It is exactly one year ago today that I started Supply Chain Wizard, a management and technology consulting company. Legalzoom.com sent the approval letters from State of New Jersey via email. I was sitting next to and across from senior executives from major Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Solution Providers during a conference dinner in San Diego, California. At that moment, I remember, I was pretty optimistic about the future of this company, as I read the Certificate of Formation on my phone. I was off to a good start, having been a panelist in that conference as an industry expert and getting a chance to interact with future clients right from day 1.
If I could get even a glimpse of what would follow in the next 12 months after that dinner, I could have taken myself much more seriously.
Today, on our first anniversary day, I confirmed our 7th client, 12th project. Last year was a fun & challenging ride on the way to “conquering” the world. Our engagements spanned 5 continents and 11 countries. From speaking engagements in Brazil, Germany, Switzerland and US to consulting engagements in US, UK, Canada, Turkey, India, Italy and even Rwanda with some of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies and non-profit organizations, I am myself having hard time believing that everything fit in the first year.
With short-term accomplishments and long-term possibilities, I now take myself more seriously 🙂
For those future or fresh new entrepreneurs with global aspirations, let’s get to a hindsight analysis and see what matters in a startup’s first year, especially if you want to go global. If I ever do this again, this is what I should remember:
1. FREEDOM AND FLEXIBILITY IS YOUR MOST VALUABLE ASSET
You are in a well-paid job already? Great. You are a top performer? Excellent. Your boss loves you? Superb. You feel like your work has a purpose? Fantastic!!! You get a lot of satisfaction from this combination. But turn around and ask yourself, whether you have the freedom and flexibility to pursue your dreams, do what you really want to do, or simply enjoy your hobbies or things that you are passionate about. If your answers range from “no” to “not really”, then you may not be maximizing your “personal value”. Being locked in to a full time job significantly limits your freedom and flexibility. Within corporate world, you may end up doing same/similar tasks/projects over and over again with little professional, personal and financial gain (although, there are quite a few exceptions to note).
Launching your startup may provide you the utmost feeling of freedom AND flexibility. You learn really soon that by simply having the ability to go after “any” opportunity you like turns out quite fun and valuable for the business. By being “flexible” to accept projects overseas, I found an opportunity to live and work in Rome, Italy for over 2 months in 2014 with my family for one of the most purposeful projects I ever did.
2. FIND YOUR PASSION, AND GET KNOWN FOR IT
“What are you known for?” is a question that people who know you should answer with a clear and short phrase (e.g., “he is a supply chain wizard”, “she is a process improvement expert”). If you ask your colleagues or ex-colleagues this question, and do not get a straight answer, you may need to do some soul searching and decide where your skill set and interests intersect the most. Once you are clear about your passion, then it is the perfect platform to launch your personal branding on it. You can take part in internal company trainings by being the trainer, you can find speaking opportunities in conferences or simply start writing your own blog to get your ideas out there, and be known for “something” that you feel strongly about.
Starting a business on your passion platform has significantly more chances of success than pursuing short-term or temporary interests or opportunities. As you start getting known for your area of expertise, it gets easier and easier to acquire new clients, and it doesn’t take too long before you start reaping the real benefits for your business.
3. WORLD IS REALLY BIG, SO IS YOUR NETWORK
There are 195 countries in the world! You only live in one of them. Think of the possibilities of growth, if you just take your business to few more countries. Have you ever tried those Facebook apps, where it plots your “friendship network on a map”? Did you also get surprised like I did, when you realize that your friends are all around the world? I am sure you already know many people in different countries. I am also sure that some of those people would be open to your business ideas or partnerships.
One thing I severely underestimated when I was starting the business was the scale of my global network. By leveraging various social networks (the best one by far is LinkedIn), you can quickly build your global network with people of similar interest or backgrounds. Moreover, reaching through your friend’s friends and partners’ partners, the growth of your network would be exponential. Pretty much all of our international projects happened through referrals from friends, ex-colleagues or by directly reaching out to our existing network.
4. FOCUS ON PEOPLE FIRST, THEN ON YOUR PRODUCTS AND SERVICES
Whatever you are selling, please stop. First understand whether the person you are trying to sell your service or product is interested in buying anything. Or may be he/she is interested in something totally different. Feedback is “THE” most valuable thing you could get from your clients / customers. It means that they value your relationship. It means that you can take this feedback, and make changes to your service, product or behavior, and bring it back in a much better form. By focusing on the people and relationships, and doing more listening than talking, you are increasing your chances of building a longer term and sustainable relationships. When you have relationships that are built on mutual understanding and trust, then talking about business is much easier.
During my last 12 months of observing, interacting and discussing with many vendors or solution provides to the industry, I found the ones who are really excelled in people skills to be most successful. Whatever the product they are selling did not matter as much, when the customer is not open for a dialogue or relationship.
5. THINK BIG, ACT SMALL, COMMIT AND CHANGE THE WORLD
Have no reservations when it comes to dreaming big. You have the freedom to do so, and innovation comes only when you break the silos and the boxes of frameworks. It is an important balance between “thinking big” and “delivering results”. Some people like to stay in the stratosphere with their great ideas, but have difficulty in turning them into real actions or results. On the other hand, there are many “go getter” type of individuals, who are running around without a high level vision or goal. Secret is to have a big picture vision, but then have set of small steps identified and aligned to achieve this vision. It requires practice of constant dreaming, structuring of problems/solutions and planning for long term. When you dare to dream great things, you should also commit to it as it takes time achieve greatness.
What I found with my client interactions is that the long term vision, a roadmap of how to get there and strong commitment is a winning combination regardless of the challenge at hand.
I want to hear from those who have been through similar paths of entrepreneurship, or planning to jump in the world of startups. Please share below your advice, opinions and comments.
About the author: Evren Ozkaya, Ph.D. is the Founder and CEO of Supply Chain Wizard, LLC, a management and technology consulting firm focusing on designing strategies to improve operational performance of companies with complex supply chains. Dr. Ozkaya writes about various topics such as Entrepreneurship, Productivity, Consulting, Communication & Presentation Skills, Technology & Data Analytics, Supply Chain Transformations, Supply Chain Security and Pharmaceutical Serialization (Track & Trace).