The startup business is in big boom.
Let’s take India, for instance. Over the last two decades, the Indian startup ecosystem has grown rapidly. In fact, as of August 29, 2022, India had emerged as the world’s third-largest startup ecosystem, with over 77,000 DPIIT-recognized startups spread throughout 656 districts.
However, the percentage of startups that end up seeing success is rather small. According to surveys, 9 out of 10 startups end up failing! In fact, 2 out of 10 business fail in the first year of operations.
These numbers tell us that running a successful startup is no piece of cake. And that those few who do get to taste success, must be doing something that is working for them.
One of those things, for many founders, seems to be coaching. And that shouldn’t be surprising because numerous studies have found coaching to have positive effects, such as increased goal attainment, resilience, retention, engagement, motivation, workplace well-being and overall improved performance.
When it comes to it, here’s why coaching seems to be a popular choice among founders:
- Coaching demonstrates a dedication to growth
- It fast tracks professional and personal development
- It is democratised – not just reserved for C-suite executives anymore
- Top leaders want to remain adaptable in the face of change
To give you a real-world example, we’re bringing together the perspectives of a startup founder and a coach – both of whom are also, coincidentally, the founders of Simply.Coach.
The Startup Founder
Name: Kiran Narasareddy
Intro: A technologist and product geek, Kiran has over a decade of experience in building & scaling SaaS products. After graduating, he moved right into the role of an entrepreneur, co-founding Amura & Sell. Do – two firms that still run as industry leaders today.
Kiran now spearheads the technology that is Simply.Coach.
Q: What made you look for a coach in your startup journey?
Kiran: I wasn’t looking for one. My co-founders and I didn’t even know something like coaching existed! As part of a program run by Google, Ram got assigned to us in 2014 as a mentor/business coach to help us grow, serving a combined role as a coach-consultant-advisor. While working with him on the business front, Ram recommended a 6–9-month executive coaching program for us.
This was primarily because I had co-founded my first startup right after college – I had no experience working in any company where you traditionally get trained as a manager, senior manager, and so on that helps you with skillsets. There was a gap that both of us saw and thus suggested the program for us.
Q: What was your experience with coaching?
Kiran: I saw real benefits coming out of the engagement. After I experienced it for myself, I extended it to all the senior managers in the company.
Q: Any specific benefits that come to mind?
Kiran: Coaching gives you visibility and understanding of something that you yourself do not see, especially as a leader. An analogy that coaches often give is that you don’t see yourself as much others do. What this means in the work context is that as individuals (and founders) we are mostly focused on what we are doing and others around us. What the coach does in this scenario is hold a mirror in front of you and help you reflect on yourself – a crucial aspect of growth!
I could see myself getting better at time management, my executive presence improved too. I got better at being able to understand what the other person in front of me is thinking of, what they are feeling, what they need.
In terms of our team, we saw coordination between members getting better. Managers got more cognisant of how to work with their peers as well as their team.
Organisation-wise, we saw and felt the effects of coaching on a day-to-day basis, definitely! It is on that parameter itself that one can know whether or not something is working.
Q: What would you look for in a coach, now that you are familiar with what coaching is all about?
Kiran: There are two nuances to it, in my view:
- Expertise in the specific behaviours and skillsets that I may be looking to acquire or improve upon or that my role requires or asks of me. For instance, as a founder with no previous experience, if my company grows, I would need to know how to manage a set of 10-20-50 people – that is something I would have to learn. One would need leadership skills, for instance, for which they may not have been formally trained for. The same can extend to communication, sales, and the likes.
- From a business angle, the industry experience of the coach. By that I mean, if a coach has had similar experience growing a company in a similar space or has scaled from a similar size of business as yours to bigger, for instance. Coaches, I often find, switch between their primary role and that of a consultant, advisor, mentor…So, relevant experience of a coach who has gone through a similar journey or at least familiarity of the domain and space the founder is in is of big help.
Q: Any tips or suggestions you want to make to fellow founders out there who are considering taking up startup coaching as an intervention for their venture?
Kiran: Yes, a couple of things:
- Get clarity on what you are looking for with founder coaching (or other forms of coaching), and why. The ‘why’ is really important.
- You need to have some sort of chemistry with the coach you are considering working with. The relationship between you and your coach is going to be a big factor in how things shape up going forward. If you are not, as the Gen Z says, ‘vibing’ with the person, it’s not going to work!
- Don’t look at coaching as a means to solve a problem. Coaching is not a problem-fixer. Instead, I recommend viewing coaching as an enhancer. Look at it as an opportunity to enhance and improve upon something – that’s when you can gain the most out of coaching.
Name: Ram Gopalan
Intro: Recognized by CHRO Asia as one of the most talented coaching leaders in India, Ram Gopalan is a Marshall Goldsmith certified coach who has coached leaders across the spectrum: from technical engineers to sales staff through to creative teams, as well as across cultures. He has a track record for building successful teams, including an award-winning digital agency that supported global clients such as Coca-Cola, Seagram’s, Taco Bell and Citibank.
Ram heads Simply.Coach’s product management and customer support.
Q: Hi, Ram. So, I spoke to Kiran to get his perspective on getting coached by you. I’m interested to hear what you think is important when coaching a startup founder? Any pointers on what you would do differently here?
Ram: For me, a founder is super passionate, in the sense that the level of motivation they have would be much higher than the regular person – an employee in a company, for instance. I also find that they would have some kind of clarity in terms of what they want to achieve. So, what do I do differently when coaching founders and entrepreneurs? Let me enlist it here:
1. Work with their milestones instead of trying to set goals. Usually, with founders, the goals are more or less around the following lines: run a successful business, see business grow, scale, make profit, become an industry leader, and the works…. Working with short milestones, on the other hand, helps them walk on the path towards that larger objective and see it more clearly. You can help them ascertain the pace at which they wish to go and establish what some interim milestones on the path to success would look like.
2. Unlike a well-established company, a startup is not so structured. Things are usually happening in a very haphazard manner; circumstances are changing very quickly…in such a scenario, a coach can help the founder step back, reflect, and connect it all back to the bigger picture, connect it back to what they are learning, and what they can do better. They can help bring more structure where it’s missing and help them recognise skillsets that they are going to need for this new role – for instance, learning how to say no, or the art of negotiations.
3. In a startup, there is usually very little maturity in terms of organisation functions – like marketing, customer support, sales, etc. And in such a setup, the founder(s) is multitasking and performing several roles at once. In doing so, they often get constrained in their own thinking and end up ignoring matters at their own peril. A coach can help founders prioritise things. Knowing which battles to pick up and which to let go of.
4. Amidst all the organisational aspects, the founders’ own emotions also need to be looked at. Here I’d like to bring in a great example that was once shared to an Olympian by another Olympian who was coaching her. He taught her about something called ‘The Rule of 3’, which goes something like this: If you are chasing something of a very high order, 1/3rd of the time you should feel good, 1/3rd of the time you should feel okay, and remaining 3rd of the time you will feel bad. Now, if this ratio is skewed and you’re feeling bad for the majority of the time, then you may have bitten off more than you can chew. If you’re feeling good all the time, then perhaps you may not be challenging yourself enough.
The startup journey is a roller coaster – there’s a lot going on: setting up the company, fundraising, customers, new ideas. In the midst of all this, a coach helps the founder manage themselves and their emotions. This is a crucial portion of the coach-client journey.
5. One caveat I’d like to bring up is that coaches should be wary of becoming mentors or advisors or consultants to the client. As a coach, you should help the founders find their own answers, and not simply hand it to them. By doing the latter, you also end up taking their entrepreneurial power away from them.
6. Lastly, a nuance I think one needs to be cognizant of is that most coaches are not going to be successful founders or entrepreneurs themselves. Typically coaches comes from a corporate background or they might have been part of businesses, but not necessarily as founders. So, a coach runs the risk of judging the founder they are coaching, thinking their goals or ambitions are too lofty or perhaps not enough. Thus, as a coach, I recommend that you must never limit them. You don’t need to encourage them either. It is very important to understand the role that you will play – you don’t need to put the breaks for the client, nor do you need to encourage them to shoot higher than they currently are.
Having said everything, at the end of the day, you just need to focus on being a good coach. Whether or not you have a similar background or experience as that of the founder, your aim should be to help the client get to their point B and help them reflect along the way.
You just need to go back to the basics of coaching and understand the client, understand their goals, ascertain how to measure those goals, hold them accountable on their journey, help them reflect…and so on. All that matters is that things are conducted in a non-judgmental manner.
Sources: Forbes, Growth Mentor, Times of India, Failory, Speed Invest
1. What is startup coaching?
Startup coaching or founder coaching is a way for founders to be guided by coaches who have founded successful startups or who know what founders need to become high-performers.
Usually, startup coaches will help you:
- Find funding
- Avoid expensive errors
- Get through hard times
- Improve your efficiency
- Identify weaknesses and pain points
At the start, the startup coach may conduct an overview of your business and take stock of everything you’re doing. They are likely to look at your business plan and then take it forward.
As the founder encounters growing pains while running the business or when things are not going as planned or even when things are going alright but could do with improvements, a startup coach can provide invaluable support and insights.
Simply.Coach is an enterprise-grade coaching software designed to be used by individual coaches and coaching businesses. Trusted by ICF-accredited and EMCC-credentialed coaches worldwide, Simply.Coach is on a mission to elevate the experience and process of coaching with technology-led tools and solutions.