I was at Delhi for the TIE India Internet Day, last Friday. Over 400 entrepreneurs, investors and startup enthusiasts gathered at the Sheraton in Saket for a day long session. There were 8 startups chosen to pitch at the event and there was an investor connect session as well.
Alok Mittal chaired a panel with 4 of us including 2 VC’s (Shekhar Kirani from Accel and Sanjay Nath from Blume) and 2 Accelerators (Sameer Gugalani from Morpheus and myself).
There were 3 slides that Alok presented about the maturity of the Indian startup scene, which were to serve as a backdrop for our discussions.
One particular slide generated a lot of discussion. The slide showed that 20+% of companies went from one accelerator to another and from one seed round to another without progressing, which indicated that they were “surviving” but were “living dead”.
Alok’s question was if we were not helping our entrepreneurs “fail fast”?
First off, let me state my bias – “I dont like the concept of fail fast”. Absolutely detest it. Whether its in the valley or India, failing fast is way overrated is my opinion and an excuse for folks not willing to spend more time learning about markets and drilling deeper into the problems faced by customers.
I think there are multiple reasons and subtleties to the question, specifically in India.
First, Indian entrepreneurs dont take (or dont get) enough money in each round at the very early (angel, seed) stages, since the cost of money is too high. If you are giving up 10%+ at the angel and 25-30% at the seed stage, that money is ridiculously expensive. So entrepreneurs tend to think they can get liftoff with very little funds, and that ends up hurting them in the long run since they go back and dip into the same set of investors for another round, when they realize they are not ready for a significant up round.
Second, Indian entrepreneurs pay a lot more for talent, since startups are perceived to be risky and so it is not uncommon to see talent getting 110% of their salary with some stock options, since the options are considered “worthless” in India. I know there are some folks that are the exception.
Thirdly, the cost of startup failure is fairly high in India already. Failed startup entrepreneurs rarely start again in India. According to our own research, over 50% of failed entrepreneurs, head back to a bigger company after their venture to pay of debts, “settle down” or bow to social pressure and get a fat paycheck.
Given these 3 arguments, I think it is absolutely important that we nurture our entrepreneurs and ensure they stay very lean until they find the product-market fit or liftoff. That takes a long time in India, thanks to fewer early adopters or paying customers.
Bottomline, “failing fast” is not a mantra we should support or promote among Indian startups, is my perspective.