Few days back my three and a half year old daughter asked me what is a startup. This question got me thinking about an answer she can understand. And here I am preparing to answer her question through one of her favorite stories.
The Problem (The Crocodile)
Once upon a time on the banks of river Narmada, there was a village named Vedeshari where everybody was unhappy. All villagers were unhappy because of a crocodile who lived in the river. Whenever women went to the river to fetch water or wash clothes, the crocodile would scare them away. Even children were not able to swim in the waters lest the crocodile attack them. The crocodile had mastered the art of taking villagers by surprise and attack them. The things were out of control.
One day all villagers gathered together and decided to present their problem to Vakil Saheb, the most respected person in the village. Long time back he used to be the Sarpanch of that village – the highest decision-making authority. He listened to villagers problem and promised them to come with some solution in few days. His granddaughter, a wise girl who was studying in Bombay and visiting him during her school holidays, overheard the problem of the villagers. She resolved to help her grandfather and the villagers.
The Solution (The Wise Girl)
The wise girl walked to the river and called out the crocodile. The crocodile had its moment of happiness when it saw its new prey and started swimming faster to attack the girl. But as soon as it opened the mouth to attack her, she put a stick straight inside its mouth and the stick got stuck in its mouth. The crocodile got helpless and started begging her to remove the stick. The wise girl said “I will remove the stick only if you promise that you will go far away from the bank and never trouble the villagers”. The crocodile agreed. She removed the stick and the crocodile swam away far away never to be seen. All villagers lived happily and thanked the wise girl.
Startups start with problems. You find a problem in the world and you solve it. This is called problem-solution fit. The crocodile in the river was a real problem and villagers would have done anything to get rid of it. Check 1.
But to grow your startup you need to see if this problem is big enough that you can replicate this problem-solution fit to a bigger market. So you answer things like how many villages exist that are suffering from this crocodile problem or when will this crocodile you scared away will start haunting the villagers again. This is when you are trying to find a product-market fit. Check 2.
But how will the wise girl provide this crocodile scaring services to 5000 other villages. She will have to build team, hire people, train them to stick sticks inside crocodile’s mouth and do many more things. The work has just started and now its all about executing (she has also started calling herself a CEO). Check 3.
But there is no startup without hiccups. Some smart chaps in the nearby village poached her employees and started to learn this art of scaring crocodiles. And they started to create new startups competing against her’s. Even the bigger businessmen from nearby cities started getting into the market of scaring crocodiles. The wise girl started thinking about creating relationships with village heads, create better and cheaper methods to scare crocodiles, offer better service to villagers, getting exclusive rights from village Panchayats etc. She wanted to get unfair advantage over her competitors. Check 4.
It was no longer a startup now. It morphed into a sustainable business and fledgling organization. Check 5.
She started looking at other problems (new startup).
PS1: The idea about sticking the stick inside crocodile’s mouth has been stolen from a chacha chaudhary comic book I read many years back.
PS2: The answer did not turn out to be interesting enough to my daughter. I guess I will have to work harder. Suggestions?