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Indian start-ups & the missing golden touch

Ron Conway - The man with the Golden Touch. It was so wonderful reading this article on Ron Conway.  An angel, who knows support at the right time, no matter how minuscule, means a lot. He has invested in 500 startups - including Google, Twitter & Facebook. 500 is no joke which means he has at least spoken to 5000 odd startups assuming a high 10% hit rate.

My first & short visit to the valley led me to meet & interact with a lot of people involved with startups. The biggest difference I noticed is people are open to the idea of speaking to a not so popular or well established person, even if it is 2 minutes, they give you a chance. Probably even they don't want to miss a chance of unearthing the next Google. A high percent of them know to ask the right questions early to figure if you are of interest to them and would tell you so clearly if they want to move on.

On the other extreme, the problem we face in India at its ground level is
  1. the reach to Angels, VCs.
  2. If you are lucky to have that you need to fight their preconceived notions of the kind of people & companies that would succeed.
  3. If you do find a VC or an angel you might still be void of the golden touch angels bring and the real support network of VCs.
(ofcourse there are other issues of talent, market yada yada - this post is focused on the support network only)

Who knew a small app on facebook to share books you read would exit with a significantly large deal. And of course when we initially started the idea was just to steer the app to get more students on it and sell textbooks during the fall peak, in focus with what ugenie did then. But our hearts were in it & we passionately worked on it and we saw the bigger possibilities. Of course the company was blessed with "angels" who took the reach very high with potential buyers. Irony is if the same individual had started it as an independent company I am pretty sure no one would have stood by him or her.

For a lot of companies all you need is a little hope, belief to pursue their dreams. And when entrepreneurs are on it, no matter how small and insignificant the idea is and/or the market, you never know what comes out.

Case 2: In fact there was an instance when for a similar execution focused, not so capital intensive idea I heard a potential angel actually say "Oh but you are not a well established company." continued with something more which meant "You might be talented and accomplished good results but you are small. We would rather support a dumber big company than a smarter more efficient small company".

Sometimes i feel, you are better off not wasting your time pitching and selling your idea to angels & VCs. Most of the time they would just try to kill the idea even without prior research or having thought through the possibilities. ( Or may be the Americans & Israeli's are more hopeful beings ;) ) Sometimes its even annoying as to how much they weigh on your past designations & qualification. Then there are others who would want to keep good terms with the smarter first timers but with no concrete helping hand whatsoever. These are more tricky than the non-believers.

The amount of stress most startups go through given the state of support system along with highly coupled financial dependence never lets one operate at their best. I know of startups which almost died but later when they did manage to get deals going on their own, they are highly acclaimed by the very same people who had shot their ideas down. At the core, the product or the founder would not have changed much, a little support early on would have saved the distress & pressure, more the precious time. Even the team could have performed in its superior form.

You as a founder are at loss with the experience a good angel or VC would bring if you decide to go on your own. However, it is also questionable as to how many VCs and angels here have the golden touch. The golden touch to improve your chances of success - to connect you into a strong network, to spend time & strategize with the team, to promote your business. Considering the low hit rates you are mostly justified to find your own way to fund yourself.

In India, you need to come to terms that the support system is bleak or non existent for first timers. It is not deterring anymore, after having been through a struggling startup. But just a wishful thought of how much more can be achieved if only we were blessed with true angels
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Derailing the Masses

Media holds a very crucial social responsibility and opportunity in molding a nation. Offlate most of the national dailies and the news channels have been very disappointing. The front page is usually full of controversies with a lot of spice (or for TRP) than any real benefit to the nation. Few weeks ago a very deep thought about media "Derailing the Masses" manifested into a full length post on my google buzz account. Felt I should re-post it here for a larger and older audience. Tell me what you think ? If in any small way we can initiate a change in journalism and media content we should actively contribute. I really like the tata tea + jagoore initiative.

Original Post: Mar 12, 2010 on Buzz

It is so much easier to educate people with today's technology and reach of communication medium unlike what it was 20 yrs ago. Predominantly everyone has seen TV, most have one at home, use mobile phones, a significant chunk of the society use internet - the reach to the masses is incredible. Yet we as a nation are just going downhill with whatever dumb programs are aired on TV. (lets keep the daily newspapers out for the mass doesn't read)

As a country where our values and culture was a strong trait which got us places we are now a mass of 1 billion people with a broken value system, no valuable improvement on IQ levels, massively corrupt and no longer tolerant on issues, spurting violence at the smallest spark.

Was just discussing this issue with my roomie @Saras Revanna today. Why can't the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting do something about all the Crime Story, 100's of rarely educative soaps/reality shows, repetitive insignificant and even obnoxious news channels. DD channels, however are still fairly informative and balance information, entertainment and value education.

It is quite alarming if you closely observe any household today. The morning hours go into astrology, religious programs, horrible news coverage, followed by soaps, cookery classes, back-to-back movies, meaningless "breaking news" of a monkey falling into a pond and now being worshipped as hanuman, another doze of soaps spun around deceit & vehement arguments, reality shows, ending the night with crime story and rebirth!!! phew! What an unbelievable waste of media reaching out to millions of citizens, who are still illiterate and we complain. Not just that we spend crores on sarva shikshan abhiyan, sthree shakthi, jawahar rozgar yogana and what not.

It is such a simple solution to scrutinize the TV channels and plan a programme to influence the mass gradually, seamlessly and at large. I wonder if any of the TV channels or the ministry even feel responsible for this huge negative influence on the masses. No, don't blame it on people, the whole argument of we need to chose to watch. If they were as informed more than 80% of the channels would have shut down of low TRP's.

We need to owe some responsibility to educate, to influence the masses if we have a dream for India. But the worst has been done and at large scale, this change seems impossible at small scale. The hope is someone more knowledgeable sits on the Ministry and strongly starts a wave of change.

A turn (Restored Draft from Nov '07)

 A long pause. Everything changed. Life, Work, Career, Relations. Yet bulk of my friends, colleagues remained unaware of it all. A long pause indeed for the external world. Elsewhere life was totally happening. It was a roller coaster journey. I can't even list all the things I have done in the last 3 years. So unexpected, unstable, extreme, bit painful yet satisfying journey. All in all the last 3 years though not documented would probably remain the most exciting, painful, memorable, maniac years of my life .. I am running short of words to express the diversity of it. 

Here goes the last draft that existed on the blog, as I restore it to continue blogging. :) 

Nov 2nd week, 2007

Should I say "life changing moments"..  possibly.

I resigned from my job. Oct 19th was my last day at Ugenie - the startup I had joined as one of the early employees mid 2006 even before they had started operations. It has been tremendous amount of learning and met a few amazing people. My special thanks to Harish, Founder President, Ugenie - an exceptional leader, mentor and an amazing person to work with. I was lucky to have worked directly with him and his energy and drive has always kept my spirits high . I had always heard about Bharat Vijay from college days and it is a terrific feeling to have known him so closely. Personally, it has been a highly satisfying experience for me of having created iRead which is key focus at Ugenie today. I won't be part of the journey ahead with iRead. I wish them the very best.

But what is so life changing about it you ask ? Thats the journey ahead :)

I had a strong urge to build something of my own. I took some time off, tried to find a partner to startup at Bangalore. A major learning out of the exercise: "Finding a co-founder is hard. period."

At around the same time, my old colleague from Trilogy, Nishant Soni was  looking for a partner for his startup Cobaan that he had setup in early 2007 at Gurgaon. I had visited their small high energy setup at Gurgaon few weeks ago. I and Nishant had been in touch almost since he had started hiring and nothing seemed new or surprised me at Cobaan. It was as if I was part of it from the beginning. I and Nishant compliment very well and it was nothing but natural for me to join hands!

So here I am at this barren city of Gurgaon, miles away from home, with all my energy focused towards building "ReviewGist" - a product research and comparison service to help consumers make better shopping decisions.

ReviewGist is a fast, structured, accurate & authoritative approach towards product research and decision making so that the next time you buy something you can very confidently pick the best.


On what happened on iRead, it got a big exit.  (oh, I didn't make any money). They renamed it as weRead to avoid a copyright tussle. WeRead continued to grow under the able efforts of the team eventually got acquired by Lulu. 

ReviewGist was a big struggle. Severe financial crisis in 2008. We however got listed on techcrunch, got few offers. Technically we were superior, but then the network, support & biz dev did not happen. A followup post would partial cover this. We had to really struggle through 08 - 09, lot of conflicts, stress, low morale. If only we were not stuck in India. Luckily Nishant stood strong & is again seeing a lot of traction. I really hope it would get what it most deserves. 

Around the time we ran out of cash at ReviewGist we decided I should start consulting to keep us alive. That went a bit too far and I have been consulting for 2 years now. Many a times in the interim tried starting up, but nothing saw light. Finally with all the experience the last 4-5 years brings, I am starting over again. 

Thats a work life update there. 
chilled out - Search Marketing Unconference

I am going to be at this weekend. If you would like to attend please register here by adding your name. You can provide additional information about yourself or your company here.

[ I am sorry for posting so late. However in case you drop in, it would be good to meet you. ]

A two day search marketing event at chennai-  a terrific time and a superb domain for me given I spent majority of time at uGenie on SEM. I have been highly passionate about that space.

I would possibly cover the event live. Last time I attended, I did a blog post on post the event giving
a gist and my opinions.

Regarding SearchCamp, (excerpt from it is a two day event aimed to bring together the best minds from the Search Engine Marketing space to talk about search engine advertising, including optimization and marketing issues. This event is the first of its kind in India and will feature workshops, debates and keynotes on the present state and evolution of Search Engine Marketing.

To add to it, many of the sponsors are leading Search Marketing firms. There are also lot of independent SEO specialists who are actively taking part. I see a great level of participation from the Indian Search Marketing startups or with a dominant footprint here - pinstorm, position2 etc. efrontier the leading Search Marketing firm is also a sponsor and there are lot of talks from folks from these companies. There are also the big spenders in Search Marketing space who would be able to give a perspective in terms of how this is defining business and how they might want this space to be or their expectations.

However, in all I fear that this is too much of SEO and less of PPC. Of course, Paid Marketing interests me more given my interests in analytics and stats.

I was thinking of presenting something on Effective PPC management or on taking Search Marketing in-house. However due to some constraints I won't be able to do so.

We at Ugenie, decided to take Search Marketing in-house. I was more focused on Paid Marketing - PPC - and very less on SEO, which targets organic traffic. We automated a lot of keyword generation, coming up with campaign structures, keyword pricing and bidding. It is a massive system. Building something generic is pretty hard. Even custom implementation itself might not be feasible for a lot of companies to build and maintain in-house especially hard for startups as the resources are constrained and day to day bidding management would demand a lot of time and focus.  However, for companies focused on Search Marketing or big spenders this would mean a great level of control and hence higher level of tuning on ROI and targeting.
Even for smaller companies this would mean that they can position themselves to target the long tail to bring their costs down and yet not compromise on traffic or sales.

I will have a lot to write about the current market, trade-offs, tips and tricks in SEM post the event. Keep a watch.
chilled out

Where have I been

Its been a long time.. so what's up..

That explains the long silence on the blog.

Anyway past is always more clear, I can at least jot that down. And future no one has any clue anyway. So here is a quick update on life.

- significant milestones. iRead is now a mainstream business, the biggest book sharing application on Facebook, soon to hit half a million users. Harry Potter Magic Spells application which gave me and mekin a mention in top developers for more than a week is now at 1.3 Million users. And as far as other facebook applications we have launched over the last 3 months I have lost track! Overall we now have a user base of 2M users. All this due to a sweet accident over a weekend! I wonder if it is good or bad :D Thats about the action at work.

I got an iPod Classic woahooo! :) (as the long hunt for a genie lamp failed). A pleasant surprise! This was actually to mark the uGenius award I was given in January '07 for the marketing efforts to hit the board targets. The ipod is pretty cool, a little bulky to carry around. I felt the sound quality is not that great but I was amazed by the image quality. I and my cousin Vijay were condemning as to what a waste it was to have the 2 inch video screen but now i find myself shuffling through the photos and few video songs.

We had a day outing to mark uGenie's first b'day. [Pictures] A bit late but perfect timing given we had good milestones.

- fun, confused. There is so much to do on weekends like reading, catching up with friends, cribbing ;), playing badminton, spending those lazy afternoons with old friends. And as always there have been long sessions trying to figure out LIFE! 

Home - Finally went home for the festival after 2 months.. (yes 2 months is long given my hometown is 120 kms away from here). Went home again for a little longer when I took vacation. By the way this time around I got dial up working from my home town. Yippee! The township is as quiet, nice and pleasant as always. Our green farm lands always beckon. Apart from that things are a little weird with mom. She was the one who kept stretching me all through my childhood and now she wants to just let it out to flap :P

Outings - lots. An impromptu outing with my sister to Tippu's summer palace. Many in Bangalore are not aware of this magnificent monument right in the center of city next to Minto hospital, KR Market, Bangalore. A good write-up on this historical monument can be found here.

Also did a 2 day trek to Edakkal Caves, Meenmutty falls and Chembra Peak - all in and around Wayanad, Kerala with mountainroarers (A very vibrant and friendly group with a passion for adventure. Just loved the company) . This needs a complete blog post, which I hope I would do soon - for now you can see some pictures.
A visit to my friend at Gurgaon. It was quite hot in Delhi even at this time of the year when we look for sweaters and blankets here in Bangalore. I had loads of fun with the folks working at his company, spending late nights watching movies, drinking tea on the terrace, more driving to coffee shops at 12 in the night, quite a bit of fun. Over the weekend we went to see Qutub Minar, watched a play at India Habitat Center (this one is covered in Rang De Basanthi), shopped a bit and tasted a variety of food from the food stalls of each state at Dilli Haat and roamed around a bit.

Anything else - hmm err.. later...
My Blob

New heights - listed in the top 5 developer list!!

I can't be more happy. My adrenaline levels are running high. I and mekin are listed among the top 5 facebook developers :).

Since the leader board is bound to change quickly (We were #2 and #3 yesterday and moved down by 2 positions today) here is a snapshot.

Not just that..
Our new application Harry Potter Magic Spells was ranked the most viral application one day after we launched. We grew from 1000 users to 9000 users in a 12 hour time period during US day time. We are now at #2. Snapshot below.

iRead has been doing great too. We crossed a milestone. Read my earlier post on iRead here. There is something more that I am more excited about which is on its way and I hope all goes well :)

This is a tremendous booster for both of us.

This whole facebook exercise as mekin said in his post has been a tremendous amount of learning and a great sense of accomplishment. We could probably do better and we would constantly strive for that. Some day i would like to take time out and put up a brief article on the learnings.
chilled out

Best things in life are not things- Part 1!

I was at Chennai from thursday night till sunday night. After a long time, I found myself amidst art at dakshina-chitra, I also met my teacher of oil painting for 3 weeks - Dharma, who now works at amazon chennai, courtesy vinaygmurthy I also got ample time to buy some glass articles and paints at chennai city center (while killing time), and with the freedom that [info]prasannasv showered on me I could happily scatter all my colors at his house and paint!

So this was my holiday at chennai, part 1 - celebrating colors

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CTO Error

Wonder what it is ? Don't you think the ultimate person responsible for an error on a website is the CTO ;)

PS: thankfully it not that perfect a coincidence it is Cto and not CTO.
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chilled out

a spree...

Its probably close to 8 am... still in bed, probably the plans for the day are already working on in my mind. From the sound I know its my maid who is rolling the mat that is on the floor. In all probability even my laptop is lying over there and she would lift it with a lot of care and keep it on the table. Was it 3 or 4 am when I slept or even 5.. I probably don't have the time to think. All I know is I got to get up now and check the number. Yes from past one month that is how life has been. Even before I rub my eyes, my hands go straight to the laptop and I switch it on. By the time it comes out from hibernation, I need to be out of mine! So I hurry up, wash my face and I am quickly back to iRead.

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