Reflections from IIT Session

I was at IIT Delhi today for my duties at FITT (runs the IIT Delhi incubator). Few months back, IIT Delhi decided to support a deferred placement program for students wanting to skip placement in interest of pursuing entrepreneurship. Today’s meeting was a review and approval meeting for four of the cases. Some things that struck me.

  • All the students seeking deferred placement outlined “comfort of parents” as the first reason to seek deferred placement. “Even if my startup doesn’t work, I can tell my father that IIT will still allow me to sit for placements”. Many of the applicants were clear that they are not going to actually seek placement with big companies, even if they failed – as one guy mentioned “I can’t imagine myself sitting in a cubicle working for a large company.” Now some of this might be the most convenient answer (and I suspect that, given how uniformly this reason was given,) but it was amazing to see the conviction of the applicants towards startups, as also the social bias against startups that young entrepreneurs still have to work with.
  • Interestingly, none of the four startups which applied for deferred placement applied for incubation at IIT Delhi incubation center. I have been noticing this for a bit – younger entrepreneurs are moving at a faster pace than mentors/ incubators are used to moving. It is a serious issue for long-standing incubators – will they manage/continue to attract the best deals?
  • Most of the ideas being presented were another one in pack of 50 companies already out there doing the same thing. The founders often didn’t know about competition, nor about previous failed attempts. This was worrying – the level of awareness towards one’s immediate context has to improve. Perhaps something to think about for many of us who are looking forward to supporting young entrepreneurs.

I did ask the question on who their role model is. Though its not a large sample, Rahul Yadav got mentioned. I was only half surprised – guts is glory in today’s times. Am back at the institute for Speranza this weekend – looking forward to meeting more entrepreneurs.

Join the Net Neutrality debate

Medianama has a good analysis and initiative on the Net Neutrality issue. Read up and make yourselves heard here.

This debate has had interesting arguments globally. To the extent, I have been able to follow, there have been a ton of bogus arguments on both sides, thereby confusing the core issues. In my mind, the core issues are around (a) adherence to standard protocols to ensure that applications can rely upon the same; (b) creation of open communication platforms, as a goal in itself, to spur innovation around those networks; (c) clear communication around inclusions, exclusions, and dampeners in any given telecom package – an issue of consumer protection; (d) curbing monopolies that can be promoted by telecom service providers also being in app business and providing unfair advantage to their own apps/services.

Join in on the conversation!

Lufthansa Runway to Success – Call for Entries

Lufthansa and TiE are bringing you the next edition of Runway to Success. Runway to Success is a TV series which will be broadcast on ET Now, and the training camps all over the country would be conducted in association with TiE. Some highlights of the program:

  • The winner of this series would win a seat at Stanford University’s prestigious Design Thinking Boot Camp, along with A Lufthansa Business Class ticket to the US and mentorship at TiE, which alone is sufficient reason to jump into this program.
  • Each episode of this TV series will have two segments: In the first, a success story of a path breaking entrepreneur will be shown to inspire you. The second segment will have three selected entrepreneurs present their business idea to the star entrepreneur. Winners from each episode will be elevated to semi-finals and then grand final where the winner would be declared.
  • Participation is absolutely free!
  • Besides the winning part, there is the absolutely incredible opportunity to connect with the who-is-who of Indian start-ups eco-system, biggies of entrepreneurial world and fellow passionate entrepreneurs which can be a huge boost to your confidence and acumen ship.
  • Last year, 20,000 entrepreneurs from all over India applied for this program, fighting for 27 precious seats.
  • TiE sponsored boot camps would be conducted in major metropolitan cities, where leading entrepreneurs would share their stories and teach how to become an entrepreneur.

You can register for #RunwaytoSuccess Program right here. You can follow the hashtag #RunwaytoSuccess on Twitter for latest updates and stories. More information about this program can be found here.

Why you Do a Startup ?

Why you do a Startup ? By Chance or you are totally frustrated with a Problem you face on a regular basis or You want to make big loads of Monies or You are passionate about something or You do not want to miss the Wave ??

There are lot of Questions you ask or should ask and be clear and concise about why you are doing this Startup. First , you have to figure out the real reason of Doing the Startup – May be in any Domain.. !! Why I am Doing this ?? Find the Real Reason !! Think in Think Out and Find the Real Reason while putting yourself into Customer shoes (If you are customer , would you buy that Product/Service and why you should be even looking at this kind of company and Would you shell Money from your own pocket !!

If this is in Enterprise Software/Consulting Domain , you could figure out the Total Market opportunities by reports from Gartner/IDC etc and then can see the Subset of the Total Market and clearly reach on to the Niche Area of that Market and what Pain Point you are solving for the customer !! Me too Approach could work in some situations but generally not !! There has to be real value proposition for your customer as it would be too difficult for him to change for the Vendor or Software or SI they are currently working with !!

In Consumer Internet Businesses , is it only about Traffic or more Numbers adding to your App. But Real Question to answer is to find whether these guys would buy that even if its $10 Per Month or which way you could monetize from the same and make Monies out of that.. !!

Finally, Be in Any Business , Company would be successful only if they could make Right Product (Finding the Need) , Pitch on Right Market and Finally Customers are feeling WOW factor to shell out the Monies to buy that Product/Service.

Any Questions !! Send to :


Virendra Sarna

The Billion Dollar Startup Club

The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones VentureSource are tracking venture-backed private companies valued at $1 billion or more. See how the club has expanded since the project began in January 2014 and select companies to learn more about each.

Accelerating Time to Market Cap for Internet/Mobile Companies

Must read analysis by Playbigger for Internet/Mobile entrepreneurs. Summary at beginning to report,

Metrics for Early-stage Mobile Apps

Have been talking to many “mobile app” entrepreneurs of late, and one question I get consistently is around how they should think about metrics for mobile apps, to gauge early traction, and with an eye on first round of investors. Here are some thoughts.

In my view, valuable mobile apps fall in two zones – apps which will have tens of millions of users over time, but might not have a short term monetization model; and those which would have fewer users but strong anticipated monetization (think few hundred rupees per active user – a million monthly actives and Rs 100/monthly active gives a $20M annual business.) By and large, I am seeing the first kind of businesses in the Indian market, perhaps because mobile payment and monetization is still nascent. Getting stuck between these two end goals is generally not attractive to venture investors looking for scale.

Here are some metrics that startups and venture investors are using to assess early traction:

  • User growth: Installs and active installs are the first line metrics. Some notion of active users measured at a frequency which depends on usage context of the application – could be daily actives, weekly actives or monthly actives. One thing that seems to have lost emphasis since web days is the virality coefficient – have not seen great examples of viral growth of apps, perhaps because content sharing to app install workflows still seem broken. At a more operational level, tracking the pre-install and uninstall funnel can provide great optimization tips.
  • User engagement: This is perhaps the most important one, and where I have seen most distortion. Active users and/or percentage of users active, IMHO, are not great ways to measure these, because they interfere with user growth metrics – higher growth can lead to larger number of active users without improvement in app experience; lower growth can make the percentage metric look better. In my view, measuring cohorts is the best way of gauging this. First, active user cohorts (i.e. what percentage of users who installed in a particular period are still active). Second, activity level cohorts (i.e. how is the cumulative activity by a cohort of users growing). Active user cohorts provide an insight into leakiness of the bucket. The second one, of rising engagement – for great apps, activity level cohorts are rising charts, not falling over time. The metric of activity at the app level could be sessions per day, average screen views, time spent, or other metrics important for the business (such as messages sent for a messaging application). Note that the DAU/MAU metrics are sometimes used to assess user engagement, but for reasons mentioned above, they are not great metrics for engagement.
  • Key application tasks: A measure of how well and how often are business tasks being accomplished. These depend on the application intent – for example, in a match making app, this might be the funnel into generating a match. Very often these might be “funnels” and not single metrics, and it is a very useful tool to figure out where the flow of actions is constrained (i.e. conversion to next stage of funnel is low), and then fix those to optimize the funnel.

I have not included monetization metrics above because for the first class of applications, that can be solved at the next stage of business evolution. However, providing a directional sense of monetization mechanism and per user potential is important in setting scale expectations from the business. I have also not included a measure of “design excellence” above for lack of an objective measure – it is certainly something that is very important to provide a great user experience, and attain some of the metrics listed above.

Would love to hear from mobile app entrepreneurs on this forum on what they have found effective to gauge the progress of their businesses.

How to effectively use the Rs 10,000 crore allotted for entrepreneurship

I wrote this Op-Ed piece in Economic Times on how the government can effectively use funds allocated to entrepreneurship fund-of-funds.

Key points:

  • Leverage the funds to generate private participation and hence enhance the size of the pool
  • Leverage capacity that exists in corporations, microfinance institutions and the like
  • Emphasize under-served areas that align with national priorities, such as job creation, manufacturing, defense, social sectors etc.
  • Promote geographical and social inclusion to ensure a balanced growth

Comments welcome!

Back to the future

Last few months have been full of uncertainty and choice. It is rare that life provides us with an opportunity to step back and ask ourselves the all important questions of what makes us happy, and what do we really want to do with ourselves. It is even more rare that it simultaneously provides us with the right context to help us answer those questions. Over past few months, I was offered both, due to circumstances ranging from tragic to serendipitous on personal and professional front.

I am glad to share with my friends that my instincts have led me towards attempting to do another startup, instead of continuing with the venture investing business. At Canaan, we have built partnerships with entrepreneurs who we feel very proud to be associated with. We will continue to back and support those relationships, both institutionally and personally. However, I will not be making fresh venture investments. I am now on a lookout for a co-founder and an opportunity, which provide me with an uncompromising mix of fun and challenge over next many years. I look forward to help, support and guidance from my friends in startup, investing and corporate world, as I charter into what is always an unknown territory.

As I discussed these options with few close friends early on, something strange happened. Two of my good friends, entrepreneurs themselves, came back and solicited help on issues they were facing, in a way they never had before. Perhaps my position as a prospective investor in future drew boundaries on what they felt comfortable sharing with me. With those boundaries gone, new conversations opened up. I hope that I will continue to have the opportunity to share perspectives, which being on both sides of the table has allowed me to earn.

42 is a good age to begin. Again.

Video Interviewing Technology for Start-ups

One of the biggest challenges facing start-ups is getting the right talent. Or rather, in attracting the right talent. There is no dearth of talent in the market, but getting the right people to join your fledgling organization is a problem that most start-ups face. Why? Very few people want to join an ‘unknown’ entity.

One other problem plaguing the technology world is ‘resume fraud’. Candidates hype their resume, a more skilled person writes the test, telephonic interviews are taken by someone else to get a better rating and more often than not the fraud is discovered only when you get to meet the person face-to-face or after the person actually joins. By this time you have spent a lot of time, effort and money in hiring that person. This is something a start-up like yours can ill afford.

There could be a way out of this conundrum. A slow but steady shift is taking place across the globe in the way companies are innovating recruitment processes using the latest technology. Companies are seeking to drive a paradigm shift in the way they acquire talent making it more effective in acquiring the right talent. The new age talent acquisition process is ‘Video Interviewing’.

I am sure you will wonder what is different and innovative about this. Don’t we all use Skype or Webex or Go-to-Meeting for such interactions? Yes. You do. But it is mostly for personal interactions. Have you thought of making it a part of your business process?? Have you thought of making video interactions an integral part of your recruitment process?

There are solutions available for such video interviews on a pay-per-use SaaS model. Is it the same as a Skype interaction? No. It is much more. It helps you to incorporate videos right from the early assessment stage. In any typical recruitment process:

  • Instead of initial telephonic interviews, you can send out a set of standard questions to the short-listed candidates and they can video record their responses in real time and upload the same to the platform. They can do this at their own time and from anywhere, even using their mobile device.
  • You can review these videos at any time convenient to you, which relieves you of spending prime work time on such interviews and thereby making your day more productive.
  • You get to see the candidate in the first round itself, giving you a better feel for and assessment of his or her suitability and baseline the candidate’s attributes.
  • You can also have virtual panel interviews, making it more convenient for all the stakeholders in the organization.
  • The further shortlist is now even more refined and you can now also use the platform for real time one-on-one video interviews.
  • You then invite just 1-2 right candidates for a final face-to-face interview and make an offer to one or even both.

So how does this benefit you as a start-up with your talent acquisition?

  • Reduces cost of hire as it reduces time-to-hire and travel costs.
  • Brings in predictability and reliability to your hiring process. Helps to avoid instances of fraud.
  • Introduces a ‘Wow’ factor that could enhance your reputation with the candidates, making your organization more desirable to join.
  • No upfront investments, as most of these solutions are available on a Monthly Subscription basis.

India too is not far from adopting such means to enhance and enable their hiring process. Such solutions are available in India now. India also has its first video based job portal. So this is the future of talent acquisition and will help young enterprises like yours to better showcase your organization and attract the desired skills.

The author, Srikanth Vasuraj, is a Business Consultant focused on Mentoring and Advising start-ups. He can be reached at +91-98454 78585 or . For more information please visit .