Raj's Lab

Strategy and Entrepreneurship

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Finding opportunities – a skill for entrepreneurs

It is not uncommon to hear entrepreneurs constantly worry about the lack of data! In fact on of the weakest parts of any business plan is the description of the “opportunity”. Even trainers who facilitate business plan and entrepreneurship programs find it difficult to teach opportunity identification. But as Peter Drucker said, studying changes leads to finding opportunities. I have found it very helpful in teaching my students the skill of noticing changes. It has helped many of them kickstart successful start-ups. Many faculty who attend my ‘Faculty Development Programs on Entrepreneurship” also ask me how we can teach this aspect. So when I saw this news item I could not hold myself but share it.

Link to article: http://www.thehindu.com/business/Industry/telecom-subscriber-base-reaches-alltime-high-at-97-crore/article6871085.ece?homepage=true

TRAI reports are filled with information on the telecom space. This provides enough details to understand the changing trends and patterns in the telecom market. Companies, start-ups and others will know who is adding users, where, how many, amongst others. This could give hints as to whom they should collaborate or partner with for reaching potential customers. Looks like this information combined with increasing number of smart phone models below 5000/- would usher in the mobile commerce business much earlier than what many predict. Also the number of people requesting for number portability is also increasing. The amount of data usage on mobile devices is increasing. What kind of services do you think can be offered to this growing base of subscribers? Are there offline services that can be viable opportunities? How are many of these people consuming information? How many of them actually go for repairing their mobile handsets? Is servicing handsets a good business? Where are these new subscribers getting added? Are these people actually consuming data services or are they voice based customers? Hundreds of questions can be raised around these. Ask and you shall end up with the real opportunity in a while.

While each of these may be only data by themselves, entrepreneurial minds should consume all of this information and attempt to make connections. This will lead to fresh opportunities for their existing businesses as well as absolutely new opportunities as well. Reading reports and details related to market trends is a good place to identify and locate opportunities earlier than others. Learning to do this come through practice. This, then becomes an entrepreneurial skill that budding entrepreneurs should pick and existing entrepreneurs should sharpen.

Entrepreneurship Educators will do well to include activities like these into their programs and workshops. Inclusion of data / reports relevant to the area in which opportunities are being sought can bring about a different flavour to your course. Participants are bound to go back from the program with specific ideas and opportunities. Discussions around them could also bring out the sweet spots for business model innovations, new product innovations, service innovations, etc.,.

Identifying and exploiting opportunities is the most exciting aspect of entrepreneurship, but is also the least taught. But if we make attempts to experiment with datasets like these and futuristic reports, it could lead to the creation of some new pedagogies. I think so!

Lets all try and share our experiments so that we can make teaching entrepreneurship more fun and fruitful.

If you have any experiences around teaching / learning entrepreneurship, please do share and lets learn from each other.

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Students and Startups

Recently I conducted couple of bootcamps for student entrepreneurs, one in Chennai and the other at Jaipur. Between the two groups I had close to 40 student startups. Each of them founded by full time students of either engineering, arts, commerce or management courses. Predominant part of the group were pursuing their undergraduate degrees. While a few were from the premier institutions, many came in from unheard of institutions. I was thrilled not just by the diversity and breadth of the ideas, but by the sheer boldness to start a company while on campus. One company has built a fuel efficient car, another a personal fashion stylist, a biotech solution to neutralizing pollutants, sharing commerce starts, revolutionizing adventure amongst others. I was stunned by the innovative solutions that these young minds had come up with. But what amazed me was their sheer entrepreneurial zeal to get out of college with exams round the corner. What could be driving this phenomenon?

In India this was unheard of even a few years ago. Entrepreneurship was not encouraged either by teachers or colleges. Parents abhorred it and did not want their wards to even be close to such characters, let alone try it themselves. But all this is changing! But with the web in their palms, online courses from the best teachers in the world available for free, and practically every piece of information accessible in a few minutes if not seconds, students have been unleashed. They are now experiencing freedom at the level of information. They are exposed to the latest and this is inspiring them to try their hands at it too. When a student like them can do it in another part of the world, why not me is the question that’s doing the rounds. Where I am does not matter anymore, what I do does said a student, coming from a tier-3 (if there is one like that) college.

The education systems are still archaic and not a day passes without we hearing the need for a revolution in India’s education system. While we all wait for the policy makers to bring out this much needed revamping, I think we are on the brink of an upheaval. An upheaval that will make the policy follow the effect. Students are no more waiting to gain approval from their parents and teachers to set up their firms. Like the recent Idea advertisement where a son shows his new drone to his dad, students are now showing their parents results. Will parents be able to stop them after they have won?

Students and startups are not unrelated anymore. They are very much a trend in the making. We are going to see students turn successful entrepreneurs right in the college. All these are the triggers for the much needed change in education. It will change education and eventually society at large. Watch out for student startups!

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Ideating on ‘wearables’ as an opportunity in class

When we teach entrepreneurship one of the topics that is truly difficult to cover is ideation and opportunity identification. Most teachers find it difficult because students seem to be more aware about trends than teachers, and rightly so. But what teachers should do is enable students look deeply into trends and changes taking place in the society. One such trend is – wearables.

Google Glass has inspired enough individuals to try their hands at wearable devices. People are now wearing more smart devices than ever before. While I was teaching entrepreneurship to a group of textile engineering students, I was amazed at the number of innovations students could come out with in something as simple as clothes. I decided to push them further and hence divided the class into smaller groups and asked them to come up with what individuals would like of their clothes and if clothes could respond to them. Each of them amazed the entire group by coming up with so many innovative ideas, from simple temperature handling clothes, to color changing clothes, to mood enhancing clothes. My God! I wondered if I would ever buy a shirt that will adjust the temperature on the inside based on the temperature outside. But the truth is, we completed the course with much more technology enhanced solutions to clothes than just changing the fabric and designs. One even designed a dry washer for these smart clothes.

If you are wondering if all this sounds like science fiction, believe me, it is not going to be for long. Could you have imagined what Skype is doing to our lives? Could you have imagined how ‘Uber’ and ‘Airbnb’ have changed the way we travel and find hotels? Like all new technology changes, they are bound to have their teething troubles, but it will all be ironed out. So, if you are a teacher of entrepreneurship, you would do well to bring changes taking place in the environment and dissect them in the class for opportunities. You will be amazed by what you see as output from your students. They only need direction – they have the speed, agility and creativity, to come up with innovative business ideas. We need a lot more of them. Let us (all educators) inspire and create the next set of technology driven entrepreneurs.

Try it in class and please do share your experiences! Let us all improve the way we teach entrepreneurship, together.

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Startups – Fad, trend, megatrend?

There is no doubt that 2015 started with a bang! Optimism everywhere. Probably the most spoken about word and equally inspiring too is ‘startups’. With the world attempting to emerge out of a seemingly never ending slowdown, entrepreneurship is rightly touted as the tool / lever for help. While entrepreneurship in its limited form seems to represent ‘startups’, this word seems to have gained epic status. If you were to roam around the campuses in India (i’m sure it is the same everywhere), one will be surprised by the number of people involved in ‘starting up’. It looks like you will be looked down upon if you are not part of some startup. Having seen this entire phenomenon and been part of it for over a decade now; i’m glad all this is happening! But the discussion today is – Are ‘startups’ a fad, trend or megatrend?

For this, one needs to know what is the difference between the three. Here is a short (extremely) definition of the terms:

Fad: is a widely shared enthusiasm for something, albeit one that is short-lived. At times these short spurts are so intense that they seem to take a large group along with them quickly. Rationality has no place during this period.

Trend: something that is emerging or tending to form with slightly more certainty than a fad. There is a little more rationality in this as there are some indicators. But the breadth and depth of their effects are only probabilistic.

Megatrend: these are trends that are slow to form, but have large scale effects over a period of time. Catching them early needs tremendous alertness and ability. These are visible as they are usually backed with facts.

With that extremely short introduction to three terms which you must have last learned in your marketing class, ask yourself which category ‘startups’ belong to today? Personally i believe we are moving past a stage where it seemed like a fad to a stage it seems certain like a trend. If certain actions are visible at the level of the ecosystem, it could very well become a megatrend to watch. What are these ecosystem changes: government intentions and catalysts; economic policies; societal changes; cultural mindset shifts; education makeover; amongst others.

A lot of things have to be altered, changed and at times revolutionised if we have to enable ‘startups’ turn into a real megatrend. There is no question that at some point  in time all governments will be forced to resort to ‘entrepreneurship’ as the tool to usher in large scale changes. While the ecosystem can only create a better environment, it can also enthuse and equip the youth (in body and mind) so that they can act to make the change happen.

Everything looks right now for us to move this emerging trend into a megatrend! What else do you think needs to be done to make entrepreneurship a phenomenon in India? Share your thoughts as we do our bit to build an entrepreneurial India.

Happy Starting up in 2015!


How to find opportunities?

This is a question that aspiring entrepreneurs and existing small business owners constantly ask. Rarely do they get specific answers. This is because most people think ideas are opportunities. In my book “Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice” I spent a whole chapter trying to explain the difference between ‘ideas’ and ‘opportunities’ and how great businesses are built on their combination. But how does one actually find opportunities?

Here is one approach. Opportunities appear whenever there are changes taking place in the environment. If anything changes, there arises a need for something. This gives rise to opportunities. These may be problems, challenges, etc.,. But at the root of it all sits – change. In fact this is not anything new – Drucker (management thinker) wrote about it years ago. If this is so, the next question is – How do we find changes? At many times during the year, think tanks release trend analysis. Leading thinkers and think tanks suggest trends that are forming. Here is an example of one from the World Economic Forum website. The top ten trends extracted from their article for your reference (Link to WEF Article):

1. Deepening income inequality 

2. Persistent jobless growth 

3. Lack of leadership 

4. Rising geostrategic competition 

5. Weakening of representative democracy 

6. Rising pollution in the developing world 

7. Increasing occurrence of severe weather events 

8. Intensifying nationalism 

9. Increasing water stress 

10. Growing importance of health in the economy

Each of these trends also have detailed discussions on how they are changing the world around us – read whichever interests you. I am sure there are numerous other lists like these. Find and explore them – they will lead you to fresh opportunities. In the remaining post we will explore how we can dig into changes to find opportunities.

Are you wondering how these changes that are currently taking shape will create opportunities? Think again!

For example – lets take the case of ‘rising pollution’. If this trend attracts your attention, then you can look at all those who contribute to pollution (innumerable individuals and institutions) and those that are impacted by them (again innumerable). Why are firms polluting? Is it because they do not know an improved way of production? Are there better production methods or safer materials or improved machines? Can you design and create them? These solutions can be in various categories of pollutants – air, water, etc.,. Think deeper!

Another example: ‘growing importance of health’. If health interests you, look at all the obesity around you. Look at all the diagnosable diseases that were not diagnosed and resulted in irreparable losses to families and institutions. Can you create the next disease prediction algorithm? Can you create the next range of wearable medical devices? If you are a medical professional, can you look at improved chemical combinations to treat new diseases, especially lifestyle diseases. Think deeper!

If one looks at trends and then digs deeper, there is immense potential for discovering opportunities. The bigger the opportunity discovered, the bigger the changes of entrepreneurial success. Hence it is in the best interests of every entrepreneurial individual to learn how to locate opportunities – this is a skill worth picking up.

Are there other ways of locating opportunities? Do share your thoughts so that we can take this discussion further.


Welcome 2015 entrepreneurially

Seasons Greetings and New Year Wishes 2015!

It is the eighth year that I am working with entrepreneurs full time and I cannot tell you how exciting life has been. Be it deciphering the term (research), explaining it to someone (teaching / training), working with one who has taken the plunge or trying to re-discover it all with one who has been through it already (consulting) – it was always learning something mutually. Hence if there is one thing that I wish for every one of us, it is this – let us live entrepreneurially. If it means welcoming another calendar year, let us do it entrepreneurially. But what does this mean?

Let us not make the usual resolutions. Let us not make the usual plans. But let us decide instead to think differently. Let us make a decision to change our thinking. Let us decide to change our approach to learning. Let us review our past year and resolve to continue doing things we were doing well. Let us accept things as they appear. Let us embrace change cheerfully. Let us work on what is at hand and create the future. Let us create a life in line with what we are made for. Let us take a step closer to living what we are designed for. Let us resolve to live life without worries and anxieties. Let us resolve to live happily. Let us resolve to drop our inhibitions. Let us resolve to LIVE.

Let this new year take us towards exciting opportunities and enable us learn more through our experiences. Let us embrace success and failure equally as we move ahead to living a full life. There is nothing more successful than going to bed feeling calm and waking up the same way, everyday. Let us resolve that we will ensure this for ourselves this entire year.

This is probably a better resolution because “Life is living and it is best done entrepreneurially”

Happy entrepreneurial living 2015!


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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