What makes a good mentor-mentee relationship

A good mentor-mentee relationship can be game-changing for a startup, and therefore it is important that both – mentor and mentee – understand how they can make the engagement meaningful, productive, rewarding and fulfilling.

A good mentor can make significant contribution in not just the success of a startup, but also in the personal and professional growth of an entrepreneur. And therefore, I advise entrepreneurs to not give the tag of a ‘mentor’ loosely to anyone whose advice you seek regularly.

Mentoring is way beyond business advice and expertise sharing, and hence entrepreneurs and experts should be very, very careful when initiating a mentor-mentee relationship.

Who is a good mentor for your venture? Continue reading “What makes a good mentor-mentee relationship”

What do you do when someone who was helping you in your startup in an advisory role asks for 10% in equity as compensation?

Entrepreneurs should define the model of engagement with an advisor very carefully BEFORE starting the engagement, so that expectations are set right at the beginning.

10% equity for an advisor role is simply excessive. Not just in the generally accepted model of ‘advisors’ (i.e. where an experienced individual guides the company with his/her perspectives and insights), but it is excessive even if the individual was providing advisor services as a commercial model, with clearly defined outcomes. Continue reading “What do you do when someone who was helping you in your startup in an advisory role asks for 10% in equity as compensation?”

Converting an idea into a business

I often get asked this question: “I have an idea. But I just don’t know what to do next. How do I start implementing it?”

It is not unusual to get stuck with the idea without knowing how to take it forward. Often the fear of having to manage operations, finances and staff is what stops people from getting started on their idea.

Having an idea is a good starting point. The first thing to do is to let that idea rest for a few days. Think about it every day. But don’t act on it. Think through all the positives AND all the negatives. Think of how great it can be. And also think about what could go wrong and how worse can it get. You will start seeing different aspects about the idea. Not all will be good. And that’s OK.

Continue reading “Converting an idea into a business”

Should all founders present in a pitch presentation?

In a 10-minute pitch, it is best for one person to lead the presentation. Others can chip in in the Q&A, when of course the person presenting has to direct the question to them.

Even in a longer presentation, I suggest startups to let one person lead the pitch with adequate time for each team member to introduce themselves and establish to the audience why they are important to the venture.

Why do I say that? Because for investors a pitch is not about checking if the founders can present well. It is about checking if the story is compelling. Once they are excited about the story, then it becomes important to establish each person’s role in strengthening that story.

Find a Co-traveller – Find a Co-founder

In my view, it is extremely helpful if you find a co-founder when starting an entrepreneurial venture. Apart from sharing the work and responsibilities, a co-founder can be the motivating companion and the emotional support that you will need when your business is going through a tough phase. And all businesses do go through a tough phase.

Also, a business needs different types of skills and competencies. The ideal composition of a founding team is when the founders bring complementary skills to the venture. E.g. someone from the marketing/brand management category, the fashion industry and an operations management/procurement person – will make an ideal founding team for an e-commerce startup.

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Ideally, apart from people with varied skills and competencies, it is also useful to have a founding team, with different personality types – someone who depends on gut feel for decision making will find it extremely beneficial to have a co-founder who takes measured, well-thought out decisions, and vice versa.

Who exactly is a co-founder?

Continue reading “Find a Co-traveller – Find a Co-founder”

How do you do keep an employee motivated and happy while delegating tasks to him/her that don’t fit his/her line of goals?

This was my response to a question on Quora.

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In a startup, when you hire, hire people who are willing to go beyond their call of duty. You need people who are likely to do a bit of heavy lifting, and lend a hand in areas that are outside of their scope of defined responsibilities.

It is up to the management to also encourage people, motivate them and make them feel part of the larger goal. This means that the more transparency there is, the more opinion seeking there is, the more sharing of good and tough news, is the more likely that an employee will be willing to take on tasks that are not in the line of goals. Continue reading “How do you do keep an employee motivated and happy while delegating tasks to him/her that don’t fit his/her line of goals?”

Why Weak Decision-Making Is Dangerous For Business, But Is Difficult To Spot

Leadership is not the same as good management.

Corporate leadership is usually seen in the context of ‘managing’ the journey of a company in a defined direction.

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Efficient management of people, resources and environment may help the company progress smoothly on course in an agreed direction. However, the success or failure of the company, or whether the company is able to fully leverage the market opportunity is often dependent on the leader’s ability to make tough decisions, sometimes involving making a choice between progressing in the agreed direction, or changing the direction.

Leadership is about leading i.e. setting the direction and ensuring that the troops are aligned to move in that direction, and encouraging them to move in that direction.

Use the analogy of an army in the past, marching on to conquer new geographies and it is easier to visualize what a leader’s role is. Leadership involves the ability to see far in the horizon; imagine what the land beyond the mountains looks like based on assessing the current environment; and then chart the most optimal route; stock up on the necessary supplies; communicate the plan to your troops; create smaller manageable groups and identify people among them to lead those contingents. Then before the onset of the journey, the leader’s role is to give a rousing speech to motivate the troops, and as you move along in the defined direction create the mechanism to review if the progress is happening at the right pace and in the right direction.

Sometimes, the journey may be more difficult than imagined and the leader may have to reassess the plan. Often, when you reach the top of the mountain you may realize, that the vision of what lay ahead was different than what it actually is.

It is during such times that good leaders make tough decisions, while weak leaders keep ambling along on the same plan hoping that somehow things will change for the better. This is the crucial difference between definite leadership and the mere ability to manage the march in the agreed direction. This is the difference between good managers and great leaders.

If managing change is tough, deciding to change is tougher

Changing direction is a tough call as it may require the company to realign its direction and resources. It requires conviction, confidence, the ability to convince others that the changed strategy or direction is a good decision and then the ability to reorganize the resources and people in the new direction. Of course, it calls for a vision that can assess what the outcome of a new direction could be. And it certainly calls for courage to give up what was debated and decided previously as a good direction, and embark on a new journey or a new direction. It also calls for emotional maturity, as suggesting a new direction may often mean debating against the very decisions/directions that you earlier fought your way for. Even if it is in the best interest of the organization, it is a difficult decision as it involves a whole lot more effort, not the least to convince the rest of the team to realign their views and plans.

To be able to pull off such a tough change in plan requires a leader with great competence and one who enjoys respect from the rest of the army.

The impact of indecisiveness or lack of foresight and vision is not measurable under normal measurement trackers, and hence managements need to debate at board meetings, on whether the direction needs adjustment.

When a leader guides the company and manages people & resources well in an agreed direction, it is visible as a ‘success’ because there were milestones identified and measurement criteria defined, and it is easy to ‘see’ that the company is progressing well. Or if the leader is not driving the progress well, that is easy to spot for the same reasons.

However, since the outcomes of an alternate direction are in the ‘unknown’ zone, absence of push in that direction is not visible.

Great leaders introspect. They assess the environment, and the factors that led them to take the original decision. They are not afraid of thinking of alternatives.

Apple may not have been relevant if Steve Jobs had not decided that Apple is NOT a computer manufacturer and bet on music players and mobile devices as the new direction. It took great leadership to change the Indian Tobacco Company into ITC, a multi-category brand, including hospitality – something that was not at all related to the business they were originally in. It took great leadership to reimagine Titan from a watch brand to a fashion accessory brand.

Great leaders take bold, difficult decisions. All decisions are not necessarily right. Because, a decision is nothing but choosing from amongst the various options available, all of which would have different outcomes in the future. All scenarios of possible outcomes are based on assumptions. And hence, it is dependent on the leader’s conviction on these assumptions and outcomes that will set the direction and pace for the company. And success will depend ultimately not on whether the decision was right, as any of these decisions could have been right, but on whether the leader was able to align the team, resources, products and processes to the decision.

This article was originally published in NextBigWhat on February 3, 2014 (Read here).