The Secret To Building a Successful Business


Manish Singhal is a founding Partner of pi Ventures. He is a veteran of 24 years in building hardware and software IP-oriented product companies, early stage investing, valuations, deal structuring and strategy advisory across different sectors. He is also a keen mentor of startups and has conducted many workshops in different parts of India to guide entrepreneurs on how to raise funds.

On July 19th, Manish took time to answer questions from YourStory readers in their weekly section, ‘Conversations at YourStory’.

The Million dollar question:

In response to the question:

“As a mentor to many, what advice do you have for budding entrepreneurs and the dreamers?”

His Answer:

Solve a real problem and solve it like nobody else.

At the surface of it, this seems to be a nice logical answer but I think this is the key to leading any successful

There are two parts to the answer that are the key.

Solving a real problem:

While on the face of it, this sounds to be ridiculously simple, in practice, we will be surprised to know that most of the businesses are started not for this reason. There is no real problem (perceived or otherwise) that we are solving. In tech startups, we find or develop something that we think is and then go looking for users for this cool technology. There is nothing wrong in this approach as long as we are able to identify a real (perceived or otherwise)  need that this technology can address and go on to use that as the lever for growth. This is however a more difficult and an expensive way of starting an enterprise.

The easier way is to identify the real need and then go about finding ways to solve this need. Design thinking as a methodology helps us start with the people, go on to identify their stated and unstated needs, which once identified, we can go ahead and solve them. The key is to identify the problem first and start from there.

Solve it like nobody else:

Once we know the real problem that we are trying to solve for a specific cohort of people, we then need to solve the problem in our own unique way. This uniqueness is what will help us stand out in the crowd and get us noticed. As Bernadette Jiwa and Seth Godin say, differentiation is the key. WE can either differentiate in the way we solve the problem or differentiate in the way we communicate and engage with the customers or differentiate in the way we bring the solution to them.

It is better to be different than being better.

Different allows us to stand out and it is easier if we bring our full personality to solve the problem. If we are fun-loving, can we bring in elements of fun in the solution. If we love music, can we bring in elements of music into the solution. If we are an avid reader, can we bring in elements of reading or books to our solution. Each one of these will allow us to stand apart and at the same time will come naturally to us. This also has the added advantage of being too much fun.


In conclusion, it is important that we identify a real problem (known or even better is unknown) that a specific cohort of customers have and find unique ways of solving that problem for that set of customers. And have a lot of fun along the way. This is as good a recipe for building a successful business as any other that I have seen anywhere else.

Read This if You are A Sales Executive or a Sales Leader: Best Among What I Read – Sales Edition

Best Among What I Read by Mukesh Gupta

If you know me at all, you would already know that I read a lot of stuff – right from business topics like (Sales, Innovation, Leadership, Marketing) to personal topics like philosophy, religion, psychology, habit formation, economics and the lot.

I used to share a collection of articles that I really thought were well written or were thought provoking for me, almost everyday till a few months back. Some of my readers have indicated that they miss those collections in place, that it saves them time and requested that I start posting these collection of content again.

So, here we go. Below is a list of posts that I think were really the best among a lot of content on sales that i read in the recent past. So, here we go:

Things I Admire In a Sales Force

In this blog post, Anthony Iannarino shares a list of attributes that he admires in a sales force. I really think that if there were a sales team that wanted to create a team manifesto for them to live by, this list would be a great starting point. I particularly like the attribute about helping their team mates succeed.

This is something that is not very common in sales teams at all, but can play a significant role in the overall success of the sales team. I did write about it earlier myself. You can read my post here.

If you are a sales leader and want to inspire your team and get them to rally around together, this is a set of attributes that you should aspire your team to achieve.

Dealing with Your Irrational Competitor

Another blog post by Anthony (I seem to really like his posts, of late). In this one, he shares his insights on how to deal with your irrational competitor. Every sales team faces some irrational competitor who wants to take away market share at any cost, who is willing to go to any lengths, give irrational discounts, make promises that they already know that can’t be fulfilled and take your customers away.

So, how do you deal with such competitors? Not the usual way. For Anthony’s insights on this, read the post here.

Is ignorance the problem?

In his inimitable style Seth Godin brings forth a very important question that all of us as sales executives or sales leaders need to address. Whenever there is a customer who stalls or questions the value that our solutions bring to them, we default to providing them more information – more use cases, more business case, sharing more examples of how and where your solutions have succeeded.

We are assuming that the customer is stalling due to lack of information. What if that is not true? In my experience, most of the times it is not true. The reason the customer is stalling could be because they are not sure, they are afraid of making the commitment required on their part, they are afraid that you might not deliver what you promise to deliver. The issue could be trust or something else.

Mostly, ignorance is not the problem. You can read his really short blog (maybe even shorter than my preamble here) here.

Why You Need An If-Then Storytelling Strategy

Once you have identified that ignorance is not the problem and shoving more information will not help, what do you do? This is where, I really liked a blog post written by Bernadette Jiwa. In this post she talks about having a if-then (storytelling) strategy.

This strategy can be helpful in any environment, retail or otherwise. Can we identify certain situations or triggers in our sales process and have a ready story to tell in those situations. These emotional triggers need emotional responses and stories do it really well. Great sales executives do this intuitively, but this is really a skill that can be learnt and taught.

Do you have a if-then story for emotional triggers in your sales process.? If not, try and develop one. It’s your job as the sales leader to do this.

Stop Complaining That You Have Clients

Once we win customers, then it is time to deliver our commitments and promises. As a sales executive, it might not be you who delivers what was promised. But you are indeed the person who committed the deliverables to your customers.

They trusted you and now it is your job to ensure that your commitments are honoured. When they are not being honoured, either in spirit or in letter, customers will hold you responsible and accountable.

They will write to you about the issues they have with the service standards, about challenges that they have working with someone on your team or about any other random thing that irks them. I have seen sales executives continue to complain about all these emails that they keep getting from their customers, the expectations that the customer is having off them, even though they realise that its not part of their job.

In this insightful and critical post, Anthony (again) shares a perspective that all sales executives who complain forget – which is complacency, neglect and Entitlement kills a sales executives future. Read the post and honestly think about your behaviour towards your customers.

Are you complaining that they are your customers? If so, think again? And more importantly, CHANGE.


I do hope that you liked this collection of blog posts that I really liked on the topic of sales and selling. I will see you soon in another edition of the Best Among What I Read on a different topic sometime soon.

PS: Here is how you can follow the people I have quoted in this post.

  • You can follow Anthony and his phenomenal content here.
  • You can follow Bernadette Jiwa and her insightful thoughts on branding and brand storytelling here.
  • You can follow Seth Godin and his insightful commentary on his random observations here.




Innovations Result from Solving Interesting Problems with Unique Insights

Innovations Result from Solving Interesting Problems by Mukesh Gupta

I read a blog post from Seth Godin titled – “Interesting Problems“. You can read it here.

I have always held the opinion that the ability to ask Interesting Questions is key when it comes to staying in control of your innovation process. After reading the post by Seth, I think, solving interesting problems is a great path that can lead to asking interesting questions, which in turn leads us to interesting insights and eventually interesting innovations.

So, the question that begs an answer is where and how can we find interesting problems?

Seth, in his blog defines interesting problem as below:

An interesting problem is one that’s never been solved in quite this way before. It’s not always going to work. The stakes are high. It involves coloring outside the lines.

The key word to focus here is “solved in this way before”. So by this definition, I would assume that almost all interesting problems can be solved in many different ways and might already have been solved in a specific way. For example, the problem of commuting from place A to place B has been solved many times over (walk, animal driven carriages, bi-cycles, motor-cycles, automobile, aircrafts, trains, buses, etc). But if I am able to solve this problem in a way not done so far – hyperloop, driver-less cars, flying cars, time travel, etc, then the problem becomes an interesting problem.

Also, we could even go within each of the earlier solutions, lets say, bi-cycle and find a unique way to solve the problem using a bi-cycle, would be an interesting problem. This is exactly what startups like Ono bikes are doing with their products, where they use design of the product as the way to differentiate and bring in the uniqueness into the category.

Some methods or tools that can help us come up this uniqueness could be:

Insight from being a User:

Most successful products come about as a result of someone trying to solve their own itch. They understand that none of the existing solutions solve the problem that they face in a way that would work best for them. So, they go about solving the problem in their own unique way, resulting in an innovation. Also, we realise that we are not so unique after all, once the product that was created to solve our own itch, goes on to solve the same itch for a whole lot of others as well. Apple products are a great example of this kind of innovation. Steve Jobs always wanted to create products that he would love to use.

Insight from being an observer:

The other way that we can gain insights is by being an observer. If we observe a set of population well enough to understand their world-view and then combine it with our world-view, there is a good chance that we can come up with something unique. This is where design thinking can help us a lot. It gives us the tools and the methodology to understand the world-views of our target customers and combine the observational insights, with our own unique strengths to come up with a unique point-of-view, that when developed can lead to interesting ideas and subsequently innovative product or service ideas. Most continuous improvements happen using this process. You launch a product or a service and look at how it is being used and based on the observation, continue to improve the products.

Insights from being a connector:

Another way that we can gain insights is by being able to connect the dots between two disparate things or problems or ideas and create a completely new insight, which can lead us to developing a new product or service. You connect an insight from the arts world and an insight from the world of architecture and cycling to come up with a hook to store/showcase your cycle, thereby solving the problem of space (architecture) and convert your cycle to a piece of art, to be showcased and spoken about with your friends. This by itself can create a completely different designs of cycles unlocking a completely new segment of cycle as a piece of art and therefore give significant pricing power to the cycle manufacturer. This is not a fictional idea but something that is already been done. You can read about this here.

Insights from Imagination:

Humans have the inherent ability to imagine stuff. We can always use the power of imagination to come up with interesting problems to solve in our own unique way. This is something that every one of the innovation practitioners should practice to get better at. We can practice this by using the power of questions that allow us or even force us to use our powers of imagination to come up with a different and unique perspective. Frank Sesno, in his book, Ask More, has a lot of insights about how to use the power of questions when it comes to letting our imagination fly. I strongly urge you to read it immaterial of what you do for a living. Asking interesting question is an art that each one of us can benefit from. An interesting use of imagination to come up with an insight that led to an innovation is when a call centre signed up with an artist to use their exclusive audio clips to be used as the tune that listeners hear, while being on hold. This single insight flipped the problem – Instead of complaining when put on hold, now, customers (most) were happy to stay on hold. You can listen about this on my podcast episode with Dan Gregory here.


Irrespective of what method we use to generate the insight that can lead us to a unique perspective when trying to solve an interesting problem, it is important to note that it is critical that we develop our point-of-view. It is this point-of-view that brings in the uniqueness. As Seth points out in his blog, this is not easy.

Most of the ideas from these insights might fail. Having a unique point-of-view doesn’t feel safe. But it is the safest thing if you really want to have an impact and innovate.

So, as innovation practitioners, we all need to be brave enough to not only have a point-of-view but to have one that is unique to ourselves.

A small request:

If you liked what you read/heard, I would request you to head over to my patreon page and become a patron for the blog/podcast. You could do so by contributing anywhere from a single dollar to about 1000 USD depending upon how much you like the blog/show.

Think of it like the following – I will bring thought leaders to your door step and in return all I am asking is for you to spend just enough to get a cup of coffee for the expert that is in your home. 

I would like to keep this podcast ad-free and need your support regarding the same. You can also find some very interesting artists whom you can also contribute for.

I myself support James Victore as a patron. If you are an artist yourself, consider becoming a patron for James as well or even set-up your own Patreon Page here.



The Art of Storytelling For Business

It is well known that all of us make most of our decisions based on our emotions rather than pure logic or intellect or rationality. So, if we are to influence people and their decisions, we need to learn about moving them emotionally enough to get them to make a decision in our favour.

The best way for us to do so is by telling good stories, stories that they can related to and move with. I saw this video by Ameen Haque, who is the CEO of Storywallahs, which he delivered at the Google complex and was moved enough to share this here on my  blog. I have listened to him and his team tell stories at various public events in Bangalore with my 12 year old son and I can’t recommend them enough.

What Ameen does in this video is to break down the art of story telling and break it down into easy to understand and implement chunks of activities. If you are in the business of influencing anyone, I strongly urge you to take the 55 mins and watch this talk. It is not enough to watch the talk but try to do what he asks of you in the talk. Telling stories is a skill that we can develop with practice and as he says, we need to build a repertoire of stories that we can bring out whenever we need them to exert influence.

Some other resources that I have specifically found useful to learn storytelling for business are as below.

People & Blog:

  1. Bernadette Jiwa:
  2. Seth Godin
  3. Malcolm Gladwell
  4. Ameen Haque

Online Courses:

  1. Leadership Communication for Maximum Impact: Storytelling on Coursera
  2. Storytelling for Change on AcumenPlus
  3. Storytelling for Leaders: How to Craft Stories That Matter on Skillshare
  4. Storytelling for Business on Udemy
  5. Storytelling for Influence: on IDEO University
  6. Business Storytelling with C.C. Chapman on Lynda
  7. The Story strategy by Bernadette Jiwa


  1. Meaningful by Bernadette Jiwa
  2. Save the Cat by Blake Snyder


  1. The Business of Story
  2. The Revisionist History

I do hope that you will at least check out a few of these resources and find some time to learn the art of story telling.

Best Among What I Read Today, The Leadership edition – Jan 1st 2017

I read a lot and on diverse topics. I used to share all the interesting stuff on Twitter and Facebook, but realised that searching for them at a later point (in case someone wants to find out more or I want to connect with someone) became extremely difficult.

Also, my friends said that it is easier for them if they can find all the interesting stuff that i find in one place so that they can visit one single post and decide to read something that they find interesting as well.

Hence, going forward, on days that i read and find interesting articles, blog posts, books, podcasts and any other piece of content, i will share them in a blog post titled – “Best Among What I Read Today” and publish on my blog.

Here is today’s content that i found interesting. You can look at all the past posts here.

The 5 Skills That Innovative Leaders Have in Common

In this HBR blog post,Katherine Graham-Leviss, shares 5 skills that leaders who lead the most innovative teams exhibit. The skills that she mentions are:

  1. Manage Risk
  2. Demonstrate Curiosity
  3. Lead Courageously
  4. Seize Opportunities
  5. Maintain a Strategic Business Perspective

One further skill that I think that should have made the list was the ability to maintain contradicting views and still function well.

You can read the detailed post here.

The Best Leaders Let Go Of Control

In this blog post, the strategic coach, Dan Sullivan talks about the difference in being in control vs being in charge.

This is in my opinion, very critical as this tells you your own leadership style and has an impact on the culture of your organisation as well.

You can read the post here.

When your phone uses you

In this short but insightful post, best selling author Seth Godin talks about perspective. Do you let your phone (and everything/everyone who is on the phone) use you or if you use the phone to do your bidding.

This is true not just for your phone, but also for everything else in our lives. Do we live our lives on our terms or do we allow things/people around us dictate how to lead our lives.

Being a leader at times could feel very lonely and as leaders, we create our own heuristics about making decisions and build a team of people, who become our go-to-people to bounce off our thoughts. We need to question if we are in control of these conversations or are they controlling the conversation by only sharing things that we want to know or what they want us to know – both of which will lead to our failing as a leader.

You can read the post here.

Best Leadership books of 2016

In this blog post, Kevin Roberts, CEO of Saatchi and Saatchi shares his list of best leadership books of 2016. I truly respect him and his opinion and this list comes very close to my own list as well.

I would recommend that you check out the list and try and read these books. If you are pressed on time I would definitely recommend that you read at least Deep Work and Pre-suasion at least.

You can read the entire post here.

Your Turn

Pls do share any interesting article/post/book that you have come across recently in the comments section.