Vijay Anand | The Startup Guy.

Posts Tagged ‘Entrepreneurship

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.

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 »

I love the weekends. Especially the ones where you pretty much meet people after people, and get to see the world through a different set of eyes and perspectives. Always loved that.

So there goes the past weekend, which has just about been the most amazing weekend ever – after a really really long time, and partly thanks to meeting some of the folks from the startup scene in bangalore.

So here’s a thought that’s been on my mind. How many kinds of entrepreneurs are there? Well, it seems there are two kinds. The Incremental ones and the Iterative ones.

The incremental one is that guy who wants to be an entrepreneur, is very calculative, and goes on and takes up a job in that large firm, and after years of carefully planning his networks, funds and contigencies makes a leap to build one product, putting together a company with his colleagues. You could almost say that Mindtree was one such firm. The firm immediately attracts investors, because the experience of the founders talks volumes, the contacts are well established and the product/idea is usually something that is closely related to the domain that they have been working in.

This is pretty much your typical VC fundable business.

But there is this other kind. The kind that starts off young, comes up with an idea and grows the idea. The idea is usually nothing significant, but an improvement none the less. The grow the idea, and make an exit – small, okay or in most cases nothing at all, move on to the next idea, and with each new ideation and execution grow exponentially in terms of thinking, visions and execution style. These are your radical mavericks.

But you know what? In most cases the incremental ones, as great as they are, will only become what they are, if they are not funded. If they learn lessons the hard way. If they learn to bootstrap, learn to live in the trenches, and they grow from there.

I strongly believe, and there are quite a few others who agree, that we are destroying these genre of entrepreneurs by either cushioning them with hopes of investments, in the name of incubation centres (totally taking away their risk appetite)and by simply not letting that first idea fail.

If statistics are true, then its usually the third venture of an incremental entrepreneur that will or should get funded. Anything before that is all premature, and just part of the process.

So I am trying to validate this theory and it kinda starts to make sense. They say that for any product to be built, it takes roughly about 2.4 iterations before it can hit the market and scale. With an iterative entrepreneur, I really believe that the entrepreneur himself is the product – really think about it. Every icon that you can imagine is one of those. Do you really think they made it in their first shot?

The first step really doesn’t have to be that big idea. And i’ll repeat that over and over again. With Michael dell it was the idea of buying stamps for cheap and selling them. He writes in his book that he learnt things in that first venture which helped him put together Dell. It’s also the reason that I strongly believe that they should start as early as possible – right in High school or college if possible. It could be just about anything from running a local canteen to trying your hand with home made jewellery. What you understand about working and interacting with people will go a long way.

Trust me, it wont be easy. And as a audience in OCC Bangalore noted during discussions, it is a terrible experience when your first idea bombs when asked for feedback from peers. But you know what… its all part of building you as the product. It’s an excercise to shed that extra weight that you have in you – that air of confidence and assumptions sometimes. Really, for an iterative entrepreneur, its all about falling nine times and getting up ten times. It really is.

So if you are one that falls into the first category, well You probably wont be reading this cause you’ll be busy trying to keep those investors and partners in bay. As for the iterative kind, unless you are in your third or fourth venture, dont waste your time trying to raise money and all. Be smart, save some money here and there, be frugal and stick it out. See how far you can build and take a product without having to raise money – its very much like holding your breathe to see how far you can control yourself from now having to depend on oxygen. But when you do attain that balance – or even control in it, thats when you know you are ready for the olympics to show the world what you really got.

There are only a whole total of 14 tasks that need to be done before the event,and given the capable team that we have this time, and the sheer level of enthusiasm flowing, I dont see that to be a problem. The core team from Chennai, Bangalore, and other places are starting to fly in into Delhi starting tomorrow – Our flight leaves in exactly another four hours. The team is busy getting their laptops on datacards so that we can still remain effective, even on the go. We are prepped, geared and all ready for it.

What did didn’t expect is the sheer push of some magical moment that has happened within the community to attend the event. we are nearing 400 attendees for the event, and that’s a “significant” jump from the 250 that we had last time – and trust me when I say that I am genuinely surprised. I always thought that the southern states were more entrepreneur-centric. I suppose it takes a good shot to really prove and debunk theories and myths as well.

In the following two days I am going to be writing to you to prep you to help set some expectations and in terms of some of the activities that we are planning at the event. The Innovation brainjam on the second day is something I am personally looking forward to. The credit goes to Amit Somani of Google, who threw open this open-ended way of brainstorming that they practice at google and as we pondered over the possibility of doing that in a conference. It should be loads of fun.

If you are a blogger by any means are a little rusty, this is the time to sharpen your skills. It’s going to be a liveblogging marathon this time, and we even have a surprise for the best live-blogged summary of the event. If you are the logical, knowledgeable one, well take heed. The quizzes are there to die for. I’m sure you’ve enjoyed the quizzes on the blog, and you’ll see more of it live in action, and as random teams come together to compete.

We are still looking for folks to take up various activities (If you are a good photographer, do let us know). So if you would like to help volunteer, the mailing list for the same is the first place to start, Have fun, keep your heads up high, and as we get together, let the voice that we always echo, echo once more – may the startups win!

PS: We’ll mostly be lurking around the venue starting tommorrow. Feel free to drop by and say hello. We do take encouragement in terms of homemade cookies too 😛 – Just kidding.

I have seen this cycle happen over and over again. There would be a set of guys who’d be around in most barcamps and social circles and someday they’d decide to start a company, and eventually build a product that’d gain quite a bit of traction from the “first adopters” that you find in barcamps, MoMos etc and then the worst thing happens – they get funded.

I have stats that show that more than 80% of companies whose growth and traction flatten out after getting funded by a VC firm. I’m asking myself the question if the founders were such shrewed and capable executioners that they planned the entire stunt just so that the popularity lasts till they get funded – but I doubt thats the case. So what then?

I came across a note where someone mentioned that people who get funded barely go back to the social circles after that. Partly cause those circles disown them because of whatever has happened to them. VC funding is not the golden egg, its more of the long-term, high interest, loan that is given to a company hoping that it would make it big, but for most folks getting funded is the end goal and such folks starts treating companies that have gotten funding as if they are Cinderella’s step sisters. The welcome is not there anymore, and there is no reason for these founders to go back to those circles anymore. They retire to the boring life of going out to meet peeps in baristas and coffee days where more pleasantries are exchanged than the actual meaning or weight of words.

This is actually very bad news. For the funded startup its very much so cause these early adopters essentially have dropped a baby on its head, just when someone agreed that it had potential. For the rest of the community, its also very bad since its a loss of a resource who probably had figured out how things work here and most certainly had knowledge worth sharing.

If you think I am just randomly spewing out stuff, I’ll make the entire point with one reference. J’lo’s single titled “I’m still Jenny from the Block”. That pretty much drives the point across. When your folks on the block are essentially who your early adopters are, and they disown you, it becomes radically hard for your company to survive without burning hard cold cash to see if someone would take you in for some cash in return. In the language of the hood, there is no love from the brothers no more.

I for one think that VC firms should stop advertising the amount they invested. Startups that get funded should make this a mandatory point with their investors. I know quite a few firms, like Ixigo for example who have gotten funding, yet not knowing the amount keeps things quiet, calm and life still goes on. Take any company that you know of [ and probably hate ], saying millions have been funded and crazy things like that and all of a sudden I am wondering if someone “deserves” that sorta valuation. Everybody thinks or says it out loud that its unfair and a lot of enmity grows in this little pool for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

Some companies would claim that announcing the investment amount adds credibility that will get you clients. Who are we really kidding? When you are small you need to embrace your brotherhood close to your heart and they will be your first set of customers whether you like it or not. An enterprise is a hard sell and probably is only worth aiming at when you are looking at your second round. If it happens, I’d be extremely happy but do be prepared to know and realize that your first set of customers are all folks you know, startups and SMEs. By the second round, you’d have grown to a much different positioning and would also have the strength to stand on your feet that you’d survive, and also would have weaned off the support system by then.

Until then, make no mistake, you need your community and the community needs you. Some things being in secret will make that happen.

Note: The media loves to flaunt numbers. So if you are not going to disclose numbers, don’t be surprised if they don’t run your story. Its okay, they too need to evolve, understand and adapt.

It’s a darn good time to be an entrepreneur in India – but only if you know whats available to you. I have been coming across a whole lot of resources that are available to an entrepreneur today, that you perhaps are not aware of.

The beauty about growing a startup or an SME is that the right set of tools really can make a whole lot of difference. Here are some tools that are sure to make your day.

Indian SME Toolkit: This is perhaps the holy grail of everything that you ever need. The initiative launched by ICICI, IFC and IBM has a host of templates for everything you need for running a startup or SME. Let me give you an example. There are close to a hundred plus templates on just invoices. Yep, you are going to need that to bill your customer, and when it does happen *fingers crossed* you wouldn’t have to ask around as to what all needs to go into it.

Zoho Apps: This is still the one stop place for most things that you ever need when it comes to tools for CRM, Project management, Collaborative work process, etc etc.

DimDim: I am sure that you notice all those high-flying corporates to be doing videoconferencing, desktop sharing and all those snazzy stuff. DimDim gives it to you at a price you can afford – for free. There were some minor reliability issues when I last tried it, from the revamp of the site and the positioning, I expect that that should be fixed by now.

TeamViewer: If you are collaborating remotely, and want to take over the computer of your counterpart to whiff up a rapid prototype for the UI, or show something, Teamviewer is an option. It pretty much looks like a desktop sharing app, but am hearing good reviews about it. Alternative Option: Citrix GotoMeeting

Weebly: While you are scrambling to put together your team, setup appointments with your auditors, and do those lineup of interviews and run around in unconferences, you probably dont want your website and domain looking dull. Weebly is one quick way to cough up a website which will keep the plate warm, till you have the time to get there.

Basecamp: Project Management, and the first name you ever and only need to utter is Basecamp. ActivCollab is a similar downloadable version which you can host in your own server. FogBugz is another option.

Skype: When it comes to interacting within the team, and at times even with outsiders, Skype wins hands down. Get some of those Skypeout minutes and I am told that the audio quality improves – not sure how much of it is true though.

Google Talk: For times when you dont want to hear the other person’s voice, but just want to touch base on and off, Gtalk is your friend. You dont want to rely on Skype for its messaging – at times the message gets lost in oblivion and comes back.

Financial Planning: I am told that TurboCash – Free Accounting Software (Though all that you need initially are some well done excel workbooks, and Wesabe are good options to look into to setup the financial processes quickly. You might want to run the final list through your local auditor though. Things change so fast in this scene that you dont want to take a chance in being wrong.

Shopify: You need to setup an ecommerce site and the going rate to build one with any freelancing community can be quite high. The even worse part is that you still don’t know whether what you are building will work, and you want to iterate quickly keeping your costs low. Shopify is a step towards that. It seems that most folks there have permanently stuck on to that, since the platform does give you a great commercial feel.

Freshbooks: Do you know the pain of sending invoices to your clients and keeping track of it? Most of all, the time when the lack of professionalism shows is when you are trying to keep that time of your interaction where money is involved as clean as possible. Freshbooks is an awesome tool and service for that. Highly recommended and I’ve gotten a few of my startups on it, and they are loving it. Blinksale is another option.

Campaign Monitor: Most of you guys are on the webspace. Which also mean that you send out a lot of mailers asking people to sign up for stuff. Let me be honest: Most of them look darn ugly that my first impression plummets, never to sign up for that service. Campaign Monitor is one good way to get such snobby customers onboard. Plus, I believe it offers a nice way to track responses.

FaxitNice: For those of you whoever are, or when your customers insist to live in the 90s day and age of faxes.

More to Follow…

Relevant Read: The Absolute Startup Essentials Series.

Credits:
Tools for Bootstrappers – Anjana Vivek
Setting up a Low-cost conference Room – Amit Ranjan