Sahil Vaidya, Co-founder, The Minimalist

Sahil Vaidya is the co-founder of The Minimalist, one of India’s fastest-growing creative solutions companies. He is a graduate from IIT Bombay with a B. Tech and M. Tech in Energy Engineering. Sahil co-founded the company during his final year at IIT Bombay in 2015, along with Chirag Gander. The Minimalist garnered immense popularity globally for its thought-provoking content and has now grown to become one of India’s leading companies in the space of Experience Design, Brand Strategy and Integrated Communication.

In 2019, Sahil was featured in the prestigious Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list. He has also been the driving force behind the company’s growth, which resulted in The Minimalist being featured in LinkedIn India’s Top 25 Startups List (2018). He is also an avid writer, known for his quick wit and humor. He has an active following on LinkedIn and his humor & content is enjoyed by over 500,000 people every month. In an exclusive interaction with the Higher Education Digest, Sahil talks about his life as an entrepreneur, India’s start-up ecosystem and many more.  

  • Who inspires you?

Every entrepreneur in India who has managed to build a large brand or company in a bootstrapped manner while remaining ethical and compliant with the law, inspires me.

  • As an entrepreneur, what is it that motivates and drives you? How do you handle failures?

This entire motivation is very internal. It has existed since the time we started this company with the sole aim that we will go to work to create disruption no matter what, and we continue to do that. We also see that our employees follow the same principle, which has ensured great results for the clients that we work with. I think it leaves us with a very satisfying feeling at the end of the day, no matter how many difficulties we have to surpass. I think the feeling of growing with the entire drive that provides excellent and out-of-the-box solutions for the client who in turn appreciates our work is very satisfying for us. We have been very motivated to create this cutting-edge institute which resonated with the section of culture and technology, which will really define the creative landscape in the country. Every day, we work hard to make this vision into a reality in order to create a cutting-edge organisation that produces provocation at a large scale for brands across the world. We really want India to be known as a creative powerhouse, and The Minimalist to earn the reputation of being a company that works with brands globally, to create thought provoking work.

Naturally, scaling up is always the part of the agenda and that is what drives and motivates us. Failures are a part of the entire game. The biggest amount of learning also happens through failure. I am sure this statement has been made multiple times over, but it doesn’t change the facts. After every failure, we take a step back, evaluate and reflect on what went wrong, and how we can rectify our processes, going forward. More than wallowing in pity and self-pity, we rather try to derive learning and course correct after every failure.

  • In one word, describe your life as an entrepreneur.

If I have to describe my life as an entrepreneur in one word, it would be rewarding. Despite the challenges, I think the end result is extremely rewarding. This is especially so when you see that you have been able to produce some really good work and you are able to grow your company, the people that you have hired are really enjoying their stay at the company and brands are also happy at the same time with your work. 

  • What do you put your success down to?

Success to me is being able to do meaningful & disruptive work for the clients that we work with and also provide and create opportunities for our team, because when the people are happy the clients are happy too. We really want to ensure that our team grows with us for the long term as we continue to scale. From a business point of view, we of course want to be a very large brand and establish offices abroad and grow our revenues in a solid way in the next five to ten years. If we are able to achieve that, I would really call The Minimalist a glorious success.

  • What would you say are the key elements for starting and running a successful business?

It is a very broad question, but I feel that identifying the right market opportunity where there is indeed a gap is very critical. Having the right skill sets to address that gap is the second most difficult thing and third is quick prototyping in order to understand if the proposed solution works or not. I think these are the three things that are extremely critical because many people enter a market that does not exist. They enter the market without the right skill sets or the right solution and many times they are too focused on building a very large solution rather than prototyping and learning from failures and alliterating to address user needs. I think these three things if taken care of would really help in growing a business, which was the route we employed at The Minimalist. We prototyped our social media channel which went viral which in turn generated demand on its own. From here on, we started our company, bootstrapped, were able to bag clients, made profits, which we reinvested into the business, and grew. We knew we had the right skill sets, intent, and market opportunity. Four and a half years later, we are a team of 90 professionals.

  • At The Minimalist, how do you generate new ideas?

Since the beginning, we have followed a very solid design thinking process, led by out-of-the-box disruption. By focusing on what has never been done before, and following our unique style of minimalism, it has helped us generate new ideas which are provocative and those which will break the internet.

  • What is your opinion about the Indian Start-up ecosystem and talent available there?

The success stories of Flipkart, Quikr and other companies have inspired a generation of start-ups resulting in a booming startup ecosystem. The success of the start-up sector also comes on the back of increased internet penetration across the country. Citizens are now waking up to a host of opportunities in this newly connected and digital era. A large part of this can be attributed to the talent available.  For example Bengaluru, ,  the Silicon Valley of India, has a  diverse talent pool. The expertise they bring to the table across various spectrums of technology right from the Internet of things (IoT) or cyberspace, or Machine learning (ML) is truly mind-boggling.

It would be safe to say that start-ups and talent go hand-in-hand. Since the ecosystem is booming, there are several opportunities being created; and since more and more talent is entering the sector, start-ups are also growing. If we are to continue at this pace, with timely robust funding from VCs and investors, I think by the year 2030, we will have at least 100 unicorns across the country.

Looking back, 2019 was a year of highs for the VC ecosystem. The year saw some of the largest amount of funding ever poured into the start-up market. As we head towards India 2.0, we can look forward to growth, and servicing newer markets. People in villages are now connected to the internet, which expands our scope to more opportunities to create and serve new markets; this is also the year which is witnessing more indigenous start-ups with interesting opportunities. In fact, it is this sector that will continue to generate jobs in the years to come, and will become an important part of the Indian economy.

  • The 1st half of the last decade saw a surge in the number of start-ups in India. Do you think the number has come down in the 2nd half of the last decade? What are the challenges for young Indian entrepreneurs in 2020?

On the contrary, I think the 2nd half of the decade has been very crucial for the startup industry. Things have picked up pace. In fact we also started out in 2015. It was around this time that we noticed a lot of start-ups raising big money from VCs so much that USD 5 million was considered  a small amount. Companies were raising anywhere from USD 10-30 million, before a funding winter hit. Despite this, the number of start-ups that managed to raise big money post 2015 is huge, and this was further boosted by the success stories of Flipkart and Ola. The former, is also better known as the poster boy for start-ups in India, and looking at its success, it has promoted and encouraged VCs from all over the world to invest in India.

While the second half of the decade did see some massive exits, such as Citrus Pay, and many others, there has also been the creation of several unicorns. We can expect 2030 to be crazier, with the creation of large unicorns, multiple exits, and newer business models targeted to meet the needs of Indians.

Despite the increase in the number of start-ups, the ease of doing business in India is still evolving, adding to the challenges faced by young entrepreneurs. Even today, starting a company, in itself, is a very laborious process. Cash flow continues to be one of the biggest problems faced by entrepreneurs. A company, and in turn the economy, can truly prosper when payments are cleared in a timely manner, a process which should be strictly implemented across sectors. Increase in cash flow will also ease out other challenges, which arises due to lack of funds. Enforcement of

contracts too are weak across the country, with no enforceable contract drafted that mandates companies clear dues on time, failing which will attract legal action.

  • What digital education has the capability to change the education landscape, how can it be used to make more entrepreneurs in the country?

I think digital education can definitely open the doors to create many more entrepreneurs, primarily within the country. Also in the West we have noticed that with the advent of digital, so many business models have evolved and so many new smaller start-ups and nimbler companies have outplayed the heavy weights in the industry. Similarly in India, as the internet penetration increases, digital technology comes to the fold; there are newer opportunities for businesses being created.  There are a lot of traditional businesses going bust, and with the digital wave sweeping the country, this will create newer opportunities to disburse content, education opportunities, methods of doing business, and even the way software works. We have seen so many SaaS companies entering India across Pune, Bangalore, Chennai and these companies are selling globally. With the advent of digital education, it is these new business models and ideas that will really thrive, and given that India has a huge technology talent pool, we will see that these ideas really thrive and go with the emerging economy.

There are so many people with great ideas, and tremendous potential. This is where we partnered with Ecole Intuit Lab, to host a creative entrepreneurship course. When we began our journey, we were fresh out of college, and over the last few years, we have our own fair share of adversities and calamities that we have braved through to arrive here today.  Therefore we feel that, there are so many entrepreneurs or entrepreneurial mind-sets in the creative world, which if given the right kind of support can really create great ventures. We also believe that India needs to be on the world map of creativity.  So in order to do that we wanted to enable these young minds to understand how to approach creative entrepreneurship. Participants will be trained by the best in class creative entrepreneurs from across the country, right from those who have started creative solutions companies, angel investors or those who have been in large corporate offices, people who have done creative consultancy and worked across other creative functions running their own businesses. We even feel that next Giorgio Armani can come from India, and that is what we want to achieve. We want to create entrepreneurs like Brian Chesky from Airbnb or Garett Camp from Uber. We want to empower designers, or rather the creative professionals of the country to take the leap and start their own company.

Some of the biggest concerns that we hear from entrepreneurs is regarding the entire process of starting a venture. There are also questions raised regarding the challenges one can expect, and skills required to set up one’s own venture. Naturally, one tends to find themselves trapped, with no centre of authority or place to get all their answers. When it comes to entrepreneurship, everyone is quick to dole out advice, but few who have scaled their venture to a point where it can be considered tangible enough to guide others.

With the dearth of this kind of guidance, and hands-on training, we thought that this course could help budding entrepreneurs face challenges which we too, had faced. What helped us at the time was triangulating our strategies with credible entrepreneurs, who had decades of experience, and were hence the best advisors we could have asked for.

  • What advice would you give to student entrepreneurs who are starting out?

To those starting out, I would advise them to understand the power of prototyping, and whether or not there is really a market out there for their product or service. Where there is failure, try to learn from it. Perseverance pays, so never give up. At The Minimalist, we have been through our fair share of testing times, but at the end of the day, perseverance helped us tide through.

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