Journey to the Base Camp: Lessons from sustaining a startup for 3 years

It has been three years building Hammer and Mop (read their story), and it seems like one long arduous trek- eventful and full of valuable lessons. There have been times when my limbs threatened to give up, but a look at the distant peak usually set things right again. Last year, it felt good completing two years out in the cold. We have now reached the base camp. There are some things I’ve learnt and thought it worthwhile to share:

It’s all about people

I cannot stress this enough. Right from the day I decided to start off on this trek, till the day I pitched my tent at the base of this peak I have been helped, advised, counselled by people with whom I share a genuine relationship that is mutually beneficial. Customers are people who you need to communicate with. Allies are people who need to get value out of an association. Team members are people who need to feel respected and a part of the game. Your family — with their unconditional love — only fear for your sanity. You are a human and you need to love yourself.

It’s all about information

Today, we are a team of individuals following certain processes and believing in certain ideas day after day. At all levels, our focus is hiring leaders who can grow with the company by lending their shoulders to the task. Distilling the broad vision to profile specific short term goals has helped us perk up performance and boost accountability. A team supervisor focuses only on cleanup quality, communications focuses only on information flow, and so on. Our mentors and well wishers help us keep a holistic perspective. While the team is a submarine working hard at being submerged, our mentors provide the periscope.

It’s all about your team

We are crazy about the peak and take lead to manage aspects while figuring out the way through the jungle. I didn’t know what to expect out of ‘employees’ three years back and my errors cost me my entire team once. Proper policies, complementary skills, mutual respect, clear communication and a healthy work environment play a big role. Most of my team consists of blue collar workers. The vicious circle of managing them is a misconception, because respect has to be earned. I have learned that everyone likes the peak, and is keen to play a well defined role in a performing team. Things fall apart if clarity is lost. In a jungle, we have realized that we need to have each other’s back and that has helped us keep going.

It’s all about your customers

And they are loveable humans too. Their expectations are pretty simple, and they pay, so keeping them happy is key to a successful business. They understand goof ups, empathise and offer support. Customers seek an honest relationship and are generous with compliments if things go well. They are generous with critical feedback if things don’t. I have been fortunate to have numerous patrons who have held our hands throughout, helping us get better at what we do. Negotiations have seldom been about money, they almost always transcend to intangibles if the game is played right. Customers seek trust, which is built by consistent service. Being open and apologetic about our weaknesses has helped us live.

It’s all about money

Not at the cost of ethics and quality. You might be in the business to contribute to the society, but you dig your own grave by not being focused on cash flow and profits. Money is the essential grease, profits can be reinvested for growth, healthy cash flow provides you with bandwidth to make your customers happier. An organisation needs to sustain itself and its people, and that’s why it needs to earn money. To ensure the same, for a young company like ours, that’s the CEO’s job.

It’s not about the comfort zone

At the start, I remember my co-founder urging me to be on the field and find recruits. “Go out and smell the fresh grass, ongoing analysis sitting in the comfort zone isn’t going to make things happen,” he had said. Finding our own spot is a trap, because the proactive explorers win. While it is essential for startup CEOs to know every aspect of the business they run by rolling up the sleeves, it is crucial they ask their senior team members to do the same too. A company won’t grow with leaders sticking to their offices. A company won’t grow without pushing all boundaries.

At the base camp

After three years, I’m confident to say that we have arrived. Now for the climb so everything we have done so far starts making sense. Right from what tools to pack to understanding the jungle, from the leaders of the pack to laying down ground rules, from identifying the peak to knowing the North Star — we seem geared up for the climb.

Now, I can’t wait.

About the author:

Sushrut Munje, Cofounder, Hammer and Mop