This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.
- Samer Hamadeh started hustling the good ole’ fashion way by finding a problem and fixing it. A few years later he would apply those same principles to his other ventures, most notable of which is Vault.com. Now Samer is on to an entirely new business but this time it’s in a new industry: healthcare.
I caught up with Samer so he could share some of his insights into his life as an entrepreneur, a candy salesman, and his new startup called Zeel.
Many people aspire to start their own companies. How did you get started as an entrepreneur?
My first big entrepreneurial success was selling candy at recess during 7th grade. I was eventually caught, but I convinced the school that I was just meeting unfilled demand, so they let me continue. (Twix bars were my best sellers – I’d buy them for 25 cents each at Costco and resell them for 50 cents.)
After I graduated from Stanford, my friend Mark Oldman and I saw another opportunity. We realized that internships were becoming an essential part of the career path –and that there was no good information available about where to find a great internship. This was pre-Internet industry, of course, so we published a book, America’s Top 100 Internships, which was a huge success, and started a consulting practice to help companies with their internship programs
I’ve always focused on getting people the services they want to make their lives better, delivering via the latest technology. I’ve gone from passing notes at school, to books, to CD-ROMs, to the web, to mobile apps. I sometimes joke that telepathy is next.
You’ve spent your career building businesses in the career and education space. What made you decide to switch industries?
The thing is that I’ve always been focused on delivery and customer service. At Vault, we were pioneers in on-demand content – our customers purchased and downloaded interview guides and company dossiers in PDF format right before interviews. After selling Vault and before founding Zeel, I was an investor and advisor at Campusfood.com, which we recently sold to GrubHub, the food delivery service, also based on satisfying last-minute needs.
In addition, I’d say that I’ve spent my career figuring out the best way to solve the problems I was facing at the time, from a lack of candy, to getting a job, to, today, easing aches and pains.
When my co-founders and I started Vault, we were right out of school, and we naturally created a company to assist recent college grads. Zeel, on the other hand, was inspired by the aches and pains of our 30s and 40s. I’m married with kids now, along with most of the rest of our founding team. We need the relaxation and pain relief that massage therapy provides. We don’t have time in our busy schedules to book massages a week in advance and spend hours going to and from a spa – plus, getting massage in-home means that we don’t need to hire a babysitter. We like flat fees so we don’t need to worry about tax and tip. We want to use our phones like a remote control for our lives, so we launched an iPhone app for booking. We’ve basically created the most convenient way possible to reliably get a great massage, from a vetted and licensed massage therapist, as quickly and efficiently as possible.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs looking to get into the healthcare space?
The healthcare space is complicated. You need to take time to understand the industry – just being a healthcare consumer won’t give you anything close to a complete picture. For one, it’s much more regulated than other spaces. Health insurers have intricate rules. And there are laws about advertising, payments and provider referrals that you just don’t have in other industries.
That’s why it took me and my team nearly two years of immersion in the healthcare space to devise Zeel Massage On Demand℠. Massage, for example, might seem straightforward, but there are different licensing requirements in every state, local regulations about when and where massage can take place, and restrictions on how you pay therapists.
So I’d advise entrepreneurs to educate themselves as thoroughly as possible. Go to conferences and healthcare meetups. When you’re ready, apply to some of the superior accelerators and fellowships that have sprung up in this space, like Blueprint Health and StartUp Health.
This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.
- I spent years of my life sitting alone on the basement floor. No TV. No friends. Sometimes my brother would join me but for the most part it was just me and a lot, I mean a lot, of legos. Who knew that tiny pieces of plastic bricks could have such an impact?
For me, legos was a game changing toy. In fact, writing the word “toy” makes me cringe because legos is so much more than that. These little bricks put me on a course that would later lead to robotics in high school, electrical engineering in college, and entrepreneurship somewhere in between. And anyone that’s ever played with legos can understand where I’m coming from. Like me, you probably bought some lego truck or train, built the thing based off of the instructions, and then completely destroyed your newfound creation so you could build your own piece of art.
Invention. Creation. Destruction. Innovation.
This cycle happens over time in every business and in every industry. Take AOL as an example. They created the first web portal and then it got destroyed by new companies building off of their building blocks. AOL away messages became Twitter. AOL profile pages became Facebook. AOL search became Google. The same thing is happening to Craigslist and to many other companies and sectors.
And this is where innovation comes from. It’s all about understanding how to use building blocks and for me that happened with legos. That’s why I got pretty excited when I saw littlebits for the first time a year or so ago over on Fred Wilson’s blog. I recently met Ayah, the founder of littlebits, and I’m more excited about what this company can and hopefully will become. As Ayah believes, and as I do to, the new building blocks of the 21st century are based on electrical circuits. Some may argue that we are beyond hardware and that the real building blocks are knowing how to code and how to program, but I believe that the next wave of true innovation will come from the intersection of new hardware and new software. Not software alone.
And that’s why littlebits is so exciting. Kids all over the world will be able to play with and learn from the new building blocks of the 21st century. Had I been sitting on that basement floor with these building blocks instead of legos, who knows what I would have built. A TV perhaps.
This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.
It’s easy to get stuck in an unfulfilling corporate career path. Before you know it, you turn around wonder where all that time went. In some industries, like banking or consulting, it’s very hard to jump ship from the lucrative safety net of the corporate world to the treacherous waters of entrepreneurship.
David Lloyd decided to forgo a potentially lucrative career in banking to start his own company in South America and in less than two years, his company is doing a few million in revenue. The business? He places talented individuals with international internship programs in London, Madrid & Latin America where they go to work for leading companies, NGOs & National Governments and live a cultural immersion in a new, fascinating country.
I recently caught up with David to talk about what it’s like to rip off the golden handcuffs of the corporate world and to discuss his business called The Intern Group.
You had a great career path as a banker. What made you decide to quit in order to pursue The Intern Group?
I realized early on in banking that the rigid, hierarchical corporate path in a mature, saturated industry was not where I wanted to spend the next decades of my life.
Before banking I had done something more unusual. I moved to Latin America after university with the goal of becoming fluent in a second language. I moved to Buenos Aires, where I knew no-one, and enrolled in intensive Spanish classes. Outside language classes I searched for an internship as I wished to use and improve my fledgling Spanish in a work-place environment. However, with no particular contacts in a highly contact based environment, I was in trouble. Finally, after months of trying, I was offered a marketing internship at Rolex. The value to my resume of an international blue-chip name, in the context of a different culture and language was enormous.
I developed a great deal through my internship experience abroad. I set up The Intern Group so that individuals have the opportunity to do the same as I did – but in a structured, systematic and educational way – and develop themselves professionally and personally.
How did you go about funding the business? After all, you just quit your job.
I had enough saved up to bootstrap with a very basic WordPress website et al. I started to apply to Start-Up Incubators and 8 months after starting the business we were accepted into Start-Up Chile, a Chilean government program for international entrepreneurs, and awarded 40,000 USD in equity-free seed capital. Shortly afterwards, during Start-Up Chile, we turned cash-flow positive and have not looked back.
What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs especially those stuck in the corporate world?
Don´t talk yourself out of it. It is easy to say “You need to be rich to start a business”. You don´t. Technology has made the amount of money needed to launch a start-up astonishingly low. “But what if it doesn´t work. The risk!?”. Do you want to live your life thinking “what-if?”. Yes, your planned project might not work out. But failure, in this context, is seen as a good thing by the people that count – if you learn from it. Many of the most successful businessmen and women started with out-right failures. You learn more from failing than succeeding. The far bigger risk is talking yourself out of it and staying in a job you are unhappy with.
Where do you go from here?
The Intern Group is now on the way to becoming a mainstream option within global higher education.
Just like study-abroad programs became established in recent decades, I see the same now happening with structured intern-abroad programs. Crucially, interning abroad brings even more benefits than traditional study abroad. Not only do you learn all about a country´s history and culture by being immersed there, and develop language skills essential in a globalized world, but you also develop the critical professional skills necessary to advance your career.
I see The Intern Group leading this movement, with more, exciting destinations in our portfolio and further governmental/university partnerships as the next step.
As a young company, operating various international offices presents an extra layer of challenge. How have you overcome these challenges and are there any other pieces of advice you’d give to aspiring business operators?
Firstly, great co-founders/partners in the business. In every program destination we operate, a local partner is leading the business locally, and they are always from the destination. They grew up there. They have the local professional network, and the local know-how vital for success. If your international team is talented, and invested emotionally and financially, you are on the right track.
Secondly, and as a function of the first point, this brings up the importance of spending a lot of time on hiring. I read the other day of a company who spends 98% of their time on hiring, and 2% on resolving hiring mistakes whereas most companies do the opposite. I am a big advocate of this philosophy. In large companies a bad hire is costly. In smaller, younger companies, especially those with different teams spread out around the world, it can break you.
Thirdly, lots of communication. When you are far away from each other, it is easy for individuals and even entire local offices to feel somewhat dislocated and isolated. We prevent this with technology and lots of good-old fashioned talking.
This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.
No one thinks home security is cool or interesting, but when you’ve raised almost $180,000 with a custom made kickstarter-esque website, home security becomes pretty interesting. Lindsay Cohen and the team at Scout realized that home security is a commodity and most of the 17% of the country that has security is dissatisfied with their provider. They thought they could bring security up to date, and to do so they went about building their own organic fundraising campaign to get them off the ground. Lindsay was able to share some insights on how they pulled this off.
Dan Reich: Scout seems like a great product. Why did you decide to raise money without a platform like kickstarter or indiegogo?
Lindsay Cohen: Kickstarter rolled out new rules this year that have disqualified a lot of companies from using their site, including Scout. Too many companies were raising millions of dollars without a solid plan to deliver on their promises. At about the same time those rules hit, Lockitron launched their project and showed that you could be successful with an independent crowdfunding site. We felt well prepared for the campaign and were able to save 5% (about $9000) in fees by not going through a third-party website. That money goes a long way for a startup.
DR: You mentioned that you raised money without a first generation product. What assets did you have when you decided to start this fundraising campaign?
LC: Scout came out of the Sandbox Industries startup foundry in Chicago, IL. We had some initial seed money from Sandbox to do the research and development on the project. We used that money to complete the market research, create our initial prototypes, create our website and pay a small team to execute our rollout plan.
DR: As of this writing, you raised close to $162,000. How did you pull this off?
LC: A huge part of our success has been attributable to our ability to get press coverage. In order to do that, we spent the month prior to our campaign planning who we would contact in the press and how we would pitch the story. Since then, we’ve had a small team here at Scout that has been hustling and executing the Scout plan for the majority of their waking hours over the past three weeks. We do have a small budget for pay-per-click ads and an ad retargeting campaign, but press coverage is far and away the biggest reason we have been able to raise $160,000 to date.
DR: What advice would you give to people that are thinking about doing their own crowd funding project?
LC: Know what you’re getting yourself into, put the time into creating an aggressive rollout plan and then execute your plan every minute that you aren’t sleeping. There is a massive amount of preparation that goes into making something like this happen. We’ve written two blog posts on the topic to help others learn from our experiences. There are pros and cons to our approach. Don’t dismiss Kickstarter, if you qualify, just for the sake of doing it yourself. You can gain a lot of leverage from an existing crowdfunding site with a built-in base of users.
DR: What do you wish you would have done differently?
LC: We wish we would have talked to our early backers of Scout more often and given them more chances to share news about the project. We planned to contact them mid-campaign and during the last week, but we should have started in the first week and touched base every week thereafter. Backers are your best evangelists, their sharing efforts on Facebook and Twitter allows you to reach a whole new group of people that you otherwise would not have reached. Also, we would have incentivized sharing more often. Running referral competitions and motivating people to share can be highly effective.
De Ja Vu. Another trip to the Rose Bowl and another loss by Wisconsin. That’s how 2013 started for me but you can’t win em all, right?
Like all new years, I try to take some time to reflect on the past year. I think it’s a healthy and worthwhile thing to do (Here is last year’s review). It also helps to put things in perspective when thinking about the year ahead. So let’s see how this year went.
I mentioned it earlier but this January started off like last January. Wisconsin lost in the Rose Bowl. Shocking. Last year however I wasn’t in Los Angeles for the game. I think it was because I was looking forward to a much bigger game that would take place the next month.
(Indianapolis – Left to Right: My sister, brother, me.)
February. They did it! The Giants won the 2012 superbowl and it only took me 11 hours to drive across the country to Indianapolis with my father, brother and sister. The game and experience were both incredible. The icing on the cake was the fact that I took the Giant’s to win with 25 to 1 odds. That will probably be the luckiest bet I ever make, but I’ll take it. I also had the chance to meet a lot of great people, performers and athletes but perhaps the most interesting encounter was when I bumped into Flavor Flav at the McDonald’s airport for my 4am flight to California. Yes, he was wearing his giant clock even at 4am. He was also on my flight.
Life is a series of ups and downs and March was one of the tougher months of the year. A family member of mine passed away from congestive heart failure. I’m not sure what else to say about that month other than it sucked.
April was better. In just one month I would be getting married. Even typing the word “married” is still a bit strange but I wouldn’t change it. Aside from the wedding plans, I got to head back to Madison, Wisconsin with Andrew and Corey to talk to some students about our Spinback experience. As one friend put it, “the student becomes the teacher.” I don’t think I would go that far but it was great to share some stories with students.
May is when I married my best friend, Amy. The wedding was incredible and I still need to watch the wedding video. I’ll be sure to do that in 2013. After the wedding we did the honeymoon thing and traveled across the country and to the Pacific: Hawaii. It was my first time there and I’m sure I’ll go back at some point. It was also a major milestone in my life as I finally got to cross
sky diving off the bucket list. I expected to be terrified jumping out of the plane but it was one of the more peaceful and exhilarating experiences of my life. It’s something I highly recommend that you try. I also got to play golf at some spectacular courses which only reconfirmed how much work my golf game needs.
(Amy is already out of the plane)
In June, Buddy Media got acquired by Salesforce.com. It was such an incredible experience to work with Mike and Kass Lazerow as well as the rest of the Buddy Media team. It’s amazing how much you can learn in such a short period of time. The deal was finalized in August and then I took some time off to do some traveling. Amy and I went to Greece, Turkey and Israel, ate some amazing food and did some extraordinary site seeing. If there is one thing I took away from that trip it’s this: Travel more. Life is short and the world is small. I’m pretty sure Australia is next on my list but who knows when I’ll make it there. And now I’m thinking about this quote I recently read.
The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page. ~St. Augustine
Overall, 2012 was a phenomenal year. I learned to be more fearless, more independent and more appreciative of the important things and people in my life. In 2013 I’ll write some new chapters and blog posts. I’ll start a new business venture and keep moving on in this little thing called life.
Here are some random and meaningless predictions for 2013:
- - Green Bay Packers will win the super bowl
- - Zero Dark Thirty will win an award for best picture
- - Iran will get a serious wake up call to stop development of nuclear weapons
- - The internet will be less about people communicating and more about things communicating
- - There will be another major stock market crash
- - The health care industry will finally undergo disruptive transformation
- - All of my predictions will be wrong
- - I’m going to remind myself to never make any predictions ever again
This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.
“I’m terrified. I have no clue what I’m doing.” When you’re trying to build an exciting business you would think the description would be a little different but my friend continued. “I have a great idea for a business and I know it will work. I just need $300,000 to make it happen. I want to ask my family and friends for money but I don’t know how. How does it work? Is it a good idea? What if I let them down?”
Starting a business is extremely difficult and like any business, it requires capital. We often read stories about people raising millions of dollars from venture capitalists but most people don’t have access or the means to raise money from a VC. For the vast majority of people, money is raised from banks, from personal savings, and from family and friends. So it’s no wonder my friend was terrified. There’s an emotional tax associated with a capital raise from close relatives. It’s the feeling of losing dollars and trust from your strongest supporters.
Nonetheless, the thought of losing family money shouldn’t prevent you from doing so. So what do you need to know if you want to raise money from family and friends? What are the important things to think about? Here are a few points to consider:
They know all about risk and reward, right? My friend heard about my new business and asked me if he could invest. I said no to him three different times and on three separate occasions. On the fourth time he said something that stuck with me and I ultimately changed my mind. He said, “I’ve invested before and I’m not afraid to lose this money.” Good point, friend. If you’re talking to friends and family that can afford to invest, it’s likely they understand the concept of risk and reward. After all, that’s probably why they can afford to invest some of their money in the first place.
Give fair and favorable terms. Taking money from close friends and family may typically happen in the very early stages of a company. The earlier a venture the riskier it is. If you have a friend or family member that wants to help you get off the ground you should consider giving them favorable terms on their investment. You can make them a larger equity holder. Or perhaps you give them favorable interest rates on a loan they give you. As long as you’re having an honest conversation with them, you can figure out a fair deal structure. Which brings me to my next point.
Be honest. If you’re involved in financial transactions with close friends, it’s extremely important that you are brutally honest and transparent. Sure, you’ll discuss things like terms of the investment and how the business will grow and make money. It’s also important however to talk about expectations. The last thing you want to do is build your business at the expense of a trusted relationship.
Diversify your investment base. When you’re making fundraising rounds with friends and family you may have the opportunity to take money from more then one person. If you do this, you’ll diversify your investment base. You’ll be able to provide some risk protection for your investors even though you’ll be limiting their upside potential. Less money in means less money out. On the other hand, having more investors means managing expectations and communications among more stakeholders. This can get very time-consuming especially when you are trying to run a business. But hey, there is a reason you often hear the word “diversification” when it comes to money management.
Social Proof. Would you invest in a company or entrepreneur that couldn’t raise a single dollar? Probably not. Raising money from your friends and family is a decent indicator that you can successfully convince someone to believe and invest in you. Even if it’s from your parents or your best friend. It sets a baseline precedent that you are capable and trustworthy of managing capital and this is very important for more meaningful capital raises and conversations later on.
Today, there are new technologies that make it easier than ever to raise money. These are crowd-funding platforms that facilitate investments among large networks of individuals. However, it’s often easiest and perhaps most problematic to mix funding with family. If you go down that path, make sure you are thinking about some of the implications. You might all become rich but you also might shake up a relationship or two and that might make for an awkward family dinner.
Have you ever taken an investment from a close friend or family member? Have you ever invested in one? What advice would you give?
Dan Reich is a tech entrepreneur and engineer. He has founded and sold multiple companies, the most recent of which was acquired by Buddy Media, which in turn was acquired by Salesforce. Follow him on Twitter at @DanReich.