Whether you're early-stage, pre-seed or bootstrapped, launching a successful startup is challenging. It takes much more than building on the most flexible, reliable and scalable infrastructure available. But what if former engineers and entrepreneurs who helped build some of the most recognisable startups in the world told you what exactly you need to do?
On July 19, 2019, attendees at the AWS Startup CXO Mixer at Bengaluru experienced this as Amazon Internet Services leaders, startup founders, investors, and accelerator heads shared best practices and tips on building a successful startup that go beyond designing your infrastructure. Discussions ranged from what problems to tackle next, what VCs look for when funding, and how partnering with Amazon to leverage their newest services can help startups succeed.
Opening Keynote: Why breaking things should be practiced?
“You need to design for resiliency as you scale,” said Madhusudan Shekar, Head Digital Innovation, Amazon Internet Services Pvt. Ltd, in his opening keynote.
He spoke about the probability of failure at any point, and how Amazon's microservices give you agility, but at the same time are structured to overcome failure and retain customer trust. "When you’re building for microservices and you want to grow, one of the things to keep in mind is to build trust. You need to always be there for customers. If you’re unable to, customers have another choice and they will exercise it," he said.
Madhusudan said there are four layers to take into consideration while building a high resiliency system - infrastructure, network and data, application, and people. "You may have a go-to person who can fix stuff when all hell breaks loose. But if that person is absent, things could go really bad. You need to build resiliency even against people," he said.
You also need to test your resiliency by assessing your blast radius, which is the impact failures give to customers. "Smart small, but progressively build a capability. Don’t point fingers, take accountability, and make a contribution," he said.
Panel discussion: How to scale your startup fast but not break things
Next on the agenda was an interesting panel discussion featuring Nishchay AG, Director, Supply Chain, Bounce; Hemant Kumar Sah, Co-founder and CTO, Drivezy; Nitin Chhabra, CEO, Ace Turtle; and Aditya Bhamidipaty, Founder and CEO, FirstHive. The discussion was moderated by Aamir Jariwala, VC BDM, Amazon Internet Services Pvt. Ltd.
Speaking about their core strengths, Nitin said Ace Turtle is learning to solve real-world problems, while Nishchay said they continuously listen to their users to create innovative features. "We operationalise things fast. The communication channel within the company is seamless and approachable," he said. In the next six months, they are working towards shaping user behaviour by educating users on their app, ensuring that they act responsibly through penalisation, warning messages, and so on.
Hemant said they take pride in the failures they overcame in the last four years. "We never gave up because of our failures. We picked ourselves up, accepted the reality and innovated. It’s good to fail," he said. They are trying to create a blockchain platform, a common area with trust, where multiple companies can have a common customer. "The biggest factor missing in the lending-selling economy is trust -- we want to build that through cross-collaboration," he added.
Aditya said that since Day 1, they’ve been trying to drive customer success engagement. "We started our customer success philosophy by hiring customer-obsessed teams. We have a healthy mix of product experts who can talk to customers and customer experts who can talk about the product," he said. They’re working on expanding in the global market, getting ready for large global multinational deployments, and trying to build strength through partnerships.
Aamir asked the panelists how their tech journeys have evolved, and how Cloud has been part of that success. Aditya said that the heart of FirstHive is the ability to take structured and unstructured breadcrumbs of customer interaction to deliver a meaningful personalised journey in the front end. "For us, it’s impossible to be on anything but Cloud," he said.
Hemant added, "You need to have a system you can rely on; your own configuration doesn't work at times. We have invested in services and not on infrastructure. Cloud helps us scale." He said that services scale as per your requirement. Nitin said that 2 things are required to deploy faster in any organisation- scale and speed, and AWS Cloud meets the criteria.
Reverse pitch: VCs take the stage
Usually we see entrepreneurs pitching to VCs. At the AWS event, the tables were turned, and four VCs took to the stage to pitch to startup founders. They shared their investment philosophy, which gave founders an idea of how different VCs function and view investment.
Alok Bardiya, Venture Advisor, SRI Capital, who has experience of being on both sides, as an entrepreneur and now a VC, said that they have a strong and unique set of advisors onboard. One of their key values besides capital, is mentorship. “Our differentiator is that everyone in our team has experience in running companies and investing in companies as well," he said. He added that for an entrepreneur, the investment interview can be an excruciating experience. "Keep in mind that it's time-consuming, so be careful to only work with VCs who are genuinely interested in your product."
Next up was Brij Bhasin, General Partner, Rebright Partners, a Japanese venture capital fund. He said that they act as a gateway for Japanese companies who want to invest in South East Asia. They invest in two types of companies in the sectors of healthtech, mobility, deeptech, among others. "We invest in companies solving for India-specific problems and addressing the emerging markets. We're also interested in companies looking to expand globally with relevant IP-driven products," he said.
Ganapathy Venugopal, Co-founder and CEO, Axilor Ventures, shared three reasons why entrepreneurs should consider investment from them. First, most early-stage VCs make four to six investments in a few sectors, and have four to five seed investments, while they work with over 40 startups in a year. "This raises your probability of getting into an ecosystem that will make you more successful," he said. Secondly, one out of two startups ends up getting investment from a VC or seed fund within six months of joining them. And finally, while early-stage funds focus on a couple of sectors, Axilor works with startups across 5 sectors - consumer, enterprise, fintech, deeptech and healthtech.
Krishna Vinjamuri, Executive Director, Fosun RZ Capital, finally took to the stage to speak about the fund, which is part of Fosun Group, a large China-based conglomerate with four large verticals – insurance, pharma and healthcare, real estate and consumer. "As a group, we have more than 20 funds with teams in China, Singapore, India, Israel and US," he said. They use this knowledge through investments in these geographies to both evaluate and support the companies they invest in. They also take the startups to roadshows and programmes in different countries to meet potential investors. Fosun RZ Capital has 100 portfolio companies in a variety of verticals and funds.