Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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

What do you do when you fall?

“Why do we fall, sir? So that we might learn to pick ourselves up.” Alfred (Batman Begins)

I was having an interesting discussion with a friend yesterday about the economic climate and the alarming rate of business closures in multiple sectors. We were sharing personal stories about how we had dealt with difficult times in our respective businesses and what things kept us plugging away even when it seemed to be the end of the road. I am sure you understand that problems are part and parcel of starting a new business or being part of a new venture. Some problems will be larger than others but you never really quite run out of them. When you solve a specific challenge in a particular segment of your business it does sometimes manifest itself in another aspect of it.

For example, suppose your business is struggling with sales generation. After brainstorming and overcoming that problem, the next challenge is often managing the inflow of new orders which the business may not be equipped to do. This forms a cycle where it is possible to continue moving forward and facing new challenges as they appear. However, it is not usually as simple as that. There are three potential stages we can go through when facing a challenge.

1. Ignore it: How many times have we been faced with a problem either of a personal nature or in a professional aspect of our life and chosen to ignore it. There have been many times that I can personally recall where we knew something was wrong with the way our business was doing a certain process yet we never changed it. Wanting a different reaction from the same action is unfortunately something that many of us find ourselves doing when we do not want to move out of our comfort zones. We pretend that our problems do not exist or are not affecting us and hope for a miraculous change. Unfortunately that usually never comes and most of the time we just end up amplifying the problems.

2. Blame somebody: This is probably the most used excuse whenever we are faced with a problem. The economy is bad, my partner cheated me, we lost our star sales person, we do not have the funds or I am not skilled enough. This is another easy way to deal with problems. We shift the blame to anyone we can, including ourselves sometimes in the face of problems we cannot pass on. This creates a detrimental and negative cycle that ends up sapping all motivation and drive we may have left in ourselves and we let our environment condition us in whatever way it deems fit. This is giving up  control in our lives by burying our head in the sand.

3, Solution: The most productive thing we can do for ourselves whenever we face a problem is to correctly identify it, document where it is stemming from, brainstorm with individuals who will be able to pinpoint pain areas and develop a set of options that can help us deal with them. As start ups, we go through some tough challenges such as getting your first big reference customer, securing funding or convincing a star player to join your team. We have to look at each of these problems with an open mind and no matter how many times we fall down, we must learn the lesson inherent in the fall, then learn to pick ourselves up again.

Most of the things discussed in this post may appear extremely obvious. I mean who wants to admit that they are actually not dealing effectively with a problem that they may have in their life. I recommend getting a piece of paper and writing down all the major problems that you may be facing in life right now whether of a personal or business nature. Next, identify how you are dealing with these problems. We are often surprised to discover that we focus so much on the fact that we have these problems, that we forget to think of  necessary solutions. In order to move forward we need to understand that problems are a natural part of life, the quality of our lives however depends primarily on how we deal with them.

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My Top 5 Posts for 2008

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” Herman Cain

The first day of the new year is always a special time. It is like you have a fresh start, and can start off with a clean slate. Undoubtedly the forecasts for 2009 are not as rosy as the year before. However, I believe that we are all in charge of our own future. If we want it to turn a certain way, we have to make a conscious and concentrated effort to make sure we do whatever we can to ensure we achieve what we want. It is a lot easier to sit on the sidelines and just accept the fact that it is going to be an extremely difficult year and do nothing about it. If however you do want to bring about a particular change in your life, there is really no better time to start than…. now. Listed below are my top 5 series posts, traffic wise. I hope they will help make 2009 a great year for you.

1. 8 characteristics of Ideal Business partner

2. 5 Steps on How to Make a Decision

3. 5 Steps to Write a Customer Value Proposition

4. 5 Steps to Creating Winning Teams

5. 5 steps to Ensure Effective Meetings

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Looking Forward to 2009

“When it comes to the future, there are three kinds of people: those who let it happen, those who make it happen, and those who wonder what happened.” John M. Richardson, Jr.

As I look back at 2008 it seems a bit of a blur. Everything moved so fast I can’t believe the year has already come to an end. I can clearly remember setting up this blog exactly a year ago and posting my first entry in the early hours of 2008. A lot has happened in these last 365 days. I am really happy that I was able to keep my resolution of blogging everyday and to tell you the truth, I am quite relieved that the pressure has finally been lifted today. However, what I have gained is hopefully a lifelong habit of documenting my thoughts in writing and also sharing them with the rest of you. The act of writing down your thoughts on a regular basis has been therapeutic and a great learning exercise. A lot of things have become much clearer and more importantly my thoughts seem to be much more structured.

Looking at 2009 I have not really had the chance to sit down and think about the resolutions I want to make for 2009. My life has been a bit of a tizzy these last couple of weeks with a lot of traveling and more recently being down with a nasty bacterial infection. However, I plan to use the next couple of days to reflect and think about what I want to achieve this year. There are many new ventures I have planned for the coming year which I will be sharing with all of you in greater detail in the coming weeks. There is an e-book I want to publish this year. Lastly I want to really improve this blog in 2009 and actually convert it into a profitable one with strong growth prospects. What I need to do with the goals listed above is to convert them into SMART goals. Ones which I will be able to measure and be specific about in order to reach them.

Unlike last year I do not plan on making any one major commitment without giving it adequate thought and research. This year my resolutions are going to be well thought out and be formed on the basis of some larger goals I want to achieve in the next couple of years. Keeping the bigger picture in mind when developing your goals is essential. We need to take these small steps in order to finally reach our destination. Expecting to make huge leaps is possible, but that is associated with enormous levels of risk. One of the things that this year of blogging has taught me is that slow and steady wins the race. We need to begin our journey somewhere to be able to make a impact. I will keep all of you updated on resolutions in the next couple of days. I want to thank all my daily readers for their continued readership. I look forward to serving all of you in 2009 and if there is anything I can do to help improve your experience on my blog please let me know. Happy New Year to everyone.  I wish all of you the very best of luck and success.

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Changes in 2009

“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.”

Maria Robinson

At the start of this year I made a resolution to post everyday. A month into posting on a daily basis I realized that I had severely underestimated the effort and time required to post something everyday. Nonetheless I had made a commitment and since I had made it publicly there was no going back. Along the way I adopted the weekly series format which brought structure to my posts and made my job a little easier as I had to focus on coming up with content for one topic weekly. I want to thank all the readers of the blog who continuously provided me with topic ideas and requests.

Now that 2008 is coming to an end, I have decided to discontinue the series format which I had adopted for the greater part of this year. I now plan on blogging between 2-4 times a week. These will usually be about topics of interest or interesting situations as they come up. Apart from blogging, I plan on doing a minimum of 2 book reviews per month. I have got a rather large backlog of books that I need to review. If you would like me to review your book please email me and I will do my best to schedule it in. Lastly, I am toying with the idea of possibly writing a monthly or quarterly case study. This would be based on common situations entrepreneurs find themselves in.

Over the next 4 days I will be blogging on random topics to give readers a taste of what is to come in 2009. The last 10 days of this year will involve the final series of the year which will be about the ten things I have learned from blogging everyday for the past year. Lastly my blog is going to get a major design overhaul in Jan 09. I look forward to your comments and feedback.

I would appreciate if readers of this blog could send me comments or suggestions of what else they would like my blog to include next year. This will help me prioritize and cater content accordingly. Once again thank you for your continued support, I now look forward to another great year with all of you.

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5 Reasons to Co-Work

“Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort.” Paul J. Meyer

I started this week talking about co-working as it is an opportunity I am actively looking into at the moment. Given that it is a relatively new concept, many of the individuals I talk to about this have a host of questions regarding what co-working is all about, and ask why they should leave the comfort of their home offices for this. In response to these questions I have created a list of five leading reasons why one should choose to co-work over working from home or a cafe.

1. Networking Opportunities: I believe this is one of the most important reasons why anyone should choose to work at a co-working zone vis a vis working from home, a cafe or a small office. Having the ability to meet new people on a regular basis not only helps us grow as individuals, it provides us with opportunities to take our business to the next level. Networking is an integral part of every entrepreneur’s journey. Integrating it into our busy lives is however always a challenge. Working from a co-working zone makes the integration into our daily routine seamless and also increases the probability of success. To learn more about the benefits of networking from a co-working zone please click here.

2. Accelerated Serendipity: Serendipity is the accidental learning of something while searching for something completely different. As small business owners in the process of starting up or even searching for ideas on what they want to do, co-working is an excellent option to get the creative juices flowing and who knows, perhaps you could stumble onto the next big thing! The constant interaction with individuals from all walks of life provides a great sounding board and accelerates the process of finding your true calling. To learn more about accelerated serendipity please click here.

3. Increased Productivity: Individuals who have worked from home offices realize how challenging it is to be self disciplined and motivated. Co-working zones provides co-workers with a renewed sense of motivation often accelerated when everyone around them has got their head down and getting things done. Also, having others hold you accountable is another factor which motivates individuals to complete planned tasks and projects. To learn more on how to be more productive in a co-working zone please click here.

4. Operating Advantages: In the short term operating from a co-working space may seem to be an expensive option for an independent business owner. However, taking a slightly longer time frame of 6-9 months, operating benefits of a co-working space become immediately apparent. Working from such a space provides business owners the ability to project a professional image, space to increase staff and even share larger purchases. For entrepreneurs and consultants who have large aspirations and want to increase the scale of their business without incurring huge initial costs, co-working zones are an ideal solution. To learn more about the operating advantages of co-working please click here.

5. Work/Life Balance: If you are working from home you understand that the line between your work and life become gray and shadowy. Getting a balance is a critical aspect of life. Without it there are always far too many sacrifices that need to be made and that have major repercussions in the future. There is also the case of burnout, and losing interest in what you do for a living. Most importantly it is your friends and family who are most affected if your work/life balance is not correct. So whether it is through a co-working space or any other way, one should make a resolution to bring a greater degree of balance to life in 2009. To learn more on how you can balance work and life through co-working please click here.

A concern that is brought up repeatedly, is one of cost. As mentioned in reasons #4 co-working zones provide entrepreneurs the ability to scale operations as and when needed. This is in itself a huge advantage which justifies the cost of operating from such a space. Apart from that, for consultants who do not have plans to scale operations, the cost of renting space is usually the same as compared to the price of having endless cups of coffee from your local cafe on  a regular and daily basis. In addition to this, one gets access to networking opportunities, idea generation, increased productivity and help in maintaining a work/life balance. Thus if you are currently working from home or a cafe, looking into co-working spaces in 2009 may just be your best alternative.

* If you currently looking into joining a co-working space but are still unsure, I would appreciate it if you let me know your concerns and I will do my best to resolve them. By the same token, if you currently work at a co-working zone please let me know any additional reasons why individuals should choose operating from a co-working zone. Thank you.

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Work/Life balance

Just as your car runs more smoothly and requires less energy to go faster and farther when the wheels are in perfect alignment, you perform better when your thoughts, feelings, emotions, goals, and values are in balance. Brian Tracy quotes

For those of us who have worked from home for a period of time, we know that the entire concept of achieving a work/life balance goes out the window. Mornings are spent in your pajama’s answering all your emails, meals are finished in a flash and we find ourselves somewhat trapped till the wee hours of the morning finishing our work. The entire concept of leaving your work at the office is non-existent and it seems that you are working or attempting to work whenever possible. Ok, so this is somewhat exaggerated, but there are definitely days which go exactly like the one outlined above. It does not take a doctor to tell us this is not a very healthy way to live your life. Sure, the whole concept of getting dressed and heading off to work at 6am in the morning is not something I would really like doing either, but a balance needs to be drawn somewhere in the middle.

A co-working space provides the opportunity to get that level of balance. First off, the feeling that you have to get up and get to a place will be a positive change. It gets you into the habit of actually fixing your internal wiring which tends to go out of whack. It is important that one is motivated enough to actually get up and get to work. This is why it is critical to first test out the co-working space you are wanting to join and see whether it is a place you could find yourself being in everyday. The whole objective of working for yourself is to free yourself from the pressure of having to go to an office come rain or shine. So choose wisely. Once you are done for the day your primary computer can be left at the space and you could use those couple of hours to network, learn something new or go and have fun. It is important that balance be brought into your life.

Getting balance is a critical aspect of life. Without it there are always way too many sacrifices that need to be made that have major repurcussions in the future. There is also the case of burnout, and losing interest in what you  do for a living. Most importantly it is your friends and family who are most affected if your work/life balance is not correct. So whether it is through a co-working space or any other way, one should make a resolution to bring a greater degree of balance to life in 2009.

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Operating Advantages

“If we do a good job, customers pay us more for our products than the sum of our costs in producing and distributing them. This difference, our profit, represents the value we add to the resources we utilize.” David Packard

A large majority of independents work from their homes. This could be a room which they have set up with all their equipment etc. To maintain this room they need to incur a one time capital expense and then they are pretty much able to get by just paying the monthly bills. This sounds ideal to some and they find the entire concept of getting out of their house and going to work at another place quite ridiculous. However I beg to differ from this point of view. Having worked from home for a period of time I came to realize that there were a number of things which restricted me from scaling upwards. The fact that I worked from home sometimes worried clients about whether I would be in business tomorrow or if I could handle increased levels of workload. This is always a worry especially when you need to hire additional individuals to assist in the completion of a project. With co-working this perception is somewhat nullified as the place provides ample space to ramp up your operations at a moment’s notice.

The cost of ramping up operations is an expensive one and sometimes it is only needed for a stipulated period of time. Say you are a web developer and have got a massive project. It requires you to house at least 2-3 other resources who may not need to be at your office all the time but frequent interaction will be required. It also requires you to provide the client updates and this could mean frequent visits to your office. Essentially what you require is a little more space and a meeting room. This is a huge headache because you know you will not require this after the project is completed. Co-working is hence an ideal solution for you if you are currently in this predicament.

Some co-working spaces I visited involved a bunch of individuals pooling together to buy themselves expensive equipment such as large scale printers, projectors or servers. They were also able to utilize the business address of the co-working space to project a more professional image. The last important point which was brought up by many co-workers was that they were paying the same amount for the rent of the space as they were paying for coffee everyday at coffee shops. The cost of Latte’s tends to add up very quickly when working at these spaces. In conclusion, many co-workers were able to potentially keep their costs the same or increase them slightly to get a whole range of facilities that would not have been possible on their own.

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Increased Productivity

“Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up.” Oliver Wendell Holmes

One of the recurring points made by many of the individuals working at co-working spaces was the level of increased productivity once they joined the space. When I explored this matter deeper there were several core factors which led to why this was taking place. Looking back at my own example, I always work better when I am working as a team. Ideas flow faster, feedback is instant and it is generally a lot more fun. It is when you have to work in isolation that one feels that one does hit a brick wall once too often. The core factors that contributed to this level of increased productivity were:

1. Increased Interaction: Working in isolation is not a lot of fun. From the brief research that I conducted, people generally feel a lot more creative and energetic when they are surrounded by others. Now these are not just some other people, they are individuals who share same interests, hobbies or even values. This helps to create rapport and a level of interaction which goes beyond just the trivial chit chat that you could be involved in at a coffee house.

2. Motivation: Ever been working on a report, blog post or project and half way through decided that you wanted to watch the latest Heroes episode, and before you knew it hours had flown by? I have many times. However the story is completely different when I am surrounded by co-workers or people who are working hard on their respective projects or assignments. A co-working space provides you with this atmosphere and it makes it a lot easier to stay on course and get motivated by those around you.

3. Accountability: Ever joined a gym and dropped out after the initial month of fervor? I have, and I am guessing there are many more people out there who have probably had similar experiences. However, when I got a gym buddy things changed, I became regular, made fewer excuses and lasted a lot longer. At a co-working space one can find many such individuals who can ask each other to hold them accountable to ensure that they finish a certain project or report. This creates a level of accountability which motivates you to get the job done.

The points listed above are just a few reasons why I believe people were more productive in a co-working environment. In the end it does however depend on your personality and attitude towards life. What are your objectives? How committed are you to get them? Even the most committed individuals find themselves slacking at times. It is only natural, and it is at times like these that you need someone to give you that shove or to get you motivated enough to reach your goals.

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Accelerated Serendipidity

“If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.” George Bernard Shaw

A term that is getting around the co-working community, coined by Julie Gomoll of LaunchPad co-working is…. accelerated serendipity. Serendipity is the accidental learning of something while searching for something completely different. Imagine an open space where individuals from all walks of life are busy talking and working on projects. In this environment, say you are a freelance graphic designer and there is a business consultant working with a photographer on increasing the value of his brand, there could be some great tips here for you to pick up. Just the fact that so many people will be talking about a whole range of ideas and concepts is exciting and provides the oportunity to learn something valuable almost daily.

This is a level of exposure very unlikely to take place anywhere else. If you are working in an office, most everyone is pretty much focused on the job at hand and are working collaboratively on designated projects.  By the same token working from home the greatest level of interaction one could be part of is looking at what is happening on your twitter feed or forums that you visit frequently. The opportunity to ‘accidentally’ learn something is a low level opportunity here because this is often a one way dialogue. Research also tells us that working alone often stymies creativity. Which is why there is a large influx of independent consultants working from coffee shops. The fact that they can listen to people and sense life around them provides them the creativity stimulus.

As small business owners who may be in the process of starting up or even searching for ideas about what they want to do, co-working is an excellent option to get the creative juices flowing and who knows, perhaps we could stumble onto the next big thing! This is also a reason why many co-working spaces have been thought of as a step before business incubators. It provides individuals the ability to get exposure from a diverse group of people and possibly helps them test their concept before actually plunging into it.

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Networking Opportunities

“The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.” Theodore Roosevelt

Networking is an essential activity, and every entrepreneur must learn how to do it well. If we do not give ourselves the opportunity to meet new people and create lasting relationships, we will not be able to accomplish very much. If you look at successful entrepreneurs you will see that there is always a group of people behind them who made them what they are. If we are to achieve the goals and targets we want to, then looking into opportunities to increase our social networks is of vital importance. For all of those entrepreneurs who are independent consultants or work from home, there is an inherent inability and opportunity to get out of the house and make an effort to meet new people. Undoubtedly the internet has provided us with a host of tools which can help increase our networks online. However, being able to network in the real world requires us to have a lot more skill sets.

Having worked from a home office for some time I realized that the opportunities for off-line social networking from this environment had greatly decreased. Sure there were events, seminars and workshops that I would go to occasionally, but the ability to meet with people on a daily basis was lacking. Which is why when I heard about co-working environments it just made so much sense. Here was an opportunity to go to a place and meet like minded individuals sharing similar interests, goals and skill sets as I did. To tell you the truth it was pretty exciting and since then I have ventured into many Jelly’s (Informal gatherings of individuals at coffee houses) and co-working spaces to see what was really happening.

Just about everyone I spoke to had positive things to say, above all they said that since joining the space they had been introduced to new partners, clients and investors. They were given opportunities to learn something new everyday from a fellow co-workers and hence increased their own knowledge pool. In conclusion, one of the biggest benefits of joining such a space is the ability to increase and enlarge your personal networks and find ways to take your business to the next level if you want to do so.

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