Archive for the 'incubators' Category

Quick & Dirty Market Check

The other day I received an email from Vijay Anand as part of a group that I’m also part of. It was about the ongoing debate between figuring out the business model vs. writing a detailed business plan for startups today. I will cover my thoughts on that topic in a later blog post.

This blog, however, is on a note that caught my attention in the email. It said that startups should test the market quickly by doing a “lean” product/solution and turn it around/change it if it does not stick in the market. He also gave an example from their current incubator.

My concern on this is the following, any startup especially the one trying to develop a new market is trying at some level to change people’s behaviors/habits. We are coming up with a new of getting information, collecting it, storing it, accessing it, implementing knowledge, new technology-based tools – and more…While, many of them can be created as a minimalistic products/solutions and test-marketed for a few weeks or months, the change in behavior required to cause even a ripple in the market and create product/solution adoption may not occur in the same time frame (in fact, I’m sure with new markets it will not). It will not even show signs of changing.

But, this is not an argument against doing the quick and dirty market check. What it will show you, in fact, is what you are really up against and it might even point you in the direction of incorporating some changes in the product. The answer to big ground-level changes does not really lie in only figuring out a “business model” or writing a “business plan” . It is in the vision that this change can happen or is required to happen for the world to be a better place. Don’t get me wrong, it is important to figure out how to build something tangible and repeatable for sure but it is also important not to get discouraged while doing so and hence vision is important. I hope people don’t start shelving their plans because nothing moved in the market based on their quick and dirty market check. I agree, it shakes you, quite a bit and it should. Like Steve Blank says, “No business model survives first contact with customers” . But, if you have the right vision and you are solving the right problem, keeping an eye on the market and an ear close to the ground will help you see it through.

Why Indian VCs should blog actively?

As I was planning to attend the Tie-ISB Connect this year, I decided to look up the various panelists online to understand who I would be meeting. I found most of them on LinkedIn, great! But, I found that most of them did not blog. I think it is a loss to the Indian startup community and probably, to the VC community too! Here’s why I think so…

1. VC-thinking process – way before an entrepreneur starts to create pitch-decks, they are looking at who to pitch, how to pitch, what is the right etiquette and more often than not, who is interested in the same domain as where they are starting up. Basically, they are looking for the “inside scoop” on what VCs think is a good pitch and what kind of team composition is apporpriate and so on…The VC websites only show up the “finished goods” – someone here got $$$ and someone there got more $$$ as funding. How, what, where and more importantly, why not – are good insights can more easily be shared on personal blogs (to whatever extent possible!)

2. Know-thy-VC – This is an oft-repeated theme at most startup meets and what better medium than the blog to get to know someone before you commit to take the funding? I’m assuming not everyone has a direct face to face access to the VCs while mulling their startup venture. (Also, reading a blog is not a substitute to reaching out, networking and knowing someone in person, it is just a first step) Over time, you can get to know what they are thinking, why and how they make their decisions. This will be a wealth of information for the startups at one end, and on the other might act as a self-filtration mechanism based on who has or not done their homework during the process of reaching up to the VC!

3. Moving beyond the one-session intervention – A blog will extend the touch points of the VC for the wannabe entrepreneur community from the  “one-session” panel discussion or the hosted networking event to a stream of thoughts, active conversations via comments and rating systems. This will encourage more people to startup as it will begin a process of demystifying startup and investment process.

So, this post is a special shout out to the Indian VCs who already blog – Thank You, and to those who don’t, to start a “blog habit” and enrich us with their thoughts and insights.

Does an Entrepreneur need prior work experience?

I was asked this question by Suhani who is with YourStory.in. While, she will publish an excerpt of my interview with her I could not stop my thought process from rumbling on and most of that does end up in this space…so here goes (my take, the unabridged version…). Hope it triggers a good discussion and thought process on this.

The truth is, if you are asking yourself this question, you probably do need the experience. On the other hand, the young somethings that go startup on their own don’t ask themselves this question, they are the “doers” who go get things done. Occassionally, they might reflect on the sub-optimal use of their time/efforts due to lack of “proper” training/experience, but largely, that wouldn’t deter them from pursuing their entrepreneurial dream.

Now, defering your dreams to go get some corporate experience under your belt is not bad, if you are not using that as a bait to go down the least effort path. Instead keep your eye on the end goal and keep working towards it, relentlessly. What do I mean by relentlessly? Be on the lookout for potential partners and employees who can help you achieve those entrepreneurial (Gosh! I think they made this word hard on purpose) dream, try and get relevant experience in terms of implementation, marketing, sales, technical exposure, management – anything related to your idea(s) that will help you understand the market better (enough to uncover pain points, at least!) or understand the execution aspects better or make you better at hiring people, give you better networks to rely upon once you are on your own etc. etc…

Can you be really taught entrepreneurship? Short answer is – Yes, if you were to go out and build something on your own, you might end up hours trying to figure something out that with a good training might be a cakewalk. However, Do you need prior experience before taking the plunge? Hell, No! Look at what the young entrepreneurs of the world ranging from Gates, Jobs, Yang/Filo, Bezos, Dell, Brin/Page, Zuckerberg etc. etc. have achieved. While, it might teach you how worthwhile your cause is and how underutilized you are in your job at spur you towards taking the plunge, for others it might build a comfort zone or a cushion beyond which their dreams might cease to exist.  In fact, they might even get loaded with the “large corporate” baggage so much so that they when it comes to it, they can’t operate in a startup anymore!

So, the question remains – is MBA an answer, then? Can one learn to become an entrepreneur at an MBA school. My take on that is – No. As much as a manager needs to grasp a lot of theory to get on top of the world’s learnings on management, each company, each entrepreneur is different, how they learn and what they want to learn is different. No standard school curriculum can teach you that. At best, it can help you with resources, mentorship and networks (which is great, by the way and still rare to get all the three together in one place at the same time). So, what do you do? The only way you can learn entrepreneurship is by doing it and if you can attempt it on your own through your own networks and building your own safety net, great! Else, incubators are the place to be for you…

All the best and hope it helped answer the questions of at least some of you and do ping with your share of stories…looking forward to hearing from all of you!

Tie-ISB Connect 2009 – Part 1:Incubators

I attended the Tie-ISB Connect 2009 this year and to say the least, it was one of the most inspiring sessions I have attended in the recent past. Let me go over some of the highlights for those of you who missed and for the rest of us to keep pointers in mind, as we move on…(with the “rodent-sized memory” of ours – courtesy Siddharth of Rang De Basanti fame, during the panel discussion on Taking India Forward)

I will cover Incubators in this session. This was the first panel on JumpStart that was organized by Sanjoy Sanyal and had as panelists Nandini Vaidyanathan (Founder ForStartups), Sunil Maheshwari (Founder Mango Technologies) and Deepam Mishra (i2 India Ventures). All the three had incubators in common, where Nandini helps setup & run incubators in Engineering Colleges, Sunil was incubated in IIM-B and Deepam is trying to commercialize the technology present in our top-notch IIT labs.

The broad takeaways from startup perspective were –

1. Be ready to fail

2. Focus, Focus, Focus

3. Think big, thing different, think you – when you are solving a problem

4. And, last not the least, realize that incubators are good for money and the relationships  – everything else you need to do on your own.

Nandini went on to describe the ideal incubator as one that believes, funds, mentors and bridges (helps with networks) but the fact that no incubator perfectly does all of these shows that there is a lot of room for improvement. At the same time, her own efforst in this area and increasing awareness to spur entrepreneurship in the community has helped create incubators in engineering colleges that can help young startups attain success. You can read more about these efforst at her blog.

Next few sessions were around funding, growth, partnerships, next 800 Million Opportunities and taking India forward…that I shall cover in the next few parts of this blog series. In the meanwhile, please feel free to share your experiences, if you are looking to engage with incubators, please feel free to ping me.

PS: There is a 5 -day workshop on entrepreneurship being held from Nov 16-20th 2009 in PES School of Engineering by Prof Nandini Vaidyanathan and interested people should register before Nov 5th 2009.  Knowing Nandini, I would strongly urge anyone interested in entrepreneurship and startups to register and gain from the experience.


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