1
Jun

Start-up Founders 2.0 – 15 Lessons from entrepreneurs – Phani Bhushan and Girish Baranda

On May 27, 2016, we hosted Phani Bhushan and Girish Baranda, are entrepreneurs, innovators, and the Founders of PLANiN innovation, at the Startup Founders 2.0. Both shared their experience, taking the founders present through the thrilling roller coaster like ride as an entrepreneur. Phani, a passionate and a natural innovator hails for a small industrial town of Bokaro in Jharkhand that has one of the largest Steel Plant of the country. Girish hails from Ahmedabad, Gujrat.


The piggy in the above video made 17 attempts to reach the cookies in the jar, and yet could not get to grab even a single one,This summarised their journey as entrepreneurs. Just when you are finally about to get a cookie after the nth attempt, something will block your mouth! The video communicated that only the rare of the lot get to reach the cookie-jar in the first attempt.

“Entrepreneurship bug bit me well in time, I filed my first patent during my college days and always thought of starting an innovation company. I started an innovation company in 14th March 2012  ( Pie Day) and had been on a rollercoaster ride ever since. Some of the lessons I learnt the hard way, but on my own money. Hope you avoid the mistakes I made after hearing our experiences.

Naming your company, it starts with a Noun!

“I wanted to work on innovations, creating innovative/inventive products and solutions, .. more like a lab which can produce rapid innovations and earn through royalty. Naming my innovation lab at the IIT incubator was least important for me, so when it I was asked what are you doing, I answered “I am Planning innovation” as that’s what I was doing. My accountant took Planing Innovations for name and I never questioned it. It was unimportant for me .The name was however denied by the MCA Babu. “The name has to start with a noun as per the new rule!”, he said. , I was quick to strike the last syllable of the word ‘Planning” from the verb to make it “Plannin Innovation”. That’s how I got the name approved by MCA. Later I realized that ‘name” is an important function of your brand and you need not be in a hurry like I was.

Hiring a Co-founder, you should know and trust him before getting him on board

As I said earlier, I was in a great hurry to start and was least interested in understanding the surrounding legal and financial environment before getting to the stage where I would need to. My CA told me I needed a minimum of two directors to start a company. My family members were in government jobs, so I could not have them as directors,  I had no one whom I could convince to join immediately so I convinced my accountant to join me as a co-founder. The relationship didn’t work out well and with obvious share of problems, I had hard time to getting another co founder.

Look at contributing in a big way

Not everything I listed here is a mistake! After registering my company, I started thinking seriously about the way forward. I reached out to Dr Anoop Chawla, Prof Mechanical Engineering,  IIT Delhi. And under his mentorship I got my lab incubated in IIT Delhi.

I started thinking of my first product. It was a cooling solution for accelerated frames. Sounds fancy!! For trucks and vehicles. My target market was goods vehicles or trucks. While creating my presentation, I could sense the bigger picture; that the truck drivers have a huge role to play in the economy, their health and well-being directly affects the last mile delivery. Truck drivers struggle with the heated environment for around 7-8 months in a year. A realization of this simple connection in my mind helped me get to the IIT incubation.

Don’t pay upfront in a manufacturing contract; Neither give an exclusive contract

The first product I created was a simple dust cleaning solution for screens like Mobile, Tablets, PCs, TVs, etc. I was so excited to launch it that I gave an exclusive contract to a manufacturer whom I met just once during a Delhi Metro ride. My naïve-ness didn’t do any good to me and I couldn’t complete the orders, couldn’t control the quality of the product as well. I am sure my inexperience has to do everything with it.

Get expert helps in the domains you don’t have experience and expertise

Later, I signed up a marketing contract with a big e-commerce company for my dust cleaning product even when I was not sure of my manufacturer’s ability to produce. As it turned out, the exercise was an absolute fail; a balme game started between the marketer and the manufacturere with us suffering in the middle of it. Opportunity wizzed past us.

Avoid legal hassles at any cost – but remain prepared for it.. it will be there sooner or later

Despite all this, I decided to avoid the legal hassle. This was my personal call in the interest of my start-up and the future prospect it was holding for me. Had I been in a legal battle with him, it could have eaten all my time and energy which I am investing in creating the next big thing.

Understand your customer and market condition before creating a solution-

Despite being a great innovation, my cooling system is yet to become a mass product for transport vehicles. The product is designed to be installed on the rooftop of a truck, and a commercial truck has to have a sealed rooftop to get a commercial clearing from the transport department.

Next, I created a parking solution mobile app. With a difference. I test marketed the concept in certain south Delhi parking lot. But once I gauged the landscape of how parking auctions are conducted I found my app to be completely unfit for conducting business

Don’t reveal the trade secrets before money reaches your account –

For manufacturing contract of the cooling system, I demanded an upfront royalty from my manufacturer. He agreed to pay by post-dated cheques. The moment I transferred the complete prototype and designs, the cheques started bouncing. I am yet to get my money and likely to get into a legal battle with him since the amount in question is high.

Market conditions impact you more than your competition

The real risk is not from your competition, rather from changing market conditions or operational issues that can kill your business in entirety. Ola and Flipkart are bigger stories because their founders were able to come out of the initial struggle without being broken. Here are some of the incidents from my life to draw this point –

  1. I created a grocery delivery app: only to realise that the model we had adopted was bringing us too close to the customer and adding risks at every people to people contact. All the risk of products being delivered was on our company.
  2. My two innovations are yet to see the market daylight because I chose wrong manufacturers.
  3. My wrong choice of co-founder had almost killed my business even before it could take off.

Product launch does not happen in fancy parties

Real product launch starts much before the fancy party which gets you press coverage. The customer should be able to get the product at the retail store next to him. The moment he comes to know about its non-availability at the retails, you have lost your customers and efforts of hype and attention that you created through ads, media etc.. I learnt this the hard way when, despite getting thousands of upfront order; I could hardly make a delivery as the product was still in pre-manufacturing phase.

Innovation is simple –

Innovation is the simple solution to complex problems which affect masses. Two problems which I identified with the most were ‘Heat’ and ‘Dust’. Both are global problems, if I can solve them well, I will be able to scale very fast. Great product sells on their own; marketing is just the business of creating awareness.

Treat your team members well –

There can’t be any two ways around it….

There is no hurry as such

Most founders, including me, are in a rush to launch the product and get a large market share. The real product which can sustain growth requires an entrepreneur’s homework well before getting to the market. Launch small and launch well. Operational issues kill more start-ups than competition or the lack of it.

Money, you need it all the time –

While we were courting all these failures, we were creating success as well, we could sell our innovation which could Bank of America optimise and utilise its corporate workspace better. Simple thing but it brought home some dollars. Our traffic interchange solution also brought us some money to sustain our long lists of failures

Nothing can stop you except your way of being

It might look like we are a bunch of fools, and may be we are. We don’t mind being fools. We take the rough way out , the road less travelled, at least you cant say you have heard the same things before. And  we are thoroughly enjoying this ride and we have not made any one loose their money. It all our experiments and we have learnt a great deal from it. Remained cash positive till this day despite loosing money left right and centre.

I keep moving despite all struggles. You evolve everyday when you are on a start-up journey. There is no looking back.

So the NEXT BIG THING

All our failures and experiences inspired us to engineer a new online platform “ iGLIMPS”  . Facebook, twitter, linked. All are great products serving a certain need of the society. But freindships never happen on Facebook, a conversation doesn’t happen on twitter, a network is not built on Linkedin. These are real things which happen in real world. We believe in bringing people together and technology to serve only as a leverage. So if you can see someone you can talk to that person ( offcourse the other person has to agree to it), but you wont need to know his/her name , phone number profile name etc for that. All very real. No false profiles nothing phony.

You would definitely not need this platform, only if your eyes could shout or you have an active telepathy subscriptiuon. Our core belief is Life is beautiful. TOGETHER.

Hence we are out once more on a journey, this time to help us all

Do. Different. Together

Dream. Different. Together

Risk. Different. Together

Colloborate. Different. Together

Think. Different. Together

Make. Different. Together…………….

SO JOIN US ON iGLIMPS.com

Written by Girdharee based on the discussion during founders 2.0 and follow-up inputs from Phani.

About Founders 2.0

Founders 2.0 is the space for founders, entrepreneurs and start-ups. The purpose is to create a unique platform where ideas can flow freely, people can network openly and problems can be discussed, shared and mutual solutions can be applied. Every week we get 20 founders to meet and greet each other. I look forward to welcome you at the next meetup.

23
May

Startup Founders 2.0 – Tracking Progress of Your Startup at an Early Stage

A startup idea goes through different stages of execution, every stage with its own set of challenges.  Most likely at the ideation stage, you as founders have questions such as

‘Is this the right idea?’ instead of ‘Is this the right way of execution?’?

Will someone pay me for my product/service?

Will I get someone to invest in my startup/idea?

Will I be able to attract the right talent to work for my startup?

By when will I know whether there is traction happening for my idea?

At the 2nd Meetup of  the Startup Founders 2.0, we brainstormed on ‘How to track the progress of execution when you are at the ideation stage?’. The established metrics such as revenue, growth rate, profitability etc do not make as much sense when you are in the early phase of your startup.  In the absence of clearly defined metrics, it becomes difficult for the founders like you to get a clear picture of the progress. Most often you are engrossed in the operational issues and the bigger picture seems to get lost, said Siddharth Tripathy, Founder of Skillizen and Co-founder of iSeed at the meet,” At early stages of a venture, it is hard to conceive of a stable dashboard on which progress can be realistically monitored,”.

This blog will attempt to extract the wisdom from various speakers at this weekly meetup event held at iSEED.

Seeking Clarity on Idea from End-Consumers

The ideal way to start is by understanding the customer and the pain point you are trying to solve. If you do, it’s a great beginning.

Once you understood the problem, you need to define the nature of your solution, if you are making a mobile app, it is easy for you to reach the end customer vis-à-vis  if you are working on a hardware product. In the case of a mobile app or a website or any IT enabled idea (that majority of this Friday Founders MeetUp participants were working on), you should reach out and take feedback from the end customer even before building an app or a website.

The metrics here would depend on how many of your end customers agree that it’s the right solution for their pain point you have zeroed in on. Well, it is rather difficult to find people who are your end customers when the idea is in your mind, specifically Indian customers like to play with your app or see the website before they can share some valuable feedback.

Handy Research on Competitors

Second metrics you can define by doing some research and find out if a similar problem is solved somewhere else in the world and if yes, how is it done. If you can find a solution quite similar to you, it becomes a benchmark for you.  Most ideas in Indian startup space are copied from the west, says Pranay Chaudhary, founder of Actogen, a single platform for doctors and patients.

Feedback from people around you

Most often you have people in your life with whom you can freely share the idea and get their feedback. It is an important exercise.

Tracking progress within: Are you still passionate?

Other than tracking progress through externally visible parameters, founders also need to pay attention on their “journey within” as entrepreneurs. This is more so during early stage of one’s startup journey. “We as founders have to track our entrepreneurial spirit. Ideas evolve but the spirit and passion need to continue to form a study base”, said Dr. Harsh Mishra, Founder of iSEED.”It is counterintuitive that the obstacles we face to our entrepreneurial spirit is the very indicator of our progress. If we ‘re not facing roadblocks, we may not be truly progressing. The walls we face indeed give us despair but if we travel from the point of despair to the point of hope by continuing to take action and not giving up, we have made real progress and it will soon show progress visible to the external world. The obstacles however need not be only the big ones. These may show up periodically within a span of weeks or months.  Sharing his own experience when he had started working on the idea of an entrepreneurship school; the person he thought most sold to his idea proved to have quickly lost faith and separated. This was like hitting a roadblock. Once he overcame this obstacle within, his passion soared once again more than before. He found better co-founders and advisors who he could convince even more deeply than before about his idea. Thereon, he has been able to go over many such roadblocks, and interestingly sees them as true measures of progress. “A spiritual daily practice that can revive the spirit within to continue can help greatly”, he believes.

Startup Journey is tough, and you feel like reaching the end of the road almost every day, said Uday who is passionately trying to solve the problem of awareness in patients about the cost of medicines and treatment. “If you are still passionate about the idea, you are on a right track”, he says.

Convincing people

Most often, its your passion and clarity of the vision which drives other people to follow you. It would depend on your understanding the idea and the magnitude of the problem you are solving. Why should you be the right person to solve this problem? Do you have an in-depth understanding of the sector specific issues or the what goes in the head of your end customer? Consider this, if you can convince people to work with you, perhaps you are going in a right direction. An outsider would always be apprehensive; be it the viability of your idea or your ability to execute it.

If you can convince someone to join your team or to put money on your idea, that’s a good validation, but most often people put money on the founder rather than the merit of the idea, says Siddharth, who is a serial entrepreneur and co-founder of iSeed.

Are lean principles relevant in Indian context

Go and tell people about your idea and just be free of any concern, no one can copy your idea, says Harshit, who is a corporate trainer and working on a start-up idea. Lean start-up principles are useful when you are working on something which is totally new to the market, if you know the solution well or if you have something to benchmark against, perhaps lean would not make much sense, says Pranay.  You should be aware of market conditions and demographics when benchmarking against a similar solution in other geographies, says Dr. Harsh.

What is your metrics of success? How you define whether you are on a right track? I would be happy to understand your perspective in the comment section below.

What is founder 2.0

As Founders, you are lone warriors. Very often, when you are working on an idea, people from your life are often apprehensive of its viability and often counter or ridicule you. Founders are best in the company of each other; hence Startup Founders 2.0 is a platform for you to discuss your problems specific to your journey as startup founders, entrepreneurs and people working on their idea. If you are excited, check out the upcoming schedule of next Startup Founders 2.0 event, or drop a mail to Prikshit, he will keep you posted about the schedule. I look forward to meeting you there.

 

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