Venture Deals Breaks Down the VC Industry for EntrepreneursSo, you’ve got your business plans, pitch deck, and awesome team ready to launch your startup. Think you’re ready to go? Your journey is just starting out, young grasshopper. Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist is an in-depth guide through the legal and financial maze that most startup owners aren’t prepared to face. Written by two experts with more than 40 combined years in the venture capital industry, the book points out the key terms and conditions to look for while signing contracts and moving closer to their dream.

What is Venture Deals About?

Venture Deals is the third edition of a book that started out as a blog intended to bring more transparency to the venture capital (VC) industry. The VC industry has its own terminology, best practices, and strategies that many people, including promising startups who are approached by venture capitalists, do not realize. The book starts with the basics, explaining how a VC firm is structured and how it invests.

Venture Deals then delves into the core topic of the book, the term sheet. For those not familiar with the word, a “term sheet” is like a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory — from a startup’s point of view. It lays out the initial conditions for a venture capitalist or VC firm to invest in your startup dream. Getting this term sheet is a hard-fought battle, but it is the start of a longer war. That is the purpose of the latter part of the book, which focuses on the funding and negotiation concerns you may have down the road.

Beyond term sheets, Venture Deals exposes readers to the mind of a venture capitalist — or VC. The authors show what a venture capitalist looks for in a promising startup at each stage of funding. (Hint: it’s more than an awesome-looking pitch deck or Prezi presentation). Unlike the perception, startup financing is not like a fairytale where a “venture capitalist” waltzes in to save a promising startup. The promise is more nuanced, startup owners have more options, and conditions have more leeway than you might imagine. Venture Deals is a guide to understanding these nuances and options so you can achieve the most favorable arrangement to launch the start-up of your dreams.

Author Brad Feld is an experienced early-stage investor and entrepreneur with 25 years of experience in the industry. He co-founded Foundry Group with Jason Mendelson. Feld has also founded (or co-founded) several other businesses including Intensity Ventures, Feld Technologies and Mobius Venture Capital. Besides running businesses, he is also an avid marathon runner.

Co-author Jason Mendelson is a former startup lawyer, an adjunct law professor, and a co-founder of the Foundry Group. Mendelson previously served as managing director and Chief Administrator Office for Mobius Venture Capital. In addition, he is a hiker, musician and home remodeler.

What Was Best About Venture Deals?

Venture Deals deserves a lot of credit for attempting to break down the venture capital industry for the wide-eyed startup owner who still believes his or her startup is a billion-dollar unicorn in the making. While authors Feld and Mendelson don’t dash anyone’s dreams, they bring a much-needed practicality to the world of startups entrepreneurs will need to understand. The authors pull out key terms and concepts from the confusing legal and financial startup funding maze and take readers on a tour to show how the industry really works. In some cases, Venture Deals walks readers through every important paragraph of a document (like the term sheet).

What Could Have Been Done Differently?

Venture Deals, while extremely helpful and organized when focusing on the fundamentals, is not a book for everyone. Despite the authors’ attempts, it can be an intellectually daunting book if you don’t have some exposure to corporate finance. This isn’t a bad thing, but it is something readers may want to consider. If you know what terms like “convertible debt” and “vesting” mean, you should be fine.

Another issue is the balance of legal and financial information. The book is skewed more toward the financial side of things. More information on the legal issues in startup financing might be helpful.

Why Read Venture Deals?

As mentioned above, the venture capital industry is something most people know little about. Because of that lack of knowledge, people to believe in the hype. The authors take the time to gently bring entrepreneurs back to earth by explaining key issues a prospective startup company needs to understand. There aren’t too many books that do this kind of thing. Most startup books focus on the business strategy or marketing aspects of getting a new business off the ground. Venture Deals focuses on the less shiny, but all-important, legal and financing issues of building a startup.

This article, "Venture Deals Breaks Down the VC Industry for Entrepreneurs" was first published on Small Business Trends

The Ultimate Start-Up Guide: What Not to Do to SucceedThe Ultimate Start-Up Guide: Marketing Lessons, War Stories, and Hard-Won Advice from Leading Venture Capitalists and Angel Investors isn’t a collection of feel-good stories about business owners who launched a startup in less than a week. Instead, it is a collection of start-up war stories, written from the perspective of the marketers, venture capitalists and investors who were in on some pretty chaotic business launches — ones where things didn’t always go as planned.

In short, The Ultimate Start-Up Guide is a guide to how startups can succeed by studying how most startups fail.

What is The Ultimate Start-Up Guide About?

The Ultimate Start-Up Guide is slightly different than other startup books you might be used to. Instead of overly positive platitudes, the book offers some sobering realities. As an example, a reader need only read the first sentence in the book:

“Nine out of 10 start-ups fail within their first 24 months of operation.”

The authors don’t present this information (and the other sad statistics that you probably won’t find emphasized in other startup books) to scare people out of launching a startup. They present the information to give potential and current start-up owners a realistic idea of the startup world and to provide them a realistic solution for beating the odds.

The Ultimate Start-Up Guide suggests that prospective startup owners beat the odds by understanding where other startups went wrong. It does this by starting (Chapter 3) and ending the book (Chapter 21) with discussions on the common mistakes that start-ups make, from burning cash to lack of product or service market fit. These failures are common because many startup owners feel like the exception. They become a victim of their own hype when reality hits. Instead of being different, they find out their business is like every other startup.

Startups must break free of the mentality of believing thy are somehow different in order to survive. A detached and strategic approach, the one presented in The Ultimate Start-Up Guide, helps readers navigate around typical problems. Focusing on where your startup fits into the reality of the market rather than trying to make the market fit your expectations, will give you a better chance of surviving the roller coaster ride ahead.

Authors Tom Hogan and Carol Broadbent are the owners of Crowded Ocean, a marketing agency that assists startups in the early phases of their launch. Hogan and Broadbent started Crowded Ocean after years of working in marketing at the C-suite level in businesses such as Sun Microsystems and Oracle. They established their business in 2008 and, using the same principles discussed in the book, managed to pivot their company through the ups and downs of a post-recession and a highly competitive economy.

What Was Best About The Ultimate Start-Up Guide?

The Ultimate Start-Up Guide is a book that gets down into the trenches to provide the basic answers for anyone seeking to launch a start-up. Questions include: How much funding should I seek? What kind of marketing tools should I use to spread the word? Do I even have a good startup idea?

While it certainly can’t replace a trusted advisor, the book does a great job of helping prospective startup entrepreneurs identify traps and create an initial plan for navigating around them. As mentioned throughout this review, this focus on sharing startup “war stories” is unique in the field of startup advice.

What Could Have Been Done Differently?

Although the book is over 200+ pages long, the chapters in The Ultimate Start-Up Guide are actually quite short, even on topics that require substantial depth such as startup and marketing. For readers who just want a quick, specific answer to a question about startups, this might work fine. In the case of those who are looking for a more in-depth discussion, this book can serve as a starting point, but not an ultimate resource. It does provide a suggested reading list in several chapters, however.

Why Read The Ultimate Start-Up Guide?

Why should a small business owner read about start-ups in The Ultimate Start-Up Guide? All businesses, start-up or not, face the same challenges of fitting their product or service to the market while dealing with funding, team management and money management issues. The Ultimate Start-Up Guide provides a simple road map for any business that wants to launch quickly on a shoestring budget. While not every chapter will apply (for example, the chapter on venture capitalists), the book offers advice that can be used from a small business perspective for working with influential stakeholders in your business.

This article, "The Ultimate Start-Up Guide Explains What Not to Do to Succeed" was first published on Small Business Trends

Blue-Collar Gold Shows the Potential Beyond the StereotypeWhen most people think of entrepreneurs, they think of white-collar employees. They don’t think of chimneys. Yet, chimneys were the essential ingredient behind Mark Stoner’s rise to million-dollar success. Like others, Stoner didn’t believe a blue-collar job was the path to big success. His trip through the blue-collar industry was supposed to be temporary until he found something “better”. But things didn’t out that way. Blue-Collar Gold: How to Build a Service Business From the Dirt Up is the story of Stoner’s success and the lessons he gained along the way.

What is Blue-Collar Gold About?

Most people have a negative view of the blue-collar jobs. Society today often views them as inferior to white-collar jobs and certainly not the path to a lucrative business career. This bias assumes that blue-collar workers are not entrepreneurial like their white-collar counterparts.

Stoner’s own experiences, as depicted in his book, tell a very different story.

Before launching the blue collar business that would make him millions, Stoner was a member of a country band that was on the rise. They had won awards, gained a little attention, and were preparing for a deal. Unfortunately, that’s when trouble with the band leader and an ego inflated with success sent the group’s fortunes spiraling.

Stoner took the opportunity to dive full-time into a very unusual side gig — that of a chimney sweep. But through a series of unexpected twists and turns, it would also lead to blue-collar gold and make him a millionaire. The process wasn’t a straightforward one. For a long time, he treated his chimney-sweeping like a “job” instead of a profitable business.

Then he got seriously injured on the job.

It occurred to Stoner he could scale the business and scale he did. He shifted into business growth mode. Stoner obtained more trucks, expanded his service area, and began to grow the business to the point he could step away and still earn income.

Blue-Collar Gold contains the lessons on leadership, business development, and marketing that Stoner gained along the way. His core message is that a great potential exists in supposedly blue-collar businesses but entrepreneurs have to be willing to step outside their comfort zone  By moving past the “blue-collar” stereotype, entrepreneurs can find new frontiers of opportunity with the same growth potential as the high tech startups you see on television or in magazines.

Stoner turned a one-man side gig as a chimney sweep into a multi-million dollar business. He is a speaker, the current president of the Chimney Safety Institute and founder of the Sir Vent Chimney and Venting Service, a franchise that developed out of his expertise in the chimney-sweeping industry.

What Was Best About Blue-Collar Gold?

Blue-Collar Gold deserves credit for highlighting the business potential in supposedly blue-collar businesses. As Stoner reports (and news reports have declared for years), hundreds of blue-collar jobs go unfulfilled each year. These gaps in the economy are waiting for entrepreneurs and workers to fill them.

Blue-Collar Gold also demonstrates how leaders can use theory and practical experience to become better leaders. The book shifts between Stoner’s actual experience and the insights to be gained. This interplay of experience and learning is exactly what entrepreneurs need to advance in their careers.

What Could Have Been Done Differently?

Blue-Collar Gold is better suited for professionals already in blue-collar businesses. While the book offers plenty of helpful tips it lacks critical details prospective blue-collar entrepreneurs need to get started. Some of these details include funding, money management and business planning. Providing these details could help a prospective blue-collar entrepreneur break  into a new industry or a current blue-collar business owner refine his or her management skills.

Why Read Blue-Collar Gold?

Blue-Collar Gold tells an advice-packed, inspirational “rags-to-riches” story to inspire anyone interested in taking a second look at blue-collar business. Stoner also deserves credit for changing the discussion within the blue-collar business world itself. The blue-collar businesses have traditionally emphasized technical skills. Stoner’s journey shows the power of including business development and other “soft skills” into the blue-collar business world with unexpectedly profitable results.

This article, "Blue-Collar Gold Shows the Potential Beyond the Stereotype" was first published on Small Business Trends

From Unicorn to Unicorn Factory: Driving Results by Hacking GrowthMany businesses see growth hacking as a “startup” game for tech-savvy Millennials. Hacking Growth: How Today’s Fastest-Growing Companies Drive Breakout Success would argue that it is not. The book, written by the very person who coined the now-trending buzzword “growth hacking” (Sean Ellis) with co-author Morgan Brown, explores the realistic principles behind growth hacking to demonstrate how any business that’s ready can achieve and sustain massive growth in a short period of time.

What is Hacking Growth About?

Most people hear about the wildly successful results of expert growth hackers like Ellis, Seth Godin, and Neil Patel. They don’t focus on the principles that gave them those results. That is the focus of Hacking Growth. Unlike the perception, growth hacking is not all about getting as many customers to download your product or use your story as possible. It’s actually about sustaining growth by offering great value to your current customers and applying the right levers to scale that value to a larger and larger audience.

Ellis came to this realization when he left his sales job to work for Uproar, a gaming company. At first, Ellis tried to follow the traditional advertising path (banner ads, for example) but found that he was playing a losing game. That’s when he and his team began to focus on data, experimentation and cross-department collaboration. They ended up going viral, with games being placed on 40,000 websites.

The process that Ellis developed out of that period in his life (along with later experiences) helped him shape the foundations of what is called growth hacking today. As Ellis and Brown point out, growth hacking is less about having the most innovative technology or a million-dollar budget (though these two things wouldn’t hurt). It’s about developing a process that allows your business to adapt to the changing needs of your customer through experimentation, data analysis and observation, not assumptions. It’s about finding and leveraging your unique competitive advantage that connects with your customers (the book calls this connection an “aha moment”). By doing this, the authors say, your business has the best opportunity to support your current customers while hacking the foundation for future ones.

Ellis is the founder and CEO of Growth Hackers and Qualaroo, a contributor to Entrepreneur, and The Wall Street Journal, and advisor on growth hacking issues. He is a former first marketer at Dropbox, Lookout and Xobni and helped two companies go from zero customers to IPO filing (LogMeIn and Uproar).

Brown is an author, consultant, speaker and growth hacking expert who serves as the Chief Operating Officer of Inman News, a real estate news company. He previously served as the Interim Head of Growth at Qualaroo and True Vault, a data company.

What Was Best About Hacking Growth?

Popular buzzwords, like “growth hacking” can become so vague and overused that they become meaningless. Hacking Growth helps to combat that problem by focusing on the principles, rather than the spectacle, of growth hacking. Unlike the popular myth, growth hacking is not only for tech-savvy companies started by Millennials. It’s for every business owner that takes the time to learn and experiment with a new mindset. Ellis and Brown demonstrate how this mindset is ultimately the method by which companies survive a constantly changing consumer-driven world.

What Could Have Been Done Differently?

While Hacking Growth emphasizes that growth hacking can be adapted to almost any business, the book’s growth-hacking process may not be for everyone. Hacking Growth tends to focus on product-oriented businesses rather than service-oriented businesses. These companies might include software companies, manufacturers and others. The book also focuses on businesses having the resources and staff to conduct experiments, and conduct different types of marketing research. This does not mean a small business (even a solopreneur) can’t learn something from the book. It just means that readers who have a small business need to adapt where it makes sense.

Why Read Hacking Growth?

Hacking Growth is best suited for the business owner who feels confused by the actual process of growth hacking. As mentioned earlier in this review, growth hacking is a topic that’s well covered. That being said, there is more glitz than substance in talk about growth hacking. Hacking Growth skips all of this by focusing on lessons extracted by Ellis and Brown so readers can adapt those principles to their own business situations. The key, as readers will quickly find out, is not to create a “read it and forget it” recipe for business growth. The key is developing the right mindset and process to achieve that goal. Hacking Growth provides insight into the right mindset readers need while attempting to hack their business’ growth and gives examples that demonstrate what a sustainable process looks like.

This article, "From Unicorn to Unicorn Factory: Driving Results by Hacking Growth" was first published on Small Business Trends

Crowd Start is the Ultimate Guide to CrowdfundingIn the age of Kickstarter, Indiegogo and GoFundMe, Crowd Start: The Ultimate Guide to a Powerful and Profitable Crowdfunding Campaign offers an opportunity for prospective individuals or businesses to learn how to leverage the power of crowds to achieve their dreams. The book, written by an entrepreneur who successfully exceeded funding for her own crowdfunded project, details how readers can establish a well-planned campaign. The book covers the fundamentals, strategies and roadmap that will take a crowdfunder from Day Zero until completion.

What is Crowd Start About?

In Crowd Start, author Ariel Hyatt dives into the world of crowdfunding to help prospective participants decide if they are ready and able to get involved. You may have heard about crowdfunding sites, like Kickstarter or IndieGoGo. You might have heard about the success stories of entrepreneurs, creative professionals, and other individuals that used crowdfunding. Based on those success stories, you might assume all you need for a successful crowdfunding campaign is a smart idea and the right kind of “buzz”.

The answer couldn’t be farther from the truth.

As Hyatt points out, crowdfunding is not a guaranteed win. In fact, a surprisingly large number of crowdfunding campaigns fail to reach their goal for a wide variety of reasons. Nothing, not even the cutest cat videos, guarantees a success so participants have to put in the time to build an audience, craft a campaign, and get funding.

But what makes up a crowdfunding campaign with a high chance of survival? Hyatt points to several core elements: a good idea, a committed audience, well-designed and engaging campaign and a team of helpful supporters. Starting with this formula of a good idea, crowd power, platform and teamwork, a person launching a crowdfunding campaign can stack the odds heavily in his or her favor.

Maintaining your crowdfunding campaign’s momentum is the next hurdle, something Crowd Start covers in a lot of detail. The book outlines a highly specific timeline that readers can follow to keep the audience engaged and responsive through the entire campaign. Crowd Start then provides tips for what to do after crossing the finish line to leverage crowdfunding success or failure into an experience worth the effort.

Hyatt is the founder of CyberPR music, a PR firm that leverages publicity, social media, crowdfunding and branding to help creative professionals, businesses and others leverage the power of crowds to achieve their dreams. A veteran of the PR industry, Hyatt is also a speaker who has been involved with big events like South by Southwest and helped clients get press on Oprah, CNN, and Forces.

What Was Best About Crowd Start?

Crowd Start provides a detailed step-by-step template for those who want to know exactly what they should do at every point in a crowdfunding campaign. Hyatt provides templates for social media messages, blog posts and email newsletters along with recommendations on how to leverage advertising and other online tools to extend the reach of your campaign. This level of insight comes from the author’s own PR experience, but also her experience running a successful crowdfunding experiment earning her over $10,000 more than expected.

What Could Have Been Done Differently?

One area of caution to consider with Crowd Start is the amount of time it will take to run a campaign, which isn’t really discussed in the book. Hyatt provides a lot of channels, from social media updates to videos and blog posts, that must be maintained to keep the momentum of a crowdfunding campaign going. While the timeline in the book can help with figuring out what tasks should be done each day, more information on how to efficiently allocate time during a crowdfunding campaign might give readers a more realistic assessment of the time commitment and work involved.

Why Read Crowd Start?

Crowd Start is an excellent example of a book written from the perspective of someone who knows their subject matter. As discussed above, Hyatt successfully launched her own crowdfunding experiment and has used her expertise to help others. Crowd Start serves as a blueprint to that success, identifying the key milestones and challenges of which perspective crowdfunders must be aware. This kind of information will be extremely helpful to any person or business at any point in the crowdfunding journey. This includes those thinking about launching a crowdfunding campaign and those who have already completed a campaign and want additional insight into their experience from an expert.

This article, "Crowd Start Serves As the Ultimate Guide to Crowdfunding" was first published on Small Business Trends