Startup Journey – A Personal Position

 

personal_point_of_view

You could skip this week’s edition of this section.

This edition is about my personal view on where ‘Amuz’ stands and what I feel about it.

I will summarize the learnings till now in the next edition.

I will raise some questions and answer it . No one has ever asked me about it.

How will W-IFE(Wireless In flight Entertainment) be adopted into budget airlines ?

I believe that W-IFE will  become an eventuality in all airlines. It is only a matter of time. Airlines will venture to offer both walled garden content and open internet content. We are kind of 50K USD away from having an Airline certified product and we are still bootstrapping in some vague ways. I feel if somehow we bootstrap to have around 150K USD to spare, we shall have a competitive offering to the budget airlines. However by the time we reach 150K USD at our pace, there would be other players who would have entered the market and entrenched it. In short, the evolution of internet above the clouds will have the same evolution as Telecom took from walled gardens to OTT players. In the interim (5 to 7 years) , money shall be made by all people in the value stream, (Airlines, Content Providers, Advertisers, Gaming providers) if they just decide to increase the level of experience for their passengers. ‘Idle Time’ is waiting to be ‘monetized’ and it is only imagination that can stop it from making it happen is what one of my friend Amod keeps saying.

How about Amuz in Buses and Trains ?

I believe this still has potential waiting to be explored. India has possibly the largest transportation network in railways . State run buses and private buses the opportunity is enormous. We have seen the numbers and they are attractive enough for any player. The argument of seamless mobility for video streaming is absolute baloney. If you wish to take up any ‘G’ challenge of any network load a streaming video and move from ‘International Airport’ to Devanahalli. If you cross one minute of streaming without interruptions it will be a pleasant shock to me. So what will possibly make a difference

 

  • A hotspot with sufficient storage that can be managed remotely and serves 20 – 25 1Mbps simultaneous streams in a bus and 50 – 65 1Mbps streams in a coach in a train
  • A content provider who is willing to take the game head on providing the breadth and depth of content, keeping context in mind

Even, if you do not believe me, tell me why youtube and hotstar are offering offline viewing of their content.

They understand the streaming capabilities of myth called seamless mobility in our current networks and networks for some time to come.

How about ‘Amuz Everywhere’ ?

 ‘Largest Content Distribution and Delivery Networks’ for ‘The Last Mile  was our philosophy and still remains my philosophy. However as  I traced the journey over last ten weeks, I find having a vision and strategy without the capability to execute is tantamount to fooling myself . So , currently I have moved this to a background thread and started to focus on survival.

It may sound ironical, but in the final run of analysis to establish the Largest Content Distribution and Delivery networks for the Last Mile, I refused to walk ‘The Last Mile’ and instead chose to do a strategic retreat.

The heart says ‘Carry on’, the head says ‘Take a step back, be detached and move on’.

At the moment of this writing, it seems to me that ‘head’ is leading this debate !

Thanks to everyone for staying with me on this for the last eleven weeks on this. I hope you would have gained something from this continuous rant.

Next week, I will conclude this with a summary of tools and checklist that you could use effectively.

So far the journey has dealt with areas which I have been deeply and personally involved. However there are other things where I have not dwelt yet deeply, but in any case necessary for you to have a hold. I shall cover those after the next week. They shall be around

  • Components of a Business Case
  • Bottom up Market Sizing
  • Pitch Deck Preparation
  • Forming Founding Teams
  • Financial Planning
  • External Money V/S Bootstrapping
  • Elevator Pitch

Enjoy Maadi. (Have Fun)

Zunder

Journey or Destination ?

journey_or_destination

This is one question that keeps coming back to me .

On a lighter vein, I think that is the reason I had the foresight to name the first series of Articles as “Startup Journey” .  I had the foresight to realize that I may go nowhere with it !

When you take your morning walk are you just in it for the walk or do you have those super sophisticated gadgets  and apps that keeps you updated on how you are faring on your daily walk ?

Couple of years back, I ran the standard chartered full marathon, without any preparation and gave up after 25 Kilometers. How did I feel ? Did I pat myself for having the spirit to take up the marathon or did I chide myself for not being a finisher ?

I think we all have heard ‘ Life is a journey. Enjoy it’ and also ‘Success is a journey. Not a destination’.

However I wonder isn’t life a series of small journeys and destinations ?

We all know about the one permanent destination and there is no escaping that.

If we discount that, will be we better off taking only journeys without worrying about the destination ?

Robert J Hastings in his poem ‘The Station’  gives a good account of this and concludes by saying

” So stop pacing the aisles and counting the miles. Instead, swim more rivers, climb more mountains, kiss more babies, count more stars. Laugh more and cry less. Go barefoot oftener. Eat more ice cream. Ride more merry-go-rounds. Watch more sunsets. Life must be lived as we go along. The Station will come soon enough.”

 For once I possibly beg to differ.

It is important to pace the aisles and count the miles.

‘Enjoy the journey’ is I think mostly for comforting my own self when I do not make the destination .

Remove the destination and there is no journey

It is the thrill of reaching the destination that makes the journey interesting and in that sense I would have been happy completing the marathon and proving myself to be a finisher.

What do you think ?

For you, Is it the journey or the destination ?

Enjoy Maadi (Have Fun)

Zunder

Crossing the Unknown Sea

crossing_the_unknown_sea

Do I like to work ?

Do you like to work ?

I am reminded of Joseph Conrad’s saying

“I don’t like work–no man does–but I like what is in the work–the chance to find yourself. Your own reality–for yourself not for others–what no other man can ever know. They can only see the mere show, and never can tell what it really means.”

and think about our Monday Blue’s , Mid career blues and …

and when I think about my work, I do see it has given me the chance to find myself and this book gives a poetic framework to our work, however mundane it seems to us.

I wonder at times what is the point of all our day to day struggle and I am sure you also do wonder. In this book you could possibly discover the rationale behind the day to day struggle and possibly could make sense of it as well.

The author in his own poetic way insists on to keep a check on our horizons. He mentions

 “Every path, no matter how diligently we follow it, can lead to statelessness and ennui. We might reach dizzying heights in our organization, occupy the top floor of any building, or, as a zoologist, make it to the Galapagos islands, but if we lose our horizons and the excitement of that horizon, our high office or our storied islands can seem like a gilded cage”

Once in a while, comes a book that comes and presents a diligent case to your heart and this book is definitely one of them. The prose portrayed as poetry by the author is magical and I would recommend you to take this book and go to a quiet corner.

This is also one book which spares you from framework or clear call to actions and appeals to your fundamental self.

This is also one book, that you will read, re-read and go back when you hit cross-roads.

Sometime back, I made a slideshare of the important lines from this book.  You can view it here.

Go grab it. It is worth your time and money. Retire to a quiet corner and absorb it. I can guarantee that it would be a refreshing experience.

Enjoy Maadi (Have Fun)

Zunder

Startup Journey – Pivot or Persevere?

pivot_or_persevere

Last week I elaborated on how our hypotheses fared. The markets in my view were giving us a clear message and we had to act.

The initial dream of ‘Amuz Everywhere’ seem to be heading towards ‘Amuz Nowhere’ and incidentally we saw a note in the paper about the Airbus Acceleration Program. We figured out that it might be a good idea to apply for that. Somehow the selection team found us to be good enough fit for their program and we were one of the four startups in what they called as the Airbus BizLab season 1 program. Incidentally we were the oldest startup from an average age perspective. We were given an office space to work for in a prime location in Bangalore and I felt that we were twenty years old for that location which is completed surrounded by pubs!

I will brief about how we fared in that program separately, but here we started to make a mental shift in our thinking.

We said we will stick to what we were good at. The Platform behind Amuz. So our positioning had changed from evolving ‘Amuz’ as a brand to offering an inflight entertainment system to any Airline that wanted it. In that sense we decided to become solution providers rather than providers of the complete service.

We took a clear step backward from evolving ‘Amuz’ as a brand that is recognized by all as ‘Entertainment Everywhere’ to something we felt that we are possibly good at or something that we were capable of.

We pivoted.

Eric Ries , the lean startup guru, defines Pivot as ” A pivot is a “structured course correction designed to test a new fundamental hypothesis about the product, strategy, and engine of growth”

You can read more about Eric Ries says about pivot here.

To Pivot or Persevere is a very important step for any startups.

According to me the Pivot could be owing to a various of subjective and objective reasons, but is an important step where you look at the journey you have made, the traction you are getting, the choices you have exercised, the market forces that are at play , the choices you have in front of you to exercise, and most important the feedback you have got.

The bigger question is ‘Can you get emotionally detached from your idea and evaluate what market is throwing back at you’ ?

The next bigger question is ‘Can you silence your instinct and re-evaluate your vision’?

You might reach a point where your CFO is saying you do not have next month salary to pay the team, your credit line is exhausted, investors are on your neck to make a decision and what will you do ?

Will you Pivot or Persevere ?

It is possible you will not get to this state, but when you are running with an idea, the general tendency is to run and that is the power of an idea that possess you.

Quite frankly, I have not been able to find an objective answer or framework to consider for Pivot or Persevere ? This is one of the stages that can make you, break you  or shape you.

May be one day the right thing will hit me, but for now I can safely say we have Pivoted to be a platform player and if you ask me ‘Why’ , my straight answer would be “My dream had scale. I did not have scale’ and in this round I would have to say I failed in execution.

So after ten weeks, we seem to have covered some ground. Next couple of weeks I shall summarize and possibly give you a digest of what we covered in the ten weeks and help you with simple checklists and resources that can get you to arrive at a ‘Go’ or ‘No Go’ decision in your respective journeys.

Enjoy Maadi (Have Fun)

Zunder

Morality – Easy Choices ?

trolley

Over the past one year, we have re-cultivated this habit of eating dinner as a family.  Some of these dinner days, we debate and take positions on some topics.

One of those days I introduced my kids to the classic ‘trolley problem’ which is described below.

“The thought experiment—called the trolley problem—has over the past few years gotten enough attention to be approaching “needs no introduction” status. But it’s not quite there, so: An out-of-control trolley is headed for five people who will surely die unless you pull a lever that diverts it onto a track where it will instead kill one person. Would you—should you—pull the lever?”

(Courtesy of the above definition – The Atlantic)

I posed to my son and daughter this problem. Both of them had no hesitation in saying that they would pull the lever. I asked them why and they said it was five lives against one.  They seem to have an innate understanding of the theory of Utilitarianism or possibly they feel that it is the right thing to do out of their own convictions.

I added a twist to this problem. I posted them the question again with just one change. “What if that one lone person was your dad ?”

My son did not blink an eyelid. He said that he will not pull the lever. I ask him what happens to the five people and he just looks up at me and says ‘You are more important’.

My daughter deliberated, continues to deliberate, debates with me to give me more choices , still refuses to answer, but I think she will pull the lever. She does not have the heart to say it though.

In a similar vein, I pose them three familiar questions from our epics, that I am sure most of us have pondered in some way or the other

 

  • Were the Pandavas right in fighting their own cousins and gurus ?
  • Was Karna justified in staying with Duryodhana, after realising that the was the eldest of the Pandavas ?
  • Was Kumbhakarna justified in fighting for Ravana ? ( If you have by any chance read the Kambar version of the Ramayana, the dialog between Kumbhakarna and Ravana goes down as the finest pieces of poetry and prose that makes you wonder , are these folks really the asuras ? After reading that I became an unabashed fan of Kumbhakarna! )

 

Dinner topic aside , what would the biases moral choices that I have made or  I will make ?

How did my kids arrive at their choices ? We have not trained or influenced them in any way.

I guess the order would be

Me, Myself, Family, Friends, Rest…

 

I compare the above credo of mine the credo of the Indian Military Academy

“The safety, honour and welfare of your country come first, always and every time. The honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next. Your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time”.

And that is the reason every time I see a soldier, my hand automatically goes for a salute.

 

Well coming back to the trolley problem, my answer would be the same as my son.

 

What is your answer to the modified version of the trolley problem ?

Do you have any biases behind your moral choices ?

 

Enjoy Maadi (Have Fun)

Zunder

Mindset

mindset

  • Have you ever turned up to make an important presentation and finally ended up realized that you did not make an impression at all ?
  • Have you been called up to put off a customer situation and ended up worsening the situation ?
  • Have you ever attempted a competitive exam and despite preparations, failed at it ?
  • Have you ever learnt to attempt a new skill like music, learning a new language, swimming and gave up midway ?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of this question, how did you react after the event ?

1.    Did you find excuses to justify your non-performanc

2.    Made a vow to yourself to put in additional effort to get better the next time ?

The author in this excellent book introduces ‘Mindset’ .

If you have chosen (1) you belong to what the author calls as ‘Fixed Mindset’

If you have chosen (2) you belong to what the author calls as ‘Growth Mindset’

An express overview of the two mindsets are presented below thanks to ted ed lesson

 

Fixed Growth
Goals Look smart Learn
Values Efforts No Yes
Response to setback Give up Work Harder
Academic Performance Lower Higher

You could watch the ted talk by author on this here

There is one shift that I am conscious about after reading the book. When discussing with my children on things related to academics, sports, events and outcome, I do discuss the value of the effort that is going in and they at times are beginning to evaluate themselves on the effort they have put in. But I am not sure if they have come smart in answering to me. I ask my son ‘Why you scored so low in language’. His response is a very cool ‘Chill appa. Next time I will put in more effort! and score high’. Not sure if that is a growth mindset or a smart answer.

I feel this is a good book with enough research to convince you that irrespective of where you are in any aspect of your life, you can get better.

I am positive that you will get some awareness into your own mindset as well.

Go grab it.

Enjoy Maadi (Have Fun)

Zunder

Startup Journey – Hypotheses Validation

hypothesis_validation

I hope you would have played around with the business model canvas highlighted in the last week’s edition.

This week I shall talk about the state of our hypotheses and also present a personal point of view.

Before I begin I would like to highlight a very good point of view from Eric Reis in his book about “Startup Leadership” about validation of hypothesis.

He says

“We measure customer behavior and make a decision to act based on what we have learned. The fact that we are looking at honest-to-goodness customer behavior is what separates Lean startup from traditional market research. We’re not interested in what customers say they will do, but in how they actually behave.”

The last line is of paramount importance.

“How they actually behave” ?

Keeping this in mind, let me highlight what we found out in our discovery process.

To reiterate, these were some of our main hypotheses

  1. The transporter will be willing to host the entire system and would like to have a skin in the game.
  2. The content providers will be willing to provide the content on a revenue share basis
  3. The customer will be willing to pay a nominal amount for viewing the hosted content
  4. The advertisers will be willing to host their advertisements in this medium
  5. There could be curated content creation ecosystem that shall allow users to participate in what they wanted to share

Transporter (Hypothesis 1)

The transporter was willing, but  they did not want to have any skin in the game. Their point was clear. They had a role in moving customer from point A to point B in the fastest possible time and they did not want to get into this additional frills. However they were willing to let us host the system, run any kind of trials and wished to share the spoils if any.

Also they did not want to touch their eco system like billing, incentivizing drivers and cleaners or anything.

The message was “Do anything you have to on your own, but do not interfere in what we do. You give us money for providing you space after three months”

The transport operator in this case was notable large sized private bus operators.

Content Providers (Hypothesis 2)

The content providers who had shown initial enthusiasm came up with a condition that we could never meet. They said they apart from sharing the spoils, they would need an initial minimum guarantee which as bootstrapped we could never expect to bear. Our argument of they were providing their existing inventory to a very large distribution went into deaf years.

Customer (Hypothesis 3)

There were couple of findings here. Over a period of trials we did and our frank discussion with competition (this is something I shall talk about separately) we found the actual number of paying users were abysmal, even when content was priced at ten rupees. The top reasons

  • Most of the deployed buses were running in the night and people were sleeping 45 minutes after their journey started
  • The content spread was not impressive. The depth and breadth of the content was not exciting enough to engage the customer.
  • No contextual and regional specific content spread was made available.
  • Discovery about the offering was not done effectively.
  • There was no seamless continuity for the consumer beyond the travel.
  • There were no means to engage the consumer beyond the travel. It was a one-off affair

Advertisers (Hypothesis 4)

There were people willing to host advertisements, but the cost of sourcing these at a stage where we were proved to be counterproductive and to crack this eco system was not a priority for us at this stage. However the learning was when we started to navigate this set of people, we figured this works very differently and we were ill-equipped for this.

Curated Content Creation Ecosystem (Hypothesis 5)

Frankly, we did not attempt to validate this.

We had enough learning’s from the first four hypothesis.

Our initial reaction was ‘Houston, we have a problem’.

Market was telling us something very loud, very clear and we had to act.

We did act.

I am not sure what we did was right. However, before I conclude this series, I will share the following in the coming week.

What we did ?

What we could have done better ?

What is my personal point of view on this currently ?

Also, watch out for the word called ‘Pivot’. I shall introduce you to that , but on a completely detached note, I would call ‘Pivot’ as an euphemism for not knowing what you are up-to in the first place !

Enjoy Maadi (Have Fun)

Zunder