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7 Things I Learned While Setting Up A Business In India

03/09/2015 8:25 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Working women

I'm a 29-year-old American woman who moved to India six years ago with a mission. Initially I came to "save kids from terrible teachers" but soon realised that my real raison d'être was to help kids have a little fun while they learn. Over the course of these six years, I have worked for five companies, lived in four cities, launched three startups, failed twice, and threatened to leave India once every month. Setting up a business in India is like getting a Brazilian wax; only instead of being quick, painful, and powerful, it's slow, emotional, and rarely results in orgasmic bliss. You'd rather die a virgin than deal with all the mess!

Given that I'm rather committed to the act, I've come up with a few pre-game tricks to ease the process.

1. Wear a wedding ring

Your best bet to convincing a room of (mostly) men that you are worth the millions of dollars you say you are is by not looking good. They will hit on you, and they will do it with the kind of reckless abandon you wish your Uber driver would use when trying to locate your pin on a map without calling. They will pretend to be interested in your financial model while suggesting you try out other types of modelling. They will ask to meet you at a coffee shop for a "follow up" while inquiring about your marital status.

Trick of the trade: Throw a kurti on, tie your hair back, and wear a wedding ring. You're probably not going to want your investor to want to sleep with you, anyway.

"The most interesting person at the party is usually the one who just doesn't give a shit. Stop worrying about what everyone else is up to..."

2. Decide what matters the most

The first question I was asked in an intimidating pitch with a well-known investor was, "Do you want to save the world or do you want to make money?" In that moment I was tongue-tied. I mumbled, "Both," but over time I have realised it's important to prioritise one and stick to it. Whatever the "this" or "that" may be for you, you should know which you would pick if all else failed. It drives your business decisions and helps investors decide if you'd be right for them, and likewise if they'd be right for you.

Trick of the trade: Present your story of how you've arrived at this idea with honesty, but stick to the facts and clarify whether that kid's smile makes you want to rob a bank and make it rain cupcakes or if you have a genius plan to teach the kid to make his/her own cupcakes.

3. Never compare

Two minutes before I had to get on stage to present my company to a large group of high net worth individuals, I glanced over at a team on the other side of the room. My Sherlocking the previous night told me their founders had stronger resumes and they already had revenue (who has revenue at pitch events?!). I felt like Carlton to their Fresh Prince. I got on stage and bombed, worrying the entire time about how foolish I must look next to them.

Trick of the trade: The most interesting person at the party is usually the one who just doesn't give a shit. Stop worrying about what everyone else is up to, and do you like you were born to.

4. Don't avoid the hard stuff

For a long time I told myself I was an engineer that did the real work, while the finance kids played on excel all day and called it "complex." The truth is that I was scared of failing at learning something new. That SUMPRODUCT function though, it changed my life. It didn't hurt that I could pitch my growth story with a bit of Zuckerberg panache either.

Trick of the trade: Pick the one thing you've avoided doing the last two months, find someone who knows how to do it, and then bribe them to teach you. Don't let them go until you seriously get it.

"The government's pastime must be to make inane rules just to see if any entrepreneurs will follow them. Most rules are flexible..."

5. Don't sabotage

Just before I got on that stage where I bombed in front of a bunch of VCs who said they would never invest in my company, a woman from the other team walked up to me and said, "You know I read an article that good-looking women tend to raise far less money than women who look so-so. Nice dress though! Good luck!" What the fuck? Either you just told me I'm good looking and was never going to raise money or I'm ugly and I just might. This woman knew what she was doing though: she walked away from that event fully funded.

Trick of the trade: This one is completely up to you: how do you want to play it?

6. Don't give in

Finding an investor is like being a contestant on The Bachelor. It's humiliating, depressing, and often requires you to say and do things you would never imagine in your real life. It's easy to forget that you're a human being, too. Your role in this whole charade is to lead, innovate, and make decisions, not to run when someone says fetch.

Trick of the trade: Don't let them convince you you've won just because they're still considering you. You are an asset to them just as much, if not more, as they are to you.

7. Don't follow the rules

The government's pastime must be to make inane rules just to see if any entrepreneurs will follow them. Most rules are flexible, especially the ones you're reading in articles like this one.

Trick of the trade: Rules should be thought of like your mother's choices for your life partner; it's cute to hear that they exist but we should all get comfortable with the fact that it's never going to happen. Most of the time what worked for someone else won't work for you. Do your homework, but do what makes sense for you in the end.

Shabnam is the founder of Kleverkid.

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