November 15, 2010 § Leave a comment
1. Be Careful with Cofounders
2. Startups Take Over Your Life
3. It’s an Emotional Roller-coaster
4. Persistence Is the Key
6. Think Long-Term – You need persistence because everything takes longer than you expect.
7. Start with Something Minimal
8. Engage Users
9. Change Your Idea
10. Don’t Worry about Competitors
11. It’s Hard to Get Users
12. Expect the Worst with
13. Luck Is a Big Factor – didn’t realize how much of a role luck plays and how much is outside of our control.
November 13, 2010 § Leave a comment
The Internet was originally created by the Defense Department to keep its computer networks connected during an emergency, such as natural catastrophe or enemy attack. Over the years, it was adopted by government and academic researchers to exchange data and messages, but as late as 1994, there was still no Internet commerce to speak of. One day that spring, Jeffrey Bezos observed that Internet usage was increasing by 2,300 percent a year. He saw an opportunity for a new sphere of business, and immediately began considering the possibilities.
In typically methodical fashion, Bezos reviewed the top 20 mail order businesses, and asked himself which could be conducted more efficiently over the Internet than by traditional means. Books were the commodity for which no comprehensive mail order catalogue existed, because any such catalogue would be too big to mail — perfect for the Internet, which could share a vast database with a virtually limitless number of people.
He flew to Los Angeles the very next day to attend the American Booksellers’ Convention and learn everything he could about the book business. He found that the major book wholesalers had already compiled electronic lists of their inventory. All that was needed was a single location on the Internet, where the book-buying public could search the available stock and place orders directly. Bezos’s employers weren’t prepared to proceed with such a venture, and Bezos knew the only way to seize the opportunity was to go into business for himself. It would mean sacrificing a secure position in New York, but he and his wife, Mackenzie, decided to make the leap.
Jeff and Mackenize flew to Texas on Independence Day weekend and picked up a 1988 Chevy Blazer (a gift from Mike Bezos) to make the drive to Seattle, where they would have ready access to the book wholesaler Ingram, and to the pool of computer talent Jeff would need for his enterprise. Mackenzie drove while Jeff typed a business plan. The company would be called Amazon, for the seemingly endless South American river with its numberless branches.
They set up shop in a two-bedroom house, with extension cords running to the garage. Jeff set up three Sun microstations on tables he’d made out of doors from Home Depot for less than $60 each. When the test site was up and running, Jeff asked 300 friends and acquaintances to test it. The code worked seamlessly across different computer platforms. On July 16, 1995, Bezos opened his site to the world, and told his 300 beta testers to spread the word. In 30 days, with no press, Amazon had sold books in all 50 states and 45 foreign countries. By September, it had sales of $20,000 a week. Bezos and his team continued improving the site, introducing such unheard-of features as one-click shopping, customer reviews, and e-mail order verification.
Full article at
December 7, 2009 § Leave a comment
HAILING from a non-business family, VSS Mani is a born entrepreneur. He undertook his first business venture when he was in his tweens. “I had organised a paid video show of Bruce Lee’s ‘Fist of Fury’ for family and friends,” fondly recollects Mani, Founder & Managing Director of India’s biggest search engine, JustDial. The likes of JRD Tata, Dhirubhai Ambani and Verghese Kurien have inspired him to his grand vision to touch the lives of millions of people with an enterprise. And thus was born JustDial
When asked what made him choose this field, he replies, “While working for a yellow pages company in 1989, in a casual discussion with a customer, I conceived this idea of a 24×7 telephonic product and service search engine.” The first version of this concept saw an early demise as it was way ahead of its times. But he was determined to restart the service and transform it into a successful enterprise. In 1996 he launched the current version of JustDial, subsequently adding other avatars–web, WAP and print, which achieved huge success.
Mr Mani tried different ideas (including the concept of a wedding planner) to survive and save money so that he could start JustDial. Started with some borrowed furniture and rented PCs in a small (10×30 feet) hired garage, today JustDial has over 86,000 customers across the nation and employs over 3500 people with offices in major cities across India. In a very short time, justdial.com has become probably the most frequented local search website in the country. Recalling the 20 years of his journey, Mr Mani says, “So far it has been wonderful; I loved every bit of challenge the market threw from time to time. This exciting journey had no dearth of tests and trials, problems and solutions.” Moreover, he enjoyed proving all the naysayers wrong, those who kept discarding all his efforts by branding them trash.
“We believe in a philosophy of small and continuous improvement on a daily basis; so it is difficult to pinpoint the milestones of this journey. Every day, every decision we took and every effort we put in were milestones,” he asserts. However, if he has to identify a few, he considers the trust and faith shown by international investors in JustDial, the wide acceptance of its pan-India service on the single national number ‘69999999’ and the phenomenal success of Justdial.com as the highlights of his journey.
It wasn’t a cakewalk. He encountered challenges at every step. But he had evolved a game plan to overcome these challenges, which proved successful. “The major issues were raising capital and convincing the advertisers about the feasibility of our idea. We surmounted them through intelligent pricing strategies and innovative ideas,” he affirms. Mr Mani’s success mantra is conviction and passion. “Of course, a good measure of common sense and simple thinking also helps,” he adds.
His ambition is to take the company to new heights in the next five years. Leaving a global footprint, and becoming a world leader in local search services, is his ultimate aim.
As a concluding note, his advice to entrepreneurs is, “First ask yourself why you want to become an entrepreneur? If you have the fire in your belly, and a bright new idea, please go ahead, or else revisit your decision. Being an entrepreneur is all about belief, passion, perseverance and hard work. There is no substitute to passionate desire, will-power and sustained hard work.”
October 27, 2009 § Leave a comment
Don Norman is the author or co-author of fourteen books, with translations into sixteen languages, including: The Design of Everyday Things, Things That Make Us Smart, and The Invisible Computer: Why good products can fail, the PC is so complex, and information appliances are the answer. Business Week has called this “the bible of the ‘post PC’ thinking.” His latest book, Emotional
Design: Why we love (or hate) everyday things, is available in 9 languages. This book marks the transition from usability to aesthetics, but with the emphasis on a well-rounded, cohesive product that looks good, works well, and gives pride to the owner.
Norman is cofounder of the Nielsen Norman Group, an executive consulting firm that helps companies produce human-centered products and services, Professor at Northwestern University, Prof. Emeritus of the University of California, San Diego, and co-director of Northwestern’s Segal Design Institute; founded by Crate & Barrel creators Gordon and Carole Segal. He has been Vice President of Apple Computer and an executive at Hewlett Packard. He was President of the Learning Systems division of UNext, an early, online education company.
December 16, 2008 § Leave a comment
In the background of how the current economic and financial crisis is impacting individual lives and families, a leading Indian newspaper had recently asked me to write a short piece on some thoughts around reinventing ourselves in such challenging situations. The same is reproduced below.
Every time we are faced with a real personal crisis — loss of job, onset of a terminal illness, divorce or financial crisis — some of the questions that cross our mind are: Why did this happen to me? Will it ever get better? How will this impact my social position? It is only natural to start feeling down and feel anxious about the future. However, people who have weathered such storms, and whom I have had the opportunity to meet during my corporate career and my life coaching practice, usually say that the crisis was the best thing that happened to them. It made them to get off their treadmill of maddening activity and do some real soul searching towards creating a better and happier future.
Drawing from those experiences, it may be useful to look at ways of dealing with such crises in multiple dimensions.
First, it is critical to maintain a healthy sense of optimism about the future — not because we want to psyche ourselves into positive thinking but because things do get better from points of high pessimism. Surveys of people faced with a personal crisis demonstrate that the same people generally feel much better about themselves and life in general just a year after the initial event. It is equally important to have a strong sense of self-belief — the belief that not only will things get better, but that I will also have a meaningful role to play in it. As Graham Bell said, “When one door closes another door opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the ones which open for us.”
If the crisis involves some form of financial impact, it may be useful to also reflect on our needs and wants. In today’s consumerist society, we constantly want more — a bigger house, a flashier car, a new cellphone. Very often, unfulfilled wants may be the biggest source of disappointment and stress in our lives, and this is accentuated during adverse times. It may be pertinent to ask ourselves whether we need all these gadgets. In most cases, our needs are usually much simpler than our unending wants.
Further, crisis tests the strength of character. What differentiates the outstanding from the ordinary is not how well they do in good times, but how resilient they are through a crisis. As Albert Einstein said, “Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.” Committing to living with core personal values in all aspects of our life builds character, which provides us with the inner strength to keep forging ahead, and the courage to see our failures as mere stepping stones in the quest for larger goals.
As they say, the Chinese characters for crisis mean both danger and opportunity. Indeed, a crisis may be an opportunity for unparalleled personal growth. We can easily spend a disproportionate amount of time ruminating over our losses or being anxious about the future. The question is when things do get better, will we be well prepared to take advantage of the new opportunities? Adversity offers the luxury of time to learn and hone new skills — enroll in hobbies or educational courses we always wanted to pursue but never had the time for, perhaps reflect on our true passions and give them shape — this may mean anything from starting a new business or community initiative to discovering latent writing skills.
Finally, such times also provide us with a unique opportunity to reflect on what’s most important to us—who am I and what is the purpose of my life? Am I pursuing a job, a career or my true calling? Do I want that investment banker job because of its lucrative prospects or because I find true purpose in that work? Engaging in our calling can inspire us to operate at a much higher level and away from the delimiting struggle around external success and recognition. As Patanjali, the great Indian sage, said, “When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all of your thoughts break their bonds. Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.”
November 12, 2008 § Leave a comment
If we’ve learned one thing from funding so many startups, it’s that they succeed or fail based on the qualities of the founders.
August 26, 2008 § 1 Comment
Read this amazing growth. Parveen Travels, which opened shop with just over Rs 50,000 in the bank in 1980, did business worth Rs 120 crore last year.
As a 14-year-old, Afzal enjoyed going on rides in his father’s lorry. Often on these trips, the boy would dream of owning a fleet of cars and buses. Afzal’s father, Allah Baksh, ran a taxi service out of a small office in Purasawalkam, with a few cabs and lorries to transport cargo.
Afzal graduated with a bachelor’s degree in zoology and joined the family business.
In 1981, the company purchased its first bus. “We were not keen on seeking financial help as we knew the bankers would not support us. So, we explored options that were within our limits, based on how much we earned in a given year,” recalls Afzal. To purchase new vehicles, the company put in half the amount and got loans for the remaining.
Later on introduced night service or point-to-point operations.
A Logistics division was added in the late 80s. Cargo was initially transported on the roof of the vehicles and later in cargo trucks, when the company bagged sufficient number of orders.
Parveen today owns and operates 1,000 vehicles, of which 750 are buses
They introduced online ticketing four years ago, allowing passengers to print their own tickets.
Despite its success, the family is wary of investors. “Many investors had approached us. But once an outsider comes, they will have their own ideas about running the business. We may not be able to take decisions on our own,” he says.
The company employs 2,000 people, 37 branches. As part of its employee welfare activities, Parveen Travels runs an institute for its drivers in Madhavaram where they are trained in driving skills, fitness, yoga, and undergo regular eyetests. Every year, the top three performers among the children of company drivers are provided financial support.