I am big fan of innovation, at workplace and in general. I have always challenged people on that front. Earlier this year, I also conducted Hackathon in my organization to promote innovation culture. I have been involved in running and arranging meetups(CloudStack, VMUG) which spark the ideas, exposes problems yet to be solved. I thought of sharing my learning in this blog. I have written on this topic earlier also(see here: Innovation: Visible and Invisible). You may check my earlier blogs as well.
One can innovate and bring changes very easily. It is not that you need team locked in a room for days together for creating innovations. Most importantly, innovation need not be a game of chance. If you keep your eyes, and ears wide open, usually, you would find opportunities to innovate. Innovations, of course, can be internal or external. Internal ones are usually towards processes, collaboration, automation, or any idea which can streamline experiences internally and help teams do more, and effectively. External ones are usually related to your customers, value you are bringing, problems which you are solving for them, and more importantly how.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has proven yet again that necessity is mother of innovation, invention, progress. As one can, in last 5-6 months, world has seen paradigm shifts in almost every domain, new innovative ways of tacking old problems in some cases, and in others, solving new problems.
There is not much option to innovate in this ever changing world. So, it is important to pay attention to what is changing in your problem domain, your customers. Once you understand, then you are in better position to solve by innovating your solutions for them. Approaches such as design thinking can help here. It is everyone’s responsibility to consciously take efforts to ask questions and find out what is changing. They can be around assumptions made, dependencies which are there or need not be there, what pain points are seen on the way,
As design thinking approaches suggests, to supplement and validate your observations of customers/users, surveys can be helpful, or even interviews in formal or even in informal setting can be useful. These, are, of course, methodical or formal ways.
Another innovation strategy is to look out for leaders in your problem domain, understand what they have done and find out what other alternatives, better ways it can be done. This principle can be applied in organizations also, to learn from innovations and improvements from other teams/departments.
Ideation is fundamental to innovation progress. Many factors such as need vs want, value, feasibility, usefulness, prototyping, proof of concepts etc. Innovation attempts many times can be disasters, can ultimately result in failure in this fast moving market. Failure needs to be celebrated, as it is stepping stone towards success. Embracing failures is essential ingredient of building innovation culture.
What has been your experience with innovation? Feel free to share.
It has been two months now after the havoc due to the virus. More than half of that, we are in lockdown state, in India. I was to travel to Boston middle of February 2020, just around when COVID-19 outbreak had happened, few hundred cases were around. There was word of caution in the air. I took a risk and did travel and managed to come back safely to India towards end of February, only to find that the spread was rampant. In a week’s time, I got into self-imposed lockdown, and followed a nation wide lockdown in India.
Like many of you out there, I was glued to TV, with me biting my nails, sitting on the edge, flipping between various news channels. But after a while, I said myself enough is enough, and put a stop to that madness, as it had started affecting me, seeing the situation getting worse and uncontrollable. The media is doing great job in general, I am sure, keeping us informed, warned, provide insights. No question on that.
It is amazing to see what this virus has done to all of us, globally. Well, I am not talking of stock market. That is different story, and it is certainly not amazing. I am talking about how we humans now interact. Some new behavioral etiquette has sprung up, such as social distancing, sneezing in one’s elbows, getting away from shake-hand to namaste, and many others. But for many, this enforced isolation is a nightmare, not able to cope up, hence raising demand on mental health care, more than any other times. For entrepreneurs and leaders, it is time to adapt to the new reality, manage the new VUCA(popular leadership term referring to Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity) world, solve new problems, and most importantly stay course on innovation. The current situation is best described by VUCA. The virus has brought in huge disruption in front of all us to face.
Needless to say, business is bleeding right now. Jobs are being lost, revenues are vanishing in thin air. But there are certainly new opportunities, new challenges to address. New business models, new business opportunities are also on the rise. I am sure those with entrepreneurial mind set among us, are working on making most of the opportunity, this crisis is bringing. I am keenly following mental health space, where there is a jump in venture capital funding in that area. This has been my area of interest since last 20 years. I am sure innovation in this area, and many other areas will happen very rapidly.
It is is anybody’s guess now that more and more things will happen online, even at more ferocious pace. Online meetings, online learning, cashless payment options(mobile wallets, not credit cards!) are obvious gainers. I also suspect virtual reality, augmented reality also will be on the rise. Who wouldn’t want to get that life like cinema experience, but in virtual world? Who wouldn’t want to go to beach, but in virtual world? Even experiences such as buying pair of glasses for your eyes will happen more online. I broke my expensive frame-less glasses today, only to order them online from Lenskart, as opticians are closed right now. I had preferred walking into optician’s shop instead of online option. This is similar situation to what was brought to us by demonetization in India couple of years back. It forced all of us to use alternatives, go cashless, though that brought inconvenience in the short term.
Same thing is happening to some of these alternatives in other areas. It is as if nature has enforced a growth hack on them! We are forced to use them. It is making them get even better. Anything that will remove in-person, remove need of touch and feel, will be done in alternative ways. The other parts of businesses will, of course, come back, but slowly and steadily, as for many things, there is no alternative, but to do things in-person, and need touch. The things which were seen impossible, are now happening. For example, it was impossible to have WFH implemented. There would be hundreds of reasons on the table discouraging that. But with just one blink, now many organizations are 100% WFH and are productive in most cases.
Anyways, summer is in its peak now in India. I hope this virus gets roasted off by the scorching Sun, and, we get back to our old ways, may be wiser, may be more conscious of mother nature, and more deep inside!
India is among the top countries where number of smart phone owners, users is very high. With such penetration in the market, various innovative applications of smart phone to solve day to day problems faced by citizens have sprung up off late. One of them is payment for your purchases through mobile wallets. Companies such as Paytm has been pioneer into this space. Indian government also has been working steadily in the background to build ecosystem for banks to provide cashless options(such as Unified Payment Interface-UPI) to customers, which I had discussed in another article on something called India Stack in the past on my blog. In this article, let’s try to understand where does this space stand in terms of adoption.
What is the state today?
In case of mobile wallets in India, it is very interesting case study, if you look at it. When services such as Paytm and others were launched, they, of course, had their own challenges in spreading this to masses. Towards end of 2017 when Indian government decided to implement demonetization, there was a period when cash available in the market was scarce. This forced vendors, customers switch to other methods of paying for daily needs and purchases. This saw a big impetus and push for mobile wallets products in those months. The adoption sky-rocketed and zoomed beyond expectations. One started seeing sign boards, even at small, street side petty vendors such as tea shops, snacks shops, fruit vendor, saying ‘Paytm Accepted’ . This was unprecedented and there was revolution in making. Paytm went through the life-cycle of adoption very rapidly. Before we go further, let’s understand what is product adoption life cycle.
What is product adoption life cycle?
Acceptance of any new product, service or innovation(let’s call it collectively as product for simplicity) in the market, goes through various phases. This depends on demographic, social/cultural aspects, psychological and even political aspects of the user/customer base. This is illustrated by Roger’s bell curve as shown below.
For any given product, you will typically find very few adopters at the beginning. Those who are the first ones are called innovators as they see ahead of others the need of the product and benefits it can bring. The next ones are early which is slightly larger chunk of the society who are willing to try out the product-they are early adopters. The laggards are the last ones which also constitute similar percentage of the society who typically are averse to change, apprehensive about technology etc. The middle part of the bell curve where majority of the adoption happens. And this can take time, and one needs to devise strategies to reach there. Now Let’s dig down further to understand what happened actually.
Mobile wallets adoption phases
Money matters, and especially, when one does not see it. We, in India, feel most comfortable dealing in cash, as we can touch and feel it. With advent of credit cards and debit cards few decades back in India, this habit of cash started slowly reducing. In the last decade, the wide spread of mobile technologies and customers feeling comfortable using smart phones, this created opportunities for companies such as Paytm to come out with payment products such as mobile wallets. It obviously faced challenge at the beginning, finally it is money. The security was major concern. Technically savvy and young population who are comfortable with smart phones were the ones who quickly got into it(innovators). Later, with promotional offers such as rewards, cash backs, discounts etc, users started getting little open with it and started experiencing the convenience of using it(early adopters). And finally, the adoption reached mass scale(majority adopters) very fast, due to government regulation. There are still some who sailed through note ban, demonetization and population who is still not comfortable with smart phones, who are still yet to adopt. This population is generally elderly citizens(for example, my mother) and not savvy with English enough yet. These constitute laggards in terms of adopters for this product.
Mobile wallets and other payment methods
In the market segment of payments, especially, cashless payments, mobile wallets is the not the only option. Let’s look at other options are there, and how they impact the adoption and penetration in the market. Apart from traditional cash less options such as credit card, debit card, we have these days UPI enabled BHIM app provided by Government of India, which works with any bank which smart phone user may have account with. The banks also have their own apps for cash less payments as well. The other ones which has come up is Near Field Communication(NFC) method. Mobile wallets market itself is now crowded with multiple mobile wallet providers(direct competitors), which is anyway another topic. One of the factors impacting growth of mobile wallet products is also government regulations well to protect consumer’s interests. Right now, there is a limit on how much you can load in wallets. Other regulations include stricter Know Your Customer(KYC) norms. Despite these hurdles, mobile wallets has a huge potential to grow. As per one industry report, mobile wallets transactions are set to cross 1 trillion INR in 2018. Let’s look at some of the user acquisition and growth strategies followed by mobile wallet companies.
In the consumer and retail space, especially with mobile, and online presence, due to social media connection, one can really get viral growth. And the growth typically means here user acquisition. One the biggest user acquisition tactics used here is cash backs. Other one which used often is first user service is free of charges to consumers. For example, if you pay first recharge for the mobile, using mobile wallet such as Paytm, first recharge is free. It entices the young generation and pulls them in using the product. Other is tie ups with various other service providers such as cab aggregators such as Uber or Ola. Consumers end up enjoying discounts and benefits on both sides. References and likes on social media adds viral angle for quick growth, if done correctly. Connecting with consumers emotions is also very common tactic used. In case of Paytm, their tag line “Handcrafted in India” is very catchy.
Mobile wallets is a big business in India, due to sheer demographic considerations and mobile penetration. The last year’s demonetization has given a big push towards adoption to it already. The most innovative vendors are already over the hump. There is definitely lot of direct and indirect competition in the market. Those vendors with safe, secure, ease of use features, multiple options for other service providers, frequent discounts for loyal consumers, will make vendors to retain their consumer base. After which, to monetize the user base further, this also will enable mobile wallet providers to venture into various other value added services such mobile bank and others. Nonetheless, this market segment round digital payments will see huge growth in coming years for sure, despite the fact that cash will continue to rule.
Startups culture is rising all around the world these days. Startups generally are working on some product idea or service idea. Established companies who are providing service or offer products, are typically, busy with defining what a road map should be for their service or product. All of us know that user is very important factor to consider in this process. Do we really care? Or do we confuse between market opportunity versus the user who is going to consume that product or service? This is what is delved upon during design thinking. Sometime back, I got a bit of glimpse of this when I had attended a session during NASSCOM Product Conclave in Pune. When I heard that there is a day long workshop around this concept, I immediately enrolled for it. I am going to share here what I learnt during the workshop.
I am generally very fond of ideation and innovation. This workshop was going to cover exactly that along with design thinking. The workshop was arranged by TechStars and Entrepreneurship and Innovation Cell(EIC) of Indian Institute of Science Education and Research(IISE)R in Pune at IISER campus. This was my second visit to beautiful campus of IISER. I remember I visited it about 3-4 years back when they had arranged a music concert by famous violin player Rajam, I believe under SPIC MACAY program. Anyways, the faculty and expert for the workshop was Prof Kaustubh Dhagralkar. He is serial entrepreneur, a mentor at IIM, and now runs academy for design thinking called Potentials&Possibilities.
In simple terms, design thinking is nothing but understanding the user. The workshop started with analyzing what happens due to lack of design thinking. He shared an example of famous car manufacturer of USA who launched their car in India 2 decades back. In the effort of reducing cost, car manufacturer decided to get away with facility of power windows on the rear. It so happened that, since the primary user of the car was a chauffeur, he ended up having power windows, and owner who would sit at the back, would not have not it. The second example was about introduction of flat TV(plasma TV) in the market when it was flooded with cathode ray tube(CRT) TV. The flat TV sales did not pick up initially as they would not fit in living rooms where space was meant for size of CRT TV, where flat TVs are best for wall-mounted.
Then he contemplated upon why use word “design thinking”. The answer to this is that employing techniques used by designers(versus managers or decision makers) in solving problems, makes it termed as “design thinking”. This is where he introduced the first stage of design thinking process which is very important, and is called Empathy Stage, which is nothing but to learn from people, users, to understand them. The survey techniques using forms and alike are not sufficient to reveal the true user patterns for a given product or service. He spoke of employing various gaming principles, tally mark methods, and other things to understand consumer behavior in natural settings, observing them, rather than in simulation environment. The focus needs to be on both quantitative and qualitative research, and also due consideration to outliers too. Another tip he gave was to meticulously keep an open eye on complaints, pain points talked by anyone to understand opportunities for solving them or addressing them.
Understanding users can also help in devising business strategies. Many times we confuse with market research versus user research. Defining the business from the users perspective, than own perspective will also help. Then we also watch a short film titled “What is Design Thinking?”, produced by Daylight Design, which outlined five steps of the process of design thinking. We had discussed of empathy stage so far, which is learning from people. Second is finding patterns, to categorizing observations to derive into design principles. He outlines some most common design principles which any design exercise thinking would lead into revealed by the patterns in the user data collected. Some of the came out of an exercise we carried out there. It was simple one. Enumerating attributes which you like, don’t like and wish to have, in a given product.
After this we contemplated upon the stage of ideation stage, which relates to creativity. We discussed some basic principles there such as thinking of analogies(in real world, nature, other industries), challenging status quo(not assuming anything, shifting paradigms of problem, asking why), stretching the rubber band(think extremes, no-constraint situation, asking why not), challenge mental models, think of basics, being curious, etc. The 2 monkeys in a room example, was good example of challenging mental models. The next stage, of course, is prototyping and testing the idea.
I believe many things we unknowingly or partially we apply in our day to day work life. But adopting these principles of design thinking would lead to more better products or services, and would reduce costly iterations. The workshop was immensely interactive, full of stories, and loads of fun, a truly experiential learning, which I enjoyed thoroughly.
These days there is so much happening in the Indian IT industry. Consider this scene. If you have read recent news items, it is generally feared that Indian IT industry is loosing its sheen, with wide spread job cuts already happening, business getting tougher. There are different reason given-automation getting more prevalent at the entry level jobs, the Trump era strategies. Many industry experts, such as Vivek Wadhwa, since last couple of years, has been warning Indian IT industry around these trends and appealing to start focusing more and more on innovation. So the key here is innovation.
Now consider other scene. The Indian startup system is bustling with so much of action since last 7-8 years. So many ideas, so many new companies coming up every year, employing more and more workers and creating new jobs. The startup ecosystem is also getting matured, with local as well as global investment fraternity shifting focus towards Indian startups. I have talked about things I have witnessed on this topic on this blog earlier. Even Government of India’s initiatives around smart cities and also declaring various policies and schemes for startups, has fueled this scenario. So what is the key here for success of startups? Again, innovation!
Other day, someone forwarded me a video link on WhatsApp, which was a YouTube’s version of a TEDtalk. It is titled India’s invisible innovation. It is a talk delivered by Nirmalya Kumar, 3 years ago, arguing Indian IT industry is already innovating, against a common comment that Indian IT industry cannot/don’t innovate like Google, Apple and other leading companies of the world. He calls it as invisible innovation, as it is happening mostly in India’s back-offices and process areas which is not directly seen by end users(which is visible innovation). It gives various examples such as patents being filed from India is on the rise(including forward citations), process innovation, management innovation resulting in global delivery model, etc. While, the argument is mostly true, and lets us understand the other perspective of what Indian IT industry has been doing(which makes feel little better), but looking at today’s state, it seems that lot was left desired on the innovation front.
But I am hopeful and bullish for a turn-around. The main reason is that entrepreneurship is on the rise in India. And innovation is typically at the root of it. The relation between innovation and entrepreneurship is greatly dealt with, by Peter F Drucker in famous book titled Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Principles and Practice. So, I don’t think we need to get deterred by what is happening now as most of it is self-inflicted. But today’s India is changing. India’s large young population and large market, with abundant opportunities in many areas, not just high-tech, for changing, growing investor community, and growing awareness around innovation and entrepreneurship. There is only one way for success. A point to be noted here, most of the innovation coming out on startup fraternity will be visible innovation.
While it is true that the western world will continue to need back-offices of the outsourced companies in India(or even for the matter other countries), in the current shift and dynamics, it would interesting to wait and watch how these traditional IT services companies get back to innovation(invisible or otherwise), to stay in the game. It is also true that startups will continue to move and shake, start and close prematurely, laying off people-but then that is part of startup ecosystem. It is survival of fittest law. Anyways, as such in India apart from innovation in the industry and science itself, where is there so much to do; India also has many areas concerning to its demographic and social structure, poverty, illiteracy, agriculture, transport etc where innovation and social entrepreneurship is the need of the hour and it is also on the verge of growing.
Let me conclude this blog with a nice story about what innovation is, which I had heard recently. A well-known bath-soap manufacturing company once receives a complaint from a customer that bath-soap he purchased did not have a soap inside. The company officials, quality department was shocked hearing this complaint. How it must have happened? Their quality control was quite stringent with world-class processes etc. They started looking for finding gap and looking for improvement in the quality control process to not repeat such case. So the officials decided to install scanning machines to on the manufacturing belt, for examining the packed bath-soaps before dispatch. A fresh graduate who had recently joined them, learnt about this, he walked in told the officials, that there is no need of this costly scanning machine. All they can do is to install blower-fans near the manufacturing belt, which would make packed bath-soaps with no soap inside fly away!
Over the past few years, startup culture started finally taking shape in Pune. Many startup related events keep happening. Accordingly to one estimate, there are about 400 startups in Pune and the new debate has started occurring whether Pune is new Bengaluru. With startup culture, the product culture also is on the rise. We have been having Pune Connect events, particularly, promoting this product culture. I had attended there 2012 edition. NASSCOM also has been having Product Conclave sessions, in Pune, since last four years. I finally managed to attend this time. Here is a blog on what I experienced.
The venue was The Westin hotel on east side of Pune. Conferences like these typically have many sessions, and many of them run parallel. So one needs to really decide on what one wants to attend to get most of out of it. These days apps and websites such as sched.com come handy. I also had my schedule chalked out before hand using this app. I reached venue just before 9 am, that is when first keynote was to begin. We had Dr Ganesh Natrajan speak to begin with. He is pleasure to listen to always. He walked us through NASSCOM’s journey into startups and products and how it has recently launched Startup Warehouse initiative. He also, obviously, touched upon his favorite topic-smart city initiatives for Pune. After him, Ashok Soota spoke on business strategies. This is the first time I heard him. He is a founder famous IT services company MindTree. And now, at age of 69, he has started new company called Happiest Minds. He also spoke about his book Entrepreneurship Simplified. Then followed a session on success stories of entrepreneurs from non-Metro cities of Maharashtra such as Jalgaon, Satara, Kolhapur etc. I was particularly impressed by Aurangabad’s Prashant Deshpande’s company Expert Global Solutions, with its growth despite operating from tier 2 city.
After this, many sessions happened in parallel. You can find details on those here. I will describe what I attended.
I skipped many of those sessions related to, usual buzzwords such as, IoT, analytics, blockchain etc. First I walked into a session titled “User Research: Transforming your startup idea into viable product”. This was about, needless to say, user research aspects while designing a product. This is pertains to UX or user experience.Typically, it is confused with market research which is different. User research focuses on how users will use the product, their needs, behavioral patterns directly supplying inputs to UX design. I also attended partially, a session titled “Cyber Security: Mitigating DDoS” which was related to getting under the hood of one of the significant threats called Distributed Denial of Service(DDoS). It provided interesting insights into grey world of hackers causing these attacks and also some tools and techniques on mitigating them.
At lunch, took a walk around product showcase isle. There I met my old time classmate Sandeep Tidke who is running a company called LabJump. It was interesting business idea, which is working due to proliferation of virtual training lab requirements. It is pretty evident as Google recently acquired Qwiklabs recently, which was doing similar stuff. I also bumped on another acquaintance of mine named Abhijit Joshi, whose company WhiteHedge is engaged into providing Docker as a Service by partnering with Docker in India.
Later in the day, I walked into a session around design thinking. It was titled Future-proofing Product Innovation using Design Thinking. This was by Manoj Kothari of Turian Labs. Despite being a post lunch session, it kept me glued to the seat for 2 hours in this session. He also stressed on aspect of showing empathy towards your users to understand more about their pain-points. I walked out with thought of applying some of the design thinking principles in what we do at work. I am big fan of innovation and ideation. And design thinking helps to break the conventional thought. Then I went to a session what turned out to be a treat to ears. This was by Anshoo Gaur(an investor himself with his own VC firm Pravegaa) and it was titled How to judge the performance / potential of your startup. He began asking very fundamental question and drew attention to the fact that there are enough problems in the country to go after, versus, what current startup fraternity is busy with. He also cautioned on “Me-too” mentality of entrepreneurs, instead asked to focus on adding value to ecosystem. He also emphasized profitability before achieving scale and did not want scale for profitability. He touched upon metrics to track within a startup by drawing analogy of machine with an organization.
As a last session for the day, I had decided to attend ANTIGyan which was much hyped in the morning as one session not be missed. And it turned out to real entertainer. This was by Ajeet Khurana, an investor himself, threw open issues with startup ecosystem, gaps in a lighter vein, by breaking conventional thoughts and hence causing anti-gyan(similar to anti-pattern). Sighting the buzz around products since last few years, which is a welcome shift from IT services for India, his wisdom pitch was that, ultimately, businesses are funded, not product.
The event saw more than 600 participants and was full of buzz. Organizations such as NASSCOM, TiE have succeeded in acting catalysts to growing melting pot of startups which is so nice to experience.
Due to raised excitement and overall awareness since past few years around new startups, the question of funding has come to the forefront now. Otherwise, venture capital circles have been always small in numbers and not so easily accessible. Venture capital(VC) community is essential part of startup ecosystem. Still startups/entrepreneurs have love-hate relationship with them, because of which they are referred as vulture capitalists. Today I happened to attend a half-day seminar on raising funds for startups. This was organized by Pune Open Office Club(POCC). During my own startup venture, we did not really go beyond initial funding, I was little curious myself on this.
There were 4 sessions in all. The first one was Suketu Talekar Co-founder, BrewCrafts Microbrewing Pvt. Ltd, more commonly known as Doolally on “Setting the context right”. Before he began Sandeep Saxena who is part of POCC introduced the seminar agenda to the audience, and also go them into some conversation on topics related to funding. Sandeep also happens to be ex-entrepreneur in the life-sciences domain , now working at Persistent, handling their life-sciences business development. Suketu talked about his views on funding, in a no-nonsense manner sighting examples from his own venture. His advise was completely against the agenda of the seminar. He has been running his business without that, and advised to do the same to others. He, of course, was coming from the point, that if you take care of EBITDA(which is earnings before taxes etc), you generally would not need VC funding.
The next session was interaction with Murali Cherat, Business Mentor & Serial Entrepreneur and Harshad Lahoti, Founding Partner & CEO, Ah! Ventures. This session provided real answers directly from investors, was very useful. They explained differences between seed, angle and regular funding, and talked when to approach and when not to. There were lot of interesting questions from the audiences as well. Murali particularly brought that fire to the discussion, with his passionate, words of wisdom, from a mentor that he is has been. In response to the question related to valuation, he state that it is in the eyes of beholder, and many times may get driven by greater fool theory.
Then followed an interview with Dr. Anand Deshpande, founder/CEO of Persistent, by Akash Sureka who had sold his venture Hoopz Planet to Persistent, and now works at Persistent. Akash quizzed Dr Ananad on his journey, and various aspects of raising money at Persistent. As we know Persistent began way back in 1990, when IT scene was still in its infancy stage. He rightly pointed out that he did not need external funding, due to nature of the business which IT outsourcing/services, to which I could not agree more, as I also had experienced similar during my own stint. He also elaborated his experience of VC funding with Intel Ventures and couple of other rounds of funding, before eventually they went public, which was essentially exist route for investors. He also had strong views and advise on VC funding to budding entrepreneurs, to be careful about the contracts. He also suggested to consider other types of funding such as debt funding and also customer funding. Before concluding, he also spoke about Persistent Venture Fund and also about a fund for social upliftment called deAsara.
The seminar ended with a passionate talk by Dr. Ganesh Natarajan, who has been CEO of Zensar, and also now started his own venture capital fund company 5F World. His talk revolved around his own journey of turnarounds at APTECH and ICIM(now Zensar). Before talking of 5F World, he also spoke passionately about his association with government for Pune Smart City mission, and various other related social entrepreneurial initiatives. He spoke about interest areas of 5F World fund which being edtech, community building.
Let me conclude this blog by stating my key take away points. Entrepreneurs need to have focus and clarity of thoughts, plans on exit, and clarity on why that money is needed before going to VC for funding. There are other avenues of funding, which needs to evaluated. VC funding contracts terms are 100% negotiable. Need to lay down outlook for 15-18 months, which is matters the most. I am also looking forward for on module on funding which is coming up as part of entrepreneurship related course I am taking these days.
The essence of mankind is problem solving. Man has progressed because of his ability to identify and solve problems. This is innovation and that brings in entrepreneurship. The Indus Entrepreneurs(TiE) is an organization promoting entrepreneurship. I have written about their other events/programs in the past here. TiE recently announced a 8
week program called Startup to IPO course, with weekly 3 hours. Plus this program is being offered by Northeastern University. The facilitator for this course is Raj Jaswa. I decided to take up this. I had been entrepreneur myself in the past, though a failed one, which forced me to take up a job. But that essence of innovation still continues and I try to nurture that through various channels and forums, at my job.
In this blog series, I will be writing about my experience with this course as I take it week by week. This blog is just an introduction to the course. I am already 4 week in the course now. So I have a catch up to do on the blogs side.
The chief facilitator Raj Jaswa is a successful early age silicon valley based serial entrepreneur with companies like OPTi, Selectica and Dyyno under his name. This course is online course where in participants from all over the world are attending remotely. Most of the participants are from TiE chapters all across India’s depth and breadth. The online medium of the course with Raj Jaswa talking and presenting, along with other guest speakers from remote location is creating an immersive learning experience. The course portal by North Eastern University is also creating that experience with course outlines, progress indicator, group chats and discussions, ability to download course materials, upload exercises etc.
It seems that the university offers another program titled Idea to Business Plan again facilitated by Raj Jaswa. This one seems to be a logical precursor for new entrepreneurs, specifically college students or fresh graduates.
In India, the startup scenario is dramatically changing since last few years, it really got a big boost also with new government which came up with a programs called Startup India and other campaigns such Digital India, Standup India, Make in India etc. I plan to write about that sometime, specifically about Startup India program. Anyways, just another day, I got another email talking of a program for startup entrepreneurs. This one is called Startup Leadership Program(SLP). This one is rather long and seems comprehensive.
Anyways, it seems that the change is in the air and around us. Better be part of it and make it happen! Let me leave you with a video of a session at recent OpenStack conference which talks of an entrepreneur who made journey from identifying a problem, to innovating to solve it and later to realize it in an enterprise. It is motivating.
We, as parents, try to make our children good at multiple skills, all the time, by going beyond school education. Even these days, schools themselves are promoting these extra-curricular activities. Different activities have different goals. But one thread is common-prepare children to face challenges of life in 21st century, explore their potential to the fullest.
Few decades back, children were encouraged to explore music by taking courses in vocal or instrument playing. This activity is still popular. Drawing/painting is another. I remember as a child, I was encouraged by my teacher to take state level drawing exams. Sports is another activity. Formal coaching in cricket during summer vacations or otherwise is also quite popular. During last few years we have been hearing things such as abacus, vedic mathematics also.The key thing here is to find potential in the children and encourage to pursue on that further.
MENSA has been around for IQ test and thereby giving indications on abilities and interests.
Few years back, I had come across multiple nature test by Jiva. Multiple Natures system is a theory developed by Steven Rudolph. It identifies 9 unique natures in each individual, namely: Protective, Educative, Administrative, Creative, Healing, Entertaining, Providing, Entrepreneurial and Adventurous. By understanding one’s strong natures, children can exploit strengths and find greater success in everything he does.It also combines something called ‘multiple intelligence’ with this.
There is another organization called NeuralSpace which claims to be India’s first authorized training center for BrainRx system which is for training brain for various goals such as improving learning and cognitive skills. This probably is useful in children with certain psychological disorders reducing their learning abilities, but can be applicable to anyone to enhance these skills.
There is another things which has recently been employed in skill development in children which is neuro-linguistic programming(NLP) technique. NLP is very old and developed to treat certain psychological disorders in all ages. Organizations such as IntelligencePlus exploit this techniques in skill development for children.
Recently came across something which sort of baffled me and made me think about to what state this mind-set is going to take us. IntelligencePlus recently organized event for children, where in more than 25 schools around Pune participated. They called it InnoVenture, and aimed at developing entrepreneurship skills in children. While the idea and the intent is good, is it required to burden children in this fashion? Can we not achieve this in little subtle and fun way at home or among friends? For example, one of my friends, taught simple skills such as sales and negotiating by having his daughter trade her piggy bank cash in exchange of notes by asking for more and more commission every time.
The point I am trying to make here is that while the ideas and intent of all such programs are novel and good, we as parents need to be more pragmatic and encourage these by examples, in informal and fun way.
The other day I happened to attend The Indus Entrepreneurs(TIE) event titled ‘Entrepreneurs In Exile”. I was little surprised by the theme of the event. I must congratulate the organizers taking up this topic. In our society failure is not accepted easily. With a bit of research on this topic, I got to know that India is also changing on this mind-set, and people are talking about failures. Look at following articles.
In rest of this blog I, being an entrepreneur-in-exile myself, am trying to capture my entrepreneur attempts. My enterprising mind-set came of out the need to support myself in the hardship of our family at the age of 16, by way of preparing paper packs to be used for packing grocery items in the shops. I, not only made them, but also sold them to nearby shops. I obviously did not continue doing it, as I had to focus more on my studies, and things were looking now better. This neither did succeed nor did it fail, but I aborted it after the main goal was met.
My next venture of supporting myself was teaching BASIC language to bunch of middle aged engineering managers in nearby auto-industry. This was in 1988. The computers was a buzzword then. When I look back, I dived into unknown territory without know what does it mean to teach and teach BASIC. I did not know BASIC then(neither do I remember it now), as I had learnt only C language by then. It went on for few months, teaching sessions for few hours a week. My parents forced me to halt it after I met with an road accident cycling to and fro to the site where I was teaching.
When I was 24, had some work experience, me and bunch of my friends got an itch of doing on our own, and we started with training again, this time C and Assembly languages. I remember fighting over with my “co-founder” friends on how our training pamphlets should look like. But this attempt did not take-off as our advertising did not pay us off, as not a single student turned out. Later on we moved into IT services space. Now all of us became salesmen on the bicycles once again, we would be off for a day long visit to various factories in nearby industrial area selling our capabilities. We did manage to get one owner of cooking-gas agency for office automation project, spent time studying his manual process and submitting the proposal, but some other vendor stole the deal. And thereafter, our priorities changed slowly as “co-founder” friends started finding better prospects in their jobs and this attempt also was put on “hold”
My latest stint as entrepreneur came much later in the life, at the age of 40, after I ran out of my job when our development center was closed. The idea of starting again took seed while I was consulting. And this attempt, I would say, was very serious, compared to earlier attempts. We formed a company called QuinarySoft. My stint there lasted for 3 years, after which I exited to let my other co-founder take it further. We did variety of things in IT services, played with our own ideas, in different domains, on solving problems using technology, burnt our money. After spending 3 longs years, I decided to came out of it, due to changing landscape in the IT services and it becoming commercialized so much that it we were loosing as a differentiator in the market(and there are many other reasons, which is a topic for another blog :-))
While all this was happening, I also ventured into something called “social entrepreneurship”, by getting associated with NGO in the field of mental health, by attempting to raise findings and helping the NGO in various aspects.
Hope you liked the story so far. As they say “once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur”. Let’s see what comes by next on that journey!