Think A-Team: The Latest Services Menu for Startups

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Hi Entrepreneurs!

Late last year, I started a service called ‘Think A-Team’, to bring human-centered design strategy & other relevant services in a transparent manner to aspiring entrepreneurs & enterprising startups in India and abroad, to help them grow faster and better.

This has been possible by using available technology to considerably reduce everything from physical meetings, total execution time, and even paper (except Post-it notes!). The ‘Think A-Team’ website also makes it easy to request and pay for services.

In this effort, I have had the privilege of working with some really interesting companies on their growth journey till date, including one where the client and me never met in person!

I am now confident that this model works, and my focus will continue to be on making the services increasingly relevant, effective & accessible to the needs of young, innovative companies in the years to come.

Below is the updated list of services I am offering via Think A-Team. Get in touch today to request one or more!

Do note that limited assignment slots are available every month, so do call/email if you would like to reserve an early slot.

I also request you to kindly spread the word to any startups that you feel would benefit from these services.

Thank you!

______________________________________

Think

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A Rural Electric Ride

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Hemalatha-Annamalai- Ampere Vehicles

While a lot of us are busy in our world of self-indulgence, it’s reassuring to know there are Indians like Ratan Tata, who’d go the distance with regard to businesses that positively impact to one or more segments of the population.

I’m speaking about the Nano in particular here, the world’s cheapest car that was inspired by the concern Mr. Tata had for a number of Indian families that traveled with their spouse and children on two-wheelers, and the risk that posed to their safety.

Now I’ve written a few posts mentioning the Nano, though I don’t think I’ve written enough about that business and engineering marvel.

Anyway, here’s a relatively unheard of company in the field of ‘affordable’ AND ‘electric’ cycles, scooters & load carriers from India.

Hemalatha Annamalai of Coimbatore, the founder of Ampere Vehicles Pvt. Ltd., has been making affordable electric vehicles since 2008, and she even has a focus on rural transportation. She is backed by Kris Gopalakrishnan, one of the co-founders of Infosys, and the original king of low-cost vehicles in India, Mr. Ratan Tata himself.

May there be more entrepreneurs like her.

Read more about her and her vehicles here: link

Stay in touch with Shrutin:

Connect with me on Twitter: @ShrutinShetty LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/shrutinshetty

Websites: www.ateamstrategy.in & www.thinkateam.in

If you liked this post, I’d appreciate it if you’d hit the “follow” button at the top of the page so I can, from time to time, write and/or share select news and articles on great people and their ventures.

Think A-Team: For the Design & Strategy needs of Young Businesses

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Image: link

Hi, all you enterprising entrepreneurs,

I am pleased to give to you, ‘Think A-Team’, a growth partnering service for all your business strategy needs.

By way of it, I intend to help you make your business challenges a little less challenging, and work with you on growing your business faster & better.

The chosen services are a result of nearly a decade of close working with entrepreneurs and young businesses.

While the services portfolio will evolve with time, what will remain constant is reliability, effectiveness, accessibility and affordability to young businesses that have had few, if any options as far as growth partners go.

Think A-Team

Give it a try today! And I’ll look forward to working with some of you enterprising folks on building your businesses for you.
Have an awesome weekend!!

R,
Shrutin

Look forward to connecting with y’all on LinkedIn and/or on Twitter.

Bubble Telescope

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Is there a bubble forming in the Indian startup scene?

hubble_in_orbit1

The Hubble Space Telescope

Is the Indian startup space fast becoming a bubble? Let’s take a closer look and find out.

At the Goldman Sachs technology conference earlier this year, leading venture capitalist of Benchmark, Bill Gurley expressed concerns to attendees, of a possible bubble, caused by some over-valued startups in the US. His concerns were directed at the young companies that had almost magically reached over a billion dollars in valuation, which according to him, was largely fueled by investor fear of missing out (or FOMO, as the VC community knows it). He said that investors were making investments of sizes previously reserved for listed companies. Aptly framed, he said “a founder pursuing a $40 million IPO offering takes the process more seriously today than a founder raising $400 million in private capital.”

Another reason for his concern, was the presence of public market investors like hedge funds, etc., investing in the space earlier catered to only by venture capitalists. Bill isn’t wrong in saying that hedge funds, mutual funds, etc., have traditionally had a different investment appetite and strategy. FOMO, clubbed with this new blend of different investor classes and styles of investing, is perhaps what is fueling his growing anxiety of a possible bubble. Benchmark has funded numerous industry-altering young companies since 1995, including Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and Uber, and around 250 other startups.

The Wall Street Journal’s Billion Dollar Startup Club saw at least 73 young private companies valued over USD $1 billion this year, compared to only 41 last year. Nearly half the investors in some of the most invested startups too, were institutional and strategic investors, with Tiger Global (TG is an international firm that manages hedge and private equity funds) leading the pack with 12 investments in private billion-dollar companies. TG also raised the most money last year, $4 billion to be more specific, amounting to nearly 12% of all venture capital raised in 2014. (source)

Coming back to India, should this over-investing and over-valuing in US startups be of any concern to our booming Indian startup scene that is currently fueled by online travel, e-commerce retail and logistics, classifieds, online food ordering, radio taxis, etc.? Let’s find out.

Firstly, one of those aggressive investors that Bill Gurley mentioned, Tiger Global to be specific, is also the most aggressive investor in Indian startups. In 2015 alone, TG disclosed investments in over 17 companies, investing in rounds totaling to about $1 billion. Some of its investments include a $150 million round (series H round!) with other investors in Quikr, India’s largest online and mobile classifieds portal. Then there was a series D round of $ 100 million in Shopclues, an e-commerce portal. We could argue that the exact investment exposure by Tiger Global is not known, and could be somewhat small. Or that perhaps these startups are actually worth the millions or billions they are said to be worth.

Tiger Global, among others, may have helped inflate a startup bubble in the US, but that is a significantly different market than India; with a far more mature and aggressive investor community. Therefore, a race to get a piece of what is hopefully the next Google or Uber in the US might have led investors to try and outbid each other with sweeter deals to promising startups. But is TG’s strategy or tendency to overvalue being carried to India too?

In February,  a reasonably well funded ‘mom and baby’ products portal, BabyOye, also a Tiger Global funded company, was acquired by Mahindra Retail for an undisclosed sum; in the hope of boosting their own brands Mom & Me, and Beanstalk, that have not been too strong online. BabyOye raised $12 million in 2013 from investors, partly used to acquire another company (Hoopos.com). After an earlier round of funding in 2011, BabyOye spent extravagantly on TV advertising using a former movie star in the ads.

Mahindra’s acquisition to gain online strength seemed concerning, given that such a large group felt the need to acquire a small company with only 1500 followers on Twitter (now up at 2003 followers), to bring in the capability of selling online, even if the acquisition didn’t cost them much. And at a time when a lot, if not most of those products were already available on Amazon and Flipkart. Did that make good business sense, or is e-commerce happening so fast that even the heavyweights of Indian industry are feeling the pressure to jump on this bullet train?

US’s popular classifieds service, Craigslist, only had one known investor ever; eBay. And that too not for too long. And was Craigslist popular enough? More than it perhaps ever expected. In comparison, a similar service in India, Quikr, has raised upwards of $350 million so far, and we can only wonder why. To buy and sell other companies, maybe?

And just then, in comes news of a possible acquisition of the nearing-a-billion-in-valuation Housing.com, by none other than Quikr. If the acquisition does happen, while it might be a progressive step for Quikr, it also leaves me wondering about the vision of these startup promoters, with growth strategies and business direction that seems to be going all over the place. In many ways, this startup mania is turning out to be more of an exit ground for investors, rather than an effort to give the world the next great company that’s made in India.

Looking at the magnitude of investments themselves, a layman could argue that ‘the more the funding, the better’; after all, is there anything like too much money? Or for that matter, even a sky- higher valuation. Imagine the pride and respect in your social circles when they read in bold, the value of your young company. But venture capital and investing isn’t as simple. If one funding round happens at a significantly high valuation, the next round becomes that much tougher to raise, as does getting a suitable exit for your existing investors. Of the $51 billion worth of private equity deals in India from 2000 to 2008, there have been only around 30% exits, according to a McKinsey and Co. report.

Over-investing in companies brings with it, the tendency to spend it, whether it makes perfect business sense or not. As the world, and more importantly India, is getting increasingly interconnected online and socially, it is worrying to see the amount of money young online businesses are investing into expensive traditional media, with the likes of Amazon’s catchy ad, or Flipkart’s loud and confusing one, everyone’s on TV and on billboards, trying to push their way into the heads of prospective customers.

About 5-8 years ago, it was comparatively tougher for companies to scale. Building capacities, adding servers, fleet, manufacturing capacity, manpower, etc., took a lot more time and more money.

While salaries are much higher today, a lot of services and business functions can now be outsourced efficiently and effectively, allowing businesses to scale faster by focusing on their core business only and outsourcing everything else. The evolution of analytics, contractual manpower and everything in-between has also made it possible to have small numbers of people pull off similar impossible tasks that previously necessitated a small army.

All this brings us back to “how do we make sense of the heavy investments into these, still nascent startups?”  And more importantly, will such heavy spends only on marketing guarantee a successful future for these young ventures? How much of the funding is being invested by these companies into better listening and understanding of customers? Or on empathizing with problems customers are currently facing?

The notorious, multi-billion dollar Uber for instance, has an extremely light operating model, asset-light, limited overheads, and is highly scalable. But has it done anything to address woman passenger safety in countries where it operates? Not so far. Even Indian taxi aggregator Meru (2 years older than Uber) had a panic button on the app long before Uber decided to put one there. Uber waited till after unfortunate incidents occurred, before putting a feature that was so logical and obvious. So, if all that funding was spent on technology and marketing, why do customers still shower so much love on services that don’t feel the same way about them?

Between aggressive promoters and aggressive investors, focus has gradually shifted from the customers’ best interest to the startup’s and investor’s best interest. Online food ordering businesses too, for example, have built strong websites and apps, and have been advertising like there’s no tomorrow. But their internal processes remain shockingly primitive. Back in 2008, I had toyed with the idea of starting an online food ordering service, and had listed some concern areas that needed figuring out, in an effort to shape the idea better. While I eventually didn’t pursue it, online food ordering startups today, surprisingly still live with those same problems, despite the advancements that have happened in the interim.

The possible risks of overvalued and over-invested startups range from VC firms going bust, to startups not being able to raise the next round of funding and/or being made redundant by other startups. And with every startup that shuts shop, it also affects a large number of other individuals and businesses (like logistics, etc.) that have come to serve these super-valued startups.

And finally, in an effort to boost entrepreneurship, India has considerably relaxed rules for listing startups in the recent past. But this bold step will take its time to see benefits, since there is poor liquidity in this space, and the experience in valuing these new age businesses isn’t anywhere near accurate.

All this only means that while sky-high valuations of startups would make for interesting conversations with friends and a few rounds of beer, lack of clarity in funding and growth strategy in these heavyweight startups could be a matter of concern for these young stars of a new and emerging India. And India’s big startup contributions to the world would hopefully be those that are highly profitable, even more scalable, and most importantly, solely focused on delighting its customers.

Originally posted here: http://yourstory.com/2015/07/startup-bubble/

 

Social Media, What Next?

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Hybrids come naturally in most businesses. Hybrid products/ services. The easiest example that comes to mind, is the BMW X6 (something between an SUV and a sedan). I don’t think that particular line has been very popular, though it does look massive, and reasonably cool. A more common hybrid is a mutual fund or similar investment program. Another recent hybrid is the Connected Camera by Samsung. We are surrounded by hybrids.

Hybrids attempt to give you the good of two or more worlds, and unfortunately more often than not,  not the best of those worlds.

Surprisingly, I don’t see any hybrid social media sites yet, that have tried to take a shot at Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn (unarguably the top 3 social media sites on the net today) by capturing the good bits from all three.

All three lack certain features, or are an overkill when it comes to certain  features. And they’ve been around long enough for some, if not a lot of us to have started getting bored of them. Here are some of the lacking & overkill features.

Facebook recently added a ton of sections to the Timeline (I know a good number of people who find the Timeline itself way too complicated). Anyway, the new sections include one for movies you’ve watched (bringing to you, the likes of themoviedb, etc.), for books you’ve read (that’s like shelfari or goodreads on FB), for tv shows (phew.!). All in all, overkill.!

LinkedIn’s got a lot missing. It won’t let you add an acquaintance without knowing their mail id. But if you select that person as a friend, it doesn’t complain. Then why the fuss differentiating between everyone from an acquaintance to a long-lost childhood friend? Look at it differently, and I might raise an eyebrow (if I could) if someone I’d just interacted briefly with at a conference added me as a “friend” on LinkedIn. The discussions pages on LinkedIn are just bleeding boring. Plain, dull, and I think its something to do with the layout as well.  Sleep-inducing. I’ve already written enough about my reservations with the endorse feature already.

And a la Twitter, while quite progressive in thought with the ‘all-you-can-do-with-140-chars’, could have been way more useful from an information sharing point-of-view, if the limit was more like, say a paragraph. Because unless you’re at a school chatting with friends or reading one-liners or short jokes off my Twitter page, apart from getting news updates, most of the interesting stuff is still a click-of-a-short-link away. And the click takes you to a big post or news article. I have a view about a lot of things, but it’s difficult to sit them comfortably in 140 chars. Now imagine if you could tweet a short-link along with a short note sharing your views about a certain event or news item. Kind of like a comment on FB. Maybe even have a conversation about it there  with like-minded people. Wouldn’t that make Twitter more interesting?

What I had in mind about a new social media site, is a hybrid that can be used for professional as well as personal purposes. Firstly, because it would be less complicated than managing stuff across 3 or more sites. And because I believe for most of us, our Facebook profiles would be a better reflection of who we are in real life (if you’re extremely formal and uptight, and are more at home on LinkedIn than for FB, that too would reflect easily on FB, right?) Instead of everyone looking all formal and uptight on LinkedIn when they may be just the opposite in real life and on FB. It would even make it more accurate for your colleagues or prospective employers to understand your personality better (of course, they’d only have a limited view), enabling better job fits. LinkedIn is a little too formal, a little lacking and quite boring. Facebook’s alright to stay connected. And Twitter does really well when it comes to communication, but it does feel a little too restrictive.

So if you do plan to create such a site after reading this, I wouldn’t mind 15% of revenues or the venture funding received 😉

Just kidding there, but let me have your thoughts on it. On what next after Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn?

What Next

Social Media images:Courtesy sayingitsocial and DesignBolts

Be your best judge

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This is a small extract from Michael E. Gerber’s ‘Awakening the Entrepreneur Within’. Michael Gerber is the bestselling author of The E-Myth Revisited, E-Myth Mastery.

He says “Unfortunately, most businesses don’t close soon enough. They just linger on and on and on, surviving as best they can. Entrepreneurs should never create a business simply because it can survive. To do so would be to commit oneself to daily dying. Entrepreneurs create business that thrive.”

I guess that simply says a lot.

While starting companies is one thing, but something that entrepreneurs should always constantly do is judge or evaluate their business/ progress/ future growth, rather than losing sight of the big picture in the race to capture more market share…

Judging based on the business itself, competitors, and on the vision.

Many companies just seem to drag the eventuality, that way burning tons of money, sabotaging employee careers, and neither growing nor benefiting from the business.

Opposed to that, it sure takes the rare soul to accept defeat, wrap up, and fight another day.

And there is an advantage to that. Your big business could be based on the idea you get after you’ve freed your mind of a business that’s just trudging along.

Models that puzzle me

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If you came here expecting some scoop on Gisele Bundchen or Miranda Kerr, I suggest you hit the ‘Back’ button. This one’s more about the ‘less figure, more strategy’ business models. I’ll work on a post on real models sometime soon though, I promise.

A few years ago, on a random day at office, I received a call about an investment opportunity. At the time, I used to take an average 2.5 calls per day, speaking to a wide assortment of people, from second and third generation businessmen to entrepreneurs who were onto their second or third successful venture, to even final year students who had budding dreams about what could as well be the next big thing.

Anyway, so this call, Mr. Promoter of a company that was into the job portal business that was based on referrals. Simply put, the usual job portals work on the model that companies that hire from a particular site would have to pay them certain fees which would give them access to a filtered set of numerous candidates, and perhaps if some of them were hired, the portal would get another x amount of money per candidate hired.

Now that model, as we know, perhaps works just about fine, as demonstrated by the popularity of naukri.com, monster.com, timesjobs.com, and several thousand others.

This particular business model Mr. Promoter told me about, seemed to be based on a reward system. How it works, is as follows. You are  a good friend of mine. I know you’re looking for a job, so I get in touch with this company, and give them your cell number or perhaps your mail id. They get in touch with you, tell you that they’ll help you with getting a job. They ask you for your resume, and for the particulars of the kind of job you’re looking for, etc. Now suppose they find a suitable opening for you, they put you across to the company, and in case you’re hired, obviously this firm would get some money for helping them find a suitable candidate. Of that fee they receive, I would get a small percentage of, for being the one to recommend the company to this firm. So that would incentivize me to refer more friends of mine to the firm.

I tried discussing with Mr. Promoter, almost to the point of arguing. I just couldn’t see the future of such a business, and I wanted to make sure he saw my perspective. It appeared simple to me. I could of course, be totally wrong. I mean, that’s what the VC business, just like anything else, is about. It’s about perspective. I could have my views, Mr. Promoter would have his. The market and success or failure of the company would prove one of us wrong (unless of course, we both agreed with the business and the business model to begin with).

Anyway, so my points of argument were, that the higher the post, the higher the pay the firm, and in turn the person referring someone would receive. But, in the real world, you don’t really find a VP or CEO of a company referring someone to a firm, right? I mean, who would have the time or the inclination for something like this. And at that level, one would have bigger things to worry about that trying to find people in order to make some quick bucks by way of referral.

So that leaves us with entry-level all the way to perhaps lower or mid-management candidates. Now most of them would anyway be registered on all the top job sites, where many if not most companies, would be tapping into, as one of their many sources for finding candidates. So that being the case, we can’t really expect a group of students from a college to refer each other to this firm in the hope of supplementing their pocket-money, eh?

So, anyway, I turned down Mr. Promoter’s investment proposal and even called him later to try to reason out that somehow, the business model didn’t seem to hold. He however, seemed convinced.

I have not been in touch with him, and while I do hope he’s doing well for himself and his team, I sure am curious to know how his business has worked out for him.

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