Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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

5 Components to build Trust

“Self-trust is the first secret of success.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

This series started with a post regarding how the trust I had in PayPal was shaken when my account got compromised. In life, our trust in people and businesses will often be tested. That is life, and we have to accept it. The fact of the matter is, without trust, we would not get far in life. The trust building process comprises of several components. Each of them plays a vital role in the process, and provides us with  benchmarks to help achieve the level of trust required. 

1. Integrity: Integrity is based purely on the actions and decisions we make in life. They reflect who we are and what we stand for. Three measures to use to benchmark our own level of integrity are ; firstly, are we congruent in our thoughts, words and actions? The second one is, do we honor our promises and commitments to ourselves and others? The last one, do we possess the courage to stand up for our values and beliefs in the face of resistance? These questions can serve as a guide to learn more about personal and business integrity levels. To read more about trust and integrity please click here.

2. Competence: Competence is a pre-requisite for the process of trust building. An individual or business is deemed competent in a particular skill set when they have proved themselves adequately. However, for a new startup, without a track record, this is a challenging task. Competence needs to be communicated through actions in a younger team. Using academic credentials, talents and skill sets or references can be used to help prove a younger team’s ability and capability. To read more about trust and competence please click here.

3. Consistent Communication: We have all come across businesses where senior management says one thing, middle management says another and the customer service representative says something completely different. When there is inconsistency in communication, building trust will be an arduous task. As younger startup companies, we have to instill the importance of consistent communication, from the beginning of our operations. This includes the alignment of senior management’s agenda, marketing strategies as well as how customer service representatives are supposed to interact with clients. To read more about the importance of consistent communication and trust please click here.

4. Genuine Concern: An individual or business can have high levels of integrity, be competent and communicate with consistency, yet, a lack of genuine concern for others or your customers, will dramatically slow down the trust building process. I believe a genuine concern for your customer with honest intention is the ‘x-factor’ in the trust building process. It is important that we get a deep understanding of our clients needs and wants and craft our strategies around them. It is only when we are able to communicate the importance of this component to the rest of the team in the form of actions will we actually notice results. To read more about trust and genuine concern please click here.

5. Results: Results and past performance speak louder than any number of words. The world today benchmarks each and everyone of us to what we have achieved. Therefore, as young entrepreneurs, we must pay a great deal of attention to proving ourselves and showing tangible results. These can be in the form of academic achievements, extra curricular achievements or projects where we have documented results. It is important to become result and action oriented. When an individual has a reputation of getting the job done well, the ability to gain the trust and confidence of peers, investors and customers is enhanced. To read more about trust and results please click here.

Building and maintaining trust is a challenging task. It requires constant attention, and the slightest of slips in our behavior has severe negative impact on the level of trust. As we all know, once a vase is broken it can be put back together, but it will never be the same. The components talked about in this post are foundational elements in the trust building process. When we have the trust of a customer or friend it dramatically changes the dynamics of the relationship, to one where a lot more can be achieved. As entrepreneurs, we must strive to develop a reputation of one who can be trusted. This will have a phenomenal positive impact on the level of business as well as your life. 

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Results

“You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.” Henry Ford

As a young entrepreneur, some questions you hear repeatedly from prospective customers are, “Who is currently using your product/service?” or “How many users do you currently have on your system?”  These questions are asked with the aim to establish whether the prospect can trust your business to deliver what you are pitching, and whether the team has the appropriate capabilities and skill sets. Not many individuals want to be the first customer to test a brand new product/service, it is hence up to the entrepreneur to convince the customer why they should use their product/service. The question that arises is “How does an entrepreneur convince a customer to trust him to deliver on his word?”. I believe the fastest way to do this, is to reference past performance and results, and use them as benchmarks to make a convincing argument. 

Results and past performance speak louder than any number of words. The world today benchmarks each and everyone of us to what we have achieved. For example, take an individual with high levels of integrity, extremely competent, communicates consistently and has a genuine concern for what he/she is doing. However, if this individual does not have a track record of delivering when given a task, chances are that they are not going to be given a chance to step up to the plate. Therefore, as entrepreneurs, we have to constantly look for ways to prove to customers, stakeholders, investors, employees and the media that we have what it takes to succeed. We cannot wait around for things to happen or wait for the ‘right’ opportunity. Action needs to be taken, and positive results need to follow. Will we always get the results we want? Unfortunately not. However, if we persevere and pursue what we want to achieve relentlessly results will follow.

Some areas where younger entrepreneurs can display results they have achieved are:

1. Academics: This works well when you are raising early stage angel or venture funding. If one has achieved success in the form of honor rolls, awards or other recognition for academic pursuits, they should be included in some way in your pitch. From a customer’s point of view, having someone with deep theoretical knowledge about your product/service adds great value.

2. Extra Curricular: Including any information about areas such as sports, debate societies, student unions or charitable efforts one has been part of, also adds value.  A personal example is,  when I co-founded an entrepreneurship society at university, which has since grown from 10 members in Singapore, to over 2500 spread across all of Asia today. It was through this platform that I gained a valuable network, and built trust with many of my mentors today. Other examples could be contributions to charitable organizations and events, and funds you may have raised for them.

3. Projects & Initiatives: Results can only be achieved when you take initiatives and actions. Highlight areas where you took an initiative, such as, starting a blog, a website, a store on ebay, freelance projects or any other example where you have documented results. Such projects go to show that you are willing to go the extra mile to reach you goals. 

Once the business has established customers, continue to track results through all business processes. Take responsibility for all the results you get, be they positive or negative. I have found that the learning process is specially instructive when we do not get the results we want. I have repeated this many a time, there is no failure, only feedback. Once you have established a solid track record, and have been identified as a result oriented team member, the level of trust your peers will have in you, will sky rocket. 

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Genuine Concern

“If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him like a shadow that never leaves him.” Buddha

An individual or business can have high levels of integrity, be competent and communicate with consistency, yet, a lack of genuine concern for others or your customers, will dramatically slow down the trust building process. I believe a genuine concern for your customer with honest intention is the ‘x-factor’ in the trust building process. We have all encountered situations where a business, restaurant, hotel or individual went out of their way to assist you and remember the impact it had. This could be something as small as having your laundry picked and dropped to your house free of charge or giving you a complimentary meal when your food did not arrive in time. These gestures communicate genuine concern for the customer, and an honest aim to make sure they are completely satisfied. 

When a business puts making X amounts of money in a calender year or achieving a certain amount of ROI every quarter as the only aim, they tend to miss out on this factor. Therefore, to build an organization which takes into account the aim and will to ensure that each customer is looked after to the best of the company’s abilities is a challenging task. It has to begin with senior management, they must lead by example. A couple of days ago, I had a prospective customer email me regarding taking some psychometrics courses. Unfortunately, his email got buried and I completely forgot to respond. When I uncovered his email a week later, I promptly sent him the information along with a free test to apologize for the delay. We must always remain vigilant of our intentions, attitude and actions from the customers point of view. 

As a startup it is important that a culture for genuine concern is developed from the onset. Listed below are a few steps to help you get started in the right direction.

1. Listen: Understand your customers in as much detail as possible. Learn what their goals, objectives, threats and concerns are when dealing with vendors, who may be providing similar services to yours. Armed with a thorough understanding of their needs and wants, we will be better equipped to cater to them.

2. Communicate: This needs to start internally in the business, the team must be made aware of the focus, agenda and achievement targets of the company. How the company plans to achieve targets as well as the necessary actions that need to be taken. Such information empowers the workforce as can be seen at Southwest Airlines, the company has the best service standards by far in the industry. We also need to communicate our agenda to the customers. This helps create transparency and removes suspicion from the customer’s mind.

3. Actions: We have to lead with examples and empower our workforce to go beyond the call of duty to help a customer. Ritz Carlton gives employees a discretionary budget in case of an emergency or incident with a customer. At my local Starbucks, the servers know me by name as well as my daily order. When a customer receives such service they are bound to let everyone know, and this will not only help create goodwill but also secure a loyal customer base. 

Financial goals are important metrics for any business. However, I believe that businesses should have metrics for the softer side of the business as well. How many satisfied customers did we serve this year as compared to last year? How many customer complaints were received this year as compared to last year? Benchmarks must be created for quality of service too. Genuine concern for your customers is positively correlated to better quality of service, this results in more customers and higher levels of trust.

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Selecting the Right Name

“When you think of the blur of all the brands that are out there, the ones you believe in and the ones you remember, like Chanel and Armani, are the ones that stand for something. Fashion is about establishing an image that consumers can adapt to their own individuality. And it’s an image that can change, that can evolve. It doesn’t reinvent itself every two years.” Ralph Lauren

If you think coming up with the next million dollar is challenging, correct selection for the name of your business is not going to be any easier. A name formulates the foundational base of your entire business. It communicates what you do to your target segment, what differentiates you from the competition and is ideally meant to instigate curiosity to find out more. A logical argument often used against this methodology of thinking, is that names such as Google, Amazon and Monster do very little to reflect what they do, yet, they have become mega brand names. The fact of the matter is, the businesses mentioned above were pioneering companies which revolutionized internet search, online shopping and online recruiting. They are built on very sound business models and due to the sheer superiority of their products/services they have become household names today.

Getting the name game right is something I have been giving more time towards, in my more recent ventures. We named our first design agency “Synaptic Creations”. I am not a biology student but picked up the word from a friend who told me synapses were the gap between two neurons, over which impulses lead to learning. It made sense at the time and we went with it. The word creations however, is too generic and reduced the ability for us to expand into other areas as well. It also confused some individuals who thought we may be some genetic based start-up. The name would fail several of the benchmarks I now have, for appropriate names for a business. It is important is to learn from mistakes made in the past to help you get it right the next time.

Most of the time, start-ups have to select their own name unless you have managed to secure some major early stage funding. If you have I would recommend NameLab or similar brand name consultants. If you are on your own, there are basic guidelines, namely, keep it short, keep it simple, avoid generic terms, the name should be easy to pronounce and spell and, should be unique. I do advocate a structured process to help you think in a more focused manner, which will in turn help you in deciding on a name which has been looked at from all angles, and has had major thought put into it.

Firstly, we need to think through the space we will operate in. Use questions to get your team thinking along the same wave lengths. These could include:

1. What would be the word you would want customers to associate your business with?

2. Who are you target customers?

3. What are the unique components of your business model?

4. How are you different from your competition?

5. What words best describe what your business does?

6. What emotions do you want your name to instigate in the customer?

Develop similar questions based on your business concept, and come up with as many permutations as possible by mixing and matching. Create a filtered list of names which passes the basic guidelines. If possible do a focus group or collect feedback from friends and family on the names you have shortlisted. This process will take a lot of time, so plan in advance for it so that there is no need to make a rushed selection. This is a name you are going to have to live with for a long time, you need to make it count!

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How to Position your Brand

“A brand should strive to own a word in the mind of the consumer.” Al Reis and Laura Reis

When you walk into a supermarket with the intention of buying eggs, do you actually pay attention to the branding on the eggs or do you pick up whatever is available? I usually pick up whatever I find. However the decision is more complicated when I want to get a soft drink. Brands such as Coke and Pepsi have spent billions of dollars positioning their products as the only cola alternatives. A frame of reference has been created and no matter how many new rival products are introduced in this category, it is almost impossible to dislodge the current leaders. 7-Up did something very interesting with its positioning when it rebranded itself as the “Un-Cola”. Since it could not use the word cola in the customers mind, it reframed it’s positioning relative to its competition and took up a unique position in the minds of customers.

Naturally having the edge of being first in a certain category, has it’s advantages. However, competing in markets where there is already some competition, we need to figure out a way to convince potential customers, to use our product/service instead. This requires a lot of creativity and understanding for your target market and your competitors offering. As mentioned in prior posts, we have to take into account the sort of persona we want to project and what competitive edges we want to bring to the forefront. Take for example the rent-a-car business in America. Hertz had a large edge over the No.2 provider Avis. That was until Avis capitalized on its position by using the tag line “Avis is only No.2 in rent-a-cars, so why go with us? We try harder.” This statement dramatically helped the profitability of the company and more importantly helped customers develop a reference point between Avis and Hertz.

As a start-up organization we often cannot afford to pay tens of thousands to brand consultants to help us  develop positioning strategies. However all is not lost. The end goal is to own a word in the mind of the customer, or be able to communicate your business concept in 5 words or less. Much effort needs to be put into name selection and the use of words as discussed in the brand personality post. These will be discussed in greater detail in the next post in the series.

To get you started on what your product/service should be, there is a great positioning rule called the 4D Rule:

1. Desirable by the customers

2. Distinctive from the competition

3. Deliverable by the company

4. Durable over time

A well positioned brand will lie at the intersection of all four requirements.

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Why should I choose your brand?

“A product is something made in a factory; a brand is something that is bought by the customer. A product can be copied by a competitor; a brand is unique. A product can be quickly outdated; a successful brand is timeless.” Stephen King

Yesterday’s step regarding the personality of your brand, should get one thinking of all the factors that need to be covered to successfully attract your target customer. The next couple of steps will cover essential components which need to be thought through clearly when building a brand. The component I will talk about today is the answer to the question above, namely, your competitive advantage. If one cannot answer why a customer should select your product over your competitors, there won’t be a business to build a brand for. To answer this question correctly, one needs keen insights into the internal selection process of your target customers. Communicating with your target customers and finding out what their needs and requirements are, is the only way to do this. 

For example, you want to launch a new web based product which aims to provide an ability to manage your contacts and communication logs. The market place is currently filled with such products, and include Highrise, a product I use for the same function. When this new service comes along, and they have essentially replicated existing product features and functionalities, there is little chance of success. Even if minor changes have been created, they stand to lose this competitive edge when these functionalities will be copied by existing players. This is an example of when business owners have not put enough thought into the reason for creating the service, for whom it is being created, and how they plan to provide long term value to the target customer.

On the other hand, take for example, the social networking space. Friendster started off with a bang and a small niche social networking site called Facebook, they entered the market, and addressed key concerns regarding, privacy, communication tools and useful applications to make the experience more enjoyable. They clearly addressed the question “why should I choose to switch to your platform?” This leads to an important conclusion, which is, businesses and brands have to be rooted in strong business models which address customer needs in an unique way. Our branding strategy needs to continuously communicate this competitive advantage to our target customers, reminding them of reasons they should choose us, over our competitors.

Related Articles:

– What is your competitive advantage?

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What is your brand personality type?

“You now have to decide what ‘image’ you want for your brand. Image means personality. Products, like people, have personalities, and they can make or break them in the market place.” David Oglivy

If you had to describe the Apple brand in terms of a celebrity who would choose? Could you use the same celebrity to represent Microsoft? Most likely, not possible. I find this thought extremely interesting as it sets out to externalize the internal emotions and perceptions we have for certain brands. We all know that Apple and Microsoft products are very different, however, each one of us has a unique way of perceiving these brands. As a business owner, we have to be in tune constantly with the way our business or brand is perceived by our customers. Is it being perceived the way we want it to? Are we consistent in our branding strategies across all customer touch points? Inability to do so will create a negative perception of your brand in the customer’s minds.

If brand personality is so critical to an organization’s success, why is it never talked about? I believe it is due to a couple of factors, firstly, many business owners see this as a non core issue because immediate tangible return on investment are not seen, secondly, there is a very little knowledge about how critical a brand personality is to the business as a whole. To demystify this subject I have attached an excellent schema to help understand this subject:

Courtesy Tom Dorresteijn

Courtesy Tom Dorresteijn

The development of a brand personality is the first step to embark on when developing a brand. Two components required to begin this process are:

1. Identity: One has to be absolutely clear about the aims of your organization. This includes goals, objectives, and strategic plans which have been developed for your business. Focus on core strengths and identify areas where you have a competitive advantages. If your business concept is unfocused, abstract or too diverse, these same factors will manifest themselves when communicating with target customers.

2. Customers: The second point which needs to be clearly defined is, identifying customers and their specific needs and requirements. One needs to understand their pain points, ambitions, worries and goals. This has to be done through qualitative analysis, by actually talking with your potential customer face to face. Once this is completed and assessed, we will know how to position our brand from their point of view.

It is only after we have successfully clarified these two components, can we actually start the process of developing a type of personality for our brand. We will be able to address key issues on what our brand voice should be, what characteristics our customers are looking for, and visual design to stimulate interest. I quote Tom Dorresteijin who sums up importance of a brand personality very well “We use brand personality to bring brand strategy to life.” By developing a strong personality with solid foundations we can now move to the next steps in developing our brand.

Related Articles:

Creating a brand personality

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How does one build a brand?

“A brand is a set of differentiating promises that link a product to its customers.” Stuart Agres

I believe a brand is the emotional link we have with a particular product or service. It aims to differentiate a product/service from the rest in the same category, by leveraging on its competitive advantages. Eventually, customers develop mental images and perceptions about the product/service, and this is what helps them during their purchasing decision. Without these associations, all product/services in a particular category seem homogenous and the customer is not able to distinguish one from the other. For example, at the supermarket there is an entire wall dedicated to toothpaste, yet somehow Colgate and Crest seem to stand out from the rest. Both these brands have invested a lot of time and money in positioning their product in a particular way to get our attention.

How would an entrepreneur with a boot strapped budget build one of these world class brands? My answer to this question is, solid foundations, focused strategy, consistency and perseverance. World class brands are not built overnight. Brands such as Starbucks, Apple and BMW has taken each organization many years to earn its right to be perceived in a specific manner by all of us. They have focused on giving their customers a superior product and service. What we take away from these examples is that, to create such a brand we need to begin with a strategy right from the onset of our venture. We need to identify specifically how we want to be perceived, how we plan to stand out and the sort of personality our product/service should have. 

In the end, the goal is to create a strong sense of brand loyalty among customers. This loyalty will convert itself into recurring future streams of income. During the course of the next week I will talk about basic steps to look at when building a brand. I think this is an aspect many younger startups do not pay enough attention to at the beginning. This is a major mistake, as we have to be constantly aware of the image we want to portray. This image is developed through our product/service, customer service, website, packaging and any other interaction with our target segment. I look forward to your feedback and any insights regarding the development of brands. 

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