It is not easy to convince a room full of startup founders that they are dispensable. But debaters Deepak Jain, partner, Bain & Company; Dhanya Rajendran, co-founder and editor-in-chief, The News Minute; and Saket Modi, co-founder and CEO, Lucideus Tech, did that with aplomb at the Fortune India 40 under 40 Summit held in Bengaluru—the quintessential startup city.
Moderator K. Ganesh, promoter, BigBasket and chairman of Portea Medical, set the tone, introducing the debate topic ‘Is the founder dispensable?’ with a few pointed questions. “There are obviously situations where founders need to step down and move on. From the point of view of a founder of a startup, does the person have the skillset to run the company from start to finish? Whether the founder is the right person to create value for all the stakeholders in the startup? These are some of the questions we will debate on tonight,” Ganesh said.
Jain, Rajendran, and Modi sat down to debate that founders are indeed dispensable; opposing them were Ritesh Malik, co-founder and managing director, Innov8; Deepak Dhar, co-founder, Nestaway; and Abhinav Aggarwal, co-founder and CEO, Fluid AI.
“I will divide the startup into five phases,” Modi began. “The first two phases are the ideation and starting the startup. The next two phases are the growth and expansion phase, and the last phase is the exit. It is fatal to get rid of the founder in the first two phases. But the startup where the founder has been dispensed with in phase three and four, we see some extremely successful companies like Apple, Uber, and Cisco.”
Aggarwal, however, cited Apple as an example of founders being essential even for a large business. “In 1993, when things started going badly for Apple and they were near bankruptcy, Apple replaced three CEOs without success. They needed the founder Steve Jobs to come back and reinvent the company,” he said.
Aggarwal had many backers. Real-time polls on Fortune India’s Facebook and Twitter pages then showed a slight majority believed that founders are not dispensable.
But Rajendran of The News Minute countered. “I firmly believe that the idea is much bigger than the founder. Building a second level of leadership is important for the founder of a startup. The founder becomes dispensable as soon as the process of building a second level of leadership is put in place,” she said.
By the end of the debate, stats on Facebook and Twitter showed that the team of Rajendran, Modi, and Jain had convinced those in attendance. Later in the night, the jury also agreed that the founder is dispensable.