What makes a good mentor-mentee relationship

A good mentor-mentee relationship can be game-changing for a startup, and therefore it is important that both – mentor and mentee – understand how they can make the engagement meaningful, productive, rewarding and fulfilling.

A good mentor can make significant contribution in not just the success of a startup, but also in the personal and professional growth of an entrepreneur. And therefore, I advise entrepreneurs to not give the tag of a ‘mentor’ loosely to anyone whose advice you seek regularly.

Mentoring is way beyond business advice and expertise sharing, and hence entrepreneurs and experts should be very, very careful when initiating a mentor-mentee relationship.

Who is a good mentor for your venture? Continue reading “What makes a good mentor-mentee relationship”

Starting your entrepreneurial journey – some food for thought

In my view, easier availability of early-stage capital than ever before, public celebration & adulation of entrepreneurial heroes, a well-deserved respect for entrepreneurism and also society’s willingness to accept failures in entrepreneurial ventures make it easier for younger people to consider entrepreneurship as a career.

I share below some observations that will hopefully provide some food for thought before you embark on your entrepreneurial journey.

A great idea of concept is not the same thing as a great business. Once you identify a concept that has a meaningful value proposition to your potential customers, you have to think of how you can build a strong, sustainable business around that concept. Think hard about concepts like revenue streams, business model, go-to-market strategy, resource requirements, etc. Continue reading “Starting your entrepreneurial journey – some food for thought”

Guest Article – Do good leaders make good managers?

A lot has been written in the industry about leadership traits and whether it maps to good management skills or not.

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In my perspective, leadership and good management are two different skills and an organisation needs both of them. Also, it is very rare to find both the characteristics in the same person and it is imperative for CEO’s to realise this.

The quintessential trait of a leader is to ‘make sense of it all’ in this highly unstructured and dynamic world. Leaders get a good handle on what is happening, and how it will/may transition the industry (or society at large) in the next couple of years.

Leaders don’t believe in status quo and know that change is the only constant in life. What sets them apart is the courage and self-confidence with which they embrace change. While most of us prefer to sit on the fence and see changes happen and try our best to protect our turf from them, leaders actually make changes happen and drive them in the direction they believe is best for organisation (or mankind at large).

Driving Change

So what does it take to drive change or to shape the future of an industry? It starts from having a vision. A vision of where do you want to be in next few years, as an individual, organization, society or mankind itself. While each of us has plans for our future, our vision rarely goes beyond the immediate self and family. A leader’s vision typically starts from the other end, i.e. industry or society in general. A leader wants to see the desired change at a much larger level and his only goal is to make that change happen.

Continue reading “Guest Article – Do good leaders make good managers?”

All successful startups are great examples of learning from failures.

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Ask any investor who has engaged with 100s of companies, and they will tell you that the plans they begin with, are almost always never the exact plans that they eventually build their successful businesses on.

Failure is not a negative in the ‘Startup scenario.’ It merely means that some of the assumptions did not hold true in the marketplace, and hence we dumped it and we did something else. In that sense, the earlier conceived model failed, and we pivoted to a different concept;  product;  value proposition; customer segment; price-point; marketing plan;  business model; sales plan; team or whatever it is that failed.

I therefore advice entrepreneurs to not fall in love with ideas but to fall in love with a problem. When you look at ‘owning the problem’ to solve, you can think of many different ways of solving it and try what seems to be the most suitable way, given your circumstances and the market. Then it doesn’t matter if a few ideas don’t work and you eventually have to try a different approach to solve the problem. Since the goal was defined as ‘solving the problem’, it is still a victory even if a few initial ideas fail.

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Why do investors & experienced entrepreneurs advice startups to focus on ONE THING?

Because 99 out of 100 folks who try to do more than one thing fail. 

images(For those who do not know the relevance of this picture in this post, click here to read the story of Arjun and the fish eye). 

Focus helps startups concentrate their efforts and resources on doing one thing well. Even if that does not work, because of the focus and attention, they are able to smell the failure earlier, and can then plan the pivot and refocus.

If you do more than one thing, your resources and bandwidth is shared. Your efforts do not carry the same weight that a focused effort can. And, in the midst of the chaos you tend to ignore (or miss) the signals that things are not going as you intended them to.

Should I worry about my product/service being copied by a bigger company?

That a concept/product/service can get copied is a real risk. You cannot wish it away by assuming that your passion and enthusiasm will help you win the war. You have to manage that risk well.
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There are two ways of dealing with the risk of getting copied or someone else doing something similar.

1) Patenting 
If your idea patentable, go ahead and protect it. As you will know, many large companies create a forest of patents around their core product patent. Hence, when you do a patent search you will also know if your concept is infringing on someone else’s patent. And if it is not, go ahead and protect yourself by patenting your product.

2) Build a value proposition that helps you win
As a startup, you have several advantages over a larger company. The ability to be nimble and respond quicker. The ability to devote much more attention to that client than a larger company possible can (the larger company can thrown more professionals at the client… but that cannot match the passion & commitment of a founder).

Other way to differentiate, and thereby create a preference even if there is competition, are pricing, brand personality, service levels, business models, etc.

Remember, in most markets, especially if the opportunity is large, there are likely to be many others who will take a shot at that market.

Go ahead. Be confident. But not over confident. Plan well. Plan thoroughly. Implement well. Be patient. Be creative (in everything expect in legal and accounting). Go win.

How is “proof of concept” different from “minimum viable product”?

test-concept‘Proof of concept’ and ‘Minimum Viable Product’ are two very different things.

When testing the proof of concept, you could be testing not just the product itself but also a few other assumptions about the business around that product. I.e. Product testing is just one of the aspects that could be tested during a proof of concept test phase. Within this, a MVP is an early version of the product, finished enough to get a few early customers to try the product and give you some useful feedback which can be incorporated into the final product.

Below are a few things that are tested in a concept test stage/pilot phase:

  1. The concept – the power of the idea itself: Do the consumers/customers see the value proposition in what you offer?
  2. The business model: A business model is about ‘who will pay how much and to whom’. Each element of this should be tested in the pilot phase. i.e. are the consumers/customers seeing the value proposition as you meant it to be, how much are they willing to pay – is there price sensitivity, and if so, how much.
  3. The assumptions for your business case: As mentioned above, list all the possible assumptions you have made in your business plan and see if there is a way to validate those in your pilot. In a pilot, some of the operational outcomes may NOT be as per your plan. However, it is expected that in the initial phase your operations will be inefficient and that cost and operational efficiencies will improve as your business matures.
  4. Understanding operational challenges: Entrepreneurs often tend to underestimate the operational complexities and challenges of managing a business. While startups often manage operations with a limited number of people who are stretching themselves beyond practical limits, it is often not sustainable in the long run. A long-term business case cannot be made on the basis of the enthusiasm and give-it-all commitment of the founding team. A business case has to be based on what is practical and sustainable with an average set of people managing your larger teams.
  5. Testing processes and operational capabilities: Processes help organizations scale up. Processes are nothing but just a set of guidelines on managing activity and handling situations. Processes are usually centrally planned and locally implemented. Processes. They reduce the dependence of individual brilliance, and instill a discipline that results in operational efficiencies and consistency of experience. It also allows individuals to be clear on how a certain activity/situation is to be handled. The quality of processes can make or break an organization. Not only should processes be implemented, but they should also be measured and evaluated periodically to ensure that inefficiencies and redundancies are eliminated. In a startup, it is critical to define some processes, but yet be flexible to adjust processes quickly as soon as you see some processes becoming bottlenecks or inefficient. It is therefore important for startups to test these in the pilot phase.