Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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

Lesson #2: Passion

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive.  And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Harold Whitman

Passion is a subject I have written about extensively on my blog. Doing anything without passion more often than not leads to dissapointment and loss of interest, very quickly. To be able to write everyday, or on a regular schedule about a particular niche is mandatory if you want to make your blog stand out from the rest. There are numerous blogs that I  followed regularly, when they stopped updating themselves with new content I eventually removed them from my RSS feeds. This is usually because either the writer lost the initial vigor that prompted them to setup the blog, lost steam half way through or simply lost interest in the topic. These are problems that individuals with true passion rarely run into when they blog. There will undoubtedly be times when their blogs will not be updated for a while, but they always come back with great content that keeps their readers wanting more.

If one were to study individuals who have achieved noteworthy success in what they do, passion is usually the one constant which comes up time and time again. When an individual has that inner desire to learn more and give more, it has this positive effect on their work. Everything becomes richer, more meaningful and work is no longer viewed as just “work”. Re-reading these last couple of sentences I am amazed at the number of people I know well personally who have abandoned their passions and just settled for something that helps them get by. I guess following your passions is something that requires one to actually discover what they are passionate about and then take that leap of faith to follow it. I can tell you from personal experience that when you do actually follow your true passions, life becomes a lot more fulfilling and satisfying.

Therefore if you plan on blogging for the long term,  make sure that you have a true passion for what you will be writing about. More importantly your blog could be the first step in starting to pursue your true passion. By writing, reading and continuously researching topics, one can unconver opportunities and possible avenues on how to make that leap of faith a lot easier.

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Lesson #1: Selecting a Niche

“That man is successful who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much, who has gained the respect of the intelligent men and the love of children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who leaves the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty or failed to express it; who looked for the best in others and gave the best he had.” Robert Louis Stevenson

I set myself a relatively vague goal of blogging everyday in 2008. The first week went off with relative ease, there were many things I always wanted to write about and I got off to a pretty good start. It was around the middle of the first month that I asked myself the important question: where did I want to take my blog for the rest of the year? That was a tough period as I struggled with the direction I should take. Eventually I decided that writing about my experiences as an entrepreneur was what I would write about. I am really fortunate that I decided to choose a niche when I did. Later on I realized that when a blog does not serve any specific niche the probability of it growing reduces significantly.

Therefore if you are planning on setting up a new blog and plan to blog regularly in 2009 pay careful attention to the niche that you want to serve. Do ample research on who the thought leaders in your particular niche are. Find ways to differentiate your content and still provide value to your readers. Some  posts I read that helped me in my decision are listed below:

1. How to Choose the Right Blog Niche: A Simple Three-Step Method – DoshDosh

2. How to Choose a Niche Topic for your Blog – Darren Rowse

Both these bloggers are noted authorities on blogging and run highly successful blogs themselves. I would highly recommend that you subscribe to their feeds to keep yourself updated on the latest from the blogosphere.

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5 Things one Needs to do in College

I learned three important things in college – to use a library, to memorize quickly and visually, to drop asleep at any time given a horizontal surface and fifteen minutes. Agnes DeMille

A couple of days ago I was talking to a group of students from my alma mater. They were all part of an entrepreneurship society which I had founded 6 years ago, a society that has since witnessed a tremendous growth in the Asia-Pacific region. During the course of the discussion an interesting question which was asked of me was, “Looking back ,what are  five things you should have done more of, during university?” I found this a very interesting question and told them I would write a post about it.

My university life was not what I would call a typical student’s life. Within my first year of university I had set up a small business to facilitate printing and designing services to campus based clubs and societies. Things ramped up quickly after that and soon I had very little time to do everyday normal things. It did not help much that I was also involved in a host of extra curricular activities that ranged from toastmasters to setting up the universities first bicycling club. When I look back, the time I spent at university seems almost a blur. Everything happened so quickly and somehow  in retrospect my experience seems somewhat incomplete. When I was asked the ábove question it made me think of some of the things that I feel I missed out on, and would encourage students to look into more.

1. Exchange Program: My university offered some great student exchange programs that sent students to places like Silicon Valley, Shanghai or Bio Valley to learn new cultures and be part of  start-ups whilst there. Unfortunately with my heavy work schedule and commitments, going on an exchange program is an opportunity that I missed out on. My friends who did end up going on these programs had some amazing life changing experiences. Therefore I would highly encourage going on these exchange programs as it pushes you out of your comfort zone, exposes you to a new world and provides a great opportunity to meet new people and travel.

2. Discovering Hobbies:
One should definitely use the time available at university to discover hobbies that could one day become driving passions. Make a pact with yourself to experience something new every semester , something you have never done before. I did a couple such as  joining a salsa dancing class, learning chess and joining the toastmasters club. However ,there are many interests out there that could have been pursued. Your time at university is the best of times to discover what interests you and what you are truly passionate about. Get out of your comfort zone and go do some crazy thing and who knows you may discover something that could become a source of joy and excitement for you for the rest of your life.

3. Making Mistakes: Most individuals I knew including myself, did our level best to keep as clean a record as possible. This included not speaking up in class when things were unclear, not pursuing that wacky idea because everyone said it was stupid, not asking for help when you needed it  most. To tell you the truth it is a lot easier to attempt many of the  things that are deemed wacky and out there when you are at university rather than when you leave. The cost of life experiences continues to increase expotentially as we grow older and have more responsibilities. Use the time at university to make all the mistakes that you can, put yourself out there knowing that if you don’t succeed at first you would have learned a vital lesson that could translate into success in the future.

4. Networking: University is an ideal time to expand your personal network. There are many opportunities to interact with alumni, professors, business owners and seniors. I found many of my mentors through university networking sessions. I started a bit late however and would recommend that students begin building meaningful relationships as quickly as possible. I found that people were a lot more willing to help and give advice when I was a student. Apart from business networking, expand your own group of friends. Do not restrict yourself to the same group of people throughout the four years of college. Use networking sessions, hobbies and other activities to get to know as many people as possible.

5. Learn to Smell the Roses: My mother always kept telling me this when I was at university and my life was in a  constant tizzy. At that time it made no sense to me whatsoever. When I look back now I realize the wisdom of this and just how important this one very simple exercise is. During our time at university there is always something that is happening and life seems to move at a blistering pace. There is always a mix of emotions that keeps us preoccupied at all times. We need to take a breather during these chaotic time and just sit back and reflect on the road that we have taken, where we are and where we want to go. Savor  and enjoy the moment,  life will only become a lot more complicated from here. If someone told me this when I was at university I would probably have given them a weird look. Take my advice though and set out an afternoon alone or with friends and just reflect.

I hope this post will be of some assistance to those of you who are still at university. A lot of the pointers listed above may seem trivial at first read, however I would encourage you to re-read them, then ask yourself the question “What memorable things will I cherish and take with me in life from my time at university?”. If there are not enough things coming to mind then one is not taking advantage of the opportunity at hand. Make sure that you have enough memories, good and not so good to ensure that you made the most of your time. I wish you all the very best of success in all your future endevours.

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Passion and Satisfaction

“When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” Steve Jobs

I re-read Steve Jobs Stanford address (Link) recently and this point really stood out for me. Over the last couple of months I have met with a lot of individuals who are doing whatever they are doing solely for a pay check. Life is then a monotonous series of events with very few diversions, and often leads to frustrations, stress and in some cases depression. Finding one’s true calling in life is definitely not the easiest of things to do. Many people struggle a very long time to find something which makes them happy in the true sense. The main emphasis however is that one needs to put oneself out there continuously to find what that true calling actually is.

I believe the litmus test outlined by Steve Jobs simplifies this seemingly difficult task. Personally I always knew that I wanted to go into business. That was the first step. Eventually I realized I wanted to be involved with businesses which dealt with  people on a daily basis. Today, apart from running an HR consultancy business I serve as an advisor to many startups and businesses. Everyday brings with it new challenges and the ability to meet new people. This keeps me motivated and I look forward to each new day.

I have spoken to many people about passion throughout this last year. When we do not  have passion for what we do on a daily basis, life is bound to get monotonous and unfulfilling. Therefore, we have to make a conscious decision to ask ourselves on a regular basis “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?”. When we answer “no” too many times in a row we have to make a pro-active effort to change.

Related Posts:

Expertise & Passion by Seth Godin

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Changes in 2009

“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”

Maria Robinson

At the start of this year I made a resolution to post everyday. A month into posting on a daily basis I realized that I had severely underestimated the effort and time required to post something everyday. Nonetheless I had made a commitment and since I had made it publicly there was no going back. Along the way I adopted the weekly series format which brought structure to my posts and made my job a little easier as I had to focus on coming up with content for one topic weekly. I want to thank all the readers of the blog who continuously provided me with topic ideas and requests.

Now that 2008 is coming to an end, I have decided to discontinue the series format which I had adopted for the greater part of this year. I now plan on blogging between 2-4 times a week. These will usually be about topics of interest or interesting situations as they come up. Apart from blogging, I plan on doing a minimum of 2 book reviews per month. I have got a rather large backlog of books that I need to review. If you would like me to review your book please email me and I will do my best to schedule it in. Lastly, I am toying with the idea of possibly writing a monthly or quarterly case study. This would be based on common situations entrepreneurs find themselves in.

Over the next 4 days I will be blogging on random topics to give readers a taste of what is to come in 2009. The last 10 days of this year will involve the final series of the year which will be about the ten things I have learned from blogging everyday for the past year. Lastly my blog is going to get a major design overhaul in Jan 09. I look forward to your comments and feedback.

I would appreciate if readers of this blog could send me comments or suggestions of what else they would like my blog to include next year. This will help me prioritize and cater content accordingly. Once again thank you for your continued support, I now look forward to another great year with all of you.

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5 Reasons to Co-Work

“Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.” Paul J. Meyer

I started this week talking about co-working as it is an opportunity I am actively looking into at the moment. Given that it is a relatively new concept, many of the individuals I talk to about this have a host of questions regarding what co-working is all about, and ask why they should leave the comfort of their home offices for this. In response to these questions I have created a list of five leading reasons why one should choose to co-work over working from home or a cafe.

1. Networking Opportunities: I believe this is one of the most important reasons why anyone should choose to work at a co-working zone vis a vis working from home, a cafe or a small office. Having the ability to meet new people on a regular basis not only helps us grow as individuals, it provides us with opportunities to take our business to the next level. Networking is an integral part of every entrepreneur’s journey. Integrating it into our busy lives is however always a challenge. Working from a co-working zone makes the integration into our daily routine seamless and also increases the probability of success. To learn more about the benefits of networking from a co-working zone please click here.

2. Accelerated Serendipity: Serendipity is the accidental learning of something while searching for something completely different. As small business owners in the process of starting up or even searching for ideas on what they want to do, co-working is an excellent option to get the creative juices flowing and who knows, perhaps you could stumble onto the next big thing! The constant interaction with individuals from all walks of life provides a great sounding board and accelerates the process of finding your true calling. To learn more about accelerated serendipity please click here.

3. Increased Productivity: Individuals who have worked from home offices realize how challenging it is to be self disciplined and motivated. Co-working zones provides co-workers with a renewed sense of motivation often accelerated when everyone around them has got their head down and getting things done. Also, having others hold you accountable is another factor which motivates individuals to complete planned tasks and projects. To learn more on how to be more productive in a co-working zone please click here.

4. Operating Advantages: In the short term operating from a co-working space may seem to be an expensive option for an independent business owner. However, taking a slightly longer time frame of 6-9 months, operating benefits of a co-working space become immediately apparent. Working from such a space provides business owners the ability to project a professional image, space to increase staff and even share larger purchases. For entrepreneurs and consultants who have large aspirations and want to increase the scale of their business without incurring huge initial costs, co-working zones are an ideal solution. To learn more about the operating advantages of co-working please click here.

5. Work/Life Balance: If you are working from home you understand that the line between your work and life become gray and shadowy. Getting a balance is a critical aspect of life. Without it there are always far too many sacrifices that need to be made and that have major repercussions in the future. There is also the case of burnout, and losing interest in what you do for a living. Most importantly it is your friends and family who are most affected if your work/life balance is not correct. So whether it is through a co-working space or any other way, one should make a resolution to bring a greater degree of balance to life in 2009. To learn more on how you can balance work and life through co-working please click here.

A concern that is brought up repeatedly, is one of cost. As mentioned in reasons #4 co-working zones provide entrepreneurs the ability to scale operations as and when needed. This is in itself a huge advantage which justifies the cost of operating from such a space. Apart from that, for consultants who do not have plans to scale operations, the cost of renting space is usually the same as compared to the price of having endless cups of coffee from your local cafe on  a regular and daily basis. In addition to this, one gets access to networking opportunities, idea generation, increased productivity and help in maintaining a work/life balance. Thus if you are currently working from home or a cafe, looking into co-working spaces in 2009 may just be your best alternative.

* If you currently looking into joining a co-working space but are still unsure, I would appreciate it if you let me know your concerns and I will do my best to resolve them. By the same token, if you currently work at a co-working zone please let me know any additional reasons why individuals should choose operating from a co-working zone. Thank you.

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Work/Life balance

Just as your car runs more smoothly and requires less energy to go faster and farther when the wheels are in perfect alignment, you perform better when your thoughts, feelings, emotions, goals, and values are in balance. Brian Tracy quotes

For those of us who have worked from home for a period of time, we know that the entire concept of achieving a work/life balance goes out the window. Mornings are spent in your pajama’s answering all your emails, meals are finished in a flash and we find ourselves somewhat trapped till the wee hours of the morning finishing our work. The entire concept of leaving your work at the office is non-existent and it seems that you are working or attempting to work whenever possible. Ok, so this is somewhat exaggerated, but there are definitely days which go exactly like the one outlined above. It does not take a doctor to tell us this is not a very healthy way to live your life. Sure, the whole concept of getting dressed and heading off to work at 6am in the morning is not something I would really like doing either, but a balance needs to be drawn somewhere in the middle.

A co-working space provides the opportunity to get that level of balance. First off, the feeling that you have to get up and get to a place will be a positive change. It gets you into the habit of actually fixing your internal wiring which tends to go out of whack. It is important that one is motivated enough to actually get up and get to work. This is why it is critical to first test out the co-working space you are wanting to join and see whether it is a place you could find yourself being in everyday. The whole objective of working for yourself is to free yourself from the pressure of having to go to an office come rain or shine. So choose wisely. Once you are done for the day your primary computer can be left at the space and you could use those couple of hours to network, learn something new or go and have fun. It is important that balance be brought into your life.

Getting balance is a critical aspect of life. Without it there are always way too many sacrifices that need to be made that have major repurcussions in the future. There is also the case of burnout, and losing interest in what you  do for a living. Most importantly it is your friends and family who are most affected if your work/life balance is not correct. So whether it is through a co-working space or any other way, one should make a resolution to bring a greater degree of balance to life in 2009.

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Operating Advantages

“If we do a good job, customers pay us more for our products than the sum of our costs in producing and distributing them. This difference, our profit, represents the value we add to the resources we utilize.” David Packard

A large majority of independents work from their homes. This could be a room which they have set up with all their equipment etc. To maintain this room they need to incur a one time capital expense and then they are pretty much able to get by just paying the monthly bills. This sounds ideal to some and they find the entire concept of getting out of their house and going to work at another place quite ridiculous. However I beg to differ from this point of view. Having worked from home for a period of time I came to realize that there were a number of things which restricted me from scaling upwards. The fact that I worked from home sometimes worried clients about whether I would be in business tomorrow or if I could handle increased levels of workload. This is always a worry especially when you need to hire additional individuals to assist in the completion of a project. With co-working this perception is somewhat nullified as the place provides ample space to ramp up your operations at a moment’s notice.

The cost of ramping up operations is an expensive one and sometimes it is only needed for a stipulated period of time. Say you are a web developer and have got a massive project. It requires you to house at least 2-3 other resources who may not need to be at your office all the time but frequent interaction will be required. It also requires you to provide the client updates and this could mean frequent visits to your office. Essentially what you require is a little more space and a meeting room. This is a huge headache because you know you will not require this after the project is completed. Co-working is hence an ideal solution for you if you are currently in this predicament.

Some co-working spaces I visited involved a bunch of individuals pooling together to buy themselves expensive equipment such as large scale printers, projectors or servers. They were also able to utilize the business address of the co-working space to project a more professional image. The last important point which was brought up by many co-workers was that they were paying the same amount for the rent of the space as they were paying for coffee everyday at coffee shops. The cost of Latte’s tends to add up very quickly when working at these spaces. In conclusion, many co-workers were able to potentially keep their costs the same or increase them slightly to get a whole range of facilities that would not have been possible on their own.

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Increased Productivity

“Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up.” Oliver Wendell Holmes

One of the recurring points made by many of the individuals working at co-working spaces was the level of increased productivity once they joined the space. When I explored this matter deeper there were several core factors which led to why this was taking place. Looking back at my own example, I always work better when I am working as a team. Ideas flow faster, feedback is instant and it is generally a lot more fun. It is when you have to work in isolation that one feels that one does hit a brick wall once too often. The core factors that contributed to this level of increased productivity were:

1. Increased Interaction: Working in isolation is not a lot of fun. From the brief research that I conducted, people generally feel a lot more creative and energetic when they are surrounded by others. Now these are not just some other people, they are individuals who share same interests, hobbies or even values. This helps to create rapport and a level of interaction which goes beyond just the trivial chit chat that you could be involved in at a coffee house.

2. Motivation: Ever been working on a report, blog post or project and half way through decided that you wanted to watch the latest Heroes episode, and before you knew it hours had flown by? I have many times. However the story is completely different when I am surrounded by co-workers or people who are working hard on their respective projects or assignments. A co-working space provides you with this atmosphere and it makes it a lot easier to stay on course and get motivated by those around you.

3. Accountability: Ever joined a gym and dropped out after the initial month of fervor? I have, and I am guessing there are many more people out there who have probably had similar experiences. However, when I got a gym buddy things changed, I became regular, made fewer excuses and lasted a lot longer. At a co-working space one can find many such individuals who can ask each other to hold them accountable to ensure that they finish a certain project or report. This creates a level of accountability which motivates you to get the job done.

The points listed above are just a few reasons why I believe people were more productive in a co-working environment. In the end it does however depend on your personality and attitude towards life. What are your objectives? How committed are you to get them? Even the most committed individuals find themselves slacking at times. It is only natural, and it is at times like these that you need someone to give you that shove or to get you motivated enough to reach your goals.

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Accelerated Serendipidity

“If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.” George Bernard Shaw

A term that is getting around the co-working community, coined by Julie Gomoll of LaunchPad co-working is…. accelerated serendipity. Serendipity is the accidental learning of something while searching for something completely different. Imagine an open space where individuals from all walks of life are busy talking and working on projects. In this environment, say you are a freelance graphic designer and there is a business consultant working with a photographer on increasing the value of his brand, there could be some great tips here for you to pick up. Just the fact that so many people will be talking about a whole range of ideas and concepts is exciting and provides the oportunity to learn something valuable almost daily.

This is a level of exposure very unlikely to take place anywhere else. If you are working in an office, most everyone is pretty much focused on the job at hand and are working collaboratively on designated projects.  By the same token working from home the greatest level of interaction one could be part of is looking at what is happening on your twitter feed or forums that you visit frequently. The opportunity to ‘accidentally’ learn something is a low level opportunity here because this is often a one way dialogue. Research also tells us that working alone often stymies creativity. Which is why there is a large influx of independent consultants working from coffee shops. The fact that they can listen to people and sense life around them provides them the creativity stimulus.

As small business owners who may be in the process of starting up or even searching for ideas about what they want to do, co-working is an excellent option to get the creative juices flowing and who knows, perhaps we could stumble onto the next big thing! This is also a reason why many co-working spaces have been thought of as a step before business incubators. It provides individuals the ability to get exposure from a diverse group of people and possibly helps them test their concept before actually plunging into it.

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