THE BLOG

25
Feb

Why the WhatsApp Deal Will Inspire on a Global Level

Has anyone noticed that the narrative surrounding the WhatsApp deal has been a little different? When the Instagram deal happened, many thought it was insane #norevenuenoproblems. When SnapChat turned down 3B the discourse was even more intense and critical (this one was perhaps warranted). However, majority of the headlines about this most recent event have been welcoming, focusing on the tremendously inspiring story of the founders and the eye-popping user/growth numbers. And this is despite a lofty valuation that often gets criticized by the haters out there…  I mean 345M per employee. Maybe because it takes a lot more to shock and awe nowadays or maybe it’s because of those inspiring tweets from co-founder Brian Acton.

Company Valuation Rev Per Employee
Instagram 1 Billion 70 million
YouTube 1.7 Billion 26 million
SnapChat 3 Billion (offer) ~100 million
WhatsApp 19 Billion 345 Million

Regardless of valuation and evaluating what Facebook could have done with the money (2 Hubble Telescopes), I think that the deal is great because it will inspire thousands of new entrepreneurs for years to come.

It’s Super Global

An interesting and important aspect of the WhatsApp story is its global footprint. Though based in Mountain View, WhatsApp is much more popular outside of the US than within the country (I’m sure this deal will fuel exponential US based user growth). Because it is so widely used in abroad this deal will resonate that much more with young hopeful individuals in emerging countries, like India, looking to start their own thing. We get inspired by success stories that we’re close to. The fact that millions of users use this platform to communicate on a daily basis cannot be overlooked. It’s more than just text messaging, it’s facilitating otherwise inaccessible communication. I’m heading to India next month and I’m going to predict that many entrepreneurs and start-ups will be a little invigorated as a result of this deal (we will await the results in a separate post).

It’s About Connectivity

WhatsApp is also a story about connectivity in two ways. 1) The company’s fundamental purpose is to facilitate communication on a global scale. In June the company reported it processed 27 billion messages in a single day. That’s insane. 2) It demonstrates the possibilities of scaling globally (in a big way) without a physical presence. I feel this will further inspire entrepreneurs abroad to build things not only for their home country/state/city, but for foreign consumption and even more so to facilitate interaction (beyond messaging) across borders. I hope to see a start-up in an emerging country achieve jaw dropping scale in a more developed nation(s) in the not so distant future.

It’s Ridiculously Inspiring

In a CNN interview Venture Capitalist Mark Suster said “WhatsApp will prove to be the most successful start to exit in the history of technology”. While I’m sure there will be plenty more mind-blowing success stories throughout the next decade, there is no doubt that the WhatsApp story is inspiring. Though it’s typically bad practice to start a company to be the next Facebook or assume your venture will experience Instagram like growth because of stories like these, these events do warm the soul and energize the entrepreneurial spirit… and you can’t really put a price on that.

Warmly and Humbly,

Rishi

13
Feb

Why Inexperience is so Powerful when “Starting-Up”

Starting your first business is absolutely terrifying. There are myriad unknowns, inevitable financial pressures, and the looming possibility of failure and ridicule. Often times you will be entering into your endeavor with little to no experience in the field you are pursuing.  However, throughout the journey you will learn from mistakes and failures and grow exponentially as an entrepreneur and an individual. Intuitively (given your new found wisdom) this would mean that starting your next venture will be much easier. Right? Wrong.

I would like to argue that inexperience can be an extremely powerful weapon when “starting-up” for the first time. When I started my first company I was 23, had no idea what I was doing, and it was beautiful.

An Anecdote

I was exploring the field of digital pathology (the digitization of glass slides for remote diagnosis). I saw an emerging technology, inefficiencies in the market, and thought I struck gold. I had no educational background in healthcare, very limited work experience in healthcare technology, and no experience starting a company. Regulation, legal expenses, selling to physicians, operational concerns, HR? None of this crossed my mind. I was living in the clouds with a clear mind. I was fuelled by a never-ending stream of naiveté and high hopes.

A perfect example of this is when I was first conducting some initial diligence to see if my business model could be financially viable. There was this new technology and I needed to know how much it would cost to implement. So I started calling vendors. Most wouldn’t talk to me because I wasn’t an actual company yet. It didn’t occur to me that these large companies might not want to give their pricing information to a 23 year old without a legal entity. One did talk to me and luckily for me their CEO was going to be in Boston that coming week…

We met at the lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel and it was initially an awkward encounter. This was an individual with a masters and a PhD leading a company with significant VC backing doing pioneering work in the field of diagnostics (also probably one of the smartest engaging people I have ever encountered). Before saying hello he said,

“Your Rishi? You know I was expecting an overweight Indian man in his 50’s. How old are you?”

We sat down and had a game changing conversation where I explained my vision (enveloped in ignorance and inexperience), the future of pathology, and the potential of digital. He invited me to their office in Palo Alto and we parted ways. 6 weeks later I quit my job. 4 weeks after that I was at their Palo Alto armed with no practical experience to speak of negotiating a partnership agreement.

The Point

Ultimately, my lack of experience is what enabled me to take the leap. Starting a company is emotionally tolling, harder than you could ever expect, and scary as hell. However, the beauty of your first venture is all of this is foreign. You don’t know the pressures of dealing with client complaints, managing organizational conflict, and the sheer ruthlessness and evil that exists in the world of business. I am currently working on a couple of new venture concepts that I am extremely excited about. However, knowing what I know now, taking this leap again is tougher than expected. However, it’s all worth it. Because while the bad days are bad the good days are so f@#king great…

Warmly and Humbly,

Rishi

05
Feb

WHAT TO DO IF YOUR E-MAIL GOES UNANSWERED…. REFLECT

Whether it’s after business meeting or an interview, having a follow up e-mail go unanswered can be psychologically damming. You’ve had an amazing meeting with a potential customer and you send a comprehensive e-mail thanking them for their time, recapping your product and services, articulating your value proposition, and inquiring about next steps. You eagerly await their response, which you expect to arrive within 1 or 2 days because after all you spent countless hours putting together the initial meeting materials and agonizing over every detail… just for them. A few days go by and no response. It’s on your mind, but you don’t worry about it because they’re probably busy. Every time your phone buzzes your heart beats a little faster because it could be that catalyst your business has been waiting for. A week goes by and still nothing. You begin to worry. Should I e-mail them again? Did they go with someone else? Did my e-mail disappear into some sort of black hole where start-up dreams go to die? Maybe you e-mail them again, maybe you don’t. Two weeks and still no response. Cynicism begins to set in. What do those guys know about what they want? They’re not even that big of a Company. We don’t need them. They don’t get it…

Ok seriously. You e-mailed someone. They didn’t respond. Don’t worry…yet. Think about it this way. There is a food chain or hierarchy in business. As a small-business offering something unique you are probably at the bottom of it. Let’s look at this from a different point of view. I guarantee that as a small business or start-up you get e-mails all the time about someone trying to offer or sell you something. It could be IT services, or cheaper internet, or a new payroll software. Maybe you’ve even had a meeting with them before. They’re all trying to sell you something they truly believe will improve your chances of success and will benefit your organization. However, you don’t see it that way so you brush them off despite their continual outreach. Sounds familiar.  There are a couple of things to take away from this.

Firstly, what’s number one on your list is most likely towards the bottom on someone else’s. You’re selling your vision, your heart and soul to someone. Their response dictates your success and maybe even your survival. It could be a building block for customer referrals and future growth or a harsh indicator that your offering isn’t quite there. This is why we agonize over next steps and e-mail responses, and perhaps rightfully so. However, it’s important to remember these people are busy executing their own vision and pouring their soul into what they’re doing. Maybe you can help them, but what is a priority for you may not be a priority for them. Hence the radio silence and the seemingly rude gaps between communications. Don’t take it personally, just realize that your world is not their world.

Secondly, if you are offering something a customer truly needs, they will most likely reach back out to you. Fundamentally, this makes sense. You’ve articulated your product and/or service and how it can address the pain points of a potential customer. The customer understands its pain points better than anyone, so naturally if the offering solves an inherent problem of theirs, they will either make a purchase or at the least want to learn more. So, if you don’t hear back from a prospect, maybe your product isn’t truly meeting that pain point or maybe you don’t truly understand your customer and it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

Of course, there are truly innovative products and services that require a tremendous amount of customer education. And sometimes it’s true that you have to tell the customer what they want. But for the most part it’s helpful to view these interactions (or lack thereof) through a productive lens. Think about why a customer didn’t respond to an e-mail or responded negatively at a meeting. Don’t get cynical. Figure out what you can do to improve your product and/or process and send out twenty more e-mails. Don’t get discouraged, keep your head up, and just… Send… Wait… Reflect… Repeat…

Warmly and Humbly,

Rishi