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What it takes to thrive: K Ganesh on great ideas, and building successful startups

Tamanna Mishra
17th Jan 2018
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In the world of Indian startups, K Ganesh is something of a legend. His past successes, in conjunction with his wife Meena Ganesh, have given him iconic status, and his current venture GrowthStory has helped script some of the most successful startup stories in recent years, including Portea Medical, bigbasket, FreshMenu, Home Lane, AcadGild, HouseJoy, Social Frontier, and many more.

Ganesh’s myriad experiences and learnings over the years have given him unique insights into the startup arena in India, and what it takes to succeed in the sector. Here are 10 essential lessons from entrepreneurs, distilled from his conversations with YourStory over the years:

Everything starts with a great idea

“Pick a big problem to solve – a big need or a large pain point.”

In an ecosystem rife with conversations about valuation, returns, and scale, we are starting to forget that the first step is an amazing idea, one that solves real challenges. Everything else follows. Ganesh’s own entrepreneurial journey, and as a mentor at GrowthStory, has had great ideas at the core, and the success that followed those ideas has been phenomenal.

Challenge is part of the entrepreneurship game

“Find a new way to change the status quo. Be sure you are willing to commit to entrepreneurship and make the sacrifices needed to be one – remember the quote – no one said entrepreneurship is easy but only that it will be worth it.”

The idea of starting up is glamorous. It is a life free of bosses. But the heightened levels of accountability and personal involvement make this life much more challenging than a regular 9 to 6. According to Ganesh, it is important that one gets into entrepreneurship for the right reasons. It needs to be an informed decision, and entrepreneurs need to deeply understand the sacrifices they are going to have to make. Just like there are no free lunches, there is no such thing as an easy entrepreneurial journey.

There is no guarantee of repeated success

“Each startup is different and past performance is not indicative of future returns – every day the entrepreneur has to face himself/herself in front of the mirror and start afresh. I have been mostly lucky to work with great entrepreneurs, good timings more than any serious planning.”

Consumers are fickle, luck changes (industries do too), and there is always something new on the anvil. Everyone within the startup ecosystem needs to see that success is rarely replicable. A successful entrepreneurial journey is a combination of constant innovation and value addition, right collaborators and partners, and pot loads of luck.

Funding is not everything

“Companies, which have the right genes, can always raise funding, even in a somewhat tight market.”

Sure, funding fuels growth. But before it happens, what one needs are a good idea and a great execution team. When the two come together, funding and growth follow, even in the hardest of times.

Be prepared for the emotions

“You can never be an entrepreneur without passion and emotional attachment.”

For most founders, their ventures are like their babies. They give birth to the idea, they nurture it, and they bring it up. Then, depending on how things go, sometimes they exit, and sometimes they go on to create great companies. But no matter what the end result, every day of one’s entrepreneurial journey is about passion and emotions. Ganesh likens it to a child’s wedding. Rituals demand that sometimes they change their names, often they start their lives in another home, but they never really stop being your children. The highs and lows of entrepreneurship are similar – you don’t really ever cut the ties, whether you exit or stay on.

One can conclude that keeping a tab on these emotions and using them to one’s advantage, can go a long way in a successful journey.

Money is an important part of the game

“For me, it is very important to build monetization of value in whatever you are doing.”

If a serially successful serial entrepreneur says this, it must be true. Passion and emotions are all very well, but in the end, entrepreneurs are building businesses, generating employment, and have homes to run and bills to pay. No matter how strongly one feels about the idea, without a thought-through business model that ensures income, there is no sustainable business.

Mutual respect is at the core of a successful partnership

What has worked really well for me and Meena is that our skills are extremely complimentary as well as different. We have a healthy respect for each others’ skill sets and what we bring to the table.”

Ganesh and his wife Meena, a successful business leader and entrepreneur herself, form a powerful team. They have had a series of successes together in their entrepreneurial journey, and individually in their corporate careers before that. Their skills are diverse and yet, they complement each other. They are also one of the few husband-wife teams who have aced the partnership game. Therein lies the biggest lesson for entrepreneurs, married to each other or not – the need for respect for their business partners’ skills and core competencies.

Perhaps it has something to do with the ability to feed off each other’s strengths and cancel out the weaknesses. Great partnerships ensue when one person brings innovation, big dreams, and vision to the table, and the other brings prudence, practicality, and execution. There is a reason why some of the most iconic brands of our era come from rock-solid partnerships between two people with different worldviews and skills – the Wozniaks and the Jobs, the Hewletts and the Packards, the Ganeshs and the Meenas.

The fun is in the process

“You must enjoy what you are doing. If you are not enjoying, then there is no point to anything!”

If a founder gets into the entrepreneurship game with his eyes solely on the end result, the road ahead is going to be emotionally and physically draining. Ganesh’s advice steers towards finding an idea that you don’t just feel strongly about or one that is most likely to succeed, but also one that you truly enjoy. Entrepreneurship is hard work, and the journey is full of pitfalls and setbacks. If one doesn’t enjoy the work itself, it is going to get that much harder. Success then does not seem as much fun, and failures and setbacks and having to rise from them feels much worse – and it actually is.

Destiny and hard work go hand in hand

“Luck plays an important role, and also, being in the right place at the right time. We often underestimate the role luck plays in success.”

When opportunities present themselves, only some are lucky enough to see them and seize them. Hard work, intelligence, and a great team then ensure that the lucky few persevere long enough to turn the opportunity into a roaring success. Ganesh insists that destiny and hard work go together – one is incomplete without the other.

It is clear that K Ganesh has a practical, middle-path-approach to all things entrepreneurship – ideas, money, funding, exits, and more. He balances out the extremes of emotions and financial returns, luck and deliberate action – and that in itself is an essential lesson, in life as well as well as in entrepreneurship.

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