How Lightspeed Ventures’ Extreme Entrepreneur programme aims to give wings to startup founders
For any early-stage entrepreneur, especially in pre-market stages, mentorship and guidance can go a long way. It helps understand product-market fit, customer interactions, and what the end consumer wants.
Starting up is more than a company creating a new product – it is a new leader creating a winning team. According to authors George Bradt and Gillian Davis, when your team is small, the “key focus should be on problem-solving, locking in core organisational values, and creating momentum”.
New individuals should be roped in based on like-mindedness but with complementary strengths. For eg., Wozniak-Jobs in the early days of Apple, Wells-Eisner at Disney, and Ernest-Julio at Gallo Wines. However, first-time entrepreneurs do not necessarily have the resources or know-how to get an understanding. And it is startups like these that LightSpeed Ventures’ Extreme Entrepreneurs (EE) Programme aims to help.
In its second year, the programme aims to help Indian founders find their feet, with no expectations in return.
What does it do?
The VC firm likens the initiative to a “no-strings-attached” programme where founders get wide exposure to learn and absorb from some of the best in the industry.
Harsha Kumar, Partner, Lightspeed Ventures, says, the purpose of EE is to level the playing field.
She says, “We believe that unless you went to the right school it is easy to get looped out even if you have a great idea and all the raw material to make a great founder. EE is a way to ensure that if you are, in fact, an Extreme Entrepreneur, you get to centre stage irrespective of where you come from.”
Extreme Entrepreneurs (EE) is a learning programme that takes zero equity, is geography-agnostic, and open to the community. In its second year, it will run for over six weeks in Delhi over a three-point format. EE starts next week on the 3rd of Sep at The Common Room foundation, Chattarpur, Delhi.
The mornings will include masterclasses with top guns. Last year, people like John Thompson from Microsoft, Dheeraj Pandey from Nutanix, and Ritesh Agarwal from OYO conducted them.
“I think the biggest takeaway is exposure and confidence. When you listen to the journey of other founders, you realise that yours isn’t unusual and that if they could do it, you can too,” Harsha says.
Afternoons will involve one-on-one mentorship sessions with a Lightspeed Partner. This is the powerful core of this programme, where founders get their business pressure-tested by the years of global experience Lightspeed has under its belt. The evenings are more about fun, with cocktail sessions with the community to help bring founders to the “inside”.
How does it help?
“As a pre-product company, our primary goal from EE was to take away from the experiences of people who've been there, done that, in India and global markets, and bring that all in to how we approached our own go-to-market,” says Bharath Bevinhally, Co-founder, Kutuki, an early learning platform. Kutuki was a part of EE 2018.
Explaining how EE helped them, Bharath says it helped accelerate their progress in many ways. He says, some of the masterclasses were very insightful, especially those like Alex Chung.
“The key thing that we saw move the needle week on week was with the mentoring sessions with a designated partner every week. That was something we eagerly looked forward to. Being pressure-tested each week helped us fast-track our thinking around go-to-market, acquisition channels, identify our initial cohort of users, and meticulously track engagement and retention,” Bharath says.
Another key aspect of the programme was interacting with the other seven teams in the cohort. As the earliest-stage company in the cohort, there was a ton of insight each company could take away in terms of problem-solving at each step of their evolution.
What do they look for?
“We look for ‘extremeness’ - folks who have demonstrated in their past life (personal or professional), the desire and the ability to push boundaries, to think differently, and to execute with extreme faith,” Harsha says.
She explains that these teams basically get a “board member” for the duration of the programme – a Lightspeed Partner – that helps them navigate through their journey to product-market fit.
“At every point in building a startup there are various parameters that need to be prioritised, and many of them are non-intuitive. The deep interaction with founders who went through these challenges and sharing about the corresponding operational experience (which mostly is not known to the outside world) provided us a great perspective and frameworks for us to navigate these challenges,” says Raghavendra Kumar Ravinutala, Co-founder of Yellow Messenger, a conversational AI startup that was part of EE18.
As Vaibhav Agarwal, Partner at LightSpeed Venture explains: “EE is a programme to give wings to founders, and unleash their potential”.
The only filter in this programme is that founders participate, benefit, and make the most of the opportunity. No idea is too small and no founder is too early. The programme is not about funding.
“The moment it becomes that, the selection criteria changes from ‘who stands to benefit the most’ to ‘who meets our investment bar’. When that happens, then the magic to inspire and empower outsiders evaporates,” says Vaibhav.
(YourStory is a media partner for LightSpeed Ventures' Extreme Entrepreneur Programme 2019. )
(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)