2020 was like the year of startups! Due to the pandemic, the country saw all kinds of startups - the ones that made noise, the ones that thrived quietly, the ones that somehow managed to start or survive, the ones that added value, the ones that reduced their value and credibility, the ones who showed the real picture and addressed real problems, the ones that managed to hide the real picture by solving imaginary problems.
What is very clear is that there is an excess of resources and support systems for startups in India! This has led to organisations being formed, startup knowledge being imparted but majority of the startups are struggling with selling their products or services and unable to create the impact they want to. This could be because they can become mentally lazy, unwilling to work hard to build strong and sustainable models. They know there are investors, there are mentors who will provide what they need to get started or moving. However, customers can't be bought, customers won't come till there is a connect with them.
Digitisation is important, no doubt but in this era of technology and with loads of information available everywhere, content isn't the innovative factor, methodology is. Everyone has access to the same content and resources, similar platforms but what makes one startup stand out from the other is the methodology, the processes involved in how they deal with customers/clients, what kind of processes they build internally and how they customize as per the constant or ever-charging different audience's needs and requirements. Majority startups are competing with each other but on the wrong criteria and instead of focusing on what's important or what their core strengths could be to do business, they are all ending up saturating the markets.
With teams working remotely and startups expanding and scaling up globally, at a fast rate, the danger is lack of depth and lack of impact for the sake of showing superficial success, with the hope of getting more profits and credibility. The failure to realize the importance of depth and creating sustainable impact, systems and business models is leading to corruption and damage internally and externally, in the customers as well as the employees.
Most startups are thinking small and for the moment, to just start and see where it all goes. There is lack of vision, direction, intention and strategy for lasting long and being a strong player in the game. Quick money can sure be appealing but not at the cost of poor reputation and that can affect startups business and impact in the long run. An article or a post on common skills to learn during pandemic can provide ideas for what kind of a startup to start or having a good network of people and good connections can give a high of being able to drive the entrepreneurship dream but those aren't enough to build credibility and ability to solve problems.
Startups prefer to over promise and under deliver because that attracts customers fast initially and that along with facebook marketing, sponsored ads and large number of fake views can attract some more customers, making them believe that something big has come into the market! Under promising and over delivering requires consistent effort, research and skilling of a team and that can be time consuming and unnecessary if startups don't have a clarity or proper vision.
Technology can surely help with automation and collaboration between different team members, helping startups to be productive but unfortunately most of them lack effective management, effective organisation, lack of clarity and direction of purpose, inability to understand how to communicate effectively across teams remotely and building strong teams and systems that last and serve long, not to forget improper or insufficient knowledge of ground reality and problems that exist.
During pandemic when people are without jobs or losing them or when almost every young person wants to have a startup or be a part of it, it's easy to hire and recruit people to fill vacant positions. However, a strong entity can't be formed with people who lack vision in their life, personal and professional or who share no common values and beliefs, who have no vision to last long and everyone wanting to be a brand of some sorts but without the awareness that branding is more than just being the CEO of a startup, branding is more than just the number of likes, views, followers and comments.
Many startups fail to bring clarity into the market and within themselves, to figure out what model and strategy will be more profitable, impactful and sustainable. Startups may prefer stand alone models over being providers to needs and problems of bigger companies and thereby earning more. That again requires a lot of effort and empathy, willingness to learn, willingness to be patient and pilot consistently, which most startups lack.
Going forward in 2021, the following insights might serve as guidelines to startups to get better at their game:
Think and Build like you have no financial support even if you have one. Don't over spend. Don't over recruit. Don't over market. Don't over promise.
Focus on methodology, derive lessons from experienced mentors but also do paid pilots with different audiences. Have a core group of pilot customers or loyal paid customers that get the best quality you can offer, from the best you have in the team.
Customers may not always have clarity of new products and services but they may still buy them because of herd mentality. Develop systems, processes, products and services that bring positive changes and impact in the life or lifestyle of people. That way even with lesser clarity in customers, you will continue to get recommendations and referrals.
Build sustainable models instead of something just for the moment or the current situation. That way there will be less damage to lives of customers due to poor deliverables as well as less damage to employees who will suffer from bad reputation working at low quality organisations or financial struggles.
Invest in a team that is quality oriented, that is willing to learn and get skilled, get benefits and rewards, in cash and kind for their efforts.
Discuss from different teams and stakeholders about the areas that can be automated, areas where work can be outsourced or delegated. Contact with customers should be prioritized as non-automated and customised.
Startups in 2020 have certainly made a lot of noise but noise pollution harms everyone, including our country and its people. It's time startups become accountable and so do their investors, support system providers and mentors. It's time startups identify what instruments they want to use and how to create soothing melody, tunes that heal the people and the world.
(Madiha Ahmed is a Mentor at USA based McFerrin Center For Entrepreneurship, Mentor at Canada-based Skills for Change, Career Mentor at UK based University of Westminster, at India-based Jobs For Her)