2009 and Beyond

I came across Larry Page’s commencement speech at the University Michigan recently, and it really got me thinking. Two major takeaways from the speech are :

1. Dream Big…there is less competition: Larry talks about how we should all dare to dream as big as we can. Life is too short for us not to take chances and live quietly within our comfort circles. If what you want to do, is not scaring the daylights out of you, then take a look around and see whether that is really something you want to be doing. The benefit of this sort of thinking is there will always be lesser competition along the way. Very few people stray from the main roads of life. If you want to achieve something extraordinary, it is time to break away from conventional paths laid out for us, and create your own extraordinary paths. 2010 is a great year to do just that!

2. Family is all we have: At the end of the day, we can achieve all the success that we ever wanted, and still feel that something is missing from the picture. That something is usually our family, those people who have been neglected along the way. It is true that most entrepreneurs have lives that result in ridiculous work hours, and have very little personal interaction other than with the people they work with. However, your work must not be used as an excuse or reason to break away from the people who truly mean the most to us. Without them success feels incomplete, and life loses its meaning. I know that this is an aspect of my life that needs to be looked into in 2010. I hope you will keep it high on your priority list as well.

Life moves at a frightfully fast pace in our world today. The only way that things actually get done is by sitting down and writing down the things we want to do and achieve in life. The new year is a great time to do just that. It is a time to reflect on our life so far, and think about the changes we want to bring into it from this moment on. This is no time for procrastination, rather, it should be used to discover what truly drives you and what you want to achieve.

I wish you all the very best for the New Year. I want to thank you for your continued support through the year. I greatly appreciate it.

To a Healthier 2010

Exercise Busy Schedule

I have yet to finalize my list of resolutions for the new year. There are some key areas I really want to focus on for 2010. One of the areas which needs great emphasis is my health. I do think this is an area I have been neglecting, and need to rectify, since it is critical to our ability to function and perform. Some small changes I plan on integrating into my daily routine are:

1. Take a 5 minute break every hour that I am on the computer. I plan to use a nifty app for this called FocusBooster.

2. Eat a proper breakfast, at a set time, every morning. This should include cereal & fruit at the very least.

3. Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day. This could be anything from a stroll to hitting the gym.

4. Increase water intake to a minimum of 5-6 glasses a day.

5. Sleep a minimum of 5 hours everyday and around 8 hours on Sunday.

6. Replace junk food snacks with healthier variations.

7. Set 15 minutes at the start of every day to meditate.

8. Switch completely off coffee, and replace it with green tea.

9. Segment my day & time appropriately to manage & reduce stress. Use Things to manage this.

10. Take up Yoga, and do it at least twice a week.

I will be tracking progress on the above through my blog, and may even blog once a week about the adjustments, and how I am integrating them into my daily routine. I really have been neglecting this part of my life. Since it is one of those things that will truly be of vital importance and benefit with age , I need to start working on it seriously now!

Is leading a healthier life on your list of resolutions for 2010? If so, what are some of the things you plan to do, and how do you plan to integrate them into your daily routine? Would really like your comments, feedback and suggestions.

Changes for 2010

Changes 2010

I can hardly believe it has been almost 2 years since I started this blog. With only 2 more posts left for this year, I think it is a good time to put down the nature of changes to expect in 2010.

1. Post Frequency: In 2008 I posted every single day. This required a serious time commitment, and I often struggled to make sure I would have a post of substance up, on a daily basis. In 2009 I thought I could handle a post every second day, but my time commitments in other areas expanded, and I had a few spells in the middle where I could not post for a while. The learning experience of the last two years has made me realize that I will have to reduce my core blog posts (topics related to my personal experiences) to once a week in 2010. These would be more comprehensive posts. During the week however, I plan to start blogging views on happenings in the entrepreneurship space, as well as more general posts about life .

2. Get Social: I seriously feel that I have not put enough effort into utilizing some of the great social media tools that we have at our disposal. These include video, podcasts and even ebooks. The reason I stayed away from them was the additional time required to add these components and generate regular content for them. I am open to suggestions on how some of you have leveraged these tools. Look forward to integrating some of your suggestions into my blog.

3. Design Format: Next month I hope to start working on a major overhaul of my blog in 2010. I plan to make the search for my blog’s content easier, add a lot more information about the companies I work with, and rework the entire design.

These are some of the changes I am looking at for the year 2010. What I am more interested in however is, what changes you, the readers of my blog would like to see on it in 2010. Is there something missing in my blog? What would you like me to add or cover? I would really appreciate all your suggestions, feedback and comments.

Advice for Entrepreneurs

giving advice

Over the years, several mentors have given me some great advice, advice that has really helped me on this journey as an entrepreneur. In this post I will share 3 pivotal ones that have had a definitive effect on my journey.

1. Only work with or hire A+ players: One of the reasons I struggled in my earlier ventures was my inability to partner the right people. I was connecting with people who were like me, or shared similar competencies. This resulted in an inability to effectively execute plans because there was always some critical skill set that was missing on the team to help us achieve our goals. I did some extensive research on partnerships, it resulted in my ideal 8 characteristics checklist. Since then, I have had much greater success. Getting the best to work with you on a startup is challenging. However, if you want to succeed in your venture, this has got to be the main focus of your startup efforts. I firmly believe that a strong team is far superior than coming up with the next big idea/concept.

2. Product to market as soon as possible: Startups are all about speed. At this very moment you can be sure that all around the world there are multiple teams working on the same business model as you. The deciding factor between success or not, is the ability to show your product to prospects and illicit feedback as quickly as possible. This is vital to ensure that iterations take place at a faster clip, and the product meets the demands and expectations of the target customer. Sitting on your idea, spending time perfecting it, is the fastest way to burn through all your startup funds. You are then placed in an extremely vulnerable situation, since customers do not really need/want what you have spent all that time and money perfecting. Rapid prototyping is essential for success.

3. In the end it is all about cash flow: Without revenue, a startup can literally count the days it will take them to reach the dead pool. The concept of building first and then figuring out how to monetize later, may work for companies who have the ability to raise millions of dollars, for the rest of us working on extremely limited budgets, this is a mistake. Misappropriation of funds leads to product delays, layoffs, low morale and essentially, failure. If you have inventory cycles, figure out ways to optimize them, if you use several vendors for your product development, find ways to extend credit terms, if you sell big ticket items, devise smaller offerings to complement them etc. Models of recurring revenue streams create stability and take a massive load off business shoulders. From the day you launch your business, the focus has to be on how to start generating revenue with what you have right now. I wrote a related post a while back on 5 tips for better cash flow management.

What has been the best piece of advice you have been given as an entrepreneur? I look forward to hearing from you.

What is in a Design?

tiffany box

These days I have been thinking about how to be revamp my blog for next year. I have also been taking an increasing and active interest in design in the companies that I am involved with. From a business perspective, a well designed product is always talked about a lot more, shared among friends, and has a unique advantage over competitors who are not thinking ahead of the curve. This is a strategy that Apple has used most effectively, also making it into one of their strongest competitive advantages.

Startups usually do not have access to the best designers available to create their user interfaces, web designs, packaging materials etc. However, this should not be the reason to put something out there, without paying adequate attention to detail. The web is full of examples of companies who have put serious thought into their design processes:

1. Apple (iMac & iPhone)
2. Tiffany
3. Mint
4. 37Signals
5. Audi
6. Action Method
7. Wufoo
8. Aeron Chairs
9. Samsung
10. Bang & Olufsen

These are just some examples that come to mind. Each one of them has used their design or interface, to not just create a strong brand for themselves, they have also created emotional bonds that are very difficult to displace. For example Tiffany!

In the final analysis, great design should be a critical component that someone on your team is always thinking about. It could start from simpler things such as your logo, name card design, stationary, website etc. Use that to fuel greater design inspiration into other parts of your business, thereby giving yourself a greater edge.

I am interested to know if you have come across a really well designed personal blog lately? If so, please send me the link. Thank you.

Workaholics Anonymous

workaholic

Last week I fell behind on my feeds. Catching up on 37 Signals blog, I came across the post “Step one is admitting you have a problem“. It is a very well written post, and makes a couple of extremely valid points. Essentially the gist of the post is that workaholism is not required to make your startup or business a success. It continues that we need to find a balance so that our work does not completely consume our lives. Where I disagree with the post is that it stereotypes all startups, regardless of aspirations and goals. I was once told by an uncle of mine that “ambition has to be matched by effort”. If a startup aspires to get a million people to pay them $20 a month, and another startup nurtures an ambition to get the entire internet population onto a single platform, and to monetize this space, who do you think is going to have to work harder?

The other concern that I have against the work-life-balance theory is that they completely refute and deny the fact that someone can actually have fun doing what they do, regardless of whether they have to work 100+ hours a week in the process. This is a life choice, and one that no one coerced them into making. Startup founders merge the lines between work & life because that is what gets them out of bed every morning! There are very few people on the planet who have the option and ability to do something they love…daily! It is not a job, and it is not work to them. Maybe I am too young and inexperienced to know the intricacies of the entire work-life notion at this stage of my life. What I do know is, that:

1. Creating a profitable & scalable startup is one of the most challenging goals one can have.

2. Large goals and aspirations require massive amounts of work, dedication, perseverance, tenacity and major sacrifices.

In the end, work-life balance means different things to different people. I may look back at this post 10 years from now and think differently to what I believe today, and that in itself just proves one cannot make sweeping statements regarding the work-life-balance without putting people, the point and stage of life they are at, & their business into perspective.

Subsistence Income

subsistence income

Image by _Teb

One of the primary reasons why many individuals shy away from the entrepreneurship path is the uncertainty of a stable income stream. This is a primary reason why I advocate starting your business ventures as early as you possibly can. With age comes greater responsibilities, and as a byproduct, a higher cost of living. However, regardless of whether you are a fresh college graduate, or starting a business after a couple of years in the corporate world, a subsistence level of income is essential, to satisfy our basic needs and requirements. So what does it take to earn that subsistence level of income?

There are a few things that I have done personally, & seen my friends do as well :

1. I had a lot of friends who got trained as bartenders, or started waiting tables over weekends and a couple of hours a week too.

2. Getting a job doing data entry, filing, or other routine tasks for a couple of hours a week. The learning curve is very small and although it is not the most exciting of jobs , it is not that difficult either.

3. Some friends got trained as insurance or real estate agents and did sales on the side. You get a ton of exposure about the sales process in these roles, which is extremely useful when you start selling your own product.

4. If you have a skill such as programming, designing, speaking well etc, there are many small gigs that you could get your self into through the internet to make a side income.

5. Start a blog about something that you are truly passionate about, and do your best to monetize it. This is a tough one, but I have seen many people get to a decent traffic level and actually earn a little something off their blog.

These are just a couple of thoughts that came to mind. I would really like to hear from readers of this blog what they did to generate funds while their startup was just…. starting up.

Before closing there is a very important point that I would like to make here. In all the above cases, we should be spending just enough time every week to make $X (Where $X is the minimum we need to stay afloat). I do not believe that anyone can have a full time job, and just spend a few hours in the week working on their startup. This model just does not work very well. Starting a business needs you to go all out, and if you cannot, then it is better to stay on the sidelines until you can.