Anubhav Saxena of McLaren Strategic Ventures: “Great companies demonstrate quantifiable success-based patterns”

Great companies demonstrate quantifiable success-based patterns, independent of economic cycles or industries. They are built to scale and last. They create and sustain several breakthrough value propositions, create several high-growth market segments, shape powerhouses of goodness, open up new markets, and become masters of exponential returns. They create a much better world every day. They […]

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Great companies demonstrate quantifiable success-based patterns, independent of economic cycles or industries. They are built to scale and last. They create and sustain several breakthrough value propositions, create several high-growth market segments, shape powerhouses of goodness, open up new markets, and become masters of exponential returns. They create a much better world every day. They owe their existence, their continuity, and their future to continuous innovation. They fearlessly explore, losing the comfort of the sight of the shores to continuously seek better ways to serve and deliver, knowing that by exploring and inventing, they’ve innovated their way to continuous progress.

As part of my series about the “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anubhav Saxena, CEO of McLaren Strategic Ventures, a leading business accelerator expanding the growth potential for tech startups and scaleups. The role follows a long history of success in the technology sector for Anubhav, who has been a founding member of multiple billion-dollar businesses for more than 20 years. Across his career, he has held executive positions with Automation Anywhere, Information Services Group, HCL Technologies and Wipro Limited, and he was instrumental in helping drive triple digit growth and material shareholder returns at each company. He is currently an operating partner for Season Two Ventures, a member of the board of directors at ABBYY, and an experienced board advisor to Chooch AI, Roambee, Headspin, and Nexient. Anubhav is a visionary category creator and leader spearheading financial growth, business operations, corporate development, acquisitions, and strategic board initiatives for leading public and private technology companies. He is an Angel Investor with a focus on investing in innovative and impactful start-ups. Anubhav is also a TiE Charter Member, an invitation-only program for high-profile entrepreneurs and thought leaders dedicated to mentoring rising entrepreneurs and giving back to the community.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Thanks for having me. I’d be happy to share a bit of my backstory.

While interning as a defense scientist on surface-to-air missile launchers, I was fascinated to work on advanced technologies while creating new categories of innovation to defend, protect, and secure sovereign nations. By securing borders, we created unbounded economic, social, and human progress. While one can never estimate the future in its entirety, I was inspired by the power of innovation to bring us to the future we so richly deserve.

Responsible innovation, when accelerated with value and purpose, unlocks human potential to focus on things that matter. By improving businesses through technological innovation, humans not only foster sustainability, but we also help create billions in high-growth revenues that eventually become publicly-listed companies and create millions of jobs that continue to pay forward. This experience defines you, shapes you, and it has made all the difference for me.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

Creating a new business category that transforms the status quo with limited time, funds, and resources is never easy. New ideas and innovation are often expensive and risky, and the most talented people usually dismiss these ideas to settle for security and predictability.

Coming to the United States to create disruptive technology service models while unseating massively successful incumbents meant giving up the life I knew in India. What do you pack to pursue a dream, and what do you leave behind?

My drive came from the belief that inventors and explorers have redefined the world we live in. Exploring means innovation, and innovation means progress, so giving up was never an option, as we’d already given up so much to get this far. Success is measured by what we have to give up to get where we are.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

Absolutely! When I was younger, a sample size of one was the norm for me. I created a version of the future thinking that what I had designed or created was the only game in town, with a set of unique value propositions that nobody could copy or create. I used to believe that everyone should see it the way I do. The higher the complexity, the better I thought it would be. I would pursue it relentlessly, often breaking more than creating, spending more time and effort covering my mistakes than resolving them, and discrediting the wisdom those opportunities could have bestowed upon me.

A few takeaways I’ve had are the importance of simplicity, both in thought and action. Also, I’ve developed a higher self-awareness, and the recognition that admitting your own guilt leaves you feeling richer. The importance of working backwards and forming a clear path was another key lesson. I must admit, I still return to those moments and resort to those tactics today (after all, I’m human too!), but the difference between now and then is that I can recognize my flaws, and hopefully if I see them enough, I’ll be able to fully correct them someday!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

McLaren Strategic Ventures is a leading business accelerator that seeks higher successes for the fund and the funded. We help scale-ups and start-ups achieve sustainable, higher revenues faster by matching essential innovation to enterprises worldwide, accelerating the possibilities for them and their clients. Through our unique “Channel-of-Channels” programs, we amplify reach, frequency, and yield through ecosystems. With our unique “Platform of Platforms,” we improve the technical feasibility, economic viability, and time-to-value ratio. We are culturally aligned to all-round stakeholder successes driven by our guiding principles of being fair, objective, respectful, execution-oriented, value-centric, empowering, and results-driven. These timeless attributes, composing the Forever™ McLaren pledge, is the promise we make as we combine the world’s best domain consulting with advisory services to serve the industry with the leading, time-tested innovation they deserve.

At McLaren Strategic Ventures, we believe that entrepreneurs change the world. We see every start-up and every scale-up as a unique vessel through which ideas travel, and we believe we’ve been given the opportunity to help these ideas live, grow, and succeed, and that’s what drives us every day.

Entrepreneurs hold the keys to unlock the value behind the greatest challenges of our times. To believe it, before others see it. They see opportunities, where others see risks. They pull forward passionately, always remembering why they started. We are honored to work with these entrepreneurs. They are unique in time and expression and are the medium to bring this change. We seek the opportunity to partner and scale their successes throughout their journey. Scaling through a combination of innovative models, time-tested playbooks, facilitated enterprise connections, and accelerated ecosystem relationships, we support entrepreneurs in dreaming bigger, executing better, and pushing the boundaries beyond the possible to bring socio-economic change faster. We believe great ideas and innovation can come from anywhere, and our single-minded focus and purpose is to help create the realization of accelerated possibilities so that the true value of sustainable innovation and operationally excellent businesses, created as a result of this, is accessible to everyone, everywhere. And to the entrepreneurs of yesterday, today and tomorrow, we thank you for your dedication, energy, inspiration and hope. You make the world a better place.

That’s what we believe in. That’s what makes us stand out.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Most of the people I’ve met, known, and come to admire want to contribute to the world and leave it a better place. My first tip is to find them, walk with them, stay with them, and learn from them. They are ready to help you, more than you’d ever imagine. And while there is no substitute for hard work, preparation, and the effort that is needed to build anything, my second tip is to remember that having fun throughout the process is how it was always supposed to be. While the human, economic, and social motivations for various actions might be different, we’ve always prospered when we’ve come together, dreamt together, and delivered together. There are lessons, playbooks, preparation, and prayers. With that in mind, my third tip is to stay true to the calling and it will be heard. Love the questions. They are catalysts, inspirations, road maps and new beginnings. It’s a gift that’s always given. And my final tip: follow your dreams. If what’s in your dreams wasn’t already inside of you, how could you even dream it?

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

It takes a village to accomplish success, and I’m grateful to always have had a tribe. It’s never one person. Every interaction is a round of evaluation that makes you who you are and helps you to be better than you were. I’m grateful towards all of the mentors that I met, for they taught me in ways they’ll never know. I didn’t plan on meeting them, but from all of them I learned and got the help I never expected. I am so thankful for all they did and didn’t do, as it made all the difference.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?

Great companies demonstrate quantifiable success-based patterns, independent of economic cycles or industries. They are built to scale and last. They create and sustain several breakthrough value propositions, create several high-growth market segments, shape powerhouses of goodness, open up new markets, and become masters of exponential returns. They create a much better world every day. They owe their existence, their continuity, and their future to continuous innovation. They fearlessly explore, losing the comfort of the sight of the shores to continuously seek better ways to serve and deliver, knowing that by exploring and inventing, they’ve innovated their way to continuous progress.

Good companies are those that only do some of the above.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.

The five most important things to lead a company from good to great are the five questions that one should always truthfully answer: Are you working at the company that’s the best in what it does? Are you counted amongst the best in that company? Does the opportunity provide you, individually, to get a higher than expected economic, human, and social outcome? Have you identified the optimal partners and cultivated the best team ? And lastly, have you created the right environment and gathered the right tools to succeed in achieving your goals?

The greatest races, wars, revolutions, movements, inventions, and explorations were successful when everyone continued to pull together in the same direction, driven by common passions and pursuits of excellence, and it’s a common theme in our approach with our clients at McLaren.

Two decades and three decacorns later, I can see why each of these great companies overcame the challenges presented by its other good competitors, even while skill, talent, and opportunity were equally distributed. The ability to answer these five questions truthfully gives anyone the power to lead their company to become the gold standard.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?

Purpose driven businesses that match their stated purpose to their vision and mission while following through with flawless execution do better. Always. First, they demonstrate truth and transparency about why they exist and what they hope to achieve, making them highly trusted brands in the marketplace. They are empowering, create a reason, and build association.

One example from my past is Automation Anywhere University, which has trained over a million in the world to become intelligent automation experts that drive the purpose, vision, and mission of digital augmentation to the human workforce to create a future that’s highly efficient, effective, and productive. HCL’s “Employee First” philosophy also drove higher customer centricity, since in a services business, people (employees) are your biggest assets. By putting employees first, they put customers first, which created the fastest growing services company for over a decade through the worst of recessions, creating more jobs and welfare than any other across the world.

Now with McLaren Strategic Ventures, our “Entrepreneur First” philosophy drives alignment to the mission, vision, and purpose on hand and the role of innovation that makes it the leading business accelerator in the world. It has the potential to enable skill development across the latest technologies, creating jobs for the unserved and underserved communities across all shores. That purpose unleashes the power and potential to change lives.

Social impact as an afterthought and an unintended consequence still counts. Imagine the impact if we all did it on purpose.

What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?

“Good, better, best. Never let it rest. ’Til your good is better and your better is best.” This first poem that I learned has been my lighthouse. No one aims for a standstill moment, yet they happen for several reasons. The best one can do is analyze what happened, what they can change going forward, and how to prevent such an event from happening again.

A few steps one can take are to create and sustain a breakthrough value proposition, exploit a high-growth market segment, have your marquee customers shape your revenue powerhouse, create alliances for breaking into new markets, and create a board of essential experts. There are always leading and lagging business indicators, informed opinions, and data sets that can serve as predictors until we discover how to make crystal balls that actually work. Once you gather those, a good framework that I’ve used is to define the future growth trajectory of a business by creating three modes forward:

  1. Transform the core: This is what you’re known for and the core of what you do. Create what the gold standard would look like on the mindshare and market share axis, aligning it with the industry shifts — current and potential. Repurpose your offers in the “good, better, best” categories. Aggressively drive mindshare by retaining 100% of your customer base, develop marquee customers who are willing to be brand ambassadors (including buyers of up-sell/cross-sell), and drive aggressive focus on replacing competitive incumbents.
  2. Extend the core: enter market adjacencies through extension products and services that multiply the market opportunities, provide more value to the existing and net new customers, and ensure higher “stickiness” in the revenues through uniquely delivered models in very attractive commercial structures that help with retention and upselling.
  3. Diversify the core: Reconsider buyer persona, product, price, and place offers, and match it to a “good, better, best” product / service portfolio which starts to drive adoption in non-traditional markets, consequently driving higher profitability and valuation.

And find a partner like McLaren Strategic Ventures, which has been purposefully built to believe in the entrepreneur’s ambition, bringing forth accelerated possibilities.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

Great businesses are built to weather market cycles and downturns while securing upsides in favorable conditions. While every strategy is specific to the specific business, I’ve used a few playbooks that have worked well.

Ecosystem distribution through a variety of partners always generates a certain reach, frequency, and yield in business. Continuously invest in creativity, nurturing and making it successful. This has created unicorns and decacorns and kept them continuously growing — these ecosystems develop vertical-use cases, reusable IP, and scale possibilities in the most efficient and effective manner.

Putting your customer in the center of everything you do and building a focused and engaging customer advocacy function that helps them create, adopt, and be the brand ambassador of your best offers gets you the best returns. I often used to give 100 one-dollar bills to each of my customers in advocacy events and ask them to put them in 10 different jars. Each jar had a set of features that were unique and a part of the future roadmap to understand what the market would be willing to pay for and how much. Once collected and reported, they’d feel they were a part of the building process. While not everyone got what they wanted, they were a part of a transparent democratic process and understood what their peers valued, which was fulfilling for them as well. That invaluable gamification initiative defined our product roadmap.

We launched a few products that took a bootstrapped firm to 3B dollars valuation, then to 7B dollars all within eighteen months. We created the foundation of growth from a 4B dollars to a 10B dollars organization by asking the CAC members to help create a gold standard in operations using ITIL and CMMI standards which was the basis for exponential growth and returns, making it the fastest growing services organization in two decades.

Another strategy is to obsessively focus on customer retention, systematically growing your existing base in a year and conducting net expansion through the best possible customer success program. This, coupled with great HR practices (that are mostly undermined in hiring), retention, and growth of great talent are some of the best strategies I’ve used.

Most of the strategies have been adopted and executed by the best, and at McLaren we are currently using and developing playbooks that help with systematic scaling and amplification. Of the current work we’ve set up with 14 start-ups, 3 scale-ups, and 4 joint ventures, some strategies work better than the others given the stage each company is in across verticals. In 2021, we will be working with 50–75 such entities across all shores, deploying multiple playbooks and innovation scale units that are time tested and adaptable.

In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

Human communication seems to be the most underestimated factor. Nothing is unachievable when clear measurable objectives are transparently and clearly articulated. In a company, everyone should know what the individual, the team, and the division is responsible for, including how it ties together company-wide to achieve the desired outcome. What starts with the power of one rolls up into the framework of many, and that’s fulfilling and empowering not only to individuals, but their teams, divisions, and everyone else.

Most companies have 19th century management thinking, use 20th century infrastructure, and try to create 21st century success. That’s not going to happen. Humans are social — they thrive on clear and precise communication and in transparent environments where they can take pride in their work and its outcomes. Any framework that allows for an unobstructed flow of communications can, and should, be adopted. The role of management is to empower, enthuse, and encourage every employee to play their part. By amplifying the power of one, the exponential power of many can be unleashed.

As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?

Business development is both an art and science. When done well, it results in a higher level of desirable outcomes, like new sales, both from a quality and quantity standpoint. I’ve seen lots of entrepreneurs talk about TAM, SAM, and SOM. They are not specific enough on what revenue and EBITDA attributes their target customers should have, and what customer segments they plan to focus on. They also do not have critical metrics that will be used to measure themselves against the industry best (LTV/CAC, Magic number, etc.)

A lack of clarity and understanding on what one is selling and why clients are buying for a certain price leads businesses to selling anything to anyone, for any dollar that’s willing to be paid. While there might be nothing wrong with that at the time it’s done, the departure from ‘should have been’ to what ‘is,’ continues to widen. Measure twice, cut once.

This set of strategies done well minimizes wasted effort, money, time, and resources which not only results in higher valuations, but also points to a scale strategy that’s deliberate, has a desirable revenue and EBITDA customer segmentation, and results in a desired portfolio. This allows for follow-on investments and designs for customer retention and expansion. There are many strategies to increase business-specific conversion rates, but it starts with the specificity described, the bedrock of good planning and design.

Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?

Great brands stand for purpose, delivered value, and unique innovation. They are trusted to deliver on their promises and are associated with buyers at a very human level. Like humans, they are evaluated on risks, security, dependability and their connection with clients, which should both be professional and deeply personal.

Businesses have to evaluate not only what they do to deliver on their promises, but how and what they do to get it done. I’ve seen that the more businesses share their values and purpose while amply demonstrating how they’ve followed through, the more trusted and beloved they become. This extends to any enterprise or any consumer brand. Earning, keeping, and growing trust in the most unpredictable times is when brands are tested the most. The winners are the ones who continue to tread the path with unwavering faith and execution, however tough it may seem.

Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?

The greatest success stories have been built by keeping the customer in the center of everything. Once that is done, retaining them, growing them, and with their help, acquiring newer ones, becomes key. They are your best ambassadors and provide the best insights into what’s next.

These are the most important questions you should continue to ask everyday to ensure a great consumer experience: Does your product or service allow them to under-promise and over-deliver to your customer’s customer? Does it provide desirable and differentiated features that are economically viable to the job and make their customers even more successful than they were before they bought you? Is your product or service offer so compelling that you could command a respectable premium over your nearest set of competitors? Is your unique and sustainable advantage hard to copy, and are you at least two years ahead of everyone else or everything else that could diminish your competitive advantage?

There is a “value zone” concept businesses should keep in mind. Zone 1 is where the company needs to be better than their competitors to win the business. Zone 2 is where the customer they are serving is able to serve their customers better because of you. If you win both zones, you end up with the best customer service model.

Every weekend, I’ve done this thirty minute exercise as an operating leader of multiple billion dollar companies. Design the most ideal company that could displace you, and then make a plan to become that company. You may not always get it right, but the fact you think it, dream it, and do it, makes you better than most. That’s one key thing I do, and would encourage everyone else to do it as well.

What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.

Humans are inherently social. Connections are built through communication. Technology has reduced the distance between people and enables a larger platform to transfer knowledge, values, views, thoughts, opinions or anything else essential to get business done. As with every privilege, with technology comes responsibility. With responsibility comes accountability. Omni-channel technologies seek to bind and strengthen.

However, with every technology, there are paths to unintended consequences. Recent events, catalyzed by the use of certain platforms at the highest levels, including what senior executives in corporate boards and directors themselves indulged in, have been unacceptable. Lessons from instances like these are valuable, and efforts towards eliminating them are essential. While we push traditional communication channels to their outdated margins, we shouldn’t forget the knowledge we gained from them. It takes years, sometimes centuries, to build a reputation, and only a few seconds to destroy it.

We believe that every company should establish rules to govern communication in the workplace. Digital footprints go extremely deep, cause a wide impact, and need to be guideline driven. We at McLaren have invested in, and are accelerating highly secure omnichannel conversational platforms, and only work with the chosen few who respect the lay of the land.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

It’s extremely important to define your vision and your mission statement at the beginning. These guiding principles guide how a business will engage, perform, and conduct business. During the most critical times, and there will be many, the guiding principles will be the non-negotiable guidelines that drive the value system to overcome the obstacles. It has to be thought through and practiced by everyone every single day.

Truth through transparency is the next thing that is very important. Every stakeholder needs to know what they are expected to do and how they are expected to do it. There are only six communication types: requests, offers, promises, declarations, assessments, and assertions. Each of them has a place and drives strategic alignment. We have the timeless attributes of Forever McLaren that we try and follow every day, and these are equally, if not more important, than the productions of goods and services as they describe the soul of an enterprise.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

It would be the “One Gratitude” movement. Everyday, pass along your gratitude to one person, and tell them what you admire about them and how they’ve helped you. Remember that at some time in the past, someone gave you a lift or an idea that started you in the right direction. Each of us can look back on someone whose simple acts of caring changed our lives, not only by teaching us, but by taking the time to be with us and to believe in us.

If possible, also try to volunteer for a few hours a week. If every American did that, it would equal the labor of twenty million full time volunteers. Each of us has a unique gift, and that should be paid forward.

Through McLaren’s Do-Good Initiative, we hope we’ll play our part and pay it forward.

How can our readers further follow you online?

A. You can find me on LinkedIn here, and you can follow our progress at McLaren Strategic Ventures here.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

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