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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sales Stories

This post is the first in a series of stories on selling.

This stories in this post are from the book Hope is not a strategy.

On targeting the pain point
Early in my sales career as an account manager, I was in the back of the room while one of my product specialists was presenting a system. We were extremely proud of the functionality and about halfway through the presentation, our product rep put up a slide and said, "Now, if you were a hospital, you'd really like this feature."

What!? I was utterly stunned. I thought to myself, "They're not a hospital-they're a bank! They're never going to be a hospital; they'll always be a bank!"

How preposterous, the idea of showing a hospital feature to a bank.

But this is no less preposterous than showing somebody a solution to a problem they don't have-or a feature for which they have no need. You might as well show a hospital feature to a bank.

On trust
The evaluation process was grueling. Two vendors were pitted against each other and were required to do detailed benchmark implementations in the evaluation of their products. It was an exhausting, detailed process with perhaps twelve to twenty people on each vendor's side.

In the end, we won by a couple of points, but we broadened that advantage into a business partnership. Their executives met our chairman. We had a corporate visit. We continued to talk about implementation and support and widened the gap. We actually reached a measure of business partnership before they signed the contract.

At dinner the night before the contract signing for multiple financial systems, the client said, "Oh by the way, do you have a fixed asset system?"


"How much is it?"

"Seventy-five thousand dollars."

"Add it to the proposal."

I thought, "They just bought a system sight unseen. How could they have required such detailed evaluation in the beginning and now they have bought a system they never even looked at?"

But they went further.

They added the graphic user interface for all the systems, which they knew was in the prototype phase. There were no references for this three-hundred-thousand-dollar product at that time. The opportunity went from six hundred thousand dollars to almost a million dollars, and forty percent of it was on products they had never seen.

How could they evaluate in the beginning in such detail and buy products sight-unseen now?

The answer is trust. They trusted our products based on the ones they had evaluated. If those worked, then these must. They trusted us as a company because they had met our top executives, they'd been to our headquarters, and they knew we were a stable industry leader with a good track record of delivery. And they trusted us personally because we understood their business and we had become friends
Got more stories that you would like to share? Add it in the comments below.

This post is a part of the selected archive.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Scavenger app from my Chennai Geeks presentation

This weekend I presented at the Chennai Geeks meet on using HTML5 to build mobile applications. As a part of the talk, I showed a sample scavenger application that was built using HTML5.

The application defined a list of scavenger locations, and used the Geolocation API to check you in when you were close to one of the defined locations. The app used Local Storage to save the list of previously visited locations and the timestamp when you last checked in. Finally we used some CSS3 Media Queries to show some additional information when the app was accessed through a desktop browser.

To run the application, just copay and save the code below and open the html file in Firefox 3.6, Google Chrome, iPhone or Android browser.

Here is the source code for the application:
<script type="text/javascript" src=""></script>
<script type="text/javascript" src="json2.js"></script>
header {font-size: 11px;}
h1 {font-family: Verdana,Helvetica,sans-serif; font-size:25px;}
.error, .notice, .success {padding:.8em;margin-bottom:1em;border:2px solid #ddd;}
.error {background:#FBE3E4;color:#8a1f11;border-color:#FBC2C4;}
.notice {background:#FFF6BF;color:#514721;border-color:#FFD324;}
.success {background:#E6EFC2;color:#264409;border-color:#C6D880;}
.location {background: #eeeeee; border-radius: 15px; -moz-border-radius: 15px; -webkit-border-radius: 15px; margin: 5px 0; padding: 10px;}
.visited {background:#ccff99; font-weight: bold;}
.location-distance {display:block; color: #555555; font-weight:normal; font-size: 0.8em;}
.location-checkin {display:block; font-weight:normal; font-size: 0.9em;}

/* Dont show distance and timestamp on small screens */
@media only screen and (max-width: 480px) {
.location-distance {display:none;}
.location-checkin {display:none;}

<script type="text/javascript">

Number.prototype.toRad = function() {
return this * Math.PI / 180;

// List of locations. Format: ["location name", lat, long]
["Thoughtworks", 13.01245, 80.201451],
["Ashoka Pillar", 13.035028, 80.212512],
["Kathipara", 13.007359, 80.20394]

// Haversine formula to calculate distance (in km) between two lat/long coordinates
function distance(lat1, lon1, lat2, lon2) {
var R = 6371; // km
var dLat = (lat2-lat1).toRad();
var dLon = (lon2-lon1).toRad();
var a = Math.sin(dLat/2) * Math.sin(dLat/2) +
Math.cos(lat1.toRad()) * Math.cos(lat2.toRad()) *
Math.sin(dLon/2) * Math.sin(dLon/2);
var c = 2 * Math.atan2(Math.sqrt(a), Math.sqrt(1-a));
var d = R * c;
return d;

function check_in(index) {
jQuery("#status-bar").html("<div class='success'>Checked in to " + LOCATIONS[index][0] + "</div>");
var check_ins_str = localStorage["check_ins"];
if (!check_ins_str) { check_ins_str = "{}"; }
var check_ins = JSON.parse(check_ins_str);
var location = LOCATIONS[index];
check_ins[location[0]] = new Date();
localStorage["check_ins"] = JSON.stringify(check_ins);

function show_distance(index, d) {
var container = jQuery("#locations-container").find("#location-"+index);
container.append("<span class='location-distance'>" + Math.floor(d*100)/100 + " km away</span>");

function success(pos) {
var distance_list = [];
for (var i=0; i<LOCATIONS.length; i++) {
var d = distance(pos.coords.latitude, pos.coords.longitude, LOCATIONS[i][1], LOCATIONS[i][2]);
show_distance(i, d);
distance_list.push([i, d]);
distance_list.sort(function(a,b) { return a[1] > b[1]; });
if (distance_list[0][1] < 2) {
} else {
jQuery("#status-bar").html("<div class='notice'>No checkins</div>");

function error() {
jQuery("#status-bar").html("<div class='error'>Unable to get position</div>");

function locate_user() {

function render_previous_check_in(index, check_in_date) {
var container = jQuery("#location-" + index);
container.append("<span class='location-checkin'>Last checked in on " + check_in_date + "</span>");

function show_checkins() {
var check_ins_str = localStorage["check_ins"];
if (!check_ins_str) return;
var check_ins = JSON.parse(check_ins_str);
for (var i=0; i<LOCATIONS.length; i++) {
var previous_check_in = check_ins[LOCATIONS[i][0]];
if (previous_check_in) {
render_previous_check_in(i, previous_check_in);

function show_locations() {
var container = jQuery("#locations-container");
for (var i=0; i<LOCATIONS.length; i++) {
container.append("<div class='location' id='location-" + i + "'><span class='location-name'>" + LOCATIONS[i][0] + "</span></div>");

jQuery().ready(function() {
A HTML5 mobile app demo by <a href="">Siddhi</a>
<div id="status-bar"><div class="notice">Checking your location...</div></div>
<div id="locations-container"></div>

Monday, November 29, 2010

HTML5 Multimedia: My presentation at Doctype Html5

Here are the slides from my presentation at Doctype Html5 (Chennai edition). The presentation is a very quick, very high level overview in using SVG, canvas and video with HTML5.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Really disappointed with TiE Entrepreneur Awards

I attended TiECon Chennai today. This is the big annual event organized by TiE Chennai for the entrepreneur community here. I'll put down my detailed experience notes elsewhere, in this post I want to talk about the TiE Chennai Entrepreneur of the Year awards.

TiE gives these awards to entrepreneurs every year in a variety of categories - social entrepreneur, start up, family entrepreneur and so on.

This time I had a chance to check out the award winners for the last three years, and to say I was completely disappointed is an understatement.

The entrepreneur awards were all given to huge, well established companies. Most of these people had been running their companies for 15 years or more. Some over 25 years. I can understand giving them an award when they were in the startup phase, but 20 years after they established their company? And we are talking companies that have hundreds of crores in revenue. Many of these are publicly listed companies. See the previous award winners here.

How the heck can you call these startups? Why is TiE giving Entrepreneur of the Year awards to them? Will we see Narayana Murthy and Mukesh Ambani being awarded next year?

There is no way that entrepreneurs in the audience are going to relate to these companies. Far from being an inspiration, it is extremely deflating that a forward thinking organization like TiE chose to ignore actual startups and instead promote the big, well established names :(

Monday, October 04, 2010

3 Oct OCC Meetup Roundup

We had the October 2010 meetup of the Chennai OCC. Tony Aug, VP IT of Sanmina had come down to attend the meet. Once of the big problems startups often have is understanding how large enterprises make decisions. This is really important in the context of B2B enterprise sales. So it was really good to have Tony come down and talk about the executive perspective when purchasing software.

Some points from the meetup -
  • The #1 reason for purchase in a recessionary environment right now is to cut costs. If you can show substantial cost reductions, then that is a big win.
  • Many cloud/SaaS startups dont understand the security and privacy needs of enterprises. Eg: A company like Sanmina with operations in 20 countries need to run only on certified infrastructure that comply to EU security and privacy regulations, HIPAA, and a host of other regulations. Startups right now cannot guarantee all this
  • Pricing: $10/user a month sounds reasonable, but multiply it by 50,000 users and it becomes huge. So you will need to find a way to get it into the team on one pricing model and then switch to another pricing model (possibly a flat price) when rolling out to the whole organization
  • Dont forget about switching costs. Once an organization has spent tons of money on training and integration, it is unlikely that they will switch over, even to a superior product, unless there is a really easy path for them to do so
  • Subscription pricing is great because it allows organizations to get started without expensive capital expenditure. The old model was to buy expensive servers, install expensive software, training, integration and then you could look to get RoI. The new model is to subscribe and cancel if it doesn't work out
  • You can expect a small team to pay by credit card, but larger orders will need a purchase order and go via the purchasing department. Once that happens a lot of other stakeholders will look at it and question the need for the purchase. So you will have to answer to these other stakeholders too.
  • Lock-in is important in a subscription service. Most companies will want to be sure that they can get their data out at any time
  • Sanmina is a huge believer in open source - cuts costs and there is a community to help. For mission critical systems they pay for commercial support
  • Escrow: Larger companies will usually ask startups that the source code be put in escrow. In case the startup closes down, the company gets access to the source.
  • Using tools like Linkedin, it is really easy nowadays to find a path to get to a decision maker in any company

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The difference between a conference and an unconference

One of the things I really like about unconferences is that there is very little "gyan" and a lot of experience sharing. This came home to me when participating in a session on hiring.

The question was: "What strategies do you follow for hiring and building a team?"

This same topic was discussed in a panel in the NASSCOM Product Conclave last year, with some VCs on the panel. In typical panel style, a lot of gyan was thrown around: "Hire only the best people", "Top people create top teams" etc.

That's stating the obvious. I mean which startup doesn't want to hire the best people? Do these VCs believe startups are intentionally hiring poor people because they believe its a better strategy??

The fact is that there are a lot of on the ground challenges to hiring that these panelists are hand waving away with their gyan:
  1. Startups are always short of cash and cannot match the compensation in bigger companies
  2. A lot of startups hire good guys only for them to leave in 6-12 months
  3. Really good guys are hard to find
  4. Most employees are not interested in stock options (a lot of Silicon Valley returned VCs talk about stock options... one wonders if they have actually recruited in India)
At the end of the panel, the audience is usually unsatisfied. The panelists tell them what they already know without a word on tackling ground level challenges that they face.

Now compare that with an unconference. Once more this topic came up at the TiE unconference.

Look at the answers this time:
  1. Many top people are around in smaller cities, who are not taken by big companies because of a lack of english skills. They are smart and make good startup employees
  2. Find a few people who believe in your vision and then complement them with freshers
  3. Look at 6 month internships - lots of smart people available as interns
  4. Look at your requirements - not all types of work require the best people. Some types of work are repetetive and may just make good employees bored.
  5. Look at the attitude and teach the skills
These are strategies that are coming from the experience of people who actually have to tackle these on-the-ground problems. At the end, the participants feel charged up with ideas to take back and implement the next day.

This is really what makes an unconference different for me. The focus on real solutions to real problems is invaluable.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Interesting Themes for the TiE unconference

I was looking at the position papers for the TiE Unconference. Position papers are topics that participants want to discuss at the unconference.

I've taken some that caught my eye and organized them into themes.(Find these topics interesting? Then register for the TiE Unconference and participate in the discussions)

Product-Market Fit
You may have an initial hypothesis about why your product is useful to enterprises. How do you validate it? There are several factors: which customers to reach out to feedback? How do you identify the *right* person within the org. for feedback? How do you evaluate their response? etc.
How does an entrepreneur determine if his product really has a market fit that can guarantee rapid growth for the enterprise? The question becomes relevant when the product addresses a latent need that is not very explicit in the market place. What are the typical pointers to a 'successful' or an 'unsuccessful' product?

there are many good companies which are doing great jobs in their niche. but very few Ideas scale, how can these companies tweak their business model, and focus to become large profitable organization
A good idea and you start enthusiastically by yourself or with friends. The founding team is all excited and there are no 'rules'. Works for sometime, but after a few years, when revenues start happening and the start up has to move to next level....

Bootstrapped startups have very low or nonexistent marketing budgets. If you're making a product for the global market, how can you make sure your product is found by the right people?
We are a young startup with a service offering of online ERP and HR software. We are facing a lot of roadblock in marketing SAAS to our target clientèle (which are mostly old-style brick and mortar firms) and especially with a slim sales force. Would like to see if some inputs could be got on this.
We are a startup with a service offering of Management Consultation and Leadership training. We are facing a lot of roadblock in marketing our Webinar to the right audience inspite of knowing them. Would like to see if some inputs could be got on this.
The idea is to understand the dynamic behind catching customers into a cloud and to retain them by providing continuously improved services.
Building a product that can be consumed online implies that it's location agnostic. How to target companies in the valley being in India ? Is it a necessity to be in the US?
Would like to hear about market entry experiences of product startups with specific reference to early stage high yield marketing techniques.

Direction of TiE
For TiE education, Mentoring and Networking are the pillars. These are delivered through various events in different formats: Talks, My-Story sessions, Panel discussions, Member networking sessions, Unconference (from now) etc..It will be useful to know how our members value these and what additional or alternate delivery formats and activities should we consider to be relevant and aligned with our members' expectations.
To understand better where TiE stands in the entrepreneur ecosystem today, and what role do start ups think TiE can play for them and how?

There is no dearth of ideas on solving problems. How can we leverage all the collective intelligence in the high tech industries to foster social innovation. How can we leverage technologies to improve the life of rural folk?

How do we identify great co-workers ? How do we build a team that lasts through the rough years ? How do we build a team that creates great products ?
How Recruiting the right people is the Key to Scale up and Establish your Start up

Services to Products
The difference starts from recruitment, development, environment and also the technology. The things to be taken care for getting the people shift their base from project based working to products.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Twelve Reasons Why Businesses Fail

From Naeem Zafar's book Seven Steps to a Successful Startup:
  1. Solving a problem that most users are not willing to pay to solve your way
  2. Thinking that you can do it all by yourself
  3. Lacking trust among team members
  4. Being overconfident and not questioning yourself
  5. Lacking a crisp, singular focus&emdash;Trying to be everything to everyone
  6. Marketing myopia
  7. Confusing a hobby with a business
  8. Pricing incorrectly and not knowing your real competition
  9. Failing to properly define your market and customers
  10. Not having enough financial resources available
  11. Focusing on a market segment too small to sustain you
  12. Starting a business for the wrong personal reasons
This post is a part of the selected archive. 

Monday, September 06, 2010

5th Sep OCC Meetup Roundup

A couple of links from the discussions at yesterdays OCC meetup

- Naeem Zafar's Seven Steps to a Successful Startup -
- Steve Blank's blog -

We started out with a theme - How do you find your first customer?

Suresh pointed out that we need to differentiate between customer (who pays) and a user (who uses the software). What we really need in the beginning is a user who can validate our assumptions. Once you have a validated model, then it is a lot easier to find a paying customer.

The conversation went on to How desperate is your customer's need? The more desperate the need is, the easier it is to find and sell. Sometimes entrepreneurs work on products that that are not solving really desperate problems. A company may have a hundred problems, but stakeholders only have time to only solve 5-10 of them a year. Is the problem you are solving in their top-10?

Here is a story from Steve Blank's book The Four Steps to the Epiphany (summarized):
Imagine a bank with a line as customers wait for an hour to cash paychecks. You have a product that could reduce waiting time to ten minutes. You meet the president and tell him you have a product that could solve his problem. What does the president say?
  1. "What problem?" - The president doesnt realize they have a problem. They won't become customers anytime soon. They are late adopters
  2. "Yes I feel bad about it and give them cups of water" - They know they have a problem but are not motivated to solve it. It's not an important problem to them.
  3. "This is a big problem, we are losing $500,000 a year! I'm looking for a a product that will cut processing time by 70%, cost less than $150,000 and integrate with our back end" - Getting warm. Recognize they have a problem and have visualised a solution
  4. "I requested our IT department to develop a solution, but it doesn't work and keeps crashing." - Hot. They have a problem and are spending money on solutions, but nothing works.
  5. "Boy, if we find a vendor who solves this, we can spend the $500,000 I've budgeted for it!" - Fiery hot. Ready to spend big, but no solution in sight. Perfect first customer
In case we thought the last type of customer doesn't exist, Dorai told a story of how he was talking about his vision to a customer and it was such a desperate problem that they paid him in advance to create a product to solve it. You know you have a market when customers are willing to part with their money even before you have started development. Steve Blank calls these customers "Earlyvangelists".

This tied in with the theme of a track at the upcoming Nasscom Product Conclave, which is Sell, Develop, Market, Sell. In other words, first sell your vision, and get someone to buy into it. Only then start with development. Where most of us think of selling as the last step, it really should be the first one.

From there we went into Steve Blank's Customer Development method and Naeem Zafar's 7 steps (links above). Both methods advocate having a customer to validate assumptions even before you start development.

The discussion also went into 2 common product development strategies

- Find a customer, then develop the product (Customer Development method)
- Create products, launch, and go for customer usage (Web 2.0 VC method?)

and the pros and cons of each method. With that we broke up for networking.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Usability: Webinar timings

Here is an image from a GoToMeeting's webinar page. I've logged into the webinar and it tells me to come back at another time.

Here is the problem:

Now I have to go to a timezone page and figure out the local time when this event is happening. And if daylight savings is involved there is a really good chance that I'll be off by 1 hour end end up missing the event.

This is not just an issue with GoToMeeting. I've seen it time and again with most webinar providers. And I've missed my fair share of webinars because of messing up the conversion (especially with daylight savings involved!!).

Why does it tell me the time in the PDT timezone? Why can't it use javascript on the browser to convert the time into my local timezone?

Or, at least have a message like "This webinar starts in 12 hours, 45 minutes". That way I get a fairly good idea of when it's going to happen.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Review of the Facebook Live Stream widget

At today's Agile Chennai event we tried using Facebook's live streaming widget to live stream event updates.

There were a couple of major problems which prevented it from really being useful.

  1. The live stream only shows some of the live stream updates. So some people see one set of updates, others see another set of updates, all chosen randomly. This kind of made it a lot less useful as people miss out updates and lose the context
  2. Every update made on the widget is also posted on the wall, so if you make a lot of updates, it ends up spamming your wall
  3. The wall updates look just like regular wall updates, so friends miss out the context that you are actually commenting on a live event, instead thinking that it is a regular status update about yourself
  4. Friends commented on the wall updates, which was nice. Wish there was a way to pull in these conversations into the live stream too. Otherwise there are fragmented conversations on each person's wall, plus the live stream
Anyone know of solutions/workarounds to these?

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Usability: The facebook event page

The image above shows an event page in Facebook. Notice that there are two links called Share (highlighted in red).

The top link shares the event with your friends on your profile. The other one, much more prominent, just writes on the event wall for other attendees to read.

What is the chance of mixing them up (or even missing out the top link entirely)?

I've seen instances where people intending to share the event with their friends use the link below, and end up writing on the event page wall.

Is there a way to make this clearer?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Dont forget to validate your assumptions

There is just so much you can learn from customers (or potential customers) that you should spend at least one day a week talking to them. You'll be amazed at what you can learn.

Technical founders especially love dreaming up cool stuff and getting to coding.

This is a huge mistake.

I recently spoke to one of our customers and asked them what their favourite feature was. I was stunned when they mentioned that sending email when a comment was added was a killer feature for them.

The shock was because we always thought this feature as a commodity feature. I mean, every tool out there has the ability to send email when a comment is added. We had a whole lot of really killer features, but this was one of the key features??

So I probed further.

Turns out that other tools only send out emails for discussions that you are involved in. Our tool sends out emails for everything. Think of a mailing list - you get every email whether you participated or not. Whereas a forum only sends you notification for new replies in the threads where you participated. It was something like that.

We always thought sending email for everything was a limitation. It was on our roadmap to refine it and make it send email selectively.

Well, guess what? Rather than being a limitation, it was actually a feature! And a killer feature for them.

So I called another customer - and this was an important differentiating feature for them too!

In a startup, we make a ton of assumptions. Don't forget to get them validated. Usually what the customer thinks is important is not what you assumed it would be.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Too many people are ideating, not enough are executing

Here is a pet peeve of mine that is strong enough to actually wake up this blog from hibernation.

I've been seeing this "ideating" word being tossed around as the new cool thing. Every event now seems to have an ideation workshop or innovation workshop. We've been doing innovation jams at for ages now. This weekend we had an IdeaCamp event here in Chennai.

These days even organizations like Nasscom and CII are jumping on the ideation bandwagon.

The premise is simple: get a bunch of people together, bounce ideas off the crowd and make it better.

As an entrepreneur, I find these sessions seriously turning off. I used to be excited about them, but not anymore.

Invariably no one brings up the hard questions: Whats the market for this idea? How will you price it? Are there any competitors? How much will it cost to build? How will you fund it?

And finally, when the event is over everyone forgets the idea and gets back to normal work.

Count up all the ideas from all the innovation jams, ideation sessions, BarCamps, IdeaCamps over the last four years... then count out how many have been executed on. My guess is zero.

The ideas are basically dead on arrival.

So why do we have so many ideation sessions?

Its fun. Its collaborative. And everyone likes to escape from the present and imagine the future. Execution is hard, and execution is definitely not-fun. Ideation is instantaneous, and best of all free! I feel sorry for execution - its hard, long, time consuming, and expensive :(

But lets face it: ideas are a dime a dozen. Execution is what counts.

Everyone remembers Edison's quote: Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration.

So, how about we stop ideating and start executing?

Thursday, January 14, 2010