The second failure that I had discussed last week was the one that I am presently going through. I thought quite a bit before writing about it. It is never easy to discuss unpleasant realities in public! As Sachin put it: After reading this article from you, what came to my mind was that it takes a lot of courage to write about ones own failure. Indeed, it does! But then I have been quite open on the blog and in my writings, so I decided to go ahead.
It is never easy talking about the present. Analysing a decade-old experience can be easy because the ending is now known. But thinking through the immediate past and the coming future is not easy. But if as entrepreneurs we can be more open, I think it will definitely help all of us do things better. No book on entrepreneurship can lay out the roadmap to success, but learning from experiences of others can definitely lay out the path to avoid failure!
As I look at our business in Netcore, there are two parts to it. One is the Linux-based messaging and security business, which has a customer base of over 350 small- and medium-sized enterprises garnered over the past 7-odd years. This business is growing, but not fast enough to support the rising costs of doing this business and fund our other activities. Which brings me to second part of our business. The vision here has been to provide computing as a service and create a platform for the next billion people. (Talk of ambition!) Here, we have tried a few ideas around server-centric computing and thin clients, but somehow the solutions have just not been good enough.
So, there are twin challenges that I face: how can we grow the messaging and security business and take steps towards realising our vision of computing as a service. While I did wonder whether we should drop one in favour of the other and focus, I think that the two businesses are complementary. Doing the first helps us build a customer base which allows us to bootstrap the second business. By narrowing what we do in each of the two areas will help us achieve the twin objectives of building a near-term profits engine and a longer-term growth platform.
So, in the messaging and security business, we need to (a) focus on a few standardised offerings that we sell without getting into too much of customisation (b) build a distribution channel so we can amplify our market reach (c) invest in building a brand that separates us from other players. Here, the products are ready. What we need to do better is on the marketing and sales side. Our current customer base gives us the foundation to build further on this business and I am confident that in the next few months, we can not only turn the corner here but also build an engine for growth going ahead.
The second business is harder because we are now going into unchartered territory. I understand now that the mistake we made was that we started from the devices (thin clients) side instead of focusing first on the services (applications and content). It is the services which will make computing desirable and compelling for the small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to get more computers which is where the thin clients will come in. So, in the business, the first focus is on creating a suite of useful services which address customer key points and deliver them via the Internet. This is the ASP (application service provider) model starting with SaaS (software-as-a-service) and then going on to CaaS (computing-as-a-service).
When I look back, one of the missing elements was focus. Sunil Goyal put it very nicely: I think for any business dreaming to be big there’s always a stark difference between short term reality and vision of tomorrow. The strong mental models might make one believe this is achievable but reality still plays its part. Even though I don’t have much experience, but I am experiencing this phase myself. My own realization of the current startup time phase is, to have the right FOCUS. This is what we will need to bring to the tasks ahead.
Tomorrow: The New Business
TECH TALK When Things Go Wrong+T