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Thursday, September 25, 2014

How Alibaba's Jack Ma Became the Richest Man in China



English teacher and Internet entrepreneur Jack Ma founded Alibaba 15 years ago in his tiny apartment in Hanzhou, China. On Friday, Ma became the richest man in China on the heels of the biggest IPO in U.S. and possibly world history.
With a market cap of $231 billion, the online retailer is nearly as valuable as Wal-Mart and bigger than Amazon and eBay combined.
And this is just the beginning. Alibaba plans to expand aggressively in America and Europe and has already invested nearly $1 billion in a host of U.S.-based startups, including Uber, Lyft, ShopRunner, Fanatics, Tango and Kabam.    
Every current and aspiring entrepreneur and business leader should learn from how a Chinese English teacher turned a vision, a group of friends and $60,000 into untold riches and the world's most valuable Internet commerce company. It will no doubt be studied in business schools for generations.
Start here, go anywhere. Recognizing the importance of English, young Ma would ride his bike to a nearby hotel and guide foreigners around the city just to learn and practice the language. His passion for entrepreneurship in many ways parallels Masayoshi Son who grew up poor, followed his dream to Silicon Valley and graduated from U.C. Berkeley before founding Softbank. As chairman of Softbank and Sprint, Son is now the richest man in Japan.
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He had vision … and he had help.
 Ma saw the Internet’s enormous potential to bridge businesses across China’s huge population early on. So he and his wife brought 17 friends together and pooled $60,000 to start the company. That formed the basis for the company’s dynamic partnership structure and unique culture designed to drive collaboration, diminish bureaucracy and promote accountability for long-term growth.   
Go big or go home. Even if crowdfunding existed when Alibaba was founded, I doubt if Ma would have gone that route. He’s simply not a “dip your toe in the water” kind of guy. Instead he and his friends went all in, raising a $5 million angel round, $20 million from Softbank in 2000, $1 billion from Yahoo five years later, and $1.6 billion from Silver Lake Partners and DST Global in 2011. That’s how you make it big.   
Big problems lead to big opportunities. China’s lack of brick and mortar infrastructure has always been an insurmountable hurdle for the enormous nation’s small business merchants. Alibaba solved that and now accounts for 80% of the country’s ecommerce – a whopping $248 billion last year and more than twice that of Amazon.

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Innovation comes from unique individuals who think and act differently. Everyone talks about changing the world and making tons of money these days, but those who actually do it are exceptional individuals with breakthrough ideas, uncommon vision and a passion to do great work. Disruptive innovation comes from people who break from the status quo and carve their own path.
Stand on the shoulders of giants ... but learn from their mistakes. Like Amazon and eBay, Alibaba is an Internet commerce company, but that’s where the similarity ends. Alibaba does not actually hold inventory or sell goods. It’s a middleman that collects annual fees and commissions from larger merchants and advertising fees from smaller ones. The result is one of the most scalable and profitable business models on Earth.
What’s in a name? Less than you think. Apple. Facebook. Google. Microsoft. Uber. One Kings Lane. Fanatics. Starbucks. Whole Foods. What do the names and brands of all these companies have in common? Absolutely nothing. Some are conjunctions or made-up words. Others are common words or phrases. There’s even a fruit. It’s what your business does for customers that counts … not your name or personal brand.
Jack Ma was sitting in a San Francisco coffee shop when he thought of how Ali Baba overheard the secret password of The 40 Thieves -- “open sesame” -- and unlocked untold riches. It resonated with his vision of unlocking the potential of China’s small and midsized merchants. Now you know the secret of how he accomplished his dream.  
Source: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/237692

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Friday, September 19, 2014

5 Steps to Validate Your Business Idea Quickly



Do you have a business idea? Of course you do. Why else would you be reading this article?
If you are like most aspiring entrepreneurs, however, the problem comes in the immediate stage following your "ah-ha" moment, when the idea lingers as a passing thought or a series of sticky notes in a journal until the enthusiasm passes. Then, a few months later, you see your idea on the shelf at a local retail store or in the iTunes App Store.
We have all been there.
Ideas stall because the process of getting them to market can seem overwhelming. In reality, if you validate your idea -- prove it has worth beyond the bar napkin on which it is scribbled -- the process thereafter actually gets much easier.
Here are few things to consider the next time you have your next big business idea.
1. Look for it. When I hear that someone has the next big business idea, I pull out my iPhone and within minutes can often find an existing product or service with a search on Google or YouTube. Before you even get wrapped up in an idea, save yourself the time and do a thorough search to find out if it already exists.
If you find it does, do not give up on your inspiration too hastily. Perhaps there are ways to improve on the existing product? Can you offer value to the business already producing it? Could the market be satisfied better? If you answered "yes," move to the next step.
2. Seek feedback. Talk to others about your idea, especially people you trust. At this stage, what you want is brutally honest feedback. Entrepreneurs have a tendency to get stuck in "idea lock," when they are hellbent that their idea is a winner, regardless of what others say. If you are the only person who truly thinks the idea is good, then it is time to reassess.
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3. Build an MVP. If your idea has support, then consider developing an MVP, or minimum viable product, to determine if it is a product you and others would really use. Channel your inner "MacGyver" and build a working prototype, or look to a resource that has the ability to leverage newer technologies, such as 3D printing, to help.
If you have a technology idea, such as a smartphone app, look to crowdsourcing or a StartupWeekend event to find the assistance you need. Once you have the MVP, use and test it and have others test it as well. If it turns out to be a product that you and your friends would never really use, scrap the idea.
4. Start building your identity. If your testing goes well and you feel that you might have a winning idea, start building a brand around it now. In today's fast moving and innovating business environment, an idea that is validated today may be knocked off or even obsolete tomorrow, so do not linger.
More importantly, unless your idea is founded in a groundbreaking and proprietary new technology, more than likely it is already being conceived by someone else already. It is off to the races.
At this point, some fear that "exposing" their idea may lead to someone stealing it. This is a completely valid concern, but these days, you should go on the assumption that someone will steal it or develop a newer and better iteration eventually, so the key to success will be to be first to market.
Also, while patenting is a great way to protect your idea, it is also a very expensive process that is not guaranteed to protect you. If you have the resources, engage a patent attorney and pursue the protection, but if you do not, then turn your focus on building your brand.
Start by choosing a great name and securing the website domain to create, at a minimum, a sharp business landing page. Next, secure your business name with every social-media site you can. Even if you do not use them, it protects you from others securing and using them, and it will ultimately improve your search-engine optimization. Then start leveraging these resources to build a fan base.
5. Hash a customer acquisition plan. Before you dive into a lengthy business plan, which more than likely will be obsolete before you even launch, focus on two questions:
"How do I get my first customer?"
"How do I get my n-th customer?"
You may have the best business plan in the world, but without customers, your business is nothing. Create a thoughtful customer-acquisition plan and marketing strategy and be prepared to explain it to investors, partners and stakeholders, as this will undoubtedly be the first questions they ask.
I was fortunate to recently be selected as part of the inaugural cohort in Startup.SC, a business incubator that focuses on scalable business ideas in South Carolina. All of the ideas are all in varying stages of development, but the primary criteria for the incubator was idea validation. Once validated through the steps above, it is much easier to proceed to the next steps.
Just remember, it is much easier to build a business around a demand than to build a demand around a business.

Source: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/237455

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Friday, July 11, 2014

5 Lessons Entrepreneurs Can Learn From the World Cup



Larger than the Olympics, The World Series and even The Super Bowl, once every four years the FIFA World Cup takes place putting 32 nations on stage to battle for title of “Very Best.” The entire world is put on notice for such a big event, as it captivates fans, spectators and even naysayers
Much like the teams, the games and the fans, there are lessons learned that can be applied to the life of an entrepreneur. So if you are going to watch the World Cup, especially during the workday, here are five takeaways that will make the time spent not only entertaining but good for business.
1. Talent doesn’t always win. Four years ago Spain captured their first world cup title. Folks were expecting them to do it again this World Cup. With some of the best players in the world and a large part of the rosters of highly acclaimed Real Madrid and Barcelona, people predicted Spain would make another deep run. However, they didn’t. They exited after an embarrassing loss to the Netherlands and two lackluster efforts to follow. England and Italy, two other nations with lengthy resumes made similar exits while making way for smaller less talented teams to advance.
These early exits serve as an important reminder for businesses:  Talent alone doesn’t guarantee success. It takes more with things such as effort, innovation and strategy immediately coming to mind.

2. Community is a brand's best friend. The World Cup has been good for global brands. Nike, Coca-Cola and many more have set the world on fire with innovative and compelling campaigns capitalizing on the world’s passion for the World Cup. (Snickers, anyone?) Having said that, most of the brands focused on tying their products and services to the global football (or soccer) community and not to products and services themselves.
For entrepreneurs, this is a great reminder of the importance of building community for your customers and prospects. Focusing on education, information and service rather than pure self-promotion as a way to propel brand awareness without feeling like Spam 2.0. After all, any brand that keeps me watching commercials is on to something good.


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3. The underdog has a role on the big stage. While the remaining teams are all highly acclaimed soccer powerhouses, many of the 16 teams that emerged into the knock-out rounds were not the world's best.  Countries like Greece, Costa Rica and the U.S.  all came out of very difficult groups to emerge ahead of teams like England, Italy, Spain and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal.
In every big sporting event this happens and for business owners it shows the biggest players aren’t always the most fit to deliver the products and services that clients require. This should serve entrepreneurs as a reminder that they can provide unique value and differentiation even if they are smaller or less experienced.
4. The relevance of scarcity. We live in a world of instant connectivity. Between social media and mobile devices we can be reached around the clock. With 91 percent of people sleeping within arm's reach of their phone, we are more connected than ever. You would think that FIFA may want to glom onto a trend like this and expand the World Cup to something like every two years. But much like the Olympics, the World Cup is kept to every four years as the build up creates greater and greater interest as the event nears.
Businesses could learn from this as well. While we never want to make our customers wait, there is something to be said about having your truly unique differentiator. Football is played year around on many great stages but only the World Cup brings the passion and commitment that we are seeing right now. For FIFA its differentator is scarcity, entrepreneurs need to think what makes them unique and memorable. Eighty percent of business owners think their products and services are truly differentiated, yet only 8 percent of customers felt the same, according to a study conducted by consulting firm Bain & Company. The World Cup has its differentiator, what is yours?
5. Strategy is the ultimate leveler of the business-playing field. If I were to suggest that Costa Rica would take the star-studded Dutch team to penalty kicks in the quarterfinals most would have never believed it. It happened, and it wasn’t by accident. Costa Rica knew they were outmanned (it wasn’t even close) but unlike those that couldn’t get the job done against the Netherlands before, Costa Rica was going to trap the eager flying Dutchman with a simple football strategy: “The Offsides Trap.” More than a dozen times, the Costa Rican defense halted the Dutch progress as the stepped up in line and won an offsides penalty.
For entrepreneurs, this small but successful plan executed by Costa Rica is a reminder of the importance of strategy. Companies with talent can go so far but businesses s with talent and a plan are the ones that go deep into competitive battles and often come out on top.
The 2014 World Cup has for just a moment brought together fans to watch the world's largest sport compete on its largest stage.  If you peek through the noise, you will see there is much to be learned from the teams, the sponsors and the events governing body that can be applied to every business, every day. 

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Friday, May 2, 2014

5 Ways to Teach Your Children to be Kidpreneurs



As an entrepreneur, it can be hard to describe exactly what you do to other adults, much less to your kids. We learned that the best way to explain what we do is by teaching the young ones how they can be entrepreneurs themselves.
We set out to author our own book to teach children between the ages of 6 and 12 years old the same principles we had been teaching adults for years -- the book we wished we had as kids. Kidpreneurs was born -- a book that stokes a child’s desire to get involved in business early by fueling their curiosity in simple, engaging, creative and safe ways. Our goal with Kidpreneurs was to outline some basic tools and strategies kids can use to gain some valuable experience in starting, managing and growing a successful business venture. 
Check out the infographic below for five simple steps you can take to help teach your kids, however young, about the building blocks of discipline, structure and planning that build a foundation of entrepreneurship. With these steps you can show your kids what it takes to be entrepreneurs, or as we like to call them, kidpreneurs. Some say it’s never too late. We say it’s never too early!
5 Ways to Teach Your Children to be Kidpreneurs (Infographic)



Source: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/232607




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Saturday, April 5, 2014

How to Make Sure There's a Market for Your Business Idea




You've got a killer new product or a service that will have the world beating a path to your door. But is it really something people want? Or is it just something you think they want?
Having solid information about what your customers want to buy -- rather than what you want to sell them -- can save you hundreds of thousands of dollars, as well as peace of mind and sanity.
Here are four ways to think more critically about your business idea before you find yourself stuck with products or services no one wants or needs:
1. Accept the market as a harsh, but fair judge. If you're in business, you simply need to embrace the reality that the market will ultimately dictate your success. That means you have to make sure the numbers support your idea. Get information about the basics:
  • Revenues for your category in your local market, regionally and nationally.
  • Know how many competitors are out there.
  • Determine if the market is new and growing or static and mature.
Say you want to open a clothing store in your area in which customers buy $1 million worth of stuff a year. You're up against 10 competitors. Since the top three companies in most categories usually get 80 percent or so of those revenues, you'll fight the next seven companies for the remaining $200,000. Is that really worth it? Can you ever make a profit?

Or is there a way you can create a new niche where you can be a number-one provider? Once you have a handle on the reality of the market, you can make better decisions about how to jump into it, or find a more creative way of serving it (even if you come in as a supplier or vendor serving those companies).


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2. Pick proven categories, then find your niche. Broad proven categories typically offer greater opportunities than hot new markets. As I have mentioned before, given the option of going into a sizzling new tech category or buying into the shoe market, I'd go with shoes every time. Why?
People all over the world need and have purchased shoes for a very long time. It's a proven commodity with built-in opportunities for repeat business and added-value options in terms of accessories ("Would you like socks with that?") And there are ample opportunities to be creative and innovative within that proven market.
The tech opportunity? Tech markets tend to move quickly and customer tastes and preferences change rapidly so that the typical product life-cycle is as brief as that of a fruit fly.
Start broad, general and proven -- then think about a specific niche. At this stage, you can't go too narrow. In fact, I'd advise you go as narrow as you can and see what the opportunities are in the smallest niches possible, then expand from there.
You'd be surprised by the problems that need to be solved and the services that buyers seek. With a narrow niche, you can rapidly grow and easily be the sole provider. You'll also be in the position of a "price maker" with profitable margins rather than a "price taker" with lower prices and thinner margins. Plus, you'll be a leader in a less competitive landscape.
3. Focus on wallet share, not market share. Going after new customers or buying marketing share is the most expensive way to build your business. Going after repeat business and customer loyalty, on the other hand, allows you to change your objective from, "How can I get a new customer" to "How much can I sell to each of my customers, and how long can I keep them?"
A relentless focus on repeat business is like an insurance policy for your marketing program as it is far less expensive to sell to a current customer than purchase a new one. Think about how you can retain your customers for repeat business so you can get an exponential return on your initial advertising or marketing investment.
Once you build a loyal customer base, you'll greatly reduce your outside marketing costs by using good old-fashioned word-of-mouth advertising.

4. Put your ideas to the test. There are a lot of ways to test your ideas inexpensively -- from creating a simple web page to putting your retail products into existing stores on consignment.
Better to pay the price in terms of time and effort now in order to learn what you don't know about your market and buyer. The response you get will tell you what buyers in your market want, need and desire. You can then use that information to enhance your offering or to discover a more profitable market and business than you initially conceived.
Growing a fiercely loyal and satisfied customer base along with a fair amount of personal wealth in a commercial, profitable enterprise is far more rewarding than being "right" about an idea whose time might never come. Don't fall in love with your idea hoping the world will catch up with it. Instead, fall in love with the best idea that will work for you and your business.

Source: 
http://m.entrepreneur.com/article/226667






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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

How Do I Build a Business Plan? (Infographic)

You have a powerful idea for the next big thing, but before you sell it to anyone, you have to get it all down on paper.  It’s time to make a business plan.
How do you know if you’re headed in the right direction? Washington State University created an infographic that provides 10 guidelines to help prospective entrepreneurs organize their thoughts and wow potential investors.   

The infographic details some major questions that aspiring CEOS need to ask themselves like, what problem is my business going to solve, what’s my company’s mission, and what do we do better than anyone else in the market?
But you aren’t quite done yet. A thorough business plan includes who your target demographic is, the conditions of the market you’re entering into and accounts for worst-case scenarios. And of course, there’s the money: how much you need to get going, and where it’s going to come from once your business is up and running.
For more information, like how much funding you’ll need before applying for a small business loan (that’s 30 percent), check out the infographic below. 
How Do I Build a Business Plan? (Infographic)


Source: 
http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/231525


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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

7 Essential Habits of a Healthy Entrepreneur


So there I was, exhausted at the end of a long work day, frustrated by a particularly stressful drive home and contemplating pouring a stiff bourbon and withering away on the couch for a couple hours.
Then something happened.
My habits took over.
You see, I had “programmed” the habit of exercising every day at 6 p.m. into my brain.
And once the clock struck six, it was as if a magical pumpkin whisked me into my closet to grab my workout gear and head downstairs to burn off some steam.
Turns out entrepreneurship and taking care of your health are quite synonymous.   
A big part of that is because both require habitual actions. And according to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, these habits comprise 40 percent or more of the daily decisions we make.
Here are seven things entrepreneurs can do to stay on top of their business AND their health.
1. Learn something new every day. Healthy entrepreneurs are lifelong dreamers. They work hard, play hard and think harder. They love to read, listen to audio books and absorb as much knowledge as they possibly can. Not only do they educate themselves about topics relevant to growing their business, they also seek knowledge about what it takes to be healthy. They know healthy behaviors have a direct impact on their business.
2. Set goals and create systems to achieve your goals. Healthy entrepreneurs These folks also understand that knowledge without application is the quickest path to failure. They go beyond learning -- they apply. Because they realize the day-to-day journey and seemingly tiny steps are the only ways to achieve their end goal.
3. Spend your “downtime” wisely. The average person spends around 3 hours a day watching TV. Don't be that person. To stay healthy, focus on staying busy building your business, taking care of yourself and your family and trying to change the world. One recommendation is to meditate or take time to write down your goals.
4. Make exercise a priority. A healthy body will help cultivate a healthy mind. Yet the CDC says 80 percent of adults don’t get the recommended amount of exercise. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans say that adults should get 2.5 hours a week or more of moderate-intensity aerobic activity and two strength training sessions per week. Even if you’re crazy busy, find 10 minutes here and there. It will help with alleviate stress and get those endorphins pumped up to take on startup challenges.
5. Eat less junk food. Think of food as fuel: The higher quality fuel you put in your tank, the better you’ll perform. You don’t need to diet or cut foods out to eat healthy either. Just eat more real food -- stuff that comes from nature -- instead of processed junk and fast food. By doing so, you could help improve your energy endurance (no sugar crashes) and mood, among other benefits.
6. Sleep more. All entrepreneurs experience the grind of late nights, early morning meetings and last-minute deadlines. But healthy entrepreneurs know that sleep is vital to their success. Whether you rise early and tackle your important projects first thing in the morning or you’re a night owl, find a consistent sleep routine and stick to it. And never underestimate the power of a good power nap to recharge your brain.
7. Create balance in your life. Healthy entrepreneurs treat health as a lifestyle. You can't put a Band-Aid on a bad business plan, just like you can't eat healthy for a week and expect to lose weight. Successful entrepreneurs wholeheartedly embrace healthy living: They work smarter, not harder.
Entrepreneurship and health go hand-in-hand. Each will teach you valuable lessons about the other.
Aside from family, friends, and relationships, there are few things more important in your life than your health and your career. When you passionately pursue both of these things you can experience a longer, more fulfilling life. 


Source: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/231607#ixzz2uJHLpgMF




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