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For-profit Vine Street Ventures to fund top Brandery grads

Graduates of The Brandery, Over-the-Rhine’s popular startup accelerator, have access to a new pool of potential funding with the recent launch of Vine Street Ventures Fund LLC, a venture capital firm created by Brandery co-founders Robert McDonald, Brian Kropp and Dave Knox.
 
While Vine Street represents a for-profit reach by the nonprofit’s founders, some of The Brandery’s values have translated to the new firm. “The primary goal is making money for our investors," says McDonals. "That said, we expect that the fund will also help the Cincinnati ecosystem by drawing additional top-quality companies to Cincinnati and potentially encouraging them to stay."
 
The fund raised just under $1.4 million, according to an amended U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing on Dec. 10. Vine Street Ventures reported participation by 42 investors, each with a contribution of at least $15,000. The fund’s initial offering was $2 million.
 
Asked whether the recent addition of new venture capital agencies in Cincinnati made for a competitive atmosphere, McDonald expresses hope that investors would bolster startups at various stages of development.

“To effectively fund a venture track business, we need to have a horizontal offering of funding sources. Vine Street Ventures focuses on the early growth companies coming out of The Brandery, but our portfolio companies will likely need funding all the way from Series A [the initial round of venture funding] through Series ZZ, as the case may be. We are thrilled with the current activity in Cincinnati and welcome any other funds that visit the region," he says.

By Robin Donovan

CrowdHall racks up funders, new political tool

Following the Brandery’s Demo Day, the rising social network CrowdHall has been developing new products and securing new investors.

While CrowdHall developer and CTO Nick Wientge is currently working at the Brandery with marketing and design staff, Jordan Menzel and CEO Austin Hackett have been traveling for business development and fundraising.

“We’re currently in due diligence process with a number of angel investment communities and institutional investment communities that span the Cincinnati area, Chicago, Utah and New York,” Menzel says.

The company is also looking to move forward with Vine Street Ventures.

“We’re also in the process of turning around a new product iteration, some of which has been added onto the site already,” Menzel says. “Another trunk will be coming out in January.”

One of its newest developments, “CrowdHall for Politics,” is an initiative based on a set of principles that CrowdHall created for elected officials: accessibility, responsiveness and innovation.

“We’re going to begin to highlight the elected officials that have committed to demonstrate those principles,” Menzel says. “We’ll be featuring a number of politicians from the federal, state and local level that are using CrowdHall to better keep an open door for decisions, now that the election is over.”

The initiative will be under development through the new year.

“If you’ve been looking for a place that provides you with the tools to be able to ask your questions, share ideas and your statement, and peer vote on the ones you would like to see rise to the top, CrowdHall is where you’re going to go to do that,” Menzel says.

By Kyle Stone

Architectural renderings add dimension to design

Graeme Daley officially launched his business, Daley Renderings, two months ago, but says, with a laugh: “It’s not launched until somebody knows about it.” The Indian Hill native is offering estate, urban and graphic design with a focus on 3-D renderings.

He first got into design and renderings playing a game on his grandfather’s computer.

“At the time (1995) it was intensely crude, really just geometry," he says. "With technology over the past 10 or 15 years, you can now do almost anything you can imagine. The program I use is the same program Pixar uses to make their box office movies and the same program that’s used to make Halo."

Daley focuses on architectural renderings and targets clients, such as architects and real estate agents, whose larger projects won’t find the expense of such a rendering prohibitive. “The ideal person for what I do could either be an architect that’s come up with a showcase design and wants a presentation that conveys that, say, if you’re proposing a new tower or university building and want something to roll out to the public.”

The role of his renderings is to help take 2-D plans and drawings and enliven them. He illustrates with computer-generated videos of his 3-D renderings exactly how a project will look from various angles. Or, as in a recent case, in which Daley was hired by a local real estate firm, he can show different ways a project could appear. In this case, Daley created four potential uses for two adjacent lots, showing how driveways could be curved for privacy and even demonstrating how both houses could be replaced by a single mansion.

Because Daley went through what he calls “the nine-year Bachelor’s plan,” he has some experience in mechanical engineering and industrial design, as well as architecture. (He eventually graduated from the University of Cincinnati's College of DAAP, by the way.) And while he says he might make more money in other states with more new builds, he’s sticking close to home, and enjoys watching Cincinnati grow and improve.

By Robin Donovan

Simple Portrait Project captures personalities in 30-minute sessions

Commercial photographer Jonathan Robert Willis shares an almost stereotypical weakness with some fellow creatives: he hates artificial deadlines.

“I’m really good with hard, fast, we-need-it-yesterday commercial deadlines,” he says, describing the focus of his self-named photography business. When friends and family nagged him for photos, he launched The Simple Portrait Project, which mixes the speed of commercial work with traditional group portraits.

In sessions held once or twice a year, Willis gathers dozens of families or small groups, shooting each in the same space with the same prop. He spends just 30 minutes on each family from start to finish. “It’s great because it’s just enough time to get the best out of the kids before they melt down, and it’s short enough for the dad, who doesn’t want to be there to begin with in many cases,” Willis says.

That means that the family comes in and is posed, photographed and advised about prints, all in a half hour. For the last few minutes, Willis turns a critical eye to each set of photographs, helping subjects select a handful of the best photographs.  Still, he compares the sessions to a marathon, admitting: “It’s literally nonstop from about 9 am until 8:30 pm. I’m a little intimidated by it.” 

The project turns the angsty hair-pulling of traditional family photography on its head and, as it happens, yields eye-catching photos. The families don’t look like they're from a J.Crew catalog, but they don’t look scruffy, either. Not everyone beams, and not everyone is even looking at the camera; Willis says his goal is comfortable, natural poses.

There’s one simple rule for participants: no matching clothes. “I can’t think of a single image where I’ve seen everybody in the same sweater where I’m like, ‘Wow, that was a great idea,’” Willis says. “You have to trust that I’m going to make something great, but you’ve also got to do your part, which is following that rule.”

Willis’ final session for the project in 2012 is Saturday, Dec. 8, with the potential for Sunday sessions depending on demand. He hopes to schedule the first session of 2013 around Easter.

By Robin Donovan

Business growth through diversity topic of local leadership symposium

Job growth is looking up in Cincinnati, and the region is ripe for even more.

"In the last year, we created 29,000 new jobs, ahead of the growth in most of our peer markets," says Chris Kemper, PR director at the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber.

A host of variables have spurred our region's growth, including a talented workforce, a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem, a reasonable cost of living and an innovative culture that permeates large institutions to small startups.

But there's one area that's proven to boost the bottom line that more Cincinnati companies can tap into: diversity and inclusion.

Companies that encourage diversity—in hiring, in suppliers, in board appointments and in investment—are among the world's fastest growing. In fact, a 2011 Forbes study found that 85 percent of 321 large companies (with at least a half-billion dollars in annual revenue) believed diversity played a vital role in fostering innovation.

Cincinnati businesses will get a chance to learn more about the perks and importance of inclusion. The real dollars and sense of growth through diversity is the topic of The Diversity Leadership Symposium 2012. The morning event is co-hosted by Vision 2015 and Agenda 360, the region's strategic planning organizations.

"Our overall goal is to discuss diversity and inclusion as a way to drive business growth," says Kemper.

It's a timely topic as our country—and therefore consumers—becomes more diverse and our economy is increasingly global, with buyers and sellers connecting across countries.

The conference's featured speaker is Andres Tapia, international thought leader on diversity and inclusion, president and CEO of Diversity Best Practices and author of The Inclusion Paradox.

The symposium is Dec. 12 at the Duke Energy Convention Center downtown, registration starts at 7:30 a.m, and the symposium ends at noon. The cost is $110 per person, or $150 for a cocktail reception on Dec. 11 featuring Tapia. You can register on the Cincinnati Chamber website.

Diverse by Design: Meeting the Talent Challenge in a Global Economy, a report commissioned by Agenda 360 and Vision 2015, will also be unveiled at the event.

The symposium wraps up with simultaneous sessions. Attendees can pick one of the following:
  • Workplace: Attracting and Retaining Diverse Talent
    Panelists will share best practices in creating and maintaining employee resource groups to engage and retain a diverse talent base.
  • Marketplace: Minority Business Investment as a Strategy for Increasing Inclusion
    Learn how diversity spending can advance a company’s diversity and inclusion efforts while also having a ripple effect in the community.
  • Marketplace: Creating a More Inclusive Community
    Panelists will share strategies for cultivating a welcoming community outside of the workplace to increase diverse talent retention for the region.
By Feoshia Davis

Bold Fusion educates, enchants

“Do you know WHY you do what you do?” Ephipheo founder Ben Crawford’s PowerPoint slide asked the key question of the day at Bold Fusion, the region’s largest convergence of young talent, which took place at Music Hall last week.

This year’s theme—“The Power of Enchantment”—fit speakers Crawford and Guy Kawasaki, former chief evangelist of Apple.

Crawford discussed how “Truth. Story. Love.” motivates everything that Epipheo creates, from promotional videos to marketing. The young founder believes in only employing those who share his vision, and he thinks that human resource departments are absurd.

“How much of a tragedy is it that HR…well, that HR even exists,” Crawford says.

Young professionals in the audience gathered tips like how to smile sincerely and how to create the perfect PowerPoint presentation. The atmosphere was friendly—attendees were comfortable, excited and actively mingled.

“Young professionals have realized their voice in our region,” says Chris Kemper, PR director at the Chamber. “Bold Fusion encourages young professional energy.”

Citing three young professional city council members and causes backed by the YPs, like the Cincinnati streetcar, Kemper believes young professionals are the key to building a more successful city.

“YPs drive vibrant regions, and to have a vibrant region, you have to have a strong heart,” says Kemper.

For young professionals in Cincinnatia, the heart is already here; they’re just feeding off of it.

Bryant Goulding, of RhineGeist and Tazza Mia, moved from San Francisco, where his consulting job left him “starving for creativity and feeling like just a number.” Goulding finds the YP scene here exciting and compelling. “It does parallel the San Francisco startup scene, but it’s more focused,” he says.

Amy Taylor, another Bold Fusion attendee, agrees. “I hope big business is noticing; Cincinnati is a really good place for young energy."

For Carey Rennekamp of Vehr Communications, being a young professional is a huge point of pride. “Yes, I am a YP, and I think it means being bold, being fearless and finding the voice to make a difference."

By Gina Gaetano

Cincinnati Game and Toy Industry Professionals publish Cincinnati Toymakers Holiday Gift Guide

Once home to iconic companies like Kenner, Cincinnati has a long history of toy making. Though no longer here, much toy making talent remains in the Queen City. That talent joined together through a new group, called Cincinnati Game and Toy Industry Professionals.

The group was started by Cincinnati entrepreneur Michelle Spelman, co-creator of the card game Jukem Football.

"When we first started promoting the game, we did it all through social media," Spelman says. "A lot of people started contacting me saying, 'I heard about what you're doing. I used to work for Hasbro,' or 'I used to work for Kenner. I'd love to meet you for coffee and pick your brain."

After a while, Spelman was getting too much caffeine, and not getting a lot of work done. That's when she decided to create a virtual meeting place on LinkedIn.

"I wasn't in a position to help all these people in the way they needed, so I started a social media group," Spelman says. "I thought we'd get 40 or 50 people. We got that in a couple of months. We're now into this two-and-a-half years, and we have almost 300 members."

Not all the LinkedIn members are currently in Cincinnati, but they've either lived here, worked here or have ties to the region. Some have founded startups like Spelman, while others head established regional companies or are high-level executives for major brands.

"People thought when Hasbro left all the toy makers left Cincinnati, but that's not true," Spelman says. "We have a lot of great talent here. It's really a subculture. Our group provides networking that reconnects this fragmented group and uncovers opportunities. It also provides newcomers to the industry w a place to learn from the veterans and find resources and expertise to further their ventures."

In addition to the online meeting spot, local toymakers also come together quarterly for breakfast. At their most recent breakfast, the second annual Cincinnati Toymakers Holiday Gift Guide was released on Slideshare.

The toys include familiar favorites like Play-Doh, Sit 'N Spin, original Star Wars action figures and the Magic 8 Ball, in addition to newer toys and games. The catalog also includes a list of independent, locally owned Cincinnati toy stores.

"If you want to fill the space under your tree with Cincinnati products this year, you could," Spelman says.

By Feoshia Henderson
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ShareThis founder offers advice for entrepreneurs

Tim Schigel is the chairman and founder of ShareThis, a sharing and engagement platform. He served as the director of Blue Chip Venture Company and was involved with the growth of Nielsen Buzzmetrics, a leading platform for measuring blog sentiment and forums, and Third Screen Media, the first mobile advertising platform.
 
Schigel will be sharing his experience and tips with other entrepreneurs at the first Startup Grind event in Cincinnati, Dec. 6 at The Brandery.
 
What was your first startup in Cincinnati?
My first job out of college (CWRU BSEE) was with Pharos Technologies. I was employee number 11. The company grew and became Digineer. I created a pioneering product for remote computer management for the Mac at the time. I also built P&G’s world-wide network. This was all in the early 90s.
 
Where did you get your idea for that first startup?
I’ve always enjoyed pursuing new ideas. At Pharos, I grew and transitioned from a technical role into the VP of Sales and Marketing, and eventually left to do my own thing. I was also fascinated with venture capital and the fast-paced tech lifestyle of Silicon Valley. I come from a family of entrepreneurs, albeit mostly small business.
 
Why do you think startups are important to the community?
Startups are the engine of innovation. There is so much freedom to explore technology, business management and business models. This creates a great environment for unanticipated results.

Often great innovations are accidental. It takes the right environment, however, to let those accidents happen. The other factor that is a driving force for startups is time—they don’t have any. It forces the entrepreneur to adapt quickly in all respects.
 
Do you regularly attend Startup Grind meetings?
No, this is the first one. I’m excited, and anyone who knows me knows that I love to help startups and explore new ideas.
 
Where do you draw your inspiration from when coming up with new ideas?
Everywhere. I’m a big believer in the cross-pollination of ideas. The next answer to a software problem might come from biology or some other completely different domain.

We should put everything on the table and encourage people to develop a natural curiosity and well-rounded perspective. I also think innovation comes from constraints. Some of the most interesting products have emerged from very constrained environments that act as a forcing function for creativity. Open-ended creativity is actually hard and doesn’t always lead to the most interesting solution.

Finally, I like taking a contrarian point of view. If everyone thought about a problem the same way, you would lack new ideas. Sometimes the biggest disruptive ideas are viewed as out of touch, misunderstood or not even recognized until after they’ve become disruptive.

This is an interesting balancing act for an entrepreneur because you need to be a good listener and respond to feedback, but also stay true to your convictions. The more informed those convictions are, the better. Some people stick to convictions regardless of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Ultimately, the evidence should hopefully support your thesis and when that happens, you know you’ve done something new and special.
 
By Caitlin Koenig
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Community classes coming to The Brandery

The Brandery is known for its 14-week program that prepares entrepreneurs for the launch of their startups. But for the next two months, they’re trying something a little different. The Brandery will be offering community classes that cross a spectrum of themes. The classes are relevant to anyone with an idea, working for a startup or with the goal of re-envisioning some of the work they do, says Chelsea Koglmeier, program coordinator at The Brandery.
 
The sessions will be from 5:30 to 7 pm and will include a presentation followed by a Q&A. Each class is $20 per person, per event.
 
Sign up for a class below:
By Caitlin Koenig
Follow Caitlin on Twitter

Lisnr app connects artists, fans with exclusive extras

The initial concept for Lisnr came from Rodney Williams, but it came alive through a team of five co-founders on the Cincinnati StartUpBus en route to South by Southwest last March. “When I got on the bus, Lisnr didn’t have a name, but within two hours, we had a presentation, and within another two hours, we had more things, and by the time we got to Austin, we had a working product,” Williams says.

Lisnr creates interactivity with songs and albums by packaging exclusive content created by musicians with music files. For example, say that an artist announces her next album will be Lisnr-enabled. This means you can buy a music file from any source and listen to it anywhere. With the Lisnr app running in the background, you receive exclusive content via automatic notifications based on the Lisnr-enabled tracks.

This content, which can be anything from a tour of the artist’s house to a peek at the song’s inspiration, comes from the artist. Backstage video, unreleased tracks, lyrics or artist interviews are other possible extras.

As you listen, the Lisnr app downloads content and saves it to your device. “An average fan will unlock many pieces of content throughout the day,” explains Williams, Lisnr’s CEO.

His co-founders – Chris Ostoich, business; Chris Ridenour, tech; Nikki Pfahler, design; and Josh Glick, mobile – form Lisnr’s team, and Williams says two new hires are on the way.

Since (and during) SXSW, Lisnr garnered support from the music industry; Williams has strategic advisors from cable station MTV, publishing and management firm Primary Wave Music and the Grammy-nominated artist Nas. For these bigwigs, Lisnr represents an unprecedented connection between artists and fans. The app also tracks listener behavior, such as where, when and how often a song is listened to.

According to Williams, Lisnr plans a full-scale launch in mid-2013. The company is currently supported by Cintrifuse, a non-profit startup incubator based in Cincinnati, and seed-stage investor CincyTech.

By Robin Donovan

Technology pushes digital advances closer to daily life tasks

“Digital media is rapidly transforming,” says Jason Dailey, director of Bing evangelism for Microsoft. Dailey spoke at Cincinnati's Digital Non Conference last week about emerging digital technology.

As the director of Bing evangelism, Dailey and his team build relationships with advertisers and agencies. They also drive traffic to adCenter  and Bing, and partner with Yahoo! for the Search Alliance.

Advertising, marketing and PR have changed rapidly over the years thanks to technology. The first paid advertisement appeared in a newspaper in 1836; today, ads are everywhere, from TV and radio to the Internet. But who is driving change—technology or consumers?

Dailey says that the need to complete daily tasks quickly and efficiently is what drives the changes in digital technology. The idea of what a computer is has changed drastically since its invention, and soon, everything will have a computer in it. Although they won’t be on the market for a decade or so, computers, smartphones and tablets will eventually have the ability to communicate seamlessly with each other. Refrigerators will also have computers in them and be able to provide recipes based on the ingredients inside.

Microsoft also has the vision for facial recognition in digital devices. Today, Xbox Kinect is the closest thing on the market to facial recognition, but it requires you to stand within a certain distance of the console to play a game. One day in the near future, this won’t be needed.

Currently, there are about nine billion devices connected to the Internet, but that number will soon grow as digital technology changes and grows.

By Caitlin Koenig
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Caitlin is an Associate Editor for Barefoot Proximity


RobustCloud helps large companies gain efficiency with cloud computing

By now, most people have heard about "cloud," or web-based computing, which has made collaboration, innovation and efficiency easier.

A Cincinnati tech entrepreneur, Larry Carvalho, is taking his expertise in cloud computing to large companies across the country through his business, RobustCloud.

"I have a mechanical engineering degree, and have helped businesses learn how to use IT to improve their business," Carvalho says. "I took my experience to large enterprises by helping tech companies in the adoption of cloud computing."

Carvalho, a native of India, lived in New York before coming to Cincinnati for work in the late 1980s. He started RobustCloud in 2009 after his job with IBM was relocated.

"For most companies, there is a dearth of knowledge about what they can do with could computing," Carvalho says. "As a result, they look for experts to advise them on what steps to take."

The main areas in which he consults are social networks, mobile computing and analytics.

"That is really what is driving the need for cloud infrastructure," he says. "The bottom line benefit to business is business agility. They are able to react to market changes faster."

Though based in Cincinnati, many of Carvalho's clients are on the East and West coasts. However, he is looking to expand his footprint in Cincinnati and will be among those presenting at the Digital Non Conference this Wednesday at 11:15 a.m. on "Data and Digital Marketing."

"I'm really eager to help local companies adopt cloud computing," Carvalho says. "I want to make a difference in Cincinnati."

By Feoshia H. Davis
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SocStock readies for relaunch, plans to make Cincinnati home

SocStock, a web-based company that lets people fund their favorite small businesses in exchange for double the amount back in products, services or experiences, is set to relaunch today.

SocStock, a graduate of the latest Brandery accelerator class, will officially be back online today. On Oct. 25, the company will hold a launch event, SocStock Community Pitch Night, at the Know Theatre in Over-the-Rhine. SocStock and Cincinnati businesses that use the platform will be there to talk about the creative financing option.

"This is a way for small businesses to raise zero-interest cash by reaching out to customers and community members for a cash advance to help their business grow," says SocStock Senior Associate Jillian Zatta.

SocStock allows businesses to raise funds quickly from people who truly support them. At the same time, it gives customers a buy-in through investments in a favorite local business.

"It's a very good consumer engagement tool, and it makes customers feel more connected to the small businesses they frequent," Zatta says. "It's also a way for customers to really help a business by doing more than buying from them."

For every $1 invested, the business will pay back $2 in a combination of company products, services or experiences.

SocStock also can serve as a valuable marketing tool.

"They can give customers access to a special collection, invite them to a fashion show, a personal styling session or discounts," Zatta says.

Zatta and SocStock's founder Jay Finch have finance backgrounds and relocated to Cincinnati from New York, where they worked at Goldman Sachs. They plan on making Cincinnati SocStock's home.

"We want to stay here. We want Cincinnati to be our home. There's definitely a place for us here," she says.

By Feoshia H. Davis
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Hello New Products helps manufacturers innovate, bring products to market

In Ohio's historic manufacturing industry, savvy leaders are increasingly turning to innovation to grow their businesses.

Hello New Products, which is headquartered in Cincinnati, helps established small- and mid-sized manufacturers develop and get new products to market.

"A lot of our clients come to us just frustrated out of their minds," says Chuck Libourel, Hello New Products' director of business services. "We usually meet with a CEO or board of directors that just can't make things happen. We help them get the right tools in place and execute a plan to get new products to market."

Hello New Products works with some startups, but it generally works with established companies that already have manufacturing experience.

"One thing most of our clients have in common is they lack the business process to bring new products to market," Libourel says. "They're doing it all in marketing and engineering. We do that, plus engage all the business elements of getting a product to market." 

Often these companies have outdated products that need a refresh, have brought unsuccessful products to market or are having trouble innovating quickly.

Many manufacturing companies are running lean and mean, and today many don't have the in-house resources to quickly bring new products to market, Libourel says. That's where Hello New Products steps in.

"We advocate for American small- to mid-sized companies that don't have the resources, and have to compete with bigger companies," Libourel says.

They do this by helping companies:
• Improve their market position by introducing new products
• Increase both revenue and profitability from new products
• Reduce product development costs
• Accelerate product development timing

Hello New Products tailors its New Product Development system to individual manufacturers several ways, including sharpening product definitions, focusing on business metrics, building customer needs into products and creating clearly defined tasks and processes for development.

By Feoshia H. Davis
Follow Feoshia on Twitter.

Ample developers focus on responsive design

When Josh Fendley and four tech-savvy friends left their digital agency to launch a smaller venture, they were looking for a business name that would convey their small staff’s concentrated experience. Ample fit the bill, and is still a point of pride because one of the firm’s selling points is its size.

"Clients realize that if I’m the one selling them on doing the work, they’re going to be working with me the entire time if they choose to engage us," Fendley says. "When we left our last agency, we were all directors of this and that, but decided we wanted to get back to doing work instead of just managing it."

Fendley says the trick of being small is to carefully select experienced employees, with an eye to maintaining company culture. “We have only one relatively young employee, and we belabored on whether or not we should do that,” he says.

Recently, Ample has been pivoting away from marketing to focus on building websites and developing strategic, creative digital projects, including video and websites that easily scale down desktop applications for mobile interfaces and apps.

"All the sites we create automatically scale and reformat," Fendley says. "Not a lot of people are actually doing that."

Ample also developed its own content management system.

Along with size and experience, Ample’s culture is shaped by its brainy core. "We love being presented with something we don’t know how to get through," Fendley says. "We love to figure out how to do it."

Ample is primarily a Ruby on Rails shop, but it also offers help with strategic planning.

So, when Ample got a call from a New Jersey nonprofit that was seeking to outfit students with disabilities with human-read audio books, its developers created an iTunes-like app compatible with a variety of devices.

"A lot of our long-time clients pay us to think for them, and I think that’s where we’re most successful,” Fendley says, noting that new business largely comes from referrals, and the team is turning away prospective clients.“Clients are your best salespeople. If you do well by them, them will typically give you some good karma back."

By Robin Donovan
382 Downtown Articles | Page: | Show All
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