Sunday, November 20, 2011

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Friday, July 8, 2011

What about Google+?

What about Google+? Google, being a big brand people love to associate with, can pose stiff competition to any market leader in any of the consumer internet services. No doubt! Similar is the case with Google+. The media is abuzz with speculations to what it will do to the social networking world. Will it replace Facebook and the users will take to it with a zoom? Maybe.

There are many points of views which I want to summarise first before trying to draw any logical conclusion.

Google+ has features which lets people have better control over their privacy with the people they network with. Google+ has circles which lets users segregate their friends depending on the type of acquaintance a person might have with each of them. The user gets to decide what content to share with which circle. At the same time Google+ lets you share content publicly too.

Then there is Hangout which lets you choose people from any circle and have a video chat with up to 10 people at a time. Circles and hangout are the two promising features of Google+ which can create the pull effect to increase the users exponentially.

Brand value and Fan following:
Another aspect for Google+ is that it is a platform from the brand Google which has trust, confidence and fan following with many internet users due to many of the Google’s earlier products such as Gmail, Search and Google Docs. That’s good enough a reason for users to consider Google+ as their social networking platform, as all their favourite services will be under one umbrella of Google brand.

Changing Social Needs of the Internet Users since Facebook was Launched:
Facebook users have come of age since it was launched. The initial users were primarily the college students who were there to network with their friends. Networking needs and styles are very different during college stage and the subsequent stages of life where people move on with their professional and personal family lives. The social networking needs change. Due to the changed needs you may not want to continue being friends with some people with whom you were friends back in college days. You may not want to be tagged in someone’s picture and not be able to untag it. It is at times annoying when you move on in your life out of college.

At the same time social networking is the thing that people need and want especially having experienced it with Facebook and LinkedIn. To all these issues that are posed by Facebook, Google+ can provide a solution. But before I draw any conclusion it also important to note that the big-wigs in the social networking world understand that privacy in social networking is not an issue for the young. It is an issue for the older generation. It must also be noted that the behaviour on the internet is perceived to be very different than from the real life for most people.

If we take the essence of all the above points of views, it will be practical to say that maybe Google+ will be more acceptable by the professional who are now working with a job. That will also include those young users of the Facebook who have now grown up and are out of college. With Google+ they might want to start afresh. For such users Google+ might be the opportunity to dump their Facebook accounts and create their profiles afresh with more carefully chosen content, pictures and friends.  Having said that, I think that Google+ has a potential market in the age group of 24 years and above which is huge. Google also has the advantage of riding on its brand value and the trust that it has built with many professionals world-wide. Hence integrating the sleek features that Google+ is offering and the not-so-obvious needs of the people, Facebook might see a drift in certain types of profiles to Google+. Facebook might still be the first choice for social networking with the majority of school/college students and with the celebrities.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Good Enough Never Is

“Good enough never is,” says Fields. “Set your standards so high that even the flaws are considered excellent.”*

“Good enough never is”, a business philosophy closely associated with Mrs. Debbi Fields, is one of my favourite quotes. When you are out there in the market providing a service or a product, what do you think defines “good enough” for your product or service? Nothing! “Good enough” is just a milestone or a stage in the continuous process of improving the quality of your service or product. So it keeps moving further and it is difficult to capture it [for your business] within the bounds of a definition for a long time-period or for that matter, even for the moment when you try to define it!

There can be two viewpoints here – one, that you can reach near-excellence, but can never actually achieve excellence. If you follow this tenet then you will always work for improvement - unless it is "good enough"! Two, that no matter how much you work to make something excellent, there will always be someone somewhere in time and space who would not be a satisfied customer - who will not find your product/service "good enough". So, you judge the "fit-for-the-purpose" state of your product/service for that time and go to the market.

What do these two viewpoints mean for Entrepreneurs? If you choose the second viewpoint, then the startup runs a risk of getting beaten down because of lack of excellence. But if you choose the first viewpoint then, for an entrepreneur who plans to launch his/her start-up, this may sound extremely unpractical and daunting. After all, if that were the case [that good enough never is] then a start-up can never take off. 

The point that should be appreciated here is that “good enough never is” should always be applied in relativity; it should be a mantra for a continuous effort towards the detail to quality. From an entrepreneur’s point of view, it is better to look at it in this way. Let us assume that you are either addressing a niche or new market with a product. For example, if you are providing a software product then you must see which features you can do with just being ‘good enough” and which features need nothing less than excellence [or close to it]. Your validation stage of Entrepreneurial Process would have helped you in adjusting the requirements and features that you have planned to finally roll out your product with. You should keep listening to your customers and judging the future trends to meet the new expectation levels of “good enough”. This way you will see your product evolve into what the market needs. Seek for perfections that could make a difference to your startup at that stage. Anything secondary could be “fit for the purpose”. But if you are venturing into a crowded market with a 'me-too' model, then the “good enough” should be nothing less than excellence - ever.

Since good enough never is, hence there is always a spark for innovative thinking and it brings out better value propositions. Open markets, globalization, efficient flow of information and business philosophies like “good enough never is” are the important factors that propagate  Entrepreneurship.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

How Can Failure Benefit Entrepreneurs?

Once the man arrived at a certain stage of evolution where he has been called ‘ civilized’ the biggest fear in his life has been the fear of failure. In our civilized societies, which are driven by defined patterns of activities bound by cultures, everyone wants to be successful as per the defined parameters of the society. Speaking specifically in the Indian context, in our generation we [people in their early thirties and forties] are considered successful if we get a ‘job’ and if we are constantly getting promotions and salary hike every year. Any college graduate who has not secured a job on campus faces the humiliation of not ‘getting accepted’ in his family, friends and even in the corporate world. That’s how ‘getting a job’ [after your studies] is wired into our minds. We fail to consider anything else as a possibility as that is not the preferred metrics for success in our current societal mindset.

Since nobody wants to fail, hence nobody wants to risk into venturing out differently. Entrepreneurship also gets the same treatment. Entrepreneurship is fairly a new ideology yet to be absorbed by the parents so that they can show it as an alternative or preferred career to their children. Entrepreneurship is equal to taking high risk and of course implies high risk of failure where your start-up may not even survive beyond a year! All the seminars, magazines, blogs etc., talk about successes to show the positives of entrepreneurship and hence make it an attractive discipline to follow. But here I would like to emphasize on the Benefits of Failure for an Entrepreneur to be actually successful.

Though failure by itself is relative but when measured by the metrics laid down by our society and culture, there are a few common threads which define success or failure of people in that society. Anyone who has not tasted failure lives in constant denial that he/she is invincible. But the fact of life is that everyone has to fail and would have failed at least once in his or her life - either in personal life or in professional life or some times in both. So it is wise to accept that failure is a part of life. As an Entrepreneur this will be extremely helpful because possibility of failing is much much higher than the possibility succeeding.

Failure teaches many lessons which success does not teach. Failure teaches perseverance, brings out the fortitude to correct the mistakes and try again, removes the fear of failure itself, instills higher self-confidence to bounce back, gives you a chance of honest introspection of your strengths and weaknesses and teaches you astute ability to analyse situations. At the rock bottom that the failure brings you to, you are very likely to put all your energy and mind into building your dream as at the rock bottom you lose the fear of losing anymore. And when such a situation happens, success becomes inevitable.

So as an entrepreneur you should not fear failure. Most likely you will fail in your first venture. But then you will have gained experience which will be unparalleled, and you will be able to judge the best of what ‘to do’ and what ‘not to do’. The world of entrepreneurship talks about success stories. But seldom do people talk about failures. There are many entrepreneurs whose success stories we all read but we do not know about their failed ventures. All of such entrepreneurs have had the taste of failure and have bounced back only to emerge as successful entrepreneurs.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Front Cover of the Book

Friday, March 4, 2011

Funding - The Supply Side Constraint of Indian Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

Looking at the India growth story, there are many underlying economic factors that support the contention that India will be the next economic power house. And this directly implies explosive growth to our cities. By 2008, India’s urban population was estimated close to 340 million people*, which was about 30% of the total population of India. It is estimated that by 2030 the population in urban cities of India will together reach 590 million people*. Needless to point out here that unlike other developed nations which have aging population, India has young population with a healthy growth rate. Over the next two decades over 180 million* people are expected to join the work force – as many analysts would call this phenomenon, a potential demographic dividend. And this dividend can pay off too.

If statistics has any credence, it implies that there will be an increase in the total available market across the industries such as healthcare, education, retail, concierge services, waste management, housing (real estate and services related to the interiors of the houses), generation and channelizing clean energy and many more. Simultaneously there will also be churning of niche segments requiring much specialised needs too.

Indian Entrepreneurship Ecosystem has taken some concrete shape in the last decade. There are about 40 incubation centres, over 275 VC’s, an estimated 275 angels and about 10 to 12 corporate VC funds operating to support start-ups in India. Though these numbers are still way below than what they are in the United States, UK, other parts of Europe and even those in China, there is something to look forward - that the Indian Entrepreneurial Ecosystem is evolving. But the real problem still lies with the fact that India has less of seed fund investors, who can drive the entrepreneurship to next level where the VCs can pitch-in or the start-ups get acquired. Our need for expanded Ecosystem for Entrepreneurship is evident. Given that the economic factors suggest entrepreneurial opportunities almost in every sector and a large potential market, most of the start-ups will have a good market share, provided they get funded at an early stage.

*Some data has been collected from the MGI report from McKinsey.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Sources of Funds for Start-Ups

The first type of funding option that a start-up should look for is Bootstrapping. A start-up can be bootstrapped either by investing own funds or by introducing a consulting model, which can feed the development of a product. Though this is a very typical model used by software product development companies, it can be used by entrepreneurs from any other industry who have substantial experience to offer consultancy in their respective fields.

Family and Friends
Next best option is to borrow funds from friends and family. If you are lucky you may have uncles [or in-laws] loaded with wealth either from business itself or because of ancestral property. This option makes sense as it can get you interest free loan and [most likely] not dilute your share in the company! If at all you may be able to negotiate with minimal interest share.

Angel Investors
As the name suggests, angel investors are angels because they come at a time when the risk is highest. You may have sounded out your idea to sensible people and you may have even validated your idea at a significant scale. You may even have a ‘Proof of Concept’ to showcase, but you may still not be generating revenues. Angel investors are such investors who invest usually at this stage of a start-up's journey.

Seed Funding
Seed firms provide seed funding at the very early stage, just like the angel investors or the angel groups - probably at the idea stage. The difference here though is that usually angel investors are single entities. Seed firms are companies. Usually seed firms also provide “incubation” also which includes mentoring and providing office space to the start-ups. They play a significant role in getting the processes and functions in place for a start-up.

Crowd Funding
Crowd funding is a very tried and tested concept of raising funds for usually for a cause like forming a relief fund, selling a piece of art or, as recently film maker Onir did, for funding the production of a movie. [Read my article on Crowd Funding – A New and Tactical Method of Funding for Start-ups, to know more on crowd funding]. Whenever there has been an offbeat creation, crowd funding has come as an option. The reason has to be strong and compelling for sourcing a crowd fund. Now extend the same philosophy to the start-up drive that has presently taken some concrete shape in India.

VCs or Venture Capitalist firms are the companies who usually come in at a later stage when there is a proof of concept, revenue, profits and there is a vast potential for scalability of the model. There is better information about the total available market and the target customer(s), and hence a better predictability of the return on investments. When VCs invest it is usually a stage where seed investors would like to exit. VCs typically invest large sums of money which may start from 1 crore and above. When the VCs invest usually the founders have to dilute a big part of their stake.

The whole funding process comes at different stages and comes with its own pros and cons. It is a progressive process with one type of investor exiting and the other type coming on board. Many times there is a thin line between sources of funds like Friends & Family /Angel Investors/Seed Funds. There is no hard and fast rule to approach any type of investor, but references do matter when you try and approach VCs and the Angel Groups. Typically it is advisable to approach VCs only after there are some profits to show and that you would like to take your start-up to the next level – to the expansion stage.

Figure 1
Progression of Funding /Investment through the Stages of a Start-Up.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

SaaS - An Opportunity or A Threat to Indian IT/ITES Industry

The most quickly adopted cloud-computing model is SaaS (Software as a Service) due to the relative ease with which it can be implemented for key yet mundane IT enabled tasks in an organization. This straight away leads to a debate whether SaaS is an opportunity or a threat to the IT/ITES outsourcing industry in India.

To come to a logical conclusion it is important to understand what SaaS is. SaaS, put simply, is software provided as a service over the internet, either on a subscription basis or pay-per-use basis. It certainly is a revolutionary concept as it presents low-cost upfront investments to maintain and upgrade software applications.

For many verticals like Manufacturing, Human Resource Management, Education and Retail it makes strategically viable to move to the SaaS cloud and offload some overheads of IT. SaaS becomes another way of presenting outsourcing method to these verticals. Some of the operations such as payroll management, sales lead generation and sales tracking can follow standardised protocols and hence go the SaaS-way, only this time much cheaper.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Vertical Ad Networks - An Opportunity

In many of my previous articles I have propagated the importance of starting out with focussed target segment. Tight segmentation will result in optimum utilisation of resources. In my book Women Entrepreneurship: Role of Women Entrepreneurship Towards more Inclusive Economic Growth, I have highlighted the importance of identifying niche segment for start-ups.
The growing online culture in India has forced the advertisers to budget for Internet as an important medium to reach the customers. This has caused an explosion in online ad network industry. At the onset of it, the online ad networks were mostly horizontal in nature and this industry evolved in a clutter. While on one side the publisher inventory was on the rise, there was not enough of any inventory aggregation in any specific vertical so as to make scalable profitable business sense. But the trend is changing and the ad networks are focussing now towards aggregating publisher space for verticals. Even advertisers are more interested in strategically targeting the growing online communities through the verticals. Hence vertical ad networks [online] is for business case today.
Like in any other marketing stint, it pays to target a tightly segmented market. This makes it logical for the advertisers to aim at online verticals as a part of their online marketing strategy. For e.g., if I have to sell any baby product, then it makes a lot of sense for me to approach such vertical ad network which has the publisher inventory from the websites/blogs/discussion boards etc. which serve the online women community with certain other specs like income, marital status, working/non-working etc. This plan will definitely work better than going through horizontal ad networks where I do not know the nature of the publisher inventory. In simple terms, as an advertiser, I am increasing the odds in my favour if I approach vertical ad network rather than try to hit the target in a clutter.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Future of Online Networking

Facebook is losing its sheen. With about 13 million* users [as of September 2010] in India alone it is not surprising that many of them have started finding it more of a clutter. Users feel it is does not allow enough privacy and gives less control to the users. Similarly it is the case with websites like LinkedIn which is more for professional networking.

It is true that networking sites like Orkut, Facebook and LinkedIn showed the way, taught the power of networking to the masses and brought out the true sense of web on the internet. Now that they have taught users the phenomenon of networking, the need for more meaningful connectivity has risen. The concept of networking itself has reached a new dimension. While social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn will still rule the roost, there is a certain segment of such users who want to build their own social sphere with more meaningful interactions. Read more.....