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Why This Entrepreneur Stays on the “Middle Path” in Life and Business

Learn how this entrepreneur approaches events that occur both inside and outside of her business.


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Intensity – What Can Michael Jordan Teach Us About Business?

So today in this video I am going to be talking about what we can learn from Michael Jordan about business.  A lot of things that I learned about business I actually learned from playing basketball.

In life, many of the things that we do have transferable skills.  The difference is that most people don’t think like that and only look at things in one dimension.  When you start to look at the different things that are in your life and how parts of those can be mapped across to your personal and professional life, more opportunities for growth emerge.

What if you had a hobby, let’s say for instance basketball, and there was a strategy or a mindset that had to be adopted to reach a certain level in your ability to play the game.  Do you think that there’s a possibility that as you make that shift in how you play the game and the mindset attached with that shift that you could benefit from that in other areas of your life too?  What if that mindset shift could be applied to your business so you can close more sales?  What if your level of understanding between you and your partner improved as a result of that shift?

This is the kind of thing that this video will show you.  Take a look and see where you can apply this new learning.

So now that you have seen this video and seen how I have used what I’ve learned, what can you take from this?

Learning to take things from videos such as this is what is going to take you forwards.  I don’t mean by that , that you just watch it and then think

Oh that’s nice, I’ll remember that someday when I need it.

What I mean is that you learn one little nugget and then you go and implement it straight away.  You find an aspect of your personal or professional life that you can alter today by using what you have just learned.  Then you test it to see what happens.  You will invariably get feedback from that and you will know what worked and what didn’t work.

In the beginning you will get much more of what doesn’t work than what does work.  That is then your cue to alter things and find out how you an make it work for you.  Getting feedback like that isn’t a cue to give in like I see so many people do.  This attitude shift towards learning is what will take you and your business forwards.  It’s about taking what you can from what you get and altering it to fit you.

So what are you going to do today to start making use of this new knowledge.  Commit to just one thing if you have to but make sure that you do something.  If you’re not moving forwards, then you are going backwards.

Today Is the Best Tax Day of Your Life

SATURDAY morning was come, and all the summer world was bright and fresh, and brimming with life. There was a song in every heart; and if the heart was young the music issued at the lips. There was cheer in every face and a spring in every step. The locust-trees were in bloom and the fragrance of the blossoms filled the air. Cardiff Hill, beyond the village and above it, was green with vegetation and it lay just far enough away to seem a Delectable Land, dreamy, reposeful, and inviting.

Tom appeared on the sidewalk with a bucket of whitewash and a long-handled brush. He surveyed the fence, and all gladness left him and a deep melancholy settled down upon his spirit. Thirty yards of board fence nine feet high. Life to him seemed hollow, and existence but a burden. Sighing, he dipped his brush and passed it along the topmost plank; repeated the operation; did it again; compared the insignificant whitewashed streak with the far-reaching continent of unwhitewashed fence, and sat down on a tree-box discouraged. Jim came skipping out at the gate with a tin pail, and singing Buffalo Gals. Bringing water from the town pump had always been hateful work in Tom eyes, before, but now it did not strike him so. He remembered that there was company at the pump. White, mulatto, and negro boys and girls were always there waiting their turns, resting, trading playthings, quarrelling, fighting, skylarking.

7 Questions To Ask Before Starting Your Own Business

1.     Why am I doing this?
This is the big first question to ask. Do you want to build a business in support of a product or invention? Do you want to organize, solidify, and expand existing freelance or consulting work you’ve been doing? Do you love what you do, but hate the company you’re been doing it for? Do you want to branch out on your own? There are a million possible answers, and likely more than one will be true for you. Not to say that any motivation is inherently better than others, but knowing what motivates your desire to start a new small business will determine a lot in terms of how you move forward.

2.     Is this a good time?
Once you get a great idea in your head for a small business and finally decide you want to throw yourself in and start making real moves to realize your plan, it can be tempting to jump in without taking pause to consider if right now is the most advantageous time to starting a new venture. And hey, we love the enthusiasm! You should feel that amped up about starting a new business (trust us, you’ll need that much energy!) But there’s nothing worse than throwing energy, money, and resources into launching a business, and leveraging all of your contacts to get a team, and raise funds, only to find out that outside influences are working against you. Especially if those negative influences might have been avoided by waiting for a better time. There are a lot of areas to consider – your personal life, the availability of key team members (maybe if you start your business now, you can get someone for a particular role who is B-list, but if you wait 6 months until an A-lister’s contract is up at their current job, you could get them), and conditions in your market. It’s never fun to put a project on hold, but if waiting 6 or 9 months (or whatever it takes) to give your business the best possible chance of survival, make the smart call and pump the breaks.

3.     How much money will I need?
Spend as much time as you need to get your projected budget perfect. Consult with financial experts if it’s not something that comes naturally to you, or if you simply don’t know certain things. Research the kinds of funding and budgeting practices of similar small businesses. Take meetings with people who have been where you presently are – buy them lunch in exchange for stories of what worked and didn’t work for them budget wise when they were starting out. No matter how you go about it, figuring out the best possible estimate of how much money you’ll need to get through your start-up phase and the first 2-3 years is an indispensible planning tool that you’ll use over and over.


4.     Where will I get money?
Once you know how much money your small business needs to get rolling, it’s time to consider the different sources you might get those funds from. Most often, that will end up being a variety of places; the majority of small businesses gather the money they need from a combination of personal savings, family and friends, small business loans, and investors. Research and compare each of these options to see which works best for your individual circumstances.

5.     What other people to I need?
In small business, no man (or woman) is an island. If you think you’re going to do everything yourself, you should probably reconsider. Even if – and this is rare – the daily operations of your business can be handled by you and only you (perhaps, for example, you’re running a consulting business and just involves you managing your clients on a one-to-one basis), you still will need other people on your team, even if just on a consulting basis. Things like taxes, legal considerations, marketing, website…the list could go on forever. And then what if you want to grow your business? What if you get more clients or customers than you can handle with the existing team you have now? Regardless of where your company is at presently, think about what it would ideally look like one or two steps down the road – what people are there? What kinds of additional support will you need? What’s the best way to get that support – should you hire full-time employees to do those jobs, or outsource to contractors?

6.     How do I handle setbacks?
Anyone can handle forward momentum and reaching benchmarks and generally enjoying things going well in the early days of your small business, but unfortunately, these aren’t the only situations you’re likely to encounter in the early days (and well beyond that, to be honest.) It’s worth taking a moment to think about how you react to setbacks and disappointments: are you the kind of person who responds with a renewed sense of commitment and purpose to push forward? Do you get discouraged? There’s really not a wrong answer here, but you do need to be honest with yourself. Entrepreneurship is best suited for people who aren’t readily knocked down – even when they get knocked back.

7.     What’s my endgame?
A common mistake startup business owners make is not considering an exit strategy or what they want to eventually come of their business. This is something investors in particular will want to know. The reason a lot of small business owners don’t think about this is because they automatically think, “Why would I have an endgame? Why would I leave? We’re going to make this successful and then I’ll be there to run it forever!” The truth is, however, that a huge number of businesses are started with the anticipation that they will increase in value until some bigger company wants to buy them. Or maybe they get big enough that you eventually want to make an IPO and start selling stock. And do you really plan to stay with the company forever, or are you just there to get it on its feet before moving on? Will you stay on if the company is purchased? What do you want to walk away with, if and when you do walk away? And then what comes next?

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Beyond The Party: Inside The Booming Business Of The Yacht Week

Credit: Doonja Dopsaj for The Yacht Week Alcohol and boats, what could go wrong? (Credit: Doonja Dopsaj for The Yacht Week)

It’s 3 a.m. on a clear night in August, and as 100 sailboats rock quietly in a bay off the Croatian island of Solta, a massive dance party set on a rocky perch above is just ending. Six hundred international partygoers descend a hill above the shoreline, exhausted as they near the end their seven days.

In tank tops and bikinis, boat shoes and board shorts, some wait for dinghies to ferry them to the outlying boats, which have also served as their homes for the last five days. Others hop from boat-to-boat, filching drinks and making friends along the way. It’s easy to spot the skippers, mostly young men from the UK and Australia, since tonight they’re dressed in adult-sized animal onesies—a fox, a rabbit and a panda among them.

When a large, Independence Day-worthy firecracker launches from a nearby boat and explodes in the starry sky above, the crowd cheers in approval. But as the embers reach the brush, parched from weeks of Adriatic sun, a small fire ignites. Seconds later it’s as big as a bonfire and illuminates a swath of the scrabbly hill. Remnants of large, destructive forest fires can be found across Croatia, and for a moment it looks as if the entire hill could go up in flames. From a boat, four Yacht Week crew members jump into the water and frantically splash at the fire until one climbs up on the rocks and sprays an extinguisher. When the flames die down, there’s a small golf-clap from the ragged few still paying attention.

As I watched this scene from the back of a boat 30 yards away, I thought of something William Wenkel, the CEO of The Yacht Week, told me about his business a day earlier, which now seems absurdly prescient: “It’s all about putting fires out, everywhere,” he explained. At the time, he didn’t mean this literally.

But it’s easy to forget that The Yacht Week is a business, and when you sell customers the party of a lifetime—and generally deliver—it pays to expect some mishaps. “We do everything right, from corporate structure to liability, to legal due diligence,” Wenkel assures me. “Sponsors go through our business and say, ‘Hmm, looks like you’re covered everywhere.’”

But still, mishaps on the ground can’t be prevented, only minimized. Customers leaving The Yacht Week after seven days of partying generally do so depleted. They also bring home minor injuries—a swollen foot from stepping on a sea-urchin; kinks, or worse, from cliff-jumping; bruises and scrapes from navigating sailboats and rocky coastlines in the dark. The trick is keeping these mishaps small–as in no forest fires.

Despite the fact that, in terms of drinking habits, skippers and crew members are largely indistinguishable from their customers, they take risk management seriously. At the crew-boat party, for instance, I witnessed a skipper firmly banish a group of women off the top of the boat, a spot generally reserved for crew members and select guests. Their crime? Dropping a glass. While the women protested that it was a routine, minor accident, the message from the crew was clear: we no longer trust you and we’re not taking any chances.

This kind of attention to risk has allowed The Yacht Week to become a formidable business operation in the face of routine drunken absurdity. Wenkel, along with COO Erik Biörklund, and CMO Johan Corthesy, own the entire company, having never accepted outside funding. They’ll do sales of $9 million this year, compared to $7 million in 2012. Wenkel expects to do $12 million in 2014. Profits were $350,000 in 2012, and jumped to nearly $900,000 this year.

Anchoring those profits is an attractive, inventory-free business model. The company makes most of its money as a sales channel for local sailboat-rental companies, or “charter” companies, taking up to a 20% commission on each rental. With an average week-long rental price of $6500 in Croatia, that means the company takes in about $1300 on each sale. (The $9 million sales figure is gross sales. The Yacht Week actually realizes commission revenue closer to $2 million.)  So while charter companies get stuck maintaining, storing and paying for the total cost of the boats, The Yacht Week’s expenses include little more than marketing, technology and labor on the ground. Just 14 people work full-time at the corporate office in London, while another 200 or so work seasonally as skippers, hostesses and crew members.

The commissions from yacht rentals make up the majority of the company’s revenues while sales of wrist bands, which grant wearers access to The Yacht Week parties, along with skipper services and brand sponsorships, make up the rest. Wrist bands are a default purchase for customers and cost $67 (50 Euros) each. Assuming every customer in 2013 buys a wristband—not an outlandish assumption—that’s another $600,000 in high-margin revenue.

The vast majority of boats also hire a skipper provided by The Yacht Week. Skippers are paid, at maximum, about $675 per week. At a minimum, in Croatia at least, the company charges about $880 for the service. The margins vary according to the composition of a boat (all male boats get charged much more), the qualifications of the skipper (more experience means better pay), and location. But as the company does more volume this will become an increasingly meaningful segment of revenue and profit.

And then there are the sponsorships. Sperry, of boat-shoe fame, is the biggest in terms of visibility, paying upwards of $50,000 each year for brand sponsorship on the website and promotions on the ground. A representative from The Yacht Week says that commitment should double for 2014. Skyy Vodka pays another six figures for sponsorship and event production in Italy.

The company’s roots trace back to 2006, and its rise has coincided with that of Facebook, meaning it’s been able to cut traditional marketing and customer acquisition costs to a fraction via social media. Their 2009 promotional YouTube video, produced as a favor by a friend who had created music videos for the popular electronic group Swedish House Mafia, attracted hundreds of thousands of views within a year. Total cost: about $1000. Today their marketing machine consists largely of footage and photos of The Yacht Week itself, along with promotional events in cities like New York, Munich and Monte Carlo.

The strength of the business has allowed Wenkel and his partners to expand aggressively in recent years. In addition to The Yacht Week they run four businesses under a holding company called European Travel Ventures (ETV): The Ski Week, Yachts and Friends, Skipper Academy and Fort George.

The Ski Week

It’s like The Yacht Week, but with ski lodges in the Alps. The company is running the first inaugural Ski Week in Obertaeurn, Austria in March 2014. When they opened bookings for the event in September, all 500 spots sold out in 35 minutes. Prices start at $850 for accommodations, a week-long ski pass, and Yacht Week-style parties.

European Travel Ventures owns 70% of the operation while the remaining equity will go to Ski Week CEO Leo Alsved, a longtime skipper manager for The Yacht Week, after a 5-year vesting schedule. The first event should be immediately profitable according to the company. Given demand for the event, ETV expects to run several more Ski Weeks in Europe in 2015, in addition to a potential event in North America.

Yachts and Friends

Yachts and Friends is the most ambitious, technology-driven project underway at ETV. The idea is to create a sort of Hotels.com for sailboats, a comprehensive booking system for rentals around the world. The company currently has 1400 boats available in seven destinations, including Thailand, Turkey and Sweden. They expect to have 2000 ready by spring.

The model works like The Yacht Week, but writ large. The company takes a 15-20% commission on each rental and provides skippers and hostesses on request. “For a long time these yachting companies have eked out a profit by selling these boats to old, rich white men,” Wenkel says. “We’ve proven that it’s equally easy to rent out the same boat to a young student who has zero interest in sailing.”

ETV owns 90% of the operation, while CTO Erik Bosrup will take the remaining equity.

Skipper Academy

As The Yacht Week grows and Yachts and Friends gains traction, ETV needs a reliable source of trained skippers. (The company employed 150 skippers this past year, but may need up to 300 in 2014.) That doesn’t exist, so they’ve created their own skipper factory. Skipper Academy is an eleven-day course in Croatia. For a fee of $800, graduates get an RYA Coastal Certificate and guaranteed employment at The Yacht Week or Yachts and Friends–billed as “the best summer job in the world,” by Wenkel.

Fort George

Nestled high on a hill overlooking two natural bays on the Croatian island of Vis, Fort George is a impressive piece of property. The British constructed it in 1813 to maintain power in the Adriatic during the Napoleonic Wars. It’s since served as a working fortress for the Austro-Hungarians, and later, Yugoslavia under the Tito regime.

Roof top at Fort George before celebrations The roof top at Fort George.

Today, after ETV signed a 25-year lease with the Croatian government, it’s undergoing a $1 million renovation funded by The Yacht Week profits. The company is turning the spot into an events space and cultural center, leasing it out for $7,000-$9,000 during the high season. The cocktail bar is staffed by models from Berlin, while an in-house historian from Oxford regales visitors with stories of the property’s past. The goal is to attract artists and musicians from the region for weekly shows and exhibitions when the space isn’t used for events.

Though The Yacht Week still visits the site two nights each week during the summer season, Wenkel hopes to bring in an older, more-moneyed crowd for weddings and corporate events. The operation is wholly owned by European Travel Ventures, but given the cost of renovations, the company doesn’t expect it to be profitable for another two years.

Follow me @JJColao and on Facebook.

Autumn Statement 2013: Business rates capped

Autumn Statement 2013: Business rates capped Chancellor George Osborne aims to boost enterprise with the change to rates

Business rates will be capped in an effort to boost business and the UK’s high streets, it was revealed in the Autumn Statement.

Chancellor George Osborne has revealed that rate rises will be limited to 2 per cent in England and Wales from April next year instead of being linked to inflation.

Businesses will be allowed to pay their rates in 12-monthly instalments.

Additionally, a scheme that offers rate relief to small businesses will be extended until April 2015.

Business rates were set to rise by 3.2 per cent next year, but there has been intense lobbying by business organisations for a rethink by the Chancellor.

Vince McLoughlin, partner at business and tax advisory firm Russell New says, ‘With greater business rate relief, SMEs now have an incentive to make crucial investment decisions which may have been delayed waiting for this announcement.

‘Something had to be done with business rates and by extending the relief beyond April, this gives businesses of all shapes and sizes some breathing space in which to grow and boost local economies in 2014.’

The government now brings in £27 billion from business rates, constituting more than council tax and fuel duty.

Freezing business rates has eased the burden on businesses and given time for the tax to be reformed over the next couple of years, adds McLoughlin.

See also: Guide to pre-trading expenditure

Related topics: Tax & Vat

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Paul Polak Shares Tips For Finding 'The Business Solution To Poverty'

Paul Polak was a social entrepreneur before it became sexy to be one. Polak first joined the global community of “do-gooders” in 1981 as founder of iDE, a social enterprise that pioneered foot-powered pumps for poor farmers in Southeast Asia. The rudimentary irrigation technology has reportedly reached 19 million farmers in the world, thanks to iDE’s efforts. Polak went on to create D-Rev, the Bay Area-based design company that concocts new designs (on a budget) for the “other” 90%, he says.

Polak is 79 years old but still zipping the globe to deliver electricity, water, and other basic needs to the world so-called “bottom billion.” His latest book, The Business Solution to Poverty, co-authored with non-profit guru Mal Warwick, looks at the nitty gritty of the social innovation space.

Polak spoke with Esha Chhabra at his Denver residence about the new book, the need to scale, and the imperative changes needed in the sector to get real results.

What do you hope to achieve with this second book, The Business Solution to Poverty?

I want to create a global movement to end poverty for 2.7 billion two-dollar-a-day people. It takes off where the first book, Out of Poverty, left off. It addresses the problem of how to reach scale by creating a new breed of frontier multinational. In the book I describe every practical step required to create a new big business that has three goals: to transform the livelihoods of at least 100 million two-dollar-a-day customers, to generate annual revenues of at least $10 billion, and to earn attractive enough profits to bring in commercial global investors.

What is your advice to people before they launch a business?

Over 25 years in starting and running iDE, I learned that the first step is to talk to people as customers rather than recipients of charity, and to find out what their needs, preferences, and aspirations for the future are. Then you build the technology and the business strategy around what you learn. The process of learning shapes what you do in designing the technology and operating the company.

At what point should a company scale?

At the point at which you have the first idea to do something. You don’t scale anything by creating a project and then tacking scale on the end of it. You accomplish scale by keeping scale in mind from the beginning. I won’t touch anything unless it has the potential—if successful—to reach 100 million two-dollar-a-day customers. That means that you have to do the winnowing process at the very beginning.

To reach 100 million customers, you really need a problem that affects a billion potential customers, because a realistic target is to reach 10 percent of the market. So you start thinking—and it really is a question of thinking differently—what are the problems that have a billion potential customers? Well, there are a lot of them: there are a billion people who don’t have access to safe drinking water, electricity, affordable nutritious foods, education. There are just under a billion people who need eye glasses but don’t have them. There are probably a billion people who need crop insurance—it can be as specific as that. And the list goes on and on.

When you pick a problem, you plan from the beginning to ultimately reach a scale of 100 million. In my case, I see that happening over a 10-year process.

Do you collaborate with non-profit organizations?

The central operating style is to run everything as a for-profit business, but we will work with other organizations.

For example, in the drinking water business, part of the issue is public education: people in the village have to be brought up to speed on the relationship between drinking bad water and illness. For now, we’re trying to cover that deficit through for-profit, blitz marketing approaches. But in the future, if there are customers we can’t reach by the commercial method, we might work with granted non-profits who help with public education—we’re not against bringing in organizations that can help reach that market.

The question is: what kind of market penetration do you want to reach? We’re shooting for 50 percent; we’re able to reach 30 percent now. Maybe to reach the last 20 percent we’ll need some collaboration with non-profits.

What changes do you want to see as social enterprise evolves?

There are a lot of problems with social enterprise. It’s sort of like saying ‘sustainability’ and ‘green’—it becomes popular and loses all meaning.

One of the biggest problems is that there is a huge tendency for young people to be attracted to self-congratulatory conferences and incubation processes that help them make elevator pitches, write business plans, and market what they’re doing. But unfortunately, it often takes them away from doing the grunt work that’s needed to start a business on the ground.

I think it’s backward. Unfortunately, the charity model is based on having good marketing to raise money to support the charity, and that often puts the cart before the horse. The non-profit development organizations that are successful know how to market, but they often are weak in making it actually work in the field.

I would like to see social entrepreneurs start by going to where the action is, talking to the people who have the problem, listening to what they have to say, and doing the grunt work in the field. And then coming back and improving their skills at elevator pitches.

This story is written by Esha Chhabra and Ben Thurman, brought to you in partnership with Dowser.org, a media organization that reports on social innovation, focusing on the question: Who is solving what and how?

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Julie Uhrman's OUYA Out to Disrupt $70 Billion Gaming Business

A Series of Forbes Insights Profiles of Thought  Leaders changing the  Business Landscape: Julie Uhrman, Founder and CEO of Ouya

The video gaming business is BIG business. According to Newzoo’s 2013 Global Games Market Report, video game revenues will grow to $70.4 billion worldwide this year, representing a 6% year-on-year increase. The number of gamers is expected to surpass 1.2 billion by the end of the year.  The latest Xbox console just launched with one million units sold in the first 24 hours.  Sony’s Ps4 release has reached five million units to date since its launch in November.

Julie Uhrman, OUYA Founder and CEO Julie Uhrman, OUYA Founder and CEO

So what business does Julie Uhrman’s new video gaming console and platform company, OUYA, have going up against the big boys in this hyper competitive, high-risk market?   Calling OUYA an underdog in this business is the understatement of the year.  And yet there is the real possibility that Julie Uhrman’s irrepressible resolve, competitive spirit and personal passion for the gaming business make OUYA a potential David among the Goliaths.

“We exist because people wanted us to exist,” says the hyper-enthusiastic Uhrman. “Last July we sought to raise $950,000 through Kickstarter.  We surpassed the  $1 million mark in the first eight hours of the campaign—63,000 people invested in our idea and we ended up raising over $8 million in total,” continues Uhrman.

OUYA is re-thinking and re-inventing the way video games are created, played and sold.  In an age of multi-billion dollar game console launches and mega game franchises like Call of Duty that rival any entertainment franchise in any media or movie studio, OUYA is building a company for and by the gamer community built on the premise that an open system will bring in a ground swell of game developers and gamers who don’t want to have to choose between one game platform system or another.

Julie is the personification of the market she serves. An avid gamer herself, she plays platformers, third person shooters and, most of all, she loves playing games on the television. But the last few years, she’s played more on mobile phones, because that’s where the action’s been. She wants to go back to playing on a TV, which is why she founded OUYA. By combining classic console format with the ease-of-access of open mobile SDK’s, Julie seeks to make OUYA the open pathway for all developers – AAA and indie alike – to bring their craft to the world.

“Developers had moved away from the TV to mobile because it’s easier and less expensive.  This gave rise to amazing games like ‘Candy Crush’ that has no real goal, no story and don’t fit into any genre, yet are still incredibly entertaining and addictive. What OUYA has done is provide an open, mobile-based platform for people to develop the games they love to play, then giving gamers access to play them on their television where they can have the best entertainment experiences with those games.”

To add to its challenger business model and attitude, OUYA is a female-led company in a predominately male dominated industry. “I have mostly women working with me at OUYA, but it’s only a function of finding the best talent — Kellee Santiago is the Head of Developer Relations (formerly co-president/founder of thatgamecompany), Patricia Parra is the Head of Marketing and Product Strategy (formerly of Hulu and HBO GO), Abby Topolsky is Head of Communications (formerly of EA) and Julie White is the Head of Finance (formerly of Activision).”

OUYA Game Console OUYA Game Console Sells for $99

“We want to be open and accessible to all types of games and gamers. Up until now, the television has been a locked box, but mobile opened the door to developers. We also wanted to create something that was affordable but still offered amazing gaming experiences, and that is why OUYA is priced at just $99 and all of our games are free to try – we want people to love the game before they buy it. OUYA also has a really powerful chip to create an immersive experience for people playing our games,” says Uhrman.

Started on Kickstarter a little over a year ago, OUYA is building a new platform based on the Android OS. Their App store is a free to try model and they are building a new community of games, gamers and developers. “How do you get games if you don’t have content?  How do you get developers to create content if you don’t have gamers? (Our model) is the opposite of the ‘game of dreams’ mentality of ‘build it and they will come.’  Our model is ‘if you come, we’ll build it and that is different from any other console or platform out there,” says Uhrman.

The console and game platform launched in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. in June. “Since we launched, we have 28,000 developers working on the platform. We established our own community who believes what we believe and what we’re doing. For example, we learned that 8% of men are color blind—so our community asked us to change the controller design and we did. We’re a team of 33 by payroll—but we have tens of thousands of people who contribute to building the platform and the company which means that ultimately, we are building this together,” says Uhrman. “There was a general head nod that this model makes sense—but most people think ‘there’s no way you are going up against Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo and survive, let alone succeed.’  The goal was to use as many tools that were open so that anyone can use OUYA as the canvas to have or create a great game experience,” continues Uhrman.

Julie provides some examples of the developer community created games coming out of the OUYA platform: “One of our developers has a child battling cancer.  He has made a game around that experience that he feels should be shared—through the television. We also have a game called ‘Astronaut Rescue’ that an eight year-old developed while he recovered after a skiing accident. Guys that have been working on a game for five years now have an outlet for their creativity and passion to be published. In the end, we’re a partner with our developer community and when true partnerships like this happen – and you allow the community into the system –  the results will be unspeakably exciting games that people love to play,” says Uhrman.  There are now so many tools to create your own games—Unity, Unreal, etc.—that provide opportunities for the truly homespun game developer.

“OUYA stands for ‘Open, Universal and Ya just sounded good,” is how Uhrman describes the genesis for the company name.  The company works on a 70/30 revenue share model with their developer community (70% going to the game developer) and have built retail distribution partnerships with the likes of Amazon and Target stores nationwide.  “So far we’ve far exceeded expectations and we have more than 500 games in our system, 70 of which are exclusive to OUYA – demand is incredibly high since we launched in June. To-date, TowerFall is the most popular game on OUYA , but this is just one of many and we’re really excited to see what’s to come from the developers publishing on our platform as we continue to grow,” continues Uhrman. “We announced the idea in July 2012, shipped our first retail unit in June of 2013 and this October we expanded to Europe, the Middle East, Poland and Brazil. Kickstarter taught us that there is a place for an open platform. Even more, the device is beautiful and the design is elegant. It offers an incredible 1080P visual experience on your TV, with games that you can play with your best friends on your coach. What’s better than that?” exclaimed Uhrman.

Julie’s upbringing and background have positioned her well to take on the gaming establishment. “I’ve always loved games.  I wrote code early. I was born and raised in L.A. and have been around the creative process all of my life—though I don’t consider myself creative. My step father was an entrepreneur and he told me to always be on the revenue side of the business, but still raised my twin sister and me to  believe that everything is possible. Now as an adult,  when people say no, I think that they are just not spending the time to think it through. If you believe you offer something of true value, then ‘no’ doesn’t matter,” says Uhrman.  Julie did her undergrad at Washington University, where she and her sister played basketball.  She then got her MBA at UCLA.

What Bill Gates Can Learn From Small Business In Filling The CEO Role

English: Bill Gates during an interview . Bill Gates should take a small-business approach to turning Microsoft around. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why should Bill Gates, one of the most recognized global business leaders, accept advice from a small business owner? One of the advantages of operating a 100-employee organization is that we can view all aspects of our operation, remain agile, and move quickly. Large businesses can take advantage of our insights and experiences because, regardless of the size of the business, we all face similar struggles. They’re just on a different scale.

Small businesses have to work hard every day to survive. We discover what matters most really fast or we find ourselves out of business just as fast. Whether we like it or not, businesses must sell to survive—even giants like Microsoft Microsoft. In his book, The Leader Who Had No Title, Robin Sharma points out, “In the new world of business, the riskiest place you can be is trying to do the same things in the same way as you’ve always done them.”

What can Mr. Gates learn from small business that will help him fill the soon-to-be-vacant chair at the top of his organization? Filling the CEO slot at the Microsoft table might be easier than he thinks. Have you have noticed that the missing piece of a puzzle is generally right under your nose, which is why you can’t see it? Microsoft might consider offering the top job to a likable, energetic, no-nonsense salesperson within their organization who has the guts and ingenuity to rekindle the fire for the software giant.

I know it’s a long shot, but why not give a homegrown Microsoft employee from the sales ranks with a high-octane heart and spirit a shot at the top seat? Perhaps it’s time Microsoft considers moving someone up from one of their small farm teams to the major leagues before considering external candidates. The CEO’s primary job is to authentically communicate the vision and message of the company to the world. Salespeople do this all day long. Those who survive in sales learn quickly what resonates and what does not with customers.

One question that Mr. Gates, or anyone in business attempting to fill a top leadership seat within their organization, should ask is: Will this individual rekindle the spark for products and services that the company builds and get the people within the organization excited and energized? They don’t need to be famous or even brilliant. I believe they need to possess a genuine love for the people, products, and services and a willingness to share that love and belief with the world. They need to offer natural and authentic content so that when people hear it they ask for more. It’s as simple as that.

The real treasure for Microsoft (and all businesses, for that matter) is the people who work hard every day to grow or sustain the business. They might not be polished or carry professional portfolios or degrees from Ivy League schools but chances are if they have the right heart and drive they will stand strong with the organization during challenging times.

An excellent example of one of the best sales visionaries today who landed in the top seat of a major corporation is Brad Smith, CEO of Intuit. He has worked in numerous leadership positions, including senior vice president and general manager of Intuit’s Small Business Division, and before that he was the head of Intuit’s Consumer Tax Group in San Diego. Everyone we know inside and outside of his organization holds him in high regard. He’s likable and he’s not shy about promoting his organization. He sets his priorities and makes time for the people within his organization and small businesses like Fishbowl.

I have one rule within my organization that is beyond non-negotiable. All leaders must genuinely and unconditionally love/respect the people, products, and services within the organization. Ninety percent just doesn’t get the job done. To be brutally honest (and a lot of execs might not like hearing this), it doesn’t actually take a lot of smarts to fill the top seat. It takes a lot of heart, trust and willingness to go the distance for the organization even if it means now and again you make yourself vulnerable personally. The people within the organization do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to building the products and services. A great leader gives them credit and spends every waking hour of his or her day sharing this across the globe.

Microsoft has plenty of people who successfully oversee day-to-day operations of the billion-dollar publicly operated enterprise. They should consider hiring someone for the top job who gets over-the-top excited about what Microsoft builds and shares with the world. I believe the ideal candidate could be someone who is not from the upper ranks, which generally consists of a small group of people. Why not let the thousands of Microsoft employees weigh in on who will be their next chief? I would also strongly recommend that Mr. Gates have all their candidates sit down and see if they can pass the standard Microsoft certification exams before they get the top chair to ensure they fully understand the vast capabilities of the products.

The next CEO just might be sitting somewhere within the ranks—an individual with the right heart to lead the company into its finest hour. Microsoft might not be considered the coolest on the market today, but I believe they are most definitely built to last. This, I believe, is the core value proposition of Microsoft: They help people across the globe build and develop skills that can lead to meaningful careers.

These are just a few thoughts from someone who cares about the fate of the big guys and big corporations. They create a multitude of jobs and careers for people. In the end it doesn’t really matter how big or small your company is; we are all remembered for the legacy we leave behind. Good luck to everyone at Microsoft. Thanks for decades of great products and services.

Additional reporting for this article was provided by Mary Michelle Scott, Fishbowl President. David Williams’ book, The 7 Non-Negotiables of Winning, is available from Amazon.

Intuit Snaps Up Docstoc To Expand Small Business Ecosystem Empire

How do you go about starting a small business? Just as looking for a job is a full time job, setting up shop is in and of itself a tedious and time-sucking enterprise for those not fluent in legalese.

Docstoc, a one-stop shop for entrepreneurs and small businesses including documents and online tutorials from business experts was acquired today by Intuit, a provider of payroll and tax tools to small businesses for an undisclosed sum.

Intuit, which also owns popular personal finance app, Mint, purchased Docstoc as part of a strategy to create an entire ecosystem for small businesses and their needs.

“We want to be the operating system of choice for SMBs,” said Alex Chriss, Vice President and General Manager within Intuit’s small business division, adding that the company which had revenue this year of $4.2 billion, is “always looking” for more acquisitions that would help “solve small business pain.”

Jason Nazar spent the past 7 years building Santa Monica-based Docstoc from a document sharing platform to a site which now attracts more than 16 million unique monthly visitors and has over 40 million registered members worldwide. Previously a Partner at a venture consulting firm in L.A. Nazar is also the creator and host of Startups Uncensored, the longest running and most widely attended technology gathering in Southern California, which regularly brings together thousands of entrepreneurs, techies and investors.

“Our vision is to be the ultimate destination and resource site for small businesses.  We’re extremely excited to continue to pursue this shared vision with Intuit, a world leader of solutions for small businesses,” said Nazar. “Together we will have an unprecedented opportunity to help entrepreneurs make their businesses better.”

Docstoc raised just $4 million in funding from VC Rustic Canyon as well as notable angel investors including co-founders in MySpace, LowerMyBills, Mp3.com, PriceGrabber and Baid.

“They had such an amazing array of content,” said Chriss of Docstoc, which spent this year releasing new features including iPad apps, articles, tutorials and videos alongside a document sharing platform and growing library of both free and purchasable legal, business, financial, technical, and educational documents. “There are 28 million small businesses in the U.S and they have a ton of questions,” said Chriss.

Docstoc’s vast user base will no doubt help push entrepreneurs towards Intuit’s tax and accounting tools aimed at small businesses.

As part of Intuit, Docstoc’s team of 50 employees will stay at their Santa Monica HQ and continue to be led by Nazar. As an Intuit company, Docstoc will have the resources to develop even more products and services aimed at entrepreneurs and small businesses, Nazar said.

Docstoc bought BestVendor in August this year, a Yelp-like directory to provide small businesses with recommendations for choosing different software and cloud services.

TED: Michael Porter: Why business can be good at solving social problems – Michael Porter (2013)

I think we’re all aware that the world today is full of problems. We’ve been hearing them today and yesterday and every day for decades. Serious problems, big problems, pressing problems. Poor nutrition, access to water, climate change, deforestation, lack of skills, insecurity, not enough food, not enough healthcare, pollution. There’s problem after problem, and I think what really separates this time from any time I can remember in my brief time on Earth is the awareness of these problems. We’re all very aware.

Why are we having so much trouble dealing with these problems? That’s the question I’ve been struggling with, coming from my very different perspective. I’m not a social problem guy. I’m a guy that works with business, helps business make money. God forbid. So why are we having so many problems with these social problems, and really is there any role for business, and if so, what is that role? I think that in order to address that question, we have to step back and think about how we’ve understood and pondered both the problems and the solutions to these great social challenges that we face.

Now, I think many have seen business as the problem, or at least one of the problems, in many of the social challenges we face. You know, think of the fast food industry, the drug industry, the banking industry. You know, this is a low point in the respect for business. Business is not seen as the solution. It’s seen as the problem now, for most people. And rightly so, in many cases. There’s a lot of bad actors out there that have done the wrong thing, that actually have made the problem worse. So this perspective is perhaps justified.

How have we tended to see the solutions to these social problems, these many issues that we face in society? Well, we’ve tended to see the solutions in terms of NGOs, in terms of government, in terms of philanthropy. Indeed, the kind of unique organizational entity of this age is this tremendous rise of NGOs and social organizations. This is a unique, new organizational form that we’ve seen grown up. Enormous innovation, enormous energy, enormous talent now has been mobilized through this structure to try to deal with all of these challenges. And many of us here are deeply involved in that.

I’m a business school professor, but I’ve actually founded, I think, now, four nonprofits. Whenever I got interested and became aware of a societal problem, that was what I did, form a nonprofit. That was the way we’ve thought about how to deal with these issues. Even a business school professor has thought about it that way.

But I think at this moment, we’ve been at this for quite a while. We’ve been aware of these problems for decades. We have decades of experience with our NGOs and with our government entities, and there’s an awkward reality. The awkward reality is we’re not making fast enough progress. We’re not winning. These problems still seem very daunting and very intractable, and any solutions we’re achieving are small solutions. We’re making incremental progress.

What’s the fundamental problem we have in dealing with these social problems? If we cut all the complexity away, we have the problem of scale. We can’t scale. We can make progress. We can show benefits. We can show results. We can make things better. We’re helping. We’re doing better. We’re doing good. We can’t scale. We can’t make a large-scale impact on these problems. Why is that? Because we don’t have the resources. And that’s really clear now. And that’s clearer now than it’s been for decades. There’s simply not enough money to deal with any of these problems at scale using the current model. There’s not enough tax revenue, there’s not enough philanthropic donations, to deal with these problems the way we’re dealing with them now. We’ve got to confront that reality. And the scarcity of resources for dealing with these problems is only growing, certainly in the advanced world today, with all the fiscal problems we face.

So if it’s fundamentally a resource problem, where are the resources in society? How are those resources really created, the resources we’re going to need to deal with all these societal challenges? Well there, I think the answer is very clear: They’re in business. All wealth is actually created by business. Business creates wealth when it meets needs at a profit. That’s how all wealth is created. It’s meeting needs at a profit that leads to taxes and that leads to incomes and that leads to charitable donations. That’s where all the resources come from. Only business can actually create resources. Other institutions can utilize them to do important work, but only business can create them. And business creates them when it’s able to meet a need at a profit. The resources are overwhelmingly generated by business. The question then is, how do we tap into this? How do we tap into this? Business generates those resources when it makes a profit. That profit is that small difference between the price and the cost it takes to produce whatever solution business has created to whatever problem they’re trying to solve. But that profit is the magic. Why? Because that profit allows whatever solution we’ve created to be infinitely scalable. Because if we can make a profit, we can do it for 10, 100, a million, 100 million, a billion. The solution becomes self-sustaining. That’s what business does when it makes a profit.

Now what does this all have to do with social problems? Well, one line of thinking is, let’s take this profit and redeploy it into social problems. Business should give more. Business should be more responsible. And that’s been the path that we’ve been on in business. But again, this path that we’ve been on is not getting us where we need to go.

Now, I started out as a strategy professor, and I’m still a strategy professor. I’m proud of that. But I’ve also, over the years, worked more and more on social issues. I’ve worked on healthcare, the environment, economic development, reducing poverty, and as I worked more and more in the social field, I started seeing something that had a profound impact on me and my whole life, in a way.

The conventional wisdom in economics and the view in business has historically been that actually, there’s a tradeoff between social performance and economic performance. The conventional wisdom has been that business actually makes a profit by causing a social problem. The classic example is pollution. If business pollutes, it makes more money than if it tried to reduce that pollution. Reducing pollution is expensive, therefore businesses don’t want to do it. It’s profitable to have an unsafe working environment. It’s too expensive to have a safe working environment, therefore business makes more money if they don’t have a safe working environment. That’s been the conventional wisdom. A lot of companies have fallen into that conventional wisdom. They resisted environmental improvement. They resisted workplace improvement. That thinking has led to, I think, much of the behavior that we have come to criticize in business, that I come to criticize in business.

But the more deeply I got into all these social issues, one after another, and actually, the more I tried to address them myself, personally, in a few cases, through nonprofits that I was involved with, the more I found actually that the reality is the opposite. Business does not profit from causing social problems, actually not in any fundamental sense. That’s a very simplistic view. The deeper we get into these issues, the more we start to understand that actually business profits from solving from social problems. That’s where the real profit comes. Let’s take pollution. We’ve learned today that actually reducing pollution and emissions is generating profit. It saves money. It makes the business more productive and efficient. It doesn’t waste resources. Having a safer working environment actually, and avoiding accidents, it makes the business more profitable, because it’s a sign of good processes. Accidents are expensive and costly. Issue by issue by issue, we start to learn that actually there’s no trade-off between social progress and economic efficiency in any fundamental sense. Another issue is health. I mean, what we’ve found is actually health of employees is something that business should treasure, because that health allows those employees to be more productive and come to work and not be absent. The deeper work, the new work, the new thinking on the interface between business and social problems is actually showing that there’s a fundamental, deep synergy, particularly if you’re not thinking in the very short run. In the very short run, you can sometimes fool yourself into thinking that there’s fundamentally opposing goals, but in the long run, ultimately, we’re learning in field after field that this is simply not true.

So how could we tap into the power of business to address the fundamental problems that we face? Imagine if we could do that, because if we could do it, we could scale. We could tap into this enormous resource pool and this organizational capacity.

And guess what? That’s happening now, finally, partly because of people like you who have raised these issues now for year after year and decade after decade. We see organizations like Dow Chemical leading the revolution away from trans fat and saturated fat with innovative new products. This is an example of Jain Irrigation. This is a company that’s brought drip irrigation technology to thousands and millions of farmers, reducing substantially the use of water. We see companies like the Brazilian forestry company Fibria that’s figured out how to avoid tearing down old growth forest and using eucalyptus and getting much more yield per hectare of pulp and making much more paper than you could make by cutting down those old trees. You see companies like Cisco that are training so far four million people in I.T. skills to actually, yes, be responsible, but help expand the opportunity to disseminate I.T. technology and grow the whole business. There’s a fundamental opportunity for business today to impact and address these social problems, and this opportunity is the largest business opportunity we see in business.

And the question is, how can we get business thinking to adapt this issue of shared value? This is what I call shared value: addressing a social issue with a business model. That’s shared value. Shared value is capitalism, but it’s a higher kind of capitalism. It’s capitalism as it was ultimately meant to be, meeting important needs, not incrementally competing for trivial differences in product attributes and market share. Shared value is when we can create social value and economic value simultaneously. It’s finding those opportunities that will unleash the greatest possibility we have to actually address these social problems because we can scale. We can address shared value at multiple levels. It’s real. It’s happening.

But in order to get this solution working, we have to now change how business sees itself, and this is thankfully underway. Businesses got trapped into the conventional wisdom that they shouldn’t worry about social problems, that this was sort of something on the side, that somebody else was doing it. We’re now seeing companies embrace this idea. But we also have to recognize business is not going to do this as effectively as if we have NGOs and government working in partnership with business. The new NGOs that are really moving the needle are the ones that have found these partnerships, that have found these ways to collaborate. The governments that are making the most progress are the governments that have found ways to enable shared value in business rather than see government as the only player that has to call the shots. And government has many ways in which it could impact the willingness and the ability of companies to compete in this way.

I think if we can get business seeing itself differently, and if we can get others seeing business differently, we can change the world. I know it. I’m seeing it. I’m feeling it. Young people, I think, my Harvard Business School students, are getting it. If we can break down this sort of divide, this unease, this tension, this sense that we’re not fundamentally collaborating here in driving these social problems, we can break this down, and we finally, I think, can have solutions.

Thank you.


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The Tricky Business Of Taxing Bitcoin

The bitcoin logo The bitcoin logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Buttressed by an Internet craze, the price of bitcoin has skyrocketed this past year from $17 to over $1,200. Pundits expect significant price volatility in 2014 as well.

While the Federal Reserve gave tacit approval, stating “virtual currencies like bitcoin have legitimate uses and should not be banned,” the IRS has not yet issued tax guidance. Despite the lack of guidance, income from bitcoin transactions must be reported.

What’s the bitcoin tax treatment for traders?
There are two possibilities how bitcoin should be treated for tax purposes: either it is an (1) intangible asset, or (2) a foreign currency. The problem with saying that it’s a currency is that it is not issued by a government, and traditionally currencies are legal tender issued by governments. In California Bankers Assn v. Shultz, the Supreme Court stated (in a non-tax context): “‘Currency’ is defined in the Secretary’s regulations as the “coin and currency of the United States or of any other country, which circulate in and are customarily used and accepted as money in the country in which issued.”

The IRS has not said its opinion, but both Canadian and Swedish tax authorities are treating bitcoins as an asset. Also, the German Finance Ministry says bitcoin is not classified as e-money or a foreign currency, but is rather a financial instrument under German banking rules. It is our sense that unless Congress enacts legislation to treat bitcoins as a foreign currency, the IRS will treat bitcoins as an asset.

If you buy bitcoin for purposes of appreciation and then sell it, then if (1) bitcoin is an asset, you will have capital gain and loss, and (2) if bitcoin is a foreign currency, then under Section 988 you will have ordinary income and loss.

Is bitcoin a commodity?
There is no definition in the Internal Revenue Code of “commodity.” Black’s Law Dictionary 342 (4th ed. 1968) defines commodity: a movable article of value that can be bought or sold. A bitcoin is not movable property, so arguably it’s not a commodity. But at the Senate hearing, academics and financial industry players warned that bitcoin could be regulated as a commodity if market volatility continues. Such financial regulation may or may not impact the tax treatment.

Most bitcoin investors and traders will prefer capital gains tax treatment
After the astronomical rise in bitcoin this past year, most investors and traders may prefer capital gains and loss tax treatment. Consider this example: An American investor bought bitcoin at $17 just over 12 months ago and he sold it recently for $1,200. Is he entitled to significantly lower long-term capital gains tax rates of up to 20% in the top bracket and up to 15% in the second top bracket? That’s 20% lower than the top ordinary rates of 39.6% and 35%.

In this example of incredible appreciation, investors and traders will prefer that the IRS views their bitcoin transactions as trading in a commodity or other capital asset held for price appreciation. As long as the investor did not acquire the bitcoin as part of his business or for personal reasons this tax treatment seems safe to deploy on 2013 tax returns — until the IRS says otherwise.

Can bitcoin traders use ordinary loss tax treatment in Section 475?
What goes up fast and irrationally may also go down fast and irrationally. New investors may wind up with big trading losses and they may wish for ordinary loss treatment instead of $3,000 capital loss limitations and large capital loss carryovers.

As the bitcoin trading market expands, some bitcoin traders may be able to achieve trader tax status – business treatment – on trading that asset class. It is not clear whether they can make a Section 475 MTM election for trading bitcoin to have business ordinary gain or loss treatment. Section 475 allows “Traders in Securities and or Commodities” to make the election. Although the term “commodities” above really refers to trading Section 1256 contracts or regulated futures contracts, Section 475 does not seem to include bitcoin. However, if bitcoin becomes regulated as a commodity, it may qualify for Section 475 treatment.

Mark Feldman contributed to this article.

Business Plan Outline – 23 Point Checklist For Success

If you’re looking for funding for a new or existing business, you need a business plan. Your business plan gives lenders and investors the information they need to determine whether or not they should consider your company.

Your business plan outline is the first step in organizing your thoughts. And, when you follow the outline below, you ensure your business plan is in the format that prompts investors and lenders to take action.

In the business plan outline below, you will see the ten (10) sections common to business plans, and the twenty-three (23) sub-sections you must complete.

Section I – Executive Summary

1 – Executive Summary

The Executive Summary is the most important part of your business plan. Because if it doesn’t interest readers, they’ll never even get to the rest of your plan.

Start your Executive Summary with a brief and concise explanation of what your company does. Next, explain why your company is uniquely qualified to succeed. For example, does your management team have unique competencies? Do you have any patents? Are you the first mover in your market? Does a huge, unmet market opportunity exist? Etc.

Finally, include a synopsis of your financial projections in your Executive Summary. Specifically, include your expected revenues, expenses and profits for each of the next five years, how much funding you are seeking, and the key uses of these funds.

Section II – Company Overview

2 – Company Overview

The Company Overview section provides a brief history of your company.

Here you will answer questions such as when and how your organization was formed, what type of legal entity you are, and accomplishments to date.

Importantly, your past accomplishments are perhaps the best indicator of potential future success, so be sure to identify and include all key milestones your company has achieved to date.

Section III – Industry Analysis

Your Industry Analysis section has two sub-sections as follows:

3 – Market Overview

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