Vijay Anand | The Startup Guy.

Archive for the ‘Entrepreneurship’ Category

I am reading the transcript of the conversations held by the Union Square Ventures, and reading a quote by Sir Ken Robinson (who is now fairly well known in the education circles for his TED Talk). In the talk, he quotes a note from the book “The Empty Space” by Peter Brooke. In a way of not breaking what he said, Let me quote him.

   There was a fantastic booklet a few years ago by a
   guy called Peter Brooke.  He’s a theater director,
   if you ever come across it.  He wrote a book called
   “The Empty Space.”  And he asked himself this
   question.  He was concerned most theater and is —
   loose entertainment — it’s not invigorating.  It’s
   like a passing time.

   His thing is theater as a vibrant,
   social and cultural force.  So, he also analyzed
   what goes wrong with the theater.  So, he asked
   himself this question.  He said, What is the heart
   of the theater?  What is it?  What is this thing we
   are talking about?  And to get to it, he started
   the process of subtraction.  He said, “What can you
   take away from it and still have it?”
  
   And he said, well, you can take away
   the stage.  Take away the script.  You can take
   away the lighting.  See what’s going on, you take
   away the curtains, and you can take away the
   building.  You can take away all the crew, and you
   can certainly take away the director.  All of that
   is very easy.  Take it all out.
  
   The only thing you cannot remove from
   theater is an actor in a space and somebody
   watching.  That’s the heart of it.  And if either
   of those parts is missing, there is no theater.
   You need a performer and an audience.  Theater is
   that relationship.
  
   And he said you should never add
   anything to that relationship unless it improves
   it.  If it gets in the way, if it encumbers it, if
   it makes it more difficult, you shouldn’t have it.
   And that’s his problem with theater.  Everything is
   a distraction from the main business.

More than once, and whenever you do find yourself trying to redefine an industry, change the way a system works, or maybe even build an ecosystem, these words are good to turn to. Define the basics of what makes that system work, and see how it can be re-tuned, rebuilt and made to work better. You have to go back to the basics, if you want to redefine.

There are quite a bit of people that I come across, good and very good people who sometimes have this fear of not being in the ladder. They are great with startups, but are afraid of being left behind in the startup world and constantly keep looking over the shoulder to move up to becoming a corporate and then join the old boys club of retired entrepreneurs.

i have almost come to believe that that is one of the primary reasons why once someone is fairly successful in this country as an entrepreneur, they run off to become a VC, and then become directors in a few companies and are never heard from again in the startup circles. Apparently they “graduate”. And this is somehow seen as the norm.

There is a certain thrill, passion, grit and energy in working with Startups. And if you do fall addicted to it, there is also more than enough means and ways to create wealth in this phase of creativity and corporate development.

But you are going to have to make a decision about staying put, sinking your heels deeper and committing to this space. As someone rightly said “My life never makes sense in the windshield. It only makes sense in the rear view”. Working with Entrepreneurs, working with Startups, and being an entrepreneur is also a lifestyle choice.

Even as the current economic situation hasnt seem to have harmed the Early Stage Investment scene by much, there is some major misunderstanding by First Time Entrepreneurs, starting off in India, who are looking to raise funds. This series hopes to shine some light on some of them

LESSON: MAKE THAT SACRIFICE. GROW WITH THE ORGANIZATION

Scenario: In the last three business plans that I have had the priviledge to look at and to give feedbacks on, it seems that the average entrepreneur wants a salary of around 2 Lakhs a month, seems to be hiring an office attendant or a secretary in the first year, is travelling extensively, starts a marketing budget even before the product is ready, claims a steady income stream, is absolutely immune to market changes, and can solidly break even in 3 years. And oh, they give a 4x return in the fourth year.

You cannot demand a salary that runs in the lakhs. You cant because If I were investing, I wouldn’t know if there is even an incentive for the entrepreneur to slog to make this company succeed anymore. Given the current employment situation, I would even have a slight doubt as to whether the guy lost his job and is getting self-employed with a raise. But I do understand if you would want to live comfortably. This is what I would suggest.

Take a pay cut in the first two years – till your product development is ready. Just so you get a number, You get paid at the same level as your Indian Lead Software Engineer (I have to specific about the indian part, since some folks also have high paid outsourced engineers). That should put you at around 40K a month. Once that is set, and once your product development is done, and your marketing and sales efforts start, align your salary so that a base of 40K and a incentive component from the sales defines what your take home package is. That will assure me as an investor that you are willing to take a paycut to keep costs low and burn things slowly to get through the initial phases and even as the company makes money you arent raising costs, but defining your salary from what is coming in. If you are a company that sells products that sells in the millions, or have several product packages, it would be wise to even define slabs, that define the percentage.

You do that, and all of a sudden I see a real entrepreneur, who could really use with some financial support, and the halo over the head glows and a lot more people just might be willing to seriously consider your financial proposition.

Numbers. Monetization. Values and Compensation Mechanisms. Its essentially the building blocks of most systems and what keeps the wheels of most systems churning. That’s what should be driving everyone crazy. Isnt it? I don’t know about you, but it sure does drive me crazy.

Metrics. They are the easiest way to measure performance and to know that you are moving. Most of the times, as you are working with early and extremely early stage ventures, the only way to ensure that the focus of the team is on what is essential, is to set down a basic set of metrics that we can track and use to align ourselves as we go. It might seem like an extremely simple thing, but what you measure has to lot to say about what you value most. And when you make that decision in prioritizing, focus comes as a bi-product – a beautiful bi-product.

There is a danger to this. If you don’t think wide enough, then the easiest metric will be imposed on you, and in most cases its the rate at which your bank balance is depleting or increasing. Unfortunately, money is in most cases several levels down the chain in terms of processes, and measuring it directly might not give you much insight nor control to manage where you are heading.

So what am I getting at? As a startup, you need to measure, and measure everything.

I dont believe that currency is the only value system that exists. At the end of the day, even currencies are nothing more than a few numbers which give some standing among an audience. Find an alternate means to provide that and you would have created a different value system altogether.

How often do you check to ensure that you are on track? Atleast once every month. And when you do that, do keep someone who can guide you for better around. It will help, when you do notice you are not on track and need to scream out the words “Help!”

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Its not a rarity these days to hear talks about turning entrepreneurship into a lifestyle. As a matter of fact, we – everyone of us who are involved in shaping the startup space in India – are quite glad that thats happening, because it just shows that things are changing, very much for the better.

Even as Barcamps, Open Coffee Clubs, Startup Saturdays and several forms of informal support groups are emerging in this country, one of the biggest problem that we seem to be facing is the fact that we are still very urban-centric. All these meets happen in four or five of the major metros in the country – whereas we probably should be a bit more inclusive about it. There are issues such as the lack of experienced entrepreneurs to share from their life’s tale and help out emerging and aspiring entrepreneurs that seem to be stiffling some of the productivity in some of these informal meets.

Well, technology can solve that problem in some aspect, and we are going to give it our best shot.

We are opening up this Chat Application that we’ve had built, and testing in some occassions to see how we can spin this to solve this issue. Every Saturday between 9am and 5pm – and without fail, every week, we are planning to keep the Proto.in Chat [Link here] open and anyone can visit the site, and interact with entrepreneurs from across the country. We understand that Startup Saturdays happen on the same dates, so if possible we will get someone who is attending the sessions to live chat in the sessions so that the wisdom share can be spread to a larger audience if possible.

So, we’ve done and are doing our part to solve this problem. Now the request is that you be a part of this, to be there, spend sometime in the channel, interacting with, and helping out one entrepreneur to another, and in truly making entrepreneurship a lifestyle choice for those who wish for it – even beyond the metros.

Looking forward to seeing you there. And spread the word.

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Its 10:13pm. I just came back from IITM, after listening to a talk by Nandita Das on “Cinema and Social Change”. I have to admit that until today, I knew that the name had something to do with the Cine world, but I had no other associations of it. This is the first one, and it probably will last that way – thanks to Today.

There is something good about being in a University campus, and working there. You sometimes feel younger beyond your years, and sometimes you just feel out of place. In either case, it provides you an alternate reality – not that I wish for it, but the difference in perspective in opinion and viewpoint is one that I thoroughly enjoy.

I overall liked the talk. It was simple, casual, touched upon personal lives – had a wee bit of self promotion – was optimistic, and the tone was real. But perhaps the message was exaggerated.

See, Gandhi said the words “Be the change that you want to see”. Quite powerful words, and one that finds itself many meanings, depending on what lens you are wearing. Nandita felt free to use those words to stir up a moment, and even an applause from an audience. I dont blame her, but I think its a very common mistake. Let me tell you why. Read the rest of this entry »

Have you ever wondered how to impress an inscrutable Venture Capitalist, convince a doubting journalist or perfect the guaranteed door opener for a partner?

Then this workshop is for you. Learn the inside scoop on how VC’s, corporate partners and journalists think. Hear tips on how you can compellingly explain your business to each audience—whether it’s raising money, trying to close partnerships, or getting attention from the media. Watch as fellow entrepreneurs develop concise, and unique value propositions that generate fever and excitement in their markets. And personally participate with industry experts to find the best ways to position and pitch YOUR company.

This Proto.in, we are having a workshop for startup companies to hone their skills in the art of Pitching. And it will be something to look forward to. This is how it works (Follows the same model as Pitchcamp in Oreilly Conference):

This is a highly interactive hands-on workshop where you will have the opportunity to refine your own company’s message, learn more about how to pitch the people you need to impress, and have fun at the same time – the expert panel will help coach you to success and be judges at the end of the workshop, awarding prizes to some lucky participants.

8-12 Companies will be selected to officially participate. The selected companies will be assigned a pitch coach from a list of highly experienced marketing team. After a general overview of the do’s and don’ts of pitching, the individual companies will go into a break out session with their assigned pitch coach to refine their pitch. Other attendees of the workshop will be invited to participate in the breakout sessions as well. The final hour of the workshop will be the companies presenting their revised pitch to the entire panel of experts who will critique and evaluate the new pitches.

The companies with the top two scores will receive prizes that might include Marketing and PR Services, VC Pitch Consulting or Premium memberships to various networks.

While the team here at Proto.in is busy putting together an elite team of marketing and experienced entrepreneurs to drive this workshop, spanning all the way from the world of advertisement, film industry, technology and pure business, do let us know if there is someone who’d make the perfect fit for this activity.

We look forward to more of your feedback. Do leave your thoughts in the proto.in blog