Raj's Lab

Strategy and Entrepreneurship


Entrepreneurs do not depend on affiliation

It is rather interesting to watch individuals flaunt their affiliations. I have seen people in the field judiciously use their affiliation. MBAs from the IIMs, Engineers from IITs, ex-employee of McKinsey, BCG, Deloitte, etc.,. All of us use our affiliations and many seem to depend a lot on it.

BUT, the group I work so closely with – entrepreneurs DO NOT!

Many of the successful ones do not have any affiliation that they can show off and most of them would probably never waste their energy and efforts, building one to show off. Instead entrepreneurs create institutions that are worthy of affiliation. Examples: Google, Infosys, Apple, Tata Group, Bharat Forge, TVS Group, etc.,. Probably this is also something that makes them entrepreneurial.

It is important to think on this as it raises many interesting questions on entrepreneurs and what it means to be entrepreneurial.

Some questions:

  • Can entrepreneurial academics not worry about affiliation and spend their time building impactful research?
  • Can entrepreneurial educationalists not worry about affiliation and build impactful institutions?
  • Can entrepreneurial artists not worry about affiliation and spend their time heart moving art?

I am sure affiliation has its own benefit in today’s world, but it looks like paradigmatic work requires people who do not depend on it.

Worth a thought

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Who is my customer?

For every start-up everyone they meet seems like a customer. It is this heightened optimism that makes entrepreneurs who they are, but it looks like this is the same reason why many fail as well!

Yesterday, I met a young entrepreneur and he was telling me that over the last six months he has been meeting number of exciting customers but almost all of them back off at the last moment, just before signing an engagement. On deep probing it struck us that may be they were not customers in the first place!! “Who, then, is our customer?” – asked this puzzled entrepreneur to me.

I am sure all of us have passed through this phase but here are a few thoughts on some parameters which can help decide if someone is a customer or not:

Need: Do they need our offering at all? Does it help them solve a problem or overcome a challenge? This is the basic question. If ‘yes’, then they are not customers, we ask the second question.

Ability to pay: Do they have the ability to pay? Though it seems like a strange question, basic marketing theory asserts this as a fundamental qualification for someone to become a customer. If answer is a ‘yes’, even then they don’t become customers, we ask the third question.

Willingness to pay: Do they want to pay? Do they prefer paying for overcoming the problem or challenge? It is only when the third question also gets a ‘yes’ for an answer does someone qualify to become a customer.

Without someone passing through all three questions, they should not be part of your target market. While it may seem simple and straight, it is rare to see an entrepreneur who quickly screens potential customers through this simple list before selling to them. It is only when entrepreneurs start saying ‘no’ to all others, the start-up begins seeing right customers in its client list.

Having customers is not the solution to a start-up’s problem of revenue, it is having the right customers that makes all the difference. Of course the actual target market may or may not be who the entrepreneur thought before going to market, but the market will reveal itself. It is up to the entrepreneur to remain flexible with the target group, but inflexible with the qualification questions. This can make or break start-ups.

Need + Ability to pay + Willingness to pay => Customer

Think about it!


Marketing, Start-ups and Social Media

“Marketing is not social media” – this is probably the biggest lesson that needs to be taught to every budding entrepreneur. Why? Because all that entrepreneurs do is sit on their laptops and flush out updates on popular social media such as Twitter, Facebook, etc. This feels good for multiple reasons: no need to spend much money, no need to meet too many people, no need to feel lower productivity, amongst others.

  • Since start-ups are cash starved most of the time, entrepreneurs feel comfortable creating FB Pages, Twitter handles, etc. Such ideas are popularly called ‘Low cost marketing’ or ‘No cost marketing’.
  • Since start-ups live in a dreamy world, they refrain from meeting real people. People will find us, is their singular rhetoric! But how, remains an unanswered question.
  • Since start-ups love feeling productive, marketing as an activity does not appeal. Going out, trying to fix meetings, making presentations without clear rewards, hearing no’s, etc. are not what entrepreneurs like doing as these activities give a feeling of being less productive.

I am sure there are enough other reasons why start-ups don’t spend time doing marketing, in the real way. What then is ‘real marketing’ for a start-up?

If you want to truly test and get your start-up off the ground, try these instead:

  • Go out and find at least 5 people (increase the number if you like) who will use your product / service and provide feedback
  • Go out and do events or activities that will get others excited about the solution you have just created (and how it can change lives even in a small way)
  • Go out and speak to as many people as possible about your product or service (test: hearing a lot of response, even if they are no’s)

Going out into the real world, meeting real people, hearing real responses is the real use of marketing! Do that every day!

Doing the above will provide the start-up interesting raw material to share on their social media channels, thereby leading to improved association and future sales! Good content comes from good activities done in the offline world. So the next time you start-up your laptop to do some online promotions, ask yourself if you are going to share what you have done in the offline world, if not, power down your laptop and get out of the office – do one of the above activities!

Try it out!

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Vedantic Wednesday: Giving and Taking

Though from my school days, giving has always been a part of me; it is more of a habit. It had been ingrained into us that there are people less fortunate than us and it is our duty to give. Though it seems true and a good starting point to start sharing what we have – it is not the end. ‘Giving’ as a form of sharing to those more unfortunate than us, means we see differences between us and them. This difference over time becomes complexes for both parties. While  this does not seem too obvious, they remain in the heart of both parties, only to erupt at future situations in life. Some feeling good about their good deeds, others feeling bad as receivers! Does this not make ‘giving’ simply a ritual?

With all due respects to ‘Giving’ as a wonderful practice, I think the opportunity to practice giving by choice without feeling that the other person is less fortunate, creates a huge difference. This choice makes all the difference. It teaches us one big lesson. While through the process we keep hearing from all that the act was holy, one thing that everyone missed telling us was that greatness of the receiver.

How could we have given had it not been for the other person to receive it? How often have you happily asked and received something? If you haven’t done it, try it. It is really difficult, especially if you are one (of the majorities) who has been grown up saying you are fortunate!

Taking is a much higher exercise than that of giving. Taking seems to be more holy than giving. Hence I took the effort to tell this person who received it, a wholehearted ‘thanks’. The reason was – he gave me the opportunity to serve him. But not all can help by taking, especially without the feeling of being less fortunate. It takes a great personality, a highly evolved soul to do that. If we are truly lucky we can experience ‘Giving’ this way. It lifts us and makes us blessed.

The next time you give, try to give without this feeling of superiority. It can change you.

Think about it!

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How to make an idea valuable?

Ideas are not so valuable; at least that’s what most people seem to say. While ideas in their nascent form are not so valuable, at some point they turn tremendously valuable. Booking Bus Tickets online is a very common idea with almost no value, but redbus.in was tremendously valuable – Where does the difference lie?

An idea becomes valuable when we turn ideas into commercially viable and valuable products or services. Turning an idea into something that others can experience, interact, use, and benefit from, is what makes an idea valuable. The more number of people who value a product or service, the more value attributed to it. Hence it is not surprising that with demand for a product or service, the value of the company grows. This actually means that the value of the idea keeps growing with certain actions effected on it. Is that what we mean when we say – execution is more valuable than ideation? In fact both pieces are important, and putting them together is what creates value!

The entrepreneur’s job is to constantly make an idea valuable. This means, he or she has to take up a lot of ideas, and attempt connecting them to opportunities. Once there is a good “Idea to Opportunity Map” (I2O Map as called in the book), it is time to design it into a potentially viable business. The reason to turn it into a viable business is to first ensure that the product or service actually has real demand. Once the company tests the viability of the business in the marketplace, it is then important to start looking at increasing the value of the idea. The way to increase value of an idea is to look at increasing demand for the product. Good Need / Opportunity identification along with well implemented innovative solutions create the possibilities of entrepreneurial ventures. Once this is done, the one thing that can truly catalyze this possibility is good quality marketing.

Ideas by themselves in their nascent form have no value. But when ideas are transformed into products, services or solutions that people love, they instantaneously become valuable. Only innovative and entrepreneurial people can give the idea its due.

Think about it!

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Experience, not age matters in entrepreneurship

Have you ever been asked this question: What is the right age to start a company?

As a teacher and workshop leader on entrepreneurship I keep getting this question asked to me many times. Across India, this one question is asked again and again by aspiring entrepreneurs. Here is my rational to why age truly does not matter when it comes to starting up?

History is proof to the fact that people can turn entrepreneurial at any age. In fact there have been cases of extremely successful entrepreneurs who have started off as early as age 20 (Apple and Microsoft); at age 30 (Twitter and Amazon); Walmart (age 44) and McDonalds (age 53). While we can always do analysis to find which is the age that correlates most with starting up and declare a certain number, the truth is, it should discourage anyone from trying. All of the above examples are only the popular ones, to ensure people trust that age and entrepreneurship are not necessarily closely tied.

Instead there is one thing common behind all of these entrepreneurs who started the above start-ups and many more smaller companies. What is it? “Experience” If we read the biographies or interviews or books about/ on the people or companies mentioned above, it is quite interesting to know that these people constantly kept gaining experience in their areas of interest and business from an early age. They constantly gave more of their attention to the work than theoretical inputs. They spent more time gaining hands on work experience, however small, disconnected and inconsequential. This experience is really the bedrock of what makes one entrepreneurial. An experience can turn one entrepreneurial. But that experience should be sought. In seeking that experience one gives life to passion. Through the experience gained, one gains the happiness and thrill of experimentation. This leads one to become an entrepreneur.

Every entrepreneur need not start-up. But every person who is hit by quality experience can turn entrepreneurial.

So the next time you hear yourself asking this question or hear someone ask you this question – you will have one more perspective to provide. One more reason to not avoid entrepreneurship. One more reason not to avoid freedom.

Think about it!

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Vedanta and Me: Celebrating What: Life or Events?

I had a moment to celebrate this week, but as my tendency to stay quiet took the better of me, I told my dear friend not to celebrate. I told her that the very wishes and her happiness itself meant a lot to me. She was quite put off by my response. I had to explain my reasoning. But it rests on some serious philosophy, which can bring some peace to life.

It is often quoted in the scriptures that life should be a celebration. But sadly this is either totally missed or totally misunderstood. Lets look at both these lapses.

Celebrating is not Life: There are many people who don’t enjoy things in life. There are even schools of belief that life must not be enjoyed. Many belonging to this realm treat enjoyment as sin. They even put down any form of comforts in life. They spend their lives taking on pain and suffering. They believe that life is nothing but pain and suffering.

Celebrating Life means enjoyment: There is another group that does the opposite. They simply want to celebrate everything. All they need is a chance, not even a reason, to celebrate. While this looks close to an evolved stance, it actually only mimics it. Celebration does not mean making noise or going to parties. Inevitably we find that the people who do all this are also the ones who go through depression and loneliness. Much of the lifestyle problems are experienced by those who belong to the upper echelons of society. Hence this also seems wrong.

Then what’s the real understanding? Let us understand that there is a huge difference between celebrating life and celebrating events. This is what makes the difference. Think about it. If we celebrate events, then we are bound to see some events that we may not like so much and hence we have to court suffering too. But if we remain away disconnected from events in the first place, then chances are high that we can remain away from both joy and suffering. But once you hear this, you feel that a life like that is all boring. Sadly this is untrue. There is a way of celebrating life everyday. What is that? Celebrating that you are alive today! Celebrating that you were given the chance to see, hear, eat and receive help! Celebrating the chance to serve someone! Celebrating the chance to see success equally as courting failure!

Celebrating Life is more important that Celebrating Events. It can lead you out of this short term joys and short term sorrows. Life is to be celebrated and this is where a philosophy like Vedanta comes in and helps. It asserts that Life is to be celebrated, but this is all about celebrating the chance to attain freedom, liberation. It is not about those petty distractions (joys and sorrows) in life.

Think about it!


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