It’s a well known fact that putting together a single startup is a daunting task. One needs tremendous amount focus, energy and dedication. But what does it take to manage three companies at the same time? In an interview to Entrepreneur India, Mumbai-based serial entrepreneur Shiladitya Mukhopadhyay talks about the thrill, challenges and joys of being part of forming three startups – Pointshelf, Hipcask and Rasilant Technologies Pvt Ltd.
What is like to be a part of different companies? How do you prioritize your time for them?
I have started up in each venture at a different time and phase of my life so while each of them exists today they are actually in different stages of maturity. So my involvement in each is also limited to the capacity and bandwidth I am able to dedicate to each one of them. I was lucky to have different cofounders in each business where I was able to get the right kind of support to enable the startup to grow to the next stage.
I prioritize my time in each on the basis of the work I do - right now I spend almost all my time with the current team at Hipcask which is the newest venture and growing by leaps and bounds on almost a daily basis, we are a seed stage startup and it will need complete focus from the entire team to make it succeed. While at Rasilant, my oldest company, I oversee new technology initiatives and step in only whenever my role on the board of directors is required.
Why did you choose to be a serial entrepreneur rather than exiting one and starting another?
I have been an entrepreneur for over a decade now and I've grown through different phases of trying to solve problems at large with many ideas and approaches while also making them into viable businesses. I never saw that any one of them have reached a maturity or stability where I would be able to distance myself from them. But practically, the nature of each business was also different. While Rasilant is a B2B services company, Hipcask is a B2C product company and the life cycles of each are completely different. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to venture into each because of the timing, ecosystem and partners I had, so I had to take the risk of going ahead with them together.
Is it different approaching investors for multiple companies? Each of them being so different from each other?
Not all businesses are investor friendly because of the nature in which they grow and so I have not had to approach investors or venture funding for multiple companies. That being said each business has different funding requirements and while some like Rasilant are funded mainly by traditional debt for which we interacted over the years with only banks, we had to approach a whole new segment of angels and venture funds for Hipcask. The learning from each kind of interaction was also different and helped us understand the viewpoints for each kind of investor as well.
How should entrepreneurs handle multiple domains
The advice is ideally to not go into multiple domains at all since I still believe the chances for success are higher when a founder has absolute focus on what they are aiming to achieve and more so doing that allows them to excel in that domain and become an all round knowledge leader in it. If they do have the opportunity to venture into another domain they have to do it with a conscious understanding of what they are sacrificing as well. The one thing no founder has enough of is time and juggling different domains at the same time is near impossible.
The only way I was able to manage my time was to make my roles in each very well defined and also restrict it to the common areas in either - technology and product. You have to maximize your output for each by feeding off the learnings from each domain into the other and not treating them as completely separate roles - while they may be completely different for all practical purposes. A few people in the world have actually shown they can successfully navigate leadership roles in multiple large scale businesses and I find them to be the models I look up to - Elon Musk and Jack Dorsey. My advice would be to learn about how they do it.
Has there been a situation when one of your startups was doing really well and the other was going through tough times? How do you handle contrast situations?
All the time. The life of a startup founder is a constant battle of a house on fire, even though it may look calm and composed from the outside. You might be growing in leaps and bounds in one metric while something else might be in nosedive. Similarly with multiple businesses and product lines the same effect gets amplified. I've had many times when either business has been in a state of disarray and I had to devote more time to it to bring it back to stability, I am fortunate to have extremely supportive teams in either company who have stuck by us to ensure we pull through tough times together. Contrasting situations actually help give you perspective and hope when one of them seems dire, it helps to feed off the positivity of the more stable business.
What are the perks of being an IITian in the Indian startup industry? Is it road much difficult for a non-IITian?
I am not an IIT-ian myself but almost all of my closest friends are so while from the outside it may seem like they are privileged to have more access to the startup industry it's not really so. I think being from a university like an IIT which encourages entrepreneurship from the start is what makes it easier for students there - it gives them a lot more confidence in starting up and that confidence and approach leads to them being more successful in the ecosystem. While for non-IITians it may have previously seemed like there is no advantage I think that has changed a lot and there is no bias whatsoever in the industry now that it has matured and more and more successful startups are founded by non IITians now.
Is there some domain you wish to explore in future and why?
I'm inflicted with the problem of being constantly curious and trying to solve all the world’s problems that I see around me, so I am always itching for the next domain to try to understand and maybe make something meaningful in. My passions will always be digital payments and automation and I think I will always be in similar or allied domains. Though personally off late I have become obsessed with trying to better the lives and living standards of people so I look at domains which will help people, products and cities become smarter with technology so maybe I will foray into something along those lines.