Design of Business

Business, Culture & Entrepreneurship

Author: Sri Srikrishna (page 1 of 20)

Getting to the promised land – inspiring yourself & others

Photo Credit: wyliepoon via Compfight cc

Last week, my daughter had a question for me about Transformational Leadership. While individually the words make sense, I can’t say I’ve kept up with all the kinds of leadership that’s in the literature, be it servant leadership or Attila-the-Hun leadership. In fact I’m still learning from my students and others. As I read up and discussed with my daughter, I understood that transformational leaders 

transform themselves and their audiences in visualizing and implementing big ideas.

With that it’s easy to see why Dr. Martin Luther King and MK Gandhi who inspired him were both transformational leaders. I also realized how this lesson had been shared by my dad but not necessarily learnt by me that day.

“I want you to have this home for the aged built.” Jayendra Saraswati, then the head of the Kanchi Kamakoti Mutt, and our family’s spiritual guru had told my father. This was in the late ’80s. My father, who’d lost his father early in life, had come up the hard way and was keen that he help as many people as he could, particularly when it came to matters of education. By the time of this conversation, he was in a good place financially and willing to spend, what he’d earned and saved, to serve others.

However, the family’s spiritual guru had one  additional stricture, “I don’t want you to build it with your money. I want you to raise the money from others in the community and have it built!”

As my father found out, paying for something yourself is a whole lot easier, than getting others to pay for it. It is not that people were unprepared to give to a charitable or deserving cause, but most people in a position to do so, already had their favorite causes to give to. Thus began my father’s journey of getting people in the community to buy into the vision of an old-age home, one ideally that was co-situated with an orphanage, allowing for young and old to both interact, learn and grow with one another.

Unlike in his professional experience, where purpose stemmed from the organization and unlike at home, were as the head of our rather large extended family, he could set the direction, this project required the learning and practice of transformational leadership. In my dad’s time, he did accomplish one half of his dream—getting a functional old-age home off the ground and operating for over nearly twenty years in his life time. And surviving two transfers in operating leadership, when his co-founder passed, then my father’s own Parkinson’s and subsequent demise.

He not only internalized this lesson on transforming himself and others, through visualizing an idea and executing on it, but shared it with me and others. Today as I listened to Dr. King’s last speech in Memphis, Tennessee on April 3, 1968 — the day before he was assassinated, I heard him say

I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I’m happy, tonight.

Dr. martin Luther king Jr.

Pitch Deck Advice from 2 VCs I Admire

Yesterday when I wrote about what can make your pitch deck sizzle, I alluded to the fact that there are excellent pitch decks out there. Rather than have you search for them, I’ve compiled two actual decks from AirBnB and [Co] here as well as templates recommended by two venture capitalists that I admire. Hope you find them useful.

Mark Suster is one of my favorite writers who delves deep in all matters entrepreneurs and VCs. His How to Create a Pitch Deck that VCs will Love is on the longish side but is where I’d start.

Brad Feld, another of my favorite writers/venture capitalists also provides a counterpoint, namely focusing on the pre-deck face-to-face pitch. In his words:

Feld often prefers more of a free-flowing conversation. So how do you spark an investor’s interest in that conversation? “The pitch should be very clear about what you are doing, why you are doing it and why I should care,” said Feld. “If you can cover those things quickly and precisely, it’s easy for me to decide whether I want to spend more time with you or not.”

How to Create a Killer Start-Up Pitc

Now here are two pitches AirBnB (2008) and Home61 (2018)


And if that’s not enough, here’s a whole slew of them from Forbes and Konsus (50 decks). Have at it.

3 Questions to Address that Will Make Your Pitch Deck Sizzle

Once again as I begin meeting with young (two high school sophomores) and not so young (their kids are in high school), the issue of making a short, yet compelling pitch to investors arises. Though a wide variety of folks have created excellent posts on what an ideal pitch deck should look like, I reckoned it is worth reminding folks of two things:

  • What is it that venture capitalists or for that matter any institutional investor (including some angel investors) are looking for
  • How best to address their needs but also attain greater clarity for yourself

Following a recent NY Times article and Jason Calacanis’ sarcastic response to it, Jason Fried wrote a nice post, about what it is that drives venture capitalists. In order to increase their probability of delivering double-digit returns year after year, amongst numerous other criteria, there are three critical things investors are looking for. These are:

  • HUGE market If the market is large enough, the probability that high and rapid growth is feasible increases
  • Proven team If the team has demonstrated success, the risk that they will NOT deliver is decreased
  • Unique competitive advantage The product/service/company brings something to the game that sets them way apart, giving customers a reason to buy – sometimes this is demonstrated by customer traction

While there are any number of other things are good to have such as customer traction, rapid sales growth potential, advisors and other investors, having two of the top 3 is critical. If you have a proven team and key competitive advantage and are NOT serving a large market, the investors can help direct you to the large market. Similarly if you are targeting a huge market and have a proven team, you can seek out a unique competitive advantage. If you have only one of the three, it can be an uphill sell to investors.

With the above as context, your pitch had better address upfront four questions

  • What is the problem or need you address? And who is your target customer whose need or problem you are solving?
  • How BIG is this need (or market) – units, numbers or revenue potential
  • How is it being addressed (or not) now and what makes your solution different? In other words why would customers buy from you?

These usually should be your first 3 or 4 foils. And they address two of the top 3 concerns for your investors – market size and unique competitive advantage.

You’d follow this with what you’ve actually accomplished. The trials you have run, ideally the customers you’ve already signed up or paid for your product or service, the feedback you are getting, the growth or traction you are seeing. In other words, you are real business with growth potential. And what are your next steps or milestones for the next 18 months broken down by quarters and what is your ask, “We are looking to raise a $2M (or $20M) round and how you plan to deploy the money you raise.

Depending on the audience you address, you can open with the team — “We’ve spent the last 30 years buying advertising and therefore know the problems advertisers face” to segue into the problem. My own preference is close the presentation with what makes your team the right one for this. By this time you’ve shown—not just through your presentation, your responses to their questions and your overall energy level rather than merely telling why you are the right folks to do this. Never hurts to be explicit though!

It’s worth keeping in mind, that your pitch is a living document. As you learn from each meeting you have, try to incorporate those insights. You don’t have to react to every single input, but when more than two or three people have the same question or input, it’s worth looking at what it is in your pitch that’s either not addressing it or possibly has it wrong. And don’t forget to share you pitch with your own team—you might be surprised both by how much of it is news to them, as well as the discerning feedback you might get from them. Get out there and break a leg!

Decisions – A Secret to Make Them Easier

“Do you think I should just quit?”

This is a question that comes up with surprising frequency. It’s not just prospective entrepreneurs who ask such questions.

“Should I fire him?” is another one I get asked frequently. This is often with a high-performing but a hard-to-get-along employee.

As leaders, managers, and individuals we are constantly having to make decisions. Decisions, that all too often don’t seem easy to make. They may have too high a cost – one that makes it daunting, even if it’s a simple Yes or No decision. Some would argue there are no simple decisions, especially when it comes to matters of people or organizations. And when a decision is hard to make, we invariably postpone it.

Rarely does such procrastination make things easier.

One simple secret to make such decision-making easier, is to separate the what from the when.

Most people, conflate what they intend to do (“the decision”) with when they will implement the decision.   In other words, if you decide to quit your job, when do you have to give notice? The thought of giving notice, is itself daunting and keeps you from making a decision about your job. The moment you recognize that these are two distinct things – “Should you quit?” and “When should you quit?” – you will find it easier to make the decision about your job.  This works from the simplest “Do we go on a vacation?” to “Do we fire this customer.”

Try it today and let me know how it works for you.

4 Steps to Better Care of Your Entrepreneurial Heart

Heart

Photo frankvanroon

The Ohio State University sends out a daily news update to its students and faculty. For Valentine’s day, one of the articles they shared in the daily mail was on how to take better care of your heart – or as they put it “4 simple steps to a healthy heart

 It struck me how appropriate this advice – useful for any person, is particularly relevant to entrepreneurs – who all too often – skip meals, and even if they don’t skip meals end up snacking unhealthily, run around in a high state of stress and all too often are desk-bound and sedentary. If that’s you (it certainly was me), that’s not a really good way to take care of your heart and health.
The four simple ways to take better care of your heart they recommend are:

eating healthy in my case this began by becoming conscious of what it is I put in my mouth – my meetings seemed to be accompanied with drinking endless cups of tea or coffee (with large doses of sugar in them) and snacking on cookies (or biscuits). Simply replacing such snacking with a water or green tea made a huge difference. I’ve written elsewhere how eating healthy also helped me drop 15 kgs (33 lbs) elsewhere.

being active I’ve begun using a simple 15-45 minute (Pomodoro) timer on my laptop and mobile phone so that I don’t spend 3 or 4 hours sitting on a chair. Additionally, I try to put in between 2-4 miles of walking a day – usually sneaking away at lunch time. Try holding at least some of your 2-person meetings as a walking meeting, in a nearby park – you get some exercise and mind find your meetings go way better.

managing stress many of us when younger were like “What me stress?”  But whether we feel stressed or not, the every day pulls and pressures of our jobs and lives do cause us stress. Conscious deep breathing, when you take that 5-minute break, walking around, mindfulness exercises or good old exercise are all good ways to manage stress. Of course, one key indicator for me personally is when my snacking desire increases, it’s usually a good indicator of being stressed.

avoiding tobacco here’s the good news – eating well, exercising and managing stress are all good ways to overcome habits, that you’d like to lose. Not having been a smoker, I’m hardly an expert in this area. But do what you can to avoid tobacco or seek help to quit smoking.

You can read the original article here.

Building a business is still on human scale

This morning I read Om Malik’s piece on DropBox and how they’ve become the company to achieve a billion dollar run rate in the shortest time –  9 yep, nine years!

The Internet might have hastened the pace of our world. The network has turbocharged growth and expansion. However, it looks that growing into business still indexes at human scale.

In the early naughts, when we’d meet venture capitalists, who’d ask “How will you become a billion-dollar business?” (my answer usually was we wouldn’t) and subsequently, when I heard young entrepreneurs pitch business plans, I’d often point out to them that average software product company takes 7-8 years to get to $50M in revenue. Yep 50M in run rate.

So if DropBox was able to get to 1 Billion in the same time, does that mean the clock has gotten faster? The two operative words here are unicorn and average – an even more important word might be run rate!

One way I’ve always thought about it, is despite all the advances in medicine, having a baby still takes – give or take – 9 months. A business in many ways, especially one that lasts, takes time nearer a decade to get to a significant size, on average!

3 Reasons Why Rejection Can Be Good For You

In 1988 just as I was about to finish up my Ph.D. and finally graduate, a good friend Murali arranged for me to interview with his group at Intel. My father, who was visiting, insisted on driving down with me to Santa Clara, as he was bored out of his mind hanging around my apartment. I dropped my dad at the Marriott, I think, around the corner and went on to my interview with Intel.

It did not go well.

I recall Murali’s boss asking me about how a PN junction works and being greatly offended mostly because I flubbed the answer. I don’t recall how the rest of the meeting went, safe to say not too well. In an ego-protecting move, my brain seems to have blanked it out completely. Needless to say, I never heard back from them.

It stops you from being complacent I realized that I’d just not prepared for my interview. I’m not sure what I’d thought – that I was a Berkeley grad or that I could answer anything on the fly. The interview that day made me face, how clueless and complacent I was.

It makes you better prepared It was not easy to admit to myself, the assumptions I’d made had made me complacent in the first place. Challenging the assumptions was a start but not sufficient. I realized being better prepared was the answer. Of course it took me more than one screw up, to learn this lesson and even today I find I could always be better prepared.

It leaves you open for better opportunities Little did I realize that flubbing the Intel interview was not a bad thing, for that’s how I ended up at National Semiconductor. Intel’s enormous success stemmed from their relentless and singular focus on what needed to be accomplished – this translated to new graduates often having to work on a reasonably narrow scope of things, for a good deal of time. That is not a bad thing! In fact, it’s a good thing to focus and go deep but just wasn’t my thing. Guess my inability to do one thing at a time is not a recent phenomenon.

At National, they just threw you at a problem, often a big one, and let you go at it – not pretty or efficient, but enormously educational. And if you were interested in something and prepared to put in the hours they were happy to hand it to you. Of course, this may explain their meanderings and lack of profitability the first five years I was there, but talk about learning on the job. Over the last 20 years, many of my successes and particularly my problem-solving expertise was built in those early years at National. They also spent a great deal on educating me on things that I felt then, as unrelated to my job role. This is something that I’m immensely grateful for, particularly to my managers and colleagues who guided me with great patience and fortitude.

Of course, if I’d paid attention in school and actually learned how a darn P-N junction worked, I might have learned just as much or even more at Intel, but I suspect given my own personality I wouldn’t have. So despite the disappointment, I felt that day driving back – with my father trying to assure me that he was sure I’d done well in the interview – it all turned out well.

And I’ve learned since then rejection need not be bad always.

As I’ve heard my wife say often to our daughters, when one door closes, God opens another. This has been my experience and I’m grateful for it.

5 Leadership Lessons from Teaching

classroom

Photo:asterixtom

“Help!”

Well, my email subject line actually read “Looking for advice/help.”

I’d just found out that I’ll be teaching a course on International Marketing (yay!) this coming semester. Once my initial euphoria died, I realized teaching a semester-long (14 weeks) course to a class of 21-year-olds was not something to be taken lightly. Hence the call for help to buddies of mine, who’s been molding young minds for more than two decades. The advice I got ranged from, “Oh, you’ll do great!” (fat lot of good that did) to a 90-minute primer on what teaching a course meant. As always I took profuse notes as my friends waxed.

When I went through my notes, one thing struck me – how much teaching a class well, required some of the same skills that any good leader (or startup founder) would need. So if I replaced the words “teaching” with “leadership” the advice was just as useful.

Here’s a quick summary of them.

Discover your leadership philosophy It’s important to understand and more importantly articulate both to yourself and your teams, what your leadership philosophy is. This isn’t as much what is right – Servant leadership or Leadership secrets of Attila the Hun – as much as knowing what works for you best and sharing it. If nothing else, answer for yourself, why are you a leader and how you plan to go about accomplishing this?

Understand your personal style Even leaders who share a common philosophy of leadership can have widely varying personal styles. My own personal style, regardless of the role I play in a team, is one of action – despite my oft-stated intent otherwise. I have seen folks who have a directive even aggressive style be just as successful as those who tend to ask questions and nudge. Recognizing your personal style and how it fits in with your leadership philosophy is important to help your team and yourself succeed.

State your expectations It’s important to articulate what you as a leader expect from your team. Whether what needs to get done, or how it needs to get done, stating this will save everyone a lot of grief. The more explicit and specific you are in articulating your expectations, the more likely they will be met. This is especially important when you take over as the leader of a new project, team or company.

Build on your strengths & share your experience As Peter Drucker put it “Make strength productive.” Building on your own strengths and sharing your past experience would help you be more successful and will give your team a sense of where you’ve been and lend credibility to your inputs. You need to balance sharing your experience against a tiresome telling of war stories.

Recognize people are different A team, whether it’s one you inherit or build, will likely consist of people who are widely different, in aspirations, attitudes, capabilities and working styles. If you have a large enough team, you’ll see something that approaches a Gaussian distribution – even in small teams, especially ones that you inherit, you will see a spectrum of personalities. Recognize this and keep the old adage Different Strokes for Different Folks in mind. You are less likely stumble and get frustrated.

I’d love to hear what your own experience has been both as a teacher and a leader.

7 Steps to Being a Better Conversationalist

storytelling“I’m terrible at making small talk! I have no problem talking to people one-on-one but put me in a roomful of people, I just freeze and don’t know what to say!” A fellow member of our ToastMaster club shared this tale of how his father was great at making small talk but the skill seemed to have somehow eluded him. He finally decided that not only would he learn how to be a better conversationalist, one capable of making small talk but would actually deliver a speech to our club. And so he did. As the assigned evaluator that evening, I took rapid notes as he spoke and as I glanced through the notes later that evening I realized these were indeed very good advice for all of us – whether we were looking to be better conversationalists or just better listeners. So here are his insights

Observe Look at the most effective person in a room – the one who’s surrounded by others and is most engaging. Walk up to them and observe, how they initiative conversation, and how they sustain it. What works for them may not work for you – and even if it did, adapt it to your style.

Be a good listener This seems counterintuitive, at least initially. To be a good conversationalist you need to be a good – active – listener. One way to do that is to ask questions – questions that acknowledge what they said, or clarify – open-ended questions so that they can drive the conversation. Observe how they respond. Rinse and repeat.

Reverse Questions Often people may start conversations by asking you questions. All of us have met folks who’ve walked up to us and asked questions such as “What is it you do?” or “How do you know the Samuels?” One technique my friend shared was to respond in kind – “That’s an interesting question. I was, in fact, going to ask you the same. What is it that you do?” Of course done right, this will not seem so much a deflection, but an expression of interest.

Body Language Conversation isn’t just verbal. When I first came to the US as a grad student, I was lucky enough to have a good friend Marcel (from the Netherlands) who pointed out to me that I tended to not only invade folks private space, but also reach out and touch them, literally. “Not a good idea,” as he put it. Observe people’s body language – of both speakers and listeners, when it’s done right and others respond positively and when it isn’t.

Listening while speaking Even when you are the designated speaker, when the floor has been ceded to you, confine your speaking to a finite amount (my friend recommended 30% – not sure there’s a magic number) and get your audience to engage by getting them to speak, whether through questions, responses or other forms of participation. In other words, even when you are “speaking” you are getting others to speak and you get to listen.

Prepare Nothing makes you a good conversationalist (or even a listener) as being prepared. Preparation here is not so much a speech you give – as much as having trivia or fun facts handy – be it about the weather (always safe), a sports team, food, pets or current events. I’d hazard into politics or the election only if you know the folks and even then if you want to be invited back I’d stick with safer topics.

Be Authentic Nothing kills a conversation faster than being a phony. Evince keen interest in what the other person is saying – this is part of being a good listener but stay authentic. If you are being bored, don’t try to hang in there bravely – your body will announce your disinterest louder than your words. Even if you disagree, you don’t have to argue nor do you have to silently agree. In short be authentic.

Now get out there and work the room!

 

250 stress-filled days with near-perfect health

Almost three years ago, I shared how I’d lost nearly 35lbs (16kgs) over the previous six months. Whilst that particular piece of good news on the health front, was a result of a diabetes scare, little did I realize what lay ahead. Six months later, I took a sabbatical, started a gaming studio and moved, rather unplanned, half-way across the world. It was the last part that was stressful – of course doing a gaming startup was no walk in the park either.

My normal coping mechanism for handling stress is snacking – maybe even binge-snacking at times. So having worked so hard to lose all that weight, I wasn’t going to let two adolescents, a major move that might put the kibosh on my startup and all the uncertainty that came with it, undo it all.  While losing the weight proved I had some measure of discipline and self-control, this did not extend very far.

So when I got on a plane in Bangalore 250 days ago, I wasn’t exactly confident how I’d do. Today I’m happy to report, for the first time in my adult life, I’ve gone through 250 days – the better part of a year – without as much as a sniffle or a sneeze (both common in Bangalore’s allergy-prone environs) nor an upset stomach, cold, cough or the flu. And at a particularly stress-filled time of my life with a great deal of uncertainty and free time to ponder on it. Here’s how I did it.

Daily walks – for 40 minutes – is what I started with, so as to not lose the health gains I’d made. Most days – the wife and I managed to sneak in an additional 30 minutes in the evenings. When I walked by myself I did a sub-15 minute mile, however, the wife and I together did a far more leisurely 18-20 minute mile.

I was lucky enough to read my former colleague and friend Troy Erstling‘s humbly-titled post My Epic Daily Routine – which acted as a great inspiration – I adopted several elements and adapted others to fit my own idiosyncracies. So here’s my own daily routine that’s led to my 250-day streak.

The Short Version

  • regular water drinking, starting first thing in the morning
  • daily exercise (walking) and sun salutations
  • eating whole foods, cut and prepared lovingly each day
  • portion control, and 5-6 small meals with mostly vegetables and fruits

The Gory Details

Two or more glasses of water – soon as I wake up. I go to bed with my 700-ml water bottle next to me and take a swig the moment I wake up. Have also taken to lugging around the water bottle all day and consume 1.5L of water on a typical day.

Morning ablutions – use the bathroom usually right after I get out of bed – occasionally in this season of Trump, have fallen into the bad habit of reading election news on my phone while in the bathroom. This is a new source of stress, so trying to lose it.

Mindfulness practice aka vegetable-cutting  Starting with slicing (yep, slicing) ginger for our morning tea, I spend between 10-20 minute cutting (slicing, dicing, at times pounding) vegetables and fruits for both our morning smoothie and later meals – this is the best stress-buster, a truly meditative and mindfulness exercise I’ve found. Shades of OCD in how small (and near-perfect cubes or parallelepiped shapes that I cut and the color combinations I strive for. But both my wife and I are happy that I do it.

sunsalutationfinal

Pic Credit: Hope’s Yoga

Sun Salutations Troy’s link  to this chart, helped me get off my duff to do daily sun salutations, which makes sure that I stretch myself and get a bit limber. The first one is always a little stiff, but after four or five months getting a whole lot better. Anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes.

Morning tea – I’ve always nursed my tea (with crushed cardamom and sliced ginger). Use this time to plan my day – at least the burning things that I can no longer avoid.

Morning walk – Barring a few days in a month, every day we’ve walked in the woods for not less than 30 minutes but most days 40 mins and cover between 2-2.5 miles in that time. Most importantly for the first time in the 25 years of being married, my wife and I walk together – so it’s done wonders for our communication, creativity, and our waistlines.

Eating Right As adherents of Dr. Ronesh Sinha and Rujuta Diwekar dietary principles, we’ve been enormously disciplined in terms of what we eat, which I believe is the primary cause of our present good health. We’ve gone to a very low-grain diet, with quinoa being our primary grain – with vegetables being the largest share of our diet, be it in smoothies (veggies + fruits), soups, chutneys, or sauteed dishes. We’ve been consciously consuming more nuts, fruits (low-glycemic) and snacking healthy with practically no commercially prepared foods. We do consume milk, yoghurt and soy-milk mostly with our tea and smoothies. A lot of grandma’s recipes have been resuscitated with coconut and ghee having returned to our diet, in finite quantities. Our diet (and recipes) deserve their own posts. The only other thing to note here is that we’ve stuck with 5-to-6 small meals in a day – breakfast, morning snack, lunch, evening snack and dinner (usually before 7pm).

Sleeping (early) For most of my adult life I was up till midnight before I got to bed. Been consciously working that towards 10pm – not there yet. But trying to put an end to electronic stuff by 930-10pm and read – usually a book before knocking off by 11pm. Again Mr. Trump really tested this routine, as I began watching the TV news – if we can call it that – somewhat obsessively around the debates or when I wanted to avoid doing taxes. Anyway, this is an ongoing effort, but am sleeping early and surprise, surprise, getting up earlier, despite Fall being here and the days getting colder.

What’s ahead (or things that have not worked)

  • meditation (10-30 minutes)
  • regular writing (3/days a week) – work on my book
  • pull ups (haven’t been able to do 1 yet, though gotten pushups to 30-40)
  • strength training to build some muscle
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