Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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

Know the Facts

“At the root of every conflict is a commitment not honored, an idea not realized and an opportunity misunderstood.” Dr. J M Sampath

One of the fundamental reason for why conflicts are difficult to manage, is the disconnect between perceived reality and the facts. Unfortunately, during conflicts, emotions tend to takeover and incorrect decisions are often taken. It is hence essential, that when  confronted with a conflict, we analyze the current situation very carefully before proceeding. There are many advantages to taking this first step when managing conflict. Some key advantages are, it gives time to the affected individuals to look at the situation objectively, it allows a look at the bigger picture and reduces the probability of acting irrationally or impulsively. 

Some steps which need to be taken during a fact finding exercise are:

1. Identifying Core Reasons: Take a sheet of paper and write down what you believe are the core reasons behind the conflict, to help convert abstract thoughts into reality. It is a good idea to write down the emotions and feelings attached to the reasons, to fully grasp the extent of the conflict at hand. 

2. Identifying Conflict Stage: It is essential to establish the stage of the conflict. Has this been brewing for quite some time? Is it something which was instigated by a new addition to the team? Different levels of intensities require varying degrees of involvement from external sources.

3. Identifying Affected Parties: Clearly marking out individuals or teams affected by the conflict is an important step. The longer a conflict has been suppressed, the greater the extent of its impact. Therefore, it is advisable to deal with a conflict as soon as it arises.

The fact finding exercise provides valuable objective insight into resolving conflicts effectively. Most of the time we skip this stage, and either completely ignore the issue at hand, or jump straight into the disagreement without thinking through our position adequately. This can have a severely damaging impact on your team, organization and oneself. Establishing facts and our arguments prior to the negotiation stage can save time, make positions clearer and help minimize any bad blood which can arise.

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Handling Conflicts

“Conflict is the gadify of thought. It stirs us to observation and memory. It instigates to invention. It shocks us out of sheeplike passivity and sets us at noting and contriving.” John Dewey

All of us face conflict at one point of time or other. It does not matter how non-confrontational you may be, it is something that one needs to have the ability to handle. Everyone has different ways of handling conflict. It depends on the issue at hand, core values and beliefs, and one’s personal disposition. When all these factors come together, it becomes a complex issue which needs to be handled with sensitivity and care. Unfortunately, not many people are adept at handling such situations, and may shy away from them to maintain a status quo. This leads to a further amplification of the problem at hand, and could lead to additional issues and problems. 

Working at a start-up or a relatively young company with a decentralized structure, conflict is inevitable. Being of a non-confrontational nature myself, I used to avoid these uncomfortable situations, for a long time. After sometime, I began to see how my behavior was making conditions worse, and was affecting the rest of the team as well. That is when I began to pay greater attention to resolving these conflicts as soon as possible, to maintain a healthy environment in the workplace and to ensure that morale levels were kept high. It is imperative to keep the larger picture in mind when dealing with conflict,  to fully understand what is at stake.

Over the course of this week, I will go over a couple of key points of conflict resolution which I have learned over time, to deal with conflict in a much more efficient and effective manner. Due to the complex nature of conflicts, and depending on the intensity and number of people involved, these points will act as markers to help look at the matter objectively. At the same time, I would really like to hear from you regarding any specific conflicts that you may have experienced during your entrepreneurial journey. In the coming months I plan on adding a section for case studies, conflict resolution is always interesting. I look forward to hearing from you and hope you enjoy the series.

 

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5 Strategy Based Games

“What do you want to achieve or avoid? The answers to this questions are objectives. How will you go about achieving your desired results? The answer to this you can call strategy.” William E Rothschild.

This week we have talked about ways to flex analytical thinking capabilities so as to become more adept at developing and executing strategic directives. One of the ways which has contributed substantially to my personal growth in strategic based thinking, has been its application in a variety of strategic games I have played. Most of these games have simple rules, and can be played by a broad spectrum of individuals ranging from children to adults. When we begin to scratch the surface of these rules, we notice more complexities. Strategy development follows similar lines. To develop and deploy an effective strategy is a challenging task. Listed below are five strategy based games through which I have learnt many valuable lessons.

1. Chess: This game teaches several fundamental concepts, such as preparation, patience and sacrifice, key proponents in development of strategic planning. Chess provides an ideal playing ground to practice, and hone skills needed in these particular segments. It teaches us to see patterns, which may lead to future positions, and how to take advantage of them. At the same time it forces us to continue looking at the bigger picture, to ensure that we are aware of all positions on the board, so as to take advantage of them. To read more about the parallels between chess and strategy please click here.

2. Bridge: Is a game which helps develop skills to work with others, communication, learning to trust instinct and, actual ‘table’ play. As a partnership based game, effective communication with your partner is critical so as to read and understand the partner’s hand. Developing and deploying strategic directives works in the same way. We have to learn to work together to formulate them, at the same time we have to communicate them effectively to the rest of the team, to ensure smooth deployment or play. To read more about parallels between bridge and strategy please click here.

3. Poker: Among the many things which can be learnt from this game are aggression, controlling emotions and attention to detail. Most of these qualities are also required to ensure successful deployment of any strategy. Without them, we see poor execution and unravelling of plans midway, due to the inability to master these factors. It is essential that we develop and be adept at understanding our own thresholds and abilities to find success. To read more about the parallels between poker and strategy please click here.

4. Monopoly: An all time favorite strategy based game, this gives players insights into negotiating, deal making and situational analysis. There are several strategies which players take to win at this game, unfortunately they are often short sighted. This is due primarily because we develop strategies based solely on the short term . These could be in the form of hitting quarterly targets or maintaining specific share price. Most of these strategies do not take into account long term implications of these decisions, which have the potential to be detrimental to the company’s future. To read more about parallels between monopoly and strategy please click here.

5. Risk: A game with an end goal of, world domination. It teaches players several principles relating to allocation of resources, partnerships and aggression. Most of these principles form the basis of successful strategies. The ability to fully utilize in-hand resources in the most efficient manner is a challenging task. Furthermore, to progress as an organization,  strategic alliances need to be formed to accelerate the rate of growth. These principles are covered in the game, in a simple yet effective manner. To learn more about parallels between risk and strategy please click here.

On the journey as an entrepreneur, learning has to be an ongoing factor. Using creative methods to exercise analytical and thinking capabilities helps to see situations from different angles. This equips us with the ability to make better decisions, be more productive and reach our goals faster. 

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Risk

“Move not unless you see an advantage; use not your troops unless there is something to be gained; fight not unless the position is critical. If it is to your advantage, make a forward move; if not, stay where you are.” Sun Tzu

Competing for world domination is what the game of Risk is all about. This is a military based game, where players put their respective armies against each other. The game provides each player with the ability to be involved in strategic maneuvering, brings in an element of luck with the dice and gives ample opportunities to form and break alliances. In a way, it simplifies all the complexities of war, into a simple game where the player with the greatest foresight and a little luck, usually emerges victorious. Unlike Monopoly, this game allows for more creativity and imagination due to the movements allowed on the board. Playing straightforward strategies leaves you exposed, and vulnerable to attacks. 

This interesting game has quite a few parallels to the world of business and strategy:

1. Allocation of Resources: Each player has a finite amount of resources allocated to them. The placement of these resources is a critical aspect of the game. One may choose to have loosely scattered armies all over the board, they may decide to fortify certain key positions with the bulk of their resources, or they may aim to use their resources collectively and be aggressive. Each strategy has its advantages and disadvantages, a similar predicament occurs in the real world when we develop strategies. The deployment of limited resources is critical to whether the overall strategy will be successful or not.

2. Partnerships: Conquering the whole world, even in a game, is an arduous task, one that can rarely be done alone. The game calls for players to partner together, to improve their chances of winning and become a more feared adversary. Without these partnerships one is usually outflanked or outnumbered, and an early exit in the the game is imminent. The same principles apply in the real world. In order to reach goals and objectives, partnerships are an essential component. Choosing partners carefully and correctly is vital to ensure the success of any campaign.

3. Aggression: In my experience of playing this game, the opponent who chooses to fortify a small portion of the board heavily, usually faces eventual defeat. Opponents who choose a defensive style of play, lack the creativity or willingness to go out of their comfort zones, fearing the unknown. Unfortunately such behavior is punished heavily in this game as well as in the real world. When pursuing goals and dreams, being aggressive is often vital to acheive them . Focusing efforts on offensive strategies instead of defensive ones will bring a greater share of victories, rather than defeats in my opinion. 

In the game of Risk there is an element of luck, due to the requirement of rolling a dice. Once the dice is rolled, nothing can be done to change what was rolled. What we do have control over, is how we react to what we may have rolled. In life we have the same choice. We cannot change the hand that we have been dealt. What we can change is how we choose to play it. Remember to keep your end goal in mind, and formulate short term tactics to reach it.

 

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Monopoly

“Monopoly is a game which calls for long term strategic planning in order to succeed. “ Anonymous

There were very few games as exciting as Monopoly when I was growing up. It was by far one of my favorite board games, I still enjoying playing it today. There was something about the game, which drew me to it, maybe it was the immense satisfaction I got from figuring out how to convince my opponent to make a deal, the thrill of watching my opponents land on my hotels or just plain winning. I do believe that playing this game from such a young age was, to an extent, instrumental in developing my passion for business and deal making. As I grew older I began to notice the parallels between the board game and business. 

Listed below are some prominent parallels:

1. Negotiation: Monopoly requires players to make deals for swapping properties or other concessions during the course of the game. Very rarely do players want to give up something which they know will put them at a disadvantage in the game. It all comes down to how convincingly you negotiate and structure deals, so that they fit into your plan and appear to be favorable to your opponents as well. Individuals act in similar ways in the real world, and an ability to close a deal comes down to your negotiation and persuasion skills. 

2. Situation Analysis: In the game of Monopoly, it is critical that you adjust strategy according to the number of opponents as well as the nature of their behaviour patterns. Going ahead blindly and acquiring every piece of property you land on without a set objective, will place you at a definitive disadvantage. When developing business strategy, the same concerns have to be taken into account. Not paying attention to these factors, creates exploitable vulnerabilities in your plan. 

3. Integrity: Sometimes individuals will say just about anything to close a deal. In Monopoly this could be, “I will let you off three times on my hotels”, “We can share profits on this property” or “I will never charge you on this square”. However, I have seen these promises broken many  a time and a friendly game turn sour. In a game revolving around dealmaking, one’s word is really all there is. If no one trusts you or your word does not carry weight, no one will want to make a deal with you. The same rule applies in all aspects of life as well. Keeping true to your word will give your team reason to believe in you, will give investors the confidence to invest in you and will allow you to sleep well at night. 

Looking ahead and adjusting strategy according to forecasts is essential in the game of Monopoly and the game of life. One has to learn to trust gut instincts, and be confident in how to move forward. Keeping your word and honoring deals is mandatory. Understand your opponents and learn what drives them. At the end of the game of Monopoly there can only be one winner, make sure you have the drive and ambition to be that person. 

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Poker

“The most common mistake in history is underestimating your opponent; it happens at the poker table all the time.” David Shoup

Poker is a game associated with luck and random chance by most people. The immense media attention has contributed to a large extent, to the explosion in the number of poker players during recent years. The rules of the game are fairly straightforward, any amateur can be taught the game in no time. Due to this low learning curve, this game has witnessed a massive influx of players who just want to “try” their luck at it , so to speak.  Admittedly, there is an element of luck to this game, as there is with most card games. However, this element of luck creates a deceptive illusion, and beginners finds themselves losing rapidly to the more seasoned players. The fact of the matter is,  understanding probability stakes and an innate skill for reading people’s faces provides stronger players, with a huge advantage in this game. 

There are a few parallels that can be drawn from the game of poker to strategy and business. Some key elements I drew from the game are:

1. Aggression: Calculated aggression in the game of poker, forces other players at the table to react to your style of playing. Done correctly, this enables stronger players to manipulate many situations to their advantage. In business, and specially strategic development, the same theory applies. If one remains passive in outlook and allows external factors to disrupt the game plan, progress will be slow. One has to be an instigator to bring change, and one needs to pursue goals aggressively to reach them. Sitting back and expecting things to happen is a flawed strategy.

2. Controlling Emotions: The players at a poker table who allow their emotions to override logic and rationale, are the first to lose their chips. There are very few games I have played, in which controlling emotions plays such a vital role. It has taught me a great deal about patience and keeping a level head even when things become terribly long. Developing such patience can help greatly in all aspects of life, and provide a distinct advantage over those who lose their cool too quickly.

3. Attention to Detail: The game of poker is about gathering as much information about other players as possible. This could be their betting patterns, gestures or even the way they talk. Poker, does to a large extent boil down to how well you can read your opponents. Players who are able to identify patterns earlier in the game, can win, regardless of what others may be holding in their hands. In business and strategic development the same rules apply. The inability to understand your competition and identify trends leaves your organization at a great disadvantage. 

Developing keen insights about your opponents, and understanding your own personal threshold limits can be extremely valuable assets. By the same token, knowing when to accept defeat and when to keep your calm is equally important. This game punishes those with large egos, and rewards those who are able to keep their emotions and egos in check. Life works in very similar ways, the sooner we get adept at understanding these intricacies, the sooner we can reach our goals.

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Bridge

“A winner listens to his partner’s point of view; A loser just waits until it’s his turn to express his own.” Anonymous

Bridge is a game that was played regularly by my grandparents and parents. As a result, I learned this game at a very young age. I still have many fond memories of sitting beside my grandparents while they played their weekly bridge game at our home. It was fascinating to see the dynamics between the four individuals who were playing. Being a team based game, I remember being told how critical it was to carefully select partners and develop relationships. Like any team based game there were arguments and disagreements over how certain hands were played, which actually added an exciting dynamic to the game. 

On the surface, bridge appears to be a simple game with set rules of how to play the 13 cards each individual is dealt. However, that is only the beginning. There are many intricacies and conventions which arise when you begin to talk about bidding tactics, counting cards, table play and being able to read your partners as well as the opponents. Some parallels I can draw from bridge in comparision to strategic thinking are:

1. Teamwork: Without teamwork bridge cannot be played optimally. It requires both partners to have established understanding of each other’s style of playing  as well as the  conventions they follow and play to. From a strategic point of view one can draw parallels to business teams, as it is easy to tell which teams work well together as compared to those who don’t. When a team is not looking at ways to improve communication and productivity together, they are missing out on massive potential. Therefore establishing team building skills through games like bridge can be extremely beneficial.

2. Communication: Bridge is all about communicating with your partner the strengths and weaknesses of your hand , and then go on to play the hand optimally. However, the bidding process is complicated and requires a deep understanding of bidding styles and conventions as well as interpretation of your partners bids. The team which is able to communicate most effectively is usually the one with a substantial advantage in the game. Strategically, the same conclusions can be reached regarding communication. If teams do not communicate effectively they will suffer as  a result. On the other hand effective team communication can develop into defining competitive advantages over peers.

3. Instincts: Trusting your gut becomes easier with time and experience. Initially there is doubt about one’s instincts even when it appears to be a logical sequence. In bridge one needs to accurately place  one’s opponents cards relative to bidding and past rounds. There needs to be confident dependence on one’s ability to trust one’s counting & retentive skills as well as instinct in the placement of cards. This develops ones ability to rely on one’s instinct with greater comfort. Trusting your instincts when developing and executing strategy is necessary. Without it, you lack the confidence and ability to communicate effectively with the rest of the team. 

Bridge is an enjoyable game which sharpens analytical and team building skills. Unfortunately it is not a mainstream game and therefore does not enjoy the popularity of other card games such as poker. Nonetheless, it is a game I recommend, so learn it and play it as recreational activity among your team.

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Chess

“The chessboard is the world, the pieces are the phenomena of the Universe, the rules of the game are what we call the laws of Nature and the player on the other side is hidden from us” Thomas Huxley

Chess is a game that fascinated me during my teenage years. Like most strategy games, the rules for the game are fairly straightforward and, anyone can learn the basic rules of the game with relative ease. Developing deeper insight into the game is a completely different ball game. I developed an interest in the game after seeing a chess tournament in school. Seeing two players go at each other, in a mental dual was rather exciting. My learning was accelerated as I played against the computer initially, and spent countless hours learning to understand the intricacies of the game. Chess has many parallels to strategic thinking, and is often quoted as being “the” strategy game to play. Some of the parallels are:

1. Preparations and Foundations: I spent a lot of time studying the games of the grandmasters. This expedites and accelerates learning of the game. What is important at this stage is that you take the time to understand the reason for the  moves, and the rationale behind them. It takes much time to learn and understand certain opening formations and moves. The same applies to strategic thinking, we need to ensure our plan is backed with substantial research and thought, before we begin execution. 

2. Patience: One rash move in chess has the potential to unravel the entire game. It takes much patience and restraint to avoid making certain decisions without fully understanding their implications. A lack of patience  usually indicates a weaker player, one who is not thinking through the moves, and is often without a plan. Such players only evaluate the game on a move by move basis. I see this happen oftentimes with start-ups and younger organizations. Many of them are looking for instant results and success. Working towards such targets they often make rash decisions, don’t stick to the plan and give up too early. 

3. Sacrifices: Sometimes, we need to make sacrifices in chess to gain a position advantage, to get a win. Sacrifices and exchanges take place when a player is thinking past the monetary value of each piece. What often happens is that if your opponent is just looking at the game from a basic level, and is only concerned about collecting material, this is a perfect vulnerability to exploit. In business as well, we sometimes need to sacrifice current profits or even business units to help strenghten our position in the market. These are difficult moves to make and require foresight and trust in your instincts.

4. The Bigger Picture: When an opponent loses sight of the board as a whole and begins to only concentrate on a particular area he/she is attacking or defending, this is another exploitable vulnerability. It is critical to use all your pieces to their maximum potential during the game. This is a vulnerability that one will find in many strategic plans as well. The organization becomes so focused at times on one particular division that it fails to pay attention to what is happening on a macro level. By the time they zoom out, the damage is done and has the potential to be critical to the business as a whole. 

Listed above are just some parallels which can be drawn from the game of Chess. It is a game I recommend to all entrepreneurs. It can be studied on your own, and provides you with the ability to flex your analytical capabilities on a daily basis. It also tests your endurance and discipline levels, which are critical characteristics for all entrepreneurs. 

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Developing Strategic Thinking

“I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.” Confucius 

Strategic thinking is the ability to look at a situation from multiple angles and find potential opportunities therein. It requires keen insight into the playing field, the players, the circumstances and the way related events, affect your position. Personally, I find such analysis invigorating, this is a key motivating aspect in my becoming an entrepreneur. Is thinking strategically something that you are born with? Or, is it something that can be learnt ? The answer to this question has been tackled by several noted authors and management gurus Most of their answers lie somewhere in the middle of these two questions. I agree entirely with them. Thinking in this manner comes naturally to some, and takes time to develop in others.

The key is, to continuously flex the brain muscles, and get into the habit of looking at situations from different angles. Through such a process, one is able to unlock dormant capabilities and to further develop inherent capabilities you may possess. One of the most enjoyable and instructive ways to develop this capability is to play strategy based games. I have enjoyed doing so since I was very young. Even though I was young, and totally naive and unaware to many of the fundamental concepts introduced in games like bridge, monopoly and chess, a subconscious learning was taking place. I was learning concepts of team work, planning and understanding your opponent.

Over the next week I plan to outline five of my favorite strategy based games. Games I have been playing for a long time. Playing card and board games is something I remember spending a lot of time on. Being an aggressive competitor, I learnt about losing gracefully, planning and endurance. Today, these skills are key drivers which push me forward and most importantly, help me keep an eye on the larger picture. I would be most interested to learn about strategy games which you play, and have played, games through which you can draw parallels to the business world. I hope you enjoy this series. 

 

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5 Steps to Write a Customer Value Proposition

“The toughest thing about the power of trust is that it’s very difficult to build and very easy to destroy. The essence of trust building is to emphasize the similarities between you and the customer.” Thomas J Watson

A customer value proposition (CVP) is a direct reflection of how your organization brings value to your target segment. It helps them answer the fundamental question “Why should I buy from you instead of your competitor?” A well developed CVP has the ability to transfer your target segment’s attention to the distinctive advantages of your product/service, and the reason they should select it. If the CVP is generic and abstract, with fancy words which do not translate into tangible value for the customer, it is of no consequence. Listed below are five steps to help you develop a winning CVP.

1. Customer Identification: Who is your target customer? Instead of answering this question with generic answers such as multinational companies, teenagers or women, be more specific in your approach. An analysis outlining the customer’s needs and their current pain points is the need of the hour. If your product/service does not fulfill a need, it will be difficult for your organization to generate substantial traction. Therefore, the first step requires understanding your target customer and ensuring that the essence of your CVP reflects an unfulfilled need. To read more about customer identification please click here.

2. Distinct Advantages: What makes your product/service special? If your product/service is homogenous in comparison to the rest, chances of getting lost in the crowd are, high. Your product/service must provide customers with a simple and clear reason to choose your organization over the competition. This being a vital component of your customer value proposition, it is essential that substantial time and effort is put into identification and development of these edges. To read more about discovering your organization’s distinct advantages please click here.

3. Measuring Value: If your product/service does not bring tangible benefit to your target customer, chances of recurring business is diminished. During customer research, you will discover pain points for your customers. These need to be addressed by adding metrics to monitor positive changes through your product/service. Once the customer understands the value you bring to their organization, they are able to select you with greater ease and provide recurring business. To read more about measuring the value brought by your product/service please click here.

4. Sustainability: With the claims made in a CVP, an organization is making a promise to its target segment. This could be in the form of creating efficiency, increasing productivity, stimulating sales or even making life easier. When the customer selects your service, they expect to receive the benefit promised to them. It is critical that organizations understand what it takes to keep those promises, and to continually make good on them. Making big claims is the easy part, delivering on those claims is what sets the winners apart. To read more about sustainability of your CVP please click here.

5. Competitor Comparison: Every company has their strengths and weaknesses. However most companies are so engrossed internally, they forget to pay attention to their competition. For a CVP to be most effective, it must clearly provide the prospect with a reason to be selected over another competing product. It must bolster its strengths and play against their competitors most exposed weaknesses. With the constant changes taking place in our world today, do not lose sight of the competition, always remain vigilant about all potential and major changes. To read more about competitor comparison and your CVP please click here.

Developing a good CVP takes time and effort. It is not something which can be done in a single day. It requires a thorough analysis of your industry, competitors and yourself. A comprehensive understanding of market dynamics and the industry’s pain points will help construct a CVP which addresses market concerns and bridges it with solutions. A well developed CVP can be a great source of inspiration and motivation for the entire organization. Make sure you allocate adequate time and resources for its construction.

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