What Makes an Entrepreneur? A Look at Their 5 Die-Hard Traits!

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Think carefully before you answer. Because, this question is not about distinguishing good entrepreneurs from the bad ones. It’s also not about who among them has a Midas touch and who doesn’t.

Continue reading “What Makes an Entrepreneur? A Look at Their 5 Die-Hard Traits!”

We need to think of entrepreneurship beyond VC-fundable ventures

The startup ecosystem in India is progressing at a very stable pace. The percentage of young individuals as well as experienced professionals thinking of entrepreneurship as a career option is growing due to a number of reasons:

  • There is an enabling environment for entrepreneurs. Boot camps, accelerators, and incubators guide first-time entrepreneurs about converting concepts into ventures. The number of funding options is increasing, including venture debt.
  • The emergence of some media houses that cover the startup eco-system, as well as mainstream media that gives some space/time for startups is creating a better understanding of startups, and entrepreneurship as a career option.
  • The words startups and entrepreneurship have entered the vocabulary of the government and there is an expectation of policy and resources that will turbo-charge entrepreneurship.
  • Parents are now a lot more willing to let their children give up lucrative job offers and pursue an entrepreneurial dream thanks to what they have seen and heard in the media. There is now a critical mass for startups and entrepreneurs to not be considered an oddity, but one of the top career choices, at the beginning or in the middle of a professional journey.
  • Also, as a society, we have started becoming more accepting of failures, and have come to recognise that entrepreneurship is a set of experiments, some of which succeed and some fail. Till a few years ago, we used to say that in the Silicon Valley, failed entrepreneurs have a higher chance of getting funded because they have learned what does not work. Glad to notice that the same is happening in India too.

Overall, it is a great time to become an entrepreneur in India.

However, the entire entrepreneurial community, as we think of it today, is  minuscule in comparison to the much larger number of aspiring entrepreneurs in the country.

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Continue reading “We need to think of entrepreneurship beyond VC-fundable ventures”

Startup Showcase – Meedo

Here’s the story of Meedo – One stop solution for Customised Lifestyle products like T-shirts, Bags, Jewellery, Perfumes…

Catch them on –http://www.meedo.in/

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In conversation with Vinoth Kumar of Meedo – 

Tell us about the story of your startup – Why did you start this, how did you start, when did you start?

I used to run a retail outlet for the last 4 years, the idea of customised stuff struck when I was running the retail outlet in a very small place to validate the market in that particular locality. In our first year of operation, we missed sales because customers want a lot of options, but as a retailer it is very difficult to stock each and everything. For a business like mine, there isn’t any window shopping, rather business happens with regular & loyal customers. So we identified that there is some real problem to be addressed. We also did a small market survey among the retail owners and majority of them showed interest in launching customised service in their outlets. Thus, we decided to go with it. And, to take one thing at a time, we selected tees.

Continue reading “Startup Showcase – Meedo”

Changing dynamics in India’s startup eco-system

2014 was a defining year for the Indian startup ecosystem. Compared to the rest of the decade, a number of significant events and activities had changed the very nature of the startup world. Companies like Flipkart,Snapdeal, PayTm, Zomato, etc had redefined ‘scale’ and investors had started placing big bets on them. These companies darted ahead of the pack, to not just dominate their markets, but to grow it too. Of course, they were helped by a conducive environment – mobile phones, internet connectivity etc – but they also built infrastructure, people and processes that could handle a different order of scale than what they themselves could have imagined a few years ago. These startups demonstrated the potential and the competence to build world-scale companies and created new goalposts for entrepreneurs to aspire for.

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As a result of e-commerce, a number of enabling technology and service companies started becoming more meaningful. Analytics, online engagement platforms, delivery companies etc found a much larger market to address their business case, and therefore their investment-worthiness became stronger. What remains to be seen is how effectively the e-commerce industry will retain customers once the discounting era is over and customers have to buy on the fundamental value proposition of e-commerce i.e. ease of access and choice. We may see some changed market dynamics at that stage, and the transition phase may throw up some new, unexpected leaders.

Continue reading “Changing dynamics in India’s startup eco-system”

India needs 10,000 more angel investors to build a thriving startup ecosystem

Only a very few aspiring entrepreneurs from among 1000s are able to convert their ideas into a business.  And one of the key reasons for this is the lack of access to capital that is required to start something new.

Out of 1000s of investment-worthy startups, less than 300 are able to get initial capital in India.

The present environment is very conducive for people to think of entrepreneurship as a career option. Entrepreneurship cells, incubation centres in colleges, boot-camps, hackathons, and other forums for entrepreneurship promotion, as well as a vibrant media for startups – all have inspired very few to become entrepreneurs.

Angel investor groups, accelerators, and incubators get over 5,000 applications every year. Nearly 10,000 startups send their profiles to media houses every year. While quite of few of these large numbers may not be serious contenders, there is a significant number of aspiring entrepreneurs with the competence, commitment and concepts that can become strong businesses. And quite a few of these can become profitable investments for angel investors.

Yet, only about 300 or so of these aspirants are able to get initial capital to get started. And mostly those, who require capital between Rs 2 to Rs 5 crore range. That’s the declared ‘sweet spot’ of most angel investor groups and VCs who participate in early-stage deals.

Why are there less than 300 early-stage investments in India?

VCs and Angel investor groups are unable to do smaller deals because their members do not want to write smaller cheques, and the efforts required to review, process and close a Rs 50 lakh deal is as much as it takes to close a Rs 5 crore deal. The largest angel investor network in the country does less than 20 transactions in a year.

The number of startups whose funding requirements are less Rs 50 lakh is significantly higher than the number of startups requiring Rs 2 to Rs 5 crore. In fact, many a businesses can get going with just Rs 25 lakh.

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Significantly, If we don’t find a way of funding 1000s of deserving entrepreneurs, we would end up frustrating that segment.

Continue reading “India needs 10,000 more angel investors to build a thriving startup ecosystem”

Guest Post – Team, the most important ingredient in a startup

Ask any investor or successful entrepreneur, and they will reiterate that the most important factor in a start-up is the quality of its founding team. A team is more important than the idea or the size of the market or the technology or the business case, or indeed any other factor that investors will review to check the investment-worthiness of a venture.

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Even if  – the product is great; the technology is cutting-edge; the market is large and the company has a strong chance to be a dominant player in that large market – investors will hesitate to invest in the venture if they do not get the confidence that the founding team can deliver in the market.

What investors seek is a team that is passionate about the subject, is enthusiastic about the opportunity, has a good grasp on the dynamics of ‘business’ and not just the product/service, and who can demonstrate commitment to fight it out in the market.

While it is good to have experience in the domain, that is not a must, as that will exclude a number of bright people who either do not have work experience or are from a different domain than the concept they are pursuing. However, what is important is that even without experience in the sector, the team should have studied the sector enough to understand it very well. In fact, that is also why passion and interest in the sector is critical, because that makes it easier for a person to study the sector well.

Continue reading “Guest Post – Team, the most important ingredient in a startup”

Startup Next, the global and top pre-accelerator program comes to Delhi.

Startup Next, the global and top pre-accelerator program – backed by the likes of Techstars, Google for Entrepreneurs, Global Accelerator Network and Startup Weekend – is coming to New Delhi !

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The Startup Next program is designed for startups who plan to apply to accelerators or are pitching to investors for funding.

Startup Next is an intense mentorship program consisting of weekly sessions (one session in a week lasting three hours) for five weeks. The program has a structured curriculum and in-depth engagement with one-on-one mentoring, designed to help startups build the foundation of scalable ventures.

Continue reading “Startup Next, the global and top pre-accelerator program comes to Delhi.”

The 4 P’s of Entrepreneurship – Patience, Persistence, Perseverance, and Passion

Entrepreneurship teaches you a number of things about life, in general. It is an immensely satisfying journey, even if you do not reach your intended destination. However, the journey is often very challenging and it takes a lot of patience, persistence and perseverance to succeed. And unless you have the passion for what you are doing, finding the other 3 Ps within you becomes challenging.

Patience1I advice aspiring entrepreneurs to not get taken up by stories of instant success. Those are rare. Instead look at the 1000s of others whose ventures did not succeed. Or did not succeed as aspired.

Even those who succeed, often a lot longer than they had planned for, and it is often tougher than they had imagined. What sets the successful apart from the ones that gave up are the 3 Ps that I outlined above.

Continue reading “The 4 P’s of Entrepreneurship – Patience, Persistence, Perseverance, and Passion”

M&A: Why small exits matter? The big value of small exits (#iSPIRT-OEQ)

iSPIRT Open Ecosystem Questions(OEQ) Series. The conversation around this exciting session was lead by Sanat Rao (iSPIRT) and the speakers were Jay Pullur (Pramati Technologies), Sanjay Shah (Invensys Skelta), Pari Natarajan (Zinnov), Karthik Reddy (Blume Ventures) & Vijay Anand (The Startup Centre).

Sanat initiated the conversation with an observation that it was only the bigger exits that are picked up by the media. Smaller exits do not get any media attention at all. , We all hear about the big bang “home runs”: WhatsApp sold for 19 billion USD to Facebook, Google acquires Nest for 3.2 billion USD, etc. However, studies show that 65% of VC funded companies in the US return 0-1x to their investors. Even among the remaining 35%, the exit valuations are relatively small: since 2010, the average M&A deal size in the US/Israel is 100 million USD. Only a small 0.1% of VC-funded companies are home runs (50X returns). And not just in India. In Israel too, from 2010-14, out of the 88 exits, two deals on Viber and Waze accounted for a whopping 25% of the total M & A value.

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Given these statistics, why do we promote the myth of a multi-billon $$ exit? Why don’t we recognize the value of these smaller exits? Should we not be promoting and helping product startups to find an exit at an earlier point in their lifecycle, rather than treating these exits as a worst case scenario? Continue reading “M&A: Why small exits matter? The big value of small exits (#iSPIRT-OEQ)”

What can we learn from the ice bucket challenge?

That the Ice Bucket Challenge was a huge marketing success is a given. How it actually benefited the non-profits working for ALS, is a subject of debate with quite a few dissenting voices.

However, as an entrepreneur, here’s what I learnt from the campaign.

  • Specificity of action AND cause, help. One without the other perhaps might not have been as successful. Take the case of the imitator ‘rice bucket challenge’ where people were asked to donate a bucket of rice to the needs. Worthy cause, but was not specific.

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  • Making a task ‘fun and enjoyable’ is NOT trivializing the cause. To me the ice bucket challenge illustrates that doing something fun, even when you are promoting a serious cause does not undermine the seriousness of the cause or the intent. (As an entrepreneur and marketer, this could apply to any company as well. When could we see a stock exchange do a ‘walk the ramp’ challenge for companies where managements walk the ramp in office with their colleagues cheering & joining, and they challenge someone forward to do it.).
  • The task has to be relatively simple AND ‘doable’ to get wider participation. I mean, just think of why the rubble bucket challenge / mud bucket challenge did not get the same response. Imagine how challenging it would be for most people to (a) find a bucket of rubble and (b) remove all that rubble from your hair. I simply seemed impractical, though the cause was worth supporting. (To me, the message is: don’t ask others to do that you would not do yourself.)
  • People want to be SEEN doing something good. The ‘pass it forward’ aspect AND the videos were critical to the success. I don’t think 99.9% of the people had any particular soft corner for supporting ALS. But being SEEN as participating in something good was cool. (I know a few friends who will say this is a case of sour grapes as no one invited me to do the challenge).

 But, hats off to the team. Great job done. Keep pouring.

(PS: there have been loads of twitter jokes on this as well.. here’s my favourite on ‘I have been doing the ice bucket challenge for years. But the ice gets over after a few drinks’. Keep walking.)

References –  Image Source

The Importance of Market Research

“Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose. ”

Zora Neale Hurston, American author

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Scene 1 : A couple of years ago

You or your visionary team have a great idea for a new product!! It ‘feels’ like the answer to everyone’s problems! It will definitely be a big hit! So you get your creative heads, product designers, technical staff and experts all into a tizzy! The product must be ready in next 6 months! After hours and hours of hard work, there it is – to take the consumers by storm. You launch it with big fanfare!!

Scene 2 : Cut to the present

The ‘great’ and promising product was ‘great’ only on the drawing board! Your negative inventory is piling up; there are just not enough takers!

What went wrong?

The consumers just didn’t connect with the product or the price point was wrong or the brand personality did not appeal or the communication was not clear or the distribution was poor or the value-proposition was not meaningful!! There are a number of things that can have a very different response in the market, than you had imagined it. Continue reading “The Importance of Market Research”

Leap of Faith

Many people have ideas for a business. Almost everyone thinks of some idea at some point in his or her lives. But only a few individuals actually take the first steps to convert those ideas into a business.

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To be an entrepreneur, one has to have the conviction and belief in the idea that one is pursuing. Unless you have that conviction, you are unlikely to take the first step required to convert that idea from a ‘thought in your head’ to a ‘venture in the real world’.

Once you have a thought or an idea about something that can become a good business venture, you have to think hard about the potential of that concept, assess the merits and challenges, and once you feel convinced enough, you have to be able to take that leap of faith to go and implement that idea in the marketplace.

Many aspiring entrepreneurs tend to test and research, and retest and re-research their idea or concept and depend only on the research findings to pursue or drop that idea. Often, research cannot give you the answer to whether an idea will work or not. Sometimes, entrepreneurs have to take that leap of faith and that gut-feel to make a concept work. Entrepreneurs however, should NOT be blind risk takers. Successful entrepreneurs understand the risks and take necessary steps to overcome those risks and challenges. Planning well is what helps them deal with the risks and challenges better. Others who give up often do not think hard enough about addressing those challenges. They get scared of the challenges because they do not think of solutions.

Entrepreneurship requires entrepreneurs to pursue their vision often in the face skepticism and negative feedback on their ideas and plans from many individuals. Often these individuals who are skeptical of the plans are well meaning and may give an honest feedback based on their own assessment of the risk-reward dynamics of that idea. But mostly, entrepreneurs are able to spot opportunities where others see problems.

Entrepreneurs see opportunities before others see them. Entrepreneurs catch the wave on the up…. That’s why successful companies often have the ‘first-mover advantage’. Others, who follow or are me-too copycats to successful first-mover concepts, often have a much harder road to success, if they do succeed. Entrepreneurial thinking and aptitude is about seeing the ‘signals’ where others see ‘noise’.

The ability to take that leap of faith AFTER assessing the potential and understanding the risks allows entrepreneurs to be confident and optimistic about the opportunity and potential of an idea. Optimism and confidence create positivity and enthusiasm, which infects others around them. It helps entrepreneurs build teams, get early adopters, and often, helps them get investments from investors. (It is not without reason that entrepreneurs who are successful are good presenters and can tell their story with conviction and passion.)

Go ahead. Think hard about the opportunity around that idea and what you need to do to make it work. Seek mentoring. Get guidance from those who have more experience in operationalizing a business venture. Plan well. Execute efficiently. Be confident.

You will never fail. Either you will win or you will learn. And this learning will help you prepare even better for the next journey of your life. Go ahead. Take that leap of faith in your idea.

This article was first published in the SheroesCommunity on the 6th of March 2014.

What are the qualities of an entrepreneur?

  • High aspiration: Clearly, unless aspiration to achieve is high, it is difficult to create something that is valuable. High does not necessarily mean high in revenues. It could be high in impact as well.
  • Optimism: An entrepreneur must be high on optimism. Simply because they need to believe in the mission, in order to convince others to join them in the journey. However, there is a fine line between optimism and arrogance. An entrepreneur needs to have the humility to test his/her optimism by cross-checking with others.
  • Confidence: Without confidence, all ideas will remain just that – ideas. Taking the first few critical steps, going ahead despite being aware of the challenges, and being wise about taking precautions against these challenges, are traits of successful entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs however should NOT be blind risk takers. Successful entrepreneurs understand the risks and take necessary steps to mitigate those risks. Confidence in their approach is what helps them deal with the challenges and risks better.
  • Persistence and resilience: Plans will usually not go as you want them to. Hence, resilience (the ability to try again and again) and persistence in pursuing what you believe to be appropriate will help entrepreneurs sail through tough times.
  • Every entrepreneur has to understand ‘sales’: By sales we don’t mean just transactional sales. We mean the ability to convince others about the concept, the value proposition, the plan etc. An entrepreneur does not sell only to customers. He/she has to ‘sell the concept’ to investors, vendors, partners, early employees, parents, early customers etc.
  • Equally important is good communication skills. Unless you are able to explain and pitch the concept clearly to the various stake holders, it will be difficult for them to align themselves to your vision.
  • An entrepreneur has to be good at implementing ideas. Everyone has ideas. But the trick is to successfully implement those ideas into a thriving business. An entrepreneur must have a   deep understanding of the ‘business’ around that idea.

Also, I strongly believe that an entrepreneur must have the courage to face failure and challenges.

Happy entrepreneuring!!