March 2013

Littlebits Is The New Legos

For me, legos was a game changing toy. In fact, writing the word “toy” makes me cringe because legos is so much more than that. These little bricks put me on a course that would later lead to robotics in high school, electrical engineering in college, and entrepreneurship somewhere in between. And anyone that’s ever played with legos can understand where I’m coming from. Like me, you probably bought some lego truck or train, built the thing based off of the instructions, and then completely destroyed your newfound creation so you could build your own piece of art.

Invention. Creation. Destruction. Innovation.

This cycle happens over time in every business and in every industry.  Take AOL as an example. They created the first web portal and then it got destroyed by new companies building off of their building blocks. AOL away messages became Twitter. AOL profile pages became Facebook. AOL search became Google. The same thing is happening to Craigslist and to many other companies and sectors.

And this is where innovation comes from. It’s all about understanding how to use building blocks and for me that happened with legos. That’s why I got pretty excited when I saw littlebits for the first time a year or so ago over on Fred Wilson’s blog. I recently met Ayah, the founder of littlebits, and I’m more excited about what this company can and hopefully will become. As Ayah believes, and as I do to, the new building blocks of the 21st century are based on electrical circuits. Some may argue that we are beyond hardware and that the real building blocks are knowing how to code and how to program, but I believe that the next wave of true innovation will come from the intersection of new hardware and new software. Not software alone.

And that’s why littlebits is so exciting. Kids all over the world will be able to play with and learn from the new building blocks of the 21st century. Had I been sitting on that basement floor with these building blocks instead of legos, who knows what I would have built. A TV perhaps.

Startup CEO: How To Quit The Trading Floor and Do A Startup Placing Interns All Around The World

The Intern Group offers amazing opportunities to gain vital work experience, develop extensive, global networks and see the best of what some of the greatest cities in the world have to offer

This post originally appeared on

It’s easy to get stuck in an unfulfilling corporate career path. Before you know it, you turn around wonder where all that time went. In some industries, like banking or consulting, it’s very hard to jump ship from the lucrative safety net of the corporate world to the treacherous waters of entrepreneurship.

David Lloyd decided to forgo a potentially lucrative career in banking to start his own company in South America and in less than two years, his company is doing a few million in revenue. The business? He places talented individuals with international internship programs in London, Madrid & Latin America where they go to work for leading companies, NGOs & National Governments and live a cultural immersion in a new, fascinating country.

I recently caught up with David to talk about what it’s like to rip off the golden handcuffs of the corporate world and to discuss his business called The Intern Group.

You had a great career path as a banker. What made you decide to quit in order to pursue The Intern Group?

I realized early on in banking that the rigid, hierarchical corporate path in a mature, saturated industry was not where I wanted to spend the next decades of my life.

Before banking I had done something more unusual. I moved to Latin America after university with the goal of becoming fluent in a second language. I moved to Buenos Aires, where I knew no-one, and enrolled in intensive Spanish classes. Outside language classes I searched for an internship as I wished to use and improve my fledgling Spanish in a work-place environment. However, with no particular contacts in a highly contact based environment, I was in trouble. Finally, after months of trying, I was offered a marketing internship at Rolex. The value to my resume of an international blue-chip name, in the context of a different culture and language was enormous.

I developed a great deal through my internship experience abroad. I set up The Intern Group so that individuals have the opportunity to do the same as I did – but in a structured, systematic and educational way – and develop themselves professionally and personally.

How did you go about funding the business? After all, you just quit your job.

I had enough saved up to bootstrap with a very basic WordPress website et al. I started to apply to Start-Up Incubators and 8 months after starting the business we were accepted into Start-Up Chile, a Chilean government program for international entrepreneurs, and awarded 40,000 USD in equity-free seed capital. Shortly afterwards, during Start-Up Chile, we turned cash-flow positive and have not looked back.

What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs especially those stuck in the corporate world?

Don´t talk yourself out of it. It is easy to say “You need to be rich to start a business”. You don´t. Technology has made the amount of money needed to launch a start-up astonishingly low. “But what if it doesn´t work. The risk!?”. Do you want to live your life thinking “what-if?”. Yes, your planned project might not work out. But failure, in this context, is seen as a good thing by the people that count – if you learn from it. Many of the most successful businessmen and women started with out-right failures. You learn more from failing than succeeding. The far bigger risk is talking yourself out of it and staying in a job you are unhappy with.

Where do you go from here?

The Intern Group is now on the way to becoming a mainstream option within global higher education.

Just like study-abroad programs became established in recent decades, I see the same now happening with structured intern-abroad programs. Crucially, interning abroad brings even more benefits than traditional study abroad. Not only do you learn all about a country´s history and culture by being immersed there, and develop language skills essential in a globalized world, but you also develop the critical professional skills necessary to advance your career.

I see The Intern Group leading this movement, with more, exciting destinations in our portfolio and further governmental/university partnerships as the next step.

As a young company, operating various international offices presents an extra layer of challenge. How have you overcome these challenges and are there any other pieces of advice you’d give to aspiring business operators?

Firstly, great co-founders/partners in the business. In every program destination we operate, a local partner is leading the business locally, and they are always from the destination. They grew up there. They have the local professional network, and the local know-how vital for success. If your international team is talented, and invested emotionally and financially, you are on the right track.

Secondly, and as a function of the first point, this brings up the importance of spending a lot of time on hiring. I read the other day of a company who spends 98% of their time on hiring, and 2% on resolving hiring mistakes whereas most companies do the opposite. I am a big advocate of this philosophy. In large companies a bad hire is costly. In smaller, younger companies, especially those with different teams spread out around the world, it can break you.

Thirdly, lots of communication. When you are far away from each other, it is easy for individuals and even entire local offices to feel somewhat dislocated and isolated. We prevent this with technology and lots of good-old fashioned talking.

Home Security Startup Raises $180,000 With Its Own Crowd Funding Platform

Scout raised almost $180,000 with their own crowdfunding campaign in order to improve home security systems.

This post originally appeared on

No one thinks home security is cool or interesting, but when you’ve raised almost $180,000 with a custom made kickstarter-esque website, home security becomes pretty interesting. Lindsay Cohen and the team at Scout realized that home security is a commodity and most of the 17% of the country that has security is dissatisfied with their provider. They thought they could bring security up to date, and to do so they went about building their own organic fundraising campaign to get them off the ground. Lindsay was able to share some insights on how they pulled this off.

Dan Reich: Scout seems like a great product. Why did you decide to raise money without a platform like kickstarter or indiegogo?

Lindsay Cohen: Kickstarter rolled out new rules this year that have disqualified a lot of companies from using their site, including Scout. Too many companies were raising millions of dollars without a solid plan to deliver on their promises. At about the same time those rules hit, Lockitron launched their project and showed that you could be successful with an independent crowdfunding site. We felt well prepared for the campaign and were able to save 5% (about $9000) in fees by not going through a third-party website. That money goes a long way for a startup.

DR: You mentioned that you raised money without a first generation product. What assets did you have when you decided to start this fundraising campaign?

LC: Scout came out of the Sandbox Industries startup foundry in Chicago, IL. We had some initial seed money from Sandbox to do the research and development on the project. We used that money to complete the market research, create our initial prototypes, create our website and pay a small team to execute our rollout plan.

DR: As of this writing, you raised close to $162,000. How did you pull this off?

LC: A huge part of our success has been attributable to our ability to get press coverage. In order to do that, we spent the month prior to our campaign planning who we would contact in the press and how we would pitch the story. Since then, we’ve had a small team here at Scout that has been hustling and executing the Scout plan for the majority of their waking hours over the past three weeks. We do have a small budget for pay-per-click ads and an ad retargeting campaign, but press coverage is far and away the biggest reason we have been able to raise $160,000 to date.

DR: What advice would you give to people that are thinking about doing their own crowd funding project?

LC: Know what you’re getting yourself into, put the time into creating an aggressive rollout plan and then execute your plan every minute that you aren’t sleeping. There is a massive amount of preparation that goes into making something like this happen. We’ve written two blog posts on the topic to help others learn from our experiences. There are pros and cons to our approach. Don’t dismiss Kickstarter, if you qualify, just for the sake of doing it yourself. You can gain a lot of leverage from an existing crowdfunding site with a built-in base of users.

DR: What do you wish you would have done differently?

LC: We wish we would have talked to our early backers of Scout more often and given them more chances to share news about the project. We planned to contact them mid-campaign and during the last week, but we should have started in the first week and touched base every week thereafter. Backers are your best evangelists, their sharing efforts on Facebook and Twitter allows you to reach a whole new group of people that you otherwise would not have reached. Also, we would have incentivized sharing more often. Running referral competitions and motivating people to share can be highly effective.

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