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Entrepreneurship is not Easy – Five lessons from my journey so far

Entrepreneurship is not Easy – Five lessons from my journey so far

No, I am not complaining. To live a life of my choosing and to do work that I love is a blessing indeed and I thank my stars every day for this. An adventure it is, but it is not all fun and games. And the next time one of my ex-colleagues from the corporate world tells me that I am living THE life and I have it all easy and set – be warned, I might just punch you. I was prepared for the hard work, the dedication and the perseverance that is needed to build something valuable from scratch – that’s the easy part. The hard part has been some of the experiences in the past two years since I moved from being an employee to a  micropreneur to an entrepreneur – some known, some forgotten, some unique, some learnt – but all experiences that have taught me some tough lessons. Lessons that I hope will help me grow and become more successful as an entrepreneur.

Today’s post is a summary of some of the jottings in my diary in the past year since I launched a full-fledged business – jottings that helped me understand, clarify internally and get clarity to take decisions. As I look back, some of the jottings assume special significance and I believe are worth sharing. So here are the big five lessons from my diary on entrepreneurship in the past year:

Entrepreneurship Lesson #1: A “NO” is not Personal – and I can’t move ahead if I don’t learn to recognise and accept all the nos quickly. I have reached out far and wide in my contacts to get more business. And of course, there are more nos than yeses.  And while I am really thankful for the yeses that got me started, it took me some time to accept that a no from my circle of contacts is not a personal rejection. Given all the nos, now I have this background track of a door opening and closing (with various levels of sound effects) playing in my mind whenever I make the pitch. There is the direct “bang” NO – brutal but efficient in the long run. There is the “creaking” half-hearted no – I will see what I can do (no), Call me next month (no), let’s wait for my budgets to be clear (no). And there is the deadly “total silence” no – no response at all to emails, calls, etc. I am a great believer in the power of sales funnel conversion stats – my belief in myself can be shaken but not my belief in the infallibility of numbers and metrics. It took me some time but now I have learnt to be happy with a no. The quicker I finish my quota of nos, the faster I can reach the yeses in wait for me.

Entrepreneurship Lesson #2: Every Hire is not a Great hire – With all my experience in hiring and managing people, this is one mistake that hit me hard. I have been very careful in building my initial team – this is the team that after all will determine what the company culture will be. The team that will walk the talk of the mission, vision and values and set examples for the rest to follow. It hurt when I realised that even after careful screening, I had hired someone who did not fit in with the core culture of my company. It hurt more when “sitting down” and having a discussion with the team member did not work. I had to take rapid action to let the person go. And that is the lesson – that even after being very careful, there will still be people who may be great performers but are not “right” for the organization. Hire slow and fire fast – strong words but very important ones for a startup.

Entrepreneurship Lesson #3: Every Customer is not a Great customer – And there will be times when I need to let a customer go. I have to let go of the temptation to add customers indiscriminately (and especially at the time when I can count all my customers on fingers of my hands). Being small and starting up, I needed to be careful about where I am directing efforts towards. And my fingers were burnt badly when I spent a lot of time and money working to satisfy a customer who though was known to me in my earlier life, I was not very comfortable taking on. There was a conflict in values when I initially assessed the opportunity and I should have listened to my gut feel/instincts that this conflict cannot be ignored and things will not work out. After a lot of back and forth and heartburn – it didn’t. Lesson learnt – I would rather stay small than compromise on what I need my business to stand for.

Entrepreneurship Lesson #4: Cash on Invoice is not Cash in the Bank – Can’t believe it even now, that I with all my revenue and cash flow management experience was sliding into this trap of false security. But I was – serves me right for building castles in the air and nearly building a few on the ground based on all the $$$ that I had raised invoices for. One big bill paid and my castles fell apart. And common sense came back. I now plan my costs and investments only based on the cash in the bank. Being self-funded, this is quite tricky but absolutely necessary for my peace of mind and my company’s financial well-being. That’s another thing about entrepreneurship – money balance in bank is the last thing on my mind before I go to sleep every night. Money was never a priority for me when I was in a job – never thought I would see this day or night 🙂

Entrepreneurship Lesson #5: Expect the Unexpected – I made an excellent business plan in December and had to throw out more than 50% of the planning on customers, revenue streams and sources by February end. Solid depression for a week (how could my planning have been so flawed? Who was I kidding? Is it time to wind up even before it starts properly?)  And then another revenue stream opened up. A customer was served up to me on a plate by a connection who I did not expect it from (thank you so much A). And I was back in the running :). Lesson learnt – things change. And things change rapidly. Have a Plan B (and C) in place. Be flexible and go with the flow. A plan is great but if the real world throws up some opportunities or challenges, be ready to grab them or fight them. And to prepare for change I now expect it and experiment with change by shaking things up and around a little bit more often in my business.

I have a long way to go yet and a lot to do. But if success is measured in terms of personal growth and experiences gathered, my first year as an entrepreneur has been quite successful. I am happy in the now and my team is happy in the now too 🙂 – what else could I ask for? Right – more money in the bank would be a good ask too, but I will get there.

Intrapreneurs, entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs-in-the-making – what do you think? Any advice for me – anything I should know now before I burn my fingers? Help me by sharing your thoughts and wisdom with me.

Pic courtesy – Flying_Solo_by_Chocoreaper

Five Ways the Cloud can rev up Operational Excellence for your Startup or Small Business

Five Ways the Cloud can rev up Operational Excellence for your Startup or Small Business

For the past year, I have been experimenting quite successfully in running my business through the cloud. I am no techie and this was not a planned model initially. However, I was clear that I needed to enable a flexible working environment for my team and ensure that my capital expenditure stays as close to zero as possible in the early stages. I had tried out tools like Box, Dropbox, Evernote and Skype for my personal use and loved the flexibility and ease-of-use they provided. So, it was a natural leap for me to integrate them into my business as well. And now that the business is growing, I went to my go-to-person for all things technical for advice on an IT plan and investments needed (I still don’t own a single server and that “felt” kind of uncomfortable when I remembered the huge server rooms at the businesses I have worked in). Turns out that I have actually been doing it right and have been part of a trend that is the new normal 🙂 . After I finished my feel-good pat-my-own-back session, I requested Shashwat, my go-to person, techie geek turned cloud solutions SME to write down what he told me in the form of a blog post so that I can share this with everyone. Here is his take on how cloud computing is not just for the biggies but is also a boon for startups and small businesses.

Cloud Computing for Small Business and StartUps

Software as a service (SaaS) has been around since the 60s, when IBM and other mainframe providers introduced the concept of time-shared computing. ISVs would host their code on remote servers providing functionality to enterprises on a subscription basis. With the advent of the internet and its increased adoption in the 90s, it gave way to a more efficient and ever-present way of computing, popularly known as cloud computing.

With higher internet speeds at reduced costs, cloud computing can be a boon for your start-up. Here’s why –

1)   Productivity on the go – Productivity has been revolutionized with the arrival of personal devices. The information worker has gone desk-less and enterprise IT has been consumerized. With the Bring-your-own-device culture gaining popularity in major conglomerates, it only makes sense for startups enable their workforce with such power. With cloud storage and cloud apps, the information worker can be more agile and help the startup be nimble. There are multiple platforms/vendors to choose from, to suit your organizational needs. From software development to basic word processing, all workloads can be hosted in the cloud. And with unlimited storage options, all you projects/files are omnipresent – all the time.

2)   Reduced capital and operational costs – The world’s best companies started in a garage, and not with a lot of money. Investing in a resilient IT infrastructure might not be an option available to every aspiring startup. The costs of deploying and maintaining an IT backbone, could be an expensive deal even for a small startup. For many, investing the money to the business would make more sense. The cloud helps you run your IT, without having to worry about maintaining or upgrading it – You will always have the latest and greatest. Thick clients are a thing of the past now, thus helping you reduce the need for expensive end user computing. Effectively, all you need is a browser J

3)   À la carte Computing – Efficient use of IT hardware is always a concern for enterprises. You don’t want to under-size the environment to save cost and run into performance issues, OR invest a lot of money to buy real beefy hardware and have them sit underutilized. With fast growing organizations, scalability becomes a constant issue and a drain on your finances. Enter – CLOUD – you use what you pay for, you pay for what you use. The user-feature based licensing model, helps companies to pick and choose what they want to use, without having to worry about hardware costs. Scalability??? Not a problem, you can scale your user base on the fly with a few clicks of the mouse.

 4)   Boosted Collaboration – Audio/video conferencing, file sharing and web apps – 90% of my workday is spent on these workloads. With teams becoming more virtual now, geo locations cannot be a hindrance to productivity. Efficient use of the cloud tools ensures that people collaborate successfully. You never have to email a single project file back and forth. Multiple people can consume and work on the same data from different locations simultaneously. Business intelligence and reporting has been simplified to a few clicks.

 5)   Increased continuity of service – “The cloud is always on” – You can get to it from anywhere, anytime. Businesses spend a lot of money to ensure that their systems are resilient and highly available, increasing the overall complexity of the environment, with constantly increasing operational costs. A subscription based model eliminates the need for a business to plan for unplanned service interruptions. You pay a one-time subscription fee, the vendor takes care of everything else. Many cloud vendors out there also offer financially backed service level agreements for mission critical workloads, so you can concentrate on your business worry free.

So, there you go – Cloud solutions enable you to concentrate on your business and run IT, quite practically with a credit card. 🙂

Cloud Tools/Solutions for your reference:

Cloud storage:

Onedrive for business – https://onedrive.live.com/about/en-us/business/

Box.Net for business – https://www.box.com/business/

Google drive – https://drive.google.com/ob?usp=web_ww_intro

Business email and productivity:

Microsoft Office 365 for small business – http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/business/compare-office-365-for-business-plans-FX102918419.aspx?tab=1

Google apps for business – http://www.google.com/enterprise/apps/business/

Unified collaboration:

Skype for business – http://www.skype.com/en/business/

Microsoft Lync online – http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/lync/meeting-software-compare-lync-plans-FX103842081.aspx

Google hangout – http://www.google.com/+/learnmore/hangouts/

Social for the enterprise:

Yammer – www.yammer.com

Chatter – https://www.salesforce.com/chatter/overview/

Today’s post is by Shashwat Mohapatra. Sash is a Client Success Manager and has about 10 years’ experience working as a trusted advisor with large Fortune 500 enterprise organizations in various business verticals around the globe, focused on helping enterprise customers consistently improve IT health, drive successful projects and migration deployments.

Did you find this post useful? How have you used cloud for your business? We would love to hear back and learn from you.

Five Essentials to Consider before venturing into Entrepreneurship

Five Essentials to Consider before venturing into Entrepreneurship

It has been a year since I went solo. Fifteen years into my career and I would rate this past year as the most satisfying and fulfilling year of my life. Hard work has been a common theme through all the years but nothing beats the satisfaction levels and the thrills of trying out something of your own and nurturing it to growth. However, entrepreneurship is not all fun and joy. There are ups and downs, small victories and big fails and we need a special mind-set and support system to ensure that we are not bouncing like a yo-yo along with our venture. Keeping the balance is absolutely essential.

I have written about the mind-shifts that I had to make within myself a few months after I plunged in an earlier post. For this annual event, I asked a very special woman, an amazing mother and a successful entrepreneur – Devina Mahapatra – who has been there, done that – to share with my readers and me on what helped her survive and thrive on her entrepreneurship journey. What are the essentials to consider before venturing into entrepreneurship, that we need to have in place to succeed? And here is her take:

A few years back, I found myself taking time off from the corporate world to dedicate to raising our kids. My goal: be home till the younger one is two. At this time, I was only expecting my first. While the joys of mommyhood is incomparable to anything else I had experienced, I got restless very quickly because there’s only so much you can fuss over an infant. By the time my first-born was a year old, I had started a business. And before I knew it, my husband had quit his high-profile IT position in a leading upcoming biotechnology firm to join the business. We quickly were living the entrepreneur lifestyle – very different from the regular 9-5 positions we had both held in the past. The accolades as well as the trials were rewarding. After seven years, our first business was sold, and my husband went on to start on his second, thereby entering the coveted group of serial entrepreneurs. Once you have a taste of being a business owner, it’s virtually impossible to turn back. However, I believe that without a few ground rules and work ethics, we would have burnt out before giving success a true chance.

Here’s my list of 5 Essentials to consider before venturing into entrepreneurship:

Essentials #1: Have unconditional support of your significant other –

By support, I mean holistic support – be it mental (challenging business strategy), emotional (provide encouragement when things are slow), physical (waking up to care for the kids at night) or public relations (keeping a calm composure and positive outlook when you just lost your biggest client). Confide in and communicate with your significant other – Err on the side of more than less. No one’s a mind reader. By unconditional, I mean in great times and terrible ones…alike.

Essentials #2: Don’t be a stranger to the facts –

Do research, and then some more. Know your competition. Know your product/service. Know the demand. Interview other business owners. Set a timeline target that’s realistic. Research goes a long way in saving you time and money.

Essentials #3: Know yourself –

Know your personality type. Running a business needs constant self-motivation in good days and bad. It takes an enormous amount of self driven discipline. Ask yourself if the business is enough motivation to get you out of bed every morning – for times to come. If yes, you’re a natural. If not, keep a motivation plan ready. Be accountable to yourself.

Essentials #4: Surround yourself with positive thinkers –

The easiest thing for people to say is no. Surround yourself with positive thinkers who emit positive energy. You will need it. Don’t hesitate to distance yourself from nay-sayers, mindless gossip and anything that doesn’t add value.

Essentials #5: Meditate Daily –

If you don’t meditate already, start anyway. Running a business will just get the universe as close to your soul as you allow. Meditation enables that. Practicing the art of maintaining peace and calm within yourself will pay off big time.

Are you thinking of going solo, starting a company or just taking a break to think about a career change? How are you preparing for this big shift in your life? What are the other essentials to consider before venturing into entrepreneurship ? Devina and I would love to hear back and learn from you.

Guest Post author : Devina Mahapatra

Pic Courtesy : Sukanya Rath

The Journey from Employee to  – Five Mind Shifts that I need to work on

The Journey from Employee to – Five Mind Shifts that I need to work on

Thomas Carlyle said – Go as far as you can see; when you get there, you’ll be able to see farther. 

It has been a few months now since I handed over my employee badge and stepped on to the road less travelled of entrepreneurship. Still surviving and never been happier !

My last blog on this topic elicited a lot of interest and questions and I thought it would be a good idea to take stock of what I have seen so far and share what I have learnt on this journey. While I did know when I started out that my life is going to change in a BIG way, what I probably had not realized as much was that most of the change would have to be in my mindset – my thoughts and approach to situations. HBS professor Howard Stevenson in his book – Breakthrough Entrepreneurship – defined Entrepreneurship as “Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.” And that certainly is a great definition in my case. As a micro-entrepreneur, my access to resources is certainly limited and I am learning how to be resourceful, identify the resources that I do have and find access to the resources that I don’t have.

So here are the five mind-shifts that I have realized I need to make and work on:

Resource #1 Time – Time is more valuable than Money:  It took me around a month to realize that  “time is money” is an advice best ignored as it is a definite trap. I had broken up my working hours into slots that I planned to sell. Then I realized the only way to make more money from my work is to make more time to work. And then days and nights, weekends and weekdays all started blurring into each other pretty soon till I was at a point where I lost track of all time. There are just not enough hours in the day for the work that I want to do and the kind of success that I want to achieve. Lesson learned – I need to learn the art of saying “NO” and also need to systemize my work to achieve scalability. Think about the outcome I want and then work backwards breaking it up into tasks and checklists and documenting all of it so that I create repeatable processes that clients and my team can use to deliver identical results every time–especially when I am not there. This is about moving from the “no one can do it better than me” mindset to “enabling and creating capabilities outside of me” so that I can free up my time and attention for the next level of challenges and opportunities.

Resource #2 Finances – I am my safety blanket: The luxury of a pay cheque at the end of the month is gone – so also is all the benefits and savings towards a pension that got automatically taken care of by my employer. So now the responsibility lies solely with me to ensure that I plan my finances in such a way that I am keeping aside some of the money for the future. Never being very good with personal finances, I have had to give considerable thought to this especially when one of the golden rules of entrepreneurship is to have a nest egg for living expenses and emergencies for at least one year before expanding the business or your lifestyle. This will need a lot of juggling and some level of discipline in me to achieve.

Resource #3 Ability and Skills – I am solely responsible for MY performance and growth: No more annual performance appraisals and goal setting by managers (that’s actually a relief as I have never believed in them anyway). And there is no option of learning on the job as you are expected to deliver from day one as a consultant. So, if I have to grow, it is unto me to take charge of my learning curve while balancing the two points above – time and finances.  I am reading up on goal setting – 30, 60, 90 days plans that will work well for me and my business. I have also created a goal poster for myself to help me visualize my success and urge me forward. I had never imagined that I would end up spending so much time on this area ultimately considering that this was an area I never gave much attention to as an employee.

Resource #4 Technology and Tools – I am my support function: The life-lines of calling up the IT department or admin to take care of my IT or admin needs is over. I have to build up my own support structure so that I don’t waste my precious time on tasks such as creating invoices, backing up data, setting up a LAN, etc. – all business critical functions but not my core competency. I need to concentrate on my strengths and take help on or delegate my weaknesses. Hence the need to investigate the right set of tools and technology to improve my productivity. I also have to look at functions that can be delegated or outsourced with ease so I am keeping a checklist of things and documenting the processes that I need to outsource in the near future instead of trying to do it all myself. That’s another change in thought process that is important in making a smooth transition from employee to entrepreneur.

Resource #5 Being Visible I am my marketing and sales engine – and that means that I have to move from being an introvert to someone who doesn’t shy away from marketing and legitimately promoting myself – the biggest mind shift that I have to make. This is probably something that I should have been doing as an employee too but I always thought that my work would speak for itself (and it did to some extent). Recognizing my value myself and ensuring that others know it too, never under-selling and pushing back or forward as needed is critical for my business growth. Confidence comes from action is something that I now realize too well – so my to-do list is now almost full of actions that I need to take to make me and my business visible. Sacha Chua – a fellow entrepreneur sums up it up very well in her sketch note here.

So are you in the same boat? What shifts did you have to make in your entrepreneurship journey? What else do I need to re-learn? I would love to hear back and learn from your experiences.

Pic courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/uggboy/5383116954