Hi, my name is Mihir. During third year of my college, I created a small startup and it was quite successful. Many of my college juniors and friends asked me many questions about my experience and some even asked me for tips (haha). In this article, I am going to jot down my takeaways and points anyone should consider before starting his/ her startup. I hope you will enjoy, I will keep it short. (Please read till the end, the last part is important.)
Love for the idea.
I know this line is becoming a cliche but it’s really important.
Work on the idea you are really passionate about. Work on that idea which you want to see come alive.
A startup is full of challenges. Every day, every moment a new problem, new hurdle arises. As an entrepreneur, you have to solve them and get things moving every time. At such low points, it is only your love for your idea and your wish to see it happening is what will make you run. I can’t imagine my startup if I wouldn’t have loved my idea. So please make sure you love your idea before you start your venture.
It also helps when you are marketing, selling or while pitching an idea. I used to love selling my product, I lead my sales team (which were 4 of my school friends) because I was selling the idea which I truly loved. I used to talk (and I still talk) very passionately about that product and I think it worked.
So loving your idea is the most important prerequisite, without it, a business cannot stand.
Keep your expenses down
This is a very obvious part and you should understand it quickly.
lesser you spend, sooner you make profit.
But don’t take this as cutting down on the quality of the product or not doing required marketing. While making such decisions use your mind and devise different strategies.
Doing things the old way is not the best way for startup.
(What is the use of your startup then? What did you learn? Do new things.) More innovative and original you are more chances of getting success.
In my case, I figured out who my customers are? What is their knowledge base? What do they want? Who they trust? How much they will pay for the services I offer? etc and also what are my (products) strengths? So for me marketing on Facebook was not useful but managing few people with incentives was more productive so I did that. Do whatever works for you.
Use your contacts or make new contacts to use them later. Your only aim is getting your product out there at minimum possible cost.
Don’t do stuff just because it looks cool.
Be flexible, keep doing
This is important. Many times you are wrong. You are wrong by 180 degrees. In such cases just do the right thing as soon as you realize. This also includes changes in your original idea but if that change makes sense, just go for it.
In my idea, I was limiting the number of images per page per subscriber, initially when we had server space constraint it made sense but later when space was not an issue removing that constraint came to me as a suggestion. I ignored it for long but when customers started complaining I had to make that change. I learned from the mistake and then we restructured the entire product .
This also addresses the issue of not starting until the idea is completely ready. No idea is perfect or 100% correct and ready. You need to start with whatever idea you have. Things will get in place eventually. For example, our product had an ad-based revenue generation model when we started building it but at the time of deployment, we went for a subscription-based revenue model. So there are many things you figure out on the go.
Don’t delay the journey just because your car’s mirror is not aligned, with time it will.
Choose your partners/ team wisely
Well, first of all, let me tell you, I changed my partners thrice!
This is important, very important, VERY VERY IMPORTANT. I personally suffered a lot due to wrong decisions. Don’t make these decisions fast. Never offer someone a percentage or partnership without prior thinking. I know while doing that, it feels cool but the moment you shake hands your mind says ‘F**k U’. Never lower your stakes or holding below a certain threshold. There is a possibility that you might lose your interest and at the same time, others might dictate you.
I went through all this. I gave nearly 60% stakes to my partners (as they were going to make all the initial investment). Soon that started backfiring as my vision and idea was getting sidelined and hence I broke the contract. (Hopefully, by that time we did not spend that much money and my partners were really cool guys. They understood my situation and gave me chance to move out. (My gratitude to them.) But this will not happen to you, you might get DBs so never put yourself in difficult position.)
That development made me out of money so I had to find new partners. This time I prepared beforehand about what I am going to offer and what I expect. I found two new partners but this time I was able to maintain significant hold(50%). So when you are making decisions regarding expenses or investment, please don’t go with the flow.
Always Stop, think, think again, give some more thought and then make an offer.
Again most important part is while making partners and adding team members don’t sale them ‘Money aspect and how much money they will make part’. Instead sale them your idea.
Here again, I made a mistake. I sold my partners my idea like it was an easy trick to get rich. It’s easy to convince, but in the initial days when there were no signs of making money, they started getting discouraged and less active about business, on the other hand, I was on the offensive because my motivation was to see my idea in reality and making an impact and non-short-term monetary gains. This led to a series of arguments and blame game from both sides making things worse.
During that time I remember one day I was at the gym and my partner called, I went into the lobby and received the call ( he was blaming me for not giving him a proper idea and I was blaming him for procrastination.). Our argument went so abusive and rash that, one girl in lobby started crying. So you can imagine the intensity and anger.
While deciding team members make sure they are equally motivated by the idea as you are. If they are not MAKE THEM or DITCH them.
Sorry works. If you are genuine it works all the time. When you are a leader you make decisions and many times they are wrong. The definition of a leader is
The leader is one who makes the decisions and is sometimes right.
So when you go wrong just say Oops…Sorry. For me, it worked every time. But you should learn from mistakes as soon as possible.
Doing mistake is acceptable, repeating it once is also acceptable but repeating it twice or more is irresponsible and needs serious introspection. Never do that. Sorry! won’t work then.
One of the most fearful experience which really tested me as a person was when I was threatened by an agency of legal action. That was real WTF moment for me and the major problem was I was not 100% convinced that I wasn’t wrong. Though I was pretending that I was right and I did everything correctly but deep inside I knew I was little wrong. The situation was, I was using a service of one agency and after some time I switched to another agency. While doing that I communicated verbally to previous agency’s employee to stop the service from their side and then forgot about it. I did not use proper channel to convey that message and ultimately it led to they threatening me of legal action. For next few days, I was reading, re-reading our agreement going through different points and learning their interpretation. (I did not read that while signing it.) Ultimately I got on the call with that companies head and explained to him my situation accepted that I was wrong and said SORRY. It worked. I learned my lesson.
You have to ace in your studies too. You should give it dedicated time. At least have upper two grade-level performance. Initially, it seems difficult but you have to do that. Doing business and failing an exam is of no use. So keep this in mind. Many times when you do extracurricular stuff you forget that it’s ‘extracurricular’ and it won’t help unless you do at least good in curricula.
The joy you get after seizing an Opportunity is just unbelievable. Just giving your best shot, even not successful, gives you the same joy. In reality on the first attempt, you never give your best performance. You give somewhat like B+, A-level performance. But that experience just redefines you. Your comfort zone gets destroyed. Confidence goes to another level.
Once I went to a gathering where many potential customers were present. I went there with my friend and my expectation was at the end of the program I will catch 4 or 5 of them and ask for a meeting next day. But while the program was going on I got an opportunity to go on the dais and present my product. I was frightened because though I have spoken on the mic before I was always well prepared and here I had the crowd of 250 to whom I had to sell a product and if I failed I was going to loose large market. But at that time I went for it. Honestly my presentation was not the best I could have given but at the end of my presentation I got one of the biggest orders I ever got in entire startup time. So many times perfection is not necessary but just a try can take you there.
God appreciates your effort.
Another thing is when you do something out of your comfort zones yours and your team members morale increases. I remember after that event everybody started working twice hard from next day. It is like leading by example type of a thing.
Everything is MY FAULT
This is my greatest take away from my startup experience. Everything is my fault. Before startup, I had some wrong impression about me that I am a calm person. Being calm when everything is taken care of is one thing and being calm when everything is falling apart and you got to fix it is different.
I realized that I am one of the most short-tempered people I know. And it was shocking. I used to yell at my partners for being late for a meeting, used to yell at my college friends over some shitty thing, I used to yell at my sales team when they don’t use to do well. I used to think this is a right way and it will motivate them but in reality, it just used to help them getting nothing.
Negativity attracts negativity. Thank god, I realized my mistake soon. (Thanks to my partners and my parents). I started to focus on my actions rather than other actions. I did many experiments with my mindset and some of them helped. One of the most important value startups taught me is empathy and believe me, empathy does MAGIC.
You will also get the real meaning of word responsibility. Many times in our college years we become reckless. The startup will help you taste what responsibility means. You have to get to bed by 12 because you have a meeting tomorrow morning. You have to say no to parties because you have to put data on the website. You have to keep accounts, print bills etc.
Taking responsibility sucks but eventually, we love it, because it’s real.
Being a Hero
Doing your startup gives you an opportunity to live a life of Hero of a movie. That’s insane. Many times we see movies and think like ‘this happens in movies and has no chance to happening in reality’ but my friend when you live a life of a hero things like movie starts happening around you. You live a movie where you are the hero, your idea is a heroine. There are many villains and few supporting actors But you are the hero and drama does happen.
I can't forget that moment when we went live, it was cloudy outside. After testing and making sure that all functionalities work fine, I walked to nearby tea stall took one Chai and I was just watching traffic. Then slowly it started raining. I was standing there on road with my Chai and rain pouring over (little tears in my eyes). I was feeling it and not feeling it at the same time. Some background music was playing in my mind. That was the moment I was the king of the world because my idea was now a reality.
When you are doing something exceptional, watching others is a different type of joy.
I also remember on one evening after an unsuccessful meeting me and my partners were seated on bridge completely disheartened. We were not in a mood of speaking or even looking at each other and suddenly a car parked nearby started playing a song which had very powerful and inspiring lyrics and suddenly we started smiling and positively started deciding future plans then out of nowhere my phone rang. I took it and it was the call for another meeting. While writing this I am having the same goosebumps as I had then. Tell me if this is not a movie then what is?
As I am writing this new points are coming to mind but I have promised you guys that I will keep it short so I will stop here for now. But I would definitely write another article, something like part 2 of this.
So meanwhile if you like this article please share it with your friends. I believe it will help them. I want you guys to start something on your own. It’s magic, feel it. You will get another perspective on life. Speeches you heard, quotes you read starts making new sense for you as this life lesson by Steve Jobs (click it) have a new meaning for me. You will never be the same again.