Sameer Guglani of Morpheus Gang on why Indian unicorns are facing the heat


I first heard of “Morpheus Gang” in February 2014 when I wrote this story for TechCrunch about how and why it was shutting down.

Sameer Guglani, one of Morpheus founders, wrote this emotional and somewhat philosophical blog titled “Morpheus is going nowhere.”

Since then, I have met dozens of the Morpheus gang members from Delhi, Bengaluru and Pune: they include Ashish Tulsian of POSist and Sumit Jain of Commonfloor. The gang is now around 340 members strong, and what binds them together is this selfless, passionate sense of mission (I know it’s hard to believe this at a time when “the mercenary culture” is going mainstream).

For this podcast, I meet Guglani in his Chandigarh den, in a small, well laid-out pocket of the modern city.

I ask him what it would take for Ola and Flipkart to beat Uber and Amazon?

While answering the question, Guglani candidly admits that he mostly prefers using the services of the multinational rivals. He points at the challenges faced by the Indian startups and their founders, in terms of not being excellent at doing several things. “Most of them are great at one, may be two things, and that’s about it.”

“At some point in time, entrepreneurs start stagnating because there’s so much struggle they have gone through to move every inch,” he tells me. “Somewhere the feeling of having arrived comes in, somewhere the growth of consciousness stops — it’s like my car has run out of fuel.”

What he stresses is for entrepreneurs to expand their consciousness to deal with challenges that they cannot even predict. He cites example of Tesla’s Elon Musk to illustrate how evolved entrepreneurs like him have expanded their consciousness.

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Podcast produced by Anand Murali.

Remember redBus? A chat with Sanjay Anandaram, who watched it take shape

Remember redBus? The online bus ticketing company that revolutionised that space.

When I first heard of redBus’s $125 million sale to the Ibibo Group in June 2013, I questioned the timing and said that it was an opportunity lost to create a truly Indian, next-generation company.

Later, when I met redBus founder Phanindra Sama and voiced this to him, his answer dwarfed my reasoning. “If you make 10-20 times the money much later in your life versus whatever you make now, as long as it is significant, I would take the money now because my parents are getting old,” he told me in this interview with Mint in September 2013.

In this week’s Outliers, I speak to Sanjay Anandaram, a former Wipro executive who now mentors startups and mentors founders. Anandaram is also mentor to Sama, and someone who watched the redBus story take shape and eventually find a new home.

“He once had to get off a train in the middle of the night because he was carrying only a photo copy of his ticket, which was invalid. He refused to bribe the ticket examiner,” says Anandaram.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””] “He once had to get off a train in the middle of the night because he was carrying only a photo copy of his ticket, which was invalid. He refused to bribe the ticket examiner” — Sanjay Anandaram on redBus founder Phanindra Sama   [/perfectpullquote]

As a journalist tracking founders and startups for over a decade, my first meeting with Sama was quite a definitive one. I found him to be really grounded, honest, frugal, curious as hell and, above all, really particular about protecting his integrity.

All those traits also defined redBus’s culture, especially frugality and integrity.
“I stopped jumping signals as a rider thinking what if a redBus employee sees me breaking the rules,” he told me once.

When redBus got sold, a decent cash pile of around Rs 30 crore was still lying in the company bank account. redBus was profitable.

“Frugality was redBus’s DNA,” he says. “Nearly 80% of that Rs 30 crore had come in only during the last round and it wasn’t spent,” says Anandaram.

“By 2015, they (Naspers and Ibibo) grew the company about five times, but by losing money. Phani wasn’t a person who believed in valuation for valuation’s sake.”

We are also putting together a deeper narrative looking back at redBus model, its failures and successes, and the lessons that need to be kept alive for generations of Indian entrepreneurs to get inspired.

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In his trek from an ‘accidental’ company to a ‘deliberate’ one, Rafat Ali learnt to have a voice

As a rookie media entrepreneur, I have always looked up to Rafat Ali, who sold his first media startup paidContent to The Guardian, and is now in the fifth year of building Skift, a new-age travel media startup.

Ali has been a long-time digital media warrior. He maintains a no-nonsense profile across social media platforms, questioning the incumbent, large media platforms on one hand, and taking on the rising dominance of newer media products such as Facebook on the other.

He doesn’t believe a media startup has to necessarily position itself as a positive or negative storyteller. “If we cover the good parts, we also cover the bad parts. And the companies and people we cover appreciate that,” he says.

No matter what sector or product, a startup’s biggest existential battle is to survive. “It doesn’t get talked about as much, but really, the biggest job you have (as a founder) in the first three years is to make sure you survive, and you don’t die as a company. We’ve done that, and now we have the luxury to build a long-lasting business.”

“The founders who say they never build for exit are essentially lying, either to themselves or to the outside world,” he adds.

His mission is to “create a media company with a culture that people want to be at and stay at, and create something meaningful.”

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