• Mixbook founders Aryk Grosz, left, and Andrew Laffoon

    To “fail fast” is a maxim of the social media startup world: If you’re not going to hit it big, get out before losing too much money. But Andrew Laffoon and Aryk Grosz were in no rush when they started Mixbook. Grosz was still in college, and Laffoon had just graduated.

    The two University of California, Berkeley, engineering students had gotten interested in entrepreneurship while taking a course with professor Jon Burgstone, who sold his own internet software company for $1.1 billion in 2000. When Laffoon and Grosz met him, Burgstone was hatching plans to create the Berkeley Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology. They joined the first class of the new program.

    Five years later, their web-based custom photobook business is also its first success story. Mixbook employs 60 people and generates $25 million in annual revenues, its founders say. It is headquartered in Palo Alto offices that were once home to Groupon and Box.com.

    But Grosz, now 28, and Laffoon, 30, say that if they had

    Read More »from How Mixbook’s founders translated engineering smarts to entrepreneurial success
  • 7 Steps to Surviving a Bad Boss

    When we defined the 5 traits of the worst bosses here last month, we hit a nerve. Among the more than 3,000 readers who commented, many said things like, “This describes my boss, but what can I do about it?” After all, as tempting as it is some days, it’s just not practical for most of us to up and quit when a boss is making us miserable.

    For answers on how to handle a less-than-stellar supervisor, we went back to Michelle Benjamin, CEO and founder of Benjamin Enterprises and an expert in helping companies improve their management cultures. Benjamin’s spinoff TalentReady grooms middle managers for leadership positions as they climb the ranks, so her forté is to help rising stars get beyond bad bosses, as well as to avoid becoming them.

    Here are 7 steps to survival with a bad boss—some of them a bit of tough love for employees—derived from our conversation with Michelle Benjamin.

    1. Look in the mirror. It might not be what you want to hear, but Benjamin suggests any employee facing bad

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  • What’s good and bad for small business in the President’s budget

    On the White House’s list of “the top 10 things you need to know about President Obama’s 2014 budget” that was released yesterday, numbers 1, 2, and 3 are all designed to please small business. The White House says that the $3.78 trillion budget, proposed for the fiscal year starting in October:

    • Ends tax breaks for companies who ship jobs overseas and rewards businesses that hire here at home;
    • Creates jobs and builds the communications and transportation network that businesses need to succeed by fixing roads, bridges, and other infrastructure most in need of repair first; and,
    • Gives small businesses a 10 percent tax credit to hire new workers or increase wages.

    In fact, the President’s 179-page budget proposal invokes the term “small business” 93 times, including proposals to extend increased expensing for small business, eliminate capital gains taxation on investments in small business stock, double the amount of expensed start-up expenditures, and expand and simplify the tax credit

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  • Silk Road

    China has held a fascination for traders ever since the Silk Road first opened its markets to the world, but never more than now. The items swapping hands may have changed from spices and silks into mass-produced consumer goods, but for newcomers to international sourcing much of the Middle Kingdom’s mystery remains.

    Linguistic and cultural differences can conspire to overwhelm the uninitiated. New entrepreneurs often approach China with a mixture of excitement and trepidation, the opportunity on offer weighed against fears of being conned or nightmares about causing mortal offense with a misplaced chopstick.

    Alizila asked three old China sourcing hands to share their experiences of dealing with the mainland. Here are the lessons they learned the hard way:

    Lesson 1: Don’t believe all the horror stories

    We all know what happens when you do business with a Chinese company. If they don’t rip you off or screw up your order you end up eating monkey brains in a backstreet restaurant and

    Read More »from Global Trading Tips: 7 Practical Lessons for Doing Business With China
  • Transparency, one of the biggest buzzwords in business right now, is about conducting business in an open and forthright way, and it is driven by recent trends in technology, society and financial markets.

    The last 15 years have brought scandals, bailouts, accidents and financial crises that have shaken Americans’ trust in businesses. Enron. Adelphia. Lehman Brothers. AIG. Bernie Madoff. The BP oil spill.

    But the newest trend in business is transparency, and it’s helping companies rebuild and maintain trust with customers and partners.

    Internal transparency to track progress

    Some businesses find that increasing financial transparency within the company can improve the bottom line. For example, Eric Holtzclaw, CEO and founder of marketing and product-strategy firm Laddering Works, began sharing specific dollar amounts for budgets to many employees within his organization, even though he was originally reluctant to do so.

    “I had to learn through trial and error,” Holtzclaw says in a

    Read More »from Making transparency a priority in your business
  • Who would win the Small Business Bracket?

    Infographic: Radius. Click on image to enlarge.

    What if there were March Madness playoffs for small businesses? We asked Darren Waddell, VP of Marketing at Radius, to show us what his bracket would look like. Waddell dove into the massive Radius databank, which indexes information about small businesses all over the country. Based on aggregated customer ratings available from sources such as Yelp, Citysearch, Open Table, and others, Waddell ranked the performance of small businesses in each of the college towns that host teams that made it into the NCAA Sweet 16. Since some rating systems use 4 stars and others 5, Waddell normalized for that.

    The scores aren’t necessarily predictors of profitability, Waddell points out. “They’re more about performance—the business patrons’ satisfaction with customer service, the quality of the product or craftsmanship, and the trustworthiness of the business,” he says.

    With 6 percent of its businesses getting 4 and 5 star ratings, Michigan’s Ann Arbor is top-ranked for happy customers—making it the

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  • Internal Partnership

    The term customer is most commonly associated with someone who purchases goods or services, but Joseph Juran, the famous management consultant, taught that organizations have both internal and external customers, and internal customers have a direct link to a positive external customer experience.

    The external customer is the person who purchases the goods or services, while the internal customer is anyone within an organization who at any time is dependent on anyone else within the organization.

    We all know the importance of taking care of the external customer (the people who purchase our products and services), but successful organizations recognize the importance of taking care of the internal customers – employees and any other stakeholders. For example, if a secretary is dealing with computer issues, the IT department considers that person an internal customer and makes as much of an effort to meet her needs as the call center person does to take care of the external customers

    Read More »from Internal Customers: Do You Know Who They Are?
  • Credit Accountability

    It was hailed as the deathblow to unfair credit card practices. In 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Credit Card Accountability Act. The law contains several strong provisions aimed at protecting cardholders. But it doesn’t cover business owners using corporate cards.

    While the law may have been a victory for the consumer, it has it its critics including business owners who point out that the law does not apply to corporate cards. That is because the law is an amendment of the Truth in Lending Law and that applies only to consumer loans, not credit lines for businesses.

    The Act was designed to ensure that credit card companies do not take advantage of consumers through unfair rate hikes. Credit card companies may not charge additional fees for payments made over the phone or online; cannot charge inactivity fees if the card has not been used for months; and must include a minimum payment disclosure statement that clearly explains how long it will take you to pay off the balance

    Read More »from Does the Credit Card Accountability Act Protect Small Business Owners?
  • Health care reform delay extends uncertainty for business

    A key small-business friendly component of the Affordable Care Act won’t go into effect as soon as planned. The Act, passed in 2010, stipulated that Small Business Health Options Programs would establish group health insurance exchanges for small employers in each state. The so-called SHOPs would, beginning in January 2014, offer employees of those businesses a choice of coverage options.

    The idea was to streamline the administrative process for small employers, enable groups of them to access the rates that large employers enjoy, and let employees shop around, presumably driving down costs by forcing greater competition among insurance providers.

    But on March 11, the Health and Human Services Department proposed an amendment to the Affordable Care Act that delays by a year the offer of a choice of health insurance providers to employees:

    “The effective date of the employer choice requirements ... and the premium aggregation requirements ... for both State-based SHOPs and FF-SHOPs will

    Read More »from Health care reform delay extends uncertainty for business
  • What most small business owners still don’t get about blogging

    An organic farmer and sustainable agriculture expert told me recently that the proprietor of a farm-to-table restaurant in her community had asked if she would be willing to write a blog about farming for the restaurant’s website. He told her the blog need not make any mention of his restaurant or its menu at all—just write about farming, he said.

    She was delighted, but also befuddled. Why would the restaurant want a blog that didn’t market the restaurant?

    This savvy restaurateur understands something many small business owners have yet to grasp. The trick to reeling in new customers in the age of online search is to provide content—useful, informative, engaging content that answers the questions your potential customers enter in their browser’s search field.

    If you’re unfamiliar with it, the increasingly popular tactic is called “content marketing.” Search the term itself to find reams of information about how it’s done.

    I pointed my farmer friend to the most concise and brilliant

    Read More »from What most small business owners still don’t get about blogging

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