Dial it down
Shripati Acharya, co-founder and managing director of Prime Venture Partners, on being a founder and managing risks
If there is one thing Shripati Acharya, co-founder and managing director of Prime Venture Partners (VP), a seed-stage fund based in Bengaluru, wishes he could have done differently as an entrepreneur, it is to have left the tag of founder at the door. And not get too emotionally vested in the evocative resonance of the word.
“It can be a red herring, one that is counterproductive to the team if you constantly wear it as a badge that makes you stand out from others. Yes, you are the person who came up with the idea, and you should be recognized for that as well as the extra energy and creativity a founder can bring, but if you want to build a company and attract others to your passion, dial it down a bit,” says Acharya, who was one of the four co-founders of Snapfish. The start-up was acquired in 2005 by computer company HP for a reported $300 million (around Rs.1,980 crore now) and was then one of the largest photo sites online, with 13 million registered members and 350 million unique photos stored online. Acharya also went on to co-found Ezetap, a mobile-based point-of-sale and payment-processing solutions company based in Bengaluru.
But it was at Snapfish, where the founding team managed a smart, well-timed exit, given that smartphones and social media sites would disrupt the world of sharing and printing photos within a few years, that he realized it wasn’t true that people who joined the company later couldn’t have the same passion for it. The key lies in creating a culture that encourages a sense of ownership in others. He remembers one of their earliest employees being more passionate about the business than they were as founders.
Contemporary literature on start-ups across the world has referred to entrepreneurs’ deeply held self-belief and conviction as “God’s syndrome”, a formidable concoction of a sense of purpose beyond themselves, and an occasional, exaggerated notion of infallibility when things go right. This God’s syndrome can quickly morph into a feeling of victimhood when the going is rough: the notion that employees, clients, markets and current or potential investors are all either against them, or aren’t smart enough to get the value of the idea/product/service being offered.
Most of the stress during the phase when a business is being built, and its subsequent impact on relationships at work and at home, comes from the fact that there is too much of this kind of “heroic emotion” in an entrepreneur’s life.
In the spirit of the new year and the promise of new ways to do things, Acharya recommends tempering things down and cutting back the frenzy on two aspects, both of which routinely interfere with the home lives of entrepreneurs. This is what he advises:
u Don’t romanticize the risk, manage it: Entrepreneurship is about managing risks. I think it is actually untrue that entrepreneurs go into business not knowing what will happen. Smart founders will go in expecting success, but being prepared for failure. The risks you can anticipate and plan for, you should. There will be so many others that you won’t be able to anticipate and those you will have to deal with as they come up, but mitigate the risks you can.
Most home-related problems get exaggerated when you’re taking a personal financial risk and professional risk at the same time. Raise money earlier, if that is the case. For example, when entrepreneurs in their 30s pitch to us at Prime VP, and some say I want to protect my personal financial risk, for me that is not the sign of somebody who is not macho and therefore not cut out to be an entrepreneur. Rather, it is somebody who understands the game they are playing.
u Don’t overdo the grind, pace it: Entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint. You have to pace yourself. When I have founders coming to me and saying they’ve worked 100-hour weeks for months, I get worried. It’s a bad sign. It’s much more advisable to do 10 hours a day, six days a week, than to do 100 hours. You can pull these in the middle to get through a crisis. But the ability to pace yourself, divide life and work, is very important.
Every fortnight, Surviving Start-ups focuses on the stories of the people (parents, siblings, spouses and friends) who make up an entrepreneur’s world.