Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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How to get from where you are to where you want to be

Mentors and Strength-Finder

“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.” Anonymous

In my personal experience with mentors the one aspect which I have benefited from most, more than the opening of doors or advice, has been the identification and affirmation of my personal strengths. Through this process I have learned from others to identify what I have the capability to do better than others and how to channel these strengths to a higher level. This process takes a lifetime to master, having a mentor is a good way to fast track it.

When you have someone who believes in your abilities, it is one of the greatest motivating forces you can find. It provided me with extra energy to get out of bed in the morning, to working & closing deals and providing motivational energy to the rest of the team through rough times.With or without a mentor you need to seek your inherent strengths. Everyone seems to be focusing on your weaknesses and how to improve them. Shift the focus on what it is that you do best, and how you can use those qualities to achieve your goals. By finding someone to help you through the identification process is a bonus.

To have such a relationship with your mentor you have to choose them wisely. You have to work at growing the relationship and making sure that both of you are benefiting from the process. The search for such a mentor is not an easy one and it takes a lot of time and effort. My advice is, put in that time and effort and then work towards taking yourself to the next level.

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Mentors and Connections

“Technology does not run an enterprise, relationships do” Patricia Fripp

Mentors have this amazing ability of opening many doors for the startup they are working with. I have experienced this first hand and was in awe of the competitive advantages we gained in comparison to others startups in our industry. Some of the type of doors which were opened for us by mentors were;

1. Sales: Typical scenario without a mentor is first felt in your first sales cycle. You get all your marketing material ready and are all set to hit your list of prospects. Being a startup company you have to start from the very bottom of most organizations. This drastically increases the time it takes you to reach the decision makers and most of the time you get lost along the way. With mentors all we need to do is get a recommendation and you are sitting and pitching to the decision maker in no time. This has helped catapult many businesses which I have started or been part of.

2. Advisor’s: Usually a mentor is very well connected person with deep contacts within a multitude of industries. If he senses that our business needs help for example in the financial division and he is not able to help in that particular segment you will get referred to other potential advisor’s. By meeting with several key industry veterans you continue to increase your personal network at a mind blistering pace as well as fortifying your companies foundations.

3. Capital: In one of my prior businesses which was a web development company our mentor noticed that we had reached a stage where we could raise substantial capital to take the business to the next level.  With his personal endorsements and contacts we were able to pitch to some angel investors to raise the capital we needed. This turned out to be a huge boost with accelerated our growth by many folds.

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Mentors and Advice

“Many receive advice, only the wise profit from it.” Publilius Syrus

Mentors at the most basic level, provide you with advice regarding your current business. This advice is the result of many years of experience in the particular segment that you are getting mentored on. Having been through similar situations they are able to provide insight on the best manner to tackle a problem and point out the best possible solution . Over the past couple of years my mentors have provided me with great insights regarding the business ventures I have been part of. The range of advice ranges from legal clauses in partnership agreements to help in correctly valuing my companies and even how to balance my work and personal life.

There are a couple of things that should be kept in mind to maximize your mentors advice :

1. Be clear on the precise subject: In my experience mentors have a tendency to go off tangent when you ask for advice on broad subjects. When you want advice on ramping up sales in your organization make sure you are specific in talking about the details. For example instead of “we need to increase sales for xyz product how do you think we should go about it” say, “The current sales volume of xyz product is 1000 units a quarter with 3 dedicated sales staff, we want to achieve 10% growth every quarter of 08, in your opinion what would be an effective strategy to hit our targets.”

2. Listen carefully: Due to the depth of their experience mentors are continuously bombarding you with information. Your job should be to listen diligently and take down comprehensive notes to help you understand the basic concepts. This will help you create a reference point, ask specific questions if you don’t understand a particular topic and show respect to your mentor. The last thing you want to do is day dream when your mentor is giving advice.

3. Get opinions: I respect my mentors for the advice they have given and continue to give me. However before I implement them I get multiple second opinions from partners, associates and maybe some of my other mentors. This helps you get multiple perspectives before making any major changes to your organization.

4. Use the advice: When a mentor gives you the framework to help increase sales by 10% a quarter and you get positive feedback on the system, get to work on it asap. Mentors want to see progress and if you keep taking their advice and doing nothing about it you are asking for trouble. Being proactive and action oriented are two essential qualities for all entrepreneurs.

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Finding a mentor

“The important thing about a problem is not its solution, but the strength we gain in finding the solution” Anonymous

“I don’t know anyone who fits the profile”. Do not worry you are not alone in your quest to find that perfect mentor. At this point many say….”It’s not worth it”, “It will take too much time” or “I will get one later”. You need to get rid of these thoughts as soon as possible. Nothing that is worth getting, is ever going to be easy at any point in life. It all comes down to how badly you want something. If being a successful entrepreneur is what you strive to be, then finding good mentors must be very high on your priority list.

You need to start gathering market intelligence on the movers and shakers in your industry, city and country. Look for individuals who have noteworthy experience in the industry you are currently operating in. Getting to these individuals requires much perseverance, which as I have mentioned countless times, is a characteristic that needs much working on, specially if you are an entrepreneur.

If you are planning on setting up an online book shop, Jeff Bezos is a natural choice. Given we can’t reach Jeff Bezos we have to find ways of finding people who he have worked closely with him. Searching through ‘first line of contacts’ usually closest connections to gauge if they know anyone who has worked with companies such as Amazon and Barnes & Nobles, also explore looking into those who have worked in the brick and mortar segment of this industry to get their insight and perspective as well. If you are unlucky with the immediate network use services such as linkedin or facebook to find those who could help you connect to the right individuals.

Using this example from my linkedin network I found someone who recently left Amazon as a SVP and joined Yahoo. She has more than 15 years of experience in this industry and is linked to me through my 2nd degree network. Now I have one name on my list, this process will continue till I have a list of names which can be tapped into. I will then decide the best approach to contact these individuals either through an email, a phone call or at a networking or industry event. Once you have decided on your approach get started and take one name at a time. Feeling nervous or even intimidated is a normal reaction. Be confident, have a clear purpose and you should do great. Give this all that you have got because the benefit of finding a good mentor can be the difference between success or failure of your startup.

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Planning for a Mentor

“Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.” Stephen A. Brennan

Before you set out to find your mentor it is best to first develop a plan determining why you are getting a mentor and how you aim to benefit from this relationship. You have to understand that you want a favor from an individual who has little time to give . Keeping that in perspective, build a value proposition for them which clearly outlines what you are looking for, what sort of commitment is required and how both sides can mutually benefit from this relationship. Break it down to these 3 broad working categories .

1. Outline what you are looking for: This section requires you to clearly define the business that you operate in, it does not have to be a perfect model. Defining your business model is what you may want the mentor to help you with. The whole concept of this section is to help the mentor understand what you want to accomplish and your methodology for reaching those goals. Once you have outlined your objectives you can pinpoint certain segments where you require help. It could be with your business mode, sales, human resources, IT or just about any other part of your business you are having trouble with.

2. Outlining commitment: Keeping in mind that time is a scarce resource for mentors you need to clearly define how much time commitment is needed from them. It could be a telephone call once a year or it could be a 2 hour breakfast meeting every Saturday. Like all deals there will be negotiations and you will arrive at a commitment level which should be mutually acceptable to both parties.

3. Mutual Benefit: This section will differ from mentor to mentor. I have come across mentors who have helped me in the past in return for nothing, it was their way of giving back to society. Others have asked for certain monetary compensation while others have even requested for equity. The level of commitment really plays a key role in this section. If you want the mentor to give substantial attention to your business, you will have to come up with a situation in which both sides will be content .

Once you have all these sections planned you will have a clearer idea of what sort of skills your mentor needs to have, what level of commitment does he/she needs to give to the business and how you are going to make it worth his while. Now you are ready to go find yourselves a mentor!

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Mentors

“Mentor: Someone whose hindsight can become your foresight” Anonymous

Imagine being blindfolded in an alien space. Having someone to guide you at this point so as to avoid bumping into random objects along the way is really helpful. A mentor provides this service in the real world whether you are starting out on a new business venture or figuring out a career path. Instead of relying on advice from sources who have not achieved the sort of goals you have set yourself, the mentor is able to use his/her experience to guide you in a professional manner to help you achieve your targets.

It is not necessary to have a single mentor, you can have multiple mentors to help you grow and progress in different areas. Over the years I have relied on the advice of my multiple mentors to develop businesses, determine my core strengths and weaknesses, understanding of complex financial and legal issues as well as how to bring balance in my life as a whole. Their advice has been critical in my relatively short journey and I sincerely believe they have been vital catalysts in helping my progress .

Finding and benefiting correctly from your mentor will provide you an undeniable advantage over the competition. Over the course of this week I will share steps you can take to identify potentials, build relationships with them and how to benefit from this relationship.

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5 stories relating life to business

“You never have an idea of what you might accomplish. All that you do is you pursue a question. And see where it leads.” Jonas Salk

Life is a fascinating journey and every morning I get up and look forward to the new challenges that I will have to face and learn from through the course of the day. You need to keep that perspective to live life fully. Over the course of this week I have talked about 5 recent personal incidents. They were instrumental in giving a different perspective to my usual business approach.

1. Sales & Relationships: An encounter with a street merchant helped me understand the importance of building a deep relationship with key clients . It enhances and improves the selling process when the person you are selling to, trusts you. To read the entire story please click here.

2. Squash & Strategy: This story is another affirmation of why the tortoise won the race. When embarking on a new journey take time out to study what you are getting yourself into. You should have a clear idea about goals and time frames and should build your strategy around this foundation to maximize your true potential. To read the entire story please click here.

3. The Gym: This story talks about the value of partners in our life and the instrumental role they play in helping us reach our true potential. By selecting your partners carefully you increase your chances of achieving your goals. To read the entire story please click here.

4. Different Perspectives: This story is about two individuals in the same setting and their completely different perspectives on how to go about life. It talks about flexibility and viewing life from multiple perspectives to get a better understanding. To read the story please click here.

5. Crossing the Rubicon: This story talks about crossing the point of no return.This applies to setting up a business, deciding on a career path or even selecting a life partner. We have to ensure that we make these decisions after careful thought and for the right reasons. To read the story please click here.

This week I have thoroughly enjoyed writing this segment on life and business. I may just make this a regular feature to keep things an open perspective on matters. I hope all of you enjoyed this series too, I look forward to your comments and feedback.

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Crossing the Rubicon

The Rubicon, is a river in northern Italy which Julius Caeser crossed in 49BC from which point it was not possible to go back. Crossing the Rubicon hence refers to passing through that point from where return is no longer possible. This may be due to a host of factors, such as, it being physically impossible to turn back, too expensive to go back or that the path is too dangerous. Working with startup companies I find it a most exciting part of the journey when that point of no return is crossed . However, please make sure that before crossing your Rubicon you are doing so for the right reasons.

When I setup this blog on the 1st of January 08 I crossed a point of no return. I let all my readers know that I was going to spend the next year updating this blog on a daily basis with advice and insights on entrepreneurship and life. I did so because I felt that I had a little experience which could help others who are in the process of setting up a company or working at a startup for the first time. From that day onward I had a responsibility to everyone who was reading this blog to make sure that at the end of every week I gave some advice which could be potentially helpful. It doesn’t make a difference if I have one reader or a million, my responsibility remains the same. Eleven weeks later writing my blog has become one of the most fulfilling part of my week.

If you are on the verge of starting your own business, deciding on a certain career path or even getting married, the one thing which you keep in mind before making these big decisions is “do it for the right reasons”. You shouldn’t let anyone force you into such decisions Look at them from all perspectives, align them with your value and belief systems and when you make up your mind ,cross your Rubicon without a whisper of a doubt.

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Different Perspectives

“Humans have the ability to shift perspective. We can experience the world through our senses. Or we can remove ourselves from our senses and experience the world even less directly. We can think about our life, rather than thinking in our life.” John J. Emerick

I meet a fair number of people daily, for business or on a personal basis . I find it most interesting that all of us have uniquely different ways of looking at the same thing. Over the last week I have had some interesting experiences showcasing how two people in the same boat can be looking at the picture in totally different ways.

I was coaching a team whose performance had been lagging in the last couple of quarters. During our one-on-one feedback sessions, one of the team members was constantly blaming external circumstances being the primary reason for his not operating at an optimum level. He blamed the organization for not providing an environment in which creativity and performance was fostered. He had hence decided, that he would stop giving his 100% and was just ‘making do’ in his current role. Another team member however, realized that even though the environment was not the best, he would not let it affect him negatively, instead he took on the responsibility to be the change he wanted to see in this environment. He started with his own team and department. Jim Collins refers to these as “pockets of greatness” (Audio).

There is no doubt this is an uphill task when one person is up against 9 others who share a different perspective. However he took up the challenge and after our coaching was completed he became a role model for the team and productivity and morale soared. Management began to take notice and some structural changes were made.

The lesson I learned was, each one of us has a unique perspective on life according to our inbuilt value and belief systems . Sometimes these systems are so strong that they cloud our judgement and refuse to let us look any other way. Being part of a startup or a multi national it is your responsibility to remain open and flexible about the view points of others. Don’t judge them, nor deliberately criticize them or blindly embrace them. Take time out to look at it from their perspective, what you see, may just pleasantly surprise you.

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The Gym

I recently started going back to a gym after a long break. Why is it that some of us get these spurts of energy to go to the gym which wears off soon enough after that initial boost of energy and enthusiasm? This is not an unusual trend for the gym, you set yourself enthusiastic new year resolutions to get into shape and 3 months down the road you quit for some reason or other. I did some research on this and found the following statistics:

  • “50 percent of all new health club members quit within the first six months of signing up, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association.” Source: Wayback Machine Archived Webpage
  • 1 in 5 club members use their club at least twice per week. 40% of those who join health clubs stop going soon afterwards. Source: Health and Fitness Website
  • In the article Time Management Facts and Figures by Dr. Donald E. Wetmore, it says that 90% of those who join health and fitness clubs will stop going within the first 90 days.
  • The first quarter of the calendar remains the key period in the year for new member acquisition for the club industry. Link

There is a lot of evidence supporting those claims. I then looked back at all the times I have joined a gym or a health club and actively used their services regularly for at least an year. The one common denominator for when I had gone regularly, was with a gym partner. It is strange but true how the dynamics change when you have someone to spot you, talk to and even benchmark yourself to.

This got me thinking of the posts I have written about teams and partnering, and how essential that aspect is, not only from a business point of view but overall in life. This applies to whether you are choosing a life partner, a gym buddy or a mentor to help you along the way. Through partnering we can achieve extraordinary goals and greatly impact productivity and morale. All you have to do is choose your partners carefully.

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