Xtreme Startups @ IIM Bangalore

NSRCEL hosted Xtreme Startups - an event where entrepreneurs share experiences and discuss issues that could affect us all - last Sunday. It was a very candid, open discussion and fortunately, the discussion was much better than the usual level at which it ensues at BarCamps etc. Khaitan (representing MVP) did a great job of keeping a lively discussion going. He can also blow a whistle like he could in college!

The founders from Muziboo, LifeMojo and RedBus shared their diverse experiences - the great thing was that all three were as different from each other as possible:

Muziboo is done by a couple - Prateek and Nithya - working out of home over the last two years. They did little market research, but had a very strong sense of how online communities might work - and music was an area they thought would attract a passionate enough crowd and one which was a need not met online yet. They've done some consulting on the side (No end to end projects, low end stuff that keeps the cash flowing and lets them experiment with stuff they can then use on their site as well!), kept costs low, the team small and growth plans flexible enough to not need to go to a VC yet. They've tracked and cracked - through some trial, error and insights developed first-hand - a lot about what different segments of their traffic means in terms of value - what behaviour they want to encourage, and what will get their users to talk more about them. They seriously think SEOing, "buying CPCs" and beating your own drum about the product is best avoided early until such time as you attain critical mass, and its best to keep working on the product till it gets users to talk to others about it ("People try something when they hear about it from at least three others").

I loved the courage they've demonstrated to do things differently from the regular startup-VC-conveyor-belt approach. I liked the fact that understanding the market happened as a process (which is the real truth anyhow) and not as some upfront spreadsheet and search-engine derived wisdom. Their apparent willingness to experiment, learn, rinse, repeat and total honesty about it was heartening, and I think this will grow into a very successful business over time. They have a very healthy percentage of prosumers already - and I wish them godspeed.

LifeMojo's Namit went next, and his motivation was the clearest from the word go! He got very serious about pursuing a dietary plan to lose weight, and spotted the market and acted on it, along with his friends. They managed to rope in professionals to both advise them, and be their reference customer. Their learning curve for both the B2B space as well as the foray into the B2C story has been quite steep, and they seem to be evolving quickly. Again, the market research was informal and intuitive, and they were sure they wanted to have a positive impact on personal healthcare management much before they'd figured out the exact ideas and form those would take. Business and product development have become two separate focus areas quite early, and its good to see the revenue focus right upfront though the exact models are still on the evolutionary treadmill. Their enthusiasm and the proactiveness in engaging various stakeholders of their industry is something that should stand them in good stead.

RedBus and Phani are well known as are their stories. What was surprising was his attributing a lot of their success to mentors whom he's consulted each time they had a dilemma, and whose advice he always goes with. His focus on, and efforts to rope in seriously big names as mentors were awe-inspiring.

RedBus was born of an opportunity spotted when Phani missed a bus. He then spent months traveling (in buses that I guess he did not miss) and understanding his market, and months again convincing the first few operators of the need for and value in making inventory available to them. To me, this was the most critical differentiator of the business that depends on relationships and efficient operations. RedBus has been pessimistic in its projections, efficient in its operations and has consistently beaten its projected numbers. The investors have reposed their faith multiple times already, and Phani seems to be thinking big, while being very focused on building a business which can sustain growth. Decision making is not a CEO-only thing at RedBus, and the fact that 170 families depend on the business makes him avoid whimsical decision-making completely.

It was a great session - and nice to see that entrepreneurs have varied motivations, and paths to and even definitions of success. Its important to "not just read blogs" and latch on to someone else's agenda as your own. Phani will learn from everyone because he's looking out to doing that. Prateek/Nithya can easily question conventional wisdom because of a deep understanding on how his users behave and what they're looking for. Namit is likely to brave any storm cause he's pretty sure there's so many folks out there whom he can help and that they understand that better than most.

Its the optimism, the focus on the goal (though those vary a lot) and the willingness to learn along the way that were common across all of them.

1 comment:

Prateek Dayal said...

Hi Sameer,

It was great meeting you yesterday at the event. I would love to talk to you more about Muziboo and entrepreneurship in general. Lets catch up once you are free

Prateek Dayal