May 30, 2008

34 rules for Maverick Entrepreneurs

Few days back, I received an email from one of my LinkedIn contact's Mr. Wayne Mansfield.The email was about an article, in which his friend Yanik Silver has shared his experience about a meeting with the great Mr. Richard Branson has shared his mantra for Entrepreneurs called "34 Rules for Maverick Entrepreneurs".

This article was earlier titled "Richard Branson's rules for Entrepreneurs" which is now changed to "34 rules for Maverick Entrepreneurs". It was due to a minor error from my side sad

Out of the 34 rules, below are my favorite ones:
  1. It's got to be a BIG idea that you, your team and your customers can "get" in seconds.
  2. Strive to create 10x - 100x in value for any price you charge. Your rewards are always proportionate to the value you provide.
  3. Provide a 'Reason Why' customers should do business with you and pay you a premium.
  4. You get to make the rules for your business. Don't let industry norms dictate how you'll work or who you'll work with.
  5. Create your business around your life instead of settling for your life around your business.
  6. Consistently and constantly force yourself to focus on the 'critically few' proactive activities that produce exponential results.
  7. Find partners and team members who are strong where you are weak and appreciate being paid on results.
  8. Bootstrap. Having too much capital leads to incredible waste and doing things using conventional means.
  9. Keep asking the right questions to come up with innovative solutions. “How?”, “What?”, “Where?”, “Who Else?” & “Why?” open up possibilities.
  10. Focus most of your time on your core strengths and less time working in areas you suck at.
  11. Always have something else to sell (via up-sell, cross-sell, follow-up offer, etc) whenever a transaction takes place. The hottest buyer in the world is one who just gave you money.
  12. Always go back to your existing customers with exceptional offers and reasons they should give you more money. It’s 5x less expensive to sell to happy customers than go find new ones.
  13. However the flip side is - fire your most annoying customers. They’ll be replaced with the right ones.
  14. Develop and build your business’s personality that stands out. People want to buy from people.
  15. Mastermind and collaborate with other smart entrepreneurs if they have futures that are even bigger than their present.
  16. Make your business AND doing business with you FUN!
  17. Do the unexpected before and after anything goes wrong so customers are compelled to ‘share your story’
  18. Get a life! Business and making money are important but your life is the sum total of your experiences. Go out and create experiences & adventures so you can come back renewed and inspired for your next big thing.
You can read all the 34 rules here. Thanks Wayne for sharing the same with us smile

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May 28, 2008

Blog at 95: Blogger's Pride, Non Blogger's Envy....

In the recent past, many celebrities including Indian celebrities namely Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan and off late even Salman Khan [& many others] have started blogging biggrin

They have made great use of this potential tool , not only to get more media attention [as if they need much more of it wink] but also to build their credibility online and earn great money.Not to forget, it helps them become more popular in countries where Bollywood has not penetrated to the fullest !!!

Just happened to check out Aamir Khan's blog and was aghast to see the number of comments [close to 8K per article], as if Aamir Khan cares so much of his audience wink But there was one news today in Silicon India, which made me write this article.The article is on Mr. Randall Butisingh who has started blogging at the age of 95[It is not a typo lol] and is one of the world's oldest blogger.A small excerpt from the article:

[ I and He refers to Mr. Butisingh ]
"I am a learner. I believe that when one stops learning he ceases to live and that it is never too late to learn," Butisingh said.

At the age of 80, he learnt Arabic so he could read the Quran. At 95, he began studying Spanish and he is doing it "poco a poco" (little by little). Butisingh has an agile mind and an eager interest in life and at present he is studying the Hindu religion and philosophy.

He responds to every comment or response to his popular blog.

Explaining his daily routine, Butisingh said: "At my age, I do not work strictly as per routine. I cannot read for very long although I have good eyesight. You may find me in the day resting for hours and at nights up until two or three reading or typing up my blog.
"We live in deeds, not years. Living long has meaning if one can redeem oneself with the time given. It is never too late to learn - youth is an attitude, not number of years. The soul never grows old."
You can find the complete article[a must read] here and Mr. Butisingh's blog here [Nice to see a Page Rank of 6 for this blog] .IMHO, he is the real hero of the Blogosphere , who definitely deserves a standing ovation !!!! This is definitely a proud moment for the entire blogging community and also a message to the Non-bloggers to start blogging rolleyes .... Long live Mr. Butisingh !!!!

Article Credits:

1. Title Courtesy:
Inspiration from Onida's punch line "Neighbour's envy, Owner's pride"
2. Image Courtesy:
Cartoon Stock

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May 26, 2008

Myth-Web around Indian Startups

Whenever there is a discussion around startups, you would find all the jargons around it like:

1. Great Idea.
2. Great Team.
3. Bootstrapping / Venture Funding.
4. Time to market.
5. Potential customers.
6. Marketing and ...............

As I have mentioned in the previous article, IMHO execution would always be the key; whether you are a startup guy or work for a startup.Also,when we think about Startups, the first comparison that always comes to our mind is The Silicon Valley, but many times, we tend to forget that Indian Entrepreneurial Ecosystem is different from that in the US.May be it would still be many years when a college dropout like Mark Zuckerberg or a whiz-kid like Anshul Samar of Elementio would be accepted in our ecosystem.

In this article, I would like to focus on the Cobweb of Myths[termed Myth-Web] around Indian Startups , which when dusted off, may lead to a better ecosystem.

The views in this article are my personal views and it would be nice, if someone corrects me wherever required neutral.

1. Ecosystem = IIT(s) / IIM(s)
There is no point in mentioning how much impression premier institutions like Indian Institute Of Technology[IIT] or Indian Institute of Management[IIM] bring in our minds. For sure, they bring the best of the minds together under one roof, but Startups are not only restrained to them.In fact, an attempt should be made to take the IIT culture to the normal colleges(like mine) so, that there is an entrepreneurial ecosystem developed there as well.We need to get rid of the pre-made impression that "Entrepreneurs can only come from IIT's". IMHO, if we limit ourselves to only premier institutions, we won't be able to find our future Mark(s) or Anshul(s) sad

2. Venture Funding = Success
Funding always holds a major aspect for any startup but many times, people feel that - More the funding, more successful is the Startup.Dharmesh Shah of HubSpot has a very nice article on the same when His Startup raised $12 million in series B funding.
Money is always important in any business and each one of us understand the same but that alone does not materialize into success.This is an impression that is prevelant everywhere and hence, Hubspot[though not an Indian startup] was taken as an example.

3. Media = Success
With media not only restrained to mass media, so called Media Coverage has become somewhat simpler. Media may be coverage on blogs, websites ... But there is always a downside to the coverage in the media.Many startups(may not mention the name here) try to be in the news(in Magazines and other media) and this coverage is many times wrongly treated as Success .And it becomes difficult to digest this success.
With Web 2.0, media(except print media) has completely changed so, "Being in the media at the right time may lead to wonders else things may crumble" sad

4. Startups can be built in isolation
Why Bangalore is so famous in India is because it has a Brand Image attached to it and the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem is by far the best in India.But it is not the same elsewhere.Many of us forget that the Ecosystem is a crucial factor in any startup and to bring a change , we need to be a part of that ecosystem.
I have spoken to few entrepreneurs from other cities(apart from Mumbai / Chennai / other metros) and the importance of Ecosystem is not yet penetrated there....Startups need all the support they can and hence, they can be built in isolation for some period [after which they have to join the change to make the change].

5. Why should I attend Unconferences?
This is just from a small conversation which I had with a friend of mine who works in a startup.The founder of that startup was very active at Unconferences like BarCamp, BlogCamp, etc ..... until one day they got funded.I asked my friend that your CEO is no longer seen in unconferences and the answer was : "We got angel funded and hence, he does not feel a need to come to Unconferences".The answer was shocking
IMHO, Unconferences is the most prospective place where you can find your cofounder/prospective employees or even a new idea for a venture.Though this incident was personal, Unconference is one place which may work wonders for your startup since, it has been instrumental in shaping up my career wink.

If you can think of some more points , do leave them in the comments section and I would be grateful to add them with the article.

Reader's Contribution:
Alok Padhi - An inspiring story of a A waiter who would be an IAS Officer

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May 21, 2008

DEAD END for startups

Last few days, have been quite busy for me w.r.t Travel & Work and hence, could not blog for a very long time sad. Last weekend, I was at an Unconference named IdeaCamp in Pune [about which I would blog later]; where I met a friend of mine, who had an interesting Web 2.0 idea.He explained me about the concept and everything was fine until when he said "The big guys would definitely have a tough time and would face a big competition from me !!!!". This statement made things look so simple like "You have an idea, you execute it [without any problems] and you have a great market share lol", but things are not always as easy as he mentioned during the conversation.There are so many uncalculated things that come during the phase of execution that may make a GREAT idea AVERAGE or an AVERAGE idea GREAT !!!

This was the best time to write an article on "Things that may break a Startup", which was featured in the DARE magazine.It is one the most practical article's, I have come across and hence, I thought of penning down the same on my blog [which would serve as a checklist for me as well for others who might have missed the article !!!].

The credit of this article goes to DARE magazine and below are some of the most important points from the article.

1. Your IDEA is STOLEN
Virtually, all the entrepreneurs believe that their idea is path breaking and it would take very less time for someone to steal their idea[if it is been discussed in public].Though this might be true[in some cases] but it is one of the biggest misnomers about entrepreneurship.Assume that you keep your idea trade secret and after few months, come out with your product or service.How much time would it take for a competitor to come up with a better product; learning from the mistakes you made or some of the loopholes that were left in your product, which may lead to another better product idea.If your product is hot, how much time would it take for China to mass-produce it? The first mover advantage does not always work the way it has been advertised.
Who came up with the idea of portable music player[PMP] ? And who made the most money out off portable music players ? One of the last entrants in the field : Apple.Who came up with the first cellphone? Motorola.Who is the lord of the cellphone business? Nokia.

It is not always the idea, but the execution that makes the difference.Being a first mover is not always the best.Learning from others who went before you helps.

2. You got it WRONG
You start off with a wonderful idea and after lot of hard work, realize that the things did not work as per the plan.The limitations could be simple, like you are not able to get the components of the exact precision that you wanted or you make a basic blunder in your calculations or assumptions that were revealed in the later stages. There could be market readiness issues or limitations in the delivery mechanisms.What is the way out to this problem - Stringent and frequent reality checks. At the concept stage, do not make sweeping assumptions.Get the basic figures of market size, technology availability and costs right within reasonable limits[+- 15 to 20%].Cross check these numbers thoroughly and recheck them FREQUENTLY. If your business has come about as a result of some market feedback for example from a market survey, recheck to ensure that the sampling and the interpretation is correct.

3. Takes LONGER than PLANNED
This happens due to the following reasons:
  1. The complexities were not very well understood in the beginning.
  2. A bigger problem is when the founders fall in love with the product and fiddle around for ages to make one cool feature or trying to make it prefect.
To manage the first problem, budget for more time than you think it will take.Many successful entrepreneurs say that it would be wise to budget for anywhere from 25 to 50% more time than you expected, depending on the scope and complexity.The second one is more difficult to get rid off.Do not fall in love with your idea[though it is easier said than done], forgetting the passage of time even as we make the most minor changes to it.Taking learning from Gmail, which is there in beta from 2004 onwards.The way to handle this is to break down your project into clear activities and milestones and work out how much slack you can afford to take at each point.Having some [co-founder or even an employee] sound an alarm bell on slippages is also a good idea idea

This is a very common problem that is unique to the software industry.But it can happen in various other industries also, where the competitor reduces prices to rock bottom just before you launch.This is the most toughest one to handle and the only solution being to cut your losses immediately and move to Plan-B [if you have one].

There are very few businesses where a one-man show can pull along and grow for long , which are either in the show business or in sports.If you are not an ace actor or a sportsman, you will need a team that will help you to achieve your goals and grow big.One man shows collapse from sheer exhaustion.
Another version of the one-man show is where the team is kept too small , because the founder does not want to give up control or because of fears of quality being compromised. While this does not lead to the business closing down, it does limit its ability to scale.

This is one of the most deadliest reasons of all. You have all things in place like your idea, business plan, development team but the only problem is that your top team can't get along.Too many ego clashes, too many instances of my-way-or-the-highway !!! Some differences of opinion are bound to happen and an occasional debate is not a bad thing, as long as you can put all that behind and get back to work.But if these get too frequent, than it is better to part ways than to continue.A clear exit plan is a good thing to have as your agreement.
Worst of them all is when the LEADER himself/herself is responsible for all the troubles,which if not corrected may lead to very serious problems[including closing down] in future.

7. CAN'T AFFORD key skills
You need a specific skill without which your offering is incomplete and that particular skill is not available to you or is too costly to afford.Depending on how critical the skill you are looking for is, and how the demand for that skill in the market is, you need to offer a challenging deal to the candidate. In most of the cases, the right combination of Money and Challenge[in work] would do the trick.

8. MARKETS do NOT accept your PRODUCT
All the things are in place and you are out with your product, but what if the market is not willing to accept your idea. Many startups fail because they have no relevance to the market.Another reason is that they are too overpriced for the market to bear.
It is always advisable to adapt to the market realities and to create a product which is well-inline with the market requirements.Cost effective methodologies for market research like Dipstick Surveys can be effectively used by startups.

Market and technology changes are a part of the business cycle and like any other business, you need to change your business to be able to survive and prosper.BPO Business took over most of the Medical Transcription businesses.The revolutionary PC completely drove the typewriter out of business.
Those who change with the times survive and prosper, those who don't , become a footnote to history sad

10. MONEY RUNS out
Most of the startups are conservative in estimating the costs and get too aggressive on income figures due to which, money runs out.Making a good business plan is not a one time activity.As the business environment changes and as you get good understanding of the business, change the business plan[at least for yourself].
Another reason could be a slump in the economy which stops the inflow of money.The solution is to have a realistic plan in place and making it more & more mature as your business gains maturity.

What happens when the leader himself/herself looses the way and gives up.If you fall in the category of startups that cannot make it big, there is no need to loose heart. Try again exclaim

I hope that you gained lot of insights from this article, just as I did. Thanks DARE for such a wonderful article, which is an eye opener for all the startups !!!

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May 11, 2008

Entrepreneurial Mantra - Don't QUIT

Recently, I was on an official visit to Ahmedabad where I stayed at my friend's place.He is a budding entrepreneur and one of the things which caught my attention, was posters which were stuck in his house biggrin They were motivational posters and the theme was "Quitting" and "Failure", just as they were motivational for him [as well as me];I just thought to have the same on my blog :

Don't Quit [The Mantra]

Don't Quit , when the tide is lowest,
For it's about to turn;
Don't quit over doubts and questions,
For there's something you may learn.

Don't quit when the night is darkest,
For it's just a while until dawn;
Don't quit when you've run the farthest
For the race is almost won.

Don't quit when the hill is steepest,
For your goal is almost nigh;
Don't quit until you are not a failure,
Until you fail to try.

Success [The Mantra]

Just because
something is

does not mean you shouldn't

It means you
should just try

Quite interesting and motivating .... May be, this may sound a bit philosophical but this is what keeps the Entrepreneurial spirit ticking biggrin

Reader Contribution:
1. If you have trouble succeeding , Fail [Kent Beck] - Bhasker V Kode, CTO of Hover
When the going gets tough, the tough gets going - Vaibhav Pandey

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May 9, 2008

Legal Compliance for a Startup - Part I

Being in a startup, we have come to know that along with day to day technical, marketing and other difficulties, Legal Aspects are so very important. Today, we have a guest article by Gaurav Singhal , Non Executive Director of Siddhast Intellectual Property Innovations Pvt Ltd, a company specializing in providing services in IP Consultancy, Strategy and Legal Consultancy.More details about Gaurav can be found here.So, let's start off with the article !!!

It’s a vast topic to be covered in few lines. When we move towards the naming of the venture, from that day by itself Law comes into existence, as one needs to get it registered; so that (s)he can get some exclusivity for that name and further that could help him to distinguish his company from other’s.

Let us integrate each step about how an entrepreneur should take when (s)he just thinks of starting out of his/her venture; to the level when (s)he institutes his/her venture with the Legal purview.

In this article, we would touch upon legal aspects from the stage of Idea generation to Incorporation[Pre-Funding stage].

Some of the basic elements to remember are:

Your Idea may not be YOUR idea :
One fine day, you get a nice idea and write it on a piece of paper.Here comes the Intellectual Property law, particularly Copyright law in particular. A person as (s)he writes also gets a copyright over it. But (s)he needs to get it in the shape, so that it can be used in the legal transactions and documentation as well. So, (s)he should get it copyrighted from the Registrar of Copyright. The idea need not be too abstract but it should have some specific representation.

Form a team to work out :
Get into agreement with all the team members clearly stating the purpose of the agreement and what would be the Initial share percentage if the venture works out. Try to get every liability right on paper, which would make the work smooth and well going.

Draft a Business Plan :
In drafting the business plan, one of the most important component is that it should be according to the law of the land where you are instituting your venture. The various time Lines should also to be included for that purpose. Even every small decision could be struck by the Legal structure, like if there are low prices of land and Tax Holidays in N-E but the labor laws are too tight for your industry then you can’t choose it. Or if the basic manufacturing of the product of your future venture is barred by the regional law or the Environmental laws then again, you would be debarred to practice it.

Disclosure of Business Plan :
Whenever you are disclosing the plan to anybody please get a Non Disclosure Agreement signed; otherwise it would be like throwing your idea in front of dogs to bite off cry.

Getting Funded :
Here it is important to decide whether you are going to get the fund from Bank or Venture Capitalist[VC] or some small investors. Every thing should be crystal clear in the Funding Agreement. Even a person should check out , if there has been any funding agency which is giving some special rebates for a particular industry in Legal Compliance w.r.t Environmental aspects or other financial law, taxation law or any other legal machinery.

Thanks Gaurav for all the insights and I hope you enjoyed reading the article, just like me biggrin This article would be followed by another article, which would focus on the other legal compliances ,to be kept in mind after the Post-Funding stage.

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May 3, 2008

Lessons from the "Hare and Tortoise" story

All of us know the phrase "Slow and Steady wins the race", but most of the times,the reverse holds true especially in business[First Mover advantage].Apple entered the Portable Player Bandwagon very late yet, it still rules the market with it's revolutionary iPod [Slow may sometimes be the most Steady smile].

Teams have become important rather than individual performers and the same is shown in the improvised version of the "Hare and Tortoise" story shown below[must read for anyone in the corporate or a business environment] :

As shown in the presentation, some of the key learnings from the "Hare and Tortoise" story are:
  • Never give up when faced with failure.
  • Fast and consistent would always beat the slow and steady [but may not always be true].
  • Work to your competencies.
  • Compete against a situation , not against a rival smile.
  • Team work always creates wonders than individual performers.

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May 1, 2008

IdeaCamp : Ideate, Innovate and Implement.....

After BlogCamp,Mumbai, now is the time for some Ideation workshop in it's nearby city - Pune.

What is IdeaCamp?
IdeaCamp is a BarCamp styled Unconference catering to the discussion of ideas and doubts[and issues] revolving around ideas [it's birth, market validation, implementation etc.].As stated on IdeaCamp Wiki, below is the aim of IdeaCamp :
Often our ideas remain ideas and we are not sure whom to discuss them with. You may have a great idea, but the real challenge lays in finding its appropriate application. Cohesive and divergent thinking is what is required to build ideas from scratch to working prototypes. In the process we need to discuss with people from different walks of life to identify how our ideas can make a difference in their lives. Can our ideas make money for anyone?

When and where is it held?
Persistent Systems Ltd. [Senapati Bapat road] ;10th May,2008 17th May,2008

Important Links for IdeaCamp:
Registration : IdeaCamp Wiki
Blog : IdeaCamp Blog
Google Group : Group Home Page

I would be there at the Unconference and it would be great to meet you guys there biggrin

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