Relationships Built on Air

2011 is shaping up to be one of the busiest years I have ever had. Projects that I had started working on years ago, are finally starting to pay dividends and Identifii keeps on growing! Looking at Fred Wilson, Brad Feld & Seth Godin’s daily blogs I am always humbled at their ability to blog everyday. A pattern that is clearly visible in their blogs is that there is always some immediate context to what they write about daily and that is something that I hope to incorporate more.

Today I received the following message:

Dear Usman, SInce I have never heard back from you I do understand that there had been no serious contact from your side in regard my application. I consider there is at this point also no interest to remain in contact for any other mutual co-operation. Wish you best of luck in your future.

This is a person who connected with me out of the through a weak acquaintance and wanted me to assist her in finding a relevant position in the Middle East. I sent her details to a couple of people, however there was no interest. After that life moved on and today, probably 7 – 8 months after no contact I get the following skype message, not an email. 

I found the message very interesting. It epitomizes the notion of a one sided transactional relationship.

If someone wants to learn how to build a strong network of contacts, this is exactly the opposite of what should be done. Building a strong network requires you to be available and to give to others rather than to always want something back from the other person. Building a relationship where you are constantly seeking to add value is hard and takes time. At the same time, that network becomes the most powerful asset you have. Always look for ways to add value when establishing new relationships, rather than activating the network when you need them for something,

Taking your Business Global

going global

The world is becoming seemingly smaller by the day, with new technologies allowing us to make connections with just about anyone from anywhere on the planet. Globalization, as a topic, has been talked about endlessly, and everyone has been affected by its influence to a certain extent. As an entrepreneur, it’s implications have been enormous, however, I do not think that most entrepreneurs are taking adequate advantage of the tools that we have at our disposal today.

I believe taking your business global must be a integral strategy and should be adopted from the very beginning of your venture. Thinking about expanding overseas when you have X number of clients, or have $X in revenue, is putting yourself at a huge unnecessary disadvantage when compared to your competitors. Looking at business plans today, I am seeing an increasing trend in the way businesses are positioning themselves to facilitate overseas growth right from the get go. Here are some things you should be doing as well:

1. Similar Market Identification: Start looking for parallels in the type of markets that you serve locally in the regions that surround you. For example,being based out of Singapore, one can start looking at how one’s product/services can be promoted to huge markets like Indonesia, Malaysia & Thailand. Singapore is miniscule in size when compared to these countries. By focusing on these markets concurrently, you can achieve escape velocity at a much faster pace. Identify markets where your product/services can be marketed, without too many modifications, and start making inroads.

2. Leveraging on Social Networks: Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter and a bunch of localized social/business networks provide the ability to identify prospects in our highest priority overseas region. Start cultivating these relationships as soon as possible. It does not matter that you plan on entering the market 6 months later. By building relationships with these contacts, we position ourselves a lot better than someone who just drops by their office cold, without any history.

3. Conferences & Trade Shows: Search for events taking place in your niche, in the regions you have an interest in. These networking events provide qualified prospect lists of customers and vendors, that are potential partner material. Traveling and taking part in such events is expensive and time consuming. As a startup, with limited funds, make sure you do your research well on events you want to take part in. At such conferences, network extensively, not just a collecting name cards strategy, but actual connections with people. 5 meaningful connections are far greater than a 100 name cards.

4. Partnerships: When selecting partners in a new region, do your best to avoid any agreements that may get you locked in with exclusivity contracts etc. On the surface, these may appear to be ideal platforms to enter the market in, however, until you have a good working relationship established, do you best to keep things as open as possible.

These are just some initial steps to start thinking in the right direction on how to take your business global. Do you have any experiences regarding taking your business global? What were the challenges you faced? How did you overcome them? Look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Do I need a Co-Founder?

co founders

This question always spurs an interesting debate. Specially when the individual concerned has the skills to build a business himself, but realizes that getting another person to join in will help liquidate his/her stake in the company. I believe both sides can be argued for. A lot also depends on the circumstances, and type of business that one is starting. However, in most circumstances, I would tend to favor having a co-founder, rather than going it alone. Some major reasons for this are:

1. The ability to convince one, or more, smart individuals to help build your company, validates your idea to a certain degree. If you are a sole founder, this is something that you will not always be able to assess, which leaves one in a vacuum, assuming that the concept is going to be the next big thing!

2. By doing it all oneself, we sacrifice the ability to excel at one thing. Each of us has one or a few core strengths that we excel at. By having co-founders who complement us, we can develop our strengths, with our partners neutralizing areas we are not so strong in. This helps form a stronger and more cohesive team.

3. Building a company from scratch is extremely tough. We need someone there to lean on, often just provide support when the chips are down. When stuck in a predicament, a co-founder often helps us see the bigger picture, and bounce off ideas.

4. When you want to raise funding for your startup, VCs and investors strongly favor funding teams, rather than sole founders. From the investors point of view, a team has the potential to get a lot more done as compared to a single person. In addition, the pressures of a startup, make it a risky investment as a sole founder set-up only.

The main challenge is finding the right partners. Partnering with the wrong person, will negate all the above points , which will in turn start to work against us, placing us in far more vulnerable positions. I always follow my 8 point checklist when evaluating new partners. It has been a great help to me.

What do you think? Do you think going it alone is the answer? Why?

Related Posts:

How to pick a co-founder

Beginner’s guide to finding the right business partner

Speaking Your Mind


Speaking one’s mind is something a lot of us do our best to avoid in many situations. In some situations it is not the ‘correct’ thing to say, and in others we fear the other person may react adversely so we choose the safer path. The problem with the safer path is that it is a temporary illusion. A mirage of sorts, which leads us to believe that we can keep some things bottled up inside and they will not manifest themselves in some other form in the future. This is where a host of problems stem from, and then snowball into much more complicated issues. I have spoken about the importance of candor in your organization in the past. I think this concept has great implications outside your organization as well. Speaking one’s mind in many of the situations we face daily will not just help us sleep better at night, it will drastically reduce the stress and frustration factor in our lives.

Undoubtedly easier said that done! No one wants to be the one who says things without realizing or taking implications into account. However, I think a balance needs to be struck here. I do believe that often out of respect, as also due to some social graces and norms, we should not be saying everything that comes to our mind. There are however many exceptions to this rule! Particularly in relationships, be they business or personal, where not speaking your mind has the potential to create further complications down the road. It could be a situation where the other person is just not correctly understanding your point of view or position, and you continue to keep quiet just to keep the status quo. These are two very common scenarios that tend to lead to many sticky situations.

The rule of thumb should be, when you feel and think that speaking your mind can potentially benefit the relationship in the long term but with short term repercussions, you should go for it. How will you know when the time is appropriate ? You won’t….this comes with experience, and understanding such situations better. So if something is eating you up inside, there is no better time than now to do your best to resolve the issue.

Why Are You Hiring a Friend?


I wrote a popular series last year that had to do with doing business with friends and family. I shared some of the ground rules I use when doing business with them and some of my experiences . I see this inclination over and over again, we want to do business with friends because it is the easiest way to get started. There is a reasonable trust base in place in this scenario, we have a good idea about the person, and if one is observant we usually know our friend’s strengths and weaknesses. Personally, over the years, I have found the idea of working with friends and family not the optimal way to go.

We hire friends and they join our teams primarily because they are our friends and we know them. A startup only needs to hire more staff or add partners when the business requires it, when there is a business need that needs to be fulfilled and is currently not being served adequately. We have to understand that a business or startup is a serious matter and not a place for friends to ‘hang out’ together. I am sure you agree there are more interesting things to do with friends than start a company.

I recommend using my 8 characteristic checklist, or making your own, based on skills you require. Network excessively and find the right people, those who will bring the skills you need to the table. These will be individuals with different insights and points of views. In essence, they may have the same goals as you, but they may not be ‘like’ you. Putting an initial team together is by far the most critical step in the early stages. Mistakes at this level have enormous repercussions in the future. Do not partner with or hire a friend because they are like you, or that it is easy, make sure you do it for the right reasons.

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5 Steps to Deal with Difficult People

“Logic: The art of thinking and reasoning in strict accordance with the limitations and in-capabilities of human misunderstandings.” Ambrose Bierce

One of the habits that Stephen Covey advocates in his book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”. If there is one piece of advice I would give anyone to deal effectively with difficult people, it would be this. It is an extremely simple concept on the surface. When we look deeper and ask ourselves whether we practice it, most of us would have to respond in the negative. We are more often than not, quick to use our frames of reference and perceive the situation solely from our own angles. Before we go about labeling individuals as difficult, it is important to first understand where they are coming from and what the main drivers behind their behaviors are? Only then, can we deal with the situation effectively.

Listed below are five steps to use as a mental checklist when dealing with a difficult person:

1. Understanding Personality Types: Identify the type of person you are dealing with, only then can you determine the best way to work with this person. It is important not to get frustrated during the exploratory stage of the personality type. This is not the easiest of processes, keeping your cool and emotional quotient under control will help you reach the most effective way of dealing with them in the shortest period of time. To learn more about the different personality types please click here.

2. Understanding the Situation: Before jumping into an argument, take time out to listen to the other person. Understanding their perspective and position on a particular situation is important. Instead of pushing our judgements onto them, we need to give them adequate room to share their point of view with us. We also need to evaluate our attitude towards the type of person and situation. How do we react usually? Are we using any negative frames of reference which make matters worse? Lastly, we need to take into account any external factors which may have triggered the situation. To learn more about understanding the situation correctly please click here.

3. Mental Game Plan: Prior to initiating a conversation, we need to ensure a clear head. Next, develop a couple of critical points to focus on during the course of the discussion, to help reach a mutually agreeable decision. Keep a laser like focus on the type of end result you are looking for. Visualize it before hand if possible, this specific exercise has helped me greatly. To learn more about devising a mental game plan please click here.

4. Language & Tone: When dealing with a difficult person, we need to keep our language and tone in check. What usually happens is, when certain buttons are pushed we tend to go on autopilot, and respond in a manner which may not be optimal. Keeping a strict control on the choice of words, sarcasm and the tone in which to conduct a conversation is critical. To learn more about the proper use of language and tone in a such discussions please click here.

5. Emotional Control: This step is by far the most critical aspect of having an effective discussion with a difficult person. During the course of a heated discussion, our emotional thresholds are often breached. When such an event takes place it has the potential to trigger an adverse reaction. Hence, we need to be aware of our personal thresholds, and develop adequate responses when they are breached. To learn more about how to control one’s emotions please click here.

This mental checklist has helped me deal with difficult people most effectively. In business we will often have to work with challenging individuals. The important thing is to keep one’s focus, practice patience and work towards a mutually beneficial end goal. I would be very interested to hear about your experiences with difficult people and your comments on how you dealt with them. What were specific challenges? How did you overcome them? I look forward to hearing from you.

Emotional Control

“Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion and knowledge.” Plato

I have talked about the importance of emotional control in prior posts in this series. I think it deserves its own section as well because dealing with difficult people is an extremely challenging exercise without control. A lot has been written about the importance of emotional control in life. It is a key component and defines successful people who have an inherent ability or have cultivated one to shrug of nasty comments or asides without taking it personally. Not all of us possess the patience to react with poise and calm in difficult times. It is important to learn through mistakes we make when our threshold levels are tested.

A couple of important factors to understand in how to effectively control one’s emotions are:

1. Self Awareness: Whenever an event takes place in our life we interpret it cognitively, process it emotionally and take a particular action. Much of the time specific events trigger automatic emotional responses which may be a result of specific past experiences. Self awareness of automatic responses is vital to control our actions to the best of our abilities. This is a first step in taking greater control of our emotions.

2. Emotions & Value Systems: Stephen Covey has suggested in his book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” that one must analyze our emotions through the lens of our value system, what we believe in, who we are and who we want to be. For example, if we believe in looking at the best in people and we encounter an individual who only looks for flaws, such an encounter may trigger a negative action. We need to constantly remind ourself of our beliefs and tailor our emotional responses accordingly.

3. Identify Thresholds: All of us have personal and emotional threshold levels. When that threshold hold is reached, we can either stay in the conversation and tune out, leave the conversation and come back later or leave altogether. Depending on the situation and tolerance of threshold level, we can choose one of these three responses. It is important to make this decision in order to act in a manner keeping with our beliefs.

4. Personal Comments: During heated conversations with difficult people, be prepared to take some low blows. This is how the person is attempting to instigate a response to bring you to his/her level. All of us have points, which when pushed, can set us off. We need to learn control even when they are pushed, it is a small price to pay to reach an early agreement. If however the level of personal comments reach an unacceptable threshold level, we then need to take appropriate action.

Controlling emotions and behavior to the best of one’s ability is a responsibility for each and everyone of us. It is much easier to be the person who flares up and goes on a raving rant, than to be the one who has the patience and emotional control to weather such flare ups. My journey as an entrepreneur presents many such situations often on a daily basis, these require and help me to think through things with an emotionally balanced perception. The moment we let our emotions slip, we make decisions that could potentially be disastrous for future business.