Tag Archives: advice

Contest: What is the best advice you’ve ever gotten?

(Update: Check out all the great advice in the comments section)

Getting the right kind of mentorship is a very important factor in the success of most successful people. Yet, unfortunately, we often see youngsters not getting the right kind of advice, either because they’re too shy to approach potential mentors, or don’t know whom to approach, or think they know everything. To highlight the importance of getting mentors, we’re asking our readers to give examples of great mentorship – by telling us what was the best piece of career advice you’ve ever gotten. And, if possible, mention the name of the mentor too. Post it as a comment to this article, and we will highlight the best ones in an upcoming article on PuneTech and elsewhere.

The contest ends on Monday, 5th September 2011 at 6pm.

Update: Amit Naik and Lokesh Parakh are the winners of the contest. They get a MentorEdge T-shirt, and a free ticket to a MentorEdge Pune session if they’re interested. Actually Anil Paranjape’s entry was the number 1 choice of the judges, but he does not win anything since he is already a mentor at MentorEdge.

Note: The contest (described below) is over, but you can continue adding advice, because good advice is forever…

To encourage you to help with this cause, MentorEdge, a program for connecting startups to successful mentors, will be giving away 2 T-Shirts to the best entries and free mentoring as part of the next event.

MentorEdge is an initiative of the Center for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE) at IIM-Ahmedabad, and is an event that happens every few months in many cities in India, including Pune. The basic idea is that senior, experienced people from the industry, especially those with experience relevant to startups, are invited to be mentors, and startups apply to get face-to-face, one-on-one slots with the mentors, so they can get advice, feedback, or schedule further follow-up meetings with specific mentors. The event usually lasts half a day and each startup ends up meeting at least 5 or 6 mentors.

The next event in Pune is on 10th September. If you are a founder of startup and been generating revenue for more than 6 months, you should definitely consider getting some mentorship through MentorEdge. For a list of mentors, see their website. To apply look here

Whether you’re interested in MentorEdge or not, and whether you’re interested in a T-shirt or not, please leave a comment with your advice on the best advice you’ve ever received.

What IT Services Project Managers can learn from Greek Mythology

(This article is a guest post by Rohit Gore, a Pune-based senior IT professional and novelist.)

“When you are a King, your options are very limited. But you have to do the best you can with them.” Odysseus, the great Greek King said to one of the greatest warriors of history, Achilles. It is a very revealing statement, and speaks a lot about Odysseus’ character and his grasp of what management is. Odysseus was one of the regional satraps of the mighty and egotistic King Agamemnon, and he had had to fight many brutal battles for the King’s glory. He was always challenged by the flagging morale of his troops, his personal sacrifice and dwindling resources of his country. However, he was aware of the wrath he and his little country would suffer if he tried to displease Agamemnon. Over the course of the history he achieved greatness as a shrewd king, who made sure his subjects were protected and larger goals were achieved, which was basically Agamemnon’s reign over most of the known world. Achilles, on the other hand, was a vain warrior who chased personal glory, and was brilliant at it.

Juxtaposing this in the world of IT Services, a project manager needs to be more of an Odysseus than an Achilles.

IT Services industry is fast approaching the plateau of maturity that other core industries like Steel, Cement and Energy achieved several decades ago. Naturally, gone are the days, when we had services organizations being run by individual visionaries and geniuses, and others in supporting acts. However, the situation of IT industry is rather unique because at its core it is still highly human intensive and knowledge centric. You cannot really replace a knowledge worker the way you would replace a worker who operates, say, a Lathe machine in a workshop. Due to this intrinsic human centric nature, the job of a project manager in IT Services is doubly challenging in a maturing landscape of the industry.

A manager could do worse than to develop these traits:

Odysseus’s view of the ‘big picture’

IT services project manager, in the torrent of daily tasks, ends up forgetting what she is actually achieving at the end of the project. No project is an individual silo and works towards a common organizational goal. It could range from as strategic as ‘better connect with the customer’ to as operational as ‘improving process efficiencies’. A project manager needs to be totally aware of what the client is achieving through the success of her project, and most importantly she has to be able to articulate it everywhere, in every forum she gets an opportunity to. Be it to her project team, client counterparts, product vendor teams or her senior management. Odysseus constantly told his troops that every battle was a way of protecting their motherland and ensuring the well being of their families back home. That message almost always made everyone realize what they were really fighting for – not for King Agamemnon, but for their families.

Odysseus’s ability to manage the ‘stars’

Let’s face it, star performers are important, in fact, crucial for the success of any team. Many a times, the estimations of work packets in a project are way off the mark and it is a constant battle to meet the quality targets and deadlines. In these situations, the people who make the difference are the ‘stars’. An IT project manager needs to make sure these ‘game-breakers’ are always motivated and focused, because they can be notoriously fickle and can lose interest very fast. Most importantly, the manager has to make sure that their egos are managed well. After all, there never was a great performer without the ego! There is a subtle difference between managing your stars and your average team members. The biggest challenge for the manager is to determine who the real stars are. The manager needs to quickly ensure that they share her view of the ‘big picture’ and can articulate it as well. Many times, the lesser performers in the team follow the stars, and if you have your best performers as the spokespersons of your vision in the team, half the job is done! Achilles was the greatest warrior of his generation and to Odysseus’s great consternation, Achilles hated Agamemnon. However, it was Odysseus who convinced Achilles to fight for the mighty king and also managed to reign in his ego and relentless thirst for glory at all expense. The result was several seemingly lost battles were won by the individual brilliance of Achilles.

Odysseus’s streak of ‘selflessness’

This trait, the selflessness, is the trickiest to master. After all, we are working towards corporate goals, which generally result in some kind of profit for the clients. In such a situation, it is always easy to be a bit cynical and protect the narrow self-interest. However, the importance of this trait is like the little pinch of salt in a dish. The dish can never be complete without it. A project manager can achieve a lot if she sets the personal ego aside. It’s manifestation can be as simple as the manager taking that little step to stay back in the office till the major activities of the day are over or as striking as the manager taking the lead in important client calls rather than delegating it. Many times, a manager ends up thinking, what she believes is paying a ‘price’ for this selflessness. The biggest price is that of preparation for every call a manager decides to lead and every hour she spends in the office after usual time of closure. However, it couldn’t be farther from the truth. There is nothing more inspirational for a team member than a simple selfless act of manager. Odysseus never stayed in the background during the battles. He drew his sword first and always charged headlong. It was fraught with great risk, but Odysseus what it would mean to his soldiers, and even to mighty warriors like Achilles and Ajax. It won over his troops and gained him great respect, even greater than Agamemnon. As a result, Odysseus won all his battles.

Odysseus’s flair to appreciate every facet of his trade

It is important for the project manager to appreciate what every individual brings to the table in his team. Be it coding, analysis or testing. The manager need not be an expert but she needs to know what it takes to code or test or analyze. She has to have the traits of a generalist and not get too attached to just a few aspects of the project. Several projects fail because the project manager’s refusal to having a perspective of all the facets, or even glorifying some aspects and neglecting others. Many times, this attachment comes from the manager’s background and the comfort she derives from wrapping herself in her strengths. Odysseus, an expert swordsman, never failed to appreciate the contribution and skill of his archers. He knew they were equally important to winning the battle and always told them so, although they were often derided by the swordsmen as being cowards for shooting the enemy from a distance. This resulted in archers having a sense of belonging and they never failed to flatten rows of enemy troops for swordsmen to charge and finish the job.

History can be very revealing. Odysseus was a great hero, and most importantly, he was the only one who lived to tell the tale! All the other great warriors, including the invincible Achilles, met their end. It was Odysseus who documented their heroics and passed on their greatness for the next generations. Knowledge management, anyone!!

About the Author – Rohit Gore

Rohit Gore is a Pune-based senior IT Professional and novelist. Rohit is a Lead Consultant at Fujitsu Consulting India, and has 10+ years of Industry experience including stints at Infosys and Sasken after an MBA from S P Jain Institute.

Rohit is also the author of ‘FOCUS, SAM’ a novel from Rupa Publications and the upcoming ‘A DARKER DAWN’. He grew up in a number of towns in India. At various times in his childhood, he wanted to be a theatre actor, an architect and a bookshop owner.

He loves sports, specifically the discussing and watching part of it, since the playing days are long gone. He has travelled a lot – a consequence of living in Mumbai and London. His greatest passion is reading and it inspired him to write. He is a frequent contributor to many online writing forums and wishes there were more writing groups.

Break ke Baad: Tips for Moms re-entering the IT-workforce after a break

(Last week, Persistent Systems played host to a week-long workshop by “Break ke Baad”, a newly created group in Pune which aims at helping women who are looking to re-enter the IT-workforce after taking a pregnancy/children related break in their career. As a part of this workshop, I was on a panel discussion about opportunities amongst startups and other smaller companies for such ‘break-ke-baad’ moms. This article is based on that discussion, and an email discussion that I had initiated on the Pune Startups mailing list)

Let me first start with the common concerns of break-ke-baad moms:

  • Cannot work full-time: Even when a break-ke-baad mom is ready to get back to work, in most cases, she cannot work full time. Typically she can work part-time (maybe 9am to 2pm – when the kids are in school), or she needs to work from home for a significant fraction of time. This means that she is unsuitable for some roles, and/or some companies will simply not consider her.
  • Out of Touch: After having taken a break (typically of 5 years or more), most are out of touch with the latest trends in their field, and would typically not have skills in the latest technologies. The fear is that they are less employable because of this.
  • Lack of confidence: Both of the above issues result in many break-ke-baad moms significantly lacking in confidence that they will be able to perform, or in fact even at their ability to get a job.

My experience is that none of these are real problems and break-ke-baad moms can not only get good quality jobs with flexible timings, but there are certain circumstances where companies might actually prefer them over other candidates. Here are some suggestions:

  • Target startups and smaller companies: Consider a typical small company with 10 to 20 employees. This will usually have a couple of co-founders who’re senior people, and most of the other employees would be freshers or juniors. They desperately need a few senior people in the company who can serve as team leads – for their maturity and experience. And they find it very difficult to hire senior people for two reasons – first, most seniors prefer to do jobs with larger companies, and second, many companies at this stage are not able to afford the salaries of seniors.
    This is an situation tailor-made for break-ke-baad moms. First, since they can only work part-time, their salaries will also be proportionately lower, making them more affordable to the small company. Second, larger companies are much less accommodating as far as the time-constraints of break-ke-baad moms are concerned and hence the small company and the mom are made for each other.
  • Be aware of your strengths: Most break-ke-baad moms are not aware of their own potential. Here is a list of skills that companies would look for because their junior employees are typically missing those:
    • Maturity – which pretty much any mom will have!
    • Team-lead skills – if you have any team-lead experience in your background, this is valuable
    • Communication skills – if your English is good and/or you’ve done presentations in the past, then you have a valuable skill
    • Ability to handle customers – the sad truth is that most junior employees in India are just not good enough to be allowed to talk to customers directly. So if you have some customer facing experience, or good communication skills, you should highlight this during your interview
    • Ability to help with hiring – Seniors at a small and growing company spend a very large fraction of their time in interviewing or other hiring related activities. So if you’ve any experience of that in your past, you will have a skill that most juniors don’t have. Even if you don’t have hiring experience, your seniority and experience put you in a position to pick up this skill easily.
  • Appropriately highlight your past experience: I’ve noticed that most break-ke-baad moms behave as if they are inexperienced juniors appearing for their first interview (or at least this is the impression I get). The reason for this is their break, lack of information about latest trends, and the general lack of confidence. However, this is a mistake. Any experience is valuable in some way or the other. I’ll just give two examples:
    • Suppose you’ve done 3 years of J2ME programming for mobile phones. You’re concerned that your J2ME experience is worthless because nobody does J2ME programming these days, and you don’t have any experience with Android/iPhone/Blackberry etc. However, you need to separate out the short-term, not so useful skill (J2ME programming) from the long-term, useful skill (domain knowledge of mobile phone development). Try to look for companies that are doing some mobile development (Android, iPhone) and they will value your past experience
    • Suppose you’re a teacher who taught herself programming (or did a core Java + advanced Java course) during the break. Now if you go looking for a regular development job, you’ll be treated as a developer with zero experience. This is a bad situation, and few companies will prefer you over a fresher out of college who’s willing to work until 10pm. However, if you approach companies building educational or e-learning software (and trust me, there are many of those), and tell them that you are a teacher who knows Java, they’ll probably start jumping with joy at having found such a unique combination that is ideal for their needs.
      My point is this – look at what part of your past experience has long-lasting value, and then search for companies that would value that. While doing this, don’t forget to take into account the skills from the previous bullet point (hiring, communication, team lead, etc.)
  • Approach companies through references: Most of the hiring at smaller companies happens via references. Sure, they have websites where you can submit resumes, and they have HR email addresses where you can send an application, and they even employ recruitment agencies. In spite of all of that, most hiring happens through references. Which means that if you’ve found some interesting small company, you should try to find someone who knows you, and knows someone in the company, and get them to forward your resume.
    How do you do this? Linked-in is your friend. I’m sure most of you have a linked-in account. If you have a very small number of contacts on linked in (i.e. less than 50), then focus on increasing it. Link with all your past colleagues. Link with your friends from college. Link with recent new contacts you’ve made in the industry (you do attend some tech events, don’t you?). Once you’ve 100 or 200 contacts (takes some effort, but not very difficult to do), you’ll find that searching for any company will give you some employees of that company who are “2nd degree” links in your network. This means that if you go to that employee’s profile, linked in will give you a list of people you know, who also know that person. Mission accomplished!
  • Learn about latest trends: Pick a domain or domains you’re interested in. Use some Google searching to find the top websites/blogs in that domain. Figure out how to use Google Reader (or some other RSS reader), and use that to “subscribe” to those sites, and read daily. A few months of doing this will make you almost as knowledgeable as someone who never took a break, and will boost your confidence significantly.
  • Be flexible about the role: It is very likely that given your constraints, the company might not be able to give you a role that is exactly like the role you had before the break. First, smaller companies tend to give more responsibilities to individuals, and hence you’re likely to be given a role with a combination of multiple responsibilities. Second, the company is likely to create a special role just for you, based on your constraints and their requirements. Hence, you should be willing to take on roles different from what you originally had in mind. For example, testing, quality assurance, training, customer support, are roles that you might be offered, and where you maturity and experience as well as your previous development background will actually help you do a very good job.
    Other areas/roles to look at would be documentation, pre-sales support, project/program management, content creation (writing articles / white papers), and KPO (knowledge process outsourcing).

There are also some common misconceptions that I would like to clear out.

  • Part-time doesn’t stay part-time: Many are worried that a company might promise a part-time job, but in reality expect you to stay late on a regular basis and it becomes pretty much a full-time job. This is not true in most cases. Most companies will honour the time-constraints as long as they were made very clear during the interview process. Once in a while, there can be a deadline due to which you might have to stay late for a day or a few days. But this would be an exception, and shouldn’t happen more than once a month or once in two months.
    There are a few bad companies where due to bad time management, or simply because the founders are evil people, everybody is forced to work more than is reasonable. Hence, it is important that you talk to the founders and/or your immediate managers during the interview process, and reject the job offer if you don’t feel comfortable about those people. Do not get desperate and accept a job just because you think you won’t get another one.
  • Late night calls: In most Indian IT companies, it is very likely that there will be some conf-calls with people in the US or UK; but especially with smaller companies, this situation is not very bad. My guess would be that in most cases, there would be an average of 1 or 2 calls of this type per week. Most companies will be OK if you take the call from home. Most companies will also try to accommodate your constraints, but it is not always possible, as the timing depends upon various factors. Most of these calls will be “regularly” scheduled calls, so you know their timing beforehand, and can make arrangements at home to be able to take the call undisturbed; once in a while calls might get scheduled at the last minute and you’ll need to scramble a bit. My experience is that most break-ke-baad moms manage this without causing too much of a strain on their home-life balance.

How to find interesting small companies where you might find a good role? If you’re in Pune, here are some suggestions:

  • Join the Pune Open Coffee Club. It’s free, and there are lots and lots of small companies represented there. Poke around on that website, the various forums there and sub-groups. You’ll find interesting people and companies.
  • Join the Pune Startups mailing list. Follow the discussions there. See who’s posting, and use google/linked-in to find out information about their companies.
  • Subscribe to the PuneStartupJobs mailing list and watch who’s making job postings. None of those job postings will be an exact fit for your profile, but this is how you find out about interesting companies who are hiring. You should then approach the companies directly and try to explore whether they might have a role for you.
  • Subscribe to the PuneTech Calendar to keep track of latest tech/startup events in Pune. Attend the ones you find more interesting. Most importantly, talk to as many people as possible before and after the event. Let them know your background and the fact that you’re looking for a job. Good things will start happening after a few months of doing this.

Last week, I asked a bunch of entrepreneurs on the Pune Open Coffee Club whether they would hire break-ke-baad moms, and what qualities they would look for. And, one of the most common answers I got was this: “We don’t care about time-constraints, and part-time vs. full-time, and other things. The most important consideration for us is the attitude and passion – everything else is secondary.”

So my overall recommendation is this – realize that you are a valuable commodity in the job market, identify and highlight your strengths, approach the right companies, and go with confidence.

(Thanks to Rajeshwari Godbole, Shekhar Sahasrabudhe, Santosh Gannavarapu, Arun Kadekodi, the “Break ke Baad” group, and the Pune Startups mailing list for inputs and feedback on this article. Note: I’m obviously not a domain expert in this area, so if you’re a break-ke-baad mom who has actually been there, and done this, your inputs would be very valuable – so if you have additional suggestions, please leave a comment below for the benefit of future moms.)

“Don’t develop any software until you have a customer” – Interview of serial entrepreneur Anand Soman

As a part of the new, experimental PuneTech video series, we interviewed Anand Soman, CEO of Pune-based startup Infinishare, and serial entrepreneur. Infinishare provides software for a host of internet enabled devices, including digital photoframe devices, digital displays, home internet devices. They provide a full software stack for such devices, but their core IP is in device-to-cloud, and device-to-device communications.

Before Infinishare, Anand has had two successful exits as an entrepreneur – one for a bootstrapped startup, and one for a VC funded startup. See the PuneTech report of last year’s POCC meeting “How (and Why) to bootstrap your own startup,” for some of Anand’s thoughts on this topics.

In today’s video we asked him about his company, and more importantly about what advice he has for young entrepreneurs. (We are still experimenting with our video creation process, so the sound is still bad. We will had a fix for this soon, but in the meantime, please max the volume when you view this video):

Some interesting excerpts from this interview:

  • Don’t develop any software until you have a customer (so you’re sure there’s a market)
  • Focus on paying customers from the beginning
  • It is very difficult to get the freemium model to work
  • If you have users for your product who are not paying, don’t call them customers! Get real paying customers

See the video for these and other insights.

About Anand Soman

Anand is co-founder of Infinishare technologies.

Before Infinishare, Anand founded Intigma Inc, where they wrote AI-based engines for automated classification and extraction of content. Intigma was acquired by Emptoris Inc., after which Anand headed their India centre. Before Intigma, Anand founded Testchip Technologies, developing tools and cell libraries for Testchip design. Testchip was acquired by HPL Technologies Inc.

Anand received his B.Tech from IIT Bombay, and was the recipient of the Institute Medal for Electrical Engg. He received his M.S.E.E. and Ph.D degrees from California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, USA, specializing in DSP & Communications. He worked at AT&T, Murray Hill, before founding Testchip. He has published numerous research papers in International Journals & Conferences and has several years of project execution & management experience.

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Governance for Startups

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Yogesh Pathak, an advisor for many startups, argues that it is very important for startup founders to clearly lay out the ethical rules that the startup is going to play by. He points out the various issues on which the founders need to make their stand clear to all concerned stakeholders.

Governance has come in spotlight again in India due to scandals like Satyam. Normally governance is talked about in the context of large companies. However governance is a fundamental quality of any institution, small or large, for-profit or nonprofit, so here’s an attempt to highlight some issues about startup governance. Basically what “ethics” is at personal level, “governance” is at an institutional level.

Founders need to agree on an ethics policy in a startup

In countries that are high on the corruption index, India included, variation in standards of ethics affect pretty much everyone in the country: industrialists, government, entrepreneurs, citizens, and so on. It is key for even a small enterprise to have an ethics policy of its own and not just react to ethical dilemmas as they arrive. Differences between ethical preferences of individuals may crop up and create periods of conflict in a startup. Some standardization of rules of engagement (and ethics) between co-founders is ideal. e.g. Being open and upfront about any conflict of interest scenarios, etc.

A hypothetical example: A startup develops a cutting edge product and takes it to emerging markets, say Africa or other countries. Many large enterprises in such countries may be owned by the government. Let’s say a sale is possible at such a customer but a bribe is asked. What if some of the founder/management time are all right about paying bribes (to build revenue scale, which is very critical for startups) while some consider it unethical. Such a situation can result in conflict and affect the overall team spirit at a startup.

Accounting policies

Most startups work in cutting-edge areas and break ground on new business models, new streams of revenues etc. Often, established definitions and norms of accounting may conflict with the context of a new market, product, or service. Such areas include

  • what are the various types of revenues, policies regarding adjustments to revenues, what is revenue for accounting purposes, etc
  • how does the company define bad debt (collections awaited from customers)
  • expense heads and related accounting policies
  • what expense items should be used when computing gross margin, operating margin, etc

At times there may be a lot of discussion between startup management, board members, auditors, etc about what norms are prudent. While being conservative is usually a safer strategy, it is also key to listen to everyone’s viewpoint and make an informed, objective decision that is fair to all stakeholders and follows the law of the land both in letter and in spirit.

Fair treatment of customers

At times, companies may get creative in their communication with customers in order to keep customers longer or maximize revenues and profits. For example, not all costs to a customer may be transparent, sometimes un-subscribing from a service may be difficult for customers to do, or sometimes customers’ confidential information with the company may be used without their consent.

Startups need to be cognizant of an average customer’s expectations on fair treatment, as well as consumer protection laws across countries, and need to build it seamlessly in their customer experience design. Again, being proactive works better than being reactive.

Fair treatment of employees

While the laws of land, best practices in HR, and a free market for labor will usually take care that employees are treated fairly, it is key for employers to consciously design ethical treatment of employees in all their HR processes.

Investor communication

Startups are always in the market to raise capital for growth and make their dreams possible. Business plans are their main communication tools with investors. It is important to convey information such that is verifiable, accurate, and generally defensible in due diligence.

Once an investment is made, investors ask for detailed financial and operating information, usually at a monthly frequency. This information is their main tool for keeping a track of the health of the business. Investors appreciate companies providing information in agreed-upon formats, data not being re-stated frequently, knowing any surprises earlier rather than later, and an easy-to-understand explanation for the business drivers behind the numbers.

While a startup board may not have lots of formal committees, VC/PE investors are usually very active on boards, and play multiple roles in terms of tracking governance, evaluating the business, and being a mentor to the management team. It is important to form governance policies with mutual discussion and then follow them in a disciplined manner.

I am sure there are more unique aspects having to do with ethics and governance depending on the nature of business of a startup (utilizing 3rd party data on the web or IP protection, are some issues that come to mind). The above is a just a starting point touching upon major areas. Entrepreneurs have a clean slate on how to develop the culture within their companies. They will be expetced to set prudent norms and then lead by example.

About the author – Yogesh Pathak

Yogesh Pathak is founder of Path Knowledge, a business research, consulting, and startup advisory firm based in Pune.

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Nickhil Jakatdar’s advice for entrepreneurs

Last Saturday, the Pune OpenCoffee Club invited 4-time entrepreneur Nickhil Jakatdar to give advice to Pune’s entrepreneurs on the DOs and DONTs for startups. Shashikant Kore, co-founder of Pune-based startup bandhan.com has written up this report of the meeting

Chetan Pungalia, co-founder of Kaboodle, introduced Nickhil Jakatdar. The one line introduction was “A guy who sold 3 companies with cumulative valuation of 9-digit (a few hundred million) US dollars.”

Nickhil did his PhD from Berkeley, and around the end of his PhD, he and a friend decided to start a startup – since everybody else was doing so. They went ahead and created a company (paying $2000 to a lawyer by maxing out 4 credit cards) even though they had no idea what they would do.

They toyed with many dotcom ideas for few months, but many of the companies were already working on those ideas. They finally decided to do something in the area they knew extremely well – semicondutors. They decided to convert their PhD thesis in the company. The topic of PhD thesis itself had come to them during their internship. They talked to AMD about the product. The company exec told they might be interested in it. But being an optimistic entrepreneur, they heard it a resounding Yes. They built the prototype in next three months and went back. When asked about the price, they thought they should charge $4,000 as that was the expense they had incurred till then. After listening to contradictory opinions from friends, he decided to put a price tag of $25,000. The thinking behind this approach was to quote high and get a No rather than saying Yes and not knowing if it was underpriced. As it turned out, even $25,000 was a low price and the company asked for two units.

Later, they secured $300k VC funding for the company. But, they decided to stay small and hired only one person in 14 months. This was when other companies were hiring ten employees every week and going public. When the downturn hit, their approach got a nod of respect. Just before the downturn, they did raise another round of $3 million. They hired a professional CEO, with track record of multiple successful startups, to take the company to the next level. Initially, they were very impressed by him, but within six months some of the activities of CEO didn’t come across as clean. He was building his another bigger company of his own while he still was CEO of Timbre. At a board meeting, CEO proposed acquisition of Timbre by his company. The board gave Nickhil choice of either merging with that company and be part of his success, or run on his own with a high chance of bankruptcy. Nickhil had already assembled a team with a promise of being together in success and failure. He decided to run the company on his own as he wanted to face his team without any guilt. At the end of the meeting CEO was out of the company. The lesson here being doing the right thing irrespective of the consequences.

Over next few months, they had a team of 10 at the company with revenues of $300k. Some companies got whiff of Timbre from their customers. They offered to buy Timbre. Nickhil and team declined the offer saying they want to continue on their own. The companies got back saying there must be a price at which he is ready to sell. After a week of thinking they presented their plan – more than $100 million in cash, independence for the company, keeping all the employees, stock options in the company to employees and other terms. Everybody laughed at this proposal. And yet, in the next week, 2 of the 3 companies got back with a Yes and they inked the deal with one of them.

He stayed with the company for next 3 years as he enjoyed working with company. He stayed with the company because every day was exciting. If you are excited about your work in the morning you are at the right place. After 3 years, since he thought he was merely keeping things going instead of innovating, he decide to move.

“Be passionate about what you are doing. The cool-to-do things don’t fly. When you are running a startup, you will hear bad news on 60% of days. If you are passionate, you will face heat and not throw in the towel. If you are not committed, you will be out.”

Nickhil also stressed importance of having big goals. It’s not same as being unrealistic. The worst thing that could happen to your startup is failure. But there is always a job to go back to. He said out of 100 wannpreneurs only 1 starts up. Everbody thinks they have the next idea but very few take the plunge. The ideas are plenty, but it’s the execution that counts. He briefly mentioned about their neighbours, a startup by Stanford graduates. While Timbre was successful, the neighbours were even more successful. That company is Google.

He cited poor execution and poor chemistry in the team as major reason for failures.

On execution front, he suggested that startup should put together a conservative business plan. Since entrepreneurs tend to be optimistic, multiply time to market by two, costs by two and devide the revenue by two. That would be real conservative estimate. A startup has only credibility to talk about. And failure to meet the expectations puts a dent on credibility. So, startup must be able to deliver on its promise.

On building the team with right chemistry, he said hiring early employees is “tricky.” People are good at cracking interviews. Hence interview need to be rigourous to weed out those who are not passionate about the startup. They put together a hiring process to ensure only the people with right attitude are hired. First interview is on phone where Nickhil offers reasons not to join the startup saying its risky and might fail. If the candidate is still interested technical rounds are conducted to check the competence. The third round is a presentation by candidate on a topic of mutual interest. The team attending presentation is diverse so variety of questions are tossed. If the candidate handles the team nicely, he/she is a right fit. The fourth round is introducing candiate to each member of the team to see if anybody spots a red flag. In the final round he offers candiate two options – high salary with low options and low salary with option heavy package. Those who prefer salary are rejected. In one year of running current startup, they don’t have any attrition till the date. That is a proof of their hiring process being strong.

In the Q&A session, a question about his evaluation criteria for various ideas came from audience. He said, all ideas sound great at the beginning and holes appear only after some time. It’s important to have a passionate and committed team.

How did he pitch the VCs was the next question. For latest startup, Vuclip, his pitch consisted of five slides – market size, demo of the product, competitive landspace, their expenses and revenue forecast. On revenue slide he said they will figure out ways to make money. There was an appendix of 15 slides with more data.

How do you convince VC that you can do it better than others? He cited example of Timbre, where two big players were working on the same idea. But, those companies did not want to pursue it aggressively as it would have cannibalized their own product. This conflict of interest meant Timbre would be able to do it better than competition.

About the Author – Shashikant Kore

Shashikant is a co-founder of Pune-based startup Discrete Log Technologies. In the first week of November 2008, they launched their first product Bandhan.com, a matrimony search engine. Previously, Shashikant has worked for internet startup Webaroo, and for storage software company Veritas.

The 10 industry trends programmers need to understand -Anand Deshpande

Anand Deshpande, CEO of Persistent, gave this keynote address last week during the IndicThreads conference on Java technologies. I’ve already included this in my overall report on the IndicThreads Conference, but thought that it was interesting enough and important enough to warrant a post on its own. The basic thrust of his talk was that often, programmers just think about their programs and disregard what is going on in the industry outside. Having this perspective is important, and keeping track of important industry trends will improve you technically. The top trends he identified are:

  1. Multicore chips, and why programmers need to worry about them
  2. Mobile Telephony: the desktop/laptop is no longer the primary target device for programmers. Think about the mobile users, and how what they want is different from the traditional PC users
  3. Cloud and SaaS: is coming in a big way, and will change the way people use software. Also, it makes life easier for users, but much more difficult for programmers. So need to improve skills in these areas
  4. Web 2.0 and Social Networking: these are exciting new fields with a lot of growth. They require a different kind of programming mindset.
  5. Rich Internet Applications: Similar to above
  6. Large Volumes of Diverse Data (including BI and analytics)
  7. Open source is on the rise. As programmers, you must have a good understanding of various open source licenses
  8. Gaming and Entertainment boom: Too many programmers think of only corporate world & green monitors etc. Think different. E.g. Gaming and entertainment are large markets and require a different mindset to come up with new ideas in these fields.
  9. Green IT: Instead of worrying about speed and efficiency, for the first time, worrying about power consumption has started affecting programmers
  10. Be a part of the community. Give back. Do open source. Join CSI ACM. IEEE. (and I would like to add contribute to PuneTech)

His full presentation is here.

Advice for entrepreneurs – Gireendra Kasmalkar

Gireendra Kasmalkar (Giri), whose testing startup VeriSoft was recently acquired by SQS, was interviewed for CSI Pune’s quarterly newsletter Desktalk. Some quotes from that interview that should be especially inspirational are reproduced here with permission. You should be able to download the the newsletter (containing the full article) from CSI Pune website’s download section. (It’s the July-Aug-Sept 2008 newsletter.)

About how your attitude towards something makes all the difference:

Initially, testing was a new area and it was a tough to convince people about it. Even today testing is sometimes looked down upon. My response: “I am glad you think of testing that way. That is what creates the opportunities for us!”.

About how to deal with commoditization in your domain:

But the testing industry was maturing. Every company now had an ‘independent’ testing practice. To maintain our leadership, we had to specialize further. We did that horizontally in such specialized areas as automation, load / performance, security and usability testing, even publishing papers in international conferences.

But we also realized we had to develop a vertical. It had to be a vertical right for our size and where we could have a shot at global leadership. After due consideration, we decided that Games was that vertical. It was not at all easy to enter this vertical. But today we test for top 10 publishers in the video games industry and have authorization with all 3 major console manufacturers – Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft. In the on-line games industry, we not only test for game developers / publishers, but also for regulatory bodies for their compliance.

On how a small startup can make an impact:

For an entrepreneur, focusing on a niche is crucially important. One can hope to compete and beat the bigger, already established players only in a niche of your strength. More often than not, this niche would be a new area, and the entrepreneur only has his / her own data and analysis to see the hidden potential in the new area.

On the importance of networking for success:

This is where networking plays a very important role. Networking in the industry can bring you data about the trends in the industry. And you can even get your analysis of that data, and your ideas validated using your network. I was lucky to have the IIT network, the Jnana Prabodhini network, the TCS network because of my earlier background. But I also actively worked to build new networks through forums such as SPIN, CSI and MCCIA. In fact, there was a group of 8-10 successful industry seniors, whom I met once a year, by formal appointment, specifically for discussing my activities and seeking their suggestions. To their credit, none of these people ever refused my request. I definitely became a better entrepreneur as a result of these meetings.

From my own experience, I strongly recommend active participation in forums such as CSI.

I particularly like the suggestion about meeting 8 to 10 successful industry seniors on an yearly basis. I had started doing this with about 2, and based on Giri’s suggestion, I plan on increasing that to 8 to 10.

And I certainly agree with active participation in forums. Giri suggests CSI-Pune. I would strongly suggest getting involved in the Pune OpenCoffee Club. There are a whole bunch of other groups and organizations where you could get involved. Check out the Groups and Organizations Page from the PuneTech wiki.

Final word from Giri:

To me, entrepreneurship is less about making money and more about making a difference. (There must be easier ways of making money .) An entrepreneur provides a viable solution to a problem (need). On the flip side, the entrepreneur’s capabilities are stretched to the maximum extent possible, which I find very satisfying.

About the Interviewee – Gireendra Kasmalkar

Gireendra Kasmalkar (Giri) is the Founder Director of Prabodhan and Verisoft InfoSystems, and after the recent acquisition of Verisoft, is the MD and CEO of SQS India InfoSystems Pvt. Ltd. Giri has been the Chairman of CSIPune chapter for 2007-2008 and is also actively associated with other relevant industry forums like SPIN and MCCIA.

Despite having his hands full, professionals working with Giri will vouch for the energy, responsiveness and maturity that he brings forth to any activity.

For a full profile and links, see Giri’s profile on the PuneTech wiki.