Hello Startup - Are you ready?
On the invitation of my good friend, Mr.Shiva Subramaniam, Chief Innovation Officer at the Gopalakrishnan Deshpande Center (GDC) for Innovation, IIT-Madras, I had the opportunity to participate in a symposium he had organised on Innovation and Entrepreneurship last week. There were speakers/panelists/participants from the Industry, VCs, Academia and Government. There were very pertinent views expressed that had an impact on everyone that participated. This post is not about the event but a reflection from the symposium on what startups/Entrepreneurs should look forward to.
One of the industry metrics that did not surprise the audience - only one out of 15 startups in India succeed. There are new economy successes that everyone talks about - Flipkart, Paytm, etc. And there are several others in auto ancillaries, food, packaging, etc that no one knows exist. Unless one is from a business family, parents, neighbours, uncles/aunts, even friends - all want to see our college graduates "settle down" in a job after education. When I left my job to partner with my friends' venture, a relative asked if he should congratulate me or offer advise...!!! When it comes to risk taking and owning up decisions, culturally, Indians are wired differently from the western world.
Several startups have sprung up with emotional backup - doing a quick market potential survey and start developing a product as they believe there is potential - and then they wait for the product "to be bought". Consultative mindset and the need to stay connected with your prospect network are not really taught at an incubation center. The fire in the belly can't be lit from outside. It must come from within. Entrepreneurs should also include a sizeable portion of their budget for marketing and sales activities. In India, there are several people that don't buy mandatory vehicle insurance. It's a tough market for sales!!
It is often misconstrued that startups can be successful only through a differentiated offering. While differentiation is needed, even if someone were to start manufacturing safety-pins, it's important to leverage one's network and be articulate about it. More importantly, every employee should be converted into a brand ambassador. As I heard from a leading VC Partner, they always back the Entrepreneur and not just the idea.
Don't wait for the Govt to fix policy issues like taxation on capital funding, etc to help startups. Get going and remove obstacles. If it can't be done from within the company, explore partnerships, hire consultants, be open with clients. You will always find clients that will place their trust on you, a true consultant that will give you advice and a partner that will show willingness to co-invest. Find that opening.
Indians are more emotional than those in the western world. We need to unlearn that a bit and also develop the skill of being detached. If the venture is not doing well - for whatever reason, determining the right exit point is important. Just like stocks in your portfolio, Entrepreneurs need to determine a "stop loss" limit.
Find the right purpose of the venture yourself - passion, bored of corporate rat race, social impact, preparing for retirement, retired life activity, etc. Whatever the purpose, never complain about the impediments to the venture. Find a way to be successful. There are solutions. If you find yourself worried, complaining and whining, or even depressed, you are probably not ready for Entrepreneurism. Remember, failing a startup is not defeat. You were brave enough to do what several others can't think of. Take the learnings, find a job and move on with life.