First year of entrepreneurship – Learnings

September 4, 2010

One year has passed much faster than I imagined, but it made me wiser ( thats what I think) beyond my expectations. I am trying to share my learnings without being judgemental about other people.

You are alone when it matters most : Even if you may have found support and encouragement from your professional network while making the plans, when it comes to execution you are alone and it becomes your sole responsibility. You can not count on any one else whatever they would have promised. People like to join you only after you are successful.

No amount of prior work experience is good enough : Even after spending 20 years in work, the situation and circumstances that you face are totally unique and you come to know about it only after you have taken the plunge. So if you get a chance to take the plunge earlier, don’t stop yourself.

Be prepared to avoid ” I have arrived” feeling : I am not sure if this happens with everyone, but I guess must be true particularly for those like me who start after long years in job. You are given feeling of special person, person who has shown courage by the people around you. While this is a good thing, very helpful in the beginning, but it might give you a feeling of ” I have arrived” and take you away from rational and practicality of the entrepreneurship. It might give you sense of accomplishment and slow down your hunger for real success. Just taking a plunge is not enough, succeeding is more important.

One thing I would like to share that happened with me.  I realised, pretty late,  that I made a classic mistake of not building enough pipeline even after running sales for so many years.  Every lead that I generated, I thought would convert into business. When I look back today and ask myself, what could be the reason for getting  into such complacency ? I realised that it might be because of the feeling of “I have arrived”, ” I could do no wrong” sense that might have been developed. Hence wanted to share this story.

Many possibilities, many avenues takes you nowhere : This again may be because of long years in the job. You tend to think – I know so many things, I have network in so many areas, I can do so many things and you get proposals for many business ideas. In the initial stages, it may sound good, it may satisfy your ego, it may give you feeling of being busy, but soon you would find, it has not taken you anywhere. This may happen despite you having a good business plan.

Sounding board : When you start as one man army, it is very important to have someone around you who is well wisher, aware of the market conditions and who can be your sounding board. At least I found it very difficult to keep talking to myself or keep coming out with ideas without someone around. It helps tremendously when you hear yourself talking. You immediately realise the wrong and right.

I have gone through many more personal learnings. It has been very enriching experience from that point of view. At the same time it has been challenging times. Things have not gone as per the plans. Lot of things have fallen through at the last moment bringing me back to square one etc.

Family support : I think if there is one thing that you absolutely need is family support. Entrepreneurship is as much a an emotional journey as a commercial venture. When you feel alone it is only your family that you can reach out to. That is the only support system you can count on. I am fortunate that I can count on such.

Now I think I am much more grounded to reality. Looking forward to next year.


Personal recognition

August 11, 2010

I recently read an article “Don’t wait for rewards, pat your own back” in The Economic Times. I really liked the subject and reminded me of how many times I have been telling people about the same in many different ways. I liked the way the author Priya Kumar elaborated the subject.

As a human nature, we all crave for recognition.  In fact it is a basic necessity of mind to feel good about oneself. Besides that, some forms of recognition act as a big motivator. Recognition need not be in the form of promotion or payhike. Simple words of appreciation, a small note either in front of your peer group or in private helps people to feel good. But in many organisations managers simply don’t realise it

But when this does not happen – your managers don’t recognise your efforts, your hardwork – what do you do? Do you get frustrated, do you stop working, does quality of your work get affected? Do you start doubting importance of your work? Do you feel lowly about your capabilities?

I have seen people going through some or many and at times all of the above feelings. This is not good and not correct. If someone else is not recognising your work, does not mean it is not worth recognition. We must make ourselves feel good by patting on our own back. We must make sure that we realise the importance and impact of the work that we do. As Priya Kumar has mentioned, we must reward ourselves, however small it is.

In the world where increasingly people are going to work from home, from remote places connected by internet, they would not be physically in same place. In such cases it would be even more important that we create own system of recognising ourselves regularly and keep positive feeling about ourselves.

Startups pitching – what went wrong at echelon2010

June 2, 2010

I was attending the echelon2010 event yesterday. An excellent event, great speakers and wonderful audience. Greate place to be in if you are a start up company, entrepreneur, want to understand what entrepreneurship is all about, meet up with potential investors and mentors.

The last session of the day was pitching by the startups which was judged by the panel of experts. This is an excellent opportunity for startups to get feedback and pitch their company/ products to potential investors. There were 12+ startups who presented but only one of them stood out (foound) and received positive attention from audience and judges.

Other 11 failed to impress, not because none of them had good idea or good product but simply it was a matter of lack of proper communication and presentation. There were lot of comments on twitter ( #echelon2010) about reasons. Dave Mcclure who has become darling of the audience and other panellists were trying to coach the presenters, beside judging them.

In my opinion the number one reason was that these companies failed to define for whom were they presenting the solution. What did they want to achieve after the pitching.

I felt that they were confused if they were presenting to investors for money or they were presenting to potential buyers of their offering or they were presenting to fellow geeks. Your contents, pitch all depend on this factor. If you don’t get this very first thing right, then you are not going anywhere. Then you need to follow other presentation techniques as well.

I was feeling like going out and spending some time with the startups to help them get their pitch right. I would be happy to do so today, if any of the today’s start-ups want some help.

Singapore, consider the open source way to achieve “quantum leap in productivity through pervasive innovation”.

February 12, 2010

Recently, the leadership in Singapore has stated its intent to grow the productivity by 3% and it has also identified, rightly so, that if it wants to make this happen it has to encourage the innovation. Very true. Gone are the days when you could through more cheap labour to manufacture some thing or you could push same labour to do more things in given time. This is an era of services industry and knowledge economy and not the 19th century manufacturing practices.

Productivity through innovation is the right way to do. But the question is, can innovation happen if you tell bunch of people to go out and innovate? Does it happen if you just throw money after it? Answer is no. Though it needs money and bright brains, it does not happen in isolation and silos.

Consider the examples where innovation happened to solve the real problems :

TED – open translation project :

When the prestigious platform wanted to make knowledge available (through the talks) to millions of people who do not speak English wanted to translate the work in 40 international languages, what did it do. It turned to its users – gave the tools in the hands of the users to translate the work. And the result? Job done in very short span of time, with such a low cost.


Few years back, a Toranto based gold minning company was struggling with debts, strikes and bad market conditions. Prospects were not looking good for survival. How the CEO turned to mass collaboration and not just saved the company but took it from $100 Million to $ 9 billion company is an interesting case.

GE Plastics

When GE plastic wanted to grow it business even when it has 90% of the market share, how it turned to its customer with “toolkit” concept and not only increased its Total Addressable Market, but retained its lead in the market share.


How the world’s largest encyclopaedia was created through user contributions in short span of time with little or no money.

The common theme in these disparate examples has been use of “mass collaboration and user driven innovation”

Now these are famous and well documented case studies. There are many more that have innovated through “mass collaboration”. If you notice there has been so much written about it in recent years and so many case studies are available. What Singapore can embrace from these solutions is processes, methodology and environment creation to address the problems through mass collaboration.

Open source software is one the earliest success stories of how collaboration, sharing and standardisation can help you do more with less and democratize innovation. Talking about standardisation, if you want to turn innovation into mass innovation, you need to create standardisation. In the recent presentation at Plug in conference in July 2008 Andy Grove, former chief of Intel, urged the American Automobile industry to learn from open source towards standardisation in regards to creating “ Green energy automobiles”

Creating a culture of adopting open source software in Singapore would help in many ways :

  1. Help create understanding of mass collaboration
  2. Help companies to deploy its capex and opex more efficiently there by improving the productivity
  3. Contributing to open source software would create necessary mindset toward innovation.
  4. Standardization, which comes with the use of open source software would lead towards mass innovation

When Thomas Goetz said the following, in 2003, it was prophetic, today is it is the reality.

“Software is just the beginning … open source is doing for mass innovation what the assembly line did for mass production. Get ready for the era when collaboration replaces the corporation. “

Gong Xi Fa Cai (Wish you very prosperous Chinese New Year )

Powerful selling lessons from ordinary people

February 3, 2010

It was year 1990. I was new in the city of Mumbai, was travelling in a 3 wheeler Auto Rikshaw with my fiance’. The rikshaw stopped at the busy junction and all of a sudden, popped in a dark face from the open side, with coarse voice and typical sound of clap and hand in from of my face. I was terrified but realised what was happening. The street eunuch was asking for or rather demanding money. Sitting with your fiance, in a Auto Rikshaw, which is not moving now, you are faced with intimidation of big, huge eunuch, you have no option but to give the money to buy peace of mind and time with your beloved.

This is a common scene for all the those living in Mumbai or visiting Mumbi often. Over a period of time I learnt the art of not giving in to these tactics and also learnt to communicate with these eunuch as normal person.

But I learnt 2 important lessons for my sales profession.

1. Prospecting : Usually the time windows available to beg / get money is 30 to 60 seconds, depending upon the traffic jam and traffic signal. If you observe carefully they don’t waste time with those whom they find are “hardened” Mumbaikar. They know what to look for in the prospect. They scan you in quick 5 seconds and decide to pursue the matter or move to next one. They are usally right about selection of the prospects and don’t waste time with others. This is how they improve their closure rate (so to say in sales language). From my observation the key characteristics they look for in the prospects are : Unmarried couple, just married couples, visitor in Mumbai from other part of India, religious oriented man, single lady, foreigners.

2. Delivering elevator pitch and closing the deal : In next 25 seconds are so they need to deliver the message that would fetch them money (close the deal). Depending upon type of prospect, they chose the right language ( give blessings or put a fear of curse) and straight away ask for money. Even here, they specify the amount which means helping the prospect to take decision quickly.

No one has given them sales skills training, it is the hardship of life that forces them learn quickly or they would starve.

At Ashnik, we help you equip yourself with the right skills, processes and methodologies to be successful in your sales career and help companies to grow their business. We are an exclusive partner of Adventace, a global sales change-management firm specializing in helping sales operations Create the High Performance Sales Environment® (HPSE) through an integrated, metric-driven set of products and services, in ASEAN and India region

Dad, you too ?

October 7, 2009

My son

After coming from school my son was telling me about his day in the school. He was in excited state (as usual) and he said, “I will tell you a joke”
“Ok”, I said.
” There was one boy and he always used to tell lies”, he continued, without waiting for my ok, “One day his father bought a robot, who would slap anyone every time a person told a lie. So when the boy came home, his father asked him, where had he gone”.
” I had gone to school”, the boy said, and the robot slapped him.
” No.. no.. i had gone…. umm….mmm”, the robot slapped the boy few more times
“Finally the boy told the truth, that he had gone to movie”
The father was very angry and sad.
He said, ” in our days, I was very obedient and truthful boy, not like you”.
And the robot slapped the father very hard. !!!

My son started laughing and went away. I also had a hearty laugh.
But then I became serious.

I thought about this joke and realised it has a potential power both ways – to destroy the little boys’ faith in their parents and also to bring him to the reality.

It is a fact that we are no saints. We have had our share of mistakes and are not perfect. But the little kids think of their parents as the world of paradise. As they grow up they start realising the chinks in the parents’ world. It is better that they come to know about the realities of the world.

Not sure how soon their world of wonderland should be busted.

Managers and Leaders

August 4, 2009

“Our leaders have to be admired for their thought leadership and not just competence.”
This is the quote from Mr. Subroto Bagchi’s interview in Economic Times (Nov 30, 2007)

This resonates so well with what Amita and me often discuss about.

Both of us have seen Indian and Global managers at very senior positions.
These are not the celebrity leaders, but these are the managers who are responsible for growing businesses and leading people. These managers, especially in large organisation have to be good leaders. It is not easy for people to join and connect with faceless organisation. For people, their managers are the face of the organisation and most of the time people join or leave their managers. In such cases managers carry enormous responsibility to provide not just the business competency but good people leadership.

This is where the leadership style and approach differ.

I have seen many competent professionals. They are good at their function and their job. But when it comes to leading people (there is a difference between managing and leading people), they fall awfully short.

I have personally worked with entrepreneurs, professional managers and good leaders. I have worked in corporate sector, have worked in social sector. I have seen different type of people. I have seen the difference between leaders and manager. The ability to inspire, create vision and walk on the chosen path – is the the most important aspect to be successful in being a leader – be it in corporate life or in social sector.

To be a successful leader one needs to have both the capabilities – competency and inspiring people. Just the competency can not take you too far. I have seen some entrepreneurs who had vision (later on I realised that they had only dreams), ability to inspire people but did not have competency in business areas. They simply couldn’t succeed. Some entrepreneurs I have seen who were competent in business areas but did not have the vision. Their businesses did not grow beyond a point. Good professionals did not like to stick around such people for long and hence business did not grow.

When it comes to professional managers leading the people, most manager think that managing people is good enough. They focus on giving right job description, right work to the people under them. They give pep talks so that people can deliver the numbers. The most professional managers follow M-B-O (management by objectives) process to get work done. They think by setting up the objectives people deliver the desired results. It is true to some extent. But it is not the entire truth.
People mostly look up to their managers for direction and inspiration. People like to work for such leaders. The inspired and motivated people tend to give much more than set objectives. They help create more vibrancy in the group. They help create happy and creative atmosphere. In this age of Knowledge economy, the dependency is on people than just the processes.

The good leaders provide this important ingredient – inspiration and vision (thought leadership) – which is so vital for growth than just the straight jacketed MBO or task oriented process.

(Reproduced from my old blog (2007) on different blog site)

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