Posts Tagged ‘Life’

The Hardest Part of Being a New Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurship is tough but so is everything else in life. It is never easy to ace exams or ascend the career ladder or raise kids so why so much fuss about entrepreneurship being so difficult? It is my third attempt at startup business but it is different from prior stints as this time I transitioned from a corporate executive to an entrepreneur. The startup vagaries aside, I found one thing that makes this transition really challenging – an ability to take “No”.

Most of us have done well in school, career and life. We always got a pat on the back for acing an exam, delivering on a tight deadline or doing great things in life. Hardly ever our friends, peers or bosses questioned our judgment. In fact most of the time they were encouraging when we took up a challenging assignment. The more successful you are the more chances that people haven’t doubted your ambitions and abilities.

Turn an entrepreneur and everything changes around you! While most friends and peers will applaud you for your “courage” there will be a nagging suspicion if it is the right move. Does your idea have legs? Can you execute on it? The veil of positivity and trust is torn and suddenly a go-getter for the first time starts hearing doubts and “No” consistently. It can be demoralizing and emotionally draining for new entrepreneurs.

New entrepreneurs can get deterred in this environment of volatility and suspicion. The challenge is to overcome this phase and keep faith. It is easier said than done but certainly doable. Unfortunately schools don’t teach it and no one talks about it so it catches new entrepreneurs off guard.

It takes time to build a successful business. The road to scalable business is full of hits and misses – more misses than hits. The key is to enjoy small successes and build on them, and shrug off loses by learning from them. It tremendously helps to talk to other entrepreneurs, share openly and frequently with friends and friends, and find a mentor. Entrepreneurship is an immensely enriching experience. Immerse yourself in it to become a better businessperson and an individual!

First Week as A Full-Time Entrepreneur

Finally the day arrived for letting go the monthly paycheck and starting working full time on my startup. The last day at office was busy saying goodbyes, cleaning up laptop and getting rid of all accumulations over the year. There couldn’t have been a better start to full-time entrepreneurship than a Lean Startup event in the evening that gave us an opportunity to pitch our idea to 60 odd people! I was excited about my pitch but didn’t get a second to prepare with all the frenzy at work.

Monday morning felt awkward without the early morning rush to catch a train, gazillion emails and phone meetings. I certainly didn’t miss it as my mind was occupied with the new design of our service, project timelines, and most of all – funding. My partner and I met at 9:30 AM and worked our day through till late in the night. It was a day full of discussions around design, product and architecture, calls with potential partners, employees and investors, and bunch of coding.

Despite a productive first day, the thought of not having a monthly paycheck kept weighing on my mind. It was obvious that I needed to set goals to measure my progress and get rid of this nagging feeling of being unpaid. On Tuesday, first we created a development plan to build our MVP with timelines. The next four days were focused on our plan with constant brainstorming with our design team, interviewing candidates, coding and networking with potential investors.  The week went by like a breeze but we made good progress on our product and business.

It is not easy to break out of the safety net and I am no exception. Everyday of the week I checked my bank account every few hours to reconfirm that our dough didn’t disappear with my job and questioned hard if I could do this venture with my job. I am out of the dilemma now and fully convinced that it is the right way to do justice to my ambition. The odds are exceptionally stacked against a startup so we don’t want to leave any stone unturned to move the needle, even if a tiny bit, in our favor. The first week was a test drive to how to manage my own time. I am sure next week will be better and it will continue to improve from here on. Welcome aboard an entrepreneur’s journey!

Follow Your Passion

I am returning from a very productive business trip and as usual my plane ride is spurring ideas to write. It might sound strange but the plane take-off reminded me of a topic that I was thinking about earlier in the week – passion in life. It is amazing how much force is needed for a plane to break the inertia and build the momentum to take off.  I was wondering if it is same with big initiatives in our lives. We need to put in lot of focused effort to accomplish big things in life. Gas propels planes; what propels us? Passion!

I remember the time when I was preparing for my entrance exam for under-grad school. I wanted to get into the best school in the country but the competition was brutal. One in hundred used to make into the school of my choice. I hear it is even worse now! What were the chances of a student from a small town with no guidance succeeding while many bright candidates were preparing for the same exam from almost four years in advance? Well, I was determined and passionate to get into that school. So for next two years, I never slept more than two hours and studied almost 19 hours daily. Everybody, including my parents thought I had gone mad. While everybody was sympathizing with me for all the hard-work, I never even once felt like it. I was having fun and was in a totally different world. Waking up after two hours of sleep was a piece of cake because I was so eager to go back to my books. It was a sheer pleasure to spend every minute studying. Those were the best two years of my life. The icing on the cake was passing the test with a good rank. In those two years, I learned many things in math and science, but I learned an important lesson of life: if you are passionate about something, you can always achieve it.

There is no greater pleasure than following your passion. It is even better when your passion becomes your livelihood or way of living. I am convinced that one can scale great heights in career or personal life by pursuing one’s passion. I grew up in India, where kids are not [at least when I was a kid] exposed to arts, sports, and  other activities unlike   kids in the West. Studies are the way of life and a good student is expected to pursue engineering or medicine. Many bright students end up being successful doctors, engineers, and managers but it doesn’t surprise me to learn how many of them are still seeking that one thing they are passionate about. Even though the western education system is not perfect, I like the aspect of exposing kids to many different things early on. I hope my five year old will find that one or maybe more things that he is passionate about and will pursue them for life. There is no greater pleasure than living your passion.

What Motivates You: Money or Recognition

A few days ago, a member of the employee committee asked me how would I like the management to appreciate my good work. The options were – monetary bonus, a gift card for dinner for two at a nice restaurant, recognition for my work in employee meeting or others. My choice was very clear – recognition in all employee meeting. I don’t know why but they were surprised!

 Not that I don’t want money, most of us mere mortals would like some extra cash in our bank and so do I. Still I chose recognition because I believe it is the best way for acknowledging my efforts. Well another reason is that I knew they were not talking of big money. Nothing like notorious investment banking bonuses; software companies are generally stingy on cash. I was wondering that even if I was offered big money, would I have still opted for recognition as the most valuable employee? I think I would have.

I recently read a survey of Harvard MBAs about what will they choose between money or respect from fellow employees. As surprising it may seem but more than half chose the latter option.  Aren’t we driven by appreciation right from the beginning? My five-year old will read, switch off the TV, or do many otherwise boring things for a small reward such as a candy, toy or a sleepover at a friend’s place. However, I have seen him pushing himself to limit for appreciation. Last night, he played his first piano streak without looking at his book. We clapped and praised him for his efforts and today he was eager to go to his piano class. Moreover, he practiced many times last night on his own, a routine that otherwise is an ordeal for my wife. I am sure no candy or toy could motivate him as much.

I guess schools have already mastered this act. Class toppers are recognized and made into heroes. That is a great motivation for them to continue to do well. The corporate world also has learned the trick and hence instituted titles and employee recognition programs. Of course, employees like me validate their policiesJ. Hopefully I am not alone to fall for it but I still wonder why the employee committee was surprised by my choice. Well, they never disclosed the bonus!

Maximize Your Efforts: Set, Measure, Correct

We make so much effort to do better in every sphere of life – be it giving the best to our kids, improving our personal lives, or proving our worth at work. I wonder why so often we work hard but get disappointing results. There are many reasons for it but one that happens often is that we lack setting, tracking and improving our efforts towards a goal. Goal setting and tracking is a best practice in corporate world and that’s why there are sales quotas, management objectives, appraisals and not to forget notorious quarterly targets for public companies. Then why don’t we follow the same in personal life?

I have been trying to play golf from almost a decade. Hope you notice the word ‘trying’! But when I look back, I most improved my game when I had a target in mind. My first goal was to score in 90s and then 80s.  I could pretty much do it in the first year with regular practice and coaching. Next eight years were a wash because I never set a goal for myself. It was more of a walk in the park with friends, enjoying beer and an occasional great shot. Setting goals is important.

The next step is to measure performance against those goals. It was easy to measure a three-digit round against a goal of being in 90s. However, many times it is not so black and white, or we don’t think deeply enough to set the right metrics. Moreover, there are times when we don’t want to measure to avoid that extra pressure. Come on, don’t we already have enough on our plate with work and family?  However, I felt the best when I met my goals. I still remember my first round of 81. A great feeling that stayed with me for months! It is great to savor small successes but only if we measure them.

Finally the most important – analyze and correct. Once you measure you know where to focus. While hitting long shots was sexy, I found I was losing most shots in the short game. It made me focus on pitching and putting. While practicing putting, we adjust every putt based on how the previous one did. If it falls short of the cup, then we hit the next one a little harder. If it broke too much to the left, we adjust the angle next time. Similarly, it is important to analyze and adjust our efforts based on results.

Now consider practice putting when you can’t see where your last putt landed.  No matter how many times one practices this way, one can never improve putting. If we don’t get feedback, how can we improve? Exactly that’s why it is important to get feedback to correct it.

Well, you got it. To improve you have to correct, to correct you have to measure, and to measure you have to set goals. Alright, it is time for action.

 

%d bloggers like this: