Archive for April, 2007

Seth Godin read my mind so well

April 23, 2007

Seth Godin doesn’t need a Viagra of my review to sell his book The Dip. 

But when I found something in print from Godin that so well resonated with my own  thoughts, couldn’t stay repressed for long. Nothing can stop me from carving up the blogosphere anyways !

The Dip is about deciding when to quit something (the goal isn’t worth pursuing) or when to stick with it doggedly. 

Godin quotes Vince Lombardi at the start of his book.

“Vince Lombardi is one of the most venerated American football coaches in history. The team he built, the Green Bay Packers, won the NFL championship five times in the nine years he was coaching them. And Lombardi came up with one of the world’s most famous motivational commands of all, beloved of managers everywhere: “Quitters never win, and winners never quit.”

Godin’s verdict on the great Lombardi’s views ?  “Bad advice.”

Often I’ve felt this during my work life (up until 15 months back, now less rich and a much relieved freelancer) – do I really need to put up with disgusting mediocrity just because it gives me a pay check by month end ? If so, for how long? Gradually the rebellion inside me grew so powerful and on the morning of November 30, 2005 to be precise – I woke up to say “not any more”.

I can relate my own experience to agree with Godin.

When I chose to take up freelance Investment Banking consulting focusing on Private Equity, those in my small world said I was wrong.  It was a bit unsettling, a bit nervy too initially – to deflect those admonitions, but didn’t quite rankle. I began by spending time networking with startup teams and getting to know what they are up to and to see if I could be help in some way. Either called them up or even personally visited almost every startup incubator in the country so that I could be a good feeder for VC firms. Slowly I could enlarge my scope even to growth and expansion stage companies, that came seeking private equity infusion. 

I sensed hitting pay dirt with a difference – I was doing things my way, as I thought was right and with enormous satisfaction. None tells me how to do something. That creative freedom is worth the whole world.  The word `boss’ suddenly meant `a worthy client’ instead of an asshole that it connoted earlier. Suddenly I found time for my family, could pursue my passion and felt on top of everything. Pure joy !

All the while I must thank and acknowledge the selfless initiatives of several of my blog readers who have introduced me to their own employers – corporates and Investment Banks. This is essentially a relationship business and every introduction helps.  Thanks guys !

Do also read this superb interview by Guy Kawasaki here.

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When selling to big customers

April 20, 2007

“Between successive thoughts or desires, there’s a brief interlude of tranquility.Go find yourself there.”  – Bhagavad Gita 

What happens when you make repeated pitch to a big corporation and don’t come away with the order ?   But the best clients are not always the easiest to get. If you don’t grasp the realities of the corporate environment, you may sabotage even a hot lead. Selling your services to big corporations is an attractive proposition. The contracts are larger than with small businesses and individuals, and often longer-term. There’s the possibility of repeat business worth many billable hours at respectable rates.Sad and desperate, you either give up or curse your luck and try again. When it still doesn’t come, you quit trying. It’s quite rare that you search for reasons why you are not getting it. It could be bad pricing, lack of features or after sales support or there’s no money in the budget.  Or may be you weren’t talking to the decision maker. Yet, you thought you can get it if you persist with it. In all probability, you’ve just lost that customer by adopting the wrong tactic.

If you scratch the surface a bit, you may get some fresh insights.

When selling to big corporations every sale must be justified to someone else in the organization.  A supervisor must justify choices to a manager, the manager to an executive, the executive to the CEO, the CEO to the board, the board to the shareholders. Each one of these people wants to look good and dreads making a public mistake. If you want your sale to go through, you need to provide your contact with evidence why you and your solution are the best choice.

Individuals and small businesses buy services in the category of nice-to-have, often to improve their quality of life or of their employees. Corporations, especially in lean times, don’t. You must sell them something they actually need and prove how it will enhance their bottom line. A good selling strategy is to provide real-life examples of results at other companies.

Analyze, analyze, analyze all the time…not just physically, spiritually too.  While physical analysis gives you insights, the spiritual probe energizes you with new vigor.

The problem has been that you were so focused on action born out of ignorance which can be remedied only by enlightening your action with understanding. For that, you have to surrender your assumption of knowledge or to say it in one word, ego. 

Surrender your inadequacies to the mystery of life.  It’s a leap from the ordinary to the sacred, from the logical to the cosmic.  If you resist that, you create agony for yourself.  For eg. If  a stone is thrown on the wall, it makes a noise.  But if a stone is thrown in empty space it just passes through.  The wall is like an ego.  When you are scorned by another, you don’t get hurt if you are drained of ego as the spite will simply pass across. Very often we despair because we are not open to the vastness of life. We are bound by our knowledge.  We are dead to all that is beyond our knowledge. What we know is finite and what we do not know is infinite. To be alive and limited to what we know and dead to what we don’t is the root cause of anguish.

How difficult has it been for you to sell to a big corporation?  How did you get back on feet after that mind numbing initial setback ? .

A little off the VC plate

April 18, 2007

This is a sort of follow up on my recent post in my other blog. 

I found this nice article in Matt Marshall’s Venture Beat, where they had asked Ryan Floyd, venture capitalist with Storm Ventures, what the traits are of the most successful entrepreneurs he’s backed.

Ryan is apparently a climbing enthusiast, going by the mountaineering metaphors that he has liberally quoted. Quite apt, I thought since startup entrepreneurs life can’t be compared with nothing else for its arduousness. I sensed the delight that was in store for me from the word go, as I read Ryan’s opener “I am not sure there is a stereotypical entrepreneur right out of central casting”.

Some gems from Ryan’s piece – 

On determination and commitment“It can be a roller coaster ride for even the best funded companies. When companies are small, the risks and challenges are tremendous and it’s easy to get discouraged. To expect to grow a company without these obstacles would be a fairytale. Entrepreneurs and founders need to have the gritty determination and commitment to succeed no matter how high the hill”. 

“Commitment [to entrepreneurs themselves, investors, employees] is beyond passion for a project or idea. It’s about knowing that failure just simply is not an option”. 

“Up until several years ago, I spent a significant amount of my free time climbing in Yosemite. The concept of commitment in climbing is very analogous to a start up. Once we were on the wall we were committed regardless of weather, injury etc., especially on multi-day routes. We had to put 100 percent of our emotional and physical energy into being successful because, as climbers will tell you, usually the first instinct after going up a wall is to immediately want to come down. Living with gravity has that effect. With startups, many smart people will tell entrepreneurs and founders that they won’t be successful, the bigger companies will crush them, etc. The great entrepreneurs listen, reflect,and keep climbing”.

On Intellectual honesty and integrity“While some may believe that intellectual honesty is in conflict with passion or belief in an idea, I think that the greatest entrepreneurs find that constantly questioning their assumptions and maintaining a healthy dose of paranoia about competitiveness and value creation pushes individuals and organizations to achieve more with confidence. It also helps to make the never ending small course corrections in a business that lead to success”. 

On need for domain expertise – “One of my partners once told me that when he walks out of a board room and feels as though he knows a lot more about the business than the team, he knows he is in trouble. Many entrepreneurs reading this may find it comical that a venture investor could resist trying to prove he or she is the smartest person in the room. The best entrepreneurs I have worked with always make me feel like I am the one trying to play catch up. Entrepreneurs and founders should make it their business to know more about the individuals, the competitors, the customers etc. that make up their industry than anyone else”.  Notice the humility and reality perception here, hallmark of a great VC…! 

May be it is not an exhaustive list as confessed by Ryan for having left out traits like leadership, ability to build a team business experience, prior successes, or the ability to understand their customers and deliver a compelling product or service.  But I liked the narration powerful and hard hitting.   

I enjoyed the read. Hope you did too…!

Wanting it enough !

April 17, 2007

A curious reader of my earlier post Goal Keeping, asked me “when can we be sure that we have wanted something enough ?”  Honestly, I wasn’t completely ready for that question then and gave it some thought. In the end, I figured it has everything to do with intensity of desire.

Most people just look for small pieces of creation. It is a very big desire when someone looks for the Creator himself. Have you ever seen anybody who has no desire? Can you imagine somebody without any desire? Maybe they do not have your kind of desires.

They may have different kinds of desires. But is there somebody who has no desire? There is no such thing, because the energy that you call as life and the energy that you call as desire are not different. No desire means, really no possibility for life. So what to do with desires?

Just direct all your passions to the highest in life. These teachings of desirelessness and detachment have come because people chose to involve themselves in a selective way with life. It caused much confusion and problems to themselves and to everybody around them.

When you choose to involve yourself selectively with life, naturally, you get entangled with the process of life; this is normally referred to as attachment. People say, “Give up attachment and be detached”. If you remain detached from life, would you know life? I think the only way to know life is by involvement.

If you are not involved, you will not know anything. So all these teachings of detachment and desirelessness have come because of the fear of entanglement. Because a large segment of the population is entangled in something or the other, and entanglement always creates pain and suffering within a person, somebody gave this foolish solution “be detached”. So the solution for life is, “avoid it”.

If you want to avoid life, at least do it more efficiently. You could just shoot yourself in the head or jump off a mountain or go and stand in the middle of one of the busy streets, whichever way you like it; it is your choice, but at least do it little more efficiently… If you want to live, you need involvement.

If you want to avoid life, you must die; it is very simple. Being alive but wanting to die and not dying is a torture, because the fundamentals of either enjoying or not enjoying the process of life is by going through it. The elements of what you refer as heaven and hell are just this: If you are in anything willingly, that is your heaven. If you are in anything unwillingly, that is your hell.

What is most beautiful can become the ugliest thing if it happens to you unwillingly. What is the most beautiful thing and what is a horror is just a question of willingness and unwillingness. So the moment you say, “I want to be detached”, you become unwilling for the process of life; you make a hell. No wonder you want to go to heaven. Because people have made a complete hell out of themselves, they want to go to heaven, obviously.

I hope they proceed soon because those who have made a hell out of themselves will invariably make a hell out of the world also. If somebody is joyful he will make sure that everything around him is that. If somebody is miserable, he will cause misery to everybody around him.

Try the next cool thing instead !

April 12, 2007

I have often found startup entrepreneurs claiming “we want to be the Amazon in ……..space, we will be the Google in …….space” etc.  Modeling businesses after these success stories are alright so long as the desire to replicate does not crowd innovation out, which is the holy grail of startups that earned them that distinct reputation.   

The advantage of being a startup is that you don’t have too many rules to follow or approvals to take for doing what you think is right.  The freedom liberates you from constrictions, results in creativity that is the springboard of innovation.  When you are conscious of your thoughts and actions every moment, you will never slip into forming judgments. You simply don’t need to do what Google or Amazon did to succeed.  Why not be a benchmark yourself at something new instead of building the  brand equity of others ? 

The trouble with being judgmental is that our preconceived notions distort actual vision of life. When all our thoughts are centered around a predisposed state of mind, we see only what we wish to see or how we want them to be instead of how they are. We modify facts of our observation to suit our perception.  To relate it to a daily event, when we meet a person, we form a judgment about the person and then we collect facts that support it ; those which don’t conform are rejected.  Clearly, the casualty here is objective assessment.  That’s why being judgmental sucks.  

I often learn a lot from kids.  Kids never have fixed ideas about life or how it ought to be.  That’s why they are always cheerful and full of smiles.  All things are new for them and never take anything for granted.  They live fully every moment and they fear nothing. They don’t look at other happy kids to delight themselves. They give themselves joy by accepting things around them as are.  It’s ironic and indeed sad as we grow up, we trade a lot of useful natural instincts in for acquiring all that junk.  

While forming the startup idea, drop all your prejudices and opinions and look at the problem that you wish to solve. Find out what’s wrong with the solutions that already exist or what could be done to improve upon it. Analyze the pain points of users of a bad product or service and learn from them how they wished it were. Soon you’ll understand a thing or two about user perception and will tend to design only things that are user friendly.  

I don’t mean you stop marveling at yesterday’s heroes. It’s your turn to build the next spectacle for the rest of us !

Goal Keeping

April 5, 2007

Recently I had a meeting with a bunch of startup entrepreneurs. They were brilliant engineers who had over a decade of hardcore experience in high end technology between them. All super achievers with excellent credentials and have worked hard and traveled across the world many times over. But when I called on them recently, they seemed totally lost. Reason – over the last three months, they haven’t been able to execute even a single order which is crucial to their scale up plans. Were there technology glitches, last minute spec changes by the customer or emergence of new bugs. This was weighing heavily on them and they looked like a terrible pack of losers, which I knew they hardly were.  

My soccer coach from my school days came to my mind somehow. He had once found us in similar droop after we’d lost a match 2-1. That day he used this “goal keeping” technique on us – actually it’s got nothing to do with *goal keeping* as in a soccer game. It just meant “never lose sight of your immediate goal” – which is to keep passing the ball across the field. It makes the ultimate act of scoring a lot more easier since that is only on the last player’s – the one near the opponent’s post – mind.  It had a great impact on our energy levels at the next match with the same opponent which we won 6 – 0.   

If ever it could be put to use, it’s here and now, I thought.  The workplace was filled with the melancholic air.  I decided to get them out of it to drive some sense in. I asked them out and we treated ourselves to an early lunch at a nearby restaurant.  I just listened thro that lunch when they started pouring out, taking turns.  I thanked my dad for that result, he taught me how to listen as if I were wrong and to argue as if I were right.  I could realize how powerful a tool listening can be.   

While I had remained a listener all thro, I could sense their discomfiture while we were dipping into our dessert.  In the end, I did articulate to them whatever little I’d understood, since I knew all they needed was a sounding board.  All of them felt relieved having let their steam out.  I was sure they would now be capable of solving their problems, since their minds have gotten rid of the clutter.  But I never realized the hour long session had left such an impact on them when to my surprise, one of them had taken mental notes of our brainstorming and had put it up on his desktop the next day.  I am at liberty to share that. 

Excerpts – 

Want it enough. If you’re not getting what you think you want, then you may not want it enough. Look at what’s at stake for you if you don’t get it. Either increase your desire and commitment or let the goal go and choose another one. It’s important that you feel good about wanting your goals. Longing, frustration and feelings of depravation can hold you back, so only increase your desire to the point where you can still feel good about it. 

Focus on imagination. You are always right. If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you can’t. Increasing your belief is mainly best managed through having a strong, clear vision. 

Walk, slip, walk. The single quality common to all successful people is persistence. Take the actions necessary to create your life the way you really want it. When you run into obstacles and experience failures, pick yourself up and keep on walking. 

Break your thoughts up and rebuild. To get what you want, you must put in a certain amount of time and energy. Most of that will be in the area of managing your thinking. You’ll have to change bad habits, go through some necessary internal growth and overcome disappointments. Plus, you’ll have to learn how to be in action effectively and joyfully. 

To this I might as well ad some nice quotes.  I always liked quotes.  Did you too ?