We were about to shut down our startup !
We raised our first round of, I mean, the only round of investment in April 2014. And the first thing we did was to shift to Hauz Khas. Tired of working out of a room, we finally wanted to have an uber-cool office for StayUncle and had the money to do so as well. We also had the money now to do other super cool stuffs. Hire a big team. Hire expensive marketing Agencies. Anything that looked even remotely cheap to us wasn’t worth considering anymore. We were smart enough to calculate our monthly cash burn. And silly enough to not to calculate our runway period. It was all written at the back of my notebook. 6 months was the answer.
And we burned the cash in exactly next 6 months. See, we’re good at maths. But you know what happens when you run out of money. We shifted our uber-cool office from the posh streets of Hauz Khas to not so posh streets of Vaishali. I hope you understand what I mean.
But what brought StayUncle to where we are right now is what followed next. Not what we did when we had money in our bank. Since we had little money left to spend, we could not spend enough in marketing. We already had our tagline by then — Couples need a room, not a judgement!
And thousands of cards with our tagline printed on them.
The money that was left with us allowed us to perform majorly one marketing activity. Distribute those cards in the streets where couples hang out. And then the era of StayUncle campaigns began when team started going out every evening and distribute cards in the streets of Delhi. Gradually we realized that this is not the most productive utilization of our time as founders. We should invest our time in doing cool stuffs and not standing in the corner of a street, acting all smart and cool and handing out our cards to passer by. Also acting as if you don’t feel bad when someone ignores you or worse takes your card and throws it back on your face. I know all of us used to feel bad at those times. But all of us tried pretending unaffected.
When you do a particular activity consistently for a certain amount of time, you start feeling it as a part of our Job. An engineer has the job to distribute cards in the streets of Delhi now. Not bad !
The alternative in front of us that time was to hire local guys to distribute our cards on our behalf. But we were not comfortable hiring local guys as it would’ve been impossible for us to keep a track of their activity and therefore we decided to continue doing it ourselves.
We were able to make few bookings per week with our only marketing activity. Not to deny, the thoughts of shutting it down and landing onto something else was also surfacing. It’s been almost 5 months we were distributing cards on the streets and only 10 bookings a week. Not enough for a 5 people team to survive.
I met one of my friend, Mr. Evan, around the same time at his place in Noida. He is an entrepreneur cum investor at the age of 22 and now you probably know why was I meeting him.
My hope got crashed within minutes of meeting him. And when he listened that we personally distribute cards in the street, the respect in his eyes also vanished. I didn’t know you guys are so stupid. You waste your time on the streets when you should be doing important with your time. He was right. But we still decided to not listen to him and continue our thing. Reason being — By now we had tried almost each and every cost effective marketing activities we could think of and none of them were giving us instant return. What we need during those days was sales. What we were receiving from online activities were likes on our pages with a hope that they will use our services someday. By distributing card, we had already started seeing a set of repeat customers. A good thing.
And finally I decided to go to Mumbai and get Mumbai Hotels onboard. We were only operating in Delhi so far. Getting Hotels in one more city was another hope to push the business ahead. At my back, the team decided to quit as they could not see much growth happening. It was just Blaze & me after that. And finally on 1st April, we also had this discussion. Let’s quit now. It’s been two & half years since we have been pushing StayUncle forward only to reach at a point when we have to live in not so posh Streets and with no team around. No business too. For the next 4 days, we used to just meet for one hour and discuss the next steps. I had the dilemma of whether to quit or pursue it alone for few more months. I had already started approaching our mentors to help me make a decision.
On 4th April, a stranger had pinged us on our facebook page and wanted to interview us. We said yes to him and it was followed by a telephonic interview. The guy on the other side was a journalist from Quartz. Questions were asked. I had the answers ready.
How’s the business coming? Pretty Good ! Fantastic. Yeah !
How many people do you have in your team? Five of us. All rockstars.
What’s your growth plan? To expand to 20 cities in next 3 months. Yayyy!
God. I was such a good liar.
How could have I told him that you’re wasting your time and I am about to quit? That you might not like publishing the story of a dying startup.
After the interview I did not even bother to check what Quartz is. In couple of days, the article got published and 80 missed calls on my phone by 10 AM. These were the calls from the media companies who wanted to interview us. I had realized what Quartz was by this time. The day ended with more than 600 phone calls. God. What was happening? Blaze Uncle came to rescue at that time. See that’s the sign of a good cofounder. They pick you up when you’re in deep shit.
On each and every interview afterwards, we started selling them dreams. Dreams which hardly had any chance to come true. But we told what everyone wanted to listen. And told it flawlessly. In next one week, we were popular studs in Startup Industry. Most of the people at our adda, Chaayos got to know about us by that time. Infact our next hiree, Shubhi Uncle found me working in Chaayos few days after that and we decided to work together. He brings all the hotels we have on our portal. You know whom to contact for your needs now. Sorry Shubhi :P
What all the media coverage brought to us was the marketing we needed all these months. And to finally bring us back to business.
We worked our asses off for next two months to make enough growth to convince Blaze Uncle to come back. And he finally did. Aata kaise nahi saala?
And Now. We are a team of 8 people. Back to Hauz Khas with an uber-cool office again but cheaper this time. And the most important thing: In Business now !
Which takes me back to the conversation I had with Evan. That founders are supposed to utilize their time in most productive ways. But I think sometimes, when you can’t think of anything smarter or when all the smarter channels were tried and not working, investing in simple ideas also works. Even if they bring slow growth. We did what best we could. Knowing that this might not be even good for someone else. Rather than cribbing about our ads not working well, we were out of the building.
Now when I reflect back, I think If we wouldn’t have been distributing cards on the streets for past few months, we wouldn’t have come across this angel and handed our cards to him. The journalist we’re talking about got to know about us when he received a card from one of us in Hauz Khas Village.
Thank you Mr. Journalist. This blogpost was specifically for you. You gave us what we have been seeking for last 2 years. You brought us back to life. Taking you out for a beer wouldn’t have been enough for what you did.
Ta-da. Till the next time I sit to write.
Love you all :)