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Startup Weekend in Mobile, Alabama

I recently had a taste of my first Startup Weekend Competition powered by Google for Entrepreneurs.
Here is my personal experience — it might help you decide whether it’s something that would be up your alley or not (in case you were debating).

What is it? It’s a competition. It’s networking. It’s summer camp. It’s pitching. It’s creativity. It’s teamwork. It’s learning. It’s fun. It’s intense.  startup weekend mobile alabama

It’s the opportunity to show up with an idea (not a requirement) on a Friday afternoon and then pitch that idea turned business to a live audience on Sunday afternoon.
If you’ve every tried this you’ll know just how much work this really takes.
You don’t get to polish details and speeches for weeks.
You get more like 48 hours.

Let me give you the overview of how this goes.
5pm, Day 1:
We show up. Meet. Eat. Wonder how this works.
Then we pitched an idea (60 seconds max).

sometimes you've got to wear some granny panties

sometimes you’ve got to wear some granny panties

I presented an idea called Panty Pockets – undies for women with storage built in them.
[It didn’t win, but I gave the crowd plenty of comic relief].

There were 60 pitches or so.
Each of us received a giant sheet of paper titled with our concept.
When pitches were completed, we placed our papers around the room and encouraged others to vote for our ideas (each person had 3 sticky notes to vote with).
Next, we narrowed down to the ideas with the most votes — 10 ideas or so.
These folks had anywhere from 5 to 18 votes (for reference, panty pockets had 3 – so close!)

This is where the real fun began.
The moderator says, “great, now form your group. You have to have at least 3 but no more than 8.”
If you couldn’t get at least 3, then you had to close your idea and blob with another group.
This was 15 minutes of a Survivor Series episode.
You wanted to sell yourself to the leader with the idea you liked the most.
That person with the idea was also looking for folks with particular skills — design, coding ability, public speaking, etc.
It was an interesting networking session.

I sold myself to my first choice team.
“Yes, I’m in!”
But then, the team got loaded with team members; clearly, I wasn’t the only one that saw its merit.
My 2nd favorite idea’s leader was enticing me to come and join his team.
Turns out he currently only had 2 others on his team and 1 was a coding guy (not me).
I could be a bigger fish in this smaller pond and hopefully utilize my skills better.
I told him I was in.
So I switched.

8pm, Day 1:
The real work begins.
We start to discuss the idea in detail.
Punch holes in it.
Firm it up.

Here’s the idea we’re going to build upon the next 36 hours and what our final product became (the name being finalized later in the weekend)…

Conference Cash: an app that is used to enhance the experience of both vendors and attendees at trade shows, expos & conferences.

11pm, Day 1:
Tired from the evening’s work (little do we know this is just the beginning!) we retreat home to rest up before the next day.

8am, Day 2:
We greet each other warmly and hop right back onto the saddle (but not before being well feed by the organizers – we had incredible food from local businesses all weekend long!)
Some heavy hitter coaches from local companies were in the room.
Each asked what we were working on.
We began to realize that this was a chance to pitch the idea to them.
We let them punch holes.
We refined.
We started to refine how the app would look and feel.
Our coding guys discussed how to make a live demonstration of the product happen in 24 hours.

9pm, Day 2:
We’re the last team left in the building still working on our business.
Understandable; it was Saturday night and there was a beer festival happening in the streets less than 100 yards away.
Teams were dropping like flies.
But we had work to do.
We had the basic workings of our app.
We had an outline of an outline created for what we wanted to present.

8am, Game Day:
We had zero slides created for our presentation.
We needed to finalize our demonstration.
We needed to finalize notes for our pitch.
We had a long way to go.

3pm, Game Day:
I’m voted the pitch man and this is the very first time we attempted to put together my notes with the slides that we created (not having completed until 30 minutes prior).
Our first run through is beyond rusty.
It’s more like a junkyard with pieces spread all over.
5 run throughs; each time making adjustments to what we’re going to say.
I made the decision to use notes.
I’m not happy about this, but normally I would practice at least a full day for a presentation of this magnitude – not only an hour.

5pm, Game Day:
We decided to do a few run throughs without stopping to make edits.
Time to let it flow the way it’s going to flow.
In the middle of our 3rd run through, we were told we were on deck.
We closed our computers and walked downstairs to the presentation hall.
We gave it our best shot.
We gave it all we had.

And.
We.
Won.

startup weekend mobile alabama5 guys that had never met before Friday took an idea and streamlined it into a real business by Sunday afternoon.
We worked extremely well together.
We took criticism and well.
We focused on what our core strengths were.
And we got the job done.

Now we have an obligation to the idea, the sponsors, and the City of Mobile.
The business must happen for this entire weekend to be a complete success.
And it will.
There was an angel investor group present and our first meeting was set up that same night.
More to come on that.

But next year it’s your turn…

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Passion and Purpose.

What’s my purpose?
What am I passionate about?
Purpose and Passion.
Passion and Purpose.
Passion - Purpose

I truly admire when I see someone literally beaming as they talk about what they do or an idea they have — getting passionate enough to scream out or have tears roll down their face.

But that’s just not me and it’s not how I operate.
I used to continuously ask myself, “What’s my purpose? What is it that I’m truly passionate about?”

Look at where you spend time (or would like to).
Where does your mind drift?
What turns on the endorphins and gets you going?

For me excitement is in the brief moments. It’s…
Making a deal.
Talking about our origins and why we’re here.
Having an idea come to reality.
Getting someone to say yes.
Getting some good news.
Conquering a new skill.
Being in nature.
Starting a business.
Slowing down.
Going full throttle.
Enjoying those you love.
Making money.
Talking about things that matter.
Giving money.
Being appreciated.

These are where I find passion and purpose.
I would argue that you probably do too.

If you agree, then find ways to have more of the above experiences.
Have less of ones that don’t qualify.
It’s that simple.
Not easy, but simple.

So do the tough things.
Climb a mountain’s ups and downs.
Reach the top.
Throw your hands in the air.
Bask in the glory for a brief moment.
That’s the moment of purpose and passion.
Then, start climbing the next peak.

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I’ve been wanting to jump in and run a kickstarter campaign for years.  I finally got the chance.  My wife runs a women’s clothing boutique and decided to start a Fashion Truck in our city of Mobile, Alabama.

Perfect Kickstarter opportunity!  We put together a campaign with some really cool rewards for backers.  Check it out here:  http://www.bottegacollection.com/fashiontruck  [as of 08/21/2015 we have 13 days to go on our campaign!]

You can help us wrap the exterior in exchange for free clothes, photo shoots, modeling opportunity, being on our ‘made possible by’ poster, etc. — it’s really a cool opportunity to allow the community the opportunity to say “I did that!”

It’s been one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done.  Once you exhaust reaching out to friends, family, and current customers, your marketing brain has to go into overdrive.  Now it’s media relations, local businesses to partner with, and other creative ideas.

And although we’re not relying on the finances in order for the project to happen (we’re wrapping no matter what), my competitive nature is going to be sure that we fund our project by at least 100% — because with Kickstarter, if you don’t fund 100% of your goal, it’s considered unsuccessful and nobody is charged anything.

So we’re busting it.

17 days into our campaign, here are some photos that we’ve shared with our backers – I’ll share here also.

Bottega Collection Downtown Mobile Alabama Women's Boutique

Filming our Video

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gutting out the inside of the new Fashion Truck!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sample Design

Sample Fashion Truck Designs

For more info on our company check out Bottega Collection.

 

 

 

 

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Be Still.

Some philosophy hit me this afternoon so I figured I’d philosophize a second.

Be Still.The world whirls around us.
New status updates ping our phones.
The roads are crammed with commuters.
It’s constantly Go, Go, Go.
Be Still.

We’re making plans for the holidays.
The weekend looms and we’re checking schedules.
We have meetings to attend.
It’s Go, Go, Go.
Be Still.

You get asked to serve on yet another committee.
The deadlines are looming.
Bills are coming due.
It’s Go, Go, Go.
Be Still.

In the Stillness is where the answer comes.
It’s where everything else around you fades away and your mind is tuned in.
It’s the beginning of inspiration.

Stillness doesn’t necessarily mean physical stillness, although it can.
Stillness is that warm shower where the ideas storm your mind.
Stillness is sitting alone on a sunny porch with a warm cup of coffee.
Stillness is being quiet and alone in nature.
Stillness is hearing the seagulls and the waves lap the shore.

But how can I be Still when there is so much to do?
You must make time to be Still.
It must be placed in your calendar if that’s what it takes.
But isn’t that forcing the issue?
Perhaps.
Do whatever it takes.
Be Still.
We were intended to be Still and notice the Greatness engulfing us.
Surrounding us.
Swarming us.

Ok, now get back to work! 😉

 

 

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Travel Hacking.

I’m a pretty big fan of personal finance and I love the hunt for great deals.

I’ll open a new bank account and use their debit card a number of times in the first 90 days to get a free $100 credit.
I’ll open a credit card to get a bonus $100 cash back if I spend $500 in the first 3 months.
I make 2% back on my credit card for doing nothing – spending $10,000 on normal expenses in a year yields me a free $200.
[notes of importance: I pay off my balances in full every month so that I don’t incur any interest charges. I have my cards set on auto-pay so that I don’t even have to think about the monthly payments. I only spend my credit cards on normal monthly expenses. *In 10 years, I haven’t had to use a credit card in an emergency situation, but I wouldn’t hesitate if the situation was life or death].

With that said, I’m just now beginning to look at the possibilities of credit cards with airline bonus miles.
I know, I know, some of you are probably laughing at me because you’ve had them for years.

But I’ve always used the following strategy: use credit cards that give me a good cash back bonus and then shop for the best airline deals. I always figured that this would be an approximately equal deal. And with the simplicity of it all it might just be.

But I’ve been recently turned on to skymile cards from a friend that met me in Guatemala and used his airmiles in order to get there.

I had an hour long talk with him and I want to give you the bullet points of what I learned on travel hacking.
These simple notes may easily be the difference in hundreds of dollars of savings for you.

1. Most domestic flights in the U.S. cost 25,000 miles
1a. These flights are in a zone and you can often fly to other close by countries (in Central America for example) for the same amount of mile – so plan accordingly.

2. Some credit card offers will give you 40,000-50,000 bonus miles with their credit card offers (most are only 30,000) so it pays to google search and look around.

3. United has the most generous policy overall and is the simplest to redeem your skyline miles with.

4. Most of the cards have an annual fee after the first year. If you decide you don’t want the card, you can call an cancel it prior to being charged the fee. You will be able to keep your skymiles as they are tracked in a separate independent account.

5. With United Airways you get 5,000 mile discounts when booking domestic flights.

6. Pay close attention who controls the hub at your local airport (in my case it’s Delta). You may want to use this airline’s credit card programs. Otherwise, you may have to go to neighboring airports in order to get on the flights of your choosing.

This is enough info to get you in the game.
Another great source that I’ve heard of is Chris Guillebeau’s Travel Hackers – although I must disclose that I’ve never used myself.
Happy Travels!

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My Rules for Retirement

I grew up reading financial books – learning about the stock market – increasing my investment vocabulary – on and on.

I loved it.
I’d read more.
More books – Rich Dad Poor Dad, The Knack, The Number, etc. – you can find them on my resource page if you’re interested.

I loved it.
I got into business – I started a blog – I started investing in houses – I got a real estate license – I started a local entertainment website – I started a real estate brokerage.

I love it.
But I realized that my mindset was shifting.
I realized that I didn’t agree with a lot of mainstream thinking.
I now read Money magazine and view it similar to Cosmopolitan – the same stuff packaged in different ways.
Nothing different.

Going further, I realized that some of my principals were different.

1. I can’t stand the idea of setting aside a certain % of cash for future consumption each month.
How do I know that I will make it to 40? to 50? and not 120?
The truth is, I don’t.
But what if I do?
Then I better be ready.
But I don’t believe that we’re supposed to worry about that.
We aren’t in control.
We can’t take any of it with us.
When the game is over it all goes back in the box.

It’s our jobs to be steward of what we get while here — time, resources, etc.

With that said, this doesn’t mean that I don’t save.
I do.
But when I have the opportunity to take from my savings and invest in myself and others for education, business opportunities, experiences, giving, etc. – I do.
Why? Because to me, this is compounding my investment.
What if I lose it? So what. I will be smarter and better and ready to move with the next opportunity.

I believe in investing in yourself and creating opportunities that will either give you passive income or large chunks of cash.

2. I can’t stand insurance
My goal is to eventually get rid of all insurance except health insurance (too risky to be without for me).

Auto Insurance: I hate having full coverage on my autos. I’ve never had a wreck that largely damaged my vehicle. Insurance preys off fear. The “what if” scenarios. Well, I don’t plan to get in a wreck. But if I do, it’s a risk that I’m willing to take. I will either fix it myself or call it a loss, but the only coverage that I need is liability insurance.

Life Insurance: When I was 29 and single I got a $100k term life policy because a good friend told me that it was unfair to stick my family with all of my debts if I were to die. Great point. So $10/mo. later I had it. It’s cheap.
But then, my bank accounts started offering free $1,500 policies hoping that I’d increase the policy. I didn’t but I did sign up for the $1,500 ones.
Then my house gained equity. Serious equity. Even in a depressed market.
So I figured that without a family yet there was no need for the term insurance at this point.
It was almost more of a nuisance to cancel than not, but now that I did I’ll be happy to save the $120/yr. Now that I’m 31 and married I’m back to having a life insurance policy, but currently only carry $250k (I’m banking on investing in myself with the savings from a higher premium).

Home Owner’s Insurance: I hate this too, but I have it. Because the bank requires it. And if I pay off my loan I’d still keep it since my house is currently my largest asset. It’s currently $1,900 annually.
I’m in the real estate industry (I win when I sell houses) and you should seriously look at renting. For starters, you would get a month + of free rent every year just by dropping property insurance – not to mention yard upkeep, major repairs, property tax.
Yes, you would lose out on deducting my interest, but shouldn’t the main goal be to lower expenses in the first place? Paying money just so that you can deduct a portion of it is insane to me — read “The Fair Tax” if you never have — interesting read.

Insurance on New Electronics: No Thanks. If it breaks I’ll buy a new one.

Insurance on my Package Shipped: No Thanks. I’d prefer for you to do your job and not lose it.

Insurance for my Insurance: Uhhhhhh, what?

3. I can’t stand having tons of stuff.
Having less stuff can do a few things for you.
It can cause you to need less insurance (yess!)
And it can cause you to get used to living a simple life which will make life in general much easier.
If you live a simple lifestyle then there’s no problem commuting by bike, having only one car, downsizing a home, not owning a boat, riding a bus, cooking at home, drinking less, growing your own food, etc.
Living simpler can cause you to need less money currently, which means you can give more away or invest more in yourself (there’s that long term plan again!)

With that said my Rules for Retirement consist of:
1. Creating opportunities of passive income.
2. Creating opportunities during my life to bank large chunks of cash.
3. Moving from an amount of greater insurance to less insurance.
4. Always trying to live with less.
5. Putting the “game” back in the box when I die.

What are your rules?

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Homeaway (VRBO) vs. AirBnB – Costs to Owners

airbnb - my listingThis article is to help those with a home that they want to rent decide which site will yield them the greatest return, AirBnb or Homeaway (VRBO). [if you’re a renter, know that in my opinion, AirBnb provides the most seamless and easy experience – here is a referral link for $25 off your first booking].

I’m assuming that you already have a basic understanding of what both of these companies do. In essence, they allow you to provide your home as a rental on a short term basis, whether that’s 1 night or longer terms like a month or so. For us, the average, has been 2-3 nights, with folks coming to town to visit, vacation, do business, etc.

Homeaway was started in 2005 and is more focused on vacation rentals. It has acquired a number of other rental sites in order to increase its market share and help with productivity tools for owners and property managers (a large part of their model).
AirBnB started in 2008 and was more geared towards the tech savvy traveler looking for a room to rent. But it’s grown and has expanded into full home rentals and vacation properties, since in essence any home can be used for vacation.
Both are close in terms of their number of listings and worldwide presence, but I feel that AirBnB is much better positioned for growth. They seemed to have the vision from the start and Homeaway seems to be playing catch up and acquiring companies that can help them make things easier (which I find in the short term can have an adverse effect and be more difficult for their users, owners and renters alike).

Maybe you’re thinking about renting your home using these platforms or maybe you’ve already done it a few times. You may have known about one but not the other. I’ve found that after close to 6 months of renting my home full time that we get close to 50% of our bookings from AirBnb and the other 50% from VRBO, so I’d definitely recommend setting your rental up on both of the websites. It also helps if your property is close to where people want to be (downtowns, beaches, lakes, quiet peaceful country, etc.)

Understanding the costs is pretty simple, but you have to spend a bit of time studying closely to understand them, so let me break down what I’ve found out.

AirBnB: Takes 3% of the overall rental price (plus added fees) as their charge. This includes credit card processing fees also. (note: guests are apparently charged 6-12% of the booking as a fee to them, so keep this in mind when pricing your home compared to your competition).

VRBO: They have the option of no listing fee and 10% fee per booking. This includes the credit card processing fees also. You can also choose to pay a yearly fee starting at $349 for the year. It says there’s a 0% fee, but it’s a bit misleading since you still have to pay for credit card processing. So in reality it’s a 10% fee with no yearly fee or a 3% with $349/yr. (or more depending on plan).
We are actually in the process of determining if that net 7% booking fee will cost us more than the $349/yr.   And it’s looking like it may. If that’s the case, we may be upgrading and paying the yearly fee in order to lower our fees from 10% to about 3% (credit cards).

So the net effect to the renter is that clearly AirBnB will leave more money in your pocket.
But what will your pricing need to be to stay competitive?
Will you have more renters from VRBO?

My advice is to get your home on both platforms and measure your experiences over time, both with finances and your enjoyment of the experience of working with both.

Happy Renting!

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Life List Updates

So I keep a Life List – these are items that I want to do during my lifetime.
Some will take years.
Some I could do in the next week if I really wanted to.

I don’t believe in a fixed list.
As my interests change I add to and take away.

I keep a list in an app that I use (Trello) so that when something cool hits me I can add it.

Here are my latest additions to my Life List:

Own a car that runs on vegetable oil.

Get sprayed by pepper spray (still debating).

Solve a rubik’s cube.

Complete the rubik’s cube in less than 1 minute.

Raise backyard chickens.

Experience sea turtle hatching.

[I’ve got the white side down on the rube.  A Long way to go].
White Side Conquered - Rubiks Cube

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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If you’re keeping up with projects that I’m working on, you’ll see that a recent project that my wife and I recently took on was Bottega Collection, a women’s clothing boutique. We’ve chosen to use Shopify as our tool of choice to run it and I wanted to write this post in order to explain why so that you can see if it’s the right fit for your small business.

Shopify - Women's Clothing Boutique

Shopify is a full e-commerce platform tool that you can use to create your online store. If you have a physical product to sell, this is a great outlet for you to use. All of the independent items that you’d have to figure out — payment processing, order fulfillment, inventory management — are all done on the back end of this easy to use website.

Here are some of the highlights of what shopify does for our women’s clothing boutique and why we chose it as our tool:
syncing of our inventory
payment handling
simple setup
mobile payments option
ability to provide coupon codes
a free facebook store
ability to add apps (many for free)

Let’s discuss these a bit further and why we find them so useful.

Syncing of our inventory: Once you load your inventory (read widgets) into shopify, shopify tracks that inventory. So if you sell a dress or other item from your website (or in person using their mobile app!) shopify will automatically update your inventory.

Payment handling: There are lots of payment processing systems out there (paypal, square, etc.) and shopify also integrates with a payment processing system so that you don’t have to worry about doing so yourself.

Simple Setup: You can literally be up and running the same day. If you’re familiar with wordpress, then you’ll find the back end of shopify fairly easy to design and navigate. And if you have questions, the support is excellent. I had what I considered to be a complicated issue, but I was stoked when I was able to hop right on the phone with a shopify consultant and get it handled in under 10 minutes.

Mobile payment options: Just like most payment processors (paypal, square, etc.) you have the ability to collect payments on the go. For a women’s clothing boutique, this is perfect for trunk shows and other in person sales opportunities. Shopify has its own branded card reader (you have to purchase additional ones). The cool thing is that using it along with the mobile app (currently only for apple ios) allows your inventory to be synced.

Ability to provide coupon codes: We are able to provide our ladies with coupon codes. We can have them activate and expire on cue. We can give out specific codes to groups or individuals. You also have the ability to allow customers to purchase gift cards but this doesn’t come with the basic account.

A free Facebook store: There is no effort needed on your part. All you have to do is install the app and your customers can now shop from your small business boutique directly from Facebook!

Ability to add apps (many for free): There are tons of great apps, many of them for free. Email newsletter integrations, coupon code pop-ups, order fulfillment and printing shipping labels; there are over 800 apps in the app store, many great apps starting with a FREE price tag.

All in all, shopify is a great option for businesses like women’s clothing boutique that sell physical products. It doesn’t matter whether you do $1,000 in revenue per month or $1,000 per hour. Shopify has a solution that will work awesome for you.

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So, What Do You Do?

This is a question that I get typically within 5 minutes of meeting someone.
After getting a name and maybe where they’re from, this is typically the next one.
What – Do – You – Do.
For some reason, I haven’t been very good at asnwering this.
So I want to take this time to flush it out.

A good friend of mine said that I need to narrow what I do down to a paragraph.
Good advice, but I think I want to go a bit shorter.

I’m thinking if I’m talking with someone that I may never talk to again that I’ll keep it simple.
I’ll say “I’m in sales” or “I’m an entrepreneur.”
Simple.
Done.

But my regular answer probably needs to be a bit longer.
But I don’t want to put my new friends to sleep now do I?

“So Brooks what do you do?”
“I’m in women’s clothing, real estate investing, metal art work, and other online projects.”
[recently added women’s clothing to my project list ha!]
Too vague?
Short enough not to bore but long enough to entice them to ask more questions if they’d like?
Well, in that case maybe I should change the order (as if the first thing I heard out of a guy’s mouth was women’s clothing, I most likely wouldn’t hear the rest).

So in that case “I’m involved in real esate investing, metal art work, and an online women’s clothing boutique.”
I think I like that better.
Thanks for Listening.

 

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Join below to stay focused and get inspired with out of the box ideas for your life and business!

YOUR EMAIL WILL NEVER BE SHARED, AND YOU CAN UNSUBSCRIBE AT THE TOUCH OF A BUTTON.