Date archives "April 2009"

Dark Berry Mocha Frappuccino

I am a fan of Starbucks. They have successfully turned something as simple as buying a cup of coffee into something of an adventure whenever you visit one of their stores. Once there, we are so distracted with the mind boggling choices available that when the cashier asks us for $5+ it seems like a perfectly fair price to be paying. Tracing back my steps before I ordered this concoction, began with….getting off a long flight and waiting for my connection at Bangkok airport. Needing a jolt I found myself wandering through the Duty Free looking for a place to enjoy a cup of coffee and maybe, even write a post! There must have been at least 5+ coffee shops that I passed up before I found Starbucks. The uniformity of their cafes makes one feel comfortable, add to this familiarity with the menu and the quality and you have an easy decision right from the onset. The rest just falls into place although we pay heavily for this experience, I do think however that I get value every time I patronize one of their cafes. From a business perspective this is an awesome example of how a brand can connect with so many customers, and take a standardized product and differentiate it so well.

For this post I want to focus on the Dark Berry Mocha Frappuccino. This product shows the depth and variety of the offerings available at the cafe. Product and service depth is something that is of great importance to most businesses. When you sell a product that is relatively standardized, it is important to constantly innovate and add a twist to your product or service line. We have seen this done in great depth in the fast-food industry where you have most major chains coming up with new concoctions to catch their target customer’s attention. In apparel, you have custom designs or even designs that can be fully customized by the customer him/herself. The prevalence of choices provides your business with leverage to not only attract new customers, but to provide loyal customers with something to come back to. This is critical in niche markets where competition is high and customers have low switching costs.

A key factor that needs to be kept in mind when differentiating your product/service lines is to work hard not to lose the core essence of your product/service. Starbucks constantly innovates with coffee based drinks which is their core product. If they were to introduce a ton of non-caffeine drinks they would be diluting their own brand as well as confusing their target audience about their specialization. It is thus important that when you think of deepening your product/service lines that you do not forget the core product/service that you provide. When thinking about what lines to deepen and how to do it, ask your customers. I have always found this to be the best way to build on top of products and services. Customers are always willing to tell you what may be missing or what they would like. When you find something with a large appeal, you may be onto something.

Do you have any good examples about product lines that have been deepened successfully? Would really like to hear from you.

Are You Lucky?

I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine over dinner yesterday regarding the importance of luck in life and business. We were debating how large a role luck play’s in helping us achieve the level of success we desire in life. Everyone talks about being in the right place at the right time, or working very hard and creating your own luck. However, is that all there is to it? Do some people have a greater degree of luck on their side as compared to the rest? I do believe there is a fair degree of luck associated with the way our lives play out. I have met people who have experienced considerable amounts of luck in their lives but, have failed to capitalize on it. While there are others who happened to be in the right place at the right time, and managed to change the path of their life with that one chance meeting. Both people experienced a degree of luck, yet had completely different results.

In entrepreneurship there is a lot of talk about being able to see the future and position yourself to be in the right place when the time is right, since to have the foresight, but wrong timing of execution also ends in disappointment. They key to this is to understand that all of us will experience our share of luck in our lifetime. Converting that given opportunity into something bigger and better will be determined by our own level of foresight and execution. When people complain about how they are down on their luck or just never in the right place at the right time, I begin to wonder how they are actually following through with the opportunities presented to them.

Undoubtedly on the surface, the person who ends up winning the lottery appears to be an extremely lucky individual. Yet, nearly one-third of all lottery winners go bankrupt! My conclusion to the discussion we had was that although there are individuals who are luckier than average, it is the ability to maximize the opportunities presented to us in life that is defining. This requires analytical ability, farsightedness and execution capabilities in-order to maximize our expectations. It was an extremely interesting conversation and I would really like to hear from readers about their insights and thoughts on the role luck plays in our lives!

Are you Being Aggressive Enough?

In life we need to take advantage of the small edges in order to succeed. These small edges present themselves, more often than not, to those who take initiatives and are aggressive in pursuing their goals. We do all know that very little will come our way if we remain passive and just “hope” for the best. This is common knowledge. I am pretty sure everyone reading this blog knows that they need to actively pursue their goals in order to reach them. Yet, how many of us are actually being aggressive in going out there day after day and achieving our goals? It’s a tough world out there and everyone is looking at getting ahead, hence, if we want to achieve our goals we just have to:

1. Ask for what you want. (Whether it be a sale, testimonial, referral etc)

2. Push against any sort of resistance until you break through.

3. Do not take “no” as a final answer.

4. Stand firm on your beliefs and values.

5. Make short term sacrifices for long term gains.

6. Take center stage whenever possible.

7. Be assertive in your communication style. (without being rude)

8. Broaden your personal network on a regular basis.

9. Body language has to be in sync with our mindset.

10. We need to work towards overcoming our fears & inhibitions.

There is a fine balance between being aggressive and overly aggressive. When the balance is tipped in either direction, whether one is not being aggressive enough or being overly aggressively, there will be consequences! We have to find that level of equilibrium ourselves, and this is dependent on one’s personality and environment.

I would really like readers to add onto this list. How do you pursue your goals? What actions do you take? What has shown results and what has not. I look forward to hearing from you all.

Fried my Macbook Air Fan

Today was a painful day. I have had to give up my notebook for 6 days in order to get it serviced. I did everything I conceivably could to avoid sending it in, but in the end I was left with no choice. Although I saw some very interesting youtube videos on how to solve my problem, I decided that losing the entire notebook was not worth it. I was one of the earliest adopters of the Macbook Air and have had it for over a year now. Occasionally the notebook would get really hot, usually after intensive usage which caused the fans to start spinning at maximum speed. This resulted in an extremely irritating noise. The only solution was to let the notebook cool down, it would then begin operating normally. Given that this did not happen frequently, I had learned to live with the times that it would act up. The things we have to put up with for being loyal Apple customers!

A couple of days ago I was using the notebook extensively for intensive graphics work. A couple of hours later the noise from the fans surfaced again, I closed the notebook to let it cool down. After a short while I put it into it’s sleeve and went home. When I opened the notebook at home I noticed that it was still really warm, and as soon as I turned the notebook on the fans went crazy and started making awful noises. This is when I started panicking! I believe there are quite a few Macbook Air users that have been affected by this problem and Apple has yet to take any action to solve the issue. After searching through forums and websites where users shared their experiences, it appeared that I was left with very little choice. Either open up the system myself and diagnose the problem or give it in to the Apple service center.

I went with the latter option much to my despair. It feels weird not having my laptop with me. It is actually kind of scary how attached I have become to that machine. I think the next couple of days will be a good time for reflection. This notion of constantly being connected either through your phone, laptop or other portable devices seems to have taken over my generation. We have become overly reliant on them, and have lost touch with the real world to some extent. However,with the way things are moving, and with all of us becoming increasingly more connected through the internet, we will have to figure out where to draw the line. In the meanwhile I am going back to counting the hours before I get my laptop back!

Do you have a pet?

Today was one of those completely chaotic days! These are days when many of the projects I am working on simultaneously, all seem to have increased amounts of activity. This is when multi-tasking skills come into their own, although after an entire day of juggling one project after another you are completely exhausted. If things did not go exactly as planned, mood swings are imminent and when you get back home you want to completely zone out. Everyday when I get back, my dog is waiting anxiously for my arrival. It is one of my favorite moments of the day when my dog literally jumps onto me and refuses to move. For the next ten minutes all the stresses of the day disappear and I am able to enjoy the moment.

I have always been an advocate of having pets. Depending on the level of responsibility one wants to take on, you could decide on anything from fish to dogs. Entrepreneurs, including myself, lead such crazy work lives, that the work/life balance is often disrupted. I do believe pets are a huge balancing factor and not only do they provide companionship and loyalty they help inculcate a sense of responsibility and give you a window to break away from daily stresses of work and help focus on something just as important during the course of the day. Although they can be a handful sometimes, I guess as in most things, that is a trade off we have to make.

Given that I have always had pets, it is easier for me to take care of them. For first time pet owners it will be an initial challenge to get them trained and accustomed to house rules. However, when all is done, you will have a great buddy to take for walks, play catch with or just hang out with when you need to unwind from the rest of the world. I would be interested to hear how many entrepreneurs who read this have pets and if you don’t, why not?

*p.s On a complete side note, the pet industry is absolutely booming right now. With pet owners spending more money on pet food, grooming and accessories this is a great time to get into this field if you have a passion for animals. You could carve out a specific niche that you could serve really well.

Are you Following your Heart?

I recently watched the video of Omid Kordestani’s commencement address at SJSU and was reminded of an old post I wrote, titled “Your Heart“. At the end of the speech he quotes his son’s 2nd grade teacher saying “In life you make all the small decisions with your head and the big decisions with your heart.” The quote got me thinking about life as a whole. We are all taught from a very young age to do logical things, the ones that make the most sense, those with a higher degree of probability of being right, often based on past experiences of others. Individuals who make irrational decisions, those that do not make sense on the surface of things, are considered outcasts and “different”. In a way this fear of breaking away from logic and reason paralyzes us from doing what we may “feel” to be the right thing to do. In the above mentioned video, we learn that not following this path may lead us to pass up on the “aha” moments in life.

Many of us who have chosen the path of entrepreneurship, have in all probability experienced this “aha” moment, and have thus chosen to walk the path less traveled. It is likely that many of us have passed up job offers from reputable organizations where we would have had stability and  security and could plan out how our lives would be 5 years from now. Instead, we have chosen a path where we could well land up at the same spot we are at now, after 5 grueling years of hard work. On the surface it sounds like a crazy choice to make, but if someone were to ask me whether I would do anything differently, I would have to say “no”. Deep down inside I know I have followed my heart and believe in the feeling inside of me, believe that it is the right thing to be doing. This feeling cannot be rationalized, it has to be experienced. I think the speaker in the video did an excellent job of communicating it very well.

Giving up short term monetary gain led Omid Kordestani to become a billionaire. If he had chosen the investment banking route I really doubt he would have achieved the sort of success that he now has. Most importantly, even if he had, it would be questionable whether he was truly happy doing what he did. When you follow your heart, there is this inner sense of satisfaction and joy that makes all the challenging times bearable. Walking down the path less traveled is undoubtedly harder and more challenging. Done for the right reasons, following your heart makes it all worthwhile. No matter what you choose to do in life, remembering the teachers quote, “In life you make all the small decisions with your head and the big decisions with your heart” will help put things into better perspective.

Are you following your heart? If not, what is stopping you from doing so?

Venturing Into Uncharted Territory

Of late I have been taking up projects I know very little about. It is most interesting to learn something completely new, not quite knowing what the right way to do things is and generally, not feeling quite sure about what to expect at the next step. I think we have to constantly put ourselves in such situations so as to keep on learning and expanding our sphere of knowledge. It forces us out of comfort zones and the feelings of vulnerability makes life a lot more interesting. Do not restrict this to new business skill sets only. One could start learning a new language, an instrument, a sport or a completely new field of study. I ventured into psychology in early 2005, it resulted in setting up my psychometric testing business in 07.

This venturing out also helps us to expand our personal network and gives it much greater depth. This is an essential success factor that every entrepreneur needs to develop. The deeper and broader one’s rolodex is, will result in a greater set of diversified opportunities and assistance when you least expect it. Another advantage of constantly venturing out of your comfort zone is the fact that it makes life a lot richer and fuller. We develop diversified sets of interests, these helps in both our business and personal life. A venture that has truly helped me tremendously has been starting this blog. I always knew I enjoyed writing but with life the way it is, I was not finding time to commit to seriously writing more regularly. This blog changed all of that and has given me an outlet to express my views as well as learn about a huge and diversified range of topics. Through this blog I have met many friends, business partners and potential publishers for my upcoming book.

It is a great challenge taking that first step and venturing into the unknown. However, the benefits far outweigh the costs associated. Make a conscious effort to venture out on a regular basis and put yourself in positions where you are not completely comfortable. Learn to become more adept in these positions and eventually you will find yourself living a life that is a lot more fulfilling and enjoyable. Life is too short to keep putting things off until it is too late.

What are some new territories that you have recently ventured out into? How did you overcome the initial fear associated with overcoming that first step? Would really like to hear from all of you.

When Life Consumes You

The last couple of days have gone by in a daze. It all seems a blur when I look back. Things moved quickly, and one day merged with the other. Today, a friend of mine told me that most high risk and high reward occupations share this similarity. Our work consumes us to the extent that everything else fades into the background. This is a quality I have found in many entrepreneurs and am beginning to think that this may just be a defining quality of theirs. The ability to focus fanatically on something with the core objective of reaching a particular goal, is a necessity when you want to break away from the pack. Distractions slow you down. In order to reach your stretch goals, you have to minimize them as much as you can. This may seem somewhat extreme to some people, but in the end I think it really boils down to the choices we want to make in life.

Attached to this blog is a very interesting video. It talks about work/life balance and shows two very different points of views on the matter (You may want to view the video before reading on). Tom Nixon is an advocate of actively bringing work/life balance policies into your organization and argues that in the larger scheme of things it increases productivity and your work force is a lot happier. On the other hand Jason Calcanis whose philosophy is ‘work = life’ puts businesses into two categories. One being lifestyle businesses and the other being very large businesses. His argument is that although work/life balance can be brought into lifestyle businesses it slows people down when you have larger aspirations. He has some very strong points of view and I am not sure that I agree with all of them.

In the end both speakers talk about choices. What do you want in life? If you want to be a multi-millionaire then the consensus seems to be that big sacrifices need to be made along the way and work and life lines will get blurred. Initial startup periods will be the most demanding. This is why I do recommend starting up as soon as you can if you want to get into entrepreneurship. Start before your responsibilities increase, and the ability to make these large sacrifices decreases, get into the game early. Thinking that it is going to get easier after you have worked for x number of years and saved y$’s is not an effective strategy. Whatever you decide to do, you must truly enjoy it, and it should be the reason to get you out of bed energized everyday. Your personal happiness is something that should not be sacrificed. I wish you the best of success on whatever path you choose.

Would really like to hear the opinions of readers on what they think about the topic that was debated. Work/life balance or blood, sweat and tears?

Remembering your Wins

The last couple of posts I have talked about the difficulties one goes through during the course of running one’s own business. Challenges are part of life, our reactions to them determines the course our life will take. However, there is a positive flip side to the difficulties we face. These are the many wins we accumulate along the way. Unfortunately, we remember our losses a lot more vividly than our wins. Our brain computes both situations differently, often ending up with an imbalance that puts our perception of reality out of proportion. My answer to this is, have a list on your computer, phone or even a personal diary in which you record every win. By recording our wins on paper gives them a life and we are hence able to remember how fortunate we have been.

I am not only talking about wins related to your business such as getting a big contract, securing your funding or recruiting a top notch CEO. I like to include smaller details into the mix, such as getting up on time in the morning, eating healthy during the day, sticking to an exercise regime, clearing out my in box and many other smaller things that add up very quickly. For example let’s say your business loses a big contract or you have to deal with a business loss. When we zoom onto that, and focus solely on that loss, we lose touch with reality as also lose focus of the larger picture. When our wins are put into perspective in relation to our losses, we can actually see a steady progress and understand that we have not been pushed all the way down the ladder. It is this continuous progress that propels us further and helps us get up when we fall.

There is no doubt that things are tough these days. Stories of gloom and doom are a dime a dozen, and everyone seems to be focusing solely on what they have lost or, what could have been. We need to get out of this rut of only remembering and recording our losses and begin recording all the wins we need to be thankful for. It is only when we change our mindsets will we be able to shift our thoughts and focus to what is really important.

I would like to hear about the last “win” you experienced, irrespective of whether it was big or small. I would also really like this page to become a source of inspiration to those people who have forgotten their wins. I look forward to hearing from you.

Do you Hate Losing?

I bet the answer to this question will be a unanimous “yes”. I am in that category as well! No one ever wants to lose, it is definitely not the best feeling in the world. However, something strange happens when you lose, as opposed to when you win. When we lose, we usually ask ourselves two very important questions, “What did I do wrong?” and “What could I do differently next time?” These are very powerful questions, they help us to grow and reflect upon our actions. It provides us with a reality check, which in turn stops us from taking things for granted when we win. This is the only part I like about losing!

As I have mentioned in previous posts, one of the best pieces of advice that I have received from one of my mentors was that, “There is no such thing as failure only feedback”. Entrepreneurs tend to put themselves in situations where there is a higher degree of risk as compared to taking the traditional route. Walking the path less traveled will undoubtedly have unexpected twists and turns, this does often lead to us falling a few times. Ultimately, experience helps us navigate these twists more effectively and that is when we start winning. However, if we do not lose or fall down often enough, we tend to take our good fortune for granted, and when we do eventually fall, we blame circumstances rather than trying to learn from our mistakes.

The key to take away here is, that even though we may hate losing, we have to acknowledge that it is part and parcel of life and the process of evolving. What we need to do when it happens is to evaluate the reasons that caused it. After which we need to change our strategies and put up safe guards to prevent it from re-occurring. Doing this helps us continue to develop further and should lead to losing less often. Sore losers who blame circumstances and other people do not get far in life. Living a life of denial only sets us up for even more losses, and worse, there is no learning along the way.

Make sure you hate losing for the right reasons.