POCC and MVP present : Startup Roadies

PuneStartups,

The Pune Open Coffee Club (POCC) in collaboration with Morpheus Venture Partners (MVP) brings a new initiative “Startup Roadies”.

About MVP

MVP runs a business advisory and mentoring program for startups. MVP currently has portfolio of more than 10 companies. Some of the companies are: Instablogs, Commonfloor, Lifemojo, Fachak, Crederity, Deskaway, Sutra.

Sameer Guglani and Nandini Hirianniah are the founding partners @ MVP. Both of them are serial entrepenuers and started their first venture Madhouse Media in 2004. Madhouse was one of the first organized movie rentals players. They successfully exited the venture with the acquisition by Seventymm in July 2007. More Info

About POCC

The Pune OpenCoffee Club is an informal group of startup-minded folks and entrepreneurs in Pune. It has the distinction of being the largest Open Coffee Club in India. The club has  550+ members and meets once a month. There is also an active mailing list where members discuss issues and seek feedback from peer startups.

The Startup Roadies Program

We absolutely love to meet passionate entrepreneurs whose ventures are in idea stage (not started, but want to really start) or 1-12 months into the operation. The interaction will be completely informal. Formal dresses are not a must, we want to see you as your natural self, no need to bring any presentations or any financial projections. Just come have a chat with us. Get a demo if possible, get all members of your founding team. Just ensure that you arrive on time as per the allocated slot ūüėČ

The goal of the exercise is to together explore solutions to some of the “tough business problems” you are dealing with. We could do that by offering advice and potential solutions based on our experience. We would also love to introduce you to relevant folks in our network who can add value – potential partners, experienced people in similar domain, potential investors etc.

At our end we are just excited to get an opportunity to meet you and learn from your experience and ideas. Each session will be conducted in the below mentioned structure

Where are we? (Get on the same page, understand the current status of the venture / idea)
  • Team introduction
  • Understanding your idea, market size, the problem your solving, how is your product/service different that current available solutions
  • Figure out the current status of the venture – in development, alpha, beta, launched
  • How much money is available to the team
Where do we want to go? (what are we looking to accomplish in the coming future)
  • Discuss, debate and get clarity on the goals & milestones for
    • Short term: 3 months
    • Medium term: 1 year
    • Long term: 3-5 years
How do we get there? (the most critical part where we together come up with the clear and measurable steps which will be taken to achieve the goals/milestones)
  • Given the current status and various goals, what is the best strategy to get there
  • How to proceed with execution
  • Best way to raise funding
  • Who are the folks to partner with
  • Make a list of action items out of the interaction

Details:

  • Date: Saturday, 21 Feb 08
  • Venue: SICSR, Model Colony, Pune (Awaiting confirmation on the room number)
  • Time: 10am to 7pm (Each startup gets a separate time slot)
  • How to participate: Send an e-mail to nandini AT morpheusventure DOT com with a short (less than 300 words) intro of your startup. Please mention your preferred time slot.

Limited slots. Book now!

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Wanna learn: go work for a startup

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Image via Wikipedia

I belive startup founders are the smartest people around and we all know that best way to learn is to work with smart people.¬† That’s the reason you should go and work with a young start-up. You will get an opportunity to directly work with the founders and if you have zing within you they will “air-lift’ you. In terms of learning, growth , responsibility and fun. You will leap frog and surprise yourself in terms of the amount of work you can do, number of things you can learn and no of days you can stay awake with no sleep.

I discovered it by luck or by accident, so you dont make the same mistake. If you want to learn dont even look at a large company jobs – either work at a startup or go do your own startup.

Here is my story:

Back in 2000 I was working for DEC in Bangalore, was part of the team looking after a legacy product, which essentially meant; come to office at 1000 am and leave at 0600 pm. And in between hang out with friends, check mails, listen to music, drink coffee and yeah fix 1 or may be 2 bugs a day. Life was good.

But I soon realized that I was not really learning anything, days-after-days were just going by. I decided to get out and work at a better place, where I can learn and grow. I was also considering working at a startup, had heard that learning is great at startups. In terms of domain, I wanted to work in the wireless technology domain.

So one of the weekends I went for a few walk interviews, where they were hiring for wireless domain. I ended up with two offers – one at a young wireless telecom startup Sonim (company was called Myneton at that point and was renamed later), whose office was still under construction and second at a large established company called Celstream (they offered me more money). I resigned from DEC, now I had to decide where to join.

To make sure I am making the right decision, I met with the senior folks at both companies and tried to figure out the kind of work they will be giving me.  Sonim was a very young company, lots of stuff was not figured out, lots of uncertainity Рbut at the same time the energy of the people was great. On the other hand Celstream was a bigger company Рwith good open culture and more money for me. I was inclined towards it, but there was one problem. The Celstream folks told me they can not put me in the wireless team right away, that project was still 6 months away and meanwhile I will be working in a different project. Where as at Sonim it was out and out wireless.

I was still undecided – my adventurous heart was nudging me towards Sonim and my logical mind was telling me to go a bigger / safer / better paying Celstream. That’s when I came up with a solution, I will go and join Sonim and give myself 2 weeks to make sure I was not making a mistake and tell Celstream that I need another 2 weeks before I join. That was my way of following my heart while keeping the logical brain happy.

I joined Sonim in September 2000 and within two days I knew this is where i want to be and I lasted a total of 4 years with them (thats a lot for some one who had worked at 3 companies before, for 8 months each) . It was a young startup with 5 rockstar founders (Sudu, Jai, Ram, Anush and Issac). I was employee number 19 and was part of the server team as a software engineer. The energy was amazing, it was so creative, it was a lot of fun and there was a lot to do. Almost everyone spent 14-16 hrs in the office working, singing, dancing and doing whatever else, at the same time.

Within 3 months of my joining Sudu asked me to lead a new team which was being created to start the “devices” project. That was the start of my airlifting. I had never lead a team before, I had not worked on devices before. But that did not matter, what mattered was that Sudu thought I had the potential and since everything was so much fun, I took it up, ran with it and never looked back. I used to work directly with Sudu, who was very demanding. He had some 10-15 years of experience and expected me with my 2.5 years of experience to perform at par. I had no choice but to pickup speed and to my surprise, I did it and did it while having a lot fun.

Sonim, sonim founders and rest of the team gave me a lot . The founders were guru’s in true sense for me,¬† I spent a number of very valuable hours with them. My liking for startups started at Sonim a lot of my Startup foundations were built at Sonim. Joining Sonim was the best decision of my career, that’s the single most important reason for me being here today.

While at sonim I coined a philosophy “Once you work at a good startup, you can not go back to a big company. Either you will work for another startup or will go and do your own startup”

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CNBC-TV18-Enteprise INC: Story on capital raising

Here is an opportunity to be in on CNBC-TV18. My friend Isha Dalal at CNBC-TV18 is looking to talk to entrepreneurs who have gone through the experience of fund-raising for their startups and are open to talk about it. You may or may not have succeeded in raising money at the end of the efforts.

Here is the note from Isha:

I am working on a story on capital raising for entrepreneurs for our show “Enterprise INC”
What I’m essentially trying to bring out is whether entrepreneurs can effectively raise funds in this tough economic environment, We’ve spoken to investors (ranging from angel to PE) and to a company that HAS managed to raise funds recently to find out how companies can work around the inevitable slowdown to continue funding and building great businesses. What can companies do right? What could pitfalls be? Have the processes, terms and conditions of raising money altered drastically?

We’ve been looking for a company who’s in the process of trying to raise funds, that would be willing to talk to us about the capital raising process: what are the issues faced?

Do let me know if you might have any suggestions for who’d be willing to speak to us– all confidential details of course, WILL be avoided!

If you want to take it up or find out more. Please drop a mail to : Isha DOT Dalal AT network18online DOT com.

Whats working, Whats not, Part 1- Extreme marketing

Its almost 7 months since the official launch of MVP and 13 months since MVP was started as a stealth initiative. Its been a great ride working (non-stop) with the passionate and extremely intelligent startup founders.¬† We have been working closely with the portfolio companies and at the same time have also had the privilege of spending time with 50-60 other startups, we call “Friends of Morpheus”.¬† With most of these startups we got to know the founders, understand the business model, approach of the team and saw very closely whats working and whats not. I thought it will be a good idea to do a series of posts called “Whats working, Whats not”.

This is  the first post in the series.

Extreme marketing

Now that you have built the most useful app for people to find their next holiday destination or the site with most amazing t-shirts designs or the healthiest organic drink. The next and “the most important” thing you need is people to come see your site/ product, so that some of them can start buying. That’s where ‘marketing’ comes in.¬† Startups almost never have any marketing budget, but does that mean they wont get anyone in to see / buy their product. Not at all.

Creative startups are coming up with amazing and zero expense ways to spread the word about the cool stuff which they have built. Thats called “extreme marketing” and its working

Examples:

  • Tringme’s guerilla marketing with source code on business cards
  • Lifemojo launched a GTalk buddy who can answer all your questions about calories¬† (about 300 people signed up in the first week itself)
  • mGinger’s viral MLM campaign (this was way before they got funded) promising 10 paise for every SMS ad you receive and a cut of money that your friends may be making
  • Sutra just today has launched Kaamsutra.info. Check here to see what is the twitter community saying and here for the coverage on pluggd.in
  • Picsquare’s tieup with Tata Indicom, which meant whenever a tata indicom subscriber connected to internet “Picsquare” was right in front.

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Takeaways

  • All of these campaigns have been executed on almost a “zero marketing budget” but on a mindset of exterme innovation and risk taking
  • Most of these have been done in less than a week’s effort.
  • Most of the ideas were shot down / ridiculed by the people who initially heard the idea
  • The teams had the courage to go out and do “extreme stuff”. They were ready to face the backfire as well
  • They play on basic natural needs of human’s from porn to free money to calorie consciousness and more
  • Successful campaigns have a inbuilt characteristic to spread from people to people (network effect) and they make it easy for people to spread it. Specially via twitter, blogs, social networks, mails, SMS.

Let us know comments about your views and the examples of extreme marketing that you have seen..

Run lola run!

Few days ago I stumbled onto this presentation by Mike Cassidy on “Speed as a primary business strategy”.¬† I guess all entrepreneurs do know this somewhere inside. But the presentation captures this message in a brilliant manner. Enjoy it! Also check out the mp3 here pieced together by venture hacks.

Customers say the Dandiest things, sometimes

Most of the times entrepreneurs  get to hear complaints and good byes from the customers and they are constantly working to improve and do it better.

Today I am proud to share a couple of customers posts, where customers have gone out of their way and said very nice things about Deskaway and Commonfloor (two of our portfolio companies).

Good going guys, you make us feel really proud. Best businesses do everything to take care of the customers and you guys are living examples of that. Keep it going.

Read 50 pages a day

(Thanks to sumit, The Hiring Tool, for the tip)

Reading books is one of the most important (I would classify it as mandatory) activity an entrepreneur should invest his/her time into. And I am not talking audio books, I am talking actual real paper books (e books are also fine, but not as effective unless you have a Kindle).

Issac newton said “If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of Giants”. That is true for all entrepreneurs because essentially that’s what they are trying to do, look farther into the future, solve problems and be really fast at it. As the history tells us, the most successful ones are those who are able to look the most farther.

Reading allows you to “stand on the shoulders of giants”. It allows you to learn from what other folks have experienced, achieved, failed at, loved , suffered, everything A-Z. There is just a lot of concentrated, distilled knowledge in the books, that its almost a sin for an entrepreneur not to be reading, since upgrading of skills is a constant need for a startup founder.

To some of you, it may seem counter intuitive. Wouldn’t it be better for me to spend my time on real-time , real world problems at hand, instead going into the dreamy world of books? Isn’t my first and most important job to solve real problems?

Yes, that’s true. At a fundamental level the job of an entrepreneur is to solve problems.¬† But as we know the most effective way to approach / solve a problem is by looking at parallel scenarios and applying the learning to the problem at hand.¬† Isn’t it easy to solve a problem if you have already experienced a similar one before?

Books are one of best way to collect /come across /find / learn these problems which others have come across.¬† When you read “The Google story” and go thru the birth of google as an idea, as a young company and so forth, you are sure to learn a bunch of stuff that you can use while building your own company.

The book stores are full of these inspiring, real life stories of companies, people, which are biographies and autobiographies. Then there are authors like Seth Godin, Malcom Galdwell , Tom Peters and so many more. You just need to get started and you will discover a whole new world.

Its not tough at all, I carry a book almost everywhere. And a lot of my reading happens while traveling, waiting, just filling the small little time gaps and I finish almost a book a week.

Trying to read a whole fat book may seem difficult, but reading 50 pages is quite easy. So go ahead my friend and commit yourself to “Reading 50 pages a day”. It will not take more than 1-1.5 hrs, depending on your reading speed. Just keep at it and i promise it will be one of the most fruitful and enjoyable investments of your time.

Tell us in comments if you are planning to start 50 page a day reading journey and keep us updated on the progress…

Dont keep “sucking the thumb”

Watblog reports on a great initiative by Headstart which will connect startups and freshers.  At the same time there is an ongoing debate about if startups should hire freshers at all.

My answer is yes,  I do believe freshers (the right ones) can make significant contributions and learn a lot in return.

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The risk of hiring a wrong person is not much different even when you hire a non-fresh (experienced) person.¬† The critical next step is to quickly asses the person and act fast on that instead of “sucking the thumb”.

The important thing to keep in mind is that a startup cannot afford to have even one person in the team who is “non-productive / misfit”. The resource budgets are extremely tight and deadlines are always around the corner, speed matters a lot and having a wrong guy can hit you on both money and speed.

Startups should have a strict process to ensure the team is free of “non-productive / mifit” candidates. Whenever you add a new person to the team, give your self two weeks to asses him/ her. If things are not working as expected be quick to act.¬† Give candid and clear feedback to help the person perform / improve. Watch for another week and if still its not working out go ahead and inform the person that its best for them and the company “to not work together”.

As things are not going well for the employee, if you let them go chances are they will find job which has a better fit for them and excel at it, instead of just hanging around.

Many times people are worried /scared of firing, they keep “sucking the thumb” i.e: dont do anything and hope things will work out with time. That does not work at a start-up, and it hurts real bad.

PS:¬† “Sucking the thumb” is a term made popular by Charlie Munger.