Mandatory reading for startups

If you’re either a “startup enthusiast” who hasn’t taken the plunge into the entrepreneurial waters yet, or are a first timer who’s just started up with a super cool idea and unlimited passion, below is a list of mandatory posts you should read to know what you’re going to get into. These will help shape your thinking on the dos and don’ts which either make or break a startup. Please read and re-read until you fully grasp the essence -  

Also once you’re done with the reading bit, try answering the below questions in the context of your startup. While answering them make sure  (a) you don’t use any hyperbole, (b) be as clear and concise of possible and (c) each sentence should take the reader forward towards the understanding your idea. Each answer cannot be more than 120 words.
  1. What is your company going to make?
  2. Why did you pick this idea to work on? Do you have domain expertise in this area? How do you know people need what you’re making?
  3. What’s new about what you’re making? What substitutes do people resort to because it doesn’t exist yet (or they don’t know about it)?
  4. Who are your competitors, and who might become competitors? Who do you fear most?
  5. What do you understand about your business that other companies in it just don’t get?
  6. How do or will you make money? How much could you make? (We realize you can’t know precisely, but give your best estimate.)
  7. If you’re launched, what is your monthly growth rate (in users or revenue or both)?
  8. How will you get users? If your idea is the type that faces a chicken-and-egg problem in the sense that it won’t be attractive to users till it has a lot of users (e.g. a marketplace, a dating site, an ad network), how will you overcome that?
  9. How far along are you? Do you have an MVP yet? If not, when will you? Are you launched? If so, how many users do you have? Do you have revenue? If so, how much? If you’re launched, what is your monthly growth rate (in users or revenue or both)?

I’ll be happy to review your answers to the above questions and tell you how you fared. I’m reachable on – helloanand at gmail. Shoot across your answers within in the body of the email itself (no docs and pdfs please).

Bonus reading (thanks to Annkur, Pravin and Kulin) -

So read up plenty and prepare for the journey ahead.

 

It’s the journey that matters

It was a hot summer day. The sun shone unforgivingly. We were standing at the edge of a massive landscape. A hilly terrain with a few plains scattered in between. We were not the only ones here. The place was swarming with people in groups – big and small. The air was dusty making it difficult to breathe.

Why were we all here? You see, a few explorers before us had discovered gold here. There was rumor that lots more was buried underneath. There was only one problem – no one knew exactly where.

Lining the edge of the landscape were an assorted bunch of shops. Some were selling shovels, some offering a truck ride to spots they knew had gold. A few offered to teach exploration and survival skills, while some others said tell us your plan and we’ll give you money to make it happen. The people running the shops were selectively choosing whom to work with. They said their time was to be used sparingly and hence they where being choosy.

If you glanced across the landspace you could notice several groups hard at work. Some digging with enthusiasm, some going at it methodically with an occasional planning session, some just happy to be away from the city

The city was a place of planned perfection. You went about your life mechanically. Boring to a fault. It was the perfect place to be for a majority of folks, but for some adventuresome stupid people the wilderness was a lot more exciting. A new challenge every now and then. Everyday different. Each group digging about with the belief that they’re going to hit gold soon.

It’s this fuel of adventure and challenge that keeps us entrepreneurs going. Some hitch rides, some chose to tread alone. It doesn’t matter whether you hit gold or not, it’s the journey that’s the most rewarding – only if those shopkeepers could understand this.

Relish the moment

Recently, our startup got invited to interview at Y-Combinator. Whether we get selected for the W2014 batch or not, I’m actually quite happy to have just made it to the interview. We’re hoping we’ll get a chance to meet Paul Graham (PG) even if for 10 mins which is the duration of the interview.

At my previous startup we hired our second employee who applied right after he had read PG’s book – Hackers and Painters*. He was so inspired by the book that he came all the way from Bangalore to work for a 3 people startup in Mumbai. I had not heard of PG or the book before that. Now, like many other entrepreneurs I read and re-read PGs essays on startups, fund-raising etc. He distills down the topics to the core and almost walks you through to topic.

This post is about relishing the moment. Many times in life we don’t fully enjoy a milestone or achievement since we get busy chasing the next one, and soon the past achievements seem like a blur. You have to learn to enjoy the moment – for it will pass.

Even super successful people like Bill Gates find a reason to go to work everyday. Not that they’re still chasing their original goals – just that the goals have moved further ahead. Success is a moving target.

Enjoy every battle you’ve won even if you don’t yet know the outcome of the war. Don’t wait till the end.

*I’ve just begun reading it again.

Questions every startup should ask itself

Recently, Y Combinator (YC) opened up the applications for its Winter 2014 batch. YC is a startup accelerator that helps companies get off the ground.  They select about 50 startups from the 4000+ applications they receive.

The questions contained in the application are deep, they force you to introspect about the idea you’re pursuing.  Whether you’re considering applying to YC or not, I think, it is worth mulling over the questions.  Just going through the exercise of answering them will help you get clarity on the idea you’re pursing and you’ll know whether you’re on the right track.

Below are the relevant questions from the YC application that every startup should ask itself. While answering them make sure  (a) you don’t use any hyperbole, (b) be as clear and concise of possible and (c) each sentence should take the user forward towards the understanding your idea.

  • What is your company going to make?
  • Why did you pick this idea to work on? Do you have domain expertise in this area? How do you know people need what you’re making?
  • What’s new about what you’re making? What substitutes do people resort to because it doesn’t exist yet (or they don’t know about it)?
  • Who are your competitors, and who might become competitors? Who do you fear most?
  • What do you understand about your business that other companies in it just don’t get?
  • How do or will you make money? How much could you make? (We realize you can’t know precisely, but give your best estimate.)
  • If you’re launched, what is your monthly growth rate (in users or revenue or both)?
  • How will you get users? If your idea is the type that faces a chicken-and-egg problem in the sense that it won’t be attractive to users till it has a lot of users (e.g. a marketplace, a dating site, an ad network), how will you overcome that?

Good luck.

Questions worth asking yourself

A few years ago, 2004 to be precise, I came across some questions that forced me to introspect and come up with the answers. Recently, I re-discovered the document in which I had written the answers and was pleasantly surprised.

I’m listing down the questions here, do think about your answers -

* What were the significant events of the year?

* What were my accomplishments?

* What trips did I take?

* Who was I closest to?

* What significant reading did I do?

* What gave me joy?

* In what ways did I grow?

* What personal gifts did I use to serve this year?

* What did I learn this year?

* What in my life is dying (literally or figuratively)?

* What in my life is rising (literally or figuratively)?

*What are my goals for the next year?

 

A winning team

I can’t stress enough the importance of having a great team when starting out. The team I’m referring to is the founding team plus the first few people in your startup. You can choose and control exactly whom you work with. Any compromises there greatly increase the chances of your startup failing.

Wizrocket is my third startup where I have had other co-founders. Back in 1994, while I was still in college, I co-founded a business along with my best friend. We dabbled in writing software, assembling PCs, fixing dot matrix printers etc. We had zero prior experience of writing software or assembling PCs. We quite literally learnt our stuff on the job. As a team our energy levels, mindset and our drive to succeed matched. In the two years we managed to sell 40 copies of our software (for perspective – this was in Ahmedabad in 1994. We had to find 40 High Court Advocates with computers who were willing to pay us for our software), a feat that I’m very proud of.

In 2006, I started burrp.com with Deap.  Both of us chucked our respective  jobs in the US to relocate to India so that we could work full time on burrp! As a team we took a massive “leap of faith”. We fed off each others energy levels. We shared a sense of camaraderie and we knew exactly we were going with burrp!.  In this case we had complementary skills. I used to handle technology, while Deap handled everything else. We both owned product. Both of us set the hiring bar very high and carefully chose who we let in. The team built not one, but two products – burrp! local and burrp! TV, both with kick-ass features, kick-ass UI/UX and a beaming sense of pride.  At one point we were nominated by Business 2.0 magazine as one of top 30 non-US companies to watch out for.  We made the mighty Google pay us for sourcing burrp! listings (yes, you read it right). We rode the wave.  Most people from the original burrp! team are now entrepreneurs in their own might and run some super hot startups.

Most recently, I started Wizrocket with Sunil and Suresh. While we’re still very early into the journey, what we’ve managed to pull off with a three-people team is nothing ordinary. Time will tell whether we succeed or fail, but one thing I’m sure of that we’ll all be a lot more wiser learning from each other.

A winning team not only shares a common belief or goal, but continuously learns from one another and finds means and ways to reach the goal faster.

Some lessons and observations -

  • Be very careful whom you let in your team. Never be in a hurry to hire for your startup.
  • Small teams are more agile. Push back hiring as much as you can.
  • A great team can figure out a way to pull off an impossible product.
  • You can have small winning teams in big companies too. I was very lucky in my career to be part of some of them.