They were chatty, enthusiastic and full of humour. They had stories to tell and were more than happy to share tips. The New Delhi edition of YourStory's Fireside chat “You can do it too” organized in association with Nexus Venture Partners was rich with anecdotes, jokes and dollops of wisdom.
Participants Anup Gupta, MD, Nexus Venture Partners, Kapil Bharti, co-founder Delhivery, Sanjay Sethi, co-founder Shopclues and Advitiya Sharma, co-founder Housing.com kept the audience enthralled for over an hour.
Venture funds tend to bet on the team rather than the business they are in, the audience, largely students and entrepreneurs from the capital, learnt.
“We look for a team which has hunger and passion for what they are doing. More important, do they have the ability to work their way around this business and the launched product what is working and what is not,” said Anup.
Accepting feedback from the market, recognizing the need to switch strategies is a key quality that a start-up entrepreneur should have, he added.
“I think any good entrepreneur is quickly able to react to what the market is telling them and in most cases, this feedback has to be varied and you have to see how people are using and not using it.”
The biggest challenge of a startup remains differentiation, added Sanjay Sethi of Shopclues, which runs a marketplace for consumer goods, similar to those run by Flipkart and Amazon.
“We are not about the classes of India, we are not like malls. This is a very mass market, consumer oriented, low income group, early career, kind of community that India is made up of, that is what we care about,” he said.
The role of the mentor-investor was another one that generated a lot of discussion. Says Advitiya Sharma recounted the story of how he and his classmates from IIT started Housing.com. “We didn’t know how a company is registered, we didn’t know what is a term sheet.”
Then, a funding move fell through and the company had five days to pay salaries and not enough cash in the bank. Advitiya said he picked up the phone and called every VC in the book.
Pointing to Anup, he added: “All you need in one guy to believe in your idea.” The audience erupted in applause.
Anup responded, with a quip: “But I wouldn’t recommend going out looking for an investor with five days left to pay salaries.”
All three entrepreneurs also spoke about how they tackle challenges that every startup faces. The common advice is to keep at it, fighting every single day.
Sanjay Sethi said: “I think what has worked for me is to live in the now, all you need to do is take the next step. You have to go a long way, all you can do now is take the next step and keep taking next steps. Yes there will be and there are tough moments, but just pull yourself up and take the next step.”
Kapil Bharati, of Delhivery, had a different take on the subject. “I think every company I know of, goes through tough times,” he said.
“That is when the role of an investor or partner becomes very important as those are the moments when you have to pat on the back and discuss with them what are the things they can do to give the confidence that they would be there for you,” he pointed out.
There were some humourous moments too. Such as when Advitiya described his naïve approach in the initial days of Housing.com. “We were the first company who brought in data collection as a process for houses with photos,” he said.
“When there was no data collection team, I used to collect data and I had a DSLR camera and used to go to various residents, very innocently I would say, ‘I want to click pictures of your house,’ they would bang the door on my face then I would bang back to explain how important it was.”
Scaling up was another topic that was debated during the discussion.
“For some of you who have interacted with venture capital funds, it is almost frustrating for many entrepreneurs when they hear the word scale and what is the scalability, what is scalable,” said Anup.
“The main thing one basically needs to think is can this be a large company one day. The reason why that is important for a VC like us is at some point when we invest in a company, 6-8 years down the road, we will have to think about exiting that company. So that’s why it is important for us at least to get some broad ideas that this is a large market and a large company can operate in it.”
“For the first 6 months, we were only in Mumbai. From a real-estate’s point of view, Mumbai is the largest & most dynamic market for real estate and for 6 months we just sat there every single month learning.”
“We actually had session on what all learning we had from the market and industry. After spending six months in Mumbai and casting all those learnings, we expanded. And today it’s just two years and we are in 45 cities of the country. Once you find out the formula, reason behind why things are happening and the way they are happening in, it’s very easy to go ahead.”