Tag Archives: entrepreneurship

Thank You Steve Jobs

For opening up a whole new world of music to me.

For giving me wonderful experiences through your magical products.

For being a source of inspiration and teaching me important lessons. Through your Stanford commencement speech. Through your Thoughts on Music. Through your many keynotes. Most importantly, through the act of building a great company that built great products.

My First Media Interview

I provided an update yesterday about a Mint Lounge story featuring me. I thought some might find the story behind the story useful. So here goes.

After my initial interaction with Sidin (the writer), the process running up to this piece was a little scary since it was my first interaction with the media. Developing a severe case of coldfeetitis, I tried to get out of it but Sidin was persistent. Later, I realized that a little attention was probably good for Mavrix. Generally an introvert and a private person, I had already gone out of character by writing on this blog, tweeting and publishing my various online identities for the world to see. Opening up for the interview was a big but logical next step. I needn’t have worried. Apart from being a funny guy and a good writer, Sidin also happens to be a good listener and conversationalist, and put me at ease immediately.

While the interview ended up being a pleasant experience, the photo-shoot was anything but. After what seemed like a hundred odd clicks, I became very conscious of my plasticky, artificial smile. [Note – This was not the photographer’s fault. It’s me – I am the opposite of photogenic.]

After all this hoopla, I fretted and wondered if I had blabbered too much. Despite reassurances from friends and family, I secretly wished that the interview would be swept aside in favor of a bigger, juicier piece. Or that it would be a small piece, buried in small type, deep inside the newspaper.

It was anything but that. On the morning of the August 13, Google Analytics showed a spike of traffic on our website. My friend Google also informed me that the article had indeed been posted. I clicked the link and browsed through what seemed like a rather long piece (“Did I say all this?”). My mind went blank and I read the words without registering their meaning. I posted the link on my Facebook wall and went on to attend the business of the day. On my way back home, I bought the newspaper. When I opened the page that had the feature, I almost fell off the chair. Staring at me was the most ginormous photo of me I’ve ever seen. And the article was a full-page feature (“Did I really say all this?!”).

This time I actually read the article. And as I read it, my vital signs got back to normal. It was OK. I hadn’t made a complete ass of myself. Sidin had not written an exposé about me. A few congratulatory phone calls, Facebook comments/likes, emails and LinkedIn messages later, I actually began enjoying my 15 minutes of fame.

Now that it’s all over and I am back to the comfort of obscurity, I’d like to share of my takeaways with fellow start-uppers who are yet to go through their first media interview:

  • Put yourself out there. Social media, specifically Twitter, is probably the best way to have access to people who are otherwise not easily accessible. A very important part of putting yourself out there is about discovering interesting, cool people who are related to your field. I have been active on various social media platforms for just about a year now and I am still keep coming across fantastic people.
  • Trust your instincts. Once I got comfortable with Sidin, I shared a lot more with him than even I’ve shared with some friends. I don’t regret that.
  • Be honest. Or stay away from topics that you don’t want to talk about.
  • Don’t force your agenda. Some of my well-wishers told me that I should have spoken more about Mavrix. I respectfully disagree with them. This feature was not about Mavrix. It wasn’t even about me. It was about how liberalization impacted careers in India. I would be really ticked off if I were a reporter and someone blitzed me with information I was not interested in. Mavrix’s day in the sun will come.

Oh, and if you still haven’t read the post, it’s here.

What I Learnt From Steve Jobs’ “Thoughts On Music”

Steve Jobs wrote a piece called “Thoughts on Music” a few years ago. If you haven’t read it, please do.

It’s amazing how dated this post reads, even though it was written just 4 years ago. Think about it – Just 4 years ago Steve Jobs proposed that DRM be abolished and DRM is already a distant memory (except in countries that are not big Apple markets, like India).

The article may be dated but the lessons I learnt from it are not:

  1. Think big. I have read this article many times and it is only during one of my revisits that I realized that there was a big disconnect between the title and the content. The title of the article should really have been “Thoughts on DRM”. I don’t think the  “Thoughts on Music” title was the result of PR spin. I believe that the title is really a reflection of how Jobs’ thinks. To him, it was not abolishing DRM. To him, it was about making it easier for people to listen to music – the end, as opposed to the means.
  2. To communicate clearly, think clearly. I totally “got” this article the first time I read it, and I thought “This guy can write!”. Over time I realized that the only way to write so clearly about such a complex topic (for most of us) is to think through it and know exactly what we want to say. Steve Jobs is a brilliant communicator because he is a brilliant thinker.
  3. Doing it is more important than talking about it. iTunes was completely DRM free 2 years after he wrote this article. Soon after he wrote this piece, we saw the wheels in motion as one label after the other signed up for DRM-free music on iTunes. The adulation for Steve Jobs is not because of his keynote speeches but because of the accomplishments they represent.

Steve Jobs – through an ecosystem of iPods and iTunes – opened up a whole new world of music to me and millions of other people. He also taught me important lessons on thinking, communicating and doing.

Musicians Are A Lot Like Technology Startups

  1. Life experiences (especially early ones) inspire the musician’s music and the entrepreneur’s business. John Lennon used song-writing as an escape from a troubled childhood. Richard Branson started a school newspaper when he got frustrated by rigid school rules and regulations.
  2. Success for both musicians and startups come after a lot of hard work and learning from experience. The Beatles had played together more than 1200 times before they got noticed in 1964. Bill Gates had done 10,000 hours of programming by the age of 13.
  3. Performing cover songs help bands launch careers but they need to deliver originals to sustain their success. Red Hot Chilli Peppers may have gotten attention through their cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” but it is their unique style of funk infused rock that gained them a large following. Similarly, startups can be inspired by existing companies but need to do something very different to deliver more value and be successful. Facebook may have started off as a Friendster clone but scaled better and innovated to become the premier online social network even as Friendster closed shop.
  4. The musician’s first song and the startup’s first product release is always sketchy. You can’t be perfect the first time.
  5. Both music and technology products are a result of teamwork. The band doesn’t take off till the right set of musicians come together. Indian Ocean started off with two people and saw several shake-ups till it got to the line-up that delivered success. Apple‘s early success was a result of teamwork – Steve Jobs’ marketing skills and Steve Wozniak’s engineering prowess.
  6. Most musicians start with free gigs and startups with free products/services.
  7. Musicians and startups make it big by persisting and continuing to do what they love and believe in. Susan Boyle made it big with Britain’s Got Talent, at age 48. Tim Westergren went through years of struggle before Pandora become the much-loved music service that it is today.

I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends

Throughout our startup journey, I have been constantly reminded of how lucky I am to have the friends and well-wishers I do. Here’s what my friends helped me with so far:

  1. Got excited with me when I took the plunge.
  2. Reviewed my business plan. Some were critical but only in a constructive way.
  3. Told me about their experiences (in startups and otherwise). Invaluable!
  4. Provided help and guidance through a myriad of things a startup has to go through.
  5. Encouraged me.

Know who your friends are (this is more difficult than it may seem). Cherish them. Be there for them. It will make you feel a little less guilty when (not if) they go out of their way to help you.

Startups and Serendipity

The startup landscape is replete with stories of serendipity. We got a taste of it recently. It is sweet and delicious.

We have been struggling to get a Technical Architect on board for some time now. A lot of interviews. Many no-shows. I was beginning to get worried. (A friend/advisor jokingly reassured me – “You are in deep shit. That’s a key trait of a good startup.”)

A few weeks ago, I spotted a photograph in the newspaper that looked familiar. The name listed against the photograph was familiar too. I say familiar because the picture matched a guy I knew but the profile description did not. So I Googled the name and lo and behold – found that this guy was indeed the guy I knew from a previous life. To make a long story short, I emailed this guy, we got together a few times, I made him an offer and he accepted. I couldn’t have found a better person for this role – he is a brilliant geek, a very nice person and, the best part – I know him.

The path to serendipity may not be very pleasant, but when you get there, you realize that the journey was worth it. What may look like setbacks in the short term, turn out to be building blocks of eventual success.

Company Setup Is Better Than LLP For Indian Startups

As any startup, one of the first things I did was to try and figure out what kind of a legal entity my company should be. Ruling out proprietorship and a partnership was a no-brainer due to liability issues. It then became a choice between a company (Private Limited) and an LLP (Limited Liability Partnership).

LLP seemed like a great choice. It had the benefit that really mattered – limited liability – and it had none of the baggage (at least from a startup’s perspective) that came with a company – constituting a board, conducting prescribed board meetings along with necessary paperwork and audit. An LLP sounded great because I felt like we would have fewer distractions and we could just focus on building a great product.

The catch – creating an LLP in India is not easy – not at the time of writing this post, at least. Three months passed and I had no clue how much more time the LLP registration process would take. My sense of the situation – The LLP entity was introduced in India only recently (in 2009) and the process for setting it up is relatively new. As a result, the various stakeholders involved in this process – MCA (Ministry of Corporate Affairs) as well as the CAs who typically facilitate this process are still figuring their way around the process. It also appears that while the process is mostly online for both companies and LLPs, in the case of companies, the regional ROCs (Registrar of Companies) help move the process along while in the case of LLPs, ROCs are not engaged and the process is mostly run from a centralized black box.

My DIN approval got done a week after I asked my accountant to switch over to a company registration. I understand the company incorporation will be done in another week. Based on my experience, I would recommend a company for Indian startups:

  1. The process is super fast
  2. The overheads (meeting paperwork, audits) can be easily be outsourced
  3. An LLP cannot be converted to a Private Limited. If you plan on growing big (that’s kinda the point, right?!), you will anyway have to form a Private Limited some day.
  4. You need to be a company if you are looking to be funded.

Lean (But Not Mean) Is The Way To Go

Corporations are not very popular these days:

  • A documentary, The Corporation, is getting a lot of buzz. It’s based on the book “The Corporations: The Pathological Pursuit Of Power” by Joel Bakan, a Canadian law professor. The book/documentary questions the right of individuals granted to corporations in the US. It asks – “If the corporation is really a person, what kind of a person is it?”. According to Bakan – not a very nice person – a psycopath.
  • In a brilliant analysis of Radiagate in The Hindu, P. Sainath says this:

If the Radia tapes show us anything, they show us again who runs this country. Corporates. Not even the lobbyists who do their bidding — but would have much less clout without their backing. Not journalists who crave access to corporate titans or seek to advise them on how to fix the courts. It wasn’t long ago that a whole session of Parliament went by in just debating the dispute between the Ambani brothers. A private spat over a public-owned resource called natural gas. Oddly enough, Parliament has never had a whole session focussed on agriculture. Not even through the sector’s worst crisis in the past decade.

The optimist in me, would like to disbelieve these bleak conclusions, but with every new corporate scandal, my optimism is tested. I don’t know what the future holds for Mavrix but I certainly do not want it to become anything like the corporations described above. I am all for profitable growth but I want it while being lean (but not mean), nimble and a lot of fun.

Jerk Clones Are Worse Than Jerks

There was an interesting comment posted in a TechCrunch story about Oracle’s Larry Ellison:

“I used to work there and can tell you that there were many ‘mini-me’ versions of Ellison running around talking like him, and even dressing up like him. Rest of us used to laugh at them and make fun of them being bozo’s and total losers. They did make lot of money, but still losers in our eyes. I hope Oracle get’s a real leader who can be a good role model.”

The corporate world has many jerks – individuals who proudly think of themselves as ‘Type A’ (hate that phrase). Some of these jerks deliver results, and are tolerated by people around them and their bosses. The combination of their bad behavior and the rewards they get for delivering results, make them more visible in the organization than people who just deliver results. In any organization, especially large organizations, visibility is good (sounds like the DecorMyEyes story?). The visibility results in better opportunities and more rewards. Suddenly, being a jerk starts looking like a good career path. This spawns a number of jerk clones. Many of these jerk clones have none of the intellect and/or capability of the original jerk. Their career strategy backfires – they become the butt of jokes and their career takes a downward spiral.

Being a jerk is never good, even if it makes some people successful. Being a jerk clone is just pathetic.


Mavrix Monthly Update Nov-2010

  • Office furnished. Discovered that the best ‘value for money’ furniture (i.e. cheap stuff for startups) in Bangalore can be found in a strip of shops on Infantry Road. Be prepared to shop-hop and haggle like crazy.
  • Office puja performed. Lord Ganesha invoked for an auspicious start and Goddess Lakshmi to help meet our revenue projections (again, the focus on money)!
  • Electrical and network wiring done.
  • Company blog launched. Ahem, you’re looking it. For everyone who has been thinking about setting up a blog but not sure what it takes – All you need is 1-3 days (depending on the content and structure), access to internet, a blog platform (I use WordPress) and ability to follow instructions. If you want your own domain, throw in about Rs. 300/month for hosting (I use Bluehost) and Rs. 100 upwards for registering a domain (I used GoDaddy) and you are all set.
  • Internet and telephone setup completed. In this day and age, I could find only one provider who had the infrastructure to get me connected. Disappointing. The silver lining – the decision-making was easy.
  • And the most exciting update – Offer made to the first employee … and accepted! Yoohoo!