Just like Rome was not built in a day, building a successful startup is real hard work and continuous process. Taking the plunge to become an entrepreneur is easy, but the real question is how do you evolve from there? Jyoti Bansal, a successful Silicon Valley technology entrepreneur, shared his life lessons for building product startup during Accel India Insights, an interactive session hosted by Accel.
Bansal, who grew up in Rajasthan, credits his business understanding to his Marwari upbringing (a business community in India). “The fundamentals of any business, be it small or large, remain the same. Product competitiveness, demand generation, and good customer service are the basic things,” he says.
According to him building a great product isn’t the only thing that paves way for business success. Building a successful product startup and making it grow big requires many things to fall into place.
A DIY CEO: The founder is the CEO from day one in a product startup. His job is not to just build a great product or technology, but to be responsible and involved in all the business functions.
An IIT-Delhi engineer, Bansal wasn’t just developing the product but also got involved in raising capital, finding the right product market fit, talking to customers, hiring, doing sales and more. He says, “To me there’s no debate whether the founder can be the CEO or not. He just has to be open to learning and acquiring new skills that are required at different stages of his entrepreneurial journey to stay relevant and effective.”
Titles Don’t Really Matter: While the founder should be involved at each level of the start-up journey, but there will be times one would need help to get to the next level. Here’s where hiring some professional helps. According to Bansal, there’s no one formula to be the best CEO, as each one is different in his own way.
He also says, “The changes in IPO CEO, exit CEO, or founder CEO don’t really matter if the founder CEO has the desire to learn and enjoying the process of going to the next level.”
Don’t Jump the Ladder: According Bansal the world of startups is very much like the video games, where each level comes with its own set of challenges and the entrepreneur has resolve the first level before jumping on to the next. “Getting down to doing sales even before knowing your go-to-market strategy won’t lead you anywhere,” explains Bansal.
Product-Market Fit is the Key: What comes first, the product or the market? A tricky question that every entrepreneur has to face.
The key is to know that they both go hand in hand and finding the right product-market fit is the secret ingredient for building a successful startup. In fact, it would be one of the initial life lessons adopted by Bansal.
“There’s no fun in building a technology if no one is ready to buy it,” says Bansal. It took 15 months for him to find the right product-market fit for AppDynamics, but once they realized it the growth curve went forward rapidly.
Be an All-Rounder: The technology landscape is highly dynamic in nature and it’s highly important for a product start-up to have multiple competitive advantage.
For an organization to move forward with velocity, almost every function must operate efficiently and at its best. Your product strategy, go-to-market strategy, customer success strategy, and fundraising strategy should be aligned, which will give you a competitive advantage always.
“The number one job of a CEO in a start-up is to create alignment between all the different functions and make sure that they are all moving towards same goal and direction,” adds Bansal
Don’t Generalize the Advice: An entrepreneurial journey is never complete without advices. But the real question is how many of those advices materialize? Bansal’s strategy is to go after topic or problem specific advice than the generic ones. He suggests going after 10 people, whom you really admire and tackle a problem by talking to them.
Find the Right Mix in Your Team: It’s quite common to make hiring mistakes, but according to Bansal if you have 7 out of 10 right people in your team then you have done the job. Variety is the spice and Bansal suggests not to hire people who think alike. The entrepreneur should be comfortable in working and operating with different set of minds and personalities.
He also suggests not to go after the HR policy of trying to find people who can fit into the culture of your organization. “The question is not whether the people you are hiring have the culture fit towards your organization, but are they flexible and willing to adapt to the culture of your organization,” he adds.
Failure Not an Option: Bansal thinks that one of the signs of maturing as an entrepreneur is when you realize that failure is not an option. During the journey, a founder becomes even more responsible and starts thinking not just about himself but everything and everyone who is a part of the organizations and this is where he realizes failing is not an option as there are so many things dependent on him.
Cisco offered to buy AppDynamics while they were preparing for an IPO. “Selling was never an easy decision even though we were offered around 4 billion dollars. We had think how this decision was going to impact all the stakeholders of AppDynamics, including the employees,” says Bansal.
Once an Entrepreneur Always an Entrepreneur: “Even a successful entrepreneur never retires,” Bansal points out. The taste of success with his first venture didn’t mean that it was an end to his entrepreneurial journey. He has started his next venture, Harness.io, a startup for continuous delivery platform.
“The start-up journey is hard, but it is very fulfilling. You start from scratch and build something that makes a difference in lives of many people and that is what drives me,” concludes Bansal.