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November - 2014 - issue > Entrepreneur Corner
Journey 4KTA
Naveen Bisht
Board Member and Chair, Programs-TiE Silicon Valley
Thursday, February 12, 2015
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.

Founders-Third, if you are not willing to quit your day job, you're not ready to be an entrepreneur. Quitting your day job implies that you really believe in your idea. If you don't believe in it yourself, you won't be able to convince someone to quit their job.This sacrifice is necessary to be a true founder and entrepreneur. Convincing one's family is also an important part of the entrepreneurial process. You have to share with your spouse and kids why you believe so passionately in your idea and why you plan to leave your job to do a startup. The next step for founders is to understand how to best grow the team. Always look for a co-founder that complements your strengths and has the same passion. Define the job requirements before starting the search for a co-founder. The co-founder relationship is basically like a marriage. Just like in dating, the two parties have to create trust by building a culture of transparency that extends to the larger team. And to build that great team, founders need to continuously sell the company idea and value proposition to new employees.

Measurement Metrics-Finally, the one metric that you may want to use as an entrepreneur and founder is shareholder value. Shareholder value answers the performance of the company. If the shareholder value is going up, the company is executing well. The shareholder value is dependent on the balance of three key ingredients, market, customers, and team. These three ingredients have to be in sync to build strong shareholder value. Hiring A+players and building your team around them is what will end up driving your company to its success. An amazing team gets you capital for your company as well as your customers. Finally, founders are like heart and soul of the company, they need to work harder than others to build the company and tirelessly exhibit the passion and commitment needed to build an A+ team and successful company.

In summary, the four key take away points are market, teaching customers, founders and measurement metrics.
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