Friday, November 02, 2007

Wits, Sparkes, from Tarun Talk

I am a talk-talk person and always realized I had some "wit" words when I was discussing interesting topics with others or some sparkles when I was pitching my idea/startup to others. This afternoon I had a long conversatino with a first year, again an Indian (Gee, I am surrounded by Indians), and realized I learned a lot as well:

1. Two criteria to determine how to launch your first startup:
- does this startup add value to current users' life?
- can you do it yourself?

Does this startup add value? The most challenging task for any startup is always sales. My 2nd startup totalled failed on sales. But there is a shortcut. If your product or service could solve a real problem, the more serious this problem is for the customers, the less sales effort you need to make. For example, imagine how an India-based tutor website conquered the US market? American highschool students have a strong need yet too expensive to hire a local tutor or too difficult to find a qualified one. So how? This Indian website cleverly solved this problem by providing Internet-based real-time one-to-one tutor service. No sales effort needed (well, some if you count in Google Adword) since students are behave like this startup's salesperson to spread the message to every classmate.

Can you do it yourslf? As your first startup, you have no credibility (most of the time, unless you had been VP of Oracle then you shouldn't read my blog here) to attract investor nor partners easily. So the bottom line is can you do it yourself? You is the core asset of this potential startup. Here programmers have a clear advantage against others. Even if you are a experienced scintest from Phifzer, you cannot afford the $1M lab which is necessary for any drug development. So make sure you can do it. Otherwise, doesn't matter how promising the idea is.

2. Remember, "A good idea" and "A good idea for yourself" are two very different concept.
Sure I know launching a solar power equipment manufacture in Africa or build a nuclear power plant on the Moon is really good idea by many means. But, not good for myself. Why? back the above point, I cannot do it by myself.

3. The best advice for the first startup? Just do it.
Without doing it, you will never get the experience no matter how many entrepreneurs' exciting books/stories you had read, how many entrepreneurship classes/seminars you may take. The best way to improve your oral English is to speak. The best way to start your own venture is to do one. If you follow the above points, you can easily identify one opportunity. And because the bottom line is you do it yourself, even it failed (with negative cash flow),you can still afford the "failure".

4. Income has a way more broad meaning.

Your first startup may fail but your income may not be negative. Why? because income is more than salary or cash flow. Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, may not be able to take a dime from Wikipedia because this website has no revenue except some donations. But because of the success of Wikipedia, Jimmy's income from it may worth $10M if not more than. Talk to any potential IT investor, Jimmy may get the investment he needs.

5. Never follow the rules. Other's rules.
There are two type of rules in the world. Rules that require us should respect everyone regardless his or her skin color or race or wealth. This is social rules and we should respect. There are other rules as well that always people take them for granted as if those rules  are the same as "social rules". For example, every sedan has four wheels or the tea pot has a round bottom. These are NOT social rules. Those actually always mean business opportunities for entrepreneurs. If everyone believe the only way to buy book is from a bookstore near the street, we won't have Amazon today. But back to 20 years ago, everyone may tell you bookstore is the ONLY place to buy a book. Open your eyes. Business opportunity is all around.

We all heard Fortune 500's vision such as "we want to be the most respectable company in the world" or "we give shareholder's return the highest priority". It's wrong. Vision should be as practical as every employee's daily job. When a CEO never respect a worker in his corporate's warehouse as much as his investor, this company will never become the most respectable company in the world. Many  may challenge Google's vision "Do not devil". But this is very practical.

7. The importance of Internet.
It's that Internet smashed the concept of geography and time. An Indian restaurant in Mumbai may never think of competition with a Chinese restaurant in Beijing. But at website like or Tripadvisor,com, these two restaurants may compete directly when people search for average rating of restaurant in Beijing and Mumbai. Time. Amazon's Web Archive project stores the home page of many website in past 5 to 10 years. and Internet allows global companies work 24 hours a day with offices at different timezone. Internet allows my current startup hired one Russian and one Argentian developer on my demo version.

8. The value of your startup.
I want to emphasize on this. In the just finished Babson Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum, I had attended a panel about "technology entrepreneurship" where an alumni who is working for Monospace, a mobile based social networking site, siad this "....The most loyal and active users are from low social classes..." This striked me so much at that time and during this convesation with Tarun, I realized fully what does that mean.

For example, "untouchable" in Indian may never have the chance to touch a computer nor Internet either due to the price nor their social classes. But with mobile phone, they may also enjoy the same (mostly) effect as other elite class. "Yeah, I can have a firend in the US! even though I may never be able to afford an international ticket to US". This is an inspiring moment I believe. It will diminish the belief that "yes, I am a lower class people" when the individual can enjoy the same as others.

As a side topic, I believe the "untouchable" social class is just as ridiculous as the once-existed racial discrimination in South Africa. And I believe the popularity of

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