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9 questions every entrepreneur must answer

Neeraj Sahgal, Vice President, Quatrro Global Services Pvt Ltd, and CIO Angel Network investor, on the questions that will determine whether a startup sinks or swims. By Shweta Gandhi

Neeraj Sahgal is a passionate technologist and angel investor, who has been lending his support and mentorship to startups since 2013. A member of CIO Angel Network (CAN), he has invested in PayTunes, and is a firm believer in the startup model. “I have met a lot of millennials who are working on something new, creating something better and challenging what’s already out there,” says Neeraj. “CAN is a great initiative that has worked out a positive scenario for these young startups. It’s also a platform that entrepreneurs can use to reach out to investors who can fund them, mentor them and provide their expertise on various aspects of the startup and add value to the business.”

For an entrepreneur to succeed, Neeraj believes he needs to be constantly thinking about the following questions.

Q1: Is my business scalable?
“Scalability is an important factor—I believe that whenever startups come around, the critical aspect should be the ideation and assessment if there is a market need for the product or service. The ideation will go through multiple rounds of iterations. Then comes the strategy and execution stage, wherein you are garnering customers, taking feedback from customers, improvising further on your product or service. Once you cross that stage, you look at how you can scale your company to 100 per cent, how you can take your business further, and how you can be more flexible to the market needs and demands. If you don’t scale, you diminish.”

Q2: Are my business strategies sustainable and solid?
“Ideation and strategy go hand in hand as both play an important role. Once you cross over and get into the execution phase, you have to start thinking about whether a single business model is sustainable or do you need to branch out to multiple business models. Feedback from customers and mentors helps you focus on ideas on how to innovate further. You need to have a solid business model, so much so that even if there is any deviation in the marketplace, it should not derail your company. You need to adapt to the changes and emerge stronger.”

Q3: How am I increasing the value for my customers?
“The underlying goal for every company is to make money. You, as an entrepreneur, are trying to add value for yourself or your customers. However, until you meet your customer’s needs, he won’t buy your product or service. Customers need to be your key focus and meeting their needs will drive repeat business. You need to wear their shoes and think like them, target them with the right, innovative solutions and keep them motivated to come back to you for more.”

Q4: How am I marketing my product or service?
“How you market your product is specific to your business. Different marketing channels will come to play, as there are no limits today—it all depends on what the startup is trying to do, what they are after, what the customers’ needs are, and the value offered now, and in the future.”

Q5: Are you financially literate?
“Right after we have evaluated the startup’s product or service offering, one of the key aspects we evaluate people on is how they fare on the finance side. When startups make pitches, we always look to see if they are overestimating sales or underestimating costs and do they have the skill to manage the money that they will raise. If they are not able to plan financially, they should be open to seeking outside help and mentors who can guide them and provide the right advice.”

Q6: Am I following my mentor’s advice?
“Startups should have at least two or more independent mentors to help them make the right qualitative and quantitative assessments, whether it is about market size, technology, sales or marketing, or improving the product. An experienced mentor can help startups in the ideation and strategy stage tremendously. Overall, the ideation aspect is what will fuel the ability to execute, which is finally what will transform the startup.”

Q7: Do I match up to my competition?
“Every startup would have some close competitor to their offering. Be disruptive. Challenge the status quo. Don’t get caught up in trying to replicate the same service and model. Keep a close eye on what your competition is doing. Picture this: If the established player considers you as a threat and changes their offerings, how will you be impacted? Does that affect the business positively or will you simply hang up your shoes?”

Q8: Am I too dependent on my team?
“The startup team’s background does play a role, but an entrepreneur shouldn’t be 100 per cent dependent on the team. On the other side, you do need to wear multiple hats and play dual roles. There is a thin demarcation, but keep in mind that your focus is to get revenue for the company and not try to do everything on your own. Delegate and monitor. Step in, only when you need to. Be careful while hiring and attract the right talent, because if you hire a wrong individual, they are going to drain out a lot of your reserves and resources.”

Q9: Am I developing my skills and growing?
“When you get into the shoes of an entrepreneur, there is a continuous learning process leading to your own self-development. You need to network, learn from peers, meet mentors and undergo a continuous learning process. One of the things I’ve noticed is that people who assume the entrepreneur role aren’t always ready to lead—so take a step back and let someone else lead the team or business. You could meanwhile focus on what you are best at and improvise further.”’ 

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