or

Login with FB

Does the Lack of Public Healthcare Hurt US Startups?

I understand that usually on a blog representing a business one should stay away from any political posts. However, the health care issue currently meandering its way through congress is one that has directly affected my own startup attempts in the past and I am interested to see how other startup founders feel about this issue.

A few years ago I had to bid adieu to my first startup attempt: a sweet, web-based Learning Content Management System which took 3 part-time years to build and was just starting to get positive press from eLearning industry participants when we had to close the doors. And while there are a number of reasons why this endeavor failed, one primary reason was that I could never dedicate myself fully to the project. Why? Because I have family to support, and while we could have lived on savings for a year or so, we could not afford the health insurance costs which were a whopping $1100/MONTH! This was tantamount to another mortgage payment.

As a result of being tethered to our employer’s medical insurance, my business partner and I were unable to release a working product in a timely manner, and were unable to spend the time to effectively market it when it was released. Although there are no guarantees, I strongly feel that if my we had been able to work full-time for a year on this project, without having to give up our families health insurance as the price of that commitment, the outcome may have been different. IF we had been successful, we could potentially be employing people and paying corporate taxes. I know that we were/are not the only ones in the position of having to choose between an employer’s health care and an entrepreneurial pursuit.

My conclusion: the lack of a public health care option in the United States is an anti-capitalist (and anti-startup) position.  Furthermore, by blocking attempts to institute a public option, politicians are protecting the profits of specific mega-corporations (which often don’t pay any taxes), rather than encouraging the growth of a healthy startup ecology which could lead to more employment and more tax revenue down the line.

So those are my thoughts on how public option healthcare affects the chances of startup success.  I’m interested in hearing yours. Please comment below.

Step by Step: Creating a Social Media Marketing Command Center

First off, I want to say that I am NOT a Social Media marketing expert. I’m a person who is interested in the topic as it relates to my own endeavors, and I am offering this step by step guide to help anyone else looking to get started with this.

Many people who are much smarter than I have paved the way in this field, but as I was getting started I had a difficult time finding simple instructions as to the how and why of setting up a ‘Command Center’ like this. I hope this will help someone else in the same boat.

After viewing the slide show, you can download the exported xml file that was used to create the Command Center framework in iGoogle, and simply import it into your iGoogle, make the modifications, and away you go.

iGoogle xml export file

Good luck! As always, please feel free to offer suggestions, criticisms, praise, etc., in the comments below.

Is there anything else I should have included in the directions? Were they clear enough?

How to Start, Maintain, and Dissolve a Delaware LLC

Over the last several years, I have needed to start several Delaware Limited Liability Companies (LLC), maintain them by paying the annual franchise tax, and, sadly, dissolve some of these entities. Each time I have to do these things, I wind up doing my homework all over again to figure them out. This time I though it might make sense to consolidate this information and share it with others.

I should first note that my objective here is to simply provide an explanation as to how *I* have done it before. It goes without saying that you should consult a qualified attorney for any questions, or if you need more guidance.

With that out of the way, the first thing to understand is what is an LLC?  If you google that question specifically, you will have plenty of information at your disposal. Here is the Wikipedia page. For our purposes now, it is probably enough to say that an LLC is a relatively new kind of business entity that is something of a hybrid between a more traditional S Corporation, and a Partnership, or Sole Proprietorship. In other words, as an LLC, you will have ‘limited liability‘ in terms of the financial/legal obligations of the company, but still have pass-through profits, losses, and income tax. This means that any profits that an LLC makes, pass through the LLC and into the hands of the LLC “members” – usually in proportion to that member’s holding in the LLC. The same goes for declaring losses. Also, you will report LLC profits on your personal income tax (though the LLC still must file its own tax forms annually). This arrangement can often provide more flexibility to a small business than an S corporation.

Although most, if not every, state allows LLC entities to form, Delaware and Nevada are the most popular due to their low/non-existent taxes on corporations

Step 1: Forming an LLC

Approximate Cost: <$500

Technically speaking, you can form an LLC in Delaware by filling out this PDF form, and paying Delaware $90. However, there is more to forming an LLC than just the document. The state of Delaware requires that every business entity in DE use a Registered Agent. These are simply your official business representatives in the state. Again, a quick google search will bring back a lot of hits. So, for purposes of starting an LLC out on the right foot, I would suggest finding a registered agent, and let them do the formation. You will get more than just the paperwork filled out, and it feels good to actually have someone who knows what they are doing do the work!

I have used Harvard Business Services twice, and I found them reasonably priced and also very informative. They have 3 tiers of service, and I chose the middle tier for $429.  Among other things, this included the price of formation, filing for a federal EIN number (your company’s social security number), a ‘starter’ Operating Agreement, and Articles of Organization, the first 12 months of Registered Agent fees and a nice, metal, corporate seal that leaves an embossed imprint on official papers. Very nice!  Basically, everything you needed to get started on the right foot. As far as I’m concerned, the price was well worth it, but I’m sure there are other opinions.

Step 2: Maintainence

Approximate Cost: $250 + Registered Agent Fee

There is not a whole lot of ‘official’ maintainance that needs to be done – excepting taxes, and record keeping, of course. But I’m talking about bureaucratic aspects here. However, there are two annual fees to be aware of: the annual Franchise tax, and an annual Registered Agent fee.

The annual Franchise tax must be payed every year, regardless of whether or not you made any money, or even if you never did anything with the LLC whatsoever. As a tax, it is immutable. As of now, January 2010, the annual franchise tax is $250 if paid before June 1, and $350 if paid after June 1.

The Registered Agent fee depends on which company you go with. HBS is $50/year, or $75 if you pay late.

Most of the time, the Registered Agents like to take care of the Franchise tax for you because they can tack on some extra fees. However, it is so easy to pay yourself that you might as well save the cash. Here is the link:

https://delecorp.delaware.gov/eCorp/LoginAnnualReportsCLF

All you need is your Delaware File number, which will be on the papers you received from your Registered Agent. You can pay by credit card.

You can probably pay your Registered Agent fee online, also, but you will have to check with them.

Step 3: Dissolution….

Cost: $200

If it comes to it, you may need to dissolve your company. If so, don’t delay or bury your head in the sand when the Franchise tax is due, and your Registered Agent keeps hounding you (not that I would ever do that!). Remember, you cannot even dissolve the company until these taxes are paid.

So, you’re all paid up on taxes. Now what? Once again, your Registered Agent will offer to do the dissolution for you, but I have found this to be quite expensive. It is much cheaper, and not at all difficult, to do this yourself. You will need to fill out two forms: the Certificate of Cancellation, and the Corporate Certificate Cover Memo. The cost of dissolution is $200. You can input your credit card info into the Cover Memo, or send a check. If you need help with any of these, just give the friendly folks at the Delaware incorporation office a call at: 302-739-3073. They were very helpful when I called. When the forms are filled in fax them to: 302-739-3812.

Conclusion

All in all, starting, maintaining, and dissolving a Delaware LLC is well within the realm of DIY, though I would strongly suggest using a Registered Agent for the initial formation.

Resources

Official State of Delaware site for corporations

LLC corporate forms

other business entity forms

I hope this has been helpful. If nothing else, at least I have it all written down for next time!

Good luck with your incorporation endeavors, and please feel free to correct me on anything in the comments, and I will edit this posting to reflect those changes.

Using Balsamiq Mockups for Wireframing and Clear Communication

I first ran across Balsamiq Mockups about a year ago and immediately fell in love. My previous mockups were sketched up in MS Visio – a time consuming and frustrating endeavor except for the truly committed. Balsamiq changed all that, and I can now whip up nice looking wireframes in minutes. I use it for my day job, and also for conXt.

To give you an idea of what Balsamiq Mockups produces, here are a couple of conXt related screenshots – feel free to comment on any part of them:

Creating a wireframe mockup in Balsamiq Mockups

view 'My Profile' in Edit Mode

View a conXtion in 'Read Mode'

View a conXtion in 'Read Mode'

Balsamiq allows you to drag controls, like buttons, tabs, accordion files, etc., and containers onto the work area, add text to them, and set some properties that will give you some fine-grained control.In this way, you can create mockups in minutes.

In addition to using BM to create mockups, I also use it to communicate clearly with the external conXt development team. I do this both by creating ‘marked-up’ versions of the above wireframes, as well as taking screenshots of the existing UI, importing them into BM, and then marking those up. I then export a pdf from BM and email it back to them. I import the screenshots by dropping an Image control onto the workspace, and then choosing the ‘import image’ button in order to load the screenshot into that Image control. Here is a sample of a marked up mock up that describes the functionality of the main conXt address book page:

the main Address Book view of conXt

the main Address Book view of conXt

All in all, I have to say that Balsamiq Mock Ups has made the whole process of mocking up a page significantly easier. This is especially true in the case of non-technical people – this tool allows them to simply and easily throw their ideas together and then have them reviewed. As is true most of the time, a picture is worth a thousand words.

There are two  things that I would like to see added in the next version of BM:

  1. A default file type that gets saved when you save a mock up. As it currently exists, when you choose to Save a new mock up, no file type is given. If you mistakenly save it without explicitly adding a file type, like .xml for instance, then no file type gets saved with the file and it becomes difficult to open it – this is especially true in the case of non-technical folks who often don’t even show the file extensions.
  2. The ability to export a single mock up to PDF. Currently, you can only export all of the mockups that you have open into one pdf, whether they are related or not. This forces a user to either close all the mockups he has open that he does not want as part of the PDF and then open them again later, or export all of them into the single PDF and use another tool to delete the unwanted mockups.

Those are small gripes in an otherwise great tool.

If you’re interested, I have created a 5 minute video on this subject that shows Balsamiq Mockups in action. This is the first video I have created for a blog, so please let me know of improvements I should make.

Lastly, have you used Balsamiq Mockups before? What are your thoughts on this too, or any other tool that deserves consideration for speedy wireframing?

Short Review and How to Use Balsamiq Mockups

Welcome to the conXt Blog!

Welcome friends, family, colleagues, and web stumblers. My name is Eric Greenberg, and it is my pleasure to introduce you to conXt!

I am an IT Project Manager by day and an IT Project Maniac by night with way to many ideas and way to little time. However, the idea behind conXt kept creeping to the surface until eventually it demanded that something be done about it. Therefore, I incorporated and began the development process.

First off, if you haven’t seen the “About conXt” page yet, conXt is pronounced con•ext. It simply references the connection between people’s addresses that I hope to create with this application.

conXt, when fully realized, will be a multi-platform address book utility. It is not trying to be the next big social network, nor will it try to invade all facets of your life  with spam. Instead, my intention is that conXt become something of a ubiquitous utility – the kind of tool that you use frequently but don’t really think to much about.

Two things really spurred the creation of conXt: the first was that my wife and I always intend to send out a Holiday card every year, but then we never wind up getting everyone’s addressed together so it doesn’t happen. The second was that I regularly receive emails from people in my life asking for my mailing address. The common denominator is obviously addresses. But it occurred to me that why should I fill out 150 addresses initially, and then work to keep them updated, when I could simply ask people to do it themselves and give me access to that data. In one fowl swoop I could be organized, current, and lazy about my address book!

conXt is the exploration of this idea of Address sharing in an interconnected world.

Like many founders, I have a million and one ideas about features for conXt. However, I have recently been learning about ‘lean‘ startups, and the fact that most successful applications don’t wind up being what they started out to be. So, with that idea in mind, I scaled back the features and will release in March 2010 with just the basic features in place. Feature development after that point will be metrics-driven depending on how people are using conXt.

Again, welcome to conXt. If this endeavor interests you, please subscribe to the RSS feed or leave your email in the box at right, and you will receive future blog posts in your RSS reader or email client. You can also follow the trials and tribulations of conXt on twitter.

I would like to leave you with a parting question. I am looking for a tagline for conXt – this is what I have so far:

a private address book for an interconnected world

Do you have any thoughts on that? Do you think you can do better??

Cheers!

Eric