In the wake of ‘Morpheus shutting down’ news doing the rounds, I dug into my mailbox to revisit my early interactions with the Morpheus team when they had just started operations. On 22 June 2009, I had a mail from Sameer Guglani, replying to one of my questions on why he was running The Morpheus accelerator. He wrote a note with a profound quote which truly resonates today as they go on to reinvent their roles. Sameer had written, “I believe in this saying, “Life can only be understood backwards, but has to be lived forward” and had gone on to elaborate why he and his wife Nandini started The Morpheus.
Today, I will refer back to that quote and say that if one has to understand the new role of The Morpheus, then we have to understand its genesis. The intention was to resolve the need of early stage startups in 2008. And, the need in 2008-2009 was acceleration support and pure guidance for germinating startups. The startup euphoria we see now was in its infancy then. The Morpheus took the lead and became the first accelerator in India to work with early stage entrepreneurs.
Fast forward 6 years and today The Morpheus finds itself at a crossroads with a very compelling decision. Mind you, it comes from the environment we live in – how do we resolve some of the fundamental issues faced by startups in India, especially since innumerable startup accelerators have mushroomed all over the country and early stage acceleration does not remain a core challenge as it was in 2008.
Sameer raises a few pertinent questions here. He says that for us to evolve and find true success as an ecosystem, we need to look at some other key aspects that have been left unattended. In Sameer’s words, the 4 key aspects that need work are:
1. Bring the spotlight back to “happiness”: Just by themselves, scale and valuations are the wrong metrics for measuring the success of startups. Personal happiness of founders and teams should be the first metric and everything else will follow. This should become an area of attention and focus.
2. Growth of founders: When companies grow fast in the first 1-2 years, it is very challenging for the founders to grow at the same pace in terms of maturity and leadership skills. This leads to situations where they become overwhelmed with the amount of responsibility and expectations that come naturally with the growth.
Founders need help in their personal growth so that they can effectively handle scale / bigger teams and new challenges. This is one of the biggest focus areas for The Morpheus right now and going forward. We plan to share our learnings on this front with everyone in the eco-system.
3. Hiring for startups: Although startups are finding creative solutions for this issue, there needs to be a well thought-out thorough and concentrated effort on this front. There remains a need for an online + offline platform where the genuinely passionate / creative / willing candidates can find a startup which matches their temperament. We are trying to get a full-time person in the team to lead this effort.
4. Leveraging technology to unlock portfolio / community value: With 160+ founders and 80+ companies, we at The Morpheus were finding it very hard to work effectively. How does a new founder in our portfolio get connected to relevant folks in The Morpheus gang? He has to depend on The Morpheus team to figure it out and then provide an introduction. How does an old founder get to a new founder? Same dependency lies there too. Between the 160 founders, there are probably 5000+ useful contacts – but there is no way to effectively share these contacts. How do we make this seamless?
The answer is not straightforward but an earnest attempt has to be made and The Morpheus is going to do just that. So moving forward, the team will work to address the above 4 areas and go deep into it. Sameer and Nandini believe that the best will come when we genuinely start collaborating.
The bet is on the Morpheus Gang. Currently, the ‘Gang’ is a community of entrepreneurs that help, support and grow with each other. The community by and large, till now, has been restricted to The Morpheus portfolio companies. In the last 6 years, 160+ founders have come together to contribute to the community. The belief that guides Sameer and Nandini is that “you give to the universe without worrying about a direct return and the universe will surely give you what you truly need.”
Sameer says: “At The Morpheus, we want to take this to the next level, by thinking of ways of ‘opening’ the community to other entrepreneurs who believe in a participative community. Thus, we want to include more entrepreneurs, who can contribute to and draw from The Morpheus Gang. We will continue to work with zero-to-two-year-old companies, but the added focus will be on companies older than 2 years who have different pain points than those who are just starting up.”
The Morpheus Gang will be a collaborative community and will work towards creating a new model of supporting the startups. No equity, cash transfer or transactions will be a part of this community. It will work on creating true collaboration and seed a mindset of openness, giving and growth.
The team shared a rough plan of action. As they haven’t yet tested the plan, this isn’t cut in stone and would evolve with execution. “When a founder wants to explore possibilities of becoming a part of the gang, s/he will approach us with a reference from an existing gang member or through the website. Phase 1 would include 2-3 interactions with The Morpheus team & the gang members. If both parties like it so far, things will go into Phase 2. This will involve regular interactions between the founder and The Morpheus gang for 1-2 months. Post Phase 2, if the founder and The Morpheus gang like each other, the game is on: s/he becomes a member of The Morpheus gang. It will be open for founders of companies at any stage. There is no money involved. Nor is there an equity to be given when someone comes on board. After receiving sufficient value from the community, the founders will have an option to willingly and consciously contribute via equity, cash or by some other way. This contribution will go into a non-profit foundation, which will be set up to manage this initiative,” Team Morpheus says.
They sum up their new journey succinctly here: “As humans, our dreams never cease! We are hopeless dreamers at The Morpheus. And we aren’t going anywhere! The Morpheus is only widening its focus, becoming more radical with its evolution: Morphosis.”