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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Consistent Communication

“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” Anthony Robbins

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. Another example, marketing slogans promote 24/7 customer support yet, there is no one to answer the phones at 3 am in the morning. 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. Such a culture will act as a catalyst in the development of trust and creating a level of loyalty to your product/service. Failure to do so will have a detrimental impact on your business as a whole, and it will be very difficult to retain and nurture existing customers. 

Several key areas where consistency of communication is of utmost importance are:

1. Senior Management: This group of individuals is responsible for the creation of a culture where candor is promoted through the ranks. They need to lead by example by keeping their word, and being upfront and honest with all employees, vendors and customers. This is manifested in the little things, how many times have you told your secretary or colleague to make up an excuse when you don’t want to speak to someone on the phone? If one promotes honesty and consistency in the organization such actions clearly conflict with the message that you are sending to your employees and colleagues. Inconsistency of communication is usually the result of a breakdown from senior management. This group needs to be extremely vigilant of their actions and words. 

2. Customer Service: How many times have you called a support department and felt like slamming the phone down because of the level of service you received? I know I have wanted to do so many times. This is the result of the gap in communication between middle and senior management. When this level is not clear about the level of communication the organization stands for, what their role is, or why it is important that they act and behave in accordance with the principles of the organization, they will not be able to communicate this messages to the end customer. I understand that in todays world, doing this while outsourcing these activities to third party vendors is going to be a difficult task. However, it is of vital importance that creative solutions to this problem be developed to facilitate the trust building process.

3. Marketing: Seth Godin wrote an interesting book called “All Marketers are Liars”. It uses various examples to drive home the point that the most successful corporations are the ones who have consistent and honest marketing. Today, we are bombarded by millions of advertisements, many of them use deceptive tactics to stir curiosity. I am sure many people click the pop up banner which says you have won a million dollars. Often a company will promise features and capabilities which they may not possess. Most of these companies will never be able to develop any trust with their target customers. As a startup, use marketing as a tool to tell a compelling story, which is rooted in honesty. 

Consistency of communication must be developed through the entire business. When mistakes are made do not attempt to cover them up and embellish the truth. It only takes a single act of inconsistency in your message to destroy any trust which may have been developed between your partners, vendors or customers. 

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Competence

“A competent leader can get efficient service from poor troops, while on the contrary an incapable leader can demoralize the best of troops.” John J. Pershing

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 often a very challenging task. Competence needs to be communicated through actions in a younger team. For example, take two startups, both aiming to develop similar ebay replicas in a virgin market. Both teams have identical skill sets in terms of technical capabilities. One of the team, actively looks for individuals with prior experience in this sector, and adds them to their advisory body. Along with this, they get a major courier company to sign up with them as well as a reputable payment processor. A customer evaluating which website to use, will clearly choose the team which has put in extra effort in developing weaker areas of expertise. 

This example goes to show that younger startups need to think creatively about areas of competence and work pro-actively on weaker aspects. Areas of competence must be clearly communicated to their target audience. Some areas which can be emphasized for younger startups are:

1. Education: Many startups comprise of young team members who may still be at university or have recently graduated. Emphasis on your team’s specialized educational background to show they have adequate technical, managerial or marketing skills required by the business is an asset. Any other certifications or external program qualifications of team members can also be added when relevant. 

2. References: References from established members of your target industry whom you or other team members have worked with, can be very helpful. This serves as a validation of your skill sets and capabilities. This is particularly handy when a team is involved in raising seed funding at an early stage of the venture, from angels, friends or even family. 

3. Talent: All of us have some particular talent which makes us unique. Some may be good at public speaking, sales, programming, art, writing, sports or another talent. When your talent pool adds direct value to the business you are embarking on, it is advisable to highlight them. They add depth to your overall profile and provide keen insights into team member’s skill sets. For example if you were a swimming champion throughout university, it shows that you have discipline, and thrive on competition and high endurance levels. Many valuable characteristics can be extrapolated from that one talent.

Once credibility has been established, the display of competence becomes a lot easier to communicate. We all know that google is by the far the best search engine today and that it’s team is highly competent at creating algorithms which continually improve the product. A new startup wanting to challenge google will have a very difficult and challenging task to communicate that level of competence. Developing competence levels within your business is a constant work in progress. Set goals, and keep developing the team’s capabilities in strategic areas, to ensure that long term trust can be built with your customers.

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5 Steps to Hiring Better

“Hiring good people is hard. Hiring great people is brutally hard.” Jack Welch

Hiring great people is very difficult, however we have to make sure that we do all that is possible to make the process as streamlined and efficient as possible. Once you achieve that, it will be much simpler for you to identify the good from the bad and more importantly the good from the great. Outlined below is a framework to help you get started:

1. Company Frameworks: Before setting out to hire someone to be part of the team you need to analyze the current environment of your organization. How is your workplace structured? Next identify the personality traits of the people who succeed at your organization? Lastly map out how this new resource is going to be integrated into the current environment. To learn more on how to setup a framework please click here.

2. Job Descriptions: Using a framework we need to put down a structured format about the position, responsibilities, experience and educational background. Job descriptions are very important to make clear to the candidate what is expected of them. It also helps the company to put in place certain benchmarks to measure performance in the future. To learn more on writing a job description please click here.

3. Sourcing for talent: Once a job description is created we need to source for candidates who fit the role. Depending on the budget allocated to this, there are a variety of options available. What is important is to select the options intelligently to target the kind of talent you are looking for. If you are looking for highly specialized skill sets, public job boards may not be the most effective method as compared to say head hunting or industry related networking sessions. To learn more about some of the sources available please click here.

4. Interviews and Psychometrics: In my opinion use structured interviews whenever possible. Compared to traditional interviews they provide the interviewer a host of advantages from keeping control of the dialogue to providing an objective measure to benchmark every candidate against. If you can use psychometrics to evaluate personality types, you will get a better understanding of the candidates work place preferences. To learn more please click here.

5. Final Selection: Before you make a selection make sure you run some reference checks on the candidate you are about to hire. This provides additional insight into the candidate and may even be the deciding factor when the decision between two candidates is very close. To learn more about the steps for the final selection please click here.

This is a basic framework which should provide your organization with a more structured approach when wanting to recruit. Over time the framework will get refined to incorporate steps and stages which you consider may be necessary in the selection of talent in your organization. What is important is that you put a process into place for recruitment as it is the most critical factor in any organization. Who you hire in your firm is a clear reflection of the type of organization you are wanting to build. Make sure you send a signal which communicates those objectives.

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Final Selection

“You’re only as good as the people you hire.” Ray Kroc

After setting up a framework and job description, conducting structured interviews and tests you arrive at a pool of short listed candidates . Before making any final decisions, there is just one last step which is almost always overlooked and that is, Reference Checking. This is a critical step which must be followed up on to get a better understanding of the candidate. In an ideal situation I usually request for references from superiors, colleagues and subordinates if any. This helps assess whether the deductions from the recruitment process are correct and gives deeper insights about the candidate. 

Once you have successfully carried out the reference checks you now have all the data required to make an informed decision. If you are recruiting someone who is going to be working with the rest of the team it is a good idea to have the candidate meet the team. Make everyone in the core team a part of the recruitment process and get their opinions about the decision to be made. In the past I have come across teams which ran into trouble when an autonomous decision was reached for hiring without a collective accord .

When the team reaches a collective decision about the candidate they want to hire, you need to get the paper work in place and make an offer to the candidate. Another round of negotiations usually ensues on the terms and conditions of the contract and I recommend getting help from a lawyer when you are drafting this agreement for the first time.

After the negotiations are complete and you have signed a contract, it is time to celebrate. Not only have you hired your first employee you have successfully created a process which will help streamline your hiring in the future into a more effective and efficient process.

 

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Interviews and Psychometrics

“”I had a job interview at an insurance company once and the lady said “Where do you see yourself in five years?” and I said “Celebrating the fifth year anniversary of you asking me this question”” Mitch Hedberg

After the sourcing exercise is complete, you have to select a list of candidates having the correct skill sets and background to succeed at your organization, based on their resume. Resumes should be used as a reference point to form your own image of the candidate. In my opinion, interviews which have a structured format give the employer an upper hand to navigate the conversation. This is in comparison to unstructured interviews where the candidates navigate interviews based on topics they are more comfortable with.

Creating a structured interview requires creating a set of questions to be asked of each candidate. This allows you to document information in an objective manner as well as make comparisions between candidates easier . They key quality to be looking out for is passion, willingness to learn and honesty during the interview process. Use the questionnaire to devise questions to test for these. 

We have recently introduced psychometrics into our hiring process. Psychometrics is a tool used to evaluate a candidates cognitive abilities and personality traits. It provides an in-depth evaluation of the candidate and allows us to determine if he/she will fit into our workplace environment. Used together with structured interviews it provides an infinitely more comprehensive overview of the candidate and makes hiring more objective and transparent.

Interviewing candidates becomes a whole lot easier, the more you do it. In the beginning, especially if you are hiring for the first time it can be a little intimidating. By using a structured methodology and tools such as psychometrics you can drastically cut down the learning curve until you develop the ability to read people more accurately.

A tip I was given by one of my mentors when I was setting off to hire for the first time was: “Always trust your gut, if it doesn’t feel right don’t hire him/her.”  The one time I did not follow this advice, got me into a lot of trouble, so just go with your own instincts and you will do just fine.

 

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Sourcing for talent

“Time spent on hiring is time well spent.” Robert Half

Sourcing for quality talent at a startup is not an easy task. The obvious reason is that we have to convince candidates about the future prospect of our organization and how they are going to benefit by being part of the process. These candidates usually have other offers through the corporate world and are, in my experience usually tempted to stick with the tried and tested path. However being an entrepreneur you need to be out there convincing just about everyone about the growth and prospect of your organization. It could be to a potential customer, a potential employee, your core team and friends and family. You have to have your selling mode always on to create a buzz about what you are doing.

Since we have a prepared job description, we now need to spread the message. There are many options available to you depending on your budget.

1. Advertising in Schools: If you are still based in university advertise your openings on the university job posting boards, if they have any. Attend as many entrepreneurial networking mixers and ask for the opportunity to pitch your company and openings to the audience. In my first couple of ventures on campus I found these to be effective mediums to get the word out.

2. Social Networks: We have recently started using Linkedin and facebook to scout for potential talent in the core teams network. We have had more success using facebook by advertising positions on dedicated company pages. These networks are powerful mediums to get your message across to your second and third degree networks which are difficult to reach otherwise.

3. Corporate site & Blogs: You should do your best to allow your website to post job openings and accept structured resumes to help you continue to grow your resume bank. This will help you to minimize the time it takes to fill positions in the future. If you or your company have a regularly updated blog I would definitely use that medium to attract talent as well.

4. Referrals: This is how we carry out most of our hiring. When we have the job description ready I send it out to friends in the industry to get it to individuals who they feel may fit the role we are looking for. My friends realize how we work and are able to scout intelligently for talent.

5. Job Boards: Whether you use paid ones or free ones, in my experience, the selection process takes a lot longer using this medium. Firstly there is much sorting to be carried out, the quality of candidates is not the best and without any references it is more of a risk. However if the options mentioned above are not available to you this medium has the capability of getting your message out to a large number of individuals.

6. Head Hunters & Executive Search: This is an expensive option which becomes necessary sometimes if you are looking to fill a key role in your team. This is used as a last resort and only for very critical job roles. Selecting the right recruiter is a subject which I will write about in the coming weeks.

This is a preliminary list of tactics that you can implement to start your talent search. Avoid making rushed decisions and do your best to find talent through referrals and references whenever possible.

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Job Descriptions

“It is all one to me if a man comes from Sing Sing Prison or Harvard. We hire a man, not his history.” Malcom S Forbes

Once you have developed a framework for your organization, you are now equipped with the knowledge needed to develop a simple job description to help attract the talent that you need in a more focused manner. Job descriptions are often overlooked or not given enough attention at younger organizations. Since growth is organic and structure is often not in place  this is often disregarded. Say you are looking for an associate web developer to help support your core team of developers with some flash developmental work. In your mind you are perfectly clear about the sort of resource you require. However, later on if you tell the individual to help you out in your php developmental cycles and other administrative functions there may be unpleasantness. 

First we need to map out the main areas of a standard job description. 

Position: The title of the opening at your organization. Keep the title simple and avoid fancy titles which only cause confusion about what the role actually entails.

Responsibilities: This is where you outline in detail all the tasks which the resource will be responsible for. At startups, this should include a broad spectrum if your team is small because we all have to wear multiple hats at the beginning. If you are already at an established stage and are taking on a specialist then you make sure you have covered all the areas of responsibilities. 

Division: You will need to outline which department the resource will be under and the departments main role and functionalities. This will help put the responsibilities into context and bring clarity to the actual job requirement. You can also include details covering who the person will be reporting to and working with.

Education and Experience: Depending on the level of candidate you are looking for, you can fill this category likewise. Any relevant industry experience that may be required should be highlighted here.

Workplace environment: You can refer to the framework list to gather details to fill in this section about the working environment of your organization.

Personal Attributes: If you require any particular attributes which you think will be critical to succeeding at the job then this is the section where they should be highlighted.

These points will help you create a short job description which will help convey your message effectively to potential candidates. It will also help you benchmark performance against responsibilities assigned for the future , making it a critical document in your hiring and talent management process.

Related Posts:

Hiring Revolution: Job Descriptions

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