Getting Smart On The Entrepreneurial Community

When you start out as an entrepreneur, one of the first things you’ll want to do is understand the entrepreneurial landscape – in particular, where to turn to find answers to the millions of questions you’ll have.

Though this isn’t fundamentally different from many other professions, I wanted to give a rundown of sources and strategies that will help you quickly immerse yourself in the startup world.

IMMERSING YOURSELF IN THE ENTREPRENEURIAL COMMUNITY

Where to turn:

  • Local Email Lists
  • Twitter Lists
  • Individual Bloggers
  • Larger News-Blogs
  • Quora
  • Mentors & Peers

Local Email Lists

One of the first things you should do is sign up for StartupDigest in your city. It’s a curated list of entrepreneurial events in many major cities, and you can use this as a basis for finding networking events and discovering which are the major entrepreneurial groups in your city.

For example, organizations that sponsor a good number of events in Philadelphia are the Philly Startup Leaders (PSL), Philadelphia Area New Media Association (PANMA), and co-working space Independents Hall.

Sign up for the email lists of what appear to be the major groups in your area and those you’re interested in – it may be a firehose at first but you will at least get a feel for what is and isn’t helpful to you (that’s what email filters are for anyway).

For example, the PSL email list is easily one of my favorite entrepreneurial resources in Philly. More than any other email list I subscribe to, PSL’s members are never shy to shoot questions out to the group, or hesitant to share their own experiences and solutions.

Another way to find local groups and events (though it’s not focused solely on entrepreneurship) is to search Meetup for entrepreneurial groups in your area.

Twitter Lists

One of the most important things to do, when you first start out, is figure out who are the big names in your industry. One good way to do this is to find Twitter lists with titles like “[Your City]-entrepreneurs-and-vc”. A good starting point is to find the leaders of the local groups I mentioned in the last section, and check out what lists they’re on.

To get started, I recommend checking out Mass High Tech writer Galen Moore’s @galenmoore/vc list.

(This, of course, assumes you’re on Twitter – which is an important piece of building your identity in the entrepreneurial community.)

Blogs

The startup world changes quickly, and much of the best and most up-to-date information is contained in the minds and blogs of the industry’s thought leaders. You’ll hear “check out this blog post by Fred Wilson” much more frequently than “check out this book”, by entrepreneurs and investors alike.

Here are a few frequently referenced, reputable blogs that I recommend:

If that’s not enough, you can take a look at OnStartup’s Top 40 Startup Blogs

Pro/News Blogs

As opposed to the more personal blogs listed above, the following blogs are well known, and more like traditional news sources:

  • TechCrunch – The best place to read breaking news on new startups, heavier bent on the west coast. Very well known, often gets great guest posts
  • VentureBeat – Similar to TechCrunch, but with a little less attitude
  • Inc. – A magazine (not a blog), but a great online resource for entrepreneurs, from general startup success stories to management and financial advice

Quora

Quora is a good place to shoot out questions about startups, and receive answers from other individuals, often reputable members of the entrepreneurial community. It’s basically a vastly better, tech-heavy version of Yahoo! Answers.

You can ask or search for any question you like, and topics range from high-level to company and even event-specific answers, e.g.

  • Should I develop my site with Java or PHP?
  • Who are the most prominent Super Angels in Silicon Valley?
  • Why did about.me sell so quickly?
  • Is it bad to follow too many people on Twitter?

Mentors & Peers

Though I’ll go into this in more depth in a later post, one of the most important ways you can get up to speed quickly is through mentors and fellow entrepreneurs.

Mentors can be investors or serial entrepreneurs with decades of experience, or they can be friends three months into their first startup. Building a company is an incredible learning experience, and anyone who’s spent significant time working on a startup is bound to have useful advice for a new entrepreneur.

If you’ve got a great business plan and a little luck, applying to an incubator is one of the best ways you can quickly build up a huge number of outstanding mentors, and get workspace among a group of peers building their early-stage startups.

So Get Going!

Starting a business is both extremely fun and extremely hard, and one certainty is that you’ll have a ton of questions. I recommend getting comfortable with the resources I’ve mentioned above, so when you do need an urgent question answered, you know where to turn.

Welcome to the community!

Overwhelmed By WordPress Plugins? Start With These 19 Essentials

When I first set up my self-hosted WordPress blog, I had no idea how many plugins I’d actually need to just get up and running with some standard functionality (e.g. a live twitter feed and RSS sign-up), Google Analytics, and SEO basics.

I started out by finding dozens of “Top WordPress Plugins” posts clogging up search engines, and many of them list cool plugins, but are hardly complete. I’ve tried to gather a well-rounded set of plugins that you should load when you start your blog, to:

  1. Set up killer SEO
  2. Track traffic
  3. Engage readers
  4. Fill in feature gaps

You’ll be able to find more plugins later that are interesting to you, or make your life easier. In fact, many of these plugins are meant to work with very little input, particularly with respect to SEO. More customizable plugins exist, with many more features, though they can also be quite a bit more complex.

Here, I’ve tried to avoid bells and whistles, and just cover what I find to be the most important stuff.

Improving SEOThese plugins will help you get found in search engines

  1. All In One SEO Pack – This creates a new box in each post page for you to put the Title, Description and Keywords you want crawled by search engines. You may want to have a separate title for search engines (e.g. in the form of a question someone would type into Google like “How do I XYZ?”) while you want to have a pithy, interesting title on the actual post to draw someone in. Also, search engines will otherwise just take the first few sentences of the post as a description, while you can optimize much better for SEO by doing so manually
  2. Google XML Sitemaps – This helps major search engines better index your blog
  3. Efficient Related Posts – It’s important to have more links to other places in your site, to keep folks on your site longer. This puts context-based related posts at the bottom of each post
  4. W3 Total Cache – One of the things that can help your blog out with SEO is making sure it’s as quick to load as possible. Caching plugins like this one can decrease loading time significantly
  5. SEO Smart Links – Automatically links keywords and phrases between posts in your blog, based on context
  6. SEO Friendly Images – Automatically adds alt and title attributes to your images
  7. Redirection – When you change something like a post name or permalink formatting, this plug-in will keep track of your changes and automatically redirect the links you’ve already created, on your site and others. (This will happen more than you expect when you’re tweaking for SEO)
  8. Broken Link Checker – Not many things are more lame than links to nowhere (hurts SEO as well). This plugin checks your site and emails you if a link breaks

Tracking AnalyticsYou need to track how people use your blog to understand how to improve it

  1. Google Analyticator – You’ll need a way to setup your blog with Google Analytics. If it’s good enough for Google to give a shout-out, it’s good enough for me. It’s also really simple – just pop in your Google Analytics ID and that’s basically it. You can also exclude authors from being counted as visitors

Getting others to shareOne important way your blog gets traffic is by engaging others and encouraging them to follow you and share with friends

  1. Sexy Bookmarks – By Shareaholic, an excellent way to let folks share via any one of dozens of social networks or email. Looks great
  2. Subscribe Widget – If not already included in your theme, add RSS, twitter, etc. subscription buttons as a widget
  3. Feedburner FeedSmith – Your WordPress theme may not be optimized to show up well as an RSS feed. Once you sign up for a FeedBurner feed (which optimizes posts to be read as RSS), this plugin will redirect your “www.yourblogname.com/feed” link to FeedBurner. (Download it on Google’s site)
  4. Disqus – Becoming the standard for comments. Used on many major blogs like TechCrunch, Chris Dixon, Fred Wilson, etc.

Why wasn’t this a default feature? – There are a number of plugins that you really shouldn’t have to load yourself…but you do!

  1. WordPress Database Backup – Backup is not an option. Use this simple plugin to download or email yourself backup files on a (very) regular basis. Accounts do get hacked, and hosting services can go down
  2. Image Widget – If this doesn’t come with your theme, you’ll want it to add picture links in the sidebar, like a linked company logo
  3. WordPress Importer – You’ll need this if you’re moving your blog from a free “yourblog.wordpress.com” blog to a self-hosted wordpress blog
  4. AmberPanther Favicon for WordPress – If you don’t want an ugly default Favicon (the little picture in the web browser tab next to your site name) get this to personalize yours
  5. Wickett Twitter Widget – A clean, simple widget to post your Twitter feed. I find many competing Twitter widgets are over-designed (don’t expect bells and whistles here)
  6. WP Mobile Detector – If your WordPress theme isn’t mobile-ready, this plugin auto-detects a mobile device and provides simple mobile theme

Happy blogging!