Cleaning Up The House : Part I

The last one was here.

Basically, all the drafts I let ferment for so long that either I have forgotten what triggered them, what I wanted to write, or those which I haven’t been able to give enough thought to. One solution could be to delete them – but then there are some which I believe at least deserve the light of the day. In 4 parts by category.

A: Business/Entreprenuership

Free for all, or invite only?No Pass, No Entry

This thought came up a long time ago – At the first MoMo Delhi meet (August ’06), I had heard a talk from the founders of (now almost defunct) At the time, it seemed like a company poised for success. The only social network that existed was Orkut, this one had a team of two Stanford graduates spearheading the initiative, and promised some cool innovative features.

Another thing which made it cool and exclusive was that at the time it was ‘invite only’. So the question which I was asking myself was – What makes more sense – a free for all, or invite only? Facebook built a quality user base and a brand by being invite only. But are you in turn slowing down growth? Or should one start with invite only and then open it up later (a la Facebook again). How does the domain you are in (social networking/e-commerce) affect this choice. I guess for me, the jury is still out on that one.

Point of Reference

Wrote this post around the time the start-up Slideshare had launched. There definition of slideshare was “Slideshare is the YouTube of Powerpoint”. Evidently, this one line got Slideshare on Techcrunch – and it first horde of users. The takeaway is that it’s extremely important to have a ‘point of reference’ when you are explaining you hot new product/service/start-up to someone who doesn’t know about it.

I think we entrepreneurs often overlook this, only to realise how important this is later. Perhaps it’s because all potential investors talk up a blue haze about differentiation. Or perhaps you get caught up with your own jargon. Or perhaps you are too bullish on making it sound like something completely enw and revolutionary. Remember – everyone you meet has an attention span which last the length of an elevator pitch. I still haven’t perfected the layman’s definition for my company.

Raising the bar
This probably relates to something I read in the Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki. He says

“Shoot for doing things at least ten times better than the status quo. When Jeff Bezos started Amazon. com, he didn’t build a bookstore with a paltry 25,000 more titles than the 250,000-title brick-and-mortar bookstores. They launched with 3000,000 titles in an online bookstore”.

The question is when you are creating something new, do you try and make a quantum difference or an incremental difference over existing solutions? How do you raise the bar?

One company which really works on this philosophy is Apple. The iPods and iPhone are landmark devices – innovative and pathbreaking – and they are built from the ground up with that philosophy. In most cases otherwise, it’s a mix and match of features – look at mobiles for example – put together a camera/mp3 player/3g/insert-your-feature-of-the-week-here and bingo! you have a new model. 

Another hard nut to crack – especially when you are out of ideas on how you can make the leap. Or when your quantum leap ends with a massive crash. Jury’s out on this one too.

The Entreprenurial Spirit
This draft caught me in a pretty intense mood – I have written it in angry half sentences – trying hard to get it out of my brain [Sample this: Opportunity cost is such a shit concept – which no one quite understands but everyone believes makes some sense. Fucking balls to opportunity cost]. I was writing this after having made up my mind about accepting an investment – but then getting dissuaded by my brother with the logic that I should hang on as the valuation would increase. [It’s a different story that we did not eventually take that investment – but for altogether different reasons.]

This is basically a rant against the cold (but often convincing) logic of numbers and objective thinking which becomes even more potent when laced with terms like ‘opportunity cost’, ‘cost-benefit analysis’.

My brother and one of my very close friends (both finance guys) have often evaluated my choices with the following.

a) Have you looked at what is the opportunity cost of leaving your job and doing this start-up? [Also, since I am an IITian my opportunity cost is apparently higher.]

b) If you had been working for 3 years what kind of package do you think you would’ve been getting?

My issue with this line of thinking is that if you think like that you will never be able to take the plunge and start something.

Say I was travelling the world for an year (isn’t that something you would want to do?) – would you still do a cost-benefit analysis see what was the opportunity cost of doing it? I think it’s a thinking with your heart versus thinking with your brain question – but perhaps I sooner or later they have to work as a team.

I even had come with a cool quote: “Doesn’t living every moment count more than living every moment counting? ”

Can you scale up?

A mini post. I remember I had attended a talk by Sanjeev Bikhchandani (you must read his interviews. Most successful people talk for effect, this man is grounded in reality) – and one of the things which he talked about was scaling up. His perspective was in terms of people – when you scale up – the people you have been working with – sometimes even the ones you started with – are unable to take that leap. So you really have to make some hard decisions at that point in time.

I was reminded of this issue – from a resources perspective – after the more mundane event of dealing with ICICI Bank’s terrible terrible customer support. And perhaps that’s why the small guy will always have a shot at being better than the bigwigs, because the latter haven’t scaled up well. Scaling up is a fascinating topic – and I will give this some more thought and perhaps write a full post on this one sometime.

User Behaviour

This one must be a full fledged field of study. Users can be very unpredicatable and quirky – and as online retailers – there is no alternative but to deal with it. This draft just had a thought parked – “What can you do about people who don’t like your product but don’t complain, yet secretly vow never to use that service again?”

Reliance the Behemoth

Reliance, the behemoth that it is, has deep pockets and thus a very big time horizon within which they can plan for break-even. How does that affect the start-up ecosystem – in domains like web, which have been, at least in the west, playgrounds for entreprenuers and upstarts, rather than for big corporations.

Social Networks: Do they breed on voyeurism?

Exactly what the title says. Again an afterthought from the the Yaari presentation I mentioned earlier – one of the founders explicity mentioned this as a social network feature. The thought was – how much contribution does enabling voyeurism has towards the success of a network.The open state of Orkut where anyone could see anyone’s profile, scraps and photos. Or the more controlled voyeurism in Facebook’s news feed.


Phew! that was a lot. And as the dwindling paragraph sizes suggest that I should hold off the rest for later.


2 thoughts on “Cleaning Up The House : Part I

  1. Swati says:

    Loved the quote : “Doesn’t living every moment count more than living every moment counting? ”
    It makes so much sense :)

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