Startup Spotlight: Geek Mom Media

One of the challenges startups often face is finding time to establish a robust online presence that fully represents their business, value proposition and scope of services. Understandably, preliminary efforts are concentrated more on the service offerings themselves but even if a company offers products and services that are in high demand, if nobody can find the company, it won’t be able to make a sale.

I recently connected with the owner of Geek Mom Media, Julie Jimenez, who formed a company specifically to help startups navigate the technology required to create their online homes,’ doing the geek stuff’ so they don’t have to. Building a business is challenging enough without having to dedicate resources to marketing when operating on a shoestring budget.

GMM Image 2Julie, you have an extensive background in Information Technology, with an impressive and diversified resume. What made you decide to leave a successful career and delve into the world of entrepreneurship?

It wasn’t a planned career move.  In 2012, my daughter who lived in California was poisoned, using her malfunctioning 1940’s oven, by carbon monoxide. After several months of major health issues, I tried to transfer from Texas to California so I could help her.  My aging mother, who also lives with me, had just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, another reason I needed to be closer to family.  I continued to work remotely in CA for a about 6 months, but a transfer never materialized so I ended up taking early retirement and started looking at things I could do from home to supplement my income.

The number of aspiring entrepreneurs is rapidly growing and everyone is looking or a way to click with their online target audience(s). How can Geek Mom Media help?

I have a lot of experience in designing websites, either from scratch or on various website builder platforms, including blogs like WordPress and Tumblr.  I can help new startups get on-line reasonably fast with a professional presence, then can train them to maintain their own site or sub-contract to do it for them at reasonable cost.

What are your top three tips for people looking to establish an online presence?

Start with something simple, that can easily be updated or maintained themselves if cost is an issue. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from a professional – there is a steep learning curve with even the easiest website builder programs available. Your time is valuable, spend it doing what you know how to do. Look for a company that can offer you solutions to need, time & budget constraints, someone that will take the time to understand what your needs are and provide guidance and options to help you get where you desire to be.

What is your favorite part about running your own business? 

The ability to schedule my work around the needs of my family and personal life.

Did you have any big aha! moments as you launched Geek Mom Media?

Yes!  Over the past several years, since retiring in 2013, I have tried a couple of different things.  In the end, the most fun and success I’ve had has been doing what I love and knew how to do well already.

What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?

Be willing to stretch outside your comfort zone. Set goals for yourself; daily, monthly, annually and have a overall 5 year plan. Believe in your own abilities and have the patience or fortitude to stick with it. I love this quote – “A quitter never wins and a winner never quits.” Napoleon Hill.

What have been some of your failures since launching Geek Mom Media, and what have you learned from them?

Incorrect branding:  I initially started out with another name and website url.  It didn’t fly at all.  It really didn’t describe the essence of who I am.  Geek Mom Media fits who I am as a individual much better.

I also did not have a set of cohesive long term goals, so like a GPS without a address programmed, I had no idea where I was going and when if ever I would actually arrive. It wasn’t until I had a plan and destination that I started seeing progress.

As a momtrepreneur, what advice can you offer other moms who are trying to launch a brand-new business?

First of all believe in yourself, you’re a mom, one of the most valuable individuals on earth!  Include your family in your planning, brainstorm with them & friends to ensure you are on the correct path and embarking on the right journey.  Create some form of business plan, that will help you understand the costs of everything involved, from baby-sitters to inventory.  Then research the various products, companies or ideas you are considering to determine which resonates most with your values.  In the end, if what you want to do is not you, does not fit within your lifestyle or your belief system it’s the wrong vehicle to get you where you want to go.  Don’t be afraid to take the time to do it right the first time, if you don’t have time now you may never find or have time later, to do it again.

If you had the chance to begin your career again, what would you do differently?

Start planning for retirement immediately.  I had a retirement plan, allbeit not a good one.  The challenges I’ve met, the past several years, have mostly depleted any savings outside of my normal retirement benefits. Have multiple streams of income where possible, find a opportunity you can get involved with in some way, that will give you residual income, then don’t give up to quickly.

What motivates you?

My faith in God and the knowledge that whatever happens in my life, He is always in control.  No matter how low I may feel, I always have something I can offer someone else to make a difference in their life.  I can always find something I love doing to keep going the next mile.

Connect With Julie at Geek Mom Media:

Website  Facebook  Twitter  Instagram  Pinterest  LinkedIn

 

 

Startup Spotlight: Let’s Go Du+ch!

Sharing experiences, creating memories, engaging with like-minded people, enjoying a richer life… this is the concept behind going “du+ch.” The company was born of longtime friends Vincent Paradiso and Debora McCleary, who partnered to create a social network for travel and entertainment. Both entrepreneurs in their previous lives, Vincent and Debora created a unique way for people to connect with others who would share the cost of excursions they may not otherwise have been able to experience due to excessive costs. Their efforts established a marketplace for sharing life’s adventures, big or small and I had the pleasure of catching up with Vincent to chat about some of his hopes, challenges, and goals for the future. I was also excited to gather a few sound bytes from Deb, who founded the premier New York beauty directory, The Debb Report. And you all know I’m a sucker for all things beauty and fashion… =)

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Vincent, prior to co-founding du+ch, you had a very successful professional career in ballet. What made you decide to delve into the world of entrepreneurship? 

I’ve always been bit of an entrepreneur. I love ballet, but I always knew I would do more. I’d always had an interest in real estate so I formed Paradiso Properties. My goal was to have multiple investment homes that I rent and manage, along with a real estate license to sell homes. But I quickly grew bored with my new career choice. I made money, but it wasn’t my passion. I started contemplating new ideas. I thought of all the amazing things I did with colleagues while on tour with NYCB, and how we would split the bill. We wouldn’t have been able to enjoy as much had we not shared the cost. I knew I had something but wasn’t ready to dive in. One night out with my girlfriend, I wanted to book bottle service at a club but didn’t want to pay $1,500. Our friends couldn’t join, so we skipped out and the idea for du+ch was born.

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Deb, what differences have you experienced between building du+ch and building the Debb Report? What unique challenges have you faced with each endeavor and how have you addressed them?

The first challenge with the Debb Report was having my partner drop out. I ended up funding the entire site on my own, and found a few friends to help me write all the salon bios that are (almost all) now in place. Updating my site is still a challenge, because aside from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram updates, I have to be on top of so much information. I realized that I couldn’t do it all on my own, especially with the time du+ch now needs. I recently hired a wonderful beauty/fashion blogger to help create original content to help grow my site and SEO. Having a partner who is fully engaged and committed is a necessity. Vincent and I definitely have a give and take when it comes to growing du+ch. We complement one another very well and have complete trust in each other, which is invaluable.  Because du+ch is an e-commerce site, it is a much more involved endeavor than my directory so Vincent and I are having to learn as we go. We constantly seek expertise from those who have done this before and people have been very generous with their time and knowledge.

Choosing the right partner is so important when founding a brand-new venture. How do you work through differences in opinion and what qualities do you each bring to the table?

(Vincent) Deb is a long time friend. We have great chemistry. When I approached her with du+ch, she was immediately ready to jump onboard. The key for us is making sure we always keep open lines of communication. She helps ground me and work through new ideas. As I’d mentioned earlier, the ideas don’t stop. You can’t attack all of them at once, you have to stay focused. du+ch would be nothing if I’d built it, then decided to go out and work on another idea. Being able to keep everything organized helps a lot. We have yet to have any major disagreements, but I believe we both are the types of people who will listen. We will acknowledge each others’ points, let them sink in, and compromise on a solution.

(Deb) Vincent and I agree on most things day-to-day, but when we disagree, we have a real ability to listen to one another and come to a joint agreement fairly easily.  Luckily we are both sane, thoughtful and committed to making du+ch a success, no matter how long it takes us.

What is the best part about running your own business?  

Exactly that, it’s mine. I’m directly responsible for its success and/or failure. I take great pride in bringing an idea to life. It’s challenging work, but when you know your hands are involved in every working aspect, it is so rewarding. I look forward to each and every day. I am constantly learning about every aspect of my business.

Du+ch is such a unique concept. Do you have plans to expand beyond more elite and trendy events? Do you see a market for couples, families, businesses?

Absolutely! We’re now in all of those markets. The beauty of du+ch is that everything on the site is user-generated. The same way you can sell anything on eBay, you can share anything on du+ch. It is a marketplace that puts the power of the sharing economy in the hands of the masses. You no longer have to build an app to enter this space, you can use our platform to share anything you want. Every user, individual or corporate, can host and search for anything they want to share. The look of our brand is luxurious, but users can share free events, basic group packages, or even ultra luxe experiences. We take the social element of Facebook events, the payment features of Eventbrite, and combine them into one site. The greatest thing is you can reach more than just your current circle. The point is, friends cannot always join in the fun. With du+ch, you can find those who can, get to know one another, and pool your funds to make anything within reach. The great thing about du*ch, and what separates us from a Groupon/Eventbrite, is our social transparency. Every user has a profile with reviews and verifications, so you can meet new people and feel comfortable sharing with them.

If you knew then what you know now, how might you have advised yourselves before launching du+ch? Any big aha! moments?

I would have been a lot more specific in the design and build of the website. I had it in my head, but translating it to developers was difficult. They needed every single specification and I didn’t anticipate providing them that level of detail. I would have also done more research on payment processors. When we create the app, I am going to document every last detailed requirement for the developers. I won’t leave any stone unturned.

What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur? 

Discipline, focus and creativity. It is so important to stay disciplined. There are too many distractions surrounding us everyday – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. You have to resist the temptation and prioritize. You also have to focus on your goals, plan your short- and long-term strategies and then execute your plans to achieve them. That said, you have to remain creative, think out of the box and fill a perceived need. Always strive to disrupt the status quo.

What have been some of your failures since launching du+ch, and what have you learned from them?

I assumed once the site was built, the audience would come. I thought people would just find it, sign up and leverage the network, which wasn’t the case. I also focused too much energy on creating the perfect user experience. Marc Cuban once said, “Perfection is the enemy of profitability, you can try to make everything perfect, but you’re losing opportunity somewhere else.” What may seem perfect and simple to one may not be the same for others. I also mistakenly assumed that upon launch, I would play a support role. I didn’t realize I was going to have get out there and sell. That is the biggest challenge. Once you fill the need, you need to let the world know you’ve filled it. You have to make your own opportunities.

To what do you most attribute your success? What would say are the five key elements for starting and running a successful business?

Taking the lessons I’ve learned from the ballet and applying them to the business world. For both, you need to exhibit the discipline, focus, and creativity mentioned earlier, but you also have to be willing to fail, deal with rejection, perform, and not let anyone define you. We failed all the time while dancing. If a step wasn’t executed as expected, you didn’t give up. Instead, you figured out what went wrong, fixed it, repeated it, and tried to perfect it.  We dealt with rejection on a regular basis. In business, you have to do the same. Not everyone will love you or embrace your vision and that’s okay. So many of my most rewarding experiences came from taking a leap. Never be afraid of failure.

How do you go about marketing your business? What has been your most successful form of marketing?

Getting the word out is our biggest challenge, especially on a shoestring budget. I have seen a big jump in traffic when I advertise and share available listings on Facebook, but it hasn’t converted much yet. One experience that did convert was dinner with a private chef. The price was extremely reasonable and users wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. We are working on lining up fun yet cost-effective experiences. Giving corporate partners a chance to list group deals as they would with Groupon, but without the heavy fees, will help line up some great offerings. I also notice that when I do interviews like this, we get a major boost. I think it helps so much to get the word out. This interview engages a new audience and helps us connect with them. Some readers may skim our story, some may read the whole thing, some will love it, some will hate it, but either way I just grabbed the attention of a potential user and was able to get my entire message across. It is the best way to acquire new users and highlight interest in our brand.

Follow du+ch: Website  Facebook Twitter Google+ YouTube Instagram

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What Happens In Vegas…Is Up To YOU!

Las Vegas. Ah yes, it’s America’s playground. I mean, where else can you take a gondola ride, watch a volcano erupt, visit the Eiffel Tower, prepare for a zombie attack, get married in a Denny’s and tour a gold mine? So many wildly insane possibilities…but doing them alone? Not so much fun.

I recently caught up with Jamie Brewster, founder of The Vegas Hookup, a social networking site where singles and couples can connect with like-minded people who want to share a fabulous time in Sin City. Signing up is easy and once you become a member, you enter your itinerary and search for cohorts! And then you roll the dice!!

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Jamie, how did you come up with the idea for The Vegas Hookup? How long have you been in business?

I’ve always loved connecting people in all aspects of life.  Online dating has become one of the most popular ways to connect nowadays. Las Vegas is one of the busiest tourist attractions in the world! I wondered what would happen if I connected the two, so that shy people could make a meaningful connection BEFORE they arrived in Sin City. It was literally that simple. My goal is to enhance the Vegas-bound travelers’ experiences so they can have the time of their lives! We’ve been “live” since April of 2014.

In your own words, why use The Vegas Hookup? What’s the benefit to a prospective client? What sets it apart from a hotel concierge, Twitter or a Facebook group for Vegas lovers?

Our site was created to help people connect with each other before they arrive.  Not everyone is brave enough or confident enough to approach someone they don’t know. We break the ice for them. What sets us apart from using a hotel concierge, for example, would be the opportunity to screen your prospective date and get to know him/her a bit before committing to meet them in Las Vegas. Not to mention that a concierge can only supply escorts. Las Vegas is a large city with many people coming and going daily. Let us introduce you to prospective connections who are traveling when you are!

What value-adds do you offer that would convert one-time users into repeat clients?

As a member of The Vegas Hookup, you have access to exclusive deals found within our site. To encourage repeat business, we will continue to offer the best entertainment deals we possibly can. Not only that, after using our services, you will see for yourself that having the ability to “pick your partner-in-crime” before arriving saves a lot of time and hassle. Hoping to meet someone while walking down the Strip is always a gamble. Pun intended.

What made you decide to delve into the world of entrepreneurship?

I’ve always had the desire to be my own boss. Coming up with an idea and bringing it to fruition is the American dream, right?

How do you define success?

In life, I define success as being happy, having a healthy family and experiencing little to no stress in paying my bills. Extreme success would mean I get to quit my day job. LOL! As an entrepreneur, I define success as creating a self-sufficient web-based business that enjoys daily growth and a establishing client base that has had a blast because of what I’ve created!

What is your favorite part about running your own business?

I embraced the opportunity to make my idea a reality and then watched it catch on with Vegas-bound travelers from literally all over the world! We have registered users in more than 35 different countries to date, and all of them have one thing in common: They want to have the time of their lives in Las Vegas and they come to us to help make that happen!

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced to date with The Vegas Hookup and how have you addressed them?

The biggest challenge is growing our site organically. We have zero advertising budget, but have still been able to grow to over 2,300 users in over 35 countries! Like most startups, we are located in the Bay Area, so we are not physically present in Las Vegas. With that being said, we know exactly what is going on in Las Vegas daily and pass that knowledge on to our users.

What would you say are the top three skills needed to become a successful entrepreneur?

Hustle, effective communication skills and a thick skin. There will always be doubters who will attempt to dissuade you. You must believe in your idea and go to any lengths to achieve your goals.

Where do you see The Vegas Hookup in 5 years, 10 years?

We have big plans for The Vegas Hookup in the coming years… An app is the next big project on deck.. The other ideas I have to keep secret so we don’t get “scooped”! Suffice to say that we will be the “Go To” app to “hookup” all aspects of your social lives!

What sacrifices have you had to make to be a successful entrepreneur?

Well, I’m not sure I’d consider myself a “successful entrepreneur” yet. As far as sacrifices go, I’ve spent a lot of money on this business to date and I’m just your normal, average Joe – a social worker that lives pay check to pay check. I’m married with 2 kids living in the Bay Area where the cost of living is ridiculous, so I guess, I’d have to say cutting corners in other areas of our lives is the sacrifice that allows me to pursue this dream of self-sufficiency. I’m a firm believer that nothing worth having comes easy.

Check out The Vegas Hookup:

FOCUS!!!! And Then Drink To Your Success

I came across a quote from Lori Greiner the other day and it is flipping brilliant. For those of you who don’t know who she is, if you’re an entrepreneur, Google her. Like, right NOW. She’s the reigning “Queen of QVC” and one of the stars of NBC’s “Shark Tank” – the one they refer to as “the shark with the heart.” LOL. But it’s true. She’s smart, insightful and knows a good deal when she sees it but she always exercises sensitivity to the plight of the aspiring entrepreneurs that parade their wares around the tank. Okay, so clearly I have a girl-crush…

“Dear optimist, pessimist, and realist–while you guys were busy arguing about the glass of wine, I drank it! Sincerely, the opportunist!”

See? She loves wine, too. How can I not be smitten?? =)

But this quote holds true for me in so many respects (other than the booze…LOL!). More often than not, I have at least fifty things going on at once. The past month has been particularly busy – between building up Author Navigation, blogging, editing two of my books and writing a brand-new one, my creative juices were leaking all over the place. My focus was…hell, there WAS no focus, just endless lists of to do’s and never getting dones.

Do you know what that means?

Potentially missed opportunities. I would have been snoozing on that glass of wine because my mind was full of scattered thoughts with no definitive paths to meet any discernible goal. A jumble of ideas is absolutely useless if you can’t flesh them out and apply the ideal amount of focus. Multi-tasking is all well and good but we’re best when we keep our eye on the prize. Remember that. =)

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Passion Alone Can’t Pay The Bills

You can’t crush true entrepreneurial spirit. If you have it, it’s only a matter of time before you find your niche. Each “failed” attempt has to be viewed as a lesson learned. The real failure comes about when you don’t take anything away from the experience, when you don’t apply any of your newfound knowledge to your next endeavor. I knew I was meant to be an entrepreneur. It just took me some time to figure out where my roadmap was headed.

My first attempt as an entrepreneur was in the field of technology consulting. I had the skill set, I had the clients. The one thing I lacked was the passion. Couldn’t even fake it. Money was there but it just wasn’t fulfilling. So I decided to go with a new business, one that I loved.

Handbags. High fashion. It was my obsession. I thought because I had such an intense love of high-fashion handbags that I’d naturally be able to design, market and sell my own collections. However, there were significant barriers to entry I wasn’t aware of because I didn’t take the time to properly research the market and the accessory industry. As a result, quite a bit of debt accumulated over the very short life of my beloved business. Passion, though important, just doesn’t pay the bills.

Promotion concept. Painted staircase with draw in the wall. Business draw.

Promotion concept. Painted staircase with draw in the wall. Business draw.

After that “failed” attempt, I really thought long and hard about my future direction. I let my imagination run wild and decided to write a novel. Being an independently published author is a business just like any other. You develop and perfect a product, market and distribute it to the masses. Again, I was wearing many hats. The difference this time was that I’d done research on the industry and I maintained that critical element of passion.

Along the way (because the entrepreneurial spirit cannot be quelled) I partnered with one of my author friends to build and launch an online directory for authors called Author Navigation – a one-stop shop for all services needed to help polish and perfect a manuscript for the masses. It’s still early days and we’re still trying to gain momentum but we’re slowly making a name for ourselves.

Always strategizing, always planning, always envisioning…ALWAYS.

Got Funding??

Part of the issue with running a startup is figuring out how to keep up your monthly expenses while waiting for your sales to explode. After all, if you can’t pay the bills, you won’t be able to sustain and grow. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what you will need at various points and a lot is dependent on how quickly your offering explodes in the marketplace. That’s both good AND bad…good because you have a lot more incoming funds to line your bank account and bad because you need to maintain momentum while meeting increased customer demand. Sales may fluctuate from month to month as well and you need to have enough cash on hand to keep the lights on, even during the lulls.

falling dollar bills from money tree

falling dollar bills from money tree

This is where working capital comes into play. In layperson’s terms, it’s basically the money you need to pay your operating expenses – the things you have to pay aside from your development or manufacturing costs. These expenses include administrative, legal, insurance, office overhead, salaries, payroll, taxes, transportation…the monthly bills that recur without fail, independent of how many widgets you produce or sell.

Some newbie CEOs fund their businesses using credit cards. I might have been one of those at one point…let me give you a bit of advice. DON’T. DO. IT. 0% offers look like loans with attractive terms but they expire. It’s tempting to use those blank checks, I know. But there are better ways to manage your finances.

Small business loans? Um, okay, if you want to pay back insanely high interest rates. They are also extremely difficult to secure AND you practically have to hand over your firstborn as collateral. Just a little more added stress to deal with. No thank you!

You may also have the discretionary funding available for personal investment purposes. If that’s the case, good for you! Not everyone has that luxury. But don’t get too discouraged. There are other options available.

A revolving line of credit is actually a really good way to mitigate some of the risk related to keeping your business solvent. You use what you need when you need the cushion and pay back only what you’ve spent with flexible terms, without having to worry about high fees or high interest rates. You can pay the money back as a lump sum or broken out into monthly payments at a set rate. You may want to create your own unique repayment schedule. You may only need funds at crunch time while you’re waiting on receivables from slower-paying customers. A revolving line of credit gives you steady access to cash when you need it most.

Kabbage is a company that helps put small business owners in touch with the funding they need. Low interest rates and flexible repayment options? Yes please!! The application is quick and simple – you can get approval in minutes and the funds are generally available to you upon approval. Besides all that, they have a really cool logo. And you should know by now I’m a sucker for a good logo. =)

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SONY DSC

What Kind Of Mindset Should An Entrepreneur Have??

I love Quora. It’s a really cool knowledge-sharing site. You register and build up your profile with topics of interest. Then you can apply your own experience and answer users’ questions about said topics. As you build up your credibility on the site, people then come to you to answer their questions.

I’ve gotten some cool questions but just answered this one today and thought I’d share. =)

What Kind Of A Mindset Should An Entrepreneur Have?

Passion Is A MUST! – Starting a business and trying to gain traction can be extremely disheartening at times so the more you believe in your offering and your ability to sell, the more effective your pitch (and outlook) will become.

Listen To The Naysayers! – Don’t delude yourself into thinking your offering is the end-all, be-all.  You need a thick skin if you’re going to succeed as an entrepreneur. People will slam your ideas. Get used to it. Graciously accept criticisms and feedback then figure out how to respond to objections. Figure out what your key differentiating points are and highlight those to everyone and anyone.

Never Be Complacent! – You’ll have to work harder than you’ve ever worked before to create momentum and then work even harder to KEEP it. I heard a really cool quote this weekend that totally applies. I was at a writing conference and a number of bestselling authors were presenting on sales strategies. They all said market yourself like you’re nobody EVEN IF you’re somebody. This applies to ALL business endeavors.

Be Restless! – Let your creativity flow! Don’t be complacent and accept the status-quo. Dig deep and figure out to disrupt. It’s okay to incorporate new ideas into your offering. Make it as compelling as possible and if at first you don’t succeed….well, you know the rest. 🙂

You Will Never Know Your Limits Unless You Push Yourself To Them