Interviews

From Inspiration to Enterprise: Why I Wrote “Ain’t No Eureka – The Idea to Enterprise Journey

CXOToday has engaged in an exclusive interview with Annesh Khanna, Early-Stage Entrepreneurship Consultant & Coach

  1. Can you tell us why you decided to write your book, “Ain’t No Eureka – The Idea to Enterprise Journey,” and what inspired you to share your insights about starting a business?

In the last two years in particular, I observed how a combination of ‘Startup India’ efforts and the ‘Shark Tank Phenomenon’ have created a sea of aspiring Entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship has become a career choice for many. However, unlike Engineering or Management, where your 1st job taught you so much, even if you slept through your degree program; ‘Starting up’ can be very different.

I was naturally drawn towards becoming an Early-Stage Entrepreneurship Coach, because I felt morally responsible, to pass on the learnings to help aspiring entrepreneurs, so that they do not make the same mistakes that I had made, and to see them blossom into thriving startups.

I started penning down my thoughts as small notes on various subjects through my experiences as an Entrepreneur myself and an Entrepreneurship Coach. These notes started becoming longer and more voluminous and eventually took the shape of my upcoming book on Idea Validation called ‘Ain’t no Eureka – Your Idea to Enterprise Journey’ which will be available for online purchase by early June 2024.

 

  1. Based on your experience, what are some common problems you see new entrepreneurs facing when they’re just starting out?
  • Solution more Important than the Problem – When you want to do something different and you find it to be unique or ground breaking or just cool, you begin to obsess about how ‘x feature’ will help ‘y consumer’. But in all this excitement, the ‘Pain Areas’ of the potential target consumers get lost. Just because it’s a cool product or a Mobile App or a platform, doesn’t mean it is a painkiller and consumers will line up on day 1 to purchase or download. Don’t start coding or prototyping till you find at least 100 people who have the pain that you are trying to solve. When you talk to these potential consumers, don’t say ‘If I were to give you this product/service/feature, would it be useful?’, instead ask ‘Can you tell me about your current purchase pattern?’, ‘What are the friction points, frustration, irritations, unmet aspirations, with the current purchase pattern?’
  • Every Idea has already been taken – Ganesh Balakrishnan, Founder at Flatheads said something beautiful ‘The key to a good startup idea lies in the power of observation and an open mind. You can identify big opportunities hidden in plain sight’. This is a skill that early stage aspiring Entrepreneurs must inculcate
  • Fundraising is Entrepreneurship – Staying away from this belief is a challenge of our times for young entrepreneurs. The belief that ‘only if I raise money, can I build a startup’, ignoring this noise and getting started, is a clear challenge. There are so many benefits of starting small, building a frugal prototype or MVP (Minimum Viable Product), finding a few users, looking for a grant from an Incubator/Central government scheme, then looking at raising your first round of external capital
  1. What do you think are the most important things for turning an idea into a successful business? And how does your book help with that?
  • Clarity of Thought – Be very honest with yourself on the reason you want to be an Entrepreneur. Don’t ask only your friends and family to validate your IDEA. Think of Idea validation as a process where you uncover the real problems that a set of consumers are going through. Be clear on what you are solving and what will it take to create an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and find your Product Market Fit
  • Resilience – There will be many potholes and emotional shocks. Only if you are deeply committed to the problem and passionate about it, will you be able to withstand these obstacles. Staying resilient is not an option for early-stage entrepreneurs
  • Bootstrapping – Idea stage fundraising is invisible, don’t look at 1-2 fundraising events at this stage to justify this in your mind. Find people you know who will back your idea and let you take small steps in starting your business. Think of sales, more than fundraising. Obsess about which consumers face the problem that you are trying to solve, how does he/she transact today, what are the friction points, how can you make their life better, how can you help them make more money, save money or maybe save time.

 

  •  How can the book ‘Ain’t No Eureka’ help:

I wrote this book for everyone who roams with an IDEA in their Pocket, or in a Google Drive Folder or in the spaces of their mind, to help them VALIDATE THEIR IDEA.

Each chapter or the book, peels the layer of the IDEA, step by step. The book also serves as a workbook, where the reader commits to journaling their thoughts on topics like ‘Motivation to Starting up, Idea Validation, Competition Analysis, MOAT, Product Market Fit, Minimum Viable Product, Fundraising’ and a lot more. I think of the book as a GPS for an Aspiring or Early-Stage Entrepreneur.

 

  1. Networking and pitching are important skills for entrepreneurs. Could you give some simple advice on how new entrepreneurs can meet investors and talk about their ideas?
  • Online Networking – Linkedin is a wonderful way to build your network online. But it won’t be effective, if you are not disciplined and have a clear plan on what you want to achieve. Some small tips on Linkedin networking:
    • Set your goals – Decide on what you want to achieve from Linkedin. For example: If your aim is fundraising, then make a list of angel investors who are active on linkedin and follow their accounts as a first step. This will help you understand their funding thesis, through their posts
    • No Cold inmails – Yes, I know there are romantic entrepreneurial stories of how a cold email worked for someone. Cold Inmails don’t work too well. You must send a connection request with a short note on why you would like to connect with the person.
    • Power of Commenting – On the list of Investors that you follow, don’t only press the like button, do add value in the comments. Share your own experience or insight and congratulate them with genuine good wishes on a successful exit or new fundraise
  • Use Events as a learning and Networking ground– Do your homework before any event, let’s say that your agenda to attend the meeting is to meet 2-3 angel investors who are on the speaker panel. When you get the 1-2 minutes with them, engage with them in a meaningful conversation, about what you read/know about them and build the chat from there. Maybe quote a linkedin post, which you authentically believed added value to your learning as a young Entrepreneur
  • Some Pitching Thoughts:
  • Talk MORE about the Problem & the Sufferers. Investors want to know, if you are a painkiller or a vitamin
  • Talk about your WHY – The cause, belief and purpose, because of which you thought of this IDEA and this Problem to solve. The WHY can be deep rooted in your experience, your industry or your deep understanding of the problem at hand
  • Focus on understanding the Consumer Persona/s, who will be your early adopters
  • Metrics – Be Strong on metrics across users, repeat rates, Cost of Acquisition, revenue, unit economics, profitability etc.
  • Bring every ounce of energy, optimism and good vibes to your Pitch. Think of every pitch as your last pitch

 

 

  1. What changes do you think we’ll see in the future for startups, and how can new entrepreneurs prepare for those changes?
  • It is clear that early-stage fundraising is a challenge today, despite the exuberance and more young people getting into Entrepreneurship. Early-stage capital should ideally allow you to find your MVP and your Product Market Fit. But unfortunately in the current times, MVP and PMF are both asked for during an early stage funding round. So, Entrepreneurs have to be resilient, innovative, look at small capital from Friends/Families/Grants/Government Schemes etc, before they look at their first round of capital
  • Quick commerce faced a lot of criticism in 2022 and early 2023, over the merit and need for a 10-minute delivery, but today Quick Commerce is a threat to ecommerce and marketplaces. So, if you are building in the D2C or Consumer space, you must think of Quick Commerce first. Brands like Go Zero, Bombay Shaving Company, Go Desi and so many others, have benefitted tremendously by quick commerce. On account of the popularity, listing on Quick Commerce has also become a challenge today for small consumer brands.
  • AI – Seems like an abused trend, but it is a reality. While building your startup, you must think of how AI will add value but also, if AI can threaten the longevity of your business

 

 

  1. Making a strong brand is really important for a new business. How can new entrepreneurs make sure people know about their business and understand what it’s all about?

I believe that in the early days, there are 2 branding principles amongst others, that you must adhere to:

  1. Small details matter – The belief that your Logo or your tagline or ‘Performance Marketing’ budget builds your brand as an Early-stage entrepreneur is incorrect. For a new business, you want early customers to fall in love with the product or service that you are building. ‘Sweat the small stuff’ while delivering your product or service. I remember seeing a linkedin post about the brand tag displaying the name of the clothing company ‘cottonworld’. The tag went to great lengths to talk about how the tag was made with recycled elephant and rhino poop and how much effort went into making that tag, thus subtly indicating how much effort they would put into making their clothes completely natural. Consumers see the small efforts that you make in the ‘unboxing experience’, a hand written note, a free gift and so much more. Don’t think of ‘brand building’ as something fancy, let your brand live your Company’s WHY – the cause, purpose of belief.
  2. You are your BRAND – Over the last couple of years, we have seen how Personal Entrepreneur brands, have propelled the tangible revenues of their Startups. Aman Gupta from Boat, Ghazal Alagh from Mamaearth, Ahana Gautam of Open Secret, Jyoti Bharadwaj from Teafit are just a few examples of how the Entrepreneur’s personal brand can lend so much to his/her Startup’s brand positioning. So be out there talking about your brand through your stories and linkedin posts, each time to write, you build a small nuance of your brand’s image in the mind of the potential consumer.

 

 

  1. Getting money from investors is a big step for startups. What tips do you have for entrepreneurs who want to ask for money from investors and then use that money well?
  • Firstly, when you think of Entrepreneurship try and delineate that endeavour from the concept of Fundraising. Think of Funding as a way to help you scale the problem solving, once you have figured your Product Market Fit.
  • Product Market Fit – This will be the 2nd or 3rd objection from the Investor. So better that you find some answers before you are in the room with the Investor. You need to bootstrap your business, raise some friends & family monies, seek grants from Incubators/Govt Schemes, so that you are not fundraising at the Idea stage. Also more importantly, small amount of capital always helps with creating a frugal discipline of running a business.
  • Investor – Entrepreneur Fit – Pitching cannot be a random exercise. Do your homework. Go through the Angel Investor’s/VC’s Fund Thesis, portfolio companies, background of the General Partners etc. A good fit, will help you get better receptivity and a quicker turnaround, during the pitching process. For example, if you are in the Consumer or D2C space, look at VCs like Fireside Ventures, V3 Ventures etc, where there is already a very strong understanding of the sector

 

  1. What are five easy things you’d tell someone who’s just starting a business to help them succeed?
  • Spend more time thinking about the Problem rather than shaping the solution
  • Stay Authentic to your WHY and the underlining reason why you want to solve a specific problem (It can’t be to make money, that’s an outcome 😊)
  • Chase Sales and not fundraising on Day 1
  • Understand your own Strengths and Weaknesses and look at complementary team members, by way of Co-Founders or early hires
  • Dream Big but keep taking small steps. Success is not the opposite of Failure, in fact Failure is a requirement or precursor to a grand Success

 

  1. How do you plan to help lots of different people, including young people and people in different parts of the country, start their own businesses?
  • I have made it a point to actively write on Linkedin and share my thoughts, learnings and observations about the Entrepreneurial ecosystem.
  • I am active in conducting ‘Idea Validation’ workshops and Masterclasses at Business Schools and Engineering Colleges.
  • I have my website aneeshkhanna.com, which goes live shortly. The website allows aspiring entrepreneurs to connect with me through:
    • 1: 1 calls to discuss their idea
    • Enrolment into the upcoming free workshops
    • A Paid 8 week Mentoring Bootcamp, where every week, we have a call in small groups and discuss one unique aspect of Starting up. Homework is given, which includes secondary research, speaking with potential users, competition analysis etc, which has to be done before the next call, to move the needle forward.
  • I will also have my youtube shorts and my Instagram page live shortly, where I talk about new products and services and entrepreneurial learnings from them for aspiring entrepreneurs
  1. What are your future plans to keep helping new entrepreneurs get started on their journey to building successful businesses?
  • I am working on a product, which solves the challenge of getting the 1st small cheque to help Entrepreneurs get off the ground, in the ‘Sub Zero to One’ This works by enrolling entrepreneurs and angels. Angels, who will come on board, both as a potential mentor and also to help open doors to get the first 2000 early adopters for the startup. The login page for the Entrepreneurs will be up shortly on my website.
  • Of course, my upcoming book in Early June 2024, ‘Ain’t no Eureka – Your Idea to Enterprise Journey’, priced at just Rs 299/-, is a great kick start to your entrepreneurial thought process.