The Lean Startup: Vision

Delving Deeper: An analysis of Section 2 of Eric Ries’ new book, The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses.

In the section of The Lean Startup entitled “Vision,”  Eric Ries outlines the importance of having a clear vision, without losing oneself in the detail of a master plan. Before one finds a strategy, one must be certain that one’s assumptions are correct about what the customer wants. What would be the benefit of creating a feature that the customer doesn’t ever use? Instead, Ries uses the metaphor of a rocket versus a car (21).

When we drive a car, we understand generally where we are going and how to get there, but our success depends upon our ability to adapt, to interact with our surroundings. We may travel to the same location everyday for work, but each drive does not involve precisely the same touches to the break, shift of gears, and turn of the wheel. By comparison, when a rocket is launched, every single action must be carefully planned. Ries argues managing a successful startup is like driving a car, we must react and adapt, engaging in the cycle of “Build-Measure-Learn,” because to simply continue based on ones initial assumptions, with no learning process, means inevitable failure.

One major problem Ries claims to have had with the management of Startups, is the ingrained belief that management equates to bureaucracy. But some guidance is necessary to avoid the inefficient and expensive failures that engineers fear. According to Ries, the solution is to experiment.

Ries does not just try to challenge his reader’s attitude towards management, he also attempts to challenge the common conception of a “startup.” A startup can be a large, well-funded branch of an establish company, it can be a local Mom-and-Pop shop, or it can even be a newly formed government agency- because it is any “human institution designed to create a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty,” regardless of size, industry or sector (27). To survive, a startup must innovate or die.

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

To truly get a feel for Ries’ message I would encourage anyone to read his book, but if there is one clear direction given in “Vision,” it is that learning is the key to success. Learning, not as an excuse for failure but as part of a methodical experimental process to discover what customers want, is imperative to startup success. It is the key to avoiding wasted time, energy and money. Ries calls this “validated learning… backed up by real empirical data from real customers” (48). Finally, towards the end of the section, Ries breaks down this process further by delving into the questions that each experiment should ultimately attempt to answer, because ‘success is not delivering a feature, success is learning.’ After all the feature is more than useless, it is a dangerous waste of valuable resources if the consumer won’t use it.

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The Lean Startup – What it is, How it was Born

One of our most popular posts to date has been a preview of Eric Ries’ new book,  The Lean Startup.  Our previous article (before the book was released) compared past product developing life cycles to Ries’ “approach to creating continuous innovation,” but could not explore the subject in the depth that Ries’ full work would offer. Now that we have a copy, I will discuss each of the four major sections in its own post.

The Lean Startup - by Eric Ries

Introducing a new way of thinking:

If innovation is born from the simple conviction that there must be a better way, than Eric Ries has written a fitting introduction for his work. Within the first few pages  he shares with his readers how he reached the point where he was willing to throw out the traditional rulebook on entrepreneurship and product development- and take a risk on a new methodology for managing and developing within a startup.

He describes the dramatic moment when he stood in the rain and parted ways with his first partner, realizing that he had taken a huge and exciting leap with his first company- and fallen flat on his face. He explains how he felt duped by what he calls the “myth of entrepreneurship,” – the belief that a great product at the right time is the key – “if you build it they will come” (2). Frustrated with this false sense of predestined glory, he tries an entirely new, entirely different approach at his next company. Rather than build a complete product before release, the product will be released as a bare-bones barely functional product, then continuously tested by real users and altered based on their experience and needs. To the surprise of nearly everyone involved- it is a runaway success. Time and time against Ries is told the Lean Startup method “could never work,” and yet it does, eventually “blossom[ing] into a global movement” (7).

So what is the meat of this program? To the author there is more to finding startup success than effective product development – his method is a philosophy, a management style, and a point of view.

In the introduction he presents the reader with his “5 Principles of the Lean Startup.”

1.)Entrepreneurs are Everywhere – Entrepreneurs are not defined by industry or company size, but by their attempt to create a new product or service “under conditions of extreme uncertainty” (8).

2.)Entrepreneurship is Management – A company is an institution rather than a product, and management should be tailored to suit the aforementioned “context of extreme uncertainty.”

3.)Validated Learning – No element of the original vision should go untested, find what actually works.

4.)Build-Measure-Learn – Build products, measure response, learn what is working and what isn’t.

5.)Innovation Accounting – Measure progress, set goals, and prioritize. In short; hold everyone accountable.

Ries successfully builds the reader’s confidence in himself and his strategy, while honestly reliving his own failures and addressing the reality that most startups flounder. He then breaks the book into 3 parts-Vision, Steer, Accelerate.

Check out next week’s post for a short summary and critique of Part 1, “Vision,” and stop by your local bookstore to pick up your own copy of Ries’ highly original work: The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses.

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The Polarizing effect of SOPA: What it is and why it divides us

SOPA is a hot topic.

Currently CEOs, powerful politicians, Hollywood heavyweights and average Americans all seem to be at odds over one issue (and actually I am not referring to Occupy Wall Street). SOPA, or the Stop Online Piracy Act, is legislation intended to ensure that “our law keeps pace with infringers,” according to Copyright Office Director Maria Pallante, who openly supports the bill. She is one of the many who have and will testify before the House Judiciary Committee.

The Hollywood establishment, as well as other major content creators and holders, are pushing SOPA because they are tired of illegal and pirated materials cutting into their profits. After investing millions of dollars and valuable time to create and promote material, businesses, production companies, actors and authors are tired of seeing their pay-off diminished by websites which illegally post their content for free. They argue that by protecting content, Congress will be protecting U.S. jobs at a time when our country desperately needs them- after all, higher revenue streams mean greater growth and the ability to take on more projects, hire more employees, and keep our economy healthy.

Essentially, SOPA would enable the government to attack “rogue websites,” or sites considered copyright violators. The means for targeting these “rogue sites,” is the part of the bill which has instigated the most controversy, and its description inevitably includes a word which is usually considered anathema to Americans: censorship.

As citizens of the United States, we are usually unconcerned with the minutia of how our constitution functions, and instead simply enjoy the premium our culture places on our right to free speech.  The Bill of Rights explicitly states that our government must not infringe upon this right, and although there may be exceptions such as cases of libel or threats to individual and national safety, ultimately these exceptions are dealt with through legal prosecution rather than preventative measures. Therefore, our gut response to government censorship, even just the concept of censorship in general, is horror and resistance; but is that response appropriate in this context?

Pallante stated “There will be times when blocking access to websites may be the only quick and effective course of action and that providing this tool to the Attorney General is therefore a critical part of the equation. Likewise, I believe that search engines should be fully within the reach of the Attorney General and should be ordered in appropriate circumstances to dismantle direct hyperlinks that send unwitting consumers to rogue websites.”

However, Pallante’s description of an ‘effective course of action’ raises more questions, what about websites that serve as forums for millions of users? If one user posts pirated content will the entire website be blocked? How carefully are legislators considering the unintended consequences that SOPA might have?

While Pallante is welcome to present her opinion at the hearing, demandprogress.org is claiming that opponents of the bill are not being allowed the same courtesy, “The House is holding hearings on sweeping Internet censorship legislation this week — and it’s censoring the opposition!… the bill’s opponents — tech companies, free speech and human rights activists, and hundreds of thousands of Internet users — won’t have a voice.” While the Motion Picture Association of America has been invited to testify, civil-liberties groups that have openly criticized the bill have not.

And while SOPA has some powerful support, the opposition seems just as strong, and is capitalizing on the ironic twist that the hearings fall on National Censorship Day. Some of the more recognizable Internet powerhouses are speaking out against SOPA, including Google, Facebook, Tumblr and Zynga. They argue that rather than fostering creativity and job creation, SOPA will suppress entrepreneurship. In their words, the legislation is “a serious risk to our industry’s continued track record of innovation and job creation, as well as to our nation’s cybersecurity.” Even presidential candidate Ron Paul has expressed his enmity toward SOPA.

Cory Doctorow writes that SOPA is “the worst piece of Internet legislation in American history.”

Yet politicians in favor of the bill have claimed that the rhetoric surrounding it is “hyperbolic,” and that “the notion that this bill threatens freedom of information is insupportable.”

So where do you stand? Does SOPA endanger industries based online and hinder free speech, or is it necessary to protect copyrighted material? Make your voice heard in our comments section, or join the ranks of constituents contacting their congress-people.

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Google+ has an Identity Crisis

Our last blog entry, “Anonymity, Accountability and Free Speech” discussed the chasm that has developed in the social networking world between those who encourage the enforcement of ‘real-name’ policies, and those who believe that the abolition of anonymity is irresponsible and insensitive.

Google+’s own real-name policy seemed to launch this debate when the fledgling social network began deleting the accounts of users who were not employing their real names and revealing their ‘true’ identities. However, Google seemed largely taken aback by how controversial this policy was, simply viewing their own rules as an extension of how many users already reveal their legal names on the largest and most popular social network in the world, Facebook.

Now that Google+ has over 40 million users and it is no longer invitation only, it claims to be out of the stage in which the vast majority of its members are early adopters. Since this recent growth the higher-ups at Google seem to have changed their tune. At a web 2.o conference in San Francisco, Google executives announced that pseudonyms will soon be acceptable, and explained that the real-names policy was only a temporary precaution, a transitory policy to bridge the gap to when the social network was out of its earliest testing stage and had a more complex system of policies in place that could handle fluid online identities and protect minors. Additionally, Google+ has stated that the strict policy among early adopters was intended to create accepted norms and set a tone that would lead to transparency that was voluntary rather than enforced.

However, some critics argue that this new shift is disingenuous. One writer asserts that there is only one way to encourage pseudonymity, “Stop deleting peoples’ accounts when you suspect that the name they are using is not their legal name.” He argues that Google’s claim that it will take take time adjust the network to accept pseudonyms proves that this will not be their strategy, and that their claims are therefore insincere. Are the critics right, is this just a stalling tactic to lull proponents of anonymity into a false sense of security until the controversy dies down? Even optimistic users seem to have been made uncomfortable by one executive’s trepidation about the relaxed policies. Worrying about the consequences of a network without rules, Bradley Horowitz, VP of Product for Google+ warned that the site was not the “Wild Wild West.” This exaggerated attitude might indicate that Google+ is not willing to compromise if it means relinquishing control.

Where Google+ will eventually fall on the spectrum of policies that accept and reject complete anonymity now seems uncertain, but the company is prepared to finally allow organizations as well as individuals to have Google+ pages. The social network will finally welcome company branding pages onto the site, and is also preparing the network to integrate with Google apps.

What do you think the right move is for Google+? For more information on the argument about anonymity, try reading our last post, “Anonymity, Accountability and Free Speech.”

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Anonymity, Accountability and Free Speech

Since the debut of Google+ there has been a storm of controversy surrounding the new social network’s real name policy. The attempt to enforce what Google believes to be a form of legitimacy on their users has been met with both approval and disgust. Today I hope to address why the topic of online anonymity has become a battleground, and whether the Google+ approach represents the future of an online presence.

What motivates the Google+ Policy?

Essentially, Google hopes to build a community which engages in positive interaction, and the company believes that by linking users’ actions to their real world names, they are imposing accountability. Theoretically, this would discourage users from planning criminal activity through the site, engaging in cyber-bullying, and the posting of hostile material. In the past social networks have been used to encourage violence during the London Riots, and as platforms for serious bullying tactics that have led to teen suicide. One group of State Senators in New York are so disturbed by the recent outbreak of online cruelty that they have drafted a bill specifically targeting cyber-bullying. They argue that anonymity enables this behavior.

While blogger David Cowan credits the Google+ policy as a sincere attempt to address these issues, and to “promote trust and transparency,” as well as “mitigate spam and flame wars,” researcher Danah Boyd has gone so far as to call the policy an “abuse of power,” and accuse the Google+ team of insensitivity and oppression. Those against the policy also argue that it represents an attempt to profit from Google+ users by building a comprehensive consumer profile.

Google+ has inspired a discussion about free speech and social responsibility that pivots around the question of Anonymity

Why do so many people advocate for Anonymity?

Those against anonymity claim that the use of a pseudonym is disingenuous because theoretically it allows users to say or do just about anything online without fear of reprisal or consequence. This may be true, but therein lies the value. Americans might be frustrated by another user’s ability to defy our ethical code, and even act cruelly, with the help of a fake username. However, the ability to remain anonymous also protects a vast number of users who have perfectly defensible reasons for wanting to separate their online persona from their real name.

Political dissidents fighting back against totalitarian regimes, people hoping to subtly ask medical questions, employees attempting to keep their personal lives separated from their work lives, people who have in the past been victims of stalking and abuse- all take shelter under the cloak of anonymity. In her argument against the Google+ policy Danah Boyd provided an informative list of how some real people have justified their anonymity.

One particularly poignant article by Jon Evans discussed how a Mexican woman anonymously blogging about the drug cartels was exposed, and later found murdered next to a threat against others who spoke out through social media. Evans argued that Google’s attitude toward the policy reflected “monstrous cluelessness.” Often free expression and free speech rely upon our faith in our online anonymity, we may fear being stigmatized, or, according to David Cowan, “ostracized, fired, arrested or physically targeted.” Writer Matthew Ingram simply stated that “the policy can have negative consequences in terms of suppressing dialogue about important topics.”

For a brief overview, the two sides are broken down by Mashable’s infographic.

Is there an answer that allows for both accountability and free expression?

Several experts have proposed separate but similar solutions. Essentially, they involve ratings and reward systems. Rather than force users to use their legal or professional names, these solutions would encourage them to use the site’s best practices by rewarding them with better features, higher ratings and community respect. David Cowan wrote that by implementing a scale, and then allowing users to be either completely anonymous (0) or entirely transparent (10), Google+ could then simply make different features available to different types of users. Different accounts and identity rankings would be useful for different purposes.

Perhaps the most thoughtful attempt at a solution was Matthew Ingram’s article, “Can Gamification help Solve the Online Anonymity Problem?” Ingram doesn’t believe that there must necessarily be a choice between anonymity and credibility. On many sites, for instance the rapidly growing social news site Reddit, users are able to establish themselves within the community and rank one another. Each time a member of the community submits new content, or comments in a discussion, other users have the ability to up or downvote these actions. Users who contribute value to the community are rewarded with ‘karma,’ as well as various trophies. Even though most Redditors use pseudonym’s, they still work to build a positive reputation, and are held accountable for their actions by other users. Essentially, this is Ingram’s idea, to “design a system that rewards the behavior you want to see, and lets the users of that community decide who they wish to pay attention to.”

In the future

Rather than simply discussing the immediate impact of such policies, bloggers like Jon Evans have pointed out the shrinking scope of anonymity in the real world; now filled with video cameras, smart phones, and facial recognition software. He believes that online anonymity will only become more vital when it becomes the only anonymity left to us.

What are your thoughts about transparency versus freedom of expression, do you have a specific reason that you would rather remain anonymous?

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A Roadmap to Social Media: 13 Platforms You Should Know

Recently, there has been a rush to get every business online to interact with consumers, and for good reason:  50% of American adults and 70% of all internet users are on social networks, and Americans spend almost a quarter of their online time using those networks. However, while most businesses recognize the important making their brand a presence in the online social sphere, it is difficult to know where to begin. With so many options, as a marketer, how do you determine which platforms are worth your time and energy?

Recently, I have come across quite few questions on inquiry sites such as LinkedIn and Quora, asking about what the largest or most useful social networks are. Everyone knows about Facebook, and the other more popular Western sites, but their knowledge of smaller social networks and the role they play is less intimate.

Hopefully this article will address this question by highlighting notable social platforms, the populations they generally appeal to, and the level of their popularity. Consider who you’re trying to reach, what material they’re interested in, and which platform’s would best highlight your organization’s strengths.

A popular personification of the internet titled "Internet University Cast" by deviantART user elontirien

1. Facebook

I know you’ve heard of it, you probably use it, and if you’re going to launch a social media campaign it is the single most important platform in your arsenal (not including aspects of your own website, like your blog). With more than 750 million users, Facebook is the largest social network in the world and drives 40% of the web’s social traffic. It is a great way to reach a wide demographic. It also doesn’t hurt that the site allows you to create and customize your own business page, featuring polls, photos, and mapped directions, for free.

2. Twitter

If you want to reach a wide audience, share content, and make yourself easy to find; Twitter can help you. The largest microblogging platform in the world, Twitter now boasts well over 200 millions users. If you’re only going to use a few key platforms, Twitter should be on your short list. Data shows that websites that include the tweet button are 7 times more likely to grab social mentions. It’s easy to join relevant conversations by using hashtags for search and in your own tweets. It can also be a helpful resource to keep up with the latest news and follow industry leaders. Here’s a quick overview of Twitter’s history and growth.

3. LinkedIn

LinkedIn boasts on its homepage that over “120 million professionals” use the site, which is why it is an awesome place to establish yourself as an industry authority, or gain information from an expert. Ask or answer questions about the latest industry trends, share knowledge gained from experience, and market yourself by listing your real-world accomplishments. If you plan on using this platform as part of your marketing strategy, keep in mind that it is a site for business-minded individuals, and has a strict adult-only policy.

4. Youtube

Youtube might be the single greatest SEO (Search Engine Optimization) tool out there. Did you know videos are about 50 times more likely to be found via search than text is? Consider that Google is the number one search engine, and Youtube (owned by Google), is number two. Showcase your company’s products and personality, and make it that much easier for potential customers to find you. By the way, over 3 billion videos are played every day, and over 100 million people socialize on and interact with Youtube every week. Their primary demographic is wide, with the average user between the ages of 18 and 54.

5. Google+

Google+ has been big news lately. Launched by an industry titan, seen as a direct competition to Facebook, Google+ already has an estimated 32 million users. However, although Google+ shows much promise, as of now its fate is uncertain and is not yet allowing companies to create profiles or pages. Because many of the Google+ users are early adopters, they tend to be younger and slightly wealthier than the average Facebook user. Check out our previous posts for a more in-depth comparison of features and the platform’s possible future.

6. StumbleUpon

Have you ever killed hours surfing the web? If not, just try Stumbleupon. Despite Stumbleupon’s relatively modest number of users (15 million with a trend of .5 million joining each month), it drives almost 50% of all social media traffic. The company recently announced that they had reached their 25 billionth stumble, a staggering feat. ‘Stumblers’ specify their interests, and when they click the stumbleupon button they are pulled to a webpage that others with similar interests have given a ‘thumbs-up.’ The entire purpose of stumbleupon is to drive interested users to new websites, so once one user gives you a thumbs up, the chances continue to increase that your site will be found by other users who will enjoy your content.

7. Yelp

Yelp allows users to search for businesses in their area, and to find reviews of those businesses. If you are in a service industry, there is a pretty good chance that your business is already on Yelp. If not, prompt some reviews and new business by adding it. It requires very little work, and caters to around 16 million unique visitors a month in the U.S. The company was recently proud to announce that it now featured 20 million reviews.

8 and 9. Reddit and Digg (Social News)

Both Reddit and Digg are social news sites, and since the two compete for readership they each have very vocal supporters. Both sites are specifically designed to bring the most interesting content from around the web to the ‘front page,’ so they can can be an incredibly powerful tool for bringing users back to your site if your content is engaging. Recently Reddit has exploded in growth and now has over 21.5 million unique monthly visitors. In response to this success, Reddit broke off from Condé Nast and now has its own board as reddit Inc. It is worth noting the demographics of Reddit users in particular, since statistically they tend to be younger, tech-savvy, liberal-leaning males.

10. Foursquare

Users of foursquare are able to update statuses and ‘check-in’ at various locations using their smartphones, informing friends of their location and activities in real time. The White House began using an account to track President Obama in August, allowing everyday users to check-in at rallies and events. Pew recently conducted a study which found that more than 1 in 4 Americans used “mobile and social location-based services.”

11. Tagged

While many social networks are structured around maintaining existing relationships, Tagged works to help users meet new friends. The site has around 18.5 million monthly users, and over 100 million registered users. Like Facebook, Tagged features social games and advertisements.

12. Tumblr

Essentially Tumblr is a blogging platform, but users also post pictures, quotes and a variety of content for the public- the Tumblr team tells their users to “post anything.” Tumblr has continued to experience increased traffic, and in July the site had over 13 million unique monthly visitors in the U.S. alone, and over 28 million blogs. Here is a demographic breakdown of Tumblr users.

12. Quora

Quora is a question and answer site, and for this reason it is both a great business resource and a great tool for building a reputation as an expert. Quora was launched by two employees of Facebook, and has been growing steadily since it opened to the public in June 2010. However, by social media standards Quora still has a very modest following, and more important than using the service itself is engaging with your community and establishing yourself as an authority, tasks which can be accomplished on sites such as LinkedIn and Stack Exchange as well.

13. Pinterest

Perhaps the least well known of all the platforms on the list, Pinterest allows users to create virtual pinboards of videos and images from around the web. Although the site has a far smaller userbase than some of the other social behemoths, its fans are loyal, and it can be a great place to spark interest or recruit fans. Unlike Reddit, the larger percentage of users are adult women.

(With permission) An anonymous user's pinboards on Pinterest

Other Resources:

15 Most Popular Social Networking Sites in the US” from the E-Business Knowledge base

Social Media Marketing by the Numbers” an Infographic from Mashable

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100 Million Users and Counting: the 5 Largest Social Networks You Never Knew Existed

Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn: they can all count their users in the hundreds of millions, which is why you know them. But did you know that there are other social networks that can do the same, and you’ve probably never heard of them? If it’s not popular in the Western world it’s likely that you haven’t come into contact with it. Yet, it seems that social networks have an appeal that is cross-cultural, and citizens of some of the most populous countries in the world are networking on sites you never knew existed.

Habbo:

Habbo is an online social gaming site with over 226 million users worldwide as of July 2011. The site caters to teenagers. Users can chat, and interact through avatars within ‘hotels.’ Hotels are essentially communities organized by language and world region, and feature public rooms as well as guest rooms (which users can personalize). Members are now able to play through Facebook.

Image on Habbo's official website

Image on Habbo's official website

Vkontakte:

Essentially the Russian equivalent of Facebook, VK ‘s interface looks almost identical to FB’s (far more similar than Google+). However, it only has about 1/7th the userbase of Mark Zuckerberg’s giant- which still amounts to over 110 million.

Renren:

Directly translated, Renren means the “everyone network.” Formerly Xiaonei, Renren is one of the largest social networks in China with around 160 million users, and 31 million active monthly users. Another network that is seen as very similar to Facebook, it was also developed on an American college campus on the East Coast: The University of Delaware.

Qzone:

Qzone is the largest social network in China, and the second largest in the world. However, according the Qzone’s numbers, more than 75% of China’s active internet users engage on Qzone, and the site has over 300 million users. Some have claimed that these numbers are suspicious and unreliable.

As seen on the information page of Qzone's offical site

Orkut:

Although Orkut is owned by Google and was born in California, management of the network officially migrated to the country that presents the largest userbase: Brazil. Use of Orkut never really caught on in the U.S., but it is by no means a failure. With over 100 million users it is arguably one of the largest social networks in the world. It is very popular in India as well.

If you’re curious about which Social networks are the most dominant world-wide, Facebook is still number one with more than 750 million users, but that doesn’t mean they’re number one in every country: check out this incredible infographic.

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Finding Friends, Funding and a Future: Great Resources for Your Small Business

It’s always difficult to begin a new business, not only does the act require courage, it requires help, information, and resources. Finding those resources, and knowing how to use them properly is just another item on a growing to-do list. With that in mind, this collection of local business resources was compiled with the Hartford entrepreneur in mind, but it represents the kind of help anyone might look for in their own city. Take all the help you can get, and explore what’s available in your own community!

The MetroHartford Alliance

An organization dedicated to “the Hartford Region’s future economic growth and its viability for robust business development,” the Alliance was born through the fusion of the Hartford Chamber of Commerce and the MetroHartford Economic Growth Council. They offer their help to businesses in many ways, but directly communicate with entrepreneurs via HYPE (Hartford Young Professional and Entrepreneurs). HYPE connects participants to fellow entrepreneurs through organized events specifically tailored to educate. Attend their events to network, learn from the success of young and growing businesses, and find out about beneficial experiences such as Startup Weekend Hartford.

Not from Hartford?

Find help through your own Chamber of Commerce. There’s a good chance they offer their own networking events, trade-shows, seminars and publications. They can also provide you with lists of other businesses in your area.

University of Hartford: Entrepreneurial Center

If you’re responsible for the direction of your company, you’ll need a business plan, the ability to take out loans, and a knowledge of your practical responsibilities. If this seems overwhelming, trying taking a workshop or class for a minimal fee at the Entrepreneurial Center. UHart offers counseling for one-on-one advice, loan application coaching, and FastTrac classes specifically geared toward entrepreneurs. They even offer a free list of their favorite local resources as well. Each counseling and coaching session costs $50 per hour, and the classes and workshops also require a modest investment, but they offer valuable guidance.

A 2009 aerial view of the University of Hartford as it appears on the University of Hartford website

Not from Hartford?

Check out nearby colleges to explore their business classes, and to explore whether they offer additional resources. Chances are you will stumble across at least one very helpful tool.

CBIN: Connecticut Business Incubator Network

Entering your business into an incubator program vastly increases its chances of survival. This network boasts 7 programs in 10 facilities throughout the state, and is home to more than 64 startups. The list of benefits from involvement with this organization is long; an office, a lab, manufacturing space, access to facilities and personnel, mentoring… find a program that’s right for you.

Not from Hartford?

Apply to a reputable incubation program in your own area. In general, participation in such a program doubles your company’s chances of survival.

SECTER: Southeastern Connecticut Enterprise Region

Looking for free documents with information about how to start a business, manage it, and promote it? Check out secter.org for helpful articles, it’s a great source for information.

Not from Hartford?

Great! The information offered on this site free and is still extremely useful.

Connecticut Innovations:

Created by the CT legislature in 1989, but no longer financially supported by it, Connecticut Innovations provides capital and guidance to high-tech and pioneering science companies. They also offer workshops and panel events (although these cost a fee). For example, in September they are holding an event to teach entrepreneurs how to effectively pitch to venture capitalists and angel investors.

Not from Hartford?

There are probably still groups in your area that are striving to spur economic growth by guiding entrepreneurs and helping grow small businesses. Be proactive and ask around, if these groups do exist in your area, it’s likely someone at your Chamber of Commerce or local university will know about them.

Are there any other resources that you or a small business owner you know have found helpful? Tell us about them!

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The “Lean” Mean Business Machine: How Eric Ries’ Entrepreneurial Philosophy is Making Waves

On September 13th a new book will be released; The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses. It aims to change the way businesses develop their products. Eric Reis, the book’s author, has taken the spirit of agile methodology one step further, and is creating some major waves within the ongoing discussion about what makes businesses successful.

Ries’ doctrine of minimal waste and maximum results complements the spirit of the Startup Weekend Events, which is why it is recommended for participants. Since Startup Weekend Hartford will be held in less than a month (September 23rd through 25th) at the Hartford Public library, I decided to give a brief overview about what a “Lean Startup Is,” how this is different from the classic formula, and what business experts are saying about Ries’ approach.

What does he mean by ‘Lean?’

The goal of the Lean Startup Approach is to eliminate waste: wasted money, wasted time, wasted energy. Thus, Ries claims “the first step in a lean transformation is learning to tell the difference between value-added activities and waste.”

the Benefits of the Lean Startup, as seen on leanstartup.com

According to the official website – leanstartup.com, the “Benefits of a the Lean Startup” are:

1.) Be more innovative

2.) Stop wasting people’s time

3.) Be more successful!

How is this Achieved?

Traditionally, product development follows the waterfall method, in which the initial idea is put through a linear step-by-step process. After finishing the entire process, if there is a kink or a problem, the developers return to step one. Proponents of the Lean Startup prefer a more cyclical method, in which there is a constant exchange of feedback and ideas, and consumers help to guide the development of the product.

Rather than working in a vacuum until a complex and fully-formed product emerges, the Lean Startup very quickly produces a product with the bare minimum requirements- to see how it fairs in the marketplace with real consumers. The product is constantly altered based upon this feedback, so rather than halting leaps forward, it rapidly and fluidly evolves into a product that consumers want.

The Waterfall Model, courtesy of Wikipedia Creative Commons- Paul Smith

Since Lean Startups begin by launching a very basic product, the initial development requires much less time, and theoretically, less time is wasted on features that the customer doesn’t want. Because the interaction with consumers is nearly immediate, there’s a faster opportunity for profit. Additionally, cost-minded businesses use free open source tools. Thus, as the New York Times points out, Lean Startups depend on smaller sums of money for initial investment, and might be sustained by a few hundred thousand dollars from an angel investor rather than millions from venture capitalists.

The Competing Lean Startup Model, as seen on leanstartup.com

But has the agile method been tested? Can it really work?

It worked for Facebook. Essentially, this is how Facebook developed. Facebook grew organically, the initial product was simple and features were added over time to fill the customer’s needs. Ries explains “most technology start-ups fail not because the technology doesn’t work, but because they are making something that there is not a real market for” (as quoted in the New York Times).

The key, therefore, is to never lose sight of your market – to employ constant engagement with the customer, and allow feedback to guide product development.  In a guest blog post for Reis’ blog, Kent Beck, author of Extreme Programming Explained: Embrace Change reasoned, “Lean Startups seems far more respectful to me than the ‘build something big and shove it down customers [sic] throats’ model.”

Harvard Business Professor Thomas R. Eisenmann also believes the approach has the potential to “reduce failure rates for entrepreneurial ventures and boost innovation,” (as quoted in the New York Times).

Do you think the Lean Startup Model would be effective, or is classic product development a better bet? If you’d like to learn more, Reis’ book is available for pre-order on Amazon, or attend the  Startup Weekend Hartford preview event at 6:30pm on September 8th at the Hartford Public Library, during which The Lean Startup Model will be addressed as an important aspect of the Startup Weekend philosophy.

Thought this article was interesting? To keep up-to-date on business and technology news follow us on twitter @NECS_LLC, or visit the NE Computer Solutions Facebook page!

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What the Recent Weeks tell us about Social Media and Law Enforcement

There has been much controversy lately about how law enforcement agencies are using (or preventing the use of) social media in order to target criminals and avoid social unrest.

Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have become central to the way many of us keep in touch, organize events, and generally communicate. Nothing reflects this more clearly than the way law enforcement agencies are struggling to evolve with these platforms; social media is now simultaneously seen as a danger, a tool, and a right.

The London Riots:

The Riots are an appropriate illustration of how social media can be used for nefarious purposes, and how the government can respond to this misuse in one of two ways. Access to the networks can be denied, or tracked. If criminals are able to use these tools to incite violence and larceny, law enforcement can use the same tools to track these criminals and predict their next moves.

The question becomes: if you are aware that a group of people are using the tool to orchestrate mass chaos and unrest, should you prepare yourself for these events, and track them to the best of your ability- or should you simply remove the tool?

(Flickr Image Courtesy of Stuart Bannocks)

When the U.K. discussed doing this, citizens were outraged. David Cameron stated, “Free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill.” He continued, “[it could] be right to stop people communicating via these websites and services when we know they are plotting violence, disorder and criminality.” Does the government have the right to do this? To censor the populace, to take away their means to communicate and therefore violate their rights, would seem the actions of a totalitarian regime. To put the icing on the Prime Minister’s PR nightmare, China applauded this strategy of measured censorship. As one  journalist bluntly wrote, “You know your Censorship plans are too strict when China praises you for it.”

Meanwhile, U.K. Police cooperated with citizens, using social media to find, identify, and humiliate looters. Several young participants in the riots, or those planning similar events, have already been convicted of crimes. Two men were sentenced to four years in prison for attempting to use Facebook to foment disorder during the riots.

“The sentences passed down today recognize how technology can be abused to incite criminal activity, and send a strong message to potential troublemakers about the extent to which ordinary people value safety and order in their lives and their communities,” Assistant Chief Constable Phil Thompson warned. “Anyone who seeks to undermine that will face the full force of the law” (Block Quote courtesy of Mashable).

*Update: Later in the month the U.K. government publicly stated that it was no longer considering cutting off access to networking platforms during emergencies.

California:

Luckily, since Americans consider free speech an integral part of our country’s belief system, such a thing would never happen here… right? Wrong. Last week BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) in San Francisco, turned off all cell service in its stations for three hours. Commuters were unable to text, contact friends, or even call 911.

Why did they do this? On July 11 a protest against a BART police shooting of a homeless man turned violent. So, when BART expected another such gathering several weeks later, it feared similar chaos- and responded by turning off all phone service. Activists, never materialized, but the actions of the agency were met with strong opposition from the public and an FCC investigation. When yet another protest occurred several days ago, BART simply rode it out, rather than provoking public wrath again.

New York:

(Flickr Image courtesy of sbamueller)

The New York Police Department has established a new unit to track criminal activity on social media sites. According to the New York Daily News, criminals often plan, then brag about, crimes on sites like Facebook and Twitter. The NYPD has noted this and built a team in response. Based upon this news, Engadget decided to create the most natural looking photoshop ever.

As the role of social media grows and evolves, so will police methods to monitor and control this role. What do you think, is our ability to communicate on social platforms and through cell phones a privilege, or a right? How will law enforcement work with and against these platforms?

Thought this article was interesting? To keep up-to-date on business and technology news follow us on twitter @NECS_LLC, or visit the NE Computer Solutions Facebook page!

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