Keep the flame alive
While the skies are clearer now with no vehicles, pollution levels still not low due to relentless zoom calls with VCs on how to survive from the epidemic. And from conference call fatigue. In this climate of doom, many of you may feel like you just need to get some revenue somehow, break even, forget about venture capital and focus on golf or tennis. Or maybe, a virus with a rather low fatality rate cannot kill the entrepreneur in you.
Wait for the right time:
Starting in late 1999, Deep Kalra was fortunate to raise $1M from a VC fund that eventually shut shop in 2001 in the wake of the dotcom bust. Left with almost no money when a bridge round did not materialize, Deep and his co-founders dug their heels. They continued to grow organically as a holiday planning website for global Indians, while waiting for their moment. As Indian aviation space opened up and online ticketing started, it was in 2005 that they again raised money from SAIF partners, and lead to India’s first startup IPO in 2010.
When technology shifts happen, be ready to start afresh:
Vijay Shekhar Sharma faced an unusual decision in 2010. On one end, One97, the leading mobile VAS co that he founded in 1999 and bootstrapped till 2005, was planning an IPO, and on the other hand, his inner voice forced him towards a direct consumer play. If there was ever a pivot, this was one. From B2B services to B2C. I wonder what his board advised him and how he convinced them. The IPO never happened, but PayTM became known for very daring pivots. When PayTM pivoted to merchants in the wake of Demonetization, nobody doubted the success.
Sometimes it’s good to take a break:
Faasos in its first avatar in 2003 was destined to be doomed like every other new restaurant — and yet Jaydeep jumped in, against all sane advice. While he recovered and started delivery-only outlets, he quickly realized that even with the parallel jobs he and co-founder Kallol were doing, they did not have enough money to grow big. So like it happens in all movies, their life took a detour- to INSEAD and then McKinsey — instead of fighting the odds with Faasos. When they got back to India in 2010, this time funding was easy as food had become a hot sector by then. Building a strong culture around the love of serving food, the company has a way of reinventing itself whenever the market writes it off.
It may be another company, but the spirit never dies:
Around the same time as Deep and Vijay, my co-founders and I had started Brainvisa, an online edtech co (yes, same space as Byjus!). We ran out of money in early 2001 and pivoted to outsourcing in the education domain. We vowed to never run out of money and squeezed profit from every cent. By 2005 the company raised money from Sequoia, and yet did not scale as expected, leading to an exit in 2007. It was a heartbreaking experience, and none of the four founders ever worked together after that. It was a team I will always be proud of. The four founders were Supam (founder of Firstcry), Nitin (founder of Yebhi), Vikas (founder of Loantap), and myself (founder of IndiaQuotient). Jaydeep & Kallol who founded Faasos were our colleagues. There is always a great startup in you, one company, or the next. Unless you give up and become a VC J
What do you do when you hibernate:
Fabbag, the beauty product sampling business was quite a success in the initial years but failed to attract VC interest due to worries over market size. The founders, Vineeta and Kaushik, married to each other, slid the company into hibernation with half their bridge round and half a plan to start a color cosmetics brand, SUGAR. When the bridge round got over, they borrowed money from their friends and stopped taking any salary. It took over 2 years to get out of the hibernation. What did they achieve in the middle? They trained for and completed an Ironman, and had two kids, bootstrapped the business all the while pitching to investors for a Series A. And there has been no stopping them since that Series A.
Keep the flame burning:
Getting acquihired and adding to your credentials is a great way, if you think surviving will be impossible. You can pivot to something completely unrelated, and I have seen many founders accomplish that very well. You can do a few custom services projects, but make sure that they don’t become a habit and you don’t forget that your goal starting up was to make a huge impact. My partner Madhukar suggests marrying someone well placed to support your own expenses. He should know. He did the same thing when we started our tiny first fund. Seven years on, he still harbors dreams of discovering five unicorns.
What you do in the interim does not matter, it does not count against you. Just keep thinking big, and make current decisions that don’t kill the entrepreneur in you. Keep the flame burning.
Anand Lunia, General Partner, IndiaQuotient