Why your online business should offer a no-hassle money-back guarantee and avoid chargebacks

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in business advice, COO, Foundation, free business advice, Getting Started, Marketing

I work with lots of startup companies that sell goods or services to consumers online. Every company believes they are providing a great product but, the fact is, not every customer will be satisfied. So, the question becomes, if and when should a customer get their money back? I believe the correct answer is, when they ask for it. Here’s why…

If you’re selling a physical product that can be returned in “as new” condition, I think it’s pretty clear the customer should get their money back when the merchandise is returned. However, should the shipping be free in both directions? Should your company charge a restocking fee? Should only a partial refund be given if the merchandise is difficult to resell as new? What if your physical product is consumed or perishable? You don’t want the product back or it simply may be impossible to get it back. Should the consumer be out their money if they are not happy? I say no. Give them a full refund and eat the return shipping cost if you want the product returned.

 
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If your company is selling information or e-products you may be thinking, “I can’t un-ring a bell”. The consumer has received the information or could easily make an e-copy that may be of continued benefit to a customer even if they claim they are not satisfied. If the customer claims to be unhappy, is it reasonable to charge the customer a full or even a partial fee? I say no, if a customer wants their money back, I think it’s best to make a full refund upon request.

Read more…

Rentberry offers a radically improved way to rent an apartment

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Business, Real Estate

When was the last time you rented a home or apartment? You probably went to apartments.com or Craigslist, searched for rentals in your area and then began a series of calls trying to learn more about the property. If you were lucky you got to see the place, then you’d have to fill out an application, pay a fee to the landlord for a credit and background check and hope that you’re not outbid or turned down. Depending on your market, maybe you had look at a dozen properties and pay half a dozen application fees before you secured your new rental home.

Alex Lubinsky, had just this problem when he and a couple friends went looking for a home to rent in San Francisco. Instead of just moving on, they decided to do something about it and launched Rentberry an online auction place for renting an apartment.

In this episode of Bay Area Ventures I speak with Alex about Rentberry and how his service is radically changing the paradigm for both renters and landlords when engaged in the rental process. Rentberry offers a transparent marketplace where renters enter their information one time and then apply that same information to every rental they seek.


 
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The renter and the landlord can see how much rentals are going for in their area during the auction and by looking a past auction results. Rentberry manages the rental agreement and presents the credit and background information to a prospective landlord while maintaining the confidentiality and security of the renter’s personally identifiable information.

Of course, all this is not without some controversy. Will Rentberry price the average renter out of the market and only serve to raise rental prices? Or will an open market place balance the power between renters and landlords and optimize the prices paid. We also ask Alex about his take on the Bay Area way of business and what it’s like running a fast growing startup in the San Francisco area.

It a great story and Lubinsky is a great guest

This episode was recorded on May 22, 2017 on Bay Area Ventures on SiriusXM Channel 111 Business Radio Powered by the Wharton School. For a list of upcoming and past guest information click on the Show link above.

Special follow-up edition Part 2 with Martin Plaehn of Control 4 and Mark Chung of Verdigris Technology

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Business, business advice

Part two of my special two-part follow-up edition of Bay Area Ventures, featuring interviews with guests from the first three seasons of the show, is now available for streaming or download here and on iTunes, Spreaker and Facebook.

In this episode I speak with Martin Plaehn, CEO of Control 4 and Mark Chung Co-Founder and CEO of Verdigris Technologies.

 
 
 
Martin Plaehn
Control 4
 
Martin Plaehn is a seasoned CEO who has been leading Control 4 since 2011 (NASDAQ: CTRL). Martin first appeared on Bay Area Ventures back in August of 2015. At the time, Control 4’s annual revenue was $160 Million. For the first quarter of 2017, the company’s revenues were over $50 Million and Control 4’s stock has more than doubled since his last appearance on our show.

Control 4 is a leader or, perhaps “The” leader in the home automation space. They manufacture automation systems and software for smart homes and offices. Martin brings us up to date on the latest in IoT devices for the home as well as steps they are taking to prevent hacking of these systems.

Martin has lectured on leadership and has been at the helm of some of the early and most famous technology companies such as RealNetworks, Viewpoint Digital and Bungee Labs. He discusses the challenges of scaling his organization and how he manages his time to address Control 4’s technology, customer and shareholder needs. We also learn about his current reading list for when he’s traveling around the world.

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In the second half of the show we’ll check in with Mark Chung, Co-Founder and CEO of Verdigris Technologies (www.verdigris.co). Mark’s first appearance on Bay Area Ventures was in April of 2016 when Verdigris was still a seed funded company but already shipping product and generating revenue. Verdigris raised a $7M Series A financing in the second half of 2016 with backers such as Verizon and Jabil Manufacturing giving them the headroom to grow and capture more markets.

Mark started Verdigris with his brother after an incident in their home where their electricity bill spiked for some unknown reason. They developed a monitoring system that can automatically detect every type of device on an electrical circuit and track and monitory its electric usage.

Today, they are an AI or artificial intelligence company using machine learning to solve tough problems facing the operators of hotels, factories and other commercial facilities. Verdigris technology sends a customer’s energy usage data up to a cloud based dashboard and applies AI to the data to help those customers track energy usage and anomalies in their facilities. This knowledge allows customers to cut their energy usage by as much as 50%.

Verdigris Technologies
Mark Chung

Mark talks about many of the challenges he has faced since his last appearance due to rapid growth and both internal and external factors. The company’s headcount has more than doubled in the past year and they encountered some surprises doing business in the European Union and Great Britain since the UK passed Brexit. They are also still struggling to build up a world class sales team to keep up with growth.

Verdigris is a real success story and Mark shares his philosophy of how to handle the stresses and challenges of being the leader of a fast company. He is a brilliant engineer who has worked at top technology companies such as AMD, PA Semiconductor and Netlogic. PA semiconductor was acquired by Apple while Mark was an employee and Netlogic was acquired by Broadcom, as well. Like these great companies that hired Mark you can benefit from his knowledge and skills by listening in and following his company’s progress.

This jam-packed show is sure to be a good use of your time.

Recorded on April 24, 2017, on SiriusXM Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by the Wharton School. Bay Area Ventures airs live on Mondays at 4:00pm Pacific Time, 7:00pm Eastern Time.

For a list of upcoming and past guest information click on the Show link above.

Special follow-up edition Part 1 with Christopher Farm of Tenjin and Dave McLean of Magnolia Brewing

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Business, Marketing

In this, the first of two special follow-up editions of Bay Area Ventures, we check in with guests from the first three seasons of the show.

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In this episode, we speak with Christopher Farm, Co-Founder and CEO of Tenjin, Inc. Christopher first appeared on Bay Area Ventures in April of 2016. Back then, Tenjin was a young company, recently graduated from the Y-Combinator incubator. How has Tenjin grown in the past year? What are some of the biggest challenges and surprises that Christopher and his team have had to deal with? We will cover it all and see what is next in store for his company.

Chris takes calls from listeners and talks about how they have manage to find technical talent for their team at a time when competition for programmers and engineers in the San Francisco Bay Area has been fierce.

In the second half of the show we’ll check in with Dave McLean, Founder of Magnolia Brewing. Dave was my first guest on Bay Area Ventures in March of 2014. Back then, Magnolia Brewing had its sole location, Magnolia Gastropub on Haight Street in San Francisco. They were just building out a new restaurant and brewing facility. We’ll find out when those projects were completed and how they have fared. We’ll also talk about Magnolia’s recent entry into retail sales with their new line of canned beers.
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Dave Mclaean is one of the leaders of the modern San Francisco Bay Area craft brewing industry. He is also the founder of the San Francisco Brewer’s Guild and helped grow the membership to hundreds of craft brewers throughout the Bay Area. The Guild also hosts dozens of major community events each year including San Francisco Beer Week and their annual Brews by the Bay festival.

McLean is passionate business man and brewer. He has built a thriving enterprise with thousands of devoted fans in a city whose roots as a brewer’s haven go back to the gold rush days of the 1800’s. That’s no small feat and Dave will tell you how he’s done it.

This is a jam-packed show with a lot of great takeaways for your business.

Recorded on April 24, 2017, on SiriusXM Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by the Wharton School. Bay Area Ventures airs live on Mondays at 4:00pm Pacific Time, 7:00pm Eastern Time.

For a list of upcoming and past guest information click on the Show link above.

Your startup, before and after being featured on Shark Tank with Sara Magulis CEO of Honeyfund

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Business, business advice, free business advice, Uncategorized

Sara Margulis, Co-Founder and CEO of Honeyfund and Plumfund joins me on Bay Area Ventures to talk about entrepreneurship and her venture’s fortunes before and after appearing on ABC’s Shark Tank. Honeyfund began when Sara and her fiancé Josh (now husband) were looking for a way to allow wedding guests to fund their honeymoon instead of purchasing gifts that they wouldn’t be able to store in their small San Francisco apartment. Josh created Honeyfund as an online registry where their friends and family could choose various aspects of their honeymoon to fund as a gift (i.e. airfare, hotel room nights, excursions, dinners, etc.).

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Fast forward ten years later and Honeyfund is a thriving site that has helped millions of users. In addition to funding honeymoons, customers began using the Honeyfund to fund other needs and charities. Sara and Josh launched Plumfund to fulfill all of these other things that users love. Both sites were doing well and then Sara and Josh decided to appear on ABC’s Shark Tank. They wound up receiving offers from three sharks and Mr. Wonderful himself, Kevin O’Leary ended up lending the company $400,000. Click here to watch Honeyfund on YouTube

Honeyfund is located in Sebastopol, a beautiful part of the north Bay Area known more for vineyards and dairies but, more and more also becoming a home to many tech companies.

Sara discusses her transition from being a Marketing Director at a San Francisco University to becoming tech entrepreneur. She walks us through some of the challenges she’s faced along the way and how life and business changed after their Shark Tank experience. Other than the parts which fall under a non-disclosure agreement we do talk about the Shark Tank process. And finally, we get to hear Sara’s take on the Bay Area way of business.

It’s a fun interview with lots of great takeaways for your business, wherever you may be.

Recorded on March 27, 2017, on SiriusXM Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by the Wharton School. Bay Area Ventures airs live on Mondays at 4:00pm Pacific Time, 7:00pm Eastern Time.

For a list of upcoming and past guest information click on the Show link above.

Launching and growing startup ventures in Colombia with Wenyi Cai of Polymath Ventures and Jeremy Dann of USC

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Business, business advice, Finance, startup incubators, Venture Capital

Wenyi Cai, Managing Partner of Polymath Ventures and Jeremy Dann, Professor of Innovation at USC’s Marshall School of Business’ Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies joined me on Bay Area Ventures to talk about entrepreneurship and its impact on economic development in emerging markets like Latin American and specifically in Colombia.


 
Polymath Ventures
Wenyi Cai

 

Jeremey Dann, Professor at USC

 
Professor Dann is back for his third appearance on my show and this time he is here to talk about his new case study about Wenyi’s venture fund and incubator Polymath Ventures. The case, which like all of Jeremy’s 30 plus case studies, is used as a teaching tool for entrepreneurs and business students in businesses and business schools throughout the world. Jeremy is an expert at walking one through the challenges and issues that a company or managers face in real world situations. In this case Wenyi and her team face new and unique challenges creating, incubating and funding startup companies in emerging Bogota, Colombia. The issues include a rapidly changing political environment, entrenched traditional standards for financing ventures and a lack of infrastructure for supporting the needs of a fast paced venture-backed startup.

 
Wenyi is a bright and dynamic woman who, at the age of 15, was working on fluid dynamics problems at the Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago. She went on to earn her degree in Physics from Harvard University and, while there, founded Tuesday Magazine. After college, Wenyi worked at McKinsey & Company on management consulting assignments in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. She then moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and became COO of Milo.com. One year later Milo was acquired by eBay for $75 Million. Ms. Cai did not wanting to join another Bay Area startup and opted instead to start up her own fund and foster innovation and entrepreneurship in emerging markets. Wenyi and her team set out to identify the best place to found Polymath Ventures and settled on Bogota, Colombia.

Professor Dann picks up the case from there and walks the us through Polymath’s earliest ventures.

Wenyi and Jeremy discuss the case in detail and also offer their take on the difference between the Bay Area way of business vs. the startup and entrepreneurial environment in Colombia and other emerging markets We cover several of Polymath’s earliest ventures and found out how they have fared since Jeremey completed his research and published his paper.

This is a rare opportunity for students of business, to learn from the protagonist of a case study.

Jeremy’s Case Study of Wenyi and Polymath Ventures can be purchased at Harvard Business Press or The Case Centre

Recorded on March 27, 2017, on SiriusXM Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by the Wharton School. Bay Area Ventures airs live on Mondays at 4:00pm Pacific Time, 7:00pm Eastern Time.

For a list of upcoming and past guest information click on the Show link above.

Tim Chen wanted to help his sister find a credit card, today he runs Nerdwallet

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in business advice, Finance, Financial Services, free business advice, Marketing

Tim Chen, Co-Founder and President of Nerdwallet joins me on my latest episode of Bay Area Ventures to talk about his journey from Wall Street investment banker to advocate for consumer credit choice and information.

Nerdwallet is a site where one can find the best credit card, bank account, travel rewards plan, mortgage, insurance or other financial needs tailored to their specific needs, goals or tastes. The site walks users through some qualifying questions then draws on thousands of providers in every state for the best solution.

Nerdwallet Logo Tim Chen, CEO of Nerdwallet

 

Nerdwallet was founded in 2009, in Tim’s apartment in New York City, when his sister asked for help finding the “best” credit card for her needs. Nerdwallet moved to San Francisco when Tim’s co-founder came to San Francisco and hired an intern that was 10x more productive than the intern Tim hired in NYC. In this interview Tim expands on that discovery and talks about why the ecosystem and entrepreneurial hires found in the Bay Area are ideal for a growing startup.

Through his work at Nerdwallet, helping millions of consumers, Tim has become Member of the Consumer Advisory Board for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the federal agency created after the 2008 financial crises to protect consumers. He is also a member of the Board of Directors for the National Federation for Credit Counseling. He talks about high credit rates that consumers face and why it’s difficult to make changes.

Tim, is a highly intelligent young entrepreneur who is dedicated to building an open and motivated workforce. Learn about how he and his team communicate to get work done and allow the company to scale rapidly. This is a great interview packed with lots of practical takeaways for your business.

Recorded on February 13, 2017, on SiriusXM Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by the Wharton School.

For a list of upcoming and past guest information click on the Show link above.

Jonathan Swanson on how to build a generational company

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in business advice, free business advice, Getting Started, Hiring Contractors, Setting Goals
Jonathan Swanson
Jonathan Swanson, Co-Founder and President of Thumbtack joins me on my latest episode of Bay Area Ventures to talk about his journey from White House economic aide to building a high-growth fast-pace “generational” technology startup.

Thumbtack provides a marketplace for local services allowing one to find providers for just about anything from builders to caterers to tutors to … you name it. Their approach is different from sites which force you to do all the research for choosing the best provider. Thumbtack walks you through a couple questions and then does the research for you, finding you the best match for your project.

 

Founded in 2009, Thumbtack is now a so-called “unicorn”, a privately held company valued at over $1 billion. Jonathan’s goal for Thumbtack is to be the Amazon of the gig-economy by creating the ultimate marketplace for getting things done. More than building just a huge company though, Jonathan is out to improve the lives of millions of people around the world by helping them become independent and successful entrepreneurs in a world where no one can count on an employer or job to support them for life.

With over a million active customers and hundreds of thousands of providers, Jonathan is doing just that. Thumbtack helps independent providers promote their skills and match them with good customers. In doing so, these independent providers increase their confidence and change their lives for the better. In this episode you’ll hear Jonathan provide some solid examples of people who have achieved great personal success on the platform. Thumbtack is so successful it is out performing Yelp and Angie’s List and could be the Yellow Pages for the twenty-first century and beyond.

Jonathan, is a bright and highly motivated entrepreneur. He is building an open organization where he welcomes debate and challenges to the status quo. The company publishes internal information like board meeting notes for all employees to see in order to encourage everyone in the organization to be aware of what’s happening and how they can make an impact.

Jonathan and his co-founders launched Thumbtack in Washington, DC during the height of the financial crisis in 2009. Today Thumbtack has over 1,000 employees in San Francisco, Salt Lake City and the Philippines. Jonathan moved Thumbtack to San Francisco to take advantage of the Bay Area’s ecosystem early-on and in this interview you’ll hear how he compares the Bay Area way of business to other areas.

There is a powerful interview with a brilliant young entrepreneur.

Recorded on February 13, 2017, on SiriusXM Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by the Wharton School.

For a list of upcoming and past guest information click on the Show link above.

How to build products that are pulled by the market

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Biotech startups, business advice, Setting Goals, Venture Capital

My latest episode of Bay Area Ventures features Abe Sher, Managing Partner of Energetico Ventures, a Bal Harbor, Florida based venture fund focused on companies that are helping humanity with brilliantly engineered products and services.

Abe Sher
Abe’s portfolio companies include Aqua Sciences, a company that literally creates water out of thin air, SuperEye, a “neural-reality” company bringing advance displays to human-machine interfaces and Zero Phone, a company aimed at freeing users from the high cost of mobile communications.

 

Mr. Sher has won numerous awards for his technology and has been invited to speak at the White House, by the King of Saudi Arabia and to the Conference of Nobel Laureates by the King of Morocco. His companies’ clients include the Boeing Company, Lockheed Martin, the US Department of Homeland Security, US Army and FEMA to name a few.

Abe talks about the types of companies and founders he looks for at Energetico. He is typically looking for products and services that are “pulled” by the marketplace as opposed to those that have to be pushed along. For example, with Aqua Sciences, because he is able to create water from air in some of the harshest environments in the world, he has had huge demand for the systems from governments and NGOs or non-governmental agencies. This has built up sales to the point where they have generated economies of scale and can now offer the system for general commercial purposes like stadiums and events.

Abe has traveled the world helping companies and promoting his own. He talks about his recent trips to China and what he’s discerned about the state of their economy just by walking through their factories. And regardless of where your company is located, he provides tips on what to expect from your leadership team.

This is a super interesting interview jam-packed with practical takeaways for your business and career.

Recorded January 23, 2017, on SiriusXM Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by the Wharton School.

For a list of upcoming and past guest information click on the Show link above.

The Bay Area economy 2016 year in review with Jim Wunderman

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Economics

The Bay Area economy, to put it simply, has been booming. It has been undergoing a sustained period of growth and economic development. But just how good was it? Jim Wunderman, CEO of The Bay Area Council, joined me to take a look back at the San Francisco Bay Area’s economy for 2016, and also takes a look forward to what might lie ahead for the region in 2017.

Was 2016 the “best of times” for the Bay Area? What were some of the factors that contributed to the current state of the economy? What were some of the biggest challenges the region faced in 2016 and what will be the key drivers and issues going forward? The Bay Area has some of the lowest rates of unemployment in the country but, at the same time, has some of the highest costs of living in the world. Can people afford to live in the Bay Area and, if not, can companies attract and retain the talent needed to maintain its position as one of the leading centers of innovation in the world? Will inflation become a problem for the region in 2017 and how will the Donald Trump administration impact existing and future initiatives and policies? Jim covers all these areas and more in this special extended edition of the Bay Area Council Quarterly Update feature of my show, Bay Area Ventures.

Jim Wunderman Image
Jim Wunderman’s organization, The Bay Area Council, is a public policy organization founded in the 1940’s by a Who’s Who of San Francisco Bay Area business leaders. The Council is focused on making the San Francisco Bay Area and the Silicon Valley the most globally competitive and economically productive region in the world. The Council’s membership is comprised of CEOs from hundreds of the top businesses in the Bay Area and Jim has been its CEO since 2004.

Before the Bay Area Council, Jim had a distinguished career in both the public and private sectors. He served as Chief of Staff to San Francisco Mayor Frank M. Jordan from 1992-95, responsible for overseeing all departmental and budgetary functions, and management of the Mayor’s Office. Earlier he served as Special Assistant to Mayor Dianne Feinstein, from 1983-1987, with his duties including oversight of the city’s utility, the Public Utilities Commission, and the Department of Public Works. From 1988 through 1991, he served as Vice President and General Manager of two major waste collection, disposal and recycling firms in the Bay Area under its parent, Recology, Inc (formerly Norcal Waste Systems). From 1997-2004 he served as Senior Vice President for External Affairs at Providian Financial Corporation. Jim is also a Visiting Professor at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management, teaching a course in Executive Leadership. You can see Jim’s full bio here http://www.bayareacouncil.org/people/jim-wunderman/

This interview was recorded on January 23, 2017, on SiriusXM Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by the Wharton School. Bay Area Ventures airs live on Mondays at 4:00pm Pacific Time, 7:00pm Eastern Time. For a list of upcoming and past guest information, click on the Show link above.