Second episode of TiE Canaan Entrepreneurial Challenge would be aired on CNBC TV18
Saturday â€“ 26th July â€“ 1:30 PM
Sunday â€“ 27th July â€“ 9 AM; 1:30 PM; 6 PM
Archive for July, 2008
Second episode of TiE Canaan Entrepreneurial Challenge would be aired on CNBC TV18
Glad to announce that iYogi has raised their Series B investment of $9.5M led by SAP ventures, with follow-on investments from Canaan Partners and Silicon Valley Bank. You might remember the $3.1M Series A investment last April – the company has progressed very well since then. What is really encouraging is that iYogi, along with companies in online tutoring space, has proven out the viability of taking offshore services down to individual consumers (also called personal offshoring now in buzz!) That opens up a whole slew of opportunities for technology-rich services companies.
From REALLY early stage, I mean a bunch of guys 3 or 4 years out of college, having quit their highly paying techie jobs, wanting to build the next big thing and get rich soon. I can really relate to the picture, as an year back, I really did fit the description. You know these people when you meet them. They have hazy ideas in their heads which they think are profound, and are filled with enthusiasm and determination to fight it out and “make it work”.
While someone who is “seasoned” can bludgeon these guys’ theories to death in 10 minutes flat, we can see that traditionally in the west, its guys with these kind of profiles who have gone on to create the biggest tehnological successes. While some amount of bludgeoning is definitely justified, I have a feeling that the “seasoned” lot misses one point while dealing with these start-up guys: Judging by reason, start-ups hardly have a chance of succeeding. Start-ups have disbalanced teams, no money, no background in business, and still, some of them go on to become phenomenal successes.
Then how does one judge a startup? On what parameters? My take is, a start-up should really be judged on three parameters that I have written about below. I’d love to have a discussion about this here, and see if we can add to this list. Here’s my list of parameters (in no particular order):
1. The Market: Start-ups trying to solve a problem that does not exist are so common. There should be a clearly defined market/need/demand for whatever the start-up is trying to do, whether it is a consumer internet portal, or an enterprise service or electronic gadgets. The “seasoned” lot must first look at the existence of the market, and estimate the size of it.
2. The Techonology: Most techies will try to solve problems with extreme use of extreme technology, because thats what they are good at. Now that, in many cases, causes problems. For instance, it might increase costs so much that it might make the product or service prohibitive for the market. Its very critical to correctly judge the technology the start-up is using.
3. Enthusiasm/Guts/Desperation-To-Succeed/Human-Qualities: This is what separates the men from the boys (Sorry, I didn’t intend to be sexist here . An assessment of this again comes from the gut, and you know these guys when you see them, and have talked to them for just five minutes. This is the magic sauce that makes a start-up succeed. It is very critical to correctly evaluate this.
Other than these, I know that an infinite number of holes can be punched into any start-up’s theories. Is doing that right? I would love to know what you think.
I am happy to share that we have led an investment round of $6MN in UnitedLex with Helion. UnitedLex is a legal consulting and outsourcing firm. Sahad has covered some numbers on broad KPO market in his posts.
Since last 12-18 months, we came across many companies in the broad KPO market – Legal Outsourcing, Financial Analytics, Market Research etc. We believe that ability to scale and sustain growth will become a key success factor in the KPO space. While on sales side, one needs a good sales engine which can close deals in the competitive and fragmented US market. W.r.t delivery, you need ability to drive efficiency by bringing more and more processes on a technology platform. UnitedLex has been able to excel both on sales and delivery front and we hope to help build this into a big business.
With 3 talented founders, today, you can build a service leveraging Internet platforms from the likes of amazon, google, paypal, salesforce and 100′s of others. You can then get your service to users by leveraging social and search engine marketing and you can do this with no expensive infrastructure, very little money and all in less than a year.
Sounds like a Hindi formula film where the founders live happily ever after. So whats the catch?
The problem is that this formula is not a big secret. There are thousands teams out there that can do the same and this creates a ton of noise. The hard part is finding the right problem to solve, solving it right and getting people to adopt in spite of the noise.
Its been a year since I started Tandem Entrepreneurs and its brand of co-entrepreneurship. It has been a lot of fun and a lot of work. The best part is the quality of entrepreneurs that we have the privilege to work with. For those interested here is the list.
In this year of working with our companies if I had to highlight one observation it would be about the complexity of the 15 sec WHY?
The service a start-up offers may have a lot of value, but you have to find the one reason (the WHY) a user will pull the trigger and adopt the service in less than 15 secs. (This shouldn’t be confused with the company elevator pitch, or tag line)
Nailing this WHY down is not easy, and most often the discovery continues for many many months, but it is something to focus on right from the very start and keep on it till it is absolutely proven.
There is a great temptation to have a laundry list of whys, a very generic why or a why that is too obscure. What you need is one COMPELLING reason that appeals to sufficiently many in 15secs or less.
We as entrepreneurs get bogged down in all that can be done once our service is adopted and don’t put ourselves in the shoes of the user who is reluctant to mess his already messy world with a new services.
Think of the services you use and you will probably be able to explain why you use each in 15 secs, shouldn’t people be able to do the same for whatever you build?
The WHY is the first W of the touchstone I currently use to evaluate and evolve companies – there is another W and two V’s that are all needed but those can wait for another day.
BTW: I am visiting Delhi from the 28th July – 9th Aug. I am not sure I will have much time, but if there are any teams out there that would like to learn more about Tandem let me know and I will see if I can make it happen.
Author’s Note: This post and accompanying photographs are copyrighted by the author; and any unauthorized replication, storage or publishing of this material without the author’s express written (and signed on paper) permission is prohibited.
The author has been in the High Tech industry for over a decade; and can be reached on nsnsns(at)gmail(dot)com or mobile: 9811109407 and is happy to attend and blog about technology events and technology news; please feel free to contact him with your questions, comments, opinions and info about tech events in delhi.
Also, before everything else, my heartiest compliments and thanks for a great job done— to Vijay and team (Sudhir, Divya, Kiruba, many others whose name I wasnt exposed to)– my only complaint )) — u cud do it bigger!!! 10 times bigger next time guys!!! ))
Also, the main reason I’m posting is because I googled around; but couldnt find any articles that did justice to the awesome event that proto.in 2008 at IIT-Del was…
This article will also be posted on my DelhiVoice Blog… http://delhivoice.blogspot.com –> and I encourage you to visit that blog too…
I was there at proto.in at IIT Delhi on 18-19 July 2008.
This was my first time at Proto.in- as earlier I wasnt sure if it’d be worth it- since I’m not actually looking for any funding from VCs nor do I have a product idea for which I need to create a buzz- but anyways, some college buddies who’re also ex-Trilogy God programmers were here in Delhi showcasing their startup’s concept and I took the liberty of hanging around them, feasting my eyes and ears on the intense startup and ideation action around me.
It was a amazing, awesome, mind-expanding experience- to understate it and to put it mildly. It was something everyone in the tech industry should check out– even if you’re not even remotely looking to interact with VCs and even if you have no entrepreneurship thoughts even from a distance.
Here’s a bit of what I saw that inspired me to make the above statement.
(1) You heard “Allah ke bande has de” from the Movie Waisa bhi hota hai ?
You seen the Quick Gun Murugan commercials on your fave music channel ?
—> Shashanka Ghosh… the guy who conceived and executed both of the above was there talking about his filmmaking experiences and on the perspectives he got to hear from folks like Ram Gopal Verma when he presented his ideas to them. Furthermore, beyond any book on writing business plans, he shared his thoughts on getting funding; interacting with financiers and why he took some of his ideas only as far as he did– and not as far as they could have gone.
And he did it all in a talk that was peppered with humour and a projector showing rushes from some of the movies/commercials he has done and some which are upcoming…
(2) There was Kiruba Shankar… one of India’s premier podcasters competing with everyone else in the quiz and taking his shot at running the ideation session… a idea jam… where people would grab the mike and spout forth on ideas; as others expanded them and took things forward…. a lively entertaining session; which incidentally was surprisingly fruitful in generating some ideas on changing the shape of Indian society and indian politics… which kept the audience on it’s feet and entertained throughout and which (surprisingly!) gave out prizes to ideas that generated the maximum momentum – and momentum was judged and measured in a surprisingly objective way.
(3) There were startups too; with loads of great ideas, presenting their concepts… and pushing their buttons and there was a session where all the startups were asked to sit on different tables in the luncheon area and attendees were encouraged to stroll by and talk to whoever they wanted to and see whichever demo they fancied seeing…
I personally had a pleasant surprise learning that one of the hot idea start-ups had as it’s CTO a guy who was once one half of a team whose other half… it’s chief marketting officer & CEO I had interacted extensively with over Ryze and over yahoo messenger… always great to learn it’s a small world… and the world is round too!!!
(4) Food and coffee flowed freely and the ambience of IIT-D added to the atmosphere… but for me atleast, what really brightened up the atmosphere was the pleasure of running into and meeting a whole bunch of hot-shot techie faces I had heard or read about…
There were indeed a whole bunch of interesting people. There were folks who’re agewise kids compared to me but who I respect as upcoming God programmers. And there were people I have heard and read about in techie circles but have never met. And then there were individuals I knew at college years back as God-programmers who are now senior technologists. And many others whose acquaintaince I will cherish… there was everybody… a electric mix but in a very civil garb… and a pleasure to rub shoulders with and interact with…
I’m sure the startups presenting their products must have got their mileage too; for I saw people wearing badges of various incubators and every Seed-stage and mid-stage funding company I could think of and a few I had never heard of and I saw lots of interesting potentially lucrative products being presented… but yeah, I thought I’d share my take on stuff as a attendee– so that folks that wonder abt the value of buying a pass to proto.in and attending– but who are doubtful about showing up or doubtful about spending money see the value and do show up next time.
Some of the startups / attendees / people I met at proto.in 2008 included: (I hope my posting your names is ok- if any comments for additions/deletions, please mail me)
Eko – Mobile Financial Azadi http://eko.co.in
Inkfruit (a t-shirt publishing company!) www.inkfruit.com
Lords of the odds http://www.lordsoftheodds.com Correction: Lords of Odds http://www.lordsofodds.com
2i Capital India Pvt Ltd
… and many more… this was just a sampling from the names I remembered and the visiting cards I collected…
Posted below are some photos I shot at the Proto.in Delhi 18-19 July 2008… I hope ya like them… reach me on nsnsns(at)gmail(dot)com or on 9811109407… and I’d be happy to hear your comments…
Also, finally, my thanks to Mr.Bakshish Dutta (firstname.lastname@example.org), General Manager – Startups and Emerging Markets (Web 2.0) at sun microsystems; who when I phoned him and asked him if proto was worth it and if he had a extra pass for me; strongly advised me to show-up and check out the atmosphere– even if I showed up for a few hours…
A plug for Sun: Guys if your startup needs servers or if your web application uses a database; chances are you will be using MySQL- which while still free; is now owned and supported by Sun– and I strongly advise you to atleast talk Sun Microsystems; enquire about their offerings and their prices– they are doing a lot of interesting work to encourage startups… and a lot of their offerings beat the grey market/nehru place offerings fair and square; and their price includes the extremely valuable advice/information they share about servers, technology and technology options!!!
The report focuses on social transformations around a new technology and its adoption. The report beautifully documents lives and ways Indians in tier 2 cities and towns use mobile phones. One of the best reports, a few highlights for me are
- The East-West Divide: If we draw a line connecting Delhi and Chennai, the western India has seen most of the developmental efforts. East of this line still exist opportunities and possibilities. And this has largely been ignored by most of us (entrepreneurs, students, professionals, academicians etc.)
- Understanding of India as a country. The report gives a very deep understanding of Indians and their communication behavior. What makes this one different and special is that CKS talks about the entire India – not just metros or towns or villages.
- Classification of towns and villages. CKS has done a very good job in classifying towns and villages according the now famous pyramid by CK Prahalad. The report further classifies these rural citizens in terms of their purchasing power. Probably first such effort in India?
- Opportunities in Rural AND Urban India. Everyone is ga-ga about opportunities in rural India and largely . While reading this report, it dawned on me that even the urban and semi-urban population is more than 500 mn. This number is more than the population of US and UK combined and there is a strong case of a business flourishing here also. Agreed that urban markets are difficult to crack considering they have plethora of options and they are picky. But is too large a segment to be ignored and is waiting to be tapped.
- Insights from research: CKS has gone beyond regular data collection and have come up with insights such as elevation in social stature, increased credibility, ease of use of mobile phones as communication device compared to an Internet-connected PC, personal and societal welfare etc. And how does an access to a mobile communication tool helps people make their lives better.
- Possible Applications: in micro-commerce, making travel easier, access to information, education (one of the examples look uncannily similar to latest Idea Cellular advertisement) etc. This can be coupled with findings from Jan Chipchase (more on him later) to identify new and possibly revolutionary businesses. Simple example could be use of airtime as currency and if someone can regulate this, its a huge huge market waiting to be tapped.
- Case Studies: The way they have chosen their subjects, the methodology to conduct an interview, the detail in which they have gone while researching, they have captured the entire life of the subjects. With the kind of detail available, you can easily create character maps of these subjects and derive the way they live their lives and how they interact with brands.
- Photographs: Awesome collection of photographs that the team has taken during their study.
The report also mentions at one point Jan Chipchase, a Nokia employee whose job is to travel the world and observe and document novel ways in which people use and interact with mobile phones. This is his wonderful talk on TED on how we use our mobile phones.
Coming back to CKS report, one might argue that they covered only three districts and have extrapolated the data to come up with findings and recommendations. And that report was released in early 2007. But regardless of these reservations, this still remains one of the best research reports I have read in a long time.
Apart from the focus on mobile phones, the report is that detailed that you actually get tons of ideas (another post on this later) while reading it. Congratulations to CKS team for this awesome effort.
P.S.: The font size is way too small and there are 226 pages of information, worth its weight in gold.
P.S..: If anyone else is keen on serving the information and entertainment needs of a community and can foresee (or already has) a business in this domain, please contact me. You never know what might come out of a discussion.
Friends, writing the Vision India 2020 series has been extremely interesting and rewarding. The series is being syndicated by Indian newspaper, DNAIndia, and I keep receiving emails from entrepreneurs who are working on / thinking about ventures along the lines of my Vision India columns. Here are the ones that I have written so far:
Each venture has built-in scalability to become billion dollar enterprises, and I encourage entrepreneurs looking for ideas to work on some of these.
The play out time for The TiE- Canaan entrepreneur challenge are as follows:
Repeat on Sunday: 9.30am and 10.30pm
This Saturday the 1st episode goes on air. There will be a total of 3 episodes at these times.
Creating Value for All: Strategies for Doing Business with the Poor
UNDP Report: July 2008
See the full 180 page report at
(around 7MB PDF file)