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Sheep, Sutras and Startups: Three new books experiment with innovation stories

Madanmohan Rao
2nd Aug 2013
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Most books about startups and innovation are packed with checklists, roadmaps, case studies and recommendations about how to launch a new business, raise funds, manage the team, pivot with new offerings, and negotiate exits.

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A new crop of books also offers such advice to startups and innovators – but in more creative formats and styles, including narrative non-fiction, illustrated fables and autobiographies.

Rohit Prasad’s “Startup Sutra: What the Angels won't tell you about Business and Life” narrates the story of entrepreneur brothers Abhishek and Abhinav Sinha, co-founders of India’s mobile financial services firm Eko.

The company has won a range of accolades including the mBillionth Awards, but the founders also went through a number of ups and downs (including family challenges) with their previous startup 6D. Even the early ride at Eko was not smooth thanks to problems with regulatory issues, lack of traction from banks, and mismatched expectations – before eventually getting support from the Gates Foundation, CGAP and Creation Investments.

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The author Rohit Prasad is an associate professor at Management Development Institute (MDI), Gurgaon; he was previously with Xansa, Hexaware and Sapient, and has a Ph.D. in economic theory from SUNY Stony Brook. His research interests include regulation of telecommunications, ICT for development¸ knowledge management and entrepreneurship.

His first book on entrepreneurship (with Hachette India) is an interesting blend of startup story along with philosophical lessons in the attitude and soul of an entrepreneur, told in the form of interspersed conversations with a Korean mystic, traveller and lover of India.

In six sutras, the characteristics of an entrepreneur are spelled out: courage (acting in the face of fear), resilience (staying the course on a day to day basis), creative action (via controlled experiments), equanimity (in the face of ruthlessness and even loss of friendships), faith (in one’s entrepreneurial destiny), and execution (to eventually bring prosperity and happiness).

'An entrepreneur is someone who stands up to the universe, to all that has come before, and says, "I can know your essence, I will change your expression," the book concludes.

How I Braved Anu Aunty and Co-Founded a Million Dollar Company” (Rupa Publishers) is a first-person narrative by entrepreneur Varun Agarwal, and is also centred in Bangalore. In over 50 small chapters divided into four parts, the book describes how Varun overcame the taunts of Anu Aunty, his mother’s best friend -- and eventually co-founded e-commerce startup Alma Mater, selling customised merchandise from educational institutions across India.

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Varun has also founded two other startups: Reticular, a social media marketing company, and Last Minute Films, a film production house. The book is written in an informal and fun style, and Varun has also blogged about his entrepreneurial lessons: don’t be an entrepreneur just for the heck of it; don’t just start a company but a whole new industry; never give up; don’t be afraid; build on others’ ideas; be creative; improvise; and don’t wait.

Successful companies can find it hard to pivot in the face of competition by coming up with new ideas, executing on them and jettisoning old product lines. Chris Trimble and Vijay Govindarajan, two Tuck University professors, first wrote the book “The Other Side of Innovation: Solving the Execution Challenge” which addresses how companies should go beyond just ideation to execution by forming dedicated teams to conduct disciplined experiments on the new idea, validate the results and expenditure, and manage conflicts between the dedicated team and the new organisation.

However, they follow that up with a very different companion book: “How Stella Saved the Farm: A Tale about Making Innovation Happen” (MacMillan). This is written in the form of a parable about farm animals in a hypothetical Windsor Farms, where the sheep Stella decides to tackle competition by bringing in alpacas from Peru to produce higher quality wool, but runs into challenges of running two different product lines together.

The informal fictional style helps bring to light the different kinds of character conflicts and change management challenges that can arise in companies trying to pivot. But the book is a rather strange mix of cutesy narrative, cartoon illustrations and business org-charts, and can come across as a bit contrived.

We look forward to more creative narrations of the startup story in various formats in the coming years, including movies: if Hollywood can produce “The Social Network,” what would Bollywood’s response be?

[Follow YourStory's research director Madanmohan Rao on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MadanRao]

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