Investor Priya Mohan on bringing your real self to the table

Startup Sensei at Venture Highway, Priya Mohan, joined us at TechSparks 2021 and discussed how being authentic benefits founders and investors.

Taking her seat on the other side of the table at Venture Highway three years ago, Priya Mohan had to redraw her approach to things. The investor, who exited her edtech startup Vidyartha to BYJU'S, believes that being authentic and behaving closest to your natural self is the secret sauce to standing out.

Speaking to Shradha Sharma, Founder and CEO of Yourstory, at TechSparks 2021, Priya said that pretending to be someone else takes mindshare away from solving the problem at hand.

“The first time I sat in a boardroom I tried to mimic my fellow investors to be accepted. The cost of all this is that you are constantly fighting to manage your perception rather than solving issues at hand,” said Priya.

She added that there is cost associated with being authentic but the benefits outweigh the costs.

This includes being accepted by people and getting them to open up. “The other day I reached out to a fellow investor and asked him if I could bounce off some ideas and he agreed to it,” said Priya.

The graduate from the Indian School of Business and a chartered accountant also uses the authenticity-metric while evaluating companies as an investor. The three things she looks for are clarity of thought, interpersonal dynamics between co-founders and the backstory of the company. 

“When you are sitting across from investors, there is an expectation to have all the answers and no one's expecting that of you,” said Priya, adding that there are rare instances when founders have told her openly the aspects which they did not have a definite answer to, but were willing to work on. 

She added that it was important to know why a founder chooses a particular problem to solve — often differentiating them from the others.

“I spend almost 15 minutes asking the founder why they pick a certain problem in a 30-45 minute meeting. You can easily tell people (apart) who have a strong story and conviction versus those who are cryptic about it,” said Priya. 

As an investor who evaluates multiple startups a day, being authentic and giving feedback to each one of them also cuts down the number of startups she can speak to — something Priya attributes as the cost of her choice.

“I choose people first and businesses later. Companies succeed because you back phenomenal founders. When the founder is being vulnerable, the least I can do is engage,” she said.

Being authentic and putting your intent out there also opens doors, she said, adding that she has never encountered a downside to being radically candid and transparent. “Talking about the economic benefit of being authentic is our way of propagating more people to be themselves,” she added.

An avid reader of geopolitics to biology and philosophy, Priya has been reading Tim Marshall’s ‘Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need to Know About Global Politics.’ She recommends ‘The Pig That Wants to be Eaten’ by Julian Baggini as a way for readers to look at problem-solving differently.  

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For a line-up of all the action-packed sessions at YourStory's flagship startup-tech conference, check out TechSparks 2021 website.

Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta


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