It's easier to earn a dollar than earn a rupee
We live in an amazing time where so much has happened so soon. Among the many things that internet and social networks have contributed, is the ability for a tech company set up in India to focus on a global market. It is still a challenge but not an insurmountable one. Building a geographically distributed but otherwise seamless team is only possible with the tools and technologies of today.
I love this entrepreneurial journey, in fact, 'I'm lovin it', if I can borrow McDonalds's caption. I can't see myself doing anything else and am grateful for the opportunity to work with amazingly talented and diverse people, and, of course, to create something that people like. Our customers are happy to pay for our products. It's a high. I'm a great fan of the 37 Signals' founders' book Rework, and I encourage everyone to read it and rethink their ways of doing business. A lot has changed very fast. I'm thrilled to be doing this at this time and age.
However, like any other startups, we at Unmetric, too, had our own trials and tribulations. We started our life focusing on the SMB market and took almost a year to reach this path before pivoting into our current model (social media benchmarking). That transition period was especially challenging, as it tested our team's resolve and the chemistry between the co-founders. In retrospect, I can look back on those days and say 'phew'. On a recurring basis, there are operational and product challenges, of course. But once you've faced bigger ones and stared at nothingness, a lot of these pale in comparison.
About startups raising VC money
A wrong investor can be a pain in the neck and I am sure many startups will agree with this view. Fortunately, we found amazing investors in Nexus Venture Partners and JAFCO. I'm not saying it just because they're our investors. What I believe is you too will find consistently positive feedback from across their portfolio companies. Our investors have been helping us with the senior level recruitment, advisory board formation, product thinking, market intelligence, leads, and market development in countries like Japan, that we'd never considered before. At the same time, they've given us the space to grow in our own way and don't get involved in micro details. That's paved the way for a great rapport. In my opinion, whether to go down the VC route or not depends on many factors and can't be painted with the broad brush strokes.
Bootstrapping a startup Vs. growing using VC money
We bootstrapped the company for almost two difficult, but character-building years. Thereafter, having demonstrated product viability and early traction we managed to raise our Series A from Nexus. We were and are early to spot a niche market opportunity and wanted to accelerate our plans; hence, the decision to raise the capital. Knowing all we know today and have gone through with our investors, would we have done the same given a chance to turn back the clock? Absolutely!
Startup ecosystem in India Vs. Silicon Valley
There are many differences between the Indian and Silicon Valley startup ecosystems, contrary to what we might want to believe. Let me touch upon a few:
Infrastructure: It is not just technology, but in terms of living as well. When you're spending less time worrying about water, electricity, air conditioning, repairs and transport, you're spending more focused time working. Actually, Indian startups don't have the infrastructure that the bigger companies do have.
Talent: We do have great engineers but the majority have been groomed on a service company diet and productivity levels thereof. Products are different and that transition takes some time, but can be made. Then, there is the 'marriage factor'—till a few years ago working for a no-name startup was a sure way to ensure no prospective father-in-law would be interested. That's improving now. And then there is 'non-engineering talent'. I had to search really hard to get amazing marketing and operations people for our team. But everyone is not so lucky.
Knowledge in the air: There is a lot 'happening' and you get infected by this. This is not yet as prevalent in India, despite the best efforts of many startup catalysts and well-meaning people.
Domestic market: Most products cater to US market and the domestic market is not so large. This can be a constraint. Of course, India-focused e-commerce and India-specific solutions are different.
Indian startups looking to expand to foreign markets
To quote an old friend, and the founder of Vembu Technologies (where I was a co-founder), it is easier to earn a dollar than earn a rupee. So, yes, if your product caters to foreign markets, start addressing them from day one. Typically, they are easier to penetrate and are more disciplined with payments and work ethic. Again, I know this is not 'said' but it is true, as anyone selling in foreign markets and India will echo.
(Lakshmanan Narayan is the CEO & co-founder of New York and Chennai-based Unmetric Inc, a social media benchmarking company. As told to our Bangalore correspondent Sainul K Abudheen)