“Entrepreneurship Does Not Equal Financing” with Sramana Mitra

I had the pleasure of interviewing Sramana Mitra, Founder of One Million by One Million (1Mby1M), a global virtual accelerator that aims to help one million entrepreneurs globally to reach $1 million in revenue and beyond. She is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and strategy consultant, she writes the blog Sramana Mitra On Strategy, and is author of the Entrepreneur Journeys book series and Vision India 2020. As an entrepreneur CEO, Sramana ran three companies, she has a master’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT, and in 2015 she was named one of LinkedIn’s Top 10 Influencers.

Jean: Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share your story about how you got into the Startup Accelerator space?

I am a serial entrepreneur. I also write the blog, Sramana Mitra on Strategy, wrote many books on entrepreneurship, columns for Forbes and others on entrepreneurship.

As a result, lots of entrepreneurs contacted me for help all the time. At some point, it just made sense to do this accelerator. Also, I observed that ALL accelerators acted as feeders into the angel and VC eco-system. But over 99% of the companies that seek financing are rejected. So I chose to make this an inclusive accelerator by NOT acting as a feeder into angels and VCs only. We ALSO support bootstrapped startups.

Jean: What kinds of startups do you typically work with?

Technology and Technology-enabled services companies only. So Digital Startups primarily.

Jean: Is there a recent startup whose mission/vision has stood out to you and why?

Yes. We have many wonderful startups in the program. Those that impress me the most are the ones who can do more with less (financing). We have one called CliniOps that is working in the Pharmaceutical industry, supplying technology to the clinical trials space, and is doing so very efficiently. I like them a lot.

Jean: Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?

When I was 16, I read Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. I loved the Howard Roarke character and his pursuit of excellence. His ability to stay true to his vision, however unorthodox that was, and however much opposition he faced. I like courage. I believe I have courage. To do the right thing and not buckle under external pressure.

Jean: What are your “5 Points of Advice I Would Offer Startup Founders” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. Entrepreneurship does not equal financing. Entrepreneur = customers + revenues + profits. Financing and Exit are optional. You can raise hundreds of million dollars and end up as a case study of death by overfunding. Example: NastyGal. They bootstrapped to $100 million in profitable revenue. Then raised tons of money and lost their way. You can not raise any money and achieve billion dollar revenues. Zoho is a bootstrapped company that is approaching a billion in annual revenue.

2. Validate, validate, validate.

Greg Gianforte validated his assumptions and started RightNow with no financing. He managed to talk to hundreds of prospects first. When he had the product ready, he went and sold to a large percentage of these prospects and managed to get to $5M in revenue before raising any financing.

3. Learn positioning.

Positioning is the key to achieving successful product-market fit. Blue Nile positioned to sell diamonds to MEN, not WOMEN. It was the secret of their success.

4. Bottom-up market sizing matters, top-down is irrelevant.

I constantly hear entrepreneurs say things like “my business has a $60 billion TAM” … I don’t take this seriously. No investor takes such statements seriously.

5. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Don’t run your business with a quick flip approach. Overnight successes often take 10 years to materialize.

Jean: Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)

Fareed Zakaria. I love the work he is doing in journalism. A sane, intelligent, incisive voice amidst the cacophony of irrational, strident points of views.

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-Published on September 2018