1 — Founding story: why this venture, why that particular time, what motivated to make the leap? What were the entrepreneur’s greatest fears and desires?
Need for excitement, challenge, freedom — all these were reasons. I had planned to start something on my own in 1984 when I first attended a self-development workshop which gave me a taste for training and I realized that I have a natural talent for teaching and loved doing it. But it took almost 10 years of planning and preparation before I actually launched my company. The final trigger was when I reached a plateau in my career, the downside of fast growth, and had to make a choice between changing my job or changing my career. I chose the latter and never regretted it. Strangely my greatest fear should have been starving to death but I never did experience it. My logic was that I planned to succeed, so I was not going to think about what to do if I failed. That has always been my logic and it works. Not having contingency plans seems like gambling, but in my experience, contingency plans take the edge off entrepreneurship. Your fears then drive you and you start seeking safety more and more and that is suicidal for the entrepreneurial activity. It is better not to think of the possibility of failure at all. Plan well. Work like hell. Be highly adaptable. Keep eyes and ears open. Listen to feedback and take risks. The greatest complement I ever received in my eyes was when Pradeep Singh, Promoter and MD of Aditi/Talisma said to me, ‘You are a master at brinkmanship.’ I think it is the ability to walk on the edge and not fall off, which is critical to success.
My greatest desire then and now (26 years later — counting from 1984) is to help people. I know what I can do. I see the results and it gives me a big thrill when someone comes up to me at an airport or somewhere in some country and says, ‘Mr. Baig, you changed my life. I remember listening to you in such-and-such course in such-and-such country and I did what you recommended and it worked.’ This has happened to me many times and nothing can beat the thrill of that. I enjoy my work. I am passionate about developing leadership. I enjoy seeing people empowered. I get the greatest satisfaction from knowing that I had something to do with that. I believe that it is absolutely essential to love your work. To be passionate about it. Even if all you do is to make widgets, you must be the most passionate widget maker in the world who lives, walks, talks and dreams about widgets. That is the secret.
2 — What were the most surprising things and most important lessons learned about founding and running a company? What were the greatest difficulties?
Building credibility was the biggest challenge. I was from a hard-core operations background, attempting to enter the area of professors, HR experts and the like. My logic was simple — I do the stuff they talk about. And guess what? I know how it feels to actually make it work, I know the difficulties that you Mr. Practitioner will face and I know how to fix it if it breaks. I didn’t just design strategies to deal with unions; I faced unions on the shop floor. I didn’t just design appraisal systems, I appraised and was appraised. I didn’t talk about team building principles; I built highly diverse teams which created benchmarks in productivity, motivation and working across boundaries. I didn’t teach risk management, I put my money where my dreams were and then stayed up in the night living with the empty feeling in the pit of my belly, waiting to see if my risk was going to pan out or not. And today I am still here and doing well. Risk to me is not a theoretical matter that I talk to others about while taking my own salary home. Risk is something that I live with, enjoy taking, have lost money on and have highly successful rules to deal with which I have invented, tested and practiced with great results. That approach worked and still works because I am from their world — the world of the practitioner who has to take the knowledge from the book and the lecture and actually use it in the field.
My big learning was not to do what is not my expert area. So, I have an operation where everything that does not need my personal intervention is outsourced. Takes a huge load off my back and balance sheet. I don’t have to supervise staff, don’t have overheads and simply pay bills, once a year and everything is in order. Another big learning was about the importance of having an abundance mentality and freely sharing resources, learning from and helping people; even people who others would see as competition. It is a matter of great satisfaction for me that several of my competitors have recommended me to their clients.
Can’t say that I had to face any great difficulties even though in the initial year there were months where until the last couple of days we didn’t know if we would have money to pay the rent for our home. But then I tended (and still do) to seek challenges. A difficulty doesn’t look the same if you went looking for it and found it. Then it is exciting, keeps you awake in the night inventing ways to solve it and gives you a big thrill when you do solve it; which makes you ready for the next one.
3 — What were the key reasons why the venture succeeded or failed?
Four key reasons why this venture succeeded:
1. Human relations: I believe in building relationships and always ensure that I follow the advice that my first boss Nick Adams gave me — Be good to people when you don’t need them. So, I have clients today who are more friends than clients and are my best ambassadors. In 20 years I have not had to make a single cold call. All my new clients are client referrals. That is worth money in the bank, believe me. I am consciously good to everyone I meet from the driver of the car which picks me up from the airport, to the man who deals with the audio-visual stuff in one of my programs, to the go-for young people, to the VPs who come to inaugurate my session. I have always maintained that anyone in the room is my client and their designations have nothing to do with how I treat them. They are all equally important to me.
2. Quality: I have always held myself to the principle that we will always deliver quality whether they want it or not. Because quality is our signature. Not theirs. So, we will always deliver quality and always deliver more than they expect. And we will remember that quality is reflected in the shine on your shoes, the crease of your clothes, the way you open the door for someone, whether you stand up to greet someone who enters the room, whether you ask if the driver or helper has eaten and if he hasn’t whether you invite him to eat at your table. All these are quality indicators with great impact. Far more than you would imagine and interestingly you won’t find them in any book or on any B-school menu of ‘Secrets of Success.’
3. Enjoy: I believe I succeeded because I enjoy my work. I know I have said this before but it is the key to success. You can never do well, something that you don’t enjoy. So, do only what you enjoy. And you will naturally do it better than anyone else. And what’s more you don’t get tired, stressed or bored. You love every minute of it, it energizes you and everyone else around you. And when it comes to doing more than what clients expect, it is easy to do because it only means to do more of what you enjoy.
4. Investing in myself: Every year I spend considerable sums of money and time, training myself. I do my own performance appraisal focused on my learning and contribution — not on my earning. In 2013, I had my 360-degree Appraisal done by Potentia, a company that specializes in this. I am most thankful for the result. I write at least one book per year. I write an article a week and in the last week alone, I had 11, 500 visitors to my website which has free articles and lectures for anyone who is interested. Enthusiasm is not a substitute for competence. Knowledge changes from time to time and unless you are focused on learning, redundancy is your biggest threat.
Investment in yourself is the cutting edge. It is what takes you to the top and keeps you there. The biggest secret of expertise is to continuously improve yourself and to do your work 24×7. I believe seriously that entertainment is for the mentally weak who are involved in daily activity which they don’t enjoy and so it creates stress. They need to get away from their ‘lives’ to live a fantasy for a few hours or a few days before they inevitably have to return to the drag. For people who live a life of purpose and passion, their work is the best entertainment. I thoroughly enjoy teaching and training and I would rather not be playing golf or fishing.
4 — What were the most important personal lessons that an entrepreneur needs to learn?
1. Learn to live with erratic cash flows. That is the downside of not having a salary. Good financial planning is the key; combined with financial discipline.
2. Learn to live with disappointment. You are not the most important thing in your client’s life so they will cancel assignments without notice. Smile and bear it because to cry and bear it is worse.
3. Learn to use spare time effectively — which means, make discipline a way of life.
4. Learn to enjoy uncertainty — you will have a lot of it.
5. Money has no meaning. Money is not the reason to work. Money is a natural consequence of excellent service. Honor, compassion, contribution, concern for quality and an abundance mentality are all more important than money. And guess what? If you do all this, money will come on its own. Only, you don’t do it because of the money.
5 — What would be your advice to someone starting their own business?
1. The world is round — what goes around, comes around.
2. Friends may come and go, but enemies stay with you — so be careful not to make enemies.
3. Build bridges because you will need them when you least expect.
4. Take advantage of opportunities — and remember they don’t come with a label round their necks.
5. Take risk — to wake up every morning is a risk. Without risk there is no growth and that is an absolute law.
6. Don’t look to see what you can do. Do what you can do best. Do what you are most passionate about. Because you will be doing it for a long time and there is nothing intelligent about doing something that you don’t enjoy even if you make money in the process.
7. If something is not working for you, examine your own values, ethics, morals and beliefs. All of what I said above is less about acting and more about being. Acting can’t be sustained. You don’t ask about someone’s welfare or share with someone or do more for a client because you have your eye on some future profit. You do it because that is who you are. Your values drive you and so look at your values and if necessary change them.
8. And last but by no means the least — be grateful. And show it. It is true that we owe our success to our efforts, but it is good to remember that many of those were made standing on someone else’s shoulders. If people had not helped us at critical moments, we would not have achieved what we did. Remember them and what they did because even if you forget they won’t.
I remember all those who helped me no matter how long ago that was. I ensure that I keep in touch with them and let them know that I have not forgotten them. I never will.