An Accelerator At Times Ends Up Parenting Start-Ups
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Brett Stevens is the Vice President of Jaarvis Accelerator in Gurgaon, and a Director of Jaarvis Labs in Australia, leading the team to launch new start-up ventures. At LetsIgnite, Brett told Entrepreneur how the job of an accelerator is equivalent to that of parenting where someone you need to advice founders on things they wouldn’t like to hear.
Entrepreneurs in tier 2 cities versus a tier 1 city in India
In some ways it’s easier to tackle entrepreneurs in secondary cities because they actually appreciate the help a lot more. They are very enthusiastic and see value in what we are trying to do. We are giving them access to things that probably they won’t have in that city. They are very cooperative and very hungry for information and they would probably spend more time talking to our teams than anyone else. If I had to compare them to start-ups coming from Delhi, they are making better use of their resources than the ones from Delhi, because ones in Delhi have other options. They have other friends and mentors in the city. So it actually works out pretty well for smaller city start-ups to get into our program.
Either you are an entrepreneur or not
I am a firm believer that you are either an entrepreneur or not an entrepreneur. So I can talk from the non-entrepreneurial side. My wife is an entrepreneur and she thinks differently. We will look at something and she will approach it from a completely different angle. Hence it doesn’t matter what school you come from, what city you are based in, if you have a great idea and have the passion for it, you will make yourself an entrepreneur and you will find a way to be successful. The school is just a part of it, you need a total ecosystem.
I don’t think entrepreneurs need to do anything differently apart from find the resources to be successful. That would be an incubator in the early stage, an accelerator in the later stage, a couple of angel investors on the way. All of these things exist in every city, but sometimes they are harder to tap into in smaller cities. They are more visible and public in big cities. In Delhi everyone knows where to go if you are looking for investors, in smaller cities it’s not that obvious.
The government can always play a role in helping start-ups. It’s not always about giving money; it could be giving space, support, giving access to data. I think to help start-ups in smaller cities the government can play a role and should play a role.
Relationship between accelerators and entrepreneurs
You’ve got to be friends but sometimes it’s tough love as well. As an accelerator my team and I would tell the start-ups things they might not want to hear. Things that they aren’t doing right, whether they could do something differently, they shouldn’t be spending money on spend that money on other things. So sometimes it’s a tough message we have to give them unfortunately. That’s our job because we’ve invested in them our time and money and it’s up to us to grow their business as fast as possible and get them to the point where they can get their next funding round.
But along the way we try and stay friends, we try and have fun together, we have social events together with other start-ups, they have access to me and my team whenever they need us. We are not running their company though, so they cannot expect us to act as a CEO or anything for them, even though we have more experience than most of them. We will give them as much advice as we can but at the end of the day it’s their company and it’s their decisions.
So is it like parenting?
Well that’s a good analogy. Sometimes it works out that way. Most of my team has much more experience than most of the founders of the start-ups and sometimes you do take up a bit of the parenting role to give them advice sometimes. As most parents don’t give you the advice you want. So that’s a really good analogy, we are sometimes like parents to them.
How do you train entrepreneurs to pitch
Firstly understand what the investor wants to hear and give them a very clear message about that. See what problem are you solving, unless you can articulate what problem you are solving, the investors can never understand whether that’s a problem that really exists and whether the market for that problem is big enough to make it worthwhile. The second thing is you need to explain what you are doing differently because there is a lot of copy-cat entrepreneurship out there sometimes. No investor wants to invest in a copy-cat, they want to invest in something very unique and new. Thirdly, what’s the team all about and is there enough passion in it. They need to be extremely passionate when they are talking to investors because investors will often invest in the team rather than the idea. It’s got to be a good combination out there. Some investors invest in a team and expect them to develop a good idea along the way, some investors invest in a great idea and expect them to develop a good team to match the idea. It has to be a balance of all three.
In our practice sessions we have seen pitches run for 20 minutes but the investor has only limited attention. Unless you capture their attention in the first minute and hold it right till the end, where you ask for the money, you’ve lost him. Brett said that 8 minutes is a long time for a pitch.
Brett said that tier two cities and locations that have potential and good ideas coming from them are Kolkata, Chandigarh, Rajasthan amongst others. He said that Jaarvis would be looking for background in sectors that we invest like fintech and look for areas that has it in their education system.