Dr. Yasho V Verma | 23 Feb, 2016
There is a lot written about do's and don'ts for startup founders, while there are many practical handbooks available trying to help newbie entrepreneurs, I would like to sum the most observed dilemmas that leaders of startups face as following:
1. Arriving at a business model and positioning: If it is an online or internet business, a leader spends considerable time in deciding whether he should focus on becoming an aggregator, sell like a marketplace or invest in developing an application. Similarly, an offline player needs to find a suitable location to operate from. If in retailing, think about real estate prices and innovating the shelf space. Customer acquisition that follows is a necessary process that is linked to revenue generation.
2. Problem solving, addresses pain points: Be it a product or service available online, a founder's business idea must revolve around developing it further into a problem solving algorithm that is customer friendly, easy to use and deliver results. For eg. If one has to book a cost effective taxi via an application on his smart phone, and the application seems to have bugs or hangs or charges unfairly, a customer is lost forever, a fine idea gone bad.
3. Find fundings: Initial groundwork and basic research is extremely important before a founder establishes his idea into a business entity. It is imperative to ascertain the risks involved and invest accordingly. Once the initial capital is sought, one may be able to scale up at a faster rate than the rest in the field. Investors are many, innovators are few, smart founders are able to source funding without much hassles.
4. Ready to face teething problems: While demonstration of full blown leadership skills may still appear distant, they are actually work-in-progress already. Adaptability and far sightedness got the founder to this stage. Once above dilemmas have been handled well, it's time for post birth issues - teething problems, growing up years, keeping fit, survival of the fittest et al.
5. Entry barriers in the competitive landscape: A Founder has to not only create USP of the product / service to build customer base at neck breaking speed, he needs to deploy market intelligence and analysis to study the buying behaviours and sales pattern. There are heavy costs incurred on customer acquisition and it is only logical that he contains the costs wherever possible and manage the barriers well. At times, his management skills are a game changer and it's not always a new application or a new idea that acts as USP.
6. Are loyalists still around: In case of taxis, there are many applications available to a user: Ola, Uber, Taxi for sure etc, for a user he may not be able to find a difference in an app per se, but an experience may change his loyalties. For eg. Even if an Uber app looks much smarter and has a chic UI and design, the actual-physical paraphernalia may seem premium to few users who may otherwise be happy using an Ola for mere convenience and utility of commuting. For applications that are aggregators, it may be a tough market to pull traffic to their application and then get users to also use it before the original app, both being available on user's device.
7. Handling dimensions of compliance: While in India, there is some evidence of conscious steps being taken to ease the startup milieu, rulings are still fluid and may take some more time before things are defined, well until then Founders still have to bear and follow the sacrosanct procedures.
8. Managing internal dynamics: While the Founders usually burn a lot of cash in building assets including new age talent, customer loyalties are ever changing. Cost towards customer acquisition may not be able to get distributed across in short term. Maintaining cash flows in short term and y-o-y turnover in longer run is always pushing the founders and the management to set priorities - the customer first or the employees and vice versa on other times. Balancing between ESOPs and freebies or freemiums and handling the latest breed of employees - the unsettling risk bearers and mavericks take away a lot of founder's crucial time. Internal processes and systems take time to formalise, till then it may be chaotic and conflicting; authority may also be seen as compromised or diluted while handling the new brigade. As attrition is high owing to a startup filled landscape, building a culture becomes a challenging task. Amidst all of this, enabling brand ambassadors both internally (employees) and externally (customers) in order to stay performance focused in both short and long term is a vital task.
9. Simple to understand and follow: Despite of all complexities and adversities, it is of utmost importance that Founders stay relevant and simple in all forms of communications to both employees and customers. He should be very ably making people understand the ups and downs of business keep them motivated and updated. Chaos and mayhem in food retail startups served some lessons to young founders, most practical and real.
10. Emotional quotient: I have explained this much earlier, without emotional intelligence, a leader is like an empty vessel. It is good to be straightforward and honest about running business with commercial gains but there are times when a founder must think as an individual, slightly humane and sensitive.
While I tried to summarise the hectic life of a startup founder, I know it is difficult to pen them all down, I relate to their dilemmas well and can only say, 'Founders are rare, survivors amongst them rarest, the best ones are those who learn to cope, adapt and excel fast'.
About the Author: Dr. Yasho V Verma is a Management Thinker & Philosopher, a Mentor and a Strategy Consultant, an Academician and a Veteran in consumer durables and retail. He was formerly associated with LG Electronics as its COO and Director. Currently he is consulting with World Bank. He is also a member on Board of Dena Bank and an advisor to Videocon. Besides, he is in the board of few other business houses across various industry verticals and consults them on plans and policies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. (The views expressed by author are personal.)