[TechSparks 2020] Lessons in starting up, loving the mess, and not dying, by CB Insights’ Anand Sanwal

Day four of TechSparks 2020 featured CB Insights’ Co-founder, Anand Sanwal, who spoke to YourStory’s Shradha Sharma about how having less forced him to be creative, why work culture is more than just posters on the wall, and the importance of having ‘rituals’.
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“The dirtier, the messier the data, the more we like it.”

Not many would say that but Anand Sanwal, Co-founder of CB Insights, a market research firm, swears by this philosophy.

You might know him for his now-infamous newsletters that sign off with “I love you”, but Anand does have that rare trait of calling things as he sees them. His session at TechSparks 2020 - ‘Don’t die’ - had all the markings of an informative, quick lesson in entrepreneurship, informed by the maverick’s own journey building a tech-focused and data-driven research company.

We began by talking about Anand’s experience running  a revenue-funded startup and what it was like to germinate a venture in a manner that was  “not sexy” - to which he said that he believes the revenue-funded model was what actually pushed CB Insights to differentiate itself from its traditional competitors.

“The thing with being revenue-funded for us was that constraint created creativity. When you don’t have a lot, you’re forced to be creative,” he told YourStory’s founder and CEO, Shradha Sharma at TechSparks 2020.

In fact, a lot of the investment the 10-year-old company has raised so far is still in the bank, Anand said, adding that it is that razor-sharp focus on organic revenue that helped him and his team stay close to their clients.

“I think we've always had this view that clients are investors - and revenue funding is essentially that. It gives us a ton of clarity on who we serve, what we need, what we need to do to keep them happy. And that sort of clarity of purpose is really helpful,” he said.

We then discussed growing pains, not just in terms of revenue and business reach, but also employees - people we spend a majority of our waking hours with. Anand said what we’ve heard a lot of late-stage startups say about growing their team sizes - one comes to the table a little jaded when building a team, and it often feels like a group of close-knit friends. Everyone knows everyone else; but by the time they get to 100 employees, that bondedness begins to fray a little bit - and the need to create an operating system and an organisational structure arises.

That organisational structure and growing population and office size helped Anand and his core team think about the company’s culture, which not only dictates the tenets by which people operate, but also permeates into informing HR policies and hiring parameters.

Given the pandemic-ridden world we're living in, we naturally progressed to discussing how the work culture has evolved under the scope of the 'work from home' format - and Anand agreed that there has been a paradigm shift in the way CB Insights now onboards new employees, helps people perform, and even celebrate personal victories.

“I think it gets harder to keep everybody connected to the organisation a little bit (in the work-from-home format). And so we have to find new ways to keep the team not only informed, but also connected. I think the bigger thing is - and this has probably been accelerated a bit by COVID-19 - just how do we create rituals and processes? How do we get people from different parts of the organisation to get to know each other or celebrate their accomplishments? I think you need ways of reinforcing these sorts of cultural tenets and sometimes rituals and other things are a way to do that,” he said.

Our conversation with Anand also spanned from how he pinned down his customer base and defined his product-market fit, to lessons he learned as a business leader during the pandemic, and what his hopes and dreams for CB Insights are - all of which you can check out on our event page for TechSparks 2020.

For young entrepreneurs and those who’ve been doing this for a while, Anand Sanwal’s session is a treasure trove of learnings - and un-learnings - that anyone can take a cue from.

For more information on TechSparks 2020, check out our TechSparks 2020 website. Sign up here to join the event. 


TechSparks - YourStory's annual flagship event - has been India's largest and most important technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship summit for over a decade, bringing together entrepreneurs, policymakers, technologists, investors, mentors, and business leaders for stories, conversations, collaborations, and connections that matter. As TechSparks 2020 goes all virtual and global in its 11th edition, we want to thank you for the tremendous support we've received from all of you throughout our journey and give a huge shoutout to our sponsors of TechSparks 2020.

Edited by Anju Narayanan

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