Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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

5 Common Entrepreneurial Frustrations

“All that is necessary to break the spell of inertia and frustration is to — act as if it were impossible to fail.” Dorothea Brande

Lets face it, we all have days when things do not go as planned. We only know they did not go as planned, because we have something to compare them with…… days, everything went right. To experience life to its fullest we have to see it from all perspectives. The way we handle difficult situations shapes the course of our lives. Some of us choose the easier option, and do not experience life to its fullest, by preventing ourselves to be placed in vulnerable situations . If you are contemplating taking the path of entrepreneurship,  handling being placed in these awkward situations is what it is all about. Below I have listed five common frustrations which I  have experienced on my journey;

1. Idea Generation: This process can be extremely frustrating for individuals or teams if dragged over a long period of time . This is an important stage and opportunity, to gather all those thoughts in your head, put them onto a piece of paper and make sense of them. This process requires continuous action, it cannot be limited to a conference room! To read more about the frustrations of idea generation please click here.

2. Lack of Resources: Managing limited resources in a startup is always a challenge. When this challenge begins to hinder your drive and motivation to move forward,  is when frustrations set in. The idea of managing your business with an unlimited budget is an attractive one, it also comes with its own set of challenges. We have to stop blaming the lack of resources as the only reason for lack of success. Success depends on having a good team, good ideas, in the right market. To read more about managing frustrations due to a lack of resources please click here.

3. Team Dynamics: A major sources of frustration for startups arise when teams stop working well together. This often happens with a misalignment of value systems and goals. Couple this situation with poor leadership, and frustrations are bound to run high. Team development from the onset is a very important aspect of getting the success formula right. To read more about how to handle frustrations caused by team dynamics please click here.

4. Lack of Sales: If you have been through the arduous task of writing a business plan, getting a team together, and, despite every effort, have been coming up short, frustration is inevitable. However, if you let this frustration bog you down, it will convert into a continuous downward spiral which could result in eventual failure for your organization. Focusing energy on analysing why this situation occurred will result in more positive and constructive discussions and could solve your particular predicament. To read more on how to handle frustration caused by a lack of sales click here.

5. Time Management: If you constantly feel that you do not have time for the important aspects of your life, there is something very wrong here. The misallocation of precious resources often results in being frustrated, grouchy and generally not very happy about life. We need to learn how to allocate this resource more intelligently to enjoy life. This will only happen when we prioritize aspects which are important to us and allocate time likewise. To read more about handling frustration caused by misallocation of time please click here.

 Letting frustrations bring us down, means, we are essentially giving up on our dreams. It is easy to throw in the towel and blame everyone else for why success is not coming our way. It takes a lot more courage to face adversity head on and tell yourself , “I am going to get through this”. Thats what entrepreneurs are, anomalies in the system, who have the extraordinary ability to adapt and change according to circumstances. The word “quitting” does not exist in our vocabulary, if we decide to get something, then there will be little rest till we reach our end goal. Team squabbles, resources or unfavorable circumstances are tests which we must overcome. The next time you feel frustrated and ask yourself “Why”,  decide what you can do about it, rather than what it is doing to you!

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If only we had more time!

The great dividing line between success and failure can be expressed in five words: “I did not have time.” Franklin Field

Time and its correct management is a frustration felt by people from every walk of life. Time moves at an almost blistering pace, due to which one often loses track of it and suddenly, the day, week, month or even year has passed you by. It is amazing how, with all the conveniences we have in the 21st century, it has somehow managed to shrink the time available to us, rather than increase it. The entrepreneur also faces this challenge, often the inability to correctly manage our time leads to massive amounts of frustration.

Take my own example, I am constantly battling to manage my time across the multiple facets of my life. There are stretches where I experience disconnects from certain aspects of my life. It is not hard to get so caught up in the daily struggle, that you lose sight of the bigger picture. There are a huge number of stories regarding time management, one I read a couple of weeks ago stuck with me. In a nutshell, the story explained how we are often so involved in our lives, that it takes a brick to be thrown at us to slow us down. (Actual Story) What happens is, we forget to live in the present because we are so busy making plans for the future. Whenever I have talked to people who have followed this path, many of them did not get that sense of satisfaction when they eventually made it to the finish line of the race they wanted to win. 

Learn how to balance your life as soon as possible. I have found that people who complain about managing their time, are the ones who do not allocate it usage well . In the end, it comes down to how disciplined you are, and also to realize how precious every moment of life is. When people ask me question about when they should start their own business, I have a standard response in most circumstance….”as soon as possible”. Sitting on the fence ,debating whether to jump in or wait for the “right time” is just an excuse. If you want to find time for something, you have to make a concentrated effort to make it. Otherwise, it will be just another thing which will continue to drag along and frustrate you further.

For those who are currently managing their own business and are finding it difficult to manage time, the first thing you need to do is to take a step back. Find out what you really want to achieve in life, then picture the life that you want to have. Next you will have to see how you prioritize your time according to the life you want to be leading in the future. Learn not to make excuses about not having time for this or that. If that something is a thing you value highly, make sure you make the time. It is only when you find equilibrium in  all aspects of life will you be able to lead a richer, happier and more productive life. If you have not prioritized what is important to you, I would strongly urge you to do that right now and make sure that you allocate your time likewise.

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Why isn’t anyone buying?

“Show me someone who has done something worthwhile, and I’ll show you someone who has overcome adversity.” Lou Holtz

This statement may color and trouble your thoughts, be it in a team discussion or over a cup of coffee with your significant other, and can be a significant driver of frustration on your startup journey. It troubled me greatly at the start of my journey. We would get everything ready, ranging from basic operational procedures to our sales and marketing strategies, however, when we put ourselves out there, no one was biting. Put yourself in the shoes of individuals who have dedicated 6-8 months straight in developing a product/service and get nothing but “maybe’s” during their sales cycle. This is fairly major frustration. This happened to me a couple of times in my earlier ventures and really got to me. It affected both my performance at work as well as my personal life. 

What happens at this point is, we begin to play the blame game. The market is lousy, we don’t have adequate resources, our competition is too strong or we are too inexperienced. This attitude permeates into other areas of life, you are more tense, short tempered and life loses its flavor. All that energy which had you jumping off the walls six months ago seems a distant  memory. What often happens at this point is,  you begin to lose hope and if left unchecked, eventually call it quits. This is a familiar scenario as it has happened to me in the past. Today, I work with a different perspective, slowly realizing that doing business is one thing and doing it successfully requires a completely different level of patience, persistence and belief.

Instead of blaming your circumstances and other factors, there are several more constructive questions and pointers you can look into, to find out the reason your product/service is not hitting your level of expectation:

1. Product/Service: Were your initial market demand estimates overly optimistic? Is the market for your product not as developed as expected? Take all this feedback and put it to use by adjusting your product/service to the market requirement . If the market is completely undeveloped, look for ways you can carve out a niche, if it is cost feasible. Remember to pay attention to both your product, as well as market requirements.

2. Positioning: A lot of the time, due to lack of experience, or market knowledge, we position our product/services towards a wrong segment of the market. If you experience sub par performance, evaluate your current target market to determine if the right one had been selected. Positioning your product towards different segments of the market is also a strategy you can look into. 

3. Pricing: Have you overpriced your product/service? Does the market understand the value that they get for paying a premium price? Getting answers to these questions, from prospects, could help you develop products/services which cater towards their needs as well as an acceptable price level . Have a strategy for the reason you price your product/service a certain way and make sure that it fits into the bigger picture.

4. Promotion: Have you put yourself out there? How are you marketing and promoting your product/service? What strategies have you used and what sort of return have you got on them? What are new strategies you can use to promote your product/service to your target segment. A lot of the time, we forget the fundamentals, promotion must be incorporated into your strategy if you want to drive sales. 

There is no doubt in my mind that you will get frustrated when your sales pipeline is not moving. When this happens, remind yourself, that to achieve great things in life you need to give it your best too. It works hand in hand, a half hearted attempt or lack of belief in the product/service will result in average results which leave you in a state of limbo. Trust me the younger you start on the journey the better, take advantage of fewer responsibilities. Keep in mind, most of the time we quit when we are really close to breaking the barrier holding us back. Do not make that mistake!

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Can we really work together?

  “Coming together is a beginning, Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” Henry Ford

Team work, team work, team work. At the core of any great achievement is a great team. A team who understands each other, brings out the best in each other, challenges each other to go further and motivates each other to take that next big step. To get to a point, where the dynamics of being individuals merge together to become a winning team is often a long and frustrating process. This process occurs in various situations in life, we experience frustration at a number of levels on a daily basis. Dealing with the frustrations of team dynamics in startups however, can be quite complicated. This is true particularly for new ventures where team members have limited experience in handling such situations.

I have worked with startup teams in different capacities. Without a doubt it has been an exciting ride. In retrospect, even though we had our share of awkward and uncomfortable moments, I can not help but look back at all the good times I have had with great satisfaction. Frustrations with team dynamics arise for a host of reasons, some of the more critical ones are outlined below:

1. Misaligned Value Systems: When you have 4 individuals working together, and all four want the same thing, for example “success”, the way they envisage achieving it, can be very different. One individual may believe the way to success is through strong team effort. Another team member may believe however, that the way to success is to work in isolation to allow for greater focus. This team has a major problem on its hands. Find people on your team who share same values, work ethic and belief systems, otherwise, you are in for a bumpy ride.

2. Misalignment of End Goals: When you have 4 people on a team, each of them wanting to go a different direction with the business, you are bound to have major internal conflicts. These can escalate into extremely frustrating situations, being pulled in multiple directions, leaves team members confused and directionless. Your business/venture goals must be clearly defined and have buy-in from the rest of the team. 

3. Poor Leadership: Selecting a CEO or leader is a tough call. Ask 4 guys right out of college and working together this question, this is food for an interesting discussion. In many situations a group leader emerges naturally, he/she has innate characteristics, making them more qualified to take on that position. Make sure however, the team understands the reasons for this selection, and the leader what is expected of him/her. Being selected the leader places great responsibility of steering the ship, most of the time with no compass. Selecting a wrong person as leader, is a sure shot way to red line frustration levels, even to the point where team break down is a real danger.

If there is advice I would really like to give, it is, be as candid as possible when working in a team. Speak your mind without fear of being judged, the worst thing you can do is to bottle up your emotions and concerns, to have them explode later in a messy situation. At the same time, learn to be patient and when you take a stand, make sure it is supported with adequate research and evidence. If you can cross this hurdle, believe me, success is not far away!

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If only we had more resources!

“Money never starts an idea. It is always the idea that starts the money.” Owen Laughlin

Two common scenarios and attitudes take root when entrepreneurs hit a high in frustration. The first scenario is about individuals planning on taking the plunge into entrepreneurship. This group is worrying constantly about the need to have lots of money and resources in place to start the business. They start using this as a scapegoat for delaying the decision to get into business. Frustration levels build up as they continuously play the  “if only I had some money” refrain in their head. In such a situation however, frustration is often a natural by-product. What I recommend to this group is, stop complaining, cross this initial barrier and write down what they want to do and how much money they would need realistically. Sometimes the obvious becomes blurred with too many things clouding judgement. 

The second scenario concerns entrepreneurs in the initial phases of development. This is before raising sufficient capital, when they realize how much more they could do, if only they had more resources. The focus switches away from the current situation and the “what if’s”  take over. Once again frustration levels begin to hit high levels when they start feeling that their office space is too small, marketing budget too limited and that they are sacrificing their time, which has a high opportunity cost. I have experienced this situation many a time. I am sure many entrepreneurs feel this way as well. Being lucky enough to reach the flip side when resources are plentiful, helps you remember those early days fondly. Those days do teach you the value of time and money, in a way few other experiences can match. Use them to learn, and prove to yourself that you have what it takes to succeed.

In both scenarios frustration causes a change in focus, away from the end goal. Instead of using this opportunity as an opportunity and learning experience, we tend to blame our circumstances. In reality, there is a lot of money out there, searching for a good team, a good idea, in the right market. These three factors are pre-requisites that need to be in place before, you get access to those resources. Channel all that frustrated energy positively, to help you achieve those pre-requisites as early as possible, soon you will be well on your way. As a bonus, stories of surviving on maggi noodles and 4×4 shared office spaces or garages are always a lot more interesting to relive and share! 

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5 steps to a balanced life

“Life at any time can become difficult: life at any time can become easy. It all depends upon how one adjusts oneself to life.” Anonymous

During this series, several factors were discussed which are often taken for granted in the course of our chaotic lives today. A lot of the time we forget the simple things which, not only help us to get from one day to the next  but which keep us anchored, healthy and motivated to continue doing what we do. I hope some of the things discussed this week will help you enjoy a more balanced and healthy life;

1. Diets: Diets tend to be one of the first things which go out of whack when we enter very ‘busy’ periods in our life. The effect of this however is felt on all aspects of our life. It is unhealthy, productivity goes down and we just don’t feel that great about ourselves. We have to do all we can to keep this aspect in check at all times for a more balanced life. To read more tips and suggestions on keeping a balanced diet please click here.

2. Sleep: A lack of rest can impact severely on the quality of life. When you are working on complex deals which are extremely draining, having a set routine for sleep can dramatically increase your productivity, motivation and overall drive. To read more tips and suggestions on developing a balanced sleeping routine please click here.

3. Exercise Routine: Lethargy and restlessness can result from being pent up in an office all day long. The body needs a release outlet to get some fresh air into the system. Developing and sticking to an exercise routine can be a challenge, however, if you do set one for yourself you will be pleasantly surprised with the outcome. To read more tips and suggestions on sticking to your exercise routine please click here.

4. Family and Friends: In life we need anchors to keep us rooted and prevent us from drifting too far off course. Family and friends are one of these anchors and help us do just that. Sometimes when we are caught up in our busy lives we forget how important they are to us. In order to have a balanced lifestyle we need to focus on stuff other than, bottom line results and material acquisitions, we need to focus on the things which really matter. To read more about keeping in touch please click here.

5. Inspirational Story: A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and empty jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was….To read the entire story please click here.

In life , we are all intent on reaching our goals and acheiving our dreams. Along this journey, life…happens, and we tend to get busy with the details and the little things. Soon, if we haven’t paid too much attention to the bigger picture we may find ourselves in a place we do not want to be. Don’t let that happen. From time to time come up for air and see if you are moving in the right direction before it is too late to turn around. 

p.s stop along the way, periodically, to smell the roses and actually enjoy the ride . 

 

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An Inspirational Story

“Life is made up of small pleasures. Happiness is made up of those tiny successes. The big ones come too infrequently. And if you don’t collect all these tiny successes, the big ones don’t really mean anything.” Norman Lear

I was told this story a long time ago and I realize that the factors which we have discussed in this series and this story, are intertwined. I hope you all enjoy it and learn from it as much as I have.

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and empty jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was. So the professor then picked up a box of small pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous “Yes.” The professor then produced two cans of beer from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

“Now”, said the professor, as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things – your family, your children, your health, your friends, your favorite passions – things that, if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house, your car.

The sand is everything else – the small stuff. If you put the sand into the jar first” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out to dinner. There will always be time to clean the house, and fix the rubbish. Take care of the golf balls first, the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand”.

 

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Friends and Family

“There are the families that we are born into, and there are the families that we choose; our circle of friends. While their faces may change over the course of our lives, the joy they bring us remains constant.” Anonymous

Anchors are used to stabilize ships during choppy times, control speed and even provide directional control. When a ship loses its anchor, it tends to drift into unchartered territories without being aware of the direction the ship is taking. If the anchor is not restored, you may move so much off track that finding your way back sometimes take a lifetime. 

In life, family and friends provide your ship with a similar kind of anchor. They help keep you grounded, provide support and allow you to remember where you come from and the value system you represent. This is a critical aspect of our identity, I am however often surprised how life has this uncanny ability to make us forget our true anchors and drift unknowingly wherever the wind takes us. We get so busy and caught up in our lives, we forget to pay attention to the little things in life that matter and find ourselves having lost our way to what really matters the most . 

During periods where we are working 16-18 hour a day for extended periods of time this bond between family and friends gets strained. What I have come to realize is that we do not need to do much to keep this relationship alive. A phone call or an email goes a long way in just letting the people you care about know that you are well and thinking of them . Facebook now allows us to stay in touch and has made it very easy to do so. With all these convenience which are only a click away we still make excuses and do not make that phone call or send that email or even leave a message. I know I have been guilty of this in the past and looking back, I don’t know why it was so hard.

We all work really hard at achieving the goals we set out for ourselves. What I am learning is, that along the way we have to pay much closer attention to the world around us today. There will be very little satisfaction in getting everything you want if you then find that when you get there, no one is around to celebrate your success with. 

 

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5 steps to follow when doing business with family or friends

It is an immutable law in business that words are words, explanations are explanations, promises are promises but only performance is reality. Harold S. Geneen

Getting into business is like all other major decisions you have to make in life. Like all complicated decisions there are factors which tend to have a more pronounced impact on the decision. Going into business with friends and family is one of those factors. In my experience these tend to be a lot trickier than standard business agreements because they come with their own baggage. Over the years I have been adviced and have learned how to deal effectively with the issues that arise when you go into such a business venture. I hope this will be of some help to you if you are planning on getting into business as well. If there are any other factors which you think should be included in this list please let me know.

  • Business Plan Development: Never fall into the trap of getting started with ‘just’ a business idea. Sure you have a greater level of trust with your business partner but that does not mean you would exclude putting down on paper what it is that you plan on achieving through this business. The process of putting down on paper what your idea is, clarifies it, identifies key areas which you need to work on and possible pitfalls you may face. This is a step which needs to be taken before you start any venture. To read more about business plan development please click here.
  • Commitment Levels: With a business plan in place you will now be able to judge with greater certainty how much money, time and effort is going to be required by the business. You need to put down clear parameters at this stage as to what each partner is supposed to do. This level of commitment needs to be clarified from the start or you will have an unbalanced partnership which leads to a multitude of problems further down the line. To read more about how to set commitment levels please click here.
  • Candor: Establish a culture where candour needs to be an integral part of the venture. The worst thing you can do for yourself and your business would be to keep all the things you want to say to yourself. This will lead to frustration, under performance and morale issues which can jeopardize the success of the business. A culture where you can be open, state your opinions and be comfortable will help you form a considerable competitive advantage and will enable your company to make difficult decisions with a lot more ease. To read more about candor please click here.
  • Noise Levels: When you set to do business with friends/family you need to keep external noise levels under strict controls. Noise levels refers to the interference in the business by members of your family or friends. When we divulge too much information outside the core group it ultimately comes back to the core group in a completely changed form. This could lead to several problems between partners, frustrate the team and affect the overall morale. To learn more about how to keep noise levels at your company please click here.
  • Equity Splits: This is an issue which is at the core of most problems which are faced by all companies but more so in businesses where friends and family are involved. We tend to be a lot more generous just because a business partner is a cousin, friend or relative. You need to correctly assess what the partners contribution will be and then use a simple model to figure out how much the partners stake is actually worth. To read more about the formula to calculate a fair equity split please click here.

Doing business is tough, especially when it involves family and friends. These couple of steps should provide a basis for a solid framework which would help you work through problems in a structured and fair manner. These steps should be taken as a frame of reference and can be adjusted for your actual scenario. If you require any advice or feedback please let me know and I will do my best to see if I could be of any assistance.

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Noise Levels

“Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.” Max Erhman

When I refer to noise I am referring to the level of direct or indirect involvement of people from outside the core team. In my experience noise level reach unacceptable levels especially in family/friend businesses, when you share information regarding progress, performance and difficulties you are facing with your immediate circle. It starts with you sharing with your wife, girl friend, mother, father or other, how person X is just not pulling their weight in the team thereby causing problems. This then turns into the game, telephone , the next person who hears about it will get a distorted version and it continues to become worse. The problem now is, that if it is a family business or close friends, this news is going to get around and things then tend to get ugly between you and partner X.

The same also holds true if you are going through a dry patch and facing some cyclical difficulties with your business. Over the years I have incorporated a much higher level of candor in the organizations I work with, to keep the level of noise to the bare minimum. This factor needs to be controlled very tightly to insure the livelihood of the team as a whole. All partners especially if they are closely related should keep strict controls on what is to be shared outside of the core group. It is has dramatically relieved stressed levels and has made everyone more comfortable with talking things out among each other.

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