Saturday, November 15, 2014

Quick Link: Economists' Tips on Fund Raising for Non-Profits

Yet another awesome Freakonimics Radio episode:
In this podcast you’ll hear the economist John List give us the gospel of fundraising — what works, what doesn’t, and why. List and economist Uri Gneezy write about the science of charitable giving in their book The Why Axis: Hidden Motives and the Undiscovered Economics of Everyday Life.

List gives us a lot of ideas about how to successfully raise money — like using good old-fashioned guilt, for instance. Or that attaching a lottery or raffle to your fund-raising effort is a good idea. But our favorite way that List says you can raise more money: get an attractive person, preferably a woman, to do the asking for you.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Quick Link: Sharing Economy Startups versus Regulators

From Times of India article titled "New age taxis violate laws: Bangalore cabbies" dated Nov 12, 2014 titled:
The Bangalore Tourist Taxi Owners Association (BTTOA), Adarsh Autorickshaw Drivers' Union and Karnataka Maxi Cab Owners Association are meeting the city transport commissioner on Wednesday to discuss certain practices of the new operators which they allege go against the law.
"Some cab operators are using state and all-India permit vehicles to ply point-to-point taxis. That's against the Motor Vehicles Act 1988. Also, the Karnataka government has set a standard fare of Rs 19.50 per kilometre for radio taxis, but Ola, Uber and TaxiForSure are offering rock bottom fares, subsidizing customers with the tonnes of funding they have received," said L Radhakrishna Holla, general secretary of BTTOA that runs 45,000 cabs.  
But Raghunandhan G, co-founder of TaxiForSure, countered, saying Rs 19.50 per km was only a ceiling, and an all-India permit did not restrict point-to-point city services.
This Freakonomics Radio episode on the ongoing battle between the peer-to-peer marketplace enabling startups in the US - like Airbnb, Uber and Lyft - and the regulators provides some pointers as to how the issue might pan out here as well.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Quick Link: Scaling a Service-based Business

Interesting episode at Smart Passive Income where Pat Flynn and Josh Shipp analyse a real life small business (a laundry service) and provide on some new approaches for scaling it.

I especially like Josh's note on Gathering Intelligence from Existing Customers by asking the following questions:
  1. What is something you need ongoing support for?
    The answer will provide ideas for creating Recurring Revenue opportunities
  2. What is the #1 challenge in your biz, life? (True solutions)
  3. What product or service do you wish we offered? (“Here’s what I’d pay for”)
  4. How would you describe us to someone you care about in ONE sentence? (Clear brand)

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Quick Link: Maria Popova of with Tim Ferriss

Thanks to this engaging interview, I came across this wonderful article on BrainPickings rounding up Roman philosopher Seneca's views on time.

Interestingly, in her interview, Popova says she pretty much hates Facebook, but keeps it live because some of her readers - I suspect, reading between the lines, to be mainly from South Asia - like to engage via that platform.

Extracts from the "Seneca on Time" article (emphasis mine):
“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.” - Seneca

...Seneca cautions that we fail to treat time as a valuable resource, even though it is arguably our most precious and least renewable one: “People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.”
...Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future. The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. You are arranging what lies in Fortune’s control, and abandoning what lies in yours. What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining? The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Quick Link: Peter Thiel with James Altucher

James Altucher has a super interesting chat with the Paypal founder here.

Quick Link: Scott Adams with James Altucher

James Altucher has a nice conversation with the creator of Dilbert. Listen/Download from here.

Quick Link: Ramit Sethi with Tim Ferriss

Tim Ferriss has a two part fun interview with Ramit Sethi. Part 1 is downloadable from here, Part 2 from here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Quick Link: Generation Gap Opportunity!

for entrepreneurs thrown up by this phenomenon and other post-election scenarios.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Quick Link: Catalyzing Cross Border Peace Through Business

From Scratch has a fascinating interview with Daniel Lubetzky, founder of New York-based Kind which makes healthy food bars out of whole nuts, spices and fruits. He is also the founder of PeaceWorks which seeks to promote peace in the Middle East through profit - i.e. by bringing together vendors in Israel and Palestine under the same umbrella. Hope someone tries something similar between (obviously) India-Pakistan, but also India-China and Tamilnadu-Sri Lanka!  

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

An Economist interviews a Venture Capitalist and Vice versa - featuring Marc Andreessen and a "Freakonomist"

An audio/podcast interview of Entrepreneur-turned-investor Marc Andreessen (by Stanford economist Russ Roberts) and of Freakonomics author Stephen Dubner (by angel investor & author Tim Ferriss) went up this week.

I especially liked Andreessen's analysis of why most VCs - by using the usual check boxes - would have missed out on investing in Google and how, if Google had not discovered its revenue model (via Adwords), could have indeed fallen by the wayside (as yet another dotcom without a business model) and the founders ended up as "mid level engineers" at Yahoo (by selling the company for a few millions).

In the Stephen Dubner interview, I liked the discussion relating to the writing process and how lot of even smart folks end up wasting time in winning arguments (vs actually influencing and winning over the audience) and the nice analogy of using a "lead box" to prevent one's "moral compass" from leading one off-course. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

How many times should you follow up on a sales lead before giving up?

According to Steli Efti, CEO of sales software firm,, this Mixergy interview, it's forever - or, at least, until the prospect tells you to stop following up!
My follow up strategy is binary so I follow up until I get a reply. And it doesn’t matter how many times I have to follow up...So when someone doesn’t reply to me I just assume people are busy. Assume people have their own lives, their own struggles their own challenges, it’s not all about me...I just wait for them to reply. Anybody can tell me, “Stop sending me frigging emails” and I’ll stop but as long as I don’t hear back, I’ll follow up. cannot be whiny, needy or apologetic about it., I stay very clean cut, professional in those emails. I don’t go back and say, “Well I know I already sent you 48 emails and you might not have seen them. No I just go, “Hey, I hope this is a great start off to your week, when is a good time for you to talk with me this week, either Tuesday or Wednesday.” And back a week or two later, I’ll follow up I’ll say, “Hey did you see this great new [??] we wrote or this new development in our software, what would be a great time next week to chat? What about this or that date?” I’ll just continue following up and I’m not going to reference back to why I’ve not heard back from you.
Other Highlights:

  • Hiring sales people 
...we’re looking for young people that are very entrepreneurial, very smart, have very (good) values and have kind of the personality of a sales person. Somebody that likes people, somebody that likes to communicate, somebody that can deal emotionally with rejection, someone that has high emotional stability.
  • Go out on a "founders' date" each week
Once you actually hire more and more people, you grow the team, eventually founders are on different departments and you don’t get as much time quality time together. So once a week we go on a dinner and in that dinner we don’t talk about technical things but the question really is like how do you feel? How is everyone feeling? Is there anything I did that pissed you off? Anything tiny that happened in the last few days?
  • Great parting question for the initial sales call - "what is it going to take for you to become a customer?" (from the follow up Mixergy Master Class on Enterprise Sales by Elli)
During your first meeting, ask about their sales process. Who needs to get the buy-in and how does it work? “Even if you are progressing well, your deal might get lost in the middle of a reorganization or somebody leaving,” says Steli. But if you understand their sales process and the timeline, you can make an informed decision about whether you’re willing and able to devote your resources to closing the deal. “Ask, ‘What will it take for you guys to actually become a customer?’” Steli says. “Then have them guide you through the entire process. Keep asking until they say, ‘Yes, and then we will pay you money for your product.’ Then you actually have the roadmap.” 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The amazing story of how "Baby Einstein" was conceived and why it was sold!

And the projects that the founder is involved in now. 

A must watch / listen and amazingly charming Mixergy interview with Julie Clark, co-founder of The Baby Einstein Company, the pioneering creator of musical video DVDs for kids (which was sold to Disney after building it to a $20 million size in five years with just 5 employees.)

  • Impact that passionate teachers tend to have on their students future careers and life
  • The interview emphasizes - yet again - why some of the best businesses - which includes Google in the US and redBus in India - are launched by the founder(s) "scratching their own itch". As Julie puts it, both baby Einstein and her newer ventures were founded because she thought "someone ought to create a product for ---" and when she realized there was nothing like that out there, she went ahead and create it. She is clearly not someone who will only take the plunge after validating through the "focus group" kind of stuff.
  • Benefits of participating in trade-shows
  • How making the product remarkable helps in generating both PR (Julie talks about how she got featured on both CNN and the Oprah show) and word of mouth.
  • Story of why Baby Einstein was sold to Disney. (The business, though scaling rapidly, was taking over the founders' lives and also the category that the company had created was attracting competition from the big media companies. Julie poignantly describes how she comes from a humble background and how she was proud to have found a home in Disner for "her baby". The viewer/listener is however left with a felling that Disney - credit it to its brand - got Baby Einstein quite cheap.)
  • Julie also talks about her new ventures including Happy Appy - which serves up one Youtube video, as per their tagline is "Never Rude, Crude or Nude". A typically Julie app!
Lest the almost fairy tale like story of Julie Clark makes us think entrepreneurship for women in the US is a piece of cake, here are links to two other podcasts that focus more on the challenges and hardships involved. 

  • EO Fire interview with "geeky woman" entrepreneur Katherine Matsudaira, founder of Popforms.
  • Mixergy interview with New York-based I-banker turned Entrepreneur Yunha Kim, founder of Locket.
  • Mixergy Interview with Spain-based Pilar Manchon founder of INDiSYS (acquired by Intel)

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Bear Baba, The Balloon Boy & The Bank Burglar - How to Make Business a Breeze

First just take in this amazing video of a Guru (aka "Baba"), who lives a simple life in the high mountains, goes about his business:

What a Profound Business Message delivered the way only Bear Baba can with his Amazing Elegance: Keep It Simple Stupid! Expansion (if at all one is required): The Best Route to Business Nirvana is to Zero In on The Right Fish at The Right Spot at The Right Time - in fact, the fish should be DESPERATE to jump into your mouth. After that, it's just a matter of helping out the poor fish by just opening your mouth.And, since their supply is so plentiful, there's no need to strain yourself and try to catch all the fish. ("Competition? What's that?," asks Bear Baba.)

With a business model like this, it's no wonder Bear Baba can simply doze off for six months each year. (Take that, Tim Ferriss.)

The Business of Bears is all very well, you say. "But, how can I translate the message of Bear Baba to the World of Business inhabited by mere mortals like us?"

Fair Question. That's where The Balloon Boy comes in. Here's his story (as related by Pavan Choudhary in The Economic Times):
Many years ago, while visiting a pediatric hospital in Kolkata, I saw a boy, about thirteen-year old, selling balloons at the gate. As I walked past him, I could not but silently admire his genius. Once inside, I met the doctor who owned this hospital and, during the course of our conversation, I told him I had seen a genius at the gate. He said, "If you are talking about the little boy who is selling balloons at the gate, you are damn right. This boy sensed that kids who are being brought to my hospital start crying at its very sight (fearing an injection or some bitter medicine) and the parents then need something to pacify them. They end up buying his balloons to mollify their kids. Sometimes, in case of an exceptionally stubborn wailer, the hospital staff also buys one from him. He is prospering". This young lad had gauged the social milieu of the hospital and spotted the commercial opportunity that this setting presented. His sociological sensitivity was helping him prosper.

Wow! The Balloon Boy's amazing "Problem Solving" / "Sell Anancin versus Vitamins" approach clearly places him in Blue Ocean / Anacin territory (leaving the balloon sellers - at beaches, parks, etc. - in Red Ocean / Vitamin territory). Talk about fishing in troubled waters. This example alone should be sufficient for most entrepreneurs to realize the sagacity of Bear Baba and follow Follow His Path.  But, there's another aspect about the target customer that we need help with. That's where history's most quote-worthy Bank Burglar comes in:

Willie Sutton, when asked by the folks from the FBI (who had somehow managed to nab him), "Why do you rob banks, Willie?", replied, "Because that's where the money is".

To Spell-It-Out: Willie, Does Not Hit Homes. He Does Not Hit Gas Stations. He Does Not Hit Churches. But He Hits Banks. 'Coz, they've Got The Big Money!" (The message btw, is not to go rob banks/ATMs or even to try to sell stuff only to banks.) It's that, as Bear Baba would put it, we need Go After The Big Fish (who also happen to - at least they think they do - have a Big Problem)! So that it Improves the Odds Of Our Entrepreneurial Success. And, we can hope to "hit it rich" or "hit the beach" (or is "hit the cave", Bear Baba?) that much faster.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Hire Slowly. Hire them Early. Hire from Non-Hotspots. And Hire Only Future Entrepreneurs.

Amazingly detailed interview with David Barrett of Expensify on Mixergy where he talks about:
  • How he narrowed down the target market (of expense reporting) for his firm - "expense reporting is the most humiliating of tasks (for corporate travellers); they hate all it"
  • How Expensify strategically leverages its free service to end users as a "trojan horse" to sell to their companies
  • Why Expensify hires people slowly; mainly directly from campuses; typically from Tier II cities (who aspire to move to Silicon Valley - rather than to hire locally in San Francisco). And people who hope to some day create their own startup. (He likes to decscribe Expensivfy as a "University without Teachers")
  • How PR (getting on TV; Press, etc) is great for hiring. And not of much use for sales.
  • How Expensify decided not to react when a well-funded competititor started to give away for free a service that it charged for 
  • Why he won't give advice to other entrepreneurs and why entrepreneurs should not bother to seek advice
  • Why he does not believe in setting numerical goals. (Too high makes you demoralized; too low makes you take  it easy. Instead, just keep moving forward and improving.)
Extracts (emphasis mine):

On Hiring:

"We don’t poach. Because the people that you poach generally aren’t the people that you would want anyway...It’s really hard finding good people. And so as a result we hire really slowly. ...the best people (in San Francisco) aren’t looking for jobs here...The sort of person we’re looking for is just a really awesome generalist...So people who generally come from kind of humble back grounds, they want to work hard. They’ve heard the story of Silicon Valley....They come with this level of optimism and..enthusiasm.. And so we typically hire...right out of college...Expensify (is) not just a job, not just a startup job, but the next step in the big thing they want to do in the rest of their life.

So when someone comes to Expensify, it’s not just because for a great salary or great compensation and all that stuff which we do, but it’s because I see what you have here. I see the sort of people that you’ve hired and no other company has this. I’ve interviewed all over the place. I can get a job anywhere, but I really want it to be with you. Why? Because I want to be surrounded by the sort of people that you’re hiring. And I want to learn how the techniques and the strategies that you’re using because I want to go out and do that again after you.

...I think that’s why people come to Expensify is because not for just good pay, not just for our perks and things like this and the products and all this. But it’s because this is a stepping’s a university without teachers. It’s people who come here who want to learn, who want to teach people around them. But who want an opportunity to kind of go and do some amazing things in their lives. This is a very hard opportunity to find.

On PR:
Well, actually, I would say press is not effective for acquiring customers. Press (is) very effective for hiring. In fact, I would say if there was any pattern as to where the best candidates came from, it was because they’ve read our blog. It’s because they saw something on the road or some podcast. Maybe they even saw some TV, though that hasn’t happened yet. Because again, the best people out there, they’re not looking at job boards...They just approach the companies that they love and they say, “I know you’re hiring because every great company is hiring. And I know you want to hire me because I’m really great. And so let’s talk.”
On Advice:
"I wouldn’t give advice. I’d say just stop asking. Just start doing what makes sense to you. If you’re an entrepreneur, you’re an entrepreneur because you think you’re smarter than the next guy. So why turn and ask the next guy for advice? It doesn’t make any sense. So just do whatever you think makes sense. You’re probably going to be wrong a lot. But every once in while you’re going to be right. And maybe you’re going to be right about a couple of things that no one else noticed and that’s going to make all the difference."

On Competition:

"One of our competitors...launched with free unlimited scanning. We were pretty concerned... First iteration was this gorgeous design. Beautiful, beautiful app. And unlimited receipts, and furthermore they just paid through nose on customer acquisition....And they raised a bunch of money and they came out with like a good management team....We were really wondering should we just eat this cost in order to compete more effectively...? We decided not to. We were like, “You know what? We just think that’s a bad business model. So we’re just going to stick to our guns and do what makes sense for us.” And I don’t know, maybe they can make it work, maybe they can’t. I have no idea."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Quick Link: Why, like the Gazelle & the Lion, Entrepreneurs Too Cannot Afford to Stop Running

Nice translation of the great Gazelle-and-the-Lion quote (attributed to Thomas L Friedman) to the entrepreneurship context by Jackie Dismore of Luvali Convertibles (which makes various types of "two in one" clothing & accessories) in her Entrepreneur on Fire interview.
“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion, or it will be killed. Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle, or it will starve to death. It doesn't matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle. When the sun comes up, you better start running.”

I liked her emphasizing that, even if an entrepreneur feels that he is "on top" - i.e., like a lion - he/she cannot afford to relax. Else, someone else is going to eat their lunch!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Quick Link: "Scale up five times your current size OR ELSE!"

A "war stories" filled interview (source: Entrepreneur on Fire) with Tom Ziglar, son of the well known sales book author Zig Ziglar.

Especially attention grabbing is the part where he recommends entrepreneurs to think about how they would refashion their business if someone were to demand ("by holding their family to ransom!") that he/she needs to expand revenues five times in the next year, or else!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Enabling the Exit - Special Peer to Peer Discussion

The Venture Intelligence APEX'14 Private Equity Summit on March 6 at Mumbai saw an amazing coming together of Founders and executives as part of this special "peer to peer" track to share some amazing experiences and strategies to create exits in the Indian context - both via M&A and public markets.

The discussion started with Pangea3 Co-founder Sanjay Kamlani relating how the company's board decided to provide Thomson Reuters - a vendor to the company which had been tracking it closely since inception - a minimum valuation expected and a deadline, only after which it would start approaching other potential buyers. Sanjay also related why, despite going an existing partner - with whom all the stakeholders were very comfortable - Pangea3 still hired an investment bank to facilitate the transaction and, also brought in the good offices of its non-executive chairman, to sort out "hairy issues" that cropped up. Since the founders and other top executives would need to work closely with members of the buyer team post transaction, it is key to have such buffers during the deal negotiation. Other speakers in the insights filled track included:
  • Sesh AV, MD, Basiz (Session Chair)
  • Sandeep Parekh, Founder, Finsec Law Advisors & Formerly Executive Director at SEBI (who provided the legal and regulatory perspective)
  • Raman Gopal , President & Head - Business Development, Hinduja Group
    (who provided the acquirer’s perspective)
  • Pramod Maheshwari, CMD, Career Point
    (which provided a successful exit via an IPO in the Indian markets for its PE investor)
  • Neeraj Bhargava, CEO, Zodius Capital & Former CEO of US-listed BPO firm WNS
  • Ajay Bohora, Co-founder & CEO, Credila Financial (majority owned by HDFC) & formerly Co-founder of ClaimsBPO (acquired by WNS)
  • Chandu Nair, Co-founder, Scope eKnowledge (acquired by Quatrro BPO) 
The session is a must view one for entrepreneurs - especially ones planning an IPO or M&A for their firms.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Entrevista with Raj Nair, Founder of Avalon Consulting

Interview with Raj Nair, Founder-Chairman of Avalon Consulting, the Mumbai-headquartered, international consulting firm and also research and analytics firm Ugam Solutions and artificial intelligence software firm . Interview begins with how Ugam Solutions' founding & funding - especially how the company "pivoted" to completely new business in 50 days flat! 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 

  • Striking balance between Flexibility & Measurement in the Early Years: In the initial years of starting up,  it’s important to have the flexibility to course correct and not put pressure on the business with a rigid business model, ambitious target, etc. “There is (however) a difference between chaos and experimentation. Every day, you need to check if things are ‘happening or not happening’. You cannot be like Christopher Columbus saying 'I somehow want to reach India' and set sail without doing any homework. For every Columbus who got lucky, there are probably thousands who just lost their way.”
  • Pricing based on Value: How even with no relevant experience behind them, Raj and his team decided to price their market research services at double the prevalent rates and got away with it.
  • Spotting Entrepreneurial Opportunities - in the Pre- Liberalization Days (Market Research) and in Today's Social Media Driven Days (Germinait which mines Social Media for market research using technology tools). Very interesting accounts of the work that Germinait did for measuring the impact of a well known teleco's ad campaign and how it's helping an leading kids TV channel measure social media conversations to decide which characters to promote.
  • Experience brings Empathy: “When I started my journey, I used to view colleagues as fellow professionals and it was all about delivering results to clients. Today, I look at them as individual persons - someone whose wife had a migraine in the morning and he had to deal with it before coming; another whose child did not get admitted into a school or that he deserved to and so on. One understands how the environment affects an individual’s behavior, output and productivity at the workplace. In one word, Empathy. And that is something that can’t be taught in a business school.”
  • Don't tell your children what (career) path to take. Only if they decide for themselves, will they will own up to the responsibility for what they do!
  • Parting Wisdom: Make sure you are having fun! "When you are enjoying, a lot of the hardships don’t seem that big. When you are not enjoying what you are doing, even a small thing becoming a big issue. So make sure whatever you are going to do will give you tremendous satisfaction and happiness. Don't do get into some line of business just because 'the money is great' (and) unless you are going to enjoy the journey." 

Monday, January 27, 2014

The "How Many More Days to the Weekend" Employee

In his Mixergy interview, Andy Wilkerson founder of Parallelus, describes why he quit his last job:
I loved work. I didn’t know what having a job was, because I was just doing the things that used to be my hobby and getting paid for them. And as things changed, I started to dread going to work. I was… you know, (getting) stomach pains on Sunday nights, thinking about Monday. I looked forward to Fridays. That had never happened to me before. And it just wasn’t for me anymore.
And so, this is what he has decided for his co-workers at Parallelus:
I used to tell people when I interviewed them that we’re not just looking for the right employee to come work for us, but we want our company to be the right place for them. And if that relationship doesn’t exist, then one of us is in the wrong place, and we need to find the right one.

The "When" vs "How Much" customer

From the Mixergy interview with Joseph Winke of Healthy Surprise.

While the "When" customer has an abundance of money and a shortage of time, the "How Much" customer has got more time than money.