Bootstrapping, not an excuse for being cheap

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I witness the scenario on both sides of the table.  A startup provides a solution to a problem; solves it elegantly. And makes it seamless for its users. They use a few other products too – that solves some of their non-core functions elegantly. They grow out of its free usage, but they don’t pay.

And they sit and break their heads, day in and day out as to why on earth,  many of its heavy users not converting. I too do wonder why.

Karma, is a bitch.

We don’t negotiate with the entity that provides the electricity, nor the ISP who provides the pipeline, nor the bank who keeps our accounts, or the lawyer who manages our legalities, or the accountant who keeps our day sane. Why then are we being partial to teams solving our operational headaches with tools they built, burning midnight oil? Especially if its a tool that does its job and is a revenue expense for you.

We don’t bicker about the sunk costs, but are cutting corners on the revenue expenses. You understand how that makes no sense whatsoever right?

If you really want to throw around bootstrapping as an excuse, take a lower bandwidth plan and save costs. Buy a Dell or a Lenova and not a Macbook Pro (or one with a retina display). Keep a feature phone, nor a smart phone. Work out of your bedroom, and not a fancy office. Print your business cards on modest paper, and at your corner print store, rather than throwing around Moo cards; catch the train or the bus instead of flying around or travelling in luxury. After you’ve followed all this, if you still are short, then use a hack – use google docs, notepad, or one of the many free tools out there which do the job, will make you put in twice in amount of work and time – because it looks like time is the only currency you have. If your time is precious and you value it, and you are a growing business, then you have no excuse to be a cheapo.

You can spot a good team, by their ability to differentiate, what’s their core competency, where they can make a difference, and what is non-core and can rely on dependable tools, and pay for it.

Next time, you look at the conversion funnel and ponder why your customers are not converting, make sure you are not looking at a version of you on the other side. Bootstrapping, and being a cheapo, are two very different things.



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How to ask for a (startup) Job

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I am puzzled by reading emails where it says nothing but “Hi, I am looking for a Job”, and so do many of the startup founders I know of. Trust me, there is a need for good talent, but a talent that doesn’t even bother to explain what they do is categorized quickly into the “no” bucket.

Giving everyone the benefit of the doubt, and since everyone is so good at following templates, here is a template of what MUST go into an introduction email – if you are reaching out to someone for a job. Applies for most things, but specifically more so, when it comes to startups.

“Hi, My name is XYZ. I previously worked at zzz (or built a venture named yyy). I was responsible for <Key activity> where I did <specifics> for a period of <time duration>. I am good at <what you are best at> and would like to explore a position doing <an ideal role in your mind>.

**Bonus points if you can go through the website, look at the product and add one thing you can improve, from your perspective – serves as an example of what you are good at **

You can find a portfolio of my work at : <github / slideshare / blog / repository> and my updated linkedin profile is at <link to LI profile>.”

Please note, that this does not work for Internships. You will have to ask for a chance with Internships – or try one of the many sites that do a fabulous job at connecting interns to opportunities. Those Applying for Internships, Read this and this (In the context of startups).

If you find this post useful, feel free to promote it in Hackernews.

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Why I am on Pracly

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First things first, Pracly is a startup that we are supporting under our Pre-Accelerator Program at The Startup Centre, that helps connect entrepreneurs and startups with expert advice.


So, here’s the story:

I get anywhere between 10 – 15 chat requests on Facebook  with people asking questions about various things. Perhaps about 20 odd messages that are just broadcasted (like my page, we are launching etc – without expecting a response), and I get about 20+ emails a day with people asking for specific suggestions about their venture or asking for a time to meet. It’s quite an effort honestly to keep this 20 responded to, when there are several other emails flying to and fro. There are some requests that come in via twitter / linkedin, but I mostly ask them to email so that its easier to manage the commitments.

Jaydeep Halbe, jokingly calls this, the helpdesk service.

We have been thinking that this is not scalable. And if I am struggling with all intentions to help entrepreneurs, then so must many others, and there are specific skillsets – be it marketing, or business development, where there are pretty amazing folks (lets call them experts) out there who don’t mind giving their time for a call or two over a week, but they’ll do it if its systematic and doesnt throw off their work routine by much.

An ecosystem is effectively the right people from whom you can get help from. Naman’s post on NextBigWhat, to me was about entrepreneurs being able to get the right advice at the right time.

Hence the reason I am now on pracly. The reason is two fold:

1. It will radically help me, manage my time better. And focus on the few that really need help.
2. The 20 or odd traffic that I get will help a startup like Pracly iron out their process. And i believe the future of accelerators and the support system will be startup of startups like them.

While they are keeping it simple and starting off with a first call free, and Rs. 500 per session after that, they will start experimenting with alternate modes of karma and payment in the future. But they need to iron out the process of getting enquiries in and scheduling time and getting both parties connected first!

3. It is not about the money. Infact I have waived off that amount entirely. If you still want to pay for it, and give it to charity, it is completely upto you.

it seemed like an opportunity to both win (by organizing my time) and by helping out a startup that is in our Pre-accelerator program. We should eat our own dog food right?

So, here’s the link:

You can use that to schedule calls / meets – You’d be helping another startup out as well.

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Why Internships are broken

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Having a thread about internships going on and I am realizing how long I’ve been having this conversation, but nothing has changed.

1. Two months of internship isn’t useful at all. It takes about 3-4 weeks for anyone to get inducted into a work environment, and another 2-3 weeks to transition out. And these interns take a few days off in between. What’s left?

2. Its good exposure for the interns, because its the first exposure of a real work environment – and unlike a large company, you cant chillax in a startup. You feel the grind and its helpful. However it is one-sided. Startups train them, but don’t get productive work out of them.

3. The ideal scenario is six months. As a rule (after years of experimenting with this in my stint in IIT), we took a call that internship to be meaningful has to be a min of six months.

4. If it is going to be this two month stuff, every other sector apart from IT and startups have evolved to call it “Industry awareness program” and they charge the interns. I think thats fair.

5. I wish universities – like some are experimenting – will allow the students to take six months to a year off in between to go actually do some work – or figure life out. The employability ratio will increase in graduates.

6. The worst is when the colleges / placement offices assign an intern during their project year. You are a startup. You have one product. And at the end of it, the student would want to publish the source code that he/she worked on – and that becomes a point of contention. Also because publishing that code means, the university owns that code (standard agreement when project work is done). Some startups cook up some new project that these students can showcase for their projects, but that also ends up being unfair.

PS: Looks like the Practice school concept that BITS Pilani has, is a good idea.

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