Feedback Corner – An Experiment

Being an entrepreneur I know the importance of actively talking to users. For many start-ups this is an obsession. Based on user feedback we went back to the design board and started from scratch.

Feedback from users is a validation mechanism. It reduces learning cycle time and helps resolve next feature dilemma. An idea from a feedback could help you to disrupt the way of doing business. In a nutshell : FEEDBACK IS KING

But getting feedback is a difficult and time consuming task! Time and inclination of the user and the limited reach of start-ups are the some of the hurdles.

Feedback Corner is a personal initiative to help the  start-up community via my blog. Thru this section entrepreneurs can request feedback on any specific feature or business issue from the community at large.

Following are the FAQs on Feedback Corner #FC

#WTFisFC

Open board to suggest a, selected, startup on specific problem statements. Feedback to solve problem and help disrupt or include must haves

#StartupSelection

Most useful for consumer tech start-ups. No selection process. This an experiment. Product must be in beta. Only 1 startup Q will be featured at a given time

#ForStartups

Provide your startup description (420 chrctrs) Ask for specific suggestions in 140 chrctrs. Separate page on the blog is dedicated for this

#SampleQuestion

Unable to increase our <NAME> App download. How do we improve distribution of our mobile app on Play & Appstore.

#HowToContribute

Anyone can contribute. Of all the feedback/suggestion you think of, suggest the 2 -3 most important ones. Prioritizing always helps.

#WhereToContribute

Go to Feedback Corner Page on the blog => Read the Q and leave your suggestions in the Disqus comment section

#ContributorObligation

Keep your feedback relevant and constructive. No customer complaints here. Please Tweet the Q after you contribute & help spread the word

 #On the house

Its free! Startups have many other costs to incur. Just doing my bit cos I love startups & have immense respect for entrepreneurial effort.

#IntellectualPropertyRights

This is crowdsourced feedback. No IPR. This will be public domain information. You can request to remove your start-up Q at any time.

#WriteToMe

Write to me on kcs[at]nowentrepreneur[dot]in or leave a tweet for @NowEntrepreneur. Please allow a TAT of 24 – 36 hrs.

If you like this initiative then do help to spread the word. Waiting to feature the first start-up :)

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Ctrl C + Ctrl V does not always work – Innovation is a must

in·no·va·tion :  noun \?i-n?-?v?-sh?n\

Definition of INNOVATION (Source: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/innovation)

1 : the introduction of something new

2 : a new idea, method, or device

What makes me write this post?

Answer : Peter Thiel’s recent statement  in a debate on the Future of Technology  at Fortune Brainstorm Tech in Aspen.

“And I think that ?? and I agree with you that technology is critical.  It is the only way that things get better in the developed world.  And I think we should distinguish the developed and emerging markets very sharply.  In places like China, India, Africa, Latin America, there’s zero need for innovationAll they need to do is copy things that work.” says Peter Thiel

IMHO, following are the reasons why I don’t agree with his statement.

1. In every country innovation happens to overcome the challenges it faces locally due to economic reasons, geographical location, etc. Once it is tried and tested and is commercially viable, it scales to solve similar challenges faced globally.

E.g. [Source - http://j.mp/Pfw6mx] The medical challenges faced in India are very different hence companies like Narayana Hrudalaya, Vaatsalya and Arvind Eye Care have helped those who could not afford these expensive medical surgeries.

2. Innovation is required to cater to the new market needs. Any copy & paste model will fail if it does not innovate. Right from food chains to tech product –  innovations are a must for market acceptability and distribution.

3. As a corollary to point 1 – Tech innovation / business models can be copied and pasted in geographies with similar economic stability, governance, standard of living, infrastructure, etc. Hence, it becomes inevitable to innovate in geographies which are in different stages of development.

I think, Peter Thiel has used the term innovation vaguely. As an investor will he invest in a business which is a rip off a successful model somewhere else?

Is there a possibility that his statement is misunderstood ? Does he mean that developing countries should piggy back on tech innovations which are tried and tested? And instead of re-inveting the wheel should we develop further on a concept .. but that again is innovation! Hence there just cannot be “zero” innovations.

I am sure Peter Thiel will soon clarify his statement and explain what he exactly meant  :)

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The Termsheet Anatomy

Apologies for putting in this post late. The previous post Termsheet – The Prenup Agreement briefly illustrated the stages of the fundraising process – from initial interaction and due diligence to issuing termsheet, signing definitive agreements and fund transfer.  Also discussed were components of the termsheet to give a flavour of the rights and terms an Investor typically proposes.

In this second part, I will try to put to rest some of the concerns which many entrepreneurs have when they read the termsheet. Some of the common questions that always pop-up in the head are:

1. “WTF, how can they put such a term in the termsheet?”

2. “Hey, how can you do that? We are the founders and this is our company?”

4. “Is it us or does it just appear in every damn f***ing termsheet!”

5. “Hey if you want all this, what do I get at the end?”

Typically there are almost 40-42 terms in a typical Series A termsheet. I have classified these terms under three separate categories based on the amount of importance it holds from a VC’s perspective and hence also for the entrepreneur. The three categories are illustrated in the following infographic

The Gold Cup

The terms included in this category are very critical. Seldom, will a VC miss out on any of these terms. Hence while negotiating there are very few chances (read as negligible) you will be able to convince them to forgo any of these rights.  Ask entrepreneurs who have received investments from institutional VCs and they will testify that VCs were most sticky on these rights and most negotiations happened around these terms.

The rights act as a control mechanism for  VCs to safeguard their investment, ensure there is no mis-utilization of funds, control the exit transaction, be involved and have a say in all strategic issues of the company.

As an entrepreneur these terms might get you agitated or all worked up. However, these terms will only be enforced when things get really bad and the situation is irreparable. If the company is doing well, why would a VC force an exit on you or discourage you from taking strategic decisions which will benefit the company in the long run? Having said that, you should negotiate these terms well because VCs should not forget that they are providing risk capital. If they want those big fat returns they should also be prepared for some failures and if so they should not be unreasonable in those circumstances either.

The following classification will help understand the function of the terms included in this category:

  1. Exit Transaction - Exit Clause (QIPO), Drag – along, Buy Back of Investor Shares
  2. Capitalization Clarity - Post Closing Shareholding pattern, Pre-money valuation
  3. Distribution of Proceeds -Liquidation Preference (Participatory / Non Participatory)
  4. Key Decisions - Reserved Matters, Right of First Refusal (mainly for sale of shares by ), Voting rights, Board Representation / Composition
  5. Control over conflicting activities by promoter - Vesting of Founder Shares, Lock-in period for Founder Shares, Tag along
  6. Setting milestones to achieve a tranche based investment [Many times the Investors even keep aside a portion of their shares to reward the founders for achieving the milestones]

The Silver Cup

These rights are critical and very frequently used to negotiate (give on these and stick to those) the Gold Cup rights. The Silver Cup rights help the VC to achieve the following objectives

  1. Indemnify from liabilities arising from past and future operations of the company - Indemnity, covenants and representations and warranties, Keyman, E&O and D&O Insurance
  2. Secure interests in future round of funding - Anti-dilution, Pre-emptive rights
  3. Ensure the founders’ don’t  participate in any conflicting activities - Use of Proceeds, Non- Compete, Non – Solicitation and Non – Disclosure, Transfer
  4. Access to critical information of the company’s performance -Information Rights
  5. Ensure exclusivity and confidentiality of the proposed transaction to avoid term-sheet ‘shopping’ -
  6. Providing guidelines for closure of the current transaction - Investment Amount, Closing Conditions, Expenses related to the transaction, Nature of Document

The Bronze Cup

The ones included here are certain standard rights and definitions. These are the least argued upon in any discussion. VC and founders always accommodate requests from the other side.

  1. Rights - Conversion, Dispute Resolution, Dividend, Due Diligence, Governing Law and Jurisdiction, Registration and Piggyback Rights
  2. Definitions -  Investors, Promoters, Promoter Shares, Type of security, Closing

As promised earlier, attached is a Sample Series A Termsheet. In the next two subsequent posts I will help dissect the key terms of the termsheet [mainly the ones in the Gold & Silver Cup].

Sample Series A Termsheet

And if you have the time do listen to the track by R.E.M.  - Everybody Hurts .. sometimes

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Termsheet – The Prenup Agreement

The fundraising process is equivalent to an arranged marriage process. It all starts with an initial meeting over coffee to get acquainted and understand some mutual aspects:

  1. Family Members / Relatives [ Founders & team | General Partners & investment team]
  2. What are you currently doing [Stage/Idea of the Venture  | Fund's investment strategy]
  3. How much do you earn  [Monetisation | Investment Sweet Spot]
  4. Plans for the future  [Founders' vision  | Fund's vision for the venture]
  5. Expectations  [Termsheet :) ]

Based on the information exchange, the two of them decide whether they want to get engaged and married. Similarly, VCs after meeting several entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurs after meeting many VCs will finally meet their soul mates. Some unfortunately do remain bachelors/spinsters.

Following is a simplified pictorial representation of the fundraising process.

 

Some VC funds provide a termsheet before delving deeper in to the due diligence process. For some VC funds the term sheet is the holy grail of the investment process which is issued only after the investment committee has given the green signal to proceed ahead with an investment case.

When an entrepreneur gets the first termsheet he has mixed emotions. The first one is that of his faith, in his venture, being reinforced. A termsheet sends a gush of adrenalin through the entrepreneur.

When these feelings sink in, terror strikes when the entrepreneur starts reading & understanding the termsheet. Entrepreneurs often feel they will lose control and many get paranoid thinking ‘What if the Investor exercises any of those “dangerous” rights and pulls the plug on the venture.’

Like Uncle Ben tells Peter Parker in Spiderman (a little modified) – With Huge Investments come Huge Responsibilities! In this 4 part series I will write about what the significance of the Term sheet, the various terms included, deciphering these terms and share a typical Series A termsheet. This is to help entrepreneurs understand what are industry norms & what terms to be careful about and the future impact of these terms.

So, what is a Termsheet? 

A termsheet is a summary of the terms of investment an Investor proposes before making the investment. Yes, termsheets are negotiable(not carved in stone). Entrepreneurs should share with VCs the terms they are unable to decipher or even have concerns about.

Termsheets are non – binding in nature. This implies, for any reason either of the parties wish to withdraw from the process they can do so without any legal obligation to accept the money or invest it. The binding agreements are the definitive agreements – Shareholders Agreement (SHA) and Share Subscription Agreement (SSA).  The definitive agreements are constructed based on the framework provided by the Termsheet. [I will not be covering the definitive agreements in this series of blog posts]

The following points cover only the essence of a Termsheet.

  1. Valuation of the company & proposed investment amount [Typically the VC fund leading the round issues the TS and other co-investors follow the lead. They might propose certain specific terms required by them]
  2. Type of securities to be issued [Common / Preferred Shares; Convertible Notes, Options and Warrants]
  3. Rights of Investor [Various inspection rights, Right of First Refusal (RoFR), protect interests in further rounds of funding, antidilution, reserved matters]
  4. Vesting of Promoter shares [Allocation of founder shares to the Founding team]
  5. The Board structure and voting rights [Representation on the company board, decision making process on important issues, voting and other veto power]
  6. Exit for Investors and distribution of the proceeds [Liquidation preference & participation rights]
  7. Indemnification, Representation & Warranties by the Founders & Company
  8. Effect on the capitalization of the company pre & post investment [Scenarios showing distribution on shares - Promoters, Investors, ESOP Pool, etc]
  9. Guidelines for the next round of funding [Seniority rights, RoFO, pro-rata investment rights,
  10. Assignment of IP [Prevalent while investing in technology companies with crucial patents which affect the business]
  11. Milestones to be achieved [In case of investments in tranches - Milestones will be based on performance - user base, revenue, product development, team size, geogrpahical expansion, etc]
  12. Bearing of the expenses incurred during the Investment process [Who bears the legal expenses if the deal goes thru or doesn't go through]
  13. Closing Conditions [Investors normally include certain closing conditions which when adhered with will trigger the fund transfer]
  14. Confidentiality and Exclusivity [Restrictions on interacting with other interested Investment parties after having signed the termsheet & discussing the definitive agreements]

In the Part 2 of this series I will share a typical Series A termsheet. This termsheet is a typical one that VCs  issue. Certain funds may demand some extra rights or put in some specific clauses to capture the fund’sminimum requirement or the risk involved in the investment or could be a legal requirement for fund (if the investing entity is a foreign one).

Parts 3 & 4 will have a closer at some of the important terms and how an entrepreneur should interpret these terms.

Look forward to your feedback and do share suggestions on structuring the rest of the posts for this series. Till then like singer Bobby McFerrin says Don’t Worry Be Happy

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Customers – It’s all about Wooing and Romancing them, just like your high school Girlfriend

This post is about how first time entrepreneurs or managers just need to apply common sense to the way of doing business. To learn how to manage customers, you don’t need to attend seminars on topics like winning and retaining your customer, customer loyalty, how to run business effectively, being a CEO and not a manager, etc. When you sit in these seminars and listen to some speakers, you will often feel, “Oh hell ya, I think I knew this” or “I could have figured this out”.

Just apply your personal life examples to your venture or your job and you will realize that managing people and situations is not very difficult. In this blog post, I will share my thoughts on  Customers – It’s all about Wooing and Romancing them, just like your high school Girlfriend.

Go to Amazon.com and search under the books’ category – ‘win customers‘ – it shows almost 5300 results and ‘acquire customers‘ has over 3000+ results. If you even manage to read some of these books, it pivots around a single theme – Customer Experience.

Now, for a moment, flashback to your high school days when you really liked this beautiful girl and wanted to woo her. Also don’t forget those other chaps who were trying to flatter her too. All you wanted was to be different, get that one date and eventually win her heart. Now back to business, how different is your objective to win that customer? Take a moment and think, what did you do right /wrong in wooing that girl. Can you apply the same basic principles here too?

Let us consider an analogy between winning a customer and wooing your dream girl!!

1. The first date defines it all.

Some new e-commerce companies undertake huge acquisition cost per customer, in a few cases it is as high as Rs. 1200 – Rs. 1500 ($24 – $30). Typically this includes discounts, promotions, online advertising, social media, contests, emailers and SMS. After sending all these chocolates, flowers and small gifts, even if you get a coffee date – remember DON’T SCREW IT UP! A customer will always look for an honest and a dependable provider. When visiting a site or purchasing a product online, customers want simplicity to discover, purchase reviews from people, transparent pricing, seamless payment option, timely delivery and a good customer service.

2. Listen to her. She wants to be heard.

Along with your eyes, keep your ears open too. If you don’t listen to what your customers are saying – it’s a one way ticket to ‘Separation Station’. Capture every feedback.  Most of your innovations and forthcoming features will be based on these. Hence, make it easy to give feedback.

3. Make her feel Special

Like any girl wants, she expects you to make her feel special. Similarly, make your customers feel special – Send an e-card on special occasions, inform them in advance about the new features/ products/ services that you are launching. If you haven’t heard from your customer for some time, send them a coupon or a promo-code to induce re-visit.

4. Dont build unreasonable expectations. Sometimes, it is okay to say NO. 

In any relationship, be it with your girlfriend or your customer, avoid building unreasonable expectations. Especially in B2B environments, if there are unreasonable demands from a customer, it is okay to apologize and say that it cannot be currently met and provide the genuine reason. A customer will appreciate your NO rather than a poor product /service. However, please ensure that you keep the customer in loop when you start working towards it. These updates will reinforce the customer’s trust in you.

5. She too is a part of some community

Any bad experience is always publicized and these days to a larger audience (thanks to social media). If there is a shipment delay, product defect, breakage in transit or payment issue, and your customer service has not been able to solve the problem, you will face the social wrath. A negative word out there can do significant damage.

6. Just don’t let go of her. Try to work things out.

In case the customer is annoyed – (just like your girlfriend) try to resolve the situation and don’t leave the customer sulking. A bad experience will haunt you when it comes to reference check (especially in a B2B environment). Remember cost of acquiring a new customer is always more than retaining one.

I love the way the CEO of a mobile gaming company managed the complaint of a fuming customer on Twitter.

 

7. The best way to part is to part amicably

Well, heartbreaks will happen. Sometimes it’s best if you move on. But if you do so, do it amicably. Resolve the matters and then say a goodbye. If your customer has ordered something on display on your site and it seems difficult to fulfill that order – make an effort to procure it from somewhere else or reverse the transaction. But do this quickly before the customer loses faith.  In a B2B scenario, this is very important. If you are unable to fulfill your customer’s expectation, end the relationship in an amicable way. Enable a smooth transition. You never know in the future the customer might just come back to you!

It would be great to hear your thoughts on this topic and if you have similar experiences do share them.

 

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