Five startup lessons

Since everyone feels the need to offer entrepreneurial advice to startups, anywhere from motivational the odd motivational talk to how you should build, it’s hard to know what to take and what not to. The August 2015 issue of Entrepreneur magazine has a piece with some of the most timeless advice that I received from seasoned entrepreneurs. These continue to be relevant and some I wrestle with from time to time.

Have a look at the piece below and grab yourself of Entrepreneur:

Turn Critics Into Brand Evangelists

In recent news, a certain deep-fried chicken franchise went viral for the wrong reasons and if you followed the story, as I did for a while, you would have realised that the brand tried to engage. The unfortunate part was that as viral news stories go, the brand that’s a villain gets it the hardest.

I’m not saying I didn’t go to KFC a few times after the stories spread. You know. . . . . just to test at a few branches whether it was all true. How could I write about it if I didn’t test the chicken myself?

Meanwhile, there are brands whose communities grow, who are committed to adding one memorable customer story at a time. Brands like Rocomamas that I wrote about on Marklives. And yes, once again, I had to see whether any of what Brian Altriche, founder and chief operating officer of RocoMamas, told me was true. The hardest part was taking the stairs instead of elevators

The hardest part was taking the stairs instead of elevators and sitting out the next weigh-in later that week.

Read the piece I wrote on Marklives.com and find out how RocoMamas creates a street team of evangelists behind their burger shop and restaurant.

 

YOU are Your First Client

In the never ending chase for new business, proposals that fall by the wayside and delivering our best work – I tend to neglect the business. This is not in the ‘I spend more time in bed’ neglect, ain’t nobody got time fo dat. It’s in doing less of the things that we are likely to deliver for clients.

 

Clients look at what you are doing for yourself, as a business and an individual, whilst on course to making a decision about whether to buy from you or the next guy. This certainly doesn’t speak to all industries, it’s largely applicable for creative work. Not that many people care how one shop owner likes to have fish and chips in comparison to their the competitors.

 

The more time we spend pitching and writing up proposals, we leave the business to fend for itself. Blogs posts become less and less. Facebook updates decrease and we drop balls. What if those interactions, like the next client meeting, were taken as seriously because they are part of your marketing?

 

As I meet with more clients and would-be clients, I realise how they look more into our work than what we do for other clients. They are more interested in how our work achieves what we aim for. If what you do is a labour of love, schedule it and commit as you would for a client deadline. That’s what the first few weeks of 2014 have taught me, again.

How To Harness Innovation In Business: Q&A With Innovation Leader Ravi Chhatpar

[This was originally posted on Ideate]

When building a business ‘innovation’ is spoken about as something you need apply – and in many instances – it refers to the use of technology. Ravi Chhatpar, one of the speakers at the TEDx event in Johannesburg , speaks to Mongezi Mtati about inspiration and focus, and how to harness innovation in your business.

Ravi’s experience spans clients across industries including BBC, Cox, ETS, GE, Microsoft, Prudential, and Virgin Mobile. Ravi has also authored publications for the Harvard Business Review and the Design Management Institute. Ahead of his presentation at TEDx Johannesburg, Mongezi asked Ravi to share some of his insights about innovation in and for business.

 

Q: We hear a lot about innovation and it seems like an ever moving target, how do you describe it?

Ravi Chhatpar: Innovation means different things to different people. It’s tempting to point to a new technology or breakout business success as signs of innovation, but it’s more important to define innovation from the human perspective. It must lead to a change in behaviour, typically because this behavioural change is creating new forms of value for the user or consumer. If your new product (or service, experience, business) is able to get people to behave in new ways, to be motivated to do things differently, then you have successfully created a solution to a deeply felt and poorly met need. It means this solution is creating value – both tangible and intangible – for the user or consumer. This is real innovation. Whether a new technology is involved or whether the business scales is an ancillary point.

 

Q: When working towards building something new or different, how do you do it without aiming to be different and instead build something useful?

Ravi Chhatpar: Innovation is not about being new or different, just for the sake of being new or different. It must be fundamentally centred around an unmet human need. The final form of the solution may be truly new or it may resemble what’s come before, as long as it meets the unmet need. While we tend to gravitate to things that seem very new, in reality innovation is always inspired by what’s come before. We learn from competitors, from what we see in other countries, from what we see in other industries, from what 2-person startups and mega-corporations are doing. Mashing-up, remixing and experimenting with what’s out there already often inspires the new.

 

Q: Some have said the next Facebook will be from Africa, do you agree? Why?

Ravi Chhatpar: I don’t think “the next Facebook” should be Africa’s innovation aspiration. Africa presents some very complex challenges that require specialized solutions that are difficult to scale. But if we find ways to scale localized solutions across markets, then we’ve truly created groundbreaking innovation. Take the oft-cited example of Kenya’s M-Pesa which is not directly replicable for a variety of reasons anywhere else. Other countries are experimenting with mobile payment solutions with varying degrees of success – some resemble M-Pesa – and some are very different. More successes will prompt more experimentation which will spread across markets. A continent with high mobile payments penetration, more than the developed world – even if it looks and feels and acts different in different countries – would be much more impressive to me than a single African Facebook.

 

Q: Without giving away too much, what will you be speaking on at the forthcoming TEDx Johannesburg?

Ravi Chhatpar: I’ll be talking about inspiration, which is such a fundamental component of the innovation process. Of course, inspiration is a massive topic in and of itself, so I’ll be focusing on a particular slice of it. That’s all I’ll say for now.

 

Q: How do you stay ahead of your last great idea?

Ravi Chhatpar: I like to switch industry and focus regularly. While it’s true that experience in one domain is valuable, thinking about the same problem space over extended periods of time will trade off expertise for freshness. Switching industries or focus areas provides a fresh start. Eventually, your mind starts looking for opportunities to cross-apply and cross-pollinate insights. How can a behavioural insight from a healthcare context be relevant to a financial context? This helps minimize creative fatigue.

 

Q: If it’s true that innovating is a mindset that be cultivated, where do we start in developing that mindset?

Ravi Chhatpar: What’s really needed is a deep cultivation of both right and left-brain thinking from an early a stage as possible. More importantly, this cultivation needs to be done in a way that doesn’t make the distinction between the two sides, to encourage a truly interdisciplinary approach. The creative side needs to be complemented with the analytical, the thinking needs to be complemented by the doing. Increasingly these divisions of labor that we see in our (older) generation is being replaced by younger talents who come up with ideas and make them real, who brainstorm wildly then sketch concepts and then write business plans, who experiment and prototype and assess results analytically. This is absolutely the right direction. Education should support this as early as possible.

Catch Ravi Chhatpar at the forthcoming TEDx Johannesburg on 15 August and find out more about his insights and findings.

Entrepreneur on the move: WordStart on KayaFM with Stevie B

Following an interview on Entrepreneur Magazine, I got a surprise call from KayaFm about a chat with Stevie B. When we do the work we love, we rarely document the process and this interview was one of those wake up calls for me. Stevie B asked questions about building a startup based on what we did at WordStart, whether we have a team and how we market. Here are some hacks I suggest you use for your business:

  • Build thought leadership into your marketing model.
  • Search for places online and offline with people who want the content you find useful. This shouldn’t be limited to Twitter and Facebook.
  • Create original content to share exclusively on certain platforms and be consistent enough to cause a dent.

Have a quick listen to the interview I had on KayaFM with Stevie B.   If you have any feedback, please share it in the comments below.

Letting go of passion projects that turn into monsters

Did you ever start something that was exciting at first, something you thought ‘well this is it’? That something, that project, then started eating away at your time. Or, you just downright avoid it because you’ve inadvertently fed it with expectations that turned it into an obese monster that foams at the mouth for more.

That is what I have been experiencing lately. I avoided writing on this blog because everything had to be perfect. The stars needed to align and inspiration? Well….when the stars align inspiration comes by default. In another post I wrote about how overrated inspiration is vs. being consistent. Raise your hand if you find it hard to take your own advice.

Let go

Letting go of the monstrous expectations we have of ourselves and the “projects” we dream up is akin to losing a great friendship that no longer serves its purpose. In the long term, you later realize that it was the best decision you ever made.

A friend recently posted something on Facebook about giving yourself permission to walk away from things that creep you out. Walking away seems simple enough, the challenge is walking away from the things you started. The ideas you breathed in to. Those are near impossible to let go of, but we should.

Be the villain

In Batman, we know who the hero is and the villain is the guy who reeks havoc on Gotham City. Bane, my favourite character in The Dark Knight Rises, is not Batman and in the end you want the hero to win.

What if the hero and the villain are both the same person? What happens when you have to cut ties with that small community project down the road, which helps cute little kids when your fledgling business suffers because of the time you spend there? The roles have suddenly changed, Bane is no longer someone external. It’s your turn to be Batman and save the day, but that might mean you may soon be unable to make a living.

Slay your monsters and get to work

Instead of my writing being the fun pastime it once was, it became a painstaking chore that had to be perfect every time. The more things compete for limited time, the less likely we are to do the ones we are not passionate about.

In ‘Do The Work’, Steven Pressfield talks about the resistance and refers to it as all the things we experience which prevent us from producing our art. That resistance for me was perfecting every post, it’s not putting something out there ‘til everything is perfect. That was my monster and I’m going out to slay it every single day going forward.

Do The Work is a book that shows you what resistance is and how to overcome it. Read a quick review here and go slay those dragons.

What are your monsters? What resistance are you grappling with and how are you dealing with it to keep your passion projects alive? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Ask Richard Branson: I need your help

The Branson Centre is hosting a Google Hangout with Richard Branson on Friday 16 November. Part of it is that you get to ask Richard Branson any question, the five with the most votes, will be answered by Richard Branson himself.

Here’s where I need your help, I asked a question this morning and would like you to vote it up to the Top 5. Click here to vote.

The question is:

“How do you build a fledgling startup, from day one, ‘the Virgin Way’? In a way that you get the kind of quality clients that enable your company to carve a niche and position itself as a market leader. Clients like Virgin.”

Follow this link to ask your question.

Image by: Jeanette Verster Photography

Run a startup, travel the world, defy convention: Q&A with Chris Guillebeau

[Here’s a Q&A I originally posted on Memeburn]

Building a startup on-the-go while you travel the world may seem unlikely. The status quo would have us believe it borders on the impossible. Thing is, Chris Guillebeau has done just that. Oh and he also writes books and evangelically spreads his unconventional ideas on entrepreneurship and startup communities.

The word “unconventional” is actually a pretty accurate description of Guillebeau. The American entrepreneur reckons you can build a startup for less than US$100 and even wrote a book explaining how. His popular blog, The Art of Non-Conformity, focuses on travel and personal development topics and meshes with his personal mission of helping people live life by their own rules using a “non-conformist” lifestyle.

We caught up with him during his travels and talked about his insights on building a startup, how he uses technology and where he thinks the next “big thing” in tech will come from.

MB: Building a startup while office-bound is hard enough, how do you build both a startup and a community as you travel the world?

CG: I’ve never separated travel from my work. For 10 years I’ve been actively travelling to 20+ countries a year, and for the same time I’ve been building online projects. I think it helps that I enjoy what I do. I don’t feel like I’m struggling because I’m motivated to keep working away.

MB: You are constantly building ‘Unconventional Products For World Domination’ and send blog updates, sometimes in airports, from the world. What are the top three things that go into building a new product?

CG:

  1. Understand what people really want. (It’s not always what they say they want.)
  2. Create a highly compelling offer. The offer is at least as important than the product or service itself, and most people save it for last. Don’t save it; design your whole structure around the offer.
  3. Ensure good follow-up and over-deliver whenever possible. Your customers will stay with you for life if you keep helping them.

MB: You recently released a book to help writers get their books published. What doesn’t the world know about self-publishing?

CG: The world doesn’t know that the break between self-publishing and traditional publishing is overstated. You can self-publish and traditionally publish. For me, I love both options.

MB: Can cheap, democratised technology overcome barriers in entrepreneurship?

CG: Sure, and we see that especially in Africa. In the future I think we’ll have more and more African entrepreneurs accessing a global marketplace instead of just buying and selling within Africa.

MB: In 2011, you embarked on your ‘Unconventional Book Tour’ which involved your blog readers. What three lessons can you share from that tour and rallying your audience as part of a cause for common interest?

CG: The book tour is continuing now and I hope to visit South Africa at some point. (I’ve been many times as a traveller, but never as an author on tour). Among other things, I learned that meeting readers is an excellent source of inspiration. After a meetup, I go away thinking about the people I heard from, many of whom are living remarkable lives of their own. It helps me to serve them better when I know who they are.

MB: What’s the most challenging tech situation you’ve ever found yourself in?

CG: I’m constantly searching for Wi-Fi access everywhere I go. Surprisingly, some poor countries have better access than some rich countries. It just depends on the country and even the specific area.

MB: What’s your latest book, The $100 Startup about?

CG: Two things. First, it’s the story of 70 “unexpected entrepreneurs” from all over the world who started businesses by using small amounts of money and the skills they already had. Second, it’s a blueprint for readers to do the same. The goal is to inspire a revolution of freedom, as more and more people choose self-employment over traditional jobs.

MB: What has changed for you since you built your first startup, which inspired you to write a book to educate entrepreneurs?

CG: I’ve learned to become more strategic. In the early days, I was primarily concerned with getting by and paying the bills. This was better than working a regular job, of course, but I wasn’t really building anything of real value. These days I feel focused on a clear goal, so it’s a lot easier.

MB: Where do you think the next big tech innovator will come from?

CG: I’m less interested in innovation and more interested in usefulness. Most of us aren’t going to make the next iPhone, but we can all make something that improves people’s lives. To me, that’s what entrepreneurship is all about.

The Kindle version of The $100 Startup is already available for sale.

 

How to Overcome Resistance: Do The Work

Do The Work – by Steven Pressfield – is short enough to finish in 2 sittings, so relevant that it gets you off your butt immediately. It is practical in a way that it changes the view of how you hold yourself back from starting. And finishing.

It is by far the most important 112 pages I’ve read in the longest time. Arguably, ever.

You will stop doing research, stop listening to your mind’s endless chattering and your family’s well-meaning distractions. You will simplify how you work, this is not a book you read and put down. Unless you are comfortable with where you are.

Yes, we all know we hold ourselves back. We know we are meant to work, but don’t. We have plans that are larger than life but procrastinate. We postpone these noble causes. That is resistance and it stops here.

This is not a book you read and go back to the proverbial “business as usual”. The resistance, also mentioned in Seth Godin’s Linchpin, will lose its hold on you. More importantly, you’ll know it for the force it truly is. One that aims to keep you chasing after mediocrity.

Speaking of Seth Godin, when a book starts with him saying “this is the author of the most important book you’ve never read”. Well….. you realize a tectonic shift occurred in the universe ‘as you know it’, the moment you made this purchase.

Steven Pressfield draws clear battle lines between where you were, and who you’ll be after your realize the  pitfalls you didn’t even know you allowed to hold you back.