If you want to find out what jobs are available in startups in India, then there are myriad resources to check:

Are there other resources that should be on this list? Please let me know in the comments.

There are other questions I’m wondering as well:

  • Which are the popular places followed by the startuppers who are looking to hire interns, freshers and experienced people?
  • For passionate students/freshers who want to work in startups, where do they start? Should they just apply via these sites or should they first do in-person networking at OpenCoffeeClub, Startup Saturday and similar meeting grounds first?

Update: Another tip is finding which startups got funding recently.

My favorite session at proto.in 5th edition was by Atul Chitnis who reinforced the basics of business. He made one remark which seems obvious but something that we don’t put in practice:

“Today is history. Build for the future so that your product can be ready just in time.”

As opposed to only thinking of right now, taking a year to build it and realize it is no longer needed, or more likely, it is no longer the way things are done.

This statement immediately came to my mind when I was reading the announcement of ‘Triple Play’ by Airtel:

Rs. 999 per month which gives 135 channels including 256 kbps broadband speed with unlimited download and a landline connection.

First, you can imagine internet access completely on the television in homes, say in a year or so.

Second, if you combine this with their Online Desktop feature(1), and you can imagine how people will be accessing computing on their TV just a year down the lane without ever buying a traditional desktop computer. And best of all, users can easily install/uninstall applications (on rental basis) without hassles/worries/dangers of “ruining your computer” since Airtel will be hosting the computing facility.

The question is: If you are a company (whether big or small) in the tech space, do your products and services take this into account?

Similarly, we all know that netbooks are the rage now. Atul predicted that these are stop-gap measures until people realize that they can do the same things with slightly higher-end phones.

Again, ask the same question above.

Technology indeed changes so fast and changes our lifestyle along with it.

Other useful points from the talk:

  • It is not the tools you use. It’s how you use them.
  • Those who forget history (i.e. learn from others’ mistakes) are doomed to repeat it.
  • If product is good, price is right, people will buy it.
  • A product is more than just code. A customer wants a solution and a long term relationship with the service provider.
  • Today is history. Build for the future so that your product can be ready in time.
  • Markets can be created.
  • Hint: Assume connectivity. Local storage no longer matters.
  • Biggest products are mobile products now. Simple products, not big things.
  • Advertising doesn’t pay. Unless you’re Yahoo or Google.
  • VC funding is not a viable business model. Unless you’re a VC.

(1) Has this service actually taken off? Who uses it, I wonder.

I attended the proto.in 4 conference last week (held at the beautiful IIT Delhi campus) and had a very productive and thought-provoking time.

proto.in

Day 1 was the fastrack “startup school” sessions.

The keynote session was Kiran Karnik, ex-President of NASSCOM, who pointed out that this “recession” is not a bad thing. Just like the BPO and Outsourcing outfits reinvented themselves in the last dotcom bust, this is a great opportunity to reinvent ourselves again during this phase. Why? Because when things are going good, nobody is willing to change or tinker with the processes. And when things are not going well, people are willing to take more chances and bet on newer/different things so that they can survive, such as big companies working with startups or risking new ideas.

Kiran Karnik

The story of BharatMatrimony.com by the founder Murugavel Janakiram was inspiring. The concept maybe so simple and maybe even creating such a website maybe simple, but the kind of business model, customer understanding and outreach, and constant trial of new ideas that they went through was simply amazing. For example, sticking to his gumption that the site should be a paid one and that was the only viable business model, to things like collection of payment at the doorstep. After this talk, I had new-found admiration of his matrimonial site.

Murugavel Janakira

The third session was a talk on “Business is a Game” by Bhavin Turakhia, of Directi. I had never known about Bhavin until this day, and after this talk, most of the audience were his new fans, including me. The first audience question was “Do you have an opening in your company? I want to join.”

Bhavin Turakhia

The talk was about the lessons we should learn from games and sports, and how to apply it to business. And it made so much sense. Sometimes it is the basics that we overlook that make all the difference. This was pretty much in line with my off-late philosophy of “Enough Fundas. Back to Fundamentals.”

Bhavin said that he has read many books and stories about successful companies, and trying to distill why they succeeded, he came down to just two things to run a successful company:

  1. Gather the right players
  2. Empower them to make the right decisions, most of the time.

He said the first point is fairly obvious but hard to do. In this talk, he concentrated on the second point, and gave 7 principles on how to do achieve this:

  1. Teach the Game
    • When you play a game, say cricket, all the team players need to know how to play the game – the rules, the strategies, the howtos. If only few of them know it, and the rest don’t, the team collectively will suffer, right? Same for business.
  2. Share the macrovision
    • What is the final objective? Why are you playing this game?
  3. Near-term targets.
    • A team usually plays for a season or a championship. That consists of multiple games, which means there are milestones and targets to achieve. Same for business.
  4. Keep score
    • Bhavin says he likes games like cricket where every kind of statistic possible is analyzed, right from the average score of the batsman on this particular ground to the average scores of the teams overseas, etc.
    • In a game, the score is always visible on a public scoreboard, which drives the team in achieving real scores.
    • Recommends reading a book by John Hayes called “Open Book Management”
    • Measure everything. Don’t focus on more than 2-3 critical numbers. This reminded me of a quote by Bob Parsons (of GoDaddy fame): “Anything that is measured and watched, improves.”
    • Keep changing critical numbers.
    • Explain why these critical numbers are critical.
    • Statistics are fun, make it a game, have real targets, because no one wants to fail a target.
    • Bhavin explained that most of Directi employees have 3-4 monitors at their desk – 1-2 for work, the other 1-2 for monitoring live statistics. People love to watch scoreboards and feel joy when they achieve their targets whether they are number of downloads or response times.
  5. Line of sight
    • Each player should be able to link their actions to the outcome of a game i.e. how they contributed to the outcome directly.
    • This makes the player feel he/she is contributing to the team and feel he/she is a part of the team.
  6. Celebrate your victories
    • Celebrate the small milestones, especially achieving targets.
    • Have a Victory Party
    • The act of recognizing > how you recognize
  7. Align everyone’s interests

    • To the victor(s), belong the spoils
    • In a game, everyone’s equal and aligned, no separate us vs management, because success of each other is interlinked
    • Linden Labs has an internal website to “give love” to other employees who have done good work
    • How direct is the co-relation?
    • Company performs best when its people see themselves as partners in the business
    • American universities are run mostly by student communities and the knowledge is passed on to each new batch. And there’s this feeling that “I belong to my alma mater” vs “I belong to my organization” which people hardly say.
  8. When asked if these ideas put a constraint on the size of the company, Bhavin said this is the only way that you can scale a company. To specifically note, if everybody is not able to take the same decision as you, you become the bottleneck ⇒ size constraint on the company.

(more…)

It’s that time of the year when proto.in fever spreads. And the ideaworm has got to me.

Inspired by Vijay Anand’s “Ideas To Toss” series, I thought why not start my own occasional series as well? I’m calling it the “Ideas are Cheap” series. The name is a take on the common proverb “Ideas are Cheap. Execution is Everything.”

So here’s the idea for today:

Can we have a business where the users can customize the hardware that goes into their phone?

This is not a new idea. We are just applying Dell’s business model to mobile phones. If Dell can do it for desktops and laptops, why can’t it be done for mobile phones?

The customization can range from how much memory you want, whether you need a camera or not, etc. to choosing the color and the type of body (candybar or flip or other form factors) and so on.

The range of customization possible depends on the capabilities and costs involved in the assembly process. For example, users may be able to customize the phone by having a name for a special button called ‘Mom’ (or ‘Dad’ or ‘Son’ and so on) that is hotwired to call you. You can gift this to your corresponding loved ones. The advantage is it becomes a wonderful ‘personal’ phone and becomes easy-to-use for technophobic people.

The implementation will be challenging. For one, desktops and laptops can be assembled because of the plug-and-play IBM PC architecture as well as because the operating system easily adjusts to changes in the hardware. AFAIK, mobile phones are not built that way as of today and requires some configuration in the software based on which hardware features are present and which are not (please correct me if I am wrong). Making the software easily adaptable will be a major feature.

The other interesting part is to build a factory that facilitates this. It is very hard to build a supply-chain system for such a factory.

The good part is that the technology could be built on top of OpenMoko – after all, this is the kind of ideas that FIC (the sponsors of the OpenMoko project) had in mind in creating a mostly-open-hardware and open-source-software mobile computing project.

Personalization is one of the buzzwords that is supposed to make the big moolah for companies these days, and allowing people to customize a device that they carry around all day definitely has potential.

End credits: This idea was part of a random discussion between Ramjee and myself.

On a different tangent, there are lots of ideas waiting to happen in the software. For example, it’s not only Apple that can do an App Store for their phone, this can be done for this platform too. Of course, we’ll have to start off a holy war of choosing that one linux distro…

Perhaps similar ideas can be done on top of the Asus EEE PC as well?

Note: I no longer work with IonLab since Nov 12 of 2009.

One year ago, on this day, we launched ion, the ipod
charger
. The launch was just one blog
post
.
That’s it. Within two hours, Atul Chitnis bought the first ion in our
online store. We celebrated.

But hold on, let’s rewind the story a bit.

As people might have heard in our recent running
talk
, it all
started when Vikram,
Niara and myself started training
together for the 2006 Bangalore
Marathon
.

During one of our runs, Vikram told us that he had created his own
charger circuit and came up with this wacky idea of manufacturing and
selling them
. I never took it seriously
but Niara did. She convinced Vikram to take the idea forward. Nearly
six months later, the idea had taken wings.

The prototype looked nothing like something we could sell.

Picture 253
Picture 252

Later, I was planning to attend the first
proto.in
. Vikram and Niara
joined in and we went together. I was totally floored by the energy of
the people there and the fire in the eyes of these startup guys.
I told those two that they should talk to this guy called Arif
Vakil
of “Vakil Housing” fame and how he was
looking to fund interesting ideas. Immediately, Vikram swung into
action, approached Vakil and started explaining the idea.
Surprisingly, he showed interest!

Luckily, Vikram had brought his prototype and went to fetch it from
his bag. Then Vikram started searching for his iPod when Arif said
“Let’s try with my iPod”. Wow. That moment. Imagine if your VC is
a would-be customer and the product solves a problem that he himself
faces. Nothing like it.

We connected Arif’s iPod to the charger and the charger to a power
socket. The blue LED came on. The iPod was showing the charging
symbol. We all had smiles on our faces. Arif was impressed and went on
to even ask us where we live and so on. That means he really was
interested.

After that incident, it was time to head back. Vikram was on an
all-time high. That was when we were all convinced that we were on to
something. And throughout the bus journey from Chennai to Bangalore,
those two convinced me to join ion. I wasn’t so sure. Yeah, it was
a Saturdays-only part-time thing. Yeah, Vikram and me had discussed
about such things endlessly. But still, I wasn’t sure.

I thought about it the next day and thought “Why not?” I don’t lose
much if it bombs and it was a good excuse for us three to keep meeting
up.

For various reasons, we didn’t approach Vakil for funding and put in
the initial investment ourselves. And we went from shopping for
running shoes to shopping for resistors and capacitors and modifying
Drupal code.

Picture 053

Then there was the countless decision-making sessions like coming up
with poster ideas and then the stories about how we decided the logo
for ion
, how we
landed in trouble with the
cops
, and
finally the launch of ion.

We sent an email to friends asking them to forward to their company
internal groups and anybody who would be interested. We also gave
posters to put up on their company notice boards. That was pretty much
our ‘marketing strategy’. The idea was that we marketed it as an iPod
charger and our target audience was the techie crowd.

We marketed it as an iPod charger even though it will work with
anything that can be charged with USB right from mobile phones to
battery chargers. We use the term iPod charger because that’s what
people have most demand for. The second part about targeting techies
was because they will be the ones who will look to finding a solution
that is cheaper than the official charger which costs 2000 rupees but
still is reliable. Ours was one-fifth that price.

The most humbling experience for me was trying to sell ion outside the
Aerosmith concert. That was such a good example of a wrong person (me)
in the right place doing the job not suited for him. But yet Niara and
me did it for ion.

Then came the amazing customer
feedback
and our highest
point – getting featured in a half-page article in Economic
Times
:

ion in economic times

And yes, Arif congratulated
us
.

But you want to know what’s the craziest part? We made just 200
pieces of ion
. Yes, that’s it. 200 ions. Crazy. And see how far it
went.

After that ET article happened, we ran out of stock. That was six
months ago
. Many people have asked me why we’re not selling more
ions. So I thought I’ll tell the hidden part of the story today – We
never intended ion to live longer than those 200 pieces. It was just
a business experiment for us, nothing more. Why? To learn what it
takes to convert an idea to a reliable quality product and take it to
market.

We never called ourselves a startup back then. That has happened only
in hindsight. In fact, I was in it because I thought I could help
since I had some experience in maintaining my own websites and maybe
I can learn a thing or two in running an ecommerce store.

After we managed to the finish selling the batch of 200 pieces and
made decent profit, Vikram moved to USA, Niara moved on to other
things in life and so did I.

But the response hasn’t stopped. Even last Thursday (Apr 17), we got
emails from four different people in a single day asking when we’ll be
back in stock. Crazy, I tell you.

I have had so many personal failures and failed projects in the past
few years that it seemed stupid to kill a successful project of ours.
So Vikram and myself have been working on reviving ion. We hope to be
back with a batch of second generation ions in the next month.

The experiment continues.

I was fortunate to attend proto.in in Chennai on Sunday. What was it all about? It’s about startups in India. It was the opportunity for an Indian entrepreneur to showcase his/her ideas and business plans, to look for funding, people to work with, partners or simply grab media attention.

proto.in 005.jpg

27 companies were showcased and they each had 8 minutes to present their product. Working prototypes and demos were encouraged, ppts discouraged. Companies were asked to focus on questions like ‘who are you’, ‘what are you doing’, ‘what makes you different’ and
‘what are you looking for’.

I had written down some notes during the entire day:

(more…)