The journey of growth that an entrepreneur goes through is like the journey Khaleesi undertook with her dragon eggs – from incubating the dragon eggs, to believing in the idea of dragons flying again over Westeros to helping them grow and finally seeing them to their maturity. Just as she faced unique challenges in her journey, similarly an entrepreneur has his/her set of struggles basis which wave of business cycle they are riding. And each phase should be handled with care, because the parenting technique one adopts for a toddler would be no way like a teenager.
Phase 1 – Jumping in the fireIs your idea good enough for you to quit your job? Is the idea good enough for you to get someone else to quit their job and join you?An entrepreneur must be a passionate believer in what they are doing and must often be THE primary proponent for the idea. Startups are brutally difficult and founders must be tough from get go to weather the storm. If a founder can’t even convince themselves to quit, it’s probably never going to get off the ground.
Phase 2 – Is the idea good enough? Building the Market IntelThe idea phase is an emotional rollercoaster for any entrepreneur. One minute you may be convinced that you have the next million-dollar idea, and the next minute those self-doubts creep in, and you will start to feel like a failure before you’ve even put anything into action. To douse the fire of self-doubt one should spend a significant amount of time into the market research, collecting data about primary & secondary audiences. This helps in answering key market variables – is the idea based on a compelling value proposition, is the market timing correct and is the market size big enough for the idea. And most importantly, at the end of this stage one should know, who would pay for the product & service & why?
Phase 3 – Business PlanningWhile assembling the building blocks of the business, battling feelings of loneliness and vulnerability are likely going to be the order of the day. The key to surviving this phase is to appreciate the concept of delayed gratification. For now, you must focus on putting in the groundwork that will facilitate that success. What is essential in this phase of the journey is to create the actual business plan with key company milestones for the next 2-3 years and identifying the core team. The business plan should be able to answer the following questions:
- Can you find a scalable way to acquire customers?
- Can you then monetize those customers at a significantly higher level than your cost of acquisition?
Phase 4 – Building the productA phase full of mixed emotions. Have you simply proven that you can get a few customers, or have you proven that there is a real business to be built here?
Essentially, here the startups are starting to prove the business concept, but it may not feel all that good because the end goal is still a long way off. This is the stage of building the MVP or Minimum Viable Product to test the business idea. This is an opportunity for learning about deficiencies in the product, critical features, and, most importantly, to get real-world feedback from someone not on the core team. In many cases, the entrepreneur may learn that the potential customer uses the product in ways that they did not expect.
Phase 5 – ValidationThis phase is perhaps the most challenging mentally and physically, because the entrepreneur will be working around the clock with very little letup. This is the validation or proof of concept stage, where the entrepreneur must show maximum value to all stakeholders starting from its current customers, its employees to current angel (if any) & potential investors. On one side, there is the struggle to find the right product strategy & brand positioning that would allow to attract potential Series A/B venture investment, and on the other side, there is a continuous pressure to show some running profits and ensure customer delight. Incidentally, most of the startups lose their plot during this stage of business.
Phase 6 – Scaling up and growth pathSo, is it smooth sailing from here on out? Business unfortunately doesn’t work like that, and always there will be challenges on the horizon. Finding successful financing, maintaining the cash flow till the company achieves its key milestones, hiring key resources, marketing the product in the target markets to key audience, and accelerating the quarter on quarter revenues are just some challenges a startup has to deal with. Once the startup has achieved a critical mass of customers, they enter the growth stage in which they can diversify the business through possible acquisitions of smaller companies or can enter newer markets by raising more venture fund. Fundamentally, there is no fixed time duration to this stage as most of the startups want to remain in the startup mode for a long timeBut although some of those challenges would make anyone think was it all worth it, the entrepreneur has earned his/her battle scars by then and is obviously far tougher because of it.
Artificial intelligence (AI) has created a lot of buzz for years, but the coming years hears more about discussions centered around machine learning (ML) – an approach to AI that focuses on data sieving, data interpretation and learning and taking informed action based on the analytics using algorithms.
In other words, ML is the motor that drives data science.
Since a Machine Learning system can assess new data, its behavior and performance while operating unsupervised, enterprises across all industries are keen to experiment and implement this progressive approach for its ventures. Many businesses have built in-house data science departments or are inviting external teams to guide them in solving real business issues through the smart use of data.
But the real value of machine learning is the ability to make decisions based on what it has learned from the past, how it has been trained using datasets and intelligence and not what it is currently exploring and evaluating.
Though the anticipated commercial impact of these efforts has been discussed extensively but the realistic challenges of applying these technologies to real business can be often overlooked.
So to avoid such costly mistakes, it is necessary to ask following simple yet important questions before embarking any machine learning project-
Is there really a requirement? –
Ask yourself if you are adopting the new technology just for adoption’s sake or is there really a requirement. Often, you’ll find there isn’t any need of the same.
‘Machine learning is valuable only for use cases that benefit from dynamic learning – and there are not many of those’ – David Linthicum’
Vendors do create a need for ML cloud services, selling in the name of good fit for applications which shouldn’t use it at all. As a result, the technology seems to be misused and over-applied, diverting valuable resources from projects that can actually drive growth.
Do you need a CAIO (Chief AI officer)?
– Implementing ML requires a good understanding of the technology and a strong business vision. Though anyone from the company (CIO – Chief Information officer, CDO – Chief Data officer, and CTO- Chief Technical officer) can own the overall implementation but a CAIO is the one, who can view an organization’s potential projects that can be scaled and positioned for ML adoption and is responsible for setting a roadmap that ensures the AI integration is in line with the company’s overall strategy. He/she ensures that the right product is selected that meets the business goals and the required resources are readily available.
Are your employees scared of robot colleagues?
– The biggest challenge faced by companies is that their ‘employee’s fear change’ thinking it will make their jobs irrelevant. So the need is to empower employees and management and encourage them to engage with the machines. The hidden fact is people are unaware of the integration problems. Even if a system is developed to perform individual tasks, a person cannot be removed completely from the process – since there are interaction issues such as coordination and communication between people and AI systems. So take up a transparent approach of how machine learning will be integrated, what it means for jobs, and train people to engage with their new robot colleagues.
Is your organization mature in data capabilities?
– Machine learning requires quality data – lots of it. Organizations planning to adopt ML, need to work on their data capabilities first. Since if the data is not clean and extensive, you are not going to be successful in your machine learning efforts. Incorrect and inaccurate data results in erroneous solutions, bad decision making and potentially bad AI implementation. Apart from that, the data needs to be secure with regulations that hold back organizations from using personal/ sensitive data to train their algorithms especially in healthcare and finance industries.
Can you attract the essential Talent? –
While people can be trained on machine learning implementation, it still requires someone with a data science or machine learning background to cater to implementation hiccups. But unfortunately, trained and experience AI and ML professionals are thin on the ground. With more than 500% rise in the number of jobs in AI, less than 30% have the required experience. So, the organizations need to make themselves an attractive proposition with interesting challenges and competitive salaries to ensure more talent flows into their pipeline.
We have come a long way in Digital Age and Big Data has firmly established its footing in marketing departments across the globe. Not only has it helped in assessing the interactions of the customers at a granular level but also in analyzing the past trends and predicting the future behavior of the customers – thus unlocking new opportunities.
Digital age has bought with it tons of data. Businesses are increasingly evolving by extracting information from this sea of data and –
- Predicting behavioral patterns of their customers,
- Making informed strategic marketing decisions and
- Unlocking new trends
“In marketing, there is only one strategy that never fails – market to your best customers first, your best prospects second and rest of the world last”
Data-driven marketing has become the norm of today’s businesses. Rather than trusting assumptions or gut feelings, modern marketers are making decisions based on numbers. In fact, spending on data-driven marketing has risen over 70% in last couple of years making it imperative for marketers to use this extensive data for-
- Analyzing and Capturing Leads,
- Fine-tuning their campaigns and
- Growing the bottom lines of the businesses they represent.
Below are the 5 ways of using Big Data to boost your Digital Marketing Campaigns:
- Shifting gears from Content to Context: Big data plays a major role when it comes to timing and content distribution. With a detailed data on followers, you have the best window to reach them and squeeze in most out of each and every piece you publish.
- Conversion Optimization: Big Data helps in understanding how the leads and traffic moves from Point A to B i.e. what are the bottlenecks in the sales funnel and where the lost traffic is dropping off. It makes you understand the customer behavior in terms of “when” and not “if” – thus optimizing your business operations.
- Personalized Services: Big data gives more personalized information about customers and helps you tailor your offerings thus building more meaningful relationships.
- Proactive Decision Making: Even though it could be overwhelming analyzing the large amount of data and information but it actually offers deeper and clearer insights leading to efficient decision making that is proactive and not reactive.
- Boosting Digital Sales: Even the most minor details in digital sales could result in major profits or losses. The information provided by big data could help in optimizing pricing strategy, predicting demand trends and analyzing why certain product/services are falling flat.
Building up a highly qualified and purchase ready digital audience and converting them into loyal customers by anticipating their needs and offering true value is the dream of any business.
And one thing that nurtures this dream is BIG DATA – one can easily capture the attention of their target consumers in real time from their competitors and leverage the same to their advantage.
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An entrepreneur builds a business for two reasons – either to make money from profits or to grow. Choosing which way to go is surely an ‘Entrepreneur’s dilemma’ – if they focus on growth, it may have short-term dents on their profits and if they choose the latter, it will limit their market expansion and penetration.
To understand Profit versus Growth debate, let’s define these two terms first –
1) Profit: It is the fiscal advantage obtained when the revenue from a business activity exceeds the costs, expenses, and taxes required to sustain that activity.
2) Growth: It is an increase in dimension, quantity or worth of a business unit – a point of expansion or opening of additional options to generate more business profit.
For any self-funded startup, Profit is the primary goal because it is the only capital that will be used to run and sustain the business. Bottom line being – for any business to survive for a significant amount of time, profit is essential. Focusing on profitability during the teething period of a business is necessary.
Growth, for a business, could vary. Some may measure it as an increase in their Tangible assets such as building a new office, enlarging their infrastructure and resources, launching new products, increasing customer base, entering new markets etc. But for some it is the rise in their Intangible assets that matter such as business from repeat customers, training their resources, customer relationship, acquiring patents and licenses, Trademarks and copyrights etc.
Even if the present profitability of a business is good, it should not stop exploring opportunities for growth because it is these opportunities that will bring the business ‘in-line’ with its competitors and ‘in-sight’ of its potential customers and investors.
“If you keep an eye on profit, you’re going to skimp on the product. But if you focus on making really great products, then the profits will follow.”- Steve Jobs.
Growth and Profit go hand in hand!
If profitability is the key to basic financial survival, growth is the key to long-term profit and sustainable success.
There will always be a state of flux related to growth versus profitability in business but the entrepreneurs need to be agile enough to foresee what makes sense to them and when.
Young businesses should ‘go for growth and pause down on profitability’ so that they have a firm hold in their market space and are undeterred by any competitive tides.
A long-term vision ensures that continuous investment in growth makes the business sustainable and eventually profitable.
The only catch is when you say you need to invest in growth, your short-term profits only have one way to go – downward!
Here’s why investing in business growth should be the primary objective of an entrepreneur-
It creates brand leverage.
It accelerates your crowdfunding efforts.
It sells directly to people who know your work.
It encourages word of mouth beyond your community.
Take for example Zomato – “one startup that has grown internationally in a way with no exemplar in the entire Indian consumer startup ecosystem till date. Today, it is the number one player in 18 out of 23 countries. In spite of a turbulent 2016 where it battled high cash burn; its strategy has always been – getting to the right users/customers to try out their product in a way that they keep using it.
But with the year 2017 coming in a significant turnaround to their financial losses, the company is confident about their track of profitability. Their focus on reducing cash burn, ramping up revenue, and not compromising on any growth engines have been the key ingredients to their profitable journey.”
A strategy that focuses on growth is an absolute key, but situational awareness and continuous testing of this strategy are equally critical. As a thumb rule, focus on growth but be realistic and achievable in terms of the profits to cloud the bigger picture.
“In the business world, everyone is paid in two coins: cash and experience. Take the experience first; the cash will come later.” – Harold S. Geneen
Abraham Lincoln once said, “If I had nine hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first six sharpening my axe.”
The same rule applies to any Business growth today. With competitors striving to create an edge and with entrepreneurs sprouting in rage – one needs to put that right strategy at the right time in the right market. And when a match is accomplished, accelerated business growth occurs.
Although there can be various growth strategies, the right is one that matches best with his business vision and product/service USP. Here are five key strategies for your consideration to help maximize RoI and traction in your marketplace and to ensure fast-forward growth of your business –
2) Twist what exists: Sometimes a slight modification in the product or its packaging may open new markets. Understanding the needs and interests of your target audience and tweaking your product /services may serve as that little push to take the lead.
3) Focus on Less: It may sound like a crazy strategy for growth but we often get distracted by more and more in our lives. More marketing campaigns, more promotions, more mailers – it not only consumes our efforts, time and investments but stalls us at the junction of nowhere. So, it’s important to streamline the process and lessen things that deliver mediocre outputs. Narrow your focus and deliver things so that your brand name and products become synonymous.
4) Retain and not refrain those Referrals: Customer Experience is everything. You may initiate the best marketing campaigns in the world but if your customer experience sucks, you are sure to see your growth numbers falling. Putting a percentage of your revenue for customer retention and experience – be it a simple card, a feedback form or just delivering what you commit can set the pace and leave an ever-lasting impression on your clients. Focusing on customer experience is a must if you are focused on business growth. Remember happy clients are brand ambassadors of your business who will surely spread the word and refer you to more prospects.
5) Adapt Agility: Business blueprints change with the changing technology and offered choices. To lead the game, it’s important to be flexible to accept changes and to stay up-to-date with the latest trends of markets and consumers.
Business growth is much more than wishful thinking. The long-term success of your business will depend on the right development and right implementation of your strategy.
“Everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all the happiness and growth occurs while you’re climbing it.” – Andy Rooney
‘A mindset is important because thoughts are nurtured there. A vision is imperative because actions need to follow thoughts.’
There have been many leaders who started their journey with crazy ideas – ideas for which they were criticized and even ridiculed at first. But they took a stand for their vision. Even though they may have faltered sometimes along the way, they returned to their commitment to the vision that not only fueled their determination and tenacity but also their ability to tolerate failures along the way.
This group of people can prove to be a major diversion for the business vision. This form of “sustain with seize” attitude is much dangerous for a leader than someone who chooses not to support the idea. As a result, delays happen and key resources are tied up struggling between the inconsistency between the ‘the add-on opinions of the vision’ and in aligning with the leader’s vision.
Preventing your vision from getting hijacked – The ABC Concept:
1) Awareness about ‘buy in’: A leadership concept that people leverage to mean that all viewpoints should be taken into view and any disagreement should be acquiescent. But achieving a 100% agreement rate sometimes kills the essence of business vision. The foremost thing which a leader can do to resolve this ‘buy in’ issue is to be very clear about what he wants and then attract volunteers who want to own it and take it forward to the next level. People who have a tendency to ‘hitch’ and ‘hijack’ the vision with their own ideas and agendas should be encouraged to do so, but outside the business.
2) Be clear and consistent: A leader should be so clear about his vision that there is a bleak chance of it becoming hijacked with the wandering thoughts and ideas of others.
3) Comprehensive Communication: When there is a vacuum in vision communication, many enthusiasts step up and add to what they feel is missing. Their sole purpose is not putting forward the missing voice of the vision but inserting it with their own agendas.
Sometimes consciously or unconsciously, these vision hitchhikers become vision hijackers. It’s necessary to stop and seize the wheel; else the business will end up moving miles apart from its original destination.
Millennials- Juvenile, Vibrant, Highly educated employees born in the dawn of the digital era, may seem like a bizarre breed, but the future of any company depends on understanding their intellect and using it in the right comportment. We have been hearing about how the world changed during the growing years of these Millennials. The internet followed by the digital age paved the way to character description of the beliefs, values, expectations and above all the identity of this generation.
• Agility in workplace,
• Significant and Momentous work
• Express growth
Is what these millennials desire for!
On the cons side, we have thought leaders talking about scenarios that have hit this generation such as –
• Appalling parenting,
• Reduced social skills
• Poor attention span
But the fact is- the baby boom generation will soon give way to these millennials to take up higher positions in the C-suite. So, it is the right time to leverage the strengths of these Millennials. Recruiting them, giving a patient ear to their viewpoints and teaming them with skilled and qualified members of your team may act as agents of game-changing novelty or transformational change.
With a wider exposure to digital innovations, social trends, startup spaces, changing consumer trends, crowdsourcing, virtual communities of interest – Millennials could actually be the C-suite’s secret weapon for innovation.
Not only the Meme Generation has a fresh take on the perspectives but they also engage with the world in a very diverse manner than the Gen X.
Patter the millennial attitude –
As the ascendant inhabitants, millennials give the real insight in the shifting scenarios of how the business should work. How?
• Most of them have an entrepreneurial bent of mind
• They contempt bureaucracy, distrust big institutions and are cynical about authority.
• For them, nothing is impossible.
• They care about social skills, human suffering and have a strong value system to save the planet.
For C-suiters, instead of being repellent to the thought process of these millennials, learning from their fresh ideas can be the paramount approach.
They say, “If you can’t beat them, join them”
Here are some strategies which the senior management of an organization should apply to connect and groom these young leaders –
1) Millennials are growth seekers: Unlike Gen X, Gen Y views professional as well as personal development in a very different perspective. Giving them varied opportunities to learn, grow and use their potential to its fullest will serve as an appetite-booster for them.
2) Empower their belief system: Millennials are that workforce, who will dedicate their expertise and aptitude to an organization that values them. They are okay to work for less with a company that matches their belief system and ideals. So give them the freedom and culture that aligns with their values and goals.
3) Be open to new ideas: Even if you don’t understand the digital language, those slangs or what people love about the new app – listen and be open to the new information that is flowing. It’s okay to learn from a younger colleague. It may not motivate you to get into things but will surely give you a piece of dominant society.
4) Engage these collaborative learners: The Gen Y, also commonly known as “Me-Me” generation is not all about themselves. They are great collaborative learners, who easily acclimatizing and connecting with other generations. Encourage them to know, participate and work together as a team for the success of an assignment. Engage them in a different aspect of business and they will thank you all their life.
5) Encourage their enthusiasm for transformation: Providing them with the power to restructure the corporate landscape could be a great move. This workforce does not believe in fixed office hour job. They like the flexibility to be more creative. For them, some days working remotely just refreshes them from the daily work routine inside the four walls. Embrace these changes by finding a balance between flexibility and control.
Millennials are a vital element in any business growth. These digi-savvy people are the powerhouse of ideas in today’s dynamic environs. If you want to grow your business, unleash their potentials and understand their viewpoint. These young minds have an immense mobilizing energy. They love to dream and think outside the box.
Their only mantra is – “Shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”