Why Should You Have a Business BrainTrust?

By Tawheed Kader,
Founder, Ask My Brain Trust

You’re a (digital) entrepreneur, a business owner, CEO, starter, or whatever the word du jour is to characterize what you do with flair. Bottom line? Your company has problems, and YOU are the one that is supposed to ultimately have the answers.

As digital entrepreneurs (I like this title the best), we’ve got an enormous amount of online resources at our disposal. Blogs, videos, articles, news, and tweets with awesome business quotations all being pushed into our screens — all leading to the apprehensive notion of “How can I possible not know the answer?! I have ALL this information at my disposal.”

That’s the arrogance with which we tackle a lot of our problems, whether we realize it or not. Unfortunately, this is bad. Really bad. It blinds us to truly realizing how much we do not know. When was the last time you really sat down and thought through what you didn’t know, and thought about who you should ask to get the answers?

Enter Ask My BrainTrust.

At Ask My BrainTrust, we believe in forming BrainTrusts, which is a group of up to seven advisers with whom you can have private, organized, focused and meaningful online conversations. No 140 character limits, no scattered Wall-To-Wall posts, and no task-based project management dribble — just simple unbridled discussions, ideations and brainstorming.

We also believe that every digital entrepreneur should have THREE BrainTrusts:
1) Your key team members
2) Your key customers (or a representative set)
3) Other business owners that you trust

THINK OF THE POWER of having a these three groups at your disposal, to be able to face a problem or a challenge, to be able to realize, “Gosh, I wonder what my customers think about this”, and instantly to be able to kick off a virtual, private, discussion with these BrainTrusts.

While we’re excited about the simple idea of enabling entrepreneurs to set up these BrainTrusts and have these conversations without the hassle of setting up a forum, wiki, or dealing with 50 e-mail threads, we’re also excited about how these discussions work.

BrainTrust conversations are centered on one topic, with each idea organized into its own conversation thread. All of your advisers get to vote so that you can drive toward a clear consensus. Your advisers can participate in the conversation whenever it’s convenient for them, making it more likely that you’ll get a response — and unlike e-mail, conference calls and surveys, the BrainTrust sees all the ideas and discussion, making it a concerted and organized effort.

So, who’s in your BrainTrust? Start one today, Learn More or See a Demo.

The first three people to Tweet this article will get a complimentary 3-month subscription of AskMyBrainTrust.com.

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Bob WalshWhy Should You Have a Business BrainTrust?

Announcing the first 10 StartupToDo.com Scholarships.

When I started building StartupToDo.com two years ago, I knew there would be sharp, experienced IT professionals yearning to start their own software businesses, who would get a key boost out of my service, but who could not afford a subscription. Even a small scholarship at the right time for the right person can have a huge positive effect on their lives: I would not have been able to go to college without them.

So I’m very, very pleased to announce that ten St. Louis, MO, USA software startups will be receiving free six-month scholarships to StartupToDo.com sponsored by St. Louis custom software house, Oasis Digital. Kyle Cordes, founder of Oasis Digital in St. Louis explains why he’s funding these training scholarships:

“A few weeks ago I met Bob Walsh, well known MicroISV guru (he wrote the book on it). He has a startup-acceleration company called StartupToDo.com; which he persuaded me to take a look at. The site offers a pile of information, for a fee, to help startups “cut to the chase” as they get moving. I was initially skeptical, because there is such a vast amount of such information for free online.

Then I thought about it a while, and thought about various potential and actual founders I’ve met, and thought about how much time a person can spend browsing around for information, and looked through the guides on StartupToDo… and it now appears to be a worthwhile resource for first-time founders to use (and pay for). Speed is everything, StartupToDo could save you some hours.

At the same time, I’ve been looking for ways to help boost the nascent St. Louis startup and software-company community.

Putting those two things together, Oasis Digital (my firm) is going to sponsor (that is, PAY FOR) a StartupToDo membership, for up to 10 St. Louis area companies.

Here’s how you become one of the lucky ten: First off, you have to be a software startup living/working within 50 miles of St. Louis, MO. By software startup, I mean the company you started in 2009 or will start in 2010 that is creating commercial software it will sell to customers. What platform your app or service runs on is up to you. Second, email oasisdigitalscholarship@startuptodo.com explaining briefly who you are and what (in general terms) you’re building. Include your physical mailing St. Louis address. Third, act now: the first 10 qualifying St. Louis startups will be awarded the Oasis Digital Scholarship.

Details: You should be an adult, not a minor. The physical address will be verified. You will only need to provide your name/email, not financial information. If at the end of your scholarship you want to continue with StartupToDo.com, you’ll be able to subscribe at a hefty discount.

Still more details:
1. Email oasisdigitalscholarship@startuptodo.com if you have any questions, or better still, comment on this post.
2. Local media contact: Kyle Cordes, Founder, Oasis Digital Solutions, Inc. info@oasisdigital.com, 636-281-8657 Online bio at: http://kylecordes.com/about/
3. StartupToDo.com media/business contact: Bob Walsh, Founder, StartupToDo.com, bob.walsh@startuptodo.com 707-939-9002 (Northern California, PST) Online bio at my blog: http://47hats.com/about. StartupToDo.com URL: StartupToDo.com, Intro on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tBbaAMEj_z0 The retail cost of a six-month subscription at StartupToDo.com is $105 (other subscription plans: $30 a month, $60/quarter, $180/year). Scholarship recipients do not provide their billing information but are eligible for significantly discounted regular subscriptions if they so choose after their scholarship expires.
4. StartupToDo.com is not an academic institution or accredited training school.

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Bob WalshAnnouncing the first 10 StartupToDo.com Scholarships.

DBF: Your digital memory may come back to bite you…

As part of my digital future for 2010, I’m pushing as much stuff to remember and automate as I can to applications and the cloud. But sometimes, out of the blue, that can come back bite you hard, as some painful, joyful memory thrusts its way into your consciousness. For example, on this rainy Sunday night as I was wrapping up planning my week like a good little GTD believer, MobileMe decides now is the time to synch up 1,242 old events from my Calendar.

Including taking care of Sake, one of our cats who passed away 9 months ago.

That ripping sound you hear is the emotional scab being ripped off my heart. It’s a sound you might as well get used to, because sooner or later it will happen to you. Our Brave New Digital World has problems you couldn’t imagine a year ago.


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Bob WalshDBF: Your digital memory may come back to bite you…

Lean Startups and mental productivity

Ash Maurya has a great post out this week, Achieving Flow in a Lean Startup, that I would take a break and read right now if I were you.

Now keep in mind I that I “drank the Koolaide” of lean startups at the beginning of this week as I started digging into this topic for an upcoming StartupToDo.com Guide and the interview I did yesterday with Eric Ries, one of the primary forces in the lean startup movement (coincidence? no. Leverage yes! :)), so I still have a lot to learn about this exciting methodology that in some ways is continuous integration of steroids. But, Ash’s post – and his other posts recently – will definitely get you thinking and are very well written. Go for them.

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Bob WalshLean Startups and mental productivity

The MicroISV Digest

The MicroISV Digest for the week ending December 8th, 2009.

(With 2010 just one month away, I need your feedback on what – and whether – the MicroISV Digest should be. Please comment on this post what you’d like to see it cover more, less or differently. And apologies for missing last week – by the time I could get to it, it was Thanksgiving here in the US.)

(If you have an announcement of interest to your fellow microISV, indies or startups, please email me at bob.walsh@47hats.com with the word digest in the subject.)

News and Announcements

  • Pietro Polsinelli, Open Lab, is launching not one but two web apps. First up, Patapage – Patapage is a way of adding services to web sites by adding buttons. There are buttons for adding a wiki-like layer to your pages, and also comments, image galleries, contact forms, rating, retweet, Google or Twitter searches, windows on other websites, annotated feedbacks, with more services on the way.
    Also in beta is BugsVoice – an online error reporting service for web developers and maintainers combining friendly error pages, collecting exceptions, and user feedback. (via email)
  • James Avery and Rob Conery have launched TekPub, a technical screencast site, mainly targeting .NET developers. I watched the Linux for Softies: Setting up Apache with Rails: #1 Introduction and Installation. free sample and was seriously impressed. Looking forward to seeing Coder to Developer 2009, another freebie on the site. James by the way is the co-author of Windows Developer Power Tools: Turbocharge Windows Development with More Than 140 Free and Open Source Tools – one of my favorite .NET productivity books. (via Twitter)
  • I’m going to have to interview this guy one of these days. He’s seriously productive. Steve Cholerton, Arten Science, has announced the R10Office Productivity and CRM Suite for Small Businesses, Individuals, Clubs and Groups.
  • Charles O’Dale, Senomix Timesheets, has released a new version of his product: streamlining the networking so that this desktop app (Windows and Mac) can easily track time spent by distributed/virtual teams, regardless of private networks, VPNs and the like. (via email)

Relevant Blog Posts, Podcasts, Videos and Articles


  • This week’s microISV Digest is sponsored by StartupToDo.com: Focused action and discussion save you precious bootstrapping hours. Be Successful Faster with StartupToDo.com.
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Bob WalshThe MicroISV Digest

DBF: Dragon Dictation for the iPhone

(DBF stands for Digital Better Future – it’s a ongoing series of posts on digital developments making the lives of Digital Entrepreneurs easier, better and faster in 2010.)

You read that right – as of late yesterday, Dragon Dictation from Nuance is out. It’s free, it works, it’s awesome. [iTunes link] Here’s a detailed post on it and after you download and install it, check out this page and this page at Nuance’s site for tips on handling punctuation, etc.

Is it perfect? No. But then, neither are you, and this is the 1.0 version, and the free teaser version at that. Nuance will be releasing soon voice-driven Search for Google on the iPhone.

Now the speech recognition does not happen on the iPhone – it’s automatically sent to servers in the cloud then shows on on the screen a few seconds later. Then you can copy it to the clipboard, email it or text it. Given the realities of cloud computing (scalability, constant code improvements rolled out) plus the realities of the iPhone software market (groundbreaking gets huge attention, something like 50 million users, upgrade within app possibilities) this is one iPhone app you can expect to see on an Apple commercial soon.

By the way, here’s the unedited text, taken from the emails I sent myself looks like. Rough? Sure, but already Dragon is doing a better job of transcribing since I started using it an hour ago.


You read that right — as of yesterday, dragon dictation from Nuance is out. It’s free, it works, it’s awesome. Is it perfect no but then neither are you and this is the 1.0 version of the free teaser version of test.

Here’s a detailed post on and after you download and install it, check out this page, and this page at Nuance’s site for tips on handling punctuation, etc.

Nuance will also be releasing soon a voice driven search for Google on the iPhone. Now the speechwriting mission does not happen on the iPhone — it’s automatically sent to servers in the cloud then shows up on your screen a few minutes later. Then you can copy to the clipboard, e-mail or text it. Given the realities of cloud computing parentheses scalability, cost and code improvements rolled out.) Plus the realities of the iPhone software market processes groundbreaking gets huge attention, something like 50 million users, upgrade with an application possibilities.). This is one on iPhone app you can expect to see you on Apple commercial soon.

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Bob WalshDBF: Dragon Dictation for the iPhone

Snow in Sonoma?

Woke up to a light sprinkling of snow here in Sonoma, CA – something that happens where I live about every three years. Took a quick pic as an MMS to text to various friends, got busy coding and testing a big batch of enhancements to my startup app. Keep coming back to coding after various calls, noticed the last of the snow melting early afternoon. Next time I came up for air, it was 7:05 pm.

When you’re brain-deep in coding, you can really lose track of time. Hence, this week’s MicroISV Digest and Startup Success Podcast will be delayed, but should be out tomorrow.

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Bob WalshSnow in Sonoma?

So you can teach an old company new tricks!

Want to see a near perfect execution of how an old (105 year old!), traditional brand can, with the sharp claws of new social media digging into their thigh, hit the goldmine demographic of 24-35 year olds? Come’on, it will only take a minute and you’ll learn something.

First, let’s go to Twitter where CIW (Conventional Internet Wisdom – and no, it’s not an oxymoron) says old companies flounder like sea lions in ballet tutus:

Huh? What? – perfect bait for any cat staff (dogs have owners, cats have staff – trust me on this one.)

Clicking the URL takes you to the page I screen captured above. No, that’s not a Feline Death Ray he’s wearing, it’s a camera – and if you dig around on the net, you’ll find (flogging my memory), a guy in Germany who cobbled together a WiFi cam in the same way a few years back.

Now go on and click the link and download the PDF – it won’t scratch:

Get the “Scratchington Post” bit? All in all, a well done bit of social media driven brand awareness that comes across as a little corny, but not as [filtered out] advertising, although they should have forked out for an American Humane Association anti-cruelty certification and a big fat coupon.

Now, besides wishing you could equip some of your startup’s customers with the same device, how could you apply a good social media hook that will bounce around Twitter, with a brand awareness landing page and a .pdf that’s not marketing to boost your startup’s authority?

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Bob WalshSo you can teach an old company new tricks!

Inbound Marketing, by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah

(Weekend Media Review is a new section here at 47 Hats, because I’m so damned busy during the week the only time I get to indulge in my lifefong vice of reading – especially books that make a difference – is on weekends. So why Media instead of Books? Because I now find myself – probably like you – “reading” a lot more audiobooks, YouTube presentations and online lectures.)

Given what I do – consult with startups, author books about startups and social media – I smugly assumed Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs (The New Rules of Social Media) wouldn’t contain anything I didn’t already know. Wrong! Shah and Halligan do an extremely good and approachable job of laying out the new realities for business in regards to marketing and breaking those realities down into specific, doable advice.

A couple of examples:
1. Become the world’s best in a market you define, not your competitors.
2. In regards to how Google ranks search results, while “everyone knows” your web page title tag should be descriptive, it matters where in that title, your keywords are.
3. Exactly how to engage your market on Facebook.

The other thing that struck me is how well the authors prevented the usual jumble of IT technobabble from getting in the way of giving businesses information they can act on. This is a business book, first and foremost, written for that vastly larger world of small and medium size businesses whose stately boat rides have been rocked by the wake of the Internet-powered IT industry this decade.

Since you’re reading this blog, I assume you’re in the business of selling software: is this book for you? Emphatically yes, because while you may think you know how to get found using Google, social media and blogs, unless you’re actually doing the important basics covered in this book, you’ve missed the boat.

I know I’ve been dockside – how about you?

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Bob WalshInbound Marketing, by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah

DBF: Adopting Google Voice

(DBF stands for Digital Better Future – it’s a ongoing series of posts on digital developments making the lives of Digital Entrepreneurs easier, better and faster in 2010.)

“You have five new messages… Message 1…” How many times have you heard your voicemail system tell you that, only to sit there, being a slave to crappy technology, as you play each message? And of course, message 5 would be that call you’ve been waiting for from a major account saying, yes, they could talk to you, but you have to call them back now before they leave on an 8-day trip to China… only they’ve already left.

I hate voicemail. Leaving it, playing it, trying to remember more commands that save and delete (which they change every so often just for the fun of it.).

Well, that’s over with for 2010. Today, either for free or cheaper than your current voicemail system you can have a much better experience. Let’s first look at Google Voice (I have 3 invites left if you need one).

Robert Dempsey, founder of startup/dev shop Atlantic Dominion, explained what he liked (and didn’t like) about the big GV:

Hi Bob,

Here are the pros/cons of Google Voice as I see them.

  • One of the biggest pros of GV is that I can set up multiple phone numbers for our single main number to ring to. So I can have team members all over the place and whoever answers the phone gets it, but we all know the phone rang.
  • You can have all of your normal voicemail for a phone number (cell phone, etc.) go to Google Voice.
  • You can access your voice mail online or via your smart phone, and get an email or SMS when you have a voice mail.
  • You can set up groups of numbers and have different greetings for the different groups.
  • Add a call widget to a web page so people can easily initiate a call to you.
  • And, it’s free.


  • The only con as I see it is that you can’t set up times for the service to ring different phones. In other words, I can’t tell it to ring one number from 8-5, and another after that.

So what does GV look like? Well here is me calling my GV number:
First, it rings all my phones:

When I don’t answer (I usually don’t talk to myself :)), I leave a voicemail. 93 seconds later, I get this text message:
A minute later, the email version shows up:
Inbox (4 messages)
And for that matter, it’s in my GV interface online. Was it a perfect transcription? No. But digitally good enough to let you decide whether this was a file and forget or your house is burning down.

And it’s free.

Don’t like Google? There’s a host of new companies like the one StartupToDo.com’s first Corporate Scholarship Partner (more on that soon :)) uses, phone.com:
phone com

Bottom Line: ditch analog-like voicemail for 2010 – it makes about as much sense as a horseless carriage.

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Bob WalshDBF: Adopting Google Voice