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General Thinking

Optimisation… Bah! Humbug!

So over the past few years, I have been hearing a lot about how search engine optimisation is important and how your blog, your Facebook page, your website and any other online identity that a business might have, needs to be optimised. They ask you to pump the page with keywords; provide cross-linkages; and all sorts of things.

We own about 4 different pages on Facebook and in most of the cases it took weeks before we reached 100 likes. Yesterday, we launched a new Facebook page, without keywords, without cross-linkages, without optimisation. We got 100 likes in the first hour of launching this page and within 12 hours have managed to reach 200 likes. All this has been made possible by network effect and not by any kind of optimisation.

We got a team of students together, who were passionate about the idea and wished to push it.  We launched the page along with them yesterday night and the response has been unprecedented for us. We had prepared ourselves to go all out through all of our networks and generate interest in the page. We did not want to spend any money on doing this, neither did we want to get hits through search pick-up. We needed focussed individuals who were perfect target for the page to arrive at the page and there is no better way  to ensure that than the word of mouth.

The results that we have been able to achieve is a clear sign of the importance of having a strong network and having the ability to leverage it. Provided that you are able to do a good enough job with what you set out to do, that leverage will continue to grow over time. So instead of spending a great deal of time attempting to optimise and perfect keywords, if you spend your time building a good network of individuals and leveraging them; you can be far more certain of getting better results!

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General Thinking

Evolution of Education – In the world of mobile apps

I was using  Duolingo yesterday and attempting to learn French, which I know fairly well. At the same time, my partner, Salma’s son, Zaid, was using the same app to learn French. As I was going through the various exercises that are a part of the app, I was noticing how quickly Zaid was able to pick up the language using the app. I thought it was absolutely brilliant!

This got me thinking, the MOOC revolution began because it is not possible for some of the best professors in the world to teach a class 1 Million, but given that technology exists, why should the opportunity to learn be taken away from so many individuals who wish to learn.

Now, if technology could replace the professors in total and do an amazing job at instructing students, what happens to these large universities? It got me wondering; that from a business perspective, should the universities not be running helter-skelter to try and acquire these companies. What if Codecademy is able to teach coding better than any course in any university?

Just like the tablets have slowly but steadily been pulling the rug from under the feet of PC makers; would these apps be able to do the same?

In my opinion, for most students, the certificate that they completed education from a certain university makes them employable. The educational apps currently lack that ability to certify. But what if these companies were able to tie-up with employers and employment agencies, to accept their certifications; it would change education forever.

I think universities should watch out! I do not know if what I am discussing will ever happen or if at all it is possible but it is nevertheless worth a thought.

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General Thinking

Reason to Start early with Entrepreneurship II

Fear is the biggest culprit that keeps people from chasing their dreams. Taking off and not bothering about consequences is not usually an adult thing to do.

If you wish to train a person to become a gymnast, normally you have to start early. This is due to the fact that learning gymnastics involves a lot of falling, young kids fall often anyhow and therefore do not fear falling. By the time a kid ages to 16 years (young adult) the fear of falling has made place in their heart. It becomes rather difficult to train them to be gymnasts.

Entrepreneurship is a road that is similarly laden with many obstacles. As you go through life, the fear of falling/failure makes a firm space in your heart after which it becomes rather hard to take the leap. You tend to think negatively about the consequences. So as they say…

“All the water in the sea cannot sink a ship,
unless the water gets inside the ship.
All the negativity in the world cannot bring you down,
until you do not allow the negativity to make space in your heart.”
~ Anonymous

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General Thinking

Reason to Start early with Entrepreneurship

Life is an evolutionary journey. As we go through life, we mature; and as we mature, our needs increase. Entrepreneurship is also a journey, a journey that few individuals feel motivated to embark on.

So, in life, as our needs increase, the resources that we require to meet these needs also increase. When it comes to entrepreneurship, commitment is paramount and an individual is in a position to provide a high level of commitment when their needs are low. This is the primary reason that one must embark on the entrepreneurial journey early in life.

It also allows room for making mistakes, falling and gathering yourself up again when things don’t work out. The later you attempt entrepreneurship, the higher the risks tend to be.

Further as I had mentioned in an earlier post, ignorance is important for success. Ignorance allows a person to take risks because they are unaware of the consequences of the risk. When risks pay off, we see great successes.

So, if you are going to take a risk, might as well, take it as soon as possible.

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General Thinking

Entrepreneurs and Investment

If I had a dime for every aspiring entrepreneur that I met, who told me that if only the investment was in place, they would start off!!

Entrepreneurship is a journey and not a destination. So my question to most entrepreneurs is; When would you have sufficient funds to run your startup? Its 7 years in and Flipkart is still raising money to meet their financial requirements.

One of the facts of being an entrepreneur is that you are never going to have enough money to meet all of your financial obligations. No matter how much you have, you could do with some more. Balancing financial resources is a fact of life for every entrepreneur and there is nothing, no amount of fundraising that would change that.

So my advise is; If you really believe that what you are about to do is going to create value, start building the enterprise. There has to be some degree of initial planning, but one cannot expect all of the pieces to be in place before starting out!

If you are building something and you are 65% of the way there, the chances of you finding someone (even your parents/relatives) who is willing to back you are much greater than if you have built 0% of it.

Entrepreneurship is a plunge much like quitting smoking. You jump into it and see how it plays out. You cannot know all eventualities and consequences and be prepared for every challenge (including the financial ones) right at the outset.

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General Thinking

Getting off the “Comfortable Chair”

As a part of my work, I come across a lot of aspiring entrepreneurs who wish to start a business but do not want to quit their job. Now, obviously there is a flaw to this logic.

I liken starting a business to having a baby. There are no half measures to it. When you have a child; for the next few years, you are going to have to provide all of your time and caring to the child in order to nurture and develop the child properly.

So I setup an experiment to illustrate how difficult/futile it is to try and run a business along with a job. I asked a gentleman to start counting from 1 to 100 and at the same time I asked him to recite the table of 1. If he was successful, I ask him to recite the table of 2; with the table of 10 being the ultimate goal. During this entire time, he should also maintain the count from 1 to 100. I am yet to come across anyone who could get past the table of 2.

Analogy: You might get your incorporation and the sorts in order while you are still working, but to get any real business going while still working is highly unlikely. The only way that you may do so is by doing injustice to your job.

Entrepreneurship is an act of risk. One needs to take risks in order to achieve significant goals.

Working a job and starting a company is like trying to stay your half of the field while attempting to score a goal. It is not impossible but highly improbable!

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General Thinking

Knowledge Vs Success

The Intuitively Assumed Knowledge Success Curve

Knowledgecurve

It is often assumed that as your knowledge increases, you become more successful. If there is a particular subject about which you have greater and greater knowledge, you would assume that you would be more accomplished in that area and hence more successful as well. Let us say you played cricket and the more you learn about the game (I am assuming knowledge increases through practice), the more you would expect to be successful in the game, is it not?

The actual Knowledge Success curve

Knowledgecureve real

In reality, the success that you achieve grows exponentially after you reach a certain critical mass. Therefore, many times you feel that you are ploughing away at a problem continuously without getting much in terms of success or breakthroughs. It is important to reach the inflection point, when things start changing for you. When you reach that point, you always end up thinking; “Why didn’t I do that before?”

As an entrepreneur it is important to keep scraping away at the problem, keep working on it continuously and relentlessly. You will never know where the inflection point lies but perseverance invariably pays off.

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General Thinking

Importance of Ignorance to Success

I had a wonderful day today listening to some of the most accomplished people speak about their lives experiences and inspire the rest of us in the audience during the TiE Summit. I loved the talk by Paul Deegan. It was interesting to hear a mountaineer make some of the most insightful points about business.

Paul Deegan used his own story to bring out, how ignorance is needed to be successful.

When Steve Jobs quit Apple he said “I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.” It was during this time that he got involved with Pixar and changed the animation industry forever and for better. One of the greatest asset that Steve had with Pixar was that he did not know much about the film industry. This fact alone helped him define his boundaries in ways that others within the industry would never have thought. His ignorance was his greatest asset.

When you have a great deal of knowledge about something, you also know the risk of failure. This knowledge alone keeps you from achieving success. You tend to fear failure and avoid taking risks that you would otherwise have taken.

Paul also said that “some of the greatest insights that you get about a product or an industry come from people who do not have the slightest clue about what they are talking”.

I have noticed this often when working with students as a part of the mentoring that we do. They seem to show utter disregard for industry structures, prevailing modus operandi, etc. Their ignorance serves them well. They have the willingness to take great risks and the consequences of failure is not very harsh. This is main reason, I believe more and more businesses should be born out of universities.

I really hope that we can successfully achieve this goal in the days and years to come.

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General Thinking

Advertising and Cultural Context

Apple released an ad called Misunderstood, to make their final push for this holiday season.

I was just reading up Apple blogs as I normally do and found references to the fact that the ad was really touching. I was left confused because I did not find the advertisement touching. For those who know me, I defend Apple even when they are wrong, so when I say this, you can be certain it did not impress upon me in the manner in which the bloggers seemed to think. 

Google had posted a very India specific ad a few months back, which played on the partition of India and friends who lost touch with one another. While I really do not think you would find things the way Google seems to project, the advertisement struck a chord with me. It may not amount to anything if I showed it to someone who was, say from USA. But to someone who belongs to the Indian sub-continent, it would create an instant connect. 

I realised, how important context is to the effectiveness of an ad. In the absence of it, even a masterpiece would seem dull; and in the presence of it, the communication can become extremely effective. Understanding the context of the viewer is tremendously important before setting out to put together any communication.

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General Thinking

Seed Funding

Many of the people that I meet, who have an idea that they wish to work on seem to face a huge problem. Their biggest complaint seems to be that they find it hard to generate seed funding for their projects/startups. The key issue is that most people do not understand what seed funding is.

So the entry in Wikipedia suggest – The term seed suggests that this is a very early investment, meant to support the business until it can generate cash of its own, or until it is ready for further investments.

Normally, Seed Money is a very small quantum of finance needed to get the ball rolling in terms of a venture. This may include getting the incorporation done, getting the basic banking setup in place and also some of the basic requisites for starting off with the venture. In some cases, this may include travel, computers, space and the sort depending on the business that one is embarking on.

Normally, the best means of raising this funding is through accumulated savings, friends and family. Now taking money from friends or family is stigmatised in India, I don’t seem to understand why? Even Mark Zuckerberg took seed capital from his friend Eduardo Saverin to start Facebook. I do not see what harm exists in taking money from people who know you best. 

An investor invests in a business based on his judgement of the promoters and their ability to execute. If as an entrepreneur, one cannot convince family and friends about ones execution capabilities, is there any reason to pursue entrepreneurship?

It is important to look at the people that you know, are comfortable with and who have a good capability of making a judgement on you. If these people believe that you have the capability to execute and put money on you, not only their money but also their goodwill will carry you forward.