The “small issues” that are killing your startup


You have a brilliant idea. Your product is going to solve real issues. Your competitors don’t stand a chance. And funding? That’s on point too.

Sounds like the good life, doesn’t it? But the more I consult with, read about and understand the inner workings of Indian startups and SMBs, the more I start to realize that while their hearts might be in the right place, something remains amiss.

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We come from a culture of “meritocracy”, one that puts premium on results and not how you get to them. Our oldest, most solid organizations suffer the impact of lack of training and up skilling. The lack of nuance plagues every social and cultural discourse in our country. Every single one of these problems has started to reflect its worst in the fragile ecosystem of startups and small businesses. It takes just a couple of these seemingly small issues for solid startups with grand visions and good ideas to simply break apart.

I am putting my observation to words. It might be scathing in parts, so beware.

It takes more than vision

As Thomas Edison put it, vision without execution is just hallucination. Often, I have heard founders lay out a vision that will transform everything, from how people eat to how they go to Mars. But question them about the specific steps, and the confusion or emptiness in their response is deafening.

A strong vision is the very foundation that motivates founders and employees. But it has to be followed by a realistic execution. I have lost count of the number of times I have excitedly picked up a new app-delivery service, only to uninstall in two days because there was literally zero delivery. You hear of popular grocery apps that deliver less and charge more, laundry apps where not a leaf moves after you schedule a service, or a food delivery app that is almost always short of foot soldiers. “Frivolous” services aside, even healthcare apps fail to send critical medical reports on time! It is hard to wrap one’s head around how the execution and delivery of an entire ecosystem can be so broken.

A startup idea doesn’t become a business until it actually fulfils a necessity, has a concise plan, short and long-term objectives and measurable milestones. On its own, a grand vision is just an illusion of grandeur.

Differentiate yourself from competition

I am always amazed at how so many startups are doing the same thing. From food tech to hyper-local grocery delivery, app-based personal assistants to fintech, it’s almost like everyone buys into whatever is the latest trend in VC and founder circles. What follows in the name of differentiation is often surprisingly repetitive, like launching in 20 regional languages or being available on all operating systems. The very meaning of differentiation is standing out. If everyone’s doing the same thing in the name of differentiation, they are not very different from each other, are they?

Optics can only take you so far

I am a communications consultant myself – it pays my bills. Yet, I will tell you this – on your list of priorities, communication has to come after you have the basics sorted. If the objective of your startup is to find print space instead of solving a unique problem, you’re not doing it right.

You can’t make up for an unnecessary product and/or inconsistent execution with innumerable iterations of website content and positioning strategy and logo design. Marketing, PR and reputation, of the product and its founders, can only follow on the heels of a solid product and on-the-ball execution.

Degrees matter little

As a new startup in the food tech scene, do you really need only IIT-ians to develop your app? Or only IIM graduates to market them? Sure, you have the funding to afford them but is that really the best use of resources? We are a talent-first economy. Look beyond the cliques and you will be amazed at the resourcefulness and intelligence that is waiting for you! Hire for attitude and experience, not just for degrees and credentials. You need people who have the potential to drive your vision. Find them and hire them.

Work culture is more than a bunch of beanbags and free food and drinks

I can’t say this enough! Behind the glitz and glamour of shiny offices, sleep pods, and free meals, I have noticed a work culture that is often insular, sometimes broken. Sexist C-suite, oppressive hours, dude-bro culture and absent HR policies don’t make a sustainable business. If we have learned anything from the recent fiascos at Uber, TVF and others, it is that when it comes to running a business ethically and sustainably, there is not much difference between a Fortune 500 and a new startup.

It’s a business, plain and simple, so run it like one. Establish a set of norms to check things like work culture, timing, employee appreciation, inclusiveness, people-friendly policies etc.

The operational issues in startups have begun to fit into a pattern. Instead of learning from its mistakes and failures, the ecosystem is still letting whim and gut drive business decisions. It is time to remember that while startups must remain more agile than large organizations, they have a lot to learn about running businesses from those who have succeeded in doing so.

Let ingenuity reflect in your product and execution. Startups don’t need to disrupt or change the good things about organizational behaviour and business acumen just to appear “different”.

Here are a few more related reads on running a successful start up by our writers at YourStory:


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