Startup Resources

Do this to get kickass mentors to help you with your venture

A couple weeks ago I berated my readers for not having mentors to help them through the trials and tribulations of starting a business.

What I didn’t talk about, though, was how to get kickass mentors to willingly give their time and energy to help you accomplish your startup and entrepreneurial goals.

Don’t think I just wanted to leave you hanging.

While you were in shock and licking your wounds from that article, I was out finding someone I could interview…someone who had already found phenomenal success in finding awesome mentors…so I could bring them on over to Decoding Startups to share their knowledge with everyone here.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m proud to report that my search was successful.

Enter Liz Seda.

Liz is the writer over at A Life on Your Termswhich teaches how to live a purposeful, meaningful life on our own terms.

Liz’s life story–which she talks about on her blog and a bit in our interview–is extremely interesting (my favorite part is how she got into college without taking the SAT.  I wish I had that one figured out in  high school!!!), and her accomplishments impressive.

I cajoled Liz into giving this interview because she is actively working with some awesome mentors in the blogosphere- Scott Dinsmore and Leo Babauta.  When I heard this, I knew she’d be a perfect interviewee for my segment on finding kickass mentors.

Common concerns people have about finding mentors we addressed:

  • How do I even start to approach a mentor?
  • How do I provide value to a potential mentor?  Aren’t I just taking all of their time?
  • Tons of people ask them for things: how do I stick out?
  • How do I make the relationship mutually beneficial for them, even though they’re smarter / more knowledgeable than I am?

 Check the interview out here.

Some of the best insights from the interview:

  • How a 15-paragraph e-mail convinced an A-list blogger to take her under his wings (and they said “short e-mails are better”!).
  • How providing value before asking for anything in return earned her the respect and admiration of 2 A-list bloggers.
  • How much easier things have been for her after building relationships with ultra-helpful mentors.

Here’s the big takeaways from the interviews:

  • Always ask how you can provide value to someone else before trying to take value.
  • Business = people; people = relationships.  Focus on the people and relationship element first.
  • You probably can offer value to people with more experience and expertise than you…just be creative with how you do it (Liz was able to!).

In the comments below, elaborate a bit on your mentors.  How did you get them?  How did you convince them to help you?


4 Must-Read Blogs for Entrepreneurs

As much as I’m grateful you read my blog, if you want to be successful as an entrepreneur, my blog sure as hell better not be the only one you read!

Over the last 1/2 year, I’ve scourged the far-corners of the internet, looking for actually-useful blogs about entrepreneurship.  My criteria for reading other blogs are the same criteria I hold my own work to here:

1. Written by someone who has actually done the things they write about.

2. Give an in-depth, non-breezed-over look into the difficulties and failures surrounding being an entrepreneur.

3. Has a true dedication to helping readers understand how they too can be successful.

Here’s six of the top entrepreneurship blogs I’ve found, and what I like about them (and in some cases, where they could be better), evaluated on the above criteria.

1. I Will Teach You To Be Rich

by Ramit Sethi

Workman Publishing Author:  Ramit SethiGreat posts from this blog: The Failure of the Last Mile, “I did all of the right things…and look how it turned out”, Why earning more is better than saving more

Why I Like It:

Ramit is a best-selling author who writes awesome material.  When you dig into his thousands of posts, you find all sorts of highly-actionable content on entrepreneurship and self-improvement.  Ramit has done the things he writes about (he talks about how he set up a system as a high school student to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships to pay for Stanford).  Ramit’s approach is highly focused on research-backed solutions and extreme optimization, with an emphasis on understanding issues from a psychological perspective.

The only area I think this blog could improve is that Ramit never really talks about his early years, and how he got started.  I think the best way to relate to an audience is to be very open about the trials and tribulations of our early years.  Sure, Ramit’s blog is old (around since 2005) and he has a lot of great content notwithstanding, but I do think that his not focusing on intimately discussing the beginning of his career is one of the blog’s weaknesses.


2. Mixergy

by Andrew Warner

Andrew WarnerGreat posts from this blog: Teespring interview, interview, Nick Sarillo interview.

Why I Like It:

Mixergy has a great array of video interviews with successful entrepreneurs including Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia), Paul Graham (Y Combinator), and Andrew Mason (Groupon).

Andrew’s interviews bring out the nitty-gritty details of these successful entrepreneur’s lives, such as how they got started, and the problems they continue to work with as they grow their business.

There’s also interviews with more “down to earth” entrepreneurs as well, such as an interview with the founders of Teespring.

It’s difficult to get an in-depth look into the successes and failures of one entrepreneur…with Mixergy, you get it with hundreds of entrepreneurs. [click to continue…]

It’s All About Trust- 2 new post types that will give you inside details into my startups

So far, my fine people, you’ve read my articles telling you about all of the wonderful things I’ve learned from trudging through the startup trenches and barely coming out alive…

I’ve talked about how to crush your excuses, 5 things you can do RIGHT NOW to be an entrepreneur, and the 4 myths of entrepreneurship (which decimates my arch-enemy myth “you need to know how to program to be an entrepreneur”).

As much as I like sitting on my pedestal sharing with you my “learned-the-hard-way” lessons, it’s time to add 2 more things to the mix.  Here’s what, and why:

Every Friday, I will alternate between a “Dear Diary” post and a Q&A post.

The “Dear Diary” is a look at the progress I’ve made on my ventures within the last 2 weeks since the previous update.

The Q&A post takes a concern from a reader, and hashes it out.

Why am I doing this?

Because trust is key.

I want you to know that what I write about is 1.) something I am actually actively doing and learning from in my own life (i.e. the “Dear Diary” post), as opposed to just writing some grandiloquent, untested ideas, and 2.) is something that addresses actual concerns that you guys have (the Q&A post).

There’s tons of bloggers who just write random bullshit that they don’t actually know about.  Frankly, I’d say that’s most entrepreneurship blogs I’ve found: people who have never actually started a business that think “well, since I’m starting a blog, that means I’m an entrepreneur now!”…yeah right, man.  Stop wasting our time.

Next Friday’s post (Dec 14) will be a “Dear Diary”, where I talk about my ventures.

And I’ll do a Q&A for the Friday after that (Dec 21).


I could go in a million different directions with the “Dear Diary” and Q&A post, so I need you to let me know:

  1. For the Q&A, what’s a question you have about entrepreneurship?  Is it something you’re considering doing and you have a pressing question?  Or are you in the midst of a startup, and are having some problems?
  2. For the “Dear Diary”, what would interest you the most?  Hearing about how I came up with my ideas?  Hearing how I recruited programmers and business partners?  How I got publicity for my ideas, and recruited beta testers?  My failures?  (haha…I think I know which one you’re going to pick!)

Shoot me a quick e-mail and help me out with these.

Thanks guys; as always, I’m looking forward to this.




How to become an entrepreneur in 54 hours

The Transformation

Last weekend, I saw 60 people make an awesome transformation.

They made the transition from excuses to launch.

In the course of 54 hours–from Friday night to Sunday night–this ragtag group of business people, developers and programmers gave a firm middle-finger salute to the bonds of fear and worry that kept them from entrepreneurship, and spent the weekend starting a business.

By the time the weekend was over, things had changed.  People who went into the weekend never having heard of a “minimum viable product” left armed with sophisticated customer identification and segmentation experience.  Programmers and business people gained a new-found respect admiration for each other, and a deep understanding of how working together produces unparalleled startup success.

The excuses were off the table.  Launching was the only acceptable outcome.  And when these 60 people–who organized themselves into 8 startup teams–came up to present their startups before a panel of industry expert judges, it was clear that the weekend’s purpose had been accomplished.

Maybe a few of you have already figured out what I’m talking about.  I’m talking about Startup Weekend, and it’s unequivocally the best experience an aspiring entrepreneur could get.  Startup Weekend and its team of dedicated mentors and organizers guide participants breathe clarity and structure into the often-misunderstood topic of entrepreneurship.

What Startup Weekend is

Startup Weekend begins with participants bravely pitching startup ideas.  The top 10 or so are chosen by popular vote, and participants group into teams around those ideas.  Teams spend the entire weekend vetting their concept, doing market research, programming, and validating with customers (yep, cold-calling potential customers on a Saturday afternoon is definitely part of the equation).

At the end, it all comes down to a 5-minute pitch before a panel of judges.  The top 2 teams are awarded legal and accounting time to help start their business (as well as massive bragging rights).

Startup Weekend happens all of the time, all over the world.  The one I participated in was Startup Weekend Hartford; even within the tiny state of Connecticut, there are ~5 S.W.s per year…so wherever you are, there’s gonna be one pretty close.

Why I talk about Startup Weekend

I talk about Startup Weekend for 2 reasons:

1. Startup Weekend is a practical way to quickly learn some of the intricacies of entrepreneurship.  There’s no better teacher than working your ass off for 54 straight hours at something new.

2. It shows your excuse for not trying to start is probably really stupid.  We’re going to spend a bit more time elaborating on this point ;-) .

Why I’m being a jerk and saying your excuse is stupid (without even knowing what it is)

I’m being direct with you because I want you to understand just how easy it is to start pulling back the veil of mystery that forms your impression of entrepreneurship, and just how easy it is to start learning about what it takes to launch.

All it takes is ~$70 and a weekend.

Excuses about “I can’t start because I’m a student; I’m old; I’m a parent, I have work, etc.” didn’t fly either.  I saw plenty of Startup Weekend participants who were in their 50s and 60s, and even more (about 1/3) who were college students.  Almost all of them had full-time jobs or school.  And most of them had never started a company before.

But in the grand scheme of things, this post isn’t really about getting you to attend Startup Weekend (though I think you should).

The broader point is to get you thinking about all of the resources at your disposal to help you start; and all of the simple things you could be doing to jolt yourself into action (just search “entrepreneurship [your city]” and see what pops up for starters).

All it takes is ~$70 and a weekend.  Aren’t you curious to see what happens?

To learn more about what happens during Startup Weekend, read this.

Photo Credit: By Paleopod (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons