Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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

5 Steps to Get Things Done (GTD)

“Contemplation often makes life miserable.  We should act more, think less, and stop watching ourselves live.” Nicolas de Chamfort

Every passing day signifies 24 hours of our life, which we will not be able to get back. Very often, days pass by so quickly that they turn into weeks, months and years before we know it. We often complain about the day not having enough hours, and yet, we tend to lose precious moments every day. It is only when we look back and think of what could have been, do we realize how vital it is to use the time we have to the best of our ability. I do not believe in regrets and beating myself up for what could have been. What upsets me however, is seeing myself waste time. It can be procrastination, day dreaming or the fact that I was overwhelmed with everything that needed to be done. Either way, I know I will not be able to get that time back. When searching for ways to organize my life and use time wisely, I found the GTD system, which has introduced accountability as part of my days. Listed below are 5 steps to use, and implement a system to get things done.

1. Collection: This begins with picking up pieces of our lives scattered all over the place. This includes cluttered desks, messy drawers, loose papers, over flowing inboxes and over loaded thoughts. We have to begin by collecting all these “open loops” and putting them into a system where we can process each and everyone of them. It requires much discipline and hard work to get all this stuff into one place initially. The key is to have a system in place which allows us to record these open loops as and when they are created. This takes a huge load of one’s mind, and allows it to focus, rather than be confused with all the happenings in your head. To learn more about how to get started on the collection step, please click here.

2. Processing: After step one, there will be much information to be processed. This means we need to go through each item and open loop, sort out which needs to be acted upon, those that need to be archived, and most importantly, those that need to be trashed. We have to make a conscious effort to minimize the number of items our system will hold as much as possible. Items which require 2 minutes or less of action, must be acted upon instantly, and those loops closed. For example, the expense sheet that needs your signature, sign it now, and send it to the required person. To learn more about how to process all your items please click here.

3. Organizing: Once we have the information after processing, it needs to be organized in a manner to enable us to refer to it, as and when needed. This means each item needs to be allocated specific buckets to slot into. These buckets can be projects or reference topics, in which to organize all the necessary items under one file. For example if you are launching a new corporate website, all the items and thoughts for that project need to be filed together. It is important to label all these action items with contexts that allow you to focus on them when required. Examples of contexts are “Phone Calls”, “Emails”, “Errands” etc. This way you can batch certain activities together. To learn more about how to organize your data please click here.

4. Reviewing: This is a critical step which refreshes your mind of commitments, and closes loops on projects taking up more time than they should. I use three reviewing cycles which are a daily, weekly and monthly review. In these review cycles, I ensure that my daily schedule is structured to maximize my time. Weekly reviews give me a higher level view of everything accomplished during the course of the week, and the progress made. Lastly, the monthly view provides me a snapshot of the larger picture. Without these constant reminders it is easy to get side tracked, and revert to old ways. To learn more about my review cycles please click here.

5. Doing: Very often it comes down to taking action. Lists are only useful, when the items on them are periodically checked off and progress made. Without action we could use the most sophisticated technology in the world to collect, process and organize our data; without seeing any improvements at all in our lives. I use the four criterion model where the task I choose depends on the context, time available, energy and priority. For example if my commute to work everyday is 30 minutes and I have access to my phone during that period of time, I use my “Phone Calls” list and make all the calls during this period of time. Likewise the task I choose depends on the time available, the amount of energy I have and most importantly how important the task is. To learn more about the four criterion model please click here.

There is not just one way the GTD system can be implemented into your daily lives. Everyone has different needs and requirements, each step can be customized. What is important is that we create a system which is reliable and all encompassing. We need to take the load of our minds and put it down on paper, where we can process it more efficiently. As David Allen says, the aim is to reach a “mind like water” state. Where we will be able to move seamlessly from one activity to another, while maintaining a high level of productivity and efficiency. I hope this simple guide serves as a helpful starter for those wanting to begin using this system. I would appreciate your comments, feedback and experience using the GTD system.

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GTD Step 5: Doing

“Success will never be a big step in the future, success is a small step taken just now.” Jonatan Mårtensson

Going through steps one to four, can be a liberating experience in itself. Through these steps, we have I believe, brought some structure to our often chaotic lives, and now have access to a system with a broad overview of happenings in our lives. These steps must however be executed on a daily basis, in order to bring about a reliable system. We are the main engine for making this system work. The minute we stop inputting our commitments, action items and thoughts into the system, the reference angle is meaningless. Hence, we have to set-up the system in a manner that is easy to use on a daily basis. There are several methodologies used to keep the wheels spinning in a GTD system. Outlined below, is the one I prefer to use.

Four Criteria Model

1. Context: All my action items are always grouped according to context. Therefore, depending on where I am, and the tools currently available, I select a context to work in. For instance, if the commute to my office takes 30 minutes, and all I have access to at that time is my phone, I bring up the list of calls I need to make. If I am able to work on multiple contexts at the office, I will use the remaining three criterion to help make a decision.

2. Time Available: I am at the office and have a meeting scheduled in the next hour, I can use this time to come up with an agenda for a proposed meeting, or review the presentation I have to give on my computer. If I only have five minutes before the meeting, I can scan my list of short phone calls or emails, and deal with them  using this period of time. This way, I am able to maximize the awkward 5-10 minutes in between meetings, calls and appointments.

3. Energy Available: Some tasks require more physical and mental effort than others. Let’s say it is 7:30pm after a long day at work. I have a list of low energy tasks which I could do at this moment. Depending on the time and tools available, this is a great time to fill in expense sheets, data entry or another task which requires minimal effort. For tasks requiring more energy, I work to place them in the earlier part of the day when I feel fresher and have a clearer mind.

4. Priority: We all have critical tasks which need to be given a higher level of priority. These tasks are usually flagged in my task lists, and are completed as soon as possible. If an entire day goes by, and these tasks are left undone, it often feels like the entire day has gone to waste. It is essential that your task list clearly marks priority, to ensure that you see these flagged tasks first and get them done as soon as possible.

Using this model I am able to collect, process and organize my action items throughout the day. It is undoubtedly not the most structured approach out there as compared to other methodologies. I like to be able to switch between projects depending on external factors. Other people that I know have more structured approaches, where they complete certain types of work at predefined times in the day. It is important to select a methodology that you are comfortable with. The primary objective must be to make it easy for you to use the system regularly and refer back to it whenever required.

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GTD Step 4: Reviewing

“People love chopping wood.  In this activity one immediately sees results.” Albert Einstein

Steps one through three, involved the gathering of data, putting it into appropriate buckets, and ensuring it was placed in a system to enable us to know what to do next. The fourth step in the process is a critical one, it puts a review system into place. The purpose of a review system is to analyze whether we are on track, as also gauge the progress we are making. A common case  in need of such a review system is, making lists of things to do, and then never getting around to doing them, because of inadequate and irregular review system . A review system helps to refresh your mind of commitments and closes loops on projects taking up more time than they should. I use three main review cycles, they are outlined below:

Daily Review: The first thing I do when I get into office is to open my calender, and review the tasks allocated for that particular day. This helps me plan accordingly for the rest of the day. The next task is to review my project lists, and determine the next action and it’s context. Depending on this list, I plan my day to maximize completion of tasks.

Weekly Review: This is by far the most important review cycle of them all. My weekly review is scheduled for Sunday morning, for those who work a 5 day week I suggest keeping it on Friday when things are still fresh in your mind. During this review I have a couple of key tasks which I now do habitually.

Emails: During the course of the week, I make sure my inbox remains as empty as possible. However if there are unprocessed emails which require thinking about, this is the time I usually clear them. I also identify emails that I am expecting, but which have not been received yet. I then create reminders, to ask the concerned individuals during the course of the week.

Calender: I review last week’s calender and see which tasks need to be moved forward to this week if required. I schedule appointments and action items for the coming week in advance if required. This way I ensure nothing is left unprocessed from last week, and move into a new week being aware of the workload to expect.

Project Review: Next, I review all the projects labeled for weekly reviews. In this manner I can monitor fairly adequately how much I got done during the week. If I have fallen behind schedule on certain tasks, I identify the reasons, and make sure that greater time is allocated to get them sorted out in the coming week. This project review helps close many loops on concurrent projects and helps me stay afloat with the activity, without getting overwhelmed.

Monthly Review: This review is carried out on the last Saturday of every month. I use this review to monitor progress of the macro goals I have set for myself. They  include growth of a businesses, personal finance, personal development and health. These are some larger goals which a weekly review does not cover. Through this review I get a perspective on the larger picture, without feeling bogged down with smaller projects running simultaneously. This is a very important review cycle, I recommend it’s use to everyone.

Incorporating a review system into my schedule has greatly increased my productivity and focus in life. The feeling of being bogged down with simultaneous project rarely occurs now. This provides a degree of control which is calming and reassuring at the same time. Without this vital step the GTD methodology will impact in a less meaningful manner. A disciplined review system, is a foundational building block, and helps this system unlock its true potential.

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GTD Step 3: Organizing

“The sculptor produces the beautiful statue by chipping away such parts of the marble block as are not needed – it is a process of elimination.” Elbert Hubbard

After the first couple of steps of the GTD process, there will still be much that will need to handled. Step three is best run parallel with step two. In so much as, that when we process we should organize the data into buckets which we will review and take action on, at a more appropriate and later time. Let’s say for example you are processing your “in” basket, and there is a memo about a call you need to make on Tuesday to a client. If you label it as such, and defer it to next week, you need a system in place to remind you on Tuesday morning to make that call. Every individual’s system will develop naturally, depending on the nature of their work and personality. Listed below are some key components of my organization process.

Setting up Buckets: Buckets are placeholders for any project which requires more than one action item to complete. They can also be created to manage reference material.

Projects: For example, at the moment I am working on launching a new website. I have created a bucket for this project which has a list of all action that needs to be taken before the website is actually launched. Similarly, we may have other projects such as “hire a new marketing manager”, “clean work desk”, “sign up for a medical insurance”, “plan a party for a friend” or even “plan winter vacation”. I do not make distinctions between personal and professional projects, you may want to however. What is important is that each project have a specific outcome and be reviewed on a regular basis to monitor progress.

Reference Material: The GTD system introduced me to something called a tickler file. This is quite simply a file which reminds me of tasks that need to be carried out on particular days. For instance, while processing  I find I need to make a call on Tuesday morning to a client, I place the item in the tickler folder, which I will open in the normal process of things on Tuesday morning. One can also set this up on an actual paper based system, be it a calender, a diary or a software program to manage your tickler file.

Working in Contexts: Contexts simply place all action items on your list, according to certain functions. For example, some of the contexts I use are “Phone Calls”, “Emails”, “Errands”, “Research”. Lets say I have a project which was “launch new website”, the first action on the list was to call a web developer and set up a meeting. I would assign this action item with the “Phone Calls” context. This way I can batch all my phone calls together and process them quickly. I strongly recommend batching your actions using contexts to increase your overall productivity.

Checklists: When we have several things happening concurrently, our brain often goes into overdrive. To help me through busy times like this, I like to organize my thoughts in a routine processes. For example, I have a checklist for “Conference Calls”, it outlines everything I need to do before, during and after the call. For the days I have to take and handle many such calls, it helps to make sure that I have not missed anything. Likewise, I have other lists for “Staff meetings”, “Backing up of data”, “Things to do before I travel”. One can set up lists for just about anything.

The organizational step takes time to get used to and to implement completely. It is important that we use this step to put all of our open loops into writing. This gives us the ability to free ourself from stress regarding smaller things such as “buy milk”, which if not processed on time and in the routine, takes up much more space than it should. Once we have processed and organized all this data, we are ready to move to the next important step of the system, reviewing.

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GTD Step 2: Processing

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” Hans Hofmann

If you have followed step 1 outlined in my last post, chances are you have a lot of stuff to deal with. When I go off the GTD system, my desk drawers become bottomless pits where I deposit just about anything, and then completely forget about it. I am sure all of us have cleared desks and drawers this way many a time. We are suddenly faced with all this surplus information which needs to be processed. Looking at a huge pile in front of you is stressful, so take a deep breath to start with! Next, pick up one item at a time from your in-basket, and start to process. It is important to deal with each item in the tray one at a time, and not put the item back until it has been processed. Outlined below are steps I follow to process my in-tray.

Step 1: I ask myself…. “What action does this particular item require?”. It could require a form of action or, none at all.

Step 2a: If the item requires action, I determine what level of action is required. There are three possible options at this point:

i) Do it: If the item can be completed in 2 minutes or less then I get to it immediately. For example, if the first item on the tray is an approval letter which requires my signature, I sign it, and have it sent to the appropriate person.This item could also be responding to an email, or confirming attendance at a party. Anything which takes a short period of time to complete.

ii) Delegate it: If the item requires another person to take action on it, I mark it, and have it sent to the concerned individual. For example, if the item is a contract my partner needs to comment on, I have it sent over to him.

iii) Defer it: If the item cannot be processed immediately but requires action in the near future, I mark it, and place it on my calender. For example, if the item is a post-it note reminding me to call a particular customer, and today being Saturday, I will put an action item on my calender to call the individual on Monday morning.

Step 2b: if the item does not require any action, there are then a couple of easy ways to deal with it.

i) Trash it: If the item in your tray is junk mail, it should go straight into the trash bin. Anything which does not have some value must be trashed.

ii) Incubate: If the item is an invitation to a wedding, which is to take place in a months time, and you are uncertain of your travel schedule, put it away in a file to review after a designated period of time. Many items will require you to think about stuff, and such a file is a great place to organize them.

iii) Reference: If the item is a competitor’s brochure, I would keep it as reference material. It is important that your reference material is well marked and easily retrievable. Much of the time we archive stuff and never see it again. Mark your files carefully, and keep them within reach at all times.

This may all seem excessive when you first look at it, however, with a little bit of practice all these decisions take place almost instantly. We know instinctively what we need to do with each item, since much of it may have been bothering you for some time. Getting into the habit of keeping your in-basket at a manageable level at all times can greatly improve the quality of life. It is important that you process this tray regularly. Once we have processed all the information, we can move to the next stage, which is, organizing all this information.

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5 Components to build Trust

“Self-trust is the first secret of success.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

This series started with a post regarding how the trust I had in PayPal was shaken when my account got compromised. In life, our trust in people and businesses will often be tested. That is life, and we have to accept it. The fact of the matter is, without trust, we would not get far in life. The trust building process comprises of several components. Each of them plays a vital role in the process, and provides us with  benchmarks to help achieve the level of trust required. 

1. Integrity: Integrity is based purely on the actions and decisions we make in life. They reflect who we are and what we stand for. Three measures to use to benchmark our own level of integrity are ; firstly, are we congruent in our thoughts, words and actions? The second one is, do we honor our promises and commitments to ourselves and others? The last one, do we possess the courage to stand up for our values and beliefs in the face of resistance? These questions can serve as a guide to learn more about personal and business integrity levels. To read more about trust and integrity please click here.

2. Competence: Competence is a pre-requisite for the process of trust building. An individual or business is deemed competent in a particular skill set when they have proved themselves adequately. However, for a new startup, without a track record, this is a challenging task. Competence needs to be communicated through actions in a younger team. Using academic credentials, talents and skill sets or references can be used to help prove a younger team’s ability and capability. To read more about trust and competence please click here.

3. Consistent Communication: We have all come across businesses where senior management says one thing, middle management says another and the customer service representative says something completely different. When there is inconsistency in communication, building trust will be an arduous task. As younger startup companies, we have to instill the importance of consistent communication, from the beginning of our operations. This includes the alignment of senior management’s agenda, marketing strategies as well as how customer service representatives are supposed to interact with clients. To read more about the importance of consistent communication and trust please click here.

4. Genuine Concern: An individual or business can have high levels of integrity, be competent and communicate with consistency, yet, a lack of genuine concern for others or your customers, will dramatically slow down the trust building process. I believe a genuine concern for your customer with honest intention is the ‘x-factor’ in the trust building process. It is important that we get a deep understanding of our clients needs and wants and craft our strategies around them. It is only when we are able to communicate the importance of this component to the rest of the team in the form of actions will we actually notice results. To read more about trust and genuine concern please click here.

5. Results: Results and past performance speak louder than any number of words. The world today benchmarks each and everyone of us to what we have achieved. Therefore, as young entrepreneurs, we must pay a great deal of attention to proving ourselves and showing tangible results. These can be in the form of academic achievements, extra curricular achievements or projects where we have documented results. It is important to become result and action oriented. When an individual has a reputation of getting the job done well, the ability to gain the trust and confidence of peers, investors and customers is enhanced. To read more about trust and results please click here.

Building and maintaining trust is a challenging task. It requires constant attention, and the slightest of slips in our behavior has severe negative impact on the level of trust. As we all know, once a vase is broken it can be put back together, but it will never be the same. The components talked about in this post are foundational elements in the trust building process. When we have the trust of a customer or friend it dramatically changes the dynamics of the relationship, to one where a lot more can be achieved. As entrepreneurs, we must strive to develop a reputation of one who can be trusted. This will have a phenomenal positive impact on the level of business as well as your life. 

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Results

“You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.” Henry Ford

As a young entrepreneur, some questions you hear repeatedly from prospective customers are, “Who is currently using your product/service?” or “How many users do you currently have on your system?”  These questions are asked with the aim to establish whether the prospect can trust your business to deliver what you are pitching, and whether the team has the appropriate capabilities and skill sets. Not many individuals want to be the first customer to test a brand new product/service, it is hence up to the entrepreneur to convince the customer why they should use their product/service. The question that arises is “How does an entrepreneur convince a customer to trust him to deliver on his word?”. I believe the fastest way to do this, is to reference past performance and results, and use them as benchmarks to make a convincing argument. 

Results and past performance speak louder than any number of words. The world today benchmarks each and everyone of us to what we have achieved. For example, take an individual with high levels of integrity, extremely competent, communicates consistently and has a genuine concern for what he/she is doing. However, if this individual does not have a track record of delivering when given a task, chances are that they are not going to be given a chance to step up to the plate. Therefore, as entrepreneurs, we have to constantly look for ways to prove to customers, stakeholders, investors, employees and the media that we have what it takes to succeed. We cannot wait around for things to happen or wait for the ‘right’ opportunity. Action needs to be taken, and positive results need to follow. Will we always get the results we want? Unfortunately not. However, if we persevere and pursue what we want to achieve relentlessly results will follow.

Some areas where younger entrepreneurs can display results they have achieved are:

1. Academics: This works well when you are raising early stage angel or venture funding. If one has achieved success in the form of honor rolls, awards or other recognition for academic pursuits, they should be included in some way in your pitch. From a customer’s point of view, having someone with deep theoretical knowledge about your product/service adds great value.

2. Extra Curricular: Including any information about areas such as sports, debate societies, student unions or charitable efforts one has been part of, also adds value.  A personal example is,  when I co-founded an entrepreneurship society at university, which has since grown from 10 members in Singapore, to over 2500 spread across all of Asia today. It was through this platform that I gained a valuable network, and built trust with many of my mentors today. Other examples could be contributions to charitable organizations and events, and funds you may have raised for them.

3. Projects & Initiatives: Results can only be achieved when you take initiatives and actions. Highlight areas where you took an initiative, such as, starting a blog, a website, a store on ebay, freelance projects or any other example where you have documented results. Such projects go to show that you are willing to go the extra mile to reach you goals. 

Once the business has established customers, continue to track results through all business processes. Take responsibility for all the results you get, be they positive or negative. I have found that the learning process is specially instructive when we do not get the results we want. I have repeated this many a time, there is no failure, only feedback. Once you have established a solid track record, and have been identified as a result oriented team member, the level of trust your peers will have in you, will sky rocket. 

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Genuine Concern

“If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him like a shadow that never leaves him.” Buddha

An individual or business can have high levels of integrity, be competent and communicate with consistency, yet, a lack of genuine concern for others or your customers, will dramatically slow down the trust building process. I believe a genuine concern for your customer with honest intention is the ‘x-factor’ in the trust building process. We have all encountered situations where a business, restaurant, hotel or individual went out of their way to assist you and remember the impact it had. This could be something as small as having your laundry picked and dropped to your house free of charge or giving you a complimentary meal when your food did not arrive in time. These gestures communicate genuine concern for the customer, and an honest aim to make sure they are completely satisfied. 

When a business puts making X amounts of money in a calender year or achieving a certain amount of ROI every quarter as the only aim, they tend to miss out on this factor. Therefore, to build an organization which takes into account the aim and will to ensure that each customer is looked after to the best of the company’s abilities is a challenging task. It has to begin with senior management, they must lead by example. A couple of days ago, I had a prospective customer email me regarding taking some psychometrics courses. Unfortunately, his email got buried and I completely forgot to respond. When I uncovered his email a week later, I promptly sent him the information along with a free test to apologize for the delay. We must always remain vigilant of our intentions, attitude and actions from the customers point of view. 

As a startup it is important that a culture for genuine concern is developed from the onset. Listed below are a few steps to help you get started in the right direction.

1. Listen: Understand your customers in as much detail as possible. Learn what their goals, objectives, threats and concerns are when dealing with vendors, who may be providing similar services to yours. Armed with a thorough understanding of their needs and wants, we will be better equipped to cater to them.

2. Communicate: This needs to start internally in the business, the team must be made aware of the focus, agenda and achievement targets of the company. How the company plans to achieve targets as well as the necessary actions that need to be taken. Such information empowers the workforce as can be seen at Southwest Airlines, the company has the best service standards by far in the industry. We also need to communicate our agenda to the customers. This helps create transparency and removes suspicion from the customer’s mind.

3. Actions: We have to lead with examples and empower our workforce to go beyond the call of duty to help a customer. Ritz Carlton gives employees a discretionary budget in case of an emergency or incident with a customer. At my local Starbucks, the servers know me by name as well as my daily order. When a customer receives such service they are bound to let everyone know, and this will not only help create goodwill but also secure a loyal customer base. 

Financial goals are important metrics for any business. However, I believe that businesses should have metrics for the softer side of the business as well. How many satisfied customers did we serve this year as compared to last year? How many customer complaints were received this year as compared to last year? Benchmarks must be created for quality of service too. Genuine concern for your customers is positively correlated to better quality of service, this results in more customers and higher levels of trust.

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Consistent Communication

“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” Anthony Robbins

We have all come across businesses where senior management says one thing, middle management says another and the customer service representative says something completely different. Another example, marketing slogans promote 24/7 customer support yet, there is no one to answer the phones at 3 am in the morning. When there is inconsistency in communication, building trust will be an arduous task. As younger startup companies, we have to instill the importance of consistent communication, from the beginning of our operations. Such a culture will act as a catalyst in the development of trust and creating a level of loyalty to your product/service. Failure to do so will have a detrimental impact on your business as a whole, and it will be very difficult to retain and nurture existing customers. 

Several key areas where consistency of communication is of utmost importance are:

1. Senior Management: This group of individuals is responsible for the creation of a culture where candor is promoted through the ranks. They need to lead by example by keeping their word, and being upfront and honest with all employees, vendors and customers. This is manifested in the little things, how many times have you told your secretary or colleague to make up an excuse when you don’t want to speak to someone on the phone? If one promotes honesty and consistency in the organization such actions clearly conflict with the message that you are sending to your employees and colleagues. Inconsistency of communication is usually the result of a breakdown from senior management. This group needs to be extremely vigilant of their actions and words. 

2. Customer Service: How many times have you called a support department and felt like slamming the phone down because of the level of service you received? I know I have wanted to do so many times. This is the result of the gap in communication between middle and senior management. When this level is not clear about the level of communication the organization stands for, what their role is, or why it is important that they act and behave in accordance with the principles of the organization, they will not be able to communicate this messages to the end customer. I understand that in todays world, doing this while outsourcing these activities to third party vendors is going to be a difficult task. However, it is of vital importance that creative solutions to this problem be developed to facilitate the trust building process.

3. Marketing: Seth Godin wrote an interesting book called “All Marketers are Liars”. It uses various examples to drive home the point that the most successful corporations are the ones who have consistent and honest marketing. Today, we are bombarded by millions of advertisements, many of them use deceptive tactics to stir curiosity. I am sure many people click the pop up banner which says you have won a million dollars. Often a company will promise features and capabilities which they may not possess. Most of these companies will never be able to develop any trust with their target customers. As a startup, use marketing as a tool to tell a compelling story, which is rooted in honesty. 

Consistency of communication must be developed through the entire business. When mistakes are made do not attempt to cover them up and embellish the truth. It only takes a single act of inconsistency in your message to destroy any trust which may have been developed between your partners, vendors or customers. 

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Competence

“A competent leader can get efficient service from poor troops, while on the contrary an incapable leader can demoralize the best of troops.” John J. Pershing

Competence is a pre-requisite for the process of trust building. An individual or business is deemed competent in a particular skill set when they have proved themselves adequately. However, for a new startup, without a track record, this is often a very challenging task. Competence needs to be communicated through actions in a younger team. For example, take two startups, both aiming to develop similar ebay replicas in a virgin market. Both teams have identical skill sets in terms of technical capabilities. One of the team, actively looks for individuals with prior experience in this sector, and adds them to their advisory body. Along with this, they get a major courier company to sign up with them as well as a reputable payment processor. A customer evaluating which website to use, will clearly choose the team which has put in extra effort in developing weaker areas of expertise. 

This example goes to show that younger startups need to think creatively about areas of competence and work pro-actively on weaker aspects. Areas of competence must be clearly communicated to their target audience. Some areas which can be emphasized for younger startups are:

1. Education: Many startups comprise of young team members who may still be at university or have recently graduated. Emphasis on your team’s specialized educational background to show they have adequate technical, managerial or marketing skills required by the business is an asset. Any other certifications or external program qualifications of team members can also be added when relevant. 

2. References: References from established members of your target industry whom you or other team members have worked with, can be very helpful. This serves as a validation of your skill sets and capabilities. This is particularly handy when a team is involved in raising seed funding at an early stage of the venture, from angels, friends or even family. 

3. Talent: All of us have some particular talent which makes us unique. Some may be good at public speaking, sales, programming, art, writing, sports or another talent. When your talent pool adds direct value to the business you are embarking on, it is advisable to highlight them. They add depth to your overall profile and provide keen insights into team member’s skill sets. For example if you were a swimming champion throughout university, it shows that you have discipline, and thrive on competition and high endurance levels. Many valuable characteristics can be extrapolated from that one talent.

Once credibility has been established, the display of competence becomes a lot easier to communicate. We all know that google is by the far the best search engine today and that it’s team is highly competent at creating algorithms which continually improve the product. A new startup wanting to challenge google will have a very difficult and challenging task to communicate that level of competence. Developing competence levels within your business is a constant work in progress. Set goals, and keep developing the team’s capabilities in strategic areas, to ensure that long term trust can be built with your customers.

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