June 26, 2009

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.

For kore information, visit http://www.qualcomm.com/ventures/qprize/

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 fairly unique solution for its only real customer; that his customer, a large multi-billion dollar company, was very happy with him and his company; that the customer was in a specific industry vertical that required certifications and regulatory clearances to enter; that there were several other large companies in that industry vertical; that his communication network had improved drastically in the last few months; that two of his family members were involved in senior positions in the company; that his employee attrition was almost zero; that his banker was a well-known private bank with a very large network.

So was it really true that the location of the company adversely affected its prospects or was it something else? Had he leveraged his relationship with his customer adequately – in getting more business, seeking and getting endorsements to secure other customers in the same industry? Were his family members the right people for the jobs they were performing? Had he talked with his bank to understand how money transfers were to be effected so that his account could get credited could be realized almost immediately upon receipt of the monies in India? Had he networked with industry associations and groups in his town? Had he used the internet and the web to reach out to potential prospects who could all be well targeted given the industry vertical?

Turned out that the CEO had done none of the above.

Clearly, the CEO did not really understand what it took to build a business from a sales and marketing and operations standpoint. Yet, he was quick to jump to the conclusion that the problem lay outside his company, in its location! He was uninformed, unaware and prejudiced. There’s a term for this in psychology – blind spot. And all of us have our own blind spots and that’s perfectly OK. The real issue is whether we’re doing anything to discover and address them. For this one needs to analyse the situation on multiple dimensions dispassionately; one needs to also introspect one’s own behaviours, attitudes, and actions. One needs to be open enough to seek, get and deal with feedback from others around. One must watch how others who are doing better are going about the task. Go through the process again. Doing this requires self-awareness and a genuine commitment to improvement.

As in most things in life, the answers to many questions actually lie deep within us. We either don’t ask the right questions or are afraid to ask the questions. Perhaps because our ignorance or more likely, because we’re afraid of the answer?! Which founder-CEO wants to be confronted by answers like “You’re perhaps the bottleneck and not the right person for the job” or “You have no clue about sales and marketing so stop pretending like you know” or “Your attitude is upsetting the morale in the company and no one wants to work here”.

Ready to discover your blind spots? What do you think?

Sanjay Anandaram is a passionate advocate of entrepreneurship in India; He brings 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 sanjay@jumpstartup.net. The views expressed here are his own.

June 20, 2009

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 for the CEO to read overnight, respond to by scribbling on the margins and handing over the scribbled upon printouts to the secretary the following morning. In his view, an office that relied on a 100 year old technology like typewriters and which were hardly seen anymore – outside of government offices which aren’t the best examples of innovative or entrepreneurial mindsets – and the way the CEO dealt with email betrayed an unwillingness to change, a comfort with status quo and really reflected the CEO’s own mindset relating to modernization, investments, efficiency, productivity and so on. The company was not able to raise money and is still around, hopefully without typewriters, leading a hand to mouth existence.

A company had ambitious growth plans and so a strong executive team was hired. The company wanted to be run professionally, raise capital and grow aggressively. The executive team shared good chemistry with the CEO and all seemed fine. Then one by one, the newly hired team started leaving. The CEO was simply unwilling to let go of any and all decision making. Every decision had to be taken by him, the minutest details had to be shared with him and he wanted to know everything that was going on. Back seat driving and micro-management were the reasons for the hired team to depart. They felt they weren’t empowered and trusted enough to execute. The CEO was unable to let go, uncomfortable with the new scenario wherein the executives took operating decisions to execute the business plan and he felt left out of the daily action. The CEO, in spite of having an experienced team, felt comfortable only when the company operated in its earlier manner with him in control. The need to balance the CEO’s operating style with the company’s growth plans demonstrated the true extent of his entrepreneurial mindset. Today, the company is still exactly where it was financially several years ago and is unable to hire and retain talented and experienced executives.

Challenging status quo therefore doesn’t necessarily imply doing something radical. It means not only changing the way things have been done but being comfortable with the new ways. Without being comfortable with the new, there’s every danger of the situation regressing to its earlier ways. And that isn’t good for anyone.

In the 19th century, horse drawn carriages were the norm and with burgeoning city populations, city planners used to wonder about ways to deal with the horse dung on city streets. The internal combustion engine put an end to that problem! One cannot operate in the 21st century with a 20th century view of the world. It is necessary to shed or modify old ideas in the light of new signals. These signals come from policies, economies, markets, technologies, regulations, user behaviours and the like and one must, therefore, be receptive to these signals. Interpreting these signals to modify and change for the impending new sets of circumstances is therefore critical.

What do you think?

Sanjay Anandaram is a passionate advocate of entrepreneurship in India; He brings 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 sanjay@jumpstartup.net. The views expressed here are his own.

June 02, 2009

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 and failure also makes us remain with the known, the familiar and within our zones of comfort. The comfort of the known makes us feel secure in our status quos. A known devil being ostensibly better than an unknown one. However, nature has taught us that a species that doesn’t evolve perishes over time. Status quo situations therefore are only temporary zones of comfort.

Mankind’s progress has occurred because the desire for adventure, exploration, knowledge and learning, challenging, inventing, discovering and conquering has trumped fear of the unknown and the contentment with status quo. Continents, oceans and space have been, are and will continue to be the domains for man’s indomitable quests to know what’s on the other side. While these quests were initiated by the most intrepid of dreamers, they were followed by many others to chart new worlds.

The European exploration and conquest of the Americas started off in the 15th century thanks to the efforts of a man who went against the traditional wisdom of his day. In the late 15th century, Ferdinand and Isabella, monarchs of Spain, funded Christopher Columbus’ wild idea of an expedition westwards across the seas to India. Columbus was to keep about 10% of the profits made on the trip. Perhaps the first known example of a venture capitalist and entrepreneur!

Most of the fears of our ancestors have been today conquered by knowledge, reason, courage, conviction, wisdom and experience. Fear is slowly conquered by knowing more and more about any matter. The only way to know more and more is to jump into inquiry or the activity whole-heartedly. After all, while theory has its value, the only way one learns swimming is by being in the water, choking, trying and then finally mastering the art.

Intrepid men have challenged dogma, battled socio-cultural mores, traveled where others didn’t and even taken on and defeated extremely powerful empires. Think Mahatma Gandhi, for example. He walked a path that was uniquely his, challenged the mighty British empire by mobilizing millions, talked of and walked his talk on social emancipation of the downtrodden, displayed exemplary personal conviction, courage and shrewdness in dealing with nay-sayers and dissuaders of whom there was no shortage. He believed that fear was not a disease of the body but of the soul. That while fear had its uses, cowardice had none.

In the darkest days of The Great Depression in America in 1933, Franklin Roosevelt in his inaugural address as President said “…first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Yet, why is it that most of us tend to be afraid? To take decisions, to go against an established orthodoxy, to challenge status quos in our daily lives? Government bureaucracies (especially ours!) have for long been known to not just favour but to positively revel in maintaining a status quo. Executives in companies are happy pushing paper confusing activity for progressive movement leading to new outcomes.

Are we then simply afraid of the socio-cultural-economic consequences of trying something new? Is the system designed to protect status quo and punish those who challenge it? Or are we just too content, lack motivation and curiosity? Do we lack courage, conviction and confidence, the desire to learn and explore? If we are, then we should be really afraid for our future is bleak!

An entrepreneurial mindset is one that challenges the status quo.

What do you think?

Sanjay Anandaram is a passionate advocate of entrepreneurship in India; He brings 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 sanjay@jumpstartup.net. The views expressed here are his own.