Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

Sramana Mitra ’93 sets out to help a million entrepreneurs make it big

by Christina Barber-Just

As a serial entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, Sramana Mitra ’93 has experienced multiple booms and busts over the Sramana MItra ’93 years. The financial crisis of 2008 got her thinking about capitalism’s shortcomings, and she vowed to spend the current decade helping a million entrepreneurs each reach $1 million or more in annual revenue. Thus was born the One Million by One Million (1M/1M) initiative, an online system for entrepreneurship education and incubation that Mitra says could create $1 trillion in global gross domestic product and 10 million jobs around the world.
Mitra, who received a master’s in electrical engineering and computer science from MIT, has founded three companies and written five books, including four volumes in her Entrepreneur Journeys series. She was a Forbes columnist from 2008 to 2010 and currently writes a business blog called Sramana Mitra on Strategy. Here, she discusses what one entrepreneurial Website has called “her grand, hairy, audacious vision of 1 million millionaires by 2020.”
Eligible entrepreneurs
1M/1M is not exclusive at all. We want every entrepreneur to have access to our curriculum and services, and give them an opportunity to build their businesses, irrespective of the scale of their entrepreneurial aspirations. Unlike physical incubators, we do not have to select or exclude entrepreneurs to function, and thus can accept companies regardless of their prospective TAM [total addressable market] or the speed at which the business will grow. After all, there are many more $5 million, $10 million, $20 million ideas out there than $500 million or $1 billion ones. The latter is the domain of venture capital, but the former is what we need to nurture to do economic development at a very large scale.
The $1 million hurdle
The sub-$1 million revenue level is when an entrepreneur is the most vulnerable. This phase of business building is extremely complex, risky, and needs specialized expertise—a style of expertise not easily accessible via the current educational systems, especially business schools.
Progress report
We’ve had over 5,000 people participate in our weekly free online roundtables for entrepreneurs. These roundtables are somewhat like an online reality show, with up to five entrepreneurs pitching their businesses and receiving my feedback in real time on what their next steps should be. Everyone can participate in the live chat throughout. We’ve held almost ninety of these shows, and I have personally coached over 300 entrepreneurs.
Beyond Silicon Valley
Entrepreneurship is extremely challenging, and people are constantly reinventing the wheel. I am trying to make it more efficient by making things streamlined. Being based in the heart of Silicon Valley for the last fifteen years, I have learned a great deal and have had access to its inner circle. However, as I started designing 1M/1M, it became clear that what has been learned and fine-tuned here at such a furious pace needs to be encapsulated and made available to the larger world of entrepreneurs. With 1M/1M, we have packaged the lessons from the trenches of over 400 entrepreneurs. We have synthesized a methodology that draws from their best practices. We have created case studies that give you an up-close-and-personal seat at the table with some of the best entrepreneurs of our time.
Entrepreneurship education
I did most of my undergraduate and graduate research as a computer scientist in the area of scalable parallel and distributed systems. My thought process around economics and capitalism has also been focused on designing a scalable, distributed entrepreneurship-development methodology, educational curriculum, and delivery model, as well as a virtual incubation and mentoring process that entrepreneurs from anywhere in the world can access and benefit from.
The Entrepreneur Journeys methodology
We emphasize heavily on bootstrapping and capital-efficient, lean startups. Laser-sharp positioning, systematic customer validation, and a strong work ethic are stressed.
Coining “Capitalism 2.0”
I wrote an important piece in my Forbes column in November of 2009 called “Capitalism’s Fundamental Flaw,” underscoring the observation that capitalism has been hijacked by speculators, and value creation and entrepreneurship are no longer at the center of the system. The modern financial crisis is but a manifestation of this fundamental problem, and rather than focusing on the rich-versus-poor debate, we need to focus on how to rehabilitate the capitalistic system to put the emphasis back on value creation and entrepreneurship. This piece triggered a huge discussion all over the Internet.
In October 2010, I defined what the new form of capitalism needs to look like, and called it Capitalism 2.0. Instead of just a small number of companies building up to become billion-dollar businesses, we need millions of companies building million-dollar businesses. Or even $500,000 businesses, $200,000 businesses, $100,000 businesses, $50,000 businesses, $10,000 businesses. The $10,000 or $50,000 businesses are important as the developing world finds its own stride and grassroots entrepreneurs in all those regions build within their own capacity and economic realities.
I am convinced that the Western world’s economic turnaround and the developing world’s economic development both depend upon how well and how fast the entrepreneurs around the world step up to the plate. They are also dependent on how successfully world leaders design policies and frameworks to support entrepreneurs. Indeed, my vision of Capitalism 2.0 is a democratic, distributed capitalism that puts the emphasis on entrepreneurship on a very large scale. The result is the One Million by One Million program.