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12 Characteristics of Successful Internet Entrepreneurs

by admin on January 27th, 2010

Great article from Focus Magazine.

Cheers!

-Kevin

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12 Characteristics of Successful Internet Entrepreneurs

http://www.focus.com/fyi/small-business/12-characteristics-successful-internet-entrepreneurs/

By Focus Editors

As long as there have been successful Internet entrepreneurs, there have been attempts to nail down what makes them successful. Whether it’s a fellow entrepreneur looking for an edge or an interested layperson who is simply curious to know more,  no shortage of people are dying to know how the Internet’s business visionaries reached the top. These business success stories aren’t the result of a secret formula; rather, each entrepreneur possesses a number of characteristics unique to their pursuits. Here’s a rundown of 12 of these traits, the entrepreneurs who have them and the companies they helped create.

The Trait: Determination

The Entrepreneur: Steve Jobs

The Company: Apple/NeXt/Pixar

Perhaps no Internet entrepreneur has exhibited more determination than Steve Jobs. In his now famous speech at Stanford University’s 2005 commencement, Jobs explained how he was thrown out of Apple in the mid 1980s by the board of directors. “At age 30, I was out”, Jobs recalls – “and very publicly out.” The life of an entrepreneur is rarely free from anxiety, but nothing compares to being ousted from the company you founded and watching others run it once it becomes a household name. The book “iCon” reveals that Jobs apparently contemplated suicide following the crisis. While lesser businessmen would have crumbled, Jobs took his fall from grace as a challenge, starting two independently successful companies from scratch (NeXt and Pixar) and eventually returning to rescue Apple from the brink of failure, spearheading its current digital music and media-driven renaissance. Without the determination to remain in Silicon Valley, Jobs may never have returned to prominence or led Apple to the market dominance it enjoys today.


The Trait: Innovation

The Entrepreneurs: Sergey Brin and Larry Page

The Company: Google

In John Battelle’s book “The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business”, readers learn that Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page were not money-chasing businessmen, but hackers who truly wanted to build the best search technology in the world. Neither of them had any clue what practical applications any of their work would have when they maxed out their personal credit cards to buy servers and computer parts; they simply knew they were onto something and felt a burning desire to bring superior technology into being. Indeed, virtually every dominant search engine of the mid to late 1990s (Lycos, Alta Vista and Yahoo! to name a few) passed up the chance to buy Google before its breakout as the Internet juggernaut. It wasn’t until the launch of Google AdWords that the company found any substantial or enduring way to capitalize on its mega-popular search engine, and that was just fine with Page and Brin. While they certainly wanted to get paid, innovation was always at the forefront and led to them getting their enormous payday.


The Trait: Frugality

The Entrepreneur: Aaron Patzer

The Company: Mint

One of the biggest misconceptions about Internet business success is that you can’t build a “real” company without fancy office space, mahogany furniture and slick corporate attire. Laying waste to this myth is Aaron Patzer, the founder of Mint.com and tireless advocate of frugality. Conceived as a way to painlessly connect consumers with money-saving deals and offer useful insight into their financial lives, Mint.com was itself a model of frugality, growing little by little and taking outside investment only when necessary to expand. This is a sharp contrast from many late 90s Internet businesses, which seemed to regard the business as an excuse for burning other people’s money rather than a vehicle for producing its own. Patzer’s frugality paid off when Mint was acquired by Intuit in 2009 for $170 million.

The Trait: Experimentation

The Entrepreneur: Mark Zuckerberg

The Company: Facebook
Even successful entrepreneurs often find themselves settling into comfort zones and developing tunnel vision about their products or services. Rather than continuously striving to tweak and improve, they grow content with what works now, almost setting it on a pedestal that one fears to fiddle with in any major way. Perhaps no Internet businessman has spit in the face of this attitude more than Mark Zuckerberg. Despite Facebook’s status as a social networking giant, Zuckerberg and Co. have never shied away from changing the user interface (sometimes in the face of protests) or shaking things up in the efforte to break new ground. Though not all of his changes have been successful, a surprising majority of them have stood the test of time and boosted Facebook’s following.


The Trait:
Eccentricity

The Entrepreneur: Tim Ferris

The Company:
FourHourWorkWeek.com

Read the biography of virtually any successful entrepreneur and you’ll find that they might not act quite like the general population. This trait is known as eccentricity, and few contemporary Web entrepreneurs exemplify it more than Timothy Ferris. In his perennial best seller “The Four Hour Work Week,” Ferris advocates cultivating a radically new mindset about work. Rather than seeing work as something to be begrudgingly endured for the sake of weekends and holidays, Ferris recommends molding work to the life you wish to live. Primarily, this consists of building systems to produce wealth without ongoing struggle and using the 80/20 principle to identify where your efforts produce the most and least results. Properly executed, such actions enable one to travel and live as one pleases while keeping work in its place. Ferris has utilized these eccentric behaviors to escape the 9-5 grind forever, both via book sales and his own online businesses. His story is a needed reminder that different outcomes require different behavior. Put another way, what got you here won’t get you there.


The Trait: Simplicity

The Entrepreneurs:
Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim

The Company: YouTube

Engineers have an old saying that drives the field to this day: KISS, or “keep it simple, stupid.” YouTube founders Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim understood this better than most when they created a site that existed to do nothing more than let the average Joe upload his own videos. Without any delusions of grandeur or pretense about changing the world (which it has arguably done anyway), YouTube rose to Internet stardom by simply creating a cool, useful service that people would enjoy using daily. The fact that YouTube links are shared over IM, text, and Facebook all day long is a testament to the value of simplicity in business, and explains why Google snapped up the video sharing site for over $1 billion in 2007.


The Trait: Consumer-focused

The Entrepreneur:
Paul Graham

The Company:
Viaweb

No one has written more about Internet business success than Paul Graham, co-founder of seed capital firm Y Combinator. Before he invested in startups, Graham built and sold his own: Viaweb. It was during that time that Graham learned (and applied) the lesson he now preaches to new entrepreneurs: make stuff people want. Unlike so many far-fetched companies of the time, in 1995 Viaweb was focused on a single goal: enabling non-tech savvy individuals to build and run their own online stores. By zeroing in on a need for which there was very much obvious demand, Viaweb was virtually assured of being successful so long as it came up with elegant solutions to sell. It did, and was eventually acquired by Yahoo! in 1998 for around $45 million in stock. As an investor at Y Combinator and essayist at PaulGraham.com, Graham now advocates making sure your idea has demand before lifting a finger on development. Without this, he persuasively claims, all the bold press releases and product launches in the world wont save you.


The Trait: Iconoclastic

The Entrepreneur: Niklas Zennstrom

The Company: Kazaa/Skype/Joost

It might seem that iconoclastic is just another word for eccentric, but they are not actually the same. Eccentricity is simply violating behavioral norms. An iconoclast, however, generates conflict with his eccentricity by disrupting and changing the way things are done within entire industries or societies. In founding Kazaa and Skype, Swedish entrepreneur Niklas Zennstrom exhibited iconoclastic behavior par excellence. Widespread use of Kazaa’s peer-to-peer technology helped put the nail in the coffin of tightly controlled and centralized media downloading, while Skype (despite a recent slowdown) stuck it to the telecoms by introducing P2P telephony. His latest venture, Joost, is attempting to revolutionize online video in much the same way. It hasn’t always been easy for Zennstrom (who stayed out of the US for years to avoid lawsuits from record companies during Kazaa’s heyday) but in true iconoclastic fashion, he has never seen this as a reason to stop or slow down.


The Trait: Ambition

The Entrepreneur: Jeff Bezos

The Company:
Amazon.com

The most talked-about Internet entrepreneurs have almost superhuman ambition. Not content to merely have a nice little business, these titans of Web industry set their sights on building epic enterprises that become part of history itself. Surely Jeff Bezos displayed ambition in founding Amazon.com, a Web portal that retails virtually any book, video game, or consumer electronic a buyer could wish to find. It took awhile for Amazon to become profitable with such a wide focus, but today it is one of the most celebrated Internet companies, and with recent product launches like the Kindle e-book reader, it figures to remain a dominant force for years to come.


The Trait:
Focus

The Entrepreneur: Max Levchin

The Company: PayPal

Even prosperous businesses can be dragged under by failure to address their biggest problems head-on. When Max Levchin (above right) founded PayPal, it would have been very easy for him to neglect the rampant fraud that threatened to suffocate the company’s profit margins, turning his attention instead to how great it was that PayPal was growing at a phenomenal rate. Instead, Levchin utilized the timeless entrepreneurial characteristic of focus, making security priority number one at the fledgling online payment service. Within a couple of years, according to Jessica Livingston’s excellent book Founders at Work, fraud was largely reigned in at PayPal and the company was acquired by ebay for $1.5 billion in 2002. The lesson here is to confront (rather than rationalize away) your company’s biggest problems, no matter how well the rest of the business may be doing.


The Trait: Opportunism

The Entrepreneur: Tom Anderson

The Company:
MySpace

Some of the biggest Internet fortunes have their origins in shrewd opportunism like that displayed by Tom Anderson. In founding MySpace, Anderson saw a gap between what social networking users wished to do and what inferior Web sites like Friendster allowed them to do, such as simplified photo uploading, graphical customization and music sharing. Upon amassing over 500 million registered users, MySpace was acquired by media empire News Corp. for $580 million (a figure that now appears to be a bargain in light of what YouTube recieved and what has been offered for competitor Facebook). While many have criticized MySpace for being too “messy” or “unprofessional”, Anderson’s genius was in recognizing that this was irrelevant to his target audience of teenagers, singles and musicians who simply wanted an outlet to set up their pages however they wanted.

The Trait: Flexibility

The Entrepreneur: Jimmy Wales

The Company: Wikipedia

Paul Graham put it well when he said that some goals (like winning an Olympic medal) require unswavering dedication to a fixed plan while startups are more like science, where you need to follow the trail wherever it leads. A shining example of this trait – flexibility – is Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. As a completly member-driven, collaborative online encyclopedia, Wikipedia has grown in a myriad directions, usually at the prompting of users rather than sweeping declarations from Wales or his team. The result has been a robust and ever-improving resource shaped by those who use it rather than those who wish to tell users what they “should” use. New Internet entrepreneurs would do well to learn a thing or two about flexibility from Wales, even if their business is not explicitly collaborative a la Wikipedia.

© 2009 FOCUS. All rights reserved.


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Is Social Media A Fad? – Fantastic Video

by admin on January 5th, 2010

Are you on the bus?

Cheers!

-Kevin

www.kevincohen.com

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Traffic Geyser – A Tool For Driving Targeted Traffic to Your Website

by admin on December 15th, 2009

The video above is from the Traffic Geyser website.  I went into the site and created a screen capture video for you to preview…

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At first, I was skeptical about Traffic Geyser.  I blog on three different sites, and then syndicate my content onto numerous social bookmarking sites.  This works, but it is a tedious process.

Recently, I had a chance to review Traffic Geyser.  Here’s the steps…

  1. Create a video
  2. Upload to Traffic Geyser
  3. The video is submitted to social bookmarking sites
  4. The video is submitted to video sites
  5. The audio from the video is submitted to podcast sites.

Net, Net, Net = this tool set is amazing at driving targeted traffic.  Below is a link for you to check out the website.

Get More Leads, Traffic and Buzz with Traffic Geyser!
Cheers!

-Kevin

www.kevincohen.com

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The Way I Work: Jason Fried of 37Signals – Inc. Article

by admin on November 16th, 2009

The Way I Work: Jason Fried of 37Signals

http://www.inc.com/magazine/20091101/the-way-i-work-jason-fried-of-37signals.html

Jason Fried hates lame meetings, tech companies that don't generate revenue, and companies that treat their employees like children. A peek inside his typical workday.
Nov 1, 2009

You could sum up Jason Fried's philosophy as "less is more." Except that he hates that expression, because, he says, it still "implies that more is better." Fried prefers "less is less." It's a core principle of 37Signals, the Chicago-based company he launched in 1999 with Ernest Kim and Carlos Segura. The company started as a Web design firm. Then, in 2003, Fried hired David Heinemeier Hansson, a Danish programmer, to write software to keep the company's design projects organized. Soon, clients began requesting the program, and by 2005, software development eclipsed design in both revenue and focus. Today, 37Signals, which is run by Fried and Hansson, has a staff of 16 and more than three million customers who use the company's Web-based applications, such as Basecamp and Campfire, to collaborate and manage projects. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, is the company's only investor. Fried, 35, isn't afraid to do things differently or to express his opinions. He condemns traditional corporate office culture, with its 40-hour workweeks and constant meetings, and shoots down many of his customers' suggestions. And he's not opposed to a little goofing off in the afternoon.

I don't use an alarm clock. Lately, I've been naturally waking up at 6:38 every morning. I used to wake up at 7:31 every morning, which is actually when I was born. So that was kind of creepy.

I try not to grab my phone and check e-mails first thing. I used to do that, and it's just not good for you. Instead, I'll go and brew some tea and try and relax a little bit. But the computer's always kind of pulling me toward it, so I end up looking at e-mail sooner than I'd like to.

I love tea. I drink green tea and white tea mostly. I play with different varieties depending on my mood. These days, I'm really into matcha, which is a powdered tea. You add hot water and use a bamboo whisk to make a frothy liquid. You actually consume the tea leaves. I get it online, because there's better selection, and I'm lazy.

For breakfast, I usually eat a couple of maple-infused Van's waffles and a handful of pistachios. Unless it's really cold -- then I have oatmeal. Three mornings a week, I go to the gym for an hour. I've been going to a trainer for two years. Otherwise, I think I'd blow it off.

Then sometimes I head in to the office. I might work from home for a week and then get bored of that, so I will spend the next week at the office. I live about two miles from my office. I drive there most of the time. I should bike more, but I saw someone on a bike get hit two years ago, and it really freaked me out. I figure I'm better off driving.

I usually get to work between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. Of the 16 people at the company, eight of us live here in Chicago. Employees come to the office if and when they feel like it, or else they work from home. I don't believe in the 40-hour workweek, so we cut all that BS about being somewhere for a certain number of hours. I have no idea how many hours my employees work -- I just know they get the work done.

I spend most of my day writing. I write everything on our website. Communicating clearly is my top priority. Web writing is terrible, and corporate sites are the worst. You don't know what they do, who they are, or what they stand for. I spend a lot of time taking a sentence and reworking it until it's perfect. I love the editing process.

Our blog has more than 100,000 readers, but I don't post every day. I write when I have something specific to say. I recently wrote a scathing piece on the tech media. It really bothers me that the definition of success has changed from profits to followers, friends, and feed count. This crap doesn't mean anything. Kids are coming out of school thinking, I want to start the next YouTube or Facebook. If a restaurant served more food than everybody else but lost money on every diner, would it be successful? No. But on the Internet, for some reason, if you have more users than everyone else, you're successful. No, you're not.

I spend another good portion of my day thinking about how to make things less complicated. In the software world, the first, second, and third versions of any product are really pretty good, because everyone can use them. Then companies start adding more and more stuff to keep their existing customers happy. But you end up dying with your customer base, because the software is too complicated for a newcomer. We keep our products simple. I'd rather have people grow out of our products, as long as more people are growing into them.

I used to handle all the customer service e-mails, but now we have two people dedicated to that. I still get involved, and so does my partner, David [Heinemeier Hansson], if something has escalated and the standard operating procedure doesn't apply. If anyone ever writes us with a complaint, our stance is it's our fault -- for not being clear enough or not making something work the way it should. I'm constantly keeping an eye on the problems that keep arising, and then we address them. But I don't keep a list of all the complaints, because that's too time-consuming. We also get thousands of suggestions. The default answer is always no. A lot of companies lie and say, "Sure, we'll do that." We never make promises that we can't keep, so we say, "We'll keep that in mind." Some customers don't like that.

We first designed Basecamp for our own needs, to help better organize our projects. That's our philosophy: Build what we like, and other people will like it, too. Ta-Da was built to make simple to-do lists. Backpack is a digital version of a filing cabinet. We created Writeboard when we were collaborating on Getting Real, our first self-published business book, to track all of the back-and-forth drafts and keep us from going insane. Even though there are better products out there, I still use Writeboard, because it's dead simple. In fact, we just wrote our second book, Rework, using that program.

These books are our cookbooks. I look to chefs for inspiration. Mario Batali is a great chef who invites a camera into his kitchen and shares his recipes. It's a great business model. In the business world, people are proprietary -- they're afraid to share. Rework is our recipe for doing business.

We rarely have meetings. I hate them. They're a huge waste of time, and they're costly. It's not one hour; it's 10, because you pulled 10 people away from their real work. Plus, they chop your day into small bits, so you have only 20 minutes of free time here or 45 minutes there. Creative people need unstructured time to get in the zone. You can't do that in 20 minutes.

Instead, we use Campfire, our group chat tool. We built it when we started getting bigger -- with employees in different cities. We wanted to be able to communicate as a group easily. Campfire is like an all-day voluntary meeting. If I'm busy, I can close the window. And when I'm free, I can check it and chime in. If people have questions for me, they will post them, and I will answer when I can. Very rarely is a question important enough to stop people from doing what they're doing. Everything can wait a couple of hours, unless it is a true emergency. We want to get rid of interruption as much as we possibly can, because that's the real enemy of productivity.

I almost always order in lunch, usually from my favorite Middle Eastern takeout place. I love hummus and tabbouleh. I usually just eat at my desk. We have a catered lunch every Thursday that everyone in the Chicago office is encouraged to attend, because we don't see each other very often. We also plan a company vacation twice a year -- last year, we went to Maine and rural Wisconsin. So all the employees see each other for five days, twice a year. We talk about business; people might spend a few hours each day getting together to work on stuff, but there's also fun free time. When you don't see each other very often, you appreciate the time more when you get together.

After lunch, I get a little lazy between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. I don't feel that productive, so I'm usually screwing around, which I think is really important. Everyone should read stuff on the Web that's goofy or discover something new. I hate it when businesses treat their employees like children. They block Facebook or YouTube because they want their employees to work eight hours a day. But instead of getting more productivity, you're getting frustration. What's the point? As long as the work gets done, I don't care what people do all day.

I like to read in the middle of the day, to give myself a break. I don't read fiction. I find it a waste of time. There are so many amazing things that are real; I don't need to spend any time on a made-up story. I like to read biographies, especially books about inventors and their inventions. I'm also interested in American history. Around 3 p.m., I like to have another cup of tea as a pick-me-up. The one I'm drinking lately is gyokuro, which has high levels of theanine, a potent amino acid that helps you really focus for a few hours.

Launches are the most hectic times, because so many things will go wrong. But the cool thing about Web-based software is you can update things in real time. If something is broken, we can fix it in three seconds, hopefully. But as we get bigger, small problems become bigger faster. Every move you make now is magnified, especially with launches. An announcement that might upset a few people today will upset a few hundred tomorrow. I spend a lot of time responding to that. I have about 15,000 followers on Twitter -- some are loyal customers, some are people who hate me. I don't know 99 percent of them, but many of them are waiting for an opportunity to say "you suck." Twitter has become an outlet for anger, because the short format is perfect for negativity. It can hurt sometimes. You have to grow some thick skin.

I'm in charge of the finances for the company. We have an accountant who runs the numbers, which David and I look at daily. We built an administrative screen that shows us how many customers signed up, upgraded, downgraded, or canceled a product. I will check these numbers throughout the day: Everything updates in real time. I can also see where the traffic spikes are coming from -- a news story, blog mention, or Google search. That's how I discover where we are being talked about.

We don't have big, long-term plans, because they're scary -- and they're usually wrong. Making massive decisions keeps people up at night -- I don't like to make those. The closer you can get to understanding what that next moment might be, the less worried you are. Most of the decisions we make are in the moment, on the fly, as we go.

I usually leave the office around 6 p.m. I'm a political junkie, and used to watch a bunch of talking-head shows after work. I'm not so much into that anymore. I prefer hanging out in my backyard or with friends. I have a garden, and I like to go out back and just look at my plants. I might weed or prune. I like to get my hands a little dirty after being in front of my computer all day.

I started taking drumming lessons a few years ago, so I sometimes will go play for an hour or so after work. I use drum brushes, so I don't bother my neighbors. I'm planning on buying a set for my country house and really pounding away. I bought a stone farmhouse built in the 1850s. It's in rural Wisconsin. The closest neighbor is half a mile away. I spend almost every weekend out there. I love it. I just bought a tractor. I am really excited about mowing fields. Next year, I want to plant an acre of corn. Or an acre of something, just to see if I can do it.

I enjoy cooking, but I'm single, and I don't like to cook for myself. I go out often, but I don't like fancy dining experiences. I find people putting a napkin on my lap uncomfortable, and don't like worrying about using the wrong fork.

At night, I often get a real productive boost, and I do a couple of hours of work. Usually the more complicated, detailed things that require deep thought. But sometimes, I just wind down by reading or watching TV. I relate to Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm. I also watch House, M.D. And sometimes I'll watch American Idol. I love the whole American dream, underdog thing, but I also love the conflict. Simon is brutally honest. And he's always right.

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Hope you enjoyed!
Regards,
Kevin
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