Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9 pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with Faisal Hoque, @Faisal_Hoque, a serial entrepreneur and author, and a devoted student of life, entrepreneurship, spirituality, and humanity. He left his birth-land Bangladesh at the age of 17 and now calls America his home. Founder of MiND2MiND Exchange, B2B ForeSight and others. His upcoming book is “Everything Connects – How to Transform and Lead in the Age of Creativity, Innovation and Sustainability” (McGraw Hill, Spring 2014). Formerly of GE, and other global brands, he is a contributor to Fast Company, Huffington Post, and other publications. In May 2008, the editors of Ziff-Davis Enterprise named him as one of the Top 100 Most Influential People in Technology alongside leading entrepreneurs such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Larry Page, and others. More info at: www.faisalhoque.com
SmallBizLady: What is “entrepreneurship” in the 21st century?
Faisal Hoque: The word entrepreneur first appeared in the French dictionary in 1723 to describe a person who organizes and operates a business by taking a financial risk. Since then the word entrepreneur – and the world – has completely changed. The road to success is often long and lonely — brutal hours; massive amounts of stress and a huge amount of personal sacrifice. So, why would you want to become an entrepreneur?
To Survive: In my teens and early twenties, I became an entrepreneur (although I didn’t know the word or the meaning of it) to simply survive. Around the globe, many people become entrepreneurs in order to survive.
To Pursue a Dream: In my mid-twenties, I caught the ‘Silicon Valley’ bug, and I pursued my dream to become a tech entrepreneur. Many entrepreneurs (in all industries) pursue entrepreneurship to fulfill their personal dreams.
To Make a Difference: In my mid-thirties, the idea of entrepreneurship completely changed for me. I wanted to make a difference, to do something that has a positive and long-lasting impact. Making a difference as an entrepreneur can be very rewarding — as all great entrepreneurs will ubiquitously agree. However, making a real difference perhaps is also the hardest to thing to do and most challenging. It requires a different kind of mindset. It is not about just making money, or becoming famous, or inventing new things.
SmallBizLady: What are the traits for entrepreneurial success?
Faisal Hoque: Most ventures fail. Most entrepreneurs make a lot less money at a startup than if they worked for someone else. The road to success is often long and lonely with brutal hours, massive amounts of stress, and a huge amount of personal sacrifice. Therefore, to be an entrepreneur you have to have the courage to jump into the deep end.
But it takes more than just courage to be a success in entrepreneurial ventures. Through my own journey as an entrepreneur (and from my successes and failures), I’ve learned that at a fundamental level, most entrepreneurs need to repeatedly overcome adversity and pursue opportunity with very limited resources. Here are five essential principles that may help you succeed with your journey:
- The traveling companion
- Practice visualization
- Connecting with your audience
- Scaling your venture
- Mindful execution
SmallBizLady: What do you mean by “the traveling companion”?
Faisal Hoque: Nobody succeeds in a silo. The majority of our life’s travels include a partner or two or many. If I’ve learned anything from my entrepreneurial journey, it’s that our choice of partners – be it a life-partner, co-founder, management team, investors, or board members – can make or break a venture.
The people we surround ourselves with make the difference between failure and success. It’s not only whom we surround ourselves with that matters, but also how we interact with them. It’s important to be reminded of the people who believe in us and to cultivate those relationships. Spending time with people who make us stronger requires intentional effort, and is a key component in being able to move forward.
Equally important is to avoid people who bring us down, waste our time, take us backward, and have no interest in our suffering. A close friend constantly reminds me to “get rid of toxic people from your daily life.” While we cannot always avoid them, at a minimum we can choose to not allow them to weaken us.
SmallBizLady: How do we practice visualization?
Faisal Hoque: In the psychology community, creative visualization is the practice of behind “positive thinking,” where individuals attempt to change the world by changing the way they think about it. It is practiced extensively in the professional sports community.
As an entrepreneur, author, technologist, and a dreamer, I have taught myself three basic approaches in the hopes of manifesting my own future:
- I imagine myself in the final stage (of my goals, my products, my companies, my personal life, etc.).
- I study patterns (of my surroundings, my markets, my skills, my behaviors, my reactions, etc.).
- I practice rituals (to be disciplined about my devotion, to recover from my defeats, to thrive, to achieve a higher degree of confidence, etc.).
Visualization can be a key method of coping with and moving beyond obstacles and challenges.
SmallBizLady: How do we connect, shape, influence, and lead with our products and brands?
Faisal Hoque: Today’s innovative “social economy” requires emotional attachment that links customers to our products, as opposed to any other, and translates into sustainable growth. Here are some basic rules to connect, shape, influence, and lead with your products and brand:
- Choose your target audience – the surest road to product failure is to try to be all things to all people and to be overly complex.
- Connect with the public– Your objective is to make your audience feel an emotional attachment to products and brands.
- Inspire and influence your audience – a simple, inspirational product and brand message is far more influential than one that highlights many product features and functions.
SmallBizLady: How do we create a repeatable sales model to scale a business?
Faisal Hoque: Creating a unique product and a unique brand isn’t enough. It takes repeatable sales processes to create a scalable business. It is one thing to sign up a few customers; it is another thing entirely to identify, design, and implement repeatable sales and customer delivery processes. You know you have created a repeatable and scalable sales model when:
- You can add new hires that have the same productivity level as the entrepreneur or the sales leader.
- You can increase the sources of customer leads on a consistent basis.
- Your sales conversion rate and revenue can be consistently forecasted.
- Your cost to acquire a new customer is significantly less than the amount you can earn from that customer over time.
- Your customers get the right product in the right place at the right time.
A repeatable sales model builds the platform to scale. But like the search for product/market fit, it can take major experimentation to find a repeatable and scalable sales model.
SmallBizLady: What is mindful execution?
Faisal Hoque: In college, at my janitorial graveyard shift, I had a supervisor who used to remind me every night to “be kind to the floor, buff her carefully–and then see how well she shines.” At those particular moments, nothing else mattered–only the shine on the buffed floor. It taught me to lose myself completely in an utterly mundane task. Being in the moment allows us to escape from adversity and conserve our inner energy.
Living in the moment doesn’t mean we don’t care about the future. It means that when we make a choice to do something, we solely focus on doing just that rather than letting our mind wander into the future (or the past). It means single tasking rather than switching between a multitude of tasks and focusing on none of them.
SmallBizLady: It takes patience to be successful in entrepreneurial ventures, how do you practice patience?
Faisal Hoque: Over time, I have found that the practice of patience begins with:
- Acceptance–Not everything goes according to plan. We cannot always control what happens, but we can learn to accept victories and defeats and use them to move forward.
- Compassion–Dalai Lama says, “A truly compassionate attitude toward others does not change even if they behave negatively or hurt you”. It is perhaps one of the hardest things to practice, yet there is no substitute for compassion.
- Gratitude–When life turns us upside down, staying in an attitude of genuine thankfulness helps us realize what we have.
SmallBizLady: Entrepreneurship is about authenticity? How do we live and lead with authenticity?
Faisal Hoque: Authentic living and leadership do not come from title, social stature, or the size of one’s paycheck, but rather from knowing yourself, how you live, and the impact you make around you. Truly authentic people lead their lives with their soul. Along with fearless passion and courage, they possess relentless mental discipline.
Authenticity is about finding satisfaction, contentment and fulfillment in our unique journey. It is living with a purpose and making an impact to the best of our abilities. Along with fearless passion and courage, leading an authentic life takes relentless mental discipline. Being authentic means being you with your purpose every day — and some days, that isn’t easy. And most of us struggle with it every day.
SmallBizLady: How to stay the course in life’s journey?
Faisal Hoque: There is just NO substitute for hard work. Almost all very successful people work harder than most people can ever imagine. As Business Insider reports, “From athletes like Michael Jordan to executives like Howard Schultz, these people are known for waking up early and working toward a goal while other people are still in bed, and staying later than everyone else too.
I call it devotion or ‘Sādhanā’. The Sanskrit word Sādhanā means “life’s pursuit with discipline.” I was born not too far away from where Buddha was born. Sages and monks are still roaming around debating about longing, devotion, and duties. With my affinity towards Eastern philosophies, I believe that when our devotion turns into discipline, it is only then we can begin to lead ourselves.
While we cannot control everything by an act of will, we can certainly be devoted to life’s pursuit. And as a result, our personal devotion turns us into better leaders.
SmallBizLady: What are some of the most paradoxical traits of entrepreneurs, or creative people?
Faisal Hoque: Professor of psychology and management Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s (pronounced me-HIGH chick-sent-me-HIGH-ee) seminal book Creativity: The Work and Lives of 91 Eminent People (HarperCollins, 1996).
“I have devoted 30 years of research to how creative people live and work, to make more understandable the mysterious process by which they come up with new ideas and new things. If I had to express in one word what makes their personalities different from others, its complexity. They show tendencies of thought and action that in most people are segregated. They contain contradictory extremes; instead of being an individual, each of them is a multitude.”
Paradoxical or not, what I have learned most is that there is no formula for individual creation. As Mihaly says, “creative individuals are remarkable for their ability to adapt to almost any situation and to make do with whatever is at hand to reach their goals.” So, more than anything else, what it takes to be creative is resourcefulness and the courage not to give up.
SmallBizLady: You’ve written about “unplugging” can you explain the benefit to small businesses?
Faisal Hoque: We want to unplug in order to recharge. Recharging allows us to:
- Connect with our soul: If we are constantly overwhelmed with sound bites, we aren’t allowed to discover what we are capable of and who we are.
- Create authentic vision: You need the discipline to create the space to find what’s next.
- Lead thyself: To lead teams and cultivate fluid organizations, you need to begin with leading yourself.
Since we need to connect, create and lead regularly, it is our obligation to recharge every day. Most of the time, I don’t wake up at the crack of dawn to tune into news media, write emails, hop on social media or to dive into work-related matters. My dawns are my time to unplug I try to practice “mindfulness meditation”. And that helps set the promise of a new day: focus, creativity and positivity.
Since most of us can’t fly off to an exotic island, visit a spa, we all need to find our own ways to unplug daily to connect and to lead. Mindfulness meditation is one such way.
For more tips on how start or grow your small business subscribe to Melinda Emerson’s blog http://www.succeedasyourownboss.com.