Catalyst Entrepreneurship Thinking

The Present

The ability to look forward and visualize the future is a very good skill to have. To excel in that skill, one needs to understand deeply how the present works. It takes time to do that. Talking to experts, consuming lots of written information, performing targeted searches and experiencing something by oneself are some of the ways that one can gain insight into the present. Without a great understanding of the present, it is hard to think about the future and even harder to come to a reasonable assessment of how to change it.

So, we should understand the present in as much detail as one can. If we are going to change the healthcare system, we need to understand the nuances, the details, the player and the ecosystem.

One may say, “Screw it. I know that the present system is a failure, so I am just going to invent a future that will be a success”. Fair enough, but that is a limiting factor. Only by accumulating a wealth of knowledge on a domain, does one get the tools and the skills to change that domain. You may ask “What about the 20 year old’s who are inventing Lidar systems and becoming billionaires?”. The secret is that they recruited experts in photonics to make it happen. You can also collaborate with expertise to up your game.

Entrepreneurship Sales Start Up

Wisdom from a startup veteran

Samir Bodas is the CEO of iCertis a Bellevue WA based company providing SaaS based contract management software.  Recently, he gave a talk at a TiE event on Scaling a Startup. The interactive questions took us to areas other than scaling.  Few of my observations:-

  1. If you want to do a startup, just do it. 9/10 people don’t even start despite having an idea. 9/10 people who start something don’t succeed. Don’t be in the former camp. You will learn a lot by doing, even if you fail.
  1. Try to create a wave or ride one. Creating a wave is tough and requires the likes of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg. If you are riding a wave, get onto it early. Have a reasonably good idea that it will be a big wave. iCertis bet early on the cloud in 2009. Betting on Azure was pivotal in getting into the Microsoft ecosystem.
  1. Serendipity plays a crucial part in startup success. Many talented folks have not succeeded in building a successful company and many hardworking folks have failed too. Going back to #1, you will not know until you start something.
  1. Focus your startup by going deep in an area. In the original theme of “ERP Surround Software”, his company tried other areas such as transportation logistics but decided to focus on contract management. Once they did that, it was easy to raise money from VCs.
  1. In enterprise sales, respond to RFPs. Common wisdom is that this is cumbersome and costly process for startups, but could be an extremely valuable opportunity.
  1. It’s not necessary to have a full product before starting sales. Project confidence in your abilities and do the demo. The customer has likely not checked your competitor’s full capabilities.
  1. During early stages, have the Engineering team work extremely close with the customer. They were able to have 6 week turnaround time from customer ask to delivery.
  1. A sign of scale is when you can sign deals without seeing the customer. Their last 2 deals in Europe was signed, all via remote interactions.
  1. Getting your early customers into a customer advisory council is powerful. They are usually your strongest advocates and want to see you succeed.
  1. A company’s culture is captured in its values. Values need to be written down and adhered to across the board and consistently for true scaling of the company. Don’t get surprised if your customer asks you about your company’s values.
  1. Keep sales folks hungry. Compensate them enough to survive, but not enough to give them luxury of waiting for next year. Be maniacal about targets and don’t be wimpy about firing people that don’t meet it.
  1. Samir gets invited to all sales calls. His calendar is full of sales calls. Important thing is to listen for tone from the customers. As CEO, don’t be afraid to engage at the level of each sales call.
  1. With SaaS, it is not necessary to build a large remote sales force or have Satellite offices, unless situation demands it. Due to lack of skilled sales people in Seattle, iCertis has offices in Dallas, Philadelphia and Bellevue.
  1. If you can pull it off, having relationships with Industry Analysts is invaluable. Usually, analysts will look for you to have at least 20 customers, unless you are doing something completely differentiated in the space. They are a great source of leads.

These stood out for me. Overall, great stuff from Samir and thanks to TiE for organizing the Startup on TAP event.

Entrepreneurship Start Up

College and Entrepreneurship

A friend of mine recently posed this question – “Hey, you work with startup companies. Should a college aspiring student pick a curriculum or stream that would be useful for a startup CEO?” Of course, the underlying assumption is that this student is planning to start a company before or after graduating.

My response was a “qualified” no. Entrepreneurship can definitely be taught, but I would be bored to death sitting through many entrepreneurship classes and coming out with a degree in entrepreneurship. Sure, I am exaggerating, but most entrepreneurs learn by doing. A business oriented curriculum is usually focused on administration (MBA), rather than creation of companies.

Angellist Crowd Funding Entrepreneurship Fund Raising Start Up

Crowd Funding

Recently, I helped my company Cartogram list an investment offering on a public funding site – Flash Funders.

One should understand the difference between crowd funding and 506(c). A 506 (c) offering is open to only accredited investors and it’s the responsibility of the manager of the offering to verify accredited status of investors.  The nice thing about this offering is that Flash Funders will pool any investments less than the minimum in a LLC, so the entrepreneur does not have the daunting prospect of having to manage a big investor pool. Model is similar to an Angellist syndicate, but the key difference is that companies can list themselves, rather than needing an investor to syndicate. This is different from crowd funding sites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo as those entities don’t deal with equity and one does not have to be accredited investor to invest in Kickstarter or IndieGogo.

We found the Flash Funders tools very good and their team was quite responsive to us. They reviewed our documents thoroughly and pointed out a few gaps that we were able to fix easily. Going through the exercise itself has been very useful for Cartogram – especially in how much to reveal to a public audience and how to structure the presentation so it’s effective when just browsed. Sensitive information can be left out and provided to a prospective investor during due diligence.

We are in this era of greater access for entrepreneurs to fund their companies now. I listened to Naval Ravikant in a recent Tim Ferris podcast and he had some interesting things to say. His observation is that the communication and information revolution is breaking down the validity of the company as an organizational entity. Somehow, I believe that to truly build great things, the company structure is vital. How does one create a bold mission and attract people to that mission if everyone is just working virtually or free lancing? I am unable to fathom that, but who knows what the future holds.

Conference Entrepreneurship Start Up TieCon

TiECon 2014

I spent 2 days in San Jose taking in my first TiECon. It was certainly impressive from content and networking point of view.

The tracks were Big Data, IoT, Cloud &Infrastructure, Healthcare, Entrepreneurship, Nexgen Tech Services.

There was a big Exhibition Hall with about 100 venodors.

In general, the attendees were very friendly, very informal and embraced interactions. It was clear that Networking IS a primary purpose of this conference.

Tracks were stellar. I attended IoT, Cloud, Entrepreneurship mostly. I also participated in the MentorConnect session. There was only one session in which a panelist swore 🙂

Keynotes were particularly good.  Rakeysh Om Mehra, Romesh Wadhwani, Shahid Khan connected with the audience quite well. 

With lots of business cards in hand, I am now armed. With some key learnings, it is back to the task of how to guide my partners effectively.

Did get to try Uber twice. I have to agree it is disruptive. Saved me 20% on two trips. Taxi Cab companies need to respond with better technology and competitive prices and not by pressing the regulatory panic button.