Post-Modern Startups: Trading Vision for Immediate Returns?

The chase for quick VC funds and IPO exits is sidelining long-term vision. Digital media entrepreneur Shilpa Ahuja discusses the how’s and why’s.


In a world of instant gratification, the entrepreneurial landscape isn’t immune to the pressures of immediacy. The age-old adage of ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ seems to be fading into the annals of entrepreneurial history, as both startups and their backers increasingly chase rapid results over foundational legacies. 

When Short-Term Gains Eclipse Long-Term Vision: A Deep Dive into Entrepreneurship and Venture Capitalism Today

Today’s entrepreneurs are more focused on getting a startup funded instead of creating a recognizable and impactful brand with a long-term vision. And today’s VCs are more focused on investing in a startup with a short-term exit in mind, or a quick IPO instead of ‘valuing’ long-term viability of the business idea and nurturing it. 

As the scales tip towards quick wins and immediate exits, one can’t help but ponder: are we trading depth for dazzle in the startup ecosystem? Is creating a product your customer wants not important anymore? And if it isn’t, how is a startup different from a scam? Let’s rediscover this changing paradigm.

1. Entrepreneurs’ Shifted Priorities: Instant Funds

It’s almost a siren song in the entrepreneurial world these days: the allure of quick funding. When I started hiring my first employees back in 2016 for Shilpa Ahuja Media, many interviewees wanted to know if and when we planned on approaching VCs for financing. They wanted to know this more than what our long-term vision was (and yes, we had a vision back then too).


No longer is the talk of town about building legacy brands like Apple’s Steve Jobs or Microsoft’s Bill Gates did. No longer is the entrepreneur’s most inspiring trait their passion to satisfy their customer, attract good talent. 

The media glamorizes VC funding too. Look around the internet, pick up a newspaper and you’ll find stories galore – which startups “made it” to the unicorn club, how much financing was secured. No talk of startups that focus on profitability and creating an innovative product that makes a customer happy. If your startup is not funded, you’re not in the “league”. Not for your employees, not for your parents.

Today, many entrepreneurs seem to be fixated on one immediate milestone: securing venture capital. The Silicon Valley dream, once defined by revolutionary products and iconic brands, has seen a paradigm shift.

Take, for instance, the meteoric rise and fall of Quibi. Here was a platform that, backed by big names and even bigger funding, promised to redefine content consumption. However, within months of its much-hyped launch, it folded. Why? Because while its leaders were adept at securing funds, they overlooked the essence of building a brand with long-lasting impact.

2. Venture Capitalists: Betting on the Sprint, Not the Marathon

Venture capitalists, once seen as the nurturers of fledgling ideas, seem to be playing a different game today. While impact funding is one of the top trends in the venture capital industry this year, and many VC websites swear they care about the founder’s vision, the reality may be different. Revenue and profitability are key focus areas. For startups, this is a vicious cycle, because profitability is a long shot unless they have a clear vision for their brand.


When we first started my talks with VCs last year to raise funds for SAM (undisclosed growth product), one of the top things I heard again and again was that we were showing “too long a vision” (not these exact words). Instead of a ten-year projection, we should show a three-year one in our deck.

There’s a heightened emphasis on the “exit strategy” or the next big IPO. The narrative isn’t about how a startup could change the world in a decade, but rather how quickly it can offer returns.

WeWork’s dramatic saga is a case in point. Valued at nearly $47 billion in early 2019, its planned IPO later that year became a subject of controversy and criticism. Here was a company, once the darling of investors, now under a lawsuit and the possibility of bankruptcy, because the very fundamentals of its long-term viability are in question. And yet, until that point, money had kept pouring in, pointing to a disconnect between valuation and value.

Back home in India, another interesting case to consider is the IPO of Nykaa, India’s leading beauty and wellness e-commerce platform. Founded by Falguni Nayar, a former investment banker, Nykaa charted a deliberate journey from inception to its blockbuster IPO.

While the company’s public offering was a success, drawing attention to its robust business model and profitability in a notoriously challenging e-commerce landscape, some argue that the pressures to go public and provide returns might push such companies towards hyper-growth strategies at the expense of stable, sustained expansion. 

Nykaa stands as an example of a startup that successfully navigated the public market’s allure, but it’s essential to question if VC pressures inadvertently rush other startups to the stock exchange before they’re truly ready. From their record high of INR 406 near the time of the IPO in Nov 2021, Nykaa’s shares have fallen (or corrected) to INR 149 at the time of my writing this article (INR 114 was an all time low).

3. The Underlying Pressures: Why VCs and Founders Seek the Fast Lane

Venture capitalism isn’t just about dishing out funds. Behind the scenes, these VCs themselves grapple with their own pressures to perform. They raise money from institutional investors and high-net-worth individuals with the promise of substantial returns. These investors, in turn, seek timely profits on their invested capital.


VCs are hence caught in a cycle: to ensure regular and handsome exits to keep the money flowing in from their backers. A long-term bet, no matter how promising, is often viewed through the prism of opportunity cost – what else could that money achieve in the interim? And what does it matter if, after the exit, the startup never becomes a recognizable brand? Most don’t anyway.

On the flip side, founders face a conundrum. Bootstrapping, or self-funding a startup, is the road less traveled, and for good reasons. Ask me, I would know. It’s arduous, often fraught with financial instability, family pressures, and demands an immense reservoir of patience. 

While it offers founders complete control and a genuine understanding of the market without external pressures, it also means (much, much) slower growth and potentially missing out on capturing the market quickly. 

While being the ‘first-mover’ can dictate market dominance, waiting too long can be lethal. For example, during the time I’ve started and grown my career guide, I have seen the competition in that space grow so quickly it seems near impossible to make it profitable at this time (through bootstrapping).


Additionally, the allure of VC backing isn’t just about the money. It’s about networking opportunities, mentorships, and the stamp of credibility that comes with marquee names. And in India, more importantly, a lot of PR, which alone could catapult your brand into national recognition, if not profitability.

Thus, the stage is set. VCs need fast-growing startups to ensure returns to their investors. Founders, influenced by both the need for rapid expansion and the allure of big-ticket VC backing, often prioritize hyper-growth over sustained, organic expansion. It’s a dance of mutual interests and shared pressures, set to the fast-paced tunes of today’s business ecosystem.

4. Reimagining the Startup Ecosystem: A Call for Balanced Priorities

The question arises: are we, as a society, losing our appetite for long-term vision? Startups like Theranos secured millions based on promises, with little evidence of sustainable value, while others with potential but without the “hype” often struggle in the shadows.


It’s crucial to strike a balance. Entrepreneurs need to be visionaries, not just pitchers. VCs, on the other hand, must remember their role in shaping industries, not just portfolios. The likes of Amazon, OpenAI and Tesla weren’t built overnight. They were nurtured, guided, and most importantly, believed in – not just for their immediate returns, but for the vision they represented.

For a sustainable entrepreneurial ecosystem, both founders and funders need to recalibrate their measures of success. After all, the true essence of startups is innovation and impact, and that’s a game of endurance, not sprints.

The Ephemeral Lure of Immediate Returns: Rethinking the Goals of Modern Entrepreneurship

When VCs ask for three-year projections instead of ten-year ones, sometimes I wish it were the other way round. But then, no I don’t, because as a founder, once you see a decade-long dream, you can’t unsee it. 

Because if you have that dream, it’s bigger than the allure of immediate funding. It’s your reason to keep going.

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