Having legal counsel does sound like a nice thing to have but is an essential day-to-day requirement for any entrepreneurial venture
Sanjay always believed in a grand vision of the world and wanted to make an impact in his own way. The mobile telecom industry was still nascent around the time he graduated out of IIM-A. He was completely fascinated by the impact he saw it was going to make. He joined the sector and worked in it through the cellphone revolution. Having seen that, he was constantly on the lookout for a similar experience in other secotrs. Around that time, the education industry was yet to be introduced to wireless and mobile technology. When tablet devices were introduced, he finally took the plunge and started iProf.
We were a three-member team at first but quickly realized that we needed core specialists from the education domain. We always regarded ourselves as a technology company rather than an education company and treated education as a sector we served. So we hired education experts and created a technology team proficient both at building platforms and dealing with business-to-business relationships.
Education and healthcare sectors do not usually get affected by recession. However, other industries do. This situation helped us hire suitable people across sectors in 2008-09. It kept the attrition rate low and, simultaneously, got us talented resources.
However, as the economy improved, competition in the market increased and retaining talent became quite a task. But in the interim, we had built a reputation, which made it easier for us in managing our workforce. The two main attributes we seek in new hires are passion and energy. We believe an employee with low skills but high will is better than someone with high skills but a low will to work. We look at building a group of people who believe in our philosophy and are extremely passionate about what they do.
In the beginning, we were a small group of people. As their leaders, we were still learning the ropes of management as we went along. In the lifetime of every startup, there are various occasions when a company needs to upskill and hire specialists. With such small teams, it is very easy to get attached to team members and even though a personal connect could help work, it hampers recruitment decisions and makes it difficult to let go of older employees and upgrade according to changing needs.
Also, we underestimated the legal requirements of starting a business in India. Indian laws are a maze of regulations, both at the state and the national level, and there are no clear guidelines to help a company through this maze right now. Having legal counsel might sound low-priority, perhaps even a luxury, but it is an essential requirement for any entrepreneurial venture. And it is not just legal regulations but also day-to-day business agreements which require legal knowledge.
Every startup also needs to keep in mind that a first-time product will need a number of spins before it becomes market ready. Being fixated on ones’ own idea of what the market needs can lead to a lot of disappointment. Every new leader needs to think on his feet. Strategies and action plans need to be restructured and amended over time. We too changed and modified our offering almost three times in the last few years to include new technology as the market evolved. A number of new companies have met their demise because they could not maintain their relevance in the industry with the products they offered.
The last thing is about managing funds. Startups are low on funds and they need to be mindful and judicious in the way they use this money. Burning through cash with little or no thought has led to the closure of many ventures. There is no better way of impacting lives than through education and we see that happening within our own business. There is great scope of growth in the coming years and we will keep reinventing ourselves to maintain our relevance over the years.
(As told to People Matters)