Skip to content

Serial Entrepreneur Mukund Mohan Welcomes Your Skepticism (And Might Hire You For It Later)

February 3, 2009

mukundTalking with Mukund Mohan for thirty minutes was like drinking an entire french press full of Philz Canopy of Heaven.

That is, it left me feeling decidedly buzzed, and wondering how any substance could pack so much energy.

Fitting that his newest venture is called Since hitting the shelves last week, this unique DIY PR service combines the fun and flirtatiousness of social media with the numbers-crunching seriousness of Google Analytics.


Mukund’s your typical Silicon Valley everything-preneur (in French, literally, everything-taker…) who has a voice in every social media outlet, three or four viable project ideas bubbling up daily, this little BuzzGain company that he’s co-founded, and even his own ‘personal’ blog where he writes about such tedious ‘personal’ details as theories of global economics, market-watch on certain major mobile handset makers, productivity tips, and a world of other, widely useful topics.

Also, did I mention that he’s really really nice? And articulate? And donates a quarter of BuzzGain’s profits to children’s education? And likes the SuperBowl?

Lucky for me talking with amazing, excellent people only makes me hungrier. Otherwise, I might not have gotten out of bed today.

What I Learned From Mukund:

1. Welcome strong reactions.

“A while back, I told [a competitor] about my idea and he said, outright, “‘Oh you shouldn’t be doing that because we’ll just crush you.'”

When you’ve got an idea that you’re semi-serious about, do like Mukund and shop it around to lots of people who may not like it, or who are potential competitors. It’s emotionally counter-intuitive, but professionally genius.

While it feels good to hear affirmations all day long, every day, it’s actually NOT HELPING YOU! Most of the time, you’ll learn MUCH more from all the shit-talk you get from the opposition (and the competition) than you will from your lovely, and loving, mother. More on how Mukund did this below.

2. Check your ‘tude.

“Being an entrepreneur is about 99% attitude and 1% skill and everytihng else. You have to have determination and passion to get to where you want to go.”

So far, there isn’t an exact scientific consensus on this, but we’ve all heard that many types of success are borne from 99% attitude and 1% skill and everything else. At least, this is what people like Mukund and Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (my Ashtanga yoga superhero and guru to thousands) say.

It seems to work! Naturally, it’s MUCH harder to acquire attitude than it is to acquire skill. Don’t think so? Try standing in line for the bathroom for 45 minutes all the while telling yourself you’re having a great time — and BELIEVE it. It’s hard, maybe damn near impossible.

But, if you hear enough stories about how EVERYONE else thinks that standing in line for the bathroom for 45 minutes is a total blast and something they might even pay to do, then that can affect your attitude. Ask the Entrepreneurs, and conversations with people like Mukund, are attitude adjusters.

3. Write it down.

“That document is going to be something you come back to over and over again every time a customer doesn’t want to even take your call because they think your product sucks.”

If you’re like Mukund, or like me on coffee, you might have hundreds of snippets running loose in your head. How do you know which of these are good and which are junk?

Like other discerning people, Mukund has personal criteria against which he evaluates every snippet to see if it’s worth his time and mindspace. Here’s where the writing comes in. He argues that it’s not enough to simply have your criteria in mind, but that you actually have to see the words in front of you on a screen or on a piece of paper.

Later, when you have a core idea that you know you want to develop, you have to write that down too. Mukund even suggests over-documenting, if it means you’ll have a record, in print, to come back to every time someone tells you you’re crazy (again) and it’s not because you were drunk at a party or throwing bottles in the gutter at 7th and Market.

Mukund was one of the most self-aware people I’ve met, and he had lots of very specific, entrepreneurial tactics that he was able to share in a way that I could understand and apply to my own questions.

Our conversation was rich with these tidbits, and you can digest them in full, below.

Can anyone be an entrepreneur? Even corporate drones? Even the very inexperienced, or the overly experienced, the entrenched people?

There are two sets of people you’ve mentioned, the fresh grad, and the entrenched industry expert. Being an entrepreneur is about 99% attitude and 1% skill and everything else, and so it really doesn’t matter what your background is. You have to have determination and passion to get to where you want to go.

Is determination inborn or can it be learned?

I don’t know that. I’ve seen a lot of people from both camps, so it’s probably a little bit of both.

I talk to a lot of people who are afraid to strike out on their own, even just in commenting on a blog post, and they ask me, “Can I really do this?” All that asking makes me wonder, CAN they really do it? I don’t always know what to tell them.

My personal take on this is that the only thing a person really needs in order to be an entrepreneur is determination. You’ll hear a lot of “No’s” but you should be willing and able to dust yourself off.

Do you have any examples where you’ve heard “no” but stayed determined?

Yeah, I can think of many! Here’s one example. There are about three or four companies who are already doing something that’s on the fringes of what we do. I spoke with one gentleman, a very smart guy, someone I would actually have loved to hire at any point. A while back, I told him about my idea and he said, outright, “Oh you shouldn’t be doing that because we’ll just crush you.”

He gave me a bunch of statistics, a lot of very convincing analysis, and was just brutally honest. For me, hearing rejection was not a big deal because at that point I had about 17 or 18 ideas in my head and I was trying to figure out which one to go for.

But, when I heard his reaction, I thought, “Oh ok, well, if you’re INTERESTED in crushing me – based on this idea – then that means there’s all the more reason to do it.” He said, “Ok, it doesn’t make sense, but go ahead and do it. You won’t listen to what I have to say, but that’s fine, just see for yourself.”

My thinking was, if this person thinks that this idea is something worth putting seven or eight people behind, in order to compete against it, then there’s got to be something to it.

As it turns out, that company is now really struggling through the downturn, moving closer to the deadpool, according to some. I spoke with the guy just last week after the BuzzGain launch, and he asked me, “When you guys get to the break-even point, would you maybe have a position for me?”

Anyway, the key is, you WILL get a lot of people, regardless of whether your idea is good or bad, who like it a lot, as well as a lot of people who totally hate it and are skeptical, not only about the idea, but about whether or not you can do it. The idea itself is not the main draw for me, because people get lots of ideas. Most of the time don’t think that it’s an ‘idea,’ or don’t think it’s good enough to do something about it.

So, you had 17 or 18 ideas in your head, and you actually decided to go with the one that was basically spat on by an admired player in the industry, the guy who said he would ‘crush you.’

Well, they weren’t in my head, I’d written them down. I have about seven criteria against which I evaluate every idea. I take all the ideas and I put them to paper, and when I was talking to this gentleman, I was actually reading from my list.

His reaction was just another data point for me to consider amidst the the rest, like market factors and some others.

What are your criteria?

Well, they are very personal – everyone’s should be very personal, but I’ll share with you a few.

1. I wanted complete flexibility in how and from where the service or product could be delivered.
2. I wanted to work with friends.
3. I wanted to make enough money to be able to give 25% of our profits to children’s education in the Philippines, India and China. So, in other words, it had to be a business with decent enough profit margins that we could give money to charity, and still make enough money for the business to do what a business needs to do.

It turns out that BuzzGain was the one idea with the most impact on all criteria.

Why the focus on children’s education? Anything besides personal interest?

At the time we were working on this idea, someone shared with us a report on children’s education. The report said that the most vulnerable time in a child’s education is when it becomes a liability to their parents to educate them versus putting them to work. That’s between six and thirteen years old. It really struck us, and we decided that we wanted to make a difference on this, somehow.

So that was it. It wasn’t planned, it just happened that way.

Is this something you bring up when you’re pitching to potential investors, clients, or partners?

We don’t mention it, we don’t make it a central part of our story. At the end of the day, the customer is looking for the value propsition that you can deliver for them. If you’re delivering on that, and you happen to be doing good things also, then that’s positive, and they feel even better about doing business with you.

We don’t really talk about it because we want to make sure that the value proposition of the company stands on its own. If we’re doing good for the world, we feel good about it, but the customer doesn’t have to. They are a customer of ours because they believe that our product can generate value for them.

Ok, last question. What do I do if I just have an idea, and nothing else yet? What are the first three steps to get going?

1. Talk to a lot of people. People who might understand the space of the idea itself. Ask them, “Is this worth doing?” and try to get lots of reactions.

2. Document what you’ve heard. A lot of people skip documentation, but you’ve got to write it down very clearly and say, “This is the reason I’m doing it.” That document is going to be something you come back to over and over again every time a bug comes up, or every time someone says “No,” or “This is the worst idea,” every time a someone doesn’t want to fund you or a customer doesn’t want to even take your call because they think your product sucks.

The document is going to come up to remind you as to why you chose this thing. I’ve had a dozen ‘entrepreneur’ moments where I ask myself, “My god, what the hell was I thinking when I started doing this?” You’ve got to be able to go back to that document and say, this is the reason why I’ve chosen this.

3. Put together a team. Once you get the idea ready and written out, then you’ve got to get together a team. Maybe it’s one person, or a few people. Then, you enhance the idea you started out with.

Thanks Mukund! I now have a HUGE and wonderful to-do list!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 3, 2009 11:21 am

    I know him – he is unbelievable. Perseverance – that’s one word to define him. More power to you, Mukund.

  2. frogandprincess permalink
    February 3, 2009 2:04 pm

    very good points there!

    Going out and share with other people your business’ ideas is a very critical and highly important step before launching a venture.
    It is amazing to always read about the same reactions: usually, people are sceptic, jealous or playing negative.
    But it is a good way to learn more about your business, your possible consumers’ reactions, and your ability to face difficulties ahead.

  3. February 3, 2009 6:52 pm

    Thanks Susan. Your interview questions, style and consistency was spot on. I appreciated the time we spoke. Good luck and let me know if I can help in anyway.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: