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Showing posts from 2009

"To Indipreneurship" - Article by Sanjay Anandaram

1991 was when India achieved its second independence – that of economic liberalization. But, in retrospect, one has to say that it has been far more than just economic liberalization. It also liberated the mind of the baggage of self-doubt, low confidence and ignorance. It has therefore been my belief that those born around or after 1991 would be the change agents of India. Entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial thinking would be the vehicles of change.

In the first column of Indipreneur published August 25th, 2006, I wrote: “For the first time, an entire generation of young people cutting across class lines is acutely aware of the opportunity ahead of them. They also recognize the inscription on the other side of the coin: RISK. And it’s not a four letter word anymore. While earlier generations were defensive and inward looking, this generation is aggressive, outward looking and not given to the self-doubts of the past. This is the “why not?” generation. This generation has the potenti…

"Self Awareness" - Article by Sanjay Anandaram

A CEO’s job, like any leader’s, is a lonely one. The CEO of a startup is especially lonely. He’s expected to manage finances and investors, the board, motivate employees while dealing with recalcitrant ones, engage with, influence and grow relationships with key customers, partners, suppliers and industry players. The CEO needs to be emotionally strong to deal with all the pulls and pushes. And has to always present a sunny disposition even when times are difficult.

It is a job that requires enormous confidence and humility. Confidence to keep executing towards the goals of the company and humility to keep learning and unlearning. Not surprisingly, these are uncommon traits that only the more successful CEOs have. Rarer too is the desire to know one’s weaknesses and the willingness to work on improving oneself.

I was therefore delighted when I recently received an email from a CEO saying he wanted an honest appraisal from me of his leadership. He had commissioned a 360degree appraisa…

The Entrepreneur who brought McDonalds to India

Forbes India has an interesting profile of Vikram Bakshi, the JV partner of McDonald’s in India.

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. Click here to learn about Venture Intelligence's products and services for entrepreneurs.

Sources of Govt Funding

DARE magazine has an article on the various government-related agencies that provide funding for technology start-ups.

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. Click here to learn about Venture Intelligence's products and services for entrepreneurs.

"Is "Business Ethics" Old Fashioned?" - By Sanjay Anandaram

The TV channel had headlined the story “Education or Business?” The story was about how students had been taken for a ride by the administrators of a couple of educational institutes that had taken large sums of money as fees and then not provided admission to the students. The police, the students’ families and even the local MLA were all interviewed. The administrators of the institute were not available for comment. The headline “Education or Business?” was troubling. Was it implying that education and business were mutually exclusive? Or, was it, even more so, implying that cheating students with false promises was unacceptable behaviour in education but, and here’s the rub, understandable and even acceptable if it were yet another business?

Is business assumed to be corrupt and unethical? And therefore is it perfectly legitimate to indulge in practices that might not be considered ethical as long as it benefits the company? What then does it mean for entrepreneurs starting out to…

"Look Outwards" - By Sanjay Anandaram

It was the first presentation the CEO was making to the recently constituted board of directors on the company’s performance till date and the business outlook for the next 12 months. It was well laid out with a series of numbers detailing revenues, margins, headcount, growth rates and so on. The CEO was well acquainted with the numbers and was aware of the operational details. But there was one troubling issue.

There was no data on customers, competition and market dynamics. None of the analysis focused on the revenues, margins and opportunities in different market segments or with different customers. Information was lacking on how the headcount of the company was distributed across customers and geographies. Were customers satisfied or not? Which customers were showing the most promise from a growth standpoint, which ones were giving the company higher margins and which ones were a drag on the company? How many new customers were being added every month and how many customers were…

Risk Culture - By Sanjay Anandaram

The board meeting at the startup was underway and the CEO proudly highlighted what he considered to be the most successful initiative of the company. The initiative had been embraced by customers and partners whole-heartedly and the signs of continued growth were very visible. The head of business development, present in the meeting and responsible for that initiative was understandably delighted at the acknowledgement by the board. He subsequently made an unusually peppy presentation on his department to the pleasant surprise of all. Later on, the CEO explained about business development and its head: “He’s full of ideas all the time. We tried several of his ideas earlier and they all bombed. When he came up with this latest one, I told him that this would be the last one we’d try. I also asked him to think through the idea and take full responsibility for its implementation. The results are visible. In addition, the business development head was so thrilled with the success that he …

Strategic Hiring - By Sanjay Anandaram

“I hired him as President thinking he would transform my company. He was experienced, had worked for Indian and MNCs and we got along well. He was the highest paid executive in my company at Rs 45L plus incentives. Unfortunately, I didn’t see any impact on sales or margins and I had to ask him to leave”, said the founder-CEO of the startup. “How long did he stay in your company?” I asked the founder-CEO. The COO was asked to go after 4 months.

On further probing, the founder CEO explained, “I think 3-4 months is sufficient time to see results in sales. I want to see execution and quickly, not ideas and plans. He just spent time meeting customers, spent money hiring a company to train employees, wanted clearance to hire some more people and wanted to build a plan that he would then execute. Arrey bhai, what’s there to plan about when we know our customers and market and know exactly how much we can do.Instead of “doing”, he was wasting time and money in planning! Apparently, he couldn’…

IIM-A announces Business Plan Showcase

IIMA is organizing a Business Plan Showcase as part of its Finance Conclave 2010.

Entrepreneurs from following sectors are invited to submit their entries:
Clean Tech & Renewable Energy Telecommunications and Mobile Services E-commerce & Web Portals Electronics IT/ITES Services IT Software PowerRegistrations for the Showcase
Registrations start on the 10th November 2009. To register your team, please send a mail to with the following details: Name of Team Members Contact Details Category of the Business PlanPlease use the following as the subject line: "Showcase 2010: Registration for ". On registration, you would receive a mail confirming your registration within 24 hours.

Important TimelinesRegistration Begins: 10th November, 2009 Submission of Round 1Executive Summary: 25th November, 2009 Result of Round 1: 30th November, 2009 Submission of Round 2 Business Plans: 7th December, 2009 Final Shortlistfor Presentation on Campus: 14th De…

Are Entrepreneurs "their own bosses"?

From an Knowledge@Wharton interview with Atul Jain, the founder and CEO of TEOCO:
..people sometimes “tell me, ‘I want to be my own boss.’ I tell them that when you become an entrepreneur, nothing could be further from the truth. Every single employee is your boss because if they leave, you have nobody to do your work. Every single client is your boss because they tell you what to do. When you work for a company, you typically have one, maybe two bosses. When you're an entrepreneur, everybody wants to tell you what to do. Your employees will tell you what to do, your clients will tell you what to do, even your vendors will tell you what to do.”

...Part of business success is cost management. We never let expenses get out of line with revenue. The way I explains this is: think of your revenue as an 18-wheeler truck on a highway. It's like a large truck. Then there is another truck right behind it, another 18-wheeler called expenses. Sandwiched between the two 18-wheelers -- reven…

Wanted Fools and Angels! - Article by Sanjay Anandaram

Alexander Pope’s 1709 “Essay on Criticism” had these immortal lines “…for fools rush in where angels fear to tread”. He was of course referring to the literary critics of his time and, in his time, implied some one who behaved foolishly rather than referring to a simpleton or someone lacking in intelligence as it does now.

Every entrepreneur, observer, VC, analyst and even bureaucrat will tell you that there’s a severe shortage of true boot-strapping capital. The money required to really start off on the entrepreneurial journey. Friends, family and fools (collectively FFF, rather unfairly but with tongue firmly in cheek) provide the initial emotional and perhaps some monetary support for the budding entrepreneur. It invariably takes more than that to demonstrate the venture is capable of taking off.

Ours is a capital starved country. There’s a huge shortage of investment funds in the country. The shortage is on account of regulation and partly in fact as well. Almost all the money inve…

Satya Prabhakar on startup hiring and retention

I attended a presentation on entrepreneurship by Satya Prabhakar, Founder & CEO of, on August 31 at an event organized by TiE-Chennai and the Loyola Institute of Business Administration (LIBA).

I found the points he made on hiring and retention quite interesting.

He suggested entrepreneurs look out for "5Is" for hiring and 'three 4-letter words" for retention.

The "5 Is"

1. Intellect
2. Initiative
3. Industry (ie, Hard work)
4. Integrity
5. Interpersonal Skills

The 3 4-letter words:

1. Work (i.e., its content)
2. Love ("Am I valued and appreciated here?")
3. Hope ("Is this place enroute to something great?")

Entrepreneurs should not allow an employee to settle into a comfort zone and keep setting the bar higher.

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. Click here to learn about Venture Inte…

Disclosures and Non-Disclosures - By Sanjay Anandaram

“Here’s a NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) – please sign it”, said the entrepreneur. His face fell and he looked almost hurt when I told him that I don’t sign NDAs. It is simply impossible to keep track of the business ideas and plans that get discussed with various entrepreneurs. There are also many ideas and plans that sound and indeed are similar in concept if not in all details. One would open oneself to needless and avoidable complaints about plagiarism and favouritism if NDAs are signed.

So, how does an entrepreneur “protect” his business plan or “idea”?

Every entrepreneur actually believes that his/her business plan is singularly unique and that it will change the world if only capital were made available. While it is important for every entrepreneur to believe in his/her plan, it would be arrogant to assume that no body else has thought about it either.

Most businesses are the types that could be classified as “better, faster, cheaper.” In other words, they take an existing mode …

Intellectual Capital - By Sanjay Anandaram

I came across this interesting trivia about the late King of Pop from the “IP Marketing Advisor”: “In the 1988 video of the song Smooth Criminal, the pop star and his dancers leaned forward dramatically, seemingly defying gravity. It turns out Jackson didn’t just invent the move — he eventually patented it. To do what became a signature move in live performances without the help of harnesses and wires, Jackson created a shoe “system” called “Method and Means for Creating Anti-Gravity Illusion.” Granted in 1993 to Jackson and two partners by the U.S. Patent and Trade Office, patent No. 5,255,452 covers a “system for allowing a shoe wearer to lean forwardly beyond his center of gravity by virtue of wearing a specially designed pair of shoes.” A heel slot in the shoes gets hitched to retractable pegs in a stage floor. Wearing the shoes, Jackson (or anyone) could seem to lean past his center of gravity without toppling.

“I’ve used (Jackson’s) patent for years in classes to teach students …

Bharti's "Professional Managed, Entrepreneur Supported" model

Extract from Sunil Mittal's interview to Forbes India:
When we started out, we were an entrepreneur-led, entrepreneur-promoted company. We did a great job. In some companies, this phase lasts forever. Nothing wrong. But in my view, if you do that, you remain small. You can’t manage a large company using this model. So we moved to the next stage — entrepreneur-led and professional-supported. Over the last four years, we’ve moved to professional-managed and entrepreneur-supported. And that’s where we want to keep it.

There is one more stage — professional-led and professional-supported. Vodafone is in this mould...No single shareholder is dominant...Parts of our organisation were moving to the professional-led and professional-supported model. I had to pull it back because I figured they were becoming too bureaucratic. Things didn’t move; too many approvals were needed; too many emails. That is something we want to avoid...You must feel like the deer in a forest, which is always afrai…

"The Valuation Conundrum" - By Sanjay Anandaram

“How much will my stocks be worth in 5 years?” was the question the senior corporate executive asked the CEO of a startup. “I don’t think my stocks are worth anything now, so I want a big salary raise considering the fact that I’ll be spending the next few very productive years of my working life with you” was the refrain from a senior manager of a young startup. “What will your exit valuation be” asked the junior VC partner to the entrepreneur as if anyone had the answer!

All too often such scenarios play out in young companies. These questions are not easy to answer with any certainty given the state of the company. Yet, these questions need to be addressed. The trouble occurs when these perfectly legitimate questions consume the startup team such that enormous energy is expended in explanations and negotiations with employees and investors leaving the startup shaky before take-off.

It is important to keep some basics in mind.

First, in young early stage startups, valuation is almost …

Qualcomm's QPrize competition for funding business plans in India

Qualcomm Ventures, a division of Qualcomm, has announced a global business plan competition called QPrize, with the aim of help the winners with funding to translate their business plans into reality. The competition invites entries from India, China, Europe and North America for business plans that accelerate wireless technology development in any of the following business sectors:

* Consumer/enterprise applications and services
* Communication devices
* Semiconductor and component technologies
* Mobile platforms
* Digital media and content
* Healthcare technologies and services
* CleanTech

The deadline for submissions is July 31, 2009. A winner will be selected from each region. These 4 winners will each receive US $100,000 of convertible note funding and will be invited to the Qualcomm Ventures CEO Summit in San Diego, California to compete for the Grand Prize in November. The Grand Prize winner will receive an additional US$150,000 of convertible note funding.


Blind Spots - By Sanjay Anandaram

The CEO was a highly qualified and experienced person. He had returned to India over 3 years ago to start a company with his own funds. For family reasons, he had set up his company in a town about 100 miles from Bangalore. He was now struggling to grow beyond the initial customer or two. Customers weren’t comfortable with doing business with a company located in that town; Payments from customers took more time than usual; it was hard to recruit talented people in the smaller town; Communication infrastructure wasn’t the best resulting in loss of efficiency and productivity. It was hard to find people in his town who were aware and knowledgeable about how things worked in national and international business. And that there was no PR firm in his city to help generate visibility for his company. In short, according to him, the reason he was struggling had everything to do with the location of his company.

In the course of the conversation, he also mentioned that his company had built a…

Dealing With Status Quo

Last week, I wrote about the entrepreneurial mindset challenging status quo. Challenging status quo and embracing change can take many forms and operate at many levels; but the presence or lack of an entrepreneurial mindset is apparent in the smallest of things or in everyday operating situations.

Here’re two real life examples regarding status quo.

Some years ago, a well known and very experienced Silicon Valley VC was visiting a small and young business in Bangalore that was raising capital for funding its growth in India and overseas. The company was building a high-tech component for the telecom equipment sector. He met the US educated CEO and his team, visited customers and the manufacturing facilities. Everything seemed to be fine with the visit. However, the VC declined to invest. He had noticed that the CEO’s office had typewriters and not computers! He had also noticed and learnt that the CEO’s business card didn’t have an email id, that the secretary took printouts of emails …

Fear of Status Quo? - By Sanjay Anandaram

I came across this interesting question in an in-flight magazine: What would your life be like if you lived it without any fear?

It started me thinking about fear and how the primal emotion impacted us humans.
To be sure, fear has helped us survive as a species. Early man feared wild animals, for example, and that helped him stay away from them. Fear also played a role in early man’s migration as fear of a place or surroundings forced him to seek out more comfortable environs.

Fear of death or harm also forces radical and unnatural behaviours (fight versus flight) that help ensure survival. Fear also forces our imagination to work overtime in fanciful ways. All of us, at one point or the other, have been afraid to enter dark, silent and secluded areas because of the fear of the unknown. It is the anticipation of a terrible act that causes us to react. Charles Darwin concluded that fear is an ancient instinct that helped propagate the human species.

Fear of the unknown, of rejection an…

The Importance of Growing Up - By Sanjay Anandaram

Startups thrive in an environment of chaos where multiple tasks are done, undone and re-done often times guided by just a leap of faith. Decisions are taken in quick time without long (boring?!) meetings typically by a small team of extremely committed and passionate people. Systems, processes and procedures are considered inhibitors to their competitive advantages of speed and innovation.

But as the startup grows, the lack of systems and processes start inhibiting growth; indeed, the company can implode before long without adequate attention and focus on having and implementing systems and processes. These processes and procedures relate to every functional area of the startup and these functional areas cannot scale, operate efficiently and effectively without the right systems. And the management team cannot manage the growth of the company if they cannot measure and track activities, people, money, time, contracts and documents among other things.

As the startup matures, expectatio…
Private Equity and Venture Capital investors, who have invested over $2 billion into Healthcare & Life Sciences (HLS) companies in India over the last five years, are keen to step up the pace of investments in this industry. Over 42% of PE & VC investors surveyed by Venture Intelligence, a leading research firm focused on Private Equity and M&A deal activity, felt there was a strong opportunity to tap the market for healthcare services in semi-urban and rural areas.

The investors also identified Diagnostic Services, Medical Devices / Equipment, Hospital Chains and Wellness Products and Services as their favorite sectors for investments within the HLS industry. The detailed results of the poll will feature in the Venture Intelligence “Private Equity Pulse on Healthcare & Life Sciences” report to be published next month.

Click Here for more information.

CEOs contesting polls: Conflict of Interest?

Julius Caesar the great Roman emperor divorced his wife Pompeia as he considered his honour and position compromised because Pompeia was indirectly associated with a trial for sacrilege. He explained that his wife should not only be free from sin but from suspicion. Given the state of our political system, this kind of requirement seems laughably quaint. But if the system is to improve, keeping this principle in mind is crucial because it is a pre-requisite for good governance in the political as well as the business spheres.

In the last Indipreneur column, I had talked about the need for more entrepreneurs to enter the political sphere. But, and there always are buts, this comes with a significant caveat. The caveat of suspicion of “conflict of interest” becomes therefore especially applicable to those entrepreneurs who’ve decided to be in public service. Our courts which enjoy enormous credibility amongst other institutions in India have a well established system in this regard. Rece…

Entrepreneur pitching to VC: Reality TV-style

CNBC-TV18's Enterprise Inc. show has an interesting Reality TV-type video of an first-time entrepreneur pitching to an angel investor.

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. Click here to learn about Venture Intelligence's products and services for entrepreneurs.

Nominate Indian Startups for The World Economic Forum's Tech Pioneers Program

Startup Journey is happy to invite you to nominate companies you are associated with in India to The World Economic Forum's 'Technology Pioneers' Program 2010. The Program, started in 2000, with the goal of identifying new technologies that will have a dramatic and sustainable impact on business and society, has achieved the distinction of being the most prestigious recognition in the world of technology.

Last year, Bangalore-based mobile payments company JiGrahak Mobility Solutions was selected as one of the 34 "Technology Pioneers" for 2009. Another tech firm that does a lot of its development out of India - Nivio - was also named.

To be selected as a Technology Pioneer, a company must be involved in the development of "life-changing technology". In addition, it must demonstrate visionary leadership, show signs of being a long-standing market leader and its technology must be proven. WEF solicits nominations for the Technology Pioneers program from Tec…

Work-Life Balance. What's That?

Jason Nazar, founder CEO of, has a great post on the "The Unintended Consequences of Startups" that a lot of entrepreneurs can definitely empathize with (and hopefully learn from). Hat tip: StartupDunia

It took me a while to admit that I was stressed out, and even longer to realize I would turn to food to compensate for that stress. Over the past year, I’ve become a more solitary person with my thoughts and emotions than I’ve ever been, while increasingly becoming a public figure who’s known as an outgoing social networker and showman. It’s a strange dichotomy.

My family has been both incredibly supportive but also upset that I’ve seemingly disappeared. I have three (quite) older siblings, and we’re undeniably close. But while they’re all proud of me, they disapprove of my unbalanced lifestyle. My brother and I share opposing sides of duplex, he’s literally a wall away from me. But I can often go 2 weeks without seeing or talking to him. My sisters are b…

"Wanted: Entrepreneur Politicians" - by Sanjay Anandaram

As the cliché goes, the world’s largest exercise in democracy kicks off yet again this week in our country. Hope, hopelessness and cynicism are the constant emotions accompanying this exercise. The political class appears determined to demonstrate new lows in venality, criminalization, corruption and crassness. Competitive one-upmanship in making empty, patronizing, platitudinous, parochial, narrow and sanctimonious statements of intent is the order of the day. Civil society is battling away slowly and doggedly. But change is very frustratingly slow to come by thanks to the twin deadweights of our fossilized justice (viz. police, courts, laws and legal procedures) and administrative (eg. defence procurements to social project implementations to securing a driving license) systems.

Social and political change has always been brought about by visionary and charismatic leaders (Gandhi, for example) who could articulate that vision such that it mobilized vast numbers of people towards ach…

Private Equity appetite for slowdown-resilient Education Cos. soars

Press Release

Over 80% of Private Equity and Venture Capital investors surveyed by Venture Intelligence in its newly released “Private Equity Pulse – Education” report, plan to make an investment in Education companies during the next 6-8 months. With an estimated $40 billion market for private institutions and a CAGR of 8.6%, it is no surprise that PE & VC investors are looking to ramp up the 30 investments (worth over $300 million) they have already made in Education-related companies, the Venture Intelligence report indicates.

“In the current uncertain economic environment, the attractive and predictable rates of return of the Education industry, is serving as a magnet for PE investors,” points out Arun Natarajan, CEO of Venture Intelligence. “In fact, in another poll which we had done in end 2008 among PE investors, Education had received thrice as many votes as the next favorite sector in terms of attractiveness for investments in 2009,” Mr. Natarajan added.

Despite the overal…

"Entrepreneurial MBA - An Oxymoron?" - By Sanjay Anandaram

An increasing number of universities and colleges are offering courses in “Entrepreneurship” as part of their business education. Around the world, business plan competitions are held by academic institutions at regular intervals. The wide publicity given to “entrepreneurship” in recent times has resulted in entrepreneurs gaining respect and being acknowledged as critical participants in a country’s economy, wealth and job creation.

But does taking a course or two in entrepreneurship while pursuing a business degree make one a better entrepreneur? My own view conditioned by many years of experience is that a business degree, with or without courses in entrepreneurship, is not material at all. Then are all these courses useless? Well, no they’re not! They’re useful for learning and understanding multiple aspects of entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship but don’t, in any way, make one a better and successful entrepreneur. A small percentage of any population become entrepreneurs while th…