LinkLog: When Do You Ponder a Change?

I really liked this post from Dharmesh – Failure Is Not The Worst Outcome, Mediocrity Is, especially this para.

How do you know whether you’re stuck in a quagmire? Isn’t startup success often about persistence and focus? What if that break-out success is just around the corner. Those are good questions. The simple answer is: There are no simple answers. If it were me, the question I would ponder is this: If 90% of everything started going “right” with your startup, what will it become? (I’ll call this the “wave the magic wand”, best-case scenario). If the answer does not please you, and you’ve been at your current idea for a while, I’d ponder a change.


TiE Unconference in Chennai

You are an entrepreneur or trying to start a company. You have some ideas and even built a prototype. You want to talk to a few fellow entrepreneurs.

You are a professional working on some cool technology. You want to share some of your ideas on how to use/leverage this technology.

You have questions about some emerging trends. Is this space worth getting into? What are the risks? Are there any one out there doing this?

You want to know a bit about marketing. How do I go about finding a certain type of customer? How do I get my first customers?

You may be a successful startup but have questions about scaling your business. Find some meontors, coaches or just exchange notes with people who have done it before.

Many of us have these questions. We want to meet, discuss, comment, gather information and learn from others. We are willing to share what we know. Where do you go?

This is the goal of TiE Chennai Unconference.

We are trying a few experiments during this event. The success, of course, depends on you. If you are a professional or an entrepreneur, we would love to see you there.

1. We are putting together a panel of experts in scaling a business from a few people to a few hundred. You can bring your questions on finding, keeping, growing customers to this panel. It will be entirely audience driven.

2. Most of our sessions will be discussions. You can ask questions, share bits of knowledge and expertise and watch others do the same. Here is a place to find individuals you want to connect with and keep in touch even after the conference.

3. You have done an amazing job of telling us what you would like to talk about.  So as a group we know what we are going to discuss most. Here is the latest topic cloud in case you have not seen it before.

You are encouraged to come and  participate and tell a few friends who may benefit. We are really looking forward to this event. See you on 18th Sep.

Business of Software

I was watching this video today. If you are a small startup (typically bootstrapped), this is a must watch. Here are some notes:

  • Keep the Momentum
  • We work on projects that are chunked in smaller bits
  • Planning is vastly over rated
  • We don’t do road maps
  • We do not write  functional specifications ( They lead to a illusion of agreement )
  • Decisions are temporary
  • Red Flag words – Need, Can’t, Easy, Everyone, Nobody). He explains each one of the words and points out how they are red flags
  • Interruption is the Enemy of Productivity ( the closer you are, the less work you get done)
  • A fragmented day is not a productive day
  • Creative people need uninterrupted chunks of time
  • Focus on Passive Collaboration (email, wikis)
  • Focus on what doesn’t change. What is going to be important Today and 10 years from now – Speed, Simplicity, Ease of Use, clarity, Reliability, Uptime
  • Underdoing (instead of overdoing the competitors)
  • Find markets where you can start on the low end and grow (Great thing about the market is the big guys do not care about them)
  • As long as you deliver more value than the price, people will pay for products
  • Follow the Chefs –  they out teach, out share and out contribute
  • what is your cookbook? You can either outspend or out teach your competition
  • Always be questioning: Why are we doing this? What problem are we solving? Is this actually useful? Are we adding value? Is there an easier way?

Relentless Predator Upon the Obsolete

…a combination of relentless predator upon the obsolete and benevolent solver of the world’s problems. As ways of making money go, that’s pretty good. Startups are often ruthless competitors, but they’re competing in a game won by making what people want.

This is such a cool way to think about startups. I like the image of the relentless predator – some one on the hunt, looking to obsolete wasteful ways of doing things, saving people tons of money and making a few bucks in the process.

So how are startup ideas born?

1. If you are lucky, you will find a list like this to start with. It can fire your imagination and set you thinking to make your own list or flesh out the ideas a bit more.

2. You can watch out for problems and suddenly a better way solve some of them may pop-up in your head.

3. You can watch trends, think a bit ahead and build a few experimental proto-types and see what happens (You may be taking a bit of a risk with this approach and may end up building a solution looking for a problem).

4. Find the gap in an emerging technology space and fill a tiny bit of it with your solution.

5. Leverage a new technology to do something that has not been done before.

6. Pick some great idea that is successful and radically improve the implementation (make it simpler, easier, faster, more scalable).

7. The best, in my opinion, is to scratch your own itch and find something, for which you are the first user and see whether it has one of the above characteristics (an added bonus).

In our own startups , we have tried a few of these approaches. There may be many more. As Paul Graham says:

Consider this list to end with a giant ellipsis.

Dreaming up ideas can become a (nice) habit, so I keep an idealog. Not every idea is a good one or fit for a startup. But ideas trigger ideas and you never know where they may lead.

Early Adopters

I went to an eLearning meet a few years ago in Cupertino. I met no one in the group before, and there were some interesting discussion on learning tools. Towards the end I asked them whether any of them blog. The strong reaction I got surprised me. “Blogs are for people who have nothing else to do” said one person. “Who wants to watch pictures of cats and dogs and read people’s rantings” said another. I was not sure what to expect, but these pre-conceived notions gave me all the signals I wanted. I never went back to their monthly meetings.

Why am I recounting this story now? Reading Why Journalists should use Twitter reminded me of that meeting.

I mentioned to a colleague of mine, who is a freelance journalist, that I’m researching an article about Twitter. “I hope you trash this service”, was his answer. “This is nothing else than verbal diarrhea.”

The early adopters are a fascinating bunch. These are the people active on Twitter, sign up for several product betas, try almost every product as time permits, read Technorati/Techmeme/ Reddit/ Digg,/eHub/ Slashdot and countless blogs. They remind me of the robot in the Short Circuit movie that keeps asking for “Input” and devours vast amounts of information.

These are great people to follow on Twitter, blogs and other forums. If you are start up, these are your little angels. They will tell you whether your product/service sucks, give you great suggestions for improvements, and if they like your product will tell everyone who may listen to them.

I still have not figured out what motivates early adopters. Is it because they have a high Curiosity Quotient? Or is it because they have a compulsion to make the world better? Or is it something else?

LinkLog: Startups

This is a problem that faces everysuccesful startup – how do you go from small. Whether it is growing an organization or growing a product, how do you make sure that you do not become “soggy” as you grow?

The Elephant and the Ant: Why Companies Need Processes as they grow triggered by Seth Godin’s Soggy.A similar abstraction, on a very different subject-  software. How a beautiful software system becomes Frankenstein paints a vivid picture of what happens when you grow from small to big.

The success is in handling this change in size well.

Startups In the Center

There is no better way to express what is going on in Chennai (and India) than this graphic which Vijay was kind enough to share.


There is new kind of euphoria here. I was at TiECON on Friday and on Saturday. Very different approaches and very different styles. But they both had one thing in common – entrepreneurs at the center stage. Vijay said it better than I ever can:

Startups are the Center of this Universe.

The essential environment for startups to breath rich oxygen, is taking shape. As young, energetic, voluntary organization has a very bottom-up approach. I sensed the excitement and could feel the energy yesterday. It is very difficult not to get infected by the enthusiam and optimism. I walked out feeling a lot younger,  and my head buzzing with the infinite possibilities. Vijay’s Be That One Percent is still ringing in my ears.

Importance of Startup Hubs

From Paul Graham’s The Future of Web Startups:

t might seem that if startups get cheap to start, it will mean the end of startup hubs like Silicon Valley. If all you need to start a startup is rent money, you should be able to do it anywhere.

This is kind of true and kind of false. It’s true that you can now start a startup anywhere. But you have to do more with a startup than just start it. You have to make it succeed. And that is more likely to happen in a startup hub.

I’ve thought a lot about this question, and it seems to me that the increasing cheapness of web startups will if anything increase the importance of startup hubs. The value of startup hubs, like centers for any kind of business, lies in something very old-fashioned: face to face meetings.

When you spend some time in Silicon Valley and go to Bangalore or Chennai, (I alternate between bay area and Chennai every few months), you notice significant differences. There is no SDForum with 15+ SIGs or ACM talks or other types of seminars and conferences. But slowly these things are starting up.

Paul talks about a lot of startups. It follows that these may require several startup hubs around the world and there may be an opportunity there.