Friday, February 23, 2007

Vaasu Blog Pic

This was a picture I took for my Vaasu blog.
Will upload Dr.Ravi Koppana pic next week

MENTORji where are you ?

After we built the prototype, the dear Dr.Ravi Koppana and I began looking for a mentor. We were inspired reading an interview with Vinod Khosla and how he mentored Juniper.
We knew the value a mentor would bring to the startup. Singapore has the best in class hardware infrastructure, but its getting very difficult finding a mentor within Singapore. Maybe after we succeed thats a gap we can fill. I'd be more than help to kickstart the ecosystem. There are some world class brains sitting here that need some good old fashioned mentoring, of course the 0.5 equity doesnt hurt at all.
We did have the fortune of engaging Alok Mittal and Sanjay Anandram. They raised some very important points, which we have since addressed. Wish we had that kind of guidance on a continuing basis. Also long distance mentoring is difficult. Plus ideally we need a mentor who understands our space.
Just the other day I was asking a gentleman from another startup if he knew a mentor who could help us. His first question was "Are you in trouble " ? Now that is a big indication that the ecosystem hasnt matured enough to facilitate mentoring. NUS and NTU both local universities of world repute have good entrepreneur programs, but they are geared for their own students. I called the NUS incubation center to see if I could rent space. I was politely informed that its only for NUS people / alumni. Fair enough, but where do we go ? We are way past college.
It might have been easier if we were angel funded. Mentoring would have been part of the package. By not seeking angel funds, I guess this door isnt open to us. I guess we need someone with 'skin' in the game ( remember reading this at Onstartup blog by Dharmesh. Should read it, good blog) .
We are trying our luck at seedfund and band of angels. lets see what happens.
We are trying our luck with seedfund and also knocked on the door of band of angels in India. Lets see what happens.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Circus or Circa May to Dec 2006

Well after deciding to run with my friend, I went for a walk . And 'eight days a week' kept thinking of the idea. Eventually I was seduced by the idea and the gentle persuasion of my friend. I initially agreed to help him flesh the idea and see what comes of of it. And this was back in May 2006. Leaving my job didn't occur to me then.

Cant tell you the idea just now. Shall do in April 2007 when we go into Beta. But what I can tell you is that the idea sits at the crossroads of advertising, media, retail and shopping. We are quite excited that the space is wide open in Asia and open in the USA as well, except there is indirect competition.

The first I did after deciding to get involved was to buy some books and start talking to as many smart people I could. The first book I bought was Guy Kawasaki's "Art of Start". And it was a brilliant read. It was crystal clear what had to be done. We got excited and wrote to Mr.Kawasaki never expecting a reply ( who would reply to some nut in Singapore ?). To our surprise- HE WROTE back !!! Since then he has been helping us, answering our questions and giving us tips along the way. We cant thank him enough.

The second ( came much later ) lucky breakthrough was our dialogue with Prof. Mohan Sawhney of the Kelloggs Business School ( No.1 marketing school ). Again cant thank him enough for the invaluable feedback and comments.

Both these Gurus gave us an indication that we were onto something and an idea worth developing and pursuing. This dual feedback resulted in tremendous motivation as were worried about the navel-gazing syndrome.

Having been involved in packaged goods marketing or FMCG as we call it in Asia, we started looking for data and relevant information. This was tough for 2 reasons. Ravi and I had full time jobs we loved. And love doesnt stop at 5pm. We were each averaging 12-16 hours a day at our day job then would come to our other passion.

To kickstart the data collection, we hired a fresh graduate student from Singapore Management University. This helped a bit till she got a full time job.

I would come home 8ish/9ish everyday and after 1/2 hours with family I'd hit my desktop till the wee hours of the morning. It was very tiring. Some days I wouldnt find anyhting. Somedays I would find a treasure trove of information that now needed more time to read. And raised more questions that needed answers. There were some questions we couldnt find an answer and didn't know whom to ask. We kept listing down everything, hoping to eventually find an answer.

Ravi and I would talk almost every day. My late hours and his evenings or his late nights and my early mornings. This dialogue would keep our spirits going. We went around in circles on two major points - (1) revenue model, though we had a clear view of our business model (2) finding a partner to build our portal. During these exercises, we acutely felt the need of a mentor. It was very frustrating because we didn't know whether we were on the right track. We just kept going on, hoping we were doing the right thing. We invested about 3 months in these two critical steps.

Not having the luxury of a mentor, we spoke a lot to our friends. And tried to initiate dialogue with people in the zone. We were quite lucky to have spoken to Alok Mittal and Sanjay Anandram.

After an exhausting 6 months, in November 2006 we were ready for a prototype and had found a company to build it. Logical Steps run by a brilliant techie - Vishwanath ( Vish ). He is a techie to the techies. So you know the caliber I am referring to. Again a lucky break for us. We went to Cochin, India for a brainstorm and after a month we had our baby.