The trials and tribulations of running a startup pull you in many directions at the same times!Satyajit OnionKnight Roy
Entrepreneurship requires you to be many opposing things, often at the same time, on a consistent basis. We at EGK Foods, stand on the cusp of raising our first real round of funds so I would love to share what I have learnt so far.
Being a once amateur online poker player, I can broadly describe the journey in the terms of an online tournament. When you start off, the stakes are much lower, so it’s important to play fast and loose gathering as much information as possible. Experiment as much as you can because it will cost much less. If you lose make, sure you lose small. As a long term strategy, it’s important to lose small and win big. It becomes difficult to play loose when the stakes are much higher, deep in the tournament, and it’s the same once your company has scaled up.
From employee to employer, the things that I have learnt have been different at every stage. These are my thoughts on a few topics that I feel are important.
Always be learning - Being a college dropout, I always assumed that I knew less than the person I was dealing with. This very basic premise set me off on the path of extensive fact and data backed research. I try to apply whatever I learn to test whether it holds true for me and if it does I am very flexible to changing my opinion if I am proved wrong. Learning, often requires experimentation and failure. Failure is something that still holds stigma in our society. As an entrepreneur failure is your most important tool for success. A critical part of learning and success is failure.
Execution beats idea each and every time – A many time failed serial entrepreneur myself, I know how hard it is to start up, especially for the first time. A lot of people have great ideas, but are too comfortable or afraid of failure or just not able to take that final step. Those people who say that I had this idea when someone else has started executing the same idea that they haven’t executed. If you don’t execute then that idea isn’t yours anymore. Even a mediocre idea that is being executed to a million times better than one that sits in your head forever. There is no idea without execution!
Test your assumptions – Entrepreneurs often start off with the assumption that the assumption that they have made is correct. I started off with the same attitude. Over time I have made a subtle change to the way I look at things. I now look at things with the perspective that I am probably wrong in my assumption. I test my assumption in the real world and then decide if it was correct or incorrect. I find that it is much easier to accept that your assumption was incorrect if your initial premise wasn’t that you were correct. While running a startup this is often one of the factors that will decide if you fail or succeed. Being able to iterate for optimal product market fit with the least amount of time and resources spend is what will set you apart.
Momentum / Dedication / Leverage
Dedication – Lots of entrepreneurs are extremely dedicated and hardworking but the honest truth is that just being those things is often not enough. When you are working for company the rules are completely different as compared to when you are running one. It’s easy for your peers who are working to say that take Friday night off or Saturday night off or go on a weekend getaway. When you’re an employee your own free time is your own. If you’re an entrepreneur, all your time belongs to your company. Any time away, is time you have consciously chosen to spend away, and should be used to freshen the mind and body in the least amount of time possible. Your competitor, I can guarantee you is not taking any time off. Personally I barely take any time off as I always feel I’m catching up with the companies that have existed way before EGK did.
Momentum – Like in sports, in business, momentum is a very important concept. If you are lucky enough to get some momentum in terms of sales and growth its important to keep growing. Momentum once lost is extremely difficult to get back.
Leverage – As an entrepreneur, you have to learn to let go off all that is holding you back especially in terms of sales. There is no one who can sell your idea with greater passion and belief that you! If you cannot get comfortable with this concept, the way forward is going to be very hard. As an entrepreneur, you are required to sell your vision to different people at different times. Clients, Vendors, Bankers, Employees basically anyone who is involved with your business. I leverage every resource available to me just for the possibility of taking the company forward. That’s what I feel is required when starting up.
Domestic markets – India is a very traditional market. Internet penetration is still very low. Also there are very successful business that have worked in the offline world very well. Often this is completely disregarded and leads to disastrous consequences. The easiest example is the so called ‘Food Tech’ startups, who completely ignored the existing database of buyers in the home (anyone who cooks in the house), and instead but fresh MBA graduates in charge of their purchasing. If the existing database was monetized at 1/10th the cost, the result, in my opinion, would be that those startups would still be alive. It’s important to take into consideration the domestic consumer and his habits, as that is probably who you are selling to.
Traditional mindsets – Traditional and conservative mindsets are something you, as an entrepreneur, are bound to come across. These are the people who tell you that things have always been done a certain way, and that there’s no need to fix a working system. The truth is if there is a system that is more efficient then there is every need to change that existing system. People get comfortable with how things work and once they are working they are too comfortable to upset processes and systems that are set. Expert opinion is often taken for fact. It is not fact and history has proved that more often experts are wrong because they are unable to consider all factors. Don’t let these so called experts discourage you from changing things.
Friends / Haters – When looking for feedback, your friends and family are obligated to give you supportive feedback. It is difficult to be blunt and completely honest with your close friends and family. This is common human nature. On the other hand, we live in a world, with vocal haters, and this is one of the best resources you have as an entrepreneur. Listen to them, prove them wrong. Every sale we make at EGK is proving each and one of our haters wrong. Look for criticism more than compliments. That is what will help you grow your business.
EGO – TEMPER – Ego and temper is something that I personally struggle with. It is not easy for me to admit I am wrong. Nor is it easy for me to admit failure. I am infamous for having a temper. I have found that when any of these two have affected my decision making, whatever I was trying to build, broke. There is no place for any of this if your startup is going to succeed.
All of this, is of course, my humble opinion gathered from my 12 years of professional experience. Being on the employer side of the business has a lot of unprecedented stresses and pressures involved. Startups nowadays are considered to be very sexy to work at and seem to be an in trend thing but the truth is that often the hard work involved and the sacrifices that are required of you are inhuman. There is a very real dark side to entrepreneurship that is not often talked about. It is important that during the inevitable tough times you learn to stay positive. When sales we down earlier in our journey we learnt what the ‘audacity of hope’ really meant.
I try to learn as much as I can from the people that I consider much smarter than me so I rea d a lot of books and watch a lot of videos. I highly recommend any videos of Elon Musk, Jack Ma and Vinod Khosla.
If you’ve read this far thank you and I welcome any feedback or comments that you may have.
Or even if you think I’m wrong please feel free to tell me.
PS : If you are interested in the journey of EGK from the beginning our company blog will be live soon. It is a detailed account of all the moves we have made with what succeeded and what did not. It makes for a interesting and entertaining read considering how many of my mistakes are catalogues it in!
Signing Off : #OnionKnight