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Tag Archive : lessons

Your ‘Growth’ is Hurting Your Job Interviews

Currently, I am in the middle of interviews to fill several positions at Artha and one of the first questions I ask candidates is why they are changing jobs? The common answer I receive is that they are looking for growth.  Most of these people have been at their current jobs for less than 24 months, so it makes me wonder whether the growth they seek is truly in terms of experience or in the size of their pay-check. Usually, it is the latter and their feeble attempt at answering this truly important question hurts their prospects with us as it does with most employers. Allow me to explain.

I have been a part of the workforce since I was 16 years old and the first job I got paid for was in my first year of college at the age of 18. In the next 4 years of college, I went through 4 jobs and ran 2 businesses from my room. One of those jobs was selling retail jewellery which I did throughout my 4 years. In that, I found my calling i.e. sales. My next job was door to door sales, a position I held for 5 years before becoming an entrepreneur within the same organisation. When I came back to India, I went through 3-4 jobs in a (relatively) short span of time before deciding to dive full-time into setting up Artha.

Having cycled through almost 10 jobs I am in no way advocating that a person should not change jobs or look for better salary packages. In a free marketing and capitalist economy this is exactly the type of behaviour that is expected and encouraged. However, I could, as I expect anyone should be able to decide whether they love a company/opportunity/job within the first 6-12 months. Therefore, if I was investing any time beyond that in the company, it meant that I was certain I would make a future for myself there.

It’s not that I didn’t feel like quitting my jobs several, several times. For example, there were times when I felt that I was going to be stuck in my position for ever or that I was getting looked over for promotions or that I was getting jaded, but I stuck it through those times. Then seemingly out of nowhere a new opportunity, office or position would open up and due to the fact that I was there at the right time, as the right person, just like that the juggernaut was rolling again.

So I feel that if temporary situations would have affected my decision to stay with the company, then that should have happened in the first 6-12 months, because in my opinion, that is usually the timeframe when a person should have decided whether they like the job role, the boss and can live with the hygiene factors at their workplace. However, if it takes over 24 months for someone to decide whether their current job will excite them or not, that doesn’t build my confidence in your assessment abilities or more likely questions them.

There could be several situations that could have forced you to change your job (location change, family obligation, bankruptcy) and these might give you a good story to tell that is both convincing and genuine. However, if you are changing jobs for “growth” related issues but it took you more than 24 months to realise it, then you need to have a bloody good story for me to believe you (and my standards are high).

30/2019

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Sell the Sizzle in Your Next Pitch

Many things are important towards the success of a start-up pitch but getting the audience to relate to the problem that is being solved can be the difference between a nod or a nay. For many founders this could mean that they must essentially dumb down their pitch, and I would agree with that approach over a technologically complex and “intelligent sounding” presentation any day.  In sales we call this approach, selling the sizzle.

In a nut shell what I am suggesting to the presenter in you, is to hone down on the objective of the first pitch i.e. being relatable enough to warrant further investigation. I would not advise neither expect a presentation to get an investor to write a cheque immediately after the pitch, that is unheard of and nearly impossible. However, if your pitch has the recall value to keep investors thinking for hours, days or even weeks after it – the goal has been achieved.

These are some key ingredients to achieve the desired effect on an investor audience:

  1. Create an image of your target customer
  2. Explain the challenges that the target faces today
  3. Delve into the loss (in time, money, etc.) that this target faces
  4. Elaborate how that loss is hurting the target and how the current solutions aren’t helping
  5. Elucidate how your solution solves these problems (a video case study is recommended)
  6. Calculate the value delivered to the target
  7. Quantify how many such targets exist i.e. TAM, SAM, SOM, etc

Your story should get woven in such a way that the investor finds themselves in the shoes of the target and can visualize the issue, the solution and the value it would provide to them. A great example is this Bhavish Agarwal’s 2011 pitch for Ola.

Notice how Bhavish asks the audience for a show of hands of how many people have had a bad taxi experience. Almost everyone has faced this issue at some point or the other or knows of someone that has, i.e. relatable. Instead of delving into the awesomeness of Ola’s tech stack, he uses ‘you’ multiple times during the presentation to gently put the audience into the shoes of a taxi hailer. He shares just enough pain points to get your creative juices flowing and start looking for a solution to this imaginary problem. Smartly, he chooses to stay out of the techplaining which he understands can (and will) get covered during follow-on conversations with interested investors.

If you think about it, it is easy to argue with an explanation but hard to argue with an experience. Therefore, it makes logical sense to cut out the excess fabulousness of your pitch and focus on only delivering a pitch that is edible, visualizable and recallable. The rest can wait.

19/2019

Scheduling a Weekly Visit to Menlo Park

I have inculcated a new habit of listening to podcasts during my morning routine replacing my old one of playing loud music to get me charged up for the day.  

Today I heard Robin Sharma’s podcast – The Secret of Massively Creative People and loved his suggestion to create a “Menlo Park” i.e. a place where one can disconnect from the world and give way for the creative side to express itself.  

When I started thinking about it I realised that my best work, especially the things that require me to concentrate viz. investor updates, blog posts, long emails, developing or understanding complex financial models, etc. have all come while I was completely disconnected from the world. I was either on a long flight or holed up in a hotel room.  

This powerful suggestion has me deeply enveloped in thought and I am strongly motivated (and encouraging entrepreneurs) to schedule a visit to Menlo Park every week. 

Would love to hear if anyone has tried doing this and what results they were able to accomplish.  

92/2018

How Would You Deal with Superstardom?

For today’s post, I had decided to write a book review. But while browsing through espncricinfo.com, I came across a brilliant piece of journalism on Virat Kohli, undoubtedly the most famous man in India. The journalist, Wright Thompson followed Kohli for a day and wrote about how Kohli dealt with his superstardom daily. He brought to light the two different sides of Kohli; the outside persona which is what the public sees and the inner, softer, a more personal side that he keeps concealed. The trials and tribulations of this Indian superstar are a must-read for anyone who dreams of becoming one.

Kohli has been an enigma for me. Although I do not like his batting (since it lacks the poetry I heard in Tendulkar’s stroke play), I love the way he responds to a challenge. Kohli always aims to dominate a challenge and invariably prevails because of his limitless perseverance that always lasts longer than that of the challenger. He never lets the pressure of a situation show on his face or in his body language, consequently helping him find the clarity to make tough decisions.

So, while I might not like watching Virat Kohli bat, I do love to watch him play. And after reading about him in this story, I seek to emulate him, just a little.

55/2018

Artha Corporate Connect

During my 3-week, 3 continent tour I fell out of the habit of writing my daily blog posts. Even after I returned I kept putting off restarting until “tomorrow”. Then last night on the drive home, I heard Shashi Tharoor’s interview on the radio, announcing the launch of his latest book. During the interview, the RJ asked what advice he would give to budding writers that are just starting out their careers. His answer encouraged me to climb out of the procrastination vortex and start writing again. His exact words were, “the only advice I would give to a budding writer is to keep writing”.

So, thank you, Mr Tharoor… and here we go again!

Today Artha will be publicly testing out service for our 57 (soon to be 61) startups to connect with

  • Larger companies
  • Other startups in our portfolio
  • Legal, compliance and service professionals

Over the past 3-4 months, we have been testing this out internally with excellent results for the startups and companies that we connected them to. Now I am making a public announcement to invite companies of all sizes to look through our portfolio and see if they want to work with one or more of our companies. If you are interested, reach out to us on corporateconnect@artha.group specifying which company you are interested in working with, and we will be happy to facilitate the connection.

This initiative will be led Artha’s very own networking ninja aka Sanjay Gandhi. He will be backed by the support of the Artha India Ventures & Artha Venture Fund investment teams.

53/2018

KISS for Your Customer

Firstly, I want to thank all the people that have taken the time to reach out with words of encouragement for Artha Venture Fund – I. I have been trying my best to reply to each person individually but if I have missed you out, please do know that your encouragement means a lot to me and my team and due to your support we are more motivated than ever to prove to be ‘the’ investor that an Indian startup founder is looking for.

Last week I connected an investee company in the lending space with an investee company in the product space that was coming up with a higher range of products and wanted to provide a financing option for their customers. The objective was to create a symbiotic relationship between the two parties to create more business for both, so it was a no-brainer from my perspective. However, a week after they were introduced, things were moving much slower than anticipated. Therefore, on Monday, I set up a lunch meeting with the founder of the fintech company to understand the roadblocks that were holding things up.

In an attempt to keep things transparent (his intentions were good) the financing company founder sent over a detailed excel sheet to try and educate the product company founder on how his financing model worked and how the interest that was calculated and collected was accounted for. This excel worksheet completely broke down how this product loan worked. Unfortunately keeping things transparent is not the same things as keeping things simple.

The financing excel sheet became the epicentre of confusion for the product startup and its team and no matter how hard they tried to decipher it, were unable to make any sense of it. This is just like how you or I would look bewildered if a Maruti dealership handed us a bunch of bills detailing out the price of each component that went into our car instead of the final price that we are supposed to pay, the spreadsheet led to little panic at the product company HQ.

Therefore, the financing startup founder, the AVF team and I brainstormed over lunch to bring the loan product to a maximum of 4-5 points. Thirty minutes later we were able to achieve our mission in only 2 points. To test out whether a simpler product would move things along quicker, I reached out to the production company founder yesterday and the interaction you see below is self-explanatory.

Founders make the common mistake of overestimating their customer’s sophistication levels and instead of making the decision to purchase easier – they end up making things more complicated without reason. Founders want to “sound” smart and therefore start to make simple things complicated instead of dumbing them down. This leads to a situation where the customer is overloaded with information that he/she cannot process so they are compelled to ask for time to “think about it”. Although the founder may feel that a person asking for time is a good sign, this may be a clear signal that the customer feels overwhelmed with excess information.

Therefore, I believe that any product’s or service’s value proposition (big or small) should be communicated as simply as possible. The other person should understand the proposition clearly enough to make a quick decision whether he/she wants to purchase the product or not. There shouldn’t be a period of pondering over it, wherein the customer is actually just trying to understand the deal. You can sound smart and make your customers feel dumb (no have no sales) or you can sound dumb so that the customer feels that they are making a smart decision. The choice is yours.

33/2018

How Did You Die

Siri tells me that it took 1,347 days from my first blog post, Dropping Out Of The Rat Race… to my 100th blog post. Thereby, on an average taking 13.5 days to write each blog post. If I remove the 31 blog posts written in 66 days of this year, the average will shoot up to 18.5 days per post, therefore making it evident that things are already looking up for my blog.

In the journey to a 100 blog posts, I have had many interesting & challenging moments. There was a post defending an investee company against a much larger competitor that made it to the Economic Times (without my knowledge). The reaction to this was a screwball approach from their legal advisor who tried to pose as though they were trying to make us their client. That whole experience that was blown out of proportion led to a writer’s block, that made me stop writing for almost 2 months. There have also been times where I wasn’t confidant if what I was writing was meaningful enough for people to read. While reading the Bhagavad Gita over the course of the last 2 years however, I have come to the realization that it isn’t worth stressing over whether people like what I write or not. All I am responsible for, is writing and expressing my thoughts and the way it is perceived isn’t under my control. That lesson (albeit difficult) is something I am starting to imbibe as a motto for all the things that I do in life and hopefully inspire the people around me to pick it up too.

Which is why I think this poem from Edmund Vance Cooke is the best way to express what I have learnt from the journey to 100th blog post, a target that I did not believe I could achieve when I started (my goal was 50).

Now my goal is to just write every week day (my goal is 260 blogs for the year) with no particular number of blogs in mind. The only goal is to write and to keep on writing, come what may cause in the end it is the journey that counts.

How Did you Die

by Edmund Vance Cooke

Did you tackle that trouble that came your way

With a resolute heart and cheerful?

Or hide your face from the light of day

With a craven soul and fearful?

Oh, a trouble’s a ton, or a trouble’s an ounce,

Or a trouble is what you make it,

And it isn’t the fact that you’re hurt that counts,

But only how did you take it? You are beaten to earth?

Well, well, what’s that!

Come up with a smiling face.

It’s nothing against you to fall down flat,

But to lie there–that’s disgrace.

The harder you’re thrown, why the higher you bounce

Be proud of your blackened eye!

It isn’t the fact that you’re licked that counts;

It’s how did you fight–and why?

And though you be done to the death, what then?

If you battled the best you could,

If you played your part in the world of men,

Why, the Critic will call it good.

Death comes with a crawl, or comes with a pounce,

And whether he’s slow or spry,

It isn’t the fact that you’re dead that counts,

But only how did you die?

 31/2018

The Funded Entrepreneurs Group

I just got back from my trip to Kolkata which was planned in order to introduce the founding team of an upcoming investment to Mr. Aditya Ladsaria of Chaibreak (an Artha investee) and Mr. Miftaur Rahman of Wow Momos (a fantastic venture that I deeply respect but unfortunately didn’t get a chance to invest in). The objective of the trip was to give the new founders the chance to learn from two sets of successful founders that had no previous background in food, yet managed to fund their respective successful food startups from customer capital before raising venture capital. I especially admire Aditya & Miftaur’s razor-sharp focus towards addressing the customer’s needs through constant innovation in both, the product and operations.

I was a mute spectator (for the most part) in the conversation between the new founders and the experienced ones, but thoroughly enjoyed listening to their detailed discussions about operations, product innovations, customer loyalty management, HR, etc and all the other topics that concern building a business, except “how to raise money from VCs”. This experience gave legs to an initiative that I have wanted to launch for the last 8-12 months i.e. the Funded Entrepreneurs Group.

The idea is to put a group of founders that have already raised money (seed, angel, pre-series A, series A, etc) into a conference room for a couple of hours every 4-6 weeks to talk about matters that only another founder that has raised money can relate to – ‘how to build the venture!’ The discussion shall take place behind closed doors with no recording so that any founder from any stage of the business growth cycle can ask questions – no gyaan sessions only mutually beneficial universal learning.

I strongly believe that when a founder learns the solution to a problem from a fellow founder who has faced a similar issue and managed to overcome it, the solution seems more do-able and the problem less enigmatic. This will also help form a stronger and more cohesive ecosystem for all entrepreneurs. Going forward, the group can also share business leads or transact with each other and the possibilities remain endless, but for now, lets stick to getting a first meeting done.

Artha helped organise a meeting in an open discussion format for angel investors under the age of 50, with a minimum of 5 investments with a similar objective of learning from each other’s experiences. Those meetings have successfully been going on for the past 11 months with beneficial results for all the participants. Currently, the discussion has graduated to deal sharing and evaluating each other’s investments.

My team and I are excited to be able to organise the first Funded Entrepreneur Group meeting for the founders of our ecosystem. The meetings won’t be sponsored by anyone so that the attendees’ independence will be maintained, but there will be a thorough scrutiny of each person that attends to ensure the sanctity of the event. The exact costs of the event shall be shared between the attendees but I do not expect the cost to exceed 500-1000 per attendee inclusive of tea/coffee and a snack.

So, if you are an entrepreneur who

  1. Has raised outside capital
  2. Are willing to share your experiences to help another founder
  3. Are interested in meeting other founders to build your business

Then email us on feg@artha.ventures with

  1. Your full name
  2. The name of your venture
  3. Link to the article announcing your latest funding round
  4. Your mobile phone number(s)

If there is enough interest, I would love to organise the first FEG meeting in 2-3 weeks (based on everyone’s ability). Email us as soon as possible!

30/2018

Desperation is the Name of the Game

If all things are equal between two candidates that want me to be their mentor, what would be the difference, that would make all the difference? No, it’s not how equity you will give me or how much respect you have for me… The correct answer is – desperation.

I am not referring to the desperation to get time, money or references, but the desperation that burns through the eyes and words of the prospective mentee to succeed. The desperation that cannot be dissuaded by failure, drowned out by rejection or simply because they didn’t get an immediate response from someone they attempted reaching out to for help. I am referring to that desperation that will make a person turn the world upside down to get what they want – yes that desperation.

In a world of unlimited opportunity, this is the kind of desperation I look for, to decide who I should devote my limited time (a precious resource) to. A person must innately want to achieve the skill he is seeking my mentorship for, and not only be attempting to achieve it because he ‘has to’. This distinction leads to a visible difference in the amount of passion and desperation a person exudes.

The lack of this type of desperation and conviction in the importance of achieving that skill doesn’t bode well for my ROTI (Return on Time Invested).

So, if you think I’m being arrogant, standoffish or aloof to your call for help, I am only checking to see if you are as desperate as you are making it out to be.

29/2018

Venture Idea: Putting the Custom in Customer Service

One of my favorite entrepreneurial movies is Rocket Singh Salesman of the Year. The movie has a dialogue that goes, “customer ke toh naam mein hi mer likha hai” (the word customer has mer (pronounced “marr” is the Hindi word for ‘to die’) embedded in it). This single dialogue aptly defines the treatment meted out to the billion Indian consumer customers every single day.

All one has to do is go through the Facebook page of any Indian brand and it will not be hard to find the abundant record of horrific complaints and the apathy awarded by these brands to their customers. Although I have been on a crusade against JetAirways for the ad hoc changes to its Frequent Flyer experience, I have seen very little progress in brands making an effort to improve how they treat their customers. Despite the government’s attempt to provide adequate protection to the consumer by allocating a separate consumer court to resolve consumer grievances and penalize erring brands… the problems are only continuing to mount.

I believe that the next ten years will be the golden age of Indian consumerism. With this thesis in mind, I strongly believe that there is going to be the need for a service that goes beyond allowing a customer to air their grievances but actively taking control to resolve these complaints. For a small fee, this service provider can engage with brands to resolve customer’s problems. If that route doesn’t work they should also be able to prepare the legal documentation required to take the brand to consumer court. They can even go a step further to provide the contact details for competent lawyers who can file & fight these cases. As India marches to 1,000,000,000 online via mobile – the market potential will be massive!

I have been on the wrong side of several bad consumer experiences in India and there used to be a company called myakosha.com that was solving my problem. They played the role of a service provider who resolved these issues directly with Idea, Jet, AMEX and other companies that I was facing issues with. I simply loved their service and the way they made these brands come running to me to solve their errors was an experience worth living through. However, for reasons best known to the MyAkosha team they pivoted to another business model leaving a gaping hole in the ecosystem. Now, I am personally motivated to be that agent of change for the way Indian brands treat their customers. I have a design team ready to develop the front end, know a law firm who can provide the infrastructure & know-how for this service and am willing to fund this project out of AVF.

I am seeking individuals who have a strong background in social media marketing, customer complaint management, and a strong tech background. I am also looking for a person with a strong background in data analytics to build out this venture.

Do you know someone or a team that fits this bill?

Email prospects@artha.vc with a cc to karishma@artha.vc.

25/2018