How Can You Look Beyond the Usual Startup Challenges
If one has to weather the startup storm, they have to look beyond these 'initial' challenges.
When you think of the word startup, one of the first points that come to one’s mind are challenges.
Challenges exist mostly around money, talent and survival. But if one has to weather the startup storm and not just survive but succeed, they have to look beyond these ‘initial’ challenges.
A term that is bandied around of late is ‘cockroach startup’ – which implies that the company can withstand all kinds of pressure, be it external or internal and still do more than just survive. (Exactly like how a cockroach survives for several days even if the head is cut off).
And to do that, it is imperative to view challenges beyond the immediate ones’ startup environments present and plan for long-term impact. Survival and success depend on several things, but the most critical ones in my mind have to do with problem identification, designing scalable solutions and putting the right team in place to execute it.
Address Issue: If products and services of companies do not address a problem, need or challenge, they may as well shut shop. That said, identifying this is critical too – it has to be something that does not lend itself to going out of business. It has to be something that will always be in demand in some form, shape or size. Fashion, money and food are classic examples of such industries.
Scale: Scalability should be looked at from several perspectives. Is the market or the requirement large enough? Do we have the means to reach this market? And finally, is there scope for expansion – not just into newer markets; but by way of new product/service offerings as well. This level of planning will ensure that there is a clear roadmap that keeps long-term health of the company in mind. Goes without saying, it will pave a clear path for the company to understand what kind of funds and org structure they would require to get there.
Structure: Organizational structure and team composition are significant. This perhaps is the most critical component and can make or break dreams the company has seen for the market and consequently itself. Some criteria to absolutely tick off while selecting the core team are the ability to take risks; willingness to get hands and legs dirty; obsession with the cause the company stands for; and playing to strengths to further a common goal – not constantly worry about individual growth and success.
Building the Right Team: Finding people with some or all of these qualities will be a challenge. Waiting it out and hiring when you find them would be the ideal thing to do. Unfortunately, several startups go wrong here. They are either in a hurry to recruit and end up recruiting anyone who marginally fits the bill. Or then, they start creating roles to suit/fit people who they think would be ideal. Trouble starts here and management will end up spending a lot more time fixing internal issues when they rather focus on the customer and how to positively impact the customer’s life.
Technology: The entire idea of looking beyond the usual startup challenges will be incomplete without examining technology and the role it plays. In startups, technology plays a huge role in innovation - no two ways about it. However, throwing technology at every ‘problem’ and expecting results is an absolute no-no. It is imperative to see if the customer is ready for the tech revolution. If they’re not, it’s best to transition them slowly, so you do not end up frustrating them by providing ‘cool’ solutions that they’re neither able to understand nor use.
In a startup environment, there are no cookie cutters and there are no magic recipes. A lot of the game is trial and error. If one looks beyond the obvious challenges, there will be that many fewer problems to deal with later. The mantra should be simple - Get out there, stay as close to the market as possible and be flexible to make changes on the go. Success will follow.
Prior to co-founding OpenTap, Senthil worked in Barclays (2012 – 2013) where he set up their Indian technology operations for the Investment Bank division. Senthil worked with JP Morgan (2004 – 2012) in New York, London and Mumbai (OTC Derivatives - IT).
Earlier in his career Senthil worked for HSBC and Lehman Brothers in New York and Hong Kong building risk platforms for OTC Derivative Trading Desks. Senthil has extensive work experience in credit products like Collateralized Debt Obligations, Loan trading and Credit Default Swaps.