Archive for April, 2008

Introducing ReviewGist.in

ReviewGist

I would like to introduce the Venturewoods community to ReviewGist.in.

ReviewGist.in is a product discovery and research tool for consumer electronics powered by online expert reviews.

Essentially, we analyze expert reviews to figure out what aspect/part of the product is the reviewer rating good or bad. We then use this information to create simple yet powerful comparison and recommendation interfaces to enable a more informed online shopping experience.

We also provide specification and pricing information from some of the leading online retailers.

I am Nishant Soni and am the founder at ReviewGist.in. We are a small angel-funded startup based out of Gurgaon.

Hoping for some active criticism/feedback from the venturewoods community.

Pradeep Khosla: The Entrepreneurial Dean of Carnegie Mellon University

How does Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), a renowned research US university foster research and a spirit of innovation among its students and faculty? How does CMU do tech transfer? What is unique about the US university system that helps in creating startups and companies?

Is there something that India can learn from the US University system? How can India establish a US style research institute and create an ecosystem for entrepreneurship? Can India learn to leverage research conducted at universities at an economic level? These are some of the questions that Pradeep Knosla, Dean of School of Enginering Carnegie Mellon University talks about in this audio interview.

As Pradeep points out there is no major Indian company that can trace its inception to university research. India has to figure out how to leverage the research money it spends to bring about economic development.

Pradeep is an entrepreneurial dean, who combines his passion of being in a university environment and also pursuing his entrepreneurial dreams. He helped found two companies, one of which succeeded and the other did not. In this candid interview Pradeep shares his thoughts on what he learned from the failure of their company, which was in the hot new space of virtualization and received seed funding from Silicon Valley’s Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers.

Awards & Benefits | TiE Canaan Challenge

When we conceptualized this program; we started with the view that we should design awards, which can help companies to grow and achieve their next milestones. It can be funding, opening doors to customers, channel development, skill development in various functions and mentoring. This year awards are an effort in that direction.

1. Microsoft Award: At least one finalist will be invited to join the Microsoft Startup Accelerator Program where they will get access, guidance and support on the Microsoft Platform as well as market development support from Microsoft. – Microsoft will promote these companies in their ecosystem.

2. ISB Program: A representative from each of the winning teams will be invited to attend a course pro bono at the Center for Executive Education at the Indian School of Business (ISB). Typical value of this course is greater than Rs 300,000. The Identified course is Accelerated Management Programme – Increasing Managerial Effectiveness

3. Mentoring: All finalists will be mentored by TiE-ENP (Entrepreneurship Nurturing Program) to refine their business plans for the presentation to the jury. The Winners would be mentored by NASSCOM, Canaan Partners, and Jury Members for three months after the event

4. Access to Investors: All finalists will have access to investors from TiE, Indian Angel Network and other early stage investors

5. Profiling in Media: Winners will be featured in Business Today, enabling them to build awareness about their companies & products. Last year profiling was done on CNBC and winners of last year gave us the feedback that it was pretty useful for them

I think this platform can provide an interesting opportunity for start ups to launch their products or take it to next level. I would be happy to provide any clarifications on any query related to the event.

THE EXPERIENCE OF STARTING A NEW E RECRUITING PORTAL

I am one of the co-founders of Recruiting portal www.reffster.com incubated in Sept 2007 and have recently divested from the website, though not from the e recruiting idea. My co-founders and I have a copy each of the software /IPR and while my ex partners will henceforth run reffster .com, at some stage I plan to use a modified version of the software on a different Business model idea. Simultaneously there is a best practise oriented partnership brewing with another set of senior professionals, which includes Strategic HR outsourcing, Exec Search and other Talent Aquisition and Retention initiatives.

It has been 6 months of entrepreneurial experience following 24-years of  corporate life that took me through various Functional roles and General management experience in PepsiCo.  These 6 months, however, have given me the headiest experience of my life with ample adrenaline rush and roller coasters. I thought I should share my learnings from the e-recruiting domain as well as on how ideal partnerships should be formed in start-ups if more than one co founder exists.

Let me first share my impression of what I believe is necessary for the success of any new recruitment portal in the market. The key for any new portals’s success in my opinion will lie in a service offerring where clients perceive significant value vs. alternative existing channels of recruiting. Presently alternatives as we all know range from subscription based portal models (where Reach largely depends on those who put their Resumes on the net — where the client at times has to wade through thousands of Resumes), to brick and mortar value added Search where often the “right fit” candidate materialises only if the company is willing to pay high fees to quality recruiters.  Most portals are not expected to  “physically” value add (as Search consultants do by screening candidates) though there are niche portals in the US that offer a concierge service to subscription based high-end candidates with no charge to companies . 

The key to success for any new portal in my opinion will lie in providing “value added” services of reaching AND screening candidates vs Job descriptions and Ideal candidate Profiles –done entirely through technology play.  Without cutting edge technology , a portal which also aims to physically value-add will not be able to handle scale –something that in my opinion is desirable for any mass oriented portal in todays globalised world. If a new portal aims to replicate Naukri, Monster or Times–all very successful ‘vanilla’ platform models– that would not work since the space is already clutterred. If it aims to go beyond ‘vanilla’ and also value add that recruiting vendors do, then that will limit scalability with clients. Therefore a  100% Tech enabled value add led by new-age technology that matches Profiles with job descriptions to get ‘the right fit’, could be an idea that is innovative — and if another idea on the Sources of Revenue (from candidates rather than companies) is implemented, perhaps disruptive as well to the way existing portals operate.

Let me share what I believe are best practises in partnering with other co founders. There is undoubtedly a need to have shared values apart from only shared interests between co founders.  Chemistry too is essential! Also  –whether it is a bunch of college mates getting together or professionals getting together — co founders ideally need to have complementary skill sets which will ensure an effective relay race as the business starts off, churning of ideas and leveraging of each others strengths. All this is well known. In addition , I would urge all budding entrepreneurs who plan to partner to also spend quality time–as they would do building up their business plans — to carve out strategic and operational Roles at the outset. I would strongly advise co-founders to work out a Founders agreement during the incubation phase where future situations and how they would be tackled are thought through. Perhaps –and it would be interesting to get reader comments – it may not be a bad idea to also have a “First among equals” leadership Role assigned to one of the co founders at the outset for operational and strategic business decisions that will need to be taken after the launch( eg a casting vote in Board meetings) , though there would obviously be guardrails in place to ensure that consensus is enshrined for key strategic decisions e.g. exits, new partners, changes to Founders agreement etc. I know of successful SMEs who have co founders largely of the same age/experience who assign the “First among equals” Role by rotation each year through majority vote. The Founders agreement should be incorporated as part of the Articles of association of the Pvt Ltd. If well thought out governance procedures, Roles for each co founder and way forward for future situations has been well defined before the launch, it would definitely help the start up team during the ups and downs of the roller coaster that every start-up inevitably faces. The VC/seedfund fraternity would also welcome it.

I can be contacted at rjatar@gmail.com.

Ranjit Jatar

http://www.linkedin.com/ppl/webprofile?action=vmi&id=12354187&authToken=OLSU&authType=name&trk=ppro_viewmore&lnk=vw_pprofile

Launch of TIE-Canaan Entrepreneurial Challenge 2008

Hi All,

I am happy to announce launch of second edition of TIE-Canaan Entrepreneurial Challenge.

To refresh memories: In 2006, we invited entrepreneurs (starts ups and early stage companies) to showcase their ventures, short listed 11 businesses and did a final presentation round in front of an expert jury. In the whole process, 11 businesses were mentored using the TiE platform. We got a very good response across the country (more than 100 start ups). The top three winners were facilitated during TiE Annual summit and taken to a workshop to Insead Business School (Singapore). The whole series was aired on CNBC TV18 multiple times.

A similar event has been planned for this year. Participants will need to download and submit their applications from the contest website. The deadline for submission of the business plan applications is May 12, 2008. Eight (8) teams will be shortlisted based on their potential scale of the business, strength of the team and sustainable differentiation in the business model. These shortlisted applicants will be invited to participate in the final round in the month of June (2008) which will see them presenting their plans and ideas in detail to an eminent jury of the country’s leading entrepreneurs and corporate heads.

I will keep you posted on various dates around the event, benefits to finalists and other news.

Regards,
Mukul

Bootstrap Yourself!

My new Forbes column Bootstrap Yourself highlights Silicon Valley’s hottest new trend, Bootstrapping. Indian entrepreneurs, you need to embrace this trend, given that the early stage venture capital industry doesn’t quite have its act together yet.
Great bootstrapping case studies I have covered are Sridhar Vembu, Frank Levinson and Jerry Rawls, Cree Lawson, and Beatrice Tarka. Sridhar, Frank and Jerry did it almost without any outside money, while Cree and Beatrice have done it with very small rounds of Angel funding. Aspiring entrepreneurs, you have much to learn from them.

Also note, in Frank and Jerry’s case, they used services to bootstrap, while Sridhar used a lower profile, but successful product which became a cashcow.

Founders:Stop Hoping for Magic and Start Working

Interesting post at onstartups.com

Stop Waiting For The Magical Startup Fairy

Founders:  Stop Hoping for Magic and Start Working :)

Did I hoped for magic? Yes.

Did you?

The European Web Community Stands up.

Seems like we are not the only set of folks who are wanting to fix the problems we see around us and build a “sustainable” atmosphere around us. There is a post by Ryan who runs FOWA taking a stance against the Web Mission effort that is getting organized by the UK Government and quite a fair list of heavy weights, including Techcrunch. I think this post is important to observe for a couple of reasons.

The striking similarities that we hear from folks around us in:

1. Thinking that the Silicon valley for some reason offers more opportunities.

2. Europe just like India, in most cases, seems to think that you only get funded if you hit the valley. Atleast we aren’t that bad. We have much more easier access to capital.

3. There are folks like FOWA (Future of Web Apps) who are trying to build a vibrant community of users, developers and startups in Europe, very much like how we are working on the same – with arguments that they have “everything that they require right there”

4. There are also people, most of them, who seem to think that the UK companies should be looking into the valley for users and potential exit strategies.

I’ve been working on a post that shows a snapshot of interaction between startups, venture capitals and the markets from across the globe – the valley, Canada, Australia, Europe and India. You’d be surprised how similar most conversations are. Trust me, things are not so hard because we are in India, neither too easy because we are here. We are just facing the same harsh realities as anywhere else. Perhaps the world is flatterning. Huh! who thought I’d agree to that, so easily!

I’ll leave you with this comment by Phil Bradley in that post, which just gets the message home without any explanations:

“The equity gap between seed and series A that plagues the UK will not be resolved if we can’t demonstrate maturity and ability to build profitable businesses.”

That just eerily sounds like the issue we face here.

PS: I haven’t thought through this yet, but I believe this only applies to Internet/Media related startups.

A New Kind of Incubation Model. Part III

Ever since the journey with Proto.in started, about two years ago, I can safely say that I’ve sifted through atleast 300+ company profiles. I’ll hit you with the bad news first: Most of them are hopeless. They are half-baked solutions. They probably are great hobby projects and shouldn’t even allowed to be classified as a “startup” or a Product. Most of them lack business sense – to the point that if you did get a chance to see some of them, you might totally lose hope on the startup scene in India altogether.

Of course, the good news, is that the evolution is happening extremely rapidly. I am seeing lesser and lesser of the type of companies that I described above, and more holistic companies starting to appear. So what’s the issue? Not all is happy and merry yet.

Lately, I am seeing quite a bit of companies that seem to be addressing some very valid problems, and coming up with solutions that do make sense and would work. The only issue is that since most of them have a problem hiring, and a much bigger issue validating the concept and running the pilot that they end up building one piece of the puzzle and it takes them far too long to roll out the “solution”. The funny thing is that, mentally I can clearly see that there are different pieces of the same puzzle being put together by different groups. I simply can’t understand why they can’t collaborate and work together to target the problem.

So, yes, there are issues with this. First of all, since all of them are startups, and all being run by founders, there would be some issues with personality clashes as to how things are done. But lets face it. There are atleast seven players for every single component that is being made for the same problem out there. I think there are plenty of options of teams to choose from.

Before I do get blamed for pulling this out of thin air, here’s an example of something that works somewhere else. There is a Firm that I am aware of that operates out of an emerging nation. The way they work is that they fund certain entities to create knowledge and IP. Their IP could be as simple as a new recipe for a cake (quite seriously!). The firm identifies entrepreneurs in a location, and helps this entrepreneur create a franchisee location, and is given the know-how as to how to create these recipes and sell them. He is given just about six months of time when he is hand-held and guided on the art of running a businesses.

Six months later, the firm goes and finds an entrepreneur, exactly in the opposite side of the country and does the same thing. Follows up in another three months with another entrepreneur in another location, etc etc and repeats all above steps till they have five or six stable entrepreneurs who are running local units in different parts across the country. Then their only focus is to pump all their energy, and resources into these five units and watch with whom the entrepreneurial leadership kicks in. Once that is identified, they create a new entity, merge all these five units under it, place this “leader” as the manager, and take a stake out of this new entity.

The positive note for the firm in all this is that, they take equity out of a firm which has a high chance of success since its run by not one but five entrepreneurs who are well versed in the same business, understand local diversity, and have crossed the issue of scalability, and probably are leaders and hence will ensure that their local unit grows and thrives.

If you take that model and see how to apply a version of it in the context of India, and the technology space, I’d say that for most problems, the solution is broken and built by various companies – mostly small teams, two or three people. It would be interesting for a firm, or an incubator to pick a aching problem, and bring together startups who are building pieces of the puzzle. Come up with a formula (perhaps on revenue, team size, and product readiness) as metrics and figure out the percentage each company will hold, on a new entity that will be created and promoted as the solution to this problem.

Simple case in point: Ordering Food over the net. It is going to require a hotel network front, a logistics front, and perhaps a LBS, technology front. Hungry Bangalore + OrderMonger + Yulop is a solution to go with. You at least need these three bare minimum teams to come together if the Seamless web is the kind of end-result that they are aiming for. I am sure there are other alternatives and maybe other elements as well, that other companies can bring in.

Firms, since they do enjoy the same bird’s eye view that Proto.in enjoys can definitely put together this high level working arrangement, and someone will have to “architect” and manage these teams, atleast initially till their co-existence structure gets ironed out and they find their roles. But its certainly do-able.a

I strongly believe that this kind of lego-work will probably increase a few more holistic startups in the indian scene. If it does come together and work, it will probably one of the most high energy teams, since all the founders will be the guys who will be driving this, and there is no comparison to that – ever.

Related Posts:

A New Kind of Incubation Model. Part I

A New Kind of Incubation Model. Part II

Please leave your comments and what you think here

Fostering Innovation in India

Even after all these years of the so-called IT revolution, India is still struggling for a business/company that has created intellectual capital and has thus created a true enterprise with roots in research and development. I think its about time to take stock and figure out why.

No one would dispute that India has all it takes to create sustainable, world-class IP businesses. We have the requisite manpower. We have the intellectual prowess. We have the infrastructure (at least at few places). And we have people who can be effective leaders and mentors. All the pieces of jigsaw puzzles are there. Someone just needs to put all of them at one place at the same time.

This is where the story becomes interesting. People are scattered across geography and time. And these pieces don’t know that they are parts of something bigger and they all can play a role. Even if they realize that they can take their ideas to fruition, they don’t know where and how to find complementary skill-sets. We need something, a system probably to help these people come together.

Reminds me of classical markets. Every buyer knows that they will find the best sellers at the market place and every seller knows that they will find the most generous and knowledgeable buyers at the market. Everyone converges to the market and everyone goes back happy.

A look at all great places to work would reveal that people thrive in presence of great minds around them. Everyone learns off each other and collectively the tribe becomes stronger. Starting with Microsoft, moving on to Google and now Facebook, most technology people want to be at a place where they can be pushed and challenged by their peers and they can enrich their experiences. Microsoft, Google and Facebook are like above-mentioned markets. Programmers, Coders, Managers and even Chefs are jumping the gun and looking for better place. A place where all great minds converge and learn off each other and grow individually (and obviously to a place that gives them stock options).

India today needs someone to create such markets that enables people with complementary skills to come together and get them start talking to each other. Events like barCamps, OCC, MOMO and websites like VentureWoods, pluggd.In are doing it to some extent.

And now the questions. Are they really sufficient? Are they enabling people spread across geographies to come together? More importantly so these people have complementary skill sets? Any critics? Thoughts? Opinions?

P.S.: The title might be an misnomer … Originally posted here.