Tuesday, August 27, 2013

So you want to Build a Business?

Proteus will be turning three this October. I am very happy to report that we have seen steady development. Our backlog looks good and we have few repeat clients. Water+Energy initiative has really taken off, with the energy sector now very engaged  and excited about the next frontier in Water-Energy Nexus. Proteus is also working on launching two new software in the coming months. Talks are underway on the design and development of a web-based Water Audit database system for Commercial, Institutional, and Industrial sectors. This will be great fun!

Today's post however relates to Entrepreneurship. I mentor several start-ups as well as established businesses who are looking to enter the water world. Most come to me for sector specific knowledge, but I also find myself coaching them on business development, and more specifically CEO development. I prefer to talk directly with the CEO, and when I do I check for the following traits:

  • Clarity of Vision
  • Incurable Optimism
  • Limitless Curiosity
  • Abounding Creativity
  • Loving Risk and Taking Action
  • Tenacious and Persistent
  • Adept Communicator
  • Leadership Intelligence
  • Work Hard/Play Hard

  • CEOs represent the company and I have found that if they don't exemplify the above mentioned traits, it is very difficult for the company to survive let alone flourish. If any of these traits are lacking, it will drive the company towards mediocrity, and often times failure.

    For example, few CEOs just rattle off the product/service description when asked what does their company do. This is unfortunate in so many ways. It shows that there is lack of Vision and ability to Communicate, and sub-par Leadership skills. If they cannot tell me what the company does, how will they make the customer happy, and then how will they keep their workers inspired? I coach some of them to start working on the WHY of their business, and it is often a 'change the world' story. That is the crux of why the business will grow, customers will love it, and people would want to come work for them.

    I also look for the CEO's diversity plans, and answer to "what next?" I want them to relate to me their road-map for the next few years. No, I do not need the numbers and a leather bound business plan with pretty bar charts for every future product. But the CEO should demonstrate foresight, once he has the market, what will he do next? How will he remain competitive? Where are the gaps in his industry, how will he produce product / service to fill those gaps? How will he branch out?

    Successful entrepreneurs are always asking questions. I find them asking me more questions than we have time for. Along with the questions they ask, I see their eyes light up, I find them connecting dots and ideas springing in their head and new concepts flow. They start finding new pastures, define new work products. Curiosity and Creativity combine.

    Living with risk is an amazing trait. These CEOs are willing to stand at the edge with faith in their offering. There are too many armchair prospectors out there, who sit and discuss ideas but do not have the courage to get up and make it work. I also find many such people stressing out about whether to go for a corporation or LLC, where to incorporate, how to get VC money right away, etc. These people usually don't end up having a successful business, they are too risk adverse. They are not willing to go out on the limb for the sake of their ideas, they are too attached to a steady paycheck and cannot accept a 50-70% cut and live on Ramen noodles. You did that in school, so why can't you do it again for a few years? Why do you need the extravagant lifestyle? You can't play it safe. You have to take risk, yes smart risk, but none the less, you have to be able to risk a lot to gain a lot.

    Last but not the least trait of a successful entrepreneur is their ability to switch on and off. When they work hard, they put their all into it, nothing held back - sleepless nights working towards a sale, relentless pursuit of quality deliverable, attention to details, no attention to personal grooming / eating (Ramen), ... Then, when the deliverable is done, they switch off for real, and get back to the world, reconnect, hang out with friends and get a refill on nutrition and emotion.

    This has been my experience, both as an entrepreneur myself, and working with others in this realm.

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