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Alyson Shontell

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Alyson Shontell

Corey Capasso is only 26, but he's already founded five companies. He founded his first startup, a plastic retainer business in Connecticut, when he was 18. He noticed classmates chewing on pen caps, and thought the experience would be better if the caps tasted like fruit. So he and a partner invented flavored plastic.

That business is still up and running, but Capasso went on to another venture. Capasso helped create Spinback, a startup that was acquired by Buddy Media in a mostly-stock deal. That acquisition was fruitful when Buddy Media was acquired by Salesforce one year later for nearly $700 million.

We spoke to the startup-addicted twenty-something about what motivates him in business, and how 15 failures led to ultimate success.


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Jon Guerrera

Former Lot18 employee Jon Guerrera is big into gamification.  So when Google offered him the chance to interview for an Associate Account Strategist position, he decided to make the process more fun.

He motivated himself to study for his interview by using a combination of milestones and rewards. He threw in time tracking, streak bonuses (i.e. studying for ten days straight unlocks a shopping spree), a progress bar, and variable rewards, which included Sencha shots and energy drinks.

He explains each motivational method on his blog, Living for Improvement:

Milestones and reward combination: Guerrera set up a few studying milestones at the 1 hour, 5 hour, 10 hour and 16 hour marks. Upon hitting each milestone, Guerrera rewarded himself with a pre-planned prize. After the first hour, for example, he was allowed two Rockstar energy drinks. After ten hours, he unlocked a $200 shopping spree. The rewards were realistic; he happily gave them to himself as he reached each goal.

Tracking: Guerrera tracked his daily studying time with a stopwatch on his web browser. He jotted down the results on post-its so he could reward himself for total hours studied and streaks. For example, if he studied for ten days straight, he allowed himself to buy a ThinkGeek item, worth up to $100.

Variable rewards: Some of his rewards were based on chance; they weren't outcomes he could control. For instance, every hour he studied, Guerrera would flip a coin twice. If it landed on heads both times, he'd be allowed an energy drink.

Progress bar: As he grew weary, Guerrera pushed himself to continue by implementing a progress bar, like the ones LinkedIn uses on profile pages to encourage users to upload more items. His progress bar was completed after 16 hours of studying.

A workaround: When he was too tired to study new information, Guerrera came up with a method he dubbed, "low energy progress enabling." In other words, he came up with a satisfactory way to study without actively learning new material. He'd record himself reciting answers to hypothetical Google interview questions, then listen to it when he was on the go. The time spent listening to his recorded answers counted towards his total study time.

Here are the gamiifcation sticky notes Guerrera created to track his progress (click to enlarge):

Jon Guerrera post its

Gamifying interview prep time sounds intense, but for Guerrera, it paid off. He landed the job at Google.

"I arrived at the interview nervous as hell, but I was incredibly well prepared," says Guerrera. "And I never would’ve been so thoroughly prepared without the system I’ve described above – every spare moment of my days leading up to the interview were filled with preparation and practice, which paid off in spades. Eight weeks later, I’m sitting in my San Francisco apartment, currently employed by my dream company. I’m so glad I was able to use gamification to help me capitalize on this once in a lifetime opportunity that presented itself to me."

Now check out what happens when you don't prep for a Google interview enough: My Nightmare Interviews with Google. Then read: This is the Application that Got me a Job Interview with Google >

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noah brier james gross percolate

Ok, fine.

There probably is no "right way" to start a company.

But, if there WAS a picture-perfect, fool-proof method, it might look like Percolate.

Percolate, a SaaS solution for marketing managers, was founded by James Gross and Noah Brier in early 2011. Today it raised a $9 million Series A round and it has more than 30 Fortune 500 companies as clients. They're each paying Percolate about $10,000 per month.

There are a few things Gross and Brier did in their startup's earliest days that set them up for success.

  • They each worked for marketing companies before founding Percolate.
  • When they had enough knowledge and industry connections, they quit.
  • They bootstrapped until they proved their model.
  • The used outside capital to step on the gas.

Gross was a former sales executive for Federated Media and Brier worked for a marketing agency, The Barbarian Group. While they were there, they created a lot of contacts in the marketing and advertising departments of major corporations. They were also able to see inefficiencies and demands in the industry. Later, while the two were bootstrapping Percolate, everything they absorbed at Federated Media and TBG became very valuable.

Being employed also enabled the pair to save up money and bootstrap. They funded their startup themselves for one year, during which Brier and Gross worked out initial kinks.

When they finally had a working model and paying clients, they sought outside capital. They used a $1.5 million seed round to accelerate growth; they didn't waste it stumbling around and pivoting.

Of course, a lot of successful companies have been founded other ways. Zuckerberg never had a job before founding Facebook. Ben Silbermann initially set out to be a doctor, but he ended up founding Pinterest.

It's too early to guarantee Percolate's success. But whatever Gross and Brier have done up until now, it seems to be working.

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pebble billboard

More and more people are posting projects on Kickstarter, hoping to get their business ideas funded by peers.

But that doesn't mean their ideas are finding any more success on the crowdfunding site.

In the past six months, the amount of Kickstarter projects posted has grown 50% to 76,909, GigaOm reports.

Less than half of the projects -- 44% according to a Kickstarter spokesperson -- have successfully meet their monetary goals. And on Kickstarter, it's an all or nothing deal. If posters don't raise the full amount of money they're seeking, they don't see a dime.

When you think about it, 44% is actually a pretty high success rate. The average fundraising on Kickstarter is between $1,000 and $10,000, so it's no small amount of cash that's being swapped between strangers.

In some categories, the likelihood of Kickstarter success is higher than in others.

"Dance" is the most successfully funded category on Kickstarter; 70% of those projects successfully meet their goals. Although projects like the Pebble watch have been wildly successful, the technology category is one of the least successful on Kickstarter. Only about 33% of those projects are funded in full.

Here's a chart from Gigaom, which breaks down Kickstarter success by category:

kickstarter chart

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Mark Zuckerberg and friend in Noe Valley

It's incredibly hard to start a company.

Fortunately, a lot of smart people have done it before, and they have sound advice to share with budding entrepreneurs.

We pulled the best quotes from recent blog posts, conferences, and interviews that can help startups at every phase, whether they're still deciding what to launch or figuring out how to scale.

Here's the truest, most timely startup advice from business stars like Pinterest's Ben Silbermann and Y Combinator's Paul Graham.

On deciding what to start: "Facebook, I didn’t start to ‘start a company.’ It was mostly just through wanting to build it and having it be this hobby and getting people around me excited. It eventually evolved into a company. But I never understood the psychology of wanting to start a company before deciding what you wanted to do. Explore what you want to do before committing." - Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and co-founder of Facebook

"If you are thinking of starting a non-transactional consumer startup, be aware that you are entering what is perhaps the most competitive sector in tech in the last decade….ten million users is the new one million users." -- Chris Dixon, Partner of Founder Collective and founder of Hunch

On the stress of running a company: "As a startup CEO, I slept like a baby. I woke up every two hours and cried." -- Ben Horowitz

See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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facebook daniel ek

A lot of people have tried and failed to land jobs at Google.

One particularly smart individual slipped through the cracks.

Daniel Ek, CEO and founder of $4 billion music company, Spotify, was denied a job at the search giant.

Ek recounted the tale of his rejection for PandoDaily's Sarah Lacy. When he didn't get a Google offer, he said he half-debated starting a competitor. After all, Ek had been building things since he was 13; his grade school business generated $50,000 per month.

“I’ll just make my own search engine, it can’t be that hard,” he said to Lacy. “It turns out it’s really, really hard.”

So, what's it like to be rejected by Google? Read: My Nightmare Interviews With Google >

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sleepy tired boring

Yesterday we interviewed  Upworthy's co-founder Eli Pariser.

Upworthy is a media startup that launched seven months ago, and its traffic has skyrocketed to 8.7 million monthly unique visitors.

Part of Upworthy's traffic strategy is to mask meaningful (but occasionally boring) information as entertaining reads with colorful headlines. AllThingsD called it "viral with a purpose." Pariser firmly believes that if you can't get someone to click on a story with a catchy headline, they'll never find the information they should be reading.

"Generally, people aren't making important content to get the most monetization out of it. They're writing it because they care, but that [boring content with boring headlines] doesn't really have a home online. We don't mind tricking people into seeing content they'll love. If they don't love it, they're not going to share it. Virality is a balance of how good the packaging is and how good the content is."

Pariser referenced one of Upworthy's most successful articles to date, "The Real Reason They Still Play 'Mrs. Robinson' On The Radio."

"It's one of my favorite bank shot headlines we've done, and it was about a chart that showed media consolidation," says Pariser. "It's hard to get people worked up about media consolidation, but there was one part of the chart that said 80% of stations' playlists match all across the country and that Mrs. Robinson has played 6 million times. We took what was fun about the chart and stirred curiosity."

Here's the boring chart, that few people would have read with a more straight-forward headline (below). Pariser's team got it more than 4,000 likes on Facebook.

For the full interview with Pariser, check out: 8.7 Million Readers In 7 Months: How Upworthy Became The World's Fastest-Growing Media Company >

mrs robinson upworthy infographic

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mark zuckerberg

On Saturday, Mark Zuckerberg spoke at Y Combinator's Startup School event where he gave engineers and founders business advice.

One of the most interesting things he discussed was a personal fear.

Zuckerberg said he was afraid of getting stuck working on something insignificant.

“I have this fear of getting locked into doing things that are not the most impactful things you can do," he said.

"I think people really undervalue the option value in flexibility. Explore what you want to do before committing," he told the room of entrepreneurs. "Keep yourself flexible. You can definitely do that in the framework of a company, but you have to be weary of working at a company and getting locked in. You’re going to change what you do.”

Here are some other interesting points he made, via TechCrunch's Josh Constine and Colleen Taylor:

  • Facebook started as a hobby, not a company. “I started building Facebook because I wanted to use it in college…we weren’t looking to start a company,” he said.
  • Zuckerberg assumed someone else would create the company Facebook is today. "I thought that over time, someone would build a version of [the college-only Facebook] for the world, but it wouldn’t be us — it would be [a large existing software company] like Microsoft.”
  • Facebook grew slowly compared to companies today. "It took a year for us to get to one million users and we thought it was incredibly fast,” he said.
  • Zuckerberg doesn't understand the notion of wanting to start a company before deciding what you what you're going to build. "Facebook, I didn’t start to ‘start a company’… it was mostly just through wanting to build it and having it be this hobby and getting people around me excited. It eventually evolved into a company… but I never understood the psychology of wanting to start a company before deciding what you wanted to do,” he said.
  • Facebook learned what features to build by watching its users.  For example, it didn't launch photos out of the blue. It noticed users were swapping their profile pictures every day, and that it'd probably be useful to create a broader photo sharing tool. "We really listened to what our users wanted, both qualitatively listening to the words they say, and quantitatively looking at behavior that they take,” he said.
  • If you decide to start a business, make sure you're starting something impactful. "A lot of companies I see are operating on small problems, and that’s fine if you want to be an entrepreneur, but the most interesting things operate on a fundamental level.”

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guy college roommates dorm

From WeWork Labs to General Assembly, there are a lot of incubators that give entrepreneurs a place to code during the day.

There aren't many that offer sleeping arrangements as well.

Three "hacker hostels" have cropped up in Silicon Valley, The New York Times reports. Coders, designers and scientists can spend the night packed like sardines in rows of bunk beds for $40. The hostels are all run by the same management company, Chez JJ, with accommodations in Menlo Park, Mountain View and San Francisco.

Chez JJ was founded by 28-year-old neuroscientist Jade Wang and Jocelyn Berl. Wang had used Airbnb to rent a room in her apartment; a fellow "nerd" crashed with her. The idea for hostels sprung from there.

Most of the hostel tenants are 20-somethings who are currently building startups or are in search of inspiration. Every new comer is given a blanket, pillow, towel and sheets. There's no TV. Every once in a while food is cooked for the group.

Not just anyone can stay at the hostels. Like any startup incubator, you actually have to be working on something to be accepted. Tenants are screened by hostel captains, all of whom are women, to make sure they'll contribute to the hacker community. Tenants also have to have a good attitude or they're kicked to the curb.

“The intellectual stimulation you get from being here is unparalleled,” one of the tenants, Justin Carden, tells NYT. “If you’re wanting to do something to change the world and make it a fundamentally better place, you need to be around the right people.”

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Fred Wilson and Friends

Starting a company is hard, so you're going to need a lot of advice along the way.

There are many entrepreneurs, investors and bloggers who churn out business advice daily, but it's a pain figuring out which sites are worth reading.

We've compiled a list of our favorite sources of small business and tech news for entrepreneurs.

Running the gamut from hilarious, to informational, to controversial, to thought-provoking, these blogs are all must-reads for anyone who's running a business.


Blog: Quora

Blogger: Any entrepreneur you want to follow, from Fred Wilson to Marc Cuban

Why it's so great: Quora is a Q&A site where experts actually take the time to seriously answer your questions. You can follow topics like "startups" and "entrepreneurship" and people like Fred Wilson or Mark Zuckerberg.  Answers get voted up by by the community so that only the best ones shine. You can find answers to questions like "What is the best way to prepare yourself for entrepreneurship?" or "What are some tips on connecting with high-profile people that can help your startup?"

Sample: "What are some tips on connecting with high-profile people that can help your startup?"

Top answer by Robert Scoble:

I hang around high-profile people often. Here's some things that can help you connect:

  1. Listen. If they say your idea sucks, listen to the feedback, take notes, and ask for contact info. Then go fix the problems, or come up with another idea and demonstrate you listened.
  2. Get to the point. People like Ron Conway are busy. They are wildly rich, so the only thing that is limited in their life is time. You are taking away some of their most precious resource, so get to the freaking point. Don't try to chit chat or ask about their kids or make small talk. Go right for the big ask. They are used to it.


Blog: PandoDaily

Blogger: Sarah Lacy

Why it's so great: Sarah Lacy and her band of bloggers at Pando are making an effort to become the "site of record for Silicon Valley." Much of the staff came from TechCrunch, so they're well sourced. Lacy conducts exclusive interviews with high profile people in tech and curates the top tech/entrepreneurship stories from other startups in the site's right rail.

Sample: AngelList has Transformed Seed Investing -- Are Recruiters and Job Boards Next?

Last week Naval Ravikant went to an industry dinner. He asked a friend in the venture business how things were going. The friend slumped over in his chair, shrugged sadly and said, “The business is becoming commoditized.”

It’s an extreme interpretation, and not everyone shares it. Times have never been better for a handful of firms who are rolling in the returns, raising as much from LPs as they want and still doing business the way they always have.

But matters have also never been more polarized for the VC-haves and have-nots, and this sad-sack VC has a few people to blame. Chief among them is his friend Ravikant, whose site AngelList has dragged the stealthy, back-room world of venture capital kicking and screaming into the light — something many industry watchers never thought could be done.

And now, AngelList is doing the same thing it did to VCs to recruiters.

LinkedIn Today

Blog: LinkedIn Today

Blogger: LinkedIn curates articles based on your professional profile and your social connections.

Why it's so great: LinkedIn Today curates articles that are fitting for your industry and that people in that industry are sharing. As such, it's a good source of entrepreneurship and business news all in one place.

Sample: Articles on LinkedIn Today:

Hiring Your First Set Of Employees - Greylock Capital

Facebook Testing a New 'Want' Button - Inside Facebook

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