Starting Your Entrepreneurial Journey – Some Food For Thought

In my view, easier availability of early-stage capital than ever before, public celebration & adulation of entrepreneurial heroes, a well-deserved respect for entrepreneurism and also society’s willingness to accept failures in entrepreneurial ventures make it easier for younger people to consider entrepreneurship as a career.

I share below some observations that will hopefully provide some food for thought before you embark on your entrepreneurial journey.

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A great idea of concept is not the same thing as a great business. Once you identify aconcept that has a meaningful value proposition to your potential customers, you have to think of how you can build a strong, sustainable business around that conceptThink hard about concepts like revenue streams, business model, go-to-market strategy, resource requirements, etc.

Don’t ignore challenges. Think hard about all possible challenges and then find a way to mitigate themEntrepreneurs tend to overlook the challenges when they are driven either by a desire to be an entrepreneur or when a concept stokes their interest.

Write a business plan. It is YOUR plan for YOUR business. Often, entrepreneurs assume that a business plan is to be written only when you seek venture capital or debt. However, a business plan is nothing but your plan for your business. Create a document that will help you think through the steps you need to take in your entrepreneurial journey. And that’s your business plan.

Do not bother about teamplates. A business plan is not about templates or formats. It is an articulation of your story about how you plan to go from point A to point B and then onward to points C and D in your journey. And as you think through various aspects, including costs and revenues, the plan will start getting more robust.

Don’t focus on the excel sheet. Focus on the business model. A 5-year excel sheet projection is just that – an excel sheet exercise. It is neither a reflection of the potential nor a reflection of your ability to meet that milestone. However, an excel sheet exercise provides you a reference point to consider different possibilities of scale and help you plan the intermediate steps in reaching those milestones. I.e. it is not important to detail the calculation for a Rs.98.74 cr revenue by 2012 as it is important to be able to state “We believe we can be around a Rs.75 cr to a Rs.100 cr. enterprise by the 3rd year of operation and here is how we plan to go towards those milestones”.

It is ideal to gain experience about building and managing businesses before you create your own enterprise. Most successful entrepreneurs have built businesses after gaining significant experience across functions in different organizations. Though often celebrated, entrepreneurial successes of people with no prior work experience are a rarity.

Think big if the opprtunity exists. Your ability to scale should be restricted only by your aspiration and not by capital. In today’s environment, it is far easier to raise early-stage capital than ever before. If your concept is right, if the market potential is large and if you have the capacity and capabilities to deliver on that potential, you will find the capital to fund your dream.

One of the most common observations of investors, both domestic and foreign, is that entrepreneurs (especially in India) are afraid of thinking big. Entrepreneurs tend to think that it is prudent to be very conservative in your projections, especially if you have no past record to prove your scaling-up capabilities. However, unless you are keen on creating a business that is small, it will be important to provide a view of the potential and your aspirations, especially if you are seeking venture capital. Of course, the aspiration to scale has to be based on a validated assessment of the potential and backed by a strong, sustainable plan to deliver on that potential.

Make your own decisions but listen to what more experienced voices have to say. If a number of investors reject your proposal, it should be a signal for you to consider what aspects of the model seem to worry investors – relevance of value proposition, market potential, business model or your ability to deliver on the potential. Once you have identified the issue or issues, you need to revisit that in your plan and see what changes you may want to make in order to address any flaws in your plan.

Just because you do not get funded does not mean it is a bad idea or your plan is wrong. Often, especially with new concept, it is difficult for investors to take a bold step. Often entreprenerus are able to create new markets based on their insights and conviction about the opportunity. Others may not be able to see the vision as the entrepreneur is imaging it. Hence, just because others reject your idea does not necessarily mean that this is not worth pursuing. But do also consider the points of skepticism as it will only help you iron out issues that you may not have thought about.

If you still do not get funded and do believe it is a concept worth fighting for, you need to find innovative ways of building a proof of concept.

Find mentors and investors with belief in your concept. It is also important for you to find investors who have a strong belief in the domain that you wish to be in and convince them about your ability to deliver on that potential.

Importantly, don’t be a lone ranger. Connect with other entrepreneurs. Seek guidance. Ask those ahead in the entrepreneurial journey to share their experiences. Network and seek mentoring from accomplished and successful entrepreneurs.

To end, I would like to clarify that entrepreneurship to my mind is not just about starting or owning an enterprise. It is about an entrepreneurial spirit that inspires individuals to take ownership of an assignment of area of responsibility. It does not matter whether it is in your own enterprise or whether in an organization where you work or whether the organization is a commercial enterprise or a not-for-profit entity. Do well in whatever you choose to do. Do it diligently, honestly, ethically and with enthusiasm and commitment.

And THINK BIG.

As the advertisement of a spirits brand said ‘Its your life, make it large’.

This article was originally published in Inc42. Read the article here.

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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”

Do 8 out of 10 start-ups really fail? And how do I know if I am failing too?

(My response below, to the above question on Quora)

Failure has many dimensions in the context of a startup and the founder of the startup.

For example: Failure could mean that you have not been able to achieve the numbers (revenues, or customers/users). However, it can still be a fairly profitable business at a lower scale than what you had estimated. If you have raised capital from investors, they may see a venture that does not scale as a failure. The founder may not.

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Likewise, failure could mean that while the concept was good, the team was not able to execute well, or they ran out of money because they were not able to raise capital. In this case, the startup SHOULD NOT have failed, but it did not work out because of inexperience or lack of execution capabilities.

So, when people generalise that 8 out of 10 startups fail, it generally means that 8 out of 10 startups are not able to go to the scale or in the direction they assumed it would. It MAY or MAY NOT be a failure for the founders.

Also, it is important to recognize that very few startups fail because their product was bad. They usually flounder because of issues on areas like execution, processes, capital, etc. I have seen many, many founders start off without even talking to potential customers. This is usually a recipe for a disaster as your own views may or may not hold good in the market.

My belief is that while the number of unsuccessful attempts are quite high from among the ones that started off, the percentage of failures comes down significantly among those who had put good thought into their concept and business around the concept BEFORE starting off.

If your question was out of fear of failure, I would urge you to think again. Plan your venture well, understand the market and then take the leap of faith. Check the LinkedIn status of failed entrepreneurs. They either get started again (and investors like to back them) or they get good jobs (corporates like failed entrepreneurs because of the enterprising spirit and the learnings they bring with them). So, while your venture may not succeed, you are unlikely to fail if you pursue the path of entrepreneurship.

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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”

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