Think A-Team: The Latest Services Menu for Startups

2 Comments

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

The Up Side of Consulting

Leave a comment

Here’s a post I had drafted for submitting as a resource to MosaicHub, in response to their call to members for ‘the Top 5 things businesses need to know about your area of expertise’.

Here are five top thoughts that we at the A-Team, believe would be beneficial for businesses who engage consultants, for those wanting to start a consulting business, as well as for people seeking a career in consulting. While they are based to a large extent on the A-Team’s experience and focus, it will also provide a certain insight into consulting in general.

To begin with, here’s a thought: The purpose of consulting, is not consulting, but the client.

1.  Never does a one-size fit all – while industries, products or services and even markets may be identical, the A-Team’s solutions to client problems are built factoring even less conspicuous factors like promoter aspirations or management vision for a business. Thus, no two solutions to seemingly identical business problems are exactly the same. So don’t let consultants sell you solutions that you feel aren’t in the best interest of your company

2.  No silver bullets here – you’ve heard of ‘easy come, easy go?’ We at the A-Team strongly believe that is exactly how quick-fix solutions are. While we might be able to quickly patch up urgent problems with a tactical outlook, all our strategies essentially apply for mid-to-long term growth of the company, which is akin to laying a strong foundation before a huge building comes up. Only strong foundations make for lasting results. If consultants promise you magic potions, you’ll know something’s amiss

3.  Who wants ridiculously expensive ‘paperweight’ reports – We have heard numerous stories of larger companies spending fortunes on consulting assignments, only to be left with a painstakingly prepared, albeit attractive report that no one at the company can make sense of. The A-Team, since inception, decided to stay away from merely fancy reports and focus on simple, effective and implementable strategies. We ensure that all our strategies are broken into logical, step-by-step tasks that are easy to understand and implement by the respective persons or teams at our clients’ company. Our retainer-based engagement model allows for our close association with businesses during implementation of our solutions. Do remember to ask your consulting firm ‘how easily implementable will your solution be?’ at the initial negotiation stage itself

4.  Grey haired scholars are a lot, but not everything – The bigger consulting firms normally look at recruiting fresh graduates or postgraduates and train them on the job. And respected consultants advising large businesses are people who’ve spent decades seeing cyclical patterns of those industries. With Small & Medium Businesses, the problems aren’t similar. Cyclical industry cycles apart, SMBs deal with smaller but way more critical problems than MNCs do. And unlike MNCs, where efforts and effects can take long to show, it’s do-or-die several times a month for younger businesses. Nimble, new, quick, and creative are the type of solutions that SMBs need, and therefore, given the need for freshness and new perspective, old and experienced advisors may not always be the best bet

5.  Stop at nothing – this one’s for aspiring consultants, nothing should stop you from becoming a consultant, if you have all of these – a logical and analytical mindset, and a transparent, ethical and unquestionable intention to do all you possibly can to add value in one or more areas at your client’s company. I had cleared several case study rounds at a few tier II consulting firms, but never made it through their final interview round. General feedback was that while my analytical skills were really good, my oral communication was not as concise and crisp as your average consultant [go figure!] The learning for you is, if you can solve problems logically and analytically, and have the noblest of intentions for your clients, nothing in the world should stop you from realizing your consulting dream. And this comes from someone who, 19 months down, has a few grey hairs of his own, to ‘show’ his distance run.

If you are interested in reading on, this is a little background story about A-Team Business Consulting that led to the above learning.

A-Team Business Consulting is a Management Consulting service committed to working with enterprising Start-ups, Small and Medium Businesses in India and abroad, in areas of Medium-to-Long term Growth strategies and Customer Delight strategies, with the objective of becoming their Growth Catalyst of Choice.

Back in 2012, prior to starting A-Team Business Consulting, I sought the advice of some very senior and experienced persons from industry on my intention of working with deserving small & medium businesses [SMBs] in areas of growth and customer-focused strategies. While I saw a huge unaddressed demand, I wanted their perspective too. The overwhelming advice I received included a considerable amount of optimism, acknowledging a huge need for growth consulting for SMBs. The advice, however, had a heavier share of forewarning, for reasons ranging from the fact that it is an extremely difficult space to establish a sustainable business model; or that younger companies are reluctant to pay high consulting fees, and that consulting was best left to the grey-haired stalwarts of industry [indicating those with over 20 years of experience, and who had ‘seen and lived through all kinds of industry cycles’].

I still felt strongly about my intention to help SMBs, so, taking their suggestions and warnings, I dived right in.

I’ll admit, it has been the roughest 19 months ever, and unfortunately most of the business is still operated single-handedly by me, but I have built a highly capable six-member external consultant team, and with over 16 assignments to our credit, things only looks optimistic. And while the A-Team is still a long way from being a smooth-functioning and scalable model, and more importantly, an established brand in consulting.

And has it been worthwhile? When an ‘extremely passionate about their young business’ client is so delighted with your recommendation strategies that they invite you to be a co-founder and help grow their business, that is the stuff that keeps us going. Or when, upon completing a small assignment for the company of a truly visionary 40-year old industry veteran, he sits beside you and softly expresses interest in having the A-Team partner with them for the long term; that is reason sufficient enough for us to endure all odds and grow, so that we may help deserving businesses grow.

If you believe you are building a great company, do get in touch with us, we would love to be of any assistance we possibly can, in areas of Growth Strategies, Customer Delight Strategies, and Ideation.

The A-Z of Consulting

2 Comments

I had recently uploaded a new presentation about the A-Team, a Management Strategy & Consulting service for Small & Medium Businesses that I run.

Contrary to the general perception most people have about Management Consultants, I for one, try to keep our image informal, friendly and approachable. And we don’t make clients lighter by several lakhs for incomprehensible presentations. We believe in simple, effective and implementable solutions at an affordable fee.

Anyway, my buddy and believer in the A-Team, Jimmy, happened to see our new presentation, and he surprised me by teaching us the A, B, C’s of the A-Team.

We are truly humbled with this gift, the A-Z list you’ve created, buddy. You truly are very creative, and be rest assured, this list will keep us pushing the limits, always.

Thank you.!!

A-Team

Business

Consulting

Develops

Excellence

For

Growth

Harmony

Ideation

Justification

Kaizen

Lateral thinking

Motivation

Negotiation

Optimization

Positioning

Quality 

Refining

Segmentation

Targeting

Utilization

Venture Capital

Workflow

X-efficiency

Yields

Zenith

Models that puzzle me

1 Comment

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.

Herd Capital

2 Comments

Everyone’s aware of the herd mentality. Be it iPods, bigger and bigger cars, or even a Twitter account (which doesn’t really make sense if you’re not actually gonna use it). Hell, even I got a Twitter account that I don’t use.

And many a times, it takes a while before a smart management guru finds the method behind some of the madness.

I’ve come across a few similar instances of herd mentality in the Venture Capital industry too in the past few years.

Before I mention them, I’d just like to state here, that the views below are only mine, and I don’t, in any way mean to undermine or insult the knowledge and strategies of my fellow members of the VC community. I’m merely expressing my concern about something I’ve observed.

Herd Mentality. Hmm.

One example that comes to mind, the textile/ garment manufacturing and associated retail industry back from 2006 through most of 2008. Companies saw several Million $ of investment, and were doubling and tripling their manufacturing capacities – spinning, weaving, dyeing, printing, stitching; you name it… not to mention the number of retail outlets, adding customers (read big brands in apparel) with demands going into astronomical numbers of pieces of clothing.

And obviously all of this took the valuations of these companies pretty high. Just to give some perspective to the quantum of investing, this sector saw around 3% of the total $5.6 billion of VC investment in just the first six months of 2007. That’s roughly a whopping Rs.750 crore.!!

And then, with the collapse of the US economy, textile exporters suddenly lost one of their prime markets, and quite instinctively, came back home and focused their energies and capacities on the domestic market, which itself was beyond saturated with all the domestic expansions that were funded.

That led to more n’ more discount malls springing up, running on wafer thin margins.

Then, there was the mad rush after clean n’ green businesses. Of course, there’s nothing bad about investing in technology that’ll help conserve the limited resources of the globe, but from a VC’s point of view, it’s about making money too, right. Now, the focus on making those multiple ‘x’ returns should be one of the fine filters through which great companies and amazing business models must emerge.

However, what happens with the herd mentality is, that companies with limited knowledge or capability, get invested into, just cause some VC was probably not approached by the best companies in the sector, and who did not want to miss out on the ‘gold rush’, and so ends up investing in the 20th company in the sunrise sector at a ridiculous valuation. The VC seeks the safety of the herd. Everyone’s doing it, so maybe I should too. This not only makes the top team at the company over-confident of their supposed capabilities, but also makes it tougher for the company to raise its next round of investment (due to the already sky-high valuation it got its first round investment at).

So, we end up with:

  • Just a handful of the numerous funded companies actually adding reasonable value, globally
  • Several overconfident funded companies that just trudge along, finding it difficult to raise additional money
  • The sector very quickly becoming over-invested and going out of flavor with the VCs due to high valuation expectations by other companies, thus resulting in less investment happening in creating more effective and widespread clean and green technologies and applications; something that was needed by the world on an urgent basis, to begin with.

It would help if VCs invested after a well thought-out strategy rather than almost on impulse, irrespective of whether it means missing the bus on a fad investment sector. This would result in the VC not making losses on a bad investment. At the same time, she or he could focus on understanding the sector quickly and perhaps support young companies with innovative products or solutions that they feel might significantly help preserve the planet, rather than just dump money into just another solar-cell manufacturing company, or another wind turbine manufacturer, or something like that.

In the end, all this could be herd mentality, or perhaps even the wisdom of the crowds.

Only time and lots of investing will tell.

[Again, these are just my views on it, being strongly based on my belief that known and stable businesses or mass producing of products should be funded more by debt; and the risk investing in paradigm-shifting technologies and solutions should be left to VCs. I would like to get the views of promoters and fellow VCs on this. In the end, it’s all a part of our learning process.]

%d bloggers like this: