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Should one focus on the product first or funds? Does a degree in IIT/IIM really matter in the startup space? Punit Soni, ex-chief product officer at Flipkart , had all the answers for budding entrepreneurs and product managers of the ecosystem. In a brief chat with Entrepreneur Media, Punit spoke about the advantages of belonging to a premier institute’s network and the pros of having a co-founder in a startup.
How should an entrepreneur strike a balance between raising funds and working on the product? Which one should be his prerogative initially?
“Back2Back strategy – Two founders, one should focus on funding with some amount of product work and one should focus on product with some amount of work in the funding space. That’s the best way. It’s emotionally and physically hard for solo entrepreneurs. In such a scenario they should just hire someone who can work with them. The best setups are basically Back2Back – two people working and fighting two battles at the same time. Because the truth is you can’t really comprise on any of the two things. If you don’t get funding your company can’t survive and if you don’t build a product your company will die.
Is it difficult for a non-IITian to survive in the startup space in India?
“I have come to realize that there is some kind of a complex going on the country. An entrepreneur once pitched to me, started by saying “I am not from IIT” – and I was surprised because I wouldn’t care less.”
“But if there is a complex there has to be a background to it. The IIT networks are really powerful and they are helping each other a lot more.”
Punit said that a similar kind of phenomenon is seen within the Harvard and Wharton networks as well. “When you go to business schools you kind of join a club ... but tech is one thing that can level this out completely. Some of the greatest tech companies can be built by people who haven’t gone to any school for that matter.”
Punit holds an engineering degree from NIT-Kurukshetra and a Masters degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Wyoming. He also did his MBA from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania
Who is a “product person”?
Punit was addressing a fireside chat hosted by Bengaluru-based workspace solutions provider BHIVE Workspace, where he spoke about the importance of product building and provided some valuable insights on entrepreneurship.
Speaking in the context of technology companies, Punit said that the product is the voice of the consumer and the user could be a consumer company or a B2B company. Ultimately the product is the manifestation of the problem that you are solving and the solutions for that problem. A person who spends day and night thinking about that is a “product person.” Their title could vary from engineer, to a head of product or founder – it’s irrelevant!
Punit said in the classical consumer category, the product that he likes the most was Zomato. Their product is fun to use and it’s a very well done consumer product.
With regards to the startup ecosystem in India, Punit said that the sheer number of startups and the energy amongst entrepreneurs in the country was pretty awesome. However, on the flip side, India still doesn’t have a world class product company that has emerged from the country.
Hiring product guys
“Founders are product people. If you are a founder, starting your own company and you are hunting for a product guy, then you are basically intellectually lazy. Because the money used to recruit a product executive could be spent in hiring an engineer to do so some real work for your company. In early days of the startup an entrepreneur should refrain from hiring product people.”
Punit, who also invests in startups, said he primarily looks at the problem the startup is trying to solve and whether enough research has been done to check if the solution to that problem has a shot.
Having held senior leadership roles at Motorola and Google, Punit said that the biggest challenge one faces as a leader is “letting people go.” That being said, one cannot become a good leader if you don’t learn how to let go of people.