Saptarshi, co-founder of Exit10/GamesINC is a geek-turned-heavy-metal-guitarist-turned-consultant-turned-entrepreneur. The humble vision of the company is to recycle India. Currently, GamesINC enables customers to trade in their video game products for cool new stuff. Undergoing 'acceleration' at GSF currently, Saptarshi takes us through the first 2 weeks...
1) Talent is key, no matter how big you are. It was almost heartening to see all the accomplished mentors from various successful startups mention talent as the key differentiator. After two weeks of searching for a tech-guru and an operations manager, we realised that the challenges of finding the right talent transcends all boundaries--it doesn't matter if you are a F500 company with infinite resources or a bootstrapping startup! A common point that most mentors mentioned is to never compromise on team fit, even if you have to compromise on current skills. When we are nearing the point of giving up after sifting through hundreds of irrelevant resumes, we remind ourselves of this dictat before jumping head-first into the next batch of CVs.
2) Everyone has something valuable to teach, but you have to take your own calls. It is your business after all. One of the interesting aspects of the program is that you get to present your pitch to multiple mentors from varying backgrounds. This helps you refine your pitch and streamline your thinking. What's even more interesting is that every single one of those mentors will have a completely different take on your business. It then depends on you to filter and adapt. For us, the discussions helped identify the right questions to preempt when we are ready to raise capital.
3) People invest in people, not on plans. For first-time entrepreneurs, angel investors don't really have much to go on, other than the confidence inspired by the teams. Last week, as we prepared to talk about our business plan, Rajesh asked us instead: "If I were to take the consultant part of your life out, what's special about you?". We, like countless others, had withdrawn into the comfort zone where you identify yourself with the kind of job you do. Someone was a jet-setting consultant, another an award-winning author, someone else a creative brand manager--but everyone still an employee toiling long hours to make someone else a lot money! It is easy to forget who you really are (or were, before you became all that)! Surprisingly though, egged on by Rajesh (and some good ol' alcohol), we managed to take a step back and reflect upon our broader life--and managed to write (what we thought were) well-rounded bios for our information pack.
4) The more you learn, the more you realise how less you know. Some wise man (Socrates?) already said that, but when you are in the middle of intense upskilling the way you are at GSF, the hard truth hits home... well, harder! The more time I spent on the program, the more I learned about how to run a business and focus on getting things done (rather than plan about getting things done). Talking to so many smart people made me smarter, but also made me aware of how much longer the path ahead is. All this learning doesn't scare you though, because you know that you are learning faster than everyone else, without making the same mistakes others in your position have made. This makes your learning curve all the more exponential. The onus is then on you to put these into action.
5) Every clique has its speak. If you were ever made fun of because you wanted to "leverage the interdependencies between the strategic objectives of different work-units to achieve synergistic gains", you know what it feels like to be a consultant. If you like (to make fun of) management-speak, you are going to love startup-speak: one word that really piques my interest is "pivot". The first thing that used to spring to mind with the word "pivot" are Excel tables. When we were out drinking last weekend, I asked a finance guy and an engineer what they thought it meant: the former gave me a definition I won't even pretend to understand/remember, the latter said something about gears and pulleys. Clearly, they weren't entrepreneurs headed toward greatness like we were!
It has been an exciting journey so far and, whatever the future holds for us, I know our team has learned more, reflected more, and (err) pivoted more than most other startups outside the program have in years (read about how many startups have pivoted recently). For some people in the program, it has meant giving up stable jobs; for others, it has meant giving up their graduation exams—but, for a bunch of idealistic, motivated, and probably clinically-crazy nerds, I think we are all going to do alright! It has been an enriching experience, and I am looking forward to the next few weeks eagerly.
Follow the author on twitter at @saptarshinath or learn more about GamesINC at @INCGames.