Saturday, December 19, 2009

Demo, Sell and Build - so easy that an engineer can do it

One mantra I have learnt in the past years is "Demo, Sell and Build". I first heard these three words from Bijoy Goswami (founder of Bootstrap Austin) and it sounded like a good concept but I did not care about it much. Later when I tried to build a couple of products myself without selling it first, I started learning the meaning of those three words in the hard way. People around me were telling me that I m an engineer and I don't have the sales expertise to sell the product and I need to hire a good sales man to sell my product and in fact I even started looking for a sales person. Then I figured out that its not a problem with sales, but its a problem with the product itself. I should have built the product after getting the customers and built the product for them and not the other way. Then, the product sells itself.

I no longer believe in the statement "Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door”.

Its a myth when people say that engineers can't sell. Infact engineers are one of the best sales people if they talk to the customers first before building the product. Sales is not that hard.

Say you find there is a problem. Follow these steps.

1) First talk to the people who face the problem and ask them more feedback about the problem and ask them why they think its a problem and is there anything they do currently to solve the problem (or work around the problem, even if it may not be the best solution).
2) Then, ask them what they think would be the best solution (yes before you provide a solution, ask other people who face the problem). Then see if this is the same solution that you have thought or if not, see which one is better (your solution or the solution that you heard from the people who face the problem). Infact ask them.
3) Once you zero in on a solution, then ask them if they would be willing pay you for solving the problem and if yes how much. If they say yes, there you go... you got your first customer. If you cannot cover the cost of the product with just one customer, go and find more customers. If the people who face the problem are not willing to pay for the solution, then see if there is someone else who may be willing to pay for the solution (or maybe the traffic., but before this ask the people who face the problem, whether they will use your solution for sure.. Maybe take a survey).
4) Once you found your customers, then build a demo of the product and show it to your customers and ask them if they would pay right away or get some guarantee from them for paying for your product.
5) Then build your product.
6) Remember you have already sold your product, and you already have a few customers and getting more wont be difficult anymore.

See, I said selling is not that hard.. So easy that an engineer can do it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Website building 101 for non technical Entrepreneurs

As I thinking about what topic to blog on today, I came to remember something that happened recently.

Recently a couple of my friends with marketing backgrounds, who wanted to sell their product through the web asked for some tips to find the best technology for their website and asked for few developer contacts. Instead of writing emails to each of them, I thought I would write it as a blog post.. 

I m gonna start with things to do for creating a website targeted to a business selling a product but later will add ability to integrate social media to their website (as in user forums, etc).

Step-1) First gather the list of features you want in your website. If you are selling a product, you might want to include some kind of graphic describing your product or maybe a youtube video describing your product. Then you might want a section describing your company and yourself (the about-us page). Then a contact form so that people coming to your website could could you. Then some way to sell your product (like a shopping cart?)

a) For the graphic describing your product, you may first draw it as a flow chart in a software like Microsoft vsio or even Microsoft powerpoint.

b) For the video describing your product, shoot the video from a handycam or camera and edit it using your favorite video editing software (I m not going to talk about video editing softwares here, but you can find a lot on the web). Then you can upload the video on youtube.

c) For the about-us page, just have the description in text (maybe a powerpoint would do).

d) For the contact form, you might wonder, this would require some programming.. Not really. You can use web services like (this is not really a web service targeted for contact forms but you can surely use it for that) or or (HTML form builder and its free). In fact you can create any kind of forms using these services without any programming experience. You just have to creative enough to be able to get your requirements done using the available form tools (almost every thing can be done using these form tools.. If you are creative, you can even build a shopping cart using these form tools).

e) For the shopping cart part, ask the question: Do you really need a shopping cart to sell your product? Can you get an amazon account ( and list your product for sale there and link that to your website first to see if you get traffic? This way you don't have to figure out the logistics of selling (especially the shopping cart and payment collection). I think Amazon charges just over 8% as commissions. So if you don't like that, look for other e-commerce sites which charge less commissions and list your product for sale there and link back to your website. Or you can look into Google Checkout ( to collect payments and sell your product. Maybe once someone pays through google checkout, you can mail them the product (or email them if its somekind of an online product). All these require no programming experience.

Now that you have done steps (a) to (e), you might have put all of them together in the form of a website. 

Step-2) Use a website mockup software like balsamiq ( to create the mockups. Watch the 3 minute video in the balsamiq website and you will know what wonders it can do and you can use it. First decide how may pages your website need to have. Then, you can take screenshots of your graphics, youtube video, about-us powerpoint page, web forms and place them in the appropriate pages using the balsamiq mockup software (this is one of the best mockup softwares I have used). Try to do as much as possible in this stage (the layout, fonts, color, etc) because this will reduce your web designer cost by a great deal. You can also draw the mockups using paper and pencil but this is more advanced and scalable (you don't have to look for an eraser when you have to make changes). You may also look into tools like Omnigraffle or Microsoft Vsio. Or do a google search for web mockup softwares and I m sure there will be plenty. In my opinion, balsamiq is the best.

Step-3) Once your mockup is complete using the balsamiq software, now its time to implement it on the web.

Here are some resources for drag and drop web site creation. 

These two are the simplest ones among most drag and drop website creation softwares I evaluated.

If you need something more advanced (as in a CMS), try this:

If none of the out of the drag and drop solutions fit your needs, you may need to hire a web designer who can implement the mockups (you have created) in html. This is when you have to think about whether you need a content management software like wordpress, drupal or joomla. For the most part, I think it could be done in simple html itself (but you can use something like wordpress to do this too.. Infact you may even use the basic wordpress template). Remember: the forms, shopping cart, etc are mashups using other web tools (forms using prefinery or aweber or wufoo and shopping cart with amazon or google checkout) and should just be link backs to your website (Don't try to do these from scratch.. just link the forms/shopping cart to the ones you have already created in step 1-d). Anyways ask your web designer for the best opinion. 

You can use websites like or or or even talk to your local web designer to implement it in the website. This should not cost more than a 3-4 hours max of the designer's time to implement. If not, then you are not using the right smart web designer. Ofcourse, I havent included the cost/time to design your logos, etc but c'mon, ask the question: Do I really need the best logo to sell my product? Whats the objective here? Is it to have the best website in the world or to sell the product?

Step-4) Now say, you want to add some sort of social media to your website as in people should be able to login and post reviews and comments and participate in discussions (as in a forum). I would strongly recommend that you use facebook or twitter for that. You can make your website as a facebook connect or a twitter connect website where people can login using their twitter/facebook id (if the users don't have one, link them to twitter/facebook to create one) and post content to their twitter feed/facebook feed and you just pull those feeds to your website. Say you can have the ability to just add comments to the product you are selling (not like a forum but just a stream of comments), then look at this service called and the techcrunch blog post on this at . I think this commenting service is pretty cool and as I said earlier in the forms section, you just have to creative to use it as per your needs. This is not the best social media integration to your website but you can build something like this in less than 5-10 hours max atleast to start with. Because remember your main objective is to not build a social media website but to sell your product. This would do the job.

Make sure you remember one thing: Say you are trying to sell a product or a service, the website is not your core business. The product or the service you are creating is your core business. The website is one of the many channels/means to sell your core offering. You could sell your product or service through email, face to face, word of mouth, facebook dan page, amazon, eBay, website but in the end all that matters is whether someone pays for your product or service. No one is gonna pay a premium just because you have an awesome website...
Try these steps the next time you think about build a website for selling your product or service or even just like that and let me know how it goes. Good luck!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Is it time to get on the android bandwagon?

As a technology enthusiast and as a person who missed the iphone app bandwagon in the first year and half, I have been pondering with this question of whether to get on to android over the last few months. So, I thought I would share my thoughts here...

First let me disclose that I have an iphone and I just started writing iphone apps myself. However the iphone app market seems extremely competitive such that, so far every single idea that I come up with has already been done as an app. Plus I ask myself the same question that John Nash asks his friends at the bar scene in the movie "The Beautiful mind" - "Why should everyone compete by all of us going for the blond? Instead can each of us go for her friends (may not be as pretty as the blond) but atleast we have a chance of getting laid...". This is the basis of Nash's theory and equilibrium for which he was given the Noble Prize. I m asking the same question to myself - "Should I compete in an overly crowded iphone app market or should I start learning and developing in the android platform so that I get on the game pretty early."

Today, according to Androidlib (Androidlib is a website to browse android apps on the web, there are little over 20000 apps in the android store ( Five months ago, there were 10000 apps in the android store ( Does this mean that more developers have started getting on to the android boat and I better hurry up? Another interesting observation from androidlib's data is that there are about 37% of paid apps right now versus 35% of paid apps, five months ago. This tells us that not many people are writing paid apps. What does it tell about the revenue? Nothing!

Well, the main question to ask here is - "Are developers writing android apps making money?". Revenue could be in the form of paid app downloads or ad revenue. Do the android developers get any of these forms of revenue and if so whats the split up? I don't have the answer to this question. However, one comment I have is that Google has been the smartest dude in the world with making money with ads, so if your intention is to develop free apps and just make money with ads, then maybe android is not a bad idea. While you are pondering over your decision to write android or iphone apps,keep asking, "Do I want to generate revenue from ads or from paid apps?" and do your research accordingly. This is what I have been asking so far to myself.

A few negatives with respect to android:
1) Recently I was speaking to friend, who is an apple evangelist and is also developing iphone apps and he mentioned that one of his android-developer friend recently complained that no none seems to be downloading his paid app in the android store.

2) Another interesting observation that my apple evangelistic friend made was that android could have the same problem that Macintosh faces over windows interms of adoption.

3) Another big problem that I see with respect to adoption of android is that Google needs to come up with some creative hardware. C'mon lets be honest.. The HTC phones suck! Think about a high school kid or a college kid who wants to impress his girlfriends. Will he guy a cool iphone or a HTC phone (which is not cool at all). I don't have any problem with android.. but just the phone. With google's Nexus One ( (whenever it comes to the market), this might change. Maybe the Droid is already changing this. But what if next year apple comes with a holographic iphone or a iphone as small as a nano with a expandable screen and keyboard. Now thats what google needs if they have to compete with apple.. a better hardware (not just creating a new phone with a bigger screen and slider keyboard.. I m talking about a totally out-of-the-box feature). If there is any chance that this could happen, then I m going to totally jump on to the android bandwagon right away. No questions asked.

A few positive reasons for jumping on to android:

1) The argument towards jumping on the android bandwagon is the programming language.. Its Java, which can be applied anywhere (even in the web with the google web tool kit) and plus it would be great thing on your resume to be a good java programmer. Thats a positive one compared to objective-C which is a ba*tard child of Smalltalk and C from NeXT. Who in the world except apple uses objective-C and from my experiences programming in Objective-C, I had a steep learning curve. However, I got to give to it apple. Their interface builder (this is like the GUI Visual basic used to have where you can drag and drop your UI elements like buttons, text-boxes and design your UI canvas) is awesome. I havent used the debugger in android so I can't compare but Xcode's debugger is pretty cool.

2) Recently a friend of mine gave an awesome idea for apps on android. He asked me to just copy the best selling app ideas on iphone and port it to android. The probability that they will sell in the android is very high. Well, I will take that. That's what I will be doing if I m jumping on the android bandwagon.

Other phone platforms to consider:
There are also other phone platforms like the Symbian OS, Blackberry who have their own app store and app platform. I haven't done any research on this. But I know that most of the corporate market is held by Blackberry and the question to ask is if these guys were to move to a different phone, what will they switch to. If your company is currently supporting blackberry, if they switch, will they switch to iphone or android-based-phones? Maybe the blackberry could start supporting android. In that case, the whole conversation changes.

There is also a new kid in this neighborhood called moblin ( which is a mobile platform (similar to android) and is evangelized by Intel to promote their processors' entry into the mobile industry (netbooks at present). Moblin is a C/C++ platform.. Should you start developing for moblin? Maybe if you want to well ahead of the curve in moblin (sure - moblin is going to have users). I leave the decision to you. If you already a good C/C++ programmer, maybe you should start on moblin.

Anyways, keep munching on these thoughts and share your thoughts as well...

Monday, December 14, 2009

Business plan by answering 6 questions... So easy that a cave man could do it

Creating a business plan could be as simple as answering the following 6 questions: Why, What, Who, How, When and Where on your idea. Try this once.. it has worked for me!

1) Why - Why do I need this product? Can people live without it? Is there a real problem that I m solving? Is it a necessity or a want? We define the problem here. If you can't answer this question, then go find a problem first.

2) What - Whats the product? Here we go into product management. This is where we define the solution (or the product).

3) Who - This is the selling part. Who is my customer? Who is my user? The users and the customers may not be the one and the same. For example, in google, an average Joe is the user. The local business down the street who advertises on google is the customer.

As part of this question, try to find out your competition also.. Some people say that they don't have any competition.. Hell no! Everybody has competition. Even the mighty google has competition. Sometimes the competition may not be direct but it could be a substitute competition. Say for example, when someone invented the email, what was the competition at that time? Paper mail, phone, fax, radio, etc.. To find about competition, research.. research.. research.. Use our mighty Google as much as possible.

Once you understand your competition, you should have a pretty good idea about your product and the market.

4) How - How is the product going to be built? How will the solution be implemented? This is the second phase of product management. This would answer questions like: Can I build the product myself? What kind of resources do I need to build the product?, etc..

Now as a part of answering this question, its time for some math. Do a income statement and a cash flow statement for your product. Don't worry its very simple. Just Open Excel and calculate the Cost (cost of building the product and selling it, if any) and Revenue (for example, it could be as simple as: # customers x price paid by each customer). Now Revenue - Cost = profit. Do this for a year or 2 years or till you break even and start making profit (if you don't start making profit from Day 1.. If you sell your product first before building it, you should have profits right from day 1). Be very honest when you do your finances.

5) When - This is very crucial because answering this question plays an important role in product execution. Can I build the product in my lifetime? I want to invent the next search engine which is much better than google.. Can I do it? If we understand our strengths (if you don't know your strengths yet, I suggest you go to and take the Strengths Finder 2.0 test.. it will help you understand your strengths much better), and know the constraints and resources (could be money, time, people, skills, etc..), then the answer to this should be straight forward. How long its going to take to build my product? This is the step where you work your product timelines.

6) Where - This is not a very important question, although understanding the answer to this question helps us plan well. Where do I get my product built? Can I do it locally or do I have to hire someone from a different state or do I have to get some help overseas? These are all the questions that would get answered here.

Now you have a business plan for your product ready by just asking Why, What, Who, How, When and Where.

The next time you have the Big idea, ask these questions.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

If there was a well connected public transportation, I would have been home by now

I recently polled many of my friends about the pros and cons of living in Austin (many of them who moved to Austin from other cities). One of the biggest cons seems to be the terrible traffic in Austin during peak AM and PM.

Many of these people whom I polled have big, guzzling autos, two per family at least. You see what happens next. Hideous traffic. Building more freeways never solves just gives people more places to fill up with cars.

Based upon currently projected growth rates, the Austin area could become one of the most congested in the nation by 2025.

If you ride the bus, you waste a lot of time waiting hours when you need to go somewhere. You must be poor [paradoxical, considering the cost of a car] or stingy [paradoxical, considering the cost of gasoline].You have to ride in dumpy, old buses. You certainly can’t get a date. These are some of the false judgments people make about the small minority of Americans who still use public transit.

Ironically, politicians and planners make the same judgments. Like most Americans, they drive. They love transit, as long as somebody else is using it.

I come from a country with a population of a billion people, where public transportation is the biggest of mode of transport. Some of my best travel experiences have taken place inside crowded, non-air conditioned buses and trains with my fellow passengers. Every time I travel, I made a new friend by sharing a conversation with a local passenger. With public transportation, you save money, and you make a lot of friends. Plus you get to where-ever you want.

Apart from just saving the environment, public transportation could save the purse too. While actual costs vary from place to place and depending on fuel prices, after some analysis I’ve have some cost estimates due to driving. While multiplying the average cost per mile of 48.5 cents per mile (based on what IRS uses) by 2.9 tillion yearly vehicle miles traveled (VMT) estimate for 2008 in the US (source:, we get total yearly cost of driving to be approx. $1.4 trillion, which is about 10% of our 2008 US GDP (14.3 trillion). Sit back and think for a second: one of every 10 dollars in America is spent on driving. Should Americans be spending that much on transportation? Only 9% of total U.S. work trips use mass transit, compared to 38.8% in Europe.

Public transportation could take about twice as long as driving. Even so, it’s useful time: you can work on your laptop, watch a DVD, read a book, or sleep. Think about a public bus or train which provides WI-FI, in some cases even a small cafeteria kiosk (where you can get breakfast, snacks, coffee and sandwiches), magazine kiosks.

Even after the public transportation system is in-place, like in few American cities, people still use their cars. Worse thing is even couples going to the same work place don't seem to ride-share (I see that all the time at my work). Maybe cities in the US (which have good public transportation system in-place), should start charging fees (some roads have tolls which indirectly does the same thing) from people who don't use public transportation system. Cities like London charges a fee for some motorists travelling travelling within those parts of London designated as the Congestion Charge Zone (CCZ).

Maybe the next time you take your car, you will pause for a second and at-least think about using your feet (you burn a few calories plus saved the planet and your purse).

(Image sources:

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Social networking - the next web 2.0

I still remember the day (sometime in 2004 or early 2005 when I was still in grad school) when my cousin sent me an email with a link to join facebook. I thought "yet another dating website scam- damn these sophomores are jobless" and I just ignored the email. At that time I had a profile at Orkut (which I still have) - a social network (owned by google) not so popular in the states (Orkut is very popular in India). After a year I joined facebook.

I was never a big fan of social networking. I joined linked-in when I graduated and started working and wanted to be connected to my colleagues at work. I joined facebook because I had a few friends in facebook around the time I joined and thought it would be really cool to have a presence in the online world, especially in facebook. As of today, I have a twitter, facebook, orkut, myspace, linkedIn, ning accounts. I joined twitter a couple of months ago when I first heard about it at a austin local meetup. I actively use only my twitter and facebook these days and login to my linked-in to add new connections.

In a world where emails, phone numbers, physical addresses are subject to change, social networking websites are a good place to keep connected.

I recently heard from a serial entrepreneur that if he wants to hire or interview someone, he would certainly check their profile, connections, references in linked-in and then their social life in facebook/twitter.

Among the social networking sites, one of the reasons facebook has grown rapidly in such short span is because of user-created applications (just like how iphone has become very popular because of the apps), Even after you join facebook, there are lots of things you can do and not just write on a wall or scrap (which was the only thing you could do at orkut). You can share photos, tag photos, take surveys (although I Still think certain surverys are so lame). LinkedIn, MySpace or Orkut serves merely to connect people. Twitter grew because of the niche value its offering.

The final question that ponders me is how do sites like facebook/twitter get venture funding and whether they really have a business and revenue model. All these sites are trying to do right now is attract more users. Maybe, at somepoint people will become so dependent on them. At that time these sites will figure out a way to make money (acquisition probably?). Remember, When google started, they did not have a business model other than allowing other websites to use their search feature. Can anyone imagine a day without google these days? Maybe facebook and twitter are trying to follow the footsteps of google.

Now some facts about social networking:
- Thirty-five percent of US Web users aged 18 or older have a profile on a social network such as Facebook. This number has grown from a mere eight percent in 2005.
- In general, it seems the number of adults who use social networks declines with age
- Seventy-five percent of online Americans aged 18 to 24 years old belong to a social network; 57 percent of those aged 25 to 34; 30 percent of those aged 35 to 44; 19 percent of those aged 45 to 54; 10 percent of those aged 55 to 64 and just seven percent of those aged 65 and older.
- Sixty-five percent of online Americans aged 12 to 17 years old use social networks.
- Fifty percent of adult social network users have a profile on MySpace, the survey found, while 22 percent have a profile on Facebook, six percent have a profile on LinkedIn.
- Eighty-nine percent of the adult Web users surveyed said they use their online profiles to keep up with friends, 57 percent said they use them to make plans with friends and 49 percent said they use them to make new friends.