A startup story (part 2)
It was a sunny day one of those days when you feel happy and why not. It was the day when big dream would grow bigger, my baby and darling of Indian startups Foodflies was getting new and biggest round of funding that will make us a force to reckon with. With a planned presence in 50 cities, we will be able to lock horns with pizza biggies.
Get ready? Done. Call a cab, I don’t mind driving but at times there are compulsions. Method in madness or protocol in party was something has helped image in past and today also it will. So Here I am co-founder of Foodflies , an aggregator of restaurants and app based food ordering startup. What do we do? Well you can order food from all the restaurants near in a matter of few clicks. Best design and latest technology to provide you best ordering experience. Not just any startup, we do 7000 orders a day and that too in 6 months of launch, and I am about to do a gimmick.
Cab was reaching near the gates of my institute, few years back I was standing in front of same gates. Coming from Mumbai Central railway station in an old rickety cab on a leaky June morning, today I enter in a luxury cab that too at 2x surge mind you. But what has really changed is that naïve newbie is now as many say North Star and is here as guest speaker on “emerging tech valleys in India”.
India is best place and I will tell them why the place to be. Imagine the opportunities in a place where we have 130 cr people out of which lot of them are yet to be on smart phones, and those who own are under served. I always believed if your product can’t solve their problem then it should act as solution to a problem that never existed.” Be the new normal” this is my punch line for today. If you disrupt their lives so deep that you become part of it then my friend, you have done. How have I done it? Well you order food a lot and I make it easiest, best and fastest.
When I founded Foodflies, I thought why cant I sell my product to entire vicinity, or city or state or may be country. We today have young visionaries and backers of the vision, this is the time and place.”
As I sat on dais with other speakers my mind kept wondering why has the news not flashed as yet, we had decided the time yesterday. For the 5th time in last two minutes I have looked at my phone. My speech will start soon, what are these idiots doing. It would have been an amazing platform to break the news that FoodFlies has raised $15million from snowcap ventures and moved a step closer to dream of “food at fingertips”.
My speech got over and I checked again, “for god’s sake atleast break the news” I thought to myself. Screw the timing. I so needed this money to take us in 50 cities and leave Littletray behind. That ass was just a bloody copier and was ahead of us by the very virtue of having picked up extra money. Finally my patience gave up and I picked up my phone “Hello Manish are you at Snowcap office?”
“What’s delaying them?”
Had I not been near my ex-faculties, this guy’s ears would bleed due to my curses.
My phone screen lit up, it was notification from news app and then I started walking out and fast till I reached an auto, “valley view towers. Fast”
“Sorry sir, my shift is over”
“I will pay you 3 fold”
“do you want in written “
“I read whole article, whose headline read “Little tray bites dust”.
You know what makes Tendulkar different from others? timing. This news could have way too many repercussions and came at a time good enough to derail me.
— — — — — — — — — — — Chapter 2 — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — -
As the auto stopped at the gate, I got down with a sense of nervousness in me and feet felt heavy. I walked up to the security,” new admission, stream mechanical”. It was my first time in a big city and adding to the pressure was the fact that first time someone from the family had cracked India’s best engineering school. As I moved in the college campus, I was moving out in actual sense. This campus was a young city in itself. From libraries to canteens to hostels to parks, clean broad roads, lush greenery and much more.
Next few months were about getting acquainted to the new world .Classes, projects, making friends and much more. Good neighbors are god’s gift and so are good roomies while serving hostel sentence . Meet the founder trio of Foodflies — TJ (me), Abby and Gaurav.
Like all things serious, our venture also started as casual topic when a discussion on steve jobs started after Gaurav got a new Iphone and Abby rattled some numbers about how Apple was bigger than many countries in terms of revenues. It was the trigger as far as I remember. How and what can we do became a recurring topic and conference room was our very own 150 square feet den. Those walls witnessed us as newbies scared of ragging and even slightest of teacher’s wrath to wannabe cool dudes and now novices going bold.
Whatever little duration I spent at home during my years in engineering were holidays which were spent in sleeping, my mom often wondered if we accumulated the sleep in college and came home only to cover whatever sleep was left to catch up. It was the truth is we barely got 3–4 hours thanks to faculty who thought theirs was the only subject we had.
When you are needed to be awake 20 hours a day, you eventually find your addiction be it coffee, tea, smoke or beer. We had taken to cigarettes, and campus being in middle of city arranging them was never a problem. City that never sleeps does need its fair share of nicotine.
Sometimes you are destined to meet , to connect and to create. What if either of them hated smoking, if they would have been teacher’s pet. What if my taunts on Gaurav being Richie rich would have created a rift early on, many more if and buts could have been possible but Foodflies was to be a reality and famous Mumbai rains laid fertile ground for it. It was the fateful night on a rainy cold night of July. 12 of us including the trio were studying late night to prepare for viva. I had a sudden urge to smoke and this happened-
“Guys, I am tired and going to grab some tea and smoke at the stall by lakeside”
“it’s raining and you want to walk 2 km?”
“Dude you will catch cold, don’t spoil your viva”
“stop being delicate crockery guys, anyways I am going”
Then each of them asked me to get something and when I demanded 5rs extra per head, they readily agreed. This event gave me two things, a cigarette packet for free and a business idea. It just sounded perfect, no investment, no cooking and just delivering. Imagine making 5 rs delivery charges from 1 lakh people every day and it translates into a formidable number. Though not one lakh but was handling 50 orders for a month when my roomies agreed to pitch in. Friends that they are, it was money but a dead tired friend that pulled them. By the end of engineering, I was doing 300 orders a day from campus, each above rs,50, 3 juniors were employed and nearby grocery store and lunch home owners were literally brothers from another mother letting me settle bills once in week.
— — — — — — — — — — — -Chapter 3 — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — -
Beep came message from the 3rd of the group of investor, it said little more time. As I was sinking in the couch of café my heart was sinking. It was third coffee since two hours on the ground floor coffee shop of the shiny glass façade building, while on third floor office my own startup , the consortium of investors who were dancing in my engagement 6 months ago, asked me to go out of my own office, while they figuring out what my future would be or future of foodflies.
This is not what I bargained for when I left my job offer to seek independence, reporting no one and being in charge of my own company was what I imagined. My head was shifting between heavy to sleepy to spinning all in moments, Coffee had left weird milky taste in mouth. I had tried reading papers but all it said was who picked up how much funding, “only my set of investors are pulling shoe strings it seems”I thought to myself and kept the paper aside. The thought again came over to me again, if a group of people had to make decision for me then I was better in job. After all I left 150000$ job for this. Something in me was giving up as I thought that had my startup died in anonymity, atleast I could have been saved of any baggage.
Phone beeped “We have decided to not fund another round” said the message, I tried calling but call was rejected. I typed frantically “something can be arrange a new investor may be, at least a bridge round” and sent. Mother fuckers I muttered , had they told this to me a month ago , something could have been done. They killed my startup , they killed my dream. I felt naked , naked to the bones.
“No point, join us for lunch in an hour and we will see if our portfolio has any job for you”, seething with anger I would have replied with a curse but refrained. The emptiness in me was taking over like high tide conquers a beach, with heavy hands I messaged my fiancé “we are not getting new money”. It took her 4 minutes to reply which felt like hours to me. During these minutes , I picked up newspaper twice and kept, saw my phone may be 10 times. I feared losing her but new sane and pragmatic of me was on a different trip.
I was no more a hotshot CEO but virtually a jobless guy. It is not your detractors but your supporters who are difficult to face when you fail. My parents could still be managed but hers, it gave me shivers. On the reaching the office, I saw the horror in front me unfolding itself. My co-founder and management representative in the board meeting Abby had a scuffle with one of the investors. Everyone loves the rising sun and we were setting, they were losing money so for them it was all the more upsetting. For them putting more money would have been burning it , at least they thought about our future and jobs but damage was done, we had lost job offers as well.
There was only one person I could think of Anil. Our alumnus, seed funder and our guide in our initial days of valley system. I was surprised why he was not in meeting today and messaged him to ask if we can talk and he called after 5 minutes.
“Anil you know what they did? They are saying we have to close down.”
“ What the fuck were you guys thinking? How the hell can you get into scuffle with investors?”
“We I mean, he , I had just entered the” I was cut off in middle mindless stuttering.
“I knew their decision, board meeting was a sham and there was little I could do about it. In fact as per liquidation clause, I stand to lose my investment as well”
“can you , you know ,well like buy us out? I am sure there will hell lot of discount”
“Bud don’t even think about it, I cannot afford your operating costs and more it is not sensible. But there is something else I thought you should know”
At that moment even if he had said that I was adopted, it would not have surprised me, but we said killed me.
“TJ they are funding Little Tray”