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A time-bound startup accelerator programme does not serve the purpose: Sameer Guglani, co-founder of The Morpheus

Chandigarh-based The Morpheus is one of the oldest startup accelerators in India. To date, it has incubated more than 80 companies that include leading names in the startup space such as CommonFloor.com, Practo.com, Reach Accountant, Airwoot, Crederity, InterviewStreet, Online Prasad and Plivo. The organisation is now shutting down its startup accelerator programme and moving into a new avatar. Techcircle.in caught up with Sameer Guglani, co-founder of The Morpheus, to talk about what prompted the pivot, the future course of action and the Indian startup industry.

There are many accelerators that are successfully run across the country, and new ones are added every year. Why are you shutting down?

Almost six years ago, we started with a model that we thought would fit the then requirement. Although we changed the model during the course, to date we ran a time-bound acceleration programme (of four months), and incubated number of startups. We started engagement with the founders in batches, but the active engagement had never been for four months. It's always been an engagement to last through our startups' lifetime.

Our learning over this period was that a time-bound programme does not solve the purpose, and it has to be a long-term, collective support-based initiative. The Morpheus equipped startups to address the challenges they faced. However, now there are plenty of supports/resources available in terms of incubators and accelerators to cater to early-stage startups. Hence, we are figuring out how we can collectively address challenges faced at the next level. We are now moving to a not-for-profit model.

If the change of focus means that we are shutting down then maybe, yes, we are shutting down. In reality, we are only widening our focus to opening up to engage with more founders. The Morpheus will be about entrepreneurs, founders, startups and building lasting businesses.

Why are you switching to a not-for-profit model? Is it because good startups are going to other established accelerators such as Microsoft Ventures and TLabs which could bring in more money and value to them?

If we look at the portfolios that we have built over the past six years, many successful companies have come out from it. Many of them are doing quite well and some even raised the next round of funding. All through these years, we received many good applications to select some really great companies to work with.

Interestingly, over the past 12 months we have clearly seen the Indian startup ecosystem maturing, especially in the 0-2 year-old segment. There are lots of free helps and sources of initial capital are available. So we feel that a dedicated help from the Morpheus team and Rs 5 lakh of investment are no longer a strong requirement.

Can you elaborate on the new model? If it is a not-for-profit one, how will you sustain the business?

We are currently working on a model where if a founder wants to explore possibilities of becoming a part of the Morpheus gang, he/she will approach us via reference of an existing gang member of the gang(s) or via the website. In the first phase, we will hold two-three discussions with the founders. If both parties like the way that talks are progressing, the things will go into the second phase where the engagement will be for one-two months. And then the founder will become a member of the gang and it will be open for founders of companies of any stages. There will be no money involved, nor will there be equity to be given to The Morpheus.

What it means to become a part of the Morpheus gang is that we can collaborate closely with a group of smart, committed, well-meaning and happy entrepreneurs, and more similar people will keep coming on board. And a culture of consciously contributing to the success of others will be inculcated. Also, the key focus will be on giving and not on taking. After receiving the sufficient value from the community, the founders will have an option to contribute via equity/cash or by some other way. This contribution will go into our not-for-profit foundation, which will manage the whole initiative.

We have earned enough resources from the past six years to continue our passion of building the new avatar. Here, the real earning for us will be the new friendships, new learning, lots of happiness and personal growth.

You have seen through more than 80 companies coming out of your programme. Have you now identified new startups/ideas for incubation?

Since we are no longer running the batches, it is not time-bound. We are now open to start interacting with startups all through the year. We have been talking to founders on a regular basis. Deeper interactions and mutual understanding of ideologies/philosophies will result in founder(s) becoming a part of the Morpheus gang. We are currently in talks with a few companies to experiment the new model and it will take more than 10 months to begin the official programme.

Will you also look to launch a separate fund for your incubatees?

The Morpheus has never been a fund in its true sense. We have always been about a support system for the founders, facilitating them to build meaningful businesses. With this new approach, we are moving further away and refraining from investing money.

What do you think is lacking in the Indian startup ecosystem?

The key aspects that need to be addressed with respect to the founders and companies in the growth path are personal happiness and growth of the founders, hiring of talent and leveraging technology to unlock the portfolio/community value.

We feel that scaling and valuation are the wrong metrics for the success of a startup. The personal happiness of the founders and the teams should be the first metric and everything else will follow. This should become an area of attention and focus.

Also, when companies grow fast in the first one-two years, it is very challenging for the founders to grow at the same pace in terms of maturity and leadership skills. This challenge will lead them to a situation where they become overwhelmed with the amount of responsibility and expectations that come naturally with the growth.

The founders also need help in their personal growth so that they can effectively handle bigger teams and new challenges. This is one of the biggest focuses for The Morpheus right now and going forward. We plan to share our learning on this front with everyone in the ecosystem.

As of hiring of talent, although startups are finding creative solutions for this issue, there needs to be a well thought-out and concentrated effort on this front. There remains a need for an online plus offline platform where the genuinely passionate, creative, willing candidates can find a startup which matches their temperament. This will also be a big focus at The Morpheus and we are trying to get a full-time person in our team to lead on this effort.

With 160-plus founders and 80-plus companies, we at Morpheus were finding it very hard to work effectively. How does a new founder in our portfolio get connected to relevant folks in the Morpheus gang? How does an old founder get to a new founder? The answer is that they have to depend on the Morpheus team to figure it out and then provide an introduction. Between the 160 founders there are probably 5,000-plus useful contacts - but there is no way to effectively share these contacts. One needs to leverage technology to unlock portfolio and community value.

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