From Jeff Bezos to Sequoia, Endeavor Entrepreneur Nipun Mehra (Founder & CEO of Ula) has a wealth of investors backing his multimillion dollar, Indonesian ecommerce startup, Ula. Nipun co-founded Ula in 2019 with the goal of empowering small retailers to succeed in the digital age. Ula allows small retailers to stock up their products, have reliable and fast delivery and access working capital. Ula raised $110 million in its series B funding led by Tiger Global, with participation from Prosus, Jeff Bezos, Tencent and other investors. Prior to starting Ula, Nipun gained valuable experience in tech and investment industries, including; Amazon, Sequoia, Flipkart & more.
Before going into entrepreneurship, what would you advise entrepreneurs to be cognizant about first?
Mastering the entrepreneurial tipping point
Entrepreneurship does not demand a wide range of skills that must be acquired prior to entering the entrepreneurial ecosystem - but it sure does help. Nipun, the founder of Ula, had a background in engineering before embarking on his entrepreneurial journey. While he gained valuable experience in his engineering career, there came a point where the learning stopped being effective. Nipun notes, "I learned a lot from ages 32 to 37, but none of it was something I couldn't have learned elsewhere. There comes a tipping point where you've acquired enough knowledge and learning seems to plateau." For entrepreneurs, time is a precious resource, and every second spent on unproductive pursuits represents a potential loss. Recognizing when to start the entrepreneurial journey is crucial, as wasting time on non-essential tasks could prove costly.
Early birds catch the startup worm
Starting early offers many benefits for entrepreneurs, including the opportunity to gain valuable experience and skills, which are essential for success. This experience helps entrepreneurs avoid mistakes and build sustainable businesses. In many cases, having more experience in the market reduces risks and provides a shortcut to success. Procrastinating and wasting time can decrease the chances of success as physical and mental capabilities tend to decline with age.
What kind of skills came most important to you?
Maximize the varieties
Nipun, with an engineering background, has developed a variety of skills in engineering and technology. Entrepreneurs who develop multiple skills have an advantage, as they can communicate effectively with different stakeholders. Maximizing input leads to better success rates. Certain skills, such as understanding customer pain points, can help entrepreneurs create great products to solve their customers' needs.
What are the key qualities or attributes that blue chip investors typically seek in an entrepreneur?
Blue chip investor is someone who invests in large, established companies with a great reputation for being stable and profitable. These companies are leaders in their industries and have a history of paying dividends to shareholders. Blue chip investors prefer steady, long-term returns over making quick profits through risky trading. They’re known to be conservative and long-term investors who prioritize stability and reliability.
The success of a business often hinges on the individual who takes on the risks and believes in themselves. Their mindset and actions can be crucial in attracting investors. Characteristics such as passion, vision, and adaptability can inspire trust and confidence in potential investors. According to Nipun, building a business from scratch requires resilience and strength of character to weather the inevitable challenges. Investors often look for these traits in entrepreneurs to ensure that their capital is in responsible hands.
Market size varies greatly and can have a significant impact on a company's potential for success. A larger market presents more opportunities for a company to achieve success and growth. Blue-chip investors typically seek long-term investments that show promise for growth and sustainability. Companies that operate in larger markets have greater potential for increasing revenue and market share over time compared to those in smaller markets. This presents an attractive prospect for blue-chip investors to consider.
Business performance refers to a company's ability to achieve its objectives and goals, which requires measuring and evaluating various aspects of the business, including growth, scaling, financial results, and market competitiveness. These key indicators are necessary for assessing the company's performance. To attract more investors and gain access to capital and resources, businesses strive to improve their performance. Blue-chip investors, in particular, closely evaluate a company's performance and progress, focusing on scalability, financial position, and profitability. Demonstrating sustainable growth and scaling the business are crucial for attracting investors and building a strong investment portfolio.
Do you advise young people to study hard, get into a good university, and in that process, get to the top of the pyramid?
(Nipun was previously one of the top students and received a scholarship to top ranked University, Stanford. For Nipun, he started his venture with having a lot of knowledge and being capable of many things.)
Different people have different priorities
In the world of entrepreneurship, intelligence can take various forms and is subjective. To succeed in a particular market, entrepreneurs must possess expertise in a specific area to offer the best products or services. Nipun believes that there is no definitive answer to what makes someone smart, but it is crucial to give one's best and utilize one's skills effectively. Collaboration is essential in business, as people from diverse backgrounds bring different experiences and knowledge to the table, which can benefit the entire team.
Do you advise Malaysian entrepreneurs to build their business in other countries?
Follow your passion
Nipun shared that an entrepreneur's passion and drive for their work can be found in any market. The success of a business is not determined by the entrepreneur's background or origin, but rather their mindset, goals, and objectives. Every market has its own advantages and disadvantages, and entrepreneurs with an interest and passion for a specific market know what catches their eye the most. Nipun emphasized that nothing is impossible in the business world as long as an entrepreneur is willing to take risks.
What does it take to succeed in Indonesia?
Keep trying until you make it
Nipun shared, "We tried something and it didn't work. It's a better answer than to have never tried at all." Starting a business comes with numerous challenges and obstacles, especially when attempting to enter the market. Financial issues, scaling, time management, and uncertainty are just a few examples of the difficulties faced. Building a prosperous business requires unwavering commitment, persistence, and hard work. It's essential to keep pushing forward, continually innovating and striving for better results.
Recipe to success, is failure
Failure is a critical component of the entrepreneurial journey, as it occurs en route to achieving success. While failure may not be desirable, it is not terminal, and presents valuable benefits. Entrepreneurs are in the business of taking risks, which means that some endeavors may not unfold as intended. However, failure is essential for learning, and serves as an integral part of the journey towards success. Embracing failure as an opportunity for growth and learning enables entrepreneurs to build resilience, develop self-awareness, and enhance their capacity to thrive in the competitive business landscape.
What strategies have you employed to accelerate the scaling process? Can you provide insight into your scaling efforts specifically in Indonesia? In summary, what is the key takeaway from your experience?
Find the right people
Success in business is dependent on the collective effort of individuals from diverse backgrounds who collaborate to achieve exceptional outcomes. Scaling a business requires a shared mindset and drive amongst all team members. As Nipun suggests, a highly committed team was instrumental in their supply chain business growth. However, the quantity of personnel alone does not guarantee quality output. The key is to identify the right individuals who are willing to give their best and are committed to the organizational vision and goals. Commitment serves as the foundation for success, as the willingness to invest time and effort creates a greater chance of achieving significant growth.
How should new companies position themselves in the new norm?
Ensure your backup plan
Nipun's past experience with his first venture not succeeding taught him a valuable lesson: the importance of having a recovery plan in place. As he shares, “after my company shut down, I had to figure out what to do, right? When I was recruiting for a job, there were no jobs on campus. There was no way to get hired.” Having a contingency plan in place allows entrepreneurs to be prepared for any unexpected events or setbacks. As Nipun notes, 'There is a light at the end of the tunnel,' and being proactive in developing a recovery plan can help entrepreneurs navigate and overcome challenges on their journey to success.
Always be motivated
In today's challenging market, new businesses are facing difficulty surviving and expanding, particularly amidst the ongoing recession. In such an environment, strategies such as top-line revenue growth are essential for achieving increased profitability and organic returns. Nipun offers an apt analogy, noting that, “you have to be able to see which way the wind is blowing if you don't grow.” He advises new companies to stay motivated and maintain a broad perspective, which is crucial for entrepreneurs to persevere and succeed. For Nipun, the rewards of hard work and dedication are always within reach.
Investors play a significant role in shaping the direction of a company. Given the diversity of investors in terms of their backgrounds and perspectives, how does the complexion of your investors influence your decision-making process?
Learn from the best
Nipun highlighted that ULA received investment from Tencent, a leading Chinese company with extensive experience in the digital sector. He further explained that while he has personal connections and knowledge of the Indian market, he relies on Tencent's expertise and insights for navigating the Chinese market. This highlights the importance of having a diverse range of investors with varied backgrounds and perspectives, as it can provide valuable opportunities to penetrate different regions and benefit from specialized knowledge.
For any business that operates within its country, the ecosystem is different depending on the country or region. The business approach in terms of its whole operation such as marketing, product or even pricing needs to be aligned with the market itself. Nipun also highlights that Tencent knows what has worked and what hasn’t in the Chinese ecosystem. The resources from different backgrounds gave big advantages to scale bigger and to avoid detrimental mistakes.
The content of this article is summarized from our ‘Thought Inspire Series’, a series of six exclusive physical interviews with world-class & established company owners highlighting their entrepreneurship journey organized in collaboration with Google Cloud and CGS-CIMB. The series is aimed to inspire entrepreneurs globally to Innovate rapidly and sustainably. Follow us on our social media pages to get the latest news on upcoming events and key learnings.