Cool Buddies

How to have your own IT Startup at 22 and screw it up by 28 – A definitive guide [by Ratheesh]

Posted in Humour, Job by Ratheesh & Sharada on August 16, 2009

Prologue

Let me be clear about this; you have to be either out of your mind, or being forced to read this article. Even though the author of this article has in-depth knowledge in the field of creating startups, he would rather sell it to you as a book instead of publishing it free on the internet. So don’t count your mangoes before they are pickled. (That’s not an appropriate phrase to use, but it is a tribute to some of you who impress me with your exquisite English).

Confused and Dazed

So you are 22 eh? Just out of college, if you are in Bangalore i.e. And If your mom and dad did not well-plan your conception programme, then you are probably 22 in your college records but 21 in personal life. Anyways, for the safe progress of this guide let us assume you are just 22 and out of college, and did pass out through legitimate means (I can help you otherwise too). Meanwhile, we are also assuming that you have enough money to start a startup. That would be about 15 bucks… oops sorry, that is what it takes to buy a masala dosa, and I am deviating here.

So since you have the money and all that, lets see what you lack. You lack guidance, confidence, direction and an awful lot of other sophisticated items that I can enlighten you with. Well.. that is exactly why you are reading this. Let us understand the most important term first. What is a startup?

A startup is a company that you ‘start’ and the only way it can pretend to go is ‘up’. Thats it! There it is, I just blurted it out. I can see you heaving a sigh of relief; you did think it would have some complex ‘IT’ definition didn’t you (for which you would run to a senior in college or google). Lucky you! that was an easy lesson. So the next question would be why you want to start one when most of them seem to be going ‘down’?

Well… once you start a startup, you are sure to get name and fame at the age of 22. And ofcourse, lots of money, a ridiculously expensive car, a girlfriend who wont stay away from your pockets (for the money you pervert), and a mom who walks into your office amused at the respect she receives from the security guy and secretaries only to find you sitting at your desk checking ’email’ in your costly suit.

May I continue, If I have painted a good picture? Let’s come back to that 15 bucks you had. Let me speak the truth my friend, that much money won’t do. You need some ‘funding’ to get this process ‘kicked-off’. At this point, take out a piece of paper and write down the names of the richest people you know (include your dad, he must have something too). Now, figure out their phone numbers and contact them one by one and tell them how deeply you feel about reviving Indian economy, especially the poor of India, and you want to start a company that benefits them and you need money pooled in for this. You can come back to me after exercise.

Ah. You are back! If atleast half of them did not slam their phones down you can stop reading this article right now.

You didn’t, so you probably hate me now for playing that little trick. You just learnt a valuable lesson. ‘ness’ is the only common part in goodness and business and ‘ness’ has no meaning. Anyways, sorry about that, you need to do this again, and we can jump to the next stage; its called ‘Funding’.

Begging

I see that face of yours. Is this all you grew up for? to beg for money to start a business. To keep aside all shame and ask for money by providing pretty pictures of things to come (which might eventually not). No, there is another way out … Stealing, but you might want to stay away from that route.

So let me teach you some more keywords now for this stage. You need to first ‘conceptualize’ a product that you are going to make. It need not mean anything now, it need not mean anything anytime. Pick up something from thin air and name it something. Also remember that you always add that this product is a ‘game-changer’ or a ‘trend-setter’. By the way, if you are reading this around 2009 do call it ‘web-based’. Do you use google to search? YOu do? Good, then you know all about internet. Go ahead.

Now that you are set with the words and tools to use, you may run to ‘Venture Capitalists’ for your funding. Time for some clarity. Who are ‘Venture Capitalists’? These are folks who are from ‘capitalist’ nations of the world and are inherently ad’venturous’ by nature. So now you are clear about that too. Good job there.

‘VC’s as they are called lovingly are actually very nice people. They usually have greying hair, clean shaven faces (since they are in capitalist countries), wear a white kurta and pajama (yes, even if Non Asian), walk a dog to the gate and invite you with a smile that puts our bearded-female-sounding-white-robe-wearing-man to shame. Remember to put on your anti-glare glasses to look nerdy and wear a jeans that shows a little hair on your legs (only if you are male) and low socks. That should set a good impression of you with the VC. And remember, carrying a laptop is a must.

Present your case with a mixed look on your face. You have to attain the right blend of confidence and confusion. Think about the confidence on that president’s face when he said ‘childrens’ and mix it with the confused look you saw on the host’s face when a certain black guy said he is definitely not turning white. You get the picture, that is the look you maintain throughout. The VC will see the ‘potential’ in you to take the idea to ‘completion’ as well as the ‘openness’ to be ‘flexible’ incase you need to ‘diversify’ midway. I am sorry about a lot of keywords in there, but please figure it all out yourself this time.

If things went well, and you were not lewd to the VC’s wife or flirty with his daughter, then you will come out of that building smiling and go to the nearest pub and have a vodka. Well… you are 22, not 17, I can’t stop you. Get back to me to learn ‘Conceptualization’ in detail when you are done with beer (Yes, thats all we drink at 22)

Conceptualization

We heard this one didn’t we? Yes, that was before you ‘sold’ the idea. Now since you were just plain lying about stuff, can we do some actual work please? You need to really put some thought into what you plan to make or sell or both. And since neither the VC’s wife, nor his daughter is falling for your charms, you better work on this quick before he visits.

Also, it is time to call up a few of your friends and invite them to create a startup. I bet a few of them will surely be interested in hanging around in one of their houses and making software. Weed out the ones who will surely pick up that offer from one of the big companies. You don’t need them, you need the adventurous types. The ones who have potential to become ‘entrepreneurs’. We need to go slightly off topic here. What is this ‘entrepreneur’. Its like the other word you heard as a kid called ‘rendezvous’; this one too does not sound as its written. In fact if you need to be an ‘entrepreneur’ you must pronounce it as remotely away from how-it-is-written as you can. For now, practice this. ‘On’ ‘Thra’ ‘Pra’ ‘Noor’. Say that about 50 times while we take a break.

Since you got your bunch of guys, now sit and make a list of software you can make. Broadly you can make ‘Products’ or ‘Solutions’. If you choose to make ‘products’ you will be working on the latest technology and making stuff that makes lives of customers easier and you get money for it. If you choose to provide ‘solutions’ you will be working on the latest technology and making stuff that makes the lives of customers easier and you get money for it. Did those two just sound the same? Anyways, lets leave me alone and see what YOU can come up with

a) Search Engine – No, X did that
b) Email – No, Y did that
c) Finance – No, X and Y merged and did that
d) Websites and Content Management – No, we all did that in college
e) Software to let a user enter data and show it in a report – Wow, we can do that!

There must be atleast one friend who muttered something like ‘but we did that in college too’. Throw him out immediately as he is not going to ‘grow’ into a good ‘entrepreneur’ (say that again, I am keeping a watch on you).

So thats your choice. ‘Software to let a user enter data and show it in a report’. Do you wanna call it that or any plans to name it? I think you should call it something snazzy, snappy, today-ey etc. But remember this truth, your product and company name MUST have ‘info’ in it and also ‘tech’. This basically sends out a signal to your potential in-laws that you started an IT company. Very few people will even converse with you if the case is otherwise. At this point let me make an educated guess. The initials of you and your friends form the word SANS. Gotcha, I think you must call it

“TechSANSInfo”

You might want to should that loud again

“TechSANSInfo, we own TechSANSInfo!”

Good you got that out of your system. Now since you conceptualized and exactly know what you want to do with the VC’s money, we can move to the next topic.

Technology/Framework/Scalability

This is one of the toughest part and I am not kidding when I tell you that the technology in this world changes faster than you change your underwear every three days. Its a ‘web-enabled’ ‘fast-moving’ world out there. So what you choose to build your product with is really important in the ‘long-run’. Choosing the technology itself wont help. Most of the time conversations between you and a colleague or client are disturbed when you do not have a ‘framework’ that you use. Not using a ‘framework’ sends out the signal that you are doing college coding. So whether you use it or not, learn names of some frameworks out there. Next time someone asks you, don’t say ‘Java’ tell ‘J2EE’. Similarly, do not say ‘Microsoft Technologies’, say ‘.NET’. You will see the difference. What you do is up to you by the way.

Coming to scalability. It is a simple decision. ‘Scalability’ is the speed at which you can ‘scale’ over hurdles when a certain technology you used backfires. So when you use .NET and got stuck on a platform, how fast can you throw that entire thing away and use some java for linux users. If you did that pretty fast, then ‘.NET’ is called ‘scalable’. Simple isn’t it? Like everything else in software.

Infrastructure

Rome was not built in a day (again a tribute to someone I know out there), so you need some place to start with, a building, a floor, a conference room, a room, a cubicle … alright, a computer will do for now. Put that computer at a friends place, or like we heard about some of the largest software companies, start at a friend’s garage (this might be tough in Bangalore as most friend’s dads would have rented out the garage as a single-room to some IT guy). Anyways, rent out some place where you can keep this computer, and pile up the ‘Framework’ on it. (Notice that I didn’t say stupid things like install JDK, JRE and all, smart eh?)

Now get yourself some ergonomic chairs because you are going to sit long enough. And a coffee maker since you are going to write code for all night long. Since you have money for only one computer, for your friends who are chatting, buy a carrom board or chess (if they qualify to play that). All you need to do now is learn some Java!!

Now you tell me this! I was under the impression that you are taught stuff like this at college. I can understand that, the friend of yours who is now striking the queen on the carrom board needs a lot of training to strike some deals when he becomes the Marketing Director, but you my friend have betrayed me. But it is too late now; you already got your hands ‘dirty’. So might as well wash them. Time for some quick training.

1. You – Get trained by SUN and become certified and become the CTO
2. Your balding 23 year old friend – You are ideal to be the CFO
3. That handsome hunk , he can be the Marketing Director
4. That one who follows orders – he can be the CEO.

Do not ask me how that was a quick-training. Thats the best I can do at this point. Figure out the abbreviations for yourself. All I can say is that the ‘C’ stands for ‘Cheap’. We are done with Infrastructure (and with the loss of a chapter, training too). So let’s move on.

Prototyping

Its been a long night installing all that stuff and getting ready with your skills. But trust me, its not over. You need to start work on the ‘prototype’ of your product. Remember, if someone told you ‘it’s just a prototype’, they are bullshitting. There is no ‘just a prototype’. As a startup, you always sell the ‘prototype’ as your final product to the customer. Now, don’t get all idealistic on me about startups. We know why you are reading this article, you want to screw up the startup in a few years from now. So you BETTER be creating a ‘prototype’ that can be sold.

What is a prototype? According to my very reliable friends (google) and sources (wikipedia) from the internet, it is a sample; a subset of what can be done with the final product. The cost of making a prototype can be more than mass production of the final products. But ofcourse, they are talking about solar and hybrid cars which real engineers make. So we need to unlearn that. In software, a ‘prototype’ is a program that you write with ONE table in the database, ONE form to enter data, ONE procedure to call and do EVERYTHING and ONE report to show it back. That is a prototype. And the time and cost to do this must be atmost 0.1% of the cost you plan to sell the final product at (which is this prototype itself).

Prototyping must involve endless lines of code written in atleast two or three ‘frameworks’ merged together and ‘tightly bound’. By tightly bound I mean you must NEVER use parameters and other atrocities that bring shame on prototyping. You must also include hundreds of lines of comments and these commented sections must be code that you tried and rejected. Leaving such code in entitles you to the awe-factor from the customer (and future developers who join your company) when they admire how-you-arrived-at-your-solution. Also, this leaves an indelible mark in the code about you as a startup starter.

Marketing/Sales

Alright, its time to start showing people the amazing things your software can do. After all, ‘Software to let a user enter data and show it in a report’ is something brand new in the industry and anybody cannot live without it. Show the world that they ‘need’ TechSANSInfo! Also, do not forget to patent the product as we don’t want cheap wannabe companies ripping off your ‘original’.

Contrary to what some of the gurus out there will tell you, Marketing is a very simple activity. First of all, call up some of your current and past girlfriends (I used plural because I know you well). Tell her to call her friends and ask them to call their friends. Trust me, women are extremely good at this kind of stuff. Within a day, word about your software will surely reach atleast a thousand people.

Meanwhile me (and you) cannot keep typing TechSANSInfo in simple fonts like this. You need a good logo and font for your company name. Now there are two options; pay a good amount to a graphic designer OR one of you could get ‘inspired’ from a known company and come up with a similar logo and font. Remember, you are a startup, at any point in time when you are questioned, just say ‘aww, please don’t hurt us, we are just a startup’. Also, remember, you can keep saying that for as long as you choose.

Again, if you are reading this in 2009, you already know the importance of the internet. What you immediately need is a website. So come up with a website quickly and buy a domain name. http://www.techsansinfo.com would be the ideal name for your company. Remember to put flash on your website so that all those idiot internet users who choose not to have flash cannot access your site (It’s good to keep them away right). Also you must always buy (or download) photographs of a lot of happy people from the internet and put it up on your website. A visitor should feel that these are your employees and interacting with them. To keep the ‘multi-cultural’ spirit, do keep the photos mixed. One Indian man (unshaven upper lip), one American lady, one African-American man in suit and who looks higher up the ladder, one Chinese on the computer wearing glasses.

Do put up demos and ‘whitepapers’ on your website to add some authenticity. And ofcourse finally some contact information, you and your friends can put in your mobile numbers here; but please do remember to charge them for ‘life-time’ so that incoming calls are not hindered.

Business!

At this point, I have to assume you heeded my advice and were successful in luring some unsuspecting customers to your website (or your girlfriend) and sold them your product. Good luck! (and pat myself on my back, how am I so good at this!).

Now is the time to ‘deliver’. And just to do that, some of the oldest experts in the information technology team came up with a brilliant idea. It’s called the ‘Delivery Team’. And you need one. Why can’t you guys do it, you ask me? Well.. you guys are ‘visionaries’. You do not get into such tasks and waste your time. You must now concentrate on the business and ‘strategic’ customers (strategic is the polite word used when the customers are more intelligent than you and they know they are being ripped off).

A ‘Delivery Team’ consists of a manager who does all the excel and word document work, a technical lead to do all the talking and fighting and an intern who will pick up your prototype and make it slightly more presentable to the customer. This team will ‘deploy’ your product as a ‘solution’ to all the customer’s woes and will be there with the customer till they ‘go live’.

Ask the manager to download one of those free excel macros to ‘estimate’ the effort required to build the product. You can find it all over the internet. Google for the following words (without quotes) “time required to build software product” and you should find one of them. Use it to conjure up some numbers and send it to the customer. Your manager will have to do some convincing over the phone to get them to agree. If they are ‘strategic’ customers, you might have to get on the phone too (Ah, the things you have to do!). If the customer is not convinced, then I am afraid you are going to have to spend money on a product called ‘Macrosoft Prazect’. Customers do not argue when you show stuff on that. It is easy to learn and just like the Sudoku game; you just have to type in some numbers here and there and they should match and stay ‘green’.

I will not guide you through the low key jobs like the actual work your ‘Delivery Team’ will have to do over the next few months or years to build the product for the customer. Let us safely assume that they do their job well and end up delivering the project and you get your money in your bank. Let us move on to the really big stuff now; wait there is one more task before the big stuff.

Support

You have a brilliant product idea, you have the visionaries, you have the best technical team, the best delivery team, the best quality team (uh! do you?), now why do you need support? Your products are landmark items and are bug free, why do you need to bother to support you ask?

Look, every company needs support because talking to a customer who has already paid you is tougher than talking to them before or during the building of the software they need. And to do that, you need a team with mental strength, tolerance, patience, politeness and a love for night-life (after all your customers are not in this country because in this country people know you). Time to build your support team.

Pay a visit to the nearest college in your locality. Walk over to the cigarette shop near the gate (there is always one near colleges). Pretend to buy a cigarette and smoke. Whilst doing that, keep an eye on the youngsters who are walking around. If this is a girl’s college, then you should surely see some guys walking around. Look out for the ones who are wearing low rise jeans (where you can see one inch of the butt line), crumpled shirts, funny hairdo, just a little beard on the chin, maybe an ear ring, a stoned look in their eye. These are exceptional candidates for your team. Contact them and pick them up. These are the guys whom you can talk to for hours non stop and at the end of it they will respond with ‘Yeah, right .. dude’. That’s the quality we are looking for.

Now, let us move on to the bigger and better stuff.

Growth

Learning-by-rote time! Repeat these after me. “We are a growing company”. “We are growing”. “We are growing fast”. “We are ramping up”. As a visionary, you need to pull in your employees once in a while into a meeting room (I am sorry, but did we discuss meeting rooms ever?) and tell such stuff. And by the way, you need to keep growing too. So every year, as a ritual, keep recruiting new people into roles they don’t want to be in. Also, just to keep the balance, once in a while come up with really legitimate and valid reasons and fire them too, for e.g call them into your room and say, “Hey, we don’t like your face, we are letting you go”. They will surely appreciate your deep analysis. By the way, learn to say “letting you go” instead of “you are fired”.

But just adding people to your company will not do, you need to sit with your ‘core’ teams (usually you plus a group of self proclaimed experts) and discuss the organization structure and the kind of people you are going to add each year. Please do note that you always need to add more managers, business analysts, marketing staff, CEOs, CFOs, CTOs and CZOs to your company. Make the structure like an inverted pyramid where 300 people market your product, 200 sit and write functional requirement, 100 of them manage the project across the globe, 50 of the lead it and prepare the technical design, 5 of them sit and actually develop it and 1 of them supports it (part time). There, that’s the success-mantra of a good product company for you.

Remember, as you ‘grow’ you need more space to put all these people. But do not move to newer buildings until the HR inboxes are flooded with emails from female employees regarding the growing habit of male employees sitting on their chair-arm and working. That is a sure sign that there is no space left to sit and work. Although, if you are the adventurous types, you can wait till an email arrives where certain employees express their happiness of working here since they get to sit on each others lap. But it is entirely upto you on how far you want to go.

Keep this cycle going. As a startup, you are supposed to be showing atleast a 30% increase in employees every year. Also, only by doing the above, you can screw all this up in six years.

Awards & Recognition

At this point, let me take you to your childhood. You were a complete brat (like I said, I know you well) and you started yelling, wailing and made sure your parents looked like complete idiots when they took you to the exhibition. Your mom took out that nice bar of chocolate from her bag and gave it to you. The business gurus (not me) call this process ‘awarding’. Emulate this in your company to keep the yelling and wailing to a minimum. Also, be ‘proactive’ and give out some awards before hand. For e.g X might have got married. He/she might quit, so give him/her a ‘Got Married Award’. Y had a kid. He/she might quit, so giver him/her a ‘Had A Kid Award’. Discuss with your HR (those people who have pasted their upper lip onto their noses to stay smiling) all the possibilities of giving out awards.

Now you might think Awards and Recognition are the same; you are wrong! Check this out. You walk into the pantry and pick up a cup and press the button on that mystic machine. Nothing comes out. You look at the guy standing there and ask him ‘Why is this not fixed yet? Can you get me a cup of coffee’. He walks away and comes back with coffee for you. Your solution manager walks in at that time calling you for a meeting with your best technical lead. You ask ‘Oh ya, that brilliant guy, where is he?’. The solution manager points to the guy who got you coffee. Get the picture? Recognition is when you ‘recognize’ people. Again, sit with HR once in two months and prepare a chart with your employees’ photo and names on it. And recognize them later.

Corporate Social Responsibility

You have probably heard this one. Long for CSR. It is a recently researched marketing tool used by large companies (and ofcourse ‘growing’ startups) to keep up a good image in the IT industry. To proclaim that your company has CSR, all you need to do is ask someone in Admin to pay for the security’s lunch everyday or give some money to a frequently visiting bum or even put out some biscuits for the stray dogs. That entitles you to mention that you are socially responsible. See, that was easy.

Suicidal Symptoms

Okay, so now you are in the fourth or fifth year. Good! By the way, I am glad to see you made it till here and I feel proud. It has been an amazing journey for me. I would like to thank my parents … Oops sorry, that is the Oscars and I am deviating again.

At this point you have everything you asked for when you were walking out of that college and we met. Name, fame, girls, identity, a prototype product (yes, even now its a prototype), money, awards etc. What you need now is to somehow end all this, because you already got what you need. You want to take all the money and get out of this to start a new business. But you cannot end a company just like that right? You will be answerable to too many people. So here is the way out.

Stay consistent with ‘growing’ mantra. Infact increase employment to 40%. Also, increase lay offs to 30% (always lay off people you just recruited first, as that should start making you unpopular in the industry by the media). Start agreeing to do projects even if customers sound like the characters from the movie “Dumb and Dumber”. Agree to their wierd whims and fancies and always (as a rule) agree on impossible delivery dates. That should make you unpopular among customers (even the dumb ones), developers and delivery managers.

One rotten apple can screw up all of them. But imagine you had a bag of 50 apples and 30 of them are rotten. Or imagine that we are talking about 30 rotten fish now instead of apples. Do just that. Increase your manager-count to atleast 70%. Do this by recruiting more managers or making managers out of developers and technical architects. The rot should increase slowly but steadily within the organization because pretty soon, there is no one doing any actual work. Everyone will be ‘managing’ someone else. So when was the last time we heard a success-story attributed to managers. Hmm…let me think…yes you think too…hmmm…okay… NEVER!

Another exercise that you should always conduct on a half-yearly basis is called Org-Re-Structuring. It is very simple to do. Take two pack of cards, on one pack, write the name of all your employees on each card. On the other pack, write designations on each card. Now, you and your wife (or girlfriend, or boyfriend or whatever) sit with one pack each and lift up cards one by one. Note down the employee-name and designation combinations and send out an email letting them know their new positions. This is an absolute fun activity for you and your partner (partner is a safe word to use in 2009) and keeps the employees on their toes and maybe make some of them quit before you lay them off.

And incase you missed the point up until now. Never work on the actual product you set out to make. Keep piling up trash in your ‘sell-able’ software repository over the years and that itself can add to your companies demise.

The Demise of a ‘dream’ called TechSANSInfo

Ah! you are 28 now. And we are doing good. Things are moving just like you planned if not better. If you have initiated the suicide-mode described above, then you are on your last lap. You have made billions of dollars and ensured there existed a company that people will not know about when it failed. In other words, you cannot even be a successful failure. The media won’t report it, the business community will not talk about it. It is another feather in your cap (which had no feathers to start with, so its the first and only one).

At this point it is a waiting game. Either all of your people will quit themselves (including your HR, Admin, Housekeeping and Security). Or you can conduct a mass lay off. Or you may file for bankruptcy and let the government take over. Or you may go to office on a public holiday and set fire to the building and then file for bankruptcy. Or you may just sell the company to the next rich guy you met at the bar. Even better, just bet it on the next card game. The options are plenty, and I shall gladly leave it to you.

Epilogue

All characters, situations, thoughts, philosophies, ideas, words, emotions, situations (did I repeat) depicted in the above article are very real and if anyone was offended, it was intentional. And yes, no animals were harmed in the making of this article.

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2 Responses

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  1. umi said, on August 17, 2009 at 5:26 pm

    nice one.
    bless ya

  2. Rudie Cant Fail said, on August 20, 2009 at 6:01 pm

    It doesn’t matter , set up a busines at 22 and screw it up by 28 is still an experience and the experience is priceless;-)

    Hey, a new movie about people from different industies own their business at very young age. The movie name is ” The YES Movie” made by Louis Lautman.

    Movie details here:
    http://www.TheYESmovie.com


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