5 Secrets of Successful LinkedIn Fundraising

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5 Secrets of Successful LinkedIn Fundraising

Suppose that you want to launch your new educational or community engagement program. You have a plan, your people are ready to move mountains, community partners are fully behind you, and you deeply believe in your cause. All is there. And yet you need $50,000 to make it happen. Where can you find it in this economy?

Knowing how long it might take today to get foundation grants or navigate corporate philanthropy circles, what else can you do?

Or perhaps you bootstrapped and sweated your way to create another great software company. Your startup is showing its first signs of progress. You have enough customers, growth is positive and partners are interested in affiliation. But to push it to the next level you need some money (something along the lines of $200K+). And yet every angel investor you meet politely declines. Frustrating and stressful. Is there a better way to find your first funder?

LinkedIn is your way. If you agree with me that the key to successful fundraising is building long-term relationships, LinkedIn is one of the most effective fundraising tools that you have at your disposal 24/7, 365 days a year. Even more impressive is the fact that according to Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project study, 38% of American online adults with annual household incomes over $75,000 use LinkedIn.

LinkedIn provides you with everything you need to build relationships with your prospective donors. This effective social networking platform offers you a full platter of fundraising tools: from lead generation and donor cultivation, to a platform for a successful ask and donor stewardship. Most importantly, you have relevant data on your prospects. And that’s pure gold.

As Anthony Pisapia, President of TechImpact, noted in his interview for the Council on Philanthropy, “LinkedIn is big data. It’s a giant collaborative database with contact info—who you know, what you do, what you like—and it’s all sitting out there for us as nonprofits to take advantage of.”

What do you do with all this data? These steps will help you to maximize your use of the world’s most substantial professional social media network.

  1. Maximize Opportunities via Your Company Page

If you don’t maximize LinkedIn’s free “Company” platform, you’re missing out on an enormous amount of leads and opportunities. Your next step should be uploading the most up-to-date information about your non-profit or small business on LinkedIn’s Company Page. Don’t be afraid to overdo it. Your non-profit should make sure that this page strategically funnels leads and answers fundamental questions such as your mission, your news and your success stories.

As Susan Gunelius suggests in her Forbes article, to make your LinkedIn Company Page standout, don’t forget to add the most captivating picture of your non-profit or fundraising cause. Try to connect with your co-workers, including top managers and the Board. And of course, promote it by adding fresh content.

Finally, assign someone to work specifically on promoting your fundraising page. This person should regularly update the content, share quizzes and create buzz for your project.

Here are some examples of great LinkedIn Company Pages.

2. Cross Pollinate Your Network

Remember the bees and flowers? Cross pollination happens when two or several plants’ genetic material combines and brings to life seeds that have features of both plants. And of course, we know that many gardeners are using cross pollination to create new types of fruits or vegetables. Giant tomatoes or super apples, anyone?

Now imagine that your contacts are your flowers and fruit. Once you have your LinkedIn profile up and running (and Mike Allton, Social Media Consultant and Blog Coach, has created a perfect checklist to make sure that your profile looks great), you will need to begin to think like a good gardener. Did you invite colleagues from various departments, Board members, your classmates, alums, personal friends and former colleagues to join your network?

As Malcolm Gladwell suggests in his New Yorker article, cross pollination involves bringing different people who have different perspectives and getting them brainstorming. For example,Intellectual Ventures, the invention and patent spinning company, is a perfect example of how successful this approach can be.

While you can’t necessarily bring your LinkedIn contacts to one room offline, you surely can invite them to your group. Make sure that you set a minimum of at least 5 new contacts daily (I connect with 10-20 contacts daily). Your next step will be to actively engage your contacts by helping out your new friends.

3. Increase Your LinkedIn Group Involvement

Another effective way to create meaningful conversations and look for prospects is by joining relevant LinkedIn Groups. Again, there is no sense in joining a group if you are planning to forget about it the minute you join it.

Add useful links, create your own content and share it with your fellow group members. Answer their questions, and lead them to your company’s page.

After you have found a few interested leads, take them to the next level. What differentiates your non-profit from others? Think about how these new contacts can become your clients or enablers.

Some people are doing fine with just being a part of several groups. Others create their very own groups. I highly recommend this latter path. If you have your own group, you can actively position the content you need to promote. Don’t forget to invite your contacts and actively promote your group. Most of all, you can advance your fundraising project by dedicating a specific group page to it. You may connect it directly to your other crowdfunding sites such as IndieGoGo, etc.

4. Maximizing Your Efforts – Use LinkedIn Status Updates Wisely

One feature that makes LinkedIn similar to Facebook is its status update option. I usually post content 2-3 times a day due to fluctuations of interest based on time of the day or geographic location of contacts. This frequency also allows me to test various headlines and triggers for attention. Test, test, and test. As I mentioned in my earlier post, while the opinions on what the best day for publishing your LinkedIn content vary widely, Noah Kagan, the founder of the highly successful OkDork blog, suggests that the best day overall to publish content for social shares is Tuesday.

Don’t spam your contacts with heavy messaging on your fundraising project. Spice your status updates with interesting articles and quotes. Don’t forget though that your most recent fundraising project should be centrally located on your company page with the DONATE link prominently placed, so that when your prospect gets interested in you and your project, he or she can find all the relevant information.

Another useful step would be strategically using other social media platforms. For example, my LinkedIn account is connected to Twitter and Facebook, so the content promotion efforts are multiplied with the push of a button. Finally, the more followers you have, the better your chances are of being seen or heard.

5. Send a Direct Appeal to Your Followers

Once you feel comfortable about your followers, you can begin to approach them via direct messaging. Go to your Messages section and click on “New Message.” Select a group of up to 50 contacts and add your engaging message. Also, you may want to deselect “allow recipients to see each other’s names and email addresses” option.

And if you want busy people to read your emails, don’t forget to use these principles. In particular, as Dave Johnson, from CBS MoneyWatch suggests, make sure that you write explicit and detailed subject lines, while keeping your message short and specific.

Seriously.

Then push the SEND button.

And if you’re still not convinced, below is a story of how one simple direct LinkedIn mail campaign led to an unimaginable result.

How to Raise $200K for Your Startup via LinkedIn

It’s not only non-profits that can benefit from the effective use of LinkedIn. In his interview with Elaine Rogers, Business Training and Development Expert, Frank Hannigan, Executive Chairman of Goshido, an Irish startup software company, shared how he used LinkedIn to raise $230,000 just in 8 days!

The key to Frank’s success? He just sent out 700 direct messages to potential investors offering them a 2% stake in the company. It was a simple plan – all Frank wanted is to find 10 people ready to chip in €25,000.

Imagine that Frank had only 700 connections at the time! But he strongly believed in his investment proposition and knew that he was offering a good deal. Frank strongly believes that LinkedIn is “all about trust,” and you need to be bold and approach your contacts with your proposal.

What happened next was amazing.

Frank received an almost instant response from his first level connections and their direct connections, which helped Frank to complete his round in one week (as opposed to original plan of 12 weeks!) Was every response positive? No – some said “no, but we’ll pass the message.”

Yet in 12 months, using the combined power of LinkedIn, Twitter and traditional media sources, Frank and his team were able to raise €450,000 in total. Not bad for a simple message?

So don’t be shy about writing to your LinkedIn contacts about your cool startup, sharing some of your first successes via LinkedIn status updates, making sure that your LinkedIn Group is fully aware of your success stories, following up and inviting your contacts to social events. Be proactive and confident.

Your Major Takeaways for LinkedIn Fundraising:

1. Build a stellar Company Page (professional image, regularly updated information, link to Donate or Crowdfunding site)

2. Cross Pollinate your LinkedIn Network. Invite contacts from different sides of life: add business contacts, university alums, non-profits and foundation contacts.

3. Maximize your LinkedIn Group presence. When possible, create your own group and promote your fundraising campaign.

4. Use your LinkedIn status updates wisely. When you share relevant, useful information with your followers, your updates become effective supplement to your LinkedIn engagement strategy

5. Send a direct message to your prospects with your proposal. Be bold and decisive. You’ve done your homework, right? Then, there is only one way to find out. Ask.

Learning From Top LinkedIn Influencers: 10 Tips on How to Write a Mega Hit Article on LinkedIn

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Do you ever feel that social media were created just to distract, stress, and overinflate each of us?  Struggling with content overload, and struggling to make your voice heard?  Let’s face it, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Mashable, Huffington Post and now even LinkedIn Pulse are feeding all of us with tons of “good enough” material.

Yet amid this overload, we’re seeing consistently successful articles from a small group of LinkedIn users.  Who are these people? Why are they successful? What makes their content viral or enjoyable? What makes them stand out?

True, LinkedIn Influencers have an advantage – they have a lot of followers.  They earned their trust by producing great products, starting amazing companies and writing bestselling books.

What about the rest of us, though?  Those of you who work for a small non-profit, or own a small business, or even those of you working for a corporate giant with strict policies on what you can publish. Well, I have good news for you.

You, too, can write an amazing viral article that gets you a million hits on LinkedIn Pulse.

Let’s take a good look and analyze the articles from the list of both the top 5 LinkedIn Influencers and top 5 LinkedIn users just like you who hit over 500K to 1 million views on LinkedIn Pulse in the past two years.  We’ll look at the big folks first, and the ordinary (but extraordinary) folks second.

The LinkedIn Influencers’ top 5 posts of all time are:

#1. Dave Kerpen, Founder & CEO, Likeable Local, New York Times best-selling author and speaker, comes first with his 11 Simple Concepts to Become a Better Leader.

Published on January 28, 2013, his article got over 2.6M views and 26K likes on LinkedIn, 7,396 Comments, and over 9K Tweets.  Dave’s article surpassed the posts written by some top LinkedIn Influencers, such as Richard Branson, Deepak Chopra, Jack Welch, Barak Obama, Tony Robbins and many other megastars!

The article is based on Dave’s interviews with experts (business leaders) and contains a list of 11 most important principles of becoming a better leader. His list starts with an appealing quote, and is short and concise. He uses cross links to his previous article strategically dispersed throughout.  Also, this article falls into the universally applicable theme of leadership.

What makes Dave’s post readable?

In my view, these are easily digestable facts given to a reader in a list format. Is this nuclear science? No. Is this the Great Gatsby? No. Can you create a similar article focusing on your particular expertise or industry profile? Yes!

#2. Greg McKeown, New York Times bestselling author, comes second with his article “The No. 1 Career Mistake Capable People Make.” His article gained almost 2M views and over 12K likes.


Again, Greg is wisely using a list of 4 steps describing typical challenges for people lacking a clear career strategy. He also perfectly uses crosslinks to his blog where he speaks about his newly coined term, “highest point of contribution.”

Aside from this, he also uses a simple graph and refers the readers to his Twitter posts.

Here we have an example of a career-related post driving traffic to his excellent blog article.

Well, guess who comes in at #3?

#3 Bill Gates, Co-chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

With his “Three Things I’ve Learned From Warren Buffett” article Gates, garnered over 1.8M views and 11K likes on LinkedIn plus a hefty 6.6K tweets.

And guess what Gates uses as his article framework? Despite the attention people pay to his own words of wisdom, Gates uses two of the best practices I’ve been talking about – citing another expert’s opinion (Warren Buffett in this case) and a list!

Yes, Gates’ article is simple and very thoughtful. In fact, I am going to recap his advice here:

1. It’s not just about investing.

2. Use your platform.

3. Know how valuable your time is.

Very useful advice even in the framework of this article, wouldn’t you agree? I would strongly recommend reading Gates’ article here.

#4 J.T. O’Donnell, CEO, CAREEREALISM Media & CareerHMO, Career & Job Search Coach.

J.T.’s 10 Things to Do Every Work Day brought her over 1.8M views and 9.5K likes on LinkedIn, and over 4.6K tweets. And she comes next after Bill Gates — not a bad neighborhood, right?

Judging from the title of her article, you can see she’s got a list too. It’s a simple and highly focused post, just 10 things that every one of us can use. J.T. uses a nicely added trigger, though, when she adds, “I’ve never shared this list with anyone until now.”  You can experiment with this on your own blog, and if you have a good number of followers, they may be curious to know those pieces of wisdom you’ve never shared with anyone.

Finally, in the end of her article J.T. uses another engagement question via a P.S. that helps her to create an additional point of contact with her audience.  (She simply asks:“What things do you do every day to advance your career or your business?”)  Don’t forget to add this to your post as well, and track the results. The P.S. also includes a link to her blog and coaching program. I highly advise you to add the P.S. anchor to your blog post as well.

#5: Jeff Haden, Ghostwriter, Speaker, Inc. Magazine Contributing Editor, came fifth with his “Stop Using These 16 Terms to Describe Yourself.”

His article gained 1.7M views and 7.3K likes on LinkedIn, plus 4.3K tweets.
 

Again the theme of his article is in the highly popular “your career” topic. Yet, Jeff finds an interesting angle on this. He starts his article with a lively dialogue that really helps to attract the reader.  Then, it’s a smooth ride to…yes, another list of 16 points. Check them out, especially if you tend to “use cheesy clichés and overblown superlatives and breathless adjectives” in describing yourself or your business, or even “write things about yourself you would never have the nerve to actually say.

Summarizing the top LinkedIn Influencer posts, here are my top 5 tips to make your article stand out:

1. Use a great headline, which grabs attention.

2. Use a list format. It’s proven to bring results.

3. Cross link to popular posts and your own content.

4. Engage your readers with questions and use P.S. line to add touch points with your readership.

5. Write great content that people can use straight away.

Extraordinary LinkedIn Non-Influencers: What It Takes to Produce Top Content

Now it’s turn to move to non-Influencers, people just like you and me. I personally appreciate witnessing their success even more because they set an example for all of us. They venture into the hyper competitive niche populated by personalities like Bill Gates, famous bloggers, journalists, and industry and thought leaders.  To do so, their content needs to be prime, and needs to be something they care about deeply.

Below is the list of top-5 producing posts on LinkedIn Pulse:

#1 Kathy Caprino, international women’s career success coach, speaker & writer, comes first in this list.

Her article 6 Toxic Behaviors That Push People Away: How To Recognize Them In Yourself and Change Them won her some 2.3M views and 2.3K likes on LinkedIn!
 Her post made it to second place of top all producing posts.

A great post sprinkled with multiple cross links to bestselling books and Cathy’s own blog and business programs, it touches upon a sensitive topic that many people can relate to.  Again, choose a popular topic which evokes an emotional response, and your post will make it to the lead.

#2 Jacky Carter, Community Manager – Professional Women at LinkedIn, penned an article What Not to Say When Negotiating Your Salary.

The result – 890K views and over 2.5K likes on LinkedIn.

This is a perfect example of how you could use expert interviews to create your very own content. In this case, Jacky recorded an interview with Victoria Pynchon, a negotiation expert. Then she added two engagement questions and referred to information products negotiation experts provide.

Simple? Yes. Can you do it? Absolutely.

#3 Theresa Sullivan helps people connect with their true purpose.  Her article Five Lies That Could Be Ruining Your Career (and your Life) harvested 737K and 5K likes on LinkedIn.

Of course, Theresa is using a list format, with an engaging topic. And if you are curious to hear the 5 lies she’s hearing from people she coaches, here you are:

1) I haven’t found my passion / I don’t have a passion.
2) I can’t afford to leave the job I don’t like.
3) It’s too late to change direction now.
4) Pursuing my own happiness is selfish. I have a family to think about.
5) I hate my job now, but I will be happy as soon as I [get the promotion/finish the project/collect my bonus/get my degree].

#4 John White, Dynamic Marketing, Sales, and Management Executive 

John has a straightforward article everyone in the professional world would like to read:  7 Management Traits That Will Make All Your Employees Quit.

Since April 2014, over 539,000 people have viewed this article, and it’s gained 6.3K likes
 on LinkedIn.  Again, the article uses a list format, and a debatable, emotional and personal topic. John also injects some levity with recognizable images from The Office.

Nonetheless, my favorite is our #5 contender. Why? Because I know this guy personally and know his story well.

#5 Dr. Maurice Ewing, a hard working small business owner, successful entrepreneur, incredible speaker and HarvardBiz Blogger.

I first met Maurice and his family when I lived and worked in Hong Kong. Maurice led his risk management consulting business and had a life of constant travel.  Add a family on top of this and a demanding schedule.  It’s tough to be a small business owner.

Yet Maurice managed to produce incredibly popular lectures and presentations for a wide international clientele, and began writing his blog at HBR.

He stepped up to the LinkedIn platform on June 11with a clever read on Why Smart People Don’t Get Hired.  I watched his article take off — over 100K views in just a matter of hours! As of today, his article produced over 500K views and 5K likes on LinkedIn.

Why did the article produce such response?

Maurice shared that his article was addressed to “the highly intelligent, highly educated and highly skilled people that are either underemployed (i.e., working a job that does not require all of their education or skills) or unemployed. My “angle” is that over 40 years of research on IQ in psychology suggests that because smart people perform the best, they should never be unemployed. Of course, we all know many smart people that are unemployed for extended periods or underemployed for even longer.”

His article and (soon to be published book) aims to help these people resolve the dilemma.

What I appreciate about Maurice’s articles is that he always goes deep into researching any topics he writes about and backs up his points with data.  Surprise, surprise, Maurice also uses lists!

I asked Maurice what else may have contributed to the success of his posts, and he mentioned that “timing is more than anything on LinkedIn. I have determined that 4:30p on both Wednesdays and Thursdays is the optimal time to post. This is the time when most readers actually view AND read AND comment.” Weekends were a bust, of course.

So Maurice’s advice to non-Influencers is to be ready to hit your send button on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and “leave the other days for the Richard Bransons.”

While the opinions on what the best day for publishing your LinkedIn content vary widely, Noah Kagan, the founder of a highly successful OkDork blog suggests that the best day overall to publish content for social shares is Tuesday.

One of my best articles, Writing the Blog Article of Your Life: How One Idea Can Get You Hired by a Top Silicon Valley Venture Fund, was published on Tuesday, and produced a tremendous personal record for me. The second article that drove even more traffic was published on Sunday. So, my advice is that you need to experiment which day works best for your audience and your geography.  It matters if you’re hoping to reach out to just your American audience or the whole English-speaking world. 

Finally, I would add one essential tip that will help make your article a success: you need to aggressively promote your content. Without promotion, it’s highly unlikely that you will have 1M hits. Every single author I mentioned today, promoted their content like crazy. Post your article link on every relevant LinkedIn Group you’re subscribed to. Reach out to influential bloggers. Tweet, tweet, tweet. Remember, every new connection and every new like matters.

Summarizing what we learned from non-Influencers just like you and me, here is a list of top 5 strategies that worked for them and surely will work for you:

1. Go deeper into your content. Make it a valuable piece of advice by mining data and using examples of success.

2. Experiment with your publishing days. See what works. Publish. 

3. Evoke people’s emotions – find the theme which matters to your readers.

4. Aggressively promote your article. Post links to your article on relevant LinkedIn Groups, Twitter and Facebook. Share your content with your friends and colleagues. Reach out to top bloggers and LinkedIn Influencers. Every single connection helps you to make a leap to 1M hits.

5. Enjoy the process. 

Do you have your own tips to make it to 100K+ LinkedIn views? Please share your comments.

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Andrey Gidaspov
 is a published author, international business expert, and a passionate “dot connector.” He is passionate about connecting people and ideas, creating new social ventures and helping non-profits find new funding streams.

Follow him on Twitter (@AndreyGidaspov) and check out his blog (www.gidaspov.com) for more useful tips on creativity, fundraising and marketing.



Other articles by Andrey you might enjoy:

Writing the Blog Article of Your Life: How One Idea Can Get You Hired by a Top Silicon Valley Venture Fund

UnBound Human Potential: How Richard Luck and Sarah Mullens Created The Coolest Social Venture in Richmond

Ignore Skeptics: 4 Tips on How to Make Your First Startup a Million Dollar Success

One Skill Every Visionary Leader Needs to Master

From Superman to Bill Gates: How One Lecture Inspired an Entrepreneur to Dream

Set Your Song Free



Fundraising on Steroids: How InMail, Phone Calls and Multipliers Can Help You Reach Your Fundraising Goal This Year

3 Simple Steps to Make Your LinkedIn Profile Stand Out

UnBound Human Potential: How Richard Luck and Sarah Mullens Created Richmond’s Coolest Social Venture

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5 Entrepreneurs
Sometimes It Seems Hopeless…

“I was living in an apartment with people I had known less than twenty days, sleeping on a half-inflated air mattress in a room that was flea infested, and I spent pretty much the entire time intoxicated. I had no money, no car and no desire to keep living,” shares John. John was born in Richmond and at a young age quickly discovered alcohol. He lost his job, his house, and his hope. Then, when he hit rock bottom, he realized that there was no way out but to change course entirely. He made the leap and signed up for a homeless shelter known for its work fighting addictions. That’s when Caritas, a charity supporting the homeless, took the note of his audacity to do anything to stop his own self-destruction.

Miles was born far from John, in Montgomery, Alabama. Hard work was Miles’ life from a young age – he had to support three households. Yet, his low-wage jobs didn’t provide enough. Wondering what else he could do to help his family, Miles bumped into an old friend, who invited him into a promising world. In fact, that was what most of his peers were doing in his neighborhood – selling drugs. It wasn’t long before things turned bad. When his best friend was killed right in front of him and his cousin was sentenced to life in prison, he knew it was his last warning. His options were bleak. Miles wanted out. “Seeing my daughter’s face in that courtroom was enough for me to understand this was my lowest point. I needed to find a better way.”

Carolyn is a single mother taking care of five beautiful children. Her childhood was tough, and she found herself making some bad choices. She felt trapped, wanting to find good solutions to her challenges but unable to break her cycle of negative choices. It seemed like there was no way out. “I knew that I was better than that. I got really disappointed with myself.”After she was convicted, things got much worse, and she couldn’t find a job, despite her qualifications. “It was then that I decided that I would work for myself. I knew that I was going to make it as an entrepreneur, because I am better than my criminal background.”

Ciara was forced to leave her home with her grandmother and drop out of school at the age of sixteen. “Growing up without a mother and father, having taken care of a younger sister, living on the street with no money and bad people around, it was so tough,”says Ciara. She had children at a young age and quickly found herself in an abusive relationship. After finally getting out of that relationship, she made it her mission to become the best mother she could be. “My first child helped me to see hope. I didn’t want my child to see the abuse I was experiencing. I wanted to give her a better life.” In order to enroll her children in preschool, she volunteered through the Neighborhood Resource Center to cover those costs. Through that program, she obtained her GED, and has gone on to become certified in Personal Care and as a Certified Nurse’s Assistant. Is that enough to change her life?

Raheim grew up in public housing in Harlem, New York. His father was incarcerated when he was three years old, and following in his father’s footsteps, Raheim was arrested at age 19. During his eleven months in prison, Raheim vowed to change his life. “When I got into jail, I knew that I needed to dig myself out of this hole. Poverty, outside influences, and not having enough education affected my choices.”

How can these five people find an opportunity to radically change their lives? How can they make sense of the hardships they’ve gone through? How can they take that pain and transform not only their lives, but the lives and prospects of their loved ones?

Everyone Should Have a Chance

Enter Richard Luck and Sarah Mullens.

“After graduating from the Virginia Military Institute, I decided to join Teach for America, to help make a difference in communities,” shares Richard Luck, co-founder of UnBoundRVA, a non-profit that helps talented individuals from low-income families in Richmond become entrepreneurs. “When I began teaching at a Title-One High School in North Carolina, I saw an incredible amount of talent going underutilized.”

He recalled how let down he felt when he saw future Einsteins going nowhere. They simply couldn’t go to college due to a whole mix of circumstances. Some students would say, “You know, I can’t go to college, because my dad isn’t around and my mom is on drugs. I need to support my three brothers and sisters,” or something similar.

People accepted this reality – but Richard didn’t.

Sarah Mullens, UnBoundRVA’s other co-founder, who taught with Richard in the same school, added, “They had such talent – and street sense – and we knew we could use that for good. When we started listing the characteristics of some of the highest caliber individuals in these low-income areas that had ‘slipped through the cracks’, we realized that many of them were very entrepreneurial. They operated on a budget, were great negotiators, super charismatic, and had the ability to persevere and work relentlessly.”

It took Sarah and Richard a few months to come up with a new model that combines entrepreneurial programs and micro-financing models from around the world. It becameUnBoundRVA.

The mission of UnBoundRVA is to provide talented individuals from low-income communities a path to entrepreneurship. The vision behind the organization is a city where every person can utilize their potential to create opportunities for themselves and their communities.

As a strategy, Richard and Sarah decided to invest in a few high potential individuals from low-income communities, and connect them to all of the resources, training and support they needed to become successful entrepreneurs.

UnBoundRVA: Supporting High Potential Individuals

UnBoundRVA developed what they call a five-step High Potential Identification Process.

At the first stage, they developed partnerships with community organizations, schools, churches and other community stakeholders to help identify individuals ages 20-40 that have displayed the characteristics of successful entrepreneurs, including work ethic, intelligence, perseverance, charisma, and leadership.

The following step is to meet in a small group setting to inform those people whom community leaders had identified as “high potentials” about the program and its benefits.

All “high potentials” that wished to be in the program were still required to apply. “And this is very important for us,” adds Sarah, “a future entrepreneur should demonstrate his or her will to do what it takes.” This gives us an opportunity to interview and select twelve high potentials for a six-week workshop.

The UnBoundRVA team developed a workshop for selected participants, held two evenings per week. It focuses on leadership and personal development, and introduces entrepreneurship. “It serves as our primary filtering tool, as well as a program in and of itself to positively impact more lives,” Richard explains.

Five of these high potentials are selected to continue into the year-long Business Development Program. The others are referred to other small business classes around Richmond and are able to apply again the following year.

UnBoundRVA’s Business Model

The business model is straightforward. Over the first three months, the five selected participants engage in business modeling classes using a nationally recognized curriculum. As they each consider new business ventures, they conduct market research to determine the feasibility and plausibility of the venture.

After completing this curriculum, each participant must pitch his or her business to a panel of entrepreneurs and bankers. This panel makes a recommendation to the banking partner regarding loan amounts, interest rates and repayment periods. UnBoundRVA holds cash as collateral with their banking partner, which helps their participants build credit. Each high potential has access to $20,000 in start-up capital.

UnBoundRVA has business partnerships that provide pro bono services in all the areas critical to launching a business: accounting, marketing, legal, and banking. They work directly with their participants to assist them in any area needed while launching their businesses. UnBoundRVA also plays an instrumental role in connecting these new businesses owners directly to clients, through their network and public platforms. They assist in any and every aspect of running the businesses for the first 9 -12 months of the businesses existence.

Naturally, this model overall has huge advantages: it creates jobs in the Richmond area, brings a modest number of families off of public assistance, and provides participants an opportunity to earn better salaries.

What Made It Possible?

Richard shared a number of his “lessons learned” in building this transformative organization, which apply to almost all of our endeavors:

1. Relationships and Networking matter a lot. “We’ve been able to pull it off so far because of the incredible support of all the partner organizations that generously helped us with their time and energy.”

2. The private sector holds tremendous power. It can help society in ways you wouldn’t realize. “I believe in the private sector: business and non-profits are natural partners. Most businesses are responsible community players, they can really help non-profits to fill in the gaps.”

3. Determination and a positive attitude are the keys to success. “As an entrepreneur, you will doubt yourself constantly. The quicker you can get your nose back to the grindstone and get your mind in a positive place the more likely you are to be successful.”

4. Measurable outcomes and smart metrics are important for proof of concept. So many non-profits boldly report that they have helped thousands of businesses. But how do you measure your impact? Did you put the right systems in place? Hence, the ability to make it small and show the results is of tremendous importance.

5. Changing people’s lives is a very delicate task. You need to fully believe in the people you’re investing in, and at the same time show the best of yourself. These people deserve your respect. They could pull through something that not many of us are capable of.

UnBound Transformation: “You Can Be Anything That You Want To Be”

The first 5 individuals selected for the yearlong support were selected out of 40 participants. By now, each has completed UnBoundRVA’s rigorous training and are receiving seed funding and support for their new businesses. In October this year these five newly minted entrepreneurs will bring new light to Richmond.

Let’s look at how the lives of our heroes have changed.

John: “Alcohol no longer has power over me,” says John. “I am going to make it happen.”John has decided to become a drive-through coffee shop owner. He has yet to announce his first coffee shop in Richmond, but he is very optimistic about it. John learns all he can about the coffee business and visits every coffee shop in town to note the specifics and best strategies to drive growth.

“Why do I believe in John?” asks Sarah. “Because he is so determined and passionate about this project. He will do anything to succeed, and that’s the quality of a real entrepreneur.”

Miles: Since Miles moved to Richmond, his life changed completely. He got a job working at Applebee’s and has gotten married. He also decided to enroll in a Culinary Arts program at J. Sargent Reynolds Community College. This will come in handy in October when Miles launches his own catering business. Miles believes that UnBoundRVA granted him with a rare chance to prove that he is a great young man, who, as he puts in, “was brought up to be a great father and great entrepreneur, who will put it all together.”

Miles’ suggestion to others going through rough times: “No matter what your situation is, if you try to make things right, the opportunity will come. Doing what you value will set you on the path you need to follow.”

Carolyn: She is active in her church, and recently graduated with an Associate’s Degree in Business Administration from a local community college. Carolyn wishes to use her love for creativity and art to propel her gift basket business. She plans to contract with hospitals around Richmond so a gift basket can be waiting in each room when patients arrive. “UnBoundRVA first became a symbol of hope for me, but after these past eight weeks I can tell you that it helped me to understand who I am. I got to know myself better than I ever have. UnBoundRVA has shown me the way, showed me what type of person I am,” shares Carolyn. “I’ve never met anyone who would believe in me so much. And my best lesson from this experience is telling my kids – you can be anything that you want to be.”

Ciara: She hopes to use her motivation and expertise to start her own business providing personal medical care in the Richmond area. “UnBoundRVA helped me with my personal development, the way I think, the way I open my arms to embrace my children with pride of being a self-sufficient woman,” says Ciara. “Thanks to Richard and Sarah, who have this special talent of listening to people, I became the person I always wanted to be.”

Raheim is a new home owner, thanks to his perseverance, hard work and Habitat for Humanity. He worked for nearly two years alongside volunteers on his house, which was completed in January of 2014. He is the first person in his family to own a home. He is now well on his way to launching a window washing & power washing business focused on small commercial and residential properties. “UnBoundRVA pulled me out of that deep hole. The world should take a look at what these guys at UnBoundRVA are doing. We should all reach out and help people in need to pull them back together. It takes a village to raise a society.”

Advice for Young Entrepreneurs: “It’s All About Human Potential”

“My hope was to provide an opportunity to those people who would not have it otherwise. My Teach for America experience has taught me that opportunity plays a huge role,” shares Richard. “And hard work does not always pay, especially if you don’t have opportunity.”

It’s all about human potential.

Sarah shared this advice for young entrepreneurs:

1) Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Admit that you don’t know all the answers, and ask for help. It will help you in leaps and bounds.

2) If you want to succeed, you need to make it your life. Work harder than anyone else. Richard and I work from 8 am to 10 pm, and still love it. The rest will come later.

3) There is no Plan B. Failure is not an option. Believe in yourself. Believe in what you do. Then and only then will success come.

What’s Next for UnBoundRVA?

“We need to get it right first,” says Richard. “These five people should lead the way for others. We want to demonstrate that this model is sustainable and these people succeed in their business ventures.”

“In the long term, we’d like to replicate the program in all major cities throughout the country. Let’s unbound potential together.”

If you are interested in joining this project as investor, mentor or business partner, please contact UnBoundRVA at info@unboundrva.org or here.

These companies support the project today:

Identification Partners: Anna Julia Cooper Episcopal School, Blue Sky Fund, Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Richmond, Neighborhood Resource Center, Peter Paul Development Center, CHAT, Richmond Promise Neighborhood, Richmond Metropolitan Habitat for Humanity, STEP Strategies to Elevate People, YMCA.

Business Partners: Cherry Bekaert LLP and LeClair Ryan.

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Andrey Gidaspov is a published author, international business expert, and a passionate “dot connector.” He is passionate about connecting people and ideas, creating new social ventures and helping non-profits find new funding streams. Follow him on Twitter (@AndreyGidaspov) and check out his blog (www.gidaspov.com) for more useful tips on creativity, fundraising and marketing.

From Superman to Bill Gates: How One Lecture Inspired an Entrepreneur to Dream

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“Imagine: I see a fully paralyzed man with colossal will and incredible charisma. This man, Christopher Reeves, Superman and an idol for millions of Americans, sits in an unsophisticated wheelchair and can’t even talk normally,” shared Dr. Alex Kosik, a former orthopedic surgeon specializing in spinal surgery. Kosik is also a serial entrepreneur in life science and medical technologies who has co-founded and mentored a dozen startups.

“I thought as I looked at Reeves, ‘What if I could build something to help hundreds of thousands of paralyzed people in the world live life fully?’” He points out that in the U.S. alone, there are over 200,000 people with this type of trauma.

That was a Eureka moment for Alex, who came to the U.S. as an exchange student and happened to attend Reeves’ lecture.

“His magnetism, his Superman spirit prevailed,” he said. “That moment has inspired all of my work since then.”

Alex started to think of the ways technology could help people with these types of disabilities. How could they continue to realize their potential, if nothing in their bodies except for their minds work?

“At some point I realized that spinal trauma represents more than physical trauma — it leaves a disabled person no chance to remain socially active.” I thought, what can I do with my skills and abilities to help these people? recalls Alex.

There was only one solution – connect the person to a computer. That’s exactly what Alex and his team did: they invented a device with a computer chip that can be moved by a person’s tongue. Thanks to the Alternative Handsfree Computer Management System, a disabled person can fully control a PC, most consumer electronics, and a wheelchair, and can make and return phone calls. Unlike other similar technologies on the U.S. market, it didn’t need to be connected to the teeth.

Alex called the device Gravitonus, with the first prototype in 2005. Unfortunately, though, Superman did not live long enough to use it – Reeves passed away in 2004.

After the prototype came out, events started unfolding quickly. In 2005 Alex’s company won the START Fund business competition and first place at a Stanford competition. Thanks to the Intel Capital Fund, Alex’s team took part in IBTEC at the University of California. Alex confesses, “Everyone was incredibly excited about this project! We received the highest awards.”

Yet the moment when Bill Gates shook his hand and awarded him the “Humanitarian Award” at UC Berkeley for his invention, he felt he was “in seventh heaven.”

Photo: Alex Kosik and Bill Gates, 2006

Sounds like a Cinderella story? Well, not quite.

Despite various attempts to crack the market and get the necessary venture capital, the project had to be frozen. “We were very close to creation of our own software for this device, but there is nothing you can do when there’s no funding.”

The company survived a number of turbulent years. Alex used his personal, family and friends’ funds to support his business. Little by little, he received some angel investments and then finally venture capital, until the company stood on its own two feet.

As any entrepreneur knows, perseverance and the capacity to step above the failures defines a real entrepreneur. Despite experiencing such enormous emotional and financial setbacks with the Gravitonus, Alex and his team decided to go further and use their creative energy to develop new products.

After much thought, brainstorming and countless sleepless nights, Alex’s team (his brother, his father, and him) came up with a new market-friendly product – a super ergonomic workstation. «My father is an experienced orthopedist, traumatologist and expert surgeon. We created this product without any external support!»

Today, Alex’s company is the only company in the world which produces fully customized workstations. He has numerous clients from Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

Currently, Alex resides in Fairfax, VA, and manages and mentors over 20 startup projects, including 8 projects in the IT sector. However, as he points out, Gravitonus is a special project for him. He’s also actively involved in supporting science and commercialization in Eurasia, the Middle East and Africa through CRDF Global, an independent nonprofit organization that promotes international scientific and technical collaboration through grants, technical resources, training and services.

Top 5 Tips to Succeed in Your First Startup Venture

What can help a young entrepreneur? How should one prepare to become successful in the startup world? What if someone doesn’t have an invention? What skills do you need to succeed? Alex shared these following five important tips for young entrepreneurs:

1. Generate the best idea you can. This should not be an idea for the sake of having an idea. You should know that there is a market for your idea. There are many inventions collecting dust on library shelves. You need to be able to monetize your project, instead of receiving dozens of patents and going nowhere.

2. Find an experienced mentor. Every new startuper needs this. Without a good mentor, nothing will happen. And this shouldn’t be an MBA professor with no field experience. Theory is a great thing, but if a teacher hasn’t had failures, blood and sweat, you can’t learn anything from him. Look for someone with 10-15 businesses under their belt.

3. Be ready for risk-taking. Financing and great brains are not enough. “If you are not a risk-taker, forget about the startup world, and go to a business school to get your MBA. If you can’t step over your failures, there is no entrepreneur in you,” Alex says bluntly.

4. Be flexible. You can’t insist on keeping everything static in your startup if you are seeking venture capital. For example, when Alex introduced an interesting foreign company to Silicon Valley to shop for venture capital, it didn’t work out, because the company’s leadership wasn’t flexible enough. This was a promising company which produced ultra-long term batteries for smartphones. However, when a venture capital firm offered to support them, on the condition that they replace the CEO because the startup owner was not experienced enough in managing a business, they flatly refused, and the deal didn’t go through.

5. Believe in yourself. Nothing will work without that internal confidence. Period.

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Alex Kosik co-founded and has been Chief Executive Officer of Quantum Cure Inc. at Quantum Potential Corp. since January 2012. Mr. Kosik is Founder of Gravitonus and has been its President since September 2012. He cofounded SBS Public Company in January 2007 and serves as its Chief Strategy Officer. He has been a Mentor of Quantum Potential Privately since January 2012.

Andrey Gidaspov is a published author, international business expert, and a passionate “dot connector.” He is passionate about connecting people and ideas, creating new social ventures and helping non-profits find new funding streams. Follow him on Twitter (@AndreyGidaspov) and check out his blog (www.gidaspov.com) for more useful tips on creativity, fundraising and marketing.

Ignore Skeptics: 4 Tips on How to Make Your First Startup a Million Dollar Success

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Igor Shoifot

What makes or breaks a startup? How can you produce a million dollar idea? What’s the biggest secret to a successful venture?

I asked Igor Shoifot, a successful Silicon Valley serial entrepreneur, to share some useful tips for young startupers. Igor likes to call himself a “viral gardener of purely organic dreams.” So far he’s started over a dozen companies, so he knows a bit about the subject.

Igor’s resume? His 12 start-ups include http://www.Fotki.com, the largest indy photo site (5-10M users, 2B photos), as well as profitable ventures in games, education, VOD, VoIP and publishing. Igor was also CEO of Microsoft WebTV’s largest portal, EpsylonGames (6% of WebTV traffic). He founded and sold “vInternship” to Manhattan Institute. Together with TMT Investments Fund’s team, he invested in Wanelo, Backblaze, Wrike, ShareThis, Gild, and many others. He is also Chairman of the Board of Happy Farm incubator, teaches at UC Berkley and University of San Francisco, and is a shareholder in 50 other startups.

Igor thinks there are too many skeptics around. “They all ask in disbelief – ‘What, you created a startup? Why would you bother?’ and want to go surfing instead.”

“To become successful,” says Igor, “you need to find a balance between ignoring skeptics and listening to experts.”

There are entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs, and that the reality of life. You need to listen to those who know what they’ve done. You need to understand first what a person is doing, before you follow his or her advice.

So, here is Igor’s expert advice:

1) Focus: You need to maintain extreme focus to deliver a quality product. There are always unsuccessful inventors and innovators who can’t bring their ideas to market. Microblogging, for example – many people assert that Twitter invented it. It didn’t, but it succeeded because its team was obsessed with their unique approach to going viral.

2) Growth: “If you can’t clearly define how you’re going to advance your products and grow, or what you’re going to do when you get the money, you don’t have a chance,” Igor says. It’s true: many young startupers believe that you just need to come up with a brilliant product, and that’s all. They ignore the basics of marketing and supply and demand.

Igor uses the example of YouTube: “At the beginning, this was a terrible product. It crashed all the time. Others, like VimeoDailymotion and Veoh, for example, were technically stronger, but YouTube succeeded because their team worked 24/7 and came up with tags, videochannels, profiles, categories, other products. In other words – they worked for the client.”

“Let me repeat,” he says. “Winners are those who focus on growth. I have yet to see any startup team that did not succeed after hard work and mega promotion.” That’s encouraging, isn’t it?

3) Create an amazing team: This is always important in business, but especially so for startups. Igor laughed: “In the classic action movies of the 1970s, the good guys go out and get the best team, and then blast the bad guys. You need to do this too!”

Hire star employees. But what’s a star employee? For Igor, it’s not the resume – that’s just the starting point. It’s what they can do for you, and how motivated they are. Igor says for startups, you need to hire three specific “monsters”:

  1. Technology Monster
  2. Design Monster
  3. Sales Monster

4) Plan an exit strategy from the start: Consider when and to whom you’ll sell your company. Don’t focus only on making money, but on fitting into a needed niche in the industry. Igor pointed out that it’s very difficult to sell even the most successful company. If major industry players already have a similar solution, they won’t bite. Focusing on the eventual sale will shape your company strategy from the very start.

So, next time the skeptics knock on your door, or in your head, look to those with experience and success. Remember to focus, plan for growth, build the right team, and consider your venture’s exit strategy.

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Igor Shoifot isThe Dude at TMT Investments, Chairman at Happy Farm Incubator, co-founder at Fotki, adjunct at Berkeley, UCSF. Learn more about Igor here.

Andrey Gidaspov is a published author, international business expert, and a passionate “dot connector.” He is passionate about connecting people and ideas, creating new social ventures and helping non-profits find new funding streams. Follow him on Twitter (@AndreyGidaspov) and check out his blog (www.gidaspov.com) for more useful tips on creativity, fundraising and marketing.

 

One Skill That Every Visionary Leader Must Learn: What Hannibal, Napoleon and Clausewitz Can Teach Us About Strategic Intuition

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Cannae

Image: NPR.ORG

There is one skill each visionary leader needs to master.  It’s synthesis.  The ability to connect the dots.

Steve Jobs famously noted, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

What does it take to come up with a brilliant insight? How do you find solutions to your most pressing challenges?

Professor William Duggan, the author of the bestselling book Strategic Intuition, writes that, in a nutshell, strategic intuition is made of a wide combination of factors, including deep knowledge of the subject matter, understanding of the historical context, and the ability to place disparate facts together and assemble them into a whole.

 Strategic intuition solves a mystery through masterfully connecting unrelated pieces of information into one single answer.

As we now realize, the astonishing ideas of military geniuses, mathematicians, business leaders and famous politicians come from the combination of existing information that was internally processed to produce new insight. 

 Be it Alexander the Great, Da Vinci, Newton, Napoleon or Einstein, these great leaders and scientists discovered pieces of precious information and synthesized them in original new ways.

What Do Messi, Neymar And Northern Virginia’s Best Plumber Have in Common?

But beware of subtle differences, warns Duggan. While everyone at least once in his or her life has experienced that gut feeling called intuition, there is also such a thing as “expert intuition.” For instance, you surely have seen examples of expert intuition in great sportsmen and craftsmen. Consider Messi or Neymar, the World Cup superstars of Argentinian and Brazilian soccer. In Brazil they call these players “craque,” the super masters of the game who can decide the fate of any match.

Expert intuition is based on experience and swift reaction and recognition of patterns. It happens within a short time frame. It’s always based on considerable experience and mastery of skills. Neymar and Messi know perfectly well where the ball and defender are going to be in an instant of a second. And they deliver each and every time.

Or look at the most amazing plumber I’ve ever met, a guy named Abe. Wearing grey overalls, and spotting pencil mustache, Abe is fast and efficient.  He looks in my basement, and immediately exclaims: “Look at this pipe here. The guy who came before me had no idea what he was doing.” Like David Copperfield, he takes out his beaten toolbox as if it’s a magic box, gracefully pulls out the instruments and fixes the pipe in no time. “I’m trained as a civilian engineer, but I love having my own business,” says Abe. “When you need an expert, call me.”

Just like Messi, Abe quickly assesses the situation by looking at familiar patterns and seeing where the problem lies. Now that’s what you call expert intuition.

Finding Your Elegant Solution

Dr. Duggan argues that strategic intuition differs from both “gut” intuition and expert intuition. It comes much slower, but it always connects the dots. It can come in the middle of the night and with a flash of genius deliver you a solution for the long-standing challenge you’ve been “sleeping on” for a while. Most of the time it happens in new situations, says Duggan.

Our mind works extra hard to analyze a problem from all possible angles, and you need to be open to allow other auxiliary information and cases to enter your mind to create a unique solution. 

In other words, strategic intuition does not equal the linear thinking which sets the direction from point A to point B.

Strategic intuition always produces what Matthew May, the author of The Elegant Solution, calls “the singular and deceptively simple idea with huge impact that lies beyond the enormous complexity of the challenging business problems we all face in our companies.

When your mind surfs its wave of strategic intuition, the flash of insight comes like a gigantic lightning bolt to melt the pieces in one clear map of action. Suddenly you see a complete picture – all at once, like the puzzle your daughter just assembled from various unconnected pieces.

Your brain has amazing capacity. Imagine it as a mega library with terrabytes of information on each shelf, and perfect labeling in place. Think of strategic intuition as that kind librarian who redirects you toward your “aha” moment.

Against The Odds: Learning From Hannibal’s Strategic Victory

Be it a scientific breakthrough, military victory or business solution, the “aha” moment is worth gold. Consider the Battle of Cannae. Back in 216 BC when Hannibal, the great Carthaginian general and one of the greatest military geniuses the world ever conceived, faced the enormous challenge of battling the 90,000-strong Roman army, he needed strategic intuition to survive. The Roman army at the time was the most advanced military machine in the world. Roman legions exuded stellar training, fine military techniques and superb fighting spirit. The Romans decided to crush Hannibal’s army with overwhelming force. Rome’s best generals, officers and soldiers faced a seemingly motley crew of Spaniards, Gauls, Numidians and Carthaginians, half the size of the Roman army. An easy victory was within reach.

Yet when Hannibal assessed the battlefield, his flash of insight connected his knowledge of Roman strategy thought and his experience that Roman generals tended to be overconfident. Hannibal came up with a truly elegant solution. He used the astonishing numbers of the Roman army to his advantage by leading the superior Roman infantry force into a trap. He placed its less capable force in the center, and directed them to slowly retreat sucking the massive Roman forces into the internal bubble. Confident in their victory, the Roman troops took the bait, and quickly advanced crushing Hannibal’s infantry. It was too late when Roman generals noticed that such a swift advance negatively affected their formations. The troops lost cohesion, were squeezed and surrounded by Hannibal’s cavalry and effectively defeated.The Battle of Cannae became synonymous with total victory.

What helped Hannibal, Napoleon, Suvorov, and other great military commanders defeat much superior forces? Luck? Errors of enemy generals? Territorial advantage?

Four Strategic Points Every Leader Should Explore 

Duggan suggests that we study the works of Carl von Clausewitz. In his classic work On War, Clausewitz wrote about strategic intuition and laid out four criteria:

1. Examples from history. Strategic intuition draws on the knowledge and experience of all of history far and wide, all stored in the shelves of the mind.

2. Presence of mind refers to a clear mind, clear of all expectations and previous ideas of what you might do or even what your goal is.

3. The flash of insight. In a free mind selected elements from various examples come together in a new combination.

4. Resolution or resolve and determination. You not only need to see what to do but also be ready to do it. The flash of insight carries with it the force of action that propels you forward, but you need the resolve to push on and make your strategy happen.”

Duggan argues that Napoleon Bonaparte, for example, perfectly understood that the key to your strategy is your ability to be flexible and use your expertise and knowledge of history to your advantage in every given moment. He cites Napoleon, who said: “I never truly was my own master but was always ruled by circumstances. The greater one is the less will he must have as he depends on events and circumstances. Instead of seeking to control circumstances, I obeyed them. I bent my policies to accord with the unforeseen shape of events.”

In my view the second point of Clausewitz is the most precious piece of advice in the digital age – the ability to be present in the now. Today your presence of mind is worth more than gold. To quantify what you’ve already experienced: the average American consumes 34 gigabytes of information per day.

As Eric Schmidt, ex-CEO of Google noted: “Between the dawn of civilization through 2003, about 5 exabytes of information was created. Now, that much information is created every 2 days.”

Having presence of mind means staying flexible and receptive, just like Hannibal’s army. Prepare to be fluid. Or as Bruce Lee put it, “Be water, my friend”.

“Make It Your Art”: Simple Steps to Nurture Strategic Intuition At Your Business or Non-Profit

Every non-profit or business leader should be able to synthesize information and stitch pieces together to form new solutions.

 Still again and again, we see top managers who follow the beaten path. Yes, the standard formula does produce near-term predictable results. However, ask yourself: is this how my organization will deal with rising competition? Are we just trying to protect our niche, or do we want to go farther and create “blue oceans”?

Compare yourself with visionary leaders of today. Amazon, Tesla, Grameen Bank, Charity: Water and Twitter went beyond and connected the dots based on deep understanding of customer feedback, creation of powerful logistical/technological support and reading society’s megatrends.

How, then, are you supposed to connect the dots? You can start from some simple steps to nurture your and your organization’s strategic intuition.

1. When faced with a challenge, or looking for an elegant solution for your business or non-profit, research what your top 5 competitors are doing to solve a similar problem.Is it a specific marketing campaign that set the tone and wowed the customers? Or was it an innovative strategy that created a win-win solution?

2. Don’t limit yourself to researching just your current competition. Go back in history and across different industry fields to learn how industry legends made their companies successful. Learn their bold moves and apply their management strategies to your situation.

I asked Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos, how he was able to connect the dots so successfully repeatedly, and Tony said that there is no substitute for meeting many people from different backgrounds and constantly reading various books and articles. “I think most people like being creative. And I think of being open-minded as a form of creativity.”

3. Foster a listening culture. Synthesis requires understanding the whole picture. It requires that every participant of a particular meeting is able to intelligently comment on discussed ideas and provide vital links between disparate views. Synthesis demands good listening skills and asks for your undivided attention. Ask your meeting participants to experiment with leaving their devices aside. See what happens when you have a room full of engaged listeners!

4. Encourage a creative exchange of ideas. Surely, your organization has its own Elon Musks and Jack Dorseys. All you need to do is to create a healthy environment where every idea is appreciated and discussed, where listening and prototyping become the springboards for successful initiatives, where everyone with an innovative knack is appreciated and valued.

Matthew May suggests, “whatever your work, make it your art, your canvas, and your sandbox. All sorts of good things happen when you do.”

Are you ready?

So, after you’ve thoroughly researched what other greats in your industry did in a similar situation, considered parallels in other industries, listened, and fostered the creativity of everyone around you, you should be ready to unleash your resolve. There should be nothing in your way. Because before you know it, your mind or your team will have a solution for you.

What dots have you connected today?

Writing the Blog Article of Your Life: How One Idea Can Get You Hired by a Top Silicon Valley Venture Fund

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Photo: Max Skibinsky with the author

Every year a few thousand startups are incubated in Silicon Valley. Few of them will succeed; the rest will decay or outright fail. Yet there always seems to be room for one more billion-dollar company. Besides appearing seemingly out of nowhere, the most radically successful startups are also the most unpredictable ones. What force seems to create these massive sources of wealth that initially look like “bad ideas” to everybody beside their founders?”

This is the beginning of a famous blog article by Max Skibinsky. It may be hard to believe, but because of the ideas raised in this blog entry, Max was offered a partner position at Andreessen Horowitz, a top Silicon Valley Venture Fund. Whether you are interested in startups and angel investing, or you’re just beginning your experiments with blogging, this article will help you to assess what it takes to write an influential blog entry.

During a recent trip to Palo Alto, I asked Max to share the story behind writing this blog article, as well as provide some useful tips for my LinkedIn readers on how one can create a very successful article.

Max’s Breakthrough 

A great article must come from a great idea, right? Where do you find your great idea? Ask yourself: what is the one thing that you can’t stop thinking about? What drives you? What wakes you up in the morning? 

For Max Skibinsky, a graduate of Moscow State University and the founder of a dozen successful startups, it was an obsession about why startups succeed or fail. He had an idea about this, drawn from a mathematical theorem called the Gödel Incompleteness Theorem

Max believes that “Gödel’s theorem is not really about our limits: it’s about possibilities always waiting to be discovered.

In the article, Max argues that similarly to strict formal mathematical systems which “always contain proof of their own incompleteness, the very act of formalization of reality undertaken by big established corporations will always contain within itself the seeds of its future disruption: true yet currently unprovable statements of the successful startups of the future. 

Every startup will start in a totally unprovable, unpredictable new domain they can discover only empirically, by building and launching something with no assurances of success.

“A new startup cannot be invented in the library of our past knowledge and existing systems,” explains Max. “It will always require an intuitive leap of faith or passion to cross the chasm of unknown and unprovable… Human intuition, unbound by limitations of pure formality, will always push forward, find new domains, and leverage the amazing powers of software formalization to bring the fruits of new knowledge to the rest of the civilization. Your intuition, just like your powers of formal deduction, is all you need to join in,” concludes Max. 

The article impressed Andreessen Horowitz’ partners and led to a series of intensive interviews with Max. While Max’s extensive startup experience and work with angel investors obviously helped to make an impression, his ideas expressed in the article were the key to his great success.

Now stop for moment, unplug your analytical reasoning, and think: where does your intuition take you? What is your one incredible idea? Is it your new social venture that you want to launch? Or a new international project that excites you? Whatever it is, put it down on paper, so that you can see it, study it, understand it and eventually build it.

The Genesis of the Idea

Max began his odyssey of writing this article by giving a guest lecture at Singularity University in California, the mission of which is to “educate, inspire and empower leaders to apply exponential technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges.”

When Max gave his lecture, he spoke at length about the Gödel Theorem applications.

“I was fascinated with the fact that each startup comes and fills an unformalized niche and then begins to formalize it. Microsoft formalized its own niche – personal computers. Then, out of nothing – Google. And what happens next? Should we believe that these new IT giants will monopolize the whole world for eternity? Nonsense, because there are eternal possibilities around us. That creates an unlimited cascade process, because the mathematical process is permanent.”

After his talk, he realized he was on to something.

“All of a sudden, I noticed that this part of my lecture created the largest resonance among my audience. I thought, why don’t I work on this part and polish it further?”

It took Max another three years to develop an entirely new lecture just based on this part.

During these years that Max was giving this lecture, he noticed some particular patterns among his listeners. “Some of my listeners could not get it, they simply could not make sense of this. However, almost half of my audience were stunned and excited.” 

The effect of Max’s lecture was such that some of his students would say: “Max, your lecture blew my mind, and now I’m rethinking my whole startup life!” Singularity’s students are in fact quite diverse in expertise and education, and yet they were in agreement that this lecture helped them reassess their understanding of the world.

Max began receiving requests – where can I read about your theory? Are there any articles or printed materials?

“In this very moment I understood that I had no choice but to write that article.” Ultimately, over 100,000 people read the article — a phenomenal result for a dry mathematical piece.

8 Useful Tips on Blog Writing Process from Max Skibinsky:

I asked Max to share his advice on writing an engaging blog, and here are Max’s tips for your next amazing blog post:

1. Focus on your core professional skills. What makes you special? What differentiates you from others? 

2. Based on your expertise, find an interesting idea that will appeal to your focus audience.

3. Do not try to please everyone – write for those who would appreciate your content.

4. Sharpen the angle: dig deeper into the story. Find something unexpected.

5. Come up with your personal interpretation. Don’t be afraid to be bold.

6. Ruthlessly edit your draft. Leave only what matters.

7. Don’t wait years for perfection – it will never come. Publish your article.

8. Learn from feedback and continue to explore.

Do you need an elegant mathematical formula to have a great blog article? No, but you do need to be true to yourself and your core. Share your thoughts and ideas with the world.

Put it out there and don’t count the views – just keep on writing.

You might be on to something incredible…

Max Skibinsky is a serial entrepreneur, angel investor & start-up mentor. He is currently a Partner with Andreessen Horowitz. Max was founder and CEO of Hive7, a social gaming company known for its smash hit game “Knighthood” that has grown to 6M players on Facebook. In 2010 Hive7 was sold to Playdom/Disney. Later Max become one of the co-founders of Inporia that secured funding from YCombinator, SV Angels, Clearstone & NEA to launch number of consumer products that used machine learning algorithms for online and mobile e-commerce. Max is also a resident mentor of 500 Startups. Max holds a Master’s degree in theoretical physics from Moscow State University. When not designing, brainstorming, advising, and building startups, Max can be found flying in the general vicinity of Palo Alto airspace.

Andrey Gidaspov is a published author, international business expert, and rainmaker. He is passionate about connecting people and ideas, creating new social ventures and helping non-profits find new funding streams. Follow him on Twitter (@AndreyGidaspov) and check out his blog (www.gidaspov.com) for more useful tips on creativity, fundraising and marketing.