Thursday, March 02, 2017

Life lessons from my entrepreneur days

We had a team meeting at work recently and it was an opportunity to relive my entrepreneur days – talking about it brought back a flood of memories. It also made me reflect on some of the life lessons that I have learnt along the way.

Here are some musings from my days at Kern that form my philosophy today:
On people and ways of working…..
1. Put people first – My fondest memories from Kern are the people (Ripul, Geeta, Rahul, Archie, Yatin, Nishana, Sampada and the countless others who were part of the journey along the way) and the care and commitment that we had for each other. It was a continual process of being challenged, learning and growing along the way. Learning was a constant at Kern. We ran Saturday morning sessions where every person from the team had to take turns to volunteer and share his or her findings on one latest trend. This would be followed by deep discussions on the implications for our field and how it could be applied to our work. We were innately curious and found every topic interesting.

2. Clear ownership but no role boundaries – There was clear ownership to parts of the project but we never operated within defined role boundaries. Our day would start with a 15-30 minute call where each person provided a one-minute update on his or her key deliverables and challenges for the day. This would quickly allow us to assess the biggest win for the day and identify which areas needed additional support.

3. Celebrate innovation and collaboration – There were no good/bad ideas – everyone enjoyed putting forward their ideas for others to debate on. We encouraged sharing – we had an active corporate blog and we all had personal blogs. We used Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin, chat windows were always on and sessions would be continually run to share our successes and learning post a project. In addition, everyone owned their problems and found ways to troubleshoot –this would then be shared with others for further ideas/suggestions.

4. We worked flexibly and had fun – We trusted our people and working flexibly was encouraged. We also had fun as a team – we provided lunch in office, games, books and movies were always around and we had great team outings.

On life as an entrepreneur…
1. Start early – Ideally if you have a business idea, go for it in your twenties. That’s when your risk taking ability and idealism is at its highest and you haven’t seen enough of the world to start placing limits and constraints on what’s possible.

2. It’s not easy – If you are looking for a steady paycheck, regular vacations and a 9-6 job (does this even exist today!), then being an entrepreneur is not for you. However if you are looking for challenges, have an idea that you passionately believe in, value autonomy and flexibility, are willing to roll up your sleeves and do the dirty work, then being an entrepreneur is right for you. In other words, if you truly want to live, be an entrepreneur at some point in your life. J

3. Network, network, network – Aim to meet at least one new person each week – the greatest aha moments occur while bouncing off ideas and thoughts with others.

4. Listen to your clients but they are not always right – You’ll add maximum value when you are comfortable challenging your clients and encouraging them to look at things differently. We never adopted a top-down approach for our solutions. The CEO/stakeholder view was a critical input but our bigger insights came through our field research – we used to shadow our learners to gain insights into their environment and challenges. This data and insights would then form the basis of challenging your clients and not our perceptions / opinions.

5. Look for funding early – We were a bootstrapped company and finances were always tight which introduced a fair bit of stress. Plan early on how you will scale the company to the next level and the possible funding avenues.

6. It’s ok to fail – This was a hard one to digest. There’s a lot of passion and energy that goes into building a company and having to shut it down hurts. However today when I look back on what I have learnt and how I have grown through the process – I believe it’s ok to fail.

I would love to hear your thoughts on your experiences with running companies and the key moments that have stood out for you and from the Kern folks on the moments that you’ve cherished.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

A journey back into the corporate world..

It’s been many years since my last blog post and I was fondly reading some of my old posts and reflecting on the journey.

The one thing that I am really glad I did is start a company when I was in my 20s, I believe that’s when risk taking ability and passion is at its highest. I am so proud of all that we achieved at Kern - from starting a company passionate about Instructional Design and learner-centric to evolving into an eLearning company, to being the first company in India to win a Brandon Hall Excellence in Learning Award in the Blended Learning category, to a transition to a Learning Solutions Consulting firm. The launch of our product – Lionsher, a SaaS-based assessment platform was a crazy roller coaster ride. In a sense, it feels like we did it all. I also cherish our experiments on Second Life, Web 2.0 and Mobile learning. Thank you Geeta, Ripul, Archie, Yatin, Nishana, Sampada, Rahul and the countless others who have been part of this Kern journey.

Unfortunately all of it did not translate into commercial success and a heart-breaking decision was made to shut down the company in 2013. It’s been over three years and in that time; I’ve moved to a new country and rejoined the corporate world.

As a start, it’s only apt that I change the title of this blog from Stratosphere (Strategic not Static – startups and more) to reflect this next phase where I am back in the corporate world – building on my experiences as an entrepreneur and growing and learning each day.

The journey back into the corporate world has been interesting – I’ve been lucky to work on projects close to my heart such as on-the-job learning, social learning and innovating to move learning beyond formal /structured learning (still an important piece). And recently, I’ve moved into the space of employee engagement which is evolving very fast – exploring real-time, cutting edge listening and analytics strategies to measure and enhance the employee experience.

I plan to be more regular with blogging from here on, so watch this space.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Women Friendly Work Environments

Meet Arti. Arti is a young mother in her early 30s with two little children. She works as a project manager in an IT company. She is passionate about her work; she has rapidly risen up the ranks in her company. She completed her engineering a decade back and began working as a software programmer. She fondly remembers the nights she would spend at work trying to troubleshoot a bug in her application.

She was passionate about her work and thrived working these long hours. Most of her best friends were buddies from work. So she not only enjoyed working, but also enjoyed the late night movies, dinners and so on. A few years back, she got married. She had a supportive husband, so she continued working long hours. The company also expected more from her now and gave her new responsibilities, she loved taking them up. Then she had a baby. For the first time in over a decade, she took three months off from work.

She found it very difficult to join back after three months. She was puzzled, I love my work, I love what I do, and why is it that I don’t want to join back? She pondered quitting once every week. She started getting stressed about the smallest requests from her clients. Her company felt that she lacked motivation now. But that was not the case. She was still passionate about her work. But somehow a child seemed to have changed things for her. And when she decided to have a second child a couple of years later, she decided to resign.

I am sure this is a situation that most working mothers can relate to:

  1. A desire to quit, especially when the child is sick or work pressure is too high.
  2. A tendency to feel stressed at any new demand, a visit to a client or an additional new project turns out to be too stressful to handle.
  3. The annoyance at the fact that your husband has not had any change in working style after the baby.
  4. The fact that you love your work and would really love to do more, just that time is never enough.
  5. You do love the financial independence and the decision to resign is scary, what would you do with all the free time and will your skills become redundant when you join work again?

Most companies also struggle to understand this sudden change in their star performer. So what can companies do to create a women friendly work environment?

  1. Maternity leave of six months: Give women the flexibility to join back at the workplace when they are emotionally ready to do so. Give them the option to avail of unpaid leave.
  2. Opportunity to work half-days: Let them continue to work for half-days as long as they desire, if they wish to do so till their child turns 4-5, let them. It is much better to have them for a productive half-day than a stressed full-day.
  3. Flexi-timings and work from home options: Women are adept at multi-tasking, so they can be perfectly productive working from home. Encourage them by giving them such options.
  4. Sabbaticals: This option should be given to both, men and women. Let people take unpaid sabbaticals away from work for a few months to a year, have a policy where they inform you six months in advance so that you have adequate time to plan for this change.
  5. Fixed working hours: Create a culture that provides a good work-life balance. Encourage people to have hobbies outside of work. Encourage people to be productive at work and discourage people from staying late at work.
  6. Hire women with grown-up children: There will be many women with grown-up children who are ready to re-enter the workplace. Encourage such women, while you may need to spend some time and money in training them, the investment will pay off in terms of the commitment and dedication displayed by such women.

Points 3, 4 and 5 are applicable for both, men and women. We have implemented measures like these at Kern and have been really happy with the results.

Every mother wants to be around her children during their precious growing up years, at the same time, wants to contribute at work; these small measures can result in a win-win for both, women and their employers.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Is Training Primary or Secondary?

I had an interesting discussion with a colleague a couple of days. We were discussing why training budgets are always the first to get slashed by companies in a downturn. Has learning ever been secondary for any of us? If the answer is No, then why should training be secondary?

It is surprising to see the number of companies who have cut down on their training budgets. Even more surprising, you would assume that companies would focus more on achieving good quality training on their limited budgets. What we have seen is just the reverse. Companies are opting to do a few mandatory days of training in a year through some outsourced trainers. Obviously if that’s the way training is delivered, then training does not achieve any results. Which then leads the company to conclude that ‘training does not work’. A vicious circle!

We have been asking our clients to experiment with alternative methods that provide innovative learning platforms for employees. It is a great time to experiment with social media for corporate training, use blended and self-paced training material and other innovative, inexpensive techniques to train employees. For example, for one of our clients, just putting up some posters at different locations helped drive learning. For another client, we defined a set of simple activities for the sales staff to implement on the job. This ensured high retention and application of concepts. The key is to ‘Be brave to try something different and innovative to achieve more out of our limited training budgets’.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Beating Recession (For Individuals)

Since we are officially in the greatest depression since the 1930s, I think this is an apt post. So what can you do if you have recently been laid off?
1. Relook at your career goals
a. Are you certain you are in the right industry? You may have been a banker all your life, but if you think your chances of landing a job in this area are limited, be open to new possibilities.
b. Do you possess the required skills to excel in your job? Enrol for an evening class, online classes and brush up on your skills.
c. Be realistic: If you have been a manager, a job may require you to start as an executive again. Times are tough and it’s not easy to get a new job, so go ahead and take it up and give it your best.
d. Network: Try to meet people from the same industry. Offer to work on projects for free, publish articles, give free seminars, establish good equity that will help you in future.

2. Cultivate a hobby
a. Have a hobby that will help ward off depression and keep you occupied. And please, watching TV does not qualify as a hobby.
b. Do gardening, take up a sport, learn to play an instrument, anything as long as it gets you out and keeps you moving.

3. Keep some money coming in
a. It can be very disheartening when you have been used to a paycheck from so long.
b. Take up a job, could be at a restaurant, library, bank, even the beach or a park if that interests you and keep some money coming in. You get to meet a lot of interesting people and life will be exciting too.
c. It will help appreciate people who live on much lesser than what you have been earning all along and will help put life into perspective.

4. Volunteer
a. Millions of hands are reaching out for help each day, so volunteer your time and energy.
b. You can volunteer to teach, support, guide, mentor, the possibilities are endless. So find out the available volunteering opportunities in your area and get started.

5. Attitude
a. In the end, just remember that life is short. Maximize every day and live it to the fullest. Capture different life experiences.
b. Do every task to the best of your abilities. Share your knowledge and skills at every given opportunity.
c. Remember, no one can make you happy, finally happiness is in your own hands, so go ahead and make the best of today and now.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Attention Trainers and HR Managers: Web 2.0 is here!

Firstly a very happy new year to all of you.

Let me share an exciting development at Kern. We are organizing a workshop on how to use Web 2.0 tools (such as wikis, blogs, podcasts, and virtual world) for learning and training purposes. This workshop is designed for HR Managers and training heads who implement training in their organization.

Overview of the workshop
  • Understand Web 2.0 – the changing face of the Internet.
  • Discuss training using sharing, collaboration, co-creation, user generated content, social networking
  • Explore the use of tools such as wikis, blogs, virtual worlds, podcasts, videocasts, social networking to design effective training
  • Discuss case studies where trainers have effectively used these tools for training purposes
  • Experience learning and training in the Virtual World
To register for the workshop and know more details, you can contact Vaishnavi Shankar email: and office phone: 040-40171313.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Innovation at Kern

If you were to ask what is the single driving force that pushes all Kernites to excel, its innovation. We have always prided our ability to take decisions that distinguishes us from the others and allows us to deliver exemplary value to our customers. We have never believed in doing something just because 'everybody does it'. If we do something, it's because we believe in it.

For instance, a few years back when we started Kern, everybody designed websites. However, we never felt the need to design websites just because everybody did so. Similarly, when we started our learning solutions division, people thought that eLearning was only about technology. eLearning companies had only technical teams with zero instructional designers on board. We turned it around and said: "eLearning is for learners. Every decision in creating a course is determined by a thorough study of learners. We believe we can design an effective course only when we understand our learners—their needs, wants and motivations. Our learning strategies drive the tools and technology used to create eLearning and not the other way round. While technology is important, technology sans instructional design is like constructing a building without an architect."

And it is precisely this relentless focus on innovation that has helped Kern carve out a niche in the midst of multiple usability and elearning companies in India.
  • Kern won a Brandon Hall award in just its fourth year of operation.
  • Kern follows a rigorous, patented course development process using LCM with learners at the centre of our development methodology.
  • Kern is the only company to guarantee the effectiveness of our solutions.
  • Kern does not propogate eLearning or technology-driven solutions, Kern focuses on simple, sustainable solutions that add value to our client. Kern has the capability to deliver all types of training ranging from classroom to eLearning to 'on the job' learning.
  • Kern's team is acknowledged as the best in the industry and Kern's team of experts have extensive knowledge of computing, usability, design, programming, and learning technologies.

For us at Kern, the motto is simple. "Do work that we believe in and help our clients maximize their ROI."