Leave a comment

3 Ways to Build Consumer Trust

3 Ways to Build Consumer Trust

image credit: Shutterstock

Think of a brand you love — one you’d trust with your personal information, recommend to your friends, and loyally choose over a similar brand. As an entrepreneur in a skeptical market, creating that sense of trust takes an ongoing commitment to integrity.

“The biggest challenge is the so-called fragility of trust,” says Roderick Kramer, a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford University. “Trust is hard-won and easily lost.”

To build trust, your customers need to believe three things about your company:

1. You have their best interests at heart.
2. You are capable of delivering on your promises.
3. You are honest and authentic.

To earn loyal customers who trust your brand, try these three techniques:

Related: Why Should Your Customers Trust You?

1. Focus on doing your job well. “Most companies worry far too much about whether or not they are trusted,” Kramer says. Instead, spend your energy delivering on what you’ve promised. “Management has to be committed to ′walking the talk′ in every transaction,” he says.

At Dwolla, a web-based payment network, founder and CEO Ben Milne doesn’t worry about communicating trust. Instead, he puts his energy into delivering the best product possible. “If I have to start [telling people to trust me], then I’ve done a really poor job to begin with,″ he says.

2. Be transparent about mistakes. People naturally prefer to hide mistakes, but you want to be as direct and open as possible. ″Any sense of secrecy, concealment, or dishonesty will undermine the public’s trust,” Kramer says. When you make a mistake, own up to it immediately, share what you’re doing to correct it, and follow through.

A few years ago, Dwolla went down for a few days — an eternity in the tech world. They explained the problem in real time on their blog, sharing what happened and how they were working to fix it. To their surprise, everyone responded positively. ″People just want to know what’s going on,” Milne says.

Dwolla encourages the same transparency in its employees. To make sure every potential problem gets attention, they’ve created a culture of total honesty. “When [an employee] makes a mistake, the first thing is not to hide it,” Milne says. “We’ll immediately find you a team of really smart people to help you solve it. You won’t get fired.” Employees are empowered to own up to mistakes without fear of retribution, so they feel comfortable putting the customer’s needs first.

3. Stay vigilant over time. Building trust is not a one-time deal, you have to prove yourself every time the customer uses your product. “Trust-building and maintenance take vigilance and sustained effort,” Kramer says. “Once you have it, you can’t rest on your laurels.”

If you’re wondering whether the effort is worth it, think of it this way: Delivering on your promise is your business. If you don’t deliver, Milne says, “there’s no tagline that fixes it.”

This post originally appeared on entrepreneur.com. To see it in its original format, click here.

Leave a comment

How to Shop for a Business Incubator

Several Months ago, prominent journalist Fareed Zakaria told Harvard University’s graduating class, “You don’t need an ethics course to know what you shouldn’t do.”

It was good advice, as members of Duke University’s class of 2012 could attest. At Duke’s commencement 11 days before, Zakaria had uttered precisely the same words.

Zakaria’s Harvard and Duke commencement speeches were essen­tially identical, built around the same anecdotes and points and often the same language.

The addresses have set some at Harvard and Duke atwitter.

“I spoke to him while he was here,” said one Duke employee, “and I got the strong impression from him that his Harvard speech would be a different presentation. Oh, well, at least Duke got it first.”

Not all of it, actually. Zakaria hit many of the same notes, including the line about ethics, in an address to the Johns Hopkins University class of 2011. He also used some of them for the Brown University class of 2009 and the Yale University class of 2007.

Leave a comment

The Mindblowingly Simple Strategies Any Startup Can Use for Meetup Success

Everybody’s talking about Pinterest, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and yet no one wants to give Meetup its respect.

Well…truth be told…they’re not going out of their way to disrespect Meetup…but they’re not giving meetup its share of the props.

At first I thought…maybe Meetup didn’t really hold that much weight. When you do a Google Insights search in comparison to Facebook, Pinterest, and etc…
…it didn’t look too good.

And just when I was about to shut my laptop… and have a much deserved pity party… I checked it out on Google trends:

Wait a minute now!

So I calmed myself down a little:

“Alright Mike…breathe…breathe…sip of water…breathe. Eventbrite is also popular so maybe they’re on the same plain.”

So I decided to also pit the two against each other…like two rottweilers ready to throw down!

It seems that Meetup is an undercover Heiney kicker!!

Enter the Experts

So we can now say Meetup gets it respect. I mean why wouldn’t it? Look at the numbers:

And even though Google+ events is quietly sneaking up in the background…for now Meetup still has a strong lead.

But I’m going to make a confession: I’m not an expert on this.


You heard me: I’m not an expert on this.

Now I’ve done and read enough guest posts to know you are NOT supposed to say something like that.

It’s sacrilegious. Heretical to the tee!

But it’s true.

It’s not like the I’m the mother who is using meetup to get a Nashua playground or the NY Tech Meetup that was recently featured in Fast Company.

Nope. I didn’t do that any of that.

See…I’m the guy who studies successful people and spills their secrets:

In fact, when I wrote my ebook Top Twitter Traffic Strategies, I just found people who were Twitter rockstars and asked them what they did.


So rather than me tell you how to do it…I decided to round up some experts so THEY could show you how to do it.

It wasn’t easy.

So here they are…my questions…their answers:

Andrew Wong–Founder of NY Entrepreneur Business Network (11,883 members)

1. How you market and promote a meetup group

We do minimal marketing.  NYEBN has extensive networks on Meetup, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and a private mailing list.  Sometimes, some partners would offer to help us because they believe what we do.  Those are pretty much sufficient to market what we do currently.

2. If you do minimal marketing, how do you account for NYEBN’s success? (Follow-up question…I wasn’t buying it)

The answer to that is good events will bring in new members and help grow the community, because people talk about it.

3. How do you pull of an effective event?

It’s simple:
a. Offer useful content
b. Have users’ core value in mind when planning for and executing an event
c. I’m lucky because I have a great management team
d. Community mentality, which means no matter what you do, you should do a good job serving community members
e. Focus (for us, we focus on technology & startups)

4. How do you use the group to group to grow your brand and/or business?

NYEBN is a brand of its own. Basically, we repeat what we do mentioned in #2 and make sure those things are implemented within every single event we organize.

Jared O’Toole–Under30CEO

1. How do you promote and market a meetup group?

Every city has a million event and meetup lists. Think Meetup.com but there are also many other resources from newspapers to online directories that are great ways to promote the group. Partnerships can be the best option though. Find an established group that compliments your group. Reach out to co-host and event with them. And of course there is no better way to market a group than to simply create a valuable experience. Make sure each attendee goes home and tells their friends how much they got out of it.

2. How do you pull of an effective event?

Quality attendees + agenda. You need to make sure the room is full of serious like-minded people. For example we used to have free events but as soon as we started charging the people who were not committed to what we were doing stopped showing up. Think small. A high quality group is much better than a broad general group.

3. How do you use the group to grow your brand and/or business?

Meetups need to have an agenda on your end. Just getting a bunch of people together for drinks is great but won’t help your bottom line. This doesn’t mean you have to up-sell everyone but think of a way to utilize these people who are obviously interested in what you do and are taking their time to come out for something you created. Gather product feedback, giveaway products, partner with groups that have potential clients. If you provide a valuable experience with the event no one will have a problem providing you with some valuable feedback or ideas for your business.

Will Petz–Founder of Random Events NY (9,310 Members)

1. How do you promote and market a meetup group?

Meetup does an excellent job promoting. I have tried several other ways, but so far Meetup has provided the largest gains for me.  However one important part is to have a professional look and quick picture to get people interested.

2. How do you pull of an effective event?

Organization and promoting socialization in unusual ways to get people interacting.

3. How do you use the group to grow your brand and/or business?

A company can be considered a living body.  It grows as you feed it and take care of it. If you don’t, it then dies.  Meetup helps the company grow because of all the advertizing they do to identify people that would be interested in what we have to offer.

Will also gave me the heads up on a 34 page document he wrote: Guide to a Successful Meetup Group & Meetup Events. Very indepth!

But let me hear from you? What are some of your top meetup strategies? What has worked? What hasn’t worked?

This post originally appeared on under30ceo.com. To see it in it’s original format, click here.

The Mindblowingly Simple Strategies Any Startup Can Use for Meetup Success.

Leave a comment

The Untold Reasons Why Businesses Fail


Why do these reasons remain untold?

Simple. Most of the time, the business owner doesn’t realize that these reasons are what caused their failure, and consultants generally don’t ask the kinds of questions that would identify them.

There have been many articles written on the subject of why businesses fail, and most of them point to the same reasons, such as:

Inadequate funding
Bad location
Lack of a well thought-out business plan
Poor execution
Bad management
Expanding too quickly
Insufficient marketing or promotion
Inability to adapt to a changing marketplace
Failure to keep overhead costs low
Underestimating competitors

These reasons are widespread and no doubt cause many businesses to fail. However, the reason for a company’s failure is not always something so obvious. Here are 6 lesser-known reasons why a business might fail. Why do these reasons remain untold? Most of the time, the business owner doesn’t realize that these reasons are what caused their failure, and consultants generally don’t ask the kinds of questions that would identify them.

1) Focusing on Short-Term Profits Rather than Building Long-Term Value

It’s important to be profitable, but NOT when short-term profits come at the expense of the long-term value of the business and the lifetime value of the customer.

In other words, a profitable business opportunity consists of people who have dire wants that are being unmet so much that they will jump to buy your solution (product or service). A profitable business opportunity can be compared to a lake with thousands of starving fish. All you need to do is throw in the bait and it turns into a feeding frenzy.

It’s important to consider the lifetime value of a customer. Repeat business is way more valuable than short-term profits. Saving 20 cents on a smoothie today will cost you big in the long run.

2) Ego Business vs. Business Opportunity

The foundation of a good business is a good business opportunity. As an entrepreneur, you want to fill a need in the marketplace. Unfortunately, many businesses are started solely to fulfill an entrepreneur’s ego (or, to put it less harshly, to satisfy one of the entrepreneur’s interests).

This can often be seen in the restaurant & bar industry, where too many entrepreneurs open shop because it’s a “cool” thing to do. Such businesses rarely succeed.

The success of a business solely lies in being able to fill an unmet need in the market, unfortunately many entrepreneurs engage in business due to personal and selfish gain controlled by their egos. This also drives us to realize that many entrepreneurs are driven to start a business because their friends/colleagues are doing the same. There is nothing more destructive than to pick a business which you can’t fully embrace or which costs you a lot of money to sustain.

3) Lack of a Business Plan:

Business plans are critical for setting goals and mapping out your plan to achieve those goals. They are also critical in order to raise capital. Whether you are seeking a bank loan, or capital from angel investors, venture capitalists or corporate investors, a formal business plan is simply a requirement.

One of the absolute keys to a successful business plan is to create the right business plan milestones. Doing so is essential to securing investors and making real progress towards achieving your goals

4) Bad feedback & white lies

People like spending time with friends and family.

Unfortunately, when it comes to business, friends and family members don’t always give the best advice. This is especially true at the birth of a business. Nobody wants to be a buzz-kill. No one wants to tell an entrepreneur their idea is bad, or their location stinks, or anything else negative. Most people are conditioned to be supportive of their friends and family regardless of the situation.

Plus, nobody wants to be wrong. Imagine your friend has an idea that you think is terrible. You share your objections, but the friend goes ahead with the idea anyways, and it succeeds. Now you’ll always be the naysayer that never believed in them. Nobody wants to be that person.

That’s why you’ll rarely get honest, objective business advice from friends or family members. And yet, oftentimes friends and family are the first people entrepreneurs turn to for advice.

5) Maybe the owner is just a jerk

There are a lot of great people in the business world, but there are also some jerks. And these jerks sometimes start their own companies.

A jerk, in this case, is someone who a lot of people can’t get along with. Maybe it’s because they’re a super-perfectionist, or they yell a lot, or they demand that everything be done in a certain way, or they constantly complain. Or maybe they’re annoying in some other way.

The key is that nobody — not employees, customers, partners, suppliers, clients, etc. — wants to give 100% for a jerk. Clients and customers will be turned off, and employees will start cutting corners. Most people believe that life is too short, and don’t want to spend their time working with someone they can’t get along with.

6) The entrepreneur never took the full leap

In most new business attempts, the entrepreneur never leaves their day job, or they create a back-up plan, or they have a job lined up in case the new business fails. In these cases, failure is an option, as the entrepreneur has a safety net to fall back on. In cases where failure is NOT an option, and the entrepreneur depends on the new business to provide food, shelter and clothing, the business has a greater chance of succeeding.

Every business can be compared to a baby that needs nurturing and protection from the owner to ensure that it grows and lives. Therefore, concentrating on two different things at the same are most likely to affect the growth of that business.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

-Steve Jobs

The Untold Reasons Why Businessesu Fail.

Leave a comment

The Smartest Guy In The Room


Welcome back to VentureStart. Things slowed down a little over the summer, as they often do, but we’ve noticed a very quick resurgence of energy in the start-up space this week and expect the momentum to continue through the fall now that Labor Day weekend has passed. While a lot of people were relaxing, or at least working summer hours, we spoke with Jay Batson of Acquia, Inc. Jay is an experienced entrepreneur who has started multiple companies. In addition to his day job as Co-Founder and Vice President of Acquia, Jay is also a mentor to young start-ups at Mass Challenge and the TechStars Boston, as well as a guest speaker at entrepreneurship events around the Boston area.

We asked Jay the tough questions that you want answers to. Not surprisingly for a guy who’s been in the start-up and small business space as long as Jay has, he had an answer to every question.

Here are the answers you’ve been looking for:

Q: How do you know when to scale your company vs. when to close shop?
A: That’s really several questions rolled into one and they’re worth exploring individually. Scaling is a funny word…and it’s better for me to think about it as a question of when do you invest in something. In retrospect I think it’s easier to make the investment decision. Investing means where should we burn cash at a higher rate than we had planned? There will be points in time when you’ll say “it’s now time to spend extra money in this particular space.” You have to have your own logic why you’re going to do that.
Jay discussed that knowing where to invest in the company is based on knowing what you’re doing well, and knowing where, if you invest a little more, you can convert more prospects into revenue.

Q: When a start-up gets to a certain point, it sometimes hits a crossroads. How do you know if you’ve got a project that’s good enough that if you invest more capital, the project will accelerate in the right direction, vs. knowing that this project isn’t going to take off and you need to fold?
A: The question of knowing when to hold, fold, and walk away is a tough one. Do you have metrics that will show you if you have enough traction to go forward. Those metrics will tell you about how your business is going. I’ve grown in the last decade to really appreciate the value of knowing which metrics are right for your business and then being honest with yourself about whether or not you’re making those metrics and then whether you have options to change those. You have to listen to the metrics and they’ll tell you when to hold and when to fold if you want to use those terms. It’s somewhat trendy, but the best, most through description I’ve read of this recently is in the lean start-up. It helps you think about what are the best metrics for your business.

The most interesting thing that Jay told us, and an affirmation of what VentureStart has espoused in previous posts, is that hiring is one of the keys to a successful start-up. There’s a book called “The Smartest Guys In The Room” by McLean and Elkind. The book is descent, but the title is catchy. People generally assume that he CEO is the smartest person in the company, or the senior executives are the smartest people at the company. Jay told us that he learned a long time ago that the smart, especially the smart start-up CEO, surrounds himself with people at least as smart, if not smarter, than himself. You want to be in a room surrounded by people who are at least as smart as you are, so that they can execute your strategy and potentially suggest improvements to it.

Next week we’ll post part 2 of the interview with Jay where he’ll answer the questions: What’s the one skill or skill set that entrepreneurs absolutely must have to be successful? and What’s the biggest challenge you had to overcome as an entrepreneur? As well as other questions.

Leave a comment

A truly thought-provoking blog post on one man’s journey to entrepreneurship and how his life experiences prepared him for the hardships of the start-up world. In every successful entrepreneur, there’s something deep inside that hardens us against the fear, the risk, the ambiguity, and the potential failure. Steve Blank explains how he found the courage to become an entrepreneur and it’s worth reading regardless of your stance on American foreign policy, because at the end of the day, competing in the business world is frequently similar to war.


We Sleep Peaceably In Our Beds At Night Only Because Rough Men Stand Ready To Do Violence On Our Behalf

Everyone has events that shape the rest of their lives.  This was one of mine.


I’ve never been shot at. Much braver men I once worked with faced that every day. But for a year and a half I saw weapons of war take off every day with bombs hanging under the wings. It never really hit home until the day I realized some of the planes didn’t come back.

Life in a War Zone
In the early 1970’s the U.S. was fully engaged in the war in Vietnam. Most of the fighter planes used to support the war were based in Thailand, or from aircraft carriers (or for some B-52 bombers, in Guam.)  I was 19, in the middle of a hot war learning how to repair electronics as fast as I could. It was everything life could throw at you at one time with minimum direction and almost no rules.

It would be decades before I would realize I had an unfair advantage. I had grown up in home where I learned how to live in chaos and bring some order to my small corner of it. For me a war zone was the first time all those skills of shutting out everything except what was important for survival came in handy. But the temptations in Thailand for a teenager were overwhelming: cheap sex, cheap drugs (a pound of Thai marijuana for twenty dollars, heroin from the Golden Triangle that was so pure it was smoked, alcohol cheaper than soda.) I saw friends partying with substances in quantities that left some of them pretty badly damaged. At a relatively young age I learned the price of indulgence and the value of moderation.

What a great job
But I was really happy. What a great job – you work hard, party hard, get more responsibility and every once in awhile get to climb into fighter plane cockpits and turn them on. What could be better?

Near the beginning of the year when I was at an airbase called Korat, a new type of attack aircraft showed up – the A-7D Corsair. It was a single seat plane with modern electronics (I used to love to play with the Head Up Display.) And it was painted with a shark’s mouth. This plane joined the F-4’s and F-105 Wild Weasels (who went head-to-head with surface-to-air missiles,) and EB-66’s reconnaissance aircraft all on a very crowded fighter base.  While the electronics shop I worked in repaired electronic warfare equipment for all the fighter planes, I had just been assigned to 354th Fighter Wing so I took an interest in these relatively small A-7D Corsair’s (which had originally been designed for the Navy.)

He’s Not Coming Back
One fine May day, on one of my infrequent trips to the flight line (I usually had to be dragged since it was really hot outside the air-conditioned shop), I noticed a few crew chiefs huddled around an empty aircraft spot next to the plane I was working on. Typically there would have been another of the A-7’s parked there. I didn’t think much of it as I was crawling over our plane trying to help troubleshoot some busted wiring. But I started noticing more and more vans stop by with other pilots and other technicians– some to talk to the crew chief, others just to stop and stare at the empty spot where a plane should have been parked. I hung back until one of my fellow techs said, “Lets go find out what the party is about.”

We walked over and quickly found out it wasn’t a party – it was more like a funeral.  The A-7 had been shot down over Cambodia.  And as we found out later, the pilot wasn’t ever coming home.

An empty place on the flight line
While we were living the good life in Thailand, the Army and Marines were pounding the jungle every day in Vietnam. Some of them saw death up close. 58,000 didn’t come back – their average age was 22.

Everyone shook their heads about how sad. I heard later from “old-timers” who had come back for multiple tours “Oh, this is nothing you should have been here in…” and they’d insert whatever year they had been around when some days multiple planes failed to return. During the Vietnam War ~9,000 aircraft and helicopters were destroyed. Thousands of pilots and crews were killed.

It’s Not a Game
I still remember that exact moment – standing in the bright sun where a plane should be, with the ever present smell of jet fuel, hearing the engines of various planes taxing and taking off with the roar and then distant rumble of full afterburners – when all of a sudden all the noise and smells seemed to stop – like someone had suddenly turned off a switch. And there I had a flash of realization and woke up to where I was. I suddenly and clearly understood this wasn’t a game. This wasn’t just a big party. We were engaged in killing other people and they were equally intent on killing us. I turned and looked at the pilots with a growing sense of awe and fear and realized what their job – and ours – was.

That day I began to think about the nature of war, the doctrine of just war, risk, and the value of National Service.

Captain Jeremiah Costello and his A-7D was the last attack aircraft shot down in the Vietnam War.

Less then ninety days later the air war over Southeast Asia ended.

For the rest of my career when things got tough in a startup (being yelled at, working until I dropped, running out of money, being on both ends of stupid decisions, pushing people to their limits, etc.), I would vividly remember seeing that empty spot on the flightline. It put everything in perspective.

Entrepreneurship is hard but you can’t die.

Leave a comment

Apple’s iPhone Is Now Worth More Than All Of Microsoft

How important is disruptive innovation? When a stale old company reinvents itself and finds its creative, innovative roots, the possibilities are endless. Here’s what Forbes has to say about it:

This is an entirely stunning statistic: Apple‘s iPhone sales are now worth more than all of Microsoft:

One Apple product, something that didn’t exist five years ago, has higher sales than everything Microsoft has to offer. More than Windows, Office, Xbox, Bing, Windows Phone, and every other product that Microsoft has created since 1975. In the quarter ended March 31, 2012, iPhone had sales of $22.7 billion; Microsoft Corporation, $17.4 billion.

Now when we say “worth” there’s a number of different things that we can mean. One way would be to try and measure the stock market value of the iPhone against all of Microsoft for example. But this isn’t something easily done: sure, we could make attempts at it but we’d not get very close to a decent result. Too much of the value that we ascribe to Apple is of the entire ecosystem, including the company’s reputation for style, for us to really be able to pull out separate market valuations for a specific product.
We might also try looking at profits: we know what those are for Microsoft but pulling them out for the iPhone alone would be difficult. Partly the problem above, we’re absolutely certain that the iPhone makes more profits as an Apple product than it would if exactly the same item were being sold by anyone else. Partly also how it influences the whole Apple ecosystem: what portion of iTunes profits should be ascribed to the iPhone, what to the iPad, what to entirely other systems?
While it’s not really correct, for “worth” implies a stock value not a flow value, and sales is a flow not a stock, the easiest of the available numbers to use is just that: compare the sales. And as Vanity Fair notes, the value of sales of iPhones is now greater than the value of the entirety of Microsoft’s sales.
And the thing is, that’s not really the most remarkable thing about Apple’s recent achievements. The truly strange thing is that they’ve managed to gain this level of sales while making software style margins on selling hardware. That’s the trick that no one else is managing at all.

To see the article in its original format on Forbes, click here.

%d bloggers like this: