Archive for the ‘My Company’ Category
TiEcon Delhi 2008 scheduled from October 22nd -24th is shaping up to be one of the most exciting events on the TiE Delhi calendar both in terms of scale ‘of the event and the rare opportunity to hear, interact and connect with industry leaders, entrepreneurs, investors, policy makers and academia.
TiECon is the one conference that I attend every year. I have had a very good time networking at TiE events and conferences. This is one conference which has a fairly equal mix of highly respected industry veterans, established VCs and new and wannabe entrepreneurs. I have made associations at TiECon which have lasted ever since and also generated business. So this is a must-attend conference for anybody in Delhi who is serious about entrepreneurship.
More information available at http://www.tiecondelhi2008.org. Hope to see you there!
The current global financial crisis is our generation’s first brush with “reality”. Growing up in 90s, we read, heard and saw the great Indian dream coming true. We saw the cable TV revolution happen in front of our eyes. We stood in long queues to buy our first Mc-burgers and we ordered our first pizzas on the phone. We saw our elders jubliantly discuss the stock market which could only go in one direction – up! We read in newspapers about the fat pay checks the new “MNCs” were offering to kids fresh out of college. While ourselves in college, we learnt about this place called “Silicon Valley” which was apparently dominated by the Indians and “every third company there was started by an Indian”. Yes there was minor blip of a “dot com bubble” but we quickly forgot about it as we ourselves joined the hordes of young educated Indians who were going to shape the future of the country.
Life was good. In contrast to the socialist 60s, 70s and 80s, 90s and the current decade were all about capitalism. Capitalism brought with itself growth, oppurtunities and wealth. In terms of making money, the new generation started where their parents used to retire. So, in the context of all this, the current financial crisis and the breakdown of large captialistic economies can only leave the likes of myself confused and bewildered.
But having said that, I feel almost thankful that this crisis happened when it did. As the first generation that grew up wearing rose colored glasses, we are still young and nimble to adapt ourselves. Had the utopia of past 15 years lasted another 10 years, a lot of us might have found ourselves too entrenched to dig ourselves out. Secondly, the shake up of the financial world is likely to create a recession like environment for at least the next couple of years. This will be a great time to build new companies. This will be an excellent time to identify and recruit top notch talent at reasonable costs. While raising capital for new ventures will certainly be hard, it might actually get easier to raise money for existing businesses that are relatively safe and established.
Personally, now more than ever, I feel thankful that Tekriti is a cash flow positive business. Our choice of starting with a core services business was, in retrospect, very much correct. Our conscious decision to focus more on domestic business should help us in these times. For companies that are cash flow negative and will need to raise money to survive, things are going to be very hard. This turn of events is completely unexpected and almost no business could have foreseen it or be prepared for it. So, as all of us gear up for the things to come, I only hope that this down turn will not dampen the entrepreneurial spirit that has just started to grow in our country!
It is conventional wisdom that bigger companies move slowly compared to smaller ones. Often, large successful companies completely miss out on an upcoming industry trend or opportunity. Consider the example of Microsoft in the mid-90s. For a while, they totally didn’t see the internet coming and it took Bill Gates himself to shake up the company and change course mid way. Similarly, when Google came out with its search engine, there were larger players already in that space. Obviously, by definition, big companies have the resources to put behind a new idea. They commission tons of market research so it is also not possible that they don’t know about the upcoming trends. They definitely have the money to hire the best and the brightest. So why is that many times we see a small little startup cause a disruption which in all likelihood should have come from the big industry leader who has been in that business for decades?
Busy protecting old turf
I think there are several reasons why this phenomenon happens. The first and foremost reason being that success is a very limiting thing. Most big companies grew big because they knew how to do one or two things very well and created a cash cow which sustained rapid growth. But having grown from the position of an upcoming challenger to the position of dominance, they now themselves had a turf to defend from even newer entrants. So as a company grows big, it spends more and more time in defending what it already has rather than building something new. Microsoft has fought hardest to fend off the threat from Linux or Open Office because Windows and Office are their two cash cows which they can’t afford to lose. Similarly, Google spends bulk of its efforts behind its contextual ads system. Closer home, Infosys works hard to continually improve its existing services business rather than venturing out in building packaged products. So, when a company wins in one game, it is forced to constantly continue to win against new challengers. It simply cannot afford to lose its position of dominance – even if it means not trying hard enough to win another battle elsewhere!
Short term focus – living quarter to quarter
Many large companies are publicly listed. Public listing is a great way to raise money for the business and provide liquidity to share holders. However, it also means that a company’s performance is monitored on a quarterly basis. Public companies must provide guidance on what results they hope to achieve in the next quarter. And if they miss their targets, it affects their stock price. Any piece of slightly negative news about the company can cause the stock price to fall. In such circumstances, it is natural that for publicly listed companies, a large amount of energy and effort goes in meeting quarterly targets and keeping the stock price healthy. In such circumstances, focusing on new opportunities which much might not yield any (or worse negative) results in the short to mid term is hard. This of course leaves the door open for smaller companies to come in and take the lead in a smaller niche within a big segment.
Lack of entrepreneurial drive
One might argue that even if it is true that large companies are busy defending what they already have and focused on short term targets, most of them still have enough resources to dedicate to new projects as well. In fact, they do often deploy several times more money and people on new ventures than what their startup challengers can. Starting a new greenfield project even within a big company is very much like doing a startup (albeit, a well funded one). And success of most startup ventures depends on the capabilities of the founders. When an entrepreneur is running a startup independently, she is likely to be really passionate about what she is doing and would have a very deep understanding of that space. In all probability, she must have given lot of thought to the venture before jumping in to it. Consider, on the other hand, how a new project would get staffed in a big company. The mandate for go or no-go on a new project would likely come from the top management or the board. Next, with a budget allocated to the project, the hiring exercise would begin. In such situations, often a successful manager from another part of company is deputed to lead the new effort. Or a key exec from a competitor might be pulled in. In either case, basically a job opening – likely with a fat pay check – is filled in. It’s not hard to see that the entrepreneur stands a fair chance against the big company in such situations. The entrepreneur has everything at stake as compared to a business head in a big company who could always move on to the next job. The entrepreneur is also doing what she is doing out of passion and genuinely belief in the opportunity as against the big company guy who might have been influenced by extraneous factors like pay package or company brand name.
I have made some obvious generalizations here. There are many large companies which are nimble and continue to succeed in many diverse territories. But no company every succeeded in everything that they did and smaller companies will always continue to challenge larger players. So if you have held back on implementing your ideas only because “a Google could also do it”, its time to give it another thought!
One of newer fads of our times seems to be starting a company! I say “fad” because its happening so much and so fast all around me that it doesn’t seem real. While it is great that the Indian mindset towards entrpreneurship has gone through a radical change of late, it also seems like a bubble. A few years back, most techies were extremely risk averse and content working at one of the big three IT companies but today I see many youngsters (some fresh out of college) leaving lucrative jobs to start up. Though I have always advocated my belief in entrepreneurship, I still feel certain amount of prudence is a must before taking the plunge. If too many people take this plunge without giving it sufficient thought, many of them will fail. This can have the effect of simply putting off others from starting up – which could burst our current startup bubble! So here is some food for thought for those trying to figure out if they are ready to start up.
1. How is your financial situation? This is first question you should ask yourself. Do you have enough money in the bank to sustain a decent life style for at least another year? Do you have any dependents? Is there a big EMI for a house or a car due every month? Can you really afford to deplete your bank account so much? You will need all your energy and concentration to have any chance of success in your startup. Worrying about how the bills will get paid is not going to help at all. This is one risk simply not worth taking. Save up before starting up!
2. Do you have a support system around yourself? Do people around you support your idea of starting up? How do your parents view your decision? Is your spouse ready to put up with what starting a new venture takes? Startups invariably go through ups and downs. During the “downs”, you will need complete support of your family and friends. If you are starting up in the face of opposition then there is a likelihood that every small failure will be met by a “I told you so” at home. That is not a good situation to be in. So get a buy in from those who matter.
3. Does your idea depend on external funding to survive? As a first time entrepreneur, it is not a good idea to depend on external funding to stay afloat. Your business plan might require external funds to grow, but it shouldn’t depend on external funds to stay afloat. Web startups should particularly take note of this. It always makes senese to build a business which starts bringing in revenue early on. Even if the revenue is small and not sufficient to meet the expenses, the fact that somebody is willing to pay money for your product or service is a good validation of your plan. Depending solely on future ad revenues or a buy out by a bigger company is not such a great idea because those things happen to maybe 1 out of 1000 web based startups out there. VCs don’t fund too many inexperienced first time entrepreneurs. So if the entire existence of your startup depends on convincing a VC, it might make sense to give it a second thought.
4. Do you have the right credentials? A new company is nothing more than its founders. Since there will not be a proven track record for your product or service, potential customers will judge it solely based on their perception of the founders. So if a mobile VAS startup is being run by people with no experience in mobile industry, selling will be that much harder for them. If an IT services company is founded by engineers fresh out of college, they will find it difficult to convince potential clients of their ability to deliver. So, while it is not essential that you startup in the space that you know well, it does hurt your chances of success if your credentials, background and experience can’t vouch for you.
5. Does somebody on your team know how to sell? Selling is an art and most of us techies have no clue about it. A team with complementary skills has a much higher chance of success. In particular, having somebody in your team who knows how to sell helps immensely. Building a product is one thing, being able to sell it another. Whether you like it or not, fact is that most companies became big and successful because they could sell better and not necessarily because they had the best product in the market.
6. And finally, do you understand what you are getting into? Have a frank talk with more experienced entrepreneurs about what they went through when they started up. Starting a new venture is very hard, especially for those doing it for the first time. It takes immense amount of hard work and sacrifice. It means having virtually no time outside of work. It means seening less of your friends and family. It means taking up the constant stress of managing cash flows. It means fretting about losing clients or people. When you look at it up close, it really isn’t that glamorous!
My intention of writing this article is obviously not to discourage future entrepreneurs! However, even the best of startups have very little chances of success. So it makes sense to maximize the factors that are in your control. Just a little bit of extra thought, planning and introspection before starting up can make the differnce between success and failure!
Come Monday morning and Tekriti would have moved out of Palm Court and Sun Tower for good. We came to Palm Court in October 2005 when we were barely 15 strong. Back in mid-2005, when we had started hunting for new office space, we were targeting a space of around 2000 sqft. In fact we had zeroed in on a 2200 sqft office in building nearby but thankfully the deal did not go through over a pretty minor issue. The next weekend, a property dealer showed us 602A Palm Court. The office at 3510 sqft was almost double in size and budget. We were told that we could take half of that office. The building also housed two call centers at that time. Hence, the courtyard was full of young kids and it almost felt like a college campus. That appealed to us and we decided to move in. I don’t exactly remember how we ended up taking the entire space because 3500 sqft seemed like “way too much space” back then. The office owner had been pretty suspicious as to why we needed this much space when we were only 10-12 of us.
The office was furnished in the most unconventional way. Right from the color of the fabric used, to color of walls, to the texture of wood used in the cubicles, there was nothing “office-like” about it and we loved it for that.
With a seating capacity of 36, the office used to feel really empty when we first moved in. Almost a third of the cubicles were vacant. Central air conditioning was a new luxury for us and with so few people around, the office would become terribly cold even during peak summers. Few of the girls carried shawls and jackets to office every day!
Late nights in Palm Court were always felt like more fun than work. Because of the call centers, the building was buzzing with people even at 2 AM in the night. There were a few all night “dhabas” within the building courtyard. Having a hot Maggi or chai in winters over there was almost a daily ritual for most of us.
The Tekriti Cultural Team was born at this new office. All the extra space we had was a great excuse to party without reason. We had many samosa parties, quizzes, skits, Diwali, Holi, Xmas parties at that office. One of my favorites was when I donned the red Santa outfit (back then I definitely looked like a Santa on a diet!).
I guess it took us just about an year to fill up the 6th floor office. We then got another office on the ground floor and then another office in the nearby Sun Tower. In the last three years, we have been through six different small and big offices. Amongst all of these, after the first one at Galleria, 602A Palm Court holds a special place for me, and I am sure, for many of the Teknokrats.
Its been a very long time since I last wrote a blog post. Unlike other addictions, blogging seems to have few withdrawal symptoms. That would be why I just haven’t gotten myself to update the blog in a long time! However, there are many updates to share and hence this post!
Travel Boutique Online nominated amongst NASSCOM TOP 100 IT Innovators
Travel Boutique Online (TBO) is our travel industry focused B2B platform. In our first year of operation, we have seen tremendous growth in this business and to top it, we were nominated amongst the top 100 IT innovators for 2007 by NASSCOM. This was a great accomplishment for our technology team. As a business, we have largely flown under the radar in a space (online travel) which sees lot of news and activity. We have also followed a radically different business model by going B2B in a space that is so far dominated by B2C players. TBO deserves a post (actually several posts) to itself. But getting the NASSCOM nomination was definitely a high point for us.
Three years of Tekriti
Tekriti completed three years of existence on 7th Feb 2008. It has been a terrific ride so far and time has flown by fast! We are now nearing the 100 employee mark, have added new clients, delivered several dozen projects and very importantly, brought domestic mix in our client list. Our commitment to product/platform based model has borne fruit and our video publishing product TekMedia has found good adoption in the last few months. There is a lot more to share which I will leave for future posts. However, we do have a new logo (as seen here) and a brand new company website. Do take a look and send back feedback my way.
New office move!
We are moving to a new office! For almost an year now, we have been operating out of three different offices. Obviously this makes things difficult. It increases costs and reduces communication. So now we are moving to nearby Udyog Vihar. We will have a whole building to ourselves. With 15000 sqft of space, a nice cafeteria and a recreational lounge, I can’t wait to move in!
I am hoping to get back to blogging. I started getting back in the mould by micro-blogging on twitter but New Delhi Times is the real thing!
Reading this article made me wonder why we spend so much time glorifying “product companies”. It is a peculiar phenomenon of the tech industry in India to consider services company as completely devoid of innovation and thriving solely on labor arbitrage. I was myself guilty of similar thinking for a long time. However, after over 2 years of doing services and product development side by side, I have realized both have their own unique challenges and it is not at all fair to put services companies on a lower pedestal than product companies.
Firstly, there aren’t really any true product companies. No company can simply build and sell products without providing services around them. Microsoft - the epitome of software product development – has a very large fraction of its work force providing support and associated services around its products. Apple, IBM, Sun – you name it – all develop products and provide services around them. If anything – many of these companies (notably IBM) have realized that services is a much more profitable business to be in. IBM Global Services is probably world’s largest software services company.
Secondly, unlike common perception, services companies constantly innovate to remain competitive. The innovation may be in the form of better processes, better hiring strategies, or in developing complex technical solutions for their clients. It is true that many large software services companies do routine incremental maintenance work for systems that were architected elsewhere. However, that is true for large product companies as well which need to invest majority of their resources in maintaining and updating previous versions of their products. If anything, a services company has better chances of doing interesting work in varied technologies as against a product company which is likely to be tied to a single platform and a single product. For a services company, every client and every project is an opportunity to pick up a new technology. The portfolio and technical breadth of services companies is undeniably greater than those of product companies.
Finally, doing software services is a great first step towards building software products. The greatest advantage of providing software services for us has been that we have learnt to listen very carefully to what our customers are saying. On the shoulders of its clients, a services company gets an opportunity to look closely at varied business models, ship varied products and learn from mistakes and successes of others. All this is great experience that readies an organization to venture in to product development when the time comes.
Let us give credit where it is due. The Indian IT industry is what it is because the few big IT services companies which mastered their art. To compare with Silicon Valley is not only incorrect, it is also irrelevant. To deride services companies as doing low end labor intensive work is being ignorant. To assume that product development can’t happen here because we are not innovative is naive. If we were not innovative and smart, the IT services success story wouldn’t have happened as well. Lets get over the fixation with product development. It is happening and will happen more when the need arises. Meanwhile, lets raise a toast to all those services companies which have put India on the world map!
Around an year back when we were kicking off a big project in office, our unofficial motto for the project was “lets play like the Aussies”. Watching Australia win the World Cup last night reminded me how appropriate that motto was.
The Australian cricket team has won 4 of the last 6 world cups. They have made it to the finals of 5 of the last 6 world cups. They haven’t lost a match in the world cup since 1999. In short, they rule the game and there is not even a distant second. Their domination has lasted 20 years and there are no challengers in sight.
In a sport that is often termed as “a game of glorious uncertainties”, how can one team continue to dominate so consistently? Over 20 years, dozens of players, coaches, management and selection committees must have come and gone. So it is definitely not a case of individual genius. It is also not a case of just having things fall in place (the way they did for India in 83 or for SL in 96). Australia’s success is a case of having the right system in place and following processes. Whether it is selection procedures, training regimens, talent spotting or team strategy, their appears a clear method in their ways. There is no adhocism and very little dependence on individual brilliance. Contrast that with the India team. We have traditionally been people oriented. A great all arounder or a genius batsmen or a legendary leg spinner have historically given India its cricketing successes over the years. This is of course the reason why the Indian team goes through so many crests and troughs.
Australian team is a great example of how organizations should work. Dependence on individual star performers can yield results in the short term but adds little to the strength of the organization. If anything, it can leave rest of the team rallying behind a few individuals. So when those individuals stop performing or are not available, things start falling apart. In contrast, a process based approach may take time to show results. It is hard to get processes right in the first go. It is also hard to get people to change and adhere to processes. But once a good system has been put in place, its there forever. It doesn’t depend on individual brilliance or sheer genius. It makes success more predictable and a good system allows identifying weaknesses early on. Sure, it might not be as sexy as a Sachin Tendulkar cover drive – but then how many World Cups has Sachin lifted so far?
As we have grown, and our projects have become larger and more complex, we have started realizing a need for more formalized processes. There is a clear need to standardize on many of our practices, methodologies and tools to make project delivery more homogenous and predictable. In the world of technology startups, “Process” is a four letter word. Often also termed as bureaucracy, introduction of processes is often perceived as an attempt dehumanize an organization. That to some extent is actually true because to minimize risks and scale, organizations need to get more process driven and less people driven. At the same time, Processes often impede free thinking and innovation. Too much Process can give team members a feeling of simply being part of the system or a cog in the wheel.
For a growing organization, its a tricky balance to achieve between introducing processes and encouraging individual creativity. After all, this freedom and flexibility is what attracts most people to work in a startup as against working in a process driven larger company. It does make me wonder if becoming slow, bureaucratic and tangled in processes is the inevitable fate of all companies as they grow in size? A friend who works in Reliance laments how all decision making and thinking happens in the HQ in Mumbai while the regional offices are left to execute upon those decisions without questioning them. Big tech. companies like Infosys and Wipro also seem to straitjacket teams in to working against a very stringent process driven approach with little scope for experimentation. While I was at Microsoft, the Windows division worked on a very loose set of processes. That, in retrospect, was very commendable considering how big that team was and how much it took to keep the machinery working. However, the lack of stringent process did create problems and I think steps were taken later to address those issues.
So, my question is how does an organization become more process driven and yet continue to remain innovative and encourage original thought? Is it even possible? Are there any examples where this has worked well?
It gives me great pleasure to showcase the efforts of the Tekriti intern team in the form of LetsCricket.com LetsCricket is perhaps first social networking community targeted towards Cricket fans. Its built on top of the PeopleAggregator platform, which of course Tekriti develops with Broadband Mechanics. I had this project in mind since a very long time and I had registered the domain name more than an year back.
With the interns coming in and the world cup being just a few weeks away, we felt it was right opportunity to build LetsCricket.
LetCricket is targeted towards the typical crazy overzealous cricket fan (like myself). Indians love to talk about cricket (no matter they might have never played ever in their lives). So clearly disusing cricket is a very social activity. On LetsCricket, users can create groups, participate in discussions, vote for their favorite players, maintain cricket blogs and find other people with common interests.
LetsCricket is very much a work in progress. It has been put together in less than 3 weeks by Pankaj and Santosh (with generous help from Gurpreet and rest of the PeepAgg team). We are adding new features in to the site everyday. We decided to make the URL public in the spirit of open development approach. Do give it a look!