Startup Principles : Do You Have A Rockstar Team?

Every Thursday is an opportunity for me to meet budding entrepreneurs and startups at one of the most happening co-working spaces in Chicago, 1871  . After having met several teams and heard lots of pitches, there are three key things that I find are common amidst rockstar teams.

Align talent with roles

This might sound easy but, in reality, the biggest organizations fail at channeling the skills of their employees in the right direction. Often, the extroverts end up in a cubicle and the introverts are pushed to managerial positions. If you are good at something, make sure that your team is aware of your strengths and weaknesses.

Embrace the fact that as a startup, your strength lies in your team and your team cannot function unless the right people are executing in each role.

When I met Sparkreel , its co-founder was open to me about his business development skills. He let me know that he wasn’t the ‘technical’ guy but, would love to learn about how Microsoft can help them. Having these open and honest conversations with your team and partners upfront can save a lot of overhead in the long term.

Have a close knit team with a few members

The number of people on your team can help expedite or slow down decisions. Especially when you’re an early-stage startup and exploring ideas, too many opinions may simply stall progress. The goal is to fail fast and be iterative. Vision, product management, technical mindset, people management, business and process development are important skills. This could mean having two or three people with the right combination of these diverse skills.

A homogeneous team, no control on product development and too many big guns may be the perfect trap for failure as a team.

The folks over at seem to have the perfect balance of a serial entrepreneur combined with a technical mindset, helping them build fast and target their market effectively.

Mentors & advisors

The best way to learn is through experiences and mistakes that others have made. This saves times and energy especially when you’re early to the game and inexperienced. I won’t get too much into this one. Suffice to say that with any new venture in life, having a mentor to guide you through is always helpful.

Chicago based startup, Adyapper has a great set of advisors giving the team constant feedback and helping it grow.

Enjoy the process of team-building and meeting wonderful people. It’s all about connecting and finding those sparks that will ignite the next big idea across brilliant minds!

This post is part of my blog posts at Inc-Well NBC Chicago

Startup Principles : Are You A Smart And Sexy Startup?

Last year I took Stanford’s Technology Entrepreneurship Venture Lab course which covers the process technology entrepreneurs take to start their companies and methodologies pioneered in the Silicon Valley. It started with two assignments and went full force into a four month project. Now, that’s almost the same time it takes to launch a startup!

At the time, I had experienced shipping releases for Office 2007 and Bing and was managing the globalization project for the Windows 8 Store. In spite of all the product development experience behind me, I was blown away with Chuck Eesley’s iterative approach. Chuck started teaching this course last year and is the Assistant Professor of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University. The course started with 37,606 teams and making it to the top #10 was no small feat .  Our team did it!

In October, I moved from Seattle to Chicago and changed roles from a Technology lead in the Windows 8 Store engineering group to being a Startup Technologist out in the wild with startups. Today, my typical week includes holding office hours at coworking spaces, meeting entrepreneurs every day, judging elevator pitches, debugging code, connecting startups to resources  and a big bag of goodies through Microsoft’s entrepreneurship program

So, why am I telling you this story?

Well, over the past few years, I have identified five things that differentiate smart and sexy startups from the average Joe startup. This helps me dedicate and focus my energy on the hot and happening rock stars. Helping those who are committed to their own success.

Here’s how you can transform yours into a smart and sexy startup to shine through this crowded landscape and maximize your success.

Build a rock star team

Shying away from the comfort of casual and loose, these startups prefer a tight ship. A solid, committed and diverse team helped us reach the top 10 teams on Stanford’s venture lab. Our team delegated in alignment with strengths, balancing the art of leading and following with trust. Our initial meetings were all about getting in sync and challenging each other respectfully to create high quality outcomes.

For example, Solomo connects customers and businesses via social, mobile and local solutions and based in Chicago. They have a tightly knit, well balanced team that came together in 2011.

Create a cancer drug, not candy! Then, make it viable.

As one of the top teams at the end of the Technology Entrepreneurship course, my team at Stanford’s venture lab pitched to a VC in the Silicon Valley. The feedback we got was, ‘Build a cancer drug – a product that people need; not candy – a nice-to have product’.

This doesn’t mean you solve for world hunger or create the next Twitter.

It means you create a solution that is best at one thing, solves a real problem and addresses a gap in the market. As you research for problems to solve, look for solutions that reduce time, cost lesser and save effort for your customers while maintaining a barrier to entry in the market. Our team pivoted several times before landing on our final value proposition and that is ok.

Elevate Digital  from Chicago revolutionized advertising through its interactive digital kiosks and created a solution for advertisers, marketers and consumers and wrapped with a pretty bow!

Find the right support system to doll you up inside out

Angels, VCs and top accelerators such as TechStars Chicago help build connections and get businesses off the ground. The sassy startup also keeps an open mind to everything else. Large technology companies such as Microsoft support entrepreneurs via the BizSpark program that provides technology, marketing and funding resources. Media companies for startups such as Tech Cocktail routinely invite entrepreneurs to deliver key notes and promote networking. Venture challenges and business plan competitions held at universities are great to connect with the community and make the right connections.

No startup succeeds on its own and a smart, sexy startup always needs experts to glamorize and succeed.

Take for example, SkyVu from Omaha. The SkyVu team partnered with WildBrain Entertainment to bring its Battle Bears mobile game to Hollywood and is expanding to a full season TV series, action figures and toys.

Win the hearts and minds of customers

A stellar startup is always on the lookout for strategies to widen its sales funnel and consistently explore ways to connect with customers including but, not limited to social media. Embracing new technology ecosystems across Windows 8; exploring ways to gamify and reward; connecting consumers to experts are just a few ways that startups are engaging the end customer.

You will never hear from your customers if you don’t leave the building! Meet your customers in person. Listen, feel, observe and absorb their feedback into your product where it makes sense. Identify a target segment that works best with your mantra.

Emerging startups such as Georama from Chicago, engage their fan base via travel trivia each day. This has led to 11,000 likes from 150 in three months. The well-known Quora has redefined search and answers by connecting users to people they admire and respect.

A startup of substance works hard to create a strong business model

Keeping marginal costs low and activating customers at scale is a balancing act mastered by the successful startup.

Dwolla from Iowa, creates a mobile payment solution that side-steps credit cards and links directly to bank accounts taking 25 cents for every transaction, and is already moving 30-50 million per month on its platform.

If you understand the lifetime value of customers and tally it against the high-heel cost of customer acquisition, and if you can iterate with limited data points, you’re setup for nothing but, success!

The key is to test out every hypotheses and be open to the trends of change with a clear focus.

This post is part of my blog posts at Inc-Well NBC Chicago

Startup Diaries : Georama


I have been working with Chicago-based entrepreneur Nihal Advani for a while now. He is one of the most energetic and positive people I know. Nihal is the founder and chief executive officer of startup Georama, an online platform that streamlines the travel planning process from start to finish and I wanted to give you his insider perspective on the process of launching a digital platform as a young entrepreneur. In exploring the product itself, you can see how Georama strives to create a unique user experience and shines through!

Allowing travelers to plan, book, and share their trips, Georama conveniently allows you to explore destinations, create itineraries, and visualize trips on a unique and interactive map. After inputting your needs, interests and must-haves, Georama sorts through your preferences to find destinations that are a fit. From there, you can plan your itinerary, make bookings, and share your trip all in one place.

A year since its public debut, Georama based in Chicago’s co-working hub, 1871 , unveiled a Windows 8 application earlier this month.

Creating unique user experiences

Having seen hundreds of startup apps over the past few months and shipped enterprise products such as Windows 8, Bing and Office 2007; I have a soft spot for high quality user experiences. Here’s what’s unique,

1. Content based design – The Windows 8 Georama app has an organic and easy to digest flow which depends on the user’s interactions. The user is greeted with a rich visual landscape of views from all over the world. Content takes center stage! There is an opportunity to explore and also dive into specifics as needed.


2. Do more with less – After I click on the tile that says ‘Chicago’ on the image above, a rich display of neatly organized information presents itself.



Hotels include the hotel star rating on the tile, hostels show user review ratings and attraction are beautifully lined up. As I swipe through, the edges of images peek out revealing there’s more to view and explore.



3. Fast and Fluid – Planning a trip is easy and seamless. The user interface adapts to my inputs and transforms to display relevant information as needed.


The Georama website takes you through a similar flow and also lets you view cities on a map.


Creating unique experiences is a craft and comes from a great support system as well as expertise.

About Georama

Discover the best vacation destination for your needs with Georama, an online platform that streamlines the travel planning process from start to finish. Get personalized recommendations based on your travel dates, interests, and more in order to plan, book, and share your trip – all through one convenient site. Explore destinations, create itineraries, and visualize trips on a unique and interactive map. For more information, visit Georama received the Best Presenter Award in the technology category of the New York Venture Summit in June 2013 and Nihal Advani was selected as one of the “Top 35 under 35” in the travel industry at the PhoCusWright conference in November 2012.