Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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

Following Up

“Success comes from taking the initiative and following up… persisting…What simple action could you take today to produce a new momentum toward success in your life?” Anthony Robbins

In my previous post I spoke about the power of the business card. The truth of the matter is a business card  essentially gives you the ability to get the business card of another individual. There is much however that needs to translate this exchange and convert this link into a source of business or referrals for your business or yourself. I have known many power networkers who have a great ability to work an entire room and possibly get everyone’s business card. However most of them usually spend very little time with the person to find out more about them, and following up becomes a challenging task. When networking take time to find out more about the person. Be it their goals, aspirations, business or just  whatever they are willing to talk about and something you can bring when following up with them. This helps creates a better first impression and a stronger bond to assist in following up with the person.

Listed below are a couple of tips I hope can improve your follow up process:

1. 48 Hour Rule: Whenever I meet someone for the first time and we exchange information, I make sure that I follow it up with an email or call within 48 hours. If I do not send it out within this time frame, chances are that I will forget about the individual and reconnecting later is much more challenging compared to when both sides still remember the occasion they met at. I usually send an email to the individual as soon as I enter it into my personal database.

2. Context: It is important that whenever you are following up with a new contact that there is a specific context. If I shoot off an email which simply said “It was great meeting at the networking event, lets keep in touch.” chances are slim this person would be more than just another name in your rolodex. During the event or right after the event right a small note on either the name card or on your phone regarding the individual and something specific which you spoke about which you can follow up regarding. This adds a lot more weight to your email and increases the chances of possibly getting some business or referrals from the individual.

3. Rolodex Dipping: I got this tip from Christine Comaford and it has really improved my ability to leverage my network more effectively. Rolodex dipping is simply the act of randomly picking up someone from your Rolodex which you may not have contacted for a while and re-connect with them. It could be an informal email or call where I inquire about them or their business. I do this activity 3 times a week and it has kept my connection to long lost clients, partners, colleagues and friends alive. I would highly recommend integrating this activity in your weekly schedule.

Following up is a critical aspect of effective networking. Through these activities I have been able to sustain and grow my personal and professional networks while maintaining a strong foundation. It is only through the process of consistent following up can we convert a contact into someone a lot more valuable. Even though this is a very simple and straight forward process many people have not developed the discipline to methodically follow-up, this impact’s their business development activities .

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Can I have your business card?

“The way of the world is meeting people through other people.” Robert Kerrigan

Business cards are a vital component of effective networking. They have the ability to form a link between two strangers and potentially grow that link into a mutually beneficial relationship. The first time I really needed a business card was at one of my first networking sessions in college. Being relatively new to the networking scene at that point, I wondered how so many students were going about exchanging name cards. Eventually I got a hold of some them and was surprised at the information presented on these small bits of paper. They ranged from mini size resumes, information regarding student organizations they were part of, and more traditional name cards with information about their organizations. It was at this time a close friend of mine and I set up Synaptic Creations, my first company, in which I started out assisting students design and print name cards on an affordable basis on campus.

Coming back to the importance of business cards. There are a few tips and etiquettes I have picked up over the years, they have helped me during networking, I am sharing them with everyone:

1. Design: It is important that one chooses the paper, design and font carefully for business cards. One’s business card is an advertisement for the product/services you provide. It is important to maximize the space you have on the card and at the same time not to make it too cluttered. Choosing a very small text to display contact information should be avoided. If needed use both sides of the business card to convey your message.

2. Ready Stock: As an entrepreneur we should always be equipped with an ample number of name cards at all times. This applies especially for networking sessions, a place we are bound to pass out many name cards. Countless times I have spoken to individuals at networking sessions who apologize for not having name cards, or hoard them to give to the “right people”. This sends wrong signals  and should be avoided at all costs.

3. Presenting: In Asia name cards are presented and received with two hands. This is a sign of respect and the best part about such an exchange is that it provides an opportunity to look at the name card closely. Either way even if name cards are exchanged with one hand, we should take the time to look at the other persons card carefully as a sign of respect as also to see if there is anything of interest we could discuss further with them. One needs to make people feel important so that they share the same attitude towards you.

4. Referrals: Whenever you exchange name cards with someone who may not be in your line of work or industry, but has shown an interest in what you do, make it a point to ask politely for referrals. It is important to emphasise the politeness aspect. I have across many individuals who just go on and on badgering for referrals. This usually makes the other person feel uncomfortable and forces them to close up as they infer one is only wanting to take advantage of their network. Depending on the situation choose an appropriate manner and time on how to bring up the discussion.

Exchanging business cards is just the beginning of the relationship. It is as important to follow up with the individual and add their name to a rolodex or online depository. For management of my name cards I use a service called Highrise. It is a simple and neat tool which allows me to easily add data and provides access to my network from just about anywhere through my phone. It is hence essential to have a methodical way of managing one’s name cards.

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First Impressions

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression” W. Triesthof 

A couple of years ago, two individuals from my university came to my partner and I for initial seed funding for a project they wanted to start. It was in the service industry, in a sector which was growing relatively fast. The first meeting involved the pitch, which was well done. However,  during the Q&A session when we  actually started interacting with each other, I felt something was off. Being relatively new to seed funding at the time, I got convinced with the figures and disregarded the seeds of doubt which I had. As it turned out my first impressions were right, I learned a very important lesson, at a cost. The purpose of the story was to show just how important first impressions are, whether you are networking, pitching to an investor or securing a customer. When meeting someone for the first time, a couple of things I always looking out for are listed below:

1. Attitude: There are some people who start off talking about themselves, and just do not let the other person into the conversation. Their primary and total objective is to figure out how to get something out of networking with you. This approach is short sighted, and often results in the inability to make an actual connection. The better attitude is to make the other person the focus of the conversation. See if you can possibly assist them in any possible way through your network. This attitude will in turn create a wealth of opportunities for you and will continue to do so over time. It is therefore essential to constantly assess the signals you are giving out and the manner in which they come across to the other person.

2. Listening: There will often be people who whilst engaged in a conversation with you, will not really be there. They are constantly distracted with what is happening around them, have a tendency to suddenly change subjects, and generally give out vibes that they really do not care. When I notice someone acting this way, red flags go up instantly, and making an extra effort to push any sort of working relationship forward is greatly decreased. We also have to be constantly aware of whether we are actively listening ourselves. To learn more about active listening please click here to read more about it.

3. Appearance: The way an individual dresses and carries his/her self says a lot about them. It is always better to be over dressed than to be under dressed for an occasion. Find out what the appropriate attire for the occasion is before going. My grandfather used to tell me that there was much learn to lot about a person from his hair, nails and shoes. Even though times and attire has drastically changed since his days, the advice still holds true today.

Since first impressions are formed quickly, one has to remain vigilant about how to present oneself, one’s attitude and overall body language. It is much more challenging to change initial impressions, it is hence essential to do all we can to ensure we get it right the first time. Will we always get the right impression across? Probably not, however, we have to do all we can to make sure that the signals we are sending are well aligned with the impression we want to create.

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Do you Network?

“I like to define networking as cultivating mutually beneficial, give-and-take, win-win relationships… The end result may be to develop a large and diverse group of people who will gladly and continually refer a lot of business to us, while we do the same for them.” Bob Burg

Effective networking is often the difference between the success or failure of a business. As entrepreneurs, if we wait for someone to come buy or check out our products or services, we will not gain much traction. We have to continuously put ourselves out there, and find people who could benefit through our product/service or who could benefit us. The important aspect here is, there needs to be a mutually beneficial exchange. If we remain self centric and just talk about “me,me,me”, building long lasting relationships is going to be very challenging.

As stated in some of my earlier blogs, networking was and still is to an extent, something I am not completely comfortable with. This is quite common for a lot of individuals who are relatively introverted, and do better in smaller groups or on a one to one basis. Many books have been written about how to be better networkers, somehow I always felt they slowed me down instead of accelerating the process. What I have learnt the hard way is, there is absolutely no replacement for experience. We have to continuously place ourselves outside our comfort zone and make an effort. I think the tipping point for me was during a sales training course I was participating in. The group was instructed to go and collect as many business cards from strangers in 30 minutes. To make it difficult it was 8pm at night, and people were tired and hurrying back home. Eventually I gathered up the courage to go up to some people and make my case.

I got a lot of nasty comments and rude looks, but eventually, I found some people who cooperated. Ever since that day my whole mindset towards networking has changed. I have begun to truly understand how critical networking is and how the benefits far outweigh the awkwardness one may have to face doing it. During the course of this week I will be covering five factors, which I believe have made me a more effective networker. These have greatly helped me in both my personal and professional life.

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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…..it 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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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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