Archive for the ‘Random Thoughts’ Category

9 Tips For a New Entrepreneur

Recently a few entrepreneurs asked me for some good resources to start with. I was in the same stage a few months ago and was grateful to other entrepreneurs to help me get started. The best thing about the entrepreneur community is its willingness to help and give back. In the same spirit I wrote a few emails about resources and general tips to new entrepreneurs. That’s when I thought of writing this blog. Hope it will be helpful to entrepreneurs in and beyond my network.

Here is what I would recommend:

1. Integrate in the Entrepreneurial Community – The first step is to network with fellow entrepreneurs and startup folks. I can’t stress more the importance of speaking with other entrepreneurs and experienced startup folks. I took every opportunity to talk to such people and learned a ton. It is natural for an entrepreneur to be fully consumed in building product and get isolated from the larger community. Product is important and so is meeting people otherwise no one will know who you are, what you are building, and why they should be interested in you. You are building a product to build a business and business is a highly networked entity. Go out and meet people.

2. Lean Startup Machine (LSM) – If you have an idea and thinking of prototyping it or in the midst of it, you must go to LSM in your local area. They have terrific workshops to help you validate your idea and provide you ways/framework to evaluate, pivot, and scale it. LSM is driven by lean startup methodology, an effective way for entrepreneurs to get to scalable business model. Moreover, LSM is an excellent way to get into local entrepreneur community in case you are looking for a door to get in.

3. MeetUp – I learned a ton about startup resources, how to get to investors, marketplace and best practices by mingling with fellow entrepreneurs and startup community at large. MeetUp is a great source to get information on local area events. I believe 80% of the events I attended were from MeetUp.

4. Mentor – We were lucky to have great mentors who guided us on finance, legal and fundraising. I will strongly encourage finding mentors who can help you in areas you need help. Look into your existing network or else reach out to people you respect and admire in areas you lack expertise. You will be surprised how willing people are to help you when you start a business. Just go talk to them!

5. Startup Incubators – There are hundreds of startup incubators all over the country. YCombinator and Techstars are some great incubator programs. You can search on Internet for incubators in your local area. These programs are excellent places to get your startup off the ground, find great mentors and raise capital. I would suggest going after the better ones and starting networking with them early. The more they know you the better your chances are to get in.

6. Social Media – It is important to plug into digerati to get noticed and get advice on building a tech startup. Twitter is defacto home of digerati so create a twitter account if you don’t have one and start following prominent VCs, entrepreneurs, and tech bloggers. You would find great information in their tweets and at times will get an opportunity to engage with them. Twitter is such a level playing field to connect with people you admire.

7. Blogs – If you don’t write a blog then start one today! In addition to writing your own blog, I will suggest reading blogs of startup folks – VCs, entrepreneurs and tech writers, and leave insightful comments. I would highly recommend reading blogs of VCs like Paul Graham [YCombinator], Fred Wilson [Union Square Venture] and more. I also read tons of blogs from entrepreneurs with Vinicus Vacanti [Yipit co-founder] blog being my favorite. GigaOM, Ash Maurya, BusinessInsider are some of my favorite tech blogs.

8. Technical Resources: There are some great resources both free and cheap to get you started on technical side. I like “Unbounce” to quickly create and host landing pages, “getstatisfaction” for user feedback, and Skype for communication etc. I also look up Quora and ask friends for tips on other technical resources.

9. List your Startup – There are some good places to list your startup to bring it in front of investors and mentors. My favorite is AngelList and recently I listed our startup on Gust. I would suggest being active on these networks to engage with the community.

This list is never ending but I will stop here. The product is core to your startup but it takes a lot more to build a business. Entrepreneurship is an exciting journey and an enriching one too. Go meet great people and learn from their experience.

All the best!

The Hardest Part of Being a New Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurship is tough but so is everything else in life. It is never easy to ace exams or ascend the career ladder or raise kids so why so much fuss about entrepreneurship being so difficult? It is my third attempt at startup business but it is different from prior stints as this time I transitioned from a corporate executive to an entrepreneur. The startup vagaries aside, I found one thing that makes this transition really challenging – an ability to take “No”.

Most of us have done well in school, career and life. We always got a pat on the back for acing an exam, delivering on a tight deadline or doing great things in life. Hardly ever our friends, peers or bosses questioned our judgment. In fact most of the time they were encouraging when we took up a challenging assignment. The more successful you are the more chances that people haven’t doubted your ambitions and abilities.

Turn an entrepreneur and everything changes around you! While most friends and peers will applaud you for your “courage” there will be a nagging suspicion if it is the right move. Does your idea have legs? Can you execute on it? The veil of positivity and trust is torn and suddenly a go-getter for the first time starts hearing doubts and “No” consistently. It can be demoralizing and emotionally draining for new entrepreneurs.

New entrepreneurs can get deterred in this environment of volatility and suspicion. The challenge is to overcome this phase and keep faith. It is easier said than done but certainly doable. Unfortunately schools don’t teach it and no one talks about it so it catches new entrepreneurs off guard.

It takes time to build a successful business. The road to scalable business is full of hits and misses – more misses than hits. The key is to enjoy small successes and build on them, and shrug off loses by learning from them. It tremendously helps to talk to other entrepreneurs, share openly and frequently with friends and friends, and find a mentor. Entrepreneurship is an immensely enriching experience. Immerse yourself in it to become a better businessperson and an individual!

Social 2.0: The Next Wave of Social Applications

The year 2011 belonged to social applications. Several iPhone apps that enabled some kind of social activity were launched last year. There is still no abating of this trend but it is obvious that majority of such applications will die in the next 18 months. After all, how many social networks will you update after you had a good meal or watched a great movie? Many technology pundits are decreeing the death of social networking applications. I have an entirely different take on it. Just like Web 2.0 companies brought real business models and value to dotcoms, it is time for “Social 2.0”, a set of applications that will bring value out of gigantic social databases such as Facebook, Twitter and the likes to solve real problems.

Humans are social by nature and love to brag to their friends and society at large. The Social 1.0 services gave us ways to share our updates with our connections online. The clear winners are Facebook with a friends graph of 800M users and Twitter with loose ties of 150M+ people and between them they accumulate billions of updates everyday. In addition, some specialized networks such as Foursquare capture our other activities. However, the whitespace in this industry has shrunk considerably. There will certainly be a few innovative companies that will provide new ways to connect and share information but it is increasingly becoming difficult and expensive to capture mindshare away from Facebook and Twitter. However, it doesn’t mean that social is a done deal.

While the first wave of social companies was successful in gathering what’s on our mind, our pictures, likes, short updates and check-ins, the next wave of social companies will build value-added applications on these gigantic social databases. Under billions of Facebook and Twitter updates is buried a wealth of information that can help us make buying decisions, quickly find great deals, and help reduce inventory by aggregating demand in real time.  It is time to stop inundating people with multitudes of social networks to get their specific status and move on to mine information gathered by friends and followers graphs. The best of social is yet to come.

Welcome 2012: the year of Social 2.0!

First Week as A Full-Time Entrepreneur

Finally the day arrived for letting go the monthly paycheck and starting working full time on my startup. The last day at office was busy saying goodbyes, cleaning up laptop and getting rid of all accumulations over the year. There couldn’t have been a better start to full-time entrepreneurship than a Lean Startup event in the evening that gave us an opportunity to pitch our idea to 60 odd people! I was excited about my pitch but didn’t get a second to prepare with all the frenzy at work.

Monday morning felt awkward without the early morning rush to catch a train, gazillion emails and phone meetings. I certainly didn’t miss it as my mind was occupied with the new design of our service, project timelines, and most of all – funding. My partner and I met at 9:30 AM and worked our day through till late in the night. It was a day full of discussions around design, product and architecture, calls with potential partners, employees and investors, and bunch of coding.

Despite a productive first day, the thought of not having a monthly paycheck kept weighing on my mind. It was obvious that I needed to set goals to measure my progress and get rid of this nagging feeling of being unpaid. On Tuesday, first we created a development plan to build our MVP with timelines. The next four days were focused on our plan with constant brainstorming with our design team, interviewing candidates, coding and networking with potential investors.  The week went by like a breeze but we made good progress on our product and business.

It is not easy to break out of the safety net and I am no exception. Everyday of the week I checked my bank account every few hours to reconfirm that our dough didn’t disappear with my job and questioned hard if I could do this venture with my job. I am out of the dilemma now and fully convinced that it is the right way to do justice to my ambition. The odds are exceptionally stacked against a startup so we don’t want to leave any stone unturned to move the needle, even if a tiny bit, in our favor. The first week was a test drive to how to manage my own time. I am sure next week will be better and it will continue to improve from here on. Welcome aboard an entrepreneur’s journey!

The Second Coming of Technology

Success has a lot to do with timing. When I graduated, it was almost the end of the technology boom of the 90s and we saw one of the worst periods in software business in the next few years. While the technology industry was struggling, boom was happening in finance. Most of my batch-mates who went on to do MBA and landed jobs in investment banks quickly rose to senior positions while raking in big bonuses in the first half of last decade. No boom lasts forever, so finance crumbled in last few years. However, boom does have a tendency to reappear and it did–once again in technology. Internet companies are seeing another dream run but this time muted in PR albeit sky high in valuations. How are you participating in this wave?

Marc Anderseen, the founder of Netscape and now a legendary venture capitalist, wrote an op-ed in Wall Street Journal on why software is eating the world. In his article, he made the case for pervasiveness of software in all industries and in many cases software-based business models trumping the old models. My enthusiasm doesn’t scale the same heights as Marc but I agree with his point of view. The software industry is one of the fastest growing and highly profitable with long-term sustainability. The current boom is second coming for software companies. This time they have real business models, revenues and profits with the same agility and ability to start with minimal cost. The technology entrepreneurial dream lives on!

Internet pervasiveness and mobile device explosion has provided a robust platform to Internet companies to realize their unfulfilled dreams of the 90s. Innovation is happening at all levels of the stack–hardware, devices, OS, delivery, software applications, and consumption. Apple and Google are changing the way we stay connected and consume Internet, datacenters are building backbone of the Internet, cloud companies like Salesforce are providing anywhere access to business information, social networks like Facebook and Twitter are enabling constant contact, and many more. The good news is you can participate in this boom irrespective of your technical skill set. So don’t wait–the timing is just right!

Interesting Idea But Failed Startup!

Entrepreneurship is the heart and soul of the great American economy. It is a fact and manifests itself in so many successful and not-so-successful startups, self-made billionaires and success stories. Most of my friends and acquaintances are either running a startup or planning to start one. These folks are highly educated, successful in their fields and very ambitious. I am sure this is not unique to just my limited network but a typical story of an immigrant community in America. While a startup is a great way to unleash one’s potential, I am surprised how much of it hinges on the next great “idea”. Most people consider idea and startup as synonyms especially in the technology industry. I keep hearing – “I have this great idea” or “Do you have a good idea? We can make a business around it”. I wonder how much of a successful startup is about a great idea.

The biggest risk with a startup is to not find a viable business model. Since most start-ups are genesis of an idea, they generally lack a sustainable business model at least in the beginning. Startup failures galore, the rare success stories are full of mid-course correction or stumbling upon something different while working on the original idea. I believe it is not an “idea” but a “market-validated idea” that should be the basis for starting a new business. It is easier said than done as most of the time it is not easy to articulate the concept in early stages, let alone validate it with potential clients or markets. However, this is not a reason to cut the process short. It can save entrepreneur toil, frustration and lost capital on a promising yet non-sellable idea.

I recently learned in a “pragmatic marketing” training that “your opinion is interesting but irrelevant”. I thought it summarized the idea-based startup thinking very well. Everybody has an opinion [read idea] but is it worth launching a business or a product around it? Only a factual research can confirm it. There is a reason that early-stage business cases have sections on market research, sizing and potential customers. A thoroughly researched, market-validated idea is certainly worth taking a dip into the entrepreneurship ocean. Otherwise, it doesn’t hurt staying on the sidelines and enjoying the sun! So next time when you hear a cool idea, ask how many potential clients also found it useful.

Get to the Point – Have a Fierce Conversation

Communication skills are the most difficult to master and key to success in personal and professional life. I am still on the borderline if it is an acquired or a native skill? I am fortunate to have some great communicators in my professional network and friend circle. They are great story tellers, suave talkers, and interesting conversationalists. I am always mesmerized by such people and look for their secrets to learn and improve myself. However, unlike mathematical equations and scientific facts, there is no one universal style that one adorns to be a great communicator. Everyone has a different way. I am a straight shooter and like to communicate the way it is. I always wondered if it was the right way! Then I read a life-changing book – “Fierce Conversations” by Susan Scott.

The core idea of the book is how most conversations in both business and personal lives are fake with participants avoiding to discuss the “undiscussable”. I found the idea of laying out the issue on the table in first sixty seconds and having a constructive dialog around it to be profound and a game changer. It is simple yet seldom followed conventional wisdom. The example of a tough feedback session generally starting with appreciation and “fake” praise leading to a queasy topic is common place at work. The recipient can sense the negative undertone in praise and wonder what is going to hit him next. Now turn it around and imagine if the same session starts with a candid feedback but with the intent to discuss it honestly and constructively to help the recipient.

I followed this principle in a recent meeting with a very difficult client. This client got into a habit of raising trivial issues to our senior management and complaining about everything. In our call to resolve a recent issue, I asked the client if there was more to this issue that we are not hearing. I told them how much we appreciate their business and want to make them a happy client but can’t achieve it without learning and addressing their real concern. At first the client was struck by my candidness but she quickly opened up to tell us how communication failures in the past led her to directly raise small issues to our senior management to grab our attention. Imagine how much time we saved with this insight! We now have a decent chance to make them a happy client by fixing this problem.

I haven’t yet found the magic potion to be a great communicator but by following some of the advice from the book I will certainly become a better communicator. Simple ideas such as avoid loaded statements – sugar-coated and irrelevant statements, replace “but” with “and”, and use silence in conversations are highly effective to make any conversation thoughtful, and worthwhile. Stop me when next time I try to take a long winded road to my point.

Wish you all fierce conversations!

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