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

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - TIMES NATION - Varun Mit­tal of Ernst & Young, says ef­forts of the Fin­tech Chau­pal What­sApp group re­sulted in Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi check­ing out the work of star­tups at the Aakrit Vaish, co-founder of AI startup Hap­tik,

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.”

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