Of iPhone 6, U2 And Being A Startup Founder

U2’s 13th album “Songs of Innocence” launched alongside the launch of  iPhone 6: half a billion subscribers to iTunes received “Songs of innocence” in their accounts, paid for by Apple and consumed for free. It’s an awesome deal for the U2, but money has never been what drives them…it’s  their ethos; to keep searching, to keep toiling that drives them.

U2 remains the biggest stars in the music business, a business that has seen  more turbulence than any other industry due to Internet: music industry  revenues have more than halved since 2000. Apple and U2 have joined  forces at a pivotal time for each other. iTunes is under attack from interactive streaming services such as Spotify, Pandora and it’s own Beats, but revenues coming out of such streaming services are miniscule and an entire generation of consumers has developed a habit of not buying or owning music.

Question then is why has U2 succeeded in an industry (music) that sucks:

1) Only U2 sounds exactly like U2. Their music is so uniquely different.
2) U2 is obsessed with excellence. They worried when a magazine recently described their new album as “very very good.” U2 settles only for  greatness.
3) U2 the band has been together for 38 years, but it’s members (founders:  Bono, Edge, Clayton and Mullen) are not only together, but really like each other even now.
4) No band on the planet has done a bigger tour than U2 and their music fills stadiums. This is crucial in an era where music is being consumed for  free, and live performances is what people pay for. The band has found many other ways to generate income besides selling records:  merchandising; promotional tie-ups; synchronization fees from TV, film, video games and advertising; and most of all, live performance. U2’s 360 degrees tour in 2011 grossed $772M, highest ever tour measured by both attendance and box-office gross!

They have a higher purpose than selling music or making money. Bono  co-founded ONE to combat global poverty. His understanding of global  poverty is sophisticated and his determination to mobilize global help to  fight poverty is real. Now they have teamed up with Apple to create a new  audiovisual format with a mission to make consumers willingly pay to own  music again, pinning their hopes on new format to help struggling fellow  artists.

So what’s there for a modern-day-tech-founder to learn from the epic  journey of U2?
1) Be uniquely different.
2) Stand for something bigger than yourself, money and market-share. Your  larger mission sustains you through the ups and down. It helps you build a  loyal following and gives you resilience to survive fads.
3) Build a team and an alliance that survives through the highs and lows.
4) Be a hero; don’t take short-cuts. Don’t be afraid to go through hell before you realize your potential. An epic journey is worth a lifetime.
5) Be good, don’t be evil.

Cross-posted from NextBigWhat

That Yo Feeling

yo-feeling

 

My Yo rendezvous started when my son Rohan sent me a link of a Techcrunch article with this comment: “Why am I working so hard to build my app when something as simple and as dumbass as Yo can raise a $1.5 Mn from investors?”

This article is about Yo, a simple app that just sends a “yo” to friends. It has been called the dumbest app in the world. It’s so simple and dumb that iphone app store rejected it when it first applied to it. Eventually, Yo has managed to close $1.5 Mn in seed funding with a $10 Mn valuation from investors that include Betaworks, Mashable’s Pete Cashmore, and the founders of China’s Tencent, among others.

Busy as I was with the launch of #GSFGlobal in mid June, I read the note, rationalized it as a quirk of a few maverick Silicon Valley investors and moved on. However when I reached SF, I started to think a lot more “Yo” and why it mattered as I immersed myself deeply into understanding the profound and dynamic shifts taking place in the mobile app economy.

The first Yo debate: It was in Waterloo that I finally downloaded the Yo app on my iPhone. I shared it with the #GSFGlobal founders with whom I shared dorm rooms in the University of Waterloo… finally over dinner, I got 4/5 of them to download the app and asked them to start sending random Yos to me and to each other. As a founder of a technology accelerator, my motivation in pushing Yo down their throat really was to make them think of their MVPs in extreme, given that “Yo” is so symbolic of extreme unbundling. Over the next 2 weeks, I tried my bit to convert the 20 #GSFGlobal founders to one-bit communication magic of Yo, but succeeded only moderately. Here were the top 5 reasons for resisting Yo:

yo

1) It’s so stupid

2) Yo mobile app is very basic in functionality and not even designed well

3) I thought about it, but can’t think of any useful use case.

4) It’s a fad and will go away, why waste time on it?

5) None of my friends are using it as yet.

The second Yo debate happened with Ailish Campbell at #GSFGlobal Toronto DemoPlus day and it was centered around the notion that highly evolved societies can communicate without a language… she referred to the efficient language (with a few words) of the Canadian Inuit people in Canada. The reason for this evolution, she reasoned, was their need to conserve energy in extreme cold as every word spoken means loss of energy.

And I suggested that ancient Indian sages could communicate their thoughts without any words as they were always the ones with the nature. Nature provided the context and the meaning.

The third Yo debate happened with a colleague of mine in NY who is working on an idea exactly opposite to the core thought behind Yo…a notion of re-bundling to create a new social experience. I argued with him that the western world is at a stage of simplification and unbundling, and I shared a blog as a supporting argument.

As plausible as I tried to sound, he wasn’t convinced. Armed with Founders stubbornness, he researched over the next few days and came back with a article.

In this article, Ben Evans agrees, “Finally, of course, driven by all these dynamics (single purpose apps’ inherent advantage on smartphone interface, especially social apps that can access address book and photo library) all smartphones apps by their nature unbundle services from the web browser itself, 20 years after Netscape launched.” However, he gives examples of Chinese apps like WeChat and Baidu Maps that are thriving exactly in other direction-bundling multiple services on one app.

The fourth Yo debate was with my wife: She just doesn’t approve of my fascination with Yo… and I suspect it’s coming from the repeated “yup” replies that she gets from our son Rohan (who is studying in the US) on Whatsapp to her chat conversations. She feels that apps like Yo are dumbing down people and forcing people to behave mechanically. She feels Yo is restricting the scope of communication especially when we can express a range of complex emotions and thoughts through language. Even as taciturn as Eskimos are, they have 36 different words to describe different varieties of snow. Even in the context of one’s family, members should communicate and bond with meaningful longer conversations, and not get used to one-bit communication (that Yo symbolizes) as an excuse to recluse oneself from family chatter and engagements.

The fifth and the biggest Yo debate has been happening with myself: I intuitively know that there is something fundamental at play behind Yo. Even if I discount the marketing genius of Silicon Valley investors and public display of conviction by Andreesen and the likely possibility that Yo will fade away from public memory, I know that unbundling is an extremely powerful force. “Yo” or “no Yo,” this force will unleash many new innovations and applications/platforms that will change the way we interact with each other and consumer media. And I feel it’s not just Smartphone interface that drives this move to simplicity and unbundling, it’s the coming wearable tech revolution that will accentuate this mega trend. And that’s why this article resonates.

This week, Yo has added ‘Yo Index’ which is directory of service event notifications. They are adding ‘Trends’, which is being unbundled out of Twitter. The Yo story has begun to evolve…So tell me:

Are you with Yo or outside of Yo?

Cross-posted from inc42

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.

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/

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?

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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

An affair with GSF

“When an aeroplane is taking off, it has to go against the wind. It takes a while to get off ground but soon it is gliding smoothly to its destination” This is the visual we saw everyday while at One97 office, where GSF accelerator was hosted. We could relate a plane’s takeoff very much to our startup’s journey. While its a joy to watch a plane take-off, we all fail to notice the herculean efforts put up by Airport staff to ensure a successful take-off. From maintaining the runway to synchronising the communications to timing the take-offs & landings, there is plenty of things to be managed. Their job doesn’t end even when the plane takes-off, they still have to guide it. This is exactly how we could relate to GSF accelerator.

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