Alexa von Tobel took a huge gamble when she took a leave of absence from business school and invested all of her money into LearnVest, a site that provides financial management tools and advice, at the start of the recession. But it was a chance that paid off: LearnVest has since raised $72 million in funding.
So what were some of the lessons she’s learned in the five years since her company has launched?
1. Consider Whether It’s the Right Time to Take the Plunge
Starting a company requires time, money and expertise. Do you know enough about the field you’re interested in? Is there a course you should take or a skill you might need to learn first to ensure that your business is a success?2. Be Willing to Put Your Own Money on the Line
Investing your own money will make you even more focused. In December 2008, when people were hiding cash under their mattresses, I took a leap and invested most of what I had saved since college into starting LearnVest.
Of course, it’s important to first save up an emergency fund for at least nine months so that you’ll have your basic expenses under control should you get off to a rocky start. But putting your money on the line makes starting your own business personal.
Read on for von Tobel’s eight other pieces of great business insight on OPEN Forum.
Flickr user: Courtney Boyd Myers
As a small-business owner, you and everyone you work with are busier than ever. Here’s how to stop wasting other people’s time, so you can build solid relationships.
1. Don’t misrepresent why you’re meeting.
2. Don’t “just drop by.”
3. Don’t create endless communication loops.
4. Don’t skimp on preparation.
5. Don’t create false deadlines.
Read more on OPEN Forum.
"[That’s] long enough to be serious and short enough to hold people’s attention," TED curator Chris Anderson said in an interview with Carmine Gallo, author of Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds. “By forcing speakers who are used to going on for 45 minutes to bring it down to 18, you get them to really think about what they want to say. What is the key point they want to communicate? It has a clarifying effect. It brings discipline.”
Read on to learn ways to make your presentations more engaging on OPEN Forum.
Flickr user: TEDx Somerville
1. Relying on search engine submission services
2. Not having a blog (or equally bad, an off-topic blog)
3. Not using catchy headlines or images
4. Not participating on other established sites
5. Not seeking publicity
6. Not communicating with your email list
7. Not advertising
8. Not paying attention to local listings
9. Not analyzing your traffic to see what works and what doesn’t
10. Not writing a marketing plan for your website.
Read on for how to fix these common mistakes business owners make in their rush to boost website traffic.
“There’s a running joke that there are more single men in San Francisco and more single women in New York City,” says Lauren Kay, a co-founder and CEO of matchmaking startup Dating Ring. ”So we thought it would be fun if some of them met each other.”
The stunt—their business model doesn’t actually fly out singles on the regular—attracted a ton of attention and investment. Kay spoke to OPEN Forum about the Dating Ring and what it’s really like to be a woman entrepreneur raising funds.
What was it like to fundraise with Y Combinator and afterward?
It was really hard! Demo day with YC is insane—there are hundreds of investors on the floor. It felt like this weird speed dating event where you ask people for money. I was super uncomfortable.
After demo day, I was determined to land additional investment to grow Dating Ring, so I’d go on up to seven meetings per day with angel investors and VCs. Some of them were awesome. After 15 minutes, one investor offered us money because he believed in our vision right off the bat. But other investors would ask me out on dates or openly ask when men would be brought into the company. I had no idea the sexism in Silicon Valley was so bad.
What advice can you offer other female founders to get through it?
Look for investors who aren’t known to be sexist. Talk to other founders that you trust and only take meetings with VCs who have a track record of respecting women. Don’t put up with anything, and leave meetings if you’re uncomfortable.
Adults are getting their own form of merit badges, thanks to a relatively new digital credential formed by the company that brought us the Firefox browser:
Mozilla’s vision is that Open Badges will provide a permanent record of a person’s capabilities and achievements to be shown to teachers, peers, colleges or employers. Megan Cole-Karagory, director of marketing at Mozilla’s Badge Alliance, estimates that Open Badges are now carried by 4 million people and says Mozilla has made a commitment to reach 10 million users by the end of 2016.
Read more about the Open Badge system on OPEN Forum.