Posts Tagged 'incubators'

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 ūüôā¬†– 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!

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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  Рeverything 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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