Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Completing the game!

Over last 7 months, I was struggling. Struggling to keep up my word on revenue target, to somehow make my business work and to continue moving on this path to be a Billionaire before 35.

But, I have failed in making it work.

I know 'I' didn't fail. As long as I have all your love, I can never ever fail. But, the idea failed. Whatever I was trying hasn't worked and my several attempts at salvaging it hasn't worked either. I spent 15 months in making repeated effort to make things work that weren't going to happen anyway. And each one of that attempts failed too!

It wasn't without reasons. I was headstrong to begin my innings as an entrepreneur paying no heed to my well-wishers who always maintained it wasn't sound enough idea. I started without regard to them or my own skills, network and market conditions.

I wasn't even equipped to do this well enough, leave along knowing what it takes to be a Billionaire. I hardly know what it takes to be a Millionaire, a billion is still a thousand times away!

I'm wiser now. I know it takes a lot of more preparation to be a Billionaire. You may be able to climb the ladder quickly, but you got to deserve the next steps before moving on to it. Your speed is dependent heavily on a lot of factors, including, among other things, the robustness of your engine. I also know now what you learn at each step of this ladder is much more important than what you earn.

So, what's next is rebuilding. A new start. I will keep you posted on what it looks like.

Sometimes in life you tie yourself down by your own goals and ambitions. Slowly, you forget it was your own game. Now when you get out of it, it feels like a whole new world is ahead of you. At this point of time, I feel free. I know I have a choice. And I know I want to fly again!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Immense Challenge or Immense Opportunity?

It's been more than six months since I am in the business of Technology Commercialization (and broadly, in Innovation Management). I have now spoken to a lot of people in the know. What comes out clearly is that though there is an immense opportunity to create value out of bridging the invention-to-market gap, yet, the market needs a lot of 'development' effort.

That effectively means is that the 'market' is not ready to accept our offerings. Every target customer (Institutions or Individuals in India who own IP/Technology, willing to take it to market) we have met has commercialization on the agenda, but it is not high enough for her to allocate a budget or engage with external parties in the know.

It certainly does not help that we are a very young organization, we don't have any major success story yet and that I don't have many grey hair. Although there is steady revenue, but we are more like scraping the the bottom than having the cream. Customers in our pipeline are painstakingly involved in filing too many patents without any thought of their value, have little clarity in what they want and are very slow to respond.

I realize that this is a typical product startup problem: the market does not exist and has to be either created or the business model should modify itself to suit the needs of the current market. Given that we were not born with the immense resource-base of a MNC needed to 'create a market', the only viable alternative seems to be to keep the business running with whatever lowest-hanging fruits we can get. The question is: do we really want to take the kind of lowest-hanging fruits we get?

Or, maybe, there is a third alternative? Another possible way to change the orbit is to create a few case-studies that could form the reference point for our future discussions with potential customers. More important than anything, it will be a validation that we are capable of making things happen and will give us something to base our future strategy on.

At this moment, I can't decide which strategy works the best. We are, simultaneously, working on new business models to broaden the base of our customers, investing in developing the market and working hard to create a case-study. Although we haven't concluded new engagements as yet, last three weeks have seen things moving for sure.

Then, things move only moved mightily when you are on a mission. I have taken on a personal target to secure my first million: closing INR 10,00,000 of business in next three months (till 14 Sep 2011). I don't know how it will happen, but I am sure it will happen! Keep watching this space! :)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Professional commercialization cadre for India

This is a cross post from an Academic Ventures blog post.
"It has been my dream to have an ecosystem that creates a highway from Indian university labs to the market. One of the steps in that direction was to jump into the sea and help things on my own. The next step is to replicate myself and create a hundred people with a missionary zeal about invention and innovation in this country.

If India has to keep growing, innovation is not a choice. It is an imperative. The only question is how soon can we make it work. And when we do that, we have an opportunity to transform the future of more than 1.2 Billion people, and, therefore, the future of this world....

There are two sets of organizations involved in the creating a funnel for technological innovation for the industry. First, there is the source of invention. In India, most of the breakthrough research happens in an organized sector funded primarily by government. This money, spent through thousands of bright researchers spread across CSIR, DRDO, ISRO, IITs, NITs and other institutions. We can all argue that the quality of research output in these institutions itself isn’t great enough and only a fraction of it is worth adoption by the industry or creation of a sustainable new venture. Although we can do a lot about improving this fraction, the bigger challenge is that nothing is really happening to even this fraction of decent-to-good quality research output in direction of bringing it to the market. Because, once commercialization happens, it kickstarts the virtuous cycle of money channeled back from the market to further advance the cause of research.

Once this research comes out of the lab, the second kind of agencies get involved in the process. These are Technology Commercialization agents. Some of these people are part of the university system (like R&D departments of IITs, or IP department of DRDO and CSIR), while some others are in private sector (like, Academic Ventures). Our job is very crucial – to translate technology into a strong business case from which a new business (or product) can emerge. However, our kind of professionals are rare to find in India. Even those who exist are fragmented, tired of trying to make things work or have simply lost hope if India could ever create an Imperial Innovations.

It is not that there are no success stories. FICCI is doing a good job with Indian Innovation Growth Program and DRDO-ATAC. Skyquest is doing India’s first Technology Marketplaces. And Villgro is involved in promotion of rural inventions. This is in addition to great work by Prof Anil Gupta of NIF and Srishti and Prof AS Rao’s (now retired) imaginative TePP program.

But this much, as one can see, just a start. Today, every corporate house which sees future in India, is looking at investing in innovations. Indian entrepreneurs are gaining huge favor among VCs of the world. And it is now becoming ‘cool’ to be innovative and have your own startup.

What is missing is a concerted effort by all the people who are passionate about the goal of an innovation-driven India. We need to join our hands together to share best practices, resources, opportunities, contacts and experiences to make things work for India. The challenge is immense and beyond any one of us. But together we can win. For, if we fail, we fail an entire nation!"

Update (19th May 2011): After writing this blog post, I started a discussion on a Linkedin Group of Technology Commercialization professionals of India snowballed into a massive discussion with all members contributing passionately to the debate with 125+ comments. We are all set to have a first joint event at NAARM, Hyderabad led by Dr DSK Rao in Aug 2011.

Monday, March 21, 2011

So far, so good

When almost every meeting you start ends with a positive result, you know that you are up to something that catches imagination of customers and partners alike. Indeed, last two months of my journey has been one in which almost all ideas I threw seem to work like a charm. This is too good to be true.

However incredible it may seem, ideas are just ideas and the real stuff is actually in getting them done, but for a fledgling business every little bit of encouragement helps. Here is the story so far:
  1. January: During last few days of January, we had a very hectic meeting schedule (doing up to 5 in a day all around NCR!). What resulted was a chance to engage with the entrepreneurial community in North-East region, a chance to work with NASSCOM and expanded projects with existing clients.
  2. February: I got invited to speak at IIT Bombay's E-Summit and at EFY Expo, both of which had paid entry. In the interest of productivity, I also began to start working out of Nehru Place at a friend's office. During this time, we got an invitation to do a capacity building workshop in Guwahati.
  3. March: We always believed that IT industry in India needs some radical ideas to chart out their elusive journey on the path of non-linear revenues. What we couldn't believe was that it is now unto us to create something that would truly change the game. We are ourselves too excited about that prospect as the idea has caught the imagination of everyone we shared it with. All I can tell you right now is that we are building something similar to Software Dioxide, an old idea who time has now come. We are also proposing to work with the smaller IT companies and walk them through the entire cycle of innovation management and hiving off.
Whatsmore, we have expanded our team now. We have two MBA interns working (part-time) with us now. One of them has even completed one month recently! I guess we would be soon looking to hire smart people for full-time positions.

Another interesting idea in works is to create a business offering for pulling companies out of their Valley of Death something a lot of startups in Indian incubators are stuck with. We are looking to then become a turn-around specialist for small technology businesses.

BTW, did you have a look at the new beta site of Academic Ventures yet?

(PS: Its has been two months since I updated my progress. I promise to take dedicated time out to update this blog more frequently.)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Promises are worth keeping

When I decided to run the Mumbai Half Marathon 2011, I was confident that I can't do it. To complete it standing on my two feet seemed impossible. And there were reasons for it - I have never, ever, run for more than 3 km; I have never played a sport at any competitive level; On top of it all, my feet are flat.

I still took a chance. I promised myself that I will. I will complete it in a respectable time, standing on my two feet. But I had no idea how?

Thankfully, I started preparing early. For the first time in my life I joined a gym. My trainer gave me a schedule that builds leg muscles. For two months, I could see my stamina building and the dream of marathon looked possible.

With four months to go, and running practice yet to begin, I stopped going to the gym. Pure laziness. I lost all heart in marathon and life took over. When it was exactly two months to go for the marathon, I started following a marathon training routine and it seemed all hunky dory.

Exactly two weeks later, my life was again thrown out of track. I was cheated by people I respected, by an organization I gave my heart to. I also decided to start up and traveled like crazy for a month. There was just no time to run. In the enormity of the challenge lying ahead, a marathon seemed tiny and expendable... I gave up!

While I was in the last km of my run, I had already been on my feet for more than two and a half hours. There were cramps in my calf muscles. I knew I should have dropped dead tired by then. I didn't know where I got energy from to just keep running. I was this free spirit that no one could catch. I knew I have achieved what only a marathon could provide - an overwhelming sense of confidence and satisfaction on having successfully raised the bar.

There were thousands of my fellow runners - old, young, slim, athletic, beautiful, women, men, fat, panting, tired, resolute, first-timers, inspiring, cheering, veterans. And another few thousand who came out on the streets cheering for you, handing out water, drinks, fruits and biscuits, helping you to keep the promise you gave to yourself. They knew that it is only when a big promise is kept, you know you can keep a bigger one.

All in all, it was a memorable experience. I think everyone should give a shot at running at least the half-marathon. If I can, so can you!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A New Year Of Hope

2010 was promising to be the dullest year of recent times, but it did end in style. It suddenly left me on track for my goal - raison d'etre of this blog.

It has been more than a month since I joined Academic Ventures full time. Since then, I have spent some 20 days in travel. I attended events, met potential customer, partners and folks back home. And this hectic life hasn't been without its rewards. We have already closed two deals and are getting interest from all quarters. A lot of people I met exclaimed "Why didn't you do this earlier? Let's talk!"

The result? We are already short of bandwidth on projects we have and are eagerly looking to hire smart MBAs for a part-time internship. We are now convinced that we are here to create a lot of value for everyone around us, and times ahead look very exciting.

Another major change in life has been the fulfillment of a long-standing declaration - that to settle in Delhi. One of the projects requires me to stay in NCR and so I am moving on. Incidentally, in just one hour from now. Pune, Mumbai, Bangalore and Trichy have been very kind to me. I hope Delhi accepts me quite as heartily. If you are around there, please drop a line.

Before I close, I reckon this is going to be the last post of this year. So, I wish to thank each and everyone of you to stand by me. Your trust in me helped me emerge stronger than ever.

May 2011 bring you the wealth and love of your dreams. Happy New Year!!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Tasting blood

I am happy to share that we have just closed our first deal. While the details of this project have to be contractually confidential, all I can say is that I will be based out of Delhi/NCR for a period of at least three months working on this project.

Having family based in Agra and sister and several cousins located in NCR, this marks a sort of homecoming for me - one that took 9 years in making. It all started here and I don't really wish to go anywhere now. Family is family, you know. And there is nothing that is more important than being around them.

From the business perspective, it just reinforces our belief in the concept and the fact that there is a market for Academic Ventures. It opens up a small regular cash flow, and opens up more such opportunities ahead.

Personally, I feel a little satisfied. After all, it is not really a wild goose chase.