Scaling Good Advice In India’s Startup Ecosystem – A Research Paper On PNGrowth Model

In January 2016 iSPIRT ran the largest software entrepreneur school in India, called PNgrowth (short for Product Nation Growth).  The central vision of PNgrowth was to create a model of peer learning where over 100 founders could give each other one-on-one advice about how to grow their startups. With peer learning as PNgrowth’s core model, this enterprise was supported by a volunteer team of venture capitalists, founders, academics, and engineers.  See iSPIRT’s volunteer handbook (

However, unlike a regular “bootcamp” or “executive education” session, the volunteers were committed to rigorously measuring the value of the peer advice given at PNgrowth. We are excited to announce that the findings from this analysis have recently been published in the Strategic Management Journal, the top journal in the field of Strategy, as “When does advice impact startup performance?” by Aaron Chatterji, Solène Delecourt, Sharique HasanRembrand Koning (

TLDR: Here’s a summary of the findings:

 There is a surprising amount of variability in how founders manage their startups.  To figure out how founders prioritized management, we asked them four questions:

“…develop shared goals in your team?”
“…measure employee performance using 360 reviews, interviews, or one-on-ones?”
“…provide your employees with direct feedback about their performance?”
“…set clear expectation around project outcomes and project scope?”

Founders could respond “never,” “yearly,” “monthly,” “weekly,” or “daily.”

Some founders never (that’s right, never!) set shared goals with their teams, only did yearly reviews, never provided targets, and infrequently gave feedback. Other, super-managers were more formal in their management practices and performed these activities on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis. Not surprisingly, the supermanagers led the faster-growing startups.  Most founders, however, were in the middle: doing most of these activities at a monthly frequency.

2. Since PNGrowth was a peer learning based program, we paired each founder (and to be fair, randomly) with another participant. For three intense days, the pairs worked through a rigorous process of evaluating their startup and that of their peer. Areas such as a startup’s strategy, leadership, vision, and management (especially of people) were interrogated. Peers were instructed to provide advice to help their partners.

3. We followed up on participating startups twice after the PNgrowth program. First ten months after the retreat, and then we rechecked progress two years afterwards.

We found something quite surprising: the “supermanager” founders not only managed their firms better but the advice they gave helped their partner too.  Founders who received advice from a peer who was a “formal”  manager grew their firms to be 28% larger over the next two years and increased their likelihood of survival by ten percentage points. What about the founders who received advice from a laissez-faire manager? Their startup saw no similar lift. Whether they succeeded or failed depended only on their own capabilities and resources.

4. Not all founders benefited from being paired up with an effective manager though. Surprisingly, founders with prior management training, whether from an MBA or accelerator program, did not seem to benefit from this advice.

5. The results were strongest among pairs whose startups were based in the same city and who followed up after the retreat. For many of the founders, the relationships formed at PNgrowth helped them well beyond those three days in Mysore.

So what’s the big take away: While India’s startup ecosystem is new and doesn’t yet have the deep bench of successful mentors, the results from this study are promising. Good advice can go a long way in helping startups scale.   iSPIRT has pioneered a peer-learning model in India through PlaybookRTs, Bootcamps, and PNgrowth (see:

This research shows that this model can be instrumental in improving the outcomes of India’s startups if done right. If peer-learning can be scaled up, it can have a significant impact on the Indian ecosystem.

Raja the Raja ! We miss you!

Dear Raja,

Rajendra RajaWe have collaborated on many blog posts in the past but we are struggling to shoulder the burden of this one. People say you are 63, but you worked like a 23! You didn’t care what people thought about your views – you boldly put them forward. You worked for a large company but you cared for the success of innovation in smaller startups. While your mates were fighting for their promotions you were fighting to promote the eco-system. When everyone is having hard time adapting to change, you learned twitter, facebook and what not, with the curiosity of a teenager. While everyone safely choose an MNC product, you took the risk choosing Made-in-India products within your organization and also forced your network to follow you. You saw no boundary and went across NASSCOM, Ignita, iSPIRT with the only goal of building a solid ecosystem. It is hard to merge companies but you easily united iSPIRT and Ignita. When people hesitate to accept friends requests in FB, you made us part of your family by including us in your 60th anniversary celebrations. You are great friend to all of us and we miss you! Raja the Raja !

With limitless love and affection,

Akshay Shah, Avinash Raghava, Dilip Ittyera, George Vettath, Lakshman Pillai, Nari Kannan, Purushothaman K, Sharad Sharma, Suresh Sambandam


What to expect in the first #PNSummit – 4th & 5th December, Pune

The #PNSummit is going to be an event like none other. Volunteers who are from the Product community themselves, are putting it together and building it on the pillars of intensity, focus and exclusivity (only practicising product professionals attend the PNSummit).

Here’s a quick peek into what #PNSummit is all about

At present, most product companies in India are clustered around two specific life stages:

  • Getting their first 0-10 customers, OR
  • Going beyond their initial 50-100 customers (for B2C one could say 200,000 users). These are also called as being in the Happy Confused Stage (post product/market fit)

It is with these life stages in mind that these two themes have been designed:

Customer discovery hacking – curated by Pallav Nadhani (CEO of FusionCharts)

Customer growth hacking – curated by Bala Parthasarathy (Managing Partner, AngelPrime)

Each of these themes comes with a series of sessions where participants are grouped into circles based on their life stages and will be immersed in an experience of deep discussions, brainstorming and hands-on exercises.

Invited delegates will be grouped into circles based on their life stages and Broadly these circles are:

  • Circle 1  – In Discovery Hacking Stage.
  • Circle 2 –  Happy Confused Stage
  • Circle 3 –  In Discovery Hacking & Just crossed Happy Confused Stage


We’re putting together each circle with a lot of effort and each session will be facilitated by an expert in that area. The mode of discussion is expert-facilitated and not expert-advice and that is what will make the discovery process truthful and meaningful!

If you are a product company then you are at some point in the spectrum of  discovery hacking -> product/market fit -> successful product business and are you are pushing yourself to move the next stage.

Reach out to any of the delegate experience volunteers of #PNSummit, Sandeep TodiSameer AgarwalDilip IttyeraSeema JoshiVijay SharmaAvinash Raghava,  Aditya Bhelande  & Sairam K to find the right inner circle for you. We’re keen to invite as many companies as we can accommodate, and the quicker we hear from you, the better we can make your experience.


Notes on Product Management – insights from Slideshare / MMT / ex-Google PM

Avinash Raghava, who is doing a wonderful job of getting product start-ups together all over India, organized a product management roundtable with the help of Aneesh Reddy(CEO, Capillary). They invited Amit Ranjan (Cofounder, Slideshare – acquired by LinkedIn) and Amit Somani (Chief Product Officer, Makemytrip, ex-Google) to share their insights with a small set of entrepreneurs.

Credit for all the good stuff goes to Amit Ranjan, Amit Somani and Aneesh Reddy. Notes are rough. If anything is unclear, feel free to comment.

Here are some quick notes/thoughts from the event:

Who would make a good product manager?
Someone who can do 70% of everything (coding, design, listening to users etc.)

Best way to find a product manager in India is to find someone who did a startup but failed – he/she is likely to know all the various aspects that go into managing a product.

Someone who can lead by influence and manage to juggle all the balls in the air. Should be someone who can say NO.

It’s a very tough position to hire for – you need to have patience – you might go wrong the first few times. Once hired, give them around 5-6 months to get the hang of the whole thing.

What does a product manager do? What is his role about?
A good product manager would understand the requirements from various constituents and write a detailed specification, plan for bugs, testing, urgent requests and then create a product roadmap/deadlines.

A product manager has to identify and write down what metrics will move once the product is launched (e.g launching the mobile app will increase our repeat orders by 9%) – in some cases it is just to ensure that people work on things that matter but overtime it also brings more accountability.

User specs should have – what all do you need, who will use it and why – need to be elaborate it before you give it – need a hypothesis that will it move an X metric. Read thetwo page spec document that Joel Spolsky wrote for a fictional website What time is it? It should also have non-goals – what the product does NOT try to do.

Engineers tend to underestimate the time it’ll take – product manager needs to be able to correctly estimate how long something should take. And you will get better at it with time.

Use the 1/1/1 rule – sit with the engineering team and plan what needs to be accomplished in 1 week, 1 month and 1 six-month period.

People want to see the product roadmap – it is important for the CEO / Product Manager to communicate this to their team mates since a lot of people feel uncomfortable if they don’t have a clear idea of where the product is headed. (Amit Ranjan mentioned that people may even leave if they feel that the founding team does not have a clear vision – but the nature of start-ups is such that it is bound to happen that the product roadmap keeps evolving)

You need to hire coders who have a design sense (that eliminates 70% of work later).

Role of special data or analytics person has become very important (Amit Ranjan said that he could see that products of the future will be decided and influenced by data scientists). It is very important to get such a person on board early. Someone who has crunched SQL and nosql logs etc and can find trends and look up aberrations. Read up on Hal Varian and DJ Patil to understand more about this.

Difference between customer requirements and product requirements – customer requirement only becomes product requirement when more than 3 people require it (it’s a rule of thumb) – (People shared various tricks they use to ensure that the customer requirement is serious – “just wait for a few days and see if they come back with the same request”, “ask them to email it and not take feedback over the phone” etc. – these are situations where there is too much feedback coming your way. In most cases, it is best to make it as easy as possible for people to give you feedback).

Keep product engineering teams small – Amit Somani mentioned Jeff Bezos Two Pizza rule i.e. if the team cannot be fed by two pizzas alone, it is too big. Read more here.

Try to do daily scrum – gives everyone a sense of what everyone else is doing and ensures that people are making progress

Everything is a 6 page document – another Jeff Bezos funda for getting clarity. So a specification or a product request could be a 6 page long form document which ensures that the person achieves clarity before building anything.

You need to benchmark your product against other products especially in enterprise. When starting a product from scratch this can be a really useful exercise.

Amit Somani suggested a mental trick – before building a product, write a one page press release for the product that comes out upon product launch – what will this press release have? What the key features? The target audience etc. This PR drafting exercise could help you decide what to build, what is critical, and for which audience.

Don’t ignore email as a channel for activation and returning visitors

Product activation – Use banners on your own website – do get them to take action – on landing page – on other parts of the website

Track at your mobile traffic – people at the roundtable reported some crazy growth numbers for mobile internet usage – huge sites are now getting 20% to 60% of their traffic on mobile. Mobile traffic is split 50%-50% on mobile browser (including WAP) and mobile apps. This was a big eye opener for many people.

Tools people recommended

Use Trello (a Joel Spolsky product) to manage your product

Use Zapier business tool to connect various sources of product input (e.g. taking Zendesk tickets and automatically creating Github issues)

Use Clicktale or Inspectlet to record user sessions

Use Morae for recording users’ reactions when they are using your product ((Amit Somani mentioned how they put a live usage recording on a LCD screen in the technology room so that engineers could understand how their products were being used – it lead to a lot “can’t he just click on the button! Why is he scrolling up and down!”). One way to get users for such recordings is to ask interview candidates who come to your office to use your product and see their reactions.

Use a call-outs software when introducing new product features (like Cleartrip / WordPress / Facebook do).

Concluding notes
This was one of the most gyan-heavy sessions that I’ve attended. It was useful to hear things from people who had been there done that. Aneesh (even though he is based out of Bangalore) had taken the lead to do this with Avinash and our hope is that the group meets every 6 weeks to keep the conversation going. We’ll keep you posted.

Feel free to email me at ankur AT Akosha dot com if you’d like me to give more details to you.

On a related note, there was some basic debate about what a “product” is. We didn’t get into it at length because everyone in the room intuitively understood what a “product” was. However, we had internally debated about it – if you are interested, do read –Understanding Product v. Service [ThinkLabs Notes 1].

Reblogged from the Akosha Blog by Ankur Singla