A couple of weeks ago, I was waiting in line at a Toyota Service center, waiting for someone to estimate the costs for the damages done to my car. (by a brake-free 20-wheel truck going down a flyover – but that’s another story) I waited around one hour. Then, someone signalled for me to proceed to a chair in front of an assessment officer’s desk. I waited for around 30 minutes more.
Wait, was there no one at the desk, you ask?
That’s the unbelievable part! There WAS SOMEONE at the desk. I was ignored for 30 minutes as he was doing something else (picture below). Then, once he finished whatever paperwork he was doing, ONLY THEN DID HE LOOK AT ME to say, “Can I help you sir?”
I find it just amazing that virtually ALL companies have “Customer Service” as a Company Value. A number state these values on a huge wall in their offices or sites. This obviously means that Customer Service is something that companies take very seriously right?
In light of this, isn’t it funny how we just brace ourselves when we need to call a customer service hotline, or cue up at some customer service desk? Don’t we all have stories such as the one I narrated above?
(Sadly) We EXPECT bad service.
Please, please, promise me you won’t be a customer service cliche as you service the clients of your startup/business.
Our country now has such low expectations when it comes to being serviced properly. There is a big opportunity to stand out as a provider of awesome customer service.
NEXT POST: Tips on how to build a kickass customer servicing team!
Do you want to know what’s truly important to you?
There’s really no need for further philosophical / existential analysis.
Here’s a surefire way to know.
Take a look at your calendar for the past month. Take a look at the number of hours you spend on certain tasks.
Where you spend your time will show you an objective view as to what you truly find important.
Do you spend countless hours working overtime? How much time do you spend with your family? Do you spend a lot of time pampering yourself? Video games? TV?
Your calendar says a whole lot about you.
In our community, we are encouraged to “defend our prayer time.” That we should spend 15-30 minutes, at a specific time of the day, praying and being with God. We know this will be challenged by the temptation to sleep, watch TV, work, or a hundred other things, which is why we have to vigorously defend the time. Because God is important.
I can’t help but think this also applies to following our career dreams as well. We need to designate a certain time of day. Even just 15-30 minutes a day(for those of us will fulltime jobs which we already know don’t and won’t fulfill us). Because our dreams are important.
I recently talked to someone asking me for advice on how to do a startup part-time. He had an interesting B2B idea which I thought had some potential. I told him it IS possible to start things part-time, but that he would have to work hard and render disciplined, daily effort. I told him we can talk from time to time so I can check up on him. He kept on saying the right things – I want to follow my dreams, I want to pursue what I love, I will do what it takes.
But then when it was time to share with me what research he should’ve garnered, or which potential partners he’s now talked to, he chokes. He says he just too busy.
I would have believed it too, had he avoided adding me in FB, where his reactions to Game of Thrones and the NBA playoffs pop up in my feed.
An NBA game is around 2 1/2 hours. Initial internet research on possible competition can take a mere 30 minutes of smart Googling. Coffee with a potential partner usually takes an hour.
In the time he took to watch ONE basketball game, he could have interviewed two candidates and made the research.
NBA > Dreams.
It sounds funny and simplistic, but if we take a look at our calendars, I’m sure we would also see dozens of “misalignments” between what we SAY are important to us and where we ACTUALLY spend our time.
If your family is important to you, did you sacrifice time from other stuff to be with them?
If your dreams are important to you, how much time a day do you spend working on it?
Just a mere 30 minutes a day of deliberate work on your dream can yield tremendous results.
When I was starting STORM out in 2005, I had a fulltime job and I was pursuing a master’s degree. I had really wanted to do a “business” though, (the term “startup” wasn’t quite popular yet) so I really resolved to find some time. I still remember spending a few minutes every weekday researching on flexible benefit competition, polishing my powerpoint deck, and “profiling” potential partners (I remember having a list of people with their strengths and backgrounds). Sunday mornings (otherwise known as corporate veg-out time) would be sacrificed for morning coffee with potential co-founders. I would drive out to the Starbucks nearest to the homes of my potential partners.
After months of doing this, I finally found partners who were willing to take the leap with me. Then, the project started taking a life on its own. There was momentum (so crucial). Excited, I started finding more and more time to work on my dream. Weekend coffee transformed into weekend planning with my partners. Soon, we would be putting up our share of the money, get SEC-registered, and start. By no means was it smooth sailing after, but I never looked back. Three years after, I took my fated full-time leap.
Is your dream worth sacrificing for and pursuing?
If it is, then take your calendar and start making changes.
Put your time where your mouth is.
(do you know anyone who would especially resonate with this post? be a blessing and share! Sometimes we need to encourage people to take leaps! – Peter)
If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile now, you already know how much emphasis I put at the process of finding the right partner. Actually, wrong partner selection is THE single reason I’ve failed in multiple previous startups. Do NOT take this delicate process haphazardly.
To help you with this process, I’d like to share some practical questions you can ask a potential partner during an interview. This is by no means a comprehensive list – these are just a random, practical list of questions I’ve found to be pretty helpful over the years.
1) What are your own dreams for this startup?
You want a partner, not an employee. You want someone who will share your startup dream and very importantly, make it something bigger. Your potential partner HAS to have his own take on how to further build on your idea or vision.
Red flag answers:
“Well, uhm, I haven’t really thought of that.”
“It’s your vision, not mine.”
2) I really suck at _______, _________, and _________. What are YOUR weaknesses?
Weaknesses questions are very, very tricky in interviews. People know the question is coming and yet are are still befuddled by it. Moreover, you typically get people who won’t divulge real weaknesses and instead give you duh answers like:
“I work too hard”
“I’m a perfectionist.”
“I used to be bad with detail, but now it’s no longer a weakness.” (this means its a HUGE weakness!!)
In the co-founder search, the weakness/strength discussion is just so crucial. The whole point of getting a partner or two is to find people who will complement you and account for your weaknesses (and vice versa).
So you HAVE to have an honest, open conversation about strengths and weaknesses.
The first part of the question, “My weaknesses are…” is designed to make the interviewee more comfortable in divulging her own weaknesses by first divulging your own. Share these truthfully. If you are genuine, your interviewee WILL, more often than not, reciprocate.
Red flag answers:
“I work too hard.”
“I have worked so hard in correcting my weaknesses that now I have none.” (yep, I have gotten this multiple times)
3) How do you like to get rewarded?
I like this question precisely because it is a very general question and can lead the conversation where the interviewee chooses. You can then see patterns as far as motivation is concerned. Knowing what will motivate a partner is crucial in ensuring your partner/s stays with you.
For extrinsic rewards, be sensitive to answers which pertain to the timing of when the interviewee would want to get rewarded.
You want people who will believe in your idea and will work for FUTURE monetary rewards. You want to be talking more about equity, success-based rewards, and future plans, instead of negotiating current salary.
Which reminds me of another very strategic question to ask:
4) What are your current financial obligations?
This is an AWESOME question.
I’ve found that a person’s current financial situation is a HUGE determinant as to whether he would take a leap with you or not. Not only will you get a good picture of this, but this is also a VERY GOOD WAY of determining what the person’s minimum salary can be.
(If the person says “I’m paying around P3000 a month for the phone bill and around P4000 for gas. that’s it.” and then he says later on, “I would require a fulltime salary of P40,000,” then you have a red flag.)
I just am realizing this right now as I type this – I hope I won’t regret posting these when I do future founder interviews…
5) Can you design/program/sell/ ________ for me right now?
These are the three classic roles for the ideal founding team: a design expert, a programmer (or more generally, your MAKER/PRODUCER), and your pitchman.
How do you know if they can do the role well? Make them exhibit it. Make them audition.
Make the pitcher give you a 5-minute pitch. Ask the programmer to code. Make the designer draw something. Don’t rely on a portfolio (you’re not sure if they really did it). Rely on what they could produce right there and then. This will take time yes, but believe me, its worth it.
Red flag answers:
Other quick suggestions:
– NEVER partner from just one interview. Do AT LEAST 3. Ask many references. And then work on a small project together before shelling out any equity. This is not an employee. This is a marriage. Be thorough.
– If its been a long time already and you haven’t found a partner yet? (I know some people who are now at year 3 of the search). Just start and incorporate. The work you will do (assumption: you do good work) WILL attract potential partners. Who knows, you might not even need one.
It was one of my most painful learning experiences as an entrepreneur.
Around 3 years ago I was invited to be an investor/co-founder in a mobile startup. We were four people. The resumes of my co-founders were dazzling – Ivy League degrees, corporate stalwarts, multiple successful ventures. I signed up immediately. I also proceeded to make the most sizeable investment I’ve ever made (not my usual fare as a passionate proponent of bootstrapping and minimum seeding)
We met once a week.
There was no one fulltime among the founders. The company was everyone’s second or even third priority.
The deadlines were soft, chewy, and unaccounted for.
We were burning money per month on expenses. I felt my money burning away.
But hey, we’ll turn it around soon enough though! How can we, the super-awesome Fab Four fail?
Soon enough, that company folded.
I ended up actually paying more money than I invested because it turns out closing an LLC (in the US where the company was registered) is not something cheap.
I fell into the entitlement trap.
This is when I-am-so-awesome gets in our head.
As an entrepreneur, we typically become symptomatic of this when we taste some degree of success.
“Success” here can totally be subjective. To wit:
I’m making a million buck a week! I AM AWESOME!
My FB company page was liked 10 times this week! I AM AWESOME!
My dad founded a big company – my very blood flows with entrepreneurial awesomeness! I AM AWESOME! (and redundant)
We then let it get to our head. We forget why we got there: hard work, entrepreneurial hustle, starting from zero, other people helping out, God.
I have heard/read these actual quotes from entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs:
Our competition sucks. They don’t know what they’re doing. (the very typical adjective I hear a lot regarding competition is “bulok”)
No one in the world can mentor me on this because what I’ll be introducing will be first in the world.
I’m pretty sure I can get funded for this.
This sense of entitlement, this sense of “the world owes me” is quite dangerous for the entrepreneur (and frankly, anyone else).
For me, the two most important traits of an entrepreneur are hard work and learning. This whole new entrepreneurial paradigm that the likes of Steve Blank and Eric Ries are championing revolves around these two traits.
It is also precisely these two traits that entitlement slowly chomps away at:
I am so awesome, I don’t need to work that hard.
I am so awesome, I don’t need to learn from anyone else.
Don’t fall into this trap.
It can be easy to fall prey to this because confidence is one trait all entrepreneurs share. We HAVE to be confident if we want to survive in this unforgiving industry.
Soon, we had more products than we had people! While each idea was an innovative one and made a BIT of money for us, what we mostly produced was a boatload of mediocrity. Instead of making one GREAT thing – we did a number of inspired but UNDEVELOPED products.
So channeling our inner Steve Jobs, we killed all our horses except for the biggest one, the one which put us on the map – flexible benefits.
It’s been a great decision.
My STORM business partner Paolo and I made a little experiment though. Among the dropped products, we decided to pursue the next-most promising (and profitable) one, and spin it off into a startup.
Wary of committing the same mistakes again, Pao and I swore we won’t be involved operationally in this new one. So we then looked for TWO MORE co-founders for the would-be firm: a Pitcher CEO and a DOM (Borrowing Maoi’s awesome definitions). Pao and I would only continue to be involved on a board level.
A few months after?
Strata.ph was launched. What Strata wants to do is to disrupt the way companies manage their people through an online platform which manages competencies.
Within the first few months of operations, it has already managed to secure lucrative b2b contracts. Using the standard of “How much time does it take for the startup to make its first million,” this, by far has been the most successful startup I’ve been involved in.
How has Strata.ph done this?
Here’s why it worked:
1) Fulltime founders
Really quite crucial. Self-explanatory.
2) Sharing the STORM marketing database
Storm and Strata have the same target market.
So instead of Strata calling clients on the phone and asking:
Good afternoon! I’m _____ from Strata. We sell an online competencies platform. May we talk to your HR Director? (pause to listen)
Uhm, no he isn’t expecting my call.
We can instead call clients on the phone and ask:
Uy, Jun how are you? How are the kids and their first days in school?” (pause to listen)
Sounds good! Kamusta naman ang flexible benefits ninyo? (pause to listen)
I’m glad to hear that! Tawagan mo lang ako kung magkaroon kayo ng problema ha.”
Dude, do you remember that sister company I told you about? The one doing an online competency framework? Would you have some time this week to meet with them?
This is a BIGGIE.
3) The board knows the market and the business – from a startup perspective
Pao and I are members of the Strata board. Who better to help the CEO and COO of new HR technology startup than another CEO/COO pair who run a successful one?
So where does this all point towards?
I’m now looking at the remaining dropped STORM product lines with a glint in my eye.
Does anyone want to help me put them up?
There are 3 HR ideas I want to pursue and build startups above.
Here’s who I need (it should be pretty obvious if you’ve read the above):
1) I need people who can commit FULLTIME or if you’re working fulltime, someone who is SERIOUSLY considering a fulltime leap.
2A) The first idea has something to do with training and development. I need 2 people for this one. I need a pitching CEO, and a STATISTICIAN – someone who loves numbers and analysis.
2B) The second idea has something to do with recruitment. For this I might need 2 people as well people. A pitching CEO (ideally someone with recruitment background), a tech guy who knows how to build web products.
2C) The third idea is an OD consulting play. It ALREADY has a pitching CEO, I would need a partner for him – preferably a someone with an OD background.
3) I need people who will LEAD and be accountable. I need entrepreneurs.
These people I’m looking for will really be STARTUP FOUNDERS. I will not be involved directly in operations, so it’s up to you to build the company.
If you’re interested, send me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Do attach a CV and a cover letter as to why you think you’d be a great fit.
STORM transferred to its newest office a few weeks ago.
I love it!
It’s brightly lit, incredibly functional, spaceous, and comfortable to work in. There are no “manager” rooms. There are whiteboards and wallboards everywhere, and multiple spaces for different kinds of meetings.
Looking closely, you would also see rather peculiar items in the office:
Like this old restaurant-style chair…
And of course, our infamous “orange chair.”
These “artifacts” belonged to the very first Storm office – the one-bedroom condo where I lived. The bedroom became my house – everything else was transformed into the office.
(how I wish my old hard drive didn’t crash so I could’ve shown some pictures here)
I always joke around the office that we have to throw these chairs away, that I would designate them as prizes in our Christmas raffle for the poor soul who would end up “winning” it.
That restaurant chair there was donated by a friend of ours who closed down a restaurant. Nope, those chairs don’t have ANY bend on them. They are as uncomfortable as you can imagine.
That orange chair was the only comfortable chair we had. It was also a donation from someone who already had it retired in their home stock room. (Of course we still had to sit on the hard chairs – this comfy chair went to our first employee – our programmer) (Hi Angela =)
Truth is, I would want these items around for as long as they would hold up. They’re continual reminders of our journey. It’s a reminder of what we went through and who we are. Of how incredible Blessed we are. Actually, this is what I feel when I walk around the office. It’s not “wow, we have a nice office,” rather, it’s “wow, we’re pretty blessed!”
You see, back then, we had nothing.
We had no experience in running a firm, no mentors, no “donations” from any relatives, no MBA’s, no high QPI’s, no funding, no fancy methodology, no automatic clients referred by a powerful relative. We just had 2 things going for us: an idea we believed in (flexible benefits), and a powerful desire to see it through.
Then we just leapt and committed.
This is partly what fuels my passion in telling you to do the same: I really believe you can do it. Perhaps all you need might be a little push. Hopefully, this can be your push. Trust me, you don’t need any of the above-mentioned stuff. Anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong.
Don’t wait. Leap.
(Do visit us at 602 Centerpoint Building, Julia Vargas cor Garnet Streets, Ortigas Center! And if you have anyone in mind who might especially appreciate this post or will find it useful, do click those buttons and share!)
Fear has been my constant companion all throughout my startup career.
I remember feeling I might be laughed at as I was about to present my idea to potential partners or investors.
I remember that crippling feeling. That extreme doubt I felt when I was about to resign from my fulltime job.
I remember hearing all the “no’s” in this journey, the disheartening voices and fearing they actually might be right.
I remember delaying the first-ever post of Juan Great Leap (JGL) for weeks for fear other people might judge me.
After developing several startups (both successes and utter failures), and the unexpected growth of the JGL audience, you’d think I finally would be free from fear’s clutches.
It’s still there.
I’m still scared things might not work. I’m scared people will laugh. I’m afraid of what other people might think. I’m afraid a new startup idea might flop.
The difference now is, not only have I learned to live it, but I have learned how important it is to EMBRACE IT, especially in today’s business climate.
Let me explain.
Continuous Innovation Is Now a REQUIREMENT
The industrial age is dead and dying, along with all its guarantees (being an employee of one firm for life, worry-free retirement, etc…).
Innovation is the new currency.
Innovate or DIE. (RIP: Kodak, the big-label music industry, the dodo, etc…)
Companies know this.
Witness how ALMOST ALL companies have “innovation” as a company value, or how billions are poured into R&D.
This is true for both companies andof people.
For example, programmers now cannot invest too heavily in being an expert in one platform. HR people are finding out that job descriptions are getting obsolete (or at best, very high maintenance) because they change all the time. The best corporate managers are those who are able to maintain excellence despite getting deployed to handle very different things and cope with a diverse set of problems.
It had never been done before. It would be a logistics nightmare. There were so many questions. Would people hear one another? What if nobody came – this was something very different, so people might not immediately see its value.
It was either going to be work splendidly, or it would crash and burn. There was little in between.
While we were talking about this. A familiar feeling made itself known to me.
This was the precise point when I knew we HAD to do this group speed dating thing.
Reverse Spider Sense
Spidey’s spider-sense tells him if he is in any immediate danger (spider sense tingling!). Fear has become something of a reverse spider-sense for me. If it tingles – there is opportunity!
Now, when evaluating opportunities, I LOOK for that fear.
Is the fear in me?
If there is no fear, then it could mean either of 2 things:
1) I am not interested in the opportunity.
Subconsciously, I already know I don’t find (or at that moment I am not finding) the opportunity presented interesting. Perhaps because its not within my realm of expertise, or perhaps I just think it isn’t feasible for me.
Possible scenarios like this would include: someone inviting me to invest in a startup in a field I don’t really understand that much, or listening to a salesperson pitch a product I have no use for.
2) There isn’t a great deal of risk
If there isn’t a risk, then I am not too worried about it. Chances are great the possible returns won’t be so hot, either. I can say yes to the opportunity, but it won’t really keep me up at night imagining the possibilities.
Possible scenarios like this would include: someone wanting to give me a 1% share for a startup in return for monthly advice, or doing maintenance work in the office, or choosing what tiles would suit the office bathroom.
But if there IS fear?
Then I probably would be asking a LOT of questions about it. I would be nodding or shaking my head vigorously. I would be up – a lot of times all night – thinking of the pros and cons.
If there is fear, then I know that my subconscious is HIGHLY considering this course of action. It ALREADY knows if the opportunity in question is internally feasible for me or not. I wouldn’t even feel the fear if it were OUTSIDE my capabilities. (see #1 above) Fear tells me there is a possibility I can pull it off.
I ALSO know that this would be something WELL WORTH doing, or at the very least, worth a much longer consideration time. Fear is a sign that the returns would be awesome.
This could involve pursuing a huge pivot for our firm, or pondering the high cost of a GREAT hire, or asking someone to be key member of the founding team or the board, or doing a sales presentation to the CEO or the MANCOM of a potential huge client (not really a decision, but an opportunity nevertheless), proposing to my wife, saying goodbye to my decade-long HR career, or even me in my room, musing about a potential strategy.
Fear has ceased to become crippling. It has become my friend. It can be your friend too.
Hoooh! My friend, Your Friend…Whatever Peter! I’m miles away from that! I’m afraid to even tell my friends I’m thinking about starting something!
It’s a process (like EVERYTHING worth its while), will NOT come overnight, and there are no shortcuts.
Here are some tips that may help:
1) Surround yourself with healthy risk-takers (don’t know anyone? go to startup events, go to open coffee – LOOK for healthy risk-takers)
In some ways, this might be like swimming. The only way for you to learn is to dive in.
There is one HUGE thing that happens when you fail – YOU REALIZE ITS NOT THAT BAD.
Because of our primitive survival instincts, we pre-programmed to assume the WORST. (OHNO, I will be out on the streets if I fail! I will be the laughingstock of the barkada, nay, the whole country! Woe is me! WOE IS ME!)
It’s not that bad.
Of course, I’m not saying you should DELIBERATELY fail – but try doing things out of your comfort zone. Perhaps you can try starting the thing you’ve always wanted to do but always feared, but do so by…
3. Starting with smaller risks
Start with low-risk items, and gradually proceed with bigger ticket risks.
Got an idea?
Level 1: Do a powerpoint (not so risky)
Level 2: Invite close friends and present your idea (a tad risky)
Level 3: Invite not-so-close friends you think would be an expert on your idea and present (riskier)
At this point, you’re BOUND to get some negative comments / rejection already (this ALREADY could be felt as a huge failure for some people)
Level 4: Recruit a Co-founder. Among the people you’ve talked to, do a formal proposal saying that you are DOING the idea and you NEED their help as a partner (risky)
Hey guess what – you’ve started a startup!
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A few weeks ago I felt I was representing the startup world when I was trying to convince a high-caliber fresh graduate to try out the startup life. (Let’s call him “Gary”)
Yes, while he had several tempting, lucrative offers from MNC’s, any of which would’ve dwarfed whatever salary offer any startup could’ve given, he was also deeply intrigued by the startup life and was involved in several startup-related activities on campus. Moreover, he had enough of the “I-want-to-do-something-different” streak in him that I allowed myself to hope: “Hey we have a chance.”
Soon enough, I got a text message from him a few days after…
“I decided to try out my luck in corporate first.”
Along with the obligatory…
“But Peter, I know this isn’t really for me. Maybe in a 2-3 years, I’ll try it out in a startup. Maybe sooner.”
I texted him some well-wishes, but in my mind, I just sighed.
I knew there was a great, great chance the startup world just lost another talent. The chances of Gary coming back in a year or two are as close as the Charlotte Bobcats (now Hornets!) winning the NBA title.
How do I know this? Here’s a very simple answer.
Gary will be given an ungodly salary as a fresh grad. This will make him feel good because a) he can afford a more luxurious lifestyle b) his friends will say “wow, ang yaman mo na” to which he’ll reply, “ito naman oh, hindi naman” while secretly smiling inside during the whole conversation.
It is SO EASY to get used to the more luxurious lifestyle, ESPECIALLY if you aren’t used to it. (this also forms part of my theory as to why you also have a lot of rich folk doing startups – they wouldn’t be sacrificing much) In 2-3 years, after 2-3 more salary increases, would YOU give up this lifestyle to work for a startup where you will work DOUBLY hard and get paid CONSIDERABLY less, with no guarantee of success? (oh man, I might’ve chased away more people)
It’s just sad to witness and feel this statistic first hand. Especially when I KNOW that if you do have that itch within you, these days are the best days in history to follow your startup dream.
Alright. I concede.
For the present time, I concede that corporate will have their way with 99% of graduates, even with those like Gary who have great startup genetics. I concede that for the present time, these Gary’s would spend not merely 1-2 years, but will be sucked in corporate life until they inevitably feel either a quarter life crisis (5-7 years down the line) or even a mid-life crisis (10+ years down the line).
This article is for all the Garys in the world who are in corporate – people who have sincerely thought of putting up their own thing, but for one reason or another (hello, fear and need for security!), have chosen to go (or remain in ) corporate. This article is meant to help prevent your entrepreneurial spirit from being COMPLETELY stamped out.
We still need you to make that leap down the line, Gary.
Calling to mind the multitude of people I’ve interviewed, the people I’ve asked to form startups with (who have since agreed or declined), my own leap from the corporate jungle, and the decade-plus years I’ve spent trying to get people into corporate (from my previous life in HR management), here’s a list of the things you need to be cognizant of in the corporation.
If you imbibe them, it can make it almost impossible for you to make that leap.
1. Don’t get used to corporate routines
Ask any startup entrepreneur about their schedule and they will tell you very quickly – every day is different. There is no discernable pattern. I could be in knee-deep recruitment in one instant, cleaning the bathroom in another, talking to a lawyer in the next, and then diving into product development right after.
An entrepreneur does THE MOST IMPORTANT ACTIVITY that needs to be done, now.
This is quite crucial because a startup is in the SURVIVAL game – it cannot afford to have its founders waffling on the most urgent matters that need to be done – just because “schedule” doesn’t dictate it.
A corporation shoves schedules in our faces. Be here at this time. Check emails at this time. Every Monday mornings, we have a team huddle. Every 15th and 30th, you need to send out this report.
There are daily, weekly, monthly, and even annual routines.
For example, in my HR life before, I already knew that during the 1st quarter we would be very busy with salary increases. 2nd quarter – recruitment and the company outing. 3rd quarter, midyear evaluations. 4th quarter, final evaluations, and the Christmas party.
When I got out of corporate, the first adjustment I had to tell myself was: I didn’t need to do particular things at particular times. (this took me weeks) I could just do WHAT I FELT was most important.
2. NEVER conclude that excessive politics are a natural characteristic of all firms
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “as long as there are people, there will be politics.”
Sure, I agree.
But there is an obvious level wherein the politics become detrimental to an organization. Like you know, when a clear-cut RIGHT option is not chosen just because of politics. (undeserved promotion for a undeserving bum who kisses the boss’s ass, anyone?)
No, it doesn’t need to be that way. Great entrepreneurs understand that the RIGHT idea/choice has to take precedence over anyone’s ego or personal agenda – and they build their companies accordingly.
A big company can survive the instances of repeated bad decisions due to politics. A startup can’t.
3. NEVER Race With Speedy Gonzalez
I wonder how many people own iPhones and Samsung Galaxies by opting to take on big monthly plans they can’t afford and don’t really max out?
Why do this? Well, because everyone else is, right? We have to keep up with our peers – nay, be ahead of them!
Ah, the rat race. Corporations perpetuate this sort of culture very very strongly.
Think about it. Don’t all manager-level employees need to have a car plan? Isn’t the own condo-car dream package THE standard dream among yuppies? Why do salary increase days trigger the highest incidences of chismis in an organization?
The rat race. We focus on whatever everyone else is getting.
I remember when I left corporate, I surrendered my Nokia Communicator 9800 (or whatever – it was a yuppie status symbol at the time) to the office. With my much smaller startup salary, I was scouting for which phone to buy. To my horror, I realized I now could only afford mid-level plans and be able to secure a “low-tech” cellular (gasp!).
I was thinking to myself, “but what about my productivity?! I NEED a smartphone!”
Well, it didn’t bother my productivity one bit. I saved a couple of thousand pesos per month as well, which was crucial in my own leap.
Repeat after me:
I DON’T need a top of the line smartphone, a car, a condo, P250 meals, P150 coffee, a P50K+ laptop, or a blazing FIBR connection, or whatever it is my peers are obsessing over.
Let these be items be your rewardwhen your startup is profitable, and not be obstacles to profitability.
4. NEVER Adopt The CYA Mentality
“Hindi na namin covered yan.”
“That’s not my responsibility.”
“It failed because ABC happened, and all ABC’s are under this other department.”
CYA – Cover Your Ass. I absolutely HATED this when I was an corporate.
NEVER make this a habit. Might as well pour gasoline on your startup and light it up. (this will do less damage to your startup than a team of unaccountable founders)
A little accountability, a little “guys, it’s my fault” goes a LONG way in building a culture of embracing responsibility.
Remember, these things start from the guy on top. Once your employees see YOU owning up, it’ll be easier for them to do the same.
5. BE WARY of the Loss of Risk Appetite
Because innovation involves doing something new, it connotes carrying some degree of risk-taking. This is something that OBVIOUSLY should be a part of a founder’s make-up and outlook. If a certain innovation is good for the firm, then an entrepreneur would ALWAYS consider it immediately.
In corporate-land however, I’m suspecting that for a number of people in corporate, the decision making process for innovative actions are HIGHLY DICTATED by the simple diagram below, adding two more questions before one even considers the viability of the option:
Before you say, “That’s not true! That’s a hasty generalization!” Allow me to say that I think those two questions are but NATURAL for us to feel – since most of us don’t actually OWN these large corporations we work in. In your heart of hearts, do you REALLY want the MNC you report to to hit $100,000,000,000 or whatever the target is? Will you be like, all teary eyed and distraught if the target isn’t reached? Hmmm….I’d wager “I want to have a good career here” might just be the more powerful motivator.
Contrast this to a startup, where YOU CAN BE THE OWNER. In this case, your decision -making process will be a bit more robust – as your own motivations will be perfectly aligned with your startup.
Lesson here: do not allow your motivational compass to have “great salary increase” or “I don’t want to ruin this comfortable thing I have now.” as its True North. This will KILL your risk-appetite, not to mention make you very short-sighted, only going after the next salary increase. (and the next, and the next….)
Remember, while some of these things are easily observable, the way they change us is very subtle. Be on your guard and defend your entrepreneurial soul.
(the following is a guest post by multi-awarded entrepreneur Maoi Arroyo)
As a junkie of all things startup, I’ve always loved shows like Bloomberg’s TechStars. Whichever season you watch, these entrepreneurship-themed reality shows try to select the best teams as opposed to the best ideas. As Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar, famously said:
“The view that good ideas are rarer and more valuable than good people is rooted in a misconception of creativity. If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they’ll screw it up. But if you give a mediocre idea to a great team, they’ll make it work.”
If there’s one thing I learned in the nine years I’ve helped tech-based startups get off the ground, it’s that business is a team game, and the firm with the best team wins. It’s unavoidable that the media and the public focus on the “front men”. Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Dado Banatao: the charismatic and slightly kooky guys get the attention. People gravitate to “self-made” men.
Except that there is no such animal.
Show me anyone you think is “self-made” and I will show you at least three other people who helped get them there and are wealthy enough to do anything they want. Larry Page and Sergei Brin founded Google in 1998, and Marisa Mayer was employee #20 in 1999. If her name sounds familiar it’s because she’s now CEO of Yahoo. Why in the world would she want to be in charge of a floundering company like Yahoo? Because after you grow a company from 20 to 30,000 staff; you have enough money to be comfortable and you can do something ludicrously risky.
So the question is: if you want to be the next Google, how do you find a Marisa Mayer? Who do you recruit to your founding team and in what order?
Sorry, it doesn’t mean what you think it means. DOM is shorthand for the person with Domain Knowledge. You want to start a restaurant? Makes sense to start with a chef. App Development? A programmer would be useful. Fashion? A thorough examination of the fashion portfolio and comparative analysis of chaka-ness is a must.
Domain knowledge can come from experience, education, or both. Choo Yeang Keat was a Malaysian cobbler who had been making shoes since he was 11. He built a respectable business which exploded when Tamara Mellon, accessories editor from British Vogue, partnered with him. Jimmy Choo’s shoes now sell in 32 countries for prices that regularly give husbands palpitations.
If you are the DOM, you’d better have geek cred and partner with someone who is market savvy and handle all those pesky numbers and “models” that always seems to be encapsulated in PowerPoint Smart Art. If you aren’t the DOM, find one and give them the role of Chief Technology Officer.
Some people call them mentors, but I call them Wizards. Wizards are both mentors and tormentors. It’s Merlin’s job to tell you that this Lancelot guy you’re thinking of hiring is cuter than you and your wife is into him. It’s Gandalf’s job to call you a “Fool of a Took” when you wake up the Balrog. The Wiz is going to provide you insight to the very important baby steps you should take BEFORE you found the company. Things like technology and market validation before you waste your money on a patent. In return for this knowledge, you should give them a part of your company EVEN IF they aren’t going to be involved in running it from day to day. 3% equity up-front or 10% vested over 3 years (translation: “3 gives”); in preferred shares that have no voting rights but get paid FIRST when you issue dividends. Like any RPG, your wizards will stand back from the fray and need time to cast massive spells. Keep them with you and don’t let them get overwhelmed.
Isolate the key things that are characteristic of you and find someone who is the complete opposite. I’m the kind of person who can come back from the bathroom with 20 new ideas that I want to pursue simultaneously. I have a knack for exaggeration. Math classes gave me PTSD. No one has ever accused me of shyness or humility. So I found a detail-oriented, frighteningly accurate, introverted co-founder who inhales numbers and exhales cash. Naturally you have to have the same vision and integrity, but someone you respect has to stand up to you and pull you back from insanity.
The Spartans embody the philosophy that makes start-ups work. If one Spartan falls, another one takes his place. They work as a single unit. All of them are leaders. Filipinos seem to live in horror of having “too many leaders”. That’s because we misunderstand what leadership is. Being able to lead well is a skill, not inborn ability. You can get people to listen to you by being charismatic; leading them is something you have to learn how to do. It’s essential to be in command of yourself before you try and command others, and you must prove yourself worthy and deserving of your team’s trust in you with your every action. A leader for a startup is not “in the rear, with the gear”. They stand shoulder to shoulder, right up front. They are the tip of the spear. They are the first among equals.
The Spartan is your CEO. On very rare occasions is your DOM a Spartan. That’s because the critical job of a CEO is sales. You know how a Founder-CEO is pitching? His mouth is open. That’s all they do. They have a recruitment pitch, they have a sales pitch, and they have a fund-raising pitch. If your CEO can’t pitch, get another CEO. There will be no cash to manage, no team to enable, no world-changing company if they cannot pitch.
You can call yourself an entrepreneur but until you get a solid team and some cash, you’re just some wannabe with a great idea. Ideas don’t change the world, people do.
Don’t stay a wannabe.
You can learn the fine art of PitchCraft on Saturday, May 25. Karen Hipol, associate director of Carillion Partners, will teach you what to pitch and I’ll teach you how to do it. Attend the event and you get an opportunity in June to get in front of institutional investors, all for one low price! (See I told you all we do is sell). The PhP 500 discount ends on May 15th, and slots are limited. Sign-up today and build your dream team! – Maoi Arroyo
In my 10 years of HR work prior to becoming a full-fledged entrepreneur, I did an awful lot of presentations and gave a ton of job offers. I thought I was pretty good doing these things, so when I made my leap into entrepreneurship, I thought to myself:
“Hey whatever ‘selling’ I would need to do for my startup I can probably do preeetty well!”
Well, I was in for a rude awakening.
Pitching is Everything in Entrepreneurship
It turns out, selling (or pitching in startup parlance) is absolutely critical in startup development. ALL the major activities in doing a startup involved pitching:
Yep, you have to present something very convincing to get them to say yes. I had to go through dozens of rejections before I was able to perfect my pitch and talk my first partner into investing their time and money in me.
As a veteran recruiter coming into startup life, I thought this would be chicken feed.
Then I realized just how much help a brand name like “Chikka” helped me in recruiting when I was in corporate. Or how an actual office helped (and how a pseudo-office-home arrangement doesn’t help). Or how a recruitment budget helped.
I had to learn to use other strategies to help me.
If my 2013 self saw my 2006 self doing the investment pitches I did before, this is how my 2013 self would react:
The lifeblood of any business. When my co-founder and I decided to split responsibilities for STORM during its first year, I took on the responsibility of being the “pitchman.”
After 7 years of selling for my startup, its really been only in the last few years (and I’m a pretty confident guy) that I can say to myself “I CAN DO SALES WELL.”
Prior to that, I was grasping at straws. I didn’t know what worked and what didn’t. I really learned about selling through trial and error. (I am hopeful you won’t need 7 years to get a knack for this.)
The Pitching Gap is Real and Needs to be Addressed
I’ve now heard literally hundreds of startup pitches, if you combine the pitches I’ve heard facilitating Open Coffee, hearing individuals out during Startup Saturdays, observing in Startup Weekend, and attending other startup-related events.
Here’s an observation:
Often, the best idea doesn’t get the best opportunities.
If you go to the next Startup Weekend for example, this is something you can quickly observe if you listen to the pitches: if you just rely on the idea’s merit and block out the pitch (you can do this by writing down all the ideas as they are pitched, try not to judge, and then when the pitching stops, you can go back to your list and then judge), you’d see a discrepancy between the ideas you find interesting and the ideas that actually get chosen by the participants.
So much depends on the pitchman and how he pitches.
And you know what? Collectively, I think we need a lot of work on our pitches.
(I just remembered someone I was talking to about this who was saying: “it gets worse when they think they’re awesome…and they’re really not.” This is partly why I keep saying self-awareness and humility are two very important traits to develop as a founder)
Post Startups Unplugged
After conversing in Startups Unplugged, Maoi Arroyo (no relation to the former president) and I agreed that our interests dovetailed and we needed to work together on…something.
During a recent meeting at the Hybridgm office in AIM, Maoi mentioned, “Maybe we could do an event on how to do the right pitch, targeting entrep…”
Ittookmeabouttwomilliseconds to say yes, realizing how critical addressing this gap was.
PitchCraft: How To Develop a Killer Pitch for Raising Capital and Recruiting
On May 25, 2013, we’re doing a seminar designed to teach participants what exactly the formula is on executing the right pitch, specifically for raising money and finding partners/recruitment.
It shall be held at the Fuller Hall of the Asian Institute of Management in Makati, from 1pm to 5pm.
This will be a paid event. Early bird rates (valid only up to May 15) are at P1000 for professionals and P500 for students (with valid ID).
Regular rates are at P1500 for professionals and P1000 for students (with a valid ID).
Here’s how the event will go:
3. Panel Discussion
5. Post-Event: Real Pitching to Real Investors (Around a week after the Pitchcraft event, all interested participants shall be invited to do their pitches in front of real investors. This is the real thing!)
The keynote speaker for the event shall be Maoi herself. We’ll be announcing who the panelists will be soon enough.
I think Maoi’s the perfect choice for giving this seminar (I actually can’t wait to attend this myself). Her firm, Hybridigm, is a startup incubator specializing in biotech. She’s been helping startup founders hone their pitches for more than a decade now. (And if you’ve ever met her, you’d know it’s going to be FUN).
I find that one of the VERY interesting inclusions here is the Post-Event. We figured, the best learning happens during ACTUAL pitches right? So what did we arrange? A realpitching event with real investors. You can get to apply everything you will learn form the Pitchcraft proper onto an ACTUAL pitching process. (If you think about it…this is AWESOME)
How to Register
1. Send payment to:
BPI Account No: 0321-0230-61
Account Name: Hybridigm Consulting Inc.
2. Send a photo/scanned copy of the deposit slip to Angeli at email@example.com
3. Angeli will send you an email confirmation (and an ultra-quick survey) to confirm your slot
You could pay online:
1. Purchase the tickets online by clicking one of the buttons below:
RATE FOR PROFESSIONALS – P1500
RATE FOR STUDENTS (Students) – P1000
2. Send a copy of the Paypal receipt to Angeli at firstname.lastname@example.org
3. Angeli will send you an email confirmation (and an ultra-quick survey) to confirm your slot
If you are an aspiring/current entrepreneur from ANY field, I suggest you register as fast as possible to reserve your slot (150 slots only).
Let’s make our pitches count, eh?
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