Do check out what Freeman has written about the iaccelerator. He spent a lot more time at the program than yours truly and has given the incubation process a much deeper thought.
Some media coverage for the generally media shy program.
The iaccelerator 2008 the startup incubation program invited a steady stream of visiting mentors for interactive sessions with the incubatees, a veritable who's who of successful entrepreneurs of India. Yours truly only had the opportunity to listen to Mouthshut, Naukri founders and Sequoia Capital's Sandeep Singhal. I won't be covering the advice offered by Sandeep Singhal to the startup teams as it involves a bit about their secret sauce. I'll cover the startups and their secret weapons once they agree to be covered on this blog.
Just at the end of iaccelerator 2008 program at this moment is that two of the startups out of the five have agreed to be funded by CIIE and the funding quantum is about 50k to 75k level( based on my earlier conversations with CIIE folks) for a reasonable amount of stake and relatively benevolent terms. Its un-confirmed yet and I have shot an e-mail to Aditi(CIIE) for a confirmation.
Sanjeev Bhikchandani basically happened to be present at the IIM-A Entrepreneur's meet and he had a fairly long public Q & A style interaction for a large enough audience at iaccelerator's work area. To his credit he was very candid about what makes Naukri.com and Infoedge's portfolio of sites tick. (keep reading)
He had a lot of advice to the startups at iaccelerator, which included his take on specific business models and target markets that the technology developed by the startups should be focused on.
1. With all the funding eco-system in place it makes sense to really focus on your idea and not worry about bootstrapping it with services kind of revenue. Naukri.com was bootstrapped in a different era.
2. Build defensible Intellectual Property that fills a void in the marketplace and outrun your competitors using that.
3. Make sure a market exists for an idea and is large enough.
Yep the usual advice above but then you can a learn a whole lot more from listening to him speak how he describes Infoedge's business models, technology focus and execution strategy.
Infoedge currently is the biggest web player in India, wildly profitable, incremental revenue adds 90% to the bottomline, cash reserves exceed 350 crore INR. How did they end up trouncing their better funded rivals is probably a story that has been probably covered better elsewhere. Over a period of time Infoedge has learned how to scale better by watching Google's and Yahoo!s of the world and describes itself as a media business with a very strong technology focus. Infoedge doesn't have a core competence in User Generated Content (UGC). It enters into only 'large' media marketplaces with huge corporate advertising budgets which lend themselves to a structured search( its key technology focus), except for Jeevansathi and Brijj all other properties follow the model. Sanjeev is a big believer in strong technology similar to Google and observes that keyword based search results and advertising have a lot more CPM on Infoedge properties than display advertising inventory they consume.
The key to naukri's success as compared to its rivals is that the rivals ( according to Sanjeev ) are stuck in 1998's technology in job search space and Infoedge has been able to leapfrog in effectiveness by using seach and matching technology which he calls Naukri.com's defensible Intellectual Property. He described what he called the virtuous cycle of the classified search business which keeps improving in effectiveness for both candidates and advertisers due to more job matches and more suitable candidates found with the addition of larger volume of advertisers and users, a classic cycle feeding on itself and growing. This he described as a characteristic of media business the one in which addition of users to the system improves effectiveness without adding incrementally to the costs and winner takes all or most. Which is definitely true of classified advertising space in Jobs, Education and Property classifieds search the key focus areas of Infoedge.
(I am not sure I heard him say 'search' but thats how I describe it)
Sanjeev also spoke about what sort of startups Infoedge would be willing invest into if convinced.
1. Should not be in a key focus area that Infoedge already works, so niche Jobsites, Matrimony, Property, Educational classified
2. A very strong management who can execute, Infoedge doesn't have management bandwidth to handle businesses they invest into.
3. Strong defensible Intellectual Property and technology focus
4. Existing marketplace and media business characteristics.
Now its hard to argue with Sanjeev that someone would be able to dislodge Naukri.com in the conventional way of building a better mousetrap since its about the virtuous cycle fed by volume growth. He does see the threat posed by professional social networks like linkedin spreading into India and transforming the indian job market just as it happened in the west. Which explains Infoedge's investment into their Brijj professional social network project to capture the growing social job search marketplace. He also conceded that as of today the engagement of professional indian social networks like Brijj and its rivals have a long way to go in gaining engagement that fun social networks have. Perhaps he is right that the Jobs search marketplace in India is going to look like this for a lot longer and professional social networks don't just yet pose a threat of obsolescence to Job portals.
'Stay Hungry and Stay Foolish' the book by Rashmi Bansal tells more about Sanjeev Bhikchandani's story and more advice from him to entrepreneurs.
Update 24-07-2008: The official word as per Aditi at CIIE is that the funding round beyond iaccelerator-2008 is not yet decided. It'll be done by end of the 3rd month into the program.