I recently came across two giant lists of websites for entrepreneurs, courtesy of Jason Lemkin (whose blog is listed in both):
Now for some radical advice: the vast majority of the sites listed in those publications won’t help the vast majority of entrepreneurs at all. In fact, many of them will be counterproductive in the extreme depending on what your goals are.
I can already hear the refrain:
Whoa, hold it right there Bob–them’s fightin’ words!
True, to a certain extent, but hear me out before you pass hasty judgement.
The vast majority of the sites listed, and I went through both lists carefully, are of interest to those entrepreneurs that are dead set insistent on going the path of Venture Capital. Nothing wrong with that–I’ve been down that road on the majority of companies I have founded–3 were VC funded and 1, my latest is bootstrapped. But I always ask every would-be entrepreneur I meet why they want to do a VC-funded startup and I wish I had gotten around to bootstrapping a lot sooner than I did in my life.
I’m not here to sell you on bootstrapping versus VC. I have other articles that talk about my bootstrapping experiences and there are certainly many who will talk to the virtues of each. But what I will tell you is this–Venture Capital does not equate to success for entrepreneurs, you can be wildly successful without it, at least unless you need to do a deal that is tremendously world changing or that makes you hundreds of millions of dollars. If millions of dollars and running your own show will suffice, bootstrapping is an easier and less risky way to get there. Most of the good VC’s, the ones you’d want on your board, that I talk to will freely admit this. They encourage lots of entrepreneurs whose ideas and companies are not suited to the VC model to carry on without VC.
When you show an idea to a VC, they are predisposed to see it in VC terms–would it be a good investment for their portfolio? A lot of their advice is going to boil down to pushing the idea in a direction that makes it a better investment for VC, and this is not necessarily a direction that makes it a better investment for the entrepreneur. Because of that, I think you, my entrepreneurial friend, need to figure out whether you want to do a pure bootstrap or bootstrap your way into a VC deal as early as possible. Ideally, you want to figure it out from the start. If you’re going to do a pure bootstrap, take those long lists of websites for entrepreneurs and cull them carefully. Most of the blogs written by VC’s, while they can be fun to read, have no bearing or guidance to speak of for your venture. You know, the one you’re funding out of your own pocket that can’t afford to get a bunch of eyeballs now and figure out how to monetize later. There are sites listed that want to walk you through all sorts of legal things and other artifices that are really only relevant when there’s quite a lot of money in play. Not necessarily money in the form of revenue, but money invested and the expectation of Big Money in the future.
So forget most of the VC authored blogs. Forget blogs that seem to be mostly telling you how to raise VC. If you don’t have the real deal, you can’t game the VC’s well enough to fool them and you’ll regret it if you do fool them. Forget most of the blogs by guys who were successful VC founders who want to tell you what worked for them or what they think about everything. Most of it is too high level and many first time success stories have no idea what they did right versus what was luck. Forget the inside baseball and gossip rags. AllThingsD and Techcrunch have almost nothing to tell you if you’re not doing a VC-funded startup. You don’t care who got funded for how much or who bought what for how much. You don’t care about the latest Culture du Jour piece. Forget the musings of rich guys who’ve forgotten more about being an entrepreneur than you’ll ever know. Their vacations to Lake Cuomo may be fun to hear about, but how is that really helping YOU to succeed? And skip the self-help pump-you-up pieces. If that stuff works for you, great, but attitude is not enough, and if you don’t really have the eye of the tiger deep down, you better get it before you start down the entrepreneurship road. You get the idea of what I want to leave out from those big website lists. Yes, it’s radical and harsh, but what should be left in are sites that give you real actionable insight into how to grow your business.
Let’s face the other thing–the vast majority of small businesses that start up in the world don’t have the luxury of VC money. They’re restuarants, retailers, machine shops, auto garages, and a host of other things. This is the world my own bootstrapped company (CNCCookbook) works with. These people could care less about things that will only work if you can invest millions of dollars over time. They don’t ever expect to be running a billion dollar company (or maybe they do and don’t want to give away most of it to their financiers). They’re having the time of their lives starting and running their own businesses.
It is for the audience of those people (having the time of their lives running their own businesses) as well as for any Venture-funded businesses that are interested, that I have put together my own high octane feedstock of sites that will help you build your business. These are tried and true sites that I read religiously because their insights are actionable and they make me think. You want deep strategy and tactics that can be made to work for any business, not just VC businesses. They are in no particular order, so here goes.
I have to give Jason the nod here. After all, he did put me on to writing this article and I do read his blog religiously. There are many ideas there that are only suited to VC startups, but there are also ideas that I’ve found actionable for my own business. Jason is a VC, but he did a number of startups before that and it is his operational knowledge that he largely shares. We go back and forth and I often disagree, but it is always interesting. Do a search here on Smoothspan for “Jason” and you’ll see some of what I have written about his thinking. Better yet, just subscribe to his blog in your reader.
If you don’t read anything else, stop, do not pass Go, do not collect $200–read Seth Godin’s Blog! The daily posts are short and pithy. Taken in total they constantly explore every aspect of Godin’s unique tribal approach to marketing. He understands marketing at its core in the way the every small business needs to understand it. Read his stuff. Let it provoke your thoughts. Let it seep in constantly. It will do you no harm and probably a lot of good.
This blog is a total unknown. It’s unadorned and has no editorial content of its own whatsoever. It’s one of my blogs. I list it early in this list, because it is a shortcut of sorts. You see, Firehose Press is what I’d call a “clippings” blog. I post a brief excerpt of every blog article about building a business or marketing and sales that was valuable to me on Firehose Press. Believe me, I have a couple of hundred blogs in my reader and having somebody curate all that for you can save a lot of time. The only question you need to ask is whether my taste in curation results in articles helpful to you. The answer is easy enough–go look at it and decide.
These guys have some of the original great material on Bootstrapping that really got me fired up to do a Bootstrap. They are not as prolific on the topic as they once were, but they’re still a good read. Aside from bringing Ruby on Rails into the world, they’ve built a great company and lifestyle for themselves. All entrepreneurs should be so lucky. If you’re on the road to VC and read blog’s like AVC, the corollary for the bootstrapper would be blogs like this one.
I deleted so many other blogs of limited value to me (Techcrunch, ReadWrite, and many others) simply because Techmeme catches and serves up their best stuff. I scan the headlines quickly and frankly delete most of it. But at least if I’m off to lunch with a fellow Silicon Valley cohort, I will have heard about the trending topics. And frequently, I latch onto a whole new source of the really good stuff because it popped on Techmeme.
These guys are on to some radical thinking. They want to tie marketing (of a sort) with the customer experience as it unfolds pre- and post-sale. Being able to do this well is one of the many things that I think will really separate the awesome products from the also-rans. Read it and think about what they’re doing and how it applies to your software. I certainly did!
Analytical marketing insights and ideas.
Productivity hacks for marketing and social media. My business doesn’t get great value out of Social Media, though I have experimented with it a lot. Having a resource that helps me squeeze a lot out while investing as little as possible is helpful.
Andy Brice is a fellow bootstrapper who often has some great insights for that life, at least for software bootstrappers.
When the Gods of SEO speak, it usually shows up here. As a dedicated content and inbound marketer, I hang on their every word. Seriously, SEO is easier than you think and you can do it yourself without a high paid consultant if you pay attention.
More good basic marketing for software companies. Much of it would work for many kinds of companies.
Neil Patel can have a lot of good insights to share, but I warn you in advance, you have to penetrate his wall of Marketing Spam to get there. His site demos every trick in the book to sell you while you’re trying to dodge all those “Let me close you now!” bullets and get a little value. It’s worth it, but don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Sometimes I just need an idea, something quick to implement or A/B test. You know, a marketing “snack” I can get done quickly and see if it helps. Plenty of inspiration for that here.
It’s not just about Marketing Technology–lots of actionable strategy and tactics may be found here.
Tons of marketing and selling ideas for small business.
I love inbound marketing, and these guys popularized it and IPO’d a company on it. There’s good info here. With that said, quality seems to have diminished a bit in favor of quantity. Scan the headlines and cherry pick–there’s still plenty of ripe tasty insights to be had here.
More A/B testing ideas to snack on. Your business needs to constantly be trying new experiments to optimize its marketing. Get this kind of feed stock stimulating ideas ASAP.
Great ideas from Heidi for Content Marketing.
Every business needs more growth. Digital Marketing is the cheapest way to get there, so take in all you can stand about the subject.
More great ideas for Content Marketing.
Content Marketing and Social Media. Great content on those topics and surprising candor about how some of these things are not always the perfect Silver Bullet.
Take a sexy technology that tracks what user’s are doing on your site almost better than the users even realize and you get some worthwhile insights.
Another shameless plug for my own content. Smoothspan frequently covers Strategy as it pertains to this world of entrepreneurship. The thing about good strategy is its hard to come by, but it is so valuable when you can get a true strategic insight. Or, as I heard someone say one time:
Strategy is what we do to make winning easy.
I’m a student of Strategy, so I write it up often.
Conclusion: What’s Here and What’s Missing?
If you made it this far, you will realize that a tremendous number of those websites have to do with helping your business grow. Many of the things on the Forbes and Inc lists had little to do with that. They might refer you to sites with CPA terms (I kid you not) or perhaps sites that tell a small business how to secure health insurance. These are all valuable things, I’m sure, but they’re not life-threatening for small businesses and entrepreneurs. They’re not problems that can ultimately never be solved, only worked away at indefinitely. Growth is that sort of problem. It is both life threatening and a problem you will probably never solve. You’ll always want more growth and if you stop trying to drive it, your business will likely slow down. So get used to the idea of constantly absorbing and evaluating new ideas for growth. It’s all part of being an entrepreneur and it is the oxygen your business needs to keep going.
(Cross-posted @ SmoothSpan Blog)