Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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

5 Things one Needs to do in College

I learned three important things in college – to use a library, to memorize quickly and visually, to drop asleep at any time given a horizontal surface and fifteen minutes. Agnes DeMille

A couple of days ago I was talking to a group of students from my alma mater. They were all part of an entrepreneurship society which I had founded 6 years ago, a society that has since witnessed a tremendous growth in the Asia-Pacific region. During the course of the discussion an interesting question which was asked of me was, “Looking back ,what are  five things you should have done more of, during university?” I found this a very interesting question and told them I would write a post about it.

My university life was not what I would call a typical student’s life. Within my first year of university I had set up a small business to facilitate printing and designing services to campus based clubs and societies. Things ramped up quickly after that and soon I had very little time to do everyday normal things. It did not help much that I was also involved in a host of extra curricular activities that ranged from toastmasters to setting up the universities first bicycling club. When I look back, the time I spent at university seems almost a blur. Everything happened so quickly and somehow  in retrospect my experience seems somewhat incomplete. When I was asked the ábove question it made me think of some of the things that I feel I missed out on, and would encourage students to look into more.

1. Exchange Program: My university offered some great student exchange programs that sent students to places like Silicon Valley, Shanghai or Bio Valley to learn new cultures and be part of  start-ups whilst there. Unfortunately with my heavy work schedule and commitments, going on an exchange program is an opportunity that I missed out on. My friends who did end up going on these programs had some amazing life changing experiences. Therefore I would highly encourage going on these exchange programs as it pushes you out of your comfort zone, exposes you to a new world and provides a great opportunity to meet new people and travel.

2. Discovering Hobbies:
One should definitely use the time available at university to discover hobbies that could one day become driving passions. Make a pact with yourself to experience something new every semester , something you have never done before. I did a couple such as  joining a salsa dancing class, learning chess and joining the toastmasters club. However ,there are many interests out there that could have been pursued. Your time at university is the best of times to discover what interests you and what you are truly passionate about. Get out of your comfort zone and go do some crazy thing and who knows you may discover something that could become a source of joy and excitement for you for the rest of your life.

3. Making Mistakes: Most individuals I knew including myself, did our level best to keep as clean a record as possible. This included not speaking up in class when things were unclear, not pursuing that wacky idea because everyone said it was stupid, not asking for help when you needed it  most. To tell you the truth it is a lot easier to attempt many of the  things that are deemed wacky and out there when you are at university rather than when you leave. The cost of life experiences continues to increase expotentially as we grow older and have more responsibilities. Use the time at university to make all the mistakes that you can, put yourself out there knowing that if you don’t succeed at first you would have learned a vital lesson that could translate into success in the future.

4. Networking: University is an ideal time to expand your personal network. There are many opportunities to interact with alumni, professors, business owners and seniors. I found many of my mentors through university networking sessions. I started a bit late however and would recommend that students begin building meaningful relationships as quickly as possible. I found that people were a lot more willing to help and give advice when I was a student. Apart from business networking, expand your own group of friends. Do not restrict yourself to the same group of people throughout the four years of college. Use networking sessions, hobbies and other activities to get to know as many people as possible.

5. Learn to Smell the Roses: My mother always kept telling me this when I was at university and my life was in a  constant tizzy. At that time it made no sense to me whatsoever. When I look back now I realize the wisdom of this and just how important this one very simple exercise is. During our time at university there is always something that is happening and life seems to move at a blistering pace. There is always a mix of emotions that keeps us preoccupied at all times. We need to take a breather during these chaotic time and just sit back and reflect on the road that we have taken, where we are and where we want to go. Savor  and enjoy the moment,  life will only become a lot more complicated from here. If someone told me this when I was at university I would probably have given them a weird look. Take my advice though and set out an afternoon alone or with friends and just reflect.

I hope this post will be of some assistance to those of you who are still at university. A lot of the pointers listed above may seem trivial at first read, however I would encourage you to re-read them, then ask yourself the question “What memorable things will I cherish and take with me in life from my time at university?”. If there are not enough things coming to mind then one is not taking advantage of the opportunity at hand. Make sure that you have enough memories, good and not so good to ensure that you made the most of your time. I wish you all the very best of success in all your future endevours.

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Exceeding Expectations

“There are no traffic jams along the extra mile.” Roger Staubach

My first company had the tag line “Exceeding your every expectation”. It was printed on everyone of our name cards and it pushed us to go the extra mile many a time. It is only after some years that I have realized, it does not take much to exceed customer expectation. They do not need elaborate gestures to make them feel special, all they need is to be treated honestly and fairly, to be provided with significant value for their purchase and to have all this done in a convenient and efficient manner.

From personal experience I know that there are many service providers I go to even though they may not be the cheapest, biggest or more convenient in the market. For example, all my computer needs and requirements are dealt with at a small shop I have been visiting for years. You may well ask why anyone would do this, in this day and  age of online ordering and convenience ? It comes down to the relationship I have with the owners of the store. It is good to walk into a store where everyone knows you by name and where you know you will always get that extra attention and exemplary customer service, whenever you walk in and need it.

As part of a startup , you need to identify areas where you can add greater value to your clients. You need to show them that you care about their success as much as they do. These are some of the ways I have used to go that extra mile :

1. Remember your customer’s birthdays and make sure you send out either an ecard or an actual card to show that they matter to your business.

2. Gather as much personal data regarding the customer as possible, such as hobbies, interests, family and  other information that may help you with future conversations as well as personalizing services.

3. Remember to thank the customer at the point of purchase and to follow it up with a note via email or mail, thanking them for their business.

4. Leave extra room for you to exceed their expectations. If you promised 5 days delivery time and deliver in three days, that goes a long way. Remember to leave yourself some wiggle room.

5. Put yourself in the customers shoes and ask yourself what you can do, to make the entire process more personable and enjoyable? Treat your customers the way you would like to be treated.

Going the extra mile is a defining and differentiating factor between good and great companies. Building such a culture from the start will provide you with clear competitive advantages. 

Do you have a special story of how you were wowed by a particular vendor?

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Sales and Relationships

 

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Learning from Experience

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” Bill Gates

We have all been exposed to bad customer experiences. For those of us in the business or corporate world, we have also been on the receiving end when things didn’t work out as expected. That is part of life. Trying to please every customer to their complete satisfaction is a gargantuan and uphill task. However, it is essential to learn deeply from every complaint and put into place systems, which will take care of such incidents in the future. Listed below are a few pointers which should help expedite the learning process:

1. Refrain from pushing the blame onto external circumstances. Sometimes your supply chain gets delayed, it could be a mix up which your delivery system made or bad weather which resulted in your receiving a mouthful from your client. Accept the blame rather than pushing it onto someone else in the organization because that is the last thing an angry customer wants to hear. Once you have accepted the mistake you can go about resolving the issue in a more efficient and effective manner.

2. Extensively document the mistake. This will force you to think and put into a process the actual course of events and why they occurred. I have found the discovery process extremely interesting because you are forced to map out where the entire process started, who was responsible for what, at which stage and most importantly where we need to focus to ensure that the problem doesn’t happen again. It creates ownership in a business and a team constantly striving to deliver their best.

3. Finding the most efficient and effective solution. Once the mistake has been clearly identified the team should reach a collective decision regarding how to avoid a similar issue in the future. Control measures must be put into place and ensuring responsibility for its proper execution is essential. This is a critical step which should be documented and circulated to all team members to show that a decision has been taken.

Such experiences provide a great learning opportunity for the entire team. Once a mistake has been committed there is nothing we can to do to undo it, however , we can set into motion a series of actions which will alter the way we respond to them in the future. With a fanatical focus on ensuring that you cater to your customers every need and make the experience of doing business with you as seamless and comfortable as possible, will garner massive long term benefits.

What was your last customer experience horror story and did your organization do anything about it?

 

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