3 Start-Up Founders talk about the challenges you'll be facing when you take the plunge.
An idea brings with it a lot of energy and excitement, and that energy and excitement must be channelled into work and delivery, otherwise, they will remain only talk. It is important to discuss and strategise with stakeholders, interlocutors and advisors. Once a strategy is devised and the idea has reached a stage of execution, it is just as important to keep your mouth shut and focus purely on execution. One must resist the urge to discuss and scrutinise every detail about their plan among friends and peers, not because they could necessarily run away with an idea, but because it sometimes creates an illusion of work. No amount of discussion can equal hard work and sometimes discussing and scrutinising makes individuals believe its real work. It is important to understand that it is all in the mind and the logical brain must be put to use in actual work and not discussions and scrutiny once an idea has reached an execution stage. The disadvantages of discussing an idea too much outweighs the advantages of any gain you may get once your idea is concrete. It is important to timely take a step back and monitor your progress and take advice on course-correction, but only when some level of execution is in place. Discussing beyond a limit will bring down both the quality and value of your planning as well as your discussions. It will make people take you less seriously and seek to damage your prospects of getting investors.
I started my entrepreneurial journey at the end of my 12th standard and into the beginning of my first year of Law College, with two of my friends. It was a small e-commerce shop in a world when e-Bay India was known as BaZee, Amazon was experimenting with Junglee and a few former Amazon employees began selling books online and later came to be known as the largest home-grown competitor to Amazon itself - Flipkart. Our chief competitor at the time, Cart2IndiaOnline started as a small shop but has now carved a name for themselves, God bless them. My first online sales business was a partnership, I made the most elementary mistakes while building this business model, the largest one was being the only person who put in money into the business. I decided to maintain control of all administrative functions and operations while assigning control of all money to my partner, my best friend from school. Long story short, he ran away with all the money leaving myself and my third friend with unsold inventory and no money to effectively manage any sale. We winded up, in hindsight though if we would have managed to keep our head above the water somehow, maybe we would have been on that e-commerce wave, as it came to be known later.
But the first major business challenge proved to be too much for the teenaged brain and feeling emotionally hurt on the breach of trust, we decided to stop. My friend went back to his Law studies and is now a practising lawyer in the Supreme Court, I went on my own spirals and decided not to continue. We donated all of our clothes to an Orphanage and some poor people on the street. Emotions aside, I was the biggest loser in the earlier business model, since all that inventory was purchased with the money that I had gathered up from my pocket-money, savings and a small loan from my driver! The one principle to remember, for every entrepreneur willing to start something in the form of a partnership is that it is important to always divide responsibilities equally. Regardless of what his/her relationship with you in the past, if any partner does not add any quantifiable value to the business, then it will remain a non-starter. If they don’t have money, make them quantify their value and divide the stake as per that value and not as per your personal equation with them. It remains the most common mistake I have seen young entrepreneurs make. There are several ways in which friends, relatives and well-wishers can help out in your business in the form of consultants, seed-finders, advisors and even employees. It makes it very easy to walk out of a business when a person has nothing to lose, no matter how crucial that person may be to the core structure of the business. However, if a person has invested either their money, skill or any quantifiable input, they cannot leave as easily. It’s nothing personal, just business.
Business is as much commitment as much as it is an idea that you can build on. Commitment and passion will form the core structure of your business idea. So long as these principles are deeply drilled into your consciousness, you can keep moving ahead and falls won’t bother you as much. Moving forward entirely invested in the idea, that somehow it may work on its own purely on the notion that any other individual in the form of a customer will also find your idea as novel and unique as you do, may not prove to get many results. I have come across this in my 3-year entrepreneurial journey, most of the times the customer buys into the entrepreneur. If you are in a field that has many competitors and a customer that has a short attention span, then your service will be based on how the customer will perceive you and not your product or service. There will always be someone willing to do it cheaper. Customers over the years have evolved and become smarter just as much as entrepreneurs have, they want to know who they’re dealing with, and if that person or group of individuals are passionate about what they do, they will almost always buy their product, purely on the good-feeling factor. In a world of rising suspicion over dubious businesses and businessmen, a customer almost always wants to know the kind of person who is running the show. This is where commitment and passion will make your sale. These words are easily expressed in an article but not so easily embraced within. It is important to develop passion and commitment before you give your idea some serious attention. Otherwise, someone else will. Hold no more value to your idea that what is required. If you have a great business idea, unless it is executed, you are no different or superior or inferior to anyone else. Knowledge and ideas have no ownership in my opinion. There is no “my knowledge” or “your knowledge”, it existed before you were born, it will continue to exist after you’re gone. What is done with great ideas and knowledge and the probability for a business to succeed in the India of the 21st Century will eventually boil down to the individual or group individuals running the show and how committed and passionate they are about it. To give an example, I decided to try a box of Sleepy Owl Coffee, an NCR based Coffee Brewing Company based on the sheer number of ads they kept pushing on Social Media, but that's not what made me their regular customer. I can get coffee almost anywhere else. It was purely the way they treat their customer - as equals and not as a means to just get the money, give away a box of coffee and forget about them. At no point in the entire buying experience of Sleepy Owl, did I feel like I was being conned or taken for a ride - I bought into their professionalism and the way they spoke to the customer over the phone. Their product, obviously performed as well and in turn, they ended up converting a customer who spends a major portion of their day at Cafe Coffee Day opposite the Taj Palace Hotel having access to several types of coffee at probably the same cost.
One might wonder,”Why is money a sub-heading here, isn’t it the end result; the cherry on my Sunday lunch sundae?
”The answer is a wafer crisp “No”. Ever since the barter system evolved into #Monie$, we as a society (Of let’s say of averagely educated individuals) adapted to the process of bartering at will with whoever we wanted for whatever and whomever. No more milk and sugar on a seesaw. The sense of ownership and retainable “wealth” gives us the delusional sense of being a greater part of the status quo, and the more we had the better.
“Making money is probably one of the easiest things you’ll ever do, maintaining wealth is a whole different ball game.” And as Warren Buffett has said:
”The most important investment you can make is in yourself.”
Money can only help you define your life choices, so long as you are not willing to part with it for trivial reasons like “things-I-wanna-buy wish-list ”. It’s the boon & bane of human existence, in that order on a timeline for most.
The simplest way to manage money is allocating and budgeting. If you hold a category accountable for every kind of expense down to every rupee, one can’t waste money. You are in charge of your idea, give yourself a salary, but nothing too generous. Look at your idea like your dream car funding as it’s fuel, and you looking all dapper or beautiful driving it! Who needs the fuel more?!?! You Don’t!
Ideas come and go, some workout, some don’t; and the only way you can survive and stay humble at the same time(phew!) for the ones that did. Always remember, you are in-charge & funding is for your idea, not you. Nourish the idea, give it wings, let it fly, maybe you are doing the world a favour just because you can! (I mean WoW! Is it just me who seems to notice how badass this sounds?)
“Cash in before you cash out”(Metaphorically, of course)
Success does not always strike at the first attempt. It is very important that once your idea starts taking shape, you give it all you need. The best of ideas can sometimes turn out to to be completely redundant by the time they are launched as a product or when they are halfway through development. This can happen for many reasons. You are not the only one thinking about a certain idea or market forces changing the demand and supply landscape. Such changes can put the time and money investment at a risk of being called a total loss. Another scenario is when a new market research tells you that your idea is not up to the mark halfway down the path.
However, most ideas can still thrive with changes and alterations to certain parts of it or maybe even to the core structure; and that's far easier said than done. You have already once championed your cause by going against the societal rhetoric of joining the family business, disregarding the market norms, leaving a secure job or even opting out of ever joining one, let alone completing college. Now, you need to justify it all over again.
The pressure is double the original and you are being roasted for wasting time, investor money (if you are lucky), savings and now are on way to become a certified broke apart from being a loser. This is when your most raring attribute has to test its mettle - Persistence.
Grinding it daily, sweating it in & out and believing in your overall idea of success becomes more important than the original idea. The rejection has to be accepted and countered with renewed innovation. The old adage of ‘One more Punch’ suddenly becomes a daily Motto. You have to ensure that you stick around and get the job done. The excitement of stumbling upon a world-changing idea, embarkment of a startup journey and the joy of that pre-seed investment slowly fades away - that’s when persistence kicks in; this is what keeps you going. If you can keep this part intact, you will most likely come out a battle-worn warrior, who is not only respected but treated with the awe of a startup entrepreneur. Always believe in you, your idea and your ability to overcome the challenges this mundane world has to offer.
Persistence is the most underrated, hushed up secret of any successful venture. At the same time, it is the centrepiece of the entire gameplay. This is one resource you have to cultivate yourself because everyone backs a good idea but it will only be you to face the challenges and fails. So hail the idea and blow your trumpet aloud (and maybe twirl your moustache if you have em’) because when the going of your startup gets tough, Persistence, my friend, is the key to sweet savoured success.