In 2011, Rajiv Prakash quit his job as the chief executive officer of Futurebazaar.com and for a year consulted few start-ups before he formally became part of the start-up ecosystem last year. Today, he consults over six start-ups in different segments that include fashion, children’s education, software and even a fast-food chain, Goli Vada Pav.
A growing tribe of business heads are quitting their jobs at MNCs and big corporates to work with start-ups and to coach entrepreneurs. As Prakash puts it, he is “a sachet CEO” for start-ups.
Similarly, veteran Jonathan Bill, who was working at Vodafone India, quit last month to become strategic advisor to a Bangalore-based start-up, Reverie Language Technologies, that provides regional language solutions for mobiles, tablets and other digital platforms. Bill had worked with the Vodafone Group for over a decade in various emerging markets, but when he decided to consult start-ups, it was the Indian market that he chose.
Former Sandisk India CEO Chinnu Senthilmar also shares pretty much the same story. He re-located to India from the US in 2003 to start Sandisk’s operations in India. In 2009, he co-founded Azure Capital Advisors and down the line became the investment banking advisor for various start-ups. This was in line with the trend that was prevalent at the Silicon Valley where he worked, but has only started catching up in India now. “The Indian market is evolving and in last 10-15 years, there have been many new innovative start-ups that have come up which need experienced hands to coach entrepreneurs. It’s a cycle; what is already a trend in developed markets like the US is now catching up in India,” he explains.
From plugging gaps to helping start-ups in scaling up and expanding in international market, these strategic advisors bring the relevant experience to start-ups. “Start-ups and small organisations face a ceiling after a point when they need to expand or go global but can’t afford veterans like us full-time. Having us on board as consultants helps them as we bring international experience of working with MNCs,” says V Shankar, who quit his job at IBM in April this year to work with start-ups. The 49-year-old Shankar worked with iFlex Solutions (acquired by Oracle in 2005) for 25 years and then with IBM for about three years, before he took the plunge. Entrepreneurs agree with Shankar that the experience of working at big corporates is definitely something they are seeking. Reverie Language Technologies’ co-founder Arvind Pani says, “Jonathan Bill and other strategic advisors are quite experienced and as a start-up we benefit from that experience. At the same time, they get to work for interesting products.” Entrepreneurs are increasingly depending on these advisors, mentors and consultants for decision-making.
And what really is attracting these veterans to quit their coveted jobs for an advisory role at smaller organizations? The thrill of working with some of the innovative start-ups that now galore in India, job satisfaction and a better work-life balance. “It’s a strange trend. Why is it that the large companies are unable to motivate people on top? Also the personal financial goals are met early these days by CEOs, so money is not everything that will keep you going (at a corporate),” points out Prakash, the former CEO of futurebazaar.com. However, Bill has an advice to dispense. “Those who want to break free from the corporate world should either do it at an early stage of their careers when they are young and can afford to experiment with their careers or at a stage when they are in a comfortable position from financial point of view,” he says.
Bill has a good reason to say that as even after consulting three or four start-ups on a regular basis on an average a CEO through retainer fee (that start-ups pay) makes only 30-50 per cent of the big, fat cheque that they are paid at MNCs. “On money front, one may be earning half of what one would earn at a corporate, but there is no monetary value one can attach to the satisfaction that one gets at the end of each day with a balanced life. Also it’s an alternate career plan that you draw early in life than once you retire,” says Shankar, who says that now he has more time to meet friends and attend family functions at leisure and also works with NGOs doing social work.
Industry experts point out that its only in last two to three years that the trend has started picking pace in India, especially in the IT sector, as the first generation of IT experts has reached the stage where business heads are looking for an alternate career option.
As the economy grapples with slowdown, there are many taking the plunge to become entrepreneurs or to coach them. “Downturn is a good time for people to take risk and start their business as rentals are down and human resource cheaper,” says Perry Madan, founder of Praaxis, a recruitment firm.