Author Archive for Sramana

100th 1M/1M Roundtable: Dedicated To Steve Jobs, Reinforcing Mission To Restructure Capitalism

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes … the ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things. They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are the ones who do.” — Steve Jobs

The man who inspired so many of us through his life and his work to have the courage, conviction and resilience to take on long-term, important agendas, is no more. Today’s 100th roundtable is dedicated to fittingly celebrating Steve’s life. The reinforcement of his example, in hours of darkness, has offered me light and direction to take on a big, bold idea: restructuring capitalism through the 1M/1M program.

At today’s session, we opened with a memorial service for Steve and then went on to explain how we are doing so.

Through the past six years of intense research and thinking, I have come to conclude that the most vulnerable phase in an entrepreneur’s life is the pre-$1 million revenue stage. This is where numerous ventures fail.

In the 1M/1M roundtables, the vast majority of entrepreneurs we work with are in this rather vulnerable pre-$1 million revenue stage.

The 1M/1M program aims to help a million entrepreneurs globally reach $1 million in revenue (and beyond), thereby building the foundation of a robust, distributed and sustainable economic value creation that would add up to $1 trillion dollars in global GDP. It would also result in creating at least 10 million jobs around the world.

And today, we have a group of early adopter premium members who are making good use of the program. In over 100 roundtables, I have personally coached more than 400 early-stage entrepreneurs. Over 7,000 people have attended the roundtables. And between the free and premium programs, as well as the blog, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, we have a community of more than 200,000 people engaged in the initiative at various levels.

Through this journey, we have raised the visibility of fundamental issues like the causes of exorbitantly high infant entrepreneur mortality and alerted the entrepreneur community with a simple observation:

Entrepreneurship = (Customer + Revenue + Profits); Financing is Optional

Our community has successfully established a culture of bootstrapping as a counterforce to the compulsive rush to financing that entrepreneurs often mistakenly engage in, only to be rejected over and again by investors. This, of course, doesn’t mean that we discourage entrepreneurs from seeking financing. It simply means that our methodology prepares them better if they do decide to raise capital, as well as calibrate their fundability at different points of the journey.

And finally, we have defined 1M/1M as a framework for capitalism 2.0, a distributed, democratic model of capitalism.

What makes 1M/1M unique?

Every incubator you look at takes pride in how exclusive it is. How difficult it is for entrepreneurs to get selected to participate. 1M/1M is not exclusive at all. We want every entrepreneur to have access to our curriculum and incubation services, and give them an opportunity to build their businesses, irrespective of the scale of their entrepreneurial aspirations. After all, there are many more $5 million, $10 million, $20 million ideas out there than $500 million or billion-dollar ones. The latter is the domain of venture capital, but the former is what we need to build the foundation for Capitalism 2.0 on a global scale.

In 1M/1M, we offer a case-study-based online educational program, video lectures, and methodology, online strategy consulting at public and private online roundtables, as well as introductions to customers, channel partners and investors (pre-seed, seed, angel, VC, bank, alternative financing). The public roundtable is a free program accessible from anywhere in the world. The rest of the services are for paying members only. The $1,000 annual fee grants paying members unlimited usage of the service.

I have learnt a great deal being based in the heart of Silicon Valley for the last 15 years and having access to its inner circle. However, as I started designing 1M/1M, it was clear to me that what we have learned and fine-tuned here at such a furious pace, needs to be encapsulated and made available to the larger world of entrepreneurs. No, you do not need to come to Silicon Valley to learn entrepreneurship. With 1M/1M, we have packaged the lessons from the trenches of over 500 entrepreneurs. We have synthesized a methodology that draws from their best practices. We have created case studies that help you get an up-close-and-personal experience of sitting down with some of the best entrepreneurs of our time and sharing, perhaps, a cup of coffee with them.

At today’s session, we had ten 1M/1M premium members share their journeys.

Happy Grasshopper
Dan Stewart, from Tampa/St. Petersburg, Florida, presented Happy Grasshopper, an online service helping sales people keep in touch with their prospects via email. Dan started off in 1M/1M with the idea of raising money right away but has since focused on getting a solid positioning done, a minimum viable product (MVP) built, and has generated over 2,000 successful, delighted, paying customers, thus vastly enhancing his fundability.

FreshDesk
Girish Mathrubootham, from Chennai, India, discussed FreshDesk, a full-featured social customer support SaaS offering targeted toward small businesses. In the past 100 days since its launch, Freshdesk has recruited 100 paying customers. In parallel, the founders have won a $40,000 grant from Microsoft as winner of the BizSpark Startup India Challenge and are in the throes of closing a financing round. The company has generated excellent investor interest and multiple term sheets.

Voluble
Taariq Lewis, from the San Francisco Bay Area, presented Voluble, an online ‘event’ platform that broadcasts multiple chat messages to multiple social media platforms simultaneously and is seeing excellent traction in large enterprises to assist with lead nurturing in the sales closing process. Taariq joined the 1M/1M program with a single-slide concept and has since recruited marquee paying beta customers. Voluble is also seeing good interest from investors.

OrangeScape
Suresh Sambandam, from Chennai, India, discussed OrangeScape, a Platform-as-a-Service provider from India that plugs a gap in Google’s enterprise product, helping migrate long tail applications from Lotus Notes to Google App Engine. Through partnerships with larger channel partners, OrangeScape is seeing traction in very large enterprises and has established an excellent relationship with Google. Helping the latter win Lotus Notes migration deals is a market penetration strategy that is paying off.

CrowdEngineering
Gioacchino La Vecchia, from Pisa, Italy, discussed CrowdEngineering, a crowdsourced customer support platform, that is pioneering a level zero customer support layer that expects to save 20% to 30% in support costs for enterprises with a high volume of support calls like Telecom and Consumer Electronics. CrowdEngineering is also seeing traction through channel partnerships that 1M/1M has helped put together.

Invention Labs
Ajit Narayanan, from Chennai, India, presented Invention Labs, a speech technology for helping children with disabilities, like autism, communicate and learn. Ajit is a remarkable innovator and technical founder who is using 1M/1M as his crash course in business and product marketing, while also generating revenues through services, some product sales in India, and winning major awards like the Technology Review TR 35.

iFood.tv
Vikrant Mathur, from the San Francisco Bay Area, presented iFood.tv, a large community of cooking lesson videos where food lovers learn to cook. Vikrant has already built a business with millions of users and eyeballs, monetized some, and his company is now profitable. But the opportunity is a lot larger, especially by introducing Web 3.0, and expanding the monetization models to include commerce. Much revenue waits to be unlocked.

Value Of Insight Consulting
Scott Clark, from Miami, Florida, presented Value Of Insight Consulting, a company with deep expertise in clinical trial research in areas such as oncology that offers great value to pharmaceutical companies. No, 800 million people are not going to be buying the company’s product, but major pharma clients are buying, and the company is doing important work, while building a serious, profitable business.

Azuyo
Ashok Jagathrakshakan, from Bangalore, India, presented Azuyo, a mobile and social application developer. Ashok has established himself as one of the go-to guys for many 1M/1M companies that are looking for outsourced product and prototype development services. In parallel, he is also building a product business that has emerged out of his work with social media campaigns.

Wealth Gathering
Michael Goldman, from Portland, Maine, presented Wealth Gathering, a social gaming consumer app for managing your financial health. Michael is in the midst of advanced market validation, having completed the first level of positioning and research. From Maine, where there isn’t much of an entrepreneurial community, Michael is able to plug into Silicon Valley’s knowledge and experience through 1M/1M.

These are just a few examples of how the 1M/1M entrepreneurs are moving forward. The most important fact is that they ARE moving forward and are able to short-circuit a learning process that cost many of us many invaluable years of our lives and numerous avoidable mistakes.

The 1M/1M community is very proud of all the entrepreneurs who are pushing ahead with the same determination and resilience that Steve Jobs taught us through his glowing example. It is a light that will continue to guide entrepreneurs around the world for years to come, and it will also guide us at 1M/1M, offering the strength to stay with our mission of restructuring capitalism and empowering a million entrepreneurs to become successful.

You can listen to the recording of today’s roundtable here. As always, I would very much like to hear about your business, so let me invite you to come and pitch at one of our free 1M/1M public roundtables. We will be holding future roundtables at 8:00 a.m. PDT on the following dates:

Thursday, October 13, Register Here.
Thursday, October 20, Register Here.
Thursday, October 27, Register Here.

If you want a deeper relationship with me, you are very welcome to join the 1M/1M premium program. If you have any questions about the program, please, first study the website, especially What to expect from the 1M/1M premium program and the FAQs. If you have additional questions, please email me, and I would be very happy to respond. Please note, that I work exclusively with 1M/1M entrepreneurs.

I also invite you to join the 1M/1M mailing list for the ease and convenience of getting updates. This way we can stay in touch and it will help you to decide if 1M/1M is a program for you.

Exciting Companies Lined Up For Microsoft Startup Grant Finals

During today’s roundtable, we had four Microsoft BizSpark Startup India Challenge grant finalists present. Two of them, Freshdesk and Bizosys (10Screens), are 1M/1M premium members, and we have already been working on their strategies for a few weeks.

Freshdesk
First, Girish Mathrubootham from Chennai, India, pitched Freshdesk, a SaaS company that provides small and medium businesses with on-demand customer support software that offers multi-channel social support. Freshdesk introduces itself as a kind of Salesforce.com for customer support so to speak. Small and medium size business owners can set up online customer support platforms that combine the backend help desk system used by agents (ticketing, knowledge management) with an online customer portal (self service, forums, idea management, voting, etc) on the front end.

What I find exciting about Freshdesk is that they may be able to do the same thing in customer support that Zoho did in CRM: a drastic downshifting of the price-point of a full-functionality, differentiated, cutting edge customer support solution. For the uninitiated, Zoho introduced a CRM system that was one-tenth the price of Salesforce.com, and penetrated the lower end of the market using an Indian cost structure.

In the case of Freshdesk, their main competitor, Zendesk, is operating with a San Francisco – Copenhagen cost-structure, and will find it harder to compete with this strategy. Zendesk is heavily financed by Benchmark and Charles River and has 10,000 customers. They charge $9, $29 and $59 per agent per month, and I am eager to see bootstrapped, scrappy Freshdesk morph their pricing structure to aggressively compete with them. Higher end players like ServiceCloud charges $65, $135 & $260 per agent per month. RightNow’s per agent price starts at $110 per agent per month.

The space is validated. The game, now, is to push the envelope on price, performance and functionality – a game that 1M/1M looks forward to helping Freshdesk play!

You can read more about Freshdesk on the 1M/1M Incubation Radar today. The company already has paying customers, and a validated business model. They have an opportunity ahead to build a billion dollar company.

Bizosys (10Screens)
Then Abinash Karana from Bangalore, India, presented 10Screens from Bizosys. Bizosys Technologies, a Bangalore, India based software engineering company was founded in 2009. The founders, Sunil Guttula and Abinasha Karana are experienced IT professional with 15 years of experience between them solving various enterprise IT problems. Guttula, Bizosys’ CEO, and Karana founded the company with the goal to “simplify software development.”

Toward that end, they have created two products. The first is HSearch, a NoSQL technology based search engine for big data that aims to break the barrier of scale of growing information and accessing it across information silos. The second product is 10Screens, a tool to visualize business requirements critical to software development, which tend to be hampered by poor communication among various stakeholders. 10Screens is currently also a finalist in the Microsoft BizSpark India Startup Challenge.

This company is 100% bootstrapped, and like Freshdesk, they are also offering a value proposition at a substantially lower price-point than competitors, making it affordable for small companies. Outsourcing is spreading at a frantic pace today with a global footprint, and players like oDesk and eLance have made it very easy for companies to connect with outsourcing vendors. Now, if the communication can be smoothened, the entire process will become a great deal more productive.

In 1M/1M, we are committed to supporting businesses that are not only focusing on billion dollar market opportunities, but also those that focus on $5M, $10M, $20M niches. We see Bizosys as a promising niche vendor with demonstrated capabilities in creative bootstrapping. We look forward to helping them move through the milestones of various levels of validation and market penetration, on the way to becoming a sustainable, profitable company delivering real value to customers.

You can also read more about Bizosys on the 1M/1M Incubation Radar today. The company already has paying customers and a validated product.

Techcello
Next, Ram Kumar, also from Chennai, India, discussed Techcello, a multi-tenant SaaS framework for moving applications from .NET to a cloud architecture. The value proposition is definitely interesting, and the company has already validated with customers. In fact, they generated $100k in revenues over the last year, since they first pitched at one of our roundtables. Techcello presented a TAM of about $25M-$50M a year, which I haven’t had a chance to study. They need to get a handle on the customer acquisition strategy, and I advised Ram Kumar to utilize the Positioning and Customer Acquisition modules of the 1M/1M premium curriculum to work on it further.

Luna Ergonomics
Next, Abhijit Bhattacharjee from Noida, India, pitched Luna Ergonomics’ CleverTextingä and the Panini Keypad. The technology has been highly acclaimed in the mobile device community as a way to let users type in multiple, especially non-Latin, languages. LG is licensing the technology, and many other device vendors are in the queue. Abhijit foresees primarily a technology licensing business model whereby device vendors would be paying royalty per handset or tablet. This, needless to say, projects a very large TAM.

Having worked on technology licensing businesses, I have a good idea on how challenging those are from a sales cycle and cash flow perspective, and since Abhijit is still running a bootstrapped operation, I asked him about his strategy to manage the long sales cycle, and the associated cash flow challenge. Well, Abhijit believes that he can sell enough apps on iTunes and other app stores to mitigate the cash flow challenge, and assured me that he runs a very tight shop.

Very cool technology, and I think this company has a fair shot at winning the mobile category in the Microsoft challenge. To learn more, you can check out some of the videos here.

Blue Coin
Last up, Sunil Sharma from Walnut Creek, California, presented Blue Coin, a loyalty program management platform and service catering to small to medium size businesses. Effectively, Sunil is speaking to a trend that I have been discussing recently on my blog that companies like Groupon are pointing at: revenue sharing with merchants for providing marketing services. In my recent piece, There’s a Trend To Spot In Groupon’s Growth Rate, I noted that, ‘Simply put, they are offering a massive channel and effective customer acquisition strategy for merchants, small and large, and for that, they charge a hefty channel fee.’

In the future, the channel fee will, perhaps, go down. But Sunil is saying that he can provide yet another kind of marketing service to local merchants where he will also be charging a channel fee.

I like this genre of thinking, and would look forward to watching Blue Coin evolve. The company is still very early, and has just completed an alpha prototype. But this is not that difficult a business to validate, and Sunil intends to bootstrap for another 6-8 months, during which time, I am sure, the business can be sufficiently validated.

You can select the business you like best of those discussed today through a poll on the 1M/1M Facebook page.

The recording of today’s roundtable can be found here. Recordings of previous roundtables are all available here. We will be holding future roundtables at 8 a.m. PDT on the following dates:

Thursday, June 23, 2011: Register Here.

Thursday, June 30, 2011: Register Here.

Thursday, July 21, 2011: Register Here.

Thursday, July 28, 2011: Register Here.

And you can sign up for the 1M/1M premium program here.

High-Octane Energy In Pune

On April 17, I was in Pune for a 1M/1M live event. Pune has become a hotbed of product entrepreneurship in India, and I was curious to see what kinds of ventures are cooking there. Well, Persistent Systems and IncuCapital hosted a highly interactive and engaging session. Here are the companies that pitched at the roundtable:

EzeeBank
First up, Manoj Dharap presented EzeeBank, a core banking solution for credit co-operative societies. Manoj has deep domain knowledge in the CCS market segment and has designed a solution that addresses the missing real-time data dashboard functionality of the industry. Today, the financial picture of a CCS is updated only once a month in a batch process.

Manoj is experiencing a long sales cycle of close to 12 months, but he has already created a sustainable company that has revenues and profits. He is exploring outside financing, but my concern is that unless the growth rate accelerates, this particular business may not fit the venture model. On the other hand, it can be a perfectly fine owner-owned-and-operated business.

Indian In A Box
Next, Ashish Sondhi pitched Indian In A Box, a retail concept for take-out Indian food. Ashish has three outlets in Pune, but wants to open one in London. Besides the fact that he is from London, I could not figure out why, instead of expanding the franchise in India, it makes sense to jump to London. The business is very different in London, and my feedback was that investors want a repeatable business model. Ashish wants to raise money and scale rapidly. For that to happen, he needs to show investors how his India model scales, without introducing a random London factor in the business.

Quadmo

Then, Rohit Rawal discussed Quadmo, an employee reward and recognition SaaS system for large enterprises. Rohit has already developed good validation in the Indian market, and is able to penetrate some sizeable accounts. In one of those accounts, Quadmo is integrating their software with SuccessFactors. Rohit is interested in exploring a U.S. go-to-market strategy, and I advised him to try to recruit a channel partner like SuccessFactor or Taleo with major presence in the talent management space. Since Rohit is a 1M/1M premium member, I will help him execute on this strategy. I also advised him to apply for the Microsoft Startup Challenge grant in the cloud category.

DIYComputerscience.com
We also had Parag Shah present DIYComputerscience.com, an intriguing concept for teaching foundational computer science through an online mechanism. In India, there is an abundance of programmers, but most of them lack a foundational computer science education. Parag’s pitch was somewhat all over the place, and he needs to focus on one market segment and a corresponding business model that can then be validated.

My hunch is that he should focus on the corporate training market, and train programmers for small and medium companies that lack in-house training departments. Most of the larger IT companies in India have some form of in-house training departments. But for the SME segment, this may be a value proposition that he can monetize. Two CEOs of product companies in the audience offered to validate this on the spot, and Parag had a rather productive afternoon from the look of it.

Wish Them Today
Last up was Pratik Rokade pitching Wish Them Today, a paid SMS birthday reminder service. While the service is useful, my impression is that it is very easy to copy and is likely to get subsumed into some other product’s feature. I advised Pratik to keep his job, and while it is OK for him to play with this idea, I would not jump into this particular opportunity with both feet.

Parag Shah’s DIYComputerscience.com was chosen the best business of those presented by audience members through a poll on the 1M/1M Facebook page. Congratulations!

Overall, the most promising company in this group is Quadmo, although I also liked EzeeBank and DIYComputerScience. The last of these needs a lot of work to extract and polish the diamond in the rough, but it may be a worthwhile endeavor.

Our next online roundtable will be held on June 2nd. Recordings of previous online roundtables are all available here. You can register for the upcoming roundtables here.

1M/1M Partners With Indian Angel Network

On April 16, I was in Mumbai doing a live 1M/1M event with TiE Mumbai and Indian Angel Network (IAN). While in Mumbai, I also finalized a deeper partnership with IAN, which I will discuss later in this post.

I presented my usual 1M/1M perspective on bootstrapping. After the event, I received an e-mail from Aneesh Khanna saying, “The Saturday Mumbai TiE session, was a very enriching experience. Even if there were fleeting thoughts of being bailed out by investors, they have now been banished and we are focusing on bootstrapping and making the model work with customer money.”

It’s rewarding to hear from people who attended the session and found immediate and actionable value.

The Mumbai roundtable was extremely interactive and fun. We did two sessions of five entrepreneurs each.

LocoBuzz
First up, Vishal Agarwal with Spatial Ideas presented LocoBuzz, a social media brand analytics platform coupled with location-specific insights. Vishal showed a terrific demo that was full of cool features but completely out of context. My key advice to him was to focus his pitch and demo on the brand analytics story, which has nothing to do with earthquakes and tsunamis – events he showed in the presentation, thoroughly confusing the audience and me before I was able to peel away the layers of the onion and determine what his real business was.

Food ka Mood
Next, Tanuj More pitched Food ka Mood, a waiters-on-wheels-type-concept for the Indian corporate market. Tanuj wants to offer sizable discounts to corporations for their employees to eat at various restaurants. Obvious questions about validation and core value proposition are still unanswered. My sense was that the discount could be interesting for HR organizations to offer to their employees as part of the benefits package, but this assumption needs validation.

TravDe.com
Then, Sameer Patil discussed TravDe.com, which offers steep discounts on hotels. Sameer wants to work with hotels and create special deals for his audience and wanted to know if the Indian online travel market has room for a deal site. Well, it seems to me that all online travel agencies do have deal sites, so to compete with that Sameer needs a specific strategy – perhaps exclusive discounts of some sort. I think TraveDe’s core value proposition has yet to be sorted out. The idea of exclusive deals appeals to me, but whether Sameer can get enough hotels to play ball with him and offer such discounts is something he has not yet confirmed.

Gomolo.in
We also had Pritam Roy present Gomolo.in, a social network and online hangout for movie lovers. Gomolo also has a good database of movies and related information that Pritam is trying to figure out how to create more traction for. I could not identify a good use case for the database utilization, but I learned that the company makes money by licensing content and providing mobile value-added service applications to carriers. This is good news: A revenue model is always good to have early on to sustain a venture, while the bigger scaling points are still being sorted out. I advised Pritam to focus on identifying the use cases that his audience of 250,000 is interested in to start building a product strategy that is likely to monetize – whether that is through mobile VAS apps or through advertising. It would also help figure out the audience engagement model of how to make the social network compelling.

Fragrochem

Last up during the first roundtable session was Chetan Thakkar pitching Fragrochem. Chetan has expertise in fragrance development and the company is in a turnaround situation. The discussion centered on where in the Indian market could Fragochem sell its fragrances with less competition, reasonably good margins, and adequate differentiation. I gave Chetan a framework for analysis, and if he comes back to me with the data framed accordingly, I can help him to answer the market penetration strategy questions.

Stopwaitin.com

After a coffee break, the second roundtable session began with Nimesh Khiara presenting Stopwaitin.com. Nimesh has pitched before, during the roundtable on March 10, 2011, and came back with additional competitive analysis on his OpenTable-like restaurant reservation system.

IRTEX

Ankur Tripathi then pitched IRTEX, the Indian Road Transportation EXchange, also a company that has pitched before during the roundtable on March 10, 2011. This is an excellent company, and although the business is extremely complex, it is solving a worthwhile problem. Ankur has a lot of issues with early adopters compared to late adopters, and I advised him to not waste time on those prospects that do not “get it” and are dragging their feet. Quoting Crossing the Chasm, I suggested Ankur and his team focus on identifying and recruiting early adopters. That’s the only way to build traction for now. We also discussed promotion and pricing strategy in some degree of detail.

Out Of The Box

Next Nimit Shah discussed Out Of The Box, a consulting firm offering brand strategy, design services, and interactive marketing services. The discussion centered on positioning and scalability and explored points such as strategic partnerships as a way to mitigate scalability challenges. Nimit has a difficult task ahead of him: Indian customers think consulting should be free. Convincing them to pay him for consulting will be an uphill battle.

StratExcel

Then Vishal Zinjuvadia presented StratExcel, a simulation technology for developing case studies. Vishal is looking at three different segments and use cases: management schools, corporate training, and recruitment evaluation. I went over all three use cases with him and suggested he pick one for his go-to-market strategy. My sense is that he should focus on corporate training because that’s where there is both budget and awareness about the case-based training method. Management schools have awareness, but not enough budget. And HR departments typically are not used to applying case-based methods in recruitment, so Vishal would need to do a lot of concept selling, which is unnecessary.

System-Sea

Our last presenter of the day was Ashwini Otta pitching System-Sea, a company with core competency in the shipping sector that is bootstrapping a product company using its services revenues. What I liked about this company were its deep domain knowledge and niche nature. The product is already validated at a very high-end price point, and Ashwini is planning to offer it at a substantially lower price.

Microsoft BizSpark India Startup Challenge grant applications will be open for all entrepreneurs to file. Please feel free to use the 1M/1M premium program to prepare for the grant.

We have also finalized a partnership with the Indian Angel Network whereby we will offer deep discounts to IAN-recommended companies to avail of the 1M/1M premium program. To apply, please contact Apoorv Sharma at IAN.

Pritam Roy’s Gomolo.in was chosen the best business of those presented by the audience through a poll on the 1M/1M Facebook page.

The next online roundtable is on May 12, 2011. Recordings of previous online roundtables are all available here. You can register for the upcoming roundtables here.


1M/1M Announces Partnership With TiE Chennai

On Saturday, April 9, 2011, I arrived in Chennai at 3:00 a.m. after a 24-hour journey from California. At 11:00 a.m., a group of entrepreneurs from TiE Chennai gathered at the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras (IIT-M) Research Park campus, and we spent the next four hours discussing strategy and tactics of early-stage entrepreneurship.

TiE Chennai organized a Startup Super Day, during which I delivered the keynote address followed by a live strategy roundtable. At the roundtable, five entrepreneurs pitched their businesses to me, and I interacted with them in our usual format, with active participation from the audience.

Freshdesk
First up, Girish Mathrubootham from Chennai, India, presented Freshdesk, a SaaS solution for multi-channel customer support including knowledge base and social CRM support. Girish and his team are former Zoho employees and bring to their entrepreneurial efforts the perspective and learnings of Zoho, which has been successful in drastically undercutting high-end competitors in a major market, namely CRM, the office suite, and so on.

I liked this venture very much and see the basic framework of using the Indian cost structure to provide SaaS products that are competitive in terms of performance and functionality at drastically lower prices as a massive opportunity for Indian entrepreneurs to go after. Almost a thousand SaaS/cloud startups have been launched over the past decade, and in each niche there are opportunities for concept arbitrage using this basic formula. I am very glad to see Girish and his team going after one such opportunity. Girish already has a number of clients and is well on his way to building the business. The go-to-market strategy has to be fine-tuned to make it more precise, but the basic premise of the business is validated.

Interviewstreet.com
Next, also from Chennai, India, Vivek Ravisankar pitched Interviewstreet.com, a nifty concept for testing programmers’ skill levels in various key languages to bypass the lengthy interviewing that goes into screening candidates in a hiring process. Vivek already has Amazon, Google, and a few other companies using the product and needs to put together a scalable telesales process to be able to sell it to a larger number of customers. The value proposition is well articulated, validated, and very clean.

Quantum Arc
Then, Satish from Chennai, India, discussed Quantum Arc, a solution for predictive analysis and forecasting of fire breakout hazards by monitoring electrical/power infrastructures in major facilities. The concept, if technically as compelling as it sounds, could become a standard in building safety all over the world. The majority of the discussion was about go-to-market strategy, channels and regulatory issues. It’s a very impressive concept, to say the least!

Invention Labs
We also had Ajit Narayanan present AVAZ, designed by Invention Labs, a neat learning and communication product that helps people with disabilities such as cerebral palsy, autism, mental retardation, and speech disorders to communicate. The product has won a national award from the president of India for its empowerment of people with disabilities. However, in my assessment, the bigger opportunity for this business is to go to market as a mobile app.

ET Interactive
Finally, Robin Mathew presented ET Interactive Design, a retail concept to address the disconnect between rural artisans and the merchandise they produce, and customers and what they want to buy. While the basic premise is compelling, and I am very interested in entrepreneurship opportunities in this area, the business model is flawed. I advised Robin to review rural and slum development, as well as lifestyle brand projects in Vision India 2020 and decide which one captures his fancy, then come and work with me on executing on it.

Some of these businesses should definitely apply for the Microsoft BizSpark India Startup Challenge grants. I look forward to working with all of them further in 1M/1M.

Also, on the evening of April 9, I met with a large group of TiE Chennai charter members to brainstorm about Capitalism 2.0 and entrepreneurship development, which also yielded a very animated discussion.

At the end of the day, we sealed a partnership between 1M/1M and TiE Chennai whereby TiE Chennai members can receive a discount of 25% off the annual membership fee for the 1M/1M premium program until June 16, 2011, and a 15% discount thereafter. The 1M/1M premium program offers entrepreneurs access to on-demand educational, business development and incubation resources and strategy discussions with me for $1,000 per year.

Our next online roundtable schedule will be held on April 28. Recordings of previous online roundtables are all available here. You can register for the upcoming roundtables here.

1M/1M Announces Important Partnership With MAD Incubator, Malaysia

At this week’s One Million by One Million roundtable, we announced a very important  partnership with MAD Incubator, Malaysia for entrepreneurship development in the region. This is our first major partnership with an incubator whereby MAD will adopt the 1M/1M methodology to foster Silicon Valley–style technopreneurship in Malaysia. Andrew Wong, CEO of MAD, has been working with us for almost a year, and we have made a mutual choice to deepen the partnership by making MAD a premiere value-added reseller partner of the 1M/1M program.

At today’s session, therefore, all our entrepreneurs were pitching from Malaysia. First up, Alvin Yuen from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, presented ISA Innovation, a company providing a hosted IT asset and inventory management solution.  At present, ISA has a set of pilot clients and is toying with the idea of going global. Well, you can’t really go ‘global’ without a go-to-market strategy that evaluates different markets, and assesses the competitive positioning in each of them. This strategy needs to be developed for ISA, and they have to pick a specific market to go after, rather than going global.

Next, also from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Mohd Hezri Amir Abdul Latiff with HezMedia Interactive pitched Math-Quest, an edutainment company focusing on math learning games for kids aged nine to 12. One of the primary pieces missing from this presentation is a thorough competitive analysis of what other math games are in this market, and that will drive Math-Quest’s go-to-market strategy. Also, the business is primarily on CD-ROMs right now, but the good news is that the CD-ROM product is selling and generating revenue. It could be a good business to bootstrap the social/mobile edutainment business with.

Then, Yong Wai Ming, from Bukit Jalil, Selangor, Malaysia, discussed I-Gamer, a gaming platform that connects gamers in cybercafés. I-Gamer wants third-party game developers to develop games on its platform. Today, the company has about 15,000 cybercafés paying subscription fees to be connected through their platform to play certain traditional games. The good news, again, is that this business is generating revenues. The company has ambitions of working with more cutting-edge gaming companies, but I don’t know enough about their platform to see why developers would choose to work with their platform as opposed to others like Facebook.

Another entrepreneur from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Darren Panag with Convep Mobilogy, pitched AppsAsia, a mobile platform for business apps on various mobile devices such as iOS, Android, BlackBerry, and so on. The company sells to the marketing departments of corporations, has 50 customers, and is already profitable. Fantastic! We discussed their growth strategy, and my advice is to build the ad agency and interactive marketing channels as the primary growth driver. The entrepreneur seems obsessed with building his own brand and selling directly to end customers. A mistake, in my opinion.

Last up, Alvin Yuen from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, pitched Techsailor, a services company that provides online community engagement to major brands. Alvin seems perturbed by the fact that his business is largely services and not as much products. I don’t see a problem with this, especially since the services model generates cash early on, and he can practice our tried-and-true model of bootstrapping using services! This is also a business that has substantial revenue, which is wonderful. The entrepreneur is exploring ways to turn it into more of a product company as opposed to a pure services company. This is something we can certainly help him with, using our methodology.

Based on my assessment of the Malaysian entrepreneurs – we have seen a good sample of them over the past year – I think this is a group that would do well to go through the 1M/1M premium program as soon as possible, and internalize the curriculum. There are numerous basics that are missing from their business strategies right now, which are gaps that can be easily and efficiently plugged by adopting the 1M/1M methodology.

In addition, for several of the companies above, we have channel relationships that we can bring them into as soon as they are ready. As you know, we strongly believe in trying to get to customers and channel partners as early as possible and even using that as alternative financing, rather than beating the pavement looking for equity capital without adequate validation – a path that yields a 99% rejection rate.

Over time, if the Malaysian entrepreneurship ecosystem can groom several thousand technology entrepreneurs using the 1M/1M program, we envision an immense economic impact on the regional economy. We can also provide a subset of these entrepreneurs who are looking to penetrate the U.S./global market a strong channel through Silicon Valley.

This is an extremely important experiment that we are running in Malaysia. If successful, it can be replicated all over the world – throughout cities and towns in the United States, throughout the emerging markets, throughout every region that wants to efficiently groom a large number of technology entrepreneurs and unleash their power on the global economy. I am truly excited to welcome the Malaysian entrepreneurs and the  visionaries in their ecosystem who are leading this movement, and every member of the 1M/1M team greets our friends in Malaysia with enormous enthusiasm. We fully grasp the potential of what you are embarking upon, and we look forward to our journey together.

I also have a message for all the various ecosystem players in Malaysia (and elsewhere): 1M/1M is not here to compete with any of you. We’re here to supplement your efforts and provide a base level of entrepreneurship education to a large number of entrepreneurs in your communities in a scalable manner through a virtual program. This, we believe, will create a strong downstream deal flow for all of you – incubators, angel investors, and VCs.

I will be traveling in India over the next several days and doing live roundtables in three cities: Chennai (April 9), Mumbai (April 16), and Pune (April 17). There will be no online roundtable next Thursday, but our usual schedule will resume on April 21 and focus on the northeastern part of the United States. You can register for the upcoming roundtables here.

You can also listen to the recording of today’s roundtable here and select the business you like best through a poll on the 1M/1M Facebook page. Recordings of previous roundtables are all available here.

 

1M/1M Strategy Roundtable For Entrepreneurs: Microsoft’s $100k India Startup Challenge Grant

At this week’s One Million by One Million roundtable, we announced our collaboration with Microsoft around a $100k grant that they are offering to four Indian entrepreneurs as follows: A $40k grant each to two entrepreneurs, one in Mobility and one in Cloud Computing; and a $10k grant to two entrepreneurs, also one in each of those two categories.

1M/1M will be working with Microsoft in helping entrepreneurs prepare for these grants. I will be traveling in India in April, and doing live roundtables in three cities: Chennai (April 9), Mumbai (April 16), and Pune (April 17). Girish Joshi, from Microsoft, will be attending the roundtables, and scouting companies for the grants with me. I will be reporting back on the companies we see on this column from the road.

At today’s session, first up, Ramkumar RS from Chennai, India, presented Mango DVM, an innovative solution to turn vendors of illegal, grey market music to legal distributors using a combination of mobile apps and media server technology. Ramkumar has made certain pricing model and delivery model assumptions that are yet to be validated. We brainstormed about the risks of those assumptions. However, only the market can tell to what extent those assumptions will hold true.

Next Jigar Doshi, also from Chennai, India, pitched 3gSimplified, in effect, a comparative shopping solution for mobile plans, which are apparently quite complex in the Indian market. As for business model, Jigar wants to sell services like refilling cards.

3gSimplified is a very early concept that has just launched, and the market feedback will be rolling in over the next few months. Our discussion today was around prioritization of the next few critical steps around customer acquisition and validation.

Then Balaganesh S., from Chennai, India, as well, discussed Report Bee, a data visualization solution for schools around report cards and student performance. Report Bee has two paying customers, and we discussed segmentation issues around where to focus for the early market penetration strategy. Clearly, affluent schools that can afford to buy technology, and also parents who have access to computers would be the best early adopters.

Janardhan Swahar from Salem, India, presented Swayam Foods, a health food company that is focused on the Indian palette across snacks, quick-to-prepare items, etc. The company has distribution through about 50 retailers in Chennai, and is looking for ways to market their product through online channels. We discussed guerilla p.r., product reviews through blogs, as well as SEO, blogs, and social media marketing.

Last up, Rahul Mishra from Bangalore, India, pitched Promedik, a “decision support system” for physicians. I wasn’t convinced about the assumptions of the business – there are too many gaps and flawed assumptions around the source and the cost of the data upon which the product is built. I advised Rahul to study Epocrates as a model. I believe, trying to offer a reference manual may be better than trying to offer a decision support system, which is a much more complex value proposition that requires expert systems to implement.

Before I end, let me also point you to an interview we’re running on my blog with Naval Ravikant, founder of AngelList, which you may find enlightening.

Also, some of you have asked me questions about the 1M/1M Premium Curriculum, which I have addressed on the blog.

Next week, the 1M/1M roundtable will focus on entrepreneurs in East Asia, Australia and New Zealand. You can register for the next roundtable here.

You can also listen to the recording of today’s roundtable here and select the business you like best through a poll on the 1M/1M Facebook page. Recordings of previous roundtables are all available here.

1M/1M Strategy Roundtable For Entrepreneurs: Personalization Remains An Open Problem

I want to start today’s recap with a prayer for Steve Jobs. I just wrote a post on my blog saying, Apple Doesn’t Need Steve Jobs; Tech Industry Does. It sums up my sadness at the thought of our industry not having the privilege of Steve’s thought process. I have, most certainly, drawn tremendous inspiration from him as a thinker and a visionary. I am sure most entrepreneurs have.

With this week’s One Million by One Million roundtable, we have moved from the DimDim web conferencing platform to the ViVu video conferencing platform. DimDim, as you know, was recently acquired by Salesforce.com.

First up today was Michael Greenberg presenting Better Personal Advertising. Mike wants to manage online identity on behalf of consumers, so that they can maintain multiple identities for different types of sites, say photo, career, etc. and present themselves better in those different contexts.

Mike’s customer acquisition strategy is weak at this point, and he also has a rather broad strategy in approaching this market. While I do believe there is an interesting opportunity in identity management, I am going to need to work much more closely with Mike to extract the nuggets out of his idea, and give shape to a viable go to market strategy.

Then Kelly Fallis pitched Remote Stylist, a personalized interior decoration advice service coupled with e-commerce in the domain of furniture and furnishings. Kelly’s business has already done about $150k in 2010 revenue, which tells me that she has successfully validated at least some of her assumptions. Kelly has a lot of gaps in her customer acquisition strategy, as well as positioning, and she is seeing customers from commercial and residential clients. All this is too broad, and needs tightening up on multiple dimensions.

I like the business idea a lot, and in 1M/1M, we know a lot about building Web 3.0 and e-Commerce businesses, so I would love to work with Kelly to help her figure out the various nuances of building a successful e-commerce business, especially one that differentiates on personalization. I have repeatedly said that personalization is an open opportunity in web businesses, and needs to be tapped this decade. For Kelly, a good starting point would be the 1M/1M Curriculum, where we can offer her a lot more on the subject.

Next Sajeeva Bora with tekMunk Software Solutions discussed BizzGenie, a business software concept to help retailers manage the decision-making between “shop floors and top floors”. Sajeeva and his cofounders have good domain knowledge of the retail business, but have not yet done sufficient validation of the idea. He is looking for money and naturally, getting rejected by investors for lack of validation. As I have said before, this is not the right stage to look for money. There’s more work to be done to prepare for a funding round.

Nwenna Kai then presented Food Is Our Medicine Vision, an online training concept through which she wants to teach community leaders how to create healthier living concepts like organic gardens, etc. in urban areas. Nwenna has surveyed about 200 readers of her blog, and they have told her that they would be willing to pay $400-$800 for such courses.

Nwenna came to the roundtable with the question: what now? Where do I begin? Well, that’s a rather large question to answer in 5 minutes, but she obviously needs to start validating her business within that group of 200 users who have said they’re willing to pay for her offering.

Up last was Gagan Biyani pitching Udemy, an online marketplace for educators and experts to teach various topics. Gagan has about 150 completed courses on the site so far, and about 10 of those are monetizing. He has run some experiments within the entrepreneurship training vertical, and has seen success when he has brought on known thought leaders. However, he faces the problem that the top tier thought leaders are unwilling to set up shop on his site. They have their own programs under their own brands.

Interestingly, Nwenna, who pitched right before Gagan, would be very interested in setting up shop on Udemy, and teaching her concepts and bringing her audience onto Udemy. We did this spot validation at the roundtable, and I believe, Gagan got a customer. However, I’d like to see a more focused, vertical specific go-to-market strategy in Udemy. At some level, Gagan’s focus on entrepreneurship courses doesn’t really align with Nwenna’s target audience.

I have thought a lot about how to make an entrepreneurship education and eco-system scalable and accessible to a vastly larger number of people. The answer to that question, I believe, is the 1M/1M Premium Lounge. In fact, at a time when we’re facing severe youth unemployment in America and Europe, and the emerging markets are just starting to build their entrepreneurship eco-systems, we really need to think deeply on how more and more young people can be efficiently, rapidly and cost-effectively be trained in entrepreneurship.

You can listen to the recording of today’s roundtable here. Recordings of previous roundtables are all available here. You can register for the next roundtable here.

1M/1M Strategy Roundtable For Entrepreneurs: Top 10 Online Advertising Trends For The Decade

We started this week’s One Million by One Million roundtable with a discussion of online advertising trends, looking at them from the perspective of cost-effective customer acquisition and brand building, as well as entrepreneurial opportunities. You can find more on the topic on my blog at Top 10 Online Advertising Trends For The Decade.

While on this topic, I want to particularly emphasize the social media advertising trend, and my observation that the infrastructure to measure, analyze, optimize, and target is really wide open, and I’d like to hear from entrepreneurs working on the various nuances of that particular problem. My Facebook’s Strategy In Perspective piece has more on the issue.

Next, we had two very interesting entrepreneurs.

Meeting Wave

First up today was John Boyd with MeetingWave, a social media platform that caters to university alumni associations and addresses the challenge of helping them create walled garden professional and social networking groups under their own brand, as opposed to groups within Facebook or LinkedIn.

John’s idea completely resonated with me, having run the MIT Club of Northern California’s Entrepreneurship program for many years, and being intimately involved with the inner workings of that alumni association (10,000 members).

We discussed various segments for John’s go-to-market strategy and pricing model options. In particular, I saw a number of different strategies that John has been nibbling on – different segments, different delivery models (white label vs. MeetingWave branded domains), different pricing strategies. In my opinion, the strategy is too broad, and needs to be reined in, focused, and tighter. While I like the idea, I don’t as much like all the various options at this stage, because each has implications on the execution side, and leaving so many options open would mean the complexity of the business will simply be exponential, and thus the risk of failure will also be high.

For example, instead of pursuing universities, trade show organizers, hotels, resorts, corporations, I am of the opinion that John should focus squarely on colleges and universities and their alumni associations for now. The rest can be on the back burner for the moment.

RDimensio

Then Umashankar Balasubramanian of RDimensio pitched an SMS-based classified service. Uma is a member of the 1M/1M premium program, and has already started validating his idea with several online classified players in India.

He is using natural language processing to translate free text SMS queries to classified queries, and then translating the responses back to SMS format.

Uma too has too many segments, and I asked him to focus 100% of his energy on online classified vendors, and forget newspapers (unless they also already have online classified offerings) and so forth. Instead, he should broaden his geographical scope to include international classified vendors.

Also, I think Uma’s offering is under-priced, and I asked him to do some homework on pricing which I will review next week to advise him better on the pricing strategy.

Interesting technology, and I will be working with him to build a comprehensive go-to-market strategy as part of the premium program.

I have thought a lot about how to make an entrepreneurship education and eco-system scalable and accessible to a vastly larger number of people. The answer to that question, I believe, is the 1M/1M Premium Lounge. In fact, at a time when we’re facing severe youth unemployment in America and Europe, and the emerging markets are just starting to build their entrepreneurship eco-systems, we really need to think deeply on how more and more young people can be efficiently, rapidly and cost-effectively be trained in entrepreneurship.

Yesterday, I posed two questions on my blog: one, to high school and college students as well as recent grads, asking how they were viewing this deep recession, and whether they are taking destiny in their own hands, starting companies, becoming entrepreneurs.

And a second, to educators, teachers, and mentors in various schools, colleges, and universities who are preparing the youth to face a depressing job market, asking whether they are steering them towards entrepreneurship, and how.

If any of you would like to participate in these discussions and help me with the research, please feel to comment on the issues. I will be writing more on the topics here and elsewhere.

You can listen to the recording of today’s roundtable here. Recordings of previous roundtables are all available here. You can register for the next roundtable here.

 

1M/1M Strategy Roundtable For Entrepreneurs: Top 10 Vertical And Social Web Trends For The Decade

On January 6, 2011 we hosted our 64th FREE One Million by One Million (1M/1M) strategy roundtable for entrepreneurs, and the first for this year.  

We started this week’s roundtable with a discussion of all the resources we have brought together over the last three years to help entrepreneurs, including a comprehensive curriculum for entrepreneurship development on a large scale. This curriculum is based on the various questions entrepreneurs have asked me over these 64 sessions, spanning financing, positioning, customer acquisition, marketing, sales, channel, and various other early stage startup related issues. 

As usual, then, I worked with three entrepreneurs working on specific businesses. 

First up today was John Bertoni with Mava Consulting, who is setting up a part-time sales force for companies to use without having to invest the fully loaded cost of a direct sales rep per geography. John has rightly observed that many small companies, as well as foreign companies trying to get into the United States, have limited budget, and could use 25% of the time of a sales rep in each geography, say, New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Seattle. So, effectively, at the cost of one full-time sales rep, they can access coverage in four different regions. 

I like the idea, and recognize the problem. John already has a couple of customers, and needs about 50 customers to get to $1M in annual revenue. I offered to help him market his services through 1M/1M, since his target customer base overlaps rather nicely with the 1M/1M community. 

Next Julie Acevedo presented Juju Band, a newborn navel protection band to cover the umbilical cord for about eight weeks from birth. Drawing on traditions in the Latin American community, Julie and her partner are bringing to market a very specific product to address a very specific pain, and I believe, she can build a very successful e-commerce business based on this idea. In 1M/1M, we have extensive expertise on bootstrapping e-commerce businesses, and will be happy to help her navigate the paths of customer acquisition, inventory, merchandising, and financing. To begin with, today, I gave her a set of immediate action items, including starting a blog, a PPC campaign with some ideas on how to position her keywords, as well as some guidance on merchandising. 

Then J.J. Yosh presented Ancient Tomorrow, a concept for a TV show drawing upon ancient wisdom to unearth alternative energy innovations used by ancient cultures. Very cool concept, designed by an energy scientist, upon which J.J. wants to develop a mystery show. He has written a first season with nine episodes, and has built some relationships on the production side. He is looking for financing for the show. 

My knowledge of television show financing is limited, although a friend of mine was the COO of Magical Elves, a Hollywood production company that has produced Top Chef and Project Runway. I’ve had several conversations over the years on TV show financing, and the basic formula is that you have to get a network to finance your show. This means, you have to convince a network that focuses on your topic – in this case, A&E, National Geographic, Discovery Channel, or perhaps History Channel – to buy into your concept, and agree to fund the production. And that is what I advised J.J. to pursue. 

In the Entrepreneur Journeys methodology, we focus on customer validation as early as possible. In the case of J.J’s business, the customer is the Network. Unless he can get a Network to buy in, there will be no point in producing the show. 

Finally, I spent the last part of the session on the methodology that we teach in 1M/1M, as well as few minutes on Trends. 

In fact, in the discussion on JuJu brands is yet another validation of the verticalization and niche-ization of the Internet. This week, I published an article called The Top 10 Vertical and Social Web Trends where I have discussed this at length. I am pretty convinced that the web will get increasingly more verticalized, where appropriate, localized, and niche businesses will do very, very well. This is my core assumption on Web 3.0. In 1M/1M, we have a huge emphasis on helping today’s web entrepreneurs navigate their ways into a Web 3.0 tomorrow. 

It is clear to me, after doing these strategy sessions for over two years, that entrepreneurs need a lot more training on positioning and go-to-market, financing strategies, including alternative financing besides venture capital. As such, I have created video lecture modules with case studies in the 1M/1M premium lounge on these topics with very specific guidance on what analysis to perform and how. The easiest way for me to teach a large number of entrepreneurs some of these basics is to have you spend 30-40 hours on the curriculum I have created, and THEN have you come work with me on refining your strategies and positioning at the private roundtables.   

I have thought a lot about how to make an entrepreneurship education and eco-system scalable and accessible to a vastly larger number of people. The answer to that question, I believe, is the 1M/1M Premium Lounge. 

You can listen to the recording of today’s roundtable here. Recordings of previous roundtables are all available here. You can register for the next roundtable here.