Posts Tagged ‘India’

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!

The cycle of Business and the importance of Team

Monday, June 7th, 2010

On Saturday, I did a presentation to the Jain International Trade Organization (JITO) at their Annual Growth Summit. I spoke on the topic of ‘Building Winning Team’ (presentation to be uploaded). The following was part of the talk.

While internalizing the topic, a wonderful chart depicting the ‘cycle of business’ got scribbled in the notebook, the final version of which came out as shown below.  The importance of a team in a business can be visualized by looking at the chart.

The cycle of businessThe chart shows four tangible entities which are the main constituents of a business. Each constituent is in it’s own quadrant.The inbound arrow depicts movement or  utilization of a resource. As owner/CEO, you create the business. The Team which you hire creates the product or service. This is consumed by a Customer which brings Money to the business. The Money in turn funds the Team.  If the Team is weak or inefficient it would impact the product or service. Even more, an incompetent team may consume the money unwisely thus hampering the overall cycle of the business. Though the business revolves around the presence of the Owner/Founder/CEO, the continuum of the business is maintained by the efficiency of the team.

The upper right quadrant is the most important one — more than customers, if you build a great team, great products would come out with efficient use of capital. So, build a great team, manage them well and sometime later you probably don’t need to “actively manage” the business no more.

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.

Where is India’s CAN-SPAM act? An unsolicited mail for musli power on the way

Monday, March 29th, 2010

India is now #2 in generating spam and accounts for 10% of global SPAM. What is not clear from the report is the target of the spam — it only identifies that the source of the spam was from Indian IP addresses.

This is tell-tale and beckons the growing usage of internet in the urban areas of the country. With an impending boom in e-commerce — the day is not far when there will be online shops peddling ‘Musli power’ (the Indian equivalent of Viagra) through spam messages.

India has an umbrella law called the IT Act which governs data privacy, cyber-terrorism, cyber-security and the likes. However, there are a lot of open areas related to personal privacy, sharing of data, personally identifiable information, sharing with consent, etc. The current law talks about penalties related to hardware damages, “insertion” of virus, peddling of porn, etc. But, nothing around annoying marketing messages.

What we need is an Indian version of CAN-SPAM Act which precisely talks about (a) Content compliance (b) Unsubscribe compliance (c) Penalties for sending unsolicited spam (d) Local (e) Civil & Criminal enforcement.

A well crafted anti-spam law/act:

  • Allows legitimate businesses to send legitimate messages
  • Prevents harassment of businesses from customers, ISPs, law enforcement
  • Allows businesses to do generate leads and control electronic communications with their customers
  • Creates a compliance guide for businesses for connecting with their customers through e-mail & SMS

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)

Indian judiciary needs to allow the class action lawsuit

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

In the last 12 months after moving back from the Bay Area — I got cheated several times, small firms, doctors, big companies, public sector enterprises. Services not delivered, money not refunded, products not living upto warranties, the list is endless.

I followed up with some, called up some, emailed up some. A failed piece of furniture from Home Town (a unit of Kishore Biyani’s Future Group) gets dead_tree_arizonafixed after 15 phone calls only to be broken again. A non-delivery of 1Mbps Internet connection from Tata Indicom leads to only 75% of the subscription amount after several phone calls and 8 months of delays. God knows how much the cellular operators are cheating in billing for short minutes and dropped calls. Every month I get charged for roaming even when I haven’t left the home cellular network. The biggest grief is against some of the large public sector companies operating as corporations who do not even have a ‘tangible’ customer service line. The so called mega retail stores have the shoddiest of services without any accountability from the local Food & Drug or health departments/administration.

Where does the hapless customer go? As usual, there is no recourse except knock the local forums and show frustration at the process. The government of India has left it’s consumers to figure everything out on their own. It burns at least an effort of at least 100 man hours to get things resolved at the local consumer forum. If the amount is few hundred rupees, it is too much a chase.

There is corruption on one side where the government does not provide the service for which the officials are paid for and then there are systemic issues in corporations who dupe the customers.

At the minimum, the government should allow class action lawsuits and give an opportunity to service-deprived individuals to take action against companies and get compensated. The judiciary already has public interest litigation against the inaction of government. Now is the time to litigate against large corporations who do the business on their own terms.

I’m not alone when I get frustrated on inactions from the companies. If you troll through the forums, there are plenty with similar problems — They are fighting for the cause individually, to get their own money back. This needs to be fixed at a much bigger level.

The thumbnail is pic of a tree taken in 1972, wilting due to water and air pollution in Utah.

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.

Laptop to Loadbalancer: Is your LAMP hardware infrastructure growing like this?

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010
Lamp Growth Plan

Lamp Growth Plan

The visual image conveys the thoughts. The data legends represent a hypothetical configuration using Webservers, Database Master and/or slave or DRBD, Memcached nodes, etc. The size of the circle represents the relative amount of money spent on monthly hardware lease.

How did your web presence grow?

Disclaimer: The above does not include security, disaster recovery, backup and other attachments which are a must.