Technology platform for your start-up

Intended audience:- This blog post is for those non-technology founders and idetaors who want to understand which technology they can chose for their platform.

Many non-technology founders struggle to find the answer of this question “Which particular programming language or technology stack they should choose to build their application on”. And the answer is, there is no particular one programming language you can choose. And every programming language has few advantages over other and few dis-advantages. So there is nothing called best programming language. This article assumes that you are not developing a simple website, but a full-fledged web or mobile application.

Architecture of any technology platform is usually divided into three layers. Let me explain this to you in very simple terms:-

First layers is called database layer. This is the layer where your data will be stored. There are primarily two types of database now days which are widely used.

  1. RDBMS systems, example of these are MYSQL /Postgress etc.
  2. NoSQL database systems, example of these software includes MongoDB /Casandra etc

Second layer is called backend layer. This is the layer where your code related to how data should be stored in your database, how it should be read and how it should be sent to your client layer. Languages like PHP, Java or NodeJs is used here. Current trend involves writing your backend logic and code in such a way that it’s exposed as web services to the layers above it.

Third layer is called client layer. This is the layer where your code related to User Interface will go. User usually talks to this layer only and is not at all aware of database and backend layer. For web application, there are many programming languages/frameworks which can be used here. Personally, now days JavaScript based UI framework work are used more. Check this link to get the list of JavaScript frameworks available to us.

But now many people ask , this is fine Vikram. Can you pls give us quick recipe at a same time. So my criteria of choosing a programming language or technology are that it should enhance the productivity of team at a same time give required performance.

For Web applications:- If you are developing a B2C or SaaS application which doesn’t involve much mathematical calculations, chose AngularJs for client layer. Choose NodeJs for backend layer. And choose RDBMS such as MYSQL.  AngularJs and NodeJs are both Javascript based frameworks. So if your developers know JavaScript, they can work on backend and front end coding at a same time. If you are not comfortable with NodeJs or your backend coding involves mathematical calculation, choose either Java or PHP.

For Mobile applications:- There are three type of mobile application which you can develop. Application which will run inside mobile browser. Hybrid application, which is developed using Javascript framework and we use software like PhoenGap to deploy it on Android and iOS platforms. And the third type of application is Native application developed using SDK(Software development toolkit) of Android and iOS respectively. Again at server end you can use either NodeJS or Java or PHP and exposing all server side code as web services. RESTFUl web services(a type of web service) are most widely used these days. MySQL or NoSQL can again act as DBMS. For client side, to develop Hybrid application, we can use AngularJs/Ionic(type of frameworks). To develop native application in Android, you have to use respective SDK’s. For Android you primarily do coding in Java and XML. To develop iOS application, you write code in Objective-C.

At last, this article must have given you a high level overview of the complexity involved in choosing and working with various technologies when you want to develop your technology platform. Thus its very important to find a technology co-founder for your idea. Just hiring technical guys will not solve your problem.

How start-up winning team looks like

Team is one of the most important aspect and reason of start-up success and failure. Many founders fail to find right team members or start-up team parts away after working 3 to 6 months. At a same time many founders start their entrepreneurial journey by assuming that they can do everything and they don’t needs other people to succeed. This is a completely flawed assumption at your end. It’s a complete team game and not an individual show.

Per my experience working with-in start-ups, following are the attributes of a winning team:-

  • They have a clear leader: – Though 3 to 4 people have started working together, there should be one leader. Leader’s responsibility is to take all of them along in this long journey. He communicates with each team members continuously. Leader looks at points which can lead to conflicts within team and resolve them. Leader communicates and discuss long term vision to each founding team member day in and out and how possibility they will reach their.
  • They all respect and trust each other: – Building trust and respect with each other takes time. And special efforts are required from each of the founding team members to enhance the trust. Talking frequently, spending more and more time with each other helps in enhancing the trust.
  • They all have complementary skills: – When complementary skills are there in the team, each of the team member’s knows what they are responsible for. This leads to lesser conflicts within the team and brings in more focus.
  • Everyone willing to share the pie of wealth with others (if at all its generated down the line). Winning team members understand that sharing wealth will lead to creating a larger impact for themselves, for society and world.
  • There is no one who is bossy or dictator: – Many founders are inspired by Steve Jobs thinking that being bossy help in getting success. Understand that you are not Steve but you should be learning from Steve Jobs. Being bossy turn off people and creative negative work environment. Be humble and be yourself.
  • Every team member takes decision based on data rather than emotions or egos.
  • Team is focused on market need, customers and cash all the time:- Winning teams are always focused on what are the gaps in market, how they can fill that gap quickly , how they can reach out to early adopters/customers, how they can learn from customers what they want and how they can keep low cash outflow and can enhance revenue inflow.
  • Sense of urgency is missing is either of team members: – Start-up is all about executing and executing it fast enough. If any of the team member don’t understand this, your are best candidate to get listed in list of failed start-ups.

Communicate my fellow founder

As a founder and leader, you always and should be spending considerable time in communicating your vision and thoughts to your

  1. Co-founders ,
  2. Fellow team members and
  3. More importantly to your customers.

When I was leading my first startup, though I was talking to my customers , but I was not talking and giving required time to my co-founders and team members. I was talking on phone for few hours/minutes a day(we all were working from homes) and thought that all of us understood the vision and priorities. But I was wrong, we should have worked from same place alteast thrice a week to better understand each . And more then that I should have spent more time in listening to team member’s why they are not able to put 200% percent .Phones and emails are not right tools to communicate about vision, about understanding your team strengths and limitations. This has resulted in many  problems and misunderstanding for long period. And end result was dis-engagement between founders and team member’s.

Not going to Work

Not going to Work

This will Work

This will Work

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another bigger problem is when you start thinking that “Customers don’t know what they want”. And you day in and out keep putting in efforts to improve your platform based on your understanding. And you keep assuming that one fine day customers will click on that “Pay” button and you will get your first revenue. Sorry my fellow entrepreneur, that is not going to happen. Talk to them, understand what problems they face on your platform, what they will pay for, how they want to pay for your product/service, and then pivot your platform and pricing model accordingly.

So stop bothering about whether platform building is on track(as per your understanding) or and start bothering about what your co-founders, your team members  and your customers are saying.

Learning from India’s biggest startup event

This weekend I attended India’s largest start-up event. And has taken up few notes from the same.
IMAG0374

Here are the high level notes:-
1) Key Ingredients for a startup to get funding from VC’s are
a. Team
b. Initial Product
c. Some organic Transaction
2) Iterate fast and make sure you know metrics used to measure progress of your technology product. For example, for a web based B2C applications, its about “Unique Monthly Visitors”, “Bounce Rate” and “Real Transactions”. For a mobile app its MAU(Monthly active users). DAU(Daily active users) etc.For SAAS application, it’s about how many sales you have done. You should keep eagle’s key on these metrics and pivot based on the data coming from them.
3) Read this book if you are looking for raising funds for your start-up
4) To get connected with investor, reach them through founders they have already funded. Chase existing founders, and get your start-up recommended by them.
5) Many small paying customers is better pricing model compare to few customer paying a bit bigger amount of money. This is because it shows that business is less risky.
6) Perseverance is required for the product you have developed. Success is not going to come overnight. You will fail and you will fail multiple times. More you fail, odds of getting successful increases.
7) Understand your customer. Read about them, spend time with them and if possible sleep with them.
8) Ecommerce start-ups in India will fail as for how long you will be able to sale something below cost price.
9) For India, we need 10 million entrepreneurs to create required jobs in next 5 to 10 years.
10) Sharpen the gut feeling of your idea by listening to people around you.
11) As a founder, be a very good listener.
12) India is cost sensitive market. Playing volume game with low pricing is the strategy.
13) Most of the founder focus on chasing VC’s rather than focus on making a fundamentally strong business. Its about getting revenue, generating profit rather then getting into valuation game .
14) Its team and people that makes idea successful. Focus on creating A team and execute fast to increase probably of your success.

15) Its Mobile all the way. If mobile strategy is missing from your start-up, you are going to loss traffic, transactions and VC focus.

Oh entrepreneurial mind, relax please

Many times when you start with your entrepreneurial journey, you face many challenges like co-founder issues, revenue challenges,  frustration of not able to execute or execute it slow. But believe me, bigger challenge is to making your mind stable and able to make it focus on one thing at a time. Mind keeps jumping from one branch of thought to another. Many times you keep thinking about what will happen in future:- will your idea work, will you be able to make it big, what if your idea will fail, what people will think if you fail? And if these thoughts are coming to you just before the bed, you will end up spending entire night awake. Happen to me many times and still happen.

And all this mind play do effect your physical health also. So what’s the solution? Let me list down few solutions which I see working for me:-

  • Meditation & Yoga:- No, I haven’t started meditating because I came to know that Steve Jobs used to do it. I started doing it because want to calm down my hyperactive mind and achieve better physical health. It’s better to learn Yoga and Meditation under guided supervision.     yoga There are many organizations out there who teaches you how to properly do yoga and meditation. But don’t get settle down till you find a mentor that makes sense to you. DO NOT expect that you will be able to see Lord Shiva or anything like that once you start doing mediation. Meditation is a great tool to start learning to observe your mind, to start practicing mindfulness(living in moment).
  • Organize yourself better:- It is difficult to get organize. There are n-number of tools out there that help you create to-do list. Though no one worked from me till date. Yes, but what worked is when I start my day with a high level task list(in my mind or simply on notepad). todoAnd  don’t open whatsapp/facebook or take phone calls when you are in mid of your work (here again mediation helps). Get into routine and try to stick to it. Checkout below blog for details on how to create routine when initially you are building your product.(pls go there once you finish up here 🙂 )

http://seanonstartups.co/2015/04/08/the-founders-schedule/

  • Do a physical activity:-Hitting a gym, doing summing, running or picking up a game help in increase your focus. A healthy mind lives in a health body. I was always able to solve complex programming problems after I am back from gym.  physicalactivity    Now days job needs more and more time of your sitting on computers and under air-conditions environments. Do you remember, when was the last time you sweat out?

 

 

You have to observe yourself closely and see what works and what doesn’t work to you. Remember your Focus always needs Focus.

Life cycle of fledgling ideator

I was trying to figure out what causes failure to start-up? What are the various stages a founder goes through? Or what are the various stages through which can ideator goes through when thinking about starting up. And I end up drawing following flowchart/Infographic. Give it a thought, share it and/or provide corrections. If you are not able to view the below image, then please click here

Do you need tech co-founder

Finding a technical co-founder is always a challenge for non-tech founders. That’s the reason there are specific platform’s that helps you in finding out technical cofounder. Being a technology guy, I regularly come across many non-tech co-founders who want tech guy in creating their technology platform. Certainly there is a supply demand gap for technology guys with entrepreneurial zest. Many tech guys who have that zest are running their own show (like me) and others are enjoying their safe jobs which is paying them good money. Many idea’s die or fail to get launched because non-tech founder is not able launch MVP. But have you ever given a thought that “Do you really need a tech co-founder?” Or “What are the options you have to launch MVP without tech co-founder”?

As a non-tech founder you have two different options to launch MVP without an in-house technology guy:-

1)      Learn programming: – Believe me, it’s not difficult. And once you start learning it, you will enjoy it. It gives instance results unlike sales and marketing where you have to wait endlessly to get results. And that result is mostly failure, few time success and more times no response. In programming you get results within minutes, or hours or worst case within a day. And mostly the result is a success(once you get a bit of expertise). To develop an MVP, you don’t need to be a rock-star programmer (you can always hire them later once you have raised capital). You need not to be a computer science graduate to be a programmer. In fact there are many successful software products created by people who are not from computer science background. Further after learning a bit of coding, you will be able to communicate in much better way with technical team/co-founder down the line.  And you will be able to hire a junior freelancer or college student(s) and work along with him to launch your MVP.  It will help you in marketing and sales of your product. At the end of article, have given list of platforms where you can learn programming. Now which programming languages, you should learn as beginner? I have parked this question for next post.

2)      Hire digital agency:- Now this option works well when you have money to spend upfront. There are many digital agencies out there that do awesome work at very reasonable cost. Especially in the part of world from where I am writing this blog, we have too many of them. But the art here is to find one having required technical expertise who can get work done within your budget. Again, if you have learned a bit of programming and technology jargon, you will be able to judge agency capabilities in more efficient way and will be able to negotiate well or price. But remember, if you give peanuts you will get monkeys. Better option is to give agencies money + a very small portion of equity (5% to 10%). Reason of giving equity is, it will give them sense of ownership. Don’t worry that why you should be giving them equity as it’s you who have taken all risk of leaving a job and starting up. Right now :-

Your MVP is not out in market
You don’t know whether market is there or not for your product.
You don’t have customers who are paying for your product.

So you are sitting at probably 100% equity with valuation of equity equal to ZERO. And everything divided by zero is :-(I know you are good at maths)

 

 Here a list of platforms to help you learn programming

And if you still want to find a tech co-founder, here a list of platforms to find technology co-founders.

http://builditwith.me ,   http://cofoundernetwork.com,     http://cofounderslab.com,    http://cofoundr.com, http://doerhub.com,      http://findmycofounder.com,    http://founder2be.com,     http://founderdating.com, http://foundersfarm.com,    http://foundersync.com,     http://foundrs.com,     http://startupweekend.org
http://techcofounder.com

 

PS: My mission of writing this blog is to help every non-tech co-founder launch their MVP. You can drop a mail at kohli[dot]Vikram1982[at]gmail.com if you would like to discuss about your idea and how to launch your MVP.

My experience of running Edu Tech startup and why it failed

Are you thinking about starting your own startup? If yes, it’s most likely that you may start with an education technology or education related idea.

My first startup was also in education technology space. I was trying to solve the problem of employability among college students using MOOC (Massive Open Online Classes) concept.

PracLabs_Image 1

 

As a technical leader in my previous organization, I was assigned to deliver a billing platform for a new telecom player in India. Customer was not sure what he needs(as always) and to make matters worst, I was given team of college pass-outs in achieving this delivery. They were struggling to be productive, so I spent nights doing all the coding. And in morning hours training new guys in required technology and teaching them fundamentals of coding. Organizational level provided training was not helpful at all. After spending couple of weeks on training with college pass-outs, I was able to deliver this project on time with new team .  And then I faced same kind of problems in  all subsequent projects I have been assigned to.  So here comes an idea, create a platform that will provide employ-ability training to college pass out graduates and help companies get trained resources.

MOOC was a new concept at that time. Platforms like Coursera, Udacity and Edx was gaining a hell lot of popularity and was seen as something that will finally disrupt higher education. Mixing the concept of MOOC and employability made sense to me. I started coding for the platform and it was ready in 2 months. And then we started creating contents using video recording software. So we were up and running with platform named PracLabs.com with courses for enrollment.

PracLabs_Image 2

Now comes the bigger challenge of getting required traction and revenue on the platform. After spending few thousands in email marketing we started getting traffic. Students were coming and enrolling in online published courses. We were happy that students are enrolling. But then data showed us that students are enrolling in online courses, but they are not spending time on platform for learning. Similar problem other big MOOC platform’s were also facing, where only 4% to 10% enrolled students complete the course. I started calling students individually to check why they are not learning and taking required online assessments. Few of the issues were related to platform usability, other were related to slow internet problem at their home causing videos to load slowly. But majority of them told me that why they should study online(what’s in for them), or will they get job offers after getting enrolled in these courses. Got the point, students need job opportunity as an end result. The next big challenge was now to get job opportunities for them. But our sales cycle was getting long. You have to chase Students, College TPO(Training & Placement Office), HR people in companies  . And as Alok said in one of its PPT’s that you should have as many less variables as you can in your sales/revenue generation cycle and managing operations.

It was time to seek expert entrepreneurial advice & mentoring. I turn up to Rajender Pawar of NIIT, Rajan Anandan and Alok Kejriwal. All of them has given different inputs and advices, which I am listing down in learning section. Money burning pressure, not getting required traction and revenue lead to more frustration and stress.

And then came the  news, other co-founder was expecting his first kid and want to get back to full time job. After few months I was diagnosed with Thyroid with TSH level reaching 398(at this level you are about of go in comma) . I ran to endocrinologist and he immediately started medication. I lost 13 kgs of weight and it was time to focus on health rather than startup. This entire 2 years journey was kind of roller coaster ride for me and my co-founder. But in all, if I look today, I have no regrets at all, and this has given me immense learning about how to start a startup, how to manage people, how to do sales and above all how to manage oneself.

Here are the key learning’s and takeaways from my journey at PracLabs:-

  • Education is difficult domain to crack and surrounded with many government regulations(Rajender Pawar).Every time you want to do something impactful and want to make profit out of it, regulations comes in between.
  • For online learning platform, you have to make content which is fun to watch and learn from. I still remember Alok said “Nakali Shahrukh ko behi 1 lakh log dekh lengey, but people don’t prefer  learning through boring online courses. You have to focus on content.” Anandan said “he is not able to find single mobile/web app which can make his 8 year old enjoy learning Maths/Science. Thus content is what makes a difference”.
  • Students don’t pay for learning. If they do, why most of them are not studying in college after paying Rs. 5 to 10 lac.
  • College TPO’s are not interested in placing students and getting them required opportunities. They are more interested in getting companies to just show up for recruitment, even if they do not recruit any student.  One TPO even said “sir 2 lakh vasey hein ley lo, bass eak company ley aao, chahey tho koi bancha maat ley key jaao”(Take 2 lakh rupees, get just one company to visit our campus, doesn’t matter if they don’t recruit).
  • Your revenue cycle should be as short as possible. And you should not have many stakeholders involved to get required traction and revenue.
  • Take care of your health and meditate. Understand your physical limitations and don’t mind in asking help from friends and family.
  • Team is very important part for start-up. You need a A team to make it. With good team comes faster execution, with faster execution comes result(success/failure/pivot).   DO NOT execute everything on your own. Entrepreneurs are naturally steroids driven, but you cannot do everything on your own.
  • Answer questions like why you want to do start-up and entrepreneurship honestly and ask your co-founder also same question.
  • Develop your MVP as quickly as possible. I should have developed a simple WordPress page and started listing down online open courses for students to enroll in. And parallel would have developed the contents and the platform.
  • Think Big and act small. I was trying to do too many things at a same time.
  • Get mentoring upfront on your idea from experienced entrepreneurs, preferably from those who have worked in the same domain. Discuss your idea with as many people as you can. Don’t worry that they will steal your idea as its execution that matters more.

India will be the youngest nation in the world by 2020 with an average age of 29.We will become manpower supplier to world and anyone who has data of trained workforce can create something very valuable.Looking at the opportunity, I still feel someone will execute and solve employability problem in effective manner.

Thanks for reading.

Look and Feel founders

There are many ideators/founders that I meet who want to create awesome looking web/mobile platform in their MVP itself. They mainly focus on what all features should be there, what should be color of button, what should be the background image. They seem to show and believe that they are expert UI/UX designers and know everything about usability and what all color combinations will result in high user engagement.

They keep changing background images, button and text fonts. They often do it because that’s the only thing under their control and can give result and instant gratification. And what they forget or don’t focus on is (a) talking to customer whether they want the product or not and/or (b) trying to generate actual business.

Trying to generate business and validate your idea is what should be the focus with which you should develop your MVP. Start selling and try to raise funds as soon as MVP is done. You can always hire great frontend/backend engineers and improve your UI once you know that market is their for your idea.