Microsoft India Accelerator – Two Month Review

May 7th, 2013 by Prateek Dayal View Comments

SupportBee has been part of the Microsoft India Accelerator in Bangalore for a little over two months now. The applications for the winter batch close in exactly a month and I thought it might be useful for others to know what our experience has been and see if the program might be good for them.

Our Reasons for Joining the Accelerator

I found out about the accelerator when I came down to the Microsoft office to meet Mukund (whom I knew from Hackerstreet India). Apart from meeting Mukund, I also got a chance to hang out with the accelerator team and loved interacting with them. I was also amazed by the workspace that the accelerator offers. Since Avinasha and I wanted to spend the next few months in India growing the team, we felt that the environment in the accelerator would be  a great boost for us. Also, the fact that you don’t have to shell out any equity made the decision a no-brainer.

The Office Space

MS Accelerator office is one of the best offices I have been to personally. The office is spacious, tastefully done and open round the clock. You get workspace for upto four people. This includes dedicated desks and conference room access. You can even get free workstations (Dell) for your people to work on. During the program, you can eat breakfast and lunch for free (on weekdays). Coffee and other drinks are available round the clock, everyday, on the house! You can also use the Gym, the pool table and the Xbox if you want to take a break from your work.

The internet access is fast and reliable. Here is a speed test I did while writing the post (the office is at near full capacity right now). While you can always work from your home or a shared office space, we love being in an environment like this. It literally doubles our productivity as there is simply nothing to worry about, other than your startup ofcourse.

The Teams

In our batch, there are 14 companies from different industries and stages. Some are very early stage, some have a product and some customers and others have a pretty good business that they are trying to make even better. In general, the interaction between the startups is pretty heathy and useful. No matter what time you are in office, you will find atleast some more people working from here. You will almost always find people to play pool with as well.

The Weekly Demo Day

Every Wednesday, all the companies get together in the garage (a cool part of the accelerator) to show others their progress for the week. You can (and should) give updates on product, marketing and any other activity that you have been working on. The environment is great and keeps everyone excited about making progress every week. Every now and then there are outside people in the demo (industry partners, folks from the ecosystem etc). After the demo there is a dinner at a close-by restaurant that everyone walks down to.

Access to Resources

The accelerator provides access to a number of resources while you are here

  • Azure credits and help in setting up or migration. You can bootup linux images on Azure and you don’t need to use the windows’ stack (though there are some useful mobile services that you can use)
  • Access to industry partners that can help you achieve distribution etc. The list of partners is slowly growing and already includes many big names
  • Access to shared design resources (shared between the companies in a batch). These people can help you design and even give you HTML/CSS. Think of them as outsourced design partners that you don’t have to pay for
  • Access to mentors and industry experts. Introductions to other folks that you think may be able to help you, even if they are not part of the mentor network.
  • Access to investors – There are many VCs and Angels that drop into the accelerator frequently and you can get time with them.
  • Every friday there is a talk by an entrepreneur or industry expert.

Typically every meeting happens at the accelerator and you don’t have to waste time traveling for meetings.

Thoughts on No Money (Funding)

One of the most common concerns that I hear about MS Accelerator from friends and other people in the startup ecosystem is that unlike other accelerators/incubators in India, MS offers no funding. If I look around, most accelerators offer something like 5 lakh INR (~10k USD). Personally, I don’t think that kind of money is very useful. Sure, you can sustain yourself (as a team of two or something) for six months. However you also end up diluting 8 – 10% of your equity. On the other hand, if you put a value to the benefits offered by the accelerator (free office, food and hosting etc), I am sure you get more than 10k worth of services in four months. You need a lot more than just a few thousand dollars to run a company. Access to facilities goes a long way in building a startup.

Should you apply for the accelerator?

So coming back to the big question. Should you apply for the accelerator? I think you should give it a shot. There are many coffee with the team events this month (in various cities) that you should checkout if you have questions. Here is a list

Bangalore- http://event.ayojak.com/event/coffee-meetup-with-entrepreneurs-microsoft-accelerator

Pune- http://event.ayojak.com/event/tie-pune-microsoft-accelerator-session-coffee-meet-with-entrepreneurs

Hyderabad-http://event.ayojak.com/event/coffee-meet-with-entrepreneur-hyderabad

Delhi-http://event.ayojak.com/event/coffee-meet-with-entrepreneurs-delhi

There are a lot more things going on in MS Accelerator that I have not talked about. You should reach out to other startups in the accelerator (current and previous batch) and talk to them about their experience. Every startup found different aspects of the accelerator useful and this blog post is just our perspective. Thank you for reading and best of luck with the application if you decide to apply!

Popularity: 9% [?]

Give freelancing a year’s break

January 24th, 2013 by Prateek Dayal View Comments

(Please ignore the irony that this is my first post in over a year and the title … )

I just moved back to Bangalore to grow SupportBee. We want to hire a few great people to work with us. Bangalore (and other cities in India) clearly have no dearth of good great developers. I have met many people who not only understand good code and contribute to open source projects, they also seem to appreciate the quality of work that startups can offer.Unfortunately there is a new problem to tackle – Freelancing. With the rise in the amount of venture funding and people putting in their personal money into startup (especially in US) and outsourcing work to India, Philippines & Vietnam etc, there is a lot of demand for good freelancers and great money for them. It is easy to charge USD 30 – 50 an hour (and go upto 100 – 150 if you build a solid online presence). In fact, if you are not charging that much, you are probably doing it wrong. But I digress.

This is great money. Especially if you are right out of college and have never had access to this much cash. Go for it and enjoy it. However, after sometime, give it a break and consider working for a startup. Freelancing alone in a room with internet is a great way to get some cash lined up but a boring way to spend your 20s. Here is why I think you should consider working in a startup

  • Working alone sucks. You have way lesser fun and you learn much lesser than you would if you worked with great peers.
  • You never get to see the full lifecycle of a project. Let me correct that. Most of the freelance projects that you work on will never see the light of the day. Most clients are pretty clueless and keep debating about the color of the button and the slide effect in the carousel. That’s not how it’s done in the real world.
  • You never get to interact with customers. You never get to learn how to launch a MVP and still have paying customers and keep customers engaged as you release new features. Even if all you care about is writing code, this is a great character building exercise that you can be exposed to only in a (product) startup.
  • You don’t live with your code and iterate on it and learn about the importance of maintainable code, test coverage, processes and many other things that help tech startups win.
  • You cannot open source bits of/blog about the work that you are doing for clients. They just don’t get it. Most startups don’t either but some do.

However working for startups has many issues as well

  • You can work from anywhere when you freelance. You don’t need to tie yourself  down to a place. Remote working is still a new concept in product startup world.
  • The salaries are lower in startups (way lower sometimes).
  • You may be promised ESOPs etc but never given any paperwork (since the founders don’t wanna deal with paperwork early on).
  • You learn a lot in the first couple of years but most startups don’t exit and make you rich and sooner than later you wonder why you are working for them for lesser money and not doing your own.

What I am proposing is this

  • Freelance for a while and save up some cash. Buy stuff/spend/travel and chill out a bit.
  • Give it a year’s break. Look for a startup that you like. Look for a team that you want to hang out with and work with. Don’t worry too much about the cash (read the point above). Less cash does not mean less fun.
  • Talk to the founders and tell them that you want to work with them for 12 months, contribute a lot, learn a lot but you are not sure if you can be in for years.
  • Make sure that you are given paperwork for any stock options etc. If you want to blog/contribute to open source or present on behalf of the company, make sure you pick a company that encourages this.
  • Dive in and enjoy the next 12 months working in a high pressure, high growth environment. Keep a decent work life balance and don’t burn yourself out. After 12 months look back and make an informed decision about staying back or going back to freelancing (or to another job/your own startup).

A 12 month commitment may sound too little. Many founders would want you to commit for several years (or atleast not mention 12 months). I believe that if a startup has the right processes setup and a good roadmap, they can keep you pretty excited for 12 months and also get a lot of value out of your work. Smart people (with the right processes) ramp up fast and start contributing in 30 days or lesser. If you have some experience and you are not pushing features to production in three weeks of joining a startup, the startup is moving too slowly.

Give this some thought and let me know what you feel in comments. I would love to hear from both founders and freelancers. Thanks for reading so far!

Popularity: 9% [?]

Speaking at RubyConf India 2011

May 20th, 2011 by Prateek Dayal View Comments

The second edition of RubyConf India is happening this month on the 28th and 29th of May. I will be speaking on Single Page Web Applications Using Backbone.js & Ruby on Rails.

I'm speaking at RubyConf India 2011

We are using Backbone.js to build the Agent Dashboard for SupportBee. We test drive our javascript code using Jasmine and Sinon JS . We use Handlebars for templating and Jammit for packaging the assets and compiling the handlebars’ files. The JS UI talks to the server using a RESTLike API (I’ll talk about why we don’t call it RESTful yet in the conference). The talk will describe this setup and walk through a small application that can demonstrate backbone’s features and patterns.

There are also several other interesting talks in the two day conference. Do checkout the schedule and register for the event. See you there!

Popularity: 13% [?]

RedDot RubyConf 2011 and Github Drinkup

April 25th, 2011 by Prateek Dayal View Comments

I just came back from RedDot Ruby Conf 2011 in Singapore. It was a great conference that featured great rubyists and speakers like Matz, Dave Thomas, Mikel Lindsaar, Gregg Pollack.

Some of the talks that I enjoyed were Ruby Can Haz Everyone by Mikel and Under the Covers with Rails 3 by Gregg. Apart from the talks, I had some interesting discussions on API designing with Tom and Ryan that I really enjoyed. Here is a list of other talks from the conference.

The best part was attending the Github Drinkup on the second day of the conference. The drinks and food were good and the conversations awesome. Here are some pics from the day two of event and the drinkup

Apart from meeting some great rubyists, I had the chance to meet Superman, Batman and Robin. Here is a pic of them from first day of the conference

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

The conference was really well organized and executed. Thanks Andy for the great conference (and coffee). I’ll be back next year :)

Popularity: 14% [?]

Hacker News India Story

November 18th, 2010 by Prateek Dayal View Comments
Let’s begin from the beginning. Last Sunday, when a group of about 15 Hacker News (HN) members from Bangalore got together for a coffee, one of the inevitable discussions was the lack of visibility for very India specific discussions in HN apart from the other inevitable discussion of the art of gaining Karmas. Later coffees were gulped, cards were exchanged and ambitious plans were made to meet more often and discuss more topics relevant to India  in the HN Google group. Did I feel something was amiss. Of-course I did.

The very next day, I downloaded an old HN codebase, bought the domain hackernews.in and set up a Hacker News for India (HNI). It had such an awesome reception that it was like everybody was waiting for something like that all their lives. Yeah, okay I am drumming it up a bit in saying so. The reception was awesome nevertheless. We have over 300 users and 700 submissions (posts + comments) in less than 72 hours of setting up HNI.  Also, lets compare some posts on HN and HNI

Ask HNI: Silent places to work in Delhi?http://hackernews.in/item?id=112 (An India specific logistics question with 12 replies)
Ask HN: CoWorking space in Delhi/India? http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1163808 (4 points, 2 replies)

Discussion on a blog post by Swaroop on startup hiring issues in India – http://hackernews.in/item?id=69 (An India specific blog post)
Ask HN: Startups hiring in India? http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1631940 (1 point, 0 replies)

Ask HNI: Subscription and recurring billing management systems for India? http://hackernews.in/item?id=355 (12 replies)
Ask HN: Accepting Online Payments in India? http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1755854 (3 points, 1 reply)

I think you see the trend. India specific questions mostly go un-noticed and unanswered on HN. There are many more unanswered ones on HN that you can see at http://searchyc.com/india

Well, there were concerns raised about the usage of the brand/ name Hacker News. A valid concern. When I was looking to book a domain I felt it was most natural to call it HN India because it is going to be used by HN users from India. Much like the Barcamp and Barcamp Bangalore.  Even while concerns were being discussed, the forum was gleefully used by all members.

Every nice story has an ugly turn. There comes a tweet!

Amateurish, Illegal, Rip-off. If the person was actually concerned shouldn’t he have participated in the discussion on HNI itself or the mailing list and offered his side of the argument? If I was allowed to grade amateurishness his behaviour was definitely more amateurish than starting HNI (if at all that can be called amateurish!) Or may be he was dying for some attention.

In all this confusion, I knew one thing for sure. If this is a problem for PG I would change the name. I was not going to change the name assuming PG has a problem. So I mailed PG.

Here’s my mail

Hi Paul,

I have been a reader of HN for about 3 years and we recently had a HN meetup in Bangalore. One of the things we discussed was how some issues are very India specific and HN is not the best place to discuss them (as not everyone is interested). So I went ahead and created http://hackernews.in and it has had some good traction in the last couple of days.

There have been some concerns over the name “Hacker News”. I picked up the name because we were essentially catering to the same community and we are clearly not running this for profit. However if YC has a problem with this, I can change the name. However, I think that having local HN sites may be very useful to startups (as you can see from the discussions on HN India).

I am happy to put a disclaimer in the footer saying that this site is not affiliated to YC. However since the code is in lisp, its taking me a little longer ( I have no lisp background).  Please let me know your thoughts and I will comply.

Finally, thanks a lot for HN and YC. Its been very useful.

Thanks,

and here is the response I got from him

Hrm, I don’t know.  We’re not usually very fussy about such things,
but it’s possible this is something we might want to do ourselves
someday.  Not immediately but maybe in several years.  You’re
welcome to use the code of course but would  you mind calling it
something else?  You’ll probably find any other name will do just
as well anyway.  –pg

Since he did not want me to continue using the name, I went ahead and bought hackerstreet.in and redirected the site to it. In a followup email, I also asked PG for the latest codebase but he needs a few weeks to clean it up before he can release it.

Only time will tell the whether HSI will succeed or not but I believe that there is a great need for something like this in India and would always be proud that we started this.

Popularity: 15% [?]

Dual Monitor Setup for Programming

November 17th, 2010 by Prateek Dayal View Comments

During my recent trip to Vietnam, I worked on dual monitor machines at EastAgile and loved it. Once I was back in India, I missed the screen real estate and got a dual monitor setup for my macbook pro. Sadly it wasn’t easy but totally worth it. I had to buy a USB display adapter to get the second monitor hooked up to the MBP. I also bought two identical Samsung B2230 monitors (1920×1080). Overall this gives you 3840×1080 resolution. The only downside is that since the second monitor is on a USB display card, it does not support OpenGL. Here is a picture

I have been using this setup for a few weeks now and I think it has almost doubled my productivity. One big benefit is that I can have code (vim) and terminals (log and shell) on one monitor and I can have two browsers (firefox for debugging and chrome for reference) on the second monitor. This makes sure that I never have to alt-tab to switch to browser or other windows needed for programming. This in turn makes sure that I don’t lose focus. Overall I have found this to be really productive.

Go ahead and try this setup out if you think you can be more productive than you currently are. You may wanna try three smaller monitors instead of two really large ones. Some people have found it to be better. Also be sure to read monitor reviews before buying the monitors.

Popularity: 14% [?]

Announcing my next startup – SupportBee

October 28th, 2010 by Prateek Dayal View Comments

They say that third time’s a charm. I am certainly hoping that they are true as I am about to embark on my third product startup, SupportBee. My first startup lasted about six months and I never really launched. My second startup, Muziboo launched and I worked fulltime on it for the last three years. SupportBee has been in the works for the last few months and its about time I talked to people about it :)

What is SupportBee?

SupportBee is a customer support and interaction tool. There are plenty of customer support softwares out there but none solves the correct problems. Right now, it’s really hard to do awesome customer service. Typically founders at startups are very passionate about customer service and they put in a lot of effort in researching about their customers and replying to every query. However, as they bring more people into the organization, the quality of responses goes down. Also one should not have to work so hard to provide well researched and thought out responses. The ideal software would make it really easy for anyone to do great customer service by providing them with relevant data about the customer (among other things).  That’s the direction we are taking with SupportBee. We’ll help you delight your customers. You can read more on our about us page. Also, do subscribe to our blog, where we will be publishing interviews with people passionate about customer service. The first to come up next week would be with Valarie of Balsamiq

SupportBee is currently in closed beta as we work on improving the product with a handful of passionate customers. Please do signup and let us know if you have any ideas for the product or customer service in general.

The future of Muziboo

Muziboo has been a great learning experience and we are very proud of what we have accomplished. We have over 200,000 users from all over the world who have uploaded over 100,000 tracks to Muziboo. The service is profitable and is in fact the seed fund/test bed for SupportBee. Muziboo will continue to run with the same quality of service and customer support. Bugs will get fixed and new features rolled out as and when they make sense. In short, nothing changes there.

I hope to write more about the switch, Muziboo experience and related things sometime soon. If you have any specific questions, do let me know. Do signup for SupportBee beta and/or pass it on to people who are passionate about customer service and think that this is still not a solved problem. We would love to talk to you :)


Popularity: 14% [?]

Benefits of Test Driven Development for Startups

October 11th, 2010 by Prateek Dayal View Comments

Test-driven development (TDD) is a software development process that relies on the repetition of a very short development cycle: first the developer writes a failing automated test case that defines a desired improvement or new function, then produces code to pass that test and finally refactors the new code to acceptable standards.

Enough has been said and written about Test Driven Development (TDD) and Behaviour Driven Development (BDD). However, I still find a lot of startups (especially small startups) not investing in TDD/BDD because they think its too much extra effort that slows down their development. In fact I am guilty of thinking the same way in the past and having switched over to the the TDD/BDD camp earlier this year, I wanted to put down my thoughts on why I think the extra effort is worth its while.

Test coverage helps you iterate faster

As any wise person would tell you, startups are all about execution. Your ability to execute on your ideas and iterate based on the feedback you get from your customers determines the success of your startup. Having a good test coverage gives you the confidence to change things in your codebase and not worry about breaking something unintentionally. I would even argue that if you don’t have test coverage, as your code base grows, you may come to a point where you may not want to make changes for the fear of breaking something.

Also writing tests (or behavior) first helps you in writing more modular and hence reusable code. Its easier to refactor or to add functionality to it. You should not consider tests simply as tests. You should think of them as specifications that help you drive your development. In fact thats what BDD is all about.

Manual Testing is not fun

One big reason I started looking at TDD was because I had gotten really bored of testing things manually. To give you an example, everytime I modified the payment logic for Muziboo, I would setup the paypal sandbox and test all the steps manually. If something failed, I would repeat the entire process. I found the entire thing very demotivating and also error prone. Automated testing frees you up and lets you focus on more exciting things.

Specs for your non Tech Founder

Tools such as cucumber help you specify what you are trying to achieve/test in plain english. They execute plain-text functional descriptions as automated tests. Here is an example:

Feature: Search courses
  In order to ensure better utilization of courses
  Potential students should be able to search for courses
 
  Scenario: Search by topic
    Given there are 240 courses which do not have the topic "biology"
    And there are 2 courses A001, B205 that each have "biology" as one of the topics
    When I search for "biology"
    Then I should see the following courses:
      | Course code |
      | A001        |
      | B205        |

These feature files can help even your non tech founder understand whats going on and what exactly the system does. Also, six months down the line, even you are gonna find it useful :)

Testing is Easy

The final point I want to make is that TDD/BDD is actually very easy and fun given the resources available. Right from awesome books to great tools, there are tons of resources to help you get started. There is a learning curve but once you are used to it, things can be very fast and productive. So do yourself a favor and adopt BDD

Popularity: 17% [?]

Hetzner – Cheap and Reliable Hosting in Germany

October 7th, 2010 by Prateek Dayal View Comments

Continuing the series of posts on hosting, I decided to review my current host. Unlike the previous providers that I used, Hetzner has its datacenters in Germany. For some reason, hosts in Europe are a lot cheaper than hosts in US and Hetzner seems to be one of the cheaper ones even in Europe. However, unlike the saying goes, in case of Hetzner, you get a lot more than you pay for.

Hetzner offers pretty good hardware and bandwidth for the cost . For instance, for about EUR 69 (reduce 19% if you are not in Europe), you get 12 GB RAM, 2 x 1.5 TB HDD and 5TB bandwidth on a 100 Mbps link. Additional bandwidth is priced at EUR 15 per TB. You can checkout this server here. Remote reboot is free (btw, you should always check for this before ordering any server anywhere).

I have been using Hetzner for over a year and I have never had a problem with them so far. I think once or twice, their network has been out for a few minutes but other than that the server has been up constantly. Hetzner runs around 30,000 servers in about 15 datacenters in Germany and they have a very reliable service and good support. Most of their website and all their emails are available in English as well as German. I have interacted with support quite a bit and they have always been able to reply well in English

If you are looking for cheap dedicated server and you have no problem hosting in Germany (which you should not in most cases), Hetzner is a great choice.

Disclaimer: Hetzner has a referral scheme and I get some credit everytime someone mentions my name/email on the signup form. However there is no affiliate links in this post.

Popularity: 15% [?]

Why we need more lifestyle businesses

September 19th, 2010 by Prateek Dayal View Comments

I have been in Vietnam for last two months and for most part, I have been living in Ho Chi Minh City. Near my hotel is a cafe called Ca fe Tinhte. Its the best cafe I have known for people to sit and work from. There is free wifi and every table has power points for plugging in your laptop and other gadgets.

The cafe is run by some people who started an online forum in Vietnam called tinhte.com. They started the cafe after the forum became popular and they wanted a place for people to hang out. You can see a lot of gadgets being unboxed here for reviews or pictures and a lot of freelancers working on their stuff. The staff is really friendly and you can hang out here all day. In fact, if you come here for a few days, you will start running into the same people. Its like a virtual office. Checkout the video of the place below

This cafe and the online operation is what would be termed a lifestyle business. Basically they are not looking at growing or opening more cafes or maximizing profits from this cafe. They wanna create a friendly environment for people to hang out and work and in the process keep the entire operation profitable. In some ways, being a lifestyle business gives this place its friendly touch and character.

I think we need a lot more lifestyle businesses like this. We need more friendly places and businesses that don’t put profits before customer service and customer happniess.

Popularity: 16% [?]