‘Game One over, Game Two begins’ - resilience tips for entrepreneurs from Bangalore BizLitFest 2020

Rahul Chandra, Founder of Arkam Ventures, Karthik Kumar, Director at Evam Entertainment, and IIM Bangalore Professor Prateek Raj share insights on scaling and thriving for startups at Bengaluru’s upcoming business literature festival.
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The sixth annual Bangalore Business Literature Festival (BBLF) will be held online later this week, on October 30-31. YourStory is the media partner for BBLF; see Part I, Part II, and Part III of our preview coverage, as well as articles on earlier editions of the festival in 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, and 2015.

In our fourth preview article, we share insights on entrepreneurship and business resilience from Rahul Chandra (author of The Moonshot Games: Adventures of a Venture Capitalist, and Founder of Arkam Ventures); Karthik Kumar (Don’t Startup: What No One Tells You About Starting Your Own Business, and Director at Evam Entertainment), and IIM Bangalore Professor Prateek Raj (Evolution of Business and Markets: How Free and Inclusive Societies Emerge).

See also YourStory’s Book Review section with reviews of over 270 titles on creativity, entrepreneurship, innovation, social enterprise, and digital transformation.

Pandemic resilience: from survive to thrive

The speakers share a wide range of examples of resilience in the COVID-19 era, ranging from management practices to business pivots.

“The best example of business resilience I have seen is how firms like Mahindra were able to quickly retool their manufacturing processes to become capable of producing health equipment like ventilators at scale,” Prateek Raj of IIM Bangalore explains, in a chat with YourStory.

The resilient manner in which the Indian industry came forward to help in the country’s fight against COVID-19 was truly inspiring, he says.

Any sector with a significant physical presence has faced major setbacks due to the pandemic, Karthik Kumar observes. He explains that many companies in the performing arts space, such as filming and comedy clubs, have suffered.

 

But some comedy clubs have shut down and moved their shows online to Zoom mode. “Restaurants have taken to the online delivery model much more aggressively. They have created so many survival mechanisms,” he explains, as examples of inspiration.

Rahul Chandra, of Arkam Ventures, says he is seeing his portfolio companies grow 100 percent in the COVID-19 year. “We often forget that this is happening in a period when the founders and most of the team are locked down and operating a national, or sometimes global, business from their bedrooms over a video call,” he observes.

“Founders have managed to transmit their drive over a video call to employees. Some products are being built without the team EVER meeting each other,” he adds.

For example, direct sourcing from farmers to homes increased with many startups' employees pitching in. “Employees at BigBasket worked through the lockdown to make sure they could service every order.”

In many cases, the founders and senior employees cut their salaries to reduce headcount losses through the ranks. “Some hotel startups offered accommodation to doctors on duty to cut their commute,” Rahul adds, as other diverse examples of businesses rising to the occasion during the pandemic crisis.

Going ahead, VC investments in early-stage startups have continued at a healthy pace, he observes. “There has been growth, and up-rounds. Tech VC has several new themes to build around in a post-COVID world,” Rahul explains.

As examples of such themes, he points to education, remote workforce, healthcare and diagnostics, AI-based customer engagement, employee engagement, securing agricultural supply chains, and many more.

Scale challenges for startups

The speakers also shared advice for founders who are “crossing the chasm” from startup to scale-up. Challenges lie in networking opportunities, systematising processes, and hiring the right talent.

“A key challenge at scale stage is to coalesce the vision and momentum into systems,” Karthik Kumar explains. It is important to reduce excess dependence on individuals. “But trying to capture this magic sauce into systems and culture is a difficult and delicate process, and many people are not able to make that leap,” he observes.

The most significant challenge for scale-stage startups is to reconcile that newly-hired professional managers would rarely run at the speed that the founders are used to, Rahul Chandra of Arkam Ventures cautions.

“So the pace of execution has to be kept up, not just by responsiveness or by burning the midnight oil, but by delegation and process. Founders tend to feel dissatisfaction prematurely and unwind the delegation process,” he observes.

Not getting this right severely hurts the chances of building a scale organisation. “Thorough searches and matching certain key traits that are absolute must haves in the mind of the founders, and of course some patience can go a long way in preventing this fallout,” Rahul advises.

Other challenges lie in the inequality in networking opportunities for founders, observes Prateek Raj of IIM Bangalore. “If you come from a historical business community, or belong to a resourceful alumni network such as IIT, it is not difficult to get mentorship and early opportunities, or even potential partners and team members,” he says.

For the rest, the entrepreneurial journey is much tougher. “When we organise networking events, we should be conscious of diversity in these events. A lack of diversity is a lose-lose proposition for all, willing investors and talented entrepreneurs,” Prateek cautions.

“Diverse networking is a win-win for all. We need to make more such diverse spaces of networking available,” he advises.

Dealing with failures: products and companies

It’s one thing to fail with a product, and a bigger dimension to fail with a company. Founders need to regroup in different ways under these two scenarios, the speakers explain.

“Product failures need to be acknowledged - most times they are either not recognised or not admitted. Incentives reward consumer growth, so product failures are not an option until too much capital is raised,” Rahul Chandra of Arkam Ventures cautions.

In the case that it is too real to ignore, he advises that founders should try to identify if their own product background is coming in the way. He asks: “Does it prevent them from hiring a product lead and letting go?”

In the case of a company failure, founders should try and salvage the key assets. “This includes team members and IP. And remember to note the contributions from employees who stick around to turn off the lights,” Rahul adds.

“It is more important to succeed as a company than with individual products,” Karthik Kumar explains. “It is better to have a portfolio of products at different stages than be dependent on one ‘super product’. The mantra is to have a set of products that you can monetise,” he advises.

Founder tips

The authors also shared tips for founders on skilling, networking, and finding new opportunities.

“Always ask for help. The world is kinder and more accessible than you think. And with the right help, if you can create value for society, you are helping us all,” Prateek Raj of IIM Bangalore advises.

“Also, constantly invest in your skills. In an uncertain world, good skills will help you sail through,” he emphasies.

“The fact that it is going to be an uncertain world gives great hope to entrepreneurs. You are constantly creating new solutions because there are new problems and new opportunities,” Karthik Kumar advises aspiring founders.

“Many established solutions and brands can fall flat when a new problem emerges,” he explains. “New entrepreneurs can find a space. To sustain will be a challenge, but to start will never be,” Karthik adds.

The road ahead

The speakers end by sharing insights into their upcoming books, coping techniques for the new normal, and broader trends emerging in India.

“There is scope for long-term optimism in India. We have a fantastic digital infrastructure with a huge young market that is still untapped,” observes Prateek Raj of IIM Bangalore. “India can be the first true digital mobile-first society of the world, by embracing the democratising power of the internet fully,” he predicts.

His next book addresses diversity and openness in society. “If you want to understand the world you live in, look at the friends you make. That is the focus of my book draft,” Prateek explains.

“A rich innovative society is one where diversity is not just a corporate or political mantra, but a reality that is reflected in our everyday lives and networks. The benefits of a world where strangers can trust each other, and diverse partnerships and teams between them can get formed are immense,” he adds.

But creating such a world, where all have diverse friends and networks is not as easy, he cautions. “My book draft focuses on factors that have hindered human societies historically from embracing diversity (such as mistrust, uncertainty) and what conditions can enable a more open and free society,” Prateek says.

“I especially talk about the history of Europe and India, with a focus on what world history can teach us about the future of India’s growth,” he explains.

Rahul Chandra of Arkam Ventures is also working on his next book, which will be a more detailed discussion on various aspects of venture capital.

 

“The world is definitely not ending – only different conditions now exist. Investments are happening and startups are growing. Identifying how the world will readjust and building solutions for that should lead to interesting discoveries,” he predicts.

“A sense of humour is so essential to make sense of what happens after the pandemic,” Karthik Kumar emphasises. It helps recover through constraints and go beyond emergency measures. While he is not working on another book, he is working on projects in filming and comedy.

“We are now adapting to a completely new world, and it’s a new game. Game One over, Game Two begins. Turn the page,” Karthik signs off.
Edited by Teja Lele Desai

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