Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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

5 Steps to Assess a Business

“Strategy is not just a plan, not just an idea; it is a way of life for a company. Strategy doesn’t just position a firm in its external landscape; it defines what a firm will be.” Cynthia A. Montgomery

As a business owner one needs to continually assess one’s own company as well as those of the competition. It is essential to have the ability to look at the larger picture and see what is working, and what is not. If you are younger start-up company looking to raise money, or attract potential team members, you need to have well thought out answers to key questions which will be asked. Listed below are five key questions which I believe every business owner must be able to answer.

1. Why does your organization exist?: To answer this question, one needs to have clear understanding of the problem the organization is wanting to solve and how it plans to do that. The answer needs an opening sentence which has the ability to get the other person interested instantly, and wanting to know more about the business. To read more about answering this question please click here.

2. What is your competitive edge?: This question requires you to identify three main components, customer needs, competitor capabilities and your own organizational capabilities. This will help to clearly identify the space your organization is going to be operating in, and your customer value proposition. To read more about the answering this question please click here.

3. What is your business model?: In essence this question is asking how your business makes money. The answer to this question requires you to clearly pin point your target market, financial estimates, scalability and originality. All assumptions and forecasts used in the answer must be based on extensive research. Investors see far too many hockey stick projections, without substantial evidence of how and why demand will pick up to reach those estimates. To read more about answering this question please click here.

4. How do you acquire customers?: The answer to this question is all about your marketing strategy.  Clearly outline metrics used to measure performance, market positioning and price point strategies. These objectives and strategies need to be translated into executable tactics through your promotional campaigns. Avoid using generic answers when answering this question and focus on key metrics you  want to achieve, and how. To read more about answering this question please click here.

5. Who is on your team?: This question requires you to tell the assessor the business plans for execution. The answer to this question is I believe, by far the most important aspect of assessing a business. One needs to mention the teams past experience, achievements, leadership examples and responsibilities. Highlight strengths and how they will be used to help reach your target goals. To read more about answering this question please click here.

One needs to have the answers to these questions, always prepared. They require much initial hard work and research,  the benefits however, far outweigh the time spent on them. One needs to remember to be clear, concise and confident when answering these question. It is all about passion for the business and the industry one operates in. This passion must be conveyed when talking about one’s organization. In the end if the story makes sense, numbers are fairly correct and you have managed to assemble a talented team, success is closer than you think.

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Who is on your team?

“The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.” Babe Ruth

The success of any startup depends on the quality of the team executing the plans. It comes down to having a team who complements each others strengths and weaknesses, has the ability to work cohesively together and most importantly, has the same core beliefs and values. To communicate this to a potential investor or assessor of the business, requires a deep understanding of oneself and one’s team mates. A clear segmentation of the roles each person will be playing and why that particular person has been chosen for that role is essential.

The answer to this question should include reference to the following:

1. Experience: The first things which needs to be established is the team’s past experience and achievements. This will assist an understanding of where they are coming from and whether they have the required understanding of the market and skill set they will be responsible for. Wherever possible, support your answer with specific details including return on investments (ROI), market share growth, sales figure or any industry rewards and recognition achieved. Past tangible results need to be highlighted.

2. Leadership: This point needs to be stressed to showcase  possession of the necessary skills to lead and motivate a team. Highlight experience, responsibility and motivational skills from the past. Forward looking investors need to know whether an individual has the ability to motivate a team during hard times, and push them further when things are going well.

3. Roles & Responsibilities: From the very beginning there should be clear allocation of responsibilities. Even though at the beginning everyone has to wear multiple hats, it is important that they are responsible for the part of the business where their strongest skill set is used.

The points mentioned above highlight some key areas to develop answers around. Ultimately, investors invest in teams, not business ideas. Use this opportunity to promote your team as much as possible. Be clear, concise and focus on results and tangible evidence of the team’s great ability to work well together.

Related Articles:

Steps to create a winning team

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5 Ways To Be a Better Team Member

“In the end, all business operations can be reduced to three words: people, product and profits. Unless you’ve got a good team, you can’t do much with the other two.” Lee Iacocca

“Are you giving your best to the team you are working with?” All of us, who are part of any team, must ask ourselves this question periodically. It forces us to look at the larger picture, and how our actions affect it, for better or for worse. This is vital for our own personal development as well as the team’s progress. Having worked with many teams, I know first hand how easy it is to play the blame game. Team member X is not giving enough time, member Y is not bringing the value he/she is supposed to, a myriad of such thoughts constantly float in your head. We need to make a fundamental shift in our thinking, and focus on giving 100% to the team. We cannot compromise our commitment because other individuals on the team are not pulling their weight. What we can do, is become more proactive in helping other members of the team grow, as well as ourselves.

Listed below are five ways to become a better team member and help the rest of your team follow suit as well.

1. Playing to your Strengths: Understanding and playing to your strengths is a process that takes time. It is important that we start this process as early as possible. There is  much trial and error involved in this discovery process. Often, we realize our choice is not showcasing our true potential. No problem! Use the experience as feedback and move forward. To learn more about playing to your strengths please click here.

2. Being Action Oriented: Team members, customers, suppliers and investors look for people who can deliver what they commit to. This trait is common in successful people, they do not over think things, they, just do it. The concept of “Ready, Fire, Aim” is one I believe in, it has has served me well over the last couple of years. It certainly accelerates the learning process, helps you add tangible value to business, and gets you the reputation of being the guy who gets things done. To read more about becoming action oriented please click here.

3. Giving and Asking for Feedback: The art of successfully giving feedback comes with experience and time. By providing feedback you add value to the team and all of its members. There will be times when feedback will be uncomfortable and these are situations you need to learn to manage. Suffering in silence is not a smart strategy, it is one where both the team and individual lose out. To learn more about giving and asking for feedback in an effective manner please click here.

4. Being Sensitive: Being sensitive is commonly associated with weakness and insecurity in business. I do not believe this, I believe, this is an essential personal characteristic, specially one that entrepreneurs must possess. Being sensitive to the feelings of others, situations and circumstances allows you to focus on larger issues in a more comprehensive manner. Highly effective team members understand the need for sensitivity when dealing with issues which impact the entire team. To learn more about sensitivity in team dynamics please click here.

5. Paying the Price: Every team member has to pay a price when he/she becomes part of a larger entity. For a team to work effectively together, they need to reach a stage where there is price equilibrium. This creates a situation where everyone on the team has similar vested interests and are fully committed to its success. The price of being a team member consists of many elements, two of the most prominent ones are, time and sacrifices. It is critical that all team members find a balance to maintain stability within the team. To learn more about the price of being a team member please click here.

Being the best team member that you can be, is each team member’s responsibility. We have to continuously focus our energies on bringing increasing value to our organization. This may, sometimes be at the cost of your own personal goals, time and other opportunities. When you make a commitment to be part of a venture, remember, to identify the price of entering into the agreement beforehand. This is something to keep in mind when embarking on any entrepreneurial journey. Usually the price for entry is steep, by the same token, so are the rewards. Success is the result of consistent action towards identified goals. The better you perform as a team, the faster you can reach those goals.

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Paying the Price

“There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when circumstance permit. When you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results.” Anonymous

Every team member has to pay a price when he/she becomes part of a larger entity. For a team to work effectively together, they need to reach a stage where there is price equilibrium. This creates a situation where everyone on the team has similar vested interests and are fully committed to its success. Reaching such a level is a difficult process, because “price” is relative. If a team consists of 2 junior partners along with 2 senior partners should each member be paying the same price? If a team consists of 3 partners out of which 2 have sacrificed their social life should the third follow suit? I have debated this topic with a lot of people and am always surprised when I hear unique responses to some of the questions asked above.

At the end of most discussions however, there is a consensus that “price equilibrium” needs to exist in every team, it just varies according to the circumstances. Two key aspects of the price one needs to pay, to be part of a team are:

1. Time: Time is a vital and required input into an organization, majors rifts are caused in the team if this is not done seriously. Team members need to dedicate the time they have committed to. For example, if you have a partner who is assisting you while keeping his day job, it is his/her responsibility to be contribute to the team during nights and weekends. When one of the team runs multiple businesses, it is essential to demarcate time commitments according to your level of involvement. Without contributing time an individual is causing a disequilibrium and it usually has nasty consequences.

2. Sacrifices: When you embark on an entrepreneurial venture, get ready to make serious sacrifices. Building a business is not an easy task, it requires all members of the teams to sacrifice their own personal goals for team goals. Many find this difficult to do, some have lifestyles which they want to maintain and others may not be ready to give up personal goals. The fact of the matter is, if you are not ready to sacrifice your time, money and opportunities, do not join a startup. If you are part of the team and you are not sacrificing, in comparison to other members, it is time to step up.

In order to become a valued and key member of your team, it is essential that you are willing to pay the price required. If you find the price too steep, let all your team members know. It becomes challenging to keep paying out and not receiving anything in return during the early stages of your organization. Therefore it is critical to find out more about the team you want to join, before, you sign up. Find out what sort of price you are going to have to pay and whether you are going to be willing to do so. Doing this will make both your life and those of the other team members a lot simpler.

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Being Sensitive

“It is… axiomatic that we should all think of ourselves as being more sensitive than other people because, when we are insensitive in our dealings with others, we cannot be aware of it at the time: conscious insensitivity is a self-contradiction.” W. H. Auden

The topic of discussion today is not a subject you usually find on business blogs. Being sensitive is commonly associated with weakness and insecurity in business. I do not believe this however, I believe this is an essential personal characteristic, specially one that entrepreneurs must possess. Understanding this, is the result of interactions with my mentors, who have constantly impressed upon me the importance of being sensitive to your team members, customers and suppliers. I have seen and experienced this in my own interactions of working with several teams over the last couple of years. Being sensitive to the feelings of others, situations and circumstances allows you to focus on larger issues in a more comprehensive manner.

Being a team member will inevitably result in times when the situation requires compromise and taking action in ways you may not always be comfortable with. Reactions to such situations can often be the ‘make or break’ factor for some teams. The key factor in all of this, boils down to balance. Being either overly sensitive or insensitive, bring their own share of difficulties. Maintaining a balance between both extremes requires discipline, an open mind and flexibility. I have worked with several people who have had trouble maintaining this composure, it has invariably led to difficult situations. 

Highly effective team members understand the need for sensitivity when dealing with issues which impact the entire team. Some areas requiring sensitivity are:

1. Dealing with conflict: The manner of handling conflict is a telling sign of whether balance can be maintained between extremes. For example, an individual is in a conflict with another team mate for not contributing adequately to the team. If you were the person who brought up this issue with your team member, your tone, rationale and way of handling this issue is critical.

2. Dealing with change: Whenever an organization undergoes a structural change process, substantial friction is created. This could be when individuals are required to move out of their comfort zone. As an effective team member, it is our responsibility to ensure that everyone on the team is given enough support during this transitional period. Focusing selfishly on yourself or how this change process will impact you alone, is not a winning attitude.

3. Dealing with loss: Every organization has its share of ups and downs. It is during down periods that a team is required to come together and figure out how to fix the situation. I have learnt, dealing with organizational loss tends to bring out the ugly side of people. The fact is, no one likes to lose, but it is a part of life. The success of a team comes down to, how we react to such situations and whether we are able to handle it well collectively as a team.

I agree entirely that some people are more sensitive than others. It is important however, that everyone on the team does their best in dealing with difficult situations and individuals, with an open mind. This attitude will not only help create stronger bonds between all team members, it will also make you stronger as a person. The next time you find yourself in a difficult situation, do your best to understand where the other person is coming from as well. Always remember to treat others in the same manner you would like to be treated yourself.

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Do you give and ask for feedback?

“What is the shortest word in the English language that contains the letters: abcdef? Answer: feedback. Don’t forget that feedback is one of the essential elements of good communication.” Anonymous

Regular readers of my blog will be able to identify with the topic discussed today, feedback. Today, we will discuss feedback specifically in relationship to teams and it’s members. When working with any team and specially a close knit startup team, it is essential that communication remain open at all times. In the flurry of developing the product, chasing the suppliers and completing the marketing material, communication channels tend to get clogged up, resulting in much distortion. This break down of communication eventually leads to the creation of an environment in which it is difficult to work with each other. To avoid reaching this state, we need a culture of candor and feedback in the organization.

When giving feedback to someone, it is essential to keep a couple of things in mind, to make sure that the person actually benefits from what you want to let him/her know. There is no point in telling Tim “You are always late, I think you should do something about this habit of yours.” If I were Tim I wouldn’t be very happy with that sort of feedback. I would much rather like to hear, “I have noticed that you have not been able to make our weekly morning meetings for the last 3 weeks, is there something I could do to assist you in making it to the next one? Is there a particular problem you are facing that is causing you to come late? I know this great book about time management and I think it could be of great help to you, I will give it to you by the end of today.”

Good feedback consists of:

1. Timing: Feedback needs to be provided at the appropriate time and place. There is no point bringing up something which happened 3 weeks ago. Deal with it as soon as you can. If required make sure it is done in private to reduce anxiety or pressure.

2. Specific: Avoid using words like “always” and “never” which do not correctly portray the situation. In order to be constructive, feedback needs to be specific in nature. Avoid being sarcastic, very frank and overly aggressive. The reason we provide and receive feedback is to help others and, ourselves. Always treat the other person how you would want to be treated, because tomorrow, that person could be providing you with feedback.

3. Clarity: Sometimes even if we are being specific the meaning doesn’t actually come across clearly. For example “We have missed you during the last 3 weekly morning meetings, there is a lot of critical information shared during these meetings and the team would like you to be a part of them. Team work is essential for our organization to grow and given that we are struggling with this quarter’s number we really need you to cooperate with us on this matter.” The meaning has been partially lost and now the receiver of the feedback is not sure what to make of it.

4. Action Steps: Whenever feedback is proposed it is essential that it is followed up with some action steps which include targets, timelines and metrics to help the individual. Without these, we more often than not, revert back to our old habits, making the entire feedback loop redundant. Therefore, when giving or asking for feedback, make sure that that goals are set to help monitor progress.

The art of successfully giving feedback comes with experience and time. By providing feedback you add value to the team and all of its members. There will be times when feedback will be uncomfortable and these are situations you need to learn to manage. Suffering in silence is not a smart strategy and one where both the team and individual lose out.

Related Posts:

There is no Failure only Feedback

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Are you action oriented?

“Thinking is easy, acting is difficult, and to put one’s thoughts into action is the most difficult thing in the world.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

There will always be some people on a team who are constantly coming up with ideas, different scenarios and ways to take the team forward. These are great people to have on a team and are an amazing resource to motivate and inspire other team members.  There is a flip side to this coin as well, if this individual does all the talking, without delivering, it can be a serious issue. When someone is an ideas person, or works on the strategic element of the business, some form of action needs to be taken on it . This can be in the implementation of the concept, in the trial of the business model or even gathering feedback from the rest of the team. Hence, there need to be clearly defined action steps, for practical implementation.

There have been numerous occasions when I have been on teams where you find a particular individual providing the bulk of ideas and suggestions, but, they never put down action steps. If this happens continuously, rather than being a source of motivation, this converts into a source of frustration for the rest of the team. It is true that everyone provides value to the team in different ways. In my experience however, individuals who do not shoulder responsibility and shy away from taking action, isolate themselves. Being action oriented is a critical characteristic in any individual, more so in an entrepreneur. There needs to be a sense of urgency for execution, rather than prolonged deliberation. When assessing yourself, and how you add value to your team, ask yourself whether you consider yourself as action oriented or not?. Next, ask others for feedback to learn which areas you need to improve on for taking action.

Team members, customers, suppliers and investors look for people who can deliver on what they commit to. This trait is common to most successful people who don’t just over think things, but, just do it. The concept of “Ready, Fire, Aim” is a theme I believe in, it has has served me well over the last couple of years. It certainly accelerates the learning process, helps you add more tangible value to your business, and gets you the reputation of being the guy who gets things done. If you are sitting on the sidelines waiting for that perfect opportunity, I strongly suggest you get your feet wet, and take things as they come.

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Lights…Camera…Action!

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Are you playing to your strengths?

“A winner is someone who recognizes his God-given talents, works his tail off to develop them into skills, and uses these skills to accomplish his goals.” Larry Bird

In my first couple of ventures I had little knowledge of my strengths, and most importantly, team dynamics. Team roles were fluid, it seemed everyone was doing each other’s job without getting too much accomplished. This eventually led to team break downs, on account of lack of communication, frustration and most importantly, lack of direction.  I had a couple of expensive real life courses in team dynamics. An important lesson I learnt along the way was, each one of us must find our particular and specific skill set, and hone it into a major strength. The challenging part about this task is, this identification process is not as straightforward as it appears to be.

The following are a couple of things to help make this identification process easier:

1. Ask for advice: This should be one of the first steps to take during this discovery process.To begin with, make a list of people whom you have worked with, been mentored by, been managed by, and close friends and family who know you well. This will help you to pin down recurring themes which crop up during your interaction with different people. To conclude this step, make a list of skill sets which the group thought you excelled at.

2. Ask yourself: Look at the list you have developed and start to make linkages with how you displayed those skill sets in the past. Which ones came to you naturally ?, Which ones gave you the most satisfaction?, Which ones were you most comfortable in. Experience is a great teacher and must be relied upon to help make this process easier.

3. Take a personality test: There are many great tests which you can take to help assess strengths and work place based preferences. Get feedback on your test scores from a certified consultant to help you understand your report with greater insight. This will give you a holistic picture of who you are. When I first took a personality test I was amazed at the report. We have so many subconscious preferences. Personality tests help make you consciously aware of your tendencies.

4. What do you aspire to be?: This is one of those questions you hear so often as a child. However I have noticed that as we grow older no one asks this of us anymore, a lot of the time we don’t ask it of ourselves either. As life becomes more complex and complicated, we tend to lose sight of the bigger picture and lose ourselves in the detail. Who are your heros?, What or who inspires you? These are the sort of definitive questions you need to ask yourself to get in touch with who you really are.

Finding and then playing to your strengths is a long process and takes time. It is important that we start the process as early as possible, This will place us in a position to reach out as soon as possible. There is  much trial and error involved in the discovery process. Sometimes you realize your choice is not showcasing your true potential. No problem! Use the experience as feedback and move forward. The important thing is to be growing constantly, it is when we stop growing, that we lose out on what we can achieve.

Related Post:

Mentors & Strength Finder

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Are you a good team player?

“Individual commitment to a group effort, that is what makes a team work, a company work, society work, a civilization work.” Vince Lombardi

Earlier, I have written about the creation of winning teams alongwith a couple of different aspects of team formation. The previous posts were written with a broad perspective of the team as a whole. This week I have chosen to zoom-in on the individual team player. I will talk about how an individual can make sure he is delivering his/her best when working in a team. Those of you who have worked with various teams realize that working cohesively as a team is a lot harder than it actually appears to be. I have had my share of difficult co-workers and teams, I am sure some may have thought the same of me. With so many intertwined dynamics, maintaining a state of equilibrium is not the easiest of thing to do.

This week I will discuss five steps you can take to become a better team player. However, there are a couple of ground rules which need to be established before going into that discussion. First and foremost, working as a team requires a 100% commitment from those involved. A team will only function efficiently if, the team as a whole, makes a commitment to remain honest and flexible. These two building blocks are essential for every member on the team. The environment we operate in is in a constant state of change, sometimes, that change may make us uncomfortable. It is essential that you voice your concerns and opinions while maintaining an environment of constructive candor in your organization.

Working in a team gives each one the ability to shine, to showcase strengths, and bring value to the team. Having worked with several teams for startups, I have seen both the good and the bad. When you are working at a startup, most of the time your team will consist of individuals who are fiercely competitive, have strong personalities and expect nothing but the best from each other. It becomes each and every team members responsibility to bring their “A” game to work everyday. This requires fanatical dedication to what you are doing and a belief that it is going to succeed. I hope this series will provide  insight into how to become a better team player.

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5 Steps to Change a Habit

“When you sow a thought you reap an action, when you sow an action you reap a habit, when you sow a habit you reap a character and when you sow a character you reap a destiny.” Anonymous

Embracing change poses a challenge to most of us. Our comfort zones have the ability to make us feel just that, comfortable and at peace. Stepping out of these zones is a frightening experience, at the best of times.  Venturing into spaces where you need to find your bearings all over again is daunting . The task is arduous at the onset, it doesn’t get much easier along the way either, however, when you have successfully enlarged that comfort zone, the feeling of accomplishment is unparalleled. This week, I talked about a couple of steps which can be used when wanting to change or develop a new habit. I felt it was important to talk about this, because being an entrepreneur requires you to be flexible and open to change. It requires you to change limiting habits and beliefs, which may be pulling you back. Listed below are five steps which may be of help in this process:

1. Identification: Before we commit ourselves to “change”, we need to make sure our unconscious desires connect with the conscious ones. Clarity about what you want to change is essential. Asking yourself what you want to change about yourself is a powerful question, use it to crystalize your thoughts. To read more about identification of limiting habits/beliefs please click here.

2. Ask yourself why: Once you have identified the change you want in your life, the next question is, why do you want to change? This discovery process is essential, to grasp the fundamental reasoning behind the change you want to see in your life. Without this process of understanding , you may discover that you approached change in a particular habit, for the wrong reasons. You may discover that you never really wanted to change this particular habit, hence, you had not found a strong enough reason to motivate the change. To read more about asking yourself “why” please click here.

3. Make a plan: To successfully start a transformation process, you need to outline a plan. One which will be documented, and have clearly marked time lines. It is important you take into account any triggers which may lead to lapsing back to old habits.  To read more about making successful plans for changing  habits please click here.

4. Taking action: We can plan all we want, in the end, it all boils down to taking action. This step requires courage, determination, and above all, belief in your capabilities to bring about change. Life is too short to expect those around us to change, or, to stand still and hope that things will become better. The first step towards wanting to bring in change, is to take responsibility for your life. It boils down to you, and how committed you are, to wanting change in your life. To read more about taking action please click here.

5. Maintaining change: Once we have taken that first step towards bringing change into our life, we have begun a journey. To help us maintain the change that we have brought into our lives some of the things which can help us are, keeping a daily log, developing a support system and rewarding ourselves whenever we reach small milestones. These activities will help keep you motivated when the going gets tough. To read more about maintaining change please click here.

Time is the most precious asset we possess. Everyday is an opportunity for you to bring about the change that  you want to see, in your life. In the end, it boils down to your level of determination and persistence to be the change you want to see. I love the Adidas quote “impossible is nothing”. Maybe that could be a mantra for your next habit change? Best of luck!

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