Entrepreneurship tips from Sarah Prevette (Sprouter) at the Toronto Girl Geek Dinner

Last night’s Toronto Girl Geek Dinner with Sarah Prevette, the founder ofSprouter, was a great braindump of entrepreneurship and networking tips.

Sarah told us stories about her failures and what she’d learned along the way, particularly the importance of talking to potential users and reaching out to the community. Her tips for engaging with the community were:

  • Amazingness. Provide value. Don’t focus exclusively on What’s In It For Me. Be worth talking about. The best way to achieve success is to enable someone else’s.
  • Accessibility. Respond in a timely manner. Don’t ignore reactions, whether positive or negative. The worst thing you can do when people criticize you is to ignore it. Be open. Share the facts.
  • Authenticity. Provide as much information as you can. Be real, be transparent, be honest, and be yourself. Be patient when answering questions. Privacy really is dead, so get used to it.

Here are other tips she shared:

  • Release early, release often. Don’t worry about making things perfect. Worry about making people care. Just push things out. If they hate it, they’ll tell you why they hate it. If they love it, great. It’s indifference that sucks.
  • Be entrenched in the community. Talk to people. Listen. Do your homework. Do the legwork.
  • Twitter is a great backchannel that can add a lot of value to conferences and conversations. If you’re not on Twitter yet, you should at least read it when you go to a conference, and follow what interesting people are saying. Otherwise, you’ll miss out on half the conversation.
  • Twitter helps connect with the community. Twitter accounts for far more of their site visits than either Google or direct traffic.
  • Make sure you activate your network. Collecting business cards is not networking. Adding people to LinkedIn is not networking. Act onyour network. Find ways to reconnect and be relevant. Meaningfully reach out. She mentioned a new habit she’s working on: revitalizing her network by stacking up business cards in front of her, randomly picking five people, and consciously looking for ways to reach out and help that person succeed.
  • Entrepreneurship is stressful but fun. The last year has been the most stressful and the most fun for her.

Here are some notes from the Q&A:

  • What’s your business model? Ad-supported freemium.
  • Aside from the aforementioned stack of business cards, how do you keep track of your contacts? New startups like CloudContacts, NetworkHippo are interesting. (Sacha’s note: Gist is another social aggregator, too. It’s pretty darn awesome.)
  • How do you scale accessibility? Hopes that as usage scales, revenue scales, too.
  • Who built your site? Internally developed. One rockstar doing Ruby, a total team size of three. Shout-out to Jet Cooper team for the design.
  • What tips would you give new entrepreneurs?
    1. Do it. If you have a fabulous idea, do it. Talking about it at dinner parties is not doing it. Researching is not doing it. Do it.
    2. Solicit feedback. Get feedback not only from people who’ll be nice to you, but people who’ll tell it like it is. Talk to your potential users. Push beyond the fluffy responses. Ask for specifics.
    3. Find a way to grow organically, or find the money to do it. Don’t worry too much about equity. Don’t be afraid of investors. Don’t do things in isolation.
  • What key trends are you seeing? Mobile applications, geolocation, better filters. Also general trends like green.
  • What was your biggest obstacle? Not engaging the network enough. Either that, or ego. No, network. You have no idea who’s going to be the key person in your network, so just connect with people.
  • How do you know where to go for funding? Again, network. Ask startups who’ve been funded by investors; they’ll have insights. Techvibes.com lists startups.
  • How does the amount of sleep you get compare to when you were a teenager? Used to be a big sleeper as a teenager. Now is usually thrown off by jet lag, etc.

Toronto Girl Geek Dinners is giving away one free pass for people who would like to attend the Mesh Marketing event. Tweet @s_moore with the answer to the question of why it would be awesome for a girl geek to go to the event, and the most creative answer will get a free pass. More details about that and upcoming events at .

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  • I knew there was a reason why I wasn’t taking notes! You have done an awesome job capturing Sarah’s thoughts. Good seeing you last night, Sacha!

    Cheers,
    Connie

  • Uma

    An excellent recap, Sacha!

    I especially like the tip about stacking up business cards and randomly picking five people to connect with.

    Wish I could’ve been there but I will definitely will be next time. Thank you for your notes though… now I know what I missed ;-)

    Uma

  • Connie: Hat-tip to you for mentioning that Saul Colt is also into comics, which led to another fun connecting-the-dots thing. =) Thanks!

    Uma: I’m going to see how I can do something like that, but virtually. Twitter, Facebook, and Gist are all somewhat biased towards frequent updaters, but it’s usually the quiet contacts whom you need to prod more. Will work on this and share my experiences!

  • Frankly, I am quite skeptical about the SproutUp (formerly RedWire). Redwire used to be like LinkedIn, but with no features whatsoever. Now it got revamped, changed its colour from red to green and imitates Twitter but is invitation-only and the owners are going to charge for it in the future. I think that any amount of nice sounding words spoken at get-togethers will compensate for the lack of features and content. The perspective of paying for this does not thrill me either. People pay for things they need. What kind of need does Sprout Up fill?

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  • that’s, I *don’t* think that… etc.

    Now, if the LinkedIn creator were to give advice, that would be worth following. About SproutUp, I am not so sure.

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  • Thanks for the post Sacha – it’s always an incredibly humbling thing to get up in front of a room full of your peers and share your personal story. Even more so seeing it in print! There’s certainly an inherent vulnerability in talking about real challenges and the truth on what you’re learning – and in reading one of the comments, I’m reminded of one of the lessons I shared with the group: not everyone is going to love you.

    Tania; appreciate you taking the time to weigh in and share your thoughts. Even more so – I appreciate you checking us out back in our early alpha with RedWire! That’s awesome. I hope you’ll check out Sprouter.com and see the amazing conversations happening between startup founders globally. We’re invitation-only just as we continue beta-testing and flushing out the many features of the site but you can obtain an access code right on the homepage. We’re definitely an ongoing evolution and I’d love your feedback on how you think we could do more to help connect entrepreneurs to one another. You can email me directly at [email protected]

    I’d love to hear from you.

    I just want to clarify that Sprout Up is actually a free event we host in cities around the world to bring together entrepreneurs offline to network, learn and support one another. We bring in speakers from various backgrounds who can offer insights into various facets of starting a successful business – we’ve been incredibly fortunate to have had brilliant entrepreneurs like Gary Vaynerchuk (of WineLibrary.tv & author of Crush it!), Stuart MacDonald (Expedia.ca & TripHarbour) join us to share their wisdom and knowledge. I’m not actually a speaker at these – and I agree – I’d love to hear from Reid Hoffman (the founder of LinkedIn) on how he grew his company as well! Maybe we can get him out to speak at one of our Sprout Ups some day soon.

    If you’re an entrepreneur interested in checking out Sprouter.com for yourself or learning about any upcoming start up events in your area, we’d love to hear from you. Request an invitation at [email protected] or get in touch with us via Twitter with @Sprouter.

  • Hi Sacha,

    I randomly stumbled upon your blog when I was doing some research for a startup idea I had, and am I ever so glad to have found this article! I attend a ton of networking events as well and certainly appreciate what goes into making good notes during the event and posting it online to share with others following the event!

    I just took a look through your site and I am mighty impressed. I have a lot of the same interests, as I dedicate a lot of time and energy to promoting entrepreneurship and leadership amongst Canada youth through Impact Entrepreneurship Group, and I was most recently their Director of Communications. My last coop was also with a startup called Speechbobble where I was there Social Media Marketing Analyst. I would love to have a chance to sit down and have a chat over coffee sometime!

    Please feel free to email me at [email protected] or follow me @lu_christine. Talk to you soon!

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