Practical Ways to Try Things You Might Love

I gave up a million-peso company twice!

The first time was during the growing days of our family blinds business in 2011, and I decided to sell my shares to my brother. We started this business during the transition of the company Omega to Hilsoft as a contingency.

My mother started it during our college years, and my brother continued it in our hometown in Lucena City. I remember it was during the Ondoy storm in 2009 when I took photos of the blinds swatches, I put up a website in Google Sites at the time, then promoted it online with Google Ads and simple SEO techniques for the Metro Manila market.

It had immediate traction. We were generating sales that we didn’t forsee coming. We then decided to put up an 8sqm kiosk in Waltermart in Makati. The business kept on generating income. Similar to most companies, sales growth is equal to operational issues. Our family had disagreements; each member who was involved in the operations had conflicts.

Yes the money was there but I thought I was not passionate about it, so I decided to sell my share and moved on.

I had another opportunity after a few years to go back to this business when a dear friend asked me for help to start a business and offered a chance to put up a kiosk in a mall for a very cheap cost.

And so, I repeat the same process, the business grew and was generating good profits. Long story short, I decided to give up the company because I wanted to focus more on the thing I am passionate about, solving business problems through computerization and automation with Hilsoft.

Steve Jobs said, “It’s hard to tell with these Internet startups if they’re really interested in building companies or if they’re just interested in the money. I can tell you, though: If they don’t really want to build a company, they won’t luck into it. That’s because it’s so hard that if you don’t have a passion, you’ll give up”.

I want to dive deeper into this thought and ask, why would you want to find something you might love? My answer here is similar to Jobs, to do something that you enjoy so you won’t work a day in your life again.

I love so what I do so much that I am not thrilled anymore about the idea of going out to travel anymore or have a vacation. I know I should also consider my family and their passion, and so I entertain their needs from time to time.

So if doing what you love every day is what you want, then you might want to try these practical ways to try things you might love.

  1. Deduct hours you spend on your passion for consumption like tv, Netflix, social media, drinking, etc. Then add hours on your passion for creating things such as business, arts, music, writing, good health, relationships, etc.
  2. Choose your top 10 here,
    and Sort them by priority and then try what works and discard what’s not. Do it on a monthly or a quarterly period.
  3. Master the hobby you chose by spending at least 10,000 hours doing it.
  4. Register it as a business, put up a website, build your community, and initial loyal customers then advertise.

To end, I would like to share this poem a stumbled upon while writing this;

“You know a dream is like a river
Ever changing as it flows.
And a dreamer’s just a vessel
That must follow where it goes.
Trying to learn from what’s behind you
And never knowing what’s in store
Makes each day a constant battle
Just to stay between the shores.”

“The River” by Garth Brooks, Victoria Shaw

The Role of Vulnerability in Creativity and Innovation

I’ve been stumbling across Brené Brown and her work about vulnerability these past weeks online. Netflix featured her recently, The Call to Courage. I couldn’t help but be curious about the power or role of vulnerability in innovation.

Some people ask me, especially the old schools, why am I overexposing myself? Why am I publishing some meetings we hold at Hilsoft or my personal life? If I intend to establish our brand, then how come the big brands didn’t go big with this approach? I smile, and I said to myself, social media and the Internet don’t even exist at the time, and there’s no way you can establish your brand if you are not visible online. You practically don’t exist as a business if you don’t have at least a website.

Consumers are more powerful now than before. You cannot fake things now and do false advertisements. People can now easily see them. I strongly believe in documenting and showing people your real self, your vulnerabilities, and adversities. Building a brand today is all about showing your true intentions and mission as a company or an individual.

Many of us suit up and wear armor because we are afraid of criticisms, judgment, blame, and ridicule. We say to ourselves that we are not good enough and we are so scared of rejection, and we don’t belong hence we wear a mask. Vulnerability to us is a weakness.

Based on Brown’s research, vulnerability is the greatest measure of courage. She quote, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.”

Let me explain. The classic example I can give here is talented people, entrepreneurs or artists who are afraid to share their work. Some are even afraid to start because of fear of what other people might think. Creativity and innovation are all about the courage to try something new, and it begins with embracing your vulnerabilities. Don’t armor up. Create habits or culture where discomfort is normal, where rejection is normal and where ideas can fail. Struggle well.

“Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences — good and bad. Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as “ordinary courage.” – Thank you, Brené Brown.

Let’s all speak our minds by expressing our hearts through creativity and innovation.

5 Creative Ways to be a Team Player

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” -Hellen Keller

First of all, why would you want to be a team player? What’s in it for you?

Hilsoft would never have built our first ERP product without the team of five people who made it. My brother and I who developed the general ledger, I did the front-end, and my brother did the back-end. Our cousin Neil was the one who continued the accounts payable module and our dear friend Shotie who made the accounts receivable module. Later on, Bob joined us who helped us in the initial client implementations. All were young engineers who were passionate and playful about what we do.

We worked hard at day time and played basketball and video games at night. We were a team who has a deep level of relationship. Sometimes we argue, but at the end of the day, I believe we loved each other.

When they all left the company sometime in 2004, I single-handedly tried to operate the business with the assistance of my uncle abroad, partners and valued employees that came in and out of the company. Yes, I was able to have small wins but also small losses, up and down like a roller coaster ride, but it never came to a point where I wanted the company to be. I never had a core team until just a few years ago when I accepted the truth that I cannot do it alone. We grew 400% right after and now continue to grow while I empower our team to strive for impact and results.

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” -This quote from Michael Jordan hits me while I write this.

So if you want to be good then maybe you don’t need to be a team player, but if you’re going to be great and achieve great results, then it is about time to learn how to be.

Here are some creative ways on how to be a team player.

  1. Believe in the power of a team. The story above was somehow proof of the power of a team by believing that helping out your team in solving a problem will result in a macro-level positive result.
  2. Actually “Care.” You can never fake caring. People will see it and feel it. Practice loving-kindness with people in general, and special care with your team and even their families.
  3. Be self-aware of your strength and weaknesses. Let go of your ego. Share with the team what you know and what you don’t know. Then compliment each other by helping them out where they are weak and vice-versa.
  4. Align with one objective. With Hilsoft, we aim to continuously develop and improve our products that are useable and make our customers look forward to more. Regardless if one engineer is assigned directly to one client and the other one is independently assigned to another, the team develop and improve one base product for all.
  5. Play. Have fun. Build a positive community. Go out and make your team your second family.

This article is a tribute to Bob Abraham (the guy in front), one of our pioneering team member and a friend who passed away last year due to a health issue. Thank you, brother.

Innovation By Outside-In Thinking: 3 Reasons Why You Should Adopt This and 5 Tips To Execute

When we decided to develop our first ever product, an online accounting software, we have no idea of how it works and what is acceptable to the market. We did it by reverse engineering existing accounting software online without careful assessment of the user needs especially Filipino accountants. We picked modules and sub-modules based on naive common sense. We did it inside-out.

Fast forward six months later, we showed what we developed to prospective clients, and it turned out that it was not sellable. We went back to our drawing board, and fortunately, we met an accountant who’s well versed with systems, and we learned that we have to redo 80% of our code. So we did, and our product evolved customer-driven or outside-in from thereon.

Outside-in by definition is an approach guided by customer orientation and customer value creation. It means that real customer problems and challenges drive the product features, operational process efficiency or human resource structure.

Why should we innovate by outside-in thinking? Here are some reasons and benefits:

  1. Customers are becoming more powerful. With the online reviews and social media feedback platform, companies have no choice but to listen to their customers. Spend efforts to maximize customer benefits rather than the shareholder returns.
  2. Market disruptions are popping here and there. People are a lot wiser. We can quickly learn something from the Internet andYouTube with the vast content and information overload; hence people can easily find ways to tap the whitespace of a particular market. There’s no way of knowing that whitespace if companies don’t listen or get feedback from the customers. So if you stop listening, then you’ll become obsolete.
  3. It improves customer delivery. Organizations who adopt the inside-out method define their delivery process based on theories or experience they got from their previous jobs. Every business is unique, so whatever process that is successful from other companies does not necessarily apply to your company. By outside-in thinking, companies should put themselves to the customer’s shoes, simulate the experience and practice empathy. Define the customer’s pain points and change the method based on those data. This method will definitely decrease customer attrition rate and complaints, an increase in repeat business and loyalty.

Here are some tips in executing business in an outside-in manner:

  1. In product development, obtain an understanding of what products or service that is available in your target market. Research why a particular group of customers are not buying them and not solving their problems. Develop a feature to solve that problem.
  2. In sales, understand their challenges and the reason why they made time for you before you make your pitch.
  3. In delivery, understand the customer journey. Please take note of all the touchpoints and check to see how you can improve them.
  4. In execution, improve your response time, close all issues and feedback and do not tolerate problems.
  5. In HR, train employees to ensure the organization is all on the same page in doing the above.

8 Takeaways from The Creative Brain Movie

Source: The Creative Brain Movie

The words “creativity” and “innovation” always get my attention. Netflix recently released a documentary about the creative brain and here are the takeaways.

  1. Take two ideas and combine them.
  2. Bend, break and blend ideas.
  3. Being original is not necessarily about creating something out of nothing.
  4. Creativity is creating extraordinary from an ordinary.
  5. Try something new, a new career, or a new skill.
  6. Combine the familiar and the new.
  7. Push boundaries.
  8. Don’t be afraid of failure.

Can You Systematize Innovation?

When it comes to systematizing innovation, I always remember “Try a lot of stuff and keep what works”, a chapter in Jim Collins book Built to Last. It tells about how 3M and the others systemize their process by having a 15% rule. It encourages their employees to use 15% of their time to proactively cultivate and pursue innovative ideas that excite them.

I tried that a couple of times with Hilsoft, but we always fail. We were always bombarded with operational issues, and it is difficult to spare time to execute innovative ideas.

I came across with a podcast of Tim Ferris the other day, and I got a little excited when the guest was Eric Schmidt, the former CEO & chairman of Google.

The first idea I learned was to run your company at a consistent spin rate with the formula:

70% of your efforts in your core product
20% of your efforts in new products
10% of your efforts in new ideas

Unlike the 15% rule where it is employee driven, this is management driven. To simplify the idea, you can depict the formula above as: 70% of your team shall focus on your core products, 20% dedicated team in new products and 10% dedicated team in new ideas. It resolves the issue of cutting the momentum of the core products team as the new products & new ideas are dedicated.

At Hilsoft, in a way, this is unconsciously executed. Majority of our team focuses on our core which is ERP and HR/Payroll. A smaller percentage of our team is dedicated to new products such as Hotel Management, Real-Estate & CRM and a tiny portion on new ideas such as Snap Accounting & Snap Payroll. With this new learning, I am motivated to mindfully steer our team to more or less hit the percentages above. This move should result in more focus, clear direction, and staff satisfaction. We can always shuffle people now and then, to excite them.

The second idea that I learned, that as a leader, you may also want to systematize your meetings. I first discovered this from Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter where he runs the company in themed days.

“The way I found that works for me is I theme my days. On Monday, at both companies, I focus on management and running the company…Tuesday is focused on product. Wednesday is focused on marketing and communications and growth. Thursday is focused on developers and partnerships. Friday is focused on the company and the culture and recruiting. Saturday I take off, I hike. Sunday is reflection, feedback, strategy, and getting ready for the week.”

Instead of squeezing your time each day in solving issues on all departments, having themed days is focus-driven hence more productive results.

I just recently implemented Mondays in operations, Tuesdays in sales and Fridays in team coaching and culture. The rest would be client meetings as we don’t have the luxury yet of me being full time in the back office. I still need to support our sales and delivery team in the field.

So to answer the question in the title, yes innovation can be systematized. It’s a matter of building & setting the right parameters (time & resource) to keep your clock ticking.

The Best Way to Tackle Difficult Customers or Difficult People in General

I think here’s the best way to tackle demanding customers or difficult people in general.

When it comes to customer service or dealing with angry customers or people, I always remember my friend’s story who, at the time, was working for a retail telco. He shared that the customer slammed the phone on the floor in front of him. That, to me, is the ultimate difficult customer to handle.

If you put things into perspective, high self-esteem is what you need if you are pursuing a service business or this line of work. That’s the primary key. Because if you have high self-esteem, then you can stay calm, you can listen to what the customer says, you don’t take things personally, you don’t argue, but instead, you will have the confidence to provide solutions and offer a compromise.

If you have high self-esteem, then you can always give sincere apologies if you made a mistake and show empathy.

But in any relationship, you should have a threshold. Unreasonable customers or people is the indication to fire your customer or stay out of the relationship eventually. Yes, firing a customer is an option especially if things are unjust. Self-esteem is also self-love. Yes, you care, but you should also care for yourself if things are unfair.