Little Things DO Matter!

Sanjay Swamy

Nov. 26, 2019, 4:14 p.m.

Little Things DO Matter!

As entrepreneurs, we are always balancing the dual responsibility of living in the present and survival, while also planning the future 3-5 years out. Your family, your co-founders, your team, your investors, your partners and customers are all keen to back you - but only if you instil in them the confidence of knowing where you are today and feeling reassured that despite all the uncertainty, you appear to be in control of yourself, your emotions and the moment.

Clearly not all entrepreneurs can do this well and at all times - however it is essential to make a conscious effort and to use this as a means of instilling the right level of professional behaviour in the company. So what are some of the obvious things that are in your control and things you can do to well are often the simplest things - and saying “life in a startup” is often merely an excuse to being disorganised and not in control.

To be clear, I am often guilty of several of the mistakes below - but am sincerely trying to correct myself!

Here are some examples:

1. Be on time - ALL the time - there is simply NO excuse for showing up late to a meeting - whether internal or external.

  • This also means that you can be demanding of others. I have a friend who told me that he reported a minute late to his weekly review meeting and the manager said “ok - looks like you’re busy - let’s talk next week”. This set the tone and my friend was never late after that.
  • I just use Google Calendar to check the box for “Speedy Meetings” which means to end 30 minute meetings in 25 minutes and 1 hour meetings in 50 minutes. This gives ample time for switching between meetings.
  • If for any reason you end up being late - then in today’s day and age, it’s imperative to send an email or text apologising and setting a new ETA.
  • Practice makes perfect - it’s imperative to practice this for internal meetings too.

2. Say NO to reminding others or being reminded

  • It’s imperative that people understand the responsibility of a commitment. A lot of people I have worked with - lawyers, partners, team members get irritated by a habit I have of cutting them zero slack. When they say they will send me a new draft by noon, I expect it at 11:59 - not at 12:01. There is NO excuse once again to not notifying me prior to the deadline that you are missing the deadline. It’s not like you remember at 12:01 that you missed the deadline - you probably knew it earlier. The point is that people are forgiving of missed deadlines - provided you don’t require them to remind you and you inform them before the proposed deadline arrives.
  • I often ask people - “by when will you be done”. If they say noon, I say, OK - let’s agree that you’ll send it to me at 2pm. But when nothing shows up in my inbox at 2:01, I feel I’m entitled to call.

3. Follow-up - ALWAYS

I’ve previously written a blog on this topic - when you don’t f-up, you do f-up! It still is surprising to me that:

  1. People don’t write a simple thank you note with meeting minutes and follow-up points
  2. People say “let me send you some info” but don’t mean it

Given that the bar is so low on such matters, a follow-up email from a meeting is not just a professional and polite thing to do, it always scores big time. Whether it was for a job interview or for a funding pitch, these are all signs that you are professional and will lead and expect others to behave in the same way - thereby increasing the chances of success of your company.

4. Keep the Introducer Informed

When someone makes an introduction to you, please have the courtesy to update the introducer - this is something that bugs me a lot. Simple things:

  1. Reply thanking them and moving them to BCC - nobody wants to know the details of which coffee shop you are meeting at and when
  2. After your initial connect with the person they introduced, drop the introducer a note informing them you have connected
  3. If something material comes out of it, remember to at least send a thank you note

5. Understanding the NO - can make it a YES!

Lord knows I’ve had more NO’s than YES’s & several NO’s that turned into YES’s over time. People often tend to make decisions based on a current state - over time, as things change, they rarely remember to go back to old decisions or revisit them. When someone gives you a NO, make sure you ask them for specific reasons as to why it was a NO. Subsequently, it’s up to you to ping them - but do so in a systematic manner and with some good news or updates - especially related to the reason they gave you for the NO.

6. Having a prepared mind

The most successful people I know have always been very systematic when it comes to preparing for important events. For example before an important meeting, it’s good to role play, plan the seating, plan the flow of the meeting and go with a clear goal of what you intend to get out of the meeting. This doesn’t always play out to a script but being unprepared and trying to wing it rarely works, especially if the person on the other side is well prepared.

7. Make your own luck

We all like to rationalise our lack of success with luck - but rarely do we attribute success to luck. The fact is that in principle, luck has a role to play - at the same time, giving yourself more chances to be lucky is often key to getting lucky. I firmly believe in the mantra - “Make Your Own Luck”. This may take many shapes or forms - including as simple as speaking to the person next to you on the plane, taking that additional meeting, meeting someone or attending an event which seemingly was low value, etc. This doesn’t mean you go hunting for things to do - but I firmly believe that when something comes knocking, you investigate it.

8. Use Spell Check & Grammar Check

One of the silliest things one can do is not use free tools for Spell Check and/or Grammar Check. Not everyone is perfect in their communication but not using basic tools shows that you don’t care about the other person, let alone yourself. Again, my communication may not be perfect, but I rarely send out an email without having used Spell Check. It isn’t a bar-raiser, it’s a Minimum Expectation.

9. You can only screw me once!

My basic rule in business is that "you can only screw me once". Trust is earned by default until there is a reason to distrust - and once that happens, it's nearly impossible to reverse. General rule - don't tell lies, don't exaggerate the truth, come across as transparent or explicitly say "sorry I can't share it with you" but don't bull shit. People around you are informed and smart. There is a big gap between being seen as a hustling sales guy and a sincere honest person who is keen to move fast - don't try and pull the wool over people's eyes, it rarely works.

10. Listen and ask as many questions before you start talking

This is also something I've blogged about separately - I often ask a founder, "what do you know about us" and more often than not the answer is, "I know everything - let me tell you about our product". #EPICFAIL. My immediate assessment is - this person is never going to listen to a customer - the single biggest reason why startups fail.

11. Read the tea-leaves

Founders are passionate people and eternal optimists - and they should be. I've had many a time when I ask someone "how'd it go" and they're confident they nailed the meeting - but often its because they want to believe they did. Be conservative - watch the body language of the other party, and ask them directly. I also feel that too much time is spent in trying to posture - IMO it's not a sign of weakness to ask someone what they think, rather its a way of verifying that they did understand. If you worry they may say "we didn't like it", well, not asking them isn't going to make them like it!

These rules of operation have worked well for me - and on the (hopefully rare) occasions where I’ve let my guard down, I’ve regretted doing so. As they say, it’s often the little things that matter and most of these are common sense!

I hope you find some of the tips useful. What are some of the things that have worked well for you? Do share!

About the Author - 

sanjay swamy prime venture partners

Sanjay Swamy is an Entrepreneur & Early-Stage Fintech Investor! #DigitalPayments & #Financial Services Fanatic! #IndiaStack_Evangelist!

This article was originally published on Linkedin

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