they need to adapt a pitch to a specific audience—entrepreneurs can learn from this and be able to adapt a pitch depending on the context in which its being given. Think about what you’re emphasizing and to whom you are emphasizing it. If parts of a pitch (or the business model itself) aren’t working, it may be time to move on.

“Kill your darlings” so you can revise: Originally a phrase used for writers who are attached to a character/plotline/scene that ultimately weighs down a story, entrepreneurs can sometimes tend to hold on too long for their product/service/logo/etc that sometimes took years to creative and build but may not show returns. This doesn’t mean giving up or scrapping an idea completely—it means being flexible to pivot and iterate.

Show more than you tell: A writer who is successfully can place you into a scene by describing every last detail and putting you there. Don’t just tell investors why your product is revolutionary—prove it by offering demos and demonstrating how it outperforms your competitors.

Draw inspiration from unlikely resources: While its great to read business books and entrepreneurial magazines and watch TEDTalks featuring that content, try looking beyond the business world. Draw inspiration from fields and industries outside of the one that your company is in.

Make something the world needs: When surveying the business landscape, listen for silences instead of just looking for successes. It takes a more creative eye to discover what needs are going unmet.

On the bridge between a business and a creative mindset/focus, it’s not enough to think outside the box… start by looking inside a good book!

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Breaking Bad (Habits)

Image courtesy of Pexels

by Lindsay Wickham, Syracuse

Bad habits are hard to break – the worst part about bad habits is that you don’t even know what damage you could be causing. As Warren Buffett once said, “chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.” As noted by Travis Bradberry, co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and president at TalentSmart in an Entrepreneur article, here are several bad habits that entrepreneurs should eliminate from their daily routine:

Image created by Lindsay Wickham

Image created by Lindsay Wickham

Using your phone in bed: You may not even realize it’s harming your sleep (and therefore, productivity). Exposure to blue light at close range can impair melatonin production and interferes with your ability to fall asleep (and get quality sleep, once you get there). The best rule of thumb is to avoid those devices after dinner.

Surfing the internet: A worst offender myself, I could have between five and twenty browser tabs open at the same time. It takes 15 consecutive minutes of focus before you can fully engage in a task and start to be productive. Notifications can be great – they help us make meetings on time and remember to do certain tasks. They can also be bad for productivity – right up to the point where we see or hear one and we click away from the task at hand “just for a second” and find ourselves out of focus and on some random internet page minutes later. Close distractions like email and the internet if you want to get solid work done.

Checking your phone during a conversation: Nothing bugs me more than someone glancing at their phone during a meeting. It immediately distracts the entire task at hand. The same goes for a conversation – focus your energy and leave your device in a drawer to avoid distraction.

Saying “yes” when you should say “no”: Sometimes you just want to say yes to everything – you try to do everything and please everyone. However, “no” can be a powerful word that you shouldn’t be afraid to use when necessary. It’s an act of self-control that can prevent the negative effects of over commitment.

In addition, other distractions and bad habits to eliminate include using multiple notifications, trying to multitask during meetings, comparing yourself to other people, and gossiping. By practicing your self-control, you can work to break these bad habits and increase productivity, whether it’s for school work, at your job, or in launching a startup!

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Hurry up and Fail

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by Gabriela Escalante, Syracuse

Failure is scary. That’s a fact. Yet we continue to hear amazing stories of entrepreneurs who seem to fearlessly take over the market. Is there something wrong with us or are we surrounded by super humans? The taboo about failure can easily discourage others to share their stories of when things go wrong – which is why we tend to hear more about accomplishments. According to “6 Truths About Failure Every Entrepreneur Should Embrace”, there are six truths to keep in mind:

  1. Success can only come from failure.

Think about the most rewarding experience you ever had. Now, think about the action steps you had to take. Most likely, you didn’t succeed the first time.

  1. Curiosity naturally leads to failures.

When you are passionate about something, you become naturally curious. Curiosity leads you to act which may result in both finding opportunities and failures.

  1. Failure is an asset.

By definition, an asset represents value. Once we fail, we get the opportunity to learn from the experience. If anything, we should be able to identify how we could have avoided the mistake we made.

  1. Nobody wants you to fail.

And if someone does, then you are hanging out with the wrong crowd. When an idea gets negative feedback, we get the opportunity to learn about what leads that person to believe the business is not feasible. Next time you receive negative feedback, try asking a few more questions and see how you can improve on what you have.

  1. Failure should not be confused with quitting.

Quitting has no turning back, failure does. When we fail, we get the chance to stand back up. Once we stand back up, we can continue the journey.

  1. Each failure gets progressively easier.

Every entrepreneur can easily remember the first time they felt as if their business failed. Progressively, we learn to cope with the experience and focus on the solutions.

So, here’s my advice: hurry up and fail. Put your phone or laptop down and start trying. You won’t know until you try. In fact, you won’t know until you fail.

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Why Design Isn’t All About Lines

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by Ribhav Gupta

Mountain Climbers climbing Mt. Everest would never dare scale it in a single go. Instead, they devised a system of moving between bases, going up and down segments of the mountain until they have the stamina for a single ascent to the peak. Replace the risks of avalanche, the rickety ladders, and the hurricane speed winds with long nights spent filling notebooks with prototype diagrams and investor pitches, and this scenario quickly begins to resemble the design thinking process.

For the past nine weeks I have been a student at the Stanford d. school. Here students learn to take ideas that are only found in their dreams and bring them to life through enacting a seemingly straightforward five step process. This “design process” is an instructional guide composed of empathizing with those effected by a problem, defining the problem to address, ideating, prototyping and finally testing. At first it seems clear cut – a linear progression of steps that will eventually culminate in to the realization of your dreams. However, an effective use of the process is less linear and more of a scenic path.

Ultimately, each institute has its own version of the cycle. Some include extra steps and others simplify it. Yet, at the core of all of them lies a notion of multiple iterations. Like climbing Mt. Everest the process requires a lot of back and forth movements. It is a perpetual cycle of readdressing each step, building off the new knowledge gained from latter experiences. From building off of new user feedback, to testing a different prototype, to redefining the problem addressed, the design cycle is centered around its own constant innovation. It is a belief that with each new rendition, some small caveat of the product can be improved. Multiple studies have proved how the entire process allows for previously unseen inter-industrial connections to form, and formation to problems once viewed as futile. Through it all, the design process has one goal: refine, refine, refine.

The goal of this article is not to tell you what the design process looks like – rather to explain that it is a messy process that is undeniably frustrating. Yet at the same time it’s free of judgment, relaxed, and pushes for creativity at every moment. Behind all this lies a process that I have grown to adore and truly start to value. One last thing, as emphasized this process is not entirely accurate in its name. Its not some formula to success, rather it’s a set of guidelines designed to help designers through roadblocks.

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Visualizing Your Future

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Daydreaming about your future may appear as images in your head; some linger while others flash only to disappear and become forgotten. The goals you have for yourself and your entrepreneurial ventures may seem hard or impossible to obtain because they are too far out in time. What if you captured those images in your head? What if you were able to physically see your goals in front of you? Your future that you see in your head could be in front of you on a cork board filled with an image of your idol, photos of your favorite buildings, or perhaps a piece of fabric from your childhood that symbolizes the feeling and culture you one day want for your own company.

Now go one step further, what if this physical visual of your future could give you a better chance at achieving those goals? We are not talking fortuneteller crystal ball type magic here, if that’s where you thought this was going, but instead a vision board displaying details of your life that you hope to one day fulfill.

“When we invest the time to visualize, in detail, we become more emotionally connected to our wished-for goals.”

TD Bank conducted a study on the benefits of vision boards and visual thinking, as explored in a recent Forbes.com article. Vision boards help entrepreneurs and their teams conceptualize their goals through an organized collection of images, photos, words and objects. The mapped details can represent finances, business goals, potential partners, and the personal goals of the entrepreneur. This physical displayed on the vision board thus encourages the entrepreneur and their team to emotionally connect to the goals in order to achieve them. Surveys reported that the goals mapped out through vision boards have helped 82% of small business owners accomplish more than half the goals they initially set for their business.

As a student balancing academic responsibilities and the start of an entrepreneurial venture, it is important to emphasize organization in your life. The assembly of visual representation for the goals you set for yourself could not only help you manage your current responsibilities but in the direction of your envisioned future. No crystal ball is going to predict and establish your future, but visual thinking can lead you to making your most sought after daydreams a reality.

Source: http://www.forbes.com/forbes/welcome/#66be7e2324d5

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Ex-Yelp Employee Talia Jane Needed More Than Higher Pay

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by Helen Lu

A common piece of advice that I hear when discussing what major to choose in college is to follow your dreams, to do what your hearts tells you to do. Recently, some college kids are going after a true calling, something off the beaten path in an effort to avoid the stable, cliché career that sounds too much like what their parents advise them to do. This idealistic belief, in theory, is not a necessarily flawed approach, but realistically, many students do not realize the success of their dream depends a steadfast work ethic.

On February 19th, Talia Jane, a Yelp customer service employee, posted an open letter to her CEO, Jeremy Stoppelman, detailing her grievances against the company for a salary that she claims is unjustly low and insufficient. Two hours later, she was fired. It’s important that Jane posted her letter, and individuals in an effective society should be encouraged to voice concerns, no matter how trivial or major the public may consider them. Jane brings to light the rising issue of our younger generation forgetting the elbow grease that our forebears put in to make a living. Instead of put in extra hours, a growing population of individuals in the US are shying away from tough, service line jobs. Perhaps, the same ones that “Americans don’t want,” leading to increased outsourcing and a large unemployed population.

Talia Jane mentions that she came out of college with a degree in English Literature and “without much more than freelancing and tutoring under [her] belt.”  A college degree may have been able to guarantee a stable job years ago, but clearly times have changed, and Jane’s dream to work in media was not fulfilled right out of college. This is not to say that all English degrees are poor investments, but instead that if pursuing your dreams really means an English degree, then it would be best to gain as much work experience as possible.

Jane’s situation is not atypical; many English majors cannot find jobs right after graduation. Generally, many graduates of any degree have difficulty finding a job in this weak job market, but it’s impossible to refute that comparative to a heavily demanded engineering or computer science major, English majors will find more difficulty. However, the lack of immediate success does not preclude future success, and after listening to your dreams in college, committing to them and working for them may be the only way out.

Jane’s choice of major was not the true problem, but her lack of work ethic for a career path that, is arguably, one of the ones that require the most long-term determination, caused her to feel the injustice that is expressed in her letter.

Jane needed to work for a year in support at Yelp before the possibility of switching departments to a content job. One year of tough work in exchange for a step towards her “dream of working in media” was not short enough for her. Her impatience for fulfillment outweighed her desire for a better job, showing that these career decisions were made without considering that extraneous work would have to be put in.

Jane can’t be faulted for needing a change of scenery when she “wanted to die every single day of [her] life,” but her decision to move to the Bay Area, one of the top 3 cities with the highest cost of living in the United States, can’t have been well thought out (Economic Policy Institute 2015). Sure, she chose to move closer to her dad, but that doesn’t mean she thought about moving in with her dad to avoid paying “80%” of her salary on rent for an apartment.  Even when 33% of young adults aren’t living independently, Jane doesn’t choose to take on roommates or to move in with her dad (Pew Research 2015 Report). She states that a coworker moved East where the minimum wage could double as a living wage, yet with that knowledge she decided to move to California, where she likes the weather.

Sleeping with clothes on and eating rice everyday may not be ideal living. But if Jane was really determined to follow her dreams, as she did in college, then perhaps this lifestyle should have been worth it.

Students in college must not only think hard about what career goals they want to achieve, but also accept that those goals may require years of side jobs and difficult living conditions. Hindsight is famously 20/20, so the real challenge is for young millennials to seriously develop foresight.