10 lessons from Start Up Guru
Sat Jun 25, 2016
In a no holds barred take on the startup ecosystem in India, K Vaitheeswaran - commonly dubbed the first e-commerce founder in India - spoke about his 14-year entrepreneurial experience running Indiaplaza at the maiden edition of the SAP Startup Social event in Bangalore. The online retail pioneer, who proved to be years ahead of his time with the opening of his company back in 1999, donned the hat of a startup mentor as he launched into an animated discourse on the key lessons he drew from his own experiences. Here is a 10-point guide to starting up, offered by the 'father of e-commerce in India' himself:
1. Ideas are overrated
"Too much value is given to ideas these days," says Vaitheeswaran. "Focus needs to be on ways to solve problems that will ultimately excite customers. Most 'ideas' have already been thought of and even if it is not, it may not necessarily be a game-changer," he says. He is also quick to add that even while solving a problem, consideration for a reasonably large number of people needs to be taken into account for a potential business to be churned out of it.
2. Better, faster & cheaper
Elaborating on how to tackle problem-solving when starting up, Vaitheeswaran says, "It is always advisable to do this through a process that ensures continuity rather than with a single product. Most improvements revolve around processes and this will help businesses be better, faster and cheaper," he adds. He illustrates this with the example of Uber, which essentially gave the call-driven cab service of yore a modern twist by making developments in the process itself, thereby making better, faster and cheaper.
3. Are you smarter than me?
This is Vaitheeswaran's thumb rule when it comes to hiring in startups, which is admittedly one of the most challenging tasks when starting a business. "Compromising on hiring standards especially at an early stage is like personally writing an obituary for your startup," says Vaitheeswaran. "If the first 10 employees in a company is not selected carefully, the burden will solely rest on the co-founders, which may not end well," he adds. This could take months or even a year, but the veteran entrepreneur swears by a good team to insure against failure.
4. Check your spends
Spending on what customers see and experience is crucial to any financial decision undertaken by the startup. "Your startup deserves every single rupee you can possibly shell out for it," feels Vaitheeswaran. "Too many people spend on things that do not impact customers, which is bad practice - lose the singing fountain in the toilet unless customers are writing you cheques holed up there. It may give you some attention, but ultimately that is not enough to drive profits," he quips.
5. Make a business plan for the startup - not for investors
Startup founders cannot procrastinate on this one thing since they are the only people who know the plan well enough. However, Vaitheeswaran firmly emphasizes on preparing it for the business itself and not as a guide to pitch to investors - which comes several steps later. "Business plans are not made for investors," he says. "It will still be wrong even in the initial stage since two key things cannot be precisely accounted for - customers and competition," he adds. According to Vaitheeswaran, a business plan needs to go through multiple iterations before it can be made robust.
6. Making money versus raising money
Call the business whatever you may - a hobby, a passion or a dream - but it is important not to lose sight of the purpose behind the venture, which is to make money. "You cannot call it a business unless it is making money," declares Vaitheeswaran. "This could take time, but profitability needs to come in at some point. To make money you may end up raising some, but it is important to remember here that endless supply of capital does not exist," he adds.
7. Pivoting not an option
A lot of entrepreneurs may swear by the fail-fast-formula, but Vaitheeswaran is not one of them. "I completely disagree with that line of thought," he says. "Take time to think and research well before you start up and persevere through challenges posed subsequently. Be ready to give your mind, body, heart and soul to your startup as failing is not a step to successfully start up," he adds.
8. Brave & stupid? Welcome aboard!
You may be passionate and driven, but unless you are 'brave and stupid', there is little progress you can make in the startup world. Elaborates Vaitheeswaran: "Starting a business is like going into battle - you may have thousands of armed people on the other side. With these kinds of odds, you fundamentally need to be brave and stupid at the same time. Logic plays little role here," he adds.
9. A little bit of luck
Vaitheeswaran concludes with the most elusive of all - luck. "Success in business is a matter of luck too - you need to be at the right place at the right time and this is not always in your control," he says.
10. Entrepreneurs never fail, businesses do
And last comes the soothing balm over the bruises of all the whipping. "Entrepreneurs never fail, businesses do irrespective of the outcome of your venture. I firmly believe that and that's why despite all odds, I'm still here chugging on," he concludes.