Monday, December 11, 2006

Thief Thief - Stole my idea

People who startup companies are cautious. I have seen numerous websites say "We are in stealth mode and we will be up and running in a couple of months" which I interpret as "We are scared to share our idea because we think you will steal it and launch a company before we do". Is it really that easy to steal an idea ?

I don't think so. If an idea were so valuable, wouldn't there be a market for ideas ? If you want to find out how valuable an idea is, try selling one in the market and you will find out the reality. What is really valuable though is an idea that has been implemented in the form of a product, and you can certainly sell that for a couple million dollars.

Another way to think about it is to take an example, say search engines. The idea of search engines is really old, but over the years, many have come and gone. When google launched their search engine, there was nothing unique in the idea, what was unique was their approach to the problem and the implementation. That was what eventually took them to their current multi-billion dollar valuation and the greenbacks in the pockets of Sergey and Larry.

So think twice before you hide an idea - discussing it with someone might give you more value than hiding it inside your head.

Friday, December 01, 2006

How Innovators Connect - Sharing Experiences of Leading Silicon Valley Innovators

Rohit is a veteran entrepreneur and has a couple of successful startups to his credit. The most recent idea he is working on is to build a community where entrepreneurs ( and budding entrepreneurs ) and innovators can interact and exchange ideas.

He is releasing a book called "How Innovators Connect" 8 weeks from now, that shares success stories of entrepreneurs and his session today summarized the learnings of the entrepreneurs into ten key points. Every entrepreneur should know and do these ( in my words ):

  1. Innovation lies between invention and imitation : An invention is something completely new, unseen, imitation is something exactly identical to what already exists, and innovation lies somewhere between invention and imitation. An innovative idea doesn't always have to be inventive - it simply has to be different and it has to solve some problem. Look at the following successful companies and you will understand what I mean - all these companies picked up an existing idea and innovated to deliver more value than any of the existing companies.
  2. Connect with an idea : It is extremely important that you have an idea that you believe in and passionate about. In case you are not sure how passionate you are about the idea, sleep over it for a week and see if your passion stays beyond a threshold. Once you connect with the idea, you will have the wherewithal to carry it through the hard times.
  3. Connect with themselves : Starting up your own company requires a lot of hard work and commitment which is really hard to achieve unless you are spiritually connected to yourself in some way. This gives you the power to face the unknown, the confidence to build something you believe in and the maturity to take hard decisions. It is important that you know yourself and that you know if you are ready to start your own venture. Ask yourself the questions and trust your inner voice.
  4. Connect with fear : Think of a startup and fears in various shapes and sizes creep into your mind. The first and the foremost is the fear of losing your well settled job to venture into the unknown. The second is the fear of how well your venture would do. Third is the fear of not being able to survive the hard times. And the list goes on and on... You need to connect with your fears and instead of letting them dominate your actions, use them to guide you into making smart decisions.
  5. Connect with failure : Failure is not the end of the world. As a child when you learn to walk, you fall a couple of times, but that does not mean you give up walking. Similarly, when you start your own company, your first product does not necessarily have to be successful. Infact, most of the companies today started off with a stupid idea, had this realization a few months into the venture and modified the idea to make it successful. You need to learn to accept failure and course correct to keep making progress on the right track.
  6. Connect with environment : The environment around you is the biggest influencer behind success/failure of your idea. If your idea does not solve a problem or reduce a pain point in the environment where you are bringing it out, there is a high likelihood that it is headed for failure. As an example, building a GPS navigation system would be a really good idea in US ( infact it is already used heavily ) whereas it would not cut across to the masses in India ( where you have so many people around to ask the way ). Keep in mind the dynamics of the environment and the environment will guide you to the right path. As another example, India is a price sensitive volume driven economy (people here do not pay for convenience) whereas people in US are more likely to pay for convenience.
  7. Connect with team : Starting up alone is a sureshot recipe to disaster. Startups that have more than 1 founding members have dramatically higher chances of success relative to those that are driven by a single owner ( infact most of these have failed historically ). There are a couple of ways to think about this:
    1. Your network of friends is one of the most valuable resources when you are starting up a company. Are you starting up alone because you do not have too many friends that you can trust ?
    2. You have a good network of friends but you were not able to convince any of those that this is a good idea. If you cannot convince at least 2 of your close friends ( who know you so well ) of your idea, how do you expect to convince your customers and people you do not know of the same ?
    3. There are hard times for every startup when even the highly passionate founder begins to think if it is a good idea to pursue. If you have more than 1 founding members, it is highly unlikely that all of them are depressed at the same instant of time and they would be able to provide each other support during hard times.
    4. You don't need a big team to bring out the first version of the product. You need a set of people who are passionate about the idea and 6 months to get this done. In absence of other founding members, you would need to look for employees to take the product through the first release and employees would never ever be able to drive the same results as a group of highly energized founders.
  8. Connect with customers : Do I need to emphasize the importance of this - I guess not. Customers may not be intelligent enough to tell you what you should build ( otherwise they would have built it themselves, isn't it ), but they can surely tell you if they are going to use what you are building or not. If customers love using your product, you are surely on the path to success. However it is easier said than done and no startup ever gets the idea dead right in the first go. That is the reason it becomes increasingly important to connect to your customers, listen to their feedback and course correct early based on that feedback. Remember, the closer you are to building what customers want, the greater are your chances of success. Also, when taking feedback, listen to the whisperers more than the ones that are shouting on the top of their voice.
  9. Connect with money : Be frugal. Borrowing money to get the startup going always sounds compelling ( because that way you transfer all your risk to the person offering you money ), but remember that there is little difference between Opium and OPM ( Other People's Money ) and addiction to either is a recipe for doom. When you are starting up, you need to be very efficient with your spend and squeeze the maximum value from each penny you spend. The best way to start up a company is for the founders to pool in the initial investment ( enough to sustain 6 - 9 months ) and get a prototype live after which you can start looking for external investments. Also remember that going to a VC too early in the cycle is not a good idea either because when a VC invests in a company, the VC would also dictate their terms which might cause your vision to be destroyed completely ( because now you are executing the VCs vision, not building your idea ) thereby throwing an otherwise excellent idea down the hill. Approach a VC only when your startup has achieved a threshold and you need to expand. This also makes you better placed to bargain with the VC and get the funding on your terms.
  10. Connect with ego : Last but not the least, do not let your ego get in the way of the startup. Yes, you do need to stand behind the idea and you need to be passionate about it, but you also need the flexibility to course correct as you get feedback from your customers and that is where your ego might get in the way. Don't ever let your ego tell you that you are the smartest person in this world and any idea that you think of can never be stupid. Drop your ego, listen to your customers and march ahead.
Presented By:
Rohit Agarwal

What VCs look for - Elements of Sustainable Venture Companies

Our focus in the last 15 years has been internet, specifically wireless. In India, we have a portfolio of 30 companies with around 10 in the internet/wireless domain. We go from seed stage investments to later stage investments as well. Things that we look for:
  1. Large Markets - Address existing markets poised for rapid growth and change. Example is TravelGuru which is a big market with scope of bringing in a lot of efficiency.
  2. Team DNA - 'A' Level founders attract 'A' level teams.
  3. Clarity of Purpose - Summarize company's business on the back of a business card.
  4. Rich Customers - Target customers who will move fast and pay a premium. Eg: Jassi Chadha founded MarketRx.
  5. Insane Customer Focus - Customers will only buy a simple product with singular value proposition.
  6. Pain Killers - Pick an issue of burning importance and delight the customer with a compelling proposition. Eg: PayPal
  7. Think Differently - Take the contrarian route and create novel solutions. Eg: Shashi Reddy started testing services company.
  8. Agility - Stealth and speed will ususally help beat out large companies. Eg: Steve Chen and Chad Hurley started YouTube.
  9. Frugality - Focus spending on what's critical. Eg: Nitish Mittersain started Nazara that has exclusive rights for sportsmen like Sehwag, Tendulkar.
  10. Inferno - Huge markets with customers yearning for a product developed by great engineers requires very little firepower.
We have always made more money with people who are not proven. We do 5-6 seed stage investments every year and we have some ability to assess the technology risk. Why should you come to us:
  1. Phenomenal track record in internet and technology space.
  2. Ability to foresee an idea, refine it and bring it out in a way that it is complementary to the team.
  3. History of 6 years in India, learnt from mistakes.
  4. Long term staying power. We were investing in 2000, 2001 when there were no investors.
Presented By:
Sandeep Singhal ( Sequoia Capital )