Friday, May 22, 2015

#Startup Say No to a Customer Proudly

This is the story of yore. There are times when you hit a low while starting up or even in a mid-growth crisis - those days you would want to delete from your calendar.  Sometimes, your calendar looks like a blackhole - depressing.  
One of those days, I had asked a prospect to pay an advance - I normally take advance for work, but this was a crisis that I was bent on avoiding.  The compensation was to be against a new project, and he was all fine.  It was an honorable deal, and the customer seemed to understand. 
It cuts both ways - Customers have to be sensitive to startups' payouts
The following day and the next, the payment never came.  The prospect did not pick the call or return my messages - those were days of my crisis - as that was only way out I could think of to crossing the bridge without borrowing.  My anxiety grew and I tried reach him, I would admit, rather a little nervously. 
The customer finally responded after two days - by the time, I had found my way out somehow;  he said I was chasing unnecessarily and he had been 'busy', and I was overreacting.  I told him that my crisis had blown up, and I had been smithereens; and I sought help, and not alms.  The last thing I wanted was to be judged - as the advance was requested to help me blow over a crisis.  The customer said lets do business.  I refused.  
I wrote an email regretting the inability to proceed, and withdrawing the request for advance.  After all, my terms of the deal was a help at the time I needed.  And for me, this was a failure of commitment - and I said 'no' to the customer proudly. Somehow the cloud passed on.
Has your customer breached a commitment?  How have you handled it?  Would be interesting to know. 
- Ashok Subramanian
(C) Cherunathury Tech  Ventures 2015

Friday, May 1, 2015

#Startup : #Founder is the first #employee

Today is labour day in India.   Hence topic of choice was rather easy.  After flipkart's success, the entire country has seen proliferation of startups.  Each city has a startup group, and both the winners and the wannabes participate with enthusiasm.  The startup club talk about few things - 'funding, co-founding'.  A key factor that is often less highlighted, but is the fundamental building block is the fact that the founder is the first employee of a startup. Now that is an obvious matter.
If you dwell deep, you will find there are four types of scenario that determines the role of the 'first employee'. It is based on what is in the pocket and what the hands can do.
a) You have the money, and you don't have the skill:  Having money gives one the power to hire skills.  However, the vision of the company or the product has to turn into making ( delivering) and selling of the product or the service.  Outsourcing is an option. 
Whether it is skills or enterprise or money,
 the role of a founder is that of a first employee
The key here is that if you have money and you are putting money into another's skill, it is either hiring or investing.  Take your pick. However, here also, an first hand understanding comes through apprenticeship - working with the person who has skill, unless you are that 'hands off investor'. Or try selling that product.  If you feel that either the product does not come as a good 'make' or you cannot sell it, then that should set you thinking. 
b) You have the money, and you have the skill:  If both money and skill are there, why do you even need to hire.  You are the royal here.  But a key skill to make both work could be missing - sales or finance for example.   The human limitation in terms of energy and time may kick in.  So choosing your core role and bringing a skill might be a good idea.  
c) You don't have the money, but you have the skill:If you don't have the money, but you have the skill - the first thing is to make an estimate of how much money and when all do you need.  Find a co-founder or a funding source for your work.  That money should be used for not making the product, but for other purposes, as your own hands, feet and brain can do the work, as you have the skill.   
d) You don't have both money and skill - This is the trickiest situation to be in.  You can't afford to hire,  because you don't have money. At the same time, you don't have the skills.  Then why are you in that business? Either you are in the wrong business, or you have extra-ordinary enterprise.  Well, enterprise itself is a skill.  But not knowing the ABC's of your business is detrimental.  
Here, you need to choose either skill or money first.  Ok, here is the brilliant idea. Get somebody who has either one of them, and then you become the enterprising guy.  Enterprise can get both, and that is where the smarter ones have started from.  
Another key point is - there is more to a business than skill, money and enterprise. Companies are called 'organizations' for a specific purpose. Being organized, means clear definition of roles and responsibilities. It is called division of labor. Being organized brings focus in each of the function area.  When a team of founders get together, they take the roles based on each functional area.  They inevitably become the 'first employees' of the startup.   
-Ashok Subramanian
(C) Cherunathury Tech Ventures 2015