From thriving on Wall Street to entrepreneurial hallways of USA and India, Nistha Tripathi is an engineer turned storyteller and founder. When not writing, she runs the growing career advice network, Scholar Strategy, from remote corners of SE Asia.
I was happy when Nistha approached me to write this foreword-happy because for all that has been said about Indian start-ups in the media, blogs and other books, there is no concise volume of the journey of so many start-ups that budding entrepreneurs and people wanting to join can refer to and learn from.
Painstakingly compiled for over two years, here are the stories of how Girish of Freshworks builds his marketing, by using experimentation as a primary driver; or how Jaydeep of Faasos hires, by telling people a few years into their dream job, 'now that you know this is not what you thought it was, come here'; and many other gems which are worth more than the weight of this book in gold.
However, before you get into Nistha's work, let me help set some context on why now is one of the greatest times to start up.
Since the first significant wave of Indian start-ups in 2008, till 2017, one question loomed large: Will those who invest their efforts and money ever see a return? This was an important question because US$20 billion+ had been invested in these start-ups, and thousands had quit their jobs in prestigious companies to work out of cramped rooms, giving birth to their dreams. Famous old economy entrepreneurs wrote blogs and gave interviews stating that there was an element of madness to the whole thing, and that the survival of such business models was questionable. The mainstream Indian newspapers during those years screamed the likes off, 'huge cash burn at start-ups' and 'another start-up shuts down', and further supported these headlines with stories of investors fleeing the fledgling start-up ecosystem.
Flee they did. The year 2016 totalled significantly lower investments in start-ups than 2015, from US$9 to 4.5 billion. Valuations of many large and iconic start-ups came down. Fewer people left their sunny offices to embrace the missionary life of a start-up. Even the government seemed worried and introduced taxes such as Angel Tax and E-commerce Tax, and tried to stop the functioning of many new innovative models. This gloom continued into 2017.
For those who understand it, both a start-up and investing in them are a J-curve business. The company starts and soon runs into rough weather as it attempts to grow. Its value falls and thereby its very survival is threatened (many don't make it). This is the left side of the J. It then travels at this low for some time. This is the bottom of the J. Then the passionate, talented and driven founder behind the start-up figures out how to make it work. The business thereafter moves to the right side of the J and begins to climb steadily upwards, and finally that reaches great heights.
By the middle of 2017, Indian start-ups, after their hard learning’s, had moved to the right side of the J, emerging stronger and were set for a long and consistent growth. Money flow into them resumed, totalling US$13 billion of investments in 2017, and people again started leaving comfortable jobs to explore their dreams. Parallelly, the Indian IPO market started to grow, with 153 IPOs of US$11.6 billion.
In 2018, we are firmly travelling up the right side of the J-curve as a whole. Big boom events such as Walmart - Flipkart doing a US$16 billion transaction, Ola expanding aggressively overseas, and heavy funding at mid-stages into start-ups such as Pharmeasy, Sharechat and Bira are testimony to this. The market has also significantly grown, thanks to Jio, UPI, Aadhaar and the generally growing awareness. Massive inflows into mutual funds, as Indians move their savings from real estate and gold to SIPs, will likely keep the IPO market robust and listed valuations rich, allowing for strong exits.
It is in this second coming of the Indian start-up ecosystem that this book has arrived. If you are a start-up entrepreneur, wanting to start up or join a start-up, I wish you the best of luck and happy reading of this little treasure you hold in your hands.
You know start-ups have become a mainstream phenomenon when Indian families start looking for a son-in-law who is an entrepreneur. We have come a long way from terming it 'doing your own business' to calling it a start-up in India. For me, a `start-up' is the ultimate expression of who the entrepreneur is and what he values. Although many institutes study the science behind building a successful start-up, I was curious about the art behind it. So I decided to understand it from those who were committed to building something irrespective of the outcome. For this, I picked 15 courageous, willing and patient founders from India. I am sharing their stories in this book.
What makes me think that I can attempt a book on such a fuzzy subject? What traits do I have to qualify as a worthy writer of such a book? Amidst these valid doubts, a tiny voice in my head speaks up. I realize that I have a very important qualification for writing this book-I tried creating three ventures that bombed. I tried and failed. I had read The Lean Startup, Zero to One and many other famous Silicon Valley books. See, I did validation by running Google ads for a fashion rental business in India, and there were people who gave me their email addresses. Then why did my venture die before finding those customers? I knew what questions to ask a successful entrepreneur precisely because I had failed many a time before finding a glimmer of success in the fourth one. I had that hunger and curiosity, and I had the courage to fail. But clearly, I did not have something that had made other people succeed. And that itself was a motivation to write this book. So here I am, my dear reader, venturing on this journey on your behalf and, of course, my own.
I did interview after interview, or rather, conversations. These founders are used to giving interviews. But I wanted the real story, so we chatted. And some gems, hidden even to their own self, fell out. I gathered those and placed them on these pages. Being well aware of the perils of the narrative bias, I refrained from tainting these conversations with my interpretations. There is another reason why I eschewed coming up with a 'how-to' framework for start-ups-these interviews show how contradictory different approaches have been.
Prasanna Sankar (Like Little) makes a convincing case as to why lean start-ups and growth hacking do not work, abetted by Tarun Mehta's (Ather Energy) disbelief in over-pivoting. Amit Ranjan (SlideShare) and Paras Chopra's (Wingify) success, on the contrary, shows what good pivoting can do. Varun Aggarwal (Aspiring Minds) and Girish Mathrubootham (Freshworks) lend their authority to the belief that fundraising is important, while Sameer Guglani (Madhouse) argues as to why it can be dangerous. Rather than being disappointed that I cannot find a common thread, I take delight in these apparent contradictions for that is what reality is-messy. In fact, this delicious messiness, lack of a framework, subjective nature of stories and individual convictions that clash with each other add to the final feeling of awe that I experienced upon finishing this book_ I have every hope to transfer this feeling to the reader.
As Truman Capote said, 'Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor'; how can this book be complete without talking about failure? So we have the nail-biting story of Prasanna from Like A Little that did not end in a successful exit. What it shows is... well, I would rather have you read it to find out! Plus, the word `success' is subjective. Sameer Guglani (Madhouse) considers Madhouse to be a massive success in terms of learning, albeit the financial returns were trivial.
As I started gathering the stories, it took a long time before I found Tarun Mehta (Ather Energy) for talking about hardware start-ups. In my conversation with Mr Sanjeev Malhotra, CEO of the Nasscom CoE-IOT (Center of Excellence for IOT [Internet of Things]) product accelerator, he highlights government efforts in this direction including a state-of-the-art lab for testing hardware products, discounted consultancy for how to design or manufacture your product, networking/mentors and a structured curriculum for IOT training in colleges.
Further insights came from Vikram Rastogi who runs Hacklab that provides incubation and business assistance to hardware product entrepreneurs working on solar tech, intelligent systems, sensor networks, IOT devices, etc. While some hardware founders have managed to get strategic partners such as Amruth Puttappa for his solar grid-tie inverter, there are others who are frustrated with the lack of support and investment in India. For a country that built the Mars Orbiter Mission, Mangalyaan, in just 11 per cent of the cost of NASA, one expects more. The potential is still untapped. Another category I struggled with was a woman-led start-up. I wish that in my next book, I would have the pleasure of interviewing strong business women and that the set of choices would be significantly larger.
My search then led me to Indian founders in Silicon Valley, and I interviewed two of them-Prasanna Sankar (Like Little) and Ankit Gupta (Pulse). During the book research phase, I also encountered other serial entrepreneurs who had tried a couple of ventures in India with decent commercial success before deciding to head to London and Silicon Valley. I cannot help wondering why, in so many cases, does the founder discover his true passion or talent in a foreign land?
Can we improve entrepreneurship in India by fortifying our academic hallways? Can we nurture Stanford's and Harvard's entrepreneurial ecosystem in Indian universities? Professor Rakesh Basant from IIM Ahmedabad shares how the A-league consortium (including the premier business, design and technology institutes in Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar areas) is inspired by the culture of Silicon Valley schools. The idea is to facilitate multidisciplinary collaboration among students-which is what the essence of entrepreneurship is. The role of good design in the success of the Pulse app, which was developed on Stanford campus, is evident. Perhaps, by encouraging students NID (National Institute of Design), IIMA, IIT Gandhinagar, to come together and work as a team, we can take baby steps :awards a similar culture in India.
Item Code: NAR512 Author: Nistha Tripathi Cover: PAPERBACK Edition: 2018 Publisher: Sage Publications India Pvt. Ltd. ISBN: 9789352808267 Language: English Size: 8.50 X 5.50 inch Pages: 302 Other Details: Weight of the Book: 0.35 Kg