Ravi Kiran knows a thing or two about building and managing large companies. As the CEO of Starcom MediaVest Group (SMG) in South East and South Asia, Kiran has seen the world from a marketing perspective. For over 20 years, Kiran has built and managed teams, across several countries, which delivered marketing-focused products and services to client companies. He mentored peers at SMG’s offices in Mexico, Poland, Russia and Middle East, and served on SMG’s Global Management Group, a leadership group that offered thought leadership to all global offices of the company. In the middle of all this, there was the entrepreneur in Kiran that reared his head.
“For a while, I thought I’d just do nothing – maybe do some scuba diving and travel. But I had to start something else.”
In late 2010, he quit his job at SMG to explore several business ideas. In addition to learning new things, he knew he had to unlearn quite a bit in order to be successful as a startup founder. He attended several entrepreneurship related conferences across India and enrolled in the Venture Capital Development Programme at the Indian School of Business.
Around the same time, Shravan Shroff was grappling with his own foray into the startup ecosystem. Shroff, ofcourse, had been an entrepreneur for several years in a family business setting. He joined his family-owned Shringar Films, a distribution business that was founded in the 1950s. In 1996, he forayed into the multiplex business by raising organised capital in addition to raising money from his father. In early 2010, he exited the company by selling out to Inox Leisure. Shroff says, “For a while, I thought I’d just do nothing – maybe do some scuba diving and travel. But I had to start something else.” Earlier this year, Shroff and Kiran teamed up to launch Venture Nursery (VN), an angel-backed accelerator to help entrepreneurs in the early-stages of their journey.
Focus on value creation
At a fundamental level, Kiran and Shroff are convinced that a startup accelerator must focus on advising its portfolio companies on value creation – for employees, customers and the overall community. Kiran says, “In general, the role of money for a startup is overrated. It is the fundamentals of building a business that is extremely crucial.” VN’s boot camp is focused on imparting the various skills needed to conceptualise a business model and then execute it. A 90-day program, the boot camp includes courses on selling, execution and even inspiration, in addition to structured programmes on business planning and building a team.
At SMG, Kiran learnt that unarticulated assumptions could kill businesses. This might not be a part of any MBA curriculum, but it is a crucial skill for any entrepreneur to possess. When early-stage entrepreneurs take a leap of faith to build something, they need to list out what their assumptions are. This is just one of many examples of practical advice that boot camp participants hope to receive from the seasoned duo.
The accelerator has also roped in various people – with a variety of skill sets – to mentor and guide entrepreneurs who enrol in the program. Charter Angels, the name given to angel investors who are associated with VN, will actively evaluate companies that enrol in the boot camp to make a seed investment. Each startup is also assigned a pre-defined number of mentors and specialised experts, people whom VN calls advisors-in-residence and executives-in-residence, respectively.
Kiran says, “We look for people with real hunger, low ego and street smartness.” The company has a well-defined framework while identifying the companies that will go through the boot camp. Labelled the 6 Cs, the framework includes an analysis of the following attributes: commercial model, commitment, credentials, clarity, confidence, and chemistry of the founders.
Building the economy
Kiran clearly states that the success of VN lies in its ability to help its member companies succeed. He says, “We will be happy if our graduate companies can create tens of thousands of jobs in 10 years or so. Entrepreneurs exiting their business and becoming millionaires is fine, but in India, if businesses do not make our economy more resource productive and create jobs and social value; in our view, they are suboptimal.”
Shroff agrees and suggests that social and business challenges in India are more real and often mundane. “The environment is harsh and managing everyday challenges of the business is not easy. That is what you learn during acceleration, not just how to write code or design the next best UI or how to raise money.”
At a broad level, while the duo is looking for inspiration from incubators like Y-Combinator in Silicon Valley, they are convinced that an Indian solution for an accelerator is what they are trying to offer with VN.
A personal move
Both Kiran and Shroff understand that, while they have been extremely successful in their own previous avatars, their current assignment at VN requires a whole new gamut of skills. Kiran says, “We definitely need to be open to learning new things. We need to get rid of what I call intellectual arrogance.” While Kiran and Shroff say they are enjoying the experience of building a new business, it is their years of experience in tough, competitive environments that can be extremely useful to early-stage entrepreneurs.
Ravi Kiran (RK) and Shravan Shroff (SS)
Previous Avatar: RK: CEO-South East and South Asia, Starcom MediaVest Group (SMG) Holds
SS: Managing Director of family-run multiplex operator Fame India
Current Avatar: Founders, Venture Nursery
Why they took to entrepreneurship?
RK: The opportunity to learn new things and apply lessons learnt from the past.
SS: The enthusiasm to learn by investing and mentoring entrepreneurs in several new sectors.
Professional vs. Entrepreneur:
RK: Being a professional and working within the corporate boundaries limited my imagination to the natural restrictions defined by a well settled business structure. Today, as an entrepreneur, I am free to imagine and execute what is right for the market.
SS: As a family business owner, the organisation was reasonably well set and a lot of things got done for you. Now, it is a double whammy. We are a startup betting on other startups.
Lessons from the past:
RK: I learnt several good ones. Some of the best lessons I’ve learnt include the following: i) Unarticulated assumptions can kill a business ii) Individuals can imagine, but teams build iii) Being able to visualise the outcome of our efforts, even if in short bursts, is important.
SS: I learnt two key lessons: i) The value of money – we raised a lot of money from Fame India when it was not exactly a boom cycle ii) Managing the company through multiple boom and bust cycles, and making decisions when things are not going good.