An Entrepreneur’s Thoughts this Diwali

Welcome, dear Festival of Lights! Though you have been simply devalued into a festival of cacophony at all levels one can think of, I will still focus on the Light bit. Because that is what people like me value and find strength in.

Every step into the unknown means we traverse darkness till we see the Light. And if we don’t, we just decide to see it in our heads, believe that it exists. And maybe it is at the next corner, after the next bump or just beyond the next wall, real or imaginary.

I look back on the year gone by and I am going to light a candle for every time we experienced darkness.

A lovely yellow candle for the affluent clients who seemed exemplary and trustworthy, at first, but didn’t pay us after the project was delivered. May you earn so much that you never have to do that again, to any small business.

A large diya for the funded companies that went bankrupt, leaving behind a trail of unpaid and confused employees, vendors and angry investors. Go in peace.

A string of lights to the GST decision makers who didn’t think how hard it would be for small businesses. But our company made it to the top 10% of GST payers; we are proud of that!

A beautiful blue candle for clients who let go of us or those we let go of. Sometimes things are just the way they are.

A bright orange diya for every person who has moved on from the team. You brought us joy when you were around.

A fluorescent lamp for myself when I didn’t see my colleagues suffering or when I was unable to help. It will remind me to not be self-wrapped.

Ah, see, all that darkness vanquished! Now, here are some candles for every time we saw light.

A bouquet of lights for our product that has reached a really good place, after blinding walks through intense darkness.

A welcome diya for every new client who signed us up. We are grateful to you.

A row of bright lamps for our old clients who kept the faith in us and kept us going. What would we be without you? We are blessed to have you.

A lovely large candle for every person we met at INBOUND17. You gave us insights, hope and confidence.

A beautiful diya for everyone on my team. You give meaning to my life everyday.

And one for our families in the seen and unseen ways they support us.

And one each for my business partners. If I had to do this all over again, I would choose you guys. Again.

And one little diya for myself, to remind me that I am part of that Light that connects us all. To remind me that this little one is enough. And that it can beat any darkness. Just give it time.

Keep shining!

Happy Diwali!

This is a guest post by Suma E P: With over 22 years of work experience behind her, 12+ of that running an agency, Suma is focused on building products and services for inbound and account based marketing. She writes, she learns, she listens, she talks, but mostly she likes to laugh.

Discipline

Back in May 2012, Niswey used to work from a shared office space in Connaught Place, Delhi. I used to wake up everyday at 6.30 and reach office by 8.30. Nobody used to reach by then I used to keep a set of keys with me, open the office and start working. We were just 2 people then at Niswey. And had 2 customers. So we would work the entire day and left everyday by 8PM. The building had some security issues and had to be shut down by 8. So if we would be still working, the security guards would come over and ask us to shut down the office. Initially i used to get irritated with them but slowly I gave in. Looking back, this was a blessing in disguise as it put pressure on us to wind up the day’s work before 8. Some days I used to even reach before 8.30, to squeeze in another few minutes of extra work.

The office was 1 hour away from my place. So by the time I would reach home, I would just have dinner, walk a bit and then fall asleep while reading a book. I made it a point not to open the laptop at home, unless someone was dying!

Since we were just 2 people, it wasn’t necessary for us to go office everyday. We could work from home, unless we needed face time. But we chose to come to office, everyday. It brought a great level of discipline in me. Which, thankfully, is still there. Another, brilliant, thing that happened in me was that it increased my ‘focus’! Since I knew everyday I had a limited 12 hours, I just concentrated on getting. things. done. Period.

Friends & family didn’t matter for me. Not that I broke relationships with everyone but I cut down my time with them. Especially where I didn’t feel it was important. A lot of times I used to get invites for gathering at a friends’ place, but I used to politely deny. Just because everyone is going, didn’t mean I had to join. Similarly, just because the entire family was meeting, didn’t mean I had to go.

For a long time I carried on like that. Those who understood why I didn’t join them, had no complaints, those who didn’t, anyways were not important for me.

The best thing is, this focus and discipline has stayed with me since then. Niswey survived through tough times and is 10 people strong. To this day, I start work at 9 everyday, whether from home of from office, and make sure that I am in office everyday. Plus, I do ensure that I don’t work once I reach home. And I don’t have to spend 12 hours in office everyday either. Productivity levels are much higher!

Want to thank my well wishers and stars as I could learn such important life lessons early in my life 🙂

Business Plan Template: Free Download

I often speak to entrepreneurs, mostly budding or who’ve just started. Every now and then I get this question, how do I figure out how much money do I need or how do I find out how much capital/funding should I raise?

A few weeks back, I found myself answering the same question when I started another company, Irayo. When I ran this sheet through a set of investors, they seemed to be pretty happy with the amount homework done.

Then, in the last 2 weeks, another 3 entrepreneurs asked me this question again. Since now I had a sheet ready, I happily shared with them. When i did it the 3rd time, I realized there maybe a lot more people who might find this useful and I immediately decided to open source it.

In my understanding, this business plan template is useful for startups, small businesses, wannabe entrepreneurs, people pitching to investors – who will ask for your 3 (or maybe) 5 year plans, generating revenue model plans for SaaS (subscription based revenue models) or e-commerce businesses. If you think or in fact have used it in some other case, please do share, I’ll be happy to know.

I had created it for 3 years, so that’s what the template has, you can easily extrapolate it to more years if you want. Remember, there are formulae throughout the sheet, so be careful about them.

If you find it useful, please do remember to Tweet Business Plan Template / Share on Share on Facebook, Share on LinkedIn, Share on Google+ with your friends/followers.

The link to download the Business Plan Template

To download: In the menu options, Click “File-> Download As” and download in whatever format you are comfortable.

Thanks to Rahul Dewan for the base work on this sheet (done almost 2-3 years back).

Dear Student, If You’ve Got an Idea, then Just Do It!

Last week I had the opportunity to speak at an event where the objective was to spread awareness about Entrepreneurship among students. First of all, kudos to IIT Kharagpur students for starting an event with such an objective. All I can say is that I wish there were such events when I was in college 🙂

After I shared my journey, during the Q&A round I found a pattern of questions. Honestly speaking, I could not relate to the problem initially, but when students kept asking the same thing in one manner or the other, I realized it’s got to do with a basic human problem, Fear.

Students in 2nd, 3rd year of engineering wondering whether they should build their idea/product or not? My feeling was, why not? What’s there to lose? I just couldn’t get it! You’re not leaving a high paying job, you don’t have family responsibilities, you don’t have to quit college to start something, then why are you not doing it? All you might lose is a little bit of sleep and maybe some pocket money.

  1. One group said, “parents are not allowing it”,
  2. Another said, “they were not sure whether they will get funding”,
  3. A third said, “they were not sure if their idea will work”

And some other similar excuses is what I heard. Yes, I call them excuses because those are not real reasons which can stop you from doing anything.

To those questions, my questions were:

  1. Why do you need to tell your parents right now?
  2. If you’re building something only to get funded, then probably you shouldn’t be doing it at all!
  3. Unless you try it out, how will you know whether your idea will work?

Probably, there’s just one answer to all of them, just work on your idea and build something, and (in simple code):

if it works, then {

  1. your parents will be happy to know about it
  2. investors will trace you down and fund you
  3. you will know that it can work!
    }

If it doesn’t {

  1. you don’t need to tell anything to your parents
  2. anyways you don’t need funding
  3. either you will know that it won’t work or you will find out more ways to make it work
    }

Bottom line is what Nike says, Just Do It!

Remember, you’ve got nothing to lose!

Keep Looking, Don’t Settle!

October 2005. I was in 2nd year of my B.Tech. and had a school friend visit me. I don’t remember how the conversation started but what I do remember is that I told him I’ll be an entrepreneur.

He replied: which branch (in engineering) are you in?
Me: Computer Science (He was doing the same course in some other college and was 1 year ahead)
He: So you think you will get a million dollar product idea and start a software company?
Me: Maybe, some day

6 years later, I founded Niswey – a digital marketing services company. In those 6 years I got an engineering degree – which was of no use, quit 3 jobs, failed one startup and gathered enough confidence (and contacts) to start another company. Today, having run Niswey for 4 years (3 years 11 months to be exact), and having worked with a number of clients, I figured a problem. So I carved a solution, implemented and tested for one client, saw success and thus figured a business model around the solution, which forms the basis of my next company – Irayo! [More about Irayo in another blog post].

Had I not thought about starting a business then (in 2005), I would had not failed my first company, Zapylacz (in 2009), maybe not even started Niswey (in 2011) and hence would have never got the idea for this product company, Irayo.

It’s not an idea that occurred one night all of a sudden while drinking beer in a pub! (You’re lucky if you can do that) In most (human) cases, business ideas are the result of a long process, which includes, vision, hard work, discipline, lots of well-wishers and most importantly, consistent grind!

It’s actually what Steve Jobs once famously said, Keep Looking, Don’t Settle!

And by the way, in the midst of all this (from starting Niswey to starting Irayo), I cofounded a product company, Moneno, was among Nasscom’s ‘Top 10 Upcoming Products from India’ in 2011, which got covered in the media, almost secured funding and then failed!

Obviously I don’t know whether this will succeed or not, but, what’s more important here is, I am giving it a shot. Unless I try,  I will never know, after all, it’s good to fail 🙂

Inspiration behind the headline:

The year round up post! #2014

I know I am late on this, but I thought it’s better than not posting at all. So here we go!

A hell lot of stuff planned, lots accomplished, some pending, little dropped off the list, a few postponed, yet, the most eventful year of my life. It started with travel and ended with that, well, almost. TL;DR, three important talking pointers that sum the year up for me:

  1. I had decided to travel the previous year and I succeeded in traveling 3 new places (not for work reasons) this year, including my first ever trip abroad
  2. Started the year with my status as “single”, ended with “happily married”
  3. Started the year as a loss making company, ended in profits

In a nutshell, a f-a-n-tastic year!

It all started with my solo trip to Dalhousie. Actually I left on 30 Dec 2013 itself and the travel continued till 2nd Jan. So the year started with travel and with snow. Wrote about the experience of traveling alone and about getting out of my comfort zone. I do these solo trips once in a while to get my mojo back. It allows me to be with my being and reenergize the body for the battles ahead!

The inspiration behind the post was Bootstrappers 2014 – A Year in Review section on a Startup blog. Being a bootstrapped entrepreneur, I felt I should pen down my experience too, however, small they may be. While I was still contemplating writing this, Suma (my partner) wrote the 2014 round up post for Niswey. It got me thinking, yes, we shared what we did as a company but what about us as individuals? And hence, I thought to recollect everything. Went through all my notes, for the first nine months which were on OhLife! and since it shutdown, the remaining were on Little Memory. {Thanks to Ivan for putting up an OhLife import feature overnight.}

Recollecting, here are some notable things that happened this year.

Professional First:
Going Flat. I had been contemplating on this idea since sometime but it was during my Dalhousie break that I took a call, this HAS to be the way forward. That is what would allow us to grow, both as individuals and as a company. I came back from the trip, met Suma on a Saturday and explained everything. It all made sense to her and we thought to roll this out ASAP. Obviously we couldn’t do this the next very day but in a month’s time we were good to go. We organized a discussion for all of us, which ran for about half a day. Initially, there was a lot of mental resistance but as we discussed the concept more and more and as more questions got answered, it started making sense to everyone. Thus, it was put into action immediately. That’s the beauty of a startup, you can get things moving so quickly that you’ll love it!

This is a kickass session on flat #organization @niswey Got to love this place!

A photo posted by Anubhav Tiwari (@tiwarianubhav22) on

We also started a new practice of discussing individual Goals. What do all of us want to do and achieve. Small things as visiting 10 new places within the city to larger goals like building a community portal, it had all. Since it was a successful initiative, we continued the activity this year too! In April, we had another discussion where we discussed professional objectives for the organization. It had 2 major things:

  1. 5X growth (in terms of revenue)
  2. A Product (to be in alpha phase)

Where are we on that, well, that we will figure out in April. But I can share already that we are in good shape. No, we are not about to be 5X but surely will be about 2.5X, which, is a good number in itself and I am glad about it. Somewhere during the year we’d lost track of that but thanks to our people, we could bounce back! For this, I’ll always be grateful. We haven’t moved much on the product side. Somewhere in September it looked all set to take off but it never happened actually. Thankfully, we, finally are restarting this very soon. This time for sure 🙂 I also started working on a couple of more things in parallel. One is an idea that’s floating since mid-2013. It’s called “Good 2 Fail“. I managed to get an interesting domain, do a small launch and reached out to a few entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, none of them was willing to share their learnings/experiences. Some said they did not have time, some just declined and a few never bothered to respond, even after multiple attempts. If you are one of those whom I approached, you need not be guilty, you can still respond 🙂 Another initiative on which I started working was in the education sector. This is a long term project (might take a lifetime) and I started doing my homework for this. During one of interactions with someone in the industry, I realized it is too early for me to get into this and has to be pushed back. Which is fine with me, at least I now know that I need to be older, wiser and more resourceful (in terms of time and money) to get into this and the occasional guilt of not working towards that is gone now. Believe me, taking it off your head is equally important. Let’s move to some personal stuff now The most important event on the personal front was my getting married. After a blockbuster post about how flat, family and marriage are the reasons why youngsters don’t turn entrepreneurs, I myself gave in 😛 While I am still an entrepreneur, let’s see if both of them survive 😉 

 

The second most important thing was my promise to myself. It was mid-2013 when I realized I hadn’t taken an off since 18 months (apart from falling ill that is) and had then decided two things. 1. Take frequent breaks and 2. Travel. I am happy that this year I could keep up both promises. And importantly, will continue to do so.

Apart from keeping up those promises, the most bizarre thing was the way in which one of those trips got arranged. Since this post is already long, I will leave that to another post. It’s the Bali trip I am talking about where I went with Matt and the team from Under30Experiences. If you are under 30 (or maybe just a little over but can coolly hang out with other under 30’s), I suggest you must go with them!

Towards the end of the year, in December, I went to another awesome place, Sikkim. Going there just reinstated my thought of traveling more of East India. Need to plan. In between getting married and travel, there are a few other things notable things:

  • A three day NLP Workshop – Made me realize the power of visualization
  • An acquisition offer – Not that were looking for buyers but the offer just does some ego boost, if nothing else
  • Book writing attempt – Participated in a book writing competition by FT & McK. Didn’t win but gave me an inroad towards my dream of writing a book
  • Turned 30 – And spent the birthday in an exquisite and relaxing location like Bali
  • Developed a new habit – Reading books. I read a lot, almost 3-4 articles (not news) a day but wasn’t into reading books much. Read 5 books last year, nothing compared to the global average of 17 but at least got into the habit! This year, my target is the global average. BTW, I am already on my 5th and it’s just the beginning of March 🙂

While we’ve had the first round of goals discussion this year, I am still finalizing my goals. A little delayed but with so much happening at Niswey in the last 2 months, I am not worried about the delay. Will share what I plan and at the end of the year, how did I fare.

In the end, I am grateful to friends, family, customers, well wishers (like you) and the universe, for making 2014 a successful year!

Your turn. Do you plan/create goals? How was 2014 for you?

Looking for intrapreneurs and ex-entrepreneurs

The question was, “that’s a pretty high growth rate and would be phenomenal if you can do that. But how will you do it?

By having great people around me

That’s what I answered when a few years ago I was asked this question by a seasoned entrepreneur. It’s for that very reason that I am writing this post. I am looking or rather ‘hunting’ for those ‘great’ people. In our quest to build an awesome workplace, it’s time to expand our ‘A Team’. So who am I looking for? Intrapreneurs and/or ex-entrepreneurs.

Intrapreneurship
Intrapreneurship

As Wikipedia says: “Intrapreneurship refers to employee initiatives in organizations to undertake something new, without being asked to do so.” Hence, the intrapreneur focuses on innovation and creativity, and transforms an idea into a profitable venture, while operating within the organizational environment. Thus, intrapreneurs are Inside entrepreneurs who follow the goal of the organization. Intrapreneurship is an example of motivation through job design, either formally or informally. 

Or in simple terms, people who:

  • Love to be on their own and not being questioned by anyone BUT at the same time are responsible enough to deliver their tasks
  • Take pride in their work, even if it’s cleaning a toilet
  • Take ownership for their stuff, work and personal, both. Thus, know how to do get stuff done AND at the same time can do it her/himself, if needed
  • Thinks “business”
  • Are not ready to take the entrepreneurship plunge yet but want to do it someday. If you are in this zone, believe me, this will be the perfect learning experience
  • Have already got hands dirty once and are looking to do it again, just for the sheer joy of it. Whether your company was successful or not, doesn’t really matter. What matters is you tried!
  • Love what they do. Period.
  • Keep “learning” as one of the success parameters in whatever they do
  • Are willing to “mentally” invest in the company
  • Are fearless and have a risk taking appetite

What skill set?

I believe a skill set can be built, what matters is the intent.

What role?
Well, everything that a business owner has to do. Sales, marketing, client engagement, manage,  think (and not procrastinate), organize and most importantly, write.

Having said that, I must mention a few roles here

  • Web Analytics
  • Digital Marketing
  • Visual Designer
  • Copyeditor
  • Content Writer / Marketer (Enterprise writing)

All those roles are detailed out on Niswey’s careers page, so you may want to have a look and say:

  • You are good at one and are while willing to learn others
  • You are really good at one and are willing to build a practice (and team) for just that
  • Know bits and pieces of a few and are willing to be good at all or at least most of them
  • Don’t know any of that but can do something else really great AND want to learn them too

Although I have tried to elaborate who will fit this role, but still I would like you to go through some more pointers written on our careers page. If you still have questions, please feel free to write to me at abhinav [at] niswey [dot] com. I’ll be happy to talk/explain about things, in detail.

About Niswey: we’re into solving business problems using the digital medium. We work in a flat structure and our culture is pretty open, read more about Niswey’s Culture.

If you’ve read so far and think that not you but a friend might be interested in such a role, please go ahead and share this with her/him right away, I’d really appreciate it, thanks!

This is what makes your day!

We were leaving office today, at around 8.30 PM and were waiting for one of the guys to join in. All of a sudden one of our colleague said,

Arre sala, sade aath ho gya! Pata hee nahi chala aaj ekdum time. Aisa lag rha hai abhi ek ghante pehle hi to aaya tha office! Abhi bhi ekdum fresh feel kar rha hu

If you are or have been a manager/leader/captain of your team or are an entrepreneur – this is something that will definitely give you a kick!

Excel and you will get a mentor

I have been a huge believer in mentorship and finding the ‘right’ mentor. For the same reason, I have always advised friends/colleagues and especially entrepreneurs to find themselves good mentors.

Today also, while I was mentoring or rather helping a startup entrepreneur, I mentioned how important my mentors have been to my startup and how they are helping me build a successful company. She said nobody in her family has ever started a business and hence she has no guidance there. I gave her my example and mentioned my scenario was no different. But, I added, “you need to develop a network”. She then mentioned that she even doesn’t have a network of such people who could provide her mentorship. I told her how I have grown my network and then eventually found some great people who provide me guidance as and when needed. You need to find such people is what I told her.

This reminded me of my last meeting with my mentor when I asked him what motivates him to come out in the Delhi heat on a Saturday afternoon and spend 3-4 hours just to guide me? He said, that’s 1 of his life goals and then he added “It’s also because I like you guys!” I just smiled and the discussion ended. Later on my friend said, we are lucky to have mentors like him. I kind of disagreed. I said its not about luck, probably we are doing something right which is why we have people supporting us.

Interestingly, while reading Lean In today I landed up at the chapter “Are you my mentor?” Sheryl in this chapter talks about how women (and even men) keep looking for mentors. The perception is “Get a mentor and you will succeed“. That’s the wrong approach, the approach should be, “Excel and you will find a mentor“. She’s bang on! That’s what I’ve realized, both as a mentor and as a mentee. Now go excel and let mentors find you!!!

Want to build a great company or just earn some quick money?

Sometime back I wrote about the reasons why you shouldn’t be an entrepreneur. Couple of days back a friend came to meet me to understand the legalities of starting a business. Being my normal self, I started to ask him questions which soon became tough and he became uncomfortable. Obviously, my aim was not to demotivate him but to make him think of scenarios and foresee some of the things that entrepreneurs face during their startup phase. The idea was not to get answers from him but to make him think hard and then later on go back home and find answers to those.

Interestingly, during our conversations it came out that he wanted to do business only because he wanted to make money. To me that sounded a little weird. When I asked him this upfront, he replied, “Of course I want to do business to earn money. Why else would a person run a business?” Honestly speaking, that came as a shock to me. Then I asked him, “What if a similar company offers the same expertise and service at a lower cost, how would you convince your potential client in such a case?” He went blank. He looked at me for an answer. I gave him a hint, “So what is it that you are offering? What is the value you are creating?” He still didn’t have any answers.

Then he asked me “if money is not what you are there for, why are you doing it?” I answered, “Apart from a few other things, creating value for my clients and creating jobs is why I am there. Money is a by product. Its a result of good work that I do.” And for doing good work, the motivation is not money, never. It can be ‘one’ of the reasons but not the ONLY reason is what I believe. That’s not how great companies are built! Great ideas are born out of need, necessity amongst other things and then there’s a vision and value statement that shapes those ideas into organizations. Those who stick by it are able to build organizations that sustain themselves, otherwise, for whatever reasons, they go down.

And those are not just words that I said above. I have a very close friend who shut down his business sometime back. You would be surprised to know, he was doing really good. Had good cash flows, a name in the industry, grown from 6 to 16 people in the last 1 year or so but then all of a sudden shut down. Reason: he realized he wasn’t creating any value for anyone. His aim to earn money had been fulfilled and he wasn’t sure why should he continue? He couldn’t find a reason and eventually shut down. And then… got back to job.

I am no expert in this field but I believe everything that we do in life has to tie up with our life goals. Be it starting a business or doing any job. That’s when everything starts to fall in place and we live a happy and content life. If that’s not happening, probably there’s something wrong somewhere and needs attention, maybe urgently. Figure that out.

Would like to end this with a statement written on the very first page of Jim Collins’s world famous book: Built to Last

We’ve met executives from all over the world who aspire to create something bigger and more lasting than themselves – an ongoing institution rooted in a set of timeless core values, that exists for a purpose beyond just making money, and that stands the test of time by virtue of the ability to continually renew itself from within.