So You Want to Found a Startup

Welcome back to Part 2 of our interview with Pratap Ranade, co-founder of kimonolabs. In this second part, he addresses founding a startup.

BA: What excited you about a startup vs. a more established company?

Pratap: I worked at an established company (McKinsey & Company) for 5 years, which was an incredible experience and has been invaluable as I’ve founded my own startup. What’s exciting about a startup is (a) the speed at which you can move, (b) the level of responsibility that everyone has right out of the gate, (c) a tightly knit community/family that works together well and has fun

BA: Would you recommend that a PhD grad first get experience in a more established company, before starting a startup or working for one?

PratapPratap: My path was to experience an established company first, then to launch a startup – this is my experience and I’d recommend it strongly. If you have an idea which is truly unique, defendable and has real business value I think doing it right out of grad school could certainly make sense, but I’d recommend getting a co-founder or a set of close and very involved advisors who have worked in startups/established businesses before.

BA: How would you go about finding a startup to work for? Are there startup-specific networking opportunities?

Pratap: Y-Combinator is a great network of startups – read hacker news and apply to jobs that show up there. The SF bay area is fantastic for startups and they are recruiting heavily – I’d recommend making friends, asking questions, potentially visiting hacker houses and co-working spaces, or even institutions like General Assembly, Insights Data Science that have events that could be relevant windows and networking opportunities with startups.

BA: What do you need to know to start your own business?

Pratap: You need to have a co-founding team with the skills required to build and pitch your business. You should have a very good understanding of your target user and the specific pain point you are trying to solve. You should have a sense of how big this could be and how you could monetize this. Above all, you need to make sure you can build a working prototype and get it in front of users to demonstrate that beyond being a group of smart, hard working people with a great idea, you can actually execute – get something built and prove that its something that users want.

BA: How do you go about getting seed money for your business idea?

Pratap: You need to prove (a) That you have a strong, talented founding team, (b) That you’ve built a minimum viable product that has real user traction and growth, (c) Practice pitching angel investors and VCs with startup founders who have done this before – anticipate the questions they will ask and prepare for them. Remember, a business plan and an idea is usually not enough to raise a strong seed round – great value is placed on doing, so you should really focus on building a product and getting it in front of users quickly. Y-Combinator is also a fantastic program to help you work toward raising a seed round of funding.

BA: What does a typical work day look like for you? Is there a typical work day?

Pratap: Each day is different. In the earliest days, my co-founder and I spent 100% of our time writing code to actually build our prototype. In parallel, we interviewed many potential users to better understand what they needed and refine the product we were building. As we grew, our activities expanded, to writing blogs, marketing activities such as sending emails to our user base, customer support for our users, pitching investors, recruiting employees, working and refining product strategy, defining our company culture, communicating our vision to the company, working with lawyers to close financing rounds and patent IP, working with accountants to track and manage our Profit & Loss statements, and constantly thinking of how we can work better, grow faster and make sure our people are happy and growing as professionals.

BA: Thank you for taking the time to talk to us, and for all of the information and advice!