Tag Archive for 'startups'

Launching an Experiment to Spot Problems Worth Solving

It is a little over ten years now, since I started working with the Startup Ecosystem here. Much has changed – and I’d say for the better. Funding has improved. Startups are mainstream. And Entrepreneurs are celebrated. Yet, when I look at some of the companies and startups that we showcased at Proto.in ( Between 2004 – 08), it seems some of them were quite out of the world, compared to the me-too startups we see.

Chennai, a tier-2 city by most metrics, has 52 food delivery startups (that we know of). In a conversation with a group of students in IIT and when I prodded them asking why they aren’t going after some of the bigger problems, their answer was simple; “Sir, we read that some of these companies have raised 10s of millions. We look at their venture and it seems so simple and we believe we can do it better”. While the audacity is to be applauded, It also makes me wonder if the best and brightest need to be going after ventures that are essentially time-bound courier service ventures.

As part of The Startup Centre, we’ve been running In50hrs (a prototyping event) for four years now. We’ve been active in 8 cities across the country – organizing close to 14 events a year. I personally love it – seeing entrepreneurs from each of these hubs, and their ideas. But it seems that most of them are drinking out of the same watering hole for their inspirations.

I strongly believe that the ecosystem will sustain as long as we are solving real problems. Inflation and frothy valuations only kick in when there is excess of capital but not enough opportunities to chase. Capital being available is a good thing; I wish if we could direct it to a better purpose.

A few months ago I started talking to a few people to collate problem statements (alok was kind enough to send a few of his own). We are trying to see if we can seed these problem statements – not ideas, but problems – so that the ecosystem can benefit out of.

We put all of them in a Google spreadsheet and shared. I have an inbox full of requests to show that people were indeed interested (or perhaps just curious). But there wasnt a way for folks to interact, and build on it. I opened up the access priviledges and it only took a few minutes before it got vandalised.

Building from the learnings, a week ago we launched Ideaspace. We are building a community around problem solvers – the same community that came together for In50hrs, but this time centred around problem statements – both seeded by us, and those that the community throws up. We’ve a little over 400 users on the platform right now. If you’d like to participate, do let me know. You can signup via http://ideaspace.in50hrs.com. If you are simply curious and just want to have a glimpse of the problem statements then you can do so via http://ideaspace.in50hrs.com/problems

I’d love to have your feedback – and thoughts on the same.

 

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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 .

What’s NXT : Digital Content – Where is Money – 3rd April 2012, New Delhi

Digital Content : What’s NXT – Where is Money

Britannica closing down its print publication after 244 years to focus on online version!  The number of Internet users in India – estimated at around 140 million today – exceeds the number of TV sets in our homes. Facebook, with its 44 million Indian members reaches more of us than any single TV channel, Doordarshan included. While YouTube, with over 31 million Indian viewers a month, is far and away our largest English television channel. Meanwhile Twitter and Google Plus each get to about 14 million of us in a month – a number that is twice the circulation of India’s largest newspaper.  Is Digital Content be next wave in the internet world post e-commerce / mobile vas …

What will work in Digital media and what won’t. With new paradigms of tablets, Apps and micro payment gateway  reshaping the CPM economy , its time to explore and understand new business model which will drive Digital Media in new age !

Meet / interact and understand key issues surrounding digital content at “Digital Content : What’s NXT”  conference and understand these issues from leading Venture Capitalists and digital publishers / editors about the future of Digital content in India.

Speakers 

Key Note address : Mahendra Swarup, President – IVCA

1.  TCM Sundaram , MD & Co founder IDG Ventures

2.  Sanjay Trehan, Head MSN India

3.  R Sukumar , Editor Mint

4. Alok Mittal, Cannan Partners

5.  Sreekant Khandekar , Chairman & CEO – Banyan Netfaqs

6. Mukul Singhal, VP SAIF Partners

7. Shailesh Vickram Singh, Executive Director, SeedFund ( Moderator)

WHERE

Taj Vivanta ( Taj Ambassdor) Near Khan Market, New Delhi

WHEN

Tuesday, 3rd April 2012,

Register Now.

Register here at  http://bit.ly/GPLAHM

The New Model of ecommerce (is the old model of business) – Profitable, Innovative…

 (This post was triggered by Alok’ s recent post about  new capital efficient, profitable models of ecommerce)

The current crop of poster boys of ecommerce ventures in India – FK, Snapdeal, FnY etc are all horizontal – sell everything to everybody.

They have built a business which has scaled – they have served millions of transactions.

They have generated scale with VC money, but profits have to be generated with customers’ money. How will they do that?

What is the new model of business that Alok is talking about?

Could it be the newer ecomm ventures will be –

  • Vertical sites – means focusing on a one or a set of product categories or customer segments. Vertical means that more information on site about how to use the product, etc. Vertical also means that they will offer more products per category compared to the general ecomm store.
  • horizontal sites based on made to order/just in time purchasing instead of made to stock/buy to stock models
  • focused on building targeted relationships with customers using technology which ensure repeat purchase.

These also require eco system in place including logistics, payment systems, analytics and reliable partners who will supply merchandise just in time.

What do you think?

Delhi is the New Hub For Techs

I read this interesting article recently- about how Delhi is the new hub for tech startups– in Wall Street journal.

I am curious- what are the experiences/opinions of other members- who may have worked in multiple Indian metros on the subject.

Below article is a mirror of article in Wall Street Journal: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204485304576644220533569618.html
Delhi is the New Hub For Techs

MUMBAI — The National Capital Region, as Delhi metro area is known, has upstaged Bangalore as India’s biggest hub for technology start-ups, according to a survey released this week.

At least 220 technology start-ups were launched in the Delhi area over the past three years, compared with 159 in Bangalore, according to the survey conducted by YourStory.in, which tracks start-ups in India.

Of these, 49 start-ups in NCR attracted investors, while only 18 were able to raise funds from investors in Bangalore.

The survey is based on data from 1,057 start-ups across 16 cities. Most of these ventures are less than three years old, and 15% of them are older.

Launching companies is easy in Bangalore because mentors and facilitators provide a mature entrepreneurial ecosystem, but sustaining these ventures is difficult in the absence of financial support, said Shradha Sharma, founder of YourStory.in, which claims to have the biggest database of fledgling firms in India.

“Startups come up crazily in Bangalore and die just as fast,” Ms. Sharma said. “New Delhi and Mumbai companies have more access to capital than Bangalore. Seed- and angel-funding is minimal in Bangalore. Most companies still have to come to Mumbai for funding.

Also, companies in New Delhi’s suburbs of Noida and Gurgaon usually are started by professionals with experience working for multinationals. “The ideas are more mature, therefore the quality is high,” she said.

Startups in Delhi stand out in terms of business focus, said Ashish Sinha, head of Pluggd.in, which also tracks startups.

Do you want to be known as one of the Future IT Companies globally..? Here’s your chance to participate in the NASSCOM EMERGE 50 Awards for 2011.

EMERGE 50Do your products/services have the potential to redefine benchmarks of excellence for the industry? Have you witnessed accelerated growth patterns over the last 2-3 years consistently using innovative business models? Have you successfully ventured and leveraged emerging/domestic markets for faster financial growth? Here’s your chance to ride the wave to fame, as INNOVATION, GROWTH and START-UPS are the 3 categories for the 3rd annual NASSCOM EMERGE 50 Awards.

In an endeavor to showcase the brightest stars in the emerging and start-up community and support their development, we invite fast-growing Indian IT companies to send nominations for recognizing their ground-breaking products/services in the IT sector. The NASSCOM EMERGE 50 awards for 2011 aims to highlight the next set of 50 emerging companies with the key objective of building the future companies for the country. NASSCOM EMERGE 50 aims to showcase the most promising product companies in the emerging and start-up community that are shaping the future of India. On request of participating companies, we are extending the last date to September 10th, 2011. You can apply here.

This year the “Top 50 Emerging Companies” and “League of Ten” will be recognized at the annual NASSCOM Product Conclave in Bangalore.

Recognition for winners at an awards ceremony at the NASSCOM Product Conclave, November 9-10th 2011, Bangalore attended by 1200+ delegates, 600+ companies from across the world

  • Top 10 companies will be provided FREE stalls space in the Premium Exhibit area at the Product Conclave
  • Top 10 companies will also get 2 FREE passes to the Product Conclave
  • Applying for EMERGE 50, 2011 is FREE for all companies
  • Register your Software Product FREE in the Marketplace – ProductsMade.in

Here’s how the EMERGE 50 2010 winners benefited from the visibility, mentorship, networking and growth opportunities provided through this platform.

  • “Top 50 Emerging Companies” and “League of Ten” duly recognized at the EMERGEOUT Conclave in Delhi, 2011
  • Company Listing in Dataquest – the leading IT magazine
  • Editorial coverage in the NASSCOM EMERGE Newsletter and NASSCOM Newsline
  • NASSCOM partner companies provided consulting support under the Mentorship Program  to most finalists
  • Showcase of EMERGE Top 50 product companies to the CIO community in the annual Product Conclave
  • 30 entrepreneurs from the EMERGE community featured on YourStory.in
  • Showcase of EMERGE 50 companies at other NASSCOM events
  • Partner search facilitated through the Global Trade Development initiatives

Read some of the testimonials from some of the members who got featured in the EMERGE 50 editions. Many more initiatives will be rolled out in the next few weeks. If you have any queries please feel free to reach out to us at emerge@nasscom.in. Like last year, we have partnered with Zinnov Consulting as a Process Partner for this initiative.

Due to popular demand, we have extended the nomination timeline for the prestigious NASSCOM EMERGE 50 Awards from 25th August to Saturday 10th September, 2011.

NASSCOM EMERGEOUT 2011 – New age opportunities for software companies via Cloud, Mobile & Social platforms

Unarguably, the next drivers of the Indian Tech Industry will be in the domain of Cloud and Mobile. In the next 5 years, the number of Internet users is expected to increase by three-fold, to a whopping 300 million. This penetration will most certainly include the semi-urban segment which is largely out of the ambit today. Studies indicate, the Cloud Computing Market, which shows a promising 110 Mn USD will touch 1 Bn USD or thereabouts during this time. Likewise 826 Mn Wireless users will expand to 1.2 Bn. All this will happen in the next 5 years. Exciting times await us!

The next wave of GDP, employment and productivity growth is most likely to come from this segment. It will lead to empowerment, as new jobs get created. Internet adoption adds 2.6 jobs for every job lost due to better productivity. It will lead to increased efficiencies as SMBs are likely to benefit the most from SaaS rationalization and availability of raw computing power. Opportunities abound, there are challenges which need to be addressed. Every edition of EMERGEOUT (now in its 8th avatar) has featured new trends – the opportunities, the journey and the roadmap to reach there. This time, the focus is on New age opportunities for software companies via Cloud, Mobile & Social platforms.

Which are the areas that this conference is likely to touch upon?

  • How do we build an eco-system which will induce young entrepreneurs to start ventures in this domain. Can we showcase enough success stories which will help break down age-old myths. Can we create channels where the individual can touch upon for financial support and not spend an insane amount of time running from pillar-to-post.
  • How does one scale up? What are the challenges of scaling-up – structurally, technically and financially? We have workshops planned, by some very senior thought leaders to address these issues.
  • Celebrating Entrepreneurship – how different are tech entrepreneurs from their predecessors.
  • Experiments with “Sales” – strategies likely to succeed.
  • Dark side of saying “No” – when and if at all should entrepreneurs walk away from deals? If at all.

These are of course some basic building blocks. Over and above this, we have NASSCOM EMERGE AppFAME Contest. We are looking for cool mobile apps that surprise and delight mobile users.  Do you have a mobile app that is making life of a customer easier, helping them save time and be more productive. Someone said they are the “rock star mobile apps.”

If you think all this is exciting enough to invest a day of your time, then please register for the 8th EMERGEOUT 2011, New Delhi. After all, August isn’t very far away and we are giving away the early bird discounts.

SeedFund Event @ Delhi : After Funding What: Building High Growth Startups

 After Funding What?Seedfund and TiE presents the secrets of fast-growth startups.How did CarWale vault to the no.1 position among car portals? Or Redbus do to grow to 10,000 tickets a day from just 10? What ‘s Edusports secret sauce in signing 100 school customers in 10 months? TiE invites you to ask founders.Seedfund comes to NCR. mash Murthy talks with Mohit Dubey, Phani Sharma and Saumil Majumdar.Venue : India Habitat CenterLimited Seats . Please register at seedfund.in/fastI also take this opportunity to announce launch of Seedfund office in New Delhi – NCR Region. With presence in Delhi / NCR, Seedfund will be looking at investment opportunities in North India region.

VC Turned Entrepreneur: 3 Lessons Learned

Before joining the entrepreneur scene, I was a VC at Canaan Partners where my primary job was diligence-ing new deals.  It was great practice for running my own startup, SkillSlate, a website that allows people to find & hire independent service professionals.  However, I’ve learned that no amount of VC experience can fully prepare someone to be an entrepreneur.  Below are the top three lessons that I learned since joining the startup world:

Hire the Best People You Can Find, Regardless of Where they Live.
Nothing beats working with fantastic people face-to-face, but finding great people in your city can be difficult.  Rather than holding out for several crucial months to hire that perfect local candidate, start looking for remote talent.  What you’ll lose in communication, you’ll gain in having a higher quality team member.

Use Your Own Product.
If your business is consumer facing, it’s important that everyone in your organization uses your product regularly.  You’ll be amazed what you learn when you see your product from your users perspective.

Get Out of the Building (and Talk to Your Customers).
Every moment that you’re not interacting with a customer, you’re slowly forgetting his/her needs, concerns and problems.  The longer this goes on, the more your product will deviate from their needs, and the more likely you’re wasting your time building a product no one wants.