I joined Accel in India over two years ago. In my time at the venture capital firm, I have seen employees come and go, but not for the reasons you would find in a typical workplace. While chatting recently with Jeetendra Gangele, a colleague until June this year and getting ready to kickstart his startup journey, it struck me that several others before him had decided to turn entrepreneurs.
A quick tally showed me that 90% of those who chose to step away from Accel ended up starting their own companies, emulating the founders they’d spent their time at Accel discovering and nurturing. This data is for analysts, entrepreneurs in residence, and folks in the venture development team. That, to my mind, was a stunning percentage: nine out of 10 of exits among our go-to people had put in their papers to ride into entrepreneurial pastures.
This trend, for sure, is not new (see this story) but what struck me was the sheer number of funders-to-founders at Accel India: at last estimate, more than a dozen of our people have gone on to found startups and the 14th is in the process of starting up. (One more may join their ranks — — he told me he is thinking of going solo after reading this blog!)
This discovery piqued my curiosity and pushed me to delve deeper into the culture at Accel — to understand what empowered so many of our former team members to take the startup plunge. Call my endeavour seeking the trend behind the trend.
It helps to start at the very beginning. Accel in India was birthed by our three founding partners, Subrata Mitra, Prashanth Prakash, and Mahendran Balachandran, in 2006. While Subrata and Prashanth had been entrepreneurs and had run their own companies in earlier work avatars, Mahendran had been venture investing since 2005. Together, they set off on a new entrepreneurial adventure with Erasmic which got merged with Accel in 2008 and much of the firm’s DNA today — its culture, its processes, and even the people it backs — can be drawn to the background of the founders.
Today, Accel is not only a VC firm that believes in entrepreneurs but one that constantly promotes entrepreneurship within and outside of the company. Our leadership has always encouraged new ideas and new founders to take the plunge, and we began to see that rubbing off even amongst Accel employees.
After several conversations with other team members, I have concluded that it is the infectious entrepreneurial culture at Accel that breeds entrepreneurs within the #AccelFamily. As I deep dove, I gained refreshing insights about this unique culture that intrinsically underlines various aspects of life at Accel.
Here a few of those insights:
A culture that believes in “extreme humility towards businesses and (believes in) being personally invested in the growth of its employees,” as Advaith Vishwanath, former Analyst at Accel said.
That culture allows “the freedom to explore and learn,” according to Swati Khanna, a former Talent Partner at Accel and now working on building viable talent solutions for early-stage companies
Saransh Garg, former Analyst at Accel stated: “Accel trusts you to do your job well and then encourages and empowers you to explore the area allocated to you. Though independent voices are appreciated and investments are made even when consensus doesn’t (always) exist, work-life at Accel was very cordial, fun and collaborative.”
While Rahul Gupta former EIR at Accel(founded MyMandir), expresses that it all boils down to how a VC behaves when the chips are down and talks about how he has entered multiple update meetings with Accel partners and he’s often been “the bearer of bad news — low of confidence and full of uncertainty” and has always left feeling more confident and energized.
All four of the above examples have started on their startup journeys and, dear reader, I am confident you will hear about them soon.
“It’s your call”
‘Empowered’ is often the word used to describe the culture at Accel. A culture imbibed within our colleagues, and one that is articulated to our portfolio companies.
This empowerment comes from four core beliefs that have been inculcated into the essence of what Accel stands for. We believe that to identify successful businesses and to be capable of truly assisting new startup founders, it is important to feel and think like an entrepreneur yourself. Without this ability, it becomes difficult to stick by your portfolio companies through the good times and (especially) the bad times.
The fundamentals that build and sustain our culture, according to our founders and partners, are:
Empathy: The ability to understand the person behind the entrepreneur, understand their pain points and support him or her through what is often a brutal journey. To constantly ask yourself whether you understand their point of view and whether you believe in them as people.
Ethics: Even as we ask ourselves whether we are fair and compassionate towards our entrepreneurs, we look whether they are fair while taking decisions and building their companies. Ethics complements empathy.
Entrepreneurial: Not only must we feel like entrepreneurs, we must learn to think like them too. Many a times, when I work with my colleagues, I always see them pushing me to think like a startup and they keep pushing me on the “Why” part about what we are doing. It becomes easy to understand this when we meet entrepreneurs and ask them they question…”Why are they doing…what they are doing?
Collaboration: In this highly personal line of work, it is of utmost importance to collaborate on tasks professionally (and with empathy). It is crucial to observe that task conflicts don’t result in personal conflicts.
The more I spoke to our former and current employees, all the answers follow the same thread: the environment in Accel pushes you, encourages you, and supports you to dive into the deep end of the pool and gives you the confidence to keep swimming.
‘No fear of failure’ instilled [in me] the ability to think big,” said Shruti Ghatge, a former analyst at Accel(and now founder of Zomentum which is on a mission to transform the IT channel industry), and that is precisely what we endeavour to instil in the team — daily, day after day.
(This blog was updated for the number of startups from the Accel India fold.)