Back in 2008 while I was working at Qualcomm India, a friend who was researching on wireless technologies at IIT Madras called me (out of the blue, really!). He and his teammate had come up with an off-the-shelf and cost-effective solution to tackle the last mile connectivity problem which they had filed for a patent as well. Since his teammate was going to the US for his graduate studies, he wanted to check with me if I would be interested in starting up a business with him. Well, recession was at peak and here I was working for a good company earning pretty decent. But what the heck! I decided to take the plunge.
Come January 2009 I left Qualcomm and set out to start a new life in Chennai at IIT Madras’ Rural Technology & Business Incubator (RTBI). It just felt wonderful. For the first time in life, I was really excited about what I was doing. This was my calling, indeed! So, at RTBI we had this panel of experts from academia as well as industry who helped us with the business. Every month all the startups being incubated at RTBI would present to the expert panel and give updates on what was going on with their business.
Around the second week of February, we had our first review meeting scheduled. We were all excited for the first review. Our presentation deck was ready with all the updates we wanted to share. All excited, we entered the room and gave our presentation. Well, everything went smooth. Or so we thought. Once we were done with the presentation, one of the experts (Let’s call him V) asked us
V: “So what did you guys do over the last month?”
Are you serious? We just spent 15 minutes explaining what we did over the last month and you didn’t get it? Were you sleeping?
Me: “So as we said earlier, we tested a couple of new devices on the market, developed a new module” blah blah.
V: “That’s it? Did you sign up a customer”
V: “Did you talk to one?”
V: “Did you at least prepare a list of prospective customers whom you can talk to?”
V: “So, what did you do?”
Me: “We made enhancements on the prod….”
By this time, V was furious.
V: “What’s your designation?”
V: “What is the CEO supposed to do?”
Me: “Run the business”
V: “Did you do that?”
Me: “Ummmm, not really”
We were getting an idea of where this was going to. I and my co-founder looked at each other and stood there speechless. V then explained to us what a business means. Indeed, we were not there to develop a product. That was just one tiny aspect of running a venture. We were there to build a sustainable business by selling the product. And looking back at the deck we had just presented, 9 out of 10 slides just had the product updates. The last one, I remember was, ‘Future Plans’ which of course was ‘product’ plan again 🙂
Well, that was one eye-opening review meeting we had. In fact, that one meeting gave us a lot of direction. After the meeting, we decided that I, as the CEO, would spend more time on the business front of the venture and my co-founder would take care of technology and product development. The next review went much better!