The end of the year is as good a time as any other to take stock. As I get working on my first full length novel (set in 16th century Vijayanagara, India) and business book (on selling your company happily) I felt it might be useful to look at what people have found useful or read most on my blog.
Over the last three years, the top two posts, every year have been
Having recently traveled overseas, the wife and I have been struggling with jet lag. In an attempt to stay awake, yet warm we snuggled up on the couch and tried to find something good to watch. Mr. Church was what we ended up watching. Many times before the movie ended, my wife said, “This is one of the best movies I’ve seen. No movie has affected me like this.”
As with every family or even any two people, we struggle to find movies or shows that we’d both enjoy. The one thing we’ve learnt is that reviews do little for us. Silence, one of the worst movies we’d ever caught had a high Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic score. On the other hand Mr. Church had a poor Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes score. We’ve found escapist fare, preferably not something that will drag us down (Season 3 of Wanted) and short (90 minutes or less) is what works for us. So when we tuned into Mr. Church we weren’t sure what to expect, and were fully prepared to abandon it to our second choice, if it failed to hold us.
Mr. Church didn’t fail us—it held us enthralled. Both of us found ourselves getting drawn in and teary and a little choked up in places. Above all, we’d inadvertently learned our first lesson of 2019.
We are so blessed for all the wonderful people in our lives.
We need to cherish the people—our neighbors in Bangalore and Columbus, our children and parents, family—the numerous cousins, classmates and colleagues in our lives. And for just being there.
As entrepreneurs, I know we’ve all certainly taken people for granted. Whether our partners, employees, advisors, partners or suppliers. Even when we’ve been appreciative of them, we’ve not appreciated the people in our personal lives.
Mr. Church, with its simple, yet moving story of the two protagonists reminded us to be grateful for the blessing that people in our lives are. We couldn’t have started the new year better
The family and I had to make an unplanned trip overseas due to a parent’s minor medical emergency. Shutting down our house, packing for travel and all the other many minutiae of last minute travel was stressful. So to keep our sanity, the wife and I made list of the top 1, 2 and 3 things we’d like to have accomplished during the trip. This is an exercise we’ve found helps us both stay focused and reduce the stress of dealing with change that’s inevitable from having aging parents and young adults.
Many unexpected and not-always-pleasant things happened during our trip—from one of our kids getting a nasty strain of flu to home aides quitting making parental post-operative care difficult. So our way back to the airport, as we listed all that we got accomplished and were surprised at all that we’d been able to accomplish, despite the low bar we’d set for ourselves. As we dug deeper, we realized that as always we had much to be grateful for. Some of these lessons are applicable just as much for our businesses as to our daily lives.
Goals – have few, finite and clear goals and de-prioritize all else
People – put people first and this will always pay off
Self-care – take care of yourself; short breaks go a long way
Goal clarity By keeping three things, as the primary outcomes, whenever we encountered a fork (or plain temptation) we were able to pick the right things (or say no) without dithering or guilt (both hard when family’s involved). Surprisingly, this provided us sufficient wiggle room to get other things accomplished (eight at last count on the airplane back).
People focus By keeping people as our primary focus, we not only had fulfilling and meaningful interactions but once again got more accomplished as the people we met with sought, often of their own volition, to get things off of our plate. In a few instances we were able to actively help them, but in most instances, the joy of meeting one another was both fun and de-stressing that our productivity bloomed.
Self-care While visiting India is always enormously enjoyable, between others and one’s own expectations, real-world constraints not limited to traffic, bureaucracy, and inertia can render the simplest thing challenging. And that’s when the family is not involved. So accepting that there are constraints and it is okay to retreat and seek some time for yourself to recharge is not easy. Even the occasional 10-minute power nap or 2-hour curling with your e-reader recharges and lets you come out roaring.
Last week, I shared some of the insights that Bea Wolper, entrepreneur and lawyer focused on family businesses, shared with my class. An area of special interest for Bea is how succession happens well (or not) in family businesses. She shared the four critical steps for succession (which is rarely seamless) to happen well. Upon discussing this with some of my students, it dawned on me, that this is just as applicable to startups and non-family businesses as well. And not just in a founder or CEO transition, but for any major role in a business – such as HR, Marketing or Sales heads.
Ownership In a family business this is usually a controlling interest. In a startup or other enterprises, this is equity with the potential for significant upside. As Bea pointed out this is the easiest to “do” – you sign a piece of paper and it’s done. This is however only a necessary condition and not sufficient. If you do this alone, it is almost always going to result in failure.
Knowledge Change is never easy. Having a new person in charge without equipping them with everything that your organization and you know is dooming them to fail. This ranges from how things are done, who does them, how they are done and why they are done (or not) the way they are. I have walked into marketing positions, with nary an introduction to existing customers, current prospects and can tell you it’s not fun. Successful organizations, debrief and even put together a “Bluebook” of everything the person leaving the position knows for their successor. Ideally, you have a team, including the person presently playing the role do an ongoing knowledge transfer for the successor.
Relationships The old cliché “business is all about relationships” is true. So formally introducing the new person to key employees, key customers and of course key business partners—starting with bankers, component suppliers, channel partners is vital for success.
Authority This is where the rubber meets the road and even well run companies stumble. When you promote someone or hire someone new, but other employees still come to you or their old boss or colleague, you’ve not handed authority. Most times the founder/entrepreneur is the problem (or “Dad” in the family business) when he is not willing to relinquish his authority. So the new person while having the title has little or no actual authority – or what he has is undermined by others.
As you can see any one of these, even when you’ve done the other three well can cause your executives to fail. I’ve been guilty of violating every one of these, at one point or the other. Which ones have you not been giving adequate attention to?
One of the joys of teaching is the opportunity to invite guest speakers who bring their experience and insights alive for the class. The speakers have the added advantage of being a “guest” lecturer and their message not only sounds new but resonates well. I was fortunate to have Bea Wolpert, an amazing entrepreneur, lawyer and woman leader. Over an hour, Bea in her inimitable style—reality laced with humor and self-deprecation—shared her own experience as a lawyer and entrepreneur as well as the stories of some of her entrepreneur clients. I realized her stories and insights serve well as advice for most prospective and practicing entrepreneurs. Here they are
Purpose Be purpose-driven – It’s well worth figuring out what are you passionate about. Pursue that passion rather than money alone – be it dog-walking, raising Labradoodles or being a chef or lawyer (all examples she illustrated)
Relationships Work on building authentic relationships – these take time and will pay off in spades
Give forward Focus on giving something of value first – people will automatically seek more and become customers. This could be a blog, seminar or webinar, free consultation, or samples at farmers markets – make it easy to buy from you.
Sales Recognize your job is selling – not just being a chef, designer, lawyer and learn to become good at it.
Numbers Business is about numbers – so the more you learn to understand numbers – costs, profit & loss the better off you will be
Commitment Be all-in. Don’t expect a bank (or anyone else, except a parent possibly) to fund your company or you, if you are not willing to be all-in and
Plan Whether a business plan for a bank, succession plan for yourself or a marketing plan for the company, planning is both important and will help.
I had been planning to write a piece on how folks are getting off of social media particularly Facebook—from the famous such as Om Malik to a lot of 18 to 29-year olds. Even when people choose to stay on networks (social or professional) it’s hard to maintain the degree of privacy or control they seek. It’s hard for at least two reasons
there’s just a LOT of options, kinds of data, kinds of audiences an and
companies just don’t make it easy for users to turn on or off something.
This became really evident when I tried to help a LinkedIn user yesterday to maintain some contact info private. You’ve have thought that you would go to Settings & Privacy, as I did, and fix it. Well, you’d be wrong, just as I was.
While I consider myself a technophile and an experienced user of LinkedIn – neither a dekko through their settings nor a Google search produced a reliable answer on, “How do I not reveal by birthdate on LinkedIn?” The nearest I got to was this Quora post, and of course, LinkedIn had changed things around again!
The changes range from explicitly leaving out the word Birthday from the options listing, which was tucked away under Contact Info, which was hidden (and not evident at all) under the Intro section of your profile.
and how to get to even this stage. It involved
Selecting View Profile from the Me menu on the top right
Then choosing the Edit (pencil icon) in the Intro section
Scrolling down to the contact info section (above) and choosing the Edit (pencil icon) again
Clicking on the eye icon to now actually select the desired settings for your birthday
It took me nearly 20 minutes to research, test and ensure this works before I could help the original LinkedIn user who’d sought my help. Not cool! LinkedIn you can do better than this!
Twenty-five years after publicly announcing it, at a party in Cupertino, I’ve finally begun to work on my first mystery novel. The visit to Hampi, which ironically I did many years after I had visited Pompeii, was the catalyst to set my murder mystery in early 16th century Vijayanagara. If you think making daily sales calls is hard writing every day is harder still. And I’m not even talking about writing well, just putting words on paper.
As entrepreneurs, we have to be storytellers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about making stuff up. Each day, whether we are trying to hire a new person, motivate an employee who can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, persuade an investor to make a bridge investment or trying to get a customer to buy or better yet pay us an advance, we are trying to persuade others. Make no mistake, persuasion is selling. In a manner of speaking, we are all sales folks. The sooner we accept it, the sooner we can get better at it.
It’s no accident that the best sales folks are good great storytellers. Here’s the good news, like most things storytelling is a learned skill. With a little attention to how others do it and a good deal of practice, we can all get better at it. November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) – and there’s no reason you can’t make a resolution or start a new habit on the 1st of November. Make improving your storytelling skills a goal. Notice I say improving, for we are all natural storytellers. Any time you’ve tried to lie to your mom, or a friend or fudged the facts with your spouse (none of which you’ve ever done of course!), you were telling a story—not necessarily well. Let’s get started. One of the simplest and most fun ways to do this is to join a ToastMaster’s club near you. Your storytelling will get better (mine certainly did) but at the very least you’ll make some new friends. It never hurts to have a life (and a few friends) outside of our businesses.
To make things easy for you, I’m sharing one video (below) and one article.- Get rolling.
Every year I try to learn something new – be it a skill, a tool or just some facts. 2018 has been a time of great learning, thanks to my daughter, I wanted to share two tools that I’ve learned about from her and since put to good use for myself and customers.
Canva, as my primary online visual design tool – from making Twitter or web post headers, webinar announcements to trifold brochures and even eBook cover design, this has been an amazing tool where every day I’m discovering more. Here are some examples
Tableau as my data visualization tool has similarly been a much used for not just number crunching, but being able to create excellent visualizations as well as insights that aren’t always self-evident from staring at the data in Excel.
Here are two examples
The kicker is, both of them are available online, easy-to-use and you can get started for free. They also have great online communities that can help you get up the learning curve fast. So give them a spin today and share your own favorite tools in the comments.
The article asserts “The reason for this high churn rate is that young professionals come to startups for all the wrong reasons.” While understanding why startups, particularly in India, are having this employee turnover problem is important, it’ll have to wait for another post. What should startups do to retain the employees they already have?
As Lao-Tzu (or was it Confucius?) put it “When the student is ready, the master will come,” my daughter shared this video by Amy Cole, CEO of Amy Cole Connect, on 4 Tips to Retain Your Talent. For those of you who are too busy (really!) to watch the 2.5 minute video, here’s the TL;DR version
Excitement – are you exciting your team members from the day they come on board? Many simple things can make the job and your company exciting – do it!
Engagement – how are you engaging your team – making their job meaningful and laying context rather than assuming they’ll stay motivated and engaged
Encouragement – are you explicitly encouraging them – from paying attention to active inputs, are you helping them grow and not taking them for granted
Empowerment – do you trust and provide them flexibility, as long as the work get done? Are you all about control and not empowering them?
Regardless of our job role, one skill every one of us needs is storytelling. The truth is we are all born with it, but let’s just say some of us are a little rougher around the edges. Having spent most of my time around tech folks, I suspect we probably beat this skill out of them which is why so many presentations we sit through or documents we read, make us at the very least drowsy — some even maybe put us in a coma. These same people, when you observe them talking to friends or colleagues can be greatraconteurs. Some of this comes from just not having performance anxiety that presentations induce in all of us. So without having a few libations how do we spin a good yarn? And particularly in a business context how do ensure that we’ve provided our listeners or readers something of value – that elusive takeaway?
Here’s what I’ve learned.
A. Begin with the end in mind I’ll use the example of a seminar or webinar that you intend to host. Write down the one takeaway that your listener or audience walks away with – it could range from broad statements or highly specific
Entrepreneurship is hard – so you’d better be certain, what it is your passion? And why you are doing this?
Good leaders recognize strategy is as much about deciding what NOT to do, as it is about what it is you’ll do
Writing 1000 words every day is the key to finishing your book – then all you have to do is edit it
Measuring ROI on your GIS project can seem hard but it’s not rocket science – here’s how our customers are doing it
B. Use the power of three While scientists and psychologists thought that the human brain can hold only 5-7 things at a time, newer research suggests that number might actually be (gasp) 4! So why risk it? I find if you break down things into three chunks, they are a lot easier to hold at least in my easily distracted mind. Now break it down into three chunks. Sticking with the entrepreneurship or leadership theme,
Context: Set the stage – often best set as a story – that usually illustrates or reinforces a widely held belief. How Steve Jobs had a mythical touch when building products or how Unilever or P&G were masters of strategy leading to their success; Or why government projects are always a boondoggle, like the Big Dig in Boston
Counterpoint – core premise: Is that really the case? Here are eight products that Steve Jobs launched with much fanfare and failed miserably at; here are the huge missteps P&G made and here’s what we’ve learned from NASA’s space mission, which has had minuscule failure rates – so here’s the takeaway – entrepreneurship is hard, there will be naysayers, you’ll fail before you succeed, so you’d better know what your passion is about, if you wanna be able to stick with it
Break it down: Offer an actionable set of things that they can do – how can they realize this core premise you’ve made? Maybe it’s a checklist – that helps them understand themselves better? It’s reading of case studies – of how other entrepreneurs succeeded (or better yet failed and recovered), followed by a checklist.
C. Challenge your audience This is what we marketers term the Call to action! This could be as simple as inviting questions that allows them to challenge your assertions or having them take the first step (“What will you do differently tomorrow morning, because of what you learned here”) The key here is that this doesn’t remain your story but one that compels them to action – ideally an action that benefits them. Of course, if it benefits you whether purely psychically (I did some good!) or professionally (lands you a consulting gig or job) that’s icing on the cake. As my father tried to teach me, “Give first before you ask.”
Here’s a great presentation on how one technical guy (Claudio Perrone akaAgileSensei) went from being just a dude to a compelling storyteller to even cynical technical folks).
Over the last several years, I have written about startups, entrepreneurship and business in general in the Hindu BizLine and Wall St. Journal. I have compiled these for easy access in the column below.