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Clovia is my first entrepreneurial venture, after about a decade’s experience leading sales and digital marketingfor companies like India Today Group and Smile Interactive Technologies Group.Starting your own
Starting your own venture though, is like having a baby, an oft referred to analogy—because it is true! No matter how many books you read and prenatal classes you attend, you really don’t know what to expect till it arrives!
Three years and counting now, our premiere lingerie brand, has had to go through its share of teething problems, but.I am glad that we are a little bit wiser now.
1. Get the core team together quickly
It is my personal belief and not one based on any scientific research, that any startup with plans to grow cannot with just one founder—therefore getting the core team or the founding team together fast is crucial.
Running a start-up requires people with diverse strengths and skillsets and finding co-founders whose skillsetsare complementary is crucial.Look also for people you can trust and who have the same towering level of passion that start-ups require.
The path to finding co-founders is varied, as you never know how and where you may find them. At Clovia, I’ve had the good fortune to find co-founders in family and friends. My husband, Pankaj, was our mentor and helped us steer through the first two years.
He could not join us full time for the simple reason that one of us needed to keep our day job. A point to be noted for entrepreneurs—no matter how gung-ho you are about the venture, the reality of needing a commensurate salary for yourself or others in your team cannot be wished away.
He mentored Clovia for two years and came on board as co-founder once we were sure we had something going. Aditya our CTO, and the tech-guru who developed our proprietary technology engine also supported us during these years.
He joined Clovia as co-founder and CTO as his belief in our business and technology plans strengthened. Suman also a co-founder andour COO has been with Clovia from day one and is the lingerie product expert and main designer.
In essence, the biggest strength of our core team is that we all believe in the offering. An added strength was the timing, the chemistry, and the complementary skills we brought to the table and the fact that we shared a history—wasmore a stroke of luck than any deliberate planning.
2. Startups don’t just need people with startup experience, in fact quite the contrary
For Clovia, where the glamour and aspiration quotient are pretty high, we have a Chartered Accountant from the Big Four heading our key sales accounts.
This one example is indicative of the flexibility we have exhibited in filling key positions. We also have people from traditional offline apparel brands,lingerie companies, and from fellow e-commerce companies. A lot of our support functions like Finance, HR, Technology, and Customer Service are from traditional offline companies.
As we hired for our second line we decided we would bring in people from different backgrounds which has given us a great second tier of management be it in sales or production and that has worked for us when we were a headcount of 25, 40 and today at 100 employees.
While building the team, our biggest learning has been that talent is usually attracted to start-ups when founders are upfront about their numbers and business plan.
There are plenty of bloated numbers in e-commerce around Gross Merchandise Value (GMV)and people don’t usually have visibility into actual numbers and may be wary about joining.
A key way to attract good talent who will execute the core team’s vision is to be transparent about every function from finance to production so the employees you bring on board have a view of the entire business, why they are being brought in how they can play a role in the change that is the only constant in start-ups. At the end of the day, everyone wants to see actions and choices translate into top and bottom line both.
A sense of self-governance, autonomy, and having access to information will go a long way in keeping alive the passion, a much needed ingredient for those wanting to be part of a startup venture.
3. You won’t accomplish much without a strong stomach
Don’t have a weak stomach. Start-up reality is that one day you will have great sales and the next you will be hit with fiascos one after the other and everything will seem to fall apart and that’s when you will have to put up a brave front.
You’ll suddenly be forced to make harsh decisions, quickly. An important role for the founder is to make sure the team is driven, pushed but never in despair because start-up reality is that you will be faced with changes every first, third or fifth month.
At the same time it is important to have identified the critical goals of the business, for instance, building technology to manage scale, and not let daily drear detract you from accomplishing those.
4. Be agile and uncompromising on aspects such as customer feedback engines
When we started out our lingerie was kick ass but expensive. As a result we quickly garnered few loyal customers who loved our product but we had limited scale. Wasting no time, we listened to and incorporated what customers wanted and put a new range on our website and then saw it take off.
A start-up’s customer feedback engine needs to be very fast. We survived because learnt from our customers in real time and were quick on our feet.
5. Be prepared for more teeth edging to come out…
To end with all I can say is that after three years there is another set of teeth edging to come out and teething issues will continue for a couple of years, before a whole range of new issues will come up. So keep your humour in tact. Trust me, you will need it!