It was an absolute joy speaking with my friend and mentor, Disha Gulati, the founder of Here Here Market, for our Founding Females interview series. Disha is brilliant, generous and perhaps what I love most, keeps it very real. Here are my key takeaways from our conversation on How to Motivate Your Team When You Can’t Throw Money at the Problem.
Before we got to the discussion around motivating your team, I, of course, wanted to know more about her entrepreneurial journey. Entrepreneurship is objectively an insane career path. Why does anyone subject themselves to something so risky, exhausting and all-consuming? And even if you do decide to pursue it anyway, how do you make it happen?
1. The way in which you work is more important than what you do.
I talk to Ama La Vida clients about this all the time. People tend to focus on the company, the job title and the job description. But so often, those things just describe “what” and completely ignore “how.” Do you like to work on a team or independently? Are you okay with ambiguous instruction, or do you need the steps spelled out? Can you thrive in a long-term project environment, or do you need to see wins on the board and boxes checked each day or week?
For Disha, even though the exact business idea was fuzzy, it didn’t matter. She knew that she wanted to be a business owner and wanted the style of work that allows you to move around different departments and problems all day long. This is as important as being passionate about the business idea itself.
2. Create a glide path.
There is so much you can do while still employed to build your business and create the pathway that leads you to be a full-time entrepreneur. You can build your network, identify resources, run tests, and build a community. All of these things are invaluable as a business owner, and it makes it a lot less scary to quit your job and make the transition when you already have a network and resources behind you.
But be careful not to go into analysis paralysis. As Disha says, the “business plan goes out the window on day 3.” Don’t create a “zombie business plan” that’s hundreds of pages long and keeps getting tweaked. You need to actually take action and start something before you can tell if your hypotheses are true. There will be a time when you do need to go full-time, so get it as far as you can and then take the leap. “Very few side projects have ever become unicorns.”
3. A big part of starting a company is the village that you have to support you.
When Disha started her first business, she had no idea how to find developers, had no clue that investors in her type of business largely don’t reside in the Midwest, and wasn’t super connected in the space she was entering. Now, as a veteran entrepreneur, she sees how valuable having that village around you is. They are the ones who give you feedback, open doors, provide resources, and help you stay on track. Building your network is something you can do now and for free to set you up for success in the future.
We then moved on to discuss Disha’s style as a leader and how she motivates her team. While Here Here Market has secured external capital, it in no way compares to the budgets large companies have. She has had to get creative with how to motivate her team, especially when her entire business model got turned upside down during the pandemic.
4. Transparency is key.
Here Here Market, initially started a group dining app. When COVID hit, not only did group dining disappear; it became illegal. Imagine trying to get a business off the ground when overnight its ability to operate gets completely erased. Instead of sweeping her fears under the rug, Disha was open with her team. She recognized that no one, not even CEOs, knew what was going to happen. Instead, she invited her team to rethink the business with her. “We rebuilt this company together.” The fact that the team wasn’t in the dark or lied to encouraged them to work hard to figure out how to keep the thing going.
5. Anchor on the mission.
One of the many benefits of Here Here is the opportunities it creates for restaurant owners, chefs, mixologists, and others in the food and beverage industry. It’s a new outlet to bring their products to consumers and one that was actually an option when restaurants were closed and quickly going out of business. Disha always reminds her team about that mission. Her whole team knows that each day they show up to work, they are there to help the hospitality industry. She said, “If we can make money that’s great.” But even if not, they were doing something to help this industry and the people in it. That helped every employee to feel and act not just like an owner in the business but in the outcome, we are creating in the world.
Not every business has an altruistic mission or is changing the world, but this lesson can still apply. I recently toured Buffalo Trace distillery and loved a quote they had on the wall. “We make fine bourbon. At a profit, if we can. At a loss, if we must. But always fine bourbon.” In this case, they aren’t saving the world or keeping businesses afloat. They are making whiskey. But the employees here know that the mission is to create an incredible product, and that’s why they come to work and how they show up.
6. Motivation is not one size fits all.
You have to understand what motivates each and every team member in the organization. Disha mentioned that for some of her employees that motivation comes from the mission, transforming the industry. For others, it’s the body of work and what that person can learn there to propel their career journey. For some, they care about getting options and the possibility of a potential exit. For others, they love the culture and coming to work and being in the Here Here community.
What the leadership needs to do is figure out “what is the currency that motivates that individual and then incentivize in that way.” Disha said that “career progression and employee experience can’t be cookie cutter,” but this is difficult and requires an empathetic manager to take the time to do this. Managers need to be empowered to have these conversations with their team members. Coaching is a great tool to help managers learn how to facilitate these conversations and begin to feel that feeling of empowerment.
7. Leverage your own business to provide perks.
The common denominator among all employees is your company. Odds are most employees are passionate about the product or at least believe in it. When funds are tight, using our own product or service to your benefit can be a great approach. At Here Here, they have food samplings every other day. Their team members are foodies and love getting to taste the products themselves. Here at ALV, we provide free coaching to all of our leaders. This is a tremendous way to provide a high-value, low-cost perk to the team members.
8. Give people access to resources.
There are a ton of low-investment ways to develop people and help them build their own skills and networks. Invite them to conferences. Expose them to new people. Sponsor them to take an online class. Many of these options carry a really small price tag but can make a really big impact on making people feel valued.
9. Help them think bigger than here and now.
It’s easy to get lost and unmotivated when you don’t see how your work fits into the big picture. Disha explained how she gets her team to take a step back and think proactively about their career paths. She will say, “9 out of 10 startups shut down. If we were to shut down tomorrow, where do you see yourself?” What I love about this question is that it removes the awkwardness and fear that often arises when having career pathing conversations with employees. Maybe their long-term plans don’t involve your organization. That’s okay! The answer to this question will help you as the leader identify opportunities for these individuals that serve their long-term goals and help them stay motivated while they are still with your company.
The conversation with Disha was full of wisdom, laughs, and actionable insights. If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to take a listen. Other companies may have big budgets, but we have big hearts. With time, empathy and creativity, we can motivate our teams just as well… if not better.
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