Startup WhatsApp groups are powerful self-help communities
The groups are being used to find funds, customers and vendors, to obtain advice, and even to hire top execs. Investors too have their groups to find funding opportunities, filter startups
Dinakaran Ganesan, founder of Chennaibased Payent, despaired when despite bagging clients, adoption of his mobile app was very low. Payent’s mobile app helped employees manage their expense accounts, but the target users still preferred to do it the old offline way.
“It was a fledgling startup and I was afraid of losing my clients. I then posted on our WhatsApp group – Chennai Entrepreneurs – and J Prakash, founder of a company offering augmented reality solutions, responded. He suggested I start holding `success sessions’ with employees in batches. So we went to offices, held sessions, gave people a tour of the app. And within a week, we saw engagement go up,” says Ganesan, who now has 15 IT and manufacturing firms as clients.
Startup WhatsApp groups have become powerful selfhelp communities. Bengaluru has a flourishing number of online clubs of startup founders that help one another. K S Viswanathan, vice president of industry initiatives in Nasscom, says the Nasscom incubation centre sees 50-70 startups graduate every year. These startups have a sense of solidarity and oneness and have created their own groups. “Sometimes alumni/graduate startups also are part of this. And they help newbies to draw up a business plan, create good products and develop an execution plan for bringing them to market,” he says.
There are even specialised groups. Mumbai-based WhatsApp group Fintechorg serves fintechs and banks. When top banks like RBL, Yes Bank, DCB and Kotak Mahindra Bank established incubators or opened their APIs for fintechs to plug in, the outside world might not have known, but this closely knit group of fintechs knew at once.
The group has even helped newbies secure capital from banks and NBFCs, and set up offices overseas. “We have 256 members from across the globe – Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, New York, Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Sao Paulo. So when startups want to expand to a new market, they immediately get a set of friends who can tell them about regulations, compliance issues and even sort out their real estate needs,” says Vikram Chachra, founding partner at 8i Ventures, who is part of the group.
Fintechorg often works to- gether with another similar group called Fintech Chaupal, a WhatsApp group that has participants from India and Singapore. The group was created by Varun Mittal, fintech lead at Ernst & Young, and founder of the Singapore Fintech Association. It even includes members of Singapore’s regulatory bodies. “It works against startups if they publicly ask for help on forums like LinkedIn. Privately, they can be more open. Even regulators provide frank opinion,” says Mittal.
Indian companies that want to go to South East Asia seek the group’s help. The group helps with legal issues, provide contacts to government agencies to get grants. Sometimes experienced veterans get i nsights f rom younger entrepreneurs. GSF Accelerator founder and venture capitalist Rajesh Sawhney found himself picking up new ideas and skills from younger founders on the WhatsApp group H2. “Flintobox’s Arun (Arunprasad Durairaj) was the guy who helped me design my subscription lists for Healthy Bowls (healthier food items) at my startup Innerchef. Since Flintobox has been such a success with kids and parents, he already knew everything that there was to build a monthly subscription model,” says Sawhney.
In an industry that doesn’t openly advertise senior management positions, WhatsApp groups are the primary recruiting ground. “When one wants a CTO or CFO, this is where they’d post. Or say a startup failed or wanted to downsize, then they’d discreetly post here. And the group ensures every single person, whose resume is posted, gets absorbed,” says Sawhney.
Even startup investors have their own groups that they benefit from. Rahul Agarwal of the Kolkata Angel Networks’ WhatsApp group KAN Investors says if there is a deal coming up, they inform everyone in the group so that they can participate. “We also share insights, get advice from others. Once a member wanted to know if he should invest in a motortech startup. He didn’t have the domain expertise. He got a lot of insights from other investors, some of who came from engineering backgrounds. He decided to
says he is part of three WhatsApp groups, each serving a different purpose. One is more serious, in another he can pose more candid questions
drop the idea of investing in the firm,” he says.
Most of these groups come with clear rules, such as no politics and no joke forwards. “And there is no such thing as a stupid question in our group. Everyone respectfully gives answers,” says Fintechorg’s Chachra.
Aakrit Vaish, co-founder of conversational AI startup Haptik and who is a member of three startup WhatsApp groups, says not all groups function the same way. “H2 acts like the Google for startups. Just anything and everything you can ask and get a good response. Everyone in the group is fairly senior and seasoned. But my Bombay founders WhatsApp group is more fun, it’s a more candid group, people who know each other fairly well. So we get to ask more sensitive stuff like how do I tackle poaching from a rival startup, and whether a certain firm is reliable.”