Interview with Mr.Purnendu Bose, Founder and Director at ITI Restaurants

Interview with Mr.Purnendu, Founder and Director at ITI Restaurants

Let me ask you something! Imagine yourself working at one of the prime positions with a leading Television channel. You’re at the acme of your life-position. You are 48, and have a family to look upon. Inspite of the fact that everything is going in a perfect harmony, will you quit your day job and start-up something from scratch?

For those who would not do so (or at least recommend others not to quit their day jobs), let me share a small piece of story.

Iti - The speciality Bengali RestaurantIt was a day long exhausting journey, where I was travelling back from one of my business meetings and wanted to halt somewhere to eat something refreshing. Passing by across more than ten hotels and restaurants, something caught my attention. There was this fluorescent-green textured board, near the highway, saying “Iti – The speciality Bengali Restaurant.” It had a caricature of a Bengali man, which portrayed that the food was extremely delicious.

Purbendu BoseThe moment I entered the restaurant, I was invited by Mr.Purnendu Bose, the Founder of Iti. I took my seat at the corner table and took the first bite of ‘Veg.Chap’, one of the menu items – believe me it was AWESOME! I stood up, took my plate and went at his table, where I spotted him working on a laptop. For those who don’t know him, Mr.Purnendu was the Ex-COO at SaharaOne, and one of the key persons to launch Hungama TV channel.

Since then, I became more curious about him and pulled out my pen and notepad. Let’s know more about him and entrepreneurial journey so far.

What was the first spark, that made you quit your day job and start iti restaurants? How did the idea of Bengali food chain come to your mind?

ITI-RestaurantTo cut a long story short, I had an ambition of migrating from employment to entrepreneurial venture at around 45 years of age. This would be of something I thought I am intrinsically good at. Initially it was a step in the media industry where I have spent last two decades of my career. I got into the search for fund for my own media project and was constantly travelling to meet investors. While I was in Kolkata on that mission, I frequented a specialty Bengali restaurant chain outlet which was close to my meeting venue.  There i realized that there are not good options of reasonably priced, specialty Bengali restaurant chain here in Mumbai or other cities outside West Bengal with a significant & affluent Bengali population who really missed out on Nostalgic taste of authentic Bengali food.  Bengalis are known for their culinary passion and no matter which part of the planet earth they live in can walk extra miles for their ethnic food fare.  Bengali foods that have evolved over the centuries both ingeniously and through assimilation of many foreign culinary specialties are a big draw not for its distinctive tastes and flavors alone but also for simplicity and subtlety in cooking styles. Yes, I’m a carefully self groomed food connoisseur, especially of authentic and exotic Bengali Food.

When you made the decision of starting up your own venture at the age of 48, how did you tackle the opposition from your family and friends?

Honestly speaking I have not had any opposition. On the contrary my family stood by me and backed whatever decisions I have taken in my life. In that field, I am possibly lucky enough to have supporting parents, wife and son.

What is the USP of your food chain?

Happy Customers - ITI

Iti in Bengali literally means “The End”. Through our brand name the message conveyed is “end to the search for authentic Bengali Cuisine”. Iti is a destination that showcases the best of both East and West Bengal cuisine. Bongs are known for their appetite for food that is as intense as their love for culture music and films. There is a famous saying that compulsions can drive a bong out of Bengal but nothing can take the Bengal out of a bong’s heart. Our USP is founded on this emotional quotient especially about nostalgic food from both sides of Bengal with a single objective of serving the foods they miss when they go out of Bengals that in turn will be a sort of celebration for them.  The real kick is in the preparation of food in strict adherence to traditional recipes so that the customers feel that they are having home cooked food- something in the way their mother or grandparents used to cook.  This I believe makes the immediate nostalgic connect. We offer around 97 unique authentic recipes from both sides of Bengal.

Within a span of just few months, you’ve already started three restaurants in Navi Mumbai and Mumbai region, where do you see yourself in coming 5 years?

Thanks to overwhelming response from Bengalis all across Mumbai which has enabled us to open 3 branches in last 15 months, from the time when we opened our first outlet in Vashi. Today we are serving to more than 5000 Prabashi (migrated) Bengali families every month in Mumbai. We intend to continue to roll-out primarily company owned and operated restaurants. We have the appetite and drive to establish fifteen Iti Bengali Restaurants in Mumbai over the next three years and then move onto a national and international business-scape in the next phase of expansion.

“Management is core to every individual, organization & society.” Give your views on it.

Management is inseparable right from cradle to crematorium for any individual, organization or society. Judicious management of resources is required to sustain oneself save growth and advancement through high pitched competition. Deep and large management bandwidth can lead to very high success rate, which enables to make optimum use of available resources, both material and human. Management is a sheer necessity not a fashionable rhetoric.

What is your philosophy towards work?

It’s simple: work until I drop that inspires people around me to do the same.

According to you, what are the challenges for Entrepreneurship today?

Business and industry can be different but the challenges are the same. They are for innovation, opportunity, existence & growth, which entrepreneurs today face as they attempt to attain their goals set.

Do you think today’s economy is conducive for a new venture to start upon?

The essence, spirit and direction of the economy has been pro-market since industrial revolutions. Only paradigms shift in relation to the political bias. Now when you’re looking for a new venture you’re competing in a world where the competition isn’t just the outlet down the street, but anybody working with similar idea anywhere in the world. It is good as it demands more from me to be competitive in equal terms first and then to attain the all important leading edge in the business we do. Possibly I have to work hard more as some of them have more local economic advantages as compared to those in our country. But that should not be eyed as deterrents, on the contrary as challenges to test yourself.

Share with us the most enjoyable moment you had experienced on work.

There is not a single one, there are many. But I can share a recent one. A couple of days later I opened our Vashi Joint I came across a couple on their morning walk. Seeing Iti the lady stopped and a bit grudgingly told her husband “See our luck. It has opened here when we are told to be calorie-conscious.” I was really amused and felt a bit bad about them at the same time. Also the moments when some guests gave me a look of disbelief knowing me the owner of iti. I am grateful to my parents for my unassuming unlike-businessman look.

[alert style=”green”]We wish Mr.Purnendu, and his entire team a very best future and luck and let all his joint’s keep making more and more customers happy![/alert]

People enjoying food at ITI

Few good reasons why you should bootstrap your business

Few good reasons why you should bootstrap your business

Have you got a brilliant idea? Are you ready to roll out your startup? Do you have all the necessary knowledge and technical expertise? Are you still unsure whether your startup can be conveniently funded or not? If the answers to these questions are yes then you need to be familiarized with the advantages of bootstrapping. Many a times young entrepreneurs, instead of relying on investors to provide the capital for their startups, fund their own businesses. They begin their ventures using minimum capital and proceed independently towards their ultimate goal.

The only reason behind bootstrapping is not just the unavailability of proper funding. Working autonomously might be a primal motive too. When one has the pressure of pleasing their investors the creative and technical aspect of their products might be sacrificed for the financial profits. Thus delivering an average quality product. However when you are the boss you solve problems, handle everything your own way. Being the sole investor/developer/founder your responsibilities towards your project multiplies and everyone knows that a responsible and dedicated person is bound to succeed.

When there are many investors to back you up, you might not be as cautious or enthusiastic since you know there will be incoming money at all times. But with one’s own capital at stake there will be an urge to do things on time as every second is worth a penny. Investing smaller capital means lesser chance of faltering in financial terms and more consideration on improving the quality of products. You tend to give more attention to your final product and offer better service to your customers.

There are many advantages of bootstrapping. When a budding entrepreneur bootstraps he/she learns important lessons such as how to perform every task cost-effectively and also learns to value money. Utilizing the right resources and maximizing them becomes one of his objectives. When you hold the strings of the purse and have a constrained budget there is an increasing stress to deliver the output quickly. This is very crucial otherwise once you start procrastinating there is a very slight chance that your startup is going to prosper.

This concept of bootstrapping clears you of all sorts of obligations. You do not have to answer to your investors for any changes you make and in case the startup suffers an amount of loss the investors need not determine your next step. With your own funded small-scale startup you take steps calculatedly and the chances of suffering a huge loss is minimized. The best thing to do is bootstrap your venture in the initial period, work towards delivering best products, achieve your desired business model and then either continue flying solo or look for investors.

You might have to cut down on the expenses, work from home, gain a part-time job, borrow loan from the bank or run small errands for friends or neighbors but all these are going to ultimately benefit you and save your time and energy which would have been spent hunting out for investment from others. If Microsoft, Apple or Amazon could make it big by bootstrapping then so can you.

Learning lessons from a peanut selling entrepreneur

Learning lessons from a peanut selling entrepreneur

Yesterday, while I was returning back home, I came across a man who was selling peanuts over the roadside. Though I had no intention of eating peanuts at that hour of time, I went up to him and asked for the price. With an old grumpy smile on his face, he said “Ek pudi paanch rupiya” (One packet for five rupees). That was quite a good price (nor too cheap neither too expensive) for the quantity of peanuts in one single packet. Within few seconds he said “Agar do pudiya longe toh aath rupiya” (If you go for two packets, you’ll get it for eight rupees). This instantly sounded more interesting for me – and I grabbed the deal.

Over the next few minutes I observed that the guy made a sale of at least 30-40 packets. For me it was a big ‘WoW’ inside my mind; and that was the moment when I made up my mind to stay there a bit longer (no matter if I’d miss my bus) and understand his way of selling peanuts. I sat opposite to his rag, and started counting the customers – and believe me within a span of just one hour there was a sale of nearly hundred packets and few dozens of oranges (yes, he sold oranges too).

I also realized that he had many offers to give to his customers, which made the deals pretty lucrative to buy:

  • 1 packet of peanuts = Rs.5
  • 2 packets of peanuts = Rs.8
  • 2 packets of peanuts + 2 oranges = Rs.12
  • 3 packets of peanuts + 2 oranges = Rs.15
  • 2 packets of peanuts + 1 packet of chana (chickpeas) = Rs.10

[alert style=”green”]Lesson learnt: Give your customers a list of choices to buy your product. You can always add value to your primary product by selling it with another products (e.g. Buy this and also get this).[/alert]

To my surprise, I saw that few young men (10-15 people) with shattered clothes would run up to the windows of the buses and other vehicles, that halted there for the passengers (do you remember, the man had settled his small business near the bus-stop?). These people (carrying the products in small baskets over their head) would sell the peanut packets and oranges to the passengers with the same deals. On an average, there were about eight to ten buses that would arrive at the bus-stop every ten minutes.

[alert style=”green”]Lesson learnt: Give an opportunity for others to make money – this will not only add to the volume of sales you make but also spread the word about your product(s). And most importantly, it’s always good to hire people on the commission basis rather than monthly pay.[/alert]

After observing this complete flow of a small peanut business, I was amazed at every single strategy being used. Since it was almost an hour (where I had already missed about six buses), I thought of walking up to him and ask him to be my mentor; plus a request for picture too!

Peanut selling entrepreneur

A good day and a valuable learning experience – worth everything!

A casual talk with the co-founders of Ayojak, Mr.Santosh Panda and Mr.Ashok Kumar

A casual talk with the co-founders of Ayojak, Mr.Santosh Panda and Mr.Ashok Kumar

Before the advent of online ticketing venues had to rely on “outlet presence”–or retail and kiosk sales–as the only means of allowing customers to purchase tickets at multiple locations. Traditional outlets require training, upfront hardware costs, and have limited hours of operation.

The Internet forever changed the face of ticketing by enabling a “virtual” ticket outlet in every home. The popularity of smartphones further spread this reach to an outlet in every pocket. Customers have the option to purchase tickets from anywhere at any time, allowing for a virtual box office that’s never closed.

Talking about the online ticketing options in the Indian scenario, we have personally been using Ayojak for our Blogathon series. It was recently, when I thought of calling up Ashok and willing to hear the story of Ayojak from the team. So here we go!

How did the idea of ‘Ayojak’ strike you? What was the primary motivation?

Santosh PandaI was listening to radio and there was an ad looking for an event manager for an event. That is when the idea came to mind on what’s happening in this event industry. We launched Ayojak as a venue & event listing portal but found out that several event organizers are asking for a simple ticketing and event management solution. That’s how we pivoted and launched Ayojak in its current avatar in Sept 2009.

In the initial years of your startup, how difficult it was to introduce ‘Ayojak’ in the event industry of India?

We hardly had few customers and it was kind of begging the customers to use the service for free. We had several payment gateway issues, which our customers thought, are due to Ayojak. Like RedBus, we had to do several training and coaching to convince organizers and users about how to use payment gateway.

How have your goals and values changed since starting the venture?

When we started the venture, we had several ideas which got validated and some were moved from the roadmap. We also did several mistakes before we found our mojo.

What do you consider as a major breakthrough for ‘Ayojak’ since its inception?

Ashok KumarThe major breakthrough came during May 2010 when we transitioned the product to a sleek UI and faster performance. That is when we got word of mouth vs our competitors. Also, we got big events like Bryan Adams Live in Concert 2011 and World Series Hockey 2012, these two events made us stand out among the competitors and also made us understood the in-depth problem in the market.

How has the market for your product grown in the past 4 years? Do you still consider this market as ‘niche’?

Our product has evolved nicely as market matured over the last few years. Our customer could foresee pain points and help us create better product. The market is no longer niche but building capabilities and delivering to perfection is going to be key in coming years.

What is your company’s competitive advantage?

The company’s competitive advantages come from its finest product, excellent customer support and having good set of investors and mentors.

Recently, Ayojak has raised funds from different investors. How do you plan to use it? Any major focus areas?

The funds are getting used to scale the operation, launch new product line and for brand promotion and marketing.

Ayojak has come a long way since its inception and in a very short period of time. What do you think led to this growth of the company?

We focus on customers satisfaction and ensure that they get best service. I believe, this alone has created good word of mouth. Also the continuous product iteration has helped us ensure that we are taking feedback instantly onboard and solve pain points.

Apart from being a passionate entrepreneur, what interests you as a hobby?

I love to travel a lot, going to new places, discovering the local food and history keeps me healthy and happy. I am also a big time hindi movie goer.

Any message you would like to give to the young entrepreneurs of India?

Every idea is powerful but just go in-depth, analyze every part of the industry your idea belongs to, talk to customers and focus on retaining customer.

Online product startups – Few things to know before you insource or outsource

Online product startups – Few things to know before you insource or outsource

Cost plays a major role in deciding whether to use personnel from within your team or to recruit freelance personnel. These are the main points to consider when selecting whether to ‘insource’ or ‘outsource’ your online product.

Skills: Is there sufficient expertise in-house, or do you need to recruit outside specialists?

Internal vs external costs: Can existing team members be used at no cost to the product development, or will internal re-charging apply? If so, how will these costs compare with employing contractors (freelancers)? Will your team be office based or virtual, and will this affect your decision?

Start-up: Assuming they have the necessary skills, it is likely that existing team members could get ‘up and running’ more easily, due to their knowledge of your startup’s procedures and culture, or would freelance team members familiarity with product development mean they adapt more quickly?

Commitment: Who would be more committed to the project: existing team members who understand the values of your startup and might want the chance to learn valuable extra skills, or freelancers, who want to enhance their professional reputation?

Learning: Will any new skills learnt or new process developed during the project be lost when the team is disbanded, if the if the team consisted chiefly of freelance contractors? Or is the plan for evaluating the project sufficiently robust to prevent this happening?

Intellectual property: Do your freelance contracts make clear that the copyright of any inventions or new business process developed during the project belongs to the organization rather than an individual?

Politics: If using an internally recruited team is the best approach, members will need to be seconded from their existing teams to work on your product. Do you know how will you negotiate this? Are there any foreseeable barriers to internal recruitment, and how would these be overcome?

[alert style=”green”] Find the right balance between in-house team members and freelancers. [/alert]

Few legal aspects, bloggers should be aware about

Few legal aspects, bloggers should be aware about

When we talk about blogs, a blog is primarily a website where entries are written in chronological order and commonly displayed in reverse chronological order. The modern blog evolved from the online diary, where people would keep a running account of their personal lives.

Many blogs provide commentary or news on a particular subject while others function as more personal online diaries.

A typical blog combines:

  • Text
  • Images, and
  • Links to other blogs, web pages, etc

The ability for readers to leave comments in an interactive format is an important part of many blogs. Micro-blogging is another type of blogging which consists of blogs with very short posts.

Recently when I had the chance to be an integral part of Blogathon, Mr.Tanveer Malhotra, a delegate from Asian School of Cyber Laws shared an in-depth flow of knowledge, most of us weren’t aware of.

During the session, there were many cases being discussed where blogs have raised serious political and legal issues. Some of these incidents include:

[1] In Singapore, two ethnic Chinese were imprisoned under the country’s anti-sedition law for posting anti-Muslim remarks in their weblogs.

[2] Egyptian blogger Kareem Amer was charged of insulting the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and an Islamic institution through his online blog. It is the first time in the history of Egypt that a blogger was prosecuted. After a brief trial session that took place in Alexandria, the blogger was found guilty and sentenced to prison for three years for insulting Islam and inciting sedition, and one year for insulting Mubarak.

[3] Egyptian blogger Abdel Monem Mahmoud was arrested in April 2007 for things written in his blog.

[4] After expressing opinions in his personal weblog about the state of the Sudanese armed forces, Jan Pronk, United Nations Special Representative for Sudan, was give three days notice to leave Sudan.

[5] In Britain, a college lecturer contributed to a blog in which she referred to a politician (who had also expressed his views in the same blog) using various uncomplimentary names, including referring to him as a “Nazi”. The politician found out the real name of the lecturer (she write under a pseudonym) via the ISP and successfully sued her for £10,000 in damages and £7,200 costs.

[6] A Delta Air Lines flight attendant was fired by the airline for posting comments and photos of herself in uniform on an airplane on her blog “Queen of the Sky: Diary of a Flight Attendant”. Delta Air Lines deemed the postings as inappropriate.

After hearing about these eye raising incidents, there were dozens of questions from the participants. However to make it short, a blogger should be fully aware about these basic facts which come under different sections of cyber laws:

  • The blogger is legally liable for the blog posted by him.
  • The liabilities can be very serious in case the blog posts contain pornographic material.

Other cases where liabilities can be serious are:

  • anti-national blogs
  • blogs that hurt religious feelings
  • blogs that criticize political leaders

Mozilla Browsers can now run high quality 3D games, Yes no need of plugins

Epic Games, a US based company has been a big player in developing cutting edge games and cross-platform game engine technology. Since its establishment in 1991, the company has been creating multiple million-selling and award-winning titles in its Unreal series, most popular for bringing the Unreal Tournament 3 for PC, PLAYSTATION 3 and Xbox 360. It was then in 2011, when the company demonstrated how its popular technology (Unreal Engine 3) could run in the web browsers, and bring a sea-changing feel in gaming experience.

Now that Flash isn’t anymore a hot thing for developers to build games for browsers, Mozilla teamed up with Epic Games to integrate Unreal Engine 3 onto their browser. Back in 2011, developing high-end 3D browser games with this technology (and without the Flash and browser plugins) was something coders couldn’t think of.

It was back then (6 months ago) when Mozilla wanted to stay a step ahead from its competitor browsers, and build a realistic platform for modern gamers. The company had started working on building a combination of its native LLVM-to-JavaScript compiler called “emscripten complier” to port C and C++ code to asm.js, a strict subset of javascript that can be used as a low-level, efficient target language for compilers. Moving hand-in-hand with Epic Games, the combination would allow the JavaScript code to run at almost twice fast as it could do before.

[youtube width=”602″ height=”350″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XsyogXtyU9o[/youtube]

It took about just four days for porting the complete Unreal 3 Engine to the web, with some extra time for minor adjustments. Given the complexities of high quality 3D games are more associated with the native performance; Mozilla’s Firefox Nightly browser could successfully run the Epic Games Citadel demo and Unreal Tournament at the Game Developers Conference held yesterday. However, the company plans to make the actual demo online in the coming weeks.

[alert style=”green”] One important aspect about asm.js code is that it is simply a JavaScript in the end, so the code can run in any browser, but it will be more efficient and faster when implied onto a browser that provides asm.js optimizations. [/alert]

Project Management Hacks – The buck stops here

Project Management Hacks – The buck stops here

Though everyone connected with the project has a role to play in bringing it to fruition, it is you, as project manager, who is ultimately responsible for its success. You are uniquely placed to see how the different elements fit together, and to drive your team forward towards completion.

Good project management rests on three fundamentals. It’s about having the right systems in place, inspiring high performance through good leadership, and exercising sound judgement when required. These are some of the key things you need.

Process selection

It’s important to use the right tools to cover all the areas of managing a project. Before you begin the project, you will need to decide how you are going to approach planning and scheduling , budgeting and resource planning , risk management , progress monitoring and communication, and evaluation.

Software to help you manage your projects

Software shouldn’t  be too cumbersome: ensure it is appropriate to the size of the project, otherwise you may find yourself working late every evening preparing plans and monitoring reports the nobody reads!

Leadership skills

In modern project management, leadership involves more than just managing your project team. It’s about communicating effectively with all your stakeholders, to build  and gain support for your project.

Accurate, up-to-date information

Juggling these priorities requires the ability to ‘see the big picture’, so that you can zoom in to where action is required. You’ll need to ensure you have reliable information about the status of your project, so that you can use your judgement to make an informed decision –sometimes quickly.

Overview of the stakeholders

From your “control tower”, take a little to reflect on what other stakeholders are doing to help deliver your project, and what  they expect from the project. How well do these expectation fit together? If there is mismatch, these may need resolving-either by discussion or by amending the plan.

Small Wonders: Juggling priorities requires the ability to see the big picture.

Project Management Hacks – Choose the right approach

Project Management Hacks – Choose the right approach

Modern project management emerged in the 1950’s with the development of a series of techniques aimed at making, planning, estimating and controlling costs and schedules more effective.

You may not need to use a formal methodology for a small project, but it is still useful to know what the main methods are.

The traditional, or ‘waterfall’ approach.

This approach treats projects as a straightforward series of steps from beginning to end. Each phase must be completed before the next begins. If, for example, your company is planning to upgrade its website, than all the user requirements must be known before the programmers begin work.

PRINCE2™

This framework for managing projects was developed by the UK government and IBM and is now used in more than 50 countries worldwide. It describes the different project roles and tasks, how to design and monitor a project, and what to do if the project isn’t going according to the plan.

‘Agile’ or ‘lightweight’ project management

This is a more informal approach based on breaking down tasks into small units, with minimal long – term planning. It is descended from the ‘lean’ manufacturing approach pioneered by Toyota, and often uses a framework known as Scrum. Team sizes are kept small, with face-to-face communication preferred over lengthy written reports. Agility (flexibility) is the key.

Critical chain (CCPM)

This aims to reduce project costs and timescales by making the best possible use of resources (people).

Other approaches stress the need for the close integration of the project management and a wider business strategy, and emphasize the importance of becoming a learning organisation.

Small wonder: Familiarize yourself with the main approaches to project management.

[alert style=”green”] Neha worked for a recruitment agency where she was asked to install a new database. She felt that the user requirements were not made clear and that the suggested timetable was possibly unrealistic. She decided to adopt an ‘agile’ approach to the project, where she and her team would meet twice a week at the start of the day to discuss problems and set short-term goals. They managed to install a working version of the new database by the specified launch date, using feedback from staff on this ‘first release’ to make modifications that were incorporated into the final version. [/alert]

Project Management Hacks – You need to know your stakeholder’s points of view

Project Management Hacks - You need to know your stakeholder’s points of view

As project manager, your role is to understand the perspectives of individual stakeholders and bring them together into a shared vision for the project. This involves taking a ‘helicopter view’, to see the project as a whole.

Business aims of the project.

The project sponsor is interested in the business aims of the project. ‘What value will this project bring to the business?’ and ‘What is its role in our strategic development?’ are likely questions he or she might ask.

Benefits of the project.

The customer wants to know what benefits the project will bring to them and how they will able to make use of the end product.

Capability of the project.

The skills and resources of suppliers and the project team determine the project’s capability. They will help you answers the questions, “How can I successful deliver what customers and users need, within the available schedule and budget?”

Small wonder: Understand your stakeholders’ perspectives, and bring them together in a shared vision for the project.

[alert style=”green”] Vijay was asked to take on a project to upgrade his company’s website. He started by asking each of the main stakeholders what they thought would constitute success for the project. The project sponsor, one of the company directors, replied: “I’d like you to deliver the project on time and within budget, and to keep everyone happy.” The IT manager was less concerned with how the new site would work than with ensuring it would integrate well with the existing IT system. Other managers stated different priorities. The supplier said “Project, what project? All we’ve been given is a list of required modifications.” Reflecting on these comments, Vijay was concerned at the lack of clarity and shared understanding of the project. His next step was very sensibly to call a meeting of all the main stakeholders, in order to define the key success factors  and build a shared sense of purpose. [/alert]

Project Management Hacks – Know your stakeholders

Project Management Hacks – Know your stakeholders

There are likely to be several different groups of people taking an interest in your project. Collectively, these people are known as ‘stakeholders’. It’s important to understand the actual stake each group has in the project – otherwise it may be difficult to balance what may seem like competing priorities.

Sponsor

The person who has asked you to undertake the project, and to whom you are accountable for its success. Often, this will be a senior manager within your organisation – may be your immediate boss. On larger projects, or within larger organisations, you may be asked to report to the sponsor via project executive.

Customers or users

These are the people who will make use of the product or service you are designing, whether it be a new school, a product launch party or a company database. A key concern for this group is usability.

Suppliers

This group of stakeholders will undertake the design and delivery of your product or service, to ensure it meets the needs of users or customers. Suppliers also play an important part in risk management.

Project

The people who will help you deliver the project. These could be colleagues from within yor existing team, others from across the organisation, externally recruited specialists, or a mixture of all the three.

Project Manager

That’s probably you! The project manager is accountable for the planning and delivery of the project, including progress reporting and project team management.

Others

Depending on the nature pf your project, other stakeholders might include your board of directors, the media, local or national politicians or industry regulators – even your competitors.

Small wonder: Take time to identify the main stakeholders for your project.

[alert style=”green”] A useful way of classifying a project’s stakeholders is by assessing how interested each group is in the outcome of your project, and the authority they have over it. This enames you to work out the best way to communicate witch each group throughout the project, which is essential both in ensuring continued support and in planning your time. [/alert]

Understand the project life cycle

Project Lifecycle

All projects have a recognizable ‘life cycle’. There are many different approaches to managing projects, but all agree that projects can be divided into various stages, each requiring a different focus.

The most straightforward life cycle approach recognizes four main stages of a project: aspiration, planning, implementation and measurement. You can easily memorize this life cycle because the stages both represent and substitute the words for how A Project Is Managed:

Project Life Cycle

Aspire

This stage focuses on the creation of a shared vision for your project. What are you aiming to achieve and why? How will you recognize and measure success? Whose support will you need to begin the project, and what will convince them to support you?

Plan

This stage looks in detail at identifying what needs to be done to deliver your project successfully. What are the various tasks that need to be done, and how can they best fit together? Who will you need on your project team? What resources will you need, both financial and physical (equipment, meeting spaces and so on)? What are the main risks to successful delivery, and how can these be avoided (or at least minimized)? Lastly, how will the project be managed, and progress communicated?

Implement

This stage can be divided into two parts: motivating and monitoring. AT the beginning of your project you will need to form and motivate your project team, and agree the project’s aims and working methods. Once your project is underway, your role shifts to monitoring – what progress has been made? What if any changes need to be made to the original plan? Is your project running on time, or has the schedule slipped? Are the costs as expected, or is the project in danger of going over budget? Have any problems been reported and discussed, and any necessary changes to the plan or budget been agreed?

Measure

Once the project is complete, the final role of the project manager is to determine its success and to communicate the results, so that the lessons learned can be incorporated into other projects. To what extent were the original aims achieved? What went well and what went not so well? What lessons are there for future projects?

Small wonder: Adopting a life cycle approach will help you focus on the most important issues at each stage of the project.

Startups – Understand project constraints

Startups – Understand project constraints

Planning your project will involve making a series of assumptions and a consideration of the constraints facing your project. Understanding these factors will help you plan a project that is of the right size and has the appropriate objectives.

The assumptions you might make about a project normally involve things such as:

Scope (scale)

How big is the project? Where does it fit into what your startup is doing? Roughly how much money is likely to be available?

People

Who can I get to help deliver this project?

Physical resources

What equipment and meeting space, for example, will be available?

None of this information has to be 100 per cent (or even 90 per cent) accurate at the outset. Nevertheless, understanding the assumptions around a project is an important first step – even if at this stage there are more questions than answers!

The Project Triangle

A useful way of looking at the constraints faced by projects is known as the ‘project triangle’. This model describes three main things to consider for any project:

Time

How much of it do you have to complete your project?

Cost

What is the available budget?

Quality (or specification)

Are you aiming to deliver something fairly basic, or more of ‘Rolls Royce’ model?

With any project you will face a series of decisions about whereabouts in the triangle you position your project. For example, let’s say you are asked to design your company’s website over a weekend at short notice, and given only a limited budget, you are unlikely to be able to deliver the best results. So the costs and time used will be low, but so will the quality. If you are given more time, the results will be better; if you have more time and bigger budget, they will be better still.

Another dimension often added to this diagram is people. For any given amount of time and money, the greater the skill and motivation of the people involved, the better the results will be. Looked at this way, the triangle becomes a pyramid, with the project manager leading his or her team upward to achieve the best possible results within a given schedule and budget.

Small wonder: For your project, try listing the following in priority order – speed, quality and low cost.

To Entrepreneurs, projects are not tasks!

To Entrepreneurs, projects are not tasks

Managing a project differs from fulfilling a task, program or professional work role. To make it more easy, I am putting down a list which will help you differentiate a project from other types of work.

A project has a specified outcome

Unlike a job or work role where you are likely to have aims that change over time, a project sets out to achieve a stated goal (or goals) with certain timetable.

A project involves a number of different tasks

These tasks are generally defined as the smallest useful units of work. Related tasks are often combined into work packages or activities, which can be assigned to a single supplier or team.

Each task will ideally be carried out by someone with suitable skills

Project working therefore calls for a multidisciplinary approach. The more complex a project, the greater the degree to which people and tasks need to be carefully matched.

A project is self-contained

It has its own aims, timetable and resources. That’s not to say that projects should be sealed off from the rest of the business – they can and should utilize skills and resources possessed by the wider organization, and the lessons learned should be exported to other colleagues and teams, and used on future projects.

Though they are capable of standing alone, projects may be linked to a wider program of work, or be part of portfolio of similar projects.

Adopting a project approach can yield significant benefits by defining clear outcomes against which to measure the input of resources and the quality of the project team and leadership. A project’s resources can be human, or financial or physical – equipment and so on.

Small wonder: A project should have a clear time frame and be undertaken to achieve a desired outcome.

The Startup Hacks – Strategies and implementation

The Startup Hacks – Strategies and implementation

After exploring more than hundreds of startups across the world, few successful, some who fail badly and most of them disintegrated in the early phase itself, I personally felt an urge to write down few important aspects and strategies that I have learnt so far throughout my entrepreneurial journey.

I would start it with the importance of a team, more precisely the team members. Taking into consideration that you’ve already come up with an idea, which can bring a change in the lives of people – and all you badly think and want is – How to make it happen? The first thing that would usually pop up is to have those few people who can make it happen – An idea into a real product.

However, the real pain comes when you actually need to hunt those people and bring them together, without wasting too much of energy and money (of course). Most of them, either ship the codes, designing and other processes to others by PAYING THEM. But, believe me, unlike you these people are rather more focused on finishing the jobs (and getting paid), rather than putting in the real values and the efforts into the project. So, how to tackle this issue?

The good fact: There are millions of people who have the skills you’re hunting for. The not-so-good fact: These people are scattered across the various parts of this planet. Sounds crazy! But yeah, this is not a mission-impossible to make it work.

Now, this is what you have to start initially with:

Make a blueprint: Open the MS-Word, and start writing down your idea in a structured format. Like starting with: The startup’s name as title, the problem you’re trying to solve, the outcome on how will it bring a change in the lives of people, the skills that will make this project happen and lastly why people should be a part of this project (the benefits they will get).

Circulate the blueprint: Firstly, you need not be a marketing guy to do this. And as a matter of fact, I don’t believe in something when they say “Hey, I’m an expert at marketing.” Primarily, these are the same people just like you (in fact most of them with less brains), but with pretty good speaking skills. In order to circulate the blueprint, start your search from Google. Hunt down the contact details of the colleges, institutes and other bodies who align with the market of your startup idea. Talk to them over the phone (one-by-one with ample of breaks), introduce a part of your project and tell them (confidently) – you’re looking for giving an opportunity to students who have those required skills. Sometimes, you may even need to get down, personally meeting few of these people and explaining them what you’re working on. (Remember, you ain’t wasting your time – you’re simply spreading the word about your project).

Few tips to circulate the project can be:

[1] Sharing it on Facebook groups and other social networks.

[2] Sharing it over the emails (with your introduction).

[3] Talking to bloggers (the ones who’re connected to a good number of readers).

[4] Sticking the blueprints on the Bulletin boards of the colleges to grab the attention of the young folks.

Note: Always remember, if your startup idea is an online product, make sure you already own the brand assets (like logo, domain names, etc)

Grouping people: Maybe not early, but you’ll start getting less or even a great response from the people who read your blueprint somewhere. Make sure, you attend every call and answer every email. Ask them the value they would put into the project. On the same grounds, also do a real check of the skills of that individual (like: asking for the portfolio, articles, projects done so far, etc).

Few tips on how to manage the people efficiently:

[1] Assign a job to someone to simply do a crosscheck of the portfolio’s and works of the applying candidates.

[2] Make a private Facebook group, where you add the all the people, who will be a part of this startup.

[3] Inspiration is a key to success. People tend to work hard initially, but in the later phase, when the outcomes don’t seem to be quite good, make sure you fuel up their motivation, and show – We’re going to make it happen.

Assigning work: Every single member of this project has to be assigned a particular work or a job. Be it a few calls a day, the promotion, managing the twitter account, or the development work of the portal, you have to keep a record and track of the progress. This is the key process, and you’ll be surprised that your project is already in its development stage from an idea to a real product.

After following these same steps over and over, you’ll realize, it’s not just you but everyone who is learning and bringing a value to the startup. And who knows, this can be a next million dollar venture. Everything starts from you – the idea, the inspiration, the word, the people and the reality. Just keep believing and start working.

Weekend Ventures – A 54 hours journey of starting up

Weekend Ventures – A 54 hours journey of starting up

Are you sure your concept is hitting the right people? We mostly think of the usual motivators when trying to get more people to join our team. Have you considered your audience real motivators? What can you do about it?

As I and my team recently attended the Weekend Ventures event, there has been a chain of multiple ideas catching up my mind. Last few days were simply as thrilling as being a part of the movie ‘Die Hard 4’, which kept me going and realizing that India has a real-real potential for the startups.

I was amazed at the atmosphere going on all weekend. Amazed at all the beautifully designed products that came out of only 54 hours. Amazed at the fact that, apparently, I wasn’t the only person in the world walking around with weird ideas. And most importantly: I was amazed to be doing something that I was really passionate about, rather than just passing the day to make a buck.

At Weekend Ventures | Mumbai

To summarize, there were about thirty participants, all hailing from a different background but with the same approach – I want to start-up.

The Knowing-part

The first day initiated with the participant’s introduction, and listing up the ideas from every individual. Right from educational concepts to travel pitches, all came on-board from these creative minds.

The Knowing-part | Weekend Ventures

The Voting

During the next few hours, Eight teams were formed with an average size of about 3-4 people per group. To say this was stretching it a bit is an understatement, as teams were completely built on the ideas that were voted by all the participants.

The Voting

The Playce and Coffees

Two serious elements that turned this event a success was The Playce and the coffees. The Playce, is primarily a startup itself which provides workbenches for startups and ‘ignited-minds’, who like to stay-away from distractions. The entire carpet area is structured so well, that about anyone can conduct their events and seminars with a good bunch of accessories. Additionally, coffees were a part “something worth trying out” here. Personally, I had about sixteen cups #BelieveMe

Building Stuff

The next day, everyone had already started working on their ideas to build prototypes. Though, the number of designers and developers were few, almost all ended up bringing the best of the presentable prototypes.

The Mentors

Since it was like everyone had these dozens of things going out in-their-heads, the mentors were already at rescue to bring a personal value addition to the teams and show them a direction to “achieve more with less”

The Mentors talk - Weekend Ventures

The Pitching

The moment of judgment started off with pitching the ideas along with their prototypes, to the two investors. This was a major milestone for all the teams, as it was the time when they received valuable feedbacks from the people who would put their money into their startups.

The Pitching

Those are some of the important lessons everyone learned over the past 54 hours. When asked to one of the participants about the whole experience, he added “I’m still the fool I once was, but I believe I’ve become somewhat less foolish every day since. One of the biggest breakthroughs for me came very quickly: to let go of what the outside world thought and start working on my idea. Thankyou WV and Startcup for bringing in this great event in Mumbai.”

What other’s are saying?

[bt_testimonial type=”table” category=”512″ count=”999″]

Deepinder Goyal – The man who served technology and cuisine on one plate

Zomato

Technological innovations have brought everything on the World Wide Web. Young entrepreneurs have aptly and very subtly moulded themselves into the system to provide more grasping techniques, more sophisticated web of verified data. Markets have a chasm that is enthralling marketers to harness the potential in myriad ventures, creating a wide-spread e-revolution of skilled professionals and amateurs’ altogether.

Entrepreneurs have left no field unmanned. May it be resource development, app development ot network development – there is an algorithm tried and tested. But what happens when technology meets cuisine. It means delicious, crisp, mouth-watering dishes. Locations and reviews of drive-ins, take-away points, mini-joints and hot hangout spots delivering appetite sizzlers – All online and within reach of a CLICK.

Deepinder Goyal (CEO and Co-founder, Zomato)

Few days back, I had a chance to have a  pleasurable conversation with Deepinder Goyal – a food lover, mathematician, entrepreneur and more.

What’s the story behind Zomato, its conception, success, inspiration and future?

ZomatoZomato, founded in 2008, is a revolutionary restaurant guide providing in-depth information for over 71,000 restaurants across various countries of its presence. Zomato’s core content features include menus, photos and geo-coded coordinates for restaurants. Other community features include reviews, ratings and ability to follow other users’ recommendations on Zomato.

Zomato was started by IIT Delhi alumni in July 2008 for Delhi NCR and has expanded its services over a span of 4 years to 18 cities across India, United Kingdom, UAE & Sri Lanka. We have raised three rounds of funding totalling up to $6.5M. Apart from the website and apps, Zomato is also available in print in select cities in India, with print versions for other cities on the way. We are headquartered in New Delhi and currently employ over 200 people across its offices spread across 4 countries. Zomato will continue expanding both nationally and internationally in 2013.

How did you break into the foodie biz? Are you a foodie or a connoisseur?

While I was working at Bain & Company, a leading management consulting firm, I noticed that a lot of my colleagues were queuing up in the office cafeteria to have a look at the menu cards to order food. Most of these people were young, affluent bachelors who did not have access to home-cooked food. I just asked myself “What if these menus were available online?” That was how Zomato, then Foodiebay was born. Pankaj and I then went on to build this database and soon we had gone live with menus for 1,200 restaurants in Delhi NCR in July 2008 which expanded to 2,000 restaurants by the end of the year. My friends tend to joke saying, I love my food enough to start a company that is all about food!

“Best Culinary Travel Guide in India”, How does that feel?

It is always good to be appreciated for the hard work that the team collectively puts in.

Zomato is online, now it has various apps and it’s going into print as well. What else is lined up, five years down the line?

Our immediate focus is on international expansion. We recently launched Dubai, Sharjah, Abu Dhabi and Colombo towards the last quarter of 2012 and recently launched our London section this month. We are currently working on the launch in a couple more cities in the Europe, Middle East and South East Asia. We have a long way to go and going by the mounting interest and dependency being shown in us we will be around for a long time.

Zomato Restaurant Summit 2013. What will it be all about? Any surprises?

The Zomato Restaurant Summit is a gathering of seasoned restaurant owners, senior marketing professionals, venture capitalists and industry visionaries. The theme of Zomato Restaurant Summit 2013 (all three city chapters) is growth.

At the Summit, we will hear and learn from our industry’s most successful people as they talk about their experience of how they went about growing their business to its current scale. The Zomato Restaurant Summit is also India’s biggest networking event for restaurant owners. A place to connect, celebrate and share experiences with each other.

UAE, Sri Lanka, UK, India – what is next on the global list? Any plans of rapid expansion?

We are currently looking at expanding into more cities in Europe, Middle East and South East Asia in this year.

What were the trials you faced as a startup?

When it comes to consumer facing portals the biggest apprehension is around the famous chicken and egg problem – customers find value only if we have the most exhaustive in-depth information on restaurants while restaurant owners find value only if we have enough customers. We solved this problem though by providing a rock solid content platform which provides all possible information for ~95% of restaurants across 18 cities in India, UAE, Sri Lanka and now UK.

Connecting link at Zomato is cuisine. What are the other ingredients?

The other key ingredients would be fun, focus and innovative.

Any message to young entrepreneurs in India?

First and foremost, it’s not about the idea but the execution. Even if you already have a product in the market, you can always do it better. Once you are determined to do something, the other thing to take care of is that you need to find good people to work with. People who are as committed to the job as you are. [highlight]Do not think about money and raising funds upfront, but create a valuable product, which people would like to use.[/highlight] Also, Murphy’s Law is one of the fundamentals you need to get in your head before starting up – “if something can go wrong, it will”.

Download Zomato app for Android:

[googleplay url=”https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.application.zomato&feature=search_result#?t=W251bGwsMSwxLDEsImNvbS5hcHBsaWNhdGlvbi56b21hdG8iXQ..”]

Download Zomato app for iOS:

[app url=”https://itunes.apple.com/in/app/zomato/id434613896″]

Download Zomato app for Windows Phone:

[windowsphone url=”http://www.windowsphone.com/en-in/store/app/zomato/a00f4816-19b0-4bd8-a554-8f0172151cb3″]

 

Moqups – Create wireframes and interactive mockups in minutes

Moqups – Create wireframes and interactive mockups in minutes

When you want to share a webpage layout with your friends or clients, the worst part is – explaining the elements and the sequential flow of the design. So if you’re designing a user interface for a website or a mobile app, it’s always a good idea to start with a mockup. It can be a big time saver if you’re able to list down the placement of major layout elements in a project before things get complicated.

There are a number of wireframing applications out there, but a lot of user interface designers like to start out on paper with sketches of what things might look like. With so many tools available to quickly create digital wireframes, some may argue that this is an unnecessary step in the design process. But I think the free flowing style of a sketched wireframe or mockup can be refreshing. Besides, there’s nothing like good old pencil and paper to get the creative juices flowing.

Mockups, not only helps you to have a full and clear exchange of ideas with your team but also play a major role in conserving your energy and focus.

Moqups, launched in July 2012 is a web application for creating wireframes, mockups and interactive prototypes. It’s built entirely on open web technologies (HTML, CSS, JavaScript, SVG), thereby making it available on any modern browser on desktop or mobile platforms. Aha, so no more downloading any plugins or flash players (sigh!).

Startcup Mobile MockupI landed onto their homepage about two weeks back, and I must say the experience of creating my first mockup was phenomenal! It’s as easy as dragging and tweaking the elements on a blank paper.

Apart from its own library of stencils (predefined elements), you can also add your custom images to the playground, which has a well defined grid layout.

“Our design goals were clarity, simplicity and flexibility. We wanted our product to be blazing fast and load instantaneously. We are very enthusiastic with what we’ve built so far and we’re improving it on a daily basis, in no small part thanks to the suggestions of our lovely community where people share ideas and send us issues they’ve encountered” says Dan from Moqups.

The startup also plans to introduce few premium features in the near future, including:

  • Real-time collaboration on projects
  • Fine-grained sharing & privacy options
  • Master pages
  • Integration with GoogleDrive, Dropbox and other third-party services
  • Feedback tools for designers and developers

Startcup Homepage layout wireframed on Moqup

Though there are many strong players in the market including Balsamiq and Creately, Moqups is certainly one of the finest wire-framing tools to kick start your prototyping, plus it’s free!

Simvla – A self hosted blogging platform for expert writers and newbies

Simvla – A self hosted blogging platform for expert writers and newbies

In today’s era, Blogging has become more than a way to express your thoughts. It has taken a turn towards social media and marketing, engaging more and more people throughout the globe to propagate the information. There has also been a growth in various niches where people blog to sell their products and offer services, in turn providing them with a profitable source of income.

For writers across the globe, where WordPress and Tumblr has been the most convenient platforms to start their blogs, last week I came across a Simvla, a fine blogging tool for those creative minds, who like simplicity and a clean interface.

Primarily, Simvla is an elite community of those writers and bloggers who want to share their experiences and knowledge pertaining to the diverse fields they hail from. And why I call it “an elite community” is because – You gotta apply (i.e. submit your short bio), before you can get access to its dashboard. This certainly restricts the major crowd from being a part of the platform, but it surely gives a rewarding experience that you are one of those elite people.

From its bold look and a HEX color orientation concept, you can also choose to fork the code on github and make your own version of the Simvla’s software running right on your own server.

Simvla

Here are few of the blogs built on Simvla:

In addition, the platform also helps its users understand the total number of words in a post, reading time and an ability to add social connections and RSS feeds.

Started by Andrea, Simvla is a nice concept that could bridge the gap between writers and complicated blogging platforms in a more easy way (and importantly, it is a self hosted solution). The product is absolutely free to use – so give it a shot and share your thoughts.

Handpick – Helps you smartly share right stuff with right people

Handpick – Helps you smartly share right stuff with right people

Let’s take this case, when you’re browsing few sites for finding information related to “successful bootstrapping”, and out of those piles of information that you will find, you’d definitely want to share those important links and blogs with your friends who have their own startups. Sharing those URL’s via Facebook and Twitter would be the most convenient method. Right?

Hang On, before we jump onto the next situation. Apart from successful bootstrapping, you even want to share information related to history books with your classmates, cooking recipes with your mom and gaming hacks with your online friends. Now, do you think that sharing these dozens of links with different groups of people is quite an easy task? Not really.

Most of us know the importance of sharing links. It is one of the easiest ways to propagate information over the web with your loved ones. However, situations may get difficult when you share over hundreds of different links with different people in your life. And what happens when you send wrong information to wrong people. Personally, I’ve known the consequences when links were sent to wrong people. People had started thinking me of a spamming bot.

Fortunately, few days back I came across a startup called ‘Handpick’, a tool which would be of immense help for people like me, who share links with different groups of people on regular basis.

You can add email addresses of friends to individual groups, thereby segregating the information (i.e. links) they will receive in their email. What makes Handpick more easy to use tool is its Bookmarklet and a Chrome extension, which helps you add important links and websites right from your browser.

Handpick - Dashboard

What made you build Handpick? I asked Alvin, the man behind the startup. And here are the three primary reasons he has to say:

  • Different groups of people I interact with care about different things. When I send links which are highly relevant, the discussions that follow become deeper and more fun.
  • It’s more assuring to share links with candid comments, which might return and haunt, privately via email rather than on a public social network. A more conducive manner to nurture intimate, heartfelt email discussions.
  • Email notifications from social networks are disruptive. Bundling links into a daily or weekly email digest and delivering them at the best time is a great way to respect my friends’ time and attention.

Started by a one man army, Handpick seems to change the way we share links with the people we care about. Give it a spin, and let us know your thoughts.