A light along the way

It’s one of thos e dilem m a m os t s tart-ups face. That day, it was the turn of Phanindra Sama. Sama had recently form ed a com pany with two partners , had never interviewed anyone before, and now had to hire people—men and women who will steer RedBus , their start-up, into a profitable business venture.

But how would he ensure he was hiring the right people, es pecially for a bus ines s like online booking of bus tickets , which was abs olutelty new to India?

That is when his first mentor stepped in. Sanjay Anandaram , a former executive of Neta and Wipro, who had been as s igned m entor to RedBus through TiE’s Jum pStartUp program me, told Sam a what cues to look for, which qualifications would m ake the cut, and the bas ics of interviewing. Anandaram ’s advise came handy. “Many of those guys still work for us ,” says Sama, looking back.

The practice of m entoring has been in India for decades , if not for centuries . From the gurukul s ys tem , to fam ily run businesses , elders would hand-hold youngs ters and initiate them in traditions and businesses handed down through generations , like the Tatas , Birlas and Mahindras .

Thos e planning to s tart a new venture would turn to family members or the community for funding. However, this age-old m ethod of being mentored and funded by one’s own family has seen a change over the past decade.

Mentors are now investors , and are likely to take interest in the way the com pany is run day-to-day. Som e other m entors may be based in another country and help steer the company in a certain direction without being part of day-to-day decision making.

Take the RedBus exam ple. It is now the country’s top online bus booking com pany. The company has done so well that it powers the bus ticket application s oftware for most of India’s travel sites , like Make-MyTrip.com . It also sells software as a service to help bus companies m anage their own inventory and integrate it with RedBus .

Quite a distance has been covered s ince the com pany was formally launched in August 2006 with a capital of Rs 5 lakhs . The team consisted of three founders and two freshers .

It was the us ual s tory–the initial days were a s truggle and the founders did everything from s ales and m arketing, to ans wering calls and even delivering tickets to the buyers ’ doorsteps . But Sama says that had it not been for the mentors , their journey would have been even more difficult.

Anandaram as ked them to tweak the bus ines s m odel a little, as m erely providing high-technology s oftware to operators to update their s chedules was n’t going to be very profitable. “We had to do s om ething on the lines of the flight booking portals that were s tarting to com e up around that tim e. So RedBus becam e a full-fledged travel agent for bus services across the country,” Phani says .

Anandaram als o taught Sam a the bas ics of bus ines s , including term s like “capex” and “equity”. It als o included daily less ons on operations m anagem ent, and on managing something far more com plex s uch as people.

Shortly afterwards , Kanwal Rekhi, managing director at Inventus Partners and a mentor to large number of Indian and Silicon Valley-based com panies , came onboard as an investor.

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