An Oath to Startups

In case you missed it, we had Mark Stansbury of Stansbury Law give us an hour of his very valuable time to answer all our legal questions about startups. Some of the key takeaways were:

• Have the important talks/arguments with co-founders sooner rather than later
• So no one walks away with a chunk of the company in the first few months, the industry standard is becoming 6 years for equity vested which means equity is released to owners over time
• The biggest mistake startups made is not getting professional advice early on, in particular, legalzoom is good for basic agreements but can lead to problems down the line
• If you don’t have a lot of money, do accounting and legal on your own, even if you are audited you’ll probably be okay because the IRS knows you don’t have a lot of money
• The biggest trouble companies get into is not paying withholding tax, always pay any sales or withholding tax, even if lights go out and business goes down, if you don’t pay that the IRS will come after you and won’t settle
• Make sure you’re not signing bad terms when you take capital, be wary of money from the government, there are often strings attached that are not conducive to business
• RocketLawyer is a good resource for cheap legal help, competitor of Legal Zoom
• Brad Feld is a good resource, follow his blog

We are tremendously grateful for Mark’s time taking the stand and all his great advice! If you would like to contact him, he can be reached at He has offered to give a free hour of basic advice to help move you in the right direction if you need it!

Validating Your Startup Idea

Having an idea for a startup can be really exciting, and sometimes you want to dive right into producing your product and launching your company.  But before you do that, you have to make sure your idea is actually a good one, by validating the idea, or making sure people will actually want your product before producing it.  This way, you can make the decision to launch your startup knowing people will want what you’re making.

It’s easy to assume that people will want your product before you make it.  For instance, at Pufferfish Software we were sure people would want an app that helped their children learn to identify the fifty states of the USA.  We went right ahead in producing it, confident that we could just put it up on the app store and sell to our existing user base of parents and to parents on the iPad app store.  Much to our dismay, we received no sales on an app that cost, if I recall correctly, $800 to make – because foolishly, we didn’t make sure people wanted it before we made it.

Unfortunately, having a few friends say “yeah that’s cool I’d buy that” doesn’t really count as validation.  Think about it – there’s lots of stuff you say you’d buy, especially after an afternoon wasted shopping online.  But you don’t actually go buy any of those things.  The only thing that really counts as validation is a commitment to purchase.

A commitment to purchase comes in two forms – providing contact information for a future purchase, or pledging money for the purchase in the form of a pre-sale.  Since you’re not even sure you want to go ahead with your startup idea yet, you can collect the contact information of people who want to buy your product.  This is easy, free, and only requires a couple steps.

1.  Set Up a Website.

Making a simple website has become amazingly easy in the past couple of years.  Anyone can hop online, and get started for free.  For this, you want to make a website using LaunchRock.    LaunchRock is a service designed exactly for what you’re trying to do, which is build an early customer base to prove your idea is something people want.  They’re free, so if you never get that traction it didn’t cost you a thing.

2. Set up a Twitter.

This is so you can make it easy for people to share your product or idea online.  Make sure to hook this up to your LaunchRock website so people can easily share.  Twitter isn’t meant for broadcasting promotion about your product, but for having conversations with your followers.  It’s called social media, because it’s meant for socially engaging.  But whatever you do, don’t buy Twitter followers.

3. Promote!

Tell your friends about your website, first of all.  Post on your personal accounts saying you’re investigating this idea.  Secondly, get on Reddit, find the subreddits were your potential customers are, and let them know what you’re making.  If it’s tech-y, post on HackerNews.  If it’s crafty, post on Pinterest.

Wherever you post, don’t come off as a broadcaster.  Remember to be a person; ask for feedback on your idea, ask people what they want out of such a product.  This isn’t about you and your awesome company, this is about making a product for your customers that your customers want.  It’s about your customers.

If you want to get more engagement with your product, give them a little taste for free.  Take up to 10 hours producing some content for your customer base, be it writing or a free tool or a free chart or a small game or whatever you can think of, and then give it away in exchange for an email address.  This is a great way to get people on board with your product idea, because they will already know you are going to deliver on what you promise.

4. Assess

After you’ve done this for a month, assess the traction you have.  People might be interested and love your idea, or they might hate it.  They might think it has potential, but would rather you make something different.  Make sure to assess all of the interaction you got, and decide on the course of action best for you and your customers.  Because it doesn’t matter how many customers you have if you’re not making something they want.

Our Very Own TEDx Original with Ida Abdalkhani

In February, the largest ever TEDx conference at Ohio State University assembled in the Mershon Auditorium to listen to a collection of distinguished speakers share their experience and stories in hopes of inspiring other change-makers in our community. We were fortunate to listen to a Business Builders Club alumni, Ida Abdalkhani, give the crowd a lesson in laughter yoga. As she says, laughter yoga is forcing oneself to laugh, and the silly, forced laughter becomes real laughter that gets blood flowing and endorphins released into the body. In addition to instructing the laughter yoga session, Ida shared the benefits of laughter yoga.

A huge thank you to Ida for venturing back to Columbus to bring laughter to the entire audience. Check out her talk here and #ShareTheLaughter

Of course, this couldn’t have happened without the amazing team behind TEDxOSU! Round of applause.

The Fear of Idea Theft

Often, new entrepreneurs are afraid of sharing their new company idea because they’re afraid someone will steal their idea.  This is their first, great inspiration, and don’t want to risk it being stolen and copied by someone else.  This is a belief which is counterproductive and sometimes dangerous to the health of a new venture, for a couple of reasons.

1.  You have to tell people about your idea to get feedback.  Feedback is critical to the success of a startup, and if you don’t get feedback and development advice from your customers, industry professionals, and trusted advisors, your startup will surely tank.  You don’t know everything you need to know on your own to make your startup succeed.

Furthermore, you need feedback to validate your startup idea.  If you don’t get this feedback and directional advice, you might launch into a new startup that just isn’t solid enough, and then lose large amounts of money because you aren’t able to get customers.  Get feedback from potential customers early on, so you know your startup idea will succeed.

2. This attitude is not respected.  Because experienced entrepreneurs know how critical it is that you get feedback and support for your startup idea to succeed, they will internally greet new entrepreneurs afraid of idea theft with exasperation or frustration.  Far from being intrigued by your “secret startup idea,” they will just lose interest and move on to something else – not so great for your startup.

3.  You have to make your idea public in order to execute on it.  You’ll have to make a website for your product, you’ll have to share your idea to get into startup accelerators, you’ll have to share your idea to apply for or compete for funds, so on and so forth… the launching of a startup involves actually sharing your startup idea.  If you don’t tell people about your idea, they can’t tell other people about your idea, who can’t tell other people about your idea, and soon you’re missing out on hundreds of people exposed to your new startup.

4. Ideas are worthless.  Startups are all about the execution, not the magic in an idea.  The idea for Facebook, one of the unicorn companies of our time, is no more magical than any other social media website idea.  Had you or I had the idea for Facebook, chances are it wouldn’t have grown into an especially significant social media website, just one among many of the time.  What made Facebook so amazing was the perfect execution of the website, the way Zuckerberg was perfectly positioned for its success.

In fact, your idea is so meaningless that having it doesn’t mean anything at all.  Some people worry their idea will be stolen – well, people will have the same idea, whether or not they’ve heard of yours.  Since there are so many people, with so many ideas, someone is going to have the same one as you.  What makes your startup better than theirs is your execution on the very same idea.

A Quick Note About Idea Theft

Idea Theft is something a lot of people assume is a crime, but isn’t actually a crime in and of itself.  The act of adopting someone else’s idea to be your own is not of consequence in either civil or criminal courts, and you can’t sue over it.  Things commonly treated as ‘idea theft’ crimes, like the theft of Zuckerberg from the Winklevoss twins, rested on the fact that Zuckerberg signed a contract with the Winklevosses for production of ConnectU.  What was illegal was Zuckerberg breaching the contract, not his execution of the same idea.  This means that had they offered him the job and he declined, then went on to make Facebook, the Winklevi would have won much less in their settlement.

Another common example of Idea Theft is Snapchat’s ‘Fourth Founder.’  While Brown did come up with the name and part of the idea for Snapchat, his settlement rested on the fact that he did work for the Snapchat project (creating the logo, graphics, and contributing to construction).  Again, had his suit rested entirely on the idea, his case would have been dismissed for lack of ground.

5. People don’t want to take on obligations.  If you refuse to share your idea except in confidence, with a non-disclosure agreement or some other promise binding them to not share your idea, you’re creating a one-sided obligation where they’re never allowed to tell anyone, for the rest of their days.  Even if this is just an agreement based in honor and not in law, it’s still creating an obligation that the listener has to you.


Entrepreneurship à la carte with Joe DeLoss

This week Joe DeLoss shared his succulent story of Hot Chicken Takeover. After experiencing the hot chicken craze first hand in Nashville, him and his wife thought there may be an opportunity to bring that delicious and scrumptious menu back to midwestern Columbus. Using friends as a test market, DeLoss served up his brainchild every time they came over to watch UFC on pay-per-view. Once validated, they started doing pop-up events outside. Uniquely, they made it a goal to waste no food which meant predicting demand for the whole day and often selling out right before the day’s end. Everything was going well with the outdoor gigs, but as the Ohio winter creeped upon us, Joe realized they needed to change models to support a year-round business. They made their next move to raise money for a food truck on Kickstarter. As support flooded in, it became apparent that managing the campaign, questions, and fulfillment would be a full-time job. Needless to say they were very successful, exceeding their goal of $40,000 by more than $20,000. After giving Kickstarter their share, paying for prizes, and fulfillment of those prizes, they were left with around $40,000. Still, they realized shortly after that a physical presence was necessary for them to better develop their teams and control costs. When they first approached North Market about getting a space they were told the business was still too infant to be placed among the top tier brands that North Market has to offer. But, a few months and 46,000 customers later, they now have their very own space in North Market.

Today, they have 26 employees, all of which they heavily invest in. Their workforce is approximately 40% high school and college students and 60% individuals with barriers to employment. Whether their barriers are their past or their current circumstances, Hot Chicken gives them the opportunity to grow their skills from entry up to management and establish the home and habits needed to maintain a consistent job.

Some key takeaways:
• Kickstarter campaigns are more expensive and time consuming than one may think
• Traction trumps all, if you need money, space, or anything else, numbers make you believable
• If you spend the time to develop your employees, make sure there is room for them to grow within your organization

A big thanks to Joe for serving up a great talk! If you want to check them out they are open Thursday-Sunday, 11:00 am – 3:00 pm at the North Market.

Going from Idea to Reality with Steve Sauer

We were fortunate to have Steve Sauer as our guest speaker last night. Steve is an Ohio State alumni and Co-Founder of a design firm dubbed Bigger Tuna. He spent the evening sharing a myriad of incredible inventions and the story behind each one. Some lessons Steve learned along the way are:

• If you’re ever in a position of owning intellectual property at a company, make sure you maintain your sliver on your way out
• Think about the easiest ways to solve a problem, you don’t have to get complex, if you can solve a problem with a simple solution, do it
• 9/10 times we abandon something is because it is going to cost too much to be a viable product
• Once you get an idea into the physical world you can show someone and really get people interested
• The biggest thing to ask a patent attorney is, how are you going to return the results to me? You want it to be categorized and ranked so you don’t have to read 20 patents. You should expect to pay around $400

We thank Steve for giving an engaging talk and passing down all his invaluable insights.

What is Success and How Do We Achieve it?

We had a great time listening to Chris Hock, Founder of Griffon Partners, who shared a hip presentation on entrepreneurship with funny memes and stories about his work in startups. We got to explore differences between our generation and his, as well as compare the differences between successful and unsuccessful companies. Some of the insights he wanted to leave with our generation were:

• The sooner you can make your own definition of success, the happier and more successful you’ll be
• Be competitive
• Remember your reputation – during bad times you can fall back on it
• Focus on micro goals, even though macro goals “feel” better
• Even if you don’t know what your career will be or how long you will stay, do an awesome job wherever you’re at
• Young entrepreneurs need to appreciate gravity of situation/source of investment that older generations have worked their whole life to earn
• Own your career and life, live below your means so you can quit your job and start out on your own

When you do start out on your own, the factors that led to a successful business in his experience were:

• They didn’t use hyperbole or puffery
• Instead, they asked, how do we build a great business and how do we grow?
• They had a clear value proposition
• They took care of their customer

Chris was very excited to share with us and come visit our club. When he was in school at Ohio State, there were no entrepreneurship outlets like BBC. We thank Chris for making it out to speak with our club!

Social Innovation Starts at APTE

The Alleviating Poverty Through Entrepreneurship Summit is both a wonderfully inspiring event and a story of passion and success.


When I attended my first APTE Summit, it was still an event hosted and funded entirely by the Business Builders Club. There were over one thousand attendees, several well-known social entrepreneurs from around the world, and a group of passionate students who were eagerly awaiting their chance to pitch their businesses to the entire auditorium. I couldn’t believe this event was only two years old! The number of people I met during the event and the passion those people had for solving world issues was inspiring. Since that Saturday in 2012, the APTE Summit has become an Ohio State Signature Event and has become bigger and better each year.


So why should you attend the APTE Summit? You have the rare opportunity to meet an amazing group of passionate students and community members. Beyond that:

  1. A whole afternoon of incredible speakers brought in from around the world
  2. A student social business competition with thousands of dollars in cash prizes
  3. No matter what you’re passionate about, there are many more just like you and you know they’ll be there
  4. You may just discover your passion (it’s happened before)
  5. Free networking with some of the most important social entrepreneurs in Columbus


The Alleviating Poverty through Entrepreneurship Summit is a world-class event that I’ve had the opportunity to attend for the past three years and needless to say, I’m more than excited for this year’s Summit.

Make sure to RSVP for the event check out the speaker line up here :


Shane McMahon

From Kickstarter to Kegs

This week we enjoyed having Ohio State Alumni, Walt Keys, as our guest speaker. Walt is the Co-founder and Creative Director at Land-Grant Brewing Company, which him, and co-owners Adam Benner and Quintin Jessee, have been working on since 2012.

Initially they branded themselves as Oval Brewing, a slight nod towards their alma mater. Not long after launching a successful Kickstarter campaign, they found themselves in the right place at the right time when they were introduced to a pharmacist in their network who wanted to invest in a brewery. They were a perfect fit and with even more capital they could now begin the search for real estate that could suit their needs. When they had finally found the perfect place in Grandview, the deal fell through and they were left holding the bag. On top of this, they discovered that a British vodka company had the name Oval, so they asked Oval’s lawyers if they could still use the name since they are not in the spirits business and they basically told Walt’s team to scram. With less legal power they knew that the smartest move was to rebrand. After much brainstorming and discussion they settled on Land Grant Brewing, which still alluded to the land grant which gave birth to Ohio State.

Through the fire and flames, they continued searching Columbus for the perfect spot for their brewery. Two and a half years after their Kickstarter campaign, Land Grant Brewing welcomed beer enthusiasts for a grand opening last October, downtown in Franklinton. Here are some of the key takeaways from Walt’s story:

• Position your brand wisely, try not to alienate potential customers that have different views
• Check the federal trademark website for every name that’s close to yours to avoid branding obstacles down the line
• When obstacles get in your way, fallback to your core mission to get through them
• When big problems happen, say oh well, look forward, and get over it

It was great to hear the story of a local entrepreneur and we’re very glad he could make it out to share with us. If you’re 21 or older be sure to checkout their tap room downtown!

Taking the Leap with Kelley Griesmer

This Wednesday, we had the pleasure of welcoming Kelley Griesmer of Pelotonia to share her story and the craziness that goes with managing such an enormous social enterprise.

As a graduate of Ohio State’s Moritz College of Law, Griesmer began her career at Jones Day, a highly respected and successful law firm. The work that she involved herself with was complicated, intellectually challenging and provided an opportunity to learn about large litigation with industry-leading lawyers. Griesmer was surrounded by colleagues she met while at Ohio State and they quickly climbed the ranks at Jones Day together. Before she knew it, she was a partner at Jones Day, an accomplishment that most lawyers would dream of.

It was at this point in her career that she began to feel the ever-so-familiar feeling of being unfulfilled with work. It was time to explore other opportunities. Research began with a focus on non-profits in the Columbus area and beyond, but nothing seemed to stand out. It wasn’t until she was approached by a dear friend, Tom Lennox, that she felt the need to leave her incredible gig at Jones Day. At the time, Tom Lennox was dreaming up an idea to bring cancer research funding to Ohio State through a grassroots bike race in central Ohio.

She recollected on her experience with Tom. Just when she thought she was certainly crazy and there was no chance of leaving her job, Tom would remind her of his incredible vision and the great value it would bring this world. Griesmer was hooked. She left her full-time job and began working with Tom as the Chief Operating Officer for Pelotonia in 2008 and has never looked back since then!

It was a pleasure to hear Griesmer tell her inspiring story of chasing something beyond just job security and a nice paycheck. Some of the key takeaways from Wednesday night:

  • Things will go wrong, but you’re an entrepreneur, you gave up your job, your life, for this, so get back in the office, stop throwing a fit, and figure it out
  • One of the best ways to build a woman friendly business is by eliminating gender norming and evaluate all employees on the same playing field
  • Raising money through a bike race is not an original idea, but ensuring that 100% of funds raised go directly to the cause is, and it’s that concept that makes Pelotonia extraordinary
  • Branding matters and should not be forgotten, even in a non-profit environment
  • Remember to execute discipline – requiring people to reach a fundraising goal only works if you have the courage to charge their credit cards at the end of the day
  • And finally, things never go as expected the first time, but just learn from it and keep going

What Pelotonia has accomplished in Columbus in nothing short of extraordinary. The Business Builders Club strongly encourages you to consider riding and supporting our community in an effort to reach One Goal: ending cancer. We thank Kelley for coming out and sharing such an inspirational story.