Unicorn founders offer advice at TechSparks 2021: Stay grounded, look at the big picture, and create value

Unicorn valuation brings a massive upswing, but 3 founders who have been there, done that call it a mere 'outcome metric' and advise entrepreneurs to focus on the big picture and creating value.
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The year 2021 has been a blockbuster one for the Indian startup ecosystem, with a record inflow of capital and the emergence of 33 unicorns.

All aspiring founders may aim for unicorn status but those who have achieved it believe it is just a milestone and that "there are bigger milestones to achieve".

At a panel discussion on 'Unicorns of India: Heralding a new era for the Indian startup ecosystem' at the Unicorns to Decacorns track of TechSparks 2021, YourStory's flagship event, three founders of startups that turned unicorns this year offered very valuable insights to aspiring entrepreneurs.

The three founders were Beerud Sheth, Co-founder and CEO, Gupshup; Ashwin Damera, CEO and Co-founder, Eruditus; and Abhiraj Singh Bhal, Co Founder, Urban Company. The session was moderated by Siddhartha Ahluwalia, General Manager, Snow Family, AISPL.

On what it takes to become a unicorn, Beerud, a second-time founder, said, “Success is one where preparation meets opportunity.”

He elaborated on how founders will go through numerous experiences, good and bad, and manage things that are in their control while not bothering about external forces.

For Urban Company, it is completely different ball game as it operates in a very fragmented market of personal services and is attempting to organise it digitally. It is creating a platform where customers have a better experience while those who provide them are able to uplift their standard of living.

Abhiraj said, “As founders, we will be focused on creating value, and valuation (unicorn) is just an outcome. Beyond a point, one cannot take it seriously.”

He added, “If the focus is on building a great company, everything will fall in place.”

'An intermediate milestone'

Eruditus has had an interesting journey - it did not seek any external funding from 2010 till 2016, but has raised more than $750 million in the last 15 months.

“Today, there is depth in funding and we are building breakthrough companies that have created shareholder wealth,” Ashwin said.

However, the big question is how important the unicorn badge is.

Beerud is upfront. “It is just an intermediate milestone. One really does not know how many will remain unicorns."

He cautioned that expectations also grow exponentially with high valuation, which may force founders to take irrational decisions. “Focus on building value; valuation will follow.”

All founders' advise that one should invest wisely and "be judicious about spending".

Abhiraj said, “We try not to get carried away with the external environment. Unicorn valuation just is an outcome metric.” He added that founders should take capital when "cheap but do not depend on it”.

Focus on the long term

This is also the time when startup founders need to meet expectations of investors and have people who believe in the company's long-term goals on their side.

Ashwin said, “Every company will have its ups and downs, and it is important during difficult times that investors believe in our long-term vision.”

All the three unicorn founders were of the view that no startup should measure its aspiration by valuation or turning unicorn. The focus should be on bigger things such as driving innovation and disrupting the market.

“There is lot of opportunity and our growth drivers are based on selection, quality, pricing, and convenience," Abhiraj said.

The bigger picture

This is also the time to do some crystal ball gazing on how the startup ecosystem will evolve in the next couple of years. All three founders were extremely bullish about the prospects.

Ashwin said, “The Indian startup ecosystem is very healthy. However, we should also look at how we are contributing to the larger economy.”

Beerud said there is enough maturity across segments of the startup ecosystem in India, be it business, strategy, or playbook, which has lent the depth to the system.

“There is a remarkable change though there will be challenges. Ten years from now all the numbers we are talking now will look small,” Abhiraj said.


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Edited by Teja Lele Desai