Article: Good to Great: Strategies to build high-performing startups and SMEs

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Good to Great: Strategies to build high-performing startups and SMEs

Anshul Srivastava, product manager, Keka and Tarun Mathur, co-founder and chief business officer, Policy Bazaar discuss the exponential growth of the SME industry in India and what makes or breaks a startup in the initial years during an exclusive masterclass series with People Matters.

Do you have a great idea that could be built into a business? Are you eager to find out what constitutes an A-team at a startup? Is there a way to create chemistry among stakeholders, founders and new talent, with different backgrounds? During the masterclass titled ‘On building high performing SMEs, mastering strategy execution’, panelists Anshul Srivastava and Tarun Mathur busted myths and shared insights, drawn from their own experience on what makes a startup successful in this day and age. 

The rise of the SME industry 

In India, the SME industry comprises over 294,000 small enterprises and 33,000 mid enterprises, which contributes towards 29% GDP, reveals Srivastava. A few years back in 2015, there were around 5,000 startups and eight unicorns. Fast forward to 2021 and India has over 60,000 startups and 81 unicorns, with a valuation of $300 billion. Looking at these figures, it is quite clear that the industry is growing at an exponential rate. But with the hybrid model in place and digitisation, challenges are aplenty. In order to scale up and achieve goals, a startup needs to strengthen the role of HR managers, responsible for encouraging employees, monitoring progress, checking overall wellbeing, etc.  

Turning an idea into a business

When it comes to a startup, there are four tenets to keep in mind to achieve success, believes Mathur. Before you begin, ask yourself: what is the problem statement, do you have a solution to the problem, are you placed to solve it and finally, why will you win? He implores that a lot of startups close down in a few months because just having a solution doesn’t cut it; one also has to look at things objectively without attachment in order to succeed. 

Multi-faceted approach key to growth

For a startup to sustain and scale in today’s competitive market, the founders need to have a clear mindset, shares Mathur. All of us make the mistake of trying to find one solution to a problem, and keep going at it. What we fail to understand is that a startup is built so as to try and solve something new and hence, it is essential to focus on the problem and have a multi-faceted approach. And if you don’t have the right solution, go ahead and experiment without fear. 

Toughest challenge: Finding the right team

Mathur feels that getting the dream team is one of the most difficult challenges faced by startups today. While one might hire good people, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they would gel well with the existing employees. 

When one is looking for new talent for a startup, it is important to find candidates who are eager to build and create something. Mathur’s checklist includes: 

  • Is the candidate enterprising?
  • Does he/she have high levels of ownership?
  • Are they ready to get their hands dirty?
  • Are they able to optimise themselves for delayed gratification as opposed to immediate gratification? 

With great resignation and the war for talent, building an A-team might seem impossible but there is no great mantra to it. The only thing to remember is that, it all comes down to meeting of minds. 


Watch the complete masterclass session here:

All about the chemistry

At a startup, it is of grave importance that each member understands the other and works as a team. One can never say that this kind of work is above or below me or this isn’t my area of interest.  This chemistry is not created overnight, says Mathur. Each and every team member has to communicate, explain, seek help and share ideas or else, they will end up pulling each other down, leaving the startup in shambles. 

Sharing an instance from his initial years at Policy Bazaar, when he was the HR manager while looking after marketing and analytics as well, Mathur revealed how juggling too many hats became a mighty feat. So, when he asked for help, one of the team members stepped up because it is all about building an ecosystem where everyone associated with the organisation, including customers, suppliers, employers and employees are benefitting. 

War for talent

Srivastava feels that before the pandemic, none of the employers focused on career progression of the employees. But that changed during remote work culture, when employers were unable to see the performance of the employees. One has to constantly encourage, motivate and provide regular feedback to keep the momentum going. Since startups without funding can’t pay compensation like corporations, the culture of the organisation becomes an important aspect for retaining an employee. 

According to Mathur, if an employee leaves, it happens within three months of joining. It is during that period that they realise what they set out to do isn’t exactly what they wish to do for the next 10 years of their lives. It is essential for organisations to identify this phenomena and create an atmosphere of comfort so employees can openly speak about it. In the end, nobody leaves an organisation, it is the manager/boss that they are running away from. 

Employees are happier working for startups

For Mathur, who has worked with startups and corporations, he believes that employees are much happier working at startups. This can be attributed to the alignment of the employee’s goals with the organisation, the culture of creation at startups and the policy of inclusion. 

Measure, measure and measure some more

With the disruptions brought on by the pandemic, it has been a rollercoaster ride for businesses to attain their goals. In Mathur’s opinion, one needs to keep their eyes on the prize (goal) while measuring each and everything they do. That means for every task performed and every problem tackled, a metric must be followed. 

But the pandemic hasn’t been all bad. It introduced employers to the hybrid model, employees were able to spend quality time with their families and a lot of content development and ideas were churned out. 

Now that we are in a transition phase, we, as employers, have to be lenient and understanding towards employees as we face delays and challenges in the work processes, with the onslaught of new technologies. 

Mastering strategy execution

It is crucial for individuals at a startup to keep chasing the dream, while making sure they have the right solution and are doing it to win. One shouldn’t build a startup to run from the corporate rut or just to be their own boss. The reason should be right and one needs to keep at it, till they make it, says Mathur. You might come across the success stories of other startups and lose focus, thinking why your enterprise isn’t there yet, but don’t fret. Keep your feet and ears on the ground and believe that you are creating and running an organisation that will last for the next 50 years. 

Emphasising on the importance of learning, Srivastava concludes that with startups, that is never-ending. One needs to learn constantly to keep up in an ever-evolving market. 

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Topics: Strategic HR, #SMEcorner

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