Prime Minister Narenda Modi

27 impressions from CEO’s and business leaders – Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his visit to Silicon Valley

I am good at saying one thing and doing another, but I did a lot of work on this blog post, so please bear with me. I promised not to cover the PM visit any more, but this one I need to write up. I must also warn you that this post will be long (4000+ words), so grab a cup of coffee. There may be a few typos as well, so I apologize. Finally this has taken over 2 hours to write, so please do share with your friends if you like it and ask people to share (if they like it as well).

Over the weekend I had a chance to be a part of the Prime Minister’s Silicon Valley outreach program, where I had a chance to meet with over a hundred technology luminaries and billionaires from the technology world.

I was keen to learn their impressions of the Prime Minister and since they were all champions of technology and business, I was also interested in learning about what they felt after meeting him. I would LOVE to put names against each and every one of these quotes, but I am not sure many of them would like the attribution. Where possible I have provided names.

Many of the quotes are verbatim and in a few instances I have paraphrased since I forgot the exact words they used. I am very aware of the controversy surrounding the past of the PM, and am very ambivalent about my own position on him “the individual” versus his position and power. Here are the 27 impressions across a cross-section of people. This is purely anecdotal evidence, and writing as opposed to the data driven posts that I like to write.

  1. He means business“. This was the dominant impression and the exact words from 3 CEO’s. The interesting part of what it signifies to “mean business” is not commercial, but that his attitude is “very dhandha like” at times and “sometimes strategic business development like” said 2 people. I think we can attribute the “Dhandha” part to his regional and cultural roots, but that does not explain it all. He wants to trade and expects to give you something in return for something you will have to do. There is a sense of short-term and some longer term benefit as well, is what I hear. When I asked how that was different from their impressions of previous leaders they met from the government, they explained that there was a large dose of “preaching” about how they should give back to their motherland and country, but no commitment to give something in return for their efforts. Which to me is not surprising, given these titans are used to “give and take” as peers.
  2. He gives you confidence“: The PM makes you want to believe. Even though we know that the reality may be otherwise, and change is hard to effect in a place as diverse as India. “You can make change” is the underlying theme, and he gives you the impression that “he has your back” if you run into issues. This was a very senior and respected CEO of a large company and I am not sure what “has your back” means, since I did not get a chance to ask him, but 2 other CEO’s mentioned that “retroactive taxes” and “surprising and unexpected” tax regimes were going away.
  3. He is an attentive listener“. Unlike most politicians who are good at “giving bashshan” and lecturing business people on how they should be socially responsible, create jobs and save the environment, he was asking questions, probing and requesting clarification. This was a CEO of an education company, and I only got 2 minutes with him (the CEO), but I do remember another Managing Director of a large company in India, who was there as well, mentioning the same. Listening does not come naturally to people in power, so I was pleasantly surprised on this one.
  4. “His grasp of issues faced by startups is very good”. This was unexpected and the person mentioning this is someone I know for a long time and trust a lot. Startups are a strange beast to most people. They ought to be – they are like children who start “taking when they are born”, have an opinion even before they have a well formed mind and always interrupt the “adults” and talk about disrupting the “adults, or larger companies” all the time. The clarification I got from this quote was about how he was willing to accept ideas that were alien to many politicians regarding startups including easy bankruptcy laws and automating many of the clearances they required. Not sure any of these will actually get incorporated into law, but he understands that those are top of mind for startups.
  5. His understanding of nuances in new technologies and their “grey area” is very solid.” This was an American CEO, who has been trying to push his technology company in India with some tough push back from local governments. He is fairly young, so that’s the reason for his choice of “solid”. I think what he means is that the PM’s basic understanding of the fundamentals and the levers of new, unproven technologies was on firm ground. Many new technologies start in largely the “grey” area, and some are downright “illegal” by existing legal definitions, so I suspect he was hoping to influence the PM to help ensure that the government does not block new technologies under the pretext of “existing” norms being flouted, which he felt were wrong in the first place. He gave me the impression that after a 12-15 minute conversation with the PM, he felt that he would be heard and people he was trying to influence would get the word to go easy on startups with innovative new models.
  6. “His appreciation for the power of technology is very commendable”, said Reid Hoffman, who had very little time with him, but left impressed and appreciative that a global leader, running the largest democracy was thinking about using the power of technology instead of trying to get it under government control. Reid was on stage with the PM for quite a bit of time, and had an audience afterwards as well. Reid had a chance to talk to many other world leaders about his books and meet with many young people as well, so I respect his perspective on the use of technology to empower the disenfranchised. He seemed to give me the impression that the PM understood how to use technology to “scale” not just to get started.
  7. “He is insightful.”This was from a woman who had 5 minutes with the PM to talk about the issues of women in technology. I was surprised she took her time to talk about the larger women’s cause, rather than her own company’s agenda, but she is nice that way. The “insightful” part I gathered later was something was a byproduct of the PM, surrounding himself with really good people who could quickly distill the issues and replay back, in their own words, what needed to be done to help women, at technology companies, in India.
  8. He is a pretty charming guy, both in person and in a larger setting”.I heard this from the person seated next to me during dinner on day 1. This individual was the technology head of a large company and had flown in just for the dinner at the request of his CEO, who was at the main table with the PM. Throughout the speech that Mr. Modi gave before dinner there were many topical references and subtle acknowledgments of trends. While we realized that those were written by the speech writer, the PM’s delivery style was personable and real, which seemed to indicate that he was delivering it impromptu, not rehearsed. One in particular that stood out, was (I am paraphrasing here) “Good to meet you all here, in person, after meeting on FB, Twitter, Instagram”. It was as if he was continuing the “conversation” from a previous time.
  9. He has a measured speaking style, not going into extremes of praise or chiding. This quote came from Venkatesh Shukla, who is the President of TIE, Silicon Valley. He was in multiple sessions with the PM and had an opportunity to meet with him the most during this event. I think Venk (as he’s called) had the chance to see the PM in many circumstances and during the entire day at times. Which gives me the sense that the PM is very even keel, calm and those “temper tantrums” and “bouts of anger” which he is apparently known for are reserved for “special occasions”, or not a part of his “game face”, especially when meeting top CEO’s.
  10. He is keen to engage in dialogue. His listens, but also interrupts when he thinks you did not clarify a statement. We all know of people who say a lot and others that “talk less, do more”, but he seems to be finding that balance and wants to get to the root of the issue quickly. This quote was from a startup CEO who had a few minutes, with the PM.
  11. He is relentless in his pursuit of economic and social impact in India. During day 1 at the digital dinner, the PM actually came out of his way to come and say hello to the CEO of this large Indian technology company, so I know that this person has met with the PM several times. The PM actually mentioned him by last name. Asked to clarify, he said that in many meetings with the PM, he gets a document about how that conversation could help one of the PM’s top agenda items – Digital India, Smart Cities Initiative, Swacch Bharat, etc.
  12. He has an agenda for every meeting but is also flexible to listen to alternate outcomesThis was from a woman who was a fund raiser for the PM. I dont know her too well, and met her briefly for a few minutes, but she was all praises for the PM’s “flexibility” and his focused approach to meeting. I think she giving him a lot more credit and I would say this is something that his team and office of the PMO does, but I do admit that the PM sets the tone for his team.
  13. He is respectful and not dismissive. I forget who mentioned this, but this was at the reception before the digital dinner. This person had just finished a meeting with the PM and his CEO and apparently the meeting was a little “tense” since they have been trying to resolve an issue for a long time. I was surprised to hear that the PM did hear alternative options and while I am not sure anything came out of this meeting, (I dont know actually), the fact that the CEO and team felt they were listened to gave this person the impression that the PM respected their opinion.
  14. He is very crafty in his use of the news and media, which most tech CEO’s tend to not have. This was mentioned by a young lady who I met after dinner, at drinks with a lot of us trying to form impressions of day 1. There is some controversy about the video with Mark Z, but I am not sure what to make of it. First I laughed, then I felt a little weird and then was not sure if the PM really likes the press and media, or he is just savvy and most of us (Mark Z, including) are not. Most people, including this lady, gave him the benefit of doubt, saying that the PM knows that the press, media and through them the rest of the world was keen to watch and learn. The press, though, loves Mr. Modi and has a sense of national pride, when they cover him was the impression this lady gave us.
  15. He is an excellent orator, very powerful in his use of gestures and body language. BVR Mohan Reddy, the Chairman of NASSCOM was the one who observed this. He intently watched the PM using his hands and gestures to make a point and came away telling me that he learned a lot. Mr. Reddy had a part in the Startup Konnect program and he pulled it off pretty well, but you could tell that he was very impressed with Mr. Modi’s stage presence.
  16. He allows you to create a good sense of visual imagery in his speeches. This was the CEO of a Iceland “glacier” water company, who sat next to me. He was born in Bangalore, where I lived, and he spent most of his time in Chennai. He was the last person I expected to listen to the PM’s speech given how far away from technology he was, but he said that the PM’s speech gave him the ability to visualize how smart cities would be in 20 years. He also felt that the vision that the PM had set had very grounded intent.
  17. He has immense energy. I am not sure what he drinks or eats. Rajan Anandan, the MD of Google India, and I spent a lot of time together. Rajan was also with the PM and the Google CEO Sunder Pichai and others at Google on Sunday. Rajan was so impressed with the PM’s energy that he wanted to know what the PM ate. (P.S. I do too). “He was always turned on, asking questions about the Loon technology, wondering if they had cameras, what their span was, what the battery life was, etc.”Rajan said he never saw a yawn, a sense of fatigue or boredom from the PM throughout the sessions he was with the PM.
  18. He did not seem tired at all even though there was repetition of issues faced by several people in different meetings. Many people mentioned this to me. One very prominent VC from the bay area, who mentioned this to me said the same issue was “beaten” to death by many people – taxes and easy of buying Indian technology companies by US corporations. The PM, though, was patiently listening to the same issue, asking different questions and trying to “scope the surface area” of the problem, said this VC. This VC has been an operating executive and a very successful founder before, so he has working knowledge of the fact that most people were haring on the same issues.
  19. He has a sense of dressing is keen, he wants his clothes to create a good impression as well. Before you dismiss this as a stereotypical comment from a woman, this CEO is an extremely accomplished woman, who has started and founded a great company and sold it as well. Her impression was that the “dress” portrayed a sense of “attention to detail”, which the PM is known for. This is not new, since the PM is known for his sense of dressing up. The thing that I underestimated was the impression that it had on people. I am not one who cares about dressing or what I wear, but it creates a sense of confidence among many folks.
  20. He understands that people like him and I think that’s what helps him drive his agenda forward. KB Chandrashekar was the founder of Exodus and a now runs Jamcracker. He’s a very good friend as well. The thing that he mentioned to me was that the PM has been able to build an image (through the press, etc.) that has people thinking he is a focused and decisive person. This makes many business people “like” to do business with him. KB pointed to me again, that when you like people, you are going to make a few more concessions, Unlike previous leaders, he said, where there was “respect” and maybe some “admiration”, there is a deep “liking” for Modi, which the PM uses well to his advantage.
  21. He is more of a leader of the youth than a “youth leader”. Most Indians will understand this well. We are used to seeing 50 year old leaders projected as “youth leaders”. This observation that he is a leader of the youth was done by a very young CEO who recently moved to the US from India. A “youth leader” is someone who is young and is a leader, whereas the leader of the youth is someone the youth aspire to be like. I am still not sure what part of the PM’s personality or behavior or traits do the youth want to emulate, but there’s enough fodder in his persona for the “youth” to look up to. The CEO I said, spoke about 3 things that the PM had going for him – a superb command over the use of technology, a deep sense of national pride and an ability to connect with people to get business done.
  22. He seems to have a good memory. He did not remember my name, but he remembered that we met him 4 months ago at another event. R. Chandrashekar, who is the President of NASSCOM has been in many events with the PM (and has a selfie to prove it as well), was the one who said this. When I talked to one of the officers at the PMO, he said the PM meets about 25 new people one-one daily. That’s a lot of people. To remember RC and mention to him that he was pleased that he came from India to be in the valley was a big deal. He remembered that he met RC a few months ago and took the time to talk about one incident from that previous meeting. I don’t think I remember some meetings or people I met from last week.
  23. He is a great ambassador for India. He gives me the desire to want to engage with India. This was a comment from a high profile American CEO who I have met once before. After his meeting with the PM (which was his 3rd meeting), he said he always felt optimistic and energized after meeting Mr. Modi. I asked him which other world leader made him feel that way. He said he met with US President Barak Obama and felt the same way. He could not think of another person who made him feel the same way. That’s saying a lot. Either I put him on the spot, and so he was trying to be nice (and he’s an extremely nice person) or he genuinely felt that way. I will give him the benefit of the doubt.
  24. He seems to say the right things, but I am not sure yet if he will follow through. This was a comment from an Indian VC (who lives in the bay area) and I have translated it from a Hindi quote (“Kaam Kum, Baateyain Zyada). I heard this from others as well, who are still waiting for the PM’s reforms to happen. They are the ones who possibly understand the realities on ground in India and having done business there, they believe there’s not much change except for people’s more optimistic perspectives over the last year. To be fair, over the last year, the drop in oil prices and no major terrorist activity has contributed to the optimism and economic uplift than any other thing, but this VC said he felt the PM was making many promises, but unable to deliver on many of them.
  25. He has surrounded himself with some very smart people, who I have been talking to and they get it. Many of the folks in the organizing committee were dealing with the PMO more than the PM himself, and they gave me the impression that his staff is very plugged in. They are willing to do away with some red tape, are able to modify and think on their feet and happy to make up things on the fly. This was different from my own experiences with the security and PMO teams though, which I can understand. The security teams were pretty anal about my choice of location to stand, my use of certain words or phrases and seemed to be rather heavy handed, but I understand they did not want to embarrass the PM at all.
  26. He is not afraid to tell us what we don’t want to hear it seems. He asked us to step up the efforts to get more technology in the hands of remote villages instead of only focusing on top metros. This was a comment from a person who was at the Facebook event, and spoke to me about how some of the privacy issues and the data security (NSA stuff apparently) were things the PM brought to the FB folks attention. I was told that this was one of many such instances, when the PM was asking folks to invest in “Bharat” and not only “India”. He said the payoff would be in the very long term and may be much less, but the opportunity to capture the minds and hearts of Indians, who are the most loyal starts in the villages.
  27. He seems to be constantly selling himself and India, which at times seems good and other times seems perturbing. I got this comment both in positive light and sometimes negative from many people as well. The folks who considered this to be positive, claimed he was a great salesman for India – progressive, articulate and energetic. They want the impression that most foreigners have – one of snake charmers or crimes against women and low cost IT tech resources – to one of a growing nation, which has a host of problems, but has diversity and youth as its biggest advantages and cause of most of its challenges. The sales pitch was, according to one CEO, tremendous number of youth, large and aspiring middle-class population with excellent disposable incomes, relatively well educated metros and untapped rural areas, with opportunities in Internet, Communications, social and digital media.

So there you have it. 27 impressions from many CEO’s and business leaders on the Prime Minister and his visit. Now I will give you my take on the impressions from Americans who were at the event alone.

There were many parts that resonated more with Americans than Indians about Mr. Modi.

First, most had heard of the issues at Gujarat, and were not clear on the details, but felt that everyone has flaws and the PM does as well.Most Americans in the bay area form their impressions of Indians either at work or those they have to work with in India (offshore). They see our families stress education and see the impact it has on our kids – both positive and otherwise. They realize the stereotypical nature of our impressions – yet they feel Indians “fit in” more than any other group. Or they try hard to at least. They believe that the PM was representative of most Indians they have met, more than other leaders they see. Sometimes charming, oftentimes confusing, occasionally boorish, but largely nice.

One American woman who was at a table next to us said it best – “We love a leader who has made mistakes, since that reminds us that they are like us”.

Second, they realize we are more like them – We eulogize heroes and are willing to give successful people the benefit of doubt, sometimes to our own detriment. That’s something uniquely common to Americans and Indians.

The most important comment I heard from a gentleman sitting a couple of tables away from me about this was “I always thought of India as socialist. This guy (the PM) is a sure sign that you are not. This PM signifies an end to socialist India to a capitalist democracy. That makes you guys more like us”.

Finally, most are not necessarily changing their opinion on how hard it is to do business in India or with Indians. They believe it is hard to do business in China, but it is harder in India. Many gave me the impression that you have to be very patient and “find your way” in India. The fundamental reasons are their impression that even if the leader and PM wants to move to a more “capitalist” form, the rest – Indians and the bureaucrats are not – Yet.

One person who was waiting in line at the lunch table said to me about the not so great “following of the rules” by many Indians in the line – “If this is how the most educated and richest people end up in social situations,  I suspect most of them to be similar in business”.

Photo opportunity - Mukund Mohan and Narendra Modi

Some observations on the PM Narendra Modi’s visit to Silicon Valley

I had a chance to be in San Jose and be a part of the Prime Minister’s event in San Jose. Friends from India, at NASSCOM including Sangeeta Gupta, R Chandrashekar and Ravi Gururaj, who I worked with for the product conclave for many years, gave me an opportunity to be the Master of Ceremonies for the Startup Konnect program.

It was only on Friday, this week when I flew into San Jose, that I even know that I was the MC for the PM’s event. The magnitude of the occasion did not sink in until much later, when I had a chance to get briefed by the Secret Service, the PM’s Special Protection Group (SPG), the PMO (Prime Minister’s office), the Counsel General’s office from Washington DC and the overseas Security team at DC.

Most of my MC stuff has been impromptu, relaxed and not scripted. This was the biggest change for me more than anything else.

The event was a 2 day affair with lunch on the first day with donors, on day one and a bunch of photo opportunities, followed by a “Digital India” Dinner with top technology CEO’s and finally the Startup Konnect event on day 2.

Mumo Meets Namo. Asks about t Shirts

Mumo Meets Namo. Asks about t Shirts

The part that stressed me the most was the scripting. I had to rehearse 7-12 times (which apparently was less than what the PMO’s office usually demands of the speakers) which was nerve wracking for the rest of the folks, more than for me.

I have been used to my off-the-cuff remarks, some funny comments or engaging the audience with questions and polls. Not so this time.

Every word was scripted, reviewed and conceived, by a minimum of 5 people.

Every step was rehearsed. Stand-ins (people who played the part of the PM, or security) were asked to rehearse with me as well. There was triple-checking, checking five times and more, just to ensure that nothing was left to “chance”.

There were 3 observations I had of the overall event, which I wanted to share for those who were not there.

  1. First, there were about 30 billionaires I met during the 2 day event, who were A-listers in their own right. Turns out they were on the B-list for these 2 days. The PM draws top billing from a wide array. I would consider myself pretty snooty, and someone that would look down on those who would get starry eyed at Bollywood celebrities. I fell into that same trap on day 1. I took close to 50 selfies with folks such as Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn, Travis Kalanick of Uber, Vinod Khosla, Sunder Pichai, and Satya Nadella. The B-listers were the billionaires.
  2. The security was intense at the same time and felt porous as well. People who “played by the rules” and went through the security were treated like cattle being branded before being put in a pen. There were those who did not play by the rules and seemed to be able to drop the “I am XYZ from the PM’s office, so I need to sit here”. Surprisingly many of them were able to get away with it. Average wait times in the queue were 20-30 minutes, but the security on day 2 was intense (it was a much smaller setting, so there was more security). Tempers were frail and it interesting to see how people dealt with it in their own ways. There were 5 “sets” of security teams who swept through the room, and each time we thought the Prime Minister was arriving.
  3. The PM himself is very articulate, charming and personable. Which is probably the reason why so many people like him, and believe he is the right leader for India. His speeches were very well written and I met his speech writers, who offered me some tips on my own “speech”. The PM was always turned on, aware of the on-goings and was very well briefed on Uber vs. Lyft, the startup culture of the Silicon Valley (we exchanged a joke about my and my t-shirts and his attire as well).

I was so humbled by the opportunity though. There are way more qualified people both in India and in the valley than I am, but the NASSCOM team just offered me the opportunity, which was amazing and enlightening at the same time.

This will be the last I talk about this though since many of my friends are already tired of the 2 day photo stream with constant selfies that I took and shared on Facebook.

Being Different

Being different just to be different is not valuable for startups

I had a chance to talk to an entrepreneur yesterday who was building a new SaaS application which I felt was the same as many existing ones in the Retail Loyalty space. The application allowed a small and medium business to create a on-the-fly phone app that gave the store owner an ability to have their “own” loyalty app. I was curious as to why a user (I wont for sure, but I was open to thinking others would) might download multiple small business apps just to keep their loyalty preferences.

I imagined if he could provide a single app that stored all the users loyalty information in a single place might be easier for the user. It would mean that the store owner might not get too happy about promoting another app that wont give them any more value, but nonetheless I was eager to learn.

Being Different

Being Different: Credit

Turns out that many of the capabilities he provided in his app were “different” that what store owners were used to, which he felt were unique to his app, which he was pushing hard.

The only problem was, he mentioned, most store owners were being asked to learn a new behavior, which he was sure was better, but they were unwilling to change, was what he learned.

I think being different is absolutely important. That’s the first rule of new, innovative startups. There are many ways to differentiate – for example – Dominos’ Pizza differentiated just on delivery – they would be able to get your pizza to you in < 30 minutes. In 2008 Twitter’s big differentiation over other short form messaging networks was their 140 character limit.

In technology, though, many founders dont spent enough time understanding what the customer problem is first, so you can be different in solving that customer problem.

Instead they come up with something different and find ways to communicate that difference.

Which leads to a lot of users being confused about why the difference is valuable in the first place.

Especially if you are in an existing market, where customers are used to doing things a “certain” way, being different is sometimes going to take you much longer to get the desired adoption.

Just “being different” is insufficient, you will need to be better as well.

What people want

Should you build something inconsequential first to make meaning later?

I was at a newspaper and media conference with 20 of the top editors and business people in March this year, when one of the SVP’s of a large publisher expressed dismay at BuzzFeed. “They are trash” she said. “It is not even publishing or journalism, just plain nonsense with a bunch of silly animated gifs”.

She went on to share that the traffic on their own property had dropped 17% year on year, compared to the published metrics from ComScore that stated that BuzzFeed had grown 200% during the same period.

Yesterday, I read an article about one of the presidential candidates complaining that Donald Trump was “muddying” the presidential campaign for other Republicans by saying things that were divisive and catering to the racist crowd.

Regardless of whether BuzzFeed or Donald Trump are right or wrong, the key point that’s important is that they give people what they want. People might “need” serious journalism or a candidate that talks about economic, political, social and cultural “issues”, but the immigration problem is the one that touches the nerve.

That’s not to say that BuzzFeed cant do serious long form journalism or Donald Trump cant talk about any other issue at length.

In fact, going back to the things that are “serious”, most always they apparently start out being fairly silly.

The reason big new things sneak by incumbents is that the next big thing always starts out being dismissed as a “toy.”  Chris Dixon, 2010

One way to be dismissed and not be taken seriously by big large incumbents is for startups to do something fairly inconsequential (what people want) and build enough strength to then take on serious challenges (what people need).

Startup Segmetation characteristics

How do you segment startups? Here are 3 models, but we need more

I love the approach, analytics and data associated with segmentation. The act of taking large numbers and breaking them down into manageable smaller parts fascinates me.

Yesterday, I had a chance to talk to a friend about segmenting startups. There were 5 ways we tried to segment them and finally figured out that 3 made sense and the rest were not useful or actionable.

Here are the 3 categories of segmentation we came up with.

  1. Segment by stage of company. (Idea stage, Prototype, stage, Traction, Growing, Scaling)
  2. Segment by growth rate (slow growth, medium growth, fast growth and rapid growth)
  3. Segment by category (eCommerce vs. SaaS vs. Media, etc.)
  4. Segment by location (where they are based)
  5. Segment by type of funding (Bootstrapped, Angel, VC, etc.)
  6. Segmenting by market opportunity (large existing market, vs, disruptive new company)

Segmenting by stage of company: This is the easiest to understand. Most companies call themselves in various stages based on their funding stage as well, so we figured #5 and #1 were fairly close. There were enough differences when a larger company was bootstrapped, so they were “Growing” and “Bootstrapped” but those are fair and few between.

Segmenting by growth rate: We wondered if this was similar to stage of funding as well, but there are enough differences. A slower growth “Startup” would be going through multiple rounds of seed and early stage funding, so we felt this was useful segmentation.

Segmenting by category: This is the one that most startups use as well besides stage. Companies call themselves as an eCommerce company, Consumer Internet, B2B startup, etc. Most startups use this as a way to segment themselves besides stage.

Segmenting by location:Companies tend to email me and segment themselves from “silicon valley” vs. “New York”, vs “Bangalore” for example. Not sure where we could use this, but this is one other way we could segment them. I suspect after you do a first level filter, this might be a follow on segmentation.

Segmenting by type of funding: Compared to 7 years ago, startups are taking longer to get to VC series A for some companies, but others are still taking less time. Some end up bootstrapping for longer, and still others go from accelerator to accelerator, trying to raise seed round, post seed rounds, bridge rounds and still trying to get ready for a series A raise. I dont think this is going to help us action them in a particular way, so this, albeit interesting is not very useful.

Segmenting by market opportunity:

There are other ways to segment startups, including the type of founder (hacker, vs. sales person, etc.) and founders background (serial entrepreneur, first time founder, etc.)

I wonder if there’s anything we missed. I’d love your input.

Metrics Driven for SaaS With Data

The difference between metrics-driven and data-driven startups

Data driven means that progress in an activity is compelled by data, rather than by intuition or personal experience. It is what scientists call evidence based decision making.

Metrics driven means that activities are driven towards a deadline and objectives pre-set, rather than organically.

I think of Metrics-driven as inherently proactive and Data-driven as reactive. I dont think being reactive is wrong, especially when you dont know what metrics you should be driving towards.

SaaS metrics drive for success

SaaS metrics drive for success

Here is an example. Most companies start by watching customer behavior and understanding what users are doing on their site. For example what do they do after they sign up, how long do they take to fill out their profile, etc. After watching users for a while, they understand clearly the on-boarding process for users. They can become proactive and set specific metrics – number of users, time for user to get setup and the date by which they want # of users on board.

Which is why it is never either-or. You need to be watchful at times (when you dont know enough) and other times set goals to drive towards them.

Another reason why it helps to be reactive is when you are willing to be open to go in directions that the data takes you. In many cases, in the drive to focus on goals and objectives, many companies miss obvious clues that might give them insights about their customers.

There is a good overview whitepaper by Joel from BlueNose on this for SaaS metrics.

So, if you dont know what to drive towards, I’d say look for clues in the data. If you do, then drive towards predetermined metrics. What do you think?

User empathy design thinking

How long should your customer development interviews be? #napkinStage

Since many accelerators have been asking startup entrepreneurs to “get on the phone” with customers and talk to real users, I have been getting a lot of emails from folks asking me how long their customer interviews should be.

While there is no right answer, there are a few guidelines that you can use, which come from th best User experience designers.

First, it is best to schedule your customer interviews and in step function of availability. Ideally you want 10 time as many surveys, to the number of calls and 3 times as many calls to the number of face to face meetings.

If you want to get feedback from 10 customers / user in a face-to-face setting, then 30 people on a call is ideal and 100 people filling out an online or email survey is the best.

Where did I get these numbers from? Most sample size calculators will give you numbers based on your population (total customers who you expect for your first version of product (segmented), confidence an margin of error.

Second, if it is possible, get users to commit to giving you 30 min of their time, for which you will have to give them something meaningful in return, else they will be unwilling to give you the benefit of doubt.

The best way that I have seen great customer interviews being conducted is to have user empathy sessions.

  1. The first step before your interviews is to prepare and brainstorm questions.
  2. The second step is to identify the focus of what you’d like to learn from your users.
  3. The final step of your preparation is to ensure you have the right questions.

During your interview, I’d recommend you “break up” the allocated time into 7 sections. These are scientifically proven, so you don’t have to take my word for it.

User empathy design thinking

User empathy design thinking

1. Introduce your self – typically this should take less than 10% of the time of the interview. So, if you have 30 min, less than 3 min to introduce the participants.

2. Introduce your problem statement (or project). This should also take less than 10% of the overall time of the interview.

3. Build common ground or rapport – Usually empathy is shown by framing the user problem in their daily scenarios. Typical items to cover include – “Some of our other users have told us …”. Or “the problems our users have encountered so far include…”. Most of this part should take you another 15% of the time.

4. Get them to talk about their problems in the context of the discussion. The best interviews are those when your users are doing most of the talking. The bulk of your interview time should be spent here. Close to 30%.

5. Explore the current solutions and how those solutions are deficient or how they dont empower your user. This part usually takes about another 15%.

6. Ask more questions that help you clarify the statements and positions users take. Most people end up spending 10-15 % of the time here.

7. Thank the user for their time. Typically 5 to 10% of the time is spent on this.

These numbers are purely indicative and will change based on your relationship with the user and their constraints on the ability to express their usage and user behavior.