The investment round was led by CIIE with further participation from Artha Platform, philanthropy community in India. The investment was carried out under the ACT for Impact Programme at CIIE, focusing on using alumni connections to bring more angel capital into the ecosystem.
Aakar is a hybrid social enterprise that manufactures high-quality, compostable and hygienic sanitary pads, which are priced below other branded, competitive products. These pads are produced and sold by women entrepreneurs in their own villages. Their not-for-profit arm trains rural women to run manufacturing units and create awareness about menstrual hygiene. As a part of this arm, Aakar has started a crowdfunding campaign called “Freedom from Shame” to raise donations.
They have so far sold 22 machines across India of which 15 units are operational and the rest 7 will be functional by mid-December. These machines, which are usually set up in rural villages and urban-slum areas, have led to the direct employment of over 200 women.
Why do we have so less women entrepreneurs attending startup conferences?
Ofcourse, there are conferences that are dedicated to only women, but they are silos and do not really help the cause (in my opinion).
And yes, you can run a panel discussing Women In Tech and the audience could look just like the below pic from a ‘Womens Conference’ held in Saudi Arabia.
At UnPluggd, we have always planned for a discussion oriented towards women entrepreneurs, but never really managed to execute that.
More than having just a discussion, we’d want to take the first step, i.e. have more participation from women entrepreneurs and doers!
This discussion with Zainab and Ashwini actually got us to rethink and atleast take the first step (thank you girls!).
So here it is : We are giving away 60% discount to women entrepreneurs for the upcoming UnPluggd conference.
All you need to do is fill up the form below and we will share the further details*.
Ofcourse, we expect you to not buy your male colleague tickets using the special discount code we share with you. The idea is to have more of you (you = the women entrepreneurs and doers) and here is a small step towards reducing the friction.
Date : December 6th. Venue : Hotel Park Plaza, Marthahalli, Bangalore. Speakers/Agenda : Announced! Registration details : Hop here. Discount: Use the code NEXTBIGWHATTWO to grab 20% discount!! Got questions? Ask : email@example.com
* : For those who have already bought the ticket, we will adjust the same in any of the NextBigWhat conference you’ll attend in future.
My father had a day job in a Bank yet he ventured with 2 more partners to start a transport business (a truck goods delivery services to start with) in 1984. With a severe loss & accident; we lost lakh of rupees (a lakh rupee was big deal even now). This had a deep impact on us.
During the same time, we used to keep a cow for our home need. My father then shifted his attention to turn this 1 cow shed to one of Odisha’s district finest small-scale dairy firm! I thought to share this journey.
Scaling Desi Cow
We had a small ‘desi cow’ (Indian cow) which are less costlier than other high breed of cows, need almost no maintenance and at the same time, they produce fairly less milk. They are popular in villages and semi-urban areas as preferred small investment startups!
Now the transport business had gone for a toss, my father thought how about ‘scaling’ this desi cow setup to a mid-sized dairy firm! Initially, he got 1 more cow and we started getting around 7 ltrs of milk in the morning. This got us 2 ltr for our own home needs and 5 ltrs were sold in neighborhood & to some of father’s bank colleagues.
Sell The Right Milk
We invested in these 2 cows with proper care, good and veterinary healthcare. This improved their heath but their overall contribution to milk production was still fairly less. As our customers tasted milk and shared word of mouth that “Bank Panda’s” dairy firm milk is pure milk, more customers approached us.
My father had an ethics policy number 1: Not to add water in the milk. Though the demand was pouring in, we ensured we follow the ethics. We couldn’t serve the demand and in fact we used to tell these additional customers to go to nearest competitor dairy firm to buy!
Predictable Milk Production vs. Exponential Milk Production : Devise your biz model
During this time, my father used to get good inputs from veterinary doctors & staffs that certain desi cow are fairly stable in their growth, lifespan and contribution to milk production. Hence, we should mix foreign cows like Holstein cows (cows from Holland) with our Indian cows and manage a balanced dairy firm and growth of it. FYI, Holstein cows are highest production dairy animals.
That was a good advice but what happened thereafter almost changed our destiny. We got a Holstein cow, increased the milk production along with our existing cows. But the Holstein cow was very aggressive in nature, also needed different setups. For instance, Holstein cows need much rich processed food, their shelter needs to be open aired and they also need much concrete & proper drainage system.
We had to invest & build another shelter for this Holstein cows. We got a Holstein cow and figured that the cost of this cow was much higher vs. what we planned as milk production. First loss hit us.
Spot The Cash Cows
My father was searching for a cow via various agencies, middleman in various nearby villages & cities. One fine day, he went out and got a Holstein cow. Usually our firm servants bring them by letting the cow walk for miles after miles crossing several villages to my place. But this time my father went with them and while bringing the cow, he realized that the cow is so thin & weak that she had to be brought in a truck with utmost care.
When she arrived in our home, we were amazed to see such a thin Holstein cow papa had got (usually Holstein cows are fat & beautiful). I remember watching this cow struggle to even eat her first lunch in our home. We were not sure but my father was damn sure that he spotted a great cow.
With 3 months of extreme care, food and love, this cow went on to become the best cow in my district (Ganjam, Odisha) for next several years! She won awards after award and every veterinary doctor gave example about her as how a cow should be taken care. She was producing so much milk that we almost ruled the major supply in our customer segment.
But beyond this, we were known for timely milk distribution, pure milk and extreme customer care.
Enjoy The Journey & Be Thankful to Cows
The cows were like a family! We now had achieved a fairly stable set with Indian cows and Holstein cow to manage our growth, mixed their balanced milk production so we can manage supply-demand and unpredictability scenarios. We made some losses too in wrong selections but overall we enjoyed the journey, hard work and the money.
Pay it Forward
This contributed to our overall living, funding my engineering study and also much needed fund for my career shift to computing.
I am sincerely carrying forward some of the philosophies, customer serving learning from my father’s dairy firm to my startup.
From a humble calculator repair shop to a successful antivirus company, Katkar brothers have come a long way!
Quick Heal Technologies, founded by the duo in 1993, sells antivirus products to SMEs. Before starting up Quick Heal, Kailash served as a maintenance engineer at Data Star Electronics. When Kailash’s younger brother Sanjay Katkar came up with a highly reviewed project on Computer viruses during his post grad, he encouraged him to take a step further by diversifying their core capabilities into the creation and development of antivirus solutions.
In many ways, Quick Heal is a case study in marketing and distributing in the Indian market. Creating marketing strategies and reworking on operational strengths to build a dedicated Research and Development center and a strong ground-support team that now spans over 30 cities in India (and 60 countries).
Have your dose of inspiration from Quick Heal story, as shared at UnPluggd – India’s biggest startup conference.
Mythologies matter, for human brains are wired for stories. One of the most successful modern day mythologies is that of Star Wars. The Star Wars film series, consisting of two trilogies, has spawned an extensive media franchise called the Expanded Universe which includes books, television series, computer and video games, merchandising and comic books.
Star Wars franchise has created billions of dollars in value for its creator, George Lucas and a cult following amongst millions of fans across the world. The Walt Disney Company acquired Lucas Film (owner of Star Wars franchise) in 2012 at a valuation of $4.06 billions. A new Star Wars Episode VII film would be released in 2015 creating another billion plus dollar in value.
For the uninitiated, the Star Wars franchise is based in a galaxy far, far away in the distant past, and portrays Jedi as a representation of good, in eternal conflict with the Sith, their evil counterpart. The franchise’s storylines contain many themes, and has strong influences from the works of Joseph Campbell, an American mythologist who studied almost all great human mythologies, from the Nordic to Indian, from Western to Eastern, from Egyptian to Machu Picchu.
Campbell realized that all great mythologies are based on a Mono-Myth (that all mythic narratives are only variations of a single great story.) He observed that a common pattern exists beneath the narrative elements of most great myths, regardless of their origin or time of creation. The central pattern most studied by Campbell is often referred to as the hero’s journey and was first described in his book: The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Campbell summarized the mono-myth:
“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man. A hero has an insight, he leaves his people behind to commence an epic journey. He faces a dark night of his soul when he realizes the truth. He returns to his people to share the truth.”
Arjuna, the warrior Prince from the great Indian mythology Mahabharata, encountered this dark night of soul on the battlefield of Kurukshetra:
“My limbs fail, my mouth is parched, my body quivers, my hair stands on end. My Gandiva bow slips from my hand and my skin burns all over; I am not able to stand steady; my brain is reeling,” Says the despondent Arjuna at the battlefield of Kurukshetra.
The ‘battle’ here is not a fight between armies, but a war within his soul. Arjun’s judgement is clouded; this hero of a thousand battles suddenly begins to suffer from self-doubt. His mind is torn by fears and anxieties. Arjuna, like so many of us, is overwhelmed by the choice he has to make. It is only the honest, conscientious people who agonise over such ethical situations. As for unscrupulous men, they are motivated only by their own desires and selfish interests. Neither Duryodhana (in Mahabharata) nor Emperor Palpatine (also known as Darth Sidious, the Dark Lord of the Sith) are bothered by such worries. Never ever do they reflect upon the injustice of their actions since they do not differentiate between good and evil.
Eventually, Arjuna listens to the advice given by his Saarthi (mentor), Krishna. He confronts the dark night of his soul, understands his dharma, fights the epic battle and emerges a hero. The message of the Gita is the message of heroism, and Inner strength. With inner strength and resolve, one can overcome doubt and anxieties, and progress on the correct path.
Star Wars, a modern day Mahabharata, is the epic story of Anakin Skywalker and his son Luke Skywalker. Originally a Jedi prophesied to bring balance to the Force, Anakin Skywalker, however, falls to lure of the dark side of the Force. Overcome with fears, doubts and anxieties, he chooses to serve the evil Galactic Empire as Darth Vadar. He ignores the advice of his counsel and mentor, Jedi Obi-Wan “Ben” Kenobi. Dark force taps into his insecurities, and lure him to become the dark lord of sith.
Stories of most startup founders are no different from the script of the universal mono-myth. In an arduous journey of entrepreneurship, there are periods when a founder feels utterly depressed and despondent. He feels that he belongs neither here nor there. Either his team abandons him, or market rejects his product, or the product doesn’t work, or the investors don’t buy into his vision. Everything appears dull, dark, and profoundly dark…He faces what many Indian mystics have called ‘the dark night of his soul.’
When this dark night comes, a founder needs to dig deep within himself. A hero would hold his nerve and make the right choice: this choice is the difference in the way the world would remember him…a victorious and righteous Arjuna or an evil Darth Vadar. So many founders and CEOs become Darth Vadars in the stories of their life. Confronted with the dark nights of their soul, they choose the dark side, which inevitably leads to a slippery slope of destruction. They either succumb to their fears & insecurity, or breed a hubris that eventually leads to their downfall.
So what’s there for a modern day founder to learn from the two epic mythologies: ancient mythology of Mahabharata and modern day cult mythology of Star Wars??
1) There is only a fine line that differentiates the good from the evil. Have the courage to walk away from the evil when faced with the dark night of your soul.
2) Be a hero: Don’t be afraid to go through hell before you realize your potential.
3) Build alliance of truth & enlightenment (mentors) around you who would guide you in the right direction when your dark night of soul comes, which will inevitably come in any epic journey of a hero.
4) An epic journey is worth a lifetime: don’t take short-cuts.
No person knows how to deal with everything. But if you can find a team of people, or friends, or family — and there will be different people over time because different people like to focus on different problems or different scales of the problems — then that’s what’s really going to get you through, that’s what’s gotten me through and that’s what continues to get me through all the stuff that we have. Yeah, you don’t have to be superhuman, you have to just kind of keep on going and not do it alone and find people who share your passion for what is the important thing in the world.”
Attracting talent to startups has been a long-standing challenge, but understanding the fears and motivation can benefit startups to overcome this hurdle.The team at MyNoticePeriod conducted a survey (1,500 sample size) to understand the interest of job seekers in joining startups and more importantly,what excites them and what their concerns were.
The survey findings will help startups make the right pitch to attract top talent.
The three questions asked as part of the survey include:
Q1: Are you willing to join a startup?
Insights: Response to this question was a big surprise as more than 85% job seekers said they would like to join startups. This is clearly reflective of the phenomenal success of some of the startups in the recent past. Until a few years ago, joining a startup meant that an individual has not found better job at large MNC. But now startups have become a preferred place to be.
Q2: Why would you join a startup?
Insights: Responses to this question was very different from what we would hear from mature startup nations like USA and Israel. For instance, salary and equity are NOT the top two priorities to work in a startup. Working across functional domains and opportunity to work on latest technology takes higher precedence.
Q3: What are you worse fears in joining a startup?
Insights: As expected, lack of stability is the biggest fear in joining startups. But what is added information is that startups fail to clearly articulate roles and responsibilities to teams and team members, leading to lack of prioritization.
Myth 1: Job seekers are hesitant to join a startup. Fact: Almost everyone (85%) is willing to work at a startup. Given the recent success of many of the startups, there is lot of interest in joining them.
Myth 2: Money is greatest motivator. Fact: Opportunity to work across domains/functions is thegreatest motivator. BTW, salary is at number three.
Myth 3: Job seekers do not join startups due to fear of working long-hours. Fact: Less than 20% of job seekers are worried about working long hours at a startup.
Myth 4: Startups have poor work infrastructure. Fact: Incubators and accelerators provide world class operating spaces for startups.
Startups Breed Startups: 25% of job seekers willing to join startups; plan to do their own startup eventually!
Equity Not Priority: Equity is 5th among the listed reasons for joining a startup.
Define Roles Clearly: Startups need to articulate roles more clearly. Even if there are many roles, define each one upfront and clearly.
More Incubators Needed: Being at an Incubator or accelerator could make it easier for startups to attract talent. The incubators and accelerators need to support startups for longer duration and let them scale.
What are your thoughts? What has been your experience as a jobseeker or as a founder talking to candidates?
- Raised $500K at a pre-money valuation of $2.3 million. Deck had previously secured a convertible note of $100k from Qualcomm by virtue of winning the Qualcomm QPrize and as per the conditions of that investment, it was converted to equity in the seed round at the same rate as the new investment.
“It’s been a year since we closed our seed round. In this period, we have grown to a 30+ member team and have crossed the $50k MRR figure. Approximately half the funding is still in the bank and while we could be profitable if we wanted to, we are currently ticking along at a burn rate of around $10k per month which we are comfortable with.” [from Sumanth’s blogpost]
Now It’s Your Turn
We are inspired by the founders of Frrole and Deck and as a platform that brings founders together, we have put up the form below for founders to share data (anonymously as well). To those who believe in ‘paying it forward’, please use the form below.
We will collate the anonymous data and share the same with fellow founders.
UnPluggd, India’s biggest startup conference is on to its 10th edition. UnPluggd was started with a single focus : bring actionable insights to the audience!
Over the last 9 editions, we have been upping the bar with red-eyed passion towards amazing content and a super amazing audience.
As part of UnPluggd historical coverage, today we walk you through the second edition of UnPluggd which happened on October 30th, 2010.
At UnPluggd, our focus has always been to bring in speakers who can talk ‘real shit’. The ones who aren’t ‘media trained’. The ones who are ‘just about to make it big’ and ready to drop their guards off and talk things UnPluggd.
And before we share, here is what you need to know about the next UnPluggd.
Date : December 6th. Venue : Hotel Park Plaza, Marthahalli, Bangalore. Registration details : Hop here. Discount? 50% off ! on tickets. We just completed two years and we are celebrating our birthday with a discount code NEXTBIGWHATTWO (applicable only to UnPluggd and Networking Evening session/valid only till this weekend).
# 1 : When Naveen Tewari Spoke.
Naveen not only talked about the #inmobi journey, but a whole lot of rejections and operational challenges that they had to go through. Any entrepreneur would easily relate to Naveen’s talk. A must watch and you should bookmark this.
By the way, Sir Richard Branson recently blogged about this video.
2 : Pallav Nadhani : Starting After Class 12th To Building FusionCharts.
Pallav started FusionCharts after class 12th and at UnPluggd, talked about his startup journey – how the company was started, how he managed to ‘seed fund’, scaling issues, some of the challenges the company faced and most importantly, customer centric approaches his company has built.
3 : Saloni, Desicrew
Saloni started her career in an interactive media start up, Web Chutney in Delhi. Desicrew wasn’t among the top ideas she had while she was mulling her own business!
4 : Manish Sharma, Printo
Manish Sharma is a software engineer by profession – was 12th employee of Rediff, started one of the earliest Internet services firm in India (in 1995) called DBSIS. Post DBSIS acquisition, Manish moved to US, worked on AI based learning and extraction engine startup (Late Prof. Rajeev Motwani was his advisor) which didn’t do so well. Later on, he went to Oxford University for MBA, worked for a company and moved to India to start a retail business, about which he had no idea of!!
At UnPluggd, Manish talked about the journey of starting a business in domain where his lack of experience was probably his best weapon.
5 : Alok Kejriwal.
At UnPluggd, Alok shared his startup journey – of course, in his own style!!
Interestingly, Alok also started Rodinhoods the same day (he bought the domain on his way back from UnPluggd) !
Apart from these amazing talks, one of the highlights of the second edition was showcase of Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 for the first time in India. Exclusively at UnPluggd.
Second edition was when we started the startup launch process. Out of 10 companies that launched, the notables ones are Capillary, Kookoo and Dhiti.
» Register for the next UnPluggd. All we promise is amazing insights, startup lessons and a great networking opportunity!
[Guest article by Santosh Panda, Explara founder. Santosh talks about some of the struggles that he had to go through and why he ditched his comfortable corporate life for a ‘road-not-taken’ adventure. NextBigWhat invites entrepreneurs to share their journey/lessons learned. ]
During childhood, my father had setup a dairy firm so he can earn a bit more money for giving better education and life to me and my sisters. He had a day job in a bank.
When needed, I had also distributed milk by going on a cycle to various customers, including some of my classmate and friends house.
I was born & brought up in a Ruban (Rural Urban) city in Odisha; always heard stories from my father on how people in my small town built successful businesses with little loan from bank.
After an initial attempt to get into medical and being unsuccessful, I did an engineering in Industrial & Production.
Early in career, between 1998 to 2001, I travelled some 17 countries in Europe, USA, and South East Asia. I saw the world and it further influenced my passion towards entrepreneurship.
Gave up a hugely double-paid salary ($ in Finland and Rs in India) and life in Helsinki, Finland to come back to Bangalore to work for a small startup.
This is during the year 1999/2000 when most IT professional in India were moving to west i.e. USA.
From Bangalore, we built some amazing products for USA market from India. I tasted my creative mind and was ready to start. But I needed some money. This time I relocated myself to London & then to work with a small startup there.
Started a company in 2005 while living in London, went with a solution concept paper to University of Wales, Manchester University to solve their ‘higher education /study abroad’ programs to acquire students for various studies.
Fail & Fail Again
Tasted first failure! Me & My co-founder couldn’t agree on investment and specifically my co-founder thought it is full of risk. We closed & we are still friends.
Started another company in 2006, with 2 other co-founders, one in Bangalore, other one in USA. We struggled on selecting services vs. products and more specifically which product. We also took several months to establish a bare minimum team.
We called off the startup after 5 months of starting up and no substantial progress.
Started another startup in 2007, this time outsourced my product development to a team based in India. I had trained the team remotely from London using Skype and webcam. The company which was developing my product decided to let go several of team members. I was about to taste 3rd failure.
I approached the founder, conveyed that I intend to take over the team (or few members) if he has no issues. Started the company in 2008, while I lived in London and remotely collaborated with my team.
Bootstrapped from 2008 to 2011 by having a contracting job. Within 14 months of starting up, I ran out of money in 2009 Feb. My uncle gave a personal loan so I can pay salary to my associates/employees for a month.
Again ran out of money in May 2010. A childhood friend and an engg classmate offered me money so that I could pay salary to my associates/employees for a month.
My wife and my first son had come to India for my son’s birthday in 2011 and their return VISA was rejected as I had no money in my bank account in UK.
As per UK law, I cannot maintain a family basic need.
Relocated to India in Sept 2011, pitched to my childhood friend and got his first few lakhs investment.
But couldn’t take salary as company needed money badly. My wife, & son lived in Odisha; whereas I lived in Pune for 2 more years.
Not much appreciation in family relative circle for giving up a great life, salary & career in UK.
The remoteness in starting up shaped up excellent culture and collaboration.
We hired people who had an attitude and desire to do good work. We never hired anybody just because of their great educational qualification.
We had 100% open information sharing : We used Skype group conversation to share info/ chat, work & discuss, celebrate success/ express sadness, pretty much every communication was an open expression on Skype.
We never worked in weekends for the sake of it. We encouraged team to write beautiful software that works in nights & we sleep peacefully.
We encouraged team to stay ethical and not win any customer with false promises. If we miss, we own & rectify it.
We used simple online tools & easy to follow process to enable remote collaboration.
We used Skype group conversation to share info/ chat, work & discuss, celebrate success/ express sadness, pretty much every communication was an open expression on Skype.
Collaboration tools for project management, document management, communications helped to bridge the gap among team and also among team and customers.
We even encouraged/influenced team members to access Orkut, Facebook, Twitter, almost open access to any social communities. This helped us to source feedback/learn insights and we could even connect to Customer on this channels.
For instance, we could win 100s of customer (between 2008 to 2011) just via Twitter.
We have an open understanding in the company: Try, if you fail, there is no penalty. Rather, if you don’t try, you will loose lot of opportunity.
Don’t have to have the mindset that things will always go wrong, but let’s celebrate it when it does go wrong.
We started the company to solve ‘venue sourcing’ for events. We failed & pivoted to ‘Event Ticketing & registration’.
We failed several times during the product development, many customer had to suffer with changes/issues. We ensured we win them back with better products.
We grew to 600% but product name (it was called Ayojak earlier) couldn’t work globally. We pivoted to a new brand “Explara”.
We are now working to lead several markets in various countries.
We may fail.
As I operated remotely, and we had established a culture of ‘kill the distance’ among myself & team. We extended the same to our customers.
The tone across the company was (& is) that we are passionate about reaching to our customers and delivering to their issue. So let’s kill the distance between us and the customer.
When there are issues (support, product, communication), its not about who is right, the customer has to be heard.
How will we expect if we were the customer? Make sure that we’re down to earth and tuned to life.
Keeping ethical and customer focused. If customer calls, we call them back within few minutes.
If you look at any part of the world it’s customer support that matters. The more customer focused you are the better world you’re building.
So after waiting for 2 long years, Interstellar was finally released and here is what I learned from Interstellar.
Thank god that we have Space missions going on, as you know Dinosaurs are gone!
Technology beyond pleasure is what will keep us alive.
We are meant to live, not die.
Time is relative. So spend it wisely.
We must work to save ourselves before we face death.
A moment in time is worth a lifetime somewhere, don’t waste it.
Success & failure both has a price to pay.
We need a partner, even if its AI or a BOT
There is nothing like family.
Gravity has its gravity.
I understand the fact the this piece of art, this film has a lot more to teach us, and its something that our near future may face, but these are the top 10 things that i personally learned from it and will treasure these lessons throughout my journey in this universe.
[Guest article by Veer Mishra. Veer is the founder of SellMouse.] Image credit : wikipedia
UnPluggd, India’s biggest startup conference is on to its 10th edition. UnPluggd was started with a single focus : bring actionable insights to the audience. Over the last 9 editions, we have been upping the bar with red-eyed passion towards amazing content and a super amazing audience.
I am happy to start a series wherein we will walk you through the history of UnPluggd – which also coincides with history of India’s growing startup ecosystem. This series will be published every weekend (you should plan to spend 2 hours during the weekend) and will bring in some of the key talks that happened at UnPluggd.
And before we share, here is what you need to know about the next UnPluggd.
Date : December 6th. Venue : Hotel Park Plaza, Marthahalli, Bangalore. Registration details : Hop here. Discount? 25% off on tickets during the weekend [use the code SCALINGUP]
Introducing : UnPluggd First Edition
The first edition of UnPluggd was held on March 6th, 2010 at Qualcomm Office in Bangalore. The event witnessed some of the most amazing speakers. We didn’t have any startup launch slot, as we wanted to purely focus on UnPluggd talks where speakers drop their guards and tell-it-all, a belief which has made us stronger with every edition!
Personally speaking, UnPluggd first edition remains a very special thing for me. This was the first time we were doing a conference (with just @ sponsors!) and our positioning (pure learnings, actionable insights) was extremely different from what others in the industry were doing (networking and networking).
Till date, we have stuck to our positioning and that has helped build one of the strongest community of doers and entrepreneurs.
Some of the interesting talks at UnPluggd first edition were :
When Flipkart Was A Startup
This is Sachin Bansal’s first ever public talk (as far as I remember). They were a small startup, and we had tremendous faith in what they were doing and how they were rethinking ecommerce in India. Watch Sachin Bansal, UnPluggd.
Srikrishna, cofounder of Impulsesoft, a startup that was acquired for $9mn by SiRF Technologies shared interesting insights on bootstrapping a business. Impulsesoft was one of the first IP acquisition from India. Srikrishna is now Director of NEN.
This, in my opinion was one of the most amazing session @UnPluggd.
The only thing that hasn’t changed about Mukund Mohan (who is now Director at Microsoft Accelerator) is his amazing energy and hair style :)
Mukund did not one, but two sessions at UnPluggd.
Phanindra Sama on redBus Valuation and Power of Mentoring
At UnPluggd, Phani talked about redBus fund raising process (during the downturn) and importance of mentoring. A very straightforward talk that will help you connect the dots w.r.t redBus acquisition.
Register for the next UnPluggd. All we can promise is amazing insights, startup lessons and a great networking opportunity.
What should the CEO be doing on a day to day basis? How do you make sure the company is moving in the right direction?
Keith Rabois is a partner at Khosla Ventures and former COO of Square, which is a financial services, merchant services aggregator and mobile payments company based in San Francisco, California.
Keith, talking about how to operate a firm as a manger, says that forging a company is much more difficult that forging a product because people who are included in building a company are mostly irrational and it gets tedious coping with them. He says building a company is like building an automotive engine.
On the whiteboard it looks clean and beautiful with architectural patterns while in practice it is more like holding the pieces together with a duct-tape, emphasizing the need for an effort by everybody to hold the firm together. He adds that the ultimate aim is to have a smooth functioning performance machine that nobody has to bother about constantly.
Rabois says a manager’s output is measured as a sum of the output of his organization as well as the output of organizations around him that are under his influence. A managers role is much like an editor who ‘red marks’ the contents and omits them to simply matters. Simplification is necessary for people to understand matters easily and create a framework that they can repeat without thinking.
He also mentions that most people are scared of the complexity of matters as told to them by someone else. The trick is to simplify matters in every initiative; every marketing techniques that the firm is involved in. Most major products built by great companies in history are built and marketed on the simplicity of matters.
A manager also needs to clarify every procedure that happens in the firm. He needs to ask a lot of fundamental questions and see to it that he gets the right answers. Every unnecessary step that is eliminated in every procedure improves performance by 30 to 50 percent.
Allocation of resources is also an important aspect that a manager needs to look at. The goal overtime should be to reduce the ‘red marks’ in every procedure. Overtime reduced editing converts in to improved performance for the whole team.
A manager also needs to ensure a consistent voice throughout the various sections of the firm. It should feel the consistency of voice on the website, the press releases, the marketing campaigns, the packing (in case it is a physical product). It should all look like it is done by one single person. Every member of the firm needs to be trained to recognize this change in voice.
Delegating work is also an important aspect when managers are concerned. A manager should not be the one doing the most work. He needs to understand the nature of the employee working under him and delegate him based upon his strength, weaknesses and experiences. A manager’s management style should be dictated by the employee and hence reference check on employees only helps to increase productivity.
About creating the right team for the firm, Rabois says that editing a team maximizes the probability of success for the team. No one has the perfect team while they are beginning. He says that a firms teams is like barrels and ammunitions. Hiring a lot of employees will only add ammunition to the firm, what is actually needed is the barrels to launch this ammunition in the right direction.
There are always people in the firm who will be approached by others for help and inputs. These people are the barrels in the firm and they need to be encouraged as much as possible to use the ammunitions in the right directions in the right ways. Barrels are people who can take ideas from inception to shipping.
To find the right role for the right employees, the manager needs to expand their scope of responsibilities till the breaking point. The point at which they break is the role where they should stay. Rabois says that there are many instances when a person without proper background and experience can handle enormous responsibilities and difficult tasks, such people are potential barrels for the firm and should be encouraged.
Scaling up a company, according to Keith Rabois, needs to answer the right question as to when to hire/replace/mentor an employee. Rabois recollects that when he joined LinkedIn as the 27th employee and worked till he quit after two and half year, there were only 57 employees totally in the firm. But when he joined Square as the 20th employee and exited the firm two and half years later, there were around 300 employees. He emphasized that every firm has its own model of scaling up.
The individual slope of the employees needs to be above that of the company growth rate on the scaling chart to achieve maximum success.
Aiming the barrels at the right targets is also an important decision when a manager is concerned. A manager always needs to insist on focus. The common fact is that people will solve those issues that they understand better. A+ problems are the high impact ones while the B+ problems are more more goal based ones. So when employees solve more of B+ problems, they do scale up but will never create that breakthrough idea because no one’s solving the A+ problems.
In a firm, there always needs to be tools that would enable others to make decisions at the same level as the manager does himself. The ideal tool for this is to build a dashboard that is to be drafted by the founder himself.
Having a dashboard simplifies the company’s value proposition on the whiteboard. It helps to understand what business success looks like to the company and what the key inputs to those are. It is also important to note what fraction of employees use the dashboard – the more the number, the better the efficiency.
Rabois also mentions the need for transparency in a firm. Everybody needs to have access to everything going on in the firm. While there are meetings being conducted, it is natural for everyone to want to be a part of it, which is quite impossible. Circulating notes from meeting among all the employees will help improve transparency in such situations. Rabois says that conference rooms with glass walls in an office space have worked wonders for many firms. He also mentions the needs to predict the firm’s output to adjust the course of action and that measurements should always be made in terms of outputs rather than inputs.
Anomalies in stats relating to their products, according to Rabois, are something that every firm needs to closely look at as they can point out certain unusual patterns of user behavior. He also says that attention to details is the most important part of managing any firm. When an organization as a whole does everything the right way and when everyone executes up to the same standards of performance, the organization reaches the highest possible performance level. Rabois says that in an organization, when you take away all the distractions and provide tools to be productive, an organization turns successful.
Linkedin founder, Reid Hoffman shares a few amazing tips to startup founders.
Talking about how to be a great founder, Hoffman says that a founding team should ideally have at least 2-3 co founders as this compensates for the weaknesses of individual members of the team and can address the diversity of problems efficiently. He adds that there should be high preference on the level of trust that co founders have on each other.
Location too is a prime matter of importance as a firm needs to seek the networks that are essential to their problems and tasks. Hoffman says the choice of location is also one among the major test s to determine if one is a great founder. Hoffman’s metaphor for entrepreneurship is jumping off a cliff and assembling an aero plane as you go down. Explaining this, Hoffman says that once to make the jump off the cliff, whatever decisions you make next are hard and you are already quasi-mortal so you take very possible chance to win.
Having a contrarian idea, according to Hoffman, is another major point in founding a startup. Hoffman says to make an idea contrarian to popular beliefs is easy but it is very difficult to get a contrarian idea that is right as well. Explaining a contrarian idea in is words; Hoffman said that a contrarian idea would be one when a smart person disagrees with him on his idea.
He says that while building a contrarian idea, one should also know the ways to go about it in terms of building on the idea. One needs to know the idea to an extent that he/she knows so much about it that others don’t. and this contrarian idea was deployed by his team when they started with LinkedIn. Every member was asked to talk to some smart person who gave them feedback on their ideas.
Considering the various aspects of founding a firm, Hoffman talked about the need to work versus the need to delegate. He says it should be a combination of both and sometimes each separately at 100%. Another paradox that Hoffman talked about is flexible or persistent on their visions. Hoffman says that most entrepreneurs are advised to remain focused on their vision, to stay firm on their ideas so as to remain on track while they are also advised to listen to data, to listen to customers, to pivot and to be flexible. Hoffman says that the way to go about this is to conduct an investment thesis on the project one is working for and to decide accordingly based on certain parameters of the thesis whether it increases or decreases the confidence going ahead.
On the topic of a founder being confident or cautious, Hoffman points out that one needs to be a mix of both, as you need to have a clear idea of where you want to be and but also cautious enough to be smart to listen to criticism as you move along. One also needs to focus internally and externally while building a firm and needs to be flexible on these lines as to know what the current problem looks like and how to find the apt solution for the problem. One of the major actors in this is to decide whether to stick to the vision or to depend upon the data. Again, Hoffman says it is a mix of both as data exists within the framework of the vision that the firm is building towards. Data can be negative but one needs to understand how to it can alter the course of thinking and to learn from them. What one learns from data changes ones vision too.
Risk is what everyone considers entrepreneurship to be equal to. Entrepreneurs are perceived as risk takers as every contrarian idea that an entrepreneur brings up has risks associated with it. Founders need to be intelligent risk takers and need to understand how to take the intelligent, focused risk. Investment Thesis again comes in to play here as it helps determine the increase/decrease in confidence towards the firm’s goal and thus minimizes risks along the way.
Setting short term or long term goals is another r decision that is a major point of debate for startup entrepreneurs. Every short term goal deals with the progresses made day over day or week over week. What needs to be determined is if these goals are largely on path with the vision of the firm, which would be a long term goal.
Financing is an integral part that requires huge attention.
Product strategy is the most fundamental part of startup entrepreneurship as product distribution is more fundamental than the product itself, according to Hoffman. During every funding round, one needs to think of how to scale up and be ready for the next round of funding. Product distribution should be such that the financing works for the firm and a course strategy needs to be designed to understand how every process is executed.
Being a great founder requires a special set of super powers to understand if the software is useful as a product to the person. One needs to recognize if they are on track with their goals and this tracking needs to be based on investment thesis. A founder needs to have the ability to learn and adapt. He needs to have a vision driving him but should also be open to take input from all sources.
Insights are very helpful in understanding the nature of a firm but it also depends upon what stage the firm is at. Personally, he says, he prefers founders who have analyzed their data. He also mentions that each entrepreneurial pattern is unique and new and one can learn the new ones only by doing it or being a part of it. He emphasized the need for co founders to collaborate very well as a it leads to a diversity of strengths all across and results in a collective learning and problem solving environment in the firm.
Finally, explaining the need to pivot, Hoffman said that if one’s confidence in unmeasured or decreasing and then when one goes on an intense mode to figure out what would increase the confidence and fails, that’s when one should think about pivoting.