Monday, December 10, 2007

6 Months

So they gave me another product to manage. Well, since it is a mere idea yet, more than "managing", it needs to created and launched. On one hand this is a good thing (validation, more responsibilities, higher profile, yada yada), on the other hand, it puts me in a situation where I will have rework my 6 month old working style and reinvent a new one. More on that in a later posting.

Can you believe it? This week, I will finish 6 months at Google. It is almost time to think about the next step (grins). The following values have helped me be moderately successful at what I am doing (which is: not getting into trouble). Most of it is commonsense and somewhat contradictory.

1. Over-communication - I run a constant roadshow about my product in the company. I write monthly notes to my team, I make every presentation on my product as if it was a pitch to investors, and I constantly keep updating relevant folks with the latest state of the product. This has built momentum, reduced misunderstandings, and help garner attention for my product internally.

2. Under-communication - On the flip side, it is a good idea to shut up and not to say a lot more than is needed. This does not mean I am the authority on what needs to relayed and what not, but sometimes keeping quiet is the best way to maintain the sanity of the larger team.

3. Create Consensus - Instead of dropping my supercool product onto the laps of the various reviewing committees, I spend a bit of my time meeting most of the relevant folks in smaller groups unofficially (1-on-1, office hours etc) as I develop the product. This means that by the time the official reviews roll along, I would have probably got the backing I needed. More importantly, my product would be a good, solid product which would have incorporated much needed feedback from a lot of experts around the company.

4. Become Religious - Define a core set of principles (features, marketing segments, UI, etc) that you truly value and believe in. Dig deep into why you believe in them, and what is the logic behind that belief. And then, do not let go of them unless somebody convinces you (or rather teaches) why the contrarian view is appropriate. Being religious about your product's core values helps, because the barrier to criticism and opinions is so low in a product which is unproven and still a concept.

5. Do your Homework - And do it well. Last but not the least, you have to make sure (if you are CEO or a PMM or a PM or an engineer whatever) that you are absolutely on top of all those things that are directly your responsibility. If you are good at what you do, you will have the credibility to push others to line up behind your vision.

All this is barely keeping me afloat, whether I am truly good will be decided when I actually can implement these principles. The proof of the pudding will be in the day my product sees the light of the day, and is used by some of you out there. Till then, here's to the next 6 months at Google.
Hopefully (grin).

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The key to starting up

I write these monthly letters to my team. I call them PM Notes. In these letters, I outline the state of affairs in the various sub-teams of the product, progress, and finally concerns/issues that I see us facing the near future. Invariably, engineering is the least of my concerns. Why is that?
I believe I have never seen the kind of engineering talent that Google has amassed within its confines. I have a Bachelors and Masters in engineering myself, and am no pushover where it concerns software or hardware. However, the kind of issues that would take a week or more to deal with, is solved within a few hours out here. Truly the prime reason for Google's success is the quality of its engineering. Larry and Sergei were hard core technologists too. Though it is true that they had to build an ecosystem of business savvy people around them to get to where they are now.
Where am I going with this?
My point is that the key to starting up is engineering talent. If you want to start a company, find a great technologists and then wrap them up with business acumen. I have spent the last two months helping a friend kickstart her company, and the biggest challenge we face is to help her find a great engineer. I can figure out the financing, help her write a business model, fine-tune target segments, do what it takes for her business to have a shot at success, but if I cannot code, she can't even get started.
A good engineer can take a company from A to D, a good savvy entrepreneur with business acumen can take it from D to Z. But without the first few steps, everything is useless.
It is actually quite ironic. When I was an engineer, I used to look at people with business sense with awe. Now that I am on the other side of the fence, I look back at my engineering days with a lot more respect and awe.
So, if you are first time entrepreneur struggling to get off the ground, the first person you should be actively looking around for should be a fantastic engineer. That will ensure that you get from A to D. Don't bother about ideas, ideas come when smart people get together. Find that engineer.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

State of Politics (and Bay Area)

Today, for the first time ever, I encountered politics in Google. Now, I was not naive. I was sure there is a ton of it floating around but I still believed that it is a lot less than what we have in the outside world. That observation holds true. My observations about Google and a corporate job anywhere is that there are primarily two kinds of politicians on campus:

1. A few very dominating people who will have opinion but will not do their homework before honoring us with it
2. A set number of people who are insecure about their job and so try to protect it by exercising their (so-called) power, or worse keeping critical information to themselves. They usually make for bad bosses and even though I am lucky to (really) have an awesome mentor/boss right now, I have seen enough employees go bad because the boss is insecure

The best way to deal with this (other than to start a company of your own, which seems like the best way to deal with anything these days) is that if you encounter the first kind, then just do way more homework than they do, and keep asking very intelligent questions. At some point or the other, you will notice the sound of a big ego slinking away.

In the latter case (usually the most egregious kind of politician), have a heart to heart. Talk to the person, make them feel at ease. Actually try to decrease their insecurities. And if they are scared (or scary) enough that a simple chit-chat does not help, then just remove all the potential grouses they could have. Establish better communication channels, be on the right side always, and then keep working single mindedly towards the goal.

As a wise man once said, "There will always be people that don't see eye-to-eye or are distracting. Just work hard, be
aggressive (in a good way) and get the product launched. Stay focused on the goal and others will get behind you."

The moral:
- Be good (and on the right side)
- Be open
- Be focused

All else will follow.

Epilogue: Life in Bay Area is going well. Work is going well, weather is awesome, the itch to do something has restarted. All in all, perfect recipe for Bay Area living. The company is exploding to put it mildly, and one has to be in the center of the hurricane to see what the hell is going on here. Though at a macro level, some storm clouds appear in the horizon for Silicon Valley. Oh well, I have seen those before.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Taking responsibility

In a nutshell, that is what a PM's job is all about. Taking responsibility for the product, its launch, its features, its ecosystem; making decisions. Making decisions is a large part of my day. Making decision with half information is almost all of it.

Someone asked me how does Google integrate its various functions like marketing, patenting, partnerships, legal, Ops etc so that they work for the product in synergy. The answer is: Through the PM.

The PM owns the product, all the functions work for the product. There is no direct reporting here, however there is one guy who is the common thread between all these functions and it is the PM. Invariably, there are decisions that need to be made at a macro level that define the work and strategy of these sub-divisions. Those decisions are the domain of the PM. Once the structure is set, then these divisions have a free reign to set their agenda. This is how Google manages a flat hierarchy yet ensures efficiency.

It makes one person's job incredibly tough. Mine. I spend all my day surrounded by folks who know more than me, but who look towards me for structure. So I have to learn how to think very fast, ask the right questions, and make quick decisions. Almost always the plan I put together needs significant tweaking. However, more often that not, a plan is better than none. Hence my value-add to the product.

A lot of people worry that the PM has all the responsibility without any authority. On the contrary, my experience has been that most people are so glad to have you on their side, providing structure to the chaotic product that they are trying to put together, that it has never been difficult to influence people to get stuff done.

The bottom line is - People do not like ambiguity. Anything (anyone) who helps decrease ambiguity is welcome and a strong asset. In Google, a PM provides direction, vision, and creates a framework on which multiple teams put together a product. It is the job of a CEO-in-training.

Its midnight, I am still working but I love every moment of what I am doing. Its been three months for me out here at Google, and thankfully, I can say now that regardless of whether this was a better decision than going to VC (that time will tell), it definitely was not a worse decision. I love my work, and that is more than what most can ask for.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Who is a Google Product Manager?

I have had a lot of people ping me in recent times to ask this question. What does it mean to be a Google Product Manager? What credentials are required? How does it compare to an APM or indeed to other functions?
I will try to put together an intelligent answer to this question based on my initial two months here at Google. (Yeah, it is almost two months! Can you believe it?) I will probably revisit my answer to this question in another 6 months or so.

What exactly is the role?
Product Management at Google is a complicated beast. Your ass is on the line if the product fails, yet there may not be any direct reports. You are the guy pulling together multiple functions - marketing, legal, PR, Sales, Engineering, Operations, Technical Account managers, User support, and many more, to run the product. The product is yours. The various functions used to run the product aren't. The principle tool that you have at your disposal is Influence.

At first, this may not sound too different from other product management roles in similar sized companies, but there are some key differences that I have noticed:

1. Product Management can be pretty hierarchical in many companies, it is not in Google

2. Like the other functions, Product Managers are not tied to a particular product or sector for the duration of their work in Google. They are free to rotate at reasonable intervals to completely different sectors

3. Most Google Product Managers are generalists (especially MBAs). They are recruited for their overall well-rounded skills and not necessarily for a particular sector focus. (There are however, some PMs who are recruited especially for their sector expertise)

What are the key skills that successful Product Managers at Google have?
In my perception, most PMs at Google have to be good at (in no particular order)
1. Managing immense complexity ( a direct result of the mixed structure here at Google)

2. Influencing people, a trait that needs credibility, communication skills, and a people-skills

3. Making decisions. One needs to be able to decide, take responsibility for those decisions and live with it

4. Something that is different from the rest. Have to have something special in terms of achievements in their background. This is especially true for the generalists who can't necessarily distinguish themselves on uber-sector-specific-experience. That special sauce could be starting one's own company at some point, MBA from a top B-school, or some such thing. Something which helps differentiate you from the rest in some way

5. Extremely good understanding of the Internet services landscape and opinions on everything form state of online video market to new mobile business models to future of search

6. A passionate self-starting personality helps. Self-starting especially because no one seems to tell you what to do out here, yet everything seems to be doing the things they need to do

Who is an APM then?
Short answer, an APM is usually an undergrad with a little bit of work experience. These guys tend to match the typical profile of that target segment of many of Google's user facing products. They tend to be pretty young, passionate, and incredibly talented folks. Kind of like Wharton undergrads relative to Wharton MBAs (If you went to Wharton, you would know the story here)

Oh come on, there has to be some glitches
I do not know if these are glitches but they are definitely things that one needs to know before deciding to work here at Google. These challenges ensure that certain personality types love it here, and others hate it:

1. You make your own job. I found my product, I am helping define my role, and beyond a minimum bar, have to decide how much I can take a bite off. If you like structure, you are going to be frustrated

2. If you like hierarchical companies, with organization definitions, Google will hurt you. It is hard to work just by influencing especially if you are used to a more hands-on approach to delegation of work

3. You hate good food :). (That's a little bit of humor, an ode to the obsession with food that Google inculcates in us Googlers)

I am sure I am missing something. And I am also sure that some of the traits I pointed out are not Google specific. Keep in mind, its only a couple of months. It will be fun to revisit this in a few months to see what I would like to change in this post. I will compare it to the other functions in Google (OSO, PSO, Biz-dev) etc at a later date. I am in the thick of an exciting new product out here, there are loads of challenges, the team is around the globe, the product has an exciting mix of legal, sales, technical challenges, and my life is awesome.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Lesson II: Propagate those Whys

Now this is something that is difficult to do. To build strong companies, you need strong personalities but so often strong personalities overwhelm the company, and create auras of their own. I see this in many large companies, and even in Google. People in positions with strong personalities become gatekeepers of important processes in the firm. This, in turn undermines the same entrepreneurial nature that brought the company to where it is today.

Be a visionary, but don't become a cult-head. There is a fine difference between the two and the trick is to know where to exercise your power. This does not mean cult-heads do not work. Apple's CEO is probably the nearest one gets to being one. However, using the power to initiate significant shifts in the industry is one thing. I have seen many instances of amazing ideas not going anywhere because the gatekeeper did not like it. This can be exacerbated if the gatekeeper is not in tune with the trends especially if this is a fast moving Internet services industry.

One thing a startup needs to do if it has to survive in today's age, is to avoid the culture of fear. People should be able to question everything and feel like they have a say in things. This obviously should be balanced with not getting muddled in chaos. But there is a way to do things that makes it more transparent and empowers people and yet does not sacrifice efficiency.

In a previous company that I worked for, our projects would get shut down seemingly arbitrarily by the VP. As an engineer, this was incredibly frustrating and demoralizing. I am sure there was a sane reason to shut down the project, but it is as important to convey why the project was shut down as to shut it down. The action of shutting down ensured that the company did well fiscally (or whatever the business reason was). The why (and the true why not the business gobbledegook) is what ensures that the creativity and morale stays high.

Google is sliding from the startup scale towards the large company scale. As time goes by, the whys will becoming harder to discern, and things will look increasingly arbitrary. However, this place is still way more transparent than most places of its scale. And this brings us to the most important tasks of a Product Manager: ensuring that the why of any action that impacts the team is known, and conveyed truthfully and sincerely.

In a startup, the CEO is the Product Manager. And s(he) needs to ensure that the whys are propagated.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Lessons for a new age startup I - Subverting the Order

There are some interesting lessons to be learnt from the success of Google and some other up and coming companies in the valley these days. In this series I will put together a list of lessons that wannabe entrepreneurs like me cannot afford to discount.

There is no hierarchy, the old hierarchy is dead

In a period of 6-8 years, the old way of doing things has been completely subverted, and has been replaced by a new, egalitarian, non-hierarchical system which is revolutionizing the way people work these days. Having spent a month at Google, I have had the opportunity to experience this new way first-hand. I am not saying Google is the perfect example of this new order, but it sure it is nearer to this model than most other companies regardless of industry, location and sector.

Nothing is more evident in the new order than the lack of hierarchy. Sure, there are directors, Senior execs, VPs etc, but they are there to provide direction, a way to massage the processes so as to create efficiency which in turn helps scale the company. No one orders others about what to do. Hence, no one is beholden to anyone else. Work is accomplished through influence. In this new order, accounting, finance, marketing take a backseat to the most important MBA course one can take - "Managing People at Work" ( Hat tip to my Wharton professor, Mike Useem).

There is no bar for age or experience. You are respected for your work which may be a factor of your age and experience (and then maybe not). So we have high flying, young, out-of-school Associates doing wonderful things because they are allowed to, nay, because they just can. You are only held back by your ambition (and luck). Try telling others what to do, and you will be relegated to the back. The old school of Silicon Valley companies will have to change because the new age tech companies are empowering their employees and in turn, attracting the best ones to their folds.

Is this a mirage or is this really happening? My thesis is that this is what is going on around you right now in the Silicon Valley. The whole basis of the technologies that these companies are producing is empowerment of consumers.
Products like social networks, blogs, p2p, are harvesting the long tail and leveraging an individual's power to create an interesting era of techno-egalitarianism. How can they peddle these wares if they did not, to paraphrase Google, "eat their own dogfood", and implement the same thought-process and concept in their own internal systems?

Anyone who wants to be connected to this coming generation of companies whether as a VC, or an entrepreneur or an executive will need to learn how to work with this new flat order.

Look out for Lesson 2.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Muggling Along in Googleland (and how Punit Soni got to drink the Kool-Aid)

All the views in this blog are mine, only mine, and not of Google's or anyone affiliated to Google..yada yada yada...Need to put this so that I can be a good corporate citizen.

The Kool-Aid
So here I am. I came to work in the morning, gave my car to the valet to park, and then applied for reimbursement for my newly connected Internet (which might be useless since the Google WiFi works very well in my new apt in downtown Mountain View). Then I got down to work and saw this guy called Larry Page walk right by my cube. Reminding myself that is no big deal, I got back to work. Then realizing that my legs were hurting because of the early morning move into my apt, and so I went to a massage chair and got myself some machine love.

So what I am doing now? I am drinking the "Googley" Kool Aid. And no point being cynical about these guys. They are after all, pouring more money back into their employees than most other companies do. Why should we grudge them their riches then?
I came here partly because I wanted to experience the buzz around this company myself and partly because I believe there is a learning here about how to build and run a new age company. And so this experience is an eye-opener.

Me First
The company creed is employees first. This is going to be tested these first few weeks where I float around trying to find something that interests me and that they have an opening for. I want something that makes me happy and useful. But the same process that facilitates that at Google also hinders it.

The Process
In many ways, this is a different from going to a regular company. In a regular company, they hire you, make you sit through orientations that talk about the product suite, culture etc. At Google, you come in, and automagically they assign you to a vertical within the company (there are a few large verticals). And they give you a bit of time to snoop around and you have find something pretty quickly. Now that kind of pressure ensures you learn super fast about what the product suite looks like, what is going on in which part of the company, and what is good for them and you.
If someone thought of this subtleity and then put in this process, then kudos to them. They found the magic potion to ensuring new employees figure out the company in no time. When you butt is on the line, you don't walk, you scamper.

The Glitch
The only glitch is that this ambiguity also carries with it the frustration of being assigned to a division that you may have had no interest in. And then in your first two weeks at work, you run around like a headless chicken trying to convince others that this is not what you wanted to do, and then providing them an alternative with your 1 week's worth of diligence. Which leads to confusion, nervousness and all that.

All in all, I am stressed but having fun. And hoping that things get real fun real soon. I know I will get a couple of very interesting things to do, and so things are good on my end.
However, I do not know if this is the best way to recruit PMs. This way increases the chances that the guy is frustrated. Most PMs I have met have figured their way into what they really want to do in a few months or in a year of being here, but that initial time is pretty chaotic for most. Incorporating some feedback from the guy I am hiring before throwing him into the pool should be rule no. 1 if you want to make your employees happy. Or atleast tell them which division they might end up in before making them sign the dotted line.

I guess I have not drunk enough Kool Aid yet.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


I am sitting squat on a red couch. Wore a pant to work yesterday and stood out like Hannibal in a Pixar flick. "Googley", "Noogler", "GBus"...random phrases are swirling around in my head.
That this place is a different kind of company would be an understatement of the century. The first thing I noticed was the demographics. I was standing in the central courtyard next to Charlie's cafe, and everywhere, there were young people. At first glance, it looks like 85% of Googlers are in the age group of 20-35. The average age looks like it is younger than at Wharton. This place is young. Very young.
The next thing one notices is the food. There is too much of it. Its very good, very healthy and very fun. I, for one, never thought that I too would be carried away by the valley's obsession with the food at Google. But here I am. There are starbucksesque cafes with smoothies, snacks, and what not sprinkled around. And then there are the micro kitchens, juice bars and happy hours.
Right now, I have not had the time to notice much beyond this. The next few weeks are going to be intensive and so I will have to get used to putting in such lean, mean blog entries. Will also need to check with the legal about this personal blog. Aaah...corporate life. But I will ensure my blog flows freely.
All sorts of people make good product managers. I am not sure which sort I am going to be. Right now, I am just interested in shutting up and listening in. All the cliches about this place are turning out to be true. Let's see how long the myths hold up.

Friday, July 06, 2007

The next step

I have spent the last two years on a rollercoaster ride and for most part, you have all been with me. You have seen my thought process go from sniffing at Venture Capital, to being committed to VC, to getting opportunities in VC in the Bay Area, to veering off towards startups and finally getting to this point.

I am going to start working as a Product Manager at Google. I have debated this opportunity along with the others that I had for a long time. I spent time talking to VCs, entrepreneurs, people here, people in India, parents, girlfriend among others, and finally decided this is the most exciting next step for me at this point.

Why Product Management at Google
A veteran VC friend of mine once said to me, "Being a Product Manager at Google is the closest you can get to being the CEO of a small startup without being the CEO of the small startup."
And one day, I intend to be the CEO of a small startup.

Why Google?
Because that is the only operating role that I applied to. The only job in a large, fast growing company that could entice me from Venture Capital and other startups.
And because I do have to learn what they have to teach. For all the experience, I am still a startup myself. I have not taken a product from concept to launch till date, and this is my shot at learning it from the best.
Because the network of amazing engineers and business types that I will make, will be as useful to me as my Wharton experience has been.
And finally, because I believe in the company and the sector I will be working in. For most part, it is the one place (other than my own startup) that will make me feel excited about getting to work (at this point of my life).

What happened to Venture Capital?
I got a few offers in the space. They were all good solid firms. But I had my concerns as I didn't want a position that would:

- Lock me into a niche sector or a nice role
- Hinder my chances at being in the best place in whatever field I was (Venture Capital in this case)
- Not provide me with the relevant mentorship to grow. And by mentorship, I mean exposure to growth opportunities, and not handholding

A lot of my offers failed on one criteria or the other. Even though they were fantastic jobs and fantastic stepping-stones for a good career. At the end of the day, I had to make a call on the choices I had, and I did.

What happens to this blog?
Nothing. It is still my intention to be a VC one day. Not just in the near future. In fact, I do not fancy looking for a VC job. I think the right one will probably find me if I am good enough. Do expect the content to be a bit more operational in the near future. I am still around cutting edge products, people, entrepreneurs and of course, VCs. So I will keep penning down my thoughts as usual.

Some things, like the tagline of this blog for instance, will have to change.

The Bottom-line
The last four months have been very enlightening for me. I wanted something and wanted it badly. I got it. Then when I was faced with a real decision, I realised that I was happy to leaving them on the table. Maybe I will make a little less money in the short term, but as the say in the MasterCard ad, learning how to build and lauch a product, priceless! So I changed course midway and here I am.

The Lesson: It is important not to lock into something so hard that you forget what you really want. What I really want is to be immensely successful and immensely happy. And Venture Capital is one way to it.

For those of you who are thinking of MBA, hopefully my thought process helps you clear things about the MBA experience (and what to get out of it) a bit. For the aspiring VCs, hopefully it helps understand the process to getting a position and how to go about deciding on the opportunities. For the others, you can continue to enjoy a ringside view of my loony life.

The rollercoaster ride goes on.

The next post will be a wrap-up on my Wharton experience. Something a few of you have asked me to blog on.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Back to Bay Area

So I am finally back in sunny CA (The picture is from behind my temporary apartment). It has been a long wait and I have been raring to be here for ages. When I first left to do my MBA, I was looking forward to a good stint in the east coast. Sometimes, I even wondered if I would ever come back. However, a month or two into my stay, I was clear that my heart was out here. Barring India, there could not be a more exciting place for me. And even India pales in comparision when I consider the weather, the trails, and all that jazz.
I am currently based in Redwood Shores about a minute's walk from the bay itself. There was a Stingray in the water behind my apartment, and I walked five minutes to get to a bird sanctuary. Yet, about 5 mins drive away is the world headquarters of Oracle, and 15 mins away lies Palo Alto, Stanford, and the crazy entrepreneurs hacking away on University avenue.
The contrast between India and Bay Area could not be more stark. However, one thing is common. There is a buzz in the air in both places. People are building companies everywhere and there is a feeling that anything is possible. It is almost like 1999. Well almost. The ideas are a bit more mature this time around, and the people more restrained.
Anyways, I am back and spending a lot of time meeting entrepreneurs, VCs, valley people of all stripes and shades. If you are in town, and want to meet up, drop me a line. My plan is to spend about a month and a half, listening and talking to folks out here. Then, hopefully I will be ready to lock in on something and start working again. All I know right now is, life is so much fun!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007


So I have been out of business for a few days now. Was traveling to my parent's place in Mumbai and whenever someone lands in India, it takes some time to absorb and get one's bearings right. The place is madhouse. The usual clich├ęs are true, and then some are not. Here are some observations in the week I have been here:

1. The infrastructure sucks
It does. It really does. It’s terrible but surprisingly people think things have gotten better. I don't know how. I lived in India for 20 years of my life, and the roads are more crowded, Bombay gets flooded every time it rains, the nearest park is further away, and in general, its messier. What has happened is that people have access to the things that make life easier to cope with. So the middle class has multiple ACs in the house, multiple cars, multiple phones, TVs and all that. But I do not know how sustainable that is. God save Antarctica at this rate!

2. The economy is booming
Dat true. And boy, is it booming or what! Scorching pace of growth. The signs are all over the urban areas though I have my reservations about the boom effect in the rural hinterland. Retail, Real Estate, IT, Telecom, Airlines, everything is dynamic. Whether they do well in the long term or not is up in the air, but right now, things are just crazy out here.

3. Venture Capital has a rosy future
Am not sure of that in the short term. Absolutely sure of that in the medium/long term. Too much money chasing too few good investments. This country needs good managers and the older generation of large corporation managers are too risk-averse. Whether the traditional Internet space is viable or not, no one knows. The telecom ARPUs are actually down. But then there are these unbelievable, crazy inefficiencies in the market that beg for attention. And these inefficiencies will make the future rosy for the deals of vintage 2009 or later. Venture Capital in India is a different business from what we know of as Venture Capital (in US).

4. The market opportunity is big
Are you kidding me? This can't be doubted. However, it is not in the places people are expecting it to be. The opportunities are India-style. They solve problems that are very specific to India. The solutions have to be tailored accordingly. Do not expect to superimpose a US technology roadmap on India, and expect things to work. The mobile Ads market does not really work here, finance software, Insurance and retail related investments are better bets than your traditional Web 2.0 gigs. It’s really a hotbed of opportunities, but those opportunities have to be vetted out.

5. The Media sector is exploding
It really is and there is tonnes of money to be made here. But the content really is shit and that means such an opportunity for someone to come in make a killing. By content I mean things like Independent movies, intelligent News, offbeat music etc. There are markets galore. The go-to-market needs to be fleshed out. The broadband is getting there for a small, elite percentage of the population, but if done right, that group is a small European country, and is only growing.

Bottomline: Loads of opportunities for those who can live in India. This is not the place for people who want to jump in, make a few investments, and the jump back. You need to be here. Be vested and be ready for the madness.

On a personal front, I am in India because I have to flesh out a couple of opportunities that I was working on earlier. Right now, my search is incremental. I look at opportunities as they come and then make a decision wrt what I have. Its tricky because I am open about all the options I have, no apologetic about finding what is best for me (personally and professionally), and still mean no disrespect to the opportunities that I don’t accept.

I have turned down the two VC opportunities. I have a few more I am looking at, in India, and in Bay Area, and then that lovely PM job is there too. I was never obsessed with VC, and so it was never a matter of just accepting what came my way. I have a vision for myself and those opportunities don’t fit with that vision. However, something else might come my way that I might believe in more.

Some people look at me funny these days. Some days I wake up and think the same. It must be crazy to turn down these great opportunities. But I believe I know what I am doing. And even if I am being silly, its good to make these mistakes and learn. In the long term, hopefully I will be wiser. On another note, a lot of you have emailed me personally and through blog-comments, with your insights. I appreciate all of it and really really thank you for your support. Will keep you posted on my journey to a post-MBA career.

Right now, it is back to eating these unbelievable mangoes, and downing some milkshake. The monsoon clouds are gathering in the hills behind my house. I have run through 5 books in the last 3 weeks. My life is good.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Latest: Operating Job versus Venture Capital

Ok, so I have been offered a great opportunity as a Product Manager at probably one of the best companies out there, in their new mobile services division. Then I have a couple of VC options. I have also graduated and have my degree now. All this has happened in the last 3 weeks and this means that life is a blur at this point.

I am still spending my evenings hanging out with my Bschool buddies in local bars, and have not yet figured out that my MBA life is over. I have still not left Philly and do not know when I should. I should though. Its all very surreal.

Should I take the VC opportunities I have? Or should I go build a product for this fantastic company? Or should I find a nifty startup to work with? I do not know. After having spent two years trying to position myself for Venture Capital, I am not sure if I have the right jobs. I have great VC shops in the bag but I have a feeling that the fit (from my end) is probably not right. And I never got into Venture Capital for the sake of getting into Venture Capital. I want to find the right position where I can contribute the most and where I will be happy. And except for that PM job, I do not think I have it yet.

So I will keep talking to folks. I will keep butting my head against the never-ending recruiting process because the end-all of this process is not getting a job. It is getting the job. And maybe there is no real "the job" but it is important to find that out too. The process is the destination and I will keep walking.

I would love your comments on my now public dilemma. Right now, to be in this position is in itself a happy place for me.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Semiconductor Cheatsheet

I cannot understate the value of creating cheatsheets for every sector that one wants to position themselves in Venture Capital. It is not only important that you understand the investments in the sector, but you also need to have an opinion on the state of the industry. I will take this opportunity to put together one such cheatsheet for whatever it is worth.

Since my positioning has always been Semiconductor/Mobile Services/Telecom/India, it is obvious that I get asked a lot about the state of Semiconductor industry. Now even though it does look quite morbid at first glance, there is a lot going on in this sector. One has just has to look a bit harder. Below is my cheat sheet on the Semiconductor sector.

Key Characteristics
• Can be capital intensive and will give less than lofty returns
• Two primary ways of making money- either find Chinese based manufacturers or find extremely capital efficient US companies
• Investors in this sector require significant technical knowledge
• Moore’s law is nearing physical limits and so there is a search for alternatives. These can be Nanotechnology, Bio-electronics, Bio-sensors or something else
• Out of these technologies, Nanotech has the brightest future. Even though single nano-tube circuits are working, there is no interconnect technology yet to scale it. At this point, that technology is 10 to 15 years out. (Nantero claims to solve this, however I have not done any technical diligence on them. Last heard, Draper invested in them and this is always a good sign)
• Out of the currently viable technologies, 3D assemblies, parallelisms and optical interconnects can keep the Silicon CMOS viable (22nm)

Bottomline: In the end, it is important to know the technical obstacles in this industry, and then keep an eye out for those startups that claim to advance these limits.

Current Trends in the sector
• Rise of fabless semiconductor companies
• Increase in Design jobs worldwide
• Customer base is shifting to Asia
• Not surprisingly, manufacturing is also shifting to Asia
• Huge R&D spend on future technologies like Nanotechnologies
• Wireless devices, Video, consumer electronics driving semiconductor demand

What about those Fabless Investments?
Most fables companies take in about 30M in 2.5 years to get the chip out. To get 50% margins, you are looking at revenues of around $60M. To get this for high priced chips, you need volumes of 2M x $30 and for low priced chips, you need 12M x $5. In either case, this involves a significant sales effort. So firms have to either decrease cost upfront or delay getting cash till the cost of capital declines.

Bottomline: Things to look for - Not an incremental technology like a cheaper chip or a bit faster chip, but unique IP and most importantly, a great team. Given the requirement for capital efficiency, it is very important one backs seasoned entrepeneurs in this sector.

Finally, What are the two biggest barriers in this sector?
• Exponentially soaring design costs (costs are around $50-75M for 45-65nm nodes)
• Low chance of an IPO

This cheatsheet coupled with an investment thesis can be a staging point for a good discussion on the semiconductor market. At the end of the day, creating such quick notes for each sector that I am positioning myself in has helped me immensely.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Punit Soni and the Venture Fund (Round 9)

Writing this between interviews, life is amazing.

The only thing that is different between a long drawn out boxing match and Venture Capital recruiting is that in this case, both sides are working together towards a common goal (they hire me, I join them).

The rest is the same. I spar with my fellow VC friends at school to prepare for the big day. Each trip to the Bay Area is like the sound of a gong signifying the start of a new round. We talk, poke, nudge, sniff around for weaknesses, and do our diligence on both ends. Every round seems pretty inconclusive. I am not sure they dislike me, they are not sure they like me. And we keep going at each other. Round after round.

I am into the second month of interviewing with some firms. People like me, some swear by me, but I need to meet each partner in the firm and so I fly in and out of Bay Area. The rounds continue. And the best part is I am still standing.

The best news so far is that I have no bad news. No. Not even a single iota of negativity. Everything is moving forward. I like some firms more than the others. Some firms seem to believe in me more than the others. And so it goes...

What's the lesson here? Venture Capital recruiting is about three things:

1. Opportunity
2. Capability
3. Patience

Opportunity is something you co-father with fate. Capability is primarily self-belief, more an attitude than your resume. Patience is what seals the deal. The best fighters are not the ones who jab aggressively at every opportunity. They are the ones who know when to fight and when to rest. They are the last men standing.

I am still up and about.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

State of Interviews

As I go through my VC interviews, one thing that strikes me is that this is not just about capability (a lot of us are capable enough), it is about luck and timing. I see jobs that I know I am good enough for go by just because someone did not remember me when the opportunity came by. So for all those people working hard towards a career in VC, remember, it is all about your network at the end of the day. It is only when you get the opportunity that you will get the job.

So what are Venture Capital interviews all about? Depends on the position I suppose. Let's reframe the question: What are Venture Capital interviews for an Associate position all about?

I will bucket what I am asked into three categories:

1. Technical/Investment
2. Financial Knowhow
3. Interpersonal/Fit

1. Technical/Investment - This category of questions focuses on your ability to know the sector you are positioning yourselves in and your awareness of the current startup scene in it. One is asked questions about what trends they see in this sector, what kind of companies are succeeding and what are failing, and what is your projection for the future. A second sort of questions are around any investment "holes" that you see in this sector, and any areas of opportunities. This part of the process usually ends with some recommendations for interesting startups in multiple areas of your positioning.

2. Financial Knowhow - This category has to do with the finance of Venture Capital. Now, I have heard conflicting stories from different interviewees. Some vouch for the fact they were never asked any financial questions and some (like me) will tell you that we spent days working on significantly complex models for these interviews. A brief list of things that you should know:

- Cap Tables/Pro-forma Cap tables
- Effects of various sorts of Anti-dilution terms
- Different kinds of securities and their impact on exits
- Returns Analysis
- The overall VC method of valuing deals
- Basic Corporate finance (chump change for Wharton Students)

3. Fit - This is probably the most important part of the interview process. The first two sections are used to weed out the candidates. The last part is used to select them for the job. This can seem easy to deal with at first, and it is if you have thought through your motivations to find a Venture Capital opportunity. I believe that if you are really sincere about this field and have worked your way towards understanding it, then this part is more about cultural fit between the firm and you. You should spend as much time questioning them as they do, because you need to fit in as much as the firm needs to fit you. Expect questions about Why VC, why particular sectors, What you like or dislike about the field, and where do you see yourselves in a few years. Again, things that you have dealt with multiple times in Business school.
However, do not underestimate the power of establishing rapport and connections with the partners interviewing you. I subscribe to the theory that one should be themselves and not go out of one's way to appeal to the interviewers because at some point, the facade will lift and you will be one misfit in the firm.
All in all, spend a ton of time thinking through the fit part of the interviews.

The investment and fit part usually happens on location during the interviews, however I have been given business plans and case studies to work through at home before or after my on-site interviews. This gives you some time to understand how to attack the problem, but it does involve a lot of work.

In the end, I would say have fun with the process. If you do not enjoy the interviews then you will not enjoy the job. The only problem with this process is that it is SO LONG. It goes on and on and on...and you do not know where you are. If VC was a girl, then she better be very very attractive because that amount of courtship would wear out most men!

Oh well, I am still in the game (and enjoying it for what it is worth).

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Investment Banking

Yes, I do not usually do this but I just have to. I just have to refer you all to this hilarious blog by an anonymous I-banker. He is just amazing and it is a wonderful piece on what kind of shit is happening in the high flying banking industry. Yeah, all of them are not so but I daresay many of them probably are.
Just amazing. Read the story of the I-Banker

On another note, busy with recruiting interviews so kind of slow on the blogging side. Having said that learning a lot about what the full time recruiting is all about. Will write more on that as soon as I finish this recruiting assignment that I have to submit by tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Lessons from the Mountain (and then some Venture Capital)

So I am finally back and have recovered enough to write a post. As explained earlier, I was out during the Spring break as the Venture Fellow for the Wharton Leadership Venture to Cotopaxi - a 19347 feet Volcano in Ecuador. The trip was pretty hard on me physically because I was pretty ill when I headed out to Ecuador, and the illness does make acclimatization pretty hard. Quito is at 10000 ft and the itinerary involved a practice climb on Pinchincha (15500 ft), and life at Cotopaxi base camp (16000 ft) for a few days before heading off to the summit.

This time I did summit and it was pretty intense as expected. I remember an instance that was pretty memorable. It was 4:30am and we had been traversing the glacier towards the headwall for about 4 hours now. A snowstorm hit us from nowwhere and it became cold... very, very cold. My eyelashes froze, my glasses froze, the rope froze, everything that could freeze, froze. I remember panicking because I could only see a foot ahead of me and was practically blind. Then my training and experience (of having climbed this mountain last time) came to help. I remembered that this was the absolutely pits and things could only become better. The sun would be out soon and it would get better. Moreover the headwall was around the corner and then summit is not too far. And there in lay the lesson from this trip.

When faced with insurmountable obstacles, experience and patience usually help find that inflexion point from whereon things get better. An important lesson whether one is starting a venture or climbing a mountain. Experience can assist in moments when the spirit is down. I knew things would get better and they did. And in that feeling lay the source of great strength.

Another important lesson that I learnt was a result of my being pretty ill and weak through a large part of the eight day venture. I had been on trips with physically unfit people before and had always gone out of my way to facilitate a great experience for them. However, I have never been the weak person on a trip before. It was very humbling to see how it was to be constrained by one's physical conditions, something which is out of one's control at that point of time. You learn to conserve energy, stay humble, be aware of your limitations, and most importantly, swallow your ego and ask for assistance when needed. I believe it is important for everyone to be at a position of disadvantage at some point in their lives so that they can truly appreciate what it means to reach out and help someone else in that position the next time.

All in all, another great Wharton Leadership Venture and another great opportunity for me to learn as Venture Fellow.

And now to more mundane matters.
The search continues though things do look brighter with a few options in the horizon. If I play my cards right, I might have a couple of options to play with by the time school is out. On the flip side, that may not happen and life may suck. But right now, I have a sudden rush of perspective. Getting a job in Venture Capital (or any job for that matter) is about luck and timing as much as talent. I know I have the capability, the question is do I have the luck and timing?

As they say, you create your own luck. I know I am.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Trying to climb a 19,347 feet Volcano

I have had a fever for two days before I started this trip and am probably at 50% fitness levels. My head has a constant headache because of the elevation (I am in Quito, capital of Ecuador, 10000ft above sea level). The illness makes it difficult for me to acclimatize.
The practice hike up Pinchincha (15,500 feet, 8 hours) that I complete on a gallop last year, took my last ounce of energy yesterday.
Today is a rest day. Tomorrow we go to the base camp which is at around 16,000 feet. And on Friday, we try to summit Mount Cotopaxi.
But right now, I am wearing Bergen wicking clothes, red bandana, cool shoes, and sitting in a internet cafe near my hotel in downtown Quito. Nirvana lits up the background.
I am a Wharton venture fellow and thus am leading the expedition. I have two jobs. One, faciliate the experience for the participants. Two, climb that summit. My 2nd job is a personal whim and my first one is the real reason Wharton sent me here. And I am doing that one.
Now, the question is, will I overcome fever, cold, altitude sickness and general weakness to make it to the top?
My life is so fun!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Putting together an Investment Thesis

A typical question asked in a VC interview is about one's investment thesis. A basic methodology to follow when putting together an investment thesis is:
( Note that this is an exhaustive way of doing this, one does not necessarily need to go through all these hoops to have an opinion on a sector)
There are four basic steps:
A. Create an Ecosystem Map
B. Use the ecosystem to come up with an exhaustive taxonomical analysis
C. Identify opportunities
D. Identify startups targeting those opportunities

1. Create an Ecosystem Map - Research and create a map for the technology ecosystem enabled around the sector of choice. This is facilitated through three methods:
1. An analysis of current investment trends
2. Market research of the evolution of the sector
3. Discussions with industry leaders and Venture Capitalists investing in this field

2. Create a taxonomical analysis - Use the ecosystem to come up with an exhaustive taxonomy of the sector. For instance, when looking at the mobile services sector, one can go through the following analysis:
• Business: Going beyond VoIP phones to unified messaging, web conferencing, enterprise IM, access to enterprise data from any device.
• Lifestyle: Media convergence (e.g. IP TV), mobile blogging, mobile audio/video, gaming and mobile payments

or slice it another way:
For ex: Mobile Services Taxonomy - eCommerce, Security, Content Management, Enterprise Content, Device Management, Location Based services, Operations Management.

3. Opportunity Identification - Based on the aforementioned analysis, one should be able to answer the following questions. What is the ecosystem (infrastructure to applications) created by this taxonomy? What new applications does it enable? Who are the incumbents & entrants?

4. Key Startups in the area - Finally, round off the analysis with a survey of key startups in this area. Identify those which recently got funding and those in the market that are still looking. Nothing gets a VC's attention more than a potential deal.

In General, the following frameworks will be useful here:
(My classmate, Prasanna Krishnan came up with this list for a joint project)

a) Scenario planning - If it is a disruptive technology, then past trends are not good indicators of the future. In addition, there is a high degree of uncertainty around the apps & players that are likely to succeed. Hence scenario planning is a particularly useful tool.

b) Technology Speciation - In addition, the key to disruptive technologies in any sector is having killer applications and many of these applications are likely to be in unexpected new domains. Technology Speciation is a useful tool to study this phenomenon.

c) Technology strategy in lumpy market landscapes - Useful in identifying latent market needs & hence determining what applications are likely to succeed in an undefined market.

All in all, this is a good template to write up an investment thesis paper. Or just cruise through it to create an on-the-run investment idea for your next interview.
Talking about interviews, anyone know of any good Silicon Valley VC opportunities?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Preparing for a VC interview (and then waiting around for months)

Woke up on sunday morning and thought I should write a post today detailing the checklist of items to prepare before heading into a Venture Capital Interview. This proves that I am in snowy Philly with nothing better to think of that this amazing field of Venture capital. So here goes:

1. Fund Profile - Look at the commited capital, past performance, news articles related to the fund, and buzz in the market. Do you diligence on the fund as if you were doing diligence on a potential investment for the fund. After all, it is an investment into your career.

2. Partner Backgrounds - Read the bios closely. Note down points of convergence in your backgrounds and interests with theirs. If you find nothing, do not panic but if you find something be sure to bring it up in your interviews. Also, look out for red herrings. If you are interviewing with a ex-banker for a growth stage fund, you might get many more financial engineering questions than regular investment thesis questions.

3. Know thy Resume - It is amazing how few people get this in its entirity. When one heads into an interview, expect discussions on everything under the sun. If you had a gig in EDA (Electronic Design Automation for the uninitiated), you should expect a question about the industry in general, growth prospects, and investment ideas even though this may not be something you have worked much on, or thought a lot about.

4. Think about your Investment Philosophy - Mine is "Team, Problem, Solution (Plan B), Economics, Exit". Obviously, there is a lot more to it than just those five words however it is good to have a succint way of putting across your investment philosophy. Back it up with ideas, good VC practices, and practical insights. This is the question one gets asked a lot so we need to ensure that we can provide answers beyond mere cliches.

5. Read up those VC Bulk Packs - If you are at Wharton, then go buy the Venture Capital and Financial Innovation textbook or bulkpack, and read it from cover to cover. Be sure you understand how term sheets are structured. Be exposed to the various VC financial and legal jargon. Not knowing what a cap table is might not be the end of it but will definitely hamper your chances.

6. Venture related Extra-curriculars - If you have done any study project for a local VC, worked on any deals on a part-time basis, internships etc, then be sure to highlight them, read up on them, and talk about them in your interview. Nothing builds more credibility in front of a Venture Capitalist than prior VC experience.

7. Investment Thesis - This is probably the make or break part of your interview. Line up atleast 3-5 different investment ideas in the areas you are positioning yourselves in. For ex:
I position myself as a Semi/Wireless/Mobile Services guy, hence I have investment theses in:
a. Mobile Ads
b. Mobile Video
c. Mobile DIY
d. Semiconductor (Chips and chip technology)
e. Broadband Wireless Technologies
f. Mobile Computing
g. Others (a big bucket for the various other ideas that I have in spaces as diverse as Network Storage to Internet Services)

When thinking about an investment thesis, concentrate on three aspects:
- Idea
- Viability (Market, Competition, etc)
- Existing Startups in that space
- Any new startups that have not gotten funding yet.

After all, nothing gets a VC's attention more than a funding idea.

If you do all this and more, then you can sit around for months waiting for that elusive call. And the Kafkaesque search will start.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Google: Searching for Success (and getting it)

Everyone talks about Google. Currently, it looks like one of those demigods that can do nothing wrong. But what actually goes on inside that factory of creativity? Are they really all that they are made out to be?
Recently, I was at the Mountain View site and met with a lot of folks running various Google blockbusters like Search, Google Docs, GMail etc. It was an interesting experience meeting them and talking about the various aspects of Google strategy going forward. (Everything below is my opinion and not theirs', so no breach of NDA and all that!) I felt a post discussing where the search giant stands currently and what challenges it faces might be interesting.

Google Strategy Going Forward
The future initiatives of Google will probably be built around four somewhat complementary aims.

Increased ContentExamples:Book search, Google Earth. Though Google's Book search has got embroiled in various legal difficulties, it still is indicative of the future direction Google intends to take. That of facilitating (controlling?) all the information in the world.

Easier ComputingExamples: Muni Wifi, Google Pack, Google docs and spreadsheets. Again, Muni Wifi is stuck in the pipelines in SF battling against other contenders (though I have used the Mountain View Wifi and it is pretty good). Google is going the Intel way by attempting to create an ecosystem to facilitate the usage of its products.

It's all youExamples: Implicit search, personalized home, Gadgets, API, Syndicate, Google Notebook, Custom search engine.This is in line with the overall trend of customization and personalization sweeping the tech industry. It is here that in combination with the various mobile services that it intends to provide, that Google might have the most immediate traction.

Search Search and Search - Though there are no real examples to talk off here, I am sure Google is working pretty hard on atleast three fronts:
1. Making Search work better in non-US contexts so that they compete better with Chinese and soon-to-come Indian search engines.
2. Making Search contextual in an intuitive user-friendly way. Why should I think of whether I should go to image search, video search, regular search or some other search? An interesting initiative in this direction is SearchMash. Incidently, if one reads the privacy notes, it is backed by Google.
3. Making video search better so that it relies less on tags and more on the content in the videos.

There are other areas like Mobile services that are probably getting more attention within Google but the various initiatives in that division (Personalization, Location-based services, and different applications for different geographies) could be linked to aforementioned four main areas of thrust.

Meanwhile what should it be worried about?
Here is a laundry list of challenges in front of Google (in no particular order)

• Governmental interference in controlling/regulating search results (Case in point - China-Google Saga)
• AOL supplies 12% of the google ad revenues. That is significant buyer power
• Government regulations mandating access to search records. This could severely undermine Google's "Do No Evil" policy
• Video Copyright issues with the proliferation of Video based sites like YouTube, Google Video
• Google has not had a great track record with effective integration of its past acquisitions (Blogger). However, there are signs that this is changing
• Integrating a 2.1B acquisition with its own strong culture (Youtube) might be quite a challenge
• IP Rights issues especially in the arena of Book search
• Activities like Phishing and Click Fraud

Regardless of all the challenges, the impact of Google (now and in the future) cannot be underestimated. The startup has become a monolith, the food is still very good (Oddly enough, I never understood what the hype around free food was, it's good, but its just free food guys!), the people are amazingly creative and brilliant.
Google is growing at a massive rate and will probably continue to in the near future. How this impacts its culture, creativity, and its ability to churn out products at the rate that it does, is probably going to be its biggest challenge.

Sunday, January 28, 2007


I am about three months from graduation (and loss of freedom), and this weekend was the first in about two months when I had a chance to breath and reflect. Wharton is whizzing past and I know that soon I will be out and about, back in the professional world, eking out a living and working on the next stage of my career. Would it be exciting? That would be an unqualified and resounding "Yes". Am I apprehensive? Maybe a bit.
I am excited about finally getting out there, and trying something really big, and maybe failing, maybe succeeding. I come from India, from a pretty risk-averse middle class family, and this is one of the first times I intend to go out on a limb. I can’t even call what I am doing as "risky". Sitting out of the interview period at Wharton to look for that elusive VC/startup position is barely risky at all considering where I come from - Silicon Valley. So there is not much to be smug about.
I was having a discussion with my girlfriend recently about the fear of failure. At Wharton, failing is not rewarded; it is not necessarily considered a positive development. In fact, in the ultra-competitive environment that B-schools are, fear of failure can be the most significant obstacle to an absolutely fulfilling career (or life for that matter). People can be just a bit too concerned about what others think about them, to try anything new. And this is so different from Silicon Valley. That brings me to a few thoughts about trying and failing.
The Reward of Trying
Failure is rewarded in Silicon Valley. It is a badge of honor that an entrepreneur wears with pride. The attitude of try, and then try again, is appreciated out there. That I believe is the single biggest attribute of that place which makes it such a hotbed of innovation. Nothing is guaranteed, and that means that anything is possible.
The Risk of fearing Failure
What if we all took the "risk" of fearing failure? We might all end up as mid-level managers, technocrats working for the real innovators. Sadly, it is my opinion that most of us MBAs end up in that bucket. After all, if we did not try, how would we know what we could be?
Failing is Learning
Ever thought of a prototype, a test-bed, or a market survey? All do the same task - that of collecting information, which in turn increases the possibility of future success. Failure, I believe, in the same category. If we fail, the worst we do is actually learn from it.
Finally, it's kind of like Climbing Cotopaxi,it probably does not matter that we failed to reach the summit. What mattered is that how we tried to reach it, and that we tried.
Something to hold on to as I traverse the next few months.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Ten Questions

Ten questions you should ask a Venture Capitalist mentor if you land an informational interview:

Always start by giving a brief background of yourselves so as to provide context to the discussion.

1. Can you give me a sense of how you got to where you are? What has been your career path till date?

2. Why did you choose to do Venture Capital over other available career paths?

3. Would you change something if you got to start over again?

4. Where do you see yourselves in the near future? In 10 years?

5. What is personal investment philosophy?

6. What sectors do you invest in? Why?

7. What is your favorite investment till date and why? (Expect to keep this information discreet)

8. What is your advice to an aspiring Venture Capitalist?

9. What more should I do to position myself for a VC position? (List what you have done till date)

10. Can I reach out to you if I need some advice in the future?

In my opinion, asking these questions is probably the most efficient utilization of the little time you will have with the VC professional in question.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

State of Antarctica and My New year thoughts

So I am back. And with a lot of new experiences in the bag. Wharton has an awesome Leadership Ventures program, and I have been fortunate to be able to do two till date. Another is due in March which means that when I am done, I would have participated in three ventures, one as a participant, and the two as a Leadership Fellow. A Fellow is like a TA, responsible for delivering the leadership curriculum and the logistics of the whole trip. I genuinely believe in experiential learning through pushing people out of their comfort zone, and camping for a week in Antarctica is pretty much out there. I daresay I learnt more than I faciliated as a Fellow. After climbing Mt. Cotopaxi, I felt I had a life-altering experience. Antarctica was not comparable in terms of stress, but being cooped up in that camp for days, there was so much that I learnt in terms of dealing with people.

What did I learn?
One of my most significant lessons was about patience and humility. I have partaken of the leadership Kool-Aid and so came
into the program with set views on how it should be run. But everyday would throw up situations that I did not expect and challenges that went against my idea of the venture. However, this time around when faced with such situations, I tried something different. I let go. I humbly stepped aside to let others run things their own way. The interesting result was that everytime I did that, the person concerned would come back with a greater understanding of why things were done according to the original vision, and I would gain immensely in credibility.

Sometimes letting go of one's ego is the best way to let others see your point.
As relevant in business as in a venture. The ability to genuinely try and see the other point of view, the knowledge that one cannot be omniscient, and the humility to lead without being directive (atleast all the time), all characterstics of a good leader. You cannot step aside all the time in business, but you can learn to lead without stepping on your team's toes.That is true leadership.

What about Antarctica?
Its warm. Way warmer than you would expect it to be. Global warming is happening. The ice-shelves are melting at a fast clip and it is pretty disconcerting to see those ice-falls and loads of fresh water flowing into the sea. There are practically no humans, so the animals are not afraid of you at all. I had penguins, sea loins and seals walking around my tent all the time. It was surreal to watch the new year tick by while I sipped wine outside my tent which was about 50ft away from the ocean, surrounded by all these animals and Wharton friends (who depending on their mood are hard to differentiate from the animals).
And finally, do not trust American Airlines. They lost ALL my gear and sent it to Dallas instead of Chile. As of now, I am officially one of the few who have gone to Antarctica with a day bag with practically nothing in it. I wore the same clothes for 8 days straight. Always a good thing for the rest of the people in the tent!

So how is Venture Capital doing?
It's going well. I have a few leads. And all my leads are not necessarily Venture Capital ones. I have always been the slow and steady kind of guy. Conservative in commiting, risk-loving in ambitions. In the last few weeks, I have learnt more about what kind of firm to avoid than what kind of firm to work for. Here are some do's and don'ts while evaluating the firms you would like to work for:

* Track - Are you on partner track or not? A two year in and out kind of program might sound like an fun career move, but it can also leave you stranded with no obvious operating role expertise, and no upward mobility in the program. Moving horizontally to another VC firm may entail starting from scratch again especially given the long-term nature of a partner track job. Having said that if you are interested in a two year in-and-out program, ensure that it creates tangible value for you and the firm you are hiring into

* Mentorship - Will you get the requisite mentorship? Some VC firms are prone to using associates as diligence resources. While grunge work is necessary to learn the ropes, it is also important to have a good apprentice-based program, where one can see the big picture context of what one does on a day to day basis

* Cultural Fit - If you do not gel with the people you are working with, no amount of remuneration can make you happy. It is important to see whether you share the same investing ideals and work ethics with the rest of the team

* Lower Tier, Worse Deals - Working in a lower tier VC firm may entail getting access to lower quality deals, which in turn leads to lower quality exits, and exits are the only report card of a VC. In the end, all this may have nothing to do with the quality of your work, and hence working in a lower tier firm could cause immense frustration

* Sector - It is important to be on the same page with respect to the location, sector and stage of investments that the VC firm wants to pursue. It is important to look at these carefully and see if they align with your investment philosophy. If the philosophies clash, expect tons of frustration especially given the low leverage of an Associate/Principal position

* Long Term Decision - Venture Capital (especially on a partner track) is a long duration career decision. It is important to be congnizant of every factor related to the position before commiting. Also, be prepared for no validation of your skills as a VC for the first 5-6 years. This is much longer than the time it takes to prove oneself in most industries

*You are what your Deals are - The deals that you do are your report card and resume. So be ultra-careful about what you associate yourselves with. No amount of intelligence can wash away a low quality investments

In the end, I have always believed that it is important to stay focused on your goals but there is no need to become obsessed with Venture Capital. It is a great career track but only if you are in the right place. And the right places are far and few between. So tread carefully.