Lady boys in Thailand and start-up funding

“Sir, can you tell the difference between a ladyboy and a lady?” my colleague Amanjyoti asked a few weeks ago, curiosity written all over her face, without a hint of mischievousness in her wide-open eyes. I had just returned from Thailand and with that in mind, I sincerely felt that it was a matter of real seeking for knowledge; don’t just test mine.

My reply was rather brief and immediate, but fortunately to Aman’s complete satisfaction. I’ll share my answer, of course, but only after I’ve gotten you to read a few paragraphs. And you definitely don’t want to miss her epic reaction to my reply.

But more importantly, Aman’s question triggered a very different train of thought than I normally do these days. I suddenly remembered many cases of students asking, “But sir, will I actually be able to fundraise?”

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I clearly remember David Rose, the author of Angel Investing and founder of New York Angels, publishing some very interesting numbers from the US a few years ago. This year, around 20,000 start-ups were funded against 28,000,000 new trade tax returns, which is a tiny funding rate of 0.7%.

At the Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (CIE) at Bennett University, we focused on developing an entrepreneurial mindset among students with the hope that some of them would actually create startups. While the results have been more than satisfactory, the one question that keeps coming up and hampering the process is funding.

The obsession with start-up funding is pretty overwhelming. I use the word “amazing” for a reason. Nine out of ten of these start-ups have no obvious need for funding, either now or in the near/foreseeable future. But ironically, the question simply stops many from doing at least what they can do right now.

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“Okay, so how much money do you need?” I remember answering my student Aditya (not her real name) a few months ago with a counter question. “Hmmm…I’m not sure, sir,” came a predictably soft reply. “No problem; let’s do some quick math and find out,” I offered helpfully. Not surprisingly, we couldn’t find a reasonable number that could possibly be queried by anyone other than the parents.

“Why do I have to?” was my response to Aman’s question about my ability to identify ladyboys in Thailand. And ‘Why do you have to?’ is generally my response to my students’ concerns about their ability to raise funds for their startups.

I can only remember how nice Dr. Saras Sarasvathy conveys a powerful lesson about entrepreneurship in the simplest of words. “Do what is possible” is her simple mantra. You don’t have to worry about minor things like “financing” when working in a start-up. It is enough to simply do what is feasible.

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And now for Aman’s epic reaction to my “Why do I have to?” reply. She gave me a visibly sympathetic look from head to toe and nodded in agreement with an audible sigh. But believe me, there are plenty of worthwhile things to do in beautiful Thailand, just as there are plenty to do in a startup other than raising money.



The views expressed above are the author’s own.


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