Over 60 founders and aspiring entrepreneurs gathered in Pune recently for the YourStory Startup Meetup at Reserved-Bit. They shared their vision and progress on the products they were working on, as well as challenges they faced in their startup journeys (see also the coverage of the Indore meetup here).
The Pune startup gathering was also addressed by three experts: Kiran Deshpande, President of TiE Pune and Co-founder of Mojo Networks; Veeraj Thaploo, Founder and President of Engineering, BlazeClan Technologies; and Nisha Poyarekar, Co-founder of makerspace Reserved-Bit.
As moderator of the event, here are my five clusters of takeaways from the two-hour discussion, covering tips and success factors for entrepreneurial ventures (see also my earlier writeup on Founders’ Friday in Bengaluru).
Originality in innovation is great, but there are also many ‘me too’ companies. They will survive only if they are adding value, can survive in the market, and are able to build to scale by executing with precision. Late followers can also end up leading the market in some cases.
Founders should understand the different kinds of customers, support networks and funding sources out there, and find out which is the most relevant in their contexts, eg., strategic and professional investors; angel, institutional and entrepreneur-turned-investors; strategic and professional accelerators; reference and lighthouse customers. A number of options have emerged for engaging with the broader ecosystem, eg., hackathons, competitions and makerspaces (see my earlier article, 15 innovation tips).
Teams, tenacity, technology
The speakers identified a number of success factors at the level of the individual, founding team and business. Be bull-headed; passion and perseverance are key drivers for the long haul of the entrepreneurial journey.
Choose your co-founder well. Additional heads, minds and hearts help in the entrepreneur journey, though there are also enough cases of single-founder startups. Build a cross-functional and even a cross-border founding team if you are going global.
Never let up on speed, focus and quality. The early rush of launching a startup is not enough, entrepreneurship is more of a marathon than a 100-metre dash. Keep your mojo going; at the same time, stay focussed on the core business and don’t let quality slip.
Technology has changed the scale equation. Cloud can take you to the skies, i.e., cloud infrastructure can help you avoid some of the complexities of scaling up. Even technology companies outsource some of their tech support functions.
The cloud and on-demand models can help with automation, customer engagement, and transactional notifications. Technology evolution opens up new business models, eg., Amazon’s back-end has now become a business (Amazon Web Services).
Build people, not just products. As technology and business models change, your team will be key in learning and creating together. People and organisational culture will be as important as your strategy for innovation. Don’t underestimate the human touch factor. Though technology can seduce as well as scale, there is no replacement for human touch and articulation.
Plan for more than you need. Frugality is good, but founders often underestimate what they will need in terms of resources, funds, efforts and even time. Don’t ask for funding only when you are gasping for breath, and make sure that investors stick to their commitments in terms of how many fund installments are disbursed and when.
If you are a services company, you can bootstrap early on. However, your growth curve may not be as exponential as a product company, and hence may call for different strategies to attract investors other than the usual suspects. Many tech founders focus a lot on product development and launch, but not as much on sales and marketing. A range of options can be explored for a reasonable cost, from branded T-shirts to digital growth hacking.
Founder support: the rough and tumble
You are often lonely as a founder, you need to reach out and connect to mentors, advisors and consultants. But you must especially connect to other founders, because peers can be your best sounding board and source of learning. YourStory and TiE organise numerous startup meetups, and founders can also create informal networking meetups of their own.
Be prepared for the fact that you may have a ‘near death’ experience when it seems all is lost and your company will shut down. Entrepreneurs may go through many such experiences and it is not always possible to get used to such a roller-coaster ride. Unpredictable turns of events may also arise due to forces beyond your control, eg., natural disasters, regulatory changes.
The global field
Make sure your business has globality built into it. Even if you are focussing only on a local market, your product and customer care should be as good as any counterpart anywhere in the world. The GAFA giants (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon) have raised customer expectations around the world and have become the benchmark of design, technology and innovation.
If you are a disruptor, be prepared to take on the big players. Some of them will slap all kinds of legal notices and even lawsuits against you; make sure you have the resources and tenacity to take them on.
The discussion carried on through the coffee and cookies break after the panel, and drifted down to the TJ microbrewery later. Founders from a number of startups took part in the animated conversation: Fitato Health Solutions, The Funny Mind, Botree, The Potter’s Earth, Witty Pen, Knackler, Boovent, ByMyHours, Garage Works, Market Yard, Cart91 and StomatoBot.
Some of the startups already seemed to be implementing some tips on marketing by wearing branded T-shirts, such as bike tour provider Bike Street Boys (see photos below). Many of the startups called for more such meetups, not just twice a year but quarterly or monthly. We look forward to engaging again with Pune’s vibrant startup ecosystem already!