TechSparks 2016 today witnessed an energetic discussion on a slightly weird subject that is generally overlooked in the race for valuation and headline space.
“The number one surprising thing that can kill your startup, and how to prepare for it,” was a racy affair with interesting anecdotes and gyan for startups on how to manage their respective brands in the public space.
Shooting straight from the hip, Tanmoy Goswami — writer, former journalist, and currently unemployed, as he put it — wasted no time in asking his panellists and the audience this provocative question: “Is it the media or money that can kill a startup?” he asked. When the answers were a mix of both, he added for good measure: “Your story is the single largest weapon you have,” and opened up the discussion with panellists agreeing that the internal and external narratives of the company have to be the same.
Ashwini Asokan from MadStreetDen, a Chennai startup dealing with artificial intelligence, said it’s important to understand a company’s founding values. “If you are stage-managing communication, people out there can tell. You cannot be different internally and externally, as such actions will lead to gossip.”
Sanjay Gupta, CMO, Urban Ladder said a brand’s narration cannot be outsourced. “The holy trinity are the founder, the team, and the customer. The customer is the most important person and he is your advocate,” he stressed.
So the question the moderator raised was whether the customer needs to know a company’s state of funding or its financials?
Ankur Warikoo from Nearbuy pivoted the question a bit and said founders like to project themselves as superheroes, especially if they come from an IIT background where they are told they cannot fail! But he agreed with Gupta that the customer is important.
I remember a story where a customer was complaining to us that we had cheated him on a pair of shorts that he had bought as we had delivered only one. Now, it’s important that we need to have a conversation with the customer as he did not understand that a pair of shorts is essentially only one. So we started writing on the site that one pair is ‘one piece only’. But we had this funny incident when we were working on a Vasan Eye Care promotion where we had to clarify to a customer that the offer was open to both eyes and not one piece only!!
Koreel Lahiri, COO, Independent & Public-Spirited Media Foundation who has earlier worked in television media, said the media likes good stories.
Internal storytelling is very important as the media picks up leads from disgruntled customers or from the CEO’s colleagues and not necessarily from the top management themselves. As a reporter, they would have access to similar tiers in your company. So if you are bothered about external communication, the question you need to ask yourself is where you are rooting your brand.
Explaining further, he said:
Take Ola or Uber, for instance. The customer is not bothered if they are building the best transportation network in Asia. The customer is concerned about getting from point A to B when the autorickshaws refuse. When you care for the customers’ need, that is when half the battle is won.
Ashwini said being in AI, entrepreneurs want to play God, but at MadStreetDen, they consciously avoid this mindset. “How are we shaping our narrative? AI is about society’s evolution. It’s not all about humans vs robots and all the destruction that movies show us,” she said.
To a question on whether communication is only the CEO’s responsibility, Gupta said that in the furniture line, Urban Ladder always wonders about how to repay the customers’ trust. “It is people down the line who really matter and their efforts reflect upon the company.”
As for media overkill, Tanmoy suggested that startups have to figure out stories high on emotional quotient, as readers are fed up of rags-to-riches tales.
Koreel was of the view that as a custodian of one’s brand, every story may not have a resonance with a large media house.
But, today, you have lots of social media opportunities. If you have a good story on social media, go there and the word will spread.
A big shoutout to all our sponsors - Zendesk, Axis Bank, Sequoia Capital India Advisors , Digital Ocean, Microsoft, AWS, Akamai, Target, Verisign, Kerala Startup Mission, Brand Launch Centre, Tork and Blink.