3 Mistakes Every Entrepreneur Should Avoid

Legal principles to keep in mind when starting a business 

When you start a business, you have to make a lot of decisions from what your unique selling proposition is to how you are going to make money. Of all these decisions, how you are going to legally structure and operate your company is among the most important. Betty Wong, co-founder of Stage2Startups, talked to Phil Crowley, Managing Partner of Crowley Law, LLC, about some of the common legal mistakes entrepreneurs can make when they are forming their startup. While Phil can’t provide legal advice unless you are his client, he did speak to us about some of the legal principles involved that every business founder should keep in mind. Here are three common mistakes he sees entrepreneurs make.

Mistake 1: Fail to Form a Legal Entity to Financially Protect Yourself

“When I think about forming companies, I think about the spaghetti western, “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly,” says Phil. According to Phil, the “bad” approach is to open and run a business as a solo entrepreneur without forming any legal entity to limit your personal liability. In this scenario, business founders are taking a big risk because all the business’ liabilities can be attached to any and all of your personal assets, including your home and banking and savings accounts. 

But, according to Phil, there is something even worse (the ugly) than this and that is when two or more people begin a business without a written agreement setting out the parameters of working together. Under the law, this type of relationship is considered a partnership where the actions and liabilities of any one of the participants within the scope of the partnership are the liabilities of all the other participants. In this scenario for example,  if a partner rents space for the company and then doesn’t pay the landlord, the landlord can selectively come after your personal assets for the rent. It is then up to you to get the money from your partner. That’s why it is important to have a limited liability entity of some sort so that your potential loss is limited to the assets you put into the business and your personal assets are protected. 

But, if you think you are going to move to the stage where you are going to try and get angel investors or venture capital involved,  then it is good to consider forming a corporation where it is very clear that the only liability of the shareholder is what they have invested in the corporation. Many serious investors prefer to invest in a corporation because they know their personal assets will be shielded. 

Mistake 2: Fail to Establish Partner Or Operating Agreements

A partnership agreement is a legal agreement between two or more partners which spells out the authority, scope of responsibilities, liabilities and requirements for paying into the partnership among the various partners. An operating agreement is a document that sets out the parameters under which a limited liability company will operate. Both of these agreements cover issues such as the authority to sign contracts, how much debt each founder can incur for the business without the agreement of the others, and whether the partners or members (in the case of a limited liability company) can be called on to invest more themselves (a “capital call”). 

“Where I see entrepreneurs put themselves at risk is when they don’t make the upfront investment to delineate the responsibilities of all the parties,” says Phil.  “I recommend founders document as much as possible their relationship with their co-founders and be as explicit as possible because it is much easier to work out any potential disagreements at the beginning when the co-founders are friends rather than try to work it out when they are at loggerheads.”

It is also Important to have a lawyer involved in developing these agreements because it is unlikely that you can anticipate all the problems that can come up while running a business together. A lawyer who specializes in helping founders set up businesses will have a broader range of experience and help you think through a whole series of potential issues that you may not have considered.

Our moderator, Betty Wong, emphasized the importance of doing this upfront work based on her personal experience. “In my previous company, I ended up disagreeing with my partner and it resulted in the dissolution of our company,” said Betty. “It is a long and difficult process to delineate upfront what each partner should be doing, but it is so important to put in the work to prevent putting the business at risk down the line.”

Mistake 3: Fail to Have Written Agreements with Third Parties

Another area of risk for entrepreneurs is when they bring in third parties to do work for the company.  “Whenever you engage a third party to do work for your company, it is important to have a written agreement in place that says any intellectual property that is created belongs to the business and that the work is a ‘work for hire’,” says Phil. 

Without an agreement, you may end up with an incomplete right to use something that was created for your company. Without complete rights, you may be required to use the original vendor when you want to make changes to the work; if you try to use someone else, you risk the original vendor asserting his rights and you will need to pay him to switch vendors.  

In addition, third party agreements are important when you are seeking investors. Sophisticated investors will want to review your written agreements with outside vendors to ensure all the work and ideas they created, and for which you paid, really belong to the company. The worst case scenario is having a number of independent contractors that have created value for the company without proper agreements. This can cause investors to back off until you have rectified the situation which can prove to be very expensive. 

Whether you remain a solo entrepreneur, bring on partners or investors or eventually sell your company, it is important to have the right legal framework in place before you start out.  Taking the time upfront to put the right legal agreements in place will prevent a lot of headaches in the future.  For more insights from Phil, go to Crowleylawllc.com.

Copyright 2022: Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong


Is Crypto A Revolution Or Dead End?

These 2 experts explain why you need to embrace this technology now

A lot has been written recently about the death of cryptocurrencies, but is the end really here? Or are we at the beginning of a revolution in how we manage our finances and run our businesses? We do know that cryptocurrencies are being used to conduct business. As of 2020, 28% of American small businesses accept cryptocurrency as payment and that each day there are over $1 million spent on goods and services with Bitcoin in the US.

Debra Albert, Greg Johnson and Anthoy Luis Rodriguez

To help us separate the potential from the spin, Stage2Startups, in partnership with Lean In NYC, talked with Greg Johnson, co-founder of Rubicon Crypto and Anthony Rodriguez, a Fintech Financial Crime and Regulatory Compliance Executive who also owns Flor y Cafe, a local coffee and flower store which accepts cryptocurrencies. The session was moderated by Debra Albert, Network Leader, Lean In Network, NYC.

The Birth of Crypto

“You can thank the banking crisis and Great Recession of 2008 for the rise of blockchain and the cryptocurrencies that use it,” says Greg. “The financial meltdown gave life to the technology movement to disintermediate governments, banks, and other third parties which were blamed for the crisis. This is now just another way to exchange value but without incurring the fees charged by traditional middlemen.”

Anthony also notes that this is a natural evolution of money. “We are seeing the transformation of our financial system into a digital economy,” says Anthony. “Blockchain technology enables secure transactions that the internet was never built for.”

So Why The Controversy? 

Of course the huge fluctuations in the value of these currencies has made investing a strategy only for the most risk tolerant of investors.  But cryptocurrencies have also generated a lot of controversy as a way to exchange value.

“There is always resistance to change, especially when it threatens large established players,” says Anthony.   “And the financial services industry is being disrupted like no other time.”  

“In addition,” added Greg, “the speed of technological change is faster than it has ever been before.  The regulatory environment, particularly in the US, is behind.  This enables bad actors to take advantage of people.”

It also takes awhile for people to become comfortable with a new technology. Greg compared it to the introduction of the personal computer over 20 years ago. “Most of us did not use a computer,” notes Greg, “but now we have become very comfortable and adept at using this technology – technology we never thought we would ever use at the turn of the century.”

Is Crypto Here to Stay? 

All the signs say yes. Just look at what the existing banking industry is doing. On one hand, they publicly discount the importance of crypto but at the same time they are investing hundreds of millions of dollars building the technology to support digital and crypto at their banks. And Fidelity Investments is now allowing cryptocurrencies to be held in their 401K retirement programs.

“Large financial institutions are not going to invest millions if not billions of dollars to support cryptocurrencies unless they have a long term vision that this technology will be a major way society exchanges value in the future,” notes Greg.

What Does This Mean For Small Business Owners?

“At its core, cryptocurrency is competition. It is forcing legacy systems to change,” says Greg. “Small business owners should want this to win and grow because it will force competition leading to lower costs. But remember, we are still very early.”

Anthony currently accepts cryptocurrency and hosts crypto education events at his cafe, Flor y Cafe, leveraging the capabilities on the Shopify platform.  “I feel the best way to learn about something is to actually use it because we are all a little bit afraid of what we don’t know,” says Anthony.  “Focus on the use cases – how to hold it, how to spend it, how to accept it, etc. Get away from the hype and try it so that you can be prepared for whatever happens down the road.” Greg adds that as a small business owner, it is important to know yourself and your customer. “If your customer is digitally native, it may be important for you to offer a crypto payment solution now.  However, if your customer is less likely to embrace new technologies, you may not need to be an early adopter.”

The transformation of the financial world that is underway is happening globally, and while we are still early in the process, this transformation will inevitably happen. Now may be a great time to learn about, and get comfortable with, this technology before it fully enters the mainstream.

You can hear our full conversation with Greg and Anthony on our YouTube Channel at Why Crypto Matters.

Copyright 2022: Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong

How To Turn Networking From A Negative Experience To A Winning Strategy

Follow these simple steps to make your networking more productive

Let’s face it. Most people, when asked, say they hate networking events.  They say they feel awkward and uncomfortable, and conversations can seem forced.  But people will also say that networking is critical to growing their business.

Rajiv Jadhav

So how do you turn what can often feel like a negative experience into a winning strategy?  Stage2Startups talked with Rajiv Jadhav, a master networker and founder of Dynamite Networking Group, to get his tips on how to network more effectively whether in person or online. Follow these simple steps before you go or log on, and you may find that networking is not only productive, it can actually be fun.

Know Your Goal

Too often, people enter the room without a plan, but if you establish your goal for the event in advance, your interactions will ultimately be more productive.  “Get into the right mindset as you prepare for the event,” says Rajiv. “Before you even arrive, know what you want to achieve and establish your goal. You need to ask yourself, ‘What do I want from this?’”

Have A Strategy

Think about who you want to meet and why you want to meet them.  Go through the attendee list in advance and identify the people you would like to meet. You can still make a plan even if there isn’t an attendee list. “If there is no list,” says Rajiv, “think about the type of person who you want to meet such as people in sports marketing or attorneys. That way, when you enter the room your interactions can be more focused and intentional, leading to more productive conversations. And don’t worry if you end up in conversations with people who don’t meet your criteria.  “Simply, excuse yourself after a few minutes. People expect conversations to be time limited. That’s what networking events are designed for,” notes Rajiv.

Prepare Your Introduction

Never quite sure how to introduce yourself?  “Spend some time thinking about who you are, what you do and the benefits your company provides from the perspective of the people you want to meet,” suggests Rajiv. “Think about how you want to be remembered when they think of you or hear your name,” he adds.   Then, craft your “elevator speech”.  This should be a brief, concise and engaging statement explaining who you are and what you do.  Be sure to avoid acronyms or industry speak. You want to use language that is easily understood by someone who isn’t in your industry.

Make It A Conversation

At the end of the day, networking is about establishing connections. Spend the time asking questions and listening to them. Too often, people are so intent on conveying their information that they forget to engage their listener. “Remember, your goal is to meet the person first and the business person second,” says Rajiv.  “Move your conversation beyond the transactional level and strive to establish a personal connection.” People need to establish a personal connection with you before they will feel comfortable working with you or referring you to others.

Networking requires work but it doesn’t need to be hard.  With some upfront planning, you can feel confident when you enter the room or zoom call knowing you are prepared to turn every interaction into a meaningful business connection.

Want to practice your networking skills? Meet fellow founders at our Stage2Startups in-person networking and online watercooler events. Learn more at Stage2Startups.org.

Copyright 2022: Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong

Hiring A Coach Can Be A Smart Business Decision

“A coach can keep you focused and on track for success.”

Emelie Smith Calbick, Founder, Stage2Startups

Successful people, from Olympic medalists to corporate CEOs, have coaches to help them reach their goals. Founders often don’t think about how a coach can help them grow their business, yet having someone you can turn to for advice and support can be crucial to achieving business success.

There are many different coaching options available to founders, ranging from leadership coaches,coaches that specialize in specific areas of running a business, coaching programs such as accelerators and incubators, peer mentoring, and accountability circles. How do you know which option is right for you?

Stage2Startups recently explored the value of having a business coach and the different types of coaching options available with several long-time coaches. Our panelists included Deb Boulanger, founder of the Launch Lab for women entrepreneurs; Win Sheffield, a career coach, and; Betty Wong, co-founder of Stage2Startups. All three of our panelists not only coach entrepreneurs, they have also used coaches themselves. Here is their advice:

Win Sheffield

A Coach Can Help Get You Unstuck According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 5.4 million new business applications were filed in 2021, surpassing the record set in 2020 of 4.4 million. With so much competition, it is important for you and your business to stand out, but how to do that is not always obvious.  That is when a coach can be valuable. Sheffield points out that the focus of coaching is to ask questions. “You may think you have the answers but coaches give you perspective. They give you a dispassionate view of what is going on that you may miss because you are too close to the situation.”

Deb Boulanger

Boulanger also pointed out that the transition from working for others to starting your own business can be especially challenging. “You are going from an environment where you have support to doing everything yourself which can be overwhelming. Having someone who will work with you to identify and prioritize your areas of focus can give you a shortcut to building predictable growth,” says Boulanger.

A DIY Approach Can Cost You Time and Money It is easy to believe the help you need is only one click away on Google, but Boulanger warns there are risks to doing your own research.  “There is so much information available that it is easy to misdiagnose your symptoms and pursue the wrong solution,” says Boulanger. “I have had clients come to me who spent a lot of money and wasted a lot of time pursuing the wrong solution.”  Sheffield added, “The benefit of a coach is that you are not doing your business on your own. You need input from others or you will never be as good as you can be.”

Betty Wong

Wong points out that when researching on your own, you can’t always determine which source is reliable. “That’s why Stage2Startups focuses on introducing founders to a variety of resources. We connect founders to experts and founders can then decide if they want to work with them.”

Take The Time to Find the Right Coaching Option For You All three panelists emphasized that only you can determine the right coach for you. Do you need someone to talk to or brainstorm with? Or do you need a program to help you get the foundation established? Perhaps you prefer a group of colleagues, other startup founders, to help you stay on track. “You don’t need all these coaching options all the time,” says Sheffield. “You can go in diagnostically for a specific issue. Just be sure to find a coach you like.”

Wong points out that the type of coaching you need depends on where you are in your business. “Test out different coaching approaches to find the one that works best for you and your stage of business growth,” says Wong.

Boulanger cautioned to be wary of “cookie cutter” coaches who claim they have a system. “Every business has different challenges depending on whether you offer a service or a physical product. You need to find a coach that understands your unique needs,” says Boulanger.

Wong added that peer accountability circles are helpful because a group of your peers can provide guidance on how they successfully navigated the same problems you may be facing. “However, it’s important to find peers at the same stage of development or slightly ahead of your business to be effective,” says Wong.

Whether you are just starting your business or you are already on a path to growth, investing in a coach can be a smart investment. An independent resource can help you step back from the day-to-day tasks of running your business to clarify what you know, understand what is currently working and identify the steps you need to take to be successful. The path to success is never easy but with a coach you have the opportunity to make it shorter.

Copywright 2022: Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong

Is Asking Friends and Family Members for Money the Right Move for Your Business?

What you need to know before pursuing ‘friends and family’ funding

Asking your friends and family members to support your business monetarily can be hard, but almost every entrepreneur needs to know how to do this if they want to grow their business. Even Jeff Bezos turned to his friends and family to help fund Amazon when he was starting out.

The “friends and family round” is often the first step in raising money after self-funding your startup with your savings, yet nobody really tells you how to do it.  

Stage2Startups recently hosted an online discussion with several entrepreneurs about this important step in growing their business.

We talked to Robin Rosenberg, CEO of Live In Their World (a virtual reality artificial intelligence sensitivity training company); Gopal Swamy, CEO of Conductiv (a data aggregator and assessment platform for the financial industry); and Richard Russo, CEO of Endomedix (a bio-technology company) about their experiences with raising money and their advice on how to ask those closest to you to support your business.

Here is some of their advice:

Know Who to Ask

Before you approach anyone about investing in your idea, think first about who that person is. Ask yourself, “Are they risk averse?” and “Can they afford to lose their investment?” and “Could this damage our relationship if something goes wrong?”

Rosenberg worried when she approached her family since most concepts in the counseling space fail. 

“There was a good chance that my investors would lose their money,” she said. “That responsibility weighed on me.”

As a result, Rosenberg made sure her family understood the risk before investing. “My family ultimately invested because they believed in my product and my mission,” she noted. “They understood the risk, but they believed in me.”

However, family is not always the best route to take, said Swamy. Unlike Rosenberg, he did not approach his family members. Instead, he reached out to his old bosses and colleagues who did not have the same “emotional baggage” as with family.

“Unlike family, these people already know you in a professional capacity,” Swamy said. “I would call up someone and ask for their advice. It is a natural and easy way to open the investment conversation.”

Make It Simple

One of the hardest things to do is to clearly explain your idea to investors. You know your product and industry intimately and want to show potential investors that you have done your homework. But they can quickly get lost in the minutiae you are so passionate about. Instead, tell your story clearly and simply and let them ask for more detail, as needed.

Russo recommends thinking about telling your story as a series of “word pictures.”

“Don’t get caught up in the details,” he cautioned. “Focus on the bigger picture and help ‘connect the dots’ for the listener so they can see the opportunity. Find a similar business as a comparison, for example, and then show how you are doing it differently or better.”

Rosenberg went a step further by actually creating a demo of her product so that people could experience it before investing. “Once they understood what I was trying to achieve, they were more open to investing,” she said.

Practice Your Pitch

Once you have your story, or “pitch” prepared, you have to be able to present your concept clearly and confidently.

“If you want to raise capital, you must be able to get potential investors excited about the idea and you,” said Russo. “That’s why it is so important to practice how you will tell your story.”

Swamy recommends finding a coach to help you with your presentation. “Even after having raised money before, I hired a coach to help me with my latest venture. An impartial third party is helpful in identifying areas where I could improve my presentation skills,” he said.

Betty Wong, our panel moderator, added that she struggled to ask for money without beginning to laugh nervously.

“I finally decided to take acting lessons,” Wong said. “I found the techniques that actors used to stay focused and calm very useful in improving my approach.”

Make It Formal

Once you have people who are ready to invest, it is important to formalize your agreement. This will ensure that everyone is clear on how and when they can expect to see a return on their investment. 

This is especially important with friends and family where a handshake may be easier but can cause complications down the road. A more formalized approach also establishes a professional relationship with rules and processes for founders to maintain with their investors.

There are many ways you can structure your financial arrangement, so be sure to hire a lawyer who has experience working with startup organizations.

If you want to raise money for your business from friends and family, it is important to take the time to prepare. Asking for money may still be hard, but your chances of success will be greater with preparation and practice. To hear the full discussion with our founders about this topic, go to Stage2Startups/events.

Copyright 2022: Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong

How to Move Forward When You Want to Quit

Entrepreneurs share their tips for staying motivated when you’re feeling frustrated

Every entrepreneur has experienced it.  Those days when nothing seems to be going right. Those frustrating times when you can’t see a path to success ahead. Before you throw in the towel and give up, learn from these entrepreneurs on how they push through the tough times.

Last October, we invited over 30 “second stage” founders to speak at our first Stage2Startups Founders Over 40 Conference. Speakers came from all backgrounds and industries; they either started their companies from scratch or bought and built a company; and, they started both for-profit and nonprofit organizations.

While every entrepreneur’s journey is unique, we learned that everyone who sets out to start their own business will experience those moments when success does not look possible.

Here is some advice on how these business founders stayed motivated:

Have a Plan

One of the best ways to prevent feeling discouraged as you build your business is to have a solid plan.

Richard Russo Credit: Kelly Carthens

Richard Russo, CEO of Endomedix, a biotechnology firm based in Montclair, N.J., notes that when entrepreneurs focus only on the end goal, they can lose sight of what needs to be done in the short term to reach that goal.

“When your goal is so far away, it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel and you can feel like you are not getting anywhere,” says Russo, who counsels every founder to create a plan with concrete milestones and the steps needed to achieve each milestone.

“Now, when you achieve a milestone, you can feel good about yourself and look back on what you achieved. In addition, you can now communicate your success to others, which also builds your confidence.”

Remember Your “Why”

Even with a plan in place, it is never a smooth path to achieving your goal.

Gary Portuesi. Credit: Gary Portuesi

Gary Portuesi, founder of the luxury travel business, Authentic Explorations, based in New York City, talked about how easy it is to get overwhelmed by the general chaos of the daily tasks of building a business.

He advises, “Don’t get lost in the day-to-day of your business and lose sight of your mission. Take a deep breath, and remember to keep looking at the longer term view.”

A woman wearing colorful clothing standing next to dress forms. Next Avenue, entrepreneur, business inspiration
Ngozi Okaro  |  Credit: Carolina Isabel Salazar

Ngozi Okaro, the New York City-based founder of the nonprofit Custom Collaborative, which offers training to low and no-income women and immigrant women in the fashion industry, planned out where she wanted to be in 3, 5 and 10 years. Then, when frustrations built or nothing seemed to be going right, she could always look to the future. 

“When I am in frustrating moments, I step back and remember that this particular moment is not the moment I am living for,” says Okaro. “I remind myself that I am working for the big moments when I know I am making a transformational impact on women’s lives. This helps me get over the short- term frustration and refocus on my bigger mission.”

Build Your Support Group

Being a solopreneur does not mean you have to do it alone when you hit a roadblock. Our entrepreneurs cautioned against becoming isolated and instead take the time to find people with the skills and willingness to help. These people can serve as sounding boards, brainstorm solutions, and help open doors. 

An older adult wearing a grey suit speaking on a stage. Next Avenue, entrepreneur, business inspiration
James Rosseau, Sr.  |  Credit: LegalShield

“The ability to pick up a phone and ask some people for help is invaluable,” says James Rosseau, Sr., founder of The Corelink Solution, a Wilmington, Del. nonprofit focused on revitalizing communities through programs that help people realize their potential.

Rousseau suggests finding people on LinkedIn with the skills and knowledge you need and do a “cold call” introduction explaining why you want to connect with them.

“You would be surprised at how many people want to help,” he says.

An older adult speaking in front of a business meeting. Next Avenue, entrepreneur, business inspiration
Deb Boulanger  |  Credit: Lauren Kress

New York resident Deb Boulanger, founder of The Launch Lab, a mentoring program for women entrepreneurs, also recommends building a community of people you trust because “the last thing you want to do is struggle alone.” 

However, she counseled that you must build your support group with the right people.

“Friends can’t help you because they don’t have the expertise in what you are trying to build.  You need people who are working in the same space as you and who have experienced the same challenges. These people can commiserate with you, share their experiences, and help you work through the moment,” says Boulanger.

Keep Your Grit

Educators talk about the importance of grit for children to succeed. The same is true for entrepreneurs. A consistent theme among our entrepreneurs was the importance of not letting short-term challenges or naysayers derail their long term goals.

Tanya Van Court Photo Credit: NYSE

But perseverance does not mean beating your head against the wall. Instead, step back and reevaluate.

Tanya Van Court, who founded Goalsetter, a family savings and spending app, says, “Treat any barrier as an obstacle. A barrier means that you can never get from point A to point B, but with an obstacle you can figure out how to go around, under or over it.”

Jeanne Pinder. Credit: Andy KropaPhotograph

Jeanne Pinder, founder of ClearHealthCosts, talked about what it was like launching a tech startup, focused on transparency in health care pricing, as a 55-year-old woman. 

“I encountered a lot of naysaying – I was too old to start a company or I couldn’t start a tech startup because I was a woman. But you have to turn that negativity into something good. I became motivated every time someone said I couldn’t do something. I didn’t take no for an answer and I didn’t give up,” Pinder says.

5 Strategies for Being a Good Partner

February 18 Stage2Startups Panel Discussion

Earlier this year, Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong of Stage2Startups,  moderated a cross-country discussion on partnerships with founders from New York, San Diego and Colorado Springs. Our panelists included:

Christiana Russell and Luis Martinez

Christiana Russell and her partner, Luis Martinez, of WeThaPlug. WeThaPlug advocates for tech and innovation entrepreneurship in Black & Latino communities, providing founders with access to startup fundamental education, advice, mentorship, programming, and funding. 

Stacey Burns and her co-founder, Jonathan Liebert, of Colorado Institute for Social Impact. CI4SI focuses on education, certification, evaluation, and consultation in the Social Impact space in Colorado as well as other cities across the country. 

Stacey Burns and Jonathan Liebert

We were joined by members of the Stage2Startups community who also commented on their experiences with partnerships.

Reflecting on partnerships in our own startup ventures, we agreed with Stacey, Jonathan, Luis and Christiana on the following tips for working together:

  1. Find your comfort level. It is important to find a business partner that you are comfortable with on both a personal and professional level.  You want to make sure you can work with them on a daily basis, and that you can trust and rely on their expertise and business judgement.  
  2. Know your partner. Learn about your partner and understand their strengths and weaknesses so you can motivate and get the best of each other and appreciate the differences each party brings to the team;
  3. Know yourself. Learn to know yourself and be willing to acknowledge your own strengths and weaknesses.  It is also important to know your personal values;
  4. Always listen. As Christiana said, “Be slow to speak and quick to hear.” Listen to each other, especially during this time, when it is harder to get together in person. Be sure to check in with each other regularly and have an open door for all conversations, especially the hard conversations;
  5. Share a vision.  As Jonathan said, “You need to share the same North Star.” Even though you and your partner bring different skills to the partnership, it is important  to find someone who shares the same vision of what you want the company to be.

Our panelists all felt that running a business as a solopreneur would be harder, especially when it comes to raising money since investors prefer backing partners.  A partner is valuable both as a sounding board and as backup to get things done, especially if the other partner is momentarily distracted. They also commented on the immense value of being able to leverage each other’s skills to move their businesses forward more quickly and, if a difficult situation arises, to be able to implement a bad cop/good cop strategy. 

On the question of where to find partners, our partners suggest looking for partners among your personal network, meeting people at professional and casual events or even while you are getting an education. If you don’t know the person well, one option is to bring them on as a consultant.  This allows you to “test them out” and see if there is a good fit before fully bringing them on as a partner. Regardless, all agree that it takes work and commitment to be a good partner.

You can learn more about WeThaPlug at https://www.wethaplug.com/

You can learn more about the Colorado Institute for Social Impact at https://www.ci4si.org/

To watch the full panel discussion, go to the Stage2Startups YouTube channel.

(c) 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong

How To Make Your Customers Feel They Are Your Top Priority

“Building Customer Service and Trust are Keys to A Service Business”

Marci Lobel-Esrig, Founder and General Counsel, SilverBills

Making the customers feel that they are a priority is a key to establishing the trust necessary in the kind of business that Marci Lobel-Esrig started. SilverBills helps clients manage their bills, which requires reviewing, storing and ensuring that bills get paid for people who can’t manage or don’t want to manage those invoices, like rent, utilities and tele-communications. Marci got the idea when she saw that her Aunt was having difficulty managing her financial affairs. She also saw that it was necessary to be very transparent about how the company did its work to earn the trust of her clients. Her website has three videos explaining how the process works, essentially by remotely accessing bills sent by customers and assigning customers to work through specific, dedicated account managers via phone calls instead of online, if they prefer. In this age of technology and automation, the most difficult level of technology a customer needs to manage is a phone if they enroll with SilverBills. This focus on the comfort level of her clients and making it easy for them to work with SilverBills using pre-paid, pre-addressed envelopes makes the business more accessible for older adults. 

Marci Lobel-Esrig

Marci started the business by herself, but she understood that, in order to scale, she needed to work with a team.  Her commitment to customer service was so high that the first hire for her company was a director of customer care services. Today, the largest number of staff at SilverBills are account managers.  In planning for future growth, a portion of the money she will be raising will be devoted to expanding the capabilities and the size of the account management team.

Since launching SilverBills, Marci has been building her reputation to generate trust among individuals, governments and professionals. Marci found that, as a lawyer with 25 years’ experience, she had sufficient legal skills to manage her company, but took a variety of courses in other areas.  She has worked to establish relationships with a number of strategic partners and vendors working with the same target market – like AARP and the New York City Department for the Aging. Her efforts helped her get positive press in publications such as Consumer Report and Bank Rate, which helps her company’s credibility among seniors and their adult children.

What does Marci recommend new entrepreneurs do? Learn as much as possible and participate in programs that will help you develop the new skills you may need to run a successful business.

To reach Marci or learn more about SilverBills, visit www.silverbills.com or email Marci@silverbills.com 

(c) 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong

What Makes for a Perfect Startup Partner?

“Establishing open and honest communication with your co-founder is the foundation for a successful partnership.”

Stacey Burns, Cofounder, Colorado Institute for Social Impact

Stacey Burns started the Colorado Institute for Social Impact with her cofounder, Jonathan Liebert, three years ago. Today, CI4SI focuses on education, certification, evaluation, and consultation in the Social Impact space in Colorado as well as other cities across the country. 

Stacey Burns

The company evolved from a series of coffee conversations with others in the community who wanted to develop a social impact model for their business. “Those coffees inspired me,” says Stacey. “I realized that I had something to offer and the more coffee conversations I had made me realize the magnitude of the potential impact I could make.” CI4SI is helping support the growing movement within the business community to create social and environmental impact through the engine of capitalism. Called the 4th Sector, this new sector of the economy embraces businesses who strive to “merge mission and margin, purpose and profit.”

Both Stacey and Jonathan have degrees in Counseling Psychology and have known each other for 20 years. “Being friends first gave us a strong foundation on which to build our working relationship,” says Stacey. “We already had built a solid level of trust, and our shared backgrounds in social services gave us a common operating language.” Stacey also notes that she and Jonathan complement each other’s skill sets – she says Jonathan is the visionary while she focuses on implementation – and that this combination of different skills has been vital for their success. “Both of us have strong ideas but we are coming at problems from different perspectives,” says Stacey. “However, we are able to talk through our differences to come to a decision that we both can support.”

When you don’t have a long established relationship with your co-founder, then you need to build that foundation of trust and establish open lines of communication. “I have seen so many co-founder relationships gone wrong because they rushed into the partnership,” says Stacey. They know they need another skill set but they fail to walk through the steps of how the partnership will work.” 

Without doing that work upfront, co-founders can struggle when challenges arise. For Stacey and Jonathan, that challenge was COVID.  While going into 2020 they had great momentum working with nonprofits, for profits and funders on Social Impact Certification; a pipeline that stalled with the arrival of the pandemic. They quickly pivoted and converted what could have been a business-breaking situation to an opportunity. Knowing that the next generation of consumers expect the companies they purchase from to align with their values, CI4SI is now working more with organizations on how to align their bottom line with mission and talk about their impact through Social Return on Investment.  

“Working with a co-founder is a lot like planning to parent with someone,” says Stacey. “You need to talk about what happens when things go wrong or right and what success looks like before you have the child.  It’s better to do that work on the front end instead of having those conversations down the road when challenges arise.”

You can learn more about Stacey and CI4SI at https://www.ci4si.org/. Stacey and Jonathan will talk more about working with a partner at our upcoming Stage2Startups panel discussion on January 28, 2021.

(c) 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong

“Whatever You Do, Learn to Sell!”

“It doesn’t matter what your age, or even what your product is, you have to get the sales process down first.” 

Tanya Moss, Founder, Tanya Moss Jewelry

“You have to know how to sell to be a successful entrepreneur,” says Tanya Moss, Founder of Tanya Moss Jewelry.  “It doesn’t matter what your age, or even what your product is, you have to get the sales process down first.” 

Tanya Moss

Selling is being able to pitch your business, to demonstrate what makes it unique, to your audience.  Whether it is a distributor for your product, a potential investor or a customer, entrepreneurs are always having to tell their story in a meaningful and compelling way to achieve success.

While studying graphic design in Mexico City, Tanya pursued her true passion of designing jewelry. But to turn those designs into actual jewelry, she needed to persuade artisans to create them. Before even graduating from school, Tanya successfully got her designs made and launched her own jewelry line. She started out selling her jewelry directly to people in their homes, similar to Avon’s distribution model. Today, Avon is a client, selling her jewelry throughout Mexico.

When Tanya shifted from direct selling to operating her own “stores within department stores”, she found that the sales techniques she had honed from door-to-door sales were critical for generating sales in the store environment, where people often tend to browse without buying. Up until the COVID crisis, Tanya had 30 stores all over Mexico. 

With the pandemic, Tanya has shifted her focus to online sales. While the channel is different, Tanya has found that her sales experience from in-home and in-store distribution models has helped her maximize her ecommerce sales. Her online store has doubled in sales since the pandemic started.

“A lot of selling is about listening to the customer and helping that customer solve his or her problem,” says Tanya.  “A successful sales person is able to match the product’s benefits to the customer’s needs.”

While selling is a natural ability for Tanya and something she enjoys doing, she credits retail author Harry Friedman’s book, No Thanks, I’m Just Looking: Sales Techniques for Turning Shoppers Into Buyers, for helping her to refine her sales techniques. Now,  she is now using the techniques she has developed over her career to train her sales team of over 50 people.

Tanya likes to say that her most successful “sale” and hire was an ex-banker, who visited her store during his downtime, and eventually joined her team. He initially met Tanya when she was trying to sell her merchandise to a new retailer, so he witnessed her sales technique first-hand. Today, he is her husband and CEO of the company – Eduardo Stolkin, who holds an MBA from

 Columbia Business School. She and her husband discovered that their skills complemented each other, and continue to do so to this day. He focuses on the financial aspects of the business while she focuses on creative design, marketing and sales.  

Tanya now wants to expand into the US market. To do that, she will need to find the right partners.  Selling them on the benefits of investing in her company will be just another day at the office for Tanya.

If you would like to see Tanya’s jewelry designs, check www.tanyamossjewelry.com.

(c) 2020 Emelie Smith Calbick and Betty Wong