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Arindam Chaudhuri, Editor-in-Chief, 4Ps B&M Chief Consulting Editor's Desk
Rajita Chaudhuri
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There is no lack of enterprise as far as women are concerned. If I take the example of TutorVista, then we had a model where teachers used to work from home and teach students in the US. Now, 95% of those teachers were women. I would call each one of them entrepreneurs. They were required to wake up at 2:00 am in the morning, learn the US curriculum, learn to deal with the US students. We gave them the opportunity to have flexibility in their time, so they could choose their time, whether they wanted to start at 2:00 am or 3:00 am at night, whether they wanted to work for 8 hours a day or 4 hours a day. Also, they were required to work from home. The moment they got the flexibility, they lapped up the opportunity. So, in terms of enterprise, I saw no lack of it among those women. In fact, a woman is best suited for multi-tasking. She has to play the role of a mother, a caretaker, a homemaker etc. She also has a higher emotional quotient and by nature can do multiple roles. So, I don’t see women in any way less than the men.

4Ps B&M: It’s amazing you had 95% women at TutorVista. It reminds one of Mr Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank, who always believed in the entrepreneurial spirit of women; above 90% of the Grameen loans have gone to women.

KG: Yes, it’s absolutely true! Take the case of Portea. Here too, in terms of nurses and nursing attendants, we have more women than men. Of course, many may argue that as a job, it’s more suited for women. But take the case of TutorVista, which is more gender neutral and here too, we have had more women than men and they did a fabulous job!

4Ps B&M: So it just makes pure business sense if you do not discriminate between men and women and give them equal opportunity.

KG: Absolutely! Otherwise, you are ignoring 50% of the population. You are trying to fish in half the pond. The objective is to get the maximum amount of fish and the best fish, then why would you want to do it in half the pond? Statistically, it’s unwise to ignore one half the population and to say that I will only focus on the other half. You are losing out on talent.

TutorVista did not just have 95% women, but 25% of them were also PhDs. They were from all over India – from places like Jamshedpur, Teensukhia, Vizag. All PhDs who were teaching kids in the US. So a US student got a PhD to teach him at the dial of a call. We could do that because we could remove issues about location and space and get the best quality.

4Ps B&M: Israel has been called the ‘startup nation’ and it has shown the world how a nation can achieve huge economic growth. Can India learn something from this economic miracle ?

KG: Yes. The fundamental challenge in India in my opinion is what we call the ‘demographic dividend’. There is a significant number of young in India’s population; and if we want to get any kind of advantage from this, we need to provide employment to these young people. Without this, it is very difficult to expect any change.

4Ps B&M: You are the golden couple of the Indian startups. Whatever you touch turns to gold! How do you choose where to invest? Is there something special that you look for in a startup or its founder?

KG: Like they say in mutual funds, past performance is not indicative of future returns. So, whatever has happened in the past to our one startup has no relevance to the next startup, because every startup is new and the jury is out on every startup; so till the time we monetize things, it’s only work in progress.

Secondly, at GrowthStory, we don’t just invest in companies; we become the promoters of the company. We start the company. We don’t just look at a startup but we look at the next 5-10 years. We evaluate where are the open areas, where can we create value, where are the opportunities... the wide spaces where you can build brands and build valuable businesses. So we start with a thesis like that, we do some research on it, speak to people, and then the core founding team, along with some of the resources that have worked with us, spends 3-6 months doing pilot, pivoting, testing the market and all that.

Afterwards, after one has identified the right spaces, open areas, and for that area has obtained the right core founding team, free experiments, running/failing fast and doing pilots... and after all this work, go ahead with the business. So that is the formula that we have. It’s worked out so far so well; but again, that has no importance because for us, each startup is a new story. Every entrepreneur in the morning is naked in front of the mirror, so there is no past that gets 100% carried into the future. It’s like every test match is a new test match.

4Ps B&M: When you are not starting startups, what is it you are doing in your free time?

KG: I play tennis everyday. I’m a fan of tennis. Plus I like to spend time with my family. I don’t party.

4Ps B&M: Your opinion on this whole concept of ‘unicorns’.

KG: Unicorn is a creation of the media. During the early days, it got hyped up. From a purely startup ecosystem point of view, the positive aspect of unicorns is that it has shown that in India, it is possible to create a billion dollar company. Till two years back, one of the biggest question was “Can India have a billion dollar company?”

The world knew that US and China are big markets which can create big companies – but could India do the same? That question got answered by the unicorn status. That, I would say, is the only good part of it. Other than that, I don’t think you as a consumer – whether you are buying from Flipkart or are taking an Ola – are not worried about the valuation of your service provider, whether it’s $15 billion or $10 billion. Personally if you ask me is the valuation right – I don’t know. It’s a question of the buyer and seller in the ecosystem. Even if a unicorn is worth half whatever it was valued last, it’s still a very valuable company, and more importantly, doing an extremely good job.

So I don’t think we should get too much worried about the changes in valuation. We swing from one extreme of euphoria to the other extreme of gloom and doom. Personally, for me, it does not matter as long as they are there and delivering the services. Ultimately, for an entrepreneur, it’s only monetization that matters.

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