Stuff that matters!
The last two months have seen the Indian startup ecosystem news turn morbid. The headlines in media and the gossip in the corridors are no longer about fundraises, unicorns & founders, but about down rounds, shutdowns, layoffs & the sense of doom and gloom.
The reality is that nothing has changed for most startups. The stuff that matters is still the same — understanding your customers better than the incumbents , building a lean and awesome team and culture, creating a product or service where the user experience makes your users want to brag about it, and most importantly, making money from it. If you succeed at all this, you have a good chance of being a big valuable company. If you fail at all this (no matter how much funding you’ve raised or how big you are), you end up in the deadpool. How well-equipped your backpack is doesn’t determine your ability to climb the summit.
All that funding does in the equation is that it buys you time and resources to check all the above boxes. It does not buy you passion or the ability to execute with those resources. And yet, funding is celebrated and idolized. It’s touted as the panacea that will solve all your problems. It’s the ultimate validation. It’s the end-goal in the mind of many entrepreneurs. Even the intensity of coverage in mass media that companies get has been directly proportional to the amount and rounds of funding raised. Big front page coverages are promised if the round is large enough or the investor reputed enough. Celebrating fundraises — it’s almost like doing a little jig after filling petrol in your car. It’s where you reach with it, and what you do along the way that matters more.
Economics taught us that people respond to incentives. Some of these incentives are emotional and social. What we celebrate, whom we idolize, and what we despise within our work environment and in mass media has a profound impact on the culture we build in our startup ecosystem as a whole. In the last few years the biggest thing we seem to have been idolizing in the Indian startup ecosystem is the ability to raise a large next round within a short period of time and at a higher multiple than the previous one, with mass market advertising and discounting being the quick “growth hacks” to get you there. We fail to realize that we all share collective responsibility for creating this culture that promotes “growth at any cost” once the money is in the bank — where ethics are sidelined, product quality is compromised, marketing spends are irrational and business logic is inexplicable. Acknowledging failures is also harder in an environment of hubris, since in your own mind it makes you look weaker and vulnerable. We’ve all been there.
Having survived the harsh reality of the the 2008–2010 winter and seeing many well-funded startups fold up around us, I learnt only one thing — most startups that succeed do so not primarily because of their funding, but because of the team excellence, the standards of customer experience they set, the brag-worthy products they build, their quick reaction time to the market, and their ability to monetize as they grow. That’s stuff that matters!
Or as Linus Torvalds would probably have put it — “Talk of startups and valuations is bullsh*t. Shut up and get the work done.”
Considering the amount of media queries we received lately, I thought it best to acknowledge publicly that we have partnered with Sequoia Capital India and Fosun Kinzon Capital for the next phase of growth. We are happy to have Shailesh Lakhani from Sequoia and Tej Kapoor from Fosun join our board. We are cognizant of the huge responsibility they, and our existing investors (Micromax, SAIF Partners & MakeMyTrip), have entrusted us with.
Rajnish and I are very excited about the possibilities this round unfolds. We all know that India will remain the most exciting travel market in the world simply because of the baseline growth — aviation at 25% YoY, hospitality at 15-20% YoY. Online travel is growing twice as fast, with mobile travel bookings set to exceed desktop this year for the overall market (for us, they are already over 65%). The big market at the bulging end of the pyramid — the folks who travel by trains and stay in budget hotels, is still under-served by the incumbents. At the top of the pyramid, India’s 20 million outbound travelers pale in comparison to 122 million Chinese outbound travelers. Also, even today, only 12–13% of hotel rooms are booked online in India. So, there is incredible opportunity to innovate and grow with solutions more apt for the Indian market, both at the top and the bottom of the pyramid.
We have big plans.
We believe that the travel discovery, planning, booking & post-booking experience is still broken at so many levels in India. In the blind pursuit of transactions, many traveler pain areas remain unsolved. The level of personalization and intelligence in most travel apps is close to zero. We also realize that our own products are far from perfect in solving these problems. In many cases, we suck at it actually. But we believe we have the team DNA, industry depth, product agility, culture of experimentation, and a long-term commitment to the market to attack these problems and solve them better than others. We also have the relentlessness to not give up trying till we become the dominant personal travel app for every Indian.
When we started working on ixigo in 2006, we had an A4 sized poster stuck on the wall in front of us. It read — “Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or a gazelle-when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.” We have just begun our journey and we must keep running.
PS: Don’t congratulate us. Wish us luck, download the ixigo app, and send me critical product feedback and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org ! Oh, and we are hiring some awesome android, backend engineering and product folks.