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Archive for the ‘Venture Capital’ Category

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I met a very successful enterprise software entrepreneur/investor Bruce Cleveland in a very random way. Bruce was a part of the founding teams at Siebel and Oracle. It is really amazing how/where/when you meet such interesting people. As I was going through Bruce’s blog I found many intriguing posts. This one stood out because it defines an alternate investment structure particularly suitable for enterprise software companies. This could be a new structure that brave VCs who are looking for innovation in the VC model could experiment with.

Bruce defines this Spin In structure as a new startup where a large software company seeds the venture with the management team, IP, distribution and sometimes cash. This is done in partnership with other financial investors.

I could see how this would be very useful in some situations if all the incentives are aligned properly. It would also make a lot of sense to try it in a partnership situation too. For companies with a platform strategy it could make sense to seed the potential platform applications start-up partners funded using this approach. Think iFund and fbFund kind of situations in the enterprise software world.

Bruce’s blog post also reminded me of an author/entrepreneur I recently met – Jon Fisher. He advocates building companies (most relevant for enterprise software) with the end goal (a large software company as the exit) in mind. Bruce’s approach provides a good structure to what he calls strategic entrepreneurism.

Hope to see how this structure would play out in the real life. This could take at least 8-10 years before we see some start-ups exiting using this approach.

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steve-blank4 One of my greatest teachers ever, Steve Blank, started writing his blog recently. He is the master of understanding the intricacies of the startups. He has a knack of telling these complex ideas in a very simple and fun language. His core idea is that there are patterns in successful startups. He calls his core model “customer development”. After going through a few cycles of startups myself I could tell you how right he is. Everytime I get in to a situation where I have a choice to go the “traditional product development cycle” or follow the “customer development approach” – I take a deap breath, remember Steve and choose the second path.

Chris Anderson calls Steve “a dude with serious street cred“.

Steve writes on his Blog –

I call this process “Customer Development,” a sibling to “Product Development,” and each and every startup that succeeds recapitulates it, knowingly or not.

The “Customer Development” model is a paradox because it is followed by successful startups, yet articulated by no one.  Its basic propositions are the antithesis of common wisdom yet they are followed by those who succeed.

It is the path that is hidden in plain sight.

Steve: Thanks for continuing our customer development class conversations on Twitter and blog now 🙂 Looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts. So far I used to refer my entrepreneur friends to your book, now I have two more places to send them to – your tweets and your blog.

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True NorthI interviewed Bill George, author of best-seller books “Authentic Leadership” and “True North”. Bill is not just a great author and a leader himself, he is a wonderful coach and a teacher too. Here are the excerpts of this brief interview –

Hitesh: What is “True North” and how does it apply in the context of a business student or a budding entrepreneur who is just starting on a leadership journey?

Bill George: “True North” refers to the deeply held beliefs, values and passions. It is how you see yourself as a human being at a fundamental level. As a business student, it is easy to get lured to the seductions of the job search. It is easy to follow the herd and live the expectations of someone else. At this stage it becomes all the more important for you to discover your real self and find your sweet spot.

The book “True North” provides a framework because that allows you to create your own direction. Instead of other cook-books on leadership that provide the “10 qualities that make a great leader”, “True North” provides an individual approach and a framework with exercises. YOU have to figure out yourself your own values and point of differentiation.

Hitesh: How does one “frame” or “reframe” one’s life story? Is framing not by definition twisting the truth and thus not authentic? How can you have flexible leadership styles and still be authentic? Please help explain these contradictions.

Bill George: Good questions and I wrestle with these myself all the time. If you start taking these recommendations from the book to an extreme, that could be a problem.

We all see this world through a certain lens. e.g. If one grew up in a fundamentalist religious family and later on got exposed to multi-religious or atheist view points, then that opens up the mind at a much deeper level. Oprah Winfrey came to a realization at the age of 36 that she is not a “bad girl” as she always viewed herself as. She reframed her childhood abuse experiences by tracing her actions there and came out a much stronger person.

The flexibility referred in the book is the tradeoffs in your values that sometimes you have to make. These are tough decision moments where you have to make decisions like layoffs and sometimes have to reprioritize your values. The leadership “style” is a different thing than your authentic self. e.g. If the situation demands quick decisions then a consensus leadership style will not fit and you will have to adapt.

Hitesh: Any words of wisdom for the younger budding leaders?

Bill George: Get into the game. Do not watch it from the sidelines. Don’t hold back. Take the risk of failing to learn a lot.

[Please note that Bill’s comments are not verbatim and are based on the notes that I took. This was not a recorded interview]

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I read Randy Komisar’s “The Monk and the Riddle“. I just could not stop when I started reading it. By the time I finished reading it, the clock struck 4 AM. I think it was a night well spent.

Randy Komisar is a Venture Capitalist with Kleiner Perkins. This book tells Randy’s evolution (thus the word Monkey in this post’s title) and search for his passion. Autobiographies are generally boring but Randy does a great job by weaving his life nuggets with a great story of an entrepreneur, Lenny.

“We will put the Fun back in FUNerals”, says Lenny. He is trying to sell an internet business called funerals.com to Randy. This story is set in year 2000, when the whole world was going online – from pets and groceries to well funerals and caskets. I could relate to this story since a number of my friends were pitching get-rich-quick-internet-business-plans those days (and with Web 2.0 they are doing it all over again).

Lenny is a vulnerable soul like many of us who go through life in two phases. In the first phase we do what we HAVE to do so that in the second phase we can do what we LOVE to do. Randy’s point is to start doing what we LOVE to do NOW. He asks us to not live a life plan which is always deferred till we pay our dues. How practical is it?

Randy does a good job explaining the importance of following our passion, but he lacks concrete steps and examples to find out what that passion is. That search for passion is a very individual matter and requires a lot of personal effort. Bill George’s “True North” does a great job providing a framework to search for that passion. “True North” picks up where “The Monk and the Riddle” ends.

This book is a must read for anybody who thinks business is all about the bottom-line and chasing money. It will convince you to look at business and your professional life through a new lens.

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I met and listened to Vinod Khosla, a renowned Venture Capitalist, at a US-India Venture Capital Association meeting. His speech gave a glimpse inside his mind. It was a very personal speech unlike his previous speeches. Khosla talked about some of the decisions he made in life and why he made those decisions.

Vinod Khosla

Move to India – Remember 1993 – Technology world was eclipsed by Microsoft, the King. There were others like Nortel but mostly big things were happening in Redmond. Khosla lived in Northern California at that time with his family. At that time he observed a lot of action happening in Asia. To go to where the action is – he moved with his family to India.

Disillusionment – When in India he tried to find out about the non-profits that he could help and work with to make a difference. He could not find any good organizations. He was shuttling between India and the US – spending six weeks in India and six weeks in the US, alternatively. He was trying hard to help solve some of India’s biggest problems like poverty and rural development. He gave up – thinking that these are big issues and he is not even able to make a dent in these huge problems.

Khosla Version 2.0 – After spending three years in India he came back to the US again. The current run is his second attempt at solving world’s problems. This time he is more successful.

Positive Future – His prediction for future is that entrepreneurship and innovation will thrive with great opportunities ahead. He also predicts that with the growing complexity of the world, people would move to the more relevant (for happiness) things like relationships, family and enjoyment.

Responsible Capitalism – One of his core beliefs is that capitalist solutions work best for the global problems. According to him a sustainable solution is to have someone make money while solving these problems. Subsidies would take you only so far. His rule of thumb – For a long-lasting solution you need the venture to be in black within five years.

Open Source – He believes in the power of open source. One of his pet projects (where his wife is working full time now) is the open source text-books project. The goal of this project is to make textbooks freely available to all the kids. According to him California alone spends more than half a Billion dollars on text-books every year. That money would be rather well spent on the teacher’s salaries for example. Is open source (and free text-books) not contradictory to the capitalistic principles?

Gut Feeling – He mentioned that we never looks at the extensive spreadsheets and financials calculating ROI and all the good stuff for making investment decisions. He evaluates opportunities solely relying on his gut feeling.

In this meeting I saw in him an ordinary person like you and me who goes through contradicting battles in his own mind. One who is trying his best to make a dent in these massive world problems utilizing all his resources to the best he can. Good luck Mr Khosla in your pursuit of happYness (with a Y instead of i).

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