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Advice from an entrepreneur turned VC
Sateesh Andra was the Co-Convenor of TiE-ISB Connect 2006, a business meet organised by the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad.
He was an entrepreneur earlier, with many successful start-ups in the nineties at Silicon Valley to his credit, the most successful being Euclid. He now has a new role, that of a venture capitalist who concentrates on the early stages of an idea. Here's what Andra has to say to budding entrepreneurs:
1. I will see if they have a fire in their belly because, at the end of the day, they are the ones going to make a venture a success. They must have passion and conviction.
2. They should be ready to play a long innings. I call it a marathon as well as a sprint. You have to be running fast despite it being a long race.
3. Ideas change, as do business models and markets, but they should understand that it is eventually all about people. If the team is strong, does the right things and learns from customers and the marketplace, it can always create value and get an exit. So, it is a team affair to begin with.
4. I will ask, are they clear about market opportunities for the ideas they are going after?
5. I will also ask them what is the implemented value they offer customers. I am not talking about the perceived value. A lot of them get confused about the stated value versus realised value. They can write anything on a piece of paper, but is that what customers are saying once they implement your services?
6. I will look at the barriers for entry. How much lead-time do they have compared to other players? How soon can they get in? Even gorillas can get in when the market becomes viable; can they compete with the big boys? Can they carve their own niche?
If an entrepreneur doesn't have answers to all the questions a VC asks, no one will invest money in his idea. It is true that he will not have all the clarity in the beginning, but he should be willing to refocus his business model when the need arises.
What entrepreneurs should keep in mind while meeting a VC
1. To begin with, he should do a lot of homework and find the right VC. He should find out what the VCs are interested in, what they are passionate about, etc.
2. Once you do the homework, select a set of VCs. If I were an entrepreneur, I wouldn't pitch to all of them on day one; I would pitch to two or three of them and get feedback.
3. Pitching should be more informal. You will know the VC's interests in the first meeting itself. VCs will put forward some common objections, but you put all objections in a bucket -- objections about the team, technology, size of the market place, competition, etc. Once you put them in a bucket, decide whether you can resolve them. Target 10-12 of the relevant ones before going to pitch.
4. At conferences like TiE-ISB, you get to meet busy VCs over a cup of tea or lunch, which you will otherwise be able to do.
5. A lot of entrepreneurs are worried about VCs stealing their ideas. My advice to them is, never worry. They should protect their intellectual property. VCs will never steal their ideas; they have very little time. So, they should shed that idea first. I must say this fear doesn't exist in Silicon Valley because so much has happened there. The level of professionalism there is higher. The fear occurs because entrepreneurship has been happening relatively recently in India. It will take some time to come out of it.
1. You have to dispel the notion that 'I want to own 90 per cent of what I build'. You have to look at making the pie bigger. It doesn't matter whether you own 90 per cent of a $10 million company or 20-30 per cent of a $300 million company. Your net worth is much higher. So, you have to create and share wealth.
2. You also have to bring in the right people to make the pie bigger.
3. When you scale a company, as an entrepreneur, you start with a lot of passion. After you build to a certain scale, you have to decide when to step aside and bring in a professional team to take the company to the next level. Entrepreneurs across the world have this possessiveness; they want to hold on to their company very closely.
4. Apart from your hard work, you have to be at the right place at the right time. Timing is everything. You have to time it right, which is where judgment comes into play. You may go up to 10-20 million in revenue but, when consolidation takes place in the marketplace, you will be nobody. You may never get an exit. Finally, remember that luck plays a major role.
Are you an entrepreneur? Share your tips and advice
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