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Bottoms Up: The Quantity Vs Quality Debate Among Startups [We Need Spartans Not Cannon Fodder]

Image: Wikipedia
Image: Wikipedia

We’re joining the chorus. One camp in the startup ecosystem feels that the focus should be on bringing a large number of people into entrepreneurship and quality will follow. The other, believes that focus on quantity will create a vicious backlash when these unprepared entrepreneurs egged on by the quantity backers come to terms with reality.

Both arguments have merit. However, excessive focus on quantity, is a bit worrying. It’s not like the startup ecosystem really needs to prove itself every quarter or has to show charts going north to its stakeholders.

Once you get to a certain number, you’d probably spend a lot of effort trying to keep those numbers up. You’d be running harder, but moving slower. You’d see marginal improvements (or linear growth) and not the hockey stick growth typically you want to see. The focus on quality must be clear from the get go. It becomes too hard and too late to do it on a larger scale.

Take the content business for example. Deeper and higher quality articles live longer, reach more people and brings exponential returns to the effort you put in. Numbers, or traffic, will follow. It also helps us keep our focus & choose our battles more carefully. Sharp weapons work way better than blunt force. Commodity news on the other hand, voluminous in nature, brings linear growth. Your results are tied to how many man hours you spend doing repetitive tasks . Someone cheaper & faster can always stick it to you. There is no defensibility here.

Noise vs Signal: There is way too much noise around entrepreneurship these days than ever before. Aided and abetted by the media, too many yarns are being spun. It is good and bad. The good part is, startups get some attention they need. The bad part is, startups start drinking their own kool aid. If you add this to the lack of tough love in our startup ecosystem, we have a bigger problem. As Kunal & Sumant pointed out recently, there is very little honest feedback & healthy argumentation happening in India. Everybody wants to be nice to everybody else. This in turn results in massive loss of creative & disruptive energy. Argumentation and unadulterated feedback is core to the startup culture in Israel, a country often called to comparison in such debates.

Israel Model: Israel didn’t just set ambitious goals and sit around, waiting for luck to do its job. Israel’s success as a startup nation, was clearly engineered by policy makers and Jewish statesmen who made concrete plans (Yozma funds & the likes) to make entrepreneurship stick. Some chutzpah and military training helped. Israel couldn’t afford to be quantity first. Much of the country’s innovation has its roots in severe constraints it faced. While accelerators and other organizations are trying very hard to promote entrepreneurship in India, there is a clear lack of vision on the part of the government. Yes we know that an entrepreneurship policy was proposed. But what came of it?

Let quality inspire quantity: A few successful startups, call them quality if you will (in hindsight of course) inspire more startups and more successes. It should not be the other way around. Shooting for quantity breeds mediocrity. As an early startup ecosystem, constrained by resources, we should create a lean and mean Spartan army and not cannon fodder.

Can we do both? Sure. But if the few good people we have in the startup space start focusing on quantity, efforts will be spread too thin to result in anything substantive. Instead, if they create quality, and great successes, quantity will take care of itself.

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