INSIGHTS Podcast Series — #5: Markets Opportunities — Evaluate Wise & Execute Nice

“Ideas are cheap, execution is everything.’’ – Chris Sacca

Ideas don’t build a company but converting them to something tangible does. The first step towards this is understanding the market potential of your idea. Every startup knows the importance of market research towards making the product/service successful. But the way you evaluate the market is crucial. If an entrepreneur doesn’t know his market in terms of size, demographics, and the customer’s needs, then it will be difficult for his/her venture to sustain long-term. Also, market evaluation is one of the key factors for any venture capitalist to consider the potential of a startup. Not all markets are created equal, and what works in one geography doesn’t necessarily mean it would work in another. Especially when it comes to Indian markets, the dynamics are different in comparison to global markets.

Anand Daniel and Prashanth Prakash during the podcast

Prashanth Prakash is one of the founding partners at Accel India, who has been investing in ventures like BookMyShow, Qwikcilver, RentoMojo, CleverTap, and many others since 2004. In this podcast series, he talks about evaluating markets from an investor as well an entrepreneur’s perspective, especially for the tech sector.

Take Ownership for Heavy Lifting

The first thing an entrepreneur should assess is the role his product or service can play. What is that one thing missing in the market and how well can you solve that problem to thrive in that market?

In the early days of India’s internet boom, Prashanth attributes technology’s role to providing ‘predictable access’. The first phase of India’s tech-led entrepreneurship journey really kicked off post Flipkart, and ever since, tech has provided ‘predictable access’ to services ranging from retail shopping and food to cabs and movie tickets. And while access was the major issue, the predictability aspect is where most entrepreneurs took ownership. Even when the ecosystem wasn’t mature, many entrepreneurs in India took ownership and ensured brilliant execution with great customer experience.

“So, the obsession with great customer experience meant an obsession with solving something that requires heavy lifting,” says Prashanth.

Meet the Unmet Need

When considering markets with no predictable access, it is also crucial to check for the needs that are unmet besides doing the heavy lifting.

Qwikcilver, a technology startup for gift card delivery, did the same. Before the advent of technology in the gift card space, the business operations were cumbersome from both the customer and the retailer’s perspective. Buying a gift card meant one had to get paper vouchers that had limitations in terms of access, usability, pilferage, etc. Qwikcilver helped in the transition of this sector from existing paper vouchers to digital cards.

“What Qwikcilver did was to understand the unmet need in a niche market and convert into a meaningful opportunity. It is important to understand changes in customer behaviour over time. A new generation of customers will have a different role in using that access, or the changing customer experience will drive a whole lot of behavioural changes, and that’s exactly what we have seen in the gift card space,” adds Prashanth.

Today Qwikcilver owns almost 90% of market share in this sector.

Tame the TAM, Regionally

Every entrepreneur realises the value of TAM (Total Addressable Market) and why is it important to figure it out for business revenues. While understanding the TAM, an entrepreneur also needs to understand the nitty-gritty about the regional demographics. Not every market is the same, especially when it comes down to the Indian market, things work differently in comparison to the global market.

“India is not homogenous or singular when compared to other countries. While the Internet consumer base has grown drastically, the demographic is not homogenous from a disposable income and per capita spent on the disposable income,” says Prashanth.

“While addressing the TAM as early entrepreneurs, you have to make those leaps of faith regarding tapping latent demand and not always addressing a fully visible demand. When you are doing that, be clear about the underlying monetary behaviour of your audience, and don’t expect too much shift in that behaviour.”

Here are few points he suggests:

● Offer nuanced services

● Understand the buying power of the millennials

● Make early adopters your brand ambassadors by offering great product or service

● Have a broader view of the market to make the TAM meaningful

● Be tactical while choosing areas that are slightly low hanging and monetizable

● Have a vision for the space and the adjacencies to take advantage of

BookMyShow, an entertainment ticketing website, is a fitting example of a team that identified the adjacencies and expanded their TAM accordingly. BookMyShow, while predominantly in the movie ticketing business, realised that the entertainment quotient in India goes beyond movies, and so they immediately started looking at the adjacencies as well. India has a huge cricket fan base, and as soon as franchises like IPL opened up, they grabbed the opportunity and immediately rode on that. Similarly, they started providing services for events & plays.

“There’s no way we could have thought that a company, which is in the movie ticketing space, will become a dominant service for entertainment across a broad spectrum of categories. I think that’s where your belief in the ability of the entrepreneur to actually have the vision for the space and those adjacencies that could be leveraged starts becoming important. In this case, Ashish Hemrajani, founder of BookMyShow, was able to find a reasonably sized market (of movie tickets) and build traction,” adds Prashanth.

Also, sometimes it can be really hard to measure the market at the early stages accurately. For companies like Qwikcilver or Swiggy, TAM turned out to be much larger than what they had expected. According to Prashanth, it is always a good thing to have a pulse to understand the triggers of the market. Even if the business model isn’t clear at the start, one needs to identify the underlying revenue stream. If you take Facebook’s example, even in early days, people in the US were aware what ad monetisation could do over time. Google, as well as other proxies, were already there and the size of the ad market itself, irrespective of whether it was online or offline, was very large.

Understanding the B2B Space

While the B2C segment features effective use case scenarios about how technology plays a role in getting access predictability, when it comes to B2B, things are different. Selling B2B tech solutions is a bit of a task.

So, what’s the difference while approaching B2C vs. B2B?

The approach of taking ownership and solving problems remains consistent across both. The predictability in B2C is more about taking ownership of the problem and finding a solution. In B2B, however, one needs to provide a platform as a whole that brings a change not just within the organisation but extends beyond it, to the relevant stakeholders involved.

Take the example of the education sector, in which technology platforms like Vedantu help in bringing educators, students, and parents together in a more meaningful fashion. They take ownership of providing good grades for the students, which matters the most to the parents.

What the Future Beholds?

Entrepreneurship in India has come a long way. The early starters faced hurdles regarding the ecosystem elements such as technology tools and size of audience who were ready to accept the services. Today, things have changed with many opportunities.

“The interesting and exciting thing about the consumer space is that everything is a white space when it comes to a new generation (the millennials). Everything gets reinvented, the products and services, and brands. In the next 10 years, you will have a whole new generation, where products, services, and brands are up for the challenge, up for reinvention and disruption,” says Prashanth.

He further adds that the consumption behaviour is moving at a rapid pace and the large CPG companies (Consumer Goods) are going out of sync with new generational trends and consumer behaviour patterns. This is creating huge opportunities for entrepreneurs in India. In 5–10 years, entrepreneurs will take the homegrown brands to a global marketplace.

“I am really excited for India going from a brand deficit country (as I would like to call it) to a high momentum brand creation country and that over the course of time, a lot of brands will emerge not only for India but the global market,” he concludes.

Accel shares such interesting entrepreneurial stories, with informative nuggets to run and scale your startup. Follow the links below and subscribe to our #AccelInsights Podcast Series using the following links: iTunes, Twitter @Accel_India, Google Music: (US & Canada Only)and the RSS feed

INSIGHTS Podcast Series — #4: Turning Failures into Success: The Making of Swiggy (Part 2 of 2)

For Swiggy’s Sriharsha Majety (Harsha), the entrepreneurial journey has been quite bumpy. The initial run with Bundl as a 2-person company wasn’t as successful as they had expected but things got better as their vision became clearer. In fact, it is Harsha and Nandan’s ‘never-let-go’ attitude led to the making of Swiggy.

The Makings of Co-founders

Building the idea of their second venture into a possibility required expansion. While Harsha found one of his co-founders in a friend from BITS-Pilani days, Nandan, the difficult part was to find the right technical co-founder. This was also one of the reasons why they had to shut down their first venture, Bundl.

The past experiences made them hunt for a technical co-founder before starting Swiggy. Even though Harsha came from an engineering background, he felt that it was better to have someone with hands-on experience in technology.

“Finding the right technology partner is a challenge that all founders and co-founders face these days. With Bundl we decided to hire a contractor. But, that didn’t work out well,” says Harsha.

Both, Harsha and Nandan were clear that they wouldn’t repeat the history of starting without a co-founder. They did not want to hire part-time employees and nobody was willing to devote their complete time and effort to a new venture. They needed full-fledged individuals willing to go the extra mile.They waited patiently to find the right person until a friend suggested Rahul Jaimin, a developer.

Getting Rahul excited about their idea took numerous meetings and chats. But even then there were roadblocks. He still had to serve his notice period. Following this, a personal crisis almost swept Rahul away. But soon Rahul was back in the game and became the third co-founder of Swiggy.

Skill v/s Friendship

One of the main concerns of the entrepreneur is the division of roles between the founders. In Swiggy’s case, Harsha was clear about his tech co-founder since the beginning. But, there were no set rules when it came to dividing the roles between him and Nandan.

According to Harsha, it is relatively easy for founders who have known each other to work with each other.

“We had known each other for a while and that helped us coordinate and organize work. We knew each other’s weaknesses and strengths, so we decided amongst us what we are going to gravitate to. At first, we split the operations amongst us, but after some time, he (Nandan) took over sales full-time and I, operations.”

So, what’s more important: skill or friendship? In Harsha’s case, he had faced both the situations. He started with a friend then went on to find a technical co-founder. According to him the most important thing is the understanding between the co-founders in each other’s vision and finding joy in doing so.

Speaking of his relationships with both, Nandan and Rahul, he says, “There is no right answer to whether or not starting with a friend is a good idea. I guess, knowing Nandan helped me because it helped us work with each other. Of course, we have our differences, but that is okay. Even with Rahul, I think we had a common tendency of being grounded, and going after what we wanted in life.”

He also thinks that contradictions are bound to happen — one must find a way to work it out in order to help the company. The key here is attaining the balance of calmness and ferocity in the team.

Also, the understanding between co-founders plays a crucial role while dividing the equity.

Entrepreneurship: Not a One Man Show

Harsha believes building a company single-handedly is a herculean task and might lead to many misses. He suggests 2 to 4 is a good number for co-founders in a company.

When it comes to deciding on choosing the CEO, Harsha says, “I am a strong believer in being equitable and not equal.” Recognizing individual contribution to the company is and what helps the company grow are significant factors in establishing the equity divisions. And most importantly, all the co-founders must be clear and agreeable to it.

An important skill that Harsha thinks every CEO must possess is that of storytelling. Whether it is inspiring people while building the team, convincing investors in believing the dream or, energizing the team every Friday, storytelling definitely comes to aid. Not just weaving stories but being resourceful is another basic characteristic for CEOs. Resourcefulness is a necessity not just while networking but also while building relationships. And curiosity definitely helps in being resourceful. Harsha believes it’s all about learning as you go about building a company.

“You should be humble enough to actually accept that you don’t know everything and you must have that curiosity to learn. For me converting that drive helped me in entrepreneurship,” he concludes.

Eventually, having the right mix of traits with a great team is what makes a successful entrepreneur.

You can listen to the first part here

Accel shares such interesting entrepreneurial stories, with informative tips and tricks to run a business. Follow the links below and subscribe to our #InsightsPodcast Series using the following links: iTunes, Twitter @Accel_India, Google Music: (US & Canada Only)and the RSS feed

INSIGHTS Podcast Series — #3: Learning from a Failure: The Making of Swiggy (Part 1 of 2)

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference…”

– Robert Frost

Every entrepreneur’s journey is different with his/her own share of highs and lows, but what binds each one of them is the passion to commit and the ‘never-say-no’ attitude. At Accel, we are proud to have associated with such go-getters, whose journeys are motivating life lessons for many new and upcoming entrepreneurs. Here, we are sharing one such inspirational founder’s origin story.

Started in August 2014, the food ordering and delivery startup today has more than 5,000,000 mobile application installations and has become the household name for anyone and everyone who wants to order-in food. Tying up with more than 25,000 restaurant owners, Swiggy today has its own fleet of local delivery boys with operations in 13 cities of India, including Bangalore, Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad and more. While their story today looks impressive, but the founder’s success wasn’t achieved overnight and there were a few roadblocks on the way.

Formative Years

Coming from a background of entrepreneurs, Sriharsha (Harsha) Majety, founder and CEO of Swiggy says, “Entrepreneurship was always in my blood. My father runs a restaurant in Vijayawada and plans to invest in the hospitality sector and my mother is a doctor by profession and has her own clinic. She is also planning to start her own chain of beauty parlors. Seeing my family members being in charge and taking control of what they do was an inspiration from early years.” says Harsha

He also credits his journey to his stint pursuing an Engineering degree at BITS Pilani, where he got an opportunity to meet people from different background and cultures. “I think those were my formative years. Unlike other colleges, Pilani never forced students with attendance, which gave us a lot of time to pursue our passions. I met a lot of people and dabbled in a lot of passions like quizzing, photography and travel.”

Being a travel buff, Harsha went on a lot of backpacking trips across South-East Asia and Europe. His traveling pursuits taught him a lesson or two about the world, which has also helped in his entrepreneurial journey. He understood that how people didn’t get stuck in the rat race and were curious to try new things. In one of his backpacking trips, Harsha realized how to tackle failures and unpreparedness with calmness and patience. “I went on a bicycle trip across Portugal and was not at all prepared for the weather conditions. I was exhausted, stranded and on the verge of giving up on the trip. I was helped by my holiday host, who took me in and helped instill the confidence back to continue the journey. I was under a lot of pressure and he just told me that if I can’t cycle uphill then I should hitch a ride uphill and cycle only downhill. Which made a lot of sense then. He also made me understand that it was okay to pause and take a break and think about the long-term goal and not the short-term failures.”

All these formative incidents have shaped Harsha and even today he thinks that the issues of short-term can be resolved by not trying to put too much pressure and thinking about the long-term goals. “I think I have tried to apply the Zen approach in life to the extent possible and this has been immensely helpful in gaining some composure. That whole trip was about 3 months of cycling which was about 4,000 kms by myself from Portugal to Turkey.”

Being an Entrepreneur

According Harsha, one personality trait that has shaped him as an entrepreneur is stubbornness. “I was really stubborn about doing things that excited me and was ready to commit myself to it,” he says.

This is one of the reasons why he choose to give up campus placements and take one-year gap before joining IIM-Calcutta.

The travellerin him got excited when he got an opportunity to work as trader at an investment bank in London. “London was exciting, but the job wasn’t and halfway through the year I figured out that I needed to find more exciting things to do with my life so I took the hard decision of leaving London and choosing to come back to India with no plan in mind. But I was sure of one thing that whatever I was going to do in India was a long and hard commitment,” says Harsha.

“In this journey of entrepreneurship, I was only very stubborn about loving what I was doing, when I left UK I was sure that this is the only route. I was happy to work with early startups if they would hire me. But, as luck would have it none of my circle was closely involved in starting up at that time. Hence, I had no other option but to dive in myself,” he adds.

On Taking the Plunge

For Harsha the inspiration came from Phanindra Sama, Founder of RedBus. In 2006, when Sama discussed his venture plans of going public, Harsha thought it was a crazy idea. But after returning to India he saw the growth of RedBus, which instilled the idea of taking the plunge.

He started meeting and discussing ideas with Nandan Reddy (Co-founder, Swiggy) and both saw a huge opportunity in the E-commerce industry with successful platforms like Amazon, Flipkart, e-Bay and more. One thing both were sure off, was doing a business that is a mix of technology jobs as well as offline jobs.

“We thought that we will find that competitive advantage by being not just a pure software company or not just a pure offline company,” adds Harsha

They realized the potential in the unorganized logistics and shipping sector within the E-commerce industry and here was born their first venture, Bundl in August 2013.

“We realized that a lot of small and medium E-commerce companies either had their own websites and were trying get more traffic or were selling on places like eBay, Flipkart, Amazon, etc. We considered it and figured out that all of them wanted to manage shipping, but they didn’t even know how to get in touch with Blue Dart or FedEx. This is when we came with a vision to democratize shipping, of course, it was not limited to that, but it was a start. We wanted to ensure that not just a vendor but also a consumer could find the fastest way to ship something from Salem to Darjeeling. For that if we had to involve small services like DTDC, or regional services along with Blue Dart and FedEx, we were okay with it. We just wanted to build that network and make that transaction possible. That is how we started. That is when I decided to come to Bangalore because all the action was happening here,” says Harsha.

Things didn’t run as smoothly with Bundl as Harsha and Nandan has expected. They needed a technology co-founder for bringing our vision to reality. According to Harsha, finding the right technology co-founder is crucial for every startup and that is where everyone struggles. “It wasn’t easy (to find a technology partner) as none of my friends were ready to take the risk and finally I had to resign to reality and got a contractor to build the product.”

By the time they came out with their product, the market dynamics had drastically changed. Platforms like Flipkart and E-bay decided to ship the product by themselves, which made the market smaller.

“That’s when we knew that we had to change our focus and it wasn’t worth the opportunity cost. Thankfully, we didn’t have any employees, investors and liabilities at that time,” says Harsha.

They shut down the operations of Bundl within a year.

Failures are Experiences in Disguise

After shutting down their first venture, Harsha was still not convinced that this was the end of their entrepreneurial journey. Instead he started looking out for other opportunities and how he can convert his lessons into something fruitful.

He says, “Our experience in Bundl made us realize that the logistics companies were pathetic at utilizing technology to help their business. We took that as a cue and wanted to start another venture with intersection of technology and logistics. We didn’t want any aggregators and build a logistics company that utilized technology to create customer delight.”

They also saw that by this time technology was making things work with a push of a button. Ola and Uber gaining success through their on-app booking, made them realize the potential of hyperlocal delivery and that was the genesis of Swiggy.

“There was no large company with ideas similar to ours and hence we saw a competitive advantage of building a hyper local delivery platform that moved things fast in the city,” adds Harsha.

A result of the founders’ dedication and persuasion, within four years of its inception, Swiggy has turned out to be a successful hyperlocal delivery platform and a household name for online food delivery.

— — -

In Part II of the Swiggy Story next week, we will dive deeper into the fascinating story of how Harsha recruited the third co-founder and an early startup team and started scaling Swiggy. And some of his key learnings from the early days that can be very helpful to first time founders.

You can listen to the Part 2 here

If you would like us to cover any specific topics or dive deeper into particular questions, please do share them with us via twitter @Accel_India

Accel shares such interesting entrepreneurial stories, with informative tips and tricks to run a business. Follow the links below and subscribe to our #AccelPodcastSeries now to know more: iTunes, Google Music: (US & Canada Only)and the RSS feed

INSIGHTS Podcast Series — #2: Rajesh Yabaji on Building Blackbuck

Intercity Logistics is a $70B industry which has very little technology penetration and humongous opportunities for disruption. Despite this, it has not been an easy sector for startups — for example, six startups in the space had to pull down the shutters last year. In this backdrop, logistics aggregator BlackBuck has a different story to tell — it has become the largest marketplace in intercity trucking across India within a span of 3 years from founding. The startup has been continuously climbing the growth ladder, and navigating newer landscapes in Indian online logistics market.

BlackBuck has simplified the complexities of Full Truck Load (FTL) freight transportation, making the experience seamless for shippers and fleet operators. So, what led to the initial idea of driving into the fragmented logistics market? How its co-founders met? How gruelling were the initial challenges and are they any easier today? How the team grew from mere 3 founders to over 1200? Joining us today is one of its co-founders and first-time entrepreneur who will trace this journey to the initial days of conceiving BlackBuck.

Our Guest For This Week — Rajesh Yabaji, Co-Founder, BlackBuck

Born in Siliguri, Yabaji spent his childhood across the length and breadth of northern India. It was at the age of 17 that Rajesh made the most crucial decision of his life — whether to choose engineering or join the army like his father. He chose former and cracked the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) for engineering and was soon armed with a degree from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur.

After graduation and interning with Schindler, it was a stint with ITC Ltd. that he attributes the idea of starting BlackBuck (Zinka Logistics Solution Pvt. Ltd), a marketplace for online transport logistics. Founded in 2014, the list of investors include Tiger Global Management, Flipkart Ltd, Accel Partners, Sands Capital and International Finance Corporation (IFC).

An avid athlete, Rajesh doesn’t belong to a family of entrepreneurs, but always aspired to do something big. As a first-time entrepreneur, his entrepreneurial journey has been phenomenal. Yabaji is also among the Forbes India’s young achievers list of 30 under 30.

Now, without further ado, let’s quickly dive right in — kicking off with a discussion on building BlackBuck.

Figuring the right market opportunity while solving real life problem

Yabaji shares some market insights into how logistics is among the largest unorganised sectors and trucking is one of its major components. He presses upon its impact on supply chain, which leaves a spacious room for improvements.

He further touches upon how the unstructured sector can be helped through technology. And, eventually solve real life transportation problems faced by both fleet owners and shippers, using real-time information flow.

Choosing skills over relationship to form the founding team

Yabaji talks about Chanakya Hridaya and Rama Subramaniam, his two co-founders who have helped build BlackBuck. Reminiscing the early days when BlackBuck was conceived, he points out how all three come from diverse backgrounds and work experiences. And, reveals the one special aspect that binds the trio together, and why they form such a phenomenal team.

A collaborative startup culture is about leveraging differences, skill sets, and people who are passionate towards finding the best solution for a specific problem, is something he firmly belives.

What role passion played at building BlackBuck

For some passion is one of those intangibles that drives an entrepreneur, while for many others it is overhyped. Yabaji talks about how it is intertwined with motivation, and the role it played while building BlackBuck. He justifies how a trio of co-founders with different frequencies will keep moving in circles until their passions are aligned.

Splitting responsibilities organically

Despite diverse backgrounds, Yabaji said that equality formed the essence of their partnership right from the beginning. This also ensured that the roles were split organically, depending upon the competencies each one brought to the table. He touches upon topics like deciding the CEO to adapting to changes every six months.

Hiring people better than you and growing as a CEO

Yabaji shares some insights into growing as a team as well as an individual. The fast paced changing ecosystem means one has to continuously adapt and learn. He points out that there will be many first-time scenarios and explains how one can tackle them. He touches upon what roles mentors can play and why it is important to reach out to right mentors. He also talks about how he learnt from the people that report to him.

Learnings while hiring the founding team

Yabaji didn’t mince words and stated what worked and what didn’t while hiring during the early days. From the approach the startup used for hiring to difficulties he faced while letting employees go, Yabaji touches upon the hiring aspects and how they affected him personally.

What are some of the common mistakes founders make

Finally, a glimpse into some mistakes that founders make, according to him, and can be avoided.

As our “INSIGHTS” series continues, we will dive deeper into the fascinating and complex world of entrepreneurship. Each episode will be packed chock-full of insider wisdom from experts. So, stay tuned!

Got questions?

If you would like us to cover any specific topics or dive deeper into particular questions, please do share them with us via twitter @Accel_India

Call for Topics — INSIGHTS Podcast Series

I am personally a big fan of podcasts. They are very convenient to get my daily dose of inspiration — especially when I’m working out or commuting. Over the years, I have been listening to a bunch of different podcasts but a few of them have been extremely helpful.

This got me thinking why not a podcast aimed at first time entrepreneurs in India — INSIGHTS Podcast Series is aimed at this target audience. The goal is to bring them up to speed on common issues that first time founders face and to help them avoid known mistakes on their entrepreneurial journey.

There are some amazing podcasts already available that I highly recommend founders to listen. Some that I listen to regularly are:

Reid Hoffman’s — Masters of Scale

Y-Combinator’s — Startup School Radio

NPR’s — How I Built This

But, none of these are focused on Indian entrepreneurs. Many lessons from the podcasts above are very much applicable to entrepreneurs globally, but there are some nuances of each geography. The aim of our Insights Podcast Series is to address some of those issues that are more specific to India more sharply and to bring out stories from Indian founders and investors so that its more relatable for Indian founders.

We have kicked of the series with a chat with my partner Shekhar Kirani that you can listen to here or click below:

We have covered the topic of “A good founding team” in this episode and over the next couple of episodes, we will hear on the same topic from Rajesh Yabaji (co-founder and CEO of Blackbuck) and Sriharsha Majety (co-founder and CEO of Swiggy).

Over the next few months, we plan to cover common topics that are top of mind for most first time founders. For each of these topics, we will hear from an experienced investor on their perspective and then from one or two founders on the same topic. Some of the topics we plan to cover are: product-market fit, various aspects of the market opportunity, growth phase of the startup, building successful teams, fundraising and exiting startups — just to name a few.

We would love to hear from you on what topics, as an Indian founder, is top of mind for you, that you would like us to cover through the INSIGHTS Podcast Series. Please share those topics as a comment below or tweet us at @Accel_India

INSIGHTS Podcast Series — #1: Key Ingredients for Startup Success

Shekhar Kirani(left) and Anand Daniel(right) interacting during the INSIGHTS Podcast…

Starting a new business can be incredibly exciting and rewarding. But, sooner rather than later, startup founders are bound to run into a gamut of challenges. Eventually, they realize that it will take much more than just passion and a great idea to power ahead and navigate the complex and intimidating entrepreneurial world.

Just what does it take to build a startup into a viable, thriving enterprise? What are those key ingredients for startup success that should be baked in right from the inception stage?

These are questions that all startup founders grapple with. Over the coming months, we would like to dig into these questions with experts in the VC industry and startups through a series of Podcasts. These podcasts are aimed at aspiring entrepreneurs who are looking to build on the shoulders of founders who have walked ahead of them in this journey.

This week, to kick-off the series, I’m chatting with my partner Shekhar Kirani who always has great insights on starting up.

A little bit of background on Shekhar

With over two decades of experience in business and tech leadership roles across several startups and large companies, Shekhar focuses on investing in early-stage software and mobile startups that help enterprises. He led investments in FreshWorks, ChargeBee, JiffleNow, Zenoti, ANSR, and many other seed-stage companies. With his extensive experience dealing with startups as a venture capitalist, and having been part of two successful startups, Shekhar has amassed a wealth of insights that can help founders which he is always eager to share.

Without further ado, let’s dive right in — kicking off with a discussion on what is perhaps the most crucial foundational decision that will steer the course of a startup’s future. Here is a quick summary below of the podcast with time-markers. We strongly encourage the aspiring founder to spend 30 minutes listening to the full podcast to catch all the nuances.

The qualities that define a stellar founding team.

Shekhar highlights essential traits that set successful startups apart from those that drop out of the race — the choice of founders and co-founders.

Often, startups are founded by friends driven by a common passion and vision. But, beyond the personal dynamic between the members of the core team, there are other, equally crucial traits necessary to drive the venture forward. In the early stages, when the goal is not yet well-defined, and the understanding of markets is still nascent, the formation of the team tends to be more organic, and rarely well planned out.

However, when building for the long-term, skills and experience emerge as top priorities. To drive home this point, Shekhar cites examples from startups he has engaged with, that have now grown into solid, viable businesses.

Dividing responsibilities amongst the core team.

Founders must be aware of their strengths and respective areas of expertise — product, technology, sales, marketing, operations, or any other. The corollary to that is that they must also be aware of their limitations, so they can ensure that all necessary skills are represented in the core team. Instead, Shekhar observes, startups are often founded by individuals with shared, rather than complementary, skills.

The CEO’s role is the most critical. He or she must have not only vision, but also the ability to understand people in order to build the right team and take crucial decisions, both for the short-term and long-term. Who should be CEO? Such decisions require a design thinking approach. Importantly, Shekhar stresses, these conversations must be had early on in the game.

Ideal composition of a founding team

Startups, at the end of the day, are all about problem-solving. But how does one define the problem that needs to be solved? In this regard, Shekhar details the importance of achieving a rich and contextual understanding of the market.

Next comes the ability to experiment rapidly, build working prototypes, measure customer reactions, and iterate, to develop a quality product. But it’s not enough for the founders alone to believe in their product. Convincing investors and consumers calls for great storytelling.

The core team must also be passionate and committed enough to sustain conviction on their journey, with all its ups and downs. Each new day will bring new challenges. Prioritizing these challenges, Shekhar believes, is a critical strategy.

Common Pitfalls To Watch Out For.

In closing, Shekhar does a quick, eye-opening roundup of what he sees as the most common reasons why startups fail.

As our “Insights” series continues, we will dive deeper into the fascinating and complex world of entrepreneurship. In the next couple of episodes, we will try and get a founder perspective on this same topic of starting-up and picking co-founders and early team members. Stay tuned!

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