Raj's Lab

Strategy and Entrepreneurship


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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!


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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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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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Start-ups must leverage market-places

For most small businesses in India, the launch of large format stores, especially ones from the big corporate houses sounded scary. In parallel when online stores started expanding their logistics and marketing, it looked like doomsday. But incidentally there has been some revival in hopes!

While large format stores are able to give cost benefits to customers, they are not able to match the customer intimacy of a corner store. I am sure this applies to a lot more small businesses than ‘kirana stores’. Hence this threat has, in reality, turned out to be a lot less threatening than expected.

On the other hand, the online stores have actually enabled a lot of small businesses to expand their businesses. Everyone is surprised! Instead of a flipkart.com or amazon.in / jabong.com / ebay.in (amongst others) killing small businesses with price gains, they have actually enabled small businesses reach more number of customers. Unless you are one of those small businesses which is still outsmarting the customers who are unaware of cost differentials or are information starved, all others are actually benefitting from this trend. If you are one of those who is still exploiting your customer simply because of information challenges, then you deserve the onslaught from good quality competitors. For all others who truly add value to customers in some fashion, the online market places seem to be a boon.

You can now see reports of how small businesses are gaining because of their listing on the above mentioned online stores. It is also interesting to note that the above stores especially flipkart.com and Amazon.in are aggressively trying to bring on board a lot of small businesses. Read a sample news on this: http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/services/retail/small-vendors-net-big-gains-as-e-tailers-spread-wings/articleshow/37491429.cms

As a start-up are you trying to still duplicate the above businesses and fight them or are you leveraging them enough? Building it is useless, unless you have a very clear reason to do it!

As a digital start-up are you leveraging the market-places available to you? Why build something that is already available for a variable fee?

Think about it!


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Budget 2014 and Start-ups

It looks like the current Finance minister likes the word “start-up” more than any finance minister of the past! Otherwise why will he make reference to it so many times during the Budget speech 2014! We can boldly say that the government is definitely seeing the start-up community, the MSME’s in India as a powerful contributor of socio-economic development. There are many interesting things that the Finance minister mentioned in his talk, here are some of the key items of interest to the entrepreneurial folk:

  • A 10,000 Crore Fund for fuelling entrepreneurship in the country. This fund should find itself being distributed as equity, soft loans, etc
  • Strengthening the nation wide network of incubators and accelerators: This should go a long way in improving the early stage support that entrepreneurs badly require
  • A 100 Crore Fund for encouraging entrepreneurship in our villages called the Village Start-up Fund: This is absolutely needed if we don’t want our cities to break down. It is also important for us to tap into the real potential of India. Rural Entrepreneurship is an absolute must in a country like India.
  • A 200 Crore additional funding for supporting entrepreneurship among the SC/ST youth. This is an interesting way to move the backward communities out of that status.
  • A special focus on helping build the next generation of technology product companies – something that India has really fallen behind in, especially in the IT Industry. A 500 Crore Fund to support potential software product start-ups is a great boost – hopefully we should see some Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, etc come out of these initiatives!

While there are many other things that could be of interest to the industry, the start-up ecosystem in the country, especially the entrepreneurial youth of this country should be cheering.

In the past, plans have been made along similar lines, but not so specifically to tap into entrepreneurship. Hence we (all those involved in Indian Entrepreneurship) are all hoping that these policies will be turned into actions and they will truly reach those who need them the most. If the government can implement this, India can truly reap the benefits of her demographic dividend!

Yes, one more thing which has got missed in the large numbers is: The plan to ease the bankruptcy framework in India. Now, if there is one thing that can truly catalyse the entrepreneurial spirit in this country, it is this. Because, if it is easy to close down a failing enterprise, people will be more open to experimentation. This can also make the long held baggage (‘social stigma of failure’) become lighter and hopefully go away.

Over all I think this budget has been very pro start-ups and I think the government has read the pulse right. The entrepreneurship and small business ecosystem in this country badly need a boost. They can create the millions of jobs that India urgently needs.

With the budget fairly interesting and forward looking, all are now eagerly waiting to see how these policies are going to be rolled out. This requires policy to be turned into actionable plans and then staffed through the right people to ensure they see the light of day.

Well begun is half done, but half done isn’t really great either! Let’s all work along to make entrepreneurship thrive amongst the youth across the country.

What do you think about Budget 2014 and Entrepreneurship? Do share your views.

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