The art of being unreasonable

Almost six months ago, when I interviewed Mohit Dubey, founder of CarWale, he referred to his investor, Mahesh Murthy, as Mahesh bhai. Dubey confessed to us that neither his business model nor the one that Murthy had suggested was working out for his startup. The company had to continuously experiment with newer business models before they hit upon an idea that worked. According to Dubey, Murthy’s constant mentorship, suggestions on building a consumer-facing business and most importantly, his strategy of letting the entrepreneur do his own thing played an important role in shaping up the future of CarWale. To me, what stood out was the fact that Murthy had bet on an entrepreneur, who was young and had failed a few times, and here was Mahesh bhai willing to nurture a youngster through the beginning phase of his entrepreneurial journey. After that interview with Dubey, I made a note to myself to plan out a cover story with Murthy. I thought his views and his own personal journey could spur a few more people to turn entrepreneurs.

October 16th, 2009. It was a special day for our team – we launched the very first edition of The Smart CEO. I had just finished my first ever interview with a venture capital investor a week before. We spoke a lot about how VCs love investing in companies that can solve big problems. I also figured that VCs expected unbelievably fast revenue growth rates as soon as the money is infused. I googled to get an entrepreneur’s perspective on this thought process. I stumbled upon a blog post by Alok Kejriwal of Contest2win.com, which was titled ‘VCs should learn Bonsai.’ It spoke about how companies are no different from a Bonsai plant – better sustainable value can be created when growth happens over a longer period of time. It is unreasonable to expect companies to suddenly explode and grow. Since then, I have been a regular visitor to Kejriwal’s blog. Finally, after 30 months of running the magazine, I had the opportunity to interview him. I decided to pursue a story featuring Murthy and Kejriwal together on the cover. We let the duo discuss, among themselves, various topics relevant to the Indian entrepreneurship ecosystem and also gather some advice on managing a startup.

I found that the best take away from this discussion is how an entrepreneur has to be unreasonable. He needs to be someone who stands up for what he believes in, who has the ability to oppose and convince various stakeholders, and someone who can make those really tough decisions. It is what we call the art of being unreasonable. Kejriwal and Murthy unanimously agree that if you want to change the world, build yet another Google or a Facebook, you need to be someone who can make those tough calls.

Another discussion that I thoroughly enjoyed was who their role models were. Murthy seemed to draw inspiration from people outside the entrepreneurial ecosystem, but ones who’ve changed the world too. He spoke about how he reveres American physicist Richard Feynman and novelist Ayn Rand. Kejriwal, of course, is a Silicon Valley man. He swears by people like Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Jerry Yang. It was clear that both of them wanted to make a dent in the Indian entrepreneurship ecosystem and they were drawing ideas and inspiration from various achievers from many different walks of life.

I always enjoy concluding my editor’s note with a book recommendation. This time, the book I’d like you to read is by Dan Roam, an expert on visual thinking. The book is titled ‘Unfolding the Napkin’ and it talks about how complex problems can be solved through simple pictures. It is a book I’d highly recommend startup entrepreneurs to read – it’ll help you to add clarity to your thinking process and pick and choose between the numerous ideas that keep cropping up in your head.

Prem Sivakumaran is co-founder & CEO of Growth Mechanics, a leadership and entrepreneurship-focused business content company in India. Growth Mechanics publishes The Smart CEO, a publication focused on enabling peer-to-peer knowledge exchange among C-level executives and board members. The platform reaches over 1.2 lakh CXOs across its website, app, print publication & CEO Round Tables, and has featured on the cover India’s leading business leaders/founders from Infosys, Mindtree, Tata Sons, ICICI Bank, Biocon, Yes Bank and several others. In addition of Smart CEO, Growth Mechanics also organises the Startup50 Conference & Awards, an annual event to recognize India’s top 50 startups every year. Startup50 Alumni include Freshdesk, Oyo Rooms, Urban Ladder, Capital Float, Paperboat Beverages, among others. Growth Mechanics’ primary business model revolves around linking CXOs and Brands around engaging content and has worked with India’s leading companies including Mahindra Group, Godrej & Boyce, BASF, Airtel, Tata Docomo, Fiat, IDA Ireland, Yes Bank, Prestige Estates, Frederique Constant, Indian Terrain