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!