Why I (a techie) want to head HR in my company

Many years ago, I heard an investor say that when they looked at an investment opportunity they looked at teams above everything else.  I was surprised when he said “You can make a spreadsheet say almost anything, so we just glance at the financials, and scroll down to the team slide”.  His last words on the subject were these (and they have stuck with me ever since):

“A B-Team will screw up an A plan, but an A-Team will fix a B-Plan”

I can’t remember his name but I remember his words.  This was in the oughts and I seem to remember he was from Bessemer Ventures, but I am not 100% sure.  Still it is remarkable that despite forgetting a lot of detail, that sentence has stuck in my mind.

I remembered his words because in two consecutive articles today I came across similar sentiments from investors.  The first one was from a blog post by Paul Graham writing about how they select teams for investment.

“If a group of founders seemed impressive enough, I’d fund them with no idea. But a really good idea will also get our attention—-not because of the idea per se, but because it’s evidence the founders are smart.”

Paul Graham (Co-Founder, Y-Combinator)

https://www.ycombinator.com/howtoapply/

Minutes later I was looking at excerpts from an interview of Karan Mohla, head of IDG Ventures, India.  At the end of the article is this nugget:

A great founder in a bad market can find good opportunities but that does not work the other way round.

Karan Mohla, IDG Ventures, India

https://inc42.com/features/moneyball-karan-mohla-of-idg-wants-to-reach-next-300-mn-indian-consumers/

 

Of course entrepreneurship is not just about fund raising.  I have seen time and again how companies (not just startups) have failed because of the lack of cohesive and well-executing teams.  I started with the investment thesis because it makes for great copy!  However, the reason investors look for good teams is precisely because a company’s success is most strongly related to a good team.

My favorite example of a failure is from eighteen years ago – when AOL and Time Warner merged.  It was touted as the mega-merger that would never be duplicated.  It was the coming together of the new economy with the old economy.  AOL had the infrastructure and the users (by then in millions) who were online, looking for content.  Time Warner had more than enough content.  This was to be the model of businesses in the future.  There was no one who could beat this behemoth because no one was bigger in the ISP business than AOL and the same was true of Time Warner in the Media business.

Unfortunately, they destroyed themselves and around a year later, the merger unraveled.  Why?  I am quoting from some article I read long ago (again!) but essentially the picture it painted was something like this.  Imagine a conference room with executives from both companies making plans and strategies for the new directions that the combined was going to take.  Time Warner executives are wearing three-piece suits, the AOL people show up in shorts!  There was no way they could talk to each other, leave alone collaborate.

This combined entity had the best brains, the infrastructure, the users and more than enough capital to have accomplished anything they could agree to.  And there’s the rub!  They were not a single cohesive team, and they floundered from the very first day because they couldn’t achieve anything together.

In other words, an entrepreneur needs to focus on building a great team, not on raising capital or anything else for that matter.  When you get a good team, or even the beginnings of one, it just gets easier to do the other important things such as building the product, finding customers and perhaps yes, even raising capital.  That is why, when people ask me what my long term role in the company will be I say Head of HR.  That surprises, them because I’m a techie to the core and most people know I like nothing more than slinging code and hardware with funky lights that blink.  But I know I can find others who (as a team) will do a better job.  And so, building that team, and the marketing team and all the other teams, is my real job.

Microsoft truly hates its customers (or gives a flying f**k about them)

Recently my Hotmail account on Outlook stopped working. I got various messages (I think Microsoft just makes them up) but the most common ones were:

Task ‘AG Hotmail’ reported error (0x8DE00005) : ‘There is an error synchronizing your mail account. Please verify your account is configured correctly by first accessing your mail on the web. Error: 3219. Server. An error occured in looking up the user’s information in mserv. ‘

Task ‘AG Hotmail’ reported error (0x8004102A) : ‘Error with Send/Receive. There was an error synchronizing your folder hierarchy. Error : 80041004.’

I spent hours spread over several days trying to fix the problem. I Googled extensively and tried practically every solution that was suggested including a clean boot, deleting and recreating the account in Outlook, reinstalling, repairing and many more. Nothing worked. Of course, in the process I lost all my Hotmail messages from Outlook, although I could read them online (which is a pain). Finally, I wrote up a question on answers.microsoft.com and received this tip:

When you login to your mailbox via the web, do you see “Preview” in the top-left corner? If so, it means your mailbox got migrated to the new Office 365 platform for Outlook.com.

What!?! Anyway, turns out that “I have been migrated”. Scary sounding, isn’t’ it? I am sure some message appeared in Hotmail that warned me that I was being migrated, but I didn’t take it seriously. And why should I? Let Microsoft upgrade, migrate, find new businesses, just let me do my work, OK? Well, I was very, very wrong. Read on…

Anyway, that tip led me to a page describing Outlook migration changes. There I learned that I needed to recreate the account with a connection to the Microsoft Exchange server. I went ahead and did that, thinking it would be seamless – but that would be too much to expect from Microsoft, right? After a couple of error messages and repeating every step, I was finally able to do the needful. As I write this, Outlook is resynchronizing my account and some emails have appeared.

But the saga is not over yet. Apparently the process makes the Hotmail account and data file the default. So it is like a “first time use” of Outlook. What does that mean you ask? Well, for one thing, it destroyed all my rules! Not only that, some rules no longer work because of some change in the software.  Luckily I had a backup of the rules from a couple-three of months ago. Unfortunately, I was in the middle of completely reorganizing my rules and had made major changes a few weeks ago – all those were lost. As I connect with people, I add them to my whitelist, and all those people I had connected with over the last three months are gone from the whitelist! Another few hours of unproductive time as I fix that (Grrrrr!).  Not Microsoft’s fault, of course, but then what do they care? A company that cares about its customers would have explained the whole process and warned about the loss of data. My Hotmail account is rarely used (one need not wonder why), and I could easily have done without it or checked email on the web rather than put up with this!

There’s more, but in the interests of brevity, I’ll stop ranting here and just say this:

  • Why don’t the programmers and product guys at Microsoft understand that we don’t want upgrades? We’d rather have stability. I really don’t have time to fix all the problems you create for customers.
  • Continuing with that thought, Microsoft Office, of which Outlook is a part is supposed to be “Office Productivity Software”. Instead, it eats up days at a time, with some arcane bug or the other. I really, really beg for an alternative. (And no Google Docs doesn’t cut it, unfortunately).
  • I am pretty adept on the computer, having used Windows since 3.1, but what about the poor souls (like my wife) who aren’t really into technology? Why should they have to put up with loss of data, loss of time, loss of money and extreme frustration because of Microsoft’s inability or unwillingness to care about it’s customers.
  • This is just one example of the exasperating problems that Microsoft creates for its users. In its other software and even in the Operating System there are tons of more examples. Of features that don’t work right, or don’t work logically, or are simply counter-intuitive.

Microsoft really needs to sit and observe customers who extensively use its software and learn to not infuriate them. I could have a dedicated blog just describing my daily frustrations with Microsoft.

So, this was long overdue Microsoft joins the list of #CompaniesWhoHateTheirCustomers

Dear Facebook – We won’t get fooled again!

Facebook’s blatant attemptKill Facebook FreeBasics to kill Net Neutrality in India died last year when massive opposition from ordinary Internet users in India scuttled the project they called (sic) Internet.org. Now, resurrected right around Christmas (they should have waited till Easter J) under a different name – “Free Basics” they seem to have made inroads by signing up (according to them) over 800 developers and millions of ordinary users.

A number of very credible people have written very detailed and thoughtful criticism of Free Basics and the attendant double-full-page advertising campaigns.  Here are two of them:

Free Basics Is A Charmingly Seductive Do-Good Effort That in Reality is Sinister by Giridhar PaiGiridhar Pai, Sr. Vice President at National Bulk Handling Corporation Ltd.

Facebook is misleading Indians with its full-page ads about Free Basics by Mahesh Murthy, Marketer, Venture Capitalist, Corporate Speaker. Founder, Pinstorm. Co-founder, Seedfund

Microsoft too has criticized Facebook’s characterization of Free Basics (although that’s a little like Trump critiquing Hitler), saying that to describe Free Basics being compatible with Net Neutrality is misleading (Economic Times, Page 1, Friday 25th December).

I won’t repeat all the well-made arguments made in the articles I mentioned, but I do want to make three salient points:

  1. If Facebook really is interested in getting more people on the Internet, why are they limiting Free Basics to just their own site and a few others who have promised their fealty to them? Why not open up the entire Internet and subsidize access to those who can’t afford to access it otherwise? The answer is obvious – Free Basics and its predecessor are simply a naked attempt to shore up their bottom line, either soon or in the long term.
  2. Any kind of walled garden – no matter what/how good the intention, is anathema to a free, fair and democratic Internet. Even if (and I don’t believe it for a second) Facebook really is being altruistic, the moment any future manager at Facebook (Zuckerberg or anyone else) decides they have done enough “good” and want to cash in on the millions of users they have lured into their lair, they can. And it will be too late then.
  3. As part of their campaign on their own site, Facebook shares that 29 of my friends “…have sent a message to TRAI about Digital Equality in India”. TRAI, by the way is the Telecom Regulator in India, and so they make it look like my friends are part of a campaign to right a wrong in India. In fact, the wrong if any is being perpetrated by Facebook. There is no option to vote against the proposition, so to speak.

Bottom Line: Don’t support Free Basics or Internet.org; in fact let’s actively fight this and all other attempts on the fragile but important meritocracy of the Internet.

One suggestion: Use the form like I have to send the opposite message (see the graphic).

The Greatest Must-Listen Rock Bands of All Time

Soon to evolve into a List of The Best Rock Songs of All Time

I wanted to make a list of all the songs I want to own, so I could go out and buy them. I do, of course already own some of them. I have bought them on Audio Cassette and CD/DVDs.   I began purchasing on iTunes too, but somehow my buying there was too haphazard. Hence the list.

Incidentally, I have listened to many on this list first on a Record Player (most of you don’t remember that gadget, do you?).

I also wanted to share them with my two boys (and perhaps their friends) so that they would have a list to refer to when want to explore really great music that has stood the test of time. And who knows, listening to these might keep them away from that Heavy/Death Metal crap (Not Music in my book). Of course, they already listen to a lot of what’s on this list so I know they have good taste. But to me it’s important that I tell them what I loved – whether they end up liking it or not.

I do want to share with my friends, so they can give me suggestions and fill out the list. This is a work-in-progress (I may have forgotten some obvious ones) so feel free.

Of course the most important part of making this list is pursuing a labor of love. Looking for, and then listening to the music brought back some great memories and is an unimaginably enjoyable task. The joy of rediscovering the Moody Blues for example was a skin-tingling rush that left me with a s**t-faced grin for at least a couple of days!

The criteria I have used to select these and also to rank them are pretty tight, but at the same time very personal.   I didn’t include breakaways like George Harrison and Neil Young explicitly; I think listing their band will be enough to remind me to include their best work.

Now, the criteria. First, I decided I was going to only include those songs I had listened to – or at least remembered listening to. (The 70s and 8os are a little hazy). I have ranked them by how much I loved at least one of their songs – that’s why Kansas and Robert Palmer are so high up in the list (Dust in the Wind and Addicted to Love). Some are just one hit/one album wonders (Natalie Cole/Don McLean) but still worth including. Some, like Dylan (can you find him?) just barely made it to the list – I like a couple of his songs now, but pretty much disliked him when I was in college (sorry Nikki). Same goes for Michael Jackson.

I plan to make separate lists for other genres I like including Blues, Classical and Gospel, and even Hindi Music. But this list is about Rock ‘N Roll, consistently my favorite genre. I connect to Rock ‘N Roll at a deep, emotional place and so this is my Ventus Album or Dilectus Album (Favorite List or Beloved List in Latin). Ultimately, I will also list the songs I liked against each band, but this is a start.

Anyway, take a look and let me know what you think. Love to hear from you! If you suggest a band, please make sure to say which song would help add them to this list. If you can, please send links to where I can listen (legally) to that song/band.

  1. Beatles
  2. Led Zeppelin
  3. Traveling Wilburys
  4. Robert Palmer
  5. Jefferson Airplane
  6. The Moody Blues
  7. Police
  8. Simon & Garfunkel
  9. Eric Clapton
  10. Cream
  11. Bread
  12. Blind Faith
  13. Credence Clearwater Revival
  14. Fleetwood Mac
  15. America
  16. Eagles
  17. Country Joe and the Fish
  18. Muddy Waters
  19. Kansas
  20. Reginald Dwight ()
  21. Pink Floyd
  22. Paul Simon
  23. The Alan Parsons Project
  24. Rolling Stones
  25. Emerson, Lake & Palmer
  26. Supertramp
  27. Joe Cocker
  28. Don McLean
  29. Jackson Browne
  30. Buddy Holly
  31. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
  32. Crosby, Stills Nash & Young
  33. Steppenwolf
  34. The Who
  35. The Guess Who
  36. Traffic
  37. John Mellencamp
  38. Natalie Cole
  39. Foreigner
  40. Chicago
  41. ZZ Top
  42. Dire Straits
  43. The Allman Brothers
  44. Deep Purple
  45. The Doors
  46. Sugarloaf
  47. War
  48. Loggins & Messina
  49. John Denver
  50. The Drifters
  51. Steve Winwood
  52. B. King
  53. Ray Charles
  54. David Bowie
  55. Talking Heads
  56. Lynyrd Skynyrd
  57. Iron Butterfly
  58. The Beach Boys
  59. Phil Collins
  60. U2
  61. Uriah Heep
  62. Jimi Hendrix
  63. Bob Seger
  64. Boy George
  65. BeeGees
  66. Robert Allen Zimmerman ()
  67. Jethro Tull
  68. Santana
  69. ABBA
  70. Billy Joel
  71. <—Bryan Adams
  72. Carole King
  73. Cindi Lauper
  74. Elvis Presley
  75. Michael Jackson
  76. Eurythmics
  77. Three Dog Night
  78. Bruce Springsteen
  79. Kenny G

Here are some I definitely will not include, even though people call them “important” (meaning they owe then a mention even though they are crappy) or “well-known” (yeah, for their tattoos, not their music): Depeche Mode (their name was their best creation), Def Leppard, Metallica, Prince, Kiss and a lot of the 80s bands that are barely musical.

Update: How could I forget Clapton and Bread!  Thanx for the reminder…

Update 2: Also remembered Cream (White Room, Strange Brew, Sunshine of your Love) and Blind Faith.  Removed Nat King Cole – he belongs in Blues.  Still conflicted about Ray Charles.

Update 3: Thanx to friends who reminded me of Steppenwolf and Joe Cocker.  Also suggested were REM and Aerosmith, but I was never a fan – still  I am considering them.  Also under consideration, and more likely are the Kinks and the Monkees, but a little too Teenybopperish, na?

Update 4: Bryan Adams for Summer of ’69! The Guess Who! And Sugarloaf.  And who can forget Country Joe and the Fish (and by the way, if you don’t have the Woodstock Album, you got nothing baby!)

Update 5: Iron Butterfly is in! And the long forgotten Loggins & Messina.  I am trying hard to keep out the Grateful Dead, despite pressure from friends! 🙂

= Messing with people…who don’t know these greats!

Microsoft shows it’s disdain for users again

MS Idiocy

Microsoft loves to do this – make changes that you don’t understand.  It has become impossible to keep control over what has become a complex and unmanageable system.  I’ve been with Microsoft since Dos 1.0 (It was IBM DOS then) and I have seen every version of Windows.  Back then, it was actually possible to tweak the system so that it did exactly what you wanted it to do.  And a lot of tweaking was not even necessary, because it wasn’t so complex.  Today, when I boot up my system, it is using about half of my 8 GB of RAM!  I really feel the need to kill certain processes, clean out unwanted stuff from my 720 GB hard-drive, but more and more the true purpose of files is hidden.  And, as illustrated above, Microsoft goes and does things to my system that I can’t even track down.  What if that software was something I wanted?  Something that actually improved the security or stability of my system.  After all I have a full-fledged Anti-Virus software installed and running.

Damn you, Microsoft!

Annie Times Four – A “chick-book” that men will like!

This is really a “chick-book”, but I loved it anyway. I read it at the behest of a dear friend, expecting to have to plow through it. But was I pleasantly surprised!

It is a little piece of life in the sixties, and that period fascinates me. I missed it because I was just a tad too young and more importantly in the wrong country. I feel like I should have been born a little earlier and that too, either in the heart of it all, say Berkeley or in a sleepy heartland town like Milwaukee. I did end up in Milwaukee by the way, and so I can relate even more to this story – that is where it all happens…

When I started reading, I was a little annoyed at first by the four different streams of the story. I generally don’t like “clever” literary tricks. But in this case it worked and made my engagement with the story more thoughtful. I won’t say too much at the risk of spoiling your experience, but do let me know if the format worked for you.

The writing is really evocative and vividly brings to life a generation grappling with massive changes, yet subject to the timeless emotions, mistakes and yearnings. The people are real and believable, especially Annie Spring. The fiction is woven around real events and the culture of the times and so it really comes to life.

If you lived in the sixties (or would have liked to) you will love this book… no, it will move you. I would go out on a limb and say that this book is in the top five I have read in the last decade (and I read a lot). Highly recommended.

What Investors Look for in a Startup

I have been on more than two sides of startup investments. Two of my companies have raised money and I have invested small amounts. Plus, I have been an advisor to investors. So, I feel adequately qualified to give some advice…

Less than 1% of startups get funding at the seed or startup phase. Of those that do, less than 1% get future rounds of funding. In other words, companies that raise multiple rounds of funding are literally one in a million. So, ideally you shouldn’t look for funding – read more here (http://blog.gupte.net/dont-look-for-funding-generate-revenue-instead/). However, should you decide you are going to pursue investors, read on.

A Passionate and driven management team – Notice that this one is first. A great management team will not only come up with winning strategies but also execute them efficiently and effectively to get the desired result. An important point to note here is that investors rarely invest in one-person companies. Not only is the risk too high (of the person quitting or worse) but it raises a red flag that the person is unlikely to be good at convincing people to support the idea (customers, partners, employees etc…)

At a talk that I attended, an investor gave the following reasoning. He said “that they rarely look at financials or look at them in great detail before a deal”. In fact they even give the business plan only a cursory look. He made a very important point, and here it is. He said essentially, that “An A team will fix a B plan or a B business. But a B team might screw up even an A plan”. Makes sense. In fact, I’ll take it further. An A team that is passionate about the business they are pitching will likely have thought about it carefully and chosen that business because it is an extraordinary proposition. A teams are made of A players and A players don’t choose ordinary opportunities. The rest of this article is about how you as an entrepreneur should identify a “great proposition”.

Return on investment – Your opportunity has to be a better option for investors than say, the stock market, gold, real estate or a dozen other opportunities that return anything from five to thirty percent annualized returns. They have to feel that they are placing their bets on a venture that has the potential to create disproportionate value within a relatively small timeframe as compared to other businesses. An obvious fact that many “green” entrepreneurs miss is that investors don’t invest because they like you, your idea or your company. Investors invest so that they can profit. Simple. This also has means it is very important that you present a believable and attractive exit strategy for investors.

A strong customer value proposition – this is really the basis of any company. In fact, it is quite simple – if customers are not clamoring for the value proposition your company represents, you don’t have a business. Even if you drive a taxi instead, you have better chance of being profitable.

A disruptive innovation – In a market that sees new ventures coming up every day, investors are always looking for that one idea that has the potential to change the landscape of that domain. It might be a radically innovative business model, or it could be founded on the basis of an incremental innovation – but one that will relentlessly change the competitive landscape.

Scalability – A great investment opportunity is not about earning peanuts. Plausible investment opportunities present a business that is anticipated to be a “rocket” performer. For the same amount of time and effort, they could invest in slow or small growth elsewhere that carries almost no risk in comparison. It is important for investors that the innovation or idea they are investing in has the potential to scale to a large size.

Leverage – Startups that leverage technology, knowledge of the marketplace, contacts, location or something else are attractive. For example, technology offers a competitive edge to any business that uses it effectively. From an investor’s perspective, if you are not leveraging, you don’t have competitive advantage. In fact, effective leverage is a common factor in all successful global companies anywhere.

Believe it or not, professional investors want to see all of the above, not just most. This is why only 1% make it.

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