My 2012 : The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

  • The year 2012 started with 2nd year away from family : wife & kids are away in Odisha. I am in Pune
  • Got childhood best friend backing the company with some fund
  • Along with my team, I did event ‘Gate entry’ management job for few events πŸ™‚ Some people thought I am crazy! How can a CEO do gate entry management πŸ™‚
  • Had a massive business growth during March 2012, we grew 600% @ayojak
  • Spent several days in NCR/Gurgaon with 2 cool chaps : Falak & Sunil. Had loads of fun,movies & party. Met Anandan, Daksha Sharma, Pankaj Jain for first time after several years of knowing them online
  • I went to Ahmedabad & Gujarat for the first time. Also went to Rajasthan with Falak and Sunil, had a fantastic trip.
  • Travelled Maharashtra to Odisha by bus : Mumbai-Pune-Hyderabad-Vizag-Berhampur
  • Father suffered health issues and it was a painful year. Father-in-law had a heart surgey. Both are doing better these days
  • My sister gave birth to her first baby. I am ‘The Uncle’ for 2 lovely babies
  • Slept one night without money and hence without food (for whatever reason it is, it was painful)
  • Called a friend to take me home as debit card got blocked & had no money for the lunch πŸ™‚ I had a delicious lunch, Thanks Venki
  • First time conceptualized an event called ‘Clean Comedy Festival 2012’. It was not a successful event. Thanks, we did it our way
  • Could win back old colleague Sunil Singh to come back and travel the journey together
  • Could win best friend and engg classmate to join the company. I have been chasing him since 2007 to join. I hope this journey will give him the best
  • After 1.5 years, I spent 2 full months with my wife & sons
  • I was worried that my little second son may not recognize me as father πŸ˜€ 
  • After 12 years, I was in home with parents for Diwali
  • Listened to little sister’s problem, also her suggestions for my life
  • Had a massive growth in business @ayojak, we broke our own record of 425+ events in 3 months whereas we had 381+ events in entire 2011
  • Decided to stay back in Pune to work with team directly 

Why #unpluggd is a must go! What I got from UnPluggd?

During my early years of bootstrapping, I was literally the hidden some guy building a startup called ‘Ayojak’, two event organizer came forward to use Ayojak : ClubHack and UnPluggd. I had absolutely met none (face to face) in India’s startup community,so to break the momentum and bring the real customer touch, I booked flight ticket from London to Bangalore and attended UnPluggd 2010.

 

What I got from UnPluggd?

– I met several geeks, product engineers and Startup founders

– I met Mukund Mohan,Pratyush Prasanna, Ashish Sinha, Aashish Solanki & several others (the beauty is when you meet people in person, you build a feedback-support-comments-appreciation loop for your startup & theirs)

– Got excellent feedback for Ayojak from various attendee which was eye-opener for the baby Ayojak in 2010

– Got new ideas on how we could integrate Ayojak with various other Startups

– Even today, I am enjoying the fruits of relationship with several people from UnPluggd 2010

 

If you are building a product, already having a product, thinking about experiencing the real startup talk, you have 2 choices – i) go UnPluggd ii) go UnPluggd πŸ™‚

 

Disclosure 1 : UnPluggd uses Ayojak, we get appreciation for good work and also strong comments if things not well. This post is to encourage people to experience the business behind product startups.

Disclosure 2 : I also love other Startup initiative events in India as each of them doing excellent work to grow the ecosystem.

Startup : If you don’t have competitors, you have more chances of failure!

 

The first question you hear as a Startup ‘what if your competitors starts doing what you do’. Many Startup will say ‘we don’t have competitors or we are first in the market or we have X innovation and hence no competitor.

Reality is you have plenty of competitors. Politely, candidly you should say ‘having competitor validates market need & we will survive-prosper-lead’! As a  Startup , you are introducing a solution for which you need a market. You should be worried if you claim you have no competitors.

Customer will hate you if you don’t have competitors, you will be seen us monopolistic, average service, high cost, low supportive company! The reason being they don’t know how good you are by benchmarking with your competitor(s).

Your first few investors (friends, family) will doubt your Startup potential as they can’t visually verify scope of growth or proof of it elsewhere. Everything you do would be seen as random, impractical, too optimistic gamble.

Your product would slow to be creative & less user driven as you wont able to offer a disruptive model due to lack of market feedback on how it does vs other products, what other way same service can be delivered, for example think how it would be if 37signals was only Startup doing project management solution for decades! Now imagine how Podio/Zoho have made different approach to similar service hence offering wealth of knowledge & feedback to 37signals. No competitor means you will dig your own grave.

You will have biggest issues on attracting top talents.

Your Startup will be doing all the hard work to create market, opportunities, rather than co-creating the same in far less cost (acquisition & business development). This high cost would mean your Startup is in danger of early death unless your product/ service had some early avatar /competitors to which customers can relate to.

You will suffer due to lack of ecosystem & having todo most related work on your own. 

Stand up and admit you have competitor(s) whom you love /hate /ignore /fight.

Share your thoughts/comments. I run a startup www.Ayojak.com, most welcome to connect on Facebook /Twitter https://www.facebook.com/santoshpanda or @santoshpanda

Promises of an entrepreneur

Having tried-failed-tried, small success & lot still to do, I know how hard an entrepreneur’s life. I have been helped by many people who loved what we @ my startup tried, some questioned, some ignored, some laughed, some scolded, some suggested and some cheated. But that is part of life no matter what we do.

I got excellent support from few people and at the same time was surprised to find many simply avoiding to support. When I spoke to many fellow entrepreneurs, the feedback is same. Hence this blog post is based on my experiences and aims to influence more to be supportive to other entrepreneurs & startups.

This blog post is influenced by Mukund Mohan’s http://www.pluggd.in/an-investors-promise-297/ 

I promise the following

Open network

I will continue to keep my network open i.e. connect friends, contacts, (ex)colleagues, other entrepreneurs, mentors, advisers to you. 

Participate

I will continue to participate in hearing your idea/ concept / evaluating your early prototype / try beta apps.

Communicate

I will continue to respond your queries/mails.

Endeavours First, Friends Later

I will respect your endeavours without getting biased whether you are my friend/contact/an associate. If your product is good, I will recommend and use your product even if it is built using my competitors product!

Don’t cheat

I will continue to treat you fairly well but never cheat.

No location bias

I will continue not to be biased whether your startup belongs to one city/another. I will respect you as an entrepreneur, your endeavours & your hard work

My Mantra of being an entrepreneur : “woh entrepreneur hi kya jo aur entrepreneurs ki kaam na aaye” ( He/she is not an entrepreneur if (s)he is not supportive to other entrepreneurs). 

(I am hopeful you have seen this image of Vettel-Schumacher)

Vettel-schumi_300

 

Any comments/suggestions, most wlecome to share? You can follow me on https://twitter.com/santoshpanda and/or my startup https://www.facebook.com/ayojak

Starting-up is non-social, Started-up is very non-social. Startup+ is social

Your Startup vision is so large & bright, it will cut you off from social engagements. For you everything has to be measured, time well spent and productive. But social engagements are not about productivity, its about life. However there is no time for you apart from rushing to get things organized, orchestrated, and executed. 

This will make you non-social. You are no more that guy/gal who used to join up for parties-movies-sports. You will be the last person to arrive for your brother-in-law/sister’s marriage, even after arriving you open up your phone/notebook etc to see if you missed some important info wrt your Startup πŸ™‚ Forget about Holi-Eid-Christmas-NewYear, all is same ‘another day for you’. People will start questioning your addictive Startup nature and may feel you are least interested in relationships. You will be hardly in touch with your friends,ex-colleagues and be seen as a nerd doing something. You have earned your ‘non-social’ status.

 

Started-up is very non-social stage, everybody is now non-social for you! By now everybody would have known how hard your life has become, they see you pitching door to door/friend to friend for raising money, having lost the glory of your ‘high income-job life/savings’. You will share your mistakes which will be used as a yardstick to measure and early-assume that ‘you shouldn’t have done a Startup’. Your social circle will think ‘can I rely this person? will I invest in his Startup? let me not show my face for sometime-till (s)has some money, its high risk to keep in touch now…etc,etc. Your family circle would criticize you as you haven’t visited them for years, haven’t checked how well are they doing, you don’t know whose son & daughter these new born babies are πŸ˜›

 

Startup+ is social. This is a stage where you have stepped up +factors. You are making bit of money, name, visual proofs, social proofs, and some free time. You are back in friend,ex-colleague, and family circle. Now they are thinking about you and querying how well you & your Startup doing. They are helping you to build connections, write you open cheques if you need money, giving you confidence that you are on right track, telling you that you have worked/fought hard. You are now the new man/woman who has transformed to a new avatar. 

 

Welcome to the Startup world. Go through the stages and balance your ‘non-social to social to non-social’ status.

To follow what I do, my startup https://www.facebook.com/ayojak & https://twitter.com/santoshpanda 

 

Experts later, Connectors first & always

If you are starting up/started up, the common confusion a first time entrepreneur goes through is ‘validation of everything (s)he does’ like

1. Will this work?

2. Is there enough customers to buy my service?

3. How is the industry prospects?

4. Who are the big players?

5. Am I fundable/is my company fundable?

…………..

……..

With a conventional approach, we search for experts i.e. somebody who has been successful/ seen as intelligent, or somebody who claims to know or startup gurus. Nothing wrong in it but loads of time gets wasted by trying to reach experts /getting enough ‘practical’ inputs from them or worst getting time from them. 

Experts might be good in what they do but they are equally confused to validate what you are proposing. Oops sounds wrong? No,its not. If experts were the only people who knew or could predict things, then Facebook wouldn’t have arrived or Sony should have done iPod/phone. Ask the common man, the connectors. Who are those, how do you find them?

 

Connectors are those 

–who knows bit of things across industry, 

–connected to variety of people/executives, 

–they are like migratory birds having info on several things,

–they know some of your customers/prospective customers,

–you see them in events, real life busy networking or helping others,

–they might have started up & failed(better) or succeeded(better too)

–those whom you think why the heck this guy not starting up(IMHO (s)he is the real connector)

 

Whether you are thinking of an idea, want to showcase your first prototype, looking for somebody to trial, or looking for an investor? ask the connectors. 

 

As a Startup, you can still say ‘No’ to your customer if

Customer acquisition and development is critical task for a Startup. With limited budget-time-resource, it is almost impossible to let go even 1 single customer. As a Startup you have hardly any room to say no to a customer such as when they ask for new features, additional services, reduced pricing and many such things. As customer is God and Startup is your life’s precious ambition, so you think your Startup shouldn’t say ‘No’ to a customer, isn’t ? Go ahead, you should say ‘No’, not for the sake of saying but certainly ‘say no’ if you think your customer will move on if you don’t fulfill their suggestion. 

Rome wasn’t built in a day

If you think your customer will run away just because you couldn’t hear & serve their need, then you are missing big picture of your own Startup. It takes time, none of the super Startups were built in a day, they were build over years by bringing on the most valuable solution for customers. Your customer knows it, tell them ‘No’. Don’t burn yourself, stay focused.

Everything is ordinary on day one

It is a fact that when a Startup is launched (whether you build it or incubate in Y-Combinator, StartupWeekend, Seedcamp etc), it is the basic ‘minimum viable product’, ordinary to most customer’s eye. Hence during first few months, customer may puzzle you asking for anything & everything they think you should be doing or your Startup product is lacking. Go ahead listen to them (note what makes sense) and say ‘No’ politely.

Each Customer’s Like is different 

One customer may like what you have built, but several others might not need that. So should you be cooking product for 1 customer or cook for ‘common problem’ ? Say ‘No’ to such 1 specific customer by helping them to understand their need and find a way how they could do without it. At same time, reach out to your other customers and verify if your thought makes sense.  If your customer is asking for Vitamin, you can certain say ‘No’ as long as your product is solving their pain. Pluggd.in has a nice post, read it  http://www.pluggd.in/building-product-strategy-vitamins-or-pain-killer-297/

Your competitor(s) are not running on ‘free’ oil

It is a common fear for a Startup that if they don’t hear customer, customer will go to competitor. The fact is your competitor is equally challenged and have their own schedule and roadmap. Even if your competitor does fulfil what your customer asked, it is impossible that they can do so every time. Say ‘No’ if you have this thought bothering you.

Relationship works

Whether you said ‘No’ to a customer for their new requirements or not, at the end of the day, your customer is your customer if you have built/can build relationship with them. It is the relationship which brings you customer who stays with you for longer time. Say ‘No’ to new requirement but build relationship. Tough! in’t ?

Having said all the above, you shouldn’t miss the point : your customer care about their problem and not about your solution. Hence apply GTD principles like Do-Delay-Delete-Delegate.

  • Do it if it solves pain, part of your solution area
  • Delay it if you are not sure and want to cross check with more customers.
  • Delete it if it is absolutely not related to what you offer
  • Delegate it to other who could fulfil the need (such as other Startups who is doing what your customer is asking for and unrelated to your solution)

Your thoughts & suggestions are most welcome. Love to stay connected? 

follow me on http://twitter.com/santoshpanda ,  http://www.linkedin.com/in/santoshpanda 

follow my startup http://twitter.com/ayojakhttps://www.facebook.com/ayojak