The entrepreneurial journey. The last mile

So many times I see entrepreneurs leave good projects, their dreams, and passion.  The entrepreneurial journey is never a straight line. The glorified image of Facebook, Google, Amazon, and the rest are only part of a journey that has had equally as many downs than ups as other startups.  Your journey is no different than any other journey, it will have highs and lows.

Last Saturday at 9:30 I was out with a crowd of about 50 other walkers/runners for a 32KM run. As they all started a leisurely stroll, I stayed back as I usually do and started a very slow jog and slowly passing them.  The first part was downhill and soon what should have been an easy jog ended up being painful.  My knee locked up more or less at KM 3 before we had even reached the bottom of the valley.  I took notice of the pain and slowed down to adjust but it was too late.  I had already pulled a tendon or a ligament.  I could have turned around, but I decided to carry on. I tried running slowly, but it was too painful, so I walked. What would have normally taken me 3 hours max took me about 6 hours. I had to stop several times on route to sit and massage my knee so it would relax.  The sun was blaring down, it was hot and I had not put any suncream on my arms.  Not only was I in pain, but sometime around 13:00 I felt the sun burning through me.  There were four fast runners in front of me, they had long disappeared. Another runner whom I also run with was suffering from back pain, we walked together for about 1km and he also had to abandon me. For the rest of the journey from Km 18 to 32, I was pretty much on my own. 

I could have sat and called for help, I could have given up, however, I had one objective to finish.  I wanted to prove to myself that even if it is painful I can push the pain barrier. I meditated, blanked my mind and I listen to Pink Floyd and Dire Straights. I rehearsed the many motivational speeches I give to keep me focused.  It felt like a never-ending journey, but with every step, I knew that I am one step closer to the finish. With every step I knew that I am putting in the effort towards reaching my goal. In the end, I made it 16.24. I arrived at the finish line.

The last mile? Are you willing to go as far as it takes? Many times I see entrepreneurs give up too early. Whether it is a jog, marathon, or work, it is all the same. It all depends on how dedicated you are and how focused you are on your goal. If you keep your mind focused and remind yourself that with every step, you are one step closer to the finish, that’s all it takes.

The Entrepreneurial Journey. What it means to persevere and pivot

The Entrepreneurial Journey.  Starting again

One of my favourite quotes from Steve Jobs where he quotes  “I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.

Ali Parandeh Zandpour

Two weeks ago as I was chairing the Division Toastmaster contest for the English language speeches and I was inspired not just by the speeches and speakers who year after year compete for the World Championship of public speaking. Every year a new speech and sometimes taking a break in between.  I have been on this journey and I plan to continue, not just to win but to compete is the only way to push yourself up and out of your comfort zone.  Each year you have to start from scratch, all the way from your club to area, division, district, semi-finals and finally the world championship.  Each time competing against better and more accomplished speakers.

Perseverance on a path towards a goal is possibly one that I would rate amongst the highest and most important in any entrepreneurship or self-development journey.  Perseverance does not mean that you should blindly keep moving on a path, rather it is moving with knowledge and flexibility to adapt to the path, by learning from the mistakes on route and being able to apply what you learn in order to continue.

We all want to climb to the top, so many times we hit a cliff or a brick wall and so many times I see people giving up. Sitting there aimlessly or just going back and never trying again.  Perseverance is about being able to keep that vision of your goal, and letting that goal pull you on a new path, again and again. Call it pivoting, call it trying again, or perseverance. In the end it all boils down to your drive and passion for reaching your goal and not giving up on the path that at times is arduous, debilitating and even defeating.

The only one who can stop you from achieving your dreams is you. Sit, rest, get up and start again.  Love you all.

 

 

Is Entrepreneurship in your blood?

Is Entrepreneurship in your blood?

Are you born an entrepreneur? Salesman, a doctor, painter, violinist, or an astronaut? Most would probably agree that you are born with the potential to do anything. Talent is not given but acquired and a good teacher/mentor/book or incident can awaken any talent, path, or desire inside you.  I often think about this.  How do we come across our passion, our call, what we love doing? As I was reading the book ‘Do No Harm’ by Henry Marsh, I read how he changed his path from “Literature” to taking a sabbatical, teaching English in Africa, going to writing poems while working as a hospital doorman, which finally led to his desire to become a doctor. Even then he did not know he wanted to become a brain surgeon. He simply felt the desire to help people through that profession and it was not until another 10 years or so after he started the medical career that he set forth to become one of the leading brain surgeons in the UK if not the world.

As I lay awake this morning in bed, I started thinking about what makes one person a real entrepreneur or not.   Last week, I had spoken to the founder of one of the competitors to Urbytus. We spoke about joining forces.  We both agreed that the sector has to change and that there is a lot happening now, the meeting went well and we decided to continue with another meeting which would have been yesterday.  However, an hour before the meeting he sent me a WhatsApp saying that he had thought about it and although he agreed that the sector has to change and sooner or later this would happen, he preferred to do something that would not be a fight or a battle to change something.  I wrote back “Thank you for giving it time to think and your honest answer. Right now I believe in it more than ever before, so I am going to continue the fight. The bigger the fight the bigger the win.”

I don’t think there is anything in particular that makes one an entrepreneur or not, but I would say that one of the traits I have to come to cherish and look for when I work with entrepreneurs and look for in cofounders is that instinct to fight for your dream.  I think this is a unique instinct that differentiates those who just want a job and a regular salary from those who dream big and would do what is necessary to achieve that dream.

THE ENTREPRENEURIAL JOURNEY: It’s all about the CUSTOMER

 

I have just finished doing a master class on “7 Steps to creating loyal customers & multiplying revenue” for the Demium entrepreneurs in Greece.  In the past years I have done this presentation

Alpha Stock Images - http://alphastockimages.com/

numerous times and it is one of my favourite masterclasses as it focuses on the most important part of this journey:  “The customer and the customer’s journey”.  

Many entrepreneurs start their business with big ideas and along with it, they start with the big tasks such as protecting their trade name, registering multiple domain names or buying expensive domain names. Signing up with expensive lawyers or accountants.  I certainly made some of these mistakes, but I learnt one important lesson early on; that all the aforementioned is useless if you don’t have a customer and before you concentrate on the above you are better off spending all that time, energy, effort, and money on one thing: YOUR CUSTOMER.

Customer IS key to your success because without it, even if you have the most awesome product on earth, you will have no business at all.  I learnt most of my customer service through experience by applying what I liked from other services or products to my services and products.  As entrepreneurs, we all want to please our customers and do what it takes to make them loyal.  We do many of these steps naturally or just by copying from what we have seen or experienced.

Over the years I made all the above into a strategy.   A 7 step guide that allowed me to sell my last company and that really brought in the reputation and success I have enjoyed over the years.

For the sake of argument, I will assume that you do have the most awesome product on earth, so we can concentrate on your customer.   I want to concentrate on how you look at a customer from the very beginning.

First let’s look at the basics of what you need to do for your customers.

  1. Greet your customer

A customer is not just a name, and email address. A customer is much more than this simple data. Today we are bombarded with personalized email marketing and much more.  I learnt the art of greeting your customer actually from flying with Lufthansa. I know that it is hard to apply some offline matters to online, but I made a point of making sure that I can personally address my clients, at least one phone call, one personalized email, to let them know that this is not mass marketing and that they matter to me personally. All you have to do is work out what it takes to make this personal touch to greet and work out a way to make it scalable.  

  1. Please a customer!

In order to please a customer, you must get to know them.  Apart from the basic set of data like date of birth, nationality, gender, etc., knowing your customer’s personal preferences in relation to your business is what can make the difference for that customer’s experience and what will connect you together. Simple things like a birthday gift voucher to spend with your business or other information that you believe is relevant or important to your customer. Remember that different dates are important to different nationalities. In my opinion, the first step to pleasing a customer is getting to know them and treating them with respect and not just someone who is in need of your services.

  1. Wow the customer

If you know your customer, then you can wow the customer. Customers don’t expect you to memorize what they like to eat, do, see, etc.  However, if you have built your client profile with details, it is easy to add a wow factor.  Regardless of your business, you can always note little details about your customers; their favourite chocolate, author, drink, sports team. Surprise them with a little detail and you will be amazed, while they will be wowed.

4 Make your customers loyal

Deliver what you have offered, within the agreed price and time structure. That’s pretty much what most customers want. A detailed offer ensures that the client understands all the steps, procedures, terms, and conditions. A detailed offer that has been signed with the terms and conditions attached, also ensures that there will be no misunderstanding in the future (or at least a little if any). A detailed offer ensures that you and the customer understand what the job is and that when the job is finished, you have a customer who will be loyal to you, for you have delivered exactly what was requested.

  1. Knock your customer’s socks off

We often forget how important that finishing touch is. If you go to a Hotel, and they throw in a bottle of champagne with some chocolates, or if you get a lawyer to complete your property purchase but they also take care of the transfer of utility bills or when you have your car repaired and they will wash it inside and out. It is these finishing touches that impress me and certainly impress my clients especially when it is not expected. That extra touch doesn’t really cost much, but it means a whole lot more to those customers. You can always cash in for more. I would rather have ten more customers because of recommendation than cashing in 5% little extra from a tiny add-on job.

Most of you as entrepreneurs please and wow your customers naturally without having thought about it in any particular order and you all genuinely want to make sure your customers stay loyal and you will do anything to knock their socks off.  The trick however is how do you make this process repeatable and can you do more for your customers and what do you have to do to set yourself apart from your competition?

However, there are two more steps.  If you’ve read so far, then take the leap. Book a session with me two find out what the next two steps are that can set you apart from your competition. I do master classes for Incubators, Accelerators and in-house implementation for promising start-ups looking to up their revenue and improve their customer experience.

The Entrepreneurial Journey:  Doing your best under the circumstances

https://www.flickr.com/photos/deeplifequotes/15984537989Last Tuesday I had to give a presentation on the use of KanBan for personal and self-development.  Now I have done many events, public speaking and taught many classes in the past 20 years and as it happened, just 4 days earlier I had given a similar course on the use of KanBan to entrepreneurs with a fairly positive feedback.  This should have been a piece of cake and just like another.

However this was not so.

 For a start the request for this presentation had come from someone else and while the title was as it mentioned, I had been informed along with another colleague a different requirement.  While I generally double check these with clients and fully clear the objectives and make sure that we are all aligned of what is to be expected, delivered and learnt, I failed to do my due diligence and communication.

 The next issue was that one of the pre-requisite for this job was that it had to be a 4 hour long lecture!  I already felt a little uneasy about this.  If we are talking about a tool that’s supposed to help you better plan your day and not waste time, spending four hours on a subject that should be no longer than 60 to 90 minutes is already contradictory, a waste of time. I had talked to a colleague who was supposed to be co-presenting this session with me and together we had decided that he was going to dedicate sometime to explaining the benefits of scrum framework and uses.

 Finally just a day before, my colleague asked if I could take over the presentation for both parts. From one point it would have been easier, as I could control the flow but from another aspect I had to now read through his presentation and deliver it on his behalf. 

  The day arrived and after many hours of preparation, arranging slides and working out how to make it all flow, I joined the online session where the presenters started the session by asking two questions, reading it out at the speed of light and asking the participants to respond in the chat. 

  As he was speeding through these questions I felt an uneasy chill going through my body that this is not going to go so well.  I took over by asking everyone to let me know what their expectation was from the course and much to my disappointment there was an additional disconnect as some people were looking at the concept from a business point of view.

We were already mis-aligned about the requirement and expectation, and now I had to address a disconnected and muted audience through a camera with some power points that were not suitable for this crowd.

 I took a few minutes to reorganize my thoughts, if this was an off line presentation, I could have kept them engaged by asking them more questions and doing more practical hands on, however here all I had was a power point presentation.  As the session progressed into the first fifteen minutes most of the attendees turned off their video and from there on, I was just talking to myself. I had some feedback from one or two participants and by the time we had reached half time I could already feel that I could not carry on. I suggested a short 15 minute break to help me pull my thoughts together and prepare myself to dive into to some practical use of the program and how to implement it, but as we started the engagement was almost at zero.  I ploughed through different examples and by this knowing that I might as well be talking to myself. After a about 45 minutes to 1 hour of practical demo and use case, I stopped and asked if anyone wanted to know more or had any other questions. Apart from some basic questions, all other participants had already switched off, probably gone cooking or cleaning.

  As I closed the session an hour earlier than the scheduled and required minimum time for the session I already knew that this was probably the worst presentation I have done so far. I could not see my audience and even if I wanted to engage with them they had already disengaged from me. I remembered the book “Do no harm” by Henry Marsh the famous British Neurosurgeon whose many operations had also gone terribly wrong. He had done his best, under the circumstances but the result was one were the patients would die earlier or were left paralysed.  I pondered upon this session; I had done my best, despite the challenges and circumstances.

 

Understanding the concept of the 5AM Club. Enjoying the Entrepreneurial journey part III

Understanding the 5 AM CLUB.   Enjoying the entrepreneurial journey part III

Contrary to the popular belief and book of Robin Sharma, I believe that the 5 AM club is not necessarily about waking up at 5 am but a concept of what you can achieve in a 3 hour dedicated period when your mind and body are at their optimal working conditions.

So before we dive into this section, I want to emphasis the importance of flexibility.  The 5 AM Club should be looked at as a concept or an idea that you can adapt to yourself.  We are all different in when we like to work when we like to rest, how we want to enjoy our rest and playtime.  So it is important to understand your body and adapt this concept to your body clock.  In my last blog, I also mentioned how Arianna Huffington collapsed from sleep deprivation and if you get the chance read the book “Dangerously Sleepy” by Alain Derekson.  You will read that while many successful businessmen have associated getting up early with their key to success, it is not actually the getting up early that is the key.  It is the concept of what you can achieve in those hours where no one else is around to distract you. 

Let’s quick analyse Benjamin Franklin’s “early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise”.   First of all his routine was going to bed at 10 pm and waking up at 5 am, giving him an approximate 7 hours of sleep.  His motto for this quote was that if you wake up late you will end up catching up with lost time and only getting the leftover.  However, this is a limited view of a limited world with limited abundance.  We live in a world of abundance and even if you wake up at 5 pm in today’s connected world there is no shortage of abundance and whenever you wake up, you can always view it as if you have got up 3 hours before those in some part of the world that are still sleeping.

Therefore, sticking to these old descriptions is misleading and unproductive.  Your body has an internal clock.  Some of us function better working into the early hours of the night and need to sleep it off during the day and others are early birds.  In fact, you may even find that you may be a bit of both.  I remember that when I used to program, I very often would write my best code beginning the end of the evening (starting between 10 pm and 12 am) and doing a stretch of about 3 to 5 hours.  It was a time that I had no distractions. My parents were asleep, the house was quiet and I could concentrate.   However, if I had to study, I would wake up at 4 am and study until 8 am.  That was it, after that, I would pretty much stop.  In both cases, the late night or the early morning provided me with quality, uninterrupted, focused time.

So now that you understand that you do not need to wake up at 5 am to be wise, wealthy, and successful, let’s look at the real concept behind the 5 AM Club.

In fact, the real concept behind the 5 AM Club is not so that you get up necessarily to do quality work, but quite the opposite.  It is for you to get up and dedicate a few focused, uninterrupted hours to yourself.  At this time you are not supposed to be working, answering emails, or preparing reports rather you should dedicate it to three main activities and preferably but not necessarily in the below order.

  1. Warm-up your body, do some exercise to start your machine.  Physical activity is good for brain development and also jump-starts your day. I dedicate several times a week (some 15 minutes) to an early morning workout followed by a walk (about 45 minutes).  This gets the blood flowing through my body, gets rids of any negative energy I may have built up, helps with my digestion, and even allows me to indulge in chocolate and some sweets as I burn them off. This is my routine, but you can build your own. I also go running and hiking on weekends and this is also a routine that helps me keep a healthy mind and body.
  2. Easier said than done. I drift in and out and when I am busy, I tend to forget and soon I remember how important it is to calm the mind on a daily basis.  Once again my last article “Driving at full speed in first gear” is a good description.  If all you do is push your brain to analyse at some point the result is nowhere as clear as it used to be.  In order to bring good clear results, you need to have a good clear mind.  A mind that can rest when it needs to do and analyse when it is required to do so. An overclocked CPU or brain sooner or later will lead to failure.  My meditation routine is those suggested by Joe Dispenza in his book “Changing the habit of being yourself” and also various youtube meditations that I listen to while I walk or run.  As my one of my mentor says, even in worst-case scenarios you should be able to afford 2 minutes for mediation per day.
  3. This is the hour or time where your brain is running at its optimum. You are what you learn and what you learn is what you earn.  Dedicate some time to learning and reading.  I read at least 1 hour in the morning if not more.  The days I get to read and learn something new I feel energised and happy and those days that I miss my reading time I feel a little empty and as if lacking.  Imagine what you can achieve with just one hour of reading per day.  1 new word per day, 1 new trick per day, 1 new concept per day, 1 new quote per day, and a new you per day.

Is it clear from the above 3 points how you can be “healthy, wealthy and wise” as Benjamin Franklin had envisioned?  I am working towards waking up at 4 am and I am often in bed by 9 or 10 pm. I love the early morning walks, my uninterrupted reading time, and listening to the birds at 5 or 6 am. It connects me with nature, life, and the universe.  Pick your own time and practice to be “healthy, wealthy and wise”. It is not about working, it is about learning and living a healthy life.

 

Enjoying your Entrepreneurial Journey Part II- Driving at full speed in first gear

Photo obtained from https://www.flickr.com/photos/storem/ License: Creative commons

I was driving fast, I couldn’t stop.  My mind was racing “I have to get to the office, pay the staff, follow up with the clients, finish the new product description” and a million other things, so I started making a mental list of all the things I need to do that day.  I was so busy and behind work that I did not even have the time to change gear. I was driving in the first gear at full speed, I could hear the engine screaming and telling me that it can’t go on like this anymore, but there was no time for such complaints, we had to be strong and push forward at full speed, faster. I pressed on the gas harder, the engine screamed higher, and then …

And then I found myself on the floor, I don’t know how long it had been, but I had collapsed from exhaustion. My mind recovered momentarily for me to realise where I am, however my body simply refused to respond. Couldn’t move my legs, arms, talk.  I lay there for some time in my room resting on the floor.  My secretary kept an eye on me but after a few hours, she decided that she needed to call the ambulance. I tried to stop her, I had work to do, clients to call, contracts to finish but she won, my body could not fight back.  They came and took my corpse away against my wish, my mind aware and my body unable to react.

This may sound alien to you but it affects many of us, even the top successful entrepreneurs like Arianna Huffington.  Ms. Huffington who worked like an unstoppable hulk one day woke up to find herself in a blood bath.  Back in 2007 she collapsed from sleep deprivation and falling from exhaustion, breaking her cheekbone.

 We are almost all obsessive, compulsive, insomniacs, workaholics, chronically worked up, worried about life, half depressed and endlessly pushing in all directions to reach our goals of earning more money, be financially independent and then start to enjoy life, but in the meantime, we feel the victim of the circumstances.  We think only when we reach that point or moment in our lives, are we then able to relax and enjoy life.

Many people live in this continual survival mode of thoughts that brings them nothing other than frustration, anxiety, depression. The living in fear of not having enough, losing out, the feeling and the need to compete as it has been instilled in us since childhood.  We are so caught up in the toxic emotions that we can no longer think outside the box and once you are inside the box, inside that hole all you can analyse is all you see, the bottom of the pit. It becomes a vicious circle and you become even more focused on your survival.

When everything feels like a crisis you reach the stage of Paralysis by Analysis.   Your brain makes survival the priority over learning.

The only way out is by breaking the cycle. If there was one lesson I learnt at my last startup is that I can’t control the outside world, I can accept, adapt and move on. Learning to live the moment to enjoy the challenge and not becoming paralised by over analysis is one of the most important ways in which you can ensure to enjoy your entrepreneurial journey.   I managed to break this cycle when I finally came across a book by Dr. Joe Dispenza “Breaking the habit of being yourself”.  

 

The Effort, The Lottery and The Miracle. How to win the lottery and the entrepreneurs ticket

Over the past few weeks, I have been wondering mostly about one thing and that is how we would like things to happen by a miracle.  I say we, because we all to some extent would like it that money comes to us effortlessly and that work and life challenges disappear miraculously.   I don’t doubt that if for one second there was such a thing as a magic wand that you would hesitate to use it.  Unfortunately and for as far as I am aware it does not exist, yet there seems to be a huge misconception about those who have a vision and mission in life and believe that the magic wand exists in the vision.

By setting your vision and holding this vision one defines where they want to go and be in life and as much as I believe in the universal force and the laws of attraction, spirituality etc, I don’t think that anyone has yet managed to win the lottery without buying a ticket.  Does this make sense?  If your vision is to win the lottery, you need to start buying the lottery ticket and not just one, but lots of them and not just lots of them you need to also start looking at the statistical patterns, etc. 

There was a company in the US that started employing mathematicians to work out the odds.  They would work day in, day out crunching numbers from the past and buying hundreds if not thousands of tickets.  Their effort paid off, they won and they won with a good multiple return on investment on time until such times that the activity was found illegal and the project was shut down.

The Voice inside my head

Imagination and courage is what gets you to write and speak out loud. While I have enjoyed writing for many magazines, newspapers and blogging, most recently I have written less and less. Not because I didn’t want to, but mostly because what I wanted to write had nothing to do with anything in particular. It was not a company subject or matter. They were just thoughts and ideas that came to my mind. As I watched, read, observed. My mind would fire up, I would write an article and then forget it forever. I have created this blog and called it “The voice inside my head” to address what I am really going to talk about in this current blog. I know that there is already a novel out with this title but my blogs from now on will be nothing but a summary of what the voice inside my head is. Enjoy, disagree or agree. They are nothing more than what I have just pointed out.

Acknowledgement: I owe my writing skills and passion to my English teacher Ann Stobart, who always encouraged us to write and be imaginative and Andy Severs who was supportive and encouraged me to push boundaries and believe in myself.