David Brim on business, marketing & life.

Looking to build a start-up? The Business Model Canvas can help

Contributor: David Brim February 26, 2014

This past Friday (2/21/14) I was a judge in UCF’s business model competition. I’ve judged multiple business plan competitions in the past, but the business model competition was very different. Rather than focus on the business opportunity, the unique offering, team and likelihood for success; the business model competition focuses on the journey that the entrepreneur has been through to arrive at their current state.

UCF Business Model Competition Judges

UCF Business Model Competition Judges

The business model competition is based on lean start-up principles. The belief is that a start-up is in continual exploration to uncover a scalable  business model.

Most successful start-ups don’t end up doing exactly what they had planned initially. There are many lessons that start-up entrepreneurs go through along their journey. As a result of these lessons a series of pivots, or course adjustments, are made by the entrepreneur to help their startup better adapt to their respective environment (or find a new environment that fits them best).

Developing a full business plan can take substantial amounts of time and in the end may be invalidated once you actually get into the market and learn.

The business model canvas is used to help start-ups consider the major aspects that comprise their proposed venture and business model.

I’ve added a copy of the business model canvas below:

After proposing an initial business model you should then develop key assumptions to test before investing substantial amounts of time and money in a venture. I’ll give a personal example.

Background for example: Several months back my start-up Bright Impact, a solution for assessing the impact of service learning programs in higher-ed, was approached by an NBA team. They desired to track their corporate social responsibility impact through our tool.

I didn’t want to immediately customize our software for that sports team because we would be going into a completely different market, become distracted from current objectives and potentially stray away from our brand positioning. At the same time I didn’t want to ignore a big potential opportunity if our product could solve a large need that another market had.

I decided to create a test to validate my assumption.

My assumption: Large corporations, including professional sports team, could benefit and would pay for Bright Impact to assess their CSR activities.

My test: I arranged a meeting with CSR decision makers at Universal, Disney and the Orlando Magic and held a focus group. During the focus group I presented mock-up designs of what Bright Impact would look like when customized for them.  I then presented a survey and had each of the decision makers answer the survey individually then we discussed the answers together as a group.

Results: After the meeting I realized that this market was not the best to pursue at this time. Rather than be discouraged I was very thankful for the opportunity to save myself and company a lot of time and money. One indicated that they already had developed proprietary ways and software to collect this data. Another mentioned that their CSR reporting has become less important in recent years. The final one mentioned that it took over a year to just approve a new niche Facebook page and the sales cycle for selling this type of solution would likely be very long.

As entrepreneurs it is easy for us to have a vision and believe that the world should conform and change to be exactly what we envision. It is important to truly understand the markets that you are seeking to sell into and the pain you are looking to solve.

In our case one professional sports team reached out to us, but that doesn’t mean the whole market has this pain and would be willing to pay for the solution.

Whether you are a new entrepreneur, serial entrepreneur or an intrapreneur (entrepreneurial employee within a corporation) it is important to understand how to construct potential business models, develop assumptions and test those assumptions before investing time and resources into building something you think a market will want.

It is a lot easier up front to just build it and think customers (and cash) will come…but the world doesn’t work that way.

If you utilize the business model canvas then develop assumptions and tests you are a lot more likely to make better decisions. Though you may experience entrepreneurial growing pains early on, it will save you a lot of pain and frustration in the long run.

I think it is great that UCF has introduced this new competition. Utilizing the business model canvas and lean start-up methods is a great skill for any entrepreneurs to learn. This year’s judges were Robin Phelps (Business Consultant and previous tech entrepreneur), Doug White (Founder and Marketing specialist at Dream Tree Agency), Christine Ortiz (Ed reform enthusiast and founder of Founder & CEO at [ ]schools) and myself.

This year’s winner of the UCF business model competition was Oluwafunlola Falade, who passionately explained his journey and love / hate relationship with the business model canvas. Congrats Falade!

Falade UCF business model competition

Pam Hoelzle, Oluwafunlola Falade (UCF Business Model Competition winner) and Cameron Ford

If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy the post I shared a few weeks back: The business plan template that helped me to win over $18,500.

10 timeless lessons from Nelson Mandela to achieve success in business & life

Contributor: David Brim December 16, 2013

An entrepreneurial venture or endeavor often starts with recognizing a problem and leading the charge to develop a value-added offering to solve that problem. An entrepreneur has a vision in his mind for a better future that could exist if things were done differently. Entrepreneurs are also willing to take the risk necessary to bring that vision to life. As business professionals, marketers and entrepreneurs it is valuable to study meaningful problem solvers and risk takers throughout history across the world. There is much we can learn from them.


One of these such problem solvers is Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela, a monumental problem solver, was blessed to live a meaningful life of true significance and impact. Earlier this month Nelson Mandela passed away at the age of 95.

Being an avid fan of history and studying successful individuals I decided to dive deeper into learning more about Nelson Mandela. I learned that many of the values, behaviors and actions that he embodied to revolutionize South Africa can be utilized to help us in our professional and personal lives as well.

With that said, here are 10 lessons you can learn from Nelson Mandela to achieve success in business & life.

1. Get educated and understand how your world works

Nelson Mandela once said “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Regardless of what change you are working to bring into existence you must first understand the reality of what currently is. In this subtitle I used the term “your world” intentionally. Your world can be as little or as large as you want it to be. What problem do you want to solve? Is it an issue that affects your business, community, region, industry or the whole world? Regardless of what addressable market you may have or what problem you may be seeking out to solve you must first understand that “world”. Only after gaining great understanding can you conceive, or comprehend, viable opportunities that can solve problems that exist. Many times as entrepreneurs we may have a vision of how something can be improved in a certain industry, but we haven’t really taken the time to become educated on how exactly the industry currently works. A solution that may sound good to us at first glance may be worth exploring, but after being educated further on the market may not be feasible or ideal.

2. Have a sound heart & mind

If you are looking to add value by solving problems you must first be valuable yourself. If you are a valuable person with solid values, experiences, and wisdom, that value will be injected into everything that you do. Similar to the last lesson, this understanding comes from education of the world around you, but also introspection.  Knowing what is important to you and aligning your actions (or the actions of your brand) with those values will keep you on the right track and help bring your vision into reality.  In the words of Nelson Mandela “A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.”

3. Dream Big

Nelson Mandela had a very big dream. He sought out to develop a non-sexist society free of racism in which all South Africans could live in freedom and prosperity.  On the route to bring this dream into existence he became the first black president, and the first president to be democratically elected. Nelson Mandela believed that every person should dream big and strive to be the best person that they can possibly become.  One of his more popular quotes was “There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

Big dreams are powerful and can also inspire others to invest their time and resources into bringing your dream into existence as well.

4. Motivate and inspire others

Having a big dream that others can latch on to is definitely a prerequisite for substantial change, but it is not enough. Big dreams can inspire people to action, but a great leader must be able to instill confidence and carry the movement during the tough times. Nelson Mandela once said “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”

If people appreciate and value you as a leader and believe in your cause they will often follow you. This motivation can result in almost unfathomable results.  Nelson Mandela motivated others in his country and around the world so much that after being incarcerated for his beliefs for 27 years his followers successfully campaigned for his release. He went on to lead South Africa to stop apartheid and turn his vision into reality.

5. Overcome fear and keep moving forward

Being a change agent can be a scary thing…especially when the risks are severe. Anything of significance is often not easily obtained. More risk…more reward. It is clear that when seeking to do something substantial fear can exist, but one cannot be crippled by that fear.  Nelson Mandela faced some of the most substantial fears one could face…severe injury, imprisonment and death. Yet and still he persevered. He once said “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

6. Don’t be discouraged by set-backs

Despite your ability to keep moving in the face of fear there are times when things will not go your way. During these times we must find ways to lift ourselves up and continue pressing forward. In the words of Mandela “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

7. Be relentlessly optimistic

It is a special skill to remain optimistic after being knocked down so many times. Very few people have the ability to remain hopeful and passionate after many trials and tribulations. Mandela had this rare optimism and even he was unclear about the origin of it as evident in this quote.  “I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.”

8. Leverage successes, traction and momentum

When you have started to see the flames of success it is important to add fuel to the fire. Once you have achieved a certain success it becomes easier to continue on that track. This “success to successful” concept can derive from a variety of factors such as: increased confidence, gaining more resources, stronger awareness or reputation for success, etc. Regardless of the hardships that you may have faced to reach this first level of success, it is important to leverage the success so you can continue to obtain future successes. As you begin gaining traction and momentum it will become easier and easier for you to remain on this path. “When the water starts boiling it is foolish to turn off the heat.” – Nelson Mandela

9. Once your goal is achieved…Set your eyes on the next prize

I often thought about this concept when I played sports. If your goal was to make the basketball team…your next goal may be to become a starter on your team. Once accomplished, your next goal may be to be a league All-Star…then earn a college scholarship…play in the NBA, earn MVP in the NBA…you get the idea. The key is to continue using your passion and enthusiasm to reach your next goal. Nelson Mandela once said “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb… I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.” After you reach a given milestone it is not time to sit back and relax. You need to continue onto your next challenge.

10. Build your brand & control your image

Nelson Mandela had a powerful brand. This brand stood for education, perseverance, inspiration and freedom. He had clear values and aligned his actions, words and thoughts with these values. He was authentic to himself and others noticed this within him. He guarded and protected his brand by always staying true to it.  Mandela once stated “Any man or institution that tries to rob me of my dignity will lose.”

As marketers it is important for us to define the values of our brand and remain authentic to it. The same can be said about your personal brand and personal character. Know what you stand for and remain true to it.

Final Thoughts…

Nelson Mandela lived a remarkable and meaningful life. We should strive to remind ourselves of the character traits and pearls of wisdom Mandela embodied. By incorporating these lessons into our lives we can become better equipped to change the world in our own way.

If you could change the world what would you do? Some of the great dreamers of our time had the opportunity to ask themselves the same question. All of these individuals, whether business leaders, political figures, entertainers, or inventors were able to overcome great obstacles to manifest the change in the world that they envisioned. Be a change agent, take risks and bring your dreams into reality. I wish everyone a prosperous and successful 2014.


Want your Startup to be Successful? Make Powerful RHYMES

Contributor: David Brim November 24, 2013

You want your venture to take off…yes it’s true.
It hasn’t yet and you’re feeling blue.
Wondering what you need to do?
Make Powerful RHYMES to see your vision through.

Ok…that was corny. I know. But, hear me out. Last week I was reflecting about what a start-up needs to be successful. In the end I decided that it came down to having Powerful RHYMES.

Startup RHYMES

Now, before you jump to conclusions – I don’t mean writing raps, poetry and written words…though sometimes that can be therapeutic (see my entrepreneur poem).

Powerful RHYMES is an acronym that I created which illustrates the key aspects a start-up needs to be successful.

P – Powerful Product

R – Runway
H – Helpers
Y – Yearning for success
M – Market
E – Entrepreneur
S – Specialist(s)

The Powerful RHYMES concept.

Below I’ve taken time to elaborate on the concept of Powerful RHYMES.

P – Powerful Product

Creating a powerful product is very important. A powerful product is one that aligns with your core strategy and meets your customers needs at a price they would be willing to pay. Often times people create products after encountering a problem and not being able to find a solution that already exists.  Many times if you experience a problem chances are others like you have as well.  Product development becomes much easier if you, or others close to you are members of a niche you are looking to sell your product.  If you are seeking to sell to a specific niche of customers you must take the time to understand them.  Don’t simply build features into a product to build them. Ensure that the features that are built, especially in your MVP (minimum viable product), are “marketable”, value added and potentially revenue generating.

Powerful is also a concept that should carry through to all elements of your RHYMES, not just your product(s). If something is powerful it has great strength. Each of the aspects of your RHYMES need to be strong and powerful. If all parts of your RHYMES are powerful then each aspect will reinforce and benefit the others, which will only help your venture to reach even greater levels of success.

R – Runway

A runway is something that can give you the time and/or resources needed to pursue your entrepreneurial endeavor.  A runway could be any combination of the following:

  • Investment funding (Seed, Angel, VC)
  • Loan (Family friends, credit cards, business loan)
  • Flexible job (ideally something that is in a relevant field where you can make contacts to help you)
  • Real estate venture that covers your expenses (My girlfriend, now wife, and I leveraged this when purchasing our duplex)
  • Universities – I benefited greatly by leveraging UCF while I was a student. I wrote about this topic in my post Ten Great things about being a College Entrepreneur.
  • Equity partners – If you don’t have the funds necessary to get the resources you need one option to help you grow is finding a partner that can add value in areas you cannot.  My former business partner and I did this when with our previous venture GroupTable.  We scoured UCF campus and ended up finding a talented programmer and brought him in with equity.
  • Complementary business – This was actually the reason that inspired me to start Brand Advance back in 2009.  I was seeking investment funding for GroupTable and realized that I didn’t need funding.  I needed designers, developers and marketers.  I started small using contractors and as time went on hired more and more employees and brought the work in house. The talented team at Brand Advance now not only works on my ventures, but helps numerous other businesses and ventures to advance.

H – Helper(s)

Most businesses can benefit from supporting roles, or helpers.  These individuals can assist with the day to day work that may include support, communication, project management, etc.  They can also help, or assist the entrepreneur and the specialist(s) working on the venture as needed to help it grow.

Y – Yearning for Success

The start-up journey can be rough.  It is important to continue maintaining a strong yearning for success.  Success can be defined differently by each person.  My yearning for success comes from my experience in sports.  I compare my yearning for success as a desire to win in whatever I do.  I want my team to win.  I want my ventures to win.  I want to win.  This desire keeps you motivated during the tough times and pushes you to continue to work hard, dream and reach new heights.

M – Market

In entrepreneurship it is important to have a well-defined market that can benefit from your product(s). You have to position your brand and products to meet the needs of key prospects in that market and ensure that they have the money to buy. Are you pursuing a “Mega Market” or  “Mini Market”?  It is often much easier to capture a niche market, but is that niche market large enough to provide you with enough clientele and revenue to be sustainable?  Do you have a plan to attack adjacent markets after you knock the first one down (Bowling Pin Strategy)? Before pursuing your start-up it is important to think through these questions.  Evaluate the direct and indirect competitors in your market(s). Talk to your potential customers and see if you are actually solving a need that they truly have.  Understand if your market is growing or declining as well as what trends that could impact your market.

E – Entrepreneur

Every start-up begins with an entrepreneur, or entrepreneurs, and a vision.  An entrepreneur must be a leader.   An entrepreneur ultimately is in charge of developing Powerful RHYMES.  He is responsible for establishing the vision and building the team required that can take that vision to life.  An entrepreneur must keep everyone motivated and in order to do that must continually renew his passion in the venture himself. The entrepreneur cannot be rattled by set-backs or fear the unknown.  He must ensure that there are no trends, weather patterns, that are on the horizon that can capsize the venture.  Consequently he must adapt and plan to ensure the business is going in the right direction. The entrepreneur is also responsible for building run-ways – meaning acquiring the resources and time needed to help the venture take off.

S – Specialist(s)

Often times people don’t know what they don’t know. This is a big problem and wastes time and resources that could be better directed. If there is something in your vision or strategy that is fundamentally flawed you want to know as soon as possible.  This will allow you to adapt and get your venture on the right path. I often use the analogy “Stand on the Shoulders of Giants”. I view specialists as giants in their craft. This craft can be a specific skill or deep industry expertise.  Specific skill-set specialists may excel at branding, product development, programming or management.  Industry expertise specialists excel at understanding the specific inner-workings of an industry. They understand the trends impacting the industry, challenges faced by the industry and the decision making process of customers. The most ideal industry specialists are those who are influencers, or thought leaders, within their industry. These individuals often have an extensive network of industry contacts and an abundance of knowledge that can be leveraged to help your venture take off. In some cases the entrepreneur may be an industry specialist. This is convenient and often gives great credibility to the venture. If you’re an entrepreneur and not an industry specialist you can eventually become one through acquiring knowledge, seeking wise council and gaining experience in your field. The issue is that if a market is ripe for the taking you need to act quickly to take advantage of this opportunity. Without having a specialist who knows the inner workings of the industry and has contacts you could waste a lot of time. Think about Lewis & Clark reaching the Northwest Passage without the help of Sacagawea. They could go in the right direction, but when they met unfavorable weather elements, hostile Indian tribes, unfamiliar land, or unknown animals would they be able to remain on the right path? Would they even know the right path to begin with?

Just like Lewis and Clark, it helps to have a specialist, or Veteran on your team who is experienced in the terrain you’re venturing into. An industry specialists can be an employee, partner, consultant, or advisory board member. Specialists can also create educational, or “thought leadership”, content that can add further credibility to your venture. Industry specialists can also make great affiliates. If they believe in what you’re doing they can share it with those in their network and receive commission when sales occur.

Final thoughts

I hope that you found the concept of Powerful RHYMES to be helpful to your start-up venture. Do you develop Powerful RHYMES?

What else do you feel is important for start-up success?

If you found this post to be helpful and/or enjoyable please consider sharing it on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or StumbleUpon.




Planting Seeds for Start-up Success

Contributor: David Brim April 22, 2013

With so many distractions germinating from the Technology we have planted in our lives – TV, Tablets, Text Messages, Emails, Social Networks, Apps, etc – It’s important to find time to appreciate the Earth itself.

I love the outdoors – hiking, fishing, spending the day at the beach, or taking Jackson for a walk with my wife are some of my favorite things to do.

With today being Earth Day, one of the most common ways to celebrate is by planting a tree. I must say that planting a seed and watching it grow over time is a very rewarding experience for me. Maybe this feeling stems from seeing something substantial being created from something so small…a seed.

That small seed has so much potential within it, but it must be planted in fertile ground and receive the necessary nutrients it needs to materialize that potential into existence.

It reminds me very much of a start-up.seedtotree

An idea is a lot like a seed. Lots of people have ideas, but not everyone has the proper resources, dedication, or environment needed to help that seed grow into a flourishing tree.

One thing to remember is that a seed is not going to transform into a large tree overnight. In today’s World we have technology at our fingertips and are constantly connected to instant information and the ability to connect instantly to others very easily. Therefore, often it is the case that many people therefore also come to expect instant results, or instant gratification.

If you plant a seed on Monday you cannot expect to harvest the fruits of a flourishing Apple Tree on Friday.

You could look at the location where the seed was planted every day for hours. You could sing to the seed, buy it the best nutrients, and spend every waking moment giving it words of encouragement, but it still will grow at its own pace.

No matter how much you want that seed to grow into a tree quickly…it takes time, diligence and care.

The same is true with start-ups. You have a seed (idea) and you need to find a fertile environment (Physical location, industry, or supporting business) for that seed to reach its potential. You need to ensure that your garden is tended to and that you chase off any scavengers that could uproot, or damage your tree. You also need to be mindful of the climate / weather patterns (industry & customer trends) that could be impacting that growth of your tree.

If you plant a high quality seed in a fertile environment, have the proper people who have experience tending to the tree / seed, and provide it consistently with the resources it needs to grow over time, there’s a good chance that it will develop into a flourishing tree and bear fruit in its season.

I hope each and everyone of you continue to sow seeds of success into your lives.

Happy Earth Day!

13 Excellent Quotes from the World’s Dreamers – Past & Present

Contributor: David Brim January 21, 2013

The world that we live in today was shaped by the dreamers of yesterday.   Today, being Martin Luther King day, led me to reflect on the power that dreamers have to make this world a better place.  All of the great innovations and monumental changes across any industry, or Nation were first mere ideas in someone’s mind. Martin Luther King I have a dream Through passion, dedication, proper planning, hard work, and momentum from others, these ideas manifested into the enhanced World that we live in today.  Where there is movement there is change, and where there is change there are opportunities.  Opportunities for growth, innovation and progress whether we are talking about within a company, industry or society.  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr is a shining example of this, but this can also be seen by many other dreamers, both past and present.

Quotes from the World’s Dreamers

I’ve taken some time to organize some excellent quotes from the World’s dreamers that have inspired me. I hope that you find them as inspirational as I do.

Robert F. Kennedy

There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?

Robert F. Kennedy

Robert F. Kennedy

Eleanor Roosevelt

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt

Walt Disney

All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.

Walt Disney

Walt Disney

Harriet Tubman

Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman

Mike Tyson

I’m a dreamer. I have to dream and reach for the stars, and if I miss a star then I grab a handful of clouds.

Mike Tyson

Mike Tyson

John Lennon

Imagine all the people living life in peace. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.

John Lennon

John Lennon

Ralph Waldo Emerson

The invariable mark of a dream is to see it come true.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

A man, whilst he is dreaming, believes in his dream; he is undeceived only when he is awakened from his slumber.

Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi

Henry David Thoreau

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau

Michael Jordan

Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen.

Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan

Steve Jobs

Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes… the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules… You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things… they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs

Oprah Winfrey

The key to realizing a dream is to focus not on success but significance – and then even the small steps and little victories along your path will take on greater meaning.

Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey

Martin Luther King

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

Martin Luther King Jr

Martin Luther King Jr

All of these dreamers are truly an inspiration, not only for what they each have accomplished, but for the great inspiration they will continue to be to the generations of dreamers that will follow them. By pursuing your dreams and seeing them into existence you not only make the world a better place, but also inspire others to do the same.

If you found this post valuable please consider sharing it with others.

What other dreamers do you look up to?


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