I felt slightly feverish in the morning of the 9th a bit stressed out after hectic workdays and by the time the day ended, the fever – the Sramana fever – had caught on to the TiE Chennai members. Sramana Mitra, on a tour of India, had her first stop at Chennai, giving a keynote at TiE Chennai Startup Super Day. Right after that, she listened to five pitches, her usual forte. In the evening, she spoke to TiE Charter members and gave a memorable pitch. She is used to listening to pitches but she pitched her 1M/1M vision in such a compelling way that it immediately reverberated with the listeners. One of the participants felt it is the best TiE Chennai event ever. A few signups for TiE Chennai happened just following her fantastic vision statement of democratizing capitalism by pumping a million millionaire entrepreneurs by 2020.Vishy Viswanathan, Executive Director, TiE Chennai felt “starts properly aligned as Sramana came here for the Startup Super Day.” TiE Chennai has a special interest group on startups, championed by Dorai Thodla, CEO of iMorph. The SIG on startups is engaged in a series of initiatives aimed at providing a rich learning experience for entrepreneurs. Startup Super Day was a highlight event of this group and it all fell in place, as Sramana’s visit coincided with the Startup SIG’s Super Day. Dorai related his experience of pitching to her in one of the online roundtables and came out feeling that she gave advice that any VC or angel had never given him. They took a lot of time understanding what he was trying to say, whereas Sramana was quick to grasp Dorai’s pitch.
What is entrepreneurship?
Then it was time for Sramana to take over. Starting with her experience of surviving the dotcom bust into consulting business, she ended up consulting on strategy for 80 companies. After nearly a decade in consulting, she has now synthesized her learning into a grand vision of 1M/1M (creating and helping one million entrepreneurs reach one million in revenues). Using case studies, she emphasized several key points of her discussion that centred on blowing many a myth. “Gone are the days when an entrepreneur will walk in with a slide deck and walk away with a cheque,” she pointed out. This funding culture was actively promoted by Stanford and other institutions too in 1990s. Stating that financing is not the option for a startup, she said the entrepreneurs should find customers to pay, thereby fuding their businesses (Entrepreneurship = customer + revenue + profit). The IDM case study emphasized this point. Rejected by VCs as having low TAM (total addressable market), the Palestinian founder of this company who held 80% of the company made a fabulous exit after selling out for $30 million.Encouragaing entrepreneurs not to be taken over by the tyranny of the TAM, she said businesses can also be built to enjoy. She took the example for Sridhar Vembu, founder of ZOHO, who is going to build the company and not interested in an exit. Emphasizing that ownership control is important for an entrepreneur to realize his vision, she took the case of Mark Zuckerberg, who still holds 30% of the company, thereby calling the shots. “I like to execute my own ideas,” says Zuckerberg.
How do you preserve ownership? By bootstrapping, validating your business, and building momentum around it.
Dwelling upon enormous opportunities available, she also provided a contrast between the Valley and India. In the Valley, it is fashionable to be called an entrepreneur whereas in India, it is great to be employed in an MNC. She said this mindset should change. Then she explained that South Africa, Ghana, and Kenya – English-speaking countries in Africa – are using South Africa to service UK companies. Stating that e-commerce is a great opportunity as 5 billion people will be on Internet by 2020, she explained salient features of the 1M/1M curriculum, which can be accessed for an annual subscription of $1,000. The seven core modules lead up to 11 elective modules, focused upon trends such as e-commerce, health care and IT, cloud computing, etc.
The advent and success of Y Combinator has renewed interest in the incubation model, said Sramana. Explaining that enterpreneurship energy is as scarce as air, water, or oxygen, she stressed upon the importance of using it productively. As many as 600,000 companies shut shop in United States and the same number of businesses go live every year, not exactly the same ones that shut down. She also said a blog would be an effective PR weapon as guerilla marketing channel for startups.
Finally, she said the serious entrepreneur number in India should substantially go up from the present 2000 or 2500 by at least ten-fold. The 1M/1M curriculum provides the right learning material for the entrepreneur to be aware of the various concepts and also backed up by Sramana’s support, networking, and customer introductions.
In the TiE Charter member dinner meeting, Sramana laid out the vision of 1M/1M. She stressed that she is 150% attached to her fourth startup, i.e., 1M/1M. The financial meltdown of the 2009 opened a new world for Sramana. She found that capitalism has been hijacked by speculators who traded in stocks. To democratize capitalism, she came up with an idea of creating a million millionaries distributing wealth, which is now concentrated upon in top 5% of the pyramid. Stressing that as a member of one of the mafias that operate in Silicon Valley, the MIT mafia, she has access to the inside track in the Valley. She revealed that Stanford mafia, IIT mafia, and MIT mafia operate in the Valley.
To build businesses, numerous gaps exist in India, providing enormous opporunities. Her latest book Vision 2020 is a fictional account of 45 businesses that have become billion dollar businesses. She tracks them back to 2010. She is ready to mentor entrepreneurs who will take up one of these ideas to build a business.
Four businesses pitched to her. Girish Mathrubootham gave a presentation on FreshDesk, while Vivek Ravishankar pitched his Interview Street business. It was Ajit Narayanan’s AVAZ, a communication device for disabled children that excited Sramana. She wanted Ajit to build a mobile app instead of a hardware device. Robin Mathew presented his ET Interactive startup, asking for future directions. Ramkumar made a supplementary pitch for movie and DVD rentals complimeting his Mango DVM, a music download service. A separate account of these pitches will be shortly available as Sramana recaps them in a separate article.
The pitches left entrepreneurs excited and there was enthusiastic participation from audience too. The TiE charter members were elated in listening to her. And finally, the SIG on Startups had a memorable day, with Sramana making it memorable by laying out her grand, hairy, audacious vision of 1 million millionaries by 2020 before an exalted Chennai entrepreneur community.
- Venkatesh Krishnamoorthy, chief evangelist, YourStory