Last October, Rajiv Srivatsa, Co-founder of omnichannel furniture brand Urban Ladder, sent shock waves through India’s startup ecosystem when he decided to step down from his leadership role.
The IIT-Madras and IIM-Bangalore graduate had spent over 10 years at MNCs, including Infosys, Cognizant, and Yahoo, before starting Urban Ladder in 2012 with Ashish Goel.
When he decided to call it quits, Rajiv had no Plan B. The big question was: what next?
In a blog post, he wrote: “I am starting with a reasonably blank slate. The plan is to explore various avenues in the coming months before choosing a specific path.”
Seven months later, Rajiv is treading a new path.
In an exclusive interview with YourStory’s Shradha Sharma, Rajiv revealed that he would be starting operations for Antler, a global VC and startup generator that aims to enable entrepreneurs to build and scale global businesses.
A startup that creates startups
Speaking about Antler’s scope of work, he said it was a startup and an early-stage VC firm with a two-year-old model.
“It aims to find entrepreneurs at the minus-one to zero phase; those who want to get into entrepreneurship and maybe just have an idea and not even a co-founder. Over a 10-week period, Antler can take them to their co-founder and idea; over the next four months, it aims to take them to Series A-readiness,” Rajiv says.
He adds the firm focuses on the earlier stage of entrepreneurship. “If you can build 70-100 such startups in a year that would be phenomenal. That's what Antler is trying to do.”
Speaking about his Urban Ladder journey and the conscious decision to step back, he says that an entrepreneur’s journey is a phenomenal one, with many highs and lows.
“An entrepreneur dons multiple hats, including founder, board member, and professional. They want to create a legacy, and we did that with Urban Ladder, which aimed to make Indian homes beautiful,” he says.
Play to your strengths
However, Rajiv believes the journey is also an individual one, and leads to realisations about yourself, your strengths, and your weaknesses.
“You realise that there are individuals better suited to do what you are doing. When I donned the professional’s hat, I felt that my energies were better suited for something else,” he says.
It’s not easy to come to this realisation, and necessitates a lot of introspection. “Ashish and I had always discussed this. I felt he was far better to run this and in 2018 I decided to transition out. I did it by 2019 with a blank slate,” Rajiv recalls.
Not many have the chance or drive to reset and restart at 40, but Rajiv was keen to. “Jack Ma says that in your 40s you must do something that plays to your strengths. To get to that, I did a lot of introspection and talked to a lot of people with no bias. This got me many inputs.”
The former co-founder of Urban Ladder realised that he loved “working in the startup ecosystem and making people successful” as much as he loved “building systems and products”. “It was a mix of being a player and a coach,” he says.
That led him to understand that instead of building a startup or joining a successful one in a top role, he would be a better fit at an early-stage VC because “it involves coaching and building”.
Rajiv says that the last 10 years have shown that the Indian startup ecosystem has matured and there’s a lot of talent, but “everyone is vying for the same talent”. “You need to work earlier on in that funnel to widen it and create more talent,” he says.
The Antler model
Over the first 10 weeks of the lockdown, Rajiv spoke to many people at Singapore-headquartered Antler and says he felt an energy equivalent to that as when he started Urban Ladder.
“It’s a sector-agnostic model that’s in eight countries in two years. And I was excited by the vision to create the next hundreds and thousands of startups at Antler, and make a real impact on founders,” he says.
On why Antler will stand out in a market like India, Rajiv says he has spoken to a lot of entrepreneurs in the last four years or so and two questions are most commonly asked. “These are: How to find a co-founder and what are the things that I need to do in the early stage that kickstarts me as an entrepreneur and my product/service towards fund-raising?”
The Antler model comes in at a time where an aspiring entrepreneur doesn’t know what comes next and how to go about things.
“We want to pick that person who has an idea or a product in mind, and figure out how to match them with the right people. Antler is building a technology platform to understand all this. It is feeding in a lot of data, and things will be different for different markets. The point is that we come in at a much earlier stage as compared to other accelerators and startup generators and add a lot of value,” Rajiv says.
Rajiv believes that all stakeholders must work together to increase the market size.
“India has 30 unicorns today. In the next two decades, this number can be in the hundreds…hundreds of companies that are built for scale. We need to do that together. Twenty years later, we may compete for the same pie, but not today,” Rajiv says.
Edited by Teja Lele Desai and Dipti Nair
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