It has been a total of 267 days since I - a female Gen X entrepreneur - left the corporate world and took the leap of faith into entrepreneurship for the very first time. This ‘BIG’ adventure of mine has always been on the cards and I had even gone to the extent of creating a business plan way back in 2012 in support of this transition. However, I only had the ‘guts’ or courage to take the plunge after spending 20 successful years in sales & marketing, hiring a coach and getting the support from my family.
I knew I could give entrepreneurship a shot but I also knew that the odds were stacked against me, considering the extremely low startup success rate and the fact that new businesses started by women fell in 2014 to its second-lowest level in nearly two decades. I must confess that I was terrified in the beginning (and still am at times even now), as I made the move at a time where there was a global economic slowdown and I had enjoyed the perks of working with many smart people at large corporations like Google, Oracle, EMC, Dell & Symantec. I had to adjust and adapt quickly from my previous corporate life - in which I was accustomed to having significant amounts of available resources, budgets, and perks - to my new way of life as an entrepreneur.
As we head towards 2017, I had the opportunity to reflect upon my many “first” experiences in building out my sales management consulting practice. I envision my first Gen X or “GenXpreneurial” journey in the form of a pyramid shown in the diagram below, in the sense that I would need to build a strong base of relevant experience and work my way up to the top towards meeting my business and customer goals.
In this very first blog post of mine for 2017, I would like to share some of the key lessons which I learned on my “GenXpreneurial” journey over these past 267 days:
Starting and growing a business is tough. Along the way, it has not been easy for me to stay motivated, persistent and focused in pursuing my aspiration. However, staying true to my passion, vision and values has served as the foundation of my business. One of the first things I did was to join the BNI Gateway Chapter. At this chapter, not only was I able to learn entrepreneurship traits from the more experienced members, but I was also inspired by their passion towards their customers and businesses which enabled them to achieve great success.
At the start of my entrepreneur journey, I initially wanted to experiment and discover my niche. However, I soon realised that I was gradually becoming a “Jack of All Trades”, as it is easy for a consultant like me to get “sucked into” doing everything since consultants, in general, are expected to possess overall business working skills. If not properly kept in check, this would eventually become a “kiss of death” for a Gen X entrepreneur like me. As time went by, I began to discover that my consultancy’s core value proposition was in helping clients turn their businesses around and re-invigorate their sales/revenue, by leveraging our unique sales and digital transformation models. And once I realised that, I began to focus on that specific area in my consultancy work. There will always be many distractions that come our way as entrepreneurs when running our own businesses, and so it is extremely important that we stay true to our own core value proposition that we offer to our clients, and not lose focus and get distracted along the way (e.g. a business partner recently approached me to resell a program of which I was tempted to say ‘yes’, but eventually I did not move forward as it was not aligned with our value proposition and key focus area).
Learn, innovate and adapt
As “GenXpreneurs”, we would have accumulated years of experience from our respected industries. While my prior business experience would be a big help in some respects, however, I discovered that some of my prior experience could not be carried over after transitioning from enterprise to digital (Oracle to Google) due to the rapid changes in technology, culture and the explosion in mobile usage. Therefore, it is extremely important for us Gen X entrepreneurs or “GenXpreneurs” to continuously learn and acquire knowledge about the world of technology/digital world around us, or in other areas that can help our business. And at times, we could even learn from the Millennial Generation (or Millennials for short). Over the past few years, I benefitted alot from collaborating with smart creative Millennials who were digital and tech savvy. Not only was I able to learn from them but they have also kept me sharp and edgy. And Millennials could even help out in our businesses as well.
During the first few weeks after joining Google, I had to jump onto the bandwagon quickly and adopt a “think 10X” mindset. And the first thing that came to my mind was “Does this mean that my quota will be 10X as well?”. Not long after that, I learned that “thinking big” was Google’s way of challenging ourselves to stretch and set unattainable goals, and thinking of ways to innovate in order to attain those goals and stay competitive in the market. Most Googlers would set aside 20% of their day-to-day working time to generate new ideas and work on projects, and it was eye-opening for me to learn how a large corporation like Google continued to innovate like a startup. Since then, the “thinking big’ mindset has stayed with me and has proven to be very helpful when it comes to the day-to-day running of my own startup.
Don’t Fall In Love with Your Idea
My initial idea was to set up a sales & marketing academy due to my strong passion in developing teams, leadership and people over the years. However, after conducting my own market research I discovered that there were already thousands of training providers in Singapore. I was fortunate enough to be challenged by my coach to avoid falling in love with my initial idea, and this has resulted in me changing my original business model and taking the consulting route instead. That said, it does not end here. It is important to constantly evaluate and put our ideas & business models to the test to see if they meet market needs. I have always believed that as entrepreneurs, it is our mantra to focus on our customers first and all other things will follow after that.
Do you have Enough?
Most small businesses ramp up after only being in operation for two or three years with their profits realized. Over the past several months, I have witnessed a few potential high growth startups wrapping up their businesses within the first year of operation. Their miscalculation of startup capital for the first two years and their decision to wind up their businesses might have killed a great business idea. With the help of my business plan, I have estimated the amount of investment that is required for my business in the first two years of operation, and this investment will help to cover my costs during that period until my business is able to generate sufficient sales revenue. While wearing my “think big” cap, I nevertheless would still need to be realistic about my sales predictions, by defining my target customer segment and how I am able to differentiate my business from the rest of the competition in the industry. Currently, my young business is self-funded. However, I think it would also be wise for entrepreneurs to explore other sources of funding as time goes by that could accelerate their business growth.
There are many reasons why “GenXers" take that leap of faith into entrepreneurship (e.g. taking their destinies into their own hands, careers stalling, yearning for a career change, being laid off from their companies etc.). Setting up your own business is a journey and the learning does not stop until you reach the top of your own unique Gen X entrepreneur or “GenXpreneur” pyramid (i.e. the question marks at the top of the “GenXrepreneur” journey pyramid shown earlier on). Furthermore, such a pyramid can be customized to take the form of other shapes, like a trilateral, quadrilateral or any polygonal-like shape. So as our startup journeys and experiences evolve, our own ‘GenXpreneur” pyramid would also evolve as well, forming its own unique shape as time goes by.
So what does your own business startup “pyramid” look like at the moment? Feel free to share your thoughts and comments with me below (by clicking on "Comment") or reach out to Vivien directly if you would like to learn more.
About the author:
Vivien Koh is the founder of VK Transformation, a sales management consulting firm that specialises in sales and digital transformation. She assists business owners, business leaders and sales professionals to uncover opportunities and address business challenges in order to help them achieve sales results and accelerate growth.
Vivien has developed her sales & marketing career over the last 20 years and has become a Highly Successful Sales Leader (HSSL). She has taken on senior leadership roles across Asia Pacific at leading multinational companies like Google, Oracle, EMC, Symantec and Dell. At Google, Vivien led a sizeable “pure hunting” sales team for digital advertising across Asia Pacific/Japan, where she tripled business revenue to hundreds of millions of US dollars per year and won thousands of new large & mid-market customers with her team.
Throughout her career, Vivien has coached, consulted for and worked with many business leaders, clients and sales professionals across different industries. In all of her leadership appointments and client engagements, she has been passionate in serving as a change agent, management consultant, coach and mentor. Vivien has also been recently appointed as the Faculty Advisor for Design of Business Program at Singapore Management University.