November - 2014 - issue > Entrepreneur Corner

Journey: 4KTA

Naveen Bisht
Board Member and Chair, Programs-TiE Silicon Valley
Thursday, February 12, 2015
Naveen Bisht
The author is Co-Founder of AURISS TECHNOLOGIES INC., a serial entrepreneur and Board Member, Chair - Programs, The Indus Entrepreneur (TiE) organization, based in Silicon Valley, California. Learn more at www.4KTA.com and follow Naveen on twitter @Naveen_4KTA

Timing your startup journey and defining your market segment is one of the key drivers for a company's success. This article focuses in on lessons learnt by Ajay Mishra, a serial entrepreneur. Ajay is certainly adept in identifying emerging high growth market opportunities to time the launches of his startups. Ajay has been immensely successful with both of his startups and continues to work as the Chief Customer Officer within his current company, MobileIron. Ajay works with customers to understand what is being done well, what might be improved upon, and how to expand products and services to better serve customers's needs. Earlier Ajay co-founded enterprise wireless pioneer, Airespace, now part of Cisco. He defined the initial product requirements for the company's products, working hand-in-hand with 20 teaching customers. Ajay started his career as an engineer at Motorola and was part of the team that designed the world's first commercial GSM handset in 1990. Here are four key take away (4KTA) that Ajay shared in my recent discussions with him.

Market-Before you start your company, one key step is to determine if there is a market. A well-known fact is that a lot of hype builds up around perceived new market trends that deflate almost instantly. Boatloads of startups get funded like wild cats and dogs as Ajay calls it. Now how do you go about validating the market? Is the timing for this opportunity now or still a few years out? If you start too early, you may end up spending all your investor's money before the market even develops. You maybe forced to shut down your company as investors could run out of patience. Understanding how to manage market timing for your product becomes essential. The next step is convincing customers outside the Silicon Valley bubble to appreciate the value and benefit of your technology for their enterprise. If you can convince a customer in Texas, Florida or Germany, then perhaps you are onto something. You want to solve a problem that has customers from every direction coming to buy your solution in boatloads. For instance, at the time of Airespace, laptops were shipping from Taiwan and China in boatloads in 2003 and entering enterprises from every direction. It broke the legacy structured wiring concept in the enterprise. Companies began deploying laptops causing a major shift in user behavior as everyone started getting instant access to the enterprise network. Wireless had broken the wall and as a result, both security management and business processes had to adapt. During MobileIron in 2007, smartphones were expected to become the computers of the future, entering enterprises in large scale. Suddenly, enterprises had to secure and deliver business applications and contents on these devices for first time without hijacking the end user experience. User experience now mattered even more as consumers brought in their personal devices into the enterprise environment. This time again, smartphones were entering enterprises from every direction. Building a technology to satisfy the user experience is more challenging because you have to consider a diverse set of end-users. Think about this whole process as a journey. Understanding the concept of the Mobile journey was important to visualize how customers would then use these new devices over time. Think similarly while building your company to support future customer needs.

Teaching Customers-Second, every entrepreneur needs customers who will provide him or her with some deep insight into the problems the customers face and solutions they need. These teaching customers are willing to continuously give feedback to help you design and improve your product. It's important to note that these teaching customers may not actually be the first paying customers. They are happy to assess your product and provide advice on how to improve it. They may not become your first buyers. In Airespace, the first set of teaching customers included a public university, a hospital, a chemical company, and an aerospace company. None of these customers were from Silicon Valley.

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