How building startups are like planting trees

Starting startups and planting trees basically have the same steps. Here’s an analogy

1. Find the right soil and area –  this is basically market research without which there is no beginning.  Making sure the soil, the weather, the surroundings is crucial for plants to even begin. Same for startups. Find the right product/market/idea fit. Solve a real problem.

2. Buy the right seeds –  this is the formation of the idea. The idea has to be right, and fit the market, just like the right soil needs the right seeds. Also to buy the seeds you need money and possibly land. You either put in your own money or borrow from friends and family with a promise to repay in kind. This is angel investment. Angels can be friends and family/bootstrapped/angel investors.

3. Choose the right people to plant the tree with – planting and growing trees is a lifelong process.  And you need the right set of people to work with you, who share the same vision for what the tree should look like 20 years from now and will do anything to see it gets there. Also ideally you’ve planted other trees before with these people. This is how you should choose Co founders. The vision should be to grow an Orchard of trees. Ideally you’ll need someone who knows the science of planting trees (CTO) and someone who can ensure daily watering/healthcheck operations happen smoothly(COO). Your primary role(CEO) will be to oversee the other two and start talking to local markets about the benefits of buying your produce and signing up early customers. The purpose is after all to create customers.

4. Plant the seed – This is the start. Make sure everything is in order. Team is set, plans are set, laser focused on building, growth and execution.

5. Water the seed till it becomes a healthy plant – Early growth. This basically proves the land is fertile and the growing trees here is not disastrous. This also sends the right cues to investors and customers alike, who see that 20 years from now, you might be the best producer in the market, and want an early piece of it.

6. Find people who can buy you the right tools and fertilizers– expecting trees to grow on their own is hard especially considering all the factors that can go against it. Find Investors who can buy expensive fertilizers and help solve your problems with their vast experience of having grown trees before. These people are only here to help. Make sure of that, and that you don’t give up too much of your early produce or promise too much of your end product

7. Water everyday and grow the tree – Water the plants everyday, ensure good health, start selling produce, put money back into buying things that help in growth. Similarly for startups – execute, execute, execute, use early revenues to buy more tools , build more metrics and hire more people

8. Find people to help you plant more seeds – find coworkers who believe in your vision and work hard with you. Find people willing to invest in helping you to plant more trees. Scale your startup.

9. Build a business- now that you have the produce, the customers willing to buy your produce and the right hardworking team you have sustainable business. Grow the business. Start planting more trees and orchards, start planting trees in other suitable orchards, acquire orchards that have trees you’d like but cant plant them due to the time involved.

10. Sell the Orchard or continue to expand across regions, orchards – sell or go IPO

At every point be aware of bad weather conditions(co founder spats, bad hires), diseases(bad execution, bad advice) that can kill the plant and make sure to root them out early.

Very similar don’t you think. Comments?


Sam Altman’s CS183B – Lecture 2

Lecture 2 was part 2 of the first class i.e. Ideas, Product , Teams and execution with focus on Teams and Execution. The class started with Sam answering a couple of questions from the questionnaire.

Q: How does someone identify markets that are growing quickly?

A. College students instinctively have better know how of this, better than older people, since they see friends, market trends etc., everyday closer than others.

Q: How do you deal with burnout?

A. It sucks, but keep going. Address the challenges, things that are going wrong , and things would get better. Founder depression is a serious issue

Team Notes:

1.) Choosing Co Founders is very very very  important. Co Founder blow up is the main reason for failing YC Startups. Best place to find a co founder – college or a very interesting startup type company – FB, Google. Don’t go solo, very difficult.

2.) Best friend\Friend\Acquaintance Co founder > Solo Founder > Random Founder you meet. Founders = 007 , Hire James Bond type people – do whatever it takes to achieve goals,tough+calm.

3.) Hire slowly, hire correctly.Get the best, don’t settle. Recruitment is hard! Spend either 0% or 25% of time hiring. Use personal referrals liberally. Look outside the valley.

4.) Hire the Venn Diagram intersection of Smart, GTD and Like to spend time with. Try to work together on something instead of just interviews. For interviews ask  for projects and call references.

5.) Give lot more equity to employees vs investors. Do this very soon. Be near equal, this is a very difficult decision, vest equity. Employee retention is a big part. Do simple things to do this , not micromanage, praise teams. Fire fast.

 Execution notes:

1.) CEO –> Vision, Raise money, evangelize, hire and manage, make sure the company executes.

2.) FOCUS –> What are you spending time and money, find two things to do everyday with laser focus. Say No a lot, Set overarching goals and repeat them over and over again, communicate.

3.) INTENSITY–> Not for work life balance, all consuming. GTD!

4.) INDECISIVENESS is a startup killer – Bias towards action.



Don’t let competitors worry you unless they don’t care about you.


Slide Deck

Sam Altman’s CS183B – Lecture 1

Signed up for Sam Altman’s CS183B. Quite excited to watch and learn a little bit about how to build startups. Sam Altman is a proven technology leader(sold Loopt(First YC batch)) and voted one of the best founders ever by Paul Graham(PG), and hence is his successor at YCombinator as the President.

The first class was just an introduction. I think the biggest insights from the first part of  Sam Altman’s talk were

1.) 4 components that make a great startup – Great idea, Awesome product, Strong founding team, and cut throat execution

2.) Ideas are important(contrary to recent popular belief that ideas don’t matter)! Of course not the most important, but certainly ideas form a very important piece of the startup value prop.

3.) Make amazing products. Products are easy to build if you have a strong founding team and the right toolset. Its better to have a small group of users who absolutely love the product rather than having a large group of users who just like it.

4.) Dont follow the policy – “We will build and they will come”, rather follow “I will build what they want by asking them over and over again”

5.) The holy grail of growth metrics :

Total registrations
Active users
Activity Levels
Cohort Retention
Net Promoter Score

Slide deck: Sam Altman Slide deck

Dustin Moskovitz, Co Founder at Facebook and Asana, also talked about the pitfalls of thinking about startups as being cool, rad and the most fun thing to do and the only reason for you to start something is that you can Not start it , your own passion of solving a problem you are facing and helping others to solve the same problem and the acknowledgement of the world of the existence of the problem and the need to solve it.

Slide deck: Dustin Moskovitz Slide deck


Here is a link to the questionnaire , if you want to ask Sama or PG or Adora Cheung any specific questions:


Btw – These are a few books, in my opinion, you need to read before even thinking of starting something

1.) Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future – Peter Thiel

2.) The Lean Startup: How Constant Innovation Creates Radically Successful Businesses – Eric Ries

3.)Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail (Management of Innovation and Change) – Clayton Christensen

4.)The Four Steps to the Epiphany – Steve Blank

5.) Hackers and Painters: Big Ideas From the Computer Age – Paul Graham

Of course this is just 5 out of the many that are out there, so please comment on what books you would rate higher than the ones above for any budding entrepreneur to read.


PS: I’ll be summarizing all classes into possibly flashcards like posts with 5 points each, like above

Medieval Selfies

Really fun article on medieval selfies


Self-portraits of medieval book artisans are as exciting as they are rare. In the age before the modern camera there were limited means to show others what you looked like. In the very late medieval period, when the Renaissance spirit was already felt in the air, some painters made self-portraits or included themselves in paintings commissioned by others. Stunningly, the medieval painter Jan van Eyck showed himself in the portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his fiance: he is staring at you from the mirror that is hanging behind the couple. For those who still didn’t get it, he painted above it Johannes de eyck fuit hic, Jan van Eyck was here” (Fig. 1, more here). He added the date 1434 to the picture, making it a particularly early selfie.

Jan van Eyck, Giovanni Arnolfini and his fiance, 1434 (right) and mirror detail (left) Fig. 1 – Jan van Eyck, Giovanni Arnolfini and fiance (right)  and mirror detail (left)

As far as producers of books is concerned, there were only two kinds…

View original post 1,052 more words

Sequoia::Hackathon 2014 – Analysis

Just came back from Sequoia Hack 2014 at the ITC Gardenia in Bangalore. We were team Slartibartfast (Jainendra Kumar) and I. My original teammate couldn’t come, and Jai decided to join up for a fun 24 hour hackathon(his first). As it is the norm in bangalore, a great crowd of some of the smartest hackers in Bangalore had showed up .  A lot of Sequoia backed indian companies were releasing API’s like JustDial, Freecharge, HealthKart, Practo, Appier etc, But we were focused on working and seeing the OLA cabs API. We were quite excited because we both are excited about the potential Ola cabs has to disrupt the transportation space in India. There were 12 tracks one could be in- i.e Payments, ML, Transport, Open Source, Gaming, Social,Virtual Goods, Search, Analytics, Infra, healthcare and (one more that I cant remember anymore, will update).

Our original idea was to build Poola – Carpooling with Ola. But when the OLA API’s were released, they just weren’t enough to build what we wanted to, and we didn’t want to download and fudge data and show something fake and even though Ola worked really hard on releasing the API’s they couldnt expose more data. We tried to build a pseudo hack till 10PM with dummy data without a lot of API use on Saturday but then realized it would be futile to continue, plus we later discovered a lot of teams were doing Carpooling with Ola . This is when we made the switch from Transportation to Gaming. We ended up building a small game on Android.

The premise for building the game:

  1. Very easy game play but should be difficult to master
  2. Addictive
  3. Can be built in 10 hours and Put onto play store by 10 am
  4. Learn about game building on Android for work purposes, try to use concepts like OPENGL etc., to build it

Presenting Wiley Runner. (Removed for now off the store, will be back after a few image tweaks)


Help Wile E. Coyote – the hero in our game(Yes!) escape a barrage of roadrunners and kill as many as you can with ACME missiles Instructions:

  1.  Move the coyote from left to right to escape roadrunners
  2.  Swipe up to shoot ACME missiles
  3. Try to achieve high scores and compete with your friends .

Next steps for the app will include

  1. Google play integration
  2. Ads
  3. Infinite scroll levels

And Maybe gaze tracking integration (Anand chandrashekaran from MadStreetDen will be thrilled) Lets see if it can become the next flappy bird – everyone I sent the game to are still playing it 😀 All in all a great event.

Met a few investors of Sequoia who I will certainly want to be talking to again 😉

Feedback to the event organizers:

  1. Wifi – Very hit/miss . Maybe try handing out one day dongles to every one next time?
  2. Segregate teams doing 24 hours hacks vs . I know this is difficult but this would be great.
  3. Organized better – we weren’t in any of the track lists, we didn’t receive a google link to register our track and we literally had 1 minute with the judges towards the end because quite literally time was up.

But then its only the second sequoia hack and hope it gets better next year- so all in all good fun! The food and the continuous supply of paper boat/tzinga was brilliant

Congratulations to all the winners and great work!

Follow the #seqhack tag on twitter to find all the winners and winning ideas.

An Engineering View of Zomato


view my food journey on zomato!


This is me on Zomato. And like the widget says I’m a big foodie.

Frankly I don’t really like apps that ask me to do stuff like take pictures of the food I’m eating, or rate the place I’m eating at, or post reviews about the place etc., I really only use such apps for place discovery and rating. I’m not really a participant. You could call me a leecher in torrent parlance – but thats slowly changing with zomato. I really find it useful to read reviews and ratings on restaurants and want to give back to the community.

Things I love about – the website:

1.) The UI and UX – Probably one of the best websites out there. Everything you need is right there where you need it to be. Clean, neat, great!

2.) Collections and suggested searches- Yes I might not want to search a lot of the times , I’d rather see a list of the highest rated places depending . Mine and Spock’s favorite collection is “Pet friendly”.

3.) Speed dial – Yep, this is a life saver. Particularly in a startup where I work, with no catering, I just call up someone from the speed dial and have food ordered.

4.) Turn off the background lights on clicking  the menu – nice(small things matter) 😀

Things I dont like on the site:

1.) Gamification – Yes its the ‘in’ thing, and drives user engagement, but for me gamifying food reviews doesn’t make too much sense unless there is an incentive for large scale gamification. And really gamification shouldn’t drive reviews which can easily go haywire(Yelp anyone?), whereas good reviews should drive the site. The good thing is that everything is modded, but that system needs to improve.

2.) Numerical rating system – I understand the logic behind having this, but quite literally . I dont know whether Sattvam, a place I went Earlier is 3.5 or 4.0 . No real objective way for me to rate. My suggestion, do A/B testing with a 5 star feature, and also with one with no decimals points. And get feedback. Rating systems are hard to master.

3.) A bit too ballsy marketing campaigns – Hit/Miss as we know by now. Generally, mathematically, misses are costlier.

What’s missing:

1.) Open tables like reservation system – If I am going to use the website religiously, I need to be able to reserve tables in crowded restaurants for sure.

2.) Offers Zone – Hey if you are going to have a website on which are the best restaurants might as well tell me where I might get a good offer tonight.


Things I love about  Zomato – the android app:

1.) Again great UI/UX , The app is very very neat, and it shows you everything you need on the front page. Plus on a slow connection it still manages to pull through, though its quite image heavy

2.) Nearby – Of course, you gotta love this one. Very accurate, which is the biggest need of this feature.

 Things I hate about the app:

1.) Nothing yet really. Maybe it needs the old splash screen image back, but thats about it 😀

Whats missing:

From a UX standpoint, for the android app,  I’d love to have the complete restaurant experience with Zomato app. i.e. Search for a great restaurant that suits my needs(or better yet, suggest them to me based on maybe my mood), tell friends about it and make plans, Reserve tables at the restaurant, Split bills with my friends and see who owes who and what, rate and review the restaurant once done.  This is where maybe Zomato should head towards in my opinion. Not just another Yelp wannabe.

So there. I’m not an iOS User, but I’m planning to make the transition at some point this year, so no inputs there.

Disclaimer: This post is only 20% motivated by the prize.

Why we don’t want SHA-1 anymore.

Wondering why Google wants to kill SHA-1.?

Been meaning to write in great depth about SHA-1 , what it is, and why we don’t want it anymore, but hey someone’s already done it very very well here–  in fact he’s even written a live web checker.

So I’m just going to summarize the core of this issue

  • Any web site that is HTTPS, when connected to ,will present a certificate to the browser claiming to be authentic, secure and real.
  • The certificate has been issued to the website by a regulatory body called a Certificate Authority (Examples – Verisign, Comodo)
  • The certificate has two parts – key for encrypted connection and SHA-1 hash to ensure that the website you have connected really is the website it claims to be. For e.g. when you go to , the facebook certificate has been signed with a private key that only the CA knows, and the browser will maintain an encrypted connection throughout the session.
  • But the browser will only show you a green lock if it can verify that the website really is what it claims to be. For this firstly the CA signs the certificate and runs it through an algorithm which in most cases is SHA-1 . This is where the problem lies.
  • One-way hash algorithms like SHA-1 are designed to produce unique, irreversible so that the browser can identify the authenticity of the site
  • When your browser sees a certificate, it can calculate the SHA-1 for that certificate’s information itself, and then compare it to the signed SHA-1 that the certificate offered as proof. Because SHA-1 promises unique information, the browser trusts that if they match, the certificate on offer is the same one the Certificate Authority signed.
  • If you could engineer a certificate that “collides” with a target certificate, and coax a Certificate Authority to issue you that certificate, then you would successfully forge a certificate that a browser would find indistinguishable from the target.
  • In 2005, cryptographers proved that SHA-1 could be cracked 2,000 times faster than predicted. It would still be hard and expensive — but since computers always get faster and cheaper, it was time for the internet to stop using SHA-1.
  • Then the internet just kept using SHA-1. In 2012, Jesse Walker wrote an estimate, reprinted by Bruce Schneier, of the cost to forge a SHA-1 certificate. The estimate uses Amazon Web Services pricing and Moore’s Law as a baseline.Walker’s estimate suggested then that a SHA-1 collision would cost $2M in 2012, $700K in 2015, $173K in 2018, and $43K in 2021. Based on these numbers, Schneier suggested that an “organized crime syndicate” would be able to forge a certificate in 2018, and that a university could do it in 2021.Walker’s estimates and Schneier’s characterization have become widely cited in the planning and debate over transitioning from SHA-1. A group of leading Certificate Authorities, the CA Security Council, cited them recently to complain about Google’s schedule. In that complaint, the CAs use those estimates to suggest “the lack of a practical attack until 2018”.


So there you go, you don’t need more proof do you? , Go ahead, change to SHA-2 today


Courtesy –  – Eric Mills site