In July 2018, we saw the very first edition of Startup Grind Colombo. For those of you who are still unfamiliar with it, Startup Grind happens to be one of the largest independent startup communities in the world. They host regular meetups featuring individuals who have built successful startups.
The first Startup Grind Colombo saw Mano Sekaram – Founder and CEO of 99X Technology sharing his journey. The second edition of Startup Grind Colombo was held on the 24th of March at The Spark Auditorium.
Following a quick welcome by Sharanyan Sharma – Country Director of Startup Grind, this second edition kicked off featuring Brindha Selvadurai – Director of Hatch. She was later joined by Jeevan Gnanam – cofounder of Hatch. Here’s what we learned from them about Hatch and the basics of building a startup.
“A hub for all things startup”
This is how Brinda describes Hatch as. We learned the story of Hatch first hand back when we visited it in January. In a nutshell, this is a space that aims to be the place where startups can work, learn, expand, and grow beyond Sri Lanka. To that end, Hatch hosts a coworking space, an accelerator, a startup fund, and a global network of partnerships.
But the most important aspect of Hatch according to Brindha is the community. She shared that it’s taken a long time to create a sense of community. In her eyes, that time was a worthwhile investment. She explained this saying, “People are able to collaborate when there’s a sense of trust and respect between them.”
Yet, this is a constant work in progress. Brindha shared that one request Hatch gets from female entrepreneurs is to get more female mentors. As such, this one of the many things they’re focusing on right now. But Brindha stated that when picking mentors, it’s more important to consider how they can help you and your startup grow.
Brindha went onto share that she has three mentors to support her as an entrepreneur. She went onto say, “When startups come to us with their plans, they usually don’t fully understand their customer. When you speak to an advisor they can help fill the gaps. They can help identify some of the loopholes in the plan.”
Changing mindsets to create entrepreneurs
Hatch officially opened its doors in Colombo earlier this year. Yet, it already existed for a while as Hatch Kalam in Jaffna. This was a space launched in partnership with the Yarl IT Hub and GiZ. It was launched with the simple goal of encouraging entrepreneurship and changing the fortunes of the Northern Province.
“The team in Jaffna had to prove to parents that it was alright to be an entrepreneur without going the traditional path of a doctor or lawyer.” – Brindha Selvadurai
Brindha went onto share at the moment, Hatch Kalam hosts a number of training programs. The purpose of these being to plant the seeds of entrepreneurship. But the grander vision is for startups born in Jaffna being able to operate in Jaffna without needing to move to Colombo.
Yet, achieving that grand vision isn’t without its challenges. One of the biggest is the cultural barrier. Brindha elaborated on this saying, “The team in Jaffna had to prove to parents that it was alright to be an entrepreneur without going the traditional path of a doctor or lawyer.” Thankfully, this is slowly changing.
Another place where many initiatives focus on changing mindsets is at universities. Brindha shared at Startup Grind Colombo that she believes the universities may offer the necessary theories. Yet, she went onto say, “You can teach the theories. But when you do it, you realize every startup is different. So you can’t teach it in schools. You have to learn from your mistakes. You have to learn from the mistakes of others.”
The importance of integrity
Following a break, Brindha was joined by Jeevan Gnanam – Cofounder and Director of Hatch. He’s also the former CEO of Orion City. Sharing from his experience, Jeevan stated that it’s easier to sell space to large companies. This was simply because they required a lot of space. Whereas startups only require 1 or 2 seats at a table. Thus, Hatch had to adapt accordingly.
Shifting to a slightly different topic, Jeevan shared that a prime example of a startup role model for him was his grandfather. Having come to Sri Lanka with little to no money at all, Jeevan’s grandfather set about building his startup from scratch. In case you didn’t know, Jeevan’s grandfather was A.Y.S Gnanam, the founder of St. Anthony’s Group.
Jeevan went on to explain that the lessons he learned from his grandfather were quite simple. Many of these lessons were basic ones that anyone going into business should know. But more importantly, they should also live by these lessons. One example Jeevan shared was to simply be ethical and trustworthy.
To explain this point, Jeevan shared a story from his grandfather. He had paid an individual for some work. Yet, the individual disappeared with his money. He tried calling him repeatedly. One day he got through and told the individual, “If you had kept your word I would’ve given you more business!”
“Don’t stay in Sri Lanka”
Jeevan then went onto share his experience as an angel investor. He stated that many startups that show promise at first, slowly dwindle, and cease to exist. One of the key reasons for this being that they fail to find the right product-market fit. This is another fundamental mistake made by young startups.
“We need to be globally relevant. It doesn’t matter where a startup comes from. What matters is where it’s headed.” – Jeevan Gnanam
This is where startups simply build a product or service. They do so with the belief that they will naturally attract customers. So without researching what the market wants, they release their product or service. Surprise! Nobody is using what the company built. It’s not generating any money and then will soon die out.
Having explained this, Jeevan went onto state that startups must strive to get paying customers. Once they find these customers, they should focus on being 100x better than the competition. And he encouraged startups that reach this level to go global because Sri Lanka is “colossally insignificant.”
Jeevan elaborated on this saying, “Other countries may face the same problems we do. How we solve these problems and take the solutions outside? We need to globally relevant. It doesn’t matter where a startup comes from. What matters is where it’s headed.” To help startups be globally is why Hatch formed a series of partnerships with startup programs across the world.
Be brave if you want to be an entrepreneur
In closing, Brindha shared some powerful words for anyone seeking to be an entrepreneur. They were, “Be brave. Be brave to do things that are out of your comfort zone. Not everyone has the answers. If you don’t know what you’re doing, find someone who does and ask them how. Be brave enough to ask as many questions as possible. Also, be with other startups because that’s where you can learn.”