Startup Journey – Founding Teams


What makes great teams ?

Jim Collins in his book “Good to Great” states the below.

First Who, Then What’

The good to great leaders understood three simple truths. First, if you begin with ‘who’ rather than ‘what’, you can more easily adapt to a changing world. If people join the bus primarily because of where it is going, what happens if you get ten miles down the road and you need to change direction? You’ve got a problem. But if people are on the bus because of who else is on the bus, then it’s much easier to change direction: “hey, I got on this bus because of who else is on it; if we need to change direction to be more successful, fine, with me.” Second, if you have the right people on the bus, the problem of how to motivate and manage people largely goes away. The right people don’t need to be tightly managed or fired up; they will be self-motivated by the inner drive to produce the best results and to be part of creating something great. Third, if you have the wrong people, it doesn’t matter whether you discover the right direction; you still won’t have a great company. Great vision without great people is irrelevant.”

 However, the eleven companies profiled in Good to Great have not fared all that well

So, is the above premise flawed ?

Does the three truths hold water now ?

In my personal view, I do not think the premise is flawed and the above three truths still hold good , but is it a mandatory prerequisite for a Startup ?

I think , no.

If you happen to have the right kind of people, but I think you cannot be scouting for eternity. Getting the rubber on the road faster is essential and your decision on this need to be time boxed.

Here again, there is no magic formula and many things play a role. Everyone has their own view of what makes a good team and all theories will be formed once the team is successful.

I am not able to figure out what  are the right or wrong ingredients, but I will list the ingredients that I think are necessary.

Shared Purpose.

I think the “Why” of coming together is important. It can be anything, but unless the starting folks can see eye to eye on this, you are setting yourself for failure. Also I think there needs to be a clear initial time commitment from the people who are starting together.  In my view the minimum is three years and the maximum can be eternity.  Lifelong friendships can be formed or destroyed owing to a  casual and taken for granted approach here. It is better to say “No’ now , rather than regret later.

Complementary Skills

It is better to pick up a team with complementary skills and respect that  team member for the specific skill they are bringing in to the table. If that is not possible , clear roles and responsibilities should be assigned. This is not to create needless boundaries, but to bring in an obsessive focus to the job at hand. Polymorphic personalities in founding team are a blessing.

Where does the buck stop ? (One Person)

Holocracy  and other things are great, but it takes a lot of maturity to get there. I think you can drop this nice things for now and focusing on giving the baton to one person.  It does not matter that you are a group of peers, you will have to be extremely clear that there is only one person who shall call the shots. Period. Period. Period. Once you have handed that baton to this person, do everything in your means to support that person. It does not matter who this person is, but once you have decided this is the person where ‘the buck shall stop’, your behaviour has to be modelled to support this person in all possible ways.

Accountability to results

A Startup needs merciless execution and you have to hold each other accountable to outcomes. Empathy, compassion are great attributes to have, but I think you should hold them till you become an enterprise and bury it in a value document somewhere. Once you become great, you can ask people to start referring to that and once that happens you will be celebrated for your strong foundational values (Pardon my cynicism here, but quite frankly this is not the right time to focus on enduring values)

A start up has only  three cyclical activities encompassed by one word ‘Execution’.

  • Demonstrate Value to customers
  • Make Money from them
  • Rinse and Repeat

If you think, you cannot bring accountability to results,  then it is a glaring red sign.

Curiosity and Learning

I do not think we should be limited by what we know or what we do not know. You should have a team that has an insatiable appetite for learning, adapting and correcting. No one can prepare you for the ‘Black Swan’ moments, but a team that is hungry enough to learn continuously will be able to recover from those moments.

Self Deprecating Humour

This might look counter intuitive to all the above, but a team that takes themselves too seriously will have lot of trouble coping up with the variety of challenges that a Startup shall offer. A team should be able to say

‘Ok, folks. We messed it up right royally’

and follow it up with

‘Let us begin again’!

A final parting thought. Many a times people have asked, ‘Why do I need a team’ and now the term solopreneur has been coined for that kind of people. There is nothing wrong according to me, but at times you need some shoulder to lean on and it is just that good founding teams are force multipliers.

Also to remain aligned with this context  on what makes a team, I have included a related book review in this week titled ‘Five Dysfunctions of a team’. Those dysfunctions if unattended can break a team.

Enjoy Maadi (Have Fun)


Letting Go


The Cyrus Mistry / Tata Sons fiasco of last week set me thinking.

Want another example. Look at the current situation in UP and TN. There is a father – son tussle and in TN there is a nonagenarian who just does not want to hand over the baton.

Sporting heroes over stay , corporate honchos overstaying their time and  I can add many more things to this list.

Families, I see the same. Parents cannot let go of their children and  vice-versa.

Generally seem to be prevalent every sphere of life.

I have no kind of credibility to comment or take a position on this.

I see a common pattern and in my view the root cause is ‘Letting Go’.

I see we just cannot ‘Let go’.

I wanted to take stock on if I would “Let Go” and  to be honest to my own self , I will fail the test.

Here are some examples

My wife tells me that I am a back seat driver. I give her something to do and I keep nagging her till the task is done and bugging her on how the task is done.

I keep calling up my erstwhile peers, mentors, and keep harassing them, despite them giving me a grand send off . I can see the pain on the tone of their voices, but their karma makes them take my call or return the call. Well , 95% of them do return the calls. 5% are bold enough to break their karma cycle!

I send my kids on all kind of errands and once they are back ask them to de-brief every bit on how they did the errand.

Everyone of you would have heard this story which is possibly worth repeating

A man found a cocoon of a butterfly. One day a small opening appeared. He sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to force its body through that little hole. Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could and it could go no farther.

Then the man decided to help the butterfly, so he took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon. The butterfly then emerged easily. But it had a swollen body and small, shrivelled wings.

The man continued to watch the butterfly because he expected that, at moment, the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body which would contract in time.


Neither happened! In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shrivelled wings. It never was able to fly.

What this man in his kindness and haste did not understand was that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening were nature’s way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon.

Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in our life. If nature allowed us to go through your life without any obstacles, it would cripple us. We would not be as strong as what we could have been. And we could never fly….

I am not sure how many wings I would have crippled or crippling, out of my  need for benign indulgence.

However recently in one incident I did ‘let go’.

As most of you know, I currently call myself a reasonably successful talent broker taking a zero percent commission.  Last one year I have managed some courtships and marriages.

I have this unique insight about matching talent , opportunity and most importantly the perceived emotional connect that both parties will have in future.

So I was naturally upset when one of this broking opportunities went south sometime back and I wanted to go berserk on one of the parties. But somehow I exercised unusual restraint and told to myself “Zunder . Hold your judgement and respect the individual’. You are just a gateway. No more. No less”

After couple of days I felt good about having exercised that restrained and ‘Let go’ of my judgement and I hold no kind of remorse and feel no change in my attitude towards the party with whom I wanted to go berserk.

“One swallow does not make a summer make”, but that I could let go is a revelation to myself.

I just wish I would be able to ‘Let go’ in many spheres of life so that many butterflies could fly and since now I am increasingly aware, my percentage of letting go just might increase.

Eckhart Tolle puts it well

“Sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on”

what about you ?

Have you experienced ‘Let Go’


Will you ‘Let Go’ when your moment arrives ?

Enjoy Maadi (Have Fun)


The Five Dysfunctions of a Team


This specific book review is brought in this week to align with the content of this week’s Startup journey

I thought it was appropriate to condense and present the author’s views and move away from my traditional way of reviewing. This book is a highly recommended read for team building by many industry veterans

As the concepts were presented with a story line it was an easy read and what follows are the brief summary of the concepts minus the story line.  Please note that it would be easy to dismiss the five dysfunctions stated here as sheer ‘common sense’ but don’t we all agree ‘common sense’ is NOT so ‘common’.

The five dysfunctions are represented below as a pyramid and the first dysfunction starts at the bottom of the pyramid and gradually gives rise to the fifth dysfunction, which is at the top of the pyramid. To restate in our language the pyramid could be viewed as a linked list where the ‘head’ is the bottom of the pyramid and the tail is the ‘top’ of the pyramid.




Absence of Trust

Trust is the foundation on any significant relationships are built, nurtured and enriched. We could debate endlessly on what constitutes trust or the absence of it. In other words how do we measure ‘trust’ or the absence of ‘it’. It is not that hard but generally it is. It is simply the ability to state ‘look folks – I am s***wing up. Can you help me’. It is the ability to express vulnerability without any element of insecurity or prejudice. The absence of trust leads to the second dysfunction.

Fear of Conflict

Much progress in any kind of social setup depends on healthy debate on contrasting views. It is simply the ability to debate our ideas passionately and see reason in choosing one out of many ideas. Everyone one would probably recall the famous sequence in the movie ‘”Good, Bad, Ugly” “If you have to shoot, shoot. Do not talk”. The measure is simply to ask ourselves ‘Are we able to state what we really feel’ or ‘are we suppressing our emotions’? There has to be a ‘storm’ before the calm. The absence of conflict leads to the third dysfunction.

Lack of Commitment

Well it is the dreaded ‘C’ word. It is simply the ability to ‘deliver on our promises’. It could be as simple as coming to a meeting in the ‘stated’ time or as complex as meeting an important ‘Delivery Milestone’. The measure is simple. How many times we have answered directly ‘when asked’, ‘when something would be over’ and how many times have we stuck to what we have ‘stated’ if we did manage to state in the first place. I have at least felt that we take so many things for granted in all spheres of life that even outside our professional space we do not stick to what we say. I cannot remember when I have been in time for a meeting with my friends/family. The absence of commitment leads to the fourth dysfunction.

Avoidance of Accountability

Accountability or lack of it can be best explained by the story of ‘Everybody thought somebody’ will do it. I am not repeating that story here. It is simply the ability to ask our selves and our peers ‘why certain agreed upon thing was not done?’. The measure is ‘Do we even bother to ask our own selves or our peers’ when there is a failure to meet a stated ‘commitment’. The absence of accountability leads to the fifth dysfunction.

Inattention to Results

This is the stage where goal displacement and goal in-congruence occur. It is a stage where individual priorities have overridden team priorities and there is an absence of working towards realizing a ‘common goal’. At this stage teams are insensitive towards what could be termed as ‘Getting the rubber on the road’.

Be aware of this symptoms when you are forming or building teams.

Enjoy Maadi (Have Fun)


Startup Journey – Raising Funds


I ended my rant about my Start-up Journey last week. However there are other topics that I think you should be aware of so that you can plan effectively. I have shared a deck from letusventure, thanks to a noble soul who was kind enough to share, where the questions around fund raising are better articulated.

The answers in Quora are structured better than what is about to follow, but I will give my views as well.

The stages of funding could be classified as

  • Self-Funded/Bootstrapped
  • Friends and Family
  • Angel/Seed
  • Series A…Z

I wish there was a magic formula on when you would choose what stage, but I have not figured it out yet. It is a combination of science and art, but mostly art.

There are a million parameters that can make a difference, but the simple ones that needs to be in place to help you arrive at a decision are

  • Monthly Cash Outflow
  • Revenue Forecast
  • Time to break even

If you can manage your monthly cash flow till revenue starts coming in and you could break even , bootstrapping could be the way.

However if you cannot bootstrap, the next best alternative would be through friends and family. But you cannot expect a large ticket size here. The maximum would be in the range of 60 Lakhs to One Crore Indian Rupees.

The next best alternative is Angel or Seed, but most bets taken in this round are bets on the team rather than the idea itself. Angel/Seed can vary between 1 Crore to 6 Crores.

Series A rounds happen once you have some predictable revenues coming into your enterprise and they are in excess of 6 Crores.

Though I have not ventured into serious round of capital raising, I find the investor climate to be extremely friendly, and approachable. That does not translate into money for you, but there are lots of entrepreneurs who have become VC’s and they are benevolent enough to give you a patient and empathetic hearing.

If I have to give you just one piece of opinion, build your product when you have a day job, or in other words, boot strap as much as you can and build traction when you are still in the job.  When I say traction, it means your idea is generating revenue.

There are plenty of avenues to get work done. Just ensure that you are covered by your employment contract to operate this way and you have no intellectual property conflict. In some companies, the companies themselves would be the first customers of your product and there cannot be a better launching pad for you. You could be up front with your employer and  the best thumb rule that I have heard is ‘When in doubt, disclose’.

The advantages of boot strapping is that you have put skin in the game and you will have a good position over equity dilution. But the disadvantage is it could hamper your speed and growth plans.

Raising external money seems to be a must have milestone in most start-up plans today as the point of view is that you have some external believing in you, your team and your idea.

However, the best thing I heard about bootstrapping is below reproduced from here

“I read a ton of articles about ‘bootsrapping’. They are fascinating. To me bragging about the fact that you’ve bootstrapped your business is like boasting to your Mexican friend that you’ve just made a tortilla from scratch. He’ll simply laugh at you, because that’s how his grandma made them her entire life.”

Bootstrapping is common sense and common sense is not common.

As for as my journey is concerned, I did not follow any of the above and have been bootstrapping till now.

I did not burn investor money, but misplaced the time and effort some very good people(friends, peers, mentors, family) placed on me. Time and effort translates to money. I am confident that I shall pay all of them back in some tangible or intangible way.

That is ok in one sense as I am able to sleep better and that is not ok in another sense, because I approached fund raising in a pretty lousy way and in that sense did not bother to find a believer in me or my idea and that is one heaven of a lesson.

However, the best piece of investment advice came from an investor himself in a panel discussion I attended.

“Do not chase us. Chase your customers and get traction going. If you can get that to happen, we will know how to chase you”

I may not have been extremely lucid in this note, as this is one hazy topic,  you can ping me directly I can give you very straight answers and more clearer directions.

Enjoy Maadi (Have Fun)


Nostalgia Quotient


I got the above forwarded image in whatsapp.

Kind of set me thinking.

I feel that we all somehow love the past more despite the difficult times we have had with it.

In moments of reflection be it with family, friends, peers, bosses, mentors, it is generally

‘How we used to ….’

‘Those were the times …’

‘We had little, but we were extremely happy…’

‘We created something out of nothing’

I am equally a guilty party as well.

I also tend to drag any conversation with the above crowd to the glories of the past.

I watch my thoughts linger to the past and despite the sporadic instances of pain, the past does bring back a smile.

I see my kids and I see they enjoy the present more. They just do not have any memories of the past. For them it is today and only today. They seemed to have taken Master Oogway’s advice in Kungfu Panda ‘Yesterday is History’ seriously and live by that. In any conversation, if I attempt to bring back anything of the past , they refute by saying ‘That is over. Why are you bringing  it’?

Stepping back from my thoughts, I can only say that

Nostalgia quotient is a function of your age and your ability to manage the present.

The higher your age, the higher the nostalgia quotient.

The lower your ability to manage the present, the higher the nostalgia quotient.

So one formula could be NQ = (Age/Manage the present).

Where Manage the present could be taken in the scale of 1 to 10. 10 means you are in total control of your present and 1 means you have absolutely no clue on managing the present. If you want to be more realistic, multiply it by time available to reflect in a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 represents no time and 10 represents you have all the time.

I can say this only for myself.  Nostalgia gives us some kind of temporary relief and break, but despite its greatness, will I go back to it ?

I think the answer is a clear No.

A more clearer example would be, I moved from Chennai to Bangalore and I am still in love with both the cities and still thoughts do linger about Chennai.

But will I go back to Chennai ?I do not think so.

Will I continue to stay in Bangalore ? I do not think so.

Because I think life presents its chances and I choose to take chances that suit me and I can safely predict as I escaped from Chennai, I shall escape from Bangalore as well. I live by the adage, “When the going gets tough, the tough gets going”

Well coming back to the forwarded image that started this line of thinking, I can only say it would not have affected me. I have gone in a school bus and I have gone in a friend’s Audi car. The only thing I did in both the vehicle was to sleep .

You see,  I have this god given gift of going to sleep in sixty seconds in any moving vehicle.

What is your Nostalgia Quotient ?

Enjoy Maadi (Have Fun).


Why Only is Better than the Best


Let me begin with a disclaimer.

I am a fan of the author’s podcast Unmistakable Creative.

I encourage you to listen to some of interviews. They are well done.

I was eagerly waiting to get my hands on this book and I could feel the signature presence of the author in the book as well.

My son saw this book and it took me some time to explain the title. After that he pulled a fast one on me at the dinner table. I queried him on the way something he did and he replied ‘See appa. I am only!’.

The author presents a unmistakable case for standing out from the crowd and argues on how it can lead to a more fulfilling life.

There is a clear sense of authenticity in the writing as the author traces his own journey and his struggles before he chose to become ‘Only’. There are interesting stories about people in each chapters who have chosen to become ‘only’.

Also the metaphorical association of establishing the process for becoming ‘only’ with the author’s passion for surfing makes it an engaging read. Even if you do  not know surfing, your curiosity will increase to learn more about it.  You could substitute surfing with your favourite sport and the lessons will still apply. It is not easy maintaining that the metaphorical language throughout the book and the author deserves kudos for doing that.

There is an interesting observation which I liked

“Style in any art form emerges when we let go of what we perceive as universal truth and start to embrace what is true for us. Our art must answer deeper questions of what makes us completely alive, what we want to be known for, and how we want to be remembered. Our foundational habits and our mentors and coaches have served as training wheels. Now it’s time for us to make the ride our own”

Letting go and embracing uncertainty is not easy, but the author convinces you that it would be fun and time well spent.

This is one  the books that I could complete in one sitting. It is not preachy and the style presents a mirror to my own self and that is the reason I feel that I will go back to this book again and again.

Can you manage ‘The Drop’ ?

To figure that out, get yourself a copy and I am positive that you will gulp it at one go  and come back to it repeatedly.

It is worth your time and money.

Enjoy Maadi(Have Fun)


Startup Journey – A light weight curation

As promised last week, I am concluding this week on some of the best articles, books, videos and sites that you could use in navigating your journey.


This one video can give you a motivation on why and the following book helps you to break your inner shackles.

How great leaders inspire action

A small book that questions your status quo

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles

How to build a business that lasts 100 years. If you want to be in it for the long run.


Lean Startup

Eric Reis and Steve Blank are the gurus in this space.

You should follow their blog and they have very short interesting videos that you should listen to.

There is one book I hope that you can digest and that is

The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products That Win

Business Model Canvas

You should order both the books of Alex Osterwalder

Business Model Generation

Value Proposition Design

Some of their training and webinars are useful

You could take a peek at Uber’s business model canvas here

One Single Course

If I have to recommend one course that you could subscribe to or should invest in before you take the jump or while you are in the mode is

Interesting Blogs that you can follow are Paul Graham, Fred Wilson and Seth Godin.

Some cool stuff gets showcased at producthunt

For a digest of daily happenings you should subscribe to Anand Sanwal’s CBInsights news letter

Stanford Entrepreneurship Classes



Folks, you can read as much as you want, be aware of the best practices out there in the world and everything else. All these are to be used as guidelines, reference points and checklists so as not to miss out something fundamental.  I am not discounting their universal merit or appeal, but, entrepreneurship is an extremely deep personal journey into your own self.  There is no single blue print that will fit your journey and there are many non-deterministic random variables that you will encounter on your way.

It can be the most rewarding experience of your life or the worst ever nightmare, but one thing is sure, you will come out as a better individual.

I believe ‘Chance favors the prepared mind’  and I hope the last twelve weeks have given an insight into my journey so far. My attempt was to decode the journey as I was making it to the best of my abilities.

You could argue that chance has not favored me yet and you would be right about that.

I can only say “Not yet”.

Enjoy Maadi (Have Fun)