Startup ecosystems are on the rise everywhere. There are more startups, more mentors, more events and more money floating around than ever before. Unfortunately, more is not always better. Having been around since the first OCC meetup in Bangalore, I have seen the meetups (and the ecosystem) evolve over the years. Truth be told, I have lost interest in most startup events and it’s not because I think there is nothing to learn out there. Discussions with entrepreneurs often turn into a discussion about things that don’t matter as much – funding news of other companies and discussions about getting into the next accelerator or incubator. These are legitimate discussions but they are very unproductive use of face-time with people. A quick google search on funding or accelerators will lead to hundreds of blog posts, videos and dozens of books.
I want to take this opportunity to clear my stand on funding. I think if you are operating from India and have any kind of real traction, you probably don’t need to worry about money. You should really be focusing on revenues and acquiring customers. Operating costs in India are so low that your funding requirements are already much lower than other parts of the world. That’s what we are doing in SupportBee. We tried raising a bit last year but very quickly decided that it was not worth the time. Not having money forced us to focus on revenues and customers and ignore everything else. I must accept that in the past I have gotten carried away and indulged in ongoing funding/investment landscape decisions with fellow entrepreneurs. However, I am going to bail out of those discussions pretty quickly from now on. I personally find my time better spent simply meditating instead.
However here are some questions that I do enjoy asking entrepreneurs and wish more entrepreneurs asked me (simply because I have atleast some first hand insights here that might be useful to others)
- How old is your company and how long did it take you to launch. What slowed you down or helped you get the product out the door faster?
- What kind of traction do you have. What about revenues? How fast are they growing (or why not)?
- What things have made the biggest impact on your customer acquisition. What has helped lower your churn? What has driven up the engagement?
- What are your biggest acquisition channels. Do you focus more on organic or paid acquisition? Why one or the other or both?
- What hiring channels have worked for you? How do you work? Do you have sales people? If not, why?
- How do you prioritize feature requests? How do you deliver customer support? How do you tie the two together?
Startups are so hard that if you meet someone with any traction, there are so many great things to learn from them. It doesn’t even matter if you think they have cracked it bigtime or not. Asking the right questions is the key. If you think someone’s idea doesn’t make sense, ask them what they see in it. If you think someone is in an over crowded space, ask them how they are still selling in that space. Try to get real answers out of people. Andrew Warner did it with star entrepreneurs and you can do it with your local heroes (and heroes to be). Just be nice and curious and most people are happy to share their insights.