May 05, 2012

“It takes a village to raise a child” - Article by Sanjay Anandaram


The entrepreneurial ecosystem in India is changing and for the good. And I’m not referring to the increasing numbers of entrepreneurs from the educated middle classes or to the growing presence of angel funds or even to the opportunities thrown up by a growing economy. Having been part of the Indian entrepreneurial ecosystem for close to 15 years now, I can attest to a subtler, less visible and important change. While I don’t have “objective” market research data to support my thesis, I do have anecdotal evidence. And this evidence points to the fact that growing numbers of Indian entrepreneurs are seeking mentorship and advise.

Why is this important?

The act of seeking mentorship and advise follows from a realization – that I, the entrepreneur, don’t have all the answers; that I am willing to step out of my comfort zone, network, meet very many people -  who bring in different perspectives, knowledge, experiences, lessons, skills, and bare my soul – albeit in small doses – to unknown people, evaluate people and responses, decide who to zero in on to repose my trust, confidence and faith in my company building effort,  work hard towards creating and nurturing a long term relationship, take feedback – not always palatable – and consider parting with some equity for the advice received. This realization requires humility, a willingness to learn and confidence.

This is not easy to do for anyone. Particularly Indian entrepreneurs who’ve for the most part operated in silos, are inhibited in talking about their companies, its finances, their need for help and the like. Saying “I don’t know or I need help” aren’t among the more politically correct statements in India irrespective of the field of work! An African proverb says “It takes a village to raise a child” (Hillary Clinton also wrote a book with this title in 1996) and what that means is that the cumulative and ever growing knowledge of the community is what is required to provide security, learning, guidance and counsel to a child. In the same way, bringing up a startup takes more than just money, entrepreneurial passion and a market.  To create an environment, however, where thousands of startups are conceived, born, nurtured and successfully grown takes more than physical incubators, availability of money, regulation and policy. It requires networks of mentors and advisors and entrepreneurs who can share, guide, collaborate and learn. Mature and robust environments like Silicon Valley provide this most crucial of inputs and insights – from company formation, to strategy, to dealing with personal issues, to funding, to hiring and managing employees, to partnering, to finding customers, to marketing to technology to exits, through such relationship networks.

It is heartening to therefore see this realization in Indian entrepreneurs. It shows increased awareness, reduced fear and shyness, lessened anxiety about losing control and influence and an embracing of external learnings and insights. All of them have a dream and the desire to succeed but only very few will. Usually, those that don’t succeed realise that they’ve been chasing the wrong opportunity with the wrong business model and wrong team much much later in the game, if at all. What if they had been made aware of the pitfalls and dangers early on and been prepared to deal with them? What if they had had the benefit of experienced counsel from mentors and advisors? While having mentors and advisors is in itself no guarantee of success, having the right mentors, advisors and an access to this network can often times reduce the agony of late unhappy realizations of the state of the business.

Mentoring programmes are now available through several industry associations. Educational institutions too are realizing the value of such efforts. More and more functional experts, experienced corporate executives and entrepreneurs are getting involved with the startup ecosystem and are being welcomed.

Obviously, there’s a long way to go before these networks become mainstream and acceptable to all entrepreneurs. The benefits of such network associations can be enormous and can take companies on another higher trajectory altogether. It is only when accessing these networks becomes an embedded habit of entrepreneurs can we say that the Indian entrepreneurial ecosystem has truly arrived. We are well on the way!

What do you think?

Sanjay Anandaram is a passionate advocate of entrepreneurship in India; He brings close to two decades of experience as an entrepreneur, corporate executive, venture investor, faculty member, advisor and mentor. He’s involved with Nasscom, TiE, IIM-Bangalore, and INSEAD business school in driving entrepreneurship. He can be reached at sanjay@jumpstartup.net. The views expressed here are his own.