Article from Woomentum, a female entrepreneurship support ecosystem by Farah Kim


How an Investor in Startups is Now Also an Entrepreneur in the Making – Meet Steve Dana, the Sales Guru of Singapore

Some people have this amazing energy that is reflected in the way they communicate, share ideas and engage with others. These people are usually focused, dedicated, love getting things done and have an impressive ability to fit everything into an organized schedule. It’s all of these qualities that got us to interview Steve  Dana – a company owner, a trainer, a coach, a consultant and a mentor for startups, with over two decades of experience in the world of sales. 

Steve first came to Singapore four years ago to conduct a set of sales workshops where he met and fell in love with one of the students at the workshops. The couple got married and Steve settled in Singapore, turned his side-hustle into a full-fledged consultation company and now spends time teaching sales, conducting workshops and being highly involved in the startup ecosystem of Asia. Steve has been on both sides of the spectrum as an investor and an entrepreneur. He shares with us insights both as an investor and an entrepreneur which we are glad to have our network read, and be inspired from! 

1. Please tell us about yourself. Who is Steve Dana and what does he have to offer to a network of entrepreneurs? 

I graduated university in the USA with Education degrees. I discovered sales and have been a leader & teacher of sales for the past 25+ years. I have always dabbled in the start-up ecosystem and invested in a few as well. I realized the struggles entrepreneurs have today is not so much the quality of their product/service or the accuracy of their target customer profiles but rather their ability to articulate their message to the potential investors or clients. Additionally, I coach and train full-time with my own start-up company, Comet Sales Consulting.

2. How did it feel starting out on your own as an entrepreneur? Did you have any doubts or significant challenges that could have made you second-guess your ambition to create your own business? 

I  started originally back in 2007 but, using the current phraseology, it was a side-hustle. Yes, I was doing engagements, but I was not promoting my business. It was simply a means for billing. I was working at my normal full-time job while moonlighting with Comet Sales Consulting. Then, in 2014, things changed. I started taking more engagements and my clientele started to increase. In February of 2018, I registered in Singapore finally and moved my side-hustle to my main-hustle as they say. I would say that is the moment I became a true entrepreneur. 

I have been an investor several times myself. As an investor, I coached the founders and led them down the path to success. It was still their vision, however, I was on the sidelines encouraging and guiding them. I have seen many things that work but also many things that do not work. Starting on my own as an entrepreneur is scary. When you have the safety net of a full-time job, it is mentally easier. As a full-time entrepreneur, my mindset changed for the better. I have a vision of what I want and how I am going to get there. I fearlessly pursue my goals and am more particular on my time management. My focus is narrow.

3. You started side-hustling back in 2007, when community networks or the Internet wasn’t as powerful or global. How did you manage to secure clients or funding for your business? 

Early on, finding clients was more happenstance. I kept my ear open and my network strong. As time wore on, I began to get a nice following of former ‘students’. This following brought me in front of more & more future clients. Again, in the early stages, I was running a simple side-hustle and funding wasn’t an issue until I turned the side-hustle into a full-time company. For that purpose, I used my own monetary foundation that I had built over the years and so I did not run into the initial financial constraints of setting up shop. 

4. What is it about the work you do that makes you satisfied and proud? 

While a good percentage of my business is multi-national companies, I do a lot of work in the start-up ecosystem. I coach soft skills like communication & presentation skills as well as sales skills. All entrepreneurs need to be salespeople. My happiest and most fulfilling moments come when I get a breakthrough with a student. Suddenly, she lights up with a spark of enthusiasm, ‘Oh, I get it now!’ Yes! [fist pump] It is priceless for me! This is why I do this.

5. There has been a significant rise in female entrepreneurship in the APAC region. What’s your view on the matter and how do you think these women can be empowered to do more? 

Yes, it is being noticed that the shackles have been thrown off and females are starting to take a step into the spotlight. I think it is great. I believe I heard a statistic the other day that 20% of founders are female. We need many more. We need to get this percentage to 50%. I coach the female entrepreneurs to step out of the subconscious, subservient roles traditionally expected of females. They need to confidently shine in their knowledge and experience. The only thing holding them back is their own mindset.

6. You have joined a network of entrepreneurs with Woomentum. What do you expect out of it and where do you see yourself contributing the most? 

First, I would beg the network to speak up and engage each other. Please! The only way to learn is to engage. Yes, our lives are very busy; all of us. Schedule the time to interact. Our lives can be easier if we work together to learn from each other’s experiences, triumphs and mistakes. I will continue to learn as much as I can about the Woomentum world and will be ‘vocal’ in my thoughts on sales, communication, business storytelling and entrepreneurship.

7. Most entrepreneurs today want to start their own business but the major bottleneck has always been funding. What advice do you have in this regard? 

Yes, yes, this is the million-dollar question…literally. Look, the funding struggle or dance will always exist. However, I do coach a few things to ensure you have a better than average fighting chance.

One, have your 4 quadrants handled: Who we serve (customer profiles), What we serve (our products/service), Who we are (branding), and How we serve (customer experience). I handle this in a workshop format. Typically, founders are good at handling the first two but fail miserably in the last two…or, it could be the reverse.

Two, know how to articulate your company and its vision. You can be great if you take the time to learn to communicate your vision and why you do it. You should have several versions depending on time and your audience. Practice & rehearse them over and over. Also, know your potential market backed by logic and verifiable numbers. Investors will always want to know the numbers.

Finally, know your ask. An investor is buying into YOU as much (or more) than the company. If they feel you lack the competence & character to lead this company into success, the productor service means very little to them. Also, if you need $500K funding to give you 18-months of runway, then ask for it. Don’t be shy. Don’t ask for $500K if $1 million is what you need. If this happens, you look ill-equipped to run the venture.

Great advice indeed! Steve’s experience as both an investor and now an entrepreneur is highly valuable especially since it gives us an understanding into both sides of the coin. For entrepreneurs, the ability to articulate the right message and understanding what an investor looks into is the key to success. 

The REAL Seven Wonders of the World

A group of students were asked to list what they thought were the present “Seven Wonders of the World.”  Though there were some disagreements, the following received the most votes:

1.Egypt’s Great Pyramids

2.Taj Mahal

3.Grand Canyon

4.Panama Canal

5.Empire State Building

6.St. Peter’s Basilica

7.China’s Great Wall

 

While gathering the votes, the teacher noted that one student had not finished her paper yet. So she asked the girl if she was having trouble with her list. The girl replied, “Yes, a little.  I couldn’t quite make up my mind because there are so many.”

 

The teacher said, “Well, tell us what you have, and maybe we can help.”  The girl hesitated, then read, “I think the ‘Seven  Wonders of the World’ are:

1.To See

2.To Hear

3.To Taste

4.To  Smell

5.To Laugh

6.To Feel

7.To Love.”

 

The room was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop. The things we overlook as simple and ordinary and that we take for granted are truly wondrous!

True story by Joy Garrison Wasson. She taught English in Muncie, Indiana for over thirty years.  She died on October 15, 2009, after a long illness. She was only 62

Let Us Decide When to Jump

Thought of the Day

Put a frog into a vessel filled with water and start heating the water. As the temperature of the water begins to rise, the frog adjusts its body temperature accordingly. The frog keeps adjusting its body temperature with the increasing temperature of the water. Just when the water is about to reach boiling point, the frog cannot adjust anymore. At this point, the frog decides to jump out.

The frog tries to jump but it is unable to do so because it has lost all its strength in adjusting with the rising water temperature. Very soon, the frog dies. What killed the frog? Think about it!

I know many of us will say the boiling water killed the frog. However, the truth about what really killed the frog was more of its own inability to decide when to jump out.

We need to adjust to people & situations and we need to be sure when we need to adjust OR when we need to move on.

There are times when we need to face the situation and take appropriate actions. If we allow people to exploit us physically, emotionally, financially, spiritually or mentally, they will continue to do so.

Let us decide when to jump! Let’s jump while we still have the strength.

The Lion and the Ant; Some Lessons for Managers & HR

I came across the following fable recently and I found it an interesting way of challenging the roles of the manager and HR alike in many organizations.

“Every day, a small Ant arrived at work early and starting work immediately, she produced a lot and she was happy. The boss, a lion, was surprised to see that the ant was working without supervision. He thought if the ant can produce so much without supervision, wouldn’t she produce more if she had a supervisor!

So, the lion recruited a cockroach who had extensive experience as a supervisor and who was famous for writing excellent reports. The cockroach’s first decision was to set up a clocking-in attendance system. He also needed a secretary to help him write and type his reports. He recruited a spider who managed the archives and monitored all phone calls.

The Lion was delighted with the cockroach’s report and asked him to produce graphs to describe production rates and analyze trends so that he could use them for presentations at board meetings. So, the cockroach had to buy a new computer and a laser printer and recruit a fly to manage the IT department. The Ant, who had been once so productive and relaxed, hated this new plethora of paperwork and meetings which used up most of her time.

The lion came to the conclusion that it was high time to nominate a person in charge of the department where the ant worked. The position was given to the Cicada whose first decision was to buy a carpet and an ergonomic chair for his office. The new person in charge, the cicada, also needed a computer and a personal assistant, whom he had brought from his previous department to help him prepare a work and budget control strategic optimization plan.

The department where the ant works is now a sad place, where nobody laughs anymore and everybody has become upset. It was at that time the cicada convinced the boss, the Lion, to start a climatic study of the office environment. Having reviewed the charges of running the ant’s department, the lion found out that the production was much less than before so he recruited the Owl, a prestigious and renowned consultant, to carry out an audit and suggest solutions. The Owl spent 3 months in the department and came out with an enormous report, in several volumes, that concluded that, “The Department is overstaffed.”

Guess who the Lion fired first?

The Ant, of course “Because she showed lack of motivation and had a negative attitude.”

If we transpose this fable to the world of work, one is tempted to offer this fable as a good illustration of why it’s necessary to promote and implement empowerment in every organization and how the role of a manager should be to empower the team member to that he/she can do the job effectively and not be burdened by excessive layers of red tape and administrative tasks which only serve to justify and prove that actions are being taken rather than that results have been achieved.

Indeed, as we all know, the amount of reporting and administrative tasks required by an organization is inversely proportional to the effectiveness of the organization in question. The more reporting you have in an organization, the more tempting it is to conclude that performance is low.

Results speak for themselves whereas failure always seems to have to justify itself!

However, in the above fable, one has to question the motivation of the Lion. Rather than trying to improve the productivity of the ant by adding more ants (which would seem the logical step) or by simply asking the ant what needed to be done to make things better (even more logical as the ant is best placed to know what needs to be done to improve productivity at least initially), without consulting the ant, the Lion adds backroom staff because one suspects that the Lion doesn’t understand what makes the ant effective in the first place nor does the lion understand how to go about improving things; because if he did, he would have begun by asking the ant first!

All the measures the Lion takes seeks to control rather than encourage and reward the ant. Why?

Perhaps it is because the Lion may be confused as to what his role is and he seems to think that if he doesn’t implement a whole arsenal of checks and controls which allow him to monitor the ant, he isn’t playing his role as a Lion.

The Lion seems, indeed, to think his role as a Lion is to control and monitor the activity of the ant rather than freeing him up to be more effective. Of course, as the working day is not endless (even for ants), the time needed to produce more and more reports means there is less time for operational issues and this impacts inevitably on the ant’s productivity. In the long run, it also impacts her engagement and motivation. And so, the ant becomes trapped in a vicious circle of more controls, more reports, more reports less productivity, less productivity more checks, more checks more reports, more reports less productivity and so on.

Perhaps one is reading too much into the Lion’s behaviour and perhaps his motives are more well-intentioned. However, whatever the Lion’s motives, one cannot blame the ant for perceiving this behaviour as a demonstration of a lack of trust in her abilities to perform. Rather than consulting her and asking her what needs to be done to improve productivity, the lion deems it necessary to impose all sorts of checks and controls on her.

Is it any surprise the ant may become frustrated? As the lion is confused as to his role, is it any surprise he fails to understand why the ant is frustrated and that he concludes, in error, it is because the ant is disengaged and negative?

Indeed, this is an example of the Pygmalion effect in reverse. The “lion” seeks to assert his authority rather than guide performance and imposes a command and control mode of management which generates frustration in his “ants” and, this in turn, in the “lion’s mind, legitimizes the command and control management mode generating the frustration in the first place. What a paradox!

Lessons for Managers

So, there is a lesson for managers here. One clear sign of a poor manager is that he/she is guilty of playing the wrong role and will spend more time checking and monitoring his/her “ant” rather than supporting them and ensuring that they have the means and resources to perform effectively.

Good managers, on the other hand, dedicate themselves to supporting, coaching, developing and rewarding their “ants”, building the environment which helps their “ants” perform better and supporting them when necessary to clear any obstacles which impede performance. Good managers either add more ants (they understand the profile and recruit similar complimentary profiles) or they work with the ant to build an action plan to optimize performance. Above all, good managers sit down with their team members at year start, set SMART goals/objectives their “ants” can achieve and then work with them throughout the year to ensure they remain on course. In other words, they empower their people to act and then get out of the way. Let them perform, but check regularly to ensure they keep on track.

Some tips for managers who want to be “good lions”:

  1. Understand your role and play it effectively: avoid the “command and control” mode. Act as a Leader. Treat others as you would have them treat you.
  2. Listen to your “ants” and ask first before acting in their place. Respect your team members and demonstrate that respect. Always be fair and treat all objectively and equally.
  3. Set clear objectives and empower your competent “ants” to act on these objectives.
  4. Get out of the way and let your “ants” perform. Don’t step in when things go wrong but support your “ants” to solve the problem themselves.
  5. Monitor progress regularly but not excessively.
  6. Demonstrate trust and respect your “ants”. Admit your mistakes. You will gain your followers respect.
  7. Support and defend your “ants” in the event of turbulence. Don’t hide behind your team. If you delegate a task, you remain responsible.
  8. Keep reporting to a minimum. Remember, it is more important to talk to your team members on how they are doing than hide behind statistics.
  9. Be lean and don’t create multiple layers of management as this will only slow down decision making and frustrate good “ants”
  10. Reward and recognize good performance. Praise good performance in public. If you have to give negative feedback, do it in private.

Lessons for Human Resources who want to have “good lions” in their organization

There are also some simple lessons for Human Resource managers. Rather than promoting management practices which only serve to frustrate and block the effective ants in their organizations or which generate disengagement and lack of motivation, Human Resources should be promoting policies and strategies which empower the ants to act effectively and which develop them, recognize and reward them in level with their line of performance.

As importantly, HR should ensure that the Lions in the organization understand their role and how to play it, should train and develop each lion to play this role effectively and step in whenever one or more “lions” confuse their roles and switch to command and control mode too systematically. After all, every lion is also an ant to someone higher up the chain and a “command and control” management mindset only generates disengagement and demotivation and frustration throughout the organization.

Some Tips for HR

  1. Clarify manager roles and responsibilities: Banish “Command and control” mode and develop managers to lead.
  2. Train and empower managers to play that role
  3. Step in if some managers demonstrate role confusion or revert systematically to command and control mode.
  4. Promote corporate values which empower all employees to act at their level and show initiative.
  5. Promote a culture which listens to all employees
  6. Allow employees contribute to their own objectives
  7. Promote a lean management culture
  8. Keep reporting to a minimum
  9. Recognize and reward performance as a partnership between manager and employee
  10. Cherish not only your “lions” and but also your “ants” because performance depends on both.

Disclaimer:” The characters in the fable above are fictitious and resemblance to real people and facts and any coincidence with corporate world is purely coincidental”.

April 8, 2016- By Nachiket Patil via LinkedIn

Belief

Surround yourself with people who inspire, encourage and believe in you.

–  Brigette Hyacinth