Startups and me

22 Jul

I have been wanting to do a post on Start-ups. My modest working experience has been largely centered around start ups and start up assignments,wish was really successful though. I did get an opportunity to work for a European company which got acquired though. I worked on some great customer engagements, my only saving grace, in an otherwise heart wrenching career.

My first start up experience was as a 25 year old entrepreneur in late nineties before dot com bust, my father had generously given me his savings to start something and get a life. It lasted sixteen months. I quit due to business as well as familial issues. My father passed away.I started working for start ups as it came to me naturally and was always excited about the next big idea. I worked for both Indian and  over seas start ups. These are my learnings from humble entrepreneurial effort and working for start ups for many years:

– Team : The most important and decisive factor in success and failure of a early stage company. The team must have complimentary skill sets – marketing,engineering,finance etc. The team must not be made of Boss’s golf partners or college friends. In my opinion only in a rarest of rare case friends founding a enterprise will work. There must be chemistry but no entertainer friend in Chris Rock mold, that should be left for social life.  I primarily failed in entrepreneurship because of working with friends,the stress of balancing friendship and getting results was too much. I think team must have complimentary skills and take ownership.

– Titles : I am not a believer in titles like Co – founders or Chief this or Chief that. I think its a ego trip and delusional. Start up means nothing on paper. More so titles. I once worked for a company where every one was chief this or chief that,except me, driver and a general helper, young boy . Many experienced executives who join start ups are given fancy titles by shrewd  promoters as a carrot ,  lets say a “chief operating officer” or a ” President” of a 5-10 man team is ridiculous. I am sure there must be a appropriate nomenclature but showcasing title will neither get a client or a deal,which is everything for a start up.

– Intellectual honesty and Integrity: This is most important for a business, especially in early stage companies. The team must be honest to market,their strengths and weakness, products and to each other. I think its only in a start up situation, real contributions can be seen and felt, so much can be camouflaged in large companies,which really hire for education and a surreal thing called brand.  Intellectual honesty is very important for collaborative efforts and also for strategic drift in companies. So many start ups are enamored with their ideas and products,while markets take no cognition of same. The only thing that works in a market is a solution addressing a generic customer pain point or a gap in a business need. I think there are rare outliers like Steve Jobs and Apple, who are game changers and create markets, otherwise only people who out- think markets and others are crooks and criminals really . Intellectual honesty and integrity is important otherwise ventures are likely to fail more often than not.

– Policies and systems: Its good to have policies and systems in place before starting a business. Not just regulatory or fiduciary but recruiting policies,welfare policies etc. Its important. To cite my own example, never got papers for work done. It affected my career. I lost momentum and not to mention damage to psyche. So entrepreneurs should have a honor code and stick by it. People justify anything and everything in the name of business and perception. Its most damaging and creates a bad reputation. Its bad Karma.

–  Talent and Belief : I believe start up talent should be smart and have the belief of changing the world. They should be courageous,foolhardy and willing to learn at every stage. Sometimes only a sense of humor helps them get by, as they do not have usual trappings of a big company,salaries,corner offices, perks etc. I believe start up talent are special. They should be hungry and irreverent. They should pay abeyance only to god, customers and team.

–  Customers : Customer is god. It is the most important equation in business. Its not capital. Its not boards. Its customers. Think Customers. Every time and all time. The only learning and skill sets have learned is from customers. I owe everything to them.

These are my humble musings based on my life experiences. As for a master speak, please do check this brilliant but dated interview of the great John Doerr :

http://www.fastcompany.com/28223/john-doerrs-startup-manual

Have a lovely day dear friends! Thank you!

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