Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"Celebrate Austin Entrepreneurship Project" - DadLabs

Does Changing Smelly Diapers Spur Entrepreneurship?

It Did for Clay Nichols, Brad Powell and Troy Lanier.

After becoming new fathers they quit their teaching careers and became the entrepreneurs behind DadLabs - and they have never looked back.

America is seeing a fundamental shift in the role of men in parenting. While many in the media and academia have observed this trend, no company has emerged to meet the needs of these "New" fathers, the modern dads. Enter DadLabs, Inc., a start-up company, based in Austin, Texas, dedicated to providing creative media content and information products to serve this new generation of "Super Dads."

DadLabs is an information and entertainment company that fosters the father/child relationship through media, instructional and retail products. The mission of the company is to strengthen families and benefit children by empowering today's fathers. The company provides resources to expecting, new and veteran fathers that will launch them into a more active and creative role in the lives of their children.

DadLabs speaks to the corporate executive and the delivery driver with a voice that is authentic and genuinely male (AKA- often irreverent!!! oh yeah!!!) with wisdom and self-deprecating humor of experience. The products and services offered are honest, informative, sometimes off-color, but always dedicated to the spirit of fatherhood. DadLabs speaks guy and presents information through guy-colored lenses.

Founded in 2004 DadLabs aims to be the voice of the new fatherhood. The company was founded on the core value that parents must be the primary movers in the lives of their children and fathers must play a leading role in this journey. The team at DadLabs is committed to assisting the busy father by providing him with accessible and digestible information and parenting ideas. DadLabs will not only inform and entertain fathers, but will also foster creative father/child activities through retail products.

The trio bring more than 30 years of teaching and hands on fatherhood experience, as well as professional film making and writing experience. Troy Lanier and Clay Nichols are accomplished authors and were named to the Austin Chronicle Best of 2005 for their book "Filmmaking for Teens: Pulling off Your Shorts." The company's first DVD, "DueDads: The Man's Survival Guide to Pregnancy" recently won a 27th annual Bronze Telly Award.

All three founders have been long time teachers at Austin's St. Stephen's School and combined have seven small children.

Daddy Clay answered a few questions for the Some Assembly Required Blog:

1. You were school teachers for years before becoming entrepreneurs.... What drew you to launch your own business? A number of factors led to me giving up a perfectly good steady gig to attempt to squeeze a living from web video. First and foremost, I wanted to write more. I have an MFA in Playwriting from the University of Texas, and my ambition has always been to be a writer. DadLabs has given me a great platform for my creativity. In addition to feeling little restricted creatively, I was also feeling a little hemmed in professionally working in schools. You can see the the road ahead, what the opportunities and limitations are. I don’t really feel those kind of limitations any more.

2. What it is like launching a Web based media related business from Austin? Would there be advantages to being in the Silicon Valley, Los Angeles or somewhere else? Austin is a really good place to launch a tech company -- although we’re also media/entertainment which is less of an ideal match. The great thing about Austin is that there are lots of fellow entrepreneurs in tech, lots of startups, practitioners, colleagues -- a solid community. There is also a small but significant pool of institutional and angel investors that understand the opportunities and that has been significant for us. The question of other places is moot for me. Our roots are here as a family. We’re not going anywhere anytime soon. Love Austin.

3. What will 2009 bring for the company? 2009 will see the release of our first book “DadLabs Guide to Fatherhood” and with it significant national mainstream media exposure. Explosive growth in audience and attention from major CPG companies. Also, profitability!

If you are a dad, and you have not checked out DadLabs....get on with it. You will laugh and learn all at the same time. DadLabs is yet another example of what makes the entrepreneurial spirit in Austin absolutely awesome.

Have A Great Day.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"Celebrate Austin Entrepreneurship Project" - Paragon Prep

Can a middle school be an entrepreneurial venture?

It can if it is founded and run by and entrepreneur who treats the enterprise as a business.

Austin's Paragon Prep is such a school. Founded by former UT Football player Dave McGrath who serves as the school's headmaster, Paragon Prep is a different type of school. Dave played offensive tackle from 1986-1990 (#57). His final year he had the honor of playing on the 1990 SWC Conference Championship Longhorn Team while attending his first year of graduate school studying Educational Psychology.

Many parents and educators agree that middle school can be the pivotal period in a child's academic experience. With the ever increasing peer pressure and challenges outside of the classroom, students may become unfocused or lost altogether during this critical time. Paragon provides an alternative that is distinct among private schools in the area.

As the parent of a middle schooler, I know what a unique time this is for the student and the parents (my daughter is not a student at Paragon, but I wish we lived closer to the school, as I am a big fan of the Paragon program).

Paragon focuses strictly on middle school and has designed a program that fills a need for a limited private school experience for families that are not considering a twelve year financial commitment to private schooling. The curriculum is designed in such a way that Paragon students returning to public schools after the eighth grade will be exceptionally prepared to enter either regular or honors programs.

Paragon's Educational Team has outstanding credentials in academic fields ranging from economics to theater. They also have extensive experience working with middle school students and are committed to making the middle school experience at Paragon Prep one that reflects excellence in every way.

I asked Dave McGrath a few questions about his entrepreneurial venture and here is what he said:

1. What made you start the school and become an entrepreneur? In searching out a school environment in which to work with gifted children, I found that most public schools were bogged down in the bureaucracy of the state legislature and most private schools in the bureaucracy of the churches that sponsored them. To give bright students the proper balance of challenge and nurturing, a new paradigm was needed. Thus the educator/counselor had to become an entrepreneur/school founder.

2. Why is Austin the best place to start a business? It's the people. Austinites are enlightened folks who are receptive to innovative ideas and predisposed to supporting homegrown businesses that deliver what they promise.

3. What makes a school like a business? In the case of Paragon Prep, we are literally a for-profit cooperation whose existence depends on the satisfaction of the families we serve. We are constantly working to attract and compensate great employees, enhance our facilities, keep our curriculum fresh, and market to prospective families all while balancing the budget. So like most businesses, this school must be successful to survive.

4. Your favorite part of being an entrepreneur? My favorite part of being an entrepreneur is the empowerment I experience. Since I'm responsible for the success of my students, teachers, and programs - my focus stays sharp and my energy level stays high. By taking the risk of starting my own venture, I have tapped into great resources within.

Paragon Prep is another great example of Austin's unique entrepreneurial spirit finding it way into all aspects of our society.

Have A Great Day.


Experiences Trump Things

I love reading the Sunday paper. I do not always have the time, but enjoy the ritual whenever the chance comes my way. I often take over a tiny corner of my local Starbucks and steal some peaceful time skimming by the events and opinions of those who make the written words come to life.

I almost never visit a Starbucks to get coffee "to go". What makes the over-priced coffee a true value is to sit in the inviting atmosphere and soak in the world around me. The experience of sitting and reading is what makes the coffeehouse so inviting.

One of my favorites reads in the Sunday paper is a relatively new syndicated column that appears in the Austin American-Statesman called "Yoder & Son". The piece revolves around money issues that face families and is written by WSJ journalist Steve Yoder and his 17 year-old son Issac. They split the column in a "He Said / He Said" fashion covering the topic of the day from the eyes of a frugal father and a young son just being launched into the world.

This week they wrote the column from their family Christmas trip to Slovakia. Each year the Yoders take an exotic trip, even though they are not "uber-wealthy". Steve began by pointing out that some might be offended during a recession that they were jetting off to Europe for the holiday break, but later pointed out that they do this by not having new cars or a fancier house. It is all about choices. It is all about providing the family with shared experiences.

Issac went on to write about how a lifetime of travel to unique places makes him appreciate experiences more than things. As a parent this touched my soul, as we live in a very materially focused world, and yet kids do get the messages that we send them by the choices that we as parents make.

I can relate to the trepidation about planning such trips in these tough economic times. A friend who received our holiday card (featuring my family in a gondola in Venice from Summer 2008) commented (with a hint of judgement) that we sure seem spend a lot of money on travel. Granted, our last four holiday cards photos have featured my family on trips to France, San Diego, Ireland and Italy. However, our 2005 trip to Italy and France was the first major vacation we had ever taken in over 13 years of being married. (Before we got married my wife had visited Europe and I had been to Asia and Brazil).

I resonated with Steve & Issac Yoder's viewpoint about the importance of travel and creating a library of memories with the family. I hope that my children will grow to have the same appreciation of the world that Issac Yoder seems to have grasped. I will continue to drive my little Mazda Tribute if it means my girls will continue to have experiences rather than things.

Everything we do in life is about choices. Experiences trump things, and thus the money spent on travel can become an investment in the family on multiple levels. I have been very stressed about the money necessary for our scheduled trip to Spain this year and was considering not going. But Yoder made the point of a trip he canceled in 1990 for the same reason and labeled it "the most expensive $2000 he ever saved", highlighting the cost of the experiences they missed. Amen.

If you are raising kids and money is an issue in your house, I recommend you read "Yoder & Son" in your local paper each week. Their prospective is spot on, and they will make you think about how you tackle the tough (and not so tough) issues.

I hope that when my daughters are 17 years old they will understand the choices that we have made for them along the way, and cherish the experience.

Have A Great Day.


Friday, December 26, 2008

"I Don't Care Much For Soup Lines"

I was working on an article for ORIGINATE! (the world's leading online resource for legal marketing) on "Why Your Network Is MORE Important In 2009", and was in need of inspiration.

Thus I turned to Twitter and posted the question to those who follow me "Why is your network more important in 2009". I even offered a $10 Starbucks gift card to the most inspiring response.

While I got several great comments back, the best was from Drew Weaver of Joplin, MO (AKA: @drewmaniac) who said:

"My network of professional contacts is more important in 2009 because I don't care much for soup lines."

He was being funny, but his point was clear .... Your network is your lifeline. Without an established network of contacts who care for your future, you could quickly lose everything if the bottom fell out.

I hear from many people who are out of work and "just getting around" to networking. You can't expect to ignore your networking efforts for years (or decades) and then jump in looking for help when you are in need. A network is about give and take. You must create and cultivate relationships long before you need a favor.

With crazy bumps in the economy everyone seems to have taken a renewed interest in networking. That is smart.... but they really never should have let their attention to the power of business relationships falter in the first place.

If you have any concerns about your company and career, I suggest you look at the people in your business community who can have influence on helping you achieve in 2009. Don't wait until you are upside down.

Have A Great Day.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Thank Your Network In The Last Week Of The Year

This post originally appeared as a guest blogger post on the Austin Startup Blog.

2008 is coming to an abrupt close. This year in business will not soon be forgotten (although many will try). We have seen many ups and downs, and the economy has been rocked on several levels.

As people begin to look toward 2009 most companies and business professionals are focused on the future, but with one week remaining on the calendar now is a great time to reflect on the people who have had the greatest positive impact on you and your business over the past 12 months.

Nobody lives in a vacuum: we all have employees, co-workers, family members, friends, clients, vendors, mentors and others who have impacted us for the better during 2008. In the busy world where we all live and work it is easy to forget to take the time to honor those who have assisted us in the good times and bad.

Sure, you sent a holiday card or an occasional email, but have you made the effort to praise the people in your network who make a difference? I suggest that before you go home on December 31st that you find some unique way to let those people know you appreciate them and what they have done to make your life better.

Select five, seven or ten individuals who stood out the most in helping you in the past year and reach out to them. Do not just send a blind cc’d email to the group, but instead make a personal contact that will specifically let them know how they made a difference in your life this year. Be clear that you want them to know you appreciate their influence on your life, and that you hope you can find ways to be equally helpful to them in 2009.

Sending an email is okay, but a handwritten note or a phone call would be even more meaningful. I am not discrediting emails, but they are the very easiest way to communicate. If you want to stand out, put in the extra effort and make it special (we are only talking about a few notes or calls).

In a tough economy your network matters more than ever. All opportunities come from people, thus if you respect the people who have helped you get this far, you will find they will be there for you again in the future. Everyone enjoys receiving a “thank you” for their efforts.

Have A Great Day.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

"Celebrate Austin Entrepreneurship Project" - vcfo

Founded in Austin, Texas in 1996, vcfo is the leader in providing outsourced solutions for the financial infrastructure, human resources and recruiting and staffing needs for companies both large and small.

Every vcfo client is assigned an onsite or virtual team of professionals that will fulfill the client’s current needs as well as plan flexible strategies to maximize business growth.

vcfo was established in under the name virtualcfo™ --Virtual Chief Financial Officer. The original idea was to provide part-time strategic financial support to companies that needed it but could not yet afford to add a CFO to their staff.

Timing was good for the idea in Austin with numerous small technology companies receiving early stage first rounds of capital. virtualcfo™ was well received by both the early stage and established businesses (and the venture capital and banking communities), allowing the young company to experience rapid growth. The company has since shortened its name to vcfo and expanded its base by adding offices in Dallas, Denver and Seattle.

The company also expanded its product line adding an HR Solutions service line in 2006 (now called vhr) and a recruiting and permanent placement group with the 2007 acquisition of Start up Staffing (now called vrecruiting).

Co-founder and CEO, Ellen Wood, was an experienced CFO who had worked for a local telecom company when she launched vcfo. The leap took her from accountant to entrepreneur, and she has never looked back. The company now employs close to 100 people in four cities and has served over 900 clients over the years. Ellen and the vcfo team have been an important part of the growth of several entrepreneurial growth companies, helping these businesses and their management teams tackle a varitey of complex issues.

Ellen feels strongly about the Austin community as a great place to run a business and raise a family (she is a graduate of both Anderson High School and The University of Texas at Austin - her son also graduated from Anderson High School). She has witnessed much of the ups and downs of the Austin economy and has weathered the storms as both a business owner and a trusted advisor.

I asked Ellen the following questions about Austin, the economy and entrepreneurship:

1. What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur? Wow – so many things I love about being an entrepreneur. I guess being able to respond to market requirements with what I think is the right solution and seeing it make it or fail on it’s merits. I love the opportunity to meet with other entrepreneurs and hear their ideas and enthusiasm and share experiences with them that I hope are helpful to them.

2. What makes Austin a great town to grow a business? Austin is an open town – open to new people, open to new ideas, open to new ways of doing things. I love that. There is a lot of great talent here and many folks willing to engage and advise new entrepreneurs.

3. What advice would you give entrepreneurs in today's economic climate? Do not overextend yourself right now no matter how great your idea is. This is not the year to build your business on your credit cards. Profitability and positive cash flow are key to your ability to live and grow another day.

vcfo is a great example of a home-grown Austin company that continues to thrive and contribute to the spirit of entrepreneurship in our fine city.

Have A Great Day


** DISCLAIMER - I work for vcfo as the director of business development. I have been with the company for over a year - but I have known and respected the company and the management team for nearly a decade. I had considered not writing about vcfo because some might see this as a conflict of interest -- However, it is my blog and I decided as long as I disclosed that I report directly to the CEO, that I could (and should) write about a local company that I believe should be celebrated in this project.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Podcast - Coaching the Entrepreneur

It has been too long since I had done a podcast of "The Some Assembly Required Radio Show" on the Blog Talk Radio Network.

Today I inteviewed executive coach John Oberg on the topic of "Coaching the Entrepreneur".

Listen here.

Have A Great Day.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"Celebrating Austin Entrepreneurship Project" - Heart House

Can A Non-Profit be entrepreneurial?

You betcha!

In 2008 I had the honor of joining the board of directors of Heart House Austin, a free after-school program dedicated to providing a safe haven and academic support to low-income children and encouraging them to become good citizens.

Heart House’s innovative after-school program is the only daily program for school-age children in a neighborhood known for its high crime, high unemployment, and lack of affordable, quality care for children. At Heart House, children have access to caring adult mentors, homework assistance, art enrichment, computer learning, health and safety education, and literacy programs.

Founder Anna Land is the entrepreneur behind this organization whose dedication and endless love for the children that Heart House serves is what has helped this charity grow from an idea into one of the city's most admired non-profits. Her vision for the organization is to continue to grow Heart House and open additional sites where the program can continue to help children in need in Austin and beyond.

What Heart House does:

  • Keeps Kids Safe
  • Improves Kids Behavior At School and At Home
  • Improves Kids Achievement At School
  • Helps Working Families
  • Is A Wise Social Investment Focused On The Potential Of Young People

Heart House HALOS

In January 2009 the organization will be launching the Heart House HALOS (Heart House Angels Lending Our Support). This professional auxiliary organization will bring together forty couples (or individuals) who are looking to find a unique, fun and meaningful way give back to their community.

The founding members of the HALOS will have the chance to shape the group's long term mission and fund raising goals while also creating an opportunity to help Heart House while networking with a diverse and amazing group of people.

Heart House is seeking people who have a desire to be involved with a local charity and have an entrepreneurial spirit who can assist in creating the HALOS program.

The cost to join the HALOS is $1000 per couple or individual (per year). Four times a year the HALOS will host a social gathering, but more important they will be the ambassadors of Heart House throughout the city - helping raise the visibility and spread the word about this fine organization.

If you are looking for an opportunity to get involved with community service and give back to Austin, but have never known how to get started - BECOME A PART OF THE HEART HOUSE HALOS! Now is the time to join and become a founding member.

The first forty members (couples or individuals) will help Heart House charter the organization in January 2009. This organization is seeking people with an entrepreneurial heart who can make a difference! Come soar with us.

Have A Great Day.


Monday, December 15, 2008

"Celebrate Austin Entrepreneurship Project" - Bazaarvoice

I am not sure that anyone could properly "Celebrate Austin Entrepreneurship" and not highlight Brett Hurt and Bazaarvoice. The company is one of the most talked about and fastest growing in Austin. Beyond their leadership position in helping large companies / brands understand and utilize the best of social media conversations to drive business, it is just a cool place to work.

Bazaarvoice technologies enable consumers to write product reviews and contribute user-generated content on leading e-commerce websites, helping build online sales using authentic customer opinions. They bring the power of social commerce to the world's best brands. Social commerce happens when you connect customers to one another in ways that drive measurable results to your business.

I have several friends who work for this company, and everyone of them raves about the technology, the opportunity, and the culture. Serial entrepreneur and CEO Brett Hurt is the c0-founder of the company and a man who is passionate about building more than just a company.... he is crazy about the culture.

I asked Brett to answer a few questions about culture, entrepreneurship and Austin:

Thom: What is it that makes Bazaarvoice special?

Brett: The executive team really focuses on our culture. And I really mean “focus” – actions not words. I spearhead that focus as our CEO and our head of HR calls me the “Chief Culture Guide”. Since the inception of our company, we spend 20-25% (3-4 hours) of our executive team quarterly strategy meeting discussing culture. Our best brainstorms have come out of these fierce conversations.

I take culture very seriously for three primary reasons. First, I believe it leads to better performance – it can be measured in our client renewal rate, which is critical as an ASP (or SaaS) business, as well as our win-rate versus competition. Second, it makes it more fun for all us – including me. I sometimes pinch myself when I wake up in the morning; I truly love my job and the Bazaarvoice team. It is very humbling to see our team embrace the culture.

The executive team and I may be putting the ball in motion, but it is others that carry it through. For example, one of our Sales Directors (not a management position) leads our Bazaarvoice Foundation initiative – our charitable arm. Third, it leads to better retention. Employee retention is a killer for most companies. Domain experience is very important, especially in a new industry.

Transparency is a huge part of our culture, and I think it’s really important. As soon as the economy started its freefall, I gathered the entire company and told everyone about how the management team and Board of Directors were ready for it. We had been in a contingency planning mode for more than a month. We all need to stay focused to take advantage of the incredible advantages and opportunities we have, and being upfront and honest goes a long way.

If you treat your team with respect, as adults, then they respect you in turn. And if everyone knows the good and the bad, they will rally harder in the face of adversity. Weaker companies may hide the bad because they are afraid of how employees will respond. This is a natural human behavior but it is absolutely the wrong way to build a solid culture. Trust leads to exceptional performance.

More than anything, we attract and hire only five-star players, and a sense of humor is a big plus. We test every candidate and put them in a high-pressure situation – this helps us separate our finalists. We take our work seriously, but not ourselves. We take time to find pleasure in our work every day, and it creates a fun, challenging atmosphere of excellence. In fact, just about every day, a client tells me he or she can “feel” our culture in interactions at all levels of the company, and that our culture is deep and real. They often ask if they can come work for us, and we are very flattered when they do.

Thom: What is it about being an entrepreneur that draws you to build businesses?

Brett: This is the fifth company that I have founded – the most recent was Coremetrics – and it’s the challenge of creating game-changing solutions that genuinely help others that draws me to building businesses. My friend, Derek Woodgate (a local futurist), told me “entrepreneurs create the future”. I like that.

I also take great pride in building a great team and giving good people good jobs. With Bazaarvoice, Brant and I saw an untapped opportunity that would – and has – revolutionized the way all of us make purchases, and I saw a huge financial upside as well. This is a global need, and I’m proud of the fact that we already have 380 team members, 290 clients, 7 solutions in 20 international languages, and 4 locations globally (Austin, London, Paris, and Singapore).

I always want to challenge myself, and surround myself with smart, driven people. In some ways, it is like my Wharton MBA experience all over again. I’ve been very fortunate to successfully build on great ideas, and Bazaarvoice has the biggest potential yet.

Thom: What is it about Austin that makes it the best place to be an entrepreneur?

Brett: As a native Austinite – and I guess not many people can say that – I wouldn’t have done this anywhere else. Beyond my natural affinity for Austin, I like that Austin’s energy drives creativity – it’s such a unique city, and frequently top-rated on many dimensions. It’s rapidly becoming a larger city (I recently heard from Brewster McCracken that 10,000 people are moving here per month), but it’s small in that we are all so interconnected – it’s so easy to meet people who can help (like Bootstrap Austin, Leadership Austin, or TexChange), or whom we can help.

It’s almost like there are less than two degrees of separation between any two people in Austin, especially in technology. Finally, people in Austin are just plain happy to be here – it’s one of the best cities in the world and always in the nation’s top-five in educational background, per capita.

Bazaarvoice continues to do great things, and I predict that they will continue to grow into one of Austin's legendary success stories.

Have A Great Day.


Friday, December 12, 2008

"Celebrate Austin Entrepreneurship Project" - Vignette

Can a company with revenues of $200 million really be entrepreneurial?

YEP, depending who is in the CEO job.

The December meeting of the Central Texas Chapter of the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG) had a great speaker this week in Vignette (NASDAQ: VIGN) CEO Michael Aviles.

A self-described hired gun who has come into several companies in a variety of industries to help turn them around, Aviles had a great attitude about his role in helping grow Vignette and his role as an entrepreneur - who also makes his family a priority!

He clearly knows that running a company (start-up or public entity) is a 24/7 ordeal, but he encouraged the audience to block out the necessary time for piano recitals and ball games, to be sure that the family does not get the short end of ones limited time. Then do what it takes to get the job done at work. You can do both!

Every company has their own story and tries to make their situation "different". Aviles says the job of a good CEO is to take complex situations and break them down to simple parts. A Stanford professor told him that to succeed a leader needs to "define their job and look for plain stupidity". He has never forgot that lesson.

To Aviles running Vignette is like having a 15 year old start up. He faces all the same challenges of a young growth company, plus the demands of Wall Street. Such tasks requires leadership....
But, being a CEO with great ideas does not mean your team will follow you. To achieve change, you have to change the environment. He prefers to do that with the existing team when he comes into a company, but counsels that changing the environment sometimes means changing the people.

Aviles was a great speaker who connected with the audience of nearly 100 Austin business professionals. I am always a big believer that one trait of a good leader is being able to give an effective speech. He delivered!

He left the audience with more than just his story, he had a series of lessons for entrepreneurs that he has learned through his career:

  • Running a company is a life and a career, not a job. Think long term

  • Make your personal decisions before your professional ones when looking at a new opportunity (He is another one who LOVES working and raising his family in Austin. There seems to be a trend with everyone I have profiled in the "Celebrate Austin Entrepreneurship Project")

  • Use your IQ and your EQ. Read the tea leaves and assess the situation of the company.

  • Establish and build relationships. Show your personal side (The theme of "the importance of building and maintaining business relationships" also runs through all the successful professionals I meet).

  • Get some quick wins in the first 100 days. Use the early days to cover a lot of ground and take a lot of notes on what you discover in your new company.

  • Do not spend too much time on any one thing. It is easy to get sucked into single issues.

  • Think transition. Do not try to make all the changes at once.
It is great to see bigger companies who are also run by those with a strong entrepreneurial spirit. Vignette has been around a long time in Austin and has had some ups and downs, but Aviles seems to be a great leader as the company moves forward.

Once again, ACG has some of the best programs in town.

Have A Great Day.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

"Celebrate Austin Entrepreneurship Project" - Moximity

How Many Austin CEOs Have Beaten Michael Phelps In A Swimming Race?

Only One!

Bryan Jones, CEO of Moximity, is a former international competitive swimmer, and former member of the United States Swim Team who is the only local CEO who can lay claim to ever having beaten the 14 time Olympic Gold Medal winner in the pool.

While Phelps went on to Olympic fame, Jones earned both his MBA and JD from the University of Texas and spent several years practicing law as an associate with a major international corporate law firm. In 2008 he left the comfort of "Big Law" to pursue his real passion for entrepreneurship. He has never looked back.

Now Jones is a co-founder and the CEO at Moximity. The company joins together social networking with cell phone and global positioning technology -- and is working toward becoming a service that everyone uses everyday. Two years ago the iPhone did not even exist and consumer GPS technology was still something new. Today the world is changing and the sky is the limit for Moximity.

Soon, people will be using their smartphones in ways that previously sounded like science fiction. The end result is more services resulting in a more efficient way to interact, and all this costing the users very little money for a huge impact on their lives. Moximity lets people know the proximity to friends, restaurants and other cool venues and events.

A recent story about the company in the Austin American-Statesman stated:

"Moximity's service, which is available from the Apple App Store, works by integrating social networks such as Facebook and Twitter with a Moximity application on an iPhone. It also lets users pull up information on nearby bars, restaurants and live music. Users can see where their friends last checked in and can publish their own updates, which are automatically published on Facebook and Twitter as well.

"For now, the service is available only in Austin, but the goal is to break into other college towns in the future. (Early market research by Jones showed Moximity was a hit with fraternity brothers, who used it to meet up around town.) Moximity also wants to expand to mobile devices beyond the iPhone. "

In addition to the American-Stateman article the company has also been written up in the Washington Post, Tech Crunch, USA Today, VentureBeat and had an honorable mention in a Jay Leno monologue.

Moximity is also utilizing their deep levels of expertise in social networking and mobile technology to help other companies take advantage of these new trends in reaching potential customers. Mobile Blasts is their mobile marketing solutions consulting service that can assist clients to identify the best online and mobile tools to achieve marketing objectives. More info still to come about his new service, but it should be a hit with local bars and restaurants who need to make sure that they are top of mind with the people who are out and about!

A final side note about Phelps: When I asked Bryan about his personal experiences swimming with Michael Phelps he laughed and told a funny story about when the US Swim Team was in Australia for a swimming competition. The future Olympian plugged Jones's Nintendo 64 game system directly into the wall without using a voltage converter. The 240 volts from the wall caused the machine to catch fire in the hotel room (the United States electrical system uses 120 volts while Australia is 240). So much his new Nintendo, there was no more playing video games on that trip. Phelps never replaced the electronic device, but Jones has no hard feelings! (***I think Phelps should give Jones free endorsement for Moximity to make up for that Nintendo 64 inferno. Hey, just a thought!).

Best of luck to Bryan Jones and Moximity as they build an international platform for their product. I wish I had an iPhone... as if I did, I would sign up today!

Have A Great Day.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"Celebrate Austin Entrepreneurship Project" - Entrepreneurs Foundation of Central Texas

The month of December I have dedicated my blog to highlighting the people, companies and organizations that make up the entrepreneurial spirit that makes Austin great. While entrepreneurs create amazing companies which bring the world new technologies, products and services (and jobs!), they also impact our society.

No organization better exemplifies this spirit than The Entrepreneurs Foundation of Central Texas. This organization is the catalyst that allows busy Austin entrepreneurs, and their companies, to easily impact the local community for the greater good.

The Entrepreneurs Foundation of Central Texas is a community. They amplify the philanthropic efforts of their member companies, entrepreneurs, boards and employees who invest equity, time and talent to make Central Texas an even better place to live, work and play.

Their programs help build successful corporate cultures and allow start-up companies to participate philanthropically, even though charitable funds may be scarce. The ongoing programs that facilitate the ability to donate time and stock that have a material impact is a priceless gift for both the companies and the community.

The EF offers the structure for early stage companies to allocate inexpensive private equity to a donor advised fund, creating a source of cash for corporate community investments that doesn't impact future company earnings or operating cash.

Successful entrepreneurs know that community involvement contributes to successful corporate cultures, helping attract and retain the best team members. The EF facilitates special initiatives and help design community involvement programs which can provide valuable team building experiences. I know first hand, as the company I work for, vcfo, is a regular participant in the EF's Spring and Fall Service Days, where our staff works with the employees of dozens of other local companies in a combined effort to help improve the facilities of several local elementary schools.

The Entrepreneurs Foundation’s current portfolio contains equity from over 130 active companies. Employees and their friends have donated over 16,000 volunteer hours and through the organization’s leadership projects, they have made a real difference for hurricane evacuees, women with breast cancer and their families, affordable housing and education.

At the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Central Texas, member companies challenge the conventional wisdom that corporate philanthropy and community involvement is the province of large corporations. Increasingly, companies of all sizes are realizing that “giving back to the community is good business”. The benefits of corporate citizenship can far exceed any costs and are realized in terms of employee morale, recruiting and retention, and in the strengthening a company’s brand or reputation.

The local entrepreneurs and their companies who support the causes of the Entrepreneurs Foundation are making a difference for the Austin of today and the Austin of tomorrow.

Have A Great Day.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

"Celebrate Austin Entrepreneurship Project" - Apogee Search

Can Your Target Audience Find You?

This is the question that greets you on the homepage of Apogee Search. Gosh, we all hope that those we desire as clients can easily discover us when they go looking for our products or services, but too often we are lost in the crowd of the over populated internet.

Founded in 2001, Apogee Search is an industry leader and one of the country's largest marketing services firms. Their highly experienced staff of internet marketing professionals work to deliver a variety of client solutions that goes far beyond click-throughs to a website.

In a world where hundreds of companies and consultants claim to be Search Engine Optimization experts, companies are confused on how to gain the results they desire for their internet marketing investment. CEO and founder Bill Leake wants to help educate his customers on what success really looks like in the world of internet marketing.

I have known Bill Leake for over a decade, and he is an entrepreneur with a real passion that goes beyond just building a successful company. The father of seven children, he wants to make sure that he is making a difference for his clients, his industry and his community. Bill takes pride in seeing his company's efforts achieve real results for customers.

"We're in the business of helping other businesses grow, by helping our customers implement measurable, provable online marketing campaigns to drive leads, sales, and profits. In a tough economy, our clients need us even more", says Leake.

"We know how much impact we're making in our client base, since we see the numbers. For every job we create within the walls of Apogee Search Marketing, we've probably helped create about 20-25x that number for our clients and their supply chains in turn from the increased business we've helped them bring in. In that sense, what we do can really serve a higher purpose, as our ripple effects throughout the economy are magnified far beyond our walls. Properly done, company building can be a truly noble endeavor".

Bill credits Austin as a great place to grow a company. He sights three things about the city that allows the entrepreneurial spirit to thrive:

1. Phenomenal talent pool

2. Phenomenal place to live personally (did I mention he has seven kids).

3. Phenomenal state tax & regulatory policies

I agree. Austin is phenomenal on so many levels. Austinites have a love affair with Austin - and this pays dividends for the business community.

Bill wants to see other entrepreneurs succeed - and often will sit down for lunch with those seeking his advice. However, he does not like those who just wish they had some other "dream job" or their own business - he thinks people need to take control and take action; "There's a big difference between being an entrepreneur and being a wantrepreneur. Far far far too many folks whine about their day job and have a 'fantasy job' that never moves beyond fantasy. Fantasy jobs are fine, as are fantasy football teams, but at some point you have to get off the fence and jump into the pool."

He believes that good advisers and hiring the best employees are the most important parts of growing a business. Leake tries to surround himself with the smartest people, and listens and learns. He knows that he is the one who must make the final decision and follow his passion, but doing this in combination with the right team is what has lead his company to being on this years Inc 500 list of the fastest growing companies.

Thanks to Bill Leake and Apogee Search for being another great example of Austin entrepreneurship and we look forward to seeing the company's continued success.

Have A Great Day.


Sunday, December 07, 2008

"Celebrating Austin Entrepreneurship Project" - GamePlan

GamePlan is a strategic marketing and advertising agency that redefines the way that marketing communications are performed for a successful integrated campaign. They specialize in using new media and viral tactics that are incorporated into events, sponsorships, guerrilla marketing, word-of-mouth, entertainment and alternative reality platforms designed to leave an indelible brand impression on a target audience.

This translates

The company's CEO and founder Tim Hayden, and the rest of the team, are considered national thought leaders in the "Experiential Marketing" arena. More than an "event marketing firm", GamePlan takes a unique approach to customize each engagement to ensure that the client's results produce both ROI and a memorable impact for all involved.

is one of the most intriguing entrepreneurs with whom to discuss business theory. A true visionary, he understands the changes that technology and the internet bring to his clients - without throwing away the cornerstones of traditional business practices that are still relevant to success. He is not one of these "flash in the pan" entrepreneurs who tend to throw out the baby with the bath water (yes, a cliche, but it is the right example!).

Tim enjoys being an entrepreneur because of the control of his own destiny. "While I may have a team that is accountable for GamePlan's overall performance, I can only look in the mirror on Monday mornings and Friday afternoons to hold myself responsible for our direction and ultimate position of success (or failure)" says Hayden. "There's no one above me to blame or credit. The liberty, the responsibility and the opportunity to be at the helm of innovation are the purist of joys found in my life of an entrepreneur".

As for living and working in Austin, he adds; "There is no greater city than Austin for starting a new business. I have a roster of coffee shop mentors that I'm certain would not grant me access or time if I was in New York, San Francisco or Dallas.

"Being the Live Music Capital of the World, home to so many politicos and having 125,000 college students within 30 miles of downtown makes for an atmosphere rich with diverse ideas and a 'hell-yeah, why-not' attitude. This all has led me to be confident that there is a willingness to share experience and guidance in Austin like few other places on the planet.

Tim Hayden and GamePlan are another example of the entrepreneurial spirit that continues to lead Austin toward a brighter tomorrow.

Have A Great Day.


Friday, December 05, 2008

"Celebrate Austin Entrepreneurship Project" - Greenling

Mason Arnold has passion. He is a local entrepreneur who wants to build a business, serve his community and save the world. This is not a minor calling, it is his life's mission.

He is the man behind the local Austin fresh produce delivery company, Greenling. On the company's website his title is listed as "Cookie Monster". Mason is committed to preserving and conserving that which is essentially Austin. He promotes an Organic, sustainable community and believes we can achieve remarkable economic progress without sacrificing our health and the health of our environment. He believes we must better embrace sustainable living practices if we are to continue to prosper and has adopted a personal mantra for going green: "Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something."

And Mason walks-the-walk by staying active in his community and sponsoring local events for the likes of Charity Partners of Austin,, Keep Austin Beautiful, TOFGA, Capital Area Food Bank, and numerous local school fund-raisers. He is also an active member of the 2009 Leadership Austin Essentials Class.

Greenling is everything you ever wanted in a grocery company. They bring you Local food and Organic food fresher than you can get in the grocery store, for about the same price, delivered to your door for FREE! You can trust what you get from Greenling to be the best food anywhere.

Greenling buys from local farmers whenever possible. Buying locally is an important part of Sustainability. They visit local farms and get to know the people growing the food. They also investigate every company they deal with, local or non-local, to ensure they share the values of Organics and Sustainability.

The company and the team who work there are a great example of what makes Austin unique.

Have A Great Day.


Thursday, December 04, 2008

"Celebrate Austin Entrepreneurship Project" - ABJ Tech Innovation Awards

The month of December I am dedicating this blog to celebrating the entrepreneurial spirit. I am focusing on Austin based companies, since I live here - but the world is populated with amazing people who have vision to create businesses and change the world.

Today's blog post was made easy thanks to the Austin Business Journal who hosted their 2nd annual "Tech Innovation Awards". Thirty-six companies were nominated for the awards and over 150 people attended the breakfast. The big mistake was made by those who did not attend the event, as this was a great gathering of some of Austin's most brilliant entrepreneurs.

The winners:

Luminex Corporation, Patrick Balthrop (Healthcare / Biotech category)

HelioVolt, Dr. BJ Stanberry & Dr. Louay Eldada (Clean Energy / Environment category)

Nuventix, Mick Wilcox (Clean Energy / Enviroment category)

Vircion Inc., Peter Walker (Gaming category)

Gemalto, Ashish Malpani (Hardware category)

OnNetworks, Jen Grogono (Internet category)

Click Forensics, Paul Pellman (Internet category)

ADRevolution, Andrew Westmoreland (Software category)

Congratulations to all the nominees and winners. They are the perfect examples of what makes entrepreneurship great. Even in tough economic times it is the people who work in these growth oriented business who pave the way for the successes of tomorrow.

Have A Great Day.


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

"Celebrate Austin Entrepreneurship Project" - Austin Tech Happy Hour

Bryan and Angie Menell knew it was time for the Austin Tech Community to have a regularly scheduled fun event for no other reason than because when great people come together, anything can happen. Poof, the Austin Tech Happy Hour was born.

In 1999 those who lived and worked in and around the tech industries were well aquainted with the "High Tech Happy Hour". While these events grew to personify the wild party scene, they were also part of the local tech culture. After the bust, there was no mood to party like it was 1999 anymore.

But optimistic entrepreneurs can't be kept down too long, and the time was right to bring back the fun.

This even has grown into a great place for those who work in and around the Austin Technology Startup Community to gather, meet, network, and play.

The last Austin Tech Happy Hour of the year is this Thursday, December 4th, at 6:00 PM at Molotov (on 6th Street). If you have never made it to one of these events, you must check it out.

Have A Great Day.


Tuesday, December 02, 2008

"Celebrate Austin Entrepreneurship Project" - MindBites

MindBites is your place on the web to learn directly from other real people and share what you know with the world. It is like the YouTube for instructional videos.

This self-publishing platform and social marketplace for instructional content enables people to share their unique knowledge, skills and passions through audio and video lessons, earning money for themselves or for charity. The result is a unique community of discovery with content that simply can't be found anywhere else – from Teaching your Baby Sign Language, to Cooking Tandori Chicken, to Surviving a Knife Attack, to picking up Last Minute Tips to Give A Speech or Toast, to Changing a Tire - - for a very small fee you can learn to do anything.

By enabling people to learn, connect and share as never before, MindBites promises to revolutionize the way the world shares knowledge.

This Austin-based company is the brainchild of entrepreneur and CEO Jason Reneau. I have had the pleasure to work with them and created two MindBites of my own. There might also be a four-part MindBites training series on how to better network and cultivate your ever important business relationships coming out in the near future (stay tuned!).

If you are not familiar with MindBites, check them out. Pour through the sight and devour the videos. Learning has never been this fun.

Have A Great Day.


Monday, December 01, 2008

Ben Bernanke in Austin

I had the good fortune to be nearly front and center today at a speech given by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. It was his first major policy address since the economy got into this mess in October. vcfo had purchased a table and we attended with several clients and other friends of our firm.

His presentation to the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce had been scheduled six months in advance, and the historic economic events of the past few months made this one of the highest attended business luncheons I have EVER seen in Austin (appox 1700 people!).

Mr. Bernanke is a smart guy. Much smarter than I am. I strained to listen to his every word and to understand the importance of what he and the rest of the government officials are doing to help stabilize the global economy. While he was clear that we still have some tough times ahead, I found that his message also had up-beat undertones. He was clear that this crisis is NOTHING like the Great Depression, and he sighted several reasons why this is not the same situation that faced the policy makers 80 years ago.

What I found most interesting was how the national media reported the comments made by the leader of The Fed to the Austin business community. Before I had time to drive back to my office there were stories up on, The New York Times website,, CNN and countless other financial sites about the Chairman's comments. They all had negative headlines (such as "Bernanke: Economic Weakness to Continue"), many of which implied that today's talk in Austin was somehow linked to the stock market's 670 point drop (his talk concluded about an hour before the markets closed in New York, although I am sure that the transcript of this talk was released to the press earlier in the day). Maybe those out of town who read the transcript got a different message than those of us who heard the spoken word live and in person. I understood his comments as very balanced about the future.

The address really had no new revelations about the state of economic affairs - but it was both realistic and cautious while still optimistic. The fact that the media would all use negative headlines on this evenly weighted (between positives and negatives) speech is a reminder that bad news sells more papers. The articles did go on to quote his more optimistic points, but much lower on the page.

I wonder, does the way the media report on such stories help to feed the continued downturn?

I will say that Mr. Bernanke struck me as both brilliant and funny. In his prepared remarks he was sort of dry, but during the Q&A he was both light hearted and self-deprecating. I feel better about the future of the economy knowing he is one of the people steering the ship. Hopefully he will prove me right!

Have A Great Day.


Celebrate Austin Entrepreneurship Project - Goldwasser Real Estate

When we think of hot Austin start-ups and entrepreneurship we do not often think of the Real Estate Industry! However, last week my friend Chad Goldwasser announced that his real estate team was leaving Keller Williams and was launching a brand new national brokerage firm: Goldwasser Real Estate.

With the horrible state of the economy and the residential real estate business struggling, many would shy away from stepping out on their own. But not Chad. He is a visionary who sees this as the perfect time to launch a new model real estate company that can change the national real estate business.

Chad has consistently been one of Keller Williams top agents and the leader of the top team of agents in Austin.

Over the past 10 years, the real estate industry has been hurt by an influx of under-qualified agents looking to make a quick buck in a profession that emphasized volume and commissions over quality service to their clients. Consequently, many home buyers and sellers have been frustrated with the lack of consistency, service and market knowledge of real estate agents, ranking them just above used car salesmen. Goldwasser Real Estate seeks to transform the industry by moving away from the prevalent franchise-based brokerage structure to a service-based model that offers agents unprecedented training, revamped compensation packages, and powerful tools and technology that enable them to provide extraordinary value to home buyers and sellers.

"We want to be the Nordstrom of the real estate world in terms of quality and service and the General Electric in terms of systemization," said Goldwasser. "Goldwasser Real Estate balances these two ideals to create a unique value proposition for our clients, partners, agents and employees."

Chad is also working with me on the newest book in the "Some Assembly Required" series: "Some Assembly Required: A Networking Guide for Real Estate Professionals" (New Year Publishing, 2009).

I expect to see big things from Goldwasser Real Estate. It is in down economies that great companies are born. Chad and Tara Goldwasser, along with their business partner, Greg Cooper, have stepped out into new territory... and I am proud that they are here in Austin, Texas! They are a good example of how entrepreneurs face a tough economy head-on.

Have A Great Day.