Meeting the Startups at Conquest, 2017

Last weekend, I was invited to talk and critique some of the Startups at the Conquest International Startup Challenge, 2017. It was short sessions of about 20-30 minutes each with the Startups. Most of them are looking for investments. The generic suggestion I mustered up was not to limit to investors in India but to look outside too. The other key missing piece was that they need to hustle a lot.

Here are the Startups I talked to;

Trell

Started as a handle on Instagram, Trell went on to become a sensation amongst young travelers, who love to look at pictures of local places to travel to. They leverage the finger-snappy millennials that love photographing places they visit and sharing with their friends and fans.

The Trell App is a buffet of picture-stories of interest to users who want to explore new places with their friends.

The team is doing a good job of hustling with the right audience, they have a really good traction. I was able to give them few technical feedback and suggestions, especially with the UI/UX of the app. They were interested in a more in-depth technical discussion on how to scale their image hosting/delivery mechanism to give their users the best picture quality at the most optimized setup. It is a solved problem and they should not worry too much about it.

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3 Essential Steps for New Startups

Most entrepreneurs truly believe that their ideas have the potential to make them wildly successful. That turns out being true for some. But not all startup ventures reach the level of success their founders expect, and some are complete failures. Adding the 3 steps outlined here to your startup plan will improve your chances of a successful launch.

Objectively Assess the Need

It’s all too common for would-be entrepreneurs to think of ideas for products or services to sell, and quickly jump in with both feet trying to market that product or service without objectively assessing the need for that it. Here’s a stark reality: if the market doesn’t perceive a need for your product, it won’t sell; and you will have wasted valuable time and money creating and marketing your product.

Supply and Demand

Identify your Unique Selling Proposition

Whether you’re launching a completely new and revolutionary product or something that’s similar to what others already sell, you must identify your Unique Selling Proposition (USP). Once you’ve developed your USP, incorporate that into your marketing strategy. Remember, just because you inherently know what makes your product better than similar offerings doesn’t mean your prospective customers will.

Plan Ahead

Virtually every startup is fraught with potential problems and barriers. What those might be for you and your startup depend largely on what you’re bringing to market. For example, some product categories are governed by strict regulations, often from multiple levels of government and multiple agencies within each level. In fact, dealing with regulatory requirements is often the single largest expense associated with creating a product and bringing it to market. If you don’t have the resources necessary to navigate the regulatory environment, you could find yourself dead in the water before you even manufacture your first product. But that’s not the only potential problem. In fact, there are so many, we can’t begin to list them here. But we can tell you that you must objectively brainstorm for potential problems that you might face launching your product, then develop strong contingency plans to deal with them, if and when they arise.

Ideally, you’ll incorporate these steps into your plan before you launch your startup; but if you’ve already launched and haven’t completed one or more of these steps, you may want to put everything on hold until you complete the missing steps.

Featured Photo by Mari Helin-Tuominen, Supply and Demand Image from How to Estimate Market Demand for a Product?

Lessons Learned from a Lifetime Dedicated to Entrepreneurship

If you’re planning to start a business or a startup, it’s valuable to learn about life and the flow of business from people who have navigated their own paths to success. Though it’s true, no matter who you learn from or what college you attend, ultimately, everyone has to make his or her own way to success. However, no one can make it without borrowing a proven effective strategy or two from someone else.

David Turner Morgenthaler died in June of this year after achieving great success with his venture capital firm, Morgenthaler Ventures.

Turner, known as a successful investor, entrepreneur and philanthropist will also go down in history for his instrumental roles in amending ERISA legislation and lowering the US capital gains tax to 28% from 49%.

Small Biz Trends contributor Scott Shane shared some of the valuable business lessons he learned from Morgenthaler over the years.

What Can Entrepreneurs, Startup Founders and Investors Learn from Morgenthaler?

On Startup Founding and Success

  • Startup success is challenging. Most of the factors that contribute to a startup’s success aren’t factors founders can control. In fact, Morgenthaler equated startup success to, “making lightning strike the bottom of a swimming pool on a sunny day.”
  • Startup investing isn’t a guaranteed money maker. Startup investments only produce returns about 10% of the time. Investors should be prepared to lose money often.

On Investing, Entrepreneurship and Business Strategy

  • Successful investing can come from doing adequate research and knowing everything about a company’s management, their organization, their market and their industry.
  • However, the most important element in the equation is the entrepreneur or management team. The right person/people can change organizational factors and create success. In fact, he felt most startups and entrepreneurial endeavors failed because the business owners and founders, (the people), made mistakes.
  • Successful business heads gather in places where realistic success is plentiful. They leave dead places where new business and investment can’t flourish. This is why you see so many entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley.

On Intelligence

  • Intelligence is not the same thing as getting a lucky break and profiting from it.
  • It’s not being an intellectual snob and discounting the input of everyone around you with a good idea; and
  • Good ideas must also be provable. They must be possible. They must conform to the standards of natural laws like gravity etc.

Manager-Employee Relationships: 6 Ways to Take Growth to the Next Level

As negative experiences with supervisors constitute the number one reasons employees leave companies, it is impossible to over-emphasize the importance of maintaining positive relations between managers and employees. Particularly important in small, Startup businesses where managers and employees tend to work extremely closely, building and maintaining strong relationships forms an important part of the company’s foundation.

Here are six simple steps how managers can build mutual trust and respect with their employees, ensuring long-term dedication and retention.

  1. Listen: Taking employees seriously shows respect and encourages communication. Opening the doors for communication dramatically improves the manager-employee relationship as employees know their voices are heard, their opinions matter, and they have a say in their jobs.
  2. Cut the Crap: Say what is true and needs to be said. Flattery, rumors, avoiding real issues, and other kinds of unnecessary word-play do not fool anyone.
  3. Appreciate: Take the time to thank employees for a job well done. Not only does this demonstrate attention and involvement, it inspires them to keep up good work, knowing that it does not go unnoticed.
  4. Work Together: Projects that result in more interaction also result in mentoring and growth on both sides. The obvious result is employee growth, but other benefits include building mutual respect and rapport, sharing the work-load.
  5. Feedback: Positive or negative, employees sometimes need an outside voice to give feedback before they can fully understand their performance. Managerial input offers them the chance to understand their work from a new and necessary perspective.
  6. Growth: Managers who provide purposeful opportunities for growth for their employees are investing in both the employee and the company — a fact that is not lost on the employees.

Following the basic strategies of listening, honesty, being appreciative, purposeful mentoring, consistent feedback, and strategic growth opportunities sets up a positive atmosphere of communication and respect by demonstrating interest in the employees’ productivity and their overall work experience. With time and commitment, building these traits can change the atmosphere of a workplace, securing dedicated employees and building strong and effective teams.

Keep Your Startup Pruned to Achieve Optimum Growth

Necessary Endings

In his book, Necessary Endings, the management guru, Dr. Henry Cloud, creates an analogy between growing a prize-winning rose bush and developing a successful business. Per Dr. Cloud, one of the keys to success in both endeavors is to “prune” or cut away parts of the rose bush or the business to focus all energy on the strongest and best branches. A startup can follow this advice through all stages of its growth to develop a viable and long-lasting business structure.

Prune the Deadweight

Pruning focuses on eliminating the three parts of a business that can prevent it from achieving its maximum potential. First, and perhaps most obvious, a business needs to cut its deadweight. A Startup, in particular, cannot afford any non-functioning parts that drain resources from a business structure. An entrepreneur may find it difficult, for example, to jettison an idea that catalyzed some part of a startup, but if that idea has stopped bearing fruit, it needs to be discarded in favor of the concepts that are working. The same holds true for employees or partners who may have been around to help a startup at its inception but who are no longer contributing to the startup’s growth.

Prune non-functioning branches

Second, a startup needs to eliminate those branches that are showing signs of sickness with no chance or ever recovering from that sickness. A once-great idea that got a startup off the ground can lose steam as competitors begin to latch onto an idea that the startup might have created. Instead of focusing on a sick or dying branch, cut it off and preserve the startup’s energy for newer and more powerful ideas.

Prune the good ideas, focus on the best

The third and perhaps most difficult part of a startup business that should be pruned are healthy ideas that may be good, but otherwise are not the startup’s best ideas. A rose gardener will prune healthy branches that have two or three buds in favor of the branches that have seven or eight buds. Entrepreneurs are fond of great ideas, but too many ideas can threaten the focus of a startup company. Focusing on the best idea and cutting the remaining good ideas will give the startup the best guarantee of long-term success.

Every entrepreneur will benefit from stepping back from her startup to assess which ideas will give the best chances of future growth, and which other ideas have died or show signs of slowing down.

Great Accelerators and the types of Startups they work with

In many ways, founding a startup is more challenging than starting a traditional business. Of course, entrepreneurs want to make money when they start a traditional business. However, startup founders must prove that their idea will grow into a large corporation. This is quite a bit of pressure.

For this reason, startup founders are a unique breed. Luckily, there’s also a unique source of help if you alone or you and your team are brave enough to say, “One day this concept or product will be as big as Facebook.”

There are many startup accelerators that offer startup founders access to

  • Financial assistance,
  • Specialized business training,
  • Counseling,
  • Legal guidance, and
  • much more.

Most accelerators like to focus on one type of startup. For example, some only work with tech startups. Others work with startups that have a certain structure, like team-based startups.

What to Expect

Most accelerators will offer you mentorship, workspace, operational support and access to funding via introductions to angel investors or outright payments. Program durations run anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. Many programs are quite competitive and only accept 2 to 10 startups a year.

Startup Accelerator

Here’s a list of great accelerators and the types of startups they work with.

Tech, Web, Mobile, and Science Accelerators

  • For innovators that plan to combine technology with entertainment to create brand new experiences, Disney is interested.
  • Blue Startups in Honolulu, Hawaii, works with companies focused on technology. Blue pays special attention to startups that want to do business in both the US and Asian marketplaces.
  • StartFast in Syracuse, New York works with startups in the web, mobile and software industries.
  • The Illumina Accelerator program is geared toward scientists in the progressive fields of genomics, clinical research and applied sciences.
  • LightSpeed Innovations in Southern California works with startups in the aerospace industry.
  • Luma Launch, located in Santa Monica, CA seeks to works with startups that combine content presentation with technology.
  • VentureOut in New York City works with technology startups.
  • The SaltMines Group in Vero Beach, Florida works with startups that have designed innovative social media products and mobile apps.
  • The Yield Lab located in St. Louis, Missouri offers help to agricultural technology companies whose product offerings and business concepts encourage sustainability.

Women, Minority, Social Change and Team-Based Accelerators

  • MergeLane in Colorado focuses on women-based startups and the challenges those founders face.
  • Startup52 is a New York City-based accelerator program. This program only works with startups with a strong and diverse team of founders.
  • Capria in Seattle, Washington looks for startups with a product or business concept that focuses on making a global impact, especially in developing countries and emerging markets.
  • Cofound Harlem in New York City has the goal to launch 100 new Harlem-based, community impactful companies by 2020.
  • Gener8tor has locations in Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin. The accelerator works with startups that have a strong team of founders.
  • The Sixers Innovation Lab, a JV between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Kimball Office, is looking for promising startups in any industry. The Innovation Lab wants to stimulate startup community growth throughout Philadelphia and New Jersey.

Product Design

  • Matter in New York City and San Francisco is looking for startups that have designed a product that the accelerator can quickly bring to market.

Marketing

  • The Brandery in Cincinnatti, OH offers $50,000 in outright funding and works with business in the marketing, branding and design fields.

Retail and Consumer Goods

  • XRC Labs in New York City is great for startups in the consumer goods and retail market.

As you can see, advancing technology and science, working with others and working towards social change can give your startup a really big foot in the door with many accelerators. However, there are accelerators that fund good startups in all industries. You just have to know where to look.

In addition, for further guidance, Startup Next is a pre-accelerator program that will help a promising startup in any industry get into a top accelerator program.

Startups Case Study: Why SpoonRocket Shut Down

SpoonRocket

Although the on-demand industry is highly popular, not all businesses remain successful. Recently the food-delivery service SpoonRocket announced it was shutting down. Prior to closing, the business accomplished meal sales at a profit, but the cost of operations exceeded the funding they were able to raise. In addition, their business model of cheap, quickly delivered food did not draw in the customer base required to sustain it – many customers reported dissatisfaction with the quality of the meals, preferring to spend more money for tastier alternatives. The management attempted to organize an acquisition instead of terminating the business, but the deal ultimately failed.

Sprig, a strong competitor of SpoonRocket, has attracted many of the customers and ex-employees of the closing business. The SpoonRocket management team actively recommended Sprig as part of their closing announcement, offering discount coupons for SpoonRocket customers who chose to transition. Despite Sprig’s service being slower and the cost higher, many customers find its quality superior and its sustainable, organic sourcing appealing.

Several additional alternatives exist for ex-employees or customers of SpoonRocket. Caviar, a service that partners with restaurants in over a dozen major cities, allows customers to order from their favorite locations. For people who prefer to cook, DoorDash permits customers to order groceries from local suppliers for delivery in less than 45 minutes. Another option, Postmates, is headquartered in San Francisco, and aims to grant customers access to goods from any local store or restaurant.

Regardless of the reasons why food-delivery startup SpoonRocket shut down, the on-demand industry remains strong and its opportunities promising.

About Entrepreneurship worth knowing

Entrepreneurship is not all glitz and glamor like the movies would have you believe. Contrary to popular belief, entrepreneurs don’t work hard for 6 months and then become an overnight success. There is a huge amount of effort that is put forth and sustained for years before success happens.

Even though there are few things in this world that are more satisfying, challenging, and financially lucrative as entrepreneurship, it’s not for everyone. Everyone is not willing to put forth the effort or sacrifice what it takes to make it as an entrepreneur. Here are few thoughts about entrepreneurship that everyone should know.

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It takes a long time to become successful

When a successful entrepreneur is highlighted, it is usually their success and money that is at the forefront of the story. This leads readers to falsely believing that these tech billionaires and super successful entrepreneurs are merely “lucky”.

What they don’t highlight is the struggles and years of hard work and labor. Startup website Funders and Founders highlights the hardships of some of the world’s most successful billionaire entrepreneurs.

One infographic on the site, “Too Late to Start?”, highlights the fact that most of these successful entrepreneurs started their journeys between the ages of 35-39.

There are a million failures before a single win

Another common aspect of the entrepreneurial journey that people seem to ignore is the fact that the most successful entrepreneurs have failed a million times before getting it right. It take an incredible amount of perseverance to continue in the face of failure.

Many entrepreneurs sacrifice having a social life

Another extremely important aspect of being an entrepreneur is having to sacrifice a social life. You don’t realize how much time it takes to nurture friendships, marriages, and relationships with children until you become an entrepreneur. All of this has to sometimes be sacrificed for a certain amount of time to give your business the life it needs to survive.

If you read the stories of the world’s most successful billionaire entrepreneurs, you’ll see that being a successful entrepreneur is anything but easy. Yes, everyone wants to have the money and accolades of successful entrepreneurs but not everyone is ready to do what it takes to get it.

What do you have to say about entrepreneurship? Are you one? How is your story so far?

Apply to Sourcebits’ Product Studios

Sourcebits

I have known Rohit Singal for a while though we never met in person until last month, to talk about Sourcebits’ new initiative – its innovative Product Studios model.

Sourcebits is one of those rare service companies in India, who can churn out beautifully designed products backed by an equally high calibre of engineering. Their primary focus is in mobile strategy, design & development.

Sourcebits has done work for giants like GE, SAP, Intel, MIT, P&G, Hershey’s and Coca-Cola, as well as emerging technology companies such as Skyfire, Knocking, Peel, TwitPic, CloudOn and Sling Media since 2006.

In May, 2011, Sourcebits raised $10M from Sequoia Capital and IDG Ventures. They are currently head-quartered in San Francisco with design and development centers in Bangalore (India), Niigata (Japan) and Mexico.

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Why Startups should invest in Good Hardwares for the Team

According to Gartner, global IT spending is poised to hit $3.8 trillion by 2014. But how much of it should come from your startup? Big corporate giants have massive IT budgets that help them upgrade and keep up with the latest cutting-edge technology that gives the company a competitive edge and enhances productivity. Startups, sadly enough, often have very little or nothing in terms of an IT budget.

Even so, a new startup still in the conceptual stage has to come up with a business plan that clearly maps out how much the company can afford to spend on hardware to be used as IT infrastructure and to keep employees connected.

In terms of the company’s IT infrastructure, make sure to come up with a system and components that are scalable and will not cause disruptions through down time. Getting a high-end wi-fi router may be a lot more affordable in the end than buying a cheap one that keeps dropping the uplink to your ISP and slows down you work.

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