All posts by Ashish Sinha

Ashish Sinha is founder of Pluggd.in, now known as NextBigWhat. He can be reached at: ashish (at) nextbigwhat.com.

Tumblr Release Notes Is..Totally Amusing

This is probably the most amusing product release notes I have ever read.

“Four-three-one. That’s it. Version 4.3.1. That’s what we’ve gotta do. Version 4.3.1 of the Tumblr app for iOS.”
Silence fell over the board room. The air around the one-of-a-kind, designer table was thick with uncertainty.

Then came the sound, ringing out like a shot. It was a handclap. The executive VP has risen to his feet. Another handclap erupted from his palms. His muscular, deliberate applause electrified the room
————-
Signs of a company / team having fun while building?

Introducing: ProductGeeks. A Community. A Revolution.

Startups. Funding.

Startups. Funding.

Run this in a loop and there you have it – a vibrant startup ecosystem.

Wrong!

A vibrant startup ecosystem is not just about funding – it’s *also* about intelligent conversations that focuses beyond the ‘startup’ keyword (or in other words, what/when/where are you going to use the funding for?).

Conversations that brings debates/discussions and insights on products/ marketing / operations together – conversations that are much more meaningful and useful.

Plus, we need to move beyond ‘startup’ ecosystem and actually focus on ‘PRODUCT ECOSYSTEM’ (I do mean the all caps) – that brings product teams (apart from founders) from existing companies – be it Google, Oracle or SAP.

Introducing ProductGeeks

You must have read about ProductGeeksConf that we did as part of UnPluggd. That was our first PoC towards understanding whether there is a need for a platform like this in the market or not.

The success of ProductGeeksConf, which was attended by product teams (not necessarily founders) reinforced our belief in this and today, we are happy to launch : ProductGeeks platform.

ProductGeeks

What Exactly Is ProductGeeks?

To start off, it’s an online platform that helps you discover actionable insights (from across the web) curated by the community. The ProductGeeks platform aims to create meaningful discussions that we certainly believe will help you refine your product/marketing strategy.

Is it for founders only? NO. The entire idea is to bring actionable insights and bring in product teams / marketers / sales and related teams together, under one platform.

How Does ProductGeeks Work

Pretty simple.

If you are reading some great insights on the web and want to get feedback/ share with the others, just go ahead and submit the article (use this link) and the editorial team will approve it (we do want to ensure that the quality is high and does add value to everybody else).

And of course,  vote for the ones you like (they stay active longer on the homepage) and participate in the discussions.

Introducing : Takeoff !

You have a shiny new product to showcase/collect feedback?

Ask ProductGeeks !

We are merging our products/startup coverage under the ProductGeeks section and you will now start seeing a lot of amazing products (global) being showcased at Takeoff, the product launch platform.

Our goal : Bring India’s Product Community Together. Create a platform that brings great discussions and actionable insights (More Signal. Less Noise).


Subscribe to ProductGeeks Weekly Newsletter
 





To start off, ProductGeeks Curators include @ashish and @Kanupriya. We are open for more volunteers who want to play a deeper role in shaping up the product ecosystem.
To those who want to volunteer for ProductGeeks platform, do connect with me (ashish@nextbigwhat.com).

When It Makes Sense To Avoid ‘Being A Featured App’

“While it’s a lot less sexy, what you should do is quietly launch your app/service and rely on some distribution that isn’t Apple’s firehose of mainstream users. Ideally, this would be natural, word-of-mouth growth. But, let’s be realistic, there will undoubtedly be a chicken-and-egg problem, so get creative.

..: aim for a massive number of users when you feel fully ready to have a massive number of users.”

Amazing piece of insights here.

The Big (App) Disconnect Between Startups And Investors

The best way to raise a massive round is to  go app-only. But then, the one big disconnect between (mobile) startups and investors is this : most of the startups are android-first while 90% investors are iOS-only.

That is, investors aren’t able to use your product – they can’t judge the startup based on the product !

The only workaround? Like a founder shared with me – have a product video. This helps investors.

Sigh…

Bootstrapping : Is It Hot? Cool? Some Perspective

There has been a massive increase in the (seed) funding Indian startups are attracting. Given the funding frenzy, does it make sense to bootstrap?

By bootstrapping, I don’t mean one’s inability to raise funding – but a decision to not raise funding and instead run the business on *customer funding*.

As a bootstrapper myself (for the record, NextBigWhat has NEVER raised any external funding till this date), I am often asked on pros and cons of bootstrapping and whether it’s a good way to build a business.

Here is sharing a few perspective that I hope will help you decide.

bootstrapping

Bootstrapping : Why It’s Cool [PROS]

You are your own boss.
There is nobody to report to. No boss. No investors. Nobody is asking for weekly updates.  Boom !

Freedom.
You are free to take the path you’d like to. It’s your bullet (or car whichever you prefer), your petrol. Drive wherever you want to. Stop wherever you want to.

Helps Stay Focused
Unlike investor focused businesses, you clearly know that your only source of income is customer money, which basically translates to only 1 thing – build a great product/service and do what’er it takes to sell. That is, you have very less distractions to worry about. You aren’t buying into *creative* metrics (GMV et al), but the only goal is customer $$s.

Bootstrapping : Why It’s NOT Cool [CONS]

You are your own boss.
And that’s the hard thing about it. You don’t know when you are slipping / when you need a ‘kick in the butt’. Nobody pings you for any business update (unless you have advisory board). You are a free bird. Fly or die! Nobody cares.

Credibility
Be it about hiring or sales, your credibility is defined by who is talking about you. Media won’t care because you are not a ‘sexy story’.
Having investors brings a lot of credibility. Everybody starts taking you more seriously, just because you have a few branded backers.

Growth Vs. Revenue Debate. Every Day!
From morning to evening, you will be struggling with growth vs. revenue (rather, profit) debate.

If you look at the current startup ecosystem in India, profit is considered a dirty word.

Being profitable is often equated with ‘lack of scale’.

Everybody is talking growth (and an innovative term called GMV). But for those who are bootstrapping, growth mandates one to infuse more money – which simply mandates more revenue (and better profit margin).

That is, you do not have the liberty to lose sight of revenue and instead, focus on the growth (or play with funny metrics like GMV). This can potentially delay your plans – but that’s all what it is!

Bootstrapping a startup
Bootstrapping : Unchained Melody

In all probability, bootstrapping does mean that your runway is not just shorter, but also you have very little fuel left.

To some, it helps stay focused (there is no money to play around with – so better build a rocket that won’t explode). To some, it brings a lot of fear factor as well (especially when you know that your competitor has raised a massive round and is underpricing to win your customers).

But beyond the pros and cons of bootstrapping, there are some more important perspective that one needs to know.

[A] Nobody Will Bat For You.

If you look at it, investors are trying to add more value to their portfolio by doing a lot more than earlier. They are hiring product / design experts. They are conducting hackathon for their portfolio companies to hire.

They ensure that their portfolio companies are invited to the important networking events etc etc. Similarly, other ecosystem players are going to take the funded ones more seriously than others.

Case in point : If you are a funded startup, it’s super easy to get free credit from well known cloud infra companies as opposed to bootstrapped startups. The argument is simple – funded means validated by others. So others are betting on your ‘grand’ future.

But for you, the bootstrappers – nobody is gonna bat for you. If you become part of a community / club, you have a hope. But otherwise, you won’t be invited to any of the above, which also brings down your chances of meeting others / expanding your network.

To put it in an UnPluggd way : You are NOBODY’s AGENDA.

At max, you will be a part of somebody’s CSR initiative (okay ! let’s call them up) – but never, the core.

Your only hope is your customers and (if lucky) brand evangelists!

What does this translate to? Focus on branding from day one. Grab as many opportunities as you can. Be visible.

[B]For how long should one bootstrap? Is it really cool?

I am often asked this question – so sharing a few perspective.

Product-Market Vs. MARKET-Product Fit.

Sometimes startups are too early for a market. The market/investors aren’t ready for the big push and while one can crib about it, the truth is that you can’t change the situation.

Your product definitely solves a pain, but the truth is that market isn’t really that big.

If you have a sense of market and where is it going (vis-a-vis your vision), plan to bootstrap till you have hit the market – product fit.  That is, BIGGER market and better valuation.

Some companies/founder/categories need time to settle in – excess money ruins creativity. And that’s where bootstrapping is useful – helps define the model. 

It takes time for some markets to grow and it’s best to bootstrap till the market is ready. In my opinion, Mobikwik and JustUnFollow follow under this category.

[C] Dealing With Investors When Bootstrapping.

Bootstrapping is a decision. A decision that you aren’t going to raise external money – but that doesn’t inhibit investors to reach out to you. Right?

So how do you deal with them? Well, some of the bootstrapped startups have been too rude to investors and while that was an easy path to become a hero (among entrepreneurs), the real shit is this -> When they decided to raise money (after few years), no investor was willing to talk to them.

People do business with people. No matter what your (bootstrapping) philosophy is, always remember that whatever you do will always come back to you. Bootstrapping and revenue gives a great kick, but not a license to kick everybody around.

Last but not the least, is it okay to raise growth capital after having bootstrapped?

Well, anything for growth and vision ! [read : So you have bootsrapped – why not shoot for the sky?)

Sujayath, founder of Voonik shares a very interesting perspective which sums up my belief as well.

After a certain point, you have to grow and move to the next level. Whether you need a massive sales team (to drive revenue, i.e. more money for growth) or you need external cash should totally be a function of your vision instead of idiosyncrasies around bootstrapping as a philosophy.

You are here to win and not to prove a point.

As a bootstrapper myself, all I can tell you is that bootstrapping is f**king hard, but it’s fun! It  makes you a better entrepreneur and a patient human being.

[Image credit: shutterstock]

App Only And Buying Fake Downloads? Google Just Delisted An App Startup

App-only startups are the flavor of this season. While investors are pouring in shitload of money, the real game begins once the startup raises funding.

There is suddenly a massive pressure to execute, drive downloads and importantly, drive retention. The truth is that whether you are app-only or whatever avatar you are committing to, you still need to:

(a) Build a great product (which solves a problem or does something magical)

(b) Drive people to use it regularly.

(c) Drive WoM.

(d) And hopefully, build a business around it.

Funding can only buy you fuel. The hard work of balancing between speed and control still needs to be done.

Many startups have taken to *black hat* hustling in order to drive downloads.

The Black Hat Hustling /Growth Hacking

Google recently delisted an app from play store.

Reason? Fake downloads.

The Delisted App
The Delisted App

The app had more than 100K+ downloads and importantly, the startup had raised pre-series A funding from well known investors*.

While we are sure that the company will figure out a way with Google, this is a warning to all those app-only startups who are under pressure to deliver download numbers.

The web world was different (black hat SEO has hurt a few startups – but they always had another option of using social media to drive traffic), the app only world is as good as putting all eggs in one basket. If somebody decides to ‘move your cheese’, well you just lost your cheese.

What all *black hat* techniques have you seen by app startups to drive downloads?

For those who are looking for the ‘useful’ techniques, this is a good read.

* : If you are wondering what’s the company name etc, we are bound by our 10 commandments. The point here is to keep the main thing the main thing.

How To Read Rahul Yadav Saga In The Right Context

RahulYadav

First things first : A lot of things in this world needs to be read / discussed in a certain context. There is no hero or a villain. It’s all relative!

“Is Rahul Yadav a great guy?

Is he a bad role model for new entrepreneurs?

Is he too arrogant?

Is he a genius?”

Well, it depends on how you read and judge.

Before we get into some (uncut) perspective, let me share a summary of conversations that has happened between me and several founders (over beer).

—————–

First peg : “Yaar – what a random guy Rahul Yadav is! ”

After Third/Fourth peg : “But boss bande mein dum hai. He has set the investor community in one shot ! saale ne bahot sahi li hai”

—————–

Going back in time, a typical mailer/communication from a startup 2 years back would read like this:

“It’s been an hour and he hasn’t turned up.

During the entire meeting, he was yawning / sleepy..checking his phone”

This is how some of the investors used to be few years back.

—————

But things have changed now. Apart from increased competition, there is also an underlying ‘Rahul Yadav’ phenomena that investors are in the know of. Given the power of social media and ballsy founders, they don’t want to be in the dock with such claims.

They don’t know who the next Rahul Yadav is (i.e. founder who can possibly rip them apart); and that’s precisely you will find A LOT of investors now suddenly being active on twitter (to create a better brand and connect with the community).

What’s Good About The Entire Saga

Well, Rahul Yadav is an innovator – a very quality conscious founder who also believes in bold decisions. All-in or all out. Learn that.

He has taken ‘bold’ decisions – right from buying a domain + a fancy number for half-a-million dollars to spending so much on Lookup branding. These aren’t the kind that a logical founder can even approve of. But results are clear – apart from massive traffic, even LinkedIn recognized Housing as the top 10 influential brands in India.

All this within 3 years of starting up. Very companies have lived this kind of maddening growth.

It’s almost like a cult. As one of the employees wrote

He is the Captain of our ship. We work like a family, We fight like friends and We care like Brothers! He is the philanthropist and thought leader of Housing, he is the care taker of the vision of Housing!

What Housing today is, is not because of our product, not because of our marketing budgets, its because of the People! The very people who laid the foundation of the company. The people who spent sleepless nights and put their hard work from last 3 years in the company. Its because we refused to follow the rules that everyone wanted us to. Its because we never wanted to be the part of a change, we wanted to Be That Change! And we have borrowed this vision from our Founding Team and most importantly from Rahul Yadav.

Build this sort of inspiring culture. It’s just maddening sexy to build a team that believes in your idea like hell ! Very few companies / leaders have managed to build a culture like that.

You can continue to find flaw in the above logic, but when’er you have time – think about this : The Most Inspiring Leadership Test : Your Last Day As CEO

On Not Giving A Fuck

There is a perception that a lot of new founders will get inspired by Rahul Yadav’s ‘I don’t give a fuck’ style.

It works for Rahul (read my earlier piece on this issue : Before you judge a founder) but not for you.

You are building an organization which will bring in several stakeholders and perceptions.

Successful founders manage that. Else they are replaced. Not because they aren’t good enough, but just that they aren’t great enough to work with.

Like it or not, keeping people happy is also a part of CEO’s role. Steve Jobs was known to be arrogant (by outsiders), but people were willing to die for him. He earned respect by launching great products and proving critics wrong – again and again and ofcourse, by not giving a fuck.

If you are a founder reading ‘How not to give a fuck to the world’ -first go back and earn some respect. Do things that prove your capability. And if you aren’t the kind who is ‘great enough to work with’, don’t bring external money in the business. You won’t have to give a fuck to anybody.

On Managing Investors

[By Sumanth Raghavendra, Deck Founder]

Post Rahul’s exit, there have been a ton of posts and articles from “experts” and “insiders” opining on how the board and specifically the investors should have managed him better and why their failure in doing this effectively is the primary reason why matters came to such a head.

As an entrepreneur running a VC-backed startup myself, I couldn’t help but feel that these opinions were looking at this from exactly the opposite direction from where it ought to be viewed. Fact of the matter is that, as a founder, it is your responsibility to manage your investors rather than that of your investors to manage you!

In my opinion, the simplest, yet toughest, way to do this is to first make sure that you assimilate the fact that your investors and you are on the same side of the table – partners not adversaries.

This entire narrative of VCs having a different set of goals and objectives for the company relative to your own is a flawed one – your investor’s imperatives are considerations that you should have considered before you chose to take their money rather than ex post facto, after accepting it. Therefore, if you are a lone wolf or have radically unique perspectives on how to build a company, you are better off not taking any VC money in the first place.

Once you have allowed an investor to join your board, it is essential that you treat her as your partner and ally. Being pro-actively transparent with your board and operating within the covenants that you signed off in your shareholder’s agreement are table stakes – beyond this, you need to manage expectations and attempt to build a “shared vision”.

Unfortunately, as Rahul Yadav probably figured out a bit too late, there is no playbook that you can readily refer to that teaches you how to do this. It is something that comes with experience – making mistakes et al – your challenge is to ensure that your board has your back when you make these mistakes and learn on the job. Else, the only person you can blame if you are shown the way out is you yourself.

Questions to Investors

[By Ashish Sinha, NextBigWhat]

Now that there is a lot of dumb money, where is the smartness? Apart from money, what else are you bringing to the table? Network? Connects? A set of helpful EIRs?

Let’s ask the other way round : If not for money, why would a smart founder spent more than 30 minutes with you? What else do you bring to the table?

I believe, investors need to think through this – very few of them have ever built a business and the lack of ‘hands on’ approach shows up more often than not.

How many of you are even using the new new apps that are being launched? Clearly, there are no more than 10 investor who are active on Twitter or Quora or Dubsmash. The way forward is full of brilliant tech by Indian founders and you don’t wanna be somebody who rejects companies for your lack of vision and understanding of the space.

In short, reskill yourself !

It’s not about managing money – it’s about building great businesses and playing a pivotal role doing that. The new age founders aren’t the sober ones – it’s a bloody different breed. Much more aggressive and bold than what you have been exposed to!

Being Audacious Vs. Creating Value

[By Sameer Sisodia, Linger Founder]

I think the bits about the audacious decision making and big vision is just awesome. But it needed a dose of understanding what a business is – from the perspective of the food chain one enters/works with/improves, and from the perspective of all stakeholders involved.

The founder/CEO must indeed take risks and think different from what any investor, any mentor might – after all they likely never dreamt a dream this big – but as the idea and business grows, they need to have the ability to think beyond what they feel or want, and put themselves in the shoes of other stakeholders.

In Housing’s case, it was after all investor money that afforded the scale creation – and whatever the differences with the investor’s pov, it needed managing. There were similar reports of real estate agents, on the back of whose data Housing seeded its inventory, getting pissed off with their conduct and lack of real value.

The team may be bursting with ideas, and will likely innovate the hell out of this industry, but should remember that finally, all these games are about people – and a large, diverse set of them. And they’ve still got a long, long way towards proving real innovation, real impact and real value beyond what easy money affords.


Last but not the least, many a times founder is not always the best CEO.

What are your thoughts?