No two financial service providers are the same—that’s why here at Brass City Media, we offer personalized content marketing services for each of our clients. We take the time to conduct comprehensive, customized strategy assessments and use that data as the working template for our targeted content development and distribution plan.
We combine proven inbound marketing and content marketing strategies to create videos, articles, infographics and events to educate, inform and spark conversations with your audience.
Unique, value-added articles and blogs are the backbone of every successful content marketing campaign, boosting brand recognition and credibility with your target audience. Our team of web-savvy writers deliver concise, crisp copy that engages, enlightens and encourages readers to become repeat visitors to your website.
Here are some examples of web articles that we’ve produced for our clients.Examples »Top Mobile Sales ToolsHow to Mobile-Optimize Your WebsiteYoung Entrepreneurs: How to Use Crowdfunding to Grow Your Business Young Entrepreneurs Find Business Growth Through Leadership Social Media: Stop Marketing and Start Engaging Honest Tea's Sweet Taste Of VictoryWhy Curls Is A Hair Care LeaderThe Rapid Rise of CyberSynchs
Jobs Act Title III: How To Prepare
Finance and Operations Planning
One of the biggest hurdles startups must overcome is raising enough capital to carry them through until they turn a profit. But that could be less of a problem for new and growing businesses in the near future, once new regulations eventually go into effect, expanding what is known as “equity crowdfunding” to a broader pool of investors.
First, let’s take a look at typical rewards-based crowdfunding. Kickstarter and Indiegogo are among the more popular crowdfunding website, enabling people to donate money to fund projects in exchange for goods or services – or “rewards.”
Equity crowdfunding, made possible by Title II of the Jumpstart Our Business Start-Ups (JOBS) Act takes that concept a step further by allowing individuals to investin companies in exchange for a share, or ownership stake in the company. Currently, the law only allows accredited investors — those with a net worth of $1 million or more or who earn more than $200,000 a year ($300,000 for married couples) — to invest. Title II also allowed companies to publicly advertise they’re raising capital.
The next phase of the JOBS Act, Title III, will let non-accredited individuals participate and invest online in private companies through a “funding portal.” However, Title III has yet to be implemented, pending rule-making proceedings by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
When Title III eventually goes into effect, growing businesses will have to show why they are more worthy of investment dollars than the next firm, says Bill Clark, founder of equity fundraising portalMicroVentures. Here’s what businesses need to do to stand out from the crowd.
Show that your business model has traction. Investors — accredited or not — want to see that you have more than just an idea. Whether you have revenues, partnerships with proven companies or beta users who are engaging with your product, investors want to see proof that there is a market need for what you have to offer. If you can’t show that your products or services have a ready market, potential investors “will move onto the next thing because there are so many different opportunities out there,” says Clark.
Highlight your management team’s strengths. Not only do you want to show what experience your management team has in that industry, but you want to point out the successes they’ve had in the past. If top executives have worked together for a long time, say so, since it could indicate that the management team works well together. The goal is to explain how the management team “can execute better than somebody else who comes up with the same idea,” says Clark.
Make your presentation sing. The materials you make available to introduce investors to your company will leave a lasting impression. For example, if you have PowerPoint slides with big blocks of text and no graphics, “investors may think, ‘they’re not putting a lot of time and effort into this presentation, so what does that say about the product?’” says Clark. Consider hiring a graphic designer and a professional writer or editor to make sure your presentation gets the right message across.
Although the SEC is still finalizing the rules, make sure your business has what it takes to appeal to investors and get out there and network. Identify potential investors in advance and nurture those relationships. With businesses having more funding opportunities than ever before, “you really want to make sure you stand out,” says Clark.
Top Mobile Sales Tools
Understanding the social makeup of your customers and potential leads will help your business make better decisions about messaging, timing, and delivery. Mobile apps and software on your smartphone or tablet give you tremendous flexibility to manage your sales pipeline, respond to incoming leads and meet customer needs while you’re on the go.
When Milton Jackson, founder of Milton Jackson Creative, a Web and application development firm based in Hartford, Conn., first started his business, he would write down notes and contact information about his clients in a notebook. “I had all their information, but what happens when you forget that notebook at home?” he says. “I had no way of accessing that information when a client called me with a problem or when I had to follow up with a lead. I started losing money. Not being organized can really break your business.”
Last summer he decided it was time to integrate a mobile sales tool into his business, and within six months saw a 26 percent increase in his profit margins.
Not only does Jackson use mobile sales tools for his own business, but as a website and application developer he also helps his clients identify Web and software apps to improve sales, lead generation and communications, and to gain a deeper knowledge about the preferences and activities of their customers.
If you’re looking for mobile software to grow sales and save time, Jackson recommends these tools.
Base: Provides solutions for small businesses (five users), mid-market (five-100 users) and larger enterprises (100+ users). This mobile software syncs all your data to your device, gives you offline access, tracks your sales activity, and allows you to manage sales goals for sales reps and sales teams.
Pros: “Base has a great user interface, is easy to use and you can get geolocation statistics about your clients,” Jackson says. “You can collect metrics around how many times they’ve opened emails and track how much money the client is spending, for example.”
Cons: If your business requires a lot of document storage space, Jackson says this may not be the right tool for you. “I ran out of storage in about two weeks and had to augment it with my Dropbox account,” he recalls. Base offers 5GB and 10GB storage plan options, but Jackson says that those offerings may be too costly for a small business.
Infusionsoft: An all-in-one sales and marketing automation software for small businesses that combines CRM, email marketing, and e-commerce.
Pros: Centralizes client contact information and everything you need to know about them in one place allowing users to quickly scan through notes, set and look up appointments, marketing campaign history, lead scoring activity and more. You can see client history from their first visit to your website to their last purchase and everything in between.
Cons: “It’s good for staying organized, but not so much at keeping track of profits and expenses for each client,” notes Jackson. The cost may also be a deterrent to some.
Zoho: Offers a suite of business apps to help your business manage finances, reach and engage customers, CRM, identify trends, mine your data and more.
Pros: “Their mobile app is well-designed and the single sign-on feature makes it easy to access data quickly,” notes Jackson. With Zoho’s suite of more than 18 business apps, small businesses have the option to add on apps that they will make the most use out of instead of paying a monthly fee for features they hardly use.
Cons: “Even though you’re using a single sign-on to access each of their applications, it always felt like we were using a bunch of different applications,” he recalls. “I had to go between systems to figure out how much money we were making from a client and then I had to go into another system to run expense reports to see if the client was costing more money than they were bringing in. Going back and forth between these apps was a bit of a chore.”
Each of these tools can help you better serve your customers, but in order to find the application that best suits your organization, Jackson suggests getting recommendations from other small businesses in similar industries who offer comparable services.
“Take advantage of each software’s free trial period,” he advises. “To get the full experience you really have to use it. Don’t just sign up and log in for a couple of hours and then stop.” He says two to four weeks is a sufficient testing period to get a good understanding of what really works best for your business needs.
How to Mobile-Optimize Your Website
If a smartphone user visits your website and your site is not optimized for mobile, that customer might not be able to see key information about your services, and may head over to a competitor’s website instead. Whether you own a recent start-up or have been in business for years, if you aren’t optimized for mobile, ultimately you’ll lose out on sales.
Smartphones have overtaken desktops as the method most Americans use to get online, according to Internet analytics company comScore. Savvy business owners must meet their customers where they are, so “it only makes sense that your website should be able to provide content that people need whether they’re on a phone or a tablet,” says Simon Lewis, owner of EyeMobilize Marketing Solutions in Cleveland, Ohio. Not sure how to do that? Consider the following steps.
Step One – Determine your mobile audience Use analysis software to determine what percentage of your website visitors are coming from a desktop PC and what percentage are coming from various mobile devices. “Google Analytics will let you know exactly where your traffic is coming from, from smartphones to tablets to desktop,” Lewis says.
Step Two – Create your mobile strategy “Anything can be optimized for mobile,” explains Lewis. “The key thing is to be able to go in and crunch it down so it can fit on that mobile browser.”
Many businesses create a separate mobile site that will display on mobile devices. Other businesses implement responsive design, an approach in which the content on a website will appear resized and adjusted to display nicely on whatever device it’s being viewed on. For example, a site that utilizes responsive design may display three columns of information when viewed on a desktop, two columns on a tablet and one column on a smartphone.
Step Three – Make use of tools The simplest way to develop a mobile-optimized website is to use what Lewis considers a “cookie cutter” approach, which is do-it-yourself services such asDudamobile and Mobify to adjust the content in your existing site so that it is mobile-friendly. However, if your site is complex, you may need ongoing support to make sure it’s optimized to your particular audience. In that case, Lewis recommends hiring a mobile specialist who can provide you with a more personalized mobile solution.
Step Four – Help customers seal the deal Certain elements should be featured prominently on any mobilized site to encourage potential customers to make a buying decision. A click-to-call button lets users tap a button and a smartphone will automatically dial the business. Other must-have elements include an “About Us” section, special deals or coupons, and directions via Google Maps to get to your company.
Step Five – Have a long-term plan Since technology is constantly evolving, the mobile site you have today may not be optimized for smartphones and tablets of tomorrow. “It’s very embarrassing when someone goes to your site and that site is no longer working because you had a responsive theme that you got five years ago and you never went back to update the site,” says Lewis.
Your mobilization strategy should be an ongoing process. “You have to make sure your brand, your business, is ready for anything,” Lewis says.
Young Entrepreneurs: How to Use Crowdfunding to Grow Your Business
Finance and Operations Planning
Not all entrepreneurs have the funds to get a new business venture off the ground or the ability to secure a bank loan. Crowdfunding – getting a “crowd” of investors via the Internet to fund your venture – offers an alternative way for entrepreneurs to bankroll and validate their idea. Here’s a look at what you need to know to get started.
In the fall of 2012, when Lisa Murphy needed funds to bring Srirachup (an artisan blend of ketchup and Sriracha) to market, she created a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. Murphy set an initial goal of $5,000, but ultimately wound up raising nearly $8,000. Earlier this year, Murphy created a second Kickstarter campaign for her barrel-aged Sriracha and raised more than $100,000 that will be used to work with local farmers to grow the necessary ingredients and to purchase equipment.
Murphy says Kickstarter is “an easy way to get access to capital without giving up equity or taking out a loan, which can be cumbersome for a business just starting out.” She adds that with a consumer product like food, “it gives you the opportunity to test out the market” and make sure consumers are interested in it.
However, a successful crowdfunding campaign involves hours and hours of promotional work. “Most people underestimate how much time a Kickstarter campaign requires,” Murphy says. “You have to do a lot of work to get the press excited so they tell people about your project.”
Jonathan Sandlund, founder of TheCrowdCafe, which provides market research and data on the global investment crowdfunding industry, agrees, adding that most of the people who contribute to rewards-based crowdfunding campaigns (those that offer some type of incentive rather than an equity investment) may already know the recipient.
In addition to rewards-based crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, investment crowdfunding websites offer entrepreneurs another funding avenue. Here’s a look at the pros and cons of several crowdfunding options:
Pros: Kickstarter has an all-or-nothing approach to crowdfunding. If you don’t reach your goal, then you don’t get any of the money pledged. Sandlund says this model is actually a benefit because it’s hard to execute the original vision on a fraction of the goal money and pledgers may be disappointed if the project falls short.
Cons: On rewards-based platforms such as Kickstarter, “It’s difficult to raise significant amounts of capital for businesses on rewards-based crowdfunding,” Sandlund says, adding that “the vast majority of successful projects on Kickstarter, for instance, raise less than $5,000.” Murphy points out that if businesses aren’t careful, rewards and fees can eat into the proceeds of their campaign, too.
Pros: Unlike Kickstarter, IndieGoGo will allow you to keep money raised even if you fall short of your goal. This may be a plus for some people, but it’s potentially also a drawback because executing your vision on a smaller budget may be problematic.
Cons: IndieGoGo has the same drawbacks as Kickstarter in that most projects only raise a small amount of money, and rewards and fees can eat into proceeds. Sandlund notes that more often, it’s not the direct fee but the hidden costs (time, shipping rewards, answering questions, etc.) that sneak up on project creators if they don’t adequately prepare.
Cons: Businesses can only accept investments from accredited investors (those with assets exceeding $1 million), so friends and family members may not be able to contribute.
Young Entrepreneurs Find Business Growth Through Leadership
Leadership and Growth Strategies
Young entrepreneurs may appear to have it all: vision, energy and the belief that they can conquer the world. While youth has its advantages, leadership skills can take longer to develop. Learn how training and practice in a few key areas can bolster leadership skills and help build a thriving, competitive and sustainable business.
Bryan K. Hall is one of those big-idea entrepreneurs who had the drive to launch Mr. Saucy Gourmet Hot Sauce in 2013. After a little research, the native New Yorker learned that hot sauce was among the fastest-growing business segments in the U.S. “In my heart, I wanted to run my own business,” he says.“This was the one I could see myself doing and getting off the ground.”
But after a year, the initial enthusiasm didn’t translate into sales and his numbers were flat. As the day grew closer for a hot sauce expo he was slated to attend, he called Felicia Joy, an old friend and founder of business coaching consultancy Joy Group International. A seasoned consultant and coach adept at schooling the young and business-minded, Joy started by identifying some of Hall’s underdeveloped skills and guided him step-by-step as he prepared for the expo and beyond.
On the first day of the expo, Joy observed Hall and two of his Mr. Saucy workers. Almost immediately, she saw where changes could be made. At the start, Joy said, “His body language wasn’t welcoming for the customers, and the team was following suit. I pulled him aside and had a conversation: the speed of the leader is the speed of the pack.”
Hall made the adjustments, and began to approach and engage would-be customers on the expo floor. Soon, says Joy, they had the most popular table there. The success was in the sales. By the end of the weekend, Hall’s products were completely sold out.
Joy’s guidance hasn’t stopped there. She and Hall have focused on written communication and team building as two other pillars of promising leadership. Hall is all about action, Joy says, but he needed to soften his e-mails, and improve messaging about the business. Improving his writing acumen will only boost his ability to develop a team. “If you really want to build a powerful and strong business,” Joy says, “you’ve got to develop into a leader, which means you’re not going to be working alone.”
Since teaming up with Joy, Hall’s vision for the future of Mr. Saucy has grown exponentially. Starting as just a small project limited to online sales, his sights are now set on retail sales, restaurants and the hope that Mr. Saucy will become a household name. Hall is now learning how to develop a team, prioritize and delegate.
Here are Hall and Joy’s tips for successful leadership:
1. Self-awareness: Some people never take the time to know who they are or how other people see them. That’s important, because the person who starts the business is the business, and the business rises and falls on who they are. Just ask employees or your inner circle, “What are the top three things or five words that come to mind when you think of me?”
2. Delegate: “Some people are either very hands-on or they’re micro-managers, which is not good,” warns Joy. “Some people delegate, but don’t check back in. It’s important to know what’s going on with the operation. Don’t think that you can do it all on your own.”
3. Written Communication: “The better equipped a person is to communicate well – in all forms – the better equipped they will be in business. A lot of people take that lightly, with texting and short-form communication. But whether you’re writing op-ed pieces, your own blog or e-mails to your employees, people pay attention to that,” explains Joy.
4. Be clear: “A lot of leaders have a strong vision, and sometimes don’t realize the vision didn’t get transmitted to the team,” says Joy. “Learn how to motivate your team and understand that people are different. Tactics that work with one team member may not motivate another.”
5. Build a solid team: It’s not just about adding warm bodies Joy notes. “Add people that really want to be involved and have the skills needed,” Joy explains. “Identify short-, mid-, and longer-term people you want to add to your team based on where you’re looking to take the business.”
Social Media: Stop Marketing and Start Engaging
Social media has not only changed the way we communicate, but also how we do business. Today, young entrepreneurs are challenging old-school marketing rules and engaging customers like never before. Here’s a look at how to use social media to build relationships, establish trust and turn leads into sales.
Tavia Enoch, 33, owns Phoenix Framing & Art Supply in Bend, Ore. Since purchasing the business in 2011, she has grown her customer base by more than 200 percent. She credits social media with creating a buzz around her store. Enoch’s goal is to establish long-term relationships with her customers. “Social media is all word of mouth, so marketing using it doesn’t yield instant results,” she says. “It is a slow build.”
She designs and frames her customers’ artwork and then posts pictures of the finished product to her company’s Facebook page. She then encourages her current customers and followers to share the images. “We become woven into the fabric of our client’s online lives and they remember us a little more with every photo they see or post they read,” she says. She usually includes special offers or coupons in her posts to give potential customers a reason to act.
Enoch doesn’t believe in bombarding people with gimmicks. “We are a real small business with an innovative product that we want to share with the world,” she says. Enoch posts early in the day and, if she’s running a paid campaign — something she often does on Facebook — she is able to instantly check the results. “If it’s gaining us visibility then we renew it,” she notes. “If it isn’t we rethink the approach.”
Nate Riggs, 33, a social media and marketing expert from Columbus, Ohio, thinks Enoch is doing social media right. “If you’re using social media to build your business, the goal should be to make money,” he says. “Don’t get sucked into the echo chamber of being told how wonderful you are. The reality is that when you start asking for money, a lot of the people who previously sang your praises will disappear.”
Riggs, who describes himself as a first generation digital native, offers these three social media strategies to market your business:
Tip 1: Understand that social media is not a silver bullet.
“In fact, it’s the exact opposite,” he says. “Getting results from social media requires a clear understanding of what your objectives are for using it in the first place.
“Once you have that, be prepared to make a significant investment of time, human resources and advertising budget dollars to make it work for you in the most effective way. If you are an entrepreneur or a solo consultant, this means that all of these responsibilities will fall on you when you are getting started. As soon as you can afford it, outsource some of the responsibilities that you don’t enjoy or are not great at.”
Riggs says he dedicates 10 to 12 hours per week creating podcast, video, and blog content, but he also pays contractors and employees to add content and the reach of their networks to the mix of his company’s publishing strategy. “You can’t do it all yourself for long and also have time to do the work you actually get paid for,” he says.
Tip 2: Be ready and willing to pay for social media.
If you want to be effective on social media networks in getting your content out there, you need to start thinking how much working media budget you will carve out to invest in advertising. Riggs says it’s the nature of the beast, and social media advertising is still far cheaper than old media outlets such as TV or radio, and arguably more effective for smaller scale businesses.
Tip 3: Quit worrying so much about social media and worry about content.
“It’s useful and relevant content that will win the trust of your audience over time, not 140 character tweets,” Riggs says. To win at this game, you’ll need to be consistent with how and when you publish fresh content.
“Keeping to a schedule will help set expectations among your audience and make it easy for them to come back day after day or week after week,” Riggs points out. “Starting out, make it a practice to focus less on social media metrics such as engagement or reach, and focus more on consistently hitting your monthly content production goals.
“Use social media to help get the word out about your new and old content. When it’s been 90 days and you and your company have not missed a deadline or new post, then start looking at the social media reaction and interactions with each content piece. Social media analytics can be important to decision making, but you have to give your audience something to react to first.”
Enoch compares using social media to going to a cocktail party. “Showing up is nice,” she says, “but showing up looking fabulous with chocolates and champagne are going to be remembered. That is what will get you invited back. We show up dressed to kill with bubbly in hand.”
Honest Tea’s Sweet Taste Of Victory
Entrepreneur Success Stories
Seth Goldman, co-founder of Honest Tea (www.honesttea.com), was on the search for a drink that would quench his thirst after a good workout, but everything on the market was either too sweet or didn’t have enough flavor.
In 1994, while a graduate student at the Yale School of Business, Goldman shared his disappointment with the void in the market during a class discussion of a Coke vs. Pepsi case study.
Interestingly enough his professor, Barry Nalebuff, shared the same dissatisfaction. But it wasn’t until three years later that they would team up to make their own concoction. Nalebuff came up with the name for the organic beverage after returning from a trip to India where he was analyzing tea for a case study.
He found that the tea used by most American companies purchased for bottling was the lower quality parts of the tea leaf left after quality tea had been produced. He referred to the bottled tea that was made with real tea leaves as Honest Tea, which Goldman believed was the perfect name for an all-natural brand.
Today the product is sold in more than 18 Fresh Fields stores of the Whole Foods Market chain. Before selling to Coca Cola in 2011 the Bethsheda, Md.-based organic tea company reported $71.5 million in sales.
You made your first sale to the customer 26 days after launching the business. Were you concerned that you were putting the product out too quickly?
Seth: Leonard Bernstein once said, ‘To achieve great things, two things are needed. A plan and not quite enough time.’ It was not perfect and there was room for improvement, but that urgency really helped make sure we were focused, working aggressively and doing the best we could. We knew that there would always be an opportunity to improve.
Barry: I see a lot of entrepreneurs that keep tinkering and tinkering and don’t get to market. The market is going to give you feedback anyways so as long as you are not alienating people just get it up to the shelves and learn from there.
Seth, you left your full-time job to pursue this. How did you know you were making the right decision and what advice do you have for others considering making that leap?
Seth: I didn’t know entirely, but I was passionate about it. It was tapping into so many things that I cared about—healthy beverages, sustainably grown ingredients and connecting with communities in need of economic opportunity. I was ready to take that risk and roll the dice.
Barry: You have to be realistic about how much money is going to be required because things will go wrong. If you don’t have the potential for contingencies that things willgo wrong you will run out of money just at the wrong time and the consequence is you will either give up control or lose too much of your equity position.
How can entrepreneurs better position themselves?
Barry: Just like the best time to get a loan is when you don’t need it, the best time to raise money is in fact when you have a little bit of a cushion. It is also a little easier to raise money on a story than on a reality in the sense that once things are in the market people will see how well they’re selling or they’re not selling, but beforehand you can get people excited about what all the potential is.
Not everyone, specifically distributors, liked your product and wanted you to make your tea sweeter. As an entrepreneur how do you take feedback yet still not deviate from your brand?
Seth: We always started with the idea that we wanted to create something different and in the long run the reason Honest Tea was valuable to Coca Cola was because it was different. That helped us stand out and really endure. Changing it would have comprised what the brand is all about.
Speaking of selling to Coke, what advice do you have about negotiating equity?
Barry: Be involved in it yourself and have a relationship with a lawyer or a banker who you really trust and who understands you. The time to form that relationship is not at the start of the negotiation because that is too late.
What would you have done differently?
Seth: We lost about a million dollars investing in a bottling plant and it was a distraction—it drained my energy. There was no value to us in owning a bottling plant. It didn’t help build the brand, but the bigger lesson there is distraction. Make sure that everything that you are doing is really driving value for the long-term and valuable to the enterprise.
Barry: And figuring out what your strengths are. Our strengths were not in running a manufacturing operation. After we sold the plant we kept on producing at the plant, it just wasn’t our problem anymore.
There are a lot of varieties on the market now. Is the beverage industry saturated or is there still space for new ideas?
Barry: I wouldn’t advise competing with Honest Tea [laughs]. Find a product that doesn’t compete with anything in people’s portfolios. You have to think what’s the product that is not going to be considered a competitive product. So I give you one, I’m not sure that it’s a good idea, but if you could make a vitamin water for dogs no one would say that that is competing with what they’re selling because as long as dogs are going to drink it they’re going to put it on the shelf.
What are you most proud of?
Barry: We have made a successful company by appealing to the customer’s intelligence. We didn’t dumb it down, we made it just the right way. It’s possible to make a successful mission driven company in a profit driven world.
Seth: Most recently I’m proud of this book Mission in a Bottle: The Honest Guide to Doing Business Differently—and Succeeding (Crown Business; $23) because this is our chance to share the stories and all the things we’ve learned. If we could have read this before we started Honest Tea I know we would have saved at least a million dollars on the bottling plant.
Why Curls Is A Hair Care Leader
Entrepreneur Success Stories
In an increasingly segmented, billion-dollar hair care kingdom, Mahisha Dellinger has proven that she knows how to run ringlets around the competition and stand head and shoulders above the pack.
The 40-year old founder and CEO of CURLS LLC (www.curls.biz), who frequently wears her own long, raven hued hair in perfect coils, started the company in 2002 in Elk Grove, California. What began as a $30,000 home based startup has sprouted into a multimillion-dollar enterprise (the company reportedly grossed $3 million in 2008) with six employees and additional operations in Texas.
Since getting into the game, CURLS partnered with such giants as WalMart, Target and Sally’s Beauty Supply, among others, to bring its retail products to consumers. With additional direct sales offerings through its own e-commerce site, distribution of its professional line through salons, and the cache of its curly-haired celebrity endorsements, CURLS has a demonstrated business approach that has helped it grow exponentially in a particularly fickle market and stand out from other contenders.
Dellinger’s proven advice, based on her own plan of action, can help those entrepreneurs looking to launch a product and gain brand recognition.
Tell me more about the backstory behind your company. Why did you start it?
I started CURLS in 2002. I was looking for a career change and decided to step out on my own. It took me nine months of research and development. I hired a cosmetic chemist, did testing, determined what was good and what needed to be changed before we launched.
Did you write a business plan? Would you advise that aspiring entrepreneurs do so?
I absolutely did, and I absolutely would recommend that process. Not only should they write one, they should revise it. I refresh it on a quarterly basis. It’s a living, breathing document. I learned that in school. But, if business owners don’t have that experience, they should get involved with the organization SCORE. It’s amazing. They offer free mentoring and business advice. Get a mentor in your industry as soon as you possibly can.
So after you performed due diligence, how did you launch CURLS and establish it as one of the early players in the natural hair care industry?
We found a manufacturer and started selling our product entirely online—packing orders in our garage. From there, we took requests from customers, which resulted in us getting placement in salons.
What challenges have you faced since launch?
The biggest challenge we faced, initially, was getting distribution and retail outlets to consider and carry CURLS. For instance, I had applied to become a merchandising partner through Sally’s Beauty Supply online after we had been on the market for a couple of years—and was swiftly rejected. I learned that we had to prove ourselves first, then come back to present the line. It took seven years to generate consistent sales numbers and a solid customer following to prove to buyers that CURLS would be a formidable partner.
How did you overcome that challenge? What specific steps did you take to expand your brand?
We had to get our products into the hands of people that could get us more exposure. For example, we gifted our products at celebrity events (which resulted in endorsements from A-list personalities including Halle Berry and Alicia Keys). That opened more doors, which allowed us to do more marketing and advertising.
What happened after that?
After more people got to know us, Linda Sullivan, then buyer for Target, caught wind of us in 2007. She saw that its ethnic offerings were limited and decided to take a chance on us. That’s how Target became our first retail partner, which created amazing visibility for CURLS. Interestingly, Sally’s followed shortly thereafter. Once partners know who you are, they will look for you. That is how we landed WalMart as our latest retail partner in Spring 2013.
What is the lesson in that experience for other entrepreneurs?
Start small, grow a little more and then expand. Starting too big too soon could result in a substantial crash. Do not expect when you’re just starting out that distributors and retail outlets will pick up your product just because you think it’s the next big thing. It takes time. Target needed a financial incentive to partner with us, and it took us a few years to prove ourselves first.
What else do prospective business owners looking to launch a product line need to know?
Meeting distributors for your products requires knowing how and where they source their other products. I advise entrepreneurs to attend tradeshows and buyer expos, and to subscribe to industry trade publications.
What’s next for CURLS?
We plan to continue to cater to and develop for our core customers: natural women, kids and babies. We will also increase distribution, door counts in key retailers, and expand our marketing reach.
Any plans to go public?
You never know!
The Rapid Rise of CyberSynchs
Entrepreneur Success Stories
It’s been said that necessity is the mother of invention and that was certainly the case for Amos Winbush III.
Amos’ cell phone crashed one day in 2008 and he lost all of his contacts. He was literally cut off from all of his friends, family and business associates. What made it worse was that there was no way for him to retrieve all of that valuable information; it was lost forever.
Amos, 24 at the time, concluded that that was unacceptable and decided to do something about it. That same year he founded CyberSynchs LLC (www.cybersynchs.com), a global technology company with reported revenues in excess of $13 million that develops and licenses data backup technologies. And now, neither Amos—nor any of us—need to worry about losing touch ever again.
How long did it take for CyberSynchs to go from idea to reality?
Three months. My mobile phone crashed in June, I hired my first employee in August and we released a product to the market in November. It was the most exciting time I’d ever experienced in my 24 years, but it was also stressful—by far the most difficult thing I’d ever done in my life. There was money going out, no money coming in. I was having conversations with my wife like, ‘I don’t know if we can live here next month and what are we going to eat today?’
What advice do you have for others going through similar start-up struggles?
First, don’t over think it. Second, don’t try to know what you don’t know; don’t fake it ’til you make it. And third, just do it.
How much did you know about technology before starting your business?
I knew nothing about technology. I knew nothing about launching a company, managing people, managing the process, the development stages, etc. To me, a platform was something that you stand on to get to another level. So I launched a tech company and learned what those words really meant. Big risk, big reward, I always say.
Did you have a mentor when you were getting started and what should you look for in a mentor?
No, not in the beginning. Technology is still a ‘good ol’ boys’ club. Initially my mentors were family and friends; people who gave me energy. Once my business began to grow and my network expanded, I was able to form other relationships. You don’t pick a mentor. A mentor is someone who has a vested interest in your success. And mentors change all the time.
Did you require a lot of start-up capital?
I put $250 into incorporating the business and over the first year of operation I invested $60,000. It was coming in on a quarterly basis from royalties from my singing. That was pretty much it. No one would give us a loan; the country was experiencing the largest financial crisis since the 1930s.
How did you pay your staff?
No one in the company got paid for a year. We all aspire to inspire. I had to get people to buy into the vision to expand this and to sacrifice their own personal lives and livelihoods. I gave them a percentage of equity in the company and we went to work.
Any tips on dealing with equity?
There’s no right or wrong way with giving up equity. [For me] it was a percentage that I felt represented the job performed deserved. Follow your gut and don’t over think it. Remember to give non-vested equity, which means the employee will have ownership over a period of time versus outright ownership with vested equity.
How did you recruit talent with such a small budget?
When I started thinking about what I needed to do to build a technology company, I knew I needed to get to as many people as possible and field as many applicants as I could and Craigslist was the place to do that. For free. I didn’t have any money to place an ad on Monster or Yahoo! or any other site because when you put an ad on a job site, you have to pay a recruiting fee to keep it up every month. I skirted around that issue by going to a free site.
What skills are important to develop to being/becoming an entrepreneur?
Negotiating skills. Specifically, global negotiating skills. If you come from a totalitarian idea of what you want the deal to look like, it’s not going to happen. Telcos (telecommunications companies) in emerging markets are quadruple the size of telcos in the U.S.; I’m talking about 300 million – 700 million subscribers. And these are the companies that CyberSynchs partners with.
What was your biggest obstacle in getting CyberSynchs off the ground?
Not knowing what I should be doing next. I had no boss. It was just me leading a team of people who weren’t getting paid initially. So keeping everything on point in terms of managing expectations, figuring out how to get publicity for the business, figuring out what the processes of the company would be—that was the most difficult thing for me. Launching something is not the difficult part, sustaining it is.
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