Entrepreneur

Answering entrepreneurs’ most vexing questions

(Editor’s note: Jason Cohen is an angel investor and the founder of Smart Bear Software. He submitted this story to VentureBeat.)

I characterize running a business as making 1,000 decisions every day – and being sure of none of them.

It’s a difficult, harrowing (and often lonely) truth. Even with co-founders to collude with, you’re always uncertain, and you always have a pile of questions you wish you could ask someone who’s been down this road before.

The rise of the entrepreneur blogger has helped. Advice from Jason FriedJoel SpolskyEric Sink and others have molded and encouraged countless startup founders, myself included.

But essays are still just static proclamations. They don’t answer your questions. They don’t take your unique situation into account. And they are the voice of a single writer who may or may not share your attitude, values, or business model.

A new community called Answers OnStartups is hoping to offer a new alternative. Entrepreneurs, VCs, and Angels all gather to share their collective intelligence – and it’s not done in essay form, it’s Q&A.

Besides advice from your peers, many of the better-known bloggers are participating in the conversation. Among the active users are Spolsky, Neil Davidson (RedGate, Business of Software), Bob Walsh (47 Hats) – along with myself and fellow Entrepreneur Corner columnist Dharmesh Shah.

The site has been up for about a month. To date, 1,200 users have answered more than 600 questions.

For example, recently new startup founder Sam Saffron recently asked which is better: Getting the exact domain name you want, but with a hyphen between the words, or getting a longer domain with a prefix or different words, but no hyphen.

The discussion brought up a number of interesting points that Sam might have otherwise overlooked – both pro- and con-hyphen. Among them:

  • Be careful if you decide to run words together. For example www.experts-exchange.com would be very bad as one word: www.expertsexchange.com because some people would see: “Expert Sex Change”.
  • People trying to find your site will often type the unhyphenated version by accident.
  • Hyphens convey inferiority (especially to the site w/o the hyphen in their domain) in that you accepted a hand me down domain. In addition it confuses users as to if your site is affiliated with the hyphen-less site.
  • Many SEO experts will tell you that hyphens in the domain with devaluate your search ranking.
  • Hyphens aren’t as bad as some make them out to be, since in the world of social media and search, people don’t type in your domain name. So it doesn’t matter which URL you use.
  • Search engines really, really, really like to see keywords in domain names. It’s probably more valuable to rank higher in search results than to eliminate a hyphen
  • If people remember your company name they’ll find it on Google. So it’s better to have a memorable name than eliminate hyphens.

As with any open discussion, there’s rarely universal consensus – but the replies gave Sam plenty of food for thought. (He ultimately went with the hyphen.)

The variety is one of the keys to how Answers OnStartups works. You’ll interact with experts whose material you might have read, but you’ll also talk business with fellow entrepreneurs – focusing on specific topics that are burning a hole in your head right now.

I hope to meet you there.

Photo by niallkennedy via Flickr


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