Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Using LinkedIn (or Facebook?) for Business

I promised you guys I would write a post about LinkedIn and here it is. I would have been perfectly happy just using Facebook as my business networking site of choice but so many of my friends nixed it, saying that they just used it for connecting socially. My LinkedIn profile had been half-finished for months until I realized that when I google myself (which many people seem to be doing lately), my LinkedIn page shows up as the second item on my results page. A site that can get that kind of ranking definitely commands my attention. And if people are going to be clicking into it, I better make sure the content has all the important information about me and what I do. So I dedicated the past few days to finding out how to use LinkedIn for business, and how it compares with Facebook. Here's what I've uncovered so far...

Launched in 2003, LinkedIn is now the sixth-biggest US social network, according to a recent article I found commenting on rumors about News Corp.'s interest in buying the company. They also say that it logged the biggest growth among its peers in October and topped the expansion rates of both MySpace and Facebook, according to Nielsen. LinkedIn attracted about five million US visitors in October, up from 1.7 million a year earlier, and the company estimates it has 17 million users (compared to 59 million for Facebook and something like 300 million on MySpace).

Basic Features
LinkedIn offers some of the functionalities I covered in my 'Facebook 101' post, like you can fill out your 'Profile' to let people know what schools you went to and the companies you've worked for. (The more keyword rich you make this part the better the chances of ending up on more search results.) However, LinkedIn has a system that rates your contacts by degrees of separation: 1 degree means you know them and they know you, 2 degrees means they are a friend of your friend, and so on.

The section called 'Recommendations' allows you to leave or request endorsements from your contacts, which you can only do informally on Facebook by posting messages on people's 'walls'. Facebook also lacks the 'Q&A' section, where you can either ask or answer questions and interact with the entire LinkedIn population, not only your contacts, which can be helpful in getting exposure for your business and driving traffic to your website.

I asked Howard Greenstein, co-founder and NY Chapter Leader of the Social Media Club, (photo below) how effective the site had been for him. He says he recently identified a person he needed to connect with, got a quick introduction from a contact and then hooked them up with a company that wanted to business with them. He likes how with 'Q&A' you can send a question to your friends to get recommendations on potential hires.

"Some companies are encouraging their salespeople to find LinkedIn contacts in firms they're trying to sell to. Corporations are realizing that there's value in being outward facing, and that making more connections can expand their bottom lines," he adds.

Howard believes that people keep stronger business contacts on Linkedin vs Facebook so there's potentially more interesting data for companies to leverage. LinkedIn recently announced that they're opening up the site to outside developers to create unique applications that are specifically tailored to business users. Howard expects that in the near future the online social network will look for additional ways to make it easier to find people in your 2nd & 3rd degrees.

New Features
Here's some cool things that will soon be available on LinkedIn (from the company's Dec. 10 press release):

Partner Applications:

"LinkedIn’s first publishing partner, BusinessWeek, is developing an Intelligent Application that will reside on the website. The application will enable readers of to access their professional network to look up profiles of people and find connections at companies featured in articles."
Conference Calendar application:
"The conference calendar application has a view of upcoming events and people in one’s LinkedIn network who are attending upcoming conferences. Dates are color-coded to indicate how popular the conferences are amongst a user’s professional network, and users can see suggestions of people they may want to meet at the conference based on common network connections. The demo may be viewed at:"
Up until now it had been difficult to differentiate friends from business contacts on Facebook. However, that's now changing with Facebook allowing businesses to set up their own"fan" pages, as they explain in their Nov. 6 press release:

"Just like a Facebook user, businesses can start with a blank canvas and add all the information and content they want, including photos, videos, music and Facebook Platform applications. Outside developers have created a range of applications to enhance Facebook Pages, such as booking reservations or providing reviews of restaurant pages, buying tickets on a movie page or creating a custom t-shirt. Companies launching applications for Pages include Fandango, iLike, Musictoday LLC, OpenTable, SeamlessWeb, Zagat Survey LLC and Zazzle."
This move towards a more business friendly environment has ticked off many old time Facebook fans, and some are jumping ship.

So what will it be for businesses, Facebook or Linkedin? The race is on... What do you think? Share your thoughts!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Mediabistro: Time Line to Success

I've been running around left and right trying to get my little operation into high gear and as usual fretting about the future, until I read an article (The Accidental Entrepreneur) in this month's New York Enterprise Report. It was about how Laurel Touby sold her company, Mediabistro, for $23 million this past July. It took her just 13 years...but she didn't make a profit for the first 9 of them, and she didn't generate any money for the first two. That really helps to put things in perspective!

I remember going to a few of her events and have seen her company grow right before my very eyes. Her story is so inspiring to me that I wanted to piece together all the details of how she did it, so I looked up a few other articles on the sale and put together a time line:

1994 - Laurel, a struggling freelance writer, starts organizing after-work cocktail parties for journalists - 10 people showed up at the first one but within months that turns into one hundred ( that database is about 700,000) - however, she wasn't making money from it

1996 - Started an email newsletter with job listings (still no money)

1999 - Started charging HR people $100/month to post jobs - got 8 checks the first month, then 16, then 25, 35, 45 (ka-ching!) - that's when she ditched her freelance writing and decided to make this a business

2001 - Received $1 million in funding in March (a big ka-ching), then 9/11 hit (took back some of that ka-ching - read Laurel's account of how they managed to pull through after the terrorist attacks:
The Strength to Lead in the Face of Crisis, from The Huffington Post)

2002 - Laurel follows a colleague's suggestion to add courses for journalists to her list of services, and later that year launches a premium content subscription membership (ka-ching, ka-ching)

2003 - Became profitable

2006 - Got approached by buyers

2007 - Sold Mediabistro to Jupitermedia in July for $23 million, pocketing $12.4 million (she owned 62% of the company's stock) (a really big ka-ching)

Here's more related articles on the story:

-Village Voice: The $23 million Boa

-NYC TV's NYC 360 (video): Interview with Laurel Touby

-Washington Post: Journalism Morsels Make for Profitable Dish at This Bistro

As senior vice president, Laurel will still oversee Mediabistro but now she will also report to her new bosses at Jupitermeda. NY Enterprise Report asked if her life has changed now she's wealthy and her answer was "no, I still take the subway. Maybe I’m eating out a little more often. The one thing I’m going to spend the money on is a gigantic loft apartment so I can have all my journalist friends over for dinner." Sometimes the more things changes the more they stay the same...

My take home message out of this? Create a community of like-minded souls, find out what they need, and deliver it to them. It's that simple. Do that long enough and eventually the money will come.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Tao of Web 2.0

When I first signed up for the lecture entitled "Beyond the Web 2.0 Revolution" at the New School last week, I expected to get the latest scoop on some newfangled technology that will drive the Internet to higher heights. Was I ever wrong. I left there with so many ideas swirling inside my head I just had to write them down. Below you'll find a summary of the main points...

Dr. Hiroshi Tasaka, President of the think tank SophiaBank and professor at Tama University in Tokyo, had already started his presentation by the time I arrived (fashionably late!). The classroom was almost full but I managed to find a lone, empty seat in the second row. It took me a few minutes to catch on to what he was saying, and his thick accent took some getting used to, but slowly it started to make sense.

He was talking about how, at the same time that we move forward into to the future, there's also a resurgence of the past - but with an "upgrade". For example, auctions have been around for centuries, but online auctions have taken the concept and made it much more efficient. Similarly, e-learning adds additional value to the education process by allowing anyone to sign up to online classes with say, Harvard professors (also see "Yale to Make Select Courses Available Online").

He then talked about mutual infiltration, where systems in competition become similar to each other. In the past, businesses were either in cyberspace or in a physical space. Now all businesses are using both real and virtual spaces, evolving into a new integrated system.

Dr. Tasaka went on to define complex systems, which are living systems characterized by evolution and the formation of eco systems. He says that the information revolution has made all systems complex - for ex. companies, markets, society. The Internet is the largest man-made complex system. It's a huge system that no one can control and it's comprised of many eco systems - so it's difficult to predict or analyze or divide into parts. In cyber space, evolution happens quickly, so laws don't work. There's also the "butterfly effect", when small actions can change whole systems, making it difficult to predict the future.

He cited the iPod as an example of eco systems. Its success was due to the evolution of eco systems - both products and services. The Internet, digital music, licenses, lifestyles all had to evolve for the iPod to encounter such huge demand. So when creating a product, companies need to promote the evolution of the whole eco system.

Then he asked, what is the most complex system in this planet? The answer: the human psychology. It's the result of 13.7 billion years of evolution.

Dr. Tasaka foresees changes happening in 7 areas:

1. Innovation
We'll move from beneficiary innovation to participatory innovation.
Web 2.0 is about the wisdom of crowds, or our collective intelligence. To promote this he predicts there will be a new style of innovation. Up until now the government and large corporations were the ones pushing for innovation, with users and customers benefiting from it. From now on we'll see users and customers themselves participating in the process of innovation. The "prosumer", or the producer/consumer, will emerge, just as Alvin Toffler predicted in his book, "The Third Wave".

2. The Economy
We'll move from a monetary economy to a voluntary economy.
The monetary economy, which values the bottom line and is motivated by people wanting to acquire money, will merge with the new "voluntary economy", which is large and invisible, and made up of jobs you don't "see", like housework, and childcare. Web 2.0 will increase the importance of this because social networks give people the ability to pose a question and receive multiple answers. In essence it's people giving out free advice - it's like they're imparting wisdom on a voluntary basis - and that will drive the monetary economy. He cited Amazon's grass roots reviews as an example. Amazon reviewers are the voluntary economy but Amazon is the monetary economy, generating profits from people's reviews. Once at opposite sides, there will be a process of mutual infiltration between the voluntary and monetary economies. (here's an interesting post from about what might motivate people to contribute reviews on Amazon)

3. Culture
We'll move from an indirect to a direct democracy of culture.
The professor says that historically the sequence of events that brought a product to market would look like this: the company does market research, they develop products and services based on that and then sales will drive their decision making. There's a hidden vote present - consumers vote with their wallets, and if sales are high the company will increase production. Similarly, in the music industry, a music producer will discover an artist, create a huge promotional campaign to generate buzz, and then look for further opportunities to create buzz. But with the advent of Web 2.0, all that is turned upside down. Because many niches exist in cyberspace, an independent artist can release his music on the Internet and become an instant hit when music lovers of his particular genre find him and tell others.

4. Talent
We'll move from single talent to multi-talent professionals.
It used to be that if you wanted to be a professional photographer you would have to train for years and work for peanuts as an assistant until you "paid your dues." But now with digital cameras and editing software it's much easier. People can leave comments on your site and you can improve your work based on their critiques. Then there's the "Da Vinci" effect, where we embrace our many talents and let them blossom. For example, you can be a sales manager by day and an ecologically-minded social entrepreneur during the weekends, compose songs and then release them on the Internet, write a series of essays on your blog and publish them as an eBook with photos that you've taken yourself, and finally you can produce a movie of your last trip to Europe and screen it on YouTube. Phew! Just writing about it makes me tired!

We'll move from a single personality life to multi-personality life
Web 2.0 allows people to express themselves in many ways, through daily blogs, photos, videos, podcasts, etc., which can have a healing effect. We have many personalities deep inside us, but we repress most of them to avoid confusion in daily life. So how can we express our hidden selves? Dr. Tasaka says Web 2.0 gives us three ways:

  1. non-verbal expression (like a painting)
  2. playing a character in a drama (Ever try playing Second Life?)
  3. in an anonymous message (writing a short story)
6. Paradigm
We'll move from a mechanical system paradigm to a living system paradigm
Because we've been successful with science and technology, we tend to view the world as a large mechanical system that we can control, but we're just fooling ourselves. Nature is unpredictable - look at Katrina or global warming. The world is not mechanical - it's a large, living system. In the Internet, all systems are complex living systems. People organize themselves into groups that emerge, evolve, co-evolve and create their own ecology. Because of this, Dr. Tasaka says we will go:

-from analyzing to using intuition
-from controlling to promoting emergence
-from learning the laws to changing the laws
-from using power to creating empathy and coherence
-from predicting the future to creating the future

7. Civilization
We'll move from western civilization to eastern civilization
According to Dr. Tasaka, Eastern civilizations have espoused the living system paradigm more than Western cultures. Chinese medicine uses a holistic approach to cure illness - a change of diet, breathing, meditation, exercise. Western doctors on the other hand, look at the problem and say, let's eliminate it, let's cut off the organ or prescribe medication to cope with it - without investigating the cause. Dr. Tasaka says that same holistic approach used in the East can be used to change the problems of the world.

Diversity is very important in the evolution of eco systems, and the Internet can be used to promote that diversity of value systems. He says that Japan should use the web to introduce the following concepts to the US and the world:

, which means eight million Gods, or the co-existence of many value systems

-Sansen-soumoku-kokudo-sikai-bussyo, which is animism/pantheism, or the ability to role-play and become someone else temporarily

-Enishi, the feeling you get when you meet someone - is there a deeper meaning to this encounter? Nothing is by chance...

Web 2.0 makes it possible for us to see what daily life is like in the other side of the world (with for ex. YouTube videos). If we see how other people live, we will be more in touch with the state of the earth. There are many problems on a global level - global warming, terrorism, hunger. The Internet, he believes, was given to us to overcome these problems and grow as human beings.

And that, I finally realized with surprise, is the next "new thing". That's what's beyond Web 2.0. It's not about a new technology or a new gadget that will revolutionize our lives. It's about the Internet becoming an agent for peace and harmony through expanded use of social online networks. As more of us express ourselves freely and openly online, we access our true purpose, our spiritual core. Web 2.0 then allows us to come together with others that are doing the same, which will lead to ever expanding levels of integration and community. For Dr. Tasaka, that's what the next "wave" of the internet is, and he believes we're at the start of what will be a wonderful story for mankind.

Do you agree, disagree? And how might we apply this as entrepreneurs? Share your thoughts!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Recap of the NY XPO for Business

One of the things I admire about multi-millionaires like Donny Deutsch, the advertising tycoon turned TV personality, is that they may have pot loads of money in the bank (he sold his advertising company for close to $300 million bucks) but yet they still go to work every day. As host of The Big Idea on CNBC, Donny helps others make millions too. It's "must see TV" for budding Mogulettes.

Donny was keynote speaker at the NY XPO for Business luncheon at the Jacob Javits Center this week and he stood in front of a dining room the size of a football field to give the audience a few golden nuggets of wisdom in his own charming, irreverent way.

One of the first things he said was make failure your friend, which I loved to hear because I have such fear of not doing things perfectly with my business. The biggest growth, he added, comes when we fail - we grow from the stupid things we do - it's a mathematical certainty. If you're afraid to fail you can't be great. You have to know that your product or service may bomb...but if it does, so what? He likened it to dating - if you get shot down once you go on to the next. (This month's Entrepreneur Magazine has two stories on finding success after failure: click here for more)

More of Donny's tips:
Surround yourself with people that are smarter than you are. Many entrepreneurs hire people that maybe have 5% of their own qualities. He suggests finding partners and giving them a portion of your business - as long as you keep 51% of it. Small business owners usually hang on tight to their companies - we need to let go!

About success he says do what you love. If you're passionate about what you do then it's not work. If you're not passionate about your work, then find something else!

Do it differently - if your product or service isn't unique, you can't win.

Put your money where your mouth is - show customers that you believe in yourself. People love underdogs.

Show your employees you care for them, for their success. If you root for them they'll root for you!

And finally, hate is good. You need an enemy. When you pitch to a client, tell them how you hate their competitors!

When he finished his speech I made a b-line to the front of the room to get a chance to introduce myself. Dressed in blue jeans and a sweater, Donny looked like the average (but really cute!) guy next door as he graciously listened to a long line of fans wanting to shake his hand. I literally had about 15 seconds to tell him who I was and what I did in a compelling way, and I think I did an o-k good job but there's definitely room for improvement. That's when I wished I had rehearsed Laura Allen's 15secondpitch a little more.

Laura was also at the conference (check out her batch of pictures here) giving a talk on how you can use her pitching methodology not only to introduce yourself but also when you develop your web copy. The same principles apply there as well: don't give them a laundry list - be short and to the point!

On my way out I bumped into an old colleague from my days at CNNfn, Pat Kiernan. He was making a special appearance for NY1, our local cable all-news station, where he is a familiar face every morning, delivering the morning news in his signature deadpan way. It was a thrill to see him and catch up on what some of our co-workers are doing since CNN's financial network shut down 3 years ago. (That's me next to Pat, and behind us, no - you're not seeing double - it's his life sized replica!)

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Laura Allen and the 15 Second Pitch

Inspiration for a business can come from very unusual places. For Laura Allen (that's her below on the right) , co-founder of "The 15secondpitch", it came from a friend looking to meet date-worthy women. She turned her knack for connecting people into a profession. How'd she do it? Read on!

During the dot-com boom Laura worked at, which somehow managed to survive the bust and was acquired by Experian in 2004. She'd been the first hire there so she was given a lot of freedom at the company, but eventually she got bored with the corporate structure and the rules, so in 2000 she left. Just as Laura was figuring out what to do next with her life, 9/11 happened. The internet industry was devastated, leaving behind a trail of laid-off techies. Looking for ideas on what to do next, Laura and her partner, Jim, who is a database programmer, attended a networking event in Los Angeles. It was there that they met their friend David, a good looking, single, MBA grad and fellow job seeker, who asked Laura to give him a hand meeting cute, single women at the conference. He found he got a much better response when Laura introduced him, and Laura had a ball "pitching" him to the ladies.

Jim, on the other hand, was not having much luck at networking and was thinking there had to be a better way to make connections, and when the two exchanged stories, they stumbled upon the idea for a 15-second pitch.

When they got back home they immediately checked the domain name, and finding it still available, they registered it that night.

Another problem with networking events is that you end up with a bunch of business cards, and afterwards you can't remember who most of those people are. So, they thought, why not create a card that contains a pitch which explains what their company is about? They went to work to turn the idea into a business, and spent the first two years building a website where people could create 15secondpitch cards.

Then in 2003 they decided Laura would teach a workshop on how to create a 15secondpitch. A friend in New York let her use her conference room, and she advertised her 2-hour course on a forum she found in Fast Company called "Company of Friends", that reached a few thousand people just in NY and NJ.

The event was free and about 15-20 people showed up. They each told their story and one guy shared that he'd been trying to get in touch with a VP of Coca-Cola for the past two years. Then another guy said his uncle worked there, and that he'd connect him. That's when Laura saw the power of what she calls the "third party pitch."

Heather is another of Laura's "third party pitch" success stories. She was a reporter who had perfected her "I'm a journalist" pitch, but there was only one problem - she no longer wanted to be a reporter. Her dream was to become a wedding planner. Laura advised her to keep her day job and start moonlighting on the side. They created a wedding planner pitch that same day, which she later shared with her husband. He in turn started telling his colleagues about her, and one of them had just gotten engaged, so he asked Heather to plan his wedding. Three weeks after creating the 15-second pitch Heather landed her first job through a "third party pitch"!

The other thing that worked for Heather was creating an image when describing her services. She went from saying "I'm a reporter but I want to be a wedding planner", to "I have an eye for detail so I'm starting a wedding planning business." Painting a picture in people's minds helps them understand what you do, especially with tech jobs - it's easier for people to buy into an idea if you make your pitch descriptive, giving examples, telling stories, making it rich with details.

Anyway, back to the workshops. In 2005 Laura decided to start charging for her seminars, but she needed money for marketing, so she went back into the corporate world, saving the money coming in from her day job and from teaching the seminars at night. After about a year she got laid off, with 2 weeks severance pay, plus unemployment benefits. Laura was thrilled. With the money she had put away she started marketing her monthly workshop, and shifted her business model more towards corporate clients like Merrill Lynch and non-profits like Cine Women.

The website has now gone through three major revisions, and they added a pitch wizard a year ago to automate the process of printing the pitch cards. Laura just re-launched her blog last week to focus on how to put together a killer 15secondpitch, and how to use it after you create it. In January they'll be unveiling their latest product (you heard it here first!), an e-learning platform that allows people to sign up for classes and follow at their own pace. Users will be able to create a 15secondpitch plus other related content using a tool that's partly automated and partly customized by Laura.

The 15secondpitch is used by lawyers, VC's , real estate brokers, freelancers - it's especially good for freelancers because their existence hinges on how well they can pitch, and they need to be constantly pitching new business. Marketing consultants, career coaches, college grads, financial planners - they can all benefit from it.

Here are 4 things Laura says an effective 15secondpitch should include:

  1. Who you are - Tell then your name AND the name of your company!

  2. What you do - avoid the "kitchen sink" pitch - don't tell your entire career history - focus on one thing and be specific. She's suggests preparing a separate pitch for everything you do.

  3. Why you're the best at what you do.

  4. A call to action - the crown jewel.
Ready to give it a try? Visit to compose your perfect pitch!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Facebook Basics

This week I finally forced myself to sit down and learn how to use Facebook. For months I've been receiving emails from my friends asking me to join their list, and I had accumulated about 36 contacts but had no idea what to do with them. So after putting it off for forever, I finally to bite the bullet.

Why am I so interested? Well I spend a lot of time networking and making contacts, so anything that lets me do this more efficiently I'll definitely be interested in. What I found is that Facebook is like networking but on steroids.

So the first thing to do when you open an account is to invite your friends, which is easy - you can import your email addresses from whatever email provider you use – they’ll receive an invitation, and once they accept they'll be on your list. Another option is to click on "Find Friends", and enter your email address and password, then you'll get a list of all the contacts you have in Outlook or Yahoo and you can simply checkmark the ones you'd like to invite.

To check on your progress you can click on the "friends" tab and you'll instantly see how many people are connected to you. When you click on your friend's profile – presto! Instant access to all their friends. You'll see where they went to school, where they’re working, where they used to work… etc.

Say you’re looking to target a specific company for business; you can look through all your friend’s and family’s contacts to see if there’s anyone connected to that company, or industry. If you want to get in touch with your friend’s friends, you can ask for an introduction or directly request to be their friend.

Facebook has something called a poke which you can send - and they're intentionally vague on its definition of this so that you can make it whatever you want it to be. Or you can send them a message. By default anyone can message anyone, but depending on your preferences you can adjust your privacy settings so that only your friends can see your profile, or only your family, or both, or you can leave it open to the Facebook universe.

On the main section of your personal page you'll find a news feed – and no, it's not world news - it's actually a constantly updating list of updates on your friends' activities on Facebook. So if they've added pictures, or joined a group, or added a new friend, it'll show up. On the right hand side you'll see birthdays, notifications, upcoming events or friend requests.

You can also put up a "wall", which is where people can randomly leave comments…if it’s your birthday your friends can leave you a little note, or if you’re sick they can leave a 'get well soon' message…or, for businesses, you could ask people to leave a testimonial for a product or service you’ve provided. (There’s also a super wall and a fun wall, which allow for added functionalities.)

If you're a small business, freelancer or solo practitioner you'll want to check out their classified section, called “marketplace”, where you can post your services or browse through "for sale" items. On a recent visit I found ads for a jazz piano teacher and a ride to Yankee stadium.

You can post an event or browse events - and check out what events your friends post or are attending.

You can post a Facebook Flyer announcing something special going on with your business. They start at $5 to display your Flyer 2,500 times and go up as you increase the run times. It will appear in your homepage but you can also post it on specific networks.

There's also a tool to create polls, and you can target Facebook users based on gender, age, school, location, or profile keyword. This is especially useful if you need to compile market data/research on a product or service.

You can join groups, or create one if you don’t find what you’re looking for (stay tuned for the Mogulette Facebook group, coming soon!). Members can add videos or pictures to the home page, and easily interact with the whole group through the group discussion forums, where you can ask the group questions and have ongoing dialogues.

For book lovers there's the virtual bookshelf where you can let people know what books you’re reading and find out their favorites.

There’s still a lot more that I need to look into, but at least this will get us started…

Here's some related articles I found on using Facebook:

12 Ways to Use Facebook Professionally

How to Use Facebook to Promote Your Business or Blog

How to Use Facebook Without Losing Your Job

How To Use Facebook Flyers To Get Amazing Free Demographic Information

How are you using Facebook? Please let us know!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Successful Female Entrepreneur Tells Her Story

How can a company with no business plan, no offices, and no track record become a multi-million dollar business? That's exactly what I asked Rosalind Resnick, who took her company, NetCreations, from a two-person home based startup in 1995 to a public company generating $58 million in sales. She recently addressed a group of internet entrepreneurs at an iBreakfast meeting I attended. After listening to the program director, Alan Brody, give a short introduction about her, I knew I needed to find out more, so I asked her for an interview. She graciously accepted, and I've posted the details below.

Where did you get the idea to start an email marketing company?

NetCreations started out as a Web design firm in 1995. Pretty quickly, we began to see that our clients needed more than just cool Web sites – they needed a way to get people there. We pioneered opt-in email marketing as a way to connect marketers with the consumers and business people who wanted more information about their products and services but didn’t want to waste time surfing the Web trying to find them.

Did you have a business plan?

No. We didn’t have a formal business plan until our company went public.

How much money did you start out with, and where did it come from?

We started with $1,000. My partner and I contributed the capital.

What did you use the money for?

The money was just to open our bank account. My partner was a Web designer and programmer who worked at our local ISP [internet service provider] so he had the technical skills that we needed. I was a journalist who had just written a book about doing business on the Internet so I did the sales and p.r. and brought in the clients.

What happened after that? How did the company get sooo successful in such a short time? Did you ever imagine it would grow as much as it did?

Our big break came when a circulation manager from Ziff-Davis tested our lists in the fall of 1996 and got a response far better than anything he’d ever achieved through postal mail or telemarketing. Once we realized that we were in the direct marketing business and that companies like Ziff-Davis needed to be able to mail to millions of names in thousands of different categories, we started putting together a partner network of high-traffic Web sites to build our database.

What were the most crucial factors that helped your company achieve success?

Building a partner network of Web sites that sent email addresses to our database and partnering with list brokers, ad agencies and resellers to market our lists to Fortune 1000 clients

What mistakes do you see startups making the most?

Failure to plan. While some companies fail because they lack capital, many more startups go under because their founders lack management experience or because their business models don’t add up.

What advice do you give your startup clients?

Don’t be afraid to try new things and make mistakes. As long as you learn from your mistakes, you’ll be all right.

It's interesting to see how by building a partner network you can grow your company faster and larger than just by yourself. That's definitely something that Mogulettes-in-the-making need to think about: who can refer clients to me that isn't in direct competition with me? Pet care providers can team up with pet stores, life coaches with career counselors, children's entertainers with babysitters, I could go on and on.

Rosalind is now using the valuable knowledge she gained from her experience to help small businesses become successful through her company, Axxess Business Consulting. She's also one the experts "on call" at, where she and a handful of others answer questions related to startups. And as if that weren't enough, on top of that she writes a blog, Vest Pocket Consultant, with more information on small business. Thanks Rosalind!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Springboard Luncheon with Christie Hefner

Did you know that 3 out of 4 companies are started by women, but only 10% of venture capital funding goes to women-owned businesses? That's pretty sad. Here's another one: women own more than 50% of the wealth in the U.S., but only 8% of those funds are allocated to investing in start-up companies. If you're a small business looking for alternative ways to finance your growth, funding from private investors, aka angel investors or venture capitalists, could be an option for you.

Traditionally this segment of the market has been dominated by men, but an organization called Springboard Enterprises is changing that. For eight years this nonprofit, which was founded by Kay Koplovitz, has been helping female entrepreneurs get access to money through the equity markets, while at the same time encouraging women to invest in women-led companies.

I was lucky to have been invited to a recent luncheon sponsored by Springboard, and the key note speaker was Christie Hefner, CEO of Playboy Enterprises (below left), who gave us a fascinating account of how she got started in business. She studied law and journalism in college back in the 60's when it was all about anti-establishment, so the last thing on her mind was going into the corporate world. However, after working as a journalist for some time her dad, Hugh Hefner, urged her to move to Chicago and join his company, where she would start from the ground up. There were a great many high caliber journalists that contributed to Playboy, and the young Ms. Hefner was very much attracted to the intellectual challenges the magazine presented, so she signed on.

A few years later, during the 80's, Playboy went into financial trouble, and after a management shake-up Ms. Hefner, then just 29 years old, suggested she become president and work alongside the CEO, whom she admired greatly. Soon after taking the post, they started dumping losing lines of business and focusing on "managing for cash", keeping track of cash on a weekly basis, as opposed to quarterly as had been done in the past.

Some time later she got a call from Michael Milken, the "junk bond king", who invited her to meet with him in his offices. After asking her a few questions about the magazine, he announced he could raise half a million dollars from her. Ms. Hefner was dubious at first, concerned about taking on a heavy debt load, and not knowing exactly what to do with all that money. Milken's response: "First raise the money, then figure out what to do with it!"

That she did, first of all by seizing an opportunity in cable TV, realizing that channels could become a destination in and of themselves, as opposed to just tuning in to watch a particular show. To this day Playboy TV, which she says is targeted to couples, is in 100 million homes and is their biggest profit center. Ms. Hefner pointed out that magazines need brands and content that live beyond its pages, and they have been one of the few able to successfully take a brand into a whole new medium. Case in point: they have Playboy the magazine and Playboy the channel, unlike Time Magazine and CNN.

In 1992-93 she met Jim Clark, who had created Mosaic, which would later evolve into Netscape. Those were the early days of new media and Ms. Hefner was trying to figure out what the world wide web meant for Playboy, so she asked Jim for help. He suggested she build a site and put Playboy on the web. is now their fastest growing profit center, and where they monetize traffic in a variety of ways: e-commerce, international deals, social networking, etc. The internet, she says, is a transformative technology, and she quoted a few stats: 15% of newlyweds met online, and more text messages are sent and received every day than there are people on the planet.

For the future? She sees a move toward more user-generated content, which is why they've launched PlayboyU, a college-only, no nudity social network.

It was quite insightful to see how Ms. Hefner, by asking experts for help, was able to take her company to places she might not have ever envisioned. That's a big lesson for someone like me, who often thinks I can do everything myself!

That help is what Springboard's founder, Kay Koplovitz (that's me next to her on the right), offers. By putting together a team of investors for female-owned startups, Ms. Koplovitz, along with the company's president Amy Millman, has made many a dream come true for women launching their own businesses. Sounds like a familiar theme - I definitely want to follow in their mogul-ific footsteps!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Startup Camp and UnConference

I just came back from two days of intense information swapping with a couple of hundred other internet startups and I have to say I felt as if instead of New York I was actually somewhere in Silicon Valley. Labeled the "Start-up Camp: An Un-Conference" by its organizers, the event was unique in that the participants decided what topics to cover in many of the break-out sessions, as opposed to having an agenda forced upon you. Those that had a subject they wanted to discuss (me!) went to the front of the room, announced the title of the issue they wanted to cover and posted it on a large board. Anyone interested in joining the discussion would gather around at a designated area. We spent the whole afternoon going from table to table, and conversation to conversation, to chat with other business owners, and figure out solutions together.

I like this format because, in launching their own businesses, entrepreneurs usually accumulate a ton of information on various topics, so in a sense we become experts ourselves, and that allows for a very useful - and lively - exchange.

My big question was how to use online social networks (blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn or others) to market our businesses. I found out that companies online are coming up with applications, or software, they can customize to attract potential clients. One startup called 8 Coupons is looking to devise a widget that people will place on their Facebook page to let their friends and contacts know what discount coupons they're using in their neighborhood, and in that way drive traffic to their site, which offers the coupons themselves. (For more on how to use Facebook for business see Marci Alboher's recent post, and check out the November issue of Inc. Magazine to see how 5 companies are using widgets as a marketing tool - unfortunately the article isn't available online as of yet.)

Another way to use social networks is to have people leave testimonials about you on LinkedIn, or, you can respond to questions that people pose in the "Answers" section - you'll get top billing as an "expert" if you reply to enough of them. This is one subject that's evolving as we speak and it's definitely peaked my interest, so stayed tuned for updates.

From there we went on to something called "speed-geeking", which is similar to speed-dating but instead of potential partners showcasing their romantic talents, entrepreneurs tried to get 3-4 participants to "fall in love" with their business ideas for 7 minutes, at which point a horn would blow and the crew would move on to the next startup-in-waiting. I was able to see first hand which pitches worked and which didn't, and to realize that I have some work to do with regards to my own pitch...(yikes!).

There were almost two dozen hopefuls vying for the Best Startup prize, with some very innovative ideas. The winner? A company called (that's the creator on the left) who offers 3-D mapping of Manhattan with a social networking component. The 2nd place prize went to, makers of website building software, and a company called BeenVerified, which verifies that you are who you say you are online, won 3rd place.

As I walked out I stopped by to chat for a few minutes with John Havens from BlogTalkRadio and gave him my quick thoughts on the event (click here if you'd like to listen to the 7-min. podcast).

I got home exhausted but with my head full of ideas. Get ready for Mogulette Camp!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Using blogging software to build a website

I've had a great experience using Blogger to create my blog, so when I found out I could also use this type of software to build a website, my ears pricked up. Nowadays it seems like everyone has to have their own site, so companies are scrambling to come up with ways to make programming more user-friendly, and that's good news for solopreneurs, freelancers and small business startups like us.

One of the companies my business counselor, Karen-Michelle Mirko, from the Lower Manhattan Business Solutions Center suggested I check out is SquareSpace. They have various packages to choose from but the basic one starts at 7$/month and you get a wide variety of layouts, hosting, visitor stats, and the ability to place ads with Google Adsense, so you can make money. The business packages start at $25 and also include domain mapping (that way your url will show your own domain name), polls, and a FAQ page, among other things. The only problem is tech support...they're only accessible through email - no live assistance - which might become a problem in an emergency, if people can't download your site for some reason.

Another blogging software company to consider is WordPress. It's very similar to Blogger except that they allow you to add additional pages, which Blogger doesn't at the moment. You can get your site started for free but in order to use your own domain name it's $10/ year, which is nothing. Unfortunately they too only offer email support, and they don't allow you to place ads, although they're apparently working on a premium upgrade to bypass this.

Other companies to look into: TypePad, SiteRubix and Microsoft Office Live. One caveat is that this type of software is best for service firms that are interested in generating leads. If what you want is to sell products you'll need e-commerce functionality, which is more complicated. For that you can try GoDaddy, Kingdom 247, Template Monster, or 1&

So here's a list of things I look for when deciding which programming software to choose from:

  • do I like the templates they offer? can they be customized? can I change the color on their fonts and backgrounds, etc.?

  • how many pages can I add?

  • how many email addresses will I get? (you'll want to set up different ones to target different types of clients)

  • can I place ads with Google Adsense?

  • what kind of customer support do they have?

  • can I use my own domain name?

  • what plugins/widgets are available?

  • do they offer down-loadable file backup so that I have copies of all my files?
Do you have any experience - good or bad - using website development software? Please chime in!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Branding Strategies for Your Business

Here's a question every inquiring Mogulette mind wants to know: How do I make my product or service stand out? Well, according to branding expert Romana Mirza, it all begins with you (that's her in the pictures, giving the Mogulettes a presentation). She says that a company's image is a reflection of it's owner, so one way to start is by asking yourself, what words describe me, and my business?

Take a look at Target, for example. Webster's definition of the word is "something aimed or fired at" or, "a desired goal". Brilliant! When I go shopping, I want to be able to find what I'm looking for, or "target" the products I want. The metaphor of the red bull's eye is also pretty effective, and quite unforgettable. I guess that's what branding is to me, having my product or service leave a lasting impression. Remember the old Blackglama fur ads? Glamorous women like Liz Taylor, Jane Fonda, and Carol Channing - naked, except for the black mink coat - with a caption that read "What makes a legend most?". Sexy, and fabulous. In the same way, the "Got milk" ads made drinking milk sexy, and Nike's "Just do it" made sweating sexy, and definitely unforgettable.

But for our brands to become this memorable, it takes some deep soul searching along with a heavy dose of investigative work. That's what Romana does at her recently launched brand strategy firm, Studio Pinpoint - help clients bring out what's unique about their company. She suggests focusing on three areas:

First, your work. Ask yourself: What do you do differently? What do you offer that others don't? What is your personal and unique contribution to your work? What do you want your company to stand for?

Then, your clients. Ask them: What do you think I'm about? What special qualities do I bring to the process/outcome? What did you like about our experience together?

And finally, research your competition: What's their brand positioning? Key messages? Product presentation?

Armed with this information you can then pass it along to those helping you with your marketing: logo designer, copywriter, web designer, so they can come up with a message that clearly and accurately portrays you and your product/service - to make it....memorable!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Digital Resources for Entrepreneurs

Need a little hand-holding to narrow down your target market? Are you finding it difficult to get information on your competition? You can now book a half-hour one-on-one session with a librarian at the Science Industry and Business library (remember "SIBL"? see related post), for free of course, and they'll help you with the above plus: business leads, industry research, marketing strategies, potential client lists, vendor lists, etc., etc., etc. I've already set my appointment for next week!

Also new at the library (or at least new to me!): business eBooks and audiobooks which you can download from their website and read from your computer or iPod. Here's some I found interesting:

Basic Black, The Essential Guide for Getting Ahead at Work (and In Life!) (audiotape), by Cathie Black, who, as current president of Hearst Magazines, persuaded Oprah to launch a magazine.

Avon, Building the World's Premier Company for Women (eBook), about how this direct sales company, which you never seem to see anywhere, just keeps growing and growing.

The Big Book of Small Business, You Don't Have to Run Your Business By The Seat of Your Pants

Blog Marketing (eBook), by Jeremy Wright

And I only got through the "B's"!

Moving on to video, Cornell University has compiled an extensive list of video clips with entrepreneurs which is available to the public on a wide variety of topics. There's 1310 clips just on startup business planning! What's also great is they have it listed by business name and category, so you can actually choose a company in your industry and hear how they got their start, or what resources they used to get off the ground.

I read the print version of these two fascinating articles by NY Sun writer Liz Peek about women entrepreneurs but they are also happily available digitally:

Natori Celebrates 30 years at Breakneck Speed profiles Josie Natori, who started trading stocks at 22 and went on to build a fashion empire that generates $150 million in retail sales a year (one day that could be us!!)

Lulu Wang Throttles Back is a about a self made millionairess who went from rags to riches and is now cutting back on her corporate duties to follow her passion for vintage race driving.

That's it for this digital tour. 'Til soon!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Mogulette blog lands in the NY Times, again!

A big "thanks" to journalist/speaker/writing coach Marci Alboher who recently mentioned my post about Email Newsletters in her NY Times blog/column, Shifting Careers for a second time. I also received a comment from a reader on that same topic which I found useful so I'm including it here:

Another good tip for email marketing is to shorten your email to a reasonable size by including the first paragraph of a block of text, then providing a link that says "read more" which brings users to your site [you can program your software to do this by going to the "settings" section]. Not only will you keep your campaign email from turning into a monster, you can also check your hits data on your site and see how effective you mailing list campaign is. I've used hits data to fine tune my layout and announcements so that they are interesting to everyone. Multiple announcements have multiple links, so I can see which events/news were the most popular.

Do you have experience using email newsletters? Please share it!

Friday, September 28, 2007

A Mogulette goes to Paris

Bonjour Mogulettes! I'm back from my trip totally inspired by the style and flair of Paris. The French love to surround themselves with beauty. Everywhere you turn there's a statue, a building, a park or some other enchanting thing to enjoy. All the seats in the outdoor cafés look toward the street so you get prime viewing of the lovely ladies walking by, who get dressed up even to go shopping. It was cold and drizzly but I hardly noticed because I was so excited to be there. My last visit was over ten years ago and the city seemed even prettier than I remembered, so I quickly embarked into a whirlwind of tours and sightseeing.

On the outbound flight I sat next to a lovely Parisian jeune fille (that's young woman - I can't stop plugging in le francais!) and by the time we landed at the Charles de Gaulle airport I had a long list of places to visit.

One of those was Les Jardins de Luxembourg, where I stopped by on my third day and was immediately smitten. Dainty little flower beds and softly gurgling fountains give this little jewel of a park an air of peace and tranquility. A large circular pond sits in the middle surrounded by a gallery of statues, which upon closer inspection I realized were all of French queens and illustrious women. Trés mogulett-ish! (Want to see more pictures? Visit my Flickr page).

The park seemed surprisingly full of people for the middle of a work day, reflecting perhaps the fact that unemployment is high in France. That topic came up the following day when I joined a handful of "locals" for lunch. The ladies (pictured below) were all Anglos - either American or British - but have lived in Paris for years. They talked about how in spite of the lack of jobs it's very difficult to set up a small business in France because of the high taxes and piles of paperwork that entrepreneurs are burdened with. We're lucky to have all the free resources and support that we have here in the states - we need to take advantage of that!

The trip ended all too soon but I returned with renewed energy and positivity. When I first started considering the idea of going to Paris the thought of spending time and money on something other than my work was terrifying. How dare I take a vacation? Coming up with a budget and getting support from my friends helped me to put things into perspective and overcome my fears. Now I clearly see the benefits of taking time off - had I not gone I'd probably be feeling pretty frustrated right now, but by spending time in such a beautiful city I came back feeling abundant, and if I feel abundant, I'm more likely to attract abundance into my life.

"Abundance is not something we acquire. It is something we tune into." --Wayne Dyer

Au revoir!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Would $50,000 be enough to get you started?

How does $50,000 sound to get you off the ground? That's what Mirassou Winery is offering women entrepreneurs if their business plan wins the "Make Your Dreams Come True" contest they're sponsoring. That could buy all the things on my wish list: laptop, printer, virtual assistant, personal masseuse (just kidding, unfortunately) much more. The trick is you have to submit a rockin' business plan by December 15th, so that was incentive enough to get me (and a handful of the Mogulettes!) to sign up to Baruch College's 4-week Bootcamp on how to write them.

Elissa Grossman (that's her in the blue jacket next to yours truly) teaches courses on business management for college students that typically span a whole semester but she's doing an abbreviated version for entrepreneurs, starting with the elements of a business plan, which she covered in the first session, along with great examples of what an executive smmary should and shouldn't look like.

The second class was focused on the marketing plan, which is all about information gathering - where to get data about your target market, what the benefits and limitations are to different types of research, how to conduct surveys (one place to try out is, where you get the first 10 questions in a survey free), how to scope out your competition. Then she moved on to narrowing down your target market and selecting a marketing mix to reach them.

The third class centered around money - how much you need vs how much you want. This part was cool - Elissa recommends shutting your eyes and imagining the process that's involved in making a sale. Then make an outline of that in order to come up with a list of costs, like how much will the virtual assistant cost, plus the web developer, plus the computer, the desk and the chair, the masseuse (no...just kidding again) and so on, for each task. How much will be variable, or fixed? All this will help in coming up with a price for your goods and services. But that's not all that determines price - there's the perceived value (you can charge a premium for goods that are new in the market, or are complex, or where price comparisons are difficult). Competition also plays a role, as does strategy, like special pricing promotions that you might do.

The second half of the class was about sales forecasting and breakeven analysis, which I won't even attempt to summarize. But she made it interesting by giving lots of real life examples of how companies used these numbers to make adjustments and run their operations more efficiently.

BTW, Elissa's available if you'd like feedback on your business plan, as are other counselors on staff at Baruch's Field Center. These services are offered for free.

So, sharpen up your pencils and put your fabulous ideas on could win 50,000 big ones! Like they say: you gotta be in it to win it...

Next week I'll be away on a short vacation to Paris, yes, the "city of lights"! My friend invited me to stay with her and I'm using my miles to get there, so it's a great deal. Stay tuned for my report on how the French do business - I expect to be doing heavy duty research into their chocolate industry. Au revoir!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Upcoming Workshops

If you live in or near Manhattan and have an interest in all things digital media and Web 2.0, don't miss the Small Business Tech Tutorials! There are workshops on blogging for business, online video basics, site customization & monetization and much, much more. Here's a list of upcoming classes. Click on the "Google Calendar" button on the bottom to find out more info and to RSVP.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Market your Business with Email Newsletters

Aside from emails sent by friends and family, my favorites things in my inbox are newsletters - and I get quite a few of them. There's one from NYremezla with updates on Latino artist events around town, Duct Tape Marketing usually has interesting ways to promote your business, and The Spacialist doles out a weekly tip on getting rid of clutter. Oh and I forgot, there's dating advice from my friend Melissa's Love Notes (I need all the help I can get!).

Newsletters are a great way to stay in touch with your community and your clients, to give them a little something for free and let them know you're thinking about them. This week Maisha Walker of Message Medium spoke at length about newsletters in her internet marketing class, which is being held at NYANA, a business center that provides training and micro loans to entrepreneurs (that's Maisha, left, with Maria Paulino of NYANA on the right). I know many of the Mogulettes are interested in newsletters, so I'm including some of the highlights of what she said.

One of the most widely used newsletter providers is Constant Contact, who starts out charging $15.00 a month for 500 emails and then goes up from there. The big downside with them is they place their own ads at the bottom of the newsletters, which isn't great. Feedblitz offers a free version but again, you'll have to allow them to place 3rd party ads on your emails. Luckily there's many other ad-free options at comparable prices, and I researched them all for you!

iContact - starts at $9.95/mo. for 500 emails with a $12 discount if you sign up for a year (first 15 days are free)
AWeber - $19.95/mo. for up to 70,000 emails
Campaigner - $25/mo. for up to 2500 emails
Vertical Response - $15/mo. for up to 2500 emails (first 25 emails are free)
MyEmma - $30/mo. for up to 1000 emails plus $250.00 for a template
SwiftPage - $14.95/mo. for up to 250 emails; $30/mo. for up to 1000; 15% discount if you sign up for a year
StreamSend - $5.95/mo. for up to 500 emails; $9.95/mo. for up to 2000 (first 30 days are free)
PatronMail - call for quotes
Benchmark Email - $9.95/mo. for up to 600; 10% discount if paid annually and the 13th month is free (plus first 30 days are free)

Maisha's Tips

  • Avoid 3rd party advertising (unless you're getting paid for it!).

  • What people look at first before opening an email is who it's coming from, so don't use a generic address. Instead, segment your list and use a different address for each group you send the newsletter to.

  • Define your purpose - is it for reading or for selling products?

  • Keep the layout consistent - if you have four pictures on the first one do the same for all the rest.

  • Decide on timing - how often will you send it? (Maisha suggests to start slow - quarterly)

  • Link your images and text to relevant pages on your site, or create landing pages.

  • Create compelling subject lines to get your emails opened - focus on what the benefits are to your readers.
My next big task is to chose one of those providers above and then, start composing! If you have experience with newsletters and would like to share it with us, please do!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Mogulette to launch bookstore in East Harlem

I just love hearing success stories from fellow Mogulettes-in-the-making!

When I first met Aurora Anaya-Cerda at a Latina writer's group at the beginning of this year, I was instantly captivated by her business idea: to launch a bookstore in East Harlem, a predominantly Latino neighborhood in Manhattan which currently doesn't have one but is sorely in need of one. Back then she was still very much in the planning stages of her concept, but aided by a boundless amount of enthusiasm and motivation.

Fast forward a few months to last week, when I caught up with her at an internet marketing class. With a big smile on her face she shared her exciting news: "La Casa Azul", the name she's given the store (it's named after Mexican artist Frida Kahlo's home in Mexico City and it means "blue house") will be launching in the Fall!

Aurora grew up in a place similar to East Harlem (also known as "El Barrio"), an immigrant neighborhood lacking businesses, programs and services that benefit the community, and instead where countless liquor stores, dilapidated buildings, drugs and gangs abound. Her belief is that El Barrio needs a store like La Casa Azul Bookstore - a place of knowledge and culture, where the community can come together to enjoy activities such as author signings, art receptions, educational workshops, not to mention the best organic coffee and Mexican hot chocolate in the neighborhood!

This enterprising "chica" first got the idea of owning a bookstore during her junior year in college. After working at an independent bookstore in California she knew that I one day she'd have to open one of her own. But it wasn't until many years later when she arrived to New York that she was able to reawaken that dream that had been dormant for years! In the Spring of 2006 she came across the East Harlem Business Capital Corporation, a neighborhood organization that helps entrepreneurs, and took the first of many courses on business. These classes served as the catalyst for more opportunities, including access to more resources, advice on financing, leads to support groups (like the Mogulettes!) and the push she needed to move into the world of bookselling.

Two years ago Aurora didn't know the first thing about a business plan but now she has a firm grasp of the whole start-up process. She has an investor who believes in her vision, and is awaiting funding for the remainder of the start up costs. Below is her mission statement and goals:

La Casa Azul will be an independent bookstore/café, offering new and used books in English and Spanish. The store will offer a wide range of books and music from the United States, México, Latin America and the Caribbean. La Casa Azul will also carry Mexican jewelry, art and clothing. Our mission is to provide the community with contemporary bilingual literature, featuring works by Latino authors.

Our goals are:
  • To provide culturally relevant books and events.
  • To heighten community awareness and political consciousness regarding issues that affect East Harlem residents.

For more information about the store's grand opening, email:

About Aurora:
Aurora Anaya-Cerda acquired experience in the daily operations of a bookstore during her employment at two independent bookstores. A graduate of UCLA, Aurora has a double Bachelor’s degree in History and Chicana/o Studies and a minor in Education. She taught middle school for 2 years and had been in the education field for the last 6 years. Since her arrival to New York in July 2005, she has been an active member of the East Harlem community as a participant and supporter of cultural and educational events.

Aurora is definitely on her way to becoming a full-fledged Mogulette, and I'm looking forward to attending her launch party!

If your business has experienced success or reached a highly anticipated milestone, let me know! Your stories inspire all of us, so please share them!!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Open Source: A Free Alternative to Microsoft

When my computer started acting funny a few months ago the first person I called for help was my friend Carol Wade (left), who's worked in IT for many years and is a genius at solving computer glitches. She immediately suggested two things: 1) do an Ad-Aware scan, and 2) ditch Internet Explorer and use Mozilla Firefox as your web browser - it offers better protection against spyware and viruses. Carol's a big proponent of open source software like Firefox, and if a techie like her likes it so much, I wanna know why, so I asked her to come and talk to the Mogulettes about it. She prepared a handout detailing all the reasons she thinks its better, which I've pasted below.

What does "open source" mean?

  • The “open source” movement began in 1998, when the Netscape Corporation decided to release the newest version of its Navigator Web browser with the source programming code openly available for users to view, and for software developers to tinker with.
  • "Open source" has come to mean "free software," or rather, software whose source programming code is open, for use, examination, improvement, review and commentary by the general public. It is often also generally free for download and installation, without paying any purchase or licensing fees.
Is there such a thing as "closed source" then?
  • Yes. Much of what we as computer users know is “closed source” software. The best example of this is also the most widely used and widely known, that of Microsoft Corporation. Very little of Microsoft’s software code is open source.
  • Microsoft’s revenue is based on product licensing. That is, they pay developers to create their software; then, they ask end-users to pay high license fees to use their software. Microsoft then pays its developers, but keeps some money for itself.
  • There are many hands in the pie (so to speak) with “closed source” software. There’s the company built up around developing consumer and business software. There are the company’s investors, shareholders and board of directors. Of course, employees and developers are a huge part of the operation as well.
  • The final product is software, which the consumer ends up paying a huge cost for…were there fewer people involved in the process, it would be a lot cheaper.
So, open source is cheaper…
  • As mentioned above, “open source” usually means free. Free to download and use, free to try and to get rid of, free to update and upgrade. This is the primary benefit of using open source software.
  • Because the product is the first and only concern with open source software, there is nothing to buy; the people making the software are people who love programming.
  • They’re not doing it to make money; they’re usually either sick of paying too much money for often expensive and buggy software themselves, or they work for one of those companies making expensive software, but want to give back to the community by writing simpler, cheaper applications.
Well…what’s available?
  • You may already be using one or more open source applications! The popular Web browser, Mozilla Firefox, is one of the most widely used open source programs around. Firefox gained widespread use starting a few years ago, when viruses targeting Microsoft’s browser, Internet Explorer, hit critical mass.
  • Believe it or not, the Firefox browser originated in that first release of Netscape Navigator, in 1998!

Here are some helpful hints:
  1. There is an open source equivalent for almost every popular closed source application.

  2. You get what you pay for: support for open source applications is not centralized, and have a WYSIWYG approach. Pronounced: “wizzy-wig,” it means, “what you see is what you get”! However, there are usually websites and forums associated with open source software, where developers and users can communicate solve problems in the design.

  3. There is open source software for both PCs and Macs. In fact, there are even entire open source operating systems! The basis for these systems were around long before Microsoft made Windows, and continue to influence a whole realm of low- or no-cost computing that is slowly moving into the marketplace (such as Red Hat Linux)
Five good apps to start with:

Browser: Mozilla Firefox
One of the best, easiest to use free Web browsers around, it uses tabbed browsing to cut down the number of open windows. It’s designed a lot like Internet Explorer, with security settings, bookmark organization, customizable toolbars and history reporting. It’s also easy to install, use, and migrate your bookmarks from Internet Explorer. It’s performance is very reliable.

Email and Contact Management: Mozilla Thunderbird
Tired of Outlook Express? Want a simple, light, uncomplicated way of managing email addresses and client information? Mozilla Thunderbird is Firefox’s email-management cousin that, like Microsoft Outlook, manages all your customer data easily and simply and without fuss. Thunderbird also doubles as a powerful RSS feed aggregator. RSS stands for "Really Simple Syndication," and is a method for skimming all the important stuff off the top of your favorite news and blog sites, right into your email reader, without having to visit the web pages!

Calendar and Time Management: Mozilla Sunbird
Thunderbird doesn’t have a calendar built-in, to save system resources for people who either don’t want or need a calendar application. They separated it out to Sunbird, a super-basic calendar and alarm/notification program for busy folks on the go.

Document Management: OpenOffice
Can’t afford outrageously-priced copies of the latest Microsoft Office Suite? OpenOffice is a fully-featured document-creation program similar, comparable to (and conversant with) all MS Office applications.

Photo Management: The GIMP
Need to crop and do other simple image manipulation tasks, without being hassled to purchase software from Adobe? Try the GNU Image Manipulation Program (called The GIMP for short) - leaner than Photoshop by miles, cheaper and pretty user-friendly.

So think twice before splurging on the new Microsoft Office 2007. Why pay for Internet Explorer, Outlook, even Photoshop... when you can get similar or better products for free?

What's your experience with open source? Chime in!

PS - To contact Carol, email her at

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Creating a Budget

Do you ever daydream about new gadgets or office equipment you'd like to own if you had extra cash? Here's my what's on my wish list: a new laptop, a new printer, a new desk and a matching bookshelf to go with it. Even though I'm clearly convinced I really need all these things for my business and I'm picturing how great my home office would look if I had them, according to Padma Vaidyanathan, a CPA who offers tax advice and preparation to small businesses, I need to hold off on buying high ticket items. She advises clients to wait two years before making major purchases, or at least until they're making money. (Aaargh! Delaying gratification is not one of my strong points...). But Padma does offer an alternative: "Be creative! Try to borrow, barter, shop around, buy used. And keep in mind that it won't be forever."

Having a clear idea of what our expenses will be is also known as a budgeting (I use Quicken for this but there's also MS Money. Another good resource is MetLife's webpage on Creating a Budget). Padma gave us a tutorial on creating budgets during her visit with the Mogulettes this week (listen to a quick summary by clicking below).

She suggests starting with your fixed expenditures first. Those are items you need in order to live and ones that don't change every month, like rent, health insurance and utilities. From there it gets a little tricky because you'll need to keep tabs on how much you spend for things like entertainment, groceries, clothing, etc. Compile at least one month's data so you'll have an idea what to estimate for each category. Once you know how much you spend, you'll know how much your business has to make in order to cover your expenses.

As for startup costs (my wishlist above falls under this category) keep those separate. Figure out which ones will be one-time expenses and which will be recurring. And keep them low - we need to stay as lean and mean as possible in the beginning! (Anybody have a used laptop they'd like to donate to a good cause? See me!)

Padma's other Do's and Don'ts:

  • Don't be quick to incorporate or do a DBA ("Doing Business As"). Use your own name at first until you get a better idea of what the focus of your business will be.

  • Do open up a separate business bank account. Figure out how much you think you'll need (see above) and either "lend" yourself the money or borrow it and place it in the account.

  • Many banks won't give out corporate credit cards to startups, so another option is to designate a regular credit card only for business transactions, that way you won't go crazy looking through receipts come tax time.

  • Analyze your business expenses. Ask yourself: What's working? What's not?

  • Stay on top of collections. Use Quickbooks to invoice clients, and mark bills "due upon receipt". It's okay to charge a finance fee and/or late fee.
Did I miss anything? Please add any tips or links of your own!