Category Archives: Startups

See Your Own Blindness, First

Ostrich

I have seen many managers distance themselves from consumers by drawing a line between their own perceived rationality, and the irrationality of consumers.

However, we must recognise that we are fundamentally irrational beings, and as managers and business people too, we have our own irrationalities that we are not aware of. And that these irrationalities affect our view of the customers of our businesses, and of our own biases – which in turn affects the management decisions we make.

It then becomes of paramount importance that anyone in a role that has to do with customers or driving business growth through understanding and influencing customers (be it marketing, sales, advertising, business development, customer acquisition and so on) first recognise that they are a consumer too.

For the more we distance ourselves from those who are influenced by our decisions and actions, the less effective we can be in influencing them.

On reading ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ by Daniel Kahneman, I found this excerpt which I believe makes this point in the same vein. In the context of the experiment on inattentional blindness (watch before you read on, if you don’t know it already), it says:

“The authors note that the most remarkable observation of their study is that people find its results very surprising. Indeed, the viewers who fail to see the gorilla are initially sure that it was not there – they cannot imagine missing such a striking event. The gorilla study illustrates two important facts about our minds: we can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our own blindness.”

As managers, we are “blind to our own blindness”, too. We are people after all.

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On Celestial Navigation and Creation

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Picture Courtesy: Kristofer Williams

In another interesting chat with a creator, I noticed a recurring problem that most creators have: They want to do a bit of everything.

Let me elaborate. This creator, is a technologist looking to create a new service which addresses a specific need identified by a specific audience.

We’ve heard this story before.

And if history is anything to go by, creators who go about creating in a focussed manner are more likely to succeed than those who run amock and try to do a bit of everything. In fact, we are at an age of shedding excessive fat and moving toward an idea of lean in everything we do: in billion dollar conglomerates and young startups alike! It is then, vital, for any new creator to be conscious of this too.

In order to do this, one must first know not only what you are, but also what you are not. Consider two runners. A long distance runner, aims to build slow twitch muscles that enable his objective: longer distances. On the other hand, a sprinter aims to build fast twitch muscles and lose fat, to enable his objective: explosive speeds. In order to build the right muscle, the most important thing to know is what you’re going to use them for.

Similarly, it is vital for a creator to ask himself why he is setting out to make what he is making. This is the answer to the question, “What need am I addressing?” The answer can be your value proposition, concept, or core idea – but it serves a strong internal purpose too.

It is your north star. It is the thing you turn to when you have an idea and you want to ask yourself: Is this us?

The north star is not up for change. Rather, everything you do must now align with the core idea you are setting out to create. If you pivot, it becomes interesting to look at the north star again.

From there on, it’s (relatively) smooth sailing. Or at least, directed sailing.

Brand Your Business Model

Recently, while working closely with a startup help build their brand, a series of interesting revelations about the company and business model came to light. In one of the exercises, we sought to help define the brand purpose. The brand purpose; for those new to the concept, is an idea in branding which aims at helping brands define what they stand for and their place in the world. It has largely been inspired by this interesting talk by Simon Sinek:

But here’s what most I find most organisations, or branding exercises miss out on when trying to define their purpose: They build their ‘Why’ independently of their ‘How’ 

I find that the brand’s purpose or reason to be is not authentic, honest or real if it is not reflected in how you do things. If your brand’s place in the world is completely different from your competition, then certainly you would be doing something different from your competition too, wouldn’t you? So why then, would you stop your brand idea at the ‘Why’? A lot of new successful brands actually have an interesting business model at their heart, but fail to bring this to light.

AirBnB, I find, is a brand that’s doing this right. The AirBnB is brand created around the idea of belonging:

But without its business model, and the true nature of what the company delivers, this idea is nothing but an empty brand purpose without meaning of tangible delivery.

I find that startups would find success if they define their purpose: this helps align the team to a greater objective, instead of being lost with the many operational nightmares of the startup life. But at the same time, they must look at linking this closely with how they actually do things, and a unique and differentiated business model is a great way to make this authentic and tangible.

The Only Thing To Fear, Is Fear Itself

Picture Credity: Svetlana Belyaeva Photography

Picture Credity: Svetlana Belyaeva Photography

Yesterday, I was lucky to be part of something very interesting.

After moderating an exhaustive brand exploration exercise with the founders of a new startup, a moment of silence settled in the room. A good silence. “This is scary”, said one of the founders. “We’ve been so busy with getting things done, with facing so many little challenges, that we forgot about this.”

Starting any new activity: a company, a new habit, a book, a blog, a job search is a lot of work. And it is easy to get lost in the long list of tasks that need to be done in order to make it happen. When we start we always have a big idea, but it is easy to forget the great big idea when you have to handle daily tasks to make it happen. And that’s ok.

But it is good to be reminded of the great big idea too. Not only to remind others why you are here. But to remind yourself.

And if that great big idea doesn’t scare you, then it won’t inspire you. If you are comfortable with a small vision, then nobody will notice it. Don’t ever start small, because there’s no place for small dreams and vision in the world. Start big, and take little steps everyday to make it happen.

Godspeed.