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 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 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.

Understanding adoption difficulty

The most difficult challenge for a consumer focused product lies in its adoption. Even on the enterprise side, the biggest challenge post purchase is adoption. But exactly how difficult is it?

An answer is available if one rephrases the question to: how long does it take for a habit to form or in other words complete adoption to happen. A team of psychologists at University College of London have answered the question for simple tasks and it stands at a staggering 66 repetitions. This is an average across several kinds of activities and thus only an indicative number when it comes to a specific activity. Furthermore, its for complete adoption – most of us would settle for partial adoption to a level that repeat usage happens.

The most interesting bit is that we now have a number to look at whenever we look at a product or service that forces a change in the user’s routine. We need to ask ourselves – what should we do that the user would use our product 66 times. Most products and service wouldn’t be able to come up to this benchmark and that explains why products requiring deep changes in habits almost always fail.

Read the paper here or a more layman description here.

Jack Ma of Alibaba on Entrepreneurship

Jack Ma speaks during The Future of the Global...
Image via Wikipedia

Indian internet entrepreneurs usually follow the US market and are usually very well acquainted with the key players. However, Chinese market is seldom followed and rarely understood. Its a pity given that it is the single largest market on Internet. Its also a market where the US majors have failed to make inroads and the indigenous companies dominate. Initially it had to do with language difficulties but now it seems more and more about understanding of the market. I am very interested in the Chinese market for two reasons. First, in terms of stage of evolution and historical background, China has similarities with the Indian market. Thus, there are perhaps lessons one can learn. Second, its a large market and therefore offers opportunities.

One of the greatest successful internet entrepreneurs from China is Jack Ma who founded Alibaba. Alibaba started out as a B2B exchange but today includes online retailer Taobao (190 Million users) and online payment service Alipay (300 million users compared to PayPal’s 223 million accounts) amongst other businesses. In spite of such success, very little is known about Alibaba or Jack Ma outside of China.

Here are some interesting quotes form Jack’s interview by Charlie Rose. I’ve selected the ones which show a marked difference in opinion. Do watch/read the whole interview. Quite instructive for Indian entrepreneurs.

(Our core competence is) culture.  It’s not the technology.  I think technology is a tool.

We believe customer number one, employee number two, shareholder three.

it still takes a long time for China to catch up (with US) — the technology is easy, but to catch up with the culture, the innovation, the system takes some time.

We have a couple of million, you’re a rich guy.  We have 10 to 20 million, it’s a capital.  We have over a hundred million, that’s the social resources.

Its also interesting that he characterizes the China opportunity as new solutions and not as just the sheer size of consumer class. I think the same holds true for the Indian opportunity too. Yet another remarkable aspect is that he wants to use his wealth to create 200 Million more jobs and “create hope”. This is quite different from the stance taken by people such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. Jack says that he can do a better job of it than the Chinese Govt. If an entrepreneur can say that in China, why not India!

What is your name?

I was recently looking at the business cards that I had collected at the recently concluded NASSCOM Product Conclave and I was struck by the utter confusion that is written on many of them. It seems that many haven’t really thought through the reasons for having a card.

To begin with the name itself has problems. First they have a logo – the brand name of the product they have created – with a nice TM next to it. Second they have the company name which is different from the brand name! Now if you’re a startup and are trying to create awareness of your name, why are you confusing people by giving a second name? Think about it, a business card is not a legal document that requires you to have the name of the company on it. The best, of course, is to have the brand and the company name as the same – say Apple. But let’s say that RoC didn’t give you the name you wanted and you like the brand name more. So, why not just promote that one name that you’ve chosen as your brand?

Another related problem is to not have a tagline or description of the product/offering. Fewer people make this mistake than the ones making the dual name one. But this is as serious. A business card is what you leave behind and should have all the information needed to get its holder remember you. If they need to go to your website to remember who you are then you probably lost a large chunk who decide not to. A few lines on the card helps them save the effort and remember you better. These few lines should cover what your product promises to do. That promise is what hooks people and gets them to call you.

Still another one is to not understand the relative importance of the address. Its probably the least important piece of information on the card and yet it occupies most space. Think about it – first, people want to know who you are (Name and designation) and then what you do (Product Name and product’s promise). When they need to get in touch with you, they would either call you (Telphone no or Mobile no) or send you an email. It is very unlikely that they would turn up at your address unannounced. So why is it taking so much space on the card? Its probably a legacy of an earlier time when email and mobiles didn’t exist. In my book, its the least important bit that can go at the back of the card. The email and phone numbers need to be emphasised leaving enough room for you product name and product promise.

While we are on the subject of business cards, here is another thing which is easy to do but I haven’t seen many do. The next time someone says they’ve run out of their cards, ask them for their email IDs and mobile if they put it on their business card. Note it down or enter into your phone right away.

5 mistakes in idea validation

Let’s say you have an idea for a new business that you want to validate. Maybe its well developed to the extent of a prototype. What do you do? A number of things but there are some you shouldn’t do. Here are 5 mistakes that I’ve made or seen others make.

1. Ask an expert: The first mistake that many people make is to ask an expert to save time and effort. Usually the expert gives a general answer because there is little more than he can do. Sometimes the expert points out earlier similar ideas and their outcomes. A slightly better situation is when a senior industry executive has been asked. In the least, the answer is better informed. However none of them are a good outcome. Consider that all of these experts know the world as it is; not what it can be with your idea in operation. Also they may not be intimate with the particular small part that you’re looking at since they are seniors overlooking large areas. A better way is to approach the users directly. It will cost time and effort but will cut out any ambiguities. The users will tell you all that you need to do and in detail. You would certainly uncover many things that you didn’t know or didn’t consider. So cut the switchboard in between and get to the source.

2: Only Listening to users: The second mistake is to only listen to the users. Many times users give misleading answers to look good to the interviewer. Many times they are just unable to express what they need or lack as they have constructed their lives to be satisfactory without it. If there is a focus group, users tend to converge on a few points though separatly they wouldn’t agree on the same points! The way out is to go and observe the users in their natural environment. Allow them to settle in their routine if you’re an intrusion and then only record the observations.

3: Ignoring Price: The third mistake is to not ask about price but only performance. Yes people buy for a the performance/features but at a particular price. Its a very obvious point that many forget. So please ask the users how much would they pay. A related mistake is to ask if they like the product and not ask if they would buy the product. Again makes a big difference.

4. Treating all users as same: The fourth mistake is to treat all users as the same. There are different kinds of users and they have different needs. This means that you need to meet a large number of users to arrive at any meaningful conclusions. In a large data set clusters would emerge that would help you decide which users need your idea more than others. Imagine meeting only a handful of users and not coming across many of this cluster and abandoning the idea. Conversely imagine not meeting the needs of this user set well enough.

5: Treating all parts as equally valuable: The fifth mistake is to consider all parts of the idea as equally valuable. This is seldom the case. Sometimes there are parts that the user is indifferent about as long as the core part is delivered. Now if you knew that then you may not waste time and effort on those aspects. So do ask the users what you can cut out and they would still buy.

These are the 5 mistakes on top of my mind. They apply differently in different businesses, teams, idea stage etc. Consider that when using these in your context. Also there are many more so please do share them here.