Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

Icon

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

Inspiring Entrepreneurial Story

“I’ve always learned on-the-job, in real time. A problem comes up; I research it, and try to solve it. You can’t study to be an entrepreneur; you have to develop those skills day in day out. “ Tom Szaky

I have memories of going to a video rental store over the weekend when I was around 6-8 years old. The video store was called Star Video and when they gave us the videos they were packed in a paper bag which had the logo of a restaurant called Barbeque Tonite on it. The restaurant was the final aim of the owners of this small video rental franchise that had a couple of locations. The owner’s son used to school with me  and was a friend. Eventually they opened a small restaurant that served traditional barbeque food and very wisely paid an exceptional amount of attention to detail and quality. The place could probably hold a maximum of around 50 odd people in those early days. Fast forward to today, the restaurant has witnessed an absolutely explosive level of growth. Today it probably has a capacity of at least 500+ customers spread over 4 floors. They have a limited menu but the quality has remained evenly and  exceptionally good, this has kept most of us coming back for more week after week.

Seeing the level of success of this restaurant, many have attempted to replicate it, as close to them as possible, to cash in on the spillover since there are always  huge crowds waiting to get into the place. However, none of them have succeeded in coming close. Having dinner there tonight, I was once again amazed at the level of success that they enjoy and whenever I visit their restaurant it renews my faith as an entrepreneur. The owners knew from the very beginning what they wanted. The vision to be the leading provider of local barbeque food was something that each of them were passionate about and they figured out a way to raise money for the venture. Once they had managed to do that, there was no looking back.

There are two important lessons from this story. The first is, before you start whatever you want to,  ask yourself  “Is this something that I am truly passionate about?” If the chosen line of business is something you are passionate about, the next step is the need to articulate a vision for the business you want to run. I have made the mistake of not thinking through the second aspect with enough detail on several occasions and have paid a price for it. Without a clear vision one usually spends a lot of time going round in circles not quite knowing which direction to take. This problem is overcome when you think things  through and know and visualize exactly what you want. During the course of working it out practically things will change somewhat but the fact that there is a guiding principle from the very beginning is essential for starting on the right foot.

Filed under: Inspiration, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Crossing the Rubicon

The Rubicon, is a river in northern Italy which Julius Caeser crossed in 49BC from which point it was not possible to go back. Crossing the Rubicon hence refers to passing through that point from where return is no longer possible. This may be due to a host of factors, such as, it being physically impossible to turn back, too expensive to go back or that the path is too dangerous. Working with startup companies I find it a most exciting part of the journey when that point of no return is crossed . However, please make sure that before crossing your Rubicon you are doing so for the right reasons.

When I setup this blog on the 1st of January 08 I crossed a point of no return. I let all my readers know that I was going to spend the next year updating this blog on a daily basis with advice and insights on entrepreneurship and life. I did so because I felt that I had a little experience which could help others who are in the process of setting up a company or working at a startup for the first time. From that day onward I had a responsibility to everyone who was reading this blog to make sure that at the end of every week I gave some advice which could be potentially helpful. It doesn’t make a difference if I have one reader or a million, my responsibility remains the same. Eleven weeks later writing my blog has become one of the most fulfilling part of my week.

If you are on the verge of starting your own business, deciding on a certain career path or even getting married, the one thing which you keep in mind before making these big decisions is “do it for the right reasons”. You shouldn’t let anyone force you into such decisions Look at them from all perspectives, align them with your value and belief systems and when you make up your mind ,cross your Rubicon without a whisper of a doubt.

Filed under: About Me, Advice, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Different Perspectives

“Humans have the ability to shift perspective. We can experience the world through our senses. Or we can remove ourselves from our senses and experience the world even less directly. We can think about our life, rather than thinking in our life.” John J. Emerick

I meet a fair number of people daily, for business or on a personal basis . I find it most interesting that all of us have uniquely different ways of looking at the same thing. Over the last week I have had some interesting experiences showcasing how two people in the same boat can be looking at the picture in totally different ways.

I was coaching a team whose performance had been lagging in the last couple of quarters. During our one-on-one feedback sessions, one of the team members was constantly blaming external circumstances being the primary reason for his not operating at an optimum level. He blamed the organization for not providing an environment in which creativity and performance was fostered. He had hence decided, that he would stop giving his 100% and was just ‘making do’ in his current role. Another team member however, realized that even though the environment was not the best, he would not let it affect him negatively, instead he took on the responsibility to be the change he wanted to see in this environment. He started with his own team and department. Jim Collins refers to these as “pockets of greatness” (Audio).

There is no doubt this is an uphill task when one person is up against 9 others who share a different perspective. However he took up the challenge and after our coaching was completed he became a role model for the team and productivity and morale soared. Management began to take notice and some structural changes were made.

The lesson I learned was, each one of us has a unique perspective on life according to our inbuilt value and belief systems . Sometimes these systems are so strong that they cloud our judgement and refuse to let us look any other way. Being part of a startup or a multi national it is your responsibility to remain open and flexible about the view points of others. Don’t judge them, nor deliberately criticize them or blindly embrace them. Take time out to look at it from their perspective, what you see, may just pleasantly surprise you.

Filed under: Advice, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Gym

I recently started going back to a gym after a long break. Why is it that some of us get these spurts of energy to go to the gym which wears off soon enough after that initial boost of energy and enthusiasm? This is not an unusual trend for the gym, you set yourself enthusiastic new year resolutions to get into shape and 3 months down the road you quit for some reason or other. I did some research on this and found the following statistics:

  • “50 percent of all new health club members quit within the first six months of signing up, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association.” Source: Wayback Machine Archived Webpage
  • 1 in 5 club members use their club at least twice per week. 40% of those who join health clubs stop going soon afterwards. Source: Health and Fitness Website
  • In the article Time Management Facts and Figures by Dr. Donald E. Wetmore, it says that 90% of those who join health and fitness clubs will stop going within the first 90 days.
  • The first quarter of the calendar remains the key period in the year for new member acquisition for the club industry. Link

There is a lot of evidence supporting those claims. I then looked back at all the times I have joined a gym or a health club and actively used their services regularly for at least an year. The one common denominator for when I had gone regularly, was with a gym partner. It is strange but true how the dynamics change when you have someone to spot you, talk to and even benchmark yourself to.

This got me thinking of the posts I have written about teams and partnering, and how essential that aspect is, not only from a business point of view but overall in life. This applies to whether you are choosing a life partner, a gym buddy or a mentor to help you along the way. Through partnering we can achieve extraordinary goals and greatly impact productivity and morale. All you have to do is choose your partners carefully.

Filed under: Advice, Partnerships, Teams, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sales and relationships

“Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says, ”Make me feel important.” Not only will you succeed in sales, you will succeed in life.” Mary Kay Ash

A couple of days ago on my way to a meeting I was stopped at a traffic light junction when a disabled man came to my car window, he was selling car cleaners . I didn’t need any, so he passed me by after asking. Moments later another disabled man who was selling the same came up to me. This was a man who has been selling similar merchandise at this traffic junction for the last 15 years and over the course of time he has sold many members of my family who pass this traffic crossing daily. He came up to my window,greeted me and condoled my grandmother’s passing away 2 months ago. The fact that he knew caught me totally off guard. He followed with casual chit chat regarding the health of the rest of my family and never once during this 5 minute exchange once mentioned whether I wanted to buy anything. You have to realize that we were at a traffic light crossing and were in a time sensitive situation. However, at the last moment, he casually asked whether I needed anything, I obliged and bought a fair share. Later on during my drive to the clients I began to think about what had just happened.

Sales is a very personal process, you are always more comfortable buying from or through individuals whom you trust or have a relationship with. Here was this man who had spent a large part of his life building a meaningful relationship with passer byes at traffic light junction . This continuous interaction on a relatively regular but short time frame basis had enabled him to build a relationship through which he could sell irrespective of whether you needed it or not. It wasn’t solely because he was handicapped otherwise I would have bought from the other vendors who attempted to sell me the same. It was only because of our relationship.

If you are running your own company or working at one where sales falls in your job scope I do believe the key to success is relationship building. I know it may sound somewhat cliched but just how many of your clients do you really know well. Truthfully, I need to do a lot more work in this area and this minor incident just showed me how strong a proposition you can build once you develop a meaningful relationship with your clients.

Filed under: Advice, Sales, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Life and Business

“A business that makes nothing but money is a poor kind of business.” Henry Ford

Over the course of last week I have come across some interesting incidents which I documented in personal off topic posts. This week I decided I would share 5 of them so that we could all get a different perspective as compared to the traditional views on business and entrepreneurship I have taken in the past.

Life is a fascinating journey and every morning I get up and look forward to the new challenges that I will have to face and learn from through the course of the day. You need to keep that perspective if you want to live your life fully. I keep telling everyone that life is too short for us to take things for granted. I often hear some of my investment banker friends telling me that they look forward to the time when they can actually stop doing what they are doing and start living. I could empathize with that view a couple of years ago but now it seems not to be the most optimal way to live life. I realize many people have responsibilities and valid reasons for sometimes sacrificing certain things early on in life to enjoy life afterwards. Just make sure that whatever you do it is something you feel deeply passionate about and you wake up in the morning looking forward to the day. You are one of the lucky ones if that is the case.

The same applies for business when you are selecting or working on ideas make sure your value and belief systems are correctly aligned with what it is that you are working on. Money is a valid driver but it shouldn’t be the only one. You must have other drivers which force you to push yourself harder and further. You have to choose to do something which you truly believe in and let it take its course. My last couple of posts talked about losing balance in your life in the early stages with startup ventures, make sure the sacrifice you are making is worth it. It should really be more than just money. Also if you are going to have an imbalance temporarily in your life make sure you have as few responsibilities as possible. When you have a life partner, children or a girlfriend/boyfriend your actions have a direct impact on someone else’s life. That is why I advocate getting into business as early as possible because you have a lot less to lose.

I look forward to a lot more comments and feedback during this week’s blog as the topics are a lot more abstract. A lot of us have very different perspectives on the topics which are going to be written about and I would really like to hear from as many people as possible.

Filed under: Advice, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

5 ways to get you and your team motivated

“People often say often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.” Zig Ziglar

Getting and staying motivated requires you to have the desire and faith to achieve remarkable things. It needs you to push yourself harder, test yourself, take risks and believe that impossible is nothing. We all have days which are far from being ideal. Such days test that intense desire to achieve what you have set out to get. The following lists methods to continuously sustain your motivational level and increase it when it begins to dip.

  1. Everything starts with you: Whether you are leading a team or are a part of it, it is your responsibility to bring your A game to work everyday. Identifying what motivates you to get out of bed in the morning is essential. Once you have identified these factors you will become a source of motivation for the rest of your team. To learn more about how you can identify your motivations please click here.
  2. Challenging goals: Creating smart goals for yourself and your company is critical to keep motivation at a high level. When you do not challenge yourself hard enough you tend to stand still. That is about the worst thing you could possibly do for yourself. To read more about setting challenging goals please click here.
  3. Progress motivates: Momentum has the ability to inject life into any project or venture. It is this remarkable energy which infuses teams with the ability to achieve the impossible. Motivational levels hit the roof when a venture has momentum on its side making it a key metric to be monitored continuously. To read more about generating momentum please click here.
  4. Motivational environment: Surrounding yourself with highly motivated individuals in an environment which caters to open communication and creativity is a sure way to keep the motivational levels in check. The environment and the people you work with have a direct impact on your productivity levels. Making sure you carefully monitor this metric will result in higher productivity teams, to learn more please click here.
  5. Rewards and recognition: A well planned rewards and recognition program can do wonders for the motivational level for yourself and your team. You first need to recognize what it is that motivates your team members and tailor a rewards and recognition program likewise. To read more about how to develop a rewards and recognition program please click here.

These are a few ways which have helped me keep track of the motivational level within myself and the teams I have worked with. I hope it helps others develop a framework for their own ventures and companies. Even though the ways outlined are very straight forward we need to continuously monitor them and see where we are lagging behind. I look forward to others adding to this list of ways they keep themselves and their teams motivated.

Filed under: Inspiration, Leadership, Teams, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Rewards and Recognition

“No man, who continues to add something to the material, intellectual and moral well-being of the place in which he lives, is left long without proper rewards.” Booker T Washington

Rewards and recognitions are key motivational factors for teams. In the past, I thought rewards were primarily financial rewards. As I explored this topic more I discovered that different individuals required different types of rewards to keep them motivated. All that some needed was recognition by their boss for their contribution, others needed some affirmation from their team mates while others felt satisfied with their year end bonus. Your job as a team or project leader should be to find out what sort of rewards and recognition your team mates are looking for.

The tricky part with a rewards and recognition (R&R) program is to formulate it in such a way that is both fair and balanced. A badly constructed program could work against the organization and foster complacency and unhealthy competition among team members. When constructing an R&R program I usually involve all the individuals who will be affected by it to contribute their ideas and suggestions. Rather than constructing a standard bonus ladder you should aim to have a more dynamic program which keep things interesting while keeping the goals clearly in focus.

At a startup company, especially at the beginning ,when finances may be tight it becomes essential to structure an R&R program which gives team members necessary rewards and recognition and keeps the motivational level high. Some of the techniques which I have used have been providing training and development budgets, recognition awards and stock options, these have been helpful when working on tight budgets. If budgets are tight you should focus on developing a lot more creative non-monetary rewards. Tailor them according to the personalitiesand motivations of your team members . Learn what motivates your team members today and tailor an R&R program accordingly.

Related article: Rewards and Recognition for teams

Filed under: Inspiration, Leadership, Teams, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Motivational Environments

“Our environment, the world in which we live and work, is a mirror of our attitudes and expectations.”     Earl Nightangale

Going to work everyday should be far from a chore, it should be the reason for you to jump out of bed in the morning. (Flash back) Seven years ago I finished high school and like quite a few of my classmates at that time, investment banking was on everyones mind. So when everyone was applying to B school programs I decided that I would take some time off before university and get a glimpse into what investment banking would be like. I interned at one of the larger investment banking firms and it didn’t take me very long to figure out that we were not a very good fit. Thats when I changed my majors and decided I needed to find something else. I am in no way downplaying careers in finance, its just that each one of us are unique and are motivated by different factors and environments, finding one that suits your personality is essential.

As startups grow larger we have to make sure we maintain similar environments that sparked the creativity in the first place. Two companies come to mind which have done a great job of keeping the balance in check, they are, Google and IDEO. Both highly creative companies which focus on the environment for their most important asset…their people. Creating and focusing on an environment which fosters creativity and inspires, enables people to think out of the box without fear and builds loyalty. It becomes easier to work as a team when you can communicate and help each other reach his/her goals. There is nothing worse in my opinion than having a ton of ideas on how to improve a service or product and not being given a platform to express them.

I am an advocate of keeping communication among the teams I work with as candid as possible. Knowing each others goals and roles enables us to do whatever it takes to help our group mates to succeed in reaching their targets. Make the motivational environment of your organization a key metric to be constantly measured. What is the morale level of your team?

Filed under: Inspiration, Teams, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Progress motivates

“Don’t wait untill everything is just right. It will never be perfect. There will always be challenges, obstacles and less than perfect conditions. So what. Get started now. With each step you take, you will grow stronger and stronger, more and more skilled, more and more self confident and more and more successful.” Mark Victor Hansen 

Momentum is the force which everyone and every company is aiming to achieve. In my short span in the entrepreneurial space ,I have come to realise how strong a force it can be. It has the ability to inspire, excite and motivate. You discover your capabilities on a completely different level and at times surprise yourself as to what you can achieve. Without it you are like a ship set to sail with no wind to help it along the way. 

When starting any new venture, if there is one thing which should be aimed for, it is to get some momentum going. This can be any activity where visible and tangible results are being created. Initially it could be as simple as getting your business plan together. Later it could be closing that first deal or getting some marketing publicity. As you begin to see and be part of the progress it will give you, the motivation to push yourself further and harder emerges. You will have this surround energy which will attract others to help you along the way.

If you or your team is lacking motivation take a look at their spirit and morale. If it is not at its optimal see how you can generate some momentum into your current business model. If the approach you are taking isn’t working, brain storm other ways to approach it. You have to focus on building momentum as quickly as you can and most importantly making sure you maintain it once things have been set into motion. 

Few things in the entrepreneurial world compare to when you have momentum on your side and things are working out better than expected. How can you add momentum into your venture today?

Filed under: Inspiration, Teams, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,