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‘Tip of the Iceberg’ Launched Celebrating Entrepreneurial Struggles

Suveen Sinha, national business editor of the Hindustan Times, has recently launched his latest book 'The Tip of the Iceberg: The Unknown Truth Behind India's Start-Ups' published by Penguin Random House India. In it Sinha diligently follows the journeys of some of India's the most successful entrepreneurs.

Photo Credit : Penguin Random House India,

Panel Discussion at Launch of "The Tip of the Iceberg". L to R - Vijay Shekhar Sharma (founder of Paytm); Suchi Mukherjee (founder and CEO of LimeRoad); Auhtor Suveen Sinha; Rajat Tandon (Senior Director, Nasscom 10,000 Startups); Sandeep Aggarwal (founder of ShopClues and Droom)

In his book, Suveen K. Sinha reveals how a Snapdeal co-founder scraped plastic for Rs 6,550 a month; why the Paytm founder only went home at bleak hours to avoid a landlord demanding rent; and how the Mu Sigma founder went for a dinner on a day he had three of his wisdom teeth removed because he couldn't afford to miss the deal. Even though the stories are riveting, the deeper message the author is trying to convey to a nation infatuated with the idea of being the next Steve Jobs is to separate the romance from the reality of entrepreneurship; if one is seriously considering it as a career path. It could be rewarding, but it is often an abysmal struggle just to survive.

The launch was preceded by a panel discussion comprising Vijay Shekhar Sharma, founder of Paytm; Suchi Mukherjee, founder and CEO of LimeRoad; Rajat Tandon, Senior Director, Nasscom 10,000 Startups and Sandeep Aggarwal founder of ShopClues and Droom moderated by Suveen Sinha.

The discussion shed light on why these entrepreneurs stuck with it even when the going was tough. It couldn't be a coincidence that despite their varied backgrounds all these entrepreneurs ended up being successful only when they realized their higher purpose through the struggle. It had everything to do with giving back to India and helping to propel the nation into the echelon of developed nations that embrace technology and disruption of inefficient conventions.

Here are some of the key takeaways:

Vijay (Paytm: On the early days of struggle – “I came from Aligarh and always felt like an outsider among those students from richer families.”

“I would wait around for NY Times or Washington Post to pay me Rs 200 for fixing their email problems. Other days I wouldn't get paid at all for the work done [not necessarily NY Times or Washington Post].”

An infinite moments of failure later Vijay founded PayTM. “I remember I would spend about fifteen rupees on magazines every Sunday and those gave me ideas worth millions.” On his office wall is the defiant Pink Floyd words "We don't need no thought control". “It's because being an entrepreneur makes one feel free and makes one feel like they can fly, he says. The only limitations you have are the ones you out on yourself.”

Suchi (LimeRoad): On why she gave up a cushy London life to start from scratch in India - "I lived in an idyllic part of London. There were maids and help to make life easy. Life was good. But sometimes you have to ask yourself what the hell am I doing again?” she says of the times when something felt amiss.

When Suchi came to India and wanted to start LimeRoad people had been apprehensive. “We Bengalis Don't do business. We study, we opine, we sip tea but we don't do business. But I was always a builder. I helped build Ebay UK, Skype and Gumtree. LimeRoad too was just another part of that role as a builder, just that I it started from scratch.”

On why she picked textile industry: “Textile is the oldest industry in India. It's the one thing we are good at. But, the problem is, India has no consumer retail industry that is up to international standards yet we are a land of engineers” she said, pointing out the lower-than-should-be technological innovation compared to the number of engineers graduated yearly. “This industry must change. There is great unfairness in profit distribution although the profit margin for something produced at one rupee is fifty to hundred times higher. That's why I decided to disrupt this segment. It was because I wanted to give textile producers a share of the profit they deserved.”

Sandeep (ShopClues and Droom) - On why he decided to try entrepreneurship: He was already a millionaire, a respected analyst on Wall Street and quoted on CNBC, Fox, Fortune, Forbes, and the Wall Street Journal thousands of times annually. “Yes, I was earning a million dollars a year but there comes a time when regret over what I didn't do can be bigger than what I was willing to give up. It was a special time in the world when e-commerce companies started disrupting how things were done and India remained untapped. I realized that how many times you get an opportunity that you can now build a category leader before your death. Perhaps you can say there are two Sandeeps. A split personality. The realistic, logical one was wondering whether to leave my high paying job and Silicon Valley and the other Sandeep was about drop head first out of a building into a pool.”

On his experience as a serial entrepreneur – “Because I had already been through the cycle of building a startup (with ShopClues) I was able to foresee the same problems when building Droom”, the next startup he founded. “It may seem like a good thing but it isn't because it also makes you impatient. And I realized that I would be stunting the growth of others involved by trying to avoid same actions (new team members joining ShopClues). I would say to serial entrepreneurs, stay away from your legacy. Also regardless of whether I am an Aggarwal and had built a unicorn, funding never came easy.”

On why tech startups are important – “If we didn't believe in technology, we will still be making the perfect wheel. Technology makes life better. People who find it difficult, well Darwin's theory of evolution will take place and will weed those who do not adapt.”

Rajat (10,000 Startups): on how accelerators can help startups – “It's tough. I had a startup too, but it was a failure and I was embarrassed to even put it on my resume. It may have worked out for these guys on the panel here, but they represent just the tip of the iceberg, there's a whole lot of startups and entrepreneurs beneath the surface. I won't say 9/10 startups fail, it's more like 9.99/10 fail. But with accelerators and mentors maybe then we can make sure only about 9/10 fail.”

On overvaluations – “In India three things started happening. The startups ideas that were a success in the US were emulated in India and they became a success. The second wave was startup ideas out of the US were copied here regardless of whether they were successes or not (this is where the overvaluations started occurring). Then in the third wave startup ideas fitting India were built, for India. These again became successful. He concluded valuations are okay to have. Overvaluations will correct itself. The best startups happen in the downturn.”

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