When it comes to building something big out of a dream it takes years of hard work a little luck and a plan to achieve it. We had a talk with Ajay Batra who is a known name in Indian Startup Ecosystem and he
“Tell us something about yourself and when did you first realize you want to be a writer?”
My educational background is in computer science and management, and my working experience is in entrepreneurship and management consulting. For the first few years of my life, I worked on Wall St. with the world’s largest bank – developing technology solutions for their global clients. I then moved to India and plunged into entrepreneurship. As a Founding Partner of QAI Global, I worked with marquee clients like Accenture, Wipro, and IBM to help develop their management systems. The last few years have taken me towards mentoring/investing in Startups and in helping improve the education system. I worked for Azim Premji Foundation for a few years, and in my current position at Bennett University, I am working to create a culture of innovation, startups and social impact.
About 4 years ago, I thought of writing a book on how to launch successful startups – There was so much excitement and traction on this topic, but little structured advice or guidance was available. There was far too much “startup mentoring” with unpredictable outcomes. As I thought more about the topic, I realized that a “startup” is only a phase in the long journey of an enterprise; I needed to expand the scope of the book to go beyond launch as well. That is when I leaned on my consulting experience (and my extensive work with Maturity Models) to develop a long-term roadmap that covers, launch and growth phases of a venture.
“Tell us about your book – ‘STARTUPS AND BEYOND: Building Enduring Organizations’
During my consulting career, I witnessed many corporate executives struggle with questions such as: How do we achieve profitable growth? What are the best ways to develop entrepreneurial leaders? How do we become an admired employer of choice? How to innovate for new markets while retaining the existing ones? As an entrepreneur, I was often confronted with similar challenges. Later in my career, when I became a startup investor and mentor, I was often asked: How does one truly understand customers’ needs and wants? How to build a cohesive initial team? What are the best practices to launch successful startups? How do we go from being a fledgling startup to a large enterprise? As I reflected on these conversations, I realized that while each of these questions (and many others like them) was asked with respect to a specific concern, they were all related to one common organizational need to pursue lasting success.
Essentially, these questions can be combined into one: How do we build an enduring organization that is profitable, innovative and resilient? My responses to these questions, while based on available information and my best judgment at the time, were perhaps incomplete. Thus, began my quest to find a holistic and effective approach for building enduring organizations.
Unlike the prevalent literature that addresses either the startup or the growth phase of an enterprise, this book covers both: it delves deep into the discipline of launching successful startups while describing the methods of scaling up existing businesses. The journey of building an enduring enterprise is long-term and non-linear; consisting of a series of decisions, actions, learnings, and pivots. While the specific steps vary from one business context to another there are five critical stages that each organization must cross. These stages are presented as Five Maturity Levels in the book through a unique framework called the Maturity Model for Building Enduring Organizations©, or MMEO. This framework is a global first in balancing the art, science, and practice of building viable and sustainable organizations.
“Where do you get the information and material for the book”
The book is the result of my life-long work with startups, small-but-growing organizations, and large corporates. So the primary sources for the book are the over 100 companies where I have provided consulting/training/assessment services. I am grateful to Carnegie Mellon University/Software Engineering Institute for inducting me into the fascinating world of Maturity Models – the book builds on their work and extends their practices to newer dimensions. Thought leaders like Steve Blank, Eric Reis16, Bill Aulet and Alexander Osterwalder have also inspired my work.
“Name one thing you learned while creating your book.”
I learned two big lessons: pontification or theorization does not work in the area of business/entrepreneurship; organizational leaders need battle-tested practices and experiences that can be implemented within their context. So, I have presented my learnings/recommendations in an easy-to-implement “handbook” format. Second, authoring a book is a calling and a blessing. It takes a lot of family support, and intellectual/emotional/physical energy– but it’s all worth it!
“Please tell us your blunt view on the Indian startup ecosystem?
This week Niti Aayog launched its ‘Atal New India Challenge’, inviting applications from organizations and individuals (including students) to offer creative solutions to some of India’s pressing social needs in areas like potable water, smart agriculture and waste management. Another challenge “Smart Fifty”, co-sponsored by IIM-Kolkata and the Department of Science & Technology, recognizes innovators and startups that offer scalable social solutions. Atal Tinkering Labs will soon be active in 2500 schools in India, giving students the opportunity to experiment, learn and create in a supportive environment. In addition to such initiatives, the overall policy focus of the current government in promoting innovative thinking among its citizens, especially the youth, is commendable.
There has been so much talk of building a robust entrepreneurship ecosystem in India, and we are proud to be 3rd largest such technology startups community in the world. However, we are ranked 68 in Global Entrepreneurship Index by GEDI, just above Panama and just below Kazakhstan. Similarly, in the Global Innovation Index, India is ranked 60. Interestingly, Switzerland, USA, and the UK are top-ranked in both these indices. Many of our social issues (e.g. potable water for all, waste management, environment) are still unsolved or partially solved. Entrepreneurship needs to be culturally deep-rooted far deeper than it has done so far. Clearly, for India to make long-term and sustainable strides in being an innovation-driven economy, we must make some fundamental changes in the social and educational systems. Some suggestions:
- Dispel the myth that Entrepreneurship equals Startups. We must believe that entrepreneurship is not just a technical process of launching Startups, or new companies. Rather, it is a mindset and set of personal and professional skills.
- Understand that Startups are not all about technology. Many narrowly interpret “startups” to apply to tech-heavy ventures only. Traditional business (e.g. manufacturing) and social entrepreneurship (e.g. youth skilling) are worthy of as much attention as startups as any other.
- Indians proudly wear the badge of being a “Jugaad” nation. While it speaks well about our innate capability to innovate and find solutions to everyday problems; we must resist the temptation of making local, short-term and sometimes, selfish, innovations. Instead, we need to train ourselves to create holistic and scalable solutions for the society.
- Our school education needs a complete overhaul. We need to lay a greater emphasis on developing students’ skills of dialogue, creativity, teamwork and personal initiative.
- In our colleges, institutes, and universities, we must take creativity and innovation skills to a higher order through project-based learning and a strong connect with the society & industry.
“After this, are there any plans for your next book. If yes, then on what topic will it be?”
Based on the content of this book, I am considering creating an online tool for a Startups to use to evaluate their “health”, and to get advice on next steps. It will be a comprehensive tool, built with an AI engine, to offer holistic guidance on marketing, product development, team building, financials, etc. to budding entrepreneurs.