When Starting Out

Do not burden yourself with Scale upfront.

It comes when it does, and will match the level of your ambition and effort. Do not make the success of your idea contingent on huge scale, and an eventual, delayed payout. Of course, some ideas will need that. But do not get discouraged if it appears that it'll never be a Google. Even old-world, seemingly unscalable brick and mortar ideas have been grown. They don't all have to grow the same way. Linear growth is just fine too. And paths, ideas and opportunities will emerge as you deep dive into something that you really care about.

Don't worry about having to share it.

Its cliched, but a small part of a large pie is better than all of nothing at all. Sharing is not just about "attracting talent" but about truly transferring ownership, authority and demonstrating trust. Its a tough one, but one very important if you want to be part of a team that can help create something much larger than what you might, individually.

Keep thinking of revenue.

This means a bunch of things. For one, you're not thinking of investors but of customers, and paying ones at that. No business is "too small right now" to be making revenues. Ever. Every Rs.10/- is validation. And it also keeps you alive to the business model, and tests the assumptions and hypotheses you started out with.

At the same time, don't obsess about revenue.

There is usually a larger picture and story than your current sales flow, or even product offering, might suggest. You might have thought of it upfront (but hopefully, aren't building/creating that all at one go), or it might present itself as you start assembling the idea and product and market together. So while revenue is important, its ok if its not as high as you expected. Do not let it take up ALL your time for sure. A CEO must do some amount of sales, but one who becomes focused only on that is very very dangerous in the not-short term.

Keep Values Intact, and commincate clearly.

Be it to partners, co-founders, vendors, employees. Its easy for motivations, aspirations and desires to diverge as business grows, and creates pushes and pulls in different directions. If its all built on the platform of some core values, which are then never compromised for immediate gains, then you stand a better chance of these pulls being reconciled into a single vision. Else you lose time, trust, people.

Network, connect, get out of the door

Yeah that website can be improved. And code optimized. Or delivery made more efficient. Or whatever. But as your business grows, your eyes and ears need to be out there. Personally, while you're small. You need to learn how to keep fishing for opportunity, great people, customers; you need to know what they think/feel; you need to know it way before the sh*t hits the fan.

Of course, be flexible

Its not like you might be wrong about many things. Its more like you surely will be! Its about persisting with the idea, moving from plan A to B, experiment X to Y and backing yourself to try things out even as you're unsure. Of course, you need a very decent eye on personal cash flows, expense patterns as you do this if you do not want to find yourself in a pressure cooker all of a sudden.

Go ahead, entrepreneurize!

Linger Leisure is live!

What started as a one-off experiment last year is a bigger now.

Linger Leisure is live, with 2 locations, and the hope of many more to come. And Vijay is part of the Linger team now.

Its not just about adding places and rooms and accommodation, but experiences - as local and authentic as we find them. Its about exploring these ourselves. Its about learning, being surprised, the unfamiliar and unknown - these are what make travelling worth it.

We're looking out for more pretty places, different experiences, and even folks who're keen to do this sort of a thing.

Standing To Fly

Almost exactly a year ago, I'd blogged about disruptive innovation using a possible example from the airline industry.

Well, if RyanAir has its way, this might become reality! Ryan's been disruptive in its operational models, and now is extending the same to questioning the basic design that runs the aviation industry itself. I'm impressed, and honestly had not imagined that the far-out thought I had last year would get a shot at being reality this early.

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Money, Governance, Entrepreneurship. What's Your Metric ?

The Government is beginning to talk more and more in terms of user fees, revenue targets, cash positions, etc. Even the citizenry takes comfort and pride in the fact that, say, the BMTC runs at a profit. Its surely a good thing - fiscal responsibility is key to sustainable development.

Yet, these targets, numbers, metrics are not the end for governance - merely a means. Its critical to ensure those numbers are healthy, but its even more critical to measure the change that is sought to be made using the money. It has little merit, otherwise. The goal of a state is not to get rich directly, but indirectly. That it needs to be in very healthy financial situation is a side effect.

Is the same true for a lot of entrepreneurs ? Money is a good metric, but isn't what you started out to do more important as a goal ? As in, would you rather let the effort try hard and die or would you be ok completely changing the nature of the effort so cash flows look better ? Don't think of a state of crisis, but of a steady, decent revenue state doing what you started out trying to do versus a much better cash cow if you switched to something that was not really close to your heart or part of the vision.

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Focus, and the Doors You Have in Front

Today, I understood first hand what focus implies. Its not necessarily about doing only one thing. But about doing whatever you are for the right reasons, with the right expectations, the opportunity costs understood and appreciated well, and the risks clearly known.

Opening certain doors, and shutting the others, then makes a lot more sense.

Can't say one does with 100% levels of certainty. But it does help one think hard about one's options and choices. It helps one become utterly honest and transparent. Its helps move, execute, and not get paralyzed.

Enough rambling. Now to get started on work. 

[ Hope I did the right thing! ;) ]

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New Idea : A Chicken and Tech Problem

I have a new idea that I totally think has potential, is worth pursuing, and building technology around.

The urge, as an engineer, is to first build the site + functionality, and then "roll it out". But after years of being in tech, and having seen many never get out of their comfort zone and, as a result, having built too much in isolation, its an urge I need to resist.

So the first tasks ? Go sign up the stakeholders. Create enough functionality and documentation to sign them up. then go find other stakeholders as users - give them just enough so they can appreciate the core value of the offering.

Then think of the code.

Earning It

Been about 4 months since Linger went operationally live - including some test runs.

Its been a major journey - entrepreneurship wise.
  • First up - its a very different feeling when you create something someone likes enough to pay for, and gives positive feedback later. I think this defines entrepreneurship, in a sense.
  • Next, an entrepreneur's main challenge is to live with, and manage uncertainty almost all the time. Doubt too, often, though one might not admit the same.
  • You will make mistakes, despite your best efforts. And there will be some goof ups that you did not plan for, and cannot control. There is little time for regrets, introspection. Get over it, fix what you can and get on with it.
  • Your venture is often you! It takes your personality, and what you like and do not like, how you do things starts showing up everywhere. So figure out early if you're in a business where your interests and personality resonate with the business success parameters.
  • Its rewarding! Only, for an entrepreneur, the reward is rarely monetary alone. In fact, that bit may not happen for a while as your spreadsheets start making less and less sense :)
  • Honesty works. With customers, employees, your own self. Don't pretend to be what you're not.
  • Defensive pricing is a bad signal. And you do not want to attract the wrong customer or keep the right one away. Even if its slower, build the brand/attributes right.
  • The expenses are always more than they seem to be :)
I've also learned I enjoy the hospitality part of it a lot! I love it when people tell me they read a book, or spotted a bird, or were surprised by the stars in the sky. I appreciate it when they appreciate the raw, warm but with-no-formally-training service provided by the staff.

Its a tough journey, but it seems totally worth doing.

Tech, Non-Tech and All That

By and large, in the startup space and media, startups, VC funding, and the entire ecosystem is more or less is assumed to be about technology, software products, code, platforms, etc.

In real life, entrepreneurship is all about businesses, deals, real needs.

VCs go right ahead and fund companies based on a product seen (despite what they claim) and more or less hope the team will learn about the actual business they are engaged in serving. A travel portal is more about travel and the food chain in the industry, and less about the technology powering it. Very few software businesses are about usage of the software itself - BaseCamp etc come to mind.

However, when funding non-IT businesses, a question about the team's lack of experience will promptly raised! How's a bunch of guys who can write code to create a site tracking brand reviews more equipped to understand branding, brand management budgets, advertising, than, say, a geek starting a restaurant is to having a good knowledge of how that space works ? Yet, the ecosystem does look at both differently!

I am hardly suggesting that people start doling out cash to geeks starting restaurants, or getting into hospitality randomly, but quite the opposite. When we stitch up teams to create businesses, and write up plans and models, and invest in these companies, we consider the business cases, needs, and think of the software as infrastructure that is needed for the execution of that business. The search engine that managed to then grow an advertising business just happened, and chasing that as a model is fraught with dangers.

First, figure out the business first. Next, whether its interesting enough for you through its ups and downs, and does running it have by-products that make it worth it for you?

And if you understand and relate to the above it, does not matter whether you want to code it or not, or build the house, or cook the food. Those are details. Details which can make or break the business, and must be executed right, for sure. But they come after you've figured out the business, and your passion for it. Technology itself - the love of it, or the need to create it freely - cannot be a healthy, sustainable enough basis for entrepreneurship for a large percentage of cases.

Twitter, Next ?

GigaOm had a post on a more open Twitter like universe: http://gigaom.com/2010/06/17/what-would-a-more-open-twitter-look-like/

I quite like the thought and would like to extend it

  1. Use twitter's downtime to "fill transient need"
  2. Support Closed communities/groups, workgroups, signed up customers. Yammer, for instance, could also support Twitter accounts with a failover option for account holders! So folks from co X, Y, Z can still communicate beyond workgroups using @twitter-id@twitter etc
  3. Create add on functionality that makes it valuable for specific interests. E.g. a cycling community that also has syntax/an interface/smart parsing for logging, planning rides, in-community classifieds, etc. Some sort of an enhanced forum on the same channel ? Again, keep the links alive with Twitter and other open standards.
Some of the above do exist - but there's clearly a space for niches. Twitter has essentially helped establish a habit of and create a market for a new mode of communication on the web and mobile. The next round of innovation to piggyback on this is just waiting to happen!

A few things I've noticed/felt

  • CRM is broken. Sure, I have almost no knowledge of formal CRM systems etc, but having sat through a few presentations and discussions on this, feel strongly that both the Customer and the Relationship are completely missing from this - its from a sales force pov, completely. There's a startup idea in this somewhere - ping me if you're keen and can help find a market.

  • Hyperlocal will be big. Sure its been a jittery start, but there's no other way to go. And the JustDials of the world ain't cutting it.

  • Search will be more about how Soc Nets/people's heads are crawled (/trawled?). Realtimeness is one attribute, reactively looking for things, opinions, thoughts, ideas will be another. Aardvark has already been one small tiny step in the direction - there will be more.

  • Skills : breadth is catching up again. For a while the world was too taken up with specialization - at the cost of wider skillsets. Specialists are very critical, as are those who can do 5 things well.

  • I'm guessing a lot many in our generation (ok, I'm already old, so maybe half a generation downstream from us) will have second/alternative careers. Workplaces, HR practice needs to factor this in, starting now.

Google makes the right move: Aardvark!

I've been following Aardvark (and similar social search efforts) and in fact, had mentioned to someone as a follow-up discussion to the post that Vark would be a very likely candidate for a buy-out by FB or Google or anyone with an eye on the next generation of search. Bingo!

Of course, it would have been great if I'd gotten around to doing it myself, but thats the thing with lost opportunity :)

What I Need On Facebook

Facebook is up to 400 million users. Thats almost 6.7% of the world population! Awesome.

What does it mean to me ?

On the plus side, I've "reconnected" with a whole lot of folks from my past life. school, college, hometown - they're all in there. I've also connected with a lot many new connections that I forge through cycling, or other activity I participate in these days.

Amongst these, I get to know on an ongoing basis who's working in what part of the world, and who's had kids, and partied last night, and even the political, social views of many of these folks. Sometimes, I feel like an inadvertent voyeur!

Too broad a social landscape ? Too much info ? Some of these are context specific contacts, and while I do share some interests with them, I do not need to know every little detail in their lives, their friendships, their views on everything! In fact, with many there's little beyond the "Add as friend", and apart from having access to their inboxes, or walls, etc, there's little else by way of friendship or any sort of relationship. The context's too weak, and too distant, and its a farce, really.

I certainly am interested in a smaller, tighter circle of friends, and have been actively thinking I need to keep my 'active social circle' much smaller, and more meaningful. Sure, I do interact with the larger set of people on specific interests, and it would be great to tap into their collective knowledge and wisdom on a need-basis - but without the full duplex intrusiveness of every little update from each others lives, social circles, etc. I might be old fashioned, but Facebook is not how my social life - at least the meaningful part of it - really operates. This was NOT that much of a problem when the number of connections was smaller, but the amount of fluff has grown manifold since. And turning a request down has since become some sort of a social faux pas.

There's opportunity for a different layer atop Facebook - which is reducing to some sort of a storage and archival medium for one's entire social graph - personal, hobby-derived, official, formal, etc as well as the activity on it - that helps consume the data from this store in a more meaningful, natural way. Either Facebook could add features to enable this (they were kinda forced to handle the Twitter deluge using the "Live Feed" vs "News Feed" split) or a 3rd party app/site will spring up sooner or later to do this. The noise in there is getting a little too much, and I've been wondering if it really matters whether I'm "on Facebook" or not.

Those who really need to find me or talk to me, will, anyhow. The rest is often just noise/PR.

Startup, Salaries, Risk, Entrepreneurship, Payoffs

No, those aren't tags for the post, but the cluster of words that should go together, but often do not.

Entrepreneurship implies risk and the possibility of a payoff.
A startup, as we know it, is one for of entrepreneurship.

In this context, the concept of market salaries has no meaning at all!

More and more and more startups I see, hear, read about are trying to behave like larger, more structured organizations. The worst part is that they model "compensation" (oh, how I hate that word - its what accident victims get, not motivated people working towards a dream) and other "HR practices" on how-its-done-at-big-co-X. Where is the innovation there, people ?

Here's some ideas and thoughts that are worth remembering/attempting
  • Market salaries : this is an absurd phrase for anyone in even a partly decision-making position in a startup.
  • You need empowerment, ownership, flexibility way more than you need processes
  • Try this : Keep a very small 'retainer' component, and then a percentage of profits, not equity stake etc. Sure, do that as well for the early ones, but since you're small and all, nothing like direct participation in profits, and nothing quite like that to keep folks 'real' and focused on the bottomline. It'll build a business like nobody's business :)
Don't ape the last big company you work at. You never know whats going to work, so at the least give it a shot! And just because you need people, do not "attract" those who're in it just because ots cool to be seen as 'taking risk' without actually wanting to take any.

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