Announcing a blog series – GTM for startups

I spoke yesterday at Startup Saturday Pune on Go to market (GTM) for Hitech products. Sandeep and Vishwa are two fantastic people who run this forum. Sandeep is a passionate and articulate entrepreneur who runs Acton Biotech while Vishwa is the quiet and meticulous entrepreneur who runs eventNu.com. Both of them keep coming up with ideas that I find exciting. This time, they started off several weeks ahead of the event by creating a question bank on an email thread and then on eventnu.com. Thus, all the speakers knew exactly what was needed from us and we came prepared. In the end, Vishwa did a rapidfire section where he asked some of the questions that we had not covered. Thus, it was a session where specific problems were addressed. However, given the format and time constraint, I think we didn’t cover as much ground as we could have.

In the blog posts to follow, I’ll attempt to answer some of the questions from the question bank. The idea is to expand on what I said at the event and also to reach a larger audience. I’ll post these to the Headstart Blog as well and will also invite other folks to answer these questions. The questions I’m looking to answer in the next few posts are:

  1. I am a technical person and CTO of my startup. I have no experience in sales and marketing. Where should I begin from ?
  2. How do I get contacts for selling software? I know that in the beginning, I have to go and sell my product, but how do I get contacts? Cold calls?
  3. When shall I decide to go for PR? How much spend is optimal on PR?
  4. My services are not very differentiated (I am typical web services company). How do I get mindshare from my potential customers?
  5. I am a six (twelve?) month old startup and I have been doing mostly been doing things pro bono for large companies/clients. How do I ask them to write a cheque?
  6. Building a client list through personal contacts / references is fine. But this is not a scalable model. This would require your personal expertise all the time. How do you build a sales team then?
  7. Sales Tactics
  • How do you get past the receptionist / gatekeeper?
  • How do you find out who is the decision maker in the target company?
  • You found a contact and wrote a mail to the individual. He/she does not respond back. What do you do?
  • You give them a call. They respond by saying that they are busy this week. Please call after a week/month. What do you do in this case?

Look forward to comments, views and more questions.

Review: Dare to Run

Dare to RunDare to Run by Amit Sheth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love books which share the author’s experiences authentically. Dare to run is a compilation of essays that Amit wrote in his journey from a novice runner who couldn’t run beyond a few meters to an ultramarathoner who finished the 89KM long Comrades that happens over a hilly terrain.

As a runner, I could identify with and feel strongly about several episodes. The self doubt that comes up in the first few days of running; the pain and shame of not finishing, the joy of crossing the finish line – Amit describes them all so well. The bit about crossing the Comarades 2010 finish line with the Indian flag was particularly moving and brought tears to my eyes.

Amit also shares his thoughts that came to him as he ran his long runs and races. It essentially underlines that running a marathon is a personal journey and struggle. Amit’s philosophical musings are his personal ways of looking at the struggle and he shares very generously. Amit also talks about how long distance running changes one’s life – social life changes, food habits change, priorities change. This again is true for many runners and this is the first time I’ve seen a runner’s account of this aspect.

Somehow, some of the parts do not gel into the book. For example there is more description of Dublin rather than the Dublin marathon. It stands out as there is hardly any link between the run and description of the place. The same disconnect is not felt for the essay on Florence marathon because the description of David etc gels in with the run and becomes a Runner’s experience which is what I expect from a book with a title like “Dare to run”. For the other bits, I’d turn elsewhere. For this reason, I’d give only 4 stars and not 5.

Overall: Good read for long distance runners anywhere and particularly in India. I also think that its an important book. As marathons in particular and sports in general bring in more participation in India, there is acute need for personal stories like these which inspire us. I hope that the recent commonwealth games winners also publish their stories.

Review: Keep off the Grass

Keep off the GrassKeep off the Grass by Karan Bajaj

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book. Its quite well written. A line about books, from the book itself, describes the content the best – “someone, somewhere thinks exactly like you – and articulates it better”. In terms of style, the prose flows well and easy to read. I think Karan has done a great job in his first book.

I loved the book also because Karan has based several of the characters in the book on the real people who were our classmates at IIM B. In fact, the name of one of them is not even disguised! Also some of the incidents are borrowed from actual history as well. I smiled to myself many times just because I could remember or imagine the actual people saying stuff that they say in the book.

On the whole, it was a personal trip for me. So, I’m not sure that someone else would have the same experience as I did and would probably rate the book a tad lower.

Wholeheartedly recommended to all PGP 2002 folks – particularly those who were in section B. Well worth a read to others as well.

Guy Kawasaki’s new Book: Enchantment

Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and ActionsEnchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions by Guy Kawasaki

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Full Disclosure: Guy sent me a free review copy but I would still say the same things even if I had paid for it. I did feel obligated to read the book and write a review before the book hits the stores. I’m glad that I pushed it up on my reading list.

In short, its great book and everyone who deals with people in one way or the other should read it. Which, I guess, means pretty much everyone. Guy has put together advice taken from several great sources: books, blogs, people he knows and his personal experience and put it together in a very accessible way. Just the sheer wealth of insights/advice collated together makes this book worthwhile. Furthermore, Guy has put it together in the usual Guy Kawasaki way: conversational and bullet pointed. Thus, it makes for easy reading. I also noticed that the Contents page is presented as a checklist which incidentally is one technique that Guy advocates in the book.

The strong point of the book is its weak point too. The advice sounds quite simple and easy to use. On the positive side, its easy to start using it the next day. On the negative side, if one falters, there isn’t much to incorporate the feedback as the matter is condensed into crispy bullets. For deeper understanding and better chances of success, one is better off reading the books and other sources that Guy refers to. I think Guy does realise that and he has done his job through extensive attribution and Bibliography. The rest is up to the reader.

There are parts where the research looks thin. For example, I don’t know in which Indian language Tata means Grandfather and I’ve traveled/lived fairly all over the country. It just makes one a bit more skeptical of other parts of the book. But given that Guy’s been here only twice, I’m inclined to overlook it.

Overall: Great compendium of great advice. Well put together. Saves a lot of effort in reading a lot more material written in a far more tedious way. Don’t stop at this book though and get into the books that Guy refers to.

Lessons from Honda’s recall

Honda recalled its Ciy sedans in India last week. From all I could make out, hardly any City owners had felt any problems. In fact, the first thing that Honda’s actions did was to make people aware of a problem that they were oblivious of. And all this at a significant cost to Honda.

Let us for a moment try to step into the shoes of the person who made the decision. On one hand is a defect that could probably lead to issues for some of the customers and on the other hand is a sure cost across the entire customer base. On one side is is the customer and on the other is the shareholder. One option is to do nothing for now and to prepare for a situation where the probable problem does become real. Do a recall at that time and be ready with a media offensive to contain any possible PR fallout. Thus the choice is postponed and exercised only if there is a problem. The other option is to do the recall right away and bear the enormous cost. Also minimise the PR battle. In any cash flow based analysis that B-Schools teach, option 1 is likely to win out. Yet option 2 was chosen. Why?

The difference lies in ordering of priorities. B-school education is full of tools appropriate for optimisation of profits which is what shareholders want. This is is usually right for most situations that MBA grads encounter – large running business. Most choices are for shareholder. But any person who has started any business knows well – optimisation for the customer comes first. If there is no customer, there is no business. A B-school education usually assumes that optimisation is already achieved for the customer and the task at hand is to optimise for the shareholder.  In the Honda situation, this assumption doesn’t hold true. Hence, there really is only option 2.

I think that truly stellar companies and leaders never forget that customer comes first and this is what distinguishes them from the good ones. Honda has demonstrated that it still stands committed to the customers. Kudos Honda!