Most people who start up clearly recognize that they require resources. But often times when I ask them, what is it that they would want, they give one simple answer: Funding.
Capital, over the years have come to mean one thing – money, but in a more liberal form (and original context) capital refers to any asset that can generate value, and in return generate income – if you are an enterprise, then its money. If you are a social enterprise, then you can in turn use that wealth towards sustainability.
I’ve seen plenty of startups, and orgs (through our work with efforts like The Goa Project), where early founding teams spend an extra-ordinary amount of time, in the fundraising process, and then raise the money only to realize that execution is still a problem because the talent pool that they need onboard to execute their goals simply aren’t there. If they somehow manage the team, then they realize they lack the connections and the network to move fast enough.
It takes an inexplicably long(er) time in Emerging Markets (India is no exception) to build value.
And going by the formula above, the longer it takes to generate value, the longer it takes to create income. It all spirals down rather quickly.
I don’t know the answer to most of these things, and I am putting these out as I learn – since I’ve been in the centre of rather different kinds of orgs – partly by experimentation, be it building community centric efforts like Proto.in or The Goa Project, or by building hybrid orgs like The Startup Centre, or with the startups I work with. But one thing seems to be coming to the forefront quite clearly. If you have to opt between money or resources, choose resources. If you have to opt between people or money (say a large org will depute a very talented member to your team), that might be more valuable than money itself. What you trade for that, is a complicated question. Would love to hear your thoughts on that.
Starting up, is against the odds. The natural thing for a startup, is to die. Nature, contrary to populary belief, doesn’t by default nurture, but is aggressive and kills. If you want an instrospective view, look at yourself. Every single moment and with every breathe that we take, our cells are getting older, our bodies oxidising and heading towards the eventual death. That is the only certain thing – that we will all die. As if that overarching theme in life wasn’t enough, entrepreneurs take it upon themselves to put themselves in a fastlane where death, failure, irrationality, and emotions run high and wild.
It’s hence rather sad when we see fellow entrepreneurs criticize others. Who cares if that entrepreneur decides to track and flaunt users, rather than customers as a metric. Who cares if funding or getting a new office is what they want to flaunt?
We seriously need to change the mindset that we aren’t victims to that story of crabs in a basket, that keep pulling each other down. Once there is even a wee bit of success that starts to surface, there is envy, jealousy and pulling down, that starts to show up. A startup getting clients, hiring great talent, getting funded, making an exit, getting votes on PH – its starting to get harder and harder to recognize what would trigger off the impulse to break things down, to tear apart, to spread lies, become part of rumor mill and contribute to the destructive cycle.
Building an ecosystem means, we live in an environment where we live among mirrors. We reflect ourselves all around. Folks who are like us, trying against all odds to make it. Let them live. Support them, lend a shoulder, extend your support – but if thats not your nature, walk away. Hold your words. Focus on what your dreams are. For all you know, you just might push that entrepreneur off that cliff, and that’s not something you can live with – rather not.
Sam Altman has written a similar post on Founder Depression. It’s quite real.
It’s perfectly fine for teams – and a whole lot of them to start off with the same, and familar starting point. The key is to ensure you have an original path beyond that. That burden, is no one’s but that of the founding team.
I imagine that a few centuries ago, before we learnt how to document things, or copy en masse, innovation and inventions were at the peak. Heck, its even fair to say that inventions and the spirit of it, is what drove the industrial revolution, and gave it, its steam (pun intended).
I wonder, if some of this was possible because early ideas didn’t get shot down by someone who thought they were similar. Its perhaps the reason why we have parogies, momos and samosas (all of which, in essence are very similar). I strongly believe that the connected world, has, and does hinder the nurturing of many ideas – either everyone starts chasing the same duck, or people start giving up on problems even before they are solved because they think someone else with better access to capital and resources is on it and they don’t stand a chance, only to realize that that team didn’t get to it either.
What I often notice when entrepreneurs pitch a solution, is how the audience judges the problem and moreso the solution and compares it to the first thing on their mind and asks if its similar. Truth is, it is, and its not. These are also not solutions which have attained critical mass (building a search engine to take on google right now, would be a silly endeavor), but shutting down a thought process, because there is another spark out there, makes no sense.
We need to cultivate many sparks. And as long as one hasn’t turned into a wildfire, there still is an opportunity to cater to the market. The creative mind needs space to breathe and to think through a problem, and evolve – and the starting point in most cases is a place where the mind is familiar with, and oft times the starting point will look familiar. Things that are out of the world – aren’t starting points – they are usually milestones of a much older thought process, and such ideas also run the risk of being ahead of time, or being repulsed.
So if you want to be useful, hear out the problem statement – if its valid, then give the solution a try. Just as we tried google despite there being altavista and yahoo and dogpile, just as we tried facebook despite there being orkut, friendster and meebo, just as we tried flipkart despite there being a thousand other clones, what you can do as someone *constructive* is to focus on the problem being solved, validate, and give it a try. Give yourself a chance to be pleasantly surprised.
If you are an entrepreneur, remember that you get leeway as long as it is a familiar starting point. But be original and while a “fast follow” is a strategy of its own, you want to be focused in solving the problem in your own way. Be a bit reclusive in your thoughts, and be different. Ensure that you leave behind something that is uniquely you in this world – its a journey of a lifetime, and take your time.
Think of your startup team as one unit. The Silicon valley plays the game of Sumo wrestling. There is one giant fellow on each side, trying to get the other one out of the court. its usually one or two engineers who are paid 100K annually who drive things.
In most other markets, the rule to play would be like, Soccer, or Hockey – its not one player who is holding the cards, it is a team of 11 that is playing for your side. Everyone has a position, a role and their skills that puts them there. Teams that are driven by one or two rockstars, have issues to scale – the recent world cup is a phenomenal attestation to it – the message is loud and clear, a complete team is better than a few sprinkled rockstars. In most markets, especially in emerging asia, its not a 100K engineer, its perhaps 10, 10K engineers (whatever the local salary rates might be).
The key is to think of ways to make them act like one unit – that’s your job as a CEO / Manager