8 Questions Business Leaders Should Ask Themselves Every Day

Leadership is not prescriptive and what works for one person may not work for another. There is one trait, however, that many successful business leaders and entrepreneurs share: They are constantly asking themselves questions to stay relevant and perceptive.

Whether you’re running a company, heading up a startup or leading a team, your ability to analyze and critique your workday and approach is critical to success. Keeping tabs on your own development might help  figure out areas for improvement, deepen your understanding of your industry and set a good example to the people you manage.

Asking yourself these questions every day will help you grow as an individual and as a leader:

1. What did I achieve?

At the end of each working day, take a step back and ask what you’ve achieved. Keeping tabs on your accomplishments is a great positivity and productivity booster. Strive to undertake at least one meaningful task each day that will directly help you reach your end goals. If you believe you could have achieved more, harness your disappointment and channel that energy to help you work harder the next day.

2. What mistakes did I make and how can I learn from them?

Not every decision you make will be the right one. And in such instances, holding your hands up and admitting you have made a mistake is the best thing to do. There is a saying, “More people would learn from their mistakes if they weren’t so busy denying that they made them.” And these words of wisdom are important to remember. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s how you respond to them that defines you.

3. Did I help someone else succeed today?

Good leaders focus on the success of those around them as well as their own personal achievements. Make it your mantra to help others succeed or provide them with opportunities each day. It doesn’t always have to be a grand gesture. It could be something as simple such as spending 20 minutes with an employee to discuss his or her performance and progress. Building the strength of those working for you will ultimately enhance your company.

4. What motivated me?

Running a business and leading a team can be difficult and during the tough times, reach for the motivation that keeps you going and encourages you to strive for betterment. Take note of the things that inspire you and draw on them when you need renewed enthusiasm. Good leaders are acutely aware of the things that fuel their personal motivation and use that knowledge to their benefit.

5. Did I work toward my goals?

When you’re at the helm of a ship, it’s wise to keep destination in mind. Likewise when you’re running a business or leading a team, you should have goals to keep everyone focused and moving in the same direction. Outline your business aims and ask yourself every day if you’ve worked toward them. If not, figure out why not and how you’ll change tack to put everything on the right trajectory. Never lose sight of your goals.

6. What stumbling blocks did I come across?

What are your sticking points? Is there a particular division of the business that you struggle with? Are you unable to come up with a workable strategy for a particular function? If so, identify the areas that require improvement or the resources that will go a long way toward overcoming the problem.

Once you understand where your weaknesses lie, create a small team and talk about the areas of concern. Share ideas and work through the issues together in a constructive way. This is great for team building and getting everyone on the same page. It will also get the problem solved so you can move on.

7. What do I need to let go of?

You’re setting yourself up for failure if you take on too much. Business owners and department heads can be guilty of the notion that they need to be directly involved with every decision made at their business. Part of being a leader is being able to recruit effectively.

Build a team around you that you trust to make decisions and get things done. Don’t be removed from your business. Instead allow your employees to shoulder some of the burden. This not only means that progress will happen quicker. But by sharing the responsibility, you”ll build a more collaborative company culture. Ask yourself today, What can I hand over?

8. What legacy do I want to leave behind?

Finally, how do you want to be remembered? Keep this in mind every day and work toward that end goal. Are you happy with the way you conducted yourself today? Remember that character rules.

You’re not born with the qualities that make up your character, but develop them as you go through your experiences, failures and successes. Govern reactions to events to develop the character you’d like to have.

What More Than 630 Startups Have Taught Paul Graham

Days after Y Combinator founding partner Paul Graham said he would step down from his position at the startup incubator, he stepped on stage at the Launch Festival in San Francisco to talk about a list of lessons that have come from the past nine years.

First among those, Graham said, was the fact that he hates doing the large amounts of internal work required to keep the organization going, he told the audience at Launch. The annual event brings out more than 9,000 attendees.

“It’s turned into this giant thing, and I’m no good at running giant things,” Graham said, explaining why he is leaving. Y Combinator Partner Sam Altman will assume the role of president of the incubator.

Here are a few more:

Finding Focus…in a Matter of Months

Since Graham cofounded Y Combinator in 2005, more than 630 startups, including Dropbox, Airbnb, and Stripe, have run through the program. Graham said that not much has changed since then in terms of the format of the program. Three months is still just the right amount of time for the startups to accomplish what Y Combinator is meant to help them accomplish. Essentially, that is finding their focus.

“The most important things for startups to do is to focus.” Graham said. “Because there’s so many things you could be doing. One of them is the most important. You should be doing that. And not any of the others.”

For example, you shouldn’t be grabbing coffee with investors just because they asked you to. If you’re at the point where you’re ready to raise money, then launch a full-fledged effort. Otherwise, get back to work, Graham said.

“It’s like optimizing software. There is something that is currently bottlenecked to making the software faster. You work on that. And that’s a lot of what we do at YC,”  Graham said. “Sit down with people and just look at all of things they could be doing and asking them, which one is the most important?”

It’s All About Your First Users

And when you’re done figuring out what to focus on and have moved onto the question ofwho to focus on, remember that your original user base can be as small as a single person.

Take a startup in the current Y Combinator batch. The company is developing a mobile email client, basically personalized for soon-to-be Y Combinator president Sam Altman.

“Their goal is to just make Sam Altman happy. Sam Altman uses his email a lot on the go, and he is sufficiently demanding. If they make him happy, they’ve sort of used him as like the positive for a mold. They can now makes lots of people happy,” Graham explained. He said that the true litmus test for the usefulness of that product is whether or not Altman would be incredibly “bummed” if they stopped making the app.

So if the program’s format hasn’t changed much, and neither has incubator’s main objective, what has changed at Y Combinator?

Graham said there’s a difference in the type of people they accept into the program now. In short, being smart just doesn’t cut it anymore.

“We used to have more faith in brains,” Graham said, adding that the incubator no longer accepts people whose intelligence is their main asset. “It turns out you can be surprisingly stupid if you’re sufficiently determined,” he said.

-Courtesy: Inc.com

Lead Your Employees Somewhere Positive and Other Must-Read Business Tips

Lead Your Employees Somewhere Positive and Other Must-Read Business Tips

Business owners know more acutely than most people that change is inevitable. It is a fact of life. But not all change is positive, and it becomes difficult to lead employees when they think you are taking them in a bad direction, says Mark Sanborn, president of Sanborn & Associates Inc., a Lonetree, Colo.-based leadership development firm.

But that doesn’t mean your employees don’t have guts and grit. “They can even handle the challenges and sacrifices of a new undertaking if they believe there is a payoff on arrival,” says Sanborn. He tells the anecdote of a client whose vision statement for his company was full of financial goals but was silent when it came to quality of life for employees.

“I wasn’t surprised that nobody could remember what the vision was, nor care about achieving it,” Sanborn says. “Their vision statement became effective when it was rewritten to express the future for all stakeholders, including employees.” 

Treat customers with respect.
Selling doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Some people feel uncomfortable putting themselves out there for the sake of their idea, product or service. One way to help yourself relax is to make a connection with your prospective client, says Cristi Young, founder of No.2 Creative, a New York City-based branding firm. Treat him or her like a person. “You’d be surprised how many people forget to say hello, ask how their weekend was, or remember a personal detail they shared with you last time you met. Connect and care first.” More: How to Sell Without Feeling Sleazy

To retain employees, give them a meaningful career path.
Chances are you can’t compete with Google and Facebook when it comes to employee salaries, but a high salary is not the only carrot you can provide to retain top employees. One way to keep them around is to provide them with opportunities for real growth in their career, says Carolyn Betts, founder of San Francisco-based Betts Recruiting. She recommends having a frank discussion with employees on their yearly employment anniversaries about how they see themselves growing within your company. “Share your thoughts with where you see them headed and what opportunities exist for them to continue to be challenged,” she says. 

Base your marketing strategy on customer behavior.
As a business owner, you may welcome the rise of mobile traffic even while assuming you can shoehorn your old marketing strategies onto the new platforms. Not so, says Jayson DeMers, founder of AudienceBloom, a Seattle-based SEO agency: “If you’re not delivering your marketing messages in a way that’s tailored specifically to the experience of a smartphone or tablet user, chances are you’re turning customers away.” Find out how your customers are using their mobile devices, and what their expectations are. “Data from your existing website analytics program can give you mobile insights, as can targeted surveys, [which can] form the foundation of your mobile content strategy,” DeMers says.

Choose investment bankers, not investment banks.

When choosing an investment banker to sell your business, the experience and know-how of the individual(s) doing your deal is more important than the firm to which their name is attached, says Jay Turo, chief executive of Growthink, a Los Angeles-based consulting firm. “Information technology and social media have leveled the playing field between big and small investment banking firms,” he says. Your personal chemistry with the banker also matters. Ask yourself how, when and where you prefer to communicate, and then evaluate bankers on how well they match up.

-Courtesy: Entrepreneur.com

Creativity Tips From 5 World-Famous Artists

The following artists have transformed the way the world sees, appreciates, and creates art. Each of these artists had their own share of struggle, turmoil, and rejection. Yet they all remained innovative and daring against the odds. Entrepreneurs and other leaders can learn from their creative strategies.

1. Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564)

Michelangelo needed very little sleep and was usually so drawn up in his work that he would spend weeks in the same clothes and shoes. His servant reported that when Michelangelo did take off his shoes, the skin on his feet would peel off like a snake’s.

Michelangelo was a highly focused artist, but his creativity wasn’t something he took for granted. He wrote, “Critique by creating.”

Michelangelo felt that he could respond to others by doing a better job than they could.

Lesson for leaders: Don’t waste your time criticizing. Start making your own product or solution in response to a poor one. Let your frustration drive you.

2. Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)

During Vincent Van Gogh’s lifetime, he sold only one out of the roughly 900 paintings he made. After Van Gough’s death his energetic, captivating style stormed the world and redefined the boundaries of art.

“Occasionally, in times of worry,” Vincent Van Gogh writes to his younger brother, Theo, “I’ve longed to be stylish, but on second thought I say no–just let me be myself–and express rough, yet true things with rough workmanship.”

For Van Gogh, creativity was about honest expression as opposed to style and craft. He wanted to express himself and didn’t care about the quality of his attempts.

Lesson for leaders: If you want to be creative don’t worry about style or what is trending. Focus on what you want to achieve and do it. Don’t worry about the veneer and packaging till after.

3. Henri Matisse (1869-1954)

Matisse wasn’t always a darling of the art world. In 1913 one of his paintings (Nu Bleu) was burned in protest, and he constantly had trouble providing for his family. Yet he retained his artistic temperament and continued to break from classical painting traditions.

Matisse felt that creativity wasn’t a gift or a talent. It was a friend who only stopped by when you were hard at work. Matisse said, “Don’t wait for inspiration. It comes while one is working.”

Lesson for leaders: Don’t wait for inspiration. Get to work and you’ll get creative.

4. Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

Picasso had many painting styles. When he was a youth, he painted realistically. In his early adulthood he entered his blue and rose periods. After that he made a foray into Cubism. Next, he began to experiment with collage and sculpture.

Picasso was always creating within different styles. Like Matisse, Picasso felt that creativity wasn’t something one could call on whenever. He felt that creativity could only come out when engaged in work. “Inspiration exists,” Picasso says, “but it has to find you working.”

Lesson for leaders: Rolling up your sleeves is the only sure-fire way to become more creative. Like Picasso, always try new things and work within fresh fields.

5. Salvador Dali (1904-1989)

Dali’s melting clocks, capes and eccentric dress, and upturned moustache have made him an iconic artist. And you probably see his work on a daily or weekly basis when you’re checking out the bodega. He designed the Chupa Chups logo.

Dali’s creativity likely stems from brutal honesty with himself. He writes, “Have no fear of perfection. You’ll never reach it.” Dali was able to produce more than 1,500 paintings because he was never scared of making mistakes and being less than perfect.

Lesson for leaders: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

-Courtesy: Inc.com

10 Questions for Daymond John

On ABC’s Shark Tank, Fubu founder and branding expert Daymond John is a no-nonsense kind of guy. Here, he shows us a softer side.

What’s one thing your employees would be surprised to know about you?

I actually like them.

What’s your theme song?

“Going the Distance,” by Bill Conti. From Rocky.

Which TV or movie character would you like to go into business with?

The Grinch. He’s straight to the point. He’s a little crazy, and he clearly doesn’t let emotions get in the way.

Who gives you the best advice?

[Marketing expert] Jay Abraham. He always challenges me, and he makes me feel dumb, which is impressive.

Whom would you trade places with for a day?

President Obama. Why not be the most powerful man on the planet? Plus, he’s just cool.

It’s 8 p.m., and you’re traveling alone on business. What do you do all night?

Catch up on emails, start answering the emails coming in from China, and read my goals.

The biggest myth in business is…

You need to be mean and cutthroat to get ahead.

What company do you not want to start but wish someone else would?

A puppy cuddle company. Take puppies around to different places, a bunch of puppies, and allow people to have the puppies jump all over them and cuddle with them. Like puppy therapy.

What have you sacrificed for success?

Sleep

What have you learned about yourself while running your business?

I don’t take failing easily. That, and all the responsibility falls on me. The buck stops here.

 

-Courtesy: Inc.com

Kyoto University launches new $60 million fund to invest in Asian startups

 

kyoto-university

Kyoto University, a Japanese research university, is launching its second venture fund worth $60 million to invest in startups in Japan and the region.

The Kyoto University Venture Fund (KUVF), managed by Miyako Capital, aims to support and fund the development of business ideas by faculty, students, and alumni of the university, as well as anyone who wants to work closely with the education institution to launch a startup.

Kenshin Fujiwara, partner at Miyako Capital, says that he is in discussions with a couple of Singapore-based venture capital firms and incubators. He hopes to help their portfolio companies expand their business to Japan and possibly secure investment from the KUVF.

To receive an investment, he says, “startups don’t necessarily have to be in Kyoto, or even in Japan, but do require some level of relationship with Kyoto University. For example, appointing an alumni as a local director.”

The fund is seeking to invest anywhere between $500,000 to a few million dollars per startup. The investment decision process is separate from the university. The KUVF is looking at these four areas:

  • Information and Communication Technology
  • Life Science and Biotechnology
  • Environment and Energy
  • Agricultural Food

The funding amount will depend on the stage and industry of the startup. It could invest in seed stage startups who may not have a company established, as long as the founding team is experienced.

It would pump more money into biotech and cleantech companies, which require more funding than mobile and IT startups.

The first KUVF fund was set up in 2007 with $45 million in its kitty. As of August this year, it has a portfolio of 18 companies. One of these companies is Aucfan, a Tokyo-based price comparison site which IPO-ed this year.

-Courtesy: Techinasia

Mark Cuban’s 12 Rules for Startups

Anyone who has started a business has his or her own rules and guidelines, so I thought I would add to the memo with my own. My “rules” below aren’t just for those founding the companies, but for those who are considering going to work for them, as well.

1. Don’t start a company unless it’s an obsession and something you love.

2. If you have an exit strategy, it’s not an obsession.

3. Hire people who you think will love working there.

4. Sales Cure All. Know how your company will make money and how you will actually make sales.

5. Know your core competencies and focus on being great at them. Pay up for people in your core competencies. Get the best. Outside the core competencies, hire people that fit your culture but aren’t as expensive to pay.

6. An espresso machine? Are you kidding me? Coffee is for closers. Sodas are free. Lunch is a chance to get out of the office and talk. There are 24 hours in a day, and if people like their jobs, they will find ways to use as much of it as possible to do their jobs.

7. No offices. Open offices keep everyone in tune with what is going on and keep the energy up. If an employee is about privacy, show him or her how to use the lock on the bathroom. There is nothing private in a startup. This is also a good way to keep from hiring executives who cannot operate successfully in a startup. My biggest fear was always hiring someone who wanted to build an empire. If the person demands to fly first class or to bring over a personal secretary, run away. If an exec won’t go on sales calls, run away. They are empire builders and will pollute your company.

8. As far as technology, go with what you know. That is always the most inexpensive way. If you know Apple, use it. If you know Vista, ask yourself why, then use it. It’s a startup so there are just a few employees. Let people use what they know.

9. Keep the organization flat. If you have managers reporting to managers in a startup, you will fail. Once you get beyond startup, if you have managers reporting to managers, you will create politics.

10. Never buy swag. A sure sign of failure for a startup is when someone sends me logo-embroidered polo shirts. If your people are at shows and in public, it’s okay to buy for your own employees, but if you really think people are going to wear your branded polo when they’re out and about, you are mistaken and have no idea how to spend your money.

11. Never hire a PR firm. A public relations firm will call or email people in the publications you already read, on the shows you already watch and at the websites you already surf. Those people publish their emails. Whenever you consume any information related to your field, get the email of the person publishing it and send them a message introducing yourself and the company. Their job is to find new stuff. They will welcome hearing from the founder instead of some PR flack. Once you establish communication with that person, make yourself available to answer their questions about the industry and be a source for them. If you are smart, they will use you.

12. Make the job fun for employees. Keep a pulse on the stress levels and accomplishments of your people and reward them. My first company, MicroSolutions, when we had a record sales month, or someone did something special, I would walk around handing out $100 bills to salespeople. At Broadcast.com and MicroSolutions, we had a company shot. The Kamikaze. We would take people to a bar every now and then and buy one or ten for everyone. At MicroSolutions, more often than not we had vendors cover the tab. Vendors always love a good party.

-Courtesy: Entrepreneur.com

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