Three Partners — Quotidian — 387

(Transcript of video originally posted on 15th April 2022)

This man here, his name is Jim Rohn. An American entrepreneur, motivational speaker, author, a person who has had a positive impact on the lives of so many people! One interesting, almost mathematical formula he gave us — goes like this! Who are You? Well, the five people that you spend the most time with… that you interact the most with.. their AVERAGE.. That is who you are! My question is, is there a similar formula for a company? For an organisation? For an enterprise? Who should they keep near them? Who should they keep away??


Three Partners! If you are running an organisation, who are the kinds of people that you need to have with you, and who should you probably stay away from?? The interesting answer to this intriguing question.

That is what we are going to see in this book. It is our same old friend, Seth Godin, but this is very long ago. Long ago! Almost 30 / 40 years ago. Before he became famous. He is looking like a Tamil movie villain here. But, he has written a beautiful book called The Bootstrapper’s Bible — I don’t have much money, but I have an amazing idea, now, if I have to start a company, what should I keep in mind — beautiful nuggets of wisdom that caters to bootstrappers.

That’s what you would find in this book. The three kinds of people that you need to keep near you, and conversely, away from you… for ensuring success in your startup.. A short list. That is what we are going to see today.

He stretches it to such an extent that he says, if you don’t have the right kind of those three people, yes, it will grow, like a banyan tree… but, like a bonsai tree. Short. Stunted. Grotesque. Beware!

The first kind that he talks about — is of course, Customers. They are the very reason the business even exists! But, there are some kinds of customers who can turn toxic.

Now, take a look at this interface. This is a file-open dialog. As recent as 2021–22. Have you ever seen such an UGLY dialog anywhere, ever? You will be shocked if I tell you that this is the dialog for an image-editing software. Gimp is an open source software — comes as part of the Linux operating system. This claims to be a competitor to Adobe Photoshop. Can it have such a pathetic file-dialog? The only reason for it to be so abysmally bad? The customers just don’t care. The customers are all geeks. They are not interested in aesthetic beauty as much as they are interested in raw power, performance, hacking, security, and so, … if you are going to cater to such customers, you’ll start thinking that pathetic interfaces like these are “good enough”.

Here is another example. The export-dialog of Microsoft Word. In this export-dialog, look at that. The XPS format. Probably, in the world, there are some 13 people, who use this file format. PDF is world-renowned. XPS, a format that Microsoft itself brought out and tried to popularise, failed completely. But still, there a couple of customers somewhere in some dark corner of the world who are still using that format, and Microsoft continues to labor, continues to give valuable real-estate in its interface, for the XPS format. So, that is the second lesson we can take about customers. There will be some customers who will want to take you in a different direction, who will make a lot of noise. Don’t be mistaken. Don’t mistake LOUDNESS for NUMEROUSNESS. And be distracted into building something only very few want. Valuable advice.

And finally, this is the Panda. The only reason it is in the endangered species list? It is because, 99% of its diet is consisting of bamboos. If the bamboos get stricken by blight, if the bamboo in that locality have a bad season, if some humans come and raze a forest of bamboo down, these cannot eat anything else and they die. Don’t be such a company. Don’t depend on a single customer. We all know what happened during Covid. We all know what happened when we all depended on that single manufacturer of ventilators. So, again, these are the kind of customers you should stay away from.

And, yes, we have encountered this curve from Geoffrey Moore earlier too. The early adopter, if we can put extra effort for such a customer, and make some amazing stuff that pleases them, they will ensure we go in the right direction. They have a huge following — and they will bring more customers to our fold. Those are the kind of customers you should have. Alright, customers.. what is the second kind?

The second kind is of course, employees. Most of us start our company as a single, solopreneur. We have an idea, we start building something. Along the way, we realise that there is so much to do, and we try to get somebody to help us. We employ people. We employ them in the hope that they will save us time and that they will take ownership of the work we give them. But, more often than not, what happens? You end up wasting valuable time ensuring that their output is up to your expectations. We started employing people that we could not trust for quality and quantity and that is the reason the phrase called “Management Overhead” was born! So, pick them well, pick them wisely, take care of them, train them, and let them do their thing, don’t waste time micromanaging them.

Also, we have deliberated much on the “Start With Why” concept. If the “vision”, the “global vision” pulling everybody towards one direction is missing, this is how it will be.. Like unmagnetised iron!

Okay, one might think:- whatever personal directions you may be dragging it in, I, as the master, will impose my vision on you! Yes, as long as the cat is around, the mice won’t play! But, what do you need? You need to DERIVE the vision from the alignment of each one of those employees. Something like this!

In the case of the Dandi March, did everybody follow him because he went ahead of everybody? Or, he was one of the people who inspired and motivated, but there were a thousand such marches.. There were a thousand such small revolutions… already lining up towards a free India! And, Gandhi became the most important marcher. So, when every one of them has a shared vision, that is what you need to see… When we recruit somebody, we look at ability, skill, attitude, … but do we check if there is “vision”? It is TOXIC if a person lacks vision!

Talking about “toxins”, I have personally seen.. There are some employees who move around as if they have a raincloud over their head. All around, things would be bright and spectacular. But, only when they walk over, it would seem as if they are carrying the whole weight of a miserable world in their shoulders. It is good to have such people SOMETIMES, to burst the bubble, to be in touch with reality… But, not probably all the time. They have a negative impact on the morale of the overall employee group, so, you need to be careful about that.

And, finally, we have talked enough about this elusive word “Culture”. Books have been written, articles have been penned, speeches have been delivered… What is culture, exactly? Somebody put an interesting twist to it. They said, “It is what the employees do, when they are not working. It is what the employees behave like, when nobody is watching!” Because, this is what we think. We have employed somebody, we have given them some work, they will deliver that work, we will give them some salary, job done! But no, these employees, they set the pace of work. They set the tone. They bring a rhythm. You are trying to create a mellifluous orchestra. It is your responsibility that nobody “off key” comes in! Don’t forget! That is an important aspect of culture, and when they are alone, and they meet somebody outside, they are actually representing the company. They ARE the company! Can they do a good job of that? Evaluate that too!

The third group of people, that most often gets ignored, because we are too busy sitting in front of our computer, handling customers, managing employees, is, the concept of a Peer. So, who is this Peer? They are not people we sell to. They are not people we buy from. They are not people that we employ. Who are they? They are the people who share this world with us! They are peers. Probably they are in the same domain. Probably they are competitors. Probably they were competitors. Probably someday they will be competitors. People that we could interact with without actually having a business reason. Too often, we don’t do that, and Seth Godin says, that is a bad idea. You need to stretch. You need to reach out. You need to actually do that Random Acts of Kindness and help people.

Help people? Yes. They often say what goes around comes around. Go ahead. Do favours. Thank an employee. Thank a colleague. Thank somebody in the same business domain. With no intent of gaining something back from them. Can you do that? Brag about their company! Write something good about them! If you get a particular customer and you are not able to handle them immediately, refer them to the other person. If you are looking at an amazing talent, and you don’t have an opening right now, refer them to the other friend. You are winning two friends by doing so! The person you refer, and the person you refer to! Both stand to benefit! Think about that! Volunteer to provide case studies and testimonials! Reach out to your business fraternity. Carve time from your busy schedule! You don’t know how soon you are going to be benefited by that!

When he says, “Reach out!”, he also adds another dimension to it! He says, “You may look at them as competitors.. I am a red circle. That guy, you know what, that guy is a green circle. That other guy, he is a blue circle!” And that is when you need a small change in perspective.

The moment a triangle and a square come along, you immediately become, hey, “We are all circles yaar.. Aren’t we together in this?” The moment you start thinking like that, you will immediately find something in common rather than something that differentiates you..

Okay, square, circle, triangle… Just when you are wondering what could be common about such disparate shapes, … if somebody else comes along, in a three-dimensional manner, immediately you can say, “We are all two-dimensional shapes after all”, and promote to a higher level of abstraction. So, if you are keen on networking, you will find a way to see something in common, even between the most distinct and the most diverse of entities.. And, that is a very good skill to cultivate!

I am sure you all remember this story. If you are stuck in a group, don’t get stuck like that bucket full of crabs… There is no lid on it because any crab that tries to get out, the other crabs will pull back! They even branded it “Indian Crabs”. Indian mentality, it seems.. Well, when such a story was making the rounds, one guy saw a crab trying to escape! He questioned the crab! “Hey, haven’t you heard of this fable? The moment you try to reach the top, you are going to be pulled back in by all your brethren.. Didn’t you know??” Asked the guy to the crab. To which the crab replied, “I think I have the biceps for it. When somebody pulls me down, I think, I can hold on tight enough, that they can realise perhaps, ‘Hey wait, why can’t I form a chain and let all crabs come out instead?’ That is what I have prepared myself for!” So, even if you feel stuck, in a group that is seeming to pull you down, turn the table, look conversely, and see what you can do to uplift everybody.. To float every boat.

This is Vince Lombardi. A football coach from USA. Very famous. The reason the team Green Bay Packers became famous was NOT BECAUSE of the players, but because of the coach! He quoted something pithy, and that is what comes to mind as I close. He said, be they customers, be they employees, be they peers… “If you are not FIRED with enthusiasm, You will be fired with ENTHUSIASM!” Thank you! Let us meet again next week!



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Rajendran Dandapani

Rajendran Dandapani

Business Solutions Evangelist at Zoho Corp. President at The Zoho Schools Of Learning.