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

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!

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

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