March 13, 2013 at 3:47am
Early adopters and Indian eco system
Many times we keep hearing that Indian startup ecosystem is non-existent and there are not many early adopters. Well we cant really change everything immediately, but there are simple things that we can do to solve the problem at smaller scale.
When I was running company from Nasik, I used to get very limited opportunity to meet founders to exchange notes and share experiences. So when ever I traveled to Pune or Mumbai, I would invite few people I know for lunch/breakfast/dinner meetups. Just may be 5-6 people sharing secret sauce. Try out each others products, give feedback and may be help with connections/network and similar things.
This is something I think every founder can do. Now we have a very active and awesome group of 25 odd founders in Mumbai+Pune which meet regularly, share feedback and help in any which way possible. Its almost like an open source ycombinator minus pg.
This works especially for founders who are not very good at networking at larger conferences. By restricting number of people, it creates a more comfortable and cozy environment for real discussions and not just sales/marketing pitches to each other.
Now we have a good group in Mumbai which meets often. I am also doing founders meetup every month in Pune along with breakfast meetups every other week.
So if you are in similar position may be start doing such smaller meetups?
PS - There is also one awesome demo club run by @prateekdayal and @mukund in Bangalore.
Hobbies on resume are important
I have always used hobbies as one of the ways to find good programmers. Or programmers who can be easily coached. Specially when it comes to hiring fresh-graduates or interns.
Very few people have given much thought to writing resumes. So mostly they copy paste resumes, specially parts like hobbies. So when you asked about it, you can find out how much thought a person has put in it.
Most people write hobbies as - reading, watching movies, music etc. Most of these are time-passing activities, rather than hobbies. Of course these can be actually hobby of a person, but when you mention them on resume, most of the times you are just either copying it or dont really mean as a hobby.
People who have good knowledge about field of their hobby are often good at learning things and participating in a discussion. They also have ability to reach their own view on subject matter and have skills to defend that view.
If a candidate says his favorite sport is cricket and his favorite cricketer is Sachin. Then does he have list of top 5 innings Sachin. Can he explain why he thinks those are top 5 innings. Who considers second best? Does he know what an inside-out shot is or what exactly is reverse swing and how it works?
If he has answers to questions above, I will be glad to talk more. If not, I pass.
To pursue a hobby, it takes lot of time. You need to learn lot of things. Even if it is things like going through physics of a reverse swing and understanding different material used to make cricket balls and pitch/weather conditions etc. All of that just to enjoy watching cricket a little more.
Also to learn all these things first thing you need to start from is asking questions. To yourself and to people around you. You will in the end have to reach out to people who are experts in the field. From making a visit to local cricket coach to writing an email to Zaheer Khan. To do all that, you will have to start expanding your comfort zone. You will have to develop listening skills.
When you start this pursue, over a period of time you will start forming your opinions. You start getting comfortable to the fact you can form opinions of your own.
And to go through all this to derive no monetary/professional gain, but just to enjoy something you already like in better and more satisfying way.
This is something I value a lot.
Lot of good people I have met are the ones who pursue one or more hobbies, learn all about them over a long, long time.
It shows passion they have for something. And ability to pursue that passion.
And passion can be a transferable quality. If you are passionate about one thing, given right environment you can become passionate about other things like programming for instance.
And more importantly - I like working with people who are passionate. Not necessarily the job at hand. But in general. You get to learn lot about their hobbies, have interesting and stimulating conversations. It is fun.
A simple question like, What is your hobby?, is a good window into a candidate’s personality.
I worked with a really talented person. His hobby was eating. He will be ready to travel 100km just to try out the misal paav some one recommended him. It was fun working with him.
A year on..
It has been a while since I wrote a post.
I moved to Pune exactly a year ago, from Nasik. A lot has happened in this year. Took up 3 different consulting gigs. Built 4 different products/app of my own. Learnt a language (Python) with few tools around it. Picked up couple of skills. Made few new friends, got rid off few. 3 different long vacations. 30 odd books and couple of new TV shows, Game of Thrones in particular. Lots of movies, A separation, the best one I saw this year.
I have always loved living in a small city. I feel more comfortable and much less intimidated. Big cities are just crowd of people. I feel kind of lost. Of course it is full of interesting people. And got to meet lot of them. But still in the end, you are just part of crowd. Anyways since professionally I do not have choice, have to stick around and perhaps I will get comfortable or at least used to it.
And now - I am doing a new startup. I built 4 different products in last 12 months. From marketing automation to a collaboration app. But I realized I want to do a consumer facing product. I am not very good at that. But that is what I want to do.
Enter - simplycious.com - A product search and discovery tool.
It has only been about 27 days since I started writing code for it. Everyday has been a total fulfillment. I wake up at 5am just because I am restless to implement a feature that has been cooking in my brain for some time. Been long since I have enjoyed building something so much. So what ever happens I know I am not going to regret a single day of it.
Looking forward to 2013 and another year full of possibilities.
PS- FYI it has also been six years since I left a job and started on my startup journeys. No success yet, but will not give up. Ever.
Happy new year everyone!
January 23, 2012 at 10:18am
Letter to Sachin Bansal : CEO/Founder Flipkart.com
Below is the letter written to Mr Sachin Bansal of Flipkart.com on Jan 12th 2012, around 11 days ago. I have changed names of customer service agents.
Thanks for sharing your email address. This is a long letter, just want to make sure I am communicating everything. Though there is gist at bottom, if you would rather skip.
I bought a laptop and few other things in mid Oct and they were delivered in third week of Oct 2011. After using laptop for few days, I realized that it crashes a lot. I investigated the problem at my end and found that the fan stops working some times and that causes overheating and crash.
I reported this problem and talked to customer support. I was supposed to leave to Bangalore for a business trip of 10 days and hence had asked them to accelerate the process. But only on 23rd Nov, when I was already in Bangalore, I was informed that laptop will be replaced. I was also told that laptop will not be replaced, as per the guarantee, but rather I will get store credit or refund.
I asked the support agent, Mr S that I can only return the defective laptop once I reach back on 2nd Dec. He told me call *him* once I reach. I called flipkart on 2nd Dec and was told S will get back. This same thing continued for next 3-4 days. But neither S, nor any one else from flipkart support got back.
Finally next monday ie 6 or 7th Dec, I was told that reverse pickup will be arranged in next 48 hours. Nothing happened till 13th Dec. Finally I decided to publicly ask for this and then I was told reverse pickup will happen in next couple of days. Again I had to leave on a business trip to Pune, actually for a week, but I cut it short. Not having a laptop was affecting all my business really hard now.
I decided that enough is enough and now I want to be compensated. If flipkart is giving “replacement guarantee”, it has to honor it. And I decided to not co-operate for reverse pickup. The reverse pickup person banged on my door when I wasnt home, for 45-60mins causing serious discomfort to all neighbours and extreme embarrassment to me and rest of my family. We had to answer lot of question, causing further mistrust. Plus our neighours told us that he was using profanities while leaving the building against me.
Even after that, I agreed to the terms offered by flipkart. Terms were, flipkart will ship replacement laptop *immediately*, costing Rs 800 more than my purchase price and I will co-operate in reverse pickup. I had given time for delivery guys to come and pickup the laptop.
Please note that Mr J, customer support staff, told me that replacement will be shipped immediately, that is first thing tomorrow.
Delivery people did not came on given time and hence I called Mr J. He told I have to wait till they come, cancelling in effect all my plans. And if I dont do that replacement will not be shipped. I asked him that replacement was suppose to be shipped immediately, how is that dependent on everything else? He told me no, replacement will be shipped as soon as delviery guys confirmed receipt of defective laptop.
After this I completely lost trust in flipkart. I have purchased more than Rs 150,000 worth of things from flipkart.
After a couple of days, after looking at my tweets, Mr J emailed me that “Flipkart is committed to refund/replace your laptop. And new laptop will be shipped when defective one reached Bangalore warehouse”
Please note that - Mr J first told me, laptop will be shipped next day. They it will be shipped as soon as reverse pickup guys send receipt. Then he said it will be once it reached Bagnalore warehouse.
After that - I finally bought the same laptop, which flipkart told me they cant procure from any sources. I had to not only spend more money but put it on an expensive EMI which will cost me 15K more, as I did not have that kind of cash left.
Then, flipkart told me they have shipped the laptop!! I told them I already bought it. So they went ahead and added some Rs 43,000 store credits to my flipkart account!!
There is no way I can trust an organization like that. I understand this can be one of case, but there is no way you can affect some one like that and still not ready to compensate appropriately.
In a gist -
1. Flipkart guaranteed 30 day replacement, which it did not honor.
2. It never processed for 2 weeks, till I started talking about it publicly.
3. Customer staff kept giving me incorrect information, on purpose
4. All in all it wasted more than 45 days of my computing time.
5. Its delivery guy harassed me, used profanities.
I am an entrepreneur, like you. You can understand how much precious computing time is when you are about to start a new venture. I wasted an entire month. I am completely snowed under now, late with all necessary business stuff. My reputation is down the drains, as I have not been able to keep up with promises. And thats a huge huge opportunity loss. I was supposed to move to Pune from Nasik by 10th Dec, but had to delay solely because of this laptop issue. <was-not-in-orig>I had already signed lease agreement effective from 16th Dec, meaning I lost Rs 4500 directly because of Flipkart. </was-not-in-orig>
Tell me what I should do? Should I just take the refund and go away? Or isnt it my duty as a consumer to make sure businesses are penalized when they do some thing like this and fight for that?
Techsparks in Review
I attended Techsparks Pune event on Saturday, and here is brief review of the experience.
Both JustDial and Quickheal are amazing stories. Both journeys are of real startups, which have gone through the extreme amount of pain involved and determination needed to build companies which impact world. Most events I attend, founders who have built companies for couple of years and flipped them with out creating long lasting impact come and speak. This was a refreshing change. Kudos to Shradhha and her team for putting together such fabulous speakers.
I have used both of these products many times and hearing about efforts behind them is truly inspiring.
Panel was very well balanced with entrepreneurs, technologists and investors being represented. But quality of questions was not great. I think events like this can find better ways to conduct Q&A. Perhaps let people tweet their questions and moderators will ask best questions from tweets. Or can pass along questions on piece of paper to moderators and then ask best questions. I am sure Yourstory team will figure out a better way to do this.
Even though each event is driven by content and people, but its people you are there to meet. And there were lot of enthusiasts in the attendee. Met some of the best entrepreneurs. Lots of useful connections, discussions and exchange of ideas. Given the quality of people this event pulled, I am sure there next editions in other cities are going to be great success as well.
Heck I might even attend one more event before the grand finale in Bangalore!
So if you are in Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad - Do not miss this event.
February 20, 2011 at 4:33am
When you grow up in India, you hear stories about great musicians, singers of the past. Even legends about them. How their singing can make it rain.
When you hear Pt. Bhimsen Joshi - you become audience to those legends.
One of the most memorable moment of my life was listening to his Abhang
- Maze maher pandhari with thousands of Varkaris in Pune.
You see thousands of Varkaris
instantly mesmerized, swayed and touched spiritually. Thousands who get that much closer to their god. Thousands who may not have experienced a connection with spiritual power before, experiencing for the first time. And all this throughout the night surrounded by these wonderful Varkaris who so deeply believe in God. And you are filled with this pure positive energy and warmth that even if for a second, you do believe everything will be fine. Rather you just dont think, you just want to remain in that place, some where far closer to yourself than you have ever been before.
Then you realize that with music anything and everything is possible. Pt Bhimsen Joshi was one such legend and he will always be. He gave with his singing a kind of experience that you will remember forever. And his songs will make rain for you, just believe a little.
February 19, 2011 at 9:42am
Life and path and bitterness of the soulless heart
Don’t blame the lord for troubles of the path.
With no lord, there wont be a path.
Don’t blame the night for darkness.
With no night, there wont be stars.
Don’t blame the rose for thorns.
With no roses, there wont be beauty.
Don’t blame others.
With no others, there wont be you.
On your bitter days, remember the sweeter
And on your sweeter days, remember the bitter.
Blame all you want on others.
It wont change a thing.
Blame yourself for everything
and you will be changed forever.
Its so easy to blame.
To satisfy your ego.
To justify all your wrongs.
To satisfy your greed and lust.
For you know only the bite of your own shoes.
For all you feel is the pain of your own thrones.
Then stop and ask.
Have you ever done wrong?
Have you ever cheated
and lied and stole?
Have you ever done wrong with out meaning to?
And then ask yourself
Did you ever questioned why you got something?
Did you ever deserved any thing?
And what did you do to deserve it?
Did you ever questioned
When you were getting?
Now then why you ask, when you stopped getting?
Services Vs Product : Founder’s perspective
To provide context - I was running a services company for 30 months. We worked on various kind of projects. Consumer facing e-commerce app, enterprise apps, financial services products, backend infrastructure of of a gene testing labs, mobile apps. So a wide range of projects. Product startup I am doing now is, Prolinkd, an Internet app for B2B search and sales.
Following are the differences I observed so far.
Lack of business goals understanding -
Even though often I have pushed the companies we worked with to share business goals they are trying to achieve, its not possible to understand everything from where you are. Its mostly refined to a point before being handed down to you to execute. Most of our clients helped in understanding every little thing about business goals, but there is only so much time. Your main objective is reduced to executing technology so that next version can be rolled to market as quickly as possible. So you tend to get into habit, even if unknowingly, to just take up specs and execute on them.
Where as in product startup, every person has to know what business impact will be for things they are working on. At least at very early stage and for very early team members. For example - In services work, when certain decisions were made to change deployment infrastructure, even if I personally understood why the change, I had no further incentive to share this with the team working on it. If they ask you of course share. Now I have to share everything. I was just talking to the guy who is writing up deployment scripts and reiterate multiple times about how critical deployment scripts are. As a product startup we have to iterate quickly. If a customer reports a bug, we will need 10 mins to fix it most times. But if we dont have sound deployment scripts we will have to wait another few hours to apply the patch. And when you can orient some one to think in these hard business terms, they understand things quickly and make sure they take their time but do a great job instead of just good. I sit with our server guy and do the math of calculating cloud costs and better ways to utilize our very little runway.
Make no mistake, even while running a services company I tried to do all these things. But you as a manager have so little information that it becomes difficult to share that half knowledge.
Even though for all projects we worked on, we owned the technology side of it. But still we had very little control on choosing. I debated multiple times with a founder on how mongodb is far better suited for his needs than any RDBMS application. I had to end up letting go of the deal. Most services guys would not do that. You are getting a customer, you bring him in and get things done best to your capabilities in given constraints. I learned that hard way.
In product startup, if we are not happy about slightest of things, we wont release it. No matter what internal deadlines are. We were suppose to launch yesterday, but we delayed by another 2 weeks as I am still not happy with 3 major screens and their UI. We have already done entire UI twice. And will do it for as much time as it takes. When you work for some one else, you are not at liberty to take such decisions. You are given a deadline, you ship. Even if code is not well designed, you make peace with yourself that you will come back and re-factor it. Unfortunately pressures of next release will not allow you to do so most of the times. And since client has never seen the code himself, no matter how much you make him aware of that fact, he will still go ahead with next to-do item.
So essentially you dont have control to take decisions which will make what you are doing from good to great. And since decision makers are not aware of the fact that what they have got is just good, they can not take decisions for you as well.
Highs and lows -
As a services shop our highs were defined by new deals and lows by losing out on promising new customers and letting go of existing. As a product company my personal highs are when we nail down UI for a particularly complex feature. Or when we nailed down our middleware/backend architecture. Customers is of course important aspect. But as a services business I required 5 small sized deals to reach a particular revenue target. To achieve same target (with 3 times more profit), I will need at least 800 paying customers. You can not keep obsessing about losing one or two of them or celebrate every time a new customer upgrades to paid version. 800 parties in an year would be overkill.
But most important part of that comes from philosophical change. To win in services business, you need great sales skills. So all your focus in on that part. So your highs and lows are tied with sales performance. Where as in product space, you can win with having a great product and not screwing up sales. So your highs and lows are bound with product performance and not with sales.
No matter how much you try, your thinking of human resources becomes very different in a product company than in a services company. For example - we right now have 3 interns executing a module which makes it easy for product manager and developers to monitor our product. Almost everything can be re-done through this interface, so that we can analyze everything. Each significant event which can not be tracked through mixpanel, is tracked. All back-end actors spit out important logging information and all these are loaded up in the admin module. Anyways enough technical details. Point is - during services work, I generally made interns work on some internal tool or just prototyping some idea. As for me they were non-billable entities. Where as now they are suppose to contribute. If we are investing in their education and training they are suppose to give. And we will be using that admin module everyday. So they got to work on something real which will be used and we got paid back having a working thing we really needed! Now interns, trainees are not just non-billable entities, but contributing members of the team!
For almost 3 years I lost my sleep obsessing over new deal we are looking to win. Or new people we need to hire to service the demand. Or waiting for confirmation on release status. Those were good reasons to lose sleep over.
Now I am founder and product manager. So I lose sleep when I am just not able to understand and depict how to implement certain features. There is one screen I still have not done any work on and we may just drop it from first set of features, as it anyways does not belong to MVP. I lose sleep when a prospective customers gives me feedback about product, which really makes me think. These are great reasons to lose sleep over.
There are many forms of courage. One of the forms is to smile despite knowing that there is nothing you can do to prevent what is going to happen to you or some one you love so much.
Almost every day you will have to go to bed crying and yet you have to wake up like nothing has happened and everything will be alright. You have to put up a show just to be happy and try to enjoy those last few days/weeks/months what ever left you with out thinking of the end.
It is very difficult. It takes tremendous amount of courage to get through such situation. You tied and pushed in a corner and punched and you can not scream but have to smile through each punch. And yet you want this to go on forever. No, you need this to go on forever. Because every new second you get feels like a blessing.
I sincerely wish that no one ever need to display this form of courage.
Making money is easy. (1)
I learned this after running a business for 3 years. Not a highly successful business. Not a million-dollar business (, yet). But just by taking that risk.
Initially - perhaps like any one else (or may be not) entire focus was on from where next months expenses are coming. From where I am going to make money. Of many more such dirt cheap living situation before I can crash on a bed in a nice comfy apartment. How much more time before I will finally stop having nightmares about not able to make salaries or having to live on the street.
After 3 years I realized making money is absolutely easy. If I can even think about running a business, I sure can make money when ever I want.
Once you take biggest risk in life and are still on and about, then everything else starts looking pretty easy. Not easy - but not something you will be intimidated by. Not something which will give you nightmares at least.
And after I realized that money is the easier part, I decided to take that final step. Not thinking actively about making money at all.
Life seems full of much more opportunities than before.
(1) - Not crores of rupees but enough to spend for a comfortable life-style with may be very few corners cut.