My job is to meet as many founders as possible to see whether their startup matches our mandate to invest. Any meeting of startups, where, there was no pre-qualification (say at an event or a conference or at a friend’s place etc), most of these meetings go this way:
Founder: I am the founder of the startup …. I started this journey… My cofounders are ….. We want to build a large company to do ….
Me:Who is your customer?
Founder: My product has extraordinary features, it can do magic… Customers login through … If you click this menu we see these features….. Great product… Our UX is awesome….. iOS, Android, Our CTO is from …. Built-for-scale……We have been working for 18 months…. Just now launched…. We need money to scale sales….
Me:But, who is your customer?
Founder:Hmm, anyone with a PC or Phone. It is very easy. They just have to download our app, press this button and they start discovering these features…. We can be a large company if we get funding….
We would have spent 15 min or so in discussion. Founders think why am I asking such a simple question instead of asking about their architecture, technology, scale of their work and in general their might in technology.
I think as human beings, we tend to do what we know best. Since most of the startups in India are started by engineers they start doing what they know best – write code. I usually close such meetings with some philosophical statement – “Please don’t do what you know. Focus your energy on things you don’t know about making your startup successful…” Some of them understand it, but, ignore as this is hard thing to do for all of us.
Post such meetings, I get into my eco-system mode and call my friends at iSPIRT and discuss “what can we do? We are not doing enough. We are trying to help those who have already have an idea of the game. But, more folks are getting into the system without understanding even the basic rules of the game, ….”. We discuss and typically console ourselves saying “new founders will figure out over time by seeing other successful founders. We as volunteers have limited bandwidth. Let us focus our energy on those for whom we can materially help. Can we think of a program for some of our companies that are starting to scale….”
I get convinced until I go to one more conference and meet few more founders. Again, I call my friends at iSPIRT. Applying my own philosophy, I need to work on things that I don’t know – “how to educate at scale the first-time founders?”.