Thursday 31 May 2012

An Entrepreneur Who Failed….to Get a Job

Celebrating Qatar Happening's Anniversary 

People often recall stories using the lead-in “in a previous life”.

These words are oft met with disbelief. But is there any expression to better define our past?  As we move through our personal, family and professional timelines, our stories capture unique moments in our own histories, each painting a distinctive set of circumstances, experiences, friendships; each moment a life of its own.

As I reflect upon my professional past, stories are flushed out with corresponding details of the time:

·      Early 20s; a fresh Physics grad eager to prove myself in a man’s world, putting in my 200% and rising to the top of the pack. Despite the rocketing career momentum, I realize I want to become an entrepreneur,
·      30; I attended all of my son’s school functions, created & lost a tiny life, created another, chaired a non-profit board of directors, ran a small business and simultaneously achieved a 98% average in an entrepreneurship/ marketing program (That’s being a woman),
·      Mid-30s; newcomer to cash strapped developing Muslim country, starting a new career with no field experience or apparent opportunities. Rely upon confidence from a track record of making things happen, a belief in myself, and a nudge from my Mother. Started at rock bottom in an entry level property post paying local monthly wages of $800, built my own property business and later started The Art of Business. A decade of making impossible things possible through vision, determination and leadership for global clients. Build and launch wildly popular brands and titles in the eventually booming economy of Qatar,
·      Mid-forties; time to return home to Ottawa for the kid’s schooling. Seeking a challenging career fit. I find a different challenge than I expect.

Looking from the panoramic of my present sabbatical, I gasp at the energy and passion I put into my career and life moments. Recent days have been quiet, solitary, research filled, drenched in deep thought, reflection and problem solving.  My previous successes have allowed me the privilege of not “having to rush out and work” and the luxury to contemplate how to best contribute my talents to the changing global community.  It’s been a costly and satisfying choice.

I found myself disenchanted, and tripping up at any offer promising less than a nearly impossible challenge.  The thought of getting “stuck” somewhere that I couldn’t thrive horrified me. I misunderstood my own actions and equated my lack of meaningful employment as a failure.  I was horrified that a complete year without “being discovered” and contributing to the world around me could become the norm; that I could get stuck there. My unexpected challenge was embracing the wisdom of a previous life: that I am an entrepreneur AND a challenge junkie.

The only time I truly “fit in” to the world was when I had created that world.  I remain destined to create new inspiring ways to contribute to people’s lives and continue to attract dynamic people into my circles. After a period of self-loathing I now wear a perma-smile thinking of the startup journey ahead and the entrepreneur’s fire warms my soul.
Enlightening. The attitudes that sparked the Arab Spring #TED

Friday 25 May 2012

Facebook has been less than forthcoming during their IPO and made a series of panic decisions just prior. Are they trust worthy?

I must admit I bought into the quieter investment hype that led up to the LinkedIn IPO and if I wasn’t saving for my own startup, I would have laid down some serious coin for LinkedIn. 

Something didn't feel right about the Facebook IPO. Too many negatives struck me, leaving a bitter distrust for the brand and Zuckerburg. I summed them all up with "meh", who cares.

As the Facebook IPO hype grew, I couldn't avoid paying attention. And the more I listened, the more the IPO pricing seemed like a bad idea. 100 billion dollars? Why? Where had the number come from - or was it just a record making ego challenge for a young guy who felt he had already conquered the world? The earnings didn't seem to justify the IPO goals.
My "meh" spider senses had a few sources:
  • Zuckerberg's unwillingness to relinquish control of Facebook to shareholders didn't bode well.  The founder of a brand boasting openness and connection distrusts his own capabilities to lead shareholders.  What is he hiding?
  •  A PR fiasco just weeks before the IPO was met with silence and inaction. Females make up over half of Facebook's users and contribute a majority of content. A persistent and public outcry, about a lack of female representation in the organization's senior echelons,  came from the fans of Facebook's outspoken COO, Sheryl Sandberg.  The Facebook Board does not have a single female member or officer. I could understand if the IPO was keeping Facebook busy, but how could they alienate and ignore a group so critical to their own success, especially with an IPO in the works?
  • Rewind to the "kid" that back peddled on his disregard for personal privacy statements and I have no avenues for warm and fuzzy with this guy. 

Smart (in a lot of things), driven, courageous, young, accomplished - hey kudos! Integrity and leadership – are they there?  Do they just need some time?  

To be fair business always has a few hard lessons for us all which grow into invaluable experience and wisdom.

Venture Beat has done a great job of summing up what happened leading into the Facebook IPO. 

I didn't bother going to see the Facebook movie - but I doubt it held this level of intrigue. Wow!

Thursday 24 May 2012

Startup Networking Mastery

I used to dread being amongst a group of strangers. To say I was shy would have been an understatement. I didn’t like the results of being the invisible church mouse so I set out to change that.  Today, after developing into a media mogul, I can comfortably walk into a room of a hundred strangers and leave with dozens of business cards, a few coffee meetings and a couple of new friends.

Here are some basic and killer tips: 

I would have never met Sir Richard Branson without ace networking skills

Speak authentically
Networking is really about engagement on a one to one level; the first step in building a relationship.  Business and collaboration are just about people cooperating with others. We all prefer to work with people we like and trust.  To gain trust and build rapport we need to speak authentically and naturally and not worry about trying to impress.

Relax and Be Yourself
Networking advice is often packaged in forgettable lists best left at home. One lesson the citizen journalism era has taught us; authenticity is a winning communication style for engagement. My very best advice is probably the same as your parents’ used to tell you; just be yourself.  You may be pleasantly surprised to learn how many people are interested in you.

Show Interest in Others
The takeaway from my early shaking shyness research; build rapport by showing interest. People love to talk about themselves and if you indulge them, they just may love you too. Demonstrating interest through questions can be a wonderful opportunity to learn about business strategies, opportunities and challenges. Armed with helpful ideas of how to collaborate, you shouldn’t have difficulty finding something meaningful to talk about.

Keeping Topics Straight
I find it helpful to make notes on the backs of business cards as reminders of who’s who and the discussion. This allows follow up conversations to be as intelligent as the initial dialogue.

Set a Strategy
I generally set out objectives for every business encounter, from staff standups to partner phone calls to client meetings. We never have enough time with people who are important to us, so best to maximize the outcomes.

Strategies for networking environments can vary.  For example it will obviously be difficult to have an impact on everyone at a 300 person reception.

If your networking goal is to create awareness about a mass audience brand, then meeting everybody in the room briefly could make some sense.  If you have a more specific business, for example niche services customized for medical professionals, then it’s great to meet people, to be friendly and present yourself well, but you really want to value your time and focus on memorable, quality encounters with brand influencers, users or prospective clients.

It makes sense to spend most of your time with people who express an interest in you and your business, and who can directly or indirectly be helpful.

Sometimes the Strategy Doesn’t Work Out
Don’t be hard on yourself. If you miss your mark during a networking function remember life is full of learning opportunities and try again next time.

Deciding to Stay or Go
Limit your time with people who show no level of interest in you, as a person, or in your business. You are better off to politely move on to more interested pastures.

Once you have successfully nudged your way into a circle, and have the attention of an interested party, how are you going to keep it? Attention spans tend to be short at networking functions; your audience may disperse quickly. Ensure you have everyone’s business cards and be ready to continue the conversation at another time. Being direct at a networking function is OK.  Ask about a follow on meet up.

When more dialogue is encouraged - go for it. Strike while you’re hot.

Networking Etiquette
If you are in a purely social environment, you have to ask yourself if the situation warrants going into business speak. If you come across as a sales chick at a mixed black tie you risk turning people off. You never have a second chance to make a first impression, so it’s a judgment call whether asking for business contacts would be most appropriate.

Unless it’s one of those elevator pitch timed scenarios, being too pushy may backfire. Cultural etiquette must be considered as well. When speaking with people where relationships must be established before business can progress, conduct yourself accordingly.

I was invited as a keynote speaker at the Dubai Business Women’s Association a few years ago. This was the most highly networked group of people I have ever met. Business cards
were swapped at record speed and the elevator pitch was the flavor of the day.  No apologies!

I wish more functions were like that.

I always find Arabic calligraphy beautifully inspiring

Thursday 17 May 2012

Our Love-hate Affair & Why GM Broke Up with Facebook