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 Manage Startup Risk

“I think that only daring speculation can lead us further and not accumulation of facts.” Albert Einstein

In the first post of this series, I added a video which stated life = risk. If we shield ourselves from all sorts of risks by staying in our small comfort zone we will not be living life fully. It is our perrogative to find a balance to ensure that we live life to its fullest. The points below relate how to find that balance when starting a business.

1. Market Risk: Our world is in a constant state of flux and with mind boggling technological advancements taking place, we have to be constantly aware of the changes taking place around us. This requires us to monitor our competitors, be in touch with our customers and suppliers, and watch for trends which could potentially make your business extinct. To read more about how to manage market risk please click here.

2. Operational Failure: All companies operate on a set of processes. These processes drive all avenues of business, ranging from Internal operations, business development, sales, marketing and execution to name a few critical functions. When these processes are not optimized or closely scrutinized a business will not be able to scale effectively and reach its target goals. To read more about how you can avoid operational failure please click here.

3. Financial Risk: Without financial controls a business loses its foundation and is on shaky grounds even when the company is making steady profits. Ensuring that you have sound and reliable financial controls in place will allow you to minimize your exposure to financial risks and allow your business to grow more effectively. To read about how you can add financial controls to your startup please click here.

4. The People Risk Factor: You hear it all the time, “Our people are our most important asset”. Its like a mantra that has been wedged into our sub conscious and is constantly repeated from board meetings to your daily staff meetings. However, I am always surprised that though this is such an important asset, very few steps and measures are taken to mitigate the risk associated with this asset. To read more about how you can add effective control measures to mitigate these risks please click here.

5. Lessons in Risk: Having been in this line of work for some time now there have been several risk factors which I have witnessed or experienced first hand. These cover the time you should start, what the risks of starting without a plan are and the kind of risks you have to deal with on a daily basis. To read more about these lessons please click here.

In life and business, if you stop taking calculated risks, or if you let doubt  paralyze you, moving forward becomes close to impossible. It is only when you make mistakes that you learn from them and eventually move forward. Along the way we have to manage the types of risk faced and ensure that we take precautionary measures to avoid risking it all if we do not know where we are headed. Once you know what you want and how you want to get it, take action , because thinking ‘what if’ is just about the worst thing you could do to yourself!

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Personal Experiences With Risk

“Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.” Paulo Coelho

The risks mentioned in prior posts provide a framework on mitigating risk in various divisions of business. Some of the risks and counter measures mentioned in this post are general and some those I have personally encountered during my journey as an entrepreneur. 

1. Start as early as possible: The younger you are , the lower the  risk level when embarking on new startup ventures. This is a point in life when you do not have many personal responsibilities and can hence take on greater leveraged risks, for greater payoffs. There will never be a right time. If you wait around for it, you drastically reduce the level of risk you can take . 

2. Don’t start without a plan: Starting a business is a lot of fun and very exciting, however, if you do not have a solid business plan which has been well researched and developed, get working on that first. I am not a fan of shotgun startup ventures who are clueless about where they want to go and how they plan on getting there. 

3. Learn to trust your gut: There will be times when the plans looks too good to be true on paper, but your gut feeling is to be wary. On the other hand ,there are times when the pieces do not fit into place initially, yet, your gut says this is worth exploring. Learning to trust your gut allows you to hone into your inner guidance system and intuitive capabilities.

4. Don’t forget your core values: We are constantly faced with challenges where compromising on core values could lead to substantial benefits. However, going down that path poses great personal and moral risk . I have personally known someone who went down this path and ended up losing everything that mattered in his life. It was an incident which left a deep impression. Compromising on core values is one of the greatest risks you can take and one where the consequences are long lasting & long term.

Some of the concepts mentioned in this posts have many counter arguments. Such as the first one, which is to start early. Some argue that it is better to get some work experience before venturing out into the startup world. Others believe in just starting a business and hoping to eventually make some money. I would really like to hear what your thoughts about this are. Look forward to hearing from you.

 

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The People Risk Factor

Our mission statement about treating people with respect and dignity is not just words but a creed we live by every day. You can’t expect your employees to exceed the expectations of your customers if you don’t exceed the employees’ expectations of management.” Howard Scultz

You hear it all the time, “Our people are our most important asset”. Its like a mantra that has been wedged into our sub conscious and is constantly repeated from board meetings to your daily staff meetings. However, I am always surprised that though this such an important asset, very few steps and measures are taken to mitigate the risk associated with this asset. As a startup this is one of the most dangerous sort of risk we are exposed to, due primarily to our size. When a critical team member or employee leaves, the entire business can be brought to its knees. Listed below are a couple of risk control measures you can use to protect this asset .

1. Strict selection policies: At early stages, startups are usually 2-3 individuals who know each other and are comfortable spending days on end locked up in an office, working on the next big idea. Adding new partners or employees represents a large undertaking, and requires serious looking into . If you make the mistake of adding the wrong individual, productivity in the office takes a nose dive and the cost of replacing the employee is high. So use this list along with your own requirements to ensure that you select carefully.

2. Ironclad contracts for new employees: A lot of private data is shared regarding costing, pricing and internal processes with new employees. Many startup companies fail to get employees to sign non compete and confidentiality clauses. The risk of losing an employee to a competitor with your trade secrets represents a phenomenally large risk against which you should take counter measures .

3. Quarterly one of one reviews: I usually have quarterly reviews with most of the individuals whom I work closely with . This is an open and candid session where I learn about their level of satisfaction, frustrations and other problem which may be hindering them from performing up to mark. These sessions provide critical feedback and allow you to take precautionary measures to ensure you do whatever is necessary to retain your most talented performers.

4. Provide training and development: Most startups run on strict financial budgets, however if they have used strict budgeting controls as stated in my previous post, a budget for training and development should be in place to provide your team with training ,which will help improve their productivity and skills. This helps in creating stronger bonds between management and employees. It also increases the overall morale and productivity levels of the organization.

5 Fair rewards & recognition: If your team is generating high levels of growth for your organization they need to be compensated fairly. In some startup companies, which are not heavily venture backed this can be a challenge as funds are usually very tight. However, management needs to ensure that performance and rewards are tightly linked. If they are not, you stand a high level of risk to lose your rainmakers. To read more about rewards and recognition please click here.

We have to do whatever is necessary to ensure that we cater to our team wherever possible. It is a difficult juggling act to manage expectations and requirement, at the same time maintaining an environment where productivity and morale is high. If not correctly maintained there can be nasty repercussions which can bring your organization to a standstill and expose it to extremely high levels of risk. However if it is correctly managed, this asset becomes your organization’s competitive advantage, and paves the way for greater achievements.

 

 

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Financial Risk

“Before you can really start setting financial goals, you need to determine where you stand financially.” David Bach

In most businesses I have been part of todate I have been lucky to have partners who excelled in the field of financial control. Over the years I have come to realize that without these controls a business loses its foundation and is on shaky grounds even when the company is making steady profit. Once you have a financial accounting system in place and have reliable data regarding the forecasts, budgets and the companiy,s cash flow, your teams gains a morale boost knowing that the business is supported by strong numbers and an understanding of the numbers that have to be hit to keep everyone afloat. Listed below are a couple of a pointers which formulate the basis of this foundational core to reduce the risk of your business going under, due to lack of financial control.

1. Using an accounting system: One of the first things you need to do if your business has a sizable inflow and outflow of finances is to buy an accounting system. For those without financial background this provides a professional framework to operate in and to record in detail the financial health of your business. I have used Quickbooks  and it has proved to be a relatively simple and robust accounting system.

2. Forecasting: This provides the business with goals and direction and an outlook for goals that need to be realistically achieved. Doing yearly and quarterly forecasts provides the team with numbers that need to be hit to ensure steady and profitable growth. Without them, you are aimlessly wandering from quarter to quarter and never really hit any targets. Most importantly your goals must be SMART, setting unrealistic expectations will only result in decreased morale.

3. Budgeting: If you have set forecasts and goals for the company, they must be adequately supported by funds to ensure they are met. This is difficult for early stage startups and one of the primary reasons so many venture backed companies burn through their initial funding. There need to be strict controls to ensure that you use your budget as a control measure thereby avoiding hemorrhaging cash through miscellaneous expenses which are fund consuming .

4. Cash flow: The inflow of funds in your business must exceed the outflow . Even though the concept of cash flow is simple to understand, it is a  primary reason why many small business fail. By not correctly managing the flow of funds you will be placed in awkward situations where you will not be able to meet expenses. Review your policies on customer credit and negotiate favorable terms with your suppliers. Keep checking that your expenses are being matched by your revenue and if possible, develop a cash cushion to weather you through the difficult times.

If you have not implemented these basic controls at your startup, I strongly suggest that you take steps to integrate them into your daily operations. This will help provide everyone in the team with a transparent picture of the health of the company. Initially it will take  time to set up all the controls and will take some getting used to. However it will be well worth the effort. Take control of your finances today because lack of financial control should not be the reason you go out of business!

 

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