Before that founder CEO move
by Thiyagarajan Maruthavanan (Rajan)
Indian founders that came to US very early as students or are US born contribute to more than half of Silicon Valley’s billion dollar plus IPO and M&A. But tech founder who started in India and moved as the CEO in their mid 30s or later are yet to find their feet.
As I head back from StartupBridge Salon, I was chewing these thoughts. Reminding myself that generational level changes takes time. One must focus on basics of making connections for strengthening the young roots of a mature transplant.
Every trip to the Valley unsettles you. Normal business rules seem out of whack here. Makes you wonder what type of business gravitation forces are at play in this region. To regain my sanity, I mark a reminder to myself to read again ‘Status Anxiety’ by Alain De Botton on my every plane ride back.
This time I ran into a decade long mentor. He is someone that has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Indian startups in last 15 years. But he is always quick to remind me that those are mistakes that gave him expensive lessons, made him more humble.
I was expecting him to be in India to meet him when I get back, not on this plane ride. The discussion that took place in the airport therefore played out to me like the scene between Alex (the general manager) and Jonah (the professor acting as a coach) from the business novel Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt. Alex unsettled, Jonah as always balanced through the wisdom of his experience.
Pic Source – Screen shot from the movie adapted from the business novel Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt
He quizzed me “What is that I am learning in my new role, others can learn from ?”
I belabored to him about my bias for building for global market as opposed to the India market.
He pushed me further on “What am I learning from my Upekkha work specifically in the last 8 months ?”
Wondering why is my go-to expert asking me this, I rattled that it is the basics that everyone knows when it comes to building a global B2B SaaS business.
Pivot from India to Global market ; Take the courage to increasing price ; Get the positioning right ; Move up market and finally not to forget that Upsell is the bedrock of any subscription business.
Perplexed I asked him what was I missing. He told me softly that it is everything that I said and a tad bit more.
He said that it is an unfair affair for every B2B founder from India. They are uprooted in their late 30s to a new geography in US. They are plucked away from support system of their family that they rely upon. This founder has already been misled by Indian customers therefore has certainly built a wrong product. Now he has to do it all again in a foreign culture. He has to do this amidst the peer pressure of his classmates. Classmates that moved as students or early employees and are now managers in Google, Facebook making half a million or more in salaries.
These founders exhibit urgency to move to US thinking it is a sales problem but fail to realize it is a product market fit problem. If the founder has no prior experience working in US before then it is a deeper founder market fit problem as well. This is one of the important reason at-least 3-4 more years get added in them getting traction compared to startup peers in Valley. It is that human element of the transplant the hardest part.
If the goal is winning globally in products, the key bottleneck is in helping figure out the product market fit before moving to US.
Pic Source – https://flic.kr/p/3fKejR
This counterintuitive piece of advice is as profound as the other insight he had shared with me last year.
“A poor exits of startup problem is manifestation of incorrect entry problem . Picked the right startup to invest in the first place ?”
Pic Source – https://flic.kr/p/eKS7K7
I smiled knowing that though counter intuitive again on product market fit advice. It would be music to ears to a core few that I work closely with. 🙂