Girish Mathrubootham says investors are owners too

For Girish Mathrubootham, founder and CEO of Freshdesk, entrepreneurship is not a one-off fling, but more like a habit, or “a sport he dearly loves.”

“Being an entrepreneur gives an opportunity to dream and go after it. It’s about doing what I like doing,” he told me in this episode of The Outliers Podcast.

Nobody wins when a founder loses

After almost two years of a funding frenzy, and more money chasing fewer, scalable startup ideas, some entrepreneurs are now worried about investor activism. “India’s biggest startup has just seen founders move out of top executive roles, and an executive from their top investor is now at the helm — many of us are worried,” a startup founder struggling to make it big in the internet business told me recently.

With some of the top names including Sequoia, Accel and Google Capital backing Freshdesk, is Mathrubootham worried?

“A lot of us think that if Girish started this company, it’s his. And while that’s true, let’s not forget one thing — the moment you take investment and sell your share, somebody is part owner of the company. It’s as much as (the) investors’ company as it’s ours,” says Mathrubootham.

“For most of us who aren’t Mark Zuckerberg, it’s prudent to understand that when we take money from external investors, we should be mature enough to understand that they are owners too. Now, the investors want founders to run the company because that’s the best bet. “

Don’t mix passion with emotions

“You shouldn’t mix the two. And it comes with maturity. Being passionate is a must, but not being emotionally involved is a great trait to practice,” says the founder-CEO. “My pet peeve has been that many founders in India aren’t building great customer experience and are taking shortcuts. They see demand going through the roof.”

Should founders aspire for financial freedom early?

“It’s important to understand that if you want to dream bigger, and go for the big swing, entrepreneurs need freedom in their mind and risk-taking ability,” says Mathrubootham. “So we started Freshdesk in October 2010 — if all I had was a home loan and salary and absolutely no liquidity, it would be very hard to keep going on, managing financial needs.” Early liquidity frees you from emotional burdens and take bigger risks. “If not, your natural tendency will be to protect and not take risks,” he says.

Will you sell if Google makes an offer?

I couldn’t resist asking Mathrubootham this question because of the stage Freshdesk is in.

“Obviously, we would take it to the board. It also depends on what’s the right thing to do,” he says.

“Let’s assume we spend the next five years working towards the liquidity goal and maybe, we reach $500 million or more in revenue. And that puts us in $4-5 billion (valuation) range.”

“Dreams can be continued, I don’t see acquisition as an end to the journey. And I’m talking as someone who’s acquired seven companies.”

Listen to Mathrubootham’s refreshing ideas on entrepreneurship in this podcast.

To listen to the previous episodes and subscribe to the Outliers podcast on SoundCloud click here. iTunes users can also click here to subscribe.

Naval Ravikant, a monk in the Valley, tells us he’s ruthless about time

For Naval Ravikant, entrepreneurship has been a long, slow burn of several startup failures since 1999, when he started the consumer review site Epinions. AngelList, Ravikant’s biggest startup success, was launched in 2010 after a decade of struggles. AngelList established him among the most influential names in Silicon Valley, as hundreds of thousands of investors and early founders connected on the platform, transacting with each other transparently. He was an early seed investor in companies such as Uber and Twitter.

Getting him to record the Outliers podcast was a long, slow burn too, and it took some hard chase since August last year. Finally, he got on a call on February 10, for an almost hour-long conversation.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] Ravikant now sounds like a monk, sharing philosophical life lessons based on his own entrepreneurial journey and his observation of several founders and investors over the years   [/perfectpullquote]

Ravikant now sounds like a monk, sharing philosophical life lessons based on his own entrepreneurial journey and his observation of several founders and investors over the years.

Here are the top five insights from the several life lessons and practical insights he shared on being a founder:

1. Don’t get attached to outcomes

As an entrepreneur, you’re obsessed about building something and achieving milestones in a time-bound manner. The attachment with your own startup idea can be blinding at times. This is so because, as Ravikant describes, “entrepreneurship is like selling your stories.”

“You’re selling a story to everyone, and every time you sell a story, you sort of trap yourself a little bit more, adding more on your shoulders. You keep taking additional stress every time, and over a long period, it weighs you down,” he says.

So, what does one do?

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] “One way of detaching yourself (from the outcomes) is to keep reminding that you are gonna die and will leave everything behind”   [/perfectpullquote]

“Good entrepreneurs don’t get attached to outcomes. It’s easier said than done, because you have to be a Buddhist to get away with something like that,” he adds.

“One way of detaching yourself (from the outcomes) is to keep reminding that you are gonna die and will leave everything behind.”

The other insight from Ravikant about detaching from outcomes is to become more process-oriented, and not goal-oriented. “When you’re process-oriented, you don’t care about goals as much,” he says.

2. Don’t do business networking

If you count the number of times you run into the same people across different startup and technology events, you will realise that maybe it’s not worth it. As Ravikant says, “If you’re building something interesting, you will always have more people wanting to know you than you want to know them.”

He stays away from networking over dinners, conferences. “I draw a complete line between my personal and business life. I don’t go business networking, and any trip to a conference is a road to ruin, according to me,” he says, adding, “I must personally like the people I meet.”

3. Be ruthless about time

“The most important thing we have in life is time. I guarantee you that if you’re a smart entrepreneur, you will die with money in the bank. What you will keep wanting is more time, not money,” says Ravikant.

He adds he’s very ruthless when it comes to time.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] “If you’re a smart entrepreneur, you will die with money in the bank. What you will keep wanting is more time, not money”   [/perfectpullquote]

4. What is work

“The definition of work for me is a set of things you have to do that you don’t want to do,” says Ravikant.

5. Failure first

In the startup world, a lot of glory is attached to entrepreneurial failures. And while it may sound bizarre to traditional businesses, failing is the way of a founder’s life.

“I’ve had far more failures than successes — most of my investments were failures and most of my startups have failed,” says Ravikant.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] “Success only comes after you have given up on that. Because it takes so long to be successful at anything”   [/perfectpullquote]

“The worst part about failures is that they arrive suddenly. Success only comes after you have given up on that. Because it takes so long to be successful at anything,” he adds.

To listen to the previous episodes and subscribe to the Outliers podcast on SoundCloud click here. iTunes users can also click here to subscribe.

Sampad Swain breaks the silence on how founders can’t stay really real

Entrepreneurship is usually made out to be a heroic, special, and sometimes crazy pursuit. “Go big or go home,” and “screw it let’s do it” are some of the punchlines used on wallpapers inside startup offices.

But entrepreneurs are humans too. As I’ve discovered over years meeting hundreds of founders, they are mortal. They are equally influenced and shaped by the emotions of fear, anxiety, greed, anger and so on.

Sampad Swain, the founder of payment startup Instamojo, comes from a really humble background. His father was a construction worker who struggled to make ends meet. But he ensured that Sampad had access to the right education that would help him chase his dreams.

I discovered Sampad on Twitter, a few years ago. He came across as one of the most vocal critics of the startup frenzy, questioning flawed strategies of both founders and investors. It was really refreshing to hear his views at a time when everything about Indian entrepreneurship was made out to be a moon mission.

In this episode of Outliers, I sit down with Sampad to discuss the conflicts faced by founders in maintaining a balance between their own personalities, and the responsibilities of being an entrepreneur.

“What I’m doing, I’m not proud of doing. But I think I’m afraid of saying things which would impact negatively my organisation, shareholders, employees, everybody — even to the extent customers. I hope there are more founders who have much thicker skin than I have today,” says Swain.

 

From Pune’s streets to Bengaluru’s IT corridor, a transwoman tells us how

Nayana Udupi transitioned from being biologically male to a transwoman around 20 years ago, in an arcane initiation ceremony presided over by the guru and ‘dayima’ of a transgender community in Pune, but she always knew, from early childhood, that she was female inside.

Sitting on the terrace of our office in Indiranagar, Bengaluru, she first points to Shrabonti and says, “I always wanted to be this,” and then looks at Pankaj and says, “Not this.”

It was not an easy transition. Born into an orthodox family in Mangalore district, she still remembers preferring her sister’s clothes over the “boy clothes” her parents bought her, and her father — not the most supportive of her innermost desire to be a woman — calling her ugly names like ‘hijra’ and ‘chhakka’. Around 20 years ago, Nayana ran away from home and ended up working with the transgender community in Pune, begging and doing sex work to survive. She talks openly about this in our podcast. “I didn’t like that life. I wasn’t rough and tough, like you needed to be. I wanted to study, to work in an office.”

After a few years, she returned to Bengaluru and, while working as a receptionist at a hotel, started taking evening classes in computer languages. It wasn’t easy, because, along with her sexuality, “not being from an English-speaking background” was also a challenge. Slowly, with the help of NGOs like the Solidarity Foundation, she started doing freelance programming work. Finally, Bengaluru’s tech dream came true for her when she got a job with ThoughtWorks, where she is currently employed as a marketing executive.

We dare you to listen to Nayana’s story of struggling for acceptance in a society heavily loaded against people like her, told in her own voice, and not get goosebumps.