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Entrepreneurship

How to Learn to be Bold?

I was recently asked in an interview how did I learn to be bold.

This quote describes my philosophy the best: 👇

“Fear is temporary, but regret lasts forever.”

Take a plunge.

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Entrepreneurship

Phases of an Entrepreneur: Creator, Critic, and Crusader

There are 3 phases of an entrepreneur (3 Cs): Creator, Critic, and Crusader.

I learned this insight from Daniel Lubetzky, the founder of Kind Bars while watching Shark Tank some time ago.

The insight was so crisp and clear that it stuck with me.

Recently I shared it with a friend who’s a co-founder at a startup, so thought I should share it with a larger audience.

Let’s understand what are these 3 phases:

In the “Creative” phase, entrepreneurs are in the creative mindset – brainstorming, ideating, and then creating a solution for the problem they have been facing for a while.

In the “Critic” phase, entrepreneurs need to be the biggest critic of their idea, execution, plan, etc. They need to play devil’s advocate and try to poke holes in their vision, plan, or execution in order to create the best product and company.

IMO, this is one of the most important phases, but most entrepreneurs miss it.

And in the “Crusader” phase, entrepreneurs have a solid plan and execution, so they can be passionate crusaders of their cause to create a movement.

While this was shared in the context of entrepreneurship, I believe we can apply this perspective to pretty much all professions.

You can be an engineer, a salesperson, a marketer, or a leader – we all need to evolve through these 3 phases.

We all need to be creative to identify problems in our environment and come up with unique solutions.

We need to be the best critic of ourselves to make sure our plan and execution are strong.

And then eventually we all need to be a crusader to influence people to follow our cause and plan.

Hope this would help you identify in which phase you’re in, and it becomes a guiding post, what’s your next phase is going to be.

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Entrepreneurship Philosophy

Work Hard, Not Just Smart

They say, work “smart” not “hard”.

The reality is – smart work is the fruit of a lot of hard work.

Hard work is how you become knowledgeable about lots of areas and an expert in a few areas to make better decisions for smart work.

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Entrepreneurship Startup

The Only Right Reason To Do a Startup

There is only one right reason to do a startup:

You fall in love with your customer’s problem.

Everything else is a distraction.

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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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Uncategorized

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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Uncategorized

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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Uncategorized

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.