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Startup Stories on TV & Lessons from Them In the era of binge-watching, certain movies make frequent appearances on our streaming lists as we endeavour to learn more about startups, some of which naturally go on to become leading global corporations

By Soumya Duggal

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Although considered a guilty pleasure, watching television can be a rather rewarding process. After all, the so-called 'idiot box' has many feathers in its cap: it raised the Boomers in the 60s, earned academic currency in the 70s and 80s with the rise of Cultural Studies, fuelled the momentum of Globalisation in the 2000s, and, most recently, helped the world survive the most unprecedented home-confinement. From wars to national elections to the Oscars, our television screens are a window to the world. The perennially-unfolding global startup story is no exception.

In the era of binge-watching, certain movies make frequent appearances on our streaming lists as we endeavour to learn more about startups, some of which naturally go on to become leading global corporations: for instance, The Social Network (2010) traces the growth of Facebook to a social media giant since the moment of its inception in then-sophomore Mark Zuckerberg's dorm room at Harvard University; Pirates of Silicon Valley (1999) explores the development of the personal computer through the infamous rivalry between Apple founder Steve Jobs and Microsoft founder Bill Gates; Upstarts (2019) is a Hindi-language Netflix original film that follows three college students' quest to establish an aggregator app for the doorstep delivery of medicines and the resultant strain on their friendship.

Even documentaries such as e-Dreams (2001), which dramatises the rise and fall of online convenience store Kosmo.com that promised free one-hour deliveries, and Something Ventured (2011), which explains how venture capital has powered the success of several Fortune 500 companies including Apple, Cisco and Intel, have found appeal with viewers. What lessons do these movies and documentaries centred around the startup ecosystem offer budding entrepreneurs?

Sometimes Big Ideas Eclipse Conventions: The most exciting aspect of startup businesses is perhaps the novelty inscribed in their products, which owes much to the unconventional attitudes of their founders themselves. Biopics and fictional renderings of the lives of Zuckerberg, Jobs, Gates and the like intersect at one point: all of them college drop-outs, these young entrepreneurs had the strength to give up the traditional academic and professional path in order to embrace the uncertainty of turning their business ideas into reality.

Friendships Are Bittersweet And That's Reality: "You don't get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies," states the tag line of The Social Network. The sentiment is perhaps best exemplified by Zuckerberg cutting out co-founder Eduardo Saverin out of Facebook by diluting his shareholding without his knowledge. The world of entrepreneurship has always been full of stories of friendships going south: Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, Bill Gates and Paul Allen, and Ashneer Grover and Bhavik Koladiya are the first to come to mind. Upstarts, though, offers a ray of hope for the redemption of seemingly doomed friendships, with protagonists, friends and co-founders Kapil, Vinay and Yash eventually reconciling despite their contrasting worldviews.

Profitability Over All Else: The issue of profitability assumes special importance in cycles of economic downturns, much like the one that the world is presently experiencing. e-Dreams explores the subject well as Kozmo.com manages to raise $280 million in capital and receive the attention of investors such as Amazon and Starbucks. But as the dot-com bubble begins to burst, with stock market correction starting in April 2000, the company's lack of a sustainable business plan damages the possibility of fresh capital infusion and the business shuts down in 2001. The current funding winter has sealed a similar fate for many Indian startups but herein lies the learning: reduce cash burn, maintain healthy unit economics and follow a resolute path to profitability.

Soumya Duggal

Former Feature Writer

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