Monday 27 May 2013

To get in the game - just start

Get your #startup journey going

I frequently bump into people who tell me they want to start a business but they don’t know where to start. I can certainly relate. I decided to become an entrepreneur in 1989. I found myself quite lost and delayed getting into the game until 1998. I had moved to the Qatar with my family and found no viable employment opportunities. When I did finally cross the starting line, and delve into becoming an entrepreneur, there was no entrepreneurial eco-system, and no how-to guide in starting a business in the developing Middle East. 

I have a few expressions that have served with me over the years that could qualify as personal brand statements. My mantra is: “It’s not where you’re at, it’s where you are going”.

I have rarely chosen a direct path in my career, whether in projects or more major aspects.  I prefer to architect solutions that often require a lot of creating … of building foundations, networks, strategies and ideas.

During the early bootstrapped startup phase, I call this creating process, “knitting out of the air”.  Starting with a clean slate, limited tools, no resources and sometimes no market.  You invest in building equity and capital by knitting ideas and connecting people together.

This knitting project becomes your strategy safety net once you’re flying.

In that light, I guess you could say I have had moments where I may have appeared, to the outside world, and myself for that matter, to be “stalled” professionally. 

Creating with “It’s not where you’re at, it’s where you are going” in mind, and keeping my eye on the “end state” ball have always served me well.

My first business was a small real estate office serving Qatar’s inbound expatriate community. When the bottom fell out of the oil market, and expats were being sent home in droves, I took up a real estate consultancy gig to attract clients to one of Qatar’s first apartment towers.  The market had become fiercely competitive and savvy marketing saved the day.

Then I started a boot-strapped creative agency that slowly grew into one of the best event and publishing agencies in the country.

I had limited to nil direct experience to start any of these businesses. I worked with local co-founders who made great mentors into an unknown culture, but the business part of it I just had to figure out as I went along.

If you don’t know the right place to start, just jump in with the end state in mind. Jump into an existing network, ramp up your networking game, talk to people in the space you want to be part of. Ask lots of questions.  Inspiration, opportunities and ideas spin out of dialogue.

Today resources exist in virtually every community to help entrepreneurs get started. Mentors, social media Questions and Answers (Quara), startup clubs abound and can help to jump your start. 

To get your startup journey going, take a step today.

Sunday 26 May 2013

DIY therapy for the “I can do it better tomorrow” approach and how to Blast the Procrast

I have recently pulled myself out of a huge procrastination rut. Well I will tomorrow, at least. 

For weeks I navel gazed and contemplated and had big discussions with myself to try and get myself going. I am not sure if procrastination is like an addiction, but I decided that the only way I could move through it was to first “identify the problem”.  

There inlay the next endless phase of procrastination. I couldn’t get to the next step because I couldn’t identify what was causing me to procrastinate. I was now taking my procrastination to an entirely epic level as I equated my failure to identify the problem with delaying  - or procrastinating my break though solution.  All progress halted and movement forward hinged on me cracking the procrastination- cause relation.

So I spoke more energetically to myself. I planned to wake up the next morning and write to do lists. That didn’t work either.  I was spinning in circles and picking up more residual guilt with each revolution of the wheel.  The guilt was feeding a growing sense of self-doubt – I wasn’t being true to my own ethos.  If I continued procrastinating, I would become one of those unreliable people.

I dreaded talking to my co-founder. I was going to have to confess that I had nothing for him, and I would be letting him down. After my kids, he is the last person I wanted to disappoint.  So I stacked more negative thinking onto the guilt - I started having thoughts like – OMG I’m going to get fired from my own startup before we even started. Could there be a bigger failure than that?  

Yes, this was spiraling out of control. I just couldn’t crack it on my own. Quite frankly, I had no time to be in a procrastination funk. I am involved in multiple startups. Every week my procrastination pulled me further behind and my to do pile didn’t stop and wait for me to get my procrastinating act together.

I chose to do an intervention, to come clean.

So on my next co-founder call, I hung my head and I started with… “ Hello, my name is Suzanne, and I’m a procrastinator”.

And there was the break through solution. By confessing, I was obligated to explain my actions in some comprehensible way and through sharing that with somebody else, instead of giving myself lectures and guilt trips, I accepted the responsibility to figure it out. 

The wall of tasks I had set out for myself had become so big that if I worked 72 hours straight, I couldn’t make a dent.  If I started today, or tomorrow, the next day the impact would appear the same – limited to nil.

My co-founder Hussam helped me to put things into perspective. He reminded me that we were in it together and of how we had planned to work through our projects. He took the load off and asked me to focus just on one task.

I got to work, made some real progress within a couple of hours and took a break to open a tall stack of bills I had also put off paying and actually finished something.

So if you are sinking into procrastination, get help, accept that you are a procrastinator and talk to somebody.  Then make a to do list with only 2 items. 1 – one simple task you can accomplish in the short term and 2 – to write another short to do list when you finish #1.

My Blast the Procrast has been so successful that I may need another intervention…

Hello, my name is Suzanne and I’m a workaholic…

Friday 10 May 2013

The Argument for Diversity on Startup Leadership Teams and in the Boardroom

Suzanne Grant, Championing Entrepreneurship in Arabia #women #youth #design

I recently had the privilege to be a keynote speaker at How Women Work Qatar (HWW Qatar).  The Conference is the Brainchild of Carolin Zeitler and developed with the support of the Qatar Professional Women's Network. The event aims to break down gender stereotypes and cultural biases. 

I was subtly waving the flag for entrepreneurship, and more loudly imparting the merits of women sitting at boardroom tables, amongst leadership teams and within communities. I am discovering that entrepreneurship and women are more closely intertwined than I originally considered, or they should be. 

It's not news that the strength of all groups and teams is greater than the sum of their parts, but it's less commonly known just how powerful creating diversity at leadership and advisory levels can be. Why this is true remains a mystery to many.  

So I did some homework after a help shout out on Twitter. The Credit Suisse Report on Gender Diversity explains why diverse teams function better: 
  • diverse groups bring broader perspective, 
  • diverse groups pay greater attention to detail, consider more data points and derive better solutions
  • a majority group improves its own performance when a minority joins the group
  • collective group intelligence improves when the style of interaction is more socially sensitive. Women are more socially sensitive and the communication dynamic of an all male group will change when women's voices are heard
  • more gender diverse boards tend to focus on customer satisfaction, clear communication, consider diversity and corporate social responsibility
  • male and female leadership styles and skills bring leadership balance to the group
  1. According to a NASA study, women's leadership styles can be characterised by task orientation, mentoring and the needs of others. All male teams are characterised by competitiveness,  and little sharing of personal concerns. 
  2. According to McKinsey studies, there are nine key criteria that define any good leader. Women apply five of these nine leadership behaviours more frequently than men. Women are good at defining responsibilities clearly and are strong at coaching and mentoring employees. Men are better at taking individual decisions and corrective actions should things go awry. 
The magic of diverse thinking, perspective and interactions can combine to fuel powerful results. When building boards of directors, advisory and leadership teams, when seeking mentors, the diversity card is far from wild and more a natural outcome of human behaviour. 

All diversity, including gender diversity, helps to build better teams, better businesses and when we listen to all voices within our communities, a better world.