on startup ideas : finding the niche

Somehow I find lot of people interested in product ideas end up meeting me and the ideas often surprise me either with the uniqueness or lack of it. The lack of skills and the reluctance of pick it up seems to be common trait in most of the cases. But then some people understand it and try finding mentor’s and succeed. Perhaps this will be a good idea to share some of the thoughts from personal experience.

Find a niche

I think this is one of the important aspects of succeeding with a startup idea in any area. But care must be taken to make sure that the niche will grow enough to provide the return to sustain the idea (product or service whatever the idea is). The second point it should be possible to generate enough revenue to keep going.

There 2 personal experiences of finding a niche segment and then not able to scale up : though there was a rock solid team, timelines were met etc etc.

Find a niche, boot strap and run after MONEY !

In the first example, we had a photo agency where we catered to a niche – sports photography and within the segment we focused on football. This was during the time i-league was started and we even had AIFF as client.We had a super cool name :

MangoPeel

We had award winning photographers across the country, we probably managed to publish photos faster the best, we trained photographers to upload photos, process them & we paid them probably 3 times what they used get paid. All were happy. Though all were happy, we had issues with collecting payments. After an year of operations throughout which we were break even, we had to wind it up.

Why we didn’t take off ?

I think we lacked in collecting the payments. Personally, I was too shy to ask for payments. I don’t think we were ready with money! Technically, though we had found a niche and managed to bootstrap, we couldn’t generate enough revenue to keep going. Having right skills in finance is very important. This is one point often Entreprenures overlook as they get carried away by passion. For us this was the best thing, as photography was our passion

 

 

MangoPeel is started by two young photography & travel enthusiasts who came to to know about each other through their photos. They had dreams to do things differently & courage to do it. They met at a beach side restaurant to discuss their future plans and MangoPeel was born.

MangoPeel is started by two young photography & travel enthusiasts who came to to know about each other through their photos. They had dreams to do things differently & courage to do it. They met at a beach side restaurant to discuss their future plans and MangoPeel was born.

 

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Find a niche, but make sure that there is enough growth in demand

This is a particularly interesting case as this was novel & the first of its kind. We launched India’s First Web TV – IndiaVibes.TV

Once again everything was uber cool, India was about to witness a massive upgradation in internet connectivity, the magical 3G was about to get launched. Our timing looked good. We had enough programs, impressions everything looked good. But one assumption failed – the high speed internet wave didn’t take off the way we expected. This was something we never expected as projections regarding internet speed & availability at low cost miserably failed to meet the expectations. Years down the down even now the 3G connectivity is poor across the country. The writing on the wall was clear. We had wind up the show in sometime.

This was unfortunate, but I think this can happen to anyone even if everything looks good. Finding a niche & then making sure that there is enough demand is very important. If there is not enough demand, we MUST pivot and move ahead.

 

Find the niche, follow the Lean startup approach & launch fast. I think this needs an elaborative post & will talk about this in another post.

 

the pivotal moment

This post could be an evolving one and may keep updated for sometime until I find it well refined. The post is the result of a chain of events happened over last 3 – 4 years where my focus was on people, people & people. I think I can say that I have transformed at a great pace, helped transforming many but for atleast last one month I was going in circles thinking about “why some people perform and others fail“. In other words some manage to transform and others get lost in a maze. Though somehow my idea was invest people, motivate, give room for mistakes / errors so that they learn from the same. But there was something wrong.

One shocking pattern found is simple tasks which normally takes handful of hours is not completed in months by people who are considered to be very smart and creative.  I had decided to give room errors across every team in my organisation as well. Instead of hiring from outside decided to “blaze” up folks from the team and create a scenario for growth. Personal, professional, organizational – carefully designed a schemes after working for months or rather years. Involved some external teams which I thought also could help and achieve organizational growth. The end result was, I found a pattern, inability to rise to the challenge.

 

Now this was a big learning for me, no I am not putting it as a failure but I had actually found a pattern, a common trait over a period in four years.

  • I believed in People, People and People – but failed to understand not everyone likes challenges. I purposefully acted as a facilitator of challenges which others took as problems ! That too the ones without solutions.
  • People hated the need to change which came along with Challenges
  • Though everyone thinks, including me that they are capable of raise to the occasion  face challenges, when faced with a given challenge we all tend to fail. In short the challenges ended up as hurting egos than an opportunity to learn !
  • Why – My interactions with groups and with internal team was always about telling them about “why we do what we do ?” Passed on the message that, we are passionate about technology and should use our passion to create tools and solutions that can help stakeholders, clients, employees, users to enhance their lives. From my interaction with the external groups also I learned they also do the same – they are passionate about something and they are on it. Two things went wrong here, internally the “why” was either misunderstood or never communicated beyond my immediate circle. With many external groups I was talking to stakeholders who understood the “why” in their scenario but was working with those who never understood the “why”
  • I entrusted people with the duty of great things, after measuring them up & thinking that they will love it. I was also jealous that I was never given such opportunities while I was just obeying instructions – oh yea, it didn’t work too. Apparently, its difficult to understand and measure the opportunity at hand.
  • Ego – I am not sure whether it was my personal ego that I can do this or overconfidence and dependence in people or egoistic about the people around me. The ego part become much more destructive when I learned about Ricardo Semler & “Managing without Managers”. I became more confident about what I was doing, my ego told me that the folks around me can take up ownership. My ego told me that the groups I am involved are much more capable of Semco’s 10,000 odd people. The last nail in the coffin was the book “The Lean Startup”. I found some similarities, which made me tell this to a friend “We are doing something very unique here, partnered with few exciting people & though this is little bit crazy, I am quite sure that we will be studied in B-schools and management schools.”
  • I passed on ownership to people – my version was I was empowering them ! Now I realize that along with it I ended up spending too much time teaching people many things from scratch and spending more time with someone who was performing well. It seems those who were stuck, lost & became more frustrated, but I believed in the ultimate power of human mind which can fight any challenge. As for the external group, the PoC couldn’t even respond to emails & it was a completely lost game.
  • Over estimated myself – my ability to multi-task, ability to motivate, ability to pass on the answer to “why” to everyone ! This also resulted me liking people for what they are not, what they are not doing because my theory was all that needs is motivation and hard work. Kept on investing on this wrong assumption.
  • I ended up doing the same things again and again, ended teaching people the same things which was very unproductive. Instead of evolving or transforming, I was going in circles. I was simply frustrated.

 

What is next ?

Take a pivot, a deviation from what is being followed now & address each one of the above. This was where I was spending time for quite sometime. I met a friend & mentor this week. We talked for some 7 hours, I even argued.

Now I am at peace. Because I think I have it figured out. I am also proud, very proud that I have many transformed, some special cases whom I choose just by looking into their eyes and seeing the sparkle or the eagerness to finish a task though not matching any criteria – has came back to me about talking things I had no clue whatsover 🙂 But more than that it burned when seeing yet another group failing just to transform or just to do simplest of simple things that they were supposed to carry out.

This is what I think what’s to be done right now. Just like facing the fireballs in the video below & I am not alone or shattered.

Answer the why

This is the most important aspect. Need to focus on making everyone around it understand this. May be there is a need to re-connect with many but its essential. Every stakeholder should be clear about why we are here & everything that we do are just means to achieve it.

Don’t train people from start !

Experience matters. period. We need experienced hands who are trained and who can answer why.

Don’t be too personal.

This comes as a trait when someone is too passionate something. Professional aspects are overrun Personal aspects. There has to be a clear balance between personal, professional growth finally contributing to the organizational growth.

 

People are different !

Very. Not everyone likes challenges or don’t even understand what they are. Sad but one can achieve anything if they wish for it is not true for everyone.

 

Look for which college / university one is coming from

Being the in the geographical region with 80% people not employable (As per aspiring minds survey), we had pretty much become like a training institute.  This has to be put an end to & one should look which college or university one person came from, whether one stayed in hostel which is mandatory for most of the professional courses like engineering.

 

Now, I think this makes me at peace, helps me with a turmoil to certain level. And yes, very happy about learning something very useful.

 

Note: incomplete musings, there will be more upcoming versions. This may help people who are lost in their careers to look into themselves and fix them up & organizations which are growing organically.

A year of Entrepreneurship.

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After 1 year and 3 months of quitting a cosy-big-MNC-much-loved-dream-job (removed a link from here as it creates confusion.) and just turning 28 I found myself asking the question what is this Entrepreneurship is all about ?

Is it the money ?

No !  I am broke and I can’t buy stuff  like a crazy over priced bicycle (my friend has one) or an iPod which I had bought in the past  and still using as an hard disk. I still remember paying advance for Onakkazhcha exhibition with the last pennies in my account and coming back with some 110 rupees (2.5 USD) in my wallet.

Is it the comfort and no need to much work ?

Comfort ? I haven’t gone to Bangalore PVR or gone to one of those over priced restaurants on birthday treats or even there was not much time to sleep. I used to shiver under the A/C and last year I was sweating !

Is it all the fun, glamour ?

heck ! no. I had to switch to T-shirts and Jeans because I no longer able to iron the clothes for that matter.  Fun, well, I find miss calls in mobile from various people of which few are the most cute girls one encounters in life but I’ve no way but see those calls hours late and do nothing about it.

Is it the freedom and do whatever you want to do ?

no way ! you can’t even fall sick because that is when all the world turns against you. You can’t go on a trip because that is when your client wants an immediate whatever call with you.

oh, since you have so many people working under you can work less, that it ?

well, absolutely wrong. Earlier one had a boss and only person was waiting to hear for answer, a reply or whatever. Now you end up with a lot of people waiting for replies you end up following up, working, researching thinking the whole day.

No its not money, power, glamour, less work, freedom that defines entrepreneurship. When you become an entrepreneur, you get the freedom to choose what you have to work on, you come to office and see the people sitting in there and you realize you are able to reach not just a family but the lifes of all their families, You feel happy when a client who lives on the other side of the planet which is believed to be spherical in shape asks you to take a break, pack your bags, go to the mountains or he trusts you and offers to help in a charity photography exhibition you are involved in, or someone says he had a “blink” moment when he met us and he trusts us with the most important project of  his life or you feel proud when a movie director gives you the freedom to decide on how to make the teaser for his most challenging work, or you feel really cared and loved when one of your best friends comes to your office and says you have got a nice setup and I entrust you with my upcoming  project.

What is all above means ?

Entrepreneurship is all about blood and sweat one puts to whatever one likes and in turn he becomes trust worthy, ethical, transparent and capable of delivering the most challenging tasks to the people who trusts him. He influences and changes the lifes of the people around him or her. He may have to make personal sacrifices which has long term postive impact on not just him but on the people who trusts him – the ones the world calls clients or employees.

I think now I am able to do only those things I like to do.  I remember myself telling my superior when I joined for cosy-big-MNC-much-love-dream-job that I hate GUIs and I am most comfortable with a text terminal, code but then there were times when I looked at GUIs with an already upset mind, I tried to keep the monitor upside down, looked at it, no the GUI still looked like a ugly-alien or something. Now I am no longer tormented by such things, but we get the freedom to choose what we need to work with,  its no longer a legacy technology, same old repeating stuff, one get the freedom to implement what you use to read only in slashdot and feel satisfied. Life remains the same, you have same old things which upsets you, same old stuff around you but then there is something new everyday.

If the defintion of an Entrepreneur is one who has stopped making compromises in his life and by so becomes a confident, proactive, trustworthy individual able to change the lifes of the people around him, then yes I am one.

And yea, He has the best friends one can think of. Shijil, Sai, Prince are just three of them in the list in which other names will be a bloody cool Mohan, Smevin, Jithesh, one person whom I call messenger, Alexy, Aswathy, Cibin, Lijo, Adarsh, Vikas, Shyam, Muraliyettan, Krish, Oam, Sunil, Deepa and yes the list goes on … Well yea, Entrepreneurs are not supposed to become emotional etc so I am not writing more names and how they have helped me !