The Week in Review #16: A Call to be Extraordinary

What does success mean to you? I remember being asked that question by an uncle when I was barely 12 years old. It seemed like a straight forward question at the time. The world we live in does a great job of projecting what comprises of a successful life. It has the staples of working at a large company, married with kids and living in a beautiful home. Having these basics meant you are were all set for life. Our schools and education system are geared towards preaching this way of life. Resulting in a large majority of people spending their entire lives working towards some else’s perception of success.

In recent years something interesting has started to happen. We have transcended the basic requirements outlined by Abraham Maslow, leading us to question this definition of success. Everyday people are choosing to take the path less traveled. The one where we give ourselves the highest probability of living a life of greater significance. Where we care about something that is larger just ourselves and our selfish pursuits. The highlighted article does a great job of breaking success down and allowing us to see it through a variety of lenses.

We are living in exciting times. Where technology and science has enabled a single person to alter the way the world works. With the growing pains of humanity, we owe it the world and ourselves to dare to be extraordinary.

The Economics of You: A Call to Be Extraordinary “Personal value is very much tethered to not only how we view ourselves as being successful, but how we actually feel when we experience some form of success.” This quote stood out for me when I was reading through this great article. This article is a fantastic read and forces us to think about the life we are living. I hope you will take the time out to give it a read.

30 Startup Lessons Another one of my favorite types posts, where the author has outlined 30 lessons from the trenches. “The best startup pieces of advice I’ve found are stories from other founders. Taking the best out of them and learning is a continuous challenge.” I completely agree with this lesson. I always have an eye out for such stories and have learnt the most from them.

How to Failure-proof your Business with Customer Development This article is part of the evergreen series that runs every week. I find these posts very informative as the authors spend a lot of time curating the best links regarding the topic. This week it is all about how to validate your business before you get started. This is a process that is part art and part science. Lots of great resources and links are shared. A post every entrepreneur should bookmark for future reference.

3 Better Questions to Ask in User Interview This post builds on the article mentioned above. Asking the right questions during customer development is key. The three questions mentioned in this post will make sure you get started in the right direction.

Top Selling Techniques from 6 Sales Masters Sales is the life blood of any startup. This is a skill which is not taught at universities or school. We can only acquire it by doing the work and going out there and selling ourselves. Learning from the best is often a great way how to avoid amateur mistakes and this post provides six great takeaways. For someone just getting started with sales this is a great resource.

Focus Your Startup Marketing on the Mind, not the Product The stories we share about our startup can make or break our company. This post talks in great detail how to position your startup and story. Many new startups often forget about the narrative and purely focus on the features and benefit. The author shares some great examples to get your creative juices flowing.

How to Impress an Interviewer There are a host of articles written on how to ace an interview. While we are busy figuring out how we will answer the latest brain teasers, we often overlook the bigger picture. The author talks in great detail about the importance of self awareness in this post. She mentions a great process on how we can improve our level of self awareness. Whether you are applying for a job or going to be starting your own company, this is key to your future success.

Wishing everyone a great week ahead!

Overcoming the Execution Gap

With the new year in full swing, many of us may have set goals towards what we aspire to achieve in 2013. However, there is a big difference between setting goals and achieving them. Essentially the execution gap in the middle is where many fall. In 2013 you may want to become healthier, boost your business forward or write the book that you have always wanted to. These are good goals to work towards but in order to be truly committed about this we need to over come the execution gap.

Here are three steps to get you started:

Continue Reading….

Is it Urgent or Important?

Time management is one of the greatest challenges that entrepreneurs face. With a constant flux of incoming and outgoing requests, it often becomes difficult to focus on the long term. This results in short term wins, it does however leave the business at a long term disadvantage. I liked the video attached above. Compartmentalizing your day and ensuring that you put aside adequate time to think about long term implications of your decisions is critical.

Clearly Define Success

It is the first week of January. It is a time when we all have this blank slate in front of us, which is 2011. Our actions in this first month will however, have a major impact on what we end up achieving this year. I believe that New year resolutions are personal promises, made to ourselves, and can have long term benefits. During this period I also write down very specific goals of what success should look like this year in the businesses that I run.

We all hope to double our revenue growth, increase profit margins or get outside investment to accelerate our growth path. However, what you need to do is be realistic about where you are and what you can actually achieve this year. This can only happen by taking stock of where you are first. How did you do in 2010? What were your sales figures? What are your profit margins at? How many customers did you bring on and how many did you lose? Depending on your business, take key metrics and set specific and realistic goals that you will work towards in 2011.

Create a roadmap for 2011, this will help towards achieving a much higher probability of making meaningful strides towards growing your business to where you want it to go. This exercise beats pulling random numbers and lofty goals without taking into account whether they are achievable or not. Wishing all my readers the best of success in the new year!

5 Mistakes to Avoid as an Entrepreneur

mistake

As humans we are bound to make mistakes. What really impacts us negatively is, when we do not learn from our mistakes, and continue to repeat them over and over again. As entrepreneurs this can be very costly, in the end this is the reason why some of us succeed, and some do not. Listed below are some of the bigger mistakes I have made in the past, thankfully I have learned from them .

Not Listening: When we are on a roll, or think we know more than almost anyone else in the room, we make our biggest mistakes. When I was very young, my grandfather would tell me we have been given thirty teeth to guard one tongue, and two ears in wisdom and for a reason. I did not fully understand what he was saying till much later. However, after making a series of mistakes that could easily have been avoided by actually listening to some of my mentors, advisors and friends, instead of saying I knew it all and better, I began to truly appreciate the wisdom of those words.

Lack of Focus: Getting distracted is something I think entrepreneurs suffer from, more than anyone else. Any new project excites us to the extent that we drop whatever else we are doing, to move onto the next big thing. This leaves a trail of semi finished products/services that could have been so much more. My advice to all new entrepreneurs is, select one project and give it all that you have. Building one company successfully is a huge challenge. Make sure it gets your undivided attention.

Incorrect Niche Selection: This mistake hurts a lot ! If you get this one wrong, a domino effect follows. I repeatedly see entrepreneurs picking niches that are too small, or saturated. Doing your market research upfront, and picking the right niche , can be the difference between success and failure.

Cash Flow Mismanagement: Spending money is easy. Spending money wisely, is a long learning curve . Countless times I have seen new startups spend way too extravagantly in the beginning, well before they have any customer. As they progress, further mistakes made in mismanagement of credit terms and sales cycles, put enormous pressure on the company as a whole. Cash flows represent your life line in the world of entrepreneurship. Once it runs out, the end becomes almost inevitable.

Giving up too early/too late: If you have not read “The Dip” by Seth Godin, I strongly recommend you do so. First things first, startups on average take a minimum of 24 months to gather traction, make sure you can commit that much time to your venture. I see too many people quitting way to early when things do not go as planned. Get used to things not going as planned….if you cannot, I recommend you choose another line of work. On the other hand, when things are obviously not working after 36+ months, it may be wise to throw in the towel, analyze what went wrong, and learn from your mistakes.

These are some common mistakes that end up costing entrepreneurs dearly. Which mistakes would you add to this list ? I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Setting Revenue Targets

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Earlier on I used to think that setting monetary revenue targets would help provide a tangible goal for everyone on the team to want to achieve. We all know we need sales and revenue to survive, but I thought putting a number to it would make it easier to imagine. The problem that occurred in this most of the time was, it constrained everyone on the team to a certain degree. If the target was $100k then we would be looking to close medium to larger sized accounts which would help us get to our target in time. If the targets were not challenging enough, the team would not really push itself to do the best they could. Finding the right number turned out to be a lot more challenging than we thought it would be.

When I began experimenting with not setting any revenue targets, and focusing instead on closing as much business as we could at regular intervals, things started to do a lot better. We began focusing on a couple of key accounts to gather momentum, and used that traction to push ourselves even harder the next time. On an average results started to get better, and the pressure of hitting specific numbers or achieving a quota was lifted. However, this strategy did not work with all types of teams. In order to keep pushing oneself, a certain amount of perseverance and self discipline is required. Some teams misuse the lack of accountability to not bring in required sales to keep the business alive. In this scenario, the story ends badly for everyone involved, as sales is the life blood of any business, without sales you cannot exist.

Even if one does not use specific revenue targets, I have found it useful to have team discussions on how many customers we need to close, in order to generate enough momentum to start closing at a faster pace. Does your business require one big reference customer which will make it easier for you to sell to the others? Do you need to show a certain track record with a number of implementations before your solutions can be trusted? The number of sales needed for your business to generate enough momentum to make the sales process easier and faster, is dependent on your particular product/service. What is your businesses magic number?

Dealing with Curve Balls

The pitch

Every once in a while life throws something at us, when we least expect it. Sometimes, it makes you lose your balance, and fall off the path you were hell bent on pursuing. Sometimes, it is a necessary reality check, to help us re-focus on the things that really do mean a lot to us. In every curve ball that has come my way, I have found a much needed reality check, to help me understand what I am doing and where I am headed. The whole notion of maintaining balance in your life and entrepreneurship continues to baffle, and often elude me. Although I do get shot down with curve balls, every time I find myself on the floor, I can’t wait to get up again and do it that much better the next time around.

Entrepreneurship is akin to a highly addictive drug, and has the capability of consuming you inside out. It does sometimes cause us to lose perception on some the larger building blocks of a normal life. Those of us who take this path have to make this choice. It does make me realize, that if you actually find something to do every single day, that you are passioonate about, even if you don’t get paid for it; the imbalance often seems worth it. We are all trapped and part of a world where we are trained from very young ages, to be someone, or achieve something. Essentially, we are more often then not, trained to be just another brick in
the wall. This path does not however train us adequately to deal with curve balls, when they come our way (albeit at a lower frequency due to the relatively balanced lifestyle). However, when they do come, we get hit fairly hard, more so since we are not expecting them, and many a time we do not have a good enough reason to stand up again.

Dealing effectively with curve balls, comes with experience. It requires us to fall, it is true, but only to stand up stronger. The first couple of times it hurts a lot, and we begin to ask ourselves fundamental questions regarding our purpose in life, and what we are actually doing. They force us to evaluate where we are, and where we want to be. In my experience, the people who are able to get up faster, are those who have found something to hold on to. Call it passion, love or the thrill of winning. The deal is, you need to get into the game, rather than sitting by the sidelines watching life pass you by.