December 24, 2007

Interview with Kreeda Games' Quentin Staes-Polet

Kamla Bhatt has a two part audio interview with Quentin Staes-Polet, the Belgian CEO of Kreeda Games, the Bombay-based online multiplayer gaming start-up funded by IDG Ventures India and SoftBank.

Quentin has some interesting points on why the firm chose not to disclose the amount of funding it raised, interplay between social networking and gaming, experience of an "foreigner" starting a business in India, etc.

Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of information and networking services to the Private Equity and Venture Capital ecosystem in India. View sample issues of Venture Intelligence India newsletters and reports.

Lassi Making Machines

Businessworld has a profile of a Delhi-based company that makes Lassi making machines. enterprising young man called Sultan did the next best thing. He perfected a lassi-churning device. He sold his first machines to the numerous lassi shops and restaurants in the crowded lanes around Delhi’s Jama Masjid area. The devices ran on electricity, worked for hours on end, needed little maintenance and almost never broke down. That was the 1950s.

Fifteen years after starting out, Sultan passed away. His son Mohammed Usman, barely 20 then, took over. Usman decided to name the devices ‘Sultan’ in memory of his father. He moved the workshop to Daryaganj in 1992 and also set up a factory in Wazirabad, which employs 25 workers and engineers, to meet the growing demand for his father’s machines. He called the business Raja & Co. — a nickname given to him by friends and loyal customers.

Usman’s sons have helped add a modern touch to the 50-year-old family business. Orders from outside Delhi frequently come in via e-mail. This has taken Sultan machines to lassi shops in faraway cities such as Meerut, Ranchi, Patna and Lucknow. “The final machine depends entirely on what the customer wants,” says Arish. He pulls out brochures and photographs and begins to explain all the options.

Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of information and networking services to the private equity and venture capital ecosystem in India. View free samples of Venture Intelligence newsletters and reports.

December 11, 2007

The Restauranter from Chennai

While I was reading a profile of M. Mahadevan of Oriental Cuisines in The Hindu, I realized that he seemed to own almost every restaurant that I'd enjoyed eating at in Chennai. (And, I had always associated his name mainly with "Hot Breads" - which I don't frequent at all!)

The gentleman indeed seems to be a very fascinating entrepreneur - one that is sure to be besieged by offers from Private Equity firms.

Along the way, Mahadevan, the restless man that he is, launched a whole slew of fast food and restaurant brands for every segment of consumers – Benjarong, the Thai restaurant, Wang’s Kitchen and Noodle House for Chinese, Don Pepe for Mexican, Zara, the Spanish Tavern and the byword in food courts – PlanetYumm.

Not being content with India operations, Mahadevan ventured into foreign shores – he took Hot Breads to France and Italy, tied up with Saravana Bhavan to take the brand to US and opened a string of bakeries in the Gulf region. “But India is still my exploring territory and Chennai especially is my favourite city. I have been toying around with a chocolate idea for sometime now. And, I wanted to take the bread experience a step further,” says Mahadevan. So, out came The French Loaf and Maple Leaf.

...With 11 brands in his Indian operations and 4 in the International markets, Mahadevan manages a large work force – almost 1400 people in India and about 1000 in the International markets where he is present. Mahadevan is presently on an expansion spree with plans to open outlets in Bombay and Delhi. “Benjarong and Zara are the two brands I am taking to these cities. Thai food and Spanish Tapas will quite be the rage when the outlets open,” says Mahadevan. The art of retailing food is what he has mastered over the years, catering to the constantly changing food habits of new generation and old in different market situations. Mahadevan sure has a finger in every pie as much as he has a finger on the pulse of the food market.

Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of information and networking services to the private equity and venture capital ecosystem in India. View free samples of Venture Intelligence newsletters and reports.

December 03, 2007

WHO DO I HIRE? by Sanjay Anandaram

The young founder-CEO of a young but profitable Rs 30 crore company believed it should capitalize on what it saw as immense market opportunity. He believed his company should and could grow by tem times to Rs 300 crore over the next 5 years. He wanted his company to be recognized as the number one player in its area by far on various parameters. Finance wasn’t a constraint as the company was generating sufficient cash flows with external funding being a viable option as well. The issue lay in getting management talent into a largely unknown company and in motivating them to enough to help generate and manage the incredible growth envisaged by the CEO. The company was now run by young but very bright and talented people.

Would it be able to attract and manage executives that would be senior to them in age and experience? What kind of a person should the CEO hire and what should be offered to such a person? Should an external recruiter be hired to find the talent or should personal connections and networks be leveraged to the maximum extent?

Lots of young and startup companies face these and sundry other challenges relating to recruitment as they have to deal with growth. While there’s no general formula that fits all, it is useful to keep the following in mind:

a) No one can communicate the vision and goal of the company better than the founders. It is their passion, desire, goals and commitment to the business, and its culture and value systems that need communication. Outsourcing this crucial activity to an external agency is a poor substitute. The top hires in all young companies that have gone on to become great companies have been personally recruited by the founders. Usage of personal networks also acts as a natural filter for appropriate candidates to emerge.

b) People who have spent “too much” time in a large corporation are generally “spoiled” from the standpoint of a startup. Functions are clearly defined, roles are unambiguous, budgets are clearly allocated, and processes are defined. The system is designed to ensure high predictability. On the other hand, a startup has none of these. Usually, the founders have built the business largely through common-sense management, entrepreneurial zeal and seat-of-the-pants decision making. But the kind of senior executive who will shine in a startup is one who can straddle both the worlds of entrepreneurial chaos and organizational structure. One who’s comfortable with ambiguity and impromptu decision making but who’s also a catalyst for the needed change towards structure and planning. Someone who will make things happen without being told; Who will forge a road ahead where there’s no clear path. Who will not be dependent on armies of support staff. Someone who believes in the potential of the company and more importantly in his own ability to create value. Someone who’s confident enough to deal with any downside risk that’s inherent in any young company. Not a bureaucrat but someone with an entrepreneurial mindset.

c) Executives who have entrepreneurial mindsets are motivated by the challenge to create their own legacy. To be compensated by a mix of short term and long term pay-offs by way of say, stock price appreciation through the creation of a valuable business. They are not excited by brandishing their company provided credit cards at the local club while sitting on company provided furniture while vacationing on company’s expense. They are people who wish to earn the right to enjoying all this via the sheer thrill of being part of a team. They are not people who enjoy all this through a sense of entitlement.

d) How does the young founder manage older and more experienced executives? Herein lies the mettle of the founder. The ability to let go of certain decisions, of being professional, of not micro-managing, of giving freedom to the executive, of being aware that the organization will change, of managing aspirations of other employees, of using the opportunity to learn while being clear about the non-negotiables such as ethics and customer service. Clear communication and expectations from both parties are critical.

What do you think?

Sanjay Anandaram is a passionate advocate of entrepreneurship in India; He brings close to two decades of experience as an entrepreneur, corporate executive, venture investor, faculty member, advisor and mentor. He’s involved with Nasscom, TiE, IIM-Bangalore, and INSEAD business school in driving entrepreneurship. He can be reached at The views expressed here are his own.