June 26, 2009

Blind Spots - By Sanjay Anandaram

The CEO was a highly qualified and experienced person. He had returned to India over 3 years ago to start a company with his own funds. For family reasons, he had set up his company in a town about 100 miles from Bangalore. He was now struggling to grow beyond the initial customer or two. Customers weren’t comfortable with doing business with a company located in that town; Payments from customers took more time than usual; it was hard to recruit talented people in the smaller town; Communication infrastructure wasn’t the best resulting in loss of efficiency and productivity. It was hard to find people in his town who were aware and knowledgeable about how things worked in national and international business. And that there was no PR firm in his city to help generate visibility for his company. In short, according to him, the reason he was struggling had everything to do with the location of his company.

In the course of the conversation, he also mentioned that his company had built a fairly unique solution for its only real customer; that his customer, a large multi-billion dollar company, was very happy with him and his company; that the customer was in a specific industry vertical that required certifications and regulatory clearances to enter; that there were several other large companies in that industry vertical; that his communication network had improved drastically in the last few months; that two of his family members were involved in senior positions in the company; that his employee attrition was almost zero; that his banker was a well-known private bank with a very large network.

So was it really true that the location of the company adversely affected its prospects or was it something else? Had he leveraged his relationship with his customer adequately – in getting more business, seeking and getting endorsements to secure other customers in the same industry? Were his family members the right people for the jobs they were performing? Had he talked with his bank to understand how money transfers were to be effected so that his account could get credited could be realized almost immediately upon receipt of the monies in India? Had he networked with industry associations and groups in his town? Had he used the internet and the web to reach out to potential prospects who could all be well targeted given the industry vertical?

Turned out that the CEO had done none of the above.

Clearly, the CEO did not really understand what it took to build a business from a sales and marketing and operations standpoint. Yet, he was quick to jump to the conclusion that the problem lay outside his company, in its location! He was uninformed, unaware and prejudiced. There’s a term for this in psychology – blind spot. And all of us have our own blind spots and that’s perfectly OK. The real issue is whether we’re doing anything to discover and address them. For this one needs to analyse the situation on multiple dimensions dispassionately; one needs to also introspect one’s own behaviours, attitudes, and actions. One needs to be open enough to seek, get and deal with feedback from others around. One must watch how others who are doing better are going about the task. Go through the process again. Doing this requires self-awareness and a genuine commitment to improvement.

As in most things in life, the answers to many questions actually lie deep within us. We either don’t ask the right questions or are afraid to ask the questions. Perhaps because our ignorance or more likely, because we’re afraid of the answer?! Which founder-CEO wants to be confronted by answers like “You’re perhaps the bottleneck and not the right person for the job” or “You have no clue about sales and marketing so stop pretending like you know” or “Your attitude is upsetting the morale in the company and no one wants to work here”.

Ready to discover your blind spots? What do you think?

Sanjay Anandaram is a passionate advocate of entrepreneurship in India; He brings two decades of experience as an entrepreneur, corporate executive, venture investor, faculty member, advisor and mentor. He’s involved with Nasscom, TiE, IIM-Bangalore, and INSEAD business school in driving entrepreneurship. He can be reached at sanjay@jumpstartup.net. The views expressed here are his own.