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Understanding America – Part III – 5 Things You Need to Know

So you know how big a market America is and how important it can be for your business. But do you really understand the why it’s so important. Here are 5 things you need to know:

  1. Yes, it’s a big market. It’s 311 million million people. But more than that. It’s 311 million people who love to shop. These aren’t Europeans who like to save for a purchase. They’re not Asians with new money and a need to buy all the essentials (i.e. car, laundry machine, iron). Americans have everything but we want more. So what you have is 311 million consumers that want to buy your stuff. You just have to come here and show it to them.
  2. Lots of Credit Cards. Americans have lots of credit cards so you don’t need to worry about if they have money. They have credit (at least some still do). From a non-US perspective this is a bit difficult to understand. There really aren’t any credit cards outside the US. Most of the plastic cards outside the US are debit cards – in short you can’t buy something if you don’t have cash in the bank. Not having cash in the bank never stopped an American. You just whip out your credit card and bang you get to go home with your purchase. You can worry about how to pay for it later. But, that’s another story. So, here’s what you need to know: American’s have lots of money. Companies too have credit (and you will have access to this) – less than they did a few years ago, but if they see something that can help their business Americans are used to buying today and paying tomorrow. Buy today, pay tomorrow – that’s American.
  3. Everyone speaks one language. Yep, that’s 311 million people who speak English (which includes a whole bunch that also speak Spanish). That means you do one set of brochures, one video, one TV ad, one web site, one of absolutely everything you need to reach your customers. If you’re in the European Union you’ll need to do this 22 times. That means your costs are 22x higher (we’ll almost) plus you have all that additional management overhead of managing 22 different regions. The US is one market. The only other market that will reach this scale in the future is China. But, what America has today is  a huge single market, a high per capita income and a sophisticated business environment with lots of legal and and patent protection.
  4. It’s one culture. Beyond having just have one language, America has one culture. The country is incredibly divers but there’s a core set of beliefs that run through the country. Some of those are: self reliance, can do, getting things done, not waiting for Washington to solve a problem (although this may not always work as well as we’d like), not waiting for Washington to provide you with the funds you need to grow your business (although there’s plenty of government money too), the belief in the entrepreneur and a belief that anyone can achieve anything here – heck, how many countries can say they elected a President of mixed race who’s father was from Africa. It’s a country where anything is possible. At least that’s part of the common culture and something most people have in common. Is your home culture one of can-do? Is your home culture one that elevates the entrepreneur? Is your home culture one that depends on it’s solutions (e.g. financing) coming from the capital city? If you can’t answer these questions to your satisfaction then you should bring your business here. You’ll find the environment refreshing – competitive for sure – but with endless possibilities.
  5. Its so darn easy. OK, you’re not going to be plucking gold from the streets – although many used to describe it that way in the 1950’s. America has grown up a lot since then but it still has an undeniable quality that you don’t see in many other countries – and that is: if you have a good product or service all you need to do is get it out into the market. American’s don’t care if you’re new to the market, they don’t care if they have never heard of you, they don’t care if you speak English with an accent. What they care about is: Will you make money for me? Will your product or service be good for my company? From a consumer perspective this isn’t all that different. Sure brands are important, but a foreign brand can be very chic to American consumers so play on it. This point is that you don’t have to have been in business 100 years and super connected to all the power players to sell your products here. What you need is the willingness to pick up a phone (See my blog – This Is Not A Telephone) or knock on that door or in short, the willingness to just to it..

So, there you have it, 5 tips on understanding what doing business in American means. What you need to do is book that flight and start doing business here. It’s a lot easier than you think and a whole lot more profitable than going after the 2 or 3 countries that are next to you. Your 311 million customers are awaiting. So, go ahead. What are you waiting for? Book your flight now!

Understanding America – Part II – How To Incorporate (or how easy it is to get things done)

Whether it’s Americans going to Europe (or anywhere for that matter) or Europeans (or anyone) coming to America; the prospect of incorporating their new business is perplexing at best. But what makes America’s way so different from other nations?

The process in many European countries takes from seven to ten days – not counting time spent talking to your attorney and accountant – but you’ve got to do that in any country, even in the US. So, let’s just focus on how much time it takes to do the actual paperwork.

In the US it’s an easy 1-2-3 step process:

  1. You call a free telephone number for a company like LegalZoom.com at (888) 381-8758 or just do it all online. It should take you no more than 30 minutes. And, it costs as little as $99 dollars – yes that’s right – $99!

    They’ll ask you things like where you want to incorporate. I’ve always chosen to incorporate in the State of Delaware because that’s where most Venture Capitalists like it to be – plus it’s recognized by most investors as a place that has lots of commercial law to protect investors and shareholders. And that is a good thing.

    If you’re an individual it’s probably a good idea to ask for Sub-Chapter S status. Your attorney and accountant can explain this in greater detail. This blog is just about the actual paperwork.
  2. After you’re done, call the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) – the US tax revenue authority – and ask them for an EIN number (Employer Identification Number). The EIN is like a social security number for companies and you’ll need one to open a bank account and most things official. Yep, you can do this by telephone and it’s free. You can reach the IRS EIN number hotline at 1-800-829-4933. This should take no more than 15 minutes.
  3. Now, go to your refrigerator and get something cold to drink. You’ve worked really hard – one hour at most – and you need to catch your breath. Oh, you’re breathless because you can’t believe it was that easy.

So, if it takes seven days to get started in Europe that’s 56 hours (7 days times 8 hours per day).  Alright, so it isn’t 100% of your time but still 56 hours just thinking about this versus less than one hour actually doing it is a HUGE difference. In the US you can incorporate during your lunch hour and go back to work. You can’t do that in Europe – you’ll need to take some time off to get this done.

So there you have it, now you know why America is such an easy place to do business in. It’s easy just to start your business here – you can even do it during your lunch hour.

5 Simple Mistakes That Can Derail Your Startup

I see more careless and avoidable mistakes by entrepreneurs so keen to perfect their product that they loose track of the very simple things. These little mistakes though can mean the difference between getting a new customer or not; or getting that funding that they want or not. In short, simple mistakes can have gigantic repercussions. Oh, BTW, this applies to all startups – US, European, Asian, Latin, you name it… ALL!

  1. Put a full signature on all your outgoing email messages. That means: your full name, telephone number, company url, email and anything else you think is really important. Why all this? ‘Cause you want to make it easy for people to call you back (no looking up your number) and for people to stay in touch (by making it easy for them to cut and paste all your relevant info). Just look up how to do this in your email client. Look under help on adding a signature to outgoing emails. This applies to all messages from your mobile phone too.
  2. If you’ve got a foreign phone number make it easy for persons in the US to understand how to call you. For example, many foreign countries have zeros in their phone numbers which are used if dialed locally but not used if dialed internationally. For example a European cell number might be (33) (0)6 12 34 56 78 but when dialing it in Europe from within that country you would drop the “0”. Confused? Yep, it can be hard to understand at first. So make it easy for someone in the US to call you anc put something like the following in your signature: “From the US dial 011 + 33 6 12 34 56 78”. It just makes it easier and avoids missed calls.

    If you have a US number make sure that you put a 1 before the area code as 1 is the country code for the US. Don’t make the mistake of assuming everyone knows that. They do, but it’s bad customer relations to make that assumption, plus the one person that doesn’t know will probably be the person that places that big order.
  3. Put your contact information everywhere. You’ve spent countless hours preparing your slide presentation. You send it to a friend who then sends it to an important investor. But, oops, there’s no contact information in your slide deck. Oh, it was on the last page you say. Oops the last page got lost. Do yourself a big favor and put your contact information on every slide. At the very least your website and maybe your name, phone number and email.
  4. On your website make sure you provide people with multiple ways to reach you. That includes emails and phone numbers. But you say: I don’t want to get a 1,000 calls. Yes you do. If they are to congratulate you then you’ll know you’re doing something right. If it’s to complain then you know you shouldn’t be wasting more time doing things the way you are. Plus get real, you’re just starting, few companies take off overnight. When they do, then you can maybe remove the phone number and just have an email address. Until then, leave the number on your website.
  5. Use a regular land line telephone to make all your important calls. OK. This one is probably more for European entrepreneurs. But, I’m finding more folks in the US also starting to do this: using the cheapest form of phone call possible; namely: Skype. [See my previous blog entitled Ceci N’est Pas Un Téléphone – This Is Not A Telephone]. Use a regular phone line! It’s the best voice quality you can get. Sure it’s a bit more expensive but a lost customer or a lost funding opportunity is much more expensive. If you must use a mobile phone and must have an important conversation with someone. Ask if you can call them back from a land line and then do it.

So the next time you’re sending an email, putting together a presentation or making a phone call ask yourself: is there a simple detail I’ve forgotten about that could lose me this client or funding opportunity?

Go ahead… you know what you need to do now. So, just do it!

Understanding America – Part I – The Billion Dollar Sure Thing

I get asked all the time by European entrepreneurs what America is like. Many have seen it but to them it still remains a mystery (and so too for many Americans). So what is America?

Winston Churchill understood it quite clearly. He said: “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.”

So what does this mean? Simple. It means that America’s form of democracy is rather messy, problems need to become really big before they are solved or addressed in any meaningful way. It means there are lots of billion dollar opportunities just waiting for the right entrepreneur.

Here are a few examples:

  • Europe has better health care than the States (they live longer) and they deliver it at half the cost (about $3,500 per person versus $7,000 in the US). America is trying to solve this and the only way it knows how is to find the billion dollar sure thing. That means huge insurance premiums (billion dollar sure thing #1) and more money being spent on health care to satisfy the customers (billion dollar sure thing #2). But that’s not efficient you say. Who said anything about efficient, there’s no money in that, the profit is in the inefficiency. See. Simple.
  • Let’s look at another example: Diabetes. This terrible disease is of epic proportions in the US. What that presents is billion dollar opportunities to create clinics, insulin makers, and specialists of all kinds. But what about getting people to eat healthy. Well, we already have the billion dollar junk food business (i.e McDonald’s) and the billion dollar healthy food business (i.e. Whole Foods); what we need now is a billion dollar diabetic business. See? Pretty simple.
  • OK, one last example: Energy, oil, crude, Texas gold – a big multi-billion dollar problem. American just imports and consumes too much energy. So where’s the solution? Well, America’s working on it. A little wind here, a little battery thing there; but it still has not found a solution that has enough “B”s, as in Billions, to begin to be a solution to the existing BBBBBillion dollar energy business. So it keeps looking. Perhaps you have something?

You’re thinking that’s a pretty dumb way to do things. Well, maybe it is, but it’s the American way. It’s much easier to create a billion dollar solution to a problem to keep it in check than it is to solve a multi-billion dollar problem that is protected by as many special interest groups.

So, when you’re looking at opportunities in America. Look at the problems – the really big ones. In them, I’m sure you’ll find the next great billion dollar sure thing in solving them. Then come here, you’ll find the investors and you too could be on the cover of Forbes.

Oh, and if you haven’t noticed. Just because America eventually does the right thing doesn’t mean it stops doing all the wrong things, the wrong things, many times, just end up co-existing with the right thing.

Guide to Newspapers – Humor as insight

The original author of this list is unknown but I’ve been a a strong fan of humor as a doorway to insight and thought you might all enjoy this – particularly as tomorrow is April Fool’s Day. As you read the list, ask yourself: “Is this true?”,  “How true is this?”, “Is this biased?” And of course always ask “Is this funny?” And, who says a blog has to always be so serious all the time…

Enjoy! [Ten years from now you’ll be asking me: “What’s a newspaper?”]

An easy guide to keeping political news in perspective ….

  1. The Wall St Journal is read by the people who run the country.
  2. The Washington Post is read by people who think they run the country.
  3. The NY Times is read by people who think they should run the country, and who are very good at crossword puzzles.
  4. USA Today is read by people who think they ought to run the country but don’t really understand The NY Times. They do, however, like their statistics shown in pie charts.
  5. The LA Times is read by people who wouldn’t mind running the country, if they could find the time — and if they didn’t have to leave Southern California to do it.
  6. The Boston Globe is read by people whose parents used to run the country.
  7. The NY Daily News is read by people who aren’t too sure who’s running the country and don’t really care as long as they can get a seat on the train.
  8. The NY Post is read by people who don’t care who is running the country as long as they do something really scandalous, preferably while intoxicated.
  9. The Miami Herald is read by people who are running another country, but need the baseball scores.
  10. The San Francisco Chronicle is read by people who aren’t sure if there is a country or that anyone is running it; but if so, they oppose all that they stand for. There are occasional exceptions if the leaders are handicapped, minority, feminist, atheist dwarfs who also happen to be illegal aliens from any other country or galaxy, provided of c ourse, that they are not Republicans.
  11. The National Enquirer is read by people trapped in line at the grocery store.
  12. The Portland Oregonian is read by people who have recently caught a fish and need something to wrap it in.

So, the next time you’re trying to make a point or simply trying to get heard: use humor. It works! It’s fun! People will thank you for it! And, you’ll live longer!

Ceci N’est Pas Un Téléphone – This Is Not A Telephone

René Magrite’s painting The Treachery of Images (that’s the image in this post) captures his intended goal, as Wikipedia puts it, of  challenging “…observers’ preconditioned perceptions of reality and force viewers to become hypersensitive to their surroundings”. How’s that for a mouth full?

So what the heck is this post about? It’s about how many of you, running businesses, thinking that something for example is a pipe when as Magrite puts it “Ceci n’est pas une pipe”  or when a pipe simply is not a pipe.

WTF!

I spend a great deal of time speaking to and advising companies on what to do. Often by telephone – or at least that’s what it seems like,  until I start hearing myself saying “what?”, “could you repeat that”, “you’re breaking up”, and of course that world famous “are you still there?”

So what’s going on? Simply, I’m talking to a lot of entrepreneurs trying to save some money who grew up using services like Skype and two cans and a string to get the cheapest phone calls they could – read free.

The problem is that when these methods work, they work really well. But when they don’t, they don’t work at all and make the person on the call seem like someone who doesn’t care about their business, their customers and their brand.

Oh, “come on” you’re saying. “I can’t use Skype?

NO! YOU CAN NOT!

Imaging this: you’re trying to raise your first $1 million, get your first major account, or recruit that key person to your team and you spend half the call scream over the bad connection. You’ve just shot yourself in the foot.

I know Skype is second nature to most everyone outside the US but if you’re serious about your business make sure you’re using the very best telephone quality you can and that means a land line. Sure, it’s more expensive, but you’re worth it!

So the next time you’re tempted to use Skype to make that important call think to yourself: “Ceci n’est pas un téléphone” or simply “This is not a telephone”.

Technology Topples Governments

In my two previous posts (Vietnam… and RIAA…) I wrote about how the nature of protest was changing and increasingly we are seeing evidence of this.

Voice telephone calls are no longer the dominate way protests are organized. In the last two weeks we’ve seen democracy blossom in Tunisia principally fueled by Twitter feeds and in Egypt one of the principal causes of the tipping point that brought opposition into the streets were Facebook posts.

Think about how old these tools are. Facebook was founded in June, 2004 and Twitter in July, 2006.

That’s like saying that less than six years after the printing press was invented in 1493 democracy blossomed throughout the world.  But that’s not what happened. Democracies didn’t start to appear until 1776 in the modern era or 283 years after the invention of the printing press.

We’re living in a world where ideas, protests and organized movements are coming together literally at the speed of light – the maximum speed at which a VOIP message travels along an optical wire.

What will the future bring? An untold number of Black Swan events and a world we won’t recognize ten years from now. Better? Yes. But, not for dictators.

However, this brings up the sad question: Does Haiti have enough cell phones to fight Baby Doc?

http://boilingice.com/2010/09/riaa-and-mppa-go-down/

Wikileaks and The War In Vietnam

Mark Rudd at the Columbia University student protests in 1968

In my last post (see RIAA and MPPA Go Down) I predicted that the future of protest was changing and that we would increasingly see more activists banding together in unconventional ways (e.g. hacker attacks) to protest.

Well we didn’t have to wait for long. This now seems like the normal state of affairs. This past week several hacker groups attacked Amazon and Paypal for canceling their business relationships with Wikileaks which recently released vast quantities of US diplomatic cables.

This isn’t about which laws were broken but a moment for us to start asking questions on the very nature of political protest.

In 1773 it seemed right to us to throw some tea in Boston harbor. These past months in France large demonstrations were held in the street to protest changes in the retirement age. And, in Myanmar supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi recently celebrated in the streets after her release after 15 years of house arrest.

What do you do when you can’t throw some tea or take to the streets? How do you get your voice heard? Is the only way left hacking? Can we learn to protest in a non-violent fashion? Is violence only the sort of actions resorted to when no other options are available to you? These are the questions we need to ask ourselves.

Newspapers who always served the purpose of reporting on the wrong actions of government are losing their readership – think of Common Sense by Thomas Paine published in 1776 or the Pentagon Papers published by The New York Times in 1971. New forms of communication are taking over (e.g. The Huffington Post, The Daily Beast). But, are these new voices enough to wake the citizenry? Or, are these voices so soft that only small communities actually hear them?

So, if today you were protesting the Vietnam War what would you do? Would a post be enough? Would telling your neighbors be enough? Would a whisper be enough to spark change? What would you do?

[On the business opportunity front I’ll predict that we are going to see more Wikileaks like sites and all manner of sites devoted to public protest. ]

RIAA and MPPA Go Down: Pirates 1 – Suits 0

Last weekend a bunch of folks at the 4chan internet forum organized and launched a series of Denial of Service (DDoS)  attacks against the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA websites. CNET reports that the attacks resulted in 37 service interruptions and 1 hour and 37 minutes of downtime for the MPAA, and 24 separate down-times for the RIAA.

Now I know what your thinking: “yeah, my server at the office goes down that much every time we have a quarterly sales call”. But, hey, is that a coordinated attack? Were all your sales people deliberately trying to bring down headquarters? Well maybe, but that’s not likely. Not at least until now.

And yes, this ain’t exactly a French style national strike that shuts the whole country down but it’s a taste of things to come.

Here you have a bunch of folks 1) coming together,2) for a single purpose, 3) to protest in an organized fashion 4) against something and someone that they feel is forcing them to do things their way and doesn’t  want to listen to an alternative point of view or realize that history is passing them by. Do I hear King George anyone?

I just want to posit that we’ll see more of these types of protests.

In the future – that’s a time far, far away like five years from now – we’ll see people band together and protest from the comfort of their homes or while at a stop light. They’ll coast over to their favorite protest site, enter in their favorite online ID, obscure their IP, anonymize their presence and hit send to protest against their government, their school, their employer or whatever it is they want to protest about.

Hey, could this be the start of the anti-Facebook, anti-MySpace, generation. The one that re-discovers plausible deniability… Hey, that’s not me protesting on the steps of Columbia University, that’s someone else. Maybe people need their anonymity to take back their collective voices? Maybe they need to get their voices back without the fear that some Facebook or MySpace picture is going to cost them their job. Maybe, just maybe, Democracy as we know it is evolving right before out eyes.

A Blog In Two Pictures – Apps vs. Songs

Aysmco is reporting that iOS application downloads on Apple’s iTunes store should overtake the number of song downloads sometime this year. The report is based on figures from the recent September 1 update to the iTunes Music Store.

Picture #1 – Total Apps Vs. Songs Downloaded In Months Since Launch:

Picture #2 – Growth Rates In Downloads for Apps Vs Songs (aka velocity):

Conclusion: Apps are hot, really hot, so hot that Lady Gaga is burning up the Telephone telling all her friends.

Total apps downloaded will soon be greater than the total number of songs downloaded on iTunes. I don’t believe anyone anticipated how big apps would be. So what does this mean to the idea of SaaS and the very meaning of Cloud Computing? I’ll let you know in a future post. Right now I’m busy re-watching the Lady Gaga video… wow, I love those product placements…