Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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

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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Integrity

“Have the courage to say no. Have the courage to face the truth. Do the right thing because it is right. These are the magic keys to living your life with integrity.” W. Clement Stone

Integrity is a foundation block of building trust, in both life and business. Our integrity levels are built upon our value and belief systems. It is these systems which define us as individuals and businesses. Ensuring that the core values which define us as individuals, are in congruence with the values we want our business to be defined by, is vital. A mismatch between these two creates substantial friction. Therefore, it is essential when building your team, to get individuals who have similar values and beliefs. Integrity however is not something which is developed overnight. An individual or organization needs to work hard and consistently to develop an image of integrity. 

Our integrity is based purely on actions and decisions we make in life. They reflect who we are and what we stand for. Listed below are a couple of integrity benchmarks to help gauge integrity levels:

1. Congruence: This is an essential sub component when evaluating integrity levels. Complete congruence is when we think, speak and act in an identical fashion. However in this day and age, this is becoming increasingly difficult. Organizations want to make money, to achieve this they embellish their services with words which are not actual representations of what they provide, finally, they provide customers with sub par services to achieve their primary goal. Such an organization will find it impossible to build a loyal customer base, and will probably not be around for very long. We have to ensure that are actions are in congruence with our thoughts and words both as individuals and organizations.

2. Commitment: Promises made by individual or business must be honored. If your business guarantee’s 99% uptime of your services, make sure that there is an adequate infrastructure in place to support that commitment. I am sure we have all come across individuals who promise us the world, but when it comes down to getting things done, they rarely deliver. Such individuals get labelled as big talkers and cannot be depended on. Therefore, be very careful when making bold statements and promises to customers. 

3. Courage: In life, at some point or other, most of us will find ourselves at a crossroads of opportunities where taking the easy way out goes against all our principles and beliefs. It is at moments such as these that an individual’s integrity is truly tested. This is specially true where money is concerned, and we have seen many public cases where senior management compromised their values for short term monetary gains. Many businesses turn a blind eye to sweat shops, below quality products and poor service.  Not standing up for your principles and beliefs makes developing a reputation for integrity a very challenging task. 

I hope these benchmarks will get one thinking about personal integrity as well as that of the business. Without this crucial element, we could have the next killer product, service or idea, and yet not succeed. One needs to be constantly vigilant about what our thoughts, words and actions are communicating. An immediate exercise one can do with our teams is value identification. This will help clarify the team’s and businesses common value systems as a whole. This list can help measure actions against them, to gauge the sort of image being projected.

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5 Steps to Better Health

“Without health, there is no point. To anything.” Everett Mámor

Health is one of those things in life you value once you lose it. Ill health propels us to value it a lot more for a while, then we lose track of it yet again. We fail to understand that without good health, there is very little we can do. Ill health makes us realize that all the things we take for granted should be the very things we ought to be thankful for, day in and day out. As entrepreneurs we tend to push ourselves harder, as great things can only be achieved by great efforts. During this process one of the things we tend to lose track of is our health. I made that mistake recently and hence dedicated this series to help remind myself of the importance of good health.

Listed below are five factors critical to good health:

1. Sleep: Having sporadic sleep cycles can be most damaging to one’s health. Lack of sleep or inadequate and untimely sleep patterns cause lethargy and lack of concentration. This in turn results in not being able to perform optimally and eventually leads to developing related illnesses due to exhaustion. Developing and having the discipline to stick to a sleeping routine can have a positive impact on your health. To read more about developing better sleeping habits please click here.

2. Exercise: A lot of people feel tired at the mention of the word exercise. The association may be a result of associating all forms of exercise with the tedium of weights , running for miles, monotonous repetition and sweating through it all. Developing a healthy exercise routine however can start from something as simple as having a yoga or stretching routine when you wake up in the morning. It is vitally important to establish some form of exercise into your daily routine. To read more about easy exercise routines that you can adopt please click here.

3. Eating Right: Other than staying off the fatty junk food, there are many simple tips we need to integrate into our daily diet plan. I wrote about ensuring to drink enough water during the day and making sure that a healthy breakfast is how you start your day. These small changes impact greatly on energy and fitness levels. It is not necessary to go on strict diets and give up eating all favorite foods . What is important is that we make the small but important changes which will help us live a healthier life. To read more about eating right please click here.

4. Having Fun: Doing the things you love and enjoy has a deep impact on your health. It helps exude energy and a zest for life which is infectious. We have to stop sacrificing the things that bring joy to us simply to be able to assimilate into the society we live in. If you are not doing what you are supposed to be doing, there is no better time than ‘Now’ to start making the necessary changes. To read more about the importance of having fun please click here.

5. Positive Thinking: Having a positive attitude has a major impact on the quality of life. It has the ability to remind us how fortunate we are for everything we have. It helps us to shift focus from all the things we do not have, to all that we need to be grateful for. This level of inner peace creates an aura of positivity around us, which in turn attracts our wants and desires to help make our life a more fulfilling one. To learn more about the power of positive thinking please click here.

Losing perspective of the truly important factors in our lives is a mistake committed by too many people. We become so lost in the daily humdrum that we lose sight of the bigger picture. Life is way too short to miss out at truly living life to its optimum. It is important that we keep a healthy balance between work and fun in our lives. Only through such a balance can we experience a level of inner peace and help bring perspective to the chaotic lives we lead today.

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The Little Difference

“There is little difference in people, but that little difference makes a big difference. The little difference is attitude. The big difference is whether it is positive or negative.” W. Clement Stone

All of us have fundamental choices in life. We can either embrace life for all its worth and live each day to make a difference, or we can simply go about, just living. This seems like a fairly easy decision to make, and it should be, because it is! Each and everyone of us is in control of the sort of life we want to lead. The decision is completely ours, and our life is a reflection of the decisions which we have chosen to make. If anyone is not satisfied with the results so far, it is up to them to change the way they may be doing things. In truth it all comes down to, whether we are looking at the glass half empty or half full. Two people can look at the same glass with radically different perspectives. In the end, what matters is our attitude, and whether we choose it to be positive one or negative.

I must admit, most of the time I do not understand why so many people have such a negative outlook on life. The mind boggles that someone deliberately chooses to look more at the negative side of life. There has to be some driving force behind such behavior, I have yet to understand it. Being negative not only brings your own spirits down, it has a domino effect on all those who come into contact with it. It permeates into every aspect of your life, from the way you walk, hold a conversation, relationships, social interaction and the vibes you give out. An aura develops around you which only seems to attract all the things you do not want in life. Why anyone would want to do something like that to themselves is a mystery.

Life is way too short for us to be worried about all the things which are not in our control. We need to focus on factors we can do something about, and our health is one those key factors. Having a positive attitude has a major impact on the quality of life. It has the ability to remind us how fortunate we are for everything that we have. It helps us to shift our focus from all the things we do not have, to all that we need to be grateful for. This level of inner peace creates an aura of positivity around us, which in turn attracts our wants and desires to help make our life a more fulfilling one. We all have the same fundamental choices in life. The decisions we make about these choices will impact and determine the sort of life we choose to live.

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Are you Having Fun?

“People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.” Dale Carnegie

Life without fun and enjoyment, is living life without, really living. It is imperative to enjoy ourselves in whatever we do in life. If we are not doing something that we enjoy, then it is time to face reality and make the necessary changes. Continuing to do something which one does not like is like a virus, and it slowly eats away at the soul. It becomes a cycle, and finding the courage to step out of it requires, a lot of courage. We make up all sorts of excuses why we choose to remain in jobs we do not like, in relationships which are not working or in businesses we no longer have any interest in. The longer we stay in such situations the more reasons we create for why we cannot leave them.

I believe this is often due to a clash of interest. We sacrifice personal goals, dreams and visions for what society deems acceptable. Along the way we forget who we are and what we really wanted in life. Unfortunately this is a path taken by far too many people and tends to have major repercussions further down the road. The fact is that each and everyone of us knows what really makes us happy. The longer we keep these emotions buried, the more we lose touch with them. Therefore, if there is something that you would rather be doing, take time out now, and first just write it down on a piece of paper. Then, think about it, and visualize ways you could eventually be doing that for a living.

My own decision to become an entrepreneur was made in a similar fashion. I was always fascinated with the world of business, and the challenge of starting out from scratch and building it into something, has been a lot of fun for me. Having been through a successful iteration of this process, there is nothing else that I would rather be a part of. Doing something that you love and enjoy has a deep impact on your health as well. One has a lot more energy and a zest for life which can be infectious. If you are not doing what you are supposed to be doing, there is no better time than ‘Now’ to start making the necessary changes.

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5 nuggets from ‘The Alchemist’

“If you can concentrate always on the present, you’ll be a happy man “ Paulo Coelho ‘The Alchemist’

‘The Alchemist’ is a story about the journey of life. It follows a boy who slowly discovers himself and what his true calling in life actually is. Through the story several fundamental topics such as life, struggle, love, money, courage, fear, sadness, success, death and destiny are discussed. When I re-read this book recently, several of these topics related to me on levels which I had not thought about before. I was able to put myself into the boys shoes and actually relate to some of the experiences as an entrepreneur. I decided to outline 5 key topics from the book in this week’s blog series;

1. Personal Legends: What is it that you always wanted to be or do? Are you currently doing it or have you chosen a completely different path in life? Finding one’s true calling and following it is not as difficult as it seems. You need to have an open mind, free yourself from external voices, which constantly tell you what you can and cannot do and then figure out what you want to spend every single day of your life doing. To read my story please click here.

2. Your Heart: When was the last time you just did something because it felt right? We all face an information overload in today’s world. It causes us to over analyze and rationalize to an extent that is completely unnecessary. Along the way we lose ourselves and the reasons why we chose one pathway over another. We need to keep the conversation between our heart and our brain at a healthy equilibrium to help us reach more rounded decisions. To read more please click here

3. Fear: Venturing into the unknown gives the best of us cold feet sometimes. What is important to remember is that this is a natural emotion and one which we need to learn to recognize , face and work our way through. We need to understand where it stems from and deal with the core and root issues instead of fighting it blindly. To read more please click here.

4. Courage: An essential quality, one which everyone should focus on developing. It provides a strong foundational base to lead a richer and more meaningful life. You will continue to find yourself in sticky spots in life, be it pertaining to business, career or your personal relationships. Each of them will require you to standup for yourself and face them head on. To read more please click here

5. Tests: From the simple to the complex, we will face a multitude of tests during the course of our lives. How we deal with them and what we learn from them is of the essence. Some will be so severe that every waking minute of your day will revolve around them and it is in these tests that we truly discover ourselves and who we really are. To read more please click here.

Everyone derives different meaning from ‘The Alchemist’ and what it meant to them. These were some of my interpretations on a few of the book’s core issues and how I was able to relate to them. If you have read the book and have any insights which you would like to share I would really appreciate that.

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