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Siddharth Ahluwalia

Well said Karthik. What advice would you like to share with young founders to deliver excellence in business?

KR

Probably going to blog about this, so I will write more in detail in the next, hopefully in the next week or two, if not in the next month. I am tired of anything but IPO-like thinking. If you can’t build a business worthy of an IPO, don’t build, boss. And so I’m of the view that all these like, tiny hacks and building some cute product like some funky game, tire me. I’m not interested anymore. Founders are entitled to go build a business, sell it for $30 million and make a lot of money. It’s not for me. The advice, therefore, that’s coming out of it, whether the founders want to take it or not is that there is one shot at grand glory. There are very, very few founders who come and build three or four unicorn businesses.  So when you start you don’t start with the intent of saying, we will just pad around in this innings, and we’ll figure it out in the next innings and play for a century. I don’t want to be advising or investing in such founders. When you come to the crease, you should say I want to bat to play for the century, right? Which in my mind is an IPO. Don’t tell me you’re building a business on the promise of something elaborate, which can never go IPO. And what does IPO basically mean? It’s a sustainable business. After 10 years, the world at large shouldn’t care whether you’re still at the helm. The business should be scalable. And from the minute you build that there will be 20 buyers in private and thousand buyers in public for a business like that. I’m convinced that that is the way to exit. So I’m saying why are we lamenting that we haven’t built exits when you’re not designing businesses in that fashion. So if you’re not building IPO-ready businesses, you are not thinking super long term, don’t get started. 

Second, I would say you know, the storyteller in chief, the visionary in chief, the founder in chief is the Founder CEO. We love founder CEOs, they should stay at the helm for as long as required, if you can stay at the helm for 20 years, even better, like Jeff Bezos. But to underestimate how important your ability to build great teams is, is basically, you’re putting your foot in your mouth, right, so you’re not going to build a great business, I’m convinced of that. And therefore going back to your storytelling feature, forget about everybody else, can you storytell to hire a great team? Can the team stick around with you if not maybe a decade at a time, but four-five years at a time? Do you have your co-founders who will stick with you? How many? I think 75% of our companies have lost at least a minor co-founder by Series B. It’s like what the hell’s going on? Didn’t you guys sell the story well to each other? And so if that’s the passion with which you are hiring the team, then you’re doing convenient team building. Yes, you can make mistakes. I’m not saying it should be flawless. But if you don’t think you can empower a great team, I don’t think you can build a great business. So I would say Team, Team, Team! My anecdote for this is that the era of a Superman is over. It’s a need for superheroes. So nowadays, if you pick up any superhero movie, one person never wins a war, you need a whole battalion of them. 

And my other favorite, you know, it’s a flip on it. It might sound like a wordplay. But I don’t like founders who come in, especially early stage because that’s who we’re talking about, who come and pitch the coolest solutions. Solutions mean jack in the first one or two years. Between pitch, saying yes, term sheet and first board meeting the damn product changes half the time. So what we talking about, right? I don’t care what you sold me as a product. What are you solving for? Is it fundamentally shape-shifting, for the industry, for the planet, for the customer? And are you cognizant of how large an impact you can make on that front? So if you can’t focus on the problem, don’t come and build some cool solution for it. Cool solutions exist all the time. Right? If cool solutions were to make it then we wouldn’t have a million apps, right? Every one of them should be a billion dollar company. They’re not. So it’s the equivalent of somebody coming to say I built a cool app for this. I built a cool hack for this. What problem are you solving and I would advise founders to wrap their heads around that because they’re all interlinked. If you don’t have a passionate enough problem to solve, you can’t be committed to it for a decade, it can’t be built into an IPO business and you will not have a team which will ride the journey with you. So why bother? So those are my three points of advice.

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