Sep 08 2015 : The Economic Times (Delhi)
Meet the Brotherhood of Entrepreneurs
From sharing office space to offering advice to arranging meetings with investors, a frat pack of startup founders is helping each other, write Shelley Singh & N Shivapriya
Archit Gupta, the founder of ClearTax, a website that helps us ers file income tax returns, had all the missing pieces of the startup puzzle in place. He had a feasible idea, the right team, the equipment and the capital. All except one -office space.Fortuitously for Gupta, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder of Paytm, an online payments platform backed by China’s Alibaba, stepped in and provided space for free to Gupta. ClearTax took wing in the four walls of the sprawling Paytm office in Bengaluru this July, without Gupta having to worry about high rents or uninterrupted power supply or for that matter, coffee.
Gupta and Sharma do not share a deep kinship except for the fact that they are both startup entrepreneurs.They actually met for the first time in 2011, when Gupta approached Sharma to host a hackathon.
But their relationship is the latest iteration in a recent history of entrepreneurs extending a helping hand to members of their fraternity, generously giving their time, money, resources and anything else an enterprise requires to find its feet. The brotherhood of entrepreneurs is an unexpected and distinguished addition to the startup frenzy in India, where competition is intense and the challenges are huge.
“This is my way of giving back to the ecosystem,“ says Sharma.
Sharma has been providing office space to fellow startup entrepreneurs since 2012. At least 24 startups have been incubated within the Paytm premises. Six startups, including Gupta’s ClearTax, are currently operating out of the Paytm offices in Noida, Mumbai and Bengaluru.
My Office is Yours Too!
Kunal Shah, who sold Freecharge to Snapdeal in one of the biggest deals in the internet space in India, says money is not only requirement of people looking to launch a business. Shah has nearly 1,000 entrepreneurs as friends on Facebook who reach out to him for advice. “They are looking for guidance at different stages of the startup right from hiring, to raising money, to growth, to marketing,“ says Shah.
Founders trust other founders with their problems, according to Shah.Problems can range from issues like “I have not taken a salary for a year, how do I ask the board for it now“ to not getting along with other co-founders.Over the past two to three years, Shah has helped at least 100 startups, some of whose founders he hasn’t even met. “I feel equally comfortable reaching out to someone I know or do not know and ask a question,“ says Shah.
When Freecharge was considering moving its headquarters from Mumbai to Bengaluru, Shah sought feedback from Bhavish Aggarwal of Ola Cabs, which had moved a year earlier. Aggarwal responded that Ola was able to scale up “quite well“. Freecharge followed Ola to Bengaluru in 2013.
Examples like these are legion. When Sanjay Parthasarathy started Indix, entrepreneur Vishal Gondal invested in the product intelligence startup to show his support. A few years later, when Gondal started GoQii, a fitness technology venture, Parthasarathy, a former Microsoft executive, was quick to reciprocate. “Entrepreneurs are supporting each other. Investing shows you have skin in the game,“ says Gondal about the investments, emphasising that fellow entrepreneurs are putting their money where their mouth is.
Vikas Saxena, an angel investor and founder of Nimbuzz, a telecom startup, says he was helped by members of the business fraternity . “The building blocks of internet companies are all linked. Startup teams need just a room, WiFi and they are on. What used to take two years earlier can now be done in six months,“ he says.
With real estate so expensive, any help on that front is godsend. Startups, whose seed capital is typically not more than `15-20 lakh, can save big on rent.“If we were looking for a place on our own it would have cost `7,000 per sq feet to build up and a rent of `60 per sq feet per month,“ says ClearTax’s Gupta.
A private incubator would cost an entrepreneur about `5,000 a seat a month and software technology park about `3,000 a seat. Flexibility at work is also limited. At technology parks, offices have to shut at 7 pm and weekends are a strict no-no.
Sairee Chahal, who started sheroes.in, a platform for women in June 2014 at the Paytm office, says she saves a minimum of `10 lakh a year on rentals. “I also don’t have to worry about security, power backup and internet.“
Besides monetary savings and flexibility, sharing office helps entrepreneurs tap into experts. Says Saxena of Nimbuzz it’s the ideal ecosystem for a startup to thrive. “The older entrepreneurs know the pain of a startup and help the newer ones. Besides many entrepreneurs are themselves angel investors. This provides access to hidden gems as well.“
At Paytm, a company named Shifu occupies 250 sq feet of free office space where design, engineering and quality teams work to develop the app, a personal assistant for smartphone phone users. “Our focus is just work. And to test out our app, we just walk outside the cabin and we have Paytm employees to do that,“ says Prashant Singh, who founded Shifu.
The only downside, according to Singh, is “the fear factor“. “You know your place and that keeps you awake,“ says Singh.
His startup Shifu is yet to make money and has stayed at Paytm for two years now. “At some point we will move out.“
Recalls Sandeep Aggarwal, angel investor and founder of two startups-Droom and ShopClues, “When I was starting up, somebody offered six laptops, another introduced me to a lawyer.This really speeds up time to market.Now I am doing the same -expanding 6,000 sq feet office to 9,000 sq feet to have fellow entrepreneurs share space. I will either take equity in those startups or just mentor them.“
Two startups, AYN Networks, a B2B marketplace founded by Devesh Rai, and Carma, a ride share platform, started by Abhishek Talwar are sharing space at Aggarwal’s office.
Startup founders also meet regularly to discuss problems, and collect references. At one such gathering of 12 startup founders, organised by software product think-tank iSpirt, the topic on the agenda was `lean sales’. The lead anchor, Pallav Nadhani, has built FusionCharts, a profitable global products business from India and his client list includes marquee names like Apple and the Obama administration. His coanchors were Paras Chopra of Wingify and Varun Shoor of Kayako, who also run successful product businesses.
iSpirt has organised over 50 such roundtables named Playbooks, built around the concept of entrepreneurs sharing and learning from each other’s experiences.
Some may even lead to deals. Kunal Shah of Freecharge and Kunal Bahl of Snapdeal were frequently in touch and the rapport they developed helped in catalysing the deal. “We could do the deal easily because we had been constantly talking with each other,“ says Shah.
Source: The Economic Times