It is well known that of the many who want to be entrepreneurs, few take the plunge and fewer succeed. While the success stories of entrepreneurs are often chronicled, their hardships and struggles are rarely touched upon.
With the media latching onto the entrepreneurship bandwagon and the rise of online content amplified by social channels, the successful entrepreneurs of today get their fair share of limelight. Founders of startups which have become unicorns are revered. The buzz around their success often leads to a persuasive perception that life has been easy for them. There is a belief that fundraising has been easy for them. This belief is also strengthened by the fact that many of them have created unicorn companies in less than ten years.
While the media covers their successes, and to an extent, the disruption they ushered in, it doesn’t often look into their struggles.
It is important to celebrate the struggles because there are great lessons hidden for aspiring entrepreneurs. The perception that unicorns of today have had it all easy is simply wrong.
I recently heard Joe Gebbia speak at TED2016 on how he decided to turn their loft into a lodging space to make ends meet. With the promise of an air mattress and breakfast, they were able to earn extra money. The first three renters were enough for them to think of scaling this idea. Thus, Airbnb was born.
Their early struggles and that of other breakaway companies are well documented and we can learn a lot from it. However, the struggles of our Indian unicorns are not so well documented.
This led us at Kalaari to think how we could get a few of the founders on a single platform. The launch of Kstart provided an opportunity to bring together these founders and share their insights with the next generation of entrepreneurs.
It led to the genesis of a session titled “Bangalore Boys”. We were pleased to have Mukesh Bansal of Myntra, Kunal Shah of Freecharge, Bhavish Aggarwal of Ola, and Naveen Tewari of Inmobi. With David Rowan of Wired magazine as the moderator, we couldn’t have asked for more.
A few pearls of wisdom from the session are as below:
Like Airbnb, once a founder finds a disruptive idea, the struggle just “compounds”. He needs to find like-minded people to join him. The first set of people should be almost as good a risk taker as the founder. They have to be completely convinced of the idea. They have to believe that joining a startup to create a disruptive solution is a risk worth taking.
Kunal Shah gave an interesting view on the difficulties of putting together a team. He said that people had their apprehensions of joining a tech-startup founded by a philosophy graduate. Do prospective employees, value the credentials of the founders more than the idea itself?
Mukesh Bansal added that he also had his share of challenges in the early days while putting together a team as employees did not want to leave their comfortable jobs to join startups.
A solution could be to move to a place where the availability of talent is more. While it may not be feasible, it can work well as per Bhavish Aggarwal, who moved to Bangalore from Mumbai after series A funding. He said that entrepreneurs should find the initial talent and then ensure that “talent breeds talent” within the company. The first set of people have to be exceptional and entrepreneurial so as to create an exceptional organization.
At startups, problems are a given. There will be problems with capital, technology, talent etc. While companies will address these challenges and keep moving forward, there has to be something that binds the company together as they move towards a greater common goal.
Naveen Tewari emphasized a great deal on the importance of creating an organizational culture that can bind the human capital to navigate such challenges. While talking about his struggles, he talked about the most important lesson he learnt — that has to be always, people first. It is the people who create a great culture and that can lead to great results.
Many a times, when startups progress positively, they face a much powerful competitor in the same space, vying for the same pie in the market.
Bhavish explained this scenario when Ola Cabs had to face the challenge posed by Uber. While he admits it was frightening, he spoke on the importance of creating a key differentiation and a unique value proposition that helps organizations to keep growing, in spite of the more powerful and better funded competitors.
Naveen added other views. He explained their strategy of exploring very early in their life-cycle, other markets where the needs may be similar. He talked about Inmobi’s global expansion into suitable ad-tech markets outside India.
Kunal Shah talked about the Indian market and its huge untapped potential. His counter to competition was that it is about great products. He further added, an entrepreneur has to be optimistic and pessimistic at the same time.
While celebrating success of startups is important, chronicling their struggles is invaluable as they hold a treasure trove of business lessons.
Lets discuss the bumps on the road, not just the rainbows at the end.