In light of troughs and darkness, the smallest things can be inspirational. I know what it’s like to be in that trough, and I know what it’s like to feel a bit lost. If you’re an entrepreneur, this can be an hourly thing. Where do you go for inspiration? For motivation when you feel a tinge of failure? Sometimes, you have to dig deep to find the greater goal that reignites the fire within. And sometimes, you need someone to pour a little gas on the spark to get you fired up.

I wanted to provide you with a few sites, quotes, pictures that has kept me fighting over my entrepreneurial endeavor, too. Hopefully, one of these will inspire you to dig deep and to keep pursuing greater things for you and for those around you.

  • You’re Never Too Old To Start A New Venture, Look At These Famous Entrepreneurs – Digital Synopsis. Like Gordon Gecko in Wall Street 2 said, “[…] the one thing I learned in jail is that money is not the prime asset in life. Time is.” Don’t waste your time, but also, don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid to start something. This article has some great graphics of how old different entrepreneurs were when they started their ventures as well as a depiction of various entrepreneurs with their different ideas both successful and failed ones.
There are TON of inspirational stuff, but I just can’t seem to find them right now. I’ve gotten a mental block. I think in the end, the below graphic is so great, and so true. 
I’m going to go ahead and make a stop right here like a bus. I’m going to share a somewhat long story below, so you can quit reading here, if you’d like. If so, perhaps you can share some inspirational quotes, stories, articles, or videos of your own? How do you keep motivated?
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Here’s One of the Most Vulnerable Stories I’ve Ever Shared Publicly
I’m sharing one of the worst kept personal secrets so maybe you can draw some inspiration from there…

I love soccer. It’s the greatest passion in the world for me. Heck, I ran away from home once because my dad told me I wouldn’t be a pro when I was young. Up until high school, I hadn’t played in a competitive league — just rec ball. My freshman year in high school, I was given little chance to make it onto either the JV or Varsity team competing against some really great players who had played at the top level of competitive leagues (Classic, Premier…). I practiced and practiced… a lot on my own. And freshman year, I made the JV team. It was one of the greatest moments in my life. We went undefeated — something like 11-0-1 or 10-0-1 scoring 39 goals for with only 1 against.

Sophomore year, I tried out again. I made the JV squad again, and a few of my peers got pulled up into Varsity. That year, I also earned the Coach’s Award.
Junior year… this was it. This was my year to shine! My year to break into the Varsity squad. I played pretty well, and was confident to get in, even riding the wave of the Coach’s Award from the year earlier. Come time to check the board for my name… NOPE. I didn’t make it. In fact, I wasn’t even allowed to play on the JV team. It was the HARDEST day of my life. Having to traverse the halls with all my peers knowing that I didn’t make the team was extremely difficult. It was probably the hardest day of my life holding back tears throughout the day. That day, I went to the park on my own, and just practiced. I did that just about everyday after school to get ready for senior year tryouts vowing to make the team then. 
Come senior year, I was stoked. I had joined some competition teams since freshman year, and I’d been practicing day in, day out ever since last year’s debacle. Rain or shine, I was out there. I practiced with friends, and if they couldn’t, I practiced and worked on drills on my own. Heck, I even quit orchestra to devote more time after-school to soccer. Come tryouts I was ready. I played pretty solid, so I was ready for my time to shine this time… I didn’t make it again. To know that I failed AGAIN at something that meant so much to me was just… awful. I didn’t know how I was supposed to keep going with the one thing that I loved. At the start of French classes, we used to always start things off going around the room saying what we did yesterday in French. I was a broken record — “J’ ai joué au foot” (I played soccer). What a flop! What a loser to fail AGAIN at his own passion! Well, that day, just like the 365 days before, I went out to the park with a ball and played on my own. 
Fast forward, and when I entered Tech as a freshman, I found out they had a club team. PERFECT! Yet another chance for me to break into the squad. And without much suspense for (since I’m writing too much), I made the Tech Team. It was an amazing feeling. It wasn’t a varsity team, but it was a team that represented the school. My best friends these days are from that Tech team. We were good. And right now, I play every once in a while on some different leagues throughout Atlanta with the expectations to win the game, the league, whatever. Now, I’m playing WITH those amazing athletes that I had always looked up to.
I’m definitely not the best, but I’ve come to enjoy soccer that much more. I’ve made some great relationships, and it’s still probably my greatest passion. However, I don’t think I’ll be playing the English Premier League anytime soon. I’m okay with that.
The moral of the story: If you work hard at your passions, you may still fail. However, you can’t keep your head down because you don’t know what great opportunities may lay in wait. 

If you’re single and ready to mingle, chances are good you have a number of “online dating” apps on your phone. They’re everywhere — the usual suspects of Match.com, eHarmony, OkCupid (a Match company now actually), Plenty of Fish, etc. are joined by the swipe-addicting Tinder, Hinge, Twine, and so many more. Most of those apps and companies didn’t exist three years ago. However, this post isn’t about dating apps.

Looking across different industries, you see the same explosive growth in companies. From travel, you’ve got Travelocity, Expedia, Hotwire, Kayak, and Booking.com with more recent newcomers including Airbnb, Hipmunk, SafelyStay, etc. Even in the CRM space you had SAP, Oracle, etc. with their own solutions and then Salesforce has pretty much taken over, but you have to add in the SugarCRM, Zoho, and so many more. Now, let’s also add in the explosion of wearable technologies to be spearheaded by Google’s announcement of a designated OS called Android Wear. Yowza.
A couple posts ago, I shared some recent trends I had been seeing and perhaps not explicitly said, it’s apparent the suppliers of markets are growing — refer to “Trends for Startups and Ideas to Build the Future“. Each company with its own take on how to do “it” better. So what does this all mean? Where are we headed with all this fragmentation?
  • APIs are a great way for especially software and hardware players to integrate into existing platforms, and enable customers to get set up quickly.
  • The big players are establishing themselves as the common integration point creating another sustainability point with added revenue-stream implications — you can definitely see this in Apple’s App Store, SalesForce’s App Exchange, Facebook‘s ubiquitous login option, and even NCR’s Cloud Services.
  • Smaller startup players will have a frantic fight over the next years to stay in the game and relevant. Switching costs for customers are becoming much lower meaning the power is virtually all in the customers’ hands.
  • Hardware manufacturers are getting in on the exact with APIs such as Thalmic Labs’ Myo Band, Atlas Wearables, Jawbone Up, Logitech peripherals, etc.
  • There will likely be much consolidation in the markets over the next few years as the smaller players get gobbled up by other startups or by the big platform companies themselves. And of course, there will be the natural attrition of startups who just peter out.
  • There’s still significant opportunity for markets where there isn’t an established platform whereby large swaths of companies plug into. Or, you can be an integrator/ middleware connector by which startups connector through you to platforms
In the end, the the power lays largely with the buyers/ customers in many of these markets as suppliers are so vast. However, it also creates some stumbling blocks for customers to pick the right cloud platform. In the B2C market, for example, fragmentation creates an annoyance for many users where there may be, especially, a social aspect and communities are split. But in the end, customers do win with more innovative solutions in a competitive market. This time of market frenzy will last a few years, I believe, before the consolidations really take place. And at that time, the cycle will restart where startups will sprout up again creating opportunity.
What are your thoughts on today’s growth of companies and solutions? How do you think the markets will play out? 
And perhaps more for fun, what dating app are you on? 😉

Woo! Another article brought to me by a connection on LinkedIn. Or, maybe it was LinkedIn’s own algorithm. Either way, the source is on point! This article is written by Sahar Hashemi (a LinkedIn Influencer, entrepreneur and author) – “Are They Customers or Aliens?
Hashemi writes how she started her companies Coffee Republic and Skinny Candy out of her own “selfish” needs. She took the approach to work backwards from a customer’s perspective and needs, and growing up to building a business. Indeed, this is a pretty common approach of many entrepreneurs – personal headaches. However, what she really hones in on in her article is the need for her own team to consistently put themselves in the shoes of the customers. Market research, focus groups, mystery shoppers, and other means can be expensive propositions. Only getting in the face, in a positive way, of customers did they learn. However, putting themselves in their customers’ positions was a key ingredient to Hashemi’s success.
Hashemi noted how once upon a time, her customers were viewed more as “market segments” rather than living, breathing people. Customers were “behavioural patterns” versus humans. This is where she realized the bridge to her customers had been lost.
Putting yourself in your customers’ shoes is not a novel idea, but sometimes, it’s a concept startups (okay, general companies) fail to employ. I’ve noticed this to great effect in many ways, and I believe some of the below can be good advice as you’re building your startup…
(Source: http://www.wired.com/images_blogs/business/2013/02/8512907643_3573889703_b1.jpg)
  • “Eating your own dogfood”. This is a term endeared to many where company employees from the top down (CEO to… everyone below) use the company’s product or service as means for testing. You can see this all the time like Google’s Sergey Brin wearing Google Glass everywhere prior to launch (yes, partly as marketing, too).
(Source: http://images.usatoday.com/life/_photos/2006/09/05/irwin-topper.jpg)
  • Observe like you’re on an episode of National Geographic. The late Steve Irwin and this crazy guy hugging lionstaught us to really understand the focus of our attention, we have to get out there in our subjects’ elements. Hashemi also noted that the key to understanding customer insight is to be out in the field observing customers, not behind a desk.
(Source: http://customerlensconsulting.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/j0431794.jpg)
  • Step into your Customers’ shoes. Hashemi’s article and the notion of a customer as an alien is funnily familiar to me. With Body Boss, none of us are Strength Coaches. We’ve had light experience training others, but that’s about it. Sadly, that was a big problem. When we started out, we originally built the app how we saw would be best. Watching our customers interact with it, though, we quickly learned we failed in building an app that engaged them appropriately – everything from look and feel, down to the how to track.
(Source: http://www.optimizebusinessgrowth.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/devlopmentpartners.jpg)
  • The importance of communicative customer-partners. I think I’ve said this before where I truly look at our customers at Body Boss as partners. This is because for our success, they must be successful, too. And to do that, you need that feedback loop from your partners on what they like and don’t like to make iterations. Not all customers will be the partners you’re looking for, but if you’re going to really reach a mass audience, you need to get buy-in from your customers to help you with iterations (be okay with some hiccups), and you should be able to reach out at some frequency that doesn’t make you a stalker.
I just want to hammer this home – even pretending to be your customers and using your product or service is a huge step towards building the right product/ service. In my prior life in consulting, putting myself as an audience member to a presentation made me think about how to perfect my slides. In Body Boss, it’s critical to pretend I’m a coach who may not be as tech savvy and with limited time to work with athletes. As such, design is so critical to get buy-in and engagement. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes, and eat your own dogfood. Your customers (and your company) will thank you for it.

What are your thoughts on the concept of dogfooding and looking at your product/ service through the lens of your customers? How else could you observe and get valuable feedback from customers? 

Back in November, I wanted to wrap my head around what was going on in the world. The world has been moving so fast, and if you’re looking to build a successful venture that can withstand some sense of time, I believe you have to either recognize where the world is going, or play a role in building the future.

At this time, I also read about how many brick and mortar retailers were employing new technology and ideas to combat online retailers, especially Amazon. Retailers will (some already are) tracking your every movement once you’ve walked into the store to understand customer behaviors. Heck, even gas stations such as Tesco are looking to install screens at gas pumps to target advertisements vis-a-vis facial recognition.

This got me thinking that to build a startup, you can also look at ways to help those who are on the brink of… death. Think about it. With the rise and quicker deaths (or barely living) of companies such as RIM (Blackberry), Kodak, Nokia, etc., it’s imperative for large companies who are far from agile to plant defenses for their own mortality. Perhaps, then, even dying companies when shown a grim future can be a hot market to address. I can’t help but think of also how companies like NCR and IBM pulling at their collars over the shifts from large antiquated point-of-sale (POS) systems to more agile mobile payment cloud solutions.

So, without further ado, I put together a spreadsheet (woo, spreadsheets) back in November trying to plot out some different trends I’ve been seeing. I’ve included the following fields to try to put some context on the trends in hopes of finding a good position to situate a startup.

  • Trending Towards. What’s the trend?
  • What is it? What is the trend?  What’s happening?
  • Key examples. Who’s involved in this movement?
  • Trending Away From (replacing). What are we moving away from?
  • Who’s Getting Shunned. Who is getting hurt?  Who’s losing market share?
  • Challenges. What are the hurdles of this trend?
  • Opportunities. How can this trend be further cultivated?  How can those getting hurt and losing turn the corner?
  • Opportunists. Who is capitalizing on this trend to not only be involved, but who is establishing themselves as a key winner from this trend?
My list is just as far as my eye can see, and so it’s apparent I’m not in the details of every industry, nor do I know of all the great startups already around. So, this list is definitely not exhaustive. If you’re looking for a copy of the above, just shoot me a message on LinkedIn and I’ll be happy to send it to you.
So what are your thoughts of the trends? What are some other trends you see we’re going?