3S: Scale, Survive and Serve

I have been coming to the US for decades, but the last five weeks on the west coast with GSF Global have opened new realizations. As I travelled and spent time in LA, the Bay Area and Las Vegas, I started to reflect and marvel at the ingenuity of these three vastly different ecosystems. While a lot has been written about each of these three ecosystems in isolation, here is what I feel is not only common but also key defining features of these mega hubs:

Scale

Scale (Think BiG, Think Global)

Scale (Think BiG, Think Global) Be it the bustle of the Silicon Valley, or the vibrancy of entertainment economy in LA, or the hustle of the gambling super-marts in Vegas, the scale of operations is overwhelming. Everything is built at scale. These are massive ecosystems and global hubs in their respective industries.

Silicon Valley is the leading tech hub in the world because it has all the drivers of innovation: world class universities, a vibrant venture and angel ecosystem, large and small tech companies willing to try and embrace innovation coming from young startups, and finally a highly evolved talent market that draws the best from across the world.

Similarly the entertainment hub in LA has a vibrant community of creative talent ranging from actors, musicians, singers, performers, writers. It has access to great universities like USC, UCLA, and has deep inter-connections with the education system. Then there are a multitude of large and small entertainment companies, and tons of financing vehicles willing to support the next big thing.

Las Vegas has built a massive infrastructure of casinos, shopping, eating places, and resorts. No doubt, it is the ultimate sin-city of the world.

Let’s look at the top three firms in each ecosystem:

Silicon Valley: Apple, Google, Facebook

Los Angeles: Disney, Warner Bros, Universal

Las Vegas: MGM Mirage, Caesar’s Entertainment, Wynn Resorts

What’s common in these companies?

These are global empires: most manage customers and supplier eco-systems in different regions of the world. These companies have had founders with great lasting visions; they thought big and created organizations that execute well over decades. Most importantly, these marquee corporations are built for scale.

Survive (the shocks)

Every few years, these ecosystems have faced existential shocks…who can forget the dot-com bust of 2000; I saw it really up close when thousands of startups and quite a few big companies disappeared within months. I also personally witnessed the meltdown in LA movie industry in 2008 post Lehman collapse I was in the middle of Dreamworks deal and the whole financing infrastructure for the entertainment industry in LA froze to near death. Similarly Las Vegas was at the helm of property meltdown in 2009/10 and suffered the after-shocks of financial crunch which inevitably followed a massive expansion in the earlier years when capital was commodity.

These three ecosystems not only survived fatal shocks, but also bounced back. Why? Because these ecosystems have the in-built resilience and inner strength to survive. The innovation engine in the tech hub of the Silicon Valley stuttered a bit for a few years after dot-com bust, but since has periodically found new growth engines in search (Google), social networks (Facebook and LinkedIn), mobile (Android, Apple) and now the evolution of the Internet of things (Nest) is creating newer growth engines.

Similarly Hollywood bounced back after the financial crisis of 2007/8, it altered itself to become more and more global thus reducing dependency on domestic American audience and financing. Mega movies like Avatar, Iron-Man or Kungfu Panda speak global language and have become global franchise.

Even Vegas learnt its lesson…the top three casinos have diversified globally and have significant operations outside US, especially in Asia where there is money and gambling audience. Las Vegas has now started to create new capacity: Cosmopolitan finally got launched in 2012 and has since set new standards.

Serve (the customer)

At the core, these three ecosystems are marketing marvels. These ecosystems have deeply imbibed the core tenet of marketing: Serve the customer…Consumer is King. There is ruthless competition amongst the players which forces constant innovation among the established and the new to serve emerging consumer needs.

Apple Experience: while one can rave about the design and aesthetics of apple products, I marvel at the distinctive experience at Apple stores. These stores embody the spirit of the brand; customers deal with super smart Apple believers rather than pushy sales people in most other stores. These stores solve customer problems and sell products at the same time.

Bellagio experience: I was invited to speak at SXSWV2V in Vegas in July 2014 and I stayed at Bellagio. While all went off well the first night, the second night the power got erratic in one part of the hotel (that has 4000 rooms). When I shared my discomfort with the front desk, they shifted us to Aria, another fine property of the same group. On the next day the service manager of Bellagio personally apologized and offered a free massage at the Bellagio spa for my wife and gave us an extended stay as our flight was delayed. Even though we had a terrible night, we were impressed with the efforts by Bellagio to make good on our experience.

To sum up, that these three ecosystems exist is no freak incidence. These ecosystems have been built over decades of efforts and hard work. And they continue to rule the world because they are built to scale, survive and serve.

Why This Rush? Finding oasis in the frenzy to build momentum

During 4th of July weekend, we had planned an excursion on Saturday starting from Golden Gate Bridge to ocean beach with #GSFGlobal startup founders and EiRs. I offered to be the guide for the trip, taking responsibility for giving GSF team a good time and great views of the pacific & the east bay coast. My son and wife had alternate lunch plans so they were to join us mid-way. As it happened, while the tour party was mid-way, my family got lost in SF traffic madness and had to wait for long to get uber. I told them to meet us at our last stop, the ocean beach as I couldn’t keep the team waiting for them…we had to move on to stay on time.

I knew that my wife expected me to wait for them. She asked me why I couldn’t wait a bit even on my off day. Her exact words were “Why this rush?” And this question “Why This Rush”  bothered me all night. And then the daybreak came, and I started to write. And here is my attempt to answer this eternal question.

raje

I am a startup founder. I have to set-up a fast pace for my organization and I have to hustle to build momentum. Most startups under-estimate the value of momentum and lose out. Momentum builds excitement in the organization. Momentum excites consumers and investors alike. Everyone wants to be with a team or a brand or an organization on the move.

Startup founders have to embody this hustle; they have to create a sense of urgency to get things done. I have met many founders in my life and I have found that the most successful founders are restless; they are a force of nature. They work hard and have boundless energy, but even more importantly they find ways to channelize this nervous energy into a forward momentum for their organization.

While momentum matters, this obsessive pursuit can lead to burnouts and conflicts such as the one I witnessed. So how does one achieve momentum and calm at the same time? Can one be two personalities at the same time….an energetic leader at work and a restful soul at home? Inevitably as one is building a startup, one is working day and night even when one is with his/her family, at family lunches, while watching movies with the dear one, or even when one is just relaxing on Saturday afternoon with kids…a founder’s mind is pre-occupied in his startup. Have you experienced this “founder frenzy” yet?

This founder frenzy sometimes creates conflicts. These conflicts if not managed or rightly understood could create hurt and result in painful outcomes. As important as building a startup is to us restless founders, family matters the most. While some of us would brush aside these conflicts as inevitable, I think we could also find a great source of strength in the family. If channelized in the right way, family could be the oasis of mental and physical replenishment in a tough and long journey.

And for me this replenishment came on the Sunday morning as we watched together one of the greatest tennis matches (Wimbledon final 2014) of all time. Since all of us are avid tennis fans, it was a great shared experience. Joy of watching tennis at its best erased all the tensions of previous day. That was my oasis.

So go ahead and find your oasis, even while you hustle to build momentum for your startup.

(cross-posted on YourStory)

Build a constant state of “Flow”

I have been part of two previous startups, first and successful one the US and second, unsuccessful startup in India.  I have followed the path to success or failure of many startups, some are widely known public companies and some closely as part of the GSF portfolio. While there can be many reasons for success/failure, startups that build large amounts of momentum or are in a constant state of “flow” have a disproportionately higher chance of success.

A friend shared a blog post recently by Peter Diamandis where he talks about the concept of “flow”.

Flow is an optimal state of consciousness, a peak state where we feel our best and perform our best. Researchers now believe flow sits at the heart of almost every athletic championship, underpins major scientific breakthroughs and accounts for significant progress in the arts. From a quality of life perspective, psychologists have found that the people who have the most flow in their lives are the happiest people on Earth. Most of us have at least passing familiarity with flow. If you’ve ever lost an afternoon to a great conversation or gotten so involved in a work project that all else is forgotten, you’ve tasted the experience. In flow, we focus so intensely on the task at hand that action and awareness merge. Time flies. Self vanishes. Performance, both mental and physical, goes through the roof.

Most of us have seen this at work. Startups are incredibly high-flow environments. Flow has driven my career – passion and creativity triggered in a project for one business becomes an “inspiration generator” that catalyzes new breakthroughs in another entrepreneurial venture, and so on. Startups that don’t generate large amounts of flow are startups doomed to eventually fail.

Keep Calm and go with the FlowSo what is this “flow” that startups need to generate? It is the energy that permeates from the founder’s vision, to the team’s execution, to delighting the customers and eventually making money to keep the investors happy.  Everything needs to reverberate in sync and continually build momentum.

Every day or week or month there should be new milestones being scaled: a product feature, a new customer(s) or progress on raising funds and maximizing positive outcomes.  Unless there is constant flow, sooner of later lethargy and self-doubt will start to creep in and the startup will be at risk of going into a downward negative spiral. I’m not saying that teams need to work insane hours to achieve this; startups are a marathon and not a sprint. However, it is imperative that founders keep a close watch on their own and team’s morale, while building continuous progress. Of course there will be bad days or weeks or months, but there could minor victories, right? If there is positivity all around, the struggle will be not only be bearable, it will be the battle cry that everyone rallies around to achieve a common goal and shared cherished vision.

Diamandis concludes, “If flow is the source code to intrinsic motivation, and inspiration and ambition are key drivers of big, bold thinking, then mastering flow could be one of the best development decisions you make for yourself as an entrepreneur.”

And here is a video where Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi asks,

“What makes a life worth living?” Noting that money cannot make us happy, he looks to those who find pleasure and lasting satisfaction in activities that bring about a state of “flow.”

If you are interested in learning more about the concept of flow, Steven Kotler has documented this in his new book, http://riseofsuperman.com/rise-rewards/

How To Find And Lure The Best Tech Talent

 

You’re a business, economics, literature or even a computer sciences graduate and you’ve got your heart set on the next big technology project; whether you’re just embarking on the startup journey or are looking to increase the headcount on your tech team, you’ll find yourself rowing against the tide when it comes to finding right tech talent for your company.

Having observed this concern many a times in my startup life, I posed this question on how to hire and retain tech talent, to the GSF family seeking valuable inputs from those who’s a part of the best technology accelerator that is around. Besides pointing me in the direction of some really good tech hiring platforms that are coming up for the Indian startup ecosystem, the conversation developed into a pool of ideas for luring and retaining tech talent for your company. Here’s what I learnt:

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Developers look for a lot more than money. Sure, money will get them into the door faster but they are less likely to stay in the long haul unless tech professionals find a ‘proper fit’, which includes opportunities to work with other smart people and constantly upgrading their skills through attending and presenting at conferences and free training courses. It therefore becomes essential to look past the money and carve out a budget for tech training.

Moreover, even the starters highly value company culture because it is a huge differentiator. Tech is about working with ambitious and brilliant people to build a better version of the future. It is essential to highlight the upswing of working with your company and its thriving culture besides just the nitty-gritties of the task, projects and compensation. In order to make the most of your interactions, employers need to organize their pitch succinctly, stressing how the company’s culture, product and vision can help fulfill the candidate’s career goal and possibly highlighting how others are utilizing the startup as a springboard. Organizing the interview process in a manner that it reflects a personalized outreach rather a generic one is important. Culture is, after all, all about the human touch.

Additionally, flexibility plays a very important role in successfully wooing developers and other tech professionals. That includes the flexibility to manage their own schedule as per their peak hours of output, work full time or part time, work from office or remotely, switch teams and tackle an array of projects.

To get you started, GSF-ers suggest that there are a number of great options to support you in your tech team-building journey. Mudit Seth, of SilverPush is of the opinion that talking to as many tech consultants as possible is what works out the best. Anand Mohan from TripTern has had a good experience working with websites such as interviewstreet.com (hackerrank.com), codility.com and collabedit.com.

Saptarshi Nath suggests that if you’re posting for jobs and don’t necessarily need assessment, then hasjob.co is a good one. Pratik Poddar, EiR Summer 2014 vouches for his friend’s startup, talentauction.in and Arunprasad Durairaj of Flinto.in suggests eazyhire.in for a traditional startup friendly hiring option with a very low retainer fee.

Cheenu Madan of ClinchPad holds the opinion that generic job boards may not work for startup tech hiring and lists LinkedIn Jobs, Yourstory.com Jobs, Hirist.com and Facebook startup groups as highly probable resources for hitting the tech-hiring jackpot. He categorically recommends attending and scouting in local meet-ups for hackers and startup enthusiasts. Piyush Goel of Browntape.com adds angel.co/ to the all-encompassing list.

Rajesh Sawhney is quick to remind us of the most promising platform dedicated to the purpose of making tech-hiring hassle free and merit based, hackerearth.com, a GSF portfolio company.

So get started on building your tech team and do add your thoughts and reviews on these resources and others as you use them!

 

image: flikr.com

GSF Partners with Investopad for #NextHotStartup contest

We are excited to announce that GSF has partnered with Investopad to select 15 emerging entrepreneurs who will be awarded 3-months of fully-sponsored access to Investopad’s world-class facilities.

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What?

Investopad is the premier hub for startups & entrepreneurs in the NCR and we are delighted to be able to offer free access to the facilities to 15 emerging entrepreneurs that we will handpick. Amongst other things, here is what’s on offer:

State of the art facilities

From London phone booths to leased line Internet to suspended chairs to a community of creative tinkerers, these swanky digs are an unbeatable environment to be building the next big thing!

Get help where you need it

Legal, accounting and HR experts are on hands so you can focus on product without worrying about the nitty-gritties. A curated mentor network of ex-entrepreneurs, domain experts and early-stage investors dropping in and out to help nurture your growth.

BONUS: Work alongside GSF and our latest batch!

Investopad will also be hosting the GSF Global Accelerator in Delhi. The #NextHotStartup Contest is a great opportunity for early-stage entrepreneurs to rub shoulders with senior mentors and get an inside peek at our magic making.

Who can apply?

We’re taking applications from individuals that have an idea, all the way through to teams of 6 with a product already in market. Teams must be in the NCR. To get started, complete this short form [https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1YOvdVltQnAkDe-fRx72r1w4ziQAGmOEf0knVMOQqyqw/viewform].

 

GSF Partners with Investopad for the #NextHotStartup Contest

We are excited to announce that GSF has partnered with Investopad to select 15 emerging entrepreneurs who will be awarded 3-months of fully-sponsored access to Investopad’s world-class facilities.

0001

 

What?

Investopad is the premier hub for startups & entrepreneurs in the NCR and we are delighted to be able to offer free access to the facilities to 15 emerging entrepreneurs that we will handpick. Amongst other things, here is what’s on offer:

State of the art facilities

From London phone booths to leased line Internet to suspended chairs to a community of creative tinkerers, these swanky digs are an unbeatable environment to be building the next big thing!

Get help where you need it

Legal, accounting and HR experts are on hands so you can focus on product without worrying about the nitty-gritties. A curated mentor network of ex-entrepreneurs, domain experts and early-stage investors dropping in and out to help nurture your growth.

BONUS: Work alongside GSF and our latest batch!

Investopad will also be hosting the GSF Global Accelerator in Delhi. The #NextHotStartup Contest is a great opportunity for early-stage entrepreneurs to rub shoulders with senior mentors and get an inside peek at our magic making.

Who can apply?

We’re taking applications from individuals that have an idea, all the way through to teams of 6 with a product already in market. Teams must be in the NCR. To get started, complete this short form [https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1YOvdVltQnAkDe-fRx72r1w4ziQAGmOEf0knVMOQqyqw/viewform].

 

When you get an extra day in your life, grab it with both hands

I had an extra day in Germany after my board meeting on Wednesday in BadSoden, Frankfurt. I had planned to go to either Munich or to Berlin on Thursday before heading home on Friday. But, both entailed over nine hours in train to and for; and I just didn’t have the gusto for it at the end of 15 days of ruthless travel across Canada, US and Europe. When my German friends suggested Rudesheim am Rhine (a small town on the riverside of Rhine) as an alternative with only one hour of train ride from Frankfurt, it appealed to me. A day with myself in Rudesheim seemed like a damn good idea after 15 days of continuous human interactions.

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As soon as I alighted the train at Rudesheim, the overwhelming presence of the Rhine river hit me; it was full of tourist boats but also had the scent of trade. I decided to explore the town a bit. Walked around for 15 mins and I knew I had to go up the mountain to get the best views.  And as I started to climb up the mountain amongst the vineyards, I felt the might of Rhine valley: not only there is ample food all around and plenty of vineyards, but also one couldn’t but experience the might of industrial empire of Germany. A glance around the wide landscape of Rhine valley atop Kaiser’s magnificent monument in Niederwald and I understood why Romans wanted an absolute control of the river Rhine. At the top of the hill I felt tranquility and serenity; but also sensed the power of mighty Germany.

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My next stop was Rebenhaus: a perfectly perched restaurant on the side of the hill with a magnificent view of the Rhine valley. To complete the German experience of the day, I ordered schnitzel and a local Riesling. Both were exquisite; much like the exquisite afternoon sun surrounding the vastness of the valley in warm sunny haze. And the radio played: here comes the sun from Beatles: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=9SosaWJYdEg

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In that perfect moment, I was complete: complete in the understanding of the history of the Rhine valley but also in appreciation that in the story of my life, I am but a minor player.

So, when you get an extra day in your life, grab it with both hands. Especially when that extra day takes you to Rudesheim am Rhine: a sleepy but scenic town with a ring of tranquility, and enjoy a perfect schnitzel and a fresh Riesling in the historic Rhine valley.

Why This?

I was meditating one morning recently and this thought kept coming to mind. So I decided to explore it.

Why do this, why continue on this particular journey and not others? With all its trials and travails, with all the easier paths around, with less issues or social or economic pressures. Why keep at it?  I wanted to explore an elegant answer, from deep within, preferably in a single word. 

 For me that is – Discover

The path less taken helps me discover who I really am, to discover the purpose of it all.  To discover what the future beholds, to discover new hitchhikers. To discover new experiences. There are many things that I may not discover, money being one :-) .  But ultimately, to discover the most profound question of them all  – what if?

Whats your word?

Continue reading

On Marketplaces

While growing up in a small town, we used to have Thursday markets in outskirts. Local sellers as well as sellers from nearby villages would come to sell their stuff – vegetables, groceries, home decor, kitchen utensils and almost everything one needs in a town. Later, I realized that all the towns had dedicated days in a week for setting up markets. ”Setting up markets” is what marketplaces do.

After an unsuccessful attempt at setting up a marketplace (Eduflix) as well as working with a successful marketplace (Flipkart), I have realized that there are three very important things needed to set up marketplaces. Continue reading

Going Global: Delivering 10x Customer Delight

This is the second post in my “Going Global” series for emerging world startups.  The previous article “Go global faster: Building billion dollar tech enterprise from India” can be  read on yourstory.com

Having recently interacted with fair bits of startups building global technology products, one theme that has consistently emerged is that while Indian startups are solving deep problems applicable to customers across the world, the product experience leaves a lot to be desired. In order to succeed amongst world-class competition, we need to do better and I would like to call this building for “10X wow factor”. Continue reading