Why startups need to be cult-like

Peter Thiel wrote in his book, Zero to One, that startups need to be cult-like. At that time, I didn’t completely appreciate his message, but now I do. By ‘cult’, I mean a group where members have values that are similar to each other, but extremely different from the outside world. Cults, as long as they don’t harm their members or others, are society’s exploration vessels. Because they’re cults, they obsess about arcane stuff that nobody else cares about. Most of the times, they keep it to themselves and rest of the world ignores them. But if they discover something valuable, rest of the world benefits.  ...  Read the entire post →

Why many B2C startups pivot to B2B

In my conversations with other entrepreneurs, I’ve come across tens of startups that started with a B2C angle but eventually succeed as a B2B company. Outside of my experience, famous examples include Slack that started as a gaming company. VWO’s competitor, Optimizely, started as a company that made math teaching apps for children. In my experience, it’s far more common to pivot from B2C to B2B than the reverse. Why does that happen?

On Inverted Passion, I love to get into the details of the structure of success and analyze things beyond surface level impressions. So here are all the reasons why B2B proves to be a better option after failure in B2C. ...  Read the entire post →

Staying relevant in a changing world

Many designers I know started their design practice by first practicing on Photoshop. Almost all marketers I know entered the field by reading articles on content marketing, Adwords, or Facebook Ads (SEO is long gone). Engineers in my day started learning web programming with PHP (apparently these days it’s Javascript / NodeJS).

Most self-made professionals get attracted to the methods and tools because they get immediate results. Want to do content marketing? Sign up on Medium, write an article and spread it. Want to write your first app? Use Bootstrap in the frontend and Mongo/NodeJS on the backend, and you’re up and ready in a couple of hours. Tools enable immediate gratification and that’s what makes them so attractive. ...  Read the entire post →

To get good startup ideas, look for anomalies

Most entrepreneurs are aware of product-market fit. It’s a good advice but I have an issue with the term “product-market fit”. It makes an entrepreneur focus on product first, market second. The words we choose to describe the world ends up shaping the world for us. This means not all “social networks” are the same and words you choose to describe an innovation has a significant influence on how much customers value it.

Repeated usage the term product-market fit, develops a mental model where the entrepreneur’s inclination is to make a product (or get an idea) first and then go out in the market to test it. In fact, that’s what Lean Startup and other methodologies suggest. Quick experiments and fail fast. ...  Read the entire post →

Details and structure matters: lessons from Facebook’s foundation in 2004

Continuing on the same theme as yesterday’s article on the winner-takes-all effect and the structure of network effects, today I dive deeper into the very early days of Facebook. By early, I mean the very week of Facebook’s launch on Harvard campus in Feb 2004. The early history of Facebook is interesting because when it launched Myspace and Friendster already had millions of engaged users.

Any explanation of the success of Facebook as a company that it is today will fall short. There are so many factors that explain Facebook’s current valuation of $500Bn that I’m not sure if a comprehensive account of that is even possible.  ...  Read the entire post →

The winner takes all fallacy and the structure of network effects

The winner-takes-all phenomenon in business is appealing. All entrepreneurs dream of their products being used by everyone in the market. Large tech companies such as Microsoft, Facebook, Uber, Amazon, and Netflix derive their massive valuations by dominating their respective markets. How did they achieve this dominance, and do new startups have a chance against them?

The primary cause of this massive growth of large tech companies in a short period is network effects. Many tech products grow more useful as more users use them, so larger the user base gets the more benefit each user is able to derive. This kicks in a positive feedback cycle whereby the tech product’s value increases exponentially (and becomes hard to dislodge by competitors). This increase in benefits with numbers of users is unprecedented in history. In the non-tech products world, if you use a particular brand of toothpaste, you do not make it more likely for a random stranger to pick up that brand of toothpaste. (Yes, word of mouth exists for non-tech products but that’s about it.)  ...  Read the entire post →

Why you shouldn’t set prices based on value created

I was talking to a friend who has subscribed to an online publication called The Ken. This subscription costs him around Rs. 2000 per year and he gets access to hundreds of exclusive in-depth, well-researched articles on Indian startups. I asked him if he’ll renew, and he said probably not as he didn’t think that he got worth his money from the 15-20 articles that he had read. This conversation was happening at a bar where the average bill per person comes to be about Rs. 1500. I pointed this to him and we wondered why he was willing to pay Rs 1500 for a 3-hour sitdown at a bar but doesn’t find it worth Rs 2000 to read 15-20 well research articles.  ...  Read the entire post →

Endowment effect in business

We value things we own much more than the things we don’t own. It’s called the endowment effect. This goes well with our intuition that other people don’t value our things as much as we do. But it isn’t just that other people devalue what we have. Experiments show that if we reverse the roles, our willingness to pay is much less for the same product that we were earlier owning (and were demanding a high price for).

How does this disparity in selling price and purchase price occur? It occurs because buyers don’t have perfect information about a product and cognitively what “jumps” in the mind of a seller is benefits of the product or service (while seller focuses on costs). ...  Read the entire post →

What food delivery companies can learn from Netflix

It’s in the news today. Ola, India’s largest on-demand taxi service, has acquired FoodPanda India (from its parent company Delivery Hero) in a stock-swap transaction. FoodPanda is in food delivery business (like GrubHub in US or Delivery Hero in Europe).

Ola’s Founder and CEO said the usual acquisition-related things in a press release.

I’m excited about our partnership with Delivery Hero as we team up to take Foodpanda India to the next level. As one of India’s pioneers in the food delivery space, Foodpanda has come to be a very efficient and profit focused business over the last couple of years. Our commitment to invest $200mn in Foodpanda India will help the business be focused on growth by creating value for customers and partners. With Delivery Hero’s global leadership and Ola’s platform capabilities with unique local insights, this partnership is born out of strength.  ...  Read the entire post →

Revenue requires investment, profit requires creativity

The purpose of a business is to generate over its lifetime a higher return for its shareholders than what they would have gotten by investing in risk-free options (such as government bonds). This is a slightly technical definition but an example will illustrate what I mean.

Imagine there is an entrepreneur with a business proposal and he requires a $100 of investment for it. He reaches out to you and pitches his idea to seek your investment. To make a decision, you’ll probably analyze and estimate how much return you’d get in return of money you give to him. If you usually get 6% interest annually in a savings bank account, you would expect a higher return from the entrepreneur (given there’s a risk of losing your entire $100 while your money in the bank is virtually risk-free). In fact, you’d expect an unjustifiedly high rate of return because like all humans you’re risk averse and hence demand more upside than what seems fair. Absurdly high expectations is what makes entrepreneurship so hard.  ...  Read the entire post →