After graduating from BITS Pilani, Kashyap worked in both new-age tech-first start-up and legacy corporates equipping himself with financial analytics and as well as corporate strategy. He also believes in continual digital learning and has completed an executive programme in Fintech at IIM Calcutta. With Dinero, Kashyap aims to disrupt the banking sector for digital natives and build innovative tech-first products that suit their lifestyle needs. Kashyap believes that the key to a successful personal finance journey is building long-term financial habits, and wants to help the young generations do exactly this. To make build a lifestyle-based neo-bank, Kashyap believes that retail banking needs to transform from purely utilitarian to experiential.
Starting up is a difficult game – especially in the last few years where the pandemic shook the world, and a war between two major countries continues to disrupt global flows of capital, and has severely increased costs
A lot has been said and many stories have been written on the difficulties of starting up – just search #entrepreneurship on Instagram. A lesser-known story, and one that should be spoken more about, is that of the founding team – the first 10 members of and how they operate.
As a start-up born out of the pandemic and that survived through several waves of it, I witnessed first-hand the challenges, hardships, and disappointments that are inevitable and a part of the initial days. Some of them include extraordinary delays in product development, team members falling ill one after the other, vendors and partners battling with covid themselves, investor funding getting delayed indefinitely, and some investors dropping out, while operational costs continue to build up. All our quarterly, half-yearly plans get disrupted completely, and on a regular basis.
All of this is a jarring experience by itself. However, this experience in unparalleled with immense learnings are immense.
The role played by the founding team in this journey is extremely critical. It is the answer to all the aforementioned challenges and disruptions.
Founding team members have the power to make or break the company. Each of them goes through their own journey – personal heartbreaks and losses, illnesses, financial troubles amongst others. Couple this with increasing career related anxiety – the news about 1000s of layoffs at startups, a funding winter looming large, the relatively under-optimistic media coverage around startups, comparisons with peers about career growth or where they’re working on, and a product that hasn’t yet seen the light of the day – only tends to break the morale of the team.
But what’s comes out of this grind are significant tangible and intangible outcomes. Some of the lessons we learnt are the following:
Resilience: Starting up is clearly a game of the survival of the fittest. Some who have the mettle to survive through the storm stand to gain in the long term (both monetarily through stock ownership and professionally), while others leave to pursue more stabler endeavours. What remains is a group of strong-willed, risk-loving team members that have reasons beyond salary or the Founder to pursue the journey. This is a deadly combination of individuals that has the mettle and potential to sky-rocket.
Trust: Those who believe in the vision and survive the storms inadvertently become family. They have each other’s backs; they know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and most importantly they are in for the long game. Mind you, most of these are college freshers, in our team, who are now wired to think long term. This gives any startup a wild card advantage where the team has fostered high trust
Bottom-up innovation: When every founding team member is wired to be resilient and trusts each other, some of the best and most creative ideas are born out of this environment. The uncertainty around the company’s survival acts as fuel to fire, and when given opportunities, the team shines bright.
The corollary to this, is how does one nurture such a founding team, and what are some of the leadership lessons?
Nothing beats stock ownership: Although awareness on ESOPs is still low, there is a changing trend. What is the best way to keep the team motivated than make them real owners of the game? Take extra time to explain how it works and what could be the outcome in the next few years.
Communication, communication, communication: If there is one thing I’ve learnt from my journey, it is the importance of communication from the Founder on where the company stands, the product roadmap and vision, or even when we will get a coffee machine. Over-communication should be a practice during uncertain times. It’s hard to show up and talk – but that’s exactly what the team needs.
Empathy and a helping hand: Understand everyone’s story and offer a helping hand. It could be listening to their story or providing favours. Go overboard. It will always be the best investment you will make.
Passion vs. Patience: Remember that passion is overrated. Constantly tell yourself that you are in for a long game. Patience > Passion, on any day.
Respond, don’t react: During these tough phases, you will also find some team members who will question you, put you in a tough spot or start a blame game. It is the nature of the game. However, as much as possible, you should respond to the situation in a procedural way versus react emotionally. This can be tough. As part of natural selection, people who tend to react most, often have lesser risk-taking abilities.
Celebrate the small wins: When all seems dark and uncertain, a small pizza-party in the office can light up the mood multi-fold. Try not to take yourself too seriously all the time. Enjoy a beer with your team once in a while.
These are timeless lessons, and every startup has its own ways. But these lessons – of that of the founding team – deserve more voices and space in the ecosystem. A founder can’t do it all by herself or himself. It is the collective effort, behind the scenes, that drives innovation, and creates a fabric of sustainability and longevity that are most critical to starting up today.