Way back in 1997, when I had just landed in Bangalore and was studying post-grad in CDAC Bangalore to transform myself from an Industrial & Production Engineer to Computing; I & my friend Venki met Pradeep of previous batch in CDAC. We got connected instantly, Pradeep extended his support to guide us on fast-forward learning in CDAC and introduced us to Java. Pradeep was so influential on me in getting the basics right that I suddenly felt powerful in computing! Pradeep continued  helping through 97-98 to give us the 1st set of Java SDK from IBM by slicing some 20+ floppy disk that I & Venki carried from IBM to home and installed in computer.

Getting connected with Pradeep was one of the best thing to happen to me in 1st few years of professional life in Bangalore.

While fighting to get a job in 98, I got connected to this gentlemen of my engineering batch ‘Bhabatosh’ (had hardly spoken to him in engg college) & Bhabatosh was instrumental in sending my CV to Sonata HR. Sonata gave the flying start to my career.

Moral of the story: getting connected with people is a crucial element of ‘shaping your destiny and giving it a kickstart’.

However, getting connected is not that powerful if you don’t become the connector. As they say ‘pass on the tradition of supporting & getting supported’ : give & take. Getting connected may give you flying start but unless you are the connector, you will soon loose the charm and find that not many getting connected with you! There may be a thought ‘why should I connect this person, what’s my gain’. If you can overcome this dilema, you will be the gem of a person around whom the dots will get connected. Let me share one more.

I was looking for a freelancer web dev company in 2006 to develop one of my idea and that’s when I got connected to Sagar, he was running a top class digital web dev agency in Mumbai. I got my small piece of work developed through him. We kept in touch. Fast forward to 2010 : Sagar called me from India (I was living in UK that time) to ask if we will be interested in  IPL ticketing. I said, you must be kidding. Sagar connected me to some key member in an IPL team, we tried our best. Sagar as a connector went on connecting lots of dots.

Moral of the story,  be connector and see the beauty of your destiny.

Staying connected is hard, but that is the beautiful part of being social! Priorities change, life changes and most of us struggle to stay connected. The moment we loose the charm of staying connected, you loose the power of ‘getting connected and being a connector’.

Moral of the story : The ‘connected’ cycle must continue.

This was my guest post published on http://www.nextbigwhat.com/

After 35th hiring and 5+ years of working in Startup to hire best people to work with, I have came to realise a small puzzle which makes hiring work! Let me share few of hiring failures and success with you.

During 2008, while interview for first few engineers, one gentleman walked in to the interview room. He have had already 1.5 yrs  of working experience  using JAVA technology (you know how software engineers love Java as it feels high end and gives lot of bucks :).We had few lines of conversation, we didn’t even have proper chairs in office that time, it was just the 1st week of start.

I asked him, why would you want to work with us?

a. We are not using Java, we use PHP!

b. There are no senior people to work with (as I myself won’t be coding), so you can’t learn much from me.

c. We don’t know where the world will head, as we are going to try one after another

But he was determined to join as he had heard from his friends whom I had trained (for my 2nd startup) remotely being in London on how to code “the best ways”, make module approach and keep things clean, few other such bits. Plus the openness I operate with.

He stayed with us for 3 yrs and was instrumental in building up the ground work in Explara. He is the person whom I can trust and I dint have to check what time he is coming to office & going. He would get things done. (All this while team was operating in Pune and I was living in London)

During 2010-2012, we hired few sales guy, one or two of them have had huge connections in event industry, sharp mind and if they want they could network and get you any customer you want! When they joined, we assumed that this is a perfect match, let’s go ahead. We did our own assessment and found ok to fit.

Result : Several of them failed for  simple reason : They were operating by taking a middleman i.e. you tell me what to do, let me ask customer what (s)he wants, if it matches, job is done. Soon, we realised that this middleman posing is the big flaw in our hiring.

We let such middleman go.

But some middleman grow to become frontman!

During 2008-2009, another gentleman  walked-in to our office one day to ask for donation for a charity he was working! My then partner  spoke to him, liked his personality and called me over Skype to London to say ‘He’ is interesting, has done his computer engg but due to adverse market condition he is doing marketing job. I instantly told ‘lets hire him’. I haven’t even spoken to this fund-raiser..

He started as marketing executive, did so wonderful work that even traditional marketers will struggle. But one fine day, he buzzed me on Skype saying ‘hey Santosh, I want to do coding’. I was like ‘oh my God!!!!; now I have to really think’ 🙂 But as usual, I don’t hesitate to give a chance, so I said ok let’s start. He moved from marketing team to engineering team and he single handedly coded/maintained/built a culture of engineering. When we had a big tragedy of people leaving us in mid 2010 thinking we are going to go down, he was one who took a stand to work with us.

As of today, he is the frontman of Explara.

Moral of the story : As a startup, we have limited resources, less time for micromanagement, therefore the individuals can’t sit down on the middle thinking others are responsible for their fate! If you allow that to happen, you are building one-man company. Let individuals drive equally as team member & build you team. Let other middleman go!

Only after 18 months post-starting up, I realised that there is a game here, the game is : you as an entrepreneur is watched closely, just like in a cricket game  where as a batsman you score run steadily or you score too fast, you are expected to  loose your wicket soon!
 
During 2009, I first felt that I can be dead any day even if I don’t want to, so I gave up the fear-factor of death in Startup. We were told, there is  this XYZ[don’t want to name] and you guys are going to be dead.  Were I scared, honestly NOT.
 
During 2010, I was almost told by my parents to shut down and take that CTO offer I was getting in a Startup in London.
 
During 2011, some of my best friends and entrepreneurs thought this time sure shot dead. As another renowned XYZ  had just ventured into ticketing.
 
During 2012, many wannabe investors thought, this time once the  friend-family round money gets over, this chap is dead. Also another XYZ  has raised so much of money, who  can compete with it. But the truth is that,  the market is huge; what they are doing we won’t do, what we are doing, we always welcome others to do! No fear factor, you see!!!
 
During 2013, hmmm (will tell some other time) as expected we should be dead but why not yet! Btw growth is happening hugely.
 
All this while the best event ticketing/registration companies in USA were growing at 5x to 10x speed and inching towards billion sale,  my team had to prove that there is a market in India even though our  growth rate was 450% to 600%. 
 
The moral of the story is:
1. Entrepreneurship is serious life changing game
2. You can compete with anybody, there is a market (Ask, how on the earth, an one time fledgling telecom company could get so much of market share that was once dominated by bellwether!)
3. Entrepreneurship is not theory but complicated practical and any wrong step can take you downhill
4. Forget what your competitor does, do what your customer will like and in a meaningful way
 
Start and and keep driving. There are ways out there, people have money and if your team can execute well, there is heaven loads of money.

Disclaimer : This is my personal views written on personal blogs. My product http://www.explara.com uses various gateway and this post is based on our ‘practical’ issues written in the spirit of making things better. If you feel misquoted, you can reach me.

We use services of so called leading payment gateway providers, even the new kids.

Rate of Failures
They compete on who can offer 0% gateway fee rather than 0% failures. Hello Gateways!, your merchants needs food not air i.e. they need 99% successful transaction not 0% processing fee. The rate of failures is an assumed phenomenon in India and they assume they will continue to mint on failed assumptions.

Bad Customer Service
We ‘make’ them crores of transaction, I mean crores and you know what they do to us ? They don’t pick our phone call even during office hours or don’t follow up via support system. Can somebody tell them to use FreshDesk.com/ SupportBee.com, Exotel.com, WebEngage.com kind of services.

Activation Deaths
Even today in the fast forward Startup world, activation is one factor that can ruin you! Try getting service activated.Don’t believe what they say unless you get it.

Lack of forward looking world
Payment gateways thinks Social media is some alien, we hear comments like ‘your website footer has links to Twitter, can you remove that please before we can approve a service’. OMG!

Red tape mindset
Somehow they will try to make you wait and go post to pillar as they know their good and bad payment gateway competitors do same. Wow, what an world they are building.

International cards
Payment gateways are so secretive about why they don’t offer international card processing, you will feel like somebody has cursed you to not think ‘international’. “Anyway, we are big coolies of the world, so how can we build amazing products that world audience will like to take service from”, they seems to think so.

Unwanted Data
Why do they need shipping address shown to user when user is buying an electronic goods. Even if they need the same for physical goods, can they not provide an option, so we could switch off? OMG, this is technology when they make 300 crore gross in a year!!

Partial Data capture
They clear transaction even when the name was not captured. Our merchants blame us and think we are the culprit.

Poor UX
Oh, lets stop here.  What is UX todo with payment gateway?

Taking the opportunity to thanks to few more who are the connectors of this journey  during the crucial 2011-2012 : This journey got mentioned/featured in Economic Times : http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/emerging-businesses/startups/santosh-pandas-explara-com-hopes-to-be-a-market-leader-in-indias-rs-5000-crore-online-ticketing-industry/articleshow/20920703.cms

Thanks to Ashish Sinha for being an early client of Ayojak.com during UnPluggd 2010, I came to attend and get to know few people in Indian startup scene. There I met Pratyush Prasanna.

Thanks to Ramdas, my childhood friends for the support during 2011.

Thanks to Pratyush who went on helping in several connections and one of them was precious : Kishore Warrier during 2012

Thanks to Kishore Warrier who always stood for this journey & subsequent funding during crucial stage. During the same time when I had just met Rajan Anandan during 2012

Thanks to Avlesh Singh for doing an intro Rajan Anandan, also Ashish Sinha did connect during 2012

Thanks to Shivakumar Ganesan (@Shivku) for connecting to Karthik @Blume Ventures during 2012

Thanks to Ashok Kumar, my friends from engineering college who joined during 2012 to co-run this organisation 2012

Thanks to several rockstar team members who have more faith in this journey than I could wish for! The journey with  www.explara.com continues.

Where is your songs playlist? Are you sure it will remain there forever ? I don’t think so, here is why…

Each of us has a personal songs playlist that we love, we keep discovering great songs from others/via word of mouth/social sharing and several online music sites. I have had a playlist ‘notebook’ given by a friend which had top of the chart and not-so-top-of-the-chart but cute hindi songs collection from 70’s. I lost the notebook during one of my travel from Finland to India/UK to India trip (during 99s). That ended my access to great playlist that was handpicked by this friend of mine and his sister.

YouTube arrived on music discovery scene and we all had access to songs that we could remember and I felt we have a solution to go back to history and dig deep to discover music. I did like many of you created YouTube Playlist. So, we had some list in Music India Online, Smashits, Raaga, iTunes, recent Dhingana, Saavn, Gaana…

Sooner or later, I saw YouTube keeps deleting the songs that I added to playlist as that was uploaded by somebody whose account is frozen or illegal content or original music producer didn’t allow them. Other online music sites as I mentioned above have had their own lifeline (MIO, Smashits, Raaga is slowly getting outdated by Dhingana, Saavn, Gaana). This trend means none of us will have a ‘Master index’ of the songs we like on ‘cloud'( i.e. online music sites) will live for long. That exactly is the problem somebody should solve. How about a Songs Index DB like Amazon’s IMDB? It should

a. index all songs and point to master producer index or

b. allow user to create a Songs Index that list all songs (think excel sheet with each row one song listed), each song further linked to online music sites that user wants to hear from. This means I could index the same song on YouTube, Dhingaan, Saavn.

c. If any of the music sites run out of business, I have my own Songs DB that I could keep nurturing and not at the mercy of the online sites

How difficult is the above?

——

If you could help me reaching somebody who might have a handpicked note of all great songs (Hindi) from 70’s, please connect. I promise I will give you a Big Big treat 🙂

 

I read 2 awesome article last week, here are the snippets

[Outlook Business]
Many business experts use “war” as a metaphor for the strategies needed to compete in a global economy. The evidence is clear that the world is tired of war. When the purpose of competition is understood: to bring out the best, to produce excellence, to create better products and services, it brings to light a distinction worthy of our deepest reflection — the desire to win versus the desire to destroy. We begin to understand that without our competitors we would have no incentive to raise our standards and reach our potential.

Full article http://business.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?285121

[Richard Branson’s Virgin Blog]
When I made a bet two and a half years ago with Tony Fernandes about which of our Formula One teams would finish higher, we agreed whoever lost would dress as cabin crew on the other’s airline. Our first attempt was foiled by my skiing accident. The second was thwarted by the royal wedding. The third when our house burnt down on Necker. Well, a bet is a bet – so it was a pleasure to finally honour the bet and join the team in my beautiful new uniform on a flight from Perth to Kuala Lumpur.



Tony used to work for Virgin and it’s brilliant to see how he has built a thriving brand of his own.

Full post : http://www.virgin.com/richard-branson/lady-in-red