TIME Amazon

Amazon Creates Startup Service To Find The Next GoPro


The company wants to be the go-to retail platform for emerging products.

Amazon is offering a new service that will make life easier for start-up founders. Amazon Launchpad, announced on Tuesday, creates an “Amazon Launchpad store” that will showcase start-up products and provide the makers with marketing and distribution support.

Start-up products featured in the store include the Soma Sustainable Pitcher and Plant-Based Water Filter, Rumpl High-Performance Indoor/Outdoor Blanket, Casper Mattress, and eero Home Wifi System, among others. So far, the store boasts more than 200 products from more than 25 accelerators, crowd-funding platforms, and venture capital firms.

“We…know from talking to startups that bringing a new product to market successfully can be just as challenging as building it,” Amazon Vice President Jim Adkins said in a press release. The Launchpad aims to smooth over that process by taking care of order fulfillment and customer service for start-ups. As a part of the launchpad, start-ups can offer their Amazon Prime customers free shipping.

“Amazon Launchpad gives customers access to a dedicated storefront featuring a variety of innovative new products from emerging brands. For startups, we handle inventory management, order fulfillment, customer service, and more, allowing them to focus their efforts on the innovation that results in more cool products,” Adkins said.


How to Start a Business Without Quitting Your Day Job

chef hat and fedora hanging on hat rack
Sarina Finkelstein (photo illustration)—Getty Images (2); Alamy (1)

And meet a bunch of folks who pulled it off.

Bill and Lauren Elward both held demanding full-time jobs when they started their online business, Castle Ink, a Greenlawn, N.Y.-based operation that sells remanufactured inkjet cartridges, laser toner, and ink refill kits. At that time in 2005, Bill was doing web analytics and marketing for the College Board and Lauren was a high school English teacher. Both were avid recyclers and wanted to build a business that tapped into that passion, but they weren’t willing to give up the security of steady paychecks.

Instead, they worked on the business at night and on weekends, sinking $5,000 from their savings into getting their website up and running. By 2007, with cash flow from the business picking up, Lauren, who was pregnant and on maternity leave, decided to quit her job.

Thanks to some smart decisions to outsource tasks such as order fulfillment, content development, and social media, she now is able to run the business in just a couple of hours a day and care for their two children, ages six and eight, without outside help. Bill, who now works for the finance site Bankrate, puts in about five hours a week on weekends or on the train ride home from work.

Their approach has paid off. Castle Ink broke $1 million in revenue in 2012, and even with the market for its cartridges softer today, it still brings in $250,000 to $500,000 in annual revenue, says Bill. Meanwhile the couple still reaps the stability and benefits from his job, such as his health benefits and 401(k).

Many would-be entrepreneurs fantasize about telling their bosses to shove it, but small business owners don’t always quit their day job right away. Research by Gallup in 2014 found that among startups under a year old that have fewer than five employees, only 38% of founders live on what they earn from the business. Fifty-four percent support themselves with another job during the first year. The picture changes later, when they are two to five years old. By that time, 51% make enough money in their business to rely on it as their main income and 44% are still relying on a day job.

Still, it’s not easy to start a business while remaining employed elsewhere. Beyond the issue of sheer stamina, entrepreneurs have to be careful not to jeopardize their current job. Here are some tips on how to navigate a launch while you’re still on someone else’s payroll.

Know what you’ve signed. Remember that sheaf of paperwork HR gave you when you started your job? Check your file cabinets and make sure you didn’t sign any agreements that prevent you from moonlighting or a non-compete agreement that will prevent you from launching your business for a certain period—and get legal advice if necessary. When in doubt, look to pivot a bit from the work you do now, since many employers will balk if you seem to be going after the same clients. “Try to find a different market than your current company is going after,” advises small-business consultant Crystal Stranger, president of 1st Tax in Honolulu and author of The Small Business Tax Guide.

Make the most of business travel. If you work long hours at your day job, it may be hard to squeeze in time to work on your startup when you finally get home. Cincinnati entrepreneur Bill Fish found a solution when he co-founded an online marketing company, Text Link Ads (now known as Matomy SEO) in 2001. At the time, he was spending every other week in Austin or Houston, Texas, for his job and had down time in the evenings to devote to his startup. “I was able to work on my business the vast majority of the time while I was traveling,” he says. “I was away from my fiancé and didn’t have anything else to do.”

The time he put in gave the company a running start, and the company grew to the point it was acquired by a private equity firm in 2006. Fish opted to stay on to run the company, and by the time he left in 2012, he says it hit $25M in annual revenue. Since then, he has moved on to another startup, ReputationManagement.com, an online guide where he is co-founder.

Turn your employer into a client. Finding clients before you quit your day job will help you build the cash flow you need to make the leap. Often, the best place to start is your current company. “I’ve had a lot of clients who are able to change their existing jobs to consulting and get paid as 1099 workers,” says Stranger.

Koel Thomae, founder of yogurt company Noosa in Bellvue, Colo., used a similar strategy. After leaving a position at former employer Izzy, a beverage maker, in 2008, the natural food industry veteran secured a consulting gig from a former colleague. Thomae, who had no children at the time, typically signed off from the consulting project at 5 p.m. and shifted to working on Noosa in the evening, often until 1 a.m.

“It allowed me to make enough money to contribute to my family but it also gave me the level of flexibility I needed,” Thomae says. “If I had to go to a meeting with the health department, it gave me this very flexible schedule to kind of do it all.”

By 2010, she had officially launched Noosa and it took off quickly, thanks to all of the advanced legwork she had done. Today, Noosa employs 100 people and the business is on track to generate more than $100 million in revenue, she says.

Sock away what you earn. If you’re making money on top of your salary, it’s tempting to splurge on extras, but Fish recommends banking all of it. At Text Ad Links, he and his partner lived on their earnings from their jobs while launching the business, which freed cash to reinvest in the startup. His advice: “Prepare not to take a single dime out of the business for 12 months,” Fish says.

Greg Van Ullen used a similar approach at OMilk, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based maker of dairy-free milk that he co-founded with his wife Julie in 2011 and that today is sold in stores such Whole Foods in the Northeast. At the time he was doing online marketing for the charity Smile Train. After introducing the product at a local flea market and seeing immediate demand, they launched a home delivery service. For the first five months, Van Ullen did the deliveries himself but found it taxing to juggle with his job—in part because the milk last only eight days. “I was losing my mind,” he says.

Finally, he realized it was time to quit. “In my own situation it was easy to make the call because we didn’t have enough time to actually produce our product to meet the demand—which is a really good situation to be in,” he says. “It let me know that if I made this leap and did it full time, I would be able to sell it. It made me feel a lot safer.”

That’s not usually a how entrepreneurs describe the startup experience, but as his experience shows, living on the edge isn’t the only way to launch a successful business.

Read next: ‘How Not to Go Broke When Starting Your Own Business

TIME Careers & Workplace

7 Reasons to Pursue Entrepreneurship

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"For others the freedom and flexibility that comes with creating and owning one’s own business represents the ultimate satisfaction"

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Question: What is the main benefit of entrepreneurship that traditional career paths don’t offer?

The Ability to Create Your Own Destiny

“Entrepreneurship can be very rewarding. You can create your own hours and make your thoughts a reality. We now employ 10 people and we are still growing. I love looking around the office and seeing how collaborative everyone is. It feels good to know that I have created a working environment that people love.” — Courtney Spritzer, SOCIALFLY

The Ability to Positively Impact Your Environment

“The ability to impact the marketplace and see your ideas manifest into tangible services and products that add value is perhaps the most fulfilling benefit of being an entrepreneur.” — Damian A. Clarke, DAC & Associates

The Opportunity to Work How You Want to Work

“There’s no line manager to tell you when you can’t take a day off. There is no red tape to sidestep, or a procedure for anything. You’re not bound by corporate planning left over from the eighties. Systems are new, unfettered and modern. Things work, and there’s no one but you to say otherwise.” — Ben Gamble, See Through

The Chance to Learn Under Fire

“In a traditional job, you are generally only responsible for one bucket of activities. In a startup, you’re able to wear a lot of different hats and learn quickly by doing it. It’s an MBA from the School of Hard Knocks and shouldn’t be underestimated.” — Lisa Curtis, Kuli Kuli

The Freedom It Offers

“From my perspective, the main benefit of entrepreneurship is the freedom it offers to create and grow a business that’s owned (fully or in part) by you. Traditional career paths tend to lock people into a certain role or industry for years, which works for many. But for others the freedom and flexibility that comes with creating and owning one’s own business represents the ultimate satisfaction.” — Michael Rheaume, SnapKnot Inc.

The Flexibility to Be Your Best

“The main benefit of being an entrepreneur is flexibility; flexibility to work as hard as you want, make as much money as you want, work the schedule you want and sell the product/service you want. How smart and hard you work will determine how much flexibility you give yourself. Entrepreneurship is not for those who need the structure of a 9-to-5 job and a job description.” — Steven Newlon, SYN3RGY Creative Group

The Ability to Love What You Do

“Before taking the plunge in entrepreneurship, I always thought whether I would find a job that I really loved. Now, I work harder than ever before almost on a 24/7 basis. And I absolutely love what I do. I look forward to the every day in office. Loving your job is key to success and entrepreneurship is a sure way to make you love your job.” — Ashu Dubey, 12 Labs

BusinessCollective, launched in partnership with Citi, is a virtual mentorship program powered by North America’s most ambitious young thought leaders, entrepreneurs, executives and small business owners.

This article originally appeared on BusinessCollective

TIME Startups

Meet ‘Jet,’ the Startup Taking On Amazon and Costco

Jet Jet

Jet promises to deliver the web's best price on more than 10 million products

Finding a good deal online isn’t all that difficult. But finding the best deal? That’s a much tougher hill to climb. Still, from President’s Day through Black Friday (and Prime Day, apparently), people scour the web to find the lowest prices on whatever they’re buying. This must-save mentality also drives Jet, a massive new startup opening for business on July 21. Jet promises to provide the lowest prices on everything it sells. And if that’s not enough, depending on the options you select while shopping, you can get your goodies even cheaper.

According to Liza Landsman, Jet’s chief customer officer, the company is able to reduce prices by eliminating e-commerce inefficiencies that have developed over the past 15 years. “Oftentimes there are a lot of hidden costs in e-commerce, and a lot of them are bundled into the cost of packing things into multiple boxes and shipping them long distances,” says Landsman.

Jet works by having a big network of partner merchants in addition to its own warehouses full of items. As a shopper add items to his or her online shopping cart, the company works away in the background, determining the most efficient merchant for that particular sale. Jet’s goal is to ultimately find the fewest number of suppliers who will ship your order the shortest possible distance.

Take, for example, toilet paper. As I write this, a 12-count package of Quilted Northern ultra plush costs $6.49 on Jet, a price that matches Walgreen’s and bests Amazon’s $8.29. But once Jet factors in its efficiency modeling, the price drops by another $.39, down to $6.10. But if you already had a box of Kleenex ultra soft tissues in your shopping cart (with its own price whittled down to a web-best $3.48), the Quilted Northern price drops further than before, now ringing in at $5.93. But forget the napkins. If you need something a little more niche — like a 2-inch chrome trailer hitch, a stovetop hood, or a sprinkler head — the toilet paper savings spring back to just $.39, because these products are likely coming from different merchants.

Still, while it may sound like a corporate tag line, the rule on Jet tends to be: the more you buy, the more you save.

This is just one way the company looks to reduce the price of its products. Other ways to save include choosing a less expensive form of payment, like debit over credit, or waiving the right to return a product, which is something you’d do for toilet paper, perhaps, but not electronics. “All those costs we pull out of the system, we pass back to the consumer in the form of greater savings or lower prices,” says Landsman.

So, what’s the catch? Well, to get in on this savings bonanza, you have to become a member. That puts Jet more in competition with price clubs like Costco than Amazon. For $50 a year, members get free shipping on orders over $35, free returns (unless they opt out of them), and a guarantee that they’ll save as much as the membership fee or they’ll get the difference refunded to them. In its beta testing with real-world customers (which is how I have access), Jet has estimated the average household will save $150 per year shopping through their site.

As a new dad who’s knee-deep in diapers, baby formula, and other bulk goodies, I was skeptical over how much the site would save me over Costco. I’ve done my homework, worked my budget, and short of extreme couponing was getting the best deals I could find. But after plugging my shopping list into Jet, I was quickly humbled by the savings my shopping cart was showing.

In fairness, it wasn’t an apples-to-apples comparison (or, rather Kirkland to Huggies). But the cost of diapers, for instance, was similar at the start and then became gradually more disparate as I piled on other household staples. Throw in the fact that I don’t have to fight for parking, wait in lines, it will be delivered to my door, and there should be fewer boxes than Amazon orders — this dad is sold.

But there are things missing from Jet, and I’m not just talking about free samples of sausage and spicy mustard. Frozen foods are a big draw for price clubs, and Jet doesn’t stock these kinds of products — at least not yet. Landsman says fresh food is something the company will add to its offerings after launch. But she also points out that once they go live with it, customers will receive an unexpected benefit. “You don’t have to buy the five-pound-jug of mayonnaise to get those good savings,” she says.

That said, browsing for other items, like a baby bike seat, yielded just three results, with two of them being the same product, just priced differently. Landsman says that as the company prepares for launch next week, there are still products being coded, and categories like sporting goods aren’t where Jet would like them to be. They better get them there fast, because Amazon packs more into its listings every day.

But in an effort to take away some of Amazon’s sales, Jet is offering a free three-month trial membership once the service goes live. There’s some speculation that if Jet is successful, it might trigger some sort of nuclear pricing war between it and the incumbents. If that’s the case, the winner of that battle should be us shoppers.

TIME Careers & Workplace

These 3 Tools Will Help You Prepare a Killer Business Plan

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A thorough plan will increase your chance of success

Mission planning in the SEAL Teams always took one of two routes: deliberate or hasty. Deliberate planning assumed a longer term approach (greater than 48 hours) whereas hasty planning was for anything within a 24-hour period — with some missions as soon as now.

While both planning methodologies entailed the same three criteria — time, resources and requirements — two significant differences determined which approach to use: the immediacy of the demand (essentially, the threat) imposed by the enemy (or competitor), and the accuracy of information we had to plan.

For the entrepreneur, it’s tempting to vie for the hasty approach, be like Nike and “just do it,” with hopes that your product will just take off into newfound success. Chances are, however, that it won’t. At least, not without doing the due diligence that gathers enough information to formulate an impenetrable business plan.

To the extent that you can do a thorough, deliberate analysis of the industry, do it. There are tons of free tools that can guide you through the process. In the meantime, here are three simple business analysis tools to help you identify what distinguishes your brand from the rest:


Not to be confused with animals or people, PEST is a way to analyze the big picture changes within your industry to identify growth opportunities. Specifically, the acronym stands for:

  • Political factors
  • Economic factors
  • Social factors
  • Technological factors

Another variation of PEST is PESTLE, which includes the legal and environmental considerations. If you’re stuck on where to begin, start by segmenting each factor into the five W’s — who, what, when, where, why — then unleash the (mental) fury from there.

2. SWOT, the enhanced version

While PEST offers a macro-level view of the competitive landscape, SWOT is typically used at a more micro level to analyze a specific business, product or service. Here’s the value of SWOT:

  • Strengths. While the number of beers you can slam or the number of pushups you can crank out in 60 seconds are certainly enviable qualities (at least, they were when I was in college), competitive strengths are the advantageous skills, resources, capital, network or value that distinguishes your brand from all others. They are why consumers want you and you alone.
  • Weaknesses. A pretty straightforward term. However, if you’re unsure of what your weaknesses are, take your strengths, flip them upside down, and boom, there they are. Weaknesses are where your strengths fall short in comparison to your competitors’. These may be internal disadvantages within your company such as additional bureaucracy or processes, or external weaknesses that fall prey to the market, economy or technology.
  • Opportunities. This is where you leverage your strengths to exploit openings such as lower interest rates, competitor prices, seasonal changes or consumer trends.
  • Threats. These are bad. They are the little guys who work for Murphy and impose his not-so-likable law. Of course, the opposite is true, too. Threats have a way of revealing your current state, they unearth the ill prepared and reveal them for what they are: developmental opportunities. We had a saying in the SEAL Teams: You don’t rise to the occasion, you fall to the level of your training.

Here’s the secret to maximizing the value of a SWOT analysis: Pit your strengths against your opportunities and use the result as leverage points to build greater value. Place your weaknesses against your threats and use the byproduct as defense points. This way, weaknesses don’t diminish and strengths become stronger based on emerging opportunities.

3. 7S model

Unlike the aforementioned tools that are generally used for external analysis, the 7S model looks inward at your own company. Developed by McKinsey & Company, the seven S’s of strategy, structure, systems, style, shared values, staff and skills demonstrate why organizations don’t operate as a group of independent silos but rather as a network of interconnected parts.

Imagine an octagon and place an S at every vertex, except for “shared values.” Shared values belongs in the center of the octagon because, well, they’re shared. Now, draw a line from each vertex to another such that each S is connected to another and you see how each component is inextricably linked to another.

Writing a business plan doesn’t have to be agonizing — there can be some fun in doing it. More so, the simple act of writing out your business plan through the aforementioned perspectives will reveal previously unconsidered insights that will set you up for success.

This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com

More from Entrepreneur.com:

MONEY Startups

3 Ways to Figure Out If There’s a Market for Your Business Idea

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Dina Belenko Photography—Getty Images

Before you waste a whole mess of money.

When entrepreneur Everett Dickson made plans to take lessons in racing open-wheel cars at a school in Arizona, he ran into an awkward problem. As a user of smokeless tobacco—aka chewing tobacco—he needed a portable spittoon that he could take with him into the car. He could only find one model when he searched the internet, and it didn’t appeal to him. “It literally would open in your pocket,” he says.

That led to the idea for his Atlanta-based company FLASR, which makes its own portable four-ounce spittoon. Launching the business in 2012, Dickson—an engineer by training—sketched the original concept drawings himself, then hires pros to convert them into 3D designs and enlisted a prototype company to build working models. Then he negotiated the opportunity to test his wares in 400 retail outlets, such as convenience stores. His beta test lasted from December 2013 to May 2014. FLASR sold 25,000 units in 4 months—a sign to him that it was worthwhile to proceed.


After making some tweaks, such as enlarging the opening diameter and changing his point of sale displays, he did a gradual rollout in 2015. FLASR, which makes several models with different looks, is off to a strong start. In the first quarter of 2015, the startup generated $20,000 in sales. Dickson is the only employee at his company, which relies on contracted help in areas such as sales.

As Dickson, a veteran entrepreneur, has found, determining if there is a market for your idea is essential before you roll it out. Otherwise, it’s easy to waste a lot of time and money on a product or service that no one wants.

Here’s how to figure out if the world wants to buy what you have to sell.

Do your market research. Before working on a prototype for his product, Dickson pored over market research reports on the smokeless tobacco industry from Euromonitor International, to make sure there were enough potential buyers. He found that the size of the U.S. marketplace was expected to grow from $4.8 billion in 2010 to $9 billion in 2015. “We assume much of it is being driven by widespread implementation of smoking restrictions in public and private buildings,” Dickson says. He also saw that big corporations in the tobacco industry such as RJR were acquiring makers of smokeless tobacco. “The industry seems to be recognizing this,” he says. The homework he did gave him confidence that there was potential to create a scalable business in the market.

The same type of research is important if you sell a service. At LiveStreamingFitness.com in Tulsa, Oklahoma, CEO and serial entrepreneur Keith Kochner concluded there was an untapped need in the marketplace for his service—which streams fitness videos around the clock—after reviewing market research showing that only a small percentage of the American population has a health club membership.

Once Kochner set up his website, he enlisted several hundred beta testers to see how they reacted to the service. In response to their feedback, he fixed glitches on the site and made tweaks such as adding music to their videos. “I found all kinds of things weren’t working,” he says. Then he did his official launch, which took place January 1. Charging $9.90 a month for a 30-day membership, he says he is on track to hit at least $3 million in revenues in the next 12 months.

Turn to your clients. If you have even a tiny handful of customers, they may be your best source of candid feedback on whether your product or service idea is appealing. RevTrax in New York City offers technology that makes it possible for retail clients to measure how their digital promotions are affecting in-store sales. After winning early clients such as Jackson Hewitt and Walgreens, chief operating officer Seth Sarelson and his co-founders paid close attention to cues from such customers to assess the market for their technology. “Sometimes clients can help you see the largest business opportunities,” he says. In response to feedback from one client, RevTrax expanded from providing data only on the results of affiliate marketing to many forms of digital marketing, such as email marketing. The company, founded in 2008, now has grown to more than 60 employees.

Anisa Telwar Kaicker is CEO and founder of Anisa International, a maker of private label cosmetic brushes and applicators in Atlanta that serves clients such as Estee Lauder and Laura Mercier. She will often ask such customers what they think of a new brush before rolling it out. “Even if I went into a client and said this is not fully vetted yet, but I’d like your insight, they were always honored to have a first look,” she says. “They would be the ones buying the product.” To protect her ideas, she routinely files for provisional patents and will mention in conversations, “This is patent pending.” Her firm, founded more than 20 years ago, now generates $40 million in annual revenue, she says.

Ask an expert. At Guardian Pharmacy in Atlanta, which serves institutional clients such as long-term care facilities, CEO Fred Burke and his cofounders turned to Burke’s mentor when trying to figure out where there would be a market for the high-service model they wanted to offer.

His mentor, Bill Bindley, had previously launched Bindley Western, a major drug distributor acquired by Cardinal Health. “You need to look at long-term care facilities,” he told Burke. Burke paid attention and moved into that niche, quickly finding customers. Today, Guardian Pharmacy has grown to a chain with $325 million in annual revenue, and Bindley is an investor and board member. “He is an industry veteran,” says Burke. “I listen very carefully to what he has to say.”

MONEY Startups

How One Woman Overcame a Panic Disorder to Build a $2 Million Solo Business

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And she works from home.

Driving to work one day, multimedia producer Pamela Grossman felt like she couldn’t breathe. “My heart was racing,” she recalls. “I thought I was dying. I had to pull over.”

That day changed her life. It turned out she had a panic disorder, and it kicked in with a vengeance. She embarked on years of treatment, from medication to therapy, but the condition didn’t go away.

“It was devastating,” says Grossman. “I’m a go-get-‘em performer.”

That was about 17 years ago. About six months after the attack, in January 2000, the multimedia producer left her job at an ad agency and started a boutique marketing and production studio called In the Present.

Because the attacks made it impossible for her to drive, she set up her business at home, in the Atlanta metropolitan area, and relied on rides from others to get around. “I had no choice,” she says. “It was either that or go on disability. While these panic attacks were really, really bad, I had to work. I love what I do. I can’t not work.”

Today, Grossman is one of a growing number of solo entrepreneurs who are building their businesses to more than $1 million in revenue. According to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 30,174 “nonemployer” firms brought in $1 million to $2,499,999 in 2013, up from 23,176 in 2009—a 30% increase. “I’m hoping to tip over $2 million [in revenue],” she says. “We’re really close to that.”

How did she pull it off, even while battling a disorder that dramatically altered her life? Here are some of her strategies.

Be honest: When Grossman’s disorder first struck, she arranged to have a flexible schedule at work. “I had to be able to leave when I wanted to,” she says. Eventually, when she realized it made sense to start her own business, she was candid with her clients about her health. “I was very lucky all of my work connections knew who I was before the panic attacks,” she says. “They knew something was seriously wrong.”

Still, they saw that the quality of her work was as high as it always had been. “A lot of the clients I had worked with wanted to continue working with me,” she says. Today, she is serving many of those same clients—and their referrals.

“I have not lost one client in 17 years,” she says. “Eighty percent of them, I’ve had almost since the beginning, if not the beginning. The rest came mostly from referrals.”

Build a flexible team. Grossman’s business handles projects such as logo design, brand building, marketing and promotional programs, social media marketing and video production. With work quickly flowing in from the beginning, she realized she could not do all of it herself. But she didn’t need full-time, ongoing help, so she opted for a contract model, where she compensates highly-skilled contacts with excellent rates. “I’ve got a great team of people that rotate in and work,” she says.

With clients around the globe, she is able to make time zones work in her favor by hiring contractors who get things done while she is sleeping. “We work around the clock,” she says.

Make technology work for you. Grossman uses GoToMeeting to hold conferences with distant clients “They can see our screens and work on designs together,” she says. The GoToMyPC app lets her access her computer from wherever she happens to be.

Skype is also part of her routine. “For someone like me who can’t always go out to the client, Skype has been my best friend,” she says. “If a client wants to see my face, they can see it through Skype.”

Stay alert to unexpected opportunities. Grossman has recently seen some improvements in her panic disorder thanks to working with a service animal—a 70-pound Labradoodle named Milo. “We’re just getting in the rhythm of him helping me move about, drive again, and do the things I need to do,” she says.

Her condition has made her aware of the struggles of other people with disabilities who use service animals, which are allowed to enter public buildings and transportation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“One of the things I quickly realized was how many businesses don’t understand the law and how you are turned down going into a post office or gym,” Grossman says.

In a division of her company called ITPVIDEO, she recently produced a video and test to train businesses and governments how to comply with the law. She sells them for less than $5 per person, with 20% of the profits going to nonprofits that train service dogs.

“That was a great project,” says Grossman. “It is really helping people with disabilities lead a better life.”

MONEY Startups

5 Smart Ways to Build Your Business Into a Distinctive Brand

Pair of red Converse sneakers in row of white Keds sneakers
Leonard Mc Lane—Getty Images

How to build a business that stands out from the competition.

When QuadJobs—a website that connects local employers with college and grad students looking for work—launched in October 2014, the founders wanted to perfect their branding right out of the starting gate.

The three co-founders were all veterans of the business world and knew that if their branding did not immediately convey their value proposition to potential users, they might not get a second chance.

“We realized early on that for people to understand the brand, you have to be hyperfocused about that,” says co-founder Betsey O’Reilly, a former managing director at Deutsche Bank, who teamed up with Andra Newman, formerly head of recruitment for J. Crew and Abercrombie & Fitch, and Bridie Loverro, founder of Blue State Coffee.

So how’d they do it? To start, the team spent a lot of time researching their market and incorporating what they learned into their brand. When they found that potential employers want their work force to be college-educated, for example, they fine-tuned their marketing to highlight that. Their official tag line: “The educated way to get things done.”

This and similar branding refinements seem to be working. In the first six months QuadJobs has attracted about 1,000 subscribers who hire help through the site and worked with 8,000 students, according to O’Reilly. Investors are also responding to the brand. QuadJobs raised $500,000 in initial funding and recently borrowed $300,000 in convertible debt.

Want to get your own branding right from the start? Here are some strategies to help you strike the right note.

1) Don’t expect to do it in one day. Building a brand is a multipart process that starts with getting clear on your mission and target audience and creating images and words that reflect that, says Donna Maria Coles Johnson, founder and CEO of the Indie Business Network, a 1,200 member trade organization for makers of handmade and artisanal products (think soaps to baked goods). “It’s not just how it looks,” she says. “It’s what you bring to the table as you become the walking, talking representative of that brand.” Build enough time into the launch of your business to reflect that.

2) Talk with potential customers. Getting as clear as possible about what you’ll offer and how you’ll explain that in your branding will ensure that you build a strong brand from the outset. One of the best ways to do this is by talking with people in your target market to find out their needs, so you can fine-tune your offering and your brand to reflect that.

QuadJobs arranged about 10 focus group sessions with about 200 participants—including both clients and employees—to make sure the company’s value proposition was clear. “We really tried to pinpoint what the pain point was for both sides of the equation,” says O’Reilly. That enabled its team to focus the site, and its branding, on what mattered to both groups.

During the focus groups, employers often made comments like, “I am so much more comfortable bringing a college student into my house than a lot of the other options that are out there,” O’Reilly said. Getting this feedback showed QuadJobs’ founders that the education level of their talent was their core differentiator. That in turn, shaped elements of its branding such as their tag line.

Meanwhile, from the students in the focus groups, the company learned that finding gigs that they could fit into a demanding schedule of classes was very important. QuadJobs highlights the flexibility of its gigs on the site’s home page. Many of the young people also hoped to build a work history that would help them get future jobs. That led to the development of the JobGPA, a compilation of employers’ reviews and comments about a student’s performance that they can show to future employers. “We think there is real value in these jobs,” says O’Reilly. “They show work ethic, commitment, and skills.”

3) Keep it simple. If you do a marketing campaign, whether on radio or the web, it’s tempting to try to cram a ton of information into your message. That will only confuse your audience, says O’Reilly. It is better, she says, to stay clear and focus on your core offering. “You have to assume people are hearing your message for the first time—every time,” she says.

4) Connect on an emotional level. Sometimes conveying the vibe of your brand and your company is more important than trotting out a list of features you offer. “Start with an emotional connection,” recommends Jason Pomeranc, co-founder of SIXTY Hotels. His boutique-hotel chain has opened two properties in New York City—SIXTY SoHo and SIXTY LES (short for Lower East Side)—and one in California, SIXTY Beverly Hills, since the firm launched in November 2013. Another outpost is slated to open in South Beach, Fla., in October.

One way SIXTYHotels conveys its ambiance is through an online publication called alphasixty, which covers topics like art, fashion, and food. “We don’t talk about the hotel that much,” Pomeranc says. “We talk about what we love.” In a previous hotel business he sold, he found customers really connected with a print magazine that the company published. It gave them a sense of what a hotel stay would feel like, he says.

5) Stay flexible. Don’t expect the brand you launch to remain static. You may need to make some nips and tucks over time. “When your target audience responds to you, that’s when the brand begins to be created,” says Coles Johnson.

Many companies discover that their brand resonates—but with a different group of customers, or in a different way, than they originally expected. One personal-care products company run by a husband-and-wife team in the Indie Business Network focused on female customers in the beginning. When the husband got involved in talking with their clientele, the business began to attract more men, Coles Johnson says. The couple changed the brand from Simply 7 Skincare to SoapCommander.com, she says. “Whether you start off knowing who your customers are, your customers will come and tell you if you’re right or you’re wrong,” says Coles Johnson.

The trick is responding to unexpected opportunities. “In order to create a successful brand, you have to follow where your customers are telling you that you need to go,” says Coles Johnson.

Read next: 5 Creative Ways To Fund Your Small Business

MONEY Startups

Google’s Sidewalk Labs Could Ease Cities’ Growing Pains

As more and more people move into cities, Google wants to make urban areas more efficient places to live.

Google’s new startup Sidewalk Labs is trying to help cities ease growing pains as more and more people leave the suburbs and rural areas to move to major metro areas like Austin, Texas; Raleigh, N.C.; and Phoenix, Ariz. Former NYC deputy mayor Dan Doctoroff is leading the startup. Google already runs apps designed to simplify urban living, like Google Maps and Waze. The U.N. estimates 60% of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2030.

MONEY Startups

How to Create a Website That Really Sells Your Business

John W. Tomac

Most customers don't trust a business that has no web presence.

A surprising 45% of U.S. and U.K. small businesses don’t have websites, a 2014 survey by Internet services company Hibu found. Without your own URL, you’ll miss a chance to drive sales. Plus 56% of consumers recently polled by Weebly said they don’t trust a business that has no web presence. Build a site that sells with these tips:

Greet customers. Your homepage must capture people instantly. Focus on visuals, like a carousel of product photos. Include a shot of the team; faces help people establish trust, says Patrick Schwerdtfeger, author of Marketing Shortcuts for the Self-Employed.

Earn their business. Don’t go straight for a hard sell. Instead, lead with value: Blog posts offering rich content that uses the right keywords (use Google AdWords to find them) build credibility and draw traffic, says Atlanta small business web designer Tom Nguyen.

Close the deal. “Businesses do all this work to perfect their sites but forget to ask for a purchase,” says Rebecca Murtagh, author of Million Dollar Websites. Use a clickable call to action (like “Buy now”) to convert shoppers to customers.

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