OPEN Ends another Successful Year with a Well-Attended Program
By A.H. Cemendtaur
Glimpses of the Organization of Pakistani Entrepreneurs and Professionals program organized at the TiE Conference Center in Santa Clara on December8, 2010
It is a reality: Most new businesses quickly become part of statistics -- bad statistics for that matter; these businesses join the ranks of failed enterprises. The conspicuous aspects of a flopped business are too obvious to miss: a vacant shop or office, a cancelled business license, a dissolution of incorporation filed with the state, and an occasional lawsuit. What are not obvious are the inconspicuous elements of the failure: marriages that are torn asunder, friendships that are strained, and other relationships that suffer an irreparable blow.
But OPEN, Organization of Pakistani Entrepreneurs and Professionals, in its December 8 event, kept its eyes on the positive aspects of entrepreneurship and produced three sets of entrepreneurs who were friends before they started their respective businesses together -- the success of their enterprises were keeping their friendships strong. " Just Between Friends, Starting and running companies with people you already know ", OPEN's last event of 2010, was produced in partnership with ' The Indus Entrepreneurs' (TiE), a large group of South Asian entrepreneurs. The program was arranged at the TiE Conference Center in Santa Clara. OPEN can be considered a breakaway faction of TiE, but unlike the atmosphere associated with the obvious South Asian breakaway analogy OPEN enjoys amicable relationship with its parent entity.
Three pairs of friends who entered the risky business of entrepreneurship and made it were Awais Nemat and Guy Hutchison of D5 Networks (acquired by Marvell Technology Group, in 2006); Rajan Raghavan and Prabhakar Sundarrajan of Ankeena Networks (acquired by Juniper Networks, in 2010); and Osman Rashid and Babur Habib of Kno, Inc. [working in the field of education with the conviction that the future of textbook is digital].
Murrali Rangarajan, a TiE charter member, provided the introduction of the program. Rangarajan said TiE had been teaching entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship to its members for the last eighteen years. Speaking of the South Asians in the US, he said, "We have decided to settle here. We might as well be a strong community."
Next in line was OPEN President, Naeem Zafar. Besides being a successful entrepreneur, Zafar is currently a faculty member at the Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley, where he teaches entrepreneurship. Zafar said OPEN's sixty-percent programs were geared towards helping entrepreneurs and the rest were to help professionals.
"Just Between Friends" panel discussion was moderated by Faraz Hoodbhoy, founder and Senior Vice President of PixSense, a company that provides social networking platform for mobile phone users. Hoodbhoy said he too started his company with friends and still enjoys good relationship with them.
In responding to the question about how did the three sets of entrepreneurs meet their respective partners Awais and Guy said they worked at Cisco together and enjoyed good working relationship in that assignment; when Awais quit the job to start on his own, Guy knew he could trust Awais in the enterprise; Raj met Prabhakar when one day Prabhakar knocked on his door to find out about the neighborhood Raj was living in -- later both worked together at Xambala and discovered their distant family connections; Osman and Babur went to school together and later found it comfortable to be in a business partnership.
How is equity partnership decided between friends starting a business? The three sets of entrepreneurs had pretty much the same answer. It is decided by having open dialog and considering the strengths each partner brings to the business.
How are difficult decisions made in the business? Panelists said difficult decisions in a business involve defining success and failure of the enterprise and deciding the best time and price to sell the company for. Awais Nemat emphasized on having constant communication between the partners and deciding beforehand how the difficult situations would be dealt with. Panelists said agreeing upon the exit strategy was one of the tough decisions.
Do investors consider previous friendship between partners as a plus point for investing in a venture? Answering this question Naeem Zafar said when investors put their money in a business they assume three types of risks: a market risk, a technology risk, and an execution risk; it is only the execution risk where good relationship between partners matters and is positively looked at by the investors.
When friendship is tested in a business do you give more importance to the business or the friendship? Ravi gave an example of a situation where one of his previous businesses failed because of not listening to the sane advice of the board to fire his partner; he wanted to keep his friendship and retained the friend in the company. Panelists agreed that the best strategy in starting a business is to first find a good match for the venture and then make sure you can work with that person.
The OPEN and TiE jointly arranged program was attended by over one hundred people. Popularity of the speakers aside, TiE's outreach and OPEN's team of promoters -- Gulrukh (Gul) Ahmed, Moazzam Chaudry, Shahab Riazi, and Mobashar Yazdani -- should be commended for roping in so many people on a weekday evening.