Vijay Anand | The Startup Guy.

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I remember listening to a very wise man once utter the words that … “Every Civilization that ever survived and flourished, all had a culture of Right to Passages”. I am not sure if I heard much of what was said after that. My mind had already raced to a truth that I’d known innately. We must earn our right to passage, if we are to get anymore as a nation, civilization and as a species.

There is a troubling trend though. There is much talk about Entrepreneurship becoming a lifestyle – I still disagree with the notion (You are either built and wired to think like an entrepreneur or not). But there something very slithery scammy about entire groups of people and organizations working to make life for an entrepreneur “easier”. Support is another thing all together.

There was an incident at the Delhi Edition of Proto.in, where Sanjay Anandaram raised the simple question to the audience as to what all they expect from an Investor – and what should be the right metrics. The answers went all the way from “Should help hiring potential partners” to the obvious funding, to getting clients, to providing strategic direction. I must get a clip of that conversation, but when I did jot them all down, they were just about every element of a startup mapped. Nothing left. Sanjay did take the shot and ask the question “So what the hell does the entrepreneur do?” And he was bang on.

In my definition, entrepreneurs are risk-takers. They create wealth faster than anyone else because they are legitimate con-artists who’ve figured out a flaw in the system and they know that they can make money off of it – or by fixing it. They are also people with this innate capability to look at everything they got and can make a rocket out of it and be there before NASA can even fathom a trip. They are the junkyard Gurus, and they are great in survival tactics. They just need to fix things, and without that they’d ruin the world – so its better that they have something to fix. That’s my entrepreneur. And in order to make such elite ones – and rightly so – stand out, we need to go through our rights of passages. Without it, we are just recruiting lazy bums to the army and giving our entire freedom in the hands of those who wouldn’t know what to do with it.

And handing out entrepreneurship in a spoon, ah, such a thing doesn’t exist. Entrepreneurship will never be a lifestyle. It’s who you are.

Time flies by and a new year is born. Here’s wishing all the startups, and those I’ve come to know, cherish and converse with, the year ahead to be fruitful, prosperous and most of all a year without regrets – even in the economic situation, for what it is. Happy New Year.

For quite sometime, I have been part of conversations that usually involved of this mythical creature called the “Co-Founder”. If you would take the liberty to head to one of the startup discussion groups, sooner or later someone would bring up the conversation as to how hard it is to find a co-founder for his team. Most would usually agree and nod with him/her.

Situations like this are usually taken to be the norm here. But something has to change in all this.

This is the incident which made me sit up and take notice. I get an SMS one fine day with this message. “Am Looking for a Co-Founder for bootstrapping startup. Will be one of the executives. Have Idea. Please let me know”.

At first glance, that message might sound like a message with a call for help, and in most days I would have responded with a “Will keep in mind and let you know”, and would certainly have referred to, if I had bumped into someone. Except today, I had the statement that a recent conversation with The Pagal Guy, stuck in my head. His theory is that, Most people are looking for Co-founders in hopes of finding a smart sucker for cheap. He didnt say it in so many words, but that was the idea. And I think he is right.

He is right for a couple of reasons. Even look at the same SMS and If I were to spot a few issues, this would be it.

1. A Bootstrapping startup would have no cash. Hence “Executive” or not, he will have to be paid less. and Travel in Trains, not first class Air.

2. “I have an Idea”. Which means the person to come has no role to play in ideation either, just to execute what was already cooking in the braincells of someone else.

I think those are serious concerns. What one needs in situations like this when you are running a company, and do have an idea is not to go running looking for a “Co-Founder”, but instead rightly look for either a Program or Product Manager. He will appreciate the fact that he is labelled right, and if he starts to take ownership, and the product/idea starts to gain traction, there is all the possibilities in the world to spin it off as a seperate company and figure out how to split the ownership. Everyone wins. But please do spare the world of more want of Co-Founders 🙂

Note: I am not discounting the fact that Companies with two founders are “apparently” more successful, and a startup is too much for one person. But I also know that an entrepreneur always keeps breaking rules and this rule wont be an exception either. You also have to understand the Sactity of Co-Founding. Co-founding an idea is almost like being in love and birthing a child together. You have to be in absolute one-ness of mind and come up with the idea together to be want to stick together to grow, raise and have the patience for the idea take wings. An adopted father/mother (anyone who joins post the stage of adoption), just might leave sooner than you’d like for them to stay.

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1. The Ability to Connect
If the first four words arent able to convince me that this is a product or service that would interest me, the pitch has lost its audience right away.

2. Short and Conclusive.
Anything more than three lines to explain what it does, and then pause to see if there is more interest and continue with the details.

3. Energetic.
If you arent excited about what you are building, dont expect me to care.

4. Adaptive.
You have to know who you are pitching to. The pitch to a VC, to a Partner, or to an Employee, differs. Use the right tone, confidence level to win them over.

5. Lose the jargons.
When you are trying to convince someone, using phrases that they wouldnt understand, surely would kill the fun, wouldnt it?

Bonus:
6. Dont sell.
Desperation stinks. rather win them over. Loyalty starts with that first impression.

Its so easy to Microblog. Twibble on my Mobile. Twitter Fox on all Desktops and Laptops that I usually access. Its never been so easy to jot down your thoughts.

Unfortunately it does seem like its eating a lot into my blogging habits. Its not like I dont have stuff to write about. I have close to atleast 20 topics that I have jotted down that I want to write about and get your thoughts on… except that, it seems like some herculean task to login into wordpress and blog. I even installed Scribe to see if the barrier would seem smaller, but nope, no luck yet.

It might be that I might switch to a fullswing microblogging format soon. And this might be the longest post by that standards. I can almost hear a “Phew!” from out there.

I’m convinced that we are doing something wrong.

During a conversation with someone who has experience beyond my age, on how the product landscape in India is evolving, he smiled, took the time to coin his words (into something more politically correct) and said, “Nobody is really changing the rules of the game. Everyone is looking to make a quick buck”. When I met Subho Roy of IAMAI a few weeks back, he pretty much resonated with that and almost let out the frustration saying “This is all turning into a valuation game. Where are the days of building solid businesses?” Is there something wrong with that? Thats what I am hoping we can discuss, argue and debate about here.

It’s that time of the year for Proto.in – got barely a month to go and usually this is the time when we are finalizing all the companies and lining up the speakers for the Fastrack Sessions. We are talking about… How to sell, as a Startup? Not how to sell-out, more like how to sell your products and make revenue. There is much that seems to be obscure in the land of the startup community with so much millions and trillions discussed about – especially the size of the VC firm’s wallet.

I have been touching base with a fair slew of guys who have natively built and sold products here in India. Tally is one such company that I got in touch with and the response I got really got me thinking – because it resonates with what Mr. Experienced told me before. He wasn’t sure if he could make it to the event since he has travel plans, but left with a note saying “I wonder if people are ready to hear the heartache of building a business over 18 years. It might even depress a startup.”

Lets not make a mistake here saying that Tally just didn’t hit it right. Do you know how long it took for Bose to become a double digit million dollar making company? More than a decade. There is a joke within circles that Bose would be a bad company in a VC’s portfolio. Infosys took 25 years to attain maturity and go public. Look at Wipro. Look at Microsoft. The list is endless.

Arguably so, there is a compression in the age of the entrepreneur, the pace at which modern businesses move and grow, and it certainly has shortened, but has it also shortened the lifespans of the company?

I strongly believe that as a startup entrepreneur, the wrong person to meet is a VC. Keep in touch with him, listen to them, and get your due diligence out of them, but when it comes to business models, ignore what they have to say. They are going to want you to make revenue from day one. And the process to do that is to have an opportunistic view and that unfortunately is always short lived. Forget revenues. Forget business models. Identify the need. Understand your customers. Understand what the market is evolving towards. Then its upto you to perceive those needs and demands and formulate the solution and figure out the price discovery as to how much your customers would cough up to get that handed to them in a platter.

Instead, if you go to an investor much earlier on, on your toddler days when you should be focusing on growing, having fun and enjoying the time speaking mumbo jumbo with your peers and playing hide and seek, you’ll be wrapped in a straightjacket or in a war suit and sent to battle the mammoths of the battlefield. The end of that is not rocket science to figure out. But trust me, a kid in the middle of a battlefield will be sensational story – and trust me you will get the attention of a whole lot of folks. You just wont last long enough.

I’ll nitpick on one industry. The Travel Industry. If you go and pitch to anyone saying that you are working in the Travel Industry they are going to shun you thinking that you are the next travel portal claiming the cheapest price on the web. It has unfortunately come to that. But do you know how much inefficiencies are still there in the travel industry? The issues with checking in, tracking baggages, and even the legacy systems that they have to manage the passengers inside the terminal – the systems are really not keeping up with the explosion in traffic. Buying a cheap ticket is the least of the worries as of now. How many of you know of Sabre? They are pretty much the underlying platform behind the entire air fleet management and PNR systems worldwide. They are big, which means they are probably scared of radical change. Tell me what they are missing out on, what of that is adding to the woes of the traveller, and fix that.

I remember recently when I was talking to a publishing media about a recent magazine that they had launched. This is a magazine which is focused for entrepreneurs – and its quite well known by now. The magazine house has defined a period of five years for them to break even. I asked the man at the helm if the print industry had such a slow uptake. He responded saying “we break even in 14 months, but we’d rather make the investments in the first couple of years towards a solid start”. He made sense. Lots of sense.

How you lay the foundations for your empire matter. There is a parable in the bible about a man who build his house on the rock, and one that built it on sand. The way the house came up, obviously had a difference since the one on sand required much less work and it was all upwards, but when the rain came down, it showed which one was a much solid refuge to live in.

I think, err believe that startups should have fun. Build something people want, and build it having fun and in a way that you are passionate about. I am strongly against working 18 hours a day and racing against time to catch the wave. My most favorite teacher in school always said that it was much easier to fish in a calm ocean than in the middle of a hurricane. Ideas, concepts and the clarity of mind to execute are all luxuries that you can only enjoy in a calm ocean.

So tell me, if you were absolutely passionate about something and want to totally change the rules of the game of an industry, and would want your name to live on for years to come, what would you do? Think about it… take your time… ah, thats what you should be doing. Not living on Instant noodles. Let me tell you what, lets sit down with some candlelight, under the clear skies, and treat ourselves to gourmet – slightly tedious, painful and takes more time, but I tell ya, its totally worth it. What say ye?

IT MagazineActually this would be my third or fourth time being quoted extensively in an article in this magazine. Just as the Startup community is growing, there is also a lot of affiliated media that is growing along with them – I.T Magazine, Cybermedia’s Dare, Smarttechie, all are magazine’s looking to cater to the “entrepreneurial” kind that is rising in popularity, just about everyday.

Charu Bahri, the reporter who wrote the article had sent me a long list of questionnaire, which I had to meddle with, and she patiently did put up with all those changes – and I do have this eery feeling that I did throw off her direction as to what she wanted to theme the article as. But with the sign of a good reporter, she manages to tie them all together quite well.

Avoiding Start-up Hiccups
Hiccups often threaten the best innovative ventures—but if you’re forewarned, you can take preventive measures to ensure your start-up doesn’t suffer from too many glitches.

In any case, the article is up on this month’s edition of the magazine, and as much as I never usually tout my own articles, it seems that I was eating or drinking something that I seem to sound quite sane. Do check it out, if possible and let me know what you think.

We are thinking of doing a regular column there asking readers to come up with questions explaining issues they face and then giving them suggestions. I barely get time to keep this blog alive, so thats very much a stretched ambition, but lets see how the roll of dice turns out!