What makes startups work, or not work, in India? 5 founders share their secrets (highlights)

Lexity Labs started in Bangalore mid-2011, and we’ve been growing leaps and bounds since. It’s a core technology center for us – no outsourcing balderdash here – and we recruit top researchers and technologist from all over India.

To coincide with my visit to this office, Lexity organized two talks on entrepreneurship, in Delhi and Bangalore. The startup ecosystem in India is really taking off, and we are doing our part in helping it grow!

@ IIT Delhi – Rajul and Amit on Startups across the time/space continuum

Rajul Garg and I were roommates at IIT Delhi, and took different routes in our entrepreneurial journey. He’s now with Sunstone Business School, having started what’s now GlobalLogic right after school, in India; while I completed a masters program, and worked at a few different companies, before starting Lexity in the US.

We had a healthy audience, and covered a lot of topics. A few tidbits:

  • We discussed how there was a lot of investor interest in ecommerce startups in India last year, but there’s been more scrutiny of these businesses in the recent months.
  • What’s ‘hot’ in the startup zeitgeist really depends on, unfortunately, what the current hype cycle is. When outsourcing companies were growing leaps and bounds, a lot of startups popped up in that space. These days, the same story is being repeated in eCommerce.
  • Pivots are natural, and sometimes dramatic – one of Rajul’s companies went from a product company to a services company, while the other started as a services operation, and ended up building a product.
  • Mobile startups in India face the prospect of working with telco operators, know to be tough negotiators. You can control your destiny better with an app-oriented mobile startup, but distribution is still a tough problem.
  • Starting a company right out of school has the big advantage of a low burn rate – you can sustain yourself for much longer as you figure things out. Once you have a family, this becomes much harder to do (but not impossible).
  • Traditionally, India businesses have been averse to paying much for B2B products. As a result, B2B enterprise companies haven’t really taken off in India

@ Claytopia, Bangalore – Amiya, Anshuman and Amit on Building Startups

Founders of 3 hot startups – Zipdial (Amiya Pathak), MyGola (Anshuman Bapna) and Lexity (Amit) came together to chat in an intimate setting about what it really takes to do a startup, especially in India.

We had a very lively discussion with the audience – here are a few highlights.

  • When starting out, err on the side of sharing more, rather than less. Talking to people helps make ideas stronger, as each successive critique forces you to refine the idea further and solidify the pitch, feature, or product.
  • Valley-returned founders definitely miss the sense of urgency and excitement of Silicon Valley – simple things like overhearing other founders on Caltrain discussing their progress, and getting motivated by it.
  • Indian ‘jugaad’ is the name of the game – when faced with constant power cuts, MyGola packed up their bags and went to work out of Sri Lanka for a few weeks. Now, it’s an annual tradition!
  • All the founders acknowledged, to some surprise, that they always have a Plan B/Plan C tucked away in their back pockets. While you might be unflinchingly focussed on executing on Plan A, it’s also your responsibility to know what the various strategic options are, and keep them warm.
  • It’s natural, expected, and kinda important to take your time finding the right co-founders. You’re looking for someone with complementary skills, and make sure to ‘date’ for a reasonable period of time before committing.
  • Food – it’s important! Breaking bread together brings teams closer, and has all sorts of positive side-effects.
  • Startups often misdirect casual observers about what their most profitable products are, or downplay features that caused them to take off. In fact, often, the first products or features totally bomb.
  • Successful entrepreneurs in India don’t habitually share their stories, and every wave of startups has to learn from the same mistakes again and again. We agreed that talks like these are invaluable in spreading the knowledge and helping budding startups.

We really enjoyed sharing our experiences with entrepreneurs and students of the startup ecosystem. Stay tuned for more such talks in the future!

Amit – @akumar

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The ‘Coffee Break’ design philosophy: UI for Small Businesses

At Lexity, we’ve spent years talking with small businesses, understanding how they run their businesses. These lessons have been valuable to us in building our Advertising on Autopilot solution, and are instructive for all startups building tools and services for this market. In this occasional blog series, I’ll talk about a few of these lessons.

TL;DR: SMB products should be built such that your users can interact with it on their mobile devices, in 15-minute chunks of time.

The Time Fragmentation Problem

Inbox Overload a problem for ya? Try being in a small businessperson’s shoes for a day.

SMB managers are typically slammed with a hundred things vying for their attention. Most of these, unfortunately, are time-critical; so tackling them one at a time isn’t an option. Managers spend all day working on many things in parallel. With multitasking a given, most tasks get less than 15 minutes of their attention at a time – if they’re lucky!

This means any product built for SMBs needs to account for this time fragmentation problem.

No more than a Coffee Break

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Designing for varying attention spans (lessons from the Lexity launch)

When we relaunched Lexity recently, we got tremendous kudos for the new site design. ‘Sexy’, we heard. ‘Beautiful’ was a common refrain. ‘Effective’ too!

Well, we’re definitely very happy with the feedback so far – and I wanted to talk a bit about the thinking behind the rework.

When I first started fundraising for Lexity, I got sage advice to write the elevator pitch out in three different lengths –

  • 3 words (or 1 line) – for a quick soundbite
  • 1 paragraph – for a quick introduction at an event/party
  • 3 paragraphs – to use in an email introduction
This turns out to be excellent advice for more than just fundraising. Attention spans vary from person-to-person, even from time-to-time for the same person, so it’s always a good idea to thoughtfully design the delivery of your message, to suit your audience and their attention spans.

Applications to site design 

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Part 2: So you want to work for a Startup? (Questions to Ask)

In my last post (So You Want to Work for a Startup! (Questions to ask)), I talked about a few early startup milestones that you, a prospective employee at a startup, should know about. I covered the following milestones:

  1. Corporate vision defined
  2. Initial product focus defined
  3. Potential customers interviewed
  4. First prototype built
  5. Feedback from prototype incorporated

In this post, I’ll talk about the next few milestones any startup should be meeting, and, as a prospective employer, should be able to answer questions about. As before, I focus on a certain category of SaaS businesses, but the general principles apply broadly.

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Startups are not a career.

Chris Dixon claims in a tweet: "influx of new entrepreneurs: startups are a career, not a one off. plan to stick around when startups aren't cool again and you'll do well."

While I'm sure he means well, I reject his fundamental hypothesis. Startups are not a career. In fact, startups are merely a way to prove hypotheses. Even the so-called 'startup types' or 'serial entrepreneurs' are known not for the many startups in their careers, but for the companies that are no longer startups – that graduated to becoming 'real companies'.

In other words, the entrepreneurs I respect are Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, David Filo and Sergey Brin – not the ones that have resumes that read – "Founded 5+ companies with 2+ exits in 2 years"

What about you?

Post on Quora

So you want to work for a startup

Vurve Team(Originally posted on the True Ventures Blog)

So you want to work for a startup. You like the pitch, the founders seem cool – but is the startup going anywhere? What should you find out before jumping in?

Recently, when trying to convince a certain Mr G to join Vurve, I spent a lot of time explaining what milestones we had hit so far but, more importantly, explaining why these were important in the first place. I thought this knowledge would be useful to share with others looking to work for a startup!

Note that these milestones apply to most SaaS startups, but the principles apply broadly and incorporate current thinking on agile development, lean startups, etc. Also, this list is meant for employees, not founders, and, if you are looking to join one, remember that what follows is an example, not a prescription.

Now on to specifics. Try to find about your startup’s progress across a few different tracks:
Product+Customer Track – building a product that customers like and are willing to pay for
Hiring Track – building a kick-ass team
Advisors & Investors Track – getting those who can guide you with advice and money on board
Partnerships Track – finding design and distribution partnerships
Operational Track – setting up a corporate entity, lawyers, accountants, benefits, etc

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