Diary of a serial entrepreneur

Diary of a serial entrepreneur
Diary of a serial entrepreneur

Vardaan Vasisht started his career in consulting at Accenture in India and moved to the US to join a start-up named Beyond Interactive, which at the time was setup in a dorm room at the University of Michigan and emerged as one of the first successful digital advertising agencies in the dot com boom era.In 1999 Beyond Interactive became part of MediaCom (a Grey Advertising company) and in 2004, after Grey Advertising got acquired by WPP Group, Vasisht co-founded another digital media technology platform company HookLogic Inc.Today HookLogic is a strong team of over 150 employees. Its technology platform is utilised by global clients in 70 countries and its business operates from offices in New York, Ann Arbor (Michigan), Los Angeles, and London.Vasisht shares his insights with India Inc. on what it takes to set up successful start-ups, the hurdles that he faced, and some of the lessons he has learnt over the years.

What makes HookLogic click Our culture and bringing a new approach to digital advertising for Brand marketers makes HookLogic click. Putting together the right team is the recipe for our success.We have created a scaled 'Performance marketing platform for BRANDS' that allows them to measure return on their advertising spend (ROAS), which is key to growing advertising budgets (i.e. why Google is so successful).HookLogic has taken a leadership position in the industry for spearheading 'Ecommerce Media' and is constantly innovating its product to ensure Brands stay connected with the constantly evolving shoppers who today leverage multiple devices during their purchase decisions. Educating our Retailer clients on best practices and how to compete with jugger-nauts like Amazon is also a key focus for us. We offer our clients (both Brands and Retailers) a good win-win proposition - brands get to see return on their investment and retailers, who would otherwise only make money when they sell a product, get a new high margin revenue source through advertising.Is it possible to cultivate an innovation mind set Absolutely YES! An environment which encourages 'risk taking' and promotes 'failure is good' is critical.We offer the right kind of training and mentoring to people to be able to take chances and risks as the key ingredients for building an innovation framework for team members to be creative. The new generation talent wants to 'create impact' and is full of innovative ideas; however, it just needs the right environment to flourish. Our motto is “try and fail fast - learn and improve”.Is India doing enough to nurture innovation/start-ups I've been living outside of India for a long time. However, I read a lot about what's going on and have been visiting twice every year to stay connected. I would say the private sector is taking the right steps and creating the right environment to cultivate innovation. Most companies I've met seem to have invested well in connectivity, infrastructure and in creating positive work environment. Today there is no shortage of funding for good ideas in India and new ventures are launching not just in metros but also smaller cities which is a great indicator for healthy start-up environment.On the government side, there can be and should be more effort to support and promote start-ups. Nation-wide high-speed wireless and data infrastructure for affordable connectivity should be a big initiative to focus on. Also, business-friendly regulations such as special tax breaks for start-ups , reforming employment laws that encourage practices like 'at-will hiring', Intellectual Property protection and removing bureaucracy and digitizing start-to-end process to incorporate new business entities will also go a long way.Finally, a focus on education and offering high-quality training programmes that give opportunity to the workforce to get/remain upto- date on relevant technologies is missing in India right now, and initiatives lead by government in this area will be a game-changer for the country.What are some of the global best practices India must emulate There needs to be more incubators where entrepreneurs can bring their ideas to life, along the lines of the US' Y Combinator and 500 Startups. Shared work spaces such as WeWork also encourages entrepreneurs to come together and be innovative which makes start-ups happen so much faster.Historically India has been very strong in manufacturing, so why not bring solutions such as Kickstarter, Indigogo or TechShop to promote 'maker movement' throughout the country.Creating right work environment and making work a fun place is another key aspect. Google and Facebook come to mind as having succeeded in creating fun environments which means their employees are happy and that leads to an overall conducive environment for new ideas and innovation.At Hooklogic we constantly strive to keep an open work environment with a no-doors policy. We organize lots of fun activities and bring in other organisations who pitch their ideas using our space. This in turn also helps our own team members as we get to learn more about the industry.What are your top picks of some Indian start-ups that you feel click Most often I come across start-ups that are purely copying US models, these will do fine but will be taken over by global players, for example Ola Cabs replicating Uber.There is a small percentage that is adapting and innovating to meet the needs of the Indian market and consumer, which I think is better than replicating. For example Indian customers want more affordable solutions so start-ups such as rBus, Shuttl, Zipgo and Cityflo are offering 'shared bus ride' booking or Autowale, AutoRaja and mGaadi for auto rickshaw bookings are good examples of innovating the 'share rides' concept.In our industry, what Filipkart is doing by going 100 per cent mobile app-based for ecommerce or Vizury focusing 100 per cent on mobile retargeting are also good examples.I believe ones that can see through a different lens because India is such a different country with varied needs will having limitless success.Take 'payments' - India does not have an extensive banking or ATM infrastructure but almost everyone in India - rich or poor, in urban or rural area has a need to transact at some level and has a mobile phone so start-ups such as Ezetap, ItzCash and Novopay are offering payment solutions that are developed ground-up to win more than a billion untapped customers in India.What can the Indian government do to attract successful entrepreneurs back to India Brain drain to brain gain, if India wants to attract some of us back, it should create an environment that stimulates entrepreneurship. It should establish programmes that provide special incentives and processes that require least effort for setting-up new ventures. One proven model is to setup “Special Economic Zones” (SEZs), several countries have done this and seen success with it. Take Dubai that set-up Free Trade and Special Economic Zones back in 2001.Recently Cayman Islands has also set-up special economic zone under the name of Cayman Enterprise City (CEC) which has been growing very rapidly.In India these can be set-up to promote key initiatives such as “rural India connectivity” under “Digital India” initiatives.Also during his next visit to the US (or other countries), Prime Minister Modi should meet with not just the world's largest companies but also mid-size successful start-ups and entre-preneurs with Indian origin to share his vision and passion for India. I think it will go a long way in encouraging us to consider India for current business expansion and/or setting new ventures.What hurdles did you face when starting your venture in the US For an entrepreneur who is not a US citizen, when starting a company in the United States the biggest hurdle, besides financial investment, is 'how to get work authorization'.Although there is 'Investor Visa' category that gives work authorization, it does require upwards of $1 million to qualify which most first time entrepreneurs don't have. There can be a new visa category for entrepreneurs with clear guidelines which allows you to establish a company and prove success over next few years and mitigate risk of losing your existing work visa. The Indian consulate should also have an expert in this area for some muchneeded guidance.For me the lack of initial working capital meant having to boot-strap from savings. There can be special start-up loan options from the Indian government to help with this. A US-India treaty to encourage crossborder businesses would also go a long way in circumventing some of these hurdles.What advice do you have for budding entrepreneurs 'No' is not an answer and 'impossible' is not a word that should exists in your dictionary. When you think of starting up, lots of people will say no it is not possible.Also you must have a clear strategy and vision. Businesses are meant to make revenue and grow value for shareholders, be very clear in your mind on your goals and objectives. Venture money is easy to get these days, especially in India, however make sure you don't dilute yourself too much at the beginning.Of course, hard and smart work pays off. You are crazy in the first place to think about it but then as Steve Jobs said: “Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently - they're not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things... they push the human race for-ward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do”.@Vardaan

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