Saturday, November 26, 2011

comparing startup culture...

Startups: Silicon Valley Vs. The Emerging World (source:

Editor’s Note: Omar Koudsi is a co-founder and CEO of Amman, Jordan-based Jeeran, the largest review site in the Middle East and North Africa. You can follow him on twitter here @omarfk
On my way to attending an Endeavor Summit this summer, I had the following conversation with a customs officer upon arriving in the U.S.:
Immigration officer: What do you do for a living?
Me: I work at a startup, and I’m here to meet people from my industry.
Immigration officer: Ok. How long have you been at your current job?
Me: We started around five years ago.
Immigration officer: Five years! And you still call yourself a startup?!
This interaction has stayed with me because it seems to me to be a great example of the discrepancy between the reality distortion field that is Silicon Valley — and the reality almost everywhere else. Even the immigration officer at the San Francisco airport was of the opinion that five years is too long for a company to consider itself startup.
Being from Jordan and having visited Silicon Valley on a number of occasions, this visit (along with others) continue to show how the realities of the Valley stand in stark contrast with what an emerging world founder, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, face to start and scale a Web business.
I believe the lack of a well-developed ecosystem (funding, mentoring, risk culture, lawyers, human resources) puts the burden tenfold on the entrepreneur in the emerging world. In many cases, foreign entrepreneurs have to do ten times the lifting of an American startup — for a much longer period of time to boot — in order to succeed.
My company (Jeeran) was lucky to find a VC firm called IV Holdings that had emerged in 2006 — way before entrepreneurship became cool in our part of the world — and it changed everything. Of course, it still took us a whole year to close our first round of funding, and really, throughout that period, there wasn’t any negotiation of terms — it was all just pushing papers.
In the Middle East, few had done this kind of transaction before; we (founders, VC partners, lawyers, gov. departments) were all flying by the seats of our pants, figuring things out as they happened. Not to mention, before we were able to find a VC firm and secure our first round of funding, we had worked full-time on Jeeran for a full three years, bootstrapping, relying on what revenue we created, and additional generosity from our mom/brother/cousin investors. This is true for the majority of startups in the region.
But, back to my trip to Silicon Valley: I attended a workshop at Stanford University given by a well-known human resources expert on the best ways for startups to find top tier talent. One of the tips he gave us was to interview at least 10 people for each position before choosing the right candidate — to take your time and be selective.
I found it humorous, since we barely find a handful of people with enough expertise to make a difference, let alone 10 people lined for the database, UX, and product management jobs we (and so many others) are hiring for. Founders in the emerging world are mostly occupied with building-up talent as it comes along in bits and pieces, not recruiting it.
Like most startups, we wanted our team to feel ownership over what we were building, so we sought to create a stock option pool. We worked with the top lawyers in the region and it took us around eight months to have it ready. In the valley, I got the feedback that such paper work (term sheets, share holder agreements, etc) are template-based and get pushed along by administrative assistants.
Some of this much-sought-after legal framework is so popular they get published on Techcrunch! Of course, I forwarded this link to our legal counsel who found it quite useful.
I found it comforting that many founders in Europe and even the East Coast complain about many of the same issues: Lack of venture funding, lack of talent, and an ecosystem that penalizes risk takers. Of course, this situation has much improved for them and for us, but it made me feel less lonely when I hear tales of East Coast founders trying to convince Wall Street talent to join a startup. We still lack that kind of talent pool (thankfully I guess, right?) to recruit from, but clearly the cultural challenge of jumping ship to a startup is shared.
My team and I will continue to make pilgrimage to the valley and soak in experiences. We will happily put up with the mocking of how long it takes startups to shift to second gear for us to learn as much as we can.
However, here is an invite for the Valley to go out and see how the startups of the world are solving problems in ecosystems void of the many resources taken for granted by the Y Combinator-accelerated generation.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Lost Winter in Mumbai

It’s almost mid-November and longings and anxiety for winter are hitting my nerves. Of course who doesn’t want to welcome cold with closed arms!

But for various reasons Mumbai is still as hot as possible. My list of culprits include global warming, population on planet earth (blame on the 1 minus seven billion - others), geography design which marks Mumbai not very far from the Tropic of Cancer. Anyways in my endeavor to not take things on face value and put a good fight, this time around I have decided to fight for my right to experience the cool weather. And therefore was on lookout for some innovative ways to keep my house cool. Below is a list of few unique methods, which I came across while researching on Google. I hope to benefit my FB friends and public in general from these.

1) Put a vessel filled with water under the curtains, such that the curtain cloth is in constant touch with the water. The lesser the density of fabric, the more will be the fluid flow. You can infact do experiments on various fabrics and then recall memories of engineering labs.

2) Keep a bowl of ice cubes under the ceiling fan. This will ensure that the circulated air gets cooled off and in-turn cools your home.

3) Don’t eat large quantities in one sitting. Eating more will lead to rise in body temperature, which is required to burn the food intake.

4) Before sleeping at night, slip one or two ice cubes between bed sheets. This will take away the discomfort completely.

5) Smart planning. Instead of work from home, go to office; go for shopping, watch the latest Bollywood 3D movie, go to galleries – during the hottest time of the day.

And don’t forget to tell me which method worked the best for you, along with my fees in lieu of this advice. After all I have to foot my air conditioner bill.

Bend in the Back - dimal performance of PFC stock

The Power Finance Corporation, also termed as the 'financial backbone of the Indian Power Sector' has come up with a weak Q2 performance for FY12. Net Profit is down by about 40%, from Rs. 41933.70 lacs for the quarter ending on 30-SEP-2011, as against Rs. 70083.74 lacs for the same quarter ending in last year.

The company has reported that this sudden drop is on account of forex losses, given the company did not have enough time to take action with a rapidly sliding rupee. While the same can be a one-off incident, reduction in share price has to be seen more closely. The second quarter results of most of the power sector scrips are not heartening. To top-up the gloom are the constant feed of news on mounting losses of the State Distribution Utilities. In such a scenario it is evident that if the State Discoms are not able to turn the coluor of their balance sheet, the whole sector and participant companies could go for a toss.

We need some quick fix solutions to the financial problems of the state companies.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Mumbai Metro One - Patronage questionable

Even before the start of the prestigous new infrastructure facility in the Mumbai suburban area - the Mumbai Metro One Project (Link 1 from Versova to Ghatkopar) - it seems the forecasted ridership/ patronage is under question.

This is because of the MMRDA's last minute planning with the Traffic Department over the issues of traffic jams on the Andheri Kurla Raod - which is expected once the metro is up and running. The Traffic Department has long tried to pull attention to the fact, that given the spacing of stations on the metro line (every 1 km) and naroow stretch of roads, it is expected that commuter traffic plying into and out of the metro will cause a huge traffic problem on the main road as well as artillery roads. Imagine a huge rush of autorickshaws which will line up in all directions from these metro stations. 

MMRDA's solution to this problem is to keep some sort of a control over the autorickshaws and to make them end/ start off from artillery roads, instead of from the Andheri Kurla road. While this may solve the traffic problem, the thing to be noted here is that the same then would not be comfortable to commuters. Say for example, if I have to travel from Powai to Andheri, I will have to go over the artillery road of Andheri Saki Vihar to reach the Saki Naka station of metro. This 3 km journey itself will take me a hell lot of time, given the rush of traffic on the artillery road. Instead of that a direct autorickshaw/ bus from Powai to Andheri via SEEPZ makes a lot more sense - both in terms of money as well as time.

To my knowledge the best utility of the metro is to those people who need to travel farther from Andheri (on the western line) and Ghatkopar (on the central line) via the Suburban Railways (i.e. Mumbai Locals).

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Guide to Management PhD Applications

Wondering where to find information about the 'why' and 'how' of Management PhD admissions? Pl see the shared pdf - authored by Abhishek Nagaraj (Doctoral student at MIT), for an exhaustive guide on basics, do's and dont's of PhD applications, along with an insight on careers in academia.

Happy reading!
A Guide to Business PhD Applications

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Mass Market Hypocrisy & Economics

Case 1: Many people admire PG Woodhouse; if I fail to like his novels – there is something wrong in my understanding. Therefore, to hell with my likes, when in public, I am going to say that PG is my favorite author.

Case 2: I remember my father’s yearly bank audit closure parties, where we children were forced to watch some vintage cricket world cup series – how long and boring those were. IPL 20-20 is so much fun!

I am sure thoughts like these have cross many of us. Even if they haven’t, would appreciate if you read through my thoughts on the subject. Essentially the point I am trying to make is that a) one should respect every other individual’s choice and b) change is good and should be welcome. So what if some of us think that Chetan Bhagat’s writing is trash – there are a million fans who adore him. And these million people have a right of freedom to like/ dislike an author, just as we have. So what if my dad feels that cricket is no longer what it used to be – there is a new generation who just do not have time to watch a one-day match and is happy with the new format.

I agree that reaching to masses or ‘democratization’ reduces value – but that is true for anything. A mass product will never command premium. But the truth is that it is neither meant to and nor is it positioned in that way. This is simple economics. I am sure we experience this in our business; there are always some clients who will just not look beyond a Mckinsey or a BCG and then there are some who give others a try! Do I hear someone saying “…expert advice/ assistance has become much more affordable with many consulting firms around, however the true value of what is served to the client has reduced”