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2008 September 23 [Tuesday]

IndiaInc.

Is India, increasingly portrayed as the fastest growing economy in Asia, the best place to do business with ??! What is the ground reality for a business (it could be a startup in the manufacturing industry) when a CEO is murdered in broad daylight, abetted by an inactive police. Instead of booking the murdering criminals the labour minister warns the industry ...for what ... conducting business and generating employment?? Maybe the negative impact on foreign investment will pass the message across in future. Sadly, this too will be forgotten after a few days when the media finds another juicer piece of news.

If the ministers reaction is intended to provide more spark by indirectly telling people to take law into their own hands, it works very well. What would they have done if an Indian newspaper had advertised Mandela, DalaiLama and Gandhi (will someone tell Jyllandsposten its not spelt as Ghandi) like the Nordic Jyllandsposten did??  Salil Tripathi opines that these Jyllands-Posten " life is easier, if you don’t speak up" ads are intended to send a message across to Muslims across the world that if Indians, Tibetians and South Africans around the world are not offended by the posters then they should not take law into their own hands.

My guess is that there will be Indian people who will find offence with those posters because its so easy to overlook the philosophy like satyagraha, truth, no corruption or ahimsa, which Gandhi (recycled from the older B.Gita and Upanishads) propagated than deal with mundane issues like poverty and terrorism. Today, dont be too surprised to see Gandhi benignly smiling at you from the portrait on the wall he is hung on, in a government office, whilst the employee sitting under the duly garlanded photograph asks you for bakshish/chai pani (== bribe).... Welcome to modern India!!

The movie, Gandhi - My Father explores Gandhi’s role within his family and Akshay Khanna (would love to see AK pair up with Aamir Khan in the play Mee Nathuram Godse boltoy which is N.Godse's perspective on why he did what he did) brought to life what we had never learnt in school or wrote in examination answer sheets but always knew, the humane side of Gandhi -- the spectacular failure he was as a father whilst being hailed as India's Father (Bapu). How ironical and yet he has morals and a strong character and many qualities worth emulating, which are (sadly) completely absent in modern politicians.

2008 September 21 [Sunday]

Open Coffee Club Bangalore

I wrote this in July'08 but for a lot of reasons it had to wait to see the light of the day... or maybe attending yet-another-OCC meet today motivated me enough to push out my draft, finally :-)

What is OCC?

OpenCoffee Club is a regular, open and informal meeting place for people involved in bootstrapping or yet-another-startup to meet. It was started in London by Saul Klein and now has mushroomed into various independent OCC groups around the world (and we still keep Saul in the loop). In Bangalore Vaibhav and Ramjee sowed the initial seeds with a mailing list in August 2007 and a year on we have grown and how !!! Being a 'social networking site challenged' person, i categorize myself in the old-fashioned mailing list kinda person vis-a-vis reading TEXT mails in one convenient place - my mailbox BUT yet we needed a space online. They have a website, a wiki and a blog ; in addition to the mailing list which has grown to 800 members in the last year. wOw !!

OCC is purely volunteer driven and each of us is a stakeholder in promoting it, expanding it and creating a buzz so to speak. It does not own or have a permanent meeting space but (going by Saul's initial idea) our meetings are very regular. In Bangalore we meet biweekly, on Sunday's at 10.30AM at venues which alternate quite a bit so keep track of the same on the m-list (an existing member has to invite you). Did I mention that its a FREE (as in cost) event to attend.

What happens?

OCC meets are by nature unstructured and un-conference like. So we DONT have formal presentations (too boring, right?), ppt's or long lectures or product demos. Typically at one of these meets you can introduce and talk about yourself, your idea (or the lack of it :-P), find a co-founder, jam up with a person who is just as lost as you are and find direction, get answers or feedback for your product and idea, criticise an idea, find incubators for your idea, share unsolicited advice with others, or get another perspective for your product from a complete stranger and the fun-nest part is the networking, the meeting, the getting to know people. It definitely gives you a perspective of all the good stuff that is happening out there and opens your mind to various possibilities. So dont be very surprised to find a person talking about YOUR great Idea that s/he is already working on ... it happens, all the time :) !!


Who attends?

Bootstrapping entrepreneurs many have similar issues and if you are an existing, or doubtful, yet wannabe entrepreneur and want to meet-up with like minded crazy people, be sure to show up for the biweekly Sunday meets. Being a part of the OCC ecosystem means you can go to cities all over the world and get to know  more people, know which places (and at what times) you will most likely meet other entrepreneurs. We also have many venture capital firm partners who are regulars at some of these meets. Bangalore with its technology professionals, IT companies and bootstrapping entrepreneurs is the hot-spot for angel investors (which we have less of in India), incubators and VC's.

Why is OCC different ??

The USP of OCC is its free-flowing, unconference style format and is one of the main attractions for me. I find formal events which tend to strait-jacket the listener to listen to yet-another-technical-product-presentation very boring, but that's me. Luckily we have a lot of other pro-entrepreneur events catering to different tastes and a mighty bit of of overlap, in terms of people, with Barcamp and Headstart/Startup Saturday, although to their credit they have a different format and cater to a different niche in the entrepreneur ecosystem. Just like HS and Barcamp, OCC is a FREE networking event and we dont charge you to come and go yakkity- yak about your cool startup, product or service.

Tips to Remember !!

As is with any unconference-styled event, the signal-to-noise ratio is quite high and at times it can get frustrating when people misuse the platform. Here are some tips to guide you to being unto others as you would like them to be to you :-) Please remember :

+ Dont spam the list : OCC is not a medium or platform to advertise yourself, or your company or your product/service for free or a job portal so please dont spam 800 people with CV's. Its going to annoy 800+ members and just imagine if each of them decided to return the favor. Sounds scary doesnt it? -- so help us help you create value for your time and ours too !

+ Volunteer : Since we function purely on self-driven adrenalin, drive and initiative we are never short on ideas but are constantly short on willing hands to help us out. These could be in the form of creating content for the website, or adding content to the wiki or the blog.

+ @Meets : If the meet is at a local restaurant/bar/club, please do remember that the restaurant/club owner is doing us a favor by allowing the group to use his premises for 2 hours and at the very least we should BUY drinks or food (and please SETTLE the BILL before you leave) in exchange for having used THEIR space for more than 2 hours.

Pan India network !

OCC is now present in 8 cities in India - Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, Delhi, Noida, Kolkata. Here is a list of the existing OCC-India network. If I have missed any , please leave a comment. If you want to start one in your city, go ahead and tell us about it so we can keep a track of how we grow.

OCC-India (feed for the pan-Indian OCC network) : http://pipes.yahoo.com/siddhi/occindia

Delhi ~ http://occdelhi.ning.com/main/
Noida ~ http://groups.google.com/group/occnoida/about
Kolkata ~ http://groups.google.com/group/occ-kolkata/about
Pune ~ http://punestartups.ning.com/
Hyderabad ~ http://hyderabadopencoffee.ning.com/
Bangalore ~ http://groups.google.com/group/bangaloreocc
Chennai ~ http://chennaiopencoffee.ning.com/
Mumbai ~ http://groups.google.com/group/opencoffeeclubatmumbai/
OCC-Mumbai is missing so please leave a comment if you have the link. [updated thanks to Mitesh]

In summation, at OCC there are no experts doling out gyan (knowledge/advice) since each of us helps bolster the other person by creating a shareable network of knowledge and an interactive ecosystem. So go for it !!

2008 June 11 [Wednesday]

kickstart your sunday

Kickstart is a not-for-profit initiative aimed at promoting entrepreneurship and they plan to kickstart your Sunday with a special edition of Startup Saturday at IIM Bangalore on 2008June15 (this sunday), with a program targeted at new start-ups and aspiring entrepreneurs.

The event is all about introducing the concept of entrepreneurship in a more scientific manner, along with the stages & challenges of entrepreneurship, product development, choosing appropriate technology, various sources of finance & selling one's concept to a VC, preparing a Business Plan, etc.

Some of the speakers you will hear include :
1) Dr. Mohan Tambe, CEO, Innomedia Technologies, Bangalore.
2) Mr. M J Aravind, Venture capitalist, Bangalore.
3) Mr. Raghunathan Perumal, CEO, Agile Labs, Bangalore.
4) Mr. Sujai Karampuri, CEO, Sloka Telecom, Bangalore.
5) Prof. Suresh Bhagvatula, NS Raghavan Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning, IIMB, Bangalore.
6) Mr. Rajeev Kumar, Serial Entrepreneur, Bangalore.

and they will give you gyan about ::

Talk 1. Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurship
Talk 2. Idea Validation
Talk 3. Business Plan - Basics
Talk 4. The Founding Team
Talk 5. Technology and IPR
Talk 6. Product Management and Marketing
Talk 7. Legal aspects of setting up your own company
Talk 8. Selling + How to talk to a VC + Alternate sources of funding, followed by Panel Discussion

If you plan to attend, register here or send your confirmations to amitsingh.mail@gmail.com or raja.rajeevkumar@gmail.com.

2008 April 22 [Tuesday]

Incubating

Here is a list of incubators in India, re-ordered according to NEWS zones.

NORTH :

x] IIM Lucknow
x] BITS Pilani
x] Erasmic
x] IIT Kanpur
x] IIT Delhi
x] IIT Kharagpur
x] FMS Delhi
x] JSS Institutions

EAST

x] IIM Calcutta
x] IIT Guwahati
x] Ekta TBI - West Bengal (from Indranil)

WEST :

x] IIT Bombay
x] SP Jain Institute
x] IIM Ahmedabad
x] Nirma Labs
x] Entreprenership Dev.Inst.of India-Ahmedabad
x] Center for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE), IIM-A
x] K.J. Somaiya Institute, Mumbai
x] Mudra Institute of Communications, Ahmedabad (MICA)

SOUTH :

x] IIM Bangalore
x] IIM Kozhikode
x] TENET – IIT Madras
x] IIT Madras
x] NIT Trichy
x] ICFAI Center for Entrepreneurship@Hyderabad
x] Wadhwani Center @ Hyderabad

Hari has a list of incubation centres in India.

Leave a comment if you find any broken links and if you know any INcubators and angel investors in INdia.

2008 January 2 [Wednesday]

Bootstrapping

As an ex-, I could not resist subscribing to a mailing list for entrepreneuers (yep, am still not averse to recursive t(h)reading into the unknown :-)) which had this interesting post on innovation in india and still more about things back then. I wish such mailing lists, access to information, etc... had existed earlier. That said although opportunities are manifold today and although the access to information is higher its still not easy to start a business ... (read: a lot more expensive), especially if you compare "cushy-salaried-job@MNC" vis-a-vis "knee-grazing-hardwork@startup" in India. Most folks prefer the former.

That brings me to the big question (a make-or-break point imo) : people, or shall i say the right person with the right attitude, because you can have the best idea, pots of money and still fail to do anything if you cant work as a team or dont have your revenue model chalked out. Back then, someone I knew well, was an entreprenuer and I was cheeky enough to literally walk into the office of another businessman I knew and ask him to "Teach me the business in one month" which was all the time I was willing to work for free, in return for learning the ropes. Heck, after 3 days (much to my surprise) he asked me to partner with him :-D so it was a good learning experience and fun(*1) while it lasted! Also as a woman it is not easy, especially when the only women in business are usually the wives, daughters or mothers of a man who owns or started the business. In that sense, its not easy to find a mentor and bootstrap a business in India with zero support from your family.

IMO, its mentoring that will help in the long run. Why ? No business school teaches you to do business, the tricks of the trade. Mentors bridge the gap between you and the market... not to be confused with dictators who will "tell you what to do, and poke their nose in every thing you do". Stay away from micro-managing obsessed mentors. They will stifle you very quickly.  Business schools on the other hand teach you to 'manage stuff' (most times badly), not create something of value, whether a product or service. For that you need to :

0] fail: that's right, this is the biggest teacher. Making mistakes and learning is important but the tolerance level in India is a lot less for failures. So most people dont even want to try the unknown. The attitude my ex-mentor had was really cool, its his money and I had the freedom to make mistakes and we both learnt from it. There was no "i will tell you what to do" ordering attitude and that is crucial for any (even if its an IT/software/hardware product) sector. The most important thing he told me : "even if you have worked your back off there is no guarantee that you will make succeed (as in feature in the Richie-Rich list) but you will definitely have a learning experience". So try it at least once :)

1] be disciplined : yeah, take a day off or a whole month, none will question why, but if you are having fun you wont keep away, atleast not for long.

2] like hardwork: At one point i was so obsessed with work that for 2 years i didnt take a break, thru weekends, thru sickness (my client asked me to go home and i was annoyed that he didnt value the fact that i was working when sick) but i liked work, so didnt see anything else as important. You have to be prepared to DIY if need be, as opposed to expecting or waiting for others to do stuff.

3] risk it: umm... most people think being an entreprenuer means instant access to cash (money**N) ..... its not, you are not swimming in money. Rather you figure out how to get from zero to something of value. Its the excitement of going into the unknown and unpredictability that was magnetic for me. You also need to know some "abc" of finance, atleast learn to keep expenses to a minimum, pay essential bills, till $$$ [Euro :) ... falling $ and all] flows in.
4] enjoy the journey : if "becoming rich" is the only goal/reason why you became an entreprenuer then you have missed the very essence. Dont get me wrong, money is crucial and the root for survival but dont miss the human aspect, the learning, networking and connecting with others like you which is fun. YMMV but imo, the essence is in the journey, not the rainbow-destination alone.

5] Learn2Listen: At some point in our lives we have all been learners so why do we stop learning as we grow older ? Learning is not about education (or the lack thereof) and it is this aspect of free software that can create a healthy ecosystem that i like. Learning is beyond the rote Indian educational system or even books, rather its a way of thinking, a lifelong process. Having worked with a product from $TopIndianManagementSchool, i agree with those who say that paper (read, degree/s) in hand != using grey matter when required ... Sha'nt say more as i dont want to offend friends who still value pieces of paper:) but mere degrees do not equip us to survive in the real world. Instead of learning to progress via collaboration we pick up a crab-ish competitive streak that restricts and destroys all potential to learn by sharing and growing together. One does not have to pull another person down to get to the top... go find another peak to conquer instead ! Or is it that the greed for power, fame, riches, success, (add anything else you like) is so ingrained in the human psyche that we compete with one another instead of collaborating with people and mutually benefitting to create a win-win situation. I think we should be competing with our own self - improving, conquering our fears, learning and growing along the way.

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(*1) my idea of fun was different from the normal parties/movies-obsessed kid, it still is ...