Over the weekend I was at the IPMA conference hosted by Ravi Padaki and his team. I was in at about 11 am and missed a good session by Ram from eBay. I was at the session with Alok Goel of RedBus. Long an admirer of Phani, I am even more impressed with his ability to recruit star players such as Alok. His talk was funny, insightful and full of great examples.
After the talk, I was part of a panel with Sanjay Jain of Kosha labs and Dhimant Parekh of Hoopos. Both are strong product management experts and I was excited to participate in the event just to hang out with them.
The session was billed as a product clinic, which is similar to the ThinkNext events we run at the accelerator and what we have done at Delhi, Bangalore and other cities. In this session 4 entrepreneurs were to bring their product issues or go to market issues and were given 5 minutes to present their company and problem and the jury got 10 minutes to help troubleshoot. The cynic in you might say this is “gyan” session and what some people term as “too simple”. I disagree completely with that thesis that you cannot provide some guidance, largely because most issues with companies fall into the basic 3-5 buckets of problems which are easy to diagnose but hard to provide solutions to.
One of the presenters was the founder of a company that started in July and had built 4 products. One of the products was a dentist appointment system for patients. When he presented he mentioned the market was fairly commodity and that his product was one among 5 others with similar capability.
It was fairly obvious that they were trying a lot of things to see what sticks, but it baffled me that if he knew that the market was commodity and he still chose to build a product with no immediate differences than what was already available. It seemed to me that he was really building a services company with an interest in products as opposed to having a product focus upfront.
I did admire the founders ability to build a team of 13+ people in <6 months, get 3+ paying customers but did not get a chance necessarily to point that out, given the short amount of time we had.
So I chose to point out the need for focus and mentioned that he ought to try and get one great product as opposed to 4 commodity ones.
He was genuinely upset.
I could totally relate to his reaction, given how tough it is to accept criticism of any sort towards your baby.
One of the things I do admire in a lot of successful entrepreneurs is their ability to have a thick skin – the ability to take criticism well, take a lot of body shots and still keep going.
Then I read an interview with Ratan Tata over the weekend.
“In my interactions with business leaders in India, as against elsewhere, there is this feeling that they are looking for cracks in your armor in order to pull you down; this happens not just to me but to everybody,”.
I am torn. I really admire Ratan Tata and I think he’s a role model for many, but I cant help but feel that the emotions are misplaced.
I try to help entrepreneurs do it with the intent of making them stronger and better. Not with the intention of “pulling them down”, but I can totally understand if it comes off as “beating them up”.
I never intend to really deflate another entrepreneur’s zeal, but a reality check is in order.
I think the best thing I could do is to “say it better”.
With empathy and emotion as opposed to with a detached sense of being.
So I am committing to do that.
If you are an entrepreneur and in any of the clinics I do make it blunt and you get a a sense that I am “beating you up”, feel free to call me out.
It will help me be a better person.
Regardless of people like me, please do develop a thick skin. It is the trait of strong entrepreneurs.