Monday, August 25, 2014

TEDx IIMC Experience

Thanks to Abhishek Katiyar, I was invited to TEDx IIMC to share my experiences around entrepreneurship. Given that my story has been a bit hazy and incomplete yet, I did not want to share the story, instead I wanted to just talk about the key learning from the short experience I have had till now. It was great meeting super passionate speakers - Fahim and Tousheef, Krutika and Sumit. I had a great afternoon. Thanks for the opportunity and hospitality. I hope it was useful for some people at least.

My notes:

How many of you here want to be entrepreneurs? Why? Money/ No boss/ Impact/ Hip thing to do?

I my last 2.5 yrs experience with failed startups, I have not got any of these, but still I am happy with the journey so far. Why am I happy? A mentor of mine once said to me that life is nothing but sum of all experiences. I think that because of the start-up experience, I now see life from a different lens altogether.

So this is what I will talk about.

I will just make 4 simple points. 4 points just to share my experience, and how it has positively affected the way I look at things. 4 points to show that after 3 different product launches with 3 different teams, how I look at life differently now. How differently I would have lived my life, if I would have seen the things the way I see now.

1) Do not be part of the rat race - Create your own path
Comparison with others, the hallmark of rat race will eventually stink. Never celebrate coming #1 or #2. When you want to be #1, you are already limiting yourself.
Instead of being a part of rat race, the question that needs to be asked is 'Could I have done it better?' I am myself a product of rat race. Rat race for marks in school, JEE rank, CPI, Performance Review at MNC I worked at.

Best entrepreneurs have quit the rat race long back. Facebook has always competed only with itself, Flipkart had the vision to build an Amazon in India, Ola Cabs has the great vision of better cab system in the country. They were not in the rat race. If you are target is just to beat the #1, you are not thinking big enough. The best entrepreneurs out there, did not just try to be #1. They want to challenge what exists and improve that.

Quoting one of my professors, Prof D B Phatak, Every rat race produce some winner rats, and many loser rats, but only rats. But you are human beings. You are not rats. Do not be part of the rat race. Create your own path.

2) Quit early/ Quit often
I saw a talk by Prof Deepak Malhotra of HBS, and I loved the phrase then. Every entrepreneur talks about it right? And I am not saying this in a revolting and destructive way. I really really mean it as a constructive thing. Now people don't talk about it a lot. People say winners don't quit and quitter don't win. Lets look at the other side together, please. Now anyone of you who have read "The Lean Start-up" by Eric Reis would know about the "Build-Measure-Learn" feedback loop. The objective of a lean start-up is to minimize the time it takes to complete the loop. Iterate as quickly as possible. Only then, you will be able to reach profitability/scale quickly at minimum cost. I would want to apply the same principles to my life. If you have figured out that where you are needs a change, quit. Do not get bogged down by what the world would think. World does not think too much about you anyways. Iterate quickly. Eg: I have quit versions of research, quant, trading, private equity, entrepreneurship, all in less than 5 years. If there is one thing I am absolutely good at, its quitting. Iterate fast. Quit early quit often.

3) Customer is king - Always look for feedback 
In my last start-up, and I have seen this in a lot of friend's companies, we build a product. We go out to the customer. And customer says, we do not want this. Change this. Change that. And then you are like You are not understanding my product. I am not this. That is different. And so on. A lot of times, we, as programmers or as product managers, are not happy getting negative feedback from people. That is a big problem. A lot of jobs that you would join, do not encourage feedback system. Feedback from customers / bosses / colleagues is very very important. That helps you decide where you stand and how you should improve. Proactively, reach out to get feedback from your customers. Otherwise, like my failed startups, you will always be in the cocoon you have created for yourself.

4) Be happy
No one has ever created anything beautiful being unhappy. Whatever you need to keep yourself happy, do it. Travel. Go to movies. Read. Spend time with family. A happy man is much more likely to do quality work. I realised it while working on my last startup. I did absolutely shitty work when I was not happy. In startup, because you impact everything, so the difference is easily seen. In companies, because there are a lot of people, it averages out, sort of. A happy guy is much more productive. As a leader, create a happy team. As an employee, be happy. It will create much more difference than you would attribute it for right now.

So, 4 simple points: Do not be part of the rat race and Create your own path, Quit Early Quit often, Customer is king - look for feedback, and Be Happy!

Hope it was useful for at least some of you. Jai Hind Jai Bharat.

Some external links:

Friday, June 13, 2014

Musings of a Struggling Entrepreneur

Prepared jointly by Arnav (IIT KGP + DB + UrbanTouch + Sokratik + Carcredible) and Pratik (IITB + Morgan Stanley + Blackstone + Clipr + Tomonotomo + ZippedNews + Spiral Media)

Stopping for a second to look back at my startup journey - some points in no order.

1) Marketing and sales are important - even for tech startups. Nothing sells itself. The movie Social Network did not talk about it. Its not only about the product. "Bijnessman wahi hai jise bechna aata ho"

2) Accept failure quickly, learn from your mistakes and iterate fast. "Subah ka bhoola shaam ki jagah agar din mein hi ghar aa jaye to behtar"

3) Do not fuss about equity. Be equal partners and go ahead. "Ye dosti hum nahin todenge"

4) Listen to VCs with a pinch of salt - They have all the time in the world to talk. You don't. They would want that you either succeed quickly so that they can invest, or fail quickly so that they can hire you for one of their portfolio companies. Do not get excited if a VC is talking to you.

5) The biggest job of the CEO is to inspire. You have to inspire your co-founders, employees and investors. You have to set a vision and short term action strategy for everyone.

6) All startups need leaders. Down with democracy. When everyone has an equal say, things move slow. add the fact that the group has smart, opinionated people and you will never build true consensus. Successful founding teams have one person who has the final call. The rest go along. Earn that trust & respect, LEAD, take the tough decisions yourself and get others to run with the decision

7) Ideas before friends. Good ideas, when executed well, make money. Friends don't . We are a group of people who want to do a startup together and are looking for an idea - e.p.i.c. FAIL! Find ideas independently, look for co-founders for executing it. It is your job to find an idea. Find an opportunity - Then ask your friends to come along for the ride. But pick out the destination yourself

8) Take lonely decisions. Just because it is a startup doesn't mean you have to discuss and debate everything among co-founders. Don't expect anyone else to take decisions for you. There is no magic wand. Mr. CEO, you need to decide. Take inputs but decide on your own. Take the blame for wrong decisions. Try to be correct as often as you can. Keep the decision making swift.

9) Make things happen. This is a startup. Nothing happens on its own. no emails and phone calls will magically find your inboxes. Everything that happens, happens because you make it happen. Do your job, make it happen

10) Make peace with the sub-optimal. Find the next milestone for the business (funding/ revenue/ more funding/ hiring/ growth/ profitability) and focus your energy on that. It is ok to grow like crazy while having sub-optimal decisions. Be ok with the sub-optimal as long as you are on track for what matters most.

11) Get married to your co-founders, but don't sleep together. people. product .personality in that order. Prioritise your co-founders' happiness. Next comes the startup itself. Make your quirks, passions, opinion, ego and interest a distant third. Marry your co-founder and treat him as your wife.(irritates you, is difficult but you still give in happily to her) . Avoid staying together though, too much face-time builds stress. Living together never lets you get out of office completely. Builds stress, hampers cooling-off. Abstinence, please !

12) Be happy : Never a beautiful creation did an unhappy man make. Find out what keeps you happy, go after it. Unhappy founders don't stand a chance.

Be good. Do good. :-) Cheers!