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Business

Things-To-Do When Rolling Your Own Startup

Most people advising startups focus on critical points like the business model, revenue model, and team. Remember, I said “critical” but I’m going to skip over them since so many people already discuss them.

In this post, I’m going to present a straight-forward check-list of other, very important things to do when rolling your own startup.

  • Think about corporate governance issues on day 1. Whether you have a partner, partners, or it’s just you, you should identify how the company will be governed.
  • In good times, we tend to loosen our belts a bit and be a little lax in our control of expenditures. It can be excused when times are good but good times don’t last forever. Keep strict policies on managing your cash (and cash-flow) at all times.
  • Manage every aspect of your expenses. Know what your fixed and variable costs will be. Put in a process for tracking money that you and other employees have spent on behalf of the company and have a reimbursement policy. A very simple expense spreadsheet could do the trick.
  • Whether you’re prospecting for clients or not, figure out how you’re going to run sales and marketing in your company. Use some form of a CRM. The cheapest and simplest way to get started is with a spreadsheet. Don’t go wasting time on setting up your own free CRM and definitely don’t waste the money on a paid CRM service until you’re generating revenue and have a team of sales/marketing folks that are managing many clients.
  • Think about and layout your equity plan for founders, investors, employees, etc. How many classes of stock will there be? What, if any, vesting cycle will be used for founders and employees? Will employees buy stock in the company? Will employees be GIVEN stock in the company for free? Will the employees be given options (ESOPS)? What are the economic impacts of these models to the company and to the employee? Much of what you decide and do here will also affect point 1.
  • Find a good CPA/CA that has experience working with these kinds of corporate structures and share allocations, etc.
  • Find a good attorney with relevant experience and build a relationship with him/her as well.
  • Build a library of various types of contracts that are relevant to your business. Many of the relevant contracts can be found for free on the Internet. However, it is worth having a good attorney review them to make sure you and your business are protected.
  • Learn a bit about the law, a bit about economics, a bit about financial accounting, and a bit about technology. Entrepreneurs and top-line managers MUST have a knowledge of all these things to be effective in running the business.

Here are a few resources that might be useful.

Resources:

US Resources:

Indian Resources:

Please let me know of other very important items that you’ve come across.

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Business India Startups Venture Capital

Skin in the Game

I was reading an interesting post on Gaurav’s blog about founders of startups taking significant paycuts when raising funding from VCs. i was going to post a comment but am having some trouble connecting to Gaurav’s blog.

VCs in India are applying what they’ve learned operating in the US and Europe to an economy and economic conditions which are very very different. This isn’t to say Gaurav is right and Sundar and Krish are wrong. However, there’s probably a medium that is a bit more amenable to both sides. VCs need the founders to be up to their eye balls in the business for many reasons. However, having a founder who is financially struggling, on top of all the other issues related to doing a startup increases the risks associated with the investment. It is conceivable for a founder with significant negative cash flow to throw in the towel and pack up her bags or worse, to stay on and throw themselves into a deeper and deeper grave, potentially filled with debt.

On the other hand, most entrepreneurs start a business because they are confident of their abilities and they are sure they can hit a home run ( or a century for all the cricketers out there ). Ideally, an entrepreneur will raise money from a VC when the business is moving in the right direction and there is revenue coming in. The founders might need the additional money to grow exponentially, diversify, or gain the valuable advice of an experienced team. Hence, it’s important that the founder takes a substantial pay cut in order to show the investor that they are “believers”. What “significant cut” means is relative. To a VC, a 75% cut is significant but to the entrepreneur, 25% is significant. At the end of the day, the entrepreneur must decide how much control she is willing to cede to investors and how costly the capital raised will be. A good negotiator might convince investors that it’s in ther interest to give the founders a 10% paycut from market rates.

Each founder has to evaluate their financial position and decide whether the delayed gratification is an economic reality and if they can afford to do it. If they can’t, perhaps it’s time for them to leave the bargaining table, or worse, leave the business.

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India

A Passage to India

Emblem of India
Nusair asked that I start blogging about my experience in India over the next few weeks. I have toyed with the idea of doing a podcast and/or blog of my travels and of the whole process of doing a startup. I arrived in India in the beginning of last week. I’m here to determine what the Indian consumer Internet industry looks like with the hope of starting a company to service this industry in India. This is my inaugural post on my Passage to India.

I have started exploring what kind of startup infrastructure exists in places like Bangalore, New Delhi, Kolkata (Calcutta), Mumbai (Bombay), and Chennai. I will be examining Bangalore and New Delhi up close and personal but for the moment, I’ve decided not to look at the other three places, partly because of high churn and burn rates, as well as personal factors leading me towards Delhi and Bangalore.

Bangalore is probably the worst (for tech companies) when it comes to high turnover but it appears to have the highest concentration of talent, with the possible exception of Hyderabad. New Delhi isn’t quite known as a technology hub and it is quite a bit more expensive that places like Kolkata. Mumbai isn’t quite the best place for a technology company, in my very humble opinion. Mumbai is run my financial institutions, much like New York City. All these institutions pay well and hire up any potential engineering talent. This engineering talent, along with people with financial experience jump jobs every 3 – 9 months for sunstantial salary increases. I’ve seen this immense turnover at a previous company I was at. Though, my area wasn’t impacted by the high turnover, the company and customer service was being hurt very badly.

Kolkata is much less expensive than New Delhi, Bangalore, or Mumbai. However, it also has a very small talent pool relative to the other cities and many engineers in Kolkata see a technology job there as a stepping stone to a “real” engineering job in Bangalore, Hyderabad or Chennai. This, obviously, isn’t always the case but it is quite common.

Over the next few weeks, I will be detailing thoughts, insights, and questions that I am facing and dealing with in determining whether India is the place for a consumer Internet application or should I heed the advice of others…. “Go West Young Man…”

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Business Misc. Startups

Joining an Early Stage Startup or Joining “The Man”

Joining or doing a startup is not for everyone.  It doesn’t matter whether you are in the US, China, the UK, France, or India.  It takes a certain amount of energy, self-discipline, determination, creativity and faith to be able to survive in a startup. Most of all, it takes an incredibly strong constitution to deal with the stress of being at a startup.

I have been involved with a few failed and one very successful startup.  My advice to people considering joining a startup, do it if you’re more interested in learning above everything else.  A startup is where you will learn more than any of your peers at a large organization.  You will have much more responsibility and you won’t have time for BS.  It’s all about getting things done, frrom cleaning the office, to picking up the water, to budgeting, to raising capital, to developing the business.

If you’re afraid of working 18 or more hours a day, seven days a week, then a startup isn’t for you. If you’re limited in what kind of risks you can take because of responsibilities and obligations then don’t go to a startup. If you have a need for current income and cannot easily risk any current income by taking stock options and living on a very tight budget, then don’t go to a startup. If you’re interested in a paycheck that pays you market or above market, then you’re better off going to a larger, more established company.

Startups will usually pay less than market, but they will provide you with an experience that will be quantifiable only when 1) you leave the startup and look for a job at a large company and 2) if and when your startup grows up, management adjusts your total compensation to be more in line with the market.  Of course, there are many other factors involved in negotiating higher compensation and there are many books on the topic.

Stock option plans are very difficult to structure and put together unless you’re an experienced entrepreneur and know exactly how things are done, or if you have deep pockets to pay the right lawyers.  I’m sure in places like India it’s much more difficult since the legal and business infrastructure for startups is in its infancy. Many resources are becoming available to tech entrepreneurs in countries like India but it will still be a few years before the legal and business infrastructure matures. This is a significant risk for the startup, the entrepreneur(s), and those employees who took a chance at making this startup the next big thing.

My experience has taught me that the most nimble (and many times – chaotic) startups are the ones that have very flat organizational hierarchies. Adding multiple levels of management in a startup creates confusion, bureaucracy, and slows things down. At the early stages of a company, it’s incredibly important to be quick and be able to adapt to changing market conditions. Multiple layers of management along with too much procedure slows things down. There’s a time for procedure and process to be embedded into a company but doing it too early can cripple a startup.

A startup is all about risk and taking chances. If you can’t bear the stress of not getting a paycheck next week because the company is short on cash, then you really need to think about whether a startup is right for you. A startup is always changing. You might have been hired to be a biz dev associate but three months into the job, you could get moved into operations. If changing positions and careers at the drop of a hat doesn’t allow you to build the skills that you want in one specific area then a startup may not be right for you.

Each individual must assess their risk tolerance separately before even thinking of interviewing at a startup.


Joining a pre-VC startup « sameer’s blog

Joining a pre-VC startup is not only a job or a career choice; it’s a lifestyle choice. This is truer for folks who join in early and join as part of the early management team (senior/m

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