3 Steps to Becoming an Effective Listener

Listening intentlyHow often have you found yourself tapping your feet impatiently, as you waited for the another person who as speaking to either pause or wrap, before jumping in with your own point of view? if you are like me, you may even end up interrupting the other person. Never mind, if we fully heard let alone understood what the other person was saying, before we are countering or questioning, what we think they said. This can be very frustrating for both the speaker and the listener (or interrupter).

Being a good listener, somehow seems a hard trait to come by and with so many of us struggling with it, is it a surprise that few of us are effective listeners? Brian Tracy – sales trainer, inspirational speaker and successful entrepreneur talks of three steps to becoming an effective listener. In the video at the bottom of this post, you can hear him speak on the subject. For those of you who’s rather get the gist of what he says, here it is.

Pause Once the other person has stopped speaking, pause before you speak. This ensures, that you don’t interrupt the other person, in case they are just taking a breath. It shows that you are giving consideration to their words and you’ll actually hear the other person better! So pause first.

Ask Questions to achieve clarity. Open ended questions help the other person expand on their responses and this will help you in turn understand better, what is it that they are saying.

Paraphrase In your words, state what is it you heard them say. Usually a statement such as “What you are saying is _______”,  helps demonstrate that you are paying attention and working at understanding what it is they are saying.

Brian also answers the question Why bother with effective listening?

It makes the speaker, be relaxed and happy which in turn will make them want to be around you.  Listening builds trust and self-esteem in the speaker. It also helps the listener (you) achieve greater self-worth through the practice of self-discipline. Watch the video below to hear this in Brian’s own words.

4 Secrets to Better Sales

Recently LinkedIn opened up their blog post functionality to me – given the larger business audience there, I’d shared 4 Sales Lessons I Gained in Losing 20 Kilos and realized that it might be particularly relevant to startups trying gain traction. Here’s the short abstract.

  • Make every day count – sales is one activity, that you can’t turn on and off, but have to pursue, doggedly, determinedly, daily. No ifs, ands or buts!
  • Plan & start your day early As Brian Tracy says, Eat that Frog – get it done first thing in the morning. An early start will set the tone right for each day – planning makes sure that early start is productive.
  • Measure but in moderation Have specific goals and targets and measure them diligently. Only what gets measured will improve. Don’t go overboard, results are what count, not just the counting
  • Teams make it fun Sales is hard enough with rejections and hang ups – make it easier by working with teams, including partners, customers and competitors and don’t roe a lonely road.

Happy hunting. You can read the full piece here.

10 Non-business Books Every Entrepreneur Should Read

Given how popular 10 Books Every Entrepreneur Should Read has been, I reckoned it would be good to share 10 non-business books that every entrepreneur will do well to read. So here it is.

 

So what would be your favorite non-business book? Join in with your thoughts.

5 steps of a startup

Originally posted on Om Malik:

Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures says startups are like climbing up a flight of stairs and it is a essentially a five step process.  

  1. The first step you need to climb is building a product, getting it into the market, and finding product market fit.  [Seed financing stage]
  2. The second step you need to climb is to hire a small team that can help you operate and grow the business you have now birthed by virtue of finding product market fit. [Series A stage]
  3. The third step you need to climb is to scale that team and ramp revenues and take the market. [Series B stage]
  4. The fourth step you need to climb is to get to profitability so that your cash flow after all expenses can sustain and grow the business. [Series C stage]
  5. The fifth step is generating liquidity for you, your team, and your investors…

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Video

5 Lessons from 40 Years of Entrepreneurship

Romesh Wadhwani, founder and Chairman of the Symphony Technology group, shared five lessons about entrepreneurship that he’s garnered from his 40 years of being one at the recent TiECon 2014 Conference.

His five lessons were:

  1. Creativity Entrepreneurship is about creativity – whether in products, business models, companies. And entrepreneurs need to be creative, passionate and tenacious.
  2. Learning particularly from failures. As he puts it “inside every failure, there are the seeds of future success”
  3. Renewal Even when successful, its important to constant renew and reinvent, to grow and to succeed personally & professionally
  4. Building great companies – entrepreneurship is not (only) about exits. As he puts it “When you build great companies, great outcomes will happen.”
  5. Celebrating success particularly – can be done in a number of ways. Some focused on yourself – whether in things you acquire or do but a better way is to help others – impact the world positively, in whatever manner, big or small. Your legacy is the impact you have on others.

Enjoy the video Romesh’s speech begins at 17m50s !

 

Arista, Uber, Silicon Valley

ksrikrishna:

If as @om says this is bad in the Valley, its 100x worse in India. Our definition of a tech startup leaves much to be desired.

Originally posted on Om Malik:

Last week, at least, to me was perfect illustration of how and what media perceives as technology. Everywhere you looked, you saw coverage of Uber and its ability to raise money at a jaw-dropping valuation ($1.4 billion at a valuation of $18.4 billion) and on the flipside was the miserly amount of attention accorded to Arista Networks, an old fashion, honest-to-god technology company that took no money* from venture capitalists and was co-founded by one of living legends of Silicon Valley that went public earlier this week.

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3 Things To Look for in a Co-founder

Co-founders

Photo: MyTudut

Almost soon as I made the case why you need a co-founder, a friend responded with the question “What should I look for in a co-founder?” While we’ve asked this question of both entrepreneurs and angels, here’s my take on what you need to look for in a co-founder.

Vision Match Building a business is often a long hard journey, and you want to make your that your partner or co-founder shares your vision. As setbacks occur (which they will) or when money seems hard to come by, customers leave, milestones slip or worse yet when things work, and especially when you seem to be making more money than you can keep track of, having a shared vision will ensure that things stay on even keel. If there isn’t a shared vision of why you are running your business and what it is you seek, as a company and as individuals, it will be difficult to survive every fork in the road that you’ll encounter. And you will encounter far more than you can imagine. So make sure your visions match.

Complementary Skills All too often we end up hiring or connecting with people who are just like us. While that’s nice, its far more important to find someone who has complementary skills – someone who’s comfortable talking to prospective customers or selling, if you are building a product. Someone who can manage projects or money, if you are out there focused on selling; someone who’s comfortable writing or documenting while you are out there hustling or building. Usually startups require everyone to be as hands on as they can, especially co-founders and it can really help, if they can do things you can’t or do them better than you can. So make sure that they not only have shared vision but can do things you can’t!

Honest & Open Communication The nature of startups is such that you will screw up. Heck so will your co-founder and more than once. So it’s important that your co-founder and you share a healthy interpersonal relationship – one not just based on mutual trust and but on honest and open communication. If you walk around each other, either too polite to raise uncomfortable topics or avoid conflict or confrontation at all costs, lots of important issues will not get sorted out in a timely manner and that’s something no startup can afford. So it’s really important that you feel comfortable around you co-founder that either one of you can raise issues that bother you and can be talked through to resolution. Only with honest and open communication can you keep one another honest, not to mention your business out of trouble.

Here is Sanjay Anandram’s take on what to look for in a co-founder

Meanwhile to make sure that  your prospective co-founder & you are aligned on

  • a shared vision of the company and its raison d’etre
  • what complementary value each of you bring to the table
  • talking openly and resolving matters through timely and effective communication

So go out there and find that co-founder. Good luck!

3 Reasons Startups Need PR

Public RelationsEvery startup should engage in Public Relations (PR) from day one. Does this mean you hire a PR firm? Absolutely NOT! When you talk about your start up at your local college, a Meetup or a friend’s wedding, you are doing PR.

Of course, as with all such activities, if you do it in a systematic and smart manner it can pay off in a big way. It’s easy (and wrong) to imagine public relations to be a matter of hiring a PR firm and talking to the media. It’s really about letting your stakeholder community know that you exist and shaping their perception of you.

As all-knowing Wikipedia quotes

“The aim of public relations by a company often is to persuade the public, investors, partners, employees, and other stakeholders to maintain a certain point of view about it, its leadership, products, or of political decisions. Common activities include speaking at conferences, winning industry awards, working with the press, and employee communication.”

With that said, here are three reasons for a start up to do PR.

Customers If customer’s haven’t heard of you or know that you exist, it’s hard to get them to buy from you. A well thought-out PR plan, even if executed by one person, usually the founder, can do wonders. This is particularly true for anyone in the B2B business. It’s nice if customers have heard of you before you show up at their doorstep. This can be done in any number of creative and no-money-spent ways from blog posts, contributed articles or op-ed pieces in your local paper, talks at industry bodies or local associations, or newsletters. A side benefit of such PR activity is that you get to practice and refine your company’s story, which is always a good thing. It’s also a great way to figure what resonates with your target audience and in some instances, even refine who your target audience really is!

Employees If you grow, or land that first or tenth customer, you’ll find you’ll want to be attracting employees. Even more importantly, if you’ve hired folks, you’d want to retain them and keep them motivated. Nothing works like seeing your company’s name in the paper, a poster, on the TV or in social media, to both attract and inspire folks. If like most start ups you’re asking them to work hard and make sacrifices then such inspiration is not an option. In time, you can get your team to do the PR, which will help build their own personal brands and bring goodwill and repute to your business.

Investors At some point if you wish to raise money, whether from friends, family or other fools, or professional investors, it helps – much like with customers – if they’ve heard of you. While a lot of ink offers no certainty of raising money, it provides folks the comfort that you’ve been around, survived and hopefully thrived by the time you approach them. The beauty about PR done well is that it allows you to drive the conversation about what your company stands for and sets context, so that you are really not an unknown or worse yet, a . Imisunderstood quantity to prospective investors.

So darn right, as long as you spend a finite amount of time and constantly measure the effectiveness of your activities, I’d assert every start up should invest in public relations from day one!

This post was inspired by a question on Quora

Keep your needs simple – Lessons from my dad

Bench

Photo Credit: visualpanic via Compfight

“Why do you take the bus? Couldn’t you at least take an auto (3-wheeler cab)?”

My father never stopped asking his friend, a Gujarati Jain gentleman, this question each time he visited. Even the times he did come to our doorstep in an auto, my father whispered to me conspiratorially, “He probably took the bus to Adyar and took the auto for the last kilometer.

The said gentleman, had like my dad, landed in Chennai as a teen with less than Rs. 10 in his pocket. He’d then gone on to amass a considerable fortune in the plastics business. Yet, he maintained a disarmingly simple, nearly spartan, lifestyle. While my father pulled his friend’s leg about his frugality, his own actions were not all that different.

As kids we were always embarrassed, when my father would order idli-sambar – steamed rice cakes with spicy lentil – at even the fanciest of restaurants. Likewise we were flummoxed that he’d check in at the 5-Star Taj hotel with his boss, but choose to spend the night at his sister’s duplex in Karol Bagh. It took us more than twenty years to try and get him to wear anything other than the white shirt and pant that he wore every day to work – even then we only managed to get him try solid pastel color shirts!

My dad lived and breathed his belief to keeping his needs simple. Without my realizing it he’d trained me from day one to be an entrepreneur. Not that I was a good student. In my first foray at being an entrepreneur, I blew nearly $250 (yep, dollars) on business cards. Let’s just say I was a slow learner. But luckily I returned to my roots – when we bootstrapped our first startup. We didn’t buy a computer, we didn’t hire a coder – we began pitching customers. We kept it simple – emails and presentations. We operated out of my co-founder’s apartment and held day jobs while we tried to land our first paying customer.

The lesson I learned was not just frugality but to keep every element of life (and business) simple.

Keep your 

  • business simple, so others understand it. Stay focused
  • offerings simple, so customers just get it
  • pricing simple so buying what you sell is easy
  • cash tracking simple – know where it goes, what you need and have
  • organization simple – so your team is clear about their roles & what’s expected of them
  • life simple – early to bed, early to rise, love, affection & exercise

Thanks dad!

3 Steps to Resolving Team Conflicts

Conflict“It’s like we’ve done absolutely nothing these last five years. Everything we’re doing is wrong.” My friend was really upset. His company had just brought on board a new VP of Business Development and looked like the man was not exactly winning minds and hearts.

“Worse yet, he has the right answer for everything. I’m just sick of the guy – I don’t think I can work with him!” It took a while for my friend to calm down and when he did, I realized that he actually agreed with many of the new VP’s observations. In fact he’d been saying some of the very same things, albeit a whole lot more diplomatically and in smaller groups. Why then, was my friend not happy that he had an ally, a senior one at that, to set right the things that he himself thought needed to be fixed?

Team conflicts usually originate when something is said or done. And often, it’s not about what is said, but how it is said. Depending on the level of trust or lack thereof, this gives rise to questions about why it is being said – in other words, motive or intentThe secret to resolving team conflict is to both understand the what, how and why.

Content (the what) As most of our work is done with others, as team mates or in meetings, the ability to communicate clearly with one another is important. What is communicated need not always be agreeable or even acceptable at times. Some of us (or many times our bosses or god forbid, our spouses) go out of our way to avoid disagreements. That’s not a good thing, as healthy disagreements and alternate points of view result in better decision making. So if you don’t like what some one is saying, first examine whether you are disagreeing with the content of their statements. If you are, then a discussion (dare I say argument) or reflection can ensue. If however, as with my friend above, you don’t disagree with what’s being said then it’s time to look at style. 

Style (the how) We’ve all encountered folks who appear to have no filter between their brain and their mouths. So they blurt out things, at times hurtful, make sweeping generalizations and often label – “I can’t believe how lazy he is – why do you let him get away with it?” A lucky few, may be unaware they do this and may require only pointing out to change their communication styles. Other’s may range from a defensive “You know me, I’m blunt!” to combative “That’s they way I’m” all the way to outright denial, “I don’t do that!” What all these folks don’t realize is that the message is lost, because of the their delivery style.  It is critical to address this. People who won’t modify their communication style will not be effective and may be perceived to have an ulterior motive.

Intent (they why) All of us find it hard to hear less-than-pleasant things, especially about ourselves. This could range from the simply social “You have bad breath” to a more career limiting “You never let the other person complete their thought!” When such feedback comes from someone you trust and whose motivations or intent you don’t question, then you are willing to hear what’s said, even if unpleasant.  On the other hand, when the person is either new to us or we encounter a style that’s jarring and not amenable to change, then we question their intent. Why are they doing this – are they being political? Are they actually saying or meaning something else? At this point effective communication has ceased and you have yourself a team conflict.

Successful leaders and teams learn to separate Intent, Style & Content. Once intent is clear and non-negotiable, style issues can be addressed. Then real progress in terms of discussing contentious issues with the necessary focus on content (or what’s being said) can be made.

Addressing style issues will enhancing your team’s effectiveness and not doing so will cause much mayhem as intent is questioned leading to further conflicts.