Entrepreneurship and Technology

October 14, 2008

Organically Growing Startup Workforce: Action Items

Filed under: colleges,startups — sachdev @ 6:31 pm

The idea about this blog post initiated on reading Vijay Anand’s blog – “The Startup Workforce: A Proposal to the Community”. He has come up with a nice idea which is going to do rounds of discussions in OCC (open-coffee-clubs) and hopefully startup community will take actions soon.

There is another blog – Ideas are Cheap: Real Coding Training from Swaroop who highlights the need of training from fresh graduates point of view so that they are better prepared for “real” work.

After reading these two blog post, I feel it is important to compile “action items” for both startups and for those who are looking to join startups (could be fresh graduates or experienced) which will help grow the startup workforce organically.

Action Items for Startups:

– Talk, blog, twitter and “engage” (live discussions, comments, email conversations with heavy inline replies) right from the time your startup is just an idea! Furthermore, empower your early employees to do the same!

– Go to local schools / colleges and sponsor projects. Every engineering graduate spends several hundreds of hours on final year project. Use this to get a pool of graduates ready for “real” work in startups

– Don’t narrow your view on colleges by just focusing on your project. Explore what other projects are being carried out from the network you build. In addition, do attend project exhibitions / competitions held in various colleges at the end of academic year (PICT – Impetus & Concepts, IITB – Techfest, etc)

– Sponsor workshops during such events, prices in your technology category (systems, networking, web or even more specific like embedded, digital media and so on).

– What’s more you don’t have to wait for such events for this. You can do organize such things on your own and as per your convenience too! Not much expensive. Who knows, even 1-3 years experience people might also start working on projects to win prices or just learn about your startup.

– Participate in providing training workshops that probably will be initiated via various OCC and could include collaborating with other startups.

– Provide internship opportunities to students. As most of the engineering colleges students are busy during final year with projects, target 3rd year engineering students (last second year for other courses) for internships!

– Internships are not just for freshers! Do plan to provide internship for experienced too….who know they might be looking to explore the area of your startup! You could consider them as paid-internship, part-time work, deep dive weekend internships, or just a program that provides a peek into your startup work.

– Network with people by participating in various events like OCC, barcamps and all other un-conferences!

– And most importantly, measure and monitor the results of above action items on your startups and focus on those that provides you high value (output / input)

Action Items for those looking to join startups:

– Talk, blog, twitter and “engage” (live discussions, comments, email conversations with heavy inline replies) right from the day you can surf internet or Day 1 of your school / college whichever is earlier. Promote this among your friends, classmates, and among any community you are a affiliated with.

– Follow, follow and follow all those people who write “something” which interests you (Blog / twitter). Keep a habit of spending around 30 mins reading this way “consistently”. Believe me newspaper / magazines are nothing in comparison to these, so spend time smartly!

– Plan your final year project in areas of your interest. And initiate shopping for projects in companies working in those areas from beginning of your 3rd year. And believe me to get “real” learning, look out for small / medium companies or even startups! Even big companies will heavily shop for you after this experience.

-Do plan to do internship (or even part-time work if you have the right skills to offer) during your college times. This will help you explore companies and get you in touch with industry work soon. Moreover, this could also be a source for your final year project!

– Initiate knowledge and experience sharing among various projects groups. This should be done both online (blog / forums) and offline (monthly “k&e sharing” meetings). Also, plan to do networking with fellow project groups in the areas of your interest during various project exhibitions / competitions (PICT – Impetus & Concepts, IITB – Techfest, etc)

– Those who have some experience, volunteer to guide some projects either by collaborating with startup companies or independently. Even if you have not done this, plan to attend the project exhibitions / competitions and network with students and learn about small / medium / startups companies.

– Stretch yourself beyond your full time job. Work for open-source projects, work part-time or do any kind of internships which will help you explore various opportunities. Only this will help steepen your learning curve. The involvement could also be very minimal like just providing feedbacks on products, technology choice, processes, recruitment / interviews but it “needs to be there”.

– Keep learning new technologies, be it do-it-yourself via blogs / websites / forums or through some training / workshops in your city. Another way, it to enroll for some competitions held across the globe. (Innovation awards, Science and Technology research awards, or facebook / iPhone app competitions, google competitions, etc)

– Network with startups by participating in various events like OCC, barcamps and all other un-conferences.

I hope these action items will help multiply startup workforce which is very critical.

October 6, 2008

Event: CSI Seminar on Entrepreneurship [25th Sept 08, Pune]

Filed under: Event — sachdev @ 4:38 pm

CSI Entrepreneurship event started with Anand Deshpande talking about “Why entrepreneurship?” He stressed people to think about why you want to go for entrepreneurial career. Answers were like earning money, being own boss, making a difference, satisfaction, etc. Anand mentioned that if you are entrepreneur for earning money, you have made a wrong decision. There is tremendous risk and asked those people to go to investment advisor rather than becoming entrepreneurs. He shared his story of how Persistent began as outsourced product based company and how they succeeded. Contacts in US provided him a good start for entrepreneurial career. He summed up his discussion saying ‘you need to be at right place at right time’ but the thing is you only know in future that you were at right place at right time J

Later there was also a talk from another entrepreneur (Harsh Barve) from Sungard India who shared his story about entrepreneurship and his success by selling to Sungard. He also started with the work which he got from contact he developed while in US. The trend generally is once you satisfy a customer; with reference you earn more work. He also stressed the importance of having functional expertise in the team which is crucial in IT services for areas like financial services automation. Selling the company later to Sungard, was seen as valuable opportunity – as it made them work with leaders in field and expand their expertise by working with various teams inside a big company. He mentioned that initially after acquisition there was not much growth but as various team got credibility about the Indian operation they experienced tremendous growth over 100% every year in employee headcount.

There was another talk from Manik Arora (Founder and Managing Director of IDG Venture India). First impression from him was that it’s good to see venture capitals setting up operations in India and people with experience in VC industry moving back to India, to repeat success stories of US. Manik started stressing how important it is to approach VC with reference. For VCs, as they invest huge sum of money, comfort with entrepreneur is must and hence entrepreneur should spend lot of time with him even before the company look out for funding. He later discuss in brief in general what all entrepreneur should prepare for VC – most specifically all elements of business plan, details of which can be found out at http://idgvcindia.com. For early stage companies as there is hardly any financial and significant information about market numbers and / or customer lists, he mentioned that it is important for entrepreneur to show the speed with which they are growing in the market place (show some traction in market place). He also mentioned in between his talk that experience is important for entrepreneur and said that working in large company will help entrepreneur to understand the business, processes and its weakness which startup can exploit. In terms of valuation he mentioned that all depends on how much is the investment and how much the VC should own to get 5-10x return on exit. E.g $2M investment -> 10x expectation -> $20M on exit. With market figures if the company looks good to be acquired at $100M in 5 years, VC will need 20% of company. So the valuation is $10M (post-money, pre-money is $8M).

Finally, there was a panel discussion moderated by Madhukar Bhatia of nFactorial. Manik Arora (IDG Ventures), Yoshima Somvanshi (National Entrepreneurship Network), Sandeep Kumar (Product Dossier), Vishwas Mahajan (Compulink), Ajay Pathak (Jopasana now part of Core Objects) and Rajeevlochan Phadke (Image Point) were present in panel discussing entrepreneurship and sharing their experiences. Madhukar started the discussion by asking what environment is needed for successful startup. Manik mentioned risk taking ability and feeder companies (which can generate talent / skills required for product based companies) as the key thing. Besides he also discussed the key problem – US market being far away and domestic market still in early stage. Ajay adds to Manik’s point of risk taking ability that for startup to succeed you also need risk taking customers. Interestingly in the discussion it was found out that the entrepreneurs in the panel were customers of each other! (Vishwas was customer of Rajeevlochan, Ajay was customer of Vishwas) So experience says product based company can have customers even in India and this is growing. However, Sandeep experience seems to be like customers don’t trust Indian companies and says the problem is not customers but lack of success stories.

Ajay shared his story of Jopasana which started as product based company but due to a mistake (selecting OS2 instead of Microsoft) which was very critical it had no option but to convert to service based company (They could have rebuilt products on Microsoft’s OS but it was too late and fund was not enough to support this decision). Recently they merged with Core Objects which has been a good strategic decision for them and they have been successful to help other product based companies overall in the process with the experience they have gained over long time. Interestingly, Vishwas’s company was opposite – they started as service based company just before the dot com bust and later they found no service revenue opportunity which made them think for building products! Vishwas mentioned that founders should complement each other’s skill-set and having one in technical and other in business domain really helps and increases probability of success. Vishwas also shared his story on limited funding which he took. The key learning was never approach VC without customers (since anyway they will ask for that before they fund), so keep focusing on getting customers rather than fund. This will also help you build products with real requirements.

Manik was asked about trends for product based companies in India or more specifically if VC’s are looking to invest in certain sectors. He mentioned that there is no such trend but the key is people – management team is something which is very important consideration by VC. Yoshima was asked about what is NEN doing and how are students participating in helping craft startup success stories. NEN is a not-for-profit organization established by some of the leading colleges in India (Wadhwani foundations – ISB, partnering with others like IIMA, IIT’s, Bits-Pilani) to create awareness and expertise in students graduating in various colleges so that they bring much higher value additions in startups and therby build a good pool of students for startup ecosystems. NEN is focusing in general to help create good ecosystems for startups in India. Recently, they had a startup jobs program which was basically a placement day just for startups. 25 jobs were said to be offered out of which 18 were accepted. The key to get this number growing was that students do internship with startups which gives them an idea about the work in startup – how interesting and challenging opportunities they might undertake.

Lastly there was another important discussion on how talent is retained in startup? Experience says that people don’t work for money in startup, if the work is interesting and responsibility is shouldered to young guns, there is much satisfaction and more importantly they should also feel a part of success story. Manik also shared Premji’s philosophy in terms of employee retention – whenever a person is 60%-70% ready for next level of responsibility, push him into that – he will be too busy with his work (14-15 hours a day) and hardly worry about leaving! Ajay who has been very successful in retaining talent for Jopasana for long time, says don’t worry much just concentrate on doing your best – he still is unaware why people stayed with him for long time!

Overall it was a very healthy discussion on entrepreneurship. PuneTech also has a blog on this event and keep checking the PuneTech calendar for such events.

Also check the DeskTalk – newsletter from CSI Pune released during the event which has more interesting stories to share from experts.

Event: Nasscom Product Forum [25th Sept 08, Pune]

Filed under: Event — sachdev @ 4:32 pm

Nasscom claims ‘now’ is the time for product based companies. They are promoting product based companies to be headquartered in India and targeting domestic market. Domestic market is said to be growing in many areas as we saw in banking / insurance / retail. Due to huge SMB (small medium business) presence growth will be phenomenal. Indian companies can have edge over MNCs in this market due to local presence, local knowledge – language & operations.

[Comments from people – India is still not a matured market. It is growing but not yet sufficient for product based company to just rely on India market. We should look for global market but yes at the same time we should be ready to customize product for Indian market as this will be the key. Also, experience from fellow entrepreneurs was that, Indian customers’ mindset is not as same and they are comparatively difficult to target]

Nasscom and Zinnov have done a good study of market and surveyed product based company in India to analyze the situation and forecast bright future for product based companies. Check the detail powerpoint here. Also check Nasscom blog – Indian Software Product Industry to touch US $12B by 1015.

There were interesting numbers heard from entrepreneurs about marketing their product. They say – marketing is not that expensive. Many were successful by crafting a right strategy for marketing (e.g. sponsoring appropriate forum / conference – not the very famous ones but those that are more specific for your target market, using right channel for marketing especially online, etc). Their experience is that marketing could be done wisely with just 2-3% of total cost. However, everyone stressed sales is critical and don’t club it with marketing. Sales have been estimated to take atleast 25% of the cost, so hiring a good senior and committed sales team is important.

Nasscom has tied with Intel to create an ecosystem for product based companies in India (link). They have launched Product Connect that will help product based companies get the right assistance right from inception stage. The process is said to be of 18 months where product based company will get guidance at every step, milestones will be established and progress will be monitored. Using resources of Intel is the main advantage for startup (resources mean document templates, process knowhow for product, engineering labs and benchmarking reports, marketing and sales channels and even other benefits like being part of Intel’s product directory which is distributed all over the globe). Looks interesting.

[Many questions were raised around why Intel is doing? Though there were vague answers, I think Intel sees the benefit of having a look at product based company closely in which they can invest with ‘Intel Capital’ arm. Lot of worries from entrepreneurs was seen – IP protection, technology lock-in with Intel, etc. Entrepreneurs need not worry – Intel has no restrictions with technology and all process is said to be for the benefit of entrepreneurs. This looks comparatively good compared to similar initiatives from Microsoft and other biggies. But Microsoft and other biggies are good option, if you target product based company to be acquired by them in near future]

Intel also hosts Intel Business Exchange – one stop IT solution. It has never been that simple – that’s what they claim. (bxindia.intel.com)

Nasscom also has other forums which are interesting for product based company to be involved with (e.g. Nasscom Product Forum) It seems like being a Nasscom member has many benefits such as getting involved with initiatives likes Nasscom-Intel product forum. So for product based companies, it is worth looking into all activities initiated by Nasscom.

October 2, 2008

Starting the blog with entrepreneurship poem

Filed under: Poem — sachdev @ 7:54 pm
Entrepreneurship - There is nothing to lose

Entrepreneurship - There is nothing to lose

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