Anupam Mittal became a household name as one of the judges on Shark Tank India. The founder of Shaadi.com recently shot for a short film that encapsulates his company’s 20-year journey. The entrepreneur who is now looking forward to the second season of the reality show, spoke about the campaign, challenges and learnings from Shark Tank India. Edited excerpts from the conversation:
Did your experience in front of the camera at 'Shark Tank' help make you more comfortable for the short film titled Anupam ki Shaadi?
It did help. When you are shooting for so many days with 13 cameras pointed at you from every possible angle, you become a pro very quickly. However, the show is very different because you’re not acting. You don’t even see the cameras after a while because you’re so engrossed in the activity that’s happening on the floor and the competition with your co-sharks, but when you shoot something like Anupam ki Shaadi, it is really an acting job, even if you have lived through it. You can’t possibly recollect the emotions, so you try to get inside your head when you were 20 years younger to see what might have played out. It’s almost like playing a different character. It took a lot of intensity and soul-searching for me to pull that off because I am not an actor.
You started Shaadi.com two decades ago. What do you recall as your biggest challenge at that time?
While everything was a challenge, it was also not because when you’re young, naïve and brash, you feel invincible. There is nothing to lose, so you just go on.
But if I think really hard, one of the big challenges in hindsight was to make people take me seriously - from friends to relatives, venture capitalists and particularly potential employees, because I needed to hire to build a team. I started wearing glasses and a jacket to look a little older and more serious.
The ecosystem for venture funding was not there in India. There wasn’t any talent that could work in a digital start-up. So where do I hire from and raise capital from? Those were the big questions.
If I had listened to people at that time, it would have not led to this, so I think you need that naivety to do something which has not been done before. I struggled with the hiring part but I evolved my strategy. Instead of looking for skills, I looked for passion. One just has to roll with the punches, improvise and figure out what to do.
Has your experience on the reality show impacted your role as a leader at your company?
Yes, there are a couple of things. When we are running our day-to-day businesses, we are so caught up in operations that we forget to ask the bigger questions, like is there a different way to think about this or how else can we do this or what else can we do?
When you sit with some of the top entrepreneurs in the country who built incredible companies in very little time, you learn a lot from them. You have to surround yourself with people who force you to think laterally and who intersect from multiple disciplines.
Now, I think about how to encourage multiple points of views, how to hire more lateral thinkers from different disciplines that would then lead to creative thoughts. Being with some of these great co-sharks itself has been a big learning.
The other big thing is the kind of entrepreneurial energy I was witness to that left me amazed.
We invest in IIT graduates, interact with top VCs and work in offices that all have the comforts and luxuries. We are disconnected from the real Bharat. When I go to Shark Tank and there are entrepreneurs who come from small towns, women founders, siblings and families working together, they really make me think about India in a new way.
I realise that India is primarily high on aspiration and low on affordability. The entrepreneur mindset is very high here. The real growth will not come from a few large companies creating millions of jobs. It will come from millions of small entrepreneurs who are now going to learn to scale and operate with speed via shows like Shark Tank.
There have been a number of layoffs, shutdowns and funding crunches for start-ups since the beginning of this year. Do you think the great Indian start-up party is over, or is it just a slowdown?
I think it had to slow down. This is very normal. We get very bullish when things are great and we assume that the good times will last forever but the reality is a little different.
Clearly, many of these valuations were not justified. I would say 80 percent of the companies that got funded should not have got funded. I think what happened in the last two years and especially in the last 12 months is what I call FOMO entrepreneurship. Sab kar rahein hain toh mujhe bhi karna chahiye (Everyone's doing it, and so must I). Everybody is getting restless because people are not dissatisfied with what they have but because somebody else has more. A lot of people who didn’t have a good idea or solid business plan went out and became entrepreneurs. Those companies won’t succeed. As a result, you will see a lot of those people come back to the job market. We will get more sustainability in the job market and real companies that are building real products will be able to build more sustainably. All these things will get recalibrated. There will be pain in the short term but in the long term, I think it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Go back 20 years and look at the top 10 companies in the US. While there were one or two tech companies in the top 10, today there are at least seven or eight of them. The same is the case with China. In India, the top companies are either in fintech or consumer goods. All these companies are going to be replaced by technology companies in the next 10-15 years. So, the opportunity is now more real than ever. Valuations have come crashing down. The real entrepreneurs will come out and the FOMO entrepreneurs will go back to what they should be doing. It will get easier to pick great people rather than playing the momentum game. The real digital companies that are going to dominate will be on top and I am pretty excited about the long-term scenario.
Lastly, is there a success mantra you abide by?
True life mantras come from experiences, and mine have come from my business, my fitness routine, my health issues, injuries, etc. Just like you can’t workout for five years, stop and expect to remain fit forever, you cannot expect success to be a milestone you reach and remain successful the rest of your life. (Amitabh) Bachchan saab still goes to work every day. If he stops for a year, he will become irrelevant. Life is a struggle and you have to show up every day and your perspective is what determines how happy or successful you are. Whether it is fitness, business, or relationships - mehnat roz lagegi (you've got to work hard every day).