Team Experience


How many teams have you been a part of? Think of all the sports you’ve played, the theatre ensembles you’ve acted in, fund raising drives you’ve participated in, or perhaps the businesses you have worked in. I imagine it adds up to quite a few teams.

How many of those teams did you have fun with? Did you enjoy the people and the work, feel involved and productive? Did the team succeed?

Now reflect on the teams where you did not have fun, where people constantly bickered, not much was achieved and you could not wait for the misery to end.

An unpleasant team experience is not uncommon. Do some of these memories resonate?

  • The goal was never clear.
  • No one really knew who was supposed to do what.
  • The timeline was never laid out.
  • People seemed to have their own agendas.
  • Nobody seemed to listen to each other.
  • People often clashed.
  • Cliques formed.
  • Meetings were long, unfocused and unsatisfactory.
  • There seemed to be a need to blame someone.
  • Commitments were made but no one was held accountable.
  • The focus was on “I” and not “We.”

Was any of this fun or productive? If you want to achieve different results, you must take a different path.


Dysfunctional teams are the norm. A key reason is structure. Often teams do not clearly understand the desired outcome. Who is responsible for doing what, by when? What are the ground rules for behavior?

Perhaps the most fundamental requirement that human beings have for working with each other is “trust.” There is something in our human psyche that requires trust in order to develop a deep, satisfying and productive relationship.

Steven Covey puts it thus:

“Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”

Now reflect on all your experiences and ask yourself how often did you truly trust your teammates?

Verinder Syal, Author: Discover The Entrepreneur Within

Assembling Skills

assembling skills

You know what you want to do, but you do not have all the required skills. Is that a problem??

The answer is clear: Entrepreneurship is best done as a team!

Perhaps you already have partners. Great. Maybe you have some people in mind. Good. (If you truly want to work alone, these other skills can be outsourced. But outsourced vendors are unlikely to have the passion and desire that a start-up will need.)

What if you do not have partners but would like to find some. What should you look for? These are some things we suggest you consider:

  • Commonalities of Values: This is crucial. You must have common values. Else, life will be a struggle.
  • Diversity of Experiences: Such differences will allow you to look at the world with different perspectives; thereby letting you find many different ways to solve problems.
  • Diversity of Thought: This is crucial. You do not want “Yes” people. You want people who are independent thinkers.
  • Different skill sets: If the other person is just like you, one of you is redundant, most likely you.
  • Team Players: Prima Donnas, as smart or talented as they may be, are never worth it. Being a team player means working towards team goals. Personal agendas are a distraction.
  • Shared Goals: Do you want to go the same place, in the same way? It is better to get to know the team members before they become team members.

A bit of work ahead of time may be one of the best investments that you make. It will save you the trouble and time of training someone who is not a right fit. How do you do this? Ask for references; and then speak to these references. Spend 30 minutes asking questions about a person. Ask three or four references the same questions and you will develop a pretty good idea about the person. Their social media pages may also hold useful insights. Ask them to come to work with you for 90 days before making any firm commitments. Cut your losses quickly. Cherish the good ones.

When I think about the teams that have done well, it seems that they have a common passion. They develop an ability to “call each other out.” Often they will go through a crisis. Perhaps an idea crashes and burns, one person is not carrying his fair share of the load, or someone is sucking up the oxygen. The first instinct of a team is to let things slide. Invariably the work suffers and the team is miserable. Finally, a confrontation will occur. Harsh words may be exchanged and even some tears shed, but the whole experience will be cathartic. I have seen teams doing a barely adequate job suddenly swing into high gear and deliver great results. Surviving the crucible leads to smiles, a deeper sense of teamwork and the dawning belief that success is within reach.

Verinder Syal, AuthorDiscover The Entrepreneur Within

Finding Meaning

“What should I do, how should I live, and whom should I become?” are questions that we all ask ourselves.

Some of the books that have given me considerable food for thought are Flourish, The Happiness Advantage, and The How of Happiness. However, the best book to start this journey, might be Jonathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis, wherein he searches for answers by examining 10 great ideas. The book is loaded with scientific evidence and thoughtful discourse. Here are my five key takeaways that I hope will make you want to read the book:

1.The Elephant and The Rider – The Divided Self

The “foundational idea” of the book is that the body is a set of divided, autonomous parts, often at war with themselves. The Elephant is the evolution of the body over tens of millions of years. It works on automatic pilot: think about driving your car to the airport. Virtually everything – the steering, checking the traffic, knowing what time you have to be at the airport – essentially occurs without much thinking. The elephant controls 99% of our actions, including our emotions and intuition.

The Rider – the brain – is of recent vintage. It has given us the gift of thinking, organizing, planning, and worrying. It believes it can control the elephant, but it does not. It acts more like a lawyer for the elephant, making excuses for its behavior. It does not seek the truth; rather it looks for justification.

2.We Are All Hypocrites

Machiavelli: “the great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances, as though they were realities, and are often more influenced by the things that seem than by those that are.”

Alas, this happens to be true. Also, “We judge others by their behavior, but we think we have special information about ourselves—we know what we are ‘really like’ inside, so we can easily find ways to explain away our selfish acts and cling to the illusion that we are better than others.”

3.Lost Virtue

Virtue was central to all cultures as evidenced by the teachings of Confucius, Buddha, and the Greek philosophers. But the notion of virtue has been dumbed down.

“Where the ancients saw virtue and character at work in everything a person does, our modern conception confines morality to a set of situations that arise for each person only a few times in any given week: tradeoffs between self-interest and the interests of others.”

“Many moral education efforts…take the rider off of the elephant and train him to solve problems on his own…. the child learns how (not what) to think. Then…the rider gets back on the elephant, and nothing changes… Trying to make children behave ethically by teaching them to reason well is like trying to make a dog happy by wagging its tail. It gets causality backwards.”

4.We Need Divinity With Or Without God    

“Our life is the creation of our minds, and we do much of that creating with metaphor. We see new things in terms of things we already understand: Life is a journey, an argument is a war, the mind is a rider on an elephant. With the wrong metaphor we are deluded; with no metaphor we are blind.” Divinity often provides the needed metaphor.

Peak experiences, Religion, or being awe-struck by nature can all lead to the “aha” moment when the notion of divinity engulfs us.

5.Happiness Comes from Inside and Outside

The formula is: Happiness = S + C + V, where “S” is the genetic set point; some people are just happier. “C” are the life conditions and “the biggest part of C…is love. The second most important part of C is having and pursuing the right goals, in order to create states of flow and engagement.” “V” are the voluntary activities we engage in, including meditation. The more we serve, the more are are alive and happy.

Happiness comes from both controlling our elephant and our connections with the world. “(It) is not something that you can find, acquire, or achieve directly. You have to get the conditions right … Some of those conditions are within you, such as coherence among the parts and levels of your personality. Other conditions require relationships to things beyond you: Just as plants need sun, water, and good soil to thrive, people need love, work, and a connection to something larger… If you get these relationships right, a sense of purpose and meaning will emerge.”

HH imageThe Elephant and The Rider_cover2.jpg 2016-03-05 00-14-43

Want a bit more? My 9-page summary is attached here.


But the best thing to do is to read the book, think about it, give me a call, and compare notes.



Verinder Syal

Author of Discover The Entrepreneur Within


What are your Top Five Skills?




Most of the times, we know a lot about the people close to us and those we work with. And mostly, we know the least about ourselves. If I were to ask you what are your top skills, would you be able to tell?

You may have taken the Myers-Briggs test. It is a helpful indicator of who you are and how you approach things. A few years back I took the StrengthsFinder quiz and was quite surprised by what I learned about myself. I then convinced some of my family members to do the same and it was fascinating what we learned about each other. I now recommend this exercise to my students. Recently, my banker told me he was getting married and I recommended that he and his fiancée do this exercise as it would help them understand each other better.

What exactly is this test? The Gallup organization has developed a database of several million successful people and the skills they possess. They have identified 34 key skills. However, here is the real important insight. While all of us have many of these skills, we should focus on our top skills.

Why? Because it has been said, “We achieve exceptional things leveraging our strengths, not working on our weaknesses.” This is a huge insight and contrary to what we have been taught all our lives.

Author Marcus Buckingham explains it this way: “Parents dwell on a child’s ‘F’ in Algebra rather than praise an ‘A’ in English. In a one-hour performance review, supervisors spend two minutes discussing strengths and 58 minutes discussing the ‘areas of opportunity’ or weaknesses with employees….”

This statement hit particularly close to home since this is what we did with our children. We thought that they had to excel in everything. We took the ‘A’s in English for granted while lamenting the lower grades in Math. As I reflect, all the extra time spent on math yielded little fruit. What if all that time had been spent cultivating exceptionalism in English?

This is the premise of StrengthsFinder. By answering about 180 questions in 30 minutes, you will be presented with your Top 5 Strengths. The reality is that while we have many strengths, we are genetically coded for a handful of things. By focusing on these strengths, you will achieve more than trying to cover the entire waterfront. (For example, if you are not very good at learning foreign languages, spending a lifetime trying to learn French will, at most, make you a passably poor speaker. What if you spent the same time working on something you are good at? How did

Michael Jordan do when he tried his hand at baseball?)

So take this test ( It may be the best $15 you ever spend.

Shortly after you take the quiz (sounds better than a test), you will receive a 20-page document giving you details about your five top strengths. You will be surprised by how well they understand you. I know I was. This is an important piece of the jigsaw puzzle labeled “You.

Verinder Syal, Author: Discover The Entrepreneur Within

Skills Needed for Entrepreneurship


If I were to ask you ““What does it take to be a successful entrepreneur? Do you have this or not?”, what would your answer be?

The most common skills that my students come up with are: passion, integrity, persistence, resilience, endurance, hard work, resourcefulness, drive, discipline, vision, initiative, innovation, problem solving, curiosity, leadership, teamwork, self-awareness and strong network, while is also important to learn about finances as for example using a Company Voluntary Arrangement CVA Moratorium can be great to save your business. This is by no means an exhaustive list. Also, many of these themes are overlapping (e.g. persistence, resilience and endurance). In fact, all these skills are desirable. What if you could choose only five key skills, what would they be? What would these Fundamental Skills be?

Here is my list:

  1. Passion: You must believe in your idea. You must live it, dream it and breathe it. Others will feed off your passion. Passion will also get you through the inevitable trying moments.
  2. Problem Solving: It seems to me that almost everything about entrepreneurship relates to solving problems. Your business idea must solve a problem. You will undoubtedly confront many roadblocks and problems that you will need to resolve and overcome.
  3. Persistence: Doing your own thing is not easy. There will be challenges and a certain “stick-to-itiveness” is essential – “grit” if you will. You have to get through the setbacks that accompany any great endeavor. Resilience, resourcefulness and endurance all seem to fall under this category.
  4. Execution: Most enterprises and people, talk and plan a lot, but end up doing very little. Without execution, even the greatest of ideas is a waste. Simply put, you must have the capacity to get things done.
  5. Emotional Intelligence: You will have to deal with and understand a variety of people, build a team and convince investors, suppliers and customers. IQ and hard work can only get you so far. It is connecting with people – emotional intelligence – that will propel you to much greater success. Leadership, powered by emotional intelligence, will take you much further than being a charismatic spellbinder who cannot relate to individuals.

 Integrity has not been listed as a factor because it is a given. You must approach everything with integrity. It must be the hallmark of who you are, how you choose to live your life and what you stand for. Why would you ever compromise this? If you are still wondering if this is a good philosophy, ask yourself what kind of partners would you like: Those with integrity or those who are likely to cheat you?

In addition to these fundamental characteristics, there are certain other specific skills – let’s call them functional skills – that will be needed by the enterprise. For example, if you are working on an app, you will need coding skills. Other skills that may be required could include website development, marketing, selling, research, creativity, making mock ups and developing financial projections. The list is likely to be long. Perhaps some of this can be outsourced, but that costs money and your budget may limit this option.

At this juncture you have probably hit the panic button. You don’t have all the skills that are needed. What are you going to do? Relax. No one person embodies all these skills. Let’s first ask ourselves: “What skills do I have?” Then you can move on to addressing the next question: “How will I assemble the skills that I do not have?” Seek out individuals who complement your skill set and share your vision, as emphasized in Entrepreneurial Insights with James Dooley. Remember, success often stems from collaboration and the ability to harness the strengths of a team.

Does this sound like a plan? To be continued…

Verinder Syal, Author: Discover The Entrepreneur Within

The End Result: The Final Pitch


You may have your business plan crystal clear in your head. However, before you launch, you will need to “pitch” your business to many people. To maximize your chances of success, you must have the following ready:

1. An Elevator Pitch: You should be able to explain to everyone what your idea is in a compelling and engaging manner, in under 60 seconds.

2. The Pitch Deck: You must have a 10-slide, 30-font, presentation deck. These 10 slides will capture the essence of your business. The 30- font requirement forces you to be parsimonious with your words. Use pictures when possible. We recommend the following slides:
i. Problem / Solution: What is the problem that your product/ service is solving? What is the solution you are offering?
ii. Product: Describe your product/ service.
iii. Customer: Who is your customer?
iv. Competition: Who else is offering something similar? Why is your product superior?
v. Marketing and Sales: How will you market and sell your product?
vi. Business Model: What will your price and cost be? How will you make money?
vii. Financial Plan: 3 Year Financial forecast.
viii. Funding: How much money will you need and how do you plan to fund it?
ix. The Team: Who are you, what are your combined strengths and why are you the best people to make this happen?
x. Timeline: When do you plan to start and what are the milestones along the growth path?

3. An Executive Summary: A 2-page document summarizing the above points.

4. A 10-page Business Plan: This will be the written version of the 10- slide deck. Some people prefer to read, others prefer a conversation. You must be ready for both.

5. Back Ups: During the course of researching and compiling your business plan, you will develop a considerable amount of data, which will result in a lot of slides and exhibits. As partners, vendors, lenders or investors get more interested they will want to dig deeper into your business. The 10-page slide deck may become 50 slides or even more. The depth of the presentation will depend on the audience.

Does this seem a bit daunting? It can be, but it need not be. I talk about every slide, every idea that you need, in detail in my book. I shall share them with you too through these posts.

Verinder Syal, Author: Discover The Entrepreneur Within

Filter Your Ideas

You are very serious about starting your own business. You have a long list of possible ideas, but do not know where to start from and which idea to pick! Let us look at five filters that will help you zero down to that one big idea- the answer to your dreams:

Filter 1: Problem / Solution

In most cases, a new business idea is an answer to a problem. E.g. iTunes helped the music lover to pay for only those tracks they wanted, rather than buy an entire album. Another good example is Southwest Airlines, which made the otherwise expensive airline travel, affordable. Many busy professionals like cooking gourmet food, but don’t have the time to research recipes and shop for ingredients. Plated provided them everything they needed to cook at home.

Filter 2: The Product

The second thing to look at is, what is the product being offered. iTunes offers where you can sample the music, buy instantly without having to go to a store. Southwest Airlinesoffers based on a new operating model, flying 300-500 miles, with a touch of fun. Googleis having a vast array of knowledge, which becomes the first choice for people to look up information. When people do a search, an ad for related products also appears. This increases the odds that the ad is relevant and that they will click on the link.

Filter 3: Who Is Your Customer?

You will learn to define in greater depth who your customer is in a later chapter. For now, start by thinking about the following questions:

  • Who is your customer? (Their demographics such as age, sex, education, income, etc.)
  • Why will they buy your product?
  • Can you visualize them? Develop an Avatar.

Let’s imagine how Plated thought of its customers:

Their slogan is “Eating Well Made Easy.” The customers have to be working Millennials, either single or young couples, who eat out quite often and have an income of $75,000-200,000.

They also like to dabble in cooking interesting recipes and enjoy having meals at home from time to time. Visualizing them shouldn’t take more than a quick look in the mirror for some of you.

Filter 4: Who Is The Competition? (And What Do You Do Better?)

There is always competition. Sometimes it is direct and other times it is indirect. The sub-title asks you the key question: What will you do better and how?

Google: 90% of Google’s revenues (and even more of its profits) come from selling advertising. Who is its competition? Radio, television and newspapers as a starter. While the first two have held their own to date, newspapers are hurting because they have become an inefficient medium. On the Web, many companies develop models hoping to capture ad dollars. Google reigns supreme because of their algorithms, scale and ecosphere.

Filter 5: Will You Make Money? (What Is Your Business Model?)

A Business Model is a fancy way of answering some basic financial questions, all designed to answer the last question.

  • What is your selling price?
  • What is your cost?
  • What will your sales be in Year 1?
  • How much money will you need?
  • How long will it take to break-even?

Let’s see if we can understand the Business Model for iTunes / Apple: Most songs are sold for 99 cents. This is about what Apple pays to the record labels. Therefore, they make little or no money on this segment of its business. However, iTunes does help Apple sell plenty of iPods, Macs and iPhones, which make handsome profits. Their business model then, is to break even on iTunes and make their money selling hardware.


The real work will start after you have picked your first idea. We shall discuss that later.

For the more curious ones, please get a copy of  Discover The Entrepreneur Within