Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Lesson #2: Passion

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive.  And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Harold Whitman

Passion is a subject I have written about extensively on my blog. Doing anything without passion more often than not leads to dissapointment and loss of interest, very quickly. To be able to write everyday, or on a regular schedule about a particular niche is mandatory if you want to make your blog stand out from the rest. There are numerous blogs that I  followed regularly, when they stopped updating themselves with new content I eventually removed them from my RSS feeds. This is usually because either the writer lost the initial vigor that prompted them to setup the blog, lost steam half way through or simply lost interest in the topic. These are problems that individuals with true passion rarely run into when they blog. There will undoubtedly be times when their blogs will not be updated for a while, but they always come back with great content that keeps their readers wanting more.

If one were to study individuals who have achieved noteworthy success in what they do, passion is usually the one constant which comes up time and time again. When an individual has that inner desire to learn more and give more, it has this positive effect on their work. Everything becomes richer, more meaningful and work is no longer viewed as just “work”. Re-reading these last couple of sentences I am amazed at the number of people I know well personally who have abandoned their passions and just settled for something that helps them get by. I guess following your passions is something that requires one to actually discover what they are passionate about and then take that leap of faith to follow it. I can tell you from personal experience that when you do actually follow your true passions, life becomes a lot more fulfilling and satisfying.

Therefore if you plan on blogging for the long term,  make sure that you have a true passion for what you will be writing about. More importantly your blog could be the first step in starting to pursue your true passion. By writing, reading and continuously researching topics, one can unconver opportunities and possible avenues on how to make that leap of faith a lot easier.

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Passion and Satisfaction

“When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” Steve Jobs

I re-read Steve Jobs Stanford address (Link) recently and this point really stood out for me. Over the last couple of months I have met with a lot of individuals who are doing whatever they are doing solely for a pay check. Life is then a monotonous series of events with very few diversions, and often leads to frustrations, stress and in some cases depression. Finding one’s true calling in life is definitely not the easiest of things to do. Many people struggle a very long time to find something which makes them happy in the true sense. The main emphasis however is that one needs to put oneself out there continuously to find what that true calling actually is.

I believe the litmus test outlined by Steve Jobs simplifies this seemingly difficult task. Personally I always knew that I wanted to go into business. That was the first step. Eventually I realized I wanted to be involved with businesses which dealt with  people on a daily basis. Today, apart from running an HR consultancy business I serve as an advisor to many startups and businesses. Everyday brings with it new challenges and the ability to meet new people. This keeps me motivated and I look forward to each new day.

I have spoken to many people about passion throughout this last year. When we do not  have passion for what we do on a daily basis, life is bound to get monotonous and unfulfilling. Therefore, we have to make a conscious decision to ask ourselves on a regular basis “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?”. When we answer “no” too many times in a row we have to make a pro-active effort to change.

Related Posts:

Expertise & Passion by Seth Godin

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5 Steps to Better Conversations

There is no such thing as a worthless conversation, provided you know what to listen for. And questions are the breath of life for a conversation. James Nathan Miller

In today’s fast paced world, we may have many virtual conversations, but, we are losing the ability to sit across a person or a group of people and have a real conversation. We are pre-occupied with the myriad of things happening in our life, or are constantly being beeped by one of the many gadgets we carry. This does not bode well for our generation, because a breakdown in the ability to communicate in the real world can have disastrous repercussions. We see that today in the increase in divorces, suicides and depression related illnesses. Somewhere along this rapid technological progress, we are losing touch with the fundamental bonds which hold us all together. The art of conversation is one such bond, it has been pivotal in our development. Listed below are five steps, to assist and benchmark conversational and communication skills.

1. Knowledge: When it comes to being a good communicator, knowledge is a defining aspect. Without it, we can talk without actually saying very much. When an individual is knowledgeable, it comes across even when you talk to them about the most trivial of subjects. One must constantly keep learning and growing. With the proliferation of information today, there are so many ways we can keep ourselves abreast on current affairs as also increase our knowledge on subjects we are interested in. To learn specific tips on how to increase your knowledge base, please click here.

2. Confidence: Being confident about oneself is an integral part of being a good communicator. Without this characteristic, knowledge will not help you to communicate in an effective manner. To assess our confidence, we have to identify instances where we lack the confidence to take a stand or share an opinion. Watch the best communicators in the world and visualize yourself communicating in similar manners. We have to get rid of negative thoughts which give rise to self doubt. At the same time, we have to keep a fine balance between being confident and over confident. To learn specific tips on how to increase your level of confidence, please click here.

3. Clarity: Without clarity, the message we want to communicate can get lost somewhere in translation. This will result in both the speaker and audience getting frustrated and tune out. There needs to be substantial and adequate thought put into the organization of our ideas. At the same time, we need to make sure that the language we use is not too convoluted that it confuses rather than impresses the audience. Lastly and most importantly, pronunciation is of critical importance. These factors put together, form the basic foundation of clarity of speech. To learn about each component in greater detail, please click here.

4. Enthusiasm: No one really wants to talk to someone who is sick of life and has lost the passion for living. Individuals who attract us are those whose body language, tone and words express their zest for life. They have a certain type of energy around them which makes just about anything they say a lot more enjoyable. Since 93% of all conversation is based on non verbal cues which include your body language and tone, it is essential that we pay more attention to them to ensure that our conversations are an accurate reflection of our persona and the message we want to convey. To learn more about these three factors, which determine the enthusiasm level in your conversations, please click here.

5. Listening: The art of listening is a dying art in our world today. Conversations are constantly and rudely interrupted, or the audience distracted, either due to information overload in their minds, or one of the many gadgets on them, which keep beeping or ringing. In order to become better listeners there are three areas we should focus our attention towards. Firstly, are we actively listening to the conversations we are part of? Secondly, do we have internal filters which are impeding our listening to the entire message. Lastly, are we paying attention to the subtle clues in each conversation conveyed through tone, body language and choice of words? To learn more about each of these three areas, please click here.

As an entrepreneur we have to work towards making great first impressions to colleagues, investors and customers. Our conversational skills are a large component of the overall impression we project. We have to ensure that we are conveying the impression we wish to. The steps provided above should assist in evaluating your present conversational skills and subsequently used to benchmark how we measure up on each one . Better conversational skills and abilities will not only increase the quality of your professional relationships, it will do wonders for your personal relationships too. I wish you the best of luck in all your future endeveours.

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Are you listening?

“We were given two ears but only one mouth, because listening is twice as hard as talking.” Anonymous

The art of listening is a dying art in our world today. Conversations are constantly and rudely interrupted, or the audience distracted, either due to information overload in their minds, or one of the many gadgets on them, which keep beeping or ringing. Somehow no one seems to be listening anymore, yet, everyone seems to be talking a lot more. The fact of the matter is, listening is not the easiest of exercises. It requires large amounts of patience, a willingness to learn from the other person and most importantly, to have respect for the other person’s point of view. However, in the fast paced world we live in today, everyone seems to want to get their two bits in, and has frankly stopped caring about what the other person is saying or feeling. Conversations structured like this are the worst sort of one-way monologues one is part of. Developing skills to be a better listener takes years to master, listed below are some steps to assess one’s current level, and then work on them further.

1. Active Listening: Have you ever spoken to someone and the other person appeared to be distracted or not really there? This creates a level of frustration in the speaker, and eventually they lose interest in sharing their opinion because they are not being heard. When an individual is listening actively they are constantly either reaffirming the thoughts of the speaker with nods or the occasional “uh-huh”, when unclear they are paraphrasing what is being said and getting clarification. Taking an active interest in what is being said, helps the speaker to communicate their thoughts more actively. How active a listener are you?

2. Filters: All of us have interests and hobbies that we like to talk about and get other opinions on. We also know which subjects are not of interest to us, and chances are we will tune out when someone starts speaking about them. When put into the context of listening, this is extremely selfish behaviour, and we end up only talking and listening to people who interest us. In the real world this is difficult as we do have to listen to people who talk about their interests. We have to closely monitor these filters and do our best to eradicate as many of them as possible. Remain committed to keeping an open mind and avoid making judgments based on personal filters. Are you filtering too many conversations?

3. Clues: As mentioned in the last post, non verbal communication constitutes a large part of overall conversation. We have to train ourselves, not only to listen to the words the speaker is using, but also take note of the tone of voice and body language. We have to know when to empathize and when to give constructive feedback. Chances are, if we have not really been listening to the conversation as a whole, we would have missed these cues, which result in miscommunication. There will be times when  speakers get frustrated that the individual is not listening to what they are saying, and the listener is clueless about why the person is so angry (Happens a lot between men and women). Are you paying attention to all the clues?

I have a mentor who does a great job at listening. I can sit in front of him for hours, and somehow thoughts come easier and communication is a lot more fluid. Even though there is minimal input on his part I ‘know’ he is listening. Imagine if you could have such conversations with your colleagues, investors and customers. As an entrepreneur, we have to keep our ears peeled all the time to ensure that we are staying on top of the game. If you are listening, the probability of success is a lot higher.

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How Enthusiastic are you?

“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

We have all had that one professor or lecturer in school or college, who put everyone to sleep. His/her monotonous delivery, made it impossible to pay attention to the material being taught. There are also many individuals who have a strained manner of speaking. They have either lost interest in life, or have sunk into a routine which impacts their passion for life negatively. When we come into contact with such individuals, they tend to drain our energy too.  Were an entrepreneur to ever get stuck in such a rut, the impact for his/her business could be disastrous. I mention passion repeatedly in most of my series, as being critical for success in any aspect for life. We have to avoid getting bogged down when difficult situations arise, to keep our chin up is essential. Keeping a positive outlook is vital to keep enthusiasm levels high. Some factors by which we can measure levels of enthusiasm in a conversation are:

1. Body Language: If you pay attention to great communicators such as Steve Jobs,  notice their gestures and overall body language when they are communicating. It is a known fact, that using gestures when speaking helps the brain connect thoughts faster. Our overall body posture is an integral part of the total message we want to deliver. For example, if one were to stand with drooping shoulders and speak in a non expressive manner when pitching to a VC,  we will send a  wrong subliminal message. Pay attention to your body language when speaking, it is a major component of your overall communication delivery.

2. Tonality: I did a NLP (Neuro Linguisitic Programming) course a couple of years ago where a large chunk was dedicated to the importance of tonality. A variety of tones can be used to communicate the same message, in many different ways. If you have ever heard or watched Anthony Robbins, notice how he uses tonality to communicate with the audience at different levels. Sometimes, his pitch is fast and highly charged to get the audience fired up to his level,  other times, he drops the level of his voice to communicate at a different level when he wants to appeal to your subconscious. Pay attention to your tone when you next communicate with someone. Are you mixing it up enough?

3. Words: Extraordinary, Amazing, Revolutionary these are just some of the words that Steve Jobs uses in his keynote addresses when he introduces new products. With the correct choice of words, one is able to flavor communication in a manner that helps the audience relate to what you are saying. Imagine John F. Kennedy saying “Do good things for your country,” instead of “Ask not what your
country can do for you, but what you can do for your country!” The choice of words and how they are put together in a sentence, impact greatly on the intensity and meaning of what you are saying.

When I was with toastmasters we were taught the 55% 38% 7% rule. The rule simply says that 55% of communication is through body language, 38% through our tone and 7% through the words we use. Unfortunately we pay too much attention to the 7% and forget about the importance of the 93%. To become a great communicator, we have ensure that we pay attention to the entire 100% and deliver it with enthusiasm and passion.

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