“High share premium is not the basis of a high valuation but the outcome of valid business decisions. This new whitepaper by our iSPIRT policy experts highlights how share premia is a consequence of valid business decisions, why 56(2)(viib) is only for unaccounted funds and measures to prevent valid companies from being aggrieved by it”
How one entrepreneur’s mountain looks like a VC’s molehill
The apocryphal story of a newbie B2B founder, with deep domain knowledge, but no experience as an entrepreneur or in a startup. Note that while this example is not based on a single entrepreneur, it’s a composite to highlight the extremes.
Amita was a deep domain expert, with 15 years of experience in Wicro’s manufacturing services vertical. She identified a specific problem that a few of her customers had, costing them millions every year, which would get solved with a software product she dreamed about building. Being bitten by the entrepreneurial bug (her classmate founded FlipDeal), she decided to work together with a few old friends and colleagues, and start a business attacking the problem, with a couple of trusting old customers agreeing to do a paid pilot when she had the product ready.
As Amita and her team built the product, they initially used their own savings. Friends advised her to go to VCs, since this was exactly the kind of high-tech manufacturing software product that many VCs said they would fund. Amita was excited, she had seen FlipDeal raise a few Billion $, and felt that though her startup didn’t need as much, it would be good to raise a few million to hasten the pace.
The first VC meeting was a disaster, she was asked for their TAM (Total Addressable Market). And she was hardly able to define it well enough on the fly. The VC also said that manufacturing software was passe, IoT was the future.
“What’s my TAM?” she wondered on the ride back to the office.
“What’s our TAM?” the team asked her.
On the one hand, the specific problem they were solving was only for manufacturers in the auto ancillary business. This was a big sized market they thought, 60 odd large customers and a few hundred smaller ones spread over US, EU. The problem their product solved cost the large companies a few million dollars a year, and cost the smaller companies a hundred thousand dollars a year. Overall solving this problem would save the industry $300M. Of this, they estimated, they could charge $75M for the product.
The team was happy. There were few competitors and they felt they could become a good solid $25M business.
The next meeting with another VC was even worse than the first one.
“$75M TAM for an IoT product? For someone as experienced as you, and with the stellar team you’ve got, why are you taking so much risk — 8/10 startups fail you know — for such a small market?” advised the VC, running a $100M fund. “We will only fund you if you’re looking at a $1 billion market, and can make $100M annual revenue, otherwise the risk/reward doesn’t work out”.
Amita was baffled at how easily she and her team had been about to step into such a bad risk/reward tradeoff, even though they were smart, thorough professionals, who should have known better.
She decided to attack a much larger market, that was nearly the same as what they were trying to solve a problem for. Of course she didn’t know any customer in that area, but they were manufacturers too. Wouldn’t they have the same problems? No one in her team had done sales to the new segment, but how hard could it be to sell to a new vertical?
Back in the office, the team brainstormed the new market, $3 Billion wide, IoT for manufacturing across different verticals. Now the product roadmap had to change, since they needed to address different problems for different verticals, and they needed to make the product more generic. They had to drop some of the more intricate features for the auto-ancillary features too. That market was only a small drop in their overall bucket. So they obviously couldn’t do everything the small little market needed.
Miraculously the next VC agreed to fund Amita’s IoT product startup in a $3B market, and the team was now flush with cash, $2.5M to be exact. “Off to the races, let’s hire more people, build the product, get some more early customers” Amita thought.
But soon things weren’t rosy any more. Building the generic product that spanned multiple markets took much longer than expected.
Their early believers in the auto-ancillary turned sour, the product they were building was now not solving the specific point problem they had.
Their small initial pipeline ran dry, but they had a large pipeline of new prospects who they had never met before, who were all looking good to start engaging. But the sales cycles turned out to be much longer than expected outside of auto-ancillary. Perhaps the problem wasn’t as serious for others?
Their money was running out too, the $2.5M was designed to run for 18 months. Now at 12 months, staring at 6m of runway, with no product launched, no pilots won, and increasingly long sales cycles, Amita was at a loss.
Where had they gone wrong?
Wasn’t it supposed to be less risky to go after a large market?
Shouldn’t they get a great pipeline from the new sales guy they hired for a lot of $?
When their product built for a $75M TAM generated solid early paid pilots, why were they struggling to get any engagement in a $3B market?
Wasn’t it validation that they had a world class VC on board?
This is the story of some of the most capable founders with deep domain expertise, that I meet every month. While they have tons of deep experience, product ability, and network, it’s typically in a small specific domain, and not in a large, deep market.
In the process of building their startup, IF they move from small markets they know like the back of their palms, to large markets where they don’t know as much, the risk they are taking explodes.
On the other hand, if they are domain experts in the larger market, or end up creating a new large market, out of the small market they start in, then they have a great chance of building a true $1B+ business. Deep domain experts with 20+ yrs of expertise, selling and building for F500 — are best off hunting Whales, or Brontosaurus as Christoph Janz writes.
Typical VC fund economics
VCs with $100M funds need to return $300M to their investors. That’s the promise they make to their investors, 4X gross returns in 10 years as Fred Wilson shows, from a portfolio of top notch startups. And as Tomer Dean points out 95% of VCs fail to deliver sufficient returns to their investors!
So with 8/10 funded startups failing, a VC needs each startup in the portfolio to shoot for a $100M cash return to the fund. With a 20% ownership at exit, the startup must be worth $500M at exit, in 7–10 years from funding.
A startup seeking VC funds, therefore needs to rocket from $5M-$500M market cap in 10 years or less to be a success for a VC. To do this you have to build a $100M revenue business. This demands a market size well in excess of $1B.
At this return rate, the VC is ok if 90% of their startups fail the test, and fall short of returning $100M cash to the fund. That’s the risk/reward the VC is talking about.
At the other end, for a founder who has initial customers, has solved similar problems in the past, has a strong team, there’s actually little risk in making the first $1M revenue. Factor in a small market where no one else is solving the particular problem really well, they have little competition, and may win customers through referrals quickly. They have a good chance at building a $10M revenue startup, which might be valued at $40M.
Computing the risk/reward expected outcomes
In the VC model, going after a large market, the founders/employees end up owning 20% of the company at exit, with a 10% chance of getting there.
20% x $500M x 10% = $10M expected outcome.
In the bootstrapped model, going after a small market, the founders/employees own 80% at exit, with a 40% chance of getting there.
80% x $40M x 40% = $12.8M expected outcome.
Very similar expected outcomes, but very different risk profiles.
On the one hand, VC money is like strapping a nuclear fuel powered jet packon your back. When it works you get to orbit, but 8/10 times when you’re not ready for it, you’ll die.
On the other hand a longer slower more arduous climb up Mt. Everest, the rate of death is still high, but substantially more manageable risk wise.
Which path you choose as a founder, should depend on the size of the market you’re chasing, the cost of acquiring customers in that market, whether there are network effects that aid early movers, how much it will cost to build the product out to the quality the market demands, your own affordable loss, and more. And as Clement Vouillon says both paths are fine, but do know which path you’re on!
Too many founders are going to VCs with sub-scale markets (< $1B), and blaming them for not taking risks. A VC is NOT in the job of taking risks. They’re in job of building a high reward portfolio, and a small market can’t give a high enough reward.
Many founders think this is a one-time decision. Absolutely not! As Atlassian, Github and others have shown, it’s totally possible to bootstrap to find the right market-fit, and then take growth capital when you’re truly ready.
If you’re an early stage SaaS founder, and want to do this better, stay tuned for some hands-on assistance to grow past this choice.
Thanks to Manoj Menon for reading an early draft.
Most probably a bad contract is at the heart of the Stayzilla (SZ) and Jigsaw Advertising (Jigsaw) dispute that’s a hot topic of discussion for the members of India’s fast growing startup ecosystem. Jigsaw supplied advertising related services, SZ did not pay. SZ announced intention to “reboot” and Jigsaw used its might to register cheating case against SZ. Cheating is a criminal offence as opposed to a payment dispute that routinely falls under civil law. I have raised several ethical dilemmas in this situation in my last post. Here I wish to focus on contracts and enforcing contracts.
Indeed “enforcing contracts” in India is an uphill fruitless endeavor. In the 2017 World Bank report on “Ease of Doing Business”, India ranks 172 out of 191 countries on “enforcing contracts”. A quick comparison with China (a frequent object of our obsession) on “enforcing contracts”, put things in stark contrast.
Dispute resolution time: India (47.3 months) vs. China (13.5 months)
Dispute resolution cost: India (40% of claim amt.) vs. China (15% of claim amt.) – though the amount varies by states in India
Quality of judicial processes index: India (9) vs. China (14.5) – higher number is better
Evidently, we are far from the frontier on this measure of doing business. India also ranks such low on other important measures like (number in bracket is India’s rank out of 191 countries reported) – paying taxes (172), trading across borders (143), and resolving insolvency (136).
Small startups in the initial stage of testing market to entering growth phase have little wherewithal to divert precious little resources to fight legal cases that proceed at snail’s pace and hog bulk of managerial and financial resources of a startup. While overhauling the justice delivery system is very long term project, the minimum startups can do is to create and govern contracts in a more deterministic manner.
Common problems with contracts
A mistake in a contract can undermine its legality and affect your ability to enforce it. The party more adversely affected by the mistake would almost always seek to repeal or cancel the contract. Overall, a problematic contract results in poor outcomes like – business delays and waste of resources.
Relying on an oral contract
Promises are part of the business life. But promises can be easily broken, such is the human nature. You put in superhuman effort to build your business so you would want to be assured that your business is protected against failed promises of your co-founders, employees, suppliers and partners. Only a written contract is enforceable under law. Writing a contract also forces you to think through issues that would instinctively not come to your mind.
Another side effect of not having a contract is the risk of losing whatever IP your company possess. Probably only valuable thing startup has in early stage is some form of IP. Consider the scenario – a few part-time founders without any written contract are burning mid-night oil to get a product on the market. Soon one of the founder changes mind about entrepreneurship or gets interested in some other idea. He or she decides to walk away – without assigning the rights to his work. You are stuck without the IP and literally without your company. I have seen this happen a few times and those startups just shut shop without even going to market. Without a contract, there is no negotiating ground or legal recourse.
Not capturing the negotiated terms in final contract
Negotiation is usually an iterative process with multiple revised proposals and discussions. So, when the final contract is in sight three things happen: One, even if there is lack of clarity on some point, that is allowed to linger hoping it will somehow go away. Two, in case of a missing term or incorrect data in last proposal, it is not corrected or rewritten and signed with the contract. Three, even when somethings are orally agreed they do find a place in final written contract. These “minor” indiscretions cause major pain when a contract dispute goes before a judge. One it is almost impossible to prove oral agreements in absence of concrete evidence. Two, in case of an essential missing term, the judge is likely to impose some “reasonable” terms that might be far from what one party had envisaged in the original contract.
Unclear contracts: contracts that do not spell out clearly –
what constitutes performance failure or a breach of contract?
what are the ways to terminate the contract for both the parties?
what will be the dispute resolution mechanisms (before you decide to file a legal suit)?
what happens if a startup is taken over or gets merged with another. Do the contracts get assigned to the new entity?
Creating a legal enforceable contract
What is a contract:
a contract is an agreement between at least two parties, each of which promises to do or not to do something. Contracts can take the form of either written agreements or oral contracts, although some types of contracts must be in writing to be legally enforceable. Additionally, parties often have trouble proving aspects of oral contracts, which makes them difficult to enforce.
What a contract is NOT:
A handshake or verbal deal, non-binding Letter of Intent (LOI), non-binding Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) or Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), Terms and Conditions on the back of invoices without reference / incorporation, RFP’s or RFQ’s, Proposals, Schedules or Orders with no terms and conditions.
What is a basic enforceable contract:
At the most basic level, a contract requires a seller to make an offer to a buyer, acceptance of the terms by the seller, and consideration where each party gives up something of value. E.g., a seller usually gives up a good or a service and in return, a buyer usually gives up money. In addition to these elements, courts will also look at several other considerations when determining the enforceability of contracts, for example, mutual assent, capacity and consent and legality.
Mutual assent: Often called the “meeting of the minds,” mutual assent requires that both parties understand what the contract covers. The goods and / or services being contracted must be described unambiguously so there can be only one understanding in the minds of the two contracting parties.
Capacity and consent: Capacity requires that the parties in the contract be legally capable and competent enough to enter into the agreement. For example, a mentally disabled individual cannot contract, and while minors can agree to a contract, in most cases they can void the contract before reaching the majority age. Consent means that both parties entered the contract freely and without duress or undue influence.
Legality: To be enforceable, a contract must cover legal activities and not violate public policy. In other words, two parties cannot form a contract requiring one party to complete an illegal act nor can either party recover damages for breach of such a contract.
Other basic clauses in a contract:
Price, quantity, and delivery date
Payment terms, interest, and penalties for late payments
Warranties, remedies for defects, and returns
Indemnification, liability, and disclaimers
Lead-times and changes in orders
Know the Indian Contract Act of 1872
This act governs the enforcement of contracts in India. If either party fails to perform their part of the contract, these laws provide the basis for enforcing contracts and providing damages to wronged parties. The act was passed by British Indian government in 1872. This law is based on British common law. It determines the circumstances in which promises made by the parties to a contract shall be legally binding and the enforcement of these rights and duties.
Or Consult a lawyer
If you are not well versed with the legal issues, drafting your business contract can be risky leading to much grief later. For most tech founders, law is like Greek and Latin – difficult to learn or understand. The law is made of multiple statues enacted by the legislature and is layered by the “case law” developed by the judicial system. It is complex. Therefore, it makes sense to get a lawyer to create legally enforceable templates for the different types of contracts.
As part of policy hacks, we covered the issue of Convertible notes being recognized by Ministry of Company affairs (MCA) in our earlier blog here.
For benefit of users to start, the convertible note has been explained below.
What is a convertible note?
Convertible notes are debt instruments that converts in to equity, at a later date. The lender initially gives a loan with an understanding that he can convert these in to equity. In most cases, this later date is the date of next valuation of the company. If there is no next round of valuation, the company should return the debt back to lender in a fixed time interval.
Convertible notes are quite popular in startup ecosystems like Silicon Valley in USA.
Earlier Ministry of corporate affairs has announced acceptance of the convertible note as a concept for startups through a circular no. G.S.R. 639(E) New Delhi, dated 29th June, 2016.
The announcement by RBI is a development further to the above given MCA circular.
How does new RBI provision help startups?
Foreign investors were allowed, foreign direct investment (FDI) by way of equity and other instruments that were at par with equity e.g. compulsorily convertible preference shares/debentures. Convertibles notes were not allowed till now.
Reserve Bank of India (RBI) notification of 10 January 2017 has amended the Foreign Exchange (Transfer or Issue of Security by a Person Resident outside India) Regulations, 2000, to allow ‘Startups’ to issue convertible notes to foreign investors.
This opens new avenues for ‘Startups’ to raise funding.
iSPIRT volunteer Sanjay Khan Nagra, covers the RBI announcement on Convertible Notes here in the video below.
The complete circular is given here on RBI website.
Other provisions in the new RBI notification explained
Convertible note has been defined in the notification
‘Convertible note’ means an instrument issued by a startup company evidencing receipt of money initially as debt, which is repayable at the option of the holder, or which is convertible into such number of equity shares of such startup company, within a period not exceeding five years from the date of issue of the convertible note, upon occurrence of specified events as per the other terms and conditions agreed to and indicated in the instrument.
Who can invest and how much?
A person resident outside India (other than an individual who is citizen of Pakistan or Bangladesh or an entity which is registered / incorporated in Pakistan or Bangladesh), may purchase convertible notes issued by an Indian startup company for an amount of twenty-five lakh rupees or more in a single tranche.
NRIs may acquire convertible notes on non-repatriation basis in accordance with Schedule 4 of the Principal Regulations.
What is a Startup?
For the purpose of this Regulation, a ‘startup company’ means a private company incorporated under the Companies Act, 2013 or Companies Act, 1956 and recognised as such in accordance with notification number G.S.R. 180(E) dated February 17, 2016 issued by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) , Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
Govt. approval required for some sectors?
A startup company engaged in a sector where foreign investment requires Government approval may issue convertible notes to a non-resident only with approval of the Government.
Inwards remittance of amount?
A startup company issuing convertible notes to a person resident outside India shall receive the amount of consideration by inward remittance through banking channels or by debit to the NRE / FCNR (B) / Escrow account maintained by the person concerned in accordance with the Foreign Exchange Management (Deposit) Regulations, 2016, as amended from time to time.
Provided that an escrow account for the above purpose shall be closed immediately after the requirements are completed or within a period of six months, whichever is earlier. However, in no case continuance of such escrow account shall be permitted beyond a period of six months.
Convertible notes are transferable
A person resident outside India may acquire or transfer, by way of sale, convertible notes, from or to, a person resident in or outside India, provided the transfer takes place in accordance with the pricing guidelines as prescribed by RBI. Prior approval from the Government shall be obtained for such transfers in case the startup company is engaged in a sector which requires Government approval.
Compliance and reporting
The startup company issuing convertible notes shall be required to furnish reports as prescribed by Reserve Bank.
The much-hyped Goods and Services Tax (GST), after years of stagnation and lack of political consensus, was finally passed in the upper house of the Parliament, the Rajya Sabha, on 4th August this year, almost a decade after it was first introduced in the Lok Sabha in the year 2006-07. It is the biggest indirect tax reform post economic liberalization of 1991.
The economists say, a double-digit growth in GDP, which seemed too surreal, will now be a reality. This law aims to give a boost to the new age start-ups and make India a conducive place to conduct business. Currently, India is home to around 4,200 startups growing at an exponential rate of 40% yearly. It is predicted that, with further relaxation of rules, India will be home to around 11,000 startups by 2020. This can be corroborated by the fact that India was ranked poorly at 142nd in the ‘Ease of Doing Business’ survey conducted by the World Bank in 2015. With relaxation in the rules and regulations of setting up a business and lucrative schemes like ‘Start-up India, Stand up India’, India went twelve places up and ranked at 130 in 2016.
Before getting into the nitty-gritty of how beneficial will the new law be for startups, it is important that the basics of this law are first looked into. GST, as mentioned above, is an indirect tax reform also known by the moniker – ‘One India, One Tax’. Different states have different tax structures which make the taxation structure very cumbersome and complex. This is a major reason why many start-ups are hesitant to expand their businesses to different states leaving the state concerned with little industrialization and low creation of jobs. GST aims to bridge the gap by integrating all taxes, making only one tax to be paid by everyone. As a result, the tax calculations will be simpler, saving time and energy for entrepreneurs and start-ups to focus on their respective businesses instead of investing time and energy on compliance and paperwork. However, just passing the bill is not the end of the story – there are rules to be framed, tax rates to be fixed, the central and state governments must reach a consensus, and proper infrastructure needs to be put in place. Hence, the implementation of GST still has a long way to go and is likely to happen in mid-2017.
How Does the GST Help?
The Act is deemed to benefit all types of businesses but start-ups and SMEs are to benefit the most. It has been structured in a way keeping in mind the concerns of the small businesses. This is elaborately explained in points mentioned below –
Simple Taxation – Instead of adhering to different tax regulations in different states, GST simplifies the process by making it simpler and clear by integrating all taxes into one so that not only money on taxes are saved but time on compliances are saved too.
Ease of Conducting Business – Registration of VAT from the sales tax department of the state concerned is an imperative to start a new business. A business intending to establish in different states has to apply for VAT registration separately. Not only this, the VAT fees in different states is not uniform, making this one among the many other issues regarding the problems faced by startups and existing businesses in India. To fix this anomaly, the GST Act has provisions which will make VAT registration centralized, uniform and simple for companies. The concerned company/business would just need to get a single license valid pan India and pay taxes regularly. This will further help startups to establish, expand their business hassle-free.
Integration of Multiple Taxes – In addition to the VAT and service tax, there are other tax regulations that must be complied by the businesses like Central Sales Tax, Luxury Tax, Purchase Tax, Additional Customs Duty etc. Upon the implementation of the GST, all such taxes will be combined into one.
Lower Tax Rates for Small Businesses – At present, VAT is applied to businesses having an annual turnover of INR 5 lacs and above. GST aims to cap this limit to INR 10 lacs only and businesses with turnover between INR 10-50 lacs will be taxed at low rates. This move will not only bring respite to the start-ups but also help them invest the money saved on taxes back in their business.
Improvement in Logistics efficiency – Seamless movement of goods is currently a problem with border taxes and checks at state borders which delay the movement of goods which, in turn, results in delayed deliveries and enhances the product cost. GST aims to eliminate such inefficiencies making the inter-state trade less time consuming. With an uninterrupted movement of goods across the border, the costs associated with maintaining the goods will significantly reduce. According to a CRISIL analysis, the logistics cost of non-bulk goods can go down by as much as 20% once GST is implemented.
Other Side of GST: The Cons
While there are other advantages for the start-ups as well other than the ones mentioned above, the new Act also comes with implications, not necessarily for the start-ups. Start-ups in the manufacturing sector with lesser turnovers might have to bear the brunt of paying duty. As per the existing excise laws, any manufacturing business with an annual turnover of less than INR 1.5 crores is exempted from paying duties. But when the GST comes into force, the chances are, this limit could be reduced by six times to INR 25 lacs. This can have a detrimental effect on the growth of start-ups.
There are high chances that the inflation might rise after GST implementation. Also, whether ‘mandi tax’ would be included or not in the GST is ambiguous. Such causes can adversely affect the food startups.
Critics also say, the implementation of GST would also affect the real estate business and add up to 8% of the cost in new homes and as a ramification thereof, reduce the demand by 12%.
Despite its implications, GST is the most important and business friendly tax reform in India which will lead to a double-digit growth. It seeks to unify, integrate different tax structures so that there will be transparency and efficiency in the way businesses operate and the government levies taxes. This won’t just reduce the cost of the products but also create employment opportunities as more startups rise and India becomes the startup capital of the world!
Guest post by LegalDesk.com, a Do-It-Yourself legal platform for making legal documents online. LegalDesk helps startups with incorporation and legal documentation services. It also provides Aadhaar-based eSign service to businesses.
Well, just as any other marketing strategy and methodology is important and it works, the concept of email marketing is equally important. Email marketing is sending emails to a group of subscribers promoting your product or services.
In fact, most marketers don’t realize that email marketing is one of the major components of marketing.
But just as everybody has myths about web marketing, there are a number of myths in email marketing too. If you want to make this strategy flawless, you can consider 5 email marketing myths you shouldn’t believe.
- If you think unsubscribing is bad for your business, then it is time you think again
Yes, that’s correct. Unsubscribing has a far wider concept than you think. The audience who subscribes aren’t necessarily focused on knowing about your product or services. They may have done it in the spur of the moment or to get the information about your product for their own use.
That does not mean they are going to buy it from you. And unsubscribing speaks volumes. First, not interested and the inactivity of the user are about not being very much indulged in reading what you present them in your emails. And then unsubscribing saves you from the trouble of including them in the list of recipients who never respond or express interest.
- Email is dead
If you think that emailing has lost its charm, then you are absolutely wrong. There are hundreds and thousands and millions of organizations that are making huge sums of money with email marketing.
In fact, email marketing is a major component of traffic for most websites.
- The length of the subject should be less than 55 characters
If you think you can make a better and the intriguing subject line that exceeds 55 characters, and then feel free to do so, because content is the KING.
It is true that if you make subjects that are shorter, it will of course result in higher rates of opening, but it is never said that it will also result in higher clicks or higher conversions.
- The best time for sending emails to subscribers is either the Monday or the Tuesday
Yes, it is true that everybody gets back to work on these days. But that is not necessarily true that the subscribers are more open to reading emails on these days only. There are millions of people who read their mails on everyday basis, no matter if it is a weekday or if it is a weekend. So you make sure that you send them emails on everyday basis. Weekends are the two days where the people get enough time to take a detailed look to their emails.
- If that you send with a trusted automated responder, there is no reason to worry
Organizations like Aweber, Infusionsoft etc. changed the meaning of how marketing is done. There was a while where you must be uncertain about giving your email address online because you could open the ways to interminable spam. Then, some big email marketing names ventured up and led the pack so you would know whether you hit “Unsubscribe,” you would be allowed to sit unbothered.
These myths are the perfect signs that email marketing isn’t bad and can result in the increase of sales and business in ways you wouldn’t think of.
There are companies all over the world that are experiencing the rise in business with the help of email marketing only. They are consistent in sending emails to their subscribers, draw their attention and ensure that on receiving the subscriber responses will take care of their queries and answering their concerns.
So do not take these myths into account and make your email marketing more effective.
Author – Charlie Robinson
(He is a marketer and interim VP of Marketing of multiple tech companies. He is currently heading marketing at Adling, a digital agency in Cupertino).
In the highly competitive market today, it seems like a trick question on whether a startup should focus on scalability, which seemed to be a trend until last year, or sustainability. Though one might toss for scalability at the very outset, facts speak otherwise.
This year, a lot has been written on the high “cash burn rates” of the star online startups and predictions of doom in the areas of growth or funding. This is in stark contrast to last year which was dominated by high valuations, wide ranging expansions, hyper sales and big hiring packages. These high cash burn rates were partly due to investor pressure to scale up, gain market share from the rivals and clock high GMV’s (Is it the right metric anyway?). There was a furious race to achieve this among the top funded companies and a lot of “me too” startups hoping to cash in on the investor gold rush.
However, now this unbridled growth has reached a plateau due to coffers running dry and wavering customer loyalties. So, this frenzy for rapid scalability seems to have come at a cost. The way these companies have been spending cash has raised a big question mark over their long term sustainability. So the moot question is whether it is wise to scale up so fast if it puts your very survival at risk?
A leading Indian brokerage firm made a study of the 22 top Indian e-commerce startups during the financial year 2015 – 16. The prognosis by them was quite grim. In that period, the combined losses grew by 293% to Rs. 7,884 crores on a combined earning of Rs. 16,199 crores. Only one start up, Practo, in the healthcare tech sector, was making more revenues than expenses.
Inspite of the hectic pace of growth, the losses were brought about by ‘below cost’ discount sales to attract customers, big advertising spends across all media, and rapid expansion into smaller cities to achieve scalability. Also, there was a dearth of original ideas or products. Most of them were copycats of each other with similar product offerings. One can’t but be reminded of the egg selling scheme of Milo Minderbinder in Catch 22 of buying high and selling low!
In fact, the first five months of 2016 have witnessed over 18 startups wrapping up operations. Atleast 15 of these startups were funded and just one startup went beyond Series A stage. Not surprisingly, 4 startups were from the food tech space, 4 in the hyper local category and 2 in fashion. They were all crowded landscapes already. Going by a Goldman Sachs report, private equity investments in startups has declined by a whopping 25% as compared to last year. So obviously, focusing on scalability over sustainability may have been a flawed strategy.
High cash burn for scalability and a dependence on investors is not the right survival strategy anymore for Indian startups. Investors too have shifted their focus to startups that have the potential to sustain in the long run rather than those with just high valuations and no ‘real’ returns.
In a way, this year will be the best learning for startups as they are slowly realising the pitfalls of only focusing on scalability. Pepper Tap, the grocery delivery app, had to shut shop in six cities, including the major metros, and still couldn’t survive as it had scaled too fast and were not really prepared with the correct logistics framework to service its customers. It did not spend enough time to gain a stronghold in an already existing market and diversified too fast. Even Grofers, Housing.com, Food Panda and Zomato have scaled down their operations significantly and have shut down or scaled back operations in non- performing cities.
There are quite a few startups like Urban Ladder and Carat Lane that are building world class products and are competing with the top brands in the world. They have managed to organise fragmented markets to create “online” brands with positive unit economics. Oyo rooms and BookMyShow, are examples of such startups which can effectively fill a need in the market and have managed to innovate and grow their market share.
Since 2005, MU Sigma a leading Indian business application software company has been making waves in its respective domain too. It has quietly made a mark in the world without any high valuations or spending sprees because their business has value.
Many lessons have been learnt from startups that have gone bust in the past. Clearly, it is high time that startups start focusing on sustainability first because once a sustainable business model is in place, scalability will automatically follow.
Going forward, only sustainable businesses which are value-driven, with a respect for the bottom line, will draw the attention of the now cautious investors and yield better returns on their investments in the long run as compared to valuation-driven startups. Moreover, only the sustainable business models will be able to scale successfully and prove their real mettle rather than becoming just ‘one-time wonders’. In fact, brick and mortar or e-commerce, the fundamentals don’t change!
An article by Mahesh Nair
Founder at Picsdream
ESOP another Stay-in-India checklist item gets MCA nod
Ministry of corporate affairs (MCA) has recently relaxed sweat equity issuance norms for startups. These new relaxations are for limited to Startups recognized by Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP). The announcement will immensely help startups. For startups not recognized under DIPP, there is not change.
The new announcement is – Companies (Share Capital and Debentures) Third Amendment Rules, 2016 (Amendment Rules). It amends the Rule 8 governing sweat equity shares issuance and Rule 12 of Rules 2014 that pertains to issue of shares under ESOP. The other rules to draw out an ESOP plans remains same.
This blog explains the new announcement and some basic concepts for those who may not be aware of terms like ESOPS and Sweat Equity and how they benefit the startups.
Mr. Sanjay Khan Nagra, iSPIRT volunteer explains the new announcements in below the embedded video.
There is lot of material on internet on examples and ESOPS plans and how they benefit the entrepreneur and the employee both. The objective of this blog is to set a background and describe new announcement.
An ESOP plan effects the basic capital structure of the company. It also has long term legal or tax implications. A good ESOP plan can maximizing the benefits from the existing and new provisions. Hence, we suggest startups interested in drawing up an Employee Stock Option Plan (ESOP) should seek a professional advice.
What is an ESOP?
An Employee Stock Option Plan (ESOP) is a benefit plan for employees which makes them owners of stocks in the company. ESOPs have several features which make them unique compared to other employee benefit plans. Most companies, both at home and abroad, are utilising this scheme as an essential tool to reward and retain their employees. Currently, this form of restructuring is most prevalent in IT companies where manpower is the main asset. (Definition Source: The Economic Times).
How ESOPS benefit Startups
ESOPs are a proven tool for startups to succeed and grow. There are many ways that ESOPS can be beneficial for startups.
Some of the ways this helps are as given below:
- Promoters or founders who can’t contribute capital but bring knowledge and dedication to startup can be have access to equity.
- Startups can attract experience and talent with sweat equity
- Startups can use ESOPs as a reward to motivate employees
- It gives sense of ownership to employees and hence act as an employee retainer ship tool
Change made for Startups
MCA has announced two changes. One, that will increas the base of sweat equity that a startup can issue. Two, that will expand the horizon of sweat equity to promoters and director. Both the changes have are described below.
Increase in limit of Sweat equity shares issued by start-ups
The Rule 8(4) of Rules, 2014 restricted companies from issuing sweat equity shares in excess of 25% of the paid up capital at any time. The rule also limits the issuance of sweat equity shares per year to 15% of the paid up capital or issue value of Rs.5 crores whichever is higher.
The amendment in new announcement expressly permits Start-ups to issue sweat equity shares not exceeding 50% of its paid up capital up to 5 years from the date of its incorporation or registration.
The limits of 15% of paid up per year or capital or Rs.5 crores whichever is higher will still need compliance.
Stock options to promoters and shareholder/directors of startups
The new announcement allows Startups to issue the sweat equity under ESOP to their promoters and to directors who hold more than 10% for the first 5 years from the date of their incorporation. The restriction on issuing stock options to promoters and such directors continues for all other companies
In order to provide this benefit MCA has used notification to exempt the startups from application of Clause (i) and (ii) under Explanation C of Section 62 (1)(b) of Act, 2013 that defines the term ‘Employee’. The Explanation in Section 62(1)(b) reads as below.
For the purposes of clause (b) of sub-section (1) of section 62 and this rule ”Employee” means-
(a) a permanent employee of the company who has been working in India or outside India; or
(b) a director of the company, whether a whole time director or not but excluding an independent director; or
(c) an employee as defined in clauses (a) or (b) of a subsidiary, in India or outside India, or of a holding company of the company but does not include-
(i). an employee who is a promoter or a person belonging to the promoter group; or
(ii). a director who either himself or through his relative or through any body corporate, directly or indirectly, holds more than ten percent of the outstanding equity shares of the company.
[The clauses (i) and (ii) given in blue does not apply on DIPP registered startups for 5 years]
As a startup founder or growth marketer, you obsess over metrics: what is my lead-generation rate, how many customers did I win or lose, how is my monthly revenue growing, or how many customer referrals did I get? Analytics is critical for your business, without which you’re flying blind. However, data overload is real and you might not derive the right actionable insights.
To simplify metric-driven growth for product startups, iSPIRIT, on 18th June 2016, organised a half day roundtable of 11 product startups in Pune. The roundtable was moderated by Paras Chopra, Founder, Wingify and Sanket Nadhani, Growth Marketer, Wingify.
The discussion was structured in a way where attendees spoke about the 3 metrics that are most important to them, an “uncommon” metric that they track, and their expectations from the roundtable. The format was kept fluid with attendees pitching in with thoughts and interesting ideas. At the end of this, all of us saw an exciting video about using Lean Analytics for growing your business.
As a growth marketer, I found interesting growth tactics that these startups use and some insightful metrics that they track. I have structured these in Dave McClure’s famous AARRR pirate-metric framework for SaaS businesses.
Where do I get customers from?
Acquiring new customers is hard. Especially for newly born startups. The best way probably is to just throw mud everywhere and see where it sticks. Once you’ve identified a performing channel, or hopefully multiple channels, you build strategies around them to ramp up acquisition.
Invariably all the startups agree tracking the number of enquiries (opportunities) and their conversion rates across channels is crucial. Paras was of the opinion that keeping an eye on weekly trends on the performance of acquisition channels will help uncover tipping points of when the channel is about to take off or when it’s time to forget about a channel if it has not been performing for a while. To identify optimal acquisition channels, Sandeep Khode, WordsMaya, tells us to ask your customers where they came to know about you. Though it’s a manual process, it helps them to identify users’ exact search terms, which is very useful for keyword optimization. WordsMaya leverages Quora to acquire customers by answering questions or starting a topic.
Jayesh Kariya, VP Finance, TouchMagix, contributed an interesting idea that maintaining a trend of number of prospects lost every week is an eye opener. This lends the idea that your startup should improve its own performance week-on-week.
Landing pages and pricing pages plays an important part in customer acquisition. However, due to information overload, 55% percent of visitors spend fewer than 15 seconds on a new website. Optimizing landing page was a top priority for everyone. Paras told us that a landing page should tell a complete story; it should give all the information that the visitor wants in as few words as possible. Amit Mishra, CEO, InterviewMocha shared an excellent framework, HABITS, to design landing pages. He also says that inserting call to action buttons on your own blog posts gives a click-through rate of around 2%, effectively using your own website as an acquisition channel.
Oh! I got 1000 signups in a day but nobody used the product.
This sucks, right? To improve activation rates, answer this question: once someone signs up, how quickly can she actually use your product? In other words, how soon does she realise the product’s value proposition? If it’s not soon enough, the user goes away never to return.
The onboarding experience of a user should be smooth and, importantly, short. You should NOT ask a user to fill out a form with more than four fields. Some of the tactics and metrics that were discussed –
- Keep the on-boarding experience short. Examining onboarding experiences of other companies will help you design your own.
- Measure the ratio of number of users who sign-up to number of user who complete onboarding. Make sure that you measure every step if you have a multi-step onboarding process.
I signed up a 1000 users a month back. Today, only 10 of them are using my product.
Customer Retention is the real growth accelerator. The math is quite simple: 1 – 1 + 1 = 1. If you don’t retain customers, there’s no use acquiring them. Here’s a great infographic with helpful tips to boost customer retention and reduce churn.
Vrushali Babar, Founder, Meatroot, a B2C business, says that it’s crucial for her to retain her customers. She says that sentiment analysis of what her customers are saying online is indispensable. She currently does it manually on Twitter or Facebook but using a tool like Sentiment140 or BuzzLogix could be useful.
A useful exercise could be developing a dashboard that plots the engagement of users with your product on a daily basis. The philosophy is that a customer who is not engaged will leave. Such a dashboard will give you a snapshot of when engagement of a customer is on the decline so that you can take proactive action before the customer cancels. Another useful metric, for SaaS businesses, is to measure the number of sessions for a user during the trial phase. This will let you know which users are more likely to convert to a paid subscription.
To demonstrate how important is customer retention, Sagar Bedmutha, CEO, Optinno Mobitech takes this issue to an obsessive level. When a user submits a rating of less than 4 on their app on the Play Store, he tracks the user, fixes the bug, and sends a test app to the customer! He says, this personal touch often makes the user change her rating and helps Optinno maintain good ratings, the primary driver of app installs.
Paras contributed a great insight on how to properly measure churn rates. He says, that measuring the average churn rate doesn’t help uncover the reason for the churn. Instead, you should do a churn cohort analysis, that is, measure the churn rate segmented by customer cohorts. Examples of cohorts could be the number of months a customer used the product before leaving, the specific features churned customers use, etc.
Let’s say you have 100 customers and 5 of them leave in a given month. Your churn rate turns out to be 5%. However, the graph above makes it clear that the churn is much higher for customers who are less than 6 months old after which the churn is much lower. This points to a problem with activation: customers drop off when they are not fully activated.
I have over a 1000 customers, but I am not making any money.
A bad problem to have! Businesses should make money from the customers they serve. This, seemingly obvious, fact sometimes slips away when you are working on many things. Measuring how much revenue you’re generating month-on-month (monthly recurring revenue) is indispensable.
Not only should you track revenue growth, you should work towards increasing it in ways other than signing up new customers. A great way to do that for SaaS businesses is upselling. Upselling lets you get more revenue from one customer and help you define and build the whole product. Kaushal Sanghavi, co-founder, BreathingRoom takes this a step further by saying that maintaining a predictable revenue stream is important. He is trying various techniques and says that incentivizing customers to pre-purchase, or buying in bulk for future use, is showing a lot of promise.
Amit seems to have perfected the art of upselling. He says not to wait to build out a feature before upselling to your customers. Sell as soon as you have an idea. Doing so will give you insights on which are the features customers really want and help you prioritize your product roadmap.
How I wish my customers referred more customers to me!
A working referral system is what differentiates SaaS companies. An amazing referral system, like that of Dropbox’s Refer-a-Friend, is probably the easiest thing that can bring exponential growth.
Building a working, and non-creepy, referral program for your startup is hard. From my experience, most experiments fail. But you can look at some successful referral implementations and learn from them.
Amit tells that monetarily incentivizing salespeople to follow up with their customers and ask them to write reviews on various web directories has worked well for him to acquire more customers. InterviewMocha, an online assessment software, stores email addresses of people that their system collects, follows them on LinkedIn, and when someone changes a job, reaches out to them to install InterviewMocha in their new companies. Though manual and time-taking, this method, I believe, justifies the ROI.
There are a lot of metrics that you can track and you probably are. It’s easy to get lost. The video from Google Ventures that we saw makes a great statement: for a company of a type at any stage of the company, there is one metric that is the most important, which you can’t afford to not track.
As a founder, keep an eye on that one metric and just focus on growing that metric. Here’s a PDF of what that metric is.
At the end of the event, I caught hold of Sanket to pick his brain. One of the main questions I had was what does a founder do when he is just starting out and does not have too much data to derive insights from. Customer Interviews. When you’re small, you can afford to pay attention to each customer. In turn, those customers, often happy with the personal touch, will tell you what they want exactly and give you insights that no market research can.
Customer Interviews are tricky: if you don’t conduct them well, you won’t get the insights that you want. Or more dangerously, you will listen to what you want to listen and fail at validating your assumptions. Spend effort in creating good user interviews and refine over time.
I hope that this post gives you an overview of why metrics are important to grow your business, how to define appropriate business metrics, and learn how startups are already doing so.
About the author – Siddharth Saha – a Product Marketer with an interest in full stack marketing. Questions? Criticisms? Insights? Shoot him an email on [email protected]
As of April 20th, 2016, Exotel is four years and 10 months old as an organisation. In the start-up investor jargon, Exotel is a VC-funded, high-growth start-up. Our home-grown on-demand cloud telephony services, powers over 1000 businesses of all sizes and shapes.
Now, if that’s a lot to take in in one go, welcome to the startup world. This sense of overwhelm is the reason employees and entrepreneurs alike find it fascinating.
The la-la-land of startups
Entrepreneurs are storytellers of the modern age. They know that the most famous stories are simple. The story’s appeal is founded on fundamental human emotions. There is always a hero and a villain. Surprising twists are always around the corner. They succeed because they’re able to captivate their investors and the initial set of employees with their story.
The early employees in any startup make or break it. Given this, it is essential that startups work with the best people they can find. But today, the world is filled with folks who want to join a start-up but have no idea why. They are replete with myths about start-ups. The biggest one being – there’s something called a startup culture.
The two main points that get listed under startup culture are
- one would learn the most in a start-up
- success is proportional to the funds raised.
A quick search on the interwebs would list dozens more.
Where then is the disconnect?
In the scramble to stick coloured labels and putting them on various axes to make life easy for themselves and their investors, most entrepreneurs forget the employee side of the story. What should people expect when they join a start-up?
I’ll try and answer that with a number-driven story, backed by the experience of a founder and the HR person.
The story I’m going to recount now is from my personal experience. It’s one of my company and its employees.
Looking at the graph, you can see three distinct phases – Jun 2011 to August 2013, Aug 2013 to September 2014, September 2015 and later.
The myth of the mono-narrative start-up
Can there be a single unifying employee story across the three phases? Was there a single start-up culture. Every founder sets out to create a fantastic place to work. They assume that their company is a great place to work in; the pay, culture, freedom and so on, is on par with the rest of the ecosystem. And this assumption is a result of the founders’ perception of the truth rather than malice.
From the vantage point of a co-founder and the HR person, I have a unique perspective. And this is what I want to tell the people who are eager to work in a start-up. An untainted version of all other versions.
Here’s the twist right at the beginning. There isn’t one story. There are three stories. As a person who wants to work in a start-up, it’s important that you understand which stage the company is in, and what you can expect.
The early days
Perks: ESOPs, beer, and camaraderie
The first phase from June 2011 to August 2013 was the soul-searching phase – Product-Market fit, in entrepreneur parlance. The company was trying to find out if there was a market in the real world, and that they’re willing to pay for it.
Note how the average experience of employees in the graph increases steadily. Also, note how there are very few new hires. There was a good problem to solve, and there was light at the end of the tunnel. The problem was so challenging that none of us left. We all put our heads together to solve the problem. Long work hours and a salary that ran out by the 10th of the month.
You should not join in this phase if you’re looking for:
- a safety net
- a specialised role
- a lucrative health insurance policy, again
You get the idea.
If you are a generalist who has ambitions of running your company in the future, this is your chance. Grab the opportunity by its tail.
The most professionally satisfying phase
Perks: steady paycheque, ESOPs
The second phase was from Aug 2013 to Sep 2014 – the repeatability phase, in entrepreneur parlance.
Having achieved the Product-Market fit, some of the old bunch left us to start their companies. Establishing repeatability for a company that wasn’t founded by them wasn’t an exciting prospect. On the other hand, a new bunch of people joined us – great entrepreneurs, the ones who could take responsibility of one vertical, bringing in fresh blood and new ideas.
You take home a steady pay cheque that’s not your market salary, compensated handsomely with stock options. You get to sell to, and talk to the movers and shakers of the industry – entrepreneurs, established industries, and build your circle of influence. You will get your hands dirty in various aspects of the business and find one best suited for you and the company. You get to participate and define what eventually becomes the startup’s culture.
You need to have the ability to imagine and set your goals. There’s no such thing as a KRA/KPI that comes to you from the management, and that’s a double-edged sword.
You shouldn’t join in this phase if you’re looking for:
- someone to hand you down micro directions
- only success and no failure
- somebody else to define these successes and failures
The sexy phase
Perks: Everything you’ll get in a corporate job
The third stage from Oct 2014 to now is the scale stage.
The employees who’ve been able to carve out a niche for themselves hit a jackpot, and those that can’t move on. The earlier key employees who can’t think and breathe scale, leave. The company hires a whole lot of specialists – tech, sales, support, operations. You are in a stage where people join you every day/week. You can no longer recall everyone’s names leave alone their hobbies and passion.
At this stage, processes and policies become paramount. You are expected to participate, embrace and adapt them. You are supposed to live up to the numbers and culture that you’ve defined. This stage is the most comfortable stage for most people to join a startup. Of course, you’d be missing the whole multi-tasking phase, which is most exciting.
Advice to the founders and HR
While interviewing potential employees, clearly define what stage you are in and what you expect from them. It is also important to understand what they expect from the company. Do not hire people who won’t fit it.
Advice to people who look to work in start-ups
Startups are not monolithic beasts. They cover the spectrum – all the way from a pigeon to a blue whale. Understand the stage the start-up is in, what you can expect. Do not wait for things to come to you. Keep challenging the management and actively participate in defining the policies and culture.
If you think this is not your cup of tea, join a corporate and live happily ever after.
Guest Post by Ishwar Sridharan, COO & Co-Founder of Exotel
The contribution of entrepreneurs to boosting the global economy is undeniable. Right from the Graham Bell to modern day Steve Jobs, their journey of innovation has greatly benefitted their countries and the world in general.
For sure, entrepreneurs are cut from a different cloth, though one cannot really pin down a particular type that defines them. They are driven, creative individuals with a great capacity to overcome hurdles and adverse conditions in order to realise their ‘big dream’. It’s commendable how they manage to fulfil a gap in the market or create a new demand altogether with their disruptive ideas.
Here are some of the most consistent six qualities that define a successful entrepreneur and make them tick in a highly competitive environment:
- Risk Taking
They have to have nerves of steel to branch out on their own, do something new, with a dream in their head and little in their pocket. “To win big, you sometimes have to take big risks” in the words of Bill Gates, aptly defines their attitude. It also indicates an acceptance of failure as apart of that risk. Successful entrepreneurs usually chalk out all the aspects of failure and keep resources, plans and bandwidth for dealing with them as a standby before taking the plunge. It is the challenge of making a winner out of nothing which gives them the adrenaline push to make them take the plunge.
- Ability to influence others
Entrepreneurs are no less than a firebrand idealist, politician, military strategist and actor rolled into one. They have to be able to sell their dream to their employees, customers, investors, shareholders and other stakeholders. Entrepreneurs possess a very high social intelligence and an ability to build relationships that help in their company’s growth. As a result they are able to get the help of mentors for valuable advice, garner support from fellow entrepreneurs for networking and build a loyal and capable team for the firm as well a loyal customer base. It is this emotional instinct and empathy with others which helps them strike the right cord with others and get things moving in the right direction.
Foresight is perhaps what sets the best entrepreneurs apart from the rest. After all, entrepreneurship is all about identifying the right opportunities and seizing them at the right time in order to stay ahead of competitors and conquer a larger share of the pie. The key is to be able to spot the opportunities long before others do. For instance, Steve Jobs was always known to be steps ahead of competitors when it came to technology, and hence was able to launch one iconic product after another while he was at the helm at Apple.
- An eye on the ‘Big Picture’
Entrepreneurs are visionaries and always have an eye on the big picture when taking any decision. They understand the implication that the smallest of decisions can have on the organization, and hence, know exactly whether or not it is in its the best interest to implement it. The entrepreneur’s true value is in creating the path to the vision and guiding the company towards it, making sure they never lose focus. In fact, it is very easy to stray as the daily struggles and challenges tend become the biggest distractions. It is during such times that they not to hold fort and lead the way for others to follow, inching closer to the goal with every step. It is best to leave the details and day to day workings to the staff and managers.
There are very few guarantees on the path of a start up and an entrepreneur is well aware of that. A few rough knocks and road blocks are treated like learning grounds for the future. Instead of agonising over the wrongs, they analyse what went wrong, and take corrective and preventive steps to correct themselves. Above all, they don’t shame failure, but celebrate it, because with every failure you learn something new that you can use to propel yourself and the startup into ‘something bigger’. Mr. Sunil Mittal, is a great example of this quality. Even after two failed entrepreneurship attempts at a cycle parts business and a capsule making business, he didn’t give up. He started again with a new enterprise of manufacturing push button telephones, and ever since then, there’s been no looking back!
More than anything, it is the attitude that sets an entrepreneur apart from others. Real entrepreneurs are never afraid of failure. They are driven by the desire to accomplish their mission, no matter what and have a ‘never say die’ spirit that keeps that going even under the toughest of circumstances. No amount of pressure can make them crumble. Rather, they see every problem as an opportunity to come up with new and unique solutions that’ll work.
It takes a lot more than a great idea to become a successful entrepreneur. Aspiring entrepreneurs can take a cue from these points and imbibe some of the aforementioned qualities, if they plan to prove their mettle and are here to stay and make a difference.
Chief Mentor & Accelerator Evangelist at GHV Accelerator
It takes passion to start up and convert your idea into a moneymaking business. However, passion alone is never sufficient to succeed in a business. It is people that make business happen; the ‘right’ kind of people.
The core team plays a key role in shaping the future of a startup. It is the moot point that sets the course for the future. Hence, it is imperative that the founding team comprises of people with the right credentials, zest and attitude since they serve as role models for the rest of the team to follow.
The founder or the core team should ideally have the following qualities:
They know how to think long term and can develop a rock solid vision for the company. They have a clear objective with regard to growth and how to take the company forward. They are able enough to provide insights with a panoramic view of the business and know how to meticulously plan long term. They are innovative and have a diverse view with regard to business and its growth.
When starting up, you most certainly need a visionary to provide direction to the team at every stage.
Their key attribute is that they are good with money. They know how to strategically invest and will help the startups keep expenses under control. The right people who specialize in money management can help straighten up your sales strategy and attract money from various sources. They know their numbers and know how to play well with them. Having a golden goose in the company certainly multiplies the chances of success manifold.
Such people have the knack of knowing just what it takes to bring the best out of everyone. They have great interpersonal skills and understanding of what motivates others and can put their influencing skills and tact to good use in the best interest of the business. Be it managing a team to deliver the desired results, to influencing a prospective client or accomplishing some liaising work, they are the go-to people.
These people have probably been on the other side and handled all aspects of running a business, either as an entrepreneur themselves or as a manager. This is a definite advantage because not many first time entrepreneurs know how a small decision can impact the entire business. Their insights can, therefore, be really handy for a startup.
The connector strategists
The mind of the strategist can create what is important and destroy what is hampering the progress. They bring growth by analyzing every process and tweaking it to it optimum levels. They are capable of creating new processes and strategic goals of the business that help you leapfrog. Without a strategist, your business will lose its sense of direction to proceed in the chosen path. You will get a stepwise heads up on how to go about implementing your business goals. Whether it comes to product launch or sales strategy, these people specialize in how to make a business goal effective and see to its end. They are the geniuses that know to get to the bottom of things and choose the right method to achieve a business goal. They are the experienced insiders who understand the landscape of marketing and sales. They are communicators and connectors who know how to connect you to diverse people to help your business grow.
The core team forms the foundation on which the startup rests. A mix of people with the right expertise, energy and attitude is what is needed to ensure that things fall in place as planned in order to make the vision come alive.
Guest Post by Vikram Upadhyaya, Chief Mentor & Accelerator Evangelist at GHV Accelerator
UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) India and iSPIRT announce the winners of the Great Tech Rocketships Initiative 2016 (GTRS)
The 6 winners are:
- Wigzo – A machine learning engine that understands user attributes, and allows marketeers to personalise and engage each user 1:1 onsite, and on communications
- Tydy – Employee Onboarding & Engagement Software. With automated & paperless data collection, a process built on best practices, customized workflows based on teams, groups or locations and a complete feedback management system – tydy makes onboarding a really seamless part of building a successful organization
- Silver Push – A platform which measures true ROI of TV ads, by mapping TV ad spots with digital performance, backed by 15 patents (pending) and real-time TV ad tracking technology
- SayPay – Provides voice biometric authentication solution that eliminates hardware tokens/OTPs used by financial institutions for wealth management & corporate clients.
- Project Mudra – Technology for Braille-based education for visually impaired people and innovative solutions for non-visual data delivery to meet the growing accessibility needs of smart urban spaces.
- FT Cash– A mobile app that allows micro-merchants to come on-board in less than 5 minutes and allows customers to make payments electronically through credit/debit cards, mobile wallets and PayPal.
In its second year, and part of the India-UK Tech Bridge initiative, the Great Tech Rocketships awards connect India’s high-potential technology companies to the business and entrepreneurship ecosystem in the UK. This ambitious initiative was launched in 2014 and this year applications opened on January 14, with a call for submissions from the most impressive emerging Tech companies in India. The competition offers the opportunity to fast-track their international growth through access to the UKs leading tech clusters.
Kumar Iyer, Director General of UKTI in India said: “We are really excited to see the high growth potential among young Indian entrepreneurs. The competition was tough but it shows that “Start-up India” is alive and kicking, and through these awards the winners will not only be national winners but hopefully internationally successful too. We hope this is the beginning of a fantastic journey for them where UKTI is here to help and introduce them to international networks, mentors and new ideas, starting with their upcoming visit to the UK. There really are some GREAT companies here!”
The UK is an excellent platform for Indian companies to gain access to the right exposure and resources to assist them to go global. It is the number one destination for FDI in Europe, having attracted a record number of FDI projects, bringing in the largest financial value and associated jobs over the past year. Around 50% of that figure is in Tech. The UK has a vast pool of experienced industry leaders, veterans, venture capitalists and mentors that can provide the right direction to startups to establish a firm footing abroad. One of the greatest barriers new companies face in their journey is access to capital, and this is an area where the UK can help significantly.
This year’s winners get a week long fully paid trip to UK that includes:
- Bespoke interaction with world class investors, incubation hubs and science tech parks
- A guided tour of Tech City, Europe’s most vibrant innovation hub
- Networking sessions with like-minded entrepreneurs, start-ups, research scholars and pioneering companies
Through this trip to the UK, the winners will get an opportunity to interact with the local technology ecosystems; meet other entrepreneurs; identify funding options and build product propositions to fit those markets.
Sharad Sharma, Co-Founder and Governing Council Member iSPIRT said: “A number of technology startups in India are now well-prepared for global markets. Through this initiative we provide high-potential companies with assistance and access to the UK market as a first step for them to go global.”
The nationwide initiative saw 285 applications from across India. Applyifi, the program partner for this initiative curated 40 for a jury across 4 Indian cities (Bangalore, Mumbai, Hyderabad and New Delhi). 11 startups were shortlisted in the regional rounds and were reviewed by an international jury comprising Julie Lake (Co-Founder The FinTech50 and Director FinTechCity), Sharad Sharma (Co-founder iSPIRT), Baz Saidieh (CEO TrueStart), Ian Fordham (CEO of Edtech UK), Satyam Bansal (Director, Strategic Alliances and Gift Cards), Alpesh Patel (UK Government Dealmaker, Private Equity Fund Manager, Fintech Entrepreneur) and Prajakt Raut (Co-founder Applyifi).
- UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) is the Government Department that helps UK-based companies succeed in the global economy. UKTI works with UK based businesses to ensure their success in international markets through exports. We encourage and support overseas companies to look at the UK as the best place to set up or expand their business.In India we do that through a network of diplomats and local specialists spanning the entire country. Our trade and investment experts are based in the British High Commission in New Delhi and in our Deputy High Commissions in Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Chandigarh, Pune and Ahmedabad. Our sector expertise covers mass transport, financial services, infrastructure, life sciences, creative industries, energy, business and consumer services, education and skills, defence and security, healthcare, advanced engineering, aerospace, agri-tech, chemicals, automotive, smart cities and ICT.
- GREAT for Collaboration is an ambitious and exciting new campaign showcasing India-UK business collaboration. The campaign, launched by Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Cameron, will inspire new partnerships and encourage greater awareness of the scale of the UK’s commitment to India. The overall objective is to increase business between the two countries across a range of sectors, such as energy, healthcare, advanced manufacturing, financial services and infrastructure. GREAT for Collaboration video link: bit.ly/1PS5Pag
- iSPIRT Foundation connects and guides software product entrepreneurs and catalyzes business growth. It’s an enabler of a stronger ecosystem. We encourage buyers to improve performance by leveraging software products effectively. We advise policy makers on interventions that can set the industry on a higher growth trajectory. We are a not-for-profit industry think-tank founded by key participants and proponents of the Indian software product industry
- About Applyifi – Applyifi is an online pitch deck & assessment report platform for startups. Applyifi guides startups in creating a comprehensive pitch deck, and provides startups and investors a 36-point scorecard and assessment report on the startup’s investment-worthiness.
I recently attended a Playbook Roundtable organised by iSPIRT on “Culture Design” discussing how to preserve culture of a company that it started with? Reading so much strife because of culture conflict globally or in India or how MNCs should imbibe the “Transparency Culture” & “Accountability Culture” has made me wonder Isn’t “Culture” a confusing word?
Each time we use the word culture we incline toward one or another of its aspects: toward the “culture” that’s imbibed through osmosis or the “culture” that’s learned at museums, toward the “culture” that makes you a better a person or the “culture” that just inducts you into a group.
As per Wikipedia, Culture is, in the words of E.B. Tylor, “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.”
Tirthankar Dash articulated culture that can be depicted in a pyramid. At the base is the Philosophy – what are the belief systems underlying the culture.
On that base is built the Mythology or folklore. This would mean Stories – what are the stories that make your philosophy real and personal. And at the top would be Rituals – what can you do that will bring it all alive.
One truth we have seen over the centuries – whether it’s a team of 3 or a country or a civilization, culture exists in every community. So the choice is between letting an unconscious culture crop up like weeds or consciously creating a culture we truly love.
A lot has been said about “Corporate Culture” of late especially about “Startup Culture”. One can have big vision and goals, smart people, super pay, great products and more, but the undercurrents of culture many a times determine whether the company crosses the chasm from good to great.
So, the key question is what kind of culture we want to propagate, as a company, community and the country? How do we provide an environment where one can respond (said and unsaid) to people and situations to bring out the best in each of us?
How does one ensure that we preserve and pass the culture of company from the 10th employee to the 100th to the 1000th?
While each startup or a big company should identify its own values, rituals, celebration and mythologies, there are three critical aspects that each culture should have for it to sustain, have its employees be “in the zone”, an experience when your concentration and focus peak and you are able to scale uncharted territory.
Trust: Every culture should command and demand trust among its community. If there is trust deficit, it leads to fear which creates processes and policies. Leaders of many organizations are afraid of the 2 per cent employees who may break their trust. The reality is, whether you create restrictive processes or not only 2 per cent of the people break your trust.
You end up penalizing the 98 per cent of the employees with restrictive policies (attendance tracking, detailed travel policies, time-tracking etc.) Any driven employee cannot ever be in the zone if they feel restricted, monitored and trapped.
Progress: Growth, movement , opportunities whatever you call it progress is like oxygen for any company or culture. Driven people constantly look for avenues where they can satiate their hunger for learning. Hence the culture should foster open communication and collaboration coupled with professional & personal growth.
The Indian culture, often labelled as an amalgamation of several sub-cultures is a prime example of this progress over several millennia.
Purpose: As a leader, if you had to choose to do only one thing to get your team to be in the zone, it should be to continuously, shamelessly and loudly remind them of the larger purpose of the team and the organisation they are a part of.
Remember, there are a bunch of operational tasks and distractions vying for your team’s time and attention. It is your job to take out time and remind them of the larger purpose of the organisation. It is your job to get them back on track when they are distracted and to give them the feedback and support they require.
At InMobi we believe in nurturing a culture that enables people to become more of who they truly are. YaWiO which is the foundation of our culture is like the wind – it’s the presence that can’t be directly seen, but it can be felt very strongly. It is our glue that holds the organization together and can guide how to behave & act!
Guest Post by Ankit Rawal, Proud Veteran InMobian
Valuations often have seemed to be a “Black Art”, but they seem to be crucial in determining your strategy for outside investment!
Are they really? How is the early stage entrepreneur going to decide what is reasonable?
Some other questions that routinely come up in the mind of entrepreneurs:
1. How does the process of creating value effect me, my co-founders, my team & investors?
2. How do I maximize value for everyone?
3. How do I get the best valuation in case of an exit?
Entrepreneurs need to understand how money works and see the world from the investors world.
One of the area VCs in the US once described to me this scene sometime back, just after their firm had decided to invest in the start-up:
“There was a lot of interest in this company, and the founders had a fair amount of leverage. They used every ounce of it to extract a higher valuation,” he said. We kept saying that our firm would bring a lot more to the table than money, and that the mentoring, strategic advice, network resources, and political capital we could offer were almost unmatched.”
“The founders however set all that aside and made it about the money. It left a bad taste in our mouth. The deal was still worth doing—barely. But we have less of an equity stake in the company than we would ordinarily want, and given all the other portfolio companies that need my attention, I don’t feel any obligation or desire to give these guys additional assistance.”
The point is that the founders undervalued the non monetary value resources the VC firm had to offer, or they assumed that mentoring and strategic support would inevitably be available from the firm. Given that the negotiation for money and term-sheets is a high stakes exercise with various emotions and personalities
present in the mix, one should not forget that the document at the end lays out how much equity and control a VC will have in return for its cash is all about assigning rights, carving out protections, and haggling over claims to future returns.
So these negotiations are fundamentally about picking the right long-term partner and forging a relationship that can survive the inevitable disappointments, resolve the unforeseen conflicts, and monetize the mutually earned successes to come.
Now as a management consultant, I have tried to put these dynamics into some of the mistakes and solutions of how to avoid them in this blog.
At the end of the day, term sheets can be difficult to understand, and you may need help determining what the various provisions—liquidation preference, anti-dilution protection, pay to play, drag along rights, vesting schedules, no-shop clauses, and so on—imply for your current and future rights and obligations. At the very least, you should contact other companies in the VC firm’s portfolio to find out what was negotiable, why they made the choices they did, and what terms were the most consequential in the months and years after the deal.
So try to check out various VCs and see who you can work with, who has done investments in your space (target market you address) and what it has been for others to work with them.
“Remember you are looking for a partner for the long term and people who you work with will matter in terms of bringing value to your startup especially
the non monetary type!”
So here are some things to consider –
Understand your leverage
One of the thing is the more alternatives you have which means number of other VCs who are interested in your startup, it gives your more leverage. Try to use this to fight for the terms that are important for you. Sometimes one common problem is running out of cash since its hard to forecast the burn rate, and too little willingness to give up equity. As a result, you may fail to take in enough money during early rounds of funding. So look for someone who is willing to fund subsequent rounds or offer bridge loans without significant dilution of founder equity. Its better to negotiate this during the first round of financing when you have numerous alternatives and could command a better price. Many founders have discovered that doing a slightly bigger first round than seems necessary—or perhaps negotiating an acceptable formula for future bridge loans at the outset—can pay off in the
long run: It’s bad when you have few options, but considerably worse when you are running out of options and out of money!
Its okay to look at the long-term goals of the VC partner and take the time to understand what the other side cares about and hope for from their investment which includes accepting money in installments tied to milestones with no dilution in equity.
“So don’t just focus only on your own options.
Understanding the other party’s interests can give you leverage”.
Strive to maximize thrust for win-win situation
Imagine you are the verge of closing a big financing round at the end of the month. When you pitched
last month, the business was gaining momentum and you are on target for all your financial projections. Since then, a major customer deal you were counting on falls apart, and a key employee is on the verge of leaving. Question would be if you would have any legal obligation to reveal this situation, probably not, but imagine you picked up the phone and revealed it. Maybe you think they may re-negotiate the terms of the deal. But most often than not, VCs would reward you for your honesty since they would like to put a premium on your trust! They would value your upfront gesture of delivering bad news as you would deliver good news to them!
Another thing would be around terms, to comparison shop, and to use whatever leverage you have to renegotiate the deal. Its all okay as VCs expect you to ask for better terms, but not after you have given your word on an agreement. The VC world is small and they all keep cross checking on each others deal flows all the time.
“In VC relationships, as in any long-term partnership,
It’s much easier to build trust than to rebuild it.”
Focus on value and not valuations
If you’re selling your house, for instance, you might not even meet the buyers, and despite issues such as inspections, financing contingencies, and the closing date, the selling price is far and away the top priority. In this case focusing on a single, top-line number sometimes makes sense!
But in case of accepting someone’s money at a startup, the signed contract is the beginning of the relationship, so its a mistake to focus too narrowly on price and not enough on drivers of long-term value. Its like when negotiating a job offer, for example, people tend to obsess over the starting compensation, but factors such as geography, responsibilities, prospects for learning and advancement, and even length of commute can have a greater impact on their enduring happiness and success.
More than one VC has identified this shortsighted emphasis as founders’ biggest mistake.
“Entrepreneurs focus too much on valuation and not enough on control,” one VC told me. “It’s amazing how much control founders are willing to sacrifice in order to obtain a $4 million valuation instead of $3.5 million. These numbers don’t matter much in the long run, but the impact of diminished control can last forever.” The tendency is especially remarkable when you consider the passion most founders have for what they are trying to create, for their company’s mission, and for their vision of its future. Once founders have sacrificed board control or ceded voting rights on too broad a category of decisions, those decisions are, of course, technically out of their hands. Most VCs are very reluctant to use their control rights to contravene the wishes and objectives of management, but if conflict or a breakdown in trust between management and the board occurs, founders may find themselves severely constrained, if not replaced.None of this means you should ignore valuation—it’s an important consideration. But it’s a mistake to confuse it with value, given that most founders also care a lot about factors such as their role, prestige, self-identity, and autonomy.
“To maximize valuation without regard for non-financial considerations
is to sign something of a Faustian bargain.”
Strive for Understanding not Conflict
Even when control is not the concern, you ought to pay close attention to terms other than valuation; there are additional provisions that can have a huge impact on how much money you’ll eventually see. And if you look at them carefully, the terms a VC firm proposes can help you understand its unspoken concerns and assessments of your start-up’s future.
Well as in any relationship you need to look well beyond the contract and far beyond today. The lessons offered above are targeted toward those who are striving to create strong partnerships with VCs—but they are relevant for anyone negotiating in a world where a signed contract is not the end but merely the beginning.
So folks go develop products & solutions and please don’t forget to connect your wares to a customer persona and a pain-point they may have to resolve and rest will follow!
I will do more posts on understanding terms like liquidation preference vs. participation for example in term-sheets from the perspective of an entrepreneur.