Lessons start-ups can teach all of us

Stories of entrepreneurial journeys in many ways are not that different from histories written by the victors. Many of them are only slightly better than hagiographic biographies written by adoring admirers. Baskar Subramanian, one of the co-founders of my first start-up is fond of pointing out that once an entrepreneur is successful, he can write the story of his journey in any manner he deems fit. So if a start-up saga contains few mistakes, almost no accidents or lucky breaks, and where every major decision was the result of great strategic thought, you know you are reading a history by the victor. So a bucket of salt may be required when you read such a history or seek to learn from it.

Getting your people to take ownership

This last week I made a mistake for a second time and paid for it dearly. A friend had offered to book a hotel for me and feeling lazier than usual I’d agreed. And when she sent me an email with the reservation I actually felt good, because she’d booked me in a fancy downtown hotel at bargain rates. Of course, only when I showed up at the registration desk did I realize that I’d confused my drachmas for dirhams. So the good deal in a downtown hotel, for what I thought was $100 a night, turned out to be nearly $400. But by then it was too late not just with the non-refundable booking but also on a long day after a long flight with the family in tow. I reckoned might as well have a good time. But I was in for yet another shock. The lady behind the desk had a most snarky attitude. “No! Breakfast is not included with your room. It is $30 per person.” “No, there’s no free wi-fi—$7 for an hour or $15 for a day. By the way that’s per device.”

Put Employees First to Win More Customers

Waiters at French restaurants— maybe only at upscale French restaurants in the US—have a legendary reputation as unfriendly and at times downright disdainful. Of course, waiters across the social spectrum in India could easily teach their French cousins a thing or two about treating customers shoddily. And these are folks in the service business, where … Continue reading Put Employees First to Win More Customers

Learning leadership from business & politics

There are few things that have been written so much about and yet not understood well as leadership - okay possibly parenting, but that's for another place and day. Stop the next six people you encounter today and ask them about their favorite leader and what it is that makes them a great leader. You are likely to get at last six different answers, possibly more. If we dig a little deeper we'll also discover people expect different things from different leaders - as in what constitutes a great statesman, a successful business leader, a politician or a community or social leader. Whilst all this is natural and not unexpected, it is of little help for those of us looking to role models and to answer the question how do I become a leader and what should I do as a leader.

Tales tall and short for every occasion

All of us who’ve children have encountered questions such as “Dad, what’s Avogadro’s number?” or “What makes diamond and graphite different, if they are both made of carbon?” Besides the obvious answer that people seem to prefer to pay a whole lot more for the diamond form of carbon than graphite, our own schooling seems … Continue reading Tales tall and short for every occasion

Playing Corporate Snakes & Ladders

The popular television serial Bones features a female protagonist Dr Temperance “Bones” Brennan, a forensic anthropologist. An immensely intelligent woman capable of formidable physical action, Bones is unbelievably literal and socially inept. While this helps underpin the humour in an otherwise serious criminal investigation series, it also causes much hurt and heartache for the people around her. We’ve all met people like that—incredibly smart, at the top of their game, even good-looking, but utterly lacking in empathy. Yet without these smart people, empathetic or not, it would be difficult to get much of our business or work done. As managers, how do we deal with such folks? Is it possible to get them to develop empathy—for their co-workers and customers at the very least? Historically, the most common method that people have recommended to build empathy has been “walking in the other person’s shoes”. Nothing opens up our eyes, and hopefully our minds, as experiencing what Mischelle goes through every day or what Rajagopal deals with on a daily basis. And in the India of the early 21st century, there is somewhat of a unique challenge.

The Only Business Book You’d Ever Have to Read

A quick glance at a typical entrepreneurs' nightstand will show at least two or three books piled up waiting to be read. Despite their best intentions, entrepreneurs and other business folks often don't get around to reading all the books they plan to. The fact that they are frequently gifted many "must-read" books only adds to the problem. If you thought things were bad before, our friends and sundry experts on Twitter and Facebook who've begun showering all of us with even more recommendations are making matters worse.