(Part II of a two-part series)
I wrote in Part I about only the wins so far. Let’s talk about the downside as well. Most start-ups don’t survive beyond the first two years. There is more invisible wreckage on the path to success in terms of shattered careers and dreams, lost money for investors and a mental health epidemic which is often brushed under the carpet. The business media, with its start-up focused teams hardly cover the dirty side of the business (often in cahoots with the very investor set) where the race for valuations have led to broken marriages and relationships.
I grew up watching Shireen Bhan of ‘Young Turks’ in CNBC TV 18 which initially started the Start Up conversation about a decade and a half back. Now a days an entire media sub-genre covering Start Ups is present. My personal favourite is YourStory Media by Shraddha Sharma who has a balanced take on the ecosystem.
Pankaj Mishra’s excellent podcast on Start Ups narrated the ups and downs of start-up journeys, including his journey as a failed start up entrepreneur of which the incredible podcast had been a core product. He recently joined TV18 Group as Editor to cover the Start Up ecosystem.
The Start Up institution itself is larger and more meaningful than the charismatic founder. Do we hear enough about the ‘Co-Founders’ or the other Founding Team Members? Paul Allen and Eduardo Saverin are outliers in this regard. Whom have we heard apart from Elon Musk at Tesla?
We need to listen more to the diversity in the team to analyse what has worked, and what could have worked. Start Ups fail often because they fail to find the ‘Passion-Market Fit’ in the words of Investor and Corporate Philosopher Naval Ravikant (as he had written in a note way back in 2011), as Passion is the fuel to continuously persevere in the face of odds. This Passion is often the transmittance from the Charismatic Founders Personality; however, the passion should stem from a story to serve the market than resulting in a bout of ‘Founderitis’, a common affliction in the Start Up Ecosystem.
Think Travis Kalanick, the founder of Uber or Tony Hseih of Zappos? Such ego mishaps only deplete the valuation for the investor, as adequate board strength and corresponding corporate governance is amiss in early stage start-ups, as are other ESG considerations. Diversity (Gender and Minority Representation including LGBTQ) in the founding team and on the board translates into contrarian thinking and a sense check to the group think that leads to bad decision making that further has ramifications over the long term for the business. Value generation/retention is the cornerstone of entrepreneurial capitalism.
India has a rich mercantile history with various trading communities throughout the sub-continent from Banias and Marwaris in the North and East to Chettiars in the South. Start Ups must be seen in the background of this rich inheritance of gain, rather than loss as the title of the famed Anita Desai book goes.
The mercantile castes are leading the way even in the so-called meritocratic era with Bansal’s and Goyal’s leading the way here too. Risk taking has been a way of life with the trading castes for eternity. Western constructs will find a way to be customised to the local realities. The first-generation IT Titans from Infosys, Wipro and others, which gave India its IT Superpower status built their businesses over decades, reflecting the multigenerational ethos of Indian commerce.
The intrinsic ethics of a Dharmic Deep State reflects its values in a post-modern entity such as Start Ups. Or rather Start Ups are a part of the wider commercial terrain of the country itself. In this hyper connected era, cross pollination of cultures creates hybrids which are as much a part of either value systems/ stand out on its own at the same time.
The true story of the start-up world lies in between the two extremes of economic valuation versus a social justice lens, paraphrasing Rumi- In between the fields of right and wrong we shall meet. Start Ups are vehicles of job creation in the Future of Work era, where public sector mass employment has evaporated. Start Ups teach valuable skills in product development, sales, negotiations and team building.
Start Ups are real time vocational business schools. It stretches and develops the risk-taking muscle non-existent among the Asian Middle Classes. In the gig economy, technology becomes obsolete faster than ever, thus companies grow irrelevant and thus jobs get shorted as stocks in a course of a day trade. Rather than crying over spilt badam milk, we need to reconcile to a career comprising of projects rather than years. The HR Function will adapt to this new normal, as value created rather than time spent in an organisation will be the go-to metric for performance evaluation.
There are so many young entrepreneurs who purely leverage the digital as a platform to create micro start-ups, without any investment to say from the formal investment community. On Instagram, there are so many women and men who have started businesses over digital apps, creating services and products for the hyper local economy, which are not I believe not even registered to be tracked by official Ministry of Corporate Affairs data or are eligible for start-up grants or seed funding.
There is real josh on the ground as the youth are raging with energy to create the next big breakthrough product. Just attend the next start up fest in your city to feel the vibe, which is refreshing and positive away from the hackneyed negativity of the mainstream media. The questions being shot at a start up fest are from students who are in their late teens like ‘what is your revenue model?’ In my late teens, the only interested in was like, where can I find a job post graduating, in a non-market-oriented major such a biotechnology.
Start Ups are all about unleashing the entrepreneurial spirit for greater common good while creating value for stakeholders around the business. Think about a former academic who starts a training consulting business to promote/educate on information literacy as her PhD research was on civic engagement. Combating Fake News is such a critical theme for our communities now days in the post Cambridge Analytica age. Is there a market for such a product; I would say a resounding yes?
In the light of old school Darwinian evolution, Start Ups too have found a mainstay in the commercial quotidian life in India as ubiquitous as Amul Butter.
Read Part I of the two-part series here.
The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.