Seminar on raising funds for startups

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.

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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.

 

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Startup to IPO Course

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.

Going beyond school education for children

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.

What do you think?

A quick update: Got to know that technique called Mid Brain Activation is claimed to be fake by Dhabholkar’s Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti(MANS) and they seems to have busted it in.

Entreprenuer in Exile

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.

5 ways to cope if your first venture fails – Economic Times
Startup Funerals

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!

Nurturing entrepreneurship

This is an account of event organized by TIE(The Indus Entrepreneurs) which I attended recently in Pune. I thought of sharing it here on the blog.

This event, conducted in MCCIA Tower(ICC Tower), was a graduating program of first batch of entrepreneurs participating in first ever Nurture program. TIE Nurture program started in Feb 2012. This is first of its kind started by Pune chapter for nurturing and mentoring entrepreneurs. For the first batch, it received about 50 applications from different companies, and they shortlisted 8 companies. As it was pointed out the selection criteria was such that only those companies who knew where they were and where they want to go in next 1-2 years, to be selected for mentoring.

During past six months, mentors from TIE and mentee companies had formal, informal interactions, on specific problems, revenue and operations problems, problems which might occur in future, etc. Also their presentation skills were also worked upon.

There were seven presentations from companies such as Bizproto, Crucible Labs, ePravesh, Mapyn, RushHrs, neural space, Intouchid etc. Most of them did talk about their offering, competition, growth plans etc. But very few talked about real revenues, projected revenues, what is in there for investors, entry and exist routes for investors etc.

This gave a window to kind of problems entrepreneurs are trying to solve through entrepreneurship. ePravesh is trying to simplifying school/colleges admission process, crucible labs is trying to exploit the power of social media marketing and create value for media industry by providing valuable insights into viewer’s preferences, which media companies can use along side TRP. Company like Intouchid has created “Dropbox” like solution for contact management problem. Company like Bizproto were trying to create another Alibaba(online traders exchange, B2B) solution.

The event was sponsored by British govt trade and industries dept who has offices in India to facilitate business in and out of UK. Their deputy director was present for the event. During his speech he appealed Indian entrepreneurs to setup businesses in UK. It was really amazing and different feeling to hear such a thing from British, who rules India for more than 150 years. It was one more testimonial of the fact that world order has changed. He also sighted examples of companies who have setup companies in UK such as Tata, also UK companies setup in India such as JCB. He also gave comparison of various countries from the investor friendly aspects, where he mentioned Singapore is the first on the list, with distinction of being the most investor friendly nation.

The star attraction of the event was speech of Ashok Rao, current chairman of TIE Global. He provided valuable insights on entrepreneurship and innovation and his own one liner tid-bits called “Ashokism’. His thoughts on venture capital were also interesting.

Function concluded after his speech ended and everyone proceeded towards party room on the top floor with their favorite “Ashokism”. Here is my favorite which I picked up: Don’t delegate success.