Experiences in Intrepreneurship

I recently finished up an internal program on intrepreneurship (entrepreneurship, only that it is from “in”side a corporation), with the intent to discover profitable businesses in emerging economies. While the entire journey was truly remarkable, even more interesting for me was some lessons I learnt about (a) such programs in large corporations and (b) pitching the idea to senior management. This post shares some of those experiences with my readers. Statutory Disclaimer: The learnings are personal and under the circumstances of working within the framework of a specific large multi-national corporation. Interoperability is not guaranteed.

The conduit

It is absolutely vital the corporation sets up the team as not directly interacting with the sponsors. Sponsors are busy people with day jobs of running the business and can ill afford any more drag on their bandwidth. This does not however dilute their good intent around the project they are sponsoring. This is where the mentor comes in. The mentor is key (not saying the sponsor is not) in not only guiding the team towards the goal but also in managing upwards. Never underestimate what it takes to manage upwards and the mentor does two absolutely vital things for the team (a) keeps visibility of the project (b) filters down expectations, tempers them and sets up the team in a direction that is closest to what the sponsors expect. Larger a company, more are the labyrinths one has to navigate to reach an end goal and more important the mentor becomes

Establish the market and focus on competition

In almost all instances, the senior management wants to understand the landscape. This is especially true if you are engaging in a project that the sponsors know less about – like India perhaps. Build out the landscape and half the battle is won if you can convince the sponsors that the market is attractive.

Remember that competition validates a market. Sponsors are very happy to see a market that has competition and nothing like being a fast-second. Lavishly mention the competition and establish price points and trends in pricing. A sponsor is getting long term skin in the game – trends matter to her

What if the landscape is known or you have had a separate opportunity to lay out the landscape? Then jump straight into the problem you have identified and looking to solve. Weave in elements of the landscape that builds up the problem so they audience can relate

What does it buy me?

Remember this – if you are asking for money, state upfront what the sponsor is going to get from it. Not what you are going to do with the money. You would have run your models and know exactly the amounts you are going to require at different points in time but stick to the tranche you need now. It is quite likely that the amount you have budgeted for the future will change so do not waste your breath – and the sponsors time – on that.

Bite size

Sponsors get nervous about large projects. On the contrary as a part of the project you cannot just focus on a part – you need to think of the whole. It helps you complete the picture of the business in totality. Here is the tricky part – once you have the whole, break the thing up and ask yourself “which is the one that is a logical starting point and gives most bang for the buck”. Leave the rest as detail and sharpen your pitch around that one thing you have identified. It is most likely that success of the initial slice will automatically bring in the other aspects you had kept aside and funding those will be easier as you move on.

Leverage assets

A large company has several assets. And nothing excites the senior management more than being able to leverage them to create new opportunities. It is an engineer’s dream to build a system up from scratch if software is what we are talking of, but for a businessman (which the sponsor is) it is all about getting more out of less. Internal assets are well known, loved (believe me – even the crappiest assets are loved by someone) and proven. Sponsors connect with them much more readily than any wireframe or graphics you may put in front of them

Death by Powerpoint

Bullets kill people – bullets in Powerpoint slides that is. If you have the gall and you want your penny to drop, use different approaches. While doing your market research, video record an interview session on a Flip and put it right up there. 2 minutes of video would possibly have taken 3 slides to explain. Use new presentation tools like Prezi. And if you want more tips on how to make effective presentations look here and here and here

Sweeping Dust

Each day on my way to the gym in the morning I witness this scene. An old person, employed by the municipal corporation, sweeping dust from the road to the edge of the sidewalk. Dust flies all around and the man does not have any protective gear on to prevent him breathe in the same dust he is sweeping. India is quite a dusty place anyway and Bangalore, which wasn’t so dusty earlier, is catching up with its share of large scale constructions. Hence the old man repeats his act everyday, sweeping the same dust from the street to the same place only for passing vehicles to suck the dust back onto the street. Sweep dust, bring to edge, sucked back, sweep dust…repeat. Spinning the wheels with no impact on results. Sad, indeed.

And then I wondered how much of such men we have in corporations. Sweeping some dust, perhaps the same dust – day in and out – from one place to the other, only to repeat the whole thing again and again. The need for action doesn’t go away and neither does the dust.

Large Cap, Mid Cap and Small Cap

A friend at Goldman Sachs quipped about the recent rally in small cap stocks in India. “Small caps are always the last leg in the bull market and the first leg in the bear market”, he professed. Conventional wisdom would tend to agree, but what about performance? I pulled the numbers for India and the graph shows two interesting points

  1. Since 2009 – in the rally that looks like should correct some time soon, small cap performance > mid cap performance > large cap performance. No real surprises here
  2. Since 2003, small and mid caps have actually risen more during bull markets compared to large caps and have fallen less during bear markets compared to the large caps. This is a touch unexpected

Please leave comments with your thoughts why this could happen.

Post Script 1: Since the great depression, US micro caps have returned twelve million percent profits. Go, beat that.

Post Script 2: This is the 100th post in this blog. You had the choice to read a thousand things on the internet. I am humbled that you chose to read me. Thank you.