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I Am A CEO and This Is What I Wish I Knew At 21

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It was more years ago than I’d care to admit, but I vividly remember being 21 years of age.

Beneath a headstrong facade hid a perplexed kid, riddled with nerves about succeeding on the professional road that lay ahead. I concealed these feelings of uncertainty because I thought that’s what would impress an employer: an uber-confident young talent with an unmistakable hunger to get ahead. Surely they would respond well to someone who was outspoken, bold and unmistakably ambitious.

Upon entering the full-time workforce I applied this attitude in droves. While I thought I was doing the right thing, unbeknown to me I was damaging my reputation. It started to become apparent that my colleagues perceived me as somewhat arrogant, closed minded, and difficult to work with.

My career advancement was limping rather than sprinting. I’d watch peers receive promotions while I hovered in the same position, brimming with resentment.

Rationalising it was just a simple case of not finding the right job, an environment that would finally let me shine, I propelled myself down a path of short-term stints in various organisations, becoming increasingly disillusioned every time I job-hopped; where was this professional utopia? It took me a few years to realise that utopia doesn’t exist. It wasn’t the particular organisation, culture or people that were clamping my progress; it was my misguided attitude. My professional disappointments were no one else’s fault but my own. Coming to terms with that wasn’t easy, but ultimately, and thankfully, I did.

Today, I am a CEO. My many missteps as a young professional are a chief reason why I spend a significant amount of my time mentoring young people throughout Australia and abroad. I want to help them avoid making the same mistakes that I did.

During these mentoring sessions I am always reminded of my fledgling missteps, and what I wish I’d known as a young professional. If I were to have a mentoring session with my 21 year old self, here’s what I would I tell that bull-headed young person:

KNOW YOUR IMPACT

Self-awareness in business is paramount. Not identifying or understanding the impact your behaviour has on others is a professional pitfall and will limit your progress. Observe how people respond to you. What is their body language like when you speak or enter a room? If it’s noticeably negative, is there anything you should be doing differently?

This is not about changing who you are as a person: it’s about finding better ways to relate and work with your colleagues. Taking the time to listen, observe, see things from someone else’s point of view is essential to knowing your impact and building solid relationships.

FOCUS ON THE MOMENT

Ambition is great. Blind ambition is not. Constantly focusing on reaching the next level of your career will detract from your responsibilities and relationships at hand. One of the biggest annoyances for any manager is an employee who expects more responsibility before they’ve mastered in their current role. Master your current role and you will be invited to the next level much quicker.

BE GRACIOUS IN DEFEAT

When people are promoted ahead of you don’t let it unsettle you. Jealousy is never, ever, a good look. Believe me, managers are always observing how their employees respond to unfavourable situations. Remaining positive in these situations, using them as motivation to work harder, will be recognised and respected by your superiors.

YOU’RE NOT KIDDING ANYONE

Employers know you’re inexperienced. They know you’re likely anxious about your first foray into professional life. And they know that you want to impress. Their expectations of you won’t be that high for those very reasons, so avoid trying to look like you know all the answers, because they know you don’t.

The first job is about listening, observing and fulfilling requests to the best of your ability. You’re laying the foundation for bigger things — don’t be impatient.

Don’t forget:

  • Understand the impact your behaviour has on others and respond accordingly.
  • Focus on doing your current role well and your manager will take notice.
  • Don’t be jealous when a colleague is promoted ahead of you, rather use it as motivation to work harder and improve.
  • Employees don’t expect you to know everything – so don’t pretend you do.

This article was written by Alex Malley of the Naked CEO. see more.

Entrepreneurship

What Kills A Startup

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1 – Being inflexible and not actively seeking or using customer feedback

Ignoring your users is a tried and true way to fail. Yes that sounds obvious but this was the #1 reason given for failure amongst the 32 startup failure post-mortems we analyzed. Tunnel vision and not gathering user feedback are fatal flaws for most startups. For instance, ecrowds, a web content management system company, said that “ We spent way too much time building it for ourselves and not getting feedback from prospects — it’s easy to get tunnel vision. I’d recommend not going more than two or three months from the initial start to getting in the hands of prospects that are truly objective.”

2 – Building a solution looking for a problem, i.e., not targeting a “market need”

Choosing to tackle problems that are interesting to solve rather than those that serve a market need was often cited as a reason for failure. Sure, you can build an app and see if it will stick, but knowing there is a market need upfront is a good thing. “Companies should tackle market problems not technical problems” according to the BricaBox founder. One of the main reasons BricaBox failed was because it was solving a technical problem. The founder states that, “While it’s good to scratch itches, it’s best to scratch those you share with the greater market. If you want to solve a technical problem, get a group together and do it as open source.”

3 – Not the right team

A diverse team with different skill sets was often cited as being critical to the success of a starti[ company. Failure post-mortems often lamented that “I wish we had a CTO from the start, or wished that the startup had “a founder that loved the business aspect of things”. In some cases, the founding team wished they had more checks and balances. As Nouncers founder stated, “This brings me back to the underlying problem I didn’t have a partner to balance me out and provide sanity checks for business and technology decisions made.” Wesabe founder also stated that he was the sole and quite stubborn decision maker for much of the enterprises life, and therefore he can blame no one but himself for the failures of Wesabe. Team deficiencies were given as a reason for startup failure almost 1/3 of the time.

4 – Poor Marketing

Knowing your target audience and knowing how to get their attention and convert them to leads and ultimately customers is one of the most important skills of a successful business. Yet, in almost 30% of failures, ineffective marketing was a primary cause of failure. Oftentimes, the inability to market was a function of founders who liked to code or build product but who didn’t relish the idea of promoting the product. The folks at Devver highlighted the need to find someone who enjoys creating and finding distribution channels and developing business relationship for the company as a key need that startups should ensure they fill.

5 – Ran out of cash

Money and time are finite and need to be allocated judiciously. The question of how should you spend your money was a frequent conundrum and reason for failure cited by failed startups. The decision on whether to spend significantly upfront to get the product off the group or develop gradually over time is a tough act to balance. The team at YouCastr cited money problems as the reason for failure but went on to highlight other reasons for shutting down vs. trying to raise more money writing:

The single biggest reason we are closing down (a common one) is running out of cash. Despite putting the company in an EXTREMELY lean position, generating revenue, and holding out as long as we could, we didn’t have the cash to keep going. The next few reasons shed more light as to why we chose to shut down instead of finding more cash.

The old saw was that more companies were killed by poor cashflow than anything else, but factors 1, 2 and 4 probably are the main contributing factors to that problem. No cash, no flow. The issue No 3 – the team – is interesting, as if I take that comment ” I didn’t have a partner to balance me out and provide sanity checks for business and technology decisions made” and think about some of the founders and startup CEOs I know, I can safely say that the main way that any decision was made was by agreeing with them – it was “my way or the highway”. I don’t therefore “buy” the team argument, I more buy the willingness of the key decision makers to change when things are not working (aka “pivoting” – point 9).

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About the Author

This article was produced by Broadsight. Broadsight is an attempt to build a business not just to consult to the emerging Broadband Media / Quadruple Play / Web 2.0 world, but to be structured according to its open principles. see more.

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Callum Connects

Jasmine Tan, Director of Stone Amperor

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Jasmine saves her clients time and effort when doing kitchen fit outs with her biz Stone Amperor.

What’s your story?
I started working in the industry in 2003. I was in a marble and granite supplier company for 5 years. Even though I left the company, I still had customers calling me for my services. I referred them back to my previous company but they refused to because they loved the fast response service that I offered. I realised that customers do look at prices, however most of them prefer quality over quantity. Thus I have decided to establish a sole proprietor company also known as 78 Degrees which later rebranded as Stone Amperor in 2014.

What excites you most about your industry?
The kitchen countertop industry is a very confusing market. There are many brands, materials and prices to choose from. What excites me the most is my ability to help clients choose the best materials and brands within their budgets, whilst saving them time and effort.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I have been in Asia all my life and I love Asia. No matter where you go there is no place like home.


Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
I love Singapore. This is because Singapore has always been a stable country and it is great for doing business. However as it is a small country, it can be really competitive. I believe that if just do your best and give your best to your customers, you can overcome this.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Take actions. Learn and improve continuously. An idea without action is just a dream.” This was really good advice that I received from my partner.

Who inspires you?
A very down to earth billionaire from Malaysia, Robert Kuok

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Property is the foundation of every business.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Own instead of renting property for my business.

How do you unwind?
I enjoy going shopping, watching movies and hanging out with friends. I am quite a simple being.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
I love going to Taiwan as I love the culture there. Everyone is so polite and the weather is great.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Sun Tzu, Art of war

Shameless plug for your business:
Perfect top, Perfect price, Perfect life from Stone Amperor

How can people connect with you?
Email me at [email protected]

Twitter handle?
@StoneAmperor

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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