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How entrepreneurs contributed to rise of the Indian freedom movement

Dadasaheb Phalke Nana Shankarsheth Many entrepreneurs, while opinionated about business issues, often tend to be apolitical or at least try to steer clear of making public their political leanings to prevent negative impact on their business interests. Some, of course, are fanatics, who also use their monetary success to defend and further their political interests.  Some others are fanatic enough to declare the entire political class as useless and corrupt. Nevertheless, for times immemorial, entrepreneurs have pugmarked the path of technological and social progress, albeit to further their business interests in the short term, but resulting in ultimate progress of society towards being more fair and equanimous. Some entrepreneurs who played a pivotal role in India's freedom struggle include G.D. Birla whose association with M.K. Gandhi is well known and his struggles against British & Scottish traders and his efforts to set up indigenous industry are well

When scale can destroy quality

I have written in past about how a services business is hard to scale. While one would lament at the non-scalable nature of the consulting business, at the same time these businesses can claim a very high premium in their services. Conversely, when a product or a service becomes 'commoditized' - it stops commanding a premium. The less 'scalable' something, the more valuable it becomes. If one could produce a million copies of Picaso's work, or every dining hall could have the Monalisa - the value of great artists or great works of art would diminish. Even if this example sounds extreme - it explains an important principle which can then explain certain other phenomena of the business world.  For example, take the culinary business - it is possible to standardise not just the process of making food but even the ingredients used in food, to build a super scalable restaurant business like McDonalds - yet the price point which a McDonalds can claim will nev

Why is it hard to scale a services business?

Jim Collins has been researching and writing about the Flywheel as a value of enterprises. For those who may not know, here his most famous illustration - the Amazon Flywheel. Lower prices led to more customer visits. More customers increased the volume of sales and attracted more commission-paying third-party sellers to the site. That allowed Amazon to get more out of fixed costs like the fulfillment centers and the servers needed to run the website. This greater efficiency then enabled it to lower prices further. In another article , Jim writes - " those who drive companies into decline often abandon the big thing they already have, grasping instead for a new big thing, then another and another, falling into a doom loop of chronic inconsistency " While not written in the article above, but my experience says that 'Consulting / System Integrator Services' is plagued by this particular phenomenon. Consulting firms are forced to move from one "next big thi

The Rail and the Road of career

My daughter was watching one of those Kindergarten videos on shapes [ YouTube ] and at this scene where a car is waiting for the 'Shape Train' to cross the level crossing; I ruminated a conversation between the vehicles where ... The car wonders to itself  - "I wish I could go as fast as the train!" The train itself responds "I wish I could roam anywhere like the car does!" [ and not be forced to run only where the track goes ] I realized my rumination had a lot of similarity to the differences, perceptions and expectations of 'Corporate' vs. 'Entrepreneur' career paths. Corporate career is like the Railway - you have a defined career path to progress up, if you perform well, play your moves properly (including living with or harnessing office politics and networking), you can reach the top echelons very fast and without much financial risk on yourself. Entrepreneurship is like driving a car on the road - you have a lot of freedom w

Features vs. Users

davewinerabttwtr As  @DaveWiner , tweeted about twitter's innovation stalling because it closed its API than open it, another friend of mine emailed me asking about which Social Bookmarking service I use. To put it in context, in 2008-9, I too had started to build a social bookmarking application Bloozle , which was aimed at sharing links (bookmarks) by users, tagging them (to create 'folksonomies), enable sharing and finally presenting a technology curated 'magazine' for end users to browse. What we envisaged as bloozle, is today available as a combination of Twitter / Facebook based link sharing (with #hashtags acting as tags) and Flipboard based 'curation' of those links for you to read. Long story short - this friend of mine was a part of the team for Bloozle and hence, we share the love to hate Twitter-Flipboard combo for 'stealing' away our success! :-) My friend commented (sic)- "i am just back on delicious and find it way b

SoHo advice - setting up a Proxy server

Many people here might be running a SoHo and might have faced the problem of either restricting access to certain websites or simply to channelize all internet traffic through a common internet pipe. When a friend of mine - a non-tech entrepreneur - asked me on how he can achieve this, I went into writing him an email (with multiple embedded links) explaining how to use a Proxy Server to achieve the above. Below is a reproduction for everyone to use: If you are using a NetGear router, the router itself might have the setting for restricting users from accessing certain sites - check this http://www.netgear.com/lpc or this link http://documentation.netgear.com/wndr3300/enu/202-10301-01/pdfs/Content.pdf - Page 3-1 Blocking Access to Internet Sites If your router does not have these features then use the method below: Task 1: Install a Proxy Server on your server machine or any other powerful machine Download CCproxy from this link http://www.youngzsoft.net/ccproxy/proxy-se

How to create a successful online business

This post is based on content from guest author Aisha Singh  - many thanks Aisha! When you think about a successful online business, names like Amazon, eBay or Flipkart come to mind. While these companies have mushroomed from garage ventures into colossal corporations, there are also millions today who are making a living out of online properties which are capable of more or less running themselves - think of blogs, classified websites, tech help forums, and even YouTube channels. Case in point - Amit Agarwal , who after working with brands like Merrill Lynch quit his job to become India’s first professional blogger. Running an online businesses is not only exciting but also many a times allows the owner more time to engage in leisurely activities rather than being stuck in a corporate job all day long. Creating a successful online business is of course no easy feat and you will have to work very hard in the first few months/years in order to reap the rewards later on. Wit

Starting a "Dot Com"? Don't.

I met a young group of student entrepreneurs today who came to me for some basic advice on how they can start up a new online video portal. Their idea was to open a niche video portal and cultivate a community around it - in the process helping content owners / producers with the technology and sharing revenue with them. The idea wasn't unique but one of the co-founders had a good insider connect within the artist community which he hoped to use in content aggregation and building audience. They had identified a team of programmers in Hyderabad who would be able to do all the "coding" for their video portal, and they would do the groundwork. My immediate advice to them was - don't create a website ! Counterintuitive as it may sound, the time for starting websites and portals from ground up is long over. The time now is to start 'services' and not 'websites'. The web has come a full circle, from the days it was a haunt of Geeks, to today when eve

Should you drop out to become an entrepreneur?

I have previously mentioned Prof Prasad on my blog - last time he had thrown open a question on Entrepreneurship education - this time he referred to the famous Stanford Commencement address by Steve Jobs [ text link ] [ video link ]- and asked questions regarding whether students need to follow Steve and drop out of their courses - here are my answers to his questions: 1. How many students despite agreeing to Steve Jobs follow him and drop out of the colleges? Is it a full proof method ? If it is, why not at least hundreds of Steve admirers not toeing to this? Is Steve approach is BEST for everybody and anybody? It's a question of Eco-system; we have to recognize that a successful entrepreneur is one out of several failed entrepreneurs. The probability of an aspiring entrepreneur succeeding depends on the ecosystem in which s/he comes out of. The Stanford of Steve Jobs years was built to generate professionals and academics - it was never designed to generate entrepreneurs -

How to spark a ‘product innovation’ revolution in India?

Continued From: Why doesn’t Indian startup ecosystem churn out product companies? Let me start by picking up a few ideas from Paul Graham . Not Buildings If you go to see Silicon Valley, what you'll see are buildings. But it's the people that make it Silicon Valley, not the buildings. I read occasionally about attempts to set up "technology parks" in other places, as if the active ingredient of Silicon Valley were the office space. Building office buildings for technology companies won't get you a silicon valley, because the key stage in the life of a startup happens before they want that kind of space. The key stage is when they're three guys operating out of an apartment. So if you want to reproduce Silicon Valley, what you need to reproduce is those two or three founders sitting around a kitchen table deciding to start a company . And to reproduce that you need those people. Universities The exciting thing is, [if] all you need are the people, If you c

Why doesn’t Indian startup ecosystem churn out product companies?

Look at most successful Indian startups or look at a broader area of ventures (including initiatives by large businesses) in general; Tech or non-tech - what is clearly evident is the abundance of success stories in the services sector and an equivalent dearth of product based businesses . In fact, if I were to think up successful product venture from India - only 2 names come to my mind: PureIt from HUL in the consumer products space and Slideshare in the web space. (I am counting out Zoho here because the company is based out of the US and use India only as a ODC - essentially turning India operations as mere services arm.) A quick Google Search on the subject will reveal few reasons for this; for example: Lack of deep pockets of Indian VC's to fund serious research and hence Indian entrepreneurs can’t afford to take big bets Failures are not welcome in India Lack of 'optimism' in the Indian consumer - hence very sluggish adoption of new 'products' Aping the

Conclusion
Bloozle – the Startup that never was (Part VI)

Continued from Environmental factors (Bloozle – the Startup that never was - Part V) We are confident that we will get customers and we will be able to multiply our customer base fast once we cross the incubation stage. But reaching that stage needs massive amount of research and development effort. And that cannot be sustained by us on our personal savings – and definitely not without quitting our corporate careers. And to do all this we need Seed Funding – it’s a vicious circle which probably every entrepreneur faces. Most entrepreneurs overcome this phase by sheer determination of cutting through the hardship – even borrowing money to run their dreams. We would probably have done the same – if this was a smaller venture which could be incubated on less money, but we don’t think it is like that. And so the wait is on – for the VC who would help in Seed Funding and kick starting. Till then – we reminisce on the mistakes we committed and try to learn from them. May be for this ventu

Environmental factors
Bloozle – the Startup that never was - Part V

Continued from Product Development Mistakes (Bloozle – the Startup that never was - Part IV) We probably still would have survived, because at the end of the whole charade – we still had a working prototype*, a proof of concept and most of all a revenue model – which hardly any online startup in those days had. But unfortunately for us – recession had to set in just when we were readying our b-plan and reaching out to investors. In the months since October 2008 and today – we have heard responses from umpteen VC’s^ that they are not even considering investing in seed stage startups till the recession goes away. Most of them of course camouflage their response by saying that they would have invested if we had customers (essentially saying no to Seed Stage and asking us to reach beyond that stage). Unfortunately for us, personal lives are at a cornerstone where we could not have risked our personal savings (beyond what we already had) in taking this concept beyond the seed stage. We

Product Development Mistakes
Bloozle – the Startup that never was - Part IV

Continued from Product Vision mistakes (Bloozle – the Startup that never was - Part III) If the service is not ‘personal data service’ (like email), then one should try providing as many features as possible, without requiring users to log in/register. Registration and Login is a big barrier in enticing new users (especially non-techies) to try the service out. If you cannot provide the service without registration, try to provide screencasts and previews or even better, guest logins (slideshare does that!) for new users. Its important to get at least one section of your site work completely and bug-free than have your complete set of services rolled out but all in a half baked shape. While it is true that beta users are usually tolerant, but they can't be tolerant towards a product that looks full blown, but doesn't work even for some basic requirements. They would rather have fewer sections - but those few work well. Project Management lesson - make sure you get your prior

Product Vision mistakes
Bloozle – the Startup that never was - Part III

Continued from - The Concept (Bloozle – the Startup that never was - Part II) ‘Identify a need’ – it is said. We did exactly the thing – the need was clear: information overload requires an aggregator (or segregator as we called it); we wanted to build one. But call it limitation of technologies of the times (2004-6) or our inability (ignorance?) to harness them, but the concept of aggregating feeds based completely on automated algorithms did not appeal to us. Instead we decided to develop a Feed Reader for users which would be our means to enabling aggregation. However, once we set out to build an RSS reader – we got too engrossed in it. The means became the end – we got lost in the barrage of features which we needed on the reader to make it more user friendly to our users. Even worse, unfortunately for us, we came up with a RSS reader just when RSS reader usage peaked and was just about to start its decline [ RSS is dead ]. Being at its peak, the major user share was taken by

The Concept
Bloozle – the Startup that never was - Part II

Continued from Bloozle – the Startup that never was Bloozle is an information segregator (our own twist over the rising din of ‘aggregators’ online) which would allow the user to surf through the sea of blogs according to his/her tastes. The idea is simple – also a clever combination of various existing concepts like Social Bookmarking, FriendFeeding, RSS Readers, news rivers, co-ranking (digg/stumbleUpon): Users would subscribe to their favourite blogs in our custom developed feed reader. They would read their regular blogs and would rate and tag blog posts they read Incoming blog posts would also be automatically tagged based on the labels/tags which the authors attach them when posting. Going forward the system will also perform intelligent tagging based on factors like source, number of times a word appears in the post body, words in the title etc. The rating and tagging would be aggregated by our server and then blog posts would be rejigged (segregated) – grouped under tags and

Bloozle – the Startup that never was

This is the story of a startup that never was. It’s a story which I want to document to crystallize learning which I myself have had from this experience and also for several wannabe innovators/entrepreneurs to read and take lesson from. The Story In the heady days of 2004 when me and Hemant were incubating MastishK , our talk sessions lasting into the wee hours of the morning often threw open many revolutionary ideas which we canned and kept at the back of our minds for future use. One such idea was to create a newspaper out of blog content – essentially as we realized later, we wanted to build an intelligent aggregator of user generated content. Fast forward to 2006, when I conceptualized the idea in words and posted a prelude to it on my blog. The idea then developed further on in discussions with Aurko, Shubham and Manish. I developed a very basic prototype of the idea (I learnt Ajax during this development phase) but it was looking very amateurish. About the same time, I got h

Hamara Dhandha

I have previously written about Prof. Prasad and his initiatives to promote student entrepreneruship through his National Center for student Entrepreneurship (NCSE) in the NITIE campus. He is courting students nowadays for his Hamara Dhandha initative. Prodded by him to come and 'lecture' the students on the idea of student entrepreneurship - I went to NITIE on July 4th - the audience was thin because committee interviews were going on. So not sure if Prof Prasad will get many volunteers ... I explained the guys the need for looking our of the NITIE universe - the PMG's and Placecoms - to work in stuff like Hamara Dhandha. The philosophy doing rounds in most B-school campuses (as it had been through our times as well) is that stuff like events, industry lectures, internal committees, paper presentations etc - are the major contributors towards a heavier CV which ultimately helps during placement. However, what this philosophy fails to notice is how the landscape in Bu

Golf and Entrepreneurship

The difference between Golf and Entrepreneurship is that as an entrepreneur, you are the golfer who must also run as his own caddie! *Original Quote - Copyrighted. Please acknowledge my moral right of being identified and recognized as its 'creator' when using it :-)