Posts Tagged ‘startups’

The Introverted self and how to harness it

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

The motivation to write this post came out few days ago when I was chit-chatting with Bitzermobile’s India team at a CCD in Marathahalli. Thought it’d be great idea to share it further.

Bad_hair_day_meI’m an introvert. A classic one. Ready to lose the debate rather than speak. I hate talking to people. I hate breaking the ice. I also think, if I talk to them, they’ll assume that I have an agenda. I also think, if I talk to them, I won’t have any topic of interest and would be a reject.

However, in the last 5-6 years, I’ve learnt to cover up my introverted-ness with a false facade of extroversion. The realization came to me after many years of feedback from some of the amazing bosses and mentors, I’ve had in life.

As an introvert, you can survive and do really well in businesses where you either do not deal with people or have an army of people who deal it for you. In today’s hyper-competitive environment, having a facade of extroversion is key to survival. You can’t keep quiet when pitching to customers, you can’t twiddle your thumb when you are asked to present to a room full of partners in a VC meeting and more importantly you can’t let your people down in your startup by keeping quiet. Instead, you stand, raise your hand and speak-up on every opportunity.

Here are some of the weird qualities of an introvert (from my personal experience):

  • Don’t like to talk, if don’t have a point
  • Don’t interact with people, if there ain’t a reason. Random guy in front would never be greeted
  • Don’t “hang-out” in public
  • Lonely is good. Leave me to my thoughts
  • Share thoughts once and assume that people got it
  • No ice-breakers, no small talk

Though, I have been fixing my introverted self for many years by doing things which my psyche did not allow, I still get called out in meetings with comments like, “Why are you so quiet? Do you have anything else to say?” (Whereas, I thought that I already spoke volumes!)

Some of the things I did to “fix” the introversion:

  • The first thing is to realize the psychological condition and accept that it’s perfectly normal. 50% of the world is introvert! Some of the best CEOs are. The current POTUS is one.
  • Practice a measured set of small talk with small groups and previously unknown people. There are many opportunities. Attempt massive amounts of networking. Use the 3-second / 6-second techniques.
  • Get public speaking engagements. Now, this is a normal quality of introverts that if people talk to them then they get going. How do you get more and more people talking to you in first place? Get speaking engagements. For the last 3 years in Bangalore, I was a foolish and a hungry speaker. Given an opportunity, I would walk into an auditorium or a classroom even when there were less than a handful people. Though, the larger motive was to share and show what we were doing at Morpheus, but the big hidden agenda was to fix the condition and get talking to more people.
  • Practice confrontation. This is very very important. I was shit scared of confronting people even when wrong was being committed. I use to convince myself that it was okay to let-it-go. Pick small debates and lose it. Keep losing small debates here and there. It’s ok. Your psyche will soon not send that signal to your heart to pump blood feverishly. I still avoid confrontation, but when I do, I no longer shake / shiver (but my voice does get modulated!)
  • Reach early at meetings, discussions, meetups. This is a very cool trick which helped a lot. Early means few people around and by the time it gets to mass, you already know a few faces and most importantly the surroundings.
  • The most important one is to not convert. Introversion is a prize, don’t throw it away.

I think introversion is a good psyche to have, it makes you think, it makes you give others an opportunity, it makes you creative and reflective of your actions, however, the quality has to be harnessed to become successful. If you still don’t believe into the power of You as an introvert, then this TED talk by Susan Cain is a must watch.

I should have written this post 25 years ago and sent it to girls who wanted a date and thought I should make the move. Alas, I was an introvert.

Play button: One of the tricks to keep up with 183 down days in a startup year

Saturday, October 13th, 2012

The moment I step out of home, I’m cheerful, espousing enthusiasm and all those positive things. However, it wasn’t like that 30 minutes ago.

Usually, the day breaks pretty normal with cosmic energy being diffused from nature to the body. And then, within an hour of catching up on e-mail, skype and reflecting on the past days events around people, product and customers, it starts getting mellow. Inching, as the breakfast comes to the table, the mood has already nose-dived. It happens a good 50% of the days in a year! The dark side of running a startup, we don’t talk publicly–uncelebrated and gory.

Then the play button brings the mojo back!

I fire up one of the 50-60 action movies on the media player while eating breakfast. Bodhi, Bond, Beatrix / Bride, Bruce, Bourne, etc. maiming, killing, chasing, speed-racing and drawing blood in full 5.1 pumps up the testosterone and kicks the day to a cheerful start.

Here are some of the movies in no particular order. Most of them never get watched completely. They are left at a mark and get picked up again in future on some random day.

  1. Bourne Trilogy
  2. T1 & T2
  3. Star Wars (Some scenes are amazing in 5.1)
  4. Matrix (and Reloaded, Reloaded’s car chase is amazing!)
  5. Fight Club (I still watch it, comparably less action, though)
  6. Die Hard (All four of them)
  7. Lethal Weapon (1, 2 and 3)
  8. MI (1 & 2)
  9. Danny Craig as James Bond (Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace)
  10. Taken
  11. 300
  12. Arnold (Commando, True Lies)
  13. Kill Bill (yeah Beatrix baby!)
  14. John Rambo (They are all good)
  15. Iron Man
  16. Under Siege
  17. Bruce Lee (Dragon, Game of Death)
  18. Indiana Jones (original Trilogy)
  19. The Mummy (1 & 2) — Thrillers based on archaeology / ancient era are fab!
  20. Con Air
  21. Ronin
  22. … and more!

Agent Smith in Matrix Reloaded:


Enjoy a clip from the car chase from Matrix Reloaded (I remember the days when it was being shot 30 miles from where I lived).

Competitive Density Matrix: Sizing up your product/features against others

Monday, October 11th, 2010

This post suggests a technique for analyzing competition & feature comparison against competitive products. If there is a better name for this, feel free to suggest.

Ignorance is definitely not bliss for a startup CEO when it comes to sizing up the competition. You have to know the other players in the business, what they are doing, what products & features they have and what markets they are operating in.  When you propose your product/plan/idea to prospective employees or investors — the first thing which goes in their mind is ‘scanning the competitive landscape.’

There are several traditional ways of sizing up the competition, including (a) drawing MxN matrices with company names on the left & features on the top and simply a (b) 2×2 quadrant (eg. Gartner’s magic quadrant) with companies plotted in clusters using 2 broad parameters. The picture below shows the traditional MxN style competitive analysis comparing Wikis (on the left) and their features (on the top):

MxN competitive analysis

MxN competitive analysis

Competitive Density Matrix is a different way of sizing up the competition. The perspective is to turn the matrix inside out by plotting features on the left and weights (Bad, Average, Excellent) on the top. You mark the companies at the intersection (cells) based on your knowledge of who are the companies and what is their depth of implementation of that feature. Here is the outline comparing the wiki platforms with ratings. The companies are entered in the cells. The traditional MxN competitive matrix can be re-purposed as below:

Competitive Density Matrix

Competitive Density Matrix

After you have “plotted” the companies against the features, next is the analysis to detect cells which have higher occupancy while some have none. Here is a an analysis:

Competitive Density Matrix: Cell density & whitespace

Competitive Density Matrix: Cell density & whitespace

The analysis from the above example of the wikis shows us “whitespaces” and “heavily competitive spaces” as follows:

  • The File uploading feature in various Wiki software is implemented by everybody and is mature
  • The inline HTML feature requires strengthing up so does the wysiwyg feature

The objective which competitive density matrix helps you achieve is:

  1. Drilling down into the features which you are planning to build in your product and size them up against your competition
  2. It goes beyond the broad level quadrants and simple Yes/No analysis but helps you assess which areas have been zeroed in by other players
  3. If the white space you see corroborates with a customer feedback or gap or a unique IP you have built, that could be a good differentiator

Your 1st venture? Are you waiting for the right idea/team/conditions?

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

In the 5th grade of my Hindi class, I learned this:

जिन खोजा तिन पाइया, गहरे पानी पैठ

जौ बौरां डूबन डरा, रहा किनारे बैठ

It’s a popular saying recited by many and written originally by the famous Indian poet, Kabir. My own translation reads:

Unless you jump, the oysters are found deep.

Continue to wait on the sidelines, busy counting sheep.

Entrepreneurship is risk free, as Sameer wrote in a popular post a while ago. No point waiting for the right idea or the right time, or the right set of market conditions. The ideal time is for analysts to conjure the future which already exists in an entrepreneur’s eyes. Bike rusting on the shore Unless you write a manuscript and revise it multiple times and get rejected by at least 5 publishers–how can you write one of India’s best-selling book? Unless 20 VCs label your ideas as stupid, how can the 21st get it funded?

Unless you take the plunge, you would never know, what you are doing is right. Planning is required–Accumulating a small buffer to support your personal life is a good idea. But, being a wannabe entrepreneur forever kills your self-esteem slowly.

A lot of entrepreneurs wait for the right team, right set of market conditions and getting validated by the investors before starting them. If you are an ecommerce upstart in India, would you start right now and run a few experiments or wait until the big guys have already muscled into the market.

Team is you, when you start; people follow you when you have jumped. Unless you put your everything into chopping block, no body else would. Product is what you create the demand for, idea is the seed, consumers often do not know what they want. Of course, market conditions are never right. If it were right, you’ll have to worry about competition rather than creating products.

Unless you fail in your first venture, how would you do the second one which may turn out be OK and then the third one which may turn out be a success. You don’t have to give it much of a thought if this is your 1st venture. You learn from the mistakes and plan better in the next one. For this one, you just have one option–Jump and try collecting the oysters, at least you’ll find fish.

The pic is of a bicycle rusting on a sea shore.

A step by step guide to a Happy Holiday season

Saturday, December 26th, 2009
A step by step guide to a Happy Holiday season

A step by step guide to a Happy Holiday season!

Click here for High resolution 1024 x 768 image

Thank you Anish for the great design.

No remorse compensation: Bring friends to work with you, but don’t part as enemies

Friday, November 27th, 2009

Two people get together and start developing a product. You are one of the founders. Few more common friends join. Everybody starts working towards a goal. Six months out, the product is still taking shape; Few people who contributed move-on to other things. This is a usual startup story.

In the above scenario a formal agreement or a compensation is the last thing in everybody’s mind (or like-minded people) when people start working together.FriendsMoreover, working together for some time helps people gauge the ‘mutual fit’ before signing each other up for 4-5 years. It is quite possible that after sometime a few members of the team decide to mutually part way and move-on. The question pops — what/how much would be the compensation if things do not move forward into a formal agreement? How much should be the compensation for the person who has worked his ass off but now thinks that he needs to move on?

People leave because of several reasons; personal, financial, etc. 100% possible that they come back a year later when they have sorted things out.

You as a founder of the company need to worry about people joining your startup — at the same time you also need to think through of compensating people who came trusting you for shorter stints. You have to decide this upfront when the person starts working using a simple math.

No Remorse Compensation is a way of rewarding people (esp. friends) who plan to contribute in building your startup but may move on later to do something else. To keep things simple you agree on a compensation before writing things on stone say 6 months later. Here’s a simple math:

1. 2 people team, started, now looking for a seasoned techie to manage the codebase and developers while the two of you do sales/marketing/product as well.

2. The 2 founders decide that the techie would get 10% of the equity (and some salary, if any, but for now, none) — however, the techie says “lets work together before making a decision.” You don’t want to leave things hanging without making any decision on that. Assume that the techie would work 4 years (48 months). So the techie would “earn” 10% / 48 = 0.2% equity every month.

3. Most probably you are not paying any salary to him — so add 25% – 50% more equity. So the number becomes 0.3%. Assuming you have 1,000,000 shares outstanding, that becomes 3,000 shares every month.

4. The techie earns 3,000 per month until you come with a formal agreement which maybe in line with the 10% equity or maybe less. Make sure to arrive at a decision point in 3-6 months and convert this into a formal agreement.

5. If ok, you can sign a simple consulting agreement with the numbers mentioned.

The above idea is simple — You bring friends to work with you but don’t wanna part with them as enemies, if it did not work out. You may meet him again at beer in the evening!

Build. Sell. Build. Sell. Lather. Repeat

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

One of the biggest dilemmas faced by an entrepreneur who is starting up is to figure out when to stop building and when to start selling. Although, easy it may sound there are no hard boundaries between one or the other. Once, you have 5-10 people in the team then the question is different — you can have half of the team building the product and the other half selling it. What do you do when you have have 2-3 members in the team?

The idea is simple — build an initial set of features and then instead of only building, you, build, sell, build, sell. Repeat. Put a constraint that for every 5 new features, you acquire double the number of leads (or users if you are a consumer internet  product) than the last time. That would be a perfect balance.

Here is a chart depicting a hypothetical idea where for every 5 new features you add to the system, you double the number of leads you acquire (or acquire users for consumer internet products). ‘R1’ in the figure below represents a baseline set of features for acquiring first set.


Lead (definition): A prospective customer, or someone who you have talked to but is not ready to use your product unless few more things are added. Or he is a free/trial user but not ready to pay the money, yet (Keeping it broad so that theory could be modified in specific situations)

Requires great discipline. As a coder-entrepreneur you may wanna go into the “comfort” zone of continuously building or if you are a non-techie entrepreneur you may just sell without a product in hand. Both are extremes and equally detrimental. Especially, in Indian conext where capital is meager and having the revenues in the books is golden, you strike a balance until your next inflection point where you are cash-flow positive.

So, how do you attain that perfect balance between sales vs. development OR feature build vs. lead acquistion? Here’s the recipe:

  1. Build an initial version of the product which has some baseline features. These features may be targeted or have been developed after talking to a set of potential customers.
  2. Call that base version as alpha, beta, R1, whatever. Sell the product or convince your leads to start using it. Maybe a small set of people would start using it.
  3. Don’t start building new features, just yet — Talk to them. Get feedback.
  4. Now, add another set of features and then widen your net to bring additional leads (or convert existing leads who may have told you that they would use the product if a, b, c is implemented)
  5. Now, don’t go incremental, go exponential in acquiring leads (or converting them). For every 5 new features, try to double your lead flow.

(The above example; for consumer products however, you may add few zeroes to the y-axis legends to get the point).

Thanks to Ankit, Sameer & Nandini for vetting the thoughts & clearing bugs in the draft

Morpheus Venture Partners, the new batch of 10 & my official onboarding

Saturday, August 15th, 2009

Visitation rights is a term used when a mom/dad gets the right to see his/her child on a fixed interval basis. Most of the times, visitation rights & monetary support are also intermingled.

This is what is my observation of funded startups in general in India. They raise money — the investors come & “visit” them time to time — Best, you send weekly reports and harness few contacts in their rolodex. Question to ask; are they helping you in building your business?

Entrepreneurial ecosystem is in it’s infancy in India — resources are not available, event platforms are sparse, celebarations of success barely exist, peer support is meagre, etc. What we need is hand holding, support, building of business and not just money & remote supervision. Of course, money helps to reduce the friction of starting up — but it’s not the only lubricant required.

Comes Morpheus Venture Partners, a Business Accelarator out of India which I joined as a Partner few months ago. Our vision is to reduce the friction of starting up & provide end-to-end support ranging from building your pricing model to finding the right technology stack for a startup. Of course, we want to provide money too, which we are working on.

Less than 24 hours ago we announced our latest batch of 10 startups — each one of them is envisioning to bring a change using their model for people of India. Being a deep technologist, I always thought that the next big thing can only come out of technology and maybe the next Google is going to be from India. That’s very much a possibility but it’s hard to sustain a viable business when less than 40 million users are online (a large % of which use the net only once a week!).  

So who are these guys? What’s the new batch of 10 upto? I totally resonate the way Nandini Hirianniah (Founding Partner at MVP) summarized these 10 heavy-hitters:

Adscoot’s Suyash, stands for hours in the major junctions at mumbai to learn traffic patterns and measure footfalls!

EasySquareFeet’s Ashu & Snehesh are the most positive people i’ve seen! I can see their smiles through the phone when i talk to them (serious!)

Viv & Hari of InterviewStreet are two rockstar techies who are consciously & fast learning other skills to take their product to market. They have the passion & drive to make things work!

Shashank & Abhinav started on Naabo right out of college – the freshness in approach & the passion they bring with them is infectious.

Arjun of Picsean is an engineer, but his passion towards photography is amazing! He’s a good friend & i’ve seen his focus and smart work in his past ventures. His attitude to learn is commendable!

Robin of ReachTax is a star CA, but i love his humility and the motivational skill he has to make his entire team perform month after month!

Pankaj & Gaurav quit their fancy paying jobs to work on Retail Vector. Focus, quick work and frugality of life is what they are committed towards as they scale this venture!

The first thing that stood out when i met Abheek first was such an young guy and such maturity & humility. (Often age and humility dont go too well). This guy was 7 years old when he started putting Lego pieces into perfect ensemble & several years later, he’s using them at RobotsAlive!

I loved their designs and the quality of tees – Rahul & Mohit of Scopial have their focus completely on “Quality” “Design” “Niche”! They sell tees one could die for! Check a sample out here

I read about these guys in a print article & the next time we were in Mumbai, we met Jayesh & Karthik of VeriCAR. Two guys crazily passionate about automobiles!

Thanks to the startups for choosing us their ‘limited co-founders’, I’m sure this association is going to go a long way. Now, for the next 4 months, we spend dozens of hours every week with the founders poring over the details of their business and helping iron out every possible kink.

Agreed, we can’t change how users would percieve their offerings and how big they could possibly get — Yes, we can influence the positive outcome to a great extent.

Update: Added VeriCAR’s sound bytes from Nandini’s post