Vijay Anand | The Startup Guy.

Posts Tagged ‘innovation

I grew up with a poster in my room saying “The size of your world is as big as your dreams”. It was always there when you woke up to remind you to think beyond the box. It still hangs there in my room at my parents place. It’s the thought that came into my mind when I was browsing through the net, listening to some of the folk’s interpretation of Entrepreneurship.

It seems  to me as if there are a couple of theories floating around these past few weeks.

a) Entrepreneurship is overrated. Entrepreneurship is romanticized, and the often tweeted and retweeted phrase seems to be “My son is without a job, ah! he is an entrepreneur”. Well, That’s probably pushing it far, and yep, perhaps we are breaking the elitism that was once associated with being an “entrepreneur”, but isn’t this what we wanted with all the publicizing that we did and urging one another to chase their dreams? I do see that this could dampen the ones that pride in elitism, but as far as things go, there will always be a gulf between those who can dream, ideate and implement, and those who just wear the badge and do nothing. And really, the more the merrier in this party.

b) There is also this other camp, that seems to think that, Entrepreneurship is too Web 2.0-ised. I can emphatize with this camp.  I dont think entrepreneurship in India is equated with a venture in the web 2.0 world, but most of us derive our first impression from the media that we consume and web 2.0 is essentially Media and new age consumption of those content. You get hit by it in the face over and over again, till you find something interesting. That doesn’t mean that there arent other sort of ventures going on out there. Manufacturing is still one of our strongest sectors and there are plenty of neat things cooking up in that camp. So for those of you freaking out with the thought of drowning in Web 2.0 Gyaan, take heeed, there is a bigger world out there – you just need to step out more.

c) There is a third theory out there that there are a lot of NRIs returning home. And Rajiv Gandhi is rightly quoted that whatever happened a few decades ago was not brain drain, but brain banking. Along with those returning is returning a renewed sense of nationalism, pride, and a whole lot of global interaction practices, that really help us get our quality of work a notch higher to match global capabilities. The complaint is that, along with them comes the baggage to convert the cities of India, into New York and Boston, or London. They do have a point. But sooner or later as these fresh entrepreneurs hit the Registrar of Companies to get their incorporation work done, they will know that things work slightly in a different order in this country.

So, really gentlemen (and ladies), there is not much to fret. You can relax and enjoy the process as our landscape changes before our eyes.

We Really Don’t Dream Big Enough.

What I want to talk about really is not the concerns, but my own concern as to how we aren’t dreaming big Read the rest of this entry »

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Attending Proto.in Delhi
From an event planning perspective, the first and foremost major milestones are the dates and the venue. We’ve just about finalized them. We had played a bit of a gamble announcing the dates first and then looking for the venue, but as luck should have it, we’ve managed within the same timelines and have tentatively finalized on it.

Dates: July 18th and 19th 2008.
Venue: IIT Delhi, Delhi.

Do keep an eye on the blog and sign up for the mailing list to stay up-to-date on whats being planned for this edition of Proto.in. We made a promise that for every edition of Proto.in, rather than coming together and group whining about what all is wrong for the startups in India, we’d make an attempt to solve them. The Startup Lunch initiative was one such effort to solve the hiring problem that Startups were facing – and its been extremely well received. We have a slew of such initiatives under wraps which we will be launching in every consecutive editions, and obviously the Proto.in companies will be given priority for each of these services – as much as they are open to all, as of now. If you wanted to know, that’s one more reason to head to the nomination page and to submit your company profile, if you are a technology product based Indian startup.

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I’m probably taking a 180 degree turn, and maybe a few more swirls on this post, considering my last entry on design and technology, but I think this is gonna have to be said, sooner or later.

There are a couple of things that I am noticing lately.

1. People who are back from the US and other nations where they had gone for seeking employment and are now back, who are absolutely amazed at what is happening here in India.

2. People who are a little hesitant and wondering if the Global economy recession is going to have a hard impact on us, and most of us oldies have realized that we could withstand and live through this to tell the tale – its not even a brainer no more.

3. Then there are the third group of people, who are sitting in their respective cosy offices abroad and are pointing fingers at this country as if its heading towards an impending doom.

4. There is the fourth kind, the ugly kind, which is wanting for some foreign nation to come and rescue us and “take us to the next level”.

I love the first and the second kind. Am tolerant towards the third kind and just hate the fourth one.

Let me start off with an anecdote: About a few years back, maybe ten or so, we were a much different nation. I’ll give you a very simple example: The CDMA Technology of Qualcomm was partly developed in association with IIT Madras. A couple of slip-ups, and we were one of the highest royalty paying countries (close to 7%, when hongkong and the likes were paying half of that, and China paying around 2%) to Qualcomm. Needless to say such mistakes wont ever happen again. In the words of Dr. Ashok Jhunjhunwala, “We are a very confident nation now compared to how we were even a few years ago”. Unless there is an equal opportunity for growth, research and commercialization, we don’t ever sign deals anymore. From a nation that “needed” a break, we are at a point where unless the deal is fair and maybe even lenient, we aren’t interested – we have plenty of other options, and partners willing to work on more friendlier terms these days.

As usual, let me take two steps back and go from there.

Read the rest of this entry »

The legendary duel between a technologist and a marketer is a well known one. Most would claim that they are the extremes and one that cannot be subdued. In every company, especially one that specializes in building products, everyone has a tough time balancing the interactions that go on between these two sets of people. How well you do the balancing act will have a lot to say about the processes that you have in place, the kind of openness and interactive atmosphere that you inculcate – which all bundled together does have say as to whether your product, and inevitably your company will make it past the trials of survival or not.

There is a third angle and element to it. The Designers. If you are even daring to whisper “As if life wasn’t already complicated enough”, you seriously don’t understand what lies ahead.

Let me take a few steps back and come again.

Every time I end up somewhere for a speaking engagement, the person who is introducing me has a moment where they somewhere or the other mention how there are very few people with a deadly mix of business and technology. Considering that I do have a backdrop in technology and can also dabble in business, entrepreneurship and trends, most consider that it must be quite something. But I seriously think that its the third mix that adds to the punch – and without that third mix you don’t amount to much.

Technology. Design. Business – These are the three crucial aspects of a product company. The process flow runs along the lines from left to right and right to left a few times before the specs of the product are frozen and approved. Without the design element in between, you usually end up with a very complex technology platform which solves everything for everyone, and nothing for anyone. I will tie up this loose end in a bit.

So as I said, it is not easy to tie in a technology and a business fella together and the usual genre who compose of both are product managers. One of the very rare assets that are yet to be found here in India. Product management is a skill, an art or perhaps the only true gem in a product based company. If they are a rare breed, everything in the indian ecosystem is pretty much self- explanatory, I’d say.

That said, it is still crucial to have the third element. Unfortunately, I havent been able to meet someone who is part of a firm where all three elements come from different places. There is probably a reason for that. I have a “design report” by an NID graduate lying on my desk for the past six months and I do swear that I make an attempt to interpret it whenever I find the time, and the guts to go through that process. I still can’t for heaven’s sake comprehend what it all means. I know that designers do bring in that dash of craziness, but this one was craziness absolute. And sometimes it is very hard to distinguish the uber creative ones, from the pseudo-ones.

So what really is the answer? I’d say that there are cases to prove that if there are two founders in a firm, and atleast one of them has two of the three qualities, then there is an interesting chance at success. There are cases for a mix of business and design, and there are cases for technology and design. The missing element is always something that is fairly easy to complement.

If you still don’t believe me that Steve jobs is obsessed with design, if that ever was an argument, think of this quote by Alan kay who worked with him: “Steve Jobs understands desire”. Anyone who has understood business will quote you the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and everyone who builds products would want to position their offering from that of a “need” (commodity) to that of “want” (Premium). The secret is in the hands of a designer.

The Relevance of Design:

Source: Josh Spear

So what really is this non-sense about design being crucial? Are we talking about the User-interface? If that is the case, doesn’t hiring the snazziest graphic designer, do the task? Probably, yes and maybe not. There is a recent article [PDF] that I was pointed to, and something that might help answer this question. Listen these few lines out.

Start with the idea that people shape technologies and technologies shape society.

Then get comfortable with the idea that social relations are also always material relations.

And finally, consider agency – or the ability to act – as something within the domain of both humans and non-humans.

Credit: Anne Galloway

That’s a sample as to how designers think. I have a friend of mine Mahesh Radhakrishnan, who is possibly one of the most creative guys I’ve met. I have met with him to discuss things, all the way from how to “brand” something (he has some pretty interesting ideas on how to alternatively create a brand), to how a cultural or community building exercise could possibly be drafted. Whenever I know that my thinking is getting a bit muddled or stale, I know that its time to meet a few designers to get my thinking right. And I know that that is something I’ve learnt right out of experience.

I’ll tell you why a designer is crucial. Designers are not the guys who build those boxes or choose the colors for your layout. They are actually the architects who define how an idea conceived as an object is interacted with. A product is never a piece of technology that just caters a solution – It is something that creates a connection to the solution and “interacts” with the user. To make it even simpler: A designer is the one who defines how a product is used. And unless you define how something could be used, and the only way how it could be used, there are going to be a million ways to use it and its going to end up turning into a sandbox or a platform, but never a product.

If you were to ask me, whats the difference between MacOS and the Linux Desktop, I couldn’t care less and let the whole world spear me to the wall if they want to, but one has had a designer at its helm who has defined what all it can do and what it cannot do, and the other one is open to just about everything, which is what makes it complicated, difficult to use and stands in the way of adoption.

To Quote Anne’s own words on the matter, “We [Designers] are engaged in creating possibilities and impossibilities”

Get me a team which can play all these three roles, build a product and still prove that it doesn’t fly. Going by trends, I’d say that’s an impossibility.

It seems that when it does begin, it does start pouring. Starting with the activities that were going on in Chennai and Bangalore, Mumbai has picked up steam organizing what looks like a very interesting barcamp this weekend. Delhi, which seemed to have been lying a bit dormant is steaming off with a flurry of emails flying to and fro among startup entrepreneurs as they kick off the first Startup Lunch in India.

Delhi, is organizing the first Startup Lunch with 19 candidates, and 12 startups. I think its almost going to be an exact fit, since most of these guys are looking for a person or two. If you are asking when its happening? It’s tomorrow.

They have decided that lunch might be a slightly messy affair and given the smaller size of the audience are meeting for coffee. Here are the details:

Startup Lunch: Delhi-NCR
DateTime: Thursday, 27 March, 6 PM
Location: Cafe Turtle, N-Block Market, Greater Kailash I
Printable Directions: At RouteGuru, enter your source location in ‘My Starting Point’. In ‘My Destination’, enter “Block N” In-or-Near “GK I”.
Cost: Participating start-ups can split the bill.
Estimate: Rs. 100-200/- x NoOfAttendeePersons / NoOfAttendeeStartups

Contact: aditya.k<at>tyroo.com, avinash<at>RouteGuru<dot>com

I really love what they are doing for a couple of reasons. Though the initial template and thought was jotted down, they decided to go with what works for them. And the level of enthusiasm within the thread to get this organized and done has been amazing. I am all the more convinced as to why Delhi would be an amazing platform for Proto.in this july (more on that to follow very soon). What was even more interesting is that one of the startups has decided to put their own tools to work to make directions easier. If eating your own dog food was ever a criteria, these guys ace it!

Kudos guys! This team has all the makings of becoming the epicentre of entrepreneurial activity in Delhi, and its such a pride in being a tiny part of it all. I hope they keep going!

What makes the american economy enviable. Most folks who are entrepreneurs, technologists and venture capitalists seem to say “Its all about the silicon valley”. I think we are missing some very crucial elements there.

A conversation came up yesterday as to what inspired the valley to what it is today. Well, the truth of the matter is that, the valley is built on billions and billions of dollars of military research money. During the second world war and during the cold war with USSR, everything that was ever conceived and experimented on, was happening out of the bay area. The father of the silicon valley, if you ever get to hear about his name Fred Terman, was one who pretty much headed most of the defense initiatives for the US. [Steve Blank talks on the same Topic]

If you look at the technology s-curves of what has been the predominant business of the valley, it started off with Defense work, followed by semiconductors, followed by huge computational devices, followed by personal computers, followed by the internet. In each of these episodes, there were mammoth organizations that were created; Lockheed Martins and its ancestors, Intel, Dell, Microsoft, Yahoo and now Google. They fit the waveform, almost perfectly. There cant be another google, but there will be another wave and there will be another mammoth which will come out of that – if the US economy can sustain itself till then.

But think about it. All of this is sheer technology. Is technology, or techno-entrepreneurship as they call it, the only form of entrepreneurship? Actually, that’s the interesting part. Its not.

While the valley focused on technology and pushing it to the next level (essentially since more cycles meant more great companies and products and markets), technology alone doesnt fill all the gaps. What is often neglected are centres such as the east coast of the US, like NY which is not only the capital, but also the media giant for most of the english-speaking world. Newyork is as cash-rich as the valley in every aspect, and has more than its share of thriving entrepreneurs, just dressed differently. The fun part is that, unlike the short cycles of the technology-centric hubs where companies come and die before they get a chance to mature, because their time has run out, cycles are longer and more robust with economic and media centres.

Why is this important? It is crucial to understand this, because unless we do, we’ll constantly be talking about and dreaming about creating more engineers, Phds and smart businessmen. The world of media, economics, and markets will be opportunities lost for a thriving and growing market like India. It also comes down to the matter of allowing everyone to be participatory. I am realizing that because arts and science students & professionals think that they have fewer options (the best being working for call centres), they are much more daring and entrepreneurial than MBA graduates and engineering students. The truth is, we havent yet scratched the surface of the other sectors apart from IT. We get blamed for it, and I have to say that the naysayers aren’t all together wrong with their accusations.

If we are looking at a resilient economy, and looking at entrepreneurs and SMEs to be at the bottom and middle to strengthen and stabilize it, we need to be firing on all cylinders. And that will only happen if we focus on all key areas, that essentially forms the basis of what we call as modern civilization. As I said before, the valley and its model is just one part of the equation.

I had this fabulous discussion with Professor Veeravalli, who is a director at the Great Lakes Institute of Management yesterday on this topic. I wish I met more sharp folks like him, more often.

With 14 companies taking the stage, around 20+ Venture Capital Firms, and three Angel Investment Funds present, with quite a few of the corporate world present, the January edition went quite well than I ever anticipated. It goes without saying that we’ve stepped up a notch higher and the pressure is only going to mount further as we go further – that’s one aspect that is getting quite clear.

I am hearing lots of positive reviews from the startups who presented (especially with the traction they are getting) and if I may quote one of the participants who wrote to say “We have already received dozens of emails from investors asking our Business Plans or Executive Summary.” that’s quite encouraging – since they are especially focused on getting funding and thats the reason they came to Proto.in.

The next edition is planned to be on Delhi on the dates of 18th and 19th July ’08. The venues are being discussed and will be finalized soon and you can catch up with all the notifications and updates on the blog. Do sign up for the mailing list to stay abreast of all new developments and progress updates.

Now that that is taken care of, this blog shall hopefully resume its activity 🙂

Blog Link:
Sid’s post-event blogpost.


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