Monday, December 16, 2013

Quick Link: Advantages & Challenges of Having Women in The Team

Stanford ECorner speech featuring Sharon Vosmek, CEO of Astia, a not-for-profit organization that "propels women's full participation as entrepreneurs and leaders in high-growth businesses". She shares very interesting research data and insights including on how access to business networks, expertise and capital play out across gender lines.

Especially interesting was her highlighting of how, in a funding ecosystem that depends so much on networking, the existing set up of men and women having separate business networks presents a key challenge. And how, for the solution, both men and women need to “get comfortable with uncomfortable” .

Link to Audio 

(Right Click > Save As to download to your desktop)

Related Post: Mukund Mohan of Microsoft Ventures on the situation in India

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Tale of Guts & Gumption and Crisis Management Tips for Indian Entrepreneurs

The Incredible Story of R. 'Naru' Narayanan of Big Fun and Dosa King fame

(Video from a Startup Grind Chennai event)


- Develop the skill to make decisions under conditions of uncertainty- Whenever there is a crisis, never display your anger. Keep smiling disarmingly - if you want to get all the information. There is no point finding whose fault is it then and there.

- In India, people give their opinion and then provide the facts. They will bring you a crisis when they know you are pressed for time and therefore they can  push you for an instant decision. They will give you half the information; "We have inventory for 11 Lakhs; I have an offer for 7.5 Lakhs; I think I can negotiate it to 9 Lakhs. What do you say?". They will assess you by the questions you ask. Buy yourself 15 minutes of time, since you don't have enough information and you will tend to be irritable. Then, analyse the situation and the person (based on past behaviour, what kinds of problems he brings to you) and react accordingly. And pray that you have taken the right decision!

- Blowing up the Bubble

The amazing story of how Big Fun bubble gum became a sponsor of the India-South Africa Cricket Series on Star TV - with hardly any money in the bank. And, when the Rs.2 crore bill came due (and there was still no money to pay), how Big Fun convinced Star TV to again allow it to sign up as the sponsor of the forthcoming India-Australia series!

- Amazing (disaster) story of the Dosa King, the maker of the Dosa making machine

- People are Indian Entrepreneurs biggest Weakness (Not Firing the Bad Ones, that is.)

Indian entrepreneurs tend to think they they need some person badly and keep rationalizing that person's mistakes. "Once is an accident; twice is a coincidence; third time it's a pattern - just fire!"

- Write Everything Down. Since you need to keep chasing up everyone. All the time. To get anything done.

In India, you need to chase up people anyways - whether it is employees, vendors, etc. If you pay the vendor well, you still need to follow up to get the job done. If you underpay the vendor, you have to follow up. So, underpay!

Related Links: Business Line interview; Naru's LinkedIn profile

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Entrevista with Cosmic Circuits Founder Ganapathy Subramaniam

Interview with Ganapathy Subramaniam, Founding-CEO of Bangalore-based semiconductor tech company Cosmic Circuits. (Cosmic was acquired in early 2013 by Silicon Valley-based, Nasdaq-listed electronic design giant Cadence.) The interviewer is fellow entrepreneur Chandu Nair.

The Podcast can be downloaded from here.

(Use Right Click > Save As to save the file to your desktop)


Reading the Wind
How Ganapathy, as part of visiting customers in October 2012, realized that Cosmic Circuits could no longer remain an independent company. (Its customers and partners wanted a strong Number 2 player in the segment to provide a balance to the Number 1 player, Synopsis.) 

Making the company Due Diligence ready
How Cosmic's decisions to rope in a Big 4 audit firm (just five years into its existence) and go in for an ISO certification, stood it in good stead when it came to due diligence at the time of its acquisition. Ganapathy advises that, once the company grows to a certain size, even as the founders enjoy the fruits of that growth, they would do well to take the time and effort to streamline processes.

Valuing Customer Traction over Venture Capital
Why Cosmic Circuits passed on a term sheet from a Silicon Valley VC within days of starting up.

Importance of separating lines of businesses - even in a startup 
"Startups should live and die by its focus on one line of business," says Ganapathy. If one of the business lines is a cash cow, the "negativity" of the failing businesses does not reach the CEO. Specific to Cosmic, in hindsight, the company would have been better off it had separated the fabless semiconductor business from the IP business - something it did as part of the sale of the IP business to Cadence.

Focus on productivity versus putting in long hours
A firm follower of Stephen Covey's "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," Ganapathy believes leading a balanced life - whether it is ensuring time for family or playing badminton almost everyday - helped ensure his stress levels were in control. (This outlook ensured that Ganapathy's approach to work as the CEO of Cosmic wasn't too different from that at TI.) A 14 hour or more of work just ends up making the founder irritable and leads to costly friction with colleagues, he says.

Attraction of Texas Instruments as a workplace
Apart from the great pay check, the ethical culture, the opportunities to learn from the best in the field and also the freedom to operate independently encouraged Ganapathy to continue with TI - effectively his first and last job as an employee - for a straight 16 years. When he was deputed to work in TI USA, he decided - on his own - that he would be more productive working from home and proceeded to do so for three months. And his supervisor never asked him about his whereabouts!

Impressions Left by Early Education
How his early school education (in the small town of Sivakasi) instilled a spirit of Nationalism - the echoes of which were felt later in his career, including in creating a vision for Cosmic (to build a highly valuable company out of India in the semiconductor technology space).

Man on a Mission
Ganapathy would like to help develop at least ten $100-M+ Semiconductor IP companies out of India over the next 15 years, by working with entrepreneurs, VCs and the government. He is also also making personal investments in startup companies in the sector.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Entrevista with Palem Srikanth, Founder of logistics software maker Four Soft

In this audio interview ("podcast"), Palem Srikanth shares his amazing entrepreneurial journey - from a Stanford educated logistics executive with Hewlett Packard to returning to India and starting a Dosa restaurant chain to the tough lessons from making cross-border acquisitions to the recent sale of the logistics software business (to US Private Equity firm Francisco Partners-backed Kewill) for about Rs.275 crores. The interviewer is fellow entrepreneur Chandu Nair.

The Podcast
can be downloaded from here.
(Use Right Click > Save As to save the file to your desktop)

  • Importance of Financial Strength in the Enterprise Software space
  • How persistence and investing in technology (to ensure Four Soft's products were cutting edge)  provided the maximum return - much more than the expensive acquisitions the company made 
  • Managing the confidentiality of the transaction involving a listed company - so that there is no misuse of insider information to trade in the stock 
  • Tapping of Ex-Colleagues/Bosses for Angel Capital 
  • Advantages of going public 
  • Pitfalls in acquiring an overseas company - how buyers need think through not just "how to bite it, but  also to swallow it and digest it". For example, issues like whether the target company is entrepreneurial enough to meet aggressive growth expectations; the regulatory issues in laying off people; conflicts of interest involved in buying a company (from a financial investor) where the management team aspires to itself own the company, etc. 
As if creating an Enterprise Software Product out of India has not been challenging enough, Srikanth now has a parallel career in active politics - he is running for Parliament as part of the Telugu Desam Party. You can follow his political career into the 2014 elections and beyond on his web site at

Friday, September 27, 2013

Email vs Productivity

Entrepreneurs Need To Get Off Email!


Otherwise we’ll be constantly distracted with non-essential work.


Hugh Culver of Experts Intensive has some great answers in  this Mixergy Podcast interview. Extracts from the transcript.
  • Goal & Discipline
You have to have a goal. When I got to bed, I actually write down, on a little post-it note, the two or three things I must do, as soon as I wake up.I think when most people wake up, they think it’s just another piece of time. This is just another chunk of time, and I can use it in any way that I want. I can read something. I can go online. I can fiddle around. They have to have a goal. Then they have to match that with some very basic disciplines. For example, my cup of coffee…go right into whatever you’re using, Word or whatever writing program you’re using. Get to work, and then cross that off your list. I find it is such a satisfying way to start the day, that it’s a habit that is totally ingrained for me.
  •  Sketch/Mind Map it at Night; Finish it in the morning
I wake up at 5 am. I work until 7 on anything that is going to be hard pushing. So for me, that’s creative writing, designing a proposal, or completing a proposal to a client. For example, if the day before, I might quickly draft out the proposal in five minutes. (I rough it out. For example, I might template it a mind map.) Then, in the morning, I work on finishing the proposal, when I’m fresh, and creative. I don’t want to ever start from scratch, cold. I want to have a bit of a running start.
  • The Morning Walk / Run

At 7:00, I must go out the door. It’s very important for me at 7:00. I don’t wait until 7:03. Because then it becomes 7:10. I have to be out the door at 7:00...(I get) back at 7:45. If it’s a school day, I help make lunches, and get the kids out the door, and drive them to school. I’m usually at my office by 9:00. That's when I check email.
  •  Start with the Most Difficult Item(s)

I do the hardest 50% in the first 90 minutes of the day. I figure out, the day before, what’s the hardest work I’ve got to get done. I do it between 9:00 and 10:30. Then I go back and check my email again. I’m not dabbling during the day.
  • Do routine work (including email) during times when your energy levels go down 

  • Reward Yourself For Getting off Email

If you want to get off your email you have to first of all figure out what is rewarding you for being on email? Then what you have to do is you have to come up with a bigger reward for the non-email work. It’s as simple as that.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Entrevista with Ratish Nair, Founding-CEO of Interactive Avenues

Interview with Ratish Nair, Founding-CEO of Interactive Avenues (IA), the Mumbai-headquartered, Sequoia Capital India-backed digital marketing agency which was acquired in March 2013 by US- and Europe-based ad agency Interpublic. Interview focuses on the company's founding (5 co-founders who earlier worked at another digital agency Mediaturf); Angel Funding (from Anupam Mittal of; VC Funding and relationship with Sequoia Capital; and, of course, the Exit (how IA ran the process, the role of the VC, the role of the intermediary, internal dynamics, etc.).

The interviewer is fellow entrepreneur Chandu Nair. Chandu earlier founded, successfully raised venture capital for and exited from Scope eKnowledge, one of the earliest KPO firms in India.

The Audio (podcast) version can be downloaded from here 

Other Highlights

Synergistic Co-founding team

How, having worked together in the past (at Mediaturf which they left as a group to found IA), the co-founding team knew each other' strengths and weaknesses and were able to hence work in a synergistic manner.

Leveraging the Brand & Network of VC Investor

How IA tapped Sequoia Capital not just for the money, but also to add to the startup venture's credibility (when pitching for clients) and also for generating business from the investor's other portfolio companies.

Advertising as a way out of small town

Interesting vignettes about a small "mining town" upbringing and how advertising was seen as an escape to the exciting world of the "big city".

Also how the lectures by Prof. Subroto Sengupta at IIM-Calcutta served as an inspiration to join the world of advertising

Advise to other Entrepreneurs

"Never raise more money than what you need - else, you might relax and 'miss the bus'."

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Quick Link: Interview with Dr. Devi Shetty of Narayana Hrudayalaya

From Scratch has an interesting podcast with Dr.Devi Shetty, founder of the Bangalore-based Narayana Hrudayalaya Hospital. Click Here to download/listen.

Highlight: Nice insights into Dr.Shetty's interactions with Mother Theresa (she reinforced his belief that "Helping hands are better than Praying Lips"); how he thinks about scale & costs in healthcare, etc.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Quick Link: Interview with Coursera Founder

From Scratch has an interesting podcast with Stanbord Professor and Coursera Co-Founder Daphne Koller. Click Here to download/listen.

Background: Launched in 2012, Coursera ( offers online courses to the public through partnerships with leading universities internationally.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Prof. Muhammad Yunus: The Power of the Simple & The Logic of a Social Business

I had interviewed a well-known Venture Capitalist who argued that all good businesses are social businesses too - since they create new jobs & wealth, pay taxes, etc. Though I had tracked the debate around micro finance (the Grameen vs SKS way), I remained convinced that the split between "for profit" and "social ventures" was an artificial one. Until I came across the "Story of Khan Academy" (in which founder Salman Khan makes it clear that there is no revenue model to the venture and it relies on grants from folks like Bill Gates and others).Now, via his recent talk at the LSE, I learnt from the original "Social Businessman" - Prof. Muhammad Yunus - the fundamentals of his Simple but undeniably Powerful approach. By the way, he does not like depending on grants (since such ventures are not "self sustaining") and insists on creating a "businesses" (which covers costs) but just not something that shareholders take money out from).

Some amazing vignettes from the speech:
  • How he told unemployed Bangladeshi youth that they were "privileged folks"! That they need to be job creators not job seekers.
  • The importance of creativity and imagination: Like Science Fiction precedes Science, we need "social fiction" to precede society. Example: Think of a world when there is no Poverty and you need to visit a "Poverty Museum" to understand what it was about (like we do for Dinosaurs)!
  • Unemployment is artificial: "Have you ever seen an unemployed animal? If you have, it's most probably owned by a Human!"
  • His views on why Poverty and Unemployment are not created by People, but Systems (institutions, policies, etc) that are wrongly designed. "Look at the banks! Even 2/3rds of the world's population does not have access to banking system. Credit is only for the privileged")
  • "If you introduce me as a 'A Banker to the Poor', when someone from a large Bank comes over, would the legitimate way to introduce him not be 'A Banker to the Rich?' If he's just a Banker - and not a Banker to the Rich - then I just look like a funny guy who lends to poor people! But, actually he's the funny guy - who lends money to people who already have lots of it!!"
  • "Law creates the mould and the mould creates the shape." We need a new law that governs banking for the poor (in each country) to shape the kind of institutions we need.. That will legitimize our business  - like in Bangladesh where the law allows us to accept deposits and therefore, we do not have to kowtow to the diktats of any external investors.
  • Grameen's Social Business partnerships with MNCs like Danone, Veolia and Adidas
  • His response to journalists who asked him: "Isn't Danone using you?": "Oh God!, I didn't know that. I thought I was using them."
  • Microlending in New York (at 15% declining interest rates)
  • His Social Fund in Haiti and solution to the garment industry tragedy in Bangladesh 

The Audio (podcast) version can be downloaded from here

Sunday, June 16, 2013

"We have more lawyers than you have employees"

Finally, a story about the advantage of being a Large Company. Take that, Clayton Christensen!

From a podcast interview with Jay Shapiro, founder of an Singapore-based online ad agency called Blue:
Jay: We were Blue Sphere Interactive and around, I guess 2001, EDS, Ross Perot's company, decided they really wanted to get into the internet...And sure enough a couple of months later EDS launched this small start-up spinoff with 2,700 employees called Blue Sphere. And they were marketing to HP, we were doing HP. So I sent them a lawyer's letter saying please cease and desist, you're causing confusion in the market. We're Blue Sphere, we had trademarked the name already and everything. And they sent us back this fantastic lawyer's letter. I still have it. It said thank you for letting us know. Please be advised we have more lawyers than you have employees. We suggest you change your name.

Andrew: Is that really what they said?

Jay: Yes. They actually put it in a letter. I cannot believe it. And so we became Blue, which is a much better name anyhow. So that's how the venture was born.

Andrew: Oh, what a great letter to send out. It's ballsy, and it's painful, and it's wrong, and it's great.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

"I Like/I Wish/I Wonder Meetings" - Way for Startups to Train Away Authority Bias?

In a fascinating recent lecture at the LSE, Swiss writer and entrepreneur Rolf Dobelli (author of The Art of Thinking Clearly), talks about the various common "thinking errors" that we committ. Here are a couple of them:

Sunk Cost Fallacy 
If by mistake - in the same week - you have paid a non-refundable prices to vacation in two different cities, Paris (which is your favorite city where you are sure to enjoy yourself the most) and Rome.If you have paid $4,000 for the Rome trip and $1,000 for the Paris trip, where will you go?

Answer: Go to Paris!

"If it's non-recoverable then it should not have any bearing on our decision. It is irrational," Dobelly says. In a business context, this error causes good money to be thrown after bad. Eg: the Concorde aircraft was kept alive well even after it became clear it wasn't going to make money just because too many millions had been spent in developing it.

But avoiding this error might not be too easy in familial settings as the author himself relates: "The weather and setting at our Swiss home was beautiful and I thought I would like to just watch the sunset and relax. But my wife has bought expensive movie tickets and said we should go. I told her: "Honey, that is a thinking error". She 'loves' it when I say that."

Authority Bias
People tend to over value/follow blindly/not challenge someone who is seen as an authority. "Whenever we are in presence of an authority figure, we stop thinking clearly."  This can be dangerous for example, if a junior co-pilot, who even when he notices the Captain make a mistake, does not point it out. In 1977, 600 people died when two 747s crashed in to each other owing to such an error. As a result of this, the airline industry has "trained away" authority bias by insisting that, as part of each pre-flight briefing, the Captain will say to the co-pilot, "I'm not the Pope; I'm not infallible; I will make mistakes. If you see me make a mistake, please speak up." (Download the full podcast from here)

While the founders of the news aggregation software Pulse (that was acquired recently by LinkedIn) were not specifically referring to the dangers of authority bias, their practice of asking their employees to speak up about any concerns in their Friday all hand meetings - titled "Ask Absolutely Anything of Akshay and Ankit (AAAAA)" - seemed like a good way for startups to achieve this. "It's better to have small quakes (than a big blowup)," they put it in their Stanford e-corner interaction. The employees can bring anything in the forum as long it starts with "I Like" or "I Wish" or "I Wonder". (Download the full podcast here).

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Faith Restoring Story of Khan Academy

Speaking at the LSE on 10 April 2013, Khan Academy founder Salman Khan provides a lively, entertaining and touching account of his journey. (The story of Khan Academy's founding - how it started off as remote math tutoring sessions for his cousin Nadia, etc. - has been available on Youtube since TED 2011, but as someone who prefers audio/podcast to video, this is the first time I've got to hear Khan speak. And, in these rather depressing times, the story was indeed inspiring.). 

From the section recounting Khan Academy's earliest days - when he still had his day job:

  • One parent - whose children had learning disability (and Khan's videos were the only things they were connecting to) - wrote in to Salman saying "our entire family prays for your family each night". "Just for a little context, I was a hedge fund manager at that time!" :-)

  • When Ann (Ann Doerr, wife of venture capitalist John Doerr, who'd sent in Khan Academy's largest donation  - of $10,000.) asked how I was supporting myself and my family, I answered, "I'm not." She nodded, and we parted ways. About 15 minutes later, as I was parking in my driveway, I got a text message from Ann saying: You need to support yourself. I am sending a wire for $100,000.... Two months later I start getting a series of text messages from Ann (which by now, I have started to take very seriously!): At the Aspen Ideas Festival...Bill Gates on stage, last 5 minutes talking about Khan Academy." (Soon thereafter, The Gates Foundation became one of Khan Academy's largest donors.)
Download the full LSE podcast from here, and GET INSPIRED. (The least feeling you will come away after listening is that there's hope yet - thanks to  Entrepreneurs like Khan and the Silicon Valley way!) 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Most Entertaining Investor Interview Ever: Chris Sacca by Jason Calacanis

Chris Sacca of Lowercase Capital is an investor in several well known US consumer web, mobile, and wireless technology startups like Twitter, Kickstarter, Uber, etc. A lawyer by education, he earlier worked at Google.

Personal story

Amazing story of how he lost millions in leveraged trading and how he clawed his way back.

"Fake it till you make it": Highly entertaining story about how, when he was out of job, he created a fake management consulting company, The Salinger Group, and handed out its card at various networking forums (including TiE). He even offered to let his friends who were also out of jobs to use the company's name!

On Entrepreneurs 

Truly Disruptive Entrepreneurs: Failure is not part of the options for them. They never doubt the outcome. They just think "the world will be a better place if this product gets built".

If I'm the one asking the entrepreneur how can this be bigger, then I worry  

Merits of working in a small company

While whoever is nearest to the door becomes the receptionist, the learning curve is so steep that very quickly, you might even be standing in for the CFO.

Working at Google

At Google, you could show up in other people's meetings - if you are being useful, no one asks why you are here.

Interesting story of how he had to buy up data center capacity across the world without alerting competitors like Microsoft - so that they don't realize how quickly Google was growing.  

On Raising a fund

It's tougher than raising money for a company since in the case of a company, the investors are betting on a combination of the person, product and market. On the other hand, in the case of a fund (especially a solo fund - i.e., being managed by one person), they are betting just on the person.  

On Investing

Managing your own psychology is 100% of investing

 Dealflow for best performing deals: Being genuinely helpful is the best way to get the best dealflow. Spend more time networking ("breaking bread") with entrepreneurs, other investors and advisors than by speaking at major events like TechCrunch, etc.

Is increasingly excited to invest in companies that are at the intersection of content and technology. "The costs are decreasing and the audience is increasing." 

Misalignment of interest between early stage and later investors

"It's all fun and games until you get to Series B (second round of funding)."

When an investor comes in at Series B, he wants a binary outcome; ie he wants the company to "go for broke".

This creates political infighting: entrepreneur verses angels versus early VC investors ve later investors


On Exits 

The founders of Kickstarter make all investors commit to stay invested for 20 years. "No one is looking to exit"  

On Twitter

Facebook is who you used to know; Twitter is who you want to know


Simple is hard to make & hard to charge for