Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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

5 Steps to Assess a Business

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Who is on your team?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Articles:

Steps to create a winning team

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5 Steps to Manage Conflict

“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.” Thomas Paine

There is no doubt, managing conflicts is a challenging task. On my journey as an entrepreneur I have had my share of conflicts. I think working in close proximity and under much pressure, tends to raise conflicts more frequently in entrepreneurial ventures. It is hence important to know how to handle them more effectively. Losing a team mate, a client or a supplier can spell the end for a young startup. Listed below are five steps to help manage conflicts in a systematic and structured manner, and thus reach a fair and faster consensus.

1. Facts: Before anything is discussed or negotiated, it is important that all relevant details are documented. This includes finding core reasons behind the conflict, the stage the conflict is at, and the affected parties. It is important to be objective when documenting these factors, and ensure that each one of the affected individuals is part of the process. To read more about the fact finding process please click here

2. Ground Rules: Developing a set of rules and structure can greatly facilitate conflict resolution. It is important to let all the participants know what is expected of them. It also helps to formalize the actual negotiation process with a set agenda, and a mediator if possible. Setting up such a structure helps the negotiation process run smoothly, with each participant well aware, before hand, about the discussion agenda. To read more about setting appropriate ground rules please click here.

3. Negotiations: The actual negotiation stage brings all the concerned parties together, to discuss their points of view in a structured manner. It is important to insist that each participant keep their mind open to different options, even if they do not agree with them. Keeping a close mind and remaining stubborn makes the process more challenging to manage. During this stage, notes need to be taken down regarding options discussed and differences and concerns that were voiced. To read more about the negotiation stage please click here.

4. Evaluation: After the negotiation stage, all the participants are called back at a later date to discuss the options discussed during the negotiation stage. At this time, it is important to establish a set of objective criterions, to ensure the options discussed are feasible, fair and take into account the larger picture. There are several strategies which can be used at this stage to rank or combine options, and to come up with a mutually agreeable option. To read more about the evaluation stage please click here.

5. Closure: The final stage of a conflict management process involves bringing closure to the argument. This is done by  formalizing whatever was discussed and decided into a written document, which clearly outlines everyone’s responsibilities and roles. It is important that a commitment is made to follow through on what was decided. Periodic meetings can be established to ensure that everything is moving as planned, with suggestions and feedback provided along the way. To read more about closure please click here.

I have followed this system in conflicts I have been involved in. However, given the variances in every conflict, one needs to improvise along the way. Managing conflicts is a challenging task, especially when they have been brewing under the surface for long periods of time. Reaching a formal agreement acceptable to all the concerned individuals is a major feat. It requires patience, an open mind and the willingness to be flexible. It is much easier to be stubborn and refuse to change a position, rather than be adaptable and sacrifice for a more congenial and brighter future. 

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Closure

“The most intense conflicts, if overcome, leave behind a sense of security and calm that is not easily disturbed. It is just these intense conflicts and their configurations which are needed to produce valuable and lasting results.” Carl Gustav Jung

Closure is one of the most critical components of successful conflict resolution. Without it, there is always something unfinshed hanging in the air and this makes people uncomfortable. I am sure many of us have been involved in conflicts which have ended without the required closure. It is not a pleasant situation, and if you then have to continue working with the persons concerned, it can be most awkward. To avoid such situations and reach closure, there are a few things I work on ensuring. 

1. Written Plan: Ensure that everything that has been discussed and decided upon, is written down in a formal document. This document should outline levels of future responsibility, possible compensation agreements, changed working arrangements or any other directives that are to be carried out. Putting it all down on paper makes it tangible, and easy to take ownership of.

2. Commitment: It is important that once a mutually agreeable option has been accepted, tasks and roles allocated, everyone commits to whatever they were assigned. A personal commitment is as important as having faith in the abilities of others to carry out their parts. This is not a time to doubt the follow through abilities of others. At this time more than ever, it is necessary to begin and rebuild the trust which may have been lost in the process.

3. Periodic Checks: A system to routinely check the progress of what was decided and agreed upon is vital, to ensure everyone is keeping their end of the deal. Such checks help monitor team progress and provide valuable insight into the team or individuals working dynamics. Such meetings can be a sounding board for suggestions, complaints or feedback. 

Closure after a long drawn out conflict is a liberating and empowering feeling, and helps us face challenges with ease and confidence. It reminds us, that survival in this world, requires us to learn to be flexible and move forward. Being stubborn and refusing to see different sides of a conflict, renders us incapable of moving forward. 

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Evaluating Options

“There are three ways of dealing with difference: domination, compromise, and integration. By domination only one side gets what it wants; by compromise neither side gets what it wants; by integration we find a way by which both sides may get what they wish.” Mary Parker Follet

Once the negotiation stage has been cleared, all options presented and discussed need to be evaluated. During this stage, respective parties need to set their differences aside, and work towards reaching a consensus where both parties are satisfied with the outcome. This is by far one of the most challenging stages in the conflict management process. Much of the time such situations conclude in deadlocks, because one party may not be open to entertaining any option other than one which benefits them. Conflict resolution needs a certain level of sacrifice from each party to reach a mutually beneficial agreement. 

Some steps which can help reach a mutually beneficial agreement are:

1. Developing Criterions: Prior to starting this phase it is important to establish some base criterions. These include ensuring that all options discussed are feasible and fair. It is also equally important to identify a set of objective criterions which help each of the participants look at the larger picture. This helps set a tone which in turn helps the flow of the discussion and reaching a mutually beneficial agreement, faster. 

2. Ranking: To begin the process, rank the options discussed in the negotiation stage. This will help the participants decide jointly which options address the needs of the group and their own needs. This is a tricky exercise, as each participant would like to rank the options which benefit them the most, on top. To resolve this issue, each option should be graded against a set of objective criterions which are mutually agreed upon. This helps bring objectivity and fairness into the process.

3. Combining of Options: I have found that it is often possible to combine certain options, thereby creating a mutually acceptable option to both parties. Through this method we can bridge differences in opinions, which may limit parties to reach a mutually agreeable agreement. This takes some creativity,  at the same time, helps to think out of the box when resolving conflict. 

There needs to be much give and take at this stage. Sacrifices need to be made, at the same time it is important to remain objective and work towards a mutually beneficial agreement. During this stage one needs to be creative and think out of the box. A deadlock must be avoided at all costs, if a party becomes stubborn and refuses to change positions, we need to factor this dynamic in, and find alternatives which may be acceptable to them. 

 

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Tackling the Issue

“In a conflict, being willing to change allows you to move from a point of view to a viewing point — a higher, more expansive place, from which you can see both sides.” Thomas Crum

Proceeding with actual negotiations after laying down a comprehensive foundation for determining the facts and establishing ground rules, makes the exercise easier. With a set agenda, each party is fully aware of what will be discussed. The negotiation stage is a a critical one in conflict resolution. Without each party making the effort to bring the issue to the table, and discuss it candidly, very little progress is possible. Once the concerned individuals have made the effort to come together, and discuss the issue at hand, it is important to keep the discussion moving in a focused and objective matter. 

Key points to be kept in mind at the negotiation stage are:

1. Remaining Open: It is quite natural to close one’s mind to the other person’s point of view in a conflict. If such a stance is taken however, to reach a mutually agreeable decision will be a difficult and long process. Therefore, it is essential in such a situation, to not just remain open to the other party’s point of view, but the larger picture as well. 

2. Developing of Options: When a conflict is being negotiated, it is important that each side offers possible options to resolve the matter at hand.  I have been involved in conflict resolution, where the discussion revolves only around options which are not acceptable to either side. Therefore, being creative in the development of options is vital, as is abstaining from judging or criticizing them.

3. Notes: In the heat of discussions, we tend to lose track of what was said. This only complicates matter further. During the negotiation stage, it is hence vital, that notes about major agreements, disagreements, options and any other important piece of information are taken down, this will help in resolving the matter at hand.

These pointers are cornerstones to keep negotiations open and healthy. They may be very simple steps, but they have been extremely helpful to me when I have been involved in negotiating conflicts. In the end, it comes down to keeping things simple and straightforward. It is only when we complicate issues, with more details or people, do they become more of a challenge to resolve.

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Setting the Stage

“Instead of suppressing conflicts, specific channels could be created to make this conflict explicit, and specific methods could be set up by which the conflict is resolved.” Albert Low

Most times there is no formal process on how a conflict is supposed to be resolved. Although setting up stringent structures can be stifling in an organization, it can streamline processes and make them more efficient. My thinking has shifted over time, from a loosely managed structure to a more defined one. The reason for this fundamental shift is due to the fact that entrepreneurial teams often consist of very strong personalities. When individuals or groups with strong personalities entangle in a conflict, one can expect a fair share of fireworks. Tackling this with set structures in place, helps facilitate such situations, as also controlling the external impact of such conflicts. 

Listed below are a couple of primer steps to help set the stage before the actual negotiations begin:

1. Ground Rules: It is important to set strict guidelines, to keep the negotiation stage as civil as possible. T Controls on language, tone of voice and relevance to the discussions are essential. Usually, if uncontrolled, irrelevant examples are brought into arguments, making conflict resolving more challenging. Keeping strict focus on the issue at hand in a healthy environment is vital.

2. Agenda: Before affected individuals or groups are called in for negotiations, an agenda needs to be developed to ensure that all the key issues will be discussed. Through this, both individuals can be given adequate time to share their points of views. By formalizing the structure of negotiations, they become more effective and relevant to the issue at hand.

3. Organization: Adequate notice needs to be given to the concerned individuals about the time and venue of the negotiations. The location must be set in a neutral space, where neither side will feel vulnerable or uncomfortable. This is an important step to ensure a smooth and natural flow in the discussions. At the negotiations, minutes or notes must be taken of all discussions and possible conclusions.

4. Mediator: If the issue at hand has escalated to a higher intensity level, it may be necessary to bring in a mediator or facilitator for the negotiations. This will provide unbiased mediation to help keep the negotiations on track and provide objective analysis. Both individuals must agree on the negotiator  to ensure a comfort level.

By following the above steps, expectations may be set prior to the negotiations. The affected parties will have a clearer idea of what will be discussed and how the negotiations will be facilitated and managed on the day itself. It makes the entire negotiation process more efficient and transparent, which in turn can help resolve the conflict as soon as possible.

 

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Know the Facts

“At the root of every conflict is a commitment not honored, an idea not realized and an opportunity misunderstood.” Dr. J M Sampath

One of the fundamental reason for why conflicts are difficult to manage, is the disconnect between perceived reality and the facts. Unfortunately, during conflicts, emotions tend to takeover and incorrect decisions are often taken. It is hence essential, that when  confronted with a conflict, we analyze the current situation very carefully before proceeding. There are many advantages to taking this first step when managing conflict. Some key advantages are, it gives time to the affected individuals to look at the situation objectively, it allows a look at the bigger picture and reduces the probability of acting irrationally or impulsively. 

Some steps which need to be taken during a fact finding exercise are:

1. Identifying Core Reasons: Take a sheet of paper and write down what you believe are the core reasons behind the conflict, to help convert abstract thoughts into reality. It is a good idea to write down the emotions and feelings attached to the reasons, to fully grasp the extent of the conflict at hand. 

2. Identifying Conflict Stage: It is essential to establish the stage of the conflict. Has this been brewing for quite some time? Is it something which was instigated by a new addition to the team? Different levels of intensities require varying degrees of involvement from external sources.

3. Identifying Affected Parties: Clearly marking out individuals or teams affected by the conflict is an important step. The longer a conflict has been suppressed, the greater the extent of its impact. Therefore, it is advisable to deal with a conflict as soon as it arises.

The fact finding exercise provides valuable objective insight into resolving conflicts effectively. Most of the time we skip this stage, and either completely ignore the issue at hand, or jump straight into the disagreement without thinking through our position adequately. This can have a severely damaging impact on your team, organization and oneself. Establishing facts and our arguments prior to the negotiation stage can save time, make positions clearer and help minimize any bad blood which can arise.

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Handling Conflicts

“Conflict is the gadify of thought. It stirs us to observation and memory. It instigates to invention. It shocks us out of sheeplike passivity and sets us at noting and contriving.” John Dewey

All of us face conflict at one point of time or other. It does not matter how non-confrontational you may be, it is something that one needs to have the ability to handle. Everyone has different ways of handling conflict. It depends on the issue at hand, core values and beliefs, and one’s personal disposition. When all these factors come together, it becomes a complex issue which needs to be handled with sensitivity and care. Unfortunately, not many people are adept at handling such situations, and may shy away from them to maintain a status quo. This leads to a further amplification of the problem at hand, and could lead to additional issues and problems. 

Working at a start-up or a relatively young company with a decentralized structure, conflict is inevitable. Being of a non-confrontational nature myself, I used to avoid these uncomfortable situations, for a long time. After sometime, I began to see how my behavior was making conditions worse, and was affecting the rest of the team as well. That is when I began to pay greater attention to resolving these conflicts as soon as possible, to maintain a healthy environment in the workplace and to ensure that morale levels were kept high. It is imperative to keep the larger picture in mind when dealing with conflict,  to fully understand what is at stake.

Over the course of this week, I will go over a couple of key points of conflict resolution which I have learned over time, to deal with conflict in a much more efficient and effective manner. Due to the complex nature of conflicts, and depending on the intensity and number of people involved, these points will act as markers to help look at the matter objectively. At the same time, I would really like to hear from you regarding any specific conflicts that you may have experienced during your entrepreneurial journey. In the coming months I plan on adding a section for case studies, conflict resolution is always interesting. I look forward to hearing from you and hope you enjoy the series.

 

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5 Strategy Based Games

“What do you want to achieve or avoid? The answers to this questions are objectives. How will you go about achieving your desired results? The answer to this you can call strategy.” William E Rothschild.

This week we have talked about ways to flex analytical thinking capabilities so as to become more adept at developing and executing strategic directives. One of the ways which has contributed substantially to my personal growth in strategic based thinking, has been its application in a variety of strategic games I have played. Most of these games have simple rules, and can be played by a broad spectrum of individuals ranging from children to adults. When we begin to scratch the surface of these rules, we notice more complexities. Strategy development follows similar lines. To develop and deploy an effective strategy is a challenging task. Listed below are five strategy based games through which I have learnt many valuable lessons.

1. Chess: This game teaches several fundamental concepts, such as preparation, patience and sacrifice, key proponents in development of strategic planning. Chess provides an ideal playing ground to practice, and hone skills needed in these particular segments. It teaches us to see patterns, which may lead to future positions, and how to take advantage of them. At the same time it forces us to continue looking at the bigger picture, to ensure that we are aware of all positions on the board, so as to take advantage of them. To read more about the parallels between chess and strategy please click here.

2. Bridge: Is a game which helps develop skills to work with others, communication, learning to trust instinct and, actual ‘table’ play. As a partnership based game, effective communication with your partner is critical so as to read and understand the partner’s hand. Developing and deploying strategic directives works in the same way. We have to learn to work together to formulate them, at the same time we have to communicate them effectively to the rest of the team, to ensure smooth deployment or play. To read more about parallels between bridge and strategy please click here.

3. Poker: Among the many things which can be learnt from this game are aggression, controlling emotions and attention to detail. Most of these qualities are also required to ensure successful deployment of any strategy. Without them, we see poor execution and unravelling of plans midway, due to the inability to master these factors. It is essential that we develop and be adept at understanding our own thresholds and abilities to find success. To read more about the parallels between poker and strategy please click here.

4. Monopoly: An all time favorite strategy based game, this gives players insights into negotiating, deal making and situational analysis. There are several strategies which players take to win at this game, unfortunately they are often short sighted. This is due primarily because we develop strategies based solely on the short term . These could be in the form of hitting quarterly targets or maintaining specific share price. Most of these strategies do not take into account long term implications of these decisions, which have the potential to be detrimental to the company’s future. To read more about parallels between monopoly and strategy please click here.

5. Risk: A game with an end goal of, world domination. It teaches players several principles relating to allocation of resources, partnerships and aggression. Most of these principles form the basis of successful strategies. The ability to fully utilize in-hand resources in the most efficient manner is a challenging task. Furthermore, to progress as an organization,  strategic alliances need to be formed to accelerate the rate of growth. These principles are covered in the game, in a simple yet effective manner. To learn more about parallels between risk and strategy please click here.

On the journey as an entrepreneur, learning has to be an ongoing factor. Using creative methods to exercise analytical and thinking capabilities helps to see situations from different angles. This equips us with the ability to make better decisions, be more productive and reach our goals faster. 

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