How to Treat your Employees – Three Small Steps That can make a Big Difference

Employees are your first customers. If you want to make your customers happy, the first step is to delight your employees. However, this is a double edged sword and easier said than done. Being flexible to listen to and find the best fit for an employee in your company and still being able to take decisive actions is a tough skill to master. Here are three simple steps every entrepreneur should take to ensure the right working relationship with his / her employees.

1. Share Everything
I believe that honesty is the best policy, so celebrating the good news together and breaking the bad news first is very important. Keep everything transparent with your employees and other stakeholders (unless something is legally confidential) to build trust and ensure their co-operation. It is important to learn the lessons of entrepreneurship together with your employees, and make sure they understand everything and grow with you.

Thomas Watson Quote

Recently, I was asked if I was going to fire an employee who made a mistake that cost the company $600,000. No, I replied, I just spent $600,000 training him. Why would I want somebody to hire his experience? Thomas John Watson, Sr.

2. Do Everything
Never ask your employees to do something which you don’t want to do. Always tell them that you are ready to do whatever it takes for making the business successful. Do tasks from time to time to build emotional bank deposits and build trust. Make sure they understand why everybody is doing what their roles demand, and how it all fits into the bigger picture.

3. Get Connected
Make friends with your employees. Get to know them personally, their families, problems in life and what they want to do and achieve in life. See if you can make a difference. Respect their private space, but always recognize that they are human beings first, and employees second. And health and family will always take preference, as it does for us. So if they are not able to give their best at work because of some other issues, as an entrepreneur, it is our problem to make sure they have whatever support they need.

Now that I have written 3 points, I think I can write another three. But I will save that for a later post and time.

Four Reasons why we should Treat our Customers as Friends

One of the best definitions of business that I have read or heard is “Business is a process by which an organization creates, delivers and captures value.” Short and simple. Create, Deliver and Capture. The three main roles of any business, and all of them revolve around the customer. In a way, we all say that we are doing business for money, or to be our own boss, or it is a way of life, but the fact is that a business cannot succeed or survive if it doesn’t have the customer at its focus all the time. Here are my four reasons why we (employees or founders) should treat our customers as friends :-

1. Customers are our biggest teachers
In my previous stint at entrepreneurship, ignoring the customer was the biggest mistake we did. Of course we didn’t realize that we were ignoring the customer till after two years we started SaleRaja, we always thought that we knew what the customer want. Even when we started interacting with customers, we were trying to sell them a product which we built according to their needs (which we guessed) rather than really taking the time to listen to them and understanding their real needs.

2. Most important relationship
If there is one relationship in business which should be friendly, it should be your relationship with your customer, even ahead of your investors and shareholders, but maybe at par with your employees. To thrive in any business, you need to know the pulse of what is happening in the lives of your business. You have to care for them at a level bigger than just your company and your product or service. Treating customers is not just about selling, but about forming long term and mutually benefiting friendships.

Customer service is not a department, it's an attitude!

Customer service is not a department, it's an attitude!

3. Connect them on an emotional level
We need to understand our customers, the businesses they run and the challenges they face on a much deeper level than what is generally the norm. We should be willing to stand by our customers in tough times, and support them in whatever way is possible (by even suffering some temporary losses). We should be interested in meeting and talking to them even when we have nothing to talk on the business front. We should always keep and deliver on our promises. We should respect their opinions and ask them for advice. Nobody can give a more subjective view of our company than our customers. Once a customer told me – “I am ready to pay you ten times what you are asking, but you have to give what I actually need.” Only if I was listening 😉

4. You will be rewarded
Being a good friend demands hard work and commitment but if we can do that, nobody can reward us better than our customers. Our customers will love us and never forget how we made them feel. If we stick by them in their tough times, they will do the same. And that is what makes business life so rewarding apart from the usual cold and transactional meetings which are the norm. An example of such a business is Apple. Every Apple customer buys its products not only because of their superior design and quality, but also because of the relationship Apple has forged with its customers over the years.

However, this doesn’t mean that the customer is always right and we do have to be professional in our dealings. But I will leave that for another post.

Six years of professional career – A quick recap

18 July 2011. Yes, that’s today. It marks six years of my professional career. In a nutshell, ever since joining InfoEdge at their Noida office six years back, I have been programming to create websites. But it has been a lot more than that. I have made some amazing friends during these six years with whom I have shared some unforgettable moments, learned a lot about coding, business and life from the people I have interacted with and situations I faced. A lot have changed since that hot and sweaty day of 18 Jul 2005 (which I still remember very vividly).

If I look back and try to recap the last six years, I can break them down into six very specific sections / phases / periods which can be associated with some really significant events in my career. Read below to know about these six phases –

First Steps – July 2005 to July 2006

The first year of my professional life was as good as it gets. I did a lot of hard work in office, and made some really good friends. Everyday during these times was so much fun and unforgettable. The leg-pulling, late night parties, the fights, and the do-not-care attitude of some 7-8 of us colleagues made it one of my best years ever. Coding till late in the night, learning new technologies and putting them to innovative use was an added advantage to the fun we were having everyday in office.

Ok, I hope you can sense the 'fun' being part of this team

Ok, I hope you can sense the 'fun' being part of this team

Cloudy Days – Aug 2006 to Aug 2007

The fist disappointment came after a year of work, and it made things bad with a very good friend of mine. The group was divided into two, and both sides tried to irritate the other group as much as possible with their sarcastic comments and mannerisms in office. Although it was all friendly rivalry with no serious hard feelings, it did get tense at times. But as all clouds have a silver lining, Sukip and SaleRaja were born during this period out of the happenings in office. It was not a pleasant year for me in office, but a very important one. And by the end of the year, I patched up with this friend of mine and we were back to normal, fun filled days.

The 99acres team of 2008, at Mashobra

The 99acres team of 2008, at Mashobra

Finding the real me? – Sep 2007 to Oct 2008

If I have to choose one year as the most defining in the last six, it will be this one. It made me discover traits of my personality which I didn’t knew even existed. Managing SaleRaja and leading a team of 14 people, ensuring the co-existence of both work and fun, made me face challenges and respond to them in a way that was to shape my personality. Made another group of great friends during this time, learnt a lot about leadership, and also cleared a lot of pre-conceptions about people and life in general during this time. This phase ended with me making one of the toughest decisions of my life, to leave InfoEdge and the team (and fun) I had for SaleRaja.

My farewell from InfoEdge in Oct 2008, a very emotional moment

My farewell from InfoEdge in Oct 2008, a very emotional moment

SaleRaja – Nov 2008 to Dec 2009

Over to Bangalore. Fully focussed on SaleRaja, I started doing everything, from sales calls to marketing to coding with an aim of making it big with SaleRaja. We worked hard, then harder, and then even harder to squeeze the most out of our time. My days have been 14-16 hour long for some time, but it started to become taxing and tiring by the end of this phase. In Dec 2009 decided it was time to move on, again one of the tough decisions I had to take. But these 14 months in Bangalore taught me a lot about business and life as I was exposed to many startups and the eco-system surrounding startups. Again, I made a lot of good friends and met a lot of good hearted and inspiring people.

The Jivox team in Bangalore

The Jivox team in Bangalore

LOST – Jan 2010 to Jul 2010

There are times when everything was going so well and you take some tough decisions which didn’t work out as well as expected. You left the good for the better but are left with nothing instead. These are the times when you start asking questions like, “Why did this happen?”, “Why did I take that decision?” or “What is happening?”… Let me tell you what is happening.. LIFE IS HAPPENING… Yes… Everything was going well.. and then Life Happened… This phase of my career was a time of doubt, but also of introspection. It made me look for answers to some really tough questions within myself, and it was during this phase that I started reading and writing regularly, which helped me a lot and is a regular practice now.

Rediscovery – Aug 2010 to present

The last year has been an uncertain, uncomfortable and a bumpy journey. But this journey has taken me through peaks and sights that are unforgettable. I have faced fear right in the eye and done things regularly which I was afraid of earlier, and regularly at that. And needless to say, I have grown as an individual the most in this last year, and done some crazy stuff which I could not have dreamt of a few years earlier. I am having the best time of my life now, where every day seems better than the previous one, where I enjoy every day of the week be it a Monday or Friday and I am doing so much that my days feel like having 36 hours 😉

In reflection, whatever has happened in the last six years has made me what I am today. All the good stuff was certainly memorable, but all the not so good times were also blessings in disguise. The sooner we realize that the cloudy days are as much a part of life as the sunny ones, we can stop getting hurt from life’s beatings and instead use them to grow stronger and wiser. In the future too, I hope to be strong enough to get hammered, because I know I will get hammered into new and interesting shapes.

What I learned when Deepali said “Theek Theek Laga Lo” :-)

It was sometime in 2007, or 2008, when I was the team leader of the 99acres team in Noida. This incident happened during a planning meeting for future projects in 99acres which was attended by many senior people in the company. Product Managers, Sales Heads, Business Heads of 99acres and Jeevansathi, and I think even our COO was present during that meeting, not sure about him though. Being the one handling the tech team, I was giving time estimates for the different ideas / changes the top guns had on their list. It was one such idea for which I suggested a time estimation and somebody said that he thinks it should be done in these many days (obviously less than mine). As it was only an estimation, I thought about it a little more and reduced my estimation by a few days. At this point, Deepali Singh, who was the business head of 99acres said “Theek Theek Laga Lo”. The whole room burst into laughter at that point and it was a moment I still remember to this day. (“Theek Theek Laga Lo” is a Hindi slang for “Give me a right price” which is commonly used while bargaining for price while shopping in local markets of Delhi)

What I learned from this incident is that having fun and keeping a light atmosphere is very important, even when discussing the most serious of issues and problems. It was the same that day, I was a little nervous and was taking things too seriously. After this incident, the whole mood in the room lightened up and I was lot more relaxed which indeed helped me to do my job better, in this case, giving better estimations.

I certainly miss shopping in Delhi's markets

I certainly miss shopping in Delhi's markets

Though normally I am fun loving and keep on doing something or other for fun, I have often seen myself getting too serious during important meetings, specifically when there are people higher up in the hierarchy attending it. Deepali’s comment diffused the tension and put me at ease highlighting how important it is to have fun at the workplace. I have always believed that if you are having fun while doing your work, then you will be more creative, more productive, will be able to take better decisions and will get along well with co-workers.

A pleasant and happy work culture was one of the most important points that I saw during the three years I worked with InfoEdge. People were not colleagues there, they were friends. Now, even after 2.5 years of leaving InfoEdge, I am in regular touch with all the members of my team and many others too, and I make it a point to meet them whenever I am in Delhi. It wont be wrong to say that I got many friends for life from those three years of working there. All credit to the fun-filled work environment there.

Remembering what we used to do within our team for fun, we used to go out for informal team lunches quite often. Many times, we used to get out just for having ice-cream at the nearby Nirulas or for sipping a glass of juice at a roadside juice seller. There were a few dhabas outside the office which had become popular meeting points over tea and maggi noodels. Within my team we used to play a lot of pranks with each other. There were times when Poorva (a teammate) used to hear random screams from her laptop while coding (thanks to me taking an ssh into her machine and remotely executing a scream mp3 file I have put there), and there were times when I used to return to my seat to find my laptop missing as my teammates have hidden it for revenge 😉

Taking it one step further, I try to apply the same approach to life too. No matter what the situation is, how serious it is, it always helps to take it lightly and have fun along the way. Life is a series of ups and downs, and it is as important to enjoy the downs as it is to cherish the ups. It is all part of the game called life. I will end with a quote –

“When faced with a problem, don’t ask life ‘Why Me?’, Instead say, ‘Try Me'”

Friends as Business Partners

The 3 of us in school in 2001

The 3 of us during school in 2001

I am a big fan of quotes and one liners, but it took me experience to believe in the truth of this quote by John D. Rockefeller – “A friendship founded on business is better than a business founded on friendship“. Now I can verify that. I started SaleRaja with 2 of my closest buddies from school whom I have known for over 10 years. It looked like a perfect match then, but I was to realize later that while it is important to have somebody trustworthy as your partner, friendships often carry other baggage which can create problems, particularly when the business is in trouble or growing well.

We ended up parting ways soon, as our vision for our personal future and the future for SaleRaja did not align. It was a perfect case of both sides being right but the situation being wrong. We were the right people in the wrong place. We did not share the same vision for the business. We always thought that since we were so good friends, we would always find a mutually agreeable path in case of conflicts.

We could not have been more wrong. There were times we ended up accepting what the other said as a “friendship compromise“, and not as a “business decision“. And then there were the tough times, when we decided to part ways. We are still friends, but it is, and will never be, the same. Now if I see friends who want to start a business together, I say to them that they have to be prepared for the fact that their friendship might not be the same in a couple of years time.

I think you need to friends with your partners to run a successful business. It is a necessary condition in my opinion, but not sufficient in itself. Having said that, there are always examples of friends running successful businesses. It is important to emphasize on the balance between business and friendship. Friends should always communicate in all matters, even if they feel that as friends, there can’t be a conflict between them. They should decide specific roles for themselves, see whether they compliment each other in the skills needed to run the business, and most importantly they should know when to switch on and off being friends and business partners.

What about me? Will I again start a business? Certainly YES 🙂 But will I start a business again with friends. I am not saying a complete NO here, but I will evaluate a lot more before jumping in this time. Some of the points where founding partners of any business needs to be aligned are –
• Do they share the same values and how do you expect them to play in day-to-day business activities?
• Do they share the same vision for the business?
• Are your work habits and work ethics in line to co-exist?
• How much money will you put into the business and how much do you expect to get out of it?
• What Roles will each of you play in the company? Who will be the CEO/Leader?
• What if one of you gets married and decide to move away?
• How will you treat your employees, customers, investors, etc?

There are certainly other question you need to ask apart from those listed above. But the most important question I would ask myself would be – Am I ready to accept the fact that this person might not be my friend in another couple of years? If the answer is NO, I will know what to do. In his book “The Greatness Guide”, Robin Sharma has rightly pointed out that at your funeral, you don’t see you business partners crying, it is your friends and family who will cry over your grave. A Point Well Made!!