Are you a Baba Entrepreneur? 98th #PlaybookRT

Let me set the stage for iSPIRT’s 98th Playbook held at the EKO office in Gurgaon.
43 Degree Celsius in a very dry and dusty Gurgaon summer, a Playbook on “The Hard Truths of Entrepreneurship” and a bunch of battle-hardened entrepreneurs of the size of a cricket team – What do you think was the result of the match?
To call it special would not be ‘different’ if you go by the words of the facilitator of the playbook – Abhishek Sinha, Ceo, EKO.
A ‘Different’ 98th Playbook may be the best description for this session which discussed business strategy, unit economics, content marketing, sales, team building and not to mention investors and fund-raising.
If you are like me, you may be wondering what was so ‘Different’ about it. If you attended the session, you would know, that none of the above was even mentioned. (Apologies, I think fund-raising was mentioned once)
So what did this eleven talk about on a Saturday afternoon.
It would not be incorrect to sum it up as ‘101 things an entrepreneur finds difficult to share’. It was about emotions. And I will leave you with just ————-
To keep the confidentiality of the participants, none of the —– points are being attributed.
The session began in Jeff Bezos style, with Abhishek distributing a 6 page memo about his journey as an entrepreneur. In Abhishek’s words, he was starting at a blank document for over 15 days. If I were you, I would kill to read those 6 pages. It is not worth a ‘miss’. This beautiful write-up raised the perfect questions and many follow-up questions that the participants added to, with a ‘stunned’ surprise.
Lets roll with the eleven.

1) Destiny is a Child

If you are a parent, you would understand that a child is spontaneous and unpredictable. An entrepreneur’s destiny ‘seems’ to be exactly the same. In Abhishek’s EKO journey, he recounts many occasions when the business was on the brink, and then something happened. Not once, but more than once. In one such occasion, a loan of Rs 6.5 crores got arranged overnight and it has been over 5 years, but the loan agreement is still awaiting signatures.
This was enough to get other members involved into the conversation. Everyone seemed to agree that there was some ‘force’ – very difficult for the human mind to comprehend – that conspired to make things happen. Shah Rukh Khan’s ‘kayanat‘ was also invoked to substantiate. But whether destiny always resulted in a positive outcome, well that debate continues.
To sum it up, it does seem that ‘Destiny favors the Brave’.

2) Create a Crisis on purpose

More than half of the group testified to this. The situation – each one was expecting some financing to happen, but because of demonetization and Trump being elected as President, the cheque did not find its way. Everybody seemed to have found a unique creative way to solving the cash flow problem whether it was a commission-based channel partnership, or a unique sales incentive or just changing the payment plan. Looking back, the participants reflected that it was only in crisis-like situations that each one of them found a unique solution, to move the business to the next level.
Steve Jobs has been known to drive all his businesses to the brink. In more recent times, this name has also been doing the rounds.

3) Unbundling of Payments in FinTech

For this, I guess, it would be best if Abhishek could sometimes do a webinar with screen-sharing. To put it in short, Abhishek stressed that the way in which smartphone unbundled calling, messaging, VAS which was earlier bundled in a feature phone, in a similar way, the current payment technology framework would be unbundled. This unbundling in payments would happen in ID, Source of Funds, Payment Network, Authentication, and Loyalty. Are Fintech entrepreneurs ready to build on this opportunity?

4) Recruiting – Interview the Intern | Work-Life Balance

Ambarish – Founder and CEO of Knowlarity – shared that he is involved in the interview of each team member, even interns. It was an interesting share that each participating entrepreneur listened to, with great intent. His approach at Knowlarity is to discourage candidates from joining and by creating an interview process that requires a lot of work. e.g. The interview process for interns is a 12-hour full day long interview that involves many steps like writing, quantitative, interviews and then followed by a final interview with the CEO at 8 PM on a Saturday. Only 40% survive the process and the rest 60% quit but rewarded with a chocolate on the way out. Interestingly, Ambarish also shared that how categorical they are, when it comes to the matter of work-life balance. It is made clear to the candidate that there is just work. Obviously, this was contested by some other participants in the room, including Abhishek, who have seen improvement in personal and people productivity by making attempts at work-life balance.
I personally thought that for the entrepreneur ‘Work is Life’. It would be interesting to get some feedback from the readers on this subject.

5) CoFounders

This topic begets a dedicated playbook session. Entrepreneurs present at the playbook did accept that CoFounders eventually move on (for various reasons including getting bored) and in the interest of the business startup, it is vital that agreements are put in place that takes care of governance of exits. It was all about the basics when it came to managing CoFounders and their interests.

6) Baba, Are you?

Don’t we love Babas in India?
I understand that matters of faith is a sensitive subject. I encourage you to take it very lightly. For this was a very important insight that emerged from the Playbook. This was fleetingly mentioned in the 6-page write-up Abhishek had shared at the beginning of the session. He expressed how bewildered he was, to see how some of the religious organizations in the country are able to pull off massive following without any monetary exchanges. How volunteers commit time, money and energy to such movements? The cohort attributed it to the ‘Cause’.
Abhishek picked up ‘Cause’ and stressed the need to reinforce it time and again in the team.
He went on to add that as Founders and CEOs, we all have a duty to be like a ‘Baba’. He highlighted how a Baba only encourages, inspires and supports, that is exactly how we should be to our team – A Baba.
Are you being a Baba?
If you enjoyed reading this and somewhere feeling that you missed the session, it is true, you indeed missed a ‘different’ kind of playbook.
You can still express yourself in the comments.
Have a wonderful life.
Guest Post by Rajagopalan C, Inboundmantra

iSPIRT & the India Stack pilot – commercialization of techno-creative innovations

iSPIRT invited select companies to leverage the IndiaStack API’s and collaboratively construct a pilot program, as a demonstrable proof of concept.

Broadly, the pilots were established to transfer the invented technologies and expertise to the market. In addition to creating sufficient and supportive infrastructure for technology transfer; to embolden entrepreneurs and businesses create profits based on intellectual property generated from these innovations, our pilot learnings were needed to help effectively address government, regulators and public institutions to seek their support for policy recommendations made by iSPIRT.

More specifically, the belief at iSPIRT was that for successful new technology venture, entrepreneurs and businesses should possess a combination of learning experiences, knowledge, self-confidence and skills to face challenges in various stages of commercialization process.

All participants to the pilot were carefully selected by examining their current business models, abilities to contribute to all aspects of IndiaStack, coexistence in a non-competing frame, investing in own resources (costs, effort, time) and above all for demonstrating their PASSION for technology and BELIEF that they will transform INDIA’s landscape for its people and businesses.

This pilot would not have been possible without the kind support and help of many individuals and organizations. iSPIRT is highly indebted to Khosla Labs for providing AUA, KUA services for free. eMudhra for being our eSign service provider, and for generously waiving fees while working to onboard all the partners in a compressed timeframe for the pilot. All our partners, namely Capital Float, Eko, Axis Bank, and Suvidhaa for enthusiastically supporting us, while setting aside their competitive instincts to collaborate and sharing learnings. And also to each of the iSPIRT volunteers for their guidance and constant supervision as well as for providing necessary information regarding the pilot & also for their support in commission to completion of the pilot in less than 90 days!

iSPIRT believes that by sharing the pilot learnings through the above publication, we will address aspects of entrepreneurship competencies and create the right entrepreneurial environment to produce innovations that are both technologically feasible and commercially viable.

iSPIRT would particularly like to extend its sincere thanks to CATALYST and Dalberg for the study and its dissemination.

Guest Post by Jaishankar AL, Tally Solutions

The best things are simple. Is your messaging there yet? : from #PlaybookRT

The most crucial lessons come from looking at the mistakes: those that we make and those that we spot others making. A thought might get triggered by listening to great dreamers like Steve Jobs. But the termination, in terms of realization, implementation and imbibing the essence comes only when you have walked through that journey and declared a new start.

Shankar, who imagined and steered the 43rd round table in Delhi, created amazing examples to drive across the points, we had often read heard and hoped to understand. I will try and share what were my takeaways.

This session, thanks to Rajat Harlalka and the amazing iSPIRT movement, started off with an unforgettable lesson, on what is the Curse of Knowledge.

You need to attend one round table to experience it. For now I can only re-iterate one of the ways it is often represented.

The moment you know how to speak a language, you forget what it is like, to not know it.”

The same thing happens with you and your product. You know it too well to imagine what it looks like to those who don’t know it. What should the message be, so that the potential customers want to have it?


So if you are looking at spotting your messaging, spot the Who of your customer.

  1.       Who is your Bob (What Bob?)
  2.       What does he look like
  3.       Where does he go
  4.       What does he do


Once you have figured out the Who, move on to answer the Why

  1.       Why should Bob need your product
  2.       What’s in it for him
  3.       How does it make him better

Only after figuring these questions would it make sense to move on to ‘What’ your product does and ‘How’ does it do it.

I want you to read that again. Give it some time to sink it. Let it challenge what you think you know.

List of Videos by ShankarIt’s only after spotting “Who is your Bob” and “Why should he bother” that you product and it’s features and functionality come in.

First response of one of my fellow entrepreneur to this statement was: I know all that.

‘I am the best ecommerce setup for finding XYZ. That’s why he should care’, he went.  Really?

It’s like saying, “I am the best writer. You better read my books”. Does that work?

If you have both the answers, feel confident. You are amongst the top 5% companies who have their basics right.

Now what do you do with this knowledge?

Let your Bob know!

This was where I would say, the workshop’s original aim hovered.

If you have your answers, incorporate them in your messaging. Share a story that people can relate to. Share with your Bob that you are going to make him better. Let your messaging help Bob, feel this sentiment.

If you look at the steps we went through and reinforced during our Bob journey, there were just 2.  Make yourself :

  1.       Meaningful, and,
  2.       Differentiated, to your Bob.

One other takeaway that stuck with me was this: The best things are simple. Is your messaging there?

Guest Blog post by Kritika Prashant, VoiceTree Technologies

Insights from the Sales Playbook RoundTable Led by Ambarish, Knowlarity in Gurgaon

The second Sales Playbook RoundTable in Delhi-NCR was held at EKO office in Gurgaon, led by Ambarish Gupta– CEO/Founder, Knowlarity Communications. About 10 companies attended the meet such as EKO, Easework, Busy, Yippster, Conixevus and few more. The format was quite engaging and action oriented as participants were asked to come with their own set of sales challenges for the RT. The session started with a brief introduction and the specific challenges participants were facing.  There was a good degree of overlap among sales challenges of different organizations. The common theme emerging out of the challenges can be divided into three categories – Profit margin, Velocity of Sales & Scaling up. I’m listing down few of the actionable learning discussed

Improving Profit margin:- 

There was unanimous agreement over the core purpose of business among participants i.e to make profit which is a very elementary mathematical equation i.e difference between revenue from a unit customer & cost of serving a unit customer. Even if somebody is making revenue, he may choose to leave a particular customer if cost of serving customer is more than revenue. Exceptions are always there if the unprofitable customer is a source of bringing other profitable customers. Organizations should have real time view of profitability of different customer segments and may focus on segments with maximum profitability. While formulating any pricing strategy, the above mentioned formula should be kept in mind.

  1. The most important point in improving profitability is to understand the sustainable value coming out from the different customer segments & know associated risks. For example- startups as a major customer base are not good for companies because most of them die in a year so average cost of acquisition & serving is always going to be more than the average revenue for these customers. Similarly, up gradation to the existing customer may enhance profit margin significantly.
  2. Ask the customers to pay for the product you are providing, you will be getting right kind of feedback about product & business model, if majority is not willing to pay, it’s a red flag and one may need to modify the business model & product
  3. The pricing model should be taking care of mind set of customers so if the target customers are not in a position to shell out big amount of money, the pay as you go model may be applied with known risk that churning of customers is going to be high risk for the company.
  4. Payment term is also quite important, For example – Even in SaaS model once can ask for yearly payment rather than collecting on monthly basis. It has got several advantages-a) Advance cash flow b) reduced tension & effort of collecting money c) you have got a time in which you can make customers use the product and take benefit out of product.
  5. Make customers’ use the product so that they can feel the business benefit. A happy customer’s life time value is quite high for the company. The companies need to make as many happy customers as possible as a brand ambassador so after getting word of mouth publicity /referrals the cost of acquiring customers reduces significantly resulting in better profit margin for the company in long run.

Enhancing Velocity of Sales:-

A lot of participants expressed their concern about increased sales cycle and discussed the ways to reduce the cycle time & find a right process for reaching out to prospects.

  1. Network is very important in finding first few customers; it was observed that most of the companies got first few clients from personal network which resulted in an early traction for products.  So build a network of mutually beneficial relationship much before you try to reap the benefits.
  2. For reducing the time cycle, team should focus on finding the person in the target companies who is feeling the maximum pain for the problems you are going to solve and identify the decision maker such as CEO/CMO.
  3. For finding the relevant personal details such as mobile no. /email id internal to an organization, various tactics may be employed such as finding details from LinkedIn & Naukri profile, calling the board member as a journalist for interview etc.
  4. It is always advisable for going through a referral route if available so that the prospects would be in a frame of mind to hear. Moreover, while interacting on phone for the first time, you have just first 30 seconds to impress, be precise to what you are going to deliver in terms of benefits not about details of products. You will be getting enough time and a meeting with all the key executives if you can hold call for first 30 seconds.  The benefits should be clearly leading to either increasing the revenue or reducing the cost in direct or indirect ways such as, “I will help you in making additional money from existing customers” or “I will reduce the cost of serving to your existing customers”.
  5. If your product is new in market, one needs to identify the early adopters who are willing to take chances for launching the product with assessment of the probable competition, barrier to entry, market potential & preferred business/ revenue model in different markets.
  6. If the product is a replacement of the existing product then value from the replacement product should be of at least 10x more value than that of the existing product. The product companies need to understand & answer the key questions- why people should be replacing existing system/products? The mindset of a customer is always going to maximize the value per unit cost. One needs to find a solution of this puzzle for individual prospects before reaching them so one needs to concentrate on understanding the pain points with existing product and how to help prospects with those pain points while still providing the others as usual benefits to the customers.
  7. Both tangible and intangible value should be taken into consideration while evaluating overall value to the customer. One needs to be very careful if you are changing the path of doing business as usual for the prospects as there would be a degree of difficulty in doing something new for the customers. This is going to create negative value to the prospects.
  8. Keep customers / prospects engaged in a personalized way such as sending some information that may or may not be relevant to the product but may help prospect. Always keep a updated social profiling of the prospects from Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and find an excuse to follow up such as Congratulations for getting award etc. One need to understand that we are dealing with human beings not machines so clubbing of trust and emotions is extremely important to reduce sales cycle.
  9. The first point of interaction with customer is what you are going to provide. Talk to the customers in a language they can understand rather than focusing on product and features, it comes later in answering to the question how you are going to provide. For example- Our product will reduce the serving cost per customer in call center from 50 paisa to 10 paisa or our product is going to help in your business conversion by x% that is going to increase your revenue by y%.
  10. Even from the same target customer segment, different prospects are at the different stage of the sales cycle so marketing pitch should be in line with different stages in a sales cycle i.e Awareness – attract – Engage- Convert – Happy customer – Referral / word of mouth – new customers and so on.

Scaling up:-

  1. Product companies should connect to prospects to understand the pain points of the customers rather than building a perfect product with no market requirements. They should start talking with customers even if the product is not ready to receive valuable feedback.
  2. Time to make entry in the market is quite important as  it decides the opportunity windows of a company to tap maximum benefits in minimum time & effort
  3. The system & processes during the early stage of startup should be highly flexible. After a certain period the same flexible system should be converted into process driven system to run the show. Therefore, one should evaluate & understand the system / processes / resource that are needed to drive the expected sales after scaling up & manage the changes from the existing level to the future level smoothly.
  4. One needs to find the sales model that is highly effective and scalable after market test and multiple iterations. Once you have found the right kind of value proposition and target set of customers for that value proposition with effective sales channels, you can scale up same model exponentially.
  5. The choice of domestic vs. international market is quite tricky. In developing market competition is less, quality expectation is less, market potential is high but customers are not willing to pay so ticket size is small. One of the biggest obstacles is the mind-set of customers in developing market. However in developed market ticket size is high, less hurdles with mind-set but competition is intense with very high expectations on front of quality. So considering these two facts one can take domestic market as a test market for testing and enhancing the product. Once it reaches the level of international standard, one can make international markets as the primary source of revenue. Jumping to international market without having a tested product may block all the future chances in that market forever.
  6. The selection of appropriate sales channel may be explored after trying established model such as telesales, channel, face to face & enterprise sales. Only after market testing, one can determine the right way to get more profitable customer at lower costs.
  7. The product companies need to create a sustainable source of inbound leads rather than outbound leads to improve efficiency of the sales system. Sales people should not be engage with every potential customer, they should be getting filtered list of potential customer for engaging & converting
  8. Another basic question is how customers are going to discover you? One needs to see the whole picture from the lens of customers for scaling up. Depending upon the computer literacy of the targeted customer offline or online or combination of marketing tactics may be deployed. For example- if customers are searching heavily over internet for the keywords associated with the products- Google organic and paid search could be good idea to hook the prospects. However if the search volume is less then display tactics may be needed to create the awareness among targets & later for hooking.
  9. The product companies need to understand the mindset of channel partners and dynamics that is happening in the channel partner industry. As profitability is going down, existing good partners may be looking out for new streams of revenue. So, they would be happy to work on a more profitable venture for taking a new product to the market. Apart from that capability, influence into target market and willingness to sell must be evaluated for potential partners.
  10. The big channel partner may not be a good partner unless the new product can create immediate good streams of revenue for them, so small partners would a preferred set of partners because they would be devoting dedicated time even for small revenue however the impact on company’s revenue per partner would be limited so number of such working partners come into picture for getting maximum revenue in a given time.

These insights were the result of the sales round table meet. The round table meet ends with a promise of meeting again for discussing and sharing experience again in coming month. Thanks to  iSPIRT ProductNation in being instrumental for building core competence in product organizations.

Guest Post by Manoj Kumar, a volunteer for ProductNation