Archive for May, 2008

Two Entrepreneur Interviews: Deepak Shenoy of Moneyoga and Girish Saraph of Vegayan Systems

I recently did two interviews with two very different but passionate entrepreneurs: Deepak Shenoy, co-founder of Moneyoga and Dr. Girish Saraph of Vegayan Systems. Over the past year or so I have spent a fair amount of time talking to both of them and have followed their journey as entrepreneurs.

Deepak and I have spoken at length about entrepreneurship, startup environment, Bangalore, etc over the phone, but never got around to meeting over that cup of filter coffee in Bangalore. Blame it on the messy traffic congestion in Bangalore that precluded me from going to his part of town! Deepak is a passionate and seasoned entrepreneur and it was great fun interviewing him. In the interview Deepak made some great points about entrepreneurship in India.

Girish is an academician turned entrepreneur that I met at the TiE Mumbai conference in 2006, where I interviewed him the first time around. He was very excited at having won the TiE_Canaan Challenge for that year and was looking forward to going to INSEAD Singapore to spend 6 weeks there. I remember how Girish patiently and methodically answered all my questions about the software his company was building and gave me the big picture overview that also helped me in getting a better grasp of his company. Methodical is the word that comes to mind when I think of Girish since that trait or character is reflected in the manner in which he has plotted the course for his startup and in the way he did this interview that I did earlier this week.

Sustainable ?

From the news today (sorry, no link)

Reliance Industries has shut all of its 1,432 petrol pumps in the country after sales dropped to almost nil as it could not match the subsidized price offered by public sector players. The company owned less than 3% of the 36,936 petrol pumps in the country. Of the total retail outlets, state run Indian Oil, Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum own 34,304 pumps, while the remaining belong to private sector Essar Oil and Shell India.
   “Reliance has informed that sales at their retail outlets was negligible due to selling price differential between private and public sector ROs, leading to the closure of all their 1,432 pumps in the country with effect from March 15,” petroleum minister Murli Deora informed the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday.
   Public sector currently sell petrol at a loss of Rs 13.97 a litre and diesel at a discount of Rs 20.97 per litre. This revenue loss is made up by the government through issue of oil bonds and subsidy share from upstream firms like ONGC and GAIL.

If this sounds ominous,  Goldman Sachs economist Arjun Murti dropped a bombshell by writing,

“The possibility of $150-$200 per barrel seems increasingly likely over  the next six-24 months”

To add to all this bad news on the Crude oil front,  rupee has breached the 41 mark. The price action is very swift and a bit unnerving.

 INR/USD via BS

 If these trends persist, are the Indian businesses operating on wafer thin margins (textiles, airlines, farming) sustainable ?

It appears that these low profit margin businesses are the biggest employers of Indian Masses ?

Business Idea: Branded Entertainment

Cast Away is an awesome movie. You see it and you come back with two things. One, Tom Hanks survives the lonely island. And Two, he is a FedEx employee and he delivers that Wilson ball in the end.

Then there is a book called How Starbucks saved my life. You read the book and you again remember two things. One is making tough decisions. And two how Starbucks helped a guy discover what he wanted in life.

Both these, the movie and the book are awesome pieces of entertainment. People have seen these, talked about these and recommended these to their friends. On a standalone basis both of them are pieces of art. And most probably, both were original productions created by individuals without any influence by the company they talk about. And this is where the idea comes. What if both of them were sponsored and paid by the company they talk about?

I have been thinking about a company that creates these branded entertainment products for money. Obviously there are limitations and issues but none that stops the company from flourishing. Please note that this is very different from product placements in media. This is creating the product first and then inserting the brand.

Business Need: Advertising as we know it, would be dead very soon. People would start filtering advertisements automatically and recommendations from influences would start loosing meaning. then what? The solution lies in creating media around brand. Think of The Truman Show done at a smaller scale.

Possible Entertainment Options: This could be a very very long list. Starting with movies, television shows, radio shows to print media (newspaper, magazines, books, travelogues etc.) to interactive media (Internet, blogs, websites), others (computer games, hotspots, retail). The list is long.

Problem Areas: There are quite a few. Biggest one is obsolescence. Once an entertainment outlet is used for a brand, it becomes difficult to innovate and use the same medium for another brand. Then there are other petty issues like it being very expensive for brands. We are talking about professional book writers, movie makers, gaming companies working on the brand. We can explore cheaper options like blogs and websites but how many consumers of a brand like say Rin, be on Internet? They would be on TV for sure.

A lot more thought needs to go in place. I have about 4 more pages of random thoughts and comments. If anyone is interesting in talking more about it, please let me know and I shall share those docs.

Any opinions? thoughts? Crossposted

Vision India 2020: Preface

This is a new series in which I invite readers to take a journey with me into the future through the minds of multiple entrepreneurs, who by addressing the opportunities I see today, will perhaps shape the future of India.

But in this series, we will close our eyes, and exist in this future, and BE each entrepreneur. To read the first of these posts, click here.

Enjoy!

Some Humor

A bit of Humor. I am writing coz i have some time, and this site has a humor section … and i don’t own a blog (yet) to backlink.

You are reading, possibly because you also have some time. Nice, but then don’t complain. Even VCs read humor section these days (yes, i have heard).

Because of extensive traveling i  don’t own a house anymore, and currently putting up with a close friend. The maid of the house was asked by my friend’s mother to start cleaning the my room (which was vacant for some time now), and which she always used to “forget”. And if reminded, used to give lousy excuses like … someone died or so_and_so in close relation getting married.

We both were quite annoyed, and suddenly Geni.com came to my mind. I asked my aunt to casually ask the maid for her entire family tree, and we sat down and added all the details to Geni. Now, whenever someone got married or died, we just used to update the tree.

The fun started couple of days back, when an old chacha(uncle) who had expired peacefully two weeks back, suddenly got excited to get married on sunday. And old aunt of age 60 gave birth to kid today. Crazy.

Moral of the story: I find it quite amazing how tools like twitter/geni are being used.

Introducing eHealthopinion.com

One of the most common reasons for people to go online is to search for health information. 55% of those with Internet access have used the Web to get health or medical information – reference survey by Pew Internet Survey. Said so the present form of web information is limited to learn about diseases, obtain information about health care providers etc. There are very few tools available online to help individual with specific to his current condition to interact with doctor.  

But now the prospect of healthcare IT is transforming quickly. Recently Microsoft launched healthvault.com which allows people of US to store their medical data and share with their doctor. Googlehealth is fast moving in field recently tested its application with the Cleveland clinic.  

www.ehealthopinion.com is our effort to take healthcare IT to masses. eHealthopinion is the platform to connect (like ebay for product) patient; referring doctor and expert doctor. Using our application patient can able to prepare his case profile and send it to doctor for second opinion, line of treatment or follow up. Patient’s file consist medical data like ECG, x-ray, history, lab report etc. The application consist step by step information and tools to acquire patient’s data scientifically. Patient selects doctor and sends data to him. Doctor view and interpret patient’s data and write and send his opinion / prescription back to patient.   

eHealthopinion is launched on 24th July 2007. 175 doctors from 28 courtiers and 250 patients are registered with us till date. At present the service for patient is completely free of cost.  

Anticipating feedback. Thanks.  

Devendra Patel

Startups Exploited: An Open Letter.

This might be very personal, but I doubt it can be avoided. For the past two years, there has been a lot of time, commitment, travel, stress, energy, and personal money that has gone into a really ridiculous goal – one of creating a culture of oneness, open communication and one where startups stand a chance to win. The mission does go on, and I strongly believe that the journey lies ahead for a few more years, before we can step back and let things slide on its own.

But this is not about what I am doing. This is about what is happening.

They say, that what is nice from far is far from nice. Once you get into the ground, roll up your sleeves and start digging, you start to smell the intentions of a lot of well-to-do people, which kinda make you wonder a lot of things. This post is one of warning for the startup community to take heed from, so that you don’t allow yourself to be exploited mercilessly, by any means.
Continue reading ‘Startups Exploited: An Open Letter.’

Top management recruiting

Businessweek has a nice refresher on recruiting top management. While it primarily seems to be written for large companies, the lessons are equally relevant to startups. Of course, there are some additional points one needs to keep in mind when recruiting for startups:

  • Sell a personal vision – not just of where the company wants to be, but also why the prospective candidate should get involved. Money? Significance? Career advancement? Broad-skilling?
  • Build credibility – let others speak for you. Customers? Investors? Advisors?
  • Prepare well – have a detailed view on why you need this person – is he going to feel overqualified once he comes in?
  • Hire the best – this is a motherhood statement, but one which cant be emphasized enough, especially for startups.

Any others that have been useful in your experience?

Meeting Online this Saturday [Today] @ 3PM

Compared to how things were a few years back, the Startup Community has come together in such a fabulous way. We have OpenCoffee Club meets, Startup Lunches, Startup Saturdays, Mobile Mondays, Barcamps, Ideacamps etc, etc, and the plethora of other activities that organizations such as TiE, NEN, NASSCOM, etc are providing to benefit this same target audience.

All that said, we understand that most of these benefits are enjoyed by those who live in the major cities, and in most cases in the cities down south. There hasnt been much activities going on in cities such as Hyderabad, Pune, Kolkatta, Ahmedabad or any where in Kerala to bring the community together and to share, ask questions, and receive support from one another.

In an attempt to bridge that, we are hosting an online meet this Saturday [today] at 3pm at http://chat.proto.in. Most of you would know how to login, and the process is quite simple. Visit the URL, enter a nickname and you could join in.

If you would be participating, do post a comment to this post, and feel free to ask any questions if you do have any. You are also more than welcome to invite your friends, should they be interested, and ask them to join.

I look forward to seeing you there, if Possible.

PS: The Client is tested to work on an Iphone, and quite beautifully. Also if your phone as an IRC client, you could participate, on the move.

Agri Commodities

Food prices are at an all time high in most places around the globe. We have been reading news on Wheat, Edible Oil, Corn etc reaching their multi year highs.  A report on the same topic reads

“Rising Food prices can be good news for the food companies who are attempting to pass along those higher food input prices to the consumer.  They are maintaining or expanding margins and they are hopeful that the constraints on food supply and the changing and expanding global demand for food products will continue to put upward pressure on prices. “

Doesn’t this provide an obvious opportunity to invest in Food Companies & Farming ?