Shikhar Srivastava: “I Should Say I Was Rejected 19 Times Because My Friend Had Given Up On The Traveling After 5 Rejections”
Shikhar Srivastava’s first venture was a standalone school management tool that he had built with a friend. The pair traveled to 8 cities in Karnataka and UP and presented their product at 19 schools where they got rejected 19 times.
Or I should say I was rejected 19 times because my friend had given up on the traveling after 5 rejections. We couldn’t find any takers for our product.
I consider this gigantic failure a huge success. It taught me the power of failing fast, learning from failures, and moving on to the next idea with even more enthusiasm. It changed the way I perceived failure. The word itself became irrelevant to me over time and I now use the phrase “minor setback” to describe all failures. Shikhar has founded Total Nonsense News, a satire/parody website in 2014, and recently acquired Stannals, one of the fastest growing community of entrepreneurs on the web.
Q: What are some challenges you faced when developing your venture?
Right now Stannals is undergoing a transition phase and we have been able to bring some really cool people on board. The real challenge that lies ahead is achieving our own target of growing the community by at least 10x in the next 12 months. We are focused and determined to attain that target.
The main challenge with Total Nonsense News has actually been the entertainment industry. Satire isn’t everyone’s cup of java and we often find people confusing satire with fun. Everyone seems to expect a satirical post to be humorous or entertaining when actually that’s not what satire always means.
This is how a simple google search defines satire:
“Satire is a technique that writers use to expose and criticize foolishness and corruption of an individual or a society by using humor, irony, exaggeration OR ridicule. It intends to improve humanity by criticizing its follies and foibles.”
We use irony, ridicule, and self-deprecating humor to our advantage. The ability to laugh at yourself is a liberating experience that many folks are unable to embrace. Also, it doesn’t help a pure satire venture like ours that several entertainment sites inaccurately use the word satire to mean “fun” and/or “witty jokes”.
But we are doing this because we love satire and we understand that being misunderstood is part of the job profile.
Q: Was there any point when you thought it was over? That you were going to fail?
I don’t believe in failures. To me every failure is in itself a minor setback. When I face a setback I am able to put it behind me pretty soon and move on to the next thing with even more enthusiasm.
Q: As an entrepreneur how important has flexibility been in developing your venture?
Flexibility is a key component to success. I have seen some entrepreneurs who are extremely inflexible about certain things. For example, working from remote locations is a possibility in the media industry. Anybody who wants their content curators to be present in office for all tasks isn’t doing themselves and their venture any favors.
At Stannals we now have people from a dozen countries collaborating and helping us build the brand. We are flexible and allow people to choose tools of their liking and even roles of their liking as they go along and develop their skills working with the Stannals team.
At TNN we are currently in the process of completely revamping our anime division — NonCom (NonsenseComics). We now have collaborators from 8 countries designing comics, creating 3D animation work, assisting with editing and feedback of animation work. We have an office in BTM Bangalore but we are open to people working from wherever they like as long as they can co-ordinate with each other. To make this easier to do we use P2, a wordpress theme that Automattic Founder Matt Mullenweg used to organize the Wordpress team for years.
Also, everyone in team TNN and team Stannals is free to shoot any advice my way, and they do all the time. The team trusts my judgement but everyone understands that I can make mistakes and it’s their job to correct me when I am wrong. That’s how great teams roll.
Q: What was was your spark, where did it come from?
I am from Lucknow, India. Lucknow has always been a multicultural city and is widely regarded as a cultural and artistic hub. I believe growing up in this multicultural and artistic environment has had quite an impact on my life.
I moved to Bangalore in 2009 to pursue my Masters in Computer Applications. From 2009 to 2012, apart from pursuing my Masters, I was freelancing as a web developer and as a writer. I always thought that the intersection of technology and art was my calling but wasn’t quite sure how this would manifest itself later in life.
After contributing to several top tech sites in India and serving as the Editor-in-Chief of two I knew that I wanted to pursue the media industry as a career option. At the same time something amazing happened to me which pretty much changed my life. I started reading a lot. And I mean A LOT.
I have always enjoyed reading but from 2011 onwards I somehow became addicted to reading. I read 32 books in 2011, 51 in 2012, 73 in 2013, 64 in 2014, 116 in 2015, 181 in 2016, and I have finished 16 so far in 2017. This does not include all the online articles I read or research I do for my own writing. All this reading has been very diverse and has been my way of exploring myself and the world around me.
I read a lot of science, technology, philosophy, religion, satire, and comics. This was important to mention because these have defined not just my career paths but given a direction to my life.
Living in Bangalore I have been part of the startup community for 7 years. After serving as the top content or media guy for 6 early stage startups (2011–2016) and helping them grow I decided to start my own ventures a couple of years ago.
4. What are your non-work habits that help you with your work-life balance?
I know some entrepreneurs will probably disagree with me on this but I don’t believe in trying to strike a work-life balance. Maybe it works for me but this is how I feel.
This is probably because my non-work habits have slowly trans-morphed into my work. I read a lot and now I am starting a podcast where I will talk about books. I play video games and I have recently started a youtube channel on gaming. In my last full time job (2015) I mostly worked on creating simulations from scratch. This sparked an idea and I have been working on merging my passion for gaming with creating video game simulations. You will see me doing that this year.
Oh and I am a huge combat sports fan. Don’t be surprised if you see me involved in a combat sports venture at some point. In fact, my co-founder and good friend at Stannals, Debarun Bhattacharjee is a Mixed Martial Artist. So I am never too far away from my non-work habits to pursue them separately.
5. What is your best tip for entrepreneurs?
Super clichéd but true nonetheless — Just do what you love and love what you do. You may not have realized how far that will take you.
And perhaps most importantly — love your fellow human beings. Caring about other people makes for a better leader and a better colleague, and gives you something no VC can afford — social capital.