The most most valuable resource we have are our members. We’re an amazing group of entrepreneurs who want to help each other out. To help further our mission, Capital Entrepreneurs and our members organize some great events and have formed special interest organizations as part of the Capital Entrepreneurs network. These include:
|The Forward Technology Festival takes place in August each year and is Madison’s flagship technology and entrepreneurship festival. Since starting in 2010, it’s grown to include 10 full days packed with events organized by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs and is headlined by the Forward Technology Conference.|
|Build Madison is a 24 hour community “create-a-thon” that brings together creative and talented people to cooperatively build real products in less than 24 hours. The event has been held yearly since 2011 at Sector67.|
|The Doyenne Group is a networking/mentoring group for women entrepreneurs. We provide support for women as they develop themselves as entrepreneurs, found and build their ventures, and help women become more fully engaged in the broader entrepreneurial community.|
|Madison Iterators is an informal, weekly meetup of product creators and entrepreneurs. At each meeting, groups share the progress they’ve made since the last meeting, along with challenges they’ve faced and what they plan to accomplish by the next meeting.|
Capital Entrepreneurs has a number of very generous and entrepreneur friendly Sponsors that support our organization.
- Horizon Coworking (Downtown)
- Sector67 (Near East)
- 100state (Downtown)
- Bendyworks (Downtown – Reserved Desk)
- Madworks Coworking (West)
- Machinery Row (Downtown)
Have legal questions or need advice?
The UW Law & Entrepreneurship Clinic provides free legal services to early stage start-ups.
Want to work for a Madison startup?
Check out our Startup Jobs section.
Be sure to check out the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Toolkit and The Entrepreneurs’ Handbook: 101 Resources for First Time Entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneur 101 Resources
Entrepreneur Resources is based off of Entrepreneur 101 by Nathan Lustig. It is a list of books, blog posts, videos and practical how-to resources about how to start a startup.
- 13 Sentences – Paul Graham
- How to Start a Startup – Paul Graham
- What Startups are Really Like – Paul Graham
- 18 Mistakes that Kill Startups - Paul Graham
- The Top Ten Lies of Venture Capitalists – Guy Kawasaki
- The Top Ten Lies of Entrepreneurs - Guy Kawasaki
- 9 Business Selection Criteria – Fabrice Grinda
- Top 10 Geek Business Myths – Ron Garret
- The 3 Advantages of a Startup – Mark McGuire
- Entrepreneurs Come in All Shapes and Sizes - Nathan Lustig
- Every Startup Needs a Mentor Team - Nathan Lustig
- Malcolm Gladwell on Spaghetti Sauce – Malcolm Gladwell
- How to Live Before You Die – Steve Jobs
- Once Upon a School – Dave Eggers
- Freakonomics- Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt
- SuperFreakonomics – Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt
- The Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell
- Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell
- The World is Flat – Thomas Friedman
- The PayPal Wars – Eric Jackson
- Made to Stick – Chip Heath
File an LLC
LLCs are the easiest way to get started and can be done online in Wisconsin. Some people (mainly VCs) will say that they prefer S-Corps or other business structures, but LLCs are the easiest and usually the best for new businesses. It takes about 10 minutes and costs $130. Each year, you have to pay $25 to keep the registration current. You can have a legal business without ever leaving your desk and you can switch to a new structure fairly easily. If you plan to pay yourself a salary or seek institutional investment in the near future, it may be better to have an S-corp, but for most new startups, an LLC will be sufficient. You can always convert later.
Get your Tax Id (FEIN)
You will need to get a Federal Employer Identification Number to go with your LLC and you can apply online on the IRS website. It usually takes about 10-15 minutres. A FEIN is just like a social security number, but for your business. You will need your FEIN to set up your business bank account, credit card processing a ton of others.
Free Business Bank Account
You will need to get business bank account to keep all revenue and expenses separate from your individual accounts. You legally need to do this for accounting and tax purposes, but it also just makes good business sense. When you go to the bank, you will need a driver’s license, a copy of your LLC papers from the government (print these out from their website) your FEIN from the IRS and an initial deposit.
You should look for a bank within walking distance of your house or office so that you can stop in easily. You should also look for free accounts. Most banks will give you a free business account with good online banking access. Chase, US Bank and UW Credit Union are good choices in Madison. UW Credit Union is the easiest to set up, but does not offer all of the services that a larger bank may offer. If your business is simple or you don’t envision much complexity to start, check out your local credit union. They should have a totally free business bank account.
US Bank’s business bank account is free, but their online banking website is not the greatest. Chase has great online banking, but seems to be a bigger company and tries to charge fees if it can. Especially in today’s economy, banks should be competing for your business (account).
Credit Card Processing
Getting signed up for credit card processing can be confusing. Here’s how it works. In order to accept credit cards online, you need to have two accounts. First, you need access to a payment gateway, which acts just like the point of sale card machines you see in the grocery store or restaurants. Your payment gateway is the virtual version of the traditional point of sale machine. Authorize.net is a good choice. Your payment gateway will charge monthly fees, usually between $10-$30 per month. Some places will try to charge you an activation fee of $99 or more.
Second, you’ll need a merchant account, which is a special type of bank account that allows you to accept credit card deposits. You can get one through most major banks or through any of Authorize.net’s resellers. Merchant accounts charge processing fees: a flat fee of between $.10-$.30 per transaction and a percentage fee, usually between 1.5%-3%. Additionally, American Express charges a higher rate, usually between 3.5%-4.5%. This higher rate is why many businesses do not accept American Express.
You can sign up for these accounts many different ways, but it is the exact same service no matter where you sign up. I’ve found that companies with name recognition (Chase, US Bank, Authorize.net etc) charge higher fees. You can go to any company on this list of resellers, but Bank Card USA, is a good place to start because they have low fees.
Register Your Domain
GoDaddy is the easiest way to register domains. If you use GoDaddy, register your domain 1 year at a time, not the default 5 years. Never pay full price. Follow this link to get $7.49 GoDaddy domains instead of paying $10 or do a Google search for Godaddy promo codes.
There are tons of web hosting options out there for your needs. You can set up your website using a free WordPress account that you host on your own server or with a cheap shopping cart website from a shopping cart company like Shopify. Shopify allows you to set up your own online retailing website without having to know any programming. If you have a product to sell, Shopify is a great choice.
If you want to program your own website or host the site on your own server, your main options are shared hosting, Virtual Private Server (VPS), or a dedicated server. Shared hosting is the cheapest, followed by VPS and a dedicated server. Dreamhost, Rimuhosting, and Slicehost are good choices. This site is hosted on a virtual private server at Dreamhost for $9.95 per month.
Get Email @yourdomain
One of the biggest credibility builders you can have is an email address from your own domain. Use Google’s Apps for Domain because it’s free and easy to set up. You use gmail’s interface, but instead of being @gmail.com you can create as many accounts as you’d like @yourdomain.com.
You should create multiple email addresses to make yourself look like a larger company. For example, you can have email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, etc.
If you already have a gmail account that you use for non-business purposes, you can forward all of your new google apps for domain email to your old gmail account. Use gmail labs multiple inboxes and go to the settings menu so that you can send email from multiple accounts from your gmail account. You will be able to increase your productivity and email response rates this way.
Automated Hard Drive Backup
An automated hard drive backup system is a lifesaver if your computer crashes or is stolen. You put a program on your computer and it runs in the background, automatically backing up any file on your computer. It is great for getting new computers, too. Mozy is the best company in this space. You can also get started with a free plan that gives you 2GB free.
Google Docs, Google Calendar
Use Google Docs to manage all of my business documents. You can access them from anywhere, share them with people and edit anytime. Google Calendar is worth using as well. You can share multiple calendars, get email reminders and notices to your phone.
Get Business Cards
You never know who you will run into, so carry a few business cards with you at all times. Try to make your card stand out from the bunch if you can. You can buy business cards from any local print shop, but there are a ton of places where you can get free or cheap business cards online.
Logos and Graphic Design
Depending on your business, graphic design might really matter or not matter at all. If you are a web startup, spend money/time finding a good designer, but if you are smaller or are just looking for a logo, check out Crowdspring. You post your project and how much you are willing to pay and anyone can submit a logo. You can use itfor package design, logo design, web design, letterhead and many other things.
First, get a copy of Quickbooks. Next, find a local accountant and pay for an hour of his/her time. Ask for a a free consultation, but be ready to pay a discounted rate. Get familiar with basic accounting and basic tax forms.
Enter Business Plan Competitions
Entering a business plan competition is a huge help to startups. You have to think about all sorts of issues and present to a group of strangers. Many times the judges are the first neutral people who hear your in depth pitch. Business plan competitions are a great proving ground to hear what people think about your business and force you to think through more issues that you would otherwise. The Burrill Business Plan Competition at the University of Wisconsin is the best local one. The Governor’s Business Plan also worth entering. Don’t be afraid of the competion: check out business plan competitions in your area and enter.
Sign up for a Linkedin account and fill out your profile. Make it as professional as possible. Add people as you meet them and use Linkedin to connect with people outside of your network. Create a Twitter account and Facebook page for your business, but only if you intend to update it regularly. Make sure your Twitter, Facebook and company blog all have the same messaging.
If you want to create a blog, try WordPress. It is a versatile, easy to use platform that can be used for things other than just blogs. This site runs on Wordpres. You can create a solid website using WordPress without much technical skill. Here’s a list of the plugins we use on this blog:
- Simple FB Share Button – Includes Facebook Share Button
- Topsy – Includes the retweet button
- Similar Posts – Displays similar posts automatically
- PostRank – Rates my posts according to internet popularity
- Easy Contact – Automatic contact form
- Subscribe to Comments – So users can be notified about new comments
- Akismet – For automatic deletion of spam comments
- WP Follow Me – The follow me on Twitter on the right hand side
Google Analytics is a free program that allows you to track all sorts of information about your content and the visitors who come to your site. You can see where your users come from (website and physical location), how long they spent on each page and all sorts of other interesting information. Make sure you install it on all of your sites.
If you are handling any sort of sensitive information, you will need a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) to encrypt the data. There are two main providers: Verisign and Thawte and both are owned by Verisign. Thawte was acquired by Verisign in 2000 and provide basically the same services, yet Thawte is significantly less expensive. The big difference is marketing. Customers recognize Verisign’s logo more often than Thawte, so unless your complete focus is security, get a Thawte SSL and save the money to start.
There are two types of online advertising, CPM and CPC. CPM is how much you make (or pay) per thousand impressions (ad views). CPC is how much it costs for each click. Generally, if you are buying ads, you want CPC if you are trying to sell ads, you’ll want CPM. When you are just starting out, Google Adwords is the best CPC bet. Check out Adify for CPM based ads.
An easy way to do conference calls is Free Conference Call. You can invite people to a call at a specific time and send out email invites. The service works really well and lets you seem larger than you really are.
One of the leaders is Constant Contact for email blasts, but felt it was a bit expensive. A newcommer is Ratepoint. It is great for sending out emails, surveys and getting great feedback on customer interaction and interest.
It’s always tough to figure out when to make the jump from working from home and in coffee shops to moving to a real office. Start off from home and moving to an office after waiting as long as possible to keep costs down. When it is time to look for an office, search for places within walking distance of where you live. You should start by talking to any startups in your area that might have extra space that they would like to rent out at a discount rate. Next, check with service providers. If you end up with an office in a startup or a service provider, you’ll have the added benefit of being able to ask questions and brainstorm together from time to time. Check out To Office or Not to Office for the full explanation.