Please mark the “true” before the term entrepreneur every time you read it here. For the very obvious reasons, the startup ecosystem is really messed up, and literally, the people who are doing right have to first prove they are honest, right comes after that.
The other side of the table (of MBA) is what I felt nobody told me about. I interned in the role of a back-end investment banker, a role much fancied by new MBA grads. My job was to make client pitches on behalf of the bank. What I really did was edit PPTs and fill data into excel models. I would simply churn one slide after the other, just modify existing ones to make fresh ones, without really knowing much about the pitch or the eventual deal. I felt no need for me to have done an MBA for this kind of work. Anybody with a basic understanding of computers and finance could do it, there was nothing I was really applying from the 1st year of MBA I had completed by then. I knew that I wouldn’t get a leadership role right from the first day at job, but I had certain expectations, he said.
And the story starts from here. The guy who started seeing a push within himself towards his interests which was once business studies, still is, and the journey (and destiny) took him back to dealing with engineering instead of having a lucrative job offer in hand after finishing his management studies from one of the finest business schools of the country.
Meet Aman Singh who is very much engaged in his robotronics startup since he finished his MBA from FMS, Delhi and setting his domain of work field in the engineering startup, R2 Robotronics which is all about drones, going back to the codes of decoding his interest and vision.
From an engineer to an MBA, and then, going back to engineering, as we read this transition in an easy way, how was it for you to actually doing this?
The transition was extremely difficult. When we started thinking about the problem we were aiming to solve with the startup, the solution was extremely technical in implementation. We literally had to study the flight and physics of drones to do it from the scratch.
It involved studying sensors and interfacing them. All of this was to be done while I was still doing my MBA. When I look in hindsight, there are two different approaches to solving a problem – Engineer’s approach, and the Consultant’s approach. When the idea was conceived, we took the Consultant’s approach, without looking into the practicality involved. When we actually started working on this, we were clueless. We had to learn a lot of the things fresh, programming included. We set up the office/lab, bought the necessary parts, and slowly started realizing, this wasn’t going to be easy at all. The practicality of the problem, when it hit us, made us realize that it is going to be far tougher than we had thought. We had to pivot our core business idea, find a space where we could actually play and become profitable. A lot of the work done, money spent, we realized was for nothing.
The conviction towards the set goals and then, dropping a lucrative job offer at the same time, the diversion and the future, both appear at the same time. What was all going through your mind when you were about to drop the offer?
Dropping the offer was a very difficult choice. The job was one for which people might even be ready to kill (pun intended). I had slogged myself for the process and when finally it came to me, I was happy. But, when the joining didn’t come for 5 months post ending of my course, I realized, maybe I wasn’t really needed by the firm, maybe there wasn’t enough business to put us on the job.
In the meantime, I had been doing my startup full-time, and that made me realize how much work was to be done. I couldn’t have done 2 jobs together. I also didn’t want to end up on the bench in my job, I would waste one of the most productive phases of my life just sitting. The money was surely lucrative, but I realized I will get more chances, even if my startup fails, the experience was far more valuable. It was this thought that made the decision a lot easier.
Still, there were other factors also that I had to think of. My parents were very supportive of my decision, they could see why I wanted to do that I did. A social pressure builds up around the guy where your friends, relatives will tell you that you can do 2 jobs, what is the need to startup right now, you don’t have the experience to run a business.
Do you ponder sometimes that turning down the job offer was a mistake?
The MBA experience at FMS was a fabulous experience, no denying that, but when I finished my internship and thought what I wanted to do with life, I realized I wanted to do something of my own, maybe in the field of robotics, as I had thought during the days of my engineering.
The knowledge and experiences gained during MBA have come in very handy during my journey in the startup world, and overall I don’t see a very big disconnect, yes I did choose to go back to engineering, I just took my management education along with it.
They say the best conversations happen over drinks, and it was the time you realised to hit the idea for real. How has been the momentum of life since the day you dropped that job offer? Let’s have a light on the journey!
The journey has been great, no doubts there. It has been full of ups and downs, learnings, and most of all discovering some aspects of my own self. The fact that I get to meet investors, pitch to them, meet CXOs of various organizations, for partnerships, collaboration, client discovery, etc, makes this experience very enriching.
I today am close to being a subject matter expert on the drone industry, we are aware of what is happening where in terms of technology, we know the current status of technology, the limitations, the possibilities, etc. We can confidently walk up to a business and tell them how drones can change their business for good, not many people can do that.
When we look at positives, we shouldn’t ignore the negatives.
We have realized certain things about the country, the regime, people, their mindset, etc. I feel I’m starting up in the wrong country. I am not generalising it but our officers like exercising their stamp on anything and everything that has to happen in this country, to fuel their feeling of self-importance, in some ways we as a society promote narcissism. In our country, every kid is either told to become a good engineer or doctor to earn a good salary or write the UPSC and become an officer with power, which will lead to money. Nobody talks about what should the child do with his life actually, why should they?
We, as countrymen, don’t have a habit of promoting innovation.
I have met many people who tell me why don’t you approach the government for work? When I tell them I already have then, they tell me “then you should go ahead with Startup India”. I then tell them I have already completed all of that and nothing has happened, then they tell me “You know things will take time to happen here, but you should keep working”. My question is WHY???
If tomorrow a startup from the US launches a product like mine, will I be able to convince anybody to invest? It seems like innovation in this country needs a permit for everything, such is the story. Let me tell you something – Startup India is anything but a dead duck. And literally, it seems promising but it is not helping out in the way we need.
When someone gets into the startup, a lot of things one faces. From decoding the targeted audiences to evaluating the customer acquisition cost, from business model to financials, from revenue model to presentation of the model. And after settling down well with the documents, one looks at the pitches and the angels (investors). How has been the experience with the investors? What exactly an investor look for based on your personal analysis?
The journey with investors didn’t happen the way I thought of. To a few, the term Angel Investor means something entirely different in this country. When we go to pitch, people ask us “How much is your revenue, who are your clients?”, then I tell them that we need the Angel funding to get the product to market, to get staff and start getting clients, isn’t that the aim of angel funding? Then we are told, “No, we only invest in companies making at least 75 lacs to 1 Cr in revenue”.
They certainly exist, but not very easily sighted.
If we start making so much revenue then why would I need “angel funding!!” Another trend in the country is, if I have to make a decision, there is no way the person on the other side of the table will know more than I do. If he does, I will try to belittle him every way I can. The ability to take a decision in this country is seen as a position of power.
The discussions I have had with investors from the US used to revolve around the technology, the implementation and then its roll out and acquisition of customers, however in India, it mostly starts with, “Is this legal??”, ”Why hasn’t anyone in the US done this?”, “This is too futuristic”.
Is it getting too tough to spot or woo a Peter Thiel in the country?
Spotting a Peter Thiel is indeed tough in this country. Finding someone who understands your idea and is willing to put a wager on it, in an extremely technical field like ours is like striking gold. They certainly exist, but not very easily sighted.
There are days when I look back upon my decision and wonder did I commit a mistake? I know in my heart that I didn’t but the way things move, it becomes tough not to think that way.
On the other note, do you think the startup ecosystem has started getting ruined just because it has become fad more than about entrepreneurship? What would you want to say to the fellow [true] entrepreneurs? Just to point a bit, it’s not as easy to spot a true entrepreneur as it is to write on a business card.
It is rightly said that today it is a fad to say that I’m an entrepreneur. People have started treating this as just another trend, like playing guitar! To my fellow mates, please be sure of your plan, the problem, the solution, the applicability of it.
More than that, your dedication towards seeing it through. But make sure you just don’t end up spending all your money in search of nothing. If it isn’t working despite you’re working for it very hard, you should know when to quit. People say biggest companies were made on perseverance, they were but times have changed, have the perseverance but never forget, the world is changing far more quickly than it did then, choose your battles wisely.
With doing a startup, networking becomes an agenda. How do you see this agenda and tackle with it? You’ve been to various expos, how were your experiences over there? What are your observations and realisations in this era of startups where many actually pretend a lot than what they are in reality?
Networking is a necessity for startups, something that is also now being seen as a business opportunity for a lot of other people. The experiences at these expos have been mixed, some had practically no turnout, some had people who just wanted to give us flyers for the next expo. Some had people from the organisations who were just trying to finish their duty. Some actually had great people who liked the idea and wanted to explore the possibility of working together.
We have seen expo organisers making all sorts of ridiculously tall claims so as to get startups to attend and then disappoint with the show, charging the startups a sizeable fee for all this. Many consultants and advisors visit these expos and come to talk to you, claiming to be well connected with hundreds of investors. These people sometimes quote high fees for consultations and closing deals, I have met one who asked me for 10% of my company, as he wanted to make sure I was serious about the startup and he wanted to “act as a partner and not an agent”. All these people want to do is make money at your expense.
Here I want to interrupt, out of all the glamsham world, in a not-so-real world where every now and then, we see some real fake-stars and cool-hunks, who are striving to be Startup pundits knowing everything without actually knowing anything. Instead of learning, they believe in unlearning everything and start distributing the “gyaan” because that’s one easy job to mess up everything for the real ones too.
I remember at a point I was asked the business card, I wasn’t having any of that because I thought it’s too early to have one, I also thought what one will do with that piece of paper at this stage. When I said “I don’t have one”, she gave me real weird expression with a very shining smile. How can I forget that! Moving on…
R2 Robotronics. Many innovations have been surfaced in a short span of a few years and transformed our lifestyle, to name a one, it’s Uber (or maybe Ola), what problems are you trying to resolve with your startup? As you say that investors have said that it’s quite futuristic, but then again, what change does it aspire to bring in our lives, community, and society?
Our product, the Drone Swarm Navigation System (DROSNAS), is meant for enterprise drone deployment. It helps enterprises deploy entire drone fleets, in a completely pilotless manner, with cloud application integration.
This system needs no pilot talent, has complete control over drones, with its own traffic management system, equipped with failsafe abilities. This system has applications in Smart Agriculture, Surveillance, Border Security, GIS, and Disaster Management to begin with a few. It helps scalability with a reduction in the cost of deployment, increase in efficiency.
Nothing comes cheap, nothing comes easy, it may not be the monetary aspects of life we are talking about here. It is good to learn from the mistakes others make, but unless you take a chance you really won’t be doing anything new. Just keep your eyes open and observe things carefully, trust your instincts. It is okay to fail. I have admitted that and it gives me more confidence. Startups may succeed or fail, the individuals only succeed, the knowledge you absorb is unparalleled. My parents have been supportive of my effort. They understand why I chose this path. I can see that they are concerned at times, but they try to be optimistic about it.
You’ve just mentioned to me that your startup might shut in the next 4-6 months, which nobody wishes to say ever and never wants to face, well being a believer in ‘things have their own way to fall in place’, what made you think so?
As far as my saying the part of shutting down is concerned, it is a possibility. As much as we’d all wish for all startups to succeed, they don’t. I wish the very best for my venture but deep down I also know that the fateful day may come. I just don’t want to live in denial.
One who knows the reality is the one who can make an informed decision. I am well aware of the stark realities, which I have mentioned in my previous answers, my startup faces. Many a time I feel, people in the US are more excited about it than my own countrymen are. It might just close down here and resurface there. Whatever be the result I don’t want to feel as if I didn’t know it would happen, as then I didn’t do my job well of being the leader of the company. If it happens under my captaincy, we will accept it and will move forward!
Not many are deep-seated and no one ever wishes to say that, and it was a thought process that was inclined to figure out the best and to never forget, the worst.
On a comeback note, Aman recently participated in Open Innovation Week – OIW held at Sao Paulo, Brazil, and came out flying colors high emerging as one of the winners amongst all the startups worldwide.
And sometimes all one needs is a few drinks (of course, not those juices) and a DVD of Pursuit of Happyness. Cheers!
Crafted with brevity for select stories to make certain you see what others don't; sent every Friday
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