Business, Culture and Entrepreneurship

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Four Things Entrepreneurs Can Do (More of) in 2009 to Win

In 45BC, Julius Caesar decreed the Julian Calendar. This formalized the then-new trend, that a calendar year begin in January—which for centuries before had started in March. Little did Caesar know that two millennia later, even with the minor modifications of the Gregorian calendar, the world at large would use this time to take stock.

With our own startup still finding its feet and so many good friends looking for jobs, I thought it might be appropriate to look at what entrepeneurs can do in 2009 to win. Even for those of you lucky enough to have a job, as Tom Peters said many years ago, you are the CEO of Me, Inc. and may want to check these out.

So here are 4 things that entrepreneurs need to do more of in 2009

[a] Give - as in contribute freely, your knowledge and at least some of your time. Start with your employees, who may be worried about the company, their own jobs and unclear how best to contribute. Share your learnings with peers in your trade organizations, with customers and prospects - be it in a blog, newsletter or a speech. At the very least, you will realize that you are not in half as bad a situation as many others are. Giving is not only psychically fulfilling but is an investment in your own future that makes just plain good business. And on any given day, giving need not take more time than a longish lunch break!

b] Reach out - get out in the field, in front of prospects & customers every other day. This means you—not just your marketing or sales person. You can't talk to customers too much (in a single meeting you can, but then you may never be called back!) The silver lining in a downturn is that customers have time to talk. So reach out. You can start by calling on all those folks you haven't connected with, just this last year, and work all the way back to those you haven't spoken to since high school! Remember you are not trying to sell, but to connect.

[b] Listen - having reached out, it is important to listen. You would be surprised at the insights that arise when we truly listen to our customers. Often customer themselves gain clarity when they talk and so many of our own assumptions get uncovered and prove to be baseless. Listening requires both preparation as well as asking clarifying questions. Only those of us who do this well will get invited back.

[c] Simplify - this is a great time to simplify everything about our business and jobs. Simplify your products, your collateral, your sales pitch, your internal systems, your website - you get the picture. Make it easier for people to find you, to understand what it is you do, why you do it better than anyone else and why buying from you and using your products is going to simplify your customers' own life and work. Simple is not easy - simple is hard! So the sooner you start the better.

In a downturn it's easy to batten down the hatches and focus on the numbers - which is important, but we are never going to dig ourselves out of a hole, let alone grow or thrive with just a defensive game. So it is important to stay the course with Giving, Reaching out, Listening & Simplifying (GRLS). While this sounds like a lot of work, it is not. GRLS require passion, planning and perseverance - but aren't these the very reasons you got into business in the first place?

You might want to check out the following two articles for interesting takes on this topic.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Letting Go of a Founder

We've all read of horror stories of VCs forcing actions leading founders to leave their companies. But are there reasons for a founder to leave voluntarily or being asked to leave by other founders or the management team? Many a times, the answer is yes.

My latest article in the Hindu Business Line addresses this issue.

When people set out to start a business, a few jump in with little planning. Most though, do so after much forethought. Even when a good deal of planning has gone into starting a company, it is the rare entrepreneur who has actually thought about a scenario in which the founder leaves.

I realize that the very thought may sound nihilistic to some readers — can there be a start-up without the founder or can start-ups that survive without the founder do well or at the very least exist meaningfully?

Read the rest here.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

5 Things to Do When You Lose Your Job!

Last week, I began getting a flurry of invites to connect on LinkedIn from ex-colleagues, all of whom were at the same firm — a sure indication that pink slips were in the offing! Alas, I was right, as the entire location got the axe on Monday. I suspect the first day every engineer in the place was in a state of shock, not to mention folks in finance, admin and marketing. It was hard to see folks that I admired, liked and even loved, struggle with what to do next - even as I counseled some, made calls for others and helped with resumes.

As a veteran (survivor, victim and instigator of) numerous layoffs stretching from my first week at work in August 1988 through the mid 2000s, I thought I should share my learnings on the Top 5 things to do when you lose your job. Not Surprisingly my first list looked very similar to the Top 5 things to do while you still have a job! Further thought and reflection helped refine it. So here goes....

  • Plan: Write down a set of objectives for next 90 days
    As the man said, when you don't know where you want to go, any road will take you there or NOT! So it better to know where you want to go first and then we can figure out how to get there. So get a plain piece of paper and a pencil and write down a set of 90 day objectives. This could be as forward looking as "I'll figure out what I want over the next three years" to "I'll have at least six/twelve/twenty four interviews." Break this down into what you will get done in the next 5 days, 15 days, 30 days, and every two weeks beyond.
  • Create Collateral: Get your resume re-done
    With the 90 day objectives in front of you, create at least two versions of your resume/curriculum vitae

    • The first one is a plain vanilla, one pager (or one sheet, if you have to go to two sides of a hardcopy resume) that highlights your skills, summarizes accomplishment and a quick employment summary. This is useful firstly for yourself to hone in on what you want to highlight and particularly for headhunters to get a sense for who you are.

      You can do a second, more detailed one (build on the first, don't waste time), that adds an objective up front (what are you looking for) and expands on specifics of what you have done or skills you possess to make you the right person for the stated objective. This you tweak for each company/interview that you appear for. Feel free to bring in an updated CV to the actual interview, particularly if there's been a phone screen.

    Doing your CV also means making yourself easy to find - so update your profile on LinkedIn, Spock or other business networks that may be relevant to your business. Regardless of your feelings or advice you may get to the contrary, it is worth posting your resume to the job sites - be they,,, or whatever specialized job sites may be there. Don't forget your alumni sites, regardless of how long ago you graduated or it was only an executive ed program you attended at that school.
  • Reach out: Work the phone/email/fax
    Be clear that you are in sales, regardless of what job you are looking for. Sales is a numbers game - so you have to set a clear target on how many folks you will call, how many mails you will send out and if you have to fax stuff, you'll do it! Ten (10) is a nice round number, as are of course, 15, 20 or 25. Set realistic goals for the number of mails you'll send or calls you'll make EACH DAY. And then just do it every morning. Yep, start your day with this. Once you connect with someone, or when you can never connect with someone you are trying to reach, you'll figure out what's the best time, if it is not the morning. You don't have the luxury of "I didn't like how he spoke to me," "Will she think I am desperate?" "I'm not sure I want to work there" - regardless of the truth of the these statements, they are EXCUSES - just move to the next call/email on your list.
  • Track
    When you lose your job, the only thing certain is that you are going to have a few lousy days. The best way to keep these short, is to stay busy meaningfully which is best done by tracking two critical things.

      Who did you send a resume to, or make a call, where did you already attend an interview, who said they'd give you an intro. Write everything down, so that nothing falls between the cracks.

      What worked and what didn't on a given day & how you felt. So any day that you feel down, you can see what you got done that day or at the least find another day that was lousier, that you already survived and so you know this too shall pass.

    I find using a daily diary or a notebook with one page per day is the best way to get this done. You can carry it with you and there is no boot-up time nor do you lose it because the battery died. I know folks who use MS Excel and a diary - choose your favorite method but do it!
  • Volunteer
    Instead of sitting at home or in your cubicle (till your last day), get out and keep yourself busy. Volunteer to help out at your friends' startup, at a local VC firm, at a non-profit - with your specific skills - be it letter (copy-)writing, programming, project management or basket weaving. Firstly this prevents you from moping around the house and bothering the spouse, kids or pets; more importantly it keeps your game sharp through practice at something real it helps you make new contacts, potentially learn a few new things and finally builds psychic karma for doing good. If it opens your eyes to new opportunities or insights about yourself, that's icing on the cake.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Communicating to Reassure - Lessons from the Real World

Stories of personal heroism and the extraordinary effort are slowly appearing from the survivors of the terrorist attack on Mumbai.  Besides the obvious lessons on preparedness (or lack thereof ), there is an important lesson for all of us on the criticality of timely communication. Much of the anger and angst felt by people towards politicians and the media , during and after the attacks, stems from the vacuum created by the absence of a single official source of information. Even if it were to tell people, "We don't have the facts yet, but we are staying on top of it and will let you know the moment we know something," people would have rallied around the speaker and the message.

Contrast this with the role Rudy Giuliani played even as the World Trade Center towers burned during the 9/11 attacks on New York. As the New York Times reported ,

Three hours [after the attack began] ... he stepped into a press conference with Gov. George E. Pataki. 
“Today is obviously one of the most difficult days in the history of the city,” he said softly. “The tragedy that we are undergoing right now is something that we’ve had nightmares about. My heart goes out to all the innocent victims of this horrible and vicious act of terrorism. And our focus now has to be to save as many lives as possible.”
Through that day, Giuliani held two more press conferences and at 11PM, was seen walking around Ground Zero talking to rescue workers. While I was no admirer of Rudy Giuliani prior to 9/11 or his recent run for the 2008 Republican nomination, he demonstrated through his actions and presence, the signs of a leader - one who understood the need to communicate, to reassure, even when he did not have all the facts.

While the Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra did appear on television several times, their unsubstantiated assertions on the number of terrorists, their origins and the state of the seige which changed with each interview undermined any confidence the public may have had. The Prime Minister too when he addressed the nation a day after the attack began, seemed to mumble incoherently and was insipid in the kind words of one editorial commentator .

It is a shame that the Indian political leadership at the city, state or national level failed to step up to the bar, to provide the focal point that people sought. Mr. Chidambaram, this might be your opportunity to provide such a leadership to reassure the citizens through direct, periodic and factual communication.

Leadership requires communication, be it good news, bad news or worse yet no real news. Communication done clearly and consistently is more likely to reassure listeners than silence, even if the crisis isn't over.