Lean, Mean, Startup Machines

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Be More Convincing!

That was the mantra of the day as we all began the Session #1 of the Startup Leadership Program. The CEO for this session was Narendra Peesapati, and the Co-CEOs were Manoj Surya and Praveen Dorna. This organizing team certainly set the bar quite high, with reading material and videos shared with the rest of the SLPians a week in advance, and a diverse panel of speakers lined up to impart their wisdom. The focus was on idea validation using the Business Model Canvas (BMC). Amit Bharadwaj of 6Degree spoke in detail about the BMC, and Subba Raju of Real Shoppee and Rahul Sachdev of WichPlease provided support. The entire class was divided into teams and selected one startup idea to validate. The BMC is really an exhaustive and exhausting process, and a few hours really did it no justice. We did, however, receive very relevant feedback and new ways of seeing our own ideas from the experts and our peers, and it was a valuable introduction to this method. Sri Peddu of Power House Ventures talked to the class about the Lean Startup Methodology, and Srinivas Akki of The EggHead Creative introduced the Javelin board. Nayan of Violet Street also provided inputs on lean startups.

 

1.-Slowpoke

 

The Javelin Throw

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An activity that had most of us getting out of the building, hitting the streets and going up to random strangers (our potential “users”) asking them to validate our startup ideas. Using the Javelin experiment board, we made assumptions about problems faced by our target customers, and solutions we could provide. Some people’s assumptions were flipped on their heads, while others had to tweak or pivot their ways, and a lucky few were able to validate their ideas.

       

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A Feast Fit for CEOs

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CEOs need to stay fit. Sai Krishna “Popstar” Popuri’s Jowar Pops from Health Sutra/ Fountainhead Foods provided us with nourishment in the midst of all the BMC brouhaha. Sindura Borra’s detoxifying concoctions from Cleanse High had us all raising our bottles for a toast, though it was a dry day! Sai Krishna aims to return to a time of simpler and healthier eating by introducing jowar and other healthy foods in easily accessible forms that are as tasty as, if not tastier than, popcorn and other snacks. It’s easy to see how these new snacks are going to be ‘pop’ular soon! Sindura’s detox drinks in their classy bottles are a first in the Indian market: made of a mix of fruits and vegetables, these juices are as delicious and filling as they are healthy. The crunching of pops and clicking on bottles filled with pink, green and yellow juice had us convinced that entrepreneurs really are a strange breed and we always do things differently! We were definitely high on the promise of entrepreneurship!

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A Zenty-Mental Day

 

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A group of business nerds just couldn’t get enough, and as a result of the SLP high, got together at Takbir Fatima’s DesignAware HQ to take apart any brave volunteer’s ideas. The scapegoat/ tester was Manoj Surya, and his startup, Zenty. Zenty is a platform which connects communities with sponsors for their events. An easy way to remember this is payment for engagement. You share a tweet, play a game or solve a quiz to raise awareness or endorse the sponsoring band, and each action earns you bucks that go toward the budget for your event! It’s an interactive way for brands to sponsor events as opposed to the plain old banners or print ads. And an effective way for small communities to get sponsorship from big companies. Manoj was our candidate for the Business Model Canvas, and he was grilled for the entire day! The enthusiasm in the room was contagious, to say the least. Everyone had something of value to add about Manoj’s business model, and many radical views were shared. It was a day well spent, and the session proved that Manoj was certainly a BMC: Brave Macho CEO!

 

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Enter the Emperors

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The Promise of Entrepreneurship

Who hasn’t, on a particularly taxing Friday evening, stuck in their cubicle working late, drowning in mountains of paperwork, dreamed of being their own boss? Of loosening that necktie or kicking off those heels, and starting a food truck or a garage studio or an online business? Of working from home in your pajamas, playing your favorite sitcom in the background, while cuddling your dog? Of being able to take off whenever you feel like, drop off the radar and end up at an abandoned beach shack in the Maldives?

 

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That’s what starting out on your own is supposed to be like, right? Wrong. If it were just that dreamy, everyone would be doing it. But there’s a flip side to it. It takes more than an inclination toward comfort, flexibility and adventure to become an entrepreneur. It takes creativity, not just to come up with the initial idea, but to tweak and improve and refine it many times throughout the journey. It takes an iron belly not to hurl before every meeting with people who are thrice your age and who throw away many times your income. It takes endless optimism to keep going when you have no idea where your next pay-check is coming from. It takes business acumen, communication and presentation skills, a knack for taking calculated risks, immense foresight, and an ability to negotiate in seemingly impossible situations. It takes never-ending reserves of energy, to keep working even after all your employees have left. It takes guts to leave that cushy job, get off your butt, and start from scratch. The difference between those who dream and those who do, is that those who do, dream big. They don’t dream of a small corner store, they dream of a chain of the best stores all over the country. There is no limit to the dreams of doers.

 

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Age of Empires

Luckily, (almost) gone are the days when people would ask you what you do and not understand or accept your answer. When Aunties would ask, “I thought you were a doctor, why are you doing business?” or spouses would say, “She just doesn’t like being idle, so this business is a good use of her time and skills,” or when a friend would ask, “Don’t you feel weird that after a Master’s degree, you’re just selling food?” Today, (almost) everyone knows what an entrepreneur is. Everyone knows you could be the next “Tata-Birla.” Everyone’s envious of the romance of entrepreneurship, enjoyed by those who are brave enough and capable enough of throwing caution to the wind and taking the road less travelled. Startups, the problem child of yesterday, are the child prodigy of today.

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We are in the Age of Entrepreneurial Empires. And building an empire takes work. It takes courage, vision and unflickering optimism. The journey is tiresome, harsh and unpredictable, and, many times, lonely. Enter the Startup Leadership Program. A course designed to erase the uncertainties of entrepreneurs by connecting them to a worldwide, lifelong network of peers from a range of backgrounds, industries and levels of experience.

 

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Entrepreneurs 101

The journey of SLP 2016 Hyderabad began on 19 September, 2015, at the generous offices of Purple Talk, which was started by alumni of the SLP. It was the first time we met each other: the 25 carefully-chosen entrepreneurs, hand-picked from over 300 applicants. We had been accepted to the exclusive and highly-selective Startup Leadership Program because of who we were, not what we were. We were women and men from all walks of life, some still in college, some college drop-outs, some seasoned serial entrepreneurs, and some who had taken a diversion into the startup world mid-career. We were all so different, and yet we shared a common trait: a belief in our life’s calling, and an unwavering dedication toward the dream of running our own businesses, to innovate, fill a void or serve a need. Everyone was well turned-out in formal business wear, looking like CEOs and Directors should, and the highlight of the session was the introductions. Everyone had a story to tell, and each was unique in its own way. But the unmistakable glint of fiery passion coupled with steely resolve to win could be seen in every individual’s eyes. It was a day of witticisms and criticism and sarcasm, and by the end of the day, the stiff collars of blazers were softened into a shared comfort of familiarity. It was a day of recognizing that we were all bound by a common link which would only grow stronger in this half-year-long journey. We belonged. We were home.

 

SLP Hyderabad

 

“Two roads diverged in a wood and I–

I took the one less travelled by.

And that has made all the difference.”

-The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost

 

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For number crunchers, here’s a breakdown of stats of the SLP Class of 2015, in terms of their education:

 

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And the types of startups:

 

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And some more info about the participants, just for fun:

 

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