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The latest news on Startups from Business Insider
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    happy numbers founders

    • Happy Numbers is an artificial intelligence-enabled math education platform.
    • CEO Evgeny Milyutin said the biggest lesson he's learned in his time in startups is the importance of knowing your customer.
    • This is pretty common business advice — but he's probably not the only founder who initially went about following it all wrong.
    • It took him a while to realize that meant visiting the classrooms where students and teachers would be using his product, talking to them, and watching them use it.


    When the iPad debuted in 2010, Evgeny Milyutin was a 26-year-old physics PhD student in France.

    On the side, he and his longtime friend Ivan Kolomoets had been tutoring their friends' kids in math. It occurred to them then that there was a prime opportunity to improve the quality of math education with emerging digital technologies.

    At the time, this was a truly novel idea — it was the same year Netflix CEO Reed Hastings invested in a math education startup called DreamBox Learning.

    Today, Milyutin and Kolomoets are the founders of Happy Numbers, an artificial intelligence-enabled math education platform. The goal is to help teachers personalize education: Milyutin described the program as a "virtual teaching assistant."

    Students are set up with iPads or laptops and plug away at interactive math exercises; then the program delivers feedback to the teacher based on the students' performance.

    Milyutin — who confesses that he struggled with math in primary school — cited a 1984 review by the late Benjamin Bloom, which reports that students who received one-on-one tutoring performed better than 98% of students taught in a conventional classroom.

    "It would be great to have one teacher for every student, but it's not always realistic," Milyutin said. "So this is where I feel technology can come into the game."

    Individual schools or school districts can purchase subscriptions to Happy Numbers (though Milyutin said he's also sold a few subscriptions directly to consumers). In the last year, Milyutin said, there have been 17 million exercises solved on Happy Numbers.

    Milyutin and Kolomoets skipped a crucial step before they started prototyping

    The years between 2010, when the idea for Happy Numbers first struck the founders, and 2014, when the company officially launched, were hardly glamorous. Milyutin said they created one prototype after another, but "didn't get much luck."

    For startup founders, it's almost inevitable that their product will have to go through multiple iterations before it's ready to market. And this wasn't Milyutin's first entrepreneurial rodeo: He'd already developed a biomedical sensor for identifying drugs in blood samples and impurities in drinking water, as Business Insider previously reported. (He subsequently sold the patent to a German sensor company.)

    But looking back, Milyutin can pinpoint one reason why he and Kolomoets struggled, at least in the very beginning: They were building prototypes before they fully knew the students and teachers who made up their core user base.

    "Everyone talks about 'you need to understand your customer' or 'you need to understand your user,'" Milyutin said. But it took him a while to realize that meant visiting the classrooms where students and teachers would be using his product, talking to them, and watching them use it.

    "Going to the actual classroom gave me so much inspiration and ideas of where the product should go." Specifically, they heard from teachers that their goal was to individualize instruction.

    Milyutin advises other entrepreneurs to spend more time than they think they need to on understanding their customer

    Milyutin has some insight into why he and Kolomoets skipped this step at first. "You kind of feel you're bothering people," he said, referring to his requests to sit in the back of classrooms and ask the teachers questions afterward. Eventually, he learned this wasn't as much of an inconvenience as he'd thought — and that it would be impossible to start his company without making these requests.

    What's more, Milyutin said, he'd sometimes get overeager, assuming that after he'd spoken to a teacher over the phone for two hours, he knew everything about their experience. "Talking to more people"— as many as you can — "is always better," he said.

    Those people included experienced education researchers. Milyutin said he would read blogs and books on education — and if he liked what he'd read, he'd get in touch with the author to learn more.

    Milyutin's single best piece of advice for other small-business owners is to invest time (probably more time than you think you need to) in your customer.

    In an email to Business Insider, he added: "Understand exactly what their day looks like and what keeps them up at night. A true understanding of all their pain points, even if they are not directly related to the problem your product is solving, will help you develop a solution that customers will trust."

    SEE ALSO: How a guy who used to struggle as a student went on to create a math startup that serves school districts around the world

    Join the conversation about this story »


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    away jen rubio

    • Cool small businesses emerge every day across the US.
    • We put together a list of 15 small businesses that make people healthier, wealthier, smarter, or happier.
    • Those small businesses include the independent bookstore Books are Magic and the beach-bound shuttle service The Free Ride.


    Across the US, new small businesses are popping up every day. And they're rapidly revolutionizing areas like transportation, food, fashion and beauty, and gaming.

    We scoured the web and asked our readers to identify some of their favorite small businesses (which the US government defines as employing 500 people or fewer). Below, we've listed 15 of the most innovative.

    Since we're largely highlighting reader-nominated businesses, the companies on the list below aren't definitively the coolest small businesses in the country, but they are some of the coolest. Our criteria for inclusion, aside from having fewer than 500 employees, was that the companies had to improve society at large, meaning they make people healthier, wealthier, smarter, or happier. The businesses are not ranked.

    Read on to learn about the small businesses that are making the world a better place to live.

    SEE ALSO: A physics PhD and startup founder explains how entrepreneurs can get the most basic business advice all wrong

    NextGenVest

    What it does: Helps students navigate the college financial-aid process. Trained college students provide assistance to college applicants via text message.

    Why it's cool: The graduating class of 2016 owed an average of $17,126 in student debt (in New Hampshire, that figure shot up to $27,167). But many students aren't necessarily aware of the financial burden they're taking on when they apply. NextGenVest is a way to get timely and accurate information in their hands.

    Read more about NextGenVest here.



    The Free Ride

    What it does: Offers passengers free rides to some beaches in the Hamptons, the Jersey Shore, Santa Monica, and San Diego. How? Electric cars eliminate the cost of fuel and the service is sponsored by advertisers (like JetBlue, seen in the photo).

    Why it's cool: Beach-goers no longer have to drive themselves crazy looking for (and paying for) a few hours of parking. Plus, electric cars mean the service is environmentally friendly.

    Read more about The Free Ride here.



    Eu'Genia Shea

    What it does: This mother-daughter-run business sells high-quality shea-butter products while supporting fair wages for the female workers in Ghana who make those products.

    Why it's cool: Eu'Genia Shea donates 15% of its profits back to their female workers in Ghana, either in the form of a retirement fund or an education fund for their children. Each product comes with a personal touch — Akuete and her mother package them themselves in her Brooklyn apartment.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    eu'genia shea naa sakle

    • Eu'Genia Shea supports female shea nut pickers in Ghana and sells high-concentration shea butter to US consumers.
    • CEO Naa-Sakle Akuete and her mother, Eugenia, are the company's only employees.
    • The No. 1 lesson Akuete has learned about entrepreneurship is the importance of failing fast and failing often.


    Naa-Sakle Akuete currently has thousands of containers of shea butter sitting in her basement.

    They're relics of a mistake she made early on in her career as founder and CEO of Eu'Genia Shea.

    Akuete, 31, is a Harvard Business School graduate who worked on Wall Street prior to launching the company. Yet she confessed, "There are a lot of things I learned in business school that in practice I didn't do."

    Case in point: Akuete knew that if she wanted people to buy her shea-butter products, the packaging had to be pretty. So she worked hard to draft up a design and ordered thousands of units to sell.

    Then she started getting feedback.

    "Your lids don't stay on.""This part of your story would be better told a different way." And so on.

    Looking back now, Akuete said, "If I had slowed down and spent more per unit on the packaging and gotten a smaller total number of units, I probably would have been better served." Instead, she had to create new versions of the packaging and ditch most of the original inventory.

    Akuete used classic business jargon to explain the mistake she made: She didn't fail fast or often enough.

    Eu'Genia Shea has streamlined the shea-butter production process, 'from the tree to customers'

    Eu'Genia Shea's mission is to harness the power of shea butter to, in Akuete's words, "support as many women as possible, as holistically as possible."

    The story starts with Akuete's mother, Eugenia Akuete. She was born in Ghana, left for the United States in 1979, and then returned in 2000, which is when she rediscovered her love of shea butter.

    In Africa, shea butter has been used for years to reduce the appearance of stretch marks, soothe rashes, and as a cooking oil, according to the website for Naasakle International, the company Eugenia founded to import shea butter from Ghana to the US.

    Yet Eugenia also recognized that there were women throughout sub-saharan Africa supporting the shea industry who weren't getting appropriately rewarded for their work. Many were illiterate; they didn't have access to technology; and they were geographically fragmented, Akuete said.

    Fast-forward to today and Akuete and her mother have landed on what Akuete called a "complete vertical integration" of the shea-butter process, "from the tree to customers."

    The company partners with roughly 5,000 registered shea-nut pickers in Ghana and pays them at a 20% premium to the market rate.

    Once the shea nuts are processed into shea butter and imported to the US, the resulting products that Eu'Genia Shea sells are at least 80% pure shea content, Akuete said. That's compared to much smaller concentrations in most other brands of shea butter.

    In 2017 (the first year Eu'Genia Shea was profitable), the company allocated 15% of its profits toward education funds for the pickers' children and retirement funds for the pickers.

    Eu'Genia Shea, whose only employees to date are Akuete and her mother, markets the shea-butter products both online and in brick-and-mortar retailers like Anthropologie and Credo. Akuete and her mother still package every single tin themselves in Akuete's Brooklyn, New York apartment.

    "The social mission of the company is the origin of the company," Akuete said.

    Akuete has learned that entrepreneurship isn't just about technical skill — it's about learning to advocate for yourself

    As her entrepreneurial career developed, Akuete struggled with some of the non-technical elements of running a company.

    In an email, she added: "When I first started, if someone offered to help me — whether it was to make an introduction or join my production line to meet tight deadlines — I would assume they were just being polite and say 'no thanks' because I was afraid of inconveniencing them. I've realized though, that most people don't offer to help you unless they mean it. Never turn down free assistance!"

    That favor "probably doesn't mean that much to them, but it can absolutely change your trajectory," Akuete said.

    Another lesson she's learned is the importance of talking yourself up. "In my normal life, I don't hype myself much. I'm just a normal person who feels weird talking about herself," Akuete said. "But when it comes to business, you have to highlight the good things about you because that gets other people excited and wanting to get behind your story and your brand."

    For women entrepreneurs specifically, she has a single piece of advice: "Don't be shy about being confident and hyping your company as much as you can."

    SEE ALSO: A physics PhD and startup founder explains how entrepreneurs can get the most basic business advice all wrong

    DON'T MISS: A former Ironman triathlete realized the key to a successful startup after 'CEO disease' pushed him off track

    Join the conversation about this story »


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    rising stars silicon valley venture capital 2018 4x3

    Silicon Valley is home to some of the hottest venture capital firms worldwide. In the valley, the stakes are high. To be a successful investor, you need a keen business sense and attention to detail, a forward-thinking outlook, and a strategic eye for investment.  A handful of venture capitalists have acquired these skills early on, before the age of 30.

    We've rounded up some of the top Silicon Valley investors under the age of 30 at leading firms. In addition to our own research, we reached out to VC firms and investors in Silicon Valley for nominations on noteworthy up-and-comers in the valley's tech scene to help come up with our final list. 

    Here they are:

    SEE ALSO: 30 AND UNDER: Rising stars in NY tech who find hot startup deals and manage millions of dollars

    Saam Motamedi co-founded machine learning startup Guru Labs before joining Greylock Partners in 2016.

    Age: 24

    Title: Investor, Greylock Partners

    Companies he's worked with: Blend, Spoke, and Avi Networks. Motamedi also works with several companies that are currently unannounced.

     

     

     



    Jennifer Kaehms kicked off her career with a cold email to Canvas Venture's co-founder Rebecca Lynn. Now, she's involved with the firm's Stanford and UC Berkeley liaison programs and hosts events to help out junior members of venture firms.

    Age: 26

    Title: Associate, Canvas Ventures

    Companies she's worked with: Gabi, Casetext, Vida Health, Figure Eight, Vida Health, Casetext, Luminar Technologies, Gabi, and HealthLoop.

     

     



    Before joining Unshackled Ventures, Lucas Rocha worked with Dorm Room Fund, JetBlue Ventures, and Underscore.vc. So far, he's assisted in the deployment of more than $100 million in capital.

    Age: 24
    Title: Investor, Unshackled Ventures

    Companies he's worked with: Joby Aviation, Salsify, Lily, Pluto AI, Filament, FLYR, CloudZero, and Volantio.



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Nasdaq   MarketSnacks Show Photo 2   Friday 2.3.2017.JPG

    • MarketSnacks is a daily finance newsletter for millennials.
    • Cofounders and co-CEOs Nick Martell and Jack Kramer say they've learned that the best way to make business decisions is by gathering data.
    • One way to do that is requesting reader feedback, which they did recently to resolve a disagreement between them.


    Nick Martell and Jack Kramer don't always agree.

    The cofounders and co-CEOs launched MarketSnacks, the daily finance newsletter for millennials, in 2011. Since then, they've found a reliable strategy for resolving disagreements and making business decisions as efficiently as possible.

    Kramer calls it "I think versus I know," and the idea is not to guess what their readers want, but to confirm that they're right with concrete data.

    This strategy recently came in handy, when Kramer believed MarketSnacks should summarize five business news story a day instead of four, or go into greater depth with the current four stories. Martell cited "email fatigue," arguing that readers wouldn't be inclined to open an email if they knew it would be relatively long.

    To find out for certain what readers wanted, they placed a callout at the end of one of their week-in-review newsletters, asking readers to fill out a one-minute survey.

    "The results were pretty unambiguous," Kramer said. While he declined to share exactly what those results were, he said they gave him and Martell a clear sense of how to proceed.

    "We never want our readers to feel like they have to do extra work," Martell said, explaining why, in the past, they'd been hesitant to request reader feedback. "But we found that feedback is a gift. The more feedback you can get, the better you can sculpt the product to who your readers and your customers are."

    The cofounders of MarketSnacks have made time-management a priority since launching their business

    The idea for MarketSnacks was hatched over beers in 2011, when Kramer and Martell were bankers in their early 20s.

    "We knew from our personal experiences that financial news just wasn't working for our generation," Kramer said. "We had our mailboxes that were stuffed with The Wall Street Journal every day and we'd check our mailbox once a week and it would literally be packed with black-and-white paper — and we were just overwhelmed."

    Their goal was to create a "one-stop place" for business and finance news. They started by writing an anonymous blog, which over time evolved into the email newsletter it is today.

    Kramer and Martell are both currently enrolled in MBA programs, Kramer at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and Martell at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. Still, they devote three hours a night to writing and editing their newsletter.

    A near-obsession with time-management has been key to their success. One trick they use is to tack on something fun to an obligatory task in order to make it a habit.

    "Whenever Jack and I jump on a phone call, the first thing we talk about is rarely business," Martell said. Instead, they'll start with a personal update to make sure they don't get overwhelmed.

    Another helpful strategy is simply to "divide to conquer," Martell said. He and Kramer long ago delineated their roles in the business so they could "optimize without overlapping and wasting time." For example, Kramer tends to deal with the finances, while Martell is more suited to business development and relationship-building.

    "You have to be OK giving up a leadership role to your partner," Martell said.

    So far, the cofounders have never missed a business day. When they graduate from their MBA programs this year, they'll finally be running the business full-time.

    "Because we scaled a side hustle, our business is super efficient," Martell said. "It's caused us to really think about time-management as not something that's just nice to have. It's a need-to-have."

    SEE ALSO: 2 women who built a business while at Goldman and Marc Jacobs share their best advice for entrepreneurs

    Join the conversation about this story »


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    Mandela Schumacher-Hodge Dixon, founder and CEO of Founder Gym

    • Mandela Schumacher-Hodge Dixon succeeded in Silicon Valley despite not knowing anything about the tech industry before she moved to the area — and despite being a biracial woman.
    • But Dixon recognizes she was lucky; entrepreneurs who are women or people of color have struggled to gain a footing in the valley.
    • Hoping to use the lessons she's learned and pass them on, Dixon's founded a new startup that offers training courses designed for non-traditional entrepreneurs like herself.


    When Mandela Schumacher-Hodge Dixon launched her first startup, DemoLesson, seven years ago, you likely wouldn't have given her much of a chance of succeeding in the tech industry.

    At the time, Dixon didn't live in the Bay Area, didn't know anyone in the industry, and knew little about how to fundraise or how Silicon Valley worked. She's wasn't a coder or an engineer; instead, she had been a middle-school teacher and working on a PhD — in education. What's more, she's a biracial woman with an African-American dad and launched up her company at a time when there were few women or people of color founding startups.

    "My experience in this space was really isolated," she said. She continued: "I didn't know what i was doing most of the time."

    But Dixon succeeded even so. During an event sponsored by Startup Weekend, she connected with other founders and investors. That helped her secure venture funding for her company, a kind of LinkedIn for teachers, from famed tech investor Mitch Kapor.

    When her startup didn't pan out, the connections she'd made led to a job at Startup Weekend helping organize events for entrepreneurs in the education technology space. After Startup Weekend transferred her program to another organization, Dixon eventually went to work for Kapor's Kapor Capital, helping mentor other startup founders funded by the venture firm.

    And now she's got a new startup, this time focusing on helping other women and people of color succeed in the industry. Dubbed Founder Gym, the new organization offers a four-week training course for entrepreneurs from underrepresented groups that are intended to give them the knowledge and connections they'll need.

    Dixon's experiences in the industry have given her a view of it and insights into it that many women and people of color don't have, she said. Her decision to start Founder Gym was also fueled by being the child of civil rights attorneys and her experience as a former teacher.

    "I've navigated spaces and been in rooms with people most people never have access to," Dixon said. "I actually feel like it's my duty to share this information that I'm getting and spread forth this message."

    Founder Gym's program is structured like an online course

    Given Dixon's background, it may be no surprise that Founder Gym's program, which costs $400, is structured like a class, albeit an online one. Students have a curriculum and weekly coursework. The program features weekly video presentations from professional investors. And students collaborate with each other and critique each other's work.

    mitch-kaporAfter launching Founder Gym in November, Dixon trained her first group of 26 founders early this year. A second group of 44 entrepreneurs recently completed the program, and a third group of about 50 will start soon.

    The entrepreneurs come from a variety of backgrounds. Some had already raised venture funding. Others hadn't. Many live outside Silicon Valley. All are either women or representatives of groups that are underrepresented in tech.

    Dixon has tapped people in her network including Kapor, Ellen Pao, and Charles Hudson, who is one of the few African-American venture partners, to serve as visiting lecturers and mentors. She intentionally brought in people who were comfortable, willing, and able to have frank discussions with the founders about issues of race and gender — the kinds of conversations they couldn't have elsewhere.

    "When you go to Y-Combinator's startup school, those things aren't being addressed," Dixon said, referring to one of Silicon Valley's most well-known incubators for new tech firms.

    The program helps connect founders with others like them

    But for many students, the best part of the program is being able to meet and share experiences with other founders who come from similar backgrounds.

    Sunny Washington, the founder of Because Learning, an education startup based in Salt Lake City"When you're building your startup, it's a pretty lonely experience at times," said Sunny Washington, a Korean-American woman who was a member of the first Founder Gym group.

    "The reality is that if you are a person of color or female, you don't fit in this cookie-cutter mode. Your experience could be different," added Washington, whose three-year-old startup, Because Learning, sells software and hardware kits to schools that are designed to interest kids in science, technology, and math.

    Founder Gym's initial sessions have all focused on fundraising so far. That's on purpose, Dixon said, because having sufficient funding is crucial to a startup's success. And how to play the venture funding game is a skill that many founders, particularly those who aren't from Silicon Valley or don't have a background in the industry, just don't have.

    "There's no precedent for teaching underrepresented founders how to fundraise," Dixon said. "We are literally creating the textbook for this."

    She plans to eventually offer a whole curriculum for founders that includes a range of topics. Those will be inspired both by the questions entrepreneurs raise, but also by the topics investors affiliated with the program think founders need to be familiar with, she said.

    "We have both sides of the equation," she said. She continued: "We're bridge-building between these two worlds that don't really know each other."

    The tech industry has a big diversity problem

    Dixon's identified a real problem in the tech industry. Even though the Bay Area — Ground Zero for the industry — has a liberal bent, women and people of color, particularly Latinos and African-Americans, have long been underrepresented at tech companies. Despite public pressure in recent years from the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the #MeToo movement, the situation hasn't gotten a whole lot better, as the diversity reports from companies including Apple and Google can attest.

    But the problem is particularly acute among tech startups. Only 17% of venture-backed startup firms launched last year had at least one female founder, according to PitchBook. Just 1% of startups had an African-American founder in 2010, the last year CB Insights made such data public.

    U.S. civil rights activist Jesse Jackson speaks to reporters in Havana September 29, 2013.  REUTERS/Desmond Boylan And the lack of diversity is a self-reinforcing problem, say critics inside and outside the industry and researchers who have studied the issue. Much of venture capital investing stems from what they call pattern matching.

    VCs often base their investment decisions on the pictures they have in their minds of what successful entrepreneurs look like, researchers and critics say. More often than not, that archetypal startup founder is white and male and has a degree from — or at least attended — a prestigious university such as Stanford or Harvard. That's largely due to the fact venture partners are overwhelmingly white and male and attended those kinds of schools — and because the startups they've funded in the past were founded by people just like them, researchers say.

    For founders who are women or people of color, "it's harder to raise money," said Fern Mandelbaum, a lecturer at Stanford's Graduate School of Business and a partner at Vista Venture Partners. "We know it still is."

    The venture funding process is stuck in a "feedback loop"

    Because white male founders get a disproportionate amount of venture funding, a greater number of them are likely to be successful. Those entrepreneurs are then often targeted by venture capital firms looking for new partners. Once they fill those positions, the cycle repeats itself in a kind of "feedback loop," said Y-Vonne Hutchinson, the founder and CEO of ReadySet, a consulting firm that helps other organization improve their diversity.

    "This is how power, money, wealth, and opportunity gets concentrated in the hands of the few and excludes the many," she said.

    That's obviously bad for women and people of color. But it's not good for the tech industry. Researchers have shown that companies with more diverse teams tend to perform better than those without them. Companies with leaders that come from a variety of backgrounds can recognize trends and customers bases that more monolithic firms might miss.

    Thanks in part to the #MeToo movement, in Silicon Valley there's starting to be "a recognition that diversity is going to translate into better outcomes," said Dana Kanze, a doctoral fellow at Columbia Business School who has focused on gender discrimination issues in the tech industry.

    Non-traditional tech founders have few role models

    The flip side of the funding problem is women and people of color have relatively few role models or examples they can point to for how people like them can succeed in tech. Many may not realize that becoming a tech entrepreneur is a possibility as a career.

    ellen paoThose who do generally have few people like themselves who can guide them on how to navigate the industry. And because they often don't know anyone else who has gone through the process of building a tech startup, many just don't have the knowledge they need to succeed, whether that's about how to pitch a venture capitalist or even just how to get a meeting with one.

    That's the part of the diversity problem that Dixon designed Founder Gym to address.

    "There are all sorts of ways in which gaps get created in knowledge and preparation" between the traditional white male entrepreneurs and those who are women or people of color, said Kapor. "What Mandela is doing is, in an intensive way, helping close some of those gaps."

    Dixon is hoping to pass on what she's learned about the industry

    Dixon knows first-hand about some of those knowledge gaps and lack of preparation. While she successfully launched and attracted funding for her startup, she says she was lucky.

    She had no idea how to pitch a venture firm, but she gave her presentation to Kapor and his wife, who have placed a premium on diversity and made a point of backing founders who come from underrepresented groups. They overlooked the fact that she gave a non-traditional presentation and decided to back her startup anyway. Once they were on board, she was able to lure other investors.

    "I just stumbled into it," she said. She continued: "I'm not sure I would have been been welcomed in this industry if I hadn't gone through that door."

    Unfortunately, there are lots more founders who are women or people of color than the Kapor's small firm can back. So, not everyone can be as fortunate as Dixon was; other investors typically aren't as receptive to pitches that veer from the standard script. Dixon's trying to make sure other entrepreneurs are better prepared than she was — and hoping to help them succeed.

    "We need case studies" for what a successful woman- or minority-run startup looks like, she said. "I understand my privilege and the doors that have been opened for me.

    "I want to throw a rope down and help other people climb up."

    SEE ALSO: This Stanford grad went from living in motels to working in VC — here's his unusual path and how he wants to help others like him

    SEE ALSO: Silicon Valley's MeToo moment is changing the venture capital industry — but many wonder if it will last

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Jeff Bezos reveals what it's like to build an empire and become the richest man in the world — and why he's willing to spend $1 billion a year to fund the most important mission of his life


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    ben anderson

    • Business advice from entrepreneurs, startup founders, and CEOs comes in handy.
    • We asked 16 entrepreneurs to share some words of wisdom, based on lessons they've learned and mistakes they've made along the way.
    • That wisdom includes: Let other people help you, know your customer, and make decisions with data.


    Every business will face some unique challenges as it grows. But there are certain roadblocks in startup life that are common among entrepreneurs.

    So it helps to get advice from those who have been in your shoes.

    To that end, we asked 16 founders and CEOs to share their best business advice for other entrepreneurs (or aspiring entrepreneurs). Here's the wisdom they want to pass on, based on lessons they've learned the hard way.

    SEE ALSO: 15 small businesses that are making people healthier, wealthier, smarter, and happier

    Jacquelyn Ward and Ana Maes: 'Test, test, test'

    Our Story Bridal is New York City's only bridal consignment boutique. They sell designer wedding dresses at steep discounts.

    "Don't wait for perfect! When starting a new business, we have learned that there is only so much you can predict with the information you have. The only way to really know if something is going to work is by testing it in a quick and scrappy way.

    "We started our business by gathering 40 dresses from around the city and hosting a pop-up at a friend's showroom. During the very first pop-up, we only had a few brides stop by and we learned from that and quickly adapted our marketing and processes. By our fourth pop-up, we had a waiting list of over 300 brides. Our business needs have evolved as we grow, so test things with the information you have available but rest assure, it will not be perfect, but you will be one step closer to achieving your goal."



    Sabin Lomac and Jim Tselikis: 'Develop your story'

    Cousins Maine Lobster runs food trucks and restaurants across the globe, where they sell lobster that is sustainably sourced directly from Maine.

    "It took us a long time to understand that. The first week prior to opening, I started sending out tweets to our 200 followers, and it would be a photo of Jim and I and my grandfather on the rocks in Maine eating lobster. I didn't know at the time that this was our story; I just did it because I said, 'Hey, We're from Maine. We're cousins. Let me paint you a picture.'

    "But after a couple years, we really understood that we are a family, that this is a family business, that these are family recipes. And that should be shared and highlighted more."



    Naa-Sakle Akuete: 'Never turn down free assistance'

    Eu'Genia Shea is a mother-daughter-run business that sells high-quality shea-butter products while supporting fair wages for the female workers in Ghana who make those products.

    "When I first started, if someone offered to help me — whether it was to make an introduction or join my production line to meet tight deadlines — I would assume they were just being polite and say 'no thanks' because I was afraid of inconveniencing them. I've realized though, that most people don't offer to help you unless they mean it."



    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    The Clear Cut

    • The Clear Cut is a diamond service that sells tailor-made jewelry online, communicating with customers over Instagram direct messages.
    • The company's founders are hoping to evolve their direct-to-consumer business into the next Tiffany & Co. for the millennial-set.

    The next terrain for jewelry sellers isn't the airy showrooms of luxury department stores  it's Instagram. This is the belief of Oliva Landau, a fourth generation jeweler and gemologist who comes from a long line of diamond cutters and dealers.

    "Selling diamonds is in my blood," the 27-year-old told Business Insider. 

    Landau is a GIA-graduated gemologist who was selling engagement rings at Tiffany's when her friends began asking her advice on making their own engagement ring purchases.  

    "They were confused and overwhelmed by the thousands of options to choose from," said Landau. "They were going into retail stores and feeling that they were getting ripped off."

    The Clear Cut

    Soon, Landau was using her access to wholesale jewelers to help her friends select diamonds and create their own tailor-made designs at a competitive price. Realizing that her friends weren't the only ones mystified by the process of buying an engagement ring, Landau created a blog and an Instagram account, both centered on buying precious stones.

    Requests began pouring in, said Landau. Not only were her readers seeking out advice on what sort of stones to purchase, but they too, wanted bespoke jewelry designs like the ones Landau had landed her friends. Landau realized that she may have inadvertently stumbled upon the beginnings of a business. 

    Landau's boyfriend Kyle Simon, a Columbia business school graduate who previously worked in Sierra Leone's fair trade diamond industry, suggested that together, they create their own company selling custom diamond jewelry over the internet.

    Their business, The Clear Cut, is an evolution of Landau's original blog and Instagram account and provides what Landau describes as a "concierge service" for purchasing diamonds. The company, which recently graduated from NYC's Techstars incubator program, is currently raising funding.

    To date, the duo's biggest sell has been a $70,000 diamond, sold over a text message exchange.

    The couple corresponds with their customers over Instagram DMs and text messaging, which they say appeals to their millennial-focused market. 

    "We're very big on communication," said Simon. "We usually hop on a ten minute phone call to start off the process. Having someone DM you is a friendly, familiar way of communicating."

    Simon and Landau said that the diamond industry hasn't been improved upon for decades and that there's few options available for people hoping to purchase custom jewelry in places like rural southern states and portions of the midwest. 

    The Clear Cut

    "A lot of the country is in a diamond desert," said Landau. Alabama, she said, is among the top states to use The Clear Cut's services. 

    "People are looking for a private jewelry experience, but they don't want to overpay for it," Simon said. 

    The median selling point on The Clear Cut is around $10,000 for an engagement ring. Landau said that the $10,000 ring is typically offered at around a $30,000 value at a luxury retailer.

    Among the service's fast-growing trends are requests for custom-lookalike rings modeled after those worn by celebrities like Meghan Markle, Cardi B, and Paris Hilton.

    And while a large portion of the couple's business is focused on engagement rings, they see this purchase as only the beginning for what could be a potentially lifelong relationships with their customers.

    "Engagement rings are the gateway drug," said Simon.  "If you can provide this service early on, then you can grow with your customers when it comes to making jewelry for other important life events."

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    Rare bits

    • Rare Bits is a marketplace where you can buy and sell digital goods using cryptocurrencies.
    • On Rare Bits, you can buy collectibles that you actually own through blockchain technology. 

    For the team behind virtual goods marketplace Rare Bits, dealing in digitized assets is second nature.  

    Three of Rare Bits' four co-founders are former Zynga employees who worked on FarmVille, the Facebook farming game. On FarmVille, users spent hours cultivating digital crops and tilling virtual soil. At its peak, FarmVille had more than 80 million active monthly users and its own payment system, called Farm Cash, where users could trade in real-world money for virtual farm animals and farmhouse decor.

    The idea that people will spend real money on intangible items is the thesis of Rare Bits, an online emporium that deals exclusively in digitized collectibles. On Rare Bits, you can use cryptocurrencies to purchase virtual items like googly-eyed cats, cartoon "CryptoBots," and pixelated "CryptoPunks."

    While digitized assets have been available for purchase in the past, Rare Bits co-founder Daniel Lee says that with the advent of blockchain technology, there's been a fundamental shift in the way people consider virtual ownership.

    "All digital goods that have been sold in the history of digital goods were locked within the server of one specific individual," Lee told Business Insider. "It was a one-way street: You could buy something, but the developer could take it away, and you couldn't resell or trade it."

    With the blockchain providing a digital ledger indicating virtual ownership, there's an influx of interest surrounding the buying and selling of digital goods.

    It was the blockchain, said Lee, that inspired both him and his co-founders to create an entire marketplace centered on virtual ownership.

    "Given all of our experiences based on building businesses that sell digital goods, we knew that there's a lot on the horizon for building a digital goods platform," Lee said.

    So far, the San Francisco-based company has received $6 million in funding from investors including First Round Capital and Craft Ventures. On Tuesday, Rare Bits announced the addition of Fan Bits to its platform, an interface that lets creators put digital artwork up for sale on the blockchain, all without having any prior knowledge of blockchain technology. 

    "The area of entertainment drives adoption, but there's going to be a progression," said Lee. "There's going to be a shift in the way people think of ownership, and we want to be the company at the center of that shift. Now, when you own something online, it actually means something."

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    Vlad Tenev, Baiju Bhatt, robinhood, sv100 2015

    • Robinhood, a zero-fee stock-trading app popular among millennials, confirmed its series D funding round of $363 million.
    • The round places the company's worth at $5.6 billion.
    • Robinhood says it will use the money to snag new talent, offer more financial-service options — among them a cryptocurrency-trading platform — and spearhead product growth. 

    In March, The Wall Street Journal reported that Robinhood, a commission-free stock-trading app, could be valued in excess of $5 billion. The newspaper's unnamed sources said the company was raising an estimated $350 million funding round led by a longtime investor, the investment firm DST Global.

    Now, Robinhood is confirming both the size of the series D funding round, at $363 million, and the company's current valuation of $5.6 billion, making the five-year-old startup a formidable contender in the fintech-stock-trading market.

    It's remarkable growth for the young company, which, in its first attempt to secure funding, was rejected 75 times.

    The round brought in new investors like Kleiner Perkins, Sequoia, Iconiq, and CapitalG, said Vlad Tenev, a Robinhood cofounder. Tenev told Business Insider that Robinhood would use the money to launch new products, scale the product's growth, and snag new talent. Most recently, Robinhood brought on the Greylock investor Josh Elman as its vice president of product.

    "We're expanding our product suite so that we can offer many financial services at the lowest possible price," Tenev said.

    Robinhood's primary offering is a zero-fee trading app that has taken off among millennials. The company is rolling out a cryptocurrency-trading platform, where users in 10 US states can trade in fiat currencies for digital coins like bitcoin and ether.

    Tenev declined to share the number of users trading in cryptocurrencies through Robinhood's app but said there was a "huge demand" for the service.

    "We're working as fast as we can," Tenev said.

    Like its stock-trading options, Robinhood's cryptocurrency-trading platform is also commission-free. Tenev said Robinhood would buckle down on its cryptocurrency offerings in the coming months.

    "Cryptocurrency platforms have exorbitant fees, and they're hard to use," Tenev said. "I think it's fair to say that our goal is to build the best product on the market, where users can have all of their investments in one place."

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Face-swapping videos could lead to more 'fake news'


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    klout 3

    • Klout, a startup that measured how important you are on social media, is shutting down by the end of the month. 
    • It was bought for $200 million in 2014.

    It's the end of an era for social media influencers and wannabe-influencers. 

    Klout, one of the buzziest tech startups circa 2011, announced on Twitter on Thursday that it was shutting the eponymous service down. 

    Klout was founded in 2009 by Joe Fernandez, partially as a way to get a job at Twitter, according to Business Insider. But ranking people by importance or influence turned out to be a strong enough idea to raise four rounds of venture funding from top-tier firms totaling $40 million.

    Eventually, it was sold in 2014 for $200 million to Lithium Technologies, which is the company that is shutting down the service later this month. Lithium is a private company that makes digital marketing tools. 

    Klout enabled users to share their Facebook and Twitter data, and parsed that data through a vague algorithm to give users a simple popularity metric between 1 and 100, called the "Klout score."

    Here's a screenshot of the software, taken on Thursday:

    Klout Screenshot

    Lithium CEO Pete Hess discussed the shutdown in an email to customers on Thursday. "The Klout acquisition provided Lithium with valuable artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning capabilities but Klout as a standalone service is not aligned with our long-term strategy," he wrote. 

    To be fair, Klout scores are probably not aligned with anyone's long-term strategy, unless that involves becoming a huge Twitter star. Over the years, Klout scores became a punchline for techies and the Twitter-obsessed. "Klout has been one of my go-to punchlines for some time now," TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington wrote in August 2012. 

    Klout also arguably inspired one of the most disturbing "Black Mirror" episodes. 

    Here are some of our favorite Klout stories from over the years:

    Here's the entire farewell announcement:

    Hi,

    I’m writing to let you know that Lithium has made the decision to sunset the Klout service, effective May 25, 2018.

    Lithium is committed to providing you with the technology and services that will enable you to differentiate your customer experience. Our recent launch of Lithium Messaging is evidence of our focus on this mission. The Klout acquisition provided Lithium with valuable artificial intelligence (AI) and machinelearning capabilities but Klout as a standalone service is not aligned with our long-term strategy.

    Our goal with these AI and machine learning investments is to improve our customer care capabilities across the board, whether that’s self-service, peer-to-peer, or direct-to-brand. In the near-term, for example, we will be looking to improve agent productivity within SMM and improve the overall user experience in Community through the application of AI, while we are also planning the launch of a new social impact scoring methodology based on Twitter.

    Should you have any questions or concerns about this announcement, please feel free to reach out to KloutQuestions@lithium.com. We are honored to be your partner in delivering digital customer care experiences that delight your customers and we look forward to sharing news of ongoing innovations that support you in this journey.

    Thank you for your business.

    Pete Hess

    CEO

    SEE ALSO: 15 mind-blowing announcements Google made at its biggest conference of the year

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    Mandela Schumacher-Hodge Dixon, CEO of Founder Gym, on February 21, 2018 in San Francisco

    • Mandela Dixon, a longtime mentor of entrepreneurs, has a new startup that trains non-traditional tech founders on how to succeed in the industry.
    • One of the most important lessons she teaches is a concept she calls the "cosign," which is related to networking.
    • With her own startup, Dixon was fortunate when it came to getting a cosign, but many other non-traditional founders have a tougher time with it.


    It's a cliché that whom you know is more important than what you know — but that doesn't make it any less true.

    Mandela Schumacher-Hodge Dixon found that out in her journey from being a school teacher to a startup founder. And now it's one of the key lessons she tries to impart at Founder Gym, her new company that trains women and people of color in the basics of tech entrepreneurship.

    Dixon's got a catchy name for the lesson. She calls it the "cosign."

    "It's one of the most important things in this industry," she said.

    The tech industry in general and the venture capital business in particular are fairly insulated and driven by networks of connections. If you're new to the industry or to Silicon Valley, it can be hard to break in.

    That's where the cosign comes in. If you're looking to raise money from a particular investor, one of the best way to get a meeting with the investor is to have someone who knows the investor introduce you, Dixon said. It's even better if the person who introduces you is a fellow founder in whom the investor already invested.

    "You need someone in the industry to validate you to who you're trying to get to," Dixon said.

    In her case, Dixon, a biracial woman, says she lucked out with her cosign. Her first company was an education startup. But at the time, she was based in Los Angeles and was completely new to the tech industry, so she didn't know anyone in Silicon Valley or in tech.

    But at an event organized by Startup Weekend, she met a bunch of different founders and investors. One of those founders introduced her to Mitch Kapor, a legendary investor who, along with his wife, has made a point of supporting startups founded by non-traditional entrepreneurs. Kapor and his wife ended up the first investors in Dixon's startup, which led to investments from other firms.

    "I had no idea who Mitch was until I met him," Dixon said. "We were so lucky. We really, really were."

    Networking is particularly important for non-traditional founders

    The cosign lesson is a crucial one for the types of entrepreneurs Founder Gym is focusing on, she said. After she closed down her startup, Dixon helped mentor other entrepreneurs, first at Startup Weekend and then at Kapor Capital. In that role, she saw firsthand the stark difference between the typical startup founders and the non-traditional ones.

    The typical founders were white, male, and affluent. And they generally had previous experience in the tech industry or knew or were related to someone who was in it. In other words, they already had networks in place and people who could cosign for them with investors.

    Al Nolan, founder of Notearise, which offers a note-taking app designed for students"They already have a huge advantage in this playbook," Dixon said.

    Not so the non-traditional investors, who might be women or people of color or people for whom English was their second language. It's those founders whom Dixon is trying to help with Founder Gym.

    In her courses, she not only tries to pass on what she's learned about the industry, but she gives her entrepreneurs the chance to network with founders like themselves and learn from each other. They also get a chance to meet and talk with investors such as the Kapors and Ellen Pao who are willing to invest in non-traditional founders and understand the challenges they face.

    Al Nolan, who was in Founder Gym's first group of trainees earlier this year, said it was great to be able to use the program to build out his network. Nolan, a black entrepreneur who created a note-taking app for students called Note Arise, loved being able to meet other founders like himself and some top investors in the space. He's already capitalized on what he's learned to get as many meetings with investors as he had all last year.

    "That's where I want to be as a founder, knowing who to talk to and what to bring them," he said. "Those are tools I just didn't have before."

    SEE ALSO: This female founder went from teaching middle schoolers to mentoring tech entrepreneurs — here's her unusual path and how she plans to help others succeed in Silicon Valley

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    Minneapolis Minnesota

    Silicon Valley has long reigned as the tech capital of the US.

    But as the cost of living continues to skyrocket, San Francisco Bay Area residents are fleeing the region in droves. In fact, San Francisco lost more residents than any other US city in the last quarter of 2017.

    For many, it's time to start looking for other options — but where? 

    Compensation monitoring site Comparably narrowed it down to the 10 cities that are emerging as new tech hubs. Comparably also compiled the local salaries of some of the most popular tech jobs by analyzing more than 8,000 anonymized salary records from employees at U.S. tech companies. 

    Here are the 10 emerging tech hubs from around the country, along with what local employees make each year. 

    SEE ALSO: These 10 popular tech jobs are perfect for people without a tech background — here's how much they pay

    Atlanta, Georgia is home to Coca-Cola, UPS, and Home Depot, but it's also becoming a tech hot-spot.

    Here are the average salaries in Atlanta:

    Junior developer: $68,330

    Developer: $86,214

    Senior developer: $112,573

    IT Manager: $120,695

    Project Manager: $102,390

    Sales representative: $113,576

    According to Comparably, the median rent for a one-bedroom is $1,010 per month, while a two-bedroom will run you $1,160 per month



    Baltimore, Maryland is surrounded by several universities, and its tech talent pool rose 42% between 2010 and 2013.

    Here are the average salaries in Baltimore:

    Junior developer: $70,925

    Developer: $96,290

    Senior developer: $124,201

    IT Manager: $115,927

    Project Manager: $104,853

    Sales representative: $126,255

    According to Comparably, the median rent for a one-bedroom is $940 per month, while a two-bedroom will run you $1,180 per month



    Boulder, Colorado continues to attract tech talent and venture capital funding from major cities across the US.

    Here are the average salaries in Boulder:

    Junior developer: $69,013

    Developer: $90,688

    Senior developer: $123,027

    IT Manager: $105,123

    Project Manager: $102,168

    Sales representative: $107,925

    According to Comparably, the median rent for a one-bedroom is $1,140 per month, while a two-bedroom will run you $1,400 per month



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    structure capital partners mike walsh jillian manus jacob shea

    • Sharing economy companies like Uber, Airbnb, and Wag put under-utilized assets — such as people, spaces, and vehicles — to work.
    • In San Francisco, a venture capital firm called Structure Capital invests exclusively in sharing economy companies that aim to reduce waste.
    • We talked to founding partner Mike Walsh and his partners, Jillian Manus and Jacob Shea, about how Structure Capital came to dominate sharing-economy investing.

     

    Mike Walsh is a member of the Uber rich, meaning he's über rich off the ride-hailing service.

    In 2010, a mutual friend introduced him to Ryan Graves, who worked an IT specialist job and was considering a move to San Francisco to help build something called UberApp. After Graves explained the concept, Walsh saw "the common sense approach" for someone, like a limo driver, to make money with an asset, a vehicle, that was under-utilized. He told Graves to take the job.

    Graves became the first employee of Uber, and as a show of thanks, he, Travis Kalanick, and Garrett Camp (another cofounder) offered Walsh an opportunity to invest in the company.

    He accepted. Since 2010, Uber's valuation has soared from $5.4 million to around $72 billion, netting Walsh huge returns on paper, which he declined to share with Business Insider.

    Today, Walsh helps runs Structure Capital, an early-stage venture fund that he started in 2013 with some of the earnings from his Uber deal. The fund invests almost exclusively in sharing economy companies whose goal is to reduce waste by putting under-utilized assets — such as people, spaces, and vehicles — to work. He manages the firm alongside partners Jillian Manus and Jacob Shea.

    Together, they call themselves the "architects of the zero waste economy."

    Companies backed by Structure Capital range from Wag, an "Uber for dog-walking" app, to Peerspace, which lets users book meeting rooms, event venues, and filming locations by the hour, to Honk, a company that provides on-demand roadside assistance as fast as Uber hails a car. As a cohort of startups, they aim to make the sharing economy the dominant marketplace.

    We talked to Walsh and his partners, Manus and Shea, about how Structure Capital came to be.

    Structure Capital raised a VC fund on the back of Uber's success

    In 1999, Walsh cut his first check as a hobby venture capitalist to a little-known cloud software company called Salesforce.com. He said he used the company's product as a customer first and liked it.

    After Salesforce went public in 2004, Walsh, who was then running Leverage Software, a startup that brought social networking to enterprises, sold half of his stock and continued to build his company. He had already given the other half to his dad, a plumber, as a birthday present.

    Lightning struck twice when Walsh signed on as one of the first committed investors in Uber in 2010 and saw massive returns, which encouraged him to focus full-time on venture. He pitched a couple of venture firms on taking him on as a partner, but they weren't hiring, Walsh said.

    Instead, he started his own fund. He put about $300,000 of his Uber stock into the pot and offered to share the returns with other limited partners who invested in the fund. It was a "marketing tool," Walsh said. Within six months of starting the fund, his Uber investment grew to $3 million as new investors gave the ride-hailing startup higher and higher valuations.

    Structure Capital raised $10 million from dozens of investors for its first fund.

    FILE PHOTO: A photo illustration shows the Uber app on a mobile telephone, as it is held up for a posed photograph, in London, Britain, November 10, 2017. REUTERS/Simon Dawson/File Photo

    Walsh later recruited Shea, a veteran coder who previously held consulting positions at Dell Computers, Qualcomm, the NFL, and Pixar, to bring technical expertise. Manus, a prolific angel investor in her own right, joined the firm as managing partner in 2013 and put in $1 million of her own money. She is a marketing guru who knows everyone, according to Walsh.

    Here's why the sharing economy matters

    Walsh had built a reputation for spotting billion-dollar-plus "unicorns." In the early days of Structure Capital, he was already receiving around 100 pitches per month. At first, he only took meetings with sharing economy companies simply as a way to "filter" his inbox, Walsh said.

    But a more concrete investment thesis started to take shape: The sharing economy was good for the environment, the community, and the pocket book, Walsh said he began to realize.

    "Growing up in a lower-middle class neighborhood in the industrial town of Worcester, Massachusetts, I was accustomed to hand-me-downs, sharing of things like tools and shovels, and — at times — even taking advantage of free food programs. My dad hustled to make a living, but oftentimes, there just wasn't enough work to go around in the mid-70s," Walsh said.

    His background taught him "a couple really valuable lessons" at the core of his thesis.

    He went on, "People, generally, want to do whatever they can to provide for their loved ones. Skills marketplaces allow people to find work to supplement their incomes or try new things. Uber, Wag, Feastly, and Laurel and Wolf are great examples of this. These companies allow individuals to earn an income while 'waiting' for things to turn around, or to discover new passions."

    He added that the sharing economy helps people and companies "do more with less"— a necessity as the global population grows and the world's natural resources deplete.

    "The bonus is that our companies make money and we benefit, as do our investors," Walsh said.

    Structure Capital wants to build a new wave of 'Ubers'

    Structure Capital reaches into all corners of the sharing economy — a market that's expected to reach $40.2 billion in revenue in 2022, up from $18.6 billion in 2017, according to Juniper Research. Its portfolio companies let hair stylists rent salon space, freelancers find a meeting room, and women invite other women into their homes for unique networking opportunities.

    Some companies have a more literal interpretation of the "zero waste economy." A company spun out of MIT called LiquiGlide invented a slippery coating that allows viscous liquids (think toothpaste, ketchup, and glue) to slide out of any container with ease. Structure Capital said the company will start supplying the material to a top toothpaste brand for a percentage of every tube sold.

    Another portfolio company, Copia, sends drivers to pick up uneaten food from enterprises and events and delivers it to nonprofits in need. Its customers then get to write off the donation as a tax deduction. Copia recovered enough food from the Oscars last year to feed 1,000 hungry people.

    Structure Capital has invested in approximately 140 companies to date.

    Walsh said one of the first thing he asks himself when he's evaluating a startup is: "Do we think we know a thousand people, socially, who will use this thing?"

    Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to invest comes down to a gut check.

    He asks himself if the founders are "people we want to hang out with" and, most importantly, people who "treat people the way we think people should be treated," Walsh said.

    SEE ALSO: Venture capitalist Jillian Manus throws the most exclusive and outrageous parties in Silicon Valley — take a look inside

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    Jyoti Bansal

    • Jyoti Bansal sold his app-analytics company AppDynamics to Cisco for $3.7 billion last year.
    • Now he's building another company and paying close attention to what his potential customers have to say as he builds it.
    • Bansal emphasizes that entrepreneurs should spend time getting to know their customers in order to build a successful company.

     

    Jyoti Bansal is a serial entrepreneur and the founder of app-analytics company AppDynamics, which he sold last year to Cisco for $3.7 billion. Now, Bansal is building a software-automation company, Harness.io, and he's carefully considering his earlier success in informing the structuring of his newest venture.

    In an interview with Business Insider, Bansal revealed his key piece of advice to entrepreneurs who are set on building billion-dollar businesses.

    "Start by finding customers for your business," said Bansal. "You should be able to find 100 potential customers to talk to. The one mistake most founders make is not talking to customers. It's not easy to find those people, but it's 100% worth the effort."

    In building both AppDynamics and his current company, Bansal said he reached out to potential customers through cold calls, scouring LinkedIn, and sending out emails. 

    "To talk to 100 customers, you'll probably need to contact around 1,000 people," Bansal said. "Be scrappy. Find people who can introduce you to them. The only way to know how much potential there is for a company is if you find people whose problems you're able to solve effectively."

    Bansal said in Silicon Valley, entrepreneurs are often preoccupied with the advice of their investors over the needs of the customers they're attempting to meet. "It's really important that you get out of that Silicon Valley ecosystem," said Bansal.

    In building Harness.io, Bansal said he spends the majority of his time talking to his customers. "I made 150 customer calls personally for Harness.io, even before I decided to launch," he said.

    Bansal said he isn't attempting to ride on the success of AppDynamics in building Harness.io. 

    "Our goal was to stay humble, and the only way to stay humble is to talk to customers," said Bansal. "Customers don't care who you are. If they don't like what you're doing, they'll tell you. Listening to them is what makes a real business."

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    The Insider Picks team writes about stuff we think you'll like. Business Insider has affiliate partnerships, so we get a share of the revenue from your purchase.

    FoundersCard

    • FoundersCard is an exclusive membership for startup founders, CEOs, entrepreneurs, and just about anyone with that "innovator" mindset.
    • Until Friday, FoundersCard members can enroll in a status challenge to get complimentary Mosaic elite status with JetBlue.
    • Until June 1, FoundersCard is offering a discounted rate exclusively for Business Insider readers, and a waived initiation fee. To get the discount, you'll have to apply through this page.
    • Read our full review of FoundersCard here.

    Update, 5/16/18: Although there may not be enough time to apply for FoundersCard and be approved before the JetBlue promotion ends, FoundersCard constantly brings in new offers, including limited time ones. Some offers also become available periodically through the year, so having an active membership means you can take advantage of future limited-time ones.

    FoundersCard, a private membership club for entrepreneurs, innovators, and startup creators, offers a tremendous amount of potential value for people in those categories. As well as access to exclusive networking events, FoundersCard provides members with discounts and VIP perks with a ton of different travel, retail, lifestyle, and business service partners.

    While it isn't for everyone, people can definitely get more than enough value from FoundersCard's various benefits to make up for the membership fee — normally, this fee is $595 each year plus a $95 enrollment fee. However, FoundersCard is offering an exclusive discounted rate for Business Insider readers— $395 per year with a waived enrollment fee.

    One of the great things about FoundersCard is that its team is constantly working on the benefits selection, adding new permanent benefits or limited-time offers all the time.

    FoundersCard recently announced a new promotion that can benefit frequent flyers and JetBlue fans— you can get a complementary elite status match to JetBlue Mosaic when you show that you have status with another airline. However, you'll need to enroll in the status challenge before this Friday.

    JetBlue Mosaic status comes with perks including waived change and cancellation fees, free checked bags, early boarding, a dedicated customer service phone line, bonus TrueBlue points on every flight, complimentary alcoholic drinks, and more.

    In order to qualify, you'll need mid-level status or higher with another US airline this year. You'll be upgraded to Mosaic status around June 1, and you'll keep the status without having to re-qualify until December 31.

    This is just one of a few airline-related offers that FoundersCard members get — to learn more about what a membership has to offer, read our full review.

    If you've been debating signing up for FoundersCard and expect to fly JetBlue before the end of the year, this is a great time to apply. And remember, Business Insider readers who apply through the links here get an exclusive discounted annual rate.

    Click here to learn more about FoundersCard's offer exclusively for Business Insider readers.

    SEE ALSO: Most people probably haven't heard of the FoundersCard — but its members have access to excellent VIP benefits and exclusive discounts

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    The Insider Picks team writes about stuff we think you'll like. Business Insider has affiliate partnerships, so we get a share of the revenue from your purchase.

    Day market tote

    Cult-favorite basics brand Everlane has steadily been taking over as our number one shopping destination for all things sleek, pragmatic, and minimal. 

    The brand excels at creating timeless styles with a touch of modern flair, and always keeps practicality top of mind when putting out new designs. There's a reason we write about them so much, and it has everything to do with the fact that their clothing, shoes, backpacks, and travel essentials are truly some of the best out there. 

    Another major incentive is the value. As a direct-to-consumer company, Everlane is able to produce everything in ethical factories with benefits and living wages for workers, all while keeping their costs down and passing on savings to the rest of us. 

    So whether you're already a die-hard fan who wants to know what other loyal shoppers are buying or you're relatively new to the brand and want a few recommendations, we've put together a list of Everlane picks that our team loves and wears in their daily lives. 

    Check out all the men's and women's Everlane pieces we swear by below:

    The Modern Loafer Mule (women's)

    Modern Loafer Mule, available in six colors, $155

    I have two pairs of these mules — one in white and one in black (though they come in tons of colors, including new suede options). They serve the same purpose and have a similar aesthetic as their traditional loafers, but with no blistering on the heel — which is a major consideration for someone who walks as much as I do. These took a little bit of time to break in before they felt truly comfortable and walkable, but at this point they are probably my most-worn shoes. I pair them with everything from denim and a T-shirt to silky slip dresses to plaid pants and oversized button-downs. They're super versatile, sleek, and cute!  — Sally Kaplan, Insider Picks editor



    The Cashmere Crew (women's)

    Cashmere Crew, available in 14 colors, $100

    I tried to avoid buying this sweater even though I knew I'd love it because I don't typically spend $100 on anything, but the price is just too good. I'm glad I took the plunge because I love it. I wish I had it in every color, but the classic black one I chose is definitely the most versatile color choice. It's soft, luxurious, and warm for cold winter days. — Malarie Gokey, Insider Picks guides editor



    The Day Market Tote (women's)

    Day Market Tote, available in seven colors, $165

    Last summer, I got my hands on the cognac tote popularized by bride-of-the-moment Meghan Markle and it has rarely left my side since. You can tell, too. While it was stiffer when I first got it, the leather has weathered beautifully into a soft material that has obviously received a lot of love through multiple uses. The handle length is just right and the bag is surprisingly sturdy. In addition to essentials like my wallet, sunglasses, and a light cardigan, I lug around a large 40-oz. water bottle in it and it doesn't break a sweat.

    The simple, elegant design makes it a versatile and polished choice, whether you're going to work or heading out for drinks. I'm personally a big fan of the rosy, warm color options, like Blush and Light Taupe. — Connie Chen, Insider Picks reporter



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    1

    • Few of us have the time or the will to research, prep, buy, measure, and blend healthy foods into delicious smoothies, chia parfaits, or soups.
    • Daily Harvest is a subscription service that sends healthy, pre-portioned superfood eats to your home either weekly or monthly.
    • I tried Daily Harvest's smoothies and was pleasantly surprised. All of the smoothies, while definitely healthy, tasted extremely good. 
    • In terms of prep, everything could not have been easier to make. Daily Harvest smoothies solved virtually all of my healthy food obstacles.

    Ever wished you could have those delicious, super healthy smoothies you see on Instagram without the nutrition degree or piles of perishable ingredients? So did Rachel Drori, a busy mom living in New York.

    As a result, she founded Daily Harvest — a subscription service that will send healthy, pre-portioned superfood eats to your home either weekly or monthly. The food combinations are developed by a nutritionist and chef, and the company is backed by big names like Gwyneth Paltrow and Serena Williams.

    It's not hard to see why it's so popular: Few of us have the time or the will to research, prep, buy, measure, and blend healthy foods together habitually. Daily Harvest gets those super smart, balanced foods into your freezer and requires zero thought beforehand and almost zero prep (about 30 seconds' worth).

    Extra bonus: According to the company, apples you buy in the grocery store are picked over a year before you get to them. They lose much of their nutritional value along the way. Daily Harvest ingredients are "always picked at peak maturity, then flash frozen to maintain farm-fresh nutrient density and flavor, without using preservatives or added sugar." Frozen foods can be delicious and healthy, even if the word makes you first think about the soft beans in your "vegetable medley" bag.

    Right now, Daily Harvest delivers to 95% of the US, though they're not currently shipping outside the continental states.

    Here's how it works:

    1. Build your box: Choose any combination of superfood eats (smoothies, overnight oats, chia parfaits, soups, and sundaes) to be delivered to you. You can even choose foods based on dietary needs, key benefits, and your likes and dislikes via options found in the top-most bar.Screen Shot 2017 10 09 at 2.54.27 PM
    2. Check your doorstep: The pre-portioned cups will arrive at your doorstep ready to be popped in the freezer/blended/heated up — whatever the minimal instructions or your schedule demand.
    3. Make it: Just open the lid, add the recommended liquid base and blend, soak, or heat. The cups are meant to be their own carrier, so you can drop the ingredients into a blender or pan, heat or blend them, and then drop them right back into the same container. Minimal cooking and minimal cleanup.

    Screen Shot 2017 10 09 at 2.52.38 PM

    Price: 

    You can opt for weekly or monthly deliveries.

    If you choose weekly, you can get 6, 9, 12, or 24 cups per week. The price per cup decreases the more you order. For 6 cups a week, it’ll be $7.99 per cup (about $48 total, or $7.99 a day) and for 12 it'll be $7.49 per cup (about $90 total, or $13 a day). See more prices here.

    If you choose monthly, you’ll be sent 24 cups per month ($6.99 per cup, $167.76 total before taxes), which works out to about $6 a day.

    Use the promo code "businessinsider" and get 3 free smoothies in your first order.

    Screen Shot 2017 10 09 at 2.50.05 PM

    Why I liked it:

    Daily Harvest solved some common problems for me. I want to eat healthily and smoothies are one solid way to make "healthy" taste good, as well as being travel-friendly. However, I have to buy single-person groceries, and it doesn’t make sense to buy the volume of veggies and perishable produce it takes to make even two different superfood smoothies — and having the same one every day because I need to use up groceries before they go bad is a fast way to kill a good habit.

    It’s also hard to portion single-person smoothies. Unless you’re following a specific recipe and halving your celery stalks and using x amount of kale, which takes time, I always wind up with leftovers that don’t sit well in the fridge, but that I also really don’t want to throw out.

    And lastly, I always wanted to eat well, but I wasn’t sure which combinations got me the most health bang for my buck — and also tasted good. I lacked the advanced nutritional knowledge and didn’t want to spend the time figuring it out. For this reason, and not wanting to waste money on food that might not blend together well, I wasn’t exactly adventurous.

    These are the reasons why Daily Harvest initially appealed to me. I try to go to the gym in the mornings before work, and a tasty smoothie immediately after that is good for me, pre-portioned, and easy to carry (with an opening for a straw already in the lid) — and also doesn’t take more than 5 minutes to make — is ideal. It’s something I’d be willing to commit to for the price simply because it does what I want to do better than I can on my own. If left to my own devices, it’s far less likely I’d get into a stable habit.

    In reality, Daily Harvest smoothies solved virtually all of my healthy food obstacles. 

    My experience:

    I contacted the company to see if they’d be willing to send some for testing, and I was able to choose my own box. I got the delivery soon after and committed to making one every morning after the gym. An immediate upside was 30-second prep time and not having to clean up any dishes aside from the blender, since the container it comes in doubles as a cup post-blend. I loved being able to carry it out the door and drink it on the way to work. Since I know that Americans throw out 500 million straws every day, I ordered stainless steel ones to use with the Daily Harvest straw-enabled tops without extra waste.

    I purposefully picked smoothie combinations that I was unsure about — mixes with more leafy greens and unknown ingredients in them than I would comfortably make myself (like Apple + Greens and Pineapple + Matcha). When I put the ingredients into the blender, I expected the result to taste healthy, but not good.

    product shot ingredients@3x

    I was pleasantly surprised. All of the smoothies, while definitely healthy, tasted extremely good. I really liked all of them, particularly the "green and leafy" ones that initially seemed too healthy to be tasty, as well as the Cold Brew + Almond.

    In terms of prep, everything could not have been easier to make. The instructions never required more than throwing the ingredients into a blender and adding liquid before blending (a simplicity mirrored uniformly in all of their food options). 

    If you're looking for a way to eat healthy, balanced, and fresh foods without spending all the time yourself grocery shopping, researching, or doing the prep and cleanup, you might want to look into trying Daily Harvest yourself.

    It's possible that not all of their mixes will appeal to you equally, but the smoothies at least were a safe place to start. Depending on your budget, it might not be realistic to do it every month, but I can't imagine superfoods for the masses getting any easier than delicious, pre-portioned cups that get delivered to your freezer. 

    Try Daily Harvest and get three free smoothies in your first box with the promo code "businessinsider" here.

    SEE ALSO: 13 organizing ideas that'll help you make the most of your space

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    Milo

    • With new cookware startup Milo, you get all the quality of a high-performance, premium Dutch oven at a fraction of the traditional cost of brands like Le Creuset and Staub. 
    • I tried the company's only product, its $95 Dutch oven, and after cooking a variety of dishes with it, I was very impressed. 
    • It's now my go-to vessel to cook with because of its versatility, even heat distribution, and durability.

    When you think about the building blocks that make up a well-stocked kitchen, knives, pots, and pans probably come to mind first. And you're right, those things are all important, if not necessary, for cooking just about anything. But when it comes to sheer versatility, no tool in the culinary world comes close to a Dutch oven. 

    Made out of thick cast iron and coated with enamel (powered glass that's been fused to the iron using extreme heat), a Dutch oven can be used to sauté or boil ingredients on a stovetop, braise or bake meals in an oven, or hold water for boiling or cooking sous vide. It's kind of like an analog Instant Pot.

    But if a Dutch oven is such a useful tool, why don't more people own one? The bottom line is its price.

    Companies like Le Creuset and Staub have well-deserved reputations for making great Dutch ovens, with the former basically inventing the modern, enamel-coated version. Both companies manufacture theirs in France, using high-quality iron that retains heat well and enamel that won't chip, crack, or scratch during regular use.

    Those manufacturing techniques and legacies are all well and good, but Le Creuset charges $339.95 for their 5.5 quart model and Staub charges $240 for theirs in the same size. Milo, a new direct-to-consumer cookware startup, wants to do for the Dutch oven what Misen has done for knives, Made In has done the frying pan, and Brigade has done for sauce pans: make a high-quality cooking tool that the average home cook can afford.

    I've put Milo's $95 Dutch oven through its paces, and I'm happy to say the new company nailed it.

    Milo Kale

    Milo makes the Dutch oven out of the same type of materials as its competitors: cast iron that's hand finished and two layers of enamel to improve its durability. The startup's manufacturing is based in China, not France, but I didn't notice any structural imperfections out of the box or after using it that would suggest that's a problem. In fact, the Milo Dutch oven is one of the most beautiful pieces in my growing cookware collection.

    One thing to note is it's heavy — it is a pot made out of iron after all — Milo's 5.5 quart model weighs in at 12 pounds, which is in between Le Creuset's (10.5 pounds) and Staub's (13.75 pounds).

    There are two primary ways to test a Dutch oven: see how well it retains heat in an oven, and how evenly food cooks inside of it on a stovetop. I preformed both tests.

    Every time I cooked with Milo's Dutch oven food came out tasty and consistent. Ingredients I sautéed on my range showed no signs of scorching (which is what happens when the bottom of a pot is uneven, leading fat to pool in one area while leaving other parts exposed).

    Baked Bread

    The bread pictured above was a particularly good test because it showed that the Dutch oven could retain heat in an oven. The resulting loaf was crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. You know, like bread should taste.

    Consistency is the word I come back to when describing this tool — everything I tasted just seemed right.

    Cleaning the Dutch oven was just as easy as cooking with it; whether I lined the bottom with parchment paper or cooked right on the enamel, all it took was little bit of soap water. Milo suggests letting the Dutch oven soak in soapy water if there are ever any food remnants really stuck to the bottom.

    Dutch ovens from Le Creuset and Staub have earned "legacy" cookware status, because they're so well made they're supposed to be passed down from one generation to the next. That idea can also help justify the high price you pay to get them into your family in the first place. 

    Based on the results of my tests, though, Milo has made a "legacy"-quality item that way more people can afford. It's easy to use, simple to clean, looks great on a countertop, and it helps me make food that is tasty every time I use it. This may be Milo's first piece of hardware, but the company is already well on its way to creating a legacy of its own.

    Milo Dutch Oven, $95, available from Milo

    SEE ALSO: 28 useful kitchen gadgets you can get under $25

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    Samumed 4x3

    • Samumed, a San Diego-based biotech is one of the highest valued healthcare startups in the US with a $12 billion valuation.
    • The company is working on treatments to regenerate everything from hair to cartilage.
    • Samumed's chief business officer said at an investor conference that the company could go public in the next three to four years.

    Samumed, a private company that's racked up a heady valuation of $12 billion, has a potential timeline for when it might go public. 

    It's possible the company could go public over the next three to four years, Samumed's chief business officer Erich Horsley said at the UBS Global Healthcare conference on Monday in New York. 

    The company has already raised $300 million from backers including high-net-worth individuals and sovereign funds rather than a roster of venture capitalists. Its CEO Osman Kibar had previously said at a conference in 2016 that the company wouldn't go public until it can get a product approved and start generating revenue. 

    Tapping into stem cells

    The company's pipeline contains a number of experimental treatments that offer the promise of reversing conditions related to aging by regrowing hair on balding heads, smoothing out wrinkles, and regenerating cartilage to worn-down joints in people with osteoarthritis.

    That happens through technology that targets certain proteins that scientists think play a critical role in the development and renewal of stem cells, which give rise to other types of specialized cells, from eye cells to skin and hair cells.

    Your body is equipped with something called progenitor stem cells. These cells are in charge of repairing and replenishing specific organs in the body. For example, a mesenchymal stem cell of the osteoblast lineage can go in and repair bone that's damaged. That process has something to do with the WNT pathway, a set of proteins that tell these stem cells to spring into action.

    "By dialing up or down various WNT genes or WNT processes, you can trigger any one of these progenitor stem cells down a certain lineage," Kibar told Business Insider in 2017.

    As we get older, our WNT levels start to get out of balance, Kibar said. Take the example of mesenchymal stem cells. "If the WNT activity levels can no longer increase such that it's not making enough bone, now you develop osteoporosis."

    What Samumed hopes to do is manipulate the pathway that makes these progenitor stem cells spring into action, so that they don't cause these diseases.

    Samumed currently has seven clinical trials ongoing, two of which — one to treat a common form of hair loss and another to treat osteoarthritis —  are ready to move into phase 3 clinical trials that could set them up for approval from the FDA. 

    SEE ALSO: A $12 billion startup you've probably never heard wants to cure baldness and smooth out your wrinkles

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