How Investors can get more ‘hits’, by helping portfolio companies, balance scale & sustainability.

Start-ups, are running ONE venture and for them its their, ONE and only ONE venture. Hence, the Founder’s interest in the venture is for a term, longer than that of their Investors. It’s safe to assume, that they are all in for a marathon.

The Venture Capital / Private Equity Investors have seen some great hits like Alibaba & Yahoo, where these start-ups initially worked for scale, at the cost of making huge initial losses. Investors are likely to continue this approach of chasing scale, as it has done wonders for them. Their mandate is to grow their money in many multiples. They make their money when a portfolio start-up scales up fast and goes for the next round of funding. Here, the investor gets an exit and is able to make 3x or 4x (if not more) of their investment. So, they are willing to risk their money on these ‘scale chasing startups’, hoping that, even if one out of ten or perhaps hundred becomes the next unicorn, they would cover the possible losses from the other nine or ninety nine.

One would accept that the rules of success in a marathon are different, than that of a sprint. A marathoner has to conserve his energy for the long race. Accordingly, in this case, the start-ups also have to conserve energy i.e. grow value in terms of sustainable profits. At least, they have to work in that direction.

However, Start-ups will chase scale, as that is the current game,  and investors, being very important shareholders, will exert their influence, on the strategy of the start-up.

But, do they have to chose between the two – scale vs sustainablity . Or is there a way to “have the cake and eat it too” ?

Thankfully, there may be a way to do that.

It is well known that today’s Start-Up founders, initially get attracted to an idea that solves a perceived problem. They, then start looking out for ways to find money for funding. However, to solve their chosen problem, they have to be in the market for years. And to do that they have to create value and win-win relationships in their marketplace. When every player in their marketplace is winning, the word of mouth publicity will have a viral effect of attracting more service providers, vendors, and users to the platform, thereby driving scale as a by-product.

It may take some brainstorming during business / product blue printing as well as during execution, to find ways to have win-win-win across their entire value chain. Once, the magic sauce is discovered and seen to be delivered, the venture will scale-up faster than one can imagine. In a chain, its always easier to have all parties winning, than leaving even one ‘Whining’.

It is clear that when, scale is chosen above profitability, it leads to choosing customer/vendor acquisition over customer/vendor retention. But power of improving retention cannot be ignored. It’s very important to find out why vendors/customers are leaving the platform or not coming back. It holds the key to future improvements. Any start-up chasing sustainability will consider it worth their while to discover and fine-tune their model, measurements, services, and communication to help retain their vendors/customers and even employees, (rather employees foremost).

I would advise Start-ups to understand that their Board of Directors has to balance between Investors/Shareholders on one side and CXOs on the other. The CXOs have to run the business profitably and ‘see’ the business scale as a byproduct. Which means that the CXOs, need to primarily focus on what the customer/vendor wants, and scaling up has to be seen as something that has to happen as a result of driving customer/vendor satisfaction. This is important, while they are reaching out to new customers/vendors. This will lead to perhaps earning the right value from the customers, and paying the right value to the vendor, that not only keeps them both coming back to the platform, for good reasons, but also bring other folks into the platform.

The Board’s job, then, is to see how they can meet the expectations of the Investors/Shareholder’s without compromising the focus of the CXOs. It is not undoable. It is like walking a tightrope and there is a need for people within or even outside of the Board, who could help do just that, and keep all stakeholders happy about their respective goals, being achieved. If even one party is ‘whining’, it  will exert pressure on the entire system and may succeed in making others ‘whine’ as well, which is not the Goal.

It may be possible to walk this tightrope, by balancing the forces within the company. While certain teams like Operations are focused on driving scale, other teams can focus on driving customer / vendor / employee retention / experience / engagement, and operational excellence.

In a start-up, mostly the Founder (who is a shareholder), is also the Director (that’s a Board Member) and also the CEO (which is the head of the CXO team). In such a situation, the Founder has to juggle the three hats, depending upon the audience, be it the Investors, other Shareholders, other Board Members or the CXOs. It’s quite a daunting task, which is possibly why only 1 out of 100 succeed.

While my focus is to assist Founders to succeed, in making money today and in the future. These successes will also solve the large numbers of socio-economic-business problems, the start-ups are trying to solve.

With this balancing act, the investors should win, more often. While 1 out 10,00,000 (or more) may become the unicorn they are looking for, the rest may also be possible winners, thereby improving their ‘hit’ rate.

The investment firms, have investment bankers as part of their teams. They specialise in reading the pulse of the market, tracking the innovations taking place, finding opportunities, identifying the right start-ups to invest on, working on valuations, etc. This is very essential and the core of their investment business. However, it’s also important to have a team internally that switches the focus post funding, from driving valuations to mentoring Start-ups, on doing what they are meant to do… i.e. to make money in a self-sustainable way. This way the investment firm can continue doing what has worked so far, while helping more Start-ups succeed.

If you are a decision maker in a PE/VC/Angel Investing firm or a Start-up founder and agree or even disagree to my line of thinking, please leave your comments. In case you want to discuss further, do leave your co-ordinates, so we may have a conversation.

How to get the best results from hiring a former entrepreneur.

I have been an entrepreneur for 8 years and in the corporate world for about 6. At some point, had the privilege of being an Executive Coach. I had great learning opportunities in engaging former entrepreneurs as well as being engaged as one. So, here are some lessons that would help you, as a business owner, or a board member, to get the best out of engaging an ex-entrepreneur, into a full time role.

  1. Give a role that requires ‘change’ or ‘top-down’ perspective. Roles that require managing, Business As Usual (BAU) or a department, may not get the best out of him. You could make him responsible for driving performance, change, innovation, employee engagement or a turnaround, transformation, scale-up, or a start-up. Even, if he is going to manage a key department, it could be with a mandate to bring about ‘change’ with agreed performance criteria. You may also transition him through various departments, before ultimately giving him a role that uses his top-down perspective.
  2. Bring out his natural sense of ownership on the job. Its very different when he is an actual owner in his business and when he is in employment. Its important to communicate mutual expectations. Link his contribution to the company’s goals and set performance measurement benchmarks. Figure out what authority/resources/tools may be required, to accomplish his goals. This will help, invoke a sense of ownership which, he is so used to working with.
  3. Find out why he wants to get into a full time employment. You may or may not want to broach this topic, but avoid making a presumption on whether or not he was successful in business. For all you know, he could have made a conscious choice to wind-up a money making business, that no longer served his vision or no longer gave him joy. Even if his business did not sustain, he has likely learnt important lessons that may help your company avoid costly mistakes.
  4. Are you worried about lack of domain knowledge in your sector ? If he has been a smart businessman, he will pick up the sector knowledge before you realise. Typically, an employee who has spent 10-15 years in a sector, may be considered fit for a strategic role. But you may not, look at an entrepreneur with the same lenses. If he is diligent, he would figure out the missing links and capture the domain knowledge while working towards the goals. So if he has the leadership skills, and has spent years in other sectors, you may still consider him for a senior role. He is likely to come in with a fresh perspective, and you may discover some old assumptions that may no longer be true.
  5. Position him in the hierarchy, closer to the ownership, board, or the CEO. However, if you must have him lower down the hierarchy, let the expected reporting manager take full ownership and accountability for the results. In any case, keep an open channel with him, with a dotted line reporting to the top.
  6. Once hired, place your trust, empower and make accountable for results. Position him through the organisational structure with a balance of authority and responsibility. Absence of empowerment, may affect his ability to bring out the best from the people. You can always make changes or discontinue the engagement, but its best to give a fair opportunity.
  7. Engage him with clarity about his future plans. Don’t presume that he is transition, waiting for another business opportunity. If you are going to hire him with this thought at the back of your mind, you may not empower him adequately which is necessary to get the desired results. Its best to talk this over in the beginning and get some meeting of minds and mutual assurances.

Engaging former entrepreneurs comes with its own risks. However, if you are able to strike a win-win, it may propel your business towards excellence and instil the much needed ‘intrapreneurial’ work culture that you have been striving to bring into your organization.

How a prepared & confident entrepreneur thinks!

I am in business because people want me to be in it.

I communicate my product & services because I want to reach out to those who are waiting to use them.

When they come knocking at my doorsteps, my sales team helps them buy our products / services.

I am confident that people ‘need’ my services, and hence I am attentive to listen to them.

I qualify prospects before I take them on as they need to have the right pre-requisites to benefit from my product / services. I am conscious of preserving resources whether mine or others. I also don’t want to risk my portfolio / clientele.

I may not offer what is asked for, if I feel that will not lead to success.

I charge the rates for my products / services that help me sustain the business and also to grow it to help more clients / customers to benefit.

I absolutely understand that people are entitled to decide in engaging me or not. So I give them space to decide. If they say no, I accept it with humility.

I keep in touch.

15 simple principles to resolve differences and secure your rights.

1. Any person that contributes to the community, has done service to you. Be thankful to the person for his role, effort, idea or information. If you expect more from him / her, ask for it and offer to help.

2. No one is a cheat. Its camouflage. We think someone is a cheat, because we are not able to understand his / her behavior or insecurities. Even if someone is, it serves no purpose in telling him so. Focus only on your interest and learn to protect it, without hurting people’s ego.

3. Its mostly easier to protect your interest than what you make it out to be. The more you panic before taking action towards self – protection, the more difficult you make it.

4. The more you hurt / abuse others, even when you feel justified, the more you are hurting inside your own self.

5. Take responsibility for your actions / situations. Remember that when someone seems to be holding on to what is yours, it was initially given by you to them.

6. When you have suffered from others. Its not because you were nice to them, but its because you did not protect your interest. So don’t close your heart more and more every time you get suffering from others.

7. When you understand that you have suffered by your past actions. Don’t forget to forgive yourself before marching forward to set it right. You need the whole of you to get back what you lost.

8. Remain objective in conversations with people and groups, you never know what catches fire. There is a risk of losing the purpose of your action.

9. No one has a reason to fight with you or make your life miserable. Don’t give them reasons to begin with.

10. If you have given others a reason to fight with you, remember they need an honourable exit from the situation too. Just make it easy for them to exit.

11. When trying to repair a relationship, focus on where you went wrong. That will be a good way to ask the other to focus on where he went wrong. But then, everyone one has different ways to say sorry. You say it your way, & let the other person say it his way at his convenient time.
12. Never lose focus of your genuine rights. Keep working on them. But if it is not working in a situation. Give up and try again after the next breath. If it’s still not working, give up and try again the next day. Every try may be a new try.

13. For what is yours, simply ask what you want, don’t explain why. Don’t give options and explanations. Ask it once and then keep looking into the other’s eyes. Whoever moves the eye contact first, loses.

14. Never question why you are getting problems in life. There is no other way for you to find success but by following your problems. They are like breadcrumbs in search of the treasure of your life.

15. Don’t carry regrets and baggage on your shoulders. They are yours. Stay light in pursuit of your goals.

Did you learn some lessons in resolving differences or in securing your rights. Do share your ideas and story.

Watch Out! 5 mistakes you could make when you are Low on Confidence in Business!

#1. Thinking of Plan B – Sometimes it may be good to have a Plan B. But most of the times it means that you are not confident about Plan A. So if you are thinking about Plan B, may be you don’t have a strong Plan A.

Once I was coaching a client. They had to purchase some raw material as part of their plan to manufacture & sell a new product. When I entered the scenario, they were thinking about buying & selling the raw material itself as a possible business vertical. After some questioning it became clear that they had the pressure to liquidate a lot of raw material due to lack of sales. After further inquiry the CEO realized that it was originally thought as Plan B to sell raw material in case sales don’t happen.

#2. Spending too much time on strategy – There is no perfect strategy. Also any product / service has a life cycle of evolution. If you have a very perfect kind of vision for your product, it may be a good idea to version the features & give it milestones. The strategy then should be limited to the  version being launched. It should be followed with Action & Outcomes (Profit). Sitting on today, you can’t think of a perfect model and strategy for future versions. If you do, it is most likely because low confidence about facing the test of the market.

#3. Needing too many benefits of using your product / service – During any pitch, its an unspoken rule that every prospect is a 100% client to begin with. From that point onwards YOU can either lose him or close the deal. During the pitch, when the seller feels it’s time to ‘sell’, a few differentiators / benefits / USP is enough. Offer the first USP & if the buyer is convinced close the deal. You don’t have to sell all USPs or benefits as per a fixed plan. So when marketing teams think about lots of benefits, it shows lack of confidence to face the client with the product in hand.

#4. Thinking of multiple target markets / business verticals during launch – First get through one. Then think about the others. If you are looking to have multiple target markets or business verticals to begin with, you are lacking in confidence. Have the guts to choose one & focus on one. Otherwise it only shows that once time comes to act, you get de-focused and start looking for other business verticals. There is no option in life or in business but to face the music.

#5. Struggling with the culture of the country or state – You need to pick your fights carefully in business. Don’t fight with everything you don’t like about the country or people or governance. If you want to fight against corruption you should be in politics. If you want to fight against “lack of ownership in employees”, you should be in leadership & development. If you want to fight against lack of civic sense, you should be a corporator. If your business is to sell telephony, then just fight for quality service. Don’t let other things weigh you down. When faced with other situations that bring out the warrior in you, take a deep breath and let go the people indulging. People are the way they are due to years of conditioning over generations. So if you see yourself blaming others, you should know that you are again not confident about the business you are in. These diversions will only help you in finding reasons for possible future failure.

A child’s fear of not being able to write!

I was working on my laptop at office on a Saturday afternoon. My four year old son Parth was in the office & was playing with the Markers on the White Board & felt pens on the chart papers. After a while I saw signs of emotional fatigue. So I asked him how he was doing and what he was thinking.

He told me that he was having a fear about not being able to write. He was worried about going to a Big School & not knowing how to write. He told “If I go to a Big School, how will I do writing ?”

So I said, ok lets rub the white board & write down what he thinks about this. So I made a figure of a child & named him Parth, drew a book in his hand, & made a sad smiley face next to it. Then I made a sketch of a Big School with buildings & a basketball court. I asked him to tell me more about what his fears were. He gave me eight fears –

  1. “If I go to a Big School, how will I do writing ? If I can’t write I will feel bad.”
  2. “If I go to Big School & I take work from the teacher. If I don’t know writing how will I do the work?”
  3. “In school when I want to do things of Big Boys, then they tell me that I cant do, but I want to do it.”
  4. “If I go to Big Office & Papa is not there. If I don’t know what to do, how will I find out what to do.” He then illustrates by pressing a button on the laptop and continues “If I press one button on the Laptop, what happens. How will I know ?”
  5. “If I am going to school with my brother, and I teach him something wrong, what will happen?”
  6. “If I remain small & my small brother grows up & Papa / Mummy have not yet been born. If I have to go to office, what will happen?”
  7. He sees a lot of use of Chart Papers in the office & stuff’s written on them during meetings. So he perhaps thinks that he needs to practice on them. So he says “ If I want to use Chart Paper, but Mummy does not give me, I will feel bad.”
  8. “If I am in Bangalore for work & my house is in Dubai, then how will I eat my food?” When I told him about the restaurants in Bangalore, he asks “If I am in Antartica for work & my house is in Dubai, then how will I eat my food?” He then expresses his concern “I will have to eat fishes and everyone there will be an alien!”

By this time, when all the fears are out, he is already playful. So I drew a picture of an infant & called him small Parth. I told him, that when he was very small, he did not even know how to speak or to walk etc. I asked “How did you learn to walk?” So he says “I Tried Tried Tried Tried Tried, & then I learnt how to walk.”

So I asked him when he fell down while learning to walk did he have any fears. He again repeated “I Tried Tried Tried Tried Tried, & then I learnt how to walk.”

So I asked him if now he knew how he can learn to write. He again repeated. “I will try try try try & try & then I will learn to write. ”

Then I asked how he felt & he said “All is well”. I wrote it down on the white board and I asked if I could make a smiling face near that. He let me draw a smiley.

He learnt the idea of making pictures to express himself, while he learns how to write.

So the lesson learnt is that even a small child as young as 4 years also has a need to find his own answers & not being told about the answers all the time. He has a need to be learning how to stand on his own feet. All we have to do is to be the catalyst & ask the right questions. They will find their answers. When they find their answers, they own the ideas & then they are excited about using their new found ideas. No one wants to depend upon anyone, even if the ‘anyone’ is an expert, experienced & knowledgeable person. So it doesn’t matter how smart or intelligent you are, in relationship, its never about you, its always about them.

All Work No Play

What’s important ?

Work getting done every day! Your list of tasks getting ticked every day ! And no excitement ? No Love ? No Joy ?

You were tired at night & slept off without closing your night chores ? You wake up in the morning & see what was not done at the night ! Does that make feel angry ? Do you take it out on your spouse, your kids or do you begin the day with a hug, a smile, a mystery in your heart.

You look at the unfinished task in your list & that makes you cringe. Then you decide that its not going to be like that today and you push the accelerator. You have an agenda in life today. Nothing else matters. Tasks must be finished, come what may.

If this is how your day begins, you are living your life ‘linear’. Its all about you. You must achieve all your goals, alone. Because all others in your life have their own goals and their goals appear to be different than your goals. So YOUR goals, YOUR tasks have to be pushed hard, as you are the only one who owns them.

Have you experienced “meeting of minds” ? Do you think, its possible to have “meeting of minds” ? Or you think its too difficult & time consuming to arrive at that, you rather do it all yourself & to the extent it gets too much, just delegate things around. It doesn’t matter if others are excited about doing that or not. It doesn’t matter if other’s have their own conflicting tasks to do or ways of going about their life, as the loudest & the most powerful person wins.

Well you may have been getting away with this & you may be content with your life & may be secretly think your life is not worthwhile or exciting. But you just pass the motions.

So if excitement is not important in life, why cringe for the lack of it ? If excitement is not what your soul wants to experience, then you would secretly be fine living your life ‘linear’.

Most of your early life, you are a free bird. You have little / no obligations at home. You can choose your friends at school / college. When you step into the world or you get married & have kids, you start living your life in relationship. Success is to happen mostly during this phase of life. So living in relationship & achieving your tasks in relationship becomes more important.

“Meeting of minds” is like design time for your tasks/goals/objectives/dreams. Spend a little more time understanding others goals/tasks/objectives/dreams. Offer to help. In relationship, life begins with giving, especially giving unconditionally. Experience the joy of understanding others around you, & helping them achieve their own little accomplishments. Giving is the most satisfying experience for us. And the same is true for others also. They feel guilty about not giving you enough in return, as they also want to experience the joy of giving. So they want to understand your dreams/goals/tasks/objectives. Its no good having your clarity in your mind. No one can read your mind. See how you can now win people to your vision. At your office, try to evolve the common vision, & stick it on the wall for everyone to see. At home, share your vision with your spouse, & work towards building an environment for the family to thrive.

So, are you beginning with expecting your spouse, or colleagues to start Giving ?

Gimme a break 🙂