Nasscom Product Conclave takeaways

Here are few of my primary takeaways from the event in no particular order..

1. Vivek Wadhwa live..

This one’s obvious. I’ve been a fan of his research and his thoughts for quite some time now. It was great to have his presence there. The sheer candid nature and knowledge of the man is fantastic. He’s not always correct, but the good thing is.. he doesn’t try to be.

2. “Company needs a different management team when its $5M than when it is $500M. Sometimes you have to let people go.”

As an Entrepreneur, you need to be rational about your decisions about your organization. Can’t be very emotional about it. This statement was courtesy Sharat Saran, CEO ON24

3. “Selling is a major function for Entrepreneurs.”

Its not an option really. Entrepreneurs have to be good at selling their idea. If not, should learn it. Replacing this deficiency by hiring a VP-Sales is not a good option at all.

4. “Never sell wrong stuff to people.”

Absolutely. Do not sell people what they don’t need. This model is not scalable. At times, it is better to say “Our product doesn’t really fit your requirement.” If you’re nice enough you can follow up by saying “Here are a few products which can help you with your need… “. You’re building lot of credibility and trust for yourself.

5. “Every employee is your salesperson.”

Every interface that your company has with external world leaves impression. Impressions about your company, people and product. Its essential that every employee of yours understands the true values of your company and exhibits that in his interactions.

6. “Indians have a higher chance of success at their venture”

Since Indians are flexible to change and accomodate/adjust to situations relatively more easily to their western counterparts, the chances of them achieving success is fairly high. Only thing keeping them from it is giving it a shot.

The UnConference of Entrepreneurs

Imagine a place full of enthusiasm, activity and positivity. Thats how it was at Chennai Tie Unconference event last saturday hosted at Thoughtworks premises. The theme was “How to scale your business” and the idea was to do it in unconference style. This model we believe results in better knowledge transfer between the seasoned ones and the rookies.

The day started with Dorai sharing few details about the event and then requesting for participants to declare their proposed sessions. To be honest, we did not expect much activity in the beginning.. but we were surprised to receive about 20 sessions right within the first 5-10 minutes. So there we had the agenda for the whole day. Great start to an unconference.

Then started the sessions.. Couple of them that I enjoyed being part of were,

1. When to become an entrepreneur..

2. Bootstrapping your startup

3. (the high point) Panel discussion on scaling your business

Lots of discussions, many useful ones.. some not so useful, but a nice event at the end. It is rather difficult to summarize the events since they were so many and so distributed that I lost track of them all. But I’ll try to share few things that we tried out and learnt from this experience.

1. The position paper experiment

This was seriously good and has given me many ideas to make such unconferences/events more interesting and useful to all participants. My experience from conferences and events have been that I’ve always found myself bored at speakers/lectures sessions and waiting for them to end so I can meet other participants or engage in networking. Now imagine if I already knew all the participants and knew the reasons they’ve brought themselves to the event, it gives me a clear idea of who to talk to and what to talk as well.

2. Three sessions in parallel

Sometimes this means, people can only go to one session and lose on other sessions. But it also means lot of people getting a chance to share their views and having a smaller audience who’ve preferred this to the other things going on. Beneficial to both the parties.

3. Panel discussion

This was the only organized session in the whole day. Terrific panel and crisp replies to questions. Extremely efficient use of time. We expected this to be the high point and it was.

Pictures and more information on individual sessions are available on facebook and twitter

Organized by Tie and Thoughtworks with the help of Dorai, Sid, Satya (myself) and host of other volunteers.

Awaiting many more in future too..

Why I did not build my first product..

Couple of years back I was at this job at a software company building stuff for large enterprises. Regular day included writing large modules of software with no vision of who’s going to be the final user of the system. We would mostly be provided with a spec and all our development would be centered around it. This would get fairly mundane fairly quickly and then starts this long wait for the project to end and next one to begin. In all likelihood, the way outsourcing projects work, the new project would be similar to the last one, except for different people.

All the time, there were few ideas growing in my head to start a software product on my own. It gained constant momentum and in few months I had two more people interested in one of the ideas. There started this journey of my first startup.

The Idea

The initial idea was to make a platform for fashion designers to showcase their talent and share it with the world. This would be a part of community where people would visit profiles of different fashion designers and choose among them. This would enable even middle-class citizens to select designs and accessories, helping the budding fashion designer community too. Sounded a great concept. With this in mind we started our research. I was still in job when we started this.

The Research

We needed to get the opinion of fashion designers on this concept and also of the potential buyers or middle-class fashion enthusiast. We started with the fashion designing community. This led us to different parts of our country and to some really odd/funny looking fashion designers too.. We figured few things from our research:

1. Fashion designers won’t put their stuff up on the web easily.. since there’s lot of plagiarism in their industry and they do it themselves too 🙂

2. There isn’t really a community of fashion designers. Well at least, as far as we knew.

3. From the buyers side, one always wants to touch and feel their clothes before buying them. so they wouldn’t really buy online (unless it’s from a brand)

4. We really sucked in the skill required to talk to those fashion designers. Just two different worlds.

(This was just our assessment of the situation from our limited research. The inferences may not hold true for all people, I may add. )

This just meant, we had little interest from suppliers (fashion designers), consumers (online buying market) and we totally did not understand their language. Nothing was going for the idea.

Guess what.. we dropped the idea.

During the Process

There was this other thing that was happening while we are at the whole research thing. We were meeting lot of business people and we were getting exposed to lot of real-time problems that they were having. Some went like managing their demand and supplies, working out their cash flows, working with illiterate people, and handling their sales team effectively. Hang on.. lets zoom on the last point. Handling their sales team effectively.. Wasn’t that problem solved already by all these super Sales Management applications? Apparently not. They themselves are a problem most of the times.

So during our research for our first idea, we came across all these things and ignored them first. Once we dropped our initial idea, we looked at an alternative and there was this interesting situation.

The first idea, we were passionate about, but we did not know our customers or consumers. We lived a different world. The next set of ideas came directly from the customers (or people/companies with problems).  We figured that the best way to go about was to solve the problem that we knew about and had a customer to help us out in testing the solution.

The Product

So, out came Lead Simplified. A platform to help manage your sales leads. And in next few months, we had the product out in the market and implemented with a dozen customers. Now Guess what.. It worked. It solved the exact problems that they were having and did nothing more. It started growing and people started referring our product to their friends and circles and we started getting many enquiries and suggestions for more features to be included. We were pretty overwhelmed with the response.

This was the product  in its 5th month and we started getting inquiries from the biggies of the country. Not something that we were prepared to handle.

This concludes my point and rest of the story is for later. The point is:

The Conclusion

Our first approach started with an idea in head and then doing the research on that. The second started with some research already done and the product was based on a problem communicated by the users themselves.

Both these approaches have something in common. ‘Knowing your Customers/Users’.  The first one, we did not. The second one, we did.

Are you able to draw the characteristics of your users correctly.. absolutely to scale?

Do you know the pitfalls of the industry you’re targeting?

Is there really a problem that you’re trying to solve?

Never guess.. Just ask them.

The key is to just go out there and listen. Talk to people. Listen to them talking. Try to solve problems that people actually have.

Also, while solving it, constantly keep checking with them if you’re in the right direction.

Now.. go out there. Talk to your customers.

Team is as good as its Leader

[tweetmeme source=”snarayan” only_single=false]

As the saying goes ‘A leader is as good as the team’, most of the times the reverse is true as well ‘A Team is as good as its leader’.

In our part of the world, we believe a lot in bonding and forming close communities, with our leaders at our center. They are the source of inspiration, energy and direction. They command utmost respect from one and all and are a huge part of what we are as people.

During my startup, I wanted to be all that a leader should be. In the process, used to involve myself in all activities starting from product design, architecture, technical decisions, marketing and sales strategy, day-to-day operations, finance and all the rest too. The intention was to help all departments and be on top of all the things going on.

Soon I realized that there was a trend contrary to my beliefs. The team started depending on my views for everything that was going on. I was becoming the bottleneck.

This is the basis of the post: The team started becoming a shadow of myself. It could be only as good as me.

I had no clue what to do. For few months, I was able to stretch and be there at every place helping the team. But after a while, I was really struggling.. with time, with pressure of work and stayed drained out most of the time. This started affecting the quality of my decisions too.

So.. driven by compulsion, I started taking myself away from these activities, and started giving my folks more room to make decisions on their own. They were uncomfortable at first and afraid of making any crucial decisions but things improved with time. After about couple of months, surprisingly for me, the team started taking more responsibility and at times were taking better decisions than what I would have. It also increased the motivation levels among team members. All of this and their respect for me was still the same (if not higher)

I tried to see what caused this and following were my inferences:

1. People got more empowered, resulting in higher motivation to do the work.

2. They appreciated the trust that I showed on their work. This improved their morale too.

3. The decisions were taken in a democratic way. This had a very positive influence on the culture of the organization.

Conclusion:

Add right people to your team, and then trust them to do their work. Never limit a team’s capability depending on your own.

My people always ask me “what to do”..

[tweetmeme source=”snarayan” only_single=false]

As an entrepreneur/manager, believe me, its not a good position to be in. You want people who can/are willing to take decisions.

The reason you hire them is because you think they are good at what they do (ideally.. better than you too.). So you need them to tell you what they want to do.

Sadly, many argue that its a very ideal state to be in.

Ok. Point taken. Back to reality.

Don’t tell them what to do and observe them.

What could happen? Will no one work? Would there be no decision at all?

Or

Would people start thinking what to do..
Would people start taking decisions and learning from their failures/successes..

Remember, the reason people ask you what to do is because they’re not confident of their decisions and are afraid of failure. Give them the cushion for failure and encourage them to take decisions.

Embrace innovation. Accept failure.