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  • Cracking competitive exams is easier now than before

    I think those in the 2020s who would study as hard as those in the 2000s or earlier while preparing for competitive exams have the same, if not better, odds of getting into a good engineering, medical, or commerce school.

    One may challenge this, arguing that 1) the number of students appearing for the competitive exams is higher and 2) the increase in the number of seats has not been enough; concluding that there’s higher competition than before.

    I agree with the arguments but would differ with the conclusion.

    There is more accessibility to learning material and coaching with or without in-class learning. Multiple techniques for solving an equation can be learned through an internet search. There is more training and test material available than before.

    On the other side, nowadays, students are perpetually distracted by social media or phones. Many are lesser inclined to devote themselves to 3/4/5 years of rigorous college training. Then there is the rise of job opportunities like content writing, photography, or travel/fashion/motivational blogging/speaking.

    This works in favor of those willing to stay focused to pursue higher education to have higher odds of getting into a good school.

  • Rise of shallow and desperate mentors

    Back in the 90s when I was growing up, our parents used to look out for people in their 20s to give us advice on career and skill development.

    As far as I remember, the then-20s people didn’t have any urge to teach us what to do or to become an inspiration or mentor to us.

    I believe it’s because even though, I think, they were more stable, skillful, and successful, they probably felt that they still have a long way to go. Despite others’ perception of them doing well, they felt they still might not know enough. They were humble and conservative when referring to their skills.

    Also, I cannot recall a discussion that didn’t conclude with studying to develop skills in STEM, skills that are attained over a long period.

    Nowadays, I frequently come across folks barely holding a digital agency job but overtly desperate to teach others how to start up, earn a side income, or travel freely.

    None of it alludes to studying hard. The majority of it seems to be selling the ‘idea’ of appearing successful.

  • Amritsar Startup Manifesto

    Guidelines for Entrepreneurship & Innovation to Unlock, Inspire and Drive Growth in Amritsar

    Amritsar had been a very prominent business hub up until a few decades ago. But due to the changing socio-economic environment coupled with the failure to keep up with the latest technology and skills, the city has failed to compete with the global market.

    Perhaps the draconian government policies are to be blamed.

    Still, we believe that the failure to understand the changing global business dynamics, slower technology adoption, and lack of growth mindset has led to the loss of confidence of its people and the business community outside.

    India has seen a meteoric rise in the consumption of technology. Internet penetration has increased. Smartphones and data are one of the most economical commodities compared to the rest of the world.

    The rising importance of technology-driven economic growth can transform the lives of thousands of people by providing them with high-paying jobs, competitive skills, and a global level-playing field. The increasing availability of high-speed internet means that we can nurture and grow technology businesses that can serve customers from all over the world, right from the comfort of being in our city.

    In the coming time, the growth of technology businesses will outpace that of traditional economic sectors.

    But, as with many industries, there are roadblocks in the growth of businesses. This is why I, along with some of my fellow entrepreneurs at Amritsar Founders, decided to join and call for radical changes.

    We have recognized the following areas which need to be focused on to catapult and sustain the growth of businesses in Amritsar.

    1. Upgrade talent pool
    2. Make available world-class and affordable infrastructure
    3. Update policies to support disruptive innovation
    4. Simplify access to finance

    This is an audacious goal that needs buy-ins from many players such as local educational institutes, industry leaders, entrepreneurs, police, lawmakers, and politicians.

    1) Upgrade talent pool

    • Set up skill development programs in collaboration with the local educational institutes
    • Make it easier for startups to hire from overseas
    • Incentivize individuals and startups to train teachers and students
    • Support women to start and scale their businesses
    • Encourage and organize hackathons, meetups, and conferences
    • Invite global mentors and companies to provide training to local businesses and institutes

    2) Make available world-class and affordable infrastructure

    • Invest in high-speed internet connectivity, even in rural areas
    • Provide cheap and affordable office and co-working spaces on flexible terms
    • Invest in technology at the local universities
    • Provide accessible rentable housing spaces for non-resident workers
    • Invest in entertainment, sports, and playgrounds for recreational purposes
    • Provide resources to local businesses to take part in regional as well as global conferences and exhibitions

    3) Update policies to support disruptive innovation

    • Work with startups to eliminate regulations in technology
    • Formulate employer protection laws to instill confidence in entrepreneurs and investors
    • Review regulations surrounding the sharing economy – office spaces, housing, cars, internet, etc
    • Standardize and facilitate company creation

    4) Simplify access to finance

    • Provide and educate about tax relieves for entrepreneurs
    • Lower minimum investment and compensation requirements for hiring from abroad
    • Ease regulations on ESI, PF, and Insurance
    • Provide affordable loans and tax relieves to the skill development centers

    We hope to represent and share a common vision of various entrepreneurs, professionals, small business owners, mentors, investors, and consultants irrespective of the industries. We aim to collaborate, communicate, and contribute to the growth of the local business ecosystem by promoting reasonable and actionable recommendations.

    We encourage you to be part of our journey and work with us to bring Amritsar to the top of the World’s Business Map.

  • Amritsar Co-working Spaces – Cases For and Against

    Many times, we at Amritsar Founders are invited by Colleges and Universities to work on proposals of Incubation Centers at their respective places. It’s an audacious project, and something that can change the corporate face of our city.

    I wanted to talk about one of the features of Incubation Centers that is seen as a necessity in the whole framework: co-working spaces.

    Ideally, co-working spaces can provide necessary infrastructure such as an office with a desk and chair, power connection, internet and meeting rooms to the budding entrepreneurs & small businesses. Co-workings can also provide private cabin spaces for bigger teams. Other perks include security, permanent office address & cafeteria. Luxury ones may consist of gyms & fitness centers too.

    Cases For

    Let me start with how co-working spaces can be valuable to our community.

    1) Never feel lonely

    If you have worked as a solo entrepreneur or a freelancer, you know that it is lonely to be doing things on your own without a peer group. Co-working spaces provide an excellent opportunity to be surrounded by those who are also working on their dreams that would keep you motivated and inspired to work on yours.

    We at Statusbrew have seemingly been working from our cave, Statusbrew HQ, with little interaction with the outside community, and it had been a lonely journey. Amritsar Startups was our initiative to create a community of go-getters and our answer to eliminate working alone. Later, I found solace with my newly formed group of entrepreneurs at Amritsar Founders. It’s truly remarkable how ideas and thoughts can be shared and transferred when you have a group of like-minded people you can call your own.

    2) Networking

    Having surrounded with like-minded people and the ability to interact with them, many opportunities can unfold. You can learn new skills, connect with potential clients, and even get a direct connect to the investors.

    3) Save costs

    No rental contracts (office, internet, electricity, etc.), no maintenance, no hassle of dealing with infra! Co-working saves you not only real money but also saves you time and opportunity costs. This is great for freelancers as well as small to mid-sized companies.

    And oh, the improvements to infra is also part of the job of your co-working provider. You don’t need to worry about upgrading infra anymore.

    Cases Against

    1) Distractions

    As promising the idea of networking is, it can also be a perpetual means to distract oneself. Some teammates would be found more often at common spaces or someone else’s desk than getting their own job done. Other teams at the space can be loud. There will be circumstances out of your control and can lead to reduced productivity.

    2) Restrictions

    Since you do not own the place, you would be potentially stuck with one allotted desk space for a considerable time. You would not be able to change orientation or decorate your workspace the way you like. Even bringing personal work amenities like whiteboards might require approvals.

    3) Bloated costs

    It might prove to be cost-effective for freelancers or small businesses by saving some upfront costs. However, it can prove to be quite expensive for mid to large companies as pricing is usually set on a per seat basis.

    Co-working scope in Amritsar

    Talking about this puts me in a very slippery slope as I am still part of the local communities, but I feel we need to talk about the core challenges that surround co-working, which ironically, have little to do with co-working.

    I think creative teams, HR and admin teams can work out of co-working spaces efficiently without significant concerns.

    But it can be an issue for core, tech (product or service) companies to be working out of co-working spaces due to requirements of safeguarding intellectual properties and private information. Core development and sales teams can be the ones under a more rigorous scrutiny for this.

    However additionally, since in Amritsar, a majority of the companies are into IT services – digital marketing, web & app development, etc., there can be understandable concerns about keeping their internal business processes secret.

    Issues with Co-working spaces in Amritsar

    1. Hoping clients –  since both your clients and other teams can now know about each other (visits, or overhearing discussions), they can quickly jump.
    2. Copying of ideas – expertise in creative content
    3. Information security leak – personal information of clients, contracts and intellectual property
    4. Talent poaching – other teams can pay more to recruit your trained staff

    Ways Co-working spaces can work in Amritsar

    Co-working can be a great fit for companies that do not have major overlapping business processes since there will be no concern about clients or team spillovers.

    Companies that require a high level of information security can work out of cabins so that their internal discussions or plans cannot be overheard by other tenants. Sales teams can make use of conference rooms to make sales calls, deliver product demos, or meet clients.

    Moreover, a simple agreement must be signed by all co-working tenants to ensure they adhere to a certain level of information protection. Defaulters should be penalized and may also be asked to leave the co-working space after a thorough hearing process.

    Conclusion

    I believe co-working is terrific and it would provide many opportunities for the community in growing their ventures. With this, we may also be able to attract a lot of investors, perhaps have a global incubator from our city. With a good plan and careful execution, we can see many global companies starting from the Holy City.

  • Levels of Politeness – Lessons from Japan

    This one is also one of the many learnings from my 4 years in Japan. In Japan, it is very important to choose the right politeness level as it can make or break your relationships with your friends, clients, or your team.

    Keigo is crucial and particular to Japan. However, some of it can also be easily implemented in your own day to day conversations.

    In the following examples, the politeness increases as we go down the list.

    1) Name? / Your Name? / Name please? / Tell me your name.

    This will be the most straightforward but blunt way to ask someone their name.

    2) What is your name?

    Asking a question in a complete form is a basic and safest way to ask someone their name.

    3) Can you tell me your name?

    There is a subtle difference between this and the next one. In this way, we are making the other person DO THE WORK to complete this task. However, this one is politer than the previous version because you are asking for permission first before you can have their name.

    4) May/Can I ask your name?

    This one also asks for permission before you can have their name. However, in this version, you are the one who is DOING THE WORK to complete this task. You may use this with your managers and your clients.

    5) Is it OK if I ask your name?

    This version is politer than all the above as it is checking whether it is OK to ask for permission to have your name, and then proceed to ask. Best to converse with your clients.

    Which level of politeness do you use with your friends, team, and clients?

  • [WIP] List of Tools and Resources for Startups & Small Businesses 2020

    This list is the result of a discussion on the Amritsar Startups Facebook Group.

    Marketing

    Website

    1. Squarespace
    2. Wix
    3. WordPress
    4. Ghost

    Social

    1. Facebook Business Manager
    2. Statusbrew
    3. SproutSocial

    Design

    1. Pixlr
    2. Canva
    3. Adobe Spark
    4. Snapseed (Android / iOS)
    5. Screenflow
    6. Final Cut Pro X

    Analytics

    1. Google Analytics
    2. Facebook Pixel

    Stock

    1. Unsplash
    2. Artlist
    3. Epidemic Music
    4. Soundcloud

    Sales

    Lead Generation

    1. Google Maps
    2. Related Pages/Businesses blocks on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram

    CRM

    1. Pipedrive
    2. Salesforce
    3. Google Sheets

    Support

    1. Zendesk
    2. Freshdesk
    3. Zoho

    Payment (also support invoicing)

    1. Stripe
    2. PayPal

    Misc

    1. MyOperator

    Productivity

    Team Communication

    1. Google Meet/Hangouts
    2. Slack
    3. Zoom
    4. Skype

    Task/Project Management

    1. Trello
    2. Asana
    3. Basecamp
    4. Google Sheets
    5. Microsoft To Do
    6. Google Tasks

    File Sharing

    1. Google Drive
    2. Dropbox
    3. Box
    4. Evernote

    Misc

    1. 1Password
    2. Lastpass

    Finance

    1. Expensify
    2. Quickbooks
    3. Freshbooks
  • Ghost Theme Development with Docker

    Ghost Theme Development with Docker

    Ghost is great! It is easy to use and set up. Ghost has been our choice for our blog at Statusbrew. I used Ghost as a platform for this blog too.

    Ghost, however, does require a little bit of programming knowledge to get started. Although it is easier to set up a local ghost blog to start theming, a consistent dev environment becomes necessary as more devs work on the same theme.

    Docker is an amazing tool to sync dev environments. After learning about it, we at Statusbrew decided to start moving our various applications/services to Docker.

    As I started to work on the theme of this blog, I realized it would be good to create a Docker environment for Ghost theme development.

    Boilerplate repository is available at https://github.com/amritsarstartups/ghost-theme-docker

    Dockerfile

    # Choose the ghost version
    FROM ghost
    LABEL maintainer="rishabhmhjn"
    
    # Set the working directory.
    WORKDIR /var/lib/ghost
    
    RUN ghost config url http://localhost:3102
    
    EXPOSE 2368

    docker-compose.yml

    
    version: '3.7'
    
    services:
      ghost-theme-docker:
        image: ghost-theme-docker:1.0
        container_name: ghost-theme-docker
        restart: unless-stopped
        build:
          context: .
          dockerfile: Dockerfile
        volumes:
          - './.tmp/data:/var/lib/ghost/content/data'
          - './.tmp/images:/var/lib/ghost/content/images'
          - './.tmp/settings:/var/lib/ghost/content/settings'
          - './Pico:/var/lib/ghost/content/themes/Pico'
        ports:
          - "3102:2368"
        environment:
          - NODE_ENV=development   # ← This is the key to success

    The volumes have been added to share data between your Docker image and the host. In this example, we are using the theme Pico.

    After you have your Docker files in place, you can build and run the image using the following:

    docker-compose -f "docker-compose.yml" up -d --build

    Once the build is complete, you can access your new blog at http://localhost:3102/

    Then you can go to http://localhost:3102/ghost to set up your new admin account. On the Ghost dashboard, click on Design in the left sidebar and activate your new theme.

    You can make changes to your new theme and refresh the page to see it reflected in the website.

    The key to success was defining the node environment.

        environment:
          - NODE_ENV=development   # ← This is the key to success

    Happy Ghost theming!

  • Local Govt in Punjab Pushing Back on Online Classes

    All this rhetoric about the Punjab Government pushing back on schools to not charge for online classes seems to allude the following:

    1. There was a huge opportunity to revamp & scale our education delivery process with technology. With this, even the remotest locations could have been provided with the best of teachers and training.

      The govt’s uncharacteristic regulation on curbing schools to charge would just lead to schools pulling back their investment plans.
    2. I believe that a not-insignificant number of parents who are insisting against fees to schools are seemingly OK with their kids being at home on phones or TV sets but not learning new skills. Precious time (months!) are being lost in a child’s education.

      The online classes could have helped them not lose those days, especially in subjects like Science and Maths (to which I am close to, and I know it is difficult to catch up if you miss those classes)

    Since COVID-19 caught us off-guard and proved that our preparedness was nowhere close to what should have been there, one of the easier problems to solve was to let the educational institutes make use of Technology to ensure the children don’t lag behind in education, and now we are blowing this one too!

  • Million Dollar SAAS Companies from Tier 2 Cities in India & Statusbrew

    Million Dollar SAAS Companies from Tier 2 Cities in India & Statusbrew

    These are unprecedented times. There was arguably never a such instance where humanity had to collectively experience a challenge so lethal and ubiquitous in the documented history of our existence.

    People have been forced to stay indoors.

    Businesses temporarily shut down.

    Mass lay-offs, migration of labor.

    Whenever people from any part of the world come together again, they would have that one collective experience to talk about. Where were you during this? How was it there? I am sorry for your loss.

    While human loss is something (and an emphatic something) to reckon with, the invisible economic decline has not eluded the minds of many concerned. Forced shutdowns & Stay At Home orders mean that any business which is not deemed as an Essential Service is required to keep shut. Shelter In Place orders take it further, and Elon is pissed!

    While some industries that relied on being physically available have taken the plunge (Hyperlocal Market Places, Retail, Travel & Tourism, Sports, etc.), some notable businesses have witnessed a growth curve during this period of crisis. It is not surprising to see that majority of those businesses are from Tech, specifically internet businesses.

    I would like to focus on a specific category of internet businesses – SAAS.

    What is SAAS?

    SAAS, or Software as a Service, primarily refers to the software delivery model where software is hosted on a server and can be accessed online, usually via a subscription. Contrast it with the traditional model of software delivery where software had to be purchased (via CD or similar) and had to be installed on an individual machine; SAAS is usually accessed via a web-browser, a mobile app, or an API.

    The Microsoft Office example

    An easy to understand example would be Microsoft Office.

    Earlier it was shipped on CDs or DVDs with a one time purchase and could be licensed to only one computer. This kind of software was also known as On-Premise Software. A new version of software always had to be purchased again.

    Office 365, however, has a SAAS model where it is made to be available on a subscription model. Updates are provided regularly and at no extra cost.

    You can find more about the differences b/w SAAS and On-Premise Software at https://www.sales-i.com/saas-vs-on-premises-which-is-right-for-you.

    Other notable examples in SAAS are G-Suite, Zoom, Atlassian, Zoho & Statusbrew (I am one of the co-founders).

    SAAS from an entrepreneur’s perspective

    SAAS has revolutionized the software industry for good. Someone with a good domain/industry knowledge can rent a server online (via SAAS, or specifically PAAS (Platform as a Service) like AWS and Azure) can deploy their piece of software and can deliver it to anyone around the world over the internet. It doesn’t require any hefty infrastructure investment, logistics, or a large number of outside sales reps. Troubleshooting (after-sales) can be done online. The software can get smarter and can add features in shorter cycles.

    This also means that the software can be provided cheaply and at scale. More users can purchase it. The sales cycles are shortened as the majority of communication & transactions happen online.

    The beauty of SAAS is that if you have a good understanding of a customer problem or an inefficiency in the industry, you can solve that using SAAS. The key is having the right domain knowledge & expertise.

    SAAS from the buyers’ perspective

    There is no hefty infrastructure spending on the buyers’ side as well. A business owner can now focus more on their customers rather than managing internal developers or thinking about maintenance or infrastructure. So, where in the early days, software was usually owned by large companies that could afford to buy and maintain the software, now small businesses can own software at a significantly lower cost.

    For once, SAAS has been able to align the goals of the service provider and the customer, as customers can now pay for the portion of software that is used. They can increase or decrease the plan pricing at virtually any time of the subscription.

    Due to this, SAAS is sometimes also called On-Demand Software.

    Advantages to SAAS businesses in India

    Due to the nature of SAAS businesses, India has a few advantages compared to other countries.

    Change in buyer behavior

    In the early days, buyers usually would meet the software seller or reseller and then make a decision to purchase (this still is a significant way of business dealing in Japan.) Now, the software can now be created from anywhere and the prospect can evaluate it online, and decide to purchase. Therefore, software providers in India have a level playing field to produce good quality software and sell it to anyone in the world.

    Availability of domain expertise

    No matter what the product is, there is still some amount of Human Assistance required. Customer Support, After Sales, etc. India gets a huge advantage as there is a significant number of trained and qualified talent in India who have provided services in their respective industries for a considerable period.

    Efficient use of capital

    The limited amount of cash with the early-stage startups can produce more results in India due to the cost of living advantages. Since in the early days, the majority of expenses are in human resources specifically in engineering, a lot more can be done with the cash in hand available to startups in India than what could be done in places like Silicon Valley. The cloud infrastructure has also made it possible to create the software from tier 2 cities like Amritsar without having to spend on expensive server costs.

    Raw unsolved consumer problems

    As more consumers and businesses go online in India, many with their first exposure to software, there is a growing need to support the demands of scale using automation and customer management. With the contextual understanding of both the local businesses and their customers, it is easier to build software to support their specific requirements.

    Limitations of SAAS during COVID-19

    It is important to note that not all SAAS businesses may have seen a growth curve during the COVID-19 time due to the limitations imposed on the industries they support.

    A quick example will be Petpooja, a SAAS startup that provides POS software to restaurants. As restaurants temporarily shut down, service providers to this industry, like Petpooja, might find it hard to acquire new customers or even retain the old ones.

    Statusbrew – Social Media Management SAAS from Amritsar

    2011 to 2013 – Twitter, Drupal & Linode

    Tushar made the first version on Statusbrew (previously called Unfollowers) back in 2011. After he graduated, he came back to Amritsar and started working on the MVP. Twitter was the only social network supported back then. The analytics app was made on top of Drupal CMS and was served from our Linode VPS in Newark, NJ.

    Tushar working on his MacBook in December 2011
    Tushar working on his MacBook in December 2011

    All that was needed to reach this level was discipline, a good internet connection, a MacBook Pro, and an understanding of the changing social media consumer behavior.

    He didn’t spend too much on the infrastructure and scaled the servers as the customer base grew. At the end of 2013, he successfully integrated Stripe as the payment gateway, which helped in monetization from our early customers.

    2014 to 2019 – Reaching USD 85k MRR

    With nearly three years in Social Media Management and the relevant domain expertise, Tushar had grown the company to the north of USD 40k MRR (monthly recurring revenue) before I joined him in Apr 2015.

    With our combined knowledge of infra scaling, consumer patterns from Japan, US, and the rest of the world, agility in supporting other networks such as Instagram, LinkedIn and our team, which initially comprised of our childhood friends Sankalp and Supreet (who are still with us to this date), we saw a tremendous growth in user adoption and revenues.

    Our revenues peaked at USD 85k of MRR. We had built a global platform with a highly talented team, high-quality support serving nearly 8000 customers, and having team members from 7 different countries, all working from Amritsar.

    2019 and beyond COVID-19

    In 2019, we made a big decision to change our business model from B2C to B2B and build a next-generation social media suite with tools like Publishing, Customer Support, and Analytics.

    We also started to build an inside sales team with arguably the most lucrative compensation packages of up to 2x in bonuses on reaching sales targets.

    Although COVID-19 did lead to some customer churn, we continue to grow at a net rate of over 10% MOM. Our product and marketing team have worked hard to keep our application and communication stable.

    We are also looking at adding more talent to our development, marketing, and sales teams who would currently be working remotely and may be required to work from our HQ once the lockdown is over.

    I thank you for reading this long text, and I hope I was able to convince you about the possibility of creating a global company from wherever you are. Please reach out to me on LinkedIn or Twitter if you have any questions.

    We have been building communities of creators, go-getters & entrepreneurs from Amritsar and regions around. Join us at Amritsar Founders (an exclusive group for entrepreneurs), Amritsar Startups (an inclusive group of developers, entrepreneurs, business owners or enterprises).