The day broke out in Bengaluru as magical as its pleasant weather that still held an inviting charm. As you started in the direction of Whitefield, the city’s crowded traffic on its circles, signals, and dead-ends gave way to a steady single path of greenery on both sides punctuated by modern capitalist structures that bespoke the wealth Bengaluru made as the IT capital of India. It took slightly longer, almost twice as much, to journey into the IT hub in the north of the city to reach the MLR Convention Centre. The product entrepreneurs should have got a hint. It is incredibly chaotic at the beginning and the product entrepreneur’s path slowly begins to unravel into a focused, steady, and even path after a few years, and you should be prepared for a long haul if you venture into product tech.
If you grew tired on finding your way, you were given a dose of excitement to energize the muscles by Shradha Sharma, YourStory.in founder, who continues to baffle you (and me as well) with her energy levels. It was the rollicking opening like Sanath Jayasuriya in the 1996 World Cup, if you remember, blasting his way that left the bowlers dazed in the 5th over itself of the 50-over match.
“Buckle Down and Give It Your Best”
After Shradha prepared the audience for the day, they went into a spellbound trance just minutes into the Grand Finale of TechSparks 2012. Shailendra Singh, MD, Sequoia Capital, not only pepped up the product entrepreneurs but gave them valuable lessons to reflect upon and act. Shailendra did not prefer to do a dour sectoral overview, the opportunities in India as opposed to rest of the world, or talk about what ails the ecosystem that keynote speeches typically focus upon. Instead, he gave away point-by-point learnings from his experience of interacting with product companies on what product entrepreneurs should do and shouldn’t do. Taking the specific topics of teams, product obsession, investors, angels/advisors, customers, and capital, Shailendra pointed out in no uncertain terms the common mistakes entrepreneurs made with respect to all these aspects and what they ought to do. Narendra Bhandari was to call this speech later as a “PhD thesis”, which should give you a hint of the impact that keynote made. The entire gamut of a product entrepreneur’s lifecycle was covered in that valuable 45-minute address.
What sets apart a successful team is its ability to fill itself with people who can give their life and soul to the venture, suggested Shailendra. “If they are not prepared to talk at 11 in the night, they are not the right fit,” he added. Hiring can best be done on weekend interviews. Talking about product obsession, he said usability is not focused upon by Indian companies, which usually take the path of making the product feature-rich. He stressed upon maintaining data analytics on user feedback. “Attrition will kill your product,” he warned asking companies to maintain a log on what leads to attrition and on the importance keeping a tab on attrition numbers. The best advice was on training customers. Shailendra emphasized that training a customer on the company’s offering provides valuable assistance as the customer talks the same language as you to their contacts. Creating a process for customer feedback is important in his view. Taking the example of VSS Mani, JustDial founder, who hasn’t become an angel yet, he said commitment to a long-term vision is very important. This requires conviction to hold on to your vision. Mani started a local search business, failed, got into a job, saved some money, and got back to start the same business again.
Integrity and intellectual honesty are important when raising capital as investors look at them very positively. Hiding facts to an investor creates a negative impression, stressed Shailendra. Selecting the right investor augurs well for the long haul. If the investor is not prepared to take calls at odd hours to help the entrepreneur, he is not the right fit, in Shailendra’s opinion. He also said that entrepreneurs should be prepared to work long into the startup, something like 6-1/2 days a week. “If you take off on the weekend, you put 10% of your productivity on the table,” he pointed out. Getting employees as committed as the CEO is another brownie point for success. An angel with relevant domain knowledge comes handy for the entrepreneur’s journey.
Over-investing in communication is important, in Shailendra’s opinion. Building a great culture helps foster team spirit, and he blew pretensions in saying, “work life balance is a myth.” He concluded prophetically, stating, “Entrepreneurship is a lonely journey with a lot of twists and turns of the road. Buckle down and give it your best” accompanied by a visual of a road that runs deep into the land and with nothing but only desert into as far as you can see, suggesting the loneliness of the journey.
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