Thursday, May 21, 2015

How do I find a co-Founder?

Find your POV and you will soon attract the right potential cofounders. (POV stands for point of view.)

Unless you have been organically working with and talking to potential cofounders who want to work with you because you like each other etc, the main reason someone will work with you is because of shared interests. 

The POV can be in the form of:
  • Problem statement: e.g, you think the cab market is broken. You think mobile apps can help solve this. You will now attract people who like the space and have some ideas - you will have something to talk about. You get to know each other by solving the problem together.
  • Target Market: You think Obamacare is going to change healthcare. Now you have something to filter each other by. Ideas will come up. 
  • Technical Architecture: You believe that Hadoop is just plain dumb for real time analytics and the right way to do big data analytics is by using X. Now you can sit down and discuss Hadoop and X. You can then find some problems to solve with X. 

In short, act like a sole founder that has a mission - solving a problem, attacking a market, disrupting a company, leveraging a new technology - and you will find like minded cofounders, investors and others who are ready to sign up for the cause.

Before your startup is a company, its a cause. Identify the cause. Build a movement.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Death of Native Apps on PC: Trillion Dollar Transfer from Microsoft to Apple

The web browser is dead or at least dying. After its peak of popularity in early 2000's when we spent our time on the internet and that primarily meant the web browser, we are now living in the age of the apps.
The web browser was never invented to run apps — it was meant to render the web of HTML pages interspersed with images and other multimedia. It worked so well for the web that we hacked it to serve our apps.

Why did the Apps in the Browser Succeed?

If you go back in time, to the late 90's and early 00's, the operating system of choice at work was Microsoft Windows. Windows was not a very well designed OS when it comes to security and stability. Installing one app could open the possibility for security holes and for one app to hurt the performance of other apps- remember the corrupt registry problem?

CIO kills the Native Apps — Microsoft helps

The CIOs who run our computers at most workplaces responded to the various challenges by essentially locking down our computers. We could not install any apps as end users because we were not given the permission to do so by the CIO. This facility — the ability to remotely control and manage our computers — was a key selling point for the Windows platform.
Essentially, the apps we could access on our computers were the ones built by the likes of Microsoft (Excel, Word, Outlook, Powerpoint), a few large software companies like Oracle & SAP, and 3–5 apps the CIO built. That was the computer. You as a user had NO CHOICE.
In theory, you could install other apps by following the company processes — go buy app, get CIO to approve the purchase, get CIO to test the app, and then isntall it. It was just too difficult.

Unlocking the locked PC

If you were an employee at a company and wanted to use a new piece of software it was nearly impossible to get access to it on your PC laptop. This, by the way, was equally true for Mac or Unix systems which were locked down.

Nature Abhors an App Vacuum

However, we still had a lot of tasks that were not yet automated like customer relationship management (CRM) for which we as end users wanted to try out new software and were often willing to pay for it, albeit in small dollar amounts. Similarly, the users could imagine better versions of tools they were using or being forced to use at work.
The software vendors were suffering too. They had to go through the CIO to sell every new app to the end user or a department. What if we could bypass this CIO?

SaaS is the Market Response to the PC Lockdown

At the same time, as our PCs were getting locked down on the apps side, we could visit all kinds of magical places on the internet and do things like buy books online. As Marc Benioff said — what if we could use enterprise software the way we buy books on Amazon?
You could sign up online and using just your web browser access new functionality. The rest as they say is history.
The browser apps were NOT better than the native apps in terms of core funcationlity — even today a natively installed Excel or Numbers app beats the best online spreadsheet.
It took Steve Jobs and opening of the app store for us to realize that you can actually get best of both the worlds — cloud backends and a fully native, rich app running on your device fully exploiting its resources — rather than a boiled down version of the app forced to fit into the browser.

Today, the Apple app store and the Android app store have millions of apps with millions of developers making billions of dollars while there is no such equivalent for the PC.
Microsoft’s biggest failure of the last decade may not have been missing the cloud and the mobile revolutions but giving away probably the biggest advantage it had — developers building killer apps for your ecosystem. Microsoft seems to have finally acknowledged, and under Satya Nadella’s leadership is fighting back with innovations like apps that sit inside a VM container to isolate them and make them safe to install.
Today, the browser based cloud apps on the desktop completely bypass Microsoft’s Windows stack by running on the browser and most of the mobile apps run on either Apple iOS or Google Android. A daylight trillion dollar heist.

Monday, March 09, 2015

The Missing  Watch Billionaires: The Platform Test?

Every new platform enables a new breed of entrepreneurs to change the world and become billionaires in the process. 
The iPhone (and the smartphones that followed) produced the Uber billionaires, the WhatsApp billionaires, the Snapchat billionaires and so forth.
If Apple watch is to be successful, it must not just sell a lot of watches - it must enable developers to dream up entirely new forms of applications that enrich our lives and solve problems that we didn’t even particularly know we had. Think Uber - there were no Wall Street Journal editorials on the challenges of hailing cabs. Ditto for hotel rooms and AirBnB. 

The amazing thing about great platforms is that even the builders of the platform don't know what amazing new apps will become reality. When we were building the Salesforce platform, we were always amazed by the ingenuity of our developers and startups who built things we thought were impossible. The ecosystem humbles you and makes you successful.
What could the watch enable?
An Apple Watch could enable founders and dreamers to rethink some apps - and succeed with this new form factor where most others have failed in the past.
Here are some candidates:
  • Kill the Password: The watch is the ultimate personal second or third factor in Authentication. Passwords are a bane for our financial and communications security.
  • Make us Healthy: While I loved my Fitbit, and even Philips DirectLife (now discontinued), I kept forgetting them and losing them. Entrepreneurs who use the watch to deliver the right nudges to us - to take a walk, to eat healthier, to snooze better, to sit straighter - can help us live better and longer. 
  • Train a Dragon: Well, you may not actually train a dragon but the watch sensors could be used as an input device to play games. Just as an iPhone can be tilted, the Apple watch can enable new gestures to be used as input.
  • Money: The obvious use case of using Apple Watch to make payments which Apple has already thought through - you can reimagine all kinds of processes from how you order at a restaurant to how you get notified when food is ready.
In a few years, we will look back and if Apple Watch was more than a blip it would have changed our lives in meaningful ways - enabling and enriching a new set of entrepreneurs who add new verbs to our lives. I cant’ wait to find out what comes after Ubering?!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The SaaS Billionaires and Naysayers

If you are on your journey as an entrepreneur to truly build something new and revolutionary, you will hear a lot of naysayers along the way. Today, Salesforce and Workday both announced their financial results — once again showing that they continue to grow as part of the larger movement to SaaS. Salesforce is now generating almost half a billion dollar a month in revenue and still growing over 30% year over year which is just remarkable. Workday is growing even faster in %-age terms and is the second largest independent SaaS player. But this journey was not easy for the likes of Marc Benioff or Aneel Bhusri.

While the big legacy vendors are now talking and acquiring SaaS, this is what we heard over the last 10 years:

  1. Multitenancy is irrelevant. (And then they tried all kinds of mega and virtual tenancy stuff only to learn that its a hugely important piece.)
  2. They said — Cloud is “just” a deployment choice. Customers want “choice” of on-premise, hybrid and cloud.
  3. They said — you can serve SMB on multi-tenant cloud but never “real” enterprise.
  4. They said — cloud is not secure. Its secure here but not in Europe.
  5. They said — “roach motel” of enterprise software.
  6. They said — yes, revenue but really NO PROFITS at @workday and @salesforce. See the numbers now.
  7. They said — cloud is all about virtualization of data centers. And public cloud is a ‘phase’.
  8. They said — no Startup will ever go IPO on a 3rd party cloud platform.
  9. They said — legacy software companies can “simply” start hosting. (Yes, like Ford can simply start cars-as-a-service and become Uber.)
  10. Finally, to the VCs who said “CRM is dead. I will fund next @Salesforce.” What are your startups doing in MRR? $500M in MRR anyone?

Even as these companies continue to grow, the doubts continue to be raised.

When you are inventing a new future, expect resistance.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Deconstructing Governments: Is Estonia the first Full Stack Government Startup?

The purpose of a government is provide services to its citizens. After all its all about 'for the people'. Many of these services are not related to a geographical boundary - a few like fire, safety and roads are. This is why we already experience multiple government bodies - city, county, state and federal but they are all structured linearly, one inside the other like a Russian doll. It does not have to be this and Estonia is leading the way.

by permission (Creative Commons)
The governments don't have to be structured this way geographically. It can be a graph of nodes. Think of each government today - city, state,  etc. essentially offering an (outdated) API to a set of services they offer - registering a title for example.

But there is no reason why title registration has to be done by your county. They need the information but the actual act can be performed by a third party and the government can make an API call to verify this information. (Yes, I know title companies help do this but they are acting as an agent not a their own system of record.)

Break up the Government API
Today, governments are like a mainframe system - everything is mingled into one giant, expensive, outdate machine that is sub-optimal. We know that a distributed architecture works better in most cases - and I would argue its true for government too.

The government of Estonia is embarking on one such journey - to offer us many unique online services by taking the first step of offering an online 'government issued online identity'. Think of it in simple terms as somewhat similar to getting a Facebook account and using it to log in to say a news website. Similarly, you will be able to use your Estonia issued electronic identity to do things like sign papers (legally in EU).

Start Simple
In the beginning, we will see very simple services like identity used for online signatures and other basic stuff. Today, we use our email address and password to sign using EchoSign or DocuSign - this will be a step up.

Over period of time, you will be able to create legally viable business entities. I am not aware of Delaware's plans but there is no reason why Delaware could not create an API for creating C corporations for example tied to my identity.

The Beginning of the End of The Big Government
Today, as a resident of say New Delhi or San Francisco, I am beholden not just the local laws but also to the local bureaucracy. My cousin had to bribe someone in India to simply attest a copy of his birth certificate which he wanted to use in Australia. For services like this, there is no reason to rely on your local government service provider. As long as its consistent with the law, you will be able to use any service provider globally.

Balaji and others at Andreessen Horowitz have talked about government as a trillion dollar market and I think they are right. As governments get deconstructed, there will be room for private companies not only to make governments better but to replace entire government departments and programs with private service providers - the 'full stack' startup for government sector is not a Palantir or a OpenGov (read this) but Estonia and many other full service providers.

New Motto: Don't just make government better, replace it.