Categories
Entrepreneurship

Competition

Mentoring startups gives one a ring-side view of the way entrepreneurs think.

I have often been in a situation where an aspiring entrepreneur wants to pitch me their idea and hear what I wish to think about it. Travelling across the country and meeting thousands of entrepreneurs also means that I hear more than my fair share of ideas.

Often I come across situations where somebody comes around to pitch an idea, and my immediate response is ‘There is someone does something similar’ or ‘Is this not the same as XYZ?’

What typically happens at this point is this ‘aspiring entrepreneur’ will go back and research the hell out of this supposed competitor and read everything written about them. If this supposed similar company is doing well they get all bent out of shape that there is a strong incumbent and if they are struggling, read about all of their struggles and get depressed!

When you are starting a venture, you need not worry about a competitor, or someone doing something similar. If at all anything, you need to be worried about the absence of competition. If a real opportunity exists, why is nobody else seeing it?

You need to avoid being flustered by competition because:

You need to focus on your own strengths and find the best way to showcase that strength. Also, there is more than one way to do a thing or solve a problem. You need to focus and make sure you are solving it.

The market is large. In a country like India, there is always enough market to go around amongst several competitors. Can you think of any industry where there is only one player? This also means that there is enough diversity and nuance in the market for the problem to be solved in different ways and see adoption.

If you are introducing a new concept, you want many people popularizing the idea rather than you alone. Orange County, Coorg spent crores in advertising popularizing the idea of vacationing in Coorg. No sooner was the location recognized, hundreds of players moved in. It would have been nice to have had some competition in the early days.

The best way to learn is from watching others make mistakes. The other way to learn is to make those mistakes yourself. Having competition is the cheapest way to learn.

If there is no competition in the market even real or is this all a figment of your imagination?

Finally, I would like to leave you with this thought – Google was not the first search engine, neither did they enter a market without competition. Facebook was not the first social network, neither did they enter a market without competition. iPhone was not the first smartphone, neither did they enter a market without competition.

SpaceX is not the first private rocket maker and their competitors where all governments!

Embrace competition and seek it out. Watch them carefully. Ultimately your success or failure is down to your execution.

Categories
General Thinking

How do you say it?

Adam is a smart and intelligent boy. He has a great amount of interest in most things and wants to constantly learn. He is also known to be quite stubborn and at times, very envious.

What do you think about Adam? Do you think he is likeable? Do you think you might want to spend a day with him?

Ben is known to be quite stubborn and envious. He is constantly poking and prodding at things since he has an appetite to learn. As a result, he is a smart and intelligent boy.

Now, what do you think about Ben?

Most people would like Adam but not Ben. While the characteristics mentioned therein are exactly the same.

For Adam, the fact that ‘smart and intelligent’ was mentioned first created a ‘Halo Effect’. Once this halo has been created, every other defect that he had was seen through that prism and measured in that manner. Ben, unfortunately, has to deal with the Halo of ‘stubborn and envious’.

Due to the quirks of human thinking, we tend to pay more attention to what is put first in front of us.

Always lead with your strength, not with your weakness. How you say it matters more than what you say.

Categories
General Thinking

Vision and Security

A lot of great ideas have been dreamed up during vacations. It was a late night in Paris, and the challenge to find a taxi that caused Travis to dream up of Uber. There are countless stories students sitting in their dorm room who came up with the next big thing – Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are the most famous examples of this.

Our ability to see the future and dream about the future is greatly increased if we are in a position where we feel secure. Where we do not feel the presence of another thing to worry about. We are in a position to let our mind take the flight of fantasy.

Security allows us to focus better, not get distracted. There is no noise that cannot be ignored and put aside. It is this freedom that results in the most beautiful things getting dreamed up and getting executed.

Often, when running a business, you do not really have the benefit of security and each day can feel like you are walking on the edge. Even Bill Gates had to sell a product he did not even know could be written and then come back and strain himself almost to half death to get it out.

Visionaries are those who see the future and dream of it, despite the insecurity. They do not let their insecurity obstruct them. They have the capability to drown out the noise and focus on the things that are important and keep what isn’t important at bay.

Don’t get me wrong, these are not people who ignore problems; they do what needs to be done to solve them. They just don’t dwell on them once they have done what they can.

When Steve Jobs came back to Apple, a company on the verge of bankruptcy, he needed to solve that problem, but he did not dwell on it, his focus was always on the next great Mac.

So what do you focus on each day? The vision of the company or the problems that are pulling you down?

Categories
General Thinking

Trial and Error

There is a reason that the Pyramids were built much before the Pythagoras Theorem was committed to paper or papyrus. 

The modern education system makes you learn the theory first and then think of its application. In most cases, we even ignore the application completely. Those of you who learnt trigonometry in high school math, do you even know where it is applied?

Let us think of the Wright brothers working on their very first plane. Do you think they had a book on aerodynamics lying open on the floor as they were building their plane? Do you think Thomas Edison was consulting a book on electro-magnetism as he was trying to make the first light bulb? His famous quote – ‘I found a 1000 ways how not to make a bulb’; was a result of trial and error. There was no other way.

For most of the people who have seen success in their lifetime, the practice came before theory.

Throughout human history, we have learnt things through trial and error. Once something got discovered, we understood how it worked, we codified the theories thereafter.

Every successful entrepreneur has built their business through trial and error. The bolder the experimentation, the bigger the business.

It is exactly for this reason that execution is valued much more than the idea. When you go out there and start doing things, you realise how things work – what is right and what is wrong. You form your theories and formulae based on what you see work and fail.

The world is always changing and looking at others might provide you inspiration but you will have to figure out what will work for you based on the new context that you exist in.

Steve Jobs probably never had a social media account and that was fine in his times. Elon Musk cannot go through life like that in a world where Social Media plays a crucial role in marketing.

Be a DOER. Engage in trial and error, find your theory.

Categories
Entrepreneurship

Genius

The Mayans invented the wheel but they never used it. They used to make toys with wheels on them but their own construction projects which were quite immense were undertaken by moving stones on wooden logs. They just could not make the leap of imagination.

We call it the Morse Code because of Samuel Morse, who is also incorrectly given credit for the telegraph. Several physicists experimenting with electromagnetism came up with the telegraph. At the time, these inventors; Charles Wheatstone, Sir William Fothergill Cooke, Edward Davy, and Carl August von Steinhiel were so near to each other that the British Supreme Court refused to issue one patent. It was Joseph Henry, not Morse, who discovered that coiling wire would strengthen electromagnetic induction. Samuel Morse managed to apply to real-life what was experiments. 

Douglas Englebart came up with the graphical user interface while he was working at the Xerox Parc. For him, it was just about inventing and that is all he managed to do. It took Steve Jobs to see the potential and bring it to market. 

Your next big idea already exists. As an entrepreneur, you just need to see its application and bring it to market. 

History is replete with inventors and their inventions that never found their way to the market. They will never be celebrated or be known.

The genius is not in inventing it, it is in getting people to use it.

Categories
Entrepreneurship

Learning

There was a time (however brief) when Mozart did not know how to play the Piano (he started playing it at the ripe age of TWO!). There was a time before Picasso knew how to paint. There was a time before Einstein knew how to calculate. They learnt.

I often come across Entrepreneurs who will tell me they do not know how to do something. I do not know how to code. I do not know to sell. I can’t understand the numbers. 

Well, then learn! 

There is no choice in the matter. All of us were delivered on this planet, a blank slate. We go on to learn things and apply them. Nobody was born knowing something. So not knowing is not an excuse. If you don’t know something and its important to know it in order to take your venture ahead; LEARN IT.

I know you must be thinking – is that not what the co-founder is for?

Yes. But in the event that you do not have one, you can’t stand paralysed, you need to move ahead. The moment they see the journey moving forward, their willingness to get on-board with your vision increases.

Always move forward.

Never be averse to learning.

Categories
Entrepreneurship

Signal to Noise Ratio

In a world where data is the new gold, it is not abnormal to go chasing data and seek to make every decision based on the data at hand. And to have it updated each second. Data is a useful and wonderful guide provided you have enough of it and over a long enough duration.

All information is not good information. When information arrives at very short intervals, it does not accommodate the entire trend or how things play out. Take for instance if you have to decide whether to carry an umbrella or not. You look at the condition outside maybe check the horizon, take another look an hour later and decide what to do. 

If you were to be supplied information about the cloud to clear sky ratio every 10 seconds, would it make for a great decision? When you have a lot of data coming and the time scale of the data coming in is too short, the signal to noise ratio increases significantly. 

It is the same reason following the presidential impeachment hour to hour is useless. 

You need to get on top of discernible trends as a founder. Don’t fall into the trap of data, just because there are updates available each second – even for your own business. Identify the currents that are carrying you.