Here is to the crazy ones

Here is to the crazy ones. This Apple advertisement, as narrated by Steve Jobs, was one of the most profound reminders that statesmen, leaders and thinkers always stand out from the crowd. They may be ostracized by the general public, and will probably divide public opinion. However, when they perform their heroic tasks, they stand out and will be remembered for a long time to come. These people come from all walks of life and have varied backgrounds. However, they have one thing in common. Belief in their ideals and thoughts and making sure to live through them.

It is ironic that this video is narrated by Steve Jobs himself, who by sheer dent of his innovation on the IT front, now stands among the greatest minds of 20th century.

Here is truly to the crazy ones.

Be the first to market. Always!

First to market, first to realize the potential of an idea and its underlying technology and executing the business strategy ambitiously is the key to succeed. This has been the mantra ever since the Industrial Revolution began in earnest in mid 18th century.

Take the example of automobile industry at the turn of the 20th century. The first to invent and patent a combustion engine driven vehicle was Daimler and Karl Benz in Germany around 1885. Both had independently proposed an automobile powered by internal combustion engine (Benz) and gas powered (Daimler). They probably never met and had not envisioned that by 1926 their competing enterprises would merge to form Daimler Benz makers of famous Mercedes mark, one of the greatest names in automobile history.

In 1896, Henry Ford did the same with his first American vehicle in Detroit. By 1910 the automobile business was peaking in the United States with over 250 independent manufacturers competing for their share. There was constant innovation and improvement over previous designs. Literally, the car of yesterday was made obsolete by the latest model coming out every few months. Not much unlike the Internet craze of today where the latest iPhone or Android renders everything else obsolete.

By the year 2000 the manufacturers of automobile in the USA had dwindled to three, namely Chrysler (then Daimler Chrysler), Ford Motor Company and General Motors. The rest had either merged/bought out by these three or went out of business during the course of the century.

Today, Daimler Benz and their famous mark Mercedes is one of the leading brands out there. So is Ford Motor Company with F150 series trucks. But these were one of the first companies to realize the potential of an internal combustion engine based automobile as a real alternative to horse drawn carriage. Considering at that time, a car could not travel more than a few miles nor any faster than a slow moving elephant, yet the potential of the newly developed technology was huge. To make matters worse, there were no asphalt roads only pot hole littered dirt tracks that made driving a nightmare. All it required was belief in your idea, passionate hard work and precision engineering. Inventors like Ferdinand Porsche, Henry Ford, Karl Benz were out there designing vehicles right at the beginning. Today their brands have a history to tell.

But what about General Motors? It was not there right at the beginning. It came about in mid 1920s. That is true, but its individual brands were there from the beginning. This includes brands like Oldsmobile (now defunct), Chevrolet and Cadillac those were pioneering new vehicles that were competing head on with the bigwigs of their time. They all merged to form the General Motors group by mid 1920s and hence the birth of the largest automobile company in the world.

Being first, understanding the market dynamics and executing the right strategy is the key to becoming a brand and leader in your field. History constantly reminds us of this fact and car industry is one such example.

Today, the game is changing again for the auto industry. The birth of hybrids and alternative fuel powered vehicles are making the technological innovations of last century obsolete. By 2010, over 50 new automobile manufacturers were registered in the USA with more likely to join them. And exclusively all of them are focused on alternative fuel based vehicles or using computer driven autonomous vehicles. The current market leaders include Toyota, Honda and Tesla as they have their vehicles plying the roads in multitudes. The next few decades, this innovation will be fueled by new ideas and backed by new technology. It will be redefining the industry and maybe some of the old horses (Ford, GM, Daimler etc) might not survive the new wave. But maybe tomorrows General Motors could be Tesla itself, redefining the future of commute for the world.

So whatever your field, whatever your enterprise, try to innovate and lead from the front. Do not wait for others to show you the way.

>Startup to Massive Companies

>I ran across this interesting blog post by Reid Hoffman, (Linkedin co-founder) that talks about how to take your startup big.

http://greylockvc.com/2011/03/22/ten-entrepreneurship-rules-for-building-massive-companies/

Keeping a startup as startup for more than five years can be a drag. In worst case scenario, your competitors will catch up and grow beyond you. Or someone with deeper pockets might under cut you. Hence, taking it to the next level, and making it big is the key. So plan ahead and plan well.

>The Art of Managing

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As an technology entrepreneur, you will need to manage a lot of things. This will include, not only the technology (programming and software development), but also administration, management of team, Human resource, sales and even writing business plans/marketing plans and what not. Yes, not only this but a lot more.
This will not be easy and who said entrepreneurship is easy. It will test your endurance and will push you to your physical limits. But in the end, you are responsible for everything.
So here is my guide of what one needs to do to manage his/her time while launching their enterprise.
  • Short Meetings
    • Schedule project meeting with staff. It should not last more than 10 minutes and at max 20 minutes. Discuss what needs to be done. Make quick minutes. Schedule and set deadline to the team. Use a collaborative project management tool and assign them to the team. 
    • Keep these meetings short and regular. Even meeting daily will be great.
  • Use Technology
    • Information Technology is not there to build solutions for your clients, it is there as the best tool for you to make yourself and team more productive. Use technology to the maximum. Here are a few recommendations
      • Redmine for Collaborative Project Management
      • Google Apps:  for email, document sharing and intranet based services
      • GoogleTalk Chat: Collaborate more online. You can ask a lot of questions through google chat than in person. Do it regularly and Google will even keep track of your chat in your email account.
      • WordPress: For a quick way to make and manage your company website. And do not forget to use its plug-ins. You will be surprised by the power it offers.
      • GNUCash: For maintaining your financial accounting. Its a great alternative to paid accounting packages.

  • Hiring
    • Do not hire too many folks. Hire only the essential. That will keep your enterprise cash flow positive. And if someone is badly needed, see if you can do with a part time individual rather than a full time resource.

  • Seek a Mentor
    • As an entrepreneur, you WILL make mistakes. No doubt about it. So get yourself a senior and experienced person to assist you. Ask him a lot of questions and take his advice. I am sure you will grow much faster than without him/her.

  • Office Space
    • Scott McNealy (former Sun Microsystems CEO) once commented after the 1990s bubble burst that they acquired too much retail office space in too short a time. It’s always good to show off a big office and a big team. But can you really afford them? So start off by sharing office space. Find other small enterprises and see if they can give you office space. Do not spend your precious little money on renting/leasing/buying big offices in anticipation of new hirees.

  • Work Hard/Play Hard
    • You will be expected to work 70 hours a week or more. You will also be expected to lead by example. You will be needing to be there for everything. But dont take work to your head. Go and have some fun as well. Take up some physical activity. Like hiking, playing cricket, racquet ball/squash, jogging. Anything. It is the secret for a healthy lifestyle. Without it, you will inevitably run into many health problems as you advance in life. So avoid the obvious health hazards and do the right thing. Get yourself in physical health.
So if you can do the above, you have a better chance to succeed.

>How vital is work experience?

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So the burning question for many wanna be entrepreneurs is always:

How vital is work experience before starting my own enterprise?

We let the experts answer this one. And there were many but really good responses listed on this Career Advice forum run by Personforce.

So check out the cool responses and maybe ask one or two of your own questions to the experts.

>Impediments to Development of Entrepreneurship in Developing Economies

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Countries that have overcome some basic barriers to growth have succeeded dramatically on the world scene. Growth in economies is always directly proportional to the startups and entrepreneurs who make it big. The entrepreneurs, by definition, revitalize an economy. They are at the forefront in jobs creation, intellectual property ownership, industrial output and overall productivity gains for the country. They pay taxes and usually bring in lots of foreign direct investment as well.

In the past 50 years, countries like India, China, South Korea and Malaysia have leap frogged ahead of the fledging and often unstable neighbors to become one of the economic giants. Each one of these countries have many self made billionaires, who many decades ago were struggling entrepreneurs with big dreams. But what made them succeed while equally good entrepreneurs from other countries are still struggling to make their ends meet? Surely, these and other countries still have unemployment, very large rural population, rampant corruption and very high cost of doing business. But what is it that has made them break out of the pack and get ahead.

Here we list some major impediments to entrepreneurship development.

Lack of access to Finance:   
Without money and investment at critical times, any startup will fail. Entrepreneurs need money to grow just like any major enterprise in the world needs money to grow. Usually developing economies have very poor and archaic financial systems that do not work in favor of startups. And banks, they charge interest rate of almost 20% and above which to a startup is impossible to pay off. Thus they never succeed.

Human Capital:  
Having trained man power and a large knowledge workforce is essential for growth for any economy. Usually, developing economies have a very small and poor quality workforce. The education system, particularly, the higher education system is weak and produces very few high quality engineers, doctors and many other professionals. Hence, the startups that they work in never go beyond a startup as they are unable to expand beyond a certain size and complexity.
 
Access to Information and Markets: 
Many startups still lack access to markets to sell their goods and technical information to keep abreast with latest developments around the world. Usually, these fledging economies are closed to the outside world and with little direct access to buyers of their products not only locally but internationally. Therefore, living in isolation, they never really work to their full potential.
 
Political Instability: 
Malaysia, China, India never seem to have any political upheavels. They never seem to go to war with anyone either. Yes, there are border tensions, but nothing that would destabilize their country. On the other hand, many Latin American, African and Asian nations still have military coups, unstable political democratic structures and corrupt and inept leaders. Together, this is a recipe for disaster. These political think tanks with highly polarized and biased military junta are more concerned to make money for themselves than build a better nation. Hence, their policies are usually not beneficial towards fledging entrepreneurs.
 
Short Term Thinking over Long Term Objectives: 
Political instability causes many entrepreneurs to think short term and rarely do they make long term plans. They theory goes, that the country would be turned upside down within the next 5 years, so why make plans beyond two years? Hence, if you dont think long term, you cannot grow. And if you cannot grow, you cannot succeed. And so the startups never get out of this vicious circle and die out.
 
Unstable Currency and High Inflation: Most of these countries have currencies that depreciate in value in double digits annually. The inflation is above 20% annually. So unless the startup is growing faster than the rate of inflation, it will actually be a loss making enterprise. Since, these economies never stabilize, hence, the entrepreneurs are swept away during any major upheaval.

>To Raise or not to Raise

>To Raise or not to Raise

This is a question that every startup asks itself when it is about to take off. There are enterprises out there that have never needed to raise any money and have done just fine for decades and grew into a respectable enterprise. While others, have raised quite a bit and used it wisely to grow tremendously. Yet others have perished due to lack of financial resources when in times of need or remained a small enterprise for decades as their finances never allowed them to grow to their true potential.

The question remains, To raise cash or not to raise.

Let’s look at the landscape of tech companies. Some of the biggest enterprises on the tech scene are those that have had some form of cash infusion at some stage during their growth cycle. Twitter, Facebook, and even Google would not have been what they are today without the money pouring in from Venture Capitalists (VC) and investors. Even the old warriors like Intel, Oracle, Sun Microsystems reached their zenith with timely cash infusions during their growth cycles. Even today’s smaller steller startups like Simply Hired (jobs), Zazzle (print), Allvoices (media), Scrybe (office), and others would not have grown to the level they have today had it not been for some serious cash infusion at the right time.

It is also a verifiable fact that companies need money to grow regardless of their size and financial condition. It is not possible to regularly generate huge amounts of cash and use that reserve to invest back into the company. Surely, some do that, but it is not sustainable nor is it always wise. The extra finances (raised capital) is always good when the economy is shaky and revenues are hard to grow.

Startups usually survive from month to month or quarter to quarter. One bad quarter in a down economy, and you bite the dust. Even in good times, extra cash is always good. Say, the market is demanding your services/product and you need to scale up fast. If you rely on your cash to grow, then the growth will be slow and painful. And a competitor with deep pockets might take advantage of the situation and surpass you.

It is great to remain independent, and it feels great to be your own boss with no one to report to. However, it is hard to remain that way for a very long time. Market changes, economy tumbles, the revenue streams dry up or even a competitor might go for the kill. Either way, independence does not guarantee a long and prosperous life.

Nor does raising funds. But it does reduce the risk of failure and reduces the impact of over zealous competitor, economic turmoils and market fluctuations. And a company that can reduce its risks can definitely survive, grow and become a force to be reckoned with.

So my conclusion is raise funds but do it wisely.

>Inside the Google machine

>Here is a video I found online at the TED talks. It was shot 5 years ago this Februrary during the annual TED Conference in California. Here Sergey Brin and Larry Page talk about cool new products and services that are being rolled out by the Google Machine.

http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/sergey_brin_and_larry_page_on_google.html

Services like Adsense and Orkut among others. At the time of the the video being shot, Orkut had only 100,000 users and almost 60% from USA. It also talks about their concept of letting their employees spend 20% of the time building cool new apps including the just released Google News among others.

The video is just five years old, yet it seems like a life time ago. In these preceding years, Google and its products have changed the way we use internet, transact and communicate with each other. It is amazing how the internet world has grown and changed around us these years and how technology is becoming more intertwined in our lives.

>Comprehensive List of Leadership Blogs

>I cam across this list recently while surfing the web for some relevant content. Here is a list of 100 blogs on leadership ranging from, youth, gender and religious, development and management of leadership skills. Check it out, you might find something of interest in there. I know I did.

http://www.bestuniversities.com/blog/2009/top-100-leadership-blogs/

>Ignore the Nay Sayers

>If someone calls your idea “crazy” then you are onto something. If they declare you “insane” then you are moving in the right direction. And if they “write you off” then you are half way there to achieving your goals and successes.

Whether you agree or not, but history shows that almost all great men (and women) were declared “crazy”, “insane” and were “written off” while they were in the midst of their greatest adventure.

Einstein’s theory of relativity was not only controversial but was deemed “crazy” at the time of its publishing. Thomas Edison first phonograph was considered an “insane” idea. New York times wrote off Goddard, the father of rocket science, as someone who had an insane idea of going to the moon using some crazy rockets.

The list goes on and on. Steve Jobs defied the naysayers with his “insanely great” products for the past thirty years. Google was advised to let Yahoo acquire them as the search market was already saturated and their product would never take off. Ebay was considered a wacky and unprofitable idea when it was originally launched in 1995.

In my personal life, I have been advised dozens of times that my ideas are unsound and I cannot make money and am crazy to attempt them. But each time, I have ignored the naysayers and then gone ahead and done something that I always wanted. And, by Grace of God, succeeded each time.

In 2001, I was told that it was crazy to expect Pakistanis to use the internet to do recruitment and job search. But we believed that such a market not only existed but will be the only way recruitment will be done in Pakistan. We launched, BrightSpyre, Pakistan’s first online Job Search portal. Within two years, we were the first Pakistani company to be profitable from online business and were also the first to register 100,000 unique users online. Today, BrightSpyre has over half a million unique users and receives millions of job applications annually. Our model is copied and replicated by numerous copycat job sites in Pakistan and who owe their existence to BrightSpyre as we created the original market.

In 2004, when we decided to build a rural Tele-health network in Pakistan, we were told once again by all our peers and friends that it will not work and such an idea is outright crazy. Today, under UM Healthcare Trust, we run probably the only sustainable tele-health project in the country. Our services are available at near zero cost to the poor and needy in rural Mardan. Once again, we defied the odds to achieve our goals. I was also recently advised that my healthcare facility will not be successful and no one will ever use it. Today, we treat over 3,000 patients/month in rural Mardan and yes, we are probably the most successful rural clinic in the whole district of Mardan with a population exceeding 1.6 million people. Now, we are planning to take this project national and expand to other districts of the country.

In 2006, when we launched our international office in United States, we were told, no Pakistani company has ever been successful abroad without seeking investment and partners. We defied the odds and today, as a Pakistani startup we have customers in four continents with thousands of recruiters worldwide using our system to find the best talent.

All this time, I am told that there are no successful startups which do not have some source of financing. I remind them that none of my enterprises ever raised funds. We generated our revenues from our own products and services. We are profitable without the need to raise funds.

So my advice to all entrepreneurs out there. Never say Never. Do not listen to nay sayers. Believe in yourself and in your idea and just do it. The rest will be history.