December 29, 2012

"Unpaid Volunteers Better Than Paid Employees"

Interesting take from Derek Flanzraich, Founder and CEO of Greatist, in his Mixergy podcast:
...convincing people to work for very little money, or no money, is very hard, and if you convince them, it means they’re in it for something else. I love that. I love the idea that we were creating an online TV show at my university because people genuinely thought it was important that we do it. The students were learning how to run a camera, something they’d never done before, purely because they thought it was important that we poke and satirize the university. Here it’s no different, except the difference is it’s bigger and more meaningful. We want to help people think of health and wellness in a healthier way. When we interview people for new jobs, if they don’t believe extraordinarily, passionately in this vision of the future and want to have a hand in shaping it regardless of their experience, we don’t hire them.
I got reminded about the amazing story of the origins of CricInfo (now owned by ESPN), which used to provide live ball-by-ball coverage of cricket matches from around the world.essentially leveraging a volunteer network of cricket fans and with a very lean team of salaried employees.

Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of data and analysis on private company transactions, valuations and financials in India. Click Here to learn about Venture Intelligence products that help entrepreneurs Reach Out to Investors, Research Competition, Learn from Experienced Entrepreneurs and Interact with Peers. Includes the Free Deal Digest Weekly Newsletter: India's First & Most Exhaustive Transactions Newsletter.

December 18, 2012

Buzzword Bandwagon

Ashish of Nextbigwhat has a nice post on why it's dangerous for Indian startups to (ab)use "cloud" as a marketing buzzword when pitching to customers (as against investors). To which I added the following comment:

Just when the logic of SaaS (pay as you go; no installations reqd; upgrades are automatic, etc.) seemed to be getting through to the target market (SME owners/promoters), the vendors have abandoned it (at least the word) to make themselves cloudy.

Having said that, let me join the buzzword bandwagon.

Dear Investor, 

We are a cloud-based big data firm leveraging social networks and are working on a disruptive mobile application (iOS only). Interested?


 
Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of data and analysis on private company transactions, valuations and financials in India. Click Here to learn about Venture Intelligence products that help entrepreneurs Reach Out to Investors, Research Competition, Learn from Experienced Entrepreneurs and Interact with Peers. Includes the Free Deal Digest Weekly Newsletter: India's First & Most Exhaustive Transactions Newsletter.

December 06, 2012

Know the level (of thy company) before you "let go"

And other vignettes from TiECon Chennai-2012

"I'm going to just stay still like you," said the rabbit to the owl on the tree branch above. And proceeded to stay still. Just then, a fox happened to pass by and got to enjoy a nice (effortless) dinner.- Satguru Jaggi Vasudev to emphasize that entrepreneurs can afford to delegate depending on the level at which their company is. (If the company is operating at a vulnerable level - like the rabbit - then they better be "running around" focusing on even the smallest details. But if the startup has taken off, they can afford to perch themselves and run their companies with an owl's eye view.)

Keep your eyes on the immediate next milestone (say, Series A funding) and focus on what you need to get there. Everything else is a distraction.
- K. Ganesh, Founder of TutorVista & CustomerAsset

You have one life to live. And it is too short to worry about building a legacy and be wedded to one company forever. Entrepreneurship is a series of sprints. Create some thing of value; wealth for yourself and other stakeholders and move on to the next thing you are excited about.  - Meena Ganesh, CEO of Edurite Technologies & Co-founder of CustomerAsset

While there can be a few exceptions, large institutions can only be created with a long-term focus. Entrepreneurship is a marathon.
- Murugavel J, Founder, Bharatmatrimony.com

Most entrepreneurs talk about their product; what really matters more is the market and distribution.
- Paul Singh, Partner, 500Startups who also gave out some useful numbers for entrepreneurs: As a rough rule, it's ok to dilute a 15% stake for raising capital that will sustain for about one year. With that money, you should aim to raise the next round of funding at 3 times the previous valuation.

We have learnt what it takes to get our (seed funded) companies to attract the attention of Indian VCs (for providing the first round or "Series A" funding): Rs.2-5 crore revenue run rate + cash breakeven (so you are not desperate for the funding) + very good traction on a key parameter. Focus 
- Karthik Reddy, Managing Partner, Blume Ventures

The money is very much there - whether from accelerators, angels, seed funds or VCs. Our challenge is that we do no find enough entrepreneurs who think big enough and want to change the world.
- Rajesh Sawhney, Founder, GSF Superangels who also pointed out that it's a bad idea for founders to dilute a total of more than 30% stake to early investors like friends & family, accelerators and angels.

Venture Intelligence is the leading provider of data and analysis on private equity, venture capital and M&A transactions in India as well as Financials & Valuations of Private Companies in the country. Click Here to view our products list including the Free Deal Digest Weekly: India's First & Most Exhaustive Transactions Newsletter.
 Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of data and analysis on private company transactions, valuations and financials in India. Click Here to learn about Venture Intelligence products that help entrepreneurs Reach Out to Investors, Research Competition, Learn from Experienced Entrepreneurs and Interact with Peers. Includes the Free Deal Digest Weekly Newsletter: India's First & Most Exhaustive Transactions Newsletter.

December 05, 2012

Naming Your Company

From a post on being practical  

Of simple startup names that work -
  • Single letter words – Path, Square, Fab, Uber
  • Twisted Spellings – Lyft, Digg, Disqus
  • Tongue Twisters – Quora, Twitter, Bitly
  • Double letter words – Instagram, Foursquare, SendGrid, Facebook, AngelList, TechCrunch, PostMates (Wishberg goes here).
Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of data and analysis on private company transactions, valuations and financials in India. Click Here to learn about Venture Intelligence products that help entrepreneurs Reach Out to Investors, Research Competition, Learn from Experienced Entrepreneurs and Interact with Peers. Includes the Free Deal Digest Weekly Newsletter: India's First & Most Exhaustive Transactions Newsletter.

November 28, 2012

Extreme Startup Hiring

I was recently a guest at the Insead "India Business Dialogue" event at Bangalore. The event aimed to provide Insead grads - who are naturally mostly employed at large corporations - on starting up, attracting venture capital and, if the entrepreneurial plunge is too much of a risky leap, getting hired by a startup.

If the grads thought getting hired by a startup sounded safer, they had anothing think coming. The last session (on joining a startup) had one representative each from a VC firm, a HR Services firm and a veteran entrepreneur. And here's a sample of what they had to say about startup hiring techniques:

The Entrepreneur: One of my friends makes sure to pour coffee on the candidate and takes a call based on how the candidate reacts.

The HR Person: We offer to send a cab for picking up the candidate. And we generally don't bother to. We - and out clients - like to see whether the candidate turns up late and cribs about the taxi or figures out an alternative to reach on time - including, if required, to hop into an autorickshaw.

The VC: The founder of one our investee companies does hiring interviews only between 1 am and 2 am.

The Bottom Line: If the candidate needs too much structure and cannot deal with ambiguity and uncertainity, he's not a good fit for a startup.

Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of data and analysis on private company transactions, valuations and financials in India. Click Here to learn about Venture Intelligence products that help entrepreneurs Reach Out to Investors, Research Competition, Learn from Experienced Entrepreneurs and Interact with Peers. Includes the Free Deal Digest Weekly Newsletter: India's First & Most Exhaustive Transactions Newsletter.

November 12, 2012

Offer Employees Variety of Roles to Stay Fresh

Richard Branson column in Mint
Once your company is well established, keeping your employees engaged in their work can be tough, especially those who took the job because they were intrigued by the excitement and the challenges presented by the launch stage. Most of your best people will always be interested in developing their skills further, but they may find fewer new projects available, along with fewer paths to advancement. Working with employees to find solutions will be the job of every manager on your team.

...One day you might be a member of a team that is working on the launch of a new mobile phone network in Latin America or the Middle East, and the next week you could find yourself helping to develop one of our Branson centers for young entrepreneurs. I like to encourage all our employees to apply for jobs at other Virgin companies that they find interesting.

...Another way we keep our employees engaged is by inviting them to take part in company events, like the Virgin Mobile Live Freefest, a free music festival we hold every year to raise money (through donations) for homeless young people. Along with giving employees a chance to give something back to the community, the festival allows us to say thank you to our customers and staff by providing them with the chance to enjoy themselves for free. Our sense of fun unites our businesses—we love to let our hair down—and so this event reminds employees of what we stand for.

...As you consider how to challenge and engage your employees, remember that it’s important to keep things exciting—after all, we spend so much of our lives working that to stay fresh and creative, we need to bring a sense of play and entertainment to the office. Your employees’ continuing enthusiasm will pay off as they stay on for the long term, build their skills, contribute their ideas, and take a real interest in the business.
Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of data and analysis on private company transactions, valuations and financials in India. Click Here to learn about Venture Intelligence products that help entrepreneurs Reach Out to Investors, Research Competition, Learn from Experienced Entrepreneurs and Interact with Peers. Includes the Free Deal Digest Weekly Newsletter: India's First & Most Exhaustive Transactions Newsletter.

November 11, 2012

You Are Being Watched. Always.

Second time I'm coming across this "being watched issue" this week.

From Srikrishna's post (emphasis mine):
What most of us don’t realize is that we are actively, even if blindly building culture in our companies every waking moment. The trouble is when we do this without being mindful or engaged, we usually end up building a culture that we are surprised about as it invariably bites us in the rear. Starting from the moment you step into the office, people see if you greet the security guard, whether you get your own cup of tea or put it away when done.

Whether you text in meetings or worse yet when you answer the phone during a 1:1 meeting. Even if you answered yes, yes, yes and no & no, they see what you do or say when a senior team member flames another, or a team member screams at a vendor. When you are quiet about a white lie to a customer or don’t question why a payment is being withheld, you are communicating loudly and shaping culture – though not necessarily the way you want. So culture in a startup is not an option – but what sort of culture you want is a choice you can make.

From the Mixergy podcast with Adam Witty, CEO of Advantage Media Group:
And remember, here’s another thing, as an entrepreneur, if you’re going to grow your, inevitably, you’re going to have to have people. You’re going to have to hire team members. And as soon as you hire your first team member, you’re now not just a boss, but you’re a leader. And everybody is looking at you. Every single person is looking at you. They’re watching you. Every word, every facial expression, every act that you make, they are watching you. And you’ve got to be on your best behavior 24 hours a day, because if they see you in a bad mood, if they see you short and ill-tempered, if they see little things getting you down, then it’s going to throw them off. Their confidence is going to go down, and their productivity is going to go down.

And so, this is just a great example, not only in entrepreneurship, but leadership, because leadership is a big part of growing a business, is that you’ve got have a short memory, you’ve got to be awfully resilient, and you’ve got to have an attitude where you can cruise over speed bumps, and that’s OK. It doesn’t get you down. You just stay focused on moving ahead and you know what? At the same time you’ve got a really positive attitude about all of it too. That is so important.
  
Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of data and analysis on private company transactions, valuations and financials in India. Click Here to learn about Venture Intelligence products that help entrepreneurs Reach Out to Investors, Research Competition, Learn from Experienced Entrepreneurs and Interact with Peers. Includes the Free Deal Digest Weekly Newsletter: India's First & Most Exhaustive Transactions Newsletter.

The Impulsesoft Story

Came across this presentation via pluggdin by one of the company's founders, Srikrishna. Sri Krishna  
Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of data and analysis on private company transactions, valuations and financials in India. Click Here to learn about Venture Intelligence products that help entrepreneurs Reach Out to Investors, Research Competition, Learn from Experienced Entrepreneurs and Interact with Peers. Includes the Free Deal Digest Weekly Newsletter: India's First & Most Exhaustive Transactions Newsletter.

November 10, 2012

Do it. Or Don't. Never "try to do it".

Krishnan Ganesh, Angel Investor & Founder of Tutorvista in Business Today:
As CEO of Bharti British Telecom, I used to work directly with Sunil Mittal. During meetings on strategy and plans, we used to have stimulating debates and heated arguments. At the end of it, Sunil Mittal used to take a firm commitment - either the senior managers were going to do it, or they had the choice to refuse. Accepting to try an idea was not an option.

Agreeing to "try to do it" is a sure-shot recipe for a half-hearted attempt that will result in failure. This has helped me as I started four companies and built strong teams to get people committed to a cause or task wholeheartedly rather than start with doubts and dissonance.
Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of data and analysis on private company transactions, valuations and financials in India. Click Here to learn about Venture Intelligence products that help entrepreneurs Reach Out to Investors, Research Competition, Learn from Experienced Entrepreneurs and Interact with Peers. Includes the Free Deal Digest Weekly Newsletter: India's First & Most Exhaustive Transactions Newsletter.

"Attach & Detach"

Anil Gupta, Joint MD of Havells India, in Business Today
You need to attach yourself to certain things to go deeper, develop a passion and get work done. But you need to get detached after achieving certain milestones. If you remain attached to a certain thing, you cannot professionalise and grow it. Detachment makes it easier to professionalise and monitor the work from a distance.
...My father repeated this advice when Havells went through a tough time during the global economic crisis in 2008 and 2009. When we acquired Sylvania (in November 2007) we were very detached from the business for the first one-and-a-half years and we let the existing management team to run the company. But when Sylvania fell deeper into the red, the management team of Havells got fully involved. For one year there was close coordination between Sylvania and Havells. Sylvania became profitable (in 2011/12) and now we again run it from a distance.
The advice has helped me balance my work and personal life as well. We have put professional systems in place, so I don't need to rack my brains 24 hours a day and work 16 hours a day. This has helped me in growing the business and leading my life far more comfortably.

Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of data and analysis on private company transactions, valuations and financials in India. Click Here to learn about Venture Intelligence products that help entrepreneurs Reach Out to Investors, Research Competition, Learn from Experienced Entrepreneurs and Interact with Peers. Includes the Free Deal Digest Weekly Newsletter: India's First & Most Exhaustive Transactions Newsletter.

"Go on a two-month holiday"

Impresario Entertainment & Hospitality MD Riyaaz Amlani on the "best advice he ever received" in a Business Today article: The trouble:
...The same people who bring you from Chapter 1 to Chapter 2 in one's story sometimes don't elevate their own game for what is required to get you through to the next chapter. They get comfortable, become fat cats quickly, and don't seem to want to change. It seems that they needed me to ratify everything. I needed to be everywhere and personally supervise everything. I worked 18 hours a day. And couldn't do enough. It was frustrating and heartbreaking. I loved my people but I just couldn't get them to take full ownership.
The solution provider: Tariq Ansari of Mid-Day, The solution:
"Go on a two-month holiday." As soon as I began to protest, he explained: "It's a concept called 'benevolent negligence'." Leave. Go away. Take your hands off, and your people will be forced to sink or swim. Give them control. Tell them you don't want to be bothered. And when you come back, don't take back their responsibilities. Tell them they did good. And tell them that you are going away for another month, and that they shouldn't bother you for what's urgent, only for what's important.

Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of data and analysis on private company transactions, valuations and financials in India. Click Here to learn about Venture Intelligence products that help entrepreneurs Reach Out to Investors, Research Competition, Learn from Experienced Entrepreneurs and Interact with Peers. Includes the Free Deal Digest Weekly Newsletter: India's First & Most Exhaustive Transactions Newsletter.

November 06, 2012

FusionCharts Story: The E-Book Version

The founder's bother has written an 90 page e-book on the starting-up of FusionCharts - a $7-M revenue product company created by a teenager - Pallav Nadhani - out of Kolkata. 




Read Pluggdin's post on the highlights from the book here.

Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of data and analysis on private company transactions, valuations and financials in India. Click Here to learn about Venture Intelligence products that help entrepreneurs Reach Out to Investors, Research Competition, Learn from Experienced Entrepreneurs and Interact with Peers. Includes the Free Deal Digest Weekly Newsletter: India's First & Most Exhaustive Transactions Newsletter.

October 19, 2012

Do's & Dont's for Indian Startups

From a great post by Pravin Jadhav of social media startup Wishberg.
Don’t divulge what is not shipped yet. This is a tough one to explain. To put it simply (or wisely) – ‘You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.’ Here the context is different. Everyone is looking for ideas, you don’t give it to them. We met with one angel investor, had a detailed discussion about our product – how we intend to market / acquire consumers. Few days later, one of his invested startup came up with remarkably similar approach. On another instance, one investor met us twice in a span on 10 days, insisted we share our detailed road map ASAP. A week later his firm announced a investment in an over lapping category; he was leading the deal.

Do whats impossible, not what is easy. If you have a brilliant idea and you think its easy to execute, there probably are another 100 startups doing it already. You are operating in a crowded space.

Your health is important. ...Long working hours, erratic sleeping times is way of startup life. Managing time is myth, work manages your time. ...Advice: Amount of stress first-time founders will go through in start-up journey is unimaginable. I’ve learned to relax and have started paying good attention towards my health.

Technically, you’re unemployed. Accept that. ...You will be often reminded of that by folks you will never expect – like the customer support staff at credit card department – “Aapke pass to job hi nahi hai. 3 years ka company IT returns aap submit kijiye.” (Translates to – ‘You don’t have a job. You will have to submit 3 years income tax returns of your company to apply for one’). This is a top Indian bank, I’m their premier customer since last 10 years and it doesn’t matter. ..Advice: Plan your startup well. Talk to other startup founders before you start – understand what difficulties they went through. Startup life is not for everyone.

Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of data and analysis on private company transactions, valuations and financials in India. Click Here to learn about Venture Intelligence products that help entrepreneurs Reach Out to Investors, Research Competition, Learn from Experienced Entrepreneurs and Interact with Peers. Includes the Free Deal Digest Weekly Newsletter: India's First & Most Exhaustive Transactions Newsletter.

October 17, 2012

Peak Creation Windows and What Destroys Them

Entrepreneur, Writer and Podcaster Jonathan Fields has a great
post on maximizing productivity by focusing on the key activities during the productive time periods during the day and cutting out "email, social media, phone calls and other yadda yadda" during those times.
Using peak creation cycles for email stifles innovation, performance and progress. I was inadvertently doing maintenance and production work during the window where I should’ve been in hardcore creation mode. By the time I’d roll into late morning/early afternoon, my organic hyper-creation window was cycling down and I nothing left to do the work that makes me come alive and that people most value. Malaise would set it. I found it harder and harder to come up with ideas, new posts and solutions when structured my day this way. So, I responded by making a simple shift. I still do check my email after I get done meditating or exercising (shhhh, don’t tell). But, it’s a quick scan and, unless there’s a true emergency, I step away from email, twitter, facebook and pretty much anything else that beeps, vibrates or taunts me to respond. And I sit down to create. Blog posts, copy, art, multimedia content, the mode doesn’t matter as long as it’s all about ideation and output.
Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of data and analysis on private company transactions, valuations and financials in India. Click Here to learn about Venture Intelligence products that help entrepreneurs Reach Out to Investors, Research Competition, Learn from Experienced Entrepreneurs and Interact with Peers. Includes the Free Deal Digest Weekly Newsletter: India's First & Most Exhaustive Transactions Newsletter.

September 26, 2012

Entrepreneurship is...

Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.” - Anonymous
Choose a job that you like, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” – Confucius, Thinker and Philosopher
You must fall in love with what you do, because being an entrepreneur is a lot of hard work, and overcoming a lot of adversity. From that love will come the dedication that will get you out of bed at 4 a.m. because of a great idea you just had and get you to work till 11 p.m. and not feel tired.” – Ken Field, Real Estate Magnate
Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of data and analysis on private company transactions, valuations and financials in India. Click Here to learn about Venture Intelligence products that help entrepreneurs Reach Out to Investors, Research Competition, Learn from Experienced Entrepreneurs and Interact with Peers.

September 15, 2012

The Surprising Biggest Problem of Small Businesses: Having Too Much Money

From a post by AnnMaria of The Julia Group.

..sometimes, as Paul Hawken has said, the biggest problem with small businesses is that they have too much money. That may sound crazy, but I have always tried to keep overhead to the bare minimum. Almost everyone who works for us is a contractor, which means we pay them when we have work and when we don’t have work for them to do, we don’t pay them. I’m not too worried about being first to market – I see how well that worked out for VisiCalc and Netscape. I’ve way too much experience to think that you can do a project twice as fast with six programmers as with three. After 27 years, I still have an office in my house. When I meet people, I usually go to lunch...


Interesting and certainly worth thinking about...

Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of data and analysis on private company transactions, valuations and financials in India. Click Here to learn about Venture Intelligence products that help entrepreneurs Reach Out to Investors, Research Competition, Learn from Experienced Entrepreneurs and Interact with Peers.

"It's all About the People" - The Truism that Stays True

From a Mixergy podcast interview with Dr.Rajiv Kumar of US-based corporate wellness service ShapeUp. (Emphasis mine)
What’s the one takeaway that you have? One thing that you say, hey you know, I am better because I have this one understanding after having built this business.

Rajiv: Yeah, I think it would probably sound very obvious and maybe somewhat cliché, but at the end of the day, every single thing that a business does, successes and failures, are all about people, and can’t underestimate that. I think we know it, but we forget it sometimes. But it is the people that makes everything happen or makes thing not happen. There’s a huge opportunity cost to having a wrong person in a position, and you don’t realize that opportunity cost until that person leaves, and because either there’s a void and you realize that this person was actually dragging the company down, or someone who comes in that’s much better and you realize how much more quickly you’re accelerating. And when you have that right person in place, magical things start to happen and it really has an amazing effect on the company.

And so, at the end of the day it’s all about the people and you can’t invest enough in people and culture. I think in early parts of start-up companies, often you just focus on the product or the vision or whatever it is. You don’t focus as much on people and culture. But it’s true. It’s not just smoke and mirrors or just something that people are paying lip service to. It is all about people and we need to optimize our companies around investing in people and finding the right people and keeping the people that we have happy and motivated.

Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of data and analysis on private company transactions, valuations and financials in India. Click Here to learn about Venture Intelligence products that help entrepreneurs Reach Out to Investors, Research Competition, Learn from Experienced Entrepreneurs and Interact with Peers.

September 13, 2012

Why It's Important to Let Go of Non-Performers

From a post on OnStartups titled "Remembering 9/11: Leadership Lessons From Akamai Founder". (Danny Lewin, co-founder of Akamai Technologies, "a commando in the Israeli Special Forces counter-terror group, then a genius mathematics graduate student at MIT, and then a visionary billionaire entrepreneur", "was tragically killed on American Airlines Flight #11")

To Restore Trust When it Weakens: Hold People Accountable and Get Rid of Non-Performers.

Great leaders hold people accountable successfully by honoring an unspoken contract between them. The team members make commitments to each other and to the leader. Then the leader measures each of them fairly and by the same standards - by how well they did what they said they would do. The leader pays each member by how well they performed their part of the deal.

But when one member fails to execute, other teammates see it immediately. They lose confidence both in the non-performer and in the leader for failing to uphold the deal. To preserve the trust that the leader has inspired by example and spread with shared suffering, the leader must remove the non-performer from the team. This restores trust between the team and the leader because they see the leader honoring the contract between them. They feel reassured that they, and their remaining teammates, must be performing. Then they trust each other to do their jobs and can concentrate on doing their own. (Of course, removing a non-performer only builds trust when the team member has had a fair chance to achieve his commitments, fair notice when performance is sub-par, and a fair chance to improve.)


Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of data and analysis on private company transactions, valuations and financials in India. Click Here to learn about Venture Intelligence products that help entrepreneurs Reach Out to Investors, Research Competition, Learn from Experienced Entrepreneurs and Interact with Peers.

September 11, 2012

Should an Entrepreneur Bring Home the Baby or the Bacon?

Bring home the bacon
1. To earn a living, especially for a family.
2. To achieve desired results; have success.

In one of his latest posts titled 7 dark secrets of Entrepreneurs - Revealed, Alok Kejriwal (as usual) provides a lot of material for reflection at the same time making it an easy read.
2. Entrepreneurs are lonely.

Honestly, entrepreneurs are their own best friends.

Yes, family comes close and there is almost a reverse dependency on family (I feel I depend on my wife and 2 daughters more than they depend on me), but there is really no one else.

Maybe I speak for myself, but the gigantic tasks of the day leave no room for hanging out with friends or acquaintances. In most cases, it’s going out with the office crowd.

Entrepreneurs speak to themselves in their sleep. They sell proposals to themselves in the shower and negotiate term sheets in their mind while they are eating sev puri. There is little time for other friendships. Here are a couple that particularly struck a chord:

3. Entrepreneurs are selfish.

I can never forgive myself for one incident.

Neither can my wife. The day my younger daughter was born was also the day I was supposed to sign my final shareholding agreements to close my first round of funding. I chose to sign those documents instead of bringing my wife and new born baby back home from the hospital.

This just pointedly shows how selfish entrepreneurs are.

Personally, while I completely relate with the "Entrepreneurs are lonely" part (including the "reverse dependency on family"), I wonder whether Point 3 should be re-titled "Entrepreneurs Desperately Need to Prioritize their Time".

On the working day on which our baby came into the world, I remember taking some 2 hours off from the office - half of which was probably spent in the commute. The reason I could afford to hold the baby in my hands for just a few (nervous) minutes (before gingerly handing back to the doc) was - again - family: with my wife's mom and my mom around to take care of anything else (and my wife needing to rest), what was it that I was going to achieve by sticking around?

With that familial support available, my best contribution (including to the less-than-1-day old baby) could only to be back at my job. Obviously, one looks forward to the many joyous personal hours to be spent with the child in the months and years ahead, but is it "selfish" to be working/heading back to work at that time? I don't think so - it's just where the entrepreneur's time is best spent at that point. So, I would encourage Alok to forgive himself. As an entrepreneur, you just did what comes naturally - prioritize. Your child obviously will never hold that "selfish act" against you. On the other hand, you better reserve time (work or no work) in the years ahead. Or else.....

Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of data and analysis on private company transactions, valuations and financials in India. Click Here to learn about Venture Intelligence products that help entrepreneurs Reach Out to Investors, Research Competition, Learn from Experienced Entrepreneurs and Interact with Peers.

September 07, 2012

"Avoid Mind Blocks & Artificial Boundaries" - Pandia Rajan & Latha Rajan of Ma Foi

Cross Posted from the Venture Intelligence Entrevista blog:


Latha Rajan & K. Pandia Rajan of Ma Foi ( Bios)

In conversation with K. Satyanarayan, Co-founder of regional language publishing firm New Horizon Media.
(Recorded on August 15, 2012 in Chennai.)

Highlights:

Takeaways for Other Entrepreneurs: (Click on the links for the video segments)
  • Don't add artificial constraints when it comes to entrepreneurship

    KPR:
    Separating home and work, politics & business - we tend to have many boundaries where none need to exist. These are Western notions and mind blocks that we can revisit.

    Being a Husband-Wife Entrepreneur Combination was never a major hassle for us. In fact, as Latha says often, we would have probably fallen apart but for Ma Foi!

    Latha Rajan: In the early days, he used to travel 25 days a month and I used to travel 10 days a month. But since I was there within the system, I could understand (the pressures and issues). Both of us knew what we were working towards.

    Entrepreneurship has given me a lot of flexibility mentally. I used to take my daughter and son to office if it was required. In fact, the 30th day after my son was born, I was in the office and I took him along.
  • Employees as Members: Everyone who joins Ma Foi is referred to as a "member" (as against an employee).

    Latha Rajan:
    "Employee sounds so transient".

    Even if someone leaves the organization (as an employee), he/she still remains a Ma Foi member (and hence an ambassador for the firm).
  • Innovation in funding: Converted the company into a public limited one very early and raised small amounts from over 275 well wishers, employees & ex-employees and clients. Made sure to pay the shareholders a decent dividend each year. (Ma Foi paid 20% "religiously".)
  • Growth, Diversity, Transparency and Integrity
    Everyone knew how much everyone else was producing
Other Highlights (The Journey & Lighter Moments)
The Full Length Interview Video



Video Of
The Q&A Session




Click Here to Download The Full Interview Audio Podcast - 69 minutes, 32 MB. Use Right Click & Save As to download to your desktop

Click Here to Download the Audio of the Q&A session - 8.54 minutes, 4 MB. Use Right Click & Save As to download to your desktop

Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of data and analysis on private company transactions, valuations and financials in India. Click Here to learn about Venture Intelligence products that help entrepreneurs Reach Out to Investors, Research Competition, Learn from Experienced Entrepreneurs and Interact with Peers.

September 05, 2012

Tips for Technology Start Ups

From Art Reisman's post titled "Nine Tips for Technology Start Ups". (Hat tip: Terry Gold)

5) Product companies must avoid the consulting trap.

If you produce a software product and (or any product for that matter), you will always be inundated for specialty, one-off, requests from customers. These requests are well intentioned, but you can’t let your time and direction of a single customer drive your feature set. The exception to this rule is obviously if you are getting similar requests from multiple customers. If you start building special features for single customers, ultimately you will barely break even, and may go broke trying to please them. At some point (now), you have to say this is our product, and this is our price, and these are the features, and if a customer needs specialty features, you will need to politely decline. If your competition takes up your account on promises of customization, you can be sure they are spreading their resources thin.

6) Validate your product see if you can sell to strangers.

Early on, you need to sell what you have to somebody that is not a friend. Friends are great for testing a product, or making you feel good, or talking up your company, but for real honest feedback on whether your product will be a commercial success you need to find somebody that buys your product. I don’t really care if it is a $10 sale or a $10,000 sale, it is important to establish that somebody is willing to purchase your product. From there, you can work on pricing models. Perfection is great but don’t stay in development for years making things better and perfecting your support channel, or whatever. The reality is you have to sell something to build momentum and delay to market is your enemy. If you do not find customers willing to commit their hard earned money for your product at some early stage you do not have a product.

Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of data and analysis on private company transactions, valuations and financials in India. Click Here to learn about Venture Intelligence products that help entrepreneurs Reach Out to Investors, Research Competition, Learn from Experienced Entrepreneurs and Interact with Peers.

September 04, 2012

PaaSage from Cuddalore to California: The OrangeScape Story

Rediff.com has an interesting profile of the Chennai-based Platform as a Service (PaaS) software product firm and its founder Suresh Sambandam (who grew up in the small Tamilnadu town of Cuddalore).

Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of data and analysis on private company transactions, valuations and financials in India. Click Here to learn about Venture Intelligence products that help entrepreneurs Reach Out to Investors, Research Competition, Learn from Experienced Entrepreneurs and Interact with Peers.

August 10, 2012

Team & Culture Building @ Gozoop

Rohan Bhansali, Founder of digital marketing firm Gozoop, shares interesting HR practices at his company in an interview/profile at TheRodinhoods.com:

Culture wise: These are the things we do. All may not be unique but they make our culture unique.

1. Every Saturday the team comes together (no matter how busy they are) and we do crazy things – Idli eating competitions, back to school drawing competitions, ragging new recruits, dancing to 90’s Bollywood tunes, Dumb charades, etc. Last week we played passing the parcel.

2. Gozooper of the Week – Every Thursday, an email is sent to the entire team mentioning one odd (or weird) fact of a team member. The team then has to guess who the person is. Great way to get to know each other.

3. Every year we write a hand written letter to the parents of our most dedicated and earnest team mates highlighting their achievements. There is no prouder moment for parents than hearing about their child’s success.

4. We have weekly Foosball mash ups where we bring together as a team, the people who don’t work together on a day to day basis. The winning team gets a Bournville ‘cause you can’t buy it, you have to earn it!

5. A certain percent of our profits our committed to our CSR. The team together decides the cause or foundation that we donate to.

6. We definitely have an open door policy but once every 4 months we choose a random set of 10 people who are literally “forced” to speak up and suggest at least 2 improvements or suggestions to our work, culture or process.

7. GZ Good Times – Every month, the guys who consistently reach office on time are treated to something nice. Last Saturday this set of guys went for The Dark Knight rises.

8. Our HR head Bansi is our “Happiness Officer”. She sometimes surprises a randomly picked team member with a cupcake on their desks when they are back from lunch.

9. While hiring, the focus is first on soft skills. We constantly ask, “Will he/she add to and fit into our culture and happiness?”

10. Our FB page speaks more culture and less digital marketing.


Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of data and analysis on private equity, venture capital and M&A deals in India. Click Here to learn about Venture Intelligence products that help entrepreneurs reach out effectively to the investing community.

Saying No to Expensive Startup Awards

The inimitable Alok 'Rodinhood' Kejriwal has an interesting account of an invitation from an international publication to nominate his company for an "hot startup" award.

- The call was pleasant and kinda, "How is the weather" type of talk (read - "Entrepreneurs are this and that", etc) - I participated and humored the caller.

- In the end I was told, "We like to see the entrepreneurs. We want them to come to Hong Kong and present in front of a jury. On that day in September, something will happen at 4pm, then something at 5pm and winners will be announced at 8pm. So please come."

I said NO.


This is the point I made:

- Entrepreneurs don't have time to pitch for awards and mentions. They have time to do business.

- As an award, you have done lots of research on all the companies concerned.


This is the age of the INTERNET!

Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of data and analysis on private equity, venture capital and M&A deals in India. Click Here to learn about Venture Intelligence products that help entrepreneurs reach out effectively to the investing community.

How to Foster the Desired Culture

From an article by Rajeev Peshawaria in The Mint.
I define culture as what your people do when no one is looking.

...The first step is to articulate the desired culture in terms of the specific behaviour expected from all employees. Use full sentences that tell people exactly what to do and what not to do. “Excellence”, “passion” and “collaboration” are large, abstract words which mean different things to different people—a clearer way of articulating the cultural principle or value of excellence is to say, “Find better ways of doing things.” Similarly, instead of just saying “collaboration”, a better bet might be to say, “Proactively help others to succeed”. Most companies have prescribed corporate values, but they usually stay on the hallway posters they’re relegated to—because nothing is done to socialize or reinforce them.

The next step, therefore, is to socialize the desired culture. Repeatedly communicate it at every possible opportunity. This sounds easy but there are two common pitfalls. The first is over-reliance on verbal communication; giving speeches about collaboration at town hall meetings is not enough. Leaders must communicate through their actions as well, because employees hear their leaders’ actions louder than their words. In essence, humans are hierarchical by nature and look towards people of authority to get clues on how to behave. A culture of collaboration must begin with the senior leadership team. Companies cannot hope to establish a collaborative culture through their ranks unless they get into the habit of regularly assessing the leadership team culture first.
Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of data and analysis on private equity, venture capital and M&A deals in India. Click Here to learn about Venture Intelligence products that help entrepreneurs reach out effectively to the investing community.

August 08, 2012

"E-Commerce Reality Check" - Article by Sanjay Anandaram

A July 2002 Business Week article had this to say about Amazon: “after seven years and more than US $1 billion in losses, Amazon is still a work in progress.” The company posted $5m in profits, it’s first ever, in the last quarter of 2001 on sales of $1.12 billion. Amazon is the poster boy of e-commerce around the world, the incredible survivor of the 2001 dotcom meltdown - when naysayers said that Amazon with over $2 billion in debt (largely used to fund warehouses) would become insolvent - and naturally enough inspires Indian entrepreneurs as well.

There are a great many lessons to be learnt from amazing Amazon. Founded in 1994 as Cadabra, Amazon.com went online in 1995 raising about $300K from friends and family. In June 1996, KPCB invested $8m and it went public in May 1997. It had sales of $15.7m in 1996, did $16m in the quarter ending March 1997 before the IPO, raised $54m in the IPO at a market capitalization of $438m on the first day. The company had gone international, had a wide range of product offerings, had thousands of affiliate and distributors around the world. And it was rapidly growing.

Amazon’s revenues were over $48billion in 2011 with an operating profit of $862m.

So, will companies in India follow a similar trajectory?

For an Amazon and multiple other successful ecommerce companies to have become successful in the US, a set of “hard and soft” pre-requisites had to be in place. Let me explain:

a) People had to have trouble free internet access – PCs and telecom infrastructure had to be in place. 22% of the US was online in October 1997
b) Credit cards had to be in use – Over 125m credit card holders existed in the US in the late 1990s.
c) Logistics – transportation and warehousing – infrastructure had to be in place.
d) Taxation policies across the country was to be clear
e) Laws to protect customers and merchants had to be in place and enforceable.
f) Capital availability across the funding continuum – private and public

These are the hard pre-requisites. Let us look at the softer ones:

a) People had to be comfortable with (i) online and (ii) online purchases – issues of comfort and trust had to be resolved. In the US, mail order catalogues were in vogue since the late 1890s (yes!), telemarketing was popular since the 1970s and TV shopping since the 1980s.
b) Retail brands had to be organized and be a huge industry – this implied familiarity with brands, customer service, comfort with products on display and the like

In India, it is only now that the basics are slowly coming together. Infrastructure matters like payments, logistics and top class technology are still matters of enormous friction. The Indian online consumer and the Indian retail (online and offline) environment are still evolving. Media is playing a role as is the lack of retail / brand penetration in smaller towns in generating aspiration and demand. Capital availability across the funding continuum is a challenge. Finding experienced management to run an online business isn’t easy as it is a new phenomenon. The question of having a seamless taxation policy (viz GST) remains a vexed one.

Given the unique Indian scenario, I believe ultimately a hybrid Indian model (offline and online one) will emerge. Companies that can raise sufficient capital to stay afloat, while this model emerges while growing at a breakneck speed and able to demonstrate a path to profits, will be immensely valuable.

Remember Amazon took 7 years in an evolved market like the US to turn a profit while rapidly growing. In India, it will take much longer as a new generation becomes savvy online consumers. The first wave of ecommerce firms first emerged and then disappeared in the 1999-2001 years. The second wave emerged about 5 years ago and is fortunately being built on far stronger foundations. Some leaders are clearly visible, yet, this isn’t an opportunity for all and sundry to jump in; Entrepreneurs and investors with a long term view, access to deep pockets, and the management ability to corral risks and growth are required. For the others, it is better to attempt something else till more opportune times arise.

What do you think?

Sanjay Anandaram is a passionate advocate of entrepreneurship in India; He brings over 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.

August 02, 2012

Cheat Sheet for Fund Raising on Angel List

Rick Perreault of Unbounce has a nice guest post at OnStartups on the topic.

Tip #1 Use video to tell your story


In hindsight, probably the most effective thing I did was include a link on our profile and in all my email correspondence to a video of me giving our pitch I had the opportunity to pitch at the last GROW Conference here in Vancouver and lucky for us, they recorded it. I included it on our Angel List profile and almost everyone that contacted me commented that they watched it and especially liked the Q&A. Here is the link to the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1WcpFqKA7So

You don’t need to spend any money doing this either. Record yourself giving your pitch and providing answers to all the typical questions that you get from outsiders and post it on YouTube. Your passion, conviction and knowledge of the problem you are solving will come across in ways that a deck can never achieve and by presenting your own Q&A, you’ll skip all the typical questions and have a much more constructive meeting when you get on a call with an investor.

...Tip #3 Prepare your email responses in advance

In our first 24 hours on Angel List, we received a lot of followers and request for introductions. Both are opportunities to pitch your company as both enable you to contact the investor but unless you are prepared in advance, it can be overwhelming...


Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of data and analysis on private equity, venture capital and M&A deals in India. Click Here to learn about Venture Intelligence products that help entrepreneurs reach out effectively to the investing community.

Have an Unfair Advantage and go for White Spaces

Extract from an article by serial entrepreneur K. Ganesh in The Economic Times.
Startup infant mortality rate is over 95%. You don't want to be among the casualties. And for that, you need all the aces or high-value cards. So be it the right co-founders, adequate capital, unfair access to supply chain or disproportionate advantage over others make sure you have the secret sauce. This will ensure you are part of the 5% that make it alive.

...Almost all entrepreneurs out there are passionate, hardworking and intelligent. At best, you can incrementally and marginally improve operational efficiency. But then you will make other mistakes. So, it's better go for new, uncontested spaces or disruptive business models. You would then have a better chance of success.

Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of data and analysis on private equity, venture capital and M&A deals in India. Click Here to learn about Venture Intelligence products that help entrepreneurs reach out effectively to the investing community.

August 01, 2012

"Balance Ambition & Risk"

Manish Sabharwal of Teamlease provides this great contrast in an article for Economic Times.
We are frugal with capital because we know that entrepreneurship is the art of staying alive long enough to get lucky.

But we also understand that entrepreneurship is a leap into the unknown so if you are going to jump from the 10th floor you might as well jump from the 50th floor! What is happening in India today is not once in a decade or once in a millennium but once in the lifetime of a country. This offers unique entrepreneurial opportunities.

Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of data and analysis on private equity, venture capital and M&A deals in India. Click Here to learn about Venture Intelligence products that help entrepreneurs reach out effectively to the investing community.

July 23, 2012

Raising the Bar for Performance Reviews

From the Economic Times article:
Vivek Ranadive, the founder-chairman of TIBCO Software, recently sacked his America sales chief despite the Palo Alto, California-based infrastructure-software provider surpassing market expectations. He had to because he grades his employees in a very contrarian way. "If you do everything you are asked to do and you do it very well, you get a C," he says. "In order to be a superstar (to get an A or Aplus)," he says, "you have to do things that nobody asked you to do."


Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of data and analysis on private equity, venture capital and M&A deals in India. Click Here to learn about Venture Intelligence products that help entrepreneurs reach out effectively to the investing community.

July 06, 2012

"If you have the inclination, you will find the time!" - Article By Sanjay Anandaram

During a recent review meeting, I asked the startup CEO the status of certain action items agreed to in the previous meeting. He smiled sheepishly and said that he would need more time as his days were packed and that he would need another 10 days to complete the pending items. This was after 2 weeks had elapsed! Upon digging deeper and on further questioning, it transpired that it wouldn’t have taken more than 4 hours to accomplish the tasks. Yet the CEO was asking for more time and he was indeed very busy!

“Call me tomorrow afternoon”, said another startup CEO. I was trying to set up a phone call with this person to discuss a possible partnership with a startup I’m involved with. Upon calling the next day in the “afternoon”, I was told that the CEO was in another meeting and that he would call back. I asked for a time when I could expect a call – that wasn’t forthcoming. I also couldn’t get a convenient time for me to call back at. I received a call late in the evening that day from the executive apologizing profusely and that his day had been very busy. It took a while to schedule a meeting thereafter.

The two examples are symptomatic of a larger malaise in our society. The near absence of time management, task prioritization, planning and scheduling. Of course, a visit to a government office or indeed any interaction with a government department showcases these issues in all their starkness! Speed of movement and its obverse namely, time management, is a source of enormous competitive advantage in a startup and by not taking advantage of this resource, a startup loses. Unfortunately, startups in our country aren’t immune to these problems.

So what are some of the things that a startup founder can do?

- Start by taking notes in any meeting. Capture the key points, the actions expected, timelines for completion and note the person responsible for those actions. Send out the meeting minutes to all. Subsequent meetings should start with a review of the actions decided on in the previous meetings. Our oral traditions seem to have permeated into our DNA and therefore the creation, assimilation and dispersion of information and knowledge isn’t our strong suit.
- Delegation. Learn to trust key team members with responsibility. Give them the freedom to execute. Provide resources to the extent possible. Review performance based on deliverables, quality and time commitments. Let the concerned individual or leader take decisions. You should not be the bottle neck for decision making. Don’t penalize failure but penalize lack of learning from failure! This will enable the team around you to learn and grow, thereby enhancing organizational capacity. Don’t micro-manage and second guess.
- Plan your day. Schedule review meetings. Schedule external meetings. Attempt to reduce interrupts to the minimum. Have a daily (whatever else works) morning briefing session with the team on what’s expected, make sure everyone understands what needs to be done, understand the challenges ahead and try and get the team’s inputs on dealing with these challenges. Every phone call doesn’t need to be responded to eg when in a meeting, don’t take a call unless it is from a customer! Respond to missed calls after the meeting.
- Don’t waste time on chat / SMS when in a meeting. Multi-tasking isn’t quite technically multi-tasking – it is actually a deployment of sub-optimal attention to any one task. Research has shown that multi-taskers, while looking impressive and important, aren’t quite as productive.
- Prioritize! Customer meetings and interactions always trump every other interaction. All meetings or tasks aren’t equally important, they just seem that way. Learn to distinguish between the important, the urgent, and the “can-wait-and-the-sky-won’t-fall”.

It is said that the busiest man has the most time. The next time you think you are busy, think of this statement and the points above.

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 sanjay@jumpstartup.net. The views expressed here are his own.

June 25, 2012

The Woman Behind the Security Service

The Hindu has a profile of the woman entrepreneur, G. Sree Vidhya, behind Ravindra Services Pvt. Ltd, the company which operates Dgroup Security Force and facilities management firm Dialtone Hotline Services.
Dgroup Security Force was founded by her mentor, friend and business associate Ravindra Padmanabhan in 1992 and she had a hand in the decision. Until then, the duo was running facility management services under the name Dialtone Hotline Services, which continued to exist alongside the new business. Dr. Padmanabhan passed away in 2001 in a road accident and Sree Vidhya bought out the company in 2003 and named it Ravindra Services Pvt. Ltd (RSPL), after the founder. Dgroup Security Force and Dialtone Hotline Services function as the brands of the RSPL Group. The group also provides temporary staffing services. RSPL Group has over 3,000 workers on its rolls and boasts many corporate clients.

...“Avoid false promises” is another must in her book. When Dgroup Security Force was in its early years, a big offer came its way. L&T wanted the group to provide 90 guards. “We said providing 90 guards was beyond us. We were allowed to provide services to the organisation in a phased manner.”

Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of data and analysis on private equity, venture capital and M&A deals in India. Click Here to learn about Venture Intelligence products that help entrepreneurs reach out effectively to the investing community.

June 19, 2012

Harsh Mariwala launches entrepreneur mentoring foundation Ascent

To start with Mumbai- & Pune-based entrepreneurs

An entrepreneur’s journey is always an exciting one. But it can often be along a testing and lonely path. Harsh Mariwala has steered Marico to grow in sales from Rs. 40 lac in 1971 to Rs. 4,000 crore today. He understands the challenges one faces while growing an enterprise. And that is why he has launched a new idea- ASCENT- Accelerating the SCaling up of ENTerprises. Ascent seeks to identify entrepreneurs with potential and enable them in their growth journey.

Ascent is a non-profit entity expression of Harsh Mariwala's personal social responsibility towards entrepreneurs. Harsh Mariwala bears all expenses for ASCENT personally.

ASCENT offers a unique and powerful ‘self-help” platform through the formation of TRUST GROUPS of 10 Entrepreneurs each. Each Trust Group will comprise non-competitive, diverse groups of entrepreneurs. We aim to start with 10 TRUST groups in Mumbai and Pune, and over the next few years scale up ASCENT to a much larger size pan-India.

The interaction in the Trust Groups has been designed to provide value to entrepreneurs, using the power of learning in a Group, specifically through the following:

· Facilitation – ASCENT will provide experts who will play a value adding role as Initiators and Trainers for the Group in its first few months and set it up for success.

· Group Moderation - ASCENT will select Moderators from within the group and train them in facilitation, so that the Group can run successfully on its own.

· Insights - ASCENT Knowledge Partners - inspiring role Models and domain experts - will add specific insights and value to each group through their sessions.

· Eco-system - ASCENT will provide access to growth enablers - Consultants, Investors, VCs, banks, Mentors, Coaches-in collaboration with various Service Providers.

Ascent is currently in the process of selecting entrepreneurs for Ascent Trust Groups. The eligibility criteria are as under.

· Minimum Annual turnover - Rs. 2.50 cr (and above) for a Products/Manufacturing business, & Rs. 50 lacs (and above) for a Services business

· Growth Potential - Business must have demonstrated high potential for growth

· Ambition- the Entrepreneur must be ambitious and innovative.

· Belief in the power of learning and Sharing - The Entrepreneur must be eager to learn, share, collaborate and innovate along with fellow- ASCENT members

Application forms are available online on www.ascentfoundation.in.

You can join us and support this growth movement through the following:

· Spot entrepreneurs and recommend Ascent to them. If you have access to an existing network of entrepreneurs, connect them to ASCENT.

· Spread the word around about Ascent. Help us increase the outreach so that we can help more and more entrepreneurs grow.

· Suggest Knowledge Partners and Service Provides for Ascent. Share any thoughts / ideas that can contribute to Ascent.

Interested Entrepreneurs, can APPLY online on

www.ascentfoundation.in

For any clarifications, please contact:

Viral Savla

Manager, Ascent

+91 98215 70230

viral@ascentfoundation.in

June 16, 2012

Worm's-Eye View or Bird's-Eye View? Management by "Zooming"

From a HBR article on the need for managers to be able to both Zoom-in (be Detail Oriented) and also Zoom-out (be Big Picture guys).

Close-in managers look for immediate benefits and make ad hoc decisions. They often favor one-on-one conversations over group meetings. They want to address details by doing whatever occurs to them. Faced with a problem, they look for quick fixes rather than stand back to seek underlying causes, alternatives, or long-term solutions. They prefer to contact someone they know rather than search more widely for expertise. These tendencies are exacerbated in organizations that restrict information flow, reward quick hits, and confine people to their roles.

...The former CEO of Garanti Bank, Akin Ongor, led it from a middle-of-the-road bank in Turkey to global prominence by setting up processes that replaced poor performers and upgraded talent. When his announcement of layoffs provoked union protests and even death threats, Ongor refused to take the attacks personally or get drawn into ad hominem battles. Instead, he went to the media and elevated the discussion to the principles behind the bank’s actions. By zooming out, he helped his employees, the public, and government officials see the layoffs in the context of a transition in the economy and as a move that would save an important institution so that it could create more jobs in the future. The protests ended, and Ongor continued to lead successful change at the bank. Zooming out helps people see the map and stay focused on larger principles.

...The best leaders work the zoom button in both directions. Faced with a crisis, they can address the immediate situation while seeking structural solutions. They can zoom in to see problems while zooming out to look for similar situations, root causes, and principles or policies that will help prevent the crisis from recurring.

...Zooming can help leaders respond to events before they become crises. It can help them embrace new opportunities while continuing to operate with principles that build sustainable institutions for the long run. Leaders should make room to zoom.


Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of data and analysis on private equity, venture capital and M&A deals in India. Click Here to learn about Venture Intelligence products that help entrepreneurs reach out effectively to the investing community.

June 06, 2012

Managing like a Duck and other Startup CEO Traits

From a guest post on OnStartups by Paul DeJoe, founder at Ecquire.

...You start to respect the Duck. Paddle like hell under the water and be smooth and calm on top where everyone can see you. You learn the hard way that if you lose your cool you lose.

...You begin to see how valuable creativity is and that you must think differently not only to win, but to see the biggest opportunities. You recognize you get your best ideas when you're not staring at a screen. You see immediate returns on healthy distractions.

...Your job is to create a vision, a culture, to get the right people on the bus and to inspire. When you look around at a team that believes in the vision as much as you do and trusts you will do the right thing all the time, it's a feeling that can't be explained. The exponential productivity from great people will always amaze you. It's why finding the right team is the most difficult thing you will do but the most important. This learning will affect your life significantly. You will not settle for things anymore because you will see what is possible when you hold out for the best and push to find people that are the best. You don't have a problem anymore being honest with people about not cutting it.

...You learn the most about yourself more than any other vocation as an entrepreneur. You learn what you do when you get punched in the face many many times. You learn what you do when no one is looking and when no one would find out. You learn that you are bad at many things, lucky if you're good at a handful of things and the only thing you can ever be great at is being yourself which is why you can never compromise it. You learn how power and recognition can be addicting and see how it could corrupt so many.

Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of data and analysis on private equity, venture capital and M&A deals in India. Click Here to learn about Venture Intelligence products that help entrepreneurs reach out effectively to the investing community.

May 25, 2012

"An Indian Facebook: A Distant Dream" - By Sanjay Anandaram

The recent Facebook IPO, which valued the 8 year old company with a 28 year old CEO at over $100billion, provided yet another opportunity for many to again ask: “When will India have a Facebook?” or some variation like “When will India build global products?”

While this makes for good discussion, some important points got missed. Namely that Facebook has been applying for a set of new patents in the past few weeks of which the top four published by the US Patent office include new ways of collecting messages from different devices and collating it with socially relevant conversations. And for the record, Facebook has over 800 patents.

While the Indian entrepreneurial ecosystem is changing for the better (pls refer http://startupjourney.blogspot.in/2012/05/it-takes-village-to-raise-child-article.html and http://startupjourney.blogspot.in/2012/05/entrepreneurial-ecosystem-what-is-it.html) with various elements coming together, it is instructive to keep in mind one very important gap – the lack of innovation - in the ecosystem. Innovation – not of the Jugaad or service process or business model variety - in turn emerges from Research and Development (R&D).

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines R&D as "creative work undertaken on a systematic basis in order to increase the stock of knowledge, including knowledge of man, culture and society, and the use of this stock of knowledge to devise new applications". Over the past 100 years, the role of R&D in the creation of the leading economies of the world has only increased. In the 21st century, this role will only accelerate.

The Indian picture on this front is dismal:

i) India spends 0.9% of its GDP on R&D with the private sector contributing less than 25%. The corresponding ratio for the US is about 2.7% with the private sector contributing more than the government - remember that the US economy is more than 8 times India’s and so the difference in absolute dollars spent is embarassing. The Indian manufacturing sector spends around 0.2% of sales on R&D while the pharma sector spends about 7%. The much vaunted IT sector spends a negligible amount, if at all. An estimated 150 R&D professionals exist in India per 1 million compared to 4300 in the US and 1180 in China.

A visit to any of the top institutes of our country will rather painfully showcase the fact that industry sponsored research at these institutes is almost always MNC sponsored research. The US produces close to 50,000 PhDs each year while India produces about 9000. The number of Computer Science PhDs awarded each year in the US is close to 2000 while India awards less than 200! That Indian industry doesn’t lay much store by R&D is evident. As the Prime Minister noted in a January 2012 speech at the 99th Indian Science Congress in Bhubaneshwar, “it is ironic that GE and Motorola have created world class technology hubs in India while Indian industry hasn’t.”

ii) It isn’t unusual at all for a startup in the US to be able to sell to large companies or to find much larger partners that help them get to market. Given the brutally competitive nature of that market, innovation is valued as a competitive advantage. The innovation and what it can do – save money, increase revenues, enhance productivity – is valued and dispassionately so, irrespective of the size of the company delivering the innovation. On the other hand, it is incredibly hard, if not impossible, for an Indian startup to partner with a larger company or to sell directly to a large Indian company.

iii) Indian startups too, having been born and nurtured in an environment that isn’t patient and supportive of innovation, are almost always oriented towards quickly spotting and efficiently capturing a new market opportunity. Highly entrepreneurial no doubt but hardly in line with producing “creative work that increases the stock of knowledge to create new applications.”

This article isn’t meant to be a diatribe against startups but to hold up a mirror to the state of innovation culture in India. It will take the concerted efforts, over many years, of the government, industry, academia, research institutes, investors, media, markets and of course startups to change the current culture in a meaningful manner. China has shown that it is possible to effect change.

Many years ago, when a friend interested in doing research left for the US, when I asked him why in my naivete, he replied “In India, R&D stands for Receive and Despatch, not Research and Development!” This Receive and Despatch mindset is visible in areas as diverse as mobile phones to IT services.

The serious ramifications of this kind of R&D is now all too obvious particularly in strategic sectors: - Defence: India is now the world’s largest arms importer making India incredibly vulnerable to external pressures. China indigenization policy is now in full force while we’re still floundering - Telecom: According to a June 2011 paper by Prof Jhunjhunwalla of IIT Madras, India’s telecom import bill in 2009-10 of over $20billion was second only to that of oil! The paper laments the lack of R&D, Design and IPR in India. Isn’t it strange that with over 800m telecom subscribers, we don’t have a single Indian telecom technology company or even an indigenous mobile phone company with some IPR? The entire telecom network of India runs on imported technology. Contrast this with the Chinese approach.

All of us interested in Indian innovation, in unleashing its entrepreneurial potential and in seeing an Indian Facebook emerge, need to sit up, take notice and act in concert.

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 sanjay@jumpstartup.net. The views expressed here are his own.

May 22, 2012

Starting Up Tips from Fmr GE, Wipro exec Vivek Paul

The Corporate Exec-turned PE Investor-turned Startup founder has some insightful tips in an article appearing in Economic Times.

Keep your own counsel
Before I joined Wipro, I used to run GE's global CT scanner business. I made a big bet on a breakthrough technology while at that job. Everybody I asked for advice told me not to venture into it. I listened to their reasons. I then gave a solution to every reason that was raised. By doing this, I became confident. What I learnt most through this was that you can seek suggestions from everybody, but keep your own counsel.  

Envision the future
My stint at Wipro taught me to envision the future. This is not because you want to live in a fantasy land. You can actually work backwards to figure out what you need to do today to build that future. You also need to inspire others. It is not enough that only you have this belief. Everybody else needs to have that belief. It is not just empty words. You need to translate this into action.  

Plan for success
Another lessons that I learnt was to plan for success, as much as for failure. When success comes your way, you should not feel that you were not ready for it -- that your system cannot match that scale, or you were not able to figure out how to hire so many people while retaining the company culture. It is about making sure that when success does smile your way, you are ready for it.  

Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of data and analysis on private equity, venture capital and M&A deals in India. Click Here to learn about Venture Intelligence products that help entrepreneurs reach out effectively to the investing community.

May 16, 2012

B-Plan or B-School?

Manish Sabharwal again - this time in Inc India
Soon after, I incorporated my company, India Life, and went off to Wharton to study management. I got professors from there involved in my business. Most people want to make it to a business school to get a lucrative job. They have the math all wrong. A business school is like intellectual wine-tasting. These places are the best incubators in the world; the alumni, the professors and the resources for developing abusiness plan are just amazing. I think people should go to a business school, write their business plan, find an investor and come out ready to execute. That’s what I did. I found the View Group at Wharton, and got USD$2 million to start a health insurance company. That morphed to pension fund management, and then, finally to pension fund administration, before becoming an outsourcing company that was bought out by Hewitt in 2002.
Aah, the MNC Life
As the clauses with Hewitt would have it, I spent the next two years in Singapore managing their Asia outsourcing business. Every Monday, we would be locked in a conference where everybody could say no and nobody could say yes. As soon as the lock-in period ended, I called it quits and relocated to Bangalore. After all, the king of a small kingdom is still a king. We had built and sold a company. That gave us enough credibility to start the next one. We knew what we wanted our next company to be—profitable, fun and good for India. Thus, was born TeamLease, India’s first temporary-employment company. We have hired someone every five minutes for the past five years. So we consider ourselves good for India. We are profitable. And we have had fun.
Power of Policy
In India, our primary and vocational education systems are messed up. People in the Northeast can speak English and are, therefore, hired at a higher salary compared to the migrants from UP and Bihar, who have been taught in Hindi. The children in these areas didn’t do anything different. These are implications of policy decisions, which allowed English to be taught in one state, but not in another.
The PE/VC Meter
In many ways, TeamLease was a child of India Life. In hindsight, we probably sold our first venture a few years earlier than we should have. But then, with external money, the meter was always ticking on us. That’s why we did things a bit differently the second time. For TeamLease, we didn’t take any external money till last month. We wanted the runway and space to craft this venture differently. We got senior people in much earlier. We decided to focus on public policy, which has been great for the company. People recognise us as someone who has the backbone to stand up. We also scaled up much faster since we were working with a good team of people. Most of them, we knew from the India Life days.
Arun Natarajan is the Founder & CEO of Venture Intelligence, the leading provider of data and analysis on private equity, venture capital and M&A deals in India. Click Here to learn about Venture Intelligence products that help entrepreneurs reach out effectively to the investing community.