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IN CONJUNCTION with Cradle’s 15th anniversary, the Malaysian early-stage fund provider organised a one-day startup conference on July 18 filled with talks and panel sessions. Aaron Sarma (pic), the CEO and founder of Vidi (formerly Touristly), addressed entrepreneurs in a talk entitled “Dress for Success”.
Despite the title, the session was not directed at giving entrepreneurs fashion advice. Instead, Sarma focussed on how entrepreneurs can ‘dress’ or, more accurately, build a good business from the inside out.
Tell your own unique story
Condensing his know-how into eight informative points, Sarma first advises entrepreneurs on the importance of telling their story. “When you’re first building your business, people don’t invest in spreadsheets. They invest in stories – about where you come from and where you want to go.”
“Sharing ideas with metrics is great and helps to back up your story but what’s more important is your vision,” Sarma says. He believes it was his passion and drive that led AirAsia founder and group CEO Tony Fernandes, to invest in Touristly.
Sarma also tells entrepreneurs to avoid comparing their stories with other market players in terms of funding and growth. “It’s important to realise everybody’s story is unique and different. There is no template for your story, it doesn’t work that way.”
With prior apology to members of the media, Sarma cautions entrepreneurs and advises them to take the startup stories in the press with a pinch of salt. “Remember, every startup puts the best story they possibly can out there.”
Build the right team
His second piece of advice revolves around building the right team. Sharing his experience with Vidi, Sarma says he was lucky to have invested in his team early on. “In the early days of a startup, when asking people to join you on a journey of uncertainty, building the ‘us against the world’ culture is vital.”
Sarma fostered togetherness in his team through team outings, lunches and helping them understand how things were going. “We have a very transparent ecosystem and we always share our business standing with the team.”
He also believes in building a diverse team in terms of culture, lifestyle, skillset and behavioural patterns. “Otherwise, if everyone is the same and we all think the same way, we only get one perspective on things.”
Adaptive capacity or agility
However, given that Vidi has grown in numbers from its initial days and the business is evolving, Sarma is still learning about building the right team. “Sometimes that means moving people around and letting some go because at the end of the day, we have to build the right team for the business.”
With this, he puts forth his third point about developing ‘adaptive capacity’ or agility. “Entrepreneurs must learn not to be dogmatic about their business. During your journey, you may sometimes find that your plans don’t work or flow the way you want it to.”
The ability to adapt is an important skill that all top businesses in the world possess, he believes. For example, Sarma says the team a business starts off with may not be suitable as the business matures.
Citing Netflix which started off with DVD delivery and then progressed to streaming, cloud and now, movie production, the company has had to let go and hire employees to suit each stage of its business.
“As a company evolves and grows, as sentimental as it is, having the same team from the beginning may not always be for the better. These hard decisions come as part of a maturing company,” Sarma shares.
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