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Sunday, July 3, 2011

Beijing Entrepreneurs and SLP

It was a terrific evening in Beijing, thanks to hosts Eric and Olivia of China Entrepreneurs, and an enthusiastic and passionate team lead by Tony An. Wayne Shaiyong of Bertelesmann Investments Asia, and a Core Advisor to SLP also attended, as did interestingly, several women investment bankers with technical degrees. There were entrepreneurs and hackers from leading multinationals. Didn't see anyone in lifesciences or cleantech, but I know they're out there.

This is an interesting time to bring SLP to China since nothing like this exists, and the program will connect Chinese entrepreneurs to the rest of the world. I am keen to see what sort of collaborations and new startups these relationships create, especially along the Bangalore-Beijing and Silicon Valley-Beijing corridors. The Beijing consumer internet scene is very vibrant, but from my conversations, they seem to be following US innovation, rather than the other way around.

The Beijing program will run in Chinese, though there is a requirement that everyone in the program understand English. Its the only way to keep the network global and vibrant. Since SLP runs on google assets, and most of these assets are blocked in China (though there is a way some of them can get around it), the program is impacted by Google leaving China. We're having to recreate everything in a parallel universe that is acceptable to China. That's twice the work and half the fun, but its worth the trouble.

Its going to be a lot of fun seeing the Program develop in Beijing.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Resolving conflict with Founders, Advisors and Boards

Panel guests include: Joe Caruso (moderator - bio) , Jim Lucchese (bio), Hooman Hodjat (bio), David Diamond (bio) and Mark Haddad (bio)


Hooman Hodjat is the founder of PickupZone, a company that provides alternative delivery locations for people who are not around when their packages are delivered. Soon after starting the company, Hooman brought in a CEO to add some experience to his team and help bring in high caliber strategic partnerships. Hooman’s CEO was also the first investor in his company. Although Hooman’s experience with his CEO was excellent initially, the relationship degraded quickly and he left the company he started after nine months due to significant conflicts.

“Bringing in a CEO is almost like a marriage” Joe Caruso started off. “Before you bring in a CEO, make sure you understand what their objectives are, and be certain they are aligned with your own”. Hooman nods his head in response, he said that he and his CEO “could never come to an agreement”. Not only that, they had not formally allocated equity to the company. Mark Haddad has seen this before during his tenure as a business attorney. He provided an anecdote regarding a company he worked with when he first started working at the firm Foley Hoag. “I always worked with the CEO” he said and the founders never wanted to assign restricted stock. Soon after they formed the company, two of the founders decided to fire the CEO. When the CEO left, he walked away with his stock and still has it today.

Just because someone has been successful in a company before, said David Diamon doesn’t mean he or she will be able to take over and be successful. In Hooman’s case, he said he needed another CEO. But Joe said that Hooman was fully capable of handling the duties done by the CEO. If you are a founder and bring in a CEO, “don’t just give him the reigns right away, give it gradually and observe” commented Joe. He’s encountered this issue many times before. “The first time you have an instinct to fire someone, FIRE them immediately” interjected Jim Lucchese of Echo Nest. “You can wait too long and waste time.

According to Joe Caruso a study analyzed employees contributions to a company in a number of different categories. When the employees total their contribution in each category it’s always greater than 100% and is usually above 150%. “We all overestimate our contribution to the company” chuckled Joe. A way to manage this is open communication so everyone knows what other people are contributing to the team as well. Joe continued, “It’s imperative to set common expectations up front”.

To avoid problems like Hooman’s, the panel stressed that communication is key. If you have an issue with a CEO, have conversations as peers, and provide feedback about performance so people can have actionable advice. Joe told the audience about his philosophy “We are perfectly allowed to call each other assholes as long as we do it in a respectful manner”.

What resources do you need to build your team?

Steve Maxwell (bio) is managing director of J. Robert Scott, an executive search firm. He met with SLP Boston for our weekend workshop to answer question on startup development. Our primary focus surrounded the question of, what resources do you need to build your team?

On the interview process:
Nearly 50% of all new hires are mistakes according to Steve. An “A” team can turn around a “B” idea, but a “B” team can kill an “A” idea. Success in building a team starts at the interview, you need to have a good process that can accurately assess the individuals. A few key takeaways for the interview process:
• Identify the key competencies you want and develop metrics to evaluate each candidate during the interview.
• A few categories may include: intellect, track record, personal traits, interpersonal skills, management style, leadership, motivation, and domain knowledge.
• The interview should be split into two aspects, one that focuses on background to assess if the candidate did what he or she claims on his or her resume. The other is to have the candidate provide examples of successes and failures.
• A final interview should be detailed, and last about two hours. This part of the interview should focus on the key accomplishments of the individual.
• References are extremely important to making hiring decisions. Each candidate should provide four to six references.
• Keep questions open ended so the candidate is not cornered into one response.
• Encourage internal referrals with monetary compensation to employees if needed.

On employees:
Employees should be encouraged to take part in the recruiting process. Everyone at the company should be able to give an elevator pitch that explains what the company does. When a new employee is hired, be ready for his or her arrival on the start date and do office introductions. Also, share feedback from the interview process to the candidate. Make sure the new employee understands the style and culture that you are trying to build. When you make a mistake with a new hire, observe the three Ds:

Deal with it: talk to employee
Document: write down everything you discussed.
Decide: stick to a timeline and take action.

On being a CEO:`
Being a CEO is a tough job! Steve has sourced CEO’s for many startups. CEOs know that they have a lonely job because within your company you have no peers. Steve suggests leveraging outside relationships with other CEOs as a resource. He also encourages building strong relationships with board members and encourages a formal review process with the board. Finally, know when the right time to replace yourself, if the job becomes too much to bear, you may find a replacement will bring you relief to concentrate on other things!

J. Robert Scott’s compstudy about compensation. 2 weeks of unlimited access to its thorough database is offered to readers of the SLP blog. Use the login information below:

Compstudy.com/user/register
Code: Mexwell2011

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Boston Business Planning & Pitching Workshop



Workshop #2 for the Boston SLP fellows was this past Saturday, January 29. We were lucky to have a dedicated cohort led by Matt Volpi put together this fantastic day on Business Plans & Pitching.

After a quick breakfast and some catching up, we quickly launched into startup pitches to a diverse panel with a current VC, a former VC, and Angel, and an entrepreneur. Our panel was:
The three fellows did an amazing job and you could tell they were well practiced. Without calling out specific fellows, there were some recurring themes in the pitches that the panel kept calling out. The most interesting commentary was about the performance aspect of the pitches. It is something we probably don't think about enough, but you have to remember that you need to connect with the VC, look the in the eye, engage them, and never forget that you are selling. The slides should only reinforce what you are saying. Some other key themes:
  • When you are asked a question, answer it. Do not beat around the bush or add flowery language. Just answer it.
  • Don't add too many words to your pitch deck. Use imagery to illustrate your presentation. Keep the details in the appendix.
  • It is critically important to have a very clear financial slide. It doesn't need to be extremely detailed, it just needs to give the VC's a sense of the economics of your business.
  • For software, if you are showing user numbers, it is very important that you show user retention and activity, not just user counts.
  • Don't take too long to get to the "what our company does" part of your pitch. Hopefully, you will do this in the first 2 minutes.
After the pitch feedback session, the panel opened up for questions. Most of the questions & answers elaborated on their feedback during the sessions, but there were a couple of funny parts. Every VC had a story about their worst pitch they have ever seen, and most of them involved a VC sleeping during the pitch or an argument breaking out in the meeting. Note to self: do not fight with a VC. Not a good thing to do!

After a quick lunch and some more networking, we had an open pitch session where any fellow could pitch a portion of their pitch deck and get feedback. It seemed like we all fell into the same pitfalls as many of the comments were similar to the morning sessions. One area we dug into was competitors. It is critically important to have a clear competition slide and to pick one main competitor. Any more than that and they can think you are unfocused.

To round out the day, Sri Krishnamurthy led a business canvas exercise. Many of the fellows hadn't seen this format before and it seemed to be helpful to them. It allows for an entrepreneur to break down their business model into digestible parts so they can clearly and concisely articulate their revenue opportunities and costs of doing business.

After the all-day session, some of the fellows went out for a few "adult beverages" across the street to wind down. All in all, it was a great session with practical advice from all.


Human Capital Learnings in San Diego

We had a fantastic Human Capital workshop this Saturday. There were some great takeaways from the workshop on Saturday. I am sure we each have our own, specific to our individual situations. Some of the comments and concepts that resonated most with me I thought I would share here: 
• "Be true to yourself" - Polly Murphy
• "Don't be risk averse, be open to opportunities" – Polly Murphy
• "Don't worry if you are a little odd" – Greg Horowitt
• "Do unto others as they would have you do unto them" – Greg Horowitt
• "Entrepreneurs have the genetic predisposition to moderate the Amygdala Hijack response (when fear response takes over brain). They also never here 'No' as defeat" – Greg Horowitt
• "Show up – Amazing things can happen when you show up with a humble attitude and willingness to ask questions" – Dave Karlman
• "I really wish I would have opened the underwear drawer" – Michelle Youngers (emphasizing importance of due diligence in employee/employer selection)
• "Make sure everyone understands and is aligned; conflicts often come from assumption" – Chip Breitenkamp (in reference to mitigating team conflict)
• "Do not skip the reference check. Always Google your candidates" – Robin Toft

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Human Capital and Leadership, SLP Bangalore


Human capital and leadership are intertwined and our session at SLP Bangalore on Leadership and Human Capital had amazing leaders to share their story and guide us along the way.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Negotiating Terms, Protecting your IP, and Getting Inspired To Start

In the SLP Boston January 10, 2011 class, we had a three part class with three distinct sessions. After an interesting pitch by fellow Harpreet Singh on his company AcademicRoom, we launched into the sessions.


Session I - Term Sheets with Richard Kimball, partner EAPD
Richard walked us through negotiating an investment and specifically into what each term meant. He spoke in detail about some terms that look benign on the surface but instead can really hurt the valuation down the line, such as:

  • Keep the option pool small, because when it gets near 15% it can really dilute the rest of the founders stock in the event of an exit.

  • Watch out for the liquidation preferences. In general, you would prefer that the A-Round investor takes convertible preferred, which basically means that they can choose whether they want their initial investment + interest or convert their investment into stock. Something to watch out for is participating preferred where they get to do both (aka double dipping)

  • Watch out when an investor asks for anti-dilution. If you ever have to raise money at a lower valuation, this investor can get most of the outstanding shares.

  • When negotiating board seats, do not give the founder's seat away to an incoming CEO. This person will be someone the board hires, not you.

  • When receiving stock, you should ensure you get restricted stock and your contract includes buyback agreements for the stock, instead of getting common shares.



Session II - Intellectual Property with Melissa Hunter-Ensor, Ph.D., EAPD
Melissa spent most of her session speaking about patents, since many of the fellows are in clean tech, medical devices, and biotech. She spoke about applying for patents, filing provisional patents, and being careful to not disclose your invention before you have filed. The key takeaway for me was that in internet and mobile startups, by the time you get your patent reviewed (~3 years), technology has changed so much that it may not be worth anything. The good news is that the US gives a 1-year grace period so if you have a unique invention that does very well in the market, you still have time to patent it.

Session III - Wayne Chang, Entrepreneur
Wayne is a serial entrepreneur, best known for founding i2hub, a college file sharing/social network founded around the same time as Facebook. Wayne gave the fellows a tour of his life and career in internet startups. He had some fascinating stories about everything from hacking games in early youth to partnering with the famous Winklevoss twins on their ConnectU project. Overall, it was an interesting and remarkable journey for a young entrepreneur. (check out his Wikipedia article)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Boston Product Day Workshop


This past Saturday (12/11), the Boston chapter had its first full-day workshop and it was a doozy. Who says you can’t spend a great Saturday in a law firm conference room? Cohort #1 (Christian, Kevin, Ali, Pedro, and Sameer) put together a great series of panels covering all aspects of product commercialization including design, sales, development, and marketing. Overall, the sessions were very engrossing and provided the fellows with several different lenses with which to view product development punctuated by anecdotes to drive home key takeaways.

Product Design
First up was Jeremy Pitts, the current VP of Product Development for OsComp Systems - a startup led by Pedro Santos, one of our fellows. Jeremy drew on his previous experience developing solar panel arrays for a venture-backed startup to discuss different product development processes. In addition to lessons learned from that specific venture, such as the importance of keeping your initial prototyping local before you outsource, he passed along several useful rules-of-thumb:

  • Nothing is a simple as it seems
  • Prototype early and often
  • Build the product – research can only take you so far
  • Focus on customer needs
  • Don’t lose sight of competitors

Finally, Jeremy discussed how his appreciation for the project manager position had grown as he recognized the importance of the role for aligning engineering objectives with management’s strategy.

Sales Panel
We were very fortunate to have Brian Cusack (Display Advertising Team Leader, Google) Kirsten Knipp (Director of Product Evangelism, HubSpot), and Taariq Lewis (Director of Sales and Marketing, HiveFire) bombard us with nuggets of wisdom from their experiences on the front lines of their organizations. They touched on a number of important topics the key points of which are summarized below:

  • Different ways to pick your first customer. Brian discussed getting to potential customers who can initially bring more than just their checkbooks to the table. The overall goal is to get your initial customers to collaborate with you so that both parties get value as the product is being refined or scaled. Kirsten, an inbound marketing guru, discussed drawing in initial customers by becoming a source of data for members of your target customer population who can then find you.
  • Initial pricing. “Free” was a four letter word for this panel. While certain elements of your product can be given away as marketing tools, you should charge even your initial customers. The panel did, however, support the idea of introductory pricing, but pricing nonetheless.
  • Selecting Sales Managers vs. Salespeople. There are distinct differences between a salesperson and a sales manager. For Brian, a salesperson is a closer who asks for business, while a sales manager can express vision, remove roadblocks, and provide discipline and training. For Taariq, selling is about psychology and an effective sales manager understands the psychology of salepeople and selling in general.
  • Managing a sales pipeline. It is important to understand your sales cycle and keep prospects moving through your pipeline. Also, to quote Taariq, “there are no dead prospects”. After cycling thorough the sales pipeline, unconverted leads are thrown back into marketing.
  • Best advice for managing a sales team. 1) If a salesperson is not pulling his or her weight, get rid of them immediately – they become toxic to the rest of the team; and 2) use intermediate milestones to keep the sales team motivated during rough times.

BREAK…After a nice traditional TiE lunch and some impressive “bio-pitches” from several fellows we continued with the afternoon sessions…

Lean Startup
Vineet Sinha (Founder, President, and CTO of Architexa) spoke with the group about agile development and building flexible companies. Key points of his talk included:

  • Write down and verify all of your assumptions
  • Don’t take too much ownership of an idea --> sharing = refinement
  • Test ideas before spending a lot of time building
  • Test your product in small pieces
  • You can’t “out-develop” your competitors but you can “out-listen” to your customers

Market Development and Marketing
Our next panel included Bob LaRoche, an expert in medical device marketing and sales, and Michelle Looney, who does product marketing for Best Doctors. They each gave a short presentation explaining how companies think and position themselves relative to their specific market and target customers.

Bob outlined a series of stakeholders, such as key opinion leaders, early adopters, potential advisors, and competitors, whose position in the market and, if possible, thinking about your product should be understood before you launch. He also passed along the following points to keep in mind as you undertake market development:

  • Primary goal of market development: listen and learn. You should ask 1) what’s the unmet need? and 2) what will be required for your product to become "the solution"?
  • Don’t rely on what you think you know
  • Recognize the need to interact with customers and prospects
  • Identify internal and external expertise and develop a plan to get/use those resources

Michelle focused her talk on marketing in the social media era and the implications of an increasingly blurry line between B2B and B2C. Key takeaways included:

  • If you enter the social media space, have a well-thought through strategy including understanding what to do if you are panned
  • Understand your customer at all costs
  • Make sure to measure cost per lead or cost per sale


Product Overview
For our final panel of the day, we were very privileged to have Marc Meyer come in and kick the session into overdrive. Marc’s list of credentials is almost too long for the page. He is the Matthews Distinguished Professor and Director of the High Technology MBA program at Northeastern University, has consulted to Fortune 500 companies such as IBM, HP, P&G, and Mars Incorporated in the area of new product strategy, has co-founded three technology startups, is a very active angel investor in start-ups across industries, and is an accomplished author. Basically, when it comes to product development on any scale or in any industry, Marc has pretty much see it or done it.

Despite being the end of a long day, Marc’s engaging presentation-style and engrossing anecdotes held the fellows’ rapt attention. He regaled us with stories from his experiences at a few large companies such as Honda, Mars Corporation, and IBM, and experiences with startup companies such as an antibiotics discovery company, an agricultural software company, and a company building online infrastructure for train ticket purchasing in Europe. A few key points stood out:

  1. Companies should only be started to address a latent need (as opposed to a recognized need) for a specific customer population.
  2. Startups should expend significant effort performing a “reality check” of their industry, customer, and solution before launching their product.
  3. Good company pitches tell three stories simultaneously: the user story, the team story, and the business story.

After Marc’s talk, the workshop ended and several fellows went out for drinks at the nearby Atlantic Beer Garden. All in all, as Will Farrell would say, “A nice little Saturday…”

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Nuts and Bolts of Starting Up - Open Event @ MIT



Come and join us, we’re open.

And come they did. Droves of enthusiastic MIT students and entrepreneurs alike were welcomed to our first ever ‘open’ Startup Leadership class at MIT”s Boynton Hall. The feedback and accolades were many, but none described the core value of SLP program quite as much as a quote from graduating student, “Thanks for hosting the awesome event this evening...”. The evening would not have been a success if it were not for the flawless execution from Adam and Camile and their facilitation of the evening’s agenda.

The night began with general introductions and acknowledgements to our friends, sponsors, partner and hosts, MIT SASE and TIE Boston.

Have an idea? Business plan is ready? Cash in the bank?

Next up, the facilitators introduced our expert panel of guests who represent some of Boston’s best in practices of Incorporation, Real Estate, Insurance and Accounting, all of which are crucial in building the foundation of your new company. Each panelist provided the class with fifteen engaging minutes of advice from within each of their areas of practice.

Ty Janney, Principal Partner, Landmark Real Estate Advisors, LLC
Is your garage getting cramped? Need more space for your team. Ty provided the group with the “basics for expanding your workspace, including the following words of wisdom:

Best Practices

  • Establish a budget for people, furniture, parking, etc.
  • Develop a timeline and exit strategy for when your head count may exceed the square footage of the space.
  • Allow extra time for negotiation for LOI and have an alternative option.
  • Understand the costs, i.e. cost per square foot per employee and security deposit
Common Mistakes
  • Under estimating the moving timeline. It typically requires 10-14 weeks.
  • Failure to account for LC/Security deposit
  • Choosing the right team, a Buyers Agent.


Sean Coady Senior Partner, EBS Capstone Insurance
Don’t take any chances. Protect your company and yourself. Sean explained the benefits of Insuring your startup, highlighting the following:

Traps for the Weary
  • Make sure you understand your liabilities
  • Understand what is available
  • Know your client liabilities
Most common mistakes
  • Using the wrong broker
  • Signing contracts before understanding the insurance requirements
  • Underestimating the timing for the process


Paul Sweeney, Partner, Foley Hoag LLP
Your idea is great. Your team is in place. Your business plan is solid. You have a strategy. Now you’re ready to take you company to the next level. Paul discussed the advantages and challenges to incorporating as follows:

Top Issues
  • Waiting too long to form your entity (incorporating, L.L.C., etc), limits your liability
  • Establishing Ownership
  • Issuing equity and tax benefits
  • Equity incentives for employees
Key Notes
  • Don’t over complicate things
  • Don’t be too casual with equity
  • Only take money from people who can add value to the company

Scott Goodwin, Certified Public Accountant, Wolf & Company
Just because your uncle help you with your taxes, doesn’t mean he should help you with your company’s accounting. Scott outlined how he guides entrepreneurs from startup to entrepreneurship as follows:

Top Do’s
  • Get your books on the right foot form the beginning
  • Outsource your payroll
  • Make sure you have the right accounting plan
Top Don’ts
  • Co-mingle personal finances with business finances
  • Don’t over promise equity
  • Treat employees as independent contractors

In summary to a great evening, taking your company from startup to success requires building the right team. Our guest speakers would be more than happy to help you get there.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Pitches and Business Plans

On 12/11/2010, the SLP Silicon Valley Chapter got together for an all day session. We threw away the no laptop rule so folks in the group could blog, take notes and make effective use of the time.


The day began with group members presenting their company. Each person was given 7 minutes to present with 10 minutes of general question & answer. The first company (name confidential) is trying to use various filters to help you find the right social information, at the right time. Renil came up and presented geetnet.com, a company that is building a social platform to where people can sing record and publish Bollywood music. Bindiya presented Resilinc, which can be best described as “supply chain resiliency”. Fourth, Adam presented the only bio-tech company of the day. His company, Nano Precision Metal, is working on revolutionizing implantable drug delivery. Finally, Kunal presented Jozo, a universal rewards and promotions platform.


Each presenter had to face tough questions from the audience; anything from financials, to market size, to team composition, to product specs, was fair game. The presenters handled themselves with style and overall gave pretty good answers. After taking a short break, Adam came back and presented once more to Fred Wang from Trinity Ventures and Carol Sands from The Angels Forum. A few minutes later, Vikrant from Future Today presented to the investors, also including Vish Mishra from Clearstone Venture Partners. Future Today operates a website called ifood.tv with over 30,000 videos, 150,000 text based recipes and has hundreds of partners. The investors came back with some carefully worded feedback.


Next up on the agenda: lunch!


The entire class broke into groups to help the various startups identify key partnerships, activities, costs, revenues, with support from the two mentors, AKG and Ramesh Singh. As a class, we then collected around Geetnet.com and had a group discussion.


Lastly, we posed two questions to the mentors. 1) What has helped you most while making your business plans and 2) What area you feel the entrepreneur needs most help with?

AGK said: you need to do figure out the best path to validate your business model as soon as possible. Just having one customer is not enough. You need to have your product sellable to multiple customers.

Ramesh Singh: Do not give up on your ideas too quickly. Quickly find the barriers and work through it. When you are raising money think of it as your own money. If you are willing to take that risk, then the passion comes out to make it happen. Do not assume it is going to be a quick success. My last two startups have been 14 years of my life. Put people around you who are just as passionate. Have an open team that can have discussions, otherwise it will be really tough. Be truthful. Other things will come through and the team is the most important thing.


-Written by Ankit Agarwal

Thursday, December 9, 2010

SLP SV sales and biz dev day

Had an insightful and exciting weeknight session on sales and business development processes.

The 1st speaker, Siddhartha Agarwal, talked at length about the science behind the sales process. How sales forecasting is done and how much value to assign to each stage in the sales cycle.

The 2nd speaker, Sandip Gupta, spent time explaining how business development happens and its difference wrt marketing/sales. The importance of business development and typical size and composition of a biz dev team at startups and bigger companies.

Anupendra was visiting from Boston and talked about the value of branding and SLP is progressing/has progressed since it was started

Lastly our very own fellows Carenina and Krish talked about the tactical aspects of every day sales basics and biz development.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Leadership

This was no humdrum panel discussion on what it means to be a leader in your organization. It was a candid conversation with 4 CEOs from tech, life science and non-profit sectors who found themselves opting out of their corporate jobs to start their own ventures. These CEOs--Steve Delity (Rapid Micro Biosystems), Anderew Paradise (AisleBuyer LLC), Brad Rosen (Drync LLC), and Vishal Talreja (Dream a Dream) each had unique paths to entrepreneurship but all seemed to take notice of a problem or an injustice and invest themselves in the solution. Whether dissatisfaction with big company aversion to change, an unwillingness to accept entrenched poverty and social economic class divides or inefficiencies in everyday life like the long checkout line at the grocery store, each of these CEOs had defining moments in their lives that lead them to start companies that would solve real world problems. In an interview style discussion, Anu kept the conversation moving, touching on every area of starting a new venture while encouraging the panel getting to the heart of the issues, which in some cases meant going off the record… But for the record, some key advice:
• Seek out and cultivate relationships with mentors, getting advice on a regular basis is critical, even once a month. Different mentors with different expertise will be import in each phases of the company.
• Early on, don’t focus on too many things, just one: when, where and how are you are going to compete, and then execute around that differentiating quality or factor (it’s 1% idea, 99% execution).
• On hiring, wait and hire the best. Don’t hire anyone who doesn’t get excited about the vision. (can you trust them with your baby?)
The evening ended with a question: how effective are you as a leader? The answer came in the form of a question that seemed universal no matter what you do—mobile app, med device, profit or non-profit—has it made a difference in someone’s life?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

SLP Bangalore - Product and Customer day

It was Product Development and Customer Day at SLP Bangalore. We met on Saturday 13th of November for what was a very productive day.

"You are not your User",  was the gist of the talk by Shyam Narayan from dig designstudio. Shyam walked us through his experience of designing for various customers, he discussed the approach they typically follow at their design studio while designing products. The four stages of Absorb,Ideate,Prototype and Validate set the tone for the rest of the day.

Other key highlights from his talk were:
  • Check Assumptions
  • Don't jump for the first solution, try to think of different possible solutions (then come back choose the first ;) ).
  • Identify at least 20 issues and 5 solutions in your product.
  • Be an idiot while gathering feedback from users.
  • Hear what was unsaid, users typically don't say negative things about the product.
Following his talk we had a panel discussion with Shyam (dig Design Studio) and Naveen Krishnaswamy (redbus) moderated by Gautam (SLP Bangalore Fellow). It was  a very interesting and insightful discussion on various aspects of Product Development. There were many useful points made by the panelists and other SLP Fellows during the course of the discussion.

We then had a SLP Bangalore fellow John (Duron) present the product they are selling in India. It was interesting to here his story on how, driven by passion to solve the energy problems, he and his batch mates at college started Duron. Theirs is classic story of identifying a pain point and trying to solve it. One of the books that John recommended that everybody should read was Steven Blank's The Four Steps to Ephiphany.

Following John was another SLP Bangalore Fellow Deb(Sparsha). Higher education in India for a majority is learning by rote. Deb and his team set out to remedy this with an innovative approach to teaching, learning and evaluating. If you are in academia recommend you to have a look at their offerings.

We had Mr.Navneeth Bhushan (Crafitti Consulting) speak on "Customer Value The Unknown Fundamental". He started with challenging the existing methods of valuing customer relationship as defined by various tool vendors and went on to introduce us to Customer Value framework, the concept value net etc. A major take away was in today's world "Competitive advantage is collaboration". He also introduced us to the six different truth filters one encounters  and why "science" as truth filter is more important to entrepreneurs than others.

It was turn for another panel discussion with Naveneeth, Saumil Majumdar(EduSports), Gaurav (Chakpak) moderated by SLP Bangalore Fellow Milind Naik. The discussion revolved around sales and the strategy associated. Some of the points which I recollect were:
  • Difficult customers tell you what your product sucks at.
  • Customers value longevity, build thought leadership.
  • In the initial stages of the company you need people who can sell concept. Once the product gains traction you need people who can sell the product. Both are different skill sets.
  • Big customers typically try to squeeze, however keep in mind, the overall value they  give your business and not just the transactional value of the deal.
We had an amazing product demo by Narendra (Pebble Talk). Pebble Talk is an awesome awesome enterprise collaboration tool. There was discussion on various concerns that Narendra wanted the fellows to address, and being the ever helping folks that we are, all of us pitched in with a few suggestions and contacts. For your information Pebble Talk was one of the 2010 Red Herring 100 Asia, they also won the India's most  promising startup at Proto.in.

At the end of the long day we broke for drinks. Gaurav(Chakpak), was kind enough to drop me and Amit back home and we had some amazing discussion surrounding Mobiles and Indian market.

Cross posted on: sodidi.ramjeeganti.com

Friday, November 12, 2010

Silicon valley SLP 1st full day workshop

SLP silicon valley had its first full day workshop on nov 6 with a number of talks and financial modeling exercise.

Day started of early in the morning with talk on startup strategy. The speaker, Mr Jagadish Bandhole, CEO of fonemine is a serial entrepeur. Key points in his talk related to what entrepreurs look at in starting their companies and how vcs see it in terms of risk mitigation. This was followed with a team exercise on strategy - product, channels, financing of a new hypothetical search company.

Next talk given by Dr. M. (Ken) Kengatharan. Dr. Ken has extensive experience in pharmacy industry. He talked at length about practical experiences in starting and a new venture eg importance of timing, secrecy needs etc. This was followed by a spirited Q&A.

Finally Prem Uppaluru, CEO of Transera, gave a talk on strategy and vision needs of a stratup. Intervowen in this was fundamental points related to needs vs wants and importance of targetting.

Needless to say we overshot all our schedules because of the great learnings we were getting exposed to.

Second half was set aside for financial modeling. Our own Rama Sekhar, fellow SLP, gave a talk on the vc funding process and took the mystery out of their financial due diligence process. He told us about VC 'haircuts' on proposed valuations, drivers and financial models and gave the class a good idea of what is important in the VC slide deck.

Rama was followed by Sendur Sellakumar, a VP at Morgan Stanley. He detailed the financial modeling process for a company about to file for an IPO and how it differed from early financial modeling. It was great to see a curriculum that was tailored for companies at all stages in the process.

We ended the day with an exercise created by our Program Lead and SLP's founder in which each cohort got a financial model for a fictitious web services company and had to explain what drivers or model parameters seemed wrong -- i.e. do what VCs would do to examine a startup's model. Since each cohort's model was slightly different, the class was able to learn about a lot of different potential mistakes / holes.

Great day with some very engaging speakers.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Innoz & Voicetap in Nasscom Top 8 Emerging Companies in India.


Innoz & Voicetap started by Two SLP Delhi 2010 Fellows Deepak Ravindran & Mrigrank Tripathi are shortlisted inside the NASSCOM list for companies that are likely to define the market in future.

They were chosen to showcase/present the success stories at the CIO Session at the NASSCOM Product Conclave 2010.

Deepak Ravindran
Deepak is the co-founder & Chief Executive Officer of Innoz Technologies (Pvt) Ltd, a leading mobile VAS company based in India.  He started Swades Solutions, an offshore Web design/SEO firm in 2005 when he was still at college, and then launched Innoz Technologies,a privately incorporated firm located at Technopark,Kerala.  He represented India in the finals of DFJ-CISCO Global Business Plan Competition 2009, and was chosen for iAccelerator'09 at IIM Ahmedabad. Deepak also recently received the Star Entrepreneurship Award'09 at the third Indira Innovation Summit, the Dell Idea League Challenge'09, has been short-listed for Red Herring Companies in Asia, as well as Nasscom Top 8 Emerging Companies for 2010. He holds a degree in Computer Science.

Mrigrank Tripathi
An ex strategy consultant, Mrigank has over 13 years of experience in consulting, operations and sales. He holds an MBA from INSEAD and has over 8 years of experience in the telecom field - having worked with Mercer Management Consulting, Swisscom and Reliance Infocomm. He founded Voicetap in 2009 and has led it to many national and international awards and recognitions including the Global and Asia 100 Red Herring Awards. Under his leadership, the company has operationally broken even after starting commercial operations in the same year.



Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Executions, Visions and Revolutions

Executions, Visions and Revolutions
The second session of the Silicon Valley Startup Leadership Program took place on Wedneday (10/27). R. Paul Singh was the speaker. During his career he has been the Founder & CEO of 4 high-tech startups (security, VoIP, mobile) with three successful exits. His talk was about his experiences in Silicon Valley, about the technology business in general, and about entrepreneurship. There were three major takeaways for me (they are obvious, but worth re-iterating). Here's my take on them.

"There are no $B ideas. There are only $B Executions"
We all are entrepreneurs at heart. We dream, we discuss, we detail. But few of us do. That's what takes some of us from being entrepreneurs at heart to being the real deal. The difference between a $100M company and $15B company is the team and it's execution. When money is put in front of an entrepreneur with a brilliant company, he or she has to have the courage to say no and keep it growing. An example of this is Mark Zuckerberg who rejected many acquisition attempts when Facebook was worth around $1B and has grown it to its current value of close to $20B. At the same time, it is important to know your business' strengths and weaknesses and take an exit if chances of it growing more without outside help are, honestly, not high. To some, an exit is an exit. Make whatever money there is to be made on this deal and let the next one be sweeter -- don't let greed be the winner. And remember, that there is more to life than money.

"Vision has to be Huge, but Execution has to be Focused"
When pitching investors, friends, family, potential employees, and a team, a CEO needs to have huge visions of changing the world and its sweeping impacts. In reality, though, CEOs have to focus the energies of their teams and achieve measurable, meaningful targets and move one stone at a time. Getting overwhelmed by moving a mountain is the single most common way for companies to fail. It is important to sell everyone on the big picture but achieve it through smaller steps.

"Markets like Evolutions not Revolutions"
If we think about the successful Apple consumer products over the last couple of decades they all have one thing in common -- they evolved what was available. They never tried to change what the consumer was used to in a revolutionary way. The iPod took MP3 players (first made popular by Creative) and presented it in a more intuitive interface. The iPhone innovated upon the iPod's interface and the iPad built on the iPhone. The iPhone and iPad wouldnt have succeeded if the iPod hadn't done so. Microsoft had touch screen Windows Mobile phone much before the iPhone and HP had touch screen tablets much before the iPad but neither succeeded in the same way that Apple did. Why? Because the market wasn't ready for it. While skill and quality of product is important, the success of products and entrepreneurs has an element of luck and timing to it as well. When thinking about ideas, it is often easy to think about something that "hasn't ever been tried before". Why not think of something that has been done before, but not so well... Why not use breakthroughs in technology to improve the life of a consumer so that he or she will want to use your product or service. In effect, this goes back to how a consumer offering has to somehow fit into the consumer's 24 hours in order to be successful. And what better way of fitting in than to replace something that already exists... It just makes sense that the barrier to entry in the consumer's mind will be lower!

I know I said three takeaways but there was a fourth one that I think is true for any person - entrepreneur or not - so here goes!

Bonus: "Sell, Sell, Sell"
An entrepreneur's, and specifically a CEO's, job is to sell. He or she must sell to their family on why not taking a paycheck to develop an idea into a company is a good idea. Then the CEO has to sell the idea to some crazy friend to join the venture and give up their paycheck as well. Next, the CEO must convince some friends, family, angels, VCs that the idea (and/or prototype) is worth real money. Then the CEO has to convince the market that the idea is worth more than just some words and the offering actually delivers on the promise. I've always believed that selling a vision is easier if someone else vouches for you. Over the last couple of years I've noticed companies like Twitter, Ad.ly, Posterous, TweetDeck, etc 'sold' to Silicon Valley, not just by the CEO and employees but by their investors. If a reputable investor will not only invest in a company, but also go on record at conferences, to the medi, and wherever they can to talk good things about a startup and its offerings, a consumer and the media is more likely to give it a fair chance. And for many startups, getting that chance is a make or break. So, CEOs, go out and sell your visions. Do it in a way that doesn't oversell, but sells enough to make salesman out of everyone you interact with. The power of many, especially influential many, can get you places that your own pitching won't get you. But to get there, you need to master the pitch!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Ben McKean named a finalist in Bloomberg Businessweek’s 2010 America’s Best Young Entrepreneurs

Ben McKean (SLP NYC Class of 2011) and his cofounder, Dan Leahy, were recently named as finalists in Bloomgberg Businessweek's 2010 America's Best Young Entrepreneurs and to the Silicon Alley 100, an annual list of New York's top movers and shakers in the technology sector.  Their startup VillagesVines helps upscale restaurants sell excess inventory.   

 

Excerpt from Business Insider SAI's earlier article on VillageVines:

 

New York Startup That Saves You Money At Top Restaurants, VillageVines, Expands To New Cities, Partners With MenuPages

 

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/village-vines-washington-dc-2010-9#ixzz13xhEq3GM

 

VillageVines, a New York based startup, that offers users discounts at high end restaurants is set to expand its reach.

 

The company, which had been focused solely on New York, is opening its deals offers to Washington D.C. starting this morning. In the weeks to come it will be operating in Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco, as well.