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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Integrity

“Have the courage to say no. Have the courage to face the truth. Do the right thing because it is right. These are the magic keys to living your life with integrity.” W. Clement Stone

Integrity is a foundation block of building trust, in both life and business. Our integrity levels are built upon our value and belief systems. It is these systems which define us as individuals and businesses. Ensuring that the core values which define us as individuals, are in congruence with the values we want our business to be defined by, is vital. A mismatch between these two creates substantial friction. Therefore, it is essential when building your team, to get individuals who have similar values and beliefs. Integrity however is not something which is developed overnight. An individual or organization needs to work hard and consistently to develop an image of integrity. 

Our integrity is based purely on actions and decisions we make in life. They reflect who we are and what we stand for. Listed below are a couple of integrity benchmarks to help gauge integrity levels:

1. Congruence: This is an essential sub component when evaluating integrity levels. Complete congruence is when we think, speak and act in an identical fashion. However in this day and age, this is becoming increasingly difficult. Organizations want to make money, to achieve this they embellish their services with words which are not actual representations of what they provide, finally, they provide customers with sub par services to achieve their primary goal. Such an organization will find it impossible to build a loyal customer base, and will probably not be around for very long. We have to ensure that are actions are in congruence with our thoughts and words both as individuals and organizations.

2. Commitment: Promises made by individual or business must be honored. If your business guarantee’s 99% uptime of your services, make sure that there is an adequate infrastructure in place to support that commitment. I am sure we have all come across individuals who promise us the world, but when it comes down to getting things done, they rarely deliver. Such individuals get labelled as big talkers and cannot be depended on. Therefore, be very careful when making bold statements and promises to customers. 

3. Courage: In life, at some point or other, most of us will find ourselves at a crossroads of opportunities where taking the easy way out goes against all our principles and beliefs. It is at moments such as these that an individual’s integrity is truly tested. This is specially true where money is concerned, and we have seen many public cases where senior management compromised their values for short term monetary gains. Many businesses turn a blind eye to sweat shops, below quality products and poor service.  Not standing up for your principles and beliefs makes developing a reputation for integrity a very challenging task. 

I hope these benchmarks will get one thinking about personal integrity as well as that of the business. Without this crucial element, we could have the next killer product, service or idea, and yet not succeed. One needs to be constantly vigilant about what our thoughts, words and actions are communicating. An immediate exercise one can do with our teams is value identification. This will help clarify the team’s and businesses common value systems as a whole. This list can help measure actions against them, to gauge the sort of image being projected.

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What do you see?

I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant. Robert McCloskey

How do you process all the information around you? Before going further think of what your answer to that question is. If you are not too sure about what the question is referring to, think about what you see in this picture ….


Originally uploaded by artissoft

This picture appeals to me . The most striking thing I think of when I look at this picture is, this cannot be a very safe neighborhood primarily because of the graffiti on the shop fronts. The atmosphere is also very eerie, I can imagine pin drop silence with the wind blowing. All these thoughts originate from past experiences or feelings. This is a more intuitive approach at looking at the picture. People with intuitive personality types usually infer and perceive a lot of things which may not be clearly apparent or deduced. On the other hand another person could look at the picture and say that the shop has German writing on its front or that there is a plastic bag which appears to be totally out of place. Or that there is not enough lighting in the adjacent street and other minor details which I may have been completely oblivious to as I was not paying attention to them. These are personality traits of people who rely heavily on their sensing capabilities.

Todays personality scale will explain how we process information. On one hand we have the sensing people who focus on details. They use their 5 senses to gather information. They prefer to trust concrete facts which are based on conclusive studies. Having a preference for realism they will accept new concepts which have some actual practical application. Information is processed the most naturally when it is provided step by step. This preference relates very much with the present.

On the other hand we have the intuitive people who focus on their sixth sense which is “gut feeling”. They are constantly reading between the lines and doing their best to decipher what is happening in the background. Being very imaginative individuals, new ideas are constantly floating in their heads. When explaining these ideas they tend to use a lot of figurative gestures and their thought processes are constantly jumping from one area to the next. They associate very must with the future.

Given this information you now have have a relative gauge as to which side of the scale you have a preference towards. Knowing this will be extremely helpful for you as it will allow you to use your preferred processing mode when you are involved in critical tasks. If you are an intuitive team member you can capitalize on your strength by providing the team with creative solutions on how to solve traditional problems. Your key insight into situations will allow you to look into the future and provide valuable feedback in the idea developmental stage. If you are a sensing team member you can capitalize on your strength by bringing some discipline into the idea generation process by creating a structure to process information in a more clearer manner. You will be able to provide practical advice when evaluating ideas and can back it up with some detailed data.

By identifying your preferred mode you will see your own and the teams productivity increase. Either/or is not the only option, however you should make sure you understand which is your preferred and most commonly used mode of processing information.

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