Thursday
Jan012015

Let's make it a truly H"app"y 2015!!

It’s that time of the year again; time to re-evaluate the year personally and professionally.  Things I have done right, things I could do better and things I shouldn’t do at all.  To be more productive and efficient, I need to analyze my daily input and output, I think to myself.    

I wake up to an alarm, which is now an app on my phone.  Before I open my eyes, Whatsapp and Facebook, two other apps on my phone have already notified me of everything that is going on in the world.  Not to forget, also trying to play catch-up is BBM, a long-forgotten cousin.  Clearly, I must add to the “chaos” and must post photos from my awesome dinner party last night or the exotic holiday I have just been on.  How could I not?  Everyone must know that I have a cool life too!  Sorry I forgot Instagram beckons while I am on Facebook – the newest craze, which has even more followers than Twitter – how smart is Facebook to capture my attention from all sides!!  I then switch on the lights with another app on my phone and rush to wake up my children so we can all get dressed for school.  I just about manage to get them to the bus stop to turn on Bus Finder, another app on my phone since the two-minute wait seems way too long!  Once I drop them off, I turn on Google Maps – my savior, which will help direct me to my first meeting of the day.  

I meet many tech start-ups during the day; learning about how people are trying to change the world and make our lives easier and more productive.  A dry-cleaning app to pick up and drop off your cleaning so you don’t need to walk down the street to your local cleaner while saying hello to your neighbours on the street; a restaurant app to get last minute reservations at London’s top restaurants so I might post even more photos of me dining there on Facebook!!  All along of course not forgetting all the “notifications” I receive from my 904 friends on Facebook commenting on my photos from last night.  I am late now – I hop into a taxi using one of five taxi apps on my phone. 

As soon as I get home, my daughter tells me she has won an award at school – I immediately take a photo and post it on Instagram (my husband who has still to this age has not digested social media has barred me from posting anything that celebrates my children’s achievements on Facebook – on Instagram he will never find out)!!  She then asks me about homework – many things I know but a few of course I don’t.  I snap my fingers and say Google – on my phone!!  I have all the answers for her in a jiffy.  Did I forget about the time, my Dad and I, as a child, spent looking at an Encyclopedia to find answers to questions and how much we bonded while doing this?  While I do homework with my daughter, my son does Math on a number board on the Ipad – the only way I can keep him out of the way.  While we do homework, my husband has ordered groceries on a brilliant app that delivers our groceries so we no longer need to go to the grocery store to touch and feel what we eat (not to forget spend alone time without the children).  It has all arrived and I wish there was an app, which would put it all away.  But alas there isn’t – some day there will be a robot, I think to myself and life will be so much easier.  Before I know it, the day is done, the week is done and voila, the year is done!!

Having evaluated more than 200 start-ups this year, most of them in technology, I find it amazing that technology has provided us with so many conveniences – surely we must have a lot of free time to do things that we enjoy and our pleasurable.  How often this year did I manage to take time out to take a walk, read books, learn how to drive, meditate, foster my hobbies such as cook a delicious meal or play a musical instrument or simply be in the moment without trying to capture it?

If I looked at my total time saved (TTS) as a result of technological gains and total time waste (TTW – a common phrase for those of you from the Indian sub-continent), surely technological gains in my life should surpass the productivity lost!  Has it?  Not sure about you, but I think I have spent more time on social media apps (note some of this is PR for business purposes and therefore does have a measurable result) this past year than I have spent on solving real life problems.  According to me, my TTW far exceeds TTS.

I have a resolution now I say to myself.  Social media is something I have lived without for a majority of my life - surely I can reduce my reliance on it.  Surely I don’t need to share every moment of my life with my friends and wait for positive re-enforcement from them.  Partly psychological and partly bored – partly a show-off and partly a record – without analyzing myself further, I say to myself - Those that really need to get in touch with me will do so even without me being on social media every other minute of the day and those that don’t shouldn’t really matter.

If only now there was an app, which would auto-measure my performance against my resolution.  Until then, only time will tell.  Let’s make it a truly H”app”y 2015.    

Tuesday
Mar182014

Some Musings on crowdfunding - May the best horse win!!

March 9, 2014:

I recently went to few crowdfunding talks leading to many interesting discussions at home which made me want to pen some down.  In my opinion while too early to tell whether crowdfunding works for investors - the data just isn't there given how young the industry is - I have often wondered whether following the crowd would make you more money than not?  Does that mean that all the due diligence done by angel investors before determining whether or not an investment is potentially a winner is a waste of time? Management, management, management is all I think about when looking for winning deals - am I better off scouting crowdfunding sites and looking for the best deals on there?  While this is completely contrary to my traditional belief system and what I learned in the VC world - it does give me food for thought.  After all, the odds of an entrepreneur actually making it are so shitty (pardon my language) - does the due diligence really matter?  Or is it better to use a portfolio-based approach which crowdfunding offers very easily access to lots of deals and transparency?  After all even Warren Buffett says: “By periodically investing in an index fund, the know-nothing investors can actually outperform most investment professionals.” As long as you are then spreading your money over lots of deals and dollar cost averaging by participating in lower valuation rounds does this strategy sound sound???

While I am not convinced yet, it does leave me wondering whether the market is segregating itself for two different types of investors - one who can't invest  without spending  a reasonable amount of time on due diligence and feels they have the ability to influence and make change which the other can only do to a somewhat lower degree.  However, when it comes to influence and connecting the entrepreneur to sources of value one might argue that asking a thousand shareholders (through the crowd roster) surely give you better odds of getting to those sources than one or two angel investors (in most cases I would think!).

Does it then just boil down to analysis paralysis?? Therefore would angels over time only end up investing in transactions that the crowd is not geared up to understand?  Or will the crowdfunding platforms evolve into one that provide this advisory service along with a listing service such that you and me begin to understand the more complicated businesses that need a through investigation, although my gut still tells me that all businesses do!!  I have seen technology disintermediate many an industry in the last fifteen years of my working career and wouldn't be surprised if major changes were coming.

However, no matter what betting platform I use when I go to Ascot I still end up betting on the horse with the highest odds - even though investing with the crowd, a thorough investigation having been done behind the scenes on the winning horse!

Friday
Sep272013

Keeping you in the loop, with the local scoop!

September 16, 2013

 

I met up with Dina Maktabi, founder of Kensington Mums, at a local café in RBKC. I had met Dina at one of her mummy meet-ups last year and she has been top of mind for me for over a year now as the Kensington Mums newsletter hits my mailbox without fail every Monday morning! Originally from Lebanon, Dina couldn’t be more local and has always been very much part of the tri-borough community.
 
Kensington Mums was “borne” out of Dina’s first pregnancy – the truck that hits most us mothers after we have our first child when the need to meet new mums and find a support group for what you are going through both emotionally and physically can only be understood by another woman in the same boat!!  Dina, like many first-time mothers, spent her time breastfeeding between Boots, Zara and Marks & Spencer on High Street Kensington while spending the remainder pureeing carrots and peas, cleaning poopy diapers and singing twinkle-twinkle in many a language and tune!!  Thus was “borne” the idea of Kensington Mums, which only gained traction after Dina had her second baby.
 
Kensington Mums, which initially started as a support group for mothers began as a mailing list – a local group for mothers who wanted to be in the know and who wanted to bond with other mothers in the community!  Not too long after, what started as a mailing list became too unwieldy to handle and with the help of her husband developed into a website which has now won many awards, ranging from the Bronze Website Award to the Best Parent Blogger 2013.
 
From mummy and toddler meet-ups to healthy cooking workshops for mums, Dina is never short of great ideas which she makes possible through a lot of work and dedication. She will soon be strutting the catwalk with other yummy mummies for “Jeans for Genes” Day at Beaufort House, Chelsea. Point to note, Dina manages to run Kensington Mums while still working part-time in cancer research at the NHS and also being a mother of two!! She blushed as she told me she never expected Kensington Mums to be what it is to day! Her vision she says is to develop it further working alongside brands and their marketing strategies.
 
From pampering sessions to wine and fashion evenings for mums and trips to museums and music sessions for your babies, visit www.kensingtonmums.co.uk.   “Keeping you in the loop with the local scoop” – wish there had been a Dina when I gave birth in New York City!

 

 

Friday
Aug302013

Trader by Day, Painter by Night

August 29, 2013

Having grown up in Calcutta with culture and creativity all around us, art has always been very close to my heart. I have always been a big fan and  keen supporter of the Bengali artists attending as many art shows in London when I can. Little did I know when I met the artist Shivani Mathur that she was born in Calcutta (although not a Bengali) and I didn’t even need to go as far as Mayfair to see her splendid works; she lived a stone’s throw from me. 

In one phrase – Shivani Mathur is a trader by day and a painter by night. Shivani's first recollection of herself painting was around the age of five.  While she never had any formal training in the arts, creativity was both in her blood and in her upbringing.  Her mother, a teacher and a talented artist fed them “art on a plate” – making mountains out of rice and sunrise out of eggs at supper time.  Shivani learned art privately with teachers, but ultimately doing an MBA in Finance in Mumbai.  She moved to London with Deutsche bank in 1997 and has since done a few courses in drawing - live, charcoal and pencil.

As I walked into Shivani's flat I could smell art around me.  Small, medium and large canvases covered the walls and many were on the floor against the wall.  Shivani paints around a few themes - mathematics, the role of women in society (for anyone who knows the trading industry they will know how male dominated it is) and her love for colours, which bring her paintings to life.  She gave me a tour of her flat and I felt I was in Calcutta all over again. My favourite was a larger than life painting in her bedroom based on the Fibonacci series, the mathematical basis of all technical analysis in the trading world. Although inspired by trade, Shivani mentioned that Fibonacci governs many things in the world around us; bodily proportions in beautiful women (plastic surgeons use measures in Fibonacci), the pyramids of Giza, the spirals of shells, the curves of waves and even the face of Mona Lisa are in Fibonacci measurements. Through her paintings she also tries to depict the role of women in ancient and current times.  I absolutely loved her portrait of Nora, a key character in Ibsen's A Doll’s House,as a pretty girl with a blank face signifying what was demanded of women in those days and quite often to this day.  Her other paintings depicted attributes of a trader - thinking, waiting, simplicity and discipline – each being a separate painting, cities such as New York City and she even showed me two sets of chairs to show how she is extending her work outside of canvases.

Shivani primarily uses oil and canvas having expanded to charcoal. She was invited to be part of the Faberge Egg Hunt in February 2012 and her egg sculpture based on the Upanishads (ancient Indian philosophy) was auctioned and rated as the 3rd most collected egg in London. 

During my visit, Shivani offered to donate two paintings to charities that I support, something I am extremely grateful for.  I left Shivani’s flat inspired that someone with such a busy life working in the City made the time to pursue something she was so passionate about. She was someone who drew inspiration from something she did during the day coupled with pertinent issues of today.  I have met many creative people most of whom operate in silos – this was the first time I had seen a great combination of arts and mathematics representing a lot of our external physical realities in a mathematical structure. “Abstraction of Precision”, as Shivani termed it.  

Shivani can be found on www.shivani-mathur.com.

Friday
Apr262013

Happy Birthday to Me!

April 27th 2013:  It is one year today since I was reborn and reinvented myself as an entrepreneur with Empower (www.empowerbizsupport.com), a consultancy focusing on providing business support to women and charities.  I am so guilty of getting so caught up in the doing, that I decided to do some thinking.  What worked well in the past year, what didn’t, what should I do more of, what less of – at the end of the day, similar to corporates, I need to make sure that the way I run my business is efficient and measurable.  How I acquire customers, how effective are these channels in terms of cost and conversion, how I should price my services, how happy are my customers and am I meeting my financial targets? What are my goals for next year and how am I going to get there?  After a significant amount of thinking, I decide to diarize my learnings from my first full year as an entrepreneur.

What I initially struggled with, what is termed in the corporate world as pricing of services.  Also otherwise knowing the correct price to charge a client? My target market being entrepreneurs and charities gave me no real benchmarks to compare against.  I did not want to over charge given my ultimate goal of social upliftment but I also did not want to give my service away for free.  Giving it away for free not only de-valued myself but I also felt that clients who were the recipient of such services put in little effort into the engagement.  I did some thinking and over time began to bifurcate my market – I charged a rate for charities and a separate rate for private clients.  However, over the year, I continued to do pro bono work for clients that deserved such support.  I experimented with price incentives such as free first-time consults, special promotions with organizations I wanted to support and a slightly discounted rate for longer term client engagements. 

Over the course of the year, I needed to give some thought to my sales funnel and customer conversion rates.  I placed an ad on a website, joined a Women’s group, was regularly going to networking events and even took a stand at a women’s only event.  My funds were limited and I had to measure client acquisition through various channels versus the cost of these channels.  While I need to take a longer-term view and expense some cost in relation to brand building, similar to other entrepreneurs, my marketing funds were limited.  I learned very quickly that getting yourself out there is key.  I began with meeting everyone and for lack of a better phrase, their mother!!  Being social by nature obviously helped the cause.  When people referred me to others, I always made an effort to follow up diligently, whether or not that contact was going to bring in any immediate work.  I also learned that word of mouth (specific note to self:  it is FREE) has been my most effective customer acquisition channel.  So here’s a big thank-you to my friends, clients and others in my network, who have helped me a lot by referring women that I might be able to assist.  Looking forward, I still have a fair amount of work to do which includes spending more time on unexplored channels such as freelance associations, partnerships with organizations that have a similar goal of social upliftment, conferences and increased social media presence.  

As the year progressed and I did more work, I needed to make sure that I was building a trading history. I needed regular customer feedback to ensure I was providing quality service.  I also wanted to make sure I regularly captured this feedback for my website, asked for Linked-in recommendations and make sure I shared these on my social media pages.  While I had little time for admin matters and no assistance with it (I created and manage my own website), I took time out on holidays and weekends to do this!  I would definitely encourage everyone to do this.  No feedback is little enough and it never hurts to ask – getting turned down is the worst that can happen. 

Lastly, and most importantly was I meeting my financial targets? Give the caveat that every business takes time to build, I still had financial targets in my business plan that I had to meet.  Was I setting realistic targets?  My initial target was believe it or not to be able to pay my babysitter – I needed to take baby steps with the big picture in mind.  Over the months as my charging model sorted itself out so did my financial targets.  I tried not to let daily disappointments bother me as much and I continued to believe that if I do my best at something I am passionate about, the results will follow suit. 

To top all this learning, over the year, I met many successful entrepreneurs and many women who are gearing up to start new businesses.  This past Easter, I finally managed to create the Empowered Club (http://www.empowerbizsupport.com/the-empowered-club/), a directory of successful women entrepreneurs who could assist others with all aspects of their business outside of my expertise – legal, accounting, PR, marketing etc. as well as their personal needs (health & well-being, food & nutrition, motherhood etc.).  I worked on many interesting projects and while working on these, learned about industries such as health & fitness, nutrition, jewellery, the arts and more.  I am not sure I have managed to spend more time with my children since I work twice as hard as I did in a corporate job but I definitely have more flexibility to work around them now. 

Twelve months later, I feel more “Empowered” and can stand tall and proudly wish myself a Happy Birthday!! 

 

You can also read this blog on http://www.workingmums.co.uk/working-mums-magazine/blog/diary-of-a-mumpreneur/6880718/happy-birthday-to-me.thtml