Guest Post: Lessons From A Website

Kiran writes about our experience working together to launch an awesome brand for Socrates Learning. Lessons From A Website

“Stories have wings…They fly from mountain top to mountain top” – Romanian Proverb

Today’s story is about the creation of this website. It all started a year back. A one-month project that took twelve!

January 2012. Start of the website project with a web programmer in India. Many emails, conference calls and two months later, there was no progress. We parted ways; no money exchanged hands, no work had been done. First lesson? When starting a project, always ensure that the others with you feel as passionately about it as you do. Eyeball to eyeball conversations help people connect in ways that telephones and emails can never do.

Then client projects, speaking assignments, community work, etc. came in the way and the web site went on the back burner.

August 2012. We found Morgan Awyong. He came highly recommended and he was in Singapore. The project was kicked off again. We had a meeting and explained our needs; He understood it perfectly and we went to work. This time we made a down payment.

Morgan presented me with a few designs and the real problem surfaced. I knew what I wanted the website to represent; I wasn’t able to, however, articulate how I wanted it to appear. He had to go with his own interpretations which didn’t match with my vision and a four-week project stretched into two months. Faced with a client who wouldn’t (couldn’t) give clear responses to his designs, and was becoming a bottleneck, Morgan did what only a person with a high degree of professional integrity and value for his own time, would do. He politely declined to work with me further. It was unheard of – the contractor fired the client! And amazingly, he even returned my down payment. I couldn’t believe it.

Before going on, I will say here that I strongly recommend Morgan to anyone who wants a great web programmer. He is not only highly capable, but has great integrity, a combination that makes him an outstanding professional.

From this episode, we learned a couple of important lessons. The first is that to do good work we need to have the courage to sometimes turn down work. Or even stop in the middle of a project, if you’re unsuited for one another. When you’re not making a tangible difference, it’s not worth the money and the combined time, energies and efforts of both parties.

The second and the biggest takeaway was that in any venture, it is team work that makes it happen – teams where everybody plays to their strengths. Successful projects require people with complementary strengths. We don’t have to own every job. The best projects happen when we first identify the strengths or skills needed and then align them with what we have. In my case, I needed a middle-man between me and the programmer – somebody to articulate my dream, to give it a design, shape, and form. I also needed a project manager to drive it and ensure that regular work didn’t derail it.

This realization dawned as I was smarting from being rejected by my contractor. Two days later our middle-man entered the picture. Coincidence? I think not. If you’re sincerely seeking, the universe will conspire to get it to you.

“What you seek is seeking you.” - Rumi

November 2012. The first time I met Abeer Desai, he asked me about my business, my visions, and my challenges in realizing those visions. Two days later he wrote offering to help me build my brand. The website you see today is my dream articulated by Abeer. I recognized that he not only knew his job well but also was able to take complete responsibility for it. I was happy to hand over the project manager and designer role to him and be only the “user”. Abeer shouldered that responsibility splendidly.

Abeer was deeply interested in hearing about my visions and business plans for Socrates Learning. But he never dropped the ball and always had his eye on completing the project in a timely fashion. He ensured that we consistently moved forward and didn’t stay stuck in nebulous ideas. He crystallized our plans into design ideas from color palettes to re-wording our marketing collateral. He managed the web programmers – I never exchanged a mail or telephone call with them. They could have been in Timbuktu for all I knew! He drove the project, kept a firm eye on the timelines, ensured there was minimal project creep and yet at all times never lost sight of the passion and love for what we were creating together.

It was a project that had clear goal posts in mind but which was executed from the heart. The result is the beautiful and inspired website you see today.

So, once again, here are the lessons:

  1. When hiring, always look for an alignment of passions. How strongly your employee or contractor feels about the job or project for which you are hiring them is as important, if not more, as their past experience and/or education qualifications.
  2. Avoid work where you do not make a real difference. We know it in our hearts. When we’re not really excited about the work. When there’s a mind-set difference between our clients and us. When what they need is really something other than what you can do for them. Authenticity is a highly-valued strength and highly respected; The lack of it will always back-fire on us and result in a loss of trust, relationships, and credibility.
  3. Integrity will always get you repeat business even if you have to lose this one. Integrity requires courage.
  4. Let people play to their strengths. Some people are great at articulating, some at analyzing, some at designing. Find the right strengths for the right piece of work. Compelling yourself or others to play to their weaker areas is neither fair to the individuals concerned nor is it good for the project or team.
  5. If you need something, go out and seek it. Chances are, it is seeking you too. Put it out there, spread the word. Whether you’re looking for business or for talent. For every salesperson there is a customer who needs exactly what you are selling. For every project manager there is a talented person who wants to do precisely that piece of work.
  6. When you find the right person, trust them and leave it to them. State overtly that you have full confidence in them – and sincerely mean it. Our facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language will tell them that we trust them. They will rise to that trust fully. Innumerable studies have proven that people rise or fall to the level of expectations we set. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy – your performance expectations from people will actually be the cause of them performing at those levels.
  7. Never underestimate the value of a good marketing professional; particularly if you’re an entrepreneur with a big dream. A great marketing person can take your nebulous but brilliant vision and eloquently articulate it in words, colors and images – into a brand. Yes, in every story there are lessons. Some profound, some funny, but they’re always there. Do share your thoughts, feedback and comments on this post with us.