We’re delighted to present this inspiring read for every aspiring entrepreneur. It has been written by author and consultant Nistha Tripathi, whose book No Shortcuts was published recently by Sage Publications, and who herself is nothing short of a young veteran in her spheres of work.
A successful Wall Street professional and early employee in Manhattan startups, Nistha returned to India in 2012 to start her own Indian entrepreneurial journey. She runs Scholar Strategy, an education counseling company that prides itself in helping hundreds of students to get into top universities across the world including Harvard and MIT.
Nistha’s first novel, Seven Conversations, interpreted Bhagvad Gita in a modern context and earned rave reviews. With 32,000+ followers and 4.5M+ views on her answers on the popular American QnA based website, Quora, Nistha writes extensively on careers, entrepreneurship and pursuing one’s passion. Her articles have appeared on Entrepreneur, Times, DailyO, DNA, Tribune and other leading media outlets.
Nistha has created the following special piece for mediabrief.com from her recently published book No Shortcuts: Editor
No one has stirred so much curiosity in the space of electric vehicles since Chetan Maini as Tarun Mehta is doing with Ather Energy. This month,, which recently rolled out two electric scooters that met with an incredibly encouraging first response.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Tarun for my book, No Shortcuts, in which he shared his entire journey of building Ather from a college project to raising $43M from a formidable line of investors – Flipkart founders Sachin and Binny Bansal, Tiger Global, and Hero MotoCorp.
- Seeing opportunities instead of challenges
Most of us lament the lack of government support and challenges in manufacturing in India. Not Tarun. While most of the entrepreneurs turn their attention towards e-commerce and SAAS products, Tarun sees an opportunity in the hardware sector.
“I would argue that building an e-commerce or Internet company in India is more worrisome because every guy is doing that.” For him, hardware represents an opportunity to create larger impact and higher barriers to entry.
- Knowing what problem to solve
A sound entrepreneur is not only good at solving problems but knowing which problems to solve. While the overall enthusiasm started with a patent on battery pack design, Tarun soon realized that just fixing one part of the vehicle is not enough.
“I saw it as a product challenge. You need an electric vehicle which is at par in performance with petrol vehicles. That is the only way people are going to use it.”
- Clarity in vision
If you are creating your masterpiece, it takes time and patience. But to begin with, you need to have a clear vision.
“Most of the decisions we took did not allow us to get anywhere quickly. But those decisions have helped us stick to our vision even today. They might have slowed us down actually but they were important for long term sustenance.”
- Elevate instead of compete
“What we are very good at is building company around testing, value engineering, bringing cost down, branding, distribution, servicing and all that. The hard part is not building the product which someone can copy. What someone cannot copy is the business process itself.”
- Doing what you love
It sounds cliche and yet many founders are constantly pressurized when things are not looking up. They think of all the things they have left behind to startup and is it worth it? Tarun had little savings to begin with and he put it in building prototypes. And, he doesn’t think it is a big deal. The point is if you are resenting your time starting up, you will be constantly challenged.
“I strongly believe that if you feel that you are giving up a lot for your startup, your chances of success dramatically come down because now you are faced with a massive mental block.”
- Persisting till serendipity strikes
If you believe in your vision, persistence pays off. Constantly prototyping and trying to fundraise could have driven anyone insane. Tarun has stuck to his guns, said no to investors he thought were not beneficial and gone on to attract those who believe in what Ather is doing.
“One point we actually ran out of money and were surviving on loans. In a month, even the loan would have been exhausted. That is when Sachin and Binny invested a million dollars.”
- Original thinking
Be it choosing to build electric vehicles in a country like India or choosing to do practically everything in-house, Tarun does not believe in following the norms. Instead, he does what appeals to him. Same goes when it comes to following the generally accepted principles in startups.
“We don’t like the word ‘pivot’. It should be your last resort. There is no pride in pivoting every six months. A pivot means that there was lot of learning from the mistakes you made. We have had minor pivots but it has been thoughtful.”
- Money savvy
Hardware startups suck money and one of the biggest reasons why Ather has survived a long and tortuous journey to product launch is the way founders spent their cash.
“Swapnil was part of a team that had built a race car. Between us, we had so much prototyping experience that we could build a complete scooter (proof of concept) in 1 lac.” Even then, it has been a tough road. “We thought $2M is what we need to start production. Today, we have raised $43M and know that is what it takes OEM to start functioning.”
- Team mentality
“If Ather becomes a billion-dollar company someday, even if I have 5%, that is still $50M which is 350 crores. I don’t think I will look at that and say, hey I would have been motivated only if I had more. We would get there because there are 100 employees working even harder than us. There were investors who bet tens or hundreds of millions of dollars on you. They also need to make money.”
- Driven by vision
A startup is an ultimate expression of its founder’s principles.
“The mission in our case is that all vehicles in the world should be electric in next twenty years and that gives us a different level of motivation.”
All quotes from Nistha Tripathi’s excellent book, No Shortcuts, featuring the interviews of 15 successful startup founders from India. The book is a Sage publication, and was released recently. It is one of the most significant books recently released with very workable and inspiring conversations with and analyses of 15 successful startup leaders. Mediabrief.com will review the book soon. Editor