Why I am “duelling” with Mahesh Murthy at UnPluggd

[Editorial notes : At UnPluggd, we are bringing together two opinionated guys (Mahesh Murthy and Sumanth Raghavendra) from the startup ecosystem to discuss at length on lotsa topics related to startups, funding, growth, valuation etc etc.

Sumanth shares some more context on why this ‘DUEL’ is important and why more early-mid stage startup founders should be a part of it.]

One of my long-lamented grouses with the Indian startup ecosystem is that by and large, we are a “monoculture”- at any given point of there, there is a single unitary normative notion of what a startup is supposed to do.

For instance, for the major part of this year, the diktat was to “grow at all costs” and now that the funding environment seems to have cooled down a bit, the advice du jour is “conserve your capital and survive”.

As with all sweeping statements, these voices are merely parroting truisms that are far more unhelpful than they seem to be at face value.

Nowhere is this monoculture more evident than at the startup events that we have in India.

Most events follow the same broad format where a bunch of entrepreneurs, typically those who are perceived at having “made it” (primarily because they have raised a boatload of funding), dispense pretty much the same hackneyed “advice” that is usually “repurposed” from some Paul Graham essay that often has little to zero relevance in India. Or they provide a unpalatably-romanticized version of their startup journey, suitably embellished to fit some wider hero-narrative.

The only exception to this are the sessions featuring VCs who turn up for one of two things.

To duly talk up their portfolio companies and urge you to join/fund/partner/patronize these amazing startups (even if privately these VCs berate themselves for ever getting into bed with some of these startups).

Or to hold court on how good/bad the funding environment is (their position of choice is determined purely on where they are with their own respective fund raising and deployment cycles).

There are three problems with this monoculture as far as startup events go.

Firstly, it is spectacularly unhelpful. There is little in these politically-correct statements that are truly actionable for your own business. Also, you can learn most of these things just as easily by reading it up yourself than having to physically attend an event.

Secondly, it trivializes the entire startup journey and reduces it to a bunch of truisms. As any startup entrepreneur in the trenches will tell you, the reality is far more nuanced than that. Each startup’s context is unique in one way or the other.

Finally, this blind devotion to monoculture advocates that there is only one normative way to reach startup success. The real world will tell you that each startup’s path to success is far more likely to be unique than something that follows a playbook template.

How do we fix this?

One simple way to help fix this is by bringing together a diverse set of people with a diverse range of opinions informed by their own real-world experiences. The goal of this congregation is not to provide a single set of actionable takeaways—there are no silver bullets of that ilk that will magically convert your fledgling idea into a startup success!

Rather, the intent is to provide people with different, probably even conflicting, perspectives around the day-to-day facets of running a startup—rather than talk down to the audience, these will provide the startup audience with anchor points against which to measure and judge their own imperatives and help them take more informed decisions around many of the tough choices that startups need to take on a daily basis.

To this end, Mahesh Murthy and I are “duelling” at Unpluggd tomorrow —we will talk about a range of startup topics in a format where we take up adversarial positions not so much to be proven right or wrong at each other’s expense but to provide the audience with an overview of the full spectrum of choices around each of these facets.

We hope this will be useful to you and also at least mildly entertaining!


Date : December 12th.
Venue: Star convention center, J P Nagar, Bangalore (Map)
Agenda: http://nextbigwhat.com/unpluggd