Category Archives: Meeting CEO’s

Past Weekend Update

New account balances are as follows:

General Account – $ 1,357
Spending Account – $ 77
Spending Account 2 – $ 403
Investment Account – $ 2,523
Bill Account – $ 981
Permanent Savings – $ 5,549
Charity Account – $ 338
Stock Portfolio Value – $ 11,323
Roth IRA – $ 6,574
Emigrant Direct – $ 1,007
Total Liquid Assets – $ 30,132

Credit Card Balance – $ 0
Business Holding – $ 5,309
Total On Hand – $ 35,441

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My first stock sale in a while occurred on Friday. I had a $23 limit order set for Syntel (SYNT), and made a profit of $681. I’m in the process of restructuring my portfolio, so I will start buying around October which is generally not a very hot month for the stock market.

I’ve accumulated $5,549 in my permanent savings account which is earning a very small amount of interest (less than 1%). I need to put some of this money back to work in low-risk areas.

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I found the popular marketing blog Brand Autopsy pretty interesting, and recently asked the fellow Austinite John Moore to coffee. We met up and had a great conversation. After spending years in the marketing departments of Starbucks and Whole Foods, he really knows his stuff.

John Moore of Brand Autopsy

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My income for April was pretty slim. Several stock shortages forced me to cancel several orders, leaving House of Rave profit at only $1,080 for the month. Ouch! I’m looking to correct that discrepancy this month.

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This past week I had the opportunity to attend a huge event held in Austin. CEO’s and politicians were in abundance, but my favorites were Michael Dell, Steve Ballmer and Colin Powell. Unlike the speeches I usually attend which have mostly students present, the subject matter was much different. The resounding theme of this conference was: Making the world a better place through the use of technology.

I’ve never seen Michael Dell do a solo speech, but he was actually really good and pretty funny too. The day before his speech I got to speak with Mr. Dell one-on-one for about 3 minutes which was rather fun!

One of the distinguished guests at the conference was Dato Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the Prime Minister of Malaysia. I’m not sure how to pronounce his name, but I managed to get two photos with him during a press conference! Much to my surprise, he actually looked a bit like the Prime Minister of Malaysia from the movie Zoolander!


He had so much security around him that I didn’t dare approach him for a picture without permission. Instead I asked his head press secretary to take these pictures for me.

I was really excited to see Steve Ballmer speak. He didn’t act like this, but he was still fun to hear. Once again, the speech was about improving the world through the use of technology, so it was mainly a speech about what Microsoft has done to help. I was already in the very front row, but I really wanted to snag a picture with him….no luck though:

My FAVORITE speaker through this entire event was by far Colin Powell. I thought a staunch, former Secretary of State would be speaking….instead the guy was an absolute comedian!! He had the whole place in laughter most of the time, all while peppering his speech with serious points. He’s 69 years old and has been doing this for years, and you could easily tell. I truly enjoyed the time he spent speaking. His speech was incredibly natural, he never used the teleprompter or stood at the podium and it seemed he honestly enjoyed being up on the stage doing his speech.

Michael Dell Speech at University of Texas Austin

This Tuesday Michael Dell gave a speech at the University of Texas which I attended.

I had met Michael Dell before, and from what I understand, he doesn’t particularly like public speaking. The “speech” was actually a moderated conference with a UT professor, then was opened up for Q&A.

The moderated part was not as engaging as I had hoped, because the large audience was simply watching two people talk to each other. I had more hope for the Question & Answer session, but it turned out to be rather disappointing, not from Michael Dell’s responses, but the quality of the questions being asked.

Some of the interesting points I picked up from the event were:

  • “Try not to be the smartest person in the room. If you are, find another room.”
  • He wakes up at 6am every morning and works out (A very common theme I’m seeing).
  • He did not use investors to grow Dell. I started clapping when he said this.
  • Said managed services may be Dell’s next big thing. For example: If Boeing doesn’t want to do all their own printing, IT support etc…Dell will take care of it all.
  • The way you order pretty much anything in China is: 1.) You place an order online or on the phone. 2.) You receive two numbers, an order confirmation number and a Bank of China transaction number. 3.) You take your money (Often literally a sack of money) to the Bank of China, and they transfer it to Dell.

I generally go after speeches and try to talk to the person and get a picture, but he literally DARTED out of the place when the event was finished. Oh well, I still have my previous Michael Dell Picture!

Karen Katz – Neiman Marcus and Randal Pinkett

Last Thursday was a very busy day, but I had the opportunity to see two very interesting people. I got to attend a speech given by Karen Katz, the current CEO of Neiman Marcus. I haven’t seen many women CEO’s speak, so it was nice to hear….however I don’t recall her once mentioning or complaining about being a woman in the business world, and she’s done great.

She started working at Neimans in 1985 then worked her way up to CEO in 2000. She’s a UT alum and then went to graduate school at Harvard. During her speech you could tell she knew everything about retail from the ground up.

Some things I found the most interesting about the speech:

  • When she first applied with Neimans, she did not get the job.
  • The web-based store at NeimanMarcus.com does $600+ million in sales a year! (I love how NeimanMarcus, Nordstroms and other large retailers setup their websites…I want to find out what they use and copy them).
  • Her favorite brand is Target….says she spends massive amounts of money at Target (Interesting….)
  • “A brand is not saying what it is, it’s what the customer THINKS it is.”
  • Average Neimans shopper has a household income of $200,000+
  • “Selling is a skill to master. You will ALWAYS be selling no matter what you do.

It turned out to be a good speech, and I got a picture with her afterwards:

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The same day, I attended the Austin Big Idea event which helps people start and grow small businesses. The main headliners were Gary Hoover (who I met the day before) and Dr. Randal Pinkett, the Donald Trump-selected Apprentice.

Dr. Randal is actually a really amazing person (and basketball-player-tall). He’s a Rhodes Scholar, graduated with five degrees, owns a multi-million dollar company, and was selected as The Apprentice.

He gave a speech talking about the importance of small businesses, and his experience starting one himself. One main point he drove home was to create a lasting entity….A company that can sustain itself if the founder was suddenly taken away. He got lots of reaction out of the audience, and he actually turned out to be a GREAT speaker!

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Action Plan after the speeches:

1.) Research what NeimanMarcus, Nordstroms, Macy’s use for their online web stores. They all look very similar and have super-simple shopping carts. I like.

2.) Begin process of making small businesses much larger, and delegate some of the work.

Gary Hoover Speech

An event was held by BoostrapStudent which featured Gary Hoover as the speaker.

I had done my research prior to the event and read about Gary, and found out he was the guy behind BookStop book stores which was later bought by Barnes & Noble, and the founder of Hoovers.com.

BookStop was the first big-box book retailer to use the “Lots of selection + very low prices” method which Gary actually modeled after Toys R’ Us, and Hoovers is now one of the leading corporate information websites on the net. I was delighted to find that Gary was an extremely enthusiastic speaker, and showed the typical “craziness” that’s seen in a large amount of very successful business founders.

He actually lives in Austin, and I will get a chance to meet with him once again at another event being held this week. I took three pages of notes because he had tons of very interesting and useful information.

BREIF HISTORY

  • He grew up in Indiana, and started reading Fortune Magazine at around 12 years old, and was fascinated by business. He became obsessed with understanding how enterprises worked, starting with his hometown General Motors plant.
  • He founded BookStop in 1982 which had a great amount of success. He loved reading books and he saw the potential of the Toys R’ Us styled business (which was very revolutionary back then), so he put the two together.
  • In 1989 he sold BookStop for $41 million cash. The Barnes & Noble Superstores division which was modeled after BookStop is now worth over $2.5 billion.
  • in 1990 Gary started a business information service, now Hoovers.com which eventually went public.
  • Like every successful person, his big failure was TravelFest which started in 1993 and ended in 1999 when airlines cut commissions to travel agents.

GARY HOOVER WISDOM:

  • He constantly focuses on the customer at the very end of the chain. He says despite what a company does, it always relates down to individual customers and people.
  • Like so many other very successful business people….he is a voracious reader. Says he religiously reads at least the front page of the Wall Street Journal daily, and he goes through many books a week. He claims his house looks more like a library than a home.
  • He is an avid studier of history. I was particularly interested to notice that he was a big fan of business history. I once did a post about bubbles in history as I used to study these….after his speech, I realized just how important studying these things are.
  • “You can only go as far forward as you can backwards”
  • He firmly believes a liberal arts education is the best, but that it doesn’t necessarily mean formal schooling.
  • “You never know where the answers come from.” He gave an example of a 6 year old who told him it was stupid to put children’s books in BookStop so far away from his mom who was browsing in the cooking section.
  • Randomly stumbling upon information is vital.
  • It’s important to differentiate yourself if you want to create something great. He gave a good example: If you walk into a grocery store blindfolded, you wouldn’t be able to tell if you’re in an Alberton’s, Krogers or Randall’s….however you WILL know if you walk into Whole Foods.

PRIMARY THEMES OF SPEECH:

  • Many of the same mistakes are repeated throughout history because people ignore what happened in the past. That’s why he loves history. I completely agree.
  • He said the most powerful advantage an entrepreneur has is to know where you are, where you are going and where you are coming from.
  • Everyone is always buried in little details, the real winners are the one’s who take time to look at the big picture. He gave the example of Bill Gates taking two weeks off every year for his own private “Think Week” where he simply reads the entire time.
  • He had a “3rd Grade Rule” about business plans: If a 3rd grader can’t understand it, it’s no good. He also said “Present it to your grandmother”

Other Random Observations:

  • He drank his bottled water with a straw (ha!)
  • It seems he has more racing through his mind than he can push out.
  • He openly gave out his email address and encouraged people to send him emails and business plans.
  • He carries around a little black book full of ideas.

A group of people enthusiastically spoke with him for over an hour after the speech, where I took possibly the worst photo ever:

Something interesting was during the Q&A session someone asked: “How do you protect your good ideas from being stolen when presenting them.” He right away said, “I don’t believe in that. I believe in telling everyone about all my ideas.”

He then went on to explain that ideas are a dime a dozen, the trick is having the knowledge, resources and dedication to start on the idea. He even said he often won’t sign NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreements) anymore. He obviously enjoyed sharing his ideas, and actually had a couple of neat “Blankets” which were basically a portable, visual business plan. He liked printing these things out on blankets (Or tablecloths…I’m not quite sure), because he could simply crumple them up in his bag:

Overall he was a great speaker and very knowledgeable person. Hopefully I will hear more from this fellow Austinite in the future! He also ended his speech by saying Austin is still one of the greatest cities to be an entrepreneur.

Utilizing YouTube, Dell

I’ve been been running House Of Rave as a part time income for around 5 years now, and by FAR the most trafficked portion of the site is the rave videos section. When I first started the website, I was forced off every hosting plan I had due to high bandwidth usage. I’ve always burned through about 400 to 700 gigs of videos per month….several years ago that was a big deal and a large expense.

I am getting more traffic than ever on House Of Rave, but I’m concerned about the videos.

It was only recently that YouTube.com and Google Video showed up….but they have very quickly established themselves as THE place to go for all types of videos. So if people want videos of club/rave stuff, then YouTube will eventually steal much of my traffic. To counter this, I will instead fully utilize these two free services to my advantage.

I am in the process of revamping the video section to allow users to comment on the videos and view them directly from the site using YouTube. I’ve also started uploading all the good videos to YouTube and Google video, so House Of Rave still gets exposure when people search for club/rave videos on those websites.

I’ve even started using YouTube for individual product videos on HoR, and so far people seem to like them. Sales of certain products definitely increased when visitors could watch the product in action. My first test trial was for the High Intensity Glowsticks, and that worked pretty well.

Instead of fighting a losing battle against these dominating video services, I can get MORE traffic by joining them.

Now I need to translate these changes into results. House Of Rave is around the $2,000/month range, I need to step it up.

Steady Monthly Income - Much Work = Good.

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Due to several confounding factors I could not perform my homeless experiment this week. I was planning on being homeless for about 3 days to see what I could learn. This is not the end of the experiment, simply a temporary delay.

I stopped shaving in preparation for the experiment, and it was a surprise to see I grew this in only 6 days:

!!!

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I already met Michael Dell once, and I get to see him again in Austin. He is giving a speech at UT:
When: Tuesday April 25th 2006 – 7:00pm
Where: Texas Union Ballroom @ University of Texas Austin

I found this upcoming speech surprising, because Michael Dell is notoriously shy in front of crowds. When I saw him, his wife and Lance Armstrong did all the talking…he didn’t speak a word in front of the crowd!

Chicago, Kevin Rollins, Experiment

I’m back from Chicaaago, and had a great time in a great city.

Fortunately I stayed with friends, so didn’t have to pay for housing. The whole trip was pretty cheap considering I stayed for 5 nights and was constantly out & about.

$300 plane flight
$350 spending.
5 days Total = $650

This was actually way under budget, yet I didn’t hold back on any expenses while there.
Now I must meet my goals for the next few months, and I’ll take another trip.

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Some Random Observations:

  • Flying with ear plugs makes plane flights so much more pleasant.
  • I give Chicago two thumbs up.
  • My Treo 700w actually came in handy.
  • Favorite picture during the trip:

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On Tuesday I saw/met Kevin Rollins the CEO of Dell at a speech he gave at UT. He was brought in to speak about ethics by a Mormon organization. He’s Mormon himself, so he also talked about how his upbringing has helped him bring strong business ethics into the company.

He originally started out as a consultant for Dell in 1993, but then soon was escalated to regional manager, then overseer of North American operations, then CEO. His speech was mainly geared towards how ethics is a strong virtue at Dell. Of course I’ve never heard a CEO say otherwise about their company!

His last words of advice were:
–Work hard now, because you can’t redo it later.
Don’t have regrets.
–Dream Big.

Pretty standard stuff, but important nonetheless.

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I just finished my taxes, and I filed independently for the first time. I used TurboTax, and it was relatively painless. For 2006 I’ve been keeping excellent financial records, so next tax season should be a cinch…I’m actually looking forward to it!

Also, I’ve had experience with the homeless before in my bottled water experiment, but next week I’m doing a “homeless experiment” where I’ll actually be homeless for a few days to see what I can learn. I’m not sure how it’ll go, but that’s why I’m doing it!

Jeffrey Immelt – CEO of General Electric (GE)

Yesterday I went to see Jeffrey Immelt speak on the UT campus, the CEO of one of the worlds oldest and largest companies, General Electric (GE). Originally founded by Thomas Edison, this company has grown up with America and has been one of the leading innovators in American technology. I fortunately got the chance to meet Mr. Immelt before and after the speech.

Some point of interest from his speech:

Three big trends he says will get stronger: Globalization, larger interaction between government and business, volatility and face paced business.

–He says one of the secrets GE uses is turning their enormous size into an advantage, and not making it a disadvantage. He also says reinvesting so much money in research is a HUGE factor in their success.

–Good Business Leaders Must: Lead with an undying sense of optimism, believe in change, have a healthy disrespect of history, know the difference between confidence and arrogance.

–He reads 4 newspapers a day, 40 journals a week and about 50 books per year. He says he is an avid reader, something I’ve noticed most great business leaders are.

–He says his main job as a CEO is to: Pick initiatives and businesses to get involved in, shape the company culture, pick great people.

–”If you want something done, ask a busy person.”

–He started out at a very lowly position at GE in 1982. He worked his way up over the years, but never really planned on becoming CEO. He was hand picked by Jack Welch.

–He gave the standard spiel about being successful in a company: Make your job fun, have a passion for it, work hard yadda yadda yadda.

–Immelt and Steve Balmer used to share a cubicle at Proctor & Gamble many years ago.

–He is very interested in doing business with Eastern Europe and the Middle East. He also sees much more growth ahead in China and India. He says in 5-10 years half of all business done by GE will be outside the U.S. He constantly stressed that globalization is here to stay and extremely important.

–I asked if he works out, and he said EVERY DAY at 5:30 am for one hour.

Of course I had to take a picture with him. This man is just about one of the most powerful people in the world. He was actually genuinely interested in what all the people who swarmed him after the speech had to say, and a very nice guy in general.

After the speech there was a private session for an hour and half with him which contained about 10 representatives from the business school, 10 representatives from the engineering school, three GE employees…and me (Of which I don’t fit any of those categories). I think the main thing that drew me in however was the free food! No matter how much money I ever have, free food will always lure me in.

At this session Jeff Immelt mainly took a barrage of questions from the curious audience about his daily routines, views, business opinions and personal life. It was great fun meeting him, and I even got a make-shift dinner of finger foods and some free GE bags and other goodies!

Cheap Ecommerce Shopping Carts

I’ve tried and used tons of different Ecommerce shopping carts over the years, and some online shopping carts can be very expensive. Nowadays, open source shopping carts have sprung up all over the place that offer novice web users the chance to open an Ecommerce store…..FREE.

For a recent partnership business I’m helping start, I did a review of several open source shopping carts which allow you to start a fully functioning Ecommerce store with little know-how and little money:
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OScommerce:
This is the big daddy of open source shopping carts. It has an enormous amount of users who regularly contribute to their support groups and add on modules.

Pros:

  • FREE
  • Easy to install
  • Huge support section and forum.
  • Add on modules created by the community for free
  • Great selection of out-of-the-box OScommerce templates available (for money) at TemplateMonster.com
  • When you purchase a template, the entire shopping cart is already included for free.
  • Can have a store up, running and accepting orders within minutes.
  • Simple checkout screens.

Cons:

  • Templates are extremely hard to manipulate, will most likely need to buy a professionally made template or have someone help.
  • A little “Bulky” on the backend.
  • Will take a little getting used to the backend: adding products, adding options. Not as intuitive as some of the for-pay shopping carts.

OScommerce Frontend

OScommerce Backend

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Zen Cart

This is basically an easier to use offspring of OScommerce. From my experience, it is almost identical in every aspect to OScommerce, just a cleaned up interface. The only major difference I saw was the ability to easily upload multiple templates, something OScommerce is pretty fussy about. Zen Cart is also slightly easier to use in the backend, but once again, is almost identical to OScommerce.

Zen Cart templates are not hard to find (for pay), but OScommerce has more templates, more add-on modules and a larger community of users.

ZenCart Frontend

ZenCart Backend

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X-Cart:
This is a for-pay shopping cart that allows a full, turnkey solution to Ecommerce:

Pros:

  • Easy to install
  • All add on modules and templates usually cost money, but are professionally done.
  • Easier to use than OScommerce and ZenCart.
  • Has easier add-on features and a clean interface
  • Easier to get professional help than the open source carts.
  • Has very nice upselling features and makes it easy to upload multiple images for a product.

Cons:

  • Not open source. If you have complicated modifications to make (which most people don’t), this shopping cart will be much harder to manipulate than OScommerce/ZenCart.
  • Costs at least $200 for the software, plus extra money for templates and add on modules. Probably not the choice for an uber-cheap startup.

Xcart Frontend

Xcart Backend

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All of the above shopping carts allow for easy merchant account integration and are a complete out-of-the-box solution for starting an Ecommerce store. I’d suggest first downloading OScommerce and trying it out. Add a few products, add some categories, place a few orders yourself and get used to the feel of it. The only requirement is a web hosting plan that allows you to create databases.

Verdict:

OScommerce: Use if a free solution is needed. Best option when looking for free upgrade modules. Best options when looking for great looking templates.

ZenCart: Use if a free solution is needed. Works slightly simpler than OScommerce.

X-Cart: If you’ve got a few hundred dollars to spend and want a nice looking store with upsell features and easy multiple image uploads, I’d recommend Xcart. They have a free demo also.

If familiarized with these sorts of shopping carts, you can have a brilliant idea for an Ecommerce store and actually exectute the idea while you’re still motivated about it rather than first having to learn about ecommerce!

Steve Balmer Video – Enthusiasm & Body Language

There is a short video clip of Steve Balmer, the billionaire CEO of Microsoft, which has been out for a while now, but I find myself watching it everyday.

To get people motivated, you have to lead by example, and this guy DOES IT. This is a famous video from a Microsoft company meeting where he comes out screaming and jumping with unsurpassed energy, apparently he pulls stuff like this at all the speeches he makes…I love CRAZY business people!

If a guy 30 years older than me can show THAT much enthusiasm (or insanity) for what he does, as a 23 years old with all the opportunity in the world, what am I doing?

While looking up some more videos of Steve Balmer, I found some interviews with him by Robert Scoble:


(Video Link)

I was again enthralled with Balmers enthusiasm, but I picked up something else from this video….by watching it on mute. He NEVER crosses his hands or hides them, and he frequently uses them in combination with his speech in a very animated manner. Interesting.

Note to self:
Start working on developing better body language and becoming more energetic.

Before Meeting Someone…

Before attending a meeting with someone new or listening to a speaker, here is what I do beforehand almost every time. It really helps:

1.) Google their name. If they have a unique name, you may be in luck, but John Smith will be harder to pinpoint. Try to read about them, find their address/phone and see what they are all about.

2.) Zabasearch. If I can’t find their address or phone from Google or Yahoo People Search, I can almost ALWAYS find them by ZabaSearching their name.

3.) Lookup their address on Google Maps. Depending on the situation, you might want to see where this person lives. If they are right next to a golf course or along the water, that says something. This is just a step I enjoy doing out of curiosity.

4.) Write down facts and findings. If you are seeing a speaker, tidbits of information can formulate great questions, and show that you’ve taken further interest in the speaker than others. This is a powerful method I use to help meet prominent people.

Doing this takes only a few minutes or less and can help create a relationship that otherwise would not happen so quickly. I am always impressed and slightly flattered when people take the time to research me before meeting with them.