Who is your hero? (In business, life, or both.)
My hero is Elon Musk. I know it’s cliche, but the guy is a genius. He is one of the rare entrepreneurs who has an audacious vision and has all the traits to execute it.
What’s the single best piece of business advice (unorthodox tips welcome!) that helped shape who you are as an entrepreneur today, and why?
Take the minimally viable product (MVP) approach: The speed of execution and momentum is critical. Always start with your MVP and reiterate based on user feedback to make your product better over time. I have seen enough entrepreneurs who strive for perfection and take way too long to release their product, only to discover that users don’t agree with them. Reiteration with user feedback helps in multiple ways. It pushes new product releases out faster, thus giving the team a sense of accomplishment with every release. This helps build motivation and momentum. It avoids “drinking your own Kool-Aid” syndrome and makes you very user centric. After all, you are observing user behavior closely to plan the next set of features to release. Finally, it allows you to gradually add features which provides users time to absorb them and not get overwhelmed with too much functionality thrown at them at once.
What’s the biggest mistake you ever made in your business, and what did you learn from it that others can learn from too?
Hiring too fast. As a startup, being lean is a virtue. In my first startup, we recruited ahead of time in anticipation of growth, which spiked our burn and made us inefficient. That, in turn, had a domino effect. High burn impacted our runway and gave us less time to reach milestones. We also recruited some misfits in the beginning which impacted our culture. Lesson learned: It’s OK to always build a pipeline of potential recruits, but take your time with every hire you make early on.
What do you do during the first hour of your business day and why?
I make a to-do list for the day and prioritize it. Then, I start with the big tasks first. This is important for me for a couple of reasons. First, it helps me plan my day better — I’m able to get some big tasks done early which gives me a sense of accomplishment and makes the rest of the day smoother. Second, it helps prevent me from getting consumed with urgent tasks and being in a “fire-fighting” mode all the time. As an entrepreneur, there are always things to take care of, and you often tend to miss the important items while doing so.
What’s your best financial/cash-flow related tip for entrepreneurs just getting started?
Be scrappy and don’t let go of that mindset even as you grow. If you are just starting, the odds are stacked against you big time. It’s super important that you adopt the mindset of doing more with less from the get-go. We operated from our homes before sharing office space to save on rent, and we took no salaries during the initial phase. This helped us bootstrap to meet our MVP. However, don’t confuse scrappiness with being a foolish penny pincher. For example, we never compromised on infrastructure in order to save on costs that would negatively impact our user experience.
Quick: What’s ONE thing you recommend ALL aspiring or current entrepreneurs do right now to take their biz to the next level?
As we all know, it’s a long and challenging journey. Even when our companies are growing, there are fires to fight on a regular basis. The thing which helped me the most was actually meditation/mindfulness. I picked it up on a friend’s recommendation, and it was a game-changer. The highs and lows became normalized, and the mind chatter reduced considerably. It’s almost as if your world view evolves. I was much more calm, relaxed, focused, productive — basically, everything entrepreneurs wish for. Not to mention, my sleep quality improved tremendously. Given that I was the CEO and co-founder, it had a visible impact on the overall organization. Nothing outside changed, but we dealt with stuff much better and in a more positive way. I strongly recommend meditation for entrepreneurs. I practice Transcendental Meditation but feel free to pick up whatever works for you.
What’s your definition of success? How will you know when you’ve finally “succeeded” in your business?
Success for me is defined by the journey rather than the goal. I feel blessed if I have the freedom to pursue my passions and create an impact, and if I can wake up in the morning feeling excited about what I do. However, as a leader, I am responsible for my customers, employees, shareholders and other stakeholders and thus business metrics become important. I guess final success is subjective, but metrics like job creation, user satisfaction and reviews, growth rate, scale, financial metrics (revenue, profits, investment multiple), and liquidity events like IPO/acquisition can be good indicators of external success at different stages of your business. Don’t forget to account for the intangibles, though — like shared experiences with your team — when you do your overall assessment.