Q&A with Rahul Varshneya

imageedit_2_6007827613Q. What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?

A. My favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur is the fact that you truly define your success. You will grow as much as you really want to and that there’s no one else that controls your fate.

Q. What do you feel is the major difference between entrepreneurs and those who work for someone else?

A. Like I mentioned earlier, the biggest difference in my opinion is that Entrepreneurs get to define their own path to success. They go as far as they can imagine. Now one can argue the same for those who work for others, but those people most often don’t control the fate of the company directly. Being an entrepreneur is all about taking decisions that decide their fate as well as that of the company’s.

Q. What ignited the spark in you to start a new business venture or to make significant changes in an existing business?

A. The spark was fueled by a problem that I personally faced, or I saw someone that I was connected to, face. All the companies that I previously started were based off that and the same goes for the current business as well. The services arm (Arkenea) was launched to help entrepreneurs and businesses to deliver a fantastic user experience to their customers through technology and the product (Foster) helps these startups and small businesses to keep their audience engaged by sharing engaging content. The problem that Arkenea was started to solve was faced by my co-founder and I when working in our previous organization. And for Foster, the problem emerged when we were looking for a solution that could help Arkenea keep its audience engaged to project ourselves as experts in the industry, as well as help keep the brand alive in the audiences’ minds.

Q. How do you find people to bring into your organization that truly care about the organization the way you do?

A. This is the biggest challenge for most companies. There isn’t an easy solution or the right way to this. There are many things that send across a certain message to the potential employee as well as gauge their interest and culture-fit for the company. We spend a lot of time telling them about us, our values and culture to make sure they realize what they’re getting into. We lay a significant focus on getting a buy-in from the employee and we ensure these are the right reasons they’re joining the company for, by clearly laying out the growth path for the employee. Once the employee joins, the ‘care’ part is built over a period of time by engaging them in certain activities apart from their KRAs where they feel they play a role in the organization’s growth.

Q. How do you generate new ideas?

A. The best ideas come from problems. I look at day to day problems and gather information on how intrinsic or deeper it is. If it is something that someone would pay to solve, then I look for a way to solve that problem in the most efficient and user-friendly manner. That is how I generate new ideas.

Q. What motivates you?

A. The biggest motivation is knowing that what you do actually makes a difference to someone’s life in a direct manner. That keeps me going day after day!

Q. If you could talk to one person from history, who would it be and why?

A. I’m not sure if you’d consider Steve Jobs as part of history, but the way I look at it, he would be one person that I would surely love to meet and talk. Steve Jobs somehow knew the pulse of the market and knew how to interpret insights into experiences for consumers. He had an eye for flawless execution and would leave no stone unturned in making every product clearly stand out in the market. Steve Jobs is my hero.

Q. What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?

A. There have been many failures along the way of starting and running a few companies. Even with the existing ones, you keep testing hypothesis to see if it can get traction. Sometimes it works, sometimes it fails. But if I would have learnt one thing, that would be to be persistent. I love this quote from Albert Einstein, who said that, “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with the problems longer.” If you stay with the problem long enough being committed to finding a solution that works, something that finally resonates with your customers, you will find a solution and find success in what you’re doing. Most often, people quit. Quitting, according to me is the biggest failure.

Q. Do you believe there is some sort of pattern or formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur?

A. There can never be a pattern or formula for becoming successful. If there were, wouldn’t everyone be just successful? One of the other things is that everyone’s definition of success is different. Would you call 1 million downloaded a success or the one that received $100,000 in revenues? Is making $1 million a year successful or making $1 billion finally called success? In my view, success means you enjoy every waking moment of your life doing what you love.

Q. What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?

A. The top three skills according to me would be Persistence – to stay with the problem long enough to find a solution, Focus – laser-sharp focus to get things done and Humility – to accept your mistakes and customers’ feedback, and learn from them.

Rahul Varshneya is the co-founder of Arkenea LLC which helps entrepreneurs and businesses build engaging mobile apps. Click here to subscribe to his free email course on maximizing app downloads.

Find a Mentor

imageedit_2_7958483912You might have the greatest start-up idea or have strong financial backing to kick-start your business, and to add to that, you might also have the knowledge and industry experience to get started on your entrepreneur journey, but ask yourself this: wouldn’t you rather ALSO have someone like a guide who could help you, or support you through the whole process of becoming a successful business owner?

A good mentor is what you need! They help you think through the start-up phase with a more experienced outlook; suggest ways to do things the right way and sometimes also help you with necessary industry knowledge or know-how that you might be missing. A mentor is someone who understands your perspective or perhaps has walked the same path that you decide to embark upon. A good mentor will be there to motivate you and identify your achievements and also give you a cautious heads up when crisis strike.

Here are a few points to remember while finding a mentor:

Be ready to be mentored: This is one of the most necessary characteristics of a wannabe entrepreneur. If you have an “I know it all” attitude then you are not open for coaching or mentoring. If you want to learn and grow fast, then you should be willing to consider ideas that may not match your expectations or opinions. Your business ideas and approach might be perfect for you, but another viewpoint will help you get a broader perspective about the situation, and will help you make the right move.

Networking is Key: As an entrepreneur, networking should be your second nature. Your approach towards networking should not be just to build customers or associates, but to find people who you could learn from, people you think could be potential mentors for you. Remember, networking is not about sending bulk email or handing out business cards to people you meet at a seminar or an event, it’s about making the effort to connect with people, collaborating, learning and adding value.

A good mentor is someone who has had success as an entrepreneur: According to statistics, the very best mentors are usually those who have been or are entrepreneurs themselves. A good mentor is someone who has walked the path of entrepreneurship and has gained the required experience, which is not long ago. Such mentors have been through the phases that you are going through and genuinely want you to succeed as well. In a typical situation, you should be able to see yourself “succeeding” the same way your mentor is today.

Thank your mentors and Pay it forward: It is always important to acknowledge and thank people who have helped you. Generally a good mentor would not be in it for the money, but would want others to grow. It is important to find ways to thank your mentor for all the support and help they provide you. Last but not the least, try to pay it forward i.e. you may never be able to pay your mentors back, but you can recognize what they have done for you by becoming a mentor to others.

Project Management Tools

toolsProject management is the core functionality of any business or enterprise. In modern organizations, it is considered to be the highest responsibility task. Project management is used in any and all forms of projects, ranging from software development to developing hybrid robotic technologies.

All project managers and teams use certain highly efficient tools to manage projects. These tools can be specifically designed tools or customized productivity tools that can be adopted for project management work. These tools help managers plan, manage and track their projects more effectively.

Here is a list of the 4 most widely used project management tools:

Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

WBS is generally used at the start of the project to break the project down into individual tasks and group these tasks logically. At a root level this is more of a deliverable-oriented decomposition of a project into smaller components. It represents tasks and resources more like a tree structure, with clear subdivisions of effort required to complete a project. This structure also provides the essential framework for detailed cost estimating and control along with providing direction for schedule development, management and control. One should treat creating WBS as a critical step in the process of project management.

Gantt Chart

One of the most popular and widely used projects scheduling tool, Gantt charts are used when the project is up and running to monitor project progress. A Gantt chart shows you what has to be done (the activities) and when (the schedule). Gantt charts illustrate the start and finish dates of the terminal elements and summary elements of a project. They also show dependencies of tasks and relationship between activities. It is used on a day-to-day or weekly basis to show current schedule status using percent-complete shadings.

Network Diagram

These kinds of network diagrams are more like flow charts and are used to show the start of the project to chart how the work should flow and estimate how long each task will take to complete. Also known as the project network diagram, these diagrams are drawn from left to right to show the project chronology. The diagrams are more popularly used to graphically show a high-level project snapshot. In comparison to the Work Breakdown Structure that shows the “part-whole” relationship, network diagrams show a more “before-after” relationship for a project.

Earned Value Analysis (EVA)

This is more of an analysis of the “planned” to the “actual”. It is used when the project is up and running to compare budget forecasts with actual costs, and compare estimated progress with actual progress. With the help of this analysis, project teams can forecast future effort and cost estimations. With the help of this analysis, managers can create risk mitigation plans that are based on actual cost, schedule and progress of the work. It is an “early warning” project management tool that enables managers to identify and control problems before they become big risks.

Apart from the above, there are many more tools available on the web that can help in better project planning and management, but they all have their core function and methodology built around the above mentioned tools. The unique features about these tools are that they can be created on a simple Microsoft platform i.e. word, excel, projects etc. and can be customized based on any project requirements.

Customer Engagement is Key

Engage-CustomersGetting more customers means getting more business; this in turn increases revenues and profits. All forms of businesses are directly or indirectly dependant on building loyal customers and it is all about how we strategically plan our customer engagement plans. With changing trends and technologies, businesses tend to automate their customer acquisition and retention strategies, which eventually becomes a problem. The essence lies in making sure that the approach is more customer-engaging rather than technological centric.

Here are the top five tips on how to attract customers and also retain them in the current business environment:

Go Social:

Build your business as a personality and make sure you create and utilize your online social profiles including Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pintrest and Instagram. Give each channel a unique definition and strategy. The key is to post real-time behind-the-scenes content (photos, videos etc) to engage with your audience. Use these channels to inform customers of upcoming events, promotions and deals. Posting at least once a day shows that you are engaged. Your social media presence will help increase brand awareness for your business and will give a sense of reliability to your customers.

Go mobile:

The most important aspect of going mobile is building a responsive website i.e. making your website device agnostic, so that your customers could access it from any mobile device and/or operating system. This gives the ease to your customers to access your content from anywhere and everywhere. The second most important step is to partners with mobile search platforms that have the scale, reach and local search benefits to get your business found.

Get Loyal:

Loyal customers are all that your business wants. Focusing on loyalty can help you increase profits up to 80-90%. Initiating a loyalty program that rewards frequent visitors and encourages them to stay with you is the essence of any marketing strategy. Such forms of loyalty programs can encourage customers to spend more with each visit and with each positive experience they can also spread the word about your business.

Email Marketing:

Email marketing is by far the most important and powerful methods for growing business engagement and maintaining relationships with customers. Use standard email marketing tools to send alerts and campaigns to your customer that keeps them engaged. Try to do this at least once a month. Such tools offer email automation, with makes it very easy to send mass messages to customers, which are also traceable so you can measure results of the email click through rate and retention.

Manage Reviews:

All successful business thrives on reviews, so it is critical to have a presence on review sites. All businesses should take the extra effort to provide their complete information on these sites i.e. photos, descriptions, menus, hours and your businesses’ direct contact information etc. Displaying signs on your counter are also a great way to remind visiting customers to share their positive feedback about your great service. Now-a-days, 90% of customers state that their buying decisions are influenced by online reviews, so it is important to keep up with active reviews and comment politely to customers who have had a negative experience.

No matter how small or big your business is, these simple tips will help you organize, plan and kick start your marketing campaign with a fresh perspective and give a new outlook to your business. Try it and see the change.

BING it RIGHT

BING it RIGHTBING is a popular web search engine introduced by Microsoft. It is also advertised as the “decision engine” due to its unique search technology. BING was previously known as Live Search, then the Windows Live Search, and later as MSN Search.

This search engine was first introduced by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer on May 28, 2009, at the All Things Digital conference in San Diego, California, USA. The distinctive feature is the listing of search suggestions while queries are entered and a list of related searches (called “Explore pane”) that worked based on a semantic technology that Microsoft purchased from Powerset. As of August 2011, BING has been using a new index-serving technology called “Tiger” that delivers faster and more relevant results for users.

BING as a search engine offers the following additional features to its users:

• Integration with Hotmail
• Integration with Facebook
• Integration with Apple
• Integration with Windows 8
• Media features
• Instant answers
• Local info

The other exclusive feature about the search engine is that it is available in many languages and is localized for many countries. BING also offers many search products for its users, such as Bing Ads, Bing Visual Search, Bing Wolfram Alpha, Bing xRank and more. It also offers a program called Bing Rewards that allows users to earn points for searching with Bing. These points can be redeemed for various products and services on the search engine.

The BING Ads Express is a famous service offered for small businesses that are interested in promoting their business to local customers searching online across the Yahoo Bing Network. According to recent data released by Pricing Engine – a small business marketing platform – the trend is changing in the PPC (pay per click) market. Bing ads are a “more efficient” buy than Google AdWords. The analysis of the data shows that big brands may favor the higher query volume on Google, but small businesses don’t need the same kind of scale. Indeed, in some cases, significant scale can create fulfillment problems for small businesses. BING is gradually becoming a more preferred advertisement platform among small businesses.

So what’s the difference between a regular search engine and a decision engine like BING? Well, perhaps it’s rational. According to Microsoft, Bing is designed to minimize the amount of junk results we get when you perform a search and to help simplify tasks so that a user could make the most informed decision. For example, once you begin your search, Bing has an Autosuggest feature that recommends words based on the first few letters you type, and then lists them for you to choose if one should meet your match. The objective is to organize searches in ways that are easy for users to navigate. BING also has an Explore Pane – located on the left side of the home and results pages, this is intended to help users efficiently browse through their search results.

Could Bing Ever Overtake Google in Search?

That is a tough argument and the reasons are pretty logical i.e., search technology is the bread and butter for Google so they will always remain ahead of the GAME. However, mobile adoption is the future of search and Microsoft has been very instrumental in integrating the BING search engine with its vast network of assets.

Moreover, competition is a major motivator for innovation, and the search engine market has also become unpredictable. If we compare the kind of search results we get from Google versus BING, we can clearly see that it is almost the same. So, though GOOGLE has been around for quite a while and it dominates the search market, we could never be sure about the future if compared with BING.

5 Inspirational Business Stories

Inspirational Business StoriesRunning a small business can be a difficult task. Even some of the biggest and the most profitable businesses around the world have faced hardship in their early years of foundation. Here are five inspiring stories of businesses which had to overcome hurdles before establishing themselves as global brands:

1. Dyson

James Dyson was disappointed with the performance of a vacuum cleaner he was using in 1978 and he decided to design a better and more efficient model. However, before creating the world’s first bag-less vacuum cleaner, the budding inventor spent 5 years creating over 5,000 prototype versions – all of which failed. Dyson is now a global brand, with offices in England and Asia, with an expanding research and development team. The company also manufactures heaters, fans and hand dryers.

2. Innocent Drinks

In 1998, founders Richard Reed, Adam Balon and Jon Wright began selling their smoothies for £2 a bottle at a music festival in England. They spent £500 on ingredients for their smoothies, and the recipes they used were tested by close friends and family. They put up a sign at the stall, which read ‘Should we give up our jobs to make these smoothies?’, and customers were asked to put their empty bottle in bins marked as ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. By the end of the festival, the ‘Yes’ bin had more empty bottles than the “No” bin. The founders resigned from their jobs the next day to start their business. Innocent Drinks is now the biggest selling smoothie brand in the whole of Europe.

3. Ford Motor Company

You will probably be familiar with Ford Motors, a multi-national automobile manufacturer founded by Henry Ford. Though, you might not be so familiar with the Detroit Automobile Company. This was the first company Ford started, but it went bankrupt in 1901. After a year, Ford began a new business – the Henry Ford Company – with a partner. However, after a conflict with his business partner, the company shut down. Undeterred, Ford started his third business in 1903, which he named the Ford Motor Company. This was also close to becoming another failure, but after receiving funding from an investor, the business was saved. The Ford Motor Company has now gone on to become the motor vehicle giant we know today.

4. Forever 21

The first branch of Forever 21, a global fashion retailer, opened in Los Angeles in 1984 by husband and wife Do Won Chang and Jin Sook. Before they opened the first store, Chang, an immigrant from South Korea, worked three jobs as a janitor, a petrol station assistant, and in a café. Originally called Fashion 21, the shop generated sales of $700,000 after just one year of trading. The success of Fashion 21 led Chang to open a new branch in California every six months, gradually building the brand – which was renamed Forever 21. It remains a family-run business, with Chang and Sook’s daughters also working for the company.

5. Rovio

Rovio is the developer behind the hugely successful Angry Birds game franchise, and was founded in 2003 by cousins Niklas and Mikael Hed. Rovio had created 51 different games prior to Angry Birds, some of which they sold to larger game developers such as EA Games. Rovio was close to bankruptcy in 2009, after Niklas and Mikael decided to create their own games. This was also a complicated process, with over 100 different ideas considered before settling on Angry Birds. Before Angry Birds was released in December 2009, it spent eight months in the development process, undergoing numerous changes and revisions. It failed to make a significant impact on a global scale in the first three months, but after being featured on the UK App Store, sales rocketed. As of 2014, Angry Birds has had over 2 billion downloads.

Article compiled by Pocket Social:

Pocket Social lets businesses manage company social media accounts from a smartphone, tablet or desktop. The app prioritises tasks such as discovering relevant content to read and share, finding customers to approach on social media and identifying key influencers to approach.

Try Gamification

Try GamificationWe all love playing games. The activity of playing games has been around for quite some time. From simple board games to the early days of electronic video games, such as MARIO or PONG, the desire to achieve pre-determined goals that comes with playing games is programmed in our genes. The drive is the fact that we would either win or lose. Games also put us in a mode of competition and offer a sort of exhilaration.

This need for exhilaration in our day-to-day working life has made businesses come up with a new phenomenon called “Gamification”. It is as simple as it sounds: incorporating game elements into every-day, non-game activities. This simply encourages people to do certain tasks or achieve certain goals but not like a “to-do” tasks list, but more like a game. The rewards are also simple i.e. players are awarded badges, ribbons and points for completing the required tasks or for achieving specific “check-ins”. So the more you win such credentials, the more the probability for recognition and the movement to the next level. The other side to this is that players can compare their stats with their co-workers and the rest of the online community, thus generating competition.

The whole idea is to have fun and incorporate a healthy environment of challenge and competition. So for instance if a business is incorporating such gamification techniques in simple sales driven teams, as a manager, if you feel your team is not achieving the set targets or is low in motivation, try introducing a badge or point system for your sales team. The more the team members accumulate such points for their targets, the more the distinction and recognition they get. The other element to gamification is to make it public amongst teams, so that it generates the spirit of competition and curiosity, which would encourage people to participate, in-turn benefiting the business to achieve their overall goals.

Gamification is also being used as a great tool for customer engagement. Gone are the days of boring advertisements of “Buy 10, Get 1 Free”. Now-a-days businesses are using the same point system to boost customer engagement and loyalty. Businesses are coming up with innovative ways of tracking customer activities and behavior through the mobile apps technology, thereby offering customized ways to gain more points and perks through Gamification. With the help of this new phenomenon, customers are also becoming brand advocates. They are more engaged, more interested and more involved.

Gamification is becoming a major game-changer in the business and corporate environment. Companies are linking this new phenomenon to the overall business goal. It’s a practice that can certainly deliver impressive returns if done properly. With the advent of new technologies and the internet, businesses now also have the opportunity to run rewards/points programs with their customers on a bigger scale. The key is to design a well thought about gamification plan that helps engage and motivate people, increase brand loyalty and last but not the least, help in overall business growth.