Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur


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

Lesson #7: Dealing with Writers Block

“Easy reading is damn hard writing.” Nathaniel Hawthorne

I frequently find myself sitting at my laptop with a ton of posts to write, yet, I can put nothing down on paper. It is one of the most frustrating feelings one can experience. Many a time you begin to wonder whether all the effort you put into writing your blog is worth it and whether anyone would notice if you stopped writing from tomorrow. Other times even though you are motivated to write,  the words just do not seem to come to you. I have sat at my desk umpteen times with a topic and all the information I need for the post and have been unable to put it together. I twittered about this a while back and the response I got from the community was quite amazing. It seems  writers block is something that each and everyone of us bloggers has to deal with on a regular basis. It was interesting to learn about the different ways writers deal with it. There are a few things I do whenever I experience one of these blocks:

1. Go out for a short walk: There is something about moving and a change of scenery that gets me thinking, it also gets the creative juices working. Most of the time there are just so many things happening concurrently at your desk or office that it blocks all ability to focus on the task at hand.

2. Brain Dumping: When I get back from my short walk I take a blank sheet of paper and just begin to offload every thought that comes into my head. It is a way of clearing up all the thoughts in my head. This exercise is also greatly theraputic for those times when I am stressed or frustrated with something.

3. Mind Mapping: After clearing my head I begin to focus on the task at hand again and use mind mapping as a way to get my thoughts organized. I recommend most of Tony Buzan’s books on mind mapping.

Writing on a regular basis is a challenging feat. One which is bound to frustrate and irritate you at times,  it is also one of the most satisfying and rewarding things to be able to integrate into one’s life.

Related Posts:

Bathtubs, Lightning Bolts, and The Myth of Writer’s Block


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

Lesson #6: Importance of Reading

The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go. Dr. Seuss

I was an avid reader before I started this blog. I have however had to drastically increase the amount that I read since I started writing on a daily basis. Many of the topics I wrote about required substantial research, I also required to stay on top of things to see what other bloggers in my niche were writing about. If you are planning on writing a new blog in 2009 then reading is something that I highly recommend integrating into your daily schedule. This will not only increase your knowledge base it will also help you get a better command over how you write as well. My daily reading schedule involves:

1. Blogs: There are a couple of blogs that I read on a daily basis. Some of my favorite’s include Seth Godin, Fred Wilson, Brad Feld, Darren Rowse & Leo Babauta. Apart from these blogs I subscribe to over 50+ additional feeds that provide news on everything from current news to technology advances. Blogs provide a great source of up-to-date information on a range of topics and one can use resource sites such as Technorati or Alltop to find some great blogs.

2. News Sites: Ever since I joined Twitter I have relied on sites such as BBC and CNN a lot less. However there are still a couple of news and aggregation website sthat I visit everyday. Some of them include CNN Money, WSJ, FT, Fast Company and TechCrunch.

3. Magazines: I subscribe to a couple of magazines that I enjoy reading on a regular basis. Some of them include HBR, Fortune and Forbes Global.

4. Books: I average around 2-3 books a week. Some recent books that I have read are: 4-Hour Week by Tim Ferris, Top Grading by Brad Smart, 50 ways to be persuasive by Robert Cialdini. From next year onwards I plan for my blog to include book reviews on a regular basis. If you have any books that you want reviewed please let me know.

I am very interested to learn what readers of this blog are reading. Please provide blog links, web links or even book names. I look forward to hearing from all of you.

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

Lesson #4: Commitment

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

There is something about the last week of December that forces us to reflect on the year that has passed and to make resolutions for the new year ahead. In the heat of the moment we make all sorts of large commitments to ourselves only to find ourselves losing steam very quickly when the new year begins and we find ourselves back in the same routines. The fact of the matter is that making major life changes is not the simplest of things to do. To make things worse we tend to make large and bold resolutions without putting enough thought into what that actually entails.

Something prompted me to start blogging last December. I made a bold resolution and commitment to blog everyday. I wish someone had given me a reality check at that point in time and told me that blogging daily was going to be very challenging. However, a factor that differentiated this resolution from many others was that I made this commitment publicly on my blog. That  made me feel accountable to my readers as well as to myself, and hence propelled me to keep on writing.

This lesson applies not only to your blog but should have a broad application on one’s life as a whole. Before committing to something or someone, make sure you know what you are getting yourself into. Do your homework  before, it is much easier that way. Once a commitment is made, one needs to live up to your end of the deal. To tell you the truth, there were many times during the course of the year when the thought of discontinuing this blog actually did pass through my mind. I am really happy I kept my end of the deal though,  this entire experience has been tremendously defining and beneficial for me.

If you are planning on starting your blog next year, I suggest you give serious time and thought  to evaluate how much time you can actually spare in your day to blog. How long does it take you on average to write a blog post ? What other factors will help you keep your commitment when you do start? Lastly, make an open commitment to the blogosphere about your aspirations and goals for the year of 2009.I wish you the very best of success.

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

Lesson #3: Have a Goal

“Try not.  Do or do not.  There is no try.” Yoda

A few years back in one of my mastermind groups, one of my mentors mentioned that I should do whatever it took to take the word “try” out of my dictionary. I believe that advice has had a defining impact on my outlook on life. Shades of gray leave us with too much room to wiggle in and out of. Making decisions based on absolute outcomes is what makes life for us and for those around us a whole lot easier. There will be instances where  absolute outcomes are not known at the onset, we must however do whatever we can to ensure that we limit the permutations. When I started writing I had two primary goals:

1. To write something of some value everyday.

2. To develop a substantial content base to leverage off in Year 2 of my blog.

I left out two aspects, design and monetization, that are usually given the most attention. The truth of the matter is that to adequately monetize your blog, it needs to be backed by great content. When you have that settled, monetization becomes easier.  Hence I advise every new blogger to focus primarily on creating great content for their blog. Eventually one must strive to become an authoritative figure in one’s particular niche. When I look at stories of successful bloggers, this is usually the path that was taken. It does undoubtedly take a lot of hardwork and dedication. However to achieve any substantial goal there is no substitute for hardwork.

I would strongly suggest developing specific goals for your blog in 2009. This helps to put things in perspective as well giving you achievable targets. Some  metrics to track progress by are, number of posts, number of blog hits, number of comments etc. Set specific goals that can be measured and tracked. By doing this simple goal setting exercise ,you have a far greater chance of success.

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

5 Steps to Better Presentations

“There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.” Dale Carnegie

Presentations are a critical communication medium which entrepreneurs need to be adept at. Good presentation techniques make it easier to get your point across to your team, investors and customers. However, to be able to present like Steve Jobs, requires a lot of hard work, creativity and passion. Whenever I have seen a great presentation, it has the same five components. These components make the presentation experience engaging, stimulating and interesting. When any one of these key components is missing, the presentation unravels itself. These five components are:

1. Theme: We have all been to presentations where confusion surrounds the first 15 minutes, and everyone is trying to understand what the presenter is attempting to establish. With the aid of a theme the presenter is able to communicate the core essence of what is being presented. A theme serves as an anchor to keep the audience focused on the single most important message in your presentation. To read more about how to develop a theme for your presentation please click here.

2. Navigation: The outline is supposed to break the story into manageable parts, so that the audience does not get lost. Research has shown that focusing on a maximum of 3 main points in your presentation, is an optimal number as far as recall and attention spans are concerned. It is important that when we begin talking about a key point we introduce it, talk about it, and have a conclusion for it before we move on to the next point. To read more about developing a good outline for your presentation please click here.

3. Call to Action: This component requires the presenter to clearly state the action the audience needs to take after the presentation. This could be many things, ranging from closing a deal, securing funding, or convincing the team to go with a particular marketing strategy. Without this component we have wasted the audience’s time and they will leave the presentation frustrated and confused. Every presentation must have a specific call to action to fulfill its core purpose. To read more about developing a call to action for your presentation please click here.

4. Design: The creativity part of the presentation is one of the most challenging aspects when done correctly. It is about reducing the presentation content into simple messages, and with the help of visual aids communicated to your target audience optimally. We need to be wary of using clipart, complicated tables & charts, bullet points and distracting templates. Every element of your presentation from the colors, font and images must communicate a particular message to your audience. To read more design tips for your presentation please click here.

5. Rehearsal: Being prepared is the difference between a good and a great presentation. There should be an equal amount of effort put into the delivery of your presentation as well as to the production of the presentation. Memorize your material, get feedback from whoever will listen, and record yourself giving the presentation to gauge areas you need to focus on. There is a statistic which says that every minute of a presentation requires an hour of presentation. This goes to show how much effort needs to be placed on rehearsals to give a great presentation. To read more rehearsal techniques please click here.

You will notice that I have not mentioned passion as one of the components. The reason I leave it out is because it is a given. The above mentioned components help take your average presentation to a great one. Without passion however, your presentations will be well below average. Whatever we do in life, whether we are an entrepreneur, lawyer, doctor or an investment banker, we have to ensure that we are passionate about what we are doing. I wish you the best of luck in all your future presentations.

Filed under: Communication, Marketing, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Are you Prepared to Present?

“It takes one hour of preparation for each minute of presentation time.” Wayne Burgraf 

A killer theme has been selected, a consistent story, a great punch-line and a mind blowing design. All hyped up, we step up to the podium to deliver our presentation, and everything falls apart. We start by getting the words wrong, our train of thought goes astray, we begin talking about unrelated topics and soon, we have completely lost the audience’s attention and respect. Sound familiar? Well it does to me. I have had my fair share of presentations which did not go as planned. The reason: I never planned how I wanted them to go in the first place. One gets so caught up in getting the right picture, the right statistics and the right design, that we tend to forget the important aspect of getting the delivery of the actual presentation right. This is a lesson you have to learn the hard way to truly understand it’s magnitude. 

One of the first presentations I remembering rehearsing for, day and night, was my first VC pitch. I was the lead presenter and my team and I spent around 5 days perfecting the delivery of the pitch. It was the first time I realized how difficult it was to do something which appears to be relatively easy. Each time I watch one of Steve Jobs keynote addresses it just blows me away. Here is a guy who stands in front of thousands of individuals and holds their attention for 90 minutes without breaking a sweat. So is there a special secret which helps some speakers present better than others? No… is simply about being well prepared. Outlined below are some steps which can help you to be better prepared for your next presentation:

1. Who is your audience?: If you are pitching to a VC, you will have to pay attention to aspects like financials, target market and assumptions. Be prepared with answers to difficult questions in advance. On the other hand, if you are pitching to a customer,  stress different factors and communicate in point form to help them make a decision faster. Understand who your audience is, and what they expect of you in advance.

2. Material: I recommend memorizing your material if possible. This has helped me pitch more confidently and that confidence is surely communicated to the audience. Instead of memorizing word for word, use central themes and key words for each segment. 

3. Dry Runs: I record myself while rehearsing important presentations. Through this I can identify pitch, those parts of the presentation I have trouble with, any hand gestures I use, and whether I am able to stay within the designated time which has been allocated for the presentation. The last point is vital when pitching your startup at demos where one is given only 2-5 minutes to communicate your idea.

4. Tools: I recommend advance testing of your presentation at the actual site if possible. For some odd reason, the projector and notebook always seems to have a problem right before a presentation. I also recommend using a remote device to help navigate your presentation yourself. 

5. Passion: Without this component one might as well not give the presentation. Passion for your idea, product or service is communicated from the moment you begin your presentation. During rehearsals get feedback from your peers or anyone who is assessing your delivery on how you rank on confidence, enthusiasm and passion. 

Being prepared is the difference between a good and a great presentation. There should be an equal amount of effort put into the delivery of your presentation as well as to the production of the presentation. When you see a presenter like Al Gore giving the “Inconvenient Truth” presentation, you cannot help but notice how effortlessly he delivers and more importantly, communicates with his audience. This is a result of giving the same presentation hundreds of times and refining it to perfection. When you are making your next presentation to your team, customer or investors make sure you come prepared.

Sample Presentation:

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Presentation Design

“Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.” Charles Mingus

Text, animation, clipart graphics, charts, tables and bullet points need to be kept to a bare minimum in any presentation. Everything placed on your slide must have a purpose and communicate it’s message to the audience. This is easier said than done. Find below ‘before and after’ pictures from Apollo Ideas Inc, notice how well they communicate what I have just mentioned.

Copyright Apollo Ideas Inc

In all the ‘before’ pictures, we see there is too much text which is badly laid out, complicated tables & charts, and distracting backgrounds and colors. The ‘after’ slides have removed the clutter and presented simple, clear and concise slides which communicate their messages through pictures rather than words. To make a successful transition from the left slide to the right one, we need to put a lot more effort into each slide. In the book “Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath, they outline six principles essential to describing a good presentation. They are simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions, and stories. When developing your presentation, benchmark your presentation against these principles, to see whether the message you are attempting to communicate, will do so or not.

A summary of some key points for good presentation design:

1. Avoid: Clip art, complicated charts & tables, excessive use of text and bullet points.

2. Colors: Select colors carefully, and make sure they communicate the message you want the audience to feel. 

3. Typography: Keep your text consistent throughout the course of the presentation. Choose a font type which communicates your message effectively.

4. Images: Use high quality stock images whenever possible. The correct picture can communicate more than an entire slide worth of text, as shown in the example above.

Creating a well designed presentation which satisfies all the key criterions is a challenging task. With time and experience one will get more adept at choosing the correct elements for particular types of presentation. Until then, we need to keep practicing and getting as much feedback as possible. 

Sample Presentation:

Filed under: Communication, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Call to Action

“Ask yourself, ”If I had only sixty seconds on the stage, what would I absolutely have to say to get my message across.” Jeff Dewar 

A couple of years ago I struggled with my customer presentations. The content was great, I spent a lot of time on the theme and design, yet, I was unable to close the sale. If you have been in this spot, you know how frustrating it can be, specially when it happens repeatedly. I took a presentation to my mentors for feedback, to see if they could spot where I was going wrong. I did a demo presentation, I remember the response, it was “so what?”. Wow. The feedback I got was, I was not being aggressive enough in asking for the sale with my presentation. The end of the presentation was not packing in sufficient build up, to convince the prospect to make a decision about whether or not they would like to sign up for the service. I was going straight to the Q & A section after I spoke about pricing, and I lost customers during that transition.

After that day, I make sure that before I make a presentation, I visualize the desired outcome. This could be many things, ranging from closing a deal, securing funding, or convincing the team to go with a particular marketing strategy. The key is that there must be a call to action, otherwise it is a waste of time for you and the audience. Once I started incorporating this into my presentations, the results were truly astonishing. I started closing more sales and the audience was more involved and pro-active. Initially I thought the audience may find this direct approach too frank or abrasive, however the results were quite the contrary. The audience actually appreciated the upfront attitude, understood the main objective and more importantly, the chances of getting a definitive reply increased sharply.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind when devising your call to action:

1. Subtle Buildup: The last thing your customer wants to see is a slide out of nowhere, asking them to purchase the product/service. Make sure your story is consistent, it should outline the product/service, show its benefits, how it would aid a specific customer and any other data to support your pitch for why they should purchase from you.

2. Specific: There should be no vague statements relating to what you want to achieve at the end of the presentation. Be absolutely clear about what you would like them to do. If necessary, provide them with all necessary details if they have questions relating to the transaction.

3. Closing Tools: If the presentation is geared towards closing the deal with the customer right after the presentation, make sure you have all the necessary items to ensure the sale goes through. This could be contract agreements, a form on your website or even a mobile signing device. Be prepared with all the necessary tools required to ensure a successful outcome.

This has been an invaluable lesson for me and has greatly increased the effectiveness of my presentations. The next time you are giving a presentation, make sure you have a clear call to action which is supported by the rest of the presentation. Remember, if we do not ask for the sale, we are rarely going to be able to close it.

Sample Presentation:

Filed under: Communication, Sales, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Navigating your Audience

“The audience only pays attention as long as you know where you are going.” Philip Crosby 

Steve Jobs usually begins his keynote addresses, by giving his audience a rough outline for his presentation. For example he says, “Today, I am going to be talking about 3 things”. Usually these are three different products or services which he will talk about. What this statement does is, it formulates a path in the mind of the audience about what to expect from the presentation. Much of the time however, we will not be giving keynote addresses, and our presentations will be more intricate, and have a lot of material which we want, and need to cover. However, this should not be an excuse to create huge presentation outlines, and you should not start your presentation with headings such as: About Us, Problems, Solutions, Benefits, Price. The audience usually has this framework in mind already. 

As a presenter, we have to look at each presentation we give from both the macro and micro level. The prior post talked about the macro level, where we established the theme and story to be followed. The outline is supposed to break the story up into manageable parts, so that the audience does not get lost. Research has shown, that focusing on a maximum of 3 main points in your presentation, is an optimal number as far as recall and attention spans are concerned. It is important that when we begin talking about a key point we introduce it, talk about it, and have a conclusion for it before we move on to the next point. Often I notice presentations which talk about product features on one slide and shift to the pricing structure in the next. It is important to make the transition smoothly, to reiterate the point and close the section before moving on to the next.

Without a sequential structure in place we tend to lose audience attention very quickly. Hence, when creating your presentation sequence, remember to keep these key criterions in mind:

1. Sequential: Does your presentation flow smoothly from one section to the next?

2. Opening & Closing: Are each of the sections of your presentation introduced, and concluded clearly?

3. Length: Have you managed to restrict the content to 3 main points?

Developing an interesting presentation which flows well, requires creativity and hard work. The next time you are creating a presentation, do your best to understand the target audience, and decide the best way to communicate your message in a simple, clear and concise manner.

Sample Presentation:

Filed under: Communication, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What is the theme of your presentation?

“A theme is a memory aid, it helps you through the presentation just as it also provides the thread of continuity for your audience.” Dave Carey 

We have all been to presentations where confusion surrounds the first 15 minutes, trying to understand what the presenter is attempting to establish. For example, an entrepreneur goes to pitch to an investor, and spends the first 20 minutes talking about his and his team’s credentials. The investors, who expected to hear a business proposal, are frustrated and confused. In this example, the presenter failed to set a theme for the presentation, and lost the audience’s attention. In another example, an entrepreneur enters a room, and sets the stage by telling the investors “today we will show you a revolutionary product which is going to change the way you read a book”. With a single sentence, the investor knows in essence, what is going to be talked about and what the main objective is.

Once a theme is developed, we need to support it with a story. I believe when both these components are brought together in a logical and sequential manner, great presentations are created. In the second example above, when the presenter sets the theme but follows it through only with a product demo and all its features and functionalities, it fall’s short of the expectations which were created. To support your theme, one needs to weave a sequential story to help bring the investors/customers from where they are, to where you want them to be. The presentation needs to flow naturally to help them understand your concept, how it will change the way to read, what the benefits are, and why they should invest in this opportunity. For a more detailed explanation of the art of story telling please view the video by Ira Glass below.

Master presenters like Steve Jobs begins presentations with statements such as “There is something in the air today”, “Today, we are going to change the way the world views a phone”. His keynote addresses are often launch pads for new product releases and enhancements, and he uses themes to set the tone and expectations right from the word Go. Whenever we have to prepare a presentation, take a step back before you open up powerpoint, and ask yourself, what is the one message I want to communicate to my audience? What is the most effective way of communicating this message? Once we have the answers to these questions, it will be easier to figure out the optimal way of delivering the message. One word of advice, irrespective of how much effort is put into theme and story development, if there is no passion or enthusiasm from the presenter, all is lost. It is your job to get your audience interested, and the only way to do that, is to be interesting yourself. 

Related Video:

Sample Presentation: The sound is not synced correctly, however this is a great presentation.


Filed under: Communication, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,