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Nishtha Tripathi's UnStartup talks about how Unacademy founders Gaurav Munjal, Hemesh Singh and Roman Saini navigated all kinds of ambiguity. Bookstrapping Rating: 3 stars
‘UnStartup’ is a book about how Unacademy became a unicorn. I know you're going to wonder if this book has been written too early, given that the edtech firm was officially founded only in 2015 (on YouTube since 2010.)
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However, if there’s one thing we understand at Bookstrapping, it is that we need to mix the contemporary with the classic. This week, we present an incredibly quick read written by author Nishtha Tripathi, a successful Wall Street professional from Manhattan’s world of startups. If you are on the cusp of entrepreneurship, you will want to know answers to questions like-
1. How to zero in on the right revenue model?
2. How to find investors even when you have no clue if you will make money?
3. How much to spend on marketing?
The book talks about how founders Gaurav Munjal, Hemesh Singh and Roman Saini navigated all kinds of ambiguity. Here are five interesting critical lessons from the book-
1. What is the similarity between ‘traction’ and 'pornography'? There is a famous quote by Justice Stewart about pornography; he says “I know it when I see it.” The same applies to traction. It is that point where a startup finally finds a widespread set of customers that resonate with its product. Makes sense?
The book also generously mentions another book ‘Traction: A Startup Guide To Getting Customers” by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares, which talks about nineteen different traction channels and offers a bullseye framework to find traction. Go, find this one!
Also Read: Storyboard18 - Stacks & Strategies | Martech trends that will dominate India market in 2022 and beyond
2. We are our choices. Roman Saini quit the civil services to become an entrepreneur! No parent takes to such a move kindly; it challenges tradition. But then came the PR article- '24-year-old quits IAS to turn free tutor!’ This headline was worth its weight in gold. Besides, it’s good to see PR get its due.
3. Be unconventional, always. Shailendra Singh of Sequoia Capital remembers that Gaurav Munjal did not even use a deck when he pitched to him for investment. “He gave us a demo of the product and everything was free-flowing; the numbers I got from him were on WhatsApp. He was ambitious.. and doing things the way it made sense to them.” Be your own person!
4. Remember that this is a non IIT-team building a company in the tech space. Hence, Gaurav’s ‘principle’ is very important-“We are a sports team, not a family.” They make it a point to reward performance, not people.
5. The founders are very zen about separation - they let go of employees, educators and partners who left midway with much grace. There is mention of a partner, Sachin Gupta, who relinquished his position somewhere along the line.
There is a wonderful paragraph about growth itself - how it contributes to uncertainty among older employees. How they are constantly given new goals and new people to work with and thrown off by new structures and processes. Yet, the author says that faithful old timers who evolved with the company became 'precious resources'.
My favourite sentence in the book has to be that ‘Gaurav like many other people is an avid reader’ (let's find all these people pronto!) The author of the book herself famously dropped out of an MBA program at NYU Stern before turning writer and entrepreneur. This oddly ties in with Gaurav Munjal’s assertion that education - the way we have always done it - has always been way too expensive. His vision is to democratise access to high quality education. And one of the earliest things he did was to find a person he could trust - Hemesh Singh- and keep him close.
There’s a wonderful story about Hemesh giving up a plum offer from Flipkart in 2013 to work with Gaurav at his first venture Flat.to. Hemesh's logic at the time was that a Vazir (queen in chess) can move across the board but the pawn can move just one step at a time. Did he want to be a Vazir with Gaurav in a startup or a pawn at a large company? The bond between the two has been strong ever since and is one of the major factors in the success of Unacademy.
What’s your choice?
The author Reeta Ramamurthy Gupta is a columnist, biographer and bibliophile, credited with the internationally acclaimed Red Dot Experiment. Views expressed are personal.