First hand lessons from founders of a startup

This guest article is based on experiences shared by the founders of Creditas Solutions , @Anshuman Pawar and @Madan Srinivasan. Creditas , a company I have invested in, operates the ClearMyDues platform ( www.clearmydues.com)

•    Metric Focus: Pick one (and only one) metric that defines your current business. Resist the promoter urge to want simultaneous perfection across everything. Track that metric relentlessly and in great depth, and pursue growth of that metric aggressively. This focus seeps in to your organization as well so you can avoid problems where people are pulling in different directions. In certain cases, you might want to ask your team to drive a subset of your main metric but it should be directly and linearly correlated to what you are really looking to drive. 

o  What we did: Revenue was our metric. We invested in tracking it in detail with our CRM tools and MIS function. We created a 'Revenue Predictor' that, working on past trends and daily data, would provide us a daily prediction of revenue expected for the month. This was our early warning system to tell us whether any drastic course correction was needed.

o  Lessons we learnt: Most times, your metric will not be achieved exactly as per plan - the benefit of relentless focus is that when plans go awry (as they often do), you have thought so deeply and often about the metric that alternative plans spring to mind immediately and can be implemented with minimal organisational resistance. 

 •    Organization: Build your second-tier organization consciously and deliberately. This takes time, so do not expect to get it done in a rush. Ensure your key team members are also thinking about redundancy. One good way to execute this is to ask them whether they plan to be doing the same tasks a year down the line. If not, then they must hire and groom people to take their place

o  What we did: Our first step was to hire a CFO who proved invaluable in helping us focus on Sales and Growth and at the same time who ensured that governance did not take a backseat. Another massive benefit was the comfort in knowing that we had a trusted person overseeing the cash situation on a daily basis as well as giving us the confidence that we were set for a further 12 months of runway. Our second step was to hire people who we found extraordinary even if we did not have a direct role for them. Our belief has been that such people create value on their own, especially in a growing organization

o  Lessons we learnt: Make your hiring a gruelling process. Beyond the obvious benefit of better screening, it filters out candidates who might not survive the start-up grind. Lastly, candidates feel valued when they undergo a rigorous assessment rather than a slapdash Yes/ No interview.

 •    Marketing: In an ideal work, good work will speak for itself. In real world, not so much. Never assume your clients (especially senior folk) know all the amazing stuff you've done for them. Ensure you market your achievements to them aggressively and in a manner that your stakeholders within the organization look good too. Everyone loves to talk about great initiatives they've taken so they will take your marketing narrative and promote it further to capture brownie points for themselves. 

o  What we did: Circulated all minor and major successes to clients in a well-designed format which they could forward to higher ups within the organization. Doubled down on this by sending success snippets over WhatsApp which again benefited from easy 'shareability'

o  Lessons Learnt: The marketing rule also applies in inverse. If what you're doing cannot be sold internally as a success story, it will be a long arduous scale up within that organization

 •    Client Focus: Analogous to the top metric you are driving - pick the top clients you wish to drive. Its far better to go in-depth with the top client and create robust case-studies than to have a wide portfolio of indifferent results. This will cause somewhat risky revenue concentration in the short term but the confidence you derive from results and word of mouth of performance will even things out in the longer term

o  What we did: Focused on Axis bank - our top client. Ensured we understood as many of their problems as we could, crafted a solid platform to solve those problems and began to market our performance aggressively to other clients

o  Lessons we learnt: A client who is a strong advocate of your business model is likely to give you 10x the value of your remaining client list put together. Find and cultivate client advocates and not necessarily client lists.

Meta Lessons

• Patience is THE virtue: There are no quick results. Sales, Organization building and Business performance have an organic growth curve that resists hacking. This is not an argument for inaction but for constant, incremental action towards building people, relationships and processes.

• Survival compounds Opportunities: The longer we’ve stayed in the game, the more the market is rewarding us with unexpected opportunities. This is akin to monthly compounding of reputation which yields dividends periodically and a massive payoff down the line. 

• School of hard knocks: Whether you win or lose daily, it is crucial to filter the noise out and focus on the long term. External blows are rarely fatal, it’s the internal loss of confidence that will kill you. As a corollary, composure is a much better skill to cultivate than excitability and keeps you team on even keel as well.

-By Dr. Aniruddha Malpani

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