Looking Forward to 2011

The last 2 months have been the longest that this blog has gone without being updated since it’s inception almost three years ago. I remember quite vividly, sitting down three years ago, towards the end of December and thinking that I wanted to start blogging. I do believe that it has been one of the best New Year resolutions I have made in life, to date, and if anyone is thinking about resolutions for next year, starting a blog should make the top of your list. It has been a huge learning experience and has taught me so much, amongst which are the following :

1. Discipline: Being able to write on schedule, according to a date on a calendar, without any leeway for making excuses, is tough. You will find a hundred reasons daily for whether you should post, or not. Much of the time they will be fairly compelling reasons. To be able to stick it out however and not give in, builds a sense of internal discipline that will spill over to other aspects of your life.

2. Consistency: Can you actually be dedicated to something over a long period of time? For a great number of younger people, who have not really had too much worldly life experience, this is the ultimate validation that you can stick to something when you say you will.

3. Personal Branding: Today, more than ever, investors, peers, employers and just about anyone who wants to know more about you, will google you. Build a blog and take it to the top of the search ranking for your name, as well as for other topics that you share an interest for. Learn about yourself along the way, you will discover new interests, likes and dislikes. It will help you to grow and shape yourself into who you really are.

With the year coming to an end, I find much to my regret, that I have really not kept up the continuity of this blog as I envisaged and I not only should, but I do really want to! A primary reason for this irregularity is that I had a ‘vague’ goal on blog postings for this year. The first two years it was daily posting, and then, one every second day. This year it was, maybe once a week if I had time!

I know I may look back on what I am going to say next as unrealistic, but I am upping the ante and moving back to a daily posting routine in 2011. The only condition is that they may not all be long posts about specific entrepreneurship issues, they  will certainly, include, quotes, video clips and excerpts from books that I am reading. But I really want to get back to the daily posting schedule, for myself as well as for all of you ,my readers.

If any of you want me to write on specific topics, please shoot them over and I will do my best to get through them slowly.

Wishing you all the very best of luck & success in 2011!

First Sessions at Founder Institute

The last few days have been quite a blur! I arrived back in Singapore the day of our first session. Before the start of the session, I was fortunate to get a 45 minutes, one on one meeting with Adeo Ressi & Phil Libin, to discuss the ideas I will be working on. Those 45 minutes were truly insightful! It is at such times that you understand how great a role experience plays and how quickly and effortlessly someone with experience is able to break down an idea and recreate it based on models that actually work in the market place. Those initial 45 minutes set the ball rolling to prove that the next few months were going to be, not just a ride of a lifetime but a truly great experience.

During our first presentation we were told to refrain from excessive and specific blogging or tweeting on matters discussed during the classes. This is primarily because the mentors and your peers share a fair amount of confidential information regarding their own experiences and the lessons they have learned over the years, which quite understandably are not always for public consumption. I will do my best to update this blog and more so my twitter feed with insights that can be shared, within the above framework.

The first couple of sessions were primarily about the program and then it dived right into setting up your vision and values for the ideas you are working on. Every session has it’s set of homework assignments, failure to complete them has fairly punitively drastic consequences on your eligibility to continue. The work load is significantly higher than I expected it to be. I was under the impression that it would be around 15 hours a week. However, I think it is more like double that estimate taking into account assignments, readings and work group meetings.

The first big deadline that we have is Nov 9th, by which date we need to have crystallized our pitch and got enough support from peers and mentors to move forward with it. The two concepts that I am currently working on are:

1. Reevolo: A web service that aims to assist employers hire Gen Y effectively.

2. Lean Sparks: A web service for entrepreneurs to record and validate their ideas.

Lean Sparks has just gone live in it’s alpha stage. I would like feedback, as also readers of this blog to use it and if possible provide me with feedback on what you think. Also, if you had to decide on more information about the two ideas mentioned above, which one would you choose? What would you want or like to know?

My next posts will talk about certain topics that are discussed in class and I will do my best to share as much as I possibly can. If you have any questions or feedback please do let me know.

Founder Institute: I got in!

The Founder Institute is proud to announce that you have been accepted into the Fall 2010 Singapore semester. Congratulations!

This is the email I got up to this morning! I am currently over the moon! I do believe The Founder Institute represents a critical point in the journey of an entrepreneur. The guidance and mentorship from individuals who have done it all before has to be a defining experience. This has to be the fastest way to accelerate one’s own learning, break down existing assumptions and world views and recreate them with the assistance of individuals who have achieved the success that we are all in search of.

As I had written in my earlier post, I will be using this blog and my Twitter feed (Please follow me on Twitter) to provide as many tips and my own personal learning curve on this course. This will serve as a guide for individuals who are looking into entering the program in the future, as well as a place for myself for future reflection on what I will learn during the span of the next 16 weeks. With the first class starting on the 10th of October we have already been emailed our first assignments.

The first class is set to discuss our personal strengths and weakness and how we leverage and compensate for them in our business. The class also requires us to set our goals for the program, as well as what we hope to accomplish through it. Both these components are critical in one’s self evaluation and provide a basis for the path we want to pursue. Far too often careers and life paths are chosen without the knowledge of one’s strengths and weaknesses and no end goal is set up. Both these factors and the misguided or misdirected paths taken result in a lot of confusion about life goals. I strongly suggest that all readers take a strengths inventory test and clarify their end goals, aligning them with their desires/passion.

I look forward to sharing my journey with all my readers. If you would like specific information, please do get in touch with me and we can work out how I can help.

I would like to thank the Founder Institute for accepting my application into the program and look forward to documenting my journey in the upcoming weeks through this blog & twitter.

Founder Institute

I have just applied for the Founders Institute program in Singapore. The Founder Institute is a startup-mentorship program with an enviable list of mentors and advisors on their panel. The program is structured around a 16 week course that covers the fundamental aspects of building a solid foundation for any business. The focus is specifically on product driven technology businesses, this is exactly where I want to put all my focus into moving forward. Since the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey I have been primarily in service based businesses. They are easy to setup and I have been most fortunate to have had some great partners who have helped me reach as far as I have. However, most of these businesses have inherent scaling problems, this limits growth and makes it very challenging to grow past a certain size.

Product based technology businesses do not however have such limitations. They have a separate set of challenges that I am hoping that the Founder Institute’s program will assist me in understanding and applying. This program attracts a lot of high quality candidates from around the region and is extremely competitive to get into. The question that comes to mind is why I should be amongst the selected candidates for the program. To make my case and elucidate why I should be selected, I have drafted a letter to Mr. Adeo Ressi (Creator of Founder Institute) below:

Mr. Ressi,

I realize that admission to the Founder Institute program is very competitive. Listed below are 3 reasons why I hope you will give me the opportunity to attend this program:

1. Unique Background: My background of working on several service based businesses in multiple cities in Asia could add substantial value to the group. I have had substantial experience in Singapore, Malaysia, Pakistan, Dubai & Saudi Arabia. I have specifically worked on businesses within the marketing industry. Being a bootstrapped entrepreneur, I have made mistakes and other participants may be able to derive value from those experiences in the region.

2. Brand Outreach: This blog and my twitter feed has a reasonable following and I would use these two mediums heavily during the entire length of the course. This would include summaries on each of the weekly session, take-aways and what I personally get out of each session. This would give other individuals wanting to enter the program a front row seat on what to expect from it. With my deep links in South Asia, this could open up the possibility of further institutes within this area as well.

3. Giving Back: I strongly believe in paying it forward and want to use the knowledge that I gain within the course to help other entrepreneurs who do not have the opportunity or means to attend a Founder Institute program. This is especially the case in countries like Pakistan where we have a rapidly growing entrepreneur base in dire need of direction and structure on how to launch their businesses.

I look forward to meeting you in Singapore soon.

Best Regards

Usman Sheikh

The results for the admission come out on the 27th of September for the early admission. Will keep everyone updated on the outcome. Either way, I think it is a great program and if you have the opportunity to apply and attend the program, it would certainly be a massive boost to your entrepreneurial journey.

Update 28th September:

After patiently waiting to hear from the Founder Institute, I was really happy to learn yesterday that I have been shortlisted for this program.

The next step in the admission process was a psychometric and IQ test.

I have done the test, it was challenging, as also a lot of fun. The IQ section of this test appears to test the prefrontal cortex.

I am going to do some research in this area as it appears that many studies have been conducted in this field to measure the correlation of this type of test, with the success ratio of executives around the world.

It has been quite a while since I took my last IQ test and hence I am looking forward to learning how I fared on it.

It should take another couple of days now till the final list of candidates is selected. Fingers crossed!

Many thanks to everyone for all the kind words I have received from people who regularly read this blog and follow me on twitter!

The Fountainhead

I was reading a blog post of a web designer whose work I admire,  she has quoted a snippet from an incredible book, The Fountainhead.

“Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision. their goals differed, but they all had this in common: that the step was first, the road new, the vision unborrowed, and the response they received- hatred. the great creators- the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors- stood alone against the men of their time. every great new thought was opposed. every great new invention was denounced. the first motor was considered foolish. the airplane was considered impossible. the power loom was considered vicious. anesthesia was considered sinful. but the men of unborrowed vision went ahead. they fought, they suffered and they paid. but they won.” – Howard Roark / Ayn Rand

This passage is one I can relate to on multiple levels. Being an entrepreneur we battle on a daily basis, with our own inner doubts and doubts others have regarding what we are doing, we do however still carry on, as we must, on a path which seems to shift direction almost every week. We reach a point where going back is no longer an option and the only way to move, is forward.

The last line of the passage has the most relevance in my opinion. The ability to persevere, stay true to one’s own beliefs and visions is what separates the individuals who succeed from those who do not.

3 Critical Business Mistakes

3 critical mistakes

Every small business owner has visions about closing that one large referral client, who will help take their business to the next level. Large referral clients can accelerate the growth of your business, one does however need to realize, at what cost.

Far too often many business owners abandon their sales funnels when doing their best to close the big account. This is the first mistake:

1. Never abandon your sales lead generation processes altogether. You could reduce the time that is put into them substantially, but do not neglect them for an extended period of time. This breaks the momentum which is critical in moving your business along.

Pursuing a large client requires continuous engagement. When you have identified a certain need in the organization that you can fill, but the circumstances are presently not right to close the deal, do not give up. This is often the second mistake that is made:

2. Closing large accounts takes continuous effort, engagement and a lot of perseverance. Even if you get a flat out ”no” the first time around, do your best to remain connected in one way or other with the prospects. Ask the prospect to signup for your newsletter, monitor keywords to watch for activity in their space or perhaps send them a link or ebook that they might find helpful.

If you do not end up closing the sale, it is not the end of the world. Many business owners lose steam around this time and the business heads into a downward spiral. This is the last and most serious mistake that is made by small business owners.

3.It is most important at this point in time to do a recap of all the objections that were made, the materials or presentations that were sent over, also analyze any other factors that may have contributed to not winning the deal. Make the necessary adjustments, ask for feedback from mentors or even the client. Each “no” should make you stronger and push you that much further along the path to close the next big deal that comes your way.

*I write a bi-weekly newsletter on sales for Cloud Marketing Labs. If you liked this post I would encourage you to sign up for the newsletter.

How Much Do You Need to Raise?

“The Question is Why” The Founders | TechStars Boulder | Episode 1 from TechStars on Vimeo.

I watched the latest episode of “The Founders” a short while back, this is definitely a series I would recommend to everyone, specially entrepreneurs. This series gives you a sneak peak at the ‘behind the scenes’  scenario of an entrepreneurship incubator. In it, a venture capitalist I follow (Brad Feld) , asks a group of entrepreneurs the question, “How many of you guys have not figured out how much money you are going to raise”. Far too many hands went up and it struck me that this question is really not given enough attention at all. As bootstrapping entrepreneurs, most of us look to raise a round of capital and more often than not, allocate an arbitrary number as to how much.

He goes on to say “At any moment in time, raise the least amount of money to reach the next moment in time that makes sense.” I thought about that statement for a long while, it made a lot of sense. I believe a majority of technology entrepreneurs envision raising millions of dollars and hopefully morphing into something like Google. We jump the gun, and this has been repeated time and time again by successful entrepreneurs;  raising “too much” funding” plays against you. By setting your round requirements with a tangible milestones that can take you to the next level, forces you to focus on creating a realistic trajectory for your business. Raising a round of funding is not an exit for the entrepreneur, it is actually an additional responsibility, that must be shouldered to reach the next milestone.

In conclusion, the ability to answer the above question, with a methodical and structured plan, will give a much more positive and reassuring signal, rather than telling an investor that you need to raise $X to reach the next milestone. Articulating your vision, as well as not forgetting to bootstrap, will not only help you validate your idea faster, it will enable you to remain agile and be able to pivot when things do not seem to be working as planned.