Tuesday, August 26, 2008

How Social Networking Sites are Helpful in Business?

How Social Networking Sites Help?

Web offers a platform to engage professionals and tap key talent for new ventures.

ASOUND adage to know is the one that says it’s not what you know but who you know that counts. Skill and grit can get you far, but it is only networking that will take you far enough. For entrepreneurs, it is the lifeline that fuels their startup aspirations. Until recently, social networking meant daylong seminars which meandered aimlessly or evening tuxedo events, where one waited for the first opportunity to leave gracefully. But it has taken on a whole new meaning in the internet age. Executives at companies of all sizes, but especially in startups, are connecting with professionals around the world through social networking (SN) sites to learn strategy, hire the best people and form alliances.

Keeping up with the competition demands cultivating contacts at warp speed, and that means working your shtick online. There are plenty of tools — many of them free — and more are on the way. Social networking sites are all the rage these days. Younger people may use such sites for dating and hobbies, but there are other sites devoted to professional collaboration.

LinkedIn and ZeroDegrees are two of the more popular services that facilitate business-oriented connections, and some argue that these and similar sites are now doing a better job at connecting entrepreneurs than any other medium before. Remember Metcalfe’s Law — coined by the inventor of Ethernet — which states that the power of a network grows in proportion to the square of the number of its nodes? That’s a geeky way of saying that networking technologies nobody uses are of little value. As the popularity of social networking sites grows, so does their value, because a larger number of users means better odds for productive connections. A look at the sheer number of start-ups getting online shows how their popularity is increasing among entrepreneurs. LinkedIn, for instance, had 40,000 users in mid-November 2003, and is now up to over 5,50,000 users, who have uploaded more than 25 million contacts from their address books. Many of those 25 million will soon be getting e-mails asking them to join LinkedIn and participate in the network.

And LinkedIn is not the only social network out there, of course. It is not even the biggest one, although it is the largest business-oriented network. Others, like Friendster, are oriented more toward easing the way for personal relationships and more popular ones like Orkut and Facebook have recently started professionals getting online to connect with peers.

And new ones seem to pop up every day. And then there is Techtribe, which brings together technology entrepreneurs through social networking. “Connections are of prime importance to any entrepreneur. And there can be no means cheaper to get to know people than creating a profile on an Orkut or LinkedIn,” says Rohit Agarwal, who operates TechTribe.

So how does all this affect entrepreneurial firms? Says Avinash Agarwal, founder of RouteGuru, “SN services offer a cheap platform for entrepreneurs to connect with experts who can offer mentorship and help shape business ideas. It can also prove to be a starting point for such connected entrepreneurs to get in touch with a few venture capitalists as well when they raise money.”

Mr Agarwal himself has used SN to great effect for his startup RouteGuru. Before starting his company, he started a discussion group on TechTribe about his business idea. He placed his idea about an India GIS (geographic information system) service on the internet for feedback from industry gurus. He says: “I blogged about my idea for RouteGuru using the website’s platform. This way, I got to connect with experts. And not just getting feedback, I also got to know a few people interested in my domain and eventually ended up hiring them for my company.”

And now that his company is looking to raise venture capital, he says that he would once again turn to many more sites such as Facebook and Ryze to connect with the right people both in India and abroad.

The world of venture capitalists, however, may still be slow to embrace social networking. Many VCs prefer face-to-face interaction with startups. SN sites, at best, can be a secondary means and not the primary means to connect to them, VCs say.

Also, the biggest concern for many is the amount of spam that an account-holder can face. Suvir Sujan, managing partner of Nexus India Capital says he had to close his account with a popular social networking site after getting an enormous amount of unsolicited messages. Such a tactic could undermine the credibility of a startup, he says. “For instance, while using social networking websites for sales pitches, if one sends out countless unsolicited advertisements to unsuspecting users, chances are that his account might get banned for that network. At the least, you will chase off potential customers and earn a negative reputation for your business.”

In fact, spam generated by social networking has come to be known by its own term: snam. Employees within a startup who are often motivated to join these networks for personal or professional reasons often end up exposing themselves, and their Rolodexes, to the outside world. This may lead to them being head-hunted when they are not actively looking for jobs, pitched products or services they might not want, and waste working hours dealing with contact requests from “a friend of a friend of a friend.” According to a research by comScore, employees tend to spend, on an average, 186 minutes on Facebook per session. “This definitely affects productivity,” says Mr Sujan.

So, what should companies do? Probably, the best policy is the one most commonly used for instant messaging and e-mails: allow certain, secure networks for business use and set policies about how contact data can be shared. Says Mr Agarwal, “I do not think that networking in the cyberspace can be stopped; one can waste a lot of money trying to stop and control it; but I think what they have to do is learn how to deal with it and learn how to live with it.”

Find a COO without spending a bomb

WHEN Bikram Dasgupta of Globsyn Technologies bought out the Mumbai-based Synergy Log-in Systems, he learned a few hard lessons. Dasgupta had acquired the promoter’s stake by making an upfront cash payment. But soon after, Dasgupta discovered that relations between the promoter and his management team had been strained and two key executives left taking their business and contacts with them.

Dasgupta was faced with the task of finding a person who could take on their roles and also the revive the loss-making banking products software company. Because of the differences between the promoter and the senior leadership of the firm, business was slipping and many client orders were unserviced. These customers were considering moving to a different software provider. The need of the moment was a chief operating officer who would lift the company from the morass.

“I couldn’t pay too much money, and I wanted someone who was willing to take on the risk and who had experience in working in a leadership role in a technology firm. If we could turn Synergy around, the rewards would be good,” says Dasgupta.

There was no money to hire a professional executive search firm. Thinking about it one night when he was online, Dasgupta decided to advertise on LinkedIn, the professional networking site. “It was only $160. So, I thought I have nothing to lose,” he recollects. The response was tremendous. And Dasgupta struck gold. One of respondents, Prakash Seernani, became his COO. “Prakash had excellent references. He had been an entrepreneur and had worked in several senior positions in IT firms,” says Dasgupta. Dasgupta is based in Calcutta; so although he travels frequently to Mumbai, Seernani has a big hand in running the venture.

For Seernani, LinkedIn was another way of networking. “Most senior-level appointments at this level happens through networking or through a professional executive search firm. So, it is not really unusual from that point of view,” says Seernani. The opportunity offered by Dasgupta was one of the many that came his way on the Internet. “Where I started, in Hinditron, we still have an alumni network on Yahoo Groups. It’s great way to network and the personal benefits are tremendous,” he says.

Article Resource:
Author: Ritwik Donde is the Chief Editor in the The Economic Times, Mumbai and the article appeared in one of their successful columns on Entrepreneurship/Start-ups called "Starship Enterprise".

Next Gen Gaming Technology: Indiagames.com

Life is a never-ending game

Last year, Indiagames, the Mumbai -based gaming company, hit the jackpot when China's Tom Online acquired 80 per cent stake in a multi-million dollar buyout.

Coming soon from Indiagames are the legendary adventures of Emperor Ashoka and an exciting game-based movie on the Jurassic Park.

Meet India's 28-year-old gaming king, Vishal Gondal, CEO, Indiagames, who has come a long way from his humble beginnings in the backyards of an eastern Mumbai suburb, Chembur.

Many startups have their origin in a hobby. Most game development companies come under this category. Developing a successful business model for such companies can be a challenge, especially if you’re a rookie entrepreneur. Vishal Gondal, who founded Indiagames and still runs it after selling a majority stake to UTV, recalls how his business model fashioned itself when he still didn’t know the meaning of the term:

I was totally into games since my childhood, be it volleyball or online. I still play games all night long. I created my first game at 14, it was a Pacman clone. In 1993, I started FACT (Futura Academy of Computer Technology) at a garage in Chembur, Mumbai. I was just 16 then. There were only three computers and I taught students software programming, multimedia, etc.

In 1997, I started ADVER Gaming i.e. games built around advertisements. My first project was for Pepsi. The game was programmed to shoot Coke cans with Pepsi. I used to go to companies and ask for themes for creating games. For Pepsodent, the game was designed to kill germs. I have also designed the scoring system for Femina Miss India, in which his algorithm helped calculate the scores of the contestants.

Then came the Kargil war and I thought a game where you can shoot the terrorists who are trying to cross the LoC would be very appropriate. ‘I Love India’ was an instant hit. Then I realised that there’s a lot of demand for India-based games. And so in 1997 Indiagames.com, a website focused on games for India, was launched. It had games like Ravan Vadh and Dusserah.

It was still a small venture with only five people until PricewaterhouseCoopers stepped in. One day in 1999 two investment bankers, I had no clue what it meant then, walked in and told me that they can provide me with venture capitalists. I had no clue what they meant, first investment bankers then venture capitalists. They explained that VCs will give me big money to expand my company and they will take stake in it. The best part was I would not have to return the money they’ll put in. Great. Now, when I look back I think had I been aware of all that I would have been able to take the plunge and reach were I stand today. Ignorance can sometimes be a bliss, you see. They asked me my business model and when they realised that was reacting to it as if they were speaking in Greek, they made one for me. PwC said they will only charge me success fees, that is, if they succeed in getting the funds, then only I will pay them. I agreed.

They arranged Rs 3.5 crore from VCs and got their due. With the new money, my office expanded and I hired around 40 people. But, I was quite conservative in spending, don’t know why. After the dotcom bust, I wanted to shut online gaming and move over to mobile gaming. But, the other board members were not sure about it and wanted to go with providing services to foreign software companies. So, I had to also act as IT service provider for some time.

But, I had faith in my gaming abilities and as there were not many players in this segment then I managed to get assignments for mobile gaming from Disney, Universal, Sony Pictures and Nokia. And so came games for Lion King, Finding Nemo, Hulk and Wheels of Fortune.

I always had the feeling that something more was needed to besides these, I needed a few products. I need to license a character, make a game and distribute it. But, it was very difficult to choose such a character because if it fails we will lose big time. In end 2003, Spiderman 2 was to be released and I decided to go for him. Got in touch with Marvel Comics and managed to get a worldwide licence for Spidey. The game was released in 60 countries and in 6 languages. Later I acquired licences for Bruce Lee, Jurassic Park, Buffy the Vampire slayer and Mask. Mobile game publishing increased our revenues 10-fold.

I am happy that I have proved that you can do a product story in India. Now, I have a team of 300 people which include gaming programmers, graphic designers and gaming testers. Everyone in my team love gaming and that’s the common thread that binds us. When we are not creating games, we are playing one. My offices are in Mumbai, Beijing, London and Los Angeles. I also outsource some work to Eastern Europe, US and China.

My dream is to give games or e-sports, as I call it, the recognition of a sport. It is never business for me, it’s just gaming. The other global players in mobile gaming are EA, GLU and GAMELOT. Besides, companies like Yahoo and Indiatimes also have mobile gaming facilities. My recent favourites are Resident Evil 4, Gears of War and WiiSports. It keeps on changing.

With the growing market of pirated games it is becoming very difficult for gaming companies to maintain margins. So, I have made a pact with major gaming providers including Microsoft where I deliver a gaming package to people via broadband and charge them monthly. The companies are paid according to the usage of their games. So, when there’ll be easy and cheap availability of legal games, people won’t go for pirated products. Recently, UTV has taken over a major stake in Indiagames.com. (the stake held by Tom Online). To budding entrepreneurs, my advice is that you should have a good original idea and the capability to execute it. Have faith in your product. And always give preference to business sense than legal sense.

Gaming's dark side

Are games addictive? Do they cause violent behaviour? Gondal says, "NO!"

"With low penetration of gaming in India, I think violence is not perpetuated through gaming. There is more violence on television. You can get addicted to worse things in this world, so it's better to get addicted to a game! And he explains the positive aspects -- games sharpen reflexes and knowledge. Strategy games -- like King of the Empire -- and social games help increase tactical insight. Also, the theme that is amongst the most popular in gaming is 'Good must triumph over evil.'"

Wanna go gaming?

Being a part of the International Game Developers Association, it has been Gondal's endeavour to promote game development in India, especially because not many companies are looking at this segment. "We have a shortage of trained manpower, as there are no institutes to really train people in this field. We take people at a trainee level and train them for 6 to 8 months."

"The good thing about the gaming sector is that an employee can even be a school dropout. To be a 'tester,' you just have to be passionate about gaming. Testing is a very important part of gaming, as we cannot launch games unless they are tested well. For game designers, we have a varied set of people: artists, programmers, people from tee arts, science, and commerce fields.

"We have trained about 80 per cent of the people working here. Indiagames is the only place, which has the largest number of team members in one place. Interestingly, we have foreigners keen to work for us. Our US operations are headed by an American, while in Europe we have hired a former Vodafone head.

Techie's interests

Gaming is Vishal Gondal's first love, but he also loves travelling and trying out new cuisines ("I have been to many countries," he says). He is also a gizmo man; he likes to have all the latest gadgets. He dotes on his Blackberry phone. His home is wi-fi ready.

Future perfect

Optimistic that gaming will boom, Gondal explains that the company will set new targets and grow. "We have about 60 per cent of the market share in India. We are growing at 150 to 200 per cent. The priority is to stabilize and tap the more markets and capitalise on the tremendous mobile growth and increased broadband in India."

"We have just launched Jurassic Park. It is a very interesting theme where we put you in the park and how you go about to escape from the park. We will also be working on 3D games and expanding the console gaming project. Another project will be a console game on Emperor Ashoka -- all about him and his wars. Indian stories have global appeal as well. We hope Emperor Ashoka games will reign over the games space."

With the Indian mobile gaming market set to generate $336 million in annual revenues by 2009 and the number of mobile users to go up by 2 million every month, Indiagames is certain to ride the wave. "The next two years are critical to us as mobile users are going to increase in number and broadband is coming up in a big way in India," says Gondal.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Estimating Startup Costs.

Estimating Startup Costs

ONE OF the toughest things in starting a business is, well, figuring out what it’s going to cost you to start. It’s tough because startup costs are a moving target, easy to underestimate and almost always subject to change. Here are five rules that can help you start figuring the cost of starting.

Have a solid plan — then change it. Most business startup stories say that you have to have a business plan. And you do. But that’s not the beginning and end of figuring out your startup costs. Jeff Shuman, professor of management and director of entrepreneurial studies at Bentley College, says, “The conventional wisdom is that an entrepreneur sees an opportunity, comes up with a business plan to capitalise on it, determines the capital that needs to be raised, raises the capital and then applies it to building the business described in the business plan.”

There’s one major problem with that model, says Shuman: It all hinges on getting the business right the first time, and that doesn’t often happen. “In reality, it’s likely that some of your initial assumptions are pretty good and others aren’t going to be worth the paper they’re written on,” he says. Shuman and others say that figuring out your startup costs means regularly reviewing your assumptions and changing your initial business model.

Writing a business plan is good because it forces you to write down literally everything you are going to need to start your business — legal help, tax help, office supplies, equipment, postage, office space, employee salaries, insurance and so on. But that initial plan is likely to change repeatedly as you learn new things and incorporate them into the plan.

Be willing to pull back. It’s tempting to add up everything you need for the fullfledged business you imagine, and decide that that’s what you need to start out. But pulling back and looking for a smaller model can give you a way to get started while also preserving capital.

Shuman uses the example of someone who calculates that the total cost of starting a retail business in a local mall is going to work out to $150 a square foot. “You could start that way and write a business plan based on that amount,” he says. “But maybe you’d be better off putting a pushcart in the mall and testing what the demand is for your products at that location.

“This consumer testing reduces your initial startup costs. The result is that the initial cycle of your business is dedicated not so much to generating profits as to generating information. With this, you can fund your business on a cycle-by-cycle basis,” Shuman says. “When you go for the second cycle and for expanding your business, the numbers are now based not on focus groups or surveys but on real-world experience.”

Calculate prices, time correctly. Calculating your initial cash flow is part of figuring out your startup costs. It’s an area where businesses are sometimes less optimistic than they should be. “Small-business owners may under-price their product or service, thinking they have to come in at as low a price point as possible to compete,” says Barbara Bird, chair of the management department at Kogad School of Business at American University. “They don’t necessarily need to do that.”

Correctly estimate your startup time. Yes, when beginning a business, time can literally be money. Let’s say you’re going to have fixed costs such as a monthly lease. If you have to make improvements to a space before you can actually open for business, those fixed costs are going to be additional startup costs until you can actually open for business.

I’ve watched many entrepreneurs draw up a timeline for their ventures and get tripped up on the zoning, safety and inspection requirements imposed by local agencies. For that reason, I think one of the first places a prospective new business owner should go — even before approaching a lender or leasing agent — is to the local government planning or license department. Construction permits and inspections can push a startup’s prospective opening date back by months. If you fail to figure in the cost of this additional time, you could be short of working capital right out of the gate.

Be realistic about the cost of money. Many small-business owners self-finance their ventures by running up big balances on their personal credit cards. Others tap the equity in their homes. But self-financing isn’t a practical option for larger ventures.

Carnegie Mellon’s Emerson says that startups should figure in the cost of capital when determining initial expenses and cash flow. “The cost is usually based on what the interest would be that similar cash invested in something with similar risk would command on the market,” Emerson says. “It’s usually a figure that is a few percentage points or more above the prime rate.”

Adapted from Microsoft’s Small Business Center website.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Birth of a Salesman: Selling Learning to Solve Business Issues.

Birth of a Salesman: Selling Learning to Solve Business Issues

Perceptions about the learning function may be learning professionals' greatest frustration, but changing those perceptions is one of the most promising opportunities for impact. Moving learning to business-partner status requires an investment in yourself.

How many times have you seen the potential for a critical integrated learning solution overlooked until the deployment of a new operating process, a systems implementation or the launch of a new product or service - or worse yet, totally ignored until something goes wrong?

Learning need not be forced to limp in and turn lemons into lemonade, though. It should move beyond the role of a firefighter dousing the flames of poor planning and circumstance to the more proactive role of a building inspector to help make sure the house doesn't catch fire in the first place. To assume this role, however, learning leaders must sell the value of development programs.

Selling has several connotations. If you find yourself selling learning to a line-of-business head, promoting a packaged solution that fits in your current budget or asking for precious budget dollars and finding apathy or limited excitement, you likely are too late and have missed the opportunity.

Selling your solution is about selling yourself and your team's ability to execute - to build trusting relationships based on previous initiatives' success and indisputable data. Selling is about business partnering, not pushing your solution.

This requires a continual cycle of developing the relationship and educating decision makers about learning potential and performance. This kind of selling is key to building the kind of institutional trust and relationships that will be required to win support for learning's up-front involvement in the next critical endeavor that will require collaborative initiative.

It's important to remember that relationships are earned, and if organizational perceptions about learning's role are not taken seriously or shaped by creative and innovative solutions, they can remain a serious drag, damper and de-motivator to the entire learning enterprise.

Consider the sales process: It is not your one-size-fits-all idea in a box that should be accepted by any prospective customer you pitch it to. It is determining the business issue, drivers, potential of the solution, how the solution comes together, investment in dollars, satisfaction with the executed solution and return on investment. If you have been attempting the first with limited success, let's discuss how we get to the latter.

Rolling Up Learning's Sleeves

Given the demands on our time these days, it's easy for any learning professional to get mired in an unceasing cycle of process meetings in the learning organization. But this unfortunately comes at the expense of not moving our learning organizations forward to become better business partners - easily said, but not easily achieved.

Relationships with line of business leaders are never static. They either are gaining momentum and moving forward, or they're moving backward. If a business leader does not know your group, then you do not know your customer.

That's why knowing your business, building critical relationships, understanding how decisions are made and why they are made are so important. If you bring creative solutions and new ideas to shape the overall business, you can reshape perceptions about learning and add value to your organization.

In sales, there are "high-value questions." In the learning leader's situation, some of these may include:

a) What are the perils and challenges between our current state and our goals?

b) What does success look like?

c) What does failure look like?

d) Does a performance solution need to be part of the overall solution, and why?

e) Which performance indicators will inform the business about its early progress?

f) Which piece(s) of the implementation plan might require us to stay closely connected moving forward?

OK, so you have asked the questions. Now what? From here, it becomes similar to a learning analysis. You understand the problem, but do you understand the gap, the challenge? Would the decision maker agree with you? How does your approach distinctly map to the needs and fulfill the gaps? Can it be demonstrated? Is it logical and simple, or convoluted? Can you explain it in less than a minute? And the big question: Can you prove that you can execute the solution?

Once key decision makers understand the big-picture impact of the learning enterprise, they're far more likely to forge a relationship through which they can discuss the tools or capabilities the learning organization can bring to help solve the issue or increase the business' overall chances of attaining its desired objective.

Practical Advice on What Works

Sonserae Toles, director of the U.S.-based Learning Campus for Siemens, a global leader in industry, energy and health care, said there are two things any learning leader can do to help advance effective corporate learning.

First is to look at where your key clients reside structurally within the organization and to become well-versed in their specific body of knowledge to establish credibility and increase the chances of a more meaningful engagement. Learning professionals who already have expertise on a particular business line usually have a much greater chance of being perceived as a trusted partner than those who do not.

A second, albeit underutilized tactic is to reach out to the communicators supporting the lines of business. "That communications person can be an extremely valuable resource. He or she knows what's happening within the organization, what the trends are and what other parts of the organization support the operations. Don't underestimate their role," Toles said.

Building relationships with other support services within the organization not only gives learning key allies in selling itself across the organization, but also puts learning closer to the business operations that drive results on a more regular basis.

Sheri A. Lamoureux, human resources executive for Energy East Corp., a super-regional energy services and delivery company based in the northeastern United States, said earning the support of the company's senior vice president and chief administrative officer, in addition to its human resources team, has been key to building the business case for enterprise-wide learning.

That was critical, she said, because for some time, the company wasn't managing or tracking the kind of training its employees got from external sources, so it wasn't really in tune with how learning was impacting its business. Had that situation continued, the organization might never have recognized - from either a business or succession-planning perspective - how important its learning objectives were to achieving its goals in the short and long term.

Before it could renew its impact, learning had to enlist the support of human resources and senior management by creating evaluation tools to measure the success of training and demonstrate a direct impact on financial performance, Lamoureux said. It also had to win the backing of skeptical business managers who had gone so long without significant employee development support that they wondered why their future performance hinged in any way on learning.

"The leadership of the organization is the most important component of this to be successful," she said.

Beyond that level of organizational sponsorship, the Energy East learning team had to not only understand its internal clients' business but also be capable of selling the benefits of engagement with learning in their language. That's the wellspring of trust between business managers and learning professionals.

"It's being able to deliver on what you say you're going to deliver on and showing them the results and doing it in the timeline you promised," Lamoureux said. "It's really as basic as that - and developing those relationships where they understand that you fully understand the business drivers and that you have the business acumen and can gain the trust and credibility. It's focusing on results."

Those organizational assets were evident in the execution of a workforce respect program that the learning team expected would drive an increase in employee complaints in the short term, but in the long run would actually create a more equitable working environment for employees. The learning team delivered the program, acknowledged both the pain and gain, but in the end, demonstrated not only a decrease in complaints but also a broader slate of benefits to the company.

Lamoureux said the practice of simply talking to business partners and being open to their suggestions and also being flexible and open-minded in terms of learning solutions can effectively demonstrate the kind of reciprocity required for meaningful partnerships.

It's also important for learning professionals to understand relationships are one-half of a critical success formula for selling learning and earning the trust of decision makers and business partners.

"Relationships can go a long way, but quite often we need to show the business rationale for what we're doing and how we're moving forward," Lamoureux said.

Successfully selling learning across the enterprise requires one to define the business case, gain consensus about it, execute the work and then measure and reflect the impact to build trust and win support for the next collaborative initiative with a line of business.

"There's both a trust and a data piece to that," Lamoureux explained. "Business partners can really only convince themselves. If you show them data and show them facts, it's hard to argue with that. And if it's coming from trusted source, that can seal the deal."

In summary, if you want to sell learning, you'd better know your customers, understand their pain and map valid solutions that have proven that they can solve that pain. Demonstrating the capabilities and relevance of yourself and your team as opposed to merely promoting an off- the-shelf solution will help you close that sale.

Anthony A. D'Agostino and Joseph Daniel McCool
[About the Authors: Anthony A. D'Agostino is a vice president and principal in the learning practice of ACS. Joseph Daniel McCool is an author and an online columnist for BusinessWeek.]

Friday, August 15, 2008

New Age Audio Systems: The Bose Story.

Bose Phenomenon.

Entrepreneurship is the midwife to innovation. Yet, how many businessmen have the courage of conviction to build enterprises that are based on principled ideas of what companies should be? Last fortnight, on a raw autumn day, I met an exception to the rule: 72-year-old Amar C Bose. The story of how a young MIT grad’s quest for the perfect stereo system led to the creation of Bose Corporation in 1964 is business lore. The privately-held company went on to become a sound (sic!) transnational, with a turnover in excess of $1.2 billion in 2002 and a reputation of building the world’s best audio systems.

What is less well known, I discovered, is that the Bose Corporation is not the brainchild of a canny business strategist, but an ongoing experiment by a brilliant scientist who knows how to use logic to move from assumption to conclusion. I had wanted to meet Dr Bose from the time I first stepped into a Bose showroom many years ago. Each retail outlet comes with its own demonstration room. Walk-in customers are urged to take in what can only be called a Bose son-et-lumiere. You sit in front of a bank of impressive-looking stereo equipment including awesome speakers that thrum life-like sound at you. At the end of the show, the salesperson removes the large speakers to reveal that actually, all this while, the hi-fi sound was coming from the tiny Bose speakers. At this point, the audience gasps.

As I drove towards The Mountain, the Bose Corporation’s headquarters in Framingham, MA, I was very curious as to what kind of a mind had come up with a marketing strategy that changed the customer’s mindset and convinced the customer about its own product attributes. Turned out it’s a teacher’s mind. As a electrical engineering professor at MIT, writing textbooks forced Dr Bose to think like a student. “It caused me to project myself into the mind of someone I am addressing”.

So, in 1968, when the Bose Corporation came out with its first breakthrough product — the 901 Direct/Reflecting Speaker which reflected 89 per cent sound off walls and brought live concert-like sound into homes — Dr Bose also decided to come up with a breakthrough marketing strategy to sell the product. “I knew this speaker was better than anything in the market. But, if I had left it to the salesperson, he wouldn’t even try to explain the attributes. So, I came up with the idea of a 7-minute demonstration. It was like teaching or writing a textbook”.

Welcome to the Bose school of entrepreneurship, which teaches only two lessons. One: Passionately, madly and deeply, believe in how you want to run your company, and ensure your actions are designed to follow your beliefs, no matter how illogical or non-businesslike it may seem to anyone else. Since innovation is all, it’s ideas and not hierarchy which determines the direction of research. Since Dr Bose is a fierce believer in ethics, every employee learns the p’s and q’s fast — salespeople are sacked on the spot if they are caught criticising the competition.

Two: Passionately, madly, and deeply, avoid doing what you do not believe in, no matter how logical it seems to everyone else. Since he wanted to ensure that the Bose Corporation was driven by research and not financial results, Dr Bose refused to take the company public and be bullied by Wall Street. Since he did not start the company for personal wealth, Dr Bose’s salary is fixed by the HR department just as it is for every other employee. None of his children work there nor will they inherit it — instead, it will, most likely, pass on to an education trust.

Is Dr Bose always right, has he always made smart choices, were resources always efficiently employed? He will be the first to admit, no, no and no. “I would have been fired at least five times if I had been the chairman of a public company”, he says with a grin. Then, he leans forward, his eyes burning with intensity: “For me, the profits that come in are like the blood in the human system. However, the real excitement is the way the body works.” That’s the thrill of enterprise — despite 38 years of being in business. When did you last feel the rush?

Article Reference:
The article appeared in the Financial Express dated: Tuesday , November 12, 2002.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Abhinav Bindra: The first Indian to get a gold medal

The first Indian to get a gold medal in Olympics in an individual event.


Abhinav Bindra comes from an affluent Sikh Khatri family. His parents, Dr. Apjit and Babli Bindra, are promoters of the Hitech Group of companies which has a turnover of Rs. 300 crores (US $75 million). The group has interests in agro & dog food processing, computer gaming, livestock genetics and pharmaceuticals.

He was born on September 28, 1982 at Dehradun. He studied at the Doon school, Dehradun till the 8th standard (topping the difficult entrance exam) and then left for St. Stephens School Chandigarh to pursue shooting. He earned his BBA from the University of Colorado.

He did his shooting training in Germany. He practiced for 12-14 hours a day at the shooting range that he owns at his farmhouse near Chandigarh.

International performance.

He won six medals at various international meets in 2001. In the 10 m Air rifle event at the 2002 Commonwealth Games, Manchester, he won Gold in the Pairs event and Silver in the individual event.

At the 2004 Olympic Games, he scored 597 in the qualification round and was placed third behind Qinan Zhu (599 - Olympic Record) and Li Jie (598). In the finals, Abhinav finished with 97.6 p oints, last in the field of eight and was the only player below 100 points. His sub-par finals dropped him from third to seventh.

At the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games, he won the Gold in the Pairs event and the Bronze in the Singles event. He missed the 2006 Asian Games at Doha because of a back injury.

He received the Arjuna award in 2000 and Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna (India's highest sports award) in 2001.

Winning Shot

Bindra booked his place in the 2008 Olympics by winning the gold medal at the 2006 ISSF World Shooting Championship with a score of 699.1 At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Abhinav Bindra won the gold for the Men's 10 meter Air Rifle final after shooting a total of 700.5. He scored 596 (fourth) in the qualifying round and out-scored all other shooters in the finals with a round of 104.5. In the finals, he started with a shot of 10.7, and none of his shots were below 10.0. Bindra was tied with Henri Hakkinen heading into his final shot. Bindra scored his highest of the finals - 10.8 (A Bull's eye) while Hakkinen came with 9.7 to settle for Bronze medal.

This was India's first individual gold medal at the Olympics, and the first gold in 28 years, since the Men's Hockey team won the gold at the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Bindra is rewarded by various Indian state governments and private organizations for his achievement. These include the state governments of Punjab - Rs. One crore, Harayana - Rs. 25 lacs, Maharashtra Rs. 10 Lacs, Karnataka Rs. 10 Lacs, Tamilnadu - Rs 5 lacs, Madhya Pradesh - Rs. 5 lacs, and Chandigarh 5 lacs.

Other organization that rewarded Bindra include Chandigarh civic administration - Rs. 5 lacs, BCCI Rs. 25 lacs. and Samsung Rs. 20 lacs. Indian Railways has rewarded him with lifelong free pass for himself & one companion in First AC. Spicejet Airways has offered him lifelong free flight.

How to Get the Most Important Things Done.

Have you ever gotten to the end of a "busy" day and then realized that you didn't really get anything significant done?

One of the biggest causes of this common problem is what Peter Drucker calls "drifting into trivia." Getting so caught up in all the small
stuff that you forget to do the big, important stuff.

There are many opportunities during each day for you to drift into trivia: remembering a phone call you need to make, coming across a piece of
paper reminding you of some other project, getting an email asking you a question, a call from a colleague, a drop-in visitor, etc.

Before you know it, the important task that you were working on is hijacked by a much less important errand.

If you find yourself routinely working on unimportant things or not accomplishing as much as you want, you may be drifting into trivia more often than you think.

Drifting into trivia is not always easy to spot. Sometimes the work that you drift into seems important, but if you take a step back and reflect on what you are really trying to accomplish, you realize that the work doesn't really serve your
objectives and is merely distracting you from what you really need to do.

The best way to avoid drifting into trivia is to have clear priorities and objectives. When your priorities are clear, you will be able to tell when that tempting distraction is less important. You will realize immediately that by doing it you would be drifting into trivia.

Setting Clear Priorities

Effective time managers quickly realize that they simply cannot do everything. They have to be selective with their limited amount of time and consciously choose to spend it on what is most important to them.

This is why it is so important for you to be the one choosing, rather than just going with the flow and allowing circumstances, interruptions or other people to choose for you.

Prioritizing means taking conscious control of your choices and deciding to spend more time on the projects and tasks that are important and valuable, and less time on the ones that are not as important or valuable.

This may sound obvious, but the fact is that the vast majority of people don't put much thought on how they spend their time. They just flow through life doing whatever grabs their attention next, or repeating the same things day after day
out of habit and routine.

How to Prioritize

The ABCD prioritization method is a simple, practical and powerful technique you can use to prioritize your projects and tasks.

You should start by prioritizing your projects (which represent your outcomes) based on their importance.

I normally assign an A priority to ongoing projects that I'm actively working on, as well as important long-term projects that I want to continue moving forward.

Your A projects represent outcomes that you have decided are important enough to commit time to on a regular basis. So, if you think you should be making progress on a project right now, give it an A priority.

I assign a priority of B to projects that are "under review." They may very well be worth moving forward, but they are not important enough to devote time to them this upcoming week. You can then revisit your decision during your next weekly
planning session.

One common mistake while prioritizing is to automatically assign an A priority to urgent things, and to push back important long-term projects to B or even C priority.

If a long-term project truly is important, you should make it an A and commit time to it on a regular basis.

I usually leave urgent but non-important projects/tasks as either B's or C's, which helps me to productively procrastinate on them until I can truly determine if they are worth doing. Since I review them regularly, I don't have to worry about them falling through cracks or becoming a crisis.

The C priority category represent projects that I may want to do at some point in the future, but definitely not right now. Once I've decided that a project is a C, I won't even consider committing any time to it during the upcoming week.

Finally, I reserve the D priority for projects and tasks that I'm not planning to do at all. They are simply not worth my time right now.

Prioritize Your Tasks

Prioritizing tasks is slightly different than prioritizing projects. In general, projects are things that you are going to work in parallel during the week, so the project priorities help you decide which projects to work on, as well as
how much time to devote to them.

On the other hand, you normally work on tasks for a given project sequentially. You work on the most important thing first until completed, and then you move on to the next most important thing, and so on. Task priorities help you decide the
ordering of tasks within a given project... which task to do first, which task to do second, etc.

You don't need to worry about any other projects or tasks you may have, just consider how important the task is for its project.

When prioritizing tasks, I usually start by categorizing them into one of the ABCD labels without providing a rank.

Ranking the Items

Once I have assigned a priority label to all tasks, I focus on the A's and assign individual priority rank values to the top five to ten tasks:

A1 for the most important, A2 for the next most important, and so on.

You can usually tell which of two items is more important just by looking at them.

If you are having trouble deciding, just ask yourself: "If I could only complete one of these but not both, which one would I choose?"

If you think two tasks are equally important, just assign the same priority value to both of them.

If you have more than ten tasks for a project, you don't have to assign rank numbers to all of them. Just rank the top five to ten tasks and leave the others with their general labels (A, B etc.)

One important benefit of prioritizing is that it allows you to focus on your most important tasks without getting overwhelmed by everything that you need to do.

That's why I suggest you only rank five to ten tasks: it allows you to focus on a small number of tasks at any given time.

Achieve Planner makes it super easy to filter your task list by priority so you can stay focused on your most important tasks.

If you still find your large task list overwhelming or distracting, simply move more of your tasks to B or even C status.

Working with Priorities

The key to making the ABCD method work for you is to develop the habit of using your priorities to guide your work.

Whenever you start working on a project, start with the top priority task and work on it until it's done (or it's time to work on some other project).

If you consistently choose to spend your time on your most important projects and tasks, you'll be making great use of your time and you'll feel much more productive.

Here's What You Can Do Now

1) Look over your projects and categorize them into A's, B's, C's and D's

2) If you start working on a project and you haven't prioritized your task list, spend a few minutes prioritizing your tasks and then get to work on your most important task first.

3) Whenever you start working on a project, start with the most important task first - develop the habit of using priorities to guide your work.

Here are some additional resources and tools that you might find useful...

1) Achieve Planner Software

Achieve Planner software for Windows helps you get organized, increase your productivity, and make better use of your time. Here's what one user had to say...

"After trying Achieve Planner for nearly two months I can honestly say that it has
revolutionized the way I work. I have an incredibly busy schedule so I need something that can cope with a multitude of tasks, projects and appointments whilst at the same time keeping me focused on what is most important. Achieve Planner does all of this and much more besides.

Over the years I've tried pretty much every system on the market and nothing, absolutely nothing, comes anywhere close to this. It looks great, works superbly, comes with excellent instructions, is a pleasure to use, but most important of all - IT REALLY WORKS!

For anyone who wants to get organized and take their productivity to the next level Achieve Planner is an absolute must. It's one piece of software that I'm certain I'll be using for many years to come."
Paul Smithson

2 ) The Journal" Diary Software

Keeping a journal or diary on your computer has never been easier! If you've ever wanted to start a journal or keep a diary, take this opportunity to get started today!

"I just wanted to thank you for writing such a useful program. I use it daily to record my thoughts, which I later review as I write my poetry. The easy reviewing of my previous thoughts from other days has alleviated much of the writers block I experienced in the past. Thanks again for the great software!"
Gregory Allan Clark

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Giant Leap

It’s just the age for first love, first vote and first drive in father’s car. But it can also be the age for your first company.

NOT YET out of teens and already dreaming of being an entrepreneur? You have an idea to fix a problem and believe you can make money from it? It might have been unthinkable in the golden age of lathe machines and steam engines, but in the featherlight economy of internet and mobile phones, it is not just real, but an inviting precollege career option. Imagine Google being founded by a 60-year-old business patriarch! Both Larry Page and Sergei Brin were 25 when they started what would become synonymous with web searching, but the age of entry for startup businesses is coming down. More and more workable business ideas are coming out of campuses, often from abroad but occasionally from India too. Fearlessness, exploratory mindset and self-confidence — all ingredients of youth — are becoming business assets. Teenage startups offer a unique proposition; if you succeed, you make it big. If you fail, you are wiser by the experience that college education couldn’t have given. Never was time so ripe for the country to warm up to this interplay of youth and entrepreneurship.

But then, success stories are often hyped up and failures, larger in number, ignored. The road to entrepreneurial success is hard and unpredictable even for veterans, and can be quite daunting for a teenager. There are so many things that one must get right from the start, if the venture has to take a professional step forward. Here are a few tips that can show the light, but the journey is all yours.

Studies Or Business?

So, your parents have told you to finish college and do whatever you want only later. The good news is that internet has eased so many of the business functions that go into firing up a startup, that you can run the business in your spare time. When the Aggarwal brothers, Raghav and Abhinav, started exampapersonline.com, one was in college and the other in school. Peak season visits on their web site have touched 10,000 a month, but the business hasn’t affected their education. They plan to continue their study and qualify themselves better for business, but they also have plans for expanding the site and offer new services. With a bit of time management, it is possible to ride both the horses.

That said, big education is not essential for successful entrepreneurship. An MBA, for instance, is fancied by kids looking for a career in business, but business experts say you don‘t pick up the art of entrepreneurship from the degree itself. “MBA, by itself, imparts very few skills that are really valuable in a startup situation,” says Alok Mittal, a venture capitalist with Canaan Partners. “The uncertainty and non-linearity of startup businesses is something that most MBA courses shy away from. What it does provide is an allround theoretical view of how businesses function, but it’s not very difficult to pick that up in any case.” Want to hear what an IIM entrepreneurship professor has to say when asked if it is better to get an MBA before trying out a new business? “Certainly not. MBA makes students more risk averse,” observes Anil K Gupta of Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.

Everyone Says It Won’t Work

The single biggest hurdle that young entrepreneurs report is that elders do not take them seriously, at least initially. Let us hope the grown-ups will grow out of this attitude as news spreads about more successes, but till then you have to learn to live with dismissive comments. Even friends can be sceptical. “People tend to have this natural tendency to want to put down an idea however good it is. We saw some of this from our peers and sometimes, they even throw you off track,” says 17-year-old Abhinav. But then, “If you are convinced, then that’s all that matters.”

Canaan’s Mittal likens entrepreneurship to new world exploration. “I would take an analogy of an explorer who has a vision which is seldom shared by others.” The traveller must have the courage to face unexpected obstacles and find his way around in an unknown land.

A deep knowledge of what you do, a professional attitude and focus on solving your customer’s problems will gain you recognition in due course.

Do I Need Prior Work Experience?

There are those who think it would be useful to have some work experience and others who feel such experience can actually make people timid. But hardly any expert suggests work as an essential qualification for entrepreneurship. “It is a myth that experience is a must for entrepreneurial success,” says R Satyanarayan, founder of Career Launcher, which is training 55,000 business school aspirants this year.

TechEnclave, an online discussion forum for computer hardware issues, enjoys the patronage of 20,000 users today. Its founders, Ajay Datta and Sumit Chaudhary, were teenagers going to engineering college and picked up some experience working informally for their friends’ web sites. “Work experience is not needed. If you just have a good idea, that’s it,” Mr Datta says. It is important to know the importance of business operations, finance, marketing and negotiation and these skills can be picked up while working for somebody else. It is a matter of personal choice whether one must work before starting up a business or just take the plunge. “If one has an entrepreneurial spirit, he/she will do it either ways,” says Manish Vij, co-founder of Quasa Media.

Do I Need A Partner Or A Mentor?

A partner who brings complementary skills, experience or money can be valuable, but of utmost importance is “alignment of objectives and high degree of trust in each other,” says Mr Mittal. A single leader startup might have its own value though. It would be easier to impart focus to the business and maintain the vision. But if you must get a partner, choose someone you know and respect, says Abhijeet Virmani, founder of Positron Advisory Services. The same thing goes for a mentor. Young people benefit immensely from mentors, who can shorten the learning curve and help in making decisions at crucial turning points. However, having a mentor is no alternative to the hard work required to make a business successful. “A mentor is not needed to solve a business problem as much as to solve a dilemma in the head,” says Mr Satyanarayan. The guide can help you decide if and when you need to raise money, hire people or form collaborations. You should not turn to the mentor for day-to-day problems.

If Something Goes Wrong?

Two hours of sleep should improve your head, says Mr Satyanarayan. All businesses, big and small, hit low points. The ability to remain calm and make logical decisions during such a phase is critical. “I remind myself that this is a hole that I need to climb out of and I sleep it off. Never make a decision at the top most or bottom most of your game.” Early troubles can actually teach an entrepreneur valuable lessons in business. Exampapersonline, run by Aggarwal brothers, saw a slump in student visits to their site immediately after the annual examinations. They say this forced them to think of ways to spread out the traffic to the whole of the year. They have come up with new ideas to keep the site relevant for periods far from exams. They are now planning to launch internship listings, campus reporting and project work forums.

My Idea Needs A Lot Of Money

An expensive idea can still be a great one to pursue if it can provide commensurate returns, says Mr Mittal. “As a first-time entrepreneur, understanding how to phase the capital raising process is a key. Progressively, as you establish the opportunity better and address the risks in the business, you can raise more capital and fund expansion.” Services based businesses that leverage the power of technology and Internet can be started at a fraction of the cost of manufacturing businesses. Mr Satyanarayan says, “True entrepreneurship is about making sure that a business model is mortally dependent on capital.” So, here goes. Entrepreneurship is like a game of chess. The starting move defines your position, the middle game shows your grit and staying power and the end game determines your fate. It takes both a bit of daring and bit of careful approach to make the winning move.

Article Resource:
Author: Jacob Cherian is the Chief Editor in the The Economic Times, Mumbai and the article appeared in one of their successful columns on Entrepreneurship/Start-ups called "Starship Enterprise".