Happy Confused EntrepreneurLast week, I met Sharad Sharma, an angel investor & the prime mover behind the iSPIRT, a think tank for software product startups. For those who have been into software products, he is a familiar face. We’ve met many times before but this time around, we talked about the dangers of mass entrepreneurship, which I’ll keep for a later post. That’s because I stumbled upon a more pressing issue, particularly painful to the Indian entrepreneur: The Happy Confused Phase. I’ll try and paraphrase some parts of the discussion here with a few additions of my own.

What is the happy confused phase?

The happy confused phase comes after the entrepreneur has discovered his customer and found a product market fit. Ideally, a startup would now be ready for the growth execution phase. But in India, the happy confused phase takes over. In mature markets, after finding the product market fit, an entrepreneur hires a team to execute. In India, you can hardly find the right talent (for various reasons). So then, it is up to the entrepreneur to train the existing team and the transition takes longer than you would imagine. This in-between phase, is called the happy confused phase.

Implications of this stage

“The execution team is hard to find in most cases and you end up retraining existing staff to do execution,” Sharad says. This is time consuming. Unless you cross this happy confused phase, most Indian VCs won’t fund you despite having found the product-market fit. Indian VC’s won’t come into a deal too early because they have their exits which is time bound in nature, to take care of. Running out of money is one of the many things that can go wrong in a startup.

Who can help?

Accelerators can help. But there is another problem here. Accelerators in India are time based. Which means, when they run out of time, they have to send the startup away. This is one reason why you would have started hearing of “accelerator horror stories.” After time runs out, many will promise you support but it is flaky at best.

A four month acceleration period is hardly enough in Indian conditions. There are exceptions to this. However, the general idea is that accelerators, especially the ones that take equity in the company, must be stage based.

Mentors can help. Mentors in the same industry as yours, who can help you with deals, are very valuable. They can also help you find talent and customers. However, as veteran Silicon Valley investor Vinod Khosla pointed out at his talk in Bangalore, “It can’t be people who are sideline cheerleaders who have never taken risks.”

Focused events like Uncafe or Playbook Round Tables by iSPIRT can also help. These events help speed up learning. Peers and people who have been in your shoes can help you learn faster. The important phrase here is “ experiential learning,” and not “startup event.”

Conclusion

The existence of the happy confused phase is not the only issue that Indian product entrepreneur has to deal with. With Indian startups, the discovery phase is longer than usual as well. An informed product entrepreneur who is aware of these issues can hack his way through these stages better than his uninformed peers.

If you’ve been in a similar situation and have found a clever way out, leave a comment or write a guest post for us.

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