The Chennai Tricolor Initiative

The #ChennaiTricolor Initiative

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If you ask any economist, what the secret weapon to accelerating the growth of a country is, they will tell you it is Entrepreneurs.

A decade or so ago, it happened. The wildfire enthusiasm and relentless of Indian entrepreneurs caught up steam. And that is phenomenal, but there is a BUT.

Entrepreneurship is a great tool to accelerate growth. But it also has the power to burn down the house. What is perhaps happening in Maharastra with the drought is an indication of it.

I do not believe that we need the government to regulate everything. But self governance also requires us all to align to a common cause – a simple cause would be to keep the interests of the nation ahead of our business interests. If its good for business, but it hurts the country in the long run, simply say NO.

I am not talking about nationalism here (where someone is forcing us to pay respect, pay taxes and using force to subjucate), but Patriotism where we really do want to leave a better “home” for our kids, and the kids of their kids, a place where they can always come back to and know that they belong here.

As a precursor to this, a bunch of volunteers are driving an initiative to put up a monumental national flag – in a public space, and so large and visible that you cant ignore and as a reminder that there is a bigger purpose for all of us to look upto. The initiative is going to be crowdfunded and truly one by the people.

I’d nudge for you to be part of it. This is in Chennai, but you can start a movement like this in your own city, town or village too.

Here’s how you can support:
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1. Be a Volunteer

2. Sign the petition that we are sending to the govt

3. You can contribute towards the crowdfunding initiative to cover the cost of the flag.

4. Spread the word.

More details are at http://www.chennaitricolor.in

Drop a note if you have any questions or comments. Also check on the FAQs on the website

 
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Dear Startup: Don’t try to Change User Behaviour.

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When I am talking to a startup team and they tell me that they are going to “change behaviour”, it sends red signals all the way.

I didn’t know how to explain it till i thought about it a bit. Truth is, a young startup (a fledgling and not the flipkart types calling itself a startup) has ridiculously limited resources. Assume you don’t have bucket loads of funding, don’t come from a filthy rich background, or have a pedigree and reputation that people will throw money at (I am talking about you 98 percentile population), then by defacto you have to go after the low hanging fruits.

The minute i say low hanging to anyone, they immediately assume two keywords – ecommerce, and hyperlocal. Shocking. But neither of those two spaces are low hanging.

While trends come and go, a good way to define low hanging would be, any opportunity where resources are least spent convincing your target audience that they need your solution.

There are three fundamental costs to a business – getting customers, delivering on what you promised and delivering on support. (2) and (3) are hard, but they are covered by the revenue that you receive. If you have to spend an awful lot of work on (1), that usually doesn’t end well. I’m being nice. It almost always never ends well.

So you want to find opportunities where all you have to do is show up and let people know that you understand the problem they have (and it better be as essential as their pants being on fire) and let them know you have the solution ( a fire extinguisher). They’ll do the rest – they’ll run over you to grab it with both hands.

So technically speaking, if you find a problem statement, that is really a problem and can solve it. Voila, you should be good to go.

The second aspect that you need to keep in mind is margins. If your target customer is all about pinching pennies and saving etc etc you wont be able to hang on to them for too long. One time solutions – Yes. But recurring, perhaps not. So the key would be to find out opportunities where there is a healthy (i didn’t say obnoxious) operating margin.

If you don’t know what that word means, its time to drop everything and go google on it and read up on some related words. Because all said and done, as my uncle taught me – if you decide to run a business, you really cant outrun the fundamental logic of every business – that revenue minus cost has to add up to profitability.

If you find spotting problems difficult, take a look at this platform that we’ve put together called Ideaspace. We are building a platform and a framework to build startups that solve real problems.

Disclaimer: It is only for the 98% of you.

 
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Opensourcing your core, as a strategy

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Open-sourcing your core is such a powerful move.

Years ago when Reddit was getting way too much competition all around – Digg was reinventing, Stack overflow was trying to build something similar etc – they did a radical thing and open sourced their code base.

It sounds like a dumb strategy, but is a brilliant way to stagnate the competition in the market. For one, for a short period you spawn 10x more copycats, and everyone starts verticals that they have a interest over, and have social influence in – but they are teaching the audience how to use your tool. Suddenly all those guys who are attempting to capture the same market with new UIs or a different take are fighting an uphill battle.

Give it a year or two, and when the new spawns die out, the newly created audience, finds its way back to you – for one simple reason, familiarity.

Tesla is playing that same card. Commoditizing the stack means, you kill differentiation very quickly (you realize if you want to “borrow” one part of the technology stack, there is a dependence on the other and so-on and so-forth) and he who built the stack can command leadership for a long time to come.

The lethargy to reinvent the stack is what will kill most competitors who even want to attempt disrupting that play.

PS: You need to lead in atleast one vertical / niche before you do this, or don’t be surprised if someone takes your own code and beats you at it. That’d be ouch!

 
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Be warned of the Culture of Excess

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The big moves, are made to polarize. You can’t win everyone, at the sametime, it is important to let go of those who aren’t pretty much bhakts of what it is that you are building to get to the finish line. But you can also lose your right hand man if you decide to go the other extreme.

When I saw pictures of the Flipkart office, I knew Amazon had won the war.

In the west, entrepreneurship is a bug that bites you when you are in school (college). Hence the reason why there is an ecosystem around Cambridge, MIT, Stanford, Berkeley etc. In India, it is the org where you get your first job. It defines, well, it will define who you are and how you think. Unfortunately, if you worked in one of the top four body shops, getting one to have an eye for detail is next to impossible – there are rare ones though.

Workspace sets culture. I would close my eyes and back an entrepreneur who comes from Amazon, Microsoft, Yahoo or Bosch. These are entrepreneurial orgs, and there is a culture of frugality and innovation built into their genes. People work hard, without expecting to be pampered. They don’t expect an art gallery to work out of. Art galleries aren’t productive spaces. And startups and offices are quarries, not galleries.

I still remember the story of Amazon, where they refused to spend money on fancy tables. So they took doors, put it on four legs and used them as tables. Startup legend says, there are still offices where they have those tables.

“These desks serve as a symbol of frugality and a way of thinking. It’s very important at Amazon.com to make sure that we’re spending money on things that matter to customers,” said Bezos, 34. “There is a culture of self-reliance. (With the low-tech desks) . . . we can save a lot of money.”

Take the other extreme, where we have struggled turning entrepreneurs out of google engineers. They are given in to a culture of excess, and that is death in the startup world. Bring them into a startup and they expect free flowing food, colorful bean bags, unlimited computing resources and the attitude of “It doesn’t make business sense, but why not?” Sure, corporates that are lost in the dark with 1% of your products generating cash, taking blind shots can adapt that strategy, but such attitude in a startup is death. You can only afford to swing once or twice and miss, in the startup world.

So, they have set the tone for polarization. Here’s an org that survived through the dot com bust, is known for frugality and is publicly traded (and even though hasn’t made profit, is well regarded). And then there is this new kid in the block, who owned a subcontinent, and is now starting to give into excess.

Funny thing is, orgs like Google and Facebook and even microsoft can afford to give into excess. They have margins to be able to do that. All said and done, at the end of the day, Flipkart is a trading site, where they make margins out of goods sold. Close your eyes, imagine the biggest distributor in the world and imagine their offices. I’d guess it doesn’t look like an art gallery. Someone had made the decision, that they are going to go the way of the excess (not with money earned but with borrowed money), that unfortunately isn’t going to last long. Worse, you are also ruining a whole new wave of entrepreneurs who probably took the first job there, with a culture of excess.

If there is a war coming, and one that you need to win, you need by your side an army that gets the vision of what you are trying to accomplish (and makes the sacrifice to stand by your side). If you have to get people moving with facade and glamour, there is a chance that you don’t have a purpose to paint, just fashion. Fashion fades. Purpose wins the war for you.

[1]http://glog.glennf.com/blog/2011/10/16/the_true_story_of_the_amazon_door-desk

[2]http://bostontoseattle.weebly.com/blog/when-opportunity-knocks-make-a-door-desk

 
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