Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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

A Small World

“Never before in history has innovation offered promise of so much to so many in so short a time.” Bill Gates

Today after being on a conference call between three different time zones, I stopped to marvel at the amazing transformation the internet and telecommunication tools have had on business. My father reminds me of the days he was in Saudi Arabia in the early 80’s, when using the telephone was a luxury and all business transactions were either done in person or through telegrams. I cannot even begin to fathom doing that today. With the explosive growth of computers and the internet, the world has suddenly and truly become a small world. No one is really inaccessible and everyone is linked to each other through various social networks. At times however it can be quite overwhelming knowing that one is constantly plugged into this network be it through a computer, laptop or mobile phones.

The world having become increasingly more connected has brought about many new opportunities for entrepreneurs in it’s wake. Today you can be sitting in Singapore talking to your supplier in Guangzhou, China and selling your product to someone in Brazil. All this with the help of Skype, E-Banking and some collaboration software. However, not enough entrepreneurs are being able to see the multiple opportunities that exist now that we are able to bridge these massive divides. My father and many of his friends are in the import/export business. They can literally conduct business anywhere in the world just by using a phone. Other opportunities such as outsourcing are also becoming increasingly popular and Timothy Ferris has dedicated an entire chapter in his book “4 Hour Work Week” to it.

I have quite a few friends who use e-bay and other such websites to make a decent part time income to supplement their primary income streams. Some of them are the first ones to get the latest mobile phones from Asia and sell them to buyers in the West; others buy handicrafts from China and supply major retail stores. This definitely requires doing your homework, finding a niche and seeing whether you can locate a gap to fill. By leveraging on technologies which are readily available today this has become increasingly simpler from days of yore when you needed to go to the post office to send out a telegram. This is only one of the ways we can leverage on available technologies. I will discuss the impact of these technologies on various aspects of business processes in the near future.

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10 Lessons from a Year of Blogging

“There are no mistakes or failures, only lessons.” Denis Waitley

I made a resolution on the 31st of Dec 2007 to blog every day for an entire year. Not quite knowing what I was getting myself into I started writing and have not looked back since. Through the course of the year I realized that the goal I had set for myself was very challenging and required a lot more time and effort than I had expected. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed writing on a daily basis and aim to continue blogging through 2009. Next year I do not plan to blog everyday but have added some new twists along the way to help differentiate my blog from others in my niche. Listed below are 10 lessons that I have learnt after a year of blogging. If I had read these lessons prior to starting my blogging journey I would have been more prepared for what was in store for me. I hope these lessons will help new blog writers on their journey.

Lesson #1 – Selecting a Niche: Before one starts to blog, clearly identify the target market that you want to serve. This will provide definition and boundaries for your blog and help you to be more focused and become an authority figure in that particular niche. To learn more and access some helpful links on selecting a niche please click here.

Lesson #2 – Passion: The niche that is selected must be something one is truly passionate about. If you just begin writing about something that seems to be the buzz these days, it is most likely that motivation levels will fall drastically over a short period of time. To learn more about passion and selection of your blog niche please click here.

Lesson #3 – Have a Goal: This helps put things in perspective as well giving you achievable targets. Some metrics to track progress by are, number of posts, number of blog hits, number of comments etc. Set specific goals that can be measured and tracked. By doing this simple goal setting exercise , you have a far greater chance of success. To learn more about goal setting for your blog please click here.

Lesson #4 – Commitment: If you are planning on starting your blog next year, I suggest you give serious time and thought  to evaluate how much time you can actually spare in your day to blog. How long does it take you on average to write a blog post ? What other factors will help your commitment when you do start? Lastly, make an open commitment to the blogsphere about your aspirations and goals for the year of 2009. To learn more about commitments and blogs please click here.

Lesson #5 – Providing Value: I use the NABC formula to develop most of my value propositions. It simply helps you identify the Need, Approach, Benefit and Competition. Based on these core principles you can come up with a proposition that will help generate considerable value for your target segment. To learn about this formula in greater detail and how to apply it to your blog please click here.

Lesson #6 – Importance of Reading: If you plan to write a new blog in 2009 then reading is something I highly recommend integrating into your daily schedule. This will not only increase your knowledge base it will also help you get a better command over how to write as well. One needs to be constantly aware about the changes taking place in one’s niche and what authority figures are talking about. To learn more about my daily reading schedule please click here.

Lesson #7 – Dealing with Writers Block: Writing on a regular basis is a challenging feat. One which is bound to frustrate and irritate you at times,  it is also one of the most satisfying and rewarding things to be able to integrate into one’s life. Dealing with writers block is a part of being a writer. Some of the things I use to deal with it are taking short walks, doing a brain dump exercise or even using mind maps. To learn more about the strategies I use along with some helpful links please click here.

Lesson #8 – Patience: Developing a readership and increasing your daily traffic takes a lot of hard work. Expecting to make 6 figures a year from part time blogging is wishful thinking. One needs to focus on developing great content and using it to drive traffic to your blog. The beauty of the internet is its ability for the rapid exponential growth of your blog. A blog that is growing at a monthly pace of 10% will see traffic increase steadily through the course of the year and eventually those numbers will begin to multiply. To learn more about patience and blogging please click here.

Lesson #9 – Networking: A lesson I learnt late in my blogging journey was networking effectively through the blogsphere. If I were to start a new blog in 2009 I would spend more time building a comprehensive blogroll, concentrating on cross linking from high traffic blogs, commenting regularly and using social media to develop strong relationships with authority figures in my niche. To learn more about these techniques please click here.

Lesson #10 – Having Fun: This is an essential factor if one is wanting to blog on a regular basis. If one does not enjoy writing or reading, blogging on a regular basis is going to be more of a chore rather than something to look forward to. Pick a niche that excites you and half the battle is won. For the other half I recommend you should just write,  slowly and over time the content of your blog will become better and eventually blogging will become a lot of fun. To learn more about having fun while blogging please click here.

I hope these lessons will be of some help to first time bloggers. If you have been blogging for some time and have learnt or experienced some other lessons please share them so that we can build a repository to help first time bloggers. I wish you all the very best of success in future blogging ventures.

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Lesson #10: Having Fun

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

Blogging on a regular basis is hard work. I am pretty sure most of us who blog on a regular basis have days when we just do not want to even look at a blank piece of paper that we need to convert into a worthwhile post. However, after a while,  inspiration does come and one begins writing. Sometimes it really feels like magic to me when you have just get started on a single point and suddenly….. you have a post, one that you can be proud of. I don’t always think its magic! More often than not it is a mixture of passion, hard work and persistence. However the most important ingredient in all this is that we need to enjoy the process. When you have fun doing something it becomes easy to do it and you no longer need to push yourself too hard. To top it all off, a single good comment on the post makes my day and it  all worthwhile. The fact that someone out there was able to connect with what I have written is an awesome feeling.

When one starts to blog just for the sake of blogging, it saps out all the fun from the process. That is why I had mentioned passion being supremely important when selecting what one wants to blog about. In the end however it all comes to down to doing something you have fun with and enjoy doing. It’s almost a year since I first started blogging,  I don’t think I would have made it all the way here if I had not had so much fun along the way. Seeing my readership numbers steadily increase, increased number of comments and the links that I have made this year have all been an added bonus.

This lesson has a wide application through our life. We sometimes make choices and decisions that appear to be the ‘right’ one at that point of time  because society deems it to be so. It takes a lot of courage and faith in one’s own ability to go off the beaten path, specially if that is one that does not bring us the sort of excitment and joy we want. Going off the beaten track is almost always a much more challenging route to take, with a whole bunch of obstacles along the way that remind you it is not too late to turn back and get back on the accepted track. However, if you follow a path that brings you a level of excitment, joy and most importantly the satisfaction you desire, very few things should persuade you to stop doing it. I hope everyone has the strength and courage to follow their heart  and may they find great success in doing so.

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Lesson #9: Networking

“The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity.” Keith Ferrazzi

A lesson I learnt late in my blogging journey was networking effectively through the blogsphere . When I started this blog I had a tiny blog roll and did a poor job of linking it to other articles and posts. It is only recently that I have discovered how effective linking can be, not only to promote  visibility of your blog but to network with other bloggers who may be writing in the same niche as you. The fact of the matter is that the multiplier effect gets amplified definitively through the internet. A blog post can suddenly become viral, and  your blog can experience an enormous amount of traffic. Even though I have put much heavier emphasis on creating quality content for my blog since the beginning of this year, I should not have neglected the power of developing deeper relationships with authority figures in my niche to help in the expansion of this blog in year 2.

If I were to start my blogging journey again from the very beginning, I would place much greater emphasis on networking and linking . Listed below are a couple of steps I would have followed to build up my blog’s visibility through networking and linking:

1. Join twitter as soon as possible. Thanks to twitter I have built up close relationships with many bloggers since I started actively using the service a month ago. If I had put in the same amount of effort from the very beginning of this year I am pretty sure my blog’s traffic would be much higher, I would have had better relationships with  many prominent bloggers and I would hence have developed a channel through which my blog posts could become viral almost instantly.

2. The blogroll on my blog is very weak. It barely includes any of the blogs that I read on a regular basis. Developing a substantial blogroll is another factor that I would pay more attention to if I were starting this blog over again. This way I would appear on the radar of some larger blog sites and it would also help my readers to link to many relevant blogs in the same niche.

3. Commenting is a powerful strategy to bring visibility to one’s blog as well as to integrate it into conversations taking place online. Comments provide a great platform to showcase opinions and suggestions which could help attract new readers to one’s blog as well as develop closer relationships with other bloggers.

These are some straegies that I would use to build stronger networks and deeper relationships with prominent bloggers in my niche. The sooner we begin putting in that extra effort to develop these relationships the sooner we will see results of our blogging effort. If any reader has any good link to articles that discuss linking or networking through blogs I would appreciate it if you could post the links. Thanks.

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Lesson #8: Patience

“Genius is nothing but a great aptitude for patience.” George-Louis de Buffon

Instant results and gratification seem to be the mantra of my generation. It is undoubtedly and definitely nice to get things whenever one wants them. However there is usually a fair amount of work/effort that needs to be put in before you see any tangible results. Blogging works in the same way. Expecting to make 6 figures from your blogging efforts right off the bat is wishful thinking. One can use all the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) tricks out there, but the truth of the matter is, if we want to see sustainable long term results it is only going to be through pure hardwork. It sounds cliche’d as I write this, everyone knows that it takes a lot of effort to do anything of substantial value. What we tend to lose sight of along the way is the patience to hang on to what we are doing. I personally know many individuals who started blogging only to leave the habit a couple of weeks or months later. They may not have got the level of traffic they wanted or made the sort of money they were looking for.

Its quite disheartening to check your stats and see that only 3 other people on the web have read your post. All the hardwork that has been put in still does not us the results we ‘think’ we are due. Here lies the problem, our expectations  from our blog need to be tempered right from the start. If you are really serious about making money or reaching a certain traffic level for your blog then one needs to put in an adequate amount of work. If there is something I have learned over the course of the last year, it has been that making a living solely by blogging is very hard work. It is not impossible, however it requires the same level of persistence, determination and effort that any other startup venture may require.

The beauty of the internet is its ability for the rapid exponential growth of your blog. A blog that is growing at a monthly pace of 10% will see traffic increase steadily through the course of the year and eventually those numbers will begin to multiply. Therefore, focus on your content before anything else, build a group of readers that follow you on a regular basis and continue to grow your base on a steady basis. With good content, regular updating and being relatively proactive through online social mediums you will reach your goal. Just don’t lose hope half way through… success usually comes to those who have the ability to continue hanging on when everyone else has given up.

Related Posts:

5 Steps to Patience

 

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Changes in 2009

“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”

Maria Robinson

At the start of this year I made a resolution to post everyday. A month into posting on a daily basis I realized that I had severely underestimated the effort and time required to post something everyday. Nonetheless I had made a commitment and since I had made it publicly there was no going back. Along the way I adopted the weekly series format which brought structure to my posts and made my job a little easier as I had to focus on coming up with content for one topic weekly. I want to thank all the readers of the blog who continuously provided me with topic ideas and requests.

Now that 2008 is coming to an end, I have decided to discontinue the series format which I had adopted for the greater part of this year. I now plan on blogging between 2-4 times a week. These will usually be about topics of interest or interesting situations as they come up. Apart from blogging, I plan on doing a minimum of 2 book reviews per month. I have got a rather large backlog of books that I need to review. If you would like me to review your book please email me and I will do my best to schedule it in. Lastly, I am toying with the idea of possibly writing a monthly or quarterly case study. This would be based on common situations entrepreneurs find themselves in.

Over the next 4 days I will be blogging on random topics to give readers a taste of what is to come in 2009. The last 10 days of this year will involve the final series of the year which will be about the ten things I have learned from blogging everyday for the past year. Lastly my blog is going to get a major design overhaul in Jan 09. I look forward to your comments and feedback.

I would appreciate if readers of this blog could send me comments or suggestions of what else they would like my blog to include next year. This will help me prioritize and cater content accordingly. Once again thank you for your continued support, I now look forward to another great year with all of you.

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5 Key Non-Financial Metrics

“Companies that establish clear lines of sight to the metrics that matter and then make sure that employee behavior is aligned with those metrics can create enormous value growth.” Tony Siesfeld and John-Paul Pape

Over the past two weeks I have been discussing both financial and non financial metrics. They both have their place in helping manage businesses better. I find non-financial metrics fascinating and am inclined to look at them for guidance in comparison to financial metrics. Unlike financial metrics which are purely numbers performing in different segments, non-financial metrics provide much deeper insights into the inner workings of the business. They help understand why certain financial metrics turn out the way they are and what changes can be brought about to improve them. Some however find safety in numbers and are less inclined to rely on these relatively intangible measures. As entrepreneurs we have to look after the business on multiple fronts. We must have the ability to quickly assess several key components on a regular basis. Outlined below are five relatively generic key non-financial metrics. They can be applied to all sorts of business models to help you gauge the level of progress being made from a dashboard view.

1. Customer Satisfaction: Acquiring a customer is only the first step, providing value and satisfying the customer is where the actual work begins. It is a well known fact that acquiring a new customer is between 5-10 times more expensive than retaining your current customer base. To measure customer satisfaction comprehensively we need to take into account all major touch points where the customer will be interacting with our business. Subsequently we will need to choose several sub metrics such as perceived quality & value, trust and loyalty to accurately gauge their satisfaction levels. These can be measured through a variety of tools such as surveys, focus groups and observations. To learn more please click here.

2. Employee Loyalty: Employee loyalty has been directly linked to the customer’s loyalty and corporate profitability. Whether you are a new start up or an established one, this measure needs to be continuously monitored. From the very beginning employees must be told what to expect when they join the firm. They need to be made part of the inner circle to avoid alienating them. Growth and development opportunities must be presented to keep their motivation levels high and lastly they need to be compensated fairly for the work they are doing. Each one of these sub measures needs to be monitored along with several other key indicators such as burnout thresholds. To learn more please click here.

3. Innovative Index: Innovation is measured very differently in various organizations. I believe innovation relates to the ability of an organization to continuously improve on its existing product/service ranges as well as to develop complementary assets around them which will enhance their core products. This will help create multiple lines of business and will keep the business afloat when a core product faces strong competition or a recessionary pressures. To learn more about this metric please click here.

4. Market Share: There is substantial evidence which states that market share is directly related to ROI. With an increase in market share a business can expect to benefit from economies of scale that ultimately lead to better operating margins. A business therefore becomes stronger by gaining market influencing powers and equipping itself with quality management teams. To measure a business’ market, one needs to first understand the industry, competitors, customers and other market factors which have a direct impact on it. Through the understanding of these measures we can calculate how much the total market is worth and then determine our share. Accordingly we can then measure how we grow market share over a period of time. To learn more about this metric please click here.

5. Execution of Corporate Strategy: Business all comes down to execution. Without this critical component we can make all the plans we want and prepare for every possible scenario and achieve very little. As business owners we set ourselves targets and construct strategies to reach them. The next step requires one to implement strategies through a set of tactics. This is the step that separates the talkers from the doers. Don’t get me wrong, careful planning, thoughtful preparation and taking calculated risks is very important. However it should not restrict someone from taking action. To learn more about this metric please click here.

Listed above are a set of non-financial metrics which I believe can be applied to most business models. Apart from these metrics, a business needs to be careful of other measures which are critical to their particular business model. In the end these metrics should not be the end all and be all of the organization. Their purpose is to primarily provide management with the ability to look at several key segments of the business and get an idea about their performance. I believe the correct use of these metrics helps us not only to become better leaders but also impacts positively and dramatically on the business. I would really like to know what non-financial metrics you are using and which industry you are in. Feedback and comments on the metrics provided above will be greatly appreciated.

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Non-Financial Metric #5: Execution of Corporate Strategy

“There is value in careful planning and thoughtful preparation. However, until there is execution, no plan is flawed; no preparation inadequate. Execution spotlights all.” Chip R. Bell

Business all comes down to execution. Without this critical component we could make all the plans we want and prepare for every possible scenario, but achieve very little. As business owners we set ourselves targets and construct strategies to reach them. The next step requires one to implement these strategies through a set of tactics. This is the step that separates the talkers from the doers. Don’t get me wrong, careful planning, thoughtful preparation and taking calculated risks is very important. However it should not restrict someone from taking action. When it comes to measuring how effective an ability to execute has been, we have to look closely at the following:

1. Goals: As mentioned many times on this blog, to be able to reach our goals they need to be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time specific (SMART). Many times when I have been unable to reach my target goals it has been due to the fact that I left one of these important components out. When this happens there is a complete break down in the execution process as the strategies we select will be flawed and thus will result in the use of inappropriate tactics. Therefore be very clear with the goals and targets which one creates.

2. Strategies: Good strategies comprise of objectives, scope and competitive advantages. Through goals we can establish what the business wants to achieve. For example say, our business wants to increase traffic on our website by 10% over the next quarter. The strategy for such an objective could be something like “increase traffic on our website by 10% over the next quarter by tapping into the the 18-25 demographic in Europe through leveraged relationships with our European affiliates.” If we were to leave the statement at tapping into Europe we would still be missing the “how?”.

3. Tactics: In the last statement we mentioned we would leverage our relationships with our European affiliates. Tactics need to translate this into reality by chalking out ways on how this can be achieved. For example, we could participate in some seminars next quarter in Europe, we could equip our affiliates with additional marketing material or we could even provide greater financial incentive to reach targets. What is important is that our tactics are aligned with our strategies which are aligned with our goals.

At the end if we were not able to reach goals then we need to go back and re-evaluate where we went wrong. This review process needs to take place on a weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly basis. As a startup it is imperative that we continually evaluate how effectively we are executing and where we are facing the biggest impediments. When such a culture of accountability and execution is developed it turns into a huge competitive advantage.

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Non-Financial Metric #4: Market Share

“Failure to gain market share even with superior costs is failure to compete. This failure is also a failure to achieve even lower costs.” Bruce D. Henderson

There is substantial evidence which states that market share is directly related to ROI. With an increase in market share, a business can expect to benefit from economies of scale that ultimately lead to better operating margins. Therefore a business becomes stronger by gaining market influencing powers and equipping itself with quality management teams. Keeping track of market share is an important indicator in evaluating how business stacks up against the competition and how it progresses over time. In the early stages of starting out, a venture market research is a critical component of developing a business plan. This is usually a challenging exercise, because information regarding industries and markets is often not readily available. Listed below are some steps I use to evaluate the market and set market share targets accordingly:

1. The Industry: One needs complete information regarding growth rates of a particular industry. What are it’s historic trends? What were the revenue figures for the segment? Have any major technological innovations taken place in it recently? Is the industry very segmented? These are some preliminary questions of interest and importance when looking at an opportunity in a particular industry.

2. Competitors: This is an important segment, one in which you need to document as many direct and indirect competitors in the market place as possible. Look at their teams, products/services, pricing and any other marketing collateral which you can find. Remain constantly vigilant about your competitors, this is a must for any company regardless of size. Create document files which can be referenced easily, this will come in handy during later sections, when you are positioning and promoting your product as well.

3. Customers: Evaluate the target demographic that is going to be targeted. Is the segment growing? What are the current options that they are using in place of the product/service you will provide? How are they currently purchasing the product/service?

4. Market Factors: Are there any external factors which have a deep impact on your target market? These can be government policies, market consolidation and volatile raw material costs. The presence of these factors can have a substantial impact on your target market and must be taken into account.

Ultimately approximate size of market will be gauged. The most common metrics used for broad approximations are, sales by revenue & sales by volumes. Once we know an approximate size of the market we can set targets for ourselves. This metric can then be tracked periodically to ensure that we stay on course and alert to any fundamental market changes.

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Non-Financial Metric #3: Innovativeness Index

“Innovation is ultimately not an act of intellect but of will.” Joseph Schumpeter

How do we measure innovation? Unfortunately there is no one framework which is used universally to measure innovation. Innovation according to Wikipedia means “a new way of doing something. It may refer to incremental, radical, and revolutionary changes in thinking, products, processes, or organizations. A distinction is typically made between Invention, an idea made manifest, and innovation, ideas applied successfully.” The stress is on the actual application of the idea. Without taking action we could talk about theoretical models and concept all we want, but without tangible output, innovation does not take place.

I believe Google is an innovative enterprise. Successful products such as gmail, chrome and orkut were all created in the 15% innovation time that all employees are given. They are all motivated to put their ideas into action, and then see the response it receives. Much of the time these initial attempts will be inferior to products which may be in the market. In this case Hotmail, FireFox and Friendster were all established players in the industries they were targeting. Nonetheless, they put their products out there and continued to improve on them. There were several products which did not achieve any critical mass and they were discontinued. The important thing is that a shot was taken. As an entrepreneur we have to take calculated risks and continue pushing our products/services out of their comfort zone.

Some useful sub metrics I use to measure an organization’s innovative index are:

1. Incremental Changes: How a business continues to improve its product/service is an important component of innovation. Once again, if you take Gmail for example, they continue to add new features which may have been requested by users or deemed necessary to enhance the user experience. Recently they integrated the ability to use video within the service, canned messages to enable faster replies and new themes to make the interface look unique. Set benchmarks for your products/services and then track what those changes do in terms of traffic, sales and profitability.

2. New Products/Services: I am a big fan of creating complementary assets around core business units which are performing well. Not only does this provide further advantages to continue using the core product but it opens up the ability to leverage on the successful product/service to launch others. Also one can measure how many new products/enhancements are in the pipeline and when they are expected to be released.

Depending on the type of organization that you are part of, one will need to come up with relevant sub metrics to calculate the innovative index. While I was searching for models I came across a great article written by the author of Freakonomics Stephen J Dubner called “How can we measure innovation?“. The article includes answers from many well known authors and industry leaders. I strongly recommend reading the entire article. It provides a point of view from individuals with very different backgrounds and can help you find the right metrics for your business model.

Related Posts:

Assessing innovation metrics: McKinsey Global Survey Results

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