6 lessons I learned from my previous two ventures

As a society, we have started understanding and embracing failures much better than before. A quick sweep of the Indian Startup scenario will reveal a lot of fail camps happening with investors investing in entrepreneurs who had previously failed. And you must have read tonnes of articles on a lot of people who were touted failures once but went on to make hugely successful ventures.

For instance, Jack Ma failed 30 job interviews before creating the world’s biggest online wholesale company.

Heard about Brian Acton? He failed to clear Facebook’s job interview, but later went on to build world’s most popular chat application — Whatsapp and sold it to Facebook for approximately US$19.3 billion.

It doesn’t matter how many times you fail — what you learn from it and how are you going to utilize it in your future projects decide your success.

And hey, one life is not enough to do all the mistakes on your own to learn from, it is always good to learn from others.

Let me quote 6 lessons that I learned from my previous ventures.

1. Be Passionate — Understand Where Your Soul Is

The world is big, & it will never stop growing. A lot of startups will take birth, a lot of startups will die. Some billion dollar companies will be knocked out and some new age companies will become overnight unicorns. Some will work in natural resources sector, and some on pet dogs’ glasses. You should not decide what you want to work on based on some news reports or external data. Do something only if you are really interested in and if you are soulfully convinced.

In one of my previous ventures, Dial4Spa.com — Massage Spa aggregation platform, I entered in it purely because of the opportunity that I felt was there.

Scenario was this: Prior to Dial4Spa, I was running an online marketing firm and it was on the verge of closing down. I had to come up with another idea immediately that would keep me going and earn me some money. Finding out that massage spa was getting 100000+ monthly inquiries and it being an unorganized sector mostly, Spa looked like a fantastic industry where I can tap and mint gold.

What I missed: Dreaming on the numbers, I forgot to ask myself if I can continue working in an industry where I had no experience, living rest of my life handling Spa business owners, managing Spa customer inquiries, dealing with local legal forces, etc., and it turned out that I’m not made for that.

There was definitely some cool traction happening, but passion was missing and it was evident once I realized that scaling was difficult and there were other legal problems involved which was out of my control.

I had few recurring clients and for any startup, this is a good thing if you see purely from the traction perspective and the progression of time since inception. But this industry had a unique problem, that I will explain in my next learning, which is something I’m not comfortable dealing with. Without my heart in place, I found out that it was tiring every day to run the show and manage daily operations.

Eventually, I had to stop it sometime and so did it few months back. Not a happy journey.

Some may argue that not all successful people are passionate towards their business. Everyone is entitled to have their own opinion. From my experience, if you are on the majority side where you don’t have a proper finance back up, it’s always advisable to get into a field which you would be passionate about even at the difficult times.

2. Market Research

One of the biggest moving factor to start Dial4Spa was, data. Once when I was discussing with a Justdial(local business listing company) representative, I milked some information like highest inquired niches locally, competition level within the industries, industry based revenue, etc.,

Top three industries based on monthly inquiries were Taxi Cabs(3,00,000 inquiries monthly), Hospitals(2,00,000+ inquiries monthly) and Massage Spas(1,00,000+ inquiries monthly).

While on-demand cabs niche was already flooded with big players like Ola and Uber, I didn’t feel comfortable in Hospital industry as I believe it would be a time consuming complicated process to break ice here and my pocket wasn’t deep enough to survive that period. So, the remaining best niche was Massage Spas.

Apart from the number of inquiries, some other attractive factors to choose the spa industry were — high ticket value, their lack of physical visibility, lack of information on types of massages and costs, lack of organized players, easy-to-access spa owners, growing number of Spas, etc.,

What I missed: While there were many such good factors to add, I didn’t research enough on the legal issues that we’d face, number of grey spas and types of customer inquiries we’d get.

My calculation was simple, make 10% of the Spas pay us and we’ll become rich. But I missed researching on a unique problem this industry has i.e., only very less spas are operating ethically with a license and my assumed target clients’ size was immediately slashed by at least 80%. And most of the spas operating are providing a shady services and majority of the customer inquiries are for those shady services only. It was not at all motivating to work in such an industry.

Proper initial research could have given me a better vision.

3. Marketing Strategy

My very first business venture was a coupon booklet one — Discount Dada(read godfather), which was a discount coupon booklet that customers would use to hunt great discount deals. It was in 2009 and there was no visible coupon portals, startups communities or any kinda discount commerce.

I started working on the concept, building the web portal with a freelancer’s help and approaching the clients. I was 23 then and energy was at an all time high. As I was also ignorant about the impossibles and cants, it was easy to approach shops confidently and converting them as my partners.

In a couple of months, I signed up with 25+ partners within my city and this list included some of the biggest textile showrooms, food outlets and hospitals. Things were awesome as my partner base was growing rapidly. Seeing this, my uncle also got involved and started helping me in printing and ordering of coupon booklets. So everything was ready in few months time since starting it up — proof of concept, partners base, coupons, revenue model, etc.,

What I missed: But what I undervalued was Marketing. Now everything is ready and next step is to start selling my coupons to public. I hadn’t planned on how to market my business and to acquire paying customers.

Not feeling any guilt, I moved on preparing marketing strategies. I spoke with two chain outlets — Spencers Daily & Wavetel. They both agreed to sell my coupons from their 50+ stores that’s spread all over Chennai. Initially they both agreed to take some percentage from the sales. But during the time of launching, both behaved differently. Spencers Daily was asking for some monthly amount per store + margin and a Wavetel guy wanted me to contact all their branch managers separately, give them some gifts and convince them to sell. Lobbying 25 managers separately didn’t made any sense at all.

Had I made clear marketing strategies and alternatives prior to launch, it would have helped me sustain longer. Now all those printed coupon booklets serves as a good short memory sleeping in cardboard boxes.

4. Team Building

Having a right supportive team would definitely take us long. For Discount Dada, I partnered one of my good friends whom I know since college. We share common interests, mindsets and movie tastes.

What I missed: But what differed between us during the business journey was the environment we were in.

Immediately passing out college, I joined in a software company where I was serious about the work and promoted as a Location SPOC(single point of contact for a team) within a couple of months of joining. I was surrounded by managers, clients and project development teams.

My friend, on the other side, was still in a college pursuing post graduation. He was surrounded by students, movie buffs and romances.

Two different worlds, it was neither his mistake nor mine. Just the worlds and thinking were different and it didn’t help us in our business journey as he was largely missing on important times since he was required to be physically present at college.

Building a team that shares the mindset, goals and environment is very important. Your team starts from your co founder. Be wise and choosy.

By the way, we are still great friends working on our own goals.

5. Money is Important

I definitely agree with the concept of OPM(other people’s money) as that’s how most startups are growing today — be it a Uber, Zepo, Flipkart, Paytm or anyone. However, it’s always good to have some money to keep you sustaining till you get investors.

What I missed: I took a small loan through my credit card and thought it will keep me afloat for few months. But I burnt money much quicker than expected. Along with the expenses, monthly interest and principal took significant portion of the loaned amount.

When you say you are going to start a business, many will question your financial backup. With all the startup mindsets, we’d tend to immediately reject it as a traditionally objecting mindset. But it’s my understanding that we take that question seriously and answer for various scenarios that we’ll face in our startup journey.

Money is important at every phase of your business. You will start feeling blue when you realize that you are losing money and are unable to buy things that you could buy damn easily otherwise when you are working for someone and taking monthly salary.

Imagine all the scenarios you have to face if you lose money and chances are very high that you’ll come across all those imagined scenarios if you don’t have a good finance backing and investors.

Collect money like a temple run guy. Go for it, pick it wherever available. Don’t waste on unnecessary expenses. Spend only if you think it’s very important. Money that you may get from customers is unlimited once you hit success, but what you have till that phase is limited. Be calculative, spend penny by penny and increase your business’ pre-seed lifespan.

This is almost a single force that makes or breaks your business. Work on it.

6. You Impact Small or Big — Life Moves On

Two things.

Life never stops.

You age.

What I Missed: I guess I spent quite a long time in sticking with the stuff I started. One important thing is to keep moving. And it’s very good if you move in a right direction, even at a snail’s pace.

Competitions are always going to be there. Money will always be there to be made. People grow old. Some companies lose and some win.

Over time, you’d understand that success or failures are just a process and all the news reports that you read are built to build curiosity in your mind to keep reading their articles. It’s their business, boss.

You are important for yourself and your family. Just keep moving, we don’t need to be stuck anywhere. If something is not working and you are feeling helpless, get out of it. There is no sense in staying stuck.

It sucks to get stuck.

Get out of your dead belief, you don’t need to stand with one goal.

Neither everyone can build Google, nor they need to. Small or big, it’s important to know what you like and pursue that. You’ll find satisfaction in doing what you love and that will become big, if it’s bound to.

Remember chaos theory, you are somehow keep impacting the world. I love Steve Jobs’ quote “(make) A dent in the universe”. But I doubt even if Steve Jobs would have imagined how big could Apple turn out to be. It doesn’t matter how big or small venture you are involved in, you are already making dents.

Do what you love, ensure that you give your heart in what you are doing. Don’t panic on any situation, nothing is permanent and everything shall pass. None of us would exist 100 years later- I won’t be here writing blogs, you won’t be reading it, your competitors wouldn’t be there, people whom you are jealous about would have been dead too. We all would become a distant memory.

Time is very short, enjoy it doing what you love. Work for yourself, not the numbers necessarily. Do what you love and if it’s bound to, it will become big.