Product Strategy of your Startup

A successful product must connect with the personal values of targeted customers. A product experience includes the expression of the product and the interaction with the product. The three main ingredient of any product are, 

  1.  Usefulness of the product that enhance or ease some activity or process
  2.  The product is easy to use and remains consistent in use throughout its expected life
  3.  Desirability of the product.  

The more complex the product and larger the business, the harder it gets to deliver on all of the above. Developing a useful, easy-to-use, and desirable product that creates a meaningful connection between the brand identity of a Startup and the needs of a customer is hard enough. Creating that relationship and making a profit is the major challenge. Finding the optimum position between mass production with low margin and smaller-run niche markets at higher profit margin is a challenge startups must contend with. Like how low Harley-Davidson can go with the cost of their motorbikes before they negatively affect their brand of exclusivity? 

The product, the customer, and the product experience must be the core throughout your entire Startup. You and your entire team must, 

  1. Focus on a shared understanding of the targeted customers
  2. Respect one another and recognise how each area of the Startup contributes to the product experience for each and every stakeholder
  3. Recognise that their approach, attitude and end product all form the basis for the product and Startup brand image
  4. Recognise that the value-base and affiliated qualities the customer seeks must drive the product development process

 In many cases, a product becomes the basis of a Startup, while in other situations; new products are developed within an existing Startup. There is a variety of alternative strategies that startups can consider when developing a brand identity for a new product, like,

  1. How a Startup can develop a new and broader identity?
  2. How a new product can become the basis for a new Startup?
  3. How a new product in an existing Startup can bring about a whole new line of products?
  4. How a Startup can use a flexible identity connecting a core across all products while still maintaining the USP of each of the products?

 Remember that an effective product development process will bring together your Startup mission and brand image to the product and targeted customers. Your Startup team must understand the needs of the user, desired user experience and how that understanding translates to product criteria.

Focus on creating value opportunities though your products. All the very best for your product development process!

5 Key Bootstrapping Strategies

I have been a bootstrapper from day one since I got bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. I learnt important key lessons from my first Startup that I applied in the next to optimise the chances of its success. Based on my learning, am sharing the following strategies for bootstrapped startups,

1. Network hard and get connected, but work the ways on your own. Look for business mentors, hire experts, and the rest ‘Do It Yourself’. Remember that all other kinds of help and support costs money that you don’t have. It’s fine that you are a rocket scientist, a specialist, but you can train yourself to do marketing, sales pitch, finance, websites, and other work that will help your Startup grow.

2. Rent for office space is one of the biggest expenses for any Startup. Till you start making money from your business, try to work from a home office. Rent that garage the Bill Gates way. Work virtually. Spend the rock bottom minimum money to keep your Startup running. Look for innovative ways through which you can cut down your costs, be it setting up fees or the operational costs.

3. You don’t need to start taking huge CXO salaries the moment your Startup starts making money. Take out survival money and re-invest the rest of profits back in your Startup. Before you get into the bootstrapping mode, plan your survival finances for 12 months, instead of the mythical 6 months break even period. Believe me, in most of the cases you are not going to see any real money coming to your Startup in its first year.

4. You will have to constantly find ways to market your Startup creatively. Use social media to its fullest. Don’t go for the glittering marketing expenses, which are huge and will eat up your initial money that may not bring results to keep you and your confidence afloat for a long time. Either find interns from graduate schools around who can do marketing for you through twitter, Facebook, e-mail, LinkedIn etc or just do it yourself.

5. They key to any bootstrapped Startup is perseverance. If you don’t have patience and want to strike the jackpot from the word go then either you have to be the luckiest person around or you are living in a utopian world. For the real people, steady persistence with focussed course of action leads to desirable results and success.

So keep a tight lid on your costs, trust your gut feeling, and march forward with all the passion in your dream. The growth may be slower with bootstrapping, but it’s all yours. All the very best in your endeavors!

Business basics : Contracts or no contracts

One of the most important social structures that entrepreneurs need to deal with is the Justice framework ! It is pretty much the human over-ride or backup for the social concept of fairness and trust. Every day we hear of stories about how trust built up great companies, while the same trust is broken for little, corrupt gain in other spheres of life. So here is a take on how entrepreneurs should make use of this framework call justice

  • The first thing to do for any entrepreneur is to get a CA and Lawyer as his friend ! They are a valuable asset at all times possible be it filing taxes, creating a company, ESOPs and so on … The friend aspect is to make sure that you build a longer term relationship which should benefit both the parties.
  • Always get a company or LLP registered, most people seem to neglect this aspect. In this age when you can start an LLP online, I see no harm in spending small money to get a real legal entity in place. Companies come and go, but its most important to show that you are a legal entity here to stay [plus, it makes getting a bank account really easy]
  • Try signing an NDA with most parties, it is a show of good faith and creates a positive atmosphere for interaction. To be honest, non-competes and NDAs are weak in India .. rarely does any company enforce them as well. Though, longer term its a great habit when you want to become a global company !
  • Always sign contracts, no matter how small the contract value it is important to have some proof that you had started to do some work ! It is agreed that most startups are built up on trust, but you should not cut corners on legalities.

These are some easy tips to keep in mind, business should come first and not emotional trust. In such situations, instinct can actually become regret ! So all the entrepreneurs out there, keep working and signing those contract ….

Business Technology basics for your Startup

So you are planning a business and plan to get started soon ! This article is all about how can you get started with technology to help your business grow …

Lets look at some of the things, that most startup should think about doing early on

  1. Getting some cheap computers ! Today, you do not need to by IBMs and HPs to get quality hardware, it is easy to get cheap laptops and assembled servers. My own machine is a eMachine laptop bought for INR 22,000 ! Now that is a steal. –
  2. Get paid version control [SVN or git] online, this saves you a lot of future hassle if you are an internet company. You can use github or unfuddle ! [IT companies only] –
  3. Get project management online ! This would be key, most companies do not realise the benefits of using a collabboration tool. Good example to use is Basecamp.
  4. Get your site done in wordpress or drupal ! Use a CMS for your site, its easier to manage longer term. Just putting up static pages limits your imagination and you lose out on SEO a lot of times [CMSes have a lot of good built in SEO features]
  5. Use google apps to setup you emails ! If you really want to use quality email interfaces, you must configure your company [however small] emails with google apps. It will make you life very easy and zero maintainability on top. –

These were some quick tips to getting your shop in shape real quick, you do not need to spend a lot ! The idea is to spend it correctly. My current laptop technically paid for itself real quick, so like any business you should be able to fully utilize the hardware that is being procured.

8 Management Lessons from India’s Freedom Struggle

Guest Post by: Sonia Jaspal

We recently celebrated Indian Independence Day on 15 August. I cherish the freedom and celebrate India’s growth towards global recognition. Going back in history, Indian freedom struggle lasted nearly a century. The last 25 years of the struggle was lead by Mahatma Gandhi on the concept of non-violence. India is one of the unique countries which gained freedom without much bloodshed. I think there are lot of management lessons which corporate world is implementing presently which were prevalent in the freedom struggle.

In this post I am exploring Mahatma Gandhi’s leadership and management style, and linking it to the current management practices.

 1. Walk the talk

Mahatma Gandhi preached the concept of simple living and high thinking, although he came from an affluent Indian family. He came up with various austere living standards and requested his followers to adopt them. His kept his life open to public scrutiny. People may debate regarding his personal choices but no one would raise questions on his ethics and integrity. Irrespective of the difficulty involved, he always was able to take the high moral ground and never compromised on his personal values. In the present corporate world we respect the leaders who are able to walk the talk, demonstrate ethical and principled behavior and lead by example.

 2. Think out of the box

The strategy and tactics adopted during the Indian independence struggle were unlike any other country’s revolution. Some of the concepts were:

 • Non-violence – A war fought on the basis of principles without any bloodshed.

• Civil disobedience- Court arrest if the British officials are threatening imprisonment for demanding your rights.

 • Non-cooperation- The message given was maintain your jobs with the British Empire, however do not support it regarding its practices against Indian people. Managements today are advocating out of the box thinking and competing strategically. The organization which implements a unique strategy generally wins the market.

3. Brand building

Mahatma Gandhi’s personal brand has lasted 60 years after his death without any investment. He created a brand of a simple moral man living life on the principle of Ahimsa (non-violence). His home spun cotton clothes, wooden shaft, leather slippers, vegetarian meals and home at the ashram all embodied his personal brand. His character and communication depicted his core values to the masses. We must acknowledge that fact that very few leaders in history have as strong a brand image as Gandhi. The corporate world is spending huge sums on advertising to build the corporate brand. We hear Tom Peters and other management gurus talking about building the “Brand You”.

4. Competitor’s size doesn’t matter

The Indian freedom struggle gained ground by the idea of a few committed individuals who wished to bring about a change. They envisaged taking on the might of British Empire who had the resources, funds, weapons and management capability. The Indian leadership team acknowledged the strengths of the British Empire and devised a strategy which minimized those strengths. They built a strategy on the following:

• Non-violence which required no weapons;

• Asked masses to contribute for the independence and live frugally, hence survived on minimal resources;

• Developed local leadership across all regions under Congress banner. Using a similar strategy Barrack Obama won the American president elections when he had no funds and support. Also, one notices small IT companies (e.g. hotmail) which developed into big names just by pioneering a unique product and leveraging the market properly.

5. Build dream teams

Indian Congress Party besides Gandhi had a number of other accomplished leaders. Namely, C. Rajagopalachari, Jawaharlal Nehru,  Vallabhbhai Patel, Subhash Chandra Bose and others. These leaders all had different personalities and ideologies, however worked for a common cause. Gandhi and Nehru complimented each other tremendously and mostly operated as two in a box. Senior leaders acted as mentors for the younger generation. The party had leaders at grass root level, and people were encouraged to develop leadership traits. Business world is focusing on building dream teams with leadership at all levels. The Human resource Departments are focused on concepts of two in a box, alternate leaders, chief mentors and succession planning.

6. Engage and empower people

Mahatma Gandhi in his speech on the eve of Dandi March said -“Wherever there are local leaders, their orders should be obeyed by the people. Where there are no leaders and only a handful of men have faith in the programme, they may do what they can, if they have enough self-confidence”. He encouraged common man to show leadership and commitment under the overall umbrella of Congress. He united the people by specifying the mission, vision and code of conduct of Congress. The masses were committed to the cause and in all his symbolic protests he involved people participation. The corporate world’s biggest challenge is of disengaged employees due to actual or perceived lack of empowerment. It is becoming apparent that success or failure of the organization is increasingly dependent on a healthy organization culture which encourages employee participation.

7. Accept and encourage diversity

The British are generally blamed for implementing “divide and rule policy” in India. On the contrary, India already was already divided into various regions, religions and castes before the British rule. Mahatma Gandhi in his struggle for independence attempted to unify the country. He encouraged the princely states to join hands, brought Hindus and Muslims on the same platform and removed caste barriers for joining the freedom moment. He supported gender equality and encouraged women to actively participate in the movement. His wife, Kasturba Gandhi played a pivotal role in getting women’s participation. With less than 10% women in senior management positions in the corporate world, the mantra today is to bring more women on board. With globalization the concept of accepting and encouraging diversity has taken hold.

8. Don’t make it personal

In the Quit India speech in 1942, Mahatma Gandhi stated- “Then, there is the question of your attitude towards the British. I have noticed that there is hatred towards the British among the people. The people say they are disgusted with their behavior. The people make no distinction between British imperialism and the British people”. Deal with the issue and not the person; this is the corporate mandate today. Mahatma Gandhi pioneered this thought process. In all his communication and dealings he stood up against British Imperialism. He however, had friendly relationships with Britishers and never made a personal attack in his speeches. On the other hand, he continuously advocated decent and humane behavior even towards ones enemy. His thought process was- address the issue at hand and keep a positive attitude towards a person from the competing camp. In nut shell, there is a lot to learn from the Indian freedom struggle for the corporate world. It had unique dimensions which are gaining hold now as corporate best practices. History is the best teacher, if we are willing to learn from other people’s successes and failures.

Sonia can be reached at: soniajaspal[at]sify[dot]com

4 Keys to Successful Startup Advertising

Startups usually don’t do much advertising in their early stages. Entrepreneurs either think that it will be very expensive, or they don’t get this idea at all to advertise their startups and related offerings. Advertising does have the potential to make your biz get more eyeballs and hence more business. Advertising is an integral part of your overall marketing strategy [Read]. It can be done through either or a judicious mix of search engine advertising, banner advertising, magazines, newspapers, business directories, radio ads, TV commercials, billboards, mail campaigns, flyers etc. However you need to plan well before using advertising as your tactic for your Startup.

Well planned advertising can help you achieve the following,

  • Attract new customers
  • Enhance your reputation by building credibility in the market and establishing your brand image
  • Promote your product or service and boost your sales over time

 Keys to successful Startup advertising,

  1. Research: The key step in your advertising is to research and know your audience. Whom do you want to target through your ads. Research into the demographics of your target customers. You should know this segment well and what mediums they generally use. That will cut down on your advertising costs and also will make your advertising focussed.
  2. Planning: The mantra here is creating ‘to the point’ message that you are planning to convey, and keep it simple. You have to ensure that you are not putting across confusing messages to your potential customers. Plan your advertising carefully and use the right medium.
  3. Uniqueness: If your advertising is a boring one, it will not be effective. Try to make it distinctive and visually appealing. Also, frequency of your ads will deliver better outcomes.
  4. Patience: And last but not the least, you need to have patience to see positive outcomes of your advertising. It will take time and effort before your targeted audience turns into your customers.

Startup jugaadh #4 : Iron man

“When one is willing and eager, the Gods join in.” – Aeschylus, Greek playwright

Willpower is something that most great organization and individuals seem to have in tremendous amounts. When things go wrong, tough decisions need to be made and followed up. Startups have their fair share of tough decisions which eventually end up defining success and gains [Both of which are different, depending upon the circumstances]. Most start ups believe that they are democratic, but it does come down to few individuals or maybe even one, who makes this decision. This group or individual forms the core and thus, can be described as the Iron core or man in such a system.

Much like the comic hero, it is to create and nurture value that such decisions are taken. Lets take a simple example to outline what is make or break, assume you got a call from some angel investor about investing money in your startup. From a couple of discussions, it emerges that you will get INR X for Y% of the company. How do you take a call on taking this investment or passing on it ? If you take variables like the recession and bootstrapping into context then it is a genuinely difficult decision to make. In a smaller group[2-5], the decision may revolve around payouts, future growth and there maybe a possibility of  looking at it democratically. In larger groups, it maybe a much more complex discussion and more often than not result in the emergence of interesting power dynamic between the founders. It is usually best to give a particular trusted individual some more powers to break deadlocks so that time is not wasted and decisions are made. Like every super hero, this individual has great responsibilities.  Indecision may actually be worse than not taking a decision sometimes, and for startups that is true more often than not.

We at stratessence, believe in leadership and help companies strategise well into the future taking into account as many variables possible. For more do write to us at

Importance of Business Mentoring for your Startup

Even though you may have a constant stream of info through various sources based on which you make your startup decisions, but you may need wisdom of a business mentor to give the right direction and vision for your startup to steer towards the growth path. Mentoring can help improve productivity, build better business relationships and help to retain staff. Remember, a business mentor has more entrepreneurial business experience than you as they have ‘been there done it’ before.

However good your idea, there is no substitute for experience. A mentor will be your reliable sounding board, providing advice and guidance to help you overcome challenges as your business grows, and even give you emotional support in those dark times. Mentors can help you identify your strengths and weaknesses and can also provide you with some useful contacts when it comes to raising finance or finding suppliers, resources, or even developing your market base. Remember, that mentors are NOT consultants. They usually don’t charge any fee. Their motive is non financial, and most of the times they do it to sharpen their business skills or position themselves as strategists or teachers.

Finding the right mentor(s) can be hard for your business. Identify the key issues you want help with and look for people who have faced similar challenges and overcome them. Also look for domain expertise and the current networks they have. ‘Linkedin’ is one of the best places while searching for a mentor. Also, don’t hesitate in asking your friends, family, former bosses and business contacts if they know anyone with relevant experience. You can approach people you already know too – however be confident about differentiating between professional and personal relationship with the person. NETWORKING is the key to find the most suitable mentor for your startup.

You will need to put in efforts to build a good relationship with your mentor that creates a win-win ecosystem. This is important if you want to get the best out of mentoring. Communication is the key. Keep in regular touch over email. Do share your small glories, and make an effort to meet them for a face to face discussion when you want their help in solving key issues. Also, though you take key business advises from your mentor, don’t expect that a mentor will solve your every startup problem. Remember that it’s your own startup, and a mentor is there to guide you and not spoon-feed.

Sales Forecasting for your Startup

Most of the smaller and early stage startups do not take Sales Forecast for their businesses seriously. Your sales forecast also forms the backbone of your business model. Without a sales forecast for your Startup you cannot get the real picture of cashflow (expenses, profit and growth). Remember, Cash is the key to keep your Startup afloat!

Forecasting is usually easier when you break your sales down into manageable parts and then forecast the parts. Estimate your sales by product line, month by month, and then add the product lines for all months. Project monthly sales for the first 12 months and annual sales for the following three years.

What you need to do?

[Read ‘Economics of your Startup’ and you can send request for the FREE Template]

1: Develop a customer profile based on their demographics and determine the trends in your industry/domain. Make some basic assumptions about the customers in your target market.

2: Develop an in-depth profile of your target market. Use available statistics and research data to determine the general characteristics of this market. You can do some primary research, like user survey to determine unique characteristics about your target market.

3: Prepare Competitors profile already doing business in your target market. Prepare detailed competitors analysis, which will help you in your product/service positioning, pricing, innovative promotional techniques among other things.

4: Estimate your sales for your first year. The basis for your sales forecast can be the average monthly sales of a similar-sized competitor’s operations who is operating in a similar market. Be sure to reduce your figures by a start-up year factor of about 50% a month for the start-up months. Using your research, make an educated and rational guess at your potential market share. For example, if the size of the market is 1000, and your Startup is targeting at capturing 10% of the market (100 customers), I will recommend you to keep it conservative and reduce your figure by approximately 15%.

Don’t expect your sales forcast to be perfect, just make it reasonable. All it takes is good working knowledge of your Startup, and not advanced knowledge of finance or complex mathematics. Once you get hang of numbers, you are going to enjoy them! 

Write to us [] for a FREE Sales Forecast Spreadsheet that you can use to build your sales forecast for your startup.