Aina Gaur | December 2, 2014

Eye of the storm: What happens at entrepreneurs’ diagnostic panel

Being the founder of a start-up is one of the most challenging positions in the business world, one that no instruction manual can prep you for. You have the idea, the passion, and the courage that sets you off on this journey. However, soon enough you find yourself at tempting diversions making you aware of numerous missing ingredients. The cash-strapped nature of a start-up doesn’t permit the luxury of affording full-time advisors and/or team members for timely strategic advice. Villgro’s diagnostic panel attempts to carve its place precisely here, in the eye of the storm, to help you step back, re-focus and charge ahead from time to time.

As part of incubation support, Villgro facilitates diagnostic panels for existing portfolio companies. Each panel is a deep dive into a particular early-stage business. The entrepreneur/founder gets two full days of uninterrupted time with a team of experts to achieve pre-determined outcomes. The USP lies in the orchestrated diversity of the panel members. The entrepreneur can count on getting the most well-rounded inputs on his/her business from past, present and future market players.

Of the two panels I attended of early-stage companies in Health and Agri sectors, what struck me the most was the 100% hands-on involvement by each panel member and the 200% receptive enthusiasm from the entrepreneur. It takes immense maturity for the entrepreneur to lay all his/her cards on the table and let a panel of people pick the business model apart; after all the business idea is the entrepreneur’s baby! It was equally interesting to observe the dynamics that come into play when you bring experts from different backgrounds, with different motivations and aspirations, together for a common cause; the debates are nothing less than fireworks!

[caption id="attachment_1225" align="alignnone" width="300"]Day 2 of diagnostic panel in full swing at Flybird Innovations, Bangalore. Day 2 of diagnostic panel in full swing at Flybird Innovations, Bangalore.[/caption]


Mastery of the following areas emerged as the common factor between the two panels that covered two businesses in completely different sectors and growth stages:

Product design: Pin down your product/service’s must-have features through intense customer insight gathering; keep in mind that some of these could even be aspirational must-haves that could make or break the success of your product. From here, focus on providing the best quality product; now that’s just non-negotiable!

Team building: From a potential co-founder to a design engineer to a sales executive, attracting and retaining the right people is crucial:
* To build a solid vision for the company of today and tomorrow, the founder needs to paint a picture together with his team
* When hiring for any role, ensure that the key motivator is more or less the same for the employee. For example, if hiring an accountant at Nike, make sure he is in some way excited about sports and athletics; this connects him to the bigger mission of the company which keeps him inspired
* A founder should know when to amplify and when to dial back his/her traits to empower the team to churn out best results
* Figure out internal and external rewards for retaining employees; it’s not all about that increment or bonus. Think out of the box!

Market presence: Stop sweating so much about dominating massive markets before acquiring even a single customer. The best way to understand what works is to start selling the product; the market will influence iterations itself until the best possible version is achieved. Think big but get started at a niche level, scaling will follow eventually once your formula is proven.

Channel partners: Picking the right channel partners can determine the pace and direction of your trajectory. Building solid rapport with channel partners is crucial to reach desired, recurring end users. Negotiate, negotiate, and negotiate for best results!

Cash is king: In the end, everything comes down to cash flows! If money is not in the bank, you have basically been so caught up in sprinting forward that you have missed the moment when you stepped off the cliff (Tom & Jerry reference, of course). For example, push boundaries in developing strategies that expedite collection on sales.