Archive for July, 2007

Founding a Startup

It has been long since I posted on VW. I had a good trip to USA and the level of activity on both the coasts is quite manic. In spite of the subprime woes I doubt that a recession is on the horizon anytime soon.

On a personal note it looks like that I will be getting together with three young entrepreneurs in Delhi and founding a company soon. Expect to hear a bit more over the next month.

Unfortunately for the rest of 2007 it will leave me no bandwidth to advise entrepreneurial companies. With those who have already established contact and would benefit from a brief interaction I will try and do that but will not have time for any new interactions. I will also till August 2008 not invest in any startups other than the one I found.

Initially startups , I believe, require intense focus with few distractions.

I will continue to read VW with great interest but the frequency of my posts/comments will be quite low ( I can see some people heaving a huge sigh of relief )

For our startup to succeed we will need a lot of support and we look forward to getting that from the VW community.

Podcast Interview: McKinsey’s Rajat Gupta on Health and Eduction in India

A couple of weeks ago I caught up with Rajat Gupta of McKinsey at the Pan IIT Global Conference in Silicon Valley. The theme for this year’s Pan IIT conference was “Changing the World Through Technology.”

I wanted to find out about his interest and passion in health and eductation in India. What is the connection between citizens health and economic growth of a nation? How does poor and bad health of a nation’s population impact its productivity and economic growth? How do you institute good and effective health policy and healthcare in India? What are the the challenges that India faces in the area of healthcare? What are some of the public-private initiatives in this area?

Inclusive growth is a line that has crept into every decision maker that is doing business in India. How does this inclusive growth happen?

Mr. Gupta is a senior partner and a former managing director of McKinsey & Company worldwide. Mr. Gupta sits on the advisory boards of Harvard Business School and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. He is on the board of trustees of the University of Chicago and is the Chairman of the Board of the Indian School of Business at Hyderabad.

He is Co-Chair of the American Indian Foundation and private sector representative to the Board of the Global Fund for Aids, Malaria and Tuberculosis.

Mr. Gupta is a trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation. Mr. Gupta advised McKinsey’s work with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In 2006 he was appointed as an independent director at Goldman Sachs.

Mr. Gupta is a graduate of IIT, Delhi and Harvard Business School.

Funny Sites

Here is the funny lists of sites and its registrants.

Domain Name: HOMEGAINSUCKS.COM
Registrant:HomeGain.com, Inc.
created: 2004
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Domain Name: ZILLOWSUCKS.COM
Registrant:Zillow.com
Created on: 2005
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Domain Name: TRULIASUCKS.COM
Registrant:Trulia
Created on: 2005
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Domain name: upssucks.com
Registrant:United Parcel Service
Created on: 1997
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Domain Name: googlesucks.com
Registrant:Google Inc.
Created on: 1999
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Domain Name: YAHOOSUX.COM
Registrant:Yahoo! Inc.
Created on: 2004
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Domain Name: AMAZONSUCKS.COM
Registrant:Amazon Technologies, Inc.
Created on: 2002
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Domain Name: aolsucks.com
Registrant:AOL LLC
Created on -1996
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Domain Name: CNNSUCKS.COM
Registrant:Cable News Network
Created on: 1999
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Domain Name: FEEDBURNERSUCKS.COM
Registrant:Burning Door
Created on: 2005
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Domain Name: BLOCKBUSTERSUCKS.COM
Registrant:Blockbuster Inc.
Created on: 2003
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Domain Name: GODADDYSUCKS.COM
Registrant:GoDaddy.com
Created on:2002
——————————-
Domain Name: ORBITZSUCKS.COM
Registrant:Orbitz
Created on: 2003

Google joins band of angels

This news appeared in toda’s Business Standard. May be of interest to people here.

Google joins hands with Band of Angels
Raghuvir Badrinath / Bangalore July 25, 2007

Google Inc, the $-10 billion Internet major, is set to lead the angel investing scenario in India.

The company, which has been acquiring mature companies across the world, is doing something different in India — taking the angel investing route in an effort to tap ideas and talent pool.

Google, which has become synonymous to web search, has recently come on board as an institutional member at Band of Angels (BoA) in India, the Indian set-up of a group of entrepreneurs who invest in companies which are germinating.

Said Alok Mittal, who is an active member of BoA and is also leading Canaan Partners, an early stage VC fund in India: “Google has signed up as an institutional member recently. There is a limit till which each angel can invest in a company. Beyond that, an institutional member can co-invest with any angel if it finds the idea or the company interesting.” Google could not be reached for comment.

This move by Google affirms that innovation has started flowering in India and it is worthwhile taking strategic bets on it. Band of Angels consists of some of the best-known technology entrepreneurs like Pramod Bhasin, Raman Roy and Jerry Rao, besides around 50 others, who have led their respective companies to great heights.

“Google, by joining BoA is making a statement which cannot be ignored. It is high time VC funds seriously start investing in seed-stage companies in India, which is the actual reason why Silicon Valley is what it is today,” an industry analyst said.

In addition to being an active direct investor in companies, Google has also invested in three early-stage funds — Seed Fund, Erasmic Fund and VentureEast TeNet Fund in India.

Google’s decision comes in the wake of NS Raghavan, co-founder of Infosys, going institutional by announcing a $35-million fund for early stage companies. “Various pieces are falling into place. It’s still not that rosy, but we are getting there,” the analyst said.

Canaan leads investment in Techtribe

Make money by doing good! Very happy to announce our investment in Techtribe. Techtribe pioneers a professional community website, and aims to monetize the same through a referral based recruiting model. Whats more, it has an incentive model, where referrers can make Rs 10,000 for each successful referral they make.

Indian e-recruiting market has not seen a major innovation for past 7 years, and we think that this model has the potential to capture a piece of the $400m mid-senior level recruiting market. Its also one of the models around social networking that we have been able to better understand, given our prior experience with jobdirect, jobsahead and clickjobs.

Go out, do your friend a favor, and get paid 10000 bucks for it!

Working in Startups + Parents Have a Say….

Working in  startups in India is going to be a very different experience. The startup culture in India will evolve in a very different way when compared to Silicon Valley or the rest of USA. In India parents play a big role on whether their kids can work in startups. Yes, that is right Indian parents play a pretty significant role  and need to be persuaded and convinced on why their kids should work in startups or early stage companies.  Now this picture is so different from the US where people *want* to work in startups and in some cases will go to any lengths to land a job in a startup, especially if it is a well-funded company.

Yesterday I met with a group of young people working for a well-funded start-up in Bangalore. We spoke about startup culture in Silicon Valley and what it takes to build companies and why in startups people have to work long hours. Some of the points we talked about included:  How do startups work in Silicon Valley? What does it mean to have a good team? What does it mean when entrepreneurs in the Valley chant this mantra: the team needs to have good chemistry. We talked about these issues and I shared stories about Yahoo, Excite@Home (now defunct) and other companies and how they evolved during the dotcom boom.I recounted the famous story of how Vinod Khosla landed up in his lamborghini to meet with the Excite group and eventually ended up funding them. And how  folks in Silicon Valley startups typically end up spending long nights cranking away on problems and fixing that unexpected bug, and how Davild Filo, co-founder of Yahoo often crashed out in his sleeping bag under his desk when building Yahoo. I also shared my stories about working in startups and the long hours I put in. (Aside I would be up by at 4 am and at work by 5.30 am and spend 9-10 hours at work and then come home and work some more. And I was not member of the founding team of the startup!)

What does it take to work in startups? Working in startups means you need to put your family and other priorities in the backburner. This is a point that well-established entrepreneurs like Raj Jaswa and others will share with you when they talk about working and building companies from scratch. Working in startups means you have to go over and above your defined role to get the product or service or whatever the startup is focused upon building.

How do startups succeed or fail? How do you handle challenges in doing startups are some of the questions that I constantly ask entrepreneurs and technologists in my interviews. That is why I  spend time talking to entrepreneurs like Yogen Dalal, Raj Jaswa,Kittu Kolluri, Kaval Kaur and others to find out their war stories. They have already been there and done that and have a pretty good idea of what it takes to climb that mountain. But, what was their journey like when they made the trip to the top of the mountain? How did they handle doubt, fear, and their failures? How did they succeed? What did it take for them to succeed? Does money follow a good idea?

When I told this young group of professionals in Bangalore that they were lucky to be working in a startup…I noticed that some of them looked surprised. I pointed out that the current confluence of events in Bangalore and India is probably once in a lifetime event. This observation was met with a vigorous nod from many of them. But I was curious to find out why they did not consider themselves lucky about working in startups and that is when I unearthed the role of parents and their involvement in their kid’s career path. 

It turns out that quite a few of them from the group had to convince and lobby their parents on why they should be allowed to work in startups. Out of this group of 15-18 people only two of them had no objections from their parents. Most of the other parents had reservations and needed to know what does working in a startup entail for their professional career. One of them pointed out that he had an offer letter from a well-established company, but his heart was set on working for this startup. He had a long discussion with his parents and had to overcome their objections and concerns before he could work  at the startup. 

I recollect Vishal Gondal of India Games pointing out the struggle they had initially in getting people to work for his startup. Avnish Bajaj of Matrix Partners outlined how difficult it was for them to find office space. Realtors were loathe to rent them space since they did not know how startups work. He pointed out that it was not easy starting a company in Mumbai, especially after having spent time working in the US.

Here is the bottom line: young people who want to work in startups in India have to first convince and sell the startup company and story to their parents. Young people in India have to be consummate sales person before they realize their dream of working in a startup. And, I guess this poses a special set of challenges for entrepreneurs who want to build a successful company and are looking to hire a few good people.

Why are Indian parents so concerned about their kids working in startups? It turns out it is just not startups, but they are concerned if their kid has an offer from well-established BPOs and major IT companies in Bangalore. (This post is limited to the folks from Bangalore…I don’t the status in other cities and states.) These companies have something like a “parents day” where they help  parents understand how their kids are progressing and where the company is headed!  So, why are Indian parents so concerned about their kids working in startups?   Well they are concerned because they don’t know how or where the young company is headed and if they will be a successful venture and if their kid has a good and strong career path for the next 40 years of their professional life. My sense is that this concern stem from their (parents)  experience of growing up in India and having to listen to their parents about working in a good, stable company and having a steady run in an MNC, or getting into the prestigious foreign or civil services. And of course government jobs were always the best option because you got housing, and provident or pension fund when you retire. Governments do not go bankrupt or default on payments. This mindset or thinking reminds me of Japan, where until a couple of decades ago a Japanese professional also known as salary man worked with one company until he retired. Changing jobs and companies was not done by a salary man. Similarly in India it is all about stability and predictability and marriage prospects for their children.

Back to the group of young professionals working in startups. When I said they are lucky to be working in a startup in India I was in a way speaking from my own experience. This was not an option available to me when I graduated from school.  One of the group members responded. “I don’t think we are the lucky generation. It will be our children since we are laying the groundwork for them to work in startups. We are struggling to make our parents understand why we should work in startups.”  That statement helped me understand how differently I was looking at this whole startup issue in India. That maybe finding capital is not such a big issue as much as finding the right set of people to work with you.

The moral of the story is that Indian parents need to be educated about the new India story, about capital that is flowing into the country, and about the new opportunities that are available to their kids in India. Today, many of them have more than one option, and more than one job offer and they don’t have to knock on doors to get a job. This scenario is so different when compared to the time I graduated from school, where I had almost zilch options. If I were to graduate today I could be working for a media company, a BPO, a content creation company or a major IT company or an exciting startup. I did not have those options when I graduated. And I am thinking that this would be the mindset of some of the parents, whose children are joining the Indian workforce. Maybe these parents too might be thinking on similar lines of the opportunities and options they did not have when they graduated in the 1970s or 1980s.

I came away with more questions in my mind about doing a startup in India and the challenges that need to be overcome to start a company in India.

Later in the evening I was talking to other entrepreneurs with startups in India and discovered something new. This information was kind of a clincher: folks who work in Indian startups often get better salary when compared to their counterparts in the USA. In some cases the Indian entrepreneurs have to match the salaries for their new hires to the fat paycheck that an Indian IT or BPO firm pays!  How different times are now…

I am curious to know if anybody has any stories or inputs about working in Indian startups. What has been or is your experience? Did you end up taking that job in a startup or take the safe option and are working for a large and established IT company? What about marriage prospects if you work in a startup? Is it a case of diminishing returns for startup folks in the marriage market?

Drop me a line at kamlabhatt AT gmail.com

This post is cross-posted on my blog.

innovation in e-learning ?

i was going through some recent VC posts about upcoming boom in e-learning websites ( in India ). I tried to look around, but couldn’t find any indian/global website with significant innovation in that area. Can someone point me to a good resource/website ?

I somehow believe, hosting videos and lecture notes coupled with some worksheets is not key to solving this problem.

And at the same time, i have a gut feel that a good learning portal (not restricted to just education) can attract really huge volumes/hits. A patent search on e-learning would help you understand what i am trying to point at.

Proto – The second coming

Just a quick post to see if anyone attended, and what they thought. I’ve been looking through the ones that made it, and reviewed the Internet ones over on my blog, and web apps like routeguru, were simply awesome.

Having said that, I was a bit disappointed by the small volume, and also the quality, but since I have a biased view, am interested to know what others think, and in addition would like to get in touch with the ones who didn’t get to showcase, I see no reason why blogspace cannot be given to them also.

From a VC point of view, any VC’s who went …thoughts please

Virtual exhibition time!

Just to tell all those who are interested that I’ll be launching an exhibition of my analog and digital art in the virtual world of Second Life. The exhibition launches on 21 July, and goes on for a month. It is being hosted by the Second Life library on Info Island.

All those who are interested in checking it out, I’m attaching a Facebook link to the event (read the previous post, yeah Facebook rocks). Here’s the event link (you’ll need a FaceBook account for this)

All those who are Second Life residents, please check out ‘Picks’ in my profile, there’s a teleport link directly to the exhibition. The launch event is at 7 PM SLT (Second Life Time) which would be about 8AM on a Sunday morning, so I’m not expecting too many people from this side of the world, but the exhibition itself is on for a month.

Anyone having trouble locating it, please send me an IM and I’ll send you the package- TP link, invite, artist’s profile etc…

For all those who are not on or don’t want to join Second Life, I’ve uploaded photos on Facebook as well. Please check out this direct link to the photo album.

Open Facebook

Great article on the impact of the open facebook platform. The ability for developers to plugin features into facebook and service the 30 million community already using facebook marks the demise of “one up feature social networks”.

What does this mean for Indian social networks? Facebook is already ranked 22 in India by Alexa, and ahead of any Indian social network. Does it make sense to add Indian content, widgets and communities to facebook now, instead of trying to re-create the community – a BollyBook, if you will? What is a good monetization route in that scenario?

What does this mean for the architecture of the future web? Salesforce already has this architecture on the enterprise side. We have been seeing more and more widget companies of late – for example, providing recommendation engines across thousands of websites as a centralized service, and leveraging on network effects across sites. Is this a movement towards the “widget web”?

Comments?