Kamal Hassan and the Startup Entrepreneur

A case of super hyped but inadequately funded startup gone wrong —
Kamal Hassan’s “Maiam”

All of us like studying the business and non business worlds and looking for learnings for startups.

There is a clear case and learning from Maiam for the startup world and startup entrepreneurs which is what I hope to bring through this article.

Context

  1. Amazingly popular and credible hero pitches to become a leader — Similar case to a seasoned corporate professional transforming into a startup entrepreneur.
  2. Problems clearly stated in the state with political vacuum and lack of leadership for which the political startup proposes an alternative.
  3. Opportunity is a problem waiting to be addressed with a startup that has a squeeky Clean Image and mass reach product thanks to its leader.

Result

Maiam underperforms and looses all 234 seats and scores less than 3% of votes polled.

From all the promise and fire power where did it all fizzle out to end up in a a disastrous show for Maiam in this elections?

Learnings

There are some key aspects of strategy that Maiam got wrong. The learnings for Maiam are also learnings for every startup founder and startups trying to scale their business and we can articulate this under 6 key topics -

  1. Every idea deserves a budget. Only go after them if you can warrant to muster up the budget. Bootstrapping is good but sometimes over rated. You can never bootstrap a billion dollar dream. Bootstrapping beyond a point becomes a liability, for both the idea and the entrepreneur. Yes, there is always a Mr.Sridhar Vembu and Zoho but the context and the time period in which he built his startup was very different. Dont generalise and live in illusion. If you under-fund your startup, it is your fundamental mistake as an entrepreneur. The fact is — "Money" + "Dream" only creates value in short term, that is unless you have invented a cure for Covid19.

  2. The narrative should never be to offer an alternative for competitors — narrative is always what is your startup’s core value proposition to your customers.
    Proposing an alternative to DMK and ADMK is not an agenda, unfortunately that became the core agenda. What was Maiam agenda? This never came through in the narrative. You need to communicate your core value proposition to the customer. He will pick that and not what you say as your competitive advantage, which is again very subjective. The most successful companies pick a core message / value which they repeatedly communicate.

  3. Never stop listening to your customers — before starting the business, during business, during successes and during failures. Somewhere the narrative strategy having gone wrong for Maiam is that they failed to listen to their voting populations pulse. You can pickup your narrative and the dialogue with the customer becomes strong only if you keep listening to them. Maiam failed to do that and the result was a disastrous show. Great brands are great because they constantly know the pulse of their customer and elevate customer experience.

  4. Maiam had many opportunities to align and grow a formidable alliance, but philosophy and ideology came in the way. Your only responsibility as startup founder is to grow your startup and keep it alive. Alliances and tieups are short term — leverage them and move ahead. The best examples of startup founders have been entrepreneurs who used stronger companies to piggy back and move ahead. Be it Caratlane with Tanishq partnership or the recent Big Basket handshake with Tata Group again. Remember there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies in politics and ofcourse in business.

  5. From the way the resigning drama unfolded post results it was clear that there was lack of cohesion, understanding and longterm alignment among the key leaders within the Maiam party. Do not repeat this mistake in your startup. Every one, right from your office boy to your Cofounders needs to know why he or she is fighting the battle on your side. Your A team has to Align and feel like the journey is theirs as well. You need to decide if your are a heirachy built organization or one that takes the side of a good idea , wherever it comes from. Sure as you grow you might not be able to do that , but lets grow first ??
    Its a bloody journey out there, unless you can build you pack that can fight for you and win, you will end up on the loosing side. The key is to have your A team align with your goals in business, personally, financially, spiritually and also in life goals.

  6. All strong organisations and brands have a very strong purpose. Simon Sinek says start with WHY? Leaders and startup entrepreneurs who start movements and cult always have a strong “why” associated to their idea. Simon says

    People dont buy what you do; they buy why you do it

    It is a framework of Why, How and What and we need to prioritse the why? Maiam didnt clearly focus on the WHY of its existence which is a trap startups should try and avoid. Apple’s why is

    "Think different". Whats your Why statement?

Hope this was a good learning read for startup entrepreneurs. Do write your feedback and thoughts to us.

 With the above discussion lets not just take the lessons from Maiam but also commend the entrepreneurship spirit of Kamal Hassan to have jumped into this “political” startup world. Successes are few, failures are many — it requires guts to take the plunge.

Kudos to the entire team at Maiam. For a real change — India needs more Maiams, but for sure adequately funded and with the right strategy !