Eyes closed, head shaking

Eyes closed, head shaking;
My girl-my girl, don’t lie to me, tell me where did you sleep last night – cobain coming into me frm iphne;
Feeling bodies all around pressing against me;
Feeling the heat, Feeling the sweat under my Scopial tee;
Feeling the sweat under my beard;
Cobain Shuffles – You’re face to face the man who sold the word – tenetenu tenetu – teneeeeee, teneneeeee, drum rolls;
Pressing of bodies increasing like thy want to crush me;
Aaah I love my life;
Borivilli to Churchgate;
Startup to Startup, Founder to Founder;
This is my Nirvana;
Cobain Shuffles – my girl my girl, don’t lie to me, tell me where did u sleep last night …….

Ready to endure and enjoy the startup-pain?

Most founders start companies to achieve things like : financial freedom, creative freedom, change the world, make a difference, do something different, be the master of their own fate, be known for their work, be respected by friends & family, lead people, create jobs and the list goes on.

A surprisingly a large number of folks who start companies expect these glamorous  things to start happening automatically the day they leave their job and become entrepreneurs. And since the reality is very different, very soon they start complaining and eventually quit. Here is a little secret you should know:

“Things don’t happen automatically, u have to make them happen. You have to endure and enjoy the pain. Successful entrepreneurs know it instinctively & that’s what makes them tick.”

First 2 years (or more) of a startup are extremely demanding on you as the founder of the startup. You have to endure a lot of pain before you can even get a glimpse of some of these nice things. And there is always a high probability of not making it. Its kind of being pregnant for 2 years while knowing that probability of giving birth to a healthy child at the end of it is a mere 10-15%.  People who go through this period of pregnancy and deliver successfully are the ones who enjoy the journey and the pain more than the outcomes; ones who are prepared to do what ever it takes. You should ask the same question of yourself – are you ready to endure the pain? Or are you better off in your job?

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Here is the list of some the things that you should be prepared to go through at a personal/ emotional level during your entrepreneurial journey.

  • Unless you plan to live with  your parents, be prepared to move out of your comfortable flat in Versova  with rent of 20k a month and  move to Dahisar to maintain the size of the flat but reduce the rental bill to 10k a month.
  • Flights won’t be the default mode of travel between cities (surely not kingfisher).  Every time you’ll travel you will evaluate train vs flight, usually the trains win and mostly sleeper class fare.
  • Cabs are no more allowed for travel within the cities. You gotta be using auto rickshaws,  ride buses / trains / metros or even hop on the shared cabs (yeah I have done that)
  • No staying in hotels, not even budget hotels. Make a list of friends / relatives in all cities and starting piling on. Or checkout  www.couchsurfing.org
  • Can not eat in any fancy restaurant – get a list of affordable but clean food joints – McD is a great option. Cooking at home is even better.
  • No more drinking out in pubs. If you wanna drink bring it home.
  • No movies in multiplexes. In fact no time to watch TV.
  • No phone upgrades / No laptop upgrades. Manage with what ever you have.
  • No bank will give you loan. Not even a credit card.
  • When we were doing our first venture madhouse – did not buy new clothes for 3 years. Only bought when an investor asked me come to the next meeting in formals.
  • There is nothing called a work-life balance in first 2 years of a startup. It’s only work, work and more work. So get used to it and tell your family also.
  • You are doing to work (or should I say slog) 18-20 hrs a day everyday for the whole 2 years. And in your 4-6 hrs sleep you will keep dreaming about work anyways
  • And a lot of your work time will be spent doing small things, which are not exactly intellectually stimulating  – kinda stuff you always took for granted – cleaning the loo, mopping the floor, making tea, opening your office, buying food, going to banks, dealing with govt officials, starting the generator
  • You won’t have much time with family or friends. You will regularly face – angry parents, angry wife, angry kids and angry girlfriends/ boy friends.
  • No going to family functions or weddings. Even if they drag you to the function – you will be sitting a corner on your laptop or iPhone and that would leave your relatives angry with you.
  • No holidays. No weekends. And if you really want a vacation – Use Google earth to enjoy your imaginary vacations. Feel happy when google earth has higher resolution imagery for your vacation spots. They have recently added high imagery for Kashmir region, especially gulmarg and Amarnath.
  • No time to take care of your health. Running, exercises, gyms – all go for a toss
  • Don’t expect any recognition for your efforts from friends and relatives – they wont get it – for them you are still a moron – who quit his fancy job with a big company and fat paycheck to do some thing as mundane as SELLING DVDS
  • Be prepared to a lot negative talk – all most all people around you will keeping tell you how big a looser you are and many more things.
  • Totally get used to failing. Infact failing is not bad – that’s the way to make progress. If you are building anything from scratch – you have to fail 20-50-100 times before you get it right. That’s how evolution works. That’s what happens when you try to solve hard problems.
  • Be ready, most people will reject you : customers, investors, employees you try to hire, organizers of startup showcases. You have to keep looking for the ones who will accept you.
  • Employee retention will be a pain. You will spend a lot of time finding and training freshers to find they have been poached by biggies with just 1.5x or 2x the salary as soon as training is completed.
  • Your girlfriend’s / boyfriend’s parents may tell you that they are not too keen to marry their son/ daughter to an entrepreneur
  • And if you plan to close an arrange marriage deal you can forget about it. Entrepreneurs are a total flop in arranged marriage scenarios
  • Your co-founder will chicken out and will create a bitter scene. People who seem super committed and ready to give their life for the cause would suddenly find out reality and bail on you.
  • Be ready to max your cards / pledge your Personal Assets/Share certificates to give fuel to your Business.

Lot of startups fail / shutdown, just because founders were expecting too much too soon and were not prepared for some of the hard things. I believe being aware of what is in store; can help you prepare for it. If you are prepared for the pain, it will not come as a surprise and I promise at the end of it – all the nice things that you started out for are eagerly awaiting you.

Thanks to Ashutosh Upadhyay , Ankit Maheshwari, Robin Moses, Indus Khaitan, Pankaj Guglani, Sahil Parikh and Nandini Hirianniah for reviewing the draft of the article.

Trip to haranahalli

(Written on: 13 August 2009 – during the trip)

I am right now at Haranahalli in Karnataka, 200 km from Bangalore. This is the ancestral village of my father- in-law. We reached here today morning via car, started from Bangalore around 0600 am, arrived 1130 am – after a small breakfast stop on way.

We have come here to witness a religious ocassion, which happens in a place called Amanhalla, few miles from Haranahalli. The villagers from 28 villages in his area perform a puja every year on the banks of  a small stream which is considered very sacred. Uniqueness of this puja is that it’s performed without any idol, the stream is considered the deity.  Since no particular deity is being worshipped people from all faiths and casts get together to participate in this puja.

Homa (sacred fire offerings)  is setup on the banks of the river and final part of puja is perfomed by steping into the stream. In this step the head priest, a lady and few other folks enter the river chanting the sacred hymns, give offerrings to the river : flowers, colors , rice and clothes. The lady performs main parts of the final ritual and at the end they say that the goddess enters the body of the lady.

I saw that the lady started behaving as if something has taken over her body, she started to dip her body in the water and came back out multiple times. Priest and other people who were with her helped her come out of the river and during that time they were also asking her questions – which they belive the goddess is answering through the lady.

As she was coming out of the river other ladies gathered to worship her and take her blessings and soon the ritual was over. People took a final look at the homa and climbed the stairs towards the area in which community lunch was being served to all.

The story of this ritual goes as fellows….

800 years ago, a Muslim boy of the region liked a Hindu girl. She used to go to the river bank every morning to perform puja and the boy used to follow her. On one such day, to avoid the boy,  she went and hid in a “deep ditch” in the stream, planning to come out when the boy left. The boy kept waiting and the girl died in the ditch. Villagers believe that after a few days of that incident, the girl re-emerged as a lake a few miles away. And so she was given the status of “devi” (goddess). Since then, every year, the villagers perform the puja on the river banks – where the final offerings are put into the “ditch” in which she had hidden.

Personally I am an atheist and don’t believe in existence of any super natural forces. But I am enjoying being a part of this ocassion, as its given me a chance to come close to rural India. This part of India is still green, non-polluted, people here are simple & hospitable. And of course I am already dying with hunger while I wait for my turn to eat. The food smells yummy…

Mediocrities I absolve you

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“Mediocrities I absolve you” – these are the last lines in the master piece movie Amadeus. The movie tells the life-story of  the prolific and influential composer of the Classical era- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The story is narrated from the point of view of a mediocre Italian composer Antonio Salieri – who also lived and worked in Vienna during Mozart’s Vienna years. (The story of the movie is part truth & part fiction, do watch it)

Story of Amadeus

Mozart was a gifted musician, the best of his time and one of the best mankind has produced. But during his lifetime he never really achieved financial success.  In the movie, the story is narrated by Salieri – who is a mediocre composer but was quite a success in Vienna before Mozart arrived from Salzburg.  Salieri hates Mozart, only because Mozart is a far better composer than him. From the time Mozart appears on the scene – Salieri sphttp://sameer.madhouse.in/wp-admin/post.php?action=edit&post=763ends all his life trying to defame, destroy, derail, humiliate and kill Mozart. But in the process he himself stays mediocre – he makes no attempt to improve his composing skills, to collaborate with Mozart or to discover another art in which he can excel and be the best. He choose to stay mediocre and became saint of all mediocrities and hence the last lines of the movie “Mediocrities I absolve you”.

Observe the difference – once he discovered his calling, Mozart chose to stay true to his music, gave all his life to it, he never compromised, always fought for his music – for his operas, he didn’t do things to please people, didn’t do politics – even though he stayed financially challenged most of his life.

Salieri on the other hand also discovered that music was his calling, worked for it, reached a certain level, joined the Emperor’s services at first given chance, became rich and stopped working on his music or his composing skills. He saw that he had enough skills to make the emperor happy. He chose to stay mediocre, chose to stop growing musically. And later he chose to hate Mozart. Why? Because Mozart did not stop at mediocrity, he went on to achieve mastery – he was the best, he was everything Salieri wanted to become – but without the efforts and without the sacrifices.

Discover your calling

“Find a job you love and you will never spend a day working” – its a old cliche, but still relevant. One can only excel in things they absolutely love to do. So the first step towards achieving excellence and not becoming or staying mediocre is to discover your calling. What is that you can do for hours and never get tired? What is that job in which quality of work matters far more to you than the money you get paid?

If you are one of the few lucky ones you will stumble upon your calling early in your life and after that the job will be to stay on course. But if you are like most of us, the answer wont be obvious, it is there – but it just needs to be discovered.  The problem is that for most of us even the fact that we should be looking for the answer is not obvious.  If you are one of those who is looking for the answer or wants to look – the only way is to keep trying new things – be restless, be fearless. Give-up things if you don’t like doing them and use that learning intelligently to start afresh. You must keep looking – you will automatically know when you find it. Something will click inside you. That is what happened with me.

I was restless all my life – moving from one thing to another, getting bored, moving again – never settled for something I did not love to do – made efforts to get out, took my chances. In August 2004, I moved to India to from San Francisco and had to find a new job. I thought why not try doing something on my own for 3 months and if it doesnt workout I will go find a job. That’s how I started madhouse; accidentally. But the day I became an entrepreneur – something clicked inside me.  I had discovered my calling.  Just that I had spent 27 years looking for it  and tried quite a large number of things.

Everyone has a calling (infact a person can have more than one calling!) – but we have to look for it – either consciously or unconsciously. Most people fall short when it comes to leave what they are doing right now and start again from zero – they want to keep clinging to what they are doing, safety of job, big salary, the home town comforts, etc. The ability to start from zero is the most crucial element. You must have this ability or  develop it if you want to complete the  journey to your calling.  Give yourself a chance, start that company, take that trip, quit that job, make that movie – whatever it is, do it. If you are not doing what you love to do – YOU ARE AN IDIOT.

At the end of the day if you do not discover your calling – you are assured mediocrity.

Staying on the course to mastery

The next step, after you have discovered your calling, is to get on the path to mastery and to stay on course. It could be music , entrepreneurship, sports, belly dancing or something entirely different. It takes many long years to simply be on the path to mastery. These years are sometimes dark, years filled with hard work,  where many mediocres around you are trying to make you one of them, and they will make you some tempting offers.

But if you want to achieve excellence you have to turn down these offers; continue to learn and grow. With every hurdle you cross, the terrain becomes more difficult , but going thru tough times and solving tough problems is the only way to grow.

Remember:

  • You will fail
  • You will face problems
  • You will fall
  • You will run out of resources
  • You will reach dead-ends
  • People will leave your side
  • Many people will hate your guts
  • People will humiliate you
  • At times things will not move at all
  • People will break their promises
  • You will fight, get hurt, lose morale and fight again

Amongst all of this, you have to stay true to your journey and be on the path to mastery. Nothing worthy of achieving is easy. So hang in there!

Credits: Thanks to Indus and Nandini for helping me refine the article

WWWN (Part 2): Presentations & Pitches

Previous post in the WWWN series : Extreme Marketing

(WWWN = Whats working whats not)

Creating Business Presentations and pitching your venture to people is an essential part of a startup founder’s job. The audience can be angel investors, VCs, potential partners, potential employees, potential acquirers, bar-campers, OCC guys etc. I have looked through quite a lot of presentations, have worked on a number of presentation / pitches with start-up founders and of course did more than 30 versions of the business presentation and 80+ pitches for madhouse. Here are some points that are good to know while working on presentations & pitches.

Creating the Business presentation / pitch:

  • Present only 10-15 slides, nothing more than that
  • Consider tailoring the presentation a little bit; keeping the target audience in mind
  • Suggested slides (see example presentation below)
    • Title slide
    • Summary / Highlights (4-6 bullets, high level business summary)
    • Market size / market opportunity
    • Business Overview / Business Metrics (these are not financials)
      • Current Numbers and Projected Numbers 6 or 12 months from now
      • Numbers that represent your business the best and  show the audience that you are running and presenting a real business
      • Example: Visitors, users, registered users, active users, revenues, products released, customer acquisition cost, number of outlets, employees etc
    • Team
    • Problem the venture is solving
    • Service / Product (how it is different than other available alternatives)
    • Sales and marketing strategy
    • Key Challenges
    • Competition
    • Financial Projections (optional for very early stage ventures)
    • Closing slide
  • Exit Strategy
    • Don’t have this as a slide. Just talk about it towards the end while presenting or when asked
    • Don’t promise exits in 2-3 years, any good business takes 5-7 years, that the horizon for angel investors
  • Team slide
    • Have it as 3 or 4th slide, not later than that
  • Financials
    • Dont show projections beyond 1 year in your presentation.
    • For young startups, no one really knows what will happen beyond even 6 months.
    • Claiming you know what will happen beyond one year is not a smart idea
    • Have 3-5 year projections ready if people ask for it but do not claim accuracy of these, say that there are based on our current assumptions. We believe things will change significantly over the next 6-12 months and we will rework these accordingly.
  • Create an appendix section to include additional details of slides
    • Org structure
    • Product screen shots (too many screen shots right now, need to reduce and show clear flow)
    • Details of market size etc, graphs etc
  • Don’t use “colorful” backgrounds. Keep a white background : simple, clean and readable
  • Use uniform font size and color:
    • Arial is one of the most readable fonts
    • Choose a font color for “Slide title”, go for the dominant color from your logo
    • Maintain the same color and size in all slides. Font size between 36-44 is good for slide title
    • Use black color for all the body text in the presentation
    • Use same font size for all body text. Font size between 14-18 is good for body text
  • Once you do an initial version of the presentation, there will surely be too much TEXT in the presentation, now you need to “DETEXT” – that means edit and cut off all unnecessary text, remove all words that don’t add any value
  • Have small and crisp points. Most bullet points should be one line or max 1.5 line long. Don’t have any para type of bullets. Split longer points into smaller bullets
  • Vary the presentation of content : break the monotony , give visual breaks and create interest
    • Use different content layouts – dont have only “bullet lists” in each slide
    • Try one column bullet slide, two column bullet, 1/2/3 tabular formats
    • Be be careful not to over do it, use the most suitable format to present the content and do not use something because you have to use it
  • Don’t use language that is too “Domain specific” . Use language that is simple and can be understood by people who are not “Domain experts”
  • Not everything needs to be written on the slides, many-a-times we tend to pack each slide with all that we want to say and making the slide text heavy. Human attention span is very low and no one reads all of the information-loaded slides. Hi-light the important points and keep the rest for oral / spoken presentation. This will prevent the main/important points from getting lost.
  • Keep the size of presentation less than 1 MB, many mail servers block 1MB and more attachments and anyways they take more time to load/view.
  • Presentations become large due to use of heavy images, use the compress images feature of MS Powerpoint to reduce the presentation size. Choose web/email resolution for images.
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Pitching the Startup

  • Be humble. Remember – Humility disarms.
  • Be calm, composed and confident.
  • Always, always be on time. Never miss an appointment. For god’s sake put the appointments on all your calenders, start early, keep a buffer of 30-60 minutes. Keep people informed if you are about to get delayed.  In more than 50% meetings founders show up late or don’t show up at all. This is a serious damage to the reputation of the startup.
  • Show up clean and presentable. I am not advocating a formal look, be causal if you like so, be formal if you like so. But keep your self clean and presentable. Don’t look PUNK.
  • Crack a joke, tell an anecdote, make general conversation, figure out a connection. Before jumping into the presentation, create a comfort level, break the ice.
  • Weave a story. Don’t just show a stand-alone slide, weave a story around the venture, create interest, tell how you came up with the idea, etc. Engage the audience.
  • The passion, commitment, involvement, confidence and energy needs of the team to come thru. So turn it on, talk enough about the team, its all about people.
  • Don’t look cold or unconcerned.
  • Focus on now and may be next 3-12 months. Spend most time on plans / features/ revenues etc of now and of next 12 months at max, dont keep talking about things that will happen beyond that – people are interested in your immediate future – beyond that no one really knows what will happen.
  • Multiple people presenting is always very tricky and can be problematic. Its best if you can choose one person from the team to present. In case you decide on multiple presenters, work very hard on the hand-overs. Try to just have two sections, presenter 1 does section and presented 2 does section 2 – No back and forth.
  • Product demo: jump into the product demo as soon as possible. Show the real stuff and the impact will be 10-20x as compared to “prepared slides”
  • Listen! Listen! Listen! Many times folks who you are presenting to will say stuff. Be very patient in listening to them. Give them respect and let them complete, before you talk. Don’t be overtly defensive, be open to suggestions/feedback. Give your response and answers in a structured manner. Many presenters start answering before the person talking has finished.
  • If you are asked a question whose answer you dont know or are not sure about, its totlaly cool to say “I dont know the answer, but let me try or I will get back to you “.  Dont try any BS, if you dont know the answer.
  • Make note of action items (mostly stuff to get back on ) which come out of the presentation and make sure you do get back 100% on or before the promised due date. Again here more than 70% founders will miss promised deadlines or not get back at all, just by doing this you can get into the top 30%.
  • Have your set of questions as well, which you would like to ask the audiences of investors, partners, bar campers etc.
  • Practice! Practice! Practice! – you can never do it enough. Practice in front of people  – take feedback and improve.

Couple of bonus TIPs from Ankit

If your audience is a potential investor:

  • Be very clear what you need money for. You can skip it from the slides. This is a question, which surely is going to be asked, if investors are showing even a little interest in your startup.
  • This part has to be extremely clear in your mind. You should be ready to tell how do you plan to spend the money.
  • One thing common to most of the VCs is that they are good with numbers, that is their core area.
  • Testimonials can provide good customer validation.

If your audience is barcampers:

  • Try not to pitch your company directly. Start explaining some concept, and then plug in your company as a case study.
  • For example, a few years ago, Rashmi Sinha used to give presentation on Taxonomy, tagging etc and then she used to plug in Slideshare as a case study.

(Thanks to Ankit, Indus and Nandini for reviewing the post and giving valuable inputs)

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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 – but at the same time the energy of the people was great. On the other hand Celstream was a bigger company – with 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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We dont need no Education. Just give us the money.

Excellent post from Dave – HATS OFF.

Dave has done BIG FAVOR to the new / first time entrepreneurs by speaking naked truth. Many of them are doing a great job but at the same time they really need to be shaken up.

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Here is some of what I see / hear / encounter in the Indian Startup scene and some unwanted TIPS:

– Just give me money and I will take care of every thing else (TIP: guys come to back to reality, it takes a lot to build a business. You gotta build something really significant with out external money and prove yourself, before expecting someone else to write a check)

– I have been working hard and smart for 6 FULL MONTHS, how come customers and VCs are not falling at my feet (TIP: be prepared to rot for another 12-18 months, before people really start noticing you)

– I am doing every thing right but these damn customers , bloggers are not getting it, someone should throw water at them.  (TIP – look inside, review your strategy and execution)

– I have talked to 5 VCs but they dont seem to get my product because they are fools / have vested interests / are incompetent etc. I am sure the next one I talk to will have better sense and will write be a check. Please dont tell me that I need to fix / improve anything on my end (TIP: No comments)

– I got funding, therefore now I am successful. I can spend as much as I want and have all my management stay in 5 Stars and travel Business and blah blah

– I have been running this business for 2-3 years, about time some body comes along to buy my business or give me 5 Million dollar funding (TIP: hey guys, value of your business is not a function of how long you have been runnding. Value comes from : market share, customers, revenues, traction, branding etc etc)

I dont mean to disrespect entrepreneurs, infact those are the creatures I respect the most. But some reality check will surely improve things, would love to hear from you…

Startup Madness

(This article is jointly written by Sameer Guglani and Nandini Hirianniah)

In recent days, while working with the MVP portfolio companies and reflecting back on the days of madhouse, we have identified this phenomenon we are calling ‘startup madness’.

It’s visible and present from the time when you start thinking of your million dollar/world changing idea to the steady state point (personal satisfaction, acquisition, IPO or maybe shutdown). Things that you do, don’t make any sense to outsiders and they are like ‘This guy is crazy’ and even when you look back at that period you think “what was I thinking when I did this?”

Looking back at the time when we got the idea to start madhouse, we did not know anything about business, we were just two 27 year old kids (later three of us, with Ankur joining us). We had tried a variety of things in our lives and had managed to do reasonably well in whatever we put our hands into, may be that’s what gave us the stupid confidence. Very importantly we were quite ignorant about ‘real business’ and hence came up with our own take on every business problem we faced.

This streak of startup madness showed at various places:

  • We did not hear NO:  not from vendors, not from people we were trying to hire, not from investors, customers, no one. A NO just meant we had to come back with new ideas and try again.
  • We would never get tired of talking about madhouse and we could talk to any one about it. Most times the other guy did not give a damn :-(,  for him/her it was just a blabber
  • We just worked non-stop for three years , not even a day off (except when forced by illness)
  • Other than work everything else was just plain unimportant : sleeping, eating, meeting friends, attending social functions, family, watching TV, movies, newspaper – all of this had very little place in our lives. We just filled all our day with work with average working day of 16-18 hrs all thru.
  • We worked out of anywhere and everywhere.  Our tools were a Fujitsu laptop and a CDMA phone which could be used like a modem.  Restaurants, inside a car / train / auto rickshaw / bus, out on the road, in the park, bedroom, living room and the loo, locations stopped to matter, every place was work place.
  • We did not need a lot of money to live and we were happier than ever (no purchases of over 1000 for 3 years, eating at economical places, shamelessly staying with friends / relatives / acquaintances in cities we visited on work )
  • ‘The world impossible was missing” – we just did not believe that there was any problem that we could not solve or anything we could not do. Our minds were one track – focus hard, think hard, work hard and just do whatever it takes.
  • We had access to this inhuman energy that allowed us to just keep going – “never get tired” or “never run out of steam”.
  • Each time we met a new person, we were constantly thinking of how this person can help our venture, . Everywhere we went, we explored if there was something there that could benefit our startup. Frankly we were classical ‘opportunity hounds” and quite shamelessly so 🙂
  • We were basically “stuck” in our own world in which we could not fail. While we adapted like crazy, we sort of forced business to work the way we thought it should work, without caring a lot about the outside world.

This madness is the essence of start-ups; it signifies the purity of a startup. It makes the startup tick and makes it successful and enjoyable. The same madness makes you innovate, over perform, challenge your skill set, think out of the box or even out of the world, take 28 hrs out of a 24 hrs a day, it gets you to focus but does not let you  blindly focus!

Its also important to figure out how can you keep re-fueling the desire, the madness, so that it lasts forever, not just for days, weeks or months, start ups that click need to be at it for years. For an individual or team to succeed as a startup, having the startup madness is a must.

If you are an entrepreneur look inside you and make an honest assessment. Do you have the streak?

  • If yes, great.
  • If no. But you think you can build it – nice, go ahead and do it at the highest priority.
  • If you don’t have it and you can’t build it – I am not sure you should continue being an entrepreneur.

On that other hand, if you are not yet an entrepreneur you should also look inside you and make the same honest assessment. Do I have the mad streak?

  • If yes, you fool, leave your job right now – the world of ‘startup madness’ is calling
  • If no, it would best for you to avoid the path of entrepreneurship, until the ‘madness streak’ gets to you 🙂

So much for civic sense …

(written on my iPhone yesterday morning)

I am at Shekhar Hospital @ basavangudi, one of the prestigious hospitals, in Bangalore, waiting for my turn to see the doctor.

Couple of minutes ago I took out a small piece of paper from my pocket, took out the chewing gum from my mouth, wrapped it in the paper and looked around for a dustbin. There was none. I got up and went around looking, none in sight.

I went upto one of the secrurity guards standing in the corridor and asked ‘Where is the dustbin ?’

His answer: ‘Just throw it here by the wall, the cleaning staff will pick it up after some time’.

I dont know if I am over reacting here but his answer came as a shock to me. Its a hostiptal and is expected to be absolutely clean and they dont even have a dustbin and people who look for one are encouraged to litter ….how creepy is that ?

I just put my chewing gum in my pocket and started writing this post ..