[Great insights by Sanjay Anandaram, entrepreneur-turned-investor. In this piece, he nails down few experiences of startup leadership qualities. A must read for all individuals who want to/are running their own business]
“I’m catching an overnight train to Hubli. My regional manager has set up a meeting with retail and corporate investors late tomorrow afternoon”, my friend told me. I asked why didn’t he just drive down in the morning rather than spend a night away from home. He replied, “It will give me time to spend with my branch colleagues there and I also plan on having lunch with them. There’s a nice masala dosa place near our office there and it’s been a while since I’ve caught up with all of them.” My friend is the founder and CEO of a leading financial services company. He tries his best to accept invitations to various events involving birthdays and weddings of his colleagues. He’s taken a
genuine and personal interest in their well-being. He’s as comfortable in a road-side dhaba as in a high end 5-star restaurant. My friend’s job requires him to travel extensively not just to metros but also to smaller towns around India.
When travelling by air, he routinely takes the air-conditioned Volvo bus service bus to and from the new Bengaluru International airport – a journey that takes him about 90 minutes and costs him about Rs 150. Its convenient, takes the same time as a car or taxi would and much cheaper. He usually catches a train or takes a taxi (a Tata Indica no high end luxury vehicle for him) for intra-state travel. Though entitled to fancy hotels, he prefers moderately priced ones. He’s conscious of how his lifestyle and behaviour impacts people around him. He’s very successful in his job and has built a very committed and driven team.
The CEO of a just VC funded (and therefore flush with the warm glow of capital) startup called me to say that he was moving the following day to a brand new office. As a boot-strapped angel backed startup, he had been managing literally on a month by month basis. And naturally, he was excited to be moving to a new fancy office with all fitments in place. He also told me that the move to the office would save the company at least Rs 2L per month relative to other places they had looked at. “We spent over 6 months looking for an office space and managed till things were well past breaking point!” Incidentally, the “new” office was in fact being sub-let by a once well funded startup that had spent a lot in finding the “right” office and then doing it up in style.
“This guy is a very heavy-duty guy. He’s asking for Rs 35L plus stock in my company. The highest salary in our company now is Rs 10L. Should I take this person?” asked the CEO of yet another startup. The candidate was experienced and qualified. His company is well funded and is the fastest growing company in its segment and needed top class talent to grow to the next level. The CEO was concerned not because of concerns about affordability but about what impact the high salary would have on his company culture. He had prided himself on building the company on a step by step basis where every senior hire shared the vision and the risk. Finally, he decided against hiring the person.
I met an entrepreneur the other day at a coffee shop in a five star hotel. He arrived a few minutes late in a chauffer driven high end sedan. After apologizing for being late, I ordered a hot lemon tea while he ordered a frappe. He was clearly passionate and driven. He was wearing well-known brands for his fashionable shirt and trousers. He had on designer sun-glasses and carried the latest cell phone. He was articulate and focused. He also happened to be the single largest shareholder (the other shareholder was his wife) in his company, was trying to raise VC money, and was having a problem in attracting and retaining talent. His attitude was “I don’t have good people now. But once I raise the money, I’ll just hire the best.” He was clearly able to spend company money on himself but was unwilling to spend money on paying employees more! Clearly, sharing of equity with others was something that hadn’t even entered his consciousness. In addition, he was looking to use the VC funds to pay for the hires.
What do you think? What kind of a example do you wish to set?
[The article first appeared in FE. Reproduced with author’s permission]