The Crocodile And The Wise Girl (And The Startup)

Few days back my three and a half year old daughter asked me what is a startup. This question got me thinking about an answer she can understand. And here I am preparing to answer her question through one of her favorite stories.

The Problem (The Crocodile)

Crocodile scaring villagers

Once upon a time on the banks of river Narmada, there was a village named Vedeshari where everybody was unhappy. All villagers were unhappy because of a crocodile who lived in the river. Whenever women went to the river to fetch water or wash clothes, the crocodile would scare them away. Even children were not able to swim in the waters lest the crocodile attack them. The crocodile had mastered the art of taking villagers by surprise and attack them. The things were out of control.

One day all villagers gathered together and decided to present their problem to Vakil Saheb, the most respected person in the village. Long time back he used to be the Sarpanch of that village – the highest decision-making authority. He listened to villagers problem and promised them to come with some solution in few days. His granddaughter, a wise girl who was studying in Bombay and visiting him during her school holidays, overheard the problem of the villagers. She resolved to help her grandfather and the villagers.

The Solution (The Wise Girl)

The wise girl walked to the river and called out the crocodile. The crocodile had its moment of happiness when it saw its new prey and started swimming faster to attack the girl. But as soon as it opened the mouth to attack her, she put a stick straight inside its mouth and the stick got stuck in its mouth. The crocodile got helpless and started begging her to remove the stick. The wise girl said “I will remove the stick only if you promise that you will go far away from the bank and never trouble the villagers”. The crocodile agreed. She removed the stick and the crocodile swam away far away never to be seen. All villagers lived happily and thanked the wise girl.

Stick stuck in crocodile's mouth

The Startup

Startups start with problems. You find a problem in the world and you solve it. This is called problem-solution fit. The crocodile in the river was a real problem and villagers would have done anything to get rid of it. Check 1.

But to grow your startup you need to see if this problem is big enough that you can replicate this problem-solution fit to a bigger market. So you answer things like how many villages exist that are suffering from this crocodile problem or when will this crocodile you scared away will start haunting the villagers again. This is when you are trying to find a product-market fit. Check 2.

But how will the wise girl provide this crocodile scaring services to 5000 other villages. She will have to build team, hire people, train them to stick sticks inside crocodile’s mouth and do many more things. The work has just started and now its all about executing (she has also started calling herself a CEO). Check 3.

But there is no startup without hiccups. Some smart chaps in the nearby village poached her employees and started to learn this art of scaring crocodiles. And they started to create new startups competing against her’s. Even the bigger businessmen from nearby cities started getting into the market of scaring crocodiles. The wise girl started thinking about creating relationships with village heads, create better and cheaper methods to scare crocodiles, offer better service to villagers, getting exclusive rights from village Panchayats etc. She wanted to get unfair advantage over her competitors. Check 4.

It was no longer a startup now. It morphed into a sustainable business and fledgling organization. Check 5.

She started looking at other problems (new startup).

PS1: The idea about sticking the stick inside crocodile’s mouth has been stolen from a chacha chaudhary comic book I read many years back.

PS2: The answer did not turn out to be interesting enough to my daughter. I guess I will have to work harder. Suggestions?

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It is not about working on your startup, it is about working on yourself

Lets take a look at some of the factors that determine success or failure of a startup in very early stages

  1. Having a vision
  2. Building a great team
  3. Building the product
  4. Finding the right product market fit
  5. Selling
  6. Getting funded (if required)

In early stages, most of these tasks are done by founders.

In early stages, startup == founders. And when you say that you are working on a startup, the fact is that you are actually working on yourself.

Now most of the people are smart in most of the things but there are some critical things that they suck at. And the primary reason this happens is because we are uncomfortable in learning these things. Instead of generalizing, let me just put down some of these uncomfortable things I had to deal with in my experience as a founder. I still suck at many of these but important thing is that I am aware about this fact.

Asking for help: Recently I attended a leadership summit and one of the speakers was talking about his experience of turning from a CXO in a large company to an entrepreneur. When he was a CXO people lined up to meet him, but when he turned up an entrepreneur, he had to line up to meet people at very junior levels. It was not an easy thing to do. Similarly, when we were pitching our product to schools, some of them made us wait for hours before giving us time slots. Some times we were shown doors without even a meet. As Subroto Bagchi had put it sometime back  – corporate executives are pedigree dogs, entrepreneurs are like mongrels. And its very difficult to turn from a pedigree dog to a mongrel. Asking for help is a big ego hurt!

Pitching: Have never been good with pitching. When I was working for someone else, pitching was not difficult. It was mostly about pitching new ideas to your team members. There was no time limit for pitching. And also the people you are pitching to, knew you very well. Most of the times it was actually other way round. Your boss is pitching you about the new projects. Or a candidate was pitching you in an interview to recruit him/her. In a startup, you are always pitching. You are pitching to your customers, you are pitching to investors and you are pitching to new hires. It actually needs a lot of practice.

Rejections: With pitching comes rejections. In fact just the fear of rejection made me a bad seller. Before I started Eduflix, I had worked on an interesting idea in education space. We had made a decent product but never actually sold it to anyone. The reason was that I was just too scared to call or visit customers. This time I crossed that boundary. Having a sales guy in my team helped (thanks to my cofounder). I got rejected many times. But I sold. Not just customers, we also got rejected by investors. I learnt that rejection does not mean that we are not capable or we are bad. There are n number of things that don’t work out. One has to live with that. 

Doing things that you dont like: I hate paperwork. I hate doing repeatedly same things. I hate operational work. I hate processes. However at some point, these things need to be done – for sake of the company.

Changing domains: From Microelectronics to software engineering. From embedded systems to internet and mobile. From technical marketing to product marketing. From Verilog, RTL, simulations to Python, Django, Apache. From managing people who are coding to actually coding self. From B2B to B2C.  Changing domains has been the easiest thing to cope with. Being a founder has meant unlearning lot of things learnt in the past and learning new things in completely different domains. I am sure two years from now, things that I will be dealing with will be completely different.

So the next time if I say that I am working on my startup, mostly it would mean that I am working on myself.

Startup On Cloud (Or 9 Cloud-based Tools For Startups)

Starting a technology company has been becoming easier day by day [though same does not hold true for it’s success]. With the availability of so many cloud solutions, startups can save lot of money that was otherwise spent on expensive physical hardware. Here I have listed down 9 such tools that might be useful to you if you are starting a company.

Google Docs - Toolbar - Without icons

1. Google Docs – The best thing about google docs is that multiple members can edit the same doc at the same time. One can actually see what the other person is editing in real time. In addition you can organize your documents into folders and subfolders. Easy integration with Google forms help in building surveys/polls. One can also chat with collaborators while editing the doc.

Image representing Dropbox as depicted in Crun...

2. Dropbox (unto 2GB) – Dropbox has become a verb now – people are dropboxing their videos, files and photos. Although 2GB worth of space is free on dropbox, it is so addictive that you will soon paying for it to get more space. The best thing about Dropbox is that you can work on your documents even when you are offline.

3. Unfuddle – You can either set your own svn server and worry about managing it or you can start unfuddling. Unfuddle provides 200MB free space for one project to host your repositories. Free version supports unto two members. Code always comes with bugs, so there is also bug tracking mechanism in place. The best thing – you can request backups of your project.

Image representing Basecamp as depicted in Cru...

4. BasecampBasecamp is a project management tool from 37signals, a pioneer is designing simple and useful things to make life easier. Enough of tracking things through excel sheets.

5. Linode – Amazon Web Services may look very expensive if you are working on shoe string budget. Before you move on to a full-fledged cloud platform, linode provides bang for your buck at a very good performance. With higher number of linodes, you can also scale your startup to a good extend before moving on to AWS.  Best thing – gets you started in few minutes. Can be scaled up. Customer support is great.

6. YammerFor internal social networking, specially useful if you have geographically distributed teams.

7. Read It Later – Consider this – you come across some interesting webpage, you copy paste the link from the browser and send it to your colleagues. Now consider this – you come across some interesting webpage and you just press “read it later”. Although “read it later” was meant to read pages later, but we got accustomed to use it for sharing links among ourselves. How? – We use the same account on all our browsers.

8. Zoho / Sugar CRM – The free account of zoho will last you enough longer before you move on to your own crm server or paid version of other crm software. Alternatively, you can install community version of Sugar CRM on your hosting server.

9. Gmail Google Apps have good collection of free apps for your business, and the best among them is gmail. We all are accustomed to use gmail and have no doubts about credibility of google’s server. Gmail allows unto 10 email ids free on your domain. So instead of setting your own mail servers, one can delegate this task to google.

Any more tools to add to the list?

Why do you want to start a company?

Mauka Singh: I smell big opportunity in this idea of mine which I can execute very well. Man, I am going to change this world and make lot of money.

Rocky the rockstar: Yaar I cannot handle this shit anymore. I want to create something better.

Jignesh Shah: Dhando samajh mein aata hai mereko. Aur mereko wahi karna hai.

Pratap Bhanawat Singh: Papa ka sapna tha to expand this empire. My new company is going to do just that.

Pappu Panwala: I will sell pan and cigarettes and earn my livelihood sirji. No other option. Besides, it is not a bad option.

Jonny Picturewala: You know, I love making movies and you know I can make better movies than what these dumb guys are making today.

Peter MBA: Starting with 20Lacs and 20% increment per annum will make me a millionaire in so and so years. I will start this company and get $5 million VC funding and start paying myself obscene kind of money next year.

David Engineer: My job sucks. All jobs suck. WTF, I want to be my own boss.

Raghu Romeo: Kuch karna hai yaar life mein..

Udar Sharma: I would create an enterprise providing end to end solutions in education and this will in turn help create thousands of jobs for my country. I am going to grow manifold and pay tax to the government and keep helping my country.

Ram Prasad: So much poverty around yaar and nobody is targeting these poor chaps.I will show the world that I can serve the bottom of pyramid and still grow and make profits.

Jockey Singh: I want a more challenging role and I think I have more potential than what I am doing. I think doing a company will let me unleash my potential and create value around me.

Dhanraj: Major paise banane ka aur kya legal tarika hai?

Saharika: Why should I tell you?

Miharika: Saharika started. Thats why.

What is your reason? Do you need one?

Disclaimer: All names are fictional and so are all the stories.