Product entrepreneurs take note

By : |May 14, 2016 0
Image courtesy of Geerati at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

India’s startup success stories are often appropriated by software firms like Flipkart and Ola cornering hardware product companies. But there are many product entrepreneurs out there who have carved a niche for themselves in the startup arena and have a lesson or two for the industry to emulate.

When the founders – Tarun Mehta and Swapnil Jain – of electric scooter maker Ather Energy and DhananjayDendukuri, founder of Achira Labs medical diagnostics firm had not much more than concepts of their eventual products, they turned to familiar environments for direction. For Mehta and Jain, it was their alma mater, the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras; and for Dendukuri, it was his employer.

Tarun Mehta, chief executive of Ather Energy which will be rolling out its S340 smart electric scooter this year says, “We reached out to one of our professors in engineering design at IIT Madras and told him we wanted to build a battery and maybe a full vehicle and put in a lot of engineering effort doing that. He immediately offered to support us 100 percent.”

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“If we hadn’t had that support, our starting would have been 10x harder and 10x longer,” saysDendukuri who got support from Connexios Life Sciences, where he was a lead scientist. The company incubated his micro fluidics startup so he could tinker and experiment with developing a low-cost diagnostics device.

Unlike software ideas, products have to climb a steep arch to prove their worth in a market. Products have to grow from being a concept to a physical prototype and undergo various iterations before they can hit the market. And then the market has to want the product.

Product entrepreneurs need to have an in-depth understanding of the problem that they want to solve and its magnitude, and determine how it can be solved best. Niche problems might seem exciting but may not earn your start-up the money it will need to sustain.

Lesson 1: The most critical part is getting that first person to believe in your idea and give you space to experiment

CIOL Product Entrepreneurs take note

“We were then convinced that technology is the only way we can solve this problem. As a hardware company, one of the trump cards that one has is to be able to show a prototype—an actual, tangible, physical thing. The impact that a physical product has is unparalleled. You cannot do the same by making presentations,” says Ather’s Mehta.

Lesson 2: Find a core team and raise funds because developing a product requires money. While seeking funds, have a working prototype ready.

Since the product startup sector is only picking up now, finding core team members with foresight and ingenuity may take time. Dendukuri of Achira Labs went to various colleges to deliver lectures and took in members who seemed passionate about microfluidics. “I went to IIT-Delhi to give a talk. Somebody there was doing his Ph.D. in microfluidics. He attended the talk and then he stayed back to ask questions and now he’s been with me through the entire journey,” says Dendukuri who also scouted for Indians abroad with interest, expertise and cutting-edge knowledge. “The other important pick we made was a scientific adviser,” he adds.

Lesson 3: Understand the sourcing ecosystem and reach out to vendors who can understand your vision and will want to be involved for the long haul.

Akash Gupta, chief technology officer of robotics enterprise GreyOrange, holds one advice from the company’s experienced Germany-based co-founder Wolfgang Holtgen close to his heart–there is a lot of difference between cheap and economical. “There is a big difference between a cheap product and a viable product. Viable products cater to the market, not the cheap. This was drilled into us by Wolfgang. A lot of our supply chain is from Germany, Taiwan and Japan, so it is possible to make products which have really good components and still be viable enough,” Gupta says.

“I started the company pretty late. Before that, I was into racing. We named the team as Tork and remained in that space for four-and-a-half years. And then I had a bit of free time when I built a prototype. The perception of electric motorcycles was not good then. So I wanted to build and show that it is possible. It worked well,” says Kapil Shelke, founder of Tork Motorcycles, a Pune-based maker of an electric motor that is backed, among others, by Ola co-founders Bhavish Aggarwal and Ankit Bhati.

In the end, just remember one thing- it is the underlying passion that can take you through the severe journey of mounting a product startup. So, be strong and be focused.

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