Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur


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

5 Tips for Better Networking

“It’s not what you know but who you know that makes the difference.” Anonymous

As an entrepreneur, networking has been an essential part of my journey and growth. However, even if you are not an entrepreneur, networking is something each one of us should be doing at some level. Networking provides us with the opportunity to reach out to individuals from all walks of life with whom we share similar passions or interests. We also meet individuals with whom we have very little in common. Either way, through this interaction we grow as individuals and start to see the world from a multi-faceted view point, rather than just our own. To some of us networking and conversing with strangers is easier than it is for others. However we must all make an effort to put ourselves out there and see what develops. Listed below are a couple of tips which have helped me become a more effective networker:

1. First Impressions: These are formed quickly, we need therefore to be vigilant about how we present ourself, and our attitude and overall body language. When meeting individuals for the first time, take an active interest in what they do, see if there is potentially anything you could do to assist them. It is important that we do not come across as pushy or just wanting to get the other person’s name card and move on. Will we always get the right impression across? Probably not, however, we have to do all we can to make sure that the signals we are sending are well aligned with the impression we want to create. To learn more about creating the right first impression please click here.

2. Business Cards: These are a vital component of effective networking. They have the ability to form a link between two strangers and potentially help that link grow into a mutually beneficial relationship. One needs to pay a lot of attention to the design of business cards and make sure that all the information is legible and well presented. Always carry an ample stock of your business cards and give them out liberally. When exchanging business cards, if required, ask politely for potential referrals. Lastly, business cards are essential, if you are not associated with any company, have personal name cards printed for yourself. To learn more about the importance of business cards please click here.

3. Following Up: This is a critical aspect of effective networking. Exchanging business cards is only the creation of link, it is our responsibility to convert that link into something greater. Three tips for following up more effectively include the 48 hour rule, which is essentially making sure that you follow up with a contact within the specified period to keep the link alive. Secondly, make it a point to follow up in context to the conversation that you had with the individual. Lastly, periodically follow up with individuals on your contact list whom you have had limited contact. To learn about each tip in greater detail please click here.

4. Building Online Networks: Online business networking is skyrocketing these days. With a plethora of websites being added almost daily, one is able to connect to just about anyone from around the world. Three ways to plug into the world on online networking is, joining Linkedin a leading professional networking site, creating a twitter account to connect with people in your niche and lastly, begin blogging to get the attention of your target audience. It is essential for today’s entrepreneurs to be plugged into the online networking cloud. To learn more about each of the services outlined above please click here.

5. Building Offline Networks: I believe developing a strong offline network is just as important as building an online one. Through these activities one is able to connect with a host of individuals around a common point of interest. It also helps bring balance to our busy lives, specially since more often than not our professional lives seem to completely take over. Join groups and events related to the business that you are in, or join social work projects that may be of interest to you or a group to play sports or social games together. These activities help increase your business networks as well as help you grow personally as an individual. To learn more on how to develop offline networks please click here.

Networking effectively, takes a lot of patience and time. We have to work on developing our networks every day by reaching out to people we have connections with as well as adding new connections. There is a need to add value to the people whom you know for those actions to be reciprocated. I would really like to get to know the readers of my blog and find ways we can help each other grow. You can find links to connect with me below.

View Usman Sheikh's profile on LinkedIn

Usman Sheikh's Facebook profile

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Building Offline Networks

“More business decisions occur over lunch and dinner than at any other time, yet no MBA courses are given on the subject.” Peter Drucker

I discussed online networks in some detail yesterday. Today I will cover the importance of developing offline networks. These networks require us to put ourselves out there to find opportunities through which we can grow professionally as well as personally. When I mean offline networks, I am not restricting them to only business mixers or rotary functions. To me, offline networking involves a host of shared activities with individuals who share the same passions and interests as I do. I believe developing a strong offline network is just as important as building an online one. Through these activities one is able to connect with a host of individuals around a common point of interest. It also helps bring balance to our busy lives, specially since more often than not our professional lives seem to completely take over. Some segments to look into to develop offline networks are listed below:

1. Business: Having set up one of the largest network of entrepreneurs in Far East Asia, I have witnessed first hand how effective joining an entrepreneurial club or society can be. The ability and opportunity to actually meet a host of people enables one to create stronger connections a lot faster than developing them online. I recommend entrepreneurs look into entrepreneurial clubs and societies as I believe they can be a most beneficial. Other than this,  keep a look out for networking events in your industry where you have the opportunity to meet a host of different individuals. I was introduced to most of my mentors through such events.

2. Social Work:
If there is a cause which is close to your heart or an organization you think is doing great work, I recommend joining them to see if there is anything you can do to assist them. The entire aspect of social entrepreneurship is an area in which many individuals are doing excellent work to ensure a better tomorrow. Joining such efforts adds breadth to your network and opens up avenues usually unavailable through traditional routes.

3. Sports & Games:
Before my ventures completely absorbed me I used to be a regular cycling enthusiast. Along with a friend, I set up the cycling club at my university and we would cycle regularly over the weekends. It was great to get outdoors and get some exercise, it also helped clear the mind and once again meet some very interesting people. I learned a lot about team work, perseverance and even leadership through this activity. If not a sport, there are a host of other activities such as chess, bridge or poker where one can both network and have a good time.

Developing offline networks is an important aspect of the overall development of one’s personality. Even though at times it feels that there are just too many things to do, don’t let these activities take a backseat, find time for them. I feel having strong offline networks is specially important in Asia since there is greater emphasis on meeting face to face. Thus for an entrepreneur in this region, a balance needs to be formed between online and offline networking activities.

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Business Networking Online

“During the past year, the total North American audience of social networkers has grown 9 percent compared to a much larger 25 percent growth for the world at large. The Middle East-Africa region (up 66 percent), Europe (up 35 percent), and Latin America (up 33 percent) have each grown at well-above average rates.” Comscore

Online business networking is skyrocketing these days. With a plethora of destinations being added almost daily, one is able to connect to just about anyone from around the world. For someone new to online networking it can be a bit intimidating. With all these tools out there, deciding which one to select and build upon can be a tricky decision. Prior to 2008 I used to rely a lot more on offline networks than online ones. This was primarily because I miscalculated the effectiveness of online networks. Ever since I started blogging earlier this year my eyes have truly been opened in discovering the true potential of online networks. Through these networks I have made some great friends, been introduced to some amazing companies, have been referred business and been able to raise funding for some of my projects. Listed below are some of the tools I use:

1. LinkedIn: This is the web’s leading professional networking destination and it is witnessing tremendous growth. I use linkedin primarily to do reference searches due to the nature of my work and have started using it to develop leads for business development. I have even started using it to identify talent to facilitate the recruitment process. I strongly recommend entrepreneurs to join this network as I believe it can greatly facilitate the development of your business. If you would like to connect with me on Linkedin please click on the link found below.

2. Twitter: This is a micro blogging tool which facilitates short communications between individuals, a group of people or the public as a whole. Essentially twitter users, post short messages detailing information in reference to their line of work or life generally. These messages can either be public or private. Other users are given permission to follow the updates of specific individuals, so as to be constantly updated about their activities. As I write this, it seems like a pretty silly concept and that is what I thought at first. However since becoming a more active user I have seen how these updates can be a source of great information, at the same time it gives you potential access to people whom you normally would not br accesing. I suggest joining it and seeing whether it is something which appeals to you or not. With its explosive growth these days, twitter is quickly becoming the destination to be online. To follow me on twitter please click on the badge below.

3. Blogging: When I started this blog I was unaware of how I could use it as a networking tool. However as time went by I was contacted by a host of very interesting individuals from all walks of life. Over the course of these last ten months of blogging I have made a host of close friends through blogging and actively reading other blogs in the same niche. In the world we live in today, blogging is very quickly becoming an instrumental tool through which one can attract like minded individuals. This can be a great source to find potential partners, employees, investors and even mentors. To begin blogging I recommend selecting a niche and then writing relatively regularly to build a following.

The deal with all of the tools I have listed above is that for them to create opportunities we need to work very hard to constantly build upon them. An empty linkedin profile will not attract anyone, twitter without relevant and interesting updates will not create any meaningful interaction and a blog which is not regularly updated will not become a hub of activity. We have to make a commitment to build our profile online, this is not something which is developed overnight. Like the real world one needs to build a reputation which is trusted and eventually become an authority who is constantly being referred to. I would really like to connect with the readers of this blog and see how we can assist each other in either a professional or personal capacity.

View Usman Sheikh's profile on LinkedIn

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Following Up

“Success comes from taking the initiative and following up… persisting…What simple action could you take today to produce a new momentum toward success in your life?” Anthony Robbins

In my previous post I spoke about the power of the business card. The truth of the matter is a business card  essentially gives you the ability to get the business card of another individual. There is much however that needs to translate this exchange and convert this link into a source of business or referrals for your business or yourself. I have known many power networkers who have a great ability to work an entire room and possibly get everyone’s business card. However most of them usually spend very little time with the person to find out more about them, and following up becomes a challenging task. When networking take time to find out more about the person. Be it their goals, aspirations, business or just  whatever they are willing to talk about and something you can bring when following up with them. This helps creates a better first impression and a stronger bond to assist in following up with the person.

Listed below are a couple of tips I hope can improve your follow up process:

1. 48 Hour Rule: Whenever I meet someone for the first time and we exchange information, I make sure that I follow it up with an email or call within 48 hours. If I do not send it out within this time frame, chances are that I will forget about the individual and reconnecting later is much more challenging compared to when both sides still remember the occasion they met at. I usually send an email to the individual as soon as I enter it into my personal database.

2. Context: It is important that whenever you are following up with a new contact that there is a specific context. If I shoot off an email which simply said “It was great meeting at the networking event, lets keep in touch.” chances are slim this person would be more than just another name in your rolodex. During the event or right after the event right a small note on either the name card or on your phone regarding the individual and something specific which you spoke about which you can follow up regarding. This adds a lot more weight to your email and increases the chances of possibly getting some business or referrals from the individual.

3. Rolodex Dipping: I got this tip from Christine Comaford and it has really improved my ability to leverage my network more effectively. Rolodex dipping is simply the act of randomly picking up someone from your Rolodex which you may not have contacted for a while and re-connect with them. It could be an informal email or call where I inquire about them or their business. I do this activity 3 times a week and it has kept my connection to long lost clients, partners, colleagues and friends alive. I would highly recommend integrating this activity in your weekly schedule.

Following up is a critical aspect of effective networking. Through these activities I have been able to sustain and grow my personal and professional networks while maintaining a strong foundation. It is only through the process of consistent following up can we convert a contact into someone a lot more valuable. Even though this is a very simple and straight forward process many people have not developed the discipline to methodically follow-up, this impact’s their business development activities .

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Can I have your business card?

“The way of the world is meeting people through other people.” Robert Kerrigan

Business cards are a vital component of effective networking. They have the ability to form a link between two strangers and potentially grow that link into a mutually beneficial relationship. The first time I really needed a business card was at one of my first networking sessions in college. Being relatively new to the networking scene at that point, I wondered how so many students were going about exchanging name cards. Eventually I got a hold of some them and was surprised at the information presented on these small bits of paper. They ranged from mini size resumes, information regarding student organizations they were part of, and more traditional name cards with information about their organizations. It was at this time a close friend of mine and I set up Synaptic Creations, my first company, in which I started out assisting students design and print name cards on an affordable basis on campus.

Coming back to the importance of business cards. There are a few tips and etiquettes I have picked up over the years, they have helped me during networking, I am sharing them with everyone:

1. Design: It is important that one chooses the paper, design and font carefully for business cards. One’s business card is an advertisement for the product/services you provide. It is important to maximize the space you have on the card and at the same time not to make it too cluttered. Choosing a very small text to display contact information should be avoided. If needed use both sides of the business card to convey your message.

2. Ready Stock: As an entrepreneur we should always be equipped with an ample number of name cards at all times. This applies especially for networking sessions, a place we are bound to pass out many name cards. Countless times I have spoken to individuals at networking sessions who apologize for not having name cards, or hoard them to give to the “right people”. This sends wrong signals  and should be avoided at all costs.

3. Presenting: In Asia name cards are presented and received with two hands. This is a sign of respect and the best part about such an exchange is that it provides an opportunity to look at the name card closely. Either way even if name cards are exchanged with one hand, we should take the time to look at the other persons card carefully as a sign of respect as also to see if there is anything of interest we could discuss further with them. One needs to make people feel important so that they share the same attitude towards you.

4. Referrals: Whenever you exchange name cards with someone who may not be in your line of work or industry, but has shown an interest in what you do, make it a point to ask politely for referrals. It is important to emphasise the politeness aspect. I have across many individuals who just go on and on badgering for referrals. This usually makes the other person feel uncomfortable and forces them to close up as they infer one is only wanting to take advantage of their network. Depending on the situation choose an appropriate manner and time on how to bring up the discussion.

Exchanging business cards is just the beginning of the relationship. It is as important to follow up with the individual and add their name to a rolodex or online depository. For management of my name cards I use a service called Highrise. It is a simple and neat tool which allows me to easily add data and provides access to my network from just about anywhere through my phone. It is hence essential to have a methodical way of managing one’s name cards.

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5 Steps to Better Presentations

“There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.” Dale Carnegie

Presentations are a critical communication medium which entrepreneurs need to be adept at. Good presentation techniques make it easier to get your point across to your team, investors and customers. However, to be able to present like Steve Jobs, requires a lot of hard work, creativity and passion. Whenever I have seen a great presentation, it has the same five components. These components make the presentation experience engaging, stimulating and interesting. When any one of these key components is missing, the presentation unravels itself. These five components are:

1. Theme: We have all been to presentations where confusion surrounds the first 15 minutes, and everyone is trying to understand what the presenter is attempting to establish. With the aid of a theme the presenter is able to communicate the core essence of what is being presented. A theme serves as an anchor to keep the audience focused on the single most important message in your presentation. To read more about how to develop a theme for your presentation please click here.

2. Navigation: The outline is supposed to break the story into manageable parts, so that the audience does not get lost. Research has shown that focusing on a maximum of 3 main points in your presentation, is an optimal number as far as recall and attention spans are concerned. It is important that when we begin talking about a key point we introduce it, talk about it, and have a conclusion for it before we move on to the next point. To read more about developing a good outline for your presentation please click here.

3. Call to Action: This component requires the presenter to clearly state the action the audience needs to take after the presentation. This could be many things, ranging from closing a deal, securing funding, or convincing the team to go with a particular marketing strategy. Without this component we have wasted the audience’s time and they will leave the presentation frustrated and confused. Every presentation must have a specific call to action to fulfill its core purpose. To read more about developing a call to action for your presentation please click here.

4. Design: The creativity part of the presentation is one of the most challenging aspects when done correctly. It is about reducing the presentation content into simple messages, and with the help of visual aids communicated to your target audience optimally. We need to be wary of using clipart, complicated tables & charts, bullet points and distracting templates. Every element of your presentation from the colors, font and images must communicate a particular message to your audience. To read more design tips for your presentation please click here.

5. Rehearsal: Being prepared is the difference between a good and a great presentation. There should be an equal amount of effort put into the delivery of your presentation as well as to the production of the presentation. Memorize your material, get feedback from whoever will listen, and record yourself giving the presentation to gauge areas you need to focus on. There is a statistic which says that every minute of a presentation requires an hour of presentation. This goes to show how much effort needs to be placed on rehearsals to give a great presentation. To read more rehearsal techniques please click here.

You will notice that I have not mentioned passion as one of the components. The reason I leave it out is because it is a given. The above mentioned components help take your average presentation to a great one. Without passion however, your presentations will be well below average. Whatever we do in life, whether we are an entrepreneur, lawyer, doctor or an investment banker, we have to ensure that we are passionate about what we are doing. I wish you the best of luck in all your future presentations.

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Are you Prepared to Present?

“It takes one hour of preparation for each minute of presentation time.” Wayne Burgraf 

A killer theme has been selected, a consistent story, a great punch-line and a mind blowing design. All hyped up, we step up to the podium to deliver our presentation, and everything falls apart. We start by getting the words wrong, our train of thought goes astray, we begin talking about unrelated topics and soon, we have completely lost the audience’s attention and respect. Sound familiar? Well it does to me. I have had my fair share of presentations which did not go as planned. The reason: I never planned how I wanted them to go in the first place. One gets so caught up in getting the right picture, the right statistics and the right design, that we tend to forget the important aspect of getting the delivery of the actual presentation right. This is a lesson you have to learn the hard way to truly understand it’s magnitude. 

One of the first presentations I remembering rehearsing for, day and night, was my first VC pitch. I was the lead presenter and my team and I spent around 5 days perfecting the delivery of the pitch. It was the first time I realized how difficult it was to do something which appears to be relatively easy. Each time I watch one of Steve Jobs keynote addresses it just blows me away. Here is a guy who stands in front of thousands of individuals and holds their attention for 90 minutes without breaking a sweat. So is there a special secret which helps some speakers present better than others? No… is simply about being well prepared. Outlined below are some steps which can help you to be better prepared for your next presentation:

1. Who is your audience?: If you are pitching to a VC, you will have to pay attention to aspects like financials, target market and assumptions. Be prepared with answers to difficult questions in advance. On the other hand, if you are pitching to a customer,  stress different factors and communicate in point form to help them make a decision faster. Understand who your audience is, and what they expect of you in advance.

2. Material: I recommend memorizing your material if possible. This has helped me pitch more confidently and that confidence is surely communicated to the audience. Instead of memorizing word for word, use central themes and key words for each segment. 

3. Dry Runs: I record myself while rehearsing important presentations. Through this I can identify pitch, those parts of the presentation I have trouble with, any hand gestures I use, and whether I am able to stay within the designated time which has been allocated for the presentation. The last point is vital when pitching your startup at demos where one is given only 2-5 minutes to communicate your idea.

4. Tools: I recommend advance testing of your presentation at the actual site if possible. For some odd reason, the projector and notebook always seems to have a problem right before a presentation. I also recommend using a remote device to help navigate your presentation yourself. 

5. Passion: Without this component one might as well not give the presentation. Passion for your idea, product or service is communicated from the moment you begin your presentation. During rehearsals get feedback from your peers or anyone who is assessing your delivery on how you rank on confidence, enthusiasm and passion. 

Being prepared is the difference between a good and a great presentation. There should be an equal amount of effort put into the delivery of your presentation as well as to the production of the presentation. When you see a presenter like Al Gore giving the “Inconvenient Truth” presentation, you cannot help but notice how effortlessly he delivers and more importantly, communicates with his audience. This is a result of giving the same presentation hundreds of times and refining it to perfection. When you are making your next presentation to your team, customer or investors make sure you come prepared.

Sample Presentation:

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Presentation Design

“Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.” Charles Mingus

Text, animation, clipart graphics, charts, tables and bullet points need to be kept to a bare minimum in any presentation. Everything placed on your slide must have a purpose and communicate it’s message to the audience. This is easier said than done. Find below ‘before and after’ pictures from Apollo Ideas Inc, notice how well they communicate what I have just mentioned.

Copyright Apollo Ideas Inc

In all the ‘before’ pictures, we see there is too much text which is badly laid out, complicated tables & charts, and distracting backgrounds and colors. The ‘after’ slides have removed the clutter and presented simple, clear and concise slides which communicate their messages through pictures rather than words. To make a successful transition from the left slide to the right one, we need to put a lot more effort into each slide. In the book “Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath, they outline six principles essential to describing a good presentation. They are simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions, and stories. When developing your presentation, benchmark your presentation against these principles, to see whether the message you are attempting to communicate, will do so or not.

A summary of some key points for good presentation design:

1. Avoid: Clip art, complicated charts & tables, excessive use of text and bullet points.

2. Colors: Select colors carefully, and make sure they communicate the message you want the audience to feel. 

3. Typography: Keep your text consistent throughout the course of the presentation. Choose a font type which communicates your message effectively.

4. Images: Use high quality stock images whenever possible. The correct picture can communicate more than an entire slide worth of text, as shown in the example above.

Creating a well designed presentation which satisfies all the key criterions is a challenging task. With time and experience one will get more adept at choosing the correct elements for particular types of presentation. Until then, we need to keep practicing and getting as much feedback as possible. 

Sample Presentation:

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