Solving Problems By Entrepreneurial Thinking

Our team of about 25 people is mostly sitting at the conference table. Some are standing up while their smiles fade about the agenda I am about to discuss. It was a Friday, March 30, 2007, about 6 p.m. It is a payroll day, and I am announcing that I am giving them all up together with the office and all company expenses because the cash flow cannot justify them anymore.

I went home, and inside my bedroom, I leave it dark, I lean against the wall and put my head in my hands. What should I do? I sink to the ground, and I want to make myself as small as possible.

I have never been in this kind of situation. My co-founders and all the staff were all gone. Several clients, a couple of desktop computers and my coding skills were left. Get it together, Dennis.

What is the principle behind entrepreneurial thinking? I read research written by Dr. Saras Saravathy at the University of Washington entitled “What Makes Entrepreneurs Entrepreneurial?” In 1997, she traveled across 17 states in the United States over several months, and she met with 30 founders of companies, ranging in value from $200 million to $6.5 billion and spanning a variety of industries including steel, railroad, teddy bears, semiconductors and biotech.

She coined the term “effectual reasoning” and “causal reasoning.”

“In general, In MBA programs, students are taught causal in every functional area of business. Causal rationality is the traditional approach where you predetermine goals and a given set of means, and then identify the optimal, fastest, cheapest, alternative to achieve the goal. This is also synonymous with strategic thinking.

Effectual reasoning, however, does not begin with a specific goal. Instead with a given set of means and allows goals to emerge contingently over time from the varied imagination, diverse aspirations of the entrepreneur and the people they interact with.”

Causal thinkers are like generals while effectual thinkers are the explorers, setting out on voyages into uncharted waters.

To summarize her study, entrepreneurs are entrepreneurial, as differentiated from managerial or strategic, because they think effectually; they believe in yet-to-be-made future that can substantially be shaped by human action; they realize that to the extent that this human action can control the future. It is important to point out, though, that the same person can use both causal and effectual reasoning at different times depending on what the circumstances call for. In fact, the best entrepreneurs are capable of both.

In my story above, unconsciously, using the principle of effectual reasoning, I have to work with readily available resources. I began with some questions like who am I, what are my traits and abilities, what do I know and whom do I know.

Instead of revalidating our products by doing market research and business planning, I started by setting up a workstation at home while working on projects by myself. When I realized I needed extra hands, I sourced for interns from several universities and asked one of my existing customers who is also a good friend/mentor to accommodate me in his office in Makati. I used desktops from the old office and hired the interns. By word of mouth, I started booking new customers again, got a new office and hired regular employees and then eventually changing our name to Hilsoft, Inc by 2012.

In summary, in relation to my experience and the study above, below are some keys to solve problems by entrepreneurial thinking:

  1. Solve problems using existing resources and means.
  2. Execute solutions focusing on affordable loss and not on expected return. It means for example not to exert too much effort on market research and to choose the target market, but instead do the actual selling and adjust products accordingly.
  3. Solve problems by trial and error, leverage on contingencies and be open to surprises.
  4. Take advantage of opportunities while solving problems through human action.

As I say all the time, we can solve anything as long as we do not tolerate problems. By adding this concept, I wish that each of us can find what we are looking for.

Three Steps in Solving Real-Life Problems Using Software Debugging Techniques

I was struggling to speak. No words were coming out from my mouth. It’s 8 am, and my desktop was still on after working overnight with my brother. It was interesting to experience my vocal cords collapsing after a 24-hour work to debug a complex problem.

The challenge at that time was how to convert the existing users of our accounting software from multi-database to single database/multi-tenant model. There were about 30 company subscribers we need to migrate in a software-as-a-service (SAAS) or application service provider (ASP) model that was the term at the time around the year 2004.

What is Debugging? According to Wikipedia, Debugging is the process of finding and resolving defects or problems within a computer program that prevent correct operation of computer software or a system.

Debugging tactics can involve interactive debugging, control flow analysis, unit testing, integration testing, log file analysis, monitoring at the application or system level, memory dumps, and profiling.

To me, the most effective way to debug is bug isolation. It is a technique where you break down the big problem into small chunks or small modules, then solving it one at a time. In the problem I mentioned above, we isolated the problem by identifying which part of the program can we modify with the least effort because we were also pressured in time.

So how do you apply debugging techniques in real life? Here’s my take:

Step 1 – Simulate the bug. When the bug is reported, you have to ask the reporter how did the bug occur. What was the user input, what was the process, function or the button pressed and what was the output vs. the expected result?

In real life, you have to define the problem first clearly. A money problem, for example, may not be the real problem. The real question is the person who doesn’t make efforts to find a job or business and make money.

Step 2 – Isolate the bug. Breakdown the functions or methods line-by-line and see where the problem occurred. Was it when the button was pressed? Was it the data type the user inputted, was it when the button press signals the function to proceed or was it when the function returned the value? In coding, we put breakpoints to see exact behaviors or return values each line.

In real life, we can break down the problem as well. Going back to the money problem, we can iterate the possible causes like, am I spending more than I earn? Why am I not motivated to find a job? Is it depression? Am I an impulsive buyer? Once you have identified the cause, then it is easier to find a solution.

Step 3 – Solve and test. Solutions mostly are theories at first. In coding, you have to test your work by simulating the problem again and see if it still happening. In real life, if the cause of your money problem is being an impulsive buyer or spending much, then the solution is to devote efforts to analyze the budget and follow it. There are a lot of free apps where you can set a budget monthly, track it and forecast what happens to your cash balance if I buy this piece of equipment using my credit card and pay it in installment. That’s where testing happens.

These are just very few examples. Other real-life problems like relationships, business, health can be solved using these techniques. The most important thing is you don’t tolerate your problem when you see it.

What is your Brand?

When I think of a go-to pizza, Shakey’s is the first thing that comes up to me.

When I think of an old-school but stable bank, it’s Metrobank.

When I think of a sports brand that most athletes wear, it’s Nike.

To me, this is the true meaning of a brand. The customers brand you and not the other way around.

The problem with most businesses or marketers is that they create their brand message based on the image that they want to project, not based on how customers are branding them.

I always ask in interviews, “if I call your former colleagues, what do you think will they tell me about you?”. That’s your brand.

I am writing this because I’d like to share the proper mindset in discovering your brand. Also, Hilsoft never used a tagline, only a slogan “Loved by Filipino SMEs for over 17 years“. I think its about time to use one this coming 2019.

Looking back, I often hear from customers or partners that if you want your problem to be solved then call Dennis. Even in our team, if the devs couldn’t solve the coding problem, then they call me. Debugging that takes days, I can solve in minutes.

So I am branded as a guy who can solve anything. Relative of course to business automation problems whether if it is a user issue or a software issue.

Just recently, I encounter different cases during sales meetings with clients. So we in the sales team always come up with solutions. It can be a simple software customization tweak, hardware integration or even iOT.

Now I can confidently say that not only me but we are tagged as a company who can provide solutions to each business process problems that the customer have.

A few years ago, I printed and posted a message in our office wall, “You can solve anything.” I posted it to impart to our team that with resourcefulness, creativity and having an innovative mindset, any programming problem can be solved. So I figured, why not use this as a company tagline to tell the world that there’s a solution to every problem and Hilsoft can help and collaborate with you in solving them.

My next job is to make sure that I communicate this tagline to our team, so we are all aligned as to who we really are and how we are different from the others.

The most important thing is to create a process of how our team can systematically execute this brand to customers.

So in your case, what is your brand? Or should I say, what do your customers tell about you? I hope this writing can help you in discovering them.

How to Get Things Done

Great Monday! I just wanted to share some of my new learnings these past days about managing tasks, being more efficient and less work stress.

1. Getting things done by David Allen (GTD) – https://gettingthingsdone.com

2. Bullet Journal by Ryder Carroll – https://bulletjournal.com

3. Mind Mapping by Tony Buzan – https://www.mindmapping.com

These concepts have helped me creatively clear out my head and organize my thoughts.

Happy learning!

#creativemindset

The Innovative Employee

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Being an innovative employee is a little tricky. It depends on your overall career objective. Are you working for your employer because you love what you do? Or are you working because you want to help your family, help customers, save for the future or gain experience?

When I was working for a Japanese company back in the day, I used to play around with tools to make our product, a banking application, useable. My motivation was the self-gratification of solving real-life programming challenges. I was competitive and enjoy the experience of finishing early on my commitment. Until I left the company and worked for my own.

So the innovation that I had done was to find ways to estimate tasks creatively, execute coding with finesse and release early. I break tasks into 2-hour chunks, use a notepad to log them thru our intranet time accounting app.

As the youngest member of the 12-man team, I love the attention I get when I solve challenging problems by myself.

Here’s my take on how to be an innovative employee and routines that will get you on your way to peak performance:

Proper Mindset

Having a positive mindset and attitude is the top most important thing that you should do. Stay away from work gossip and toxic people who feed you nothing but negativity & complaints.  Establish a productive routine from making your bed by the time you wake up, visualization, exercise, and focus.

Implement the latest technology and methodology.

Look up the technique called “Pomodoro”. It’s about breaking your tasks into 25-minute chunks and 5-minute break. It’s one of the trending methodologies these days. With this, plus an app such as TickTick can be an innovative tool for productivity.

Balance stress and rest.

Did you know that the most important part of toning your body is rest? After breaking your muscles during a workout, rest is the part where it builds back the muscles that you teared up. It’s no different with work, rest is where you sometimes achieve the eureka moment and get solutions to your problems. It allows your brain to step out of the linear thought process. It is where your subconscious mind kicks-in.

Do not multi-task.

Compartmentalize your tasks into categories and block your time for each category. Turn off your phone during time-blocking.

Concretize your purpose.

Is it really about just gaining experience or just getting your salary every 15th and 30th? Align your purpose with the company’s purpose to get motivated and contribute to society.

Set your own scorecard and engage for impact.

Try to gamify your scores. When I heard the term “gamify” for the first time, I couldn’t help but be curious and be excited about it. Being creative on your targets and your KPIs make it more exciting and fun to work with.

Engaging for impact means, just adequate follow through and you’re working harmoniously with your team especially when your tasks are inter-linked with each other.

There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing progress, whether it is about your own growth, the company’s, your team or your customer’s.  And being an innovative member of your team gives you true pleasure at work and in life.

A Simple Creative Concept on How to Become a Millionaire in the Philippines

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Imagine that you wake up in the morning, brush your teeth, ask your driver to drive you to a fancy restaurant for breakfast with your family without worrying about money. Imagine that you can buy whatever new gadget there is, new clothes, a new car and all that. That’s a great feeling honestly.

But it requires considerable effort to be able to get to that status. It requires building healthy habits, passion in what you do, hard work and big dreams to achieve financial independence. In global standards, being a millionaire means you should have a net worth of 50 million in pesos. But what I want to talk about is to start at 1M pesos.

1. The first step is to set the target income. If the target is to achieve your first million, then multiply it by 10, so it’s Php10M. It’s the 10X concept of Grant Cardone where it says that to realize your dreams, you have to exert significant effort. So multiplying your goal by ten means, you will increase your energy 10 times as well. You shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars. You can start with an 8-5 job, or a be salesperson of a promising industry or a legitimate networking/direct selling company.

2. Pay yourself first and save the 40%. With this, it means you will have to spend considerable efforts to minimize your expenditures first to 60% of your actual income. If your current income is P40k per month, then it means your budget threshold should only be at P24k. If your salary is 100k, then spend only 60k. I know its difficult. It might say that you have to downsize your apartment, minimize dining out or avoid credit card installment. Let go of your ego and focus on the vision and the long-term benefits.

3. Invest the 40%. Your savings or your money has zero value if it’s stored in the bank. It should be moving. It can be with a good product idea, stocks, or any business that you are passionate about. You can always work in a company while running an online business.

4. Continue to grow your business until your monthly business net income is equal to your salary. The next step is to leave your current employer and achieve your target on item 1.

5. Apply the same concept with your business, invest the 40% back to your company or another business or any other form of investment.

People want to go to heaven, but they are not willing to die. Same concept here, if you’re going to earn your first million, then you should be willing to do the above.

Just bear in mind that it’s not always about the money, the main goal is about having the time to do what you love to do without working your ass-off all the time.

Project Zero-Phone-Use: The Ultimate To Do List

todolist.pngAccording to a study, an average cell phone user touches the phone 2,167 times a day or equivalent to 2.5 hours.  Then there’s also a study that continually checking their phones results to a higher level of stress compared to people who spend less time interacting with their gadgets.

Some of us use the phone simultaneous with when we are talking to someone or even driving, which is worse.  Yes, there are benefits in multi-tasking, but the drawbacks outweigh those benefits.  It not only results in more anxiety or stress but a half-baked product of your work.

With this, I wonder, how can one person reduce the number of times they touch his or her phone?  If you’re a businessperson and you are managing all aspects of your company, it is given that you will be overwhelmed with so many tasks.  So if one can develop a system to automate some and minimize friction in executing your work such as checking your to-do list on your phone, then you’ll be more effective and efficient.

Over the years, I’ve been in constant research, trial and error on how to achieve that “nirvana” of doing my todo list.  I tried so many tools from Remember The Milk, Google Inbox, Google Tasks, Google Keep, Jira, Basecamp, Post Its, a physical notebook and Trello.  But I always end up with obsessively checking the tasks on hand and non-stop looking at my phone.

I even have a separate phone with me in the morning so that I won’t be tempted to glance at the notifications of my work phone.  I may seem calm from the outside, but my mind is pounding with stressful thoughts and anxiety.

Just recently, I thought of an experiment to minimize the number of times I will touch and view my phone and use a smartwatch or only the phone notification to glance at quick pings and IMs.

The main objective is, how can I be able to reduce the use of my phone while still be productive and efficient?  So this is what I am going to do at work in the next coming days:

1. Classify my activities.

    * a. Email checks and work planning using a laptop

    * b. Face-to-face meetings

    * c. Manage IMs

2. For activity a)., I will block one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon to reply to emails using my laptop.  Then I will use Google Keep to set tasks with due date reminder notification that will require me to do another activity, for example, a phone call or proposal review.

3. Use Google Calendar to set events for face-to-face meetings.

4. Classify IMs, using a smartwatch with cellular data can eliminate the use of a phone.  You can even leave your phone at home with the latest smartwatches such as Apple Watch.

    * IMs answerable by yes or no, use a reply/msg template to make a quick reply.

    * IMs that require a discussion, I can use a smartwatch with a wireless earphone to call instead of discussing over text if it’s urgent, or just call them after my current task.

To paint you a picture further, here’s a sample day for me:

7am – 8am – I will block this hour to reply to emails, messages, and set reminders to place a call in a specific time of the day.

7:45am – a watch Google Keep notification will pop-up telling me to start the sales meeting at 8am showing the list of things to discuss.

8am – 10am – focus on the sales meeting while glancing over quick IMs and apply item 4 above.

9:45am – a watch notification will pop-up telling me to wrap up and start driving to my a meeting outside the office.

10am to 12pm – sales call outside the office while glancing over quick IMs on my smartwatch.  Will reply using templates and/or set reminders via the watch to call back.

12pm to 2pm – lunch and do item 2 above – check emails using a laptop and re-arrange Google Keep tasks.

1:45pm – a watch notification will pop-up telling me what to do next…

And the cycle goes on and on.

With this “algorithm,” I might be able to reduce the time significantly in using my phone, if not entirely eliminate them instead of constantly checking and replying emails, msgs and attending to tasks real-time.

The smart way of using your phone this time is when you want to read an ebook peacefully on the bed, listen to podcasts or engage in social media when you are not in work mode.

If this experiment is successful, then I will try to share my experience with you via a vlog.

Stay tuned.