I have been on my entrepreneurial journey for more than a year. As I was looking back on my adventures of the past eighteen months and sifting through all the noise to get to the learning, I realized that this journey has taught me a lot of things - little and big life hacks that has fundamentally transformed the way I look at business and life. Some of these are easier said than done, and I need to remind myself everyday to do it, but some have become an integral part of standard operating procedure for me. I want to share these - with women, men, entrepreneurs and wanna-be-entrepreneurs - hopefully some of these will resonate.
Here they are in no particular order.
1. Really, there are no stupid ideas, only identifying ones that work for you
Tool: An easily accessible idea repository, Mind mapping software
When you are an entrepreneur, once you have turned on that part of the brain, ideas keeping popping up every where. In most cases we dismiss them as impractical. Keeping an open mind towards ideas, and exploring ideas as they appear, no matter the source, is very important. I have gotten ideas from sources as diverse as customers, investors, teenagers, friends at the Y and so on. Having a idea repository has been very helpful for me to ensure that these ideas are not lost and also to come back to them on a regular basis to incorporate into product, marketing, strategy and partnerships. These ideas have a way of morphing and transforming into unexpectedly exciting concepts after a few iterations.
2.Ruthless prioritization followed by precise execution
Tool: Business Process map and a good project management software
It is very easy to get lost in rabbit holes, get sucked into diversification, losing focus on what we want to do as we grow. Especially at the beginning of a company or a product, pivoting several times is not only natural, it is essential. But at any given point of time, it is important to have a frame of reference that validates your hypothesis. These could be frameworks or people who could give you timely feedback. Being a little ruthless with prioritization is life-saving because, face it - who likes to admit that their baby is ugly! Se we tend to keep following breadcrumbs till we are exhausted! Using a tool like the business process map is helpful in prioritizing based on value creation. Having a great project (scrum) management software has also been a life saver for me to keep track of everything related to the project on a week by week basis to keep things manageable.
3. Understand your strengths and weaknesses - and test your limits
Tool: SWOT, MBTI, Google
You don't know what you can or cannot do do until you try doing it first. Last year has been a time of unbelievable learning for me. Learning concepts in business school is one thing, but researching and understanding how the real world operates is something else. Starting from a place of understanding my strengths and weaknesses through SWOT analysis was very helpful. It helped me figure out which areas I needed to push myself to get the company to where we wanted to go. Necessity is the mother of invention, they say; I say that tiger mother definitely pushes your buttons and fires up cylinders that you didn't know existed.
MBTI from Myers Briggs was a tool I found super useful to interact with my co-founders and advisors. Forming a new team in a high stress environment is hard, but if you have the instruction manual to a personality type it does help ease the process a little as you understand how to vary your approach based on people.
Google has of course been my guide to the galaxy of tools, techniques and processes that we have had to adopt along the way.
4. Create your own village
Tool: Your friends and family, extended community, connections from the past, network for the future. Advisory board, Linkedin, Facebook, Whatsapp, Ning and so many more.
Entrepreneurship is mostly a very lonely journey. Finding people who can help, guide, support, partner and in general be that support system in the journey is critical in sustaining the journey long term. What was required of me was merely the ability to take feedback for what it is intended for : as learning opportunities. Yes, that was very hard, but a great life skill to have! I have had the good fortune to have friends and family who continue to give me their advice, effort and help along the way and hope to continue getting that in the future. This has truly been a life support system for me as I got guidance from the unlikeliest of places when I needed it the most.
5. Stay present with personal and situational awareness
Tool: Your senses and your internal radar
As an entrepreneur it is all too easy to get immersed into your own world and forget about the world around you. I have had many a conversation of "uh huh, uh huh" with family, while mentally wrestling website content or a product feature. This is so hard to implement in practice, but something that all of us need to strive for.
Emotional intelligence is a must-have as an entrepreneur and it is all about understanding how all players in a situation respond and adapt. It is important to recognize and trust your instincts and understand spoken and unspoken communication around you. This means getting our heads out of the daily rabbit holes and breathe in be responsive to everything that is happening around us.
6. Finding balance in your life
Tool: Calendar to make time for hobbies, vacations, time with family and friends
Entrepreneurship by definition puts a heavy thumb on the scale, disrupting life balance as we know it without care or remorse. Even though I was a balance freak my entire career, trying to find some semblance of equilibrium between work and home, passion and duty, ambition and zen has been a real challenge nowadays. Guarding your personal time fiercely and treating it as an investment for yourself and your company is how I am trying to approach it now. Constantly searching for this elusive sense of balance has helped me avoid getting burnt out and has kept me sane to face another day and another.
7. Find time for others - Karma has a way of seeking you out
Tools: Kindness, empathy and listening skills
When you are an entrepreneur you have so many things on your plate, it is easy to be self centered and focus on the million things you need to do. That is even more the reason to find time to help others in need - whether it be to find a job, make connections, give advice or even just smile and listen. I have had the the most interesting conversations at the Y. starting with helping someone execute sun salutations that somehow turned into contacts in Silicon valley technology investment firms. I am a strong believer in kindness attracting goodness, especially if you don’t expect anything in return.
8. Ideate. Listen. Observe. Inquire. Learn. Pivot. Repeat.
Tool: Brainstorming techniques, an excellent ring binder note book, periodic review of notes
There is nothing glamorous about entrepreneurship. It is about being disciplined and keeping yourself on task with a change management process that works for you. Because like it or not, you are constantly changing. Being mindful and conscious of how to evolve with these changes was a very important learning for me, Having a few brainstorming techniques in your back pocket is very useful to get ideas flowing. After the ideation process, it is all about listening to feedback, creating learning out of feedback, micro-pivoting as needed and then rinse and repeat.
9. Settle for outcomes - never for values
Tools: Company mission, vision and value statement
One of the main drivers for me to start my own company was that I wanted to create something that was true to my values, where I didn’t have to settle for values that rang false or be someone I was not. When you are creating a company you almost always don’t get exactly what you are looking for. In that scenario, the one thing I did not compromise on are the company values on how to operate, who to work with, and even the definition of 'is': because of a simple reason, I want this to be a company that founders and employees are proud to work at.
Outcomes is one place where I have learnt to compromise though. In situations like 'Is it more important to have all the features in, or give people time off to have family time ?' I have learnt about choices we could make and to choose values over outcomes.
10. Find time to center yourself
Tools: mediation, yoga, hobbies
Being an entrepreneur is like a on-off switch. Either you are in or you aren’t. If you have decided to be an entrepreneur, there is that strong internal instinct that you have to pay attention to. It’s giving you guidance on all aspects of your business. Having the quietness in your day to have that internal dialogue is very important as an entrepreneur. This means un-cluttering your calendar and your mind to to have that clarity of thought and intention calibrated to your goals. Doing this on a regular basis through activities that clear your mind has been very helpful. I found this to be the hardest of the lot to do - finding that focus amidst the chaos. It is still work in progress.
These are my top 10 list of the big and small life hacks I have found useful in my entrepreneurship journey. Hope you will find it useful as well. I would love to hear from you on what have learnt in your journey that I could shamelessly steal.
originally published in LinkedIn