Pranav Dharma's blog – My braindump on technology, ecommerce and startups

Thank you Michael Arrington

About 10 days ago, my startup Modington, got a mention on TechCrunch.  Needless to say, it lead to a stunning amount of traffic, hundreds of signups and lot of orders placed. Fortunately (& thanks to AWS), I was able to keep the servers humming with some minor performance issues here and there. Ten days since the post went up and I’m still seeing lot of users trickle in. But this post is not meant to be a analysis of post TC metrics / traffic spike.  When time permits, I’ll get around to it.

This post is meant to express my gratitude to Mike for creating the massive marketing channel that is TechCrunch.  ‘If you build it, they will come’ never happens. After slogging your ass off to build your product, you need to make sure that it gets in front of the users. And TechCrunch has enabled startups to get that massive initial launch — getting your product in front of thousands of early adopters in one single blow.

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Control the flow of your inbound messages / email

When you are a famous / important person, you tend to get a lot of inbound,unsolicited messages and emails. And this causes email nightmares. Fred Wilson has declared email bankruptcy several times, Mike Arrington issued an open challenge to entrepreneurs, MG quit email and Paul Graham called out ‘solving email overload’ as a billion dollar frighteningly ambitious idea. As pervasive and ubiquitous email is, there is one inherent problem with email which causes these email overload scenarios:

Email gives no control to the recipient on who can send them an email. Also, given that email is free, people do not tend to think twice before sending an email.

So, here’s an idea on how important / famous people can control the flow of inbound messages they get. Again, this idea is not a replacement for email. And it only applies for people who get a lot of inbound email flow. So here is the gist of the idea (lets hypothetically call it MsgMe) :

Features for Recipients:

  • The recipient determines a price that the sender needs to pay to send a message to the recipient. The cost is also to deter users from sending large number of unsolicited messages. Payment doesnt guarantee a response from the recipient. This price can also be automatically adjusted to control the rate of flow of inbound messages. Too many messages and the price to send automatically goes up. The recipient can either cash out the amount at the end of the month or donate the amount to a charity of their choice
  • Recipients can blacklist / whitelist senders
  • All messages are limited to 500 characters and a 20 word subject / summary
  • No file attachments

Features for Senders:

  • Senders get a msg read receipt so that they at least get acknowledgement that their message was read
  • If the message is unread by the recipient for 15 days, the sender gets his money back
  • Senders see a percentage response rate for recipients — so they know the odds are whether a recipient will read their message

This is just a start and the very basic features that such could help famous people control their inbound flow of messages. More, advanced features can be added later.

Such an idea has been tried before – Centmail, etc. However, all of them tried to pitch this approach as a replacement for email. MsgMe on the other hand isnt a replacement for email — its purely a powerful tool for people to control their inbound message flow. Besides, other startups (Sanebox, OtherInbox etc) trying to solve the ’email overload’ problem are trying to do a better job at better email filtering, email managing etc — they dont try to address the inbound flow problem at all.

Startup idea for a lifestyle business – Ecommerce product photography

With the wide spread adoption of digital SLR’s, a new breed of amateur photography enthusiasts has emerged. While photography as a hobby is great, wouldnt it be great if you could make some money off your hobby ?  Here’s a lifestyle business which can be incredibly lucrative for all you amateur / semi-pro photographers.

Ecommerce product photography.

Product photography requires some initial monetory investment in terms of buying the appropriate equipment (cameras, lighting, diffusers etc.) as well as learning the skills of product photography. There are several YouTube videos that walk you through the nuts and bolts of product photography. If you own a home, you can simply setup the lighting and other equipment in your spare bedroom or garage. Alternatively, in most cities, you can also rent photography studios by the hour. With the rise of ecommerce, the demand for product and catalog photography has increased so much, that over the course of a few projects, you can easily turn a profit for your business.

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No more entrepreneurial masturbation

As long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I attended startup and entrepreneurship events in Raleigh, NC. I wrote and ran one of the top blogs for Indian startups for four years.  I joined a startup in the Bay area to get a feel of how things work in a startup. Once in the valley, I attended even more networking and startup events.  I was on a high fueled by blogs, interviews, hacker news and all the amazing entrepreneurship stories I was reading.  I dreamed, breathed and masturbated (ok. not literally, but you get the picture) about startups.

One fine day though, on my morning ride on the Caltrain, a huge realization dawned on me. What was I really doing to accomplish my goal of being an entrepreneur ? I was dreaming of doing my own startup, but what tangible actions was I taking to making it a reality ?  The ugly truth was that I was living in a fantasy world. A world where I fantasized that it could be my startup that was being acquired by Facebook for a billion dollars. My face plastered across blogs and other media. People congratulating me on my success. Like junk food, I was feasting on other people’s success and feeling good and satisfied about it. And like junk food, I could not get enough of it.


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Hello world!

I’m glad to be blogging again. As a part of this blog, I intend to keep a braindump of my thoughts and at the same time chronicle my entrepreneurial journey. Of course the random miscellaneous post here and there will also make its way through.

So let the journey begin.