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Anuradha Goyal on consulting, writing and innovation in the startup ecosystem

Tanvi Dubey
15th Mar 2016
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Anuradha Goyal dons multiple hats, of an author, travel writer and an avid blogger.

With more than 18 years of experience in the IT industry, she is currently an independent innovation consultant and helps organisations incubate new groups, set up innovation platforms and define innovation strategies and roadmaps.

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Born in Punjab, she travelled extensively as a child due to her father’s job. A large chunk of her early years were spent in Chandigarh, where she completed most of her education.

Anuradha completed her graduation and post graduation at Panjab University, Chandigrah. She wanted to be a scientist, but the prospect of being self-employed pushed her to choose computer science for post graduation, and this choice defined the next 15 years of her life.

Anuradha first worked at Birla Horizons Ltd, now called Birlasoft. Thereafter, she worked with Coca-Cola India for a few years and then moved on to Infosys in Bengaluru, where she led their business solutions group and got initiated into business innovation.

HerStory spoke with Anuradha to know more about her book, innovation and what keeps her going. Here are some excerpts of the conversation.

HS: Please share some interesting anecdotes, experiences of your life that influenced you.

AG: I did my first solo trip when I was six years old. I used to live with my grandmother and she sent me to deliver something to her sister in another city using a local bus. When I told her I do not know how to go, her answer was: “You have a tongue inside your mouth; ask around.” I do not remember how I reacted then, but later on this became my guiding principle that if you do not know something, go ask someone who knows, or go find out about it. Do not let that become a limitation for what you want to do.

HS: “There is no innovation happening. Someone starts up, they succeed, and many others go and copy the same model.” As an innovation consultant what is your take on the Indian startup ecosystem and innovation.

AG: I would not disagree with the quote, as that makes the vast majority of startups in India. Lot of people are working on picking up an idea that has worked elsewhere and localise it for India. Having said that, like I mentioned in the Flipkart chapter of my book, it takes a lot of innovation to adapt a well-established model. My favourite example is ‘cash on delivery,’ that drives e-commerce in India. It is something that Indian e-commerce companies came up with. Or, say, matrimonial websites – the idea may have been inspired by dating websites, but today as they exist, they are as Indian as they can get and a unique product for Indian market.

There is a small percentage of startups that are doing real innovative work. This percentage is always small if you can look at the whole ecosystem anywhere in the world. What happens is we tend to look at only the path-breaking stories from western world, while we are exposed to the whole gamut of startups closer to us, and that is where the data looks more skewed than it is in reality.

HS: In your book Mouse Charmers you spoke of ‘commerce’, ‘content’, ‘connectors’ in the context of digital startups. What made you look at these three aspects?

AG: When I was analysing a long list of 100+ digital companies of India and tried to make sense of their business models, these are the three business models that emerged. E-commerce was simple, when you take your shop online but of course there are differences when it comes to each vertical or when it comes to selling products versus services.

Content took a different dimension with Internet and gave birth to many models like user-generated content that is absolutely unique to the digital world, or real-time content that is a gift of mobile phone era.

Connectors are people who connect two interested parties – these are database-driven businesses. They existed in some form before Internet, but the kind of scale they got on the Internet has opened up a world of choices for users. I would again use matrimonial websites as an example: how much choice did you have before these portals became a viable choice to go looking for a life partner?

Since the book has been out, I have been validating this categorisation and I am now convinced more than ever that all digital businesses fall in one of these categories. If you read the introduction to each of these sections, you will see what are the typical business models and sub-models within each of these categories and that is what most entrepreneurs have appreciated about the book.

HS: With your experience in the field what are some of the challenges common to all entrepreneurs?

AG: Most entrepreneurs are good at some things – someone may be good at technology and the other may be good at marketing, but as an entrepreneur you need to be good at at least 20 different things, simultaneously. That is where they have their biggest challenge. Getting right people in the beginning is a big challenge and I think the challenge of funding is overrated.

HS: Do you think women entrepreneurs hold back?

AG: At this point in time, I do not think that is the case. Women entrepreneurs are as aggressive as their male counterparts. I think that statement was probably valid till a few years back. Having said that the number of women who pro-actively choose to be entrepreneurs is still small compared to men, but I guess the balance is slowly shifting and we would soon see the shift.

HS: Biggest challenge you have faced in life till date and how did you overcome it.

AG: Working as an independent professional for the last eight years meant ever day was a challenge. Everyday I deal with it as it comes. I do not think I had a bigger challenge in my earlier life; corporate life

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was a cake-walk. Getting a job happened before I could worry about it and education happened with a combination of design and destiny.

I hope that independent professionals are treated with professionalism. Every time I work with organisations, it is a very skewed balance – me versus a big bad large organisation and I lose lot of energy that I would rather use in creating something more or trying something new.

HS: What about your work do you love the most?

AG: Almost everything. I love the way travel and books open up new worlds for me and take me to the intersections where new ideas happen. I wish I could take students who want to be entrepreneurs on a journey – something like Jagriti Yatra, and give them the books that have the potential to make them think.

HS: How do you make time for yourself and manage work-life balance?

AG: Since I work from home, I work on digital platforms, and my personal and professional lives really merge with each other. Do I want them separated? Not really. I enjoy the way things are, and since all the three spaces that I work in – Travel, Innovation & Books – are subjects that I am passionate about, I enjoy being immersed in my work for 18 hours a day.

HS: A motto you follow?

AG: Follow your heart and its dreams, everything else will follow you.

HS: What keeps you motivated?

AG: At this point in time, my readers keep me motivated.

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