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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

2012 Completion List

The last couple of years I've been keeping track of the videogames that I complete. This year I completed the following games:
Here is the list from last year.

Update:  Managed to finish Kaptain Brawe with an hour to go in the year! :)

I also tracked the non-technical books that I finished this year. Here is that list:
I wanted to read twelve books this year, and managed to complete eleven. I'm pretty satisfied with that.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Why you need to validate your assumptions

This week, our team had to submit the second assignment for the Stanford Technology Entrepreneurship online course. The assignment was to make a list of hypothesis to validate and then to go out and conduct interviews and surveys to validate them.

When we did our survey, it threw up a few surprises.

Here is what we learnt:

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Startups: How do you promote your company without being annoying

Most engineer founders are reluctant to actively promote their startup. We always think, "what if they find us obnoxious" or "will they just send our email into the spam" or "will we get a hostile response". So this answer on Quora is a valuable lesson to all of us engineer founders:
Read Quote of Russell Wallace's answer to Startups: How do you promote your startup without being annoying? on Quora

This post is a part of the selected archive.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Why you should attend the Unconference sessions at Nasscom Product Conclave

Unconference? What is that? And why should you attend?

Everyone knows what a conference session is:
  • A conference session has a pre-decided agenda, with pre-decided speakers
  • Sessions are typically one-to-many between the speaker and the audience
  • Interaction is only for a few minutes of Q&A at the end
Often times, an interesting session can leave you with more questions regarding the execution of the concepts. For example, the speaker might talk about key concepts in marketing for a venture funded US startup. But if you are a bootstrapped Indian startup, then what modifications should you do to apply these ideas in your company? And what are other companies like yours doing?

That is where an unconference session comes in. In an unconference session:
  • YOU choose the topics. The attendees vote on topics that they are interested in, and we select the top voted topics
  • Sessions are discussion oriented. Everyone participates and there are no silent observers
  • Sessions are based on peer-to-peer learning. You learn from the other attendees, who are all product companies like you
The Product Conclave will have four unconference sessions, and YOU can shape the agenda.
What would you like to discuss at these sessions? 

This is the process by which you can participate:

1. Take a look at all the questions posed in this Google Moderator -
2. Please look through over 20 questions. If you find a topic you like, please vote for it. 
3. If you do not see a topic you like, you are free to create one and describe it a bit so that others can understand it. 
4. We will allow people to vote till 6th of Nov (one day before the Product Conclave starts)
5. On 7th morning, we will pick the top 3 (most voted topics) and assign one session for each
6. If your topic comes up, be prepared to be co-moderator. Your job is not that complex. You ask some seed questions to get the discussion started and share what you know.
7. Typically we expect 20-25 people for each discussion. Every one should get a chance to speak and ask questions. There will be no formal presentations. Just a brief introduction. 

We really look forward to seeing you in these sessions. Learning from peers in your industry is a lot of fun and if you have not done this before, you are sure to enjoy it.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Is there such a thing as a bad idea?

I'm doing the online Technology Entrepreneurship course offered by Stanford this semester. For the first assignment, all participants are grouped with random team members into teams of 10. The assignment asks the teams to brainstorm 5 good startup ideas and 5 bad (eg: selling ice cubes in Alaska) ideas and create business models for both the good and the bad ideas. The second assignment asks the team to choose a bad idea created by another team, and make a compelling commercial for it.

The second assignment description says:
In entrepreneurship, it is very difficult to tell a bad idea from a potentially very good idea. The differences are quite subtle or even non-existent and it's often much more about the team and what they do with the idea. A creative, hardworking team can turn a bad idea into something with a lot of potential. Some go so far as to say that there are no bad ideas. Creativity is a constant resource that your team has that can be applied during the startup process to improve on business models and generate new even better ideas.

In fact, when browsing through some of the bad ideas, I was struck by how many actually have potential. Here are some ideas submitted in the "bad ideas" category that I came across which may turn out to be good ideas:
  • Selling umbrellas in summer season: The person who submitted this idea is from Europe, and I can imagine how he thought obviously what a dumb idea this was. But come to India or other equatorial countries and see how many people use umbrellas to protect from the summer heat.
  • Disposable paper T-shirts: Not exactly paper, but Lyocell is a fabric derived from wood pulp, just like paper is. And there is demand for cheap, disposable, single-use fabrics in the medical industry (See slide #30 here [PDF]).
  • Spicy ice cream: This was one of the bad ideas selected by my team. But, it turns out that spicy ice cream is a popular flavour with many recipes online.
So what do you think? Do we throw away many "bad" ideas which could be great ideas with a little creativity?

This post is a part of the selected archive.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Why are so many entrepreneurs embarrassed to want to make money?

I don't get it.

Many people who attend Chennai Open Coffee Club want to start on an idea or a business. But when it comes to figuring out how to make money, so many people get embarrassed and say "I dont want to run a business to make money, I just want to [insert noble cause here]", where noble cause may be something like "help the poor", "assist the farmers", "improve the quality of education" etc. Or they say that they want to become a "social entrepreneur", whatever that means.

Why are we so conscious about wanting to make money? Why do so few people say, "there is huge problem X, users with problem X are willing to spend money, and we want to solve that problem X and collect all these pots of money". Somehow a lot of people feel insecure about phrasing things like this. It makes them feel like unethical money grabbers.

Listen, there is nothing unethical about it. You aren't getting money for free. You are getting it for solving problem X.

And even if you have some noble scheme in mind, remember that without money coming in, you'll soon close down, and your noble scheme will die with it. And if you are thinking "I'll start an NGO" then remember that the same economics are in play for NGOs as well: End of donations equals end of vision. Which is why many NGOs actually spend more time and money on fundraising than their actual activities.

So, don't be embarrassed about making money. Search for an idea that will make you rich. Then work back from there.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Sequence - Start acting on user insights

This weekend was in50hrs Chennai edition, and Kausik and I decided to make a small app for SaaS developers called Sequence [until we come up with a better name]. For those unaware, in50hrs is an idea-to-prototype event where you have to code a product from scratch over a weekend. (Somewhat like Startup Weekend)

Sequence allows you to create rules that match against user activity in your app and take appropriate action.

  1. If a user signed in, and was then inactive for 2 days, send a notification to the sales guy to call the user and follow up [Simple follow up action]
  2. If a user has not used the product for 30 days, send them an email with a discount code [Simple re-engagement]
  3. If a user has signed up from facebook referrer, then show them facebook integration features. If they signed up from a twitter link, show them twitter integration features. [Simple segmentation]
  4. If a user is highly engaged, send an email explaining the benefits of upgrading [A mistake the many web apps do is to send this message based on time. For instance, a week before the trial expires. That is the wrong time, you want to send it when the user is at the peak of usage. If they are highly engaged on day 7 of the trial, then send this email on day 7]
  5. If a user has started using the app a little, and has not yet liked the facebook page, send them an email asking them to like the facebook page to get 100 free credits [Timing the message when they are starting to get engaged and are most likely to perform this action to get free credits.]
  6. After the user has done the basic activities, send them an email highlighting an advanced feature [Holding off emailing about the advanced feature until they are somewhat comfortable with the basic feature]. Bonus: Integrate with Tour My App to show a tour of this advanced feature.
It's pretty straightforward really

So, how does Sequence work?

1. Integrate with Analytics

Most apps already have user activity data with one of the popular analytics tool - Mixpanel, KissMetrics, Totango etc. Sequence integrates with their export API to pull in daily (could be hourly too) raw data, process it and store it. We simply reuse the data you have for analytics instead of building a clickstream data repository ourselves. The advantage of this is that your don't have to do any integration on your page - no Javascript, no backend calls etc. Just hook Sequence up with your analytics account.

For in50Hrs we integrated with Mixpanel, since that is what we use in our other products.

2. Create rules

Once you have your data processed and stored in Sequence, it will match it against a series of rules that you can create, like in the picture above. Variables start with $ and special functions start with #. Variables are application specific and can be custom defined as per your application needs.

3. Link rules to actions

Once you have the rules in place, you can link them to actions. Actions can be anything - displaying them on a dashboard, sending a particular email to the user, sending a notification to the sales team etc. For the minimum viable product that we demoed at in50hrs, we displayed them on a dashboard.

That is it

That is all there is to Sequence. Link your analytics, create rules, automatically let the system take appropriate action whenever a user's activity matches the rules.


If you would like to become an early customer of Sequence, then fill up the form below. Note that this product is exactly 6 hours old, so its raw. Be prepared to rough it out.

Fill out my online form.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Why did VCs/angels miss investing into Interview Street at an early stage?

Recently Y Combinator selected TapToLearn and Plivio into their program. This is after they selected Interview Street in an earlier batch.

I don't know TopToLearn and Plivio personally, but Vivek from Interview Street was pretty active in the Chennai startup scene for a long time before moving to Bangalore and finally into YC.

He bootstrapped for many years while pivoting on several themes. Apart from Morpheus, who bought into his idea, why didn't any other Indian investor buy into it?

I'm sure a lot of VCs and angel networks would be kicking themselves now. They had a chance to invest early into a global startup that is now going places, and they missed the chance. Instead they will invest millions into the next shaky e-commerce, travel or deal site.

It's embarrassing when they have these companies growing right under their noses, and it takes YC to recognise them.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Sharon Lee

Sharon Lee
Originally uploaded by Siddhi
Model shoot. The dress is a modern version of the cheongsam.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Bathing Pool

Bathing Pool
Originally uploaded by Siddhi
This is an image of the Roman bathhouse at Bath. It was built around 50 AD by the Romans and has been preserved until now. The water is an unusual green colour because of algae growing in it.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Minimum Viable Product & the Tour My App roadmap

Recently there has been a lot of noise made about minimum viable products (MVP). MVP was the topic at this month's Chennai Open Coffee Club. Unfortunately I couldn't make it at the last minute, so there are my thoughts on MVP and our approach to building Tour My App.

We recently launched a new product called Tour My App. This is a product through which you can create "tours" to guide users step by step through the actions required to complete tasks in your web application. In this post I'll explain how we are applying the MVP concept in Tour My App.

First some history.

We've always wanted a tour functionality in our other product - Tools For Agile. We searched for various solutions, but didn't find anything that fit our needs. In the meantime, The Startup Center had an event called In 50 Hours. The premise of the event is simple - build a product from scratch in 50 hours. Kausikram went ahead and built an initial prototype of Tour My App over the weekend. The idea was to later on incorporate that into our product. However, during the demo at In 50 Hours, many people expressed interest in having that functionality in their products as well. We then decided to split this functionality into a separate product.

Tour My App was born.

Having decided to build it out into a separate product, we now needed to figure out our release plan. Here is where the MVP concept enters the picture. MVP is a principle to build just enough of the product to validate your assumptions. They may be assumptions on user adoption, pricing model, sales model, technology... anything relating to the product. We have some idea about all these factors when we start, but they are all assumptions. How do we validate it? What we do not want to do is to build a big product and then learn that many of our assumptions are wrong. So, our goal was to build the product piece by piece in order to answer the most important questions up front.

Out of all the questions, the top questions right now were
  1. Is Tour My App solving a real problem?
  2. Will people pay to have this problem solved?
The idea for Tour My App comes directly from a problem we faced ourselves. We badly wanted this functionality in Tools For Agile. Our analytics showed that many users signed up for Tools For Agile but would leave before they performed a single action. If we could get users started easily, then we could make our users much more productive - and increase the chance they would become heavy users.We were ready to spend money to get this solved, but we couldn't find any other product that we could use. We were desperate to get a solution. That is why after a few months of looking, Kausik decided to just write it himself.

But this is just one data point. Were there other companies like this? And would they pay to have it solved?

These were the questions we wanted to answer.

So we did something unconventional - we charged for the beta. 

Generally beta testers get the product free. So why did we charge for it? In usual terminology, beta testers are testers. This means that they are given a buggy product and are expected to report bugs. In exchange for this service, they get the product free. In our case, the product is not buggy. We even have a demo page showing it in action. We want people, not to test the product, but to solve their problems.

The initial beta pool is a set of companies who really have a serious problem, are willing to pay to get the problem solved and the problem is serious enough that they want to explore solutions right now, rather than wait for the application to go live later.

In other words, we want to filter out the people who signed up for beta expecting a free toy to play with, and focus on those who need Tour My App.

So what does all this have to do with MVP? And if the product is production quality, then why are we in beta?  Simple, the quality is at production level, but the product isn't finished.

You see we only built the bare minimum functionality to run a tour. There is still no UI, no sign up page, no login page. In order to save a tour, we have to go into the database and create user accounts and store the data manually.

Why did we do this? Because building those features now doesn't help us answer the questions we want answered at this point. The MVP is the minimum you need to build to get answers to your questions. So we cut out these features for now. We'll build it later.

We are sitting down with the beta companies, and together figuring out what different kinds of tours they need. Based on that we will add the data to run the tour into the database and the tour can then be deployed live into the app.

The discussions will also highlight whether we need to add more functionality into Tour My App or not. We have thousands of potential features in our minds. We are not going to implement any of them until we come across a beta customer that needs it. Then we will build it. So we are not building features based on assumptions, or coolness, but only when see a need in front of our face.

In this phase we want to answer the question: Can we build the kinds of tours that customers need?

Once we figure out the answer to that question, and are satisfied that we are doing a good job of solving beta customer problems, only then will we build out the frontend, the website, the signup page, login page and all that. All that is simple - there is no unknown risk there.

Then we will open to the public with the live application.

PS: Do you think you are losing customers (and therefore, lots of revenue) because some proportion of users cannot figure out the steps required to complete tasks in your web application? Is the problem so bad that you want a solution right now and are willing to pay to have it solved? Then give us your email and we'll bring you into the beta program.