Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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

5 Reasons to Co-Work

“Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.” Paul J. Meyer

I started this week talking about co-working as it is an opportunity I am actively looking into at the moment. Given that it is a relatively new concept, many of the individuals I talk to about this have a host of questions regarding what co-working is all about, and ask why they should leave the comfort of their home offices for this. In response to these questions I have created a list of five leading reasons why one should choose to co-work over working from home or a cafe.

1. Networking Opportunities: I believe this is one of the most important reasons why anyone should choose to work at a co-working zone vis a vis working from home, a cafe or a small office. Having the ability to meet new people on a regular basis not only helps us grow as individuals, it provides us with opportunities to take our business to the next level. Networking is an integral part of every entrepreneur’s journey. Integrating it into our busy lives is however always a challenge. Working from a co-working zone makes the integration into our daily routine seamless and also increases the probability of success. To learn more about the benefits of networking from a co-working zone please click here.

2. Accelerated Serendipity: Serendipity is the accidental learning of something while searching for something completely different. As small business owners in the process of starting up or even searching for ideas on what they want to do, co-working is an excellent option to get the creative juices flowing and who knows, perhaps you could stumble onto the next big thing! The constant interaction with individuals from all walks of life provides a great sounding board and accelerates the process of finding your true calling. To learn more about accelerated serendipity please click here.

3. Increased Productivity: Individuals who have worked from home offices realize how challenging it is to be self disciplined and motivated. Co-working zones provides co-workers with a renewed sense of motivation often accelerated when everyone around them has got their head down and getting things done. Also, having others hold you accountable is another factor which motivates individuals to complete planned tasks and projects. To learn more on how to be more productive in a co-working zone please click here.

4. Operating Advantages: In the short term operating from a co-working space may seem to be an expensive option for an independent business owner. However, taking a slightly longer time frame of 6-9 months, operating benefits of a co-working space become immediately apparent. Working from such a space provides business owners the ability to project a professional image, space to increase staff and even share larger purchases. For entrepreneurs and consultants who have large aspirations and want to increase the scale of their business without incurring huge initial costs, co-working zones are an ideal solution. To learn more about the operating advantages of co-working please click here.

5. Work/Life Balance: If you are working from home you understand that the line between your work and life become gray and shadowy. Getting a balance is a critical aspect of life. Without it there are always far too many sacrifices that need to be made and that have major repercussions in the future. There is also the case of burnout, and losing interest in what you do for a living. Most importantly it is your friends and family who are most affected if your work/life balance is not correct. So whether it is through a co-working space or any other way, one should make a resolution to bring a greater degree of balance to life in 2009. To learn more on how you can balance work and life through co-working please click here.

A concern that is brought up repeatedly, is one of cost. As mentioned in reasons #4 co-working zones provide entrepreneurs the ability to scale operations as and when needed. This is in itself a huge advantage which justifies the cost of operating from such a space. Apart from that, for consultants who do not have plans to scale operations, the cost of renting space is usually the same as compared to the price of having endless cups of coffee from your local cafe on  a regular and daily basis. In addition to this, one gets access to networking opportunities, idea generation, increased productivity and help in maintaining a work/life balance. Thus if you are currently working from home or a cafe, looking into co-working spaces in 2009 may just be your best alternative.

* If you currently looking into joining a co-working space but are still unsure, I would appreciate it if you let me know your concerns and I will do my best to resolve them. By the same token, if you currently work at a co-working zone please let me know any additional reasons why individuals should choose operating from a co-working zone. Thank you.

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Work/Life balance

Just as your car runs more smoothly and requires less energy to go faster and farther when the wheels are in perfect alignment, you perform better when your thoughts, feelings, emotions, goals, and values are in balance. Brian Tracy quotes

For those of us who have worked from home for a period of time, we know that the entire concept of achieving a work/life balance goes out the window. Mornings are spent in your pajama’s answering all your emails, meals are finished in a flash and we find ourselves somewhat trapped till the wee hours of the morning finishing our work. The entire concept of leaving your work at the office is non-existent and it seems that you are working or attempting to work whenever possible. Ok, so this is somewhat exaggerated, but there are definitely days which go exactly like the one outlined above. It does not take a doctor to tell us this is not a very healthy way to live your life. Sure, the whole concept of getting dressed and heading off to work at 6am in the morning is not something I would really like doing either, but a balance needs to be drawn somewhere in the middle.

A co-working space provides the opportunity to get that level of balance. First off, the feeling that you have to get up and get to a place will be a positive change. It gets you into the habit of actually fixing your internal wiring which tends to go out of whack. It is important that one is motivated enough to actually get up and get to work. This is why it is critical to first test out the co-working space you are wanting to join and see whether it is a place you could find yourself being in everyday. The whole objective of working for yourself is to free yourself from the pressure of having to go to an office come rain or shine. So choose wisely. Once you are done for the day your primary computer can be left at the space and you could use those couple of hours to network, learn something new or go and have fun. It is important that balance be brought into your life.

Getting balance is a critical aspect of life. Without it there are always way too many sacrifices that need to be made that have major repurcussions in the future. There is also the case of burnout, and losing interest in what you  do for a living. Most importantly it is your friends and family who are most affected if your work/life balance is not correct. So whether it is through a co-working space or any other way, one should make a resolution to bring a greater degree of balance to life in 2009.

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Operating Advantages

“If we do a good job, customers pay us more for our products than the sum of our costs in producing and distributing them. This difference, our profit, represents the value we add to the resources we utilize.” David Packard

A large majority of independents work from their homes. This could be a room which they have set up with all their equipment etc. To maintain this room they need to incur a one time capital expense and then they are pretty much able to get by just paying the monthly bills. This sounds ideal to some and they find the entire concept of getting out of their house and going to work at another place quite ridiculous. However I beg to differ from this point of view. Having worked from home for a period of time I came to realize that there were a number of things which restricted me from scaling upwards. The fact that I worked from home sometimes worried clients about whether I would be in business tomorrow or if I could handle increased levels of workload. This is always a worry especially when you need to hire additional individuals to assist in the completion of a project. With co-working this perception is somewhat nullified as the place provides ample space to ramp up your operations at a moment’s notice.

The cost of ramping up operations is an expensive one and sometimes it is only needed for a stipulated period of time. Say you are a web developer and have got a massive project. It requires you to house at least 2-3 other resources who may not need to be at your office all the time but frequent interaction will be required. It also requires you to provide the client updates and this could mean frequent visits to your office. Essentially what you require is a little more space and a meeting room. This is a huge headache because you know you will not require this after the project is completed. Co-working is hence an ideal solution for you if you are currently in this predicament.

Some co-working spaces I visited involved a bunch of individuals pooling together to buy themselves expensive equipment such as large scale printers, projectors or servers. They were also able to utilize the business address of the co-working space to project a more professional image. The last important point which was brought up by many co-workers was that they were paying the same amount for the rent of the space as they were paying for coffee everyday at coffee shops. The cost of Latte’s tends to add up very quickly when working at these spaces. In conclusion, many co-workers were able to potentially keep their costs the same or increase them slightly to get a whole range of facilities that would not have been possible on their own.

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Increased Productivity

“Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up.” Oliver Wendell Holmes

One of the recurring points made by many of the individuals working at co-working spaces was the level of increased productivity once they joined the space. When I explored this matter deeper there were several core factors which led to why this was taking place. Looking back at my own example, I always work better when I am working as a team. Ideas flow faster, feedback is instant and it is generally a lot more fun. It is when you have to work in isolation that one feels that one does hit a brick wall once too often. The core factors that contributed to this level of increased productivity were:

1. Increased Interaction: Working in isolation is not a lot of fun. From the brief research that I conducted, people generally feel a lot more creative and energetic when they are surrounded by others. Now these are not just some other people, they are individuals who share same interests, hobbies or even values. This helps to create rapport and a level of interaction which goes beyond just the trivial chit chat that you could be involved in at a coffee house.

2. Motivation: Ever been working on a report, blog post or project and half way through decided that you wanted to watch the latest Heroes episode, and before you knew it hours had flown by? I have many times. However the story is completely different when I am surrounded by co-workers or people who are working hard on their respective projects or assignments. A co-working space provides you with this atmosphere and it makes it a lot easier to stay on course and get motivated by those around you.

3. Accountability: Ever joined a gym and dropped out after the initial month of fervor? I have, and I am guessing there are many more people out there who have probably had similar experiences. However, when I got a gym buddy things changed, I became regular, made fewer excuses and lasted a lot longer. At a co-working space one can find many such individuals who can ask each other to hold them accountable to ensure that they finish a certain project or report. This creates a level of accountability which motivates you to get the job done.

The points listed above are just a few reasons why I believe people were more productive in a co-working environment. In the end it does however depend on your personality and attitude towards life. What are your objectives? How committed are you to get them? Even the most committed individuals find themselves slacking at times. It is only natural, and it is at times like these that you need someone to give you that shove or to get you motivated enough to reach your goals.

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5 Reasons why Teams Fail

“You will find men who want to be carried on the shoulders of others, who think that the world owes them a living. They don’t seem to see that we must all lift together and pull together.” Henry Ford

I started this series with a question posed by a reader  asking  why some teams succeed and others don’t. When I began structuring my thoughts and getting advice from more experienced entrepreneurs, the same issues kept coming up in one form or other. The core message behind all of them was the same, to get the team to work right, certain factors need to be in place along with hardwork and persistence. We have all been in teams where team cohesion is problematic, it is always an extremely frustrating experience. Hence first off, selection of team members/partners is an extremely important aspect, one that needs to be given a great deal of attention. Call it co-incidence, my post on 8 characteristics of an ideal business partner is the most visited post on this blog. However, even after you have reviewed your prospect partners using the 8 step process, there is still a likelihood of things not working out. Listed below are 5 things to look out for to measure the health of your team:

1. Mismanagement of Competing Interests: When a team comprises of many ‘star’ performers they are bound to have multiple offers on the table. When these offers begin to interfere with their performance and their  commitment to the project at hand, problems begin to arise. If these are left unmanaged they will slowly set seeds of mistrust and suspicion in other team members, this has a destabilizing impact on the entire team. It is important that these competing interests are brought to the table and are not used to leverage a team member’s position or interfere with their commitment. To read more about managing competing interests please click here.

2. Lack of Candor: The ability to communicate effectively is one of the core reasons why some teams succeed and others do not. When a team is unable to communicate their thoughts, suggestions or feedback openly, tensions arise. Being candid is every team members responsibility to themselves and to the rest of the team. This is not always the easiest path to take and many a time one will need to step out of their comfort zone to say it as it is. However when all is said and done, it is the things which are left unsaid that destroy a team from within. Set up systems where everyone is given the opportunity to speak freely and easily. To learn more about the importance of candor please click here.

3. Lack of Trust: In any relationship trust is a must, without it there is no team. In my opinion there are degrees of trust which need to be developed within a team. Expecting your team members to have 100% trust in you and your abilities from the get go is wishful thinking. Trust needs to be earned. The ability to trust someone depends on their shared core values, self confidence and risk tolerance. Mismatches in these components will result in a slow build up of trust. Low trust teams are very fragile and the slightest of hiccups can have severe ramifications. To learn more on how to build trust please click here.

4. Lack of Accountability: When team members talk more than they actually do, problems are bound to arise. Without clear objectives on what each team member is responsible for a culture for execution cannot be formed. Without such a culture certain team members may ride on the coat tails of others just to get by. Every team member must be held accountable for what he/she has been given responsibility. Inability to meet commitments, needs to be reviewed and appropriate action taken. To learn more on the importance of accountability and how to create it please click here.

5. Consistent Poor Results: If a team is consistently unable to reach targets and goals, the team and entire business model needs to be looked into. Many teams linger on even when results are clearly not being produced. This puts an enormous strain on the team and eventually leads to unpleasant defections and confrontations. This issue must be dealt with as soon as possible and strategies and tactics revised. If the team is unable to produce the results it needs, it is best to figure out how and where the team should  go from there. To learn more about how to deal with consistent poor results please click here.

The points listed above are I believe leading factors why some teams fail. One of the factors that I have not included in this series is a lack of good leadership. This is an issue that I think needs to be tackled in a separate series. Also, unlike the problems listed above this issue does not have any easy answer which says follow steps 1, 2 and 3 to help overcome the issue. Good leadership is a rare commodity. It all goes back to team selection and who is chosen to be the leader. If there is a problem at the initial selection stage then the team has a lot more to be worried about. The issues highlighted in this post are in the context where even though the team and team leader were correctly selected, the team still fails. I hope to get your comments and feedback on this series.

Related Posts:

8 Characteristics of Ideal Business Partners

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Consistent Poor Results

“Waiting is a trap. There will always be reasons to wait. The truth is, there are only two things in life, reasons and results, and reasons simply don’t count.” Dr. Robert Anthony

During the course of the week I have spoken about some key factors which lead to high performance teams failing. As a culmination of all the factors mentioned in my prior posts, the inability to reach targeted bottom line results, is a leading cause why such teams fail. I was advising a young startup team a few years ago, it was full of stars. They had a fantastic business plan and worked really well together. However the business was not gaining the traction they had projected. This was causing much tension within the team. This is a time when internal conflicts begin to surface. Initially no one really talked about it, rather they hoped that things would change. Unfortunately the market they were targeting was not ready for the product they had and soon the defections started to take place. This is a story one has seen many a time in small startups, as well as large companies.

It is only natural that when things are not going well that team members begin to explore other alternatives open to them. They are justifiably looking out for themselves and being realistic about the situation. However, if the business had created a culture of accountability and candor, I believe things may have gone very differently. Firstly, when things were obviously not working, how to tweak the business model would have been brought up and discussed candidly. Secondly, with greater transparency in the team, those individuals who were not contributing or whose skills were not required, could have started exploring other opportunities without suddenly leaving the team. Lastly, if the team did work well together there could have been other opportunities which they could have pursued.

Consistent poor results are definitely a major reason why teams and businesses fail. The key word is ‘consistent’. Losses are bound to occur at some point or other in a business. However, it is when they continue to appear without any direct action being taken, that it gets serious. As a team leader one needs to continuously keep a keen eye on key metrics and regularly update members about results and problems being faced. Transparency helps leave doors open for candid discussions and gives  team members the opportunity to make graceful exits. Warren Buffet has some wise words on this matter “Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.”

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Lack of Accountability

Accountability breeds response-ability.” Stephen R. Covey

Starting a new business is a lot of fun. The first couple of months everyone is really enthusiastic. People are making sales calls, improving the website content, developing new marketing concepts and generally being highly productive. After the initial couple of months or even a year, there is a dip. The spark of starting this new revolutionary business begins to wear thin (unless you started something like Google). All of a sudden those sales calls are not being made and there is just not enough attention being given to the key first customers which you closed. I have experienced this in the first couple of ventures I was a part of. Whenever a routine set in, the enthusiasm levels began to drop. This then brings us to the next factor that results in the falling out of teams…a lack of accountability.

From the very onset of a business venture, clear objectives and targets need to be set for every team member. They need to be accountable for a specific component of the business. The progress on this must be reviewed periodically. I believe it is usually a lack of clear objectives that brings about a lack of accountability within teams. This is the leader’s or senior management’s fault. It is a reflection of poor leadership skills and is often taken advantage of by individuals riding on the coat tails of the effort of others. I have been  part of many teams whether it be at school or in a business, when someone or other on the team takes advantage of the free rider problem and ends up taking undue credit for the success of the team.

The components  talked about in my recent posts, such as lack of candor and trust, usually lead to this lack of accountability. When there are no clear objectives communicated to team members, and this is compounded by a lack of trust between team members, there is very little motivation to work  hard. Neglecting this aspect of a business will result in inadequate traction and eventually lead to a poor bottom line results. I will talk about that in the final post of this series. In conclusion, make sure that everyone in the team is held accountable to certain SMART goals and targets. This is essential to meet positive bottom line results and eventually succeed as a team.

Related Posts:

Execution of Corporate Strategy

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Lack of Trust

“Wise men put their trust in ideas and not in circumstances” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Trust is an essential component of any type of partnership,  be it business or personal. Without it, a relationship’s growth is impeded, it will in all probability remain stagnant and eventually break off. It takes a lot of hard work to build trust in a relationship, but very little effort to destroy years of accumulated trust. Looking back at the ventures I have been part of, I see that trust was definitely something created over time. However, there are a couple of factors that create the basis for this initial leap of faith and trust between individuals or a group of individuals. They are:

1. Shared Values: Before making any type of commitment, the underlying premise must be built on a set of shared core values. Core values are a set of values embedded into each individual’s system. They are the result of life experiences, culture, environment and our spiritual belief system. Hence ,when team members with different sets of core values come together the process of building trust is much slower.

2. Risk Tolerance: Everyone has different areas for the level of risk they are willing to take on, at any given point in time. Those with higher tolerance levels push forward and hope for the best, whereas others hold back and wait for the right time. When individuals with different levels of risk tolerance come together as a team, it takes a lot longer for trust to develop.

3. Self Confidence: I believe that individuals with higher levels of self confidence, have higher levels of risk tolerance too as they are positive about things working out. Whereas individuals with low levels of self confidence constantly doubt their own abilities and their plans to get it right. Individuals with differing levels of self confidence take longer to build trust.

Differences in these areas will result in trust being built slowly. Teams who have mis-managed competing interests,  not created a culture of candor in their business, will have severe problems in developing the level of trust needed to push the business forward. I believe that when there is a lack of trust in the team, team members are not able to perform at their optimal. If this problem is not handled in its early stages, the probability of members defecting and moving to greener pastures increases greatly.The key to incorporate candor into your business is to ensure that messages sent are consistent with what the business stands for. When these factors are in place one should be able to see higher levels of trust, this will eventually lead to better performance and results.

Related Posts:

5 Components to build Trust

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Lack of Candor

“You can’t shake hands with a clenched fist.” Indira Gandhi

I have written about the importance of candor in earlier posts. When teams are unable to communicate effectively, problems start manifesting themselves from all angles. Most start up teams comprise of 3-5 individuals who usually work in very close proximity. When these individuals are unable to speak their mind or voice their opinions, tension begins to build up. I have noticed that this phenomenon occurs more where teams are comprised of individuals from the east rather than the west. I do believe this has much to do with culture. In Malcom Gladwell’s new book ‘Outliers’ his research validates this claim, delineating how Asian cultures affect the way an individual is supposed to communicate with another. It is about not ruffling feathers and ensuring that a status quo be maintained.

As a direct result of this mindset, conflicts are avoided at all costs. This further intensifies any frustrations plaguing the team. Lets face it, no one wants to be the one to bring bad news to the table. This is more the case when the team comprises of friends or associates you have been working with for an extended period of time. The feeling that there is a lot more at stake compels us to push these frustrations deeper. As a result of this almost unnatural behavior, the competing interests I spoke about yesterday begin to surface. Alternative routes available to team members start to become more attractive and this leads to greater diffractions in the team.

Lack of candor is a serious issue, one I have personally witnessed many a time. Writing about it is one thing,  putting yourself out there and talking about this uncomfortable situation is a completely different matter. To a large extent, the development of a culture of candor is dependent on the founders or individuals leading the group. It is only when all team members are comfortable talking about these matters and are assured that their comments and feedback help the team progress, will one see greater buy in from everyone. Undoubtedly this will require stepping out of your comfort zone. The benefits far outweigh the downside in this matter. More importantly, the future of your team may depend on it.

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Mismanagemnt of Competing Interests

“Wearing the same shirts doesn’t make you a team.” Buchholz and Roth

Reflecting through the past couple of the ventures I have been part of,  this was one of the things which struck me as a vital cause for a team’s eventual downfall. The issue of managing competing interests is prevalent in most teams and organizations. However in teams which include many ‘stars’, this issue gets amplified. The reason being that stars are always on the look out for new opportunities, they are approached by many individuals who want them to be a part of their ventures and they are also approached by headhunters who are scouting for senior positions. In short these individuals have many options available to them from the onset and pinning them down to work on one business is very difficult. Multiply this issue by the number of stars in the team and there is substantial work to be done by the leader.

Looking at the bigger picture, a misalignment of interests is something that start-up companies have to deal with very often. From the very beginning, founders want different things from the venture. When investors come in, they have a different set of objectives and the employees of the venture will have another set of objectives. The entrepreneur needs to manage all of these competing interests by making sure that channels of communication are kept open and as candid as possible. It is when these competing interests are kept under wraps that they tend to blow out of proportion when brought to the surface.

Therefore in conclusion we have to accept the fact, that every team will have to deal with it’s share of competing interests. In dealing with them it is important not to allow any member of the team to use those interests to undermine the positions of others or to leverage themselves unfairly. Also, mismanagement of competing interests will lead to a drastic reduction of the focus of the team member. This further amplifies the problem, and soon the team finds itself moving away from each other. With transparency the team will be able to get a better idea of how it should proceed and who should stay on the team and who should leave. This can only be possible when a culture of candor has been embedded into the team. This leads me to the next factor which is the lack of the candor.

 

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