My apology for not having been active on Thoughtsprevail , was held up in activities that kept me away from my blog sad This week, I picked up a book titled “What Self-Made Millionaires really think,know and do” which has some exceptional content on business.Though reading the book won’t make me/you a millionaire but it would definitely help in understanding business in a much better sense !!! After reading a few chapters from the book, I came across a very interesting topic that focused on BUSINESS FAILURE and this article would be a GIST of that chapter.

The reasons are split across four categories, namely:
a) Specialization b) Differentiation c) Segmentation & d) Concentration

Note:
Though many of these reasons might be quite common, but it is important to keep them in mind since , most of the times, we forget the so called COMMON THINGS neutral

SPECIALIZATION

  1. No mission, no clear goals, stated OBJECTIVE to make a pile of money.
  2. CUSTOMER not perceived as a top priority.
  3. Loss of momentum in sales, poor SALES performance.
  4. Impatience, trying to get RICH quickly.
  5. Operating outside own area of excellence, diversification into UNASSOCIATED BUSINESSES.
  6. Failure to focus on PRIORITIES, failure to focus on 20 percent that brings in the 80 percent.

DIFFERENTIATION

  1. Failure to establish COMPETITIVE advantage, failure to be better, cheaper, faster or nicer , trying to sell a commodity.
  2. Product not suited to customer REQUIREMENTS.
  3. Poor QUALITY of product and support.
SEGMENTATION
  1. Failure to IDENTIFY CUSTOMERS.
  2. REACTIVE rather than proactive SELLING.
  3. INCOMPLETE marketing STRATEGY, poor sales performance.

CONCENTRATION

  1. POOR LEADERSHIP, lack of integrity and COMPETENCE of KEY STAFF, lack of commitment & persistence.
  2. MISMANAGEMENT of working CAPITAL.
  3. Failure to analyse and respond to trends, CHANGES in MARKET PLACE.
  4. No BUSINESS PLAN.
  5. Inadequate financial records, POOR BUDGETING, poor cash control.
  6. Action without planning, FAILURE to collect the RELEVANT FACTS.
  7. Paralysis by analysis, TOO much ANALYSIS, not enough action.
  8. Poor RELATIONS with STAFF and employees, poor communications, command and control mentality.

As this book is a great resource hence, the next series of articles on Thoughtsprevail would be focusing on such interesting topics[from the book] that relate to business, hope you enjoy them !!!

In my previous article, I had mentioned about Proto[the Startup event] , that I missed but it is nice to see lot of blogs already updated with the coverage smile To start with, let us look at the startups that demonstrated at the event….

Startups that demonstrated at Proto:

Source : Webyantra

Amit Ranjan of SlideShare & one of the co-organizers of the event has a crisp coverage of all the startups here

Experiences as a presenter – Prateek Dayal, Muziboo:

Few months back, we had a guest article from Nithya Dayal, co-founder of Muziboo & it is nice to see Muziboo getting shortlisted for the presentation !!! Prateek Dayal has shared lots of interesting views about the event & his experience on pitching in front of the audience !!!

Notable experiences from Prateek Dayal’s blog:

Unlike some of the other startups, we had a walk through and no ppt. I think eventually turned out to be good as the response to the demo was very encouraging.

I liked the fact that proto mentioned that 3 companies have shut shop. I think its great to see that failure is no longer considered a bad thing. There was also a Proto for Dummies video which was pretty well done. I think the videos will be up on youtube pretty soon.

I had always heard that talking to investors gives you a good perspective and I think its true. I had also heard that there are quite a few senior startuppy people who give a lot of gyaan and try to pull you down and I think that is true too. In general its not very hard to find a few people in proto who look like they have come down there just to feel important by giving gyaan to clueless entrepreneurs like me.

You can read the complete article here.

Coverage across the Blogosphere:
There are lot of other blogs that have covered the event and you can find them here.

After checking the coverage of the event, I never felt that I have missed the event smile Thanks to all of them !!!!

18th July,2008 [i.e tomorrow] would be a memorable day for Vijay Anand and the team behind Proto since, it will be the first time that close to 500+ enthusiasts would be present at the event. Kudos to the organizers of this wonderful COMMUNITY event !!! And guess what, I would be missing all the fun and most of all the Live Blogging competition sad

We have come across Speed Dating and Elevator Pitches but wouldn’t it be exciting to see a bunch of entrepreneurs in a room pitching their ideas to investors in just 7 minutes[also termed as Speed Pitching].Makes me remember of the days where there would be panel of interviewers interviewing a bunch of guys in a single room wink. Check out Speed Pitching in action below.You can know more about Speed Pitching & Funding Universe [the ideators of Speed Pitching] here & here

Just a Thought:
Though Speed Pitching is not a novel concept, it can be something that can be turned into a Mini-Proto !!! The only drawback being “Speed Pitching does not involve wannabe-preneurs, so does not help much in building a BETTER ecosystem, which Proto does very well !!!”

These are my thoughts on Speed Pitching and would like to hear “WHAT DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE ENTIRE CONCEPT”.

There are many factors that differentiate one company from the other but “Culture” is an integral part of the comparison. e.g. Google which is famous for it’s culture where they allow employees to work on their own idea for an entire day in a week.3M, the company most famous for it’s Post-It’s again falls in the list of innovative companies.

As stated in Business Week

3M (MMM ) has long awarded “Genesis Grants” to scientists who want to work on outside projects. Each year more than 60 researchers submit formal applications to a panel of 20 senior scientists who review the requests, just as a foundation would review academics’ proposals. Twelve to 20 grants, ranging from $50,000 and $100,000 apiece, are awarded each year. The researchers can use the money to hire supplemental staff or acquire necessary equipment.

Take the case of ThoughtWorks , which has a good policy to retain people – Allow people to work on their venture as long as our business / deliverables is not affected.A good way to keep the best brains intact in the company biggrin

When we think of a startup, the first thing that comes to our mind is Innovation [except in few cases like social networking websites].But as the staff strength/business increases, many times we see the innovative culture dying down and hence, every company is not considered innovative, though it might be profitable !!!

I was recommended a book Entrepreneur’s Toolkit by a friend of mine who is in a startup .The book has a chapter that outlined the “Three key challenges to keep the innovative culture alive“, which are mentioned below:

1. SIZE problem :
Size requires specialization of functions, creates communication & coordination problems between functions, and requires review boards & approval requirements; which may frustrate creative people and dampen their creativity.Small problems take more time to get solved due to lengthy discussions.The more people who are involved, the longer it takes to reach agreement on simplest things.And agreements are more likely to be compromises than optimal solutions.

2. EXISTING CUSTOMERS problem :
Customer is God for any business but diligent serving of existing customers has two innovation-impeding consequences :

a. Existing customers often discourage innovation by their vendors.For example: A major technical advance in computing can jeopardize the investments customers have made in existing software, hardware and training.Hence, these customers urge vendors to continue supplying them with parts and upgrades in order to stay in their old business.Eventually, the invention of the breakthrough products is left to the rivals sad Many times, these customers will abandon their vendors and switch their business to the innovative rivals.

b. Management shifts it’s focus to operations.The job of serving customers profitably requires operational excellence.As the business grows, the management’s attention is absorbed by people issues, marketing, finance etc. Hence, Innovation may be last thing in their minds.

3. COMPLACENCY :
Success that propels growth creates an impulse of complacency and self-satisfaction.It may trick people to believe that if they simply continue doing what they are doing, all will be fine.When faced with a new competing technology,for example, the impulse of many successful companies is to invest still further in the technology that made them successful.Consequently, these companies marginally improve their existing technologies as new ones were becoming much better and cheaper day after day !!!

Though startups don’t face these problems, a bigger problem is to keep the ENTREPRENEURIAL SPIRIT alive.As we know, not every member of a startup is an Entrepreneur and there are various driving factors to keep the spirit alive.We would discuss them in the next article.

There is always a debate over PRODUCT and PROJECT management and the responsibilities of each of them.Just came across a very informative presentation by Mr. Olsen of Olsen Solutions which was presented at Web 2.0 Expo, San Fransisco.


Key responsibilities of Web 2.0 Product Manager

  1. Embrace Web 2.0 marketing aspects of your role.
  2. Create customer satisfaction feedback loop.
  3. Define the equation of your business.
  4. Instrument your site to track key metrics.
  5. Prioritize product ideas by ROI.
  6. Optimize your viral loop.
  7. Learn more about the UI Design Iceberg [More on Slide 45].
  8. Iterate quickly and continuously improve.

Have been busy in work resulting in a short downtime on my blog sad Today, I received an email from one of my blog readers who is connected with me on LinkedIn and just wanted to know about how I reached 500+ connections.I just thought it would be great to share some of my tips; which would also help me to look back and check whether I am using this great tool to the fullest !!!

Below are my Ten tips [starting with my so called own MANTRAS] which makes my LinkedIn usage effective and helpful.

My Own Mantras

1. Target relevant people:
Many of us who are part of startups would be a part of many mailing lists like OpenCoffeeClub, Startup Specialists etc. This would be the best place to build your network.What I do is “While reading the email of a person on the list, if I get a feeling that it would be useful[as well as relevant] to connect with that person , than I send the invitation” and I am sure that there are lot of smart people around on such lists….Figure them out and add them !!!

2. Be Specific and Personal:
Assuming you follow point(1), you feel that a person X would add value to your network and you would like to add him. What next “Send an invitation” smile [check the image below and the part in Red Color which mentions PERSONAL !!! ]

When you are meeting a person for the first time, it is very important to introduce and specify “WHY” his addition to your network and your addition to his network would be very much useful.Remember Permission Marketing by Seth Godin – “The privilege of marketing to people who are relevant to you“, the same principle applies here as well.

It takes 2-3 minutes to be specific but it is indeed helpful. An improved example invitation below:


3. Build a useful conversation and than get the work done :
In case you are connecting with a USEFUL but unknown person, make sure that once you are connected to him/her; you know more about the contact. Write a “Thanks” reply and try to know as much as you can about him/her.
Once you are well acquainted , speak up and let him/her know the NOT SO OBVIOUS reason for the invitation.

4. Group your contacts:
Once you have multiple number of contacts; it may seem difficult to remember WHO,WHY & WHERE of a particular contact.Hence, on a regular basis ; export your contact list into .xls/.csv/other format and align the contacts in proper categories like Friends, Colleagues, Unconferences, Startups etc. to make your search simpler and faster !!!

The Obvious Mantras

1. Be an Open Networker:
The start is always difficult and if you are a waiting for your first connection, than this should be the first step. Just include your email-id in the Last Name field in your Profile page eg. Himanshu Sheth(himanshu.sheth@gmail.com) . This would give an impression that you are open to connect with anyone [with an obvious filter on whether the invitation would be relevant or not].

2. Put relevant keywords:
The difference between “S/W” and “Software” is huge.If you are an engineer and someone searches for Software, profiles tagged with S/W would be filtered out….So, just like coming on Google Search is important, being in relevant LinkedIn searches is important to increase your network.

3. Attach personal photograph:
Imagine being at a conference where you might have many of your new & yet Unknown LinkedIn connections, so “How would they identify you? ” ……In such cases, personal photograph on your profile page would be very much helpful.This may also help you reconnect with your very old colleagues.

4. Use LinkedIn badge:
If you have a blog/website, do not forget to use your LinkedIn badge.Many times, the Blog name is not so obvious eg. ThoughtsPrevail is just a random name and does not convey that “Himanshu Sheth” writes that blog [Though smart people would always google for it smile ]

5. Recommend relevant people:
Always try to write Recommendations for people ; who you feel are worth to be recommended.Many people read the recommendations written for/by a person and a recommendation can really add value to the recommender’s profile [for his openness] and the recommended person[for the great work that (s)he might have done].This indirectly makes searching for Smart people on LinkedIn easier.

6. Ask and Answer relevant questions:
“Q&A section of LinkedIn” provides an excellent platform to gain & share knowledge, not to forget adds lot of Stars to your profile with the golden word – EXPERTISE.

If you have some more relevant inputs, do let me know and I would add them in the Reader Contribution section.

Reader Contribution:
Ramjee Ganti – Guy Kawasaki on Ten Ways to use Linkedin

Startup means a lot of things for many people and there are a variety of motivating factors for different people.It takes a lot to leave a high paying job and to join an early stage startup or to start working on your own idea.

IMHO, it is very simple to write on blogs and to review others startups but it takes a GREAT HEART to accept criticism[in the right spirit] for our own startup/idea.

As mentioned above, though motivation for a startup are different undoubtedly, one thing should be starting point – PASSION ; but when a bunch of people gather to create a startup to make quick bucks, you are sure to reach the dead end soon !!!! Let’s look at what could go wrong for such organizations.

1. Not SO-GREAT Minds also think ALIKE :
All of us know about this very famous saying – Great Minds think alike but when not so-great minds meet, they also think alike.When startups have such minds and money is the SOLE intention, you can be very much sure that there would be some dirty games being played in the minds of each & every member.

2. Focus shifts from QUALITY to QUANTITY :
The most important part of any software is it’s quality , without which there would be no quantity[in terms of customers, revenue, growth etc]. But if the sole aim is to earn money, you would always keep Quantity in mind without even thinking that it is quality that gives birth to Quantity and not vice-versa. So, the focus should be on Quality with a clear road map on how that would lead to tangible quantity.

3. RIGHT EMPLOYEES in the WRONG PLACE :
In case a highly passionate person[who has the willingness to learn and to do something in life] lands up at such a place, it would lead to lot of misunderstandings with the fellow co-workers which in turn would lead to an unhealthy working environment.This Mr./Ms. ‘RIGHT’ would in turn stop other Mr./Ms. RIGHT(s) from joining such a startup leading to a bad reputation in the market sad

4. TRANSPARENCY becomes OPAQUE :
The onus of building a good/great company lies on the initial members of the company. The great thing of an initial stage startup is that it is like a BABY that has to be nurtured continuously by it’s so called Father(s) [or Founders] wink It is very important for a startup that there are regular brainstorming sessions/discussions to ensure that every person is in sync and have the same & updated information.
However, when money becomes the motive, there would be very less transparency and team members would tend to hide information from each other….And if there is no information exchange between the first few people, than how do you ensure a transparent culture in the new people[many of which may belong to point(3) ] who join your company ?

5. HIERARCHY , the serial Killer :
Combination of points (1) and (4) gives rise to point (5) – Hierarchy. Gone are the days when there was a person called “BOSS” who wanted to keep an eye on everyone nowadays, people enjoy an open culture and there can never be a successful company built using the bricks of “Hierarchy”. Sure, once the number of employees increase, we may need Managers[and not bosses] , but if we have Hierarchy followed from Day-1 ; you can be rest assured that it would be followed till the time the startup exists smile…..and it is needless to mention the fate of such startups !!!!

If you have any other points, please mention them in the comments section and I would be happy to add them in the article.

Many times meeting investors becomes similar to applying for a job in a company.There are some set of basic questions which are repetitive and many times, the answer to these decide your fate.The only difference being in a job interview, the mistake may turn out to be less costly[since,it is only YOU who is affected] whereas any mistake while pitching to an investor won’t only affect YOU but everyone CONNECTED with you in the STARTUP.

Just came across an interesting and a worthy presentation which gives an insight into the basic questions and the answer to simple those simple questions biggrin

Reader Contribution:

Lakshman Srikanth shares this insights on OpenCoffee Club dated 21st June,2008 here