Sunday, October 17, 2010

What is fair ?

Life they say has a mind of its own. You may be the protagonist but not the hero. Dreams may not come true. Have tried and failed. Life is not fair.

But, Fairness has nothing to do with working on your dreams, even if you do not succeed. Standing up for who you are is one thing life cannot touch.

You know there is certain death. But will you stop living life ?

I am getting sore of hearing to excuses by well meaning people (whom i admire professionally) having amazing ideas and vibrant dreams which can change the world. Your If-only-this and but-only-that is harassing me in the arguments. Please stop. I can feel you dying a slow death. You are in pain. Is that fair ?

Show-up, walk the talk, live the dream. Get started. Now...

Monday, August 23, 2010

Welcome to the Jungle

And, if you need to learn the rules of the Jungle, you must live in the Jungle. Live, breathe and eat what the nature provides. You start with minimal resources anyway. The objective is to make good use of the resources provided by the eco-system. Learn the eco-system. The most important thing in the initial days is to get used to the eco-system. The new set of pathogens, different food, climate and creatures. It is these initial days that makes or breaks you. Once you weather the storm, you start getting acclimatized. The bacterias in your gut will change to accommodate digestion of different food. Your immune system will change.

Best of all, your so called intuition will change. You develop a Jungle sense of your own. You will be enamored with wild, rippling muscles and stamina required to participate in the eco-system. Your energy levels will be up. A brand new 'You'. It is this sense of feeling you must crave for...

The transition for some is painful. There is NO such thing as, "Ohhh, I shall go back to the city for some time and when I am feeling OK, I shall then return back to the Jungle...".

"Ohhh, I shall go back to the corporate life for some time and when the conditions are right i shall return back to start-up..."

I admit, its not this extreme (of course many die in the Jungle. But many more die in the city relatively... or live like deads...). I admit it does sound naive and yes your choices are always open. The metaphor is a different food for thought...

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Distribution of Intention

On one of the networks 'India Leadership' on linkedIn, I did come across a interesting question as follows: "Tens and thousands of millionaires and millions of hungry/poor people in India!! How can this contradiction exist?"

My thoughts: The "distribution" of "Intention" needs to be fixed. If 'rice' is an intention, then we need to fix the distribution problems which amounts to 45% of wastage as per stats. If 'positive thought' is an intention, we need to enable effective distribution of this to reach to enough people who can make this actionable (Lynch pins). If 'money' is an intention, then we need to hold the distribution of it accountable, that, they have done enough research to economize and invest in important problems (as against urgent problems as well). if 'leadership' is an intention, we need to hold the democracy as a collective system of distribution to elect and hold these leaders accountable. Why? because, hunger, pain and suffering are viral. Their efficiency to distribute and replicate by far outweigh the positive systems that are in place in the eco-system.

Can this hold true for the "product start-up" debate as well ? I think so. The distribution of Intention is the biggest problem we as a country are facing now to enable positive sustainable eco-systems. Here is a link on those thoughts.

Misery loves company.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

What does it take to create successful IT product companies in India?

This thought keeps bothering me off late. Many have beaten this debate to death. I am still not at peace. What does it take to create more 'successful, innovative' indigenous IT product companies in India ?

Approximate guess says that we have less than 1% 'successful, innovative' IT product companies in India. Enough hypothesis, conjunctures and theories have proven that product based solutions (due to replication of effort and automation) provides significantly higher bang per dollar invested than services based solutions. Scaling of services is resource intensive and puts strain on economies of scale and scope. Why are we not there yet? What happened ?

Are we genetically at a disadvantage ? Are we less risk prone ? Is it a geo-political conspiracy ? Are we capital averse ? Is service mentality ingrained in our culture ? Argumentative Indians, by virtue of our intellectual pluralism have wisely concluded that Services-for-Life leads to Nirvana ?

I admit I am naive. Yes, it was beneficial to apply economies of scale and cost arbitrage creating large amount of wealth for the nation. Yes we are moving towards value arbitrage (premium services) and upping the ante. But, this just cannot be 99% of what we do in IT.

Through and through, we have been both perceptually and conceptually primed through our success in services, so much so, that we are unable to (even if we desire) embrace the paradigm shift towards products mindset.

Successful products model is R&D intensive, bets on disruptive innovation (serendipitous), is technology intensive, utilitarian and demonstrates high tolerance to creativity. Yes, "tolerance to creativity". Creativity puts focus on the individual as against focus on the group. Services model benefits from focus-on-the-group as it creates uniformity and conformance. There is a world of difference culturally in these models. You can see the culture shock and pain one goes through when a person moves from a product company to a services company and vice versa.

We need to reverse this priming. We have to focus on Indian product startups (Big companies are hard to change) and foster a eco-system which benefits product startups. We have to glorify the product model to 'exaggerated' proportions. We need to 'invent' heroes to win quick sub-conscious battles and influence the psyche. We need war veterans 'imported' to teach us the trade. We need 'real' angel investors and significant hand-holding for new startups. We need favorable business incubation centers through a Govt. endorsed PPP (Public-Private-Participation). We need to fix our priorities.

We may lack many things but cannot afford to lack priorities. If we are presented with a deaf and a blind, then, a deaf leading a blind is always better (than other way around). Vision needs to be higher in priority than the ability to hear (to the potential market). Market vision comes from innate ability to identify latent demands. How does one harness that ability ? How can we identify and nurture Visionaries ? Do We need a Revolution ?

Addendum: The definition of a services company in this post is any company providing solutions which are labour intensive similar to the big 3 IT success stories in India. Not to be confused with software as a service or social networking services or b2b/b2c services which are driven by platforms/products.

Friday, March 12, 2010

What will you do ?

"What would you do if your were the last person on earth?" - A simple question.

Most of the people whom I interacted with on this question, responded with the following set of emotions: Despair, Attachment, Experience, Learning from the past... Deep brow, Thoughtful, Effort to reinstate the past.

Now I asked a different question to different set of people

"What will you do if you were the first person on earth?" - Simple again

This time around, the answers portrayed Desire, Hope, Passion, Trying things... Open, Thoughtful, Willingness to create the new.

Try this your self. Ask a few.

Its perplexing and amazing how much of a difference a change in the worldview makes. In both cases you were alone in the world. The thought of end-of-the-world or beginning-of-the-new made such a vast difference in the way people perceived how they would behave.

What will you do if its your first-job or last ? your first assignment or last? Your first start-up, will this be your last ?

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Right Casting your Core

If you are a startup and looking out to build a core team, think through on what type of people you need. Being part of several start-ups in the past and also currently being a founder of a new one, I understand the constant pressure you might go through to find the team. My personal opinion and observations on this (more of a philosophy) is not to hurry or compromise.

Do not fall into the valuation trap to bring in high-fliers and experts in their respective fields. On one side, even if the chemistry works and the people you are bringing in are experts, if they do not have enough important work to do, then, you land up diluting the interests and morale apart from the equity anyway. It is OK if you pass on great people. Make it 'equitable' for the organization and the people you bring in.

On the contrary, keep the focus on getting people with passion and who are willing to take up work beyond their capability. This has magical effects on the productivity of the team as well as the morale. I have first hand experience of this effect in the recent past. A sense of camaraderie is what makes a winning team. I have seen and heard of teams with real high fliers and the CEOs fulltime job in managing egos and fire fights.

Of course, promote the strengths and augment the weakness with advisors to the board and external help from the network. You would not want to set your core team up for failure if they absolutely lack capabilities and are just full of passion.

In short, Keep the focus on the core, promoting people with passion and assign accountability and responsibility greater than their current ability. Reduce the bling effect. You do not need big guys for valuation. This philosophy works at all levels apart from the core. Try it. Let me know.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

What do you do ?

Old Grandpa decided to take little Yajur to a field trip on Yajur's 5th birthday. Grandpa choose a factory which makes awesome mousetraps for the field trip. On the day, they walked into the factory, Grandpa instructed Yajur to ask as many questions as he wishes.

The field guide decided to take them to the manufacturing department first. Yajur asked the chief engineer what they are doing ? The Chief engineer said they are building the most awesome mousetrap to catch a mouse. He explained that his team is responsible to make the trap so efficient that the trap closes in super-duper-speed as soon as the mouse enters the trap.

They went to the R&D department next, Yajur asked the same question. What do you guys do ? The Head of R&D explained, you see, we are inventing the yummiest cheese to attract the mouse to the trap so that we can catch the mouse. Our research says that it is not the mouse trap but the Cheese which matters the most.

Next, they went to the marketing department. What do you guys do ? The Marketing Chief said that his job is to put the mouse trap in the most colorful boxes so that people can like the package and buy the mouse trap to catch the mouse. He also said he conducts market research on 'positioning' the mouse trap in the right place so that people can improve their chances of catching the mouse.

Next they went into a big awesome room with a nice view. The field guide explained that this is the 'Thinking' room where the CEO, the advisors and experts discuss and innovate. Yajur walked up to a expert/advisor and asked him what does he do. The expert said, see little boy, we invent new ways to catch mice. Mousetrap is only one way to catch the mice. We provide solutions to come up with newer, better, cooler devices to catch the mice.

Grandpa and Yajur were driving back home. Yajur was all along looking confused, so grandpa asked Yajur whats' bothering him. Yajur questioned back hastily, "But, grandpa why do people catch mouse?", Grandpa said, to get rid of it as its' a pest in the house. More confused, Yajur quizzed again, but, do we need to catch the mouse to get rid of it? Grandpa smiled and knew that the day's wisdom has been delivered.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Quantama Hiring Call - In Retrospect

In retrospect, this call for action on Venture Woods brought in the highest calls and reactions for job application to Quantama on March 2009.

The Job posting excerpt:
I am looking for people with entrepreneurial bent of mind to join the founding team of a mobile proximity company. I have the business case validated and have one of the largest retailers in India showing Intent to implement when the product is ready… Angel rounds are being vetted and talks in process… Have product case and prototypes in development…

The markets we are addressing are emergent and pervasive… A distant fortune is heard of…

I promise you that your experience shall be cast with risks, hardship, pain, sweat and blood. The journey will be turbulent given the economic times.

If you see providence where others see peril, do get in touch with me for more detail and I shall be glad to consider a sitting…

Friday, February 19, 2010

Serendipity is the Key.

Most of the established businesses get into a pattern of finding out what is working and doing 'more of it'. This is good for bottom line, margins, and retention of your existing customers. But, is it good for breaking new grounds ? Making the pie bigger ? Your Top-line?

Business-as-Usual is to work hard consistently, trying to cash out on the idea that made the business successful. They work hard at establishing Cliches. Cliches are good. They are 'time immemorial'. They express ideas in simple words, but they lack the freshness and eloquence of a magical orator. If you have read the blogs of Seth Godin or heard president Obama speak or have followed the marketing of Apple, they do not rely on Cliches. They break the mold, create new meaning, speak different truth, change the worldview, present their stories in a more innate yet excitingly new package. They are Contrarians. They are Serendipitous. Here is what Seth Godin has to say about Cliches

Imagine that you are a T-Shirt vendor with a inventory of T-Shirts made of several attributes. Lets say you have 4 sizes (S, M, L, XL) and 4 Colors (Red, Blue, Green, White). When you first set shop, you do not know how many of each T-Shirt variant to carry (how many of Blue-XL will sell?). So you start with 10 shirts per variant combination and open business. Now, the first month you sold all the Green-L shirts, some Blue-XL and none of the others. What do we do? We decided that Green-L sells more in this catchment and order a bigger inventory of Green-L and lesser of others (Finding out what is working and doing more of it). If for the next few months, the trend continues, then, going by the pace, you may land up being a Green-L T-Shirt vendor. Its obvious that the more Green-Ls you have, the more your sales-report shows that you have sold the same. You already know whats wrong in this analogy. Yes, its a simple example, its so easy to see. Its a no-brainer.

But then, how come you do not see this analogy in the business strategies you follow ? How come you are not trying to find out what else your consumers are willing to try ? Why do we intellectualize for ages on why something "may not" work because "your" past data provides facts to your beliefs. Is it Fear ?

Start-ups on the other hand does not fear to be serendipitous (In a way, they have nothing to loose). An entrepreneur identifies an opportunity to make meaning. A passion-fruit colored T-Shirt, A Vanilla-Sky colored Tshirt. Try something afresh yet innate. Change the fabric, the texture, the weaving, the grain count, whatever... But be eager to explore, break the Cliche, turn it upside down. This is why it works and new tribes are formed. This why the most successful ones are Genre-Bending.

Every time you support your views on past-data, think again. Question yourself. Give Serendipity a chance. Believe in the art of possible.