Categories: Entrepreneurship

02 Sep 2016

The secret behind routines

The secret behind routines

Years ago I lacked routines. In fact, I viewed people who had disciplined habits with disdain because I felt that such routines were a hinderance to the creative process. Wouldn’t daily patterns lock me up? I was wrong.

Nature itself works in patterns: days and nights, summers and winters, flowers and butterflies, mountains and rains and so on. These patterns don’t tire themselves out – in fact, they sustain all of earth through their repeatability. It’s these very patterns that allow creativity to blossom around us in countless ways.

Examine your life or business. Every area that’s lacking has an associated routine that’s missing.

If your health is held together by pills, you have a missing routine in exercise and food habits. If you’re bored with your job, you don’t have a routine to generate ideas or help others around you proactively. If you’re emotionally messed up through anger or angst, you don’t have a spiritual routine whether that’s through prayer or meditation or simply being thankful everyday for what you already have.

Whenever there are conflicts within teams, complaints from clients or slip-ups in projects, look under the hood and examine the team’s routines. You will find missing huddles and reviews. You will find people working without knowing what’s expected of them. Unresolved bitterness bubbles on for days because people avoid each other. The lack of rhythm ultimately translates to problems that clients perceive in the form of broken technology or shaky operations.

Routines keep you and your team emotionally balanced and physically energized. Ignore them and you can be sure to be bothered at the wrong times.

When you’re deep into designing a new product, someone will bother you about taxes. In between a marketing promotion, you will be dragged into an unexpected outburst by someone on the team. If you’re coughing and sneezing with a headache, you can forget about handling creative challenges – you just want to feel better. With unbalanced finances, you would be trigger-shy to approve even a modest training budget. You get the picture.

My routines started with myself and then moved to my work.

A few years ago when I was in every kind of issue from health to finances to finding emotional balance, I wrote an email to myself to stop worrying about what I didn’t want and instead focus on what I wanted. I wrote a series of routines that could potentially help me everyday. I wrote about things that I might want to do at least once a year such as going outdoors for a few days. I wrote about things that I always wanted to learn – even random things such as sculpture. At that time, it seemed impossible for any of that to happen.

Looking back I realize that every transformation started with a simple daily routine. I started exercising and meditating for just a few minutes. It helped. Then I stopped eating junk food. It helped. When I was able to fix a day, it became easier to fix a week and eventually a month. I added disciplines like not-complaining and removed patterns like having a drink after a stressful day. The good routines added up and made me feel good about myself. I also didn’t have to make repeated decisions about what I knew I had to do regularly. Then I brought those disciplines to work.

In my company we were trying to bring predictability to our processes but without routines, I realized we would never be able to do that. We started with simple habits of huddling for 10 minutes everyday across all teams and then reviewing our collective progress for an hour every week. By bringing financial discipline every month, we began managing cashflows better. In the beginning, it seemed painful because it seemed like I was losing my freedom. But the good habits added up giving us the freedom to pursue projects during non-routine time – usually 80% of our work time. People stopped interrupting each other with ad-hoc meetings or requests. We became more methodical in our operations.

Routines bring much needed predictability to areas that don’t need to wobble, such as your finances or health. They are the pillars on which you can stand on and develop yourself and your organization. It’s only after sustained effort that routines reveal their secret – they create the space you need to get on with your life’s work.

Originally published on LinkedIn and Economic Times,  by Praveen Suthrum, President & Co-Founder, NextServices

 

13 Aug 2016

5 mistakes you need to grow out of as an entrepreneur

5 mistakes you need to grow out of as an entrepreneur

Whenever I realize I have made a mistake, I get a rush of excitement and anxiety. Excited because I have had this ‘aha’ opportunity to learn something. Anxiety because usually the learning has come with a cost I cannot afford.

Entrepreneurial growth is wrought with mistakes that both hurt and help. When you start becoming aware of your mistakes, the journey of developing an organization becomes more natural and effortless. Here are a few mistakes that I have made, observed and grown out of.

Signing up for the Deferred Life Plan
Randy Komisar from Kleiner Perkins often talks about the Deferred Life Plan where you fail to do what you really want to do, but end up doing what you think is expected of you. You put your life on hold until an imagined pay day when you would retire rich. In hopes of increasing future valuation, you do not pay yourself a regular salary. You ignore your health and sleep thinking that the business will make up for it. Little do you realize that the payday needs to be everyday and not some future valuation, you do not pay yourself a regular salary. You ignore your health and sleep thinking that the business will make up for it. Little do you realize that the payday needs to be everyday and not some future event. 90% of the companies do not get bought, they simply shut shop. More importantly deferring what you desire to do to an unknown endpoint is a wasteful way of spending your life.

Changing direction too quickly
Usually things go more wrong than right. If you change direction with every jerk that the market gives you, you will not only confuse yourself, but also your team. Stick it out. If you are in the idea stage, build what you have in mind using whatever resources are available. Explore the market with what you have built for at least one and a half years before deciding to change course. Markets reward focused execution. When customers see that you are around and are consistent they trust you with their business. Be patient – it often takes twice as long the time and thrice as much the cost than what you originally anticipate.

Shying away from difficult conversations

You toggle between bottling everything up and blurting out emotionally when you cannot hold it any longer. Both approaches are wrong for you and the people you work with. Keeping quiet is not equal to being kind. A periodic outburst is not equal to having the guts to speak your mind. Develop a balanced method of having difficult conversations sounding neither unprofessional nor too soft. The more challenging conversations you are willing and able to have the better it is for your growth. Hesitating to let a wrong hire go soon enough or challenging your partners and investors or naming non-performance or tolerating mistreatment by a client are all examples of mistakes that will cost you a lot in the future.

Thinking of money on paper as the real one

The Oxford dictionary defines valuation as an estimation of something’s worth. Entrepreneurs confuse valuation as something that is concrete. Someone’s monetary estimate of your business can change in a day or on a whim. When you make business decisions with valuation goals in mind, you end up putting the cart before the horse. Instead of focusing on showy numbers such as user volume, work towards operational excellence, client advocacy, user design, cost controls and treating your people well. The latter areas strengthen the foundations of your organization that result in growth, which usually is the fuel for healthy long-term valuations.

Ignoring important but boring activities like accounting

The ups and downs of startup life give such a heady thrill that you begin to ignore less exciting activities such as timely bookkeeping. You find it boring that you need to review accounting reports, keep track of statutory requirements, follow up with people on deliverables and send invoices to clients in time. These critical aspects of running a business have the ability to derail you when things go wrong. Just as you teach children to brush their teeth twice a day, you will need to teach yourself to regularly follow through on those activities to keep the moving parts of your organization clean.

The choices you make
An entrepreneur’s life is not for everyone. You will need to be comfortable making mistakes on behalf of yourself and others and then taking responsibility for it all. You will need the ability to dust yourself every time you fall and get up with renewed enthusiasm. You will need to stay steady during the many highs and lows of enterprise building. Enjoy the ride.

Originally published on Economic Times,  by Praveen Suthrum, President & Co-Founder, NextServices. 

06 Aug 2016

Go beyond the initial idea to discover the core of your startup

Go beyond the initial idea to discover the core of your startup

“I think Facebook is an online directory for colleges and I mean it’s kinda interactive. If I want to look you up, I just go to The Facebook and type in your name, it brings me up like hopefully all the information I’d care to know about you.”

While sipping beer from a red plastic cup, Mark Zuckerberg narrated the above vision in this casual interview from a few years ago. He continued, “I want to create a really cool college directory product that just like is very relevant for students and like has a lot of like information that people care about when they are in college.”

If you filter the “likes” out of the quote, you can assume that he had little idea what Facebook would become. The company’s mission to make the world more open and connected came in much later. The thought of creating an immersive virtual reality environment would have been too far-fetched to imagine (Facebook acquired Oculus for its virtual reality technology two years ago).

Finding the ultimate purpose of your startup is never a one way street. You start with your desire to make an impact in a market that also changes you in turn. Nokia started as a pulp mill and is today a company that focuses on telecommunications infrastructure after selling its mobile division to Microsoft.

Thomas Edison started the Edison Lamp Company to manufacture lamps that eventually amalgamated into General Electric (GE), which operates in various sectors from power to aviation to healthcare a hundred years later. Amazon.com that started as an online bookstore sells cloud computing services apart from being the world’s largest retailer. It would have been unlikely for Jeff Bezos to see an opportunity to share his company’s technology infrastructure with other companies over the internet.

Focus and expand

Entrepreneurs rigidly get stuck with their idea and do not allow it to simmer in a changing environment. Cofounders squabble amongst themselves on whose idea it originally was. The market is not bothered about your idea or its ownership – what it does care about is its usefulness after flawless execution. Going beyond the initial idea allows your startup to bloom through a series of meaningful ideas that you discover along the way.

While we must have known all along, it took our company a longtime to recognize what our core was. We started with processing insurance claims for US-based medical facilities. After understanding the industry better, our work evolved to handle greater complexity from defending audits on behalf of clients to writing compliance automation algorithms.

Listening to our market helped us transform ourselves into a healthcare technology firm by developing cloud/mobile health record software from ground-up. Most of what we do today is something I had limited or no knowledge of when we started.

However, when we connect the dots I realize that our intention has been the same all along. Simplifying healthcare delivery was the reason that we got started and this purpose continues to be the driver for our decisions today. Whether they are large companies or solo medical practices, clients who love working with us do so because we simplify things for them. People who enjoy working in our environment are those who reflect these values themselves.

Did our core find us or did we know it all along? Discovering the core is more an act of subtraction than addition. When you stop compromising, you naturally evolve to reflect your inner core. The external environment constantly pushes you to either succumb to circumstances or stick up to who you are. It’s your ability to respond to such challenges smartly without losing yourself that helps you discover the core of your organization.

Originally published on Economic Times,  by Praveen Suthrum, President & Co-Founder, NextServices. 

16 Jul 2016

5 lessons for startups from the mountain top

5 lessons for startups from the mountain top

A few days ago, I climbed Stok Kangri, a mountain 15km south of Leh-Ladakh that marks the beginning of extreme high altitude mountaineering. Our trek spanned over 10 days and 100km via the Markha Valley culminating in a 16-hour ascent and descent. While battling altitude, weather, hunger, and exhaustion during our penultimate day, it occurred to me that there’s much in common with climbing a mountain and starting up. Here’s a summary of that epiphany.

1) Preparation takes longer than the climb
When we began our trek, I was nursing a back injury that made its presence felt whenever I bent. But magically the discomfort faded away as the days rolled by – I can attribute the recovery to long-term fitness. It took several months of continuous training for the body to endure a climb. In the end, you realize that the time spent on the climb is a lot shorter than the preparation that gets you ready for one. Growing an organization is exactly that – it takes a lot of continuous preparation when no one is watching to finally climb the mountains that matter.

2) Conquering is over-rated. Be humble.
We often hear about conquering mountains. Any long-term climber would tell you that many conditions have to come together to facilitate a climb from your body to the weather to gear to the team. Inside our heads is an imagined point of success. Little do we recognize the work that remains after that point. The descent from a mountain can sometimes be more challenging than the ascent. Life goes on after ‘conquering’ – usually, on to the next climb.

It’s the same with business. There’s something wrong with leaders projecting themselves as superhero conquerers who made it all happen. Be humble and recognize the many factors that have brought about the success of your startup. It’s simply a bonus that you got to climb one.

3) Simple disciplines bring freedom
Climbing, as with starting up, has inherent risks that you need to manage. The only way to climb a mountain or grow an organization with freedom is ongoing discipline. Often these disciplines are so simple that we tend to ignore them because our minds like complex challenges. A couple of my fellow-trekkers ignored the discipline of climbing slowly on earlier days and could not attempt the climb because they exhausted their physical capacity. I noticed a group of trekkers playing football at basecamp – wrong call at 5,000m altitude. Nearly all of them returned within a few hours of ascent the next night.

Even with all our preparation, the small stuff shows up from unexpected quarters to bite us. On the final day, I developed a blister on my big toe that rubbed against the long one. A blister-tape from a kind friend curtailed the injury and helped me move forward. Starting up a company can be overwhelming but simple disciplines of watching cashflow, seeking client feedback, listening to employees can help companies gear up for the long-term. It allows us to handle the unexpected blisters with more poise.

4) Conserve your resources
We underestimate the resources we need when we most need them. There’s a middle path between being conservative and reckless – we can teach ourselves to find the right balance through practice. If we are too fearful, we end up not attempting the climb. If we are too arrogant, the mountain shows us our rightful place, down in the plains. The same goes with starting up. Developing the maturity to constantly make risky but conservative decisions is important to manage resources, which is so often in short supply for entrepreneurs.

5) It’s a mind game.
In reality, most of our imagined risks never play out. Climbers aren’t swept away by avalanches anymore than airline passengers are marooned on islands. Startups don’t always end up dead – look at all the businesses around you that were startups once.

Our trouble stems from our inability to go through imagined pain in our mind but not the pain itself. If we can accept that as humans we are genetically wired to have the ability to survive and figure things out, we would live with lesser fear. In the end, it’s a mind game. When I walked up hungrily to the kitchen tent one day, my trek leader told me to relax my mind and that humans can survive up to three weeks without food. Starting up should be easier.

Originally published on Economic Times,  by Praveen Suthrum, President & Co-Founder, NextServices. 

28 Jun 2016

Three types of decisions you’ll make as an entrepreneur

Three types of decisions you'll make as an entrepreneur

threetypesofdecisions

There are three types of decisions that you will ever make – good decisions, bad decisions and a third category of the worst kind, no-decisions. In this last category are those ideas that you deliberate on for eons but never take any action on. In it lie those reasons you look for not starting up, such as the right business model or funding. But, make a decision and you will see that the startup ball magically moves forward.

I used a simple 2×2 matrix bound by a six-month timeline to help me decide the course of my life post MBA. The two columns in my matrix were: interests anddistance-to-go-live. I rated various startup ideas against these two parameters – my level of interest in the venture and the likelihood of making it happen. I skipped lucrative MBA job interviews so that I eliminate any backup options.

Given my experience with cross-border software delivery, I felt that I could extend that understanding to other fields. I chose to start a services business that could give a faster return than a product venture so that I could start paying back my student loan. During the six-month decision horizon, I researched my ideas by speaking to experts from marketing to architecture to healthcare delivery. Finally, I zeroed in on healthcare delivery because I reasoned that I could get a better understanding of the field through my doctor-uncle in Texas.

Before my mind could change itself through logic and reason, I told everyone I met that I was starting a business in healthcare delivery. The word got around and I met my future co-founders, an entrepreneur and a cardiologist – students from Michigan’s evening MBA program. Money from friends and family and a grant from Zell Lurie Institute helped us pay rent during our first year of operations. We purchased second-hand furniture. I over-borrowed on my student loan. We had no clients but we soon had an office!

When I reflect on that period, I realize now that the only thing that mattered was that first decision to get on with starting up. The rest of the decisions figured themselves out based on my worldview back then. If I had made decisions that were different from the ones I made – for example, had I started up with a product business first or had I chosen a field that was completely new to me – it wouldn’t have mattered so much. While we started as a services business, we eventually built an extensive product portfolio. Most of what I learnt about the healthcare field happened much after we got started and not before. The only overarching constant was a deep rooted desire to build a robust organization.

The 2×2 matrix, past experience, access to a certain field, advisors, investors and so on were mere crutches that I was holding onto to help me overcome the third category of no-decisions. Another important lesson that I learnt from that period was that people hop on a moving train that’s going somewhere more easily rather than on an imaginary one that may or may not go anywhere. The former shows commitment and the latter is fluff.

As an entrepreneur, you will always be making decisions with limited information. Using data helps you make a rational judgment based on information you have at a certain point in time. It provides a finite boundary that allows your mind to think unemotionally and make a call. Some of these decisions will be good or bad depending on when you ask the question or the kind of lens you use for your review.

More important than the decision itself is to recognize that the singular nature of data is to change – it never stays the same even for a moment. Your success will depend on your ability to adapt with it.

Originally published on LinkedIn,  by Praveen Suthrum, President & Co-Founder, NextServices. 

(This article was also published in The Economic Times here)

Image Credit: Joshua Earle

02 Jun 2016

Need of the hour is creative entrepreneurs

Need of the hour is creative entrepreneurs

We are all inherently creative. The only time when we are not is when we allow our natural abilities to be clouded. An easy indicator to know if our creativity is clouded is to ask the question, how much are we following the herd?

In an act of desperation, entrepreneurs and investors follow recently successful ideas and bucket themselves into risk-averse models that do not require bending of our minds. It’s safer to bet on another social app than say a microfluidics company that conducts lab tests in a box. Launch the app, demonstrate traction, exit by selling it to someone who needs your user-base. If there’s an e-commerce store successfully selling clothes, there will be others selling cosmetics and shoes. If there’s an addictive gaming app with angry birds in it, there will be countless games with other angry flying things. You get the picture.

If you think hard, you will realize that what the world really needs is not another idea to pass time or make people spend more money. We have enough and more of that. There are large problems staring at us from healthcare to education that require big ideas that creative entrepreneurs are capable of delivering. With dropping costs and accelerating capabilities, technology infrastructure has become so much more accessible. Scientific advancement is bursting in its seams. There are more than 3 billion people connected online making this also the most connected time in history. It would be a terrible waste of creative energy if all we produced are things that no one will care about a hundred years from now and the world continues to drag on with its problems.

If your idea is a “me-too”, stretch your imagination a little higher and let go of your needs to be somebody else. For example, say you have an idea for an app that sells cuddly bears in different sizes and colors. It’s a good idea but can you push it a little further? Can you embed sensors inside those cuddly bears so that they react to touch? Can you make one cuddly bear interact with other bears so that your buyers can create a community? Can the cuddly bear also watch over a child on demand and let you see the video on your phone? How about sharing that with the child’s grandparents? Soon, you would have transformed your idea from an e-commerce app for cuddly bears to a platform that has the possibility of addressing a variety of needs from loneliness to childhood safety. What if you soon have access to technology that drives Google’s driverless cars – the possibilities are endless for your cuddly bear!

Creativity is the primary tool of progress. Nature gifts every creature the ability to advance from one generation to the next. It gives humans an additional capacity – the burden of making a choice and acting on it. It’s up to us to put it to reasonable use.

 

Originally published on Economic Times,  by Praveen Suthrum, President & Co-Founder, NextServices. 
29 May 2016

Seven disciplines that bring entrepreneurial freedom

Seven disciplines that bring entrepreneurial freedom

sevendisciplinesthatbringentrepreneurialfreedom

You wish to become an entrepreneur to free yourself from the constraints of your job. However, after getting started you discover that the freedom you desire is elusive. Constraints from your job are now replaced by those from cashflows, investors, employees, clients, vendors and several other sources.

When implemented rigorously, these seven disciplines will create the space you need to paint your entrepreneurial canvas. 

Disciple 1: Focus on yourself before others.

Earn the right to manage other people by managing yourself first. The simplest way to bring about change in others is to demonstrate those values yourself. Organizations embody the behaviors of the founder – both good and bad. If you find problems in your organization, examine first if you have them yourself and find a way to address them.

When you focus on your development, you will naturally focus on the development of others. The more responsible people become, the lesser they require to be managed.

Discipline 2: Build a culture that corrects itself.

Culture is the secret ingredient that keeps organizations alive. It attracts the right kind of people to work with you, whether they are employees or clients or investors or partners. It tells people what’s right for the organization at important junctures by saying “yes, that’s us” or “no, that’s not us”. It keeps people going during tough times and brings them back to work the next day. When you create a strong culture it serves as a self-correcting platform that keeps the organization safe.

Building a strong culture requires consistency in your behavior and actions.

Discipline 3: Know your priorities and execute on them.

Some entrepreneurs face the problem of not knowing what’s important and are distracted by the next shiny ball. Some others face the problem of knowing their priorities but not executing on them, giving up on goals too quickly.

This discipline requires you to be constantly aware of what’s important to the organization and act on them with focus.

Discipline 4: Resist making every decision.

Entrepreneurs make the mistake of involving themselves in every decision. You need to allow people to make decisions and fail within a framework. It is through failure that people grow.

Resist the temptation of making a decision however easy it is for you. People can involve you in all kinds of decisions – from the quality of toilet rolls to pricing for proposals. Choose your involvement based on the maturity of your organization. Do your best to let your team evolve every six months by helping others take actions that you used to.

Think of your role as a success when the company thinks it can run without you, not the other way round.

Discipline 5: Build strengths, delegate weaknesses.

Surrounding yourself with people better than you will not undermine your presence, instead it will magnify it because you will get the freedom to live your strengths. The more you focus on your strengths, the more useful you will be to your company.

This discipline will develop the skill in you to look for strengths in others, instead of hounding them for their weaknesses. Allowing people to thrive on their strengths encourages them to perform better and enjoy their work.

Discipline 6: Get the right money on your back.

When you are small, it’s easy to keep your team aligned to your vision. But when you grow, especially using outside capital, it’s critical to bring the right kind of investors onboard. Unaligned investors create more chaos than order. When your investors don’t support your execution, you will struggle to balance their expectations with those of your clients and employees. Your own passion will wither in a cloud of conflicted priorities.

In recent months, we’ve seen many stories of startups that lost their way after rapid infusion of capital. Develop the discipline of evaluating whether an investor is a long-term fit for your needs.

Discipline 7: Track cashflows regardless of how well you are doing.

Startups fail unexpectedly because they miss aligning the four key cashflow determinants: what they earn, when they earn, what they spend and when they spend. If you lose sight of real money and mistake volumes of unpaid users for cashflows, your venture could go belly-up.

Profitable startups also make the mistake of not paying attention to less-exciting activities such as book-keeping, invoicing and getting paid in time.

The discipline of tracking cashflows gives you a sense of problems before they occur and help you keep the ship stable.

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Entrepreneurs confuse success with a big payday when they can retire on a boat somewhere. But if that’s all you wish to do, why work so hard in building a company? There are surely more predictable and easier ways to retire rich.

Entrepreneurship gives you a platform to express yourself in countless ways and be useful. It’s about creating opportunities for people to come together to take a shot at making the world a better place. These seven disciplines will help you realize your potential more freely.

Originally published on LinkedIn,  by Praveen Suthrum, President & Co-Founder, NextServices. 

(This article was also published in The Economic Times here)

Image Credit: Ben Moore

17 May 2016

You need to find your balance as an entrepreneur

You need to find your balance as an entrepreneur

Have you observed what people do when a flight attendant requests passengers to turn off their phones? Yes, they make that last call or double check their email and social updates. Some people actually seem to conduct an entire business transaction in that last moment before take off.

We have been conditioned to believe that if we aren’t busy, we aren’t productive. Even during an occasional quiet moment, we feel that we should be doing something. This feeling that we are not doing enough is fueled further when we keep checking other people’s glorious social and professional updates.

Startups, in particular, have tricked themselves into believing that unless they are hyper busy they aren’t growing. A lot of them are indeed busy without business. When people refer to working in a startup, they often mean a fast-paced frenzy of action. They proudly say that they are required to work long and never have time – implying that they are productive. In reality, productivity is measured when you get better outcomes with minimal expenditure of time.

Everyone seems to be running fast without exactly knowing where. In such times, simply running in the direction of where everyone else is running offers some comfort. Consider the recent proliferation of food or e-commerce startups. We have developed this mindset of choosing between quick success or death. It should be no surprise then that 90% of startups fail consuming billions of dollars and countless hours of work – they don’t know where they are going and are going there quickly.

Much like a banyan tree, a startup requires to be nurtured methodically so that it can grow roots that are deep and wide. It’s then that it can weather most storms. As a fig, the banyan grows small round fruits the size of cherries. Each fruit opens up into many fine seeds. Each of those seeds has the potential to grow into a gigantic tree that can sustain not only itself but a variety of life forms.

The roots of a company hinge on its ability to innovate, develop its people, build processes, and create a strong culture. If these are done right, the company grows steadily to its potential. But if these are compromised, the company loses its balance and risks failure.

Often founders make the mistake of becoming the company’s biggest bottleneck by doing everything themselves. This dependency prevents their companies from developing systems that are crucial for growth. Without systems, a company’s life dangerously toggles with the ups and downs of the entrepreneur.

As entrepreneurs, you need to find your own balance first. Whether it’s your health or finances or family or personal interests, know that it’s important to find a steady method that helps you run entrepreneurial marathons, not just sprints. This requires you to take care of yourself first, not last – it is then that you will be able to build your company to its potential.

There’s a word in Telugu called aarbhaatam. It somewhat translates to fuss or elaborate complexity or display of excessive excitement. As with most translations, the rendition just doesn’t sound the same to a native speaker. If we can let go of the aarbhaatam around our startups, we would let them grow up more completely.

Originally published on Economic Times,  by Praveen Suthrum, President & Co-Founder, NextServices. 

13 Apr 2016

An entrepreneur is first a salesperson

An entrepreneur is first a salesperson

I have been a sales guy in my earlier jobs and as the founder of a company, I have never stopped selling. The only shift that’s happened over the years is that today I focus more on creating an environment conducive to buying versus running behind someone to buy.

But, first a recap. The story started when I sold ad-space for my college magazine in Manipal. I knocked on the doors of all kinds of local vendors from stationary shops to restaurants. After listening to their business hardships, I usually found it easy to persuade them to buy. After engineering, I got sales jobs with ease – from selling pagers to cell phones – but my family thought it unworthy of me to be a sales guy.

They preferred that I put my engineering skills to use in the comforts of a modern office environment. So, I started my career as a software engineer only to get back to selling software projects for the same company in a few years. When I started up with NextServices at the end of my MBA, I was back on the street convincing doctors to try us out.

I am far from being a suave, smooth-talking sales guy who can sell, as they say, ice to an Eskimo. But, I can usually figure out what an Eskimo might need now or in the future and sell that to him sincerely. That latter skill has been particularly useful in building a business.

Here are a few takeaways for entrepreneurs who are also naturally the salespeople for their companies.

All rational buying is an emotional process. We like to think that people know what they buy. They don’t. From a house to a smartphone, people are driven by emotions while buying things that they care about. The heart makes the buying decision first and then the mind defends it through logic. So keep your spreadsheets at hand but understand your buyer’s emotional needs first.

Focus on the rose plant if you want to sell roses. Did you hear the story of the rose vendor? His business required him to find as many buyers as possible before the roses wrinkled. But, then slowly he started focusing on the rose plant. His attention shifted from selling roses to underlying matters such as the soil and environment that kept on producing roses that his buyers really wanted.

Congruence between your inner and outer persona matters. In wanting success of others, you try to become those people. But, the lack of congruence between your inner and outer selves comes through easily when you are selling. People buy you before they buy your product. Your best chance of selling yourself is by being yourself without conflict.

Be like that friendly neighborhood superhero. The biggest mistake salespeople make is to give up after a few tries. Create a system of follow up that never lets you lose your prospects after that first call or meeting. By staying in touch sufficiently enough, become that friendly neighborhood superhero that anyone can reach out to when they are in trouble. But, for that to happen they need to remember that you exist.

It’s about them, not you. No one cares about your needs, company or sales quotas. Learn to understand and speak from their point of view. So what if you are the Big Kahuna who sells to Fortune 500 companies, what is it that the person in front of you needs? Why is she investing her time with you right now?

There are times when sales feels like drudgery. No one seems to want you. And then there are these other times when people can’t get enough of you. During the former, you’ve become a part of someone else’s game. During the latter, you are playing the game – your game. Do the latter.

 

Originally published on Economic Times,  by Praveen Suthrum, President & Co-Founder, NextServices. 
29 Mar 2016

You are already creative, just stop curbing it

You are already creative, just stop curbing it

Have you observed that children don’t limit themselves with tags such as creative, intelligent, analytical, introvert and so on? They are too busy living their potential, whatever that may be. We pick these labels up along the way towards adulthood. Not only do we develop pointless limits for ourselves, but we tag others too, including our own children. We ourselves may not be experts in what qualifies as creative, but we are quite sure when we compare one person to the other and say that she’s more creative than him.

As we grow up, these tags morph themselves into our personality. When we are told constantly that we are one way or the other, we slowly start believing it. Eventually we become a representation of our belief systems. Much later in our careers, we begin searching for ways to dig ourselves out of creative mediocrity – forgetting that we are already creative.

When I was in school, I often sketched and painted. My most meaningful accomplishment during my engineering was not in the classroom, but in my hostel. I moulded clay into a bust, rising from the name of our college, the photograph of which became the cover of our annual magazine. But once I got into the career bandwagon, I constantly curtailed myself from expressing creatively. I somehow believed that professional success was different from creative expression.

It took several years after college before I finally convinced myself to enroll into a marathon program in sculpture at the New York Studio School in the midst of a turning point of my business. Funnily, I was dealing with sculpture by day and company emails by night. Those few days completely changed how I saw myself and my abilities.

I came back to work with unrestrained creative energy, which found its way into all kinds of business decisions. As a company, we embarked on developing a mobile-based electronic health record platform even though we hardly had any experience in writing software. Today, the platform has become a robust health IT backbone for medical organizations, completing multiple certifications. More importantly, I love that our team now believes that we can build anything we imagine.

Creativity is inbuilt in nature. From rivers to mountains – everything is in a constant state of creation. A mountain melts to become a river, which brings rain that can sustain a forest. When you observe Chrysanthemum and the disorganized harmony of its leaves and flowers, you will easily notice that creativity has countless forms. It would seem absurd to think that the plant thinks of itself with creative cutoffs or would deliberate whether its evolution is scientific or artistic.

There seems to be energy in life that already knows how to express itself. It obviously exists in each of us – how would we otherwise be born with such unique traits? Yet, we think of creativity as the purview of the so called creatives.

There are many who traverse through life without letting this creative energy fully blossom. You limit your work with preconceived boundaries. How pure would your work be without them? Aren’t you curious to see what would happen if you simply allowed yourself to creatively express whatever you feel? What if pats-on-the-back wasn’t part of your big agenda?

It doesn’t matter how you express your creativity or the extent of your expression. It’s simply important that you nurture that energy and not curb it. If you love writing, write. If you love drawing, draw something every other day. If you love playing badminton, do that. You just have to be like that radish seller, whose story I heard a few years ago – he would arrange his vegetables in such a beautiful way that people felt compelled to buy them. Simply know that it’s impossible for you to not be creative. The only thing that would stop yourself from expressing your true potential is you.

 

Originally published on Economic Times,  by Praveen Suthrum, President & Co-Founder, NextServices. 

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