IIMBx: EP101x DO Your Venture : Course Experience on edX

The best way to win is to show grit and bid on your strengths and intuitions. I have been trying to start my own company now for quite a some time. This course came into my mail box by edX, title looked captivating and thus I decided to take it.

It was a light course. Not much effort needed other that just watching the videos and doing some assignments.

The course was focused on making people get off with their venture from the idea phase to execution phase.

Throughout the course I was evaluating  my ideas and operations using the learnings given by the course and it has been of some help at least.

The course was divided into 5 weeks :

Week 1 : The “Do” Philosophy 

DO philosophy is based on “do or do not. There is no try”. There is a gap between intent and action and thus best bid is to don’t wait for halcyons days and just DO IT.

It proposed a term equifinality which means that every entrepreneur and his path is different and there are many ways to entrepreneurship.

It then provided interviews with various startups like Bums On Saddle, Hobby in a Box etc founders sharing their journey so far.

Week 2 : Opportunities, Idea Creation & Generation!

This week was focused on how entrepreneurs come up with ideas. Few of them are  :

  • Hobby driven ideas
  • Painstorming
  • Change in some rules and regulations

Each of these points can provide you with a nice venture idea. I already had my idea prior to the course and thus just thought about it again from these view points.

Week 3 : Idea validation and Evaluation

After the idea has been selected. We have got to validate and evaluate it.

Some if the methods for this are :

  • Personal feasibility
  • Market feasibility
  • Customer feedback

Best way to validate idea is to talk to customers. Real unknown customers. Not just people in your acquaintance. We here at Rainbow Shelf went out to talk to retail shop owners (around 10) and tried to explain them the idea. Response was not very encouraging but it was an experience that helped us.

Week 4 : Lean Canvas

This week was all about the lean methodology used in startups. I have read the book The Lean Startup  and thus this all made sense to me.

The 5 principles of lean startup are :

  1. Entrepreneurs are everywhere
  2. Entrepreneurship is management
  3. Entrepreneurship is validated learning
  4. Build, Measure, Learn
  5. Innovation Accounting

The course also provided a lean canvas that should be used by startup to assess their idea.

Week 5 : Effectuation

Effectuation, which is defined as a “logic of thinking, discovered through scientific research, used by expert entrepreneurs to build successful ventures“.

This week was about measuring the uncertainty in the entrepreneurship.

Effectuation has these 4 principles :

Bird in Hand Principle – Start with your means. Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity. Start taking action, based on what you have readily available: who you are, what you know, and who you know.

Affordable Loss Principle – Set affordable loss. Evaluate opportunities based on whether the downside is acceptable, rather than on the attractiveness of the predicted upside.

Lemonade Principle – Leverage contingencies. Embrace surprises that arise from uncertain situations, remaining flexible rather than tethered to existing goals.

Crazy-Quilt Principle – Form partnerships. Form partnerships with people and organizations willing to make a real commitment to jointly creating the future–product, firm, market–with you. Don’t worry so much about competitive analyses and strategic planning.

 

Overall. I wasn’t expecting very complex and hard material in the course just normal guidelines stuff and this was exactly what the course provided. This course was offered by IIMB. And showed many startups that are incubated there are NSRCEL.

As of now I have taken many scattered courses on entrepreneurship from University of Maryland to MIT to IIMB. Now i have decided to just take the specialization offered by Coursera  and that should be enough for time being until my company scales.

I have now shifted my focus to learn more core technical and domain knowledge that will be required to build remarkable company that can stand out that bring value to its customers.

 

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Business In Boxers 3 : The Psychological Roller Coaster

One of my favorite things about instrumental music is that the listener is encouraged to use his or her imagination. I have been a huge Owl City and Adam Young fan since forever. Lately he is releasing sets of instrumental music called as Adam Young Scores inspired by incidents that made a lasting impression on the world.  Reading about all those incidents has made a lasting impression on my mind for sure, our small failures and success doesn’t even matter to the world, we have got to make it large.

This month has been a wacky psychological roller coaster. A slow motion wave on the ocean stirring my emotion up like a rain cloud. When you are trying to start something new and you know odds are against you I guess this happens, you become very paranoid in some sense. Each blow shakes your confidence and you have to build that up again. It’s exhausting some time. Here is where a nice snack helps 😀

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At start of this month we all were very keen towards making the MVP (minimum viable product) ready but my mentor and CEO of the startup where I am working suggested to do a market research and look for idea validation. So one afternoon me and my friend visited few shops and tried to convey the idea to them . Very few got the idea and showed interest. I guess demography plays a vital role here. We all made peace with it that we will need real tangible product to make people excited about it.

But soon things got hard. Workload at intern got high and juggling both my startup and intern got really difficult. This made me think that how hard it would be to manage it with a full-time job. This was the first blow. And soon other members of team took off for exams or campus preparation or god knows what excuse.

Lately realized that to become good entrepreneur you should know the shit you are dealing with. Though I know that we learn stuff on the way, but still first we should invest in our-self. That’s why I am learning rails and other things needed to run the company. Attention to details will cause a momentarily pain in the ass. But it will be worth all the while.

As an overview all startups working on similar domain look the same. It is the one who really dig deeper and strive for great brand experience that makes all the difference. This what I believe in and want to do.

That’s why I took sales course before going to sellers for local survey. This is why I was studying business plan of Vinod Khosla to know and set my goals. This is why I am honing my technical skills. It all comes down to this, you should believe that whatever you are doing can be hard, but in the end it will be worth all the while.

I guess now we are on track now. Now that I have stopped counting on the members who were just pretending to be part of the team, I can be sure of what we can do in certain time. We are now clear to drop every operation and just build the damn product. Period. After 8 months I’ll be graduating and I want to be ready with a use-able product before that.

Meanwhile I am also trying to concrete the company goals. So that we can start moving. Breaking down to achievable goals with deadlines and metrics to measure how we are moving.

One more habit I am trying to develop is to write down my very specific goals for the day twice. In morning and at evening. It kinda helps you keep track. I have also started to workout and exercise more regularly than I used to, it’s good to do more of what makes you feel good about yourself because it reflects in all the other things that you do.

I am still not properly over of thinking whether I am making the right bets or not, I guess you can never tell. It like I am on emotional state of PMS.

But I know one thing for sure, whatever you do your job is to tell the story.

Thanks. See you next time.

 

 

Business in Boxers 2 : The Rainbow Shelf

As a 16-17 year old you try to figure out what you want to do with your life and then you just imagine yourself doing that. I am a kind of person who imagines stuff very vividly. Few years down the time river here I am, trying to work as hard as I can in the scorching summer heat on something that I always wanted to do.

Second month working on the startup I always wanted to do. Another month passed by, another month that makes you realise that time doesn’t stop for anyone. It doesn’t care if you have excuses, if you are not prepared enough. It just continues to flow. So the best strategy is to just go with the flow and moving forward, even if it’s the tiniest step possible.

This month I tried to put my full team to action. We bought the domain after many discussions on the name. We agreed to the name “Rainbow Shelf“. Personally I find this name very me. The word rainbow depicts my technicolor imagination and how I see this company grow.

After many arguments on what should be the core features that we want in our MVP, we finally got to a truce point.

Assigning roles to team members is something that you don’t want to force too much but yet you want that to be perfect so that it covers the strengths of every person. Out of hundreds of roles that you have to play in your startup, i wanted to make sure that everyone picks the one that they really love. Because if you don’t like what you are working on, what’s the point of working on a startup. I am still not sure whether I have got this right, but it seems to be moving in right direction.

While working on your startup you always have to keep on your helmet, just in case your heads caves in. Out of the blue some team member will raise concerns about the whole idea that you are betting on and you have to handle that and act optimistically no matter how scared you are inside.

During this whole month and for coming months, I am working with a startup based in Bangalore (http://healthgraph.in). The CEO is the best mentor I can ever wish for, seeing him work is what makes you push to go that extra mile and stay up that extra hours in a hope that it’ll make all the difference in the end.

One more lesson I have learned is that you just can’t expect every person on your team to work as hard and passionately as you. You have got to respect their capabilities.

At the start of the month, I created a timeline, a master schedule that we were supposed to follow. Recently I cut that into 1/3. Just so that we always remain on our toes.

Under thing that I have realised is that, don’t panic if you find out that your startup idea is already taken. Chances are that your idea is already present, if you haven’t found it yet then may be you haven’t researched that well. Afterall nothing is new under the sun.

Building a successful business depends less on uniqueness of idea and more on how you are filling the gaps in the market.

One more habit that I have developed is to read a good inspirational book the first hour and the last hour of the day. Just so that I can start and end the day with the correct mindset.

That’s all for this month. Stay Tuned!

 

The Lean Startup : Reading Experience

 

My 3rd book of the year was The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. I first got to know about the existence of this book during a keynote video of Gary Vaynerchuk where it was up for display. Finally got the time to read it.

The book focuses on how the lean manufacturing using in Toyota can be used in startups as well. And it makes sense! The case studies to new terms defined all help you shape your mind to run your startup in a lean manner.

Part One : Vision

Start

Traditional management taught in business schools is just not what an entrepreneurial manager need. The uncertain market, the uncertain product requirements all needs to be taken care of. This can’t be done with classic managerial metrics. A startup needs new metrics to track itself.

Define

A startup is human institution designed to create new product or service under extreme uncertainty.

 

Validated Learning

Failure is over hyped in startup world. People are happy to fail and then masquerade it as learning. But are we actually learning in the process?

Validated learning is the metric that startup needs to track its progress that it is making by learning from failures. Validated learning focuses on making use of learning to make tangible progress.

Experiment 

Get into the market as quickly as possible. Bootstrap the product and hit the market. Get the feedback of the customer. Nobody wants to end up building something that nobody wants. Find it as soon as possible.

Part Two : Steer

Build-Measure-Learn Loops

Eric suggests that startup should continuously run Build-Measure-Learn loops within the organization. Use metrics like innovation accounting and learning milestones to track actionable metrics and not to dwell on vanity metrics.

Leap of Faiths

Leap of faiths are the assumptions you make as an entrepreneur that your business depends upon. Entrepreneurs should have foresight, ability and tools to discover which of their leap of faiths are working and which are not.

There are two major hypothesis a startup depends upon :

  1. Value Creation Hypothesis : How you are looking to give value to customers?
  2. Growth Hypothesis : How you think that your product will grow?

Minimum Viable Product : Test It Out

Only way to test your hypothesis and leap of faiths is to hit the market.

Best way to do so is to create an MVP, that consists of your core business features. Make sure that customer actually wants what you are building.

A very good example is Dropbox : Their MVP was a video showing how it will work. It was enough to let them know that there is need for there product in the market.

Concierge MVP  : It is testing MVP with selected customers that you take feedback from in exchange of VIP treatment and support.

Measure 

How do you know that your product is improving? Innovation Accounting is again a metric that allows you to do so. It involves 3 steps.

  1. MVP
  2. Learn – Lean towards working business model
  3. Pivot or Persevere

Cohort Analysis and Split Testing

How do you know which change in product is steering the change in customer behavior? Cohort analysis and split testing is used to test different versions of products with different customers at the same time. This allows us to test features and do innovation accounting properly.

Kanban or Capacity Constraints 

Kanban is an agile development methodology that doesn’t allow new features to be added in backlog until implemented features are validated.

Pivot or Persevere 

The most important decision for a startup is to persevere current approach or pivot.  Pivot is special kind of change designed to test new business hypothesis about the product.

Eric states 10 types of pivots in the book :

  1. Zoom in Pivot
  2. Zoom out Pivot
  3. Customer Segment Pivot
  4. Customer Need Pivot
  5. Platform Pivot
  6. Business Architecture Pivot
  7. Value Capture Pivot
  8. Engine of Growth Pivot
  9. Channel Pivot
  10. Technology Pivot

PART THREE : ACCELERATE

Batch

Eric focuses on the point that startups should now follow large batch production systems but instead work on small batches. This means shortest possible release cycles and always keeping customer involved.

Grow

Startups should focus on sustainable growth. A sustainable growth is when new customers are drive towards the product by the actions of previous customers.

Engine Of Growths

There are three engine of growths that can exist in a startup :

  1. Sticky Engine of Growth : Customers stick with the product for long term.
  2. Viral Engine if Growth : Customers spreading the name of the product as side effect of using the product.
  3. Paid Engine Of Growth : Promotions and stuff.

Paid engine of growth is only profitable when customer lifetime value is greater than cost per acquisition.

Building an Adaptive Organization

Startups should focus on building an adaptive organization. Don’t go too fast nor too slow, don’t get too structures neither lack any structure at all.

The 5 Whys

As used in Toyota. 5 Whys is asking 5 level of whys on every problem. This helps you to get to the root of the problem.

Beware this should not become game of 5 Blames where each team keeps blaming other.

Innovate

Startups should provide platform for their employees to innovate. Best way to do so is to create an innovation sandbox. New features are added within this sandbox and are tested on early adopters segment of customers. Take validated learning out of it and move forward.

Also key is to hold the internals of the startup accountable for their actions. This will increase sense of belonging-ness among the employees.

 

It was a great read. All stuff you read about makes perfect sense. All the problems the book states are real world problem and if you are in touch with startups are not new for you.

 

My next book is Founders At Work : Story of Startups’ Early Days. Excited to read this one.

 

 

 

Business in Boxers : 1 Month Into Running a StartUp

Why the Series? 

(Inspired by book : Business In Blue Jeans)

Hi! This is Priyank. This series is about me pen downing my start-up ride. Don’t know if it’s fast or slow, all I really know is I’m gonna enjoy the ride.

Why the name?

Boxers is what you’ll find me almost every time in and business is what’s always in my mind and thus the name “Business In Boxers”.

The Beginning

Last month on 15th Feb, me and my friend sat down seriously deciding on which business to start. The interesting thing was I did this with 3 friends. 3 awesome business ideas that are practical and scalable. Next, we 4 formed a team. A team with a vision to launch multiple businesses in a very short period of time.

Our first startup what we call as Pebbles Media deals with creating engaging applications for local business owners that can help them discover new customers in their locality. Cool idea that we all thought will get us many clients.

We approached 5 clients in different domains from food business to education to mechanical work. Two of them showed interest and we started working on their products.

15 days later one of our clients refused to pay the advance thus we dropped him. Other client wanted a custom product built for them at a very unreasonable price, again dropped him.

The Pivot

Witnessing all this, we all after 1 hour long discussion decided that it is the time for an early pivot. We never wanted to enter service based B2B sector.

The pivot that will need us to make products that will be used by multiple small businesses and their customers making us a product based company.

A pivot at this early stage raised doubts in our minds but I guess it was the red flag that we all managed to see and decided to pivot and not to run for quick money.

In Love With Business Books

lately I have been reading a lets of business books. Getting ideas and knowing how various aspects of a startup works. My favorite is The Lean Startup. A must read for everyone.

The Speed Breakers

No surprise here, first month has been filled with speed breakers. I was not expecting any smooth ride either. This month we have seen from clients saying no to all saying yes at the same time. Client giving us advance and then we turning him down because we wanted to pivot.

Wrap Up!

This month we dealt with real clients. Realized that we don’t want to go into service based sector.

For next month we are planning to get our MVP out in the market and test our leap of faiths. Too much action for next month. Let’s see what’s in the store next.

See you next time.

 

PS : It is fun to write blog when you are pretty certain that no one will read it 😀