Entrepreneurs Benefit from Mentors in Reno

mentorThinking of starting a business? Experience can help you avoid all sorts of potentially fatal/business-killing mistakes.

Mentors can make a difference! Entrepreneurs in northern Nevada can tap into a robust network of mentors and mentor programs to find the one that fits their business. Follow this link for the full story published in the Reno Gazette-Journal.



Simple Concepts Win, and Keep, Clients

Sarah Russell has turned her love of cooking into a full-time catering business.

Sarah Russell has turned her love of cooking into a full-time catering business.

When it comes to winning and retaining clients simple, straight-forward concepts still work — and work well.  That’s a tenet that Sarah Russell of Perfect Pear Catering in Sparks, Nevada, never forgets. “Taste is everything. A dish doesn’t have to be complicated to be good,” she says. Russell has built a part-time, extra-cash, concept into a full-time endeavor — and now added a commercial kitchen to her business. Perfect Pear Catering is a busy, profitable endeavor offering heart-healthy dishes and top-notch service for clients throughout northern Nevada and Lake Tahoe region. In 2013, the company catered 30 weddings, more than 40 other large events plus provided meals to individual families.  The Perfect Pear’s summer wedding calendar was booked up in January. Russell grew up in Sparks and now has three children. She always loved to cook and entertain – earning rave reviews from friends and family.  Just over four years ago, she and a friend – also named Sarah – decided to try to earn a little extra money for their families by turning those skills into a small business. “We were a good pair – which is how we came up with the play on words for the name of business,” Russell said.  They had modest goals at first. “We thought we’d do a couple of events now and then and make about $500 a month,” Russell said.   Wrong.  In 2009, they started offering to cater events for friends, and soon friends of friends were calling. “It was all by word of mouth. We started working for friends and family, and the business just took off,” she said. When her cooking partner moved out of the area, Russell considered closing, but people kept calling. She now runs the business herself and employs two chefs and 10 event staffers, plus she has hired a bookkeeper and a web designer — and she’s expanding. Having a great support network and staff  lets her focus on growing her business. “I love being in the kitchen, but having great chefs and staff lets me work on design for the events. Each event is custom, we don’t just slap out chaffing dishes,” she said. The company still gets most of its clients by referral and Russell creates custom menus for both private and corporate events.

Three Types of Entrepreneurs — Which Are You?

tightrope image

Most of the entrepreneurs I am advising at the moment fall into three distinct buckets:

  • The Go Getter
  • The Pragmatic Inventor
  • The Controller

The Go-Getter recognizes excellence. Their passion drives their actions – yet they realize that going it totally alone will slow them down. This type of entrepreneur seeks out professional advice – and more importantly – evaluates it, considers it, then accepts the parts that work for them. They hire experts; they seek mentors. They do not yield to naysayers, yet they are willing to modify their vision to meet market need. They know that success relies on their own actions – and they concentrate on their areas of strength to drive their business. Go-Getters make great clients.

The Pragmatic Inventor has a product he/she created or refined. Inventors think outside the box. They see a problem, and find a fix. What these clients need is business and marketing help. They need a team to take their invention or idea and make it a desirable commodity. Some need help in packaging, costing, placement and sales. Some hope to license their raw invention, receive royalties and move to the next idea. Again, those destined to become successful recognize their strengths and understand their limitations. They know it takes a team to win. Inventors take more work, yet are very satisfying clients to see and help succeed.

The Controller may be a driven salesperson or a quirky inventor – or a mix of both. They often believe in themselves or their product so much that they cannot accept that success means letting go — or at least loosening their grip. These clients need a mix of TLC and tough love on their journey to accepting advice and realizing that few one-person shows hit the big time. They may seek advice, acknowledge the wisdom of others – but question having to pay for public relations and marketing advice. Controlling clients present significant challenges and often take more time and energy to help.  And, in my experience, they are most likely to stall or fail. When they finally accept that they need help … and that expertise comes at a price … the relationship can work.

Whatever the style, entrepreneurs intrigue and inspire me — I learn something new from every one.

What type of client challenges you the most? What are your best tactics for dealing with them?

The Facts Behind the Hotels.com Rant

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????OK … I recently posted about an absolutely horrible experience with Hotels.com. Here’s the back story.

In booking an upcoming trip, I searched various websites for accommodations. I made tentative reservations via Hotels.com, carefully clicking on the “pay at checkout” option.   BUT I missed a pre-checked box at the bottom of the page. My card was charged instantly … which, I missed since I had never seen such a thing.

Hotels.com also adds a tiny, and misleading disclaimer at the very bottom of the page (the THIRD screen down) that says cancel before you get there (three days in advance) or risk paying a penalty.  OK. Seemed reasonable. My trip is still two months away. Even further down the page a complexly-worded note that says any change is subject to a penalty fee.

What? I’ve booked through Hotels.com for years. Never had this problem before. My plans changed. I needed to change the reservation. So I called.

The recording says to make changes online. Do Not Do This. I did, and was charged $200.  WHAT? The Hotels.com rep basically said tough luck. The supervisor definitely said so sad, too bad, we’re keeping your money, you have no option. Further they said it was all the fault of the hotel I booked with. That it was the hotel’s policy to charge $200 for any change to a reservation.

I called the hotel. They said they had never heard of this. They were incredulous. I called Hotels.com again.  Same answer from the “supervisor”. I protested, asked for a corporate number.  They refused. I called the corporate offices of the hotel in question. They said they didn’t have such a policy.

I called my credit card company for help. The dispute resolution person called hotels.com (which evidently is a division of Expedia.com) … she talked to the rep. I talked to the rep. They said tough luck … and hung up on us.

I called the actual hotel again, got the name of the manager, who offered to help in any way he could … and called Hotels.com once again.

Getting the picture? Frustration? Disbelief?  I again spoke with the rep … who this time said they could see all the notes from previous calls — including from the credit card company. I gave her the name of the manager and the assistant manager at the hotel in question.   Finally, this person appears to have reversed the charges.

How many calls? How many hours? I’ve lost count.  I am waiting for my credit card company to confirm that all charges have indeed been reversed.  Does it matter that not ONE Hotels.com person I spoke with was a native English speaker. Were they in India? Just poorly paid immigrants?  Bottom line: Hotels.com has horrible customer service.

So … Let the Buyer Beware … use Hotels.com  (and probably Expedia.com) at your own financial risk.


NBC’s Redesign — The Ruin of a Trusted Online News Site

Does anyone else out there hate the redesigned NBC News website? It looks like a Pinterest page … all big photos, no information. I am a self-proclaimed news junkie, veteran journalist interested in national and world news — as well as what happens in my city and state.  The new format repels me — the NBC News site used to be one of my top spots for a quick headline check.  Now I avoid it — even CNN’s website is better.

My first journalism job was a summer internship with WGBH-TV in Boston. Back then, the station had a live 10 o’clock news program — I ran the teleprompter and worked in the control room. I only went out on a few stories … but it was fun and I learned so much! I found WGBH a great experience for a complete novice. The news staff was generous with their time and information. I graduated from college thinking I wanted to become a TV news producer — not necessarily the on-air person, but the editor making all the decisions behind the scenes.

Circumstances landed me in Washington, D.C. — a mecca of political news. My first newspaper was USA Today. It was a brand-new (and much-ridiculed) concept at the time. I worked on big stories, learned about the power of big money and of cut-throat politics  — both inside the company as well as on Capitol Hill!

Top execs and politicians play hardball — very few manage to succeed without making serious ethical compromises. It’s reality. Those in the line of fire must constantly out-maneuver the competition to get ahead, or even just to keep their jobs. Those who don’t end up on the curb. I contend life outside the bubble — in a “real” community — has much to recommend it. Politics, ambition and money play a role in every city …  but usually on a more manageable scale.

I still keep up on the old rat race — the Washington Post, Politico, The Daily Beast, Slate, ABC, CBS, CNN — but rarely NBC anymore. I miss the old “news” format. I’m not the target audience, obviously. I wonder who is? My guess: People who care about photos, not facts, not perspective, not NEWS.

I wonder what the user statistics will reveal. I used to check it at least twice a day — sometimes lots more. Now, maybe once a week — and I haven’t clicked on a single story.

I read one comment that said it was as if Pinterest swallowed Windows 8 then vomited — I agree!

What do you think?  Are you a fan? Tell me what appeals to you about the new format.

Hate it? What should they do instead?

Creating new jobs, better jobs, in Reno.

NCET – I’ve already benefited from becoming a member of NCET (the Nevada Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology)

Wednesday night NCET hosted a “get to know a local business” at LUX dynamics – a fascinating company that has pretty much reinvented florescent lighting.  The owner John McCarty, an engineer and gifted metal sculptor, said he and his former partner started looking at lights and asking “why” … as in “why is it made this way, why did they use this type of screw, this type of everything” …   What he discovered is that the lights, like most things, evolved over time – and often decisions to use a certain product were made for the wrong reasons – such as it was on hand or  it was cheaper. Decisions were not to make the product more efficient, more durable or better overall.  So McCarty and the LUXdynamics crew went back to the drawing board.  What happened: They built a better light.  There are lots of technical reasons as to just what LUX is doing that makes the light better – you can go to their website here: http://luxdynamics.com/

What I loved were the stories – the City of Philadelphia called and asked if the fixtures could withstand bullets – and how many bullets the lights could withstand before having to be replaced … Hmmm… new questions to think about. Lux owner McCarty said he’d find out, so he called one of his sales reps who has lots of gun expertise and asked him to test it out. It turns, out the Lux dynamics light fixture Philadelphia wanted to buy can withstand 57 bullets of various types. Turns out that’s an important consideration for certain areas that the “City of Brotherly Love” needs to keep lit.

Here’s a link to a You Tube video of people trying to break a fixture with objects … and here’s the bullet-proof video:

LUXdynamics light are engineered from the get-go for specific uses – impacting the amount and direction of shadows and hot spots – that’s important for sports arenas, warehouses, industrial workspaces. These lights and fixtures aren’t cheap, but they are better.  In the process, this company, located in good old Reno, NV, has created jobs – eight full-time people, plus some subbed out work for handicapped people working in a shelter. The company also has sales reps around the country … more jobs elsewhere … that is what it’s all about: Job creation and bringing more money into the Reno economy.  Way to go! 

Have you seen these lights? Are they worth it?

Know of a unique business that I could blog about? Let me know!!!!

Share the Wealth of Customer Endorsements

When customers tell your story – by sharing how what you do helped their business – everyone wins.

  • The customer wins – You’ve validated their importance to your business by asking them to share their experience and success
  • You win –  The genuine voice of the customer boosts your credibility in your space far more than any advertising or marketing message can.
  • Prospects win – They hear or read first-hand stories about how your product or service helped someone else.

Here’s a link to a video I produced  for a special event. In it, senior executives talk about the value of attending the event – and the value of working with this particular company.

Each of these customers gained a personal win by participating, one they can share within their own circles. (One executive from an earlier project told me how he became a hero to his kids when they saw him in the video we put together).

Getting Participants

Offering to identify the speakers by title and industry – not name and company – makes such projects easier. I pre-arranged to meet with these people at the event, and provided the questions to them in advance.

My goal: To make them, and the company look good!

Many large companies have non-disclosure agreements in place, so on-camera endorsements may require legal releases. With end consumers or simpler business-to-business relationships, the legal release may not come into play.

Connect to Social Media 

Once you capture a customer success story, the next step is to post it on your website and encouraging salespeople to share it with prospects.Sharing the customer’s voice via social media is essential — and a step often overlooked.

YouTube, LinkedIn Groups, Twitter, Case Studies (written and video) all offer ways to get the word out about the value customers get from working with your company.

This helps draw others to your brand. Nothing beats the genuine voice of a satisfied customer.  The bonus: Posting on social media outlets generally is free.

Have you done a video for a cause or company? What tips can you share to boost success? I’d love to hear about it! 

VizKinect’s eye-tracking system changes advertizing game

Incorporated on Sept. 17, 2011, VizKinect’s cutting-edge biometric eye-tracking system is set to


VizKinect founder Norm Smith (right) and COO Ron Nichols flank the development team of Mbinya Ndonye, Bailey Hein and Ellin Nesbitt at their offices at C4Cube in Reno.

revolutionize the way advertisements, movies and other media get our attention.

The VizKinect system takes eye-tracking, which has been around for 30 years in various forms, and simultaneously expands and simplify the entire process. The value to advertisers is immense, said Norm Smith, VizKinect chairman and president.

VizKinect will test focus groups of up to 20 people at once, analyze the results quickly to produce nearly instantaneous feedback.

“This will be a game changer (in several industries),” Smith said.

Advertisers and product-placement specialists will be able to tell if consumers see their message before spending millions on actually airing the ad on television or paying for a product to be in a movie.

Up until now, eye-tracking was done one person at a time in a lab with elaborate equipment. Almost every research institution has a version, but it becomes obsolete, is expensive to buy and to train people to use, plus eye color and skin pigmentation can throw off the results, explained Ron Nichols, VizKinect chief operating officer.

Not so with the VizKinect system.

VizKinect uses no invasive equipment. Test subjects either wear special glasses, or have a special scanner follow their eye movements. They just sit and watch the screen. The system records (tracks) where individuals look at a video screen. Do they look at what an advertiser or movie director wants? The data will tell.

Smith, a successful serial entrepreneur, said $354,000 has been invested in developing and refining the VizKinect system so far. It has two patents pending and numerous trademarks on the unique programs and equipment. The company is seeking $3 million from investors to expand.

“Part of the beauty of VizKinect is that it will adapt and change over time and we can use (any type of) tracking technology,” said Nichols. The uniqueness is in the system, the code and the analysis process, which the team, including Ellen Nesbitt, Bailey Hein and Mbinya Ndonye, has spent months refining and streamlining to work out the kinks.

Focus groups can be run in VizKinect’s offices in Reno or at a client’s location – with results delivered in time to reshoot for more effectiveness. Basic focus group and analysis work starts at $5,000. For an agency spending millions on producing and placing an ad, it is money well spent, Smith said.

Data can be broken down by age, gender, race and other metrics, Nesbitt said.

VizKinect is being developed at the C4Cube offices inReno.  C4Cube is a non-profit business incubator started in 2006 to help entrepreneurs start companies and to bring jobs to this area, said Ky Good, managing director of “The Cube.”

It’s working. Several types of companies have offices within C4Cube, including Eye-Com, another business working with biometrics in a very different way from VizKinect.

“Reno is a great place to start a business,” Smith said.

VizKinect is ramping up its staff. This summer it will have 10 employees and interns on board, by the end of 2013, Smith expects to have at least 72 working for the company. Most will be inReno, though the company expects to go global.

Reno Rebuild invests in downtown

Founded in April by childhood friends who are now local business owners, Reno Rebuild Project captures a portion of every dollar spent at certain local restaurants and puts it into a fund that will eventually help others open a business.

RenoRebuild Guys – photo by Reno Gazette-Journal

Michael Connolly, Chris Kahl and Zachary Cage run the Legends Grill, Sierra Tap House and the soon-to-open Brewer’s Cabinet started Reno Rebuild. The group pledged 5 cents of every sale at these establishments to the fund.

They made their fist deposit into the account on May 1.

“We have a current cash balance collected of $5,485.55! It is definitely a great start with our goal being $20k for 2013, so we are on a great pace,” said Michael Connolly.

After a year of deposits, the fund will be used to award one loan to non-franchised, small, local businesses.  The Community Foundation of Western Nevada, which is helping make the Reno Rebuild Project a non-profit organization, will administer the fund and help establish eligibility guidelines. One guideline already set: Each application must include a detailed business plan.

As the fund grows, the trio hopes to award more than one low-interest loan per year.

Reno Rebuild grew out of the trio’s struggle to get funding to start their own venture. Banks and other traditional sources simply wouldn’t lend, so they tapped into family and friends for financing. Realizing that not everyone has family and friends who can provide such support, they developed Reno Rebuild to extend a hand to other entrepreneurs.

“Someone just needs to give them the opportunity to meet their goal if they want to open their own business,” Kahl said. “It’s a cool opportunity for them.”

Other businesses have already expressed interest in participating in the program.

“We also structured it to where other business owners and individuals in general can put money in,” Connolly said.

Find out more at www.renorebuild.com

Being part of the Conversation

Everyone has a role to play in bringing Nevada out of the economic doldrums — whether as a consumer, a business owner, an entrepreneur or an investor.  Changing the perception from doom and gloom to optimism — in real terms, not just wishful thinking — plays a role.

Being part of that conversation — having a seat at the table of Entrepreneurship Nevada — means helping celebrate that goal by creating and writing a newsletter called ENevadaNow.  Entrepreneurship Nevada  is a nonprofit umbrella coalition of the many groups trying to get northern Nevadans back to work.  The groups do this by supporting, promoting and educating neophyte entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs. Some members such s NSBDC, SCORE and others also serve some of the 6,000 businesses in Washoe County with 1 to 4 employees.

My role: Senior editor of eNevadaNow.org, the newsletter/PR arm of the coalition.  This month’s newsletter celebrates:

  • Bumblebee Blooms — a flower shop breaking even less than one year after opening in downtown Reno.
  • VizKinect — a high-tech start-up firm using patented bio-metric eye tracking systems in a way that will revolutionize advertising and movie product placement, all from their offices in Reno.
  • Reno Rebuild — a novel give-back effort on the part of several young businessmen that creates a loan fund specifically for new businesses
  • Updates on other efforts and successes in the community.

The voice I bring to the table celebrates each member organization and their successes. Businesses can — and do — grow and thrive in Reno, Sparks and the surrounding communities.  These trailblazers deserve credit and notice. That’s what the newsletter does — praise these companies, and the various groups that helped get them there.

I believe in the project and the community and salute the people leading the effort to grow jobs in the Reno area.

Take a look at our latest ENevadaNow issue here, and give us your feed back on anything that can move us forward!