May 29, 2013

My way of assessing professionals

The tough question is: What is your assessment of Mr. X? Do you think you can work with him?

I have always answered it from the "gut". However, there were always few fundamental principals behind them. With time, I have been able to identify them better and hence this small post.

I call it the 3-way test. Does the person in question have:

  • Integrity
  • Commitment
  • Capabilities

Everything else comes after these fundamental characteristics. A little bit more about them.

1) Integrity is paramount. It goes without saying that there is no value in working with anyone who does not have integrity. It can be defined as (as per wikipedia) "Integrity is a concept of consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations, and outcomes. In ethics, integrity is regarded as the honesty and truthfulnessor accuracy of one's actions."  So, in brief, someone who believes in "Do to others as you would have them do to you".

If someone does not have integrity, I cannot work with him/her. This is the first and foremost test.

2) Second comes commitment or responsibility. It is important to be responsible and committed towards a given task / job. If someone is not responsible, there is no assurance that the job will be done. It is great to work with someone on whom you can rely and be rest assured that the job will be done.

If someone does not have commitment, he can be mentored. It needs a lot of effort to adapt to this change as it is a behavioral change where the person believes "the job must be done" instead of "i have tried my best".

3) Capabilities are highly over-rated. If someone has self-belief, intelligence, commitment and is hard working, he / she can develop any capability. It is actually the easiest thing to acquire. And, in the current world, people need to cross-skill, up-skill and unlearn all the time. However, as we are starved for time and every minute costs us a lot, it is increasingly important to work with people who have the right skill set for the given job.

If someone lacks in skill, he can be trained. And therefore, I will surely try to make the relationship work.

Therefore, the simple formula is: 0-1-2. Integrity issue – the relationship deserves 0 chance; Responsibility issue – the relationship deserves 1 chance; Capability issue – the relationship deserves 2 chances. It is not that I am able to follow this rule religiously. But, the closely I have followed it, the more I have benefited. After all everyone (including me) deserves to have good company.

Whats your thoughts on this?

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May 26, 2013

Marketing lesson from our cabbie

Last year, when we were in Sydney for CeBIT Australia 2012, we paid a bomb (almost $80) for our airport transfer. So this time, we acted wisely and booked a cab in advance. Since we are staying in a hotel managed by a Korean guy, he sent us a Korean cabbie to pick us up from the Sydney airport.

It was a pleasure dealing with him. But what struck me about him was his small "marketing" trick that he applied at the end of our journey.

When we reached our destination, he complimented us on our choice of hotel (his way of helping his friend – the hotel manager, who got him our airport transfer deal) and promptly got our bags out of the boot. He immediately pulled out two luggage tags and put them on our suitcases.

Here is the tag:

rsz_220130527_032759

I think this is smart.

He is ensuring that we will think of him, when we pick up our suitcases, which will be when we pack up to go back. Hence he is ensuring top-of-the-mind recall when his services will be required. This is much better than handing us a business card, which can get misplaced or will hardly ensure a recall. He is making it convenient for us.

As if this was not enough, he also made an offer to drop us to airport at the end of our stay at a $5 discount, i.e. $40.

A sure shot marketing lesson for everyone. It is important to ensure recall when your services / product are required. It may not need millions of dollars to do it. It just need a little bit of thoughtfulness and wisdom.

 

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How to get your first job?

You have to get your first job. At times, this is the most difficult task-at-hand. IMO, the reason for this is the lack of basic marketing principals applied to yourself – segmentation, positioning and differentiation!

So what can you do about it?

1) Avoid copy-paste / or template based resumes

You are unique. Prepare a resume that represents you. Highlight your personality traits and soft skills (max three) – keep it short but effective. Your soft skills are what make you stand out of the masses, because every one in your batch has the same degree and they have gone through the same lessons. When mentioning your technical skills, highlight the ones you have mastery in.

2) Achieve depth

You learn so many things during four years in your college. You may connect with selected subjects. You need to go deep into those subjects (even if your college curriculum has a touch-and-go policy for the same). You must base your academic projects on the same and explain the same in detail in your CV.

3) Do you have a pet project? What have you done on your own?

Lets say you are a software engineer. You have always dreamt of being a software engineer. You are in love with this subject – right? (If not, then software engineering is not the right career for you, even if you have studied so!) So, show the love! If you are truly in love, you must have played around with an idea or two. You must have created a pet project of your own (even if it failed). You must have picked a technology or two which has no mention in your course curriculum.

Talk about that pet project. Talk about those learnings. Employers want to hear about them. This is your key to the job.

4) Apply selectively, but firmly

When you apply for a job, do so selectively. Make your application specific to the company and put strong reasons and the capabilities that you bring on board in the email.

5) Gain experience

When you are in college, try to gain some experience by working as a freelancer for a company or a startup. If you can work evenings, do an internship in a software company in your neighborhood and gain practical experience. Do not look for monetary reward as the prime objective in such engagements. Do not leave any such opportunity.

The above five ideas will help you position yourself well infront of the segment of the companies you wish to go and work for. And hopefully you will have strong differentiators in comparison to thousands of applicants which will flood their mailboxes.

Happy job hunting.

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Career 101 – Career Tips for IT Professionals

I have mostly been on the "hiring" side of the table. Based on that experience, I am listing down few career tips – mostly around soft skills. Again, the tips are directed towards professionals in IT industry, but it should be applicable in every industry with some modifications. I am happy to hear (or read) your perspective and learn from the same.

1) Pace out your career!

There is no rush. You do not need to achieve the pinnacle of your career by the age of 30. It is not important to simply scale the peak. The journey is more important than the destination. It is equally important to stay put or at least climb down gracefully when your capabilities are not in line with the ever changing and growing demand of your professional career.

It is okay to push yourself and improve your capacity and capability in a sustainable way. But do not be reckless.

2) What is your ROI?

Think over it. Calculate it. Ensure that you calculate it before your boss does. Are you able to deliver what is expected at your level? You can only grow if your value proposition is high, distinct and visible. Set clear and high goals and milestones. Make sure that you only work with a company that has alignment with your personal goals. Align your goals with your organization's. Take help from your management team to do so. Without clear ROI, you can never have a satisfying and rewarding career.

3)  Stay well oiled

If your job is to carry heavy machinery on your shoulder, make sure that you exercise and keep your body in top shape. If your job is to write software code, ensure that you exercise your brain. You can do so by learning new technologies (with self initiative), having intellectual discussions around your subject to add to your knowledge. Observe how people make decisions, ask questions, understand the decision making processes – this will make you sharper and valuable.

4) Love your work

Do not take up a profession that you do not LOVE. If you do not love unearthing accounting frauds, do not get into Audit as a profession. If you do not like writing software, do not get into a programming job. It will be an ordeal – for you and your employer. If you are doing so – change it today. It is said "Do what you love, and you will never have to work ever".

5) Work for excellence

You must be proud of your work. Not for the sake of it, but because you are confident that your work is best in its class. It needs a lot of passion, hard work and self criticism to achieve this. To be excellent, you need to have laser sharp focus – to learn, to observe and to absorb from your peers and ones who have excelled.

6) Love your company

Yeah, I know – its being idealistic. But, honestly if you do not respect your organization, you should not belong there. It is important to have a feeling of ownership, a sense of mission and a state of belongingness to be able to achieve and deliver. Every organization (and people) will have their strength and weakness. We need to understand, adjust and improve them ,if we can. Criticizing them wont help anyone. If the weaknesses far out-weights the strengths, and you cannot love your organization, its time to move on. But, as long you are associated, there has to be 100% commitment.

7) Surround yourself with good people

In every organization you will find different kind of people. It depends upon you, whom you choose to spend your time. Spending time with the right people will help you acquire the desired skills (soft and hard) that you need to achieve your goals. Indulge in healthy debates and discussions.

Avoid smalltalk and gossips. Remain positive. Have your own perspective that you must derive from your own logical thinking instead of simply adopting conclusions from people around you. Share your opinion and thoughts – not only with your colleagues, but also with your seniors and take feedback. Keep your mind open. Every coin / thought has two (or more) aspects.

8) Create value for clients

You work for a company, but your salary bills are paid by the clients that the company has. Think about them. Benefit them with your skills. I call it top-down value creation. If the client benefits, your company benefits. If your company benefits, you have better ROI (see point #2). And if you have clear ROI, you move up the chain.

9) Let go the ego

The higher you need to rise, you need to shed the weight of your ego. Some learn it the difficult way, and some adopts humility as the way of life. The higher you move, the more you need to get things done from your team members AND the more you need to align up with clients. If you want to take them along, you need to respect their ego more than yours.

10) Ethics – the real #1

My definition of morals and ethics is: Do to others as you would have them do to you.(Luke 6:31).  I have seen many people justify their acts as "ethical" and "legal" because that benefit them. But the best way to judge that is – will you like your friend to do it to you? or will you like your employee do it to you? This is the real #1 tip!

Remember: The journey is more important than the destination.

I am sure you all know of 100 more tips and feel free to add to this list..

 

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April 23, 2012

Technology Trends for 2012

I was thinking of writing this post for quite some time. But, @twitter has made me lazy. However, I have finally taken out time to summarize some technology trends that I see emerging and strengthening in 2012.

  • Mainstream adoption of mobile web – It seems mobile web is finally here. The tablets has fueled the growth and has also increased the horizon of mobile web from essential info search to default information consumption device, which opens doors for a lot of interesting innovation in days to come. With tablets overtaking the production of laptops and desktops in number, this trend is set to grow.

    We, at Indus Net Technologies has adopted a mandate that we will design sites for tablets and then make sure that it renders well on laptop / desktop resolutions.

  • Mobile Transactions – With mobile payment infrastructure, regulations been put together and advent of NFC, mobile payment (or wallet) is a reality. It is however to be seen, who vests the power – the network providers, device manufacturers or the app developers. The collaborative competition will be interesting to watch.

    It shall also gradually replace visiting cards and catalogs / brochures. I have increasingly felt less anxious when I meet people without my visiting card in my pocket. I know, we can connect through mobile (will become easier with NFC / Bump) and social networks.

  • The OS / browser war is ON – With Android (from Google), WinMobile (from Microsoft) and iOS (from Apple), the old OS and Browser war is back. This time it is not separate – it is integrated, as web has emerged as the new platform.
  • Interactivity is changing – Interactivity has moved on from keyboard to mouse to touch (the last one literally turned around Apple's fortune). And now it is set to move into the domain of voice and gesture. Innovators are working hard to make them mainstream.
  • Convergence – Though, there has been talks about convergence for quite some time, but it will be visible in consumer use this year. TV, Internet and Mobile will finally blur with the advent of Smart TV, Android PC and Android based tablets / mobiles. All these can run same apps, which will bring in integrated functionality and give us access to content and functions irrespective of the medium.

    This will have path-breaking impact in the verticals of entertainment, education, home automation, productivity, etc.

  • Cloud (IaaS, SaaS and PaaS) becomes mainstream – IaaS, SaaS and PaaS is rapidly becoming mainstream. Though IaaS seems to remain under the reign of the big boys, SaaS will remain a favorite for technology start-ups! However, this year will see the growing popularity of PaaS, which provides a middle path to the enterprises who are averse to adapt SaaS.

    This paves the way for wide adoption and growth of XML based 4GL and 5GL languages. From application development perspective, does it mean the end of the tedious coding cycles, which has fueled the growth of offshore outsourcing industry so far? Only time will tell.

  • Social media gets mainstream – From the fancy muse of technology enthusiasts, social media is set to become mainstream. The rising concern among the political circles about the freedom of speech due to the social networks like Facebook and Twitter is a clear indication that they have proven their importance.

    The multimedia part of the social media will continue to evolve and improving intuitiveness of interaction will bring more users contribute / consume content. If my 18 month old daughter can hook on to Youtube for her favorite video, there is no reason why 70 year olds (most of those who found it difficult to adopt to technology, as they had to learn it) cannot.

  • Video will emerge as the most popular and common content / media for mass communication replacing text and images as we have on most websites. It stimulates all senses and gets the message across quickly and precisely. In a world with such low attention span, who has got the time to patiently read a 1000 word brief of how a new gadget works or how Company A is changing the world.
Whats the next big thing? It may not happen right now, but they are not very far either:
  • The idea is to reduce improve the signal vs. noise ratio. Something that will allow us to focus on the essential and stay away from the bloat in the age of information overload. There seems to be several attempts, but no product seems to be the "winner" yet. This may be a little far away, but "objectiveness" will become a more and more desired skill.
  • After network of sites (Google) and network of people (Facebook), it will be time for network of objects. Technology / platform to leverage the same and get the most of it, thrusting us in the machine age is not far away.

    Several companies are already working on prototypes and proof of concepts and it is not far before innovators will start putting business models around them. Technology is already available – it is about making it easy to use and show the best possible use of the network of objects, so that it becomes a "need" for masses from a "aspiration" or "sci-fiction"

  • On a sad footnote, the print publishing industry has been pushed to brink at a faster pace than they (or even I) expected. Try to reflect on yourself – do you really find it difficult to stay away from newspaper. If you have not tried, its worth giving a try.

Beyond doubt, the rate of change in technology is accelerating at a pace that is unprecedented. It will be exciting to see how this post / trend spotting matches with the real result in a years time.

It was summarized by a statement made by a friend of mine who is in corporate debt finance -

"I have to work harder, I have to keep reviewing the companies and their state every couple of months now. Gone are the days when companies used to take 10 years to be built and same amount of time to be killed due to mismanagement. 10 years has shrunk to 10 months, if not less"

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July 18, 2011

How to improve marketing?

This is an impromptu blog post in response to a question asked by Abhinaba Dey on a Facebook forum. Though the question was addressed for start-ups, but I feel this can be extended universally. Will love to know your thoughts on this:

Question: How to improve marketing for start-ups?

Do while (endless) {
Learn;
Experiment;
Observe results;
Re-execute successful experiments;
Analyze root cause of failed experiments;
Unlearn old concepts based on experience;
}

I will be happy to improve this no-brainer algorithm with your inputs! So do post your comments :)

 

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February 25, 2011

1-2-3 of Exhibiting

Our exhibiting season starts on Tuesday with TFM&A and CeBIT. We are excited about it (like every year) and look forward to connect with hundreds of existing clients and prospects from around the world in more than a dozen shows.

So, here are some basics that we follow. Our fellow exhibitors can also benefit from it ;) I call it the "1-2-3 of exhibiting"

Before I talk about the "1-2-3 of exhibiting", a word of caution – Do not exhibit to satisfy your ego. Do not remain self obsessed. You go to a trade show to connect and communicate with your audience. If you fail to do this, the entire exercise and investment is futile.

1) Connect in less than 2 seconds

When a person walks past your stand, you only have 2 seconds to grab his attention (many a times that too in a subconscious state). You got to connect with him within those 2 seconds. Therefore your elevator pitch must be prominent, loud, attention grabbing and clear. That should qualify your visitor and bring him to your stand.

Avoid connecting with visitors who do not qualify. You can only attend 40-60 visitors in a day (if you are a two member team manning the stand at all times). So why waste time on visitors who do not need your service.

2) Knowledgeable communication

It is so frustrating to go to a stand and find that the person manning the stand has very little or no idea about the product or service that they are promoting. The team on the stand must be knowledgeable, passionate and alert. They must know the subject well.

If the stand is manned for the purpose of collecting visiting cards (with a promise to get back later), trust me, it is a waste of time and money. Manning a booth with the right sort of people is not easy, as it needs people from the senior management layer of the organization, who are knowledgeable about the offering, and can answer the queries with confidence.

It is equally important to be compassionate during interaction on your stand. It is so common to find exhibitors to behave uber cool, uninterested and sometimes outright rude. Value these interactions and consider them a vital PR activity. After all, each interaction will build or spoil the image of the company in long term.

3) Getting back in context

It is very rare to see companies getting back (in context) after the show. Some companies just feed the visiting cards into a marketing system which sends out email and mailshots at regular intervals. However, these templated follow-ups are no where close to the discussion that took place on the stand.

Proper notes must be taken during discussion on the stand, and the follow up shall highlight those points (to bring the discussion in context) along with complete set of documents, information, price chart as requested by the prospect.

If you do not get back to them, or get back to them very late, you have lost them!

So, the 1-2-3 of exhibiting is -
"Connect in 2 seconds – Have knowledgeable discussion – Follow up in context"

Happy exhibiting ;)

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Is the happy employee a myth?

Being healthy does not mean that one has never been sick. It means that one has had many more healthy days than the days in which one has been sick. Similarly, a happy employee does not mean one has never had any problems at work. It means their chances of having a fulfilling work day are higher.

Happiness is an emotion and hence it’s a very personal thing. It is a state of mind. Different people will be happy (or otherwise) in different situations. Some of them are induced by the workplace and some by their personal circumstances.

Therefore it is very difficult to generalize it for anyone – be it an employee or an entrepreneur.

So, how an employee can be happy?

1)    By not working!

2)    By adapting to organization and people

3)    By aligning needs with goals

Let us try to understand them in a little but more detail:

Not working

Everyone has a desire to achieve something in the given profession. They want to make a difference in a given way and want to make a living out of that. This is a great approach for a perfectly happy work life. Most people use the word “work” to specify something that one has to do for making a living. But, when you do something you are passionate about, you are not working! You are doing it because it makes you happy.

Unfortunately, on several occasions, the immediate need overpowers passion and the dream is lost. The fulfillment of immediate needs, which is mostly derived due to peer comparison, is a great feeling. This mostly revolves around money, benefits, quality of life, position and power. They look so attractive that most people are forced to believe it to be the goal of their career. People end up choosing a job which they are not particularly happy with but it pays well.  Does the story of engineers doing MBAs sound familiar to you?

The by-product of a career becomes the end purpose of the career and the desire is killed. And, in doing so, play is transformed to work.

If people do not let these forces of immediate needs drive them, they can surely have a happy career.

P.S.: To make sure that employees really make the difference, it is most important that the goals of the organization and that of the employee align with each other. Else, it will end up in work, work and more work!

Adapting to organization and people

It is common to see that when someone joins an organization, they shower all praises for the same and its management team. Then gradually he becomes indifferent to the same and takes it for granted. And finally he starts hating it. It is time to look for a new job!

So the question is: Has the person changed? Has the company changed?
Neither of them may have changed.
What has changed? – Perception.

Every organization and human being looks great at the first instance, simply because everyone wants to present their best self. However, as the relationship grows, both learn more about each other. When the person is unable to take the new found perception of the organization in stride, dissatisfaction grows.

No organization is perfect. No human being is perfect. It is critical to adapt.

Similarly, to be happy at work, one needs to see things holistically. When we look at things by stepping in someone else’s shoe, we understand things better and are able to adapt to the members of the organization. Heartaches and frustration can be avoided, and meaningful discussions can be made by doing so.

Aligning goals with needs

A good organization can manage the hierarchy of needs in the workplace. But how can we manage the same beyond that, i.e. in personal life?

This question is more crucial as the demarcation between work life and personal life is rapidly fading in most organization. I do not see this as a problem, because for a happy employee, work and personal life cannot be separated because they pursue work to satisfy their personal goals.

Therefore it is not necessary to demarcate work and personal life. But it is critical that personal goals and needs are well aligned to the work life.

It needs major functional change (and scalability) in the human resource management framework of companies. And the employee needs to have clear unbiased focus on personal and professional priorities.

This is easier said than done!

So, the happy employee is a possibility. There are happy employees, but less in numbers. Even if companies desire, they cannot scale and customize the human resource framework to make majority of the employees happy. Also, it may not be possible for every employee to follow passion and adapt. Both factors put together make “happy employee” a rare phenomenon, thus raising the question – “Is the happy employee a myth?”

[Input from Mr. Mukul Gupta, Head of Operations – Indus Net Technologies]

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January 22, 2011

My interview @ Mixergy.com

Recently, I was interviewed by Andrew Warner of Mixergy.com. Here is the video for you. Please post all your reactions at Mixergy only (link given below), so that the conversation stays in one place and everyone can relate to it.

P.S.: The positive emails after this video interview has inspired me to do a detailed video story of INT. It is not the biggest story ;) , but I am sure there will be few takeaways and I will be happy if it helps anyone.

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January 19, 2011

Software 2.0 – Transformation of Software Services

Recently, I got an opportunity to speak at an event organized by Computer Society of India, Delhi Chapter.  The theme of the event was "Software 2.0" and I made a small presentation on "Software 2.0 – Transformation of Software Services". The purpose was to highlight how software services industry would change with the advent of Web 2.0, i.e. Internet as an application development and delivery platform.

Here are the slides :)

It is also available on SlideShare at:
http://www.slideshare.net/indusnet/software-20-transformation-of-software-services

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October 19, 2010

Introducing Outsource Gupta (aka OG!)

Indus Net Technologies has recently introduced Outsource Gupta! – a funny comic strip, where we laugh at ourself, i.e. the business of outsourcing.

This is updated weekly on our Outsource Gupta website @ http://www.outsourcegupta.com/ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/OutsourceGupta/ and on Twitter @outsourcegupta

Note added on 7/01/2011: I have deleted all the strips that was posted on this page, as now we have a dedicated site for Outsource Gupta. This is to ensure that the purpose of the blog is not diluted.

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September 4, 2010

Bootstrapping 101

In a follow up to my previous blog post about "Bootstrapping Myths", here are some tips for those bootstrapped startups. I have applied many of these techniques myself, and hence suggesting the same:

1) Speed is critical

When you run a business, your expenses are ON. Your revenue is OPTIONAL (i.e. only available when you close deals!). And, you need to self-sustain within the given means. Therefore speed is critical. You need to experiment fast, learn fast and earn fast. If you don't, you will run out of the little cash box that you have, and the venture will be hit.

2) Start small

Do not hesitate to start small.

There is a fantastic concept called – "compounding". If a number keep doubling itself for 25 times, you will have a big scale. Therefore keep a goal to keep multiplying in a sustainable way. Remember the chessboard problem!

3) Execute, then plan

One common problem I have seen in most startups (or even bigger companies), that make them un-viable (read: un-sustainable) is excessive planning and very little execution. Things are changing faster than before, and therefore many ideas / thoughts get obsolete by the time they are executed. Therefore, prepare a gut based on some "core concepts" or "thoughts" that define your way of doing things (warning: be flexible about changing these core beliefs, if proven wrong!), apply this gut to the sketchy plan that you have on the paper-napkin, and take a call. Then learn from the outcome, feed the gut new info, and repeat the process.

If you do not go out and do things, you will never understand how it works. If you are putting together an assumption that you can get X number of customers by sending a blast mailer to 1 million users, then do a trial on 1000 and see if you get 1/1000th of the estimated numbers? If not, then re-validate your theory. If you keep thinking and guessing and planning, you will end up being in a dream land – with no fundamentals.

4) CEO = Chief Everything Officer

If you do not believe in the above equation, do not even think of starting a business (forget about bootstrapping it!).

You got to do everything that the business needs. It can start from cleaning your office to negotiating a deal with the biggest retail outlet in your town, from calling prospective employees to installing the server.

5) Barter / Trade

You will be amazed to discover how many things you can barter – and save cost and build strong relationships. Look at opportunities with your vendors where you can swap services / products. It will not only save you money, but will give you new customers / clients / consumers. Make sure that you:

  • put a clear $$ value to your offering
  • are not too pushy
  • are offering something that is relevant to the other person

Barter / trade may not happen in the exact form as it used to happen in stone age. What you can expect is to get a "heavy" discount on your purchase bill from your vendor for the services you are offering.  Also, you may not get barter deals from very well established players. You may have to look for vendors who are good, but do not have a very big order book – difficult but possible.

6) Negotiate, then re-negotiate

It is okay to negotiate. Many-a-times, we just feel embarrassed to negotiate. There is always a better deal / bargain / price waiting for you. You just need to take the initiative to offer a price that you feel is fair for the product / service (or what you can offer). Sometime, you may have to start below your comfort zone, so that both of you can meet at your comfort zone.

And yes, do not feel embarrassed to re-negotiate, if need arise. There is no set rule and the deal is not finalized, till you sign the dotted line. You deserve the best.

Just be fair!

Note: I strongly advice that you research the prices (caution: compare apples with apples – specially while buying services). Sometimes this can result in big savings.

7) Invest in technology

If technology can be deployed properly, it can save a lot of money. It can also improve organizational efficiency, which can become an important differentiator and help you garner more business. Spend time to understand different technologies available, which can reduce cost, enable collaboration, improve communication and make you look / work smart.

Technology need not necessarily cost a lot of money. Adopt open source and free software. There is one for almost every possible business application :) Cheer up!

8) Extra-ordinary income

There are some indirect avenues from which your business can generate cash.

  • Sub-lease part of your office space / give out desk space / invite others to come and work with you and share costs
  • Do garage sale – do not hang on to things that you may not near in near future (specially computers!)

9) Get your accounting right

Everyone will probably suggest that – get a good accountant.

I will say that – spend time in learning as much about accounts as you can. Accounts let you see and listen into your business. If you do not understand it, you will be at a loss of control over your business. You should know your numbers like the back of your hand. And you should be constantly analyzing ratios (over a time line) like turnover, profit, current ratio, acid test ratio, solvency ratio, debtors / creditors turnover, etc. This will let you know the direction of your business, so that you can steer it clear of accident prone zones!

Set up management information system and decide upon core organizational metrics to measure key parameters such as sales performance, customer satisfaction, customer distribution, product quality, etc. And, take action to streamline things which look out of place. Else, all the effort is a waste.

Imp Note: It need not be the most expensive software system on the planet. You can simply use spreadsheets to manage that!

10)  Sell without spending

There are several ways in which you can generate sales without spending a lot of money in advertising. You will discover your own set of tricks while you do business (relevant to your business). Some very common ways are:

  • Social media
  • Networking events
  • Word of mouth referral
  • PR / Media

These methods will result in lowest "cost of sale" and will give you your "most loyal customers". Keep your eyes (and mind) open to make deals. They will happen.

11) Hire for attitude / Appraise for performance

When you end up hiring – hire for attitude / talent. The degrees do not matter.

Spend time in developing them (I think this is why they call it Human Resource Development) – aligning them to company requirements / goals – and then measure their performance – and give feedback.

If you sustain the wrong people, they wont probably let your company sustain – hence killing the idea of "bootstrapping".

Conclusion

I hope these small random ideas about bootstrapping will help you in a small way. If you have an interesting tip to share, please post it as a comment, and I will be happy to include it. Feel free to share them!

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Bootstrapping Myths

Recently I was asked to speak about "Bootstrapping a Service Business" by Startup Saturday.  Though I knew (fuzzily) about bootstrapping as a concept, but I never knew the real meaning. Strange!

"Bootstrapping or booting refers to a group of metaphors that share a common meaning: a self-sustaining process that proceeds without external help. The term is often attributed to Rudolf Erich Raspe's story The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen, where the main character pulls himself out of a swamp, though it's disputed whether it was done by his hair or by his bootstraps." – Wikipedia

This definition busted two myths that I had about "bootstrapping"

Myth 1) Bootstrapping is for startups

The keyword is "self sustaining" and "without external help". Since many startups think that they need external help, this term might be used to tell (some of) them – you are on your own!

Besides this, bootstrapping is something that every business should practice. Even a Fortune 500 company can bootstrap! And it will be good for the economy. We will have a more stable economy, where people self-sustain without external help to the greatest possible extent. In my opinion bootstrapping results in self-check (real viability of the project) and makes the organization self reliant, result oriented (i.e. if there are no results – no profits – no turnaround, then you do not survive) and disciplined.

So, conclusion is – bootstrapping is for ALL.

Myth 2) Bootstrapping = cost cutting – low spend

Bootstrapping is NOT about cost cutting or spending less. It is about spending in areas, which get you best ROI. In other words – "Invest. Don't spend".

It is important to make clear demarcation between investment and expenses for your business. Choose your investments wisely and and be frugal with your expenses. Anything, which has a DIRECT correlation with increasing your revenues, or satisfying a set of clients, or getting better technology (to get you an edge), can be a good investment (in that order). Since you have to self sustain, if your cash reserves are low, do not look at long term revenue impact!

Anything that wont make a difference in your revenue (medium of travel, hotel etc.) is an expense. I do not claim this to be a perfect definition, but it should work in most practical cases.

Instead of "low spend", think of "being cash positive" – "being profitable" and "good ROI".

Last but not the least, bootstrapping looks less glamorous and exciting, but in my opinion, the returns are worth the effort. It helps you retain most of the control / ownership of the company, which you can later dilute to get better returns for the "bootstrapped" effort that you have put in. And, yes – it makes you wiser and a grounded professional for sure.

So, happy bootstrapping!

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August 11, 2010

A branding lesson from Ramayana

Interesting topic?

Let me get straight to the story -

Here is an extract (super summary!) and synopsis from one of the chapters (Yuddha Kand i.e. the 'War Episode', which describes the war between Rama and Ravana) of Ramayana.

Having received Hanuman's report on Sita, Rama and Lakshmana proceed with their allies towards the shore of the southern sea. There they are joined by Ravana's renegade brother Vibhishana. The monkeys named "Naal" and "Neel" construct a floating bridge (known as Rama Setu) across the ocean, and the princes and their army cross over to Lanka.

The incident goes like this:

The challenge in building the bridge was to make the stones float (as all stones will sink the moment it is thrown into the ocean). It is said that a solution was offered by supporters of Lord Rama, i.e. inscribe the name "Rama" on the stone and then throw it in the ocean. The same was done and it worked!

Lord Rama was watching the progress and Naal and Neel progressively built the bridge.

At one point, Lord Rama decided to extend a helping hand.  So he picked up a stone and threw it in the ocean (i.e. which an expectation that it will flow). Surprisingly it sank without a trace!

Why?

Because the stone was not inscribed with "Rama"

Lord Rama was confident that he do not need to use his "brand" as he was THE "brand" and tried to repeat the magic. But it did not work. It was not "branded" with "Rama".

Moral of the story: Brand is bigger than the "owner" of the brand.

Subtle Moral of the Story: Feel good, when people recognize you by the name of your company i.e. brand. This means, your brand is becoming bigger than you. And this may stay beyond you.

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February 14, 2010

Winning Strategies – A career perspective from Arun Agrawal

Last week, my friend Arun Agrawal agreed to do a guest post on my blog. I found the subject interesting and aligned to the taste of my readers. So here it goes:

Winning Strategies

What is your formula for incredible success in any field that you decide to work in? Technical skills, right connections? If you ask me, I will suggest you try 'passion'. This is your secret USP for success. If you have a job and are looking for a raise, demonstrate your passion in executing your assignments and your team leader cannot help noticing your attitude and recommending you for that coveted promotion. If you have an entrepreneurial venture, develop some great products or deliver passionate customer service and you are sure to have lots of business all the time.

Remember – “One passionate person is better than 40 people casually interested!”

I will now do something that people don’t do on academic and business platforms. I will be sharing with you, 2 spiritual tips for winning almost any battle of life – be it studies, job hunting or business success.

1. Forgiveness:

Forgive everyone who has done anything bad to you. Yes, your girl friend who has ditched you, your friend who avoided you when you needed his help, your brothers and sisters who played loud music when you were studying – get rid of all the anger, frustration and resentment and you will feel a tremendous relief. Your mind and body will feel very light and you will be able to achieve your future targets so much more easily. This is an abstract thought – difficult to accept and act upon – but you will feel the difference in a day when you apply it.

2. Gratitude:

Be thankful to everyone around you. Be thankful to your institute which gave you the education that prepared you for a successful career ahead, to your parents who brought you in this wonderful world and your clients who ordered your services.

Think a little and you will be able to find ‘at least one’ reason to thank anyone you come across. And to follow my own dictum, I thank you – heartily – to have visited this blog and read my ‘tips’.

I will like to close with this parting message. We humans have great potential and are capable of achieving a lot. Believe in yourself and get on your job. Some French general once said “Difficult problems are no worries for us; it is the impossible that takes some time!”

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