Sramana Mitra’s 1M/1M Program to Award 12 Scholarships to Businesses through a New Year Challenge Pitch

sramana_mitraSramana Mitra, strategy consultant in the Valley and founder of 1M/1M, started offering free roundtables in 2009 following a suggestion by DimDim to read her newly released books Entrepreneur Journeys on video every week. Instead of just readings, she thought it should be made more interactive and so asked entrepreneurs to pitch to her so that she could offer them free strategy advice. In 2010, she made a New Year Resolution to start an ambitious global program—1M/1M—a dream to create 1 million entrepreneurs around the world and help them reach 1 million dollars in revenues. The roundtables have benefited 15,000 people and entered its 150th episode last week.

1M/1M is an extension of the strategy roundtables in offering a curriculum, strategy advice on private roundtables, and connection to customers and investors. Through the structured curriculum, Sramana endeavours to extend the lifetime of a business and also gets the business out of infant mortality (many businesses are found to die within a year). Entrepreneurs enroll for this program at an annual fee of $1000. Several of them have reaped tremendous benefits. In a further development, Sramana is offering 1M/1M scholarships to 12 entrepreneurs in a New Year Challenge pitch. This means the chosen entrepreneurs get this program as a scholarship and need not have to pay the annual fee. Venkatesh Krishnamoorthy, chief evangelist of YourStory, spoke to Sramana to capture the progress of her program as well as the procedure to get you into the New Year Challenge pitch.

You started an ambitious program to create 1 million entrepreneurs in 2010. Two years down the line, what have you achieved?

To know more about the program: One Million by One Million (1M/1M). Our mission is to help a million entrepreneurs reach a million dollars in annual revenue and beyond by 2020. Today, over 50,000 people participate in the 1M/1M community. We offer Free Mentoring Roundtables to entrepreneurs all over the world, and have just concluded our 150th session. Over 15,000 people have attended the roundtables. Several revenue-generating companies have been incubated in the program, some have received angel and/or VC funding, and some have crossed the $1M mark. You can listen to some of them in the recording of the 150th roundtable on YouTube.

We could sense that this 1M/1M program has evolved and has impacted businesses in a big way. Which geographies are not yet reached through this initiative?

Oh, many. We touch many geos, but don’t necessarily have practicing entrepreneurs in the program from Africa. Then there are some language issues in certain countries. China is an example. Currently we operate only in English, and we’ve had very good adoption in the US, India, UK, Israel, Canada, and some other geos. But we have a long, long way to go.

In terms of numbers, how many entrepreneurs and businesses have benefitted from 1M/1M? Can you give us a case study kind of an example to show what this program does to a business?

As I said, over 50,000 people participate in the 1M/1M community in various forms. The core of the program is our mentoring roundtables, where over 15,000 have participated. And the most intense portion of the program is the 1M/1M Premium Program where members get access to our curriculum, private mentoring roundtables, introductions to customers, channel, partners, investors, media, analysts.

We actually have some great case studies of entrepreneurs who have achieved significant progress in the 150th roundtable session. Here is an excerpt from the recap of that session that would give you a flavor:

Happy Grasshopper: First up was Dan Stewart from Safety Harbor, Florida, pitching Happy Grasshopper. Dan joined the 1M/1M premium program in February 2011, incorporated his company in March 2011, and has since built a validated business with $250k in 2012 annual revenue. Dan discussed how he has been using the program, and what key decisions have been beneficial in his journey. One of them, the decision to focus his email ‘keeping in touch’ service focused on sales people in the real estate vertical.

Today, Happy Grasshopper has become a popular service for that segment, and the word-of-mouth and testimonials are creating great momentum. Channels are opening up. We have more work to do in negotiating and structuring the deals, but I could say with a reasonable degree of confidence that Happy Grasshopper will hit the $1M mark next year, and without any external financing. It is catering to a large TAM of several hundred million within the real estate vertical, and several billion beyond, so if Dan decides to raise money down the road, he will have that option.

And that is precisely our goal. We want entrepreneurs to have options and negotiating leverage.

Kimbra Studios: Next, Kimbra Orr from Denver, Colorado, pitched Kimbra Studios, a company that has been around since 1998. Kimbra joined the 1M/1M program earlier this year, as she has been navigating her way through various changes she is making in her custom photo jewelry business. One such change that we have worked with her on is a shift to outsourced manufacturing. Another, that occurred as she came into the program, was that one of her major OEM partners went bankrupt, jeopardizing a large chunk of revenue. I introduced her to the CEO of Shutterfly, and she has been able to successfully navigate her way into that and other new OEM partnerships.

Today, as I have often done, I discouraged Kimbra from spreading herself too thin in terms of her product range. To deviate out of jewelry and into home, etc., is a decision that I have reservations about, just as I did when she proposed doing men’s and women’s personalized items.

Good news: Kimbra listens. Not all entrepreneurs do. And they are a lot harder to help. Kimbra has been a pleasure to work with.

PartingOut.com: Then Kevin Fullerton from Houston, Texas, pitched PartingOut.com, a used auto parts marketplace. Kevin has deep domain knowledge in the auto-parts business. He is learning the online portion of the business, and is following the 1M/1M methodology diligently. One example: Kevin has, from his prior business life, an email list of 500,000 people interested in auto-parts buying and selling. We have not marketed to this list yet, cautiously holding on to this piece of ammunition until we have a good handle on the messaging, landing page design, conversion ratios, etc. That testing and modulation is under way, and the larger email campaign will begin AFTER the testing and fine-tuning is complete.

You may find this a conservative strategy, but we prefer not to waste powerful ammunition without ensuring that they will hit the target.

OpsVisibility: Next, Gulin Yilmaz from Palo Alto, California, pitched OpsVisibility, a validation stage business that she has brought from concept to customer validation in about three months. The value proposition is to help IT organizations of mid-sized companies manage their cloud infrastructure, monitor assets, manage downtime, etc. Gulin has done a thorough job of business model and pricing model validation, TAM Analysis, and now has customers ready to pay. The MVP will be completed within the next 60-90 days, and we have made the decision not to chase investors, but instead to focus on customers until after the MVP is ready and more customers start paying for the product.

This decision is also based on our confidence that we know how to find and convince customers, and our firm belief that it is the customers who will convince investors when the funding round begins in another 3-6 months. Meanwhile, however, I expect Gulin to have a revenue generating business fairly soon.

Avaz: Last up, Ajit Narayanan from Chennai, India, pitched Avaz, a communication and learning app for autistic children. Ajit has also been with the program for a couple of years, and has used our tried and true ‘bootstrapping using services’ methodology. Today, he has an app that is selling in the Apple app store in the US, Australia, and India. Our discussions currently are about penetrating other markets where there are low-hanging opportunities. Ajit is in his second year in the 1M/1M program.

You can listen to the recording of the 150th roundtable here: 150th roundtable on YouTube.

Besides these, you probably know about Freshdesk from Chennai that has been in our program for two years, and has gone on to win $6M in venture funding. We helped Freshdesk with their positioning, market sizing, and preparation for the Series A which Accel funded. Before that, we helped them win a $40K Microsoft grant. They have now hit their stride.

Sapience has also crossed $1M. They’re in Pune. We help them with customer introductions, as well as media access.

We have many more companies moving right along in the program, and it is very satisfying to see their progress. And many entrepreneurs are in their second year in the program, and starting to show real traction, some with funding, some without. We work with both fundable entrepreneurs and bootstrapping entrepreneurs.

In your new year challenge, 12 entrepreneurs will be given a 1M/1M Scholarship. Please explain how to apply.

One Million by One Million (1M/1M) celebrated it’s 150th free and online roundtable mentoring session for entrepreneurs a few days ago, and announced its 2013 New Year Challenge.

The Prize:

The New Year Challenge will award twelve scholarships worth $1,000 each to twelve entrepreneurs. This scholarship allows entrepreneurs to join the 1M/1M premium program that offers private roundtable sessions, a comprehensive curriculum, and introductions to potential customers, channel partners, media, analysts, and investors.

How to compete

▪     Complete the application process here by December 20.

▪     Get at least 50 of your Facebook friends to vote for you here by January 3, 2013 to qualify for the final round.

▪     20 finalists will be chosen by audience voting, so get AS MANY of your Facebook friends to vote for you as you can to maximize your chance to win.

Selection process

Twenty entrepreneurs will be selected to pitch their startup during the finals on January 10 and January 17, 2013 by audience voting.

Finals

The 20 Finalists will be notified by January 7, 2013, and instructed on preparing their presentations for the January 10 and 17 finals. The finals will be held during the 1M/1M roundtables, and you can register to attend here.

Twelve entrepreneurs will win the prizes!

Your message to entrepreneurs as to why they should choose the 1M/1M program.

Entrepreneurs make a lot of mistakes. Having a template to follow is tremendously helpful, and today we have a proven template. Mistakes are expensive, but avoidable. Why not avoid them? Why not take advantage of a resource that is clearly working?