Ratan Tata inspires 27-year-old assistant to start his own startup course to help aspiring entrepreneurs
It is said that “Leadership is about three-fourths show-the-way and about one-fourth follow-up.”
Remember Ratan Tata’s startup pitch deck template that he shared with his Instagram followers last winter? In an Instagram poll that received a resounding 97 percent vote from his one million followers, the Chairman Emeritus of Tata Sons and Chairman of the Tata Trusts had asked whether they would like him to put together a basic startup pitch deck template.
Besides the important aspects that should be covered in any pitch by a first-time entrepreneur, Ratan Tata’s startup pitch deck also included his personal advice on developing a startup mindset.
Nearly seven months down the road, Tata’s office continues to receive hundreds and thousands of queries and calls for help from eager young entrepreneurs on how to navigate the entrepreneurial path.
Twenty-seven-year-old Shantanu Naidu, who has been working closely with the 81-year-old doyen of the Tata group in Ratan Tata’s Office for the past two years, has been at the forefront helping Ratan Tata address all the queries. One of his assignments in Ratan Tata’s Office is to help out with startup proposals that come to him for funding requests.
Since 2016, Ratan Tata’s private investment company RNT Associates and the University of California’s Office of the Regents (UC Investments) have been funding startups, new companies, and other enterprises in India as ‘UC-RNT funds’.
“After looking at startup proposals for two years in Mr Tata’s office, I realised that most of them have never received a proper introduction to the spirit, values, and basics of being an entrepreneur,” Shantanu tells YourStory.
Instead of rejecting most of the proposals and queries, Shantanu decided to address this problem. “Being the young, spirited potential entrepreneurs that they are, we refused to mass reject them. Instead, I attempted a personal initiative with the blessings of Mr Tata,” he says.
On Your Sparks
In this lockdown, he started On Your Sparks, an online talk based on his life’s lessons that he converts into entrepreneurial lessons.
“I am not trying to convert them, but introduce them to entrepreneurship. I am that guy standing at the door before they cross over, telling them what is there on the other side, and how they can avoid the red flags and potholes,” Shantanu says.
The audience comes to his webinar for myth-busting and to develop an entrepreneurial spirit and mindset. Shantanu says that the age bar for students wanting to become entrepreneurs is reducing. “The most asked question I get in my webinar is, ‘how do I become an entrepreneur without an MBA degree’,” he adds.
The more he interacts with these young potential entrepreneurs through his webinar, the more he realises that the problem is much deeper.
“Most of them are coming from a place of fear as many do not have access to either guides or mentors. The only resource they have is reading about and idolising successful entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. It is the worst thing you can do in entrepreneurship — to want to be like someone else,” he adds.
Through his own interactions with people from all walks of life while at Cornell University and the two years spent with Ratan Tata, Shantanu uses his lived experiences to teach about entrepreneurship through storytelling.
Lessons from life
All these experiences are synthesised into six stories and at the end of each story, there’s an entrepreneurship lesson.
“I do not give a technical course in entrepreneurship. All that is already available and aggregated on the internet. What is not available is what it means to be an entrepreneur. How to put together a founding team. How to come up with an idea. How to look out for problems to solve. These are the questions I am answering because I see these questions being asked in Mr Tata’s office and on my personal social media a lot. Most questions are like, ‘Mr Tata, I know I can be an entrepreneur but how do I go about coming up with an idea’,” shares Shantanu.
On Your Sparks is held every Sunday, LIVE on his Instagram handle, and Shantanu takes care to have a minimum number of 30 attendees so that he can address everyone’s queries. “The moment I put out the sign-up link on my Instagram, I have a houseful.”
Emphasising that this is proof of the need for such an initiative, Shantanu says he is not looking at crowding his sessions as that would take away from the real purpose of the initiative.
As of now, he has finished seven sessions. At present, this is a voluntary initiative, but Shantanu hopes to scale it as a startup. “I will be developing three or four curriculum models for this and have a team that uses this presentation method and takes it to schools, colleges, and universities across geographies,” he says.
In the future, Shantanu hopes to tie up with schools and universities, and take these lessons to a larger audience.
According to him, if this were a profit-making startup, its USP would be the storytelling aspect of it. And its tagline would read: ‘Introduction to this beast called entrepreneurship’.
“The idea is to get rid of their fears and inspire them. I am not pulling this out of thin air or from a Cornell University course,” says Shantanu, emphasising that the reason these talks have worked with his audience is that they are from lived experiences.
For example, in his module where he talks about ideas and solving problems, he gives the example of his own startup Motopaws, which was started after he witnessed stray dogs getting run over by speeding vehicles on the highway in the night. “I had the choice of ignoring that problem. But I gave it a chance and a startup was born.”
Shantanu charges Rs 500 per person for On Your Sparks webinar and the proceeds go towards Motopaws, which designs and manufactures dog collars that glow in the dark, thereby saving their lives from being run over in the night.
Motopaws has today grown to over 20 cities and four countries. During the lockdown, Shantanu, along with the Motopaws team, has also been using the funds to feed the strays.
During his On the Sparks webinars, Shantanu makes it a point to share with his participants where their money is being utilised.
He also maintains a WhatsApp group with all participants where he assigns tasks to them to stay invested. “It is easy to get inspired but then what? One of the most-asked questions is how do we look for ideas. So I tell them to maintain an Excel sheet and by the end of the month have at least 100 problems that they have observed around them. Ninety-nine of them could be worthless, but when they start thinking that way, it becomes a part of a mindset,” he says.
Clearly, Shantanu has learnt the biggest lesson of leadership from his mentor Ratan Tata -- follow-up or fold-up.
Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta