I often remember our good friend James Joseph’s (Director - Executive Engagements, Microsoft) remark of how Kerala is such a beautiful place, blessed with lush greenery & it’s misty mountains, enchanting backwaters & sandy beaches BUT most of its high achievers & big dreamers have to live in polluted cities & spend hours in traffic everyday to work in some random big city outside Kerala & often outside India. We boast of 100% literacy, highest life-expectancy, highest tele-density, highest banking penetration, highest no: of hospital beds per 1000 citizens, lowest population growth, lowest infant mortality rate to every other Human Development Index parameters out there so much so that there is something called Kerala Model and its wikipedia page says statistically Kerala stands out as the Mount Everest of social development! Sadly the same page talks about its highest unemployment rate & very low per-capita income which ultimately pushes the state to run on the remittances from our dear Non-Resident-Keralites, often called NRK’s. Instead of cribbing about this, 2-3 years back we started pushing for ways of how we could create a +ve impact in the society around us.
Many of the major technology/internet companies in the world, be it Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, have all emerged from college dorms or home garages to literally take over the world. I quote the famous Forbes article, “Underdog status is also a common driving force among successful entrepreneurs. A feeling of inferiority due to a lack of family wealth and connections, formal education, and traditional career accomplishments often drives entrepreneurs to work frenetically as a way of compensating for such perceived shortcomings.”
When we started out, we knew we could have a great tech team based out of Kerala but not our Marketing or Sales team, because there was simply no eco-system. We ventured out to Mumbai & Gurgaon & Bangalore where we easily gelled into the eco-system and grew our business, but always remembering in the back of our minds how badly we miss a business eco-system in Kerala. We knew that with our learning curve, we could contribute best to the telecom & internet space & we tried doing just that. My Co-founder Sanjay, was able to convince the Department of Science & Technology (DST) and specifically the National Science & Technology Entrepreneurship Development Board (NSTEDB) on the importance of a Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) model in bridging the big gap India has when it comes to successful incubators compared to the rest of the world.
Incubators in India in comparison to that in US & China
India has only around 65 incubators built over the last 28 years out of more than 5000 of them across the globe. US leads with 2000 & China with around 1000, with our kind of population & size, we definitely need at least a 1000 of them. Technopark - Trivandrum, is India’s first IT park & MobME was the 1st students’ incubated company at Technopark. Today Technopark’s incubator boasts of more than 136 startups, 4500 jobs & over 150 crore in revenues. With our experience in being part of the policy making of Technopark - Technology Business Incubator & the firm foundation T-TBI laid in terms of its connect to 162 Engineering Colleges in the State, DST partnered with MobME to create India’s first PPP incubator, christened as Indian Telecom Innovation Hub - Technology Business Incubator (ITIH-TBI) which the outside world today knows as Startup Village.
Startup Village at KINFRA Hi-Tech Park, HMT Road, Kalamassery, Cochin
The first breakthrough for Startup Village was when Kris Gopalakrishnan, Co-Chairman of Infosys, joined Startup Village as it Chief Mentor, giving a shot in the arm to the efforts to create nothing less than a cultural revolution in our State. The first task in hand was to educate the youth on the difference between Product companies & Service companies and the importance of focusing on Products to build globally scalable business models. Steve Jobs & Jack Dorsey became the inspirational figures when Kris conveyed the message to the the youth of the state. Since it launch on April 15th, 2012, Startup Village has received more than 250 applications from product startups from across the country.
The incubator with its initial 5000 sq ft of plug & play facility, ran out of space on day 1, with 8 startups sharing the building & working on their dreams 24×7. KINFRA, the Infrastructure Partner of Startup Village, stepped to commit another 10,000 sq ft space to be completed before the end of the calendar year, construction of which is fast progressing.
Hon’ble Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, an ardent supporter of young entrepreneurs of the state, surprised the country with 2 major announcements during the recent showcase event, Emerging Kerala. The first was to commit 100,000 sq ft of additional space in a time bound manner to Startup Village through KINFRA, 25,000 sq ft of which will be completed & handed over by May 2013. When completed in Jan 2014, Startup Village will be the World’s Largest Telecom Incubator.
Largest Telecom Incubator in the World - Startup Village
The second announcement, rather a visionary approach, was to consider student entrepreneurship at par with NCC & Sports in Universities, and give eligible students 4% marks & 20% attendance. CM has put a challenging target of 30 days to issue this as an order. This statement has a direct impact on 120,000 engineering students in Kerala & even if 1% of these smart youngsters start out, we are talking about big changes. We are sure, we will achieve our target of creating a 1000 quality startups from within Kerala in the next 10 years through these initiatives & at least 1 out of those 1000, would emerge as a Billion Dollar startup. And that day, Kerala would have Emerged from within! Its a success story that can be replicated across the country, in different states, in different domains.
And that day, we will have a 1000 trees in our Entrepreneurs’ Garden! The App Store & Android have made today’s Telecom Industry more democratic than ever & these budding startups could well leverage the fact that today’s smartphone has more computing power than Apollo 11, the spaceship that took the 1st man to moon. The emergence of MobME, Innoz, Dexetra, Waybeo, MindHelix, WowMakers, Foradian, Flytxt are all proving the same point. And its the same vibe that everyone from Sachin Pilot (Hon’ble Minister of State in the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology) to Legendary Angel Investor Esther Dyson to Ms.Sara Wilshaw, Minister (Commercial) Govt of Canada to U.S. Consul General Ms. Jennifer A. McIntyre to Mr Alec Saunders, Vice president, Developer Relations & Ecosystem Development, RIM experienced when they visited Startup Village.
Entrepreneurs' Garden at Startup Village
Steve Jobs Wall @ Startup Village
Instances from Startup VillageInstances from Startup Village
Remember the 80’s? An entire generation went to the middle east. Betting on Dirhams, Riyals & Dinars. Because mallu’s can’t stand it when someone else is doing good. We wonder, if that mallu is doing it & doing good, why can’t I? I’ll try the same. But then there came the recession in Dubai. And all the stuff at Dubai Shopping Festival started being available at the kirana store round the corner. And middle east suddenly stopped being fashionable anymore.
The next generation went to Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Seattle & New Jersey, in search of IT jobs & regular pay-hikes thanks to the once in 18 months job switch. We have started invading Gurgaon as well. Cos we all did our B.Tech either ways. We make up for above 30% of South India’s IT crowd working outside Kerala. We like going to some place, then bring down our friends & relatives on various job vacancies, then build an association, arrange programs with alcoholic climaxes & thus eventually we make the natives a minority in the region. Ask Arabs & they will vouch for it. Or try going to Koramangala.
Guess what’s next? An idea, a bunch of geeks, a bit of angel investment and suddenly we are talking in millions & that too in USD. Everyone’s educated, everyone’s got international exposure & the moment they see successes amongst startups, they are ready for the plunge. When we got incubated in Technopark & when more than a 100 companies registered for the same, we knew this was going to get more interesting. Today, we could create something like a Silicon Valley out here. A 1000 startups over the next decade ain’t that hard. How exactly is it going to happen, is something that’s going to be detailed out in the next post.
So this is the kind of post which comes after half an hour of trying to figure out what your WordPress password was. And this one apparently falls in the anniversary week of my last blog post! Terribly bad! At least not how i wanted it to be like when i booked this domain. But I would blame laziness, twitter & confidentiality, in that order, for not having written posts on subjects which interested me in the course of last one year. I like writing though, in fact writing a book has long been on the bucket list alongside a lot of other weird things like directing a movie, both of which i guess are pretty far away.
In the last one year, a lot of things around me changed, most of them for good. “The small little world around me” has become slightly bigger & is hopefully growing faster than inflation. A lot of reflections & realizations, a bunch of interesting conversations, a ton of ideas, a huge amount of travel, fair bit of execution, a lot of internet data consumption & most importantly a handful of new friends & connections. I gauge change by the actual change of 2 things. Change in mindset & change in routine. The latter has changed completely. The former has been through a lot of revisions over regular intervals of time mostly in tune with the lunar cycle!
I generally hate being on flights, being disconnected from the rest of the world, having to sit still all the time & I can’t sleep for short bits. Power naps are a distant dream for me & the cause of jealousy when i see people around me fall asleep just like that! No, let’s not go there… So the flight durations are mostly dedicated towards a bit of reading & thinking or more appropriately called dreaming. Richard Branson, through his books of course, was my co-traveller, in a lot of those otherwise boring flights. (btw, there should be blind dating services on flights, idea courtesy Sherin & Anoop) A lot of things that dude did was exciting & fun and his views on business or rather businesses were obviously inspiring.
The first of the many realizations of the last entire non-blogging year (ya, Q2 to Q2!) just on one of those flights. See.. There are fundamentally 2 types of people. BTW, I’m talking about people who do big stuff or at least want to. Ha.. So 2 types. The first kind can do one thing so well that the sheer passion & effort will put others to shame. They wouldn’t mind doing that for their life time. They improve & innovate & even reinvent. And the second kind, who likes doing multiple stuff and likes being challenged from multiple directions. It’s just what makes you happy at the end of the day. The fact that we were never a single product company & that we always reinvented ourselves across multiple verticals, made me ascertain the fact that Richard Branson & Yours Truly, had similarities in the way of thinking! If anyways you are always multitasking then why not multitask multidimensionally? A breath of fresh air in the flight & the restless wait for the thing to bloody land, safely of course!
Fast forward a year & now there are a few more small entities that we are associated with in one way or the other, either subsidiaries or joint ventures or startups or small investments. Most of them small but beautiful & having a primary entrepreneur running the show on a day to day basis. And the excitement & adrenaline rush is back to how it was during college days while bootstrapping. What goes around, does come back around i guess. It’s been tough but refreshing. (more on each of the start-ups later) The biggest strength, has of course been the team around. More so because they are all fundamentally entrepreneurs themselves. Every single person in the team, in their own small & big ways, help us chase more dreams together. And like in a lot of other parallels, the fun is always more in the chase!
Now the bigger dream is to create an eco-system. One that empowers more minds & spawn dreams in them. An eco-system of do-ers & go-getters. And an economic slow-down, like the one that’s most likely to happen now, is always the most fertile ground for a start-up.
The challenge is the focus & the resources. Both are always limited. Time, the most important of resources, is the biggest luxury for a man. It’s easy to say Dream BIG, it’s more important to strike the right balance so that execution doesn’t suffer. Growing in spurts is good. Helps you set goals you can see & aim at. Just don’t get stuck to them for too long. Always revise & reinvent. Nothing survives without that. We, as a country, have always been referring to the reforms of 1991, as the reason for the India growth story. True. Totally. But only till this far. To grow further, you need a totally different set of reforms. A 2 trillion economy (by March 2012) can’t run with the policies which were created to help the country reach the then target of 1 Trillion. Applies to everything!
Basically, identify yourself. What sort of a person are you? What makes you happy?
Dream BIG, but then chop them into cute smaller ones and put them in a sequence.
Be quick to get them done one at a time, Time waits for none.
Reinvent & Adapt. Keep listening. Keep learning. Keep discovering.
Being at the right place at the right time! A statement used so often that it has almost lost all it’s charm! And still when you give it a thought, it’s so very critical in each of our lives. It’s a simplified version of saying you got a good opportunity on which you could act on. In every phase of life, a few critical such scenarios decide where you are, what you do, who you meet, your lifestyle, your friends’ circle, dreams, ambitions, aspirations… It basically defines or rather redefines who you are.
Generally “being at the right place at the right time” is referred to in the context of being fortunate. Many humble individuals would say they owe it to someone else, usual beneficiaries being god, parents, guru/mentor/boss, friend(s) etc usually in that order. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with it, it’s never completely your capability or lack of it, that you are where you are right now.
The explanation that usually goes behind all of it is the very intriguing concept of “destiny”. For a set of unexplainable & uncontrollable things, it’s a good way to save a lot of profound thinking time! What I am more interested is the set of things that is totally under your control & can actually make a difference. No matter who all you owe the opportunity to or whatever part of the result is due to pure luck, there is this obvious set of things which you have knowingly or unknowingly done or maybe still doing.
Which means that if you bring more right things under the category of ‘things you knowingly do’, you might really stand a chance to make a difference I suppose. From an entrepreneurial perspective, let me list down the most important items, many of which I’m sure will be applicable to other things in life as well.
One of the most important factors, if not the most. Just reflect on your life & you realize that every major breakthrough moment you had in your life, you can trace back to certain key individuals who was instrumental in some way or the other. As an entrepreneur you need to build contacts like crazy. It’s not easy maintaining them but obviously it’s worth the effort provided you are building the right ones. And it’s not just random acquaintances, I’m talking about people who would call you first when they come across a specific set of opportunities or information, people who like you & wish good for you.
Finally what makes one person or entity different from the other is the amount of useful information at their disposal which they could use for their own advantage or for others. You need to have your trustworthy sources of course.
With contacts & information at your side, you need enough knowledge about the sector to think through & decide how exactly you can benefit from the scenario. This is unfortunately something you can’t help but rely on someone else, maybe via books, internet, continuously interacting with key stake holders in the space & keeping yourself updated on what’s happening in the ecosystem.
Putting ideas into action, the point where you put all the above mentioned items in the right proportion & make things happen in the real world!
In a big maze every left & right you take could have a lot of good or bad implications in the future, maybe near term but more importantly the medium & long term ones. You can retrace steps easily if you hit the dead end really early, it gets a lot tougher when you have taken too many wrong turns. For entrepreneurs ‘gut feel’ works the best, I have no clue about the logic behind that but probably because you feel you are the only person responsible for the decision & hence would stand by it no matter what.
f) Risk Appetite
The adrenaline rush is the fun part and stress, restlessness & sleeplessness probably the bad part. But to achieve big things in life you will definitely need to lose a lot of sleep I suppose. But it’s up to you to decide what’s your priority, you should probably not have been an entrepreneur if you thought there were other ways! The art is in managing the risk to whatever extend possible. The function which relates risk & reward is still probably a mystery but it’s obviously got some connection & in the same direction.
Mix all of the above with a lot of positive attitude & you have got a fantastic formula to be at the right place at the right time. You do make your own destiny to a certain extend. Probably the reason why successful people tend to succeed again & again or certain individuals seem to be extremely lucky!
I know I haven’t updated this blog in the longest period of time, never got the time to sit down & write something good enough. Guess I’m not the real blogging type of a person but this one i couldn’t resist. Just got back from a couple of weeks of holiday in Malaysia, Singapore & Thailand and the clubbing experience was truly awesome. It took us a lot of time to read reviews online & find good places, that too from Mobile Phones on slow GPRS connections, before we continuously found luck day after day by ending up at some of the best pubs & clubs in the region. To make things easier for those of you who plan to pay a visit to South East Asia, here we go >>
1) Zouk Club - Singapore
Zouk Club - Singapore
This was the first place we went to in Singapore after landing post midnight & just having checked into our hotel. The place was suggested to us by one of our friends from India even before the whole holiday was finalized. Zouk, as I now learn from Wikipedia, is 3 old warehouses renovated, albeit completely! Trust me you won’t feel that it was ever been a warehouse, when you are there. It’s 3 interconnected clubs in one building - Zouk, Velvet Underground & Phuture. The club was fortunately very near to our Hotel on the Havlock Road, adjacent to the Singapore River. The entry fee is below 30 SD though Phuture is more of a member’s area. Zouk is the most happening of the 3 whereas Velvet is a ‘bit’ more elite types. You can obviously read the finer details & type of music etc from wiki & elsewhere.
Fair reviews here, the official site here & their twitter account here. There is a Zouk in Kuala Lumpur also, though i haven’t been there, am pretty sure it would live up to expectations.
2) Attica - Singapore
Attica - Singapore
This one, also in Singapore, is at the Clarke Quay area. We were here for the Christmas Countdown cos our friends living in Singapore forced us here. We badly wanted to go to Zouk for a second time. After much persuasion we decided to check out Attica not realizing that it would turn out to be an equally wonderful experience. Party was on till around 5 in the morning & the place was jam-packed. Again, wonderful music, crowd, tons of beautiful girls, amazing sound systems, fabulous DJ’s, great drinks which are all traits of all the places I’m listing down here. There is a second club, again connected, upstairs called Attica Too. I was among the lucky few who got some Attica T-Shirts, thrown into the amazing crowd by the DJ I personally liked Attica Too over the one downstairs primarily cos of the crowd & the music. They had 6 DJ’s in total, one of whom was extraordinarily amazing with his beats. Truly out of the world experience.
Review is here & official site here. They are on twitter too.
3) Bed Supper Club - Bangkok
This one will take you for a surprise cos you will find beds here instead of seats. So the board outside says ‘No Drugs, No weapons, No Sex’! The ambience is very different from the usual pubs & clubs one would frequent in most parts of the world. Again, has 2 clubs both having upper decks too. The most striking difference apart from the music obviously, is that the beds are white in one & black in the other. I liked the white one more, the crowd is more fun & mingling especially on top of the central bed which evolves into a mini dance floor over a period of time. The other one has a bigger regular dance floor & often live drums to go with the music. As the name of the club suggests, they have a restaurant area too, on the outside on ground. Food is really good though a bit expensive. You can guess that seeing the Lamborghini’s & Ferrari’s parked outside. Entry into the club is 700 Baht per person out of which 600 is drink coupons. The tip is, buy a bottle instead of ordering drink after drink if you are more than 3 people.
This one is a personal favorite. Though a bit away from the heart of the city, which is the Sukhumvit area, this is located in the RCA (short for Royal City Avenue) entertainment complex off Rama IX road. For a change, this is not a 2 in 1 like Bed Supper Club / Attica nor a 3 in 1 like Zouk. This just has an upper deck & is happily single. But the OMG statement is that it is an Open Bar, which means that once you pay the entry fee of 700 Baht, everything is on the house. The downside is they have only a limited set of items on the Open bar menu but that is fair enough as they essentially cover atleast a couple of decent brands of all types of drinks be it whiskey, rum, vodka, tequila, liqueurs or whatever. The sound system is superb, the woofer-speaker sets positioned right in front of the DJ booth will have atleast half a dozen people dancing on top of it once things start to spice up.
Take a step out of 808, look left & you see Route 66. Entry is 380 Baht & they seem to promote Smirnoff Ginger Ale often given as the first free drink. Again a 3 in one Club with 3 different kinds of music & the whole club is open on one side to the huge outdoor area with tables. This is probably the club in Bangkok you will find maximum number of people. In fact it’s a bit too crowded at times. But it’s a fun place to be in. The seats outside are good for an occasional rest after all the shaking you can do in one stretch.
The board outside says ‘Don’t feed the Sharks’ & I giggled, going in to realize that they actually have small sharks in an aquarium just next to the dance floor. The club is very close to Petronas Towers & has great music. Thatched roof, the tropical feel, the small bridge at the entrance is all good & different in it’s own way. The only & very noticeable downside is that it is kind of a major pick up joint these days, so not a family place at all. KL, though a bit more expensive than Thailand is considerably cheaper in comparison to Singapore. Maybe because Malaysia being a Muslim country with a bit of regulations here & there, they close down at around 3 am.
This one is pretty much mid way on the Walking Street right in the middle of zillions of infamous Go-Go bars of Pattaya. Fantastic sound system, you will feel your heart thump throughout if you stand close to one of the speakers & there is no running away from speakers as there are lots of them. You won’t get to see many people at 12 am but it’s all happening by around 2. Drinks are moderately expensive & i hate it when they charge for water, same case with most of the clubs these days. Entry is just 140 Bahts for the upper floor i-Club, the ground floor sister club charges 100 baht but is not worth the time.
8 - MiXX - Pattaya
The best club probably in Pattaya, this one is at the Bali Hai Pier end of Walking Street. This is a 2 in 1 club one named Crystal Palace & the other Rouge Club, both situated on the third floor of the Bali Hai plaza & is connected by a small passage. Great ambience & good dance floors, great crowd and good music. This one is in a different league from the rest of the clubs in Pattaya. A bit expensive but you wouldn’t probably mind because the place is that good. And there is no entrance charge though there are a lot of waiters looking out to see if you are ordering something or just wasting their space!
BTW, by ‘expensive’, wherever I’ve used the term, I mean when you think in India Rupees or some unfortunately week native currency of yours. If you are lucky soul earning/thinking in Dollars or Euros, none of these 8 places are expensive. In fact they are really cheap for the quality clubbing experience they offer.
A startup becoming a success story is not all that common. Probably every 99 out of 100 attempts fail but still that 1 triumph inspires another 100 teams to startup! What goes into that one startup that makes it a success? Why is it that the 99 others are not able to create the same magic? Is there a set of rules that ensure success of a start-up?
Though there are so many small & big things that help a startup get closer to tasting success or at least ensure that they stay on the right path, there is nothing much that can ensure a sure shot success. But if there are things that can increase your chances, there is no reason why you shouldn’t follow them.
Startups across the world face almost the same set of challenges but being in India & not having experience running a startup anywhere else, i think my limited knowledge only allows me to comment about the scene here. But call it my ignorance or give credit to the bigger number of odds against you out here, if you have what it takes to make it a success in India, probably you can do better in almost any other part of the world! Having said that, the things I list below are completely my personal opinions & don’t blame me if you follow all this & still screw up!
I’ve read a zillion articles that guarantees a better success rate for a startup & have agreed (to a lot) or disagreed (to an equal number) to the various points in them. I’m sure you have read even more number of articles & might feel my GYAN session to be extremely boring, but just in case a few of you think there has been some small little thing that you could take away from this page, I’m more than happy. I look forward to adding more items to this space or edit the existing ones, as & when i get the revelation! So here we go >>
The most important ingredient for a good startup is undoubtedly the right team. Ideas can change, business models can evolve, everything you do can alter directions but if you don’t have a good team with you, your chances of making it big are close to zero. And by ‘good’ team, I mean a balanced team with the right skill sets. You need a core team that is collectively good at ideation, execution, marketing, sales, finance & the ability to think ahead of time.
I strongly recommend a team size of atleast 2 and is not pro a one-man-show system, because of reasons more than one.
a) A single person won’t have all the skills essential to lead/run a startup.
b) It’s really good to think in more than one perspective on everything.
c) You need someone with you who will stand by you when you screw up stuff.
d) The joy is more when you have people around you to share success.
Everyone thinks different. You need someone to think about the cons when you are so much into the pros. I really admire those iron-men who have built empires from scratch all alone, but who knows, maybe they would have made even bigger a business or have saved a lot of time, if they had the right partner.
There are so many things that you can do to attract publicity & make people say good things about you. I’m not saying don’t do all that, in fact its really good to do all that. But, at the end of the day, you are running a business to make money & everything else are just by-products. A simple thing that many people fail to understand is that profit = income - expense, which essentially means that to increase your profit there are only 2 things you can do. One is to increase income & two is to make sure you are spending the least possible. And to have income in the first place, you need a good revenue model. A startup’s success is not when it makes a multi million dollar exit (though that is a good thing to happen) but when it makes sustainable & growing profits. If your intention is to make a company that fits the “hot, loss making, free service with mega valuations” tag, you are in the wrong game. It does happen once in a million companies, but definitely a model you cannot bet on.
Flow of information
You need strong systems & processes in place to ensure good flow of information within the organization. Everything from tracking expenses to daily revenues to business development initiatives to what your clients think about your product/service, progress towards the next milestone, these are all pieces of information that you would want to make available to the core team on a near real time basis. The more the delay in flow of info, the more likely that things go out of hand. The core team has to be constantly updated among each other on all the stuff happening within the company & the rest of the team should be trained to continuously communicate the info upwards in comprehensive packages. The results of good flow of information is good turn-around times, happy clients, better margins, more business and above all, the ability to take informed decisions at the right time.
Everyone needs some kind of motivation to put in their maximum. It need not always be monetary in nature but there definitely has to be incentives for achievement. It makes a person put in that extra bit that could make all the difference. It gives everyone the scope to grow at a pace they are eligible to, instead of being capped by other external factors. So put systems in place to reward every achievement. You might not be able to give incentives to every single person in the organization from day one, but make sure you make an effort to moving towards such a situation.
To-Do lists, Reporting & Reviews
Each person in the team has to be accountable for the work entrusted. There has to be a daily track of who does what. EOD’s (short for End-Of-Day reports) are something one can’t afford to miss no matter how big or small a part that particular person plays in the organization. EOD’s make you more accountable, it helps you track progress, lets you plan ahead better, makes you prepare to-do lists that makes you better organized. Irrespective of the team member being on tech side or marketing, there has to be a strong reporting system. Even in case you don’t understand the benefits initially, don’t be lazy, stick to this & you will soon realize the importance of the same. Trust me, the entire productivity of the team goes up considerably higher if everyone writes EOD’s & maintain daily to-do lists.
Over and above this, you need to have EOW’s that track progress of a business unit over a week & then EOM’s that tracks the same over a month. It’s not incremental work creating all these reports, EOD’s help you make EOW’s & EOW’s compile into EOM’s etc. The core team should also make sure the progress is reviewed periodically.
I like this statement Infosys founder Narayanamurthy made >> “It took me 25 years to become an over-night wonder”. You can’t expect to become a Bill Gates or a Steve Jobs in a couple of years. Be realistic. Be patient. Just ensure that you are on the right path and everything else will follow. There are things which you can’t speed up beyond a certain point. Don’t overdo things. Keep your cool. Don’t be frustrated. At the same time patience doesn’t mean that you sit locked in a room waiting for someone to come & deliver stuff to you.
It’s good to be written about. It’s good to showcase your product in public. It’s good to have a fan following. Every start-up should learn the trick of getting free publicity. Apart from the print & visual media, nowadays the social media is also becoming of increased importance. Leverage all that you can. Find out your USP’s. Get them across to public through whatever means. But be careful too. a) Any publicity is not good publicity. Things can put you in a bad light too. b) Don’t get too proud reading what is written about you. Only you know the real picture & if you start believing that all those media attention is gonna get you somewhere, you are really wrong.
You will need a lot of this to tide through the tough times. An entrepreneur has to be extremely optimistic about things. Positve thinking gives you positive energy that empowers you to do seemingly impossible stuff. Everyone around you may try to pull you down or atleast try to make you believe that you have set out to achieve something impossible, but that’s the whole point. You are out there to do stuff that normally people can’t & that’s why you are an entrepreneur and others are not! You are not the giving-up-types, no matter what. And go ahead and believe that you are a bit lucky too!
It’s an art. Unless & until you learn this, you will keep doing the same stuff everyday & you are most likely to waste all your time which could otherwise have been used for new/better things. Human beings are prone to getting bored if they repeatedly do the same thing for more than a particular period of time, regardless of how good the thing is. In the case of an entrepreneur, the period of time we are talking about is considerably lower. Delegating work is not a bad thing to do. Every kind of work has to percolate down the team so that you get more bandwidth to think & do new things. This is essentially how you need to grow your team. Always have it in mind that you are capable of doing bigger, better things every day & your primary job is to show your team how best to do something, put systems & processes in place and then move on. It also ensures continuity of work & makes things less person dependant.
Always good to have a right set of mentors. People whom you can trust totally. “Been there, done that” kind of people who can give you real good insights & help you find the way when you hit roadblocks. Be cautious, there are so many people out there who just do the talking and is not worth a penny. If the mentor is not passionate about the team & the work you do, there is no point wasting time. And if the reason why a mentor is associating with you is money/equity more than enything else, you are probably better off without this guy! The right mentor will be able to connect with your thought processes, he can relate to you & your situations & can share with you lessons he learnt in his journey. Do not give out any equity/money for mentorship based on future deliverables & verbal guarantees. If they are expecting something, they need to deliver first & you need to get convinced only seeing results. Finally, no matter what mentors tell you, the decision to be made is yours.
There are only a certain number of things which your brain can process at a time. There are only 24 hours in any given day. Any startup guy is likely to run out of bandwidth in his struggle to do so many things in the minimum possible time. While there is no problem in that part, what needs to be done is to prioritize things & the delegation part which has already been discussed. When you step a bit sideways and think, you will realize that a lot of things you do can be deferred as it is not of immediate importance, another set of things aren’t worth the pain in the long term and probably a third set of things which you just realized that it might do more harm than good. By prioritize, i mean figure out what has to be done on urgent basis, what is to deferred & what is to be skipped & this exercise can make sure you never run out of bandwidth for long stretches.
Save Money, Spend Less!
Don’t be ashamed. Spend as less as possible. People who tease you for being a miser won’t give you money to run your company. Save money wherever & whenever you can. Travel cheap, stay at friend’s places when on business trips, buy stuff on EMI, bargain & do whatever you can to save money. But at the same time, don’t refrain from the optimum spending on business development. Don’t refrain from spending if the time you spend bargaining is not worth it. So it’s basically a trade off between time & money which you have to master. And you also need to understand that without investing, there is no likely gain. Manage your CAPEX & OPEX well and keep track of them separately. Every company needs money, albeit in different proportions, for scaling up at various stages of the journey. If you wait for profits to be generated and then to re-invest, you will probably lose the opportunity in today’s cut throat competition. Identify funds, be it seed, angel, VC or PE, so that you can cash in when you are convinced about the opportunity.
Entertain Ideas, be open to Change!
Be open to ideas especially from within the team. If you try to resist change, you will be outdated in no time. Like they say, the only thing that doesn’t change is change itself. So learn to adapt to the changes around you. The biggest advatages of a startup needs to be leveraged to the maximum, like minimum turn-around times, quick decision making, out-of-the-box thinking & zero aversion to innovate. Always encourage everyone to come up with ideas, cos that retains the spirit, and then debate over it actively before taking a final call.
Work hard, party harder!
There is no replacement to hardwork. You literally work your ass out 24×7 to get things rolling. Sleepless nights & no-time-to-eat-food days are so common in every startup. Having no short-cut, just make sure that you don’t burn-out too much. Take a break once in a while, cos mind & body needs rest and rejuvenation.
Like APJ Abdul Kalam rightly says, “Dream, dream, dream! Dreams transform into thoughts, thoughts lead to action”. There is no harm in dreaming big. Infact, it gives you vision.
What do you want out of life? Money? Stardom? Fame? Love? Power? Fun? Success? Most probably a combination of some of these would be what you want out of life. If you want all the above, don’t read further, you are already too lost! Just kidding… I’m not here to preach anything, just jotting down stuff which have come to my mind in different circumstances of my journey.
I believe it’s all about being happy. It’s just that different people have different reasons & things that give them happiness. But if it’s such a common knowledge, why is it that very few people around you actually seem truly happy? I agree that everyone can’t be happy all the time, but if you admit the fact that the ultimate aim of your life is to be happy, then you should also understand that happiness is not something that suddenly comes to you 5 minutes before you die, it’s some state of mind you have to be in for the maximum amount of time as you live your life out. Looking back in life at any point, if you don’t consider yourself lucky & happy, then don’t blame it on anyone else, it’s solely your fault.
Now, what everyone believes in common is that these are things out of your control. Some say it’s god, some others just call it destiny, fate, bad luck etc. But I think it’s a lot dependent on the numerous small & big choices you make in life. For a human being living in this era, his/her life is constituted by work, family, friends & love. And each of this give enough reasons to be not happy. But what if you train your mind continuously to move on a bit faster to the next thing whenever you are hurt than the amount of time you took the last time around? And what does it take to do that? Just a lot of positive energy!
Happiness is contagious. Your happiness spreads to a close circle of people around you & vice-versa. Sadness is equally contagious, but it’s your choice whether you want to spread it or not. Choose not to unless when absolutely necessary & even if you do, don’t prolong this phase! Take life as it comes, live life to the fullest are all things you have heard a million times from so many sources, just try implementing them. Find out what gives you happiness, set your priorities straight and work towards it. Think positive & that gives you more energy than all the RedBull/Horsepower cans you can ever have. Happiness gives you a high which no other intoxicants can ever induce. It’s not fake, it’s incremental, it pushes you to achieve bigger things in life.
I strongly feel that every single thing that happens in my life is for some good or the other. It’s just that in the case of certain things, you understand immediately that it’s good for you & in certain other twists of life, you can figure that out only some time later. Steve Jobs’ Stanford Commencement speech has been pretty much inspirational for me, ‘you cannot connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards’. The trust you have in this statement is the only reason you would have to follow your heart. And according to me, ‘following you heart’ is the most important thing in life. Because once you start following your heart, you will learn not to blame others for whatever has happened in your life. And also, it’s only the heart that can lead you to the right thing that can give you happiness.
You should definitely watch this video if you haven’t already >>
This was originally posted on Pluggd.in, a blog covering Digital Media, on Aug 1st 2008. The intro part is written by Ashish Sinha of Pluggd In & you can find the original copy here.
Here is story of one kickass startup that in the first place sounds very lucky (they have got all the cool partnerships and mentors in place) - But the real story is quite different and is a mix of extremism, courage and of course, fun! - These guys raised 200K USD when they were studying and are kicking everybody’s ass since then!
Well, I am talking about MobMe (profile) - Kerala based startup.
In the past, I have asked Sony and his team to share their story with pluGGd.in readers, but somehow we never got the thing going!
Let me start by saying that we’ve had a very different experience altogether! Ashish had asked to write about our journey some time here on pluggd.in but never really got the time to do it. But this post makes me write a bit about it. Consider this as a trailer!
Lack of forward thinking at early age
Prashant explains the lack of computers in educational institutions & opportunities for a teenager to fool around at an IT giant’s place.
I don’t disagree with the first part. You know what we did? We bunked college as much as possible! The entire team was academically above average/brilliant till 12th & after joining Btech realized that you could crack this in the last week of study hols for semester exams. So we had a lot of free time.
We made a lot of money while in 4th sem in college by coming out with a special sim for college students in Kerala in association with the then BPL mobile. It was a pure viral marketing stuff with no advertising but we managed to make close to a million in under 3 months. That gave the much needed kick & a thought in our mind that bunking classes (not exams) is not that bad an idea.
We registered a company, got good tech hands (we were mostly marketing types & couldn’t even think of coding) and then went back to BPL with a zillion ideas and finally put up voice servers in their Kerala circle to do outdiallers & in-diallers. Can you belive that? Bunch of teens hanging around in their data center trying to figure out what is SS7 & PRI and all. We finally cracked it on Asterisks (open source) cos we didn’t have the money to put the proprietary ones! Also we managed to do stuff on the lines of what a hungama & mauj does on content business. Still very much in our teens & before 6th semester we had tie-ups with Onmobile, Hungama, Nazara, Mauj, India Times almost all others in the content business. We had sealed the malayalam movie industry & held rights for ALL the major artists.
While all this happened, we had also registered in Technopark, Trivandrum as Kerala’s first student incubated company & had strong support from IIITM-K, STPI, Kerala Government & most importantly, the education department & our university. So our attendance shortages also stopped giving us bad dreams. Had a tough time with some teachers but pretty much we were extremely lucky nothing nothing tragic happened to our studies. We chose the start-up route & left the idea of getting high marks in college.
Our Aversion toward extremism
Contrary to this, we got some really brilliant tech guys who never wanted to waste their life working for high paying IT jobs but wanted to work with an exciting start-up. Again lucky on this front, but there are lots of people like that. Our lead tech person actually left us for a year to join Uzanto (slideshare.net) & came back after product release with tonnes of experience & excellent exposure. So now you know that extremism is the norm out here.
Our Approach Toward Money
This will drive you crazy. We raised a neat $200,000 while in 6th semester from Angel investors in Kerala. We knew that if wanted to make it big, leftovers of our college earnings wouldn’t help much. If could do this at 19, a lot many people can do much better. And as Ashish had posted once, we took in a second round of funding just after 8th semester - same amount but 10X valuation from more Angels. And trust me, these Angels are really ‘Angels’. They stand with us no matter what. In between we have had small investments for minority stake sell outs from people who saw the passion in us. We are lucky to have a lot of really good mentors/supporters. From hot shot CxO’s in the IT industry to movie superstars to really good finance guys to some amazing bureaucrats to conventional business biggies to silicon valley chiefs to top brass media people.
Our Approach Toward Exploration
We traveled the length & breadth of the country cos we felt that business never happens in India if you haven’t even met the person with whom you are trying to do business. We make it a point to meet everyone atleast once & then technology steps in to take things forward. Just out of college we went to Dubai on an absolute exploratory trip & in two weeks got some good inroads to a lot of business opportunities. Now we interact with them almost on a daily basis over emials/calls but the first trip really helped forge the relation.
Lack of Role Models
All of the people in that list plus a lot more of them are our inspiration. Internet helps a lot to keep track of what’s going on in the industry, especially with many high quality blogs like this in every part of the world. They give you a lot of insights & information & analysis, i feel there is not much lack of role models around. From ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’ of Robert Kiyosaki to ‘Screw it, Lets Do it’ by Richard Branson to ‘IT happened in Inda’ by Kishore Biyani, there are so many wonderful inspiring stories around you.
Luck factor - I’m adding this one
I’ve started believing that fortune favors the brave! The BPL we started out with became Hutch & then Vodafone. Now we do stuff nationally cos they know us since ages. Many decisions you make are subject to a lot of luck. We were lucky to avoid all the 5 points (ref. to prashant’s post) above. We got investment at the right time. Met people at the right time. Media people loved us so much that the attention that we got in regional media was amazing. Maybe its because there weren’t much business stuff happening in Kerala after all the ‘hartals’ (strikes)! So much attention that we ended up even meeting the president (Dr Kalam) at his office - a 45 minute chat that inspires you to achieve the unachievable.
Now we personally know/mentor a dozen such start-ups from Kerala who are working hard to do tread the same path. Its such a joy when you receive a call from a new teenage ceo in the middle of the night saying he enrolled with Technopark as a Student start-up. You can feel & see what in his mind & what lies ahead for him. We are happy & thankful to all those people who supported us.
At 22, journey so far has been really exciting. Its been a thriller all the way. Lets wait n watch what more is in the pipe.
BTW: Being a trailer, the most of the ‘most exciting stuff’ have been carefully kept aside for the big one
This was part of a presentation I did at Start-Up Saturday Delhi April Edition. Its very hard to put all the excitement & fun we had founding the company onto a bunch of slides but it kind of captures the timelines & some of the milestones we passed. I always say this to smart youngsters that starting up while in college was one of the best decisions we took. And it applies to all, because that’s the phase in life when you don’t have any obligations/burdens/distractions. I won’t recommend dropping out, but if you have some brains, you will always be able to manage the studies parallely. Doing some business, no matter the nature or size of it, gives you more insights & learning experience than any MBA degree can give you. Many wannabe entrepreneurs ask me, shouldn’t they do an MBA before taking the plunge. I won’t say no but its not mandatory. The biggest advantage of going to a B-school is the amazing network you will be able to build over time. That applies only if you go to the best of institutions. Maybe couple of years after you pass out, you will be able to spot your peers in some good decision making roles in companies that matter to you & that should help get you inroads way faster than a random guy out there. And business always happens on the relationships you build. But having said that, there is the alternate option of hiring good MBA guys to work for you!
When you are just out of college, you think out of the box. You don’t know the limitations, barriers or boundaries. You tend to think big & on that perspective i would say ignorance is bliss! But the mandatory trait in your mindset, is the ‘never say die’ attitude that is totally essential to keep you going when you face challenges. The joy of breaking a barrier is beyond words. It gives you a different kind of high that makes you feel you are capable of conquering bigger heights. And its all in that feeling. What you think is what you are, and if you think you can’t change the world around you, starting up is not your cup of tea!
Things to take away from the presentation is that >>
a) You need a great team with complementing skills. (I’m not for the idea of starting up all alone)
b) If you have a good idea & a feasible financial model built around it, funds will never ba an issue.
c) You need some sensible people to guide you & advise you but finally the decision has to be yours.
d) Clients rule! They decide if you will grow or decay. So keep them happy always.
A lot of my friends have been asking me to register my own .com for quite some time now & finally I registered this domain. Sonyjoy.com being available was an irresistable temptation. I’ve just started playing around with a couple of themes & it will take some bit of time before i get familiar to this new playground. But once i’m, you can bet, you will have a fun time checking this out once in a while. I don’t intend to be a very frequent blogger, but i do plan to put up my thoughts on a varied set of topics including but not limited to starting-up, our company - mobME, life, friends, technology, mobile, music & movies, entrepreneurship, India & whatever stuff that comes my way that would make me think! For everything in between my blogs, you can follow me here.
Being a very special picture, i wanted this to be part of the first post here... Don't ask me why!