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A very succinct and effective talk by Guy Kawasaki about 12 lessons he learned from Steve Jobs during his two stints at Apple.
Here is the list.
1. “Experts” are clueless.
    As an entrepreneur you have to figure things out on your own.
2. Customers cannot tell you what they need.
    They can only give you incremental feedback.

3. Biggest challenges beget the best work.
    Give the most difficult challenges and they will love to tackle them.

4. Design counts.
    It’s lot easier to enchant people with great stuff!
5. Big graphics. Big font.
    Make your presentations with less is more.
6. Jump curves, not better sameness.
    Go from ice harvester to ice factory to refrigerators. Not 10% better, 10 times better.
7. “Works” or “doesn’t work” is all that matters.
    Industry jargon doesn’t matter – “Is it an open or closed system?” doesn’t matter.
8. “Value” is different from “price”.
   In a 2×2 of Uniqueness vs Value, you have to be on top right.
9. A players hire A players.
    B players hire C players. C players hire D players. D players hire E. This is called bozo explosion.
10. Real CEOs demo.
    If you can’t demo your product, quit.
11. Real entrepreneurship.
    Don’t ship crap but something that jumps curves.
12. Some things need to be believed to be seen.
    If you wait for customer validation, it will never happen.
 
I have never felt pain by the death of someone who I didn’t know personally. Today, I feel a strange ache by his demise.
Unlike many in the US, I really came to know about Apple only a decade ago. I was working on a product in 2001 at Citrix, a long time Microsoft partner. Suddenly, there was an increased emphasis to support Mac. And I learned that it was because the Citrix leadership was so sure, that with Jobs at helm, big things are bound to come from Apple. And they did for the next decade!
First came the iPod, then the iPhone, and then the iPad; the cool things we could do with this technology was great. But the most important thing was that it was an amazing emotional experience every time I went through the process of researching, buying and using any of these products. And each time, the love just kept growing!
There are many good leaders. But no one inspires and touches you like him. He knew how to create a cult. He knew how to bring the most out of people. He knew better than anyone else why less is more. He was guided by his inner voice like no one else. He came out of failures in ways no one can even dream of. He knew how to live life, because he understood death so well. He lived, he truly lived!
RIP
 
I bought Roku recently after comparing it with Apple TV, Boxee and Google TV. I also have some Digital TV apps built in my LG TV. After spending time with these, I have concluded that there’s a lot left to be desired in this space. There are a plenty of innovations that need to be happen in this ecosystem and I believe that those are about to happen in the next 5-10 years. After all, TV is the most watched screen among the 4 main screens out there today among PC, tablet, phone, TV.
Here is my review of the various products.
Apple TV: It’s content is limited mostly to movies and TV shows. It does not have a browser. Also, it offers only 720p. However, it has great hardware and it also lets you Airplay which is a cool future if you also own an iPad or an iPhone.
Boxee: Very open, lot’s of creative ideas but the content is not yet there. You can play any web content on it because it has a flash-capable browser. But sometimes sites disallow playing on Boxee (e.g. Hulu). You can also play it on your laptop or mobile just as easily as the TV box. It also integrates with social networks but none of my friends seem to be there. 
Google TV: It promises a lot of cool features but is unable to deliver overall value mainly because it’s light on content and does not have cool hardware. The Logitech Revue box that carried Google TV completely bombed. In fact in their Q1 results, Logitech had negative sales because their returns were greater than their sales. I feel Google TV’s problem is that it has too many features and does not strongly deliver on any.
Roku: Roku came out top in my analysis mainly because it is simple to use and seems to have the most amount of content. While the hardware can play 1080p, most of its content is of much lesser quality and often not HD at all. Although it offers a lot of content, once I started using it, I realized it didn’t quite feel that way. They have recorded news, TED shows, congressional hearings, Khan Academy videos, some free/useless Bollywood content. The best it gets is live streaming Fox news from 9am-3pm. But unfortunately I don’t watch Fox :) In short, there is very little live content and is not mainstream content. The content options are good but it doesn’t feel like great TV experience.
After playing with Roku and reviewing the others I feel there’s a lot left to be desired for digital TV. Here is my wish list of things that need to happen to offer really awesome digital TV.
* There is a huge need for mainstream and live content. There needs to be the ability to subscribe to live news, talk shows, live sports etc. There also needs to be the ability to get local content (e.g. local news, events).
* Vudu (owned by Walmart) is the best movies app. It offers most number of latest moves for a reasonable price and superior quality (1080p video, 5.1 dolby sound). However, none of these boxes offers Vudu. I have it on my LG TV and I absolutely love it. All other movie/TV apps (Netflix, Amazon, HuluPlus) offer only upto 720p.
* Most of the content is not in HD. With most people buying large flat-screen TVs, its a very poor experience to watch anything less than HD quality.
* 3D content is missing on any of these boxes. I bought a 3D TV but there’s almost no 3D content out there. My only option today would be to buy a Blu Ray player and then buy 3D blu ray disks. I don’t want to do that :)
* Searching for good content is difficult and requires too much clicking. Also the content is not personalized. Content discovery has a lot of opportunity for improvement. This could be personalized with your viewing habits or your friends viewing habits, Also, the user experience of clicking/typing with a remote control to find content is really painful. While there are some options to search on your phone/tablet, it still needs to become simpler.
* One of the most important problem that needs to be solved are business models. All of them need to work with content owners to figure out intelligent business models that will bring high quality content in both recorded and streaming format. From my experience, I am happy to pay per content (streaming/recorded) if I am interested in it (e.g. I’ll buy NBA channels but don’t care about NHL). An iTunes like model applied to digital TV is what we need.
I can’t wait for the technology developments that will unfold in the digital TV space in the next 5-10 years. This is one area that’s waiting to be disrupted.
 

I recently moved back to the US after spending a little over a year in India. It was great to be back in my own country after 10 long years and experience the growing economy first hand. It gave me an opportunity to separate fact from fiction about all the great things that are happening there. Overall, it was a rewarding experience and I am happy I could do this stint. There might be many out there contemplating a move to India either permanently or for a short period. Let me share some of my experiences about what I liked and disliked.

What I liked:
1. Improved Living Standards: One can live a lot better lifestyle these days. There are several nice apartments in Bangalore and bigger cities where one can find apartments with tons of amenities. This was one of the highlights of my India experience. The place I stayed had it’s own swimming pool, sprawling garden, a grocery store, restaurant, salon, sauna, spa, health club, garbage service and many other things all inside the community.

2. Conveniences: Given the boom in various sectors, there were many new conveniences. Numerous grocery stories, tons of shops and malls, all kinds of cars, many new restaurants, lots of flights connecting all parts of the country, more entertainment options and I could go on. These are things I hardly knew of when I grew up in India.

3. Cost of living: While the absolute cost of living for an average Indian may have gone up a lot, I felt that it was a smaller percentage of my income than it was in the US. After spending on all the basics (rent, food, utilities, etc.) I had 10 to 15 percentage points more of my income left than in the US.

4. Startup Opportunities: There are a lot of problems to be solved in any growing economy like India. And then there is the hungry youth to solve it. Either they are tired of their bosses in large IT companies breathing down their neck or there are the smart college kids or the NRI returnees. All of them are trying to tap into the startup world. And as my friend Anand Daniel at Accel put it, ‘you don’t need a grand idea; if you can execute on simple ideas you can succeed in India’.

5. Family: Being close to family was great. There was a lot of interaction with family & relatives who I would have otherwise never had the opportunity to get to know. I attended lot more weddings than I did in my entire time in the US. However, I would concede that if I had to keep up with all the social commitments for more than a year, I would have started to feel the burden :)

What I disliked:
1. Work culture: Having never really worked in India before, it required a bit of adjustment for me to fit in the Indian way of working, particularly at a big company. There’s quite a bit of hierarchy, nepotism and bureaucracy. It was quite a risk averse, close minded culture with a very political and heavy top. The boss is always right and others can keep their brains at home. I did see startups with a positive and open culture but it wasn’t always the case.

2. Red Tape: Government offices are still rife with politics and bureaucracy. During my stay I had to put up with the passport offices, license office and few other govt related orgs. In all my experiences, there was still a lot of red tape visible. The success stories of india are not because of the government, it’s in spite of the government.

3. Corruption: At the national level there were several scandals I witnessed during my stay. From the telecom scam to the commonwealth games scam. There were plenty. I encountered this even in day-to-day dealings. Some of my suppliers I worked with offered to ‘take care of me’ and were surprised when I refused to be taken care of.

4. No network: If you are a returnee, you will get a sense of being lonely. Most of the relationships I built in the last 10 years were all based in the US. Most of my college friends had also left India. So my social life was practically restricted to friends at work and some family. However, with time you could rebuild a healthy network but there are some logistical challenges along the way (see next point).

5. Traffic: From a lifestyle stand point, this was the biggest challenge. It not only slows you down to get from one place to another, it encroaches on your quality of life. In California, I could squeeze in several activities in a single day. But in Bangalore, I could just about go to work and back. One respite is that you can hire a chauffeur so you could use the driving time wisely.

All in all, it was a special experience and I made some very good life-long friends. I felt a sense of patriotism to live and work there. For those considering a move, I highly recommend it; just calibrate your expectations based on some of the points above.

 

The US employment visa (H1B) and employment based green card system is severely broken. It gives undue advantage and power to employers. And given the insufficient visibility and scrutiny in this system, employers often take advantage of this when dealing with immigrant workers. I have been on a temporary visa now in the US for 12 years and have personally experienced many of the consequences of this power imbalance.

To give some background, the USCIS requires that for most work visas the process be initiated and managed by the employer. Typically, the employer has to prove inability to find American talent and then make a case to hire immigrants. This is applicable for various temporary visas (H1B, L1) and also for permanent visas (employment based green cards). And there is a legal requirement that employers pay immigrants on par with Americans so that an American worker is not disadvantaged when competing for the same job with an immigrant.

Now this system could have worked had the visa processes and timelines were transparent, trackable and consistent. But the quotas on these visas run out so quickly resulting in a huge backlog for many of these visas. Consequently, employers get disproportionate power over their employees.

Here are some specific ways in which it screws employees who are at the mercy of their employer to file their visas and green cards.

* Negotiation tactic: HR often uses the argument of immigration paper work as a negotiation tactic. “We can only offer you this because we also have to bear the costs of your visa”. Now this argument is illegal and can get companies into severe trouble. But.. it still happens all the time. Consequently immigrants often end up with a poorer compensation or job grade during negotiations. Further, it also hurts American employees as employers find it attractive to hire immigrant workers for cheaper.

* Arbitrary rules: Employers start setting arbitrary rules requiring immigrant employees to wait for 6 months or 12 months before applying for the green card. This is great for the employer because no matter what happens the immigrant is likely to stick around waiting out for their green card to get started.

* Unfair promotions and pay raises: Now that the immigrant employee is locked-in there is not much incentive for the employer to promote them or adjust their pay according to their contribution. I have personally witnessed this on various occasions. It doesn’t seem there’s a law protecting the immigrant employee on this. And even if there is a law, given there’s no objective way to track this, it’s quite easy for an employer to manipulate by saying ‘they are only performing at a lower level’.

* Conservative approach: HR often forgets that they have a dual role. While they are supposed to protect the company, they forget to be an ally for the employee. As a result, they end up taking the most conservative approach when filing for any visa just because there’s a 0.001% chance that the company might get into trouble. This results in further delays for employees.

* Severe layoff impact – scenario 1: And let’s say the employer is going through tough times, nothing stops them from laying off immigrants. The problems for immigrants are now lot more complicated. Simply put, they have to leave the country. The visa rules are very fuzzy about the legal duration one can stay in the country after being laid off. So they are left with little or no time to find another job. And don’t forget that the new employer has to agree to file for their visa again!

* Severe layoff impact – scenario 2: Even if the immigrant does not lose his/her job, layoffs can impact visa processing quite seriously. Generally, employers will often stop any visa paper work. The argument is that if we are laying off, it’s risky to file for a visa or a green card. The missing point is that the person laid off can not potentially fill this job for technical and practical reasons. Could you tell an immigrant employee ‘Hey Joe (American) is getting laid off, but you are an immigrant so stop doing what you are doing and let Joe take over’?

* Affects employee motivation: As a result of the above lock-ins, employees are sometimes stuck in jobs they don’t enjoy. They end up with low motivation levels, hate their job and their bosses. This impacts productivity and surprisingly employers don’t seem to notice. And honestly, bosses hate to deal with employee’s immigration stuff, it’s quite unrewarding.

* Improper treatment: Finally, employers often make us literally beg for any immigration paper work even if it’s a completely required activity (e.g. H1B refiling, green card filing). Employees tend to be very careful not pissing off HR fearing that they can play hard ball when the time comes to renew visas or file the green card. This is quite demeaning and my self-respect has been hurt on more than a few occasions by having to put up with some bureaucratic BS.

Overall this is a very unfair system for the immigrant employee. Employers have disproportionate power and they end up screwing up immigrants all the time. The more effective system would be a point-based system that is in place in the UK, Canada, Australia and some other countries. Employees are qualified based on the number of points they can accumulate either because of their advanced degree or years of experience or their specialty. This system is a lot more objective and evens out the power imbalance between the employer and the employee.

I have personally been impacted by this and am still waiting in the green card queue even after 12 years in this country! And to put it mildly, it’s extremely frustrating.

 
Lately I have seen a lot of deal activity in the digital incentives space in India ranging from group buying and flash sales to TV group deals and comparison shopping. While it's quite exciting to see all this excitement it's clearly a sign of riding the hype. In the case of group buying a lot of investors are riding the Groupon hype that's been in the buzz for the last few months with Google trying to acquire it for a huge valuation. The deal never happened and Groupon chose wisely to move on independently. Now setting aside all the unnecessary hype, I do feel that there is a significant opportunity for digital incentives in India.
The key driver is the rapid growth of the retail sector in India in the last few years. It seems that it will continue to grow at 11.4% annually to reach $543B by 2014. Further, access to credit/debit cards is also driving ecommerce at a healthy pace. Digital incentives, both for ecommerce and brick and mortar products and services, are also influenced by these macro trends. This will be the inflection point for small businesses to start advertising on digital media (both online and mobile).
There are 3 main areas within this space that have shown a lot of activity. First, group buying or daily deal sites like Deals For You, SnapDeal and Taggle which rely on the group phenomenon and virality as a key mechanism to drive awareness. All of them have had some kind of investment infusion in the last 12 months. Most of these sites focus on driving awareness for local lifestyle businesses from restaurants and spas to travel getaways. Then there are flash sales sites like Fashion And You, 99 Labels and Exclusively.in. These focus on driving sales of branded exclusive products by limiting membership based on user demographics. I particularly like Exclusively.in's model because it focuses on selling Indian fashion goods to people living abroad. Fashion and You raised money from Sequoia India and Exclusively.in raised from Accel & Helion. Finally, there are odds and ends like Cellcast (group buying on TV), Naaptol (shopping comparison) and Flipkart & InfiBeam (plain ecommerce sites).
There are two main areas of opportunity. First, no one offers a thoroughly mobile experience and whoever does this best will likely lead the pack. One of the key limitations to ecommerce's rapid has been poor Internet access in the country. Mobile is the key medium through which you can reach a very broad audience. Second, it has to tie in virality and social concepts into incentives. The premise of group buying is to drive the power of 'word of mouth'. These incentives have to leverage social networks in India effectively to achieve broad success.
Clearly, there are too many players in the market and some will disappear. Also, discount margins will come down from the insance 80-90% you see at the moment. But the digital incentives phenomena will have a significant impact on making digital commerce main stream in India.
 
 
Our team has been using GetJar for the last few months to host our Java based mobile app called Nokia Communties. It is claimed to be the 2nd largest app store after Apple's AppStore and it does an above average job of reaching potential downloaders. However, it has quite a few rough edges and there is definitely scope for improving app stores.
The main things I liked about the service are:
1. It's quite straightforward to setup and host your app
2. Provides decent options to target your audience (primarily by geography and device)
3. Quite a bit of stats to breakdown by geography and device
4. Ability to create & run promotions
5. It allows app hosting which makes it easy to share it across desktop and mobile sites
However, I feel there are a bunch of things it needs to do better. Firstly, the stats seem quite inflated. In our case it shows 3 times the downloads compared with registrations on our database. Secondly, the stats provided don't provide reliable information on success/failures of installations. Finally, customer sales & support are running a thin staff and aren't equipped to address issues relating to impressions and conversions.

The reason we are continuing promotions are because it's quite affordable. They charge by CPD (Cost Per Download) which is quite unique. Also, it works for us because our app is free. If you want to charge for your app then it doesn't support it just yet.

I would still highly recommend it to developers as this is one of the few cross platform stores which makes your job easier as a developer.
 

A couple of weeks ago I read Audacity of Hope. Reading it after Obama’s election as president was somewhat strange. I viewed his promises and ideas more critically and as its evident now, he has not been able to live upto many of these. It felt like that all that idealism that drew people and promised hope for many was just that – unachievable ideals. It is so hard to implement many of those ideas and plans. Nevertheless, it was an enriching and insightful read because of his thorough understanding of various issues and mainly because of his authentic style.

On TV, to appeal to a broad audience, he resorts to simple language. But here in the book he takes it up a notch and uses his best rhetoric. He has thought through many different issues and aspects of the American life and it clearly shows. From the various policy matters to matters of religion, race, family and values. I have new found appreciation for his intelligence, knowledge and self-awareness.

The book, as intended, does an excellent job of covering all the essential elements to create a formidable platform for his presidential elections. What is remarkable is that he could craft a book while serving as a full time US senator! The timing of launch, the authenticity of thoughts and the fresh approach to politics clearly help set the tone for his successful election.

He does a good job of drawing common ground among a people of diverse ethnicities, religion, nationality and political affiliation. He definitely views America’s role very differently than most other American presidents. He treads a good balance between being an isolationist and unwanted involvement in matters of other nations. He takes a centrist approach much as he does on many other issues.

In the end, words are only worth so much. Post election Obama has struggled to pass any significant bill with bi-partisan support. The democratic system in the US has become highly polarized and is coming in the way of progress that it badly needs to address the various domestic issues from jobs & healthcare to energy & education.

Great read if you want to learn more about the man and his intellectual prowess. It also gives a great view of the state of politics and the various issues being faced by today’s America.

 

I have previously blogged about the New Venture Creation program at BITS Pilani. This last Sunday we hosted its first ever Entrepreneur Day. Students at Pilani are hidden away in a remote place and don’t get to meet entrepreneurs that often. And even if they do, it is not with the purpose of being coached for their startups.

This E-Day was an event setup to get students face to face with Entrepreneurs, hear a couple of startup stories, practice pitching and then get 1-1 coaching for their startups.

Vish Bajaj, Founder and CEO of ValueFirst, gave a highly motivating and humorous talk about his personal entrepreneurial journey. Ajay Chaturvedi, Founder and CEO of HarVa, talked about his rural BPO and more importantly emphasized his startup’s focus is on value creation and not empowerment or social upliftment. Gagan, Founder of ValueFirst, and Sujit Panigrahi, Founder of Convergent, also shared their experiences.

But the most exciting part of the day were the student pitches followed by coaching sessions for each team. The pitches were well rehearsed and most of them were quite clear about their business idea. Of course they need to tighten the business case and the launch plan which is the next phase for them. I am bullish that at least 3 teams out of these 9 will form a startup straight after graduation. Let’s see!

For rest of the pictures go to the E-Day album.

 
I have been following some blogs for the last few years quite diligently and have come to learn a ton about building startups, particularly in the Internet space. These blogs have informed, educated and inspired me in many ways. They cover a broad range of topics and I love the fact that there is so much to learn from their experiences. One of the things it has inspired me to do is share personal opinions on topics that appeal to me instead of just cursory coverage of information/news which is available plentiful on the web. Given that I have learned a lot from these, I decided to dedicate this blog post to the bloggers I have come to appreciate over time. Here we go in no particular order.
AVC by Fred Wilson: One of the most prolific startup bloggers and a rock star in my opinion. His VC firm, Union Square Ventures, has spotted gold with many startups including Foursquare, Twitter, Etsy among others. The insights that I learn each day from Fred are just brilliant and he’s my favorite blogger. This is a must-read blog for anyone in the Internet/mobile/media startup space.
Both Sides of the Table by Mark Suster: I came to know of Mark quite recently through Fred’s posts. I like his posts mainly because they cover all topics in a lot of depth. For example, he covered The Future of Television & The Digital Living Room in such great depth that it really strengthens one’s business understanding.
Ben Horowitz: His blogs are great to learn about people management at startups. Like Mark, he does a great job of covering topics with good depth.
Seeing Both Sides by Jeffrey Bussgang: I know Jeff from my b-school days and like him as a person. His blogs are great for VC specific topics and New England startup topics. He doesn’t write very frequently but his posts are well crafted and quite educative.
Above the Crowd by Bill Gurley: Bill is a legendary Silicon Valley VC. I heard him talk during my MBA Silicon Valley trek where he amazed me by the startup insights he shared. I have followed his blog since then and found it interesting. He writes quite infrequently but each post is very well thought it and highly opinionated.
Feld Thoughts by Brad Feld: He writes quite frequently and focuses more on sharing interesting news bites and startup advice. It’s a great blog if you want to hear about events and happenings in the startup world. He’s also one of my favorites because of two reasons. 1. He’s a sloanie 2. He’s the guy behind Startup Visa.
Some of the other startup blogs I follow less frequently are:
The Monster in Your Head by Jerry Colonna
And my favorite tech news blogs are the usual suspects:
If you think I should add some more to my reading list, please let me know in the comments below.
Enjoy reading these!
 

While I have never visited China, it has always mystified me. So I decided to read a book to get a deep dive into the nation that is a world in itself. I picked this book based on recommendations on Amazon and it turned out to be quite educative.

I had taken a course at MIT on China which focused mostly on all the success stories of its rapidly growing economy. But this book viewed China from a different angle, from the east going to west.

The author goes through a soul searching trip from Shanghai on the east coast to all the way Urumqi on the western end where it ends into Kazakhstan. He spends most of his time on Route 312 traveling by cabs, buses and other local commute options. And in true journalistic fashion interviews random people he meets on his road trip, with the simple purpose to learn from the stories of common Chinese people. It is brilliantly crafted and has a very personable reading style.

The book touches on various topics in the context of modern day China. Some of these are:
History: Rob gives a snapshot of the various dynasties from Qing, Ming, Tang and many others that ruled for several years followed by the modern era which ended the imperial rule. While the Republic of China tried to drive industrialization and modernization, there were several internal disputes that resisted significant change. Finally it culminated with the Sino Japanese war and the formation of a separate, smaller ROC, now Taiwan. This resulted in the formation of PRC under Mao Zedong who drove the socialistic transformation of PRC. 1979 was the inflection point when Deng Xiaoping embarked China on the road to economic reforms and a decent balance with Communism was achieved.

Communism: Rob seems like a die-hard believer of democracy. So while he still loves China for various reasons including its history, culture and people, he is unable to give in to the ideological differences he has with the country. There are numerous examples from the lives of common Chinese that support his standpoint. He goes further to explain why Chinese people have never been able to develop checks and balances on state power which he attributes to political, ideological and social reasons.

Rural China: Across rural China, there are millions of stories about lack of water (due to dried up or polluted rivers), lack of women (due to the one-child policy that made couples favor a son) and lack of opportunities. The road to the east is the only hope to a better future for most of them.

Chinese dilemma: The nation needs to empower its people to become strong but its Communistic roots can’t let the people be too empowered. The government wants advanced education without encouraging people to think. The tension is between the need to enforce orthodoxy in order to retain unity and the need to allow freedom in order to encourage creativity.

Tibet and Islamic China: He also makes a stop in Tibet and Islamic China. The Buddhist monks are afraid to lose their identity. Beijing is encouraging hordes of Han Chinese to migrate to these areas to keep communal tensions at Bay. For many Tibetans, sticking to the rules of the Chinese government is their best hope for their future generations so they put up with it. Similarly, while Uighars and other indigenous Islamic people are clinging onto their identity, the great wall in the minds of Muslim Chinese and the Han Chinese stands very firm. Beijing is trying to buy off the Muslim peoples with economic opportunities, education and transportation to the West.

China is a complex country with many socio-political tensions at various levels. There is a lot of subliminal unrest in people. But the rapidly growing economic opportunities are keeping any revolutionary tendencies at bay. Beijing is therefore frantically working hard to keep the economic pace as brisk as possible.

 

This is the second year in running of a new program we have started at BITS, Pilani called New Venture Creation. It’s a startup course for engineering undergrads and grads which is running very successfully and is filling an important unmet need on campus.

When I had started on this path, the objective was to create a seed fund for campus which students could utilize to launch their startup. However, I discovered through my early interactions that the real need is for formal mentoring and not money.

So we created this program in the form of a course where students are selected through an application process, come up with their team and idea, are assigned a mentor. They spend the entire semester then creating their startup by working on the nuts and bolts.

You can find a more detailed overview about the program on the CEL website along with the list of mentors and speakers.

We learned three main things through this program:
1) Huge demand: Students previously felt a void to learn the ropes of creating a startup. They have a center of entrepreneurship but it doesn’t teach nuts and bolts of business. But this program meets their needs very well in a practical manner. The program has 14 startup teams from two years and some of them had to be turned away because we couldn’t run such a large program.
2) Gap in industry connect: A unique aspect of learning is through industry connect. Students need to learn and interact with experienced entrepreneurs and professionals in order to learn the real deal about building a startup. There’s a big gap in this area and being 6 hours away from Delhi doesn’t help a bit. The way we are bridging this gap is through virtual lectures and mentoring, an integral part of this course.
3) Unlimited enthusiasm: I can distinctly recall my time at BITS, Pilani when it felt that everything was within my reach and I would conquer the world. That same enthusiasm and confidence is beaming through these kids and they are filled with ambition and passion to create the next big startup. Their risk appetite is much higher at this age and they are willing to learn and try new things quickly.

Last year, one startup from 5 teams stood out and was awarded a small seed fund, lots of mentoring, access to personal networks and incubation space. They went on to win their first customer within 6 months and just recently have been short listed in the top 20 finalists out of 16,200 applications in Economic Times’ Power of Ideas competition. The team has decided to pursue their startup after graduation instead of taking up a job in some large company.

This year we have 9 teams and they all have very interesting business ideas and we are confident that 2 or 3 teams will emerge with the ability to pursue this as a real startup.

I wonder about the potential of such a program in surfacing the best startup talent. If we conduct a similar program across the hundreds of engineering colleges in India, we can easily bring out hundreds of young entrepreneurs each year. Similar programs/courses in American undergrad colleges help bring out startup talent there and should be replicated more aggressively by Indian colleges too.

 

People often rave about cool ideas and great strategies in all companies big and small. I used to believe on the same lines for a while until I entered business school and saw the massive divide between thinkers and doers.

I know several great ‘idea people’ who amaze everyone by their innovative ideas for the world they live in, the companies they work for and for themselves. But many of them are just not able to execute or actualize any of their plans and ideas. As a result ideas remain just that – ideas! And that’s how I believe the phrase came about – ‘ideas are dime a dozen’.

One needs to have energy and execution to be able to make meaning of ideas. The ability to put thought into action and the motivation to drive things to fruition and generate measurable results are critical aspects for producing real, tangible success. Jack Welch’s 4Es also include Energy and Execution as two key factors behind successful business leaders.

People who give too much credit to ideas waste too much time in perfecting their ideas as a result wasting too much time in getting started. I see tons of people at work creating pretty slides and sitting in countless meetings to perfect their ‘ideas’. The counter intuitive thing is to get started. If one starts executing quickly, they will not only encounter potential problems sooner but are also able to solve them more effectively because there is a real context.

There’s just a small catch though. It’s not sufficient to run fast and get things done, you also need to run in a fairly right direction. Otherwise you achieve results but they are not sizeable and meaningful.

The reason I am typing this post is because I am seeing a lot of poor execution around me these days. These people and the companies they are in are unable to execute and are continuously attributing it to a wrong strategy or a bad idea. My simple answer to them “stop analyzing too much and get things done!”

 

I have been in India for about 8 months now and am launching a new business in emerging markets. During this time, I have experienced quite a few things about working in India. One area that’s worth sharing about is my experience with hiring. You would benefit from this post if you are setting up a team either at a large company or at your startup.

When I started it was just me driving this business. We are now a team of 15 of which 9 were hired and 6 are from an existing team. We hired 1 product manager, 1 technical lead and 7 contract engineers.

Engineers need room to be innovative
Large IT firms are the starting grounds for many fresh engineering graduates. These firms are bustling with neophytes who have had little exposure. The IT services model encourages engineers to write code according to well defined specs and are incentivized by how many KLOC are written. We had a tough time time finding people who had real-world experience building mobile Internet services. We finally decided to pick individuals who we thought we could mould. We encouraged the hires to think innovatively and have an opinion on the stuff they were working. The net-net is that if you want to build standard stuff with a well defined process leave the entire thing to the outsourcing firm. If not you will have to manage the engineers on your own.

Hiring a Product Manager
It was quite difficult to come across candidates with the right blend of experience and innovative thinking. We sifted through several resumes and had a difficult time even shortlisting candidates. Most candidates could not even articulate PM responsibilities. We often ended up with candidates who were more project managers and less product managers. We filled this opening with a candidate from Yahoo! Lucky for us, many people were leaving Yahoo! and we got our hands on one of them. Realistically, referrals are your best option to fill non-technical managerial positions.

Specialized tech skills are difficult to find
I thought it would be quite straightforward to hire a tech lead given all the brouhaha about Indian IT firms. However, I was surprised that it was not so. While we received lots of resumes, most of them didn’t have any practical experience managing and leading teams. Many were aspiring to leave hands-on work and become ‘managers’. We finally found someone in Singapore through a head hunter. We are now on the look out for an operations engineer to setup and scale our Internet servers. Let’s see how that goes. Your best shot for specialized tech skills is looking through head hunters.

Over emphasis on experience
Generally speaking there’s too much emphasis on ‘years of experience’. Throughout our hiring process, I didn’t see a single resume that was less than three pages. In fact one HR person who I complained to told me that they filter candidates based on the length of the resumes! This culture leaves little room for meritocracy. Therefore you often see the smart kids chasing MNCs that don’t merely focus on experience or join startups where they get more latitude.

Finding talent is not that easy here. In my opinion there are two main reasons. One is that people don’t stick to a single job long enough which is required to develop professional depth. Second, there aren’t sufficient role models. For example you need good product managers around you to become a good product manager yourself.

In spite of all this, the trend is very positive. One consistent theme is that people work really hard! They’ll stay as long as it requires. That’s a very positive thing. And as they start to realize that to differentiate hard work alone is not enough, they’ll start focusing on learning new skills to differentiate themselves.

 

I just finished reading Outliers. I have previosuly read his Tipping Point and Blink and I can say that this book has also opened my mind in yet another dimension.

Unlike his previous books, this one starts with stories of people (Bill Gates, Bill Joy and Steve Jobs) whose stories I am generally familiar with. So it was quite interesting to learn about the events and situations that made them Outliers.

His stories about ethnicity of pilots and how it relates to plane crashes is quite eye opening and, to some extent, hard to believe. However, the chapter of rice paddy fields and it’s relevance to the Chinese math prowess is simply a stretch.

The key point of his book – the impact of timing, family and cultural history – is something I can personally relate to. I grew up in one of the ‘inner-city’ areas in Chennai and it seems quite surprising how I was still able to get all the education and exposure. But its quite obvious now that there were specific things that happened in my life for the way things turned out. 

My maternal grand father, who was a lawyer, was educated in the UK at a time when it was not that common among Indians. Given his global exposure, he encouraged and supported my mom’s education. My mom also became a lawyer, which was quite unusual in the ‘marwari’ community which does not generally encourage women to study and work. And because of her passion to educate me, I ended up in a top school in Chennai in spite of the not-so-educated neighborhood and society. Now this school had all the ingredients to prepare me for a professional career that I now have. 

I have always believed that more than half your life’s path is determined in the context you are born – time, place, family, economy, culture, religion etc. Still there is quite a lot that is not predetermined and is left to the choices one makes in their lives. Those choices determine whether you live a happy life or not. Outliers does a great job of putting facts and research behind this belief.

© 2011 Abhinav Khushraj Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha