Archive for the Pain versus Need Category

Think “Process” NOT “Software”

Posted in Business Process, Entrepreneurship, Pain versus Need on December 4, 2009 by Shankar Saikia

On Saturday evening I met a gentleman who had been attending football games at Stanford for 53 years. We started to talk about Stanford football which has always been one of my favorite topics. Later our conversation drifted to entrepreneurship and he told me a story about how he recently advised two former homeless guys that started a diaper and toilet-paper distribution company. The lesson he gave me is to “sell what the market needs” – go here for more on this fascinating story.

As someone in the enterprise applications software industry I often dream up ideas for new, innovative products. The goal is always to solve a business problem. Lately I have been interviewing business owners and asking them the following question:

“What are your two or three biggest pains”?

Here are the most popular answers:

  • CASH FLOW: having cash to run the business
  • PERSONNEL: while “personnel” is somewhat of an archaic term for human resource professionals (“human capital” seems to be the new phrase)  one business owner told me that people are important because “during bad times they will help you, during good times they will help you”
  • LEADS: one business owner told me that during good times generating leads is not as important as during bad times such as now

These answers are fascinating because, while they are challenging problems, solving them requires changing business processes. Software consultants and salespeople often like the peanut-butter strategy of answering every question with the words “yes, our software can do that” ;).  The reality is that software alone does not solve most  problems.

The next time you work on entrepreneurial ideas or are trying to sell enterprise software think of how you can solve your customer’s  problems with better business processes.

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WIP Entrepreneur’s Tips For New Entrepreneurs

Posted in Entrepreneurship, Pain versus Need on July 29, 2009 by Shankar Saikia

I call myself a WIP (work in process) Entrepreneur. I am using an analogy from the world of manufacturing, where products start as “raw material” (basic parts, nuts, bolts, components etc.) and end as “finished goods”. WIP  is the intermediate stage, similar to an unfinished automobile on the assembly line.  My entrepreneurial background includes  2 startups that I worked for and 2 that I founded. I am in the process of starting my next company and so writing this blog post is reminding me of some of the important lessons that I have learned from my prior experiences. I hope you find these valuable.

Here are some tips:

SELL WHAT MARKET WANTS: One mistake that new entrepreneurs make is trying to sell products/services that customers either do not want or do not understand. In the latter case, expensive marketing resources are needed to convince prospects about the value of your products/services. At my last company (Highlander Systems) I made the former mistake (i.e., trying to sell what the customer did not want!) until I opened my eyes/ears to what the market was looking for.
GOOD PEOPLE ARE IMPORTANT: An important tenet in the world of business is the ability to “find, acquire, develop and retain talent”. At one of my startups it was difficult to both find as well as develop talent. Once I realized that I could not develop (i.e., train, teach etc.) the available talent, either at that time or in the future, I decided to redirect my efforts.
KEEP OFFERING SIMPLE & FOCUSED: It is tempting to try to offer a little bit of everthing – some entrepreneurs use the term “end to end” solutions/products etc. The problem with this approach is that in smaller organizations customers look for specialized skills. You are more likely to acquire customers if you have a narrow focus on a few related products/services. Focus, focus, focus … it always works!
DO WHAT YOU ENJOY: I am one of those entrepreneurs that likes to “do the work.” If I have to do some or all of the work (depending on the stage of the company) I prefer to do what I enjoy – in such a situation I do not view myself as “working” … instead I am genuinely having fun. Remember that phrase: “if you do what you like you would not have to work a day in your life”.
EXPERIMENT: At my last company we started as a “sales & marketing consultancy” where we delivered sales training to companies, then we became an “advisory company” where we attempted to advise startups on business and fund-raising strategies, then we spent 8 months trying to sell enterprise software and finally reverted back to a “sales and marketing consultancy.” Why? Because we were trying to figure out what we could offer/sell to the market. We had to experiment with different offerings until we determined the right business to be in.
DO NOT DO IT JUST FOR THE MONEY: This is an important lesson for all entrepreneurs. It is natural to pursue entrepreneurship in the quest for wealth. One of my favorite billionaires, J.P. Getty, said that the best way to make money is by starting your own business. Once, when someone asked him the secret to making money, he said “…wake up early, work hard … and strike oil.” 😉 I think you can substitute “oil” with the current flavor-of-the-day.  What I enjoy most about starting and running my own business is the freedom, control and ability to fully apply my talents.  Experts say that if you do what you like you are more likely to make money. Personally, I believe that it is very difficult to make a lot of money in a short time span with minimal risk (I heard this on CNBC TV). I love what I do and whether or not I make money does not bother me .. as long as I can do the things I enjoy I will continue to be happy.
LEARN VALUE OF MONEY: My last venture (Highlander Systems) is a fully personally-bootstrapped business (i.e., I am funding it with my own money AND time.) In the last 22 months I have undergone extreme stress due to financial crunches, limited funds etc. I have learned first-hand about capital efficiency. It’s a unique feeling to see ones own hard-earned money (my own, NOT a gift from my parents or future wife or whoever … my very own 😉 ) work and not work for you. One of the most rewarding moments of my latest venture was the day I paid myself from funds that my company earned – it was just a little bit less than what Larry Ellison earns, but I was happy 🙂
KNOW WHEN TO SAY WHEN: One of my favorite beer commercials ends with this phrase – the message is to stop drinking when you know you have had too much. If you feel that you need to change direction have the courage to do so. Never worry about prestige, pride etc. You control your own destiny and nobody can take away from you what you have accomplished. You grade yourself! In my case I have always given myself an A+ (the best grade) for effort, passion, strength, composure and most importantly … personal happiness!

Good luck with your journey … if you have already started on the path of entrepreneurship then you are already successful!

What do you think? I’d love to hear from you ….

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Pain versus Need: Why I focus on the pain.. (and the monkey wrench)….

Posted in Pain versus Need with tags , on September 11, 2008 by Shankar Saikia

Recently I taught a sales training class to an IT service company in India. As many of you know, once a class ends most attendees/students often do not remember a whole lot of what they heard in the training class. So, in the beginning of the session I listed 2 messages, and said that after the class ended the only things the attendees needed to remember are:

(1) Sales is a process, not an event (see my first post)

(2) Show how your product or service can fix your customer’s pain

So, what is the difference between a pain and a need. Here’s how I view the difference: a pain is what the customer feels, a need is what the customer believes will eliminate the pain. A few days ago my can opener stopped working. My pain was that I could no longer open cans with it. So I felt a need for a new can opener. With 48 hours I bought a new can opener for 395 Rupees (approx US $9). Guess what? After buying the new can opener I fixed the old can opener with a monkey wrench – now I have two can openers. But did I really need a new can opener? Of course not… my pain would have been cured by fixing the old can opener….

I’ve learned in my sales career that a customer often has an idea of how to eliminate a pain. Sometimes a customer is convinced that he/she knows how to fix the pain. So, the customer tells you what he/she needs. And if you do not have what he/she needs, you may think that you are not going to be able to sell your product.  The good news is that there are many ways to fix the pain. When a customer expresses a need for something I focus on finding out the customer’s actual pain. My job as a salesperson is to show how my product or service can fix the customer’s pain.  It is even better if I can offer the monkey wrench to fix the problem instead of asking the customer to spend more money…

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