5 Lessons From My Failed Startup

A year out of my undergraduate school, I decided to quit my consulting job and start a technology company — ‘Novus Minds’ . I was 24. The idea was to build an e-payments platform that would enable mid-tier businesses such as educational institutes, whole sellers, etc. to accept cashless payments. In 2012, e-payments was still a big deal for average mid-tier businessman in India (it still is).

But only 8 months after the inception of the idea, I decided to call it quits. Starting a company was hard, but putting it down was even harder, after all it was not just my dream that took a hit, but also my pride. Nonetheless, I am clear about one thing, I never regretted taking the shot.

There are many reasons why my startup failed, but that’s for some other day. In this article, I want to share learnings that I got from the whole experience:

1. Courage to Stand Up

In a middle class Indian family, most of your pre- (& sometime post-) marriage life decisions are taken by your family. Fortunately, I had autonomy on the things I wanted to do but that did not mean I could by pass my parents.

My father grew up in a village, earned through side jobs to get through college, and finally made it in the Government service. In 2012, he was serving his 30th year in the same job when I told him that I wanted to quit my consulting job that I started 8 months ago. He had difficult time comprehending why I wanted to leave my well-paying job to start a business at 24. We did not have an atypical tv drama but we did lose sleep for a few days; he was worried about me and I about him.

Possibly the first time in my life, I was standing against my father’s will. I wanted lots of courage, and…. I did find it in me.

Our parents can be the easiest and the toughest audience. Standing up to them could require immense courage.

2. Learning to Embrace Failure

Securing top rank in high school and IIT entrance exam and then getting a consulting job, I hadn’t encountered a significant failure in my life; I wasn’t ready to accept one with my start up. But as days went by and the glamorous view of the entrepreneurship faded, it was clear that it isn’t going to be easy.

I used to wake up in the middle of the night thinking “What will happen if I fail?” Confident as I may have sounded in front of my parents, friends and potential investors, inside I was fearful more often than not. And I did fail to tackle the failure . After shutting down, I felt devastated and suffered from low self-esteem for a long time, after all I had flamboyantly expressed my dreams to my friends and family.

But looking in the hindsight, the experience was a vital one! Problem with people who have never failed is that they fail to embrace failure. I was one of them. It was only after I fell down that I got the wisdom to stand up, brush myself up and get on with the life again.

Failure is only a failure if we don’t learn anything from it.

3. True Test of Relationships

The difficult moments of our lives are the true test of our relationships. When my father had doubts about my startup plans, my mother was standing right besides me. I am certain that she was as doubtful as my father was yet she convincingly said to my father “Don’t stop him. I know my Son can do it”. I’ll never forget that moment. Thanks Maa!

At another instance, I happened to look into a friends handbag and saw a familiar business card — my business card which read Gaurav Nemade, CEO, Novus Minds. I asked her why does she have my business card in her wallet. She said “Well, my friend is a CEO of a startup and I am proud of it”. That girl is now my wife.

Belief is one of the strongest actions. When a person believes in you, it changes your outlook towards them and towards yourself .

4. No Mentors = Failure

If there was single biggest factor that led to failure of my startup, it was that I did not strive hard to get proper mentors for my startup.

My opinion about startup mentorship was a constant back & forth between: (1) the widespread belief that mentors can guide the company in right direction, and (2) my skepticism that mentors may add unnecessary supervision at the beginning. I was torn and I wanted to see the value mentors could have on my startup without committing to one. It was like “I didn’t want to enter the swimming pool, without first knowing how to swim”. And hence I didn’t focus hard enough to get mentors. Going all the way alone was my big plan, but in the end, I failed waiting on the sidelines with my swimming goggles on.

Mentors are like the barrels in wine making. They keep you together during turmoil, help you mature, and influence you with a subtle flavor that enhances your value significantly.

5. Thinking 10X

While my e-payments product didn’t survive to see the light of the day, there was an important lesson that I learned after joining Google (my post-startup job). If you want to be successful in technology industry, you have to imbibe the the fact that technology is advancing exponentially. Focussing on next 1–2 years can get you started, but having an understanding of what the next 5–10 years hold is essential for long-term success.

My thinking in 2012 was like the “living pay check to pay check mentality” — solve the pressing problem of today with tech resources of today. Even if I had succeeded in putting the product out and getting clients, my myopic vision might have led to the collapse of the company sooner than I would have liked.

In tech industry, keeping up with the innovation is they key.

Those were the top 5 lessons from my failed start up experience.

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