Pitching Tripartisan

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Writing an elevator pitch for a company is undoubtedly a difficult experience. I believe in the practice of writing and employing elevator pitches; in fact as a part of my political science capstone I will have to deliver one on my project in front of all of the professors. The difference, however, is this is a project that I have been developing three years and doing the research on by hand.

While I love the idea of Tripartisan, only one student in our group has taken business related classes and thus learning to build a business in the span of 8 weeks is hard. Knowing the kind of research required or what should be included in a market segment is difficult when your training is sparse. Moreover plenty of people spend years developing their pitches and their products, doing trial runs and pivoting as needed. That means students with only a few class periods to prepare an elevator pitch is about as unprepared as they can be.

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Image courtesy of freerangestock.com and Jack Moreh

I think the most difficult part was not being able to get feedback from our classmates before we received a final grade. I’ll be honest I hadn’t prepared as much as I’d have liked and I make no excuses for that, it was poor time management on my part. I was lucky in that Catherine was in class early and we used the time to pitch our speeches back and forth. What I think could have really helped the vast majority of students would have been some time to develop our pitches in our groups. Not to the point that we all had the same pitch, word for word; but so we could distill the core essence of our business plan and build from there. While rehearsing with Catherine, I listened to her speech and refined some of my talking points.

I also believe that having smaller groups would benefit a lot of people. I highly doubt many of us are going to be pitching an idea to 20 college students and their professor with any regularity. In fact, most of the pitches we saw (excluding those done at a competition) were done in front of a small group of venture capitalists. Sometimes the fact that the class – especially a big class – is made of people you know and respect makes it difficult to deliver a speech. You know exactly who is going to laugh when, who is checking their Facebook and who has their fingers and toes crossed praying they don’t screw up their speech. It’s comforting and yet oddly alienating; unlike the big competitions, we can’t walk away from this class and tell ourselves we’ll do better next time. We know we’re going to continue to see everyone; that our “sneaky journalist” mistakes are going to follow us into the next class.

The benefits of elevator pitches are amazing. They can land you jobs. They can score you points with your boss when investors show up unannounced at the doorstep. But they are terrifying. They can’t be under-practiced or over-practiced and the judges will hear your sales department voice a mile away. That’s what makes elevator pitches like Band-Aids, sometimes you just have to rip them off and focus on doing better next time.

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Kickstarting a crowd-funding campaign

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A Kickstarter pitch is essentially a longer version of the classic elevator speech. When done right, a la the Coolest Cooler, there’s no telling how much support you can receive. When done wrong, a la Mudtails, the paltry response speaks for itself.

Elevator speeches are short and a good Kickstarter, while not mincing words, shouldn’t overwhelm potential donors with information. The Coolest Cooler plays people’s short attention spans against them. Using colorful pictures and videos to break up the text, while succinctly summarizing the pitch in less than four sentences they ensure the greatest impact on their audience. Additionally they hit each of their most attractive features and personalized their pitch to their readers by asking broad but relatable questions.

Mudtails, on the other hand, lost their audience before they made it to the page. The title with its negative word association and the lack of consistency in capitalization screamed its inexperience. Moreover the pitch is five sentences full of business. It propagates what ifs instead of assurances and designs that lack a basic appeal. No one becomes a business expert overnight but the combination of bad decisions on this campaign spelled its doom.

Social networks

Courtesy of freerangestock.com and Jack Moreh

In this day and age, Kickstarters have to be shareable; they have to contain some aspect that makes people want to advertise for you. Coolest Coolers has a video that is professionally shot and full of action. In almost every shot we see the Coolest Cooler being used to address an ongoing, if frivolous, need. The video provides concrete evidence that not only is the Coolest Cooler an awesome campaign; it’s also a functional idea.

Mudtails fails to make advertisers out of its audience. The video, while sentimental to the woman who created it, doesn’t inspire, shock or solve a particular pain point. Plenty of successful crowd-funding campaigns rely on sentimentality to prove their worth but what this campaign fails to create is empathy. It discusses her life and her family but doesn’t tie the product to her family or her life thus far, making the video emotionally potent only to those in her inner circle.

For better or worse these campaigns are illuminating starting points. The Coolest Cooler represents the upper echelon of Kickstarter campaigns while Mudtails demonstrates how difficult it can be to drum up support. Crow-funding can be an excellent way to raise money but it isn’t easy and can often demonstrate bias, which is something not addressed in the blog above, but that has a visible effect on the campaigns that get funded and those that don’t.

Building their dreams: young entrepreneurs success and failure in modern times

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After reading the Business Insider piece on young entrepreneurs and researching their successes and failures, I was reminded of the Parks and Recreation episode that looks into the future of the group. Tom Haverford, the young entrepreneur of the Parks Department, had several of his business ventures fail throughout the show but eventually became successful after using those experiences to create his brand as a motivational speaker. His tenacity even after several hiccups allowed him to reach his end goal, which is a lesson that I think can be gleaned from these real-life young entrepreneurs. They stepped out into the unknown, creating their dreams with no guarantee of success.

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Courtesy of freerangestock.com

When I looked at the businesses initially, the first one I suspected of being doomed to fail was FamilyLeaf. Although the product seemed sweet and well branded, it lacked originality. Facebook has been providing people with the platform to connect with their families by sharing photos and messages for years. In short, Facebook is a giant in the field of social media. Given the platform the founders were trying to create, there simply wasn’t room for a second, if more personal, Facebook.

Another business that was doomed to fail, G3box, I initially thought was a brilliant idea. The idea was centered on building portable medical clinics inside recycled shipping containers. The reason G3box failed is not immediately clear, but logistical problems may have played a large part in the failure of this business. For example, portable medical clinics are fantastic if you can keep them staffed with trained individuals and full of adequate medical supplies. But these items are often difficult to source in impoverished, rural areas. Despite the ingenuity of the idea, G3box is proof that even the greatest ideas can be stopped in their tracks without a plan for practical implementation.

Jossle was a company that surprised me. At first glance I thought it would have failed immediately. Not because the idea lacked originality but because people wear brand names for free more often than not. To me it seemed like advertisers would scoff at the idea of paying college students to wear their brand around campus but I underestimated the need for constancy when pushing brands. It is subtle but continuous and therein lays the genius of Jossle.

Like G3box, I saw an immediate appeal to CentriCycle. It’s simple and elegant and provides a much needed resource to rural communities. Unlike G3box, however, it’s incredibly practical. There is no need for power or specialized technicians to operate the machinery. Simply some trained individuals and a pinch of elbow grease. In short it’s quite easy to understand the success and appeal of a product like CentriCycle.

The risk inherent to entrepreneurship is easily discernible. There is no safe path to becoming a successful startup but there are ways to prevent catastrophic failure. Defining an audience and working with an original idea can greatly ease the risk of failure, while also giving entrepreneurs a way to build their customer base.

Making entrepreneurship safer

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In his article Why the Lean Start Up Changes Everything, Steve Blank addresses the development of a new business model, in which agile design and iterative development build better businesses in a “safer” way. No business model is inherently safe, in fact the statistics on businesses that fail are staggering. Using the lean start up model, however, allows for adaptation in the face of adversity, for pivoting in the face of failure.

Contrary to the idea set forth by Blank that this is a radical shift in set up, for the millennial generation,  this business model is the typical set up. Maybe it is a generational difference, maybe not, but when I was reading about this model it felt like common sense. Of course you’d want to develop in stages with consistent customer feedback; of course you’d continue to adapt according to the business world’s changing needs.

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Photo courtesy of freerangestock.com. Like the child jumping to kick the ball and score a goal in this photo, beginning a business is a big risk with a potentially large payoff.

Facebook, for example, is a example of how businesses should change as needed. Facebook began as the brainchild of several college students but as the website began to take off Mark Zuckerberg, along with his team, built algorithms to cater to an older population that may not be tech-oriented. This allowed generations of people who weren’t able to use MySpace due to a lack of coding skills to engage in social media.

Furthermore, as millennials, my generation remembers the great housing crisis of 2008 and the ensuing recession through the eyes of children. We saw adults in our lives lose their jobs and houses around us foreclose, something I think most people overlook when attempting to contextualize our behavior. I think this has led to a more gun-shy group of entrepreneurs who are hesitant to go all in without a safety net. This hypothesis may not seem to connect the variables but the majority of students I know worry about money and the stability of their future, which in turn makes them seek jobs and business opportunities that are likely to remain viable despite the changing economic landscape.

The lean start up model is essentially a business example of evolution. As older, less stable business models go extinct, newer models take their place resulting in a better product for the average consumer.

Zoom out and fear not

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The reality of journalism, and media in general, is that we live in a world that is more accessible than ever but our reach is no longer as potent. What you see on social media (where people often get their news) may be completely different from what your grandmother sees when she pulls up Facebook to see what the kids are doing these days.

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Photo Credit Harry McRoberts (used with permission). While working for PCN I did not get a haircut for 10 straight weeks resulting in the longest hair I have had since freshmen year of college.

Entrepreneurial journalism must now focus more than ever on breaking through the noise to reach its audience. We used to watch the nightly news to understand the world around us but people are now using Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media to live stream the events in real time. According to Carlo De Marchis, this is a prime example of the ever-changing playing field.

Adaptability, relevancy, and individualism seem to be the keys to the kingdom. People want news that is relevant – updating in real time – on apps that are tech-savvy in a way that makes it feel personal. Unsurprisingly this makes the media business an unsavory prospective industry.

While I agree that the media business is hard to break into, I have also seen another side. Working this summer at the Potter County news made me realize that media jobs are plentiful where you would least expect it.

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Photo credit Molly McRoberts (used with permission). Our family photo sits on my bedside table and I treasure it immensely. 

For example, the paper I worked on has well over 1,000 subscribers. The newspaper, while lacking much of the hard news found in famous publications like the New York Times, still covers the hard topics. With splashes of kids and soft news to make the rough stuff easier to swallow, the Potter County News manages to produce a paper that is financially viable for the foreseeable future.

Granted working in rural communities isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Plenty of people want to work at big name media production companies creating content that will be viewed by millions of people. However entering an environment already saturated by the cream of the crop isn’t always feasible for fresh college graduates. That’s where rural community newspapers can become a steppingstone to greater employment opportunities.

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The Gary McCloud Bull Ride. All I could think was ‘run cowboy run!’ 

My point is that entrepreneurial media looks terrifying if you only look at certain demographics. Zooming out and seeing the bigger picture indicates there may be more opportunities to reach beyond the noise in communities that are smaller, where the paper is less about notoriety and more about interconnectedness.

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Photo credit Molly McRoberts (used with permission). This photo was taken at the Half Ass Ranch, my favorite after Rotary spot in town. The man behind me is Don Hericks one of the kindest men in town. His mules April, May, and Pete are trained as a team for parades and such through town. 

 

The professional necessity of social media

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Well folks, I survived. Not only did I complete an entire course on a subject I would rather avoid, I learned how to be a more effective consumer of social media. I learned how to build a professional profile for my platforms and how to market not only myself by my skills as a social media manager. I’ll admit there were moments where I felt aggravated but overall I enjoyed the class.

The social media strategy was simultaneously the most frustrating and rewarding part of the class. First I’d like to state that Tina Popson is an amazing woman and I thoroughly applaud her willingness to sit through 19 social media strategies.

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Photo courtesy of freerangstock.com and Jack Moreh

The strategy itself proved difficult because the Creighton Recent Alumni Association doesn’t have the same draw that a typical non-profit has. For example, the Humane Society has kittens and puppies to draw in their target audiences. The RAA, on the other hand, lacks the warm and fuzzy feeling that puppies and kittens bring to the table. My partner and I, therefore, made it our mission to make the messages delineated in our strategy give people the same comforting feelings.

Although difficult, by creating this strategy I have added one more marketable tool to my resume – which in today’s consistently fluctuating job market is never a bad thing. I learned that despite my aversion to the various social media platforms, my best bet is to be flexible and adaptable because my job’s requirements may change with a moments notice.

I am grateful for what this class has taught me because there is a virtual guarantee that I will use this technology in my future job. Similarly, I rediscovered a love of liking innocuous things on Facebook. I may not post often but I believe liking and retweeting things is a step in the right direction.

I found the most fascinating blog to be the public shaming blog, which centered on people who have been targeted by a negative viral movement. This blog assignment encompassed everything I have ever hated about social media – from the furious to the down right violent responses and more. More often than not social media feels like a trap being set and while I have several strategies to avoid the ire of the Internet, I am still hesitant to post anything vaguely controversial.

Simply put this class was a wealth of information and a veritable education for people like me who avoid the constant stream of social media. I am grateful for the skills I have learned and the many exciting projects we developed throughout the class.

Social media: the new public stockade

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I know that I’ve made my opinions on social media clear. I know that I haven’t always given it its due on this blog, but a large part of the reason I hate social media stems from public shaming. In Monica Lewinsky’s Ted Talk she compares the Internet to a public stockade, and she’s right. On the surface social media is a brilliant way to remain connected and for every horror story there are three or four good stories. Unfortunately, those good stories never seem to outshine the lack of compassion and inhumanity of cyber-bullying.

Maybe its because I’ve been told that some of my family members are going to hell, maybe its because I’ve been called the “damn liberal/hippy,” or maybe its because I have a bleeding heart but when I look at social media platforms all I see is a more accessible way to hurt people. I don’t think I was ever bullied, people said and did some hurtful things and I moved on with no lasting effects. But with social media the cruelty doesn’t end after school, it doesn’t end at night; it’s a steady stream of hatred that pours into every hour of every day until a new victim is found.

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Photo courtesy of freerangestock.com and Stuart Miles

While I am less inclined to sympathize with Justine Sacco than I am with John Higgins, Lewinsky and Michelle Ferrier, her stupidity shouldn’t warrant threats on her life. What she tweeted was senseless, racist, and cruel to those suffering with HIV and AIDS and I make no pretense to defend her. But was that tweet worth the total destruction of her life? Some might argue yes, others no. I stand somewhere in the middle. As a P.R. executive she should have known better and I do think firing her was appropriate but I’m reticent to say she deserved to have her life gobbled up by salacious magazines looking for a story.

Similarly Lewinsky, Ferrier and Higgins didn’t deserve to have their lives upended by the Internet’s insatiable need for malice. Humiliation and dehumanization are never the answer.

Imagine for a minute, if instead of making people regret their error by making them relive it, we saw fit to explain why what they did was hurtful. We teach children empathy for this reason, why can’t we use it to teach adults?

As mentioned earlier I avoid social media – it scares me. I’ve watched friends obsess over the latest Instagram post by Kim Kardashian and wondered if people even see her as human. What if we began to see everyone as human, as more than just a screen name? Would we change the way we talk to each other or even about each other? Or have we become so utterly desensitized to the idea of empathy that we now lack the ability to communicate with one another in more than just moral absolutes.

I don’t have the answers and I certainly can’t say I’ve never said a mean thing. I’ve had days where half the things that came out of my mouth were unkind. I just want to know why we stopped treating each other as fallible people and began expecting perfection.