Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Tale of Guts & Gumption and Crisis Management Tips for Indian Entrepreneurs

The Incredible Story of R. 'Naru' Narayanan of Big Fun and Dosa King fame

(Video from a Startup Grind Chennai event)


- Develop the skill to make decisions under conditions of uncertainty- Whenever there is a crisis, never display your anger. Keep smiling disarmingly - if you want to get all the information. There is no point finding whose fault is it then and there.

- In India, people give their opinion and then provide the facts. They will bring you a crisis when they know you are pressed for time and therefore they can  push you for an instant decision. They will give you half the information; "We have inventory for 11 Lakhs; I have an offer for 7.5 Lakhs; I think I can negotiate it to 9 Lakhs. What do you say?". They will assess you by the questions you ask. Buy yourself 15 minutes of time, since you don't have enough information and you will tend to be irritable. Then, analyse the situation and the person (based on past behaviour, what kinds of problems he brings to you) and react accordingly. And pray that you have taken the right decision!

- Blowing up the Bubble

The amazing story of how Big Fun bubble gum became a sponsor of the India-South Africa Cricket Series on Star TV - with hardly any money in the bank. And, when the Rs.2 crore bill came due (and there was still no money to pay), how Big Fun convinced Star TV to again allow it to sign up as the sponsor of the forthcoming India-Australia series!

- Amazing (disaster) story of the Dosa King, the maker of the Dosa making machine

- People are Indian Entrepreneurs biggest Weakness (Not Firing the Bad Ones, that is.)

Indian entrepreneurs tend to think they they need some person badly and keep rationalizing that person's mistakes. "Once is an accident; twice is a coincidence; third time it's a pattern - just fire!"

- Write Everything Down. Since you need to keep chasing up everyone. All the time. To get anything done.

In India, you need to chase up people anyways - whether it is employees, vendors, etc. If you pay the vendor well, you still need to follow up to get the job done. If you underpay the vendor, you have to follow up. So, underpay!

Related Links: Business Line interview; Naru's LinkedIn profile

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Entrevista with Cosmic Circuits Founder Ganapathy Subramaniam

Interview with Ganapathy Subramaniam, Founding-CEO of Bangalore-based semiconductor tech company Cosmic Circuits. (Cosmic was acquired in early 2013 by Silicon Valley-based, Nasdaq-listed electronic design giant Cadence.) The interviewer is fellow entrepreneur Chandu Nair.

The Podcast can be downloaded from here.

(Use Right Click > Save As to save the file to your desktop)


Reading the Wind
How Ganapathy, as part of visiting customers in October 2012, realized that Cosmic Circuits could no longer remain an independent company. (Its customers and partners wanted a strong Number 2 player in the segment to provide a balance to the Number 1 player, Synopsis.) 

Making the company Due Diligence ready
How Cosmic's decisions to rope in a Big 4 audit firm (just five years into its existence) and go in for an ISO certification, stood it in good stead when it came to due diligence at the time of its acquisition. Ganapathy advises that, once the company grows to a certain size, even as the founders enjoy the fruits of that growth, they would do well to take the time and effort to streamline processes.

Valuing Customer Traction over Venture Capital
Why Cosmic Circuits passed on a term sheet from a Silicon Valley VC within days of starting up.

Importance of separating lines of businesses - even in a startup 
"Startups should live and die by its focus on one line of business," says Ganapathy. If one of the business lines is a cash cow, the "negativity" of the failing businesses does not reach the CEO. Specific to Cosmic, in hindsight, the company would have been better off it had separated the fabless semiconductor business from the IP business - something it did as part of the sale of the IP business to Cadence.

Focus on productivity versus putting in long hours
A firm follower of Stephen Covey's "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," Ganapathy believes leading a balanced life - whether it is ensuring time for family or playing badminton almost everyday - helped ensure his stress levels were in control. (This outlook ensured that Ganapathy's approach to work as the CEO of Cosmic wasn't too different from that at TI.) A 14 hour or more of work just ends up making the founder irritable and leads to costly friction with colleagues, he says.

Attraction of Texas Instruments as a workplace
Apart from the great pay check, the ethical culture, the opportunities to learn from the best in the field and also the freedom to operate independently encouraged Ganapathy to continue with TI - effectively his first and last job as an employee - for a straight 16 years. When he was deputed to work in TI USA, he decided - on his own - that he would be more productive working from home and proceeded to do so for three months. And his supervisor never asked him about his whereabouts!

Impressions Left by Early Education
How his early school education (in the small town of Sivakasi) instilled a spirit of Nationalism - the echoes of which were felt later in his career, including in creating a vision for Cosmic (to build a highly valuable company out of India in the semiconductor technology space).

Man on a Mission
Ganapathy would like to help develop at least ten $100-M+ Semiconductor IP companies out of India over the next 15 years, by working with entrepreneurs, VCs and the government. He is also also making personal investments in startup companies in the sector.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Entrevista with Palem Srikanth, Founder of logistics software maker Four Soft

In this audio interview ("podcast"), Palem Srikanth shares his amazing entrepreneurial journey - from a Stanford educated logistics executive with Hewlett Packard to returning to India and starting a Dosa restaurant chain to the tough lessons from making cross-border acquisitions to the recent sale of the logistics software business (to US Private Equity firm Francisco Partners-backed Kewill) for about Rs.275 crores. The interviewer is fellow entrepreneur Chandu Nair.

The Podcast
can be downloaded from here.
(Use Right Click > Save As to save the file to your desktop)

  • Importance of Financial Strength in the Enterprise Software space
  • How persistence and investing in technology (to ensure Four Soft's products were cutting edge)  provided the maximum return - much more than the expensive acquisitions the company made 
  • Managing the confidentiality of the transaction involving a listed company - so that there is no misuse of insider information to trade in the stock 
  • Tapping of Ex-Colleagues/Bosses for Angel Capital 
  • Advantages of going public 
  • Pitfalls in acquiring an overseas company - how buyers need think through not just "how to bite it, but  also to swallow it and digest it". For example, issues like whether the target company is entrepreneurial enough to meet aggressive growth expectations; the regulatory issues in laying off people; conflicts of interest involved in buying a company (from a financial investor) where the management team aspires to itself own the company, etc. 
As if creating an Enterprise Software Product out of India has not been challenging enough, Srikanth now has a parallel career in active politics - he is running for Parliament as part of the Telugu Desam Party. You can follow his political career into the 2014 elections and beyond on his web site at