Scaling Good Advice In India’s Startup Ecosystem – A Research Paper On PNGrowth Model

In January 2016 iSPIRT ran the largest software entrepreneur school in India, called PNgrowth (short for Product Nation Growth).  The central vision of PNgrowth was to create a model of peer learning where over 100 founders could give each other one-on-one advice about how to grow their startups. With peer learning as PNgrowth’s core model, this enterprise was supported by a volunteer team of venture capitalists, founders, academics, and engineers.  See iSPIRT’s volunteer handbook (https://pn.ispirt.in/presenting-the-ispirt-volunteer-handbook/)

However, unlike a regular “bootcamp” or “executive education” session, the volunteers were committed to rigorously measuring the value of the peer advice given at PNgrowth. We are excited to announce that the findings from this analysis have recently been published in the Strategic Management Journal, the top journal in the field of Strategy, as “When does advice impact startup performance?” by Aaron Chatterji, Solène Delecourt, Sharique HasanRembrand Koning (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/smj.2987).

TLDR: Here’s a summary of the findings:

1.
 There is a surprising amount of variability in how founders manage their startups.  To figure out how founders prioritized management, we asked them four questions:

“…develop shared goals in your team?”
“…measure employee performance using 360 reviews, interviews, or one-on-ones?”
“…provide your employees with direct feedback about their performance?”
“…set clear expectation around project outcomes and project scope?”

Founders could respond “never,” “yearly,” “monthly,” “weekly,” or “daily.”

Some founders never (that’s right, never!) set shared goals with their teams, only did yearly reviews, never provided targets, and infrequently gave feedback. Other, super-managers were more formal in their management practices and performed these activities on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis. Not surprisingly, the supermanagers led the faster-growing startups.  Most founders, however, were in the middle: doing most of these activities at a monthly frequency.

2. Since PNGrowth was a peer learning based program, we paired each founder (and to be fair, randomly) with another participant. For three intense days, the pairs worked through a rigorous process of evaluating their startup and that of their peer. Areas such as a startup’s strategy, leadership, vision, and management (especially of people) were interrogated. Peers were instructed to provide advice to help their partners.

3. We followed up on participating startups twice after the PNgrowth program. First ten months after the retreat, and then we rechecked progress two years afterwards.

We found something quite surprising: the “supermanager” founders not only managed their firms better but the advice they gave helped their partner too.  Founders who received advice from a peer who was a “formal”  manager grew their firms to be 28% larger over the next two years and increased their likelihood of survival by ten percentage points. What about the founders who received advice from a laissez-faire manager? Their startup saw no similar lift. Whether they succeeded or failed depended only on their own capabilities and resources.

4. Not all founders benefited from being paired up with an effective manager though. Surprisingly, founders with prior management training, whether from an MBA or accelerator program, did not seem to benefit from this advice.

5. The results were strongest among pairs whose startups were based in the same city and who followed up after the retreat. For many of the founders, the relationships formed at PNgrowth helped them well beyond those three days in Mysore.

So what’s the big take away: While India’s startup ecosystem is new and doesn’t yet have the deep bench of successful mentors, the results from this study are promising. Good advice can go a long way in helping startups scale.   iSPIRT has pioneered a peer-learning model in India through PlaybookRTs, Bootcamps, and PNgrowth (see: https://pn.ispirt.in/understanding-ispirts-entrepreneur-connect/).

This research shows that this model can be instrumental in improving the outcomes of India’s startups if done right. If peer-learning can be scaled up, it can have a significant impact on the Indian ecosystem.

Budget reaffirms Government’s desire to Transform India into a Product Nation

We are delighted that the Finance Minister singled out the Software Product Industry for mention in his budget speech today. This is momentous… the identity we have been so seeking especially in the corridors of power was finally articulated this morning in the highest legislative body of the land – the Indian Parliament.

We’d like to highlight four things.

  • First, the thumping endorsement that came from the Hon’ble Minister of IT and Communications Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad during his visit to Bangalore (July 1, 2014) where he spent a couple of hours with iSPIRT and the Software Product Industry and minced no words in lending the Government’s support to the Software Product Industry cannot be underplayed (link to video).
  • Second, the specific text of Section 62 of the budget speech (just 10 days after Mr. Ravi Shankar Prasad’s supportive visit) that focuses on digital India and the “imminent need to bridge the divide between digital “haves” and “have-nots” is noteworthy. The key highlight, of course is the statement about the “special focus on software product startups”.
  • Third, Section 103 of the budget speech which states: “In order to create a conducive eco-system for venture capital in the MSME sector it is proposed to establish a Rs. 10,000 crore fund to act as a catalyst to attract private capital by way of providing equity, quasi equity, soft loans and other risk capital for start-up companies”. Another boost by the Government for start-ups. Clearly the Government has its priorities straight.
  • Fourth, the taxation issue. Though there was no mention and we were certainly hoping to get a resolution to our issues of dual taxation (VAT and Service Tax) on software products as well as the issue of TDS deduction on software product payments, there is an intent to simplify and rationalise the tax regime with the proposal to set up an industry-CBDT/CBEC interaction committee that will look into industry specific issues and work to resolve them. We will of course take our issues to this proposed committee and remain hopeful that our issues will be addressed.

Meanwhile, various iSPIRT volunteers have shared their views on the budget with the media and these reactions are summarized here. Please spread the word about this to everybody in the software product industry.

Though we could have hoped for more, I think the consistent policy advocacy in recent past and the hard work put in by various spirited iSPIRT members have brought us to where we are today. The stage is now for ours to play on. Let’s make it happen.

A big thank you for being part of this movement,

iSPIRT Team