Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Bihar Elections: Takeaways for StartUps

Bihar Election Voting (Courtesy: India Today)
BIhar Election Results (Courtesy: Times of India)

I had been very curiously following Bihar elections from last 2-3 months and read many articles, talked to many friends (including Biharis), agreed/disagreed with them, followed Media (their hypes, sensations and facts) and saw/listened how various politicians spoke, strategized and worked day and night to have election results in their favor.
Now that results are out and it made me wonder what happened and why? We were waiting for close contest and actually, that's what made the elections more interesting.

My tiny entrepreneurial mind was looking for some analysis that what went well for whom, what could be done better by someone and what can I learn from this month long elections and I could come up with the following:

1. Thorough Preparation with Constant Messaging.  Elections reminded me of days of my engineering education where we used to have exams with 2-3 days gaps (called it Preparation leaves) and it used to last a month. There were 2 kind of students, one who studied through-out the year and another who usually found it enough to study during the gaps of each exam and even few times, passed with distinction. JDU+ did a thorough study and worked from long time to build unprecedented tieups while BJP kind of relied on period between polling days. JDU+ had a strategy and they stuck to it while BJP+ kept changing it.

We at StartUps, cannot do everything as we have limited resources hence need to focus on our unique offerings and keep sending that message again and again. Also, realize that there is no substitute for thorough preparation.

2.  Its best to collaborate than going solo.  We see a clear trend that from multi-parties contest, it is becoming 2 coalitions contest.  Politicians have realized that its difficult to win even a state election alone hence they do make gathbandhan (coalition) to share resources, get more local updates, organize gram-sabhas, reach out to people in smaller rallies, get votes of each other etc.

There are way too many startups in each domain and its time to consolidate or else they would soon run out of cash.

3.  One may collaborate with past competition as well to beat bigger opponent. This was one of the main highlight as 2 bitter rivals came together. They together understood Bihar Janataa like no-one else. It would not have been easy for 2 rivals to come together but it did happen and results are remarkable

For startups in same domain, it means that they should be ready to collaborate/merge with another startup (which they may think of them as competition) to survive/grow against established big companies.

4. One needs to be hyper-local to succeed. Knowledge of locality/region is critical. People have their local/regional problems and they need them to be resolved for daily life. When someone is struggling to earn 100 Rs per day, he/she is ok if someone can just offer that much. It was a state election and people understand that someone from state who understands their basic needs, can help them better. BJP+ top management seemed to not listen to local/regional leaders somehow (Shatrughan Sinha is one such example) and lost key insights to ground realities.

Startups need to offer their services within a small region, make customers happy and keep growing slowly/steadily. Develop local leaders who has best knowledge of that territory. Make it hyper-local with terminologies, language, clothing style and blend in local culture to get connected. E.g. Its not easy to make a sale in a village in western dress talking in English.

5. Study your opponents well. If possible, get their key person on your side. Do we know that how Prithviraj Chauhan lost to Mohammed Gouri? Because King Jayachand supplied strategic/tactical information to Gouri.  JDU+ got Prashant Kishor, the person, who strategized the election campaign for NDA during National election and here, he was sharing critical tips with JDU+ leaders. JDU+ knew how to tackle large rallies, social/print/digital media etc. JDU+ successfully used the slogan of 'Bihari Vs Bahari'.

Do a good competition analysis. Same time, Do have clauses in contract and ensure that your employee should not start working for your direct competition.

6.  Customize products/services as per market size. We have been seeing the trend that voters are able to make difference between National vs State vs Panchayat election. We do see contrast when voters choose one party in National election and another party in State or Panchayat elections. If your target segment is small, you dont need to advertise on TV. Also, Star performers should make their presence felt few times and continue focus on bigger things.

In a startups, one need to realize that when CEO needs to make a pitch and when anyone else can do it. If junior staff makes mistake, CEOs can correct it but what if CEO is directly exposed every time.

7.  Be connected and have an edge over others.  Indian voters have been giving decisive mandate from last few elections. They have understood the adverse impact of hung assembly hence they want clear winner. People are more connected than ever due to social media, like, facebook, whatsapp, twitter and once they understand the X party has an edge, they vote to that party so that there is clear winner. We saw that BJP got more seats than expected during National Elections, AAP got more seats than expected in Delhi elections and now, JDU+ got more seats than expected in Bihar.

As a product startup, once you loose the edge and a slight difference may send a negative message to market. What may become viral, one may not be able predict. Out of 1000s of videos, something becomes viral and gets 1 Lakh+ hits in no time and it closes down rest all by big margin.

8.  I am more afraid of an army of 100 sheep led by a lion than an army of 100 lions led by a sheep. People seem to have literally understood this quote and implemented it well. Its the Leader who is more important than the party. Ideology keep changing on the basis of who are the leaders in the party. JDU+ chose Nitish Ji as their unanimous leader much before elections while BJP+ could not select a name. BJP+ could have called for a meeting of all Bihari leaders before election and democratically selected one. After-all, It was a state election and state leader was more important than national leader. 

I think that everyone knows it but its important to remind that CEO and core team is the one which takes startup (or a company) forward.

9.  Decentralize. Have local Leaders. People understand that giving absolute power to anyone can be detrimental hence they keep everyone in check. One party cannot depend too much on one leader as Democracy is about everyone's participation and giving chance for everyone to grow.

A human, even if he/she is CEO, can do limited work, after-all there are only 24 hours in a day. Its important to decentralize and develop leadership to accomplish many things in parallel.

Last but not least, Many Congratulations to Nitish Babu and Lalu Ji !! Bihar has given clear decisive mandate to you to lead from front and fulfill its aspirations and I hope you would do so.

Hariprakash Agrawal (Hari)
RideAlly  - Earn or Save Money by Sharing Taxi, Carpool or Bikepool.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Are we tolerant?

Intolerance has been the buzzword nowadays. We are bombarded with this word by print and digital media. High pitch debates are happening and views are being shared in intolerant way. Although, I have not had any debate with my friends and we all seem to be living peaceful but I am wondering that have we become intolerant suddenly?

I could not hold myself as I have been reading, listening a lot on this matter. I thought that its time that I also penned my thoughts. My heartfelt apologies that you need to read another piece on this.

Where do I start? I thought that why dont I look at the past for examples of tolerance. When I look at history, I find that it is full of wars. It is full of incidents where brother has killed brother to gain some physical attractions. Does it show tolerance? Most of the family fights are due to intolerance. Intolerance does have a short-tempered mind which must seek peace.

Tolerance is a virtue not everyone can master.  In history, very few people really showed the true meaning of tolerance and who mastered tolerance are treated as great men/women but society at large, does not seem to be tolerant.  These few great persons are the ones to whom people followed in abundance and made religions/sects out of that.  I believe that when people cannot agree to disagree than that is intolerance. When we cannot get along even with friends after having a fight than that is intolerance.

Does any religion teaches intolerance? Intolerance, for sure, does not have a religion. Some of them took religion so seriously that it lead to a journey to intolerance rather to tolerance and at times, intolerance leads to violence with adverse consequences. A small incident shows us the mirror that we can become intolerant in some seconds.The line between tolerance and intolerance is becoming thin.

Many of us are tolerant by chance but not by choice. If someone can kindle our feelings and make us lynch someone by just speaking on loudspeaker than it does mean that we are not tolerant.  If someone can incite riots (or fights) by speaking some words, it does mean that as a society, we have miserably failed on tolerance. Has society ever been tolerant including intellectuals? One can look at the articles on 'Communal violence in India', 'Riots in India' 'Massacres in India' on Wikipedia to understand tolerance level of Indians. Almost every year, there have been one or other riots. I dont want to sound negative but one can also check the number of court cases to understand the intolerance.

When a country boasts its arsenal which includes thousands of nuclear bombs than are they tolerant of world? When there are tax heavens and that money can be used for all kinds of illegal activities than are they tolerant of others? When a country sponsors terrorism in another country for a small piece of land than are they tolerant? When we have our jails and hospitals full due to violence, hatred etc than are we being tolerant? When a girl is burnt alive due to dowry or not allowed to even take birth than are even the families tolerant? When someone is killed or issued Fatwa for having difference in opinion than who is tolerant here? By returning the well deserved awards and highlighting carefully chosen incidents, are intellectuals (or conscience-keepers) being tolerant or intolerant?

Whether it was Kingdoms, British rule, Congress rule, BJP rule or any other Government, we have been constant and consistent in intolerance. We need another god or saviour to teach us tolerance and may be, there would be peace for some time and than another religion will born and earthlings will have one more reason to be intolerant. I might sound cynical but there seems to be a cyclic process which would stop with extinction of human beings. Gladly, animals show much better behavior and Im hopeful that they would finally live in peace on earth.

Same time, all is not lost. I do have many Hindu / Muslim / Christian / Sikh / Jain friends with whom I interact on daily basis either in person or on social media. Friends are part of my life like my body parts and soul. I cannot imagine a life without them and rarely, we discussed on these matters. We are so busy with our lives, trying ends to meet, caring for our children, caring for little we have and taking care of business as usual that we do not get that why so much hype?

Now, you may agree or disagree on above thoughts. Do share it either way. Lets see whether we together can increase tolerance in each other and the chain may continue..

Hariprakash (Hari)
RideAlly  - Earn or Save Money by Sharing Taxi, Carpool or Bikepool.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Challenges of Small Services (& Product) Companies

My Good friend, Amarinder, asked on OCC googlegroup that what are the challenges one faces while running a pure services company, or doing services to sustain yourself and your product development?

I just realized that we kind of fit in this category as we are developing products and surviving by providing services. I started OpCord abt 3 yrs back (in fact, we celebrated our 3rd birthday on 22-Jun) with trainings, services and also thought that I could develop products in future.  Services / Trainings are surviving us from last 3 yrs. I got an idea of a product worth pursuing (as I am crazy sometimes) about 2 yrs back of a mobile app which enables rides sharing (much more than car pool) and we are working on that as well. We are also working on test automation framework for web / desktop based applications and intend to make a product out of it.

After setting the background, the challenges we faced are:

1. Focus on product misses unless your services business revenue is so high that it can take care of both.You tend to make product team members billable if revenue is not good enough which breaks the flow. We are delayed on our product "RideAlly" by 6 months because we made key people billable.

2. Cash flow is a challenge. In our case, out of 35 members, 8-10 are dedicated to product development hence cost of these has to come from services. We are bootstrapped and able to manage without any loan/investment hence if some services gets stopped, we are on our toes.

3. You cannot hire high class talent required for product development due to high cost hence more mistakes, more learning time and more cost.

4. Out of 10 proposals, one gets 2-3 projects and each proposal takes considerable bandwidth. Whomsoever senior is available, participates in analysing feasibility, estimation and we dont care whether product development is taking a hit. We have worked for 2 months with 3 persons to get a project and still, we could not get Because customer changed technology itself, HTML5 over flash.

5. You are lucky if you get very tech savvy partner who understands product life cycle, architecture and fully committed (do or die kind). I have talked to almost 10 part time senior people (< 15 yrs exp) who wish to take plunge but ultimately could not. Its not easy to leave >20Lakhs/Annum job when you have EMI commitments, single salary, particular lifestyle (car, flat, kids going to school, maids etc), status etc.

6. Services business means you are always on hunt. You may have done great work for one customer but it does not mean that customer has repeat business for you. We get lots of 3-6 months assignment and once these people become non-billable, you just take a nosedive. Every year, we have 2-3 very bad months and 2-3 very good months.One needs to be very cautious in spending when earnings are good.

7. Being small company, we work with many small companies and they come to us due to cost advantage than large companies which necessarily means even you provide resource better than large company, your margin is less.

8. Many a times, we work with large companies through a middle partner and actually they earn, not us. I am not complaining as I also become middle partner nowadays.

9. Getting high performers on payroll is tough and retaining them is even tougher.

10. In India, we have so many taxes, service/professional/TDS/ESI and so many acts/laws with different CAs giving different interpretations. We spend lots of time in finance and marketing time reduces. E.g., we pay professional tax always on time and one month out of 2 yrs,  it got delayed by 2 days (due to weekend) and we got about 1200 Rs penalty. Person, who delivered, asked for bribe which we did not pay and later, our CA got it waived as well but it took unneccessarily my time.

11. Late delivery of invoices payment just kills you. I have to admit that I had to delay senior persons salaries just because invoice payment is delayed. Junior persons are always paid on time irrespective you take loan or sell yourself or whatever.

Challenges are many (above list is just top of mind and some points can be repetitive) and rewards are also many. Whatever it is, we are there and someone said that if one can survive for 3 years than they are going to be in business for forever. Amen!!!

Hariprakash Agrawal (Hari),

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What's going in CEO's mind?

Before we talk on optimizing business, I think that its apt to talk about what is going in CEO or MD or Business Owner's mind? What do they want? Are they interested in any of these frameworks? What outputs they wish to achieve for their organization?

Below, I am trying to list some of the parameters (list below is not exhaustive but indicative) which they might like to measure, track and improve for their organization:
  1. Profits (YoY, QoQ)
  2. Revenue (YoY, QoQ)
  3. Customer Satisfaction (YoY, QoQ)
  4. How many new products or its variants launched and market response?
  5. No of new customers added or retained
  6. Attrition or ability to retain best talent or employee satisfaction
  7. Best Recruits or Ability to attract best talent or how industry perceives us?
  8. Awards or recognitions in the industry
  9. % of market share compared to competition
  10. There are more depending on nature of organization

If top management wishes to address above parameters than what approach should they adopt? or which framework should they deploy? Should they invest in circle of principles? If yes, how? How much?

We will discuss more on approaches and their mapping to business critical parameters in next discussions.

Note: We encourage you to participate in this blog and add your comments on what parameters interests CEOs/MDs/business owners? and Which approach do you prefer to address them?

More later,

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Circle of Principles (CoP) for High Performing Teams (or Businesses)

We all know that to grow the business and to sustain the growth over time, teams need to continuously look/measure customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, revenue (top line) and profitability (bottom line) as a bare minimum.

If anyone of these goes down, it will be just matter of time that business or organization collapses and it may take significant time and effort to bring it back to its glory.

To achieve above business parameters, we need many high performing teams. High performing team is the one which keeps their commitment (on-time delivery), with best of quality, with right set of features or requirements, keep it in budget and with every project, teams becomes even better.

To do that, businesses/teams needs to adopt Circle of Principles (CoP) as mentioned below:

Quality over Time
Mentors over Managers

Innovation over Compliance
Team Spirit over Individual Excellence
Leading Indicators over Lagging Indicators
Lean Documentation over Comprehensiveness
Measurement of Goodness over Defects
Face to Face Interactions over Emails
Collaboration over Competition
Automation over Manual
Facts over Intuitions

CoP has 11 principles which enables the teams to satisfy its customers, reduces overheads, increases interactions, keep them focused/accountable/happy and in turn grows revenue/profit of the business.

To understand these principles better, have "Prefer" as prefix e.g. Prefer quality over time or prefer measurement of goodness over defects etc. Items on both sides of 'over' are important however businesses/teams which chooses items on left side have more chances of success over a period.

We can discuss each one of these principles in our talks with ample examples whenever we meet.

Hariprakash Agrawal,
http://opcord.com, https://rideally.com, http://testoptimizer.com

Saturday, August 1, 2009

About a concept - OpCord

Earlier, I had published about my journey to entrepreneurship and now, we are making an attempt to explain the concept "OpCord". OpCord means Optimizing with Coordination.

OpCord is a concept which understands that each organization has multiple factors / constraints which affect their output. It believes that one can achieve best results when they recognize all possible parameters and optimize them rather maximize any one parameter. Here, we are listing some of the outputs which organizations are usually interested in:

Organizational Success Parameters
Customer Satisfaction
Employee Satisfaction
Revenue (Top Line)
Profitability (Bottom Line)

Product / Project Success Parameters
On time Delivery
Delivers expected functionality
Product Quality
Within Budget
Organization becomes stronger or product is a hit

Once we wish to achieve many mutually exclusive outputs, we no more can work in silos. Let's say, we would like to maximize productivity but it is important that we do not loose focus from product quality while looking at only productivity. Some times, developer develops one functionality in hurry and is not able to grasp that one small mistake (or bug) today might affect whole product and in turn, whole company in future. At times, we consider only a few outputs in mind and face the brunt at later stage.

Let's focus on optimization of various outputs rather maximization of one of the output precisely because of reasons mentioned above. It is good idea to keep customer delighted all the time but burning employees at the same time, might not keep customer delighted for long time. We need to understand the importance of trade-offs and that one does not get everything every time. It is of utmost importance that we decide trade-offs in the beginning, understand our constraints and achieve most optimized outputs.

Second, most important point, we miss some times is the coordination. A few organizations fail in integration while each and every individual or team or division or dept is doing their best. Organizations are not able to integrate well due to either rivalry, lack of transparency, lack of bigger picture, lack of accountability, lack of coordination, lack of trust etc.

Organizations need high degree of coordination among team members, business analysts, designers, developers, testers, managers to ensure the smooth and best delivery of products. No matter, how great the process is or how great the technology is, we might miss on hitting the road just because of lack of coordination among various horizontals, verticals, domains, divisions etc. Hence, it is very important that we coordinate well.

That's the reason, we thought of optimizing with coordination for organizations and self. Let's opcord and be happy.

Hariprakash Agrawal (Hari)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Some revolutionary ideas...

Are you looking for ideas? Being an entrepreneur, I have been thinking of ideas from long time and I have a few age-old ideas which I do not know how to make them feasible but I am sure if they get realized, it will be a revolution bigger than internet or computer. Is there anyone who can take up the challenge? Here they are:

1. Hindu Lord Hanuman used to become as small as and as big as he wants any time. How? My one uncle explained me one day that like we have 3 states of matter, solid, liquid and gas and we all understand that in solid, molecules are quite nearer than liquid and gas. Similarly, can we design something for body where we can increase or decrease distance among molecules without affecting functions of various organs or may be, we can increase or decrease the size of molecules. If we can even increase/decrease size of molecules by 1 mm, whole body might be quite big. If we can do these, we might accomplish that. Can we do this?

2. Hindu Gods or angels can fly without need of any machine, like, aeroplane etc. How? We all know birds can fly but what do they do differently which we human are not able to do. We human have already learnt technique of swimming without putting any machine on/in our body hence I am sure we can also fly some day. Is it just weight or do we need wings or what our Gods are doing differently which we are not able to understand. Lets invest in this, we might get a way of flying. We might resolve issue of traffic although air traffic will increase.

3. Hindu Gods can vanish from one place and appear somewhere else in a split of second. How? ever thought on that. May be, they travel at the speed of light and our human eyes cannot notice that and we see suddenly, the God has disappeared and the God appears somewhere else instantly. Can we human being travel at the speed of light?

4. Many movies have been made on how can we become invisible and do whatever we want even in a crowded place and still nobody notices us. Is it a solution or watch or something else, which we apply on our body and we can disappear and do funny acts. One can also choose to punish all terrorists or bribe-takers or bad politicians etc but if everyone becomes invisible than can an invisible person see another invisible person. If not than we have another idea to work upon that how can one invisible person see another invisible person or how can someone else make an invisible person visible?

5. Hindu Gods and many saints can cure/heal a human being just by their touch or by providing some fruit or ash or something else and receiver gets cured or can generate a new life. How? Does the Gods and Saints radiate some kind of rays from their hands or body which heals/cures us? or do they have some kind of lotion on their hand and when they touch, we get cured? Can we work on this and cure crores of people including me.

Lets not laugh on above ideas as they might shape the future and someone might make them reality. I think that these many ideas are enough to rock the world or universe or do you have some more ideas which at any point of time has already been discussed but still we could not accomplish or enlighten me if someone in some part of the world has already progressed a lot or working on these ideas. So entrepreneurs, start working and lets have even better gadgets. We still have miles to go....

More later,
Hariprakash Agrawal (Hari),
http://opcord.com - Optimizing Business Variables with Coordination
http://vicharpravah.com - An initiative to make common man aware of their potentials and responsibilities