Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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

10 Lessons from a Year of Blogging

“There are no mistakes or failures, only lessons.” Denis Waitley

I made a resolution on the 31st of Dec 2007 to blog every day for an entire year. Not quite knowing what I was getting myself into I started writing and have not looked back since. Through the course of the year I realized that the goal I had set for myself was very challenging and required a lot more time and effort than I had expected. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed writing on a daily basis and aim to continue blogging through 2009. Next year I do not plan to blog everyday but have added some new twists along the way to help differentiate my blog from others in my niche. Listed below are 10 lessons that I have learnt after a year of blogging. If I had read these lessons prior to starting my blogging journey I would have been more prepared for what was in store for me. I hope these lessons will help new blog writers on their journey.

Lesson #1 – Selecting a Niche: Before one starts to blog, clearly identify the target market that you want to serve. This will provide definition and boundaries for your blog and help you to be more focused and become an authority figure in that particular niche. To learn more and access some helpful links on selecting a niche please click here.

Lesson #2 – Passion: The niche that is selected must be something one is truly passionate about. If you just begin writing about something that seems to be the buzz these days, it is most likely that motivation levels will fall drastically over a short period of time. To learn more about passion and selection of your blog niche please click here.

Lesson #3 – Have a Goal: This helps 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. To learn more about goal setting for your blog please click here.

Lesson #4 – Commitment: 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 your commitment when you do start? Lastly, make an open commitment to the blogsphere about your aspirations and goals for the year of 2009. To learn more about commitments and blogs please click here.

Lesson #5 – Providing Value: I use the NABC formula to develop most of my value propositions. It simply helps you identify the Need, Approach, Benefit and Competition. Based on these core principles you can come up with a proposition that will help generate considerable value for your target segment. To learn about this formula in greater detail and how to apply it to your blog please click here.

Lesson #6 – Importance of Reading: If you plan to write a new blog in 2009 then reading is something 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 to write as well. One needs to be constantly aware about the changes taking place in one’s niche and what authority figures are talking about. To learn more about my daily reading schedule please click here.

Lesson #7 – Dealing with Writers Block: 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. Dealing with writers block is a part of being a writer. Some of the things I use to deal with it are taking short walks, doing a brain dump exercise or even using mind maps. To learn more about the strategies I use along with some helpful links please click here.

Lesson #8 – Patience: Developing a readership and increasing your daily traffic takes a lot of hard work. Expecting to make 6 figures a year from part time blogging is wishful thinking. One needs to focus on developing great content and using it to drive traffic to your blog. The beauty of the internet is its ability for the rapid exponential growth of your blog. A blog that is growing at a monthly pace of 10% will see traffic increase steadily through the course of the year and eventually those numbers will begin to multiply. To learn more about patience and blogging please click here.

Lesson #9 – Networking: A lesson I learnt late in my blogging journey was networking effectively through the blogsphere. If I were to start a new blog in 2009 I would spend more time building a comprehensive blogroll, concentrating on cross linking from high traffic blogs, commenting regularly and using social media to develop strong relationships with authority figures in my niche. To learn more about these techniques please click here.

Lesson #10 – Having Fun: This is an essential factor if one is wanting to blog on a regular basis. If one does not enjoy writing or reading, blogging on a regular basis is going to be more of a chore rather than something to look forward to. Pick a niche that excites you and half the battle is won. For the other half I recommend you should just write,  slowly and over time the content of your blog will become better and eventually blogging will become a lot of fun. To learn more about having fun while blogging please click here.

I hope these lessons will be of some help to first time bloggers. If you have been blogging for some time and have learnt or experienced some other lessons please share them so that we can build a repository to help first time bloggers. I wish you all the very best of success in future blogging ventures.

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Lesson #10: Having Fun

“People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.” Dale Carnegie

Blogging on a regular basis is hard work. I am pretty sure most of us who blog on a regular basis have days when we just do not want to even look at a blank piece of paper that we need to convert into a worthwhile post. However, after a while,  inspiration does come and one begins writing. Sometimes it really feels like magic to me when you have just get started on a single point and suddenly….. you have a post, one that you can be proud of. I don’t always think its magic! More often than not it is a mixture of passion, hard work and persistence. However the most important ingredient in all this is that we need to enjoy the process. When you have fun doing something it becomes easy to do it and you no longer need to push yourself too hard. To top it all off, a single good comment on the post makes my day and it  all worthwhile. The fact that someone out there was able to connect with what I have written is an awesome feeling.

When one starts to blog just for the sake of blogging, it saps out all the fun from the process. That is why I had mentioned passion being supremely important when selecting what one wants to blog about. In the end however it all comes to down to doing something you have fun with and enjoy doing. It’s almost a year since I first started blogging,  I don’t think I would have made it all the way here if I had not had so much fun along the way. Seeing my readership numbers steadily increase, increased number of comments and the links that I have made this year have all been an added bonus.

This lesson has a wide application through our life. We sometimes make choices and decisions that appear to be the ‘right’ one at that point of time  because society deems it to be so. It takes a lot of courage and faith in one’s own ability to go off the beaten path, specially if that is one that does not bring us the sort of excitment and joy we want. Going off the beaten track is almost always a much more challenging route to take, with a whole bunch of obstacles along the way that remind you it is not too late to turn back and get back on the accepted track. However, if you follow a path that brings you a level of excitment, joy and most importantly the satisfaction you desire, very few things should persuade you to stop doing it. I hope everyone has the strength and courage to follow their heart  and may they find great success in doing so.

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Lesson #9: Networking

“The currency of real networking is not greed but generosity.” Keith Ferrazzi

A lesson I learnt late in my blogging journey was networking effectively through the blogsphere . When I started this blog I had a tiny blog roll and did a poor job of linking it to other articles and posts. It is only recently that I have discovered how effective linking can be, not only to promote  visibility of your blog but to network with other bloggers who may be writing in the same niche as you. The fact of the matter is that the multiplier effect gets amplified definitively through the internet. A blog post can suddenly become viral, and  your blog can experience an enormous amount of traffic. Even though I have put much heavier emphasis on creating quality content for my blog since the beginning of this year, I should not have neglected the power of developing deeper relationships with authority figures in my niche to help in the expansion of this blog in year 2.

If I were to start my blogging journey again from the very beginning, I would place much greater emphasis on networking and linking . Listed below are a couple of steps I would have followed to build up my blog’s visibility through networking and linking:

1. Join twitter as soon as possible. Thanks to twitter I have built up close relationships with many bloggers since I started actively using the service a month ago. If I had put in the same amount of effort from the very beginning of this year I am pretty sure my blog’s traffic would be much higher, I would have had better relationships with  many prominent bloggers and I would hence have developed a channel through which my blog posts could become viral almost instantly.

2. The blogroll on my blog is very weak. It barely includes any of the blogs that I read on a regular basis. Developing a substantial blogroll is another factor that I would pay more attention to if I were starting this blog over again. This way I would appear on the radar of some larger blog sites and it would also help my readers to link to many relevant blogs in the same niche.

3. Commenting is a powerful strategy to bring visibility to one’s blog as well as to integrate it into conversations taking place online. Comments provide a great platform to showcase opinions and suggestions which could help attract new readers to one’s blog as well as develop closer relationships with other bloggers.

These are some straegies that I would use to build stronger networks and deeper relationships with prominent bloggers in my niche. The sooner we begin putting in that extra effort to develop these relationships the sooner we will see results of our blogging effort. If any reader has any good link to articles that discuss linking or networking through blogs I would appreciate it if you could post the links. Thanks.

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Lesson #8: Patience

“Genius is nothing but a great aptitude for patience.” George-Louis de Buffon

Instant results and gratification seem to be the mantra of my generation. It is undoubtedly and definitely nice to get things whenever one wants them. However there is usually a fair amount of work/effort that needs to be put in before you see any tangible results. Blogging works in the same way. Expecting to make 6 figures from your blogging efforts right off the bat is wishful thinking. One can use all the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) tricks out there, but the truth of the matter is, if we want to see sustainable long term results it is only going to be through pure hardwork. It sounds cliche’d as I write this, everyone knows that it takes a lot of effort to do anything of substantial value. What we tend to lose sight of along the way is the patience to hang on to what we are doing. I personally know many individuals who started blogging only to leave the habit a couple of weeks or months later. They may not have got the level of traffic they wanted or made the sort of money they were looking for.

Its quite disheartening to check your stats and see that only 3 other people on the web have read your post. All the hardwork that has been put in still does not us the results we ‘think’ we are due. Here lies the problem, our expectations  from our blog need to be tempered right from the start. If you are really serious about making money or reaching a certain traffic level for your blog then one needs to put in an adequate amount of work. If there is something I have learned over the course of the last year, it has been that making a living solely by blogging is very hard work. It is not impossible, however it requires the same level of persistence, determination and effort that any other startup venture may require.

The beauty of the internet is its ability for the rapid exponential growth of your blog. A blog that is growing at a monthly pace of 10% will see traffic increase steadily through the course of the year and eventually those numbers will begin to multiply. Therefore, focus on your content before anything else, build a group of readers that follow you on a regular basis and continue to grow your base on a steady basis. With good content, regular updating and being relatively proactive through online social mediums you will reach your goal. Just don’t lose hope half way through… success usually comes to those who have the ability to continue hanging on when everyone else has given up.

Related Posts:

5 Steps to Patience

 

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5 Steps to Better Startup Leadership

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There is a school of thought which believes that leaders are born, not made. Others believe the same applies to entrepreneurs. I have yet to see any conclusive evidence to support these claims. I am a firm believer that, with enough passion, hard work and ambition, anyone can achieve what they set out to do. Wanting to become a great leader is undoubtedly a most challenging task. Volumes have been written about leadership skills and how to develop them. However, inspiration and understanding concepts from books will only get you so far. If you really want to test your abilities and believe that you have what it takes to be a leader, you must stand up and take responsibility. It is all about being action oriented and wanting to bring out the best in the people who work with you. 

Over the course of the week I have written about five areas I believe younger startup leaders need to become more effective in. I have seen the positive impact on a team’s productivity, motivation and drive when a leader has focused on the following segments:

1. Vision Development: As a leader, it is your initial responsibility to create a vision with your team, one which is strongly rooted in SMART goals. The team must feel and think that the vision is achievable, and know what action steps need to be taken to reach it. It is only when a vision statement becomes more than a piece of paper, will we actually see a boost in productivity of the overall team. To read more about the importance of creating a vision please click here.

2.  Leaders Attitude: A leader’s attitude is usually the defining difference between a good team and a great team. With the right attitude, we assist the team break down mental barriers which may be holding them back, take away the fear of making mistakes and generally help them push themselves further. Pay closer attention to attitude, it should result in a team having higher productivity,and being more motivated and driven to reach their goals. To read more about the importance of a leader’s attitude please click here.

3. Culture of Candor: The ability to express one’s thoughts, opinions and concerns, free from discrimination is something I believe needs to be infused into every team. As a leader, there must be a focus on breaking down psychological barriers which may be holding certain team members back. Being candid allows the team to work more effectively, brings more ideas to the tables as well as issues which may be disrupting the team internally, to the forefront. To learn more about the importance of candor please click here.

4. Resource Allocation: During your startup journey, you will need to make several key decisions regarding resource allocation. A startup without proper allocation of resources, ends up in difficult situations, which may result in layoffs, discontinuing product/services, drop in quality, overburdening of some assets and may even require shutting the business down as a whole. As a leader, it is your responsibility to put systems into place to allocate resources optimally through a structured and rigorous processes, while keeping in mind the larger picture. To learn more about the importance of resource allocation please click here.

5. Team Management: This segment involves more than just making sure everyone on the team is happy or motivated. It requires the leader to take responsibility to develop structured processes to handle recruitment, evaluations, firing and conflict management. As a leader we have to be constantly in touch with our team and the challenges they face, to ensure we do whatever it takes to help them reach their potential. To learn more about the importance of team management please click here.

Undoubtedly the startup leader is in for a lot of surprises. The aim of this series was to equip new startup leaders with some broad guidelines of areas they should be focusing on. I strongly believe that when enough hard work is put into the development of the segments outlined above, they will definitely have a positive impact on the team and the business as a whole. It is important that you enjoy your journey both as an entrepreneur and a leader. I wish you the best of luck in your future entrepreneurial ventures.

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Managing the Team

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We hear it all the time “People are our most important strategic asset”, it is like a mantra of the business world today, repeated by CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies and new startups alike. However, if  you get down to gauge what leaders and managers are actually doing, to develop and nurture these assets, the standard response includes; our focus is on training and development, creating a conducive work environment or, helping the team achieve a work/life balance. After which there is usually a change of subject, and the topic switches to more ‘exciting’ matters, such as, their latest technology innovation. This has been my personal experience with many leaders and managers. I feel they are missing critical components of what it takes to develop and grow a team. 

I believe the reason too much attention is not spent on the function of ‘HR’, is due to the fact that it’s results are intangible in the short term. What is the ROI of $X on training & development in a year? How does a more rigorous performance management system impact productivity? These are difficult questions to answer. However, trends are now becoming clearly apparent that senior management across the world are beginning to understand the importance of management of this asset. In the coming years, I expect to see radical transformations in this field. So, how does all of this impact a leader of a startup organization? 

As a startup leader, one has to play multiple roles. One of the key roles is to focus on being responsible for the management of your team to the best of your abilities. Until you can afford a good HR resource, this is a responsibility that falls in your scope of work. A couple of key areas where a startup leader should spend time during the early stages of the organization are:

1. Hiring: This component encompasses adding new people to the team, evaluating prospective partners and even vendor selection. In the beginning, adding an additional resource to say a team of 4, is a substantial percentage increase in head count. This resource will have a deep impact on the rest of the team and requires careful selection. As a leader, you are responsible for coming up with basic job descriptions, required competencies and the preferred type of personality needed for the role. Learn to trust your gut instincts as they are usually right. Develop a structured process for the hiring and evaluation stage to streamline future requirements when the team is growing at a faster pace.

2. Evaluation: When we think performance reviews, many imagine complicated forms which take forever to complete, and have no real impact on the individual. This is very true of a lot of performance review processes found in many organizations. I like to keep things simple, a couple of questions relating to past performance, areas where development is required, issues brought up by other team members is all that is needed. I think it is important to have metrics in place which can tell your team members how they are doing and where they need to develop. Develop a short evaluation form and conduct them candidly every quarter if possible.

3. Firing: This is a tough one. I am not comfortable with the firing process yet, it is however an important aspect of being a leader. When a team member, whether a partner or an employee, in spite of repeated reminders and warnings regarding performance or behavior, does not change, a difficult decision needs to be made. This process becomes easier if you have a culture of candor present in your team. One needs to communicate the basis of the decision clearly and be firm. One bad team member is all it takes to drastically reduce productivity and team spirit. The sooner these situations are handled the better.

As a leader it is your responsibility to be in touch with your team constantly. This helps to understand where they need assistance, what their concerns are, as well as be a source of inspiration and guidance. If  all we do is keep paying lip service to ‘developing our most strategic asset’, the team will not be able to reach its potential and we would not have fulfilled our duties as a leader. 

Related Posts:

8 Characteristic of ideal business partners

5 Steps to creating winning teams

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Optimizing Resource Allocation

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Resource allocation is an area I believe many startups pay inadequate attention to. It does not matter if you are bootstrapping or have just received a massive cash injection, planning resource allocation is a critical function. A startup without proper allocation of resources, ends up in difficult situations, which may result in layoffs, discontinuing product/services, drop in quality, overburdening of some assets and may even require shutting the business down as a whole. I have personally witnessed repercussions of misallocation of resources, this has made me realize even more, the vital importance of this function. 

During your startup journey, you will need to make several key decisions regarding resource allocation. Some key ones are hiring, purchasing of equipment,  investment in new products/services, upgrading of office premises, expansion, marketing and staff development. Apart from this, there will be a constant flow of new proposals and investment opportunities, these will make the allocation process even more challenging. As a leader, it will be your responsibility to manage the expectations of the business, stakeholders and your team, to reach an allocation mix, aimed at satisfying each one of them. In my experience, aiming for a perfect equilibrium is a great challenge, difficult sacrifices will need to be made and not everyone will be completely satisfied.

I like to keep things as simple as possible, here are a few basic steps I take when thinking about resource allocation:

1. Planning: If you are at an early stage in your business, use the business plan to give you a holistic picture of goals, and a time frame for achieving them. Use that as your guide plan for resource allocation to various segments. If you are already well into your business, take a look at the historic performances of your products/services, evaluate your cash flow positions for the coming year and allocate resources appropriately. It is important to be in a position to see the bigger picture before any resource allocation is done. 

2. Analysis: During the planning stage, there will undoubtedly be several options for resource allocation. It is important that all the opportunities are carefully evaluated. Conduct feasibility studies and market research before making any substantial investment. It is important to look at future requirements the investment will have as well. Overlooking future implications of current investments, can result in massive cash flow problems which can literally bring business to a halt. Where necessary, use a ranking matrix to evaluate your decisions.

3. Consensus: It is important to get feedback and have open discussions during the resource allocation exercise. Wherever possible, use experts in their respective areas to help guide and educate the rest of the team. The last thing you want to do as a leader is to appear to make key decisions such as resource allocation autonomously. As a leader, it is your responsibility to present all available options and give your point of view for the optimal course. 

The objective of this post is to emphasize the importance of proper resource allocation. The steps outlined should help in developing a basic framework to help you during this process. I intend to do a more detailed post regarding various resource allocation strategies soon for specific types of businesses. 

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How Participative is Your Team?

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I was introduced to the importance of candor in the work place in Jack Welch’s book Winning. Candor is essentially, the ability to express one’s thoughts, opinions and concerns free from discrimination or dishonesty. However, it has been noted by several psychologists, that the reason most of us do not integrate more candor into our daily lives, is because it goes against societal norms. It is essentially because we are constantly protecting our self interest, that we do not share our opinions candidly in sensitive matters, and do our best to ‘stay out of trouble’. We may survive without brutal candor in our normal daily lives, however, the absence of an environment of candor in a startup or business entity, will lead to missing out on many lost opportunities. 

It is the leader’s responsibility to integrate candor into the team. I believe that leading by example is the best way to fast track the integration of candor into a team. I remember the first couple of performance reviews I had with members of a team I had recently begun working with. Initially, when I asked questions relating to productivity levels of other team members or their last quarter’s performance, there was  a palpable  sense of discomfort. When I raised concerns regarding the performance of the business and asked the team to share their concerns, I was initially met with much silence. Eventually however, these psychological barriers will break down with adequate effort put into the process. As a leader, it is vital to help others feel comfortable in expressing their concerns and desist from becoming defensive or abrasive if they do not like what they hear. 

A couple of ways to introduce the concept of candor into your team is by:

1. Rewarding: During discussions and meetings, individuals who bring up viewpoints other’s have ben tip toeing around, should be rewarded through a pre-formulated mechanism. I incorporated this into a team I was working with, we kept a tally of who was adding the most constructive thoughts, ideas and suggestions. Keeping score, is in my experience, a great way to get people to participate.

2. Feedback: Institute monthly or quarterly feedback session among employees and yourself. If possible use a tool such as a 360 degree questionnaire to help get the process started. Everyone should provide their assessor and participant with a score on how helpful the session was. This helps get people talking and brings issues which may be bothering them, to the surface.

A word of caution,  integration of candor into your team environment may be met with initial skepticism. However, if the aim is to remain committed to making this a part of your team’s culture, it will most certainly give rise to more productive meetings, better ideas, faster approvals and eventually, lead to higher overall  productivity. 

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It is all about Your Attitude

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Startups usually comprise of small, tight knit teams. As the leader of this group, your energy level and mood is a compass for the rest of team. It is the leader’s responsibility to ensure that he/she does whatever is required to keep the team motivational level and outlook positive. I have found this to be very tricky sometimes. There are times when , a lack of sleep, or not feeling too well, leads to not having the required positive attitude at work. This is clearly visible to the rest of the team and has a viral affect on the rest of the team members and productivity does suffer. By the same token, if there is a member of the team who always seems to have a negative outlook, the leader has to combat these views with positive ones to bring a level of overall equilibrium. 

There will always be times when the economy is bad, the competition released a superior product, the team lost a critical member, or a host of other situations which bring the team morale down. I have experienced several of these situations and have learnt that my response to the situation will go a long way in deciding its eventual outcome. If I choose to give up, get depressed or blame others because of a particular situation, it has a domino effect on both the business, as well as the team. As a leader, we have to be aware of changing dynamics both within the team, and externally, and adapt to them seamlessly.

Listed below are a couple of ways to keep your attitude and energy in constant check:

1. At the end of every week/month ask for feedback from your team regarding your attitude during the time period, on a scale of 1 – 10. If you get a score of 6, ask about specific areas which you can work on to bring it to say 8 next week. This may seem forced and uncomfortable at first. However if there is a culture of candor present at your startup, this will be a breeze.

2. Document all the incidents you feel caused your attitude or energy levels to drop drastically. Were the changes directed to any one person? What caused them? What were the repercussions? Once we have some patterns regarding when and what is causing attitude and energy levels to drop, we can take specific steps to stop them from doing so in the future.

A leader’s attitude is usually the defining difference between a good team and a great team. With the right attitude, we assist the team break down mental barriers which may be holding them back, take away the fear of making mistakes and generally help them push themselves further. Pay closer attention to attitude, it should result in a team having higher productivity,and being more motivated and driven to reach their goals.

Related Posts

Event + Response = Outcome

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Providing Vision and Focus

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I believe an important first step that needs to be taken by a startup leader, is providing a vision for the business as a whole. I am not referring to something formulated at a resort at a weekend retreat or some other offsite activity. Formulation of a solid vision requires detailed analysis about why your organization exists, the strategies you plan to use to reach your goals, and the underlying values which will help you get there. This needs to be a collaborative effort and should involve the entire team. In some of my earlier ventures, I disregarded vision as being a fruitless exercise, which involves just talking about goals and objectives without any solid foundations. A vision was something that needed to be put on the website to communicate a message like “We aim to revolutionize the creative designing industry by using state of the art technology and delivering maximum return on investment to our customers.” 

When new members joined the team they probably read the vision statement because it was framed and hung in the office entrance. They probably never noticed it after that. What then begins to happen (this process is accelerated at startups) is that team members begin to lose focus, and attention is diverted from the intended goal to something completely opposite. The business eventually starts to lose its footing, and struggles to find direction. The team becomes frustrated with the lack of progress, and motivation takes a nose dive. While all of this is happening, the leaders blame bad market conditions and increased competition for the loss of business. This is when they all need a reality check.

As a leader, it is your initial responsibility to create a vision with your team, one which is strongly rooted in SMART goals. The team must feel and think that the vision is achievable, and know what action steps need to be taken to reach it. Next, the leader has to infuse every member of the team with the spirit of this vision. It will get repetitive, as also really irritating at times to go on and on about something, but this is a vital and important responsibility. It is only when a vision statement becomes more than a piece of paper, will we actually see a boost in productivity of the overall team. One begins to see an increased level of focus and a tangible feeling of direction. If you are in-charge of a startup team or, any other team, start with creating a vision, and aggressively infusing your team with it!

 

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