The burden of being a start-up | Business Line

What’s the biggest challenge start-ups face? Ideas, funding or people to man their offices? None of them. You ask any start-up and you find there is a common problem they cite – it is the fear of failure. Not that they fear failure. It is the all pervasive fear in the mindset that generally encourages people to settle for something ‘safe’.

Akkiraju Bhattiprolu, a mid-level executive in a multi-national company, had to face, and still is facing, embarrassing questions. “They have begun to express sympathies as if I lost a job and am struggling to find another,” he says.

He is not someone to relent. He already tasted the bitterness in running a start-up. In a way, he tasted failure in his first venture YAssume. Failed to get in funds at the crucial moment, he along with his friend and co-founder, has just shutdown the venture. Instead of winding up their entrepreneurial dreams and join back this or that IT company, they have just started The portal pools up the culinary skills of housewives and meet the demand from food lovers. He represents the new breed of fledgling entrepreneurs who are ready to risk their lucrative career to build a company of their own and translate their dream into a reality.


The number of technology start-ups went up by three times to 500 in 2012 from 162 in 2006, signalling a significant change in the scenario. The Delhi region led the pack with a growth of 24 per cent in the number, followed by Bangalore with 27 per cent, Mumbai with 15 per cent., Hyderabad with 13 per cent and Chennai with 11 per cent. V Srinivasa Rao, Head of NMACS (Networks, Mobility, Analytics, Cloud and Mobility) of Mahindra Satyam, feels that Indians generally are conditioned to go in a known path. “Our family and surrounding ecosystem prepare us only for success and failure is not accepted in our society. When we fail first time, we get shaken up and feel that it is a sin and feel guilty. This, in turn, holds the people back to try out new things,” he says.

This, he says, is the main reason for most of the capable and excellent people do not take the risk of getting into entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship in most of the times is managing unknown problems and uncertainties. In the present educational system, we don’t prepare the people to manage uncertainties. We are also lagging behind innovation as this also involves lot of risks, if we try 100 ideas, 5-6 ideas may fly. This needs resilience and endurance.


In the absence of moral and financial support, majority of the engineering and graduates are settling for a job. Anything beyond that is unthinkable for them. In the United States, failure is viewed as something positive. If you fail in your first initiative, chances of you getting funding grow significantly. Because, the funding system there feels that the failure must have taught you something invaluable and chances of not repeating them are very high.

The situation, however, is changing for good. Angel funds are beginning to bloom in cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad. Successful entrepreneurs and high-net worth individuals have begun to see value in ideas particularly the technology-driven ones. They formed city-centric groups such as Mumbai Angels and Hyderabad Angels to vet the ideas, support them and mentor them through the journey.

Ravindra Krishnappa, a member of Indian Angel Network (IAN), feels that it is time we celebrate failure. “We need to celebrate thought leadership, perseverance and path-breaking spirit of those who’ve tried in earnest and have failed. It is only then that we’ll inculcate a culture of risk taking,” he says.

In India, ‘failure’ is fairly complex. Unlike in the West where ‘failure’ is mostly linked to a commercial failure, in India, it takes various social dimensions ranging from ability to get the right partner (groom / bride) to ridicule within the family network.

“It, however, is changing. There is tacit acknowledgement within society that `Entrepreneurship’ takes courage. It is no longer viewed as the last recourse of someone who has not been able to secure a good job, but, is a manifestation of independence,” he observes.

This, he says, is the prime reason for a weak ecosystem for start-ups. The two other reasons are lack of dignity of labour and absence of a proper scale to measure success. “Right from our early education, we Indians are asked to measure up to a neighbour or a peer who is seen as successful. During school, it is the ability to score marks, in college, it is the ability to get into highly competitive institutions and post degree, it is the ability to get a ‘plum’ assignment in a multinational,” he argues.

“We need to encourage individuals to draw up their own measures of success and chart an independent path,” he points out.


Nasscom, the National Association of Software and Services Companies, has realised the importance of having start-ups and a vibrant ecosystem to support small ideas. The recently launched NASSCOM initiative to fund 10,000 start-ups is case in a point.

Som Mittal believes it is okay to fail. But it is not okay to not to learn from mistakes. “What is important is early stage funding to handhold the ideas. Angel funds do not tread here. They need a few lakhs in the beginning that is hard to come by,” he says.

With the traditional hiring by IT companies is coming down, Nasscom expects a big contribution from start-ups. “We expect creation of five lakh jobs in the next 10 years. At least 15 start-ups would become $1-billion entities,” he comments.

V Srinivasa Rao says it is a long way to go, though there is slight improvement in the mindset. He feels that the country needs to set up Failure Centres of Excellence which help people to learn from the mistakes of others rather learning from their own mistakes. Fail Fast to succeed fast is the new mantra. When anybody identify any failure symptoms, immediately acting and taking preventive/corrective steps is very key. Waiting till major failure is not a good idea. An early warning system has to be established. The Government, Academia and industry have to establish an environment like Failure is stepping stone for success and recognize the risk takers, reward the people who failed even after putting their best efforts.



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