Every new business owner wants their venture to be a big success, but for many, getting started on the right foot is often the biggest challenge. From having an understanding of what your brand is and the importance of determining your corporate culture to the development of your product or lines of service, the questions you need to answer are critical in order to build a successful business you can one day sell at a premium value. James Bottom is the Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Southern California and the founder of Incubatrix in Los Angeles. He and Jeff Allen will discuss the steps you need to take and the pitfalls you need to avoid to help your new business thrive.
A brand could be absolutely anything. But then I guess the question is: how do you transition a brand into like a way station or some type of SEO strategy in which people can find you.
- James Bottom
Jeff: You're welcome, and we've been really looking forward to the show, James, because I'm an entrepreneur and I know that you're an entrepreneur as well, and what I'd like you to do is start by telling us more a little bit about kind of what you do in helping entrepreneurs in their start-up businesses. Just give us a snapshot of what you do and how you help entrepreneurs.
James: Absolutely. I work with the University to help encourage students to go build business. And the program that we work with here is really designed to help student entrepreneurs navigate around a lot of the early pitfalls of entrepreneurship because it really doesn't matter how old you are. If it's your first time trying to go build a business, there are a lot of things that can sidetrack you or bring you down.
Jeff: There really is a lot to know, and sometimes we don't find out what we really need to know upfront until we're well into the process of running our organizations, or sole proprietorships, or whatever it is that we have. James, I kind of got to think,ing I'm preparing this discussion that we're having today and taking a few notes down, and I was just kind of curious. I know that your personal experience as a business professional, it's vast and deep. You've been at it for a long time and you've done a number of different things including owning your own businesses. Do you remember early on in your career as a young entrepreneur kind of that aha moment when things just sort of clicked and you began to understand what you needed to do to be successful and run your own successful business?
James: Yeah, for me I think it really hit home when I was trying to go figure out how to really nail a corporate culture that I wanted to be a part of and really invest a better part of my life and doing to create. Because there's nothing worse where you're working for someone else and the decision making that's happening is out of your control, and then you don't have the ability to go influence the organization. And seeing it crumble is disheartening when a lot of people's livelihoods could be on the line.
I think you could call it corporate culture or branding for how you really want to go work and identify your business. But I think branding for the solo entrepreneur is just so very important today.
Jeff: James, let's camp out on this point for just a minute. I'm curious. Having a corporate culture is very important you say, and we've heard that. And that's become more of kind of a mantra in recent years, having a corporate culture that everybody buys into is very, very important indeed. But as a sole proprietor, someone working on your own, maybe you're starting out. It doesn't matter what kind of industry. You could be in PR, you could be an engineer, or a project manager, it doesn't matter what you do. Why is having a corporate culture so critical, and really in particular, in this day and age?
James: I would say, to set up really one of the best corporate cultures, I suppose we should just start with the basic sole proprietor, someone that's working for themselves. I think you could call it corporate culture or branding for how you really want to go work and identify your business. But I think branding for the solo entrepreneur is just so very important today.
Jeff: Let's talk about that then, branding. We all know what a brand is and they all come to mind, don't they? I mean, Coca Cola, Rain Bird, McDonald's, United Airlines, it doesn't matter brand it is, we all know what a brand is. But branding, that's different than just simply advertising and marketing and there may be components of all of that. This is something that is a must-do and I know you feel very passionate about that. Should business owners consider branding as kind of a requirement before they go out and sell their products, or their services, for the very first time? How important is it to get that out of the way first or at least to embark on the process of branding your company and what it is that you do?
James: I think embarking to go get a lot of the digital assets that are required in today's modern entrepreneurial age is something that people should really take a lot of time to go do at the beginning. It doesn't take much planning and later in the show we can talk about the how-to's to really go make that happen. But it's very important that you have all the digital assets of what your brand would become, or could become, at very beginning of starting an endeavor. Because once you start going out there and advertising or just talking about yourself, and there's an opportunity for people to go-- essentially take those assets that should've been yours.
Jeff: Branding itself is really, how would you define branding? It's kind of actually when you talk about identity. I guess that would really be the case wouldn't it? It's kind of a face, a voice, a character behind the intellectual property of your logo and maybe your company name and what you sell. But it really does kind of, it embodies everything. It embodies the very nature of what you do and why, isn't it? What else? How would you define what a brand is and what it should be?
James: A brand can be whatever you're supposed to stand for, right? A brand could be absolutely anything. But then I guess the question is: how do you transition a brand into like a way station or some type of SEO strategy in which people can find you. Some of the very basic things that you can do is just selecting a good name that no one else is really using online. There are sites out there like namechk.com that will allow you to go basically type in words that you think you would want to build your brand around to see if anyone is using. Let's say those words on social media as domain handles to basically what might be "infringing" on a brand. And so if in the very beginning you just take a little bit of time to go see, hey, is anyone actually using whatever name that you actually want to go use, if you can have a consistent domain name across social networks you can almost guarantee yourself to be the number one result on Google.
Absolutely. I think it's pretty much a necessity to have the domain handles be consistent across social networks.
Jeff: I think the key there is consistency. You don't want to name yourself one thing and then have the name of a website be something completely different. And then maybe you've got a blog or maybe you've got an order page, or a splash page that’s something completely different on top of that. If you're going to have a name XYZ Furniture Manufacturing, then doggone it, it's got to be something like XYZ Furniture Manufacturing or XYZ. And it has to say that all across every platform that you use online.
James: Absolutely. I think it's pretty much a necessity to have the domain handles be consistent across social networks. It's one of the easiest ways you'll guarantee yourself to be the number one result on Google because if you have an inconsistent branding or inconsistent digital assets you're making it that much harder for people to potentially find you.
Jeff: James Bottom joins us by the way today. I really need to mention him. He's kind of a specialist in the area of helping entrepreneurs grow their startup companies and he is the director of a very significant program at USC in innovation and entrepreneurship. Also a founder of his own firm IncubatriX in Los Angeles, Manhattan Beach Area. James, what you say is very important. Obviously, in being able to have that consistency and naming all across the board, across the digital space. But look, there's a guy down the street, works for a very big and important SEO firm across the country. He works with brands all over the world. He said, "Jeff, for five or six grand I could come in and talk to you, and we can go ahead and begin working with you on a way that you can show up in the first five or six search spaces in Google search." Why shouldn't I just go and have someone else come in and work with me for a few thousand dollars, and get started on this whole SEO thing that I've been hearing about and I know that other people have found success with?
James: There's obviously a market for that, with SEO experts. But then there's also the opportunity for you to go do it yourself. One of the ways you can almost guarantee yourself to be the number one result on Google would be just to go police up some of the domain assets on some of the very simple social media sites like WordPress blogger, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and a few others. If you're able to go ahead and have a consistent domain name on those sites along with providing a back link to that site I can almost guarantee you, you're going to be really high up in the domain search associated with a particular name.
Jeff: Basically what you're saying is each of those tools has essentially an infrastructure built in to the systems that allow you to gain the traction that you'll need certainly over time. And as long as you keep that consistent naming convention across the board, across the digital space for your websites, blogs, and what have you, you will over time be able to find the type of search ranking results that you want for your business and being able to rank higher on the Google search engines and Bing.
James: Absolutely. I think you described it very well. Having those consistent domains has a purpose. Usually, when you're trying to select a name at the beginning you're really trying to go find a word that accurately describes your core business. It can be difficult sometimes to go find a word that you want to go dominate in a particular industry. But one of the easy tips or tricks is just to go add prefixes or suffixes to that word to see if anyone's sitting on those domain assets. Instead of just using the word sell could you do selling or then use another word like pre-sell to try and go claim domain assets that sometimes people aren't really thinking about.
But one of the easy tips or tricks is just to go add prefixes or suffixes to that word to see if anyone's sitting on those domain assets.
Jeff: Very, very good point and it sounds like an easy way to get started on your custom domain search. James, I know that you've got a lot of other suggestions and ways that we can look at trying to brand ourselves in such a way that we're going to keep the cost factor down and we're going to keep it manageable for ourselves. And we're also going to learn a little bit in the process about not only our own business but really how the internet helps us market our businesses now to make them more effective and more successful. I'm talking with James Bottom, director of innovation and entrepreneurship at USC, and also founder of IncubatriX in Manhattan Beach. And we're going to continue our conversation, what entrepreneurs need to know, that they don't, about their own brands and how to position themselves for success when Deal Talk returns in just a moment.
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Jeff: Welcome back to Deal Talk, I'm Jeff Allen with start-up specialist James Bottom who helps entrepreneurs become more successful through a program he oversees at USC and through his own company, IncubatriX. James, it's good to have you. I appreciate you staying through the break. We're having a great talk here. We've already talked about the importance of really establishing your branding, getting that in your mindset and getting a clear picture of who you are, and then establishing that brand, making sure that it's uniform and consistent, that message is the same, the name that you use for your website is the same and that you use for your company is the same across all platforms that you use online. Whether you have a blog, website, multiple websites, an order form, it doesn't matter what you have. Wherever you have a presence online, that brand reference, that identity, the names are all the same, very important indeed. But let's go ahead and let's take a step farther.
I'm an entrepreneur and I've got a product to sell, I've got a service to sell. I'm really happy about it. I've worked on it. It's been in the development phase for two or three years now. It's been tested and it's fantastic. My branding is in order. I've got messages going out. I don't have customer one, not yet. What is it that I and other entrepreneurs need to know? To get people coming to us we can't just simply expect to put up a website or a blog and have people just come to us and want this thing that we have without approaching them or without letting them know about in some kind of way. Tell me what you would tell your entrepreneurs that you work with.
James: Hopefully you're never building a product or service in a vacuum. Hopefully you wouldn't go years without talking with a potential customer because as cheesy as it sounds the customer is always right. The absolute best thing you could do in a business is actually launch with a customer in hand. If you're going out there and trying to go find potential opportunities to go help provide business value, if you can essentially design a product that actually helps someone and launch with a customer in hand, that's usually the best way to go about building a successful business.
Jeff: That's really having a need that you're aware of already and already having a solution for that need, and maybe even having someone who could benefit from it right away. Because quite possibly, James correct me if I'm wrong, these people, this first customer ideally could be the person that really influences how this product or service is shaped and made in order to deal with their problem, is that correct?
James: Absolutely. If there's a market fit for a particular customer or a consumer category that you've identified, either you are a subject matter expert because you've been in the field for a while so you kind of know what to build. But even if you don't know what exactly you should be doing, it always helps to go out to talk to a statistically relevant customer sample. If you're an early stage entrepreneur that just has an idea and you're trying to figure out if you have the right market fit, I encourage our entrepreneurs to go ahead and speak to at least 16 potential customers because it's a statistically relevant sample, and hopefully you'll get some insight whether or not they would actually use a product that you're trying to go build or create.
Jeff: It's fascinating. I have a question that kind of takes us off into a different area. It's kind of the same subject but it kind of comes at it from a different way. Let's say that I have been working with maybe a couple of partners, maybe both of them engineers or a designer and one’s an engineer. At any rate, we have developed this thing that is unbelievable, and maybe it's a safety product for example. This safety product has the potential to save lives the first day that it's used. We see nothing like this on the market. This is truly innovative. We don't even know that there's a need for it yet but we've developed this product, we can see that it works. We have reason to believe through testing that it will be effective and save lives out there. Some people might call it disruptive because it's the first of its kind. Do I have to approach my marketing processes, I guess you might call them, in a different way in order to get this in front of potential customers that don't even know that they even have a need for what I'm building yet?
James: Absolutely. One of the most important things when you're looking for a market fit or even after you've designed something is: what are the key partnerships or channels in which a product or service like mine might be beneficial? Are there any industry organizations that might want to go find out more about what I'm trying to go do? Where can I really go partner with organizations? Not necessarily companies but organizations or key customer channels where I can go get in front of more potential customers to go tell about my product or service.
One of the most important things when you're looking for a market fit or even after you've designed something is: what are the key partnerships or channels in which a product or service like mine might be beneficial?
Jeff: Very, very good. On more of a broad scale let's look down the road a little bit, at the potential that branding our company in such a way helps it find its own success. We have attracted customers from all over the world. We're a successful organization. How much do you think, James, from what you've been able to see, or from what you've read, what you know just in your background as a specialist working with startups? How much of an effect can finding that right brand and that right combination of marketing and a brand that is on the tip of everyone's tongue have on the ultimate valuation of a company? For that one day when I'm ready to roll everything up and I'm ready to move on and sell my business and sell my brand to somebody else to take it over and to continue that heritage of success. How important is having that brand, that recognizable go-to brand of integrity toward the eventual value, or valuation I guess you can call it, of my business?
James: I think it really depends on what you product or service is. If you're building a digital product I'd say that it should really increase the value. I have a silly example that I'd heard this past year. It was about a company that called Shipping Your Enemies Glitter. Have you heard about that?
Jeff: I haven't heard about. Tell us a little bit about it.
James: It was started by an Australian that was building almost like a fake website to go ship their enemies glitter. It's basically a fun way of shipping hate mail.
James: This entrepreneur found what would be a funny customer fit of being able to go ship funny hate mail. This thing just blew up on the internet. He got several thousand orders within the first day or so. It was actually so many orders that this younger entrepreneur didn't even really know what to do. And so within three weeks he ended up putting his business up for sale and it got sold for $88,000 or maybe it's $68,000. I'd have to go check with the numbers.
All those people that have followed, or liked, or shared any information about that particular brand by some of the activity that they're sharing, that would alone increase the value of the brand.
Jeff: He'd only been business for three weeks?
James: He'd only been in business for three weeks, and I don't think he had really any intention of really following through because he seems like a free spirited Aussie which I could certainly appreciate. But if you go back, there's been plenty of other minds about shipping glitter to enemies. If he was the one that was essentially sitting on the overall brand when this thing blew up on social media he'd have a million plus followers on various social channels. All those people that have followed, or liked, or shared any information about that particular brand by some of the activity that they're sharing, that would alone increase the value of the brand.
Jeff: You think about, really, when you are just starting out and you've got a plain sheet of paper in front of you and you're writing some notes, or maybe you've got your tablet in front of you and you're taking some notes and doing some research. Really, you're starting from zero, and in some cases some people start with less than that. And so when you consider what it is that you're able to do in a relatively short space of time, just through your own intellect and your ability to consider all of the various options that are available. The tools that are available at one's disposal out there online, you can take that starting figure of zero, that blank sheet of paper and really create something out of nothing. And that person with the Ship Your Enemies Glitter is just an example where he took his idea and in three weeks he profited to the tune of 88 grand, which is 88 grand more than what he started out three weeks prior to that. James, that's a great example.
I know that you work with a number of essentially start-up students at USC and the program that you oversee there. I was wondering if you might have any real-life examples or success stories of entrepreneurs that you've had a chance to work with and be in touch with to help them in their projects? And I was wondering if you'd be willing to share one or two of those examples with our listeners and how they've essentially come out of nothing and they've really taken off and seen their business see early success.
James: Yeah, there's been a few that have been gaining momentum. One of the fastest growing ones right now from a digital perspective is an app called Lucky Day, which essentially offers the ability to go play scratchers or win the Lotto for free just about every single day. As you put it before it's kind of disruptive because now you have the ability to go get a free scratcher or several free scratchers, or a free lotto ticket every single day.
Jeff: Wow, okay. Very good. That sounds like my kind of game. Any other ideas that you have or any other examples of people that you've worked with lately that have found some success, or are finding some success? Some people that maybe you started out with working with them and they were kind of like, "I have no idea what I'm doing. I know what I'd like to do but I don't know exactly what it is that I'm doing to try to push this ball up the hill." And maybe you've had a chance to kind of reevaluate with them over some time and you can see that they're making some real progress.
James: Yeah. There's been some first time entrepreneurs that have had some really good success. There's an individual that just graduated from USC here that created something called the Stunt Player's Directory. It's basically an online database of stunt players in the industry, and it's mostly designed for stunt coordinators to be able to find the stunt players that they're looking for, for particular stunts. And so he relaunched this business and has been able to go put the product in an online format that's gaining a lot of traction right now within the entertainment industry.
Jeff: That's huge. That would be particularly large of course on the West Coast and Hollywood area which is where you're located, James. I wanted to take a second first to thank you again for joining us. We're running short on time and I know by your bio there on LinkedIn, you touted there as the Pete Carroll of startups. I love that. Pete Carroll of course, the long-time, highly successful head football coach there at USC. And of course, now he's doing big things up in Seattle with the Seahawks up there. But really, you have so many different specialties that I know that you have been able to help a number of entrepreneurs and startup business owners with everything from marketing, to basically helping them to create more efficient business processes using social media to their advantage, customer relationship management. And so the list kind of goes on and on. If we have an entrepreneur, or two, or three out there who would love to be in touch with you to find out more how they might be able to get involved with your program or speak with you on a one-to-one basis about what it is that you might be able to help them with in order to contribute to the success of their business and help make them successful. What can they do, how can reach you?
James: Again, I'm fairly accessible online just about all the time. I'm really easy to find. If you want to just go try and follow @jamesbottom on Twitter. That's probably my most active social network and I'm more than willing to go communicate with just about anyone with the ideas that they have or how I can go inspire them to go live and reach their dreams.
Jeff: James, again, I appreciate all the time that you've given. You've got some great ideas and these are ideas that have been put into action and that are working for a number of start-up business owners. Again, we appreciate it. We hope to have you back on again.
James: Thanks Jeff. I really appreciate your time. And anytime you want to have me back I'll be here.
Jeff: Terrific. James Bottom, founder of IncubatriX and Director of innovation and entrepreneurship at USC.
Deal Talk is presented by Morgan & Westfield, a nationwide leader in business sales and appraisals. If you'd like more information about buying or selling a business call Morgan & Westfield at 888.693.7834 or visit morganandwestfield.com. And make it a point to check in with us again soon for valuable information and insight from our growing list of small business experts on Deal Talk. My name is Jeff Allen, I'm thankful that you're able to join us. I look forward to talking to you again soon. Until then, take care.