Notes on 4 years of starting up

Leaving our corporate career and starting something of our own is a dream for many people. The number of people who wrote in to me when they read my blog on why I was leaving ThoughtWorks is testimony to this.

Well, I’ve lived that dream, and I thought I should write about my experience and help others who are contemplating doing this. January 2019 marks 4 years of me starting up with Geektrust. Some people have asked me to talk about specific things and I will cover those too. Do ask here if you have questions.

Starting up is all-consuming, it’s gut-wrenching, it’s painful, and it’s beautiful

I can’t even count the number of awful days I’ve had. The days where I didn’t know what to do next. The days when I didn’t know where the business was headed. But you know what, not knowing leads to creativity. This has been my experience. When you don’t know something, but you’re open to the fact that you don’t know, and you need inspiration, it comes to you. That’s where the beauty comes in. You’re creating something. As ugly as it is, it’s yours.

Don’t start up if you’re not sure about it. Don’t do it half-hearted

Starting up is an experience and very few get away with doing it part-time. But more importantly you lose the joy of starting up. If you’re not sure financially, not sure about family support etc.,don’t do it. It’s never ‘Now or Never’. There’s always another day. Be prepared, take risks, but don’t be stupid.

B2B product vs B2C product — think through your business model

This is something I didn’t even consider when I started. Do you want sales to drive your business or marketing? Do you want to build a B2C product that requires marketing money or a B2B product that needs good sales capability? Looking back, I wonder if I should have tweaked Geektrust’s model to a sales-led model. One good thing we did was to make sure our payments follow a model people are used to paying. No fancy innovation there.

Your first 5 people matter the most

Will 5 people join you for what you’re building? If they won’t, then it’s going to be hard. For you to be successful, you need a team that is willing to fight the long fight. Hiring for such people is hard. It should come through your network.

Funding vs. no funding

Everyone should raise funds, right? I met a CA who said what I was doing is worthless because there is no valuation for Geektrust (since we hadn’t raised money). Not raising money has been a hard decision, but I’ve never felt we are VC investable, and therefore never really went fund-raising. Rather than do what everyone else is doing, be clear as to whether you need money, why you need it, and what you’re willing to give away for it in return. Don’t keep fund-raising as a goal.

Today our numbers are different and I’m mulling raising money to help us scale faster. Every day, a developer gets an offer us, and we’re looking to triple that by the end of the year..

Your corporate world experience may or may not help

I worked at ThoughtWorks for 10 years but I realized I didn’t know much about building software that people will use. When we’re far removed from our end users, we may be good at creating software, but we’re not good at thinking for our users and putting them at the centre of what we do.

However my ThoughtWorks stint taught me how to think in a particular way (lean principles, customer-focused, MVP based), and that has formed the building block of how Geektrust operates. So even today the way we build software is super lean, we still write user stories, we still write clean code. We’ve just gotten rid of all the unnecessary paraphernalia that we don’t need right now (like stand ups, iterations, planning meetings, estimations etc..).

Also, my last 2 years at ThoughtWorks were spent in Ops-heavy roles, and that helped immensely in moving somewhat smoothly from handling software to handling a company. Without this exposure, I think I would have struggled even more than I do today :) There’s no easy way to train for this. It comes through experience. The shortcut is to have a mentor (provided you find the right person). And yes, do read. Here’s my list from the year I started up.

Figuring out product fit

Easily one of my biggest mistakes. And that too a noob mistake. Didn’t talk to enough customers, and didn’t look at data to figure out business and product choices. Advice to you — talk to as many customers as you can. Follow data to help make your choices (but do apply your own intelligence and common sense on the data you see).

Tech is king but tech-will-solve-it-all is a myth

At the end of the day, we’re building a startup and tech is what allows us to scale. However, I’ve learned that tech has to enable business touch points, and can’t replace it. Maybe the day will come but it ain’t today! I tried to build a product with 0 manual touch points but that doesn’t work. You need to find a middle ground.

Marketing is super complex

I never ever understood what Marketing does and I never really appreciated it either. It was sort of hidden I guess. Now, I realize how interesting and complicated marketing can be. If you’re in the B2C space (like we are), and unless you can crack marketing, your product is useless. We’ve experimented with SO many things to figure out what works. Experimenting is great, but you need to track diligently to figure out what works and what does not.

It’s easy to give up

After the initial excitement of starting up has died down, whether you succeed or not depends on your perseverance. You question everything from your own capabilities to the idea to whether this is really worth it. You feel like giving up many times. Never accept defeat is not good advice. However, persevere and persevere a little bit more.

If you have more topics you’d like to hear me talk about or want me to expand on something, do let me know and I’ll do my best.


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