Entrepreneurial Reasons

Why one should NOT pursue ideas:

  • Buzzword
  • Peer group seems to do similar stuff
  • Sounds cool/sexy
  • "But I would use it anyday"
  • I cannot stand my current job
Why one should:
  • Will make lots of money, surely
  • Will make decent money and be lots of fun
  • Will let me survive, and provide immense satisfaction
  • I cannot die with a "What if I had...." on this
  • I love to do this, what the hell (and I have worked out the finances bits)
Got more ? Disagree ? Discuss it here... or leave a comment.

New morning tomorrow

Ziva was a great journey that drew to a close this evening.

It helped me make the leap from techie to entrepreneur. Of course there's still a lots to learn, but the last 3.5 years have got me thinking and moving in the right directions wrt product vs business issues, helped me connect with a lot of great people, and forced me to learn multitasking like never before. It was fun getting stuff running from a scratch, thinking of the 360 around every little decision - from how it'd impact users, costs, developers, the story, and its opportunity costs. Pretty much everything was a tough call!

There were lots I read on blogs, in articles, and some of it even started making sense as we stumbled onto problems which needed those tricks to solve, and where the advice mattered. I got to push myself in multiple directions - managing myself, code, design, people, products, marketing, customers. Some I discovered a flair for, and others were a no-go and I learned my limitations. I learned how and when to factor in, or discount advice. When to back and not back my own instincts. To evaluate thoughts from multiple angles.

I'm not the kind of guy who can go back into a classroom to learn stuff after years of working in the real world. But the last few years have been a huge push towards a well rounded experience. Zook and its associated roller coaster was a fun experience. I learned the value of alternative strategies, and how to mesh the long term and short term goals and tricks.

I had fun. There was celebration, pain, arguments, glory, euphoria, and all that a startup involves.

I feel much more prepared for the uncertainty that I'm trying to embrace. Should be a lot of fun.

The Bing Thing

Microsoft is re-searching. With Bing - A Better Way to Search.

Danny Sullivan is partially impressed, but thinks they're positioning it wrong. Fair enough. But that discussion also brings up the usual question about who (or what - since it could be something they make themselves) will displace Google, or at least lower the following that it has.

My personal take is: the answer is multi-fold.

The Game You're Trying To Play Has Been Won

Because the current victor wrote, and continues to rewrite the rules.
  • Every website tries SEOing - and that plays right into their hands.
  • The reasons why people will seek alternatives will be the ones that break this vicious/virtuous SEO loop
  • More people should be trying to be found *fairly* but its a mad scramble for the first 20 results of one site - and that serves Google's cause.
  • Everyone's trying to be friendly to the Google crawler.
So..... ?

Generic vs Specific

Discovery is a major problem - to start with. For travel related queries (airfares, rentals, hotels), for instance, Google is often NOT necessarily the starting point, and certainly not where people spend too much time. Once they figure out a site they feel comfortable with for their particular vacation/trip/destination, their spend more time researching that instead. Trouble is, the latter is not a large organized set yet - and you keep running into different "important" sites with time, change of destination, etc.

News is another major area where Google is dependent on News sites, since it does not "create" news! Its merely the huge attempts at making themselves as easily discoverable on Google as possible that keeps Google News in business. News sites could so-very-easily establish an alternative for themselves, only if they thought it through and collaborated some.

Vertical focused destinations have a huge advantage of industry understanding - the "semantics", behaviour derived design and interfaces come for free! Google News is mere links - there's hardly scope for editorials, commentary - those often distinguish the great newspapers from the ordinary. The News industry, by virtue of being the producer of content, can do a much better job of a news destination. From thereon, its just a matter of starving Google of good enough, trusted news and commentary, and exposing it through an API at most. Make Google play your game, instead. At least the big guys surely can, while they still have some control over mass media and distribution.

Data is Key

And Google's just about scratched the surface. The deep web has an unfathomable amount of valuable, clean data. Yes Google is making attempts at a semantic understanding of what it crawls, but at the end of the day your forms are the sentinels of what you posess. As data gets deeper on sites, and forms get smarter, more interactive and un-crawlable, there will be lots of data that can only be co-operatively shared. Deeper data is also more useful for the end user (one of the points that MS has tried to make) and can be linked to actions that are relevant to the specific category.

Google's "control" over sites trying to feed its supremacy will reduce dramatically as and when a "co-operative" search engine starts attempting aggregation of deep data whilst not denying individual sites negotiating power for the data they own, its usage, and the actions that are associated with it.


This is a completely new ballgame. Some of the above strategies will come alive here, and add to that a mix of the mobile apps battles in which operators, handset manufacturers and Google are all trying to establish control. One scenario is that people stick to a lot of individual apps on an easy to use platform rather than rely too much on discovery. Each app will need discovery within a particular domain or vertical, though.

Going back to data,its especially true on the phone that a larger index is not what interests folks anymore (iPhone or not - the form factor is still a pain, and user behaviour on the move is unlikely to be similar to what it is on the desktop). Smaller, cleaner, better categorized and graded indices will automatically help decision making, and users could choose the route of a "bouquet of relevant services" rather than a massive ocean to fish in.

SEO and the Tag Games

Try queries made up of common words (more so if they're of commercial interest) and your first few results - and sometimes a page or two of results - is all SEOed, not-necessarily-relevant crap. Yes, Google's trying to fight this battle, but the current algo is almost fair game and SEOing, which should, from a search engine's point of view, be outlawed, is a huge industry! All built around this one search engine. Its a cat and mouse game that Google's caught up in - and an case for a "SEO-bombed? Try the other engine" opportunity for engines which have a different algo, or solve problems in a specific domain.

My guess is that the current state and dominance of generic websearch will last at most for another 3-4 years. Indeed, Yahoo's continuously changing mobile search and Google's attempts at "injecting" results from other properties into the SERP are an acknowledgement of this direction. One possible replacement is a personalized swiss army knife of sharper engines - somewhat analogous to your bookmarks which continue to guide you to your frequented sites everyday. A tool-set of searches that serve your interest will be a wider set than a few sites and much cleaner, and more interactive (in terms of what you can do with the information once you find it). The interface for this is not too clear, and likely to be different from our current experience of the web. It'll need to come "pre and auto configured" for the less savvy users for sure.

In 2015, we'll recall amusing statements from 2009 about the state-of-the-art of web search :)

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.


Have decided to move on from my current role at Ziva. Its been a fun nearly-4-years and I've learned tremendously about more than just technology and products in this time.

Next ?

One clear plan is to try and offer the experience I've gained to help folks execute product ideas quicker, better. This will help build on what I and a couple of friends have learned during our tenures as product people at both startups and larger corporations, including some ideas I've discussed in the past.

There's a couple of books to catch up with, and a few dreams to pursue. For 6 months, at least, its likely to be "unstructured" and I'm taking time off for some good thinking, and exploring various skills and interests I've taken a shine to.

Primarily, lets-see-how-it goes :)

// maybe this is all so I can write a good book someday!

You really want to do that ?

The last few days have seen a lot of mental, psychological and emotional acrobatics towards answering a question : what do I want to do ? I mean really want to do.

Of course, what I really really want to do is travel a lot, meet tons of people, write a few books, share experiences. I also really would love to be able to impact Urban Planning positively, and help drive the right goals for the city.

But then as an entrepreneur, how do you decide whether you want to dive into that exciting sounding idea ? I've written about "passion" earlier - but how do you even figure out whether you're really passionate about something, or what exactly is it in a story that you're passionate about ?

One thought thats emerged - in discussions with fellow truth-seekers - so you can evaluate something like this more meaningfully is:

Imagine what you'll be doing, and see if you like it...

This involves a fair bit of homework.

For starters, you need to understand the various aspects of your venture/job.


How do you get it off the ground ? How do you validate the technology, and the business parts of it ? What does it take to get all the "unknowns" answered - contacts/travel/interviews/research. Is there a brick-and-mortar part to it that'll need observation from close-up? Do you need to learn a new language to get it running ? And I mean Kannada/French, not Ruby :)

Up, running:

Lotsa coding ? Setting up operations ? Simultaneously ? You probably need to start pursuing the stakeholders for a buy-in, not just information. Thats a lot of pitch-creation along with collateral for that.That could involve a lot of sucking up, travel, deal-making. Is it time to hire some folks already ? How much cost cutting are you starting to do on the personal front already ?

What are the reactions/strategies when you hear a bunch of people saying "no" ? What happens when you encounter muscle ? Who handles that, and how ?

Grow! Awesome.

Operations : manpower, processes, glitches abound. This takes up a lot of effort. What are the day to day challenges ?

Sales : Finding new leads as you expand becomes a huge challenge. And since you're not "reacting" to a few reference/early customers or consumers, it becomes tougher to come back and change stuff too easily and the focus shifts to packaging/messaging things so that you can get the point across. Hit rates could drop, so you need a wide audience. A full time job, again. Deal cutting with the big guys becomes nastier, and there's some competition you start to become aware of that you knew nothing about earlier.

Development : Its kinda on auto pilot, since you're focused on the ops and sales. But hey, there's lots more inputs flowing in, and then you're suddenly scaling, and quality glitches are starting to show up.

Stable State:

What makes or breaks the company now ? What drives growth ? Is the primary focus managing relationships ? Deal-making ? Financial jugglery to keep costs/margins healthy ? Is operational efficiency what your business depends on ? Is an ever-widening network of contacts the mainstay of growth or even sustenance ?

In each of the above states, identify what tasks are important. Don't just pick stuff thats sexy, or that you would like to do.

Identify the important external stakeholders in each. They'll need to be cultivated, managed, engaged. Thats a job! Irrespective of what the venture is. (Or even in a job)

What are the likely problems that might arise in each phase ? Which are the human issues, or technological, or marketing related, or financial ? You'll be fixing all of those whether you like it or not :D

List down the important tasks in each phase that will need doing to answer the above, and more questions if you have them in your venture's context. See if between all the founders, you're ok doing all of those. Sorry - make that enjoy doing all of those.

What do those tasks involve ? Coding ? Travel ? Negotiating ? Groveling ? Financial skills ? Language skills ? Marketing ? Creativity ? Talking ? Documentation ? Elevator and other pitches ? Collaborations ? Mild lying ? Hiring from tons of fluff ? Convincing and managing people with lots of attitude ? Being "available" all the time ? Dressing up and attending parties ? Getting your hands dirty and legs dusty "on the street" ? What ?

Cause when the chips are down, just being "ok" with those task will not be enough. You'll tire of things, or get bored, or distracted by other stuff that really interests you. The early challenge of exciting problems to solve, or a fuzzy dream of pots of gold at the end - these fade quite easy but for a very very very few souls. Each little task that you do owith some sense of resentment builds up stress, and fatigue - especially when the going is tough.

For most of us, the love of the underlying space will see you through the troughs. The goals and even the ideas might continue to change, but none of those tasks will seem too painful if you're in a happy place vis-a-vis what really interests you.

So go ahead and write it all out - and see if its a happy picture that emerges when you draw it in detail.