The Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Club and the Women in Business Club jointly hosted a panel on “The Indian Way of Entrepreneurship” at the Indian School of Business (ISB) recently as part of the Leadership Summit. V S S Mani of Just Dial, the telephone directory, Professor Nandini Vaidyanathan of CARMa, an entrepreneur development center, Hari Balasubramanian of RP Infosystems, and Sateesh Andra of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, a VC firm were the panelists.
The entrepreneurial environment in India offers unique challenges. Not only does the entrepreneur have to focus on building her product, she must also learn to navigate the uncertainties in the business environment. In this precarious scenario, it becomes necessary to share entrepreneurial knowledge because it is easier to learn from others’ mistakes. The panelists began by recounting the hardships that they underwent when they set up their companies. “The challenges are different at different stages,” V S S Mani, Founder, Just Dial, began, “The biggest challenge was getting well-qualified people in the initial stages.” His opinion was echoed by Hari Balasubramanian, CEO, RP Infosystems, who felt that despite having a large pool of well educated people, it was hard to fill middle management positions. In order to retain employees, companies have adopted different tactics – sharing in equity was one such option. However, most Indian companies still had reservations about giving employees shares. But is equity generally a good thing? Nandini Vaidyanathan, Director, CARMa, advices caution. “Equity is expensive. Use it wisely,” she counseled. The panel dispelled many myths regarding equity. Although, India did not lack funds, Sateesh Andra stressed on the need to readily accept financial help, “you never know when money will dry up,” he advised.
The bigger problem though, is lack of knowledge. Most entrepreneurs “might have a brilliant idea but have no idea on how to build a business around it,” Vaidyanathan emphasized. Mentors could play a vital role in helping the entrepreneur. They can act as guides who can open doors that would not normally open to an entrepreneur, if approached directly. Since mentors are not always accessible, the question arose as to whether entrepreneurship could be taught in classrooms. Some in the panel disagreed. Citing examples from his family, Andra, disagreed that entrepreneurship could be taught in institutions. For an entrepreneur to succeed she needs skills, knowledge and attitude, Professor Prasad Kaipa stated. While some entrepreneurs enter the field with knowledge of their customers, others learn by practicing directly. All entrepreneurs are spurred on by the idea of trying something new and have the willingness to fail, but “you cannot be an entrepreneur if you do not know how to mitigate risk,” Professor Kaipa stressed. An entrepreneur has to look beyond the initial bravado that motivated her to establish a startup in the first place; she needs to have knowledge about how to handle the risk. She must learn from her successes and her failures. Finally, it is also important to realize when to quit. A startup must have realistic ambitions and know when to accept the buyout or quit. “Every entrepreneur has two lives, not three,” Andra noted.