Upstart Technology

Look to the future

Foresight is a founder’s best friend

Foresight is a founder’s best friend   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

My startup’s office is on Church Street, right in the heart of Bengaluru’s Central Business District. On paper, that should be a really fancy address, but like is the case with many fancy addresses in India, the ground reality is different. Church Street for years now has been notorious for how frequently its infrastructure breaks down—overflowing sewage, giant potholes, and all the other usual outcomes of civic apathy.

At long last, a few months ago, the government finally decided that they will give the road a much-needed massive overhaul, as opposed to the patchwork repairs of many years that harmed more than they healed. Most businesses on the street—primarily restaurants, retail stores, and bookshops—welcomed the news.

With much PR, the government got the project kicked off. Newspaper articles and artists’ impressions of what the Church Street of the near future will look like, soon followed. They coordinated with Bangalore Traffic Police, and announced that for the next couple of months, half of Church Street would be shut for vehicular traffic, to allow the overhaul to be carried out smoothly and without interference. And that is when the trouble started.

A lot of the restaurants and retail stores protested, saying that if vehicles were not allowed, they would lose business. After some lobbying, a strange sort of compromise was arrived at, where the civil work would be carried out vertical strip by vertical strip, with barely a lane’s worth of space available for vehicles. No one thought of pedestrians, of course. Or the tonne loads of dust that now descended on Church Street, thanks to all the digging.

With Church Street resembling a dust bowl, business nosedived. And the fact that vehicles were still plying, not just added to the dust, but also slowed down the speed of work. The deadline for that half of the road came and went, with barely a quarter of the work being done. Businesses started cribbing again. But there was little that could be done now. Or for the next few months, while the repairs dragged on.

The typical businesses that we see on Church Street are a lot like startups in terms of scale and scrappiness. But where they differ from startup success stories, and where they also are lessons of caution to startups, is in their inability to take a longer view, and their inability to take decisions that are informed by data and solid logic, as opposed to just gut feel.

The Church Street businesses could have been farsighted, and instead of asking for vehicles to be let in—MG Road is less than a hundred feet away, anyway—they could have lobbied for pedestrian pathways during the road repairs phase. Given that there is a huge paucity of parking space on Church Street anyway, unless there were some solid numbers supporting the claim that vehicles being let in on Church Street made a difference to their business, they need not have lobbied hard for what essentially was a stance of conventional wisdom.

The problem with conventional wisdom is that while it is both acceptable and predictable, it very rarely results in great success. It is why myopic businesses stick to conventional wisdom, and why successful startups are always looking to avoid that view. Incidentally, the only set of businesses that said that it might have been a better idea to close the road for traffic, were a couple of bookshops. Maybe there is a lesson in that.

In this weekly column, we discuss the startup workplace. Thejaswi Udupa heads product and technology for an online building materials marketplace

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2020 6:59:28 PM |

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