Starting a new business can be incredibly exciting and rewarding. But, sooner rather than later, startup founders are bound to run into a gamut of challenges. Eventually, they realize that it will take much more than just passion and a great idea to power ahead and navigate the complex and intimidating entrepreneurial world.
Just what does it take to build a startup into a viable, thriving enterprise? What are those key ingredients for startup success that should be baked in right from the inception stage?
These are questions that all startup founders grapple with. Over the coming months, we would like to dig into these questions with experts in the VC industry and startups through a series of Podcasts. These podcasts are aimed at aspiring entrepreneurs who are looking to build on the shoulders of founders who have walked ahead of them in this journey.
This week, to kick-off the series, I’m chatting with my partner Shekhar Kirani who always has great insights on starting up.
With over two decades of experience in business and tech leadership roles across several startups and large companies, Shekhar focuses on investing in early-stage software and mobile startups that help enterprises. He led investments in FreshWorks, ChargeBee, JiffleNow, Zenoti, ANSR, and many other seed-stage companies. With his extensive experience dealing with startups as a venture capitalist, and having been part of two successful startups, Shekhar has amassed a wealth of insights that can help founders which he is always eager to share.
Without further ado, let’s dive right in — kicking off with a discussion on what is perhaps the most crucial foundational decision that will steer the course of a startup’s future. Here is a quick summary below of the podcast with time-markers. We strongly encourage the aspiring founder to spend 30 minutes listening to the full podcast to catch all the nuances.
Shekhar highlights essential traits that set successful startups apart from those that drop out of the race — the choice of founders and co-founders.
Often, startups are founded by friends driven by a common passion and vision. But, beyond the personal dynamic between the members of the core team, there are other, equally crucial traits necessary to drive the venture forward. In the early stages, when the goal is not yet well-defined, and the understanding of markets is still nascent, the formation of the team tends to be more organic, and rarely well planned out.
However, when building for the long-term, skills and experience emerge as top priorities. To drive home this point, Shekhar cites examples from startups he has engaged with, that have now grown into solid, viable businesses.
Founders must be aware of their strengths and respective areas of expertise — product, technology, sales, marketing, operations, or any other. The corollary to that is that they must also be aware of their limitations, so they can ensure that all necessary skills are represented in the core team. Instead, Shekhar observes, startups are often founded by individuals with shared, rather than complementary, skills.
The CEO’s role is the most critical. He or she must have not only vision, but also the ability to understand people in order to build the right team and take crucial decisions, both for the short-term and long-term. Who should be CEO? Such decisions require a design thinking approach. Importantly, Shekhar stresses, these conversations must be had early on in the game.
Startups, at the end of the day, are all about problem-solving. But how does one define the problem that needs to be solved? In this regard, Shekhar details the importance of achieving a rich and contextual understanding of the market.
Next comes the ability to experiment rapidly, build working prototypes, measure customer reactions, and iterate, to develop a quality product. But it’s not enough for the founders alone to believe in their product. Convincing investors and consumers calls for great storytelling.
The core team must also be passionate and committed enough to sustain conviction on their journey, with all its ups and downs. Each new day will bring new challenges. Prioritizing these challenges, Shekhar believes, is a critical strategy.
In closing, Shekhar does a quick, eye-opening roundup of what he sees as the most common reasons why startups fail.
As our “Insights” series continues, we will dive deeper into the fascinating and complex world of entrepreneurship. In the next couple of episodes, we will try and get a founder perspective on this same topic of starting-up and picking co-founders and early team members. Stay tuned!
If you would like us to cover any specific topics or dive deeper into particular questions, please do share them with us via twitter @Accel_India