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After attending the summit for young entrepreneurs at IILM, Gurgaon, last week, I caught up with venture capitalist Alok Mittal, a chairperson at the event. Alok works as partner and executive director with Cannan Partners, which invests in early stage technology companies.
Alok was co-founder of JobsAhead.com and was instrumental in the acquisition of JobsAhead by Monster.com, the global leader in online recruitment. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science and Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, and a Master's degree in Computer Science from the University of California, Berkeley.
After covering lessons shared among entrepreneurs at the summit in my earlier article, I bring you Alok's views on entrepreneurship and his advice to young entrepreneurs.
How do you know when you are experienced enough to start your own company? Are there any benchmarks or is it enough to go with your gut feeling and overall confidence?
I think the origin of many large businesses is the ability to spot gaps in the solutions that are currently in the market. You must focus on the ability to build strong teams and your ability to understand the market well. Given those two things, today is as good as any other time to start a business for most entrepreneurs.
What, according to you, are the traits most successful entrepreneurs have in common?
Successful entrepreneurs have the ability to take feedback from the market. They also have a high degree of market understanding.
A good entrepreneur has conviction in his/ her plans and is open to changing strategies based on the market dynamics. He/she also has the ability to build well rounded teams.
What are some of the common mistakes that you have seen young Indian entrepreneurs make?
I think India has a weaker ecosystem for entrepreneurs right now. One of the gaps is the lack of advisory bandwidth. Sometimes, entrepreneurs are internally focused and do not keep a close tab on the customers' need.
Entrepreneurs tend to focus more on their solutions than the customer's problems. Sometimes, they lack a broader perspective of the market. That's where we, as venture capitalists, add value, but we would rather that start-up teams have that kind of ability and foresight within the team.
What would you advise existing or aspiring entrepreneurs who feel stuck due to the lack of investors? How should they go about securing capital for their business?
I think funding is only one part of building a successful business. There are many entrepreneurs who did not get funding at the start-up stage. One in a hundred ideas gets funded by venture capitalists. Entrepreneurs should be prepared to find alternate ways of bootstrapping their plans.
You can always get back to venture capitalists once you have demonstrated that your business plan has value. You must prove to venture capitalists that your concept is working or that your execution of the idea is superior.
Which are the sectors in which you see maximum scope for entrepreneurship today?
Given that India is on an accelerated growth path, I see opportunities widely in all the sectors. The Internet is fairly under-leveraged. Mobile and telecom technology is a big area. I also see opportunities in software for the small business segment. Other than technology, the retails sector is an obvious high potential industry.
What is your advice to the student community who may be toying with new business ideas? How should they approach entrepreneurship?
Students should go out, spend some time in the real world and explore real problems and real solutions. Our academic framework does not provide that to the students. I have seen students just theorising stuff that may not work in the real market.
Don't miss: How to become a successful businessman
Sunder Ramachandran is managing partner at WCH Training Solutions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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