Find a Co-traveller – Find a Co-founder

In my view, it is extremely helpful if you find a co-founder when starting an entrepreneurial venture. Apart from sharing the work and responsibilities, a co-founder can be the motivating companion and the emotional support that you will need when your business is going through a tough phase. And all businesses do go through a tough phase.

Also, a business needs different types of skills and competencies. The ideal composition of a founding team is when the founders bring complementary skills to the venture. E.g. someone from the marketing/brand management category, the fashion industry and an operations management/procurement person – will make an ideal founding team for an e-commerce startup.

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Ideally, apart from people with varied skills and competencies, it is also useful to have a founding team, with different personality types – someone who depends on gut feel for decision making will find it extremely beneficial to have a co-founder who takes measured, well-thought out decisions, and vice versa.

Who exactly is a co-founder?

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Wrong assumptions kill more startups than bad products.

This is a summary of my talk at the Startup Weekend Next pre-accelerator program on the topic: Why customer discovery is critical to a venture

(For the purpose of this article I am using the word customer very broadly – for this article by customers I mean all entities that will either use, or pay for or influence the purchase of your product or service).

Wrong assumptions kill more companies than bad products.

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My Notes from TC/1

I spent this weekend (15th and 16th of March 2014) at the first conference organized for creative entrepreneurs by The Coalition. Great initiative, awesome experience.  Check out www.thecoalition.in.

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Here’s a para from their website about what this initiative is about. The Coalition is a new platform to support creative entrepreneurs in India. Whether it’s music, film, design, fashion, arts, creative technology or something completely radical, The Coalition gets young creative thinkers together with the people, skills and money that can turn their passion into successful businesses – and connects them to the resources that can help their business grow.

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Summary of my workshop at TC/1

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This was a workshop at conducted for Startup Weekend at The Coalition on 15th March 2014. Here’s a summary of what we covered:

  1. Different stages of the venture are fundamentally different – the entrepreneur has to change roles from the DOER to a MANAGER to a LEADER
  2. A good product is not the same as a good business – you have to design a business around a good product or service
  3. Personal readiness and organizational readiness are important – Check the presentation for my 10×10 scorecard on personal and organizational readiness
  4. Delegation is difficult – but critical – If you do not delegate, you will become the bottleneck
  5. Hire Rockstars – An entrepreneur’s role is to attract and retain good people – Spend 30% of your time on HR – hire people smarter than yourself
  6. Have a business plan that outlines what you want to do and how you will do it
  7. Clearly identify and align with your motivations – ensure that all founders are aligned on the goals and vision and direction
  8. Redefining your business opens new possibilities – don’t describe your business by the product or service that you currently offer – define it as the problem you solve – check notes in my presentation 
  9. Visualize your goals, milestones and activities – first define them clearly
  10. Identify key stakeholders and have a plan to engage them

Leap of Faith

Many people have ideas for a business. Almost everyone thinks of some idea at some point in his or her lives. But only a few individuals actually take the first steps to convert those ideas into a business.

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To be an entrepreneur, one has to have the conviction and belief in the idea that one is pursuing. Unless you have that conviction, you are unlikely to take the first step required to convert that idea from a ‘thought in your head’ to a ‘venture in the real world’.

Once you have a thought or an idea about something that can become a good business venture, you have to think hard about the potential of that concept, assess the merits and challenges, and once you feel convinced enough, you have to be able to take that leap of faith to go and implement that idea in the marketplace.

Many aspiring entrepreneurs tend to test and research, and retest and re-research their idea or concept and depend only on the research findings to pursue or drop that idea. Often, research cannot give you the answer to whether an idea will work or not. Sometimes, entrepreneurs have to take that leap of faith and that gut-feel to make a concept work. Entrepreneurs however, should NOT be blind risk takers. Successful entrepreneurs understand the risks and take necessary steps to overcome those risks and challenges. Planning well is what helps them deal with the risks and challenges better. Others who give up often do not think hard enough about addressing those challenges. They get scared of the challenges because they do not think of solutions.

Entrepreneurship requires entrepreneurs to pursue their vision often in the face skepticism and negative feedback on their ideas and plans from many individuals. Often these individuals who are skeptical of the plans are well meaning and may give an honest feedback based on their own assessment of the risk-reward dynamics of that idea. But mostly, entrepreneurs are able to spot opportunities where others see problems.

Entrepreneurs see opportunities before others see them. Entrepreneurs catch the wave on the up…. That’s why successful companies often have the ‘first-mover advantage’. Others, who follow or are me-too copycats to successful first-mover concepts, often have a much harder road to success, if they do succeed. Entrepreneurial thinking and aptitude is about seeing the ‘signals’ where others see ‘noise’.

The ability to take that leap of faith AFTER assessing the potential and understanding the risks allows entrepreneurs to be confident and optimistic about the opportunity and potential of an idea. Optimism and confidence create positivity and enthusiasm, which infects others around them. It helps entrepreneurs build teams, get early adopters, and often, helps them get investments from investors. (It is not without reason that entrepreneurs who are successful are good presenters and can tell their story with conviction and passion.)

Go ahead. Think hard about the opportunity around that idea and what you need to do to make it work. Seek mentoring. Get guidance from those who have more experience in operationalizing a business venture. Plan well. Execute efficiently. Be confident.

You will never fail. Either you will win or you will learn. And this learning will help you prepare even better for the next journey of your life. Go ahead. Take that leap of faith in your idea.

This article was first published in the SheroesCommunity on the 6th of March 2014.

What parameters do investors use to decide on an investment?

Different investors will have different criteria for selection, and could vary by not just the amount of capital they invest but also the stage at which they invest and the kind of companies that they invest in.
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Most investor’s decisions are based on the following:

  • Quality of the team: This is our most important criterion. We are not looking for experienced entrepreneurs. But we certainly look for understanding of the domain, business concepts & operations management, and most certainly commitment to the venture.
  • Clarity of the concept/idea: How well has the team been able to articulate what they want to do. You cannot plan it well, if you cannot communicate it well.
  • Size of the potential: Concepts addressing large markets with large potential are obviously better.

If the above two are positive, then the following few areas would be discussed:

  • Scale of aspiration of the team: Does the team have the aspiration and hunger to be a market leader?
  • Business case: Is the business case strong enough? Remember, when pitching to an investor you are competing not just with direct competition from your domain but also with startups with interesting business plans
  • Exit potential: How are we going to get a good return on our investment. I.e. what is the exit option for us.