Sramana Mitra: “I envision a more international India in 2020”

10th Mar 2010
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Guts, instincts, brilliance – That’s what sums up Sramana Mitra, a strategy consultant, entrepreneur of three ventures, Forbes columnist, and author of four books including a series on Entrepreneur Journeys. Sramana found her dreams come true in the Silicon Valley.

She wants to leave a footprint, as evident by her final remarks in this interview. Sramana also writes extensively in her blog and loves interacting with entrepreneurs to know their stories and inspiration. She inspires and motivates entrepreneurs through her blog and books.

Her ability to network and crowdsource the 1M/1M program (read about it in the interview) project globally showcases her passion for entrepreneurship.

She helps young entrepreneurs through her strategy roundtable, a weekly one-hour web conference in which she listens to three-minute pitches from entrepreneurs and gives them her advice for free. Any entrepreneur can log on to this conference and Sramana religiously spends an hour every Thursday for this program. She has embarked on an ambitious 1M/1M program to create 1 million entrepreneurs across the world and to help them reach 1 million dollars in revenues. She feels this would contribute hugely to the nation’s GDP by creating jobs.

As a woman of guts, passion, and neat execution, she has found her moorings in the entrepreneurial space. We bring to our readers her interview with Venkatesh Krishnamoorthy, chief evangelist, YourStory, in which we try to give a 360 degree view of what makes Sramana Mitra.

Books and writing

YourStory: Thank you Sramana for talking to YourStory. It is a pleasure to talk to you. Let us begin by asking you about your latest book Vision India 2020? What is your vision for India?

Sramana Mitra: In 2020, I envision a more international India. The India of the future will have grown more open and engaged with the world, yet is not imperialistic, but diplomatic and benevolent. An India capable of complementing its natural strengths with those of its international collaborators. A high-velocity India unencumbered by mindless bureaucracy. A thinking India that can envision its own products, rather than blindly executing on American specs. And finally, a bold, confident India, having shaken off centuries of servility to stand on its own two feet and look out upon its own infinite possibilities. This is what I have said in the book, and elaborated through 45 billion dollar business ideas.

YS: What are the other books you have written and what is your message for entrepreneurs in your books?

SM: I have written the Entrepreneur Journeys series, including Entrepreneur Journeys, Bootstrapping, Weapon Of Mass Reconstruction, and Positioning: How To Test, Validate, and Bring Your Idea To Market. Through the series, I have tried to demystify entrepreneurship, make is accessible, and give aspiring and new entrepreneurs a window into the methods and craftsmanship of experienced, successful entrepreneurs. My message is, if you are willing to put in the work, you CAN be a successful entrepreneur. Let me show you how …

YS: You often say entrepreneurship is the way out of recession. Why?

SM: Just because the biggest job creation engine that the world has come to know is small businesses. High growth small businesses are the best engine of economic development.

YS: What is most essential for becoming an entrepreneur in your opinion?

SM: You have to want to succeed very badly. You have to really want to do it, not with some half-hearted gold-digging mentality, but with real, heartfelt passion. You need conviction to withstand the many trials the path of entrepreneurship will inevitably lay out before you.

YS: Bootstrapping – When should an entrepreneur take this path in preference to funding?

SM: In general, all ventures should consider bootstrapping in the early stages. It is very difficult to fund an idea these days, which means, you better use bootstrapping to get your idea off the ground even if you raise money later.

YS: Your also write column for Forbes. Your blogging led you into this. What message do you take to the Forbes audience, which is global? Any significant piece you would want YourStory audience to read?

SM: The strongest message I have been conveying to the Forbes audience is the message of entrepreneurship, leadership and value creation in its myriad forms. I suggest your audience to read Capitalism’s Fundamental Flaw.

Blogs

YS: You are an avid blogger. What do you blog on? What do you expect is the outcome of your blogging?

SM: I blog primarily on the technology industry and entrepreneurship. The blog is my primary mechanism to propagate my ideas. It has also become an excellent medium for teaching, spreading the best practices, and disseminating the EJ Methodology of entrepreneurship which I have come up with.

YS: Your blog covers almost every “new age” technology. Any significant sector that is hotting up now?

SM: Online Education, Web 3.0, Healthcare IT, Gaming.

YS: Any interesting personality you have met for your interview and any connected story…

SM: Numerous. My blog has over 200 Entrepreneur Journeys case studies. The EJ books and Methodology is entirely based on these interviews. I highly recommend that you read them. Philippe Courtot from EJ1 is a memorable character. He is in his mid-sixties, but has more energy than a teenager.

YS: Your blog includes a section “base-of-pyramid.” The social enterprise, in particular, profit-making rural ventures are now becoming a reality in India. What advice would you given an entrepreneur who wants to go rural?

SM: Read Vision India 2020. I have a whole section on rural on slum development and BOP ideas.

YS: In the section “entrepreneurship” on your blog, you interview many entrepreneurs and bring out fascinating stories. Which five entrepreneurs interested you the most and why?

SM: That’s a tough one. Sridhar Vembu, for sure, would be on that list. He likes his independence as much as I do. Harish Hande is very inspiring because of his poverty sector work. I like Philippe Courtot’s story because he shows how to age without missing a beat. Greg Gianforte’s is a great bootstrapping story. The recent story of Christian Chabot is a good one to understand how to maximize valuation in a company. But there are at least 20 more that I could be talking about …

Your 1M/1M program

YS: Recently you have embarked upon an ambitious program of creating 1 million entrepreneurs and helping them reach 1 million in revenues and this is connected to your New Year Resolution for 2010. Where did you get inspiration for this program?


SM: Well, it is a natural extension of my EJ research. My thesis, when I embarked on this project was that I would be able to synthesize the best practices of entrepreneurship by talking to all these entrepreneurs. I have done that, and that is what the EJ Methodology is born out of. Now, 1M/1M is the next step, whereby we propagate those best practices to a million entrepreneurs, and make sure we help check the high order infant entrepreneur mortality (IEM) rates that prevail in the ecosystem. You can read more about my 1M/1M thinking here. http://www.sramanamitra.com/1m1m/

YS: What do you want to achieve by 1M/1M program?

SM: I want to help a million entrepreneurs reach a target of $1 million in revenue. The program is a combination of a scalable entrepreneurship education system, a network, and some services that help execute on this mission.

YS: Strategy Roundtables – This is your important mission for helping entrepreneurs. How did this start and how many entrepreneurs have benefitted from strategy roundtables so far?

SM: I have done strategy consulting for a decade. I am very experienced at issues like positioning, go to market strategy, financing strategy, channel and sales strategy, etc. Normally, entrepreneurs cannot afford a high level strategy consultant, but through the roundtables, I have given them access to a free strategy consulting service. I have coached over 100 entrepreneurs at this point. You can sign up here, and I will be happy to work with you as well. http://sramanamitra.com/entrepreneurship-strategy-roundtables

Your story

YS: About your personal experience as an entrepreneur…

SM: I did three start-ups one after another starting in 1994, all the way till 2000. It was a very steep learning curve, and exhausting on many dimensions. I raised money almost constantly for six years, did a tremendous amount of selling – concepts, products, ideas – experienced both success and failure. One of the defining experiences of my story was to get fired from my own company. It was devastating, but I picked up the pieces and started yet another company. When I look back, I feel rather proud of my courage at the face of adversity, and the resilience with which I navigated my course. I haven’t built a Google or a Microsoft. You could call that failure. But I did build one of the very first venture funded product companies out of India. What would you call that? In any case, it is all relative. I have made money, lost money, made money again. Will probably lose money again. But at the end of day, when I look at my life story, I can tell you that I have no regrets whatsoever. I have LIVED. And I continue to LIVE. Aggressively. Prolifically. Intensely. What more can one ask for from life? In the words of Tagore, “Prano bhoriye, trisha horiye, more aaro aaro aaro dao pran …” [“Fill up my life, quench my thirst – Give me more, more, more of Life.”] (The original is in Bengali.)

YS: Your career as a strategy consultant and now as writer, Forbes columnist …

SM: I enjoy consulting. I did not plan on becoming a consultant, but it gave me an opportunity for tremendous intellectual challenge as well as promiscuity. I have worked with businesses as nerdy as chips and EDA, all the way to the more consumer oriented areas like fashion and education. The range has been fascinating, and you see that today on my blog coverage. I have pretty significant knowledge and experience about a very broad range of businesses. No, I cannot design a chip anymore, nor am I a good programmer any longer. But when it comes to business strategy, I am really good at figuring things out, and I am really quick at it. If you have attended my roundtables, you get a flavour of that. Consulting also gave me an opportunity to go inside very large companies - $1 billion, $10 billion, $45 billion companies and get experience of how things work. Within a decade, I managed to develop an immense portfolio of business experience which would not have been possible with any other business model besides consulting.

Writing was something I always wanted to do. I have been writing all along, just didn’t start publishing until 2005 when I started my blog. And then the Forbes column starting in 2008 just gave me a bigger platform, broader reach. I have taken on big issues, and have developed strong industry credibility for tackling them with integrity and insight. The Coming Death Of India Outsourcing column really shook up the outsourcing industry. And just recently, Why B-Schools Set Up Entrepreneurs To Fail? has shaken up academia. I like the power I have today to impact my industry, as well as society at large. I expect to use the power well, and bring about positive change.

YS: Your education and beginnings in Calcutta…

SM: I come from a privileged family, and my father is an entrepreneur. I knew I was going to do my own ventures as early as 16. I left India in 1989 for college in the US. And I started my first company while still a Graduate student at MIT’s EECS program. What my father inculcated in me was a deep sense of responsibility. The privileges and talents that I was able to access all throughout my life, I believe, I have never abused, nor taken for granted. I have, mostly, tried to contribute to causes much greater than myself. Entrepreneur Journeys, Vision India 2020, 1M/1M – these are all causes that are much, much bigger than my own little life, and I believe, each will impact humanity at large in significant ways. If you are curious about my childhood, here is a piece – As India Builds – that will give you a flavour of our very large extended family in Calcutta. There is a part of me that is still very much a Bengali girl from a traditional, old family. I am an odd mixture of old-fashioned and post-modern!

YS: Who is your inspiration and why?

SM: These days, the person who gives me the maximum inspiration is Mohammad Yunus. 1M/1M is a very ambitious project. But I look at Dr. Yunus and his Grameen Bank effort, and I feel that it is achievable.

YS: Any inspiring book you have read and would want to suggest to entrepreneurs (apart from your own books!)…

SM: I have always recommended Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged to entrepreneurs. It was seminal in my development as a young girl in Calcutta in the eighties. It celebrates individual leadership in ways that I have seen in very few books elsewhere.

YS: Final word…

SM: A quote from Vivekananda: “If you have come to this world, try to leave upon it a mark of your own.”

Sramana Mitra thinks beyond her self and wants to significantly contribute to the entrepreneurial ecosystem throughout the world. We wish that her dreams come true in her latest venture 1M/1M. We also thank Sramana for a 360 degree view.

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