K. Srikrishna has seen both sides of being an entrepreneur—spectacular success and unnerving failure. As a visiting professor of entrepreneurship and innovation who recently joined D'Amore-McKim in Fall 2019, he brings his rich experience and insight to the classroom where he teaches students the skills needed to be an innovator.
“Entrepreneurship is a rollercoaster ride,” he says. “The most important thing is to know yourself. Do you have persistence, passion, and a stomach for risk?”
Srikrishna has launched three start-ups and served for three years as the executive director of the National Entrepreneurship Network in India, that developed an ecosystem to support fledgling businesses and train their founders. He's been involved either as an investor or mentor in a wide variety of consumer and B2B startups. His first book, The Art of Happy Exits, will be published early next year by Harper Collins India. It explores how to avoid one of the most surprising pitfalls of selling a business—finding yourself lost, and unhappy, even if rich!
In his work as a professor, one of the myths Srikrishna wants to dispel is the common belief among students that you have to be born creative. He emphasizes that innovation is a teachable skill and praises the university's start-up incubator, IDEA, which provides students with training, funding, and mentorship on how to develop an idea, test it, and bring it into reality.
“Part of what I teach is the entrepreneur's journey,” he says. “It's like having a baby. You know your life is going to change, but you have no clue how dramatic that change will be.”
After completing his PhD in engineering at U.C. Berkley, Srikrishna worked for nearly a decade as marketing manager for a semiconductor manufacturer. He worked in marketing for two startups before launching his first business with five partners.
Having the right partners is essential to success—people who bring different skills to the table but have similar values.
One of the first lessons he learned is that most innovation does not spring from a lone wolf genius in the mold of Steve Jobs or Elon Musk, as popular lore would have us believe.
“Innovation is a team sport,” he insists. “Students have to learn to innovate with others.”
As president and CEO, Srikrishna helped build Implusesoft into a global innovator in Bluetooth technology for mobile devices such as routers and wireless headphones. In 2005, the company sold for $15 million.
His second startup, the Zebu Group, didn't go so well.
Its goal was to solve a common problem for businesses: How do you stay in touch with customers when you're not selling to them? Their solution was to develop software to help businesses create a monthly newsletter. While the idea coincided with the boom in content marketing, they fell into a common trap for entrepreneurs.
“Don't fall in love with your product,” warns Srikrishna. “We were all engineers and became too focused on creating the perfect product. We missed production milestones because we got lost tinkering with the technology.”
They also made the mistake of trying to serve too large a market—software that would work equally well for any industry.
“We were trying to boil the ocean,” he says. “We should have focused on a single industry and put our energy into prototyping, customer feedback.”
Srikrishna applied these insights to his third start-up, a gaming company that began by targeting its product to students at a single high school then, once they achieved their initial success, expanded their market steadily.
“Failures often follow success in the entrepreneurial world,” says Srikrishna. “Because you were successful once, you think you know what you're doing. Newer challenges arise and you realize you don't know nearly as much as you think.”