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Coach Soch: When startup founders take the old school ‘boss’ route

Coach-Soch: When startup founders take the old-school ‘boss’ route

Coach-Soch: When startup founders take the old-school ‘boss’ route
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By Srinath Sridharan  Jul 2, 2022 1:11:37 PM IST (Published)

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A short business narrative (of a 3 min read) that sets the context, challenge(s) faced, the type of leadership involved and the questions to ponder about, to solve for the issues. This is not to give answers; for business & life in general is not like a school-guide-book. This column is to provoke the reader to think more. And to sensitise that each individual or organisation are unique, and the answers would depend on the situation, difference in organisational culture, context, etc.

To question is to think. To think is to introspect. To introspect is to seek. To seek is to be aware. To be aware is when the journey begins.
“When new-age founders behave like the old-school patriarch (or matriarch)…”

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The new-age startup founders are far younger than traditional business promoters. The Indian tech startup community has seen the average age of founders of successful platforms to be in their early to mid-30s. That’s been the power of millennials and Gen-Z.
The assumptions are aplenty - about their behaviour, outlook towards life in general, and about their stakeholders, in particular, is that they would be modern in their views, liberal in their inclusion, understanding in attitude, and accepting of people and situations.
Isn’t that a tall expectation? Or even an unfair one?
Old and the new, young and the old
New-age entrepreneurs are educated, have almost no fear of the unknown, and are bullish about overcoming obstacles; they are fairly educated. They expect to change the way the world does business and they expect to overturn the older hierarchical orders.
And yet, many of these young entrepreneurs are no different from the olden-way patriarchal styles of Indian “Lalas” (family businesses). In many a venture, including several startups and those well-funded and showcased as the ‘next best thing that happened to India’, the founders’ families participate in the venture and deals and nepotism does exist. Many of the founders have “family and friends” in their teams, and many partake in the success.
Many of us want to believe that they are modern in attitude, contemporary in social behaviour, and sassy in their dealings with colleagues. What a hype these turn out to be. Some of these traits are still as fresh as the Lala’s in the licence raj era.
Questions and more
“Why should employees be at the beck and call of their bosses, management or promoters?”
“Shouldn’t they have a life beyond work?”
“Does the constant badgering of employees lead to any better agility, resilience and productivity?”
They are tight-fisted to the core and believe in value maximization sometimes at the expense of employee centricity and convenience.
The approach is more of a master-slave relationship and less of partnership and collaboration.
“I can call my employees anytime I want. They are available for me full time. Even if it’s 1 am.”
They doubt almost everything and everyone and expect obeisance to the brink of subservience.
They think because they are a large and known name, they can get away with anything.
“Almost everyone is available at a price.”
World exists for purpose of their personal existence!
Such “Lala” companies do push the envelope when it comes to ethical and fair business practices. They are street savvy, operate under a veil of secrecy, and can care less about branding and reputation. Generally, they have tremendous financial /networking clout and huge secrecy of how they operate beneath a strong PR cover. Do these sound familiar to you in some startups you know?
Don’t their investors know these? Of course in many cases, they would. But it suits them to turn a blind eye, or in many cases, deaf ears. Most of the key investors don’t intervene in these situations, as the founder quitting is the key man risk. At least until their valuation targets and exit is done. But almost all of them use large social and corporate platforms to talk of their achievements in corporate governance, ESG, trusting and helping people to shine.
No wonder, the poor behaviour of some of those founders gets worse as they continue successfully raising more rounds of funding.
Yet the battering continues - mainly for the employees. Some would call it poor organisational culture or a toxic workplace. The only relief is when their valuations dip and/or they are forced to change their behaviour when stronger board members or new investors start questioning them and set up an institutional framework. And in knowledge-led platforms, when their teams don’t accept their behaviour and start to leave.
Surely, not the la-la (dream) land…
– The author, Srinath Sridharan is a Corporate Adviser and Independent Markets Commentator. For other articles in the Coach Soch series, click here.
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