Filling the void in local news; ArlNow.com is THE news source for local news!

Meet Scott Brodbeck of ARLnow.com. ARLnow.com is a “hyperlocal” site that delivers the latest news for Arlington, Virginia.

Celebrating one year and three months since its launch date in January 2010, ARLnow.com has become a well respected source for news in the Metro DC Area.

From politics to food trucks, gossip and in-depth breaking news, ARLnow.com covers it all.

Mr. Brodbeck has been mentioned on main stream media sources like; The Washington Post, USA Today, NBC, TBD, and FOX5 just to name several.

With over 20,000 comments from his followers, most startups would consider this venture a success. However, Mr. Brodbeck believes success is not living off his “savings account!”

Now you’re talking!

Please tell me a bit about yourself.

My name is Scott Brodbeck. I am 27. I graduated from George Washington University in 2006. I am currently in year 2 of a part-time graduate degree program at Georgetown, where I am working on my MBA. I was born and raised in Pittsburgh. After high school I went Los Angeles to Loyola Marymount University to major in television, where I discovered that TV just wasn’t for me. I then took an internship here in D.C., and have been here ever since.

Can you tell me some details about your business?

I worked in TV since my senior year, first as a production assistant, then as a writer and content producer. I worked for 2 local television stations here, as well as a national news bureau. In January 2010, I had just left NBC; I couldn’t make it work with my school schedule. I couldn’t decide what to do next. I lived in Arlington, and tried to find out more about the area. I realized there wasn’t much information out there about the area I lived in, especially online. The area was covered sparsely in the local weekly paper, a little in the Washington Post, and occasionally on the local news. So I decided to fill the void. Within 24 to 36 hours, I decided on a name for a web site, registered it, and started working at it as a full time job. It has been growing beyond what I imagined! I really focused on growing the traffic and putting up the best content possible. Recently I have been focusing on advertising. It is not very lucrative at the moment, but it’s growing and I am having fun doing it.

How do you get the ideas for your stories?

Since I worked for about 5 years in local news, I had some good experience in sniffing out stories and developing those stories. That helps a lot. As far as on a day-to-day basis, I talk to my connections and sources. I talk to the lawmakers, business owners, and Arlington County officials. I cultivated good relationships with these people, so now they talk to me and tell me about things that are going on. I am on several mailing lists. I also have great readers, who will utilize our anonymous tip box quite often. When I first started, I had a hard time thinking about what to write about, but now I am never at a loss.

How many hours a day do you typically put in?

I probably put in about 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. I always have to spend time on school as well. I don’t sleep much or have much free time, but I do love what I am doing, so it all balances out.

Is there any advice you would give to others looking to start their own business on balancing work and their other commitments, like school or family?

I would definitely say, establish some boundaries. When I first started, I would do posts throughout the day, even on weekends. I then decided I needed to set some boundaries. I said unless something big happens on weekends, I have to take them off. I decided in general to try to end my day by 5pm. I will still make advertising sales and check emails after hours, but I try set aside time for school and sleep. I have to constantly set aside time for school.

What would you say has been your biggest sacrifice?

I have had to sacrifice my savings account and my time. I’m making enough to pay my business expenses, but not to pay myself for personal expenses. Someday I will be able to, but right now I have to use my savings to live. I don’t have much time to hang out with my friends or play video games anymore. I now see people once a month that I used to see every weekend, so time has definitely been a big one.

How would you define success?

For me, it’s when people commenting on my stories and being engaged with my content. Each day last week I had articles that received more than 100 comments apiece. That is very gratifying, especially with all the sacrifices I have had to make. Financially, I will be a success when I no longer have to live off my savings account. When that happens, I think I will pop open a cheap bottle of champagne and celebrate. I think that may come this summer.

What would you say is the best way to achieve long term success?

I think what I am eventually going to have to do is hire someone or get a partner. I know that I can’t keep this up forever. I haven’t been able to take more than a 3 day weekend. I need a vacation at some point and need to strike a balance eventually so that I can make this a long term venture.

Where do you see yourself in 10 or 20 years?

If my site is still around in 10 or 20 years, I will be thrilled. This is a rapidly developing media landscape. The site I run is often referred to as a hyper-local site, and it’s still an emerging field. I can count the number of people who run legitimately profitable sites like mine on one hand. But that’s the way the news business is going. Independent, locally run sites with one or two people in charge, rather than newspapers with hundreds of employees, is the way of the future. I have no idea where I will be in the future, but if the site still around in 20 years, it will certainly show that we are doing something right.

Are there any other businesses around that you would like to emulate?

I very much admire what Howard Owens is doing in New York at the Batavian. He is a pioneer.  So is Tracy Record at West Seattle Blog. Other hyper-local sites, like in New Jersey and Sacramento. People who are like me who are pioneers who are going out there risking everything to put out a great product that their readers and advertisers love, I have a lot of admiration for them.

What are the three top skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?

Perseverance, time management, and interpersonal skills. All businesses are in some way or another interacting with people. If you can’t deal with that, you probably won’t succeed. Also, you have to know what you are doing. If you don’t know your business, how can you make a living at it?

If you had to start this over again, is there anything you would do differently?

I would get more business structure in place earlier. Early on I had more time, I didn’t have as many readers or pressure to have content on the site at all times. I would have learned more about how to run a business. I really had to wing it at first. I also would have taken the time to get to know the local business owners. They are the ones that would pay to advertise on my site, and if I had approached them then, who knows? That is one of the big ones.

If I gave you a million dollars, what would you do differently?

I would probably hire someone really good to do the reporting side of the business, while I concentrated on the business side, like sales. I would hire someone to do content. A good person for that is not easy to find. It’s hard to find people who are good at writing and good at sniffing out stories, so I would definitely use the money to find the right person to help.

What three pieces of advice who you give to anyone looking to start their own business?

Know that it’s going to consume your life. Stick with it. Be able to see the big picture over the short term picture. Also, befriend someone who has started a business, because it will make your life easier. Having a mentor or someone whose brain you could pick would be quite advantageous.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Nothing that I can think of off the top of my head.

Connect with Scott Brodbeck of ArlNow.com

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They know how to get the answers to all your questions.

You’ve got questions – ProConIt has the answers.

Sorry, indecisiveness is longer an excuse now that ProConIt.com has launched. Created by young entrepreneurs Matthew Hills and Cameron Hamilton, both of Northern Virginia; ProConit helps users “analyze and evaulate any subject and achieve useful results so they can make better decisions.”

Using ProConit is like having a panel of people ready at your whelm to provide you with insightful opionions to your questions.

Breaking piggy banks and depleting the savings account is how ProConIt got started.

See how Matthew and Cameron came up with the idea for their new website and why they believe they are filling an unttaped niche.

And when you are finished, make sure you ask them a question. ProConit loves questions.

Please give us a bit of background about your business?

Matt: It all started a couple of years ago when I was trying to evaluate the pros and cons of taking on a certain project at work. I was drawing it out on paper, and thought “why can’t I do this on the web?” So I searched online and could not find a way to do it. I started thinking about the applications of the pro/con format on the web, and further realized the implications and possibilities with the dynamic social media sites that were on the rise. I got together with Cameron and we discussed a possible product and how it could be useful. We discussed various product features, thoroughly researched our idea, and checked for similar products . Once we had a core idea we liked, and were confident it was unique, we decided to move forward. From this came ProConIt.com, our social media website and community where users can evaluate any subject in the pro/con format, incorporating crowdsourced arguments and weights, which we call ‘Procons’. We designed Procons to be simple, dynamic, and embeddable, so they can be used by anyone, from large media companies to individuals.

Can I get a bit of background from each of you?

Matt: Ever since I was young, I was interested in computers. In high school, I even had a job taking computers apart and fixing them. I always had an interest in internet technology and how computers work. I grew up in the Springfield/Burke area. I then went for my BA and took an interdisciplinary route with part computer science at the engineering school and part regular BA courses. After that, I worked in software development and IT management.

Matthew Hills

Cameron: I went to Thomas Jefferson Science and Tech. I went on to study electrical engineering, and then changed to economics after 3 semesters, after which I went on to graduate with my Bachelors Degree. I then worked at a small software firm where I did M&A and capital raises. Then I moved to The McLean Group, where I still am today, to work my day job. I do government contracting working an in acquisitions.

Cameron Hamilton

 
Can you tell me about how the business works? Is it an informational website or a for profit site?

Matt: I would describe it as a user generated content/social media website, but we have also coined the new term ‘social evaluation’ to describe it, since we see it as relatively unique in the world.  Currently, we are following the ‘dot-com’ style startup. The site is free for all users. We want to perpetuate the idea and own the format, becoming pervasive on the web, where other companies and websites look to use us and our architecture. Right now we are focused on increasing our user base and content value. Later our goals are to monetize based on various ideas and projects.

Cameron: Our goal is to have applicability to a number of companies and industries. It is important to see how both general potential users and the paid advertisers and corporations are using the site. This helps us build a knowledge base and allows us to understand how the site is being used, as well as showing us what kinds of features will benefit people and help get them the most value out of the site. We believe in the next 3 to 6 months, we will have completed gathering this information, and will be able to put into effect the next stage of our plan, which is to begin gathering revenue.

Where did you get the start-up capital you needed to get started with ProConIt.com?

Cameron: We smashed Matt’s piggy bank! Honestly, though, we both put in a lot of our personal savings, and time. We have also found key partners in a local legal firm, as well as a local software firm, which helped us get the site built and patent the trademark filings. We have one outside angel investor. Hopefully, this will carry us through the start of a capital-finance raise in 2011.

If you had unlimited funding tomorrow, what would you do differently?

Cameron: There are several areas we would look at. There are the features and functionality we would like to continue to develop, as well as software development. There are marketing efforts we would like to spend money on. We would also like to hire some software developers and some people internally, so we can develop the infrastructure of the company and have paid employees. We would love to create a company where we didn’t have to outsource so much.

Matt: This is an interesting question. I believe that if you sat either Cameron or myself down, we could talk for hours about different product enhancements and ideas we would like to further develop. That basically results in an enormous wish list. We know that putting lots of features and functionality into a new product right away is not necessarily the best way to go. I think there are definitely some tweaks we would make to the product, but the main thing now is to see if we can really get the idea across and get to the heart of what we are trying to do. If we had the money, we would definitely put it towards marketing efforts and advertising; trying to get more people directed to the site.

What are your goals over the next 5 to 10 years?

Cameron: The answer to that, for me, is to see this become a successful business. To do that, it means we are delivering value and services to our customers, and that we are working with people to share information and help them make better, and more informed, decisions. If we make money along the way: great. Whether it is a small independent business, or a platform that reaches around the web in 5 or 10 years, doesn’t matter.

Matt: Our 5 year goal is to build a successful, sustainable internet-software company based on the Procon format and the idea of social evaluation. We would like to become as recognized as social networking, where people instantly understand what it means, understand the value of it, and enjoy it, just like they do facebook or twitter. The ultimate success lies in our business becoming sustainable, whether we are a small company or a tech giant doesn’t matter as much to me, as long as we can build something interesting and useful.

What motivates you to keep going when times are tough?

Cameron: It might sound a little crazy, but what drives me is the idea of providing a valuable service without costing consumers a lot of money. This is a tool that can provide better information and improve business and individual decisions. Our original idea was to do the research and build a tool that will help people evaluate things better and make better decisions. That all said, I don’t believe there is anything out there that does this, and I really believe we can do it and make a difference in people’s lives. That is what excites me and motivates me when times are hard.

Matt: I agree with what Cameron said. For me, it’s the end intent that keeps us going. A lot of what we want to change is how evaluation and arguments exist in media and the Internet. Currently, it often seems like whoever yells the loudest or gets the most attention is the one who ‘wins’. We wonder, “are these the arguments that people really believe?” What motivates me is that ProConIt could change this and become the recognized way for understanding the real ideas and arguments that resonate with people. We feel that if enough people express their opinion in the Procon format, the most valuable arguments will come forward. And that’s the whole idea behind social evaluation.  Large amounts of people come together and opine on a topic, vote on the best arguments, with a socially evaluated result, or ‘winner’. Fringe and extreme arguments are cast aside, and we get to the actual ‘why’ and real value of what people think. This possibility is exciting, beneficial in so many ways, and certainly keeps me motivated.

How do you generate new ideas?

Matt: Our new ideas come from a variety of angles.  We get feedback from users, and look at what we can add, feature and content-wise, to improve our product and show people what it can do. Right now, in terms of new ideas, we are developing a strategy to drive traffic to the site, get more people involved, and increase our presence on social networks. We try to think about different ways to leverage social networks with our product, besides just the obvious—posting content and such—then we implement the best ideas we find.  And that’s the whole idea behind ProConIt.  We constantly evaluate our ideas at the grass roots level.

Cameron: Sometimes we discuss a hot topic of the day. We feed the discussion this way in the hope that our users will eventually truly own and be responsible for the content. The content will be user driven.

Matt: Cameron makes a great point.  One of the main features of our product is that it is embeddable as a widget.  Anyone with a blog or website can create a Procon and embed it on their site to improve their content offering. This allows our users to create new ideas and topics, benefit from what they create, and makes us the managers of the framework.

How do you define success?

Cameron: There are several different definitions of success for us. The minute someone logs on and is helped, we are successful. We are then validating the product. Also, by building the business and building a successful framework, we are successful.

Matt: When I look around, there seem to be lots of opinions about what defines success for an Internet startup, and they all seem to be different. One person may come up with a new idea, and lots of people follow it, resulting in success.  But I would like our success to involve creating something brand new that has never been done before. In that vein, the ultimate success is for our  idea to create a sustainable business and become widely adopted, with lots of people using our framework for new ideas of their own.

Is there a formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur?

Matt:  There are lots of articles about the patterns of Internet startups and entrepreneurs. I found that a lot of them follow very different paths or formulas, and each will claim their own as the right way. The truth is, they are all the right way, for that time and person.  The world of Internet entrepreneurship is tricky, as things change so fast.  You can’t necessarily follow someone else’s path, because it has already been done.  I think it’s more about having certain qualities and not being afraid to do something new.  Attention to detail is key.  If you hear objections from already successful Internet entrepreneurs because your idea has never been done before, or doesn’t follow a conventional formula, you are likely on the right path.  Successful Entrepreneurs might talk about what the ‘next big thing’ is going to be, but the truth is no one knows, or else they would do it, and it will instead come out of left field, or some college kid’s dorm room.  At least, that’s my take on the world of Internet entrepreneurship.

Cameron: There are two overriding principles. The first is to believe in your product or service. The second is that is takes lots of work. You need the work ethic.

Matt: Yeah, hard work is definitely a part of it. But so is luck. You have to do your research.

What three pieces of advice would you give to new entrepreneurs?

Cameron: First, do your homework. Find out if there is a market for your product or service. The second is to plan for what you want. How are you going to fund it? Are you going to quit your current job? Just remember everything is going to cost more than you planned for. The third thing is to be flexible. Don’t be too locked in to your path. You need to listen to feedback and be ready to adapt your plan for new ideas and things that may happen. Be adaptable.

Matt: First, have a plan. It can be lofty and ambitious, or focused and narrow, and you can change it if you have to, but always have a plan.  Second, be fearless.  Don’t be afraid to try new things and do what you feel you must (within reason, of course) to be successful. Third, make sure you take interview training and know how to give a good interview. It’s not always easy to be confident in the spotlight and be able to talk about your product or service.

Are there any companies or individuals that are inspirations to either of you?

Matt: There are lots of individuals and companies that are inspirational, especially in the world of tech and the Internet.  These individuals are great success stories, and command almost cult-like followings.  Inspiration is a great thing, but I try not to get too wrapped up in one person over another.  From Nikola Tesla to the Google guys, I find inspiration in almost any innovative and successful tech story, large or small.

Cameron: There are a number of people I admire in the way they have tried to solve problems over the internet. What we are trying to also do is make it easier, faster, and better for people to solve their problems online. I admire other companies that have solved those types of issues online.

Connect with Cameron and Matthew – ProConIt.com

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At 19, she already has your recipe for success.

At 19, Elizabeth Sabol-Jones is the youngest entrepreneur to interview with Inspirest. She is a student at Georgetown University in Washington, DC where she studies Chinese.

Learn what inspired Elizabeth to start Nightly Noms – a student run on campus bakery with delivery service.

The ingredients for Nightly Noms’ recipe included:

  • A dash of motivation from an Entrepreneurship Club
  • A sprinkle of inspiration from family traditions
  • And a pinch of drive to support a cause.

Please tell me about yourself and your background.

I am about to turn 20. I went to private school for several years, and then was homeschooled, before going to public high school. I attend Georgetown University, where I am a sophomore and a Chinese language major, which is just about as far from cooking as you can get! I became interested in baking when I went off to college. My parents cooked all the time when I was younger. My mom and grandmother baked a lot, which is where I get the basis for many of my recipes. I was always involved in sports and clubs, which has always given me an interest in team work and working for a common goal. This is how the ideas for Nightly Noms’ future came about.

What from your background gave you the idea for your business?

At Georgetown University they recently started a club called the Compass Fellowship, which is a social entrepreneur fellowship. It was their pilot year when I joined. Joining them is what got me interested in entrepreneurship and starting my own business. I think one of the hardest things about starting a business is just making the first leap to decide to go out on your own. Your business becomes your baby. The Compass Fellowship really helped me do that. The fellowship promotes forming a business and using it as a format to promote certain causes and form social change. We did modules on everything from finance to marketing discussing how to start your own business. This gave me a great foundation, especially for someone who is not majoring in business and does not have a business background, on how to get started. All of us were supposed to start our own businesses at Georgetown. The fellowship has recently spread to other colleges and universities, and is spreading nationwide to promote entrepreneurship among college-age students and individuals.

Could you tell me a bit more about your business and what causes you support?

When I first joined Compass, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, or what causes I wanted to support. We had a potluck to discuss ideas, and after baking dessert for my friends, I realized I really loved the feeling that came from making something from scratch and sharing my creation with others. There was something very special about that to me. I started thinking, how can I incorporate this into a business? So I began experimenting with recipes and ideas on how to make a business of it. I talked to my friends about how to open a bakery and a baked goods delivery service on campus. I didn’t want to spend all of my money on flour and eggs, so I looked into ideas on how to finance it.

I decided to make inquiries on whether people would be interested in the idea, and I got a really good response. So I played with the idea, and started planning. Honestly, I started to get lost in the plans at first. I started at a friends’ birthday party, and it was great. We started last spring with a bakery delivery service two days a week, and it evolved from there. Now we deliver baked goods one day a week, but people can order their baked goods any day. We have the delivery service, but we also have a blog, which I run, which has updates and recipe ideas.

We realize that a lot of people are fearful at first to experiment in the kitchen. So we try to take the pressure off by giving them ideas. We also go to different restaurants and give reviews for others. We try to show other college students that they can start their own businesses.

In terms of our cause, we donate a portion of our profits to Operation Smile. Operation Smile is a nonprofit that performs cleft lip and palette surgery on children around the world. The connection for us is that baking and delivery food to our peers provides smiles to our neighbors, and they provide smiles to children around the world. Our goal is to provide a nutritional program to children in public schools.

We want to show them that they can still have tasty treats, while still eating healthy. We want to show them that they can still have sweets and baked goods, as long as they eat them in moderation, and they can still have a healthy life. It is a little all over the place at the moment, but we have a firm focus on improving people’s awareness of a healthy lifestyle through the children of D.C.

You focus more on healthier baked goods then?

We try to show people there are more than ho-ho’s out there. We use fresh ingredients. For instance, we have banana chocolate chip muffins. We use fresh banana instead of banana extract. We want to show people it is okay to eat baked goods, as long as you eat them in moderation.

Earlier you mentioned that you didn’t want to spend all of your personal money, so where did you end up getting your starting capital from?

In the beginning, we started with side orders, like a dozen muffins for a party or organization. I also took some of my own money and put it in. Baking has a pretty good profit margin, so we were able to put the money back in from each order. After about a year, the fellowship offered us $1,000 as seed money. We did an outline of what we would do, and where the money would go, and they gave it to us to allow our business to begin taking off.

If you had unlimited funding tomorrow, what would you do differently in regards to your business?

I would definitely find a good commercial space to run our business out of. I would put some money into helping make a more efficient plan. It’s hard to get everything done in an efficient manner to help us stay on track. I would also put money towards our school program.

If you were given $1 Million for your personal life, what would you do with it?

I would save it, finish school, make sure that Nightly Noms was up and running; and then I would move to China to either start a bakery, restaurant, or an amateur cooking school.

So do you have any inspirations or role models who you look up to?

Mostly family. My grandmother passed away about 7 years ago, but I still use her recipes and I have always drawn on ideas and techniques from my mom’s cooking. Also, and it may sound silly, but I really look up to Julia Child. I may not be into French cooking, but I love her attitude. She was a very no-nonsense type of chef. I like the idea that you can make mistakes in the kitchen and it’s not the end of the world. It’s a very simple idea, but it’s so true.

What is your definition of success?

My definition of success, in terms of my business, we are happy doing what we do. It’s not about making tons of money, or people adoring what we do. We enjoy what we do. If you can find something in your life that you really truly enjoy doing, you can be a success. As long as I have fun with it, and love what I am doing, I am really and truly successful.

If you could do it over again, is there anything you would do differently?

I would probably try to organize things more. It is a pretty well organized, in terms of how we do the baking and delivery, but I feel it could be more structured. I feel we could have had more check lists, and I could have been held more accountable for how we build Nightly Noms. There are little things we could have done at the beginning to have made it run more smoothly. I am generally happy about how things are done; I just feel we could have used a little more organization at the beginning to ensure it was all done well, and on a timely basis.

If you could characterize your life as an entrepreneur in one word, what would you say?

It’s hard to find one word to describe it. I want to say spastic, but that has such negative connotations, and that’s not really what I mean. It’s really exciting and a really good kind of frazzled. There are always things that have to be done, but it’s good. There is not just one word to describe it, but it is exciting and there is just so much happening.

What three pieces of advice would you give to anyone considering the entrepreneurial lifestyle?

First of all, don’t be afraid to start; don’t be afraid to fail. One of the hardest things to do is just to make that first leap. People need to understand, if you start a business and it just doesn’t work out, that does not mean you are a failure. It just didn’t work this time. You need to persevere. Perseverance is a good quality to have. Everyone fails every once and a while. Another piece of advice is to definitely have a support group. It’s hard to do everything yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Even if you just ask for advice, you need the support to succeed. You should always be open to new ideas. You need to be open minded enough to accept that sometimes people will have ideas that can help you.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Just have fun with what you are doing. Make sure to find something that you love doing, and just do it.

Connect with Elizabeth Sabol-Jones and Nightly Noms

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