Design of Business

Business, Culture and Entrepreneurship

Monday, November 9, 2009

This blog has moved

Starting in November 2009, I have moved my blog to a new address - (aka and a new (WordPress) platform. I hope you will join me there. I would love to have your feedback on the new blog (which is still a work in progress).

Sunday, November 1, 2009

3 Rules to Keep Your Sanity in Social Media

SM Marketing Madness @HubSpotImage by HubSpot via Flickr

"It seems like there is always another social network to join or another tool I'm supposed to learn. How can I keep up?"
You can't, asserts Alexandra Samuel, CEO of Social Signal in her Harvard Business blog.

Like all cliches, the assertion that the blogosphere is one giant echo chamber, has a good deal of truth to it. To newcomers, it appears there are the few and exalted stars of the blogosphere, and a vast ocean of unwashed unread masses, that is the rest of the us bloggers. Unlike in Mumbai or Hollywood, it doesn't seem you can work your way up, being a waiter, then an extra, minor part player and eventually get that big break to become a star. Or then again, even without the casting couch, maybe building a social media brand is not that different from a movie career. A lot of hard work, some teeth gnashing, a great deal more of prayer,and a dash of luck to achieve your dreams goals.

So let's learn from the folks who've gone before us. Having done a fair amount of stumbling myself, here are the insights I have gained, to keep my sanity in social media. And there's a benefit to taking the long term view as Marc Meyer reminds us.

the summary
  • focus - pick a few sites to make your presence felt and stick with 'em. Use a tool such as Posterous or Tumblr to be able to write once & publish wide
  • specialize - be something very specific, even if it is to very few people. you are more likely to stand out and enjoy doing this in the long run. Others will find you.
  • community - better to have a few highly interactive friends than vast hordes of "ships that pass by the night". Participate, give and weed periodically.
Focus We all have only so many hours in a day, that we can devote to any one thing. It is therefore critical to focus on a few - be it blogs you track/read (how many of us have more than 1000 unread posts in our feedreaders?), people you follow on Twitter, social media sites you will be on. If you had to pick only one, I'd choose Posterous or Tumblr - as these are simple ways to set up a your blog, even via email and get things sent out to all the other locations you'd like to be seen in. Sure focusing could mean that some times you are going to pick a Hi5 or a MySpace but find the world's moved on to a FaceBook - you can move then. And using a tool such as FriendFeed or a Twitter client such as TweetDeck or Seesmic

Specialize Don't try to be everything to everyone. Even when you think you are specialized, you can probably specialize further. Don't be another parent blogger or Adobe Air specialist, dive deeper - be a father of pre-teens, or focus on UX on Air alone. It will be scary and will at times seem that you have gone too far. You can always step back, but focus on being yourself and bringing things of value to your reader. While and seem to have built broad based properties, that is not the place to start IMO, given where the world is in 2009.

Community The raison d'etre of social media is to build a community of interested, if not like-minded, individuals - a whole which is greater than the sum of its parts. This implies two-way and many-to-many conversations. The secret to building such a community is to give of yourself first, commenting, re-tweeting, meeting in person and virtually. All best done with small groups first. So focus on building a high degree of interaction, one of high quality rather than quantity. If you view your community as a garden, weeding it is just as important as seeding and watering it.

Focus, specialization and giving to the community will act as a virtuous cycle, if done right.
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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

7 Easy Steps To Get Started with Social Media

Unless you have been living in a cave (or exploring one or spelunking) you’ve been bombarded by stories about Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media. And like most people I know over the age of 30, you have a vague feeling of “Is this something I should be doing?” or “Where the heck do I even start?”

Well look no further. This last year or thereabouts I have spent a good deal of time blogging, poking, tweeting, digging (more like – ing) around the social media sphere trying to separate the chaff from the wheat. While trying to persuade some friends, who I believe have a lot to offer, to start blogging, I realized, having a simple “Here’s what you need to do” might be the best way to get these folks started. In planning for one perfect yet tight post I nearly didn’t do this. Instead have opted now to get started and spell it out as I go. Clearly I build on the shoulders of others who have gone before.

For the skimmers, here is the quick & dirty version

  1. Have a written goal for why you are blogging
  2. Have one handle or name across all media properties
  3. Get started
  4. Do your homework
  5. Give, give and give some more
  6. Work across mediums – not just text
  7. Don’t forget the real world!

  1. Write down your purpose & goal This is as simple as being clear why you are doing this. Not because your boss told you, or your cousin thinks its a good idea or worse yet, your spouse wants you to. It could be as simple as “Coz I want to” which is want most mountaineers seem to state as their reason. Of course it’d be a whole lot better if you said specific thing such as
    • “Be seen as the #1 De-cluttering/organizing expert in the Tri-cities"
    • “Be perceived as a top 10 blogger in analog design in India” or
    • "Build a loyal following for my classical music compositions"

  2. Pick ONE name Think through the name you are going to use, for you are going to use it in a whole lot of places very soon – on your blog, on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, SlideShare – and that’s just for starters. It has got to be distinctive (so folks can remember it), specific and long enough for folks to make out it’s you but short enough to not chew up too many characters. This may not seem such a big deal, but it can be if you are successful. So might as well plan for it. Some good ones to emulate
      Of course there are no hard and fast rules – one of the most popular vcasters of all time is (I had to look that spelling up) – his Twitter handle is a little easier & different at @garyvee. Sure and are also popular, but no one outside South Asia will be able to spell their names without a lookup. Their success shows content trumps all other considerations. I’d still recommend that you use a short & descriptive handle.

  3. Get started As my dad was fond of saying, none of your preparation for swimming is useful, if you don’t get in the water. So soon as you finish reading this para article, get started. Put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard and start typing. Sure it would help if you make a writing calendar - could be as simple as, "I will spend 30 minutes each morning or 2 hours on Tue/Thur." Whatever works for you. But don't wait for the calendar. Start with your own "natural" voice. Sometimes it takes a few posts to discover what that is. Regardless don't try to speak in a voice that is not yours - be yourself (probably the hardest advice to follow)

  4. Do Your Homework Building up a good social presence is no different than finding a job or getting hooked up. You gotta let everyone know and it helps if the people you talk to are themselves well connected and well thought of. Do your homework. Find out where the audience, you think you speak to, hangs out. Who are the thought leaders/bloggers in the space that you plan to blog about? Get your tracking infrastructure in place - starting with Google Analytics. There are any number of good posts & resources about building an audience for your blog - so when they come, you can know where they are coming from, what they are reading. If you can't measure it, you can't improve it.

  5. Give, give & give some more Your mom was right. You gotta give, before you can expect to get something. So focus on giving - I mean freely - what would be of value to your readers. This could be links to other interesting articles, gadget reviews, your grandma's secret crochet techniques or other exotica (no, that was not a typo.) Find what you are good at, and what is valued by your audience and deliver it reliably with no further expectations. It's also worth keeping in mind that much of the social media is about conversation, which usually involves more than one voice - yours - alone. The best way to give is to comment on other people's blogs, to participate in conversations on Twitter or other social forums. Give first and ye shall receive!
  6. Cross mediums - try audio, slideware, video This might seem a stretch. Here you are still planning to get rolling or maybe just started in stringing a few words together, maybe Tweeting or mini-blogging (on Tumblr or Posterous). As one of the hottest social media stars, Gary Vaynerchuk has found - that video is his gig or as a zany Aussie hardware engineer did, you too may be a natural video star. Sometimes your content served up as a podcast may resonate with your audience on the go, as Chief Penguin Michael Katz has found. Till you play with it you will not know - iTunes, YouTube and SlideShare and others are changing the landscape of blogging & social media

  7. Real world exists In the echo chamber that is the blogosphere (& now Twitter and FaceBook) it's easy to lose sight that there's a real world out there. So don't forget to get out there, shake hands and pat backs (or is the other way around). Write for your local newspaper (if it is still in existence), attend seminars and better yet give talks. Volunteer with your local NGO, or BarCamp or TweetUp. Teach a class. Anything that tickles your fancy, will recharge you and change the world a little. You will bring all that and more back to your blog and writing. If you are like me, visiting the real world helps to stay married and seeing the kids before they get old enough to drive (away). And it will make you a whole lot more interesting.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Lessons from my dad - Be Humble

One particular story my father had told me numerous times when I was a teenager, was about his encounter with a money lender. This was the first and only time I had ever heard my father use an expletive - a gaali - as they'd say in Benaras. The story stuck with me initially because of the unvarying way he'd narrate it, and also the way he'd point out his own outrage at being called names.

Later as an entrepreneur, when I was borrowing money (and yet again borrowing some more) and seemed to have my hand out perennially either to Angels or prospective VCs, this story really hit home.

Very early in his career, my father joined the firm that he'd spend the next 37 years at. Founded as a trading company, the firm was as cash strapped as only a growing firm could be. As my father put it in the early days of their business, they "boldly and often baldly borrowed money." Not infrequently these were at usurious rates from local moneylenders. As the young company's accountant, my dad usually was the pointed end of this borrowing thrust. The borrowing was done in the name of the proprietor (my dad's boss) but almost always singly handled by my dad.

One day they found that there were yet again in need of cash and approached a money lender from whom they had borrowed before. In fact, they were yet to pay off their previous loan. Even as they were warming up to their pitch for borrowing more money, the Shylock began abusing my dad's boss - calling his mother names. My dad was livid and about to jump on the Shylock's throat, when he felt a warning tug on his hand - his boss was practically pinching my dad's palm off. My dad got the message and kept his counsel. Soon enough, after lumping the name-calling, they had pried some money out of the curmudgeon and headed back to their office.

Soon as they were out of earshot, his boss asked him,
"Did you borrow money from him?"

"Yes," my dad replied dutifully

"Well did you return his money?"

"No of course not!"

"Then what the hell were you getting all worked up for when he abused me?"
Many a times I have felt quite sanctimonious, even outraged, at the behavior of prospective customers, partners and of course VCs. Whilst this was truer when I could be called young and hot-blooded, it's not something I have completely lost. So when that familiar feeling swells up in a meeting, I recall my father's story and his advice to be humble!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Lessons from my dad - Be Considerate!

My father always waited till we got to the railway station or the airport, before he'd have the TALK with me. I never figured out why he waited till one of us was getting ready to leave town. It somehow made it a whole lot easier for him to have this conversation. The gist of many of these eve-of-departure conversations, when I was in college and then graduate school, was, "Be considerate."

I appreciate my father all the more, given the number of different ways he has tried to get me to understand this. "Don't be self absorbed - think of others; show that you are thinking of others. It's not enough to say I love you and not demonstrate that love in any other way. Be it with flowers, chocolate or that diamond necklace (okay, he didn't say that last one, but I don't think my wife would have minded, if he had).

My own reaction to my father's advice ranged from non-comprehension (“What are you talking about Dad?”) to mild irritation (“Why did you wait till I was leaving to have this talk”) to sometimes outright combativeness (“Did you not tell me money is not important?”). The day this lesson really hit home was when he commented "If you were a fool, it would be a lot easier for me to accept your behavior; unfortunately I know you are not a fool - which makes me all the more sad. Your being inconsiderate is then either a choice you are making or worse."

As the father of two not-so-little girls, I know that it’s not easy for a father to say this. Of course knowing how I feel with my own kids at times, it’s a miracle my dad did not kill me or at the very least slap some sense into me.

I realize this as I work every day with very smart people and see not so smart behavior, especially when it comes to being considerate. It's as if being successful or at least ambitious, means you can't be considerate. Luckily for me, I am surrounding by people who are neither shy nor retiring. So they don't hesitate to give feedback and keep me honest.

In my own case, on more than one occasion, I have had a senior colleague ask me, "Could you not have asked me to hand out the recognition awards? At the very least you could have asked me to be present, when you handed them out?" Having worked with my team for the better part of decade I realized (often all too late) that this was not about who did the handing out, as much as being inclusive and more importantly, not excluding even by omission.

This morning, as I set out for a short visit with my dad and a new week at work, I still hear him say, "Be considerate!"
It was only when I turned forty a few years back, that several new synapses fired for the first time in my brain. I realized that over the years, my father while narrating stories - often incidents or vignettes from work - had been imparting some serious wisdom to me. After 20 years of listening to these, sometimes grudgingly it finally dawned on me that much of what I've learnt and continue to practice as a professional stems from these stories of my dad. Starting this month, I hope to blog about some of them. Fred Wilson's post yesterday about thoughts on this 20th wedding anniversary on building a long term relationship finally got this post off the ground.
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Friday, March 20, 2009

Talent, training and trust - building culture person at a time

This evening I read Peter Bregman’s blog post about his experience at the Four Seasons in Dallas. It brought to mind my own experience at the ITC Windsor Manor in Bangalore.  The family and I had been visiting some friends in the northern part of town. It was late in the afternoon, when we headed back. Of course the kids waited till we were a fair bit down one of Bangalore’s interminable one-way roads, before clamouring to use the restroom. Usually, the chorus of “I’m hungry” or “I need to use the bathroom” from the backseat would result in much heated discussion between my lovely wife and myself. Luckily we were right in front  of the Windsor Manor, so no discussion was needed. We pulled in, parked the car and dashed to the front door.

The liveried doorman, the one with the enormous moustache, held the door open. “Which way to the rest rooms?” I asked as my eight-year old wiggled in front of me. The wife was still walking from the car, dragging our reluctant ten-year old behind her.  “Straight ahead sir, through the arch and turn left. You will find the restrooms in the first corridor on your right.” We made it safely with time to spare. As the girls and their mom, took their time powdering their noses or discussing Dad’s driving – I hung around the corridor, admiring the Raj era landscapes on the wall.

“Can I help you sir? Were you not able to find the restrooms?” I looked up to see the liveried doorman, who was clearly headed for his break. I assured him that I had already availed of their fine facilities, was merely waiting for the family and thanked him for his concern. After ensuring I had everything I needed he finally headed out the staff door. It was only then that I noticed the discretely designed staff door down the corridor, through which another staffer had just passed.

I was just blown away – there must have been 15-20 people at the front portico, as the family and I had passed through the front door. It was a good ten minutes or so later, when the doorman and I met in front of the restrooms. We were not guests at the hotel and I am sure that his job required him to manage matters primarily near the front porch. Yet, the care and sincerity with which stopped to inquire after my needs and the way he tried to address the matter of my possibly not having found the restrooms clearly reflected the sense of ownership he took over helping visitors and guests. Elsewhere at the Windsor Manor, at their incredible “Jolly Nabob” restaurant, I have seen the same excellent sense of ownership and pride with the maitre d’.

As anyone who’s been in the hospitality business knows, finding good help – the talent – is hard. Training them and inculcating in them the sense of ownership and service mindset is even harder. And institutionalizing it requires trust! This is a lesson all of us could use and Windsor Manor and the Four Seasons teach us well to use in our own business and lives.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The ONE thing you need to succeed as an entrepreneur

Last week one of the first tweets I came across, as I started my day, was a re-tweet by @CharlieCurve — a poetical summary of Gary Vaynerchuk (@garyvee) earlier tweet.

“Stop worrying about who's President, what the market did and FOCUS on your business & brand.”

Yep, focus – say it again – FOCUS is the one thing you need to succeed as an entrepreneur. If you thought you needed it before, the recession has made it a burning need as the economy totters, markets tumble and Cassandras abound. You’d think it would be easy to keep this one word in mind and hence stay focused.

Entire books have been written on the subject – most notably the eponymously titled one by Al Ries. The history of business is littered with not merely individuals or departments but entire companies losing focus. So this is harder than it appears.

It’s easy to understand why we lose focus, particularly in entrepreneurial setups. The passion and dynamism of being entrepreneurial is the first cause for the loss of focus. There’s always some new problems to be solved, a new customer to be served or more cash to be brought in. This makes it hard to say NO to a lot of things.  So one YES at at a time, you get another ball in the air, and soon there’s no time to do things as well as they need to be done. Worse yet, you keep falling behind and losing ground.

Staying focused requires us to master just one word and that is “No” Doesn’t have to be NO, screamed at the top of your voice, or even a “Hell no!” hissed out the corner of your mouth. Just a plain and polite no would suffice. Everything else that lead you to be an entrepreneur in the first place will kick in, once you focus. So take Gary’s advice and quit worrying about anything other than staying focused on your business goals!

For the two of you who may have not heard of Gary Vaynerchuk – here’s a quick blurb. Gary, who by age 30 had grown his family’s small wine business into a $50M dollar business, knows a thing or two about building successful businesses. And that was before before he started “Wine Library TV” that has nearly 100,000 daily viewers.  Gary has become a much sought after speaker on the matter of personal branding — patience and passion, he exhorts are critical elements to building your brand and business. But that’s matter for a whole another post.