Startup Sacred Time for 2012

For all those calories...you HAVE to use the planner!

From 1:00pm to 6:00 pm every Friday afternoon, all Storm employees are required to work on a pet project of their choice.

We call this “Innovation Friday.”

The endeavor isn’t exactly original. I know Google employees need to devote 20% of their time on a personal project of their own.

The difference here is the forced schedule. At 1pm every Friday, you have to drop what you are doing to work on your thing. No official project timelines are moved or extended – so you have to be able to keep your usual work commitments with half of a weekday removed.

People love it though, and adjust accordingly.

What strikes me is how different the projects are – from each other and from the “official” work which they are doing. We have a QA analyst doing office beautification and ergonomics. We have a programmer doing SEO work. We have our HR guy doing a podcast project.

The early returns have been great – people are engaged and productive. I’m excited to see the results.

The big difference here is the commitment to the cadence: every Friday afternoon people are required to drop everything and work on their personal project. If we made the rule an ambiguous: “devote 4 hours of your week to a project of your own,” I doubt if it would have been as effective.

Commitment oftentimes needs structure.

You want to lose weight this 2012? Spend more time with your family?

You can surely see how creating a “sacred” time for exercise or time for the family can work.

Why not do the same for launching your startup?

You can do something like spending 800pm-900pm working on your startup – and making this time sacred. You just drop everything. You can use this time to evaluate your startup ideas, research, talking to potential partners, talking to potential clients, and just honing your business model. For those who are married with kids, I’d recommend early in the morning before working.

(I’d advice against using the time from your day job to do this work though. Not only does this comprise an integrity compromise, but if you get caught, you can get fired. )

It’s difficult, yes. But similar to any worthwhile habit you want to develop, you tough it out the first month or so, and then it becomes easier.

Happy 2012 everyone!

An Open Letter to Philippine University Deans and Leaders

(My friend, please read through this. If you agree with its content and find it important, stop being passive – don’t hesitate and SPREAD where you feel is necessary. Post it on your Facebook account, Tweet it, comment on it – agreeing or disagreeing, email it to directly to University Leaders in your network, or print it out and send it to their office, then perhaps tell them what you think about it. Let’s not wait for other people to do it, nor think that “this isn’t my problem,” because in some way, it is  –  peter)

Dear University Deans, Leaders, and Administrators,

If a young, impressionable Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg were studying in your institution right now, would he be in an environment that would allow him to fulfill his potentials?

Leaders, there is an urgent need for you to help in spurring startup activity in the country

Let me explain.

Fueled by the internet economy and inspired by the likes of startups Google and Facebook, there has been a global upsurge in the formation and development of startups.

In fact, startup incubators have sprouted left and right. Incubators such as Techstars, Startup Weekend, and Y-combinator have created successful company after successful company. Young people, fresh grads – the best of the best – now see startups as a real, exciting alternative to the corporate grind. Startups are being formed at a rate unseen in human history. It’s already cliché to say “now is the best time to be an entrepreneur versus any other time in the history of the world.”

And it isn’t just happening in the US.

Google “India Startups” or “Indonesia Startups” or “Singapore Startups.” Exciting isn’t it? Lots of activity. Lots of firms.

Now, Google “Philippine Startups.”

As a country, we are missing out. Badly.

For the last 7 years I’ve been busy recruiting hundreds of young people, both as employees and/or partners to some of the startups I’ve been associated with.

I thought it would be easy for me to convince them to take a leap by offering good pay, equity, the chance to be the captain of their ships, and the chance to work on something meaningful.

It hasn’t been easy. In fact, it’s been quite the opposite. Automatically, most young people would explain to me their perceived  singular path to success: a few years climbing the corporate ladder, then an MBA, hopefully abroad, then back to that ladder again.

And they toil away in corporations, working for just their paychecks, a good number devoid of any passion for what they do. Worse, they think it’s as good as it gets. They end up wasting talent – Filipino talent being highly lauded as some of the best in the world – doing cookie cutter work that is beneath them. There are a lot of these people.

This is a perception tragedy of the highest magnitude.

The world has become flat. There is no reason anymore why a few bright kids in your school can’t create the next Google, or Facebook, or Zoho.com (a huge global Indian startup).

There are a number of valiant entrepreneurs out there who are making a difference, like ProudCloud’s Jay Fajardo or Brain Gain’s Paco Sandejas, but they are few and far in-between. There needs to be a grassroots-level effort in spurring interest in startup development.

Leaders, this HAS to begin in our schools.

We have to ingrain in our students that creating startups is not only possible, but it is the highest form of work, because it involves creating a company around what they are passionate about. We all know what happens when we work on our passions – GREAT WORK happens. GREAT IDEAS ARE ENFLESHED and become real. Startup work is hard, yes, but it is also extremely fulfilling, liberating, and a big part of nation building. Startups spur economies.

It is already too late to target people when they graduate. Observe what your graduates do upon getting their diploma. They create cookie-cutter resumes and send them en masse, hoping to get calls from whoever firm  finds their resumes attractive. A good number of your graduates even go for the “first company to call,” blatantly ignoring their natural God-given inclinations and talent.

They only would need to look around a bit to see that some of the best startups in the world were founded by young, inexperienced people. In fact, these startups work precisely because they were founded by young, inexperienced people.

Why not young, inexperienced Filipino professionals? There is no reason. None. In fact, with the sheer talent and ingenuity of Filipinos, we should be natural startup founders. Sadly, most young people do not realize this. Most of them have never even heard of Filipino startups.

This is a serious problem you can do something about.

Leaders, you have to do your part in making them fall in love with this idea. It is in your hands. Convince them that they CAN go after what they love to do. They do not have to compromise. We have to target them on the undergraduate level because this where dreams are created. This is where they fall in love.

I do have some humble practical suggestions, which I hope you can consider:

1) Emphasize Technology Startups

This is where the world is headed. This is how our country can be recognized – if we create a great tech startup. Or two. Or three. This is where costs have fallen so dramatically that geography is almost negligible. We can compete.

When I talk annually to management graduates who go through business simulations, I always get disappointed because 99% of the ideas pursued would be retail. It is SO hard to get noticed in retail. So hard to go against P&G, URC, or Unilever. It also costs a ton of money to produce inventory. Huge risk. On the other hand, the original code used for Google and Facebook were essentially created with no cost of goods sold – by students. There is now even a science emerging behind creating web startups which you can include in your curriculum: The Lean Startup Methodology.

Next suggestion is related.

2) Multidisciplinary Projects

This is how I basically build startups: I get a business domain guy, a programmer, and sometimes a design guy together and sell all of them on an idea. Then I let them work.

Actually, this is how most startups are built – complementary pieces. During the last Startup Weekend in Fort, people were grouped exactly this way.

Why can’t we do this in the University? Get a computer science student, a management student, a psychology student, and a design student together – then ask them to build something. These people all end up working for corporations anyway – so it doesn’t make sense that only business students are required to participate in simulations.

Can you imagine a business simulation activity where your best tech people are coupled with your best business people and your best design people?  Isn’t this exciting? Wouldn’t they produce great ideas and great work?

Under this lens, it’s a bit easier to envision to imagine lasting startups coming from your incubator programs.

3) Hire entrepreneurs

At some point, there needs to be a limit as to getting corporate people to teach business classes. Get people whom you would normally NOT get: the misfits, the square pegs, the heretics. These are the best entrepreneurs. Give the misfit, the square-peg, and heretic students in your school a hero they can learn from and relate to. They will be the best entrepreneurs. Under no circumstances can you allow your part-time teachers from corporations brainwash them into thinking that the only way is the corporate way.

And, since these entrepreneurs are few and far in between, you may have to go after them, instead of waiting for them to come to you.

4) Give startups a chance in your job fairs

If you think about it, the whole system is stacked for the big corporations, who are the biggest advertisers, and therefore are treated like superstars during the whole senior recruitment process. You can do something about this. Hold a “startup day.” Invite Philippine startups to recruitment events and don’t charge them large fees. At the very least, you can level the playing field. The big corporations may complain, but you can chalk it up to “supporting the national movement for entrepreneurship.”

These are but some ways you can spur your student population to fall in love with startups and entrepreneurship. I am sure you have even better ideas which are brewing right now.

Bottom-line is, something needs to change. The status quo isn’t cutting it. We are being left behind.

Leaders, I have faith in your ability to really listen, make the needed changes, and commit. We need you to. The country needs you to.

That great potential entrepreneur studying in your school right now needs you to.

The Destructive Power of “Not Yet”

Dangerous business

Around three years ago, I had a coffee talk with an entrepreneurial fellow named Randy (not his real name, rhymes though).

Randy was a mobile applications programmer working for a large telco. He was carefully explaining to me about his idea for a mobile application/mobile service which I thought was just super – first in the local market, clear user value proposition, clear monetization strategy, low investment costs.  I had a lot of questions, but he gave thoughtful answers – it was obvious he gave a lot of thought to his idea. Typically, I got really excited and told him he should start working on the code immediately. I reasoned he didn’t need to resign, but that he could work on the code and the interface after hours. I immediately offered him whatever help I could give – assembling a team, a table in our office, etc…

He smiled a bit and stopped me from rambling on. Then the all-too familiar words were uttered.

“Not yet.”

He explained he wanted to “polish” his idea further before we did anything concrete. I argued with him a bit, but he was resolute. I didn’t want to appear too excited and do a hard sell, so I just stopped and asked him what his timetable was.

“Maybe in a couple of months.”

I emailed him a couple of months after. I asked him about his timetable.

“A bit busy now with work. Maybe early next year.”

I didn’t push anymore.

Around year and a half after, I sent him an email. It featured a link to a local application. It was basically Randy’s idea. Only, it wasn’t him who made it happen.

He replied with something like, “Too bad. On to the next idea!”

Too bad? Too bad?! I’m not really sure if he didn’t feel any regret at all or it was a coping mechanism. I had no doubt in my mind that the experience he would have garnered would have been tremendous – best case: a successful startup, worst case: invaluable knowledge. Instead, he chose to throw it away without trying, another startup which died without even getting a chance to live.

This is why “not yets” are so dangerous. At least a “no” isn’t self-pretentious. A “no” isn’t about fooling ourselves.

A “not yet” is comfortably nestled between a yes and a no – it’s such an easy reply to give to any question which implies a commitment. And so it remains the most common barrier to startups.

But life will not wait. Competitors will not wait. The window will not wait.

(and if you are in corporate, the longer you wait, the more the system will make it harder to for you to take any leaps)

I remember an ex-officemate once told me about his brother who got into this huge vehicular accident and nearly lost his life. The next things he did are almost too obvious: he quit his (largely successful) work in corporate, and put up a resto in Tagaytay. (If I remember right, it’s Firelake Grill – an awesome place)

Does it really take a life-threatening moment for us to pursue our passions?

Enough not-yets.

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The only shoe that will fit perfectly is yours

Each individual is unique.

From our fingerprints, our view of the world, our biases, our histories – we are each truly unique.

Our uniqueness extends to what exactly satisfies us at work.

Some of us prefer sales, some research, some human resources, some supply chain management, some finance, some technology.

Some of us prefer to work at night, some mid-afternoon, some are morning folk.

Some of us prefer working with people, while some prefer to work alone, for some “it depends.”

Some of crave simplicity, while others desire sophistication.

Some of us get a thrill out of talking to someone new everyday, while some of us want to a correspond with more an intimate set of people.

Some of us want structure, while some of us would want none of that.

Some of us like synthesizing, some facilitating, some writing, some performing, some speaking to large groups.

We all have a unique fulfillment menu. We are each fulfilled by a combination of different things.

This is why job-hunting is so tricky. We ALWAYS end up compromising something.  Isn’t it funny that there’s always something missing?

How many times have you said or have you heard others say, “The salary is good, my boss is cool, the work is okay, but, I don’t know, I’m just not happy.”

A corporation is someone else’s dream. It is someone else’s menu. Someone else’s shoe.

In the end, the only shoe that will fit perfectly is yours.

9 Startup Myths Part 3 of 3

This is part 3 of a 3 part series. You can find part 1 here, and part 2 here.

7) Bigger is better

Last year we were up to around 15-16 people. This year, while we’ve lessened our headcount to around 10-11 people,  we’re set to double last year’s revenue level. Guess which situation I’m happier with?

Early on, it was always an assumption of mine that the successful companies are the bigger companies – bigger headcount, bigger operations. So expansion was one thing I was conscious about. I also remember the saying that you MAKE room for an A-player in your firm even if there’s isn’t exactly an urgent opening.

This was until I experienced needing to fight to meet payroll. This was something that I’ve never experienced before – if I didn’t make a sale, my guys don’t get any money for the month. Remember, recruitment in a startup entails selling dreams and encouraging people to take risks. The LAST thing I wanted to do was to face them and tell them we don’t have any salary for them for this month. So we did everything we could to meet payroll (and thank God that in our 7 years, we’ve never missed payroll – I find this to be nothing short of a miracle, especially during the early years). We also exhausted all means necessary before having to actually hire a new person.

This also allowed us to look at opportunities in a totally different light – how do we help this new client and make it work with only our current manpower? We forced ourselves to reconsider our assumptions and leverage everything we had (technology, network, processes) into making it work.

The results?

Larger revenue per employee. Lower costs. Better efficiency. A more versatile team. A smaller team which feels more like family than anything else. If, 5 years we experience much revenue growth and we’re still at 12 people?  I’d be ecstatic.

8) There will be no more jerks

The term I wanted to use was this one (an interesting book – talks about the negative bottom-line effects of employing jerks, even super-talented ones). I changed my mind, thinking my kids might end up reading this someday.

So, jerks it is.

You know the type – every company would seem to have them – pompous hotshots who humiliate and specialize in public lashings. After 10 years of encountering people like these in all the corporations I had worked for, I said to myself, “No jerk shall ever set foot in my firm! If one of them slips throughout the cracks, I will fire the person immediately.”

You know what, we’ve actually never hired a jerk (well, maybe one teetering on the edge). Our office has always been a fun, light place to work in.

Alas, while our firm has largely been jerk-free (not a small feat, as there are stealth jerks who don’t register during the recruitment process), I had forgotten that I was now exposed to more of the outside world – clients, suppliers, partners, government agencies, etc. While a large majority of the people we work with are fantastic people whom we love interacting with, there are always one or two exceptions to the rule.

Sigh. So I guess there will always be jerks. The trick is learning how to manage them.

9)You can do it part-time

Sure, you can do small businesses and lifestyle businesses part-time. But a startup? (definition here)

In a lot of ways, growing a startup is like parenting. You need to spend TIME with your baby – nurturing, guiding, supporting. Like a parent, there will be some point where your startup baby can fend for itself without you. But during the formative years? Your startup will not grow to its fullest potentials if you are an absentee startup parent. Name one uber-successful startup with part-time founders. There has to be someone full-time.

He's going to need your full-time help...

What made STORM work was that for the last 7 years, either Pao or I were at it on a full-time basis at any point in its existence. Now that we are both back at it full-time, we are experiencing tremendous growth. That’s no coincidence.

So Peter, how can you do these other startups if you are full-time in STORM?

Just early this year I’ve had illusions that I could somehow pull this off – being CEO of multiple firms, in effect. This is a fool’s errand, I have quickly come to realize. For these other, newer startups to work, I know I will have to groom quarterbacks. I can coach, but only from the sidelines. Someone else needs to quarterback.

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9 Startup Myths Part 2 of 3

(The following post is the second of a 3 part series. You can find part one over here)

4) Business Plans Are Important

Yup, it's for dummies alright.

What 4 years of college business teaching hammered in me was that I needed to create a business plan for my startup. I needed to put everything in writing and project my financials – on a short-term, medium term, and longterm basis. So during our first foray, we spent several days crafting an 80+ page business plan, crammed with a boatload of projections and analysis. We had a five-year sales forecast with assumptions on pricing, costs, and market. We had complete projected financial statements across those five years. It was a nice plan. It was something you could submit to a marketing class and get an A with.

It was also a complete waste of time.

The investors we gave it to never read it and instead asked us for a “simpler” 2-page summary. Moreover, after our initial effort to draft this plan, we ourselves never bothered to look it again.

Why? We really had no idea how people would react to our company. None. Our initial product, a fully customizable flexible benefits system, was a first in that 2005 market. Who knew how people would react? Our assumptions were guesses.

Remember this very important quote from renowned entrepreneur Steve Blank:

No plan survives the first contact with customers.

True enough, the moment we talked for the very first time with potential customers, we threw the initial plan (our 80 page masterpiece!)  out the window almost immediately. Almost all our assumptions were wrong. 2 weeks of work flushed down the toilet in seconds.

So instead of a crafting a long, static business plan, draft a short, flexible 2-page one. Use common sense to check if your numbers look alright. Take note of your assumptions.

Then, MOST IMPORTANTLY, immediately talk to potential customers and check out all your assumptions. Most of them will be wrong. Using what you learned, redraft your 2-pager. Rinse and repeat. Test and iterate till you get your model right.

5) Things Stabilize

Pao and I always thought, “OK, in time, we’d stabilize.”

Uhm, no.

What we’ve discovered instead is that every year is different. Vastly different. The moment we’d think that, okay, steady na tayo, let’s just stick with this, the market throws us a curveball and forces us to change things. Twice, we’ve decided to kill off certain services, only to have a huge company come and ask us for exactly those services. When it happened a second time, we even joked that the best way to make a business line profitable is by killing it off. Once, we were excited to bring out this new retention tool in the market. We made a big launch and started getting new clients. In a few months however, the recession came out of nowhere. Retention was the last thing on our clients’ minds, and one by one, our clients pulled out.

Bring it on!

Running a startup involves navigating your firm through a sea of constant change. So, while there’s always that huge problem which can sometimes threaten your very existence, thank God there are always even more opportunities to seize and take advantage of.

Yep, it isn’t for the faint of heart, but hey, you can bet it’s so much more exciting – and gratifying – than being a cog in the machine.

6) You need to pump money into traditional advertising

For years, I would always bemoan the fact that most of our clients came from word-of-mouth. I would always say, “imagine if we did active marketing instead of…nothing” And I would dream of big marketing campaigns – but couldn’t do it either because of a lack of time, a lack of budget, or both.

Eventually, we did direct marketing campaigns and sent an untold number of letters and email to potential customers. For all the time, money, and effort this necessitated, we got meager results – we got very few clients through this route. I then realized when I was in corporate I would just shred unopened sales letters, and delete sales emails before I read them. I hated spam.

In the meantime however, the “nothing” marketing strategy was churning out client after client. There would be phone calls from strangers referred by people we worked with, even people whom we didn’t work with, but with whom we shared an interaction or two with. Our biggest clients are almost all from referrals.

It turns out, it wasn’t “nothing” at all. The good work we poured in with our current clients – the service levels, the innovation, how we made it easy for people to relate and work with us – created ripples we never realized were spreading. In 2011, we spent I think the least amount on traditional marketing as we have had in the last 4 years, yet, this year is shaping up to be our best revenue year ever, by far. This has really made me reevaluate what I think I know about marketing. The rules are changing.

Last three myths next post!

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9 Startup Myths Part 1 of 3

For the next three days, I’ll be talking about 3 assumptions I discovered were completely wrong as I went through the startup process:

1) You need a ton of money to start

Nope, you don't need it.

Back in 2005, we were rejected by 2-3 investors before we said, “The heck with it, let’s just pool our own money and start.” My initial cash-out as an owner was P30,000.00. Far cry from the hundreds of thousands we thought we needed. It turns out it was enough.

Nowadays, you could start firms with even less, as the cost barriers continue to fall.

Last Thursday, I had a productive brainstorming session with an old friend of mine who was in the printing/publishing business. I suggested, “Why don’t you try building a 2.0 version of your current business on the net?” He told me he thought it would take around P2-3 million to do a web startup.

I told him I could connect him to tech people so he can knock zeroes out of his initial investment assumption.

Web startups are the most cost-effective startup type of them all. If you can program, you can build an e-commerce website for less than a pittance and start a business. You don’t know how to program? Sell your startup idea to someone who does and offer her substantial equity. She can instead work on the website for the equity instead of you paying a salary or a fee.

A great entrepreneur will ALWAYS find a way to get things done without a huge initial investment.

2) You will be your own boss

This was one of the first myths I discovered just wasn’t true.

When Pao and I started, we immediately made business cards which said “CEO” and “COO.” Yeah, we just loved the sound of that!

The moment we worked with clients though, it became very apparent who the real boss was. Needing to prove ourselves and earn trust in the market, we needed to over-deliver every time with every new client. That usually meant being under the beck and call of each client who chose to work with us. They were the real bosses and dictated everything.

Oh, you want this 4 month project crammed into a month?

Sure, no problem!

Oh, so you want me to do this 20-slide presentation which isn’t in the contract we signed? For free?

Sure, no problem!

Even the titles themselves worked against us. Once, Pao was in a presentation with a bank executive,  to whom he gave his “COO” biz card. Upon looking at the card, the client smiled and replied, “Oh, COO ka pala eh, ibaba mo naman young presyo.”

From then on, we just changed our titles to “Consultant.”

3) My corporate life would prepare me for startup life

When we were starting, I thought my 10-year corporate experience would help me run things in STORM.

Wrong.

There is nothing in my corporate career that could have prepared me for life in a startup.

Here’s the big difference: in corporations, unless you are the CEO, you think only as far as your function is concerned.

Going up the corporate ladder in human resources, I only thought as far as HR was concerned. Yes, I was trained to be a “strategic business partner” and know the business better – but I never made decisions for anything beyond my departmental role, and I would always look at things through the lens of my function.

In a startup, you learn veryveryvery quickly how and why every decision affects every other business function. Since resources are extra-scarce in new startups, you are forced to make (quick) decisions considering ALL the affected functions. Nothing in isolation.

Let’s say you want to implement a particular marketing plan. You then make an analysis that you would need someone full-time on it for 3 months. You could do it yourself, but then who would do current consulting work you are doing for a current client? Let’s say you consider hiring a person instead, what would that person do after the 3 months are up? What sort of person will you need? Do you have enough money to afford her? Who would train her? What happens if she’s successful and lands projects within the first month? Who would do the account management for these new clients?

Corporations train us to do work on a per-department basis. Sure, you have your management trainee programs – but each of these trainees is ultimately assigned to a home department after their tour of duty.

Startup work demands immediate holistic, systemic thinking. A corporation trains us in a singular function, because this is the most efficient way to structure things (like an assembly line).

This is why I’ve always said to friends that in a single year in a startup, I learned more about business than a decade in corporate.

Three more myths busted in part 2!

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What’s The First Rule of Startups? There Are No Rules!

Early this year at STORM, we began building a competency framework for use in the company.  This is one of the tools large firms use to align everything towards their vision. The logic was, as we got bigger, we would need these structures to guide us. Building a framework like this is massive work, and our HR guy, Dino, was assigned to work on quarterbacking the project.

Around two months ago, we were laying the finishing touches on the framework. We had our core competencies (behaviors everyone in the company should follow), and were finishing with the functional (behaviors everyone in a specific function/department should follow) ones.

Then, I recalled the “big” employee handbook project we did the previous year – something NO ONE EVER BOTHERED TO OPEN. I then thought “What the hell are we doing?!”

So I quickly called everyone to our conference room to say I wanted the project scrapped ASAP. Bewildered, Dino asked me why. I apologized and told him that I knew he was working hard on it (I probably assigned it to him in the first place), but that we have to scratch it out as soon as we can.

It was a distraction.

We’re fifteen freaking people, I don’t need a complicated list of behavioral indicators to ensure everyone is “aligned.” I know exactly what each person is doing.  If something were amiss, I don’t need a complicated report to give me the details. I’d rather look at you straight in the eye and talk about it openly and transparently.

So we scrapped it. I made sure any form of “job description” was also scrapped as well.

I hate job descriptions.

The lesser the rules there are in a startup, the better.  

Don’t concentrate on creating rules. Concentrate on creating culture. It is culture that should drive your startup. And I don’t mean the culture that you supposedly create from drafting those useless “Vision-Mission” statements that no one really cares about (Guy Kawasaki talks about this in the video below). Culture will emanate from you – how you act, what you say, what you stand for. If you are always late in the office, then that is the culture you will create. If you continually ask people opinions on what they think and encourage risk, then that is the culture you will create. If you hold people accountable – then that is the culture you create.

Rules in a startup are oftentimes unnecessary, and all most them do is constrict and distract. The time you spend crafting that 40-page employee policy manual is time you could’ve spent talking and learning from your clients. And guess what, NO ONE WILL READ your manual 40-page masterpiece anyway.

So what do you do? Aim to create as less rules / policies as possible. There will be policies  you should hang on to  – mostly policies on pay and benefits. But the rest? Scrap ’em.

Manage each person in your team personally and uniquely instead. Talk to them. Connect. Lead.

So if your question is,”what about HR policy in my new firm?” Take it from someone who used to make a living crafting those rules. Forget about taking care of HR policy, just take care of your people.

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Start@Starbucks!

Start-bucks Coffee.

My first startup, STORM Consulting, started as an idea in 2005, I talked about it with around 10 people – all potential co-owners I targeted – mostly in Starbucks. I then narrowed the field down from ten to two people and began building the foundation of the firm with my two new partners.

A recent startup, StreamEngine, (site is still in beta) which is launching this January, started when I talked to potential partners – mostly in Starbucks (some in Seattle’s Best).

A chunk of my time now I’m currently using by  talking to different people regarding different ideas – all in coffee places and dining areas in the metro, 30-60 minutes each, mostly after hours.

You want to know where to start? Talk about it with someone. Get that idea of yours out of your head and into a conversation. To properly nurture ideas, they need to be out in the open, where they can grow, receive feedback, and get the attention they need. The more you talk about it, the more your idea will become real, more palpable. Energy is generated, momentum is generated – both critical elements in launching a startup.

Ideally, you are also using this process to recruit for potential partners. This is very critical, because once the incorporation is done – you essentially become married to your partners. Listen carefully: Who is excited about your idea? Who can help you take your idea further? Is this person DIFFERENT than you in key areas (ideas, skill set, network)? Is this person SAME as you in the key areas? (values, principles, work ethic)

So you want to start? Grab a cup with a friend tonight!

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Get Off The Corporate Assembly Line!

Do you remember the last time you did truly great work? I bet your output was made possible because you were fired up and inspired, and you threw your entire being into the project. I bet you thought about the project during non-work hours, in fact, I bet you had trouble sleeping because your mind was so buzzed thinking about possibilities regarding your project. It was work which was consuming, inspiring, and meaningful. There was a point to it.

It was work you believed in.

Now, how long ago was it when you felt this way? A lot of my friends in the corporate world haven’t felt this way for a long time. Oh, they might feel this way for the first few months of a new job, but when reality sets in, the humdrums return with a vengeance.

Why?

One reason is autonomy. Or lack thereof. I find that I can do far greater work in projects I know I have the autonomy to fully influence. In big corporations, such blanketed autonomy is rare. You have an idea for your project? Then you have to sell it to your boss first, then perhaps more bosses. The larger the idea, the more signatures you have to collect.The more radical and revolutionary your idea is, the more difficult it is to secure signatures. This is why in large corporations, to be effective you really have to be a politician. You have to collect the signatures to get things done.

Another reason is that majority of companies are built for efficiency.  The owner equation is simple: I want my company to produce goods and services at the least cost. The fastest way that is achieved? Using the assembly line.

“Assembly line” jobs are more commonplace than you think. The “copy-paste” job I described in my very first post exists in large numbers, albeit perhaps not as blatant.

Take a look at your job description. Are you given enough freedom to pursue something that’s meaningful to you?

Come to think of it, the very fact that you have a job description points to the whole conundrum. The purpose of the job description is to limit your role – its to make sure boundaries are set. Interestingly, I hear so many people say “I hate working with this guy – he doesn’t do work beyond his job description.” Then why have the job descriptions in the first place? Isn’t it ironic then that the people who succeed and are promoted in firms are the very people who go beyond what is in the job description?

Are you lost in the org chart?

Traditional corporations are structured by silos, by departments. The bigger the firm, the more sub-departments are created, the more limited a job becomes. This is why the biggest firms have people who cut and paste all day. This is when people get commoditized.

A person can be given a manual, sent to a training course or two, and few months on the job, and…boom! You have been assimilated. When a person can replace another person by sticking closely to the job description, I’d call that an assembly line.

Of course, there are exceptions. I’ve worked with several companies who give autonomy to their employees and treat them as partners. I’ve met several individuals who truly love what they are doing, do great work, and inspire people around them. Are these common? You know the answer.

YOU HAVE BEEN ASSIMILATED

Instead, we find people in the assembly line. People who hate Mondays and treat Fridays like the greatest thing since sliced bread. People who work merely for their paychecks and look for their kicks elsewhere. People who just go through the motions and find themselves on Facebook the whole day, because they can do the required work in just 1-2 hours. This is a tragedy.