Archive for the 'Ecosystem' Category

Venture Capital in India – The Summit Push

As the season for year roundups begins, here are my thoughts, originally published in Economic Times

It is now my eight year in succession of claiming a great year for venture capital. I have been in the business for all of eight years. But then, I am also an amateur marathoner and a climber. And in all of these three trades, it takes years of perseverance to scale the summit. As I look back on 2013, I am more convinced than ever of the decisiveness of this moment.

At the surface, 2013 was a slower year for venture capital investments than recent past. It seems that by the time the year closes, we might be 10% down relative to 2012. The sentiment also seems to have gone through a trough, even though there seems to be some revival in the last quarter. Why then the optimism?

The first reason is the emergence of key investment themes which could redefine the complexion of technology ventures in India. While ecommerce innovation continued to get funded in 2013, the second place has been taken by global product innovations coming out of the Indian market. This enhances the market that Indian startups will play in in the future, as well as the significance of those companies on the global stage. Next on the rung is mobile application startups – given the large base of mobile consumers in India, and the nature of India as a mobile-first market, innovation in mobile applications could also lead to global leaders in the space. This opportunity set is likely to get further strengthened as payment systems around the mobile mature – something that 2014 should bring in, both around electronic payments as well as micropayments. These emerging investment themes represent significant broadening of technology venture activity, beyond the classic services and internet spaces.

Equally important has been the strong performance of Indian startups on the exit front. 2013 marked a watershed moment as far as exits of technology venture backed companies is concerned. For example, just between four companies, namely Justdial, Redbus, GlobalLogic and Prizm, over $2B of market value was affected in 2013. These companies, amongst themselves, also represented strength of variety of exit mechanisms – from an IPO trading at 100% premium to issue price, to strategic exits, and a PE buyout. Such a stream of exits provides increasing validation to viability of venture capital in India.

Thirdly, 2013 reversed the policy tide to assist the flow of foreign direct investment in India. From relaxation of FDI limits to rationalization of GAAR, and from IPO facilitation to allowance of preferential clauses for investors, the silent wave of reforms in the latter half of 2013 has started to undo the damage that the regulatory arrogance of 2011/2012 had initiated. There is increasing expectation that this momentum will continue into 2014, without being held hostage to the results of the impending general elections.

Against this backdrop of 2013, it is an exciting 2014 that knocks on our doors. And like the final push to a summit, this stretch does not require us to do different things – it indeed requires us to persist with what we have done well in the past. It calls upon entrepreneurs to dream big and execute well. It calls upon investors to support entrepreneurs and keep focused on realizing returns as investments mature. And it calls upon the regulators to provide an enabling environment for businesses. From the momentum that we have seen towards close of 2013, it might very well be that 2014 is a better year in terms of fund deployment as well. However, the lasting contribution of 2014 could very well be in establishing strong proof points around India as an attractive venture market.

Wishing everyone in the startup ecosystem an exciting and rewarding 2014.

When should a start-up go to an investor?

The unfortunate fact is that though being in the business of risk investments, most VC’s and Angel investors in India are highly risk-averse. This is why start-ups in India struggle to get off the ground. Past experience has made investors extremely careful with their investment decisions and despite such extreme caution still end up with a dismal success rate of less than 20%. So I guess that makes them even more cautious.

So what will make an investor take that leap of faith with your venture? Put yourself in the shoes of the investor and critically appraise your venture and decide if you will invest money in the venture. It would help to give you a different perspective and help you plan accordingly.

So when do you know you are ready for investments?

Any investor will want to know if your venture will help him get good returns and in how much time. To be able to give some reasonable answers to these reasonable questions, the venture should be able to clearly demonstrate its ability to help the investor take a considered decision. For example:

  1. Is your target segment large enough to ensure sustainable business growth over the next 3-5 years?
  2. Have you validated your product with some customer experience? Even if it is not a paying customer, has your product been tested in real time?
  3. How has it fared? Does it really address a problem? Please remember, a problem is a problem only if a customer recognizes it as a problem. Not because you think so.
  4. Is the customer willing to pay for what he has experienced with your product? This will move your product from a ‘good to have’ to a ‘need to have’ product.
  5. Does your product offer a clear ROI? In other words, does your product or solution help to clearly address an existing problem and have you been able to quantify the benefits that the customer will derive from it? This is what will make the customer take that investment decision.
  6. Do you know your competition? What competitive barriers have you planned to ensure you stay ahead of competition at all times? How have you planned the longevity of your product and your venture?
  7. Have you put in place a credible and actionable business plan?
  8. Do you know how much investment you require and for what?
  9. If you have reasonably good answers to the above set of typical concerns that any investor would have, then I guess you are ready to go looking for investment with reasonable chances of success. Ofcourse, if you also have a set of paying customers who are willing to stand up and talk for your product, then the chances of success are even better.

Moreover, if you actually have a unique product with a set of USP’s that makes yours a ‘me-only’ product and/or if your product or some part of what your product does is patentable because of its uniqueness, then investors would not mind overlooking some of the factors mentioned above. But please remember, just because your product is me-only or patentable it does not necessarily mean you will have a paying customer. I have seen some of these patentable or patent-pending products remain just ‘good-to-have’ and struggling to find a paying customer. However unique, it still has to demonstrate clear ROI before the customer digs into his pocket.

In most cases, I have found that the entrepreneur does not have answers to most of these concerns and therefore, the difficulty in getting investments. The investor is willing to invest. You only have to give him the confidence that his investment will perform for him the way it is expected to.

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 .

VC Firm Branding – What matters?

NVCA facilitated a recent research around what matters in a VC firm brand – both what entrepreneurs value, versus what VCs think is important.

Note that this is a US based study. Overall the study reinforced the importance of VC firm brand, but highlighted the differences in what entrepreneurs value (entrepreneur friendly, trustworthy, collaborative, value add) versus what VCs focus on (thought leadership, hands-on). Third party recommendations and word-of-mouth amongst entrepreneurs matters. Entrepreneurs seem to be far more influenced by lead partner reputation and next by firm’s reputation (where as VCs think of those and portfolio reputation as relatively balanced triad). Message for VC firm and partners – develop your brand in line with what your audience wants; Be out there.

It will be interesting to get perspectives from entrepreneurs in India on where their views might be different. For example, the whole incubator/accelerator phenomenon in India is extremely “hands-on” and entrepreneurs seem to appreciate it (or is it just lack of choice?) How are the influencers in emerging market like India different from those in a developed market like US?

Opinions?

Should start-ups pay for Mentoring or Advisory services?

This has been a much debated point in various forums and is a question that plagues start-ups all over the world. Having taken part in numerous such discussions and understood different points of view, I felt that this would be a topic that would interest first-time entrepreneurs in India.

So, should a start-up pay for mentoring services?

In most cases, a mentor is someone who has successfully set-up, run and exited businesses, probably several times, and is now looking to give back to society by sharing his/her experiences with others wanting to do the same. Monetary considerations do not play a big role in such engagements. Some equity stake at some stage may be considered. Therefore, the common refrain is that a mentor should not charge for his services, as the concept of mentoring is to work with and evolve people, be it the CEO/Founder or some of his key people. A mentor works with people to help them understand their environment, evaluate options, identify with issues that affect them professionally and personally and generally act as a sounding board to help the person/s become more effective in, both, their professional and personal life. That is the basic concept of mentoring. It is more person-specific and for the mentor this is an opportunity to share his/her life experiences, successes and failures, and give back to society to help others become more successful.

Ofcourse, in the course of the mentoring he/she could share business ideas and experiences that could have an impact on the business itself. But the primary purpose is to help the individual get more effective and aware. If the start-up gets to be a success, then at that time the CEO/Founder may think of sharing some of that success with the mentor, if it is felt that the mentor played a significant role in the success story.

This is quite clear and I have heard enough people from across the globe expressing similar sentiments. Then why the debate? Why is the mentor still looking for remuneration for his/her services?

The problem lies with confusing the term ‘mentor’.

The young enterprise is looking for someone to help overcome its inexperience in running a business and putting in place business strategies that will help take the company to the next level and achieve short and long term business objectives. This is the primary objective of the start-up.

But unfortunately we do not have so many success stories to mentor the entire start-up community. Plus, even the one’s looking to mentor start-ups, can handle only that many and no more. So the wannabe ‘mentors’ looking to offer exactly the services that the start-up is looking for are actually Business Advisers. Not mentors. A business adviser in most cases does not come from an entrepreneurial background, but brings years of experience, skills and knowledge to help the business achieve its short and long term business objectives.

Now the million dollar question. Who should a start-up engage with – a mentor or business adviser? In the absence of so many mentors, the start-ups have no choice but to work with Business Advisors, who call themselves mentors, which is a very good thing as most first-time entrepreneurs are looking for the business experience that they lack, since most of them do not come from a commercial or marketing background. Since most are technology start-ups, in most cases the CEO or Founders are from a technology background lacking the background for running a business.

Working with an advisor is extremely critical for a start-up as they will help to significantly improve the chances of success and reduce wastage of time, effort and money by bringing their experience to the table and helping to anticipate all the typical mistakes that start-ups make and provide that objective external view point. Therefore earlier the better. Preferably at the ideation stage itself. Most start-ups have to pivot at some stage because they did not try to establish that product-market fit at the ideation stage itself. They did not ask themselves those critical and mostly uncomfortable questions, probably because it did not occur to them or it could have meant going back to the drawing board. An advisor could be of great help here.

So, should a business adviser be paid for his/her services?

Ofcourse, Yes. Such services have to be paid for because the adviser has invested years gaining that experience and this experience and knowledge has significant value. They are offering their service to monetize that experience and knowledge and is also probably a source of living. This cannot be expected to be offered for free. Ofcourse, there could be multiple engagement models that they could discuss and agree upon, which could also include retainer only, equity only or a mix of retainer and equity. That is left to the comfort level of both parties. Most important, the entrepreneur needs to consider this as an investment and not an expense, as this engagement is expected to have long term impact on the business.

Continuing to look for a mentor, just to avoid such investments, could mean losing precious time and money. Start work with an adviser at the earliest. Every start-up CEO is running around just to generate revenues, atleast enough to pay the bills. The sooner this happens the better it is and one way is to engage with someone who can give you those critical inputs that could pave the way.

As Peter Drucker rightly said, ‘The purpose of business is to acquire new customers’. It is one thing to have a great idea, but an entirely different ball game to get a paying customer for that idea. Getting a paying customer, for a start-up, is easier said than done. This is the challenge for most start-ups and that is why they need Advisers more than they need Mentors. This is my considered opinion.

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.

 

Finding ‘Product-to-Market Fit’ starts at ideation

In the course of interacting with so many start-ups I have found one common factor. Problem with articulating the problem statement. If you have understood the problem completely then defining it in two sentences should not be a problem at all. But therein lies the problem!

A problem is a problem only if it is recognized as a problem and this is where I find most entrepreneurs getting confused. You may think there is a problem, but does the prospective customer think it is a problem? Is it actually a problem for him or a way of life?

Typically, any product or service helps to:

  • Alleviate a pain point
  • Enhance a pleasure point
  • Achieve an aspiration

There is also a fourth type of product or service that helps to improve business benefits by disrupting existing practices and processes. Here articulation is very critical because you are seeking to change status quo. You need to understand what is the change, why the change and how the change will benefit the customer.

So what does your product do? As an entrepreneur you need to clearly identify what is it that your product or service will bring to the table for the customer. What is it that will make the customer put money on the table? At the end of the day, any idea is a great idea only if it has a happy customer!

Start with the customer. You have an idea but let the idea take shape from the customer’s perspective. For example, you want to start an online store. Here the questions that need to be answered before you even start manifesting the idea are:

  1. What category of products do you want to cater to?
  2. Do these category of products require ‘touch & feel’ before buying or just a description will be enough for someone to buy?
  3. Why the need for an online store for these products?
  4. Are there brick and mortar stores for these products?
  5. How will you compete with these stores?
  6. What will you offer that will make the customer buy from your online store?
  7. What is your customer profile for those products? – geographic, demographic, psychographic etc.
  8. Will this profile of customers actually buy online?
  9. Do they have access to internet?
  10. What will you do to ensure repeat visits and purchases? Repeat visitors and customers are the lifeline of any online store, as continually getting new customers will mean having deep pockets for marketing.

These are some of the questions that need to be dealt with in detail before you start devoting any more time to the idea. This is applicable for every type of product or service.

Most important question to be answered is ‘How will the customer benefit and why?’ Your product or service should evolve only from the customer’s perspective. Only then will you have a product that will have a customer. Once you have your first set of paying customers, because you have done your homework well, then the product or service can actually go through the product-to-market fit using real time experience.

Unfortunately most entrepreneurs start this process after having manifested their idea into a product or service and then go through the pain of having to revamp their offering almost completely or actually revisit the original idea itself.

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.

For Start-ups Processes are critical for growth

You have got your first set of paying customers and have validated all your assumptions and now feel you would like to initiate actions for serious go-to-market. Every young enterprise looks forward to this day when they would be able to scale and grow their revenues. The entire focus is on revenues. But do you know what the pre-requisite is to ensure a predictable growth?

PROCESS.

This is something that is completely forgotten or one is not even aware of. It is only process that can bring in predictability and repeatability. Repeatability helps you to manage growth without much pain. What kinds of processes are required to manage growth? To understand this you need to know what growth entails.

Growth is not just about revenues. Revenue is the outcome of growth. To enable revenue growth you need to grow your team, which means hiring more people, who will need to be inducted into the organization and trained. Broadly, the team will comprise of sales, support, administration and management. You need to have a system, a process, to ensure successful induction of these people into the organization in the shortest period of time. A timeline for hiring, for induction and training has to be in place so that the new hires can get productive at the earliest. All this can only be achieved if you have processes in place.

You have a team, now how do you ensure predictable business? To generate business you need to have a target list, information on that target list and get in front of that target list to articulate on your product or service. This means you need to have processes for lead generation, lead management, a sales process which will include data capture, reporting and customer handling, pre-sales for technical support (if your product or service requires it) and last but not the least, post-sales support. The last one is mostly an after-thought, after the sale is made. This could prove to be disastrous for a start-up as every happy customer goes a long way in building your credibility. So planning for a happy customer is imperative. Customers smile only when they have been delivered what was promised …. on time. The answer to this is Process.

In the early days when you were the salesman, CEO, HR, Finance Mgr etc. you could manage it. Somehow. But when you start having more people, start servicing more locations and start to deal with multiple customer touch-points, the problems start to emerge. Managing this volume of work and resultant data becomes a huge issue and could prove to be disastrous in the long run. Most start-ups end-up losing a lot of ground only because of their inability to handle this growth. This is where processes come into play. Each component of the sales process right from lead generation to post-sale support needs to have a clearly defined and documented set of processes.

Internal processes need to be built to ensure optimal output with the smallest team possible. Don’t forget, the motto is still to conserve cash for use where it is most required. So smaller the team the better it is. But this same team would be able to handle scaling only with clear cut processes. Such processes are also required to bring in operational and fiscal discipline.

But the most important are the sales and support processes. Being customer-facing, these need to be tightly aligned with the customer’s requirements to ensure predictable business and a satisfied customer. Having already acquired a small set of early adopters, you would have understood what it takes to progress the customer from first meeting to closure. Breaking this into small stages, understanding the customer requirement at each stage and putting in pace proactive actions would help to bring in some predictability into the sales cycle and ensure steady progress of the sales process. This also includes having a well-defined process for pre-sales activities like product demos, presentations, proposal preparation, custom demos etc. All this will ensure low cost and time for customer acquisition.

As I mentioned, it is important to have processes for post-sale support. This starts with the customer on-boarding process, once the sale has been made. Starting from familiarization with customer environment to product delivery and smooth and successful implementation in the shortest time, a clear cut process for each of these activities will ensure a good beginning to a long term customer relationship. A happy customer not only helps to build credibility but can also be a source of future revenues thereby extending the LTV (Life Time Value) of the customer.

It is important that these processes are well thought through, documented and put into practice right from the beginning so that when you are ready to scale it would be a no-brainer and would not seem daunting.

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

Cold-calling is a necessity for start-ups. But how do you go about it?

Having worked hard to get that MVP (Minimum Value Product) in place, most start-ups struggle with getting those first set of reference customers that would help them validate their assumptions and scale their business. Most of the first-time entrepreneurs have not done any selling their entire life and are now expected to go out there and find customers. This is easier said than done. Given below is a brief step-by-step ‘How-to-do-it’ that could help you.

Step 1: Building the database

This post presumes that you have identified your target segments. Make a list of about 40 -50 names of companies from your target prospect base. You can achieve this by – (a) paying and availing a database. Many people advertise the same, but beware these are notorious for outdated and defunct data; (b) Use other databases like ‘Just Dial’ to get more accurate, industry-specific names; (c) You could also use LinkedIn to search and build your database. This is probably the most updated and accurate source of information. While building this list of prospects you should also know who your actual customer is – the CFO, the Marketing Head, the CEO or someone else.

Step 2: Validate the database

Make that first call to all the company board numbers to validate accuracy of person name, designation and contact details. You could use one of many reasons to wheedle out this information. One such reason could be “We are going to conduct a seminar and would like to invite (either the person by name or designation) and would appreciate it if you could please give me his/her email id, to send a request”. Try asking for the mobile number, but nine out of ten times you will not get it. But people are willing to share email id if the request appears genuine. That is a start to atleast reach out.

Step 3: Devise a Direct Mail campaign

It may not be advisable to straight away call a stranger and try asking for a meeting. Better to send out a mail first to establish that first contact and create awareness for yourself. Some important tips for building an email campaign:

Introduction Mail:

The idea is to ensure your mail does not get deleted as spam and is read by the person concerned.

  1. Please DO NOT send mails using a generic mail service like ‘Gmail’ or ‘Yahoo’ or some such service. It will get pushed to Spam. Register your domain and send it using your domain name.
  2. Have a subject line that will make the person open the mail. Please let it not be something like ‘A Solution to help you SAVE Money’ or some such corny line, which is a dead giveaway that this is spam. It will straight hit the recycle bin. I have found that a ‘Request for a Meeting’ normally intrigues people to atleast open the mail. To this you may add some specifics like ‘Request a Meeting – To discuss how you could reduce process steps to on-board a new employee’. Such a subject line also talks of possible, quantifiable benefits.
  3. Address the mail to the relevant person. A lot of people send such mails to the CEO, where it is sure to get discarded. Identify the relevant person for whom your product/solution could be of interest and address him by name, ‘Dear Mr. XYZ’, and not ‘Dear Sir’. Brings in a personal touch. I know I may be pointing out the obvious, but trust me I receive a lot of such mails with ‘Dear Sir’.
  4. The first line should definitely touch on the potential pain point, your solution, the benefits it can deliver and all this in not more than two or three lines. This is what will make the person read the rest of the mail. Eg. ‘Typically companies take anything between 6 – 18 hours to successfully on-board a new employee. Our (use your company name) solution, (give solution name) can enable the same in just 45 minutes through process automation’.  If this is addressed to either the HR Head or the CTO, you can rest assured he is going to read the rest of the mail.
  5. Next para should quickly list the key features and benefits.
  6. Thereafter a brief introduction to your company and lastly a Request for Meeting.
  7. MOST IMP: The entire mail should appear in one single window. That means the person should not need to scroll and can view your entire mail and your signature in one single view. The moment the reader feels the need to scroll, chances are the mail may not be read.

Follow-up Mail:

This mail should be sent 3 days after the introduction mail and should be a brief 3-4 liner referring to the earlier mail and a short reintroduction of your product as a reminder. The subject line can remain the same.

Step 4: First Call

This call should be made again 3 days after the follow-up mail. The critical factor here is your introduction pitch. In two sentences or in 30-40 seconds you should be able to introduce yourself, your product, what it does and the benefits that it can deliver. This is not easy and will need some practice. It would help to write this down to ensure the messaging is right. These first 30 – 40 seconds will determine if the person is going to give you another minute and thereafter hopefully a meeting. You screw up this elevator pitch and you may have lost an opportunity.

If you get a meeting on your first call you should be doing back flips. Most often you will be asked to call back and even then you may need to repeat the process a few times before you actually get that meeting. This is the hard part and most of us tend to give up. You may end up feeling frustrated, insulted, angry and disappointed. But don’t get discouraged. Remember the old saying, no pain … no gain. Think of the times when some sales person called you and how you reacted. So, this is absolutely normal. Afterall, you and your company are unknown entities to that person. Why should he entertain you? But, as with everything else in life, perseverance and developing a thick skin will go a long way.

All that I have related are based on my personal experience and I have benefited from the experience. This is a small attempt to share that experience with you and help you to develop that prospect list. Hope this helps.

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

Impact Investing in India – three trends worth noting

Recently, impact investing in India has been taking center stage in the news. For example, Omidyar Network recently awarded $800,000 in grant funding to six organisations providing a spectrum of services that support social entrepreneurs, Unilazer investments also recently announced that as a fund they would continue to aim for profit first while expanding in the social impact space and reports have surfaced regarding plans to set up a regulatory body for impact investors in India.  Furthermore, new social impact funds are frequently emerging.

Given the recent focus on impact investing in India, Ennovent connected with Karan Gupta, India Investment Manager for Insitor Management and an Ennovent Circle member to glean some insights on the industry’s evolution. Based on the conversation, the below three impact investing trends are worth noting:

ONenergy Scale Image

1. A focus on scale must be approached cautiously

The emergence of impact investing was focused on identifying commercially and socially viable models filling a real market gap – with the potential to reach large numbers. This clearly contrasts the intent of philanthropic funds, which are often focused on making industries work that otherwise may not such as free schools for children or free food for low-income slum dwellers.

What has resulted for impact investing is therefore a strong focus on scale. Even though investors are prepared to be patient with their capital, funds continue to stress on the ability of the enterprise to scale aggressively – be it through increasing operations, taking on debt financing or expanding distribution.

While scale is important to achieve both financial and social aims, balancing purpose and profit becomes increasingly challenging with a strong focus on scale.  Impact investors must ensure that the intent of their funds is clear – supporting their portfolio organizations to scale in a timely, efficient and thoughtful manner. 

2. Accelerators lead to more investment ready enterprises

While the number of enterprises addressing social issues – from affordable education to accessible female sanitation and beyond – has grown considerably in the last few years, the quality of potential deal-flow has also dramatically improved.

Attribution for this shift to additional ‘investment ready’ enterprises can primarily be attributed to the increased accelerators and incubators, such as the Centre for Innovation, Incubation & Entrepreneurship, Villgro, Ennovent and others. These organisations have aptly realized that providing funds is simply not enough – instead they offer a variety of services to help entrepreneurs best develop their business models, then linking to appropriate funding sources.

For example, India has seen a dramatic increase in the number of training workshops that are being offered – from weekly webinars by the National Entrepreneurship Network to the UnconventionL by Villgro and one-on-one mentorship workshops by Ennovent. One-off trainings, coupled with increased access to mentors through incubation facilities or customised mentor engagements, enable entrepreneurs to gain the hands-on experience required to build models ready to absorb and effectively manage investor dollars.

3. Investors must also act as advisors

Interestingly, in India socially focused ventures are attracting large numbers of young entrepreneurs. While their urge to become entrepreneurs, fill a market gap or address a social issue is admirable, most entrepreneurs in the Indian market are only 25 – 28 years old with few years of management experience.

Therefore, once funded these entrepreneurs at many times lack the sector or area expertise required to maximize investor value and grow operations.

To mitigate this challenge, investors must take on a significant advisory role. Especially for socially focused businesses where a precedent model is often non-existent, investors must collaborate with the entrepreneur to support the long-term viability of the business. For example, Insitor, Mr. Gupta’s organization, isn’t averse to holding monthly board meetings with their portfolio companies to provide strategic guidance from a technical or marketing perspective.

Investors also need to act as advisors because the markets for many socially focused ventures are still evolving. For example, constant innovation is required such as this water ATM by Sarvajal or the Toyola moneybox as organisations re-learn the behavioural systems of their customers and adapt their business models to suit new markets. Couple this continuous need for experimentation with the relative practical inexperience of the entrepreneur and it becomes clear that to drive the investor dollar further the investor must wear this dual hat.

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As the Indian impact investment industry continues to evolve these trends will affect not only how investors and entrepreneurs collaborate with each other but also the quality of novel ideas that are brought to these emerging markets. Recognizing this, Ennovent provides a spectrum of Startup and Scale services – from customised mentor engagements to expert consultations for entrepreneurs and investors alike. Learn more about these services now.

 

Blogging helps to generate traffic for your site

Having built a great website, how do you get traffic to your site? It is one thing to have product or service relevant content, but what would be found more interesting is regularly updated content relevant to the product, industry or target groups that you wish to connect with.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one way, but another effective way is to post blogs on your website. Blogging helps to create credibility for you and the service that you offer. The blogs should be credible, interesting and relevant to your service or product, the eco system that it addresses and related information that could be of interest to your focus groups. It would also be a good idea if you could get customers and people from within your eco system to post blogs on your site. It would help to increase visibility for your site.

More you blog, higher the traffic. Frequency of blogs should be atleast once a week or more, which would then attract regular followers. Once you establish a regular beat rate, followers will regularly visit your site to read your posts. Use as many search words as possible in your blogs. Provide links from your blog to some relevant page within your website or some relevant article. Make sure your titles are interesting but also contain your search words. All this is part of SEO.

Typical SEO activities that would help to attract more traffic are using search words in your website content as well as blogs, representing your search words in italics or bold, using search words in your headings and sub-headings, providing links to relevant pages within and outside your site etc.

Blogging is also a way to advertise your domain knowledge and establish yourself as a thought leader.

The author, Srikanth Vasuraj, is a Business Consultant  and Mentor 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.

 

How critical is Mentoring for start-ups?

From my experience of the last 12 years with start-ups, the issue is with the entrepreneurs understanding and acknowledgement of the importance of a Mentor. In most cases, a mentor is supposed to be a like a quick-fix. A first time entrepreneur needs to understand that a mentor is like a partner, hand-holding you to help you meet your objectives, both short and long term. With this quick-fix mentality, you tend to look at mentorship as a short-term initiative (normally 3-6 months based on the money one is willing to spend) and expect visible results in that time, failing which there is hesitation to renew the contract. What you do not realize is that you have actually indulged in wasteful expense, since there will be nothing to show for it in that much time. A business plan is made with a 3-5 year timeline in mind, but you do not apply the same yardstick to a mentor. A mentor does not come with a magic wand.

Having a mentor should be viewed as a necessary investment and should be factored into the business plan right at the outset. Every new entrepreneur should understand that mentoring is necessary to:

  • Understand the start-up life-cycle and process
  • Prioritize each stage in the process with a logical progression
  • Understand the pitfalls and typical mistakes at each stage and prepare in advance
  • Help validate all assumptions about the product, target market, customer profile etc.
  • Put in place an effective GTM and after sales strategy (most people concentrate on GTM as that would help to bring in revenues, when after sales will help in retaining customers and enjoying repeat business)
  • Eventually help to put in place the necessary milestones to help with funding.

Only serial entrepreneurs, who have been there and done that, possess that knowledge. For most new entrepreneurs this is unknown territory. These activities need to be put in place during the critical phase of the company, which is the initial 12-18 month period, which could have a significant and positive impact on the business in the long run.

The other thought process that I have come across quite often is ‘whether an outsider will know my domain! How can he/she help me?’ Domain knowledge, whilst is important and adds value, is really useful for product/service development to make it more relevant for the target segment. If the person can also help to take it to market, then it is ideal. But getting someone with all these attributes is not that easy. To take a product/service to market, one has to be able to strategize it keeping a start-up in mind. The first GTM obstacle and a very big one for a start-up, is to overcome the ‘unknown’ factor and build credibility. Getting that first meeting in itself could turn out to be a herculean task, let alone making him take that leap of faith with your product/service. So more than domain knowledge, it is imperative that the mentor comes with deep experience of having worked with start-ups and understands the start-up ethos.

Having said this, start-up entrepreneurs need to understand and accept the need for a mentor to handhold them during the critical initial phase and be prepared to pay for it.

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.