Drew Giovannoli

I am an entrepreneur, a musician, foodie, travel enthusiast and eternally interested in business strategy. After working in consulting for 2 years, I joined the Techstars Austin staff for the 2013 program, and now work as the Marketing and Operations Manager at Fosbury.

I received my B.S. in Economics and Entrepreneurship from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. I also spent 4 months studying in Milan, Italy at Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore.

Contact me at drew.giovannoli@gmail.com

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Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic LLC has made its first successful launch into space. The trip lasted only 16 seconds, but everyone’s first is quick and I have faith that after this experience, Branson’s space stamina will surely increase…

The 60 ft long SpaceShipTwo climbed 56,000 feet from Mojave’s Air and Space Port in Southern California and could be coming to you soon.  If you’re interested in riding the Virgin Galactic Spacecraft, you can pay $200,000 to be one of the first 600 space tourists within the next two years. This is clearly an exciting example of the power of the competitive privatization of business, and gives hope to industries like education.

Virgin Galactic Spacecraft holds successful space launch! - WSJ


Side note for anyone interested in being successful in business, especially as an entrepreneur, read this book Branson’s autobiography “Losing My Virginity.” As a poor English high school dropout, Richard starts businesses with a fearless passion. From a school newspaper, to Virgin Records (appropriately) signing The Sex Pistols, Janet Jackson, and The Rolling Stones, to taking on British Airlines at the risk of his empire. 

Branson’s resounding life lessons have stuck with me: get out and do something, follow your passion, and your failures will build a foundation for your successes to shine on top of. At $4.72 for a used paperback, you have no excuse.



Finding the “Push Mower Market” - Guest Post by John Swope.


The Push Mower Market

During my summers in high school and into college, I used to make money mowing lawns. It was a business that I literally built in a day. I made up some fliers, handed them out to 50 households, and got I think 8 customers in my first day. By the end of the first few weeks I had 25 lawns and after that the customer acquisition phase stopped and I never advertised again. I used my parents’ push mower and weedwhacker for equipment and my Hyundai Accent hatchback as transport. My only operating expense (after those flyers) was gas. I charged $20 per lawn for small lawns, and $20 flat + $10/ hour for bigger lawns. For someone in my position, who needed flexible income, this was a killing, and it taught me about the large, untapped “push-mower markets” that exist.

A “push-mower market” is a market made up of customers who are not on the free-spending enterprise scale of things, and not in the low-conversion long tail segment of customers. In the case of lawn care, they are customers who have a plot of lawn that is a pain in their butt to mow each weekend, but who cannot justify paying the big guys $80 to do it on their mega-tractors. I think these markets exist everywhere. There must be small businesses or academic teams out there who need low-budget video development work, and I know there are college sophomores at film schools who would love the opportunity. I am investigating an opportunity right now for mid-level web development. For the customer who needs something above the level of WordPress but can’t afford the big guys. And there are, again, budding programmers and offshore work who are happy to accept the lower budgets in this middle market.

The difficulty is reaching these customers and scaling a business like this. Most of my lawn customers didn’t know they needed lawn service until it found them. (Most, I believe, went happily back to mowing their own lawn after I left.) And I could only afford the low prices because I didn’t have to deal with the overhead of organizing extra laborers, or buying expensive equipment or paying for insurance. So let’s answer the question of whether these middle-markets can be tapped efficiently on a later date.

But these difficulties are what gives this market it’s strengths. First, these markets are not hard to find. Think of things that everyone wants that just feel, in your gut, overpriced. Haircuts, personal training, photography, if I bought more services I could extend this list faster. Second, these markets are cash-ready. I made money in my first day. Your customers have modest budgets, they don’t need approval from anyone to spend it, and they are likely spending it already on something more expensive and they’ll be happy to accept the savings and pay you.

While you won’t find the hot-shot startup teams or the enterprise-scale solutions targeting the push-mower market, opportunity exists for the people who are willing to explore them. 
John Swope is a brilliant business mind and entrepreneur from New Hampshire who studied at NYU.  He has been a great friend of mine since June 2011 and will no doubt be a partner on many projects to come. Read more posts by him at www.johnswope.com

The easiest way to sell products and services online,

                       Square Glass is a social window to your customers around the world.


Square makes transactions sexy, lowering the barrier to entry for accepting credit card payments for friends and businesses alike. By offering an easy to use product at an attractive price, Square has democratized sales to anyone with a product or service to offer. I believe the next product offering to obtain new users and increase transactions of current users is something I call Square Glass. The easiest ways to sell your products or services online, Square Glass would allow users to take photographs of their product or service, set a price and a few details, and share their offering as a widget on any social network, blog, or digital storefront. So easy, so quick, and fully integrated with the analytics and tools Square already provides.

Square was cofounded by Jack Dorsey and his friend Jim McKelvey when Jim lost a few thousand dollar sale for glass faucet because he had no way to charge credit cards. Imagine if Jim not only could sell that one piece of art, but at the click of the button, take photos of all his work with prices and descriptions. A sharing tool would place a checkout widget on Facebook, Tumblr, a tweeted link on Twitter, and Pinterest, where Jim’s fans spend the most time. Furthermore, sales made online using Square Glass are tracked so that he can realized that medium size glass pieces in the $50-$120 range sell best on his Tumblr blog, compared to the lower priced but higher revenue generating small glass pieces that sell on Pinterest. These metrics could help plan production, drive down material costs, and optimize Jim’s time.  Then customers like Janie (made up name), who bought the original piece of art, could be notified to review the ruby faucet that she excitedly installed in her renovated bathroom. Now Jim can sell locally and nationally, gathering a community of art fans like Janie, providing him great reviews and increased revenue and growth for his business.

image(actual ruby faucet by James McKelvey)

eBay is the most obvious competitor to Square Glass. “The worlds online marketplace” offers both used and new items, although it is often publicly viewed as the place to go to get used items through intense bidding wars. The eBay app, which has a 2 ½ star rating from 80 reviews, allows you to display and describe products just as you would from their web portal. eBay has achieved incredible success and growth of this marketplace and in October of 2002, acquired Square’s COO’s former company PayPal for 1.5 Billion. The biggest differentiator Square Glass could provide is its ability to act as social window to wherever your customers existed, not just a crowded marketplace with intense competition. Using social and widget friendly development, Square Glass is not a place to get lost among a sea of products, but a tool to instantly post products or services where your friends and customers can actually see them. Amazon, Craigslist, and Google Product Services also offer ways for businesses to sell products, but none offer the full vertical of tools and analytics with the ease that Square does.

And talk about expertise, there is not a single person better suited for this expansion than Square’s COO Keith Rabois, former Executive Vice President for PayPal. For those of you still using your Nokia flip phone, PayPal is the global online payments giant that you can use to buy almost anything on the web. Barring any non-compete restrictions Rabois might have, Square Glass would directly compete with PayPal adding a value proposition of incredible speed and ease to bring products online, combined analytics with your brick and mortar sales, and a freshness and excitement associated with the Square brand. 

If Keith is busy, I’d be happy to help out :)

I am happy to share with you my clarifying vision of PhotoPlay Events.

I have been recently by incredibly impressed by human potential, and truly believe that people are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. Now this doesn’t mean you can hand anybody a crossword puzzle, a statistics problem, or whatever your current idea of an intellectual challenge is - but present them with a challenge relevant to their passion and amazing things can happen.

All of these thoughts could be helped in the management of others, but this will look at it from the unlocking your potential.

The keys to reaching maximum potential are,

  1. Challenge 
  2. Passionate Engagement
  3. Publicly Accountability

My revelation started over the past few days when I facilitated training for employees of the consulting firm I work for. Now I not going to be shy when I say that the work that my colleagues and I do lacks creativity. Configuration of software, testing etc, but on the bright side, it does demand some technical expertise and clearly creates value.

As a result of the lack of creativity which I crave and associate with intelligence, I mentally associated my colleagues potential and capabilities with the work they were doing, and not the work they are capable of. In this view, I was wrong and ignorant, and the training taught me three ways to maximize human potential.

1. The first key is to challenge because if your vision doesn’t outstrip your skill, you’re not dreaming big enough. My goal of is to build a profitable business, giving me the flexibility to spend my time as I please, create jobs, and leave a positive impact on the world. To do this, I am going to challenge myself and develop strong leadership skills for a growing team and continuously take calculated risks to grow the business.

Your challenges my be completely different. If you are learning to play music- go out and do an open mic, if you want to climb the corporate ladder - volunteer for difficult projects with more responsibility etc. I recently came across a Morgan Spurlock (Supersize Me) tv show called “Failure Club” where a group of friends gets together to help each other attempt life long goals. Please see for yourself: Failure Club

2. The second key is passion. If you are doing something that you are passionate about, the results will undoubtedly be better.

 I believe that passion is something that stimulates you to enter a state flow. Flow as made famous by the famous Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, “ is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity” For me, two of my passions that get me to a state of flow are music and entrepreneurship. I can completely lose track of time recording music or building new business prototypes and by giving it my full attention I produce better results than I could ever dream of trying to learn a language or fix a household mechanical task. 

3. The final key is accountability. If you are doing a small research task for work or school, your level of effort will increase dramatically if you know that you will have to present it in front of your peers or managers. 

To transfer this into an everyday application, I think goal setting is the most obvious parallel. If you tell others about your goal and even have a partner is your pursuit, the feeling of obligation, pressure and pride will help keep you going when you want to quit. 

I will start with the ideation phase for PhotoPlay. We will get into monetization strategies, marketing and more, but lets start with the origin. (I do find origin super hero movies to be the best anyway)

PhotoPlay.me was registered on July 5th, 2011 with the idea that the development of mobile phones with high quality cameras would increase the amount of photo sharing. My test email to the PhotoPlay account read, “The First Social Sharing, Social Network based on Game Dynamics,” but the idea in my head behind the (poor) public pitch was, “A Twitter for photos, with game dynamics.”

Now YOU have an idea, where do you start??? Here’s 6 things I did, and what I might do different. 

1. I shared my idea with Everyone. GOOD

Probably annoyingly so and this is good! Because your idea is not a million dollar idea, in fact I most likely wouldn’t give you a dollar. What I would pay for is feedback from friends family and anyone who will listen.

  • No one is going to run out and steal your idea, because no one has the passion that you do. 
  • It will help you form an idea as they ask you questions about it.
  • You will be told the idea is stupid, and that it is brilliant. Neither is right, so look for actual feedback to continue your search.

There were were social networks before Facebook, touch screen phones before the iPhone, burger restaurants before McDonalds. The secret sauce is execution of a validated idea.

2. I did a mediocre job at researching competition. Bad

I get scared. I don’t do the research I need to because I get scared that this “brilliant” idea I came up with is already being done. I’m afraid its being done better, faster, and by a bigger firm with millions of dollars in VC funding, leaving me hopelessly searching for that next “brilliant” idea. 

Here’s the truth, your idea can be brilliant but like a rough draft of an essay it needs revisions. Go out and see what is available. At this point in PhotoPlay's growth it's competition on the B2B side are firms like Strutta, Wildfire, and others, and B2C competition is anything from Pinterest to the Instagram app. As I’ve developed a better understand of the photo sharing industry, I can better understand what I can bring to the table that is a unique value proposition.

3. I did NOT validate my idea. BAD

Unfortunately I didn’t stumble upon "The Lean Startup by Eric Reiss" until probably October 2011, but what I needed to do was build a prototype as quickly as I could and share it with my potential customers. What I ended up doing after reading the book was set up a Tumblr account (great blogging platform that you’re reading this on now). I couldn’t have people just share photos but I could try out the idea of a contest with the photos by posting the contest theme and having people submit photos to my blog. This TOTALLY changed the focus of the site due to its popularity. Lesson - read the book, validate your ideas.

4. I bought a domain and set up an email. GOOD

Domain Fees ~$7.00. Feeling like I was making progress PRICELESS. In addition to feeling super cool about owning the domain, it give me something to call my project to make it tangible, and gave me a more official communication medium. (helping with #1)

At the time I was in Navi Mumbai, India and hoping to obtain local outsourcing, I tried to make connections with skilled talent to no avail. This left me to turn to oDesk.com, a freelancer website to contract or contribute work in an unbelievable amount of areas. 

5. I did NOT immediately incorporate a company. GOOD

In the past as soon as I feel like I had fully formed my idea I would run out at spend $200+ on getting my LLC and Tax EIN number. As my very wise grandfather has always told me, an LLC is the cheapest form of insurance for a company so that if you run into legal trouble with the business, the opposing party can only sue for the assets of the company and not personal assets. 

That said, until you have done #2 (validate your idea) and are required to enter into any contract, save the money for something more useful.

6. **How will this make money?

Ask yourself this question important - but this blog post was focused on getting you started and not about validating the business potential of an idea. We can spend a lot more time going into that, but PhotoPlay as the exploration of

**I currently have a full time job and was comfortable starting PhotoPlay validating the gap I saw in a growing “social photo sharing” space with a vision of future monetization. If you are in the position of needing $ right away:

  • Find a product or service you can charge for from day one. 
  • You probably should check out  Linkedin and network your way into a job to support you as you build your business.

Today’s question: What other important questions should you ask, and actions should you take when just starting an idea??


I am Drew Giovannoli and I created this blog to document the learning process of starting a business and the world around it. Originally from Ridgefield, CT, I attended the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University for a B.S. in Economics and Entrepreneurship. Subsequently, I moved down to Houston, Texas for a technical consulting job where I help implement software for my 8-6, and entrepreneurship 6-8. 

My interests lie in community building, game mechanics, and lean startups but hope to cover a wide range of topics. The majority of discussion should revolve around lessons learned from www.photoplay.me, a venture I have been working on since May 2011. The next post will give a full explaination about PhotoPlay, where it’s been and where it is going.

To leave you with a least a little value beyond an introduction, below I am going to post what I believe are the 3 business books every aspiring entrepreneur should read. These books changed the way I look at life and entrepreneurship.

1. “The Lean Startup” - Eric Ries

ABSOLUTE MUST READ. This book shows you the importance of proving your concepts. Too many entrepreneurs jump into business spending thousands upon thousands on a business because they think they know what the customers want. You don’t know. So put out prototypes or “minimum viable products” and learn.


2. “The Four Hour Work Week” - Tim Ferriss

If you tie your business to your time, you are severely limiting your scalability. This book demonstrates the importance of building a business that you can take yourself out of and continue to make $$. Who doesn’t like that?


3. “The E-Myth Revisited” - Michael E. Gerber

It has been a long time since my last read, but its values have stuck with me forever. Become an opportunistic entrepreneur, not a craftsman entrepreneur. Don’t start a business because you are a brilliant chair maker and you think you can sell chairs. Start a business because you see a market gap in the chair industry, and you believe you can exploit the opportunity. 


That concludes the first official blog post and I’d like to thank you for stopping by! Now I want to know, what business books have changed your life??