Archive for the 'Ecosystem' Category

Time to Startup, India!

The recent Startup India event has generated considerable excitement and energy amongst entrepreneurs and the supporting ecosystem. The sound and light around the event has been amazing. As the week rolls over, and the marketing euphoria settles down, the focus must shift to the real impact that this event and announcements around it may make.

First things first – I would not discount the positive impact that can be had just from the focus and status that has been accorded to startups through this initiative. Such focus can help channelize energy from all elements of the ecosystem – from entrepreneurs to investors, and from mentors to academia. That by itself is a credible achievement.

In my view, the singular achievement of the set of specific announcements that have been made will be in making entrepreneurship more inclusive. I had emphasized earlier on the need for the startup narrative to evolve beyond Gurgaon and Bangalore, and beyond the hot-new-Internet-startup that got funded for $100M. The Startup India Action Plan seeks to achieve that.

The proposed Compliance Regime based on Self-Certification, for example, will be highly impactful in startups in “old economy” sectors, even as some of the labor law compliances are more broadly applicable. Similarly, relaxation of norms for public procurement is a great move to reduce the go-to-market hurdle for manufacturing startups, as also a means to expose public buyers to upcoming innovation. The Rs 10,000 crore fund-of-funds, as well as the credit guarantee scheme, are being designed to target a broad mix of sectors such as manufacturing, agriculture, healthcare and education. Launch of Grand Innovation Challenges around the nation’s pressing problems would be helpful in channelizing energy towards these problems.

The theme of inclusion has also been carried through to geographical diversity of startups. Provisioning of Tinker Labs, Startup Centers and Technology Business Incubators, if managed well, can help expand the footprint of startup activity to next tier cities. At the same time, Research Parks in IITs/ IISc will provide the necessary research concentration and support to drive the research innovation agenda – the success of such a model has already been demonstrated in IIT Chennai. Fostering a culture of innovation by reaching out to students through 5 lakh schools will ensure that we create a whole generation of entrepreneurs in next 10-20 years.

Another emphasis which in my mind changes the narrative around startups is in providing Legal Support and Fast-Tracking Patent Examinations. In my view, Indian startups have not emphasized enough on IP creation and protection. Reducing the friction in the process, as well as enabling guidance and facilitation, can help us create and defend high-impact innovations. As we look at solving a million problems, it is important that we provide the right incentives for innovators to leverage the commercial potential of those innovations – the emphasis on Intellectual Property will serve to do that.

I believe that these items around broad-basing entrepreneurship, aligning it with national interest, and putting innovation at the center of startups, are the major achievements of the Startup India Action Plan. Some of the other initiatives like Faster Bankruptcy Settlement and Tax Exemptions are interesting signals, but perhaps not game changers by themselves. Yet others like the Startup Hub, Mobile App for Collaboration amongst ecosystem partners and Startup Fests belong to the set of items that I would rather see the ecosystem solve.

One big miss in the Startup India Action Plan has been the silence around Angel Tax. While incubator investments have been excluded out of this tax, premium over FMV in individual angel investment still seem to continue to be taxable in hands of startups. While the challenges in defining genuine angel investments are well appreciated, we must find a way to undo this regressive move. Or is the finance minister saving this one for the budget!?

This article has also been published here.

Reflections from IIT Session

I was at IIT Delhi today for my duties at FITT (runs the IIT Delhi incubator). Few months back, IIT Delhi decided to support a deferred placement program for students wanting to skip placement in interest of pursuing entrepreneurship. Today’s meeting was a review and approval meeting for four of the cases. Some things that struck me.

  • All the students seeking deferred placement outlined “comfort of parents” as the first reason to seek deferred placement. “Even if my startup doesn’t work, I can tell my father that IIT will still allow me to sit for placements”. Many of the applicants were clear that they are not going to actually seek placement with big companies, even if they failed – as one guy mentioned “I can’t imagine myself sitting in a cubicle working for a large company.” Now some of this might be the most convenient answer (and I suspect that, given how uniformly this reason was given,) but it was amazing to see the conviction of the applicants towards startups, as also the social bias against startups that young entrepreneurs still have to work with.
  • Interestingly, none of the four startups which applied for deferred placement applied for incubation at IIT Delhi incubation center. I have been noticing this for a bit – younger entrepreneurs are moving at a faster pace than mentors/ incubators are used to moving. It is a serious issue for long-standing incubators – will they manage/continue to attract the best deals?
  • Most of the ideas being presented were another one in pack of 50 companies already out there doing the same thing. The founders often didn’t know about competition, nor about previous failed attempts. This was worrying – the level of awareness towards one’s immediate context has to improve. Perhaps something to think about for many of us who are looking forward to supporting young entrepreneurs.

I did ask the question on who their role model is. Though its not a large sample, Rahul Yadav got mentioned. I was only half surprised – guts is glory in today’s times. Am back at the institute for Speranza this weekend – looking forward to meeting more entrepreneurs.

Join the Net Neutrality debate

Medianama has a good analysis and initiative on the Net Neutrality issue. Read up and make yourselves heard here.

This debate has had interesting arguments globally. To the extent, I have been able to follow, there have been a ton of bogus arguments on both sides, thereby confusing the core issues. In my mind, the core issues are around (a) adherence to standard protocols to ensure that applications can rely upon the same; (b) creation of open communication platforms, as a goal in itself, to spur innovation around those networks; (c) clear communication around inclusions, exclusions, and dampeners in any given telecom package – an issue of consumer protection; (d) curbing monopolies that can be promoted by telecom service providers also being in app business and providing unfair advantage to their own apps/services.

Join in on the conversation!

Lufthansa Runway to Success – Call for Entries

Lufthansa and TiE are bringing you the next edition of Runway to Success. Runway to Success is a TV series which will be broadcast on ET Now, and the training camps all over the country would be conducted in association with TiE. Some highlights of the program:

  • The winner of this series would win a seat at Stanford University’s prestigious Design Thinking Boot Camp, along with A Lufthansa Business Class ticket to the US and mentorship at TiE, which alone is sufficient reason to jump into this program.
  • Each episode of this TV series will have two segments: In the first, a success story of a path breaking entrepreneur will be shown to inspire you. The second segment will have three selected entrepreneurs present their business idea to the star entrepreneur. Winners from each episode will be elevated to semi-finals and then grand final where the winner would be declared.
  • Participation is absolutely free!
  • Besides the winning part, there is the absolutely incredible opportunity to connect with the who-is-who of Indian start-ups eco-system, biggies of entrepreneurial world and fellow passionate entrepreneurs which can be a huge boost to your confidence and acumen ship.
  • Last year, 20,000 entrepreneurs from all over India applied for this program, fighting for 27 precious seats.
  • TiE sponsored boot camps would be conducted in major metropolitan cities, where leading entrepreneurs would share their stories and teach how to become an entrepreneur.

You can register for #RunwaytoSuccess Program right here. You can follow the hashtag #RunwaytoSuccess on Twitter for latest updates and stories. More information about this program can be found here.

Accelerating Time to Market Cap for Internet/Mobile Companies

Must read analysis by Playbigger for Internet/Mobile entrepreneurs. Summary at beginning to report,

How to effectively use the Rs 10,000 crore allotted for entrepreneurship

I wrote this Op-Ed piece in Economic Times on how the government can effectively use funds allocated to entrepreneurship fund-of-funds.

Key points:

  • Leverage the funds to generate private participation and hence enhance the size of the pool
  • Leverage capacity that exists in corporations, microfinance institutions and the like
  • Emphasize under-served areas that align with national priorities, such as job creation, manufacturing, defense, social sectors etc.
  • Promote geographical and social inclusion to ensure a balanced growth

Comments welcome!

Mary Meeker’s 2014 Internet Trends report

Mary Meeker (who now does growth stage deals for Kleiner Perkins) has released the 2014 edition of her annual Internet Trends report. Lots to read and digest here.

Lead Nurturing Strategies for Start-ups

This is the most critical and heart-breaking part of acquiring customers. It can sap even the most persistent. But there is no alternative if you want to convert your qualified lead to an invoice. In the first place, consider yourself lucky you have a set of qualified leads. Most start-ups do not enjoy that luxury. Now it’s only about how you grab this opportunity with both hands and push and prod them to a decision.

Having said that let me tell you there is no ‘best’ or ‘sure fire’ way of nurturing leads. You have to feel your way through. But remember, whatever you do be consistent.

What is Lead Nurturing? It is the consistent process of keeping the lead engaged with a series of focused and relevant content that is both informative and educative about your domain and its impact on the prospect’s business.

Please note, this engagement may very well be just one-way. The lead may or may not respond. But you can rest assured that the information you are sharing is being read, assimilated and filed away for future reference. More important, you are in the process establishing high recall for yourself and your company. The idea of lead nurturing is to get you the inside track in a highly competitive environment where there is a surfeit of information and try and evoke a reaction, be it a step towards a decision or start a conversation or just a response, with the kind of content that you present.

What is the kind of information you should share with the prospect? This is something most sales people ask me when we discuss lead nurturing. Having understood the target segment from where the lead has emanated, you need to come up with content that is relevant to the prospect and adds value to the prospects business and decision-making process. The content could be anything like Blogs, Customer Use Cases and Testimonials, New Customer Acquisitions, a New Use Case, White Papers, Company Newsletter, Webinars, new product development or enhancements etc. You could also share links to relevant blogs on other sites which could help to improve the prospect’s knowledge and intellectual property. Share lists of customers in their line of business or located in their part of the woods. This could help as most customers suffer from ‘herd mentality’. If someone from their domain or region or locality has taken that leap of faith with you, then you must be ‘Ok’. So share as many such confidence boosters.

Another innovative way would be to visit their website, understand their business, the processes they could be following and try and build a possible Use Case specific to their business where the benefits from using your product or service could be better highlighted. I find this a very powerful method as nothing will convince the prospect more than transplanting an idea in their environment and making a point.

If you start to think out-of-the-box I am sure you will come up with many more innovative ways of keeping your prospect engaged. Keep ideating and coming up with new ideas of how to keep your prospect engaged. Trust me, pressure of targets brings out the ‘Einstein’ in most sales people.

What is ‘consistent’ engagement? I am often asked how often should one write to the prospect. How consistent is consistent? How often is too often? It all depends on where you had reached in your interactions with the lead. That will help you to judge the level of communication you need to employ with the prospect.

  • If the lead has visited your website and filled a form to download some resource and you have sent a ’Thank you’ and ‘Introduction’ mail to which there has been no response, then in the initial couple of weeks from first contact you should keep sending some information once every week. If there is still no response, then thereafter slow it down to once a month.
  • If the lead has either taken a product walk-through on your site or you have connected and given a product demo and thereafter drops from the radar, then keep pushing a lot of product information and customer use cases. Again keep up the pressure once a week for a month or so and thereafter taper off to once a month. During this time you could also volunteer some special price schemes to elicit some reaction.
  • If the lead disappears after a demo and price discussion then in all probability they are studying competitive products and/or going through the internal process before a decision. This is when you need to share more information on business benefits and ROI. Information that would help the user get the necessary approvals. The follow-up should be intense, probably once every 2-3 days for 3-4 weeks. Follow-up should also include telephone calls.

The above is only to give some directions on the approach you could adopt to take a lead to closure and not necessarily the only way. Your actual interaction with the prospect will determine your line of action.

During all of the above or wherever you may be in the sales process it is important to get the prospect to give some indicative timeline at the very least. Understand his use case and reasons he is even thinking of your product. If you know why he is out shopping, you then have the opportunity to tailor your communication accordingly. All this is part of the lead nurturing process.

But remember, don’t lose wind. Keep up the efforts. Not all will actually close. But such lead nurturing has yielded closure rates as high as 45-60%. That should encourage you to keep pegging away. Results will surely follow.

The author, Srikanth Vasuraj, is a Business Consultant focused on helping start-ups to grow. He can be reached at +91-98454 78585 or srikanth@nodiva.co.in . For more information please visit www.nodiva.co.in .

Pitchbook – Quick review of Global VC 2013

Pitchbook has a review of global VC activity in 2013. Key message – activity continues to shift out from silicon valley to other parts of the world, overall a slightly down year, but rising valuations. India still remains small.

http://blog.pitchbook.com/2013-sees-vc-valuations-rise/

What is the role of a Product Manager?

When hiring, I have quite often seen people confusing the Product Manager’s role with that of a Product Development Manager. These are two distinctly different roles and it is important to clearly understand these roles to avoid confusion and heartburn.

The product manager is the owner of the product and plays a pivotal role in bridging the gap between the product and customer needs. His role includes:

Identifying Customer Needs: Understand the existing processes, pain points and the reasons, what it is costing the customer and what would help to establish that customer delight in terms of measurable business benefits.

Translating needs into product functionalities: Work with the development team to help them understand the functional processes and features that would help to address the pain points and establish business benefits.

Testing: Conducting product POC’s and customer trials to help fine tune the product and make it more customer- relevant

Marketing: Developing the customer conviction stories and enumerating the business benefits. These would include product presentations, white papers, case studies etc. to help sales.

Product Pricing: Understand what the customer would be willing to pay, with first understanding the business benefits that the customer would derive from the product and convert these into measurable financial metrics and thereby build the ROI. It is only ROI that would help to determine what the customer would be willing to pay.

Competitive Analysis: Understanding competitive products and help build the competitive barriers. 

Building the product road-map: Constantly interacting with customers to gauge product experience and track changes in requirements to help product development team to manifest the changes in time and stay ahead of the curve.

The Product Development Manager manifests the product definitions into a set of functional features. This person will work very closely with the Product Manager in the development and evolution of the product through its entire life cycle.

Being a crucial role in a product company, the product manager should ideally have deep domain knowledge and a feel for customer’s business processes.

The author, Srikanth Vasuraj, is a Business Consultant focused on helping start-ups to grow. He can be reached at +91-98454 78585 or srikanth@nodiva.co.in . Please visit www.nodiva.co.in for more information.