Vijay Anand | The Startup Guy.

Posts Tagged ‘Proto.in

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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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 »

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’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’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

That was the title of a talk that happened at the Fastrack Sessions of Proto.in January Edition. Since we are sitting on three editions of fabulous talks, I thought I’d take the pains to transcribe them one at a time whenever i find the time so that the larger audience – some who didnt and couldn’t make it – could benefit from it.

Imagine a situation where a technologist is trying to showcase the iPhone. He goes through every step of the features of the phone, the gestures, the various user interface nuances of the device and the audience barely reacts. A little frustrated, the technologist tilts the phone to the side, and the picture aligns itself sideways, and the audience goes wild – almost giving him a standing ovation. We’ve seen this demo before, and we know what all an iPhone can do.

Case in point: Technology alone doesn’t fascinate. How it is packaged, and how it resonates with the audience and customer means a lot more. India lacks in that space, most times.

Read the Entire Transcript at the Proto.in Blog here.

There is nothing new under the sun. Nothing Whatsoever. Ideas are just evolved from one form to another to adapt and wear a new dress.

I often used to quote the phrase that “Ideas are worth nothing. Implementation is all that matters”. Its true, but it also frustrates a lot of people who think they have fabulous ideas in their hands. I don’t spell it out as much anymore, but I have figured out much easier ways to get that same point across.

A couple of months ago, I was introduced to a guy named Sian, the brains behind an event named Alpha Summit that used to happen in Europe. It was almost like Proto.in, except that their focus was slightly different. They focused on Tombstone companies. Companies which would have died, if not for that boost that an event brings together. They succeeded a bit in what they did, but turning around a company is no one day matter, it takes months and years to turn some companies around, and hence the Alpha Summit is no more. But the thought has stayed in my mind, that some companies simply are hatching ideas that are way ahead of its time. If the timing is right, and if it is repositioned, there is a chance for a miracle. Heck, if we have already categorized them as a tombstone, why not give it that shot? That’s been a thought in my head, as we are also looking at ways to evolve where Proto.in stands right now. But this thought goes beyond that.

When I first heard from Arun Katiyar, the concept of an Event Web, I was quite amused. It’s true, our life is a sequence of events, and an “event-web” as he put it, makes a lot of sense. SERaja was a company for which the visions came from Rajesh Jain and Ramesh Jain. Ramesh has published a paper on the same concept. They were one of the companies that presented at the first edition of Proto.in. Unfortunately, it seems that they didnt manage to build traction as they hoped to, but then just recently I heard a very similar pitch. It came from Dandelife and Lifeblob. Timelines, events, blogs, friends and how everything is interconnected.

While SEraja had complicated the implementation a bit my mixing multimedia content and such, and also adding the complexity of mobile phones and such, Lifeblog is taking the incremental step of taking blogs, appealing from a point where everyone is comfortable and taking it from there. To be quite honest, I signed up, found a fair bit of friends there and am still trying to figure out how well it works. I haven’t made too many posts there, given that I can barely keep my facebook, blog and twitter updated – let alone a lifeblob. But if you haven’t already succumbed to so many social networks, it does make sense to stick to that.

One of the oldest ideas that makes me remember of the phrase that Ideas are immortal is how Location-based services are coming up. LBS had the imaginations of people lighted up and quite a bit of rave imaginations I must say, were running behind what it could possibly do. Five years ago when I was bootstrapping a venture, we explored around that, lobbied with the canadian govt to give us location data and were shooed away. Fun times. But today companies such as bangalore-based Yulop are digging that old grave up and bringing that dream to life – atleast the hope of such dreams back to life.

Most often timing, and the wrong timing is what kills an idea. VoIP still hasn’t taken off, because people really don’t know what to do with it beyond making phone calls, and the infrastructure cost that goes into it is so darn expensive that it doesn’t justify the phone calls as a function or feature. VoIP will die its death in this timeline, but will come back again. Perhaps when 3G becomes prevalent and demand pushes need and applications and services are born, a revival might come in place.

Quite a lot of folks ask me whats a good idea worth exploring. It is quite interesting to note that the “ideas to toss” section of this blog is one of the most popular ones, apart from the controversial ones that come up from time to time. People are looking for ideas, and thats a statement. Sometimes, in order to look into the future, you just have to look at the past and see what has died before its time, and perhaps give those tombstones a new leash on life.

If you want a hint and a springboard, go right ahead to the deadpool section of Techcrunch and see, what you can dig up, and where you can play the part of a necromancer (Oh the Diablo playing days!)

More Links to Click:
Startup North
Startups that came back from the Dead
Michael Arrington Seeds Dead Startups.
Y Combinator List, with Lots of Dead Startups


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