Managing Growth and Profitability, Measuring Success & Building for the Future with Beerud Sheth CEO & Co-Founder Gupshup

Beerud Sheth CEO & Co-Founder Gupshup chats with Sanjay Swamy Managing Partner Prime Venture Partners.

Listen to the podcast to learn about:

02:00 - Beerud’s journey from IIT to Gupshup

04:20 - Founding story of Gupshup

15:00 - How to think about Growth & Profitability

25:00 - How to think about new technology and new future

32:00 - Building a team: Missionary Vs Mercenary

43:00 - How to measure your own success & avoiding distraction

Read the complete transcript below:

Sanjay Swamy - 00:47

Hi everybody, this is Sanjay Swamy here and welcome to another episode of the Prime Ventures Partners Podcast. I have with me, an old friend and a special guest here Beerud Sheth. Beerud is the founder of Gupshup. Gupshupwas recently in the news as the company turned unicorn. congratulations Beerud.

Gupshup took a very special journey along the way and we do keep reading about unicorns these days a lot. But the journey of Gupshup is definitely a very unique one and really traverses several generations of the early days of the internet in India and to what it has evolved to today. So Beerud, welcome to the show.

Beerud Sheth - 01:40

Thanks, Sanjay. Thanks for having me here. Really excited. Thank you.

Sanjay Swamy - 01:43

So maybe we can start a little bit with your background below, as well as a quick overview of the journey of Gupshup.

Beerud Sheth - 01:51

Sure, I grew up in Mumbai, IIT Bombay, computer science, and then I came to the US for grad school at MIT which was in the early 90s. Then, I had a short stint on Wall Street for about four or five years and then I co-founded Elance, with a couple of my college friends, IIT friends.

Elance pioneered the gig economy, online freelancing and there was a long journey as well. But about three years ago, Elance, became Upwork, ended an IPO on NASDAQ and it’s a $6 billion company now.

So that was one long journey and I wasn’t there at the company all throughout. I was there in an operating role for about eight or nine years, still on the board for another eight years. And I’m now a shareholder still. But when I left my operating role I co-founded Gupshup, again, with more IIT friends. And you touched on it like being on a 14-15 years journey. I’m like, the speeds of unicorns, ours is different and it’s been 15 years, not three or four years like some of the others. We are profitable and not like some of the others and also growing and scaling very nicely. So, happy to share more of my experiences along the way.

Sanjay Swamy - 03:17

Wonderful, maybe we’ll dive into that. I was just thinking when I was on a trip from Bangalore to San Francisco that used to take 30 hours, probably when you started Gupshup. Now it’s the nonstop 16-hour flight. So a lot has happened in various industries. Right? Maybe you can start a little by telling us about the business of Gupshup and the early days, of course, probably in three phases. If I think about it from the SMS era to the mobile internet era, and now to the API world, and perhaps the WhatsApp era. So it would be great to hear your views on the journey itself and what are some of these inflexion points and how you adapted the business?

Beerud Sheth - 04:06

Sure. So Gupshup is a conversational messaging platform and these are big words or so let me explain. Firstly, messaging is straightforward. Today, most of your listeners receive text messages on their mobile device. Your bank tells you that you spent 100 rupees at the cafe or your payment is due tomorrow. Your eCommerce company says your order is confirmed and your package is shipped. Your food is arriving, your flight is booked, the hotel is booked and so on.

All of these are text messages notifications that customers receive and we are the platform that powers it. We are a messaging platform in that sense. Today is just simple, basic, one-way notifications, plain text only. That era is evolving into rich messages with two-way conversational experiences, and so on where you can actually have a meaningful chat with the business.

So for example, when you get that payment reminder, with a couple of clicks, you can actually make the payment. When you get a package delivery notification with a couple of clicks. You can reschedule the package delivery or you can upgrade that flight or get more details about your credit card and on and on. So we think that as we evolved from this world of one-way notification based messaging to rich two-way conversation-based messaging, it opens up a whole new set of use cases around customer support, e-commerce, marketing, and so on.

So very excited about that. We are the infrastructure and the platform that powers all of it and we handle a very high scale of about 5-6 billion messages a month and very substantial revenues as well.

You asked about the history. Now, this is where we are right now. But obviously, this is not how you start the entrepreneurial journey. It is, as you know, very meandering and we’ve had our own fair share of successes and failures. So just to go back a little bit, when we started, what’s been constant throughout as we saw, the power of messaging in particular; SMS as a way to reach billions of users. Even when you had feature phones, the only way to reach people was SMS much more than the web or email. SMS was truly ubiquitous.

In fact, we initially launched a social network really based on SMS. Now if it sounds familiar, it was exactly the same idea as Twitter at the same time except that Twitter started in the US and eventually became a web product inspired by SMS while we remained in India and remained in SMS product. Now, believe it or not, our product grew a lot faster. We had like 70 million users in India, at a time where Twitter or Facebook had less than a million users in India at that time in 2010 or something.

So it was enormously successful but we were subsidising the cost of all those messages. We thought that with volumes, the unit prices would decline, but they didn’t and also the regulators said you couldn’t put footer ads in it, so we could neither subsidise nor monetize. When you think of it, it’s sort of bittersweet. On the one hand, it’s an enormous success while on the other hand, it’s sort of a real failure point. And what we did and I think, usually, that’s the way I think, which is, okay. What’s working and why, and what can we retain? And what’s not working? And why and how do we change it? And we said, okay, the platform is great. Scale is very engaging but we can’t afford it.

So can we find somebody else who can pay for it and we flipped it around or modified it to an enterprise model, where big banks and that e-commerce companies were just growing, but big banks and airlines and so on, could pay to send these messages. So, we sort of evolved to the enterprise model, and then grow from there. And now, of course, we’ve layered on the whole conversational experience as well. So just sort of some idea of the overall journey.

Sanjay Swamy - 08:31

So, obviously, since it’s been very, I would say, this is a journey that very few startups will actually realise because most entrepreneurs and I remember being an entrepreneur around the same time, as you started with them, mcheck and then later, zipdial where we work together, as well. But most companies, I would say either the ones that do last tend to end up having sort of a fairly sequential progression in an evolution.

But in your case, the world completely changed also, from when it started to the introduction of smartphones, then the mobile internet coming in a very big way. I’m sure, when you started, there were these operator-led walled gardens and premium SMS, and all these things, but a lot of that sort of evolved quite a bit.

So clearly some of this, you may have had an opinion that they might arrive, but clearly, nobody knew when and how they were going to take off and certainly in emerging markets versus the Western world. So this is happening probably a little faster these days, the various evolutions, but how do entrepreneurs look at these moments and say, there’s an opportunity where something fundamental is changing and the rug is being pulled from under us.

And we have to switch gears and perhaps, a pivot is probably sometimes a misunderstood word, but adapt to the changing world. You’ve done that while still remaining in the core area of conversational messaging for corporates for the most part. So how should entrepreneurs look at such moments? I would say in payments in India if you think about it from cards to wallets, and now to UPI. Again, there have been these moments that the business has completely changed. So, what thoughts would you give to entrepreneurs to look out for these moments and to grab them?

Beerud Sheth - 10:41

You know, that’s a great question. And I think every disruption, or maybe even a paradigm shift, really, is both. It’s clearly both a threat and an opportunity. It’s a threat to incumbent players and it’s an opportunity for newer players. Entrepreneurs have to navigate that and not just here, but you look at companies, long-standing company, like apple, and Microsoft and even Google have had to navigate the desktop era to the web era, or to the mobile era, and cloud and so on.

So I think the only thing in our industry, the only thing constant is change. So the way to adjust, the thing that’s worked for me really is you need to be one at a minimum aware of it. But that’s not enough. Because I think peering into the future is a little overrated. I mean I think you can anticipate, but these are systemic changes. These are large, complex systems with multiple players and it’s really hard to predict everything.

The way I like to think of it is as you do hedge, you do tinker, your experiment, you have to devote a certain amount if you’re an established company. You have to devote a certain amount of your resources and teams just on futuristic experimental stuff. Or if you’re an entrepreneur, you devote some of your time to that thing and say, just play with it and see what the new user experience will be. What are the fundamental assumptions that are going to be changed and modified? Who is going to impact and how, and I think at Gupshup, what we’ve done is we are just constantly, I mean, I put out a founders note coinciding with the funding thing, where I actually have enumerated about 8 or 10 innovations that we’ve done over the last few years.

I would say most of them have, in one way failed. By which I mean some of those ideas were ahead of their time, some of those products, or were anticipated ecosystem changes, that never happened. But every one of those innovations certainly moved us forward because we learned something. We learned about how it could be, we learned about why it didn’t work and what’s yet to happen.

But the great thing is that the one or two things that did work, were really just breakout successes and in a way, what happens is you’ve kind of seen the movie. We’ve seen it, I’ve seen it in the earlier versions. Now, it didn’t become a commercial success, but it was certainly a product success and most importantly, it was an educational success in my mind and I think really you’re dealing with just how do you think about it.

The analogies of financial portfolio theory sort of model where you just put some of your resources as a portfolio hedge, where if something changes, and it goes up, it works that way. Inherently, it may not succeed, but you just expect that A-B testing, trial and error and so on. That’s the only sort of generic principle. Now, of course, if you get specific into certain spaces, you can get more detailed or specific suggestions as well. But generally, this is the rule that I found.

Sanjay Swamy - 14:02

Correct, and related to the long 15 year period here is obviously, the ability to sustain yourself and in the beginning, I noticed your fundraising was probably about 40 odd million dollars in the first six years on the journey of the company. Then a long gap till two weeks ago, at least when it was announced of the other large 100 million dollars round.

So, obviously, companies struggle with the balance of investing for growth, investing in innovation versus getting profitable and staying that way. Then perhaps, being around and being profitable and seeing an inflexion point and then jumping on it, which seems to be the journey here. Again, an advice from an entrepreneurs perspective, what is the mantra that you think, is the big takeaway from your journey here in terms of balancing growth versus building for profitability and sustenance over a longer period of time?

Beerud Sheth - 15:26

Yeah, I think that’s an interesting challenge. I think in our case, there were phases where when we wanted to raise money, people wouldn’t give it and we just said we will control our own destiny and figure out a profitable model. In our case, we were able to do it and then sustain. Today we are quite profitable even as we are sort of high growth and so on. So I think if the generic mantra of growth versus profits really works.

I think you really have to look at the space and how it’s evolving and in our case, as an entrepreneur, if you have the kind of space where investors are willing to fund growth over a 10-year horizon too, then you have to play the long game because anybody who’s playing the short game for profitability is going to lose. It’s just automatically because as you know, growth drives scale, which then drives profit. So there are some of these business models, which only become profitable at scale, they’re not profitable at a low scale.

And now, on day one, the first time this happened, people didn’t know that. They didn’t know that with Amazon. It’s only that now we’ve seen the movie play out with Amazon, and with numerous other e-commerce companies around the world that investors are willing to take these long bets because they have the comfort factor saying it works. There are other kinds of spaces where if that’s not resolved, then you may not. Well, first, you articulate the vision saying, look, here’s the reason why this becomes profitable on the stage. But for whatever reason, if it’s not possible, then really, there’s no choice, the logical thing to do is to optimise for profitability, otherwise, you’re not going to survive very long.

You don’t have the growth capital. So, it really firstly depends on context. And I think, oftentimes, many entrepreneurs don’t think about the financial dimension of it. But we don’t live to sit in an ivory tower or inside a bubble saying, Okay, I’m going to build the best product alone. There’s a financial dimension to it, funding element to it and then, of course, the product and innovation, right. So I think, for us, we’ve always been aware of what the situation is on the funding side, on the banking side, as well as, of course, on the product and the consumer side.

And frankly, I would even say this, the evolution of the space is such that, like five years ago, I would admit that space itself wasn’t a very good investable space because it was growing moderately, there was limited room for innovation, it was somewhat commoditized, and so on. And by the way, we were aware of it, which is exactly the reason why we were constantly trying to innovate and find newer ways of creating new products that would therefore be either differentiated and higher margins and more viable. It’s only now over the last couple of years, that IP based messaging channels have emerged.

For example, so previously, it was all SMS, where you’re limited by the technology to 160 characters or plain text but with IP, now your WhatsApp, they opened up enterprise API’s for businesses to send messages.

Then Gupshup itself has pioneered something new, called gip, which is short for Gupshup IP messaging channel. There are other things that we are doing and I won’t go into all the details, but the point is, with these new channels, now you can have richer interactions, which allow you two-way conversations, which really sort of dramatically expand the addressable market. It expands international expansion opportunities because it’s easier to do that.

So, because of that and one other interesting things, a hugely impactful thing was the pandemic. Obviously, the pandemic is a very very difficult situation for lots of people and so on. But it’s forced massive behaviour change as far as technology is concerned. It’s forced businesses to adapt to find new things like even your corner grocery store and the restaurant.

They have to take orders through WhatsApp or through some messaging tools. So between the pandemic and maybe the growth of the digital economy proved to be beneficial tailwinds in a way. The new technology innovation enables new use cases that allow you to do more.

So this inflexion point only happened now. We’ve been waiting for it for like four or five years. But until the ecosystem and the tech, the broader tech ecosystem is ready and all the factors start to line up, you just have to be patient. I think this is the hardest thing about being an entrepreneur is just these moments where you really have to be patient but sometimes you can’t accelerate a market.

You just have to wait for the market to come to you. It’s a little bit like a surfer who’s an expert surfer but they can’t show off their skills until the right wave comes along and you just have to wait for it. You can’t accelerate it, maybe a little bit but when it comes, you’re prepared with your hard work, your preparation, your patience, and then you’re ready to ride it.

So as an entrepreneur, you just really need to be aware of and realistic about what’s going on. It may not be attractive but it has massive potential. We never lost faith, even as we were realistic about its current prospects and you know a lot of this from your Zipdial experience and so on and so forth.

Are they the kind of things that we had to do in the early years of the mobile tech ecosystem versus new? So, we were attempting for it and waiting for the right thing but when it came it’s as they say, ‘success is when preparation meets opportunity.’ We were prepared, we were not disappointed or depressed, we were prepared and ready and now it has all come together.

Sanjay Swamy - 21:34

That’s an amazing, key point there Beerud which is not just that companies have to be high growth. Companies that aren’t high growth; their time will come. It’s that you had seen the future and you were probably ahead of where things were but you knew that this was going to happen, it was a matter of time It was not a question of if and it happened when it happened and a few other things had to line up for it to happen. But you will already be very, very well prepared for it. And I guess because the company was profitable, you had the staying power to also wait it out till the moment happened.

Beerud Sheth - 22:19

I mean, just to qualify a little bit. You’re right. Sometimes entrepreneurs may actually have hit a dead end. So you can’t say, “Oh, I’m just gonna wait another two years or five years and hopefully something will change”. That’s not how it works.

I think it’s important to recognise when you’re at a dead-end and then do you have conviction or faith that either something in the ecosystem will change or that something you are going to change? They will drive it out. It’s careful to distinguish. So sometimes we say just cut it and move on and find another opportunity. Sometimes it makes sense to wait because there is something that is inevitable and will change. That’s where it makes sense to persevere.

Sanjay Swamy - 23:05

Right. So during those moments, Beerud just to dive in a little further, what gives you the confidence that it's worth waiting it out. Is it the fact that because you think that there's a technology transformation or there's a step function growth that will eventually come and until then we are capable of surviving or we are still even in the existing system we are anyways, the leader and so this is our opportunity that's going to come. So because you see it several times, there are companies that I think it’s the biggest challenge for entrepreneurs.

Some have this early rocket ship and there's nothing you can do to stop it. It's just keep adding more fuel to the fire and as you said, at some point, you do hope that you can make all the economics and the model work, but it's like a spacecraft that takes off shuttling like crazy but it's growing and going in the right direction. Then you have some that have very early fall out that crash and burn very early and that's also okay because you can wake up and start another day. Then you have companies that have neither category but are, I would say in the yellow zone, so to speak.

I would say without anything else implied that I would say for a fair amount of time, perhaps you felt in that mode until you hit the inflexion point. Those are the toughest ones for the entrepreneurs because I'm sure many times people advise entrepreneurs, that you should just shut it down and restart something new in life because it's not going to be a large company and sort of the Living Dead mode. But then you run into these moments where something like, what happened to Gupshup, where you suddenly hit an inflexion point, and now it's a huge company. So that is the part that I think I'd like your thoughts on for entrepreneurs when they are in that state and in that mode. What is the reason to go one way or another in terms of their decision?

Beerud Sheth - 25:07

Yes, I think you're right. It's not like you're just waiting there for something to happen. I guess that's not what I'm implying by my earlier comments. I think usually if you're immersed in the space, you can see the early signs. You know what's coming and how it's coming. So there are a few indicators.

One is, firstly, there’s just a large industry size or there’s a lot of revenue or money. In our case, businesses communicating with customers is globally a $50 billion industry and $50 billion is just a way to measure that there’s a lot of money being spent here. So, this is not going to go away. This is a problem that enterprises want a solution to. The only question is, can it be the other better ways newer ways that allow you to do richer services?

So firstly, that gives you faith when there is a big problem here and then in terms of new technologies we experimented with, we had launched something called team chat or when that was in 2014, which is literally the first messaging app with rich capabilities but we were never able to get it to scale. But by 2016, Slackand Facebook Messengerlaunched bot API’s, and we were literally the first bot platform since we were the launch partners and so on. That’s where we figured out all these advanced things saying, okay, here’s how messaging should be and this is the future of messaging.

Except this is like the future is here, it just not evenly distributed as they say often in the valley. So, because Facebook Messengerdoesn’t have that many users in India, for example, or and Slackwas just an enterprise messaging app. So then the question is, when is it coming to consumer messaging?

Now, Whatsapp had publicly said quite a few things that were early signs that they’re thinking about it and they were going to do something, They had beta API’s and so on. So, I think it was 2017 or 18’ something like that and again, we were launch partners with those guys. So you see, we ourselves pioneered gip, which is just unique.

We reached out to handset manufacturers and sort of did something. So, you see these early signs that gives you the confidence saying, Look, it’s happening, it’s inevitable. It hasn’t scaled yet but you look at payments UID and it all started with that. You read Nandan’s book and that’s going back so many years as he’s talked about it. Now, as an entrepreneur, it’s hard to actually time.

Sanjay Swamy - 27:56

I was trying to do mobile payments pre UID. Jandhan and other programme there, but you’re right, some things are inevitably going to happen. Questions, do you have the conviction of that? And do you have the staying power?

Beerud Sheth - 28:04

Exactly. So sometimes it’s hard. If you don’t have enough cash flow from your something to support you, while you’re waiting for that, but then even as an entrepreneur, sort of wait for it? I think there are other ways to do it and sometimes it makes sense to just say, look, even if something new happens, it doesn’t make sense to convert this into that. So you just sort of figure out a way to maybe sell it off or stop it and then move on to the next thing.

Sanjay Swamy - 28:40

So talk a little bit about the theme and then I guess your personal life, because we have this view of startups where everything is a frenzy, and you have to do everything over the working 24 seven, and everything is sort of high intensity, very fast-moving. And then, of course, obviously, that’s not sustainable over 12-15 year period.

So, all of that has also got to be balanced with the work-life balance like family and things like that from the founder’s side, the team side, building the team right to be thinking long term, rather than the short term high intensity, high action thing. Yet, you also want to keep the innovation engine and that excitement going with the team as well. So what are some of the things that worked and what are some things you have done differently if you had to do it again?

Beerud Sheth - 29:57

Yeah, you’re right. It’s difficult to build and maintain energy and teams. Firstly, just at a personal level and then, of course, with the rest of the team, and I think these are moments where I think that the leaders and the entrepreneurs have to leave because ultimately, it reflects on the people who are looking to you and it gets magnified. What you feel, they feel and it leads to a lot of reactions.

So firstly, for me, like I said and as I’ve already indicated, I was optimistic and I had the faith and I was able to get the team to also keep the faith saying yes, it’s difficult during the challenging times but on the other hand, this is how entrepreneurship works. The thing that helped me was, this is the second time my after Upwork/Elance. Upwork was a great example to point to saying it was a 20 year journey from founding to IPO.

Sometimes people don’t realise, because, in India, there’s this competitive mindset, ‘oh, my friend has this title, so I have to have that title. My friend’s company did an IPO, we should be doing it, too. They got that bonus, I should be getting it too, and so on. But real life doesn’t work that way. I think that mindset can be sort of very counterproductive. So one is just sort of keeping the faith.

The other even though from the outside, it looks like not much is happening internally, there’s a tonne of innovation that’s going on. I mentioned that already. But we were constantly experimenting, iterating, building out new things and testing hypotheses. Could we do this? Would this work? Maybe in a different country and a different ecosystem on a different device and things like that. So there was there’s still that frantic pace and energy of innovation that what people who are excited about things, working on challenging things like to do. So, you can’t stand still and you have to be pushing, innovating.

And it’s a little bit like you can only control the input, you can’t control the output. I guess it’s a modern paraphrasing of the Bhagavad Gita perhaps like you focus, and trust the process. You have to try and so on. So, it’s challenging and I think the only other thing I’ll say is, in terms of the team, it filters out the missionaries versus the mercenaries. If somebody is just looking for pay raises and jumping ship and so on. I mean, anyway, those employees don’t make the most sustainable partners and so on. But what startups and some tech businesses really need are the missionaries, people who are committed, who are passionate, who are excited about the work they are doing.

They keep the little bit of a longer faith because chasing salary jumps. Valley and startup successes and so on have shown a breakout equity outcome that far offsets any salary cash flow thing that can happen. So I think you build the right kind of team with the right kind of energy and so on. But conversely, some people may leave, but the ones who remained are actually really, really committed for the long term. And that is really what makes a company succeed.

Sanjay Swamy - 33:00

Terrific. So maybe switching gears now. So 2021, you guys have raised a substantial amount of capital from Tiger global. And even while we are talking as if it’s the destination, it’s also still is just a point in your journey and there is a long road ahead here as well. What keeps you excited about the next wave in the next five years of this journey?

Beerud Sheth - 33:33

Oh, absolutely. The headlines can be very, very misleading. I think the headlines would have you declare victory and run a victory lap and go home. I think it’s actually doing a disservice to the entrepreneurial ecosystem. I think it’s just an intermediate milestone. In fact, what people don’t realise is the added burden and the stress and the pressure that comes in because one, you’ve raised expectations, two, you’ve raised a valuation to a point that companies have to earn into, just because an investor says we think it’s worth that much doesn’t mean the public markets will automatically say that.

Also, these are not monotonically growing functions, which means you can have down rounds and so on. So, there’s a still the next hill to climb and so on. So, I think that’s the sobering reality of this.

So you can have, at least in our case like we had a small celebration. Yes, it’s an acknowledgement of all the effort and the long years of blood sweat and tears that went into getting to this point. So that’s exciting and validates it. But at the same time, I think if you get overly euphoric and if you get complacent if you feel for even for the brief moment that okay, you arrived, I think that’s when trouble begins.

So it’s if anything you really need to double down and focus even more on saying, ‘Okay, now with these added resources, where are we going to?’ I’m worried like, ‘Where am I going to spend the money? What am I going to do with it? How am I going to achieve the next set of goals?’ Usually what happens is when you have this sort of stuff, your organization’s going to grow very quickly. How do you add so many people while retaining the culture while also making sure a lot of people are coming in. I just talked about this missionary mercenary and you can’t detect that in an interview. It takes sometimes like months and years to figure some of that out.

So you really want to get the right culture and focus on the right things. You also have to be more tolerant of experimentation, some of which will fail, but at least you can move fast. So as you change and move into a different gear all of these changes that are easy to say, at an individual level, but it’s hard to get a few 100 people to also be in sync, while you’re making these changes. So, I think it’s as they say, ‘don’t believe your own PR.’ Of course we feel when you’re going to every company, they would say the right thing in the press releases but there’s the objective reality on the ground which is different.

So I think especially if the company is not profitable, it’s even harder. In some, either their pre-revenue or their early revenue; some of the economics in the business model are not sold out. It’s even more challenging to earn into the valuation that you received because it can be hard. So every company has a different set of challenges and I think we are focused on ours, and that’s enough to keep us grounded.

Sanjay Swamy - 36:53

Terrific. So, Beerud you’re seeing a lot of what’s happening in the opportunity in India now. We’re seeing this massive explosion of digitization for a variety of things, starting with Aadhaar, and then the whole India stack, and then the smartphone, and the 4G penetration here in India. Now with either Demonetization and UPI and subsequently with COVID, it’s a lot of what you talked about is happening, again with that exponential growth rates here in India as well. So from an entrepreneurs perspective, we talked about some of these things will take longer, and so on, But there are some very attractive and juicy opportunities happening here. You touched upon things like culture recently just a few minutes ago. What would be your top three pieces of advice for entrepreneurs starting out now, especially in this space here in India as lessons from the past, from your journeys, both across Elanceand Gupshup? as well as if you were to do this again, what would you be thinking to do differently? What would some advice be?

Beerud Sheth - 38:14

Oh, I think there are so many things to cover but let me like find a few. You’re right. By the way, another lesson, I want to be careful, that people don’t take the wrong lesson is I think, obviously, some are long journeys, and you have to be patient. But sometimes, there are these explosive phenomena and growth opportunities, where if you dive in the pace is going to be very different.

And I think it’s maybe an analogy that an entrepreneur can’t be just a sprinter or a marathoner. It’s maybe more like a decathlete. Sometimes you’re sprinting, sometimes you’re cruising, sometimes you’re just jumping high. The only reality is your customer reality and maybe the product reality, which may be ahead of the customers. So you have to adapt, like, say, in our case, we’ve been very patient for a very long time. But now we’re gonna get into hyper-growth mode, and be in a very different gear. I think entrepreneurs need to be able to, as they say, scale and adapt to these changing situations.

So coming to your question of if you’re starting out now, I mean, in general, look, it’s impossible to time the market by which I mean if something is obviously a hot opportunity, while there are 20 other entrepreneurs or maybe 50 other entrepreneurs doing the same thing. Then suddenly, you have a competitive problem. How do you differentiate and how are you better than that and so on. On the other hand if you’re looking further out, you may have less competition but now you have to have more patience.

So you trade off one set of problems or the other. So if you get into a hot space with a competitive problem, then you better have more capital, more brand name recognition, more experience and the ability to rapidly attract employees and funding and get going very, very quickly and partnerships as the case may be. On the other hand, if it’s a longer game, then you better have the patience and the perseverance and the ability to keep the faith and find long term investors and so on. So I think it really just needs different horses for courses. You need different approaches.

So, in terms of lessons it is right there. I mean, the one thing is, as you’re picking the space, and the product idea, and so on I think just focusing on thinking about the assumptions, what’s changing, why is it changing and what are the implications of it? Generally, if you pick a large enough space, I think it gives you enough room to manoeuvre and to pivot and tinker around because even if the initial thing doesn’t work, you can iterate through and reach that thing. So just pick larger spaces.

There might be one or the other is really just the personal psychological aspect of it. I think you really need to be balanced or even-keeled or gritty, maybe I think those are the attribute. All of these things that I’m talking about, you’re going to have euphoric and depressing moments and very extremes of emotions. If you can’t deal with that with the saying while staying focused in the moment, and staying focused on what you do control versus factors outside your control, I think the process can really rip you apart. It’s not just in the business part of it but even at a personal level. It can really do a number of things and so it’s super important as well.

The last thing might be is just don’t get carried away by and I find this a lot with sort of younger employees and entrepreneurs and so on. I think there’s a lot of external influences, and especially now with more money coming into the Indian market, it’s going to even grow more. So if you just read the headlines, and ‘oh, this guy is worth so much and that guy’s worth so much,’and so on. I think that’s the wrong thing to focus on. What did they do? Why did it succeed? How did it succeed, and more importantly, going forward because this is a problem that Silicon Valley is lived with forever.

If you’re worried about doing this one-upmanship, you just go crazy because everybody’s walking around with a lottery ticket in their pocket. Every day, some lottery ticket pops and it’s not like you’re working any smarter, or harder, or less or more than you were yesterday. But just because the other guy won a lottery ticket, you’re gonna feel bad about it. And by the way, if you do that, then this is sort of the wrong space to be in because like I said, everybody is walking around with lottery tickets with higher odds than real lottery tickets.

So you really just have to say, ‘okay, where am I? What am I doing? What is my objective reality, my product, my customers, my investors, my funding, my space, and good for that person.’ They have got everything; the stars aligned, and things worked out for them. But, you can’t get distracted by it and can’t measure my success or my progress based on somebody else’s progress and success.

Sanjay Swamy - 43:39

Yeah, I think you can’t plan to win the lottery but it might happen. Increase your odds as much as you can.

Beerud Sheth - 43:50

It’s the hard work, creativity, innovation and you need a little bit of luck to succeed. But luck is highly correlated to hard work and creativity. So, there’s no guarantees, and it’s an inherently non-deterministic process. The problem is, in a way, when it comes to the Indian education system compared to let’s say, the American education, in the Indian education system, everybody is stack ranked. You get a rank and we all have this perception that the higher you are, the better you are and the more successful you are. Everybody’s on the same path.

The problem is, the startup tech ecosystem and real-world in general is very different. You’re not on a single path. There are 1000 paths or a million paths and different people may achieve different milestones on different paths. The measures of successes are different, but we still try to keep the single measure of success even when there are 100 different paths and it just breaks down. So that’s why people say they want a higher salary because their classmates are getting a higher salary because they’re operating like that.

Does that even make sense if you’re working in a nonprofit? How would you compare salaries? You may be having more impact but it’s a different way to keep score and I think people just have to get comfortable with it. You see a little less of that in the American system because they respect individuality. It has its own challenges and I’m not saying it’s better or worse, nothing is perfect. But at least it recognises differences.

One person succeeding in their metric versus me succeeding in my metric are two different things and you just can’t compare it. So there’s a lot of that especially in young entrepreneurs and students coming out of the Indian system have to really appreciate very deeply.

Sanjay Swamy - 45.52

Beerud, I think these are some amazing insights and once again, I want to close by saying congratulations on an amazing journey. And as you said, it’s an intermediate milestone, now, the journey still continues. So wishing you and the team at Gupshup the best in the years ahead and look forward to continuing to see us in Indian startup ecosystem. Thanks for your time.

Beerud Sheth - 46.17

Yeah, absolutely. Sanjay, thanks for having me here. Really enjoyed the discussion. And I think for all the entrepreneurs out there,keep the faith it’s not easy. It’s lots of challenges that can be difficult. But you just need one successful outcome to make it all worthwhile and that can happen. Remember, you have a lottery ticket in your pocket with fairly good odds.

Sanjay Swamy - 46:44

Thanks so much Beerut and appreciate you being on the show.

Beerud Sheth - 46.49

Thanks Sanjay.

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