Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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

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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Risk

“Move not unless you see an advantage; use not your troops unless there is something to be gained; fight not unless the position is critical. If it is to your advantage, make a forward move; if not, stay where you are.” Sun Tzu

Competing for world domination is what the game of Risk is all about. This is a military based game, where players put their respective armies against each other. The game provides each player with the ability to be involved in strategic maneuvering, brings in an element of luck with the dice and gives ample opportunities to form and break alliances. In a way, it simplifies all the complexities of war, into a simple game where the player with the greatest foresight and a little luck, usually emerges victorious. Unlike Monopoly, this game allows for more creativity and imagination due to the movements allowed on the board. Playing straightforward strategies leaves you exposed, and vulnerable to attacks. 

This interesting game has quite a few parallels to the world of business and strategy:

1. Allocation of Resources: Each player has a finite amount of resources allocated to them. The placement of these resources is a critical aspect of the game. One may choose to have loosely scattered armies all over the board, they may decide to fortify certain key positions with the bulk of their resources, or they may aim to use their resources collectively and be aggressive. Each strategy has its advantages and disadvantages, a similar predicament occurs in the real world when we develop strategies. The deployment of limited resources is critical to whether the overall strategy will be successful or not.

2. Partnerships: Conquering the whole world, even in a game, is an arduous task, one that can rarely be done alone. The game calls for players to partner together, to improve their chances of winning and become a more feared adversary. Without these partnerships one is usually outflanked or outnumbered, and an early exit in the the game is imminent. The same principles apply in the real world. In order to reach goals and objectives, partnerships are an essential component. Choosing partners carefully and correctly is vital to ensure the success of any campaign.

3. Aggression: In my experience of playing this game, the opponent who chooses to fortify a small portion of the board heavily, usually faces eventual defeat. Opponents who choose a defensive style of play, lack the creativity or willingness to go out of their comfort zones, fearing the unknown. Unfortunately such behavior is punished heavily in this game as well as in the real world. When pursuing goals and dreams, being aggressive is often vital to acheive them . Focusing efforts on offensive strategies instead of defensive ones will bring a greater share of victories, rather than defeats in my opinion. 

In the game of Risk there is an element of luck, due to the requirement of rolling a dice. Once the dice is rolled, nothing can be done to change what was rolled. What we do have control over, is how we react to what we may have rolled. In life we have the same choice. We cannot change the hand that we have been dealt. What we can change is how we choose to play it. Remember to keep your end goal in mind, and formulate short term tactics to reach it.

 

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Monopoly

“Monopoly is a game which calls for long term strategic planning in order to succeed. “ Anonymous

There were very few games as exciting as Monopoly when I was growing up. It was by far one of my favorite board games, I still enjoying playing it today. There was something about the game, which drew me to it, maybe it was the immense satisfaction I got from figuring out how to convince my opponent to make a deal, the thrill of watching my opponents land on my hotels or just plain winning. I do believe that playing this game from such a young age was, to an extent, instrumental in developing my passion for business and deal making. As I grew older I began to notice the parallels between the board game and business. 

Listed below are some prominent parallels:

1. Negotiation: Monopoly requires players to make deals for swapping properties or other concessions during the course of the game. Very rarely do players want to give up something which they know will put them at a disadvantage in the game. It all comes down to how convincingly you negotiate and structure deals, so that they fit into your plan and appear to be favorable to your opponents as well. Individuals act in similar ways in the real world, and an ability to close a deal comes down to your negotiation and persuasion skills. 

2. Situation Analysis: In the game of Monopoly, it is critical that you adjust strategy according to the number of opponents as well as the nature of their behaviour patterns. Going ahead blindly and acquiring every piece of property you land on without a set objective, will place you at a definitive disadvantage. When developing business strategy, the same concerns have to be taken into account. Not paying attention to these factors, creates exploitable vulnerabilities in your plan. 

3. Integrity: Sometimes individuals will say just about anything to close a deal. In Monopoly this could be, “I will let you off three times on my hotels”, “We can share profits on this property” or “I will never charge you on this square”. However, I have seen these promises broken many  a time and a friendly game turn sour. In a game revolving around dealmaking, one’s word is really all there is. If no one trusts you or your word does not carry weight, no one will want to make a deal with you. The same rule applies in all aspects of life as well. Keeping true to your word will give your team reason to believe in you, will give investors the confidence to invest in you and will allow you to sleep well at night. 

Looking ahead and adjusting strategy according to forecasts is essential in the game of Monopoly and the game of life. One has to learn to trust gut instincts, and be confident in how to move forward. Keeping your word and honoring deals is mandatory. Understand your opponents and learn what drives them. At the end of the game of Monopoly there can only be one winner, make sure you have the drive and ambition to be that person. 

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Poker

“The most common mistake in history is underestimating your opponent; it happens at the poker table all the time.” David Shoup

Poker is a game associated with luck and random chance by most people. The immense media attention has contributed to a large extent, to the explosion in the number of poker players during recent years. The rules of the game are fairly straightforward, any amateur can be taught the game in no time. Due to this low learning curve, this game has witnessed a massive influx of players who just want to “try” their luck at it , so to speak.  Admittedly, there is an element of luck to this game, as there is with most card games. However, this element of luck creates a deceptive illusion, and beginners finds themselves losing rapidly to the more seasoned players. The fact of the matter is,  understanding probability stakes and an innate skill for reading people’s faces provides stronger players, with a huge advantage in this game. 

There are a few parallels that can be drawn from the game of poker to strategy and business. Some key elements I drew from the game are:

1. Aggression: Calculated aggression in the game of poker, forces other players at the table to react to your style of playing. Done correctly, this enables stronger players to manipulate many situations to their advantage. In business, and specially strategic development, the same theory applies. If one remains passive in outlook and allows external factors to disrupt the game plan, progress will be slow. One has to be an instigator to bring change, and one needs to pursue goals aggressively to reach them. Sitting back and expecting things to happen is a flawed strategy.

2. Controlling Emotions: The players at a poker table who allow their emotions to override logic and rationale, are the first to lose their chips. There are very few games I have played, in which controlling emotions plays such a vital role. It has taught me a great deal about patience and keeping a level head even when things become terribly long. Developing such patience can help greatly in all aspects of life, and provide a distinct advantage over those who lose their cool too quickly.

3. Attention to Detail: The game of poker is about gathering as much information about other players as possible. This could be their betting patterns, gestures or even the way they talk. Poker, does to a large extent boil down to how well you can read your opponents. Players who are able to identify patterns earlier in the game, can win, regardless of what others may be holding in their hands. In business and strategic development the same rules apply. The inability to understand your competition and identify trends leaves your organization at a great disadvantage. 

Developing keen insights about your opponents, and understanding your own personal threshold limits can be extremely valuable assets. By the same token, knowing when to accept defeat and when to keep your calm is equally important. This game punishes those with large egos, and rewards those who are able to keep their emotions and egos in check. Life works in very similar ways, the sooner we get adept at understanding these intricacies, the sooner we can reach our goals.

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Bridge

“A winner listens to his partner’s point of view; A loser just waits until it’s his turn to express his own.” Anonymous

Bridge is a game that was played regularly by my grandparents and parents. As a result, I learned this game at a very young age. I still have many fond memories of sitting beside my grandparents while they played their weekly bridge game at our home. It was fascinating to see the dynamics between the four individuals who were playing. Being a team based game, I remember being told how critical it was to carefully select partners and develop relationships. Like any team based game there were arguments and disagreements over how certain hands were played, which actually added an exciting dynamic to the game. 

On the surface, bridge appears to be a simple game with set rules of how to play the 13 cards each individual is dealt. However, that is only the beginning. There are many intricacies and conventions which arise when you begin to talk about bidding tactics, counting cards, table play and being able to read your partners as well as the opponents. Some parallels I can draw from bridge in comparision to strategic thinking are:

1. Teamwork: Without teamwork bridge cannot be played optimally. It requires both partners to have established understanding of each other’s style of playing  as well as the  conventions they follow and play to. From a strategic point of view one can draw parallels to business teams, as it is easy to tell which teams work well together as compared to those who don’t. When a team is not looking at ways to improve communication and productivity together, they are missing out on massive potential. Therefore establishing team building skills through games like bridge can be extremely beneficial.

2. Communication: Bridge is all about communicating with your partner the strengths and weaknesses of your hand , and then go on to play the hand optimally. However, the bidding process is complicated and requires a deep understanding of bidding styles and conventions as well as interpretation of your partners bids. The team which is able to communicate most effectively is usually the one with a substantial advantage in the game. Strategically, the same conclusions can be reached regarding communication. If teams do not communicate effectively they will suffer as  a result. On the other hand effective team communication can develop into defining competitive advantages over peers.

3. Instincts: Trusting your gut becomes easier with time and experience. Initially there is doubt about one’s instincts even when it appears to be a logical sequence. In bridge one needs to accurately place  one’s opponents cards relative to bidding and past rounds. There needs to be confident dependence on one’s ability to trust one’s counting & retentive skills as well as instinct in the placement of cards. This develops ones ability to rely on one’s instinct with greater comfort. Trusting your instincts when developing and executing strategy is necessary. Without it, you lack the confidence and ability to communicate effectively with the rest of the team. 

Bridge is an enjoyable game which sharpens analytical and team building skills. Unfortunately it is not a mainstream game and therefore does not enjoy the popularity of other card games such as poker. Nonetheless, it is a game I recommend, so learn it and play it as recreational activity among your team.

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5 Common Entrepreneurial Frustrations

“All that is necessary to break the spell of inertia and frustration is to — act as if it were impossible to fail.” Dorothea Brande

Lets face it, we all have days when things do not go as planned. We only know they did not go as planned, because we have something to compare them with…… days, everything went right. To experience life to its fullest we have to see it from all perspectives. The way we handle difficult situations shapes the course of our lives. Some of us choose the easier option, and do not experience life to its fullest, by preventing ourselves to be placed in vulnerable situations . If you are contemplating taking the path of entrepreneurship,  handling being placed in these awkward situations is what it is all about. Below I have listed five common frustrations which I  have experienced on my journey;

1. Idea Generation: This process can be extremely frustrating for individuals or teams if dragged over a long period of time . This is an important stage and opportunity, to gather all those thoughts in your head, put them onto a piece of paper and make sense of them. This process requires continuous action, it cannot be limited to a conference room! To read more about the frustrations of idea generation please click here.

2. Lack of Resources: Managing limited resources in a startup is always a challenge. When this challenge begins to hinder your drive and motivation to move forward,  is when frustrations set in. The idea of managing your business with an unlimited budget is an attractive one, it also comes with its own set of challenges. We have to stop blaming the lack of resources as the only reason for lack of success. Success depends on having a good team, good ideas, in the right market. To read more about managing frustrations due to a lack of resources please click here.

3. Team Dynamics: A major sources of frustration for startups arise when teams stop working well together. This often happens with a misalignment of value systems and goals. Couple this situation with poor leadership, and frustrations are bound to run high. Team development from the onset is a very important aspect of getting the success formula right. To read more about how to handle frustrations caused by team dynamics please click here.

4. Lack of Sales: If you have been through the arduous task of writing a business plan, getting a team together, and, despite every effort, have been coming up short, frustration is inevitable. However, if you let this frustration bog you down, it will convert into a continuous downward spiral which could result in eventual failure for your organization. Focusing energy on analysing why this situation occurred will result in more positive and constructive discussions and could solve your particular predicament. To read more on how to handle frustration caused by a lack of sales click here.

5. Time Management: If you constantly feel that you do not have time for the important aspects of your life, there is something very wrong here. The misallocation of precious resources often results in being frustrated, grouchy and generally not very happy about life. We need to learn how to allocate this resource more intelligently to enjoy life. This will only happen when we prioritize aspects which are important to us and allocate time likewise. To read more about handling frustration caused by misallocation of time please click here.

 Letting frustrations bring us down, means, we are essentially giving up on our dreams. It is easy to throw in the towel and blame everyone else for why success is not coming our way. It takes a lot more courage to face adversity head on and tell yourself , “I am going to get through this”. Thats what entrepreneurs are, anomalies in the system, who have the extraordinary ability to adapt and change according to circumstances. The word “quitting” does not exist in our vocabulary, if we decide to get something, then there will be little rest till we reach our end goal. Team squabbles, resources or unfavorable circumstances are tests which we must overcome. The next time you feel frustrated and ask yourself “Why”,  decide what you can do about it, rather than what it is doing to you!

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If only we had more time!

The great dividing line between success and failure can be expressed in five words: “I did not have time.” Franklin Field

Time and its correct management is a frustration felt by people from every walk of life. Time moves at an almost blistering pace, due to which one often loses track of it and suddenly, the day, week, month or even year has passed you by. It is amazing how, with all the conveniences we have in the 21st century, it has somehow managed to shrink the time available to us, rather than increase it. The entrepreneur also faces this challenge, often the inability to correctly manage our time leads to massive amounts of frustration.

Take my own example, I am constantly battling to manage my time across the multiple facets of my life. There are stretches where I experience disconnects from certain aspects of my life. It is not hard to get so caught up in the daily struggle, that you lose sight of the bigger picture. There are a huge number of stories regarding time management, one I read a couple of weeks ago stuck with me. In a nutshell, the story explained how we are often so involved in our lives, that it takes a brick to be thrown at us to slow us down. (Actual Story) What happens is, we forget to live in the present because we are so busy making plans for the future. Whenever I have talked to people who have followed this path, many of them did not get that sense of satisfaction when they eventually made it to the finish line of the race they wanted to win. 

Learn how to balance your life as soon as possible. I have found that people who complain about managing their time, are the ones who do not allocate it usage well . In the end, it comes down to how disciplined you are, and also to realize how precious every moment of life is. When people ask me question about when they should start their own business, I have a standard response in most circumstance….”as soon as possible”. Sitting on the fence ,debating whether to jump in or wait for the “right time” is just an excuse. If you want to find time for something, you have to make a concentrated effort to make it. Otherwise, it will be just another thing which will continue to drag along and frustrate you further.

For those who are currently managing their own business and are finding it difficult to manage time, the first thing you need to do is to take a step back. Find out what you really want to achieve in life, then picture the life that you want to have. Next you will have to see how you prioritize your time according to the life you want to be leading in the future. Learn not to make excuses about not having time for this or that. If that something is a thing you value highly, make sure you make the time. It is only when you find equilibrium in  all aspects of life will you be able to lead a richer, happier and more productive life. If you have not prioritized what is important to you, I would strongly urge you to do that right now and make sure that you allocate your time likewise.

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Why isn’t anyone buying?

“Show me someone who has done something worthwhile, and I’ll show you someone who has overcome adversity.” Lou Holtz

This statement may color and trouble your thoughts, be it in a team discussion or over a cup of coffee with your significant other, and can be a significant driver of frustration on your startup journey. It troubled me greatly at the start of my journey. We would get everything ready, ranging from basic operational procedures to our sales and marketing strategies, however, when we put ourselves out there, no one was biting. Put yourself in the shoes of individuals who have dedicated 6-8 months straight in developing a product/service and get nothing but “maybe’s” during their sales cycle. This is fairly major frustration. This happened to me a couple of times in my earlier ventures and really got to me. It affected both my performance at work as well as my personal life. 

What happens at this point is, we begin to play the blame game. The market is lousy, we don’t have adequate resources, our competition is too strong or we are too inexperienced. This attitude permeates into other areas of life, you are more tense, short tempered and life loses its flavor. All that energy which had you jumping off the walls six months ago seems a distant  memory. What often happens at this point is,  you begin to lose hope and if left unchecked, eventually call it quits. This is a familiar scenario as it has happened to me in the past. Today, I work with a different perspective, slowly realizing that doing business is one thing and doing it successfully requires a completely different level of patience, persistence and belief.

Instead of blaming your circumstances and other factors, there are several more constructive questions and pointers you can look into, to find out the reason your product/service is not hitting your level of expectation:

1. Product/Service: Were your initial market demand estimates overly optimistic? Is the market for your product not as developed as expected? Take all this feedback and put it to use by adjusting your product/service to the market requirement . If the market is completely undeveloped, look for ways you can carve out a niche, if it is cost feasible. Remember to pay attention to both your product, as well as market requirements.

2. Positioning: A lot of the time, due to lack of experience, or market knowledge, we position our product/services towards a wrong segment of the market. If you experience sub par performance, evaluate your current target market to determine if the right one had been selected. Positioning your product towards different segments of the market is also a strategy you can look into. 

3. Pricing: Have you overpriced your product/service? Does the market understand the value that they get for paying a premium price? Getting answers to these questions, from prospects, could help you develop products/services which cater towards their needs as well as an acceptable price level . Have a strategy for the reason you price your product/service a certain way and make sure that it fits into the bigger picture.

4. Promotion: Have you put yourself out there? How are you marketing and promoting your product/service? What strategies have you used and what sort of return have you got on them? What are new strategies you can use to promote your product/service to your target segment. A lot of the time, we forget the fundamentals, promotion must be incorporated into your strategy if you want to drive sales. 

There is no doubt in my mind that you will get frustrated when your sales pipeline is not moving. When this happens, remind yourself, that to achieve great things in life you need to give it your best too. It works hand in hand, a half hearted attempt or lack of belief in the product/service will result in average results which leave you in a state of limbo. Trust me the younger you start on the journey the better, take advantage of fewer responsibilities. Keep in mind, most of the time we quit when we are really close to breaking the barrier holding us back. Do not make that mistake!

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Can we really work together?

  “Coming together is a beginning, Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” Henry Ford

Team work, team work, team work. At the core of any great achievement is a great team. A team who understands each other, brings out the best in each other, challenges each other to go further and motivates each other to take that next big step. To get to a point, where the dynamics of being individuals merge together to become a winning team is often a long and frustrating process. This process occurs in various situations in life, we experience frustration at a number of levels on a daily basis. Dealing with the frustrations of team dynamics in startups however, can be quite complicated. This is true particularly for new ventures where team members have limited experience in handling such situations.

I have worked with startup teams in different capacities. Without a doubt it has been an exciting ride. In retrospect, even though we had our share of awkward and uncomfortable moments, I can not help but look back at all the good times I have had with great satisfaction. Frustrations with team dynamics arise for a host of reasons, some of the more critical ones are outlined below:

1. Misaligned Value Systems: When you have 4 individuals working together, and all four want the same thing, for example “success”, the way they envisage achieving it, can be very different. One individual may believe the way to success is through strong team effort. Another team member may believe however, that the way to success is to work in isolation to allow for greater focus. This team has a major problem on its hands. Find people on your team who share same values, work ethic and belief systems, otherwise, you are in for a bumpy ride.

2. Misalignment of End Goals: When you have 4 people on a team, each of them wanting to go a different direction with the business, you are bound to have major internal conflicts. These can escalate into extremely frustrating situations, being pulled in multiple directions, leaves team members confused and directionless. Your business/venture goals must be clearly defined and have buy-in from the rest of the team. 

3. Poor Leadership: Selecting a CEO or leader is a tough call. Ask 4 guys right out of college and working together this question, this is food for an interesting discussion. In many situations a group leader emerges naturally, he/she has innate characteristics, making them more qualified to take on that position. Make sure however, the team understands the reasons for this selection, and the leader what is expected of him/her. Being selected the leader places great responsibility of steering the ship, most of the time with no compass. Selecting a wrong person as leader, is a sure shot way to red line frustration levels, even to the point where team break down is a real danger.

If there is advice I would really like to give, it is, be as candid as possible when working in a team. Speak your mind without fear of being judged, the worst thing you can do is to bottle up your emotions and concerns, to have them explode later in a messy situation. At the same time, learn to be patient and when you take a stand, make sure it is supported with adequate research and evidence. If you can cross this hurdle, believe me, success is not far away!

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