Sanjay Manandhar, Mark Thirman and David Powsner discuss an upcoming program, to be hosted by the MIT Enterprise Forum Software Circle, on February 28, 2013, on the topic "Businesses that Push the Boundaries of the Law."

Direct download: Businesses_That_Push_the_Boundaries_of_the_Law.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:34am EDT
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Does Revenue Really Matter?

Does Revenue Really Matter?

Every business needs to make money—certainly, every for-profit business does. The question is “by when?” Most businesses need to make it from the get-go or, at least, before the owners run out of money. This would be typical of a “bootstrapped” business, which survives and grows from its own revenues.

Financing and particularly, for example, investor funding makes it possible for a business to put off the day when those revenues need to come in. That extra time can be used for market studies, product development, and so forth. It can also be used to acquire marketshare. Think about a restaurant or retail store that has a grand opening sale at which it reduces prices — and, thereby, delays revenue — in order to gain initial marketshare.

Software businesses and, particularly, Internet businesses can take this to a greater extreme. Unlike, say, a restaurant, a dry cleaner or other brick and mortar business, which might have a potential market that is limited to the local and surrounding towns, the market for an Internet business is, potentially, worldwide. Moreover, with products that are made up of digital bits and bytes, the incremental cost of producing and shipping can be quite low for a software or Internet business. So if we think about delaying revenues, you could imagine how an Internet business might really be able to grow market share through a “grand opening sale” of sorts— that is, by charging little or nothing during its initial months or years of operations. Think of it as a “landgrab” as against other entrants into the marketplace.

Unfortunately, it was this logic that led to some real excesses that we now know of as the "Internet bubble." In the late 1990s and early 2000s, there was more than a bit of the “goldrush” mentality. The Internet was new and growing, as were potential markets in China, India, and elsewhere. At the time, the opportunities seemed boundless and if you are an optimist with money to invest, it was hard to resist the craze.

Whether it was a result of banking deregulation, the push to lower mortgages so that every American family could buy a house, or whatever, there was just too much money “in the system,” back then. People were willing to throw investment dollars not just at proven businesses but at any start-up that presented the possibility of being a business. The excess of investment dollars induced investors into some pretty hazy thinking.

And, then, there was the theory of the “greater fool.” It goes something like this: Why should an early investor worry about whether any particular start up could make it in the marketplace, if there was likely to be a subsequent investor or acquirer who would buy the business at a greater valuation—regardless of whether the business truly had legs.

Taken together, these presented a perfect storm, of sorts, that led to the rapid growth and even more rapid collapse of the bubble.

Since then, the government has tried to put in place laws and regulations aimed at curbing some of the root causes of the excesses of the era. Whether those will prevent a future bubble is another question entirely. The fact that we arent in one now (or are we?) may simply be because people either have or are willing to invest and theres less “irrational exuberance” to energize growth of a bubble. The result is that, today, investors seem to be more critical and are, more often than before, requiring that startups prove that they have or can more readily attain real revenue.

So for the startup that wonders whether revenue really matters, take to heart that a viable business plan remains a must-have if you are looking for investment funding. That plan needs to include a path to revenue. Must the startup have actual, current revenues to attain that sort of funding? Well, current revenues are a plus but they are not necessarily a dominant factor. After all, for example, a so-called lifestyle business that has current revenues but has no possibility for real growth may not be attractive to investors at all.

Listen to a podcast on the subject at: http://www.mitforumcambridge.org/news/software-revenue/ and, if you are in the Boston area, join us for a live discussion January 31, 2013, on the MIT campus. Register at http://www.mitforumcambridge.org/events/software-circle-event-does-revenue-really-matter/.

(c) Copyright David J. Powsner 2013.

With thanks to Randy Cronk of greatwriting.com and the MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge for motivating this discussion.

Category:general -- posted at: 7:35am EDT
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Upcoming Programs

The TechEntrepreneur.info team will be running a series of live programs in the Boston area over the next several months.  Take a look at the listing below and, if you are in the area, please consider registering for the events at http://www.mitforumcambridge.org/

July 19, 2012: Is there a business here? 

You have an idea for a business—maybe it’s your life-long passion, a project you’ve been working on nights/weekends, or something that just popped into your head. You are wondering whether it is time to quit the “day job” and take your idea to the next level. What do you do next? 

That’s a common question. Could your idea truly make a good business—or should you look longer for that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create the next Facebook. This session will be directed to the earliest stages of turning your idea, project or passion into a business. 

Join us, on Thursday, July 19 (networking: 6:30pm – 7pm; program 7pm-9pm) for a program presented in collaboration with the Berklee College of Music and the ProArts Consortium, and learn how our panelists turned their passions into businesses. 

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September 27, 2012: State of the Art: Social Media and Business Four Years On...

Your product is finally out, and you could not be happier.  Sure sales are slow, but with a bit of marketing, you can surely improve on that.  You have been reading about the power of social media in the news.  In fact, your first marketing dollars went to buying some AdWords, Facebook advertisements, and presence on LinkedIn. 

While you are certain that your competitors are doing the same thing, you think you can gain an advantage on them through even more effective use of social media.  It goes without saying that your finances are too limited to hire an outside agency to run a integrated campaign.  Thankfully, a few of your team members have a good sense of marketing, and you think you can free them up to implement and manage a new social media strategy. 

But, where to begin?  Can you safely you stick with Facebook and LinkedIn, or should you add Twitter and blogs to the mix?  Either way, how should you allocate your money and your team's time among these?  Is there any value to having large numbers of followers—and, come to think of it, how do you gauge the success in social media?  What about traditional media: should you stop attending trade shows and running ads in the trade press? 

Join us, on Thursday, September 27, 2012, for a program presented at the Innovation District campus of Babson College's F.W. Olin Graduate School, and learn how our panelists have utilized social (and traditional) media to build businesses. 

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October 25, 2012: Big Data is Not Just for Big Business

Development of your first product is well underway.  You have shipped a few early samples to some very happy customers.  You have also begun using social media to build buzz and to grow a community of followers.  And, your development team is really starting click:  they have already begun work on Version 2.0 of the product. 

This gives you some time to figure out your emerging company's next moves.  You can take up the development's cry for customer feedback, the sales team's need for valid leads, the marketing guru's request for competitive data, the CFO's call for information on customer risk, and your Board's search for a potential buyer.  

Or can you?  Even if you had the time, where should you look for information to answer all of those questions. 

You could not have asked at a better time.  It's an embarrassment of riches.  Between data you have gathered from your own sales efforts, social media, trade associations, and public sources (using tools like Google Analytics, Nielson, and Forrester Research, among others) you could drown in information. 

Join us, Thursday, October 25, on the Tufts University campus, and learn how our panelists got a handle on oceans of data to answer their business's questions and to take them to the next level. 

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November/December 2012: Does it Matter How My Product Will Look?  The Importance of Considering Design in the Early Stages of Product Development

You have started prototyping your new product, and it looks promising.  The pieces you were most worried about building are going just fine, and you have figured out how to integrate them into the rest of the package. 

You cannot contain your enthusiasm as you discuss your progress with friends, family and, even, the occasional stranger. But whenever you show them the prototype, they seem a little puzzled and invariably mumble something about looking forward to seeing the finished product.  You've always dismissed those comments, but now you are starting to wonder.

Maybe you should add some more technical features.  That should generate some excitement.  On the other hand, there's that artist friend of yours who works in industrial design. She keeps offering to help out, but you've told her that you can't afford to make your product "pretty." 

That's where you may be wrong.  Design is not just about looks, it is also about usability.  Apple, Nespresso, and many other companies are proof of that.   Sure, your product will have to serve a useful function, and your prototype shows that it can.  But, that alone is not likely to drive the sales you want and deserve.  

Join us and learn how our panelists got a head start on fund-raising, marketing and sales by incorporating design into the early stages of product development. 

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January 2013: Does Revenue Matter?

When it comes to revenue and business models, there is a veritable alphabet soup of options:  for-profit, non-profit, open-source, crowd-sourced, freemium, ad-driven, and choose-your-own-price, to name just a few.  These models do not just apply to software anymore.  They have crept into many markets, from art to music to publishing.

What's a founder to do?  Your fledgling company must create product, market and sell it for profit.  

Your job is to choose business and revenue models that will get you there.  And, you will need to be able to articulate and validate that model, early on, for your team, your investors and your business partners.  Oh yeah, don’t forget:  you will ultimately need to execute on the model to bring in real dollars—either that, or plan to lose your business.  The alphabet soup presents just some of the myriad of possibilities.  

But after reading so many stories in the news, lately, you have begun to wonder—does revenue matter?  Couldn’t you just build your business, whether it’s software, music, art, publishing or you-name-it, on air.

Some venture capitalists will tell you:  don't worry about revenue, just get a million users and a model will emerge. Instagram followed that advice and, in just 19 months, went from a start-up to a $1,000,000,000,0000 acquisition without a single dollar of revenue. 

Learn how our panelists grappled with these fundamental issues and settled on business and revenue models that worked? 

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February 2013: How Do I Protect My Product?

You've just come up with an idea for your new business. Maybe it's a cool technology, an unusual product, a new service offering.  You think its something everyone will want and need. And, your friends agree you may be on to something; some have even said they might be willing to go in with you. 

But you've been hesitant to tell all, not even to your family members.  Are you being overly cautious, or just plain smart? 

What's worse is that you know you can't take your idea to market alone.  You’ll need a partner or two, and soon to follow will be employees and consultants.  Outside investors, too:  not just friends and family, whom you can trust, hopefully. 

On the one hand, every point of contact is another risk.  On the other hand, you need help and money—and you need it soon!  Plus, even if you decide to go it on your own, what's to keep a competitor to laying waste to your efforts, especially, after you suffer years of hardship? 

Sure, you could talk to your lawyer and get her advice on whether and how to protect your idea—but that will cost you money, and you're not yet sure that your idea merits it. 

Haven't other entrepreneurs gone through this same struggle?  What did they do?  Join us and find out. 

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March 2013: Should I Get Potential Customers  Involved in Product Development?

You have funding, your team is in place, and they are starting to draw up the details of your company's first product. 

You could talk to potential customers, but you are hesitant to do that until you have a prototype to show.  But, neither you nor your team are really comfortable talking to customers. Perhaps, you can leave that task to your sales team, when they come on board, in nine months. 

Hold on... you need to think ahead!  The leading cause of failure of startups is the inability to grow a customer base.  You could kill two birds with one stone, if you would start building your customer base from Day 1 and engage them into the development process, 

That is one of the fundamentals of so-called "lean startups." They integrate product and customer development to validate assumptions early on and to better focus product design, marketing and sales efforts. 

Join us for a discussion with entrepreneurs who have successfully used "lean startup" principles to get their businesses off the ground. 

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April 2013: Can I Fund Development of My Product Without the Help of Investors?

It may not seem glamorous, but it is the way businesses have traditionally been grown:  on their own cash. The days when seed and venture capital was there for the asking seem almost like a dream forgotten. 

You may be able to talk friends and family into some start-up funding, but you may have to generate some real money on your own in order to crack the market.  

Customer-funded development is one possibility.  If you develop the right relationship with that first customer, you could end up in a win-win situation that benefits them with just the product they want at a price they could not have hoped for—and that benefits you with a developed product, a referral source and a wide-open market to crack.

There are other possibilities, too.  You could “go it slow.”  Learn to over-promise (but not by too much!), keep your product quality high and your early customers happy.  By adding to your team and building resources at a measured pace, you might find that you can build the perfect business.

Join our panelists in a discussion of how they succeeded — and failed — in raising growing a start-up business without substantial outside investment. 

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May 2013: How Can I Get Help for Starting My Company?

So your new product is going to change the world.  But who are you going to enlist to help make that happen? 

Does your buddy from college really have the horsepower to build a prototype for you—one that you can shown to potential customers?  Maybe you could shop Craig’s List or one of the local entrepreneurial meetups for a co-founder?  

You could try to go it alone.  After all, you took that business management class at college.  You could outsource the detail work to somebody.  But to whom, where, and for how much? 

On the other hand, if already you have got funding, finding potential team members is not your biggest challenge.  It's separating the wheat from the chaff, since you probably have offers from acquaintances who are eager to help. Which ones should you bring on board as co-founders? As employees? As business partners? 

This session will focus on the possibilities for team building, their upsides and their pitfalls. Join our panelists and learn where they looked — and finally ended up — solving the vexing challenge of building a start-up team. 

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June 2013: Networking Event (MIT Enterprise Forum members only)

Meet with entrepreneurs, potential entrepreneurs, team members and consultants.  Here is an opportunity to share your ideas, to network and to build or join your (next) business. 

Category:general -- posted at: 9:15am EDT
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Is there a Business Here?

You have an idea for a business.  Maybe it’s your life-long passion, a project you’ve been working on nights/weekends, or something that just popped into your head. You are wondering whether it’s time to quit the “day job” and take your idea to the next level. What do you do next?  That’s a common question. Could your idea truly make a good business—or should you look longer for that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create the next Facebook.

Watch this video, recorded July 19, 2012, at a joint program of the MIT Enterprise Forum Software Entrepreneurship Special Interest Group, the Berklee College of Music, and the ProArts Consortium, and learn how our panelists started their businesses.

Featuring: Nadeem Mazen, Co-Founder, danger!awesome; Arthur Ganson, Kinetic Sculptor; Randall Levere, Owner/Founder, Erba Cycles; Albert Reed, Founder & CEO, Demiurge Studios.

You can download the video at: http://youtu.be/9WDu2M-Gm0s

Category:general -- posted at: 9:48am EDT
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In this session, we focus on turning a passion into a business.  Our guests are Randall Levere owner and founder of Erba Cycles, Nadeem Mazen co-founder and co-owner of danger!awesome and the CEO of NimbleBot.com, and Arthur Ganson, a sculptor.

Joining in the discussion were  Shirish Ranjit, a former entrepreneur and now software developer with MIT Lincoln labs, Mark Thirman, director of partnerships with Vodafone and former cofounder of AirPring Networks, Sanjay Manandhar, CEO of Aerva Inc, and Dave Powsner, a patent lawyer and partner with the Boston law firm Nutter, McClennen & Fish LLP

Nadeem Mazen, Co-Founder/Co-Owner, danger!awesome, CEO, NimbleBot.com

Nadeem has had the good fortune to work professionally along many of his passions: he has led education teams in innovative research, directed award-winning viral music videos, created commercial animations, programmed software, and generated digital and interactive media for Discovery, Showtime, and CNN. His next venture brings a low-cost, disruptive education platform to market. 

For the present, though, Nadeem is a co-founder/co-owner of danger!awesome, a laser cutting and engraving studio, based in Central Square, Cambridge. danger!awesome’s aim is to bring high-end fabrication equipment to the community. Nadeem is also the CEO of NimbleBot.com, a design and consulting firm that works in strategy & interactive media, video production, and web app design & development.

Arthur Ganson, Kinetic Sculptor

Arthur Ganson began making kinetic sculpture in 1977. Since receiving a BFA degree at the University of New Hampshire in 1978, his work has been exhibited in numerous galleries and museums in both the United States and Europe. He has held residencies at a number of institutions including the Exploratorium in San Francisco and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, where he has maintained an ongoing exhibition of his sculpture since 1995.

His work has been featured in numerous magazines, including Smithsonian Magazine and The New York Times Magazine. In 2005 his work was profiled on Nova: Science Now by WGBH television in Boston, and in 2003 where he appeared as an animated bear on the cartoon series Arthur. He has been a guest speaker at universities and conferences throughout the country, including the TED Conference in 2004 and the Long Now Foundation in 2010.

Besides making and exhibiting sculpture, he occasionally teaches classes in mechanics and wire bending. For the past 13 years he has been the ringleader of the MIT Museum’s Friday After Thanksgiving Chain Reaction, a community event in which families and students of all ages assemble a giant chain reaction. He is the inventor of the children’s toy Toobers and Zots.

Randall Levere, Owner/Founder, Erba Cycles

Randall is the founder and CEO of Erba Cycles, a Boston-based manufacturer of hand-built bicycles made from bamboo and natural fibers for city and comfort cruising. From the time he raced them as a child, Randall has had a passion for bicycles. His early business career began with stints in engineering and internet marketing. On a lark, Randall decided to try making a bicycle from bamboo—-mostly, as a night/weekend project—-having been impressed trial rides on bamboo bikes made by others. That project became a passion and, then, a business. Randall started Erba Cycles and has been making bamboo bikes, which sell worldwide for $2000 and up, at their South Boston facility since 2009.

Direct download: Turning_a_Passion_Into_a_Business.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:13pm EDT
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A seventh in our series of discussions on "StartUp Algebra," that is, on the mathematics of start up high tech businesses.  This session focusses on boards of directors and advisors.

For this, we are again pleased to present excerpts of a recent panel discussion offered by the MIT Enterprise Forum Software Entrepreneurship Special Interest Group, on April 19, 2012 .   The program was organized by Shirish Ranjit, Sanjay Manandhar, Chris Deschenes and David Powsner.  Chris also served as the moderator.  You can read more about the program, the Software Entrepreneurship special interest group and the forum itself at www.MITforumCambridge.org. 

The excerpts in this podcast are remarks made by panelists Carm Huntress (Co-Founder of Cardvio, a web start up for greeting cards, and a chief Technology Officer of web companies Reef Partners and Audiogon), Mark Thirman (founder and CEO of Airprint Networks), and Brad Rosen (Founder of Mobile device app companies Drync and Colorstripe LLC) in respon to questions posed by the audience and by moderator Chris Deschenes.

Direct download: Startup_Algebra_-_Part_7_-_Boards_of_Directors_and_Boards_of_Advisors.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:13am EDT
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A sixth in our series of discussions on "StartUp Algebra," that is, on the mathematics of start up high tech businesses and, particularly, on compensation for outside CEOs.

For this, we are again pleased to present excerpts of a recent panel discussion offered by the MIT Enterprise Forum Software Entrepreneurship Special Interest Group, on April 19, 2012 .   The program was organized by Shirish Ranjit, Sanjay Manandhar, Chris Deschenes and me.  Chris also served as the moderator.  You can read more about the program, the Software Entrepreneurship special interest group and the forum itself at www.MITforumCambridge.org. 

The excerpts in this podcast are remarks made by panelists Carm Huntress (Co-Founder of Cardvio, a web start up for greeting cards, and a chief Technology Officer of web companies Reef Partners and Audiogon), Mark Thirman (founder and CEO of Airprint Networks), and Brad Rosen (Founder of Mobile device app companies Drync and Colorstripe LLC) in respon to questions posed by the audience and by moderator Chris Deschenes.

Direct download: Startup_Algebra_-_Part_6_-_Compensating_the_Outside_CEO.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 7:57am EDT
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A fifth in our series of discussions on "StartUp Algebra," that is, on the mathematics of start up high tech businesses and, particularly, on compensation for early team members.

For this, we are again pleased to present excerpts of a recent panel discussion offered by the MIT Enterprise Forum Software Entrepreneurship Special Interest Group, on April 19, 2012 .   The program was organized by Shirish Ranjit, Sanjay Manandhar, Chris Deschenes and me.  Chris also served as the moderator.  You can read more about the program, the Software Entrepreneurship special interest group and the forum itself at www.MITforumCambridge.org. 

The excerpts in this podcast are remarks made by panelists Brad Rosen (Founder of Mobile device app companies Drync and Colorstripe LLC), Carm Huntress (Co-Founder of Cardvio, a web start up for greeting cards, and a chief Technology Officer of web companies Reef Partners and Audiogon) and Mark Thirman (founder and CEO of Airprint Networks) to questions on compensation posed by the audience and by moderator Chris Deschenes.

Direct download: Startup_Algebra_-_Part_5.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:39am EDT
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Start-up Algebra Part 3

A third in our series of discussions on "StartUp Algebra," that is, on the mathematics of start up high tech businesses and, particularly, on dividing equity among founders and key employees.

For this, we are again pleased to present excerpts of a recent panel discussion offered by the MIT Enterprise Forum Software Entrepreneurship Special Interest Group, on April 19, 2012 .   The program was organized by Shirish Ranjit, Sanjay Manandhar, Chris Deschenes and me.  Chris also served as the moderator.  You can read more about the program, the Software Entrepreneurship special interest group and the forum itself at www.MITforumCambridge.org. 

The excerpts in this podcast are remarks made by Mark Thirman, founder and CEO of Airprint Networks.   Mark offered his remarks at the opening of a panel discussion that also included Brad Rosen, Founder of Mobile device app companies Drync and Colorstripe LLC, and Carm Huntress, Co-Founder of Cardvio, a web start up for greeting cards, and a chief Technology Officer of web companies Reef Partners and Audiogon.

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Serial entrepreneur Hiram Samel discusses partnering and funding for the startup.

Direct download: The_Tech_Entrepreneur_Podcast_19_-_Interview_with_Hiram_Samel.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:48am EDT
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Discussion by Sanjay Manandhar, Chris Deschenes and Dave Powsner at a Panera, in Waltham, Massachusetts, on the topic of venture capital funding.  Sanjay is founder and CEO of Aerva, a digital signage company; Chris, a software developer and principal of Entrasoft, a software consulting firm; and, Dave is a patent lawyer and partner with Nutter, McClennen & Fish, in Boston.

Direct download: 2012-02-22-VC_Funding.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 11:06am EDT
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Interview with Randall Wright, Senior Liasion Officer at MIT, on innovation and market positioning.  Interviewers are Shirsh Ranjit and David Powsner.

Direct download: 2012-02-17-RandallWright-Part-3.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:51pm EDT
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Interview with Randall Wright, Senior Liasion Officer at MIT, on innovation and market positioning.  Interviewers are Shirsh Ranjit and David Powsner.

Direct download: 2012-02-17-RandallWright-Part-2.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:48pm EDT
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Interview with Randall Wright, Senior Liasion Officer at MIT, on innovation and market positioning.  Interviewers are Shirsh Ranjit and David Powsner.

Direct download: 2012-02-17-RandallWright-Part-1.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:41pm EDT
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Interview with Graham Rong, Founder of IKA, a marketing solutions provider, on that company's experiencs with partnering with bigger companies during start-up phase.  Interviewers are Shirsh Ranjit and David Powsner.

Direct download: 2012-01-20_-_GR_-_Mix_-_Part_4.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:09am EDT
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Interview with Graham Rong, Founder of IKA, a marketing solutions provider, on that company's experiencs with partnering with bigger companies during start-up phase.  Interviewers are Shirsh Ranjit and David Powsner.

Direct download: 2012-01-20_-_GR_-_Mix_-_Part_3.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:07am EDT
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Interview with Graham Rong, Founder of IKA, a marketing solutions provider, on that company's experiencs with partnering with bigger companies during start-up phase.  Interviewers are Shirsh Ranjit and David Powsner.

Direct download: 2012-01-20_-_GR_-_Mix_-_Part_2.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:04am EDT
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Interview with Graham Rong, Founder of IKA, a marketing solutions provider, on that company's experiencs with partnering with bigger companies during start-up phase.  Interviewers are Shirsh Ranjit and David Powsner.

Direct download: http-traffic.libsyn.comtechentrepreneur2012-01-20_-_GR_-_Mix_-_Part_1.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:46am EDT
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Sanjay Manandhar, Shirish Ranjit and David Powsner discuss "partnering with bigger fish"--or, why a start-up company would consider working with a larger company in order to get a new product off the ground.

Direct download: 2012-01-02-Podcast-Partnering-IP-Issues-RoughMix.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:07am EDT
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Sanjay Manandhar, Shirish Ranjit and David Powsner discuss "partnering with bigger fish"--or, why a start-up company would consider working with a larger company in order to get a new product off the ground.

Direct download: 2012-01-08-Podcast-Part_1-Session_2_mixdown.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 9:01am EDT
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