Birding at Kaziranga

This Blog is written by my wife and guest blogger Shweta Gupta.

We have visited a few of the big National Parks in Southern, Central and Northern India over the last decade. They all make the best holidays and allow us to totally disarm ourselves from the otherwise urban life.  We were visiting Tiger Reserves and therefore as is the charm of the tigers, cheetah, leopards, our attention would often take up a large section of our safaris and they have definitely been very gracious to us; giving us a generous dose of glimpses on amazing occasions. The bio-diversity of the jungle will amaze the human as how the animal kingdom co-exists when they considered living in survival mode, while the human race has moved to the most comfortable lives on earth, is threatening the very existence of the planet.

Flood Lines- Watch Tower Khaziranga
Flood Lines- Watch Tower Khaziranga

Our trip to the jungles of North-East along the Brahmaputra River – The Kaziranga, was different in some ways. We chose this time to spend the most part of our days in the jungle watching the birds of water and trees, and these are much in abundance. There are three ranges that open their periphery to the eco-travelers, and we lived in the only resort that is close to the Eastern Range – called as Agoratoli Range. This range allows for most bird watching view, and likely even in the high tourist days, makes room for the travelers for a quieter time with the birds and their calls.

Khaziranga, Assam

We were escorted by some wonderful nature loving folks, who had made their mission to spend a length of time understanding the peculiarities of the species that live in water and wings itself high into the air. Their in-depth knowledge made our hours spent inside very valuable and created a deep sense of appreciation of the local knowledge and variety of the fauna.

NOTE: This article is for the travelers who have recently or planning to make a foray into bird-watching. The seasoned folks, will likely find our records rather raw.

Preparing for the jungles:

In the Winter months: Layer of warm clothes as the early morning into the jungle can start with a very very cold breeze, and also the afternoon safaris make it cold around 4:30 pm IST when the sun sets in this part of India.

What to take: Preferable a good easy to shoot camera. This tip is for those who are not carrying foot long camera lenses which are preferred by most avid photographers. And of course, a set of good binoculars is useful, though the safaris are generally well equipped with a good pair of these eyes.

What to read: The book is by an environmentalist from Assam, Soumyadeep Datta, an Ashoka Fellow.

Khaziranga National Park

Date of our visit: 14-15 December 2018

1st Safari- Eastern Khaziranga – Agoratoli Range

The entrance to the park has a water body, and within a few kilometers, we could spot a few dozen birds and more types of ducks. We spent 4 hours; 8 am to 12 noon at this part of the forest, covering barely a few kilometers, immersed in the process to identify the quaint duck with the purple face. In our second day safari, we made sure that we drove into the full range as we were eager to get a full glimpse of the mighty Brahmaputra(ADD song lyrics)  that is only accessible to safaris at this range.

In our company was Deepankar Sir, an Architect by profession and an avid birder who hails from Guwahati. He volunteered his time as a warm gesture towards his love for wildlife and our enthusiasm (hopefully :)). He happened to be in the resort on one of his work travels, as a friend to Mr Bhaskar, owner of the Agoratoli Resort, and a very passionate naturist working with this forest conservation.

We were joined by the Forest Guard, Khagen, who has developed keen insight towards the birds who are resident or migrants for the Khaziranga National Park.

Khaziranga National Park Gate

I am referencing my notes with the Field Guide “Birds of the Indian Subcontinent” by Grimmett, C Inskipp, T Inskipp (2016 Edition)

And it led to ponder what is the difference between the birds’ BILL and it’s BEAK

The highlights of the morning safari:

– Burmese Python, saw it moving and then saw it very still

Burmese Python Khaziranga
Burmese Python Khaziranga

– 3 black Otters idling along the water body, reminding me much of the Alice in Wonderland

– Falcated duck (Plate 11 – Page 60) – Rare sighted, and specially difficult to spot in a water body with so many different ducks. A keen eye of our Forest Guard and much patience was needed before we could spot this one

– The distinct whistle of the Grey-headed eagle perched on Urium tree, whistling distinctly

– A chase of a bird to another that had a fish – Remember Top Gun Chase?

 

Here is list of the birds that I was able to write down with the help of the experts, and then subsequently reference it with the book:

 

Minivet – This is the bird pair on the cover of the field book (older edition). I had never heard on them before, let alone see them. I thought they would make a very rare sighting, however, they made themselves appear several times in the forest – both males and female. They are tiny but their bright colors (Red:Male, Female:Yellow) are immediate attention. However, they are very very flighty, and hard to get a full sitting view of them. We saw them flutter around at high trees. And finally on the second day of the safari, we had a renedevous with them as they gave us the view from all angles, in different postures.

Plate 117, Page 272

Minivet, Khaziranga
Minivet, Khaziranga

Asian Pied Sterling (Myna family)

Plate 182, Page 402

Jungle Myna – Black body, orange bill

Plate 182, Page 402

 

Black headed Oriole

Very beautiful full yellow body with black head and orangish bill

Plate 122, Page 282

 

Bee-eater (Blue-bearded Bee-Eater)

(Plate 102 – Page 242)

 

Barbet (saw big groups)

(Plate 106 – Page 250)

 

Eagle

Grey-headed Fish Eagle whistling perched on Urium tree

Palla’s Fish Eagle

Plates 33-34, Pages 104

Grey-headed Fish Eagle
Grey-headed Fish Eagle

 

Rufous Treepie (long tail)

Plate 125, Page 288

 

Dove

Oriental Turtle Dove

Plate 78, Page 194

 

Storks – we saw 4-5 types of Storks, and some very large once in the water bodies

i – Greater Adjutant

ii – Lesser Adjutant

iii – Woolly-necked Stork – We saw 5-7 in a swamp, full black only white neck. Very pretty. The guide told us that earlier they were called white-necked, and now renamed to wolly-necked

iv Black-necked Stork

v – Open-bill Storks We saw many large groups. There bill/beak is kind of open all the time

Plate 18, 19, Pages 74-76

 

Grey Heron

Plate 23, Page 84

 

Egrets of many sizes, Intermediate Egret, Great Egret

Plate 24, Page 86

 

Spot-billed Pelican – we saw them in very large groups, and also flying together

Plate 26, Page 90

 

Ducks (this was amazing variety and a first time realization that there are so many types of duck other than what we always see)

(Plates 10-13, Pages 60-64)

– Falcated duck Rare sighted, and specially difficult to spot in a water body with so many different ducks. A keen eye of our Forest Guard and much patience was needed before we could spot this one

– Ruddy Shelduck Brahmini ducks; Very Orange and in pairs, we saw multiple sets pair and 3 different sightings

Ruddy Shelduck Brahmini ducks
Ruddy Shelduck Brahmini ducks

– Brown-head Eurasian

– Ferruginous

– Mallard (distinct green-head)

– Gadwall (common in large numbers)

– Indian Spotbill Duck

– Northern Shoveler (multi-colored) a dabbling duck

 

Black-headed Ibis – Very White with the black neck-head and bill. Very easy to identify once we know this description.

 

Bar Headed Geese – Migratory from Tibet, come over Himalayas. We saw these in very large groups and different water-bodies

(Plate 9 – Page 56)

 

Lap Wings

Plate 55, Page 148

– Red-Wattled LapWing

– Northern LaWing (uniquely identifiable tuff/antenna)

 

Indian Roller – Saw many times the Indian Roller, in flight it looks its most beautiful with blue wings.

We fist confused it with the Kingfisher because of the blue wings

(Plate 99, Page 236)

Kingfisher

Kingfisher
Kingfisher

Rose-ringed Parakeet – We saw multiple groups of parakeets. One was just outside the Agoratoli Resort, on the farms, and then inside the forest range

(Plate 81, Page 200)

 

Snake-bird (Darter) – Our first identification, and we happened to see many snake-birds, identified by very sender neck which looks like a snake floating on water. We saw it in many avatars; perched on branch of a dead tree; sitting next to the water drying its wings full open and very -very still

(Plate 28, Page 94)

 

Tailor-bird

This was first time introduction to Tailor birds. Very small, and looked like the sun birds that visit our home at Pune.

(Plate 145, Page 328)

 

Red whiskered Bulbul

Plate 139, Page 319

 

Greater Coucal (Very bloody Red-eyed)

Plate 87, Page 212

 

Pheasant Tail Jacanas

Plate 53, Page 144

 

Grey-backed Shrike

Plate 119, Page 276

 

2nd Safari- Western Khaziranga – Baghori Range

 

This range is the first range if one is driving from Guwahati. The range is very varied in terms of the landscape. At the start is the water bodies, which is often accompanied with very very large open landspaces. This is likely one of the most open space range in India (comes from our perception and not actual study).

The Rhinos, Water Buffaloes, Hog Deer can be seen enjoying themselves along with all the there water bodies on these open space, making the travelers very delighted.

The landscape then changes into the tall Elephant Grasses and the big dense tree forest. The other 2 Big 5, Elephants and Tigers are not open space species and make access to them much rarer. We did not spot any Elephant Family in this range until the very the last safari. We saw a family cross the safari track just ahead of us. It is amazing how quietly a full family of elephant along with a little one walks across a narrow treaded elephant path, and though they are a large animal they have their own ways of keeping a rather low profile.

We wrapped up our holidays having spent some very solid time in the jungle,

very grateful to the  abundance of the creation

very grateful to the magic of the creator

and grateful that we have this opportunity to soak in the beauty

and hopeful that we shall pause our mindlessness to let it perish

and hopeful that we shall allow the abundance and magic to flourish

and only in this consious act of ours, we shall desolve and merge in the life’s magic

Room with a Lake View

Signing off year 2 of endurance running

January 21, 2018: Finished Tata Mumbai Marathon with an official time of 3:45: 01. Bettered my course record by 18 minutes and more importantly finished strong- drove back to Pune hours after the race. The icing on the cake.. I was at the finish line with GOPI (India elite winner). Well who know’s he started an hour twenty-eight late 😉

TMM18 also marks 2 years of running. Shaving 18 minutes off my personal course best was the outcome of 2300 km of training in year 2 which included:
4 Ultras (50 and 75 km)
5 Marathons
and 42 runs between 21km and 40km

i.e. a total of 51 Runs Half Marathon (21km) or more + 1 Olympic distance Duathlon.

Special callout for the organizers of the 3 Ultras (the 4th one was a solo ultra) for awesome events that they put together (in chronological order of participation):
Sanjay Mangla, Manjeet Singh – Mandy and TUFFMAN for Tuffman Shimla Ultra – Mashobra (I did 50 km)- this trail tests your tactical running skills.
Nikhil Shah , Arvind Bijwe and RunBuddies.Club for Matheran Endurathon (I did 50 km) – this trail is a bliss if you love rains
Naveen Badri, Jeetendran Nair and FreeRunners for Pune Ultra (I did 75 km)- This is truly an event by Runners for Runners.

I also had a few podium moments this year including one at Stone Ridge Valley Marathon
Sharing my haul from the 2nd year of running.

Entrepreneurship lessons from Biking and Running!

The idea for this blog was seeded on my high school WhatsApp group- a bunch of fellows doing various things in their professional lives, connected by experiences shared in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. In this WhatsApp Group (like any other) we share and debate everything under the sun. There are arguments- with data at times and with emotions at other times. Let me put it this way, it is a typical group of “men” in their 40‘s.  

One of the topics we keep going back to is ‘Health’. Most times when it comes to health, there are no arguments in the group, it is pure sharing. However, last week started different, we bantered on health, and the topic was  cycling vs running.  It was a long thread of arguments and finally, we agreed to disagree; to each their own poison. Good Fun!

Fast forward to the weekend (March 19), I competed and finished duathlon, Olympic Distance- 10Km run, followed by 40Km biking, followed by 5Km run. I have run many half marathons, a few marathons and biked maximum 120K in a day. However, had never done duathlon earlier.

2017- Pune International Duathlon

2017 Pune International Duathlon

It was an amazing first experience! Different from what biking or running. I think  the exciting and wierd parts were transitions- from running to biking and from biking to running. At the start of the finish run (transitioning from biking to running) for about a kilometer I felt like a penguin- hopping more than running.

In this blog I have tried to capture the similarities and differences of these 2 endurance sports and how biking and running have made me me a better entrepreneur and a better person.

Lesson 1. The definition of ‘inertia’ needs a relook.

Inertia is defined as “a property of matter by which it continues in its existing state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line, unless that state is changed by an external force”.

Learning from endurance sports : In my experience there is no external force strong enough to make a person jump off the bed at 3:30AM every sunday and say to themselves let’s burn 3K calories. There’s no external force strong enough to make one run the last mile in a marathon with cramps. For good 10 years there were people around me running marathons, eating healthy. However, these external forces did not change my state of inertia.

The force is ‘internal’, perhaps the definition of inertia should be “a property of people by which they continue in their existing state of rest, unless that state is changed by an INTERNAL force”

Entrepreneurship Lesson: Do not jump on the entrepreneurship boat inspired by the success stories. Look at the sacrifices and years these entrepreneurs put  in to be successful. Speak with entrepreneurs who failed. The calling should be from within because there is a psychological price of entrepreneurship.

Lesson 2. Understand the game before making your ‘move’.

The one big difference I find between biking and running is how one deals with elevation- both gain and loss. In plain english, while biking going uphill is super exhausting and coming down is super relaxing. In running going uphill is less exhausting however running downhill is a skill hard to master.

Learning from endurance sports : Descending feels easy aerobically, but each step triggers muscle-damaging eccentric contractions in the quadriceps and lower legs. On level ground, these muscles shorten as they fire; on declines, they elongate while under tension as they work to control your speed. This creates more micro-tears in each fiber, which stimulates muscle growth but leaves you fatigued and sore.

While biking get in the right gear while approaching elevation, maintaining posture and pace your ride. While running do not give in to gravity, tread with caution, try other techniques like shorter strides.

Entrepreneurship Lesson: Evaluate the opportunity, understand the macro environment, follow your competition before you venture out. Copy pasting business models is a recipe for disaster.

Lesson 3.  Everyone is alone alone, in their special timelines.

This is where biking, running and all endurance sports are similar. For athletes every race is about “Personal Best”. When one (amateur athletes) laces up or takes to the saddle of the bike it is not about beating others, it is about giving ones personal best.

Learning from endurance sports : The experience in the holding area could be daunting. Thousands of atheletes all lined up waiting for the gun. Some warming up, some meditating, few joking and singing. However, few minutes into the race everyone is running alone. Similarly, even in our lives we have many  many people around us- friends, family, acquaintances and the unknown. However, if one really thinks about it, they are alone in their timeline from womb to tomb.

Entrepreneurship Lesson: There’s no right age to start and you could fail any number of times in this journey. The best time to start a business depends on the maturity of the industry and more importantly maturity of the entrepreneur.

Lesson 4. There’s opportunity when things are “Going Downhill”

Normally the phrase “going downhill” means declinining and growing worse. It is not very uncommon to hear this phrase in organizations and life, for example-“2016 was bad year for startups, everything went downhill”. However, in biking and running going downhill presents an opportunity.

Learning from endurance sports : Most people learn to ride bike downhill because it is so much easier and natural. Even for experienced bikers going down slope seems such a bliss. Looking at the course gradient is integral part of race planning for any athlete. For runners, hill runs are initially a challenge, specially going downhill. However, after training for a few months on long hills, short hills, hill sprints, hill endurance, one barely notices these hills and starts gliding downhill. Looking back at 2016, Matheran hill endurathon was one of the most enjoyable events for me that year.

Entrepreneurship Lesson: There are 2 lessons here, an entrepreneur must cherish failures as much as success. There’s more learning in failure than in success. The second lesson is that it may be the best time to start when the economy and industry is going “downhill”- there are opportunities and resources are available.

Keep running, biking, walking, hiking and creating awesome stuff by starting again after every failure!

Jeff Bezos- One reason why Flipkart, Snapdeal will never be Amazon of India

Amazon is the fastest company to reach $100 Bn in Annual Sales and is cruising along to gain leadership position in the Indian Ecommerce Space. Meanwhile AWS reached $10Bn in annual sales, even faster. There primary reason why Amazon will be the Amazon of India is Jeff Bezos clarity of thought and leadership- Very well articulated in the letter to shareholders-

1. “Customer Obsession”
Both were planted as tiny seeds and both have grown organically without significant acquisitions into meaningful and large businesses, quickly. Superficially, the two could hardly be more different. One serves consumers and the other serves enterprises. One is famous for brown boxes and the other for APIs. Is it only a coincidence that two such dissimilar offerings grew so quickly under one roof? Luck plays an outsized role in every endeavor, and I can assure you we’ve had a bountiful supply. But beyond that, there is a connection between these two businesses. Under the surface, the two are not so different after all. They share a distinctive organizational culture that cares deeply about and acts with conviction on a small number of principles. I’m talking about customer obsession rather than competitor obsession, eagerness to invent and pioneer, willingness to fail, the patience to think long-term, and the taking of professional pride in operational excellence. Through that lens, AWS and Amazon retail are very similar indeed.

2. The culture of Failing Fast.
One area where I think we are especially distinctive is failure. I believe we are the best place in the world to fail (we have plenty of practice!), and failure and invention are inseparable twins. To invent you have to experiment, and if you know in advance that it’s going to work, it’s not an experiment. Most large organizations embrace the idea of invention, but are not willing to suffer the string of failed experiments necessary to get there. Outsized returns often come from betting against conventional wisdom, and conventional wisdom is usually right. Given a ten percent chance of a 100 times payoff, you should take that bet every time. But you’re still going to be wrong nine times out of ten. We all know that if you swing for the fences, you’re going to strike out a lot, but you’re also going to hit some home runs. The difference between baseball and business, however, is that baseball has a truncated outcome distribution. When you swing, no matter how well you connect with the ball, the most runs you can get is four. In business, every once in a while, when you step up to the plate, you can score 1,000 runs. This long-tailed distribution of returns is why it’s important to be bold. Big winners pay for so many experiments.

3. Amazon is in India to win.
India is another example of how we globalize an offering like Marketplace through customer obsession and a passion for invention. Last year we ran a program called Amazon Chai Cart where we deployed three-wheeled mobile carts to navigate in a city’s business districts, serve tea, water and lemon juice to small business owners and teach them about selling online. In a period of four months, the team traveled 15,280 km across 31 cities, served 37,200 cups of tea and engaged with over 10,000 sellers. Through this program and other conversations with sellers, we found out there was a lot of interest in selling online, but that sellers struggled with the belief that the process was time-consuming, tedious and complex. So, we invented Amazon Tatkal, which enables small businesses to get online in less than 60 minutes. Amazon Tatkal is a specially designed studio-on-wheels offering a suite of launch services including registration, imaging and cataloguing services, as well as basic seller training mechanisms. Since its launch on February 17th, we have reached sellers in 25 cities.

4. Amazon is it’s own competition
Just over 10 years ago, AWS started in the U.S. with its first major service, a simple storage service. Today, AWS offers more than 70 services for compute, storage, databases, analytics, mobile, Internet of Things, and enterprise applications. We also offer 33 Availability Zones across 12 geographic regions worldwide, with another five regions and 11 Availability Zones in Canada, China, India, the U.S., and the U.K. to be available in the coming year. AWS started with developers and startups, and now is used by more than a million customers from organizations of every size across nearly every industry – companies like Pinterest, Airbnb, GE, Enel, Capital One, Intuit, Johnson & Johnson, Philips, Hess, Adobe, McDonald’s, and Time Inc.

AWS is bigger than Amazon.com was at 10 years old, growing at a faster rate, and – most noteworthy in my view – the pace of innovation continues to accelerate – we announced 722 significant new features and services in 2015, a 40% increase over 2014.

Many characterized AWS as a bold – and unusual – bet when we started. “What does this have to do with selling books?

10 Life Hacks from The Rickshaw Challenge-2016

Last week  I was part of a super awesome road trip with Mukesh Jha , Janardan Prasad, 19 other teams and the support staff & team of The Travel Scientists. What is Rickshaw Challenge – Malabar Rampage?  You can read all about Rickshaw Challenge here, however very simply put an incredible ~1200KM ride on 3 wheels ( Rickshaw/ Tuk Tuk) on Indian Roads.

Loads of Fun, Lots of Challenges and Humbling Experiences. Here are the top 10 Life Hacks I learnt in this trip and credits to people, event, places for the learnings.

1. What’s in a name that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet

Read: It Takes a bad ass to run the show. Call him Luke, John or Aravind 🙂

Credit: Aravind, Princely and The Travel Scientists- Don’t reason with Indians, smile 🙂

2. Junk the Manual.  Ride, Break, Fix. Repeat!

Credit: Chennai Garage Team- you are amazing clockwork!

3. Journey of 1000 mile begins with a single.. Crank

Credit: Practice Run. Go Mukesh Go! Thanks for taking the lead, revving and doing the donut moves for The Autowale.

4. when in Rome do as the Romans do and in Kerela do the Malayali 

Credit: Team Autowale.

 

5. what the heck Rome! Sumos are Sumos, Rome, Sydney, Japan or Mars

Credit: Butt, Sweat and Tears ( Chris, Mark, Hugo). Chris, Mark, Hugo you deserve the Bonkers Award. Who else would put up the Sumo costume for every event when it’s 40 degrees?

6. Life is a Journey! Live the Moment

Credit: India’s Coastline.

7. Share the Little Joys

Credit: Round Table and  Goan Places (Sheila and Nic.) Sheila and Nic raised over $20K sharing their journey with friends to support Schools and Education in India.

8. When life gives lemon, make lemon mint iced tea.

Credit: Awesome Food of India

9. Consistent and Persistent Win!

Credit: Stairway (Paul and Alex).  Paul and Alex were always consistent, very friendly and never too loud. Cheers!

10. Work Harder, Party Harder

Credit:Flying Birds (Thomas and Waltraud)- While we took turns to ride the rickshaw, typically doing 60- 80 Km/ day/ person. Thomas did 200-270KM everyday on his own. We ordered 1 beer in the evening Thomas ordered 3!

 

 

Template for the perfect 5 minute Pitch

I have been working with/ mentoring some very interesting startups at ET Power of Ideas, helping them with their pitch and also working on raising funds for my startup.

Pitching is a magic, more than anything else, you have 3-5 minutes to convince  investors. Here’s the template for 3-5 minute pitch. You may want to use it, if that helps. 


Please note- team slide (the last one) has details of exec team- founders, advisors, investors. I usually begin the pitch with my/ my cofounders introduction.

  • Slide 1 (Pain/ Pleasure- Causes )
  • Slide 2 (Need/ Gap)
  • Slide 3 (Solution)
  • Slide 4 (Secret Sauce)
  • Slide 5 (Competition)
  • Slide 6 (Current User Traction)
  • Slide 7 (Success Stories/ Press)
  • Slide 8 (Business Model)
  • Slide 9 (Unit Economics)
  • Slide 10 (Revenue Traction)
  • Slide 11 (Market Sizing)
  • Slide 12 (Product/ Revenue Road Map)
  • Slide 13 (Fund Needed)
  • Slide 14 (Fund Deployment)
  • Slide 15 (Team)
Happy Pitching and All the best!!

The Growth Hacking Academy

I was part of the founding team of 3 startups between 1999 – 2012. I also helped 4 other startups with marketing  in that period. Between 2012- and today I have been advising startups and product teams of enterprises in US and India. I have worked with 12 great teams in this period and Customer Acquisition and Growth seems to be one of the top 2 challenges for these teams- perhaps for all startups.

For the last 12 months I have been mulling over the question “ Is growth an accident or method ? I tend believe that Growth is a method and am trying to put together a 6 month program based on the A2R2 (Attract, Activate, Retain, Reap) Growth Hacking process to help Entrepreneurs and teams acquire customers and grow. Here’s the outline of the program:

Who is the Growth Hacking program for?

This 6 months program is designed for Product Teams and requires minimum 2  members to own the following processes:

1. Product Development

2. Customer Development

Month 1: Growth Hacking Basics

 Session 1: What the heck is Growth Hacking

– What, How, Who of Growth?

– Growth Hacking Hall of Fame.

– Growth Hacking Funnel: Introduction to  A2R2 Growth Framework ( Attract, Activate,   Retain Reap)

 Session 2: You cannot fill a bucket that has a hole

– How to Identify the holes and develop plan to plug the holes before thinking growth.

– Identify the holes in your product and develop plan to plug the holes before thinking growth.

 Session 3: Cut the Umbilical Cord

– How to look at your product from your customer’s perspective.

– Customer Segmentation

– Product Virality

 Session 4: Think Unreasonable, Plan Practical.

– Everyone wants to ‘Disrupt’, few do

– Think where you could be in 18/24 months, Plan for next 3

– Set your Goals for the Program

Month 2:  Laws of Attraction- From Leads to Qualified Leads

Session 5: Laws of Attraction- Introduction

– Channels to attract: Real World, Digital ; Paid, Earned

– Things You should have done yesterday.

–  We often forget the real world.

Session 6: Expert SEO

Session 7: Expert SEM

Session 8: One-on-One

– Follow up on Month 1- Holes in your Bucket?

– Create plans to Attract Customers

Month 3:  Activate Customers- Get them to the Aha moment

Session 9: Aha Moment

– What is Aha Moment?

– Tools to get customers to Aha Moment

– How to discover Your products Aha Moment

Session 10: Basics of Web/ Mobile design and UX

– For Apps- Think Mobile First

Session 11: Channels FAQs, Videos, Community, Emails

Session 12: One-on-One

– Follow up on Month 2- Attracting Customers

– Create Plan to get to Aha Moment

Month 4:  Retain Customers- Get them hooked on.

Session 13: Core Product Value

– What is Core Product Value?

– Identifying your Core Value

– Delivering Core Product Value as early as often

Session 14: Behavior Segmentation and Automating Lead Curation

– A/B Testing

Session 15: The Science and Art of Email Marketing

Session 16: One-on-One

– Follow up on month 3- Get to the Aha Moment

– Create Plan to Retain

Month 5:  Reap their Network

Session 17: From users to Brand Ambassadors

– Why people love some products

– Identifying your Brand Ambassadors

Session 18: Advanced Social Media Engagement Techniques


Session 19: Customer Loyalty and Brand Ambassador Program

Session 20: One-on-One

– Follow up on month 4- Retaining Customers

– Create Plan to Reap their Network

Month 6:  Getting Lean- Learn and Iterate

Session 21: List and Analyze Product Learnings

– Group Session

Session 22: List and Analyze Customer Learnings

– Group Session

Session 23: Iterating Lean

Session 24: One-on-One

– Plan the next 6 Months.

– Feedback

Would love to get feedback on the program and the content. Do you think this program is needed and will work?

Hiring for Startups- Cash vs. Equity Compensation

I help startups with growth- and my job revolves around product, customer acquisition, creating and automating marketing process. The job is challenging, exciting and stimulating.

Over the last couple of years I have started seeing a pattern in the startup madness.  Startup founders have similar challenges and question and the opportunities and answers also have a pattern.  In the last 15 years of my startup life I have been asked same question multiple times by different entrepreneurs. These days, at times it feels like Deja-vu.

However, every once in a while founders pitch a question that puts me on back foot. Last week, in a routine growth strategy meeting, one of my advisee founders hurled one such question. This startup is addressing the urban commute problem in India.  They have raised the seed round and are preparing for Series- A. It is a 2 founder startup with a 20 people operations and they are now looking to hire a Head of Operations- a person who will be No. 3 in the organization matrix.  The question was- How much equity and cash compensation should be offered to the head of  operation they are planning to hire.

Hiring for startups is different as startups pay less than the market and compensate with non-listed (non-liquid) equity with a lock in period. I have hired for my startups in the past. However, to be honest, I have not figured out the formula to compensation structure, most of the times the compensation structure was based on ‘hunch’.

In this article I have tried to put a template for the cash vs equity decision. The numbers you arrive at with this formula are guidelines and subject the stage of the startup.

Let’s  assume you are trying to hire a person who is drawing  $ 40,000 per annum however, she is due for increments and her market value is $ 50,000 per Annum. You want to lock in  the new employee for 3 years and can pay $30,000 per Annum in year 1 with a 15{b533f414762ff80097ee09d177cb5141b2a13e37c77cdd72580da9125ed6123c} increment every year.

Step 1: Calculate the potential loss of  earnings:

(Here I’m assuming star performers get a 25{b533f414762ff80097ee09d177cb5141b2a13e37c77cdd72580da9125ed6123c} hike Year on Year in India.)

Loss of Pay year 1:  $20,000
Add
Loss of Pay year 2:  1.25 * 50,000 – 1.15 *  30,000 = $ 28,000
Add
Loss of Pay year 3:  1.25 * 62,500 – 1.15 *  34,500 = $43,625
Total Loss of Earnings: $91,625

Step 2: Calculate the cost of raising  capital  (equivalent to total loss of earnings) .

What percentage equity did you part with for $91,625 in the previous fund raising round. Say you are valued at $4 million in the previous ( angel) round, then $91,625 is equivalent to  3.05{b533f414762ff80097ee09d177cb5141b2a13e37c77cdd72580da9125ed6123c}

Step 3: Compensate for the risk the employee is taking.

I do not have a foolproof formula for calculating the risk. However, you could try the probability of  raising next round method. Try to answer the question – what is the likelihood  of  you raising the next round before you burn the cash reserves. If you think it is 60{b533f414762ff80097ee09d177cb5141b2a13e37c77cdd72580da9125ed6123c} ( you are in advanced discussions with 3-4 VCs) then the risk is 40{b533f414762ff80097ee09d177cb5141b2a13e37c77cdd72580da9125ed6123c}
Step 4: Compensate for complementary skill the new employee brings to the team.

This is another judgement. Try to answer the question-  what is the likelihood  of  you raising the next round without the new employee. If the answer is 30{b533f414762ff80097ee09d177cb5141b2a13e37c77cdd72580da9125ed6123c} then the compensation for complementary skill is 70{b533f414762ff80097ee09d177cb5141b2a13e37c77cdd72580da9125ed6123c}.

Step 5: Calculate the Equity.

In this case- 3.05{b533f414762ff80097ee09d177cb5141b2a13e37c77cdd72580da9125ed6123c} + 20{b533f414762ff80097ee09d177cb5141b2a13e37c77cdd72580da9125ed6123c} (3.05{b533f414762ff80097ee09d177cb5141b2a13e37c77cdd72580da9125ed6123c}) + 70{b533f414762ff80097ee09d177cb5141b2a13e37c77cdd72580da9125ed6123c} (3.05{b533f414762ff80097ee09d177cb5141b2a13e37c77cdd72580da9125ed6123c}) = 5.79{b533f414762ff80097ee09d177cb5141b2a13e37c77cdd72580da9125ed6123c}

The above formula is just a guideline. The key to startup hiring is “Great Teams makes Great  Products and Great companies.

5 Elements of an Effective Pricing Page

Landing page and Pricing page are perhaps the two most important pages of a website and these two pages also have maximum dropouts. The opportunity cost of dropout from the Pricing page is higher as these are users that have shown interest in your product, spent time traversing your website and have ALMOST paid you.

What make some Pricing Pages more effective than others?  What leads to better conversion? Is it slick design or simplicity? I have been working with ecommerce sites for close to a decade and half and here are the top 5 Pricing Page elements, in my experience, that have maximum impact on conversion.

 1.    Simplicity of information organization:

Your users have navigated through the information on your website and are about to pay, do not over-complicate things. Make the page easy on the eye, so one does not have to read the content. Make the Call to Action prominent and at multiple places on the page.

Skype’s Pricing Page is easy on the eye and one does not have to ‘read’ information.

Skype Pricing Page

2.    Make Plan Comparison easy:

You can make comparison easy by using visual clues to highlight the plan features. Highlight One Plan- Not the cheapest or the highest. Highlight the Most Popular or the Profit Maximizing Plan.

Yesware has made plan comparison really simple. You know what you are getting for 5, 20 and 50 a month.

 Yesware Plan

3.    Help users choose the plan:

You can help your users choose the plan that’s best for them by

  • Using simple plan names.
  • Highlighting the Target segment for each plan.
  • Having limited options- 3-4 plans at maximum.
  • Add Currency Options: People are generally more comfortable paying in their currency. Give currency options, if possible.

Yesware’s  Plans are brain-dead simple- Plus, Team, Enterprise, Do we say more?

Yesware- Simple Plan Names

4. Build Credibility by answering the questions users may have:

  •  Is my Credit Card safe? – Add Security Seal and statements like ” Pay securely without compromising your privacy

Running Startup Experiments

One of the critical success factors for Startups is ability of the founding team to run quick experiments. The more adept a team is in running experiments the faster they are in iterating.

Experiments could be for Product Features or Markets. However, the goal of all experiments is to help define the problem statement. The following is a simple template to Plan, Run, Record and Manage experiments in a startup.

1. Start with a guess or  a hypothesis which is of the format: ____<Potential User>_________ needs  ____<benefit>__ because | however _____________________________________

For example,

1.1. HR Managers need qualified resumes because it saves them time and cost.
or
1.2.Single moms need a hyper local social network to help them manage their job and families.

2. The next step should be to reach out to Potential Users and bounce the idea off them. Let the discussion be unstructured however record what the potential users have to say. Make a note of their wishes and needs and record any deviation form your assumption.

There is a trade-off between the number of users you reach out to and time. One approach I have seen working is setting up targets and time frame. Set the targets based on the opportunity cost of the decision.

3.  Next step is to articulate the opportunities using the template from Step 1:

____<Potential User>_________ needs  ____<benefit>__ because | however _____________________________________

For example,

3.1. HR Managers need qualified resumes because it saves them time and cost however they are willing to pay only when they are successful in hiring a candidate.
or
3.2.Single moms need a hyper local social network however Facebook does a decent job.

4. Once you have the opportunities articulated, the next step is drafting the Problem Statement from these opportunities. Some factors to consider  at this stage include market size, time to implement, is the feature ‘nice to have’ or is the customer willing to pay (additional) for the feature? and A/B Testing.

A startup is defined by the experiments it makes and I hope this framework and template brings agility to the experiments.

Credit: This post is inspired by The Lean Startup: