Interview with Sramana Mitra on 1M/1M Program

1M/1M Program has a bold mission

One Million by One Million is a global initiative that aims to nurture a million entrepreneurs reach a million dollars each in annual revenue and beyond by 2020, thereby creating a trillion dollars in global GDP and ten million jobs.

This is an ambitious project and it’s not surprising because it’s founded by ever enterprising Sramana Mitra. I had an opportunity to catchup with Sramana and we talked about the program. Even if you are not an entrepreneur, you will have plenty of things to learn from Sramana’s responses to my interview questions.

Without further ado, here we go:

RS: What is 1M/1M and how did the idea come about?

SM: In September 2008, when the first Entrepreneur Journeys book was released, D.D. Ganguly, CEO of DimDim, suggested that we organized “virtual book readings” over their platform. I thought about it, but decided to experiment with a more interactive format. That was the birth of our online strategy roundtables where we invited entrepreneurs to pitch and discuss their strategy in a reality show mode.

Through the spring of 2010, we released four volumes of EJ books and continued to experiment with the roundtables, which became increasingly popular. Meanwhile, in January 2010 my New Year’s resolution was published.

Through the Entrepreneur Journeys project, I have come to conclude that the most vulnerable phase in an entrepreneur’s life is the pre-$1 million revenue stage. This is where numerous ventures fail. Once the $1 million revenue milestone is crossed, entrepreneurs find it easier to find additional customers, manage working capital, and access funding, whether it is credit or equity.

In my roundtables, the vast majority of entrepreneurs I work with are in this rather vulnerable pre $1 million revenue stage.

Thus, I have come to the conclusion that if I could help a million entrepreneurs globally reach $1 million in revenue (and beyond), that would be the foundation of a robust, distributed, and sustainable economic value creation that would add up to a trillion dollars in global GDP. It would also result in creating at least 10 million jobs around the world.

Over the course of 2010, the work did gain momentum, and we were joined by many of our readers from around the world who decided to make this resolution their own. By April 2010, the One Million by One Million (1M/1M) global initiative had been formally named. By November 2010, we launched the 1M/1M website, including an early version of the premium program.

And today, we have a group of early adopter premium members who are making good use of the program. Over approximately 100 roundtables, I have personally coached more than 400 early-stage entrepreneurs, and between the free and the premium program, as well as the blog, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn we have a community of more than 200,000 people engaged in the initiative at various levels.

Through this journey, we have raised the visibility of fundamental issues like the causes of exorbitantly high infant entrepreneur mortality, and alerted the entrepreneur community with a simple observation:

Entrepreneurship = (Customer + Revenue + Profits); Financing is Optional

Our community has successfully established a culture of bootstrapping as a counterforce to the compulsive rush to financing that entrepreneurs mistakenly often engage in, only to be rejected over and again by investors. This, of course, doesn’t mean that we discourage entrepreneurs to seek financing. It simply means that our methodology prepares them better if they do decide to raise capital, as well as calibrate their fundability at different points of the journey.

And finally, we have defined 1M/1M as a framework for capitalism 2.0, a distributed, democratic model of capitalism.

RS: What makes 1M/1M unique?

SM: Every incubator you look at takes pride in how exclusive they are. How difficult it is for entrepreneurs to get selected to participate. 1M/1M is not exclusive at all. We want every entrepreneur to have access to our curriculum and incubation services, and give them an opportunity to build their businesses, irrespective of the scale of their entrepreneurial aspirations. After all, there are many more $5M, $10M, $20M ideas out there than $500M or billion dollar ones. The latter is the domain of venture capital, but the former is what we need to build the foundation for Capitalism 2.0 on a global scale. [You can watch a video on this subject to understand more about what VCs do and don’t fund, and why.]

In 1M/1M, we offer a case-study-based online educational program, video lectures, and methodology, online strategy consulting at public and private online roundtables, as well as introductions to customers, channel partners and investors (pre-seed, seed, angel, VC, bank, alternative financing). The public roundtable is a free program accessible from anywhere in the world. The rest of the services are for paying members only. The $1000 annual fee grants paying members unlimited usage of the service.

I have learnt a great deal being based in the heart of Silicon Valley for the last 15 years, and having access to its inner circle. However, as I started designing 1M/1M, it was clear to me that what we have learned and fine-tuned here at such a furious pace needs to be encapsulated and made available to the larger world of entrepreneurs. No, you do not need to come to Silicon Valley to learn entrepreneurship. With 1M/1M, we have packaged the lessons from the trenches of over 400 entrepreneurs. We have synthesized a methodology that draws from their best practices. We have created case studies that help you get an up-close-and-personal experience of sitting down with some of the best entrepreneurs of our time, and sharing, perhaps, a cup of coffee with them

RS: Give us a couple of 1M/1M stories that you think are worth sharing

SM: Take the story of Taariq Lewis, CEO of Voluble, who joined the program with a nebulous idea back in March, and by September, has a crisp positioning, market sizing, real, paying beta customers like IBM, and investors are interested in the business. here is what Taariq says about 1M/1M: “With Sramana, we sprinted from vague product concept to a customer-driven business with real, reference customers in just six months. Any startup that wants to fast-track to being ‘Silicon Valley VC ready’ should participate in this program.”

Also, take the story of Girish Mathrubootham, CEO of Freshdesk. I met Girish at an event we did in Chennai in April, and he joined the program right away. Since then, Freshdesk has won a $40,000 grant from Microsoft which we helped them with, and a round of financing which we also helped them with. He says, “1M/1M is a very helpful program, and Sramana is very well connected in the industry. When we were looking to talk to investors, Sramana introduced us to multiple investors and acted as an advisor helping us to navigate complex term sheet clauses like tranche financing and liquidation preferences. 1M/1M also helped us to win the $40,000 Microsoft BizSpark Startup Challenge Grant by helping us to refine our pitch, market sizing analysis, and other details. I would enthusiastically recommend Sramana’s 1M/1M program for first time entrepreneurs and technical founders who need help with understanding other aspects of running a business.”

We also have members like Nitie Mehta who came up with one concept, used the 1M/1M methodology to validate it, and found out that there was no market need for it. She then came up with a second concept, and is currently executing on it after doing adequate validation work, again, following our methodology.

Premium member Ajit Narayen, Engineer and Founder at Invention Labs in Chennai, India, was named one of the world’s top 35 innovators by MIT Tech Review for 2011 and was named Innovator of the Year India several months back.

Dan Stewart, President at Happy Grasshopper, has successfully generated a nice revenue stream, and is negotiating large enterprise deals. He has veered away from angel financing, and has decided to bootstrap with customer money, and preserve equity ownership, foregoing any immediate dilution related to financing. Of 1M/1M he says, “The value of your program is amazing. For perspective, I also joined a $12,000/month CEO-roundtable group, with professional speakers and full day, once-per-month meetings. At 1/12th the cost, 1M/1M provides far more value. I was looking for what you teach back in January 2007 and couldn’t find it anywhere. We had just launched our first tech venture and would have saved countless thousands in trial and error education if 1M/1M was available.”

RS: What are some of the key lessons that 1M/1M participants have learned in the first year?

SM: The first thing they have learnt is the importance of bootstrapping and attaining customer validation, as well as the mechanics of both those disciplines. They have also learnt the importance of Market Sizing, and again, the mechanics of what assumptions to make, and how to make those assumptions credible. Also, the 1M/1M entrepreneurs are gaining confidence in building customers and revenues, as opposed to chasing investors right out of the gate. Learning how to position your company in a laser sharp, focused manner is a very important piece of that, and it’s another discipline that we drive home within 1M/1M. And, they are learning what is fundable and what isn’t, and why. Consequently, they are able to make decisions about their businesses in more astute and sophisticated ways. They also learn a lot about customer acquisitions strategies, what works and what doesn’t. Team building strategies – what is appropriate for a bootstrapped stage versus what is needed for funding. Numerous lessons. 1M/1M is like a mini entrepreneurship-focused MBA at $1000 a year, plus a credible, powerful business network.

RS: Thanks Sramana.

Please check out more at 1M/1M website