Excerpts from a book “Everything Started As Nothing” by Bhaskar Majumdar that traces the journey of start-ups and entrepreneurs of India—
It was in mid-2019 that I finally managed to get to speak to Abhishek Negi, who recently founded Eggoz. In his previous avatar, he was co-founder of cab aggregator Roder, which Unicorn India Ventures, an early-stage technology-focused venture fund co-founded by Anil Joshi and me, had invested in. I had been trying to get in touch with Abhishek for over a year but had been unable to do so. When I asked him about his sudden disappearance, his response baffled me. He said, ‘How could I show you my face after the failure of my business. You had invested in it with such faith in me.’ Roder shut down its operations in 2017, as competition from well entrenched players like Ola and Uber in the intra-city segment had made it difficult for a start-up to survive. Once the business winded up, Abhishek vanished from the face of this earth. He just became incommunicado.
As an investor in over 30 businesses across India and UK, with aggregated valuation of well over $3 billion dollars, and as an entrepreneur having exited two businesses, I understand that businesses survive and they fail but what does not and should not fail is the entrepreneurial spirit. When I heard Abhishek that day, I felt that a business had failed, not an entrepreneur. It immediately got me reminiscing my journey and within that journey, the encounters I have had with CEOs, investors, management gurus and entrepreneurs et al. It brought back all the discussions I have had with each of them and how they dealt with success and failure. By the end of the day, I had decided to write a book for the entrepreneurs in the Indian context. Books that are available tend to be either those written by Western authors or those built around the success of an entrepreneur. There’s no book that looks at the entire Indian entrepreneurial start-up ecosystem and analyses the different types of businesses that have either succeeded of failed.
A book which provides a comprehensive ‘what works and what doesn’t’ in the Indian context, with anecdotes and real-life stories of entrepreneurial success and failure, across technology, agri- and small scale businesses, spanning manufacturing and social sectors, will have a mass appeal and cut right across the length and breadth of the country. You may wonder, why specifically the Indian context? India is not new to entrepreneurial zeal and stories but despite all that, we, as a culture and society, do not encourage entrepreneurship and look down on failure, which is an intrinsic part of an entrepreneur’s journey. Even today, when we have emerged as the third largest country of entrepreneurs, parents want children to immediately take up a well-paying job. One of the other reasons why people often curbed their inner drive of starting a business is because there was no framework of scalable entrepreneurship in India, till the last two decades. For entrepreneurs to be able to scale up, they need access to funding, equal market opportunity, support from the government and a supportive societal framework. The MSME sector has played a crucial role in the creation of employment and revenue in India. Today, the MSME sector in India contributes 29.7 per cent to the GDP1 and about 45 per cent to the overall exports of the country, but look closely and you will see their struggle. This is what I meant when I said there is a need for a framework of scalable entrepreneurship, which is now being created in India.
One of the other reasons for writing this book was the general perception people have of start-ups. Nowadays, start-ups get highlighted for the wrong reasons. Chronicling an entrepreneur’s journey for others to understand is always worthy, but to make founders feel like demi-gods, especially in a place like India, because they managed to raise funds, and to splash their images across media creates unnecessary pressure within the eco-system. If getting a story and picture published in media (newspaper/magazines/ online portals) becomes a benchmark for founders, it will indeed belittle the efforts of starting a business.
Starting on your own is a tough choice and the road is full of hurdles; instead of concentrating on the business roadmap, if the founder gets hassled because his start-up has not been written about, then they are taking on unnecessary pressure. The need for attention is an Indian phenomenon. In the Valley, technology businesses are built in the stealth mode for a long time and they surface once they are ready for primetime. I had started my entrepreneurial journey 20 years ago, in 2000. Since then, a lot has changed—India has changed—and yet the factors that are key for an entrepreneur to succeed have not changed and might never in the future.
As an entrepreneur, I understand the challenges of building a business from ground up. As a former entrepreneur, I connect with the founders, understand their apprehensions and am able to suggest options to grow their businesses because I have been through the same cycle of excitement, anxiety, fear and success.
Entrepreneurship is a state of mind. It isn’t merely about implementation of an idea. It is about risk taking, putting your head above the parapet and trying to create something out of nothing. One may be successful as a corporate executive, student or research fellow, but that does not necessarily mean that one has the entrepreneurial DNA. I am often asked if there is a right time to start a venture, or to leave a job to take the plunge into an entrepreneurial journey. Frankly, there is no straight answer. As an entrepreneur, I can only say that one should follow their ‘gut’. It is an intuitive feeling. And when one is ready, one just knows it. I also believe that entrepreneurs are those who will roll with the punches and find opportunities. Though all this is true, it is crucial to always keep your ears to the ground to know if an opportunity is one that will have demand in the long run. The other most asked question is about the right age. Again, there is no straight answer for this. Starting early has its pros and cons, and those who venture into start-ups in their 40s too have faced repercussions. The only thing an entrepreneur should do is believe in their idea and not treat it as a stop gap arrangement, so that when things do not move well, they can get onto another job.
In my case, my first venture Recreate Solutions, was started as an opportunity I spotted as digitization started to take the center stage among enterprises. Since I was working with a media firm, AltaVista, I could clearly see that there was a need for such a service and a cross-border business provided the perfect platform for this, given India had always excelled at any process transition. This book has stories of why some people continued to be serial entrepreneurs and go through the twists and turns of the entrepreneurial.
About the Author:
Bhaskar Majumdar (www.bhaskarmajumdar.com) is one of the best-known names in the Indian startup ecosystem. He founded and runs a highly successful venture fund, Unicorn India Ventures (www.unicornivc.com), through which he has invested in over 30 businesses in the last five years with a combined equity value of $ 3 billion. Prior to that, he was an entrepreneur and started two venture backed businesses from scratch and went through the full cycle of an idea, to raising capital and building teams, creating a company and exiting both the businesses. Post his academia, he had worked in senior corporate roles in leading media and technology enterprises across different geographical theatres.