Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Building your business online: Advice from the start-up community

Recently, Google took part in the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce's (NGLCC) annual Business & Leadership Conference in Chicago. Our involvement was focused on supporting the start-up community and helping small- to medium-sized businesses understand how to use the web to grow. At the event, entrepreneurs pitched their ideas to a panel of experts, including Google’s John Burchett, Director, Public Policy - US States and Local, Latin America and Canada, who gave feedback on how to get their ideas off the ground.

While each business and entrepreneur is unique, here are some general tips for entrepreneurs from John Burchett after the event:

If you can do humor well, do it. The winning team had a very down-to-earth charming video introducing themselves and their product. It really made you root for them. The thing that I was generally most critical about was the tendency of all of the contestants to oversell their product and the world-changing nature of them. Grandiose claims just make me skeptical. Stick to the new, interesting innovation that they provide, but don't overhype. The worst thing is to have the 'infomercial' aroma.

We also asked participating entrepreneurs Michael McCarthy (BudiBar, a focus-enhancing energy bar), Joe Cote (Capsule Pen, a pen-shaped pill case), and Jim Hohl (Tasklite, a project management software for teams) to weigh in on their experience, and share some advice for other entrepreneurs starting on their own business journeys:

What was the most valuable piece of advice you took away from the panel?

Joe Cote: The most valuable piece of advice that we took away from the panel was that when presenting our product, too much is too much! Since receiving this advice we have narrowed our focus and zeroed in on the exact models that will have the most traction in the market, and plan to let other features and design ideas come to the forefront over time.

Michael McCarthy: The most valuable piece of advice was to remove a selling point that people didn't believe to be true, regardless of it being true or not. Instead, focus on what they do believe and you maintain customer trust.

What advice would you give to other new entrepreneurs?

Jim Hohl: Take advantage of the vast pool of free and low cost resources that are available to you from Google and others, for one thing. For another, be sure you are ready for the plunge because it's a full time job with no salary, no benefits and unlimited working hours - if you don't have a cushion, it can be a bumpy ride. And finally, be fully committed to your vision but remain receptive to criticism. I've learned a lot by listening, even when it was something I didn't want to hear.

Michael McCarthy: Make sure you have a huge passion for what you're doing and make sure that passion is not money. Passion is the fuel that will get you through the ups and downs. Also keep a good set of friends nearby who will listen to your panic, soothe your fears, and celebrate your successes.

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