14 life lessons I learned while building a company
I started a Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) outlet when I was in B-school. The time I started it, most of my college mates were busy preparing for exams, summer internships, PPOs and what not.
In these past few years, I have wondered about the sanity of my decision on numerous occasions. Thankfully, I was somehow determined to stick to it.
And I am being thankful not because I have become super successful or have started earning triple as compared to my batchmates or have a swanky office. I am being thankful because the valuable lessons of life I have learned could be gained from any other source. One has to grind it out to fully grasp these. But just to give you a glimpse, in no particular order, here are the 14 most valuable life lessons which I learned from being an entrepreneur -
1. Money is just a by-product
So I wanted to start with the most obvious one and I am sure everyone has heard this one before. So what does it actually mean? It simply means that if you have something the others want (be it a product or a service or a skill) you are bound to make money. And why is that? Because no one can do everything by themselves and everyone needs help. I know a guy who made a living writing love letters for others. Think it’s stupid? Well, not to him! So rather than going after the best way to make money, one should chase the best thing to have.
2. I can only be successful if I think I can be
The only reason all those people raised those millions of dollars is that they thought they could. The only reason I have a bootstrapped, profitable business is that I think the customer is my best chance. It’s all about what we think. If I don’t believe in myself, no one is going to get up and fight for me. The sooner I start believing something, the sooner I will start to achieve it.
3. Salary is more dangerous than cocaine
Again, I think this is pretty commonly said by a lot of people. But honestly speaking, you can only experience it after not getting your salary for 6 months straight. The withdrawal symptoms are really scary!
4. The best design is invisible
If something is working in a perfectly functional manner with no downtimes or collisions, someone spent a lot of time designing it correctly. Because if he hadn’t, the result would be much more apparent. The design is always associated with pretty things. But in reality, designing is more about enabling functions than about adding embellishments.
5. Nobody has his life (or for that matter startup!) sorted
If you are one of those who thinks everyone else has a better life than you - let me burst your bubble. There have been times I have worked seven days a week, 18 hrs a day at a stretch. There also have been days when I have had absolutely nothing to do. I have woken up at 4 am for an order and have been at the store till 1:00 am on New Year's Eve. My point is everyone has to do stuff they don’t like, and everyone is going through the same grind. So instead of looking at others making it big easily, try and see the grind that goes behind all that.
6. There is no shutdown button
This is actually more fun than it sounds. Because of this F&B lifestyle, for a very long time, I couldn’t go out on a date without overly analysing the restaurant, its ambience, the menu, the design, the walls, the distance between the two tables, the material of the tables and chairs, oh I’m sure you get where this is going. So tiring!
7. Everything in life cannot be learned
Right from my childhood, I have been taught the exact opposite. But I know better now. It’s not about whether you can or cannot learn everything. It’s about whether you should. I think it’s best to focus on your strengths rather than spending a lifetime trying to correct the weaknesses.
8. Weekday outings are so cheap!
Since I always had to work on weekends, all fun activities were reserved for weekdays. And guess what? Everything is cheaper from Monday to Thursday. In fact, I used to love the fact that I can go and buy movie tickets instantly rather than pre-booking them.
9. Negotiation is a hard-earned skill
I once read somewhere that one should always negotiate. Because only when you negotiate do you come to know the real price of things. Following this rule, I tried to negotiate the currency exchange rate when I was traveling to Spain and was pleasantly surprised to know the result. Trust me, it’s an amazing skill to have - whether you owe your friends a treat or you are applying for a leave.
10. It was never my company
On any given day, there are at least 20 people giving their best to the company, and every decision I take affects them more than it affects me. In fact, we wouldn’t have been at this place had it not been for our staff, the cleaning lady included. I think till the time I remember this, it will all be fine.
11. Passion or Love is not the driving factor for life
I feel at times, that people define everything by just one parameter. If someone likes to bike, he is expected to travel the entire country on a bike. But no one ever stops to think what happens when you face roadblocks? What if you are on a road less traveled and you no longer wish to continue? It’s your determination that will get you through. So it’s important to be determined to pull through, whichever road you are on.
12. Hobbies are very important
This is actually something my boss said to me when I was in the job. His reasoning was that there would surely be days when the pitch won’t fly, when clients won’t budge and when payments wouldn’t come through. On those days if you have a hobby in which you are creating something (maybe painting or crafts or any DIY), that micro-success will make you ready for the next day. Till date, I take up some sort of crafty project when I get super low about work.
13. Whatever you do, make sure to have a support system
It’s very important that you are with like-minded people who believe in you. And even if they might not belong to your school of thought, they are mature enough to let you sing your own tune. Almost none of my close friends are entrepreneurial, in fact, one of my closest friends is outright scared of even thinking about being on his own. But all of that doesn’t matter when I am in need of a sounding board. If none of your friends support you in your endeavors, well it’s time to change - the friends of course!
14. Don’t be afraid of asking for help
To be honest, I too am struggling with this. My biggest weakness in this journey has been a lack of a mentor. And it’s mainly because I have never outrightly asked for help or guidance from anyone. But I also know that a good mentor can be a making or breaking factor for success. And so I am trying to get over my own inhibitions and hopefully, soon I would have crossed this barrier as well.