Monthly Archives: April 2014

Tiger Startup School: Crafting an Investor Pitch

by Aidan Galasso

I attended Tiger Startup School: Crafting an Investor Pitch at the Crews Center for Entrepreneurship on April 2 at the University of Memphis. Mike Hoffmeyer, the director of the Crews Center, gave the talk. He discussed the most common mistakes entrepreneurs make when pitching their business idea to investors and how to avoid them.

The first piece of advice Hoffmeyer offered was that “every word counts.” He cautioned against using too much text in the presentation. When possible, he suggested using just one line of text.

According to the entrepreneurial expert, the visual aids should be used to evoke emotion and to make the audience “feel the discomfort” that your product seeks to erase. “You can’t use words as a crutch,” he said.

Although he spends most of his time at the Crews Center advising Memphis students with an entrepreneurial dream, Hoffmeyer is also works at the FedEx Institute of Technology where they do research and instruction in commercialization, corporate research and entrepreneurship. He described entrepreneurship as “not an academic discipline but a way of thinking.”

The next stage of the pitch Hoffmeyer addressed was the market size. He counseled entrepreneurs to keep their use of numbers limited, advising them only to highlight key figures. Instead of overusing numbers, Hoffmeyer suggested being creative and sticking to the story to keep investors interested, as too many statistics could result in the audience tuning out.

The final piece of wisdom offered at this session of Tiger Startup School was to make the conclusion the strongest part of the presentation. This is the part investors are most likely remember and therefore an ideal ending is a phrase or thought that will make the presentation stick in the audience’s mind. The conclusion can help differentiate one business from all the others a potential investor has heard from that day.

Hoffmeyer offered a simple tip that many people remember from their high school days. “Tie it together like an essay,” he said, “Just be more concrete.”

 

 

 

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Another good post on social media strategy for entrepreneurs

Check out Robert Kohler’s blog post on the event led by University of Memphis journalism professor Darrin Devault. As he writes:

With the internet and social media, it never has been easier to call attention to your business. In times of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Tumblr, Linkedin, and so on, there is a multitude of possibilities to reach a large audience, or to reach your specific target audience. Using these digital platforms enables you to get in touch and interact with your customers easily, to build your own network, and to communicate with your stakeholders continuously.

Nevertheless, as social media news feeds are more and more overfilled, their users often saturated with information. If you want to fully utilize the benefits of social media, you have to know how these platforms work and how people use them. Professional communication with your customers requires strategic action plans.

 

Be sure to check out the full post.

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#Jpreneur Pitch Night 2014

Our “#jpreneur” or entrepreneurial journalism pitch night was the culmination of many weeks of hard work by students who came up startup ideas  to solve real-world problems.

Where to Run pitch

Where to Run pitch

Our goal is to create a community of journalism innovators that can help an industry in crisis deal with disruption by starting new ventures or becoming intrapreneurs launching new products in legacy organizations. 

As a class, we selected four of the best ideas and worked in teams to develop a pitch to potential investors and a business model. Students  also talked to many potential customers to hone their ideas.

Video will be forthcoming, but check out their work. I’m especially proud of the impressive logos and well-designed pitch decks.

Where to Run is an app that helps serious  runners find the best routes when traveling. It’s a “minimalist approach for a minimalist sport” that outshines competitors with its clean design and routes vouched for by real runners. This was a great team composed of John Stevenson, Aidan Galasso, Robert Kohler, and Darius Hence, a group with a wide range of running experience, including a University of Memphis track athlete (Galasso.)

Versd allows book lovers to easily access music they are reading about. This team brings a wide range of media, marketing and music industry experience to the task at hand and included Dominique Williams, Zach Losher, Marion Ziegler, and Jessica Rainer.

SafeCity  tackles a problem posed to us by the Commercial Appeal newspaper by streamlining severe weather and other emergency alerts and closings. This group overcame a number of challenges and included seasoned entrepreneur Jennifer Sadler, magazine-writing award winner Samuel Prager and a broadcast journalism intern with an insight into how newsrooms operate, Kelsey Semien.

Stockboy is  an app which will help you find things in the grocery store and help you to manage your lists and coupons. This group included Robin Spielberger, Barry Parks, Ameila Ables and Ketevan Dolidze, all of whom have substantial professional experience. Bonus points to them for their awesome stockboy aprons, clever demo video, and extensive customer discovery process.

Also, to try out the app (for as long as the website is up) you can go here on your computer or mobile device. 

BIG, HUGE thanks to Start.co and especially Andre Fowlkes for their tireless help in teaching startup principles and giving feedback. I also really appreciate all of the entrepreneurs who came to class at various points during the semester to give advice and feedback – the Memphis entrepreneurial community is very generous. They include: serial entrepreneur Kenn Gibbs, software-engineer-turned-entrepreneur Scott Finney, Start.Co CEO Eric Mathews, Rachel Wilhite of Caissa Public Strategy, Tameesha Desangles, CEO of Wedding Worthy,  Vince Rogers of Musistic, Chris Przybyszewski, executive vice president of US BIOLOGIC. And if I forgot anyone I will add it post haste.

I really appreciate the faculty members who turned out to support us last night, including  Joe Hayden, Darrin Devault, Sandy Utt, David Arant, Ron Spielberger, Bob Willis, and Tom Hrach. Also loved seeing former #jpreneur students there like David Morris, Calvin Carter, and Lauren Turner.

Here’s to the future of journalism!

Stockboy pitch

Stockboy pitch

CI hris Przybyszewski

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Four Steps to a Smarter Social Media Strategy

by John Stevenson

I attended the “Social Media Strategies for Entrepreneurs” event at the Crews Center on March 25 — featuring University of Memphis journalism professor Darrin Devault. social media strategy

Devault gave those in attendance useful tips about how to leverage social media in startup endeavors. Below, I’ve summarized some of the takeaways from his presentation:

  1. Identify your audience. Do some research. Determine where your audience is. When are they online? Where are they accessing social media? Knowing this will allow you to better position your content and develop a voice that resonates with your followers.
  2. Inform your audience. People like pictures. Create visual content. Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are increasingly emphasizing photos and videos in their respective “feeds” of posts. Take advantage of that. Make your product come to life.
    • Creating an editorial calendar can help you plan an even spread of content.
    • An infographic is a great way to turn large chunks of information into an easy-to-understand and attraction-grabbing visual.
    • Weekly recurring social media posts (i.e. #tbt, Throwback Thursday) can give your audience a reason to return to your page each week.
  3. Integrate your content. What platforms are best suited for your content? Assess as many of the social media platforms available to figure out which ones best align with your mission and content strategy.
  4. Engage your audience. Social media platforms allow you to talk with your audience. Take advantage of that opportunity. And realize that you don’t control the conversation. Constantly broadcasting self-promotions goes against the notion of the public conversation that many social media platforms allow. Develop relationships — there are humans behind those usernames and avatars, after all.

I consider myself somewhat versed with social media, but I learned several things from attending this event. The University of Memphis is fortunate to have free events such as this at the Crews Center and knowledgeable professionals who are willing to share their insight with entrepreneurial students.

 

social media strategy 2

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Startup Case Study: Oyster

by Ketevan Dolidze

After browsing the internet for some ideas for great media startups, I came across a few that sparked my interest. However, among all, one stood out the most –  Oyster, which is a company that provides its users access to a lending library of over 100, 000 digital books. It was founded by Eric Stromberg (worked on the business aspect and met with publishers and lawyers to produce a workable contract), Andrew Brown (product manager at Google’s DoubleClick division, built the tech platform), and Willem Van Lancker (former lead designer for Google Maps, crafted the user interface) in September of 2012.

In a phone interview, Eric Stromberg, CEO and co-founder of Oyster, said: “I initially became fascinated by the transition from the print book to digital while working on a research project at Duke. Our team loves to ask the question, ‘What will the future of books look like?’ We want to bring books to the center of your life, and inspire you to read all the books you wish you’d read.” When the company launched in September, along with its iPhone app, it gained its members only through invitations. Once the individual joined Oyster, he or she now had access to more than 100,000 books for only $9.95 a month. By October of 2012 the company was able to receive $3 million in funding from Founders Fund, venture capital firm in San Francisco. By January 14, 2014 Oyster raised $14 million though an event led by Highland Capital Partners. The company states that it will use the $14 million on some expansion efforts, but no official statements describing the expansion efforts were made just yet.

After Oyster launched, some studies were conducted by Oyster’s marketing department that showed the company was losing readers by having the restriction of being able to join only by invitation. To reach out to a larger audience, Oyster removed this restriction, came out with an iPad app, and offered the user a 30-day free trial. As Mr. Stromberg stated in a phone interview: “The thesis is that over the next five to 10 years, more reading will happen on tablets and phones. We’re trying to create an experience that will lead the way.” Oyster was also successful at convincing some publishers that the all-you-can-read model will be beneficial to them as much as the company itself. Just a few months after the official launch, Oyster signed such publishers as HarperCollins, Houghton Mifflin, Workman Publishing and Perseus. When asked about the actual collection of books in a phone interview, this is what Stromberg said: “We don’t put every book on the platform. We say, ‘Look, here are the great books we want to put on the platform.” Books are curated algorithmically and by real people.

In a formal pitch, Oyster argued that ”the business will draw in more readers, eventually expanding the universe of book customers. If you can build a product that builds a new audience, inspires people to read more books, that’s a win for publishers and readers.”

Some people refer to Oyster as another Netflix or Amazon. To stay ahead of its competition, Oyster is making their lending library more desirable to its users. Because Amazon offers a lending library for all Kindle owners, Oyster attempted to do this by making it a lot more desirable. Amazon’s lending library allows its Kindle users a “one-at-a-time” book borrowing system. However, Oyster did away with that restriction and allowed its users to borrow multiple books at a time, even the more popular ones.

 

 

 

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Startup Case Study: With Bob, You Are Never “Bowling Alone”

In a post on her own blog, Robin Spielberger introduces us to a really interesting startup: Bob. Bob is “a unique Android-based TV stick that enables families to communicate, share content, interact and play, all via the TV – no matter where each member may be physically located.” 

When she presented it in class, many of us were intrigued. It’s similar to Chromecast, but with more interactive and social features. As Spielberger writes:

Moran and his team believe Meet-Bob will revolutionize TV watching, said Sigalit Klimovsky, CEO of the Meet-Bobproject in a January 2014 article by David Shamah of The Times of Israel’s Start-Up Israel section.  “It’s a device to bring families together.  Technology was supposed to get us closer; it has opened the boundaries and has become a commodity enabling us to communicate easily with anyone, anywhere.  But while we connect more with a bigger group of people, we interact and communicate less with the people we care about – our family.”  BobKlimovsky said, will harness interactive technology to bring people, especially families, closer together.

 

Be sure to check out her full post!

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Startup Case Study: Digital Television Programming Provider Aereo

In a piece his own blog, Barry Parks wrote about Aereo, a startup that provides consumer Internet access to live broadcast television programming. This startup has become embroiled in a number of lawsuits but is one to watch as experts continue to speculate over how television will be disrupted going forward.

As Barry writes:

Even with litigation at the Supreme Court pending, Aereo has at the very least presented the television broadcasting industry with an important disruption that may change the face of the business for good.  Millions of Americans are already ‘cutting the cord,’ leaving behind former means of attaining television programming to opt for Internet services.  Aereo meets this need head-on.  

Be sure to check out his full post.

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Startup case study: Contextly

By John Stevenson

New media startup Contextly is an online service for publishers, bloggers and digital journalists. The technology uses an algorithm to display “related stories” to readers at specified locations on a website. This helps to increase readership by providing links to other content on their websites which readers may find interesting, therefore keeping them on the website longer. They have released a WordPress “Contextly Related Links” plugin so that bloggers can easily integrate the service into their websites, and their service is already being used by reputable online publications.

The startup was founded in 2012 by digital journalist Ryan Singel, who wrote for Wired.com and other publications, and Ben Autrey, who helped build the backend, technical side of the software.

Singel told Techcrunch.com that his goal is to “make tools for journalists actually designed by journalists, rather than marketers or advertisers or techie guys that don’t actually get how journalism works.”

He initially began testing the beta version of Contextly on Wired.com when he was still writing for the website.

What have they done well? I think their presentation, explanation and branding of the software is fantastic. It’s simple and easy to understand. However, I’m an avid WordPress user and this was the first time I’ve heard of this service (or at least the name Contextly). I think to improve they should re-evaluate their marketing plan. Also, I was surprised to see that the Contextly Twitter account (@contextly) only had 316 followers and 236 tweets.

What problems do they solve? When a website has a large amount of content, I know firsthand that it can become difficult to present all of that to readers. And readers likely aren’t interested in that much information. Therefore, by suggesting to them relevant stories, they are more likely to be connected with something that interests them rather than searching or browsing through pages of archived content.

I was interested to learn what their revenue model was. The WordPress plugin is free, but its features are limited. For more advanced options, they have offered a tiered pricing plan, beginning with “Personal Plus” for $9 per month, “Startup” for $49 per month, “Business” for $99 per month, and an individually-priced “Enterprise” option. These paid plans come with advanced features such as expanded customizability, detailed analytics and more.

I think they are still in the process of establishing the service, but it will definitely be interesting to see how it grows and adapts to the changing digital landscape over the next few years.

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Startup case study: Spotify

by Zach Losher

Spotify is a Swedish startup that was founded in 2006 and launched in 2008. In 2011 it was made available in the US. I’m sure most of you are at least somewhat familiar with it. For those who aren’t, Spotify is a music streaming service, much like Last.fm and Pandora radio. Spotify is available for free, but users who pay get better features. These generally include ad-free radio stations.

Where Spotify differs from many of music streaming services is that fact that they have a contract with multiple recording companies that allows these companies to recoup song royalties every time a song they own the licensing for is played.  On the surface, Spotify is wonderful because it theoretically allows users to listen to music for free while also paying major and independent label artists. Spotify makes its revenue through offering a premium account option that upgrades features users can use. They also make money through advertisements that are featured on the player and by commercials that run between songs for free users. In some countries Spotify offers an option where users can individually purchase songs.

It is readily evident why a company that does this is innovative. Since the development of Napster, peer-to-peer music sharing programs have been catastrophic for the music industry (at least that is what the labels claim). Whether this is true is beside the point. It is clear that services like Napster, Limewire, Morpheus, Kazza, and websites like the Pirate Bay have changed the business side of music. There has been a lot of criticism leveled at Spotify by musicians and labels claiming Spotify does not compensate artists fairly. While it is true that by and far the finical gains artists/labels see from song plays is minimal, that does not change the fact that what Spotify does is unique.

While the business side of Spotify is unique, the social side of the website is what is really interesting to me. Before registering for Spotify about six months ago, my main source of music library cataloging, playlist creating, and social interaction predicated on music was the website Last.fm. In its heyday, Last.fm was the absolute best place (outside of specialized internet forums and what not) to discover new music and connect with other fans interested artists you enjoy.  (For an example of what Last.fm looks like you can visit my page). It seems like Spotify has taken some cues from Last.fm when it comes to community engagement and providing tools for their users to better connect. This makes some sense considering Last.fm was one of Spotify’s launch partners in the US. There is even a beta program that allows you to control Spotify while surfing Last.fm charts and forums. L

ike Last.fm, Spotify gives users the ability to create playlists and share them with friends or anyone else using the service. They make it easy to streamline Spotify with other social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter. These allow Spotify users to actively and passively advertise Spotify to people connected with them on social media. Spotify has also become a way for online-based music magazines (think blogs like gorillavsbear and drowninsound or something more established like Pitchfork media) to link readers to tracks and playlists they make.

Over the past year or so, Spotify has been expanding to mobile, which is an interesting move. They joined the likes of Apple, Pandora, and others in an attempt to explore the world of mobile. This is a field I do not know much about, but am definitely interested in it. I’m not really prepared to comment on this beyond the fact that mobile has become an increasingly important area and Spotify is one of the entities exploring that space.

 

Side Notes:

 

  • Article on Forogtify, which is a service that mines Spotify for songs that have never been played and plays them for anyone interested. There is some amazingly weird stuff on there. I would recommend it to anyone that wants to explore strange, mostly terrible music.
  •  TLDR Podcast about a man who makes hundreds of albums for Spotify and collects the small amount of royalties that comes in.
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