Last week, I was invited to the Indian Institute of Management, Trichy, to talk to the students about startups.
Given the hype associated with “starting up” today, with investors opening their purses wide and newspapers dedicating daily centerfolds, everyone wants in. And if I remember correctly from when I was a student (or even when I was working in strategy consulting), it can become difficult to separate fact from fiction when you’re looking in from outside. More so if your only source of information is a newspaper.
Therefore, I decided to speak on “The truth about startups”. Apart from being clickbait, the topic is also pertinent for a number of reasons.
- Startup accounts in newspapers are almost always after the fact – they are tinted with 20:20 hindsight. There’s a lot more uncertainty when you start a business. Lots of things go wrong. All of this is airbrushed away in the ‘inevitable march to victory’ accounts you find in newspapers.
- If you look for patterns only in companies that succeeded, then you’ll suffer from survivorship bias. Seeing that many successful founders are passionate today is not enough to conclude that it is necessary and sufficient for starting up. For all you know, the graveyard of failed businesses may be littered with passionate entrepreneurs (and it is, as you’ll see in the Slideshare presentation below).
- As Steve Blank says, small companies are very different from large ones. A company that has just started is very different from one that has found product-market fit, which itself is distinct from one that has scaled. You hear only of startups that have found some measure of success already. Applying patterns from such companies to your fledgling company indiscriminately will at best be a waste of time. At worst, it can cause active harm.
As a founder who’s in the trenches right now, I thought I must set the record straight. When you’re trying to find your feet and learning how to build a sustainable business in an uncertain world, what do you really need to set out on the path to success?
I asked the students this question at the outset – what do you need to start a company? Almost all the answers were variants of the following:
- A brilliant idea
- Lack of competition
- A sound business model
- Huge risk appetite
- Tons of money / resources
These sound quite definitive. But they aren’t.
I don’t think you need ANY of the above to start up, as I explain in the embedded Slideshare presentation. They may become important at later stages of your startup’s life, but they are definitely not needed when you’re just starting out.
And I’m not saying this just to make a point. Some of the above factors are distractions at the start, and some others may in fact insidiously drive you to inevitable failure.
Then what do you need? You just need two things – a decent idea, and a willingness to learn. These are necessary and sufficient for most business ideas. Check out the presentation for more.
The presentation also includes links to various articles for further reading. I love diving down the rabbit hole, and I hope you do too.
I’d love your thoughts on this. If you see any gaps in logic or don’t agree with something, please comment here, write to firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet at @jithamithra. I’m willing to learn.
PS. Thanks a lot to Abhishek Agarwal, Aditi Gupta, Akshat Poddar, Shashank Mehta and Srinivas Chaitanya for their inputs on this.