Monday, May 16, 2011

The Name Game (Part-2)

February 2011
Remember the time when I was a freshly minted Beginner's Spanish language enthusiast from Costa Rica?

In February, I was in the pre-intermediate Spanish class, and much better at Spanish. This is also the time, when I learned AQUI, is actually spelt as " AQUÍ ".

The only problem in this discovery was that I could not engage the designer from 99designs, since the project had already ended.

Lesson Learned: Get the branding part of your start-up right.
I found a way, but more on it later.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The 99designs Experience

January 2011
I had a name for my company, I had a resource that I could use to get the Logo designed.

99designs is a marketplace to engage designers, as well as people who want to hire designers. I wrote a de-brief about what I was looking for, and posted it on there. I had to be very specific about what I liked, or disliked.
I paid $334 USD. For $334 USD, you get 40 designs.
In my mind, that translated to -> "Wow! I am going to have 40 designers work on my LOGO".

Things I wish I had known about 99designs:
  1. 40 designs does not equate to working with 40 designers. In reality, I ended up working with 3 - 4 designers; out of which 2 were terrible. Should a designer incorporate your feedback, and post iterations of your design, those are considered "new" designs. Perhaps, I did not understand the 40-designs concept properly. However, I do think, certain transparency is required. And, had 99designs mentioned that iterations are counted new designs, I would not have been surprised.
  2. If you guarantee the prize money, you are likely to get more designers. However, this means that even if the designs are terrible, you'd still forfeit $334 USD. In the first case, should you not like any designs, you are refunded the money.
  3. 99designs does not show your project to all the designers. Projects are shown based on the amount you pay.
I narrowed it down to 5 final Logos. Hitesh and I loved one of the Logos, and were almost going to go with it, but had the presence of mind to take our friends input. It turned out everyone hated the Logo that we had liked, and another logo ended up being the logo for GOAQUI.

Lessons Learned: Always check with your potential users, incorporate their input, and pivot!

Would I use 99designs again?
Probably not, but it is good to have a resource available for sole entrepreneurs.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Who is Tim Ferriss?

December 2010
I started going to HUB Bay Area start-up events. I quickly realized that no one, and I mean NO ONE will give me a dime for an idea. There were founders in that session who were testing their prototypes in Africa. My reaction was "WOW!"

I need to get the prototype out before speaking with any kinds of investors. I had the domain name (something tangible), I had the idea, but how do I build it?

I got introduced to an author called, Tim Ferriss by Hitesh. Tim is San Francisco based, and has done very well. I ordered his 1st book from the library. It is called: The Four Hour Work Week. Tim has a very intriguing writing style. He provides the reader with easy self-help techniques to do anything..literally anything. His book was enlightening! He gave tips to the readers to reduce their work load, and mentioned several places such as, etc to hire developers, or designers, and get your work done for a reasonable amount. Everyone should read his book.

Bingo! I chose to get GOAQUI's logo developed.

At some point in my life, I hope to meet Tim, and tell him that his book has been inspirational in getting my start-up off the ground.

Lesson Learned: Pay attention to everything you read, and hear about.

The Name-Game

December 2010
I think I did everything backwards with this start-up.

I got stuck on the name for almost 1.5 months. Everything was taken. I have a start-up diary, where I have logs of all possible names I could come up with. Hitesh and I had sessions where we'd brainstorm names several times a day. Obviously, we got stuck.

I decided to get my friends input. I asked several of my friends for their recommendations, and noted everyone's ideas & names suggestions. Alas! no luck for a month.

I went to the public library, and carried 4 big Atlases in the hope of finding a name through the Atlas. No luck!

I liked a few names. For example; The Boarding Pass, but then everything was almost invariably taken in the domain name space.

This is also the time, I was a recently minted beginner's Spanish student from Costa Rica. One fine day, I was explaining my start-up's concept to my good friend, Jittu. We've been friends for the last 15 years (Gosh! that is a long time). The next day, he calls me,"Hey, Shalu, I was driving, and thinking about your start-up last night. Essentially, you are telling people to go on your website, and get inspired to travel...why don't you try, "GO HERE as the domain name?"

Fantastic idea! Jittu is quite a bright guy. I am always amazed at his risk tolerance (which is beyond the scope of discussion) :p
A domain name search quickly dampened my excitement. It was taken.

A sudden light bulb flash in my head: "Wait, a second! Aqui in Spanish means "here". Why don't I try GOAQUI (pronounced - Go Ah (minus the h pronounciation-kee)?

Viola! It was available. And therefore, the start-up was name -> GOAQUI.

Later, I surveyed a few friends. Obviously, without prior Spanish knowledge, people do not know how to pronounce the word. I got mixed reactions. Our friend, Shikha also gave a sound logical reasoning, and convinced me to buy another domain name, which I eventually did, but have not used it.

I had fallen in love with the name of my start-up, and finally, name-game ended with GOAQUI.

How Does an MBA Stumble Upon Entrepreneurship?

What is design-thinking?
Design-Thinking (As I like to explain it): Align customer, or end-user unmet needs, extract the needs into insights, and translate the insights into business-targets.

My agenda in 2010 was to get hired at a company where an MBA can apply design-thinking to business problems.

November 2010
(Dinner conversation with David, Amy, and Hitesh)

Hitesh and I had come back from a week long immersion trip to Costa Rica. We experienced the local culture in Montezuma, learned Spanish, and learned Surfing. I wish we had information about certain things prior to our travel. For example; stay an extra day in Montezuma, and go to Playa Tortuga (island of tortoises), or if you taught English in Montezuma, a particular school would accommodate your stay, Spanish & Surf lessons for free.

Shalu: "I wish there was a place to take recommendations from your friends, know all the nitty-gritty details about your destination prior to your travel, and get inspired to travel to places you have not even heard of....This is how I am thinking of shaping the idea. What do you think?"

David: "I like it. There is definitely an opportunity. Make sure you have your monetization strategy figured out".

I look up to David almost as a mentor (he may, or may not be aware of it), and was happy that he gave the idea a thumbs up.

Design-thinking & Entrepreneurship
As Steve Blank often recommends, stay close to the customer. How does all this apply to my start-up? I am hoping to improve customer pain-points by creating a platform for travelers.

Conclusion in 2010
Who says I can not apply design-thinking to my own venture, and make it successful. And, thus begins the journey of entrepreneurship :)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

2011: My Aspirations

I achieved 5.5 / 7 aspirations for the year 2010; I thought I would continue writing down the new aspirations. I learned in my Top Manager's Perspective class at Rotman - people who write down their aspirations / goals, do achieve them. So, here's to 2011:

  1. Be Fluent in Conversational Traveler's Spanish: It all started with our week-long trip to Costa Rica in November 2010. Both, Hitesh and I took a week long Surf / Spanish camp in Montezuma. Since then, I have been working on my Spanish. But, learning a language is all about conversation. My aspiration is to be fluent in Traveler's conversational Spanish, so that when I travel to South America, I can immerse myself in the culture, and interact with the locals. We stayed at a bed & breakfast in San Jose. Initially, it was hard to have a conversation with the lady, because she spoke little English, and we spoke little Spanish. But, after our week long trip to Montezuma, we came back equipped with good beginner's Spanish. I started chatting with the lady in Spanish; she beamed, and smiled. She was thrilled to have a conversation with me. I can not explain that feeling, but it was extremely gratifying to speak with her in her native language. I want to savor that feeling; I wish I were able to learn every language possible, and converse with people from around the World. My pre-intermediate Spanish lessons start from February 1st - yay!
  2. Be Less Straightforward: It is either my strength, or my weakness that I can be very direct in my conversations. Well, in my opinion, things are not left to interpretation, and people can understand each other easily. However, I find that most people can not tolerate truth, or direct answers.
  3. Listen More, Interrupt Less: Have you noticed, in a social gathering, people offer cut each other thoughts, and conversations? It appears as if there are competing to maneuver the conversations in the direction they want to chat about. I am guilty of interrupting people as well. I hope to listen more, interrupt less, and talk slow (yep! still need to work on it).
  4. Travel Much More: Theme from last year's aspirations continues. I want to make it to Yellowstone National Park, Alaska, Yosemite National Park (again!), Death Valley, South America (30-day expedition would be amazing), and India. I hope to explore coastal California more.
  5. Exercise Much More: I am a sucker for chocolates! I have changed my behavior towards a lot of bad food products except for chocolates, which are still my weakness. I do not want to say that"I will give up chocolates, because it is not realistic", but what I will say is that - I want to run 6 times a week, workout 6 times a week, have a healthy lifestyle, and have a flat stomach by the end of 2011. This is a tough aspiration; tough, but not impossible.
  6. Launch My Own Something: It is running behind schedule, but I need to step on it.
  7. Surf, Swim, and Hike more: Ah! maximize the joys of living in California.
  8. Regret less, move forward
  9. Update this blog regularly!
Happy 2011 to me!

Friday, December 31, 2010

2010: New Year, New Decade, New Aspirations

Earlier this year, I wrote down my aspirations for 2010. Let's see how I did:

My 7 aspirations (in no particular order) for 2010 are:

  1. Talk Slow: I think I talk really fast and sometimes loud (on the phone, when the person on the other end is also loud!).In my last two social gatherings with new people (on two different occasions), I discovered two people, who talked extremely loud, so much so that I got a headache after being in the room with them for 5 minutes. The problem is that most people think that being loud will get their point across. I had to sit far away from these two people, which is not good, because a) I did not interact with them; b) I was annoyed all the time; and c) Loudness is all I remember about them. The experience got me thinking that it must be quite annoying for others as well when I talk fast AND loud! (Needs work in 2011 as well)
  2. Learn to Surf: Hitesh and I love water sports. We took surfing lessons in Maui in December. Gosh! I have been missing all surfing fun all this time. Both of us loved it. We intend to be able to surf in Santa Cruz over Summer this year (Achieved! Watch out for another post)
  3. Learn to Swim: I know! I know...swimming, should technically, be a precursor to surfing. However, not being able to swim does not stop me from being in the water. I have taken swimming lessons thrice in my life. Something is wrong with my legs. Oh wait! I am making excuses - I, obviously, did not practice enough to be able to swim properly. Well, it changes this year and starting, January (Achieved; after 3 years of persistence)
  4. Start My Own Something: I have many-many interests and passions, which have not helped me focus my 100% attention on any particular interest. Starting this year, I am going to "start my own something". My biggest strength (that I can leverage easily) is that I am hyper-observant, and excellent at talking to people and building relationships. I have to focus my energy in meaningful interests and get on with it this year. I have gradually come to realize that owning your own something (that you are passionate about and good at), is the way to succeed (A little behind schedule, but watch out for the launch in early 2011)
  5. Become More Involved Within Non-Profit: I am a huge fan of people, who focus their attention within non-profit sector. One such non-profit, started by a friend, and based in India, is "chotti si asha", which means 'a ray of hope' in English. I blogged about Liza's efforts in 2008. I hope to be able to help Liza more with her initiative, make it sustainable, and make "chotti si asha" profitable (Yes! MBAs do think about profits) (Absolutely lagged behind)
  6. Exercise Regularly: I do exercise 3 days a week. It would be amazing to step it up to a 5-day regime. Most importantly, it will help me stay healthy and stress free (Achieved; hired a trainer, lost 10 lbs, and have changed my behavior towards a lot of bad food. I also work out very regularly.)
  7. Travel More: I have a confession - prior to traveling to Mexico, I used to think that Mexico is a dangerous place to visit. I am ashamed of my perception. I am quite open minded and do not usually have preconceived notions about anyone, or anything. I am not certain how I developed this idiotic misconception. In December 2008, Hitesh and I visited Mexico and boy! I was surprised. Mexicans are extremely friendly people. I had a fantastic time on that trip. The trip changed my point of view about Mexico. Travel, does open your mind. It makes you comfortable with the unfamiliar places and situations. Although, I already love to travel a lot, I hope to do more of it this year (Definitely achieved - traveled a lot around National Parks in California, visited London, Scotland, Pacific Rim National Park, Vancouver, Costa Rica, Grand Canyon, Las Vegas. I am thrilled with all the brilliant exposure to travel, cultures, and people)
Oh, and most importantly: invest in relationships, reconnect with friends, and speak with friends & family more often this year.
Most definitely achieved this!

I read somewhere that people, who write down their aspirations tend to achieve them than people who do not.

I plan to revisit this post at the end of 2010 and see where I am at.
Achieved 5.5 / 7. That ain't bad at all.

I hope to be more regular in 2011 with the blog posts. There is so much to write.
Happy New Year!