Shutting down DeliverWithMe
My name is Anand Satyan. I am one of the founders of Boutline, a sports fan engagement startup. I have something new to say about building, growing or not growing a business. Earlier, I ran a company called DeliverWithMe with three co-founders with the goal of building a crowdsourced e-commerce delivery platform. After a tumultuous journey of year-and-a-half , we had to shut the company down.The story began in 2012 during a get-together with a couple of my friends when I first got introduced to Baha. She had an idea of a system where travellers carry parcels for others needing it to be shipped to the destination cities. The idea sounded ridiculous considering the sheer number of variables involved. But the idea kept nagging me. The more I thought about the problems in the delivery space, the more this idea started to make sense. An ambitious idea, no doubt, but it solved a clear problem. After multiple meetings and discussions with Baha, we decided to work on the idea.
Why I decided to work on DeliverWithMe
As a designer, I believe it is important for me to create things that would improve the lives of people around me. To create something that everyone would benefit from. That’s why I am passionate about building products that connect businesses to consumers. The founders that I truly admire built companies like these.
DeliverWithMe was dealing with a logical (probably utopian?) way of dealing with the problem of package delivery. It was a quick, easy and eco-friendly way of delivering parcels (about 20% reduction in aircraft fuel usage). It made sense, and I had to design it.
An ambitious project?
Yes! Call me crazy but that’s the reason I wanted to do it. If it were something anyone could do, somebody somewhere would probably have done it. I urge each one of you to solve problems that make you feel borderline crazy. People will call you ambitious, naive and mentally challenged. “Disconnected from the real world” - they say, but when you hear this, you’re in the right path nine out of 10 times.
I hate the real world. The real world is a terrible place to be for an entrepreneur. In the real world companies like Apple and Redbus wouldn’t exist. In the real world, the internet and the www wouldn’t exist. The vision for DeliverWithMe was clear. It just needed to be backed by laser sharp focus and execution.
The backup plan was to not have a backup plan. To me, backup plans are mind games. They are excuses to be careless.
What’s the worst that could have happened? I would have ended up working for an Infosys or a TCS. Not a bad backup plan considering how much I would have changed the world if I did manage to get DeliverWithMe working. For me, it had never been about the money. This might sound like a cliche but ‘it’s about building something that lasts way longer than you do.’
‘DeliverWithMe or nothing!’ was my mantra. Execute or die trying. I understand that this is partially a bad trait in an entrepreneur. Anyone who is a follower of the Lean Startup Methodology would completely disagree with me. “Never get emotional about your startup” - they say. If I don’t get emotional about it, I wouldn’t be passionate about it. If I am not passionate about it, how will I manage to sell it?
Of selling and progress
Things were beginning to take off. We managed to get permission from the Airport Authority to start the service (Oh! yeah). We signed up with 20 merchants to give reward coupons. We signed up with 10 other e-commerce portals to do 24 hour deliveries.
We did about 100 deliveries a month. Our fastest delivery was in 45 minutes. The longest was 16 hours. No mishaps. No stolen/broken packages.
Baha and I were doing the deliveries personally. We didn’t have money to afford decent transportation. We carried 10 kgs in each hand and shuttled between the airport and the delivery spots by bus.
Yup! We were delivering dog food to sanitary napkins to sarees. Every day for about two months! We tried to hire a delivery boy. But he was inconsistent and irresponsible. You do not want to make a bad first impression. So we did the deliveries.
Things were looking good. ‘Forbes’ magazine featured us. We got a lot of attention from local media. At least they were beginning to look good before things took a U turn.
The downward slope
1. Burn out
The daily routine burnt us out. Our health began to take a toll. We were two people handling everything in two cities. We walked and took the bus to travel about 150 kilometers everyday. Even taking a friend’s bike to deliver was getting very tiring. They were big consignments.
2. Co-founder trust levels
The other two co-founders who were supposed to be CEO and CFO didn’t reside in India. The CFO put in some money and didn’t bother. The CEO had no clue what was happening. His wife was pregnant so he had to take care of his two other kids. He couldn’t contribute much for almost a year. There was an absolute imbalance in the number of hours put in and commitment from each founder.
3. Running out of money
We were running out of money. We had to show traction to investors to get funded. The CFO couldn’t put in any more money. We were growing fast and we couldn’t afford it.
4. Cofounder differences
We were four of us with an equal stake in the company. Two of us weren’t Indians. There was a cultural divide amongst us. We didn’t know each other for long enough to understand these small differences.
5. Losing focus
Once the trust levels started falling, and we were running out of money, everyone started working on side projects to make some money. We slowly started losing focus and finally decided to call it quits.
I swore to never work on side projects while starting up. I believe execution is the most important and the most difficult aspect of a service like DeliverWithMe and we were lacking it.
If I do it again, what would I do differently?
A. I will not be pursuing DeliverWithMe anytime in the near future. But if in a hypothetical situation, that happens, first and foremost I would look for co-founders I have known personally for long (at least for two years). It’s a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll. I would rather do it with someone I understand and is resilient enough to overcome the obstacles.
I still haven’t given up on the idea of DeliverWithMe. I would love to help anyone who wishes to pursue this dream. Go for it!
I firmly believe that it takes at least two years to know whether an idea would fail or succeed. I am never going to completely give up on an idea again before I have put in two years of dedicated effort into it. If I get a feeling that I’m hitting a limbo after two years, then I will take a call. But the way things are going for Boutline, I don’t see that happening.
Lessons learnt, no regrets.
It’s been a year and I am very happy with the work we have been doing at Boutline. I’ve known my Co-founder Febin for almost two years now. He is probably the most dedicated and skilled hacker I have ever met. He’s now my roomie and we have been trying really hard to get Boutline shipped soon. We have spent the last few months going out and breaking things.
We are both big sports fans. I hail from a family of sports followers. I’ve seen the kind of emotions that sports can bring in people. With new sports like football, ‘kabaddi’ and badminton slowly catching up with cricket, the Indian sports market is at an inflection point. Five years from now sports is going to be a multi-billion dollar industry.
We have put the last eight months of learning from great people, conversations and the Microsoft Ventures Accelerator (Batch 4) into action for our product which launches very soon. Please don’t forget to sign up for Boutline here
About the Author:
Anand Satyan is an ardent sports fan and the CEO of a sports fan engagement startup called Boutline. He is a design obsessed web developer generally crazy about typography, colors and shapes.