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Why Startups Need CheerLeaders!

Prime Venture Partners

May 25, 2016, 5:23 p.m.

Why Startups Need CheerLeaders!

Sanjay Swamy, Managing Partner, Priven Advisors LLP., investment advisory arm of Prime Venture Partners @theswamy@primevp_in

Its IPL season in India – and most of India stops doing any serious work after 8pm for 45 days. A hitherto American phenomenon – CheerLeaders – was brought to India with the IPL. I took a few minutes to research the history of CheerLeaders, and asked myself a simple question – “does the concept of a CheerLeader apply to startups?”

The first part – history of CheerLeaders – is documented here – I must say that until now, I hadn’t bothered to research the space.

But does CheerLeading have any role in helping startups?

On the surface, one might be tempted to say “huh – what’s the connect”? But upon closer examination, one will find that in any successful startup, there are always a few people that play an important role of CheerLeading – encouraging, motivating, challenging, provoking and above all, giving unquestionable support.

In most startups I’ve backed, or companies I’ve run, I’m often accused of being their #1 “CheerLeader” – and am guessing it isn’t because of my looks! People do make cynical comments on why I Tweet or Retweet any and all posts by founders of startups – why I’m the first to share any good news, and why I applaud founders publicly. While I’m guilty of all of the above, I feel CheerLeading is a very important aspect of any startup’s journey – internal and external.

My top 3 reasons for this:

  1. Founders must have poise (to grin and bear it) at all times – as we all know, more things go wrong than right in the evolution of a startup. Founders in most startups will tell you that there will be times when they are running out of money, when the board is unhappy, when customers are unhappy, employees are unhappy, products are delayed, the accountants are whining – the list goes on and on. And yet, founders can simply not afford to lose their poise. Any show of frustration, anger, unhappiness, fear, worry can only make your team nervous, your investors anxious and your customers doubt you – and once that starts happening, things start unraveling.
  2. Its lonely as an entrepreneur – I can’t think of any job that is more lonely than being a startup founder. Especially in India when one’s family or spouse’s family is telling you constantly “Why don’t you join a big company” or “I told you so” or “I knew it would never work”, the only thing you need is support from mentors or people who have been there, done that. I understand what you’re going through isn’t comforting when it isn’t someone you respect.
  3. Leadership needs to be appreciated – when you’re running a company, you get many opportunities to step up and show some leadership. Thought leadership, people leadership, and above all, motivating your team to rally around you when the going gets tough. It isn’t easy – but the good leaders do it and deserve a pat on the back and a gentle word of appreciation. These aren’t hollow compliments – most of the founders I work with will tell you that I’m also very direct with constructive feedback – but also generous with kudos.

Its important to note that CheerLeading isn’t blind faith – its being knowledgeable and cheering the right things. Founders are smart enough to know that something isn’t working and they must focus on fixing that. But the worst thing that can happen to a startup is a founder losing confidence in their mission, the opportunity and their own leadership. While one can never quantify its value, CheerLeading from the sidelines is just as important at work, as it is in sport.

Entrepreneurs  have the guts to try and make something great happen – against all odds – and I have nothing but respect for them. Reading posts about startups shutting down these days is sobering to most – and makes one realize that things aren’t easy for entrepreneurs.

I’ll always be CheerLeading and rooting for the underdogs – and the hoping entrepreneurs get to realize the most audacious of dreams – whether we have backed them or not!

Go Entrepreneurs! Go Startups! #MAKE_HISTORY_HAPPEN!

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