Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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

5 Steps to Better Startup Leadership

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There is a school of thought which believes that leaders are born, not made. Others believe the same applies to entrepreneurs. I have yet to see any conclusive evidence to support these claims. I am a firm believer that, with enough passion, hard work and ambition, anyone can achieve what they set out to do. Wanting to become a great leader is undoubtedly a most challenging task. Volumes have been written about leadership skills and how to develop them. However, inspiration and understanding concepts from books will only get you so far. If you really want to test your abilities and believe that you have what it takes to be a leader, you must stand up and take responsibility. It is all about being action oriented and wanting to bring out the best in the people who work with you. 

Over the course of the week I have written about five areas I believe younger startup leaders need to become more effective in. I have seen the positive impact on a team’s productivity, motivation and drive when a leader has focused on the following segments:

1. Vision Development: As a leader, it is your initial responsibility to create a vision with your team, one which is strongly rooted in SMART goals. The team must feel and think that the vision is achievable, and know what action steps need to be taken to reach it. It is only when a vision statement becomes more than a piece of paper, will we actually see a boost in productivity of the overall team. To read more about the importance of creating a vision please click here.

2.  Leaders Attitude: A leader’s attitude is usually the defining difference between a good team and a great team. With the right attitude, we assist the team break down mental barriers which may be holding them back, take away the fear of making mistakes and generally help them push themselves further. Pay closer attention to attitude, it should result in a team having higher productivity,and being more motivated and driven to reach their goals. To read more about the importance of a leader’s attitude please click here.

3. Culture of Candor: The ability to express one’s thoughts, opinions and concerns, free from discrimination is something I believe needs to be infused into every team. As a leader, there must be a focus on breaking down psychological barriers which may be holding certain team members back. Being candid allows the team to work more effectively, brings more ideas to the tables as well as issues which may be disrupting the team internally, to the forefront. To learn more about the importance of candor please click here.

4. Resource Allocation: During your startup journey, you will need to make several key decisions regarding resource allocation. A startup without proper allocation of resources, ends up in difficult situations, which may result in layoffs, discontinuing product/services, drop in quality, overburdening of some assets and may even require shutting the business down as a whole. As a leader, it is your responsibility to put systems into place to allocate resources optimally through a structured and rigorous processes, while keeping in mind the larger picture. To learn more about the importance of resource allocation please click here.

5. Team Management: This segment involves more than just making sure everyone on the team is happy or motivated. It requires the leader to take responsibility to develop structured processes to handle recruitment, evaluations, firing and conflict management. As a leader we have to be constantly in touch with our team and the challenges they face, to ensure we do whatever it takes to help them reach their potential. To learn more about the importance of team management please click here.

Undoubtedly the startup leader is in for a lot of surprises. The aim of this series was to equip new startup leaders with some broad guidelines of areas they should be focusing on. I strongly believe that when enough hard work is put into the development of the segments outlined above, they will definitely have a positive impact on the team and the business as a whole. It is important that you enjoy your journey both as an entrepreneur and a leader. I wish you the best of luck in your future entrepreneurial ventures.

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Managing the Team

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We hear it all the time “People are our most important strategic asset”, it is like a mantra of the business world today, repeated by CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies and new startups alike. However, if  you get down to gauge what leaders and managers are actually doing, to develop and nurture these assets, the standard response includes; our focus is on training and development, creating a conducive work environment or, helping the team achieve a work/life balance. After which there is usually a change of subject, and the topic switches to more ‘exciting’ matters, such as, their latest technology innovation. This has been my personal experience with many leaders and managers. I feel they are missing critical components of what it takes to develop and grow a team. 

I believe the reason too much attention is not spent on the function of ‘HR’, is due to the fact that it’s results are intangible in the short term. What is the ROI of $X on training & development in a year? How does a more rigorous performance management system impact productivity? These are difficult questions to answer. However, trends are now becoming clearly apparent that senior management across the world are beginning to understand the importance of management of this asset. In the coming years, I expect to see radical transformations in this field. So, how does all of this impact a leader of a startup organization? 

As a startup leader, one has to play multiple roles. One of the key roles is to focus on being responsible for the management of your team to the best of your abilities. Until you can afford a good HR resource, this is a responsibility that falls in your scope of work. A couple of key areas where a startup leader should spend time during the early stages of the organization are:

1. Hiring: This component encompasses adding new people to the team, evaluating prospective partners and even vendor selection. In the beginning, adding an additional resource to say a team of 4, is a substantial percentage increase in head count. This resource will have a deep impact on the rest of the team and requires careful selection. As a leader, you are responsible for coming up with basic job descriptions, required competencies and the preferred type of personality needed for the role. Learn to trust your gut instincts as they are usually right. Develop a structured process for the hiring and evaluation stage to streamline future requirements when the team is growing at a faster pace.

2. Evaluation: When we think performance reviews, many imagine complicated forms which take forever to complete, and have no real impact on the individual. This is very true of a lot of performance review processes found in many organizations. I like to keep things simple, a couple of questions relating to past performance, areas where development is required, issues brought up by other team members is all that is needed. I think it is important to have metrics in place which can tell your team members how they are doing and where they need to develop. Develop a short evaluation form and conduct them candidly every quarter if possible.

3. Firing: This is a tough one. I am not comfortable with the firing process yet, it is however an important aspect of being a leader. When a team member, whether a partner or an employee, in spite of repeated reminders and warnings regarding performance or behavior, does not change, a difficult decision needs to be made. This process becomes easier if you have a culture of candor present in your team. One needs to communicate the basis of the decision clearly and be firm. One bad team member is all it takes to drastically reduce productivity and team spirit. The sooner these situations are handled the better.

As a leader it is your responsibility to be in touch with your team constantly. This helps to understand where they need assistance, what their concerns are, as well as be a source of inspiration and guidance. If  all we do is keep paying lip service to ‘developing our most strategic asset’, the team will not be able to reach its potential and we would not have fulfilled our duties as a leader. 

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5 Steps to Patience

“Patience is waiting. Not passively waiting. That is laziness. But to keep going when the going is hard and slow – that is patience.” Anonymous

When we read about the lives of great men and women, we find a common thread in their stories. That thread is patience. In today’s day and age of instant gratification, patience levels are at a steep decline. Too many people are moving too fast, too soon. Their lives are checkered with dissatisfaction and frustration. Lack of patience has a definite impact on the entrepreneurial journey as well. If wanting it all yesterday is a priority, this path does not have what you are looking for. Patience is a virtue which cannot be learned through text books or courses, it is acquired through experience. We are all constantly placed in situations where our patience is tested, the manner in which we choose to react to these situations, determines our patience tolerance level.

Listed below are five steps to understanding situations where patience is tested, and sequential consequences if patience is not exercised:

1. Strategic Indecision: Instant success for entrepreneurial start-ups is a rare anomaly. If you embark on this journey, make sure you realize it is for the long haul. It will require remaining committed to your strategy, and to constantly adapt it to market demands. Inability to adapt and change will give rise to growing impatience which will impact negatively on your business. To read more about patience and strategic indecision please click here.

2. Marketing Results: The secret behind companies who market themselves successfully, is patience. Once they formulate a strategy, they remain committed to carrying it out to the end. Do your best to remain consistent in the messages you send out and ensure you send them out regularly. Once the messages are out there, be patient, results will follow, in time! To learn more about marketing and patience please click here.

3. Handling Customers: Prospects and customers have an uncanny ability for getting under your skin, often driving you close to insanity. It is important to learn to keep one’s composure when dealing with difficult customers. There are several strategies which can be employed to help relieve some of the frustration, these include correct identification of prospects, using CRM software and having disqualification processes. To learn in greater detail about customer handling strategies please click here.

4. Employees: Managing employees effectively requires great levels of patience. They can be a handful, specially when the organization is growing rapidly and micro management is not an option. To help develop  patience levels for this, learning to set realistic expectations and providing continuous feedback is vital. To learn in greater detail strategies for management of employees please click here.

5. PRICE of Impatience: The price of impatience is, pain, regret, irritation, close-mindedness and becoming emotional. Each one of these can have a defining impact on your business, team and relationships. By not developing adequate tolerance levels to handle the complexities of business, reaching one’s goal can be a challenging process. It is important we learn to ask ourselves “Can I afford the price of my impatience?”. To learn more about the price of impatience please click here.

Developing a high threshold of patience, helps make the difficult challenges we face daily, more manageable. It enables us to enjoy life in a more fulfilling and satisfied manner, which in turn helps us to go on to achieve great things. Everyone will have moments, when lack of patience gets the better of them, keeping these incidents to a minimum, and being vigilant and pro-active about such lapses is essential. It is only when we become aware of patience thresholds, can we work to keep increasing them.

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The Price of Impatience

“One moment of patience may ward off great disaster.  One moment of impatience may ruin a whole life.” Chinese Proverb

This week we discussed several scenarios where patience is tested on the entrepreneurial journey. For the last post of this series I will focus on the ‘price’ we pay for lack of patience. Understanding the price of impatience is as important as developing patience. All of us have experienced instances where our patience gave way, and we did or said things which impacted negatively on our life and caused regret. What is important, is that we learn from these temporary lapses and ensure they do not occur again. If we don’t, we run the risk of always being angry, upset and dissatisfied with the progress of our growth. 

Outlined below is what I define the PRICE of impatience to be:

1. Pain: Whenever we lose patience, we cause pain to both affected parties. Often, this is embedded in our subconscious and a recall of that memory, can be a painful experience. There are times when a degree of pain helps us realize all that we should be grateful for. Too much pain however, can be the cause of major instability in life.

2. Regret: Sometimes during lapses of patience, we find ourselves doing and saying things, we would never do ordinarily. It all happens so quickly, and we only begin to understand its impact after everything is said and done. That is when the regret sets in, and if we fail to move forward at this point, it has a domino effect on the self. Regret about something which happened in the past is definitive only by the lesson we learn from it, we must learn to avoid acting in a similar manner again.

3. Irritation: Patience and irritation are negatively correlated, when patience is on the decrease we experience a heightened level of irritation. Nothing and nobody seems to be right anymore. It is like a virus that drains energy out of a team. We have to keep this emotion in check constantly when we are running low on patience, it is one of the easiest ones to give into. 

4. Close-minded: When we lose patience, it is like a switch goes off and blocks everything around us. We become increasingly selfish in our outlook and begin to believe that only we know how to do anything right. This is a dangerous path to tread, the price we pay for this attitude is a serious one. 

5. Emotional: We lose our patience and suddenly, all logic and rationale goes out the window and we find ourselves making emotional decisions. These are usually clouded with the false notion that we know best. This also triggers our saying and doing things that have the ability to cause pain and suffering to those around us. Is a lapse in patience really worth destroying something you may have spent a lifetime nurturing? 

Whenever you find yourself in a position where your patience is wearing thin, ask yourself the following question: “Can I afford the price of my impatience?”. It is important to take into account the larger picture. If we do not, our outlook will remain selfishly restricted to me, myself and I. Is it really worth it?

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Employees and Patience

“The five steps in teaching an employee new skills are preparation, explanation, showing, observation and supervision.” Bruce Barton

Two characteristics often found in entrepreneurs is, the need for perfectionism and control. When teams are small, this works to their advantage, however, when business expands, these characteristics tend to be more disruptive by nature. For example, when the business starts to grow, it is inevitable that more resources will need to be hired to keep up with growth. The selection process itself is a difficult process for start-ups with limited experience. The real fun begins when you have these new resources on board and most of the time, they don’t know what they signed up for. Earlier on, I expected the same work ethic, dedication and sacrifices from them as I did of myself. That didn’t go so well, I soon found myself getting impatient as I had set unrealistic expectations. My perception of the scenario was biased, in the process I lost many good people. I learned a thing a two about patience during this time.

Some of the key things to keep in mind next time you feel your patience wearing thin are:

1. Set Realistic Expectations: To expect the people who work for you, to make the same level of sacrifices that you may be making is not correct. From the word go, we have to temper our expectations and more importantly, outline them before you start the selection process. This way, while recruiting there will be more detail, which will help the prospect to make a more informed decision. Keeping broad guidelines for what you want from an employee, will result in both sides being negatively effected.

2. Holding Hands: The on-boarding process takes time, this is the time to help the employee make necessary adjustments to fit into the organization. Bring them up to speed with the projects they will be working on and acquaint them with all the set processes. It takes an average of 1-2 months to bring an employee up to speed, till they start contributing to their potential. Make sure you help them as much as possible to speed up the process.

3. Feedback: We are all human and we all make mistakes sometimes. Instead of coming down hard on an employee regarding their work ethic, performance or behavior, provide feedback on steps to take to bring about positive change. Doing this effectively takes time and a lot of patience. Even when they mess up the proposal, don’t do a good job at that presentation or keep coming late to work, provide them with timely feedback. 

These are simple steps to take, to help become more patient with your employees. Incorporate them into your organization and see increased performance results, calmer working environment and a motivated workforce. Along the way, you will develop the patience required, to scale the business further and help manage people all over the globe. Remember, it is not possible to do everything ourself. Learn to sacrifice a little bit of that perfectionism and control, it will go a long way, in the larger scheme of things. 

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5 Steps to Hiring Better

“Hiring good people is hard. Hiring great people is brutally hard.” Jack Welch

Hiring great people is very difficult, however we have to make sure that we do all that is possible to make the process as streamlined and efficient as possible. Once you achieve that, it will be much simpler for you to identify the good from the bad and more importantly the good from the great. Outlined below is a framework to help you get started:

1. Company Frameworks: Before setting out to hire someone to be part of the team you need to analyze the current environment of your organization. How is your workplace structured? Next identify the personality traits of the people who succeed at your organization? Lastly map out how this new resource is going to be integrated into the current environment. To learn more on how to setup a framework please click here.

2. Job Descriptions: Using a framework we need to put down a structured format about the position, responsibilities, experience and educational background. Job descriptions are very important to make clear to the candidate what is expected of them. It also helps the company to put in place certain benchmarks to measure performance in the future. To learn more on writing a job description please click here.

3. Sourcing for talent: Once a job description is created we need to source for candidates who fit the role. Depending on the budget allocated to this, there are a variety of options available. What is important is to select the options intelligently to target the kind of talent you are looking for. If you are looking for highly specialized skill sets, public job boards may not be the most effective method as compared to say head hunting or industry related networking sessions. To learn more about some of the sources available please click here.

4. Interviews and Psychometrics: In my opinion use structured interviews whenever possible. Compared to traditional interviews they provide the interviewer a host of advantages from keeping control of the dialogue to providing an objective measure to benchmark every candidate against. If you can use psychometrics to evaluate personality types, you will get a better understanding of the candidates work place preferences. To learn more please click here.

5. Final Selection: Before you make a selection make sure you run some reference checks on the candidate you are about to hire. This provides additional insight into the candidate and may even be the deciding factor when the decision between two candidates is very close. To learn more about the steps for the final selection please click here.

This is a basic framework which should provide your organization with a more structured approach when wanting to recruit. Over time the framework will get refined to incorporate steps and stages which you consider may be necessary in the selection of talent in your organization. What is important is that you put a process into place for recruitment as it is the most critical factor in any organization. Who you hire in your firm is a clear reflection of the type of organization you are wanting to build. Make sure you send a signal which communicates those objectives.

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Final Selection

“You’re only as good as the people you hire.” Ray Kroc

After setting up a framework and job description, conducting structured interviews and tests you arrive at a pool of short listed candidates . Before making any final decisions, there is just one last step which is almost always overlooked and that is, Reference Checking. This is a critical step which must be followed up on to get a better understanding of the candidate. In an ideal situation I usually request for references from superiors, colleagues and subordinates if any. This helps assess whether the deductions from the recruitment process are correct and gives deeper insights about the candidate. 

Once you have successfully carried out the reference checks you now have all the data required to make an informed decision. If you are recruiting someone who is going to be working with the rest of the team it is a good idea to have the candidate meet the team. Make everyone in the core team a part of the recruitment process and get their opinions about the decision to be made. In the past I have come across teams which ran into trouble when an autonomous decision was reached for hiring without a collective accord .

When the team reaches a collective decision about the candidate they want to hire, you need to get the paper work in place and make an offer to the candidate. Another round of negotiations usually ensues on the terms and conditions of the contract and I recommend getting help from a lawyer when you are drafting this agreement for the first time.

After the negotiations are complete and you have signed a contract, it is time to celebrate. Not only have you hired your first employee you have successfully created a process which will help streamline your hiring in the future into a more effective and efficient process.

 

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Interviews and Psychometrics

“”I had a job interview at an insurance company once and the lady said “Where do you see yourself in five years?” and I said “Celebrating the fifth year anniversary of you asking me this question”” Mitch Hedberg

After the sourcing exercise is complete, you have to select a list of candidates having the correct skill sets and background to succeed at your organization, based on their resume. Resumes should be used as a reference point to form your own image of the candidate. In my opinion, interviews which have a structured format give the employer an upper hand to navigate the conversation. This is in comparison to unstructured interviews where the candidates navigate interviews based on topics they are more comfortable with.

Creating a structured interview requires creating a set of questions to be asked of each candidate. This allows you to document information in an objective manner as well as make comparisions between candidates easier . They key quality to be looking out for is passion, willingness to learn and honesty during the interview process. Use the questionnaire to devise questions to test for these. 

We have recently introduced psychometrics into our hiring process. Psychometrics is a tool used to evaluate a candidates cognitive abilities and personality traits. It provides an in-depth evaluation of the candidate and allows us to determine if he/she will fit into our workplace environment. Used together with structured interviews it provides an infinitely more comprehensive overview of the candidate and makes hiring more objective and transparent.

Interviewing candidates becomes a whole lot easier, the more you do it. In the beginning, especially if you are hiring for the first time it can be a little intimidating. By using a structured methodology and tools such as psychometrics you can drastically cut down the learning curve until you develop the ability to read people more accurately.

A tip I was given by one of my mentors when I was setting off to hire for the first time was: “Always trust your gut, if it doesn’t feel right don’t hire him/her.”  The one time I did not follow this advice, got me into a lot of trouble, so just go with your own instincts and you will do just fine.

 

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Sourcing for talent

“Time spent on hiring is time well spent.” Robert Half

Sourcing for quality talent at a startup is not an easy task. The obvious reason is that we have to convince candidates about the future prospect of our organization and how they are going to benefit by being part of the process. These candidates usually have other offers through the corporate world and are, in my experience usually tempted to stick with the tried and tested path. However being an entrepreneur you need to be out there convincing just about everyone about the growth and prospect of your organization. It could be to a potential customer, a potential employee, your core team and friends and family. You have to have your selling mode always on to create a buzz about what you are doing.

Since we have a prepared job description, we now need to spread the message. There are many options available to you depending on your budget.

1. Advertising in Schools: If you are still based in university advertise your openings on the university job posting boards, if they have any. Attend as many entrepreneurial networking mixers and ask for the opportunity to pitch your company and openings to the audience. In my first couple of ventures on campus I found these to be effective mediums to get the word out.

2. Social Networks: We have recently started using Linkedin and facebook to scout for potential talent in the core teams network. We have had more success using facebook by advertising positions on dedicated company pages. These networks are powerful mediums to get your message across to your second and third degree networks which are difficult to reach otherwise.

3. Corporate site & Blogs: You should do your best to allow your website to post job openings and accept structured resumes to help you continue to grow your resume bank. This will help you to minimize the time it takes to fill positions in the future. If you or your company have a regularly updated blog I would definitely use that medium to attract talent as well.

4. Referrals: This is how we carry out most of our hiring. When we have the job description ready I send it out to friends in the industry to get it to individuals who they feel may fit the role we are looking for. My friends realize how we work and are able to scout intelligently for talent.

5. Job Boards: Whether you use paid ones or free ones, in my experience, the selection process takes a lot longer using this medium. Firstly there is much sorting to be carried out, the quality of candidates is not the best and without any references it is more of a risk. However if the options mentioned above are not available to you this medium has the capability of getting your message out to a large number of individuals.

6. Head Hunters & Executive Search: This is an expensive option which becomes necessary sometimes if you are looking to fill a key role in your team. This is used as a last resort and only for very critical job roles. Selecting the right recruiter is a subject which I will write about in the coming weeks.

This is a preliminary list of tactics that you can implement to start your talent search. Avoid making rushed decisions and do your best to find talent through referrals and references whenever possible.

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Job Descriptions

“It is all one to me if a man comes from Sing Sing Prison or Harvard. We hire a man, not his history.” Malcom S Forbes

Once you have developed a framework for your organization, you are now equipped with the knowledge needed to develop a simple job description to help attract the talent that you need in a more focused manner. Job descriptions are often overlooked or not given enough attention at younger organizations. Since growth is organic and structure is often not in place  this is often disregarded. Say you are looking for an associate web developer to help support your core team of developers with some flash developmental work. In your mind you are perfectly clear about the sort of resource you require. However, later on if you tell the individual to help you out in your php developmental cycles and other administrative functions there may be unpleasantness. 

First we need to map out the main areas of a standard job description. 

Position: The title of the opening at your organization. Keep the title simple and avoid fancy titles which only cause confusion about what the role actually entails.

Responsibilities: This is where you outline in detail all the tasks which the resource will be responsible for. At startups, this should include a broad spectrum if your team is small because we all have to wear multiple hats at the beginning. If you are already at an established stage and are taking on a specialist then you make sure you have covered all the areas of responsibilities. 

Division: You will need to outline which department the resource will be under and the departments main role and functionalities. This will help put the responsibilities into context and bring clarity to the actual job requirement. You can also include details covering who the person will be reporting to and working with.

Education and Experience: Depending on the level of candidate you are looking for, you can fill this category likewise. Any relevant industry experience that may be required should be highlighted here.

Workplace environment: You can refer to the framework list to gather details to fill in this section about the working environment of your organization.

Personal Attributes: If you require any particular attributes which you think will be critical to succeeding at the job then this is the section where they should be highlighted.

These points will help you create a short job description which will help convey your message effectively to potential candidates. It will also help you benchmark performance against responsibilities assigned for the future , making it a critical document in your hiring and talent management process.

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Hiring Revolution: Job Descriptions

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