If you’ve been watching Shark Tank India, the Indian edition of the US-based entrepreneur-investor reality show, then you would probably recognize Ashneer Grover. He’s the unsmiling, abrasive and often-rude Shark who makes fun of the wannabe entrepreneurs pitching to him and a bunch of other investors to raise money.
Much has been made about this Founder’s behaviour. There is enough evidence that has been revealed via social media, cutting through valuations, scale, to the core that is often ignored: values and culture, highlighting a larger question.
Does launching start-ups that attract investments from well-known investors, attract media attention and adulation, give anyone the right to be rude and temperamental? At what stage do founders begin to act as mature professionals and cease to be entitled founders? Is this a systemic problem among new-age founders of Indian tech-enabled start-ups who in the last couple of years have found generous and unprecedented levels of funding for their ventures?
Grover had to finally take voluntary leave after intense pressure on social media regarding his offensive language and rude behaviour. The company issued a statement citing “ it was in the best interest of all stakeholders involved”. Hubris. Is this how we can explain it?
In the recent past, there have been numerous cases of brash founders. This issue also shows a glaring absence of corporate governance.
One of the most critical factors in building and leading a start-up to corporate success on a bigger stage, is putting in place processes for world-class corporate governance standards. As the experience of an earlier generation of IT stars like Infosys and Wipro shows, corporate governance provides the guard rails that allow a company to balance the differing interests of various stakeholders including shareholders, employees, and customers. It is what eventually reassures external stakeholders that the company has its housekeeping in order. In all this, it is important that founders and leaders cannot be afflicted with Jekyll and Hyde personalities that trigger irresponsible and inappropriate behaviour. It is the reason why the best companies have empowered boards comprising highly valued independent directors.
Start-up leaders have a responsibility to hold themselves accountable to the norms of conduct that they expect of employees. They set the tone as the likes of N.R. Narayana Murthy and Azim Premji have shown us over the years. Culture is the glue that binds a company as it grows from 10 to a thousand people. India’s new age entrepreneurs may find that long run institution-building is a slightly more difficult task than raising a few millions for their big ideas.