Sort of a MySpace for start-ups, site creates entrepreneur network

Sort of a MySpace for start-ups, site creates entrepreneur network

Andrew Johnson
The Arizona Republic
Sept. 23, 2006 12:00 AM

Greg Baskin said he was too immersed in the minutiae of running the online portion of his family's Anthem jewelry store to think about what he could do to improve the business.

That was before he discovered StartupNation.com, an online clearinghouse of articles, tip sheets and other resources geared toward entrepreneurs.

In May, the site's founders introduced a discussion portal that lets business owners create a profile and communicate with other users. It is similar to how social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook work.

Since then, the number of individual visitors to the site has increased more than 45 percent and the number of page views has leaped more than 200 percent, according to Rich Sloan, co-founder and head coach of StartupNation.com.

"It's definitely an active community, one that seems to be growing while you watch it," said Baskin, director of e-commerce for Gold Mountain Mining Co., which sells jewelry and leather goods. "Honestly, I'm impressed with the quality of the members who seem to sign up on there. It's not a lot of garbage. There seems to be a lot of thought behind the responses that I received to my specific questions."

Sloan and his brother, Jeff, formed StartupNation.com in Birmingham, Mich., in 2002 after years of running start-up companies and their own venture capital firm.

The brothers, who wrote a book on entrepreneurship and record a weekly AM radio talk show on the subject, plan to move the business' headquarters to Scottsdale as early as June. The radio show airs in about 50 markets but not in the Valley, though the podcasts are available on the Web site.

In addition to having family in the Valley, the owners consider Scottsdale an attractive business location because it has "young, dynamic, high-energy professional people, who are exactly the culture that StartupNation lives by," Rich Sloan said.

The company employs 18 people, and Sloan said he expects that number to increase to 20 in the next two months. Sloan said the company likely would hire more employees after its move.

He and his brother got the idea for the company after starting the Sloan Fund, a small-seed venture-capital fund. The more entrepreneurs they came in contact with, the more they realized they could help others with lessons they learned from their own endeavors.

"We started to recognize that one of our most valuable forms of currency . . . was our knowledge as entrepreneurs and our passion for entrepreneurship," he said.

Visitors and registered users can access all information on StartupNation.com for free, something Rich Sloan said he and his brother were adamant about.

"The core concept was to keep the barriers as low as possible" for potential users, Sloan said. The site makes most of its money from advertisers.

Like many of the business owners, their site aims to help, the Sloan brothers have financed their business primarily through angel investors, or people who invest in a company to help business owners get to the stage of being ready for venture capitalists.

Sloan would not say how much money investors have provided.

"Angel investors provide a perfect combination of qualities to us for the kind of money we need at this stage in our growth," he said.

Robert Sussman, a Paradise Valley resident who is president of New York City-based hedge fund company Bentley Capital Management, has invested more than $500,000 in StartupNation.com in the past six months.

Sussman said he was attracted to StartupNation.com because of its potential to tap a niche market.

"There's less and less loyalty to big companies, and more and more people want to control their own destiny," he said.

The site's community portal differentiates it from other sites geared toward entrepreneurs, Sussman said.

Sherry Azzarella, vice president of communications for the Arizona Small Business Association in Phoenix, said new entrepreneurs often are so busy trying to get money in the pipeline that they neglect to devise long-term growth strategies.

A site such as StartupNation.com can serve as a sounding board for business owners who need an outside perspective.

"There's lots of different scenarios in there for (entrepreneurs) to consider," she said. "I think the thing I appreciate the most as an educator . . . is the details in here and that the examples are so thorough."

"The thing is, when you're swimming in your details and (facing) constant interruptions eight hours a day, sometimes you just need a reality check – someone to wave a white flag in front of you and say, 'Did you think about this?' " Baskin said.

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