Vijay Anand | The Startup Guy.

Posts Tagged ‘startup

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.

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


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.

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, 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.

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 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 »

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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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 »