Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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

The Secret to Success

“Success is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.” Winston Churchill

Unfortunately there is no magical formula or path to guarantee success. Reading autobiographies of some of the most successful people in the world and engaging in conversations with successful entrepreneurs, the one common tread that is always brought up in one way or other, is their level of persistence. This theme is stressed upon vigorously and they reiterate how they nearly gave up, but something told them to keep going on. I am reading the “Second Bounce of the Ball” by Ronald Cohen these days, a founding member of the private equity industry, and he brings up this point in one of the early chapters of his book. In the first couple of years of setting up his business he lost both of his partners because they did not think the business was going to survive. However he kept faith and persistence in the inner conviction that he was onto something and kept plugging away. Success came 7-8 years into his venture but at the end of his career he was managing $2ob.

Starting an enterprise is hard work. Everyone knows that, but I think many of them underestimate just how challenging it actually is to get a venture past the break even point into profitability. However, plugging away on a venture without changing the strategies that are not working, is obviously not very smart either. Listed below are a couple of pointers to assist you push through the challenges and achieve the goals and results you want.

1. Clarify your goals: I have reiterated this point many a time on my blogs. Before starting any venture, ensure you know what you are working towards. What is the final end goal? What do you want to achieve, and by when? Make your goals as specific as possible and ensure that they are measurable and time bound. Without clear goals, chances are that you will lose steam half way, begin to doubt yourself and lose faith in the venture. You need to be emotionally and mentally connected with your goals and believe with conviction that you have the abilities to reach them.

2. Have a Plan: If you set a goal for your business to achieve a $1m in profits in 3 years time of selling your product/service, then chart out a plan how you plan to achieve the goal. What are the steps that need to be taken? What are major milestones that need to be achieved along the way? What resources will you need to realize your plans? What are your backup strategies if you are unable to hit some of your mini goals? A plan is a critical element in keeping you focused and provides much needed motivation during those rough times.

3. Partners: These could be your business partners or they could be associates from your mastermind groups or mentors who help push you when the chips are down. When you are riding solo and business is not going as planned it can get very lonely, frustrating and demotivating. Without an adequate support system even the most persistent and determined individuals can falter. Make sure you have partners who will be there to catch you in case you fall and will help you get back up again.

4. Shrug of Negativeness: How many times have you heard someone shoot down a business idea that you may want to pursue or tell you that the economy is so bad that your chance of succeeding is negligible. As an entrepreneur you need to be able to shrug of this negativity without letting it affect your mental capacities. By surrendering to external circumstances we will find ourselves paralyzed and often unable to think or act correctly. Have faith and believe in what you are doing  rather than other people, let concerned people give you feedback and take it from there.

Success is usually the last person still hanging on when everyone else has given up. It takes patience, persistence and a level of self confidence that enables you to weather the storms when the going gets tough. Remember not to fight through the challenges blindly without adjusting your strategies along the way. If you really believe that what you are wanting to achieve is possible and you can do it, you are more than half way there.

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5 Strategy Based Games

“What do you want to achieve or avoid? The answers to this questions are objectives. How will you go about achieving your desired results? The answer to this you can call strategy.” William E Rothschild.

This week we have talked about ways to flex analytical thinking capabilities so as to become more adept at developing and executing strategic directives. One of the ways which has contributed substantially to my personal growth in strategic based thinking, has been its application in a variety of strategic games I have played. Most of these games have simple rules, and can be played by a broad spectrum of individuals ranging from children to adults. When we begin to scratch the surface of these rules, we notice more complexities. Strategy development follows similar lines. To develop and deploy an effective strategy is a challenging task. Listed below are five strategy based games through which I have learnt many valuable lessons.

1. Chess: This game teaches several fundamental concepts, such as preparation, patience and sacrifice, key proponents in development of strategic planning. Chess provides an ideal playing ground to practice, and hone skills needed in these particular segments. It teaches us to see patterns, which may lead to future positions, and how to take advantage of them. At the same time it forces us to continue looking at the bigger picture, to ensure that we are aware of all positions on the board, so as to take advantage of them. To read more about the parallels between chess and strategy please click here.

2. Bridge: Is a game which helps develop skills to work with others, communication, learning to trust instinct and, actual ‘table’ play. As a partnership based game, effective communication with your partner is critical so as to read and understand the partner’s hand. Developing and deploying strategic directives works in the same way. We have to learn to work together to formulate them, at the same time we have to communicate them effectively to the rest of the team, to ensure smooth deployment or play. To read more about parallels between bridge and strategy please click here.

3. Poker: Among the many things which can be learnt from this game are aggression, controlling emotions and attention to detail. Most of these qualities are also required to ensure successful deployment of any strategy. Without them, we see poor execution and unravelling of plans midway, due to the inability to master these factors. It is essential that we develop and be adept at understanding our own thresholds and abilities to find success. To read more about the parallels between poker and strategy please click here.

4. Monopoly: An all time favorite strategy based game, this gives players insights into negotiating, deal making and situational analysis. There are several strategies which players take to win at this game, unfortunately they are often short sighted. This is due primarily because we develop strategies based solely on the short term . These could be in the form of hitting quarterly targets or maintaining specific share price. Most of these strategies do not take into account long term implications of these decisions, which have the potential to be detrimental to the company’s future. To read more about parallels between monopoly and strategy please click here.

5. Risk: A game with an end goal of, world domination. It teaches players several principles relating to allocation of resources, partnerships and aggression. Most of these principles form the basis of successful strategies. The ability to fully utilize in-hand resources in the most efficient manner is a challenging task. Furthermore, to progress as an organization,  strategic alliances need to be formed to accelerate the rate of growth. These principles are covered in the game, in a simple yet effective manner. To learn more about parallels between risk and strategy please click here.

On the journey as an entrepreneur, learning has to be an ongoing factor. Using creative methods to exercise analytical and thinking capabilities helps to see situations from different angles. This equips us with the ability to make better decisions, be more productive and reach our goals faster. 

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Risk

“Move not unless you see an advantage; use not your troops unless there is something to be gained; fight not unless the position is critical. If it is to your advantage, make a forward move; if not, stay where you are.” Sun Tzu

Competing for world domination is what the game of Risk is all about. This is a military based game, where players put their respective armies against each other. The game provides each player with the ability to be involved in strategic maneuvering, brings in an element of luck with the dice and gives ample opportunities to form and break alliances. In a way, it simplifies all the complexities of war, into a simple game where the player with the greatest foresight and a little luck, usually emerges victorious. Unlike Monopoly, this game allows for more creativity and imagination due to the movements allowed on the board. Playing straightforward strategies leaves you exposed, and vulnerable to attacks. 

This interesting game has quite a few parallels to the world of business and strategy:

1. Allocation of Resources: Each player has a finite amount of resources allocated to them. The placement of these resources is a critical aspect of the game. One may choose to have loosely scattered armies all over the board, they may decide to fortify certain key positions with the bulk of their resources, or they may aim to use their resources collectively and be aggressive. Each strategy has its advantages and disadvantages, a similar predicament occurs in the real world when we develop strategies. The deployment of limited resources is critical to whether the overall strategy will be successful or not.

2. Partnerships: Conquering the whole world, even in a game, is an arduous task, one that can rarely be done alone. The game calls for players to partner together, to improve their chances of winning and become a more feared adversary. Without these partnerships one is usually outflanked or outnumbered, and an early exit in the the game is imminent. The same principles apply in the real world. In order to reach goals and objectives, partnerships are an essential component. Choosing partners carefully and correctly is vital to ensure the success of any campaign.

3. Aggression: In my experience of playing this game, the opponent who chooses to fortify a small portion of the board heavily, usually faces eventual defeat. Opponents who choose a defensive style of play, lack the creativity or willingness to go out of their comfort zones, fearing the unknown. Unfortunately such behavior is punished heavily in this game as well as in the real world. When pursuing goals and dreams, being aggressive is often vital to acheive them . Focusing efforts on offensive strategies instead of defensive ones will bring a greater share of victories, rather than defeats in my opinion. 

In the game of Risk there is an element of luck, due to the requirement of rolling a dice. Once the dice is rolled, nothing can be done to change what was rolled. What we do have control over, is how we react to what we may have rolled. In life we have the same choice. We cannot change the hand that we have been dealt. What we can change is how we choose to play it. Remember to keep your end goal in mind, and formulate short term tactics to reach it.

 

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Monopoly

“Monopoly is a game which calls for long term strategic planning in order to succeed. “ Anonymous

There were very few games as exciting as Monopoly when I was growing up. It was by far one of my favorite board games, I still enjoying playing it today. There was something about the game, which drew me to it, maybe it was the immense satisfaction I got from figuring out how to convince my opponent to make a deal, the thrill of watching my opponents land on my hotels or just plain winning. I do believe that playing this game from such a young age was, to an extent, instrumental in developing my passion for business and deal making. As I grew older I began to notice the parallels between the board game and business. 

Listed below are some prominent parallels:

1. Negotiation: Monopoly requires players to make deals for swapping properties or other concessions during the course of the game. Very rarely do players want to give up something which they know will put them at a disadvantage in the game. It all comes down to how convincingly you negotiate and structure deals, so that they fit into your plan and appear to be favorable to your opponents as well. Individuals act in similar ways in the real world, and an ability to close a deal comes down to your negotiation and persuasion skills. 

2. Situation Analysis: In the game of Monopoly, it is critical that you adjust strategy according to the number of opponents as well as the nature of their behaviour patterns. Going ahead blindly and acquiring every piece of property you land on without a set objective, will place you at a definitive disadvantage. When developing business strategy, the same concerns have to be taken into account. Not paying attention to these factors, creates exploitable vulnerabilities in your plan. 

3. Integrity: Sometimes individuals will say just about anything to close a deal. In Monopoly this could be, “I will let you off three times on my hotels”, “We can share profits on this property” or “I will never charge you on this square”. However, I have seen these promises broken many  a time and a friendly game turn sour. In a game revolving around dealmaking, one’s word is really all there is. If no one trusts you or your word does not carry weight, no one will want to make a deal with you. The same rule applies in all aspects of life as well. Keeping true to your word will give your team reason to believe in you, will give investors the confidence to invest in you and will allow you to sleep well at night. 

Looking ahead and adjusting strategy according to forecasts is essential in the game of Monopoly and the game of life. One has to learn to trust gut instincts, and be confident in how to move forward. Keeping your word and honoring deals is mandatory. Understand your opponents and learn what drives them. At the end of the game of Monopoly there can only be one winner, make sure you have the drive and ambition to be that person. 

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Poker

“The most common mistake in history is underestimating your opponent; it happens at the poker table all the time.” David Shoup

Poker is a game associated with luck and random chance by most people. The immense media attention has contributed to a large extent, to the explosion in the number of poker players during recent years. The rules of the game are fairly straightforward, any amateur can be taught the game in no time. Due to this low learning curve, this game has witnessed a massive influx of players who just want to “try” their luck at it , so to speak.  Admittedly, there is an element of luck to this game, as there is with most card games. However, this element of luck creates a deceptive illusion, and beginners finds themselves losing rapidly to the more seasoned players. The fact of the matter is,  understanding probability stakes and an innate skill for reading people’s faces provides stronger players, with a huge advantage in this game. 

There are a few parallels that can be drawn from the game of poker to strategy and business. Some key elements I drew from the game are:

1. Aggression: Calculated aggression in the game of poker, forces other players at the table to react to your style of playing. Done correctly, this enables stronger players to manipulate many situations to their advantage. In business, and specially strategic development, the same theory applies. If one remains passive in outlook and allows external factors to disrupt the game plan, progress will be slow. One has to be an instigator to bring change, and one needs to pursue goals aggressively to reach them. Sitting back and expecting things to happen is a flawed strategy.

2. Controlling Emotions: The players at a poker table who allow their emotions to override logic and rationale, are the first to lose their chips. There are very few games I have played, in which controlling emotions plays such a vital role. It has taught me a great deal about patience and keeping a level head even when things become terribly long. Developing such patience can help greatly in all aspects of life, and provide a distinct advantage over those who lose their cool too quickly.

3. Attention to Detail: The game of poker is about gathering as much information about other players as possible. This could be their betting patterns, gestures or even the way they talk. Poker, does to a large extent boil down to how well you can read your opponents. Players who are able to identify patterns earlier in the game, can win, regardless of what others may be holding in their hands. In business and strategic development the same rules apply. The inability to understand your competition and identify trends leaves your organization at a great disadvantage. 

Developing keen insights about your opponents, and understanding your own personal threshold limits can be extremely valuable assets. By the same token, knowing when to accept defeat and when to keep your calm is equally important. This game punishes those with large egos, and rewards those who are able to keep their emotions and egos in check. Life works in very similar ways, the sooner we get adept at understanding these intricacies, the sooner we can reach our goals.

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Bridge

“A winner listens to his partner’s point of view; A loser just waits until it’s his turn to express his own.” Anonymous

Bridge is a game that was played regularly by my grandparents and parents. As a result, I learned this game at a very young age. I still have many fond memories of sitting beside my grandparents while they played their weekly bridge game at our home. It was fascinating to see the dynamics between the four individuals who were playing. Being a team based game, I remember being told how critical it was to carefully select partners and develop relationships. Like any team based game there were arguments and disagreements over how certain hands were played, which actually added an exciting dynamic to the game. 

On the surface, bridge appears to be a simple game with set rules of how to play the 13 cards each individual is dealt. However, that is only the beginning. There are many intricacies and conventions which arise when you begin to talk about bidding tactics, counting cards, table play and being able to read your partners as well as the opponents. Some parallels I can draw from bridge in comparision to strategic thinking are:

1. Teamwork: Without teamwork bridge cannot be played optimally. It requires both partners to have established understanding of each other’s style of playing  as well as the  conventions they follow and play to. From a strategic point of view one can draw parallels to business teams, as it is easy to tell which teams work well together as compared to those who don’t. When a team is not looking at ways to improve communication and productivity together, they are missing out on massive potential. Therefore establishing team building skills through games like bridge can be extremely beneficial.

2. Communication: Bridge is all about communicating with your partner the strengths and weaknesses of your hand , and then go on to play the hand optimally. However, the bidding process is complicated and requires a deep understanding of bidding styles and conventions as well as interpretation of your partners bids. The team which is able to communicate most effectively is usually the one with a substantial advantage in the game. Strategically, the same conclusions can be reached regarding communication. If teams do not communicate effectively they will suffer as  a result. On the other hand effective team communication can develop into defining competitive advantages over peers.

3. Instincts: Trusting your gut becomes easier with time and experience. Initially there is doubt about one’s instincts even when it appears to be a logical sequence. In bridge one needs to accurately place  one’s opponents cards relative to bidding and past rounds. There needs to be confident dependence on one’s ability to trust one’s counting & retentive skills as well as instinct in the placement of cards. This develops ones ability to rely on one’s instinct with greater comfort. Trusting your instincts when developing and executing strategy is necessary. Without it, you lack the confidence and ability to communicate effectively with the rest of the team. 

Bridge is an enjoyable game which sharpens analytical and team building skills. Unfortunately it is not a mainstream game and therefore does not enjoy the popularity of other card games such as poker. Nonetheless, it is a game I recommend, so learn it and play it as recreational activity among your team.

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5 Steps to Manage Startup Risk

“I think that only daring speculation can lead us further and not accumulation of facts.” Albert Einstein

In the first post of this series, I added a video which stated life = risk. If we shield ourselves from all sorts of risks by staying in our small comfort zone we will not be living life fully. It is our perrogative to find a balance to ensure that we live life to its fullest. The points below relate how to find that balance when starting a business.

1. Market Risk: Our world is in a constant state of flux and with mind boggling technological advancements taking place, we have to be constantly aware of the changes taking place around us. This requires us to monitor our competitors, be in touch with our customers and suppliers, and watch for trends which could potentially make your business extinct. To read more about how to manage market risk please click here.

2. Operational Failure: All companies operate on a set of processes. These processes drive all avenues of business, ranging from Internal operations, business development, sales, marketing and execution to name a few critical functions. When these processes are not optimized or closely scrutinized a business will not be able to scale effectively and reach its target goals. To read more about how you can avoid operational failure please click here.

3. Financial Risk: Without financial controls a business loses its foundation and is on shaky grounds even when the company is making steady profits. Ensuring that you have sound and reliable financial controls in place will allow you to minimize your exposure to financial risks and allow your business to grow more effectively. To read about how you can add financial controls to your startup please click here.

4. The People Risk Factor: You hear it all the time, “Our people are our most important asset”. Its like a mantra that has been wedged into our sub conscious and is constantly repeated from board meetings to your daily staff meetings. However, I am always surprised that though this is such an important asset, very few steps and measures are taken to mitigate the risk associated with this asset. To read more about how you can add effective control measures to mitigate these risks please click here.

5. Lessons in Risk: Having been in this line of work for some time now there have been several risk factors which I have witnessed or experienced first hand. These cover the time you should start, what the risks of starting without a plan are and the kind of risks you have to deal with on a daily basis. To read more about these lessons please click here.

In life and business, if you stop taking calculated risks, or if you let doubt  paralyze you, moving forward becomes close to impossible. It is only when you make mistakes that you learn from them and eventually move forward. Along the way we have to manage the types of risk faced and ensure that we take precautionary measures to avoid risking it all if we do not know where we are headed. Once you know what you want and how you want to get it, take action , because thinking ‘what if’ is just about the worst thing you could do to yourself!

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Personal Experiences With Risk

“Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.” Paulo Coelho

The risks mentioned in prior posts provide a framework on mitigating risk in various divisions of business. Some of the risks and counter measures mentioned in this post are general and some those I have personally encountered during my journey as an entrepreneur. 

1. Start as early as possible: The younger you are , the lower the  risk level when embarking on new startup ventures. This is a point in life when you do not have many personal responsibilities and can hence take on greater leveraged risks, for greater payoffs. There will never be a right time. If you wait around for it, you drastically reduce the level of risk you can take . 

2. Don’t start without a plan: Starting a business is a lot of fun and very exciting, however, if you do not have a solid business plan which has been well researched and developed, get working on that first. I am not a fan of shotgun startup ventures who are clueless about where they want to go and how they plan on getting there. 

3. Learn to trust your gut: There will be times when the plans looks too good to be true on paper, but your gut feeling is to be wary. On the other hand ,there are times when the pieces do not fit into place initially, yet, your gut says this is worth exploring. Learning to trust your gut allows you to hone into your inner guidance system and intuitive capabilities.

4. Don’t forget your core values: We are constantly faced with challenges where compromising on core values could lead to substantial benefits. However, going down that path poses great personal and moral risk . I have personally known someone who went down this path and ended up losing everything that mattered in his life. It was an incident which left a deep impression. Compromising on core values is one of the greatest risks you can take and one where the consequences are long lasting & long term.

Some of the concepts mentioned in this posts have many counter arguments. Such as the first one, which is to start early. Some argue that it is better to get some work experience before venturing out into the startup world. Others believe in just starting a business and hoping to eventually make some money. I would really like to hear what your thoughts about this are. Look forward to hearing from you.

 

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The People Risk Factor

Our mission statement about treating people with respect and dignity is not just words but a creed we live by every day. You can’t expect your employees to exceed the expectations of your customers if you don’t exceed the employees’ expectations of management.” Howard Scultz

You hear it all the time, “Our people are our most important asset”. Its like a mantra that has been wedged into our sub conscious and is constantly repeated from board meetings to your daily staff meetings. However, I am always surprised that though this such an important asset, very few steps and measures are taken to mitigate the risk associated with this asset. As a startup this is one of the most dangerous sort of risk we are exposed to, due primarily to our size. When a critical team member or employee leaves, the entire business can be brought to its knees. Listed below are a couple of risk control measures you can use to protect this asset .

1. Strict selection policies: At early stages, startups are usually 2-3 individuals who know each other and are comfortable spending days on end locked up in an office, working on the next big idea. Adding new partners or employees represents a large undertaking, and requires serious looking into . If you make the mistake of adding the wrong individual, productivity in the office takes a nose dive and the cost of replacing the employee is high. So use this list along with your own requirements to ensure that you select carefully.

2. Ironclad contracts for new employees: A lot of private data is shared regarding costing, pricing and internal processes with new employees. Many startup companies fail to get employees to sign non compete and confidentiality clauses. The risk of losing an employee to a competitor with your trade secrets represents a phenomenally large risk against which you should take counter measures .

3. Quarterly one of one reviews: I usually have quarterly reviews with most of the individuals whom I work closely with . This is an open and candid session where I learn about their level of satisfaction, frustrations and other problem which may be hindering them from performing up to mark. These sessions provide critical feedback and allow you to take precautionary measures to ensure you do whatever is necessary to retain your most talented performers.

4. Provide training and development: Most startups run on strict financial budgets, however if they have used strict budgeting controls as stated in my previous post, a budget for training and development should be in place to provide your team with training ,which will help improve their productivity and skills. This helps in creating stronger bonds between management and employees. It also increases the overall morale and productivity levels of the organization.

5 Fair rewards & recognition: If your team is generating high levels of growth for your organization they need to be compensated fairly. In some startup companies, which are not heavily venture backed this can be a challenge as funds are usually very tight. However, management needs to ensure that performance and rewards are tightly linked. If they are not, you stand a high level of risk to lose your rainmakers. To read more about rewards and recognition please click here.

We have to do whatever is necessary to ensure that we cater to our team wherever possible. It is a difficult juggling act to manage expectations and requirement, at the same time maintaining an environment where productivity and morale is high. If not correctly maintained there can be nasty repercussions which can bring your organization to a standstill and expose it to extremely high levels of risk. However if it is correctly managed, this asset becomes your organization’s competitive advantage, and paves the way for greater achievements.

 

 

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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.

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