Spiral - vicious/virtuous

Salaries are going crazy in Bangalore. Its the best time to be a freshie/early years employee, and a pretty tough one to be an entrepreneur :) Of course, this is hardly an across the board trend, but you end up competing for the thin slice of the market which the top small MNC outfits and startups are looking at, and you'd want to pay market rates, obviously.

The scary thing is this is getting close to (practically) dollar salaries, and that cannot be easy for guys like Infy and Wipro. I'm sure they would like top flight talent too, with the same apetite for growth, risk as those Google and Amazon and Adobe etc are seeking (not to mention startups), yet cannot afford to pay way above what the average employee makes for the company!

Is this the beginning of the shakeout ? People have been predicting that the salary spiral will render the cost differentials useless, and then its the question of managing a remote team, however good, vs local ones.

The only ways to beat that it
  • have products/development owned completely out of here or such that the interaction needed is low- essentially higher end work
  • serve the domestic market - its got to start being a larger pie.
The whole 'operating at US cost/salary structures in India' cannot be too healthy for any of the parties in the medium term. A year of two of partying, however, in in full swing for a few...

So many VCs Indian ?

If Scott Adams has noticed this, theres something to it....

Out of the blue(s)

Alrite. Just when we were starting to wonder if there's anyone out there with a little bit of go-get and risk taking to match it, in came someone we'd been wanting to call up tentatively for a while, with a 'when can I get started!?'
While its not a done deal yet and a little mulling-over-in-the-head is in order, its an extremely pleasant and sudden surprise. A couple of more people decide to make the move - and we're all set for year one! Might even not need funding for some time ;) tho thats a stretch.
All is well with the world today (despite the rain and my sinus pain) and on and on we go....

This is now confirmed. Got a mail today confirming her intent to go-ahead! Gowri (ex-colleague from Oracle) has resigned from her position at Trilogy and ready to step into the great unknown :) ) She's a terrific techie and we'll finally need to start using CVS like its meant to be - branches n all. She also kept saying 'so we need to ...' in the context of Ziva even as we were chatting with her about the move, so the sense of ownership comes pre-packaged in this case :)

Welcome Gowri, we've got a lot of exciting mobile searching ahead !

Why startouts need startups ?

This is from another conversation with someone at a premier institute in Bangalore. I asked this guy to help me out with referrals of batchmates/seniors for working with us and this is a discussion about the same:

(09:16:53)(someone): it's very good for students here. most of them take sucky jobs in large corporations. this is a very good oppurtunity for them to do something neat.
(09:17:28) Sameer: Thats true. I guess we should push that as a selling point.
(09:17:43) Sameer: Esp for internship - sometimes ppl really waste time in big places.
(09:17:57) (someone) yep
(09:18:18) (someone) even me tryin to get people accept the idea.
(09:18:44) Sameer: kewl. and the more ppl that see startups, the more the acceptance will be
(09:19:09) (someone) yep
(09:19:15) Sameer: the 'comfort zone' of big brandname workplaces needs to be disturbed a little, given a gr8 job mkt the 'security' angle is needless.

This brings out a couple of rather important problems to solve to create a startup/entrepreneur culture - the lure and safety of big brands and the need of a college grad to 'establish' him/herself. Most people will not take a 'risk' blindly. Once there is visibility of efforts backed by real money (and 'failing' is not a dirty word - if one has worked at a good plan, put in effort into execution) the stigma should start to diminish. Some cash in hand is a very big one at that stage in life.

But the biggest difference that startups can make it to the quality of projects/work that people take on as part of their internship or early career. While its not always true and generalizations are just that - I have seen a lot of interns essentially do low end grunt work which not many others in the project team might have really wanted to do themselves. Later, you expect the same guys to graduate and be almost immediately useful to you! Unfair. Its similar, to a lesser extent though, for 'fresh' employees. Startups cannot afford this (again, by and large true tho not a given) and may be a great rapid-growth-engine for grads. The exposure to multiple aspects of developing and selling a product, from requirements (straight from the customer) to the pitch for sales, the support for sales demos are hardly possible in a larger setup.

The flip side is that unless one is reasonably sure of what one wants to do, there is a risk of being a little narrowly focussed too early in life. However, this may happen in large corporations too, if you're stuck in a team. So a job switch if it really sucks is on anyway...

Notes : startup 101

The journey so far has taught me these:

  • Techies like big pathbreaking ideas. The customer wants the next risk-minimized money-making/saving product. The former needs to become V2 if the market is at the latter.
  • Your competition is
    • compnaies like yours (similar product/market niche)
    • companies who dont like you - essentially people who will benefit if your kind of product/provider did not exist at all. They may be big, muscled.
  • VCs will sometimes contradict themselves, sometimes each other. If the market tells you otherwise, the market is right. Stand firm.
  • 'My own company' has fifty different definitions. Everyones reason to 'do a startup' is different, and everyone is right. You just should have a reason you believe in as you start.
  • 'Growth' is a hydra-headed monster. One head grows too slow and the monster stumbles. The 'hiring' head is one to nurture/watch out for.
  • Money might not be *that* big a deal - still unsure of this one but sometimes want to believe it. Of course, scaling needs cash.
  • Speed/energy are often less important than clarity of thought, action. The former follow with the latter in place.
  • Nothing teaches as much as a mistake. Really. Seriously. (I know you've heard this but its not embedded in your head till you make that mistake :) )
  • Mood swings happen to more than PMS affected individuals :) Startups are a hotbed for rapid changes between elation/pessimism.
  • There are a gazillion RSS feed readers, and all suck.
  • How to set up a CVS server, BugZilla.
  • How to use the right words to describe what you do and yet retain IP.
  • Repetitive Stress Injury is always minor to start with - but does not go away even in that form.
  • 5-9am is my best time of day.
  • Reducing commute stress is a HUGE boost to productivity.
  • Rs 4/- coffee is way more than 1/10th as good as that which costs Rs 40/-
  • Risk taking takes off when people see a hope of the risk being backed up by investors (ok this needs a separate post by itself). So cash is king when hiring.
  • 'Doing nothing' for a month x 2 people is 3k plus of 512kbps downloads !!
  • Messenger is a way better networking tool than LinkedIn
  • GPRS speeds suck. I personally do not have the patience for those - and I'm not even gen-x
  • You generally have no clue to 'other worlds' out there ready to spend on what might seem strange things to spend money on to you :) But thats your market!
  • Like at home, keeping accounts is the last thing that gets going. And one of the most important ones.
  • If eveyone uses OpenOffice, MS-Office is NOT a standard that many tout it to be.
  • gmail rocks (even to set up ur own smtp server, effectively)
  • Naming conventions are a no brainer to believe in, uncool to talk about, diversionary/contentious to discuss, extremely difficult to remember and adhere to, and downright painful to get back to (and yes, you NEED to) once you've strayed.
  • Dev with 2 engineers is 5x as tough (operationally, not engineering-wise) as 1, and this goes on till I guess about 5-7. After that it stabilizes (hopefully)....

Watch this space :)

Resource, "Early Stage" funding

VC-Circle keeps an eye on all things VC in India. On early-stage funding too, and thats invaluable! Of course, early stage is a rather subjective term.

Ajay's day at IIM B yesterday was a bit of a damp squib. Yes he did get some intros done but we could have managed that with much lesser time invested into it.

Another story that emerged out of the day was that VCs accept they are looking at being growth engines - and expect early stage investors to kickstart ventures. Some VCs talk of $2 mill in revenues before they can come in! Obviously, for enough people to take their ideas to market, they need to see an active angel community backing at least a few horses. Thats probably the weaker (though not missing) link in the Indian ecosystem.

VentureWoods - India focussed venture community blog

Take a peek at a good mapping idea for India at VentureWoods - this is a good blog to watch - especially since its quite India focussed. There's also a healthy debate amongst the various contributors. Non venture guys are free to comment too :)

Ziva is Hiring

Ziva is the first (and probably only for a while) mobile search provider in India.

We're early stage at this point and within a few short months have already had good traction in terms of customers and leads. To be able to respond to the demand we see in the market it is imperative that we scale rapidly. Obviously we cannot do this without people who share our vision and can help us evolve the vision and take it forward.

At Ziva you will have the opportunity to define and work on a product which changes the way customers perceive search from mobile handsets. We're a young and energetic company, and you will be required to take ownership of various aspects of the product as well closely be involved in customer relationships and requirements.

Of course, sharp and agile thinking with out of the box design ability is the most critical strength we seek in people we work with.

Please feel free to check out zivasearch.com for a brief introduction, or just send us a mail at careers -a-t- zivasearch.com. We'll be glad to talk to you.

Entrepreneurship - what is it ?

What is it, really ? Owning a company ? No, the VC usually does. The idea ? Well no ONE person can really lay a claim to it - it evolves during the early days and then as dictated by the market. Leading people ? U can do that - probably more so - at a largish MNC - without the heartburn.

So what is it ? I think its what the large companies find tough to promote - true 'ownership'. Not stock, not 'proposing something completely radical all by urself', but being responsible in a non-appraisal-dependent kind of way for what you make, sell and deliver. In a way that the rewards are not the monthly paycheque but the bigger picture of what can happen if the market goes gaga over your product, and the kick you get out of doing it. Its the sense of adventure of traversing through a minefield where many paths look attractive but you have to develop some instinct and be a bit lucky to go down one of the better ones. Its not unlike our single-bike trip to Ladakh :)

You realize the true meaning of well-known phrases like teamwork, "creating value for the customer". You figure out the right marketing spin. And the value of CVS, backups and naming conventions. Nothing is thrust upon you, but 'discovered' during the journey. The 3 short months of full-time entrepreneurship have been more than an MBA education for me already. The year is going to be a revelation, I'm sure!

Too many people I've spoken to restrict their vision to 'my own company' which may not necessarily exist. This is abortive and prevents many from being entrepreneurs at least to some extent.

About Ziva

Ajay started on this idea almost a year ago - and after months of churn I joined him in August.
We're rapidly making progress and grappling with problems of scale, finance and getting formally operational - and its been good fun so far.
The mobile search space is nascent and whoever might become a customer is just about getting funded around now, with ideas which range from slight cruder to equally smart. I guess were we in the Bay we'd have gotten funded already - but then the Indian mobile scene is where all the action is!