My reflective Essay – K1149112

My sole intention for choosing entrepreneurship as a pathway for my master’s degree was purely an experimental one. Before the start of my course, I just knew that they were someone who started their own business, did things differently and were innovative. I found this very appealing and decided to pursue this pathway. Little did I know that studying entrepreneurship would also be a totally different and fulfilling experience.  That being said, my expectations were obviously quite different before the start of the course.

Moreover, I felt the module was designed upon a model and is extremely similar developed by (Stumpf et al, 1991). They speak about the use of behavioural simulations for people, where in they are put into a created and controlled environment and supposed to perform real-life business tasks assigned to them. Moreover, they speak about people assuming different roles as existing in a business as this will help people understand the real-life responsibilities of such positions like a marketer or operations manager.  I feel that people tend to learn a lot about such duties in a low-risk, controlled environment about the responsibilities of real-life employees. It also allows them to make mistakes which they can afford to make. This allows them to learn from their mistakes and rectify them. This module meant working in a group, starting and running a business which is essentially like a simulation or replication of how real business function. And function like real business we did!

The classes started off with a brief introduction to the requirements of the course, which included utilizing social media tools like blogs and Twitter. We also were supposed to document our experiences and thoughts on a blog. I think this is because we should be able to read what we’ve written years from now through reading our MACE blog. It might give you some inspiration!

Moving on, one of the very first group activities that took place was involved the formation groups of 4 or 5 students. Each student was given a randomly picked well-known retail shop to watch from outside. We were supposed to identify things like customer behaviour, employee attitudes and store layout. According to me, the main purpose of this activity was to learn how to observe people and places and understand the importance of it. Tutton M (2009) pointed out that researchers had identified observation as one of the five keys to innovation. According to him, observation is the identification and understanding of common activities and behaviour of people in certain situations. I think that if a person or even a manager can’t observe and understand how people behave and act, then they would be unable to communicate well, fail to gain trust and would fail to understand the attributes of the person working with him. Essentially, observation helps us understand people, procedures and most importantly helps us discover problems that are affecting an organization. Therefore, only by being observant can we spot out problems.

The second activity involved a bit of market research to conduct. Our focus was on shoes and gathering some information from consumers about their preferences.  According to Snepenger D (2007) the purpose of market research is to understand the customers and know what they think about the product or service and identify problems with them. It can also help identify opportunities which we can be turned into real businesses. For instance, we asked about students about their brand and style preferences of the shoes they wear. This information gathered helped us understand briefly what students preferred and what they were ready to spend. It did us a small and average overview using a sample of students. I feel this type of information is extremely useful for entrepreneurs looking for new business opportunities. Market research and understanding the consumer is the most useful and viable activity.

Market research is just one part of marketing. At a recent event I attended, a prominent speaker said that ‘Marketing is about conveying an emotion’. According to Gunelius S (2010), it is important to appeal to customer’s emotions while designing and conveying marketing messages, as these feelings might affect buying decisions. Essentially, if this is able to connect with the consumer’s feelings it can persuade him to associate with and purchase the product. At one of the classes, we were shown a few videos that generate feelings of empathy towards the subjects.  Although these videos were not associated with anything business they were quite successful in what they intended to convey. I think that marketers could use such a method and craft marketing messages or a story for their goods so that it can be appealing to consumers.  It’s quite a useful technique as it concerns people’s feelings. To sum it up, when a message of any kind penetrates mind and soul, humans relate and connect to it and might end up even acquiring it.

Another important part of marketing is branding. This is especially important for start-ups as it helps them differentiate themselves from established competitors. According to Palmer A (2009), branding is about distinguishing the products of one company from the other and its often done to increase value and buyer perceptions. It can be done through choosing a distinctive brand name and developing a personality about a product. For instance, for our company, ‘Curpy’ is essentially a combination of two words, which Cute + Chirpy which is Curpy. We wanted our products to be fun, attractive, colourful and playful. That’s what we tried to achieve through our products. Other efforts included adding features like having an attractive and unique packaging for the products.  I think that if every company had the same strategies it would be boring and in order to differentiate one from others, branding does help in establishing an identity that consumers can remember and relate to. As humans we love variety, even with our products and companies. Branding encourages companies to innovate and keeps the marketing sphere always active.

Leaving all the marketing teachings behind, one of our class sessions focused on the importance of collaboration. According to me, collaboration means group effort and working collectively towards achieving something as a team. Gosling and Mintzberg (2003), state that collaboration is not just the management of people, but more importantly it is working people and their inputs.  Before I learned about this, I had always preferred to work on my own but I’ve to come to know that the individual himself has a certain limit to what they can achieve with their own ability. In the case of entrepreneurs, an article by Drayton B (2010), states that if entrepreneurs come together for mutual help and teamwork, they often are able to produce extraordinary results while working together. For instance, while working for our company, each one of us had a separate set of skills, ideas and knowledge gained before we created a team. Through the sharing of our ideas, skills and contacts we were able to produce two different products as a team that we as individuals would never have thought of. There were inputs for design, production, marketing, pricing, packaging from each and every one of the team members. I’m now quite certain that as individuals we have limits, but as a team working together there are no limits. I guess the proverb of ‘Two hands are better than one’ is extremely true and accurate.

 

 

Moving on, one of the most important classes I felt in the module was Money Day. We were given basic lessons about financing, accounting and money management. This is extremely important as new business or every business for that matter revolves around cash. According to Grover A (2010), if an organization understands and learns how to manage its finances, it would do well; otherwise bad financial management can be disastrous for the company. As a result, the objective of the module was to provide some insights into real-life financial methods, techniques, responsibilities. As my role as financial director I had certain responsibilities like recording of transactions, providing advice for pricing of the products and setting targets to achieve for your products in a particular period. Sander and Lambert (2009) state that finances are directly related the operations process of the company as it involves purchasing of raw materials and machinery for production. I learned to be careful and smart about purchasing and managing money as these often affect the operations and survival of a company. I have given a more detailed insight in a previous blog post.

With all these important entrepreneurial concepts and lessons being taught to us, we obviously needed an opportunity to learn and utilize them in real business situation. The opportunities that we had before us were online sales and physical. For the physical sales, we were provided with the opportunity of selling our products at two trade fairs which the department had organized for students to take part it. We set up our stalls, interacted, sold our products, met lots of new people(networking), took some great pictures, learned a lot above store setup and design, gained a lot of selling skills and most importantly it provided us with a platform to come together and use the knowledge acquired as a team in a  real business situation.  Moreover, at the second trade fair, we won the overall prize for the best team, which was a great morale booster as a team as we had worked hard to improve our performance from the first trade fair.

As the year went by, much to our surprise, we were selected along with another KU team to represent our university at the YE UK finals in the London. Most of us were extremely happy and surprised. We felt really fortunate to take part in such an event. The event was a competition along with 4 other teams. We setup our trade stall, gave a presentation for our company 3 times in a day and wore different coloured ties. We met a lot of promising entrepreneurs who had great ideas and lot of established academic and professional folk as well. Some of whom really appreciated our products with its appeal.  But at the end of a rather tiring day after giving it everything we had, another team who I admit had quite a nice idea won the title. To sum it up, most of were extremely happy and fulfilled to have made it this far and would treasure the experience for years to come.

With such a busy and fulfilling year, as most of us move towards the end of our courses, the thoughts in our heads would be what next. Personally, I have come to a conclusion that it would make sense to utilize the knowledge and skills acquired and try to become a successful entrepreneur. I haven’t yet identified a particular industry, although I have my eyes set on the Indian Textile industry and feel that it could use some innovate management techniques. I have also identified some pathways in a previous blog post on what after masters.

To conclude, this module was an extremely different and fulfilling experience. It was interesting, provided an opportunity to work in groups with people from different countries and most importantly imparted practical, hands-on knowledge and skills that is mostly non-existent in other modules.  I only hope that I can achieve the success gained through this program in my entrepreneurial journey ahead.

 References

Stumpf, S.S, R.L.M. Dunbar and T.P. Mullen, 1991, Developing entrepreneurial qualities through the

use of behavioural simulations, Journal of Management Development 10 (5), 32-45.

Tutton M (2009), Learn the five secrets of innovation at, CNN.com http://edition.cnn.com/2009/BUSINESS/11/26/innovation.tips/index.html

Snepenger D (2007), Marketing Research for entrepreneurs and small business managers, Montana State university college of Business, Available at http://www.msucommunitydevelopment.org/pubs/mt9013.pdf

Gunelius S (2010), 10 common and effective emotional triggers, Entrepeneur.com, Available   at http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/205240

Palmer A (2009), Introduction to Marketing- theory and practice, 2nd edn, Oxford University Press, New York

Mintzberg, H., & Gosling, J. (2003). The Five Minds of a Manager. Harvard Business Review

Drayton B (2010), Tipping the world, the power of collaborative entrepreneurship. Mckinseydigital.com, Available at http://whatmatters.mckinseydigital.com/social_entrepreneurs/tipping-the-world-the-power-of-collaborative-entrepreneurship

Grover A (2010), Basics for Finance for Entrepreneurs, entpreneurswebsite.com, Available at http://www.entrepreneurswebsite.com/2010/10/30/basics-of-finance-for-entrepreneurs/

Peter Sander and J. Jeffery Lambert (2009), Don’t fall victim to the problem of entrepreneurial finance, Entrepreneur.com, Available at http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/199954

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What to do after your Master’s?

A question that has been pondering about since the last week or so, is what next after your masters? What are your options. I’m guessing that since most of us chose entrepreneurship as a module or pathway, there would be at least some intention of starting a business or doing something different. In these times of austerity and a global economic slowdown (speaking from a European point of view, in some countries) it would make sense to start a new business. A new business means you have a job and slowly your business would be able to start creating jobs. This entrepreneurial activity and job creation process revives struggling sectors, industries and even economies and steers it towards a path of growth.

Where I come from, India, is termed as a developing country which reshaped its economic policies in 1991 and opened up its economic borders to foreign investment and made it extremely easier for its citizens to start companies and create jobs. Since then we’ve able to achieve significant growth in a number of sectors and have been successfully and consistently posting good economic growth rates. Good growth rates means a lot of sectors like Information technology, retailing, tourism, manufacturing have created jobs and are still doing so. Also, this opens up tons of opportunities and holds quite a lot of potential to grow. Personally, I feel that I now have the skills and knowledge to identify an opportunity and start something new. I also have the opportunity to work in a company or sector of my choice to gain the necessary experience. Another activity, I’ve identified is to give yourself a break after your master’s. Go travel, relax, introspect, identify, observe and most importantly learn  something new. You might end up getting to know about a completely new business opportunity.

I think I’ve identified three different paths ahead immediately after you finish your course.

1) You can use your skills to start your own business. The entrepreneurial way.

2) You can start working in a company. The common thing to do but yet quite useful.

3) Take a small break for a few months. Do the above identified activities. Try something you’ve never done before. Read a book you didn’t dare to read. Step out of your comfort zone and most importantly use this period to plan your path ahead.

Personally, I’m opting for Number 3. 🙂

What I learnt as Finance Director.

Let me start off by saying that I personally hate finance and accounts as an academic subject. But as they say, when you have no choice but to undertake the responsibility, then you have to. In this case, the benefits were more than my complaints so I quietly pushed myself through it. Coming back to the main point,  the most important responsibility was to keep track of the all transactions and record them properly. This is sensible and applies to every business as you get to know where you money came from and where it went. Personally, you won’t understand this until you start working or get an opportunity to experience what running a real business feels like. If any money is unaccounted for, that could potentially count as a loss, which could seriously harm your business. Start-ups must be extremely careful about this as they are often running on tight budgets.

The second responsibility was to offer financial advice about pricing and purchasing. Obviously, the main event here is the pricing of the product. Initially, I followed standard procedures until we realized it just was too less(selling price). Soon, we increased the selling price of the product after some advice. I learned that every situation, product, company and external economic conditions might be different and unique. This essentially means that you can be flexible and bold in your pricing as long as you are confident of it after assessing your competitors and other similar products. Standard procedures don’t often work well. Moving on purchasing, a comprehensive knowledge about the raw materials and their prices available in the market is an absolute must as it helps you in getting the best materials. You have to be on the lookout for good quality at reasonable prices. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get an overview of the market situation due to the commitments of my course. However, I will always keep that in mind from now on.

The third responsibility I identified was to setting targets and budgets for your products and your company’s expenses. In the case of start-ups, most often they are short of money and need to keep a strict budget. Which essentially means, you have to set up a weekly, monthly or annual budget as part of your budget strategy. As for setting targets, for the products, you have understand your company’s financial and operational situation in order to set actual targets. Most importantly, you have to be realistic about the targets you set. If you’re not you might end producing a lot more goods than you actually need. Basically, be realistic about you can achieve. It’s extremely good to set high targets, but this shouldn’t jeopardize the financial safety, operations and people of the company .

I could go on a few more paragraphs about some more lessons, however, I’m glad to I forcefully put myself through this and I have acquired a lot of knowledge and skill about the finance part of running a business that otherwise I never would have got.

The second trade fair experience.

After a rather dull and slow first trade fair (sales-wise), but yet interesting and exciting event, the second trade sounded much more better as it was going to happen in an open environment right in the heart of Kingston’s market place. There could be no better choice for a location. The gap between the two trade fairs was around 3 weeks. This gap allowed us as a team to learn from the experiences of the first event and rectify, improve and add certain aspects to our stand, products and visual appeal.

In the first trade fair, we had a rather simple setup with little or no space for visual marketing. The products were lined up and an explanation and demonstration of our sole product took place. Whereas, in the second trade fair, much effort was made by our team in working on presenting an inviting visual setup, adding our new product(book-puller) on sale and improving our sales pitch. There were people, teachers, YE reps, industry executives and curious people walking by. Although it was only for 2 hours in the midst of the day, we were able to sell a good amount of book-pullers, more than what we expected. I am happy to say that this effort from our team resulted in is winning the overall prize for best product, sales-pitch and store setup.

I have added 2 pictures which show our stall in the first trade fair and the from the second trade fair. Notice the major improvements and differences.

First trade fair >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Second trade fair(side view) >>>>>> Book Pullers

Shooting the advert.

When I first heard that we were supposed to create an advertisement for our product, I was a bit concerned as I didn’t have any experience whatsoever in shooting a commerical video, let alone editing it. This applies to my group members as well. But when I heard that we could take up the assistance of any friends, contacts and other students, then came some relief. Luckily, I have a friend who did a little bit of training into post-production. Also, when I read that we could use a smart-phone(insert iPhone) for shooting I was even more relieved, as concerns of equipment were no more.

As for the ideas for producing the video, we thought about something that is simple, straightforward and portrays its colours, style and usability. 3 Different locations and situations were considered when a person can use the bookmark. It was no biggie thinking about where would be the most appropriate. So finally, we ended up with a person while writing on a study table, drawing in a park and reading a book on train. As I said, something that could show its usability, quality and attractiveness.

As for the shooting of the video, I was the smartphone cameraman, with two of my group members bravely agreeing to be the actors. It was great experience shooting with different locations. The most fun part of the whole shooting was when we headed to Richmond Park on a cold, windy day to shoot back in February itself. Richmond park is a nice scenic place, and it was  no problem deciding on certain angles. The most fun and also a bit tough part was keeping the phone steady and secure in the hands while it was cold and windy. Due credit to Simone for shooting it without a winter jacket on. The last scene was shot in a train, which was okay as the carriage was empty and we had enough space.

As for the post-production part, the neccessary editing was done by a friend and a few effects were added. It was my first time shooting a video for academic or commercial purposes. I learnt a lot about lighting, location, angles some other tehnical video-related stuff. Overall, it was a good learning experience and felt great trying something new. It was a good challenge. I feel we did a good job.

Posting a link to the  video below. Take and look and tell me what you think. 🙂

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OSWmkjpSLzI&feature=results_video&lr=1&ob=0

The trade fair experience.

What a nice way to start a new month with an in-house student trade fair, which was our first as well. I was looking forward to be part of these trade fairs since last semester. A lot of time has passed since the start of the module, and I guess all the teams have had enough time to work and develop their ideas for events such as these. It was an evening event, and I was surprised to see quite a number of people show up early for the trade fair. I guess they were excited as well. As we arrived and registered, the teams were setting up their stalls and preparing to fill in their pockets with some nice cash. It didn’t take us much time to setup our stall as our product is simple and straightforward.

As time passed, slowly and steadily the number of people (mostly students and teachers) started increasing and walking by to take a look at whats there to offer. As for us, our visual merchandising, it was clean, simple and straightforward, like our product. There quite a few number of people interested in the bookmark and its features. As it was a competition as well, the judges were going around inspecting and asking questions about the product and the team. I walked around to the other teams stalls as well and it was great viewing their product and having a conversation about their products and the event.

Overall, it was a great networking event. We got to know many people and exchanged business cards. The quality of some of the stalls were just brilliant. We will definitely try our best to improve the visual appeal of our stalls at the next trade fair. I think it’s an important aspect of physical sales. Also, I think if you offer an incentive, like a discount or something additional along with a sale of your product, the chances of it selling are much more higher. I also hope that our next trade fair will have some more diverse customers apart from students and teachers, I think there lies a bigger challenge and opportunity as well in trying to sell products to the general public.

Later at the end, the winners were announced with a cash prize in certain categories. Congratulations to those who won even 10 pounds, it can be a great booster to your spirits. 🙂

 

Collaboration is vital.

Season 2 of our module started a while back with the task of creating our own advertisement, which is quite fun and the production is underway. I might do one whole post on the experiences on shooting an advert maybe after it’s done. The topic of today’s class was effective creative collaboration, which sounds quite bookish business-like, but really is quite interesting and easy to understand. Let me attempt to provide you with my version it’s definition – ‘The healthy and useful interaction and exchange of innovative and different ideas, methods, techniques, tools and practices between creative individuals of different backgrounds and interests, mostly working towards a common goal or cause’ Wow! How’s that for a definition? It is also essential to debate, discuss and share ideas, after all, creativity is a social process.

To give a more real example, the current MACE ’11 class of business students and mace students, which collectively are from and have different nationalities, personalities, backgrounds, cultural values, interests, skills and goals are all working together as a class and in groups to learn something and create something substantial out of this module. It’s the fusion, exchange and interaction between different individuals that end up creating something amazing. It provides a little bit of everything, which is a secret formula for success. Like businesses these days, who are global and work across timezones, languages and different practices, creative people also can collaborate successfully with other people with similar goals to solve a problem or invent something original and innovative.

We also were introduced to project management, which is also essential in small and large firms. Project management is successful handling of a given task to complete within a limited time frame, cost and set desired quality. It’s quite important as human beings tend to get quite lazy some boundaries and guidelines need to be in place. Even creative people set themselves deadlines to complete a particular project or individual piece of work. It forces people to think creatively under pressure and most often the results have been good. It’s the same like your routine assignment given by university, which we have to complete in time, provide quality work and incur limited costs. It is a practical and sensible approach and practice.

I’m also looking forward to working on a day long class next week focusing on Human trafficking, it’s dangers, impact and potential problem solvers. My enthusiasm and energy level rises automatically when it’s for a social cause.

 

Semester One Finale.

It was the last class of the semester and how better to finish it off with a Dragon’s Den ending. We had a group of 5 judges/mentors from diverse fields and interests who were there to hear and offer their thoughts and feedback. I must admit there was a tinge of nervousness amongst some of us as soon as we got to know that we were going to be recorded while we pitch our business ideas. Nonetheless, all the group presented their ideas really well, had some good moments of laughter and some interesting opinions from the dragons’. There was definitely an improvement in the presentation of our ideas, than we had last week, or more refined, so to speak.

As for us, from the last two sessions of class, we have gained much more clarity and information of our product and its’ appeal and we now have a better idea of its’ market potential and certain customer tastes. It’s definitely more attractive to women, but it certainly has the potential to be designed visually to be more appealing to men as well. Our target market, I feel, will remain unchanged until we make some drastic changes to the product itself. For our marketing side, we might have to conduct a little more market research and re-work our strategy according to our results. Although, as I said, we are much more clearer about its’ direction, but yet need to get a little bit more work done before we are absolutely satisfied. On a side note, this kind of activity shows how much work and effort is required when launching a product in today’s market.

For the Holidays, I just remembered what @janjasong told me over a comment here that when she was part of the course last year, they had a really great semester but lost their momentum and motivation over the holidays and advised us not to do the same and try and keep the motivation kicking and ready for semester two. I thought the other groups might find this useful since I feel that semester two is the more important and busy one out of the two.

Otherwise, it’s been a really great set of classes for this semester. I absolutely enjoyed the variety in topics, people, activities and classes throughout the semester.  I’m already looking forward to classes in the next semester, primarily because we have the trade fairs where we’ll have the chance to sell our product in person.

Happy Holidays and Be safe.

 

Startup tips.

Throughout the course of history, younger generations have always been guided by elderly people full with wisdom and experience. These matured, older adults maybe our parents, relatives or our teachers. They have seen and experienced life much more than us and have definitely felt the taste of success and failure alike. They have made tons of mistakes and have learned from them, while some, on the other hand, have not. The people who do learn from their mistakes and are the ones who move forward and are the ones who guide younger people, who are generally filled with enthusiasm and limitless energy. In Ancient India, younger people were guided, educated and taught the ways of life under a teacher, more popularly known in western worlds as a ‘guru’.

For our last class, we received valuable advice for our small business teams which included advice right from the characteristics of the product to marketing and selling it for an appropriate price. We are also given useful advice on the ‘how to’ of starting a new business or if choosing the path of entrepreneurship. Some of them were – to pursue what you’re passionate about and don’t worry about what others say, push yourself to do what you do in spite of insufficient attention or financial returns and in the end you might taste success for the consistency, hard-work and perseverance shown. While some luckier people might not have to struggle for what they want to achieve(this is just a small population), the other lot of us(a bigger number) have show the strength, both physical and mental, to get what we want.

Some stories of entrepreneurs and start ups have the most unbelievable and ridiculous stories ever. Some have stumbled upon the path entrepreneurship by accident, while some in some companies, a highly successful idea might have possibly been a mistake or a fun idea itself. It is a matter of right place, right time, right people, right market and the most importantly the right idea. In today’s world it is also important to have a business idea and a plan or a model to assess the core characteristics of a business to help it steer itself in the right direction. Last and most importantly it is extremely important to have the right guidance from an experienced individual.

———

The person who spoke at our last lecture runs a blog at http://thestartuptoolkit.com/blog/

 

Money matters.

It was really entertaining and interesting as well to see the other groups’ prototypes. The wrist attached pouch(that’s what I think of it) seemed convenient and was something I’d never come across before and I think has good potential. They should just work on their design and make it more attractive. The multipurpose glove with a separate use for each finger also was really nice and I think they should work on strengthening and testing it rigorously under suitable conditions. It did have an attractive element to it. The last prototype was more of a souvenir, with everyday items collected from across London. Their target market was obviously the tourists, but I feel even though it might be reasonable and be a great source of memories, its size was a let-down as I don’t think I would pack something so big in my bag if I were traveling back home after a holiday. They should definitely work reducing the size and making it more smaller.

Moving on to the finance part, it obviously plays an important role in any business, as it is important to keep track and record your daily transactions and expenditure to know where your money comes from and goes. As business students, we were also told that it is a good way to measure the financial performance of a business and assess whether it’s in good shape or not. For example, a bigger company wants to buy a successful smaller company and goes through the accounts of the business to determine whether or not it will remain profitable in the long-term or not. It calculates and records daily cash coming into the business. A strong cash flow can be asset here. It can also help you in investing the right funds for future development of your business. This might sound all boring, but actually it does make sense to learn the basics of accounting here which is essential for any business you might take up. As for me, I don’t like accounts that much, I don’t hate it, it just means that I’m a slow learner and will eventually learn and get accustomed to it.

It’s also Etsy week, which means that we’ll have to upload the picture of our product and work on various policies required of selling on that website. I think it’s a great channel through which we can learn and experience a lot, which will definitely help in the trade fairs in semester two once we have the basic experience of actually selling a product on any medium. The Esty site contains so many categories and its amazing how many creative and skilled people are out there actually making these products. Whether they’re good or not, it just shows the creativity and passion of the people in coming up with the most fascinating items. The Etsy marketplace is a great place for designers, artists etc and every country should have a medium/market like this where budding and talented designers can showcase and sell their work in a crowded global market.