23 Dec

A Different Definition of Success

I started my entrepreneurship journey 6 months ago with a 6-1 winning streak. Meaning, of the 7 potential clients that reached proposal stage, 6 of them went ahead to secure my services. Only 1 declined. I felt like a genius!

Then October happened. And November. Over those two months, another streak happened: 0-9. All 9 proposals turned into a “NO” or a “NO REPLY” from the targets. I felt crushed. It’s never fun to be rejected no matter how many times you’ve already experienced it.

December started much better, as I am currently enjoying a 3-0 streak. But more important than the streak, I feel I’ve grown.

I’m not anymore too attached to winning and losing. Winning is great but it does not define me. Losing hurts but it also does not define me.

What will define me is how I played the game of Life . Did I play it the right way or not?

When you are winning, don’t be arrogant – because it’s just a temporary phase. When you are losing, don’t look down on yourself – because it’s also just a temporary phase.

Life isn’t about winning and losing – it’s about playing the game the right way – regardless of the result.

Keep doing what’s right. Be strong against the pressures to take shortcuts. If you can do that – regardless if you are winning or losing – then you have lived what I define, a successful life.

09 Nov

Basic Rules of People Management

Here are some basic rules for People Managers.  These are not hard, but they do need commitment.

  1. Praise publicly, correct privately.
  2. Have a regularly scheduled 1-1 time with your direct reports.
  3. Provide direction, tools, connections, training opportunities, coaching, and motivation.
  4. Do not do your employee’s work.
  5. If you delegate or instruct, follow-up on results. Do not abdicate your accountability.
  6. Set expectations in writing. Assess performance based only expectations set.  Expectations should include work to be delivered, team norms to be followed, as well as character/core values expected.
  7. Ensure your employee takes regular vacations.
  8. If you make a mistake, apologize.
  9. Never blame a person in your team for something your team was not able to deliver – the buck stops with you.
  10. Have concern for your employee’s well-being.
26 Oct

For New Hires

When you are new, find something small to do and do it perfectly. This is called a quick win.

After you deliver quick wins, volunteer for a small to mid-sized project and manage it well. The key word is volunteer.

At the same time, find a problem to solve. Solve it fast and solve it well.

Once you’ve built credibility as a problem solver, create a roadmap or a plan to create massive value for your team. Your plan will be a list of projects to deliver in the next 2-3 years. Only create a roadmap when you have the right credibility. Otherwise, your roadmap will not be able to gather the right support.

Find a skill that’s needed by your team but is not there – master it and apply it.

During the onboarding process, when you make a mistake, apologize and learn – nobody ever benefited by being a know-it-all. And everyone can see a pretender from a mile away.

Finally, seek your tribe, mentors and coaches. There is no such thing as a self-made person.

17 Aug

Sales for Non-Sales People

Disclaimer # 1: This might be the longest post I will ever make. So if you already hated my earlier long posts, don’t even bother reading this. This is more than 1200 words long.

Still here? OK then, you’ve been warned.

My biggest apprehension when I jumped out of corporate world can be summed up in one word – SALES.

I never held a sales role before. I hate selling. I knew I was bad at it.

But I also knew I had no choice. If I REALLY wanted to give life outside the corporate world a shot, I had to learn how to sell. So, “Time to suck it up, Ivan”. It was once again time to learn something outside my comfort zone.

Disclaimer # 2: I feel very uncomfortable posting about sales because I am a newbie. I have just been doing this for 4 months – but given that I was able to close multiple consulting agreements already (YEY!), surprisingly faster than I expected,  I feel like I am doing a few things right.

Here are four concepts that I hope can also help those of you who are non-sales people like me.

1. Unique Selling Proposition (USP)

If you want to sell anything, you need to know what makes you (or your thing) unique enough that you should be chosen over other options. Don’t even bother selling if you can’t figure this out. You need to be able to simplify your USP to 1-3 sentences. Anything longer will confuse your prospects.

Here’s mine for the consulting part of my business:

“Instead of hiring four consultants (1 for HR, 1 for IT, 1 for Data Analytics, and 1 for Process Re-engineering) who probably won’t get along with each other, just hire me to professionalize your company. I do all four without any headache for you to manage multiple consultants. And btw, I will not charge you for four people.”

Sometimes I use this instead:

“I offer consultancy mentoring which is not the same as standard consulting where you only receive advice from me.  My approach is to build relationships with your people so that I can mentor and coach them to be star players in your company.  My work is done only when our projects have been implemented and your people have reached their potential.”

I try to ensure my messaging (USP) is clear before connecting with clients.

So before you start selling, write down your USP. Why you? Why your product? Why your service? Do not skip this step.

2. Business Development Process

I thought the selling process was:
Ivan meets client -> Ivan bugs client -> Client gets worn down until he buys.

I felt so stressed thinking this was how I was supposed to do it.

Enter Business Development Process. Apparently, you can break down the “selling goal” into mini goals and just focus on delivering each mini goal. This sequence of mini goals is called the Business Development process. Here’s my selling process now after I meet a client:

Mini Goal 1: Talk to client to get to know them and understand their problems/concerns. Never sell anything. The only goal is to get the client’s email. Not so hard right?

Mini Goal 2: Give something of value to client via email (an article or an idea or a best practice that is of actual value to them). Again, never sell anything – but ask if you can drop by their office for a visit. The only goal here is to get invited to the client’s office. Easy!

Mini Goal 3: Once in client’s office, REALLY listen – understand what they need and what their problems are. Listen more and talk less. For the problems that you can’t solve yourself, link your clients to people or solutions that can help them (again you are giving them value). For the problems that you can solve, explain your Unique Selling proposition. If you already have a USP, then this will not be hard. Do not try to get your client to buy from you at this time. The only goal here is to get your client to ask for a proposal/quote from you.

Mini Goal 4: Send proposal to client within 2-3 days. Frame the proposal based on your client’s problem. This should be easy since you REALLY listened to them in step 3. Your only goal at this time is to create a really professional and well thought-out proposal so that your clients will, at minimum, ask questions about your proposal or negotiate the price / scope of work. Reply immediately. If your clients don’t even have the decency to reply to you even after you gave them a really good proposal, don’t fret – you just dodged a client from hell.

Mini Goal 5: Give clients time to decide. Be patient. Do not try to pressure your client by giving them artificial deadlines. Nobody enjoys being pressured. Your client is human too. In their own time, they will close the deal. It’s a matter of timing. If you have been disciplined enough to reach this point and your prospect still hasn’t hired you, it’s their loss for not appreciating you. Don’t take it personally. But really, by this time, you have given your prospect client so much value already – they would be crazy not to hire someone as proactive as you.

By breaking down the sales journey into this series of mini goals, selling becomes very doable. And most important of all, not at all icky. You actually are helping and giving value.

3. Target Clients

Do not sell to everyone.  Avoid clients that are not aligned with your values.  Be clear on who you want to target.  Understand deeply their pains and wishes.

4. Mindset Matters

There are lots of people in sales whose only objective is to make money. If that is your only goal, you will eventually hate selling, or worse, hate yourself. I realized that this is the reason why I hated selling. I somehow equated selling to bluffing people. I equated selling to tricking people into buying something they don’t really want.

So I had to change my mindset. Instead of having the objective to sell products, I focused instead on discovering the client’s problems and proposing solutions for them. Instead of selling services, I thought of ways so that my client’s fears, concerns, and goals can be addressed.

Net, I stopped trying to be a salesman, and started becoming a problem solver. And it turns out, clients are willing to buy from or pay for problem solvers.


I know these are probably very basic stuff for those seasoned in selling. But I’m just starting. If you have more selling tips, please share them here. I would really appreciate it (and I think a lot of other people will appreciate it too).

In the meantime, I’m happy I’ve somehow learned how to sell. This was a skill I never had before.

Before, I only knew how to do awesome work when given the opportunity. Now, I’ve learned to sell to get those opportunities. And that, has made a world of difference.

16 Apr

The Dream

My dream is to grow a company with this objective in mind: To help unleash the full potential of people.

Unleashing the full potential will be true for the employees that will work in the company, the suppliers that will partner with us, the customers we will serve, the investors we will dream with, and the communities that we will touch.

The employees will have a role that will excite them to get up each morning. They will be challenged to their maximum potential – and they will embrace the challenge to continue learning. They will have sufficient personal time with the people they love and the activities they are passionate about. The goal is to help employees reach not just their full career potential – but more importantly, life potential.

The suppliers will be treated as partners – not as lemons to be squeezed until the last drop. They will be set to very, very, very high standards – and not everyone will want to and can work with us – but those that do, as we grow, will grow with us.

The investors who will dare dream with us for the long term will be blessed with returns that will last for a sustainably long time. And this sustainability will be possible because of our customers.

The customers we choose to serve will be given a product and service that will free them up from concerns and issues. They will receive from us an offering that will allow them to reach their full potential in whatever endeavor they are in. In return they will reward us with loyalty and trust that will allow us to co-exist for a long time.

The communities that we will touch through our CSR programs will be given opportunities to learn, get educated, and build livelihood. This way, their potential to a better life will also be maximized.

The company will run on the following values:

  • Being Honest no matter how uncomfortable
  • Being Gritty despite setbacks
  • Being Courageous to claim big dreams
  • Being Humble to keep on learning
  • Being Unfair (link)

I have absolutely no idea how to pull this off. I have no funding. I have no equipment and real estate to build this from. I have no employees. I have no clients. Nothing…but this dream, and a few people who believe in this dream too. And maybe that’s enough.

There is a 99% chance that this will not work – as most business don’t. It’s fairly possible that in just a few months’ time I will have to stop – but until then, will you dream with me?

23 Mar

What is Work?

Work should be an act that serves a purpose larger than ourselves, something that we enjoy doing and is in line with our values, something we do with people that we like working with – so that we can provide for the family that we love.

It is a way to give back to this world that has blessed us with opportunities, skills, and relationships.  Work provides dignity. It is a chance to serve others and an opportunity to be a part of a community.  Work is a BLESSING.

But only when used well.

Work can also be a BURDEN when what we do does not add value to others.  Or when we do it with people we don’t want to be with. Or when we do it too much that it pushes us farther away from the people we love or the health we need.

How is your work? Do you still see it as a blessing?  Has it become a burden?

If the latter, this is your wake up call.

16 Feb

The Nasty Email

Let’s talk about that nasty work email that often destroys our day.

Here’s an all too familiar scene:
You are browsing thru your work email when you read a co-worker’s email to you. The email contained a complaint about you (or your work or your team). The email copied people that never needed to be copied. It even had your boss there. It also felt like the email was written with some malice. The email wasn’t meant to help you. It was meant to put you down.

Ever experienced that email? I bet you have. And if you are like me, you are probably irritated already right now just remembering that email or the person who sent you that email.

At this point, you have two choices, don’t respond to the email (and look like you’ve chickened out of a fight) or fight back with an even nastier email (and look like a war-monger). You lose either way. That’s why it’s a nasty email – it’s meant to make you lose.

Pause. Take a deep breath. Take three deep breaths before reading further. I assure you that there is a great solution how to handle this. But I need you to relax first so you are primed to learn.

Take three more deep breaths. Ready?

The confident and collaborative answer

Respond with this short email:

“Hi [person], I will call you to clarify this at around [time today]. Thank you.”

Or if your colleague happens to be physically located near you, say the even stronger response of:

“Hi [person], I will walk over to discuss this with you at around [time today]. Thank you.”

Why is this powerful? Because it shows you are not afraid of confrontation while showing you are willing to collaborate. Also, by specifying a time, you give yourself sufficient time to understand what’s really happening and more importantly, give yourself time to calm down before talking to the person.

Simple but powerful.

One more thing

The process does not end there. After you talk to the person 1-1, you close the loop by replying once again to the email and summarizing your discussion so that everyone who was initially copied will also be aware of the agreements.
If you do this as a habit, people who write you nasty emails will either become your friend or stop writing you nasty emails. Because nobody wants to mess with a person who is confident and collaborative.

20 Jun

Personal Sacrifice

When a ship sails smoothly, everyone believes that she is the captain or that he is worthy to be a captain. But when the ship starts to sink or gets lost, the real captains surface.

When a ship is sinking, majority of the people will panic, a lot will get demoralized, a lot will huddle together and talk about impending doom. But there will be a few who will ask,
“What can I do to save this ship?”
They will not ask “Who will save me?” or “What are THEY doing to save the ship?”. They will take personal responsibility, and often personal sacrifice, to help right what ails the ship – in whatever way they can. These are the leaders.

The NBA finals just ended, and Andre Igodoula, became the first 6th man (i.e. someone coming off the bench) to win Finals MVP after leading his team to a championship. I still remember 4 years back when as the main man for the 8th seeded 76ers, he sank two free throws to defeat the 1st seed Bulls. This season though, he was asked to move to the bench – and it would have been easy to refuse because of his all-star background. But his coach explained how his sacrifice will make their team better. And when he agreed to make the sacrifice, he created a defining moment for their team.

If a proud veteran and team co-captain would be willing to sacrifice for the good of the team, then everybody else had no reason not to do everything that will make the team better. The sacrifice of one, when done for the good of others, moves a team from bad to good, or from good to great.It sets a tone that lifts team morale and creates a foundation that people can hold on to when things become shaky.

David became king when he sacrificed himself to take on Goliath. Martin Luther King sacrificed himself to create equality. Nelson Mandela sacrificed 27 years of his life in prison to create a free country. There is no big change without sacrifice. And there can be no sacrifice if there is no one willing to take personal leadership.

If you happen to be in an organization now that seems to be sinking, or at least, has lost its soul – then you are at a crossroad. You can either continue to be a spectator, or you can make the choice to be a leader. You can make the choice to be the one that lifts others up.

Make no mistake, you will need to make sacrifices. But the end will be worth it – and as people start understanding what you are trying to do, and see the sincerity by which you want to help, they will follow you, and when that happens, even the journey towards the end will become worth it. Go on…this is your moment…lead.