Tag Archives: startup advice

A World Give Day Surprise for Fatima

May 4th is World Give Day.  It’s the one day a year where people around the world come together to support the causes that they care about most, whether that means giving money, giving their time, or perhaps just giving free hugs.

For this year’s World Give Day, I am holding a mentor-thon and  giving all the money I raise to a little girl named Fatima. Fatima is 4 years old and battling leukemia in Los Angeles.  Friends of the family started this GiveForward fundraising page to relieve some of the financial burden as they cope with the high medical bills.  Fatima’s family doesn’t know we are helping and I think it would be awesome to surprise them with a big donation on World Give Day representing the collective generosity of all the awesome people on the Interwebz! My goal is to help make Fatima’s page rock!  I’d love your help!

So how’s a Mentor-thon work?  Good question!  For the next 24 Hours, I will be using Clarity.FM to take as many phone calls as possible  from anyone who wants startup advice.  Whether your question is about business plans, raising seed capital, finding a co-founder, hiring your first employee. marketing, customer acquisition strategy, blogging, you name it. I’ll answer it.

The goal is to raise $500 for the Ortega family.   All you have to do to help is go to my Clarity.FM page and click the button that says “call me now”.  It’s $2 per minute and all the money is being donated to Fatima through the family’s GiveForward Page.

So that’s it.  Give me a call!!!!  Like ASAP!!!  And if you don’t have any startup questions, ask me about burritos.  And if you don’t have any startup or burrito questions, pay it forward this World Give Day by sharing this on Facebook or sending this along to someone who might.  Let’s make this happen for Fatima!

Click here to talk turkey with me! —> https://clarity.fm/#/ethanaustin

Alternatively, if you think talking to me will be a real snoozer and you’d rather just give directly to Fatima, you can donate on her GiveForward fundraising page here —>  http://www.giveforward.com/friendsoffatima

As an extra incentive to give, I’ll match up to $100 (in total) on donations that use the hashtag #WorldGiveDay in the donation comments.  Let’s go Internet.  Let’s make something amazing happen!

Thanks for your support and happy giving!

– ethan

PS – I hope this post inspires you to do something meaningful on World Give Day.  Feel free to share your plans or idea in the comment section.

PPS – If you haven’t used Clarity.fm before it’s a super-cool website started by Canadian entrepreneur extraordinaire Dan Martell (sorry, no relation to the Model, Rick Martell of WWF lore).  Basically, Clarity allows startup founders (or anyone really) to call up successful entrepreneurs to get advice.  For instance, you want to call up Mark Cuban for advice?  Boom! Here’s his profile. Give him a call.

Clarity is still in private beta, but there are already some really awesome entrepreneurs in the network like Dave McClure and Micah Baldwin.  Holy crap, right?  Imagine not having to deal intro emails and LinkedIn nonsense.  Imagine actually using your phone for (gasp!) talking and not just emails and text messaging. Clarity.fm eliminates all the gatekeepers, and gives people direct access to the most bad-ass, nerd-celebrity entrepreneurs in the universe.  I love the fact that it is democratizing mentorship and bringing back the phone call like it’s 1996. I only wish this service existed when we were first starting GiveForward.


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Why It’s Better to be Nice than Smart

The following originally appeared as a guest blog post I wrote for NBC’s INC WELL.  It is free from my usual spelling and grammatical error, as it was graciously edited by the Charles Dickens of business blogs, the one-and-only, Mr. David Wolinsky.


Smart is overrated. Maybe I’m biased because I’m bit of a dummy, but I’ve always felt that having a big heart will get you further in life than having a big brain.

Sure, a high IQ is important if you’re planning a career in astrophysics or working in a secret government lab, building a killer, burrito-eating, ninja-shark robot. (Side note: Dear government, and I know you’re reading this, if this job exists, please let me where I can apply.)

But for most other careers, entrepreneurship included, being smart isn’t what’s going to make you good at what you do. Kindness, compassion, authenticity, humor and generosity — these are the qualities that matter.

Yes, of course you need to have a certain level of intelligence to be successful. But there are diminishing returns on IQ. And after you hit a certain threshold, additional IQ points don’t help you one iota. (Hat tip to Malcolm Gladwell).

Because, well, no one gives a shit if you got your MBA from Harvard or you got a perfect score on your SAT. Ultimately, the people you work with only want to know two things: Can I rely on this person to do what she says she’s going to do; and would she be a fun person to have a beer with?

In fact, being really smart is often a huge obstacle in the path to success. If you’re Mr. Harvard MBA then your natural inclination is to try to win by outsmarting everyone else. But outsmarting everyone else is an impossible battle to win. No matter how hard you try, you’re never going to be the smartest person in the world. Heck, you’re probably not even the smartest person reading this blog post right now. So, no matter how smart you think you are, there’s someone smarter out there who is going to beat you at your own game.

Smart is a losing proposition.

Once you come to the realization that you can’t out-Amazon Amazon, it’s time to change the rules of the game. Brad Feld recently wrote an excellent blog post on resegmenting your business. He said, if you’re not the market leader or at least in the top three for your category, then it’s time to create a new category and become No. 1 in the new category. The same principle can be applied on the personal level. Are you the smartest person in the world? Are you in the top three? No. Okay, then instead of trying to be the market leader of smart, resegment yourself and become the market leader of nice.

Because, while it’s damn near impossible to make yourself the smartest person in the world, there is absolutely nothing stopping you from becoming the No. 1 absolute nicest person in the world. So give it a shot, and see what happens. If you do, I promise you’ll be amazed at how many more people want to have a beer with you.


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Stealth is for Bombers, not Startups

Shhh...Top Secret startup stuff inside

My buddy’s little brother is starting a company.  He’s planning on doing a pitch competition but his co-founder doesn’t want to do it because he’s afraid people will steal their idea if they speak about it publicly.

He emailed me to ask for advice. Here was my response:

Your co-founder is wrong. Don’t worry about your idea getting stolen. Ideas are a dime a dozen.  It’s the execution that matters. If your idea is good, then there are at least ten other people simultaneously building the same company right now.  So start building fast and beat them to the market!  Do the competition. You have nothing to lose.

If you’re an entrepreneur and you’re not telling people about your idea because you think they’ll steal it, you’re in big trouble.

In fact, you should do the exact opposite.  You should be telling EVERYONE you know about your idea.  Don’t whisper it to people for fear that they are going to steal it.  Shout it passionately from the rooftops.  Sharing your idea with others and letting them know why you are excited about it is the only way you are going to attract  awesome co-founders, mentors, and early customers.

The reality is that no one is going to steal it and here’s why –

(1) Other entrepreneurs are too busy working on their own idea to steal yours.

Most early stage entrepreneurs are already working 60-80 hours a week just to stay above water.  Unless you tell your  idea to super-freak, Jack Dorsey, no one else in their right mind has enough time to do two startups at the same time, no matter how cool your idea sounds.

(2) More importantly, I know you think your idea sounds cool.  But really, your idea is poop.

I can guarantee with certainty that the idea you initially come up with isn’t going to be the idea that makes you money.  Every business pivots and changes directions as they learn more about what their customers actually need and realize that their initial assumptions were all wrong.  And the funny thing is, you only learn this information after you launch your business.

Don’t feel bad if you’re just realizing for the first time that your idea is a pile of poo.  You’re not alone.  Everyone’s initial idea is a pile of poo.  The sooner you accept this, the better off you are. Pride and ego often keep entrepreneurs from switching gears.  It’s hard for people to admit that their ideas suck, but the longer you cling to a flawed vision, the greater the chances are that your startup is going to fail and you are going to waste everyone’s time and money.  So by all means, let people still your crappy idea.  It’s not going to help them anyway.

Moral of the story:  Tell people about your idea and be passionate about.  People are attracted to passion not ideas.  Ideas come and go but passion is permanent.  Everyone’s got ideas.  Not everyone has the passion and perseverance to make ideas come to life.  

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Hustle as if it’s Your First Startup

Hi, this is C-Temp. How can I help you?

This is a guest post I wrote that originally appeared on Entrepreneurs Unplugg’d


Successful people don’t do it for the money.  They do it because they are relentlessly dedicated about solving a problem and care beyond what is humanly possible.  Meet Chuck Templeton. Chuck is one of these people.

Chuck is the founder of OpenTable NASDAQ (OPEN) When OpenTable went public in 2009 Chuck probably could have retired and drank cocktails on a beach somewhere. But that’s not what he decided to do.  You see, Chuck is extremely passionate about the environment.

But Chuck doesn’t just talk a big game.  He lives by his stated values and leads with his actions.  

All the clothes he buys are recycled from used clothing stores because he doesn’t want to consume more raw materials. He rides his bike almost everywhere and in the rare instance that he goes shopping for something new, he tries to only shop in his neighborhood so he both supports the local economy and doesn’t have to drive a car, wasting time and fossil fuels.  He has a garden, raises chickens in the back yard, is working on making his home zero net energy (consuming as much energy as it produces), harvests the rain water off of his roof and has a mini dwarf fruit orchard at his Chicago home. Some call it saving the planet. But the way Chuck looks at it, the planet will be here for billions of years more; its the human race he is working to save.

In 2011 Chuck decided to take his passion for the environment and start a new website called OhSoWe.  OhSoWe is an effort to bring neighbors together to share resources like tools and books so that we dramatically reduce the amount of crap we’re buying as consumers.

Last spring Chuck sent me an email to sign up for the private beta.  I like Chuck and I support the idea,  so I signed up to be a beta tester.  Like all first iterations, OhSoWe was a little wonky.  I found a bug and I sent the feedback to their customer service department.   They tried to fix it but I continued to have problems, and I ended up sending several emails back and forth with the nice customer service rep over the course of a week. The last email I got surprised me.  It  said something along the lines of:


Thanks for your input…really appreciate.  Your feedback helped us figure out the problem and we have now solved the issue.

Happy Sharing,


I didn’t realize it when I was emailing back and forth with the customer service rep, but it turns out  Chuck was the guy answering all the customer service emails the whole time. Now, I’m guessing Chuck could have hired someone to handle customer service emails for $15 an hour, but Chuck did it himself because he CARES.  He’s so passionate about what he’s doing, that he wants to get his hands dirty and learn as much as possible about his customer, and answer their emails at all hours of the day.

Similarly, when AirBnB was first starting, their CEO, Brian Chesky, stayed on customers’ couches for a year in order to meet them and better understand their needs.  And when we first launched GiveForward, we would write a personal email to every single user that joined the site in order to engage with them and learn more about how we could improve the site.  We mainly did this because we were bootstrapping and didn’t have any other options.

But when we were doing this, we were in our mid-twenties.  We had tons of energy and everything in the world to prove.   What I find so inspiring about Chuck is that he has absolutely nothing left to prove, yet he still hustles as if he were a 22 year-old kid running his first company.  This is what makes Chuck successful.  He simply out-CARES the competition.

If you want a good role model for how to run your company, follow Chuck’s lead:

Live by your values.  Lead with your actions.  And hustle like it’s your first startup where you still have everything to prove.

Oh, and if you really want to be like Chuck this holiday season, skip the gifts and instead start a borrowing group with your neighbors or co-workers.   That or buy them some organic chickens. Mucho bueno!


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Startup Metrics: Why Early Stage Companies Should Measure Hugs Instead of Revenue

GiveForward Hug Fest

 The following is reposted from the Startup America website.  

January 1st, 2012 will mark the three year anniversary of our absolute lowest point at GiveForward. On January 1st, 2009 we had exactly one visitor on our website.

One. Stinking. Visitor!

It was depressing. We had launched the website six months earlier and our traffic volume was seemingly going backwards. Come to think of it, that whole first year was kind of depressing from a numbers standpoint. We only generated $6,000 in revenue for the entire year and all of our metrics were pretty damn terrible.

So what did we do to keep our spirits up during the first year? Well, we simply decided to create new metrics. We stopped measuring our progress by traditional metrics like revenue, user growth and website traffic, and instead started measuring our progress by the number of virtual hugs we got from our users. A virtual hug was any time a user would write an email thanking us for creating the website. They didn’t come very often but when they did come they were incredibly powerful and touching. These emails would say things like:

“My brother is fighting cancer and thanks to your website, we were able to raise $5,000 for his treatment. Thank you so much! We don’t know what we would have done without GiveForward.”

Those virtual hugs kept us going because they gave us a glimmer of light during a year filled with self doubt. From these hugs, we knew we were building something important — something that was going to change peoples’ lives, and so we became relentlessly dedicated to solving this problem.

We kept hustling and eventually we put ourselves in a position to catch a few lucky breaks. But it took us two years of bootstrapping without salaries before we got to that point! So if you’re in your first year or two at your startup and you feel like you’re on the verge of something great, but your metrics tell you otherwise, my advice is to keep plugging away. In all likelihood, your startup isn’t failing. You probably just need to change your metrics and start measuring hugs instead.

Oh, and by the way if you’re wondering why I was sporting such an epically terrible mustache in the video, here’s why

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How to Get the Most from Startup Mentors: Ask for Advice but Don’t Follow it Blindly

I have two rules about asking mentors for advice.  Rule # 1 – Ask for advice frequently.  Rule # 2 – Don’t follow all the advice you get.

RULE NUMERO UNO: One of the smartest things you can do as a startup founder is ask for advice from experienced entrepreneurs, mentors and investors who have been in your shoes before.

Here’s why it’s important.  Your goal as a startup founder is to make as many decisions as possible each day. The more decisions you make on a daily basis (whether they are right or wrong), the faster you move your company forward.

But making crap loads of bad decisions each day isn’t going to get you very far.   So I suppose it’s more accurate to say that your goal should be to make as many good decisions as fast as you possibly can.

Generally, the more informed you are about a subject, the better your decision will be. The problem for most startups is that it takes a long time to gather information and so the question they face is how to balance the need for speed with the need for information gathering.  I think this is where advice from mentors and investors comes in handy.

Asking someone who has been in your shoes before for advice on a narrow subject is probably the fastest way to gather information from which you can make your decision.

Mentors =  information hack.

Think about it this way – when you were trying to figure out how to program your DVR  for the first time, you could have learned how to do it by spending 30 minutes reading the instruction manual.  Or you could have learned how by spending 5 minutes asking someone with a DVR to show you what to do.  Either way, you ended up with the same result. One path was just a lot faster.

In this example, asking for help would have saved yourself 25 minutes.  You could have then used this bonus time to figure out how to get the clock to stop blinking 12:00.

In other words, by asking for advice you are able to accomplish two tasks (i.e. make two decisions) in the same amount of time it would have taken you to accomplish one task had you tried to do everything on your own.  Advice FTW!

RULE NUMERO DOS: One of the dumbest things you can do is follow this advice 100% of the time. 

If you were to follow 100% of the advice you received 100% of the time, you’d end up running your business like a chicken with its head cut off.

Mentors and investors can provide an immense amount of value to a startup; but they should never be a substitute for independent thought. At the end of the day, no one understands your business as well as you do.   Use mentors and investors as a source for guidance, but don’t abdicate your decision making responsibilities to them.  Take all their advice, throw it into a big mentor stew, stir it around in your head for a bit and then draw your own conclusions based on the available data.

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Success = 75% Hustle + 25% Luck

Tim Krauskopf, one of our closest mentors at GiveForward, gave us  a great piece of advice when we were going through a rough patch a while back.  He said:

“When times are good, don’t give yourself too much credit.  When times are bad, don’t give yourself too much blame.”

I heard a similar piece of advice from TechCrunch founder Mike Arrington last night at a Founder Showcase event where  he was speaking.  He said:

“When you’re successful, don’t pat yourself on the back too much because a lot of it is luck.”

I think this advice from Tim and Mike is incredibly valuable for entrepreneurs to recognize.   There is SOOOO much stuff that is out of your control when you are running a startup that blaming yourself for the failures or patting yourself on the back for your success is a waste of time and emotional energy.

In reality, all you can do as a startup founder is work your ass off  in order to put yourself in a position where you can get lucky.  I wrote a blog post a while back on how to get accepted into Excelerate Labs startup accelerator.  Getting into this program forever changed the trajectory of our company, but I’ll be the first to admit that so much of it was just luck and good timing. In that post, I wrote that there were four steps on how to get accepted.  The first three steps can more or less be summed up as “be a hustler and put yourself in the best position possible to get lucky”.  The last step is “get lucky”.  That’s not just a formula for getting into a startup accelerator.  I think it’s a formula for everything in life.

Success = 75%  hustle + 25% luck.

Take the luck out of the equation and instead of success, you have failure.  Knowing this makes you both humble and self-confident at the same time.

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Keep a Box of Thank You Notes On Your Desk

“Keep a box of thank you notes on your desk.  Not in your desk drawer but on your desk where they are visible, so you’ll actually use them.”

Eric Langshur, (a guy who defines the word mensch) and one of our mentors at GiveForward, gave us this little piece of advice once.  I can’t tell you how valuable it’s been. While so many of us feel inundated by the massive quantity of email we receive these days, hardly any of us actually get real mail anymore.  When we receive a hand-written note in an envelope with a real stamp on it licked by a real human, it’s a bit of a thrill.  It makes us smile and makes us remember the person who sent it.

Here’s a challenge: try sending five thank you notes next week and see what happens.  Post your results to the comment section of this blog.  The first person to comment with their results will get a Chipotle gift card for a delicious Mexican delicacy of your choice (and of course, a hand-written thank you note from yours truly).


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