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Panel at Chennai TechSparks roundtable brings audience down to earth with words of wisdom

Venkatesh Krishnamoorthy
30th Jul 2013
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Participants: Murugavel Janakiraman, Matrimony.com; Rohit Bhat, Sequoia Capital; Muthuraman Natarajan, River Bridge. Moderated by YourStory Managing Editor D. Murali

After Muruganantham Arunachalam ended his thunderous (pun intended) keynote, there was little left to be said. Boldly challenging the global retail giants Unilever and Johnson & Johnson, taking a dig at MBAs for not achieving what he was able to, tearing down business models with candid execution of his business with a laser-sharp focus, and aiming for a social revolution of a mammoth proportion (achieving at least 10% sanitary pad adoption in India during his lifetime; at present, it is 5%), Muruganantham left the audience stunned on all counts — on his little literate background, on his perseverance to stay put, on his attitude of not daunted by preconceived notions that usually envelope the learned, and not to miss out, a disclaimer slide to begin the presentation. He simply held the audience in rapt attention.

Panel at Chennai TechSparks
Panel at Chennai TechSparks

Grow despite not getting funded

Rohit Bhat, Sequoia
Rohit Bhat, Sequoia Capital

The panel in contrast was remarkably sober and focused. It did not punch holes in education, but was definitely educative. When Murali started by asking Rohit to define successful startups, Rohit pointed out that successful startups are characterized by two traits: they quickly fail “early” and work within their resource constraints to deliver. Muthuraman cautioned entrepreneurs to keep their business models robust so that even if they fail to raise funding, which he likened to getting admitted into IIT, they should still be able to grow at a slower pace. “Out of 2 lakh companies founded in a year in India, only 400 to 500 receive funding,” he explained. Murugavel added that fund raising is a time-consuming process. He narrated how it felt difficult for him to accept that he was getting rejected by VCs despite staying in business for six years and being the leader in his category of business. He went to VCs in 2006, having started his matrimony business in 2000. He added that such experiences should not dishearten the entrepreneurs and they should keep going by believing in their idea and in themselves.

Start with a focus on a niche domain

Rohit Bhat said the product entrepreneurs either don’t find the product-market fit or don’t see traction for the right product. He asked entrepreneurs to keep a sharp focus on a niche domain instead of spreading across various domains. He explained how Practo initially caught on with dentists and then scaled with other doctors. He emphasized the importance of tracking metrics for achieving success. Most entrepreneurs don’t have metrics as they don’t have any idea on what should be looked at for business growth. He however said that keeping focus to the niche domain also has a downside of not finding enough users or customers.

Muthuraman Natarajan, River Bridge
Muthuraman Natarajan, River Bridge

Muthuraman said that the early indicators of big successes are the market opportunity having a billion dollar size potential of growth in 5 to 10 years and importantly success depends on how finance is handled – regular cashflow, a tab on spending. Also he asked entrepreneurs to have a backup plan for finances.

What is passion?

On the tricky definition for passion, which seems overused (even abused) by entrepreneurs, Murali wanted to know from Murugavel what passion means. Murugavel defined passion as that which keeps you awake all the time and over time you really like the idea. Not only liking the idea but the idea’s potential to relate to a bigger purpose sustains your passion. “It’s something with which you live 24x7,” said Murugavel.

Words of advice

Rohit: Don’t do too much. Stay focused on one thing. For example, aggregating 10,000 cabs in Bangalore has a higher potential to attract advertisers than having a pan-India base of 10,000 cabs. Also entrepreneurs sometimes end up building something for a long period of time and then try to find the market for it. This should be avoided. Don’t go to a VC before you see traction.

Muthuraman: Don’t rely on funding. Plan to grow without funding as well. There are a lot of angel investors now ready to fund and especially entrepreneurs and senior executives in big corporations are ready to bet on small ventures. Get advice from immediate circle. Validate assumptions at a lower cost using low-cost resources and getting a mentor helps.

The long chain of marriage

Murugavel Janakiraman, Matrimony.com
Murugavel Janakiraman, Matrimony.com

Murugavel is not done just with finding the match. He lists several issues around marriage that need to resolved. Importantly, Murugavel said educating people about what is marriage is crucial. There are expectations from both men and women and it is helpful to suggest how to make it work taking those expectations into account. Free counseling is available on Matrimony on marital issues. The ingenuity of Murugavel and Matrimony.com to discover the “marriage ecosystem” is one of the many reasons for their success. This holds lessons for entrepreneurs to do a deep dive into their domain and discover many problems that lie unsolved. Like Muruganantham said, “there are 1.2 billion people in this country and so there are 1.2 billion problems to be solved,” solving problems is the best way to get a grip on the business. Wonder why this panel piece still revolves around Muruganantham, who rushed to catch his flight after his talk? Because he promised to come in his private jet next time! That much for the guts, gumption, and self-belief that personifies him and entrepreneurs can take immense inspiration from his success.

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