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Entrepreneurship Startup

A New Way of Working

I was on a podcast y’day and the host asked me why I got into entrepreneurship. And it reminded me of how I used to get fascinated by manufacturing factories and used to think – one day, I want to build a “factory”. 🏭

Well, that dream never came true 🙁 as I got into Software 😊. And that got me thinking – that’s a new reality.

Today, if you need to start a Software or Internet-enabled business, all you need is – a creative mind and a laptop.

You don’t need a fancy office or expensive machinery. Almost anyone can be in business.

You don’t need unions and departments. One person can do the job of many.

It’s probably easier to start a Software and Internet-enabled business as tools are accessible a click away.

You don’t have to work 9-5. You can work on your own schedule.

You don’t have to take huge debt and a big risk. You can have little savings to get started.

You don’t have to go door to door or trade-shows to sell your stuff. You can sell to anyone in the world by sitting in your home.

It’s a new way of working.

And it is very relevant and important in today’s unemployment situation.

Don’t think you’re starting a “business”. For some people, that is daunting.

Think it like – you are going to work for yourself.

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Entrepreneurship Philosophy

High Vs Low Self-Confidence: Which Is Really Better?

Last week, I had brief interactions with 2 different entrepreneurs – one came across with very high self-confidence and another came across with somewhat low self-confidence.

Normally these differences are not so stark to notice it, but in these cases, I immediately noticed it as the former came across more like – arrogant and delusional, and the latter came across more like – humble and pessimistic.

My first thought was – is one better than the other?

We have been told by motivational speakers that having high self-confidence is the key to success in life. But based on my limited information available on the public internet about their financial success, both seem equally successful.

That got me thinking, what’s the correlation of someone’s self-confidence with their success. Initially, I looked at it only from a financial success perspective, then quickly realized, that’s a very narrow way of looking at it.

In addition to financial success, some people might also care more or equal about other factors in life like relationships, friendships, legacy, etc.

Another factor is – some people are not always authentic. They may show themselves as someone else than who they truly are.

I think there are 4 kinds of people:

  1. People who have high-self confidence, and also display high-self confidence
  2. People who have high-self confidence, but display low-self confidence
  3. People who have low-self confidence, but display high-self confidence
  4. People who have low-self confidence, and also display low-self confidence

Let’s dive into these in detail –

1. People who have high-self confidence, and also display high-self confidence

  • These people often come across fearless, but also arrogant and delusional
  • They have high self-confidence due to their past success, but that quickly turns into “I know it all” mindset
  • These people don’t seem to be more open to feedback from other people, listening to other perspectives and ideas
  • Because of these reasons, my hypothesis is they may not have many true friends or long-lasting relationships – people who are around them for their financial success and status

2. People who have high-self confidence, but display low-self confidence

  • These people often come across confident, ambitious, but also self-aware and approachable
  • They seem to be more open to listening to other people’s ideas and feedback and because of their humility, more people seem to relate with them and often have open and authentic conversations
  • They tend to under-promise but end up over-delivering
  • Because of these reasons, my hypothesis is they have true friends and long-lasting relationships, and people genuinely care about them and want them to be successful

3. People who have low-self confidence, but display high-self confidence

  • These people often come across humble, self-aware, and ambitious
  • They are authentic about their confidence in personal circle, but fake it in professional circle
  • While they doubt their abilities and have more pessimistic views, they prefer to come across positive in achieving their ambitions, and because of that, people are open to give them chances and willing to help them
  • They seem to over-promise but fall short on delivering some of their promises
  • Because of these reasons, my hypothesis is they have true friends and long-lasting relationships, and people genuinely care about them and want them to be successful

4. People who have low-self confidence, and also display low-self confidence

  • These people often come across more pessimistic, less ambitious, and unsuccessful
  • They often doubt their talent and skills, and it often causes other people to also not believe in them too
  • They have more pessimistic views about feedback, ideas and advice other people give them
  • My hypothesis is – they struggle to build long-lasting relationships as while people genuinely care about them and want them to be successful, eventually they stop helping them when they realize their advice is going in vain

In the end, it seems neither of the extreme conditions is great (#1 and #4), and it’s better to be more balanced (#2 and #3) – i.e. it is better to be a little less confident in certain situations even though you are very confident and at the same time, it’s better to be a little more confident than what you feel in certain other situations.

Amongst the better ones, I think it is better to be someone who truly believes in themselves and have high-confidence, but continue to practice being humble, self-aware and open-minded by displaying low-confidence.

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The First 10

It was an intense but a healthy discussion I was having with my co-founders. We were debating about our strategy, our positioning, how we are different than our competitors, what story we should tell to VCs so they would fund us, how can we define a new category and be a leader of that category, how can we build a big independent business instead of entertaining early acquisition interests, etc.

All were important topics. But after a while, I realized they were just not timely. We were talking about the end state after 18 months, 3 years, and 5 years.

I was worried about this month and this quarter. All I wanted to do was – onboard first 10 customers for Avoma.

Somehow we agreed on key points and wrapped up the discussion. But the first 10 customers concept stuck in mind.

Since then, while I continue to think about longer term vision, strategies, etc., but in the end, I always bring the conversation back to getting the first 10 of whatever that key milestone we wanted to focus on.

Some of the examples are:

  • The first 10 manual prospecting emails before we implement email automation
  • The first 10 trials converting into paying customers
  • The first 10 paying customers that we don’t know
  • The first 10 customers who absolutely love us and can’t live without Avoma
  • The first 10 customers came from one particular channel
  • The first 10 customers that were referred by existing customers
  • The first 10 $10K+ contracts

This mindset always helps me to get tactical and start acting on the next milestones immediately, without getting lost in over planning and delaying the execution.

Obviously, the downside of this mindset is that once you are bogged down in achieving the first 10 of “x”, there is a high chance that you are not thinking about the bigger picture. You need to find a good balance between the both.

As they say, entrepreneurs are a special breed who need to have a great macroscopic vision and at the same time they need to have a great microscopic vision.

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The Delusion of Success and Failure

How Success and Failure are dependent on each other and are also tangled with each other.

I had shared this brief thought on LinkedIn the other day, but due to their number of characters limit for the post (BTW, it’s 1300), I couldn’t explain the thought in detail. So expanding it here.

The Context

A few days ago, I met a founder, who was very smart both academically and intellectually, and had raised a solid Seed round from Valley’s top-notch VC firms, but after 2 years of execution, they had to shut down the company.

In her own words, they failed to achieve a product market fit. They had built an innovative solution, which was looking for a problem.

In her defense, it’s not that they didn’t know how to identify a problem. She had read everything about Lean Startup, Customer Development, Paul Graham’s Startup essays, etc. and had done extensive customer development interviews. Despite all of this, they still failed.

While it’s one thing to learn these things in theory, it’s a completely different ball game to follow it in practice.

Failure?

Meanwhile, I kept thinking, did she really “fail”? And failed from what perspective?

If you consider her entire career span is just 2 years, then yes, probably she has failed.

But if she’s still early in her career, then in my opinion, this is just a setback. Her entrepreneurship journey is not done yet. She can come back again with a new venture and be successful next time.

You could argue that she failed to return investors’ money.

But again, if she had executed with her best effort and intent, then those investors will most likely back her again for her future venture, which could be wildly successful too.

Success and Failure — Dependent

The boundaries between success and failure are diminishing now.

Many times you become successful in future after you face a failure. And many times you fail in future because success goes too much in your head.

Success and failure are pretty much dependent on each other.

If you failed to achieve your desired objective, but keep the right attitude and rise up again, the chances are you have more drive and are better prepared to achieve it this time around than the first time.

In that founder’s case, if she keeps the positive mindset, and decide to start her next venture — (it need not be immediate as she could take a job somewhere and learn more skills as well), then a combination of her on-job training and her lessons learned from previous failure, she would be much better prepared for the next venture.

Similarly, as we’ve also seen in many cases for celebrity people, if you achieve too much success too early, chances are you will lose it all if the success goes too much in your head as with the success, your behavior, priorities, and expectations change.

I just saw this tweet from Alok Kejriwal on my Twitter timeline today morning — it’s very relevant and consistent to the point I’m making here –

Success and Failure — Tangled

On the other hand, we classify “failure” as if everything was lost and there was nothing to gain.

Failure can be absolutely devastating if you look at it from only one perspective.

But if you look at your journey to achieve any objective and the number of other things you gained before you failed in achieving your core objective, you will realize that it’s not a zero-sum game.

In that founder’s case, I could argue that while she failed in her core objective, she had achieved success in other areas like — learning lots of new personal and professional skills, building strong relationships and network, etc.

I’m not saying that we should take pride in failing and nonetheless celebrate it because we learned something.

In fact, I argue that you could be considered failure too from one’s perspective while you’re wildly successful from many’s perspectives.

I’ve known some people who’ve achieved great financial success, but at the cost of some health issues, family problems or some kind of personal sacrifice.

In that founder’s case, I could also argue that there are actually thousands of other people of her age who took more stable, less risky, high paid salaried career paths. So financially they are successful, but from one perspective, they could be considered as a failure too because they didn’t take the risky route she took and didn’t gain those valuable skills and relationships, etc.

Conclusion

So the best way is for us to confront these failures as much as possible early in our life as we do successes too.

And we should treat these failures as more of temporary setbacks in our journey than calling it an end.


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12 Questions to Ask Before Starting a New Business Venture

A framework to choose which problem you should solve

Yesterday I met few friends after many years. After everybody sharing their whereabouts, it was my turn to share what I’m working on. I explained I’m working on a new venture and also shared the details of the problem we’re solving. The first question one of the friends asked was — “why did you decide to solve this problem?

It was a great question. As they say, as a startup founder, you should be able to answer these 3 questions with high clarity and conviction –

  • Why this? (Focuses on problem statement and opportunity)
  • Why now? (Focuses on market and technology landscape)
  • Why you? (Focuses on founding team)

The good part was, I had thought a lot about why I want to solve this problem from various perspectives, so it was easy to answer my friend’s question.

So I thought I should share a framework with you all that I used to decide which problem I want to solve.

As mentioned in my previous post

I researched and brainstormed a couple of problems extensively, discussed it with other people too, and eventually decided to solve a problem that I faced every single day in my professional life as a knowledge worker, and is also applicable to pretty much most of the knowledge workers in the world.

I want to fix the productivity and information loss problem that happens during every “meeting” — the necessary evil of a corporate life.


While it was a simplistic overview of why I picked up the problem that I’m currently working on, here is a list of questions I used to choose the problem I want to solve and start my next business venture —

  1. Do I personally face this problem? If yes, do I face this problem very frequently and how frequently?
  2. Do other people also face this problem? If yes, how many such people exist? Is it a very large population?
  3. Do I have the basic understanding of the problem and the solution domain?
  4. Is there a lot of progress happening in the larger space of that domain?
  5. Do I have initial thoughts on what will be the differentiation compared to competitors?
  6. Is it a hard problem to solve such that it will not be easy for too many competitors to enter into this space?
  7. If I make it affordable and at the same time deliver high value, will people pay? If yes, who will pay and how much will they pay?
  8. Will a single user receive a value from this solution or will it require more people using this service (e.g. entire team or organization) to receive basic value?
  9. How will I sell this solution? Can I sell this using bottom-up B2C2B model or will I need a typical top-down enterprise sales model?
  10. How will I distribute this solution? Are there any viral/referral distribution opportunities? Are there any platforms/partners that I can integrate with to distribute this solution?
  11. Do I believe by solving this problem, will I be making a positive impact in many people’s lives and the world a better place?
  12. Finally, if I fail to solve this problem, will I learn something new that will prepare me for the next wave/demand in the technology space?

The current problem I’ve decided to solve met all above requirements and had very compelling answers for each of the question.

I hope this framework and a list of questions will be useful to you too to choose your next business venture.


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Andy Rachleff on Product Market Fit

How I was wrong about some of the concepts of Product Market Fit and how Andy Rachleff clarified it.

I listened to this Mixergy podcast episode with Andy Rachleff, co-founder of Benchmark Capital and founder of Wealthfront. It is an exceptionally great episode. Normally most of the podcast episodes I listened to are great and I learn a lot — every single time. But this episode is special. It had some key nuggets that I had misconceptions or little different understandings. But the way Andy explained it, it made it crystal clear. So I felt compelled to share these nuggets with you in its entirety. Ideally, you should listen to the 1-hour episode, but if you’re running out of time, read the key nuggets here.


“Product/Market Fit” (PMF) is a common concept in the startup world. It is widely used in every conversation, especially in early stage startups.

As per Marc Andreessen, who wrote about ‘Product/Market Fit’ in his post “The Only Thing That Matters”:

Product/market fit means being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.

So the gist is — the best team with the best product will fail if the market is not there (using product and service interchangeably). So achieving PMF is “the only thing that matters” and that companies should strive obsessively to achieve it until they do.

So I was under impression finding a great (large and growing) market is the most important thing in finding a PMF. But as per Andy Rachleff –

In contrast to what most people think entrepreneurship is, which is evaluating a market to try to find the holes or the problems and developing solutions of those problems, that leads to very mundane outcomes.

The truly great technology companies are the exact opposite. They are the result of an inflection point in technology that allows the founder to conceive a new kind of product.

The question then is, “Who wants to buy my product?” So you start with the product and try to find the market as opposed to starting with the market to find the product.


PMF is also divided into two key concepts — i) Value Hypothesis and ii) Growth Hypothesis —

First you need to define and test your value hypothesis and then only once proven do you move on to what’s known as a growth hypothesis. The value hypothesis defines the what, the who and the how. What are you going to build? Who is desperate for it? What’s the business model you’re going to choose to deliver?

Until you prove your value hypothesis, you waste money to spend money trying to acquire customers. Unfortunately, most people try to get the growth before they prove the value hypothesis. You don’t want to get the cart ahead of the horse.


This is another big misconception I had — if you’re struggling to find a PMF, then you continue to iterate the product until you find it. But that’s plain wrong. As per Andy —

Now, within the value hypothesis, people think, “I should iterate on the product until I find something people want.” No. You stick with the product. You figure out if the first group I approach isn’t desperate, then I’ll try to find a different group that’s desperate.

Now, most people don’t do that. Most people just keep on trying more people to see somebody’s got to want it. The first class in my product market fit class I ask, “Should everyone like your initial idea?” The answer is absolutely not, because if they do, then the only reason they do is they’ve been conditioned to like it by someone else. Means people aren’t desperate for it because somebody else is serving it.


This is also a great advice on finding ideas.

Great ideas find you, you don’t find them. If you sit in a room trying to figure out, “What company should I start?” then by definition you’re starting with the market, trying to come up with the solution and that leads to mundane ideas.

Howard (Andy’s investment idol) describes the investment business with a two by two matrix. I think this matrix describes entrepreneurship as well.

On one dimension, you can either be wrong or right. On the other dimension, you can either be consensus or non-consensus. Clearly, if you’re wrong, you don’t make money. What most people don’t realize is if you’re right in consensus, you don’t make money because all the returns get arbitraged away. The only way to make outsized returns is to be right and non-consensus.

So starting with the market to try to find a problem, everybody can do that. That’s a right and consensus approach to entrepreneurship. Starting with an inflection point in technology which allows you to build a product and find a solution, that is non-consensus. If it works, it works big. That’s where the great venture capitalists all focus, back to the point I made earlier.


If I really want to summarize my understanding of PMF in one sentence is — finding a group of people who are desperate to use your product.

What do you uniquely offer that people desperately want because if they’re not desperate, there’s a good enough alternative. Let me tell you, if there’s a good enough alternative, you’re doomed. So, if you want to build a big business, an advantaged business, people need to be desperate.


Also, having a big vision to conquer a big market is great, but your strategy should be to start small in a niche and dominate it —

If you want to build a big business, you don’t go after the big market first, because those people only buy based on references, and you don’t have the references. You need to create a beachhead, a niche you can dominate. Through references, you grow from that niche of early adopters.


☞ I hope you found these nuggets valuable and useful. If you enjoyed reading this article, then please tap or click “♥︎” below to share these thoughts with others.

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Starting up… a new chapter

Today is my birthday. Birthdays are generally a good milestone to start something new, to have new resolutions and goals, to reflect on the past and think about the future — very similar to the beginning of a new calendar year.

Today is that day for me. I’m starting a new chapter of my life — one of the most important chapters of my life for the next several years — I’m starting a new company.

A day before y’day, I resigned from my current employer, [24]7 and jumped off the cliff again to start a new venture.

4 years ago, my co-founder and I had sold our previous startup Shopalize to [24]7 Inc. As a part of the acquisition, I joined [24]7 and worked there for the past 4 years. During my stay there, many people (friends and acquaintances) used to ask me when am I starting my next startup?

As they say, once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur. So their question was quite valid. But I didn’t have a satisfactory answer. I knew it was not going to be “soon”. Very honestly, it was partly because we had some payouts over the period of 4 years, but largely also because I didn’t want to rush into a startup rat race for the sake of doing it and because it’s a fad.

While I had to wait there for 4 years for the full payout, I enjoyed every bit of this period on both work and personal fronts. Overall I had fun working at [24]7. I enjoyed working with some of the smartest people, built some great relationships, learned a lot of about Enterprise space, built some cutting edge innovative products, failed in getting traction for some of the products and made some mistakes too.

One of the most fulfilling reasons I enjoyed working at [24]7 is — I was able to contribute and make a direct impact in the company’s strategy and vision. It was a full package experience — I not only learned what to do in my next company but also learned what not to do. But overall, it was a great experience.

But for the past 6 months or so, I started feeling plateaued. I wasn’t able to make the progress I wanted. I wasn’t learning something new. And at that moment, the decision became stronger to start something new on my own and accelerate the learning process in pretty much everything.

Once it was clear I wanted to start my venture, I didn’t have a shortage of problems I wanted to solve. The question was — which problem should I pick to solve — and dedicate the next several years of my life for it.

For the past 3–4 months, I researched and brainstormed a couple of problems extensively, discussed it with other people too, and eventually decided to solve a problem that I faced every single day in my professional life as a knowledge worker, and is also applicable to pretty much most of the knowledge workers in the world.

I want to fix the productivity and information loss problem that happens during every “meeting” — the necessary evil of a corporate life.

I don’t hate meetings. In fact, I love them — but when they are productive. So much knowledge gets shared, so much progress is made, and so much alignment is achieved when you have good meetings.

But there is a downside to it the way how meetings are getting conducted today. So much of time is wasted and so much of knowledge that gets discussed in the meetings gets lost. And I hate that part. And that’s what I want to fix.

I’m teaming up with few other people who are equally passionate about solving this problem. It’s a hard problem and it will take many years until we achieve our final vision. But every attempt to reach towards that vision will be worth taking to make a positive impact in knowledge worker’s life.

We’re barely getting started, so the more details will get shared very soon and very frequently on this blog. So stay tuned…


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Why Do Many Smart Engineers Fail To Build A Successful Startup?

Recently, I had a couple of friends reaching out to me to discuss their startups’ progress and get some advice on how to take it to the next level. In all these interactions, there were some common patterns –

  • Most of the founders are smart engineers and some of them have worked with Google, Amazon, eBay, Oracle, etc.
  • They have a B2C (focused on consumer) product, which didn’t have any transactional (i.e. user paying in some form) business model
  • They have been working on it for over a year and have a working product or technology, but are struggling to get users and increase the engagement for their product
  • They are first-time entrepreneurs

What surprised me the most is — while there is so much content available on the internet today about how to start a startup, how to follow a lean methodology, how to do a customer validation, how to build viral hooks in your product, how to implement various growth hacks, etc. but still, these entrepreneurs are making the same mistakes that many entrepreneurs have made 10 years ago.

My hypothesis is —

  1. These entrepreneurs are not investing enough time in learning as much as possible from others’ experiences by reading books, blogs or listening to podcasts and avoid some common mistakes
  2. They are not able to let go who they are and what background they came from (engineering) and grow into a new role (founder), which is required to build a successful product and a company

To build a successful software company, there are 3 skills that are essential in the founding team —

  1. Building a great technology
  2. Building a great product
  3. Growing your users/customers

After talking with these smart engineers I realized— they had largely focussed on #1 but weren’t giving enough attention and importance to #2 and #3.

If you are a great technologist and aspire to build a technology product company, then either you grow from an engineer to a product manager/designer, and eventually into a marketer/sales person based on if it’s a B2C (consumer) or B2B (SaaS or enterprise) product or have someone on the founding team who is specialized in these skills.

As an engineer, the technology innovations you’re doing are really admirable and absolutely essential for a startup. Being a smart engineer is the greatest asset you can have in this startup world. Every other “idea” guy wants you to be on their team to make their idea a reality. So by no means, I’m belittling the value and the need of having strong engineering members on the founding team.

But I want to emphasize the need of having someone with strong product sense and/or great marketing/sales skills as well.

If you don’t prefer to have someone with product design/management in your team, then you will need to play a role of a product manager/designer to truly understand your users/customers and build something they want and solves real problems.

And eventually, you will also need to become a marketer/sales person and reach out your target users/customers, talk to them and convince them to use/buy your product, and eventually know how to do it at scale and do it repeatedly.

Just because you are a great engineer or technologist, don’t assume you can build a great product.

And just because you are a great product manager, don’t assume you can build a viable business.

There is a difference between a technology and a product — most people confuses this. And there is also a difference between product and business.

Typically, technology is an applied science. We build new technologies using some of the breakthroughs in the science world to achieve some objectives — i.e. to make existing things (technologies) faster, cheaper or better (larger, smaller, last longer, etc.)

On the other hand, a product is an applied technology. We build products using multiple technologies to solve specific problems that a user faces or tasks she wants to do.

And in the end, a business is an applied product. You need to take your product and reach out to your target users/customers and have them use it, which helps you generate a sustainable economic value.


As an engineer, we gravitate towards building great technologies. Making that code run even faster, improving the performance and accuracy of that function, etc. And some engineers are really good at that. And that’s why they get hired at some of these great companies, who have built some of the greatest products for mass consumers. But just because these companies have shipped great products, the engineers who work at these great companies start believing that they can also build great products on their own.

While that’s absolutely possible, it doesn’t come handy without you putting any efforts towards achieving that goal. If you are a smart engineer and eventually want to build a great product too, then your existing technical skills are a great asset but are not sufficient. You will need to invest considerable time to achieve those product and business skills as well.

I would recommend learning these skills –

  • Consumer psychology
  • User experience design
  • Prioritization
  • Communication
  • Business acumen

Let’s dive into each one in detail –

Consumer psychology

If you aspire to build a product that is not only useful (solves a real pain point) and usable (effortless and intuitive to use) but also delightful (that creates happy emotions).

You will need to get into user’s head to understand what specific problem they want to solve and what specific outcome they want to achieve, what effort it takes for them to do that, what emotions they feel after they achieve that outcome, etc.

Once you understand the consumer psychology very well, you will nail the product that will resonate with them very well and chances of them using it actively and recommending it to their friends will increase drastically.

User experience design

As per Wikipedia, user experience design (UXD or UED) is the process of enhancing user satisfaction with a product by improving the usability, accessibility, and pleasure provided in the interaction with the product.

The last part is very important — “interaction with the product”.

This is the most common mistake engineering founders make — they confuse UX Design with UI Design (User Interface Design). UX Design is a more analytical and research oriented, while UI Design is largely about graphic and visual design. While both are crucial, nailing the UX design (usable) is more critical than the UI design (look and feel).

UX role is quite complex and challenging. It involves consumer analysis, competitor analysis, product strategy, content strategy, wireframing, prototyping, usability studies, etc. So I’m not suggesting you do this everything on your own and become an expert in this. But if you understand what each function does and practice some aspects of it, then it will go a long way.

At the minimum, to provide a great user experience, focus on the lifecycle of a consumer who wants to use your product. You need to understand what they do in their life before they use your product and after they use your product. And repeat that exercise few times. This will help you understand your target consumers’ life really well to build a product that fits into their lifecycle.

Prioritization

Another most important skill you will need to learn is — prioritization.

As a technologist, you get sucked into optimizing things that are not required on the day one. You tend to build advanced technologies in-house instead of leveraging off-the-shelf services from the 3rd party providers. You believe that that’s your core IP and needs to be built in-house. You argue that 3rd party providers are generic platforms and won’t be as effective solving your specific use case. While that all is true, it’s still a mistake to optimize for these things before you even have any product-market fit. You can always build advanced technologies in-house as you start scaling.

I recently learned this from DJ Patil’s Twitter update

  • Dream in years
  • Plan in months
  • Evaluate in weeks
  • Ship daily

And –

  • Prototype for 1x
  • Build for 10x
  • Engineer for 100x

And –

  • What’s required to cut down timeline in 1/2?
  • What needs to be done to double the impact?

This is such a great prioritization framework that forces you to focus on delivering maximum value at minimal wastage. You will need to learn to be ruthless in your prioritization for all activities.

Communication

While this may sound very obvious and cliche, but written, verbal, and nonverbal communication skills are actually the most important traits you will need to master to gain credibility as an effective and trustworthy founder.

While you might be great at explaining technical details extremely well to your peers, now you will need to communicate the problem, the value and the benefits of your product to various different stakeholders — potential teammates, advisors, investors, prospects, clients, etc. You will need to wear a different hat every single time based on who is in front of you and communicate effectively in multiple languages — executive, development, strategic, tactical, etc.

Your written and spoken communication is going to be an absolutely crucial skill for your sales or marketing efforts. You will need to communicate what value your product delivers and able to align those benefits to the problems prospects have shared and eventually influence them to use or buy your product.

And don’t forget, you will need to be equally great at “listening”. Sometimes you’ll learn more when you’re actively listening as much as you are speaking or writing.

Business acumen

While this is a broad topic, having business acumen boils down having a minimum level of expertise in strategy, finance, operations, marketing, and sales. You may not need to be the expert in any one of these skills, but while communicating with advisors or investors, you will require some level of fluency and confidence in these business languages.

You will need to understand the basics like —

  • what’s the unit economics — how much it costs you to serve a customer?
  • what’s your business model — transactional, subscription, revenue-share, or ad-based?
  • how much does it cost to acquire a new user/customer (CAC)?
  • what’s the market opportunity — what’s the total available market (TAM) size, what’s the serviceable available market (SAM) size, etc.?

Now you might say, for a smart technologist by profession, learning all these skills means deviating from their core focus. While that may be true, the key question is — do you want to continue to stay only as a technologist or do you want to grow into a founder role?

There is nothing wrong with staying as a technologist throughout your startup, but then make sure you have someone on the founding team who has a great product sense and a strong business acumen.

But if all founders have technology background, then make sure at least you have someone in the founding team who wants to grow into a product manager and eventually into a business operations/marketing/sales role.

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The Pursuit of Impact

For the last few years that I’ve been blogging, I struggled about one thing — what should I call my blog? What should be its title? What should be its theme?

After thinking for a while, I realized what I really enjoy doing and want to do with my life — to make an impact in other people’s life.

Thus, I have a theme and the name for my blog — The Pursuit of Impact!

That’s how I want to live my life. I want to leave a legacy. I want to make some dent in the Universe. And since making an impact is not a one-time accomplishment, but rather is a continuous journey, it will be my an ongoing mission to make bigger and better impact in other people’s lives. And that’s the pursuit of impact!

To make an impact, I don’t need to be financially very wealthy or some kind of celebrity. The impact also need not be very large scale either. It could simply start making the slightest impact in just one person’s life. It also doesn’t mean that I need to give up my current life and be a full-time social activist or devote myself to a non-profit organization. I will continue to live my current life, it’s just that I’ll have a better purpose and goal for everything I’ll be doing.

The way I believe anyone can start making a disciplined impact in other people’s life is you start working with your circle of influence. Essentially the way circle of influence works is — the people you have the most influence on are at the center of the circle and the people you have the least influence on are at the periphery of the circle. So you start from the center and then start expanding outwards.

To begin with, I will simply start with my core family — my wife, kid, and parents. Giving them a better life from social and financial perspective is my responsibility. I don’t necessarily consider that as making any impact. But if I could influence and inspire my kids or wife with my thoughts, actions, and behavior, and if they could imbibe some of those lessons in their life for good, and achieve greater things, then I would assume I made some positive impact in their life.

Then the next set of people will be my extended family — my sisters, cousins, and their families. If I could inspire their kids to get higher education and achieve even higher heights through my blog, or if I could just help them in any ways to achieve their dreams — like providing tactical advice or financial help, then I would assume I made some positive impact in their life.

Then the next set of people will be my very close friends. If I could help them when they need it, support them in their endeavors, or push them to reach their full potential, or provide them honest feedback about their endeavors, or simply spending a good time with them to add some happy moments in their life, then I would assume I made some positive impact in their life.

Then it will start expanding to my larger friend circle, colleagues and acquaintances. If I could help them in their career aspirations by providing any specific advice, or get them better at what they do by sharing my experiences and learnings through this blog, or inspiring them through my actions, then I would assume I made some positive impact in their life.

Then it will be expanded to even larger reach — communities that I’m part of like the city where I live or the educational institutes I attended, etc. If I could give back to those communities in some way — either financially or through volunteering, then I would assume I made some positive impact in their life.

Lastly, it will be expanded to people that I don’t know today. If I could build a product or business that will provide tremendous value to thousands or millions of businesses or people and allows them to achieve something bigger, then I would assume I made some positive impact in their life.

Now I’m not saying anything here that’s new. Millions of people are already leading their life this way. They’re already making a tremendous impact in other people’s life. By writing these thoughts down, it’s just helping me to appreciate and recognize what others are doing, but it’s also reiterating what’s important to me and how I should spend my time and energy.

Today, I don’t do a lot of these things that I mentioned above. But it’s my wish to do as many things as possible. And I will continue to share my learnings and thoughts on this blog which essentially is also contributing in my pursuit of impact!


Originally published at aditya.kothadiya.com on May 31, 2016.

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Startup & Entrepreneurship podcasts I’ve been listening to


I try to read a lot — mostly blog articles, books, and even e-books. There is no doubt that reading helps you get smarter, improve your vocabulary, explore new ideas, etc. I mostly read about topics which are relevant to my personal and professional development and articles that add positive impact in my life, stories that inspire and motivate me to do something great. I avoid reading daily news about politics, entertainment, etc. unless it’s a really critical news. But since last year or two, in addition to reading, I’ve been addicted to listening podcasts too for my personal and professional development.

Podcasts are mainstream now

While podcasts have been around for about a decade, I personally experienced that they’re getting mainstream since last few years since they’re getting extremely convenient to consume. Podcasts are to the radio industry as blogs are to the mainstream media. Anyone who is expert and passionate about any topic can create a regularly updated content and publish a podcast. You can find thousands of podcasts which are well produced, inspirational, educational, and entertaining.

Unlike reading blog posts or watching videos, which require someone’s full attention, podcasts give listeners a flexibility of multi-tasking. Listeners can subscribe to specific podcasts, auto-download new episodes, and listen whenever it’s convenient for them on their smartphones while doing some other mundane chores. Every day, I listen to somewhere between 30–90 minutes podcasts while commuting to the office (25–35 minutes each way) and exercising (30–40 minutes).

The one overarching reason I listen to podcasts is I learn stuff. As they say, we’re influenced by what we see and hear. It’s a way of exposing myself to the influences of people who are smart and successful. I’ve found them highly inspirational and educational. I’ve learned how to form healthy habits, how to be more productive and efficient, how to start, run and grow a business, how to manage relationships, how to write better content, etc.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying podcasts are a substitute for reading books or blogs. It’s just a different mode of consumption for a different kind of content. Podcasts don’t give visually rich experience if you want to put the faces in front of names, or see things in picture or action. So there are some things which I still prefer to read at my desk while some things which are better to consume while I’m driving.

Podcasts I listen to

So here are few podcasts that I listen to actively. These are my interests of topics, which are skewed to Entrepreneurship, Startups, Product Management, Part-time Businesses, etc. But you will find podcasts on pretty much any topic that interests you.

Entrepreneurship


Mixergy

Andrew Warner’s mission is to introduce you to doers and thinkers whose ideas and stories are so powerful that it will inspire you to build something on your own.


Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders

Weekly podcasts from Stanford University regarding entrepreneurship — hear straight from entrepreneurs and innovators share their stories.


Dorm Room Tycoon

Hosted by William Channer, a British designer, founder and journalist, this podcast is a show that interviews the world’s most influential innovators in business, design, and technology.

Startups


This Week in Startups

Hosted by Jason Calacanis, an entrepreneur turned investor interviews some of the most influential names in the entrepreneur and startup communities in order to provide inspiration and advice for aspiring entrepreneurs looking to grow their startup.


The Rocketship

Every week this podcast chats with successful entrepreneurs on how to grow a startup — topics include self-funding, raising capital, product development, and customer acquisition. These podcasts are packed with informative content that every startup founder needs.


The Startup Chat

Unfiltered insights and actionable advice straight from the trenches of startup and business life. The show hosts, Steli Efti and Hiten Shah, are both serial entrepreneurs who have founded multi-million dollar SaaS startups.


How To Start A Startup

Sam Altman and the folks from Y Combinator offer up an amazing course in “How To Start A Startup” at Stanford. This isn’t typical ongoing podcast, but a one-time course.

Ecommerce & Part-time Businesses


My Wife Quit Her Job

Steve Chou interviews successful e-commerce entrepreneurs that all bootstrapped their businesses and most of them in part-time while working at their day jobs.


The Side Hustle Show

Hosted by Nick Loper, this podcast is for part-time entrepreneurs who are looking for business ideas, actionable tips to start a business, and killer strategies on how to turn their side hustle dreams into a growing business.

Product Management


Inside Intercom

On the Inside Intercom podcast, you will hear the team from Intercom interview makers and do-ers from the worlds of product management, design, startups, and marketing.

I hope you will find this resource useful.

Of course, I’ll continue to add more podcasts to my list as I discover interesting podcasts. If you have been listening to any great podcasts recently, and would like to recommend to me or my audience, then please share it in the comments area.


Originally published at aditya.kothadiya.com on March 20, 2016.