Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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

5 Ways To Be a Better Team Member

“In the end, all business operations can be reduced to three words: people, product and profits. Unless you’ve got a good team, you can’t do much with the other two.” Lee Iacocca

“Are you giving your best to the team you are working with?” All of us, who are part of any team, must ask ourselves this question periodically. It forces us to look at the larger picture, and how our actions affect it, for better or for worse. This is vital for our own personal development as well as the team’s progress. Having worked with many teams, I know first hand how easy it is to play the blame game. Team member X is not giving enough time, member Y is not bringing the value he/she is supposed to, a myriad of such thoughts constantly float in your head. We need to make a fundamental shift in our thinking, and focus on giving 100% to the team. We cannot compromise our commitment because other individuals on the team are not pulling their weight. What we can do, is become more proactive in helping other members of the team grow, as well as ourselves.

Listed below are five ways to become a better team member and help the rest of your team follow suit as well.

1. Playing to your Strengths: Understanding and playing to your strengths is a process that takes time. It is important that we start this process as early as possible. There is  much trial and error involved in this discovery process. Often, we realize our choice is not showcasing our true potential. No problem! Use the experience as feedback and move forward. To learn more about playing to your strengths please click here.

2. Being Action Oriented: Team members, customers, suppliers and investors look for people who can deliver what they commit to. This trait is common in successful people, they do not over think things, they, just do it. The concept of “Ready, Fire, Aim” is one I believe in, it has has served me well over the last couple of years. It certainly accelerates the learning process, helps you add tangible value to business, and gets you the reputation of being the guy who gets things done. To read more about becoming action oriented please click here.

3. Giving and Asking for Feedback: The art of successfully giving feedback comes with experience and time. By providing feedback you add value to the team and all of its members. There will be times when feedback will be uncomfortable and these are situations you need to learn to manage. Suffering in silence is not a smart strategy, it is one where both the team and individual lose out. To learn more about giving and asking for feedback in an effective manner please click here.

4. Being Sensitive: Being sensitive is commonly associated with weakness and insecurity in business. I do not believe this, I believe, this is an essential personal characteristic, specially one that entrepreneurs must possess. Being sensitive to the feelings of others, situations and circumstances allows you to focus on larger issues in a more comprehensive manner. Highly effective team members understand the need for sensitivity when dealing with issues which impact the entire team. To learn more about sensitivity in team dynamics please click here.

5. Paying the Price: Every team member has to pay a price when he/she becomes part of a larger entity. For a team to work effectively together, they need to reach a stage where there is price equilibrium. This creates a situation where everyone on the team has similar vested interests and are fully committed to its success. The price of being a team member consists of many elements, two of the most prominent ones are, time and sacrifices. It is critical that all team members find a balance to maintain stability within the team. To learn more about the price of being a team member please click here.

Being the best team member that you can be, is each team member’s responsibility. We have to continuously focus our energies on bringing increasing value to our organization. This may, sometimes be at the cost of your own personal goals, time and other opportunities. When you make a commitment to be part of a venture, remember, to identify the price of entering into the agreement beforehand. This is something to keep in mind when embarking on any entrepreneurial journey. Usually the price for entry is steep, by the same token, so are the rewards. Success is the result of consistent action towards identified goals. The better you perform as a team, the faster you can reach those goals.

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Paying the Price

“There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when circumstance permit. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results.” Anonymous

Every team member has to pay a price when he/she becomes part of a larger entity. For a team to work effectively together, they need to reach a stage where there is price equilibrium. This creates a situation where everyone on the team has similar vested interests and are fully committed to its success. Reaching such a level is a difficult process, because “price” is relative. If a team consists of 2 junior partners along with 2 senior partners should each member be paying the same price? If a team consists of 3 partners out of which 2 have sacrificed their social life should the third follow suit? I have debated this topic with a lot of people and am always surprised when I hear unique responses to some of the questions asked above.

At the end of most discussions however, there is a consensus that “price equilibrium” needs to exist in every team, it just varies according to the circumstances. Two key aspects of the price one needs to pay, to be part of a team are:

1. Time: Time is a vital and required input into an organization, majors rifts are caused in the team if this is not done seriously. Team members need to dedicate the time they have committed to. For example, if you have a partner who is assisting you while keeping his day job, it is his/her responsibility to be contribute to the team during nights and weekends. When one of the team runs multiple businesses, it is essential to demarcate time commitments according to your level of involvement. Without contributing time an individual is causing a disequilibrium and it usually has nasty consequences.

2. Sacrifices: When you embark on an entrepreneurial venture, get ready to make serious sacrifices. Building a business is not an easy task, it requires all members of the teams to sacrifice their own personal goals for team goals. Many find this difficult to do, some have lifestyles which they want to maintain and others may not be ready to give up personal goals. The fact of the matter is, if you are not ready to sacrifice your time, money and opportunities, do not join a startup. If you are part of the team and you are not sacrificing, in comparison to other members, it is time to step up.

In order to become a valued and key member of your team, it is essential that you are willing to pay the price required. If you find the price too steep, let all your team members know. It becomes challenging to keep paying out and not receiving anything in return during the early stages of your organization. Therefore it is critical to find out more about the team you want to join, before, you sign up. Find out what sort of price you are going to have to pay and whether you are going to be willing to do so. Doing this will make both your life and those of the other team members a lot simpler.

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Being Sensitive

“It is… axiomatic that we should all think of ourselves as being more sensitive than other people because, when we are insensitive in our dealings with others, we cannot be aware of it at the time: conscious insensitivity is a self-contradiction.” W. H. Auden

The topic of discussion today is not a subject you usually find on business blogs. Being sensitive is commonly associated with weakness and insecurity in business. I do not believe this however, I believe this is an essential personal characteristic, specially one that entrepreneurs must possess. Understanding this, is the result of interactions with my mentors, who have constantly impressed upon me the importance of being sensitive to your team members, customers and suppliers. I have seen and experienced this in my own interactions of working with several teams over the last couple of years. Being sensitive to the feelings of others, situations and circumstances allows you to focus on larger issues in a more comprehensive manner.

Being a team member will inevitably result in times when the situation requires compromise and taking action in ways you may not always be comfortable with. Reactions to such situations can often be the ‘make or break’ factor for some teams. The key factor in all of this, boils down to balance. Being either overly sensitive or insensitive, bring their own share of difficulties. Maintaining a balance between both extremes requires discipline, an open mind and flexibility. I have worked with several people who have had trouble maintaining this composure, it has invariably led to difficult situations. 

Highly effective team members understand the need for sensitivity when dealing with issues which impact the entire team. Some areas requiring sensitivity are:

1. Dealing with conflict: The manner of handling conflict is a telling sign of whether balance can be maintained between extremes. For example, an individual is in a conflict with another team mate for not contributing adequately to the team. If you were the person who brought up this issue with your team member, your tone, rationale and way of handling this issue is critical.

2. Dealing with change: Whenever an organization undergoes a structural change process, substantial friction is created. This could be when individuals are required to move out of their comfort zone. As an effective team member, it is our responsibility to ensure that everyone on the team is given enough support during this transitional period. Focusing selfishly on yourself or how this change process will impact you alone, is not a winning attitude.

3. Dealing with loss: Every organization has its share of ups and downs. It is during down periods that a team is required to come together and figure out how to fix the situation. I have learnt, dealing with organizational loss tends to bring out the ugly side of people. The fact is, no one likes to lose, but it is a part of life. The success of a team comes down to, how we react to such situations and whether we are able to handle it well collectively as a team.

I agree entirely that some people are more sensitive than others. It is important however, that everyone on the team does their best in dealing with difficult situations and individuals, with an open mind. This attitude will not only help create stronger bonds between all team members, it will also make you stronger as a person. The next time you find yourself in a difficult situation, do your best to understand where the other person is coming from as well. Always remember to treat others in the same manner you would like to be treated yourself.

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Do you give and ask for feedback?

“What is the shortest word in the English language that contains the letters: abcdef? Answer: feedback. Don’t forget that feedback is one of the essential elements of good communication.” Anonymous

Regular readers of my blog will be able to identify with the topic discussed today, feedback. Today, we will discuss feedback specifically in relationship to teams and it’s members. When working with any team and specially a close knit startup team, it is essential that communication remain open at all times. In the flurry of developing the product, chasing the suppliers and completing the marketing material, communication channels tend to get clogged up, resulting in much distortion. This break down of communication eventually leads to the creation of an environment in which it is difficult to work with each other. To avoid reaching this state, we need a culture of candor and feedback in the organization.

When giving feedback to someone, it is essential to keep a couple of things in mind, to make sure that the person actually benefits from what you want to let him/her know. There is no point in telling Tim “You are always late, I think you should do something about this habit of yours.” If I were Tim I wouldn’t be very happy with that sort of feedback. I would much rather like to hear, “I have noticed that you have not been able to make our weekly morning meetings for the last 3 weeks, is there something I could do to assist you in making it to the next one? Is there a particular problem you are facing that is causing you to come late? I know this great book about time management and I think it could be of great help to you, I will give it to you by the end of today.”

Good feedback consists of:

1. Timing: Feedback needs to be provided at the appropriate time and place. There is no point bringing up something which happened 3 weeks ago. Deal with it as soon as you can. If required make sure it is done in private to reduce anxiety or pressure.

2. Specific: Avoid using words like “always” and “never” which do not correctly portray the situation. In order to be constructive, feedback needs to be specific in nature. Avoid being sarcastic, very frank and overly aggressive. The reason we provide and receive feedback is to help others and, ourselves. Always treat the other person how you would want to be treated, because tomorrow, that person could be providing you with feedback.

3. Clarity: Sometimes even if we are being specific the meaning doesn’t actually come across clearly. For example “We have missed you during the last 3 weekly morning meetings, there is a lot of critical information shared during these meetings and the team would like you to be a part of them. Team work is essential for our organization to grow and given that we are struggling with this quarter’s number we really need you to cooperate with us on this matter.” The meaning has been partially lost and now the receiver of the feedback is not sure what to make of it.

4. Action Steps: Whenever feedback is proposed it is essential that it is followed up with some action steps which include targets, timelines and metrics to help the individual. Without these, we more often than not, revert back to our old habits, making the entire feedback loop redundant. Therefore, when giving or asking for feedback, make sure that that goals are set to help monitor progress.

The art of successfully giving feedback comes with experience and time. By providing feedback you add value to the team and all of its members. There will be times when feedback will be uncomfortable and these are situations you need to learn to manage. Suffering in silence is not a smart strategy and one where both the team and individual lose out.

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Are you action oriented?

“Thinking is easy, acting is difficult, and to put one’s thoughts into action is the most difficult thing in the world.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

There will always be some people on a team who are constantly coming up with ideas, different scenarios and ways to take the team forward. These are great people to have on a team and are an amazing resource to motivate and inspire other team members.  There is a flip side to this coin as well, if this individual does all the talking, without delivering, it can be a serious issue. When someone is an ideas person, or works on the strategic element of the business, some form of action needs to be taken on it . This can be in the implementation of the concept, in the trial of the business model or even gathering feedback from the rest of the team. Hence, there need to be clearly defined action steps, for practical implementation.

There have been numerous occasions when I have been on teams where you find a particular individual providing the bulk of ideas and suggestions, but, they never put down action steps. If this happens continuously, rather than being a source of motivation, this converts into a source of frustration for the rest of the team. It is true that everyone provides value to the team in different ways. In my experience however, individuals who do not shoulder responsibility and shy away from taking action, isolate themselves. Being action oriented is a critical characteristic in any individual, more so in an entrepreneur. There needs to be a sense of urgency for execution, rather than prolonged deliberation. When assessing yourself, and how you add value to your team, ask yourself whether you consider yourself as action oriented or not?. Next, ask others for feedback to learn which areas you need to improve on for taking action.

Team members, customers, suppliers and investors look for people who can deliver on what they commit to. This trait is common to most successful people who don’t just over think things, but, just do it. The concept of “Ready, Fire, Aim” is a theme I believe in, it has has served me well over the last couple of years. It certainly accelerates the learning process, helps you add more tangible value to your business, and gets you the reputation of being the guy who gets things done. If you are sitting on the sidelines waiting for that perfect opportunity, I strongly suggest you get your feet wet, and take things as they come.

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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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