Archive for the 'ISB' Category

Tie-ISB Connect 2009 – Part 3: Taking India Forward and The Next 800 Million

I apologize for delaying this part of the post. This will be my last post in this series and I shall cover two panel discussions. Taking India Forward and the Next 800 Million Opportunity. I chose to club the two for the simple reason that they are, in my mind, related. You cannot take India forward without moving the next 800Million through opportunities and choices.

The panel consisted of Jayaprakash Narayan (Thought Leader, Speaker Par Excellence and Politician), Reuben Abraham (Exec Director and Asst Prof, Centre for Emerging Markets, ISB), Madhukar CV (Director PRS Legislative Services) and Siddharth (Actor, Rang De Basanti-fame). It was moderated by Karuna Gopal (President Foundation of Futuristic Cities). All of them you can check up at their respective LinkedIn profiles that I’ve added to their names :). There was an interesting discussion around “urbanisation” and the sheer obliviousness to the fact that, at the current rate of urbanization, if we are not careful we will need 300-400 more cities in the next 10 years. Are we prepared?

Siddharth was the surprise package (and I’m adding a paragraph on his talk here by popular demand on my blog for his speech summary). He was not only a fluent speaker but also displayed great passion and lucid thinking along with a no nonsense approach to the subject. He vociferously vouched against three things in India – our “rodent-like” memory to quickly forget the atrocities met to us, the habit of our media to sensationalize and the inability of a small fry in the system to stand up and make a difference due to the system. He cited personal examples of his visit to a CM to offer help for relief work and how he was shown the door without being allowed to utter so much as a word. His stance of, “If I as a celebrity could not make things happen, what can a small fry do to help even if he wants to. Moreover, why would he want to?”, had quite a few feathers ruffled.

In the Next 800 Million opportunity, the discussion was mainly around the issues and challenges faced by the markets and marketeers alike. Panel consisted of Sarath Naru (Venture East), Dr. Ashwin Naik (Vaatsalya Healthcare), Sandeep Farias (Elevar Equity), Manish Khera (Fino), PN Vasudevan (Finance India Ltd), Harish Moily (MYA) and MR Rao (SKS Microfinance). The panel was co-chaired by Vishal Vasishth (SONG Advisors) and S Sivakumar (ITC Agro). The best part was when the discussion centred around the fact that the rural people paid much more for a poorer quality of service they received across board! And, I couldn’t help compare the “so-called” Indian upper middle-class or “wealthy” section and the service they received vs what is available outside India. I think there is a huge value and quality gap there and I can’t even begin to imagine the negative percolation that seeps across sectors in the different parts of India and what poor quality of service and product offerings are given for the same/higher value to the “have-nots”. Talk about the system being unfair and the playfield being levelled? I think we should stop reading books written (with sponsorships, of course!) by foriegners and start looking at our own backyard. We will be shocked at what we find or, rather, do not find!

As next steps, so that the discussion does not end here. I would like to help create channels online and offline so that these thoughts can be crystallized into tangible actions. Anyone game for it? Thoughts on what we can do? How we can take the ideas forward and make a concentrated effort to drive action? Pls reach out to me.

Tie-ISB 2009 – Part 2: Growth, Funding and Partnerships

This is the second part in the series on the Tie-ISB session and it covers growth, funding and partnerships. The panelists were Sundar Subramaniam (Cofounder, Dim Dim), Atul Phadnis (Founder, Whats on India) and Srinivas Pothapragada (Founder, Tidal Data).

Takeaways for entrepreneurs was:

1. Listen to your competitors’ customers very carefully 🙂 – don’t design features that you think is cool, design/make products/services that make the lives of the customers easier. In fact, one sure way to find out if that is the case is if they either pay upfront to get it developed or agree to pay on delivery. 

My take>> While, it is a good idea to listen to the customer, isn’t it easier when somebody has already developed the market through their efforts and now you are optimizing the pain points through your offerings. You can ask the customers what you like or dislike in a specific context very easily and much more objectively in a B2B than in a B2C market. Heck, your customers are so precisely defined that you know where to go hunt them. What if you are launching something revolutionary, innovative or game changing? Does it work that effectively if you were launching a completely new product or service in a market where the customers you might be tapping into a latent need? How do you ask the customers whether they want an iphone or a twitter, for that matter! Any insights? People who have done this inputs please?

2. Here comes the next point to the rescue – “Don’t solve a problem faster than a customer can create it”

My take>> An excellent food for thought and what can be a better example than Intel, here? They can go much faster down the innovation curve, but they stagger it and do incremental launches, giving people enough time to figure out problems that need to be solved, and lo, behold, there is Intel with the solution. However, I do think that, this tracking is easier done in the B2B market, like the previous point too, than in a B2C market. That is why we see many more failures like palm pilots in the B2C market. In the B2C domain, the intent to buy may or may not reflect a real need (for all you know, they might have been amusing you) and the nonchalance for an innovative concept, is not its death-knell either! Sometimes, if the cost economics work out, you just need to go out there and launch the product, right?

3. Ensure you are solving a large problem.

My take>> This is a repeated message from the last session too and you cannot overemphasize it. Find something that is big enough for you to solve and make space for competition. Counterintuitive, isn’t it? Who said competition was bad? In fact, if you are solving a big problem and you are in the right space at the right time, you will have tonnes of other people trying to solve it too and it just ensures that you are doing the right thing. Also, don’t forget, their pitches to partners, customers, VCs and all others – is “free market education” for you. Just know what you offer that is unique and different and strive on!

4. Know who your customers are and who are not – both of these are very important, it is all about being very clear about what market you are going after, whose pain points you are solving and spending your time and resources where it will get you the maximum returns!

My take>> I cannot say it better than Srinivas put it, “Sales in the beginning is closer to marketing and is like an art – in that phase founders themselves are playing most of the roles. But, in the later stages it becomes a science and it gives clear instructions on who a customer is, what pain points you are solving, where you stand vs a competitor and then it is about execution. If your sales person is not sure whether the person he is talking to is a customer or not, you are doing a bad job of targeting. If your sales person is coming back with repeated feedback about the product (assuming your product is solving someone’s problem in the first place) you are doing a bad job of marketing as a whole – so redo that piece and if required change strategy/the marketing manager. In the lattery stage, sales scaling is where your growth is and it is about repeatability, just like in science, if your sales person spends time thinking or on feedback, you are not having a very repeatable process, are you?”

5. When working on partnerships – for faster growth, industry knowledge/experience or access to markets – always let the relationships win

My take>> Actually, this is more of a question that I could not answer. Atul’s company works on Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) for the Indian TV media and he is bringing different kinds of content providers and channels on one platform, it is a tough job but the threat of one of these players wanting to take over what he is doing is not that large. What happens in a market where boundaries are less clearly established and people are integrating forward and backward? How do you work on the partnerships, develop trust and good working relationships. Any insights here?

6. Finally, the highlight of the session and the buzzword for the rest! “Startups are about figuring it out as you go along”

My take>> Well said! What can I really add to that? When you start, you think you know where you are going, but as you go along a lot of different forces pull you in many directions and it is in making those small and large decisions day in, day out, that you figure out what to do and how to do, to get where you are going and sometimes, even that is not fixed! A good team, goes at it together and that is why most VCs invest in a strong team. You can see here how Mark Suster (General Partner at GRP Partners) says that he invests in a team (70%) and the market space/idea (30%) about their investments in ad.ly.

Overall, great takeaways and lots of thought provoking content was put out in the session. I would love to know if you were there at the conference, what did you think of the points above? Did anything else stand out for you? If you were not, even better, do the points above resonate with you? Do you have examples to share? Looking forward to your comments!

Getting into ISB…

One of the parts of being an alum of an up and coming institute like ISB (the FT-20 ratings did the trick!) is that you get found and you get asked how to get in…I like to hear from people who have aspirations, who want to move on in life and I welcome every opportunity I can to interact with and talk to ISB aspirants. I was thinking the other day, is there a plan that I can lay down for people aspiring to be selected into ISB or is it a case by case scenario, each time? However, I did jot down a few things that came to my mind and here goes…

Have a plan

If you plan to do an MBA, there is no excuse to not having a plan. The plan might be rough, it might change and you might never end up implementing it. But do not cheat or lie to yourself to begin with, because you are just about to commit long ardous hours, your future and not to mention an enormous amount of money (especially in the case of ISB compared to the other B-schools in India). So spend sometime thinking about your goals and stretch your thinking beyond your issues with your boss or “just-want-to-get-out-of-here” syndrome…the place you want to get to might not be ISB and might not be with an MBA degree…

Differentiate Yourself

The essays you write, the work you do, what you are interested in should stand you apart. If people don’t notice you and you can’t point out one thing you are passionate about and want to do or currently do better than others, chances are that you might not get in. ISB gets tons of resumes from IT and engineering domain and likes to maintain diversity and if you are not diversified with respect to work experience or education, maybe one of your personal interested can stand you apart!

Spend Time Apart From Academics

This is not a fashion statement or get some social work experience on to my resume – kind of advice. Any MBA aspirant needs a well-rounded personality, which unfortunately our education does not hand down to you, you need to spend time in cultivating interests and habits outside of your regular academics that interest you sufficiently. The special interests you create and spend time on will not only help you differentiate yourself but also make you a well-rounded personality that an MBA school is looking for!

Check Your Urge To Deliver Accurate Engineering Results

If you have a penchant to deliver accurate engineering results and are not comfortable with vague problem definitions, high level strategy projects, driving sales for a company and working on problems that might not have immediate solutions, maybe you need to check your inclinations. MBA is a sure step towards doing something different, but what is the difference you want to create in your career that will make you richer, happier, satisfied or accomplished or whatever it is that you want to be? Don’t do something because everybody else does it and it seems like the most logical thing to do. Understand what you love doing and pursue the dream…

Start your own company

It is kind of strange…but no experience can teach you as much as doing something on your own…and the earlier in life you gain from such an experience, the better. There is no minimum age limit on this, startup on your own the earliest you can and if you are a roaring success, you can go to ISB to take a session on entrepreneurship, if you fail, you can leverage your experience to get an admission – either ways it is a win-win.

None of the above is mutually exclusive and most of it is over and above, get a good GMAT score and write good essays etc. I’m sure I have missed many others and would love to hear from people who would like to share their thoughts on this…


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