Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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

Time and Commitment

“Commitment is what transforms a promise into reality. It is the words that speak boldly of your intentions. And the actions which speak louder than the words. It is making the time when there is none. Coming through time after time after time, year after year after year. Commitment is the stuff character is made of; the power to change the face of things. It is the daily triumph of integrity over skepticism.” Anonymous

After you have identified core values, set goals, made a commitment to them; the next step involves starting the journey to acheive your target. Time and commitment go hand in hand. Commitments made without proper allocation of time, result in half hearted attempts which lead nowhere. When you make a commitment, be it for a business, towards a job or even a relationship, choosing the middle road results in very little progress. I am a firm believer in committing only when I know I will be able to allocate time and give it 100% commitment. 

Being a young entrepreneur this is something I have had hands on experience with. We are in a constant state of flux on this path, bouncing from one direction to the next. Harnessing this raw energy is a difficult process. I am involved in multiple business ventures at the present, however each of them have been allocated time according to my personal commitments to the venture. This has brought about an efficient use of my time and has allowed me to compartmentalize my day, week, month and year. Through this system I am able to give dedicated time to all the ventures I am involved with at the moment.

This is one word of advice I have for anyone thinking about setting off on the entrepreneurial path…discipline. This is not the easiest of paths, there are no clear boundaries and it is not sign posted to help you along the way. At times it seems you can be as free as a bird, at others you fight to catch your breath. Discipline is a vital virtue to move effectively along this path, disciplining time commitments, in my opinion, is of the essence, absolutely critical. If you want to seriously commence this venture make sure you are 100% committed by demarcating the time you allocate to the venture diligently. 

Once you have allocated time to your commitments ,you are ready to move to the next level.

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Commitment and Goals

“The more intensely we feel about an idea or a goal, the more assuredly the idea, buried deep in our subconscious, will direct us along the path to its fulfillment.” Earl Nightangle

I have memories of making many ambitious new year’s eve resolutions, every year, only to find myself coming up short at the end of the year, wondering what went wrong. A couple of years ago while still in college, I was out with friends over new year’s eve, once again the topic of new year’s resolutions came up, this time I also resolved to take this exercise seriously. I thought through the goals I had made in the past and found a couple of recurring patterns which included unrealistic timelines, instant fixes and a misalignment with who I really was. These unrealistic resolutions are often a result of lack of experience and naivety of age. I felt strongly however that this was definitely something that needed more working on.

Goals need to be in alignment with the core values that define you. Therefore, to set goals that go against these principles will surely create a disconnect between mind and body. This in turn inhibits the ability to achieve the goals we set out for ourselves. Setting goals after having identified your true core values must result in a stronger cohesion with your subconscious. The discovery of these values is a natural and ongoing process; we are constantly learning more about ourselves and this learning experience equips us to set inner and aligned goals in a better manner. 

Once you have thought of a goal which you would like to achieve, it helps if they are SMART goals. They need to be clearly defined with specifics and timelines. Only when goals are structured around achievement benchmarks will we be able to see the path that needs to be taken. Without this we will lose our bearings, not knowing which direction to take, often giving up on many pursuits.

The next step is to clearly define your goals.

Lastly you need to make a commitment to your goal and yourself that this is something you are going to achieve. There needs to be a comprehensive roadmap to get and most importantly you should know why you are taking this route and what you hope to learn along the way. There will be many times where you will be given the option to abandon what you started so enthusiastically. Those will be the times where your actual commitment levels will be tested. In startup ventures get ready to face a lot of such situations, when sales are slow, doubts are high and alternative paths are available. You need to ask yourself at those moments how committed are you to achieving your goals? 

Setting a goal is a serious commitment, please ensure the next time you make one it is done with the right intentions and reasons. You are now ready for the next level.

 

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Commitment to Core Values

“When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier.” Roy Disney

Before making any type of commitment the underlying premise must be built on a set of shared core values. Core values are a set of values which are embedded into each individual’s system. They are the result of life experiences, culture, environment and our spiritual belief system. These values are close to our hearts and if we move away from them on critical tangents we experience levels of disconnect that make continuing on that path challenging. An individual’s core value system thus provides a guiding light for those paths which are in congruence with them. 

A lot of individuals however fail to discover and connect with their core value system . When a disconnect reveals itself subconsciously, those emotions are put aside and overlooked and they move forward. When this process is repeated several times, it numbs us and soon core values get suppressed. At this level, making the slightest of commitment without this key ingredient is difficult. Success on tiered levels may then remain an elusive concept. 

It is therefore paramount that we make a commitment to identify our core values and to document them in a journal or diary. When I first did this exercise it was a liberating experience which took time. However getting in touch with your true self helps make life much simpler. Once we have an identifiable list of core values we need to make a commitment to ourself to remain committed to promoting them in every aspect of our life. They must become the anchor to keep you rooted in what you believe. Once you have consciously committed to your core values, you are ready to move onto the next level. 

 

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Are you committed?

“If but one person believes in you, your flow of mind can move you toward incredible achievement … If that one person is you, you can evolve into realms that others would ‘swear’…were ‘impossible’!” Peter C. Siegel

Every successful organization is formed on the basis of a few select principles which provide it with the solid foundation needed for growth. A defining principle is one’s critical and inherent level of commitment to achieving particular goals. Without this key ingredient, mediocre success may be experienced but this will not bring the same level of excitement that truly great success does. It is a wonder, I think, that such an important factor is not given the level of attention it needs? What is it that makes one individual give 100% commitment on a team while the rest never seem to operate at that level? 

I am going to explore this topic in further detail this week and talk about factors which determine our levels of commitment to the projects we undertake. I feel strongly, that commitment is a key differentiating factor between those who succeed, and those who do not. It is one of those abstract concepts which are difficult to quantify and grasp. However, when we set off on a path we believe will lead to greatness, we have to constantly pay attention to the signs and believe wholeheartedly that we will make it to our final destination.

In my experience of talking to my mentors, running multiple businesses or coaching startups, commitment is the main and overriding  success factor that is mentioned.  Commitment is the underlying tone prevalent in everything those whose life is defined by it think, say and do. Just saying that you are committed to a business, a relationship or even a diet regime is the easy part; incorporating what you preach into your daily life takes courage, passion and commitment. If you are embarking on a new journey in life, make sure you are ask yourself whether you are truly committed to taking it to the end. Once you have taken that first step there should not be any looking back.

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Exceeding Expectations

“There are no traffic jams along the extra mile.” Roger Staubach

My first company had the tag line “Exceeding your every expectation”. It was printed on everyone of our name cards and it pushed us to go the extra mile many a time. It is only after some years that I have realized, it does not take much to exceed customer expectation. They do not need elaborate gestures to make them feel special, all they need is to be treated honestly and fairly, to be provided with significant value for their purchase and to have all this done in a convenient and efficient manner.

From personal experience I know that there are many service providers I go to even though they may not be the cheapest, biggest or more convenient in the market. For example, all my computer needs and requirements are dealt with at a small shop I have been visiting for years. You may well ask why anyone would do this, in this day and  age of online ordering and convenience ? It comes down to the relationship I have with the owners of the store. It is good to walk into a store where everyone knows you by name and where you know you will always get that extra attention and exemplary customer service, whenever you walk in and need it.

As part of a startup , you need to identify areas where you can add greater value to your clients. You need to show them that you care about their success as much as they do. These are some of the ways I have used to go that extra mile :

1. Remember your customer’s birthdays and make sure you send out either an ecard or an actual card to show that they matter to your business.

2. Gather as much personal data regarding the customer as possible, such as hobbies, interests, family and  other information that may help you with future conversations as well as personalizing services.

3. Remember to thank the customer at the point of purchase and to follow it up with a note via email or mail, thanking them for their business.

4. Leave extra room for you to exceed their expectations. If you promised 5 days delivery time and deliver in three days, that goes a long way. Remember to leave yourself some wiggle room.

5. Put yourself in the customers shoes and ask yourself what you can do, to make the entire process more personable and enjoyable? Treat your customers the way you would like to be treated.

Going the extra mile is a defining and differentiating factor between good and great companies. Building such a culture from the start will provide you with clear competitive advantages. 

Do you have a special story of how you were wowed by a particular vendor?

Related Posts:

Sales and Relationships

 

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Learning from Experience

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” Bill Gates

We have all been exposed to bad customer experiences. For those of us in the business or corporate world, we have also been on the receiving end when things didn’t work out as expected. That is part of life. Trying to please every customer to their complete satisfaction is a gargantuan and uphill task. However, it is essential to learn deeply from every complaint and put into place systems, which will take care of such incidents in the future. Listed below are a few pointers which should help expedite the learning process:

1. Refrain from pushing the blame onto external circumstances. Sometimes your supply chain gets delayed, it could be a mix up which your delivery system made or bad weather which resulted in your receiving a mouthful from your client. Accept the blame rather than pushing it onto someone else in the organization because that is the last thing an angry customer wants to hear. Once you have accepted the mistake you can go about resolving the issue in a more efficient and effective manner.

2. Extensively document the mistake. This will force you to think and put into a process the actual course of events and why they occurred. I have found the discovery process extremely interesting because you are forced to map out where the entire process started, who was responsible for what, at which stage and most importantly where we need to focus to ensure that the problem doesn’t happen again. It creates ownership in a business and a team constantly striving to deliver their best.

3. Finding the most efficient and effective solution. Once the mistake has been clearly identified the team should reach a collective decision regarding how to avoid a similar issue in the future. Control measures must be put into place and ensuring responsibility for its proper execution is essential. This is a critical step which should be documented and circulated to all team members to show that a decision has been taken.

Such experiences provide a great learning opportunity for the entire team. Once a mistake has been committed there is nothing we can to do to undo it, however , we can set into motion a series of actions which will alter the way we respond to them in the future. With a fanatical focus on ensuring that you cater to your customers every need and make the experience of doing business with you as seamless and comfortable as possible, will garner massive long term benefits.

What was your last customer experience horror story and did your organization do anything about it?

 

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Integrate Technology

“The purpose of a business is to create a mutually beneficial relationship between itself and those that it serves. When it does that well, it will be around tomorrow to do it some more.” John Woods

With escalating costs and the need to constantly maintain bottom line numbers, many companies are switching over to handling customer support services via technology platforms. Interactive Voice Response (IVR), Self Service Kiosks and online knowledge banks have greatly reduced costs for organizations, but, has an over reliance on these technologies resulted in a decrease in overall customer satisfaction?

Like most things in life, balance needs to be kept, so it is with integration of technology into your customer service function. The telco I was dealing with has an IVR service which you need to dial out from your mobile, since my phone was not able to make any outgoing calls the system directed me to another number which did not work either. At this point, I switched to the next logical source for information which was the website. The website did not have any knowledge banks relating to the issue at hand and did not even list the call center number I could call from a land line. In this day and age of web technologies this was disturbing. I ended up having to google several keywords to finally find the number.

The lesson to be learnt is, that focusing all your energy on just one touch point, such as a contact center is not the best of strategies, specially when deploying other web based and self service options are not as expensive. It is true that return on investment is marginal for these strategies, however, they lay the foundation for a much more holistic and comprehensive customer service solution for the future. Leveraging on tools for Customer Relationship Management (CRM) such as Salesforce, ZohoCRM, HighriseHQ can also be effective ways to keep track and even develop metrics around your customer service function.

Either way, as a startup organization you need to develop strategic roadmaps to help you handle customer service requests as you begin to scale. These will involve a number of technology solutions, what needs to be remembered when integrating is:

1. Keep a balance between technology and the human element.

2. Leverage on your website to provide detailed knowledge banks on prior complaints & questions.

3. Develop strategies to store and easily refer to archived customer interactions and data.

4. The ability to escalate complaints which have a higher level of priority.

5. Doing all of this while keeping it simple for the customer.

 

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Hiring the Right Individual

“As far as customers are concerned you are the company. This is not a burden, but the core of your job. You hold in your hands the power to keep customers coming back – perhaps even to make or break the company.” Anonymous

My extensive interaction with the telcos’ customer service department brought to the fore, the job vs responsibility concept which I have talked about briefly in previous posts. The concept is simple . When you are in hiring or partnering, you should look for individuals who are problem solvers and have it in them to go further than just completing the task at hand in a hierarchial manner. Those who willingly take the initiative to do more than is asked of them for the organization.

Customer service revolves around making all the touch points within your organization as simple, reliable and efficient as possible. Most of the time these touch points will result in a direct connection between customers and the employees of the organization. This is a critical connection, one upon which your business relies on heavily. It is therefore essential, when hiring individuals for this function, that you place relevant emphasis on the personality and temperament of these individuals. Bypassing this process because it has a high upfront cost and no apparent tangible return on investment is shortsighted. In the case of this particular telco, it has over 20m subscribers and a massive network of contact centers. At this point, to re-structure their hiring policies and procedures will be prohibitively costly. This is why a culture for superior customer service must be put in place from the start.

In essence if you are looking to develop world class customer service capabilities, you should hire individuals who:

1. Know the difference between a Job vs Responsibility.

2. Are truly passionate about helping others and problem solving .

3. Believe in the service/product that your organization provides.

These qualities may appear to be simple, yet many companies do not even factor them into the hiring process. Hiring the right kind of people for the job will give your organization the competitive advantage to help the customer choose you!

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Creating a Culture

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.” Max DePree

Building an organization where you want exemplary customer service requires senior management to build a culture from the top down. If you are a new startup this should be an area which needs to be emphasized right from the beginning to help you create a culture which will permeate throughout the organization when you scale. So how do you go about creating a culture for customer service?

1. Make customer service as objective and tangible as possible. Place benchmarks on just about everything which relates to the customer from the time it takes for you to reply to an email, send out a quotation to delivering the product. Customer satisfaction surveys should be in place to help you assess how satisfied the customer was with the product/service, how you are doing with trouble shooting over the phone and email and what needs to be done to increase the customer’s level of satisfaction.

2. Once certain procedures and benchmarks are in place, training to optimize the level of customer service must be provided on these processes. This will equip your employees to better understand, perform and serve customers. It also reflects how serious the organization is about this function. A lot of great companies such as Disney, Starbucks and Commerce Bank are prime examples of how intense training from the time you are hired has created a world class customer service culture.

3. Showcase and reward staff who display outstanding customer service. Employee recognition sends a message through the organization and creates personal benchmarks for everyone to achieve. It motivates them to perform at their highest level and this sets a much higher standard in the organization.

4. If you do hire an employee who ends up not sharing the same core values relating to customer service, as senior management, you should let those employees go as soon as possible. This shows how important senior management takes this function and their level of dedication to delivering the highest levels of service.

During the 30 hour period while I was disconnected I probably spoke to approximately 20 representatives at the organization. I went to their office, talked with them on the phone and exchanged emails. All three contact points gave me a completely different experience. I came across different types of individuals some who took their jobs seriously and others who simply couldn’t care less.

Being entrepreneurs and individuals responsible for the direction our companies take we need to establish a culture for superior customer service from the start. This will ensure that when we eventually scale, these values will be deeply embedded and scaled likewise as well.

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