Entrepreneurship, GES and My thoughts

As the Founder and CEO of SYGNAL, which works to revamp fashion as we know it today, I know first-hand that the journey of an entrepreneur is both challenging and interesting. Sometimes you are lucky to receive opportunities that are life changing – you just may not know it at the time. I feel lucky to have been part of the Entrepreneurship journey for the past 12 years and was fortunate to attend various important IoT, Technology conferences and was lucky to meet many accomplished individuals who share the same passion.

My entrepreneurship journey has been sweetened by my partner in life and business, Mahalakshmi, who has time and again made me realize how badly we need more women in leadership roles. She brings about a different outlook, approach and sincere work ethic to the company which would otherwise not be possible. She was recently invited to a conference conducted by US Embassy in Hyderabad and received many accolades for taking up a challenge which many would feel is too big.

Getting a group of individuals with passion together has proven historically to ignite sparks that transform the society at large. Although we have come a long way from coffee shop meet-ups to an industrial scale #GES2017 meet ups, the basic tenet of getting people from various backgrounds, thoughts, ideas and experiences together seems to create a spark and works even today or more so in the socially online connected world.

I have been following the #GES program since it started out in the White House. Some developing countries have hosted #GES before India and I can say with absolute confidence that these countries will see a spurt in the entrepreneurship spirt and numbers in the years to come.

The important message, however, that I would like to give to budding entrepreneurs is – no matter how successful you are, do not forget to “move forward fast”.

Follow your dream! There are so many different ways to use your skills and make an impactful contribution to the world. If you can identify a solution to one of the problems in the world, find a team of people who can help you reach your dreams. Start small, you will not be able to solve the problem in a day or in any short time, so keep nibbling away a little by little each day. Get advice from passionate people in your industry, meet new people, ask for inputs. More often than not, the solutions to the most complex problems happen to be very simple and straightforward.

We are trying something similar with SYGNAL. Our aim is to infuse fashion with technology and to disrupt the fashion industry at large. Having received wide media attention from across the globe post product demo, the onus on us was higher to deliver and we have been able to come out with great improvisations to our integration of technology into apparel which I believe is only the very beginning. I can see that as computing powers increase, new and previously unimagined possibilities will come true. The journey ahead is very exciting.

Local community has played a huge role in my success as an Entrepreneur. From a manufacturing and job creation perspective, we aim to create about 5,000 – 10,000 new direct and indirect jobs in the next 2 – 3 years. The implications of positive entrepreneurship for the local communities I believe is the need of the hour and we are trying to give back to the society that has helped us grow and scale heights.

Needless to say, I’m very excited to be sharing space with innovative, gritty entrepreneurs at #GES2017 and I believe this summit would be a game changer for India.

Footnote: If you would like to get in touch with me, feel free to email me at ayyappa@broadcastwear.com. Also, don’t forget to follow me on Twitter.

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Some people have ambitions. Lofty ambitions. These ambitions don’t let them sleep

walk on moon

At Satyam, one fine day, my boss started asking each of us about our ambitions. We were having some discussion, and he posed this question. Everybody spoke of the one thing they wanted to do before they died. One girl said that she wants to buy her own house. At that time, I thought that her ambition was too easy.

I wanted to walk on the moon. She just wanted to buy a house? In retrospect, I realised her house was her moon. Her house was the one thing that would not let her sleep at night. It would haunt her till she achieved it. It is what would make her happy. It will be the driving force behind her successes.

I still want to walk on the moon. There are only two ways of achieving this – I could become tremendously fit, acquire qualifications, and go to NASA, or I could found an organisation that would conduct research and come up with a rocket that would take me to the moon!

The former is not impossible, but it is not easy. The latter is more feasible. That way, even if I don’t land on the moon, I will be able to leave behind a legacy of research and development that can become the foundation for the future. It can help our descendants to create something better and lead progress.

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Freedom always comes for a price

We, as Indians, do enjoy the freedom to do just about anything. You could spend your day doing anything you like – driving around to wherever you want, learning a new language, or making a catalogue of all the videos of dogs jumping the trampoline. You could be a baker, a blogger, or you could start a business making cup cakes.

This delicious freedom comes at a cost – the constant need to make choices. This would not be so bad if we were not as terrible as we are at making choices.

Surprisingly, the more choices we have, the more difficult it becomes for us to make a decision. Ask someone to choose a dress in one of three colours, and you would see that they will not face too much of a problem. But, ask them to choose any colour they can imagine and they could have the dress in that colour, you will see them ponder for hours.

When we are presented with infinite options, it is just not possible to pick out the best. Our fear of making a wrong choice will forbid us from making a choice at all. Also, we like decisions that are easy to make. This makes it very easy to manipulate us. If we are given two choices, we are prone to act against our best interests.

Impairing our freedom is the solution to making better choices. We have to make hard decisions that will restrict our ability to make dumb decisions later. We have to plan for our own weakness.

Satisfice

This solution works when we are faced with a decision that has infinite options. A satisficer looks for the first decision that satisfies his needs sufficiently. Of course, it always helps to know how you will reverse a decision. Although, you will rarely need to do that, it does free you from the fear of making a decision without any flaws.

Fewer choices

Steve Jobs wore the same outfit to work every day. Mark Zuckerberg does the same. Obama prefers only two colours of suits. Such routines, that do not require a lot of brain activity, ensures you mind is unencumbered for decisions that really matter.

Start with the most difficult and important things

Get the most important and difficult things done at the beginning of your day. Generally, our will power starts fading by lunch time. It is advisable to keep the fun stuff for later in the day, where choices become easier and they cannot harm you.

Turn off as many distractions as possible

The Internet in our pocket tends to be a bane when we are working. Keep your phone, email, and other distractions aside when you work. This will ensure that you don’t reach for them easily even if you try.

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A business mentor – a friend, philosopher, and guide

The energy that young entrepreneurs have is their greatest asset. We are surrounded by innovations, products, services, and applications that are being and have been developed by the youth of the society. An early start means they do not have much to lose. Their unmatched energies let them dedicate long hours, every day, to a project they believe in.

Young entrepreneurs, however, do not have the wisdom that comes with experience, and this makes it very easy for them to lose track of the bigger picture. It does not take much to get their adrenaline pumping. One idea, and it’s on. They rush into an idea, and start thinking about ways to get in off the ground. They, however, cannot figure out ways to take their work to the next level. This is primarily due to their inexperience and lack of understanding of how start-ups work.

This is why every entrepreneur needs a business mentor.

A mentor will give a budding entrepreneur advice in key areas of the business that he (the entrepreneur) is unaware of. Business mentors are usually entrepreneurs who have been running a successful business for quite some time, and are thus capable of instilling good sense in the younger generation. Mentors are more like role models that help their protégés and guide them through troubled waters, instead of being people whom the youth looks up to and never interacts.

Most mentors believe that young entrepreneurs should do something that they are intensely passionate about. They should delve into things that never fail to excite them, for it is only those who are excited about their work that make a difference.

The youth should appreciate the treasure of knowledge the mentors are sharing. For a mentor – protégé relationship to work, there has to be respect, practical thinking, and accountability.

It is the protégé’s responsibility to tell his mentor of the clear goals he has set for his business, for only then will the latter be able to figure out a way of getting there. The protégé should also constantly create and be productive, while furnishing regular progress reports, and take majority of the decisions for his business instead of depending completely on his mentor.

Looking for someone to guide you is not easy. Not all experienced entrepreneurs will want to mentor you. They will have a lot on their plates, and they might be hard pressed for time. Also, a lot of successful entrepreneurs have never had mentors. So, they are really not sure about how to help you out. But that should not deter you from looking for the one person whose goals match yours.

Once you have identified a list of people who can mentor you, all you have to do is establish communication. An email, a phone call, or a hand written letter is enough for an introduction. Instead of beating around the bush, they would appreciate it if you get to the point and ask them your question. You might be lucky and have a beautiful relationship that is mutually beneficial!

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How to keep your sanity as a business owner

As small business owners, the stress is bound to be great, especially as you have to think about almost everything. Every entrepreneur has his or her own breaking point. It could be something like being too swamped with work and not getting enough time for spending quality time with your family. You can’t always prevent situations from cropping up and grinding your nerves, but you can have your own ways to deal with it.

Here are a few strategies that can help.

Do a maximum of five major tasks in a day
If you try to do more than five big things in a day, you are bound feel overwhelmed, which will not help your productivity in any way.

So, if you have a never – ending to – do list, you will always feel as if you are just not getting anything done. But, if you do just five things and try to get them done by 11 am, you will be surprised by how much more you can get done when you prioritise work.

Don’t try to control everything
Trying to control everything is a recipe for everything going haywire. Instead, focus only on three things:

  • Who you are for your customers

  • What you are committed to

  • Delivering on what your customers can count on you for

One you put all your energy into these three things, you will have a whole lot of customers who are happy and profitable, and they will choose you regardless of the price they have to cough up.

Jot everything down
It is quite important to jot down stuff – without using any technology, just the good ol’ pen and paper. All you have to do is buy a white legal pad, and make a note of everything that you have to do. The moment you finish a task, draw a line across it. It feels extremely good to physically cross something off.

There will always be more going on in your office than you can keep track of. So, having a notepad on your desk will help you keep those five big tasks in the front of your mind.

Take some time off
Taking some time off, even if it is half a day, can do wonders for our productivity and stress levels. Entrepreneurs push themselves to the limit because they think the business will not sustain if they are out of the office. But, if you take off early on Friday, you will feel rejuvenated and all ready to tackle every challenge on Monday.

You might not be able to take vacations often, but getting off work early on Fridays is certainly doable.

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Figuring out the next step

Most people think that start – ups are all about the one great, revolutionary product idea. Once the moment of epiphany hits, the result is pretty much predictable. The problem with this thought process is that it disregards the years of hard work and toil endured by entrepreneurs, and that a large number of start – ups change over time – often dramatically.

Entrepreneurs find it difficult to subscribe to this view, and, in response, say things like, “ideas do not matter” or “execution is everything”.

If a reality – check is to be done, then ideas do matter. However, they are not in the narrow sense in which such ideas are generally defined. A good start – up plan is not a pipe dream, that entrepreneurs watch as it builds. A good start – up idea is, in fact, well – developed, planned for many years, and include contemplations for various paths according to how the world changes.

Wear the shoes of the creators of Netflix in 1997. Your first thoughts would be about the kind of response you would get from content providers, distribution channels, and competitors. You would also wonder about how long it would take for technology to develop enough to enable you to distribute content online instead of by mail.

You can also consider the quandaries of the makers of Dropbox in 2007. There had been many cloud storage companies that did not last. They would be wondering about the mistakes made by their predecessors and the effect mobile platforms might have.

When you are just starting, it is not possible to map the entire course of events. However, the following places can help you get a general idea and plan accordingly.

History
If someone has tried out your idea before (most good ones have been tried), you should try to see where they went wrong and what they did right. Most of these reasons are stored in the brains of those who had executed it, and this makes working in “stealth mode” a very bad idea. You will gain far more by learning about the possible scenarios than the risks you will run of having your idea stolen.

Theories
Check out the blogs written by entrepreneurs and investors. These places contain a wealth of historical data on technology start – ups. These people have observed and sifted through data to develop various theories that generalise the data they received.

Analogy
Another good place to look for the direction in which to turn is similar businesses. They will give you knowledge that no other place will. Look at their beginnings, their strategies, and learn about them. You can then utilise something similar in your venture.

You should also think about competition. Other start – ups are just a distraction. Chances are high that your and their paths will not merge. But, if you see many who are trying to do something similar, then rest assured that you might be on to something good. You should be, in fact, worrying about the years you could waste if you go down the wrong path.

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Sell Magic

Startups that create technology are not actually in the business of technology. They are, in fact, in the business of creating magic. By magic, I don’t mean that they befuddle people with card tricks or by pulling a rabbit or a dove out of their hats. They create magic that awes and surprises. They are in the business of providing people with a magical experience.

Most of a business’s customers don’t understand the technology that goes behind creating the products. They don’t need to, and they don’t care. What they care about is the way the product works. The love a simple interface. For example, when you look at Google’s interface, it is just a box for you to type in and some buttons and tabs here and there. But, behind the simple and classy interface lies tons and tons and tons and tons of code, which, when looked at, will blow your mind.

But, as long as the search engine’s working, and working seamlessly and perfectly, people will flock to it. Your product has to be like that. It has to delight and astound, and yet, remain as simple as ABC. Simplicity is magical. If your product is not simple, does not awe your customers, does not make them feel magical, and have an astounding design, you will be in trouble.

For very few people are interested in technology for the sake of technology. Most people are interested in what technology can do for them, and how it can blow their shoes off. By selling only your technology, you will just end up with a bunch of people who have been irritated and confused by your technology.

People like to see results. They want products that will delight them. They prefer start-ups that are easy to communicate with and respond to their queries almost immediately. Apart from looking for value for their money, people now want technology to fit into their lives without any hassle.

They do seem to want a lot, and it does seem like they want magic. So, that’s what you’ve got to sell – magic.

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Business relationships – the building blocks

Every business is run by people. And it deals with people. Your vendors, stakeholders, customers, clients, employees – all are people. They will not appreciate it if you just treat them as their roles in your business and not like people.

Transactions are temporary, relationships are long – lasting and guarantee repeated transactions. Your focus should be on building relationships and not on how much you can squeeze out of him. If, in the process of building a relationship, you suffer minor losses, let it go. Remember that once you have established a solid relationship, your profits will soar.

However, just forming a relationship is not enough. You need to ensure that they last for long and provide value to all involved. There’s a reason they say, “Don’t burn bridges”.

These bridges are instrumental in taking you places over time. You’ll end up with maximum profits by doing business with those you have built a strong relationship with. And these relationships take a long time to build and you might not work with them in the same business you were doing when you started working with them.

There are no textbook methods of forming new relationships. But once you let a relationship bloom, you’ll have to put in an effort for its maintenance and nurture.

Even if you are looking for a job, or a promotion, you need to appeal to the person’s heart. When you aim for their wallet, they become cautious and you lose an edge. Appealing to hearts always guarantees success!

So, go ahead. Form new relationships. Let them bloom. Maintain and nurture them. And see them work wonders for you!

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Decisions – the most difficult part of being an entrepreneur

Being an employee is not easy, and being an entrepreneur is about a hundred times more difficult. But, as an entrepreneur, I have always strived to move forward every day, even if it is by a tiny amount. When I started my own company, I was overwhelmed by the number of decisions I had to make – every day, every hour. The minutest decision had to be taken by me, as did the big, important ones.

One of the things I learnt was that decisions do not seem a big deal if you do not have to make them. Should you have your own servers or use them on rent? Which technology should you use to develop software; DotNet or Java? Should you get your own office space, or should you rent one? How big an office would suffice? Should you invest in buying desktops, or should you give a laptop to each of your employees, returnable when they resign? How should you raise the required capital? Should each of your employees get a salary account or should you deposit the salaries in their savings accounts? How much should you charge for your services?

And it goes on. I thought I was the only one going through this conundrum. But, when I spoke with fellow entrepreneurs, I realized that they were battling with the same issues. No start-up is formed with all the information required. Most entrepreneurs decide fast and know that about 30% of their decisions will be wrong. They also accept that they will have to recover from the repercussions of these bad decisions. It takes time to build a start-up, but you will not get the time to sit back and analyze all the decisions you made.

Struggling at making decisions will not get you far. An entrepreneur who wants to weigh all the odds before taking a decision will never take one. They will take ages to hire someone new, and ages to fire someone. They will also spend hours contemplating quitting their job and starting off on their own.

Sometime back, a friend of mine decided to go on his own. He did not know where to get the capital from. I introduced him to some investors, and what I saw was one of the best pitches of my life. He had them within 15 minutes. He also told them that he will be ready to meet them with the finer details whenever they wished to. He met them at 6 hours’ notice! Today, his order books can put any decent start-up to shame.

Thinking about doing something will not help you unless you get out of that chair you are sitting on and do something. If you are just talking about your idea to an investor for about a year, then chances are high that he will not back you. They know their job and they know how yours will work. You need to go and get them!

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The choice between profits and growth

Starting your own company is stressful, and it is extremely confusing when you have got to decide on what your focus needs to be – growth or profits?

There has always been a tussle between profitability and growth. While profitability is extremely necessary for a company, it is growth that matters more. A startup is like a seed that you sow. It need to be taken care of. It needs to be watered on time, every day. It needs ample sunlight to help it grow. You will also have to take out the occasional weeds and the bad leaves for it to grow healthy. For it will bear fruit only after it has grown.

A startup needs to grow before it can show signs of returning profits.  Google, for the first 5 – 6 years, concentrated only on growth. They spent a lot of time in constantly improving their search engine. They then spent time in making various products that would help stream line the way people use the internet. In last year, Google earned about $6 billion from Youtube alone!

When Mark Zuckerberg started working on Facebook, he did not think about any revenue model or whether the company would be privately held or would he be starting an IPO. He had other people to think about it, but he never really bothered about the profits.

The result?

A product that earned about $2.33 billion in Q4 2013!

Such vast revenue does not come from concentrating only on the profits. In fact, if you do concentrate on the profits, you will be more worried about driving sales every quarter than the quality of your product/service.

If your offering is not the best, people will not accept it. If you have a product/service that will blow people’s minds away, then profits are bound to follow provided you concentrate on making your product/service the best in the market.

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