Author Archive for Anish Achuthan

Startups , Students and Universities !

One of the biggest constraints faced by a startup is access to cheap & quality manpower. Though you can get experienced techies to lead or manage your projects ( Thanks to ESOPS & the startup bug – a lot of experienced hands are willing to associate with bootstrapped startups) . But the real problem is about getting freshers to do the basic coding/marketing .With out paying say a 6k (minimum), it’s really difficult to find some good coders for your development team. Because these people are not in a position to work in a startup with out any pay or not comfortable with the bootstrapping culture.

I had interacted with quiet a few startups and most of them where facing the same issue ( Like they have a good tech guy to lead, but they lack the basic team to work on the project).

The best solution for this problem is to partner with Universities / Colleges and associate college students for your project. Here the universities role is to provide support to the students in interning with the startups by ways of faculty support, infrastructure etc. The advantage for students is that they get an opportunity to work on the latest cutting edge technologies / real life projects while the universities are in a position to provide students with practical exposure to enhance theorotical learnings. The startups get access to manpower for their projects with out affecting the bottomline of the company.

One question which may arise in your mind now is how capable are these students in terms of your requirement. The answer is firstly you are not relying on these students for building up your entire platform , but they are just doing a part of your product which is normally done by a team with out experience. ( For example for an online portal – the students can design the UI, the database , do content aggregation, do the documentation, market survey etc …..now if you needed 3 people for this you will be saving around 3 x 6 = 18 k/month ). Secondly the skill sets of a final year student and fresher are almost the same and what matters is their capability to learn and explore things.

 

Startups can allow students to use the project as a part of the final year projects, as well as provide them with incentives and by the time student pass out of the college if the company is well funded they can even recruit the student into their rolls.

Coming to our startup, we had designed a program called SCORE-MAT (SECURE CAREER THROUGH OBJECTIVE & REFLECTIVE EDUCATION in MANAGEMENT & TECHNOLOGY) for associating students with our projects as well as initiating R&D tie-ups with universities and colleges. We were successful in initiating a tie-up with SKIT college Jaipur and a team of 20 final year students are working on our projects from the campus which acts as a virtual incubator for the company. The program is wholly supported by the college and respective departments . Also a 4 member student team currently pursuing integrated Mtech at IT-BHU,Varanasi is also associated with the program and they recently were selected finalists for the IBM Great Minds Challenge 2008 for the Core Banking Solution they designed.

I think this is a good model which other startup can also follow. I believe if we can volunteer and form a common platform for linking start ups, universities and students it will benefit every one in the value chain.

 

 

Is location a constraint for start ups ?

More than a year ago there was a post on contentsutra and an article on Live mint on the same subject. Both the articles covered few startups, in cities like Nagpur & Trivandrum ( Including my earlier startup) and echoed the opinion that its not the location that matter but the product & the people that matters.

Let us take the example of a Start up , a mobile game developer who was among the first few companies to develop games and other applications to Reliance. Based out of Trivandrum , this company was the only one till date to win the Dhirubhai Ambani Developer Program ( DADP) twice in a row and many other awards including best mobile application from Nasscom, also they were the first to port games for reliance colour handsets. Other players in the market during this time where Nazaara & Mauj . While both Nazaara & Mauj was able to raise first & second round founding from leading VC’s , this startup remained as a small player in the market irrespective of it’s strong tie-ups with Reliance & Tata Indicom as well strong media coverage ( CNBC , leading business mags & blogs, every body had covered them). So only reason why they where not able to grow in the same pace as that of Nazara or say a Mauj is becuase of it’s location and their founders also preferred not to re-locate. Being in the mobile VAS space & being not close to the VAS head who is sitting in Delhi or Mumbai means you are loosing out on a lot of things. Firstly it requires frequent travel, presentations & follow up which could be a costlier affair for a startup if they are not located near to the operator.

Coming to my own experience, most of our alliance partners ( who forms a major part of our value chain, where located either in Mumbai or Bangalore or other big cities), which forced us to initiate discussions & finalize things over mail, phone or online conference. But most of our partnerships got delayed because we couldn’t travel down for an eye-to-eye meeting or presentation due to a lot of constraints. Again frequent travel also eats up valuable time which in turn affects the productivity of the organization ( especially if the startup is really small), leave alone the financial burden you incur for flight tickets ,stay etc. Again as we started growing from a 10 member outfit to a 50 member organisation we were searching for experienced people in senior management positions like Banking Alliance, retail etc. Most of whom we approached where not ready to move to Cochin even though they were looking forward for challenging opportunities in startups.

But being in Cochin has it’s own advantages especially on running costs,HR etc (In Cochin you can get an office space for rates ranging from Rs 27/sq ft to 80/sq ft for rent…what about say a Mumbai or Bangalore?).

Being in a small city or town has got it’s own advantages as well as disadvantages. My suggestion to startups facing similar constraints would be hold on in your existing location
( this has it’s own advantages like support from parents, network of peers to support you..etc) till you become stable & parallely you can use a one seater office + virtual office from Regus or DBS which will reduce cost as well as serve the purpose.

Ever dreamt about managing failures!

Have a dream, believe in it & work towards it and it will happen, well this is the
mantra we all chant in our mind while we initiate our journey to pursue our
ambitions.But have any one of you ever thought , how you will manage the situation if things won’t happen as we dreamt.

Managing failure is one of the most important feature an entrepreneur should possess, becuase the more you fail the more are the chances of attaining a huge success. Becuase each time you fail, you learn a lot of things which no business school will teach nor any mentor can advice. But if you don’t manage your failure, one may never get back to entreprenuership ever in your life.

Now how does one manage his/her failure . Well for this i believe one should foresee the possiblity of the same much in advance like the way you foresee your profits or success ( This could be like how you will pay back Tom, Dick and Harry who had lended me 1 lakh each to start the business or how you will face uncle Sam who warned you thousand times not to venture out into the business ). You should have a strategy in place for meeting people, your clients , partners , angry customers , investors if your business flops. I think such a strategy can reduce the magnitude of your failure a li’l bit so that may be after coming to terms with tragedy, you can get back and try your luck again may be after a small gap.

Again such a strategy can also help you foresee certain risks which you might not otherwise have thought off . This will also  increase the level of confidence among probable investors about you and your company.

Entreprenueship is all about risks, but it doesnt mean that you should go for blind risks thinking that you will never fail.

Anyways would like to know your thoughts on the same!