Author Archive for Deepak Shenoy

“Something is wrong in Venture Capital”

An interesting presentation from Adeo Ressi, founder of TheFunded:

I’m not sure this is specific to the VC industry – the same thing happens in PE, hedge funds and other managed asset sectors. Money goes to those who don’t need it.

How much of this is relevant to India? I don’t mean the facebook wannabes that did not get funded; the internet is an overhyped model catering to an extremely small population in India. I’m asking about sectors that are promising but have not received any serious (equity) funding because of VC affiliation to the internet, telecom, media and lately, alternative energy sectors. I know of the odd kaatizone that has gotten funding; but in general, what sectors are starved of cash?

And is it a problem of too much money? Businesses, in India at least, seem to need either way too much or way too little. Power plants and energy projects are part of the former and they’ve got their place in the sun. But “way too little” has been common too – starting a company and growing it today requires a lot lesser capital than it ever has, and the micro levels of funding, with similarly micro levels of exits, seem to be non-existent. As an example in the US, take Wallstrip which was funded by Howard Lindzon for $500K, and was sold for $5 million in a year. Yes, this selling ecosystem needs to happen here, but is this kind of deal totally absent or have I just not heard of any?

I think this will be a very interesting space. Perhaps the reduction in available money, and reappearance of “risk” capital will make way for path-breaking VCs who’ll invest in places where you didn’t know there were places. Venture Capital to Adventure Capital, in a way.

Booths in Large Conferences

This is a comment I posted here, and have converted this into a post by itself (Thanks, Alok!) While this may be irrelevant to some of you, this is a set of my thoughts on hiring a conference booth.

In the past I’ve done the rounds of tented events, all of them named IT.COM in Bangalore. We paid about 25K for an 8×8 (I
think) booth in 1999 and then about a 100K for a double sizer in 2000.

IT.COM had 100,000 visitors or something but unfortunately there was very little value for us. But let me put certain of my learnings here.

1) You will spend much more than the booth rental. Expect to spend two to five times the 100,000 on things like decoration (you will need some pictures/logos/flex to adorn the booth), printing of brochures, time spent on follow ups and dead ends etc. [1]

2) Do a trial run of everything and keep redundant equipment handy. Everything that can go wrong will go wrong and so will its uncle. You’ll get one power outlet, most likely, and in some cases even that will not work. Ensure you keep spare power strips, stabilizers/UPSes if you need them, spare hard disks, operating system disks and the like. Your printer will jam, and you will need extra paper. You will never have enough business cards. You will need enough pens to cover Subsaharan Africa with ink.

3) There are “brochure collectors” in the “general hour” visits. For them print black and white brochures. Do not keep stuff like chocolates or candy, especially in glass containers which are likely to be pulled down. Don’t have ANY wires on the outside, because they will get pulled, tripped on, whatever.

The conference organisers will try to increase footfalls, which is their goal. Your goal is to get quality leads, not necessarily the same thing. Therefore keep things like freebies, candy etc. away, and things like lower cost brochures handy. We learnt this the hard way after one day of some 5,000 students were goaded, in line, to visit all the tents in IT.COM, and realising that 1,000 colour brochures at Rs. 10 a pop vanished in half an hour, for absolutely no ROI. The next day we had a one pager printed in b/w at Rs. 1 a page. A company that was doling out t-shirts had no merchandise left at the end of the day.

You should also learn the art of rescuing. Sometimes somebody will start giving you their life history in your stall. Ensure that the others in the stall can have some kind of instant work that you need to be assigned to, like a smoke generator behind the monitor.

4) Set up a complete back-end management system. You will get hajaar business cards. You need to get back to everyone who called. Have a system that ensures you get back to them within one week, and plan it before hand. Believe me, this is the only use of the conference and if you screw it up, all the money is down the drain.

We took three months the first time, and didn’t finish. Everyone asked us to “come and give a demo” and it was a waste of time because we didn’t pre-screen them or have a phone pitch. We took two weeks to figure out the scribbles behind the business cards (what we thought would help us remember who this was)

5) Don’t invest in a fancy look – the simpler, the better. The fancy look is goign to be done by the hi-fi outfits and I’ve seen very little correlation with actually footfalls (or sales). Also anything that is flimsy will be broken within the first day and you will never fix it, even after the TV cameras show the chief guest staring at it suspiciously.

Do not depend on music or sound for your presentation; it will not be heard.

6) Negotiate for whatever you can like tables, chairs and be there early to ensure you get this stuff in your stall. Ensure you’re early anyway because everything will go wrong. If it has to be done, have someone sleep over at your stall the first day (day zero really) because there will be no security on that day and a lot of people around.

7) Your aim, when you are in the stall is not just to pull people in, but also to push them out. When friends etc. visit take them OUT of the stall and talk to them. Don’t crowd the entrance/exit, try to keep that a motion zone. if you have a visitor’s diary ensure that you can clip a business card and write a note instead of asking the visitor to write.

Innovative stuff: hiring college students wearing your t-shirts to walk everywhere in the conference, and in teh entrance area of the conference and near the ticket stalls during the business hours, instead of paying for billboards. Everyone doles out brochures but no one gives people a bag for keeping them. A plastic bag with your company name printed may cost you less than Rs. 5 a bag. (but hold the freebies) Put a dustbin in front of your stall, because everyone collects junk and will want to get rid of it.

If you can book sales at the stall, do so. Nothing attracts people more than the ability to pay for stuff at places where no one will take their money.

You can get a lot out of a large conference, but my feeling is that the money is better spent on industry events rather than generic events like IT.com or such. We had better ROI at a textile exhibition in coimbatore than with IT.com, given that our stuff was for manufacturing companies. College focussed SN portals will probably have more returns from a college event than this one. But large conferences may work for you – hopefully they’ll work better if you learn from other people’s mistakes.

[1] You will have a lot of dead ends. Because people like to bandy their business cards around, and because you look like such a sad puppy that a prospect hands you a card anyhow after watching a demo, and decides he’s not interested. You will need to get back to them even if only to say, “See? I’m following up!”.

Just 85 lakh internet subscribers?

A TRAI report (17 April, 2007) contains statistics on Internet “subscribers”: 85.47 lakh in number.

Of this, the total number of broadband subscribers are 20.54 lakh as of 31 December 2006. That would probably comprise cyber cafes, home users and some SMEs. Alarmingly low, I think, though the quarterly growth rate of 13% might be a saving grace. (Extrapolation: 90 lakh connections by 2010)

I assume subscribers = number of connections rather than number of users. But even with an extrapolation of 5 users per connection, we’re talking about 10 million (1 crore) broadband users, and about 40 million (4 crore) users overall. That’s just about around IAMAI’s estimates of 42 million users by March 2007. Even there, the number of “active users” (access the net at least once a month) is about 30% lower than the reported figure.

Assuming most SNS and other web sites want a million users at least, and most sport content that serves broadband users the most, are we then way too early for the mushrooming internetworking portals? With an addressable (“broadband”) market of about 10 million users, growing to about 40 million in three years it may just mean a “not-just-the-web” strategy is quite as important for many portals – like the travel and job portals have done, selling through travel agents and offline recruiters/job fairs instead. Or, it means consolidation or desperate sales of funded companies once they realise that the market isn’t large enough for exits in the investors’ return horizon.

It’s time, perhaps, for the upcoming ventures to start thinking about making their valuations sound good with sub 500,000 users as well. What do you think?

Startup Dunia has an interesting post on this. (Which is where I got the links)