The beauty of North East

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After releasing our travel app for iPhone earlier this year, life had been a bit on the lower side (both, professionally and personally), and the most common remedy in such scenarios is to travel like a nomad for some time. And so I did. Although I had taken a week’s trip down to the East of India earlier in february, this time I had planned for a full 15 days of getaway. The north east of India is so vast and so inaccessible, that 2 weeks are bare minimum for one to do any kind of justice to this lovely corner of India.

Before proceeding any further, here are a few photos to put the beauty of North east in perspective. To be precise, I only covered one particular route from Assam (Tezpur) to Arunachal (Tawang), and then Sikkim (in and around Gangtok) before heading to siliguri and then Kolkata.

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North east states of India are raw, untouched beauty. Part of it is because these states are so poorly connected to the rest of India. The government allocates more than enough money for all the north eastern states, yet the ground reality is the opposite. To put it in perspective – reaching Tawang from Delhi (or for that matter any place except Tezpur) will take you 2 days. Overnight stay at Tezpur is a must, as all the cabs from Tezpur start early (around 6 in the morning) in order to reach Tawang by evening / night. This ofcourse makes sure that “tourists” don’t overcrowd this place.

The other reason is that the locals are sensible and smart. So the cities and villages are well maintained. No wonder you have the cleanest village of asia in the North East only.

There is so much more talk about the north east that my personal blog is probably not the place. I’ll update this post with the links to the entire trip on Banjarey.com for everybody soon. In the meanwhile, I’m more than happy to help out with some local contacts and info if anybody is planning a trip to Arunachal or Sikkim.

Startups : What’s your happiness value ?

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Smiley! (Photo credit: sh├ękum)

During a random “how-to market your mobile app” discussion yesterday, for some time the discussion centered around the value proposition of an app / idea. And what I realized was something very trivial, but which is mostly not understood by a lot of folks or is generally overshadowed by other startup buzzwords.

The only measure of how good or bad (or rather successful or not) your idea is, is based on the amount of happiness it brings to users, and whether users are happy to pay for this happiness.

Simple right ? Not really. Think about it. As a startup, most of the time we are chasing quantifiable goals – number of users, growth rate, funding amount, et all (of course we can eventually quantify happiness also, but that’s not easy to measure). In between all this, we have our value proposition – time value, ease-of-use value, et all. But are these the true values that we need to aim for, or are these just ways to reach our eventual goal of generating happiness ?

A little Hollywood story

A lot has been talked about killing hollywood – how hollywood sucks with their mean attitude. But hollywood was not always like that. There were people (and still are) who built movies for the love of it and with the aim of making people happy. Sure the attraction of big screen meant that everybody was in the rat race to become a celeb, and which eventually led to the wrong people doing wrong things – i.e the idea of “hollywood is evil” came from some of their actions.

Startup ecosystem is a lot like hollywood of the 80s / 90s

Starting up is sexy, and entrepreneurship is a buzzword right now. This often leads to the fact that there are a number of random startups that are born, funded and die in a very short time span. And one of the major factor behind this, is that not a lot of startups think about creating happiness. Of course every startup founder knows Tony Hsieh’s theory of delivering happiness, and Steve Jobs’ mission of creating happiness with beautiful products, but when it comes to our own products / ideas a lot of us entrepreneurs get lost in the overwhelming world of startup buzzwords – “DAU, MAU, traction, growth rate” et all. Of course, measuring growth (in any form) is important to a startup, but getting so stuck up with only grabbing users that one forgets the eventual goal, is akin to committing suicide – too much focus on short-term goals without realizing that you loose track of your eventual goal of creating happiness.

Focussing on creating happiness in 2013

Not just another of the new year’s resolution. Lets focus on delivering happiness to users, and let the numbers work on themselves. Not the strategy that you want to adopt if you want to be the next Instagram, but definitely aligns with the fundamentals of creating sustainable business in the long run.

Challenging the status quo – sports, internet & future

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A friend of mine recently came to visit, and was very curious to understand how ESPN worked. Having worked at ESPN earlier, I was more than happy to tell him all the internal stuff, when suddenly he stopped me in between and bluntly said – “I meant, do you think there is anything interesting to do in sports media..a startups idea..something that nobody is doing and which is definitely required”. Yeah, and I was hoping I’ll get to be the center of attraction for a few minutes.

Anyways, so ofcourse I told him that there are a lot of things that one could do; this is how it all went..

You have to understand that ESPN (on the web) is a content company, not a tech company – which means that you are mostly not going to beat ESPN in terms of the editorial content (at least not till the time you are a bootstrapped startup). The closest you can go is what Bleacher Report did.

But, the way you can disrupt the whole online sports media is by focussing on technology and creating an open atmosphere – that is, focus on scoring technologies, real-time delivery, APIs, developer-focus & transparent pricing policies. In short, focus on building a platform rather than a destination – a platform that opens up the whole slew of sports data and live scoring to everybody. A platform that enables any developer to bring his/her innovative sports idea to life. A platform that indirectly provides end-users with more options to choose from, and new ideas to try out. Make a business by providing an experience, and not by simply holding onto information.

In short, don’t try to be a destination and compete with all the giants directly. Instead, just go around them.

And also understand, that this is something ESPN has already started doing – rolling out their APIs. But, I can only tell you this from my past ESPN experience that you need not worry about competition from anybody. Just build it genuinely as a sports fan, and things will fall in line.

P.S – This thread on HN is a good read to understand why a sports platform will be a good startup idea right now.

Best of luck !

How do you compete with other startups

Everybody knows that if you are a startup, then the way you compete with large businesses is by moving fast. The reasoning behind this is the simple fact that corporate politics and a hierarchal decision-making structure limits the larger businesses from innovating fast. On the other hand, startups are agile, move fast, get things done.

But, the bigger question is – “How do you compete with other startups”. How does a startup which probably has no money in the bank, compete with another startup which has some great names attached to it, and a fair amount of money ? And especially if your business runs around mobile apps (where design & UX is top priority), then how do you (with no money in bank) compete with your competitor which just hired that top guy on Dribble ? Moving fast is not a competitive advantage in this case. So what gives ?

Thoughts..answers..over on to this question at Quora

Linkedin mass messaging is not good

The other day I received a message on linkedin by a co-founder who was looking for feedback about his product. It was not something that I’m very interested in (infrastructure automation), but sticking to the “good karma” theory I replied saying that I would love to, and asked how to proceed further. The person told me that I should just sign-up and I’ll be good to go. That was easy.

But I was thinking that there might be an invite code or something special/personal involved. I thought this was not intended to be a marketing message, rather a genuine & personal feedback request. And I was so wrong ! Going through the first message again, I realized that it was a generic message that I believe the person had sent to everyone in the group (we happened to have a group in common). Now that’s bad. He was probably a hustler, but even then, I believe you need to first find the right people and then genuinely hustle to get their feedback. People actually listen / do, if they know they are not just being randomly spammed; they love it when they realize the sender has done his due homework and has come to you because you are genuinely interested in his area of work. People love being valued for being them, and not as some common junk.

It reminded me of my college days, when I was searching for summer internships at universities outside India. I had created an email template where I would replace the email & name of the concerned professor and send about 200 such emails a day. I did it for about a week – manually sending roughly 200 emails everyday to professors around the world. I would search for universities, search for CS professors there and get their email addresses. It was painful, and as I realized later, pretty stupid as well. Of the total 1400 emails or so that I sent, only 5 were replied to. Out of those 5, 3 professors angrily told me that I was spamming them (since they actually specialized in some other domain, than what I was planning to do |: ), and 2 leads were all that I got out of this campaign. Pretty dismal rate. More than the poor returns, the problem was that I think I ended up damaging my and my Institute’s image. Would a professor see a student from ISM Dhanbad, with a positive intent ? I don’t know – maybe, maybe not. Maybe I’m over analyzing. But there would have been a dent somewhere because of my hustling.

The same happened here. Although I understand the co-founder’s perspective of hacking growth, mass messaging is not the correct way. It’s very explicit, very interfering and really pains. I’m not sure if I have positive or negative emotions for the company / the co-founder now. Of course, if it would have been something of my interest, I would have loved it. And that’s why doing your homework about the concerned person is always so important – be it a VC, an advisor, a mentor or a user.

So please stop the mass messaging. Spend some time finding the right people. Instead of a getting 1 response to your 500 direct messages, you should aim for getting 10 responses from your 10 messages. Saves you time, effort and builds a great image about you & your company.

My Quora feed is really annoying

As much as I love Quora for all the good (new) stuff that I get to learn, I hate my personal feed so much that I don’t really stay on that page longer than 5 seconds. My most immediate reaction as I land on Quora is to hit the Search Box and start typing something / anything. Or maybe, on some day, I bravely scroll down my feed to figure out something interesting amongst all the chaos – which usually lasts for about 5 seconds again, but results in actually closing the browser tab itself this time.

The worst thing about this whole experience is that I’m only following about 40 people, and half of whom actually are not active on Quora. The problem with Quora is that it’s like a fire-hose – I practically have to withstand any activity from people I follow. The current signal-to-noise ratio for me is practically zero, and it probably grows logarithmically only.

Was Quora meant to behave like this ?? Or is it just me who feels this pain ?