Tag Archives: entrepreneur

How #investors judge #entrepreneurs. Yes it happens all the time.

Over the last 2 weeks I had the chance to do what I like best. Meet and learn from entrepreneurs at the earliest of early stages. Hear about their ideas, learn about their problems and find interesting new ways they are tackling problems of funding, building products, hiring and managing teams and getting users and customers.

Similar to the Mazlov’s hierarchy of needs I have formed a mental model of entrepreneurs and their categories or types based on what they think they “need” from me. Most of them have an ask – connections, funding, advice or referrals. Which is expected, after all I am asking the question with an intent to help.

The hierarchy of needs are fairly similar to most entrepreneurs but the most self assured ones behave differently and ask different questions. They seeks perspectives on the problems they are facing and guidance on their choices.

The rest seek funding.

If your answer to the question “How can I help?” is ” all I need is money”, then you have lost the plot. I think most investors wIll judge you right there and drop you down 2 or 3 notches on their scale. That’s tough to hear but that’s the truth.

If your answer to that question is “I need to get connected to x customer, or y potential employee or a person for a partnership”, you will be viewed as a tactician. Nothing wrong with that, but hey just like entrepreneurs judge  investors, they do the same.

If your answer is “We are facing these challenges  and would love your take on how you’d solve the problem, you will be viewed as a smart, talented and open-minded entrepreneur.

If you answer the question with “I want to start a company but I don’t have a good idea yet”, then you will be judged as a wannabe. Someone that always fantasizes about entrepreneurship but never does anything about it.

A #contrarian’s field guide to New Year Resolutions

TLDR; This field guide helps you set new year resolutions and help you achieve them by using both a top-down and bottom-up approach towards managing your energy and hence managing your time better.

To achieve you new year’s resolutions, I propose 3 steps:

1. Top down prioritization.

2. Bottoms-up audit.

3. Planning and scheduling your energy.

You have to both do a top-down prioritization and a bottoms-up audit towards goal setting, because the top-down alone will tell you what you want to do, and the bottoms-up will tell you what you are doing right now. The planning will help you then figure out where you are wasting your time and energy and where you need to focus it instead.

Lets do the top-down first.

There are 9 categories of goals people have as individuals according to me.

1. Relationships: The need and desire to be connected as humans with friends, family and other people at large. Examples include, getting married, making new friends, or spending more time with your siblings for example.

2. Career and Work: When you are a student it will be around “what you want to be when you grow up”, but it is pretty much the same as an adult. Work goals include promotions, improving communication – public speaking for e.g. etc. Starting a new business falls into this bucket.

3. Intellectual: These are for you to learn. Many people like to learn new languages, read books and expand their mind as part of this category.

4. Health: Keeping your body fit enough and in shape to be able to achieve what you think you can. Losing weight is the most common goal in this category followed by promising to quit smoking.

5. Financial: Making enough wealth to be able to afford the things you’d like to have as part of your life. You might have other goals in this

6. Spiritual: The quest to find your inner self, and the meaning of life, the universe, god, etc. The most frequent goal in this category is to find your inner peace.

7. Interests & Hobbies: Travel, learning a musical instrument etc. fall into this category. Going to an exotic place for vacation is the most frequent goal in this category followed by learning a new musical instrument.

8. Giving back and Social Goodness: These are for individuals who want to give back and help the less privileged. Most people volunteer at charities or non-profits / NGO’s to help them in any way possible.

9. Self improvement: These are to better yourself as an individual, making time to grow as a person (not intellectually, but emotionally). E.g. I will not get angry with my kids, or will not blame someone else for my problems. The quest to be a better person drives this category of resolutions OR the willingness to correct a character flaw.

Now that we have a comprehensive category list, I suspect you can add your own resolution – such as “I will be a nicer person” or “I will meditate more”, which will fall into one of these buckets.

After you put your resolution into the bucket, write it down – both the resolution and your category.

P.S. here’s a contrarian tip – NEVER have more than one goal. More on that later.

The reason I think you should start with categories, is that it will help you focus on managing your energy not your time.

Then the second task is for you to do a time audit for a week. This is the bottom up approach. The best way to do this is to create a spreadsheet with 1/2 hour slots from the time you wake up to the time you sleep.

Then put what you are doing in that 1/2 hour slot for 1 week. This includes time to bathe, eat, work, etc.

The next step is to categorize the time audit items into your categories above as well.

It is okay to put sleeping into health category. If you listen to podcast or listen to music during your commute then put it in the health or interests or hobbies category.

Then take the categories you have and add up the time per category.

Plot the category and time spent on a pie chart.

Most people are absolutely shocked when they do this exercise at this point. They find that 25-35% of their time is truly “wasted” – they dont do anything else when the sleep – which is why many successful people apparently sleep less – god bless them, but I cant. Or they are spending time bathing or eating, etc.

So you have a top down priority and a bottom up use of your time.

Step 3, is planning and scheduling: The planning should help you find a way now to schedule time on your calendar for the one new year’s resolution or goal you set.

You can do the scheduling on your calendar by alternative or better time management.

If something is a priority for you, then you better spend more time on it than anything else.

My rule of thumb is that you need to spend at least 35% of your time on the one New Year’s resolution you set for yourself. If you are unable to do that, then prepare to fail.

If you find many other things taking up your time, deprioritize them and manage your calendar like a manic and NEVER let other things “creep” in.

Please let me know if this works for you, but remember you have to do the top-down and bottoms-up part (which might take you a week if you dont know your calendar yet.

Ever notice that the hockey stick and the long tail are the same data looked inversely?

Most every entrepreneur “wants” to show the growth chart as a “hockey stick”. They also in the initial days show their revenue adoption as a “long tail”.

Take the same data and pivot the table to show they are both really the same visualization. Flip the long tail on its X axis and you get the hockey stick.

long_tail_graph_base

hockey stick

The toughest choice for an entrepreneur – Slow and committed vs. Fast and apathetic

Another day, another debate. This time it was Ravi Gururaj, Raj Chinai and Rajan Anandan vs. yours truly.

Lets have a twitter debate copying @rajananandan and @ravigururaj as well on your thoughts.

The debate is about the type of investors that entrepreneurs need now. I believe in the last 18 months, the Indian entrepreneur has changed dramatically. They now prefer a slow, but committed investor as opposed to a fast but apathetic investor. If they could have the best of both worlds, they’d like a fast and committed investor, but that’s as rare as a blue moon. Ravi is of the opinion that speed is the need of the hour.

Here’s the background:

Startups that are getting funded by accelerators are largely (there are exceptions) getting a better shot at getting funded that those that are not. Coming out of an accelerator, most startups get a few angel investor to put anywhere between 50L (or $100K) to 2 CR (or about $400K). This is their seed round. In the US, nearly 27% of companies raise the series A after this angel round of funding. That ends up being a $2 Million to $5 Million round. In India for 2013 that is < 5%

In India, because customer acquisition is slow and laborious, the next round after a seed round, is actually a sapling round (or bridge round) during which the entrepreneur raises anywhere from $500K to $1.5 Million. After this round is when most startups raise their series A in India.

So compared to the US startup, Indian startups have given up 7% on average to the accelerator, 25% to seed investors and another 30% to sapling round investors. In the US most startups go from 7% for the accelerator and 20% for seed investors before their series A.

The “sapling round” is very critical. The reason is that VC’s look for market, team, traction, space and competition before they invest in the series A. Most companies (over 90%) in India are clearly not ready after their seed round, with a complete management team, enough traction (aka revenue) and sufficient product differentiation to support a $2 Million round at a valuation of $4-$5 Million.

Say you are an entrepreneur and you want to raise a seed round and are given 2 choices:

1. An investor willing to move quickly and give you 50L in less than 6 weeks, but not commit to helping you fund the next round, either because they assume you will have enough to raise a series A, or because their investment thesis only allows them to put 50L per company and not more.

2. An investor wanting to take 2-3 months to make a decision (to get to know you, or because they are busy, or because of any number of useless reasons) but committing to give you 50L now and earmarking another 1 Cr to 2 Cr for 20% of the companies they invest in for a future sapling round.

Which one would you prefer?

Most entrepreneurs 18 months ago believed that a fast investor was better than a slow one. But I believe that’s changed now.

Why?

The time to raise a round is increasing, not decreasing. Most entrepreneurs are hearing stories of how some Venture investors are taking over 6 months before making a decision since they have enough good quality deals to pursue. They are also seeing their peers raise a bridge round of financing 12 months after their seed funding raise and realizing that a committed investor is better than one that is apathetic to a 50L investment.

I wish there were fast and committed investors, but that is just not possible.

Why?

The time taken to make an investment increases with the amount of capital involved. It is that simple.

For a Venture investor, $250K investments are quick, but $5 Million take more time. Similarly for an angel investor, $100K investments are quick, but $500K take more time, because you better be sure.

The reason for the $500K is that they will put $100K first, then commit to putting another $200K to $400K as needed in 12-18 months. They are committed to seeing you through a series A if they believe in your company.

Angel investors in India are realizing as well, that most (over 90%) of their investments need more money than they put in at the seed stage before they are ready for a series A. Given that 30-50% of their portfolios will fail, close or shut-down, due to any number of reasons, it is important to let the winners “win”. So they need to support their “winners” with more cash.

I’d love your opinion on this topic. Please let us a comment or lets debate on twitter. I am @mukund. Copy @ravigururaj and @rajananandan as well.

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.

How can a hacker ask for startup advice so they get the most value?

The last few weeks I had the opportunity to talk and chat with several (engineer) entrepreneurs who were in various stages of their company. While most entrepreneurs are fairly clear and specific on the problems they are facing, a few are unable to clearly articulate where they could use help or advice. There are several “categories” of  questions and issues that an entrepreneur has. Some questions are procedural – “how do I do this”, others are “introduction”, still others are “transaction-al”.

The most difficult ones for both parties are the “What should I do?”.

Any mentor / advisor will not have enough context (regardless of how much time they spend with your company) to help you by giving the “right answer”.

For these class of questions there is really no right answer.

The right answer does not exist because it comes down to what the entrepreneur wants to do. What she is comfortable with, what her biases are and what her motivation is.

The only thing a good advisor can do is to provide a “framework” for your question.

The only other thing an advisor can do is to give the entrepreneur confidence in herself so she can best utilize the framework to her benefit.

A simple way to think about the “framework” is a set /series of “if-then-else” statements, with <then> and <else> colored with the advisor’s experiences.

E.g. When faced with this issue like <a>, I responded with <b>, but the alternative is <c>.

So, if <you believe “a” is true> and <you also think “b” will happen> then <you should do “c”> else <the other thing you can do is “d”>

The framework is not just one if-then-else. Its a series of them.

Can it be that simplistic you ask?

Yes. That’s it.

The best advisors / mentors listen and ask a lot of questions, with each answer leading to more questions. The questions are to help the entrepreneur think, not for the advisor to assess.

So the next time, as a hacker you are looking for some advice on a question “What do I do?”, then remember to keep a note of the conditional construct.

P.S. For those that know me as a hard-core sales guy and nothing else, I did study DES based cryptography algorithms under Dr. Sherman, who I am sure is absolutely disappointed that I ended up a sales guy in a tech company.