Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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

Selecting the Right Name

“When you think of the blur of all the brands that are out there, the ones you believe in and the ones you remember, like Chanel and Armani, are the ones that stand for something. Fashion is about establishing an image that consumers can adapt to their own individuality. And it’s an image that can change, that can evolve. It doesn’t reinvent itself every two years.” Ralph Lauren

If you think coming up with the next million dollar is challenging, correct selection for the name of your business is not going to be any easier. A name formulates the foundational base of your entire business. It communicates what you do to your target segment, what differentiates you from the competition and is ideally meant to instigate curiosity to find out more. A logical argument often used against this methodology of thinking, is that names such as Google, Amazon and Monster do very little to reflect what they do, yet, they have become mega brand names. The fact of the matter is, the businesses mentioned above were pioneering companies which revolutionized internet search, online shopping and online recruiting. They are built on very sound business models and due to the sheer superiority of their products/services they have become household names today.

Getting the name game right is something I have been giving more time towards, in my more recent ventures. We named our first design agency “Synaptic Creations”. I am not a biology student but picked up the word from a friend who told me synapses were the gap between two neurons, over which impulses lead to learning. It made sense at the time and we went with it. The word creations however, is too generic and reduced the ability for us to expand into other areas as well. It also confused some individuals who thought we may be some genetic based start-up. The name would fail several of the benchmarks I now have, for appropriate names for a business. It is important is to learn from mistakes made in the past to help you get it right the next time.

Most of the time, start-ups have to select their own name unless you have managed to secure some major early stage funding. If you have I would recommend NameLab or similar brand name consultants. If you are on your own, there are basic guidelines, namely, keep it short, keep it simple, avoid generic terms, the name should be easy to pronounce and spell and, should be unique. I do advocate a structured process to help you think in a more focused manner, which will in turn help you in deciding on a name which has been looked at from all angles, and has had major thought put into it.

Firstly, we need to think through the space we will operate in. Use questions to get your team thinking along the same wave lengths. These could include:

1. What would be the word you would want customers to associate your business with?

2. Who are you target customers?

3. What are the unique components of your business model?

4. How are you different from your competition?

5. What words best describe what your business does?

6. What emotions do you want your name to instigate in the customer?

Develop similar questions based on your business concept, and come up with as many permutations as possible by mixing and matching. Create a filtered list of names which passes the basic guidelines. If possible do a focus group or collect feedback from friends and family on the names you have shortlisted. This process will take a lot of time, so plan in advance for it so that there is no need to make a rushed selection. This is a name you are going to have to live with for a long time, you need to make it count!

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How to Position your Brand

“A brand should strive to own a word in the mind of the consumer.” Al Reis and Laura Reis

When you walk into a supermarket with the intention of buying eggs, do you actually pay attention to the branding on the eggs or do you pick up whatever is available? I usually pick up whatever I find. However the decision is more complicated when I want to get a soft drink. Brands such as Coke and Pepsi have spent billions of dollars positioning their products as the only cola alternatives. A frame of reference has been created and no matter how many new rival products are introduced in this category, it is almost impossible to dislodge the current leaders. 7-Up did something very interesting with its positioning when it rebranded itself as the “Un-Cola”. Since it could not use the word cola in the customers mind, it reframed it’s positioning relative to its competition and took up a unique position in the minds of customers.

Naturally having the edge of being first in a certain category, has it’s advantages. However, competing in markets where there is already some competition, we need to figure out a way to convince potential customers, to use our product/service instead. This requires a lot of creativity and understanding for your target market and your competitors offering. As mentioned in prior posts, we have to take into account the sort of persona we want to project and what competitive edges we want to bring to the forefront. Take for example the rent-a-car business in America. Hertz had a large edge over the No.2 provider Avis. That was until Avis capitalized on its position by using the tag line “Avis is only No.2 in rent-a-cars, so why go with us? We try harder.” This statement dramatically helped the profitability of the company and more importantly helped customers develop a reference point between Avis and Hertz.

As a start-up organization we often cannot afford to pay tens of thousands to brand consultants to help us  develop positioning strategies. However all is not lost. The end goal is to own a word in the mind of the customer, or be able to communicate your business concept in 5 words or less. Much effort needs to be put into name selection and the use of words as discussed in the brand personality post. These will be discussed in greater detail in the next post in the series.

To get you started on what your product/service should be, there is a great positioning rule called the 4D Rule:

1. Desirable by the customers

2. Distinctive from the competition

3. Deliverable by the company

4. Durable over time

A well positioned brand will lie at the intersection of all four requirements.

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Why should I choose your brand?

“A product is something made in a factory; a brand is something that is bought by the customer. A product can be copied by a competitor; a brand is unique. A product can be quickly outdated; a successful brand is timeless.” Stephen King

Yesterday’s step regarding the personality of your brand, should get one thinking of all the factors that need to be covered to successfully attract your target customer. The next couple of steps will cover essential components which need to be thought through clearly when building a brand. The component I will talk about today is the answer to the question above, namely, your competitive advantage. If one cannot answer why a customer should select your product over your competitors, there won’t be a business to build a brand for. To answer this question correctly, one needs keen insights into the internal selection process of your target customers. Communicating with your target customers and finding out what their needs and requirements are, is the only way to do this. 

For example, you want to launch a new web based product which aims to provide an ability to manage your contacts and communication logs. The market place is currently filled with such products, and include Highrise, a product I use for the same function. When this new service comes along, and they have essentially replicated existing product features and functionalities, there is little chance of success. Even if minor changes have been created, they stand to lose this competitive edge when these functionalities will be copied by existing players. This is an example of when business owners have not put enough thought into the reason for creating the service, for whom it is being created, and how they plan to provide long term value to the target customer.

On the other hand, take for example, the social networking space. Friendster started off with a bang and a small niche social networking site called Facebook, they entered the market, and addressed key concerns regarding, privacy, communication tools and useful applications to make the experience more enjoyable. They clearly addressed the question “why should I choose to switch to your platform?” This leads to an important conclusion, which is, businesses and brands have to be rooted in strong business models which address customer needs in an unique way. Our branding strategy needs to continuously communicate this competitive advantage to our target customers, reminding them of reasons they should choose us, over our competitors.

Related Articles:

– What is your competitive advantage?

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What is your brand personality type?

“You now have to decide what ‘image’ you want for your brand. Image means personality. Products, like people, have personalities, and they can make or break them in the market place.” David Oglivy

If you had to describe the Apple brand in terms of a celebrity who would choose? Could you use the same celebrity to represent Microsoft? Most likely, not possible. I find this thought extremely interesting as it sets out to externalize the internal emotions and perceptions we have for certain brands. We all know that Apple and Microsoft products are very different, however, each one of us has a unique way of perceiving these brands. As a business owner, we have to be in tune constantly with the way our business or brand is perceived by our customers. Is it being perceived the way we want it to? Are we consistent in our branding strategies across all customer touch points? Inability to do so will create a negative perception of your brand in the customer’s minds.

If brand personality is so critical to an organization’s success, why is it never talked about? I believe it is due to a couple of factors, firstly, many business owners see this as a non core issue because immediate tangible return on investment are not seen, secondly, there is a very little knowledge about how critical a brand personality is to the business as a whole. To demystify this subject I have attached an excellent schema to help understand this subject:

Courtesy Tom Dorresteijn

Courtesy Tom Dorresteijn

The development of a brand personality is the first step to embark on when developing a brand. Two components required to begin this process are:

1. Identity: One has to be absolutely clear about the aims of your organization. This includes goals, objectives, and strategic plans which have been developed for your business. Focus on core strengths and identify areas where you have a competitive advantages. If your business concept is unfocused, abstract or too diverse, these same factors will manifest themselves when communicating with target customers.

2. Customers: The second point which needs to be clearly defined is, identifying customers and their specific needs and requirements. One needs to understand their pain points, ambitions, worries and goals. This has to be done through qualitative analysis, by actually talking with your potential customer face to face. Once this is completed and assessed, we will know how to position our brand from their point of view.

It is only after we have successfully clarified these two components, can we actually start the process of developing a type of personality for our brand. We will be able to address key issues on what our brand voice should be, what characteristics our customers are looking for, and visual design to stimulate interest. I quote Tom Dorresteijin who sums up importance of a brand personality very well “We use brand personality to bring brand strategy to life.” By developing a strong personality with solid foundations we can now move to the next steps in developing our brand.

Related Articles:

Creating a brand personality

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How does one build a brand?

“A brand is a set of differentiating promises that link a product to its customers.” Stuart Agres

I believe a brand is the emotional link we have with a particular product or service. It aims to differentiate a product/service from the rest in the same category, by leveraging on its competitive advantages. Eventually, customers develop mental images and perceptions about the product/service, and this is what helps them during their purchasing decision. Without these associations, all product/services in a particular category seem homogenous and the customer is not able to distinguish one from the other. For example, at the supermarket there is an entire wall dedicated to toothpaste, yet somehow Colgate and Crest seem to stand out from the rest. Both these brands have invested a lot of time and money in positioning their product in a particular way to get our attention.

How would an entrepreneur with a boot strapped budget build one of these world class brands? My answer to this question is, solid foundations, focused strategy, consistency and perseverance. World class brands are not built overnight. Brands such as Starbucks, Apple and BMW has taken each organization many years to earn its right to be perceived in a specific manner by all of us. They have focused on giving their customers a superior product and service. What we take away from these examples is that, to create such a brand we need to begin with a strategy right from the onset of our venture. We need to identify specifically how we want to be perceived, how we plan to stand out and the sort of personality our product/service should have. 

In the end, the goal is to create a strong sense of brand loyalty among customers. This loyalty will convert itself into recurring future streams of income. During the course of the next week I will talk about basic steps to look at when building a brand. I think this is an aspect many younger startups do not pay enough attention to at the beginning. This is a major mistake, as we have to be constantly aware of the image we want to portray. This image is developed through our product/service, customer service, website, packaging and any other interaction with our target segment. I look forward to your feedback and any insights regarding the development of brands. 

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5 Steps on How to Make a Decision

“When you cannot make up your mind which of two evenly balanced courses of action you should take – choose the bolder.” William Joseph Slim

Over the course of this last week I have talked about the decision making process. This process can help us in making difficult decisions. The process forces us to take action and to move from one step to the next in a continuous flow. Standing still has to be avoided at all times. From a business perspective, not being able to make critical decisions or to keep delaying them, will eventually lose you any competitive advantage you may have had. The world unfortunately does not wait for us to find the right time or right opportunity to make a decision. Listed below is a methodology I use for decision making:

1. Objective Clarification: The first step when making a decision is to look at the larger picture. Decision making is not an isolated process of just meeting specific needs, it is one in which broader goals and aims have to be taken into consideration for the future. It is only after clarifying what we hope to gain or learn from the decision we take, do we move to the next step. To learn more on how to clarify objectives behind a decision please click here.

2. Data Collection: The second step involves getting all the facts and figures required to make a decision. This could include, research, surveys, feedbacks or any other form of data collection which would provide us with information to help make a decision. The truth is, it is not possible to have all the facts and figures specially in a time bound situation. Life is about making optimal choices based on, often incomplete information. One must not let lack of data hinder us from making decisions. To learn more about data collection please click here.

3. Listing Options: Once we have adequate data about decisions we have to make, the next step in the process is to develop a list of alternatives. The purpose of this list is to put down on paper different options available.There will always be several possible alternatives available when one has to make a decision.Making an endless list of possible alternatives is not wise, and frankly, will waste a lot of time. Be specific in what you want and develop your alternative list accordingly. To learn more about developing an option list please click here.

4. Evaluating Options: I use a simple model which helps rank options according to our objectives and weight-ages given to specific factors. This enables us to rank each option in an unbiased manner and helps to gauge how they compare against each other on a holistic level. This model is developed on the basis of the prior 3 steps discussed. To learn more about the model and how to use it for your decision making process please click here.

5. Making a Decision: After successfully completing the four steps outlined above, we reach a point where we should have enough information to make a decision. Most of the time, we will not have all the information required, life is all about making optimal choices based on incomplete information. We should not let this affect our decision making process. Once a decision has been made, one needs to take responsibility for it and ensure follow through. To learn more about the final step in the decision making process please click here.

If one were to look back at life, there are bound to be decisions which, in retrospect were not the correct one. The important thing to remember is not the fact that one made a wrong choice, but whether we learned from the mistake or not. We should not let past failures inhibit us from making similar decisions in the future. If one were to take such an approach,  very little progress forward would be made. As mentioned earlier, life is short, we need to have the courage of our decisions, confidence to trust our gut instincts, and keep moving forward. I wish you all the very best on all your life decisions in the future.

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Can you make a decision?

“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” Theodore Roosevelt

After weighing all possible alternatives, a decision making point is reached. This stage in the decision making process is where many individuals face problems. Some of the reasons I come across quite regularly for this are; there is inadequate information, I have received mixed reviews from feedback which has further confused me, I want to put this decision off for a while to think about it more, I cannot make this decision alone and, what if I make the wrong decision? These are all valid reasons to put off making a decision. However, if this becomes a recurring pattern in life, then, very little progress would be made when a difficult problem arose. 

Once our homework is done, and we believe we have adequate information about the decision at hand, we have to take a leap of faith. Waiting for the perfect situation, the perfect business opportunity or the perfect partner will invariably hold you back. We have to be proactive and want to move forward, this not only increases confidence, it provides invaluable experience and feedback. It is in moments of decision that we find out who we really are, and what we are made of. Use these opportunities to showcase your skills and abilities rather than shying away from taking responsibility. 

Once a decision is made, the next most important aspect of this entire process is, follow through. We have to be a 100% committed to the decision we make, and take full responsibility for it. This is not a time for excuses or getting cold feet. We must prove to ourselves, as to those affected by the decision that we have what it takes to execute the decision. If one makes a habit of changing one’s minds after taking a decision, this reflects poorly on character and value systems. In business, such a person would be deemed unreliable, and lacking the confidence required to take responsibility. Hence, next time you are put in a position to make a decision, do your homework well ,and when ready, make the decision and follow through. As an added benefit, the feeling one experiences after making a correct decision is amazing, and should be the end goal every time!

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Ranking your Options

“Choice of aim is clearly a matter of clarification of values, especially on the choice between possible options.” W. Edwards Deming

 Once we have developed a list of alternatives, the next step in the decision making process is to rank them. The ranking process requires basic elements to keep it simple, yet effective. The first element required is developing a criterion list to assess all your possible alternatives against. Listed below, you see an example alternatives list I have created for the laptop example I mentioned yesterday. For this example I singled out what I felt were the most important factors. The same example can be adjusted for just about any decision. Whether you are assessing a new car, business idea, partner, employee or a potential investment opportunity. Develop a list of criterions against which you can assess all the available alternatives. It is important to rank all the alternatives against chosen criterions. 

The next element that is required is, assigning weight ages according to your preferences. I used a 10 point scale for this example, however, there are other ranking scales, and I have personally used a 100 point scale as well. This depends entirely on the complexity of the decision, and the number of criterions being used to assess each alternative. The next aspect is to assign specific scores to each option, based on the criterion. I have used a 5 point scale for the assessment in the example below, 5 meaning, very satisfied and vice versa. After you grade each criterion, multiply the scale score with the assigned weight-ages. Finally, add each options total score, and you have a decision based on resulting total scores for each alternative.

Laptop Rankings

A further complexity to the model above,  particularly when making business decisions, is to add a risk component. I left this component out of the above example to make it easier to understand. Adding a risk component can help you weigh the risk-reward ratio of each alternative. This has been very helpful to me when assessing different business opportunities. The model described above, brings together all the factors we have spoken about in the last couple of days. It is important to understand the logic behind each of the components, and the manner we arrived at this stage. Once we have a total score, we are ready to move to the last stage of the decision making process.

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