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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?