Entrepreneurs, time to find your North Star in the ever-expanding internet universe


India is at an inflection point when it comes to digital transformation. The internet has become an integral part of the growing urban Indian population -- the number of internet users is expected to grow to 511.89 million in 2022.

Today, the ground is not just ripe but fertile for entrepreneurship, says Deep Kalra, who was an early mover in the internet business space and successfully established MakeMyTrip. Here he shares how entrepreneurs can make the most of it in 2018.

The new holy cow: In 2017, India had 331.77 million internet users. It is expected to grow to 511.89 million in 2022.

In the first internet wave in the late 90s, India witnessed the setting up of B2B portals, matrimonial sites, job search directories, and got the first taste of businesses powered by the internet.

However, barring a few, most of these businesses did not survive because of low internet penetration, the small user base for online shopping, inadequate logistics infrastructure, and low consumer acceptance of e-commerce at the time.

In 2005, low-cost carriers entered the aviation sector and drove the online travel industry. No surprise, online travel proved to be the e-commerce gateway drug for India as well.

And when Indian Railways started e-ticketing - consumers inhibition towards e-commerce started giving way to acceptance.

After 2007, a number of startups stepped into the Indian e-commerce market to make it big. These businesses focussed heavily on understanding the evolving market challenges, paving the infrastructure for logistics, and priming the consumer for product acceptance.

The change in consumer lifestyle, the rise in disposable income of the middle class and the need for convenience acted as catalysts – making way for e-commerce as a way of life for many Indians.

Just a few years ago, food and groceries were never thought of as items for online trading. However, with the change of working habits, and consumers opting for convenience and seeking more choice, there are now innumerable small and large e-commerce companies selling provisions and perishable items.

Foodtech startups became hot internet properties.

Today, India is at an inflection point when it comes to digital transformation. The Internet has become an integral part of the growing urban Indian population. Be it online bill payment, shopping, travel, doctor’s appointment or sending gifts to loved ones, e-commerce forms the core of how urban Indians are buying products and services online.

Today, the ground is not just ripe but fertile for entrepreneurship. There is a never-before-seen appetite for taking risks and more people breaking away from typical career paths.

As someone who spends a lot of time with young entrepreneurs, there are a few questions I get asked often and I am happy to share some of these ‘first principles’ which have guided my decisions and have been my true North Star.

Focus on building: An entrepreneur needs to focus on building not selling; building a better product that solves a real pain point, better experience that will be universally loved. It takes time for businesses to build, and it is usually how an entrepreneur handles the first five to six years that determines the success and growth of the company. Some of the best businesses might not have seen the light of the day because some entrepreneur gave up too early.

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Hire people better than yourself: As an entrepreneur, if you lack self-awareness of your strengths and more importantly, your weaknesses, you are going to disappoint yourself big time. I have leaned on many talented people in my journey knowing that they do certain things better than I and complement my skills very meaningfully. Remember ideas may trigger a great new business, but it’s the people you hire and the culture you build that will sustain your company’s success.

Execution trumps strategy:

People tend to believe that you just need a great idea and the rest will fall in place. But in my view - execution eats strategy for breakfast.

Competence to execute is an underrated quality and one that matters just as much, if not more than your big entrepreneurial idea. So, don’t lose sight of the small executional details – that make good ideas great!

Value, not valuation: Lose sleep on creating value, not valuation. In this unicorn obsessed startup era, there is nothing wrong with billion-dollar dreams and moon-shot ambitions but the lack of appreciation for $100 million success stories is just hype-driven cynicism. Channelise your energy on creating value for your customer, everything else will flow from there.

Entrepreneurship is a journey and not a destination. And in this journey, one makes choices that could be excruciatingly hard. And if you are on this journey I hope you find some of these guiding principles useful on good days as well as the bad ones.


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