Suparna Goswami Bhattacharya, TechinAsia
Bengaluru, 12 December 2016
The entrepreneur overcoming all hurdles to emerge as an icon for
millions – that’s the typical positive story startup media is abuzz
with. Such narratives are often considered the only way to attain
startup goals. In the clamor, we can forget that each startup journey
is unique: before tasting success, even successful entrepreneurs have
The startup narrative can be one-sided, observes
Sharad Sharma, co-founder of Indian tech industry think-tank iSPIRT.
“So many startups fail, but there’s no focus on those entrepreneurs.
Then there are small companies which do not enjoy high valuation[…]
Their learnings can make a big impact in the startup ecosystem.”
Not all entrepreneurs have to be the next Sachin Bansal or Mark
Zuckerberg. And this should be fine, as long as they are fulfilling
Shakir Basha couldn’t agree more. He’s the
founder of Zippon, a packing and moving service, which eventually had
to shut shop.
“I believe in setting up a profitable
business on a small scale and gradually taking it to higher levels,
especially when you lack business skills and you are a first-timer. But
many in today’s generation want to aim for the sky, forget to keep
their roots intact and hence fail at what they do. I have personally
faced that,” he says. (Right: Zippon founder Shakir Basha. Photo credit: Shakir Basha)
wonder then that Aishwarya Raman, who started auto-rickshaw app
AutoRaja, found peace working as a zonal head for Ola Auto.
main motive of starting AutoRaja was to make the auto-rickshaw drivers
a part of the organized sector. Here at Ola Auto, I’m working with the
same motive – of course, on a much bigger scale,” says Aishwarya.
September 2015, AutoRaja shut down mainly because of lack of funds.
After lying low for a few months, Aishwarya decided to give her dream
(Above: Aishwarya Raman founded rickshaw aggregator AutoRaja. Photo credit: Aishwarya Raman.)
time, the approach was different. “I didn’t want to start another
company immediately. Though my parents encouraged me not to give up on
my dream, I thought I should gain experience by working in a similar
industry but with a different setup.” She approached Ola and they were
more than happy to hire her, given her relevant startup experience.
common to battle a funding crunch after your startup closes: that’s
when working a regular job provides a much-required cushion. Case in
point: Akash Sharma, who founded Delivree King, a tech-enabled logistic
startup, and Fitfood, a healthy food delivery company. He now works for
MobieFit, a fitness app. “To say that I am disappointed as my previous
ventures did not work will be an understatement. But I’m happy to be
part of the food and fitness industry, which I’ve always wanted. What
life has to offer in terms of opportunities is not known yet, but for
now I am happy working and gaining experience,” says Akash.
Not all entrepreneurs have to be the next Sachin Bansal or Mark Zuckerberg.
It’s all about timing
saw many startups shutting shop. For Akash, Delivree King and Fitfood
were victims of market corrections. Delivree King specialized in
four-hour delivery and guaranteed same- and next-day delivery, besides
offering promotional services for its clients. It had to be shut down
for want of funds. For Fitfood, the timing, unfortunately, was not
started Fitfood when food-tech companies were growing. However, by the
time it reached a stage where we needed funds, none of the venture
capitalists we approached were ready to even look at the company. The
timing was bad,” rues Akash. (Left: Akash Sharma founded FitFood and Delivree King. Photo credit: Akash Sharma.)
Tapan Kumar Das, access to venture capital wasn’t a problem. The
founder of online meal service iTiffin faced a different problem: low
investor confidence. “There was a lot of negativity around the food
industry. I had to choose between burning my money or shutting down,”
he says, adding that there’s still scope for innovative food-tech
companies despite negativity around the industry.
Knocking at the wrong door
is a place of constant comparison. There is a pressure to raise a
certain amount which will eventually land them adequate press coverage.
However, raising funds from VCs is no cakewalk – especially if one is
not part of the networking circle.
“There is an expectation that
all entrepreneurs either have to be from an IIT, IIM or one of the top
two-three institutes in the country,” says Sukanth Srivastav, who
founded Tooler, a laundry startup. He’s referring to India’s elite
Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and Indian Institutes of
Management (IIMs). “The fact remains that a business can be run by
anyone who has an aptitude. We don’t need to complicate things.”
It’s a tough world out there, especially if you are not well-networked.
of IITs and IIMs typically have large networking circles, of which
venture capitalists are also a part. “My experience with VCs has not
been pleasant. I had met many of them during my startup stint but the
purpose of their funding is different from what we wanted to achieve as
a startup,” Sukanth says.
The experience taught Sukanth an
important lesson: don’t go by the hype. “Newspaper reports are replete
with stories of VCs out there looking to fund you. This is not the
reality. It’s a tough world out there, especially if you are not
well-networked.” Aishwarya’s experience with VCs was also unpleasant.
“I guess I approached the wrong VCs; they never believed or understood
what I wanted to do.”
is not taken lightly in India – or, for that matter, in any country.
Says Devangshu Dutta from Third Eyesight, a retail- and
consumer-focused consulting firm, “There’s nothing wrong with aiming
high. But entrepreneurs should not feel like failures when their
company does not reach a particular size or valuation.”
there’s family pressure to look for a stable monthly source of income.
“I come from a family where my father has spent his entire professional
career in one company. They do not understand this concept of joining a
startup or starting a business. After my startup stints, I was left
with no money. My mother would often ask why I am wasting my IIT degree
on startups when MNCs are ready to offer me high-paying jobs. So yes, I
felt that pressure,” says Akash.
For Sukanth, the situation was
more or less the same. “In terms of financial growth, I have made zero
progress. I did not have the heart to borrow from my parents to start
another company. There is enough pressure from society to earn a
certain amount. In fact, no one believes in your dreams until you start
making money. That’s the hard fact.”
Editing by Neha Margosa, Michael Tegos, and Steven Millward