[TechSparks 2020] Remove toxicity and hate from within the system: Kunal Shah on the dark side of entrepreneurship
At TechSparks 2020, Kunal Shah, Founder of CRED, talks candidly about the dark and untold side of starting up and entrepreneurship.
There is a famous quote that says, “Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.”
Ask any entrepreneur and they will tell you the journey of founding and running a company is tough. You will get brickbats and bouquets in equal measures. And sometimes more brickbats than you bargained for.
At the virtual 11th edition of TechSparks 2020, Kunal Shah, Founder of, spoke with Shradha Sharma, Founder and CEO of , in a no-holds-barred conversation about the unglamorous journey of starting up and running a company.
“The system makes it extremely hard for young entrepreneurs to succeed. If, as a country, we keep ridiculing risk-takers, we will always be a nation of job seekers,” Kunal said candidly.
A second-time entrepreneur, Kunal’s earlier startup Freecharge was acquired byin 2015 for $400 million, making it one of the largest acquisitions of that year. He has since been a mentor and investor for several startups.
His new startup CRED, which focuses on the top 30-40 million credit card users in the country, is looking at three main revenue moats – BFSI ecosystem, merchant ecosystem, and consumer ecosystem.
The startup has been in the news in the past few weeks with its ads featuring various Bollywood bigwigs ridiculing themselves. “It is very rare that people laugh at themselves. This ad was an opportunity to do so,” Kunal said as an aside in the virtual fireside chat.
But more importantly, the conversation revolved around the anxiety, stress, negativity, and brickbats that have to face entrepreneurs face daily.
Here are the top key takeaways from the conversation that did not have a dull moment. Known for his one-liners and his deep socio-cultural insights, Kunal Shah did not disappoint.
Build a supportive community
- The easiest thing we can do as a startup community is to support each other. Most of the toxicity and hate comes from within the startups themselves. Avoid doing that to each other.
- When you collaborate, the journey becomes simple; without that, the journey is hard and lonely. As a founder, you are fighting against your team, investors, social media haters, and you are judged and doubted every day.
- Starting up is a team sport, with each startup supporting the other. The system isn’t very collaborative and we take immense pleasure when someone does poorly.
- We aren’t a giving culture. So we assume everyone else is a taker. If we genuinely become givers, we will become an insanely collaborative society and build an immense amount of wealth.
- The system makes it extremely hard for young entrepreneurs to succeed. If, as a country, we keep ridiculing risk-takers, we will always be a nation of job seekers.”
Learn to develop a thick skin
- The soft side will never die, but you need to be selective about which side you want to keep soft and which side you want to ignore. These will always bother you, but with time, you won’t react to negative situations.
- I grew up in a Gujarati family where helping each other was a part of daily life. But when you get into the corporate world, seeking and taking help is almost an untouchable topic.
- There is a belief that if you ask questions, you’ll look stupid. Even the smartest people avoid asking questions. Only by asking questions can you learn new things and be better at something.
The value of scars
- Many second- and third-time founders are doing well because they already have old scars. And they do not fear getting new scars.
At CRED, we have about 35-40 ex-founders. But we value their scars and their risk-taking ability. This is the place I ensure that they do the best work of their life. You just have to empower them. You have to trust them instead of creating a cycle of mistrust everywhere. Everybody just wants to do good work. Just empower them.
It is not always about the money
- As entrepreneurs serving customers, we have to be sensitive, otherwise, we will not be able to serve. The journey of an entrepreneur is extremely dark and lonely. I personally get extremely anxious when raising money because I have raised the bar of returning the money even higher.
- Almost 99 percent of companies in this country are built without capital. You think you can't run because you don't have Nike shoes. But essentially, if you run, people will give you Nike shoes.
- Fundraising is not about pitching to investors. It is about investors reaching out to you, the odds of getting funding are more.
Make your business successful, not the idea
- You need to become someone who actively seeks feedback. I had a board meeting last week and I wrote to them: ‘I am not here for compliments. Tell me the three things that concern you the most about CRED.’ Only when you actively seek feedback can you become a better version of yourself.
Be emotional about your company and people, but not your decisions. Emotions are required in our care, vision, values, but decisions have to be rational.
There are no self-made people
- It takes thousands of people's effort and love for you and for your company to become successful.
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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 Dipti D and Kanishk Singh