Timing And Entrepreneurs

Premise:

One of the things that a lot of entrepreneurs who failed in their first attempt at starting and running their enterprise attribute their failure to is – Timing. They complain that their timing was wrong. They were much ahead of time. The users or customers were not mature enough to adopt their product or service.

Some wanna be entrepreneurs use timing as their crutch. They are waiting for the right time to launch thier business. This is not the right time, the economy is not doing very well, or is doing too well. The timing is not really great from a personal stand-point.

Most successful entrepreneurs attribute their success to luck and timing. They say there were there at the right time and at the right place, doing the right thing. It is this narrative that creates a false sense of importance about timing.

In this short film, titled Timing, the team at White Flag Productions talk about the myth of “The PERFECT TIMING”.

Lessons Learnt:

Some lessons in entrepreneurship that I learnt while watching this film are as below.

Perfect Timing = NOW:

There is no perfect timing. No, wait, there is perfect timing. We don’t find or discover perfect timing, we create it. We create the perfect situations and the perfect opportunities. How? By being present when they show up. Just like we need to be in the water if we want to find that great tide to surf on, we need to be in the game, in order to find the perfect timing. We will never catch that great tide if we are on the shore, waiting.  So, the right time to start something is now. The right time to do something is now. The right time to create art is now. The right time to create the change we want to see is now. The right time to be the change we want to see in the world is now.

Spiritual Suicide:

If there is a creator, artist or an entrepreneur within us and we don’t pursue that dream, it is like committing spiritual suicide. The missed opportunities and the lost time will always weigh on our soul and continue to give distress and pain all life long. As they say, the biggest regret that people who are about to die are about things that they wanted to do but didn’t. Let us learn from them and not allow the same regrets to enter our lives. Let’s not commit spiritual suicide.

Messenger of Misery:

As any creative, artist or entrepreneur will tell us, there comes a time in their journey when the messenger of misery will pay is a visit. Some call it resistance, some call it block and entrepreneurs call it a stall out. Just like there needs to be a moment in every Hero’s journey which tests the hero to the core, before transforming him/her into the hero that we can love, so it is in the life of every one of us. We should not only be prepared to deal with the messenger when she comes knocking on our doors but in a way expect and welcome her with arms spread out. This is a moment in our journey which will transform us from a mere mortal to a hero (hopefully!!).

Cometh the hour, cometh the teacher:

In Eastern philosophy, they say that the teacher appears when the student is ready. Not before, not after. It makes our lives easier as entrepreneurs if we believe in this. When we go for a stretch goal, something that we truly aspire for, something that seems to be so far away from our reach, we need to believe that when we are ready, our teacher will come who will help us uncover the hidden talents, resilience and the strength that is needed to achieve our goals. The teacher could come in any shape, form or figure. It could be in the form of a thought, a chance encounter, a random connection or even as a mentor. We just need to believe that the teacher will come.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, I will only want to say this – “There is never a wrong time to do the right thing”.

Lets get started! Lets keep going!

 

What could Tiffany’s Do?

Premise:

Last week the Wall St. Journal featured a story on Tiffany & Co’“midlife crisis.” The piece highlighted the jewellery brand’s struggle to regain its “cool” and improve recently tepid sales and profits. A few days later they announced the hiring of a new CEO.

Tiffany is hardly the only brand that is going through such a crisis. There is a lesson that all of us can learn from the experience of Tiffany and to a certain extent, even JC Penny. Steve Dennis on his blog talks about the customer trapeze. The customer trapeze is the idea of a brand hoping to reach a new, highly desirable set of customers while at the same time letting go of those with less favourable characteristics. Most often we see it at play when brands see that their most profitable demographic is ageing and at some point in the near future will start reducing their spends.

Knowing this, brands want to re-invent themselves to become more relevant to the new generation by becoming more hip or trendy.

The Challenge:

The challenge comes when they want to entice the new younger generation to engage with the brand, while at the same time do not want to alienate their existing client base, which is still generating most of their profits for them. This is a true catch-22 situation for brands. But is it?

Tiffnay has tried almost every trick that brands have in their sleeves – becoming more fashion forward, introduce less expensive items in their portfolio or attaching themselves to celebrities that appeal to the new demographic that they want to attract. What they are trying to do is to find the perfect moment when they can let go of their existing customers and take on the new ones. In Tiffany’s case, over the years they have introduced less expensive items and expanded their assortments in an attempt to widen their appeal to the new generation of shoppers. They have even taken on Lady Gaga and Elle Fanning as spokespeople and launched a new, more youthful ad campaign.

What could Tiffany’s Do?

I believe that this is a false dichotomy. I also believe that there is a simpler and a more easier way for brands to transition from one set of customers to another.

Option 1:

Create a new brand for the new customer segment. Let the old brand age with the ageing population cohort.

History reveals that very few established brands are able to successfully execute a dramatic re-configuration of their customer base–at least quickly. There is a significant risk in pursuing this strategy because, irrespective of what the brand does to do this switch, they will not be able to become attractive to both the ageing and the young cohort. In the process of trying this, they only alienate both the customer base, which ends up not so well with the brand and the brand dies a very slow and a painful death.

What is needed here is a mindset shift. What happens if companies create new brands for a new cohort of potential customers and continue to use the existing brand for their existing cohorts of customers. The existing brand can continue to remain relevant to their existing customers and even look at other things that the brand can do for the customers, keeping their brand values intact. In this case, in addition to creating beautiful jewellery, Tiffany’s could also look to create other items that an aging population needs – embellished walking sticks, reading glasses for the old. You get the flow.

What this approach does is allows a brand to live and stay relevant to a specific cohort of customers with their sensibilities. It is ok to allow a brand to age with their customers who grew old loving the brand.

Option 2:

The second answer is a bit more difficult.

Instead of trying to win the younger generation by themselves, allow their existing customers to do that for them.

What I mean here is the following: Instead of the brand trying to woo the next generation of customers and win them over, allow their existing customers (ageing population) do that for them. Then the question becomes what can the brand do for their existing customers so they can win their daughters and grand-daughters to their brand. This allows for two things to happen at the same time:

  • Strengthen their relationship with their existing cohort of ageing customers
  • Build a bridge for the new young customers to start engaging with the brand

This also means that the entire brand needs to go for a make-over and if done well, this can give the brand a new lease of life. The risk here is that if done badly, this could also very much fast track the death of the brand.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, I will only say the following: how Tiffany’s and other brands in the similar situation handle it can have a profound impact on the brand – one way or other.

 

 

Start From Where You Are

One of the questions that a lot of wannabe entrepreneurs ask all the time is if there is a right age to start their entrepreneurial journey.

In this short video, Entrepreneur and business coach Marie Forleo shares a list of 10 women role models, who started their journey and late in their lives and went on to see a lot of success.

This only shows us that age is just a number. We need to start from where we are. Enjoy The video.

All you need is the problem that you are passionate to solve, some ingenuity, a good dose of creativity and a lot of hard work.

And as they say,

Let’s Go Make a Dent!

 

Entrepreneurs Bring Ideas to Life

Premise:

Today, we have machines which can work as assembly line workers, hotel clerks, concierge, nurses, companions for elders, lawyers, doctors, drivers, artists, journalists, gamers, coaches, board members and many more. The value proposition for businesses to employ more and more machines is strong and will get stronger with the increasing capabilities and complexities of these machines and dropping costs. Add to this, the already accelerating trend of organizations looking to hire contract employees rather than full-time employees, both to reduce cost and to leverage the global talent pool rather than limit themselves to the local talent pool.

What this means:

When we look at all of these put together, whether we like it or not, there is a good chance that we might end up either as an entrepreneur, a solopreneur or a contract employee (both are similar).

So, who is an entrepreneur: 

An entrepreneur is someone who sees every challenge, complaint or issue as a potential opportunity to be explore and exploited. He/she then picks up one that is close to him or where (s)he sees the biggest opportunity and goes about to address that challenge.

What makes someone an entrepreneur: 

What makes someone an entrepreneur is their belief system and what follows as action. Some of the most important belief’s that good entrepreneurs operate on are as below:

  1. They believe that there is a seed of opportunity in every situation. One only needs to find it to explore/exploit it.
  2. They are comfortable in making decisions with or without enough data.
  3. They have a bias towards action.
  4. They are comfortable with ambiguity.
  5. They believe that there is no failure or success that is permanent. Failure and success is an event and not a person.
  6. They bring in an outsider’s perspective.
  7. They beget change.
  8. They find & mitigate risks.
  9. They are able to move people.

Seeds of Opportunity:

Good entrepreneurs always find a seed of opportunity in everything that they encounter or experience.

When Richard Branson was mistreated by British Airways, he went on to start Virgin Airlines.

When Elon Musk is frustrated by traffic jams enroute to work, he creates a business “The Boring Company”.

When Ratan Tata sees a couple getting drenched in a motor cycle during monsoon rain, he decides to build an affordable car that doesn’t cost much more than the motorcycle itself.

These are just examples of some of the most successful entrepreneurs finding opportunity where everyone else finds fault and complains.

There are countless examples of such behaviors by entrepreneurs where they find opportunity that is hiding in plain sight which all of us miss. In hindsight, they look the most obvious to all of us, but in the moment, we miss seeing the opportunity all together. This is primarily because we are not looking for it.

Decisive:

Good entrepreneur are comfortable making decisions. They look at all the options that are available to them. They look at the opportunities that are available and are comfortable making their choices. They know that not all of their decisions will turn out to be right. They intuitively know that if you don’t decide and act, you don’t have a shot at anything worthwhile.

Good entrepreneurs also have a clear manifesto (stated or otherwise) which guides them in their decision making. For example, one entrepreneur that I know well is Kumar (name changed). He has a set of rules for people related decisions, process related decisions, resources related decisions. He uses these rules to make his decisions and move ahead. These rules can also be called heuristics. This is how we make decisions intrinsically as well. We have certain heuristics already in our brains whether we know about them or not.

Irrespective of how they make their decisions, entrepreneurs believe in that it is better to decide and move ahead rather than keep exploring all the options.

Bias for action:

What differentiates people who have a lot of ideas and true entrepreneurs is that entrepreneurs take action on the ideas that they feel have the potential. If you are an aspiring entrepreneur, this is the single most important thing that you could incorporate to take the plunge and become an entrepreneur. Even if you don’t want to become an entrepreneur, it is important to develop this bias for action in our lives. Action creates a feedback loop that can enable us to learn and move ahead in our lives.

As the old proverb goes – “Water is pure only as long as it moves”. Most things that gets stagnant get worse. This includes people as well. We need to continue to move and that movement comes with action.

Friends with Ambiguity:

Good entrepreneurs realize that there will always be certain amount of ambiguity around us. We can never be certain about anything. So, they offer a hand of friendship towards ambiguity. They learn to live with it. They never crave for full certainty. This enables them to decide quickly and continue to develop their bias for action.

The Impermanent nature of success and failure:

Good entrepreneurs know that neither success nor failure is permanent. They intuitively understand this and act accordingly. They know that by experience – they have seen and experienced success from the brink of failure and vice versa. They know that as entrepreneurs there is only one way to think and act – to continue to work towards a worthy goal and grow. They understand that the only thing that is permanent is the wheel of change.

They also have uncommon belief in their ability to be creative enough to find the seeds of success from every failure and that every success has the seeds of failure within it, which if not addressed correctly, has the potential to kill all the success.

Outsider’s perspective:

Good entrepreneurs usually bring an outsiders perspective to any problem that they are trying to address through their enterprise. It is this outsider’s perspective that gives them the edge over the incumbents. They identify and bring in new ways to solve old problems. They are able to defy conventional wisdom by using contemporary wisdom. They realize that over time, there are new technologies that become available, new processes become standardized, new thinking becomes pervasive and when you combine these together with other qualities that good entrepreneurs possess, we have a potent recipe for disruption.

As good entrepreneurs understand that there are many ways to solve any particular problem, they are not afraid to look at the problem from different perspectives. They use their imagination to look at the problem they are trying to solve and see if any of the new technologies, processes or thinking can help them solve the problem differently, They also look at the existing ways of solving a problem and are not satisfied with that. They are driven to find out if they can themselves solve the problem better, faster or cheaper. This drive is what keeps them on the lookout for potential perspectives to solve the problem.

Change:

Good entrepreneurs know that the wheels of change are always on the move. They also understand that it is way better to be one driving the change than the one that is trying to catch up with the change. So, they are always looking for opportunities to initiate change. They like to mix things up. They know that some of these will work and some of them will not. They are fine with both the results.This keeps them in motion.

Risk Mitigators:

It is common perception that good entrepreneurs are risk takers. My experience tells me that they are not risk takers at all. As a matter of fact, they are risk mitigators. They obsess on finding the risks in their decisions and mitigate them before going ahead with their plans.

They will always find a way to minimize the risk that any of their steps entail. Good entrepreneurs usually ask themselves the question – “What is the worst that can happen if I take a specific course of action?” and follow it up with the question – “what can I do to ensure that it doesn’t happen?” and “is that risk acceptable?”.

They also use the following question to limit the size of risk that they are willing to take – “What is my risk tolerance on this project? How much money/time/fame/name or whatever can I risk on this project? When is it enough and time to pull the plug?”. By knowing the maximum risk that they are willing to expose themselves to right at the start, they know when to stop investing or taking a specific course. They know when it is time to change course or accept failure. Either ways they will reflect on what happened and learn from it.

They move people:

Almost everything worth doing takes a team to do it well. Good entrepreneurs know and understand that. They possess the ability to move people and get them to see and buy into their vision, one way or other. They understand people and what makes people tick. They understand the psychology of people intuitively and use this understanding to use the right persuasive method with the right people.

As they say in India, they are adept at using Sam (logic), Dam (incentives), Dand (deterrents) and bhed (insinuation or emotional appeal) appropriately as needed.

This makes them capable of building good teams and with the right motivations. Like all of us, entrepreneurs are also humans and can make mistakes in judging people and their motivations. What separates good entrepreneurs from all the others is that they recognize their mistakes and act quickly to correct the same. This quality shows up across all the other belief systems and is a character trait of good entrepreneurs.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, true entrepreneurs are those who look at things differently than most of us do. It doesnt matter if they are working for themselves or are working for an enterprise or someone else. It is these entrepreneurs who make the world go around. They keep themselves and everyone around them in motion.

They dont keep thinking of an idea or an opportunity. They take action and bring the idea to life and then let it take its own shape and form from there on.

The following comic illustrates this really well.

 

 

 

The Journey is the Reward – 5P’s 


Premise:

As entrepreneurs, our journey is almost never complete. There is this constant urge to do the next thing.. There is a new product to launch, a new market to capture, a new competitor to quell. A new revenue goal to achieve, a new milestone to reach..

And if we do sell off our existing company and cash out, there is always another company to build!

In this ever changing and evolving goals, the key is for us to enjoy the journey as the reward in and by itself.  If we dont enjoy the journey for itself, this becomes one of the most difficult and the toughest job in the world.

Now, this is easy to say but difficult to do. So, how do we ensure that we enjoy the journey:

  1. Purpose: Know why we started on this journey. Keep it written on a small visiting card and in your pocket. When things get difficult, as they will, take it out and read it. This sense of purpose and the “why” gives us the determination and grit needed to survive and overcome the current challenge (whatever it is).
  2. Priming: One other way that we can continue to enjoy the journey is by priming ourselves to enjoy the journey. When we get up in the morning and tell ourselves that this is an amazing ride that we are on and are one day closer to our success, it primes our brain to look for everything that corraborates this world view.
  3. People: Hire people whom you would love to take home and have fun with. The entrepreneurial journey is tough by itself, dont make it harder by hiring people who are axxholes and who bring a lot of angst and negativity in your life. Be extra careful to hire people who bring in energy and are also fun to be with. THis doesn’t mean that you don’t look for competency. This means that just being competent is not enough. That is just the baseline for someone to quality to get considered.
  4. Progress: Another thing that most of us fail to do is to see the progress we have made. There is solid research that indicates that if we are able to see the progress we make on a daily basis, we are in a much better position to persevere. You could do this by designing the day so that there are a lot of tiny wins that you see through out the day. These are small little challenges that you need to overcome and once you do, taking a moment and celebrating them.
  5. Play: At times we get so focused on our work that we push not only ourself but our teams to the brim of breakdown. The best way to avoid this is to schedule play time wth our team. There are two ways to do this. First is that we block certain time blocks in a week or once in two weeks which are designated play times. This is when we go out and play with our teams and create a easy, relaxed environment so that we can all unwind. The second way is to bring in elements of play in everything that we do. It could come up in the way we brand our company, product, the way we run our meetings, the way we engage with our customers/partners, the way we hire, etc. You get the flow. Play becomes a thread in our culture. THe first way is easier to implement than the second one. I would prefer a combination of both. I would love to work and lead a company where play is encouraged in every form and fashion and then there is also a designated date/time specifically to unwind as a team together.

Conclusion:

It is important for all of us to celebrate the journey much more than the moment when we achieve the goals that we set out to achieve. In this post I talk about a few ways that we can make the journey more fun and celebrated. There can be a lot more ways that we can do this. What is critical here is that we need to make it intentional to enjoy the journey. It is extremely easy to get bogged down in the whirlwind that is running an enterprise to lose sight of the importance to enjoy the journey. So, as a leader it is important to let others in our team know that it is their responsibility to point it out to us when we lose track of this important insight, so we can get back on track and start enjoying the journey again.

Entrepreneurship is fun, challenging and immensely rewarding (emotionally, financially, psychologically, spiritually and socially). Let’s make sure we enjoy our ride!