Knowledge Resources for Entrepreneurs
(Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash)

It seems like everyone wants to become an entrepreneur but many do not have the knowledge to do so. To help out everyone who has had the entrepreneurial drive, here are a few resources which may help understand how to analyze a product, how to find a product-market fit, how to define the role of the founders, how to form a strong work culture, and how to stay solvent. With this knowledge, you might also find ways to choose a good board of directors, good analytics, and how to form a strategy for your business.

Knowledge:

Steve Blank’s List of Tools and Blogs for entrepreneurs comes from the associate professor of entrepreneurship at Stanford and writer of the “Startup Owner’s Manual” and “Four Stages to the Epiphany.” Steve Blank has founded eight companies, of which four went public. Forbes listed him as one of the most influential men in the technology sector, and while his thoughts might be skewed towards that sector, his views on entrepreneurship shouldn’t be ignored. Steve is the originator of the lean startup method for creating companies popularized by his student, Eric Reis.

Paul Graham’s Essays are sometimes considered must-read material for ambitious entrepreneurs. These essays were created by the venture capitalist and software engineer who co-founded Y Combinator, a business designed to help startups. This collection of essays has wonderful phrases like “You need three things to create a successful startup: to start with good people, to make something customers actually want, and to spend as little money as possible. Most startups that fail do it because they fail at one of these. A startup that does all three will probably succeed.” With such simple and effective advice, it’s easy to see the value in his writing. Warning: some of the essays are political pieces.

Books:

The Lean Startup presents a “new” entrepreneurship movement which can be summed up in the following quote: “The only way to win is to learn faster than anyone else.” This method seeks to test a product, fail faster, and prove the product is worth improving. It does this by building a minimum viable product and developing more only when the situation requires it. The Build-Measure-Learn loop of product development is the main takeaway from this great book, but the wisdom contained within this book makes it a compelling read.

Blitzscaling is a new book by Reid Hoffman and Chris Yeh which deals with how to set up businesses to experience massive growth. Hoffman co-founded LinkedIn and Yeh co-founded Wasabi Ventures, so both are used to creating companies with massive growth. This book shows how an entrepreneur might position their company in a way to take advantage of massive growth opportunities. Entrepreneurs involved with Blitzscaling also delivered a variety of entrepreneurship lectures at Stanford, which can be found here.

Funding:

Y Combinator wants to be the first investor in a company and helps it to be successful. If you send in an application, Y Combinator may invite you to a 3-month training “boot camp” with other founders. Y Combinator may be able to set up connections between founders while teaching entrepreneurs how to pitch to investors. This resource attempts to give startups the right knowledge to help create a business that can thrive. They also provide a long list of interesting ideas they think will change the future if an entrepreneur is looking for inspiration.

Floodgate tries to be one of the first to invest in a company. They evaluate a startup on five separate characteristics:

  1. Proprietary Power – Everyone is trying to be better, but can you be different? Can it be completely unfair to compete against you? Can it be unassailable, for example like 25 years of research that you have exclusive rights to?
  2. Product Power – Does the business solve a problem that exists in the market? Does it solve the problem in such a way that it is obvious, convenient, and inspiring? Did the business quickly attract the attention of a lot of people and grow out of control?
  3. Company Power – Does your company have the proper foundations? Does it have a culture that minimizes management debt and technical debt? Does it have lightweight meetings, efficient teams, and the right meetings? Can everyone execute better and faster?
  4. Business Model Power – Does the way your business model work make sense? Does your company have a good financial plan to translate consumer interest and participation into profits? How will the business model change when the business is successful?
  5. Competitive Power – Can you reframe or redefine how people think of the market? Can you change distribution channels as Amazon did with “the online bookstore”? Is your Business unique enough to immediately stick in a customer’s mind?

Companies that pass these judgments are a “Godzilla” company. Companies like this are more likely to attract investors, which may propel the business forward.

Series Seed equity financing docs can help with any additional funding that an entrepreneur might need by providing open source documentation to help entrepreneurs apply for their Series A, B, and C funding. Michael Dearing, the founder of Harrison Metal, has stated that these documents are his exclusive templates for funding.

Let us know if you have any other entrepreneurial knowledge you would be willing to share in the comments below.

Learning More Every day

Every entrepreneur can gain an advantage by learning faster. Industries change every day and the amount of information that needs to be sifted through is monumental. Yet, there are some modern tools and concepts that may increase the speed of learning for a large portion of people. Here are a few of the tools that some of us have found useful for out-learning the competition.

Learn What Is Necessary:

Having the tools is important but knowing how to learn is the other part of the equation. Without knowing what you should be learning, or how to decide whether something is worth studying, the act of learning may still be a waste of time.

If a book contains information that may be useful to you, it may be wise to read up on a review, summary, or report of the material before beginning any reading. The condensed information may be enough to continue or to steer you in the right direction towards the information you need.

When starting a new book, keep summaries in mind as well. The table of contents, index, or last page in a chapter may contain all the information you need.

Warning: Your body may only be able to handle 90 minutes of engagement at a time. Some believe 25 minutes of engagement followed by a 5-minute break is essential. You may learn better by repeating lessons, quizzing yourself on if you understand the lesson, and performing a task using the lesson to make sure you know it. Try not to push yourself too much when learning, and remember to take regular breaks and get plenty of sleep.

Speed Up Learning:

Spreeder is a speed reading program that formats words in such a way to make it possible to read them especially quickly. You might find yourself reading much faster after Spreeder sets a pace, positions words to be in clumps of 5 to 7, and (optionally) removes words that are deemed inconsequential to understanding the meaning of the text. The program also calculates how long it will take to read at your current reading speed, which can help plan the act of reading a book with other parts of the day.

Mercury Reader formats sites in a way that makes them easier to read by removing ads and putting the words in a clear legible font. By using Mercury reader you can also send articles to your Kindle, which puts them in a Spreeder accessible format.

Video Speed Controller speeds up videos on chrome up to 64x their normal speed. Unfortunately, at around 4x to 5x of the average listening speed many voices may be difficult to interpret. However, if you are viewing a video with great subtitles you may be able to silence the voice and treat some videos like Spreeder with increased visuals. If the subtitles are not great you can use the voice to clarify the text.

Anki is a digital flashcard system used to test memorization of a certain topic. The cards are displayed at a decreased frequency depending on how well a person memorizes them over time. Anki follows a belief that memory improves through spaced repetition and effort. Because of this, it starts showing a card to a user less frequently as a user masters the concept.

Learning Sources:

Lynda is an educational service that provides training videos for a wide variety of skills. Many libraries have a deal with Lynda where members gain free access to Lynda’s lessons. In addition, LinkedIn connects to Lynda’s learning network, which can immediately influence your network.

Udemy is a version of Lynda that anyone can join. Individuals can make custom classes, a certificate for completing the class, and a 30-day money back guarantee in case you don’t think what you’re learning is useful. Users have the option of rating each class which helps make the most useful classes more likely to appear. Each class offers a certificate of completion to prove that you have completed the class, which may be important if a user needs a record of taking the class.

Degreed is the Facebook of learning resources. It contains many different educational providers and different resources and comments on the different sources. At Degreed you can pay someone to review your learning plan and potentially earn a degree.

Let us know if you use anything to increase your learning speed. Tell us about the tools you use to learn in the comments below.

Travelling quickly through a city.

Every entrepreneur strives for speed and effectiveness. With the right tools, every entrepreneur can increase their speed and effectiveness. In the modern day, the number of tools available is so plentiful that no one knows which are significant enough to use. Here are a few of the tools that have been tested by us and found to speed up some of our processes.

Faster Processes:

Video Speed Controller – How often do you watch videos for research? This extension allows HTML5 videos (including Udemy and YouTube) to have a viewing speed of your choice between 0.07 and 64.0 times the normal viewing speed of a video. Watching videos at x2 speed, or up to x4 may be reasonable depending on the speaker. It is possible to complete several hours’ worth of research at a fraction of the time. If you are a fast reader you may be able to turn on captions and watch a video at speeds faster than the speaker can articulate.

Feedly – If your work requires research from a lot of different sources, why not collect them and have them displayed to you every morning? Feedly allows you to follow multiple sources and have them displayed every day by category. This app can inform a viewer of all the industry-specific news they need in record time. Feedly can be remarkably useful for getting information quickly in the morning.

Evernote – This is a note-taking tool that can be accessed quickly that can synchronize with communication apps like Slack or CRMs like SalesForce. Evernote can also allow you to quickly scan and share documents or clips of articles from the web. With this sharing feature, Evernote can effectively help teams sync up bursts of inspiration.

Faster Commands:

Quicksilver – Set up quick “verbs” to use different programs with quick speed. With Quicksilver a user can type “Call Dad” and have the computer look into the contact information and dial the number for you. This tool is Mac only. The most popular Windows equivalent is probably Launchy.

AutoHotKey – You can define specific mouse movements, button presses, or gestures for specific processes on your computer using AutoHotKey. For example, you can click and move your mouse in a “G” motion to open google. If you can think of a gesture or button combination then AutoHotKey can train your computer to immediately perform that action and speed up your workflow. If there is any other keyboard or mouse press that a user wants to use for a specific purpose they can dedicate their computer to that purpose.

Texter – Texter may be one of the fastest ways to type text if you have something that you write constantly. For those moments when you need to type, you can set up shortcuts with these programs. You can use this program for common long form responses; for example, you can set “MyContact” to automatically insert your contact info:

My Name

MyEmail@gmail.com

(555)555-5555

My Address

Do you have something that you write all the time that could be auto-completed like this?

Automation:

IFTTT – This device does nothing more than let other programs talk to one another. Seemingly this is not very powerful, but it becomes much better when you realize you can ask for an email weather forecast every morning and can post some aspects of social media simultaneously. For those interested in even more time-saving functions, rival company Zapier markets itself as a more business-friendly alternative and Huginn is an open-source version of IFTTT that you can program yourself.

Doodle – Doodle is a planning tool that allows people to automatically sync their schedules together. This can save a lot of hassle over having two people constantly readjusting their time. It is also possible to put your own schedule in the program and ask others to plan around it. The program syncs up with Google Calendar, which makes it easy to get reminders for your plan.

LastPass – LastPass collects all your passwords in a vault and asks to fill its vault with all the passwords that you use while using this feature. Anytime you revisit the site, LastPass will provide a button to immediately repopulate the password area. LastPass requires a master password to get into the vault and look at your saved passwords. By adopting this app into your life you can have a wide variety of passwords without having to worry about your memory, and you can save time that you would have otherwise used to fill out the password field.

Email Productivity:

Unroll.me – This program can allow users to see a dashboard of all their subscriptions and newsletters every morning. The program also helps de-clutter e-mail and helps the user unenroll from any subscription service they are participating in.

SaneBox – This program looks at your e-mail and determines which e-mails you probably haven’t been looking at and puts all of those in its own file for you to reference later.

Productivity Chrome Extensions:

Toby – Toby is an alternative bookmark generator that allows you to attach pages that you are not using to the “New tab” section of your computer in a customized filing system for later. By using Toby it is easy to separate pages that you’ll need for yourself and pages that you need in case someone requires them later.

Pocket – There are times at work when an article immediately catches my attention, but I don’t have time to read it. Pocket solves this problem by storing articles you might want to read later. This extension also connects between devices to enable reading articles in another location providing the Gmail accounts are linked. Pocket has successfully stopped me from indulging in too much research that might be useful at work and allows me to focus on whatever is necessary for that day. In this way, Pocket increases productivity at work.

Time Management:

RescueTime – Would you like to keep a detailed analysis of where you spend your time and have a report sent back to you in email form? If so then a report by RescueTime may be a good way to find out exactly how much time you spend on each website or tool while using your computer. If you decide that any of the sites you visit are bad habits, you may be able to gain a little more time in your life by using the next app.

StayFocused – This program can restrict access to sites of your choice for a set amount of time. This can be used for your own personal development in order to reclaim focus. If you use this with RescueTime you may be able to pinpoint the sites that do the most harm to your productivity.

 

We hope that these tools help you as much as they have helped us. Do you use any other tools or techniques for your own productivity? Please share in the comment section below!

There are a few influential books that have persuaded me as powerfully as the books below.

The Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman

I try to reflect what I learned from this book in aspects of myself. In the text, Dan becomes a disciple of a modern, ninja, Socrates and confronts death and the meaninglessness of existence to become present, aware, open, and vulnerable. These qualities lead Dan to find, and marry, the girl, and concept, named Joy and realize his full capabilities as a human being. I believe the ideas that Dan expresses about how to find joy in life can help people become the best version of themselves that they can imagine.

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle

This book teaches a person to pay attention to emotional responses, acknowledge them, and how to prevent them from representing your logical side. The book teaches that if some pain has already happened to you then do not let dwelling on it or future implications ruin the current moment. Lastly, try to find patterns in your brain by asking “what will my next thought be.” This will show your thought habits. Break those habits and focus on paying attention to the immediate moment, instead of being caught in a self-fulfilling loop.

Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh

Tony Hsieh’s story at Zappo’s is amazing by itself, but his employee-first attitude and focus on company culture and vision is particularly inspiring. Hsieh’s belief that company culture is the greatest predictor of success was an enlightening revelation. His decision that Zappos must be the best at one element of the business, then choosing customer service and dedicating themselves to that focus to the point where the company center to their Las Vegas customer service center shows how vision can be used to make bold decisions.

Delivering Happiness promotes having a company’s vision and culture drive everything. Hsieh shows how to focus on one aspect of your company, how to never outsource the best quality of your workplace, and how to remove one aspect of the budget (in Hsieh’s case, marketing) to re-invest it into a company’s primary focus. Most importantly Hsieh teaches how to make the company’s greatest strength be the greatest measure of their success.

The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump

The Art of the Deal is treasured among my influential books since it’s the one that taught me how to be scrappy. The guidelines of this influential book teach me how to fight like an underdog at the negotiation table.

  1. Think big.
  2. Anticipate the worst.
  3. Don’t get too attached to a deal, and start making lots of deals.
  4. Know the market.
  5. Never be desperate to make a deal work.
  6. If your situation isn’t the best, figure out a way to make your deal the best.
  7. Be sensational and get your name out.
  8. If someone tries to take advantage of you, fight back.
  9. Deliver what you promise.
  10. Never spend more than you have to.
  11. Be in a business you enjoy being a part of.

More

Below are a few authors who make nothing but influential books. I recommend reading every work they create or help create:

  • Tony Robbins
  • Marc Benioff
  • Zig Ziglar
  • Jim Rohn
  • Warren Buffett
  • Bill Gates
An Entrepreneur Thinks About His Lessons Learned While Living Abroad

Living abroad is a game changer for any entrepreneur; take everything you think you know and turn it upside down. You’re likely to discover things about yourself and the world that you’d never imagined, even when living in a county that’s like your native nation. The education and life experiences you gain from being immersed in another culture is incomparable to any other schooling you could have and the lessons that you can take away from it, especially as an entrepreneur, are invaluable.

Stretch Your Comfort Zone

How can you grow if you’ve always stayed in your comfort zone? Living abroad forces you to have moments of uncertainty and discomfort, but instead of looking at these moments in a negative light, you should turn them into a teaching moment. Let these experiences of the unknown take control. Staying within your comfort zone can make you avoid new ideas and opportunities — the very opposite of what makes a successful entrepreneur! If you aren’t challenged, you’re not growing as a person and as an innovator.

How to Ask for Help

Many entrepreneurs feel like they have to tough it out alone and “fake it until they make it.” The universal truth is that we all need help sometimes. When you’re living in another country there are going to be plenty of things you don’t know. Experiencing the unknown can be a humbling experience within itself. Many entrepreneurs have a strong sense of independence, but it’s important to remember that asking for help doesn’t negate your independence or your abilities. You can’t do everything alone. Everyone needs help sometimes and it’s important to be able to understand when you need it and how to seek it. From a business standpoint, utilizing the help that you have available can also boost brand awareness, increase your networking skills, and lead to business growth. So, don’t be afraid to get comfortable asking for help.

Question the Status Quo

We tend to see the world through our own culture’s eyes. Traveling allows you to see the world through the eyes of other cultures and makes you realize that most things people think are culturally relative. Culture shock is defined by BusinessDictionary.com as a “sense of confusion, discomfort, disorientation, and uncertainty felt by those exposed to a different cultural environment.” Culture shock is an important tool because when you experience it your long-held ideas, beliefs, and your comfort zone are being challenged. Learning to accept another culture’s techniques and perspective of ways to do certain things allows you to think outside your culture box and will promote increased creativity, individualism, and a greater understanding of the world. All are valuable skill sets for any entrepreneur.

Develop Better Communication

When living abroad, you will most likely discover that a friendly smile can get you far. Communication of all types is an art form and learning how to communicate with people from many backgrounds in both verbal and non-verbal ways is important when it comes to business. If you’re living in an area that has language barriers, you may have to rely significantly on nonverbal communication. Nonverbal communication also becomes a helpful tool in business. We gather a lot of information from physical cues and knowing how to use effective nonverbal communication may mean the difference between a successful business pitch and a strikeout.

It’s About Advancing, Not Perfecting

Some entrepreneurs strive for perfection. Living abroad shakes up the idea that you need to be perfect. You’ll make mistakes at some point: a cultural faux pas, misspeaking a foreign language, or even taking the wrong public transit and getting lost. It’s not about being perfect. Continuing to learn and adapt is what matters and the flexibility that comes with learning and adapting quickly is especially useful for developing problem-solving skills. Every successful entrepreneur sees the value in learning from their mistakes and adjusting accordingly. Always keep advancing and adapting and the business world will be your oyster.

Why are student loans such a big problem? Why are loan balances skyrocketing? If we can figure that out, we can solve the problem, right? But part of the problem is that no one can agree what the cause is.

Here’s what we know: 1. College is expensive, and it’s gotten more expensive at a faster rate than it should have in the past two decades; 2. Higher education is necessary for social mobility; 3. Student loans are usually necessary to pay for tuition and the other costs associated with college. So, why is tuition rising? That might be the right question.

I read an article the other day that explores a possible reason: student loans themselves are the answer to why tuition is increasing. Or, more specifically, how easy it is to get student loans is the problem. Some may also blame colleges’ silly spending habits. Colleges are spending a lot of money on buildings and amenities that have nothing to do with academics to attract more students, which has to be funded by tuition. But maybe the two theories are linked. Because colleges need to fund the buildings, and student loans are so easy for students to get, they simply charge the students more in tuition.

When I went to college, I needed student loans, and even back then it was super easy to get them. And then, after I graduated, I had trouble paying them off, just like so many people are experiencing today. Thankfully, today there are a host of repayment plans that make it easier to stay in the black on your student loans — those weren’t available when I needed them. I had to fight my servicer to get in a repayment plan that fit my needs. But I did, and now I’m happy to be helping others do the same.

When I was fresh out of high school I had a choice to make, and my life almost looked a lot different than it does now. I was weighing my options between following one brother through college or following the other through the military. I had decided to enlist when my brother who was going to college convinced me to visit him at his university, where I changed my mind to see if college was for me, and started on the course that led me to where I am today.

Not everyone chooses between a military or college future. A lot of people do both, and they experience unique challenges. I admire anyone who chooses to go both routes and who face the challenges each path presents. However, I’m upset by the fact that the people who serve for their country end up struggling with student loans when they should get more help in return for their service. Each of them have made sacrifices in their lives to serve — whether that’s spending so much time away from their loved ones, relocating their families frequently, passing up more lucrative career options, or even physical sacrifices in the form of injuries (both mental, physical, and emotional), and I feel they deserve a higher level of student debt relief.

Of course, they do have a lot of options depending on where they are in their careers. Active duty members can take advantage of interest rate cuts while they’re serving and each branch has its own programs, including some for forgiveness. The only barrier to getting that relief is getting the right information.

Qualifying veterans have access to the Forever GI Bill, but for-profit colleges have a track record of taking advantage of those benefits, misleading veterans, and leaving them with high student loan balances and a worthless education. It’s disgusting that those schools are allowed to do that. But even when they close down, like Corinthian College and ITT Tech, students many of them vets, are still not seeing the relief they deserve through borrower defense discharge.

I don’t think we’re doing things right if a vet’s student loans are preventing them from paying their bills and providing a life for their family. We should be doing better by our service members, especially considering what they’ve given to us.

 

I’m a huge proponent of entrepreneurship. As a kid, I was always trying to find a way to make money for myself, friends, and family. From the age of six, I had a way of inventing little enterprises and finding odd jobs so that I could buy the things I wanted—all by myself. I’ve carried those habits into adulthood and I’m constantly thinking of new innovations that can help my business, other people, and my life. I believe in an entrepreneurial mindset, and encourage everyone to develop their own.

Usually when people talk about entrepreneurship they talk about people who start businesses. But there’s more to it than that. The truth is that not all entrepreneurs build successful businesses. Sure, they might be successfully employed for themselves, but a successful business grows and eventually the workforce can run it without you. That leaves you to be able to take an “outsider’s” view and build the business even more by fine tuning the systems, processes, and procedures that make it run. The best way to do that is through innovation, creativity, and listening that voice inside you that is showing you the way.

I’m always telling people around me to innovate. I do that because that’s at the heart of entrepreneurship and success. The trick is to reevaluate what you have with “new” eyes. If you’re constantly looking at your work and life with “new” eyes, you can get a fresh perspective on strengths and weaknesses and you’ll be able to come up with creative ways to improve. It’s hard to do that, but the more you try the greater success you’ll have. Innovation is a muscle you have to strengthen, and that takes regular exercise. The drive to innovate and keep building on success embodies what it means to be an entrepreneur.

 

I love the start-up mentality. I love it because I love the idea of building something from the ground up. Laying the foundation, the frame, the walls, and filling in all the details. I used to build houses for a living, but now I build my business. But as my company grows, I always aim to keep a start-up mentality because innovation, fresh ideas, and collaboration are what makes a company. While some markets remain stable for years, things can change at the drop of a hat, and innovation is needed.

That’s why I encourage those who are just starting out in the workforce—or, actually, anybody in the workforce—to find a company where they can be an active participant. Obviously sometimes you have to take a job you don’t like to pay the bills. But if you are making a choice on where to look, think about companies that are start-ups or have that start-up mentality. Seek out companies where you can contribute with your own creativity. Where you can build practices and systems that shape the company.

You don’t need to be a CEO or VP to do these kinds of things. You don’t even have to be a manager. If you’re at the right company, you will be doing this all the time regardless of your status. Now this doesn’t mean you will have the freedom to go rogue. Each company has its own standards, vision, and style. But within those parameters, you can create, suggest, and persuade your company into better and best practices. And if you keep getting shot down or ignored, maybe you should start looking for a place that’s a better fit for you, that is willing to see your ideas as valid and even valuable. That place may even be a company you start yourself.

I’m a huge proponent of personal growth, in both myself and those around me. It’s been my mission to help everyone around me to meet and exceed their expectations. I encourage people to seek help when they need it — much better to ask for help than to get stuck in life. Life offers too much for anyone to get stuck.

I created my companies to provide help in a confusing industry: student loans. I’m extremely proud of everything my employees do for student loan borrowers every day. My greatest wish is to help everyone get what they want out of life. For my colleagues that could be a successful and fulfilling career; for my clients that could be financial security despite an awful student loan situation.

I usually try to stay out of the spotlight, but I decided it’s time to embrace the spotlight to reach my goals. So here I am. If you can believe it, the pictures here are the first I’ve ever posted online. Crazy, right? But it’s time to step up and connect with all of you here.

Something you’ll see me do a lot is draw from my experiences. Thankfully, I have a lot of material and hope to keep adding to it. I value travel and hard work and living life to the fullest. I’ll be talking about all those good things in the future, but for now I’ll leave you to think about one thing that helps me in my growth: keep moving. Whatever you do in life, keep moving; even if it feels like you’re going backward, you’re bound to learn something from that, and that’s much better than staying in one place.