Getting beyond eureka

5 min read
06 Jan 2018
5 min read
2166 words
A discussion was held at the premises of The Kathmandu Post, where eight international speakers shared their thoughts on Nepal’s startup culture, about what can be done to improve it, the role the government should play to promote it

Next Venture Corp recently concluded its second edition of the NEXT Growth Conclave—Nepal’s largest entrepreneurship platform for emerging Nepali startups to explore their potential. On the heels of the event, last week, a discussion was held at the premises of The Kathmandu Post, where eight
international speakers shared their thoughts on Nepal’s startup culture, about what can be done to improve it, the role the government should play to promote it and how important a role mentor-mentee relationships play in nurturing the ecosystem. The following is a paraphrased version of the insights the speakers shared at the discussion.

Sajid Rahman, CEO, Telenor Health

On mentor-mentee relationships

Sajid Rahman wanted to explore the issue of how in most mentor-mentee relationships mentees (who are usually founding their first startups) often put their mentors on a pedestal. He said this is not always a good thing. When mentees venerate their mentors too much, mentees do not feel very comfortable expressing themselves and asking for the kind of help they actually need. Mentees often put mentors on a pedestal when mentors are highly qualified, like when they are PhD holders or CEOs. There is a misconception among startup founders that only highly qualified individuals can be mentors. But not all mentees need the expertise that mentors of such high calibre provide; for example, what new CEOs and managers of startups often need is help with basic issues like HR and finance management. Such advice could better be given by mentors who are managers. Rahman believes many startups need to be properly informed about these simple issues, and that entrepreneurs need mentors who can help them with these very aspects, rather than with highly ambitious plans.

Lalitha Wemel, Regional Manager (Southeast Asia and Oceania), Techstars

On failure

According to Lalitha Wemel, the culture of stigmatising failure is prevalent everywhere. And the only way we can change that culture is by encouraging entrepreneurs to embrace failure, rather than skirting around it. Entrepreneurs who have experienced failure should share their stories and the valuable lessons they have learned from their failures. They should consider failure as a part of the learning and growing process, rather than as a dead end.

On mentor-mentee relationships

It is tough to find the right balance in a mentor-and-mentee relationship because most mentees want people of the Jack Ma or Satya Nadella sort as their mentors. But that would be like assigning a college student to mentor a second grader, when, in fact, a third grader should be mentoring him. The third grader will have just gone through a process similar to what the mentee is going through, which will better allow the mentor to offer the right kind of guidance the second grader actually needs. Sometimes, it’s more about the kind of mentor the mentee needs, rather than the kind of mentor the mentee wants.

Arnaud Bonzom, Venture Partner,
500 Startups

On failure

According to Arnaud Bonzom, wearing your failures on your sleeves can actually work to your advantage. Bonzom talked about the various prisms through which failures could be viewed: No failure is permanent; one can learn a lot from failure. Bonzom brought up the example of FailCon, a global conference praising failure, which represents a response to the usual events that highlight only success. At FailCon, entrepreneurs, investors and developers share their stories of failure and how someone else can avoid such mishaps in the future. According to him, if you want to start a business in a sector where other individuals and companies have tried and failed, it would only make sense to develop a deeper understanding of the different factors behind their failures. It is through conferences like these that entrepreneurs can  intellectually and emotionally own their failures.

On mentor-mentee relationships

Mentor-mentee relationships depend on the kind of help that the mentee needs and the trust that  the mentee has in the mentor. The mentor’s job, however, is not to help ensure the mentee’s success by teaching him shortcuts, but rather to challenge him, time and again, to find the right path to success.

Nitin Sethi, Vice President (Product Design and User Experience),
On the startup culture in Nepal

According to Sethi, many budding entrepreneurs in Nepal are aiming to introduce their business to the global market. This marked change in entrepreneurs’ ambitions is quite extraordinary, says Sethi, but they first need to account for the hurdles they’ll inevitably face as their career progresses. Many entrepreneurs think that a startup is their only means for making easy money, and in a short period of time. This type of thinking will not prepare young entrepreneurs for the rough times (and there are going to be plenty, says Sethi).

On the government’s role

The government needs to encourage entrepreneurship by introducing policies and laws that promote startups’ growth, says Sethi. The government can play a bigger role in developing the market for startups by investing early in them. If the government has a stake in startups, then they will proactively improve policies and laws pertaining to startups. This will not only eliminate all basic policy hurdles but will also set a solid foundation for future entrepreneurs, says Sethi.

Arijit Bhattacharyya,
Founder & CEO,
Virtualinfocom, India
On the startup culture in Nepal

According to Arjit Bhattacharyya, Nepal’s startups are mostly on the right track. But entrepreneurs need to first disabuse themselves of several misconceptions: not every entrepreneur can be called a startup entrepreneur; a startup entrepreneur is someone who has a completely unique business model. And a startup cannot be a one-man army; it has to have a at least around five people in the team. 

Entrepreneurs also need to have a basic knowledge of business fundamentals—merely having a great unique business idea alone won’t do. Startup accelerator programmes can educate young entrepreneurs by including lawyers, chartered accountants and foreign startup entrepreneurs in their programmes.

On the startup spirit and success

A startup entrepreneur’s goal should be to create a product that will make a positive impact in society, and not just make money. Entrepreneurs should not harbour the notion that they’ll be successful right away. In fact, for the first five years, entrepreneurs should not even focus on finding success. Instead, they need to focus on just producing a great product. And they should always remember that entrepreneurship is about being willing to operate outside of their comfort zone.

Warren Leow, Vice President (Strategic Partnerships and Revenue), Inmagine Group

On the importance of highlighting local startup success stories

Local startups’ success stories can be instrumental in encouraging more people to become entrepreneurs or to invest in startups, according to Leow. This has been evident in countries like China, where entrepreneurs like Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, have helped spur the proliferation of startups in China. Leow says it’s important to highlight local startup success stories, for they are more relatable in the local context.

On mentor-mentee relationships

According to Leow, to strike the right balance in mentor-mentee relationships, three things have to be considered: first, the mentor-mentee match; second, the intentions of the mentors and mentees; and third, the level of commitment to the mentor-mentee relationship.

When it comes to assigning mentors, startup-ecosystem builders should play the role of facilitators and figure out what kind of mentors mentees actually need. Incubator builders should build a mentor pyramid with different tiers of mentors, and match mentees accordingly.

Mohammad Shabbir, Founder & CEO, GOInternational Finland
On the government’s role

The first thing the Nepali startup community needs is a  stable government. Only when the country has a stable government will investors be willing to invest money. The government must also do away with laws and policies that are no longer relevant in the current context, and the laws need to be updated to fit the current startup scenario. The new government will have to take daring, disruptive steps in order to ensure exponential growth in the Nepali startup scene.

On the importance of highlighting success stories of small startups and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)

Big companies’ success stories are already part of popular discourse, but hardly anyone is familiar with similar stories about small startups and SMEs. The media needs to bring to the forefront success stories of small enterprises. And when government officials visit business symposiums and so on abroad, they should should include in the delegation representatives of startup companies and SMEs (right now, only big-name businessmen are invited to come along). Doing so would provide entrepreneurs the opportunity to expand their network beyond the country’s borders.

Shazeeb M Khairul Islam, Founder & CEO,
YY Goshti
On the startup culture in Nepal

According to Shazeeb M Khairul Islam, there are some Nepali startups that are doing well, but for the country to have a much more thriving startup community, Nepal needs to do a lot more. And to do that, the first thing that needs to be improved is the country’s overall infrastructure. Apart from that, entrepreneurial education and training programmes have to be introduced early on, primarily at the school level. It’s also important to have laws and regulations that encourage local and foreign investments in Nepal’s startup sector.

On failure

In South Asian countries, the stigma regarding failure is greater than in the West. And because of this stigma, entrepreneurs are so focused on their failures that they often tend to not see the bigger picture and the opportunities that failures present. They have to understand that there is nothing wrong with failure. The important thing is to learn from failure and bounce back stronger and wiser.

On mentor-mentee relationships

When it comes to mentor-mentee relationships, we need to teach mentees how to ask for help. Establishing a proper means of communication is of paramount importance in a mentor-mentee relationship because mentees need to know how to ask for the right type of help and mentors need to be straightforward about what kind of help they can offer.