Tag: entrepreneur

The power of positive thinking

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Not long ago I was sat outside having breakfast with my boss and Co-founder of NOW Money, Ian Dillon, following a morning event. When time was called to head back to the office, Ian got out his phone and ordered an Uber. The driver who connected to his request had a one-star rating.

Now, in my mind, Uber has star ratings for a reason. I was thinking, “oh dear, this driver must be pretty awful if he’s only got one star”. To my surprise, Ian’s reaction was totally different.

“One star! That guy must have been SO unlucky. He’s probably new, has been on one trip and someone accidentally rated him one star. I bet there’s absolutely nothing wrong with him,” said Ian.

Whilst I couldn’t help but think it was a strange reaction, I had huge admiration for Ian’s understanding and empathetic approach; looking for the positivity in the situation and not jumping to conclusions.

It got me thinking that his relentless positivity is probably one of the things that makes him a successful entrepreneur and gave him the guts to quit his job and start his own company in the first place.

I thought I’d share with you how I believe positivity, or sometimes lack of it, affects life in a start-up.

The belief

To become an entrepreneur, you have the belief your idea will work, so positivity is essential. After all, if you don’t believe in your idea, who will? Investors also often buy into the person, as well as the idea, so if they can see that you’ve got a positive attitude and you’re passionate about your product, they’re far more likely to invest.

As I’ve discovered, an optimistic approach is essential in a start-up, whether you’re the one being optimistic, or you’re trying to instil optimism in your colleagues. After all, positivity is contagious!

My experience of this is when I first joined NOW and we needed a new design for the background of the app, and we needed it fast. I was tasked with overseeing this project, even though I was new and had no experience in app design.  Ian and Katharine’s faith in me helped me to have the courage and faith in myself to complete the task under the time constraints.

Knowing that I was in charge of what our service looked like to the end user was incredibly empowering for me as an employee. Regardless of this, however, I also knew that whilst I was in charge, if anything had gone wrong, we would have worked together to find a solution. A “nothing is impossible” attitude is essential in a start-up; you have to be solutions hungry.

When negative can be positive

Like positivity, a negative attitude is contagious, and it’s hard not to be affected by one in the work place. But a negative attitude can sometimes be useful for highlighting problems.

I don’t mean the kind of negative attitude which deems a task impossible, or shuts down ideas before they’re given a chance. But perhaps a pessimistic attitude, which looks out for potential issues that could arise during a task.

I do think it’s important to include a mix of personalities in the workplace. I’m guilty of being far too positive and getting excited by new projects and seeing everything through rose tinted spectacles. So, I actually work well with people who have a slightly less rosy outlook, as it keeps me reigned in and helps me acknowledge potential problems which need to be accounted for.

Fear

We have all experienced that niggle of self-doubt that usually stems from fear. Whilst fear often has negative connotations, it’s actually not always bad. Think about it – it’s fear that protects us from eating poisonous plants, or falling prey to wild animals.

For an entrepreneur, the most productive fear is fear of failure. It can help stop irrational decisions being made, or highlight opportunities which aren’t necessarily right for the business. It’s also the fear of letting others down (especially the shareholders).

So really, fear should be embraced and used as a guidance that can be used in conjunction with optimism. It’s the balance that gets you to that happy, productive medium.

Can you be over-optimistic?

Is there such a thing as over optimism? I guess Ian could have taken a more balanced approach and maybe questioned the driver’s rating. However, his faith was well founded in this situation. We made it back to the office in one piece in good time, so in this case, giving the driver the benefit of the doubt worked in our favour. Living in the Middle East you experience a lot of negativity toward the services industries, so it was refreshing to see Ian’s positive and patient attitude.

Maybe we should all take a leaf out of Ian’s book and throw some more faith in humanity? Come on, what’s the worst that can happen?

What do Irvine Welsh and Ayn Rand have in common?

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Recently I was asked for the books I found most impactful when starting a business. I will keep the opening lines of this post short, in the hope that you will read the passages below from just two of my favourites. The style is very different, but I hope, like me, you find the common message impactful. If you’ve wondered about taking a leap of any kind, read these and decide whether you want to spend life on the fence. BEAT APATHY.

“Productiveness is your acceptance of morality, your recognition of the fact that you choose to live–that productive work is the process by which man’s consciousness controls his existence, a constant process of acquiring knowledge and shaping matter to fit one’s purpose, of translating an idea into physical form, of remaking the earth in the image of one’s values–that all work is creative work if done by a thinking mind, and no work is creative if done by a blank who repeats in uncritical stupor a routine he has learned from others–that your work is yours to choose, and the choice is as wide as your mind, that nothing more is possible to you and nothing less is human–that to cheat your way into a job bigger than your mind can handle is to become a fear-corroded ape on borrowed motions and borrowed time, and to settle down into a job that requires less than your mind’s full capacity is to cut your motor and sentence yourself to another kind of motion: decay–that your work is the process of achieving your values, and to lose your ambition for values is to lose your ambition to live–that your body is a machine, but your mind is its driver, and you must drive as far as your mind will take you, with achievement as the goal of your road–that the man who has no purpose is a machine that coasts downhill at the mercy of any boulder to crash in the first chance ditch, that the man who stifles his mind is a stalled machine slowly going to rust, that the man who lets a leader prescribe his course is a wreck being towed to the scrap heap, and the man who makes another man his goal is a hitchhiker no driver should ever pick up–that your work is the purpose of your life, and you must speed past any killer who assumes the right to stop you, that any value you might find outside your work, any other loyalty or love, can be only travelers you choose to share your journey and must be travelers going on their own power in the same direction.”

― Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

“Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin can openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose a three piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pishing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish brats you have spawned to replace yourself. Choose your future. Choose life.”

― Irvine Welsh, Trainspotting

 

It’s OK to be odd!

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Since my first day at NOW Money I have felt like the odd one out, and I’ve absolutely loved it.

Belonging to an Indian community I’ve always worked with Asian bosses, which never brought me truly out of my comfort zone. But when I joined NOW, I was just one Indian amongst seven European expats.

It took me few days to get familiar with the surroundings, the people, and their way of speaking. They use words which are not often heard in my community like “reckon”, “mate”, “bizarre” and “cheers” at the end of a conversation. They are my favourite words now.

They even created a short name for me – “V”, I love it!

We’re a small team and sit together for lunch every day; we never run out of topics to talk about. They discuss what it’s like in the UK, Poland and Russia and I explain how that differs from India. We’ve discovered that our cultures and traditions are poles apart. In fact, some discoveries have led to great laughter…

Here are some of my favourite differences that we’ve discovered so far.

Rain vs. sun

Being a resident of Dubai staying away from the heat has never been an option, much to my dismay. My excitement always increases towards the end of year as the temperature drops and the fog and rain cover the city’s tall buildings. My European colleagues can’t understand my love of the colder climate as they absolutely love the bright, warm sun which is a large part of the reason they moved to Dubai!

Diwali vs. Christmas

One thing that we all have in common is our love for a party! So, I decided to show them how to celebrate Diwali and they taught me about Christmas. It was our first time celebrating each other’s occasions, which made it really exciting! For Diwali we all dressed in traditional Indian outfits, ate a lot of food and played some traditional games. It was such a joy to organise the event for the team and teach them about my culture.

On the other hand, as Christmas came closer we celebrated with crackers, followed the tradition of wearing the funny paper hats, exchanged Secret Santa gifts and played festive games. It was so much fun and by the end of the day I knew all about Santa, Rudolph and charades (wow, it gets noisy!).

Three day vs. one day wedding

I can’t even count the number of discussions we have had about weddings. I have learnt that usually English weddings are a one day event, whist most Indian weddings are three day extravaganza days filled with rituals, functions and loud music! My team is always ready to lend ears when I talk about my upcoming family weddings. It’s one of our favourite topics we then compare between the two traditions!

Tiffin vs. tiffin

The word tiffin is a most commonly used amongst the Indian community in reference to a lunchbox. So, one day over lunch, I told my colleague “wait for me, let me grab my tiffin”. As soon as I told her she had a big smile on her face. I returned with my lunch box she asked “where’s the tiffin?”.  I showed her my lunch box. She stared at me and with a confused look on her face and asked “that’s a tiffin?”.

I soon found out tiffin in the UK referred to an extremely chocolatey and delicious dessert. No wonder she was so disappointed with my lunchbox!

Gulab Jamun vs. wet tennis balls

Gulab Jamun is a very well-known Indian dessert made up of powdered milk kneaded and moulded into balls, fried and dropped into simmering sugar syrup, and is served hot during most traditional events. It’s very well known amongst my team as “wet sugary tennis balls”!

Dahi puri vs. hollow ball with toppings

Dahi Puri is a popular evening snack, which, despite now being one of their favourite savoury Indian snacks, has also become known as “a hollow ball with some yogurt and pomegranate”.

Lunch sessions

Every day over lunch, the team discuss the different ingredients in each other’s salads to gain inspiration. Then they turn to me and ask, “What have you got there, V?”, I can tell you it’s never a salad!

I remember very clearly the day they tried my mum’s handmade Indian paratha for the first time!

In spite of all these differences in cultures, traditions, beliefs and food etc., I feel grateful to be surrounded by such amazing people. Everyone is so adaptable and open to learning, teaching and helping each other out, which is all fundamental to start-up life! I’m so proud to be the odd one out, and, as they say, variety is the spice of life!

How three men made it easy for me to be a female fintech founder

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Chances are, you’re reading this article because you’re a female founder, or you know one.

I’m asked about the challenges I face being a female founder in the Middle East weekly, if not daily. The Middle East is championing initiatives for women to push forward as entrepreneurs and leaders, and while I’m proud and flattered to be asked to these, frankly I’ve often felt a bit of a fraud going along to them.

I’m not talking about imposter syndrome (I’ll come back to that in another post). I often read and hear about disastrous experiences of chauvinist behaviour women have had in the workplace, and apparently this exists more in tech and finance than anywhere else. But this has not been my experience. And as the number of women-only networking, competitions and conferences goes up, and I’ve been attending and lucky enough to reap the rewards – I can’t help asking myself  “Why – when I don’t believe working with men to be a problem, am I helping to reinforce the stereotype that women need to remove men from the equation to succeed?”

But for so many women to relish these events – women I know, trust and respect, I started to suspect it was ME thinking differently. If these women felt they needed these opportunities to help drive them forward, why did I feel like it was a club I didn’t really qualify for?

And then the penny dropped. The reason I’ve never felt the need to be part of a women’s club, or excluded from a “boys’ club”, is because I’ve worked for and with terrific men who never, ever made me or any other women feel that way. And if there were any of these “boys club” duds hanging around, I’m guessing they were overshadowed by the three I’m going to describe, as I sure as hell can’t remember it being a problem.

Chris was my first mentor. I met him at work. I’m a big believer that a personal connection to people who mentor you is what makes it work, and we do share a similar (quite silly) sense of humour. This was the first time anyone had guided me on how to approach conversations about money, and rationalising and valuing myself. He was instrumental in helping me secure a new role in a fintech startup our previous company had invested in – a role which was to become a pivotal in my career.  We ended up working together again in Dubai a couple of years later, and remain close friends.

Jason is the only person I have worked for who I believe to have true CEO quality. I was early into the London expansion of a US fintech company he was leading, lucky enough to report directly to him in the launch days. He is a serial fintech entrepreneur, so he’s BEEN THERE. He knows about making payroll. Accordingly he is the person I turn to most frequently now, but not just for the relevant experience. Jason invented radical candour, a phrase recently popularised by Kim Ball Scott. If you haven’t picked up on this latest buzz-phrase, it’s the skill in providing fast, non-emotional honest feedback relating directly to a person’s work. A recent example – related to some slides I’d sent him to review:

“This slide is a jumbled mess. It doesn’t tell me anything. If you are presenting it, maybe it works but if anyone forwards this deck they will have no idea what you are doing.” Honest – but not harsh. The criticism relates directly to the work, and gives a consequence of not changing it. Point taken (and slides altered).

I studied at Exeter University with my NOW Money co founder Ian. He’s been one of my best friends since. Ian is a genius in many ways (I’ve yet to meet someone who can convert from ounces to grams quicker) but he also has a curiously high threshold. Threshold is often used to describe the level athletes can maintain a certain speed at over a race duration, particularly longer distances. I’ll post more on what entrepreneurs and endurance athletes share in common in another post, but it’s safe to say people who push themselves to the limit (and pace themselves at that limit) at sports can often do so at work too.

Ian makes damn sure I operate at my threshold all the time – because he knows me and my limits very well. He is not afraid to push me to deliver more or higher quality, because he is confident in my ability to do so.  In quite the same way, Ian recognises when I am in overdrive and in danger of taking on too much and gently helps me manage that.

Ian is unusual, especially for someone who spent nearly a decade in an investment bank. Who could blame him if he came out of there a misogynist? Astoundingly, he is quite the opposite. Ian is a champion of not only women, but anyone who needs a chance. It was HIS idea to look for return-to-work mums to join NOW Money. He figured they’d be great at managing time, experienced and disciplined: he was correct. It was Ian’s idea to look for interns and Ian’s idea to continue to diversify the business. Just recently, a friend who suffers from a shocking level of dyslexia reminded me that Ian’s help with his university project was what secured him a first-class degree in engineering. Ian seeks out amazing people who need a chance, and he gives them that chance. It’s no surprise he has ended up working in financial inclusion.

What do these three have in common? They continue to educate and guide me, and never once has me “being a woman” or “being held back by being a woman” ever been suggested as something that might count against me.

Again, this draws me back to the “fraud” complex. Why should I be the one attending these events to help women? I hear too much of “workplaces with women are better/more successful/happier” without hearing how workplaces REMOVED BARRIERS to women becoming successful.

Wouldn’t it be helpful to hear from some of the women AND men who helped successful women get to where they are today? I’m fed up of excluding men from the conversation, and what these quiet heroes have to say could be the education the “duds” need to turn their attitude around. Anyone who helps champion an unrepresented group needs to be held as the pinnacle for men AND women to learn from and understand. Next time I’m asked to contribute to a women’s initiative, I’ll be volunteering Ian.