Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur


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

Book Review: Back of the Napkin

“Visual thinking means taking advantage of our innate ability to see – both with our eyes and with our mind’s eye – in order to discover ideas that are otherwise invisible, develop those ideas quickly and intuitively, and then share those ideas with other people in a way that they simply “get”.” Dan Roam (Author, Back of the Napkin)

I am one of those individuals who enjoys putting a pen to paper and making sense of any issue or problem through pictures and charts. I have to admit I am not artistic by any stretch of imagination, and people usually have difficulty in deciphering the stuff that I put up. Nonetheless, I find the act of visually depicting a story or challenge, to be an extremely powerful tool, one that should be there in every entrepreneurs tool kit. While browsing at a local book store a while back I caught a glimpse of this book and the cover image caught my attention.

Back of the napkin Dan Roam

Back of the Napkin by Dan Roam

This book covers a very interesting concept, after flipping through the book for the first time, I remember thinking that the author had done a great job putting together abstract concepts in a most exciting visual manner. I am glad I found this book as it has provided me with a framework to actually make sense of the visuals I use in brainstorming sessions or when giving presentations. An important note I want to make before moving forward with the review is that you don’t need to know how to draw or be artistic to make use of this book. It’s principles apply as much to those of us who prefer to sit back and comment on a visual as to those who are eager to depict the visualization on a whiteboard.

The book is split up into 4 parts, the first takes you from understanding the power of using pictures to solve problems, the next part equips you with a fundamental knowledge of some frameworks to use, the third section is my favorite as it merges the first and second parts into a powerful application of the frameworks, and the last part shows you how to actually use pictures to sell and present your ideas. The parts flow naturally well together and I was inspired many a time while reading the book to get up and use the frameworks that had been introduced and apply them to some of  the business issues we were facing. When I did, the results were truly remarkable.

I often just get up to the board and start to draw or write whatever comes to mind without realizing that it may be difficult for others to actually decipher what I am doing. The frameworks in the book such as “Six ways of seeing” and “SQVID” (see pictures below) helped me to literally visualize what I wanted to say through my pictures before I actually did. I began to see things differently and details I hadn’t thought about initially, started to take shape. I think different people will experience such epiphanies at different stages and levels, varying on how quickly you  grasp the techniques. Confidence with the pen will follow!

Visual Thinking Toolkit Dan Roam Back of the Napkin

The Visual Thinking Toolkit

SQVID Dan Roam Back of the Napkin


6x6 Dan Roam Back of the Napkin

<6><6> Rule

As an entrepreneur I know how important it is to be able to communicate your ideas to a target audience, irrespective of whether you are pitching to a client, investor or your own partners. The message needs to be delivered in a manner that enables your audience to “get” the message. The saying that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’  is truly a powerful concept and when harnessed competently can open any number of doors and opportunities. I  recommend this book to anyone wanting to improve the way they deal with difficult problems, as well as becoming a more competent presenter.

Related Links: has ranked The Back of the Napkin as the number five business book of 2008

BusinessPundit: #4 business book of the year

Best of BNET 2008: BNET’s Best Business Books

The Best Business Books of 2008 by Fast Company

Best Innovation & Design Books of 2008 by BusinessWeek

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5 Steps to Better Presentations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Are you Prepared to Present?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sample Presentation:

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Presentation Design

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

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

Copyright Apollo Ideas Inc

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

A summary of some key points for good presentation design:

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

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

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

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

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

Sample Presentation:

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Call to Action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sample Presentation:

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Navigating your Audience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sample Presentation:

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What is the theme of your presentation?

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

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

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

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

Related Video:

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


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Not Another Presentation

“No one ever complains about a speech being too short!” Ira Hayes 

Presentations are a critical communication medium entrepreneurs need to be adept at. Good presentation techniques make it easier to get your point across to your team, investors and customers. However, to be able to present like Steve Jobs, requires a lot of hard work, creativity and passion. Without these three components, not only will your presentations suffer, lack of these qualities impact the overall quality of life. We have all been at presentations where we have seriously wanted to shoot the presenter, unfortunately sometimes this may have been us. I have a personal example when I was presenting the constitution of our entrepreneurship society to a new chapter we were inaugurating in China. I am pretty sure that within 5 minutes I had everyone in the room asleep. Looking back at that experience, I blamed the material, however, it really was my fault for not putting the material across in a manner that would have engaged the audience more. 

As entrepreneurs most of the time our presentations will revolve around pitching to investors, introducing a new product/service to a customer, or giving a quarterly sales report to the rest of our team. Most of these presentations have huge amounts of data that needs to be presented in graph forms, charts and numbers. What often happens is we tend to get lost in the detail and forget the overall message we want to leave the audience with. Other times, we just read off the slide, word for word, and that can be a most painful experience for the audience. The worst case  scenario is when the presenter is visibly unenthusiastic about what he/she is presenting. Unfortunately, many of us fall into these common pitfalls and that can have a detrimental impact on our ability to convince a team, get funding or close a sale. 

Over the course of the coming week I will talk about some key elements your presentation should comprise of. These should provide your presentations with that extra level of oomph which should excite, motivate or inspire your audience, whichever of these is your objective. However, to begin the process, we first have to break away from traditional “rules” we follow regarding how a presentation is supposed to be structured. We have to begin thinking creatively, with two objectives in mind, these are, what is the audience expecting of us and, what message do we want to leave them with. I hope this series will be of some help, I wish you all the very best in your future presentations.

Sample Presentation:

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5 Steps to better sales pitches

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

I firmly believe that every pitch you make to a customer has to be customized to the customer’s current needs. Going in and giving the same pitch to every customer is not an effective strategy. Customers are becoming more sophisticated and have a larger pool of vendors to choose from, hence, you have to do more and be different. This week I have set down some primers on sales pitches. Below are a list of important factors you should look into when preparing and delivering your sales pitch .

1. Industry Identification: Two factors need to be decided upon before you set out to get your prospect list sorted out. The first factor is identifying the industry that will have the greatest utility for your product/service. The second factor is identifying which industry you have the greatest links to through your personal network. Balance these two factors to arrive at an industry where you have the highest % chance of closing a deal. To read more please click here.

2. The Customer: If you can figure out your prospects pain points well before meeting them, you will have substantially increased the probability of closing the deal given you have a great value proposition. There should be substantial time dedicated to doing maximum background research about your prospects before you actually pitch to them. You will need to develop a value proposition which is tailored to their current requirements and addresses a need. To read more please click here.

3. The Sales Pitch: Rehearse, rehearse and then rehearse some more. You need to perfect the delivery of your pitch. Before you actually dive into your sales pitch you need to build rapport with your prospect. This is critical to breaking down the barriers that individuals put up when they are pitched to. The transition between building rapport and beginning your pitch should be a natural progression to ensure that you keep your prospect in a comfortable state during the pitch. To read more please click here.

4. Getting to “Yes”: Three factors play a major role if you are to close a deal. Firstly you need to be confident about both your pitch and your product, secondly you need listen and understand the prospects concerns and lastly your ability to summarize and make an effective closing argument will greatly affect the outcome of the pitch. To read more please click here.

5. Expert Advice: Three key pieces of advice which were shared to me by seasoned entrepreneurs have helped me close more deal than any other strategy. Staying honest, exceeding your clients expectations and providing more value than you take in payment. To read more please click here.

As entrepreneurs we are selling something everyday. It could be a vision, a product or a service. We have to do our best to make sure that we learn continuously to become better at this skill which is critical to our success. If you have had success in this area please share your experiences to help everyone reading this, so that they may benefit and in so doing become better at pitching.

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Advice on Sales

“Sales are contingent upon the attitude of the salesman, not the attitude of the prospect.” William Clement Stone

When I was starting my first business I was given quite a few tips from a couple of very established entrepreneurs to help me out in getting the sales that I needed. Outlined below are some of the key tips which have helped me.

1. Honesty: The first thing that crosses my mind when I am getting pitched an idea or a product/service is; “Is this for real?”, “Can he/she really deliver?”. This question probably goes through all customers mind at one point or the other. It is your responsibility to make sure that when you are pitching you are honest about what it is that you can and cannot do. Honesty is always the basis of long trusted clients who continue to come back to you and refer you to their own network. Reputation is the most important aspect for any entrepreneur and honesty and integrity should be the corner stone in developing that reputation.

2. Don’t over commit: When you know you have the capability of completing additional requests by your clients but have yet to gain authority in those area’s commit less and exceed your clients expectations. My first media copyrighting business was built on this one factor. Our mantra was “exceeding your every expectation” and by focusing on exceeding our clients expectations we enjoyed tremendous amounts of success.

3. Value: Your entire sales pitch should revolve around creating more value for your client than you are taking in payment. If you continuously strive to achieve this aspect you will see your business prosper and will most likely develop a very strong bond with your clients.

Simple as they may seem these pieces of advice have provided an enormous amount of return for my colleagues and I who have incorporated them into their sales pitches. I hope they will be as beneficial to you.

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