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Entrepreneurship 2009: By Rajesh Jain
Entrepreneurship 2009: By Rajesh Jain
Entrepreneurship 2009: By Rajesh Jain
Entrepreneurship 2009: By Rajesh Jain
Entrepreneurship 2009: By Rajesh Jain
Entrepreneurship 2009: By Rajesh Jain
Entrepreneurship 2009: By Rajesh Jain
Entrepreneurship 2009: By Rajesh Jain
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Entrepreneurship 2009: By Rajesh Jain

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List of blog articles on entrepreneurship posted by Rajesh Jain.

List of blog articles on entrepreneurship posted by Rajesh Jain.

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  • 1. Best of 2009: Entrepreneurship – By Rajesh Jain Table of Contents Venture Investing...................................................................................................................................... 1 Numbers Discipline ................................................................................................................................... 2 New Ideas.................................................................................................................................................. 3 100X Disasters........................................................................................................................................... 3 Telling a Story............................................................................................................................................ 4 Navigating NetCore – The Past Year ......................................................................................................... 4 Navigating NetCore – The Past Year (Part 2) ........................................................................................ 5 Navigating NetCore – The Past Year (Part 3) ........................................................................................ 5 Navigating NetCore – The Past Year (Part 4) ........................................................................................ 6 Navigating NetCore – The Past Year (Part 5) ........................................................................................ 6 Quarterly Targets and Reviews ................................................................................................................. 7 Entrepreneurship in India ......................................................................................................................... 7 Venture Investing October 15th, 2009 I can’t but help think that we are missing out on creating a deep-rooted start-up culture in India because we do not have the first two stages of the investing pipeline: angels, and first round investing. In the Indian context, angels should typically invest 1-2 cr ($200-400K) to give enough money for the company to get started and through to the early product prototype. First round investing (typically by a venture firm) should be between Rs 5-15 cr ($1-3 million) for products focused on the Indian market. What we do have are plenty of Indian funds willing to invest Rs 25-100 crore ($5-20 million) - ideally into companies that are profitable and looking for growth capital. At this stage, the company is expected to be profitable. The net result is, as someone put it to me: VCs in India act like PEs (Private equity funds), and PEs act like banks!
  • 2. So, is there a way out from this? What we need in India to get more start-ups created and more importantly, create the environment for them to succeed is a combination of an Incubator and Venture Capital Fund. This is something on the lines of what Kai-Fu Lee is doing in China or perhaps Y Combinator. There needs to be a core team at the Incubator that can explore new ideas, and see their potential in them becoming companies. In India, one thing I have seen is that start-ups require a lot more hand holding. That is where an experience team at the Incubator can help nurture companies (teams) through the difficult early days. Venture capital funds typically don’t have the bandwidth to spend more time at many early stage companies. So, think of a multi-stage to create the ecosystem needed for driving innovation and entrepreneurship. Start by creating an incubator which can seed tens of ideas and teams with say Rs 10-50L ($20K-100K). This needs to be a continuous process. Then, pick a few from there for the next stage of funding, which can be 10X the initial funding, with a third stage to get some companies funded with 5-10X more capital (a few million dollars). The fund size should be about $60 million, with about $10 million set aside to build a top-notch core team of peoplewho are committed to helping build the companies over a 4-5 year period. Many ideas and companies will fail, but it is out of these failures that the successes will emerge. India needscompanies that can create billions of dollars in wealth over the next decade. We have starting talent, but we need to do more to fill in the gaps that exist. An integrated incubator-fund helps bridge these gaps. Numbers Discipline October 14th, 2009 I have written on this topic in a different context in the past but it probably is worth repeating. Every company, however small, must develop a “numbers discipline” when it comes to revenues and costs. For much of my business life, this is not something I bothered to do - and so am assuming that there are plenty others like me! Hence there is a need to reinforce this point. I used to think that (a) small companies could not estimate accurately about what numbers they do each month or quarter since business is generally unpredictable, and (b) it didn’t really matter whether we met whatever targets we set or not. I was wrong on both counts. And habits once formed become hard to change. Over time, missing numbers becomes an acceptable thing, and that culture then sets in - both on the sales front and on the expenses side. It took us a long time even after we started to instill the discipline of meeting numbers. There used to be big gaps earlier, but the past six months have seen a dramatic change - enough to deliver for ourselves two cashflow positive quarters. Now, we need to make sure we maintain the momentum.
  • 3. New Ideas October 13th, 2009 The one thing I cannot stop doing is coming up with New Ideas. Nowadays, I also try and note the trail of how a particular idea could built up. There are three elements which I have found are particularly useful in the ideation process: • Talking to people and listening carefully to the questions they ask • Writing or doing a presentation - helps in structuring it • Deep thinking for an extended period of time Of these, the third is perhaps the hardest to do. There are so many things that need our attention - now! It is easy to lose oneself on answering emails, randomly surfing the web, or reading through Facebook status updates from dozens or even hundreds of friends. In other words, it is easy to get lost in the data streams that exist all around us. At times, it is very critical to step back and force a deep think - imagining what the future can be. That requires a few hours of uninterrupted thought — easier said than done. One thing I have realised is that even not-so-good Ideas can be moulded over time with enough thought and interaction with others. One needs a base framework to begin with - and the courage to share half- baked thoughts with others! And then let things simmer fora while to make magic happen. 100X Disasters October 7th, 2009 We see them every so often in business (and perhaps in personal life): disasters which we could have avoided had we made a decision to spend 1% of the time or money on an earlier occasion. We had one such 100X disaster in the company recently when one of our persons in the billing team took suddenly ill. She used to single-handedly manage the billing for our mailing renewals. And as it happens, there was no backup or written process — there were just so many things in her head! She was amazingly efficient at things, so until she had to take leave for an extended period, we didn’t wake up to the extent of the flaw in the internal system. It would have taken little for us to have an understudy associated with her, but we had not even thought about it — one of these things that slipped through the cracks. It boils down to “no backup” — either of a person, or of a process. The question to really aske very so often is: which one thing are we not doing which could cause a blow-up that can hurt? Of course, one cannot take it to an extreme, and duplicate every person or process. But there will be a few such things that we can do (insurance, Plan B - call it whatever) which can save embarrassment at a future point of time.
  • 4. Telling a Story September 25th, 2009 Over the years, I have realised the importance of being able to tell a story of what one is doing in a manner that is simple and compact. It doesn’t always start that way. On my recent US trip, I had a slide deck talking about NetCore, what we want to do, and discussing the assets we have created to help us build the future faster. I worked a lot on the slide deck. It took about 5 versions to get it just right. Each version took about two hours to create on successive days. To tell a story that others can understand in 10 minutes took 10 hours of hard work. It is not easy telling one’s story. My natural inclination is to be comprehensive rather than compact. I try and fill in all sorts of details. That doesn’t work, as I realised quickly. In meetings, one has about 15-20 minutes to deliver the key message. And that has to be done upfront. It is not easy, but it can be done if one focuses only on the Most Important Point. Each story has one key message, and the focus should be on delivering that with maximum effectiveness. Working on this through the early part of this trip reminded me of the two-minute pitch I had given at PC Forum a few years ago for the $100 PC and Novatium. It took many hours of work to get that two- minute talk right. It was the same this time around with the story. Luckily, I had a lot of help to get the story right. After the first few times I did it (not so effectively), I would analyse with those who heard me what I was doing right and what wasn’t going well. I then kept working through to get it just perfect. We will know when we get it right by just watching the reaction of the people in the room who are listening. Telling a Story is a key attribute that every entrepreneur, manager and sales person needs. However good an idea, if it cannot be communicated well, then it has a lesser chance of succeeding. Passion combined with a Perfect Story can be a winning combination. Navigating NetCore – The Past Year August 24th, 2009 Running a business is exciting and challenging at the same time. There are many decisions one has to make and live with the consequences if they turn out to be wrong. In the past year or so, we at NetCore have faced many such decision points. I want to share some of these moments and the thought process that went into each of those decisions. Hopefully, this can be good learning for entrepreneurs and managers. Last November, we faced a moment of truth. The burn rate (revenue minus expenses) was very high. And one of our revenue streams (mobile ads) slowed down dramatically. October was our highest
  • 5. revenue month, and November was our worst month. The next month wasn’t looking good either. And all around, there was talk of the impact of the economic slowdown hitting India. Continuing on the same trajectory would have meant that the burn rate would have gone higher, and it would have put a lot more pressure on the other revenue streams. While we had a certain business plan, it was time to re-evaluate quickly and do a significant course correction. Else, we could just end up becoming a black hole for investment money (which in this case was my own). Navigating NetCore – The Past Year (Part 2) August 25th, 2009 It was then that we made a decision to focus on bringing the business to cash profitability in a year or so. This meant that we would have to bring down expenses and work harder to grow the existing revenue streams faster. It would also mean eschewing newer ideas to bring a stronger focus on the things that were working. This was especially hard for me because I always like to experiment and try out new ideas. But the need of the hour then was different.To reduce expenses, we first focused on the two biggest cost heads - staff and SMS costs. We asked a few people to leave (less than 5%). We worked hard to manage our SMS costs better. And on all the other costs, we introduced tighter controls. At a company meeting, we explained our decisions to all the staff. We also postponed a few projects to put more resources on those projects that would pay off quicker. It was a sudden change of gear, but we managed it quite well. In April this year, continuing in the same vein, we reduced salaries of top management, put the sales team on a higher variable pay, and froze salaries of everyone else for six months. All of these cost management exercises helped us fix our expenses at a figure which was 15% lower than what it was a year ago. Navigating NetCore – The Past Year (Part 3) August 26th, 2009 To ramp up revenues, we pushed harder on the enterprise messaging services in both mailing and mobility. There was a lot of interest for our high-volume mailing product, and made sure our sales team pushed that harder, given that we had some unique technology advantages. On the enterprise mobility side, we created a separate team internally to focus on our top customers, thus increasing the attention and service that we gave them. In addition, a new stream in the form of database marketing was added to the mix and helped compensate for the slowness in mobile advertising. Although we had set our hearts and minds to being a consumer-centric company in the mobility space, we recognised that it would take time to get there. Therefore we increased focus in the short-term to using our enterprise messaging and marketing services to bridge the gap. Now, with the Digital Services
  • 6. Operator business, we are re-focusing on the consumer mobile space, but with a different idea (consumer pays rather than being limited only to advertiser pays). All of our efforts over the past year have paid off well, and the burn is now a small, manageable fraction of what it was a year ago. We expect to be cashflow positive soon as a company. The next step will be to make the mobility business profitable on a standalone basis. Navigating NetCore – The Past Year (Part 4) August 27th, 2009 Over the past few months, I have also started doing what I should have done a year or two ago - going out and meeting customers. If there is one learning that I have from the past couple years, it is that customer interaction should not be delegated to the sales team only. While building businesses based on breakthrough ideas, top management has to lead from the front by interacting closely with potential and existing customers. I used to meet customers a lot when I was running IndiaWorld during 1995-1999. Later, since there were others to do that bit, I would only do it occasionally in NetCore. Now that I have resumed meeting with customers I realise that I had made an almost-fatal mistake by not going out earlier. New ideas are sold on a vision of a different way of doing things. One has to understand a customer’s problems, and package the tools that exist in the form of a solution. The actual solution doesn’t necessarily exist in a perfect, replicable way. Besides, customer feedback about what is missing and what needs to be one leads to new ideas. Personally, going out and meeting customers has been something I have liked because it enables me to use the mix of passion, vision and on-the-spot ideation to open opportunities for us. That is what had helped us in IndiaWorld when we were a fledgling start-up. In NetCore’s early days, I forgot my past lesson. Navigating NetCore – The Past Year (Part 5) August 28th, 2009 Our goal this year is to consolidate the enterprise business streams so we can create a foundation that can grow 75-100% year-on-year. This business generates ideas, revenues, customer relationships and profits. In parallel, we are also building out the consumer business - something we had slowed down over the past year. This is something that I am personally driving.The shift of focus to the enterprise business is for the reason of sustenance of business in the short-term and not necessarily the ultimate goal (though it will continue as an important contributor even in the long run). Our passion still lies in consumer business which means both advertiser pay and consumer pay. Both of these will take time and that is a reality we have accepted. The name of the game is
  • 7. constant re-think yet continued efforts to make our original plans (consumer monetisation) ultimately successful, even though in a re-jigged format. During our last Board meeting, we asked one of our Board members about the ups and downs we had faced. His response was that unlike some other companies, we had adapted quite well to the changed environment. We had recognised that a specific strategy (consumer monetization through ads on mobile) wasn’t working well, and instead of just sticking to it because “it was part of the plan”, we changed our approach and built out the enterprise mobility business. Now, we were ready, from a stronger base, to take another look at the consumer business with a modified approach. For me, every year as an entrepreneur is one to be savoured because of the learnings. Just because I did something right in the past does not guarantee success in the future. Building a business is hard. There are moments of joy - but there are many more moments of pain. However experienced one is, situations are different and have to be dealt with accordingly. More than anything, one has to be optimistic and keep the big picture in mind for what one wants to do. It is that vision of the future that keeps the enthusiasm and morale high even during difficult times. For me, the journey matters as much as reaching the destination. Quarterly Targets and Reviews July 9th, 2009 At the end of every quarter, in NetCore, we do a formal review (sort-of Board meeting) with two external people. This helps us in multiple ways: it instills a “numbers” discipline down the line, it makes all of us accountable to numbers that we commit, it forces us to review ourselves every three months with people other than ourselves, and it also gets us inputs which sometimes we have failed to see (perhaps being too close to the issue or problem). We have been doing this for about three years in NetCore. These quarterly reviews where we and each of the business heads presents to the Board are something that have been a useful and essential part of the process of ensuring that even as think long-term, we recognise the importance of keeping on delivering in the short-term also. This is something which every company should do. Listed companies of course are obligated to do so. Even private companies should instill in themselves this discipline of quarterly targets and reviews. Entrepreneurship in India February 10th, 2009 Sramana Mitra wrote to me saying that Forbes has requested her to write a series on Entrepreneurship / Innovation in India, and she was keen to get more inputs from me and Emergic’s readers. Here is a discussion on her blog about the theme.
  • 8. My thoughts: • Entrepreneurship is happening in India, but there isn’t enough of it and there isn’t enough of capital being invested into early-stage companies. • There are two issues: lack of angel funding (whatever little was there has now almost dried up) and lack of the first-round funding. Ventures need about Rs 1-5 crore to get started, and about Rs 5-15 crore in first-round funding. Most VC funds in India are either not investing in tech- focused cos. or need to invest $5 million (Rs 25 crore) given their fund size and the commitments they can make. India needs smaller funds with smaller overheads, with more operationally focused partners to mentor and guide early-stage companies. • The digital opportunities in the Internet and mobile space both have challenges. The Internet cos. are dependent entirely on advertising (which has stagnated) and the mobile cos. are hamstrung by low revenue shares from mobile operator payouts. • I continue to believe that the big opportunity in India is in building direct-to-consumer cos. in the mobile space, but this requires courage and capital. • Also, exits in India are few and far between. M&A needs to be part of the process and that is simply not happening in India. • Result: we have lots of small companies (since one can start) but few achieve scale. That is what needs to change.

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