tinker on

dreaming up a web that works.

How “Freemium” was Coined

by Santosh

The web can playback history in a way that was never possible before. When digging through avc.com’s archives on business models I came across a post from March 2006 titled “My Favorite Business Model” where Fred wrote about what we know today as the freemium (tiered) business model. He asked his readers if they had a name for it and somewhere in comments Jarid put free and premium together to create Freemium. Later in another post, Fred declared that he just loved the name and wished that it would stick.

Seven years after his post the name is now in common use. At first I couldn’t believe I was actually watching the word come together. After having looked at the facts a bit I have to say that I’m grateful for the ring-side view.


Grafting a Team

by Santosh

Santosh Dawara.

I look forward to getting started up on a new project. Since I’ve done this several times over, some simple methods and tools come in handy to help serve as the glue. I like to think of this as a graft, where you’re starting afresh but with cognizance of what you’ve learned and with more refined methods.

Earlier this month Pune hosted an idea-to-prototype event. Right before the event I had put together a bundle of interesting ideas or directions to pursue and then picked one out based on several criteria. I was fairly certain about going for a marketplace or a creative community. In the week running up to the event I began putting together the basics for the idea. I’ve hit some early milestones quickly to my genuine surprise.

Starting up is best enjoyed as a team sport. At the event and earlier on the punestartups.org forums, I shared the direction I was going in as openly as possible in order to invite feedback and collaborators. The event was attended by several talented folks looking for a creative outlet. For instance, one of the participating teams were a bunch of friends who had flown in from different cities to get to work together over the weekend.

Through the forums and the event we now have a potential team and a direction to work towards. In order to get past the initial challenges, we’re using visual tools (User Story Mapping, Business Model Canvas) to collaboratively scope out our idea and the payback has been immediate. The initial concept has grown considerably even if it is only on paper and each of us are learning as to what gets our creative juices flowing.

The next milestones include putting together communication and prototypes before going out wider.

Get going with Groovy, Grails on OSX within 60mins

by Santosh

Santosh Dawara.

I usually associate intense debugging and chasing down environment issues when it comes to setting up a web application development framework. At an idea-to-prototype event, participants gave themselves only the weekend to finish their prototypes. With such a tight timeline, spending several hours on setting up frameworks is hardly justifiable.

I had to get started from scratch. Saager Mhatre, a developer with tons of experience across platforms advised that I could ignore the others and try Groovy and Grails. One might think of Groovy as a modern programming leap for the Java platform and Grails as a convention-oriented framework for developing web applications. But the way I’d explain it is with the words ‘Productive’ emphatically highlighted.

I was genuinely surprised to have finished setting up the framework within the hour. Everything worked well and I test drove an example app from browser to database. In contrast to other frameworks, this one took the sweat and grime out of getting started from scratch. Before embarking, I had Macports and the Java VM setup and that helped.

Again, I am honestly delighted to see such a great deal of attention towards getting setup right. Here’s to a job well done!

Founders, Pay Yourselves First

by Santosh

Santosh Dawara.

I occasionally get a cry for help in my inbox that goes something like this – “Hey there, I’m not sure if I’m going to last the next few months. I’ve got only 50k left over in the bank. I can’t build my venture out!”. It happens to the best** and there’s nothing wrong with desperation. And yet we know that it’s pitifully far from where we really should be going.

The answer may lie in a maxim I read recently, “Pay yourself first”*. The reason it sounds so out-of-place is that we’ve been encouraged to believe that somehow business people are greedy. On the other hand, the way a founder thinks will often determine how his startup will fail.

If you believe in capital first, fixed payouts, followed by payments to vendors, followed by pay the government, then pay yourself last – if your venture takes a tad longer to get off the ground then trust me, you could be writing an email just like this one.

If on the other hand, you believe that you will have to pay yourself first, there’s a chance that you will build a very different company, one where responsibility lies squarely where it should. Perhaps one that is both grounded as well as one that exceeds the wildest expectations of yourself, your investors, customers, employees and everyone else.

If you believe that founders that think this way don’t make it big – that’s simply not true. The most oft-cited examples are of Google.com, eBay.com. Each of them were making a couple of million annually before their second year of operation. What also needs to be mentioned is that one of them found a hugely successful business model a little later in its lifetime and promptly switched over to it. The Indian business climate blessed both RedBus.in and Flipkart.com, both having made cash-flow milestones within the first years of operation. For sure, revenue-first never stunted the future size of your venture.

If you’re uncertain about ‘how’ or ‘if’ your venture will make revenue, that’s really a good thing because it’ll compel you to think about the outcome, about your position in the value chain. It will also help your prospective customers to be decisive. It reinforces the boundaries of your experiment so that you can distinguish between true success and failure.

If you’re certain that your venture isn’t destined for early revenue – also read as ‘we’re a media company’, that realization is important and a certain outcome of revenue-first thinking. You can then be sure to have to look for another source of cash-flow, or divi-up your resources for offering consulting, or services and integrate it into your venture.

The kind of thinking I’d like this post to shape is that of a founder being creative with both what he is personally capable of and what’s necessary but beyond him. If you must, think of it as a game where you rack up points. Markets have traditionally measured ventures by their ability to efficiently generate cash and it won’t be the same game if we gave up on that fundamental.

I recall a founder, close friend who gave in and licensed his technology out after much consideration. His buyer simply had access to the market while he didn’t. He shared that it had been an ’empowering’ choice. It had compelled him to acknowledge that his runway was limited and that he had to build out his own capacity to self-sustain. It certainly delays his dream but it was better than having to write that final email.

After having gotten to cash-flow, you’ll find that even though you’re not perfect (what of profit? what of margin?), your confidence is greater at being able to maneuver your venture towards those same ideals. I hope that email will read – ‘we’ve gotten this far and are trying to figure out how we can go from here …’. In essence, it’ll bless you with better compatibility with the unknown that all ventures face.

* “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” – Robert Kiyosaki (get it on your kindle, or with flipkart).
** Also see, “Ecomom, And a Grave Financial Error“.

The Personal Side of Ventures: The Exit

by Santosh

Santosh Dawara.

This month two close friends were offered a liquidation event in their respective ventures. A liquidation event, for the uninitiated is when your stock paper in a company is converted to actual money and is usually tied to going public, or to the sale of the company. Both events were vastly different. One event was here in India, another overseas. For employees and founders, the event is very welcome. Even if you’re tied into your venture for the long run, at some point you will spare a thought for where you’d want all of this to lead up to.

Apart from the economic upside of such an event, there is a deep personal side. Think of it as an outcome tied not only to have worked hard, but also to having made the same decisions differently. As I recalled the decisions one of my friends made that led up to the outcome, there were visible choices – many times having said ‘yes’ to a path, other times having said ‘no’.  The decisions where you refuse a path are usually the critical ones.

To help understand this better, I remember discussing a job option with one of them where in hindsight, the employer would’ve clearly hired him simply for his skills and nothing else. In many cases, we won’t know what we’re losing out on having simply made the size of the paycheck pivotal to the decision. The friend in question bravely said no to the option at hand and instead decided to wait for his blue sky opportunity. Shortly thereafter he joined the company that gave him the liquidation event we’re celebrating today a good five years down the road. His choice was vindicated and handsomely. But we could not have known that for sure.

I’d admit that luck had a role to play only if I could alter the definition of luck to include his aspirations and the actions he took to go towards them. Then that is a viable definition of luck. In my book there isn’t much room for overnight successes. In addition to those decisions, working at a startup demands a self-rewarding nature amongst other things. Why so? It’s hard to take on a challenge where your role inherently requires you to convince others of something you believe in and can’t tangibly show, engineers being no exception. There will be confusing times where ideas are orphaned, thoughts aren’t clearly spelt out, where the product is  vapor ware while you work to make it more compelling. At these times only you can reward yourself and keep things going.

Finally, while you won’t be able to precisely determine what size your exit will have but you must believe that it can be big enough to tie up all of those little decisions together. When it does happen, never mind all that could have gone and did go wrong. Simply congratulate yourself on a job well done.