Friday, May 30, 2008

Mentors

Predictably, the people most instrumental to our success at Kendara were a part of the process from the beginning until we sold.

Our lawyer, Scott Dettmer explained all the elements of structuring companies, and more importantly, set up our fund raising process and coached us through it. He advised us to resist talking to the VCs who had sought us out and wanted to have early conversations about what we were doing. Instead he encouraged us to wait until we were solid with what we were doing and our pitch, and then to line up as many meetings with the top tier VCs as we could manage. He set up many of these meetings himself. When we were actually having these conversations. We would meet in the morning and he would tell us both what the VCs would ask, like "how much are you looking for", and "whats your valuation". And how to answer, "$5 million" and "we don't know". The conversations went exactly how he said they would, and I give him much of the credit for our handling them well.

Mike Sheridan was our 5th board, "neutral", board member. Mike was remarkable for being personal friends with us and Jon Feiber of MDV so neutral is not really the right word. Conversations with Mike calmed the giant emotional waves that characterize that experience for me. Most of what I remember of his advice was that it was 'ok', we were doing 'fine', what we were experiencing was 'normal'. We trusted him alot. We knew he wouldn't be afraid to tell us we were screwing up, and that he knew enough about the scene to know. So this was great. I'll always be grateful.

MDV gave us Donna Novitsky as an interim VP of marketing. A number of people passing thru gave us marketing advice, but we didn't know how to assimilate it. Donna, met with us once or twice a week and was able to drive. Our meetings had action items, and since she was coming back, that meant something. She also had access to the MDV address book. When we were going thru our ICard phase many of these marketing meetings resulted in wild requirements like, "we need to talk to AAA, we need to talk to AARP, we need to talk to VISA". Today I hear startups say stuff like that, and I roll my eyes. Then, Donna would say, "ok, I'll take that" and we would get contact info mailed to us in a few days. Really, the revolution of the moment is that we can launch large scale successful businesses without engaging massive companies. If your plan involves selling or partnering with public companies, get a good VC.


When we got funding our VCs helped us by sending us a stream of people who had experience running, growing or selling businesses. Part of this was probably their way of playing the dating game as they had in mind that we would need a CEO. The conversations were often interesting. We spent an hour with Geoffrey Moore where he explained his way of breaking down problems, and in real time we tried to apply his advice to our work. I don't remember any of the other names that came thru. Some were remarkable, and I saw them on the cover of wired, but with all the craziness it was hard process and put into effect the advice of people like this. Basically, once we had money, we were too busy and stressed running to really adjust our course radically.

Prefunding this kind of advice was more useful. Arthur Van Hoff talked with us a bit about what we were doing, and what areas he thought would be big. At the time he was worth about a billion $ on paper, and Pavni and I were struggling a bit to define exactly what we were doing, so his thoughts were valuable. His support also affirmed our credibility with a number of VCs, and probably got us the conversation with Vinod Khosla. Another way of looking at this is we had one major course correction in the years post funding when I presented the iCard idea and Jon Feiber said, "great work, don't do it again". In the four months prefunding we had a fairly major change of direction every month or so. So, we were definitely more open to ideas then.

Define the Designer

AIGA and Adobe have launched an initiative to define the professional characteristics of the designers of 2015 so that we can prepare designers for the skills and roles that will be expected of them.

We need to do this for the software development community.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

About YCombinator

* The title is actually a link to the about ycombinator page. Like all of PG's writing I think it reads extremely well, and describes what I would like to do in India.

Survivability & the 2bhk startup

Paul Graham has a whole essay on how to succeed as a startup.
It's called not dying. How Not to Die.

He mentions their success rate being close to 50% which is astonishing.

His teams are unusually good at not dying. This is perhaps not so surprising since YC companies begin their lives super frugal style with founders living together and working from their apartment. This means that to continue beyond the $20k YC invests, they just need to cover living expenses a little while longer.

A supporting argument may come from 37Signals and Marc Hedlund who write that 3 is the perfect # of people to develop version 1.0.

Not only is keeping the initial team small useful for keeping costs low and not dying, it may be optimal for a variety of reasons.

If this works so well in Boston and San Francisco, how about India ? Whats price parity on the $5k +$5k*(numFounders) ? Who would come, and what level would they be ?
In his article Paul Graham talks about how the ego factor often keeps founders from quitting. Would that be more or less of a factor here ?

Where's the best place Pune . Bangalore ... ?

China Dinner

video

Snakes, Scorpions, Song and Dance

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Negotiating India


I just spent 6k rps getting the camera on my n93i fixed. The first thing anyone here asks me when I tell them I did something is how much I paid. When I told a friend here he asked me if I went to the shop alone. I did, and he told me not to do that any more.

After 3 years in India I don't think I'm such a doofus at negotiating any more. At the cell phone shop I also bought a charger. At first he said (or I thought he said) 400 rps, and I was like, 'eh, come on baba, what are you saying, 400 for a no name charger ??' To which he said, 'what are you talking about, I said 100' who knows.

The camera guy spent some time with the camera, made a phone call I didn't understand, and then told me some cable was damaged and it would cost 6k to replace and repair. Where as with the charger I knew it shouldn't cost more than 100 rps, with the camera I had no base to compare too, so the quick math I did was simply whether fixing it was worth the money to me - which it was, or whether the discount I might get for comparing prices at other shops was worth spending several hours wandering around ahmedabad to get another price - which it wasn't.

So, 6k down, I have my n93i back with more buttons functioning than before. Some of plastic didn't recover from the surgery so its even more hoopty than before, which sorta fits my beat-up luxury style.

Wow, I don't think I have any pics of the beamer ...

yoga at IIM

I've started doing yoga again.
My practice pretty much stopped when my teacher moved to Australia. At least working with him, and in much of my life, I find that I do well with structure and often have difficulty on my own deciding which postures to do in what order. In the indecision I often start navel gazing and move on to something else.

What changed it was setting up a yoga class to offer to the participants of the iAccelerator. This has always been kind of a fantasy for me. We're off some place beautiful, living in tipi's close to a waterfall with a high speed internet connection coming in. Each morning before spending 6 hours milking the internet for enough currency to keep Nirvana operating we do yoga for an hour as the sun peeks over the distant mountains.

As it is I'm surrounded by massive walls of solid concrete. Nature is two squirrels, a bunch of mating pidgeons (do they do anything else ?), one small tree and a 40 ft
square lawn I practice on.

Nobody actually comes to class.
But I made a flyer and leave it up saying that class is every morning at 7:30 am. I promoted it heavily the first day, and expecting people to show up, I wrote out a flow that I thought I could remember of mostly standing postures since we don't have any mats and the grass is itchy.

The flow goes:
start with
10 Suryanamaskars - everyday a different one

hold each posture for 7 - 10 breaths (maybe I breath fast)
between each posture do a plank - pushup - downdog sequence
usually do both sides of each posture before going to the next

triangle
side angle
that one where you're on one leg and your arm touches the ground and the other points
up and your back leg is strait up
warrior 2
warrior 1
warrior 3

forward bends - i don't do the downdog sequence between these
legs together strait hold toes
legs together bent knees hands under feet from the back chest against thighs. straiten legs as much as possible while keeping chest on thighs
legs wide hands on ground in middle touch head to ground
legs wide hold toes look up

twists
reverse triangle
reverse side angle (first namaste for 3 breaths, then the whole thing)
reverse one leg down, one up, one hand down, one up .. thing

sit and breathe
kapalbati 30 50 70
kapalbati thing on the held exhale 20 20 20
anolom pralom (thumb and ring finger breathing 12 times)

**
the whole sequence takes about 30 minutes
I've done it every day this week, and I'm feeling rather pleased
with myself.

Friday, May 23, 2008

We're still in the first week of the iAccelerator
and the business workshop is still taking up most
of people's time. But as we get deeper in I'm
increasingly convinced this is a great model for India.

The YCombinator model is geared towards puting small
amounts of money behind first time entrepreneurs who
are willing to live together and work from an apartment
in order to make a startup happen. The 2BHK startup.

One of the biggest complaints with the Indian psyche
when it comes to startups is the lack of perceived value
behind the stock. By puting in minimal money, and leaving
the vast majority (~90%) of the equity with the founders
YC filters on this.

The biggest hurdle we'll need to overcome to apply the
model effectively here is the exit. My impression is that
THE YCombinator generates many early stage exits. - Does
anyone have data for this ?

I just came out of a session done by Chirag Patel - CEO of
Net4Nuts. He gave an impressive talk about how to launch a
company and get customers. His steps for growing a company
amounted to - Start, Survive, Scale, Sell.

He was pessimistic on the potential for early stage exits in
India. His point was that in the US the build vs. buy equation
is influenced by a strong premium placed on time. In India, he
said, time is much less appreciated so he didn't see a big market
for companies like this either in total money or number of
transactions.

This isn't necessarily a deal killer. Their should be
a foreign market for Indian startups with strong engineering teams,
proven track records, and clean paperwork as it reduces risk
for companies wanting to set up engineering teams here.

And because of super low costs 2bhk startups in India should hit
survivability fairly quickly - even if it includes a mix of service
work. And with that there should be time to develop the business
and eventually sell it.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Monday, May 19, 2008

iAccelerator

Last night I moved into the dorms up in Ahmedabad. In addition to the iAccelerator participants the winners from Microsoft's Imagine Cup which is an IT contest to solve envionrmental problems. Rockin !

The vibe here is great. We're all staying next to eachother in one of the dorms, and then there's a large office space that we're all working from.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Bikram Flute

video

Bikram helped us out with the yoga DVD.
http://www.myspace.com/bikramflute

Idea Camp Pune

At Idea camp Pune

The first talk discussed how to use the web to help the Pune city
government engage the community. http://punetech.com/?s=pmc

***

lots of talk on mentorship and incubation

the last fellow was trying to address the quality of engineering
education by providing some practical engineering programs which
are sponsored and mentored by companies and people working from
industry.