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Free Agent Academy: a School & Community for Self-Employment

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The Free Agent Academy is not just any academy. It is an online school and community for those willing to be self-employed. A self learning academy? Yes, Free Agent Academy is designed to give you the skill set to have a successful business via an online medium at your pace.

Its personable style and straightforward attitude really gets your mind working. Professional teachers and dynamic courses offer a solid foundation for joining the free agent movement and finding your path to success. Free Agent Academy also believes in future education and rejoining their team after taking classes and succeeding in the self-employment business. Just what any community building business would be looking for.
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Code.Coffee.Cows: Growing Up in the Field

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I’m a native. Yes, I was born and raised in the North Bay, first living in Marin County (San Anselmo and Novato) and then when I was around the age of seven my family moved up to Cotati. I’ve been in Santa Rosa though for all of my adult life.

I wasn’t raised in a startup culture, per se. I didn’t know any entrepreneurs, any business moguls. My dad was a computer programmer (like father, like son!), but he bought into the job security idea of working many years at one job and then retiring. To his credit, he did join a startup at one point (I must have been around 10 at the time) that was going to introduce handheld electronic devices and networks to the restaurant industry. Cool idea, unstable founders (not my dad, the other guys), and the thing never went anywhere. It’s too bad, really.

My mom on the other hand was an Artist with a capital A. She was an innovative, demanding, perfectionist who could never hold down a regular job because, frankly, learning a new langugage or studying 13-th century Scottish poetry was far more engaging. I’m not the scholar she was, but I attribute much of my creative drive to her. She passed away several years ago, died of cancer. (Aside: the recent loss of Steve Jobs, also due to cancer, hit me rather hard. The similarities in personality are rather striking.)

So I was raised in a creative culture, yes. But it wasn’t like being in the Valley, or Harvard, or even New York. I knew nothing about how to structure a business. I didn’t even know what venture capital WAS until a few years ago. Still learning how it works (from the outside — I’m still bootstrapping).

I’ve become a voratious reader of tech startup news. If I don’t get my TechCrunch fix, I’m a wreck. But it’s frustrating too — like I said in my last column, I don’t want to move to Silicon Valley, or Boston. I worked in San Francisco for two years and enjoyed my big city experience, but it’s just too noisy and crowded and expensive. And the valley, while less crowded in an urban sense, nevertheless is just way too much civilization in one spot for me. I love driving from Santa Rosa to my office in Sebastopol and seeing the grassy fields, the oak trees, the wildflowers, and — of course — the cows. I love the grape vines and the quaint little villages. I’m a native North Bay-er and have no wish to change course.

The frustration is the ways we are behind the curve in this area when it comes to startup infrastructure. There’s probably a bit more going on in Marin County than up here in Sonoma County, but otherwise I can tell you in one word what is the dominant business paradigm up here: wine. Yes, if you are into the wine industry, this is the Epicenter. Ground zero. This is Wine Country. Sonoma and Napa are to wine and gourmet food what Silicon Valley is to tech. So if wine is your thing, here is where you need to be.

But walk away from wine, and it’s slim pickings. And that’s a shame. You see, I happen to be a huge believer in the tech industry being an agent of change in so many other industries. In other words, you can build a business on top of a tech core that solves problems that are totally unrelated to technology per se. Do you have a passion for Fair Trade goods? You can use tech to build a business around that desire to lift the third world out of poverty. Do you have a passion for wildcrafting, using herbs to promote greater health? You can use tech to build a business around that need for more education and support of natural medicines.

In short, we need more startups to innovate, disrupt, and grow the new economy, and tech is invariably a huge aspect of that. And that’s why we in the North Bay must continue to trumpet this reality and do whatever we can to support the entpreneaurs in our midst.

And if you disagree with me, I will have a cow. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!)

ToutSuite: Napa’s Tastiest Startup

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A big Thank you to our November sponsor who helps make editorials like this possible: . If you need A/V setup and event planning for your seminar, sales meeting, presentation, or other corporate event, contact DJ Dax.

Think of a dinner party and you probably picture this: a long table filled with guests who don’t know each other very well. Strange food and a slightly uptight atmosphere are also par for the course.

ToutSuite Social Club is reinventing the dinner party concept by interviewing tastemakers and posting videos online.

Founders Susan Quinn and Didier Loustau created ToutSuite as a fresh spin on the dinner party. The popularity of podcasts and cooking shows in the past few years means the club should continue to grow.

ToutSuite’s unique experiences as a food and media business are a great inspiration for any startup. I recently spoke with Susan Quinn about the club and its success.

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Ignite coming to Sebastopol on November 16

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The popular fast-paced community event featuring multiple speakers that are given 5 minutes to share their passion with the world is coming (back) to Sebastopol on November 16.

The venue is Hopmonk Tavern on Petaluma Ave. (otherwise known as the northbound Hwy 116 route through downtown). There’s no cost to come, and while it looks like the number of available “tickets” has already sold out, you may still be able to slip in.

If you’re interested in presenting, the deadline is November 7. Details here.

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Mobile Payment Alternatives: The Future of Payments

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PayPal may be the standard online payment system for many companies, but a few new competitors have risen in popularity. In 2010, PayPal processed about $92 billion dollars, according to Portfolio. Online or alternative payment services will increase in the future as more business is conducted online: up to $355 billion in 2012, according to E-CommerceTimes.

PayPal’s fees for receiving money and other policy quirks can complicate simple transactions. Given the large increase in alternative payments options, some of these may better for you than PayPal. Compare the following programs and decide which one is the best alternative to PayPal.
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Be a WIMP: Interview with Joshua Simmons

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For those of us located in the North Bay who are in the digital and online media professions, it can feel rather lonely at times. In the past, a sense of camaraderie and vibrant community felt missing in this area — but, thankfully, a number of groups have sprung up in recent times to bring people together and provide opportunities for education, networking, and just plain fun.

One such group is the Web & Interactive Media Professionals group, otherwise known as WIMP. We caught up with one of the founders of WIMP, Joshua Simmons, to ask him more about how it got started and where it’s headed.

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