Being able to fund your startup or finding the right funding  source on time has meant the difference between realizing your life long dream and letting it die even bore it could start off. There are quite a few regular ways of funding such as personal funds, help from friends and family, bank loans, angel or VC funding etc. I found an interesting article about 3 alternative ways of funding which could help you with much needed cash. Now, they do have pros and cons so they should be considered carefully but I thought it would be a good idea to share them nonetheless. It is authored by David Nilssen and the most important parts are posted below.
by David Nilssen
If you’re already a successful business owner or have just received a generous inheritance, you’ll have no trouble financing a new venture. Not only do you have cash, but banks are probably lining up to loan you money. You’ve already got it, so you don’t need it, but that’s exactly when financial
institutions (and people) are anxious to give it to you.

 But what about the rest of America’s aspiring entrepreneurs? There are plenty of smart, ambitious and hardworking folks who need to secure financing to build or buy a business. 
Traditional small business financing—such as the Small Business Administration (SBA) loan programs—can be very difficult to secure, so if you’ve gone down that road and been denied, you are not alone. And I am here to tell you that there is still opportunity ahead: There are other ways to fund your business—some of which you may not even have heard about yet—and one of them will be right for
you. So, to make your search a little easier, here are my top three alternative options for funding a business:

1.  Portfolio Loans
Many entrepreneurs fund a business by selling securities they personally own and then investing the cash they earn from the sale into their business. What those entrepreneurs may not realize is that there’s an option to use a portion of a portfolio to invest in a small business or franchise without selling the underlying securities. A portfolio loan allows you to leverage the value of your portfolio assets into a revolving line of credit with a loan-to-ratio value (a lending risk assessment that lenders use) between 65 percent and 90 percent. These loans can offer fair interest rates and a longer amortization timeframe, and generally they move from application to approval in just a few weeks. In addition to attractive terms, entrepreneurs can continue to reap the rewards of appreciation as their stocks increase in value.

What to watch out for:
Unlicensed and unregulated lenders are what you need to avoid. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority strongly recommends using their
 FINRA BrokerCheck tool to verify the licensing status and background of promoters, lenders and anyone else involved in the transaction. And if the value of the portfolio declines and the borrower has drawn down the entire line, the borrower may have to bring in outside capital, or sell securities, to maintain the appropriate loan-to-ratio value.

2.  Rollovers as Business Startups
Rollovers as business start-ups (ROBS) are also known as 401(k) rollovers,
 
and they’re becoming more and more popular. Some estimate that 30 percent of new franchises each year are funded through this arrangement. ROBS allow you to invest up to 100 percent of your existing retirement assets into a business or franchise by migrating your retirement funds into a new account that then operates as a stakeholder in your business. Migrating the funds this way allows entrepreneurs to avoid paying taxes and penalties for withdrawing funds from their retirement account early; simply emptying all or a portion of your retirement account before turning 59 ½ incurs sizeable penalties and regular income taxes. ROBS began fairly recently, with the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), which was designed to encourage investments in
small business.

What to watch out for:
 
In order for ROBS to work smoothly and avoid IRS penalties, the arrangement must be set up to exacting standards. Unless you’re extremely well-versed in tax or ERISA law, you should seek the help of a qualified professional to initially form and provide ongoing administration for the plan.
Put simply: Hire a firm that specializes in these types of transactions.

3. Unsecured Credit
Another method of funding a new business is through an unsecured line of credit. (The traditional version of this method—using a secured line of credit—is to use your home or other business’s assets as collateral.) If your personal credit is strong, an unsecured line of credit can be a good way to get your hands on up to $125,000 in startup capital. It’s called “unsecured” because the lender does not require you to pledge personal assets as collateral. Many entrepreneurs prefer not to pledge their personal assets while in start-up phase because a successful outcome is uncertain. For a new business, your application will most likely include a 
business plan and up to three years of earnings projections. Be prepared to explain exactly what you’ll use the money for, so the lender will feel confident that you’ll be able to pay it back.

What to watch out for:
There are many unsecured programs available with varying interest rates and origination fees. Shop around for the best program but do not apply until you’re certain of the direction you want to proceed—too many hard inquiries into your credit history in a short period of time can damage your credit score and decrease the likelihood that you’ll be approved for a loan with favorable terms. If you have any negative reports (like late payments) on your credit history, make sure you resolve them before seeking an unsecured loan.
 
 
For most Small & Medium Business (SMB) owners and their management team, it’s often a challenge to take the time to stand back from the daily business operations and be able to take stock of their performance and long-term strategic issues. It is however imperative that they review their progress and understand how to get the best out of their business & implement the steps necessary to make them profitable & prosperous. This is especially true if  there have been recent changes to their business, their market or the economic environment that they operate in. SMBs often fail because owners are unaware of the many aspects that can prevent their business from growing and being successful as the business is organized around the owner’s specific area of expertise, such as marketing, accounting or production and they are not able to see the big picture.

In the first part of this article, I am going to discuss the importance of a business audit, the importance of understanding your business, how & why to develop a business plan and the role of performance metrics. In the second part I will be sharing a number of checklists which will help you analyze your business and benchmark performance standards for the future and also suggest possible next steps.
HOW TO USE THIS AUDIT

If you want to get the maximum benefit from this audit, please make sure that you read through all the material and honestly answer all the questions, with an  “Yes” answer indicating no problem and a “No” answer indicating a problem in that area.

This audit is more than a simple audit about management or finances. It provides an overview of the core aspects of your business including its soul i.e. Vision, Mission & Values. Apart from that, the type of organization you are, value proposition, innovation capability, physical assets, marketing, advertising & public relations, financial planning, human resources, growth plans and  governance & compliance are also covered. Once the audit is complete, you must & analyze each section of the audit to develop an action and next steps.

A healthy & successful business is well rounded and all the core areas are well balanced. The audit will help the business owner/manager identify the areas that need to be worked on and regular audit will help the business become more adaptive, efficient & prosperous.

The Prologue

Now, more than ever, businesses need to make sure that they are: 
·     Headed in the right direction
·    Competing in the right markets, with the right products and/or services
·    Optimizing their market situation - performing better than the competition
·    Using the right mix of assets, skills, finance, infrastructure and relationships that enables them   maximum value to their customers
·   Minimizing the costs that do not add value to their business or customers
·  Aware of external environmental changes and are building the capability to respond quickly to new opportunities or threats
·  Measuring their performance continuously so that they are always aware of their current performance and the successes or failures of their strategic initiatives.

 
 
"If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."
–Henry Ford
"It's really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them."
— Steve Jobs
What do the above statements show? Should innovators listen to their customers? Do you think that if Henry Ford & Steve Jobs had listened to their customers, Ford Cars or iPhones would not have existed? There is a wonderful wonderful article called "Why Steve Jobs Never Listened to His Customers" by Gregory Ciotti which poses this question and is a must read. Agree, disagree or maybe, you should definitely read the article. The questions it raises and how it makes you think about entrepreneurship is important. The article and the subsequent comments got me thinking. What exactly is an innovative product or service and what role do end users play in its development. There are numerous products & services we have today and have existed in the past that would not have been possible if they had been customer tested to begin with. 
So, is there a kind of innovation, which, in-fact should not be customer tested at its inception? What would that kind of innovation scenario be? How does the innovator decide whether he should engage customers or not? Lots of questions spring to mind, unfortunately, not enough answers.
CREATION Vs ENHANCEMENT
For me, this seems more like Creation vs Enhancement. Innovation, I believe can apply to either case. Creating something new or enhancing an existing product so that it meets a totally new need are both innovations. Focus grouping & customer testing is, I believe most applicable when there are enhancements or improvements  to something that already exists. The first iPhone, even though built on existing concepts, was, for all practical purposes, a radical new creation. It totally redefined the mobile phone from what we had known it to be at that time. I don't believe focus groups at that point would have been helpful. The users perception and expectation would have been based on what they already knew. Their whole expectation would have been baselined on what they knew. 
Enhancements, on the other hand, I believe can be customer tested. You already have a product which people are used to and hence upgrades or modifications are something they can relate to and can give an opinion about its merits. Redesigns, added features, extra services, etc. are all things which can be very innovative and a great value add for a product or service. Cup holders in cars when initially introduced by GM were optional.  But they became so popular that GM very soon made it standard. Now, that is an add-on, an enhancement. 
Personally, while introducing a new product or service, I always start small and that methodology has always worked for me. I introduce the product/service based on my years of experience, confidence in the product & a gut belief that in this big wide world, there must be at-least a few more people who think like me and could possibly give this product a try. That has been my mantra. What I try to do is to minimize the loss potential, market it well and be ready to admit defeat if that was the case. The commonality of my experiments is that I always try to understand the result. Pass or Fail, I always try to understand why that happened. What clicked or did not. That is where the customer feedback comes in and that is where my experience comes from. 
So, yes, customer feedback and input are important but mostly in instances where the prospective customer can relate to the product or service. When a totally new concept or invention is happening, that may not be the case. End users, after all, don't always know what they want.
Well, those were my thoughts and experiences.....What do you think? 
 
 
Does David Brandt hold the secret for turning industrial agriculture from  global-warming problem to carbon solution?
—By 
Tom Philpott (www.motherjones.com)

CHATTING WITH DAVID BRANDT outside his barn on a sunny June morning, I wonder if he doesn't look too much like a farmer—what a casting director might call "too on the nose." He's a beefy man in bib overalls, a plaid shirt, and well-worn boots, with short, gray-streaked hair peeking out from a trucker hat over a round, unlined face ruddy from the sun.

Brandt farms 1,200 acres in the central Ohio village of Carroll, pop. 524. This is the domain of industrial-scale agriculture—a vast expanse of corn and soybean fields broken up only by the sprawl creeping in from Columbus. Brandt, 66, raised his kids on this farm after taking it over from his grandfather. Yet he sounds not so much like a subject of King Corn as, say, one of the organics geeks I work with on my own farm in North Carolina. In his g-droppin' Midwestern monotone, he's telling me about his cover crops—fall plantings that blanket the ground in winter and are allowed to rot in place come spring, a practice as eyebrow-raising in corn country as holding a naked yoga class in the pasture.  The plot I can see looks just about identical to the carpet of corn that stretches from eastern Ohio to western Nebraska.
But last winter it would have looked very different: While the neighbors' fields lay fallow, Brandt's teemed with a mix of as many as 14 different plant species.
 
 
Creating a food or drink product to sell to the mass market can be quite challenging but it can also be extremely rewarding and potentially very lucrative. It takes passion, desire and an almost obsessive interest in all things food or drink to succeed in the industry. That is why Clip Creative a London and Nottingham based creative and PR agency have brought together all of their food and drink marketing secrets and experience to create an innovative infographic that explains step by step how the world of food and drink marketing really works. The first stage of the infographic explains that once you have refined your food or drink product you need to let people know about it. Your target audience will vary from consumers, foodies, buyers from the multiples to industry chefs and many more depending on your objectives. Branding, packaging design, marketing and PR is essential in the creation of a successful food or beverage company as this will elevate the brand image and ensure you generate sales and stay ahead of your competitors.
 
 
 
 
Screwing up from time to time is part of the entrepreneurial process--but not all mistakes are created equal.
By Ilya Pozin July 11, 2013

Entrepreneurship, at its best, is synonymous with learning. Don’t let the overnight success stories fool you. The more common story looks like this: test a product, fail, retest, and improve. Mistakes are a crucial part of this process.

Of course, not all mistakes are productive. Throughout my years in the start-up community, I’ve witnessed entrepreneurs make some of the same counterproductive mistakes again and again. And hey, I’ve made my share of them too.

Here are nine of the most common–and easiest to avoid:

1. Trusting your gut, rather than getting validation for your idea.

Your business idea may seem like a profitable game-changer, but without validation you may be setting yourself up for failure. Before you invest any time or money into your idea, spend time testing it. Consult with experts from the start-up community and get your product idea in front of potential customers so that you can learn–and adapt–based on their feedback.

2. Not getting your business to market fast enough.

Far too many business ideas fail due to a slow launch, which needs to be both stealthy and strategic to be successful. Don’t spend ages building out your idea and features. Instead, build out your most valuable product, release it, and see how people react to it. In the end, it’s important not to overbuild, because features alone don’t make start-ups successful.

3. Not knowing when to pivot.

Through your early validation efforts, you’re likely to gain feedback that you didn’t anticipate. Rather than throwing in the towel or ignoring what you’ve learned altogether, this should inspire you to change your business model to prevent failure. Many successful business ventures have come through calculating a new route.

 
 
Successful entrepreneurs may be a rarity, but most successful entrepreneurs do share a few common characteristics with each other. If you’re worried that you don’t have all of these on the list yourself, that’s OK, many, if not all can be learned as you grow as a business person.
So you want to be a successful entrepreneur? Review the Successful Entrepreneurs infographic below and be on your way to your creating your own fortune.

 
 
Save time and get more done--all with just a smartphone. Here are ten tools you'll need.
By Ilya Pozin Sept. 26, 2012
I’m on the go a lot, which means I spend just as much time–if not more–on my phone as I spend on my computer.

This would not have been possible even just a few years ago. But luckily, technology has made it easy to be more and more productive with just a smartphone. Here’s a list of 10 mobile apps I love that help me save time and get things done.

1. MobileDay

I use conference lines frequently when I’m working with people from all areas of the globe. These calls typically all have their own conference number and conference code. When calling from my cell, it’s a huge annoyance to have to search my email on my phone and keep track of all the dial-in codes. The MobileDay app works with any conference call service by looking through your calendar, reminding you of the call, and with one click calling the conference line and dial any necessary codes for you.

2. Google Wallet

This app saves you the time of digging out your wallet and searching for the credit card you want to use. Instead, if your phone is enabled with near field communication, all you need to do once you’ve registered your cards is open the app, pick the card you want to use, tap the back of your phone to an NFC checkout register, and be on your way. All your information is securely stored on Google’s servers, which you can remotely disable if you lose your phone.

3. WriteThat.Name

One of the biggest hassles I run into is when I need to quickly call someone who’s not yet saved in my phone contacts. I then have to search through my emails to find the phone number. This is way too time consuming. Although not an app, WriteThat.Name improves mobile productivity by automatically scanning the signatures of people that email you, extracting their information, and merging it with your contacts in both your email and phone. If they haven’t emailed you before, WriteThat.Name adds them as a contact or if they already exist, it updates their information for you. Also, it’s important to me that my contacts don’t just live on my phone. With WriteThat.Name, they are stored in the cloud, so they’re safe even if something happens to your phone.

4. Slice

The Slice mobile app keeps track of everything you buy online. When your inbox is flooded with numerous emails everyday, it’s hard to keep up with all your online purchase receipts. All you have to do is tell Slice the email addresses you use for these purchases and the app will keep track of all your orders for you.

5. Hipmunk

I do a lot of traveling. Hipmunk speeds up the process of planning those trips, whether my schedule is flexible or very precise. The site has data from nearly every airline and hotel. It’s similar to Kayak but it’s smarter. Hipmunk displays results in a visual timeline or map. You can see departure times or hotel locations with one quick glance. The simple visual makes the results seem more relevant to my needs, which saves me the time of sorting through options that won’t work.