How I Led A Start-up For 6 Hours…

…and how it sparked my Confidence & Self-Growth.

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At the onset, I’ll have to admit, I was pretty indifferent towards the entrepreneurial spirit and the mushrooming of startups with various objectives in equally varied environments and fields of operation.

Maybe it was due to my limited exposure to people following their dreams and striking it out on their own. That was a compelling argument, considering that most of the engineering students in India are there thanks to family pressure. Mine wasn’t exactly the case though, but it was close enough to think that my lack of start-up knowledge was due to lack of live examples.

Maybe it was due to my lack of knowledge of current affairs. This seemed more plausible, considering I used to abhor newspapers and news channels like small children abhor baths. Moreover, a newspaper subscription at my college was far too much than what my pocket money could cover, so that was another issue as well.

Maybe, just maybe, it was also me facing the apparent futility of knowing about any start-up, seeing as I was aware I didn’t have neither the bright spark of an idea to germinate, nor the sources required for funding said non-existent bright idea. That was a slightly morbid possibility, as it is difficult for anyone to feel unwanted, useless, ordinary.

But time has a way of closing all wounds, even re-opened ones. What they don’t tell you is that the most common method of healing-through-time is ‘resignation’, the twisted sister of ‘acceptance’. Which is exactly what I did.
I resigned myself to the fact that maybe I was just going to be just your average engineer-turned-MBA graduate, with some random mediocre job as befits a mediocre MBA pass-out. I guess it sort of just happened. And, tired of head-butting with fate and failure, I just resigned myself to the fate I had projected for myself.
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Until I was chosen to be the SPOC (Single/Sole Point Of Contact, I’m not exactly sure) for this start-up in the field of housing and architecture.

This was for an event held in our MBA college, where a few start-ups and six angel investors had arrived on our campus, in a sort of “Shark Tank” event, I suppose.

Honestly, I just wanted to do something that day, as it was a particularly lazy and cloudy Sunday in warm and humid Kolkata, and I didn’t want to stew in my own sweat in my hostel room. And, as it turned out, by random luck-of-the-draw, I was assigned to this.

What really surprised me was that the ‘founders’ of this start-up were actually still in graduate college, most of them just sophomores. Considering I was looking at other start-ups which had members in their mid to late 30s, (or in one case, even touching 40), this made me a little unnerved and, quite frankly, apprehensive. I found myself wondering many times whether they had come to the wrong college after choosing the wrong exit from the main road. I wouldn’t blame them, after all, we are kind of situated in the outskirts of the main city.

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However, as befits a representative of a prestigious MBA institute, I was able to veil my emotions behind a mask of business attitude and polite courteous exchange. And, I felt a little bored anyways, so I asked them if I could have a look at their document regarding the start-up that they had brought, which actually was a decent project presentation by looks.

The way I said it implied only a quick, cursory glance to which they acquiesced quite readily, much to my relief. I mean it is, after all, know-how (i.e. intellectual property), and I didn’t want to find myself being accused of stealing it (although I’m pretty sure I was too dumb, concept-wise, to achieve such a heist).

And, I swear, it was only going to be a quick, cursory glance.
That all changed when I started reading it.

I have a really good reading speed. I know it. But I usually felt it was completely useless, however it sure did help me at that time. The idea was revolutionary, and it even made me dust off my dormant imagination and make it go for a spin. Dear God!

I soon realised something. Something that really worried me.

This start-up had tremendous potential. These young chaps were damn serious about this project.
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This revelation made me worried for two reasons. First, the fact that I actually recognised potential. That was so weird, because if I could do that before, I could’ve applied it to myself and possibly saved countless self-help lectures in the process. Second, the truth that I wanted this start-up to be picked up by an angel investor. Me, who up until about a few hours ago, didn’t have any idea this even existed, now wanted this to be presented in the best possible way and have it funded.

As if all of this wasn’t uncharacteristic enough, I started helping them in their presentation and gave them tips on improving their pitch. The day started getting weirder and weirder, but I didn’t care. Because, for the first time in a long while, I was motivated to lead my team to successfully get funding.

My team.
For those 6 hours, it felt like my start-up, not in terms of idea, but in terms of execution.

What happened in the last few hours was quite the whirlwind. As far as I can remember, my team made their pitch, they were cross-questioned by the angel investors, they got caught red-handed for their apparent lack of financial know-how, but in the end, their idea and their passion was so enthralling that they had a standing ovation from the angel investors, which was the most surprising thing that happened on that evening, by multiple audience accounts.

I felt relief and a certain sense of happiness that my short-lived interest and the subsequent efforts were not in vain. And, a few days after that, I was pleasantly surprised to be contacted by one of the young chaps who told me that they had secured funding and training from one of the angel investors present.

A few minutes after that chat, it all clicked in place.

I realised now what it can be, being in a start-up.
Investing your time, your money and your energy, on an idea that no one except you and your co-creators can see the future for and the path ahead.
Facing many challenges along the way, the biggest being self-doubt and fear, to persist and bring the idea to fruition.
The thrill of pursuing a whisper of a rumour of a conjecture of a possible future lead.
That indescribable feeling when you secure your first deal, your first purchase, your first business.
At that moment, I felt all of this. And then I felt something more. Confidence.

I guess I got stuck with an infectious group, because a part of their confidence clearly rubbed off on me. This confidence was what would help me (months later) in nailing my interview performance, because of a few simple things :-

  1. I had the passion to talk unabashedly about what motivates me, what drives me (at least, what started to drive me)
  2. I had the energy to explain in great detail about my ideas and understanding of the marketing concepts involved (the role I had applied for was a marketing role)
  3. I had the confidence to steer the interview in the direction I was best equipped (which actually worked like a charm)
  4. I had the resilience to face any cross-questions they had regarding my resume (of which there was quite a few, and some were quite tough, admittedly)
  5. I had the vision to look forward and truly believe that this particular company (for whose interview I was sitting for) will help me a lot in realising that vision.
Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

Truthfully (and regrettably), I do not have further experience in the start-up culture, but the more I looked into the success stories of start-ups like Flipkart, the more I realised that these five qualities were key factors in making them progressive and distinct.

As I write the few words remaining, I can’t help but be slightly amused at the fact that my blog itself is sort of a start-up of its own kind, and that now I’ve decided to invest in it, and see where this leads me.

Ultimately, what have I got to lose?

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