Tag Archives: business

Building great outcomes in #payments only at #NPC2013 – Braintree acquired for $800 Million

Not every day do you get news of an $800 Million acquisition in technology especially for a 6 year-old company, but Braintree just got acquired by PayPal for that ginormous amount.

What’s that got to do with NASSCOM product conclave you ask?

Well if you want to know how the payments landscape is changing dramatically with the advent of Square, Recurring payments startups, NFC, Bitcoin and the innovation in India, there’s only ONE place to be this winter. (So register for #NPC2013 already)

The payments track at NASSCOM product conclave features some of the smartest minds who can help you make sense of this large, growing and dramatically changing space.

Payments is a very interesting space because there are inherent barriers for external companies thanks to regulation. This is a space that’s closely watched by RBI, the banks and politicians themselves.

There have been multiple versions and attempts at solving the payments problem in India. We are bringing together the top experts in the payments space – the innovators, the investors, the disrupters and the incumbents to give you a birds-eye view followed by a kickass opportunity view as well.

If you are looking to innovate in this space, these key movers and shakers are the people you want to network with and they are going to be in Bangalore on Oct 29th and 30th at the Taj Vivanta.

This session is not all talk either.

We have terrific demos from JusPay, CitrusPay, ZaakPay,Ezetap, Oxigen, Khosla Labs and many more.

The top customers and enablers of payments, many of who turned payments into a differentiation – Ashish of BookMyShow, Mekin Maheshwariof Flipkart/PayZippy, Subba from Cleartrip, Loney Antony from Prizm Payments,Sunil Kulkarni of Oxigen and others – will share their approaches and strategies to tackle this problem as well.

Additionally with Aadhaar becoming a big part of the national payments infrastructure, hear directly from the UIDteam on how the platform is creating disruptive opportunities.

This track is being curated by the two top entrepreneurs in the space – Sanjay Swamy (investor at Angel Prime and ex CEO of mChek) and Puneet Agarwal (ex-Google – mobile NFC and payments).

If there’s anyone you need to know in this space, it is highly likely they will be here.

Come join us – because if you can’t collect the money, your business is just a hobby!

The reason why #startups fail in India is different from why they fail in #silicon valley

I read the interview with Steve Hogan yesterday about the reason for failed startups. Take a look at the #1 reason why startups fail according to him.

Hogan says, is that they’re sole founders without a partner. “That is the single biggest indicator of why they got in trouble,” he says, adding that it’s especially common for sole first-time founders to fail.

Sole founders.

#2 was lack of customer validation and #3 was “company ran out of time” – or money.

From our India data, I can tell you that among technology startups, solo founders make up less than 35% of the companies. We track now in our database about 15,000+ entities.

If you look at the reported closure rate, they are not significantly different from entities with multiple founders.

In fact in my own personal experience with 33 startups that I have closely observed in the last 12 months at the accelerator, the #1 reason for startups to close in India has been mis-alignment of founders.

Let me give you some examples that I am not sure are uniquely Indian, but occur in India a lot more than in the valley.

First was a team of founders working on a B2B marketplace.

Two founders we interviewed and accepted were related, but chose not to let us know about it. In the first 2 weeks at the accelerator, in multiple meetings they would often contradict each other’s views of their target customer’s pain point. One founder was a self-appointed “domain expert” and another was the “technical founder”.

The domain expert was an expert primarily because of the fact that she was not technical. She did not really have a background in the field, and neither was she all that experienced dealing with the potential customers. They had both stumbled into the problem while they were working in their previous jobs that were not related to their startup. After the first few weeks of multiple disagreements on the direction of the product, they chose to “keep their relationship intact” than to work on their startup.

Second is a team of strong technical founders.

Both these founders were among the smartest hackers I have met in India. Pound for pound they would be among the best developer teams you have ever worked with. They had worked with each other for over 5 years at a large MNC and came highly recommended. Their pedigree was excellent as well.

The problem they were addressing was real and fairly technical, and you were compelled to go with the team just given their background and the problem they were solving. The trouble was their answer to every customer problem was build more code. They were loathe to talk to real customers and after multiple fits and starts decided to split a few months ago. They still remain friends, but chose not to work on their startup.

Third was a strong team of founders, who had worked together for a year at another project.

They were also folks with excellent backgrounds, great Ivy league college degrees and were solving a real problem that many consumers had in India.

After a year of working together, building what I considered a good team of 5-10 folks and an alpha, then beta product, they chose to go separate ways. In discussions with both founders after the split, each blamed the other for not “delivering”. One person was the designated CTO and the other was CEO and chief sales guy. They did close a round of funding, but the product went through multiple fits and starts. The problem they were solving was real and even I was an early user of the product.

In all three cases, I found that having the co-founder was the big part of the problem.

Lack of communication, inability to stick through tough times and different visions for the company / product were the biggest causes for failure.

I’d like to understand from you what about our culture, our maturity as a startup republic and our progress with technology makes these problems more prominent in India.

 

My thoughts on the Flipkart fund raising

I got 4-5 calls from journalists and reporters wanting my feedback on the Flipkart funding news yesterday. I am biased, and I like the folks in the company a lot.

That said the main questions I got were: (NB: these were actual verbatim questions from reporters).

1. Does this mean game over for other “ecommerce players”?

2. Does this news mean that the “keep inventory model” will work? Is the snapdeal model better? Which one will “win”?

3. Why does this business need so much money?

4. Will eCommerce ever be profitable? Will flipkart ever be profitable?

5. If Amazon decides to come to India, will Flipkart’s first mover advantage still remain?

Rather than answer the questions one by one, I think I will set some context first and address the questions as I see the macro picture emerge.

Indian retail market is a ~$500 Billion market. It is large. Most of this ($350 Billion) is grocery. Unorganized retail (Kirana stores, small shops, etc.) make up 92%-95% of this market.

Besides grocery, the largest number of stores are called “fancy stores” – selling everything from pencils and books to tupperware and brooms. Jewelry stores are next (in terms of revenue they might be larger than fancy stores).

Of the organized offline retailers (totaling about 1500) , fewer than 5 (changed to 5% based on IBG data) are turning profit. Everyone else loses money. Why? High real estate costs and high payroll costs, compared to unorganized retail.

When Amazon started in the US (circa 1994), they were going after a 90% organized retail market. Fewer than 5% of US retail companies were unprofitable.

Amazon was going after big box organized retail in America.

Organized retail in India is a small part of the puzzle.

Flipkart is going after the 90+%, which we know as unorganized retail.

3 major trends that drive retail in India, for the next 10 years will be increasing urbanization, worsening traffic and higher commercial and retail real estate rentals. The fourth (if it ever passes, will be FDI). I am not holding my breath for that one.

The flipkart model will do well is my perspective, given their dense logistics coverage in urban areas and minimal rentals thanks to warehousing.

Amazon surprisingly will do well as well if and when they go direct in India. The market is very large.

I dont think its game over for other eCommerce players, just like many years after Amazon, came Etsy, Zaapos and others. In India, though those markets are currently small and will grow over time, so in a few years or a decade, things will change again.

The inventory model that is flipkart’s strategy seems to be working for them. That’s the reason to raise $200 Million.

The no inventory model for snapdeal seems to be working for them as well. Snapdeal will try to help many of the unorganized retail players compete with the organized players and flipkart.

I am not sure about whether the online players will actually get profitable over the next 5 years since the offline retailers have still not gotten there in 10+ years, but the online players have a better shot at becoming profitable.

Insights into the anatomy of the Indian entrepreneur – Work-hobby and Work-life balance

Friends at Scibler came to me the other day to tell me about their customer development efforts. This is by far the one team I have encountered with the highest IQ across the board and the commitment to learning about their customers *while* they develop their product. Their rigor, analysis, consistency and dedication to understanding their target customer, the relevant messaging and positioning before launch is unparalleled among Indian startups.

They found 3 personas of people who would be their customers – Work-work, Work-hobby and Work-life.

The Work-work persona is a rarity anywhere in the world, but more so in India. Among those who work for a big company or at a government agency, this person is an absolute “blue moon“. This kind of person loves their work. They live, breath, eat, sleep their work. From when they were kids they dreamed about doing something in the area of their work. I find few Indian entrepreneurs in this bucket as well, but they are as rare in India as they are in the US.

The Work-hobby persona is someone that does their “day job” to keep the lights on. This is a finance person who does accounting at a large company to earn 2,000,000 (20L or $40K) per year to maintain her EMI, drive a foreign import to work and send her kids to a “good school”. But the passion, desire and fun is Bharatanatyam. I actually know a person who does this exact same thing. She devotes her waking hours outside of work to Bharatanatyam. She’s also a realist and knows that it wont put the food on the table in India. So she continues to slave away at the large company, doing mindless work just so she can make enough money or save enough to pursue her hobby full time.

The Work-life persona is someone that has a job, but he has a life as well. Meaning, he enjoys food, friends, art, culture, movies, books, music, and a whole host of endless options that “living” gives you. He’s not committed to the one “hobby” or is not passionate about that “one thing”. He’s yet to find that one thing that matters to him the most. If you ask him about the one hobby, he’ll likely say “cricket”, “family”, “kids”, “shopping” or “sleeping”. He is not too particular about the type of work as long as it gives him enough money to “live”.

I often meet all 3 of these types of folks becoming entrepreneurs. I have been known to go on record stating that very few of the work-life or the work-hobby will actually succeed. In fact if they do, I’d consider that an exception. For an entrepreneur, work and their startup’s work in particular has to be the thing they breath, dream, eat and sleep.

As an entrepreneur if you are not doing something you like, have a passion for and enjoy, I’d highly recommend you dont do it. You will likely be in two minds at the first obstacle and trust me there are many obstacles for startup entrepreneurs in India.

The big difference between Indian entrepreneurs I meet and those I meet in the valley is that most work-hobby folks in the US end up making their hobby their work. So they also become work-work personas.

They can do this and succeed since there is a market for unique, new, interesting hobby “stuff” given how rich the nation is and how advanced their markets are.

In India the best you can do if you want to make your hobby a big part of your life is to make it  a “side bijiness“. I meet at least 20-30% of employees at a large or small company in India, having a side-bijiness.

The question I get asked by entrepreneurs a lot is what persona type should I hire?

I see most entrepreneurs looking to hire that elusive work-work persona. There are so many Indian entrepreneurs, who claim to have a culture that attracts the work-work persona, and those folks that are passionate employees. I hate to tell them they are being fooled and really if I talked to their employees, they’d tell me they’d rather start their own company, but dont have the risk profile to do so.

Here’s the real truth.

The work-work folks will not be working for you in India. They would rather be entrepreneurs themselves, since they live their work.

So the best you can do as an entrepreneurs is to hire a work-hobby or work-life persona. I’d highly recommend you dont get frustrated if they dont give you a 100%, because really their mind is elsewhere.

As long as they give you what they commit to, be happy, move on.

Above all be a force of good.

Why do founders split? 1. Differing visions

Over the last 4 months, I have heard of or at least 8 companies closing down because of “founder issues”. Overall this number of companies that I have been tracking personally where the company closed was 14. So relatively speaking the number of companies that closed because the founders split is larger than “lack of funding”. The only other reason I have heard have been lack of traction. These are companies in the valley and India BTW.

Why do we have so many companies which close because of founder issues?

I tried calling and talking to many of the founders separately to understand what the issues were and its not clear that there are the same that plague most “marriages”.

Most married couples split because of financial issues, compatibility issues or “cheating”.

With most founders, I cannot point to the 3 main causes yet, since I have limited data, but I can share what happened in some of these cases, based on my understanding of their situation. Sometimes, my understanding was colored by my impression of one of the founders, but I tried to remain objective about the situation.

Differing vision of where to take the company. This was cited by most of the founders.

“We  used to talk about where we wanted to take the product. We had a general direction and were fairly aligned. Then it started with a few features that we had different opinions on. In a matter of weeks we would constantly fight about every feature. The constant fighting drove our team mad and we decided to split”.

“We started with targeting large enterprise customers, since my co-founder had a few relationships there. We found that many had a long time frame to get us on board as a vendor. Then we decided to change our target to mid-sized companies. That changed the vision of our product and some key features, which the developers could not deliver on. I still thought we could focus on larger customers, but my co-founder did not and we decided to split”.

Many times, the vision of the company is considered very sacred by the founders. Which is a good thing. Alignment of vision is hugely important. I can also see how the vision changes at times, since the initial assumptions made, usually change as you go to market and meet customers.

Some founders are flexible about that change and are willing to be patient about finding that vision, whereas others want to stick to a vision they originally came up with.

If you are a solo founder and are looking for a co founder, it is hard to determine flexibility of your co-founder since most people seem reasonable and fairly flexible during the first few months. I tried to formulate a list of questions to ask – largely scenario based, such as what would happen if this were to occur, or how would you react if this happened?

Most times when I asked those questions of people I got fairly good answers which I consider are reasonable.

These questions did not help very much though, since as we talked about before, vision’s change and so do people’s impressions.

When you ask the objective question in a non threatening situation, it is easy to be collected, objective and composed.

That’s rarely the case when product shipments are behind, payroll is delayed and a customer contract is taking longer than anticipated.

What takeaway do I have from this main reason for founder’s splitting?

If you have not worked together for a “significant period” of time, its very difficult to find out if your co-founder is flexible to change.

So what do I now do as a result of this learning?

I prioritize teams where founders have not worked together for a significant period of time, much lower. If you have a co-founder you have met at a hackathon event, or a startup event, and have been working on your company for 4-6 months, then I would likely pass on your company.

Its not because I dont like your idea or product, its because of demand and supply. Right now, I get many more companies where co-founders have worked together for much longer and have recency of shared vision.

In the next post I will talk about another reason why founders split – performance and execution.

The least action principle applied to the “call to action”

I met with an entrepreneur who has been looking to gain traction for his new SaaS application for payments. Having talked to a few of the top notch marketing and conversion experts in the Bay area to learn about drip marketing, which allows you to set a set of messages over time I was eager to help him figure out how to apply that to his problem.

The problem he had was that his “call to action” – what he wanted his prospects and customers to do was creating a “very high barrier” to prospects going to the next level with the website.

I find this often the case with many startups and SaaS applications in particular. The “barrier” for a prospect to become a customer is very high, so while you generate a lot of traffic and visits to your website, the number of conversions is abysmally low.

While you could offer better design, clear case studies, A/B test your pricing, there’s another technique that’s fast gaining traction among those that believe in a sales term called “lead nurturing“.

Its is the least action principle applied to prospect behavior. Before you “riff” me on this, yes, I believe physics gives the answers to most marketing problems.

The summary of this principle is

 “Nature is thrifty in all its actions”

So this principle applied to conversion marketing is to make users do the least amount of work to get to the “next logical step” in your progress to convert them to be a customer.

Instead of asking users in the first page to “Sign up”, which may well be your ultimate goal, ask them to view a video instead. Then sign up for a newsletter. Then send them 3 emails (over time, drip marketing, remember) to get them to review a case study, provide them with ROI analysis and finally ask them to sign up.

This entire set of steps can be done in days or in 2-3 minutes with a “guided” website interaction, instead of just a single call to action.

If you remember that most people want to do the least amount of work to get the maximum benefit, then you will appropriately break down your final call to action into multiple “Least User Interactions” each of which gets the user to commit some more (time, energy, etc.) to your application.

This is similar to the method FB for example applies to its interactions. You might just be a viewer of content, then your path to least action is a “like”, then you might comment, then set your status and finally upload a picture. There are more actions no doubt, but the path to least action is a like.

So when you look at your call you action, think about how you can break it down into multiple steps to get users to interact with your website without having to “commit” to marrying you before your first date.

My latest piece on Mint: Question bank approach to learning from failures

I devised a new system to help me make sure I can learn from my past failures in the most opportune time. I call it the learning question bank. The question bank is a curated list of failure learning condensed into one to three questions in each category that I ask myself when I am faced with a new problem which has possible associations with something I have failed at doing before. I review the questions in the bank after I meet entrepreneurs to evaluate their opportunity and see if they can learn something from my failure. I usually send them an email, post our interaction to give them my experiences via the story of my failure which brings the learning back to the forefront.

Read the entire piece at Mint.

Why you should focus less on your Klout score and more on your Karma

Over the last few months Klout has gained more popularity among Indian entrepreneurs. I have noticed not only more invitations on my facebook account for Klout but also more questions on Klout score optimization. Most entrepreneurs who are not technical (have a sales, business development or operations background) seem to be increasingly interested in increasing their Klout score in the hope that it will improve their chances of gaining customers or meeting investors.  It actually does neither. While Klout has its place in scoring social media engagement, it is fairly narrow in its measure of influence is my opinion.

As an early indicator of future success I always look at developers as the early adopters before Marketing and Sales professionals. I have never found marketers tell or show me something a developer had not shown me a few days, weeks or months ago. That’s not to say they are late adopters, but my feeling is that someone has to have developed it for the marketer to know about it. That someone is a developer. Developers tend to talk to other developers to get feedback and perspective first, which is why the early adopter set for most new and innovative products are developers.

Most developers have been focused on increasing their Hacker News Karma for a few years now and not their Klout score.

I have found that the single biggest source of traffic and converted users for either my blog, or two of the previous web apps that I was developing was Hacker News. More than a post on any of the top media blogs in the US.

So, if I were a marketer or sales person who was a founder, and am looking to get early adopters, meet with potential investors, etc. I would spend more time on HN, than Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn.

Notes from the BCG Global Wealth report 2011

The BCG report on Global wealth came out a few days ago. This report (along with another from KPMG) usually gives you an early indicator of what’s to come in the HNI and is an early indicator to the angel investor market. Some highlights:

1. # of millionaire households (worldwide) is 12.5 million (increased 12.5%). The million is invest-able income not including home.

2. Top 5 countries with millionaires – US, Japan, China, UK and Germany.

a) US 5.2 Million households

b) Japan 1.5 M

c) China 1.1 M

d) UK 570K

e) Germany 400K

India is #11 at 190K households (seems low, since the number of businesses doing more than INR 10,000,000 in annual revenue in India itself is  about 150K). Add politicians (local & state), film and sports personalities and you might easily get a 250K – 350K number.

The Ultra High Net Worth households (over $100 Million in invested assets) is about 12,000 worldwide, with the US leading at 2600+ households.

Of these the number of investors willing to fund risky technology startups is a very small 500-1000 number. Its obvious that most HNI in the non-technology space invest mostly in real estate and offshore investment vehicles. The real fun starts when the number of technology investors goes up to about 5000 (10 times the current number).