Archive for the ‘entrepreneurship’ Category

3 demons the startup entrepreneur must kill

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

This post is about young ventures which are less than 18 months old and maybe applicable to others as well.

I’m on my way back from the jungles of Tamilnadu, where I was off-grid for the best part of the week. Trekking, bathing, detoxing, imbibing nature, completing half-read books, reflecting on the last 24-month jaunt in India and pondering about the future. Today marks Dussera, a Hindu festival, where as per mythology, Lord Rama’s exile culminates with the killing of demon king Raavan.

Continuing the tradition, large effigies of Raavan is burnt along with his two 258562356_5e965073e5_mother cohorts viz. Kumbhakarna and Indrajeet, to celebrate the victory of  good over evil.

A startup’s journey is crowded with demons, internal and external, who are ready with their poison arrows. One wrong stance leads to a certain gnawing death. An entrepreneur in business, who has started up, faces several such demons. Based on my experience working with The Morpheus portfolio companies, coming out victorious is just another milestone:

  1. Feature overload Solve a small problem first, get the version 1.0 of the product out. Iterate quickly with feedback, instead of building features for every customer under the sun. Think what you can build as a minimum viable product, keeping a target customer in mind. Feature overload can easily be tackled by (a) Smart prioritization (b) getting feedback from potential customers, and (c) simply trusting your instincts.
  2. Monetary shenanigans Startups are not about starvation, but it’s about being efficient with money. Kill your money demons. Some to be killed while starting up and some on the way (a) Save enough for the journey before taking the plunge (b) Ask family/friends for help (c) If you have a few customers using your product, then talk to a few individual angels (d) Get an incubator to support you. Talk to us at The Morpheus
  3. People & Teaming Issues One of the major pain point a young venture faces is around people. Issue around people is the biggest demon. You may not have a team, recruiting the right people is a demon. If you have a team then making sure that they are motivated and ready to deliver is another. And then god forbid, issues between founders is yet another. A lot of young startups go on the wayside due to strained relationship between the founders or the founding team than anything else. There are a lot of ways of dealing with people/team related issues including (a) Right motivation for everybody in the journey (b) Keeping a clear line of communication and communicating more often than not (c) Not making assumptions about each other (d) Mutual respect for each other (e) Letting it go

These demons are multi-headed and get reborn. Killing them once is not enough. They come back in different life forms; like the mighty Raavan, who had consumed the nectar of immortality; only to be killed later with a strategic arrow.

A very happy Dussera to all and may you kill all the demons lurking in your venture!

Picture courtesy Jigisha.

Why the pitch is important?

Monday, September 20th, 2010

PresentationWhat’s a pitch? It’s a short presentation, which talks about your startup in less than 10 minutes. The pitch could be in the form of a presentation along with A/V in front of crowd. Or done in a meeting room setup for just 2 prospects. A pitch may also be in the form of a sit-down discussion to prospective employees or investors. Why it is important? Simple answer. No product or service can be sold better unless it is marketed even better.

Couple of months ago, while speaking at a business planning workshop, I was confronted by a senior academician on the subject of delivery of the content, rather than the content itself. The question came up when I gave a very candid feedback about one of the presenters after he delivered his ‘pitch’ in front of me and the rest of the audience. I stuck to the guns of the importance of delivery and said:

I strongly believe that the pitch is super important. Why?

  1. You are convincing an audience to believe in your product
  2. We are living in a hyper-competitive world. Unless you are able to communicate, your message remains confined to your vocal cords
  3. If you as an entrepreneur can’t deliver a 5-minute pitch, how would you talk a customer into buying your product

Let’s take the perspective of the audience. The audience may have your prospective customers, investors, employees. In today’s hyper-competitive and noisy world, they get bombarded with marketing message all the time. Customers are inundated with options for various products, investors are bombarded with offer to invest. The best idea is to convince them when they have your attention as an audience.

The content is equally important. It happens all the time that the messenger delivered an excellent pitch, but the content is weak. Sure, for the uninitiated, who may not understand the content, may get hypnotized by the delivery, but it does not go beyond that pitch.

Moreover, presentation skills to get the job done are very acquirable. Here are some quick tips:

  1. You have to start practicing. If you suck at it, then you need at least 20 hours of face-time with an audience to get better and stop being perceived like an idiot
  2. Go to barcamp. Propose a session. Barcampers are forgetful, they see all sorts of presenters all the time! I personally have done sessions since 2005 and each subsequent was 5x better than the previous one.
  3. Call up a college and tell them that you want to do a 1-hour session on some random topic of your choice. Don’t worry, students are forgiving
  4. Record a 30-second greeting on your phone. Play it back. Even better, record yourself on camera, play it back, get embarrassed and fix it. Show the recording to friends you trust, take their feedback
  5. Organize a karaoke at home. Call at least 2 common friends, you have never met. Sing.
  6. Even simpler–Call up the customer service of a company. Towards the end of the call, ask for feedback, how fluent your english was. Not joking. Try it. Works.

You don’t have to be Guy Kawasaki to hypnotize the crowd–Instead, simply someone who stands comfortably in front of other people and is able to articulate the business.

image credit to aussiegall

Four days of Naach-Gyaan: Morpheus’s 1st startup gurukul

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

In the summer of 2007, the moment Sameer & Nandini’s last startup Madhouse got acquired, another one started brewing in their heads. This time the plan was bigger and the idea was beyond running a startup, but kick-starting several of them. One year later after the acquisition, Morpheus was born with Instablogs as the first company in the portfolio, with other kick-ass companies being added to the “gang” in the subsequent 18 months.

The Morpheus

Aptly, Morpheus was named after the greek god of dreams; to a more real (fictional to some) world captain of Nebuchadnezzar who brings the dreams back to the residents of the last human city.

Then in the 2009 summer, I joined. This summer we are adding another 7-8 startups (names to be announced on 10th June) which brings further variety in our portfolio from automotive, eco-textile, health-care to touch computing.

This weekend from 10th – 13th we are doing our 1st ever startup gurukul on the outskirts of Bangalore, where we are bringing the founders of our portfolio companies under one roof and kicking it off with “Apuroop” — a demo day. At Apuroop, Morpheus companies will be doing 5 minutes show & tell to investors & media.

We are also delighted to partner with Sequoia Capital who are supporting us in our initiative and sponsoring the gurukul.

We have come a long way since our nimble start where we were doing just mentorship to now where we are also investing a small amount of INR 5 Lakhs in each of the startups. There are more exciting things coming out of our bag, controlling my excitement, we would unravel them as time passes.

Thanks for participating with us!

As a CEO have you immersed yourself (including showing that you are an idiot)?

Monday, May 31st, 2010

Bragging alert: This post talks about a recent personal experience to prove a point.

I was offline for the whole of last week attending a marriage in my exetnded family.  While attending the event, I’d put myself out for stardom, popping my neck M2out wherever/whenever possible and making an ass out of myself at other times.  From participating in mindless discussions to taking split-second leadership roles; to managing wherever required and at times staying out of the loop sipping beer at the poolside … and of course flirting occasionally (Don’t worry, my better half never reads this blog).

I was able to enjoy the 7 days as I did not hold myself or the attitude and without worrying that I may look like an idiot in front of others for certain acts — On the contrary whenever the idiocy was on the rise (or the attitude was it’s natural best), the guffaws of laughter were at their zenith. I told my story to everybody, to strangers and even to the staff of the hotel I was staying.

Result…connected with a lot of family members with whom I had lost touch, made some new connections and solidified the existing ones…came back home, happy.

No holds barred immersion into your business is one quality which IMO keeps people at sidelines. If you don’t engross, how can you tell the story, if you don’t act foolish, how can you break the ice and win nay-sayers? If you don’t keep showing your face, how would people feel your presence.

You may have a product, you may have a team but are you engaging yourself with customers. Are you telling the story of the product even if there is only one person listening? Are you flirting with other investors when you already have a term sheet from your existing Series A dude. Are you exposing your gullible side to your mentors? Are you ready to experiment with your idea when people are ready to call you an idiot? Or you want to wait for a perfect product?

Are you ready to start dancing with 10 unknown people in the middle of the traffic with your best suit down? Or you are waiting for people to pull you in? You want to ignite rather than add logs later.

Picture taken while doing the ‘hands-up-in-the-air’ dance on the streets of Jaipur and later cropped on the boundaries to anonymize the identities.

What is the tag cloud on your blog, Mr. Entrepreneur?

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

“Startup”, “Entrepreneurship”, “Venture Capital”, “Social Media”, “twitter”, “Facebook”. All the wrong kind of tags are mightily sized on the blog of an entrepreneur who is not building a product around these tags.

An entrepreneur’s job is to build a product, do sales/marketing, evangelize the same and acquire customers! Simple. However, most of the times the evangelism is around entrepreneurship, startup culture, raising money, etc. Instead, the talk should be around the code you write, the product development you do, the travel to the customers and the mechanics surrounding the business.

Either the tags are incorrect or the right kind of evangelism is missing.

So, if you are a startup entrepreneur, don’t talk about startups, entrepreneurship, but talk about product, technology, sales/marketing, user experience, how you scale, how you fix bugs, how you prioritize your tasks, your hardware/software architecture, etc. Those should be the mightiest tags in the tag cloud. The former is implied. It is okay to talk about and evangelize things un-related to your business — but that should be 20% of the chatter.

Here are three tag clouds from the blogs of entrepreneurs who I know for sure are working in areas unrelated to the tag sizes. Guess what is what:

Social Media

Do this little test:

  1. Go to a tag cloud generator like wordle/tagcrowd
  2. Point it to your feed
  3. Analyze the results
  4. What are the dominating words? If the words related to your technology, product, domain are not dominating the tag cloud, then you need to rethink
  5. If you are good in step #4 then analyze your competition’s tag cloud — if they are caught napping, then you are doing your job well.

Can you solve some email problems for the world?

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Email is overloaded. Too many emails, too little time. We still consume email as if it is 1995! I am personally averaging two apologies per week to people whom I have failed to respond in time. email_overload_alerts

Gmail has solved spam issues to a large extent for it’s users, other email providers are still struggling with spam.

More than spam, it’s missing of legit emails which is bothersome.

We at Morpheus have some ideas and are looking for a few smart techies to solve a few problems around reducing the email overload.

Do you think you can solve a few? Then apply to The Morpheus program. You must be a guru in all of the following POP, IMAP, Hypertable/BigTable, Javascript, Java, PHP, and you walk on HTTP, web security standards, Firefox/Chrome Plugins, REST-ful APIs in your dream. Send some cool code of problems you have solved in the past and your vision around solving some of the issues related to user experience, information overload, organization, closing the loop, etc. and we may work with you in the next 4 months (and also put some money) to bring the product to life for the global technology market.

Are you game? Come discuss with us.

Update: It is the company we help you build. You are the founder/CEO whatever.  Thought we should clarify that we are not looking for someone to just “code”.

How much money do you need to get started?

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

… You want to raise just enough money to solve a small problem for even a smaller set of customers to start with.

A lot of ventures start with a dream, a vision; to solve a problem in a specific Ruby Throated Hummingbirdway. The dream could be a INR 100 crore product or something as complex as an ERP on the web to a even more complicated, a Hospital Information Systems (.. search engines? they are easier to build these days).

The vision cannot be achieved in 6 months or even 2 years — Takes 5-7 years on an average to build an INR 100 crore company. So you want to start now, and want to start small, chiseling your idea, refining as you go, adding feathers in your cap and changing gears and accelerating as you move.

First, zero in on a handful of customers and a specific problem the customer may have. Do not worry if others mock you for building a feature & not a product. You know your destiny. You know where you want to reach. Validate what you have built. Give the customer something useful so that he can pay for what you have built. Iterate on your product.

There are a lot of examples where the companies started small and began by solving just one small problem and then morphed into gorillas; from companies selling PCs — to cloth merchants now with fully backward integrated perto-products chain.

A large amount of money spoils you, ties you up with your own experiments and forces you to deliver a product which does not have any takers outside your laboratory — You are forced to linger with the experiment because now you have a large amount of an external investor’s money and do not have guts to tell him that it is not working out. There are numerous examples. There are only a few brave entrepreneurs who took $5m only to tell the board in less than a month about change in the business model.

When you are starting out, you are building something and proving your hypothesis. The moment someone starts paying for what you are building, a part of the hypothesis gets proved. You continue to iterate.

Think 6 months, 3 people’s expenses.

Think 6 months, 2 people’s expenses.

Think the amount of first tranche you need to deliver to your first customer.

Think about knowing the sales process yourself before hiring a sales expert.

Think doing zero dollar marketing before doing SEM campaigns.

Think writing the code yourself before hiring a developer.

… start thinking about raising big money after your customer trusts you with his money.

(The thumbnail is of a Ruby-throated hummingbird. These are solitary. Have one of the highest metabolism, and as part of their migration, they fly non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico, a distance of at least 500 miles. Pic courtesy)

Poet Kabir on mentorship

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

I was reading some Hindi literature over the weekend. Found this doha (a kind of verse) from the great Indian poet Kabir on mentorship.

Kabirdas-ji says:

तारा मंडल वैसि करि, चंद बड़ाई खाई |

उदए भया जब सूर का, स्यूं तारां छिपि जाई ||

Shall update with the translation sometime later. Why don’t you attempt translating this in the comment section?

Your sales 101 begins with an email

Monday, February 1st, 2010

Downy WoodpeckerAs a Founder, CEO, whatever of the startup — one thing you would be doing in your journey would be Selling. Selling to customers, employees, partners, investors, family members, competitors. And selling 24×7. Pestering. Following up. Closing. The code you write, the product you build, the team you hire is given. People worry about the actual tangible later, but you need to sell it first. Sell the concept. Sell the features. Sell your vision.

The Sales 1:1 101 begins with an email you send to someone — be it the pitch about the company, a proposal for partnership, or looking for some help.

So you send an email and then … days pass and the email silently gets buried down under. As an entrepreneur what do you do? You have two choices (a) Assume the recipient is not interested and never follow up and move on (b) Do a soft reminder and follow up.

People are distracted. Your customers are distracted. Your potential investors are distracted. There is an overdose. Marketing messages. Sales pitches. Attention is short. It is okay to remind. It is okay to do 2-3 follow ups before getting an answer or giving it up (for 6 months!). You double the interval between each follow up. 1st contact –> 7 days –> 14 days –> 28 days.

Which option you choose makes the kind of entrepreneur you will become! (a) The entrepreneur who follows up; who tries to get his attention and makes an attempt to close the deal OR (b) someone who makes an assumption that customer is not interested in “buying”.

Update: Updated the title…dunno why I wrote 101 as 1:1. Ha.

Like everybody else, I also get a fair share of daily dose in our inbox; some get labelled, others get instant attention, some are read/unread. I wish if emails followed the sentence strategy. This is the reality of information overload and the reason for change in our normal behavior of answering the phone on few rings.

The bird is the Downy woodpecker. Pic courtesy

Is it possible to do a venture when you do not have money?

Monday, January 18th, 2010

… that was the question from a IXth grader after a talk I gave to the students of IX-XII grade at a recently held event called Disha 2010. The event is an initiative to apprise the students of the potential in alternate career streams. Engineer, MBA, MBBS, LLB are typically the first choice and “viable” (read, monetizable) options for a “normal” career.

After I did my sales pitch of becoming an entrepreneur (slides below); another student asked about finding the information related to venture funding, grants, incentives, seed capital! (Wow, I thought we already talk a lot!) So much so there is a chatter around all of these things, they are mostly targeted around the “grads” and above. We at Morpheus Venture Partners are thinking to do something about it (if you wanna join hands, drop me a note).

So what do you tell a 9th grader to do when he is eager to start and doesn’t have money? “Take the Plunge!”, I said.