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10 Invaluable Discoveries From 4 Years Of Zero Pay Entrepreneurship

A journey of self discovery and growth unlike any other!

Precisely after four years, I will be writing myself a paycheck this month, thanks to our Series A raise. The thought makes me tear up. It will be significantly lower than my last paycheck and it will be lower than any paycheck I’ve received in the last decade or perhaps even longer. But, no paycheck has ever meant more to me than this one.

This entrepreneurship took me on a journey of self discovery unlike any other before. And I’m at a point of no return.

1. I’m tougher than I thought

Persistence has always been my virtue and I don’t usually take ‘no’ for an answer, but the last four years revealed that I’m really tougher than I thought. I never knew that I could stomach rejections, biases, unexpected curveballs, gut wrenching roadblocks, and eroding bank balances at the scale that entrepreneurship demands.

Success is going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm. This is precisely what has kept us going!

None of this would have been feasible without my co-founder, Lakshminath, who brought out the tough in me!

2. Infinite supply of enthusiasm

I have found the energy to keep my enthusiasm amidst the darkest of times. It hasn’t always been easy, but it has kept us innovating.

As leaders, our enthusiasm or lack thereof is contagious in the team. Fast recovery from down moments became non-negotiable for me.

And, when we are passionate and enthusiastic, amazing things happen! 👆

3. Moving on from things that don’t work

We spent six months building stories and filters on a map (it was beautiful!) that we had to scrap after we realized it didn’t bring us the growth we expected it would. We had to make a decision to throw all that hard work away and move on to focus on other things. We made that overnight (with supporting data) and never looked back.

A screenshot of stories on a map feature from our old app; still proud of it 💕

Over the last four years, we’ve worked on hundreds of features, big and small, most of which did not make the cut. Many of them were good ideas, but for one reason or the other, did not work for us.

If it’s not a fit, it’s not a fit. It is important to assess, analyze, and let go of things that are not working.

4. Not regretting what we let go

Three months after we scrapped our Maps feature, Snap purchased Zenly, the company behind the Snap Map, for a reported sum of $250–350M!

While that was heartbreaking (we had filters and stories on a map before Snap did and we didn’t work ourselves towards a $250M acquisition, clearly!), we didn’t carry regrets. We just kept moving forward.

5. More letting go

We’ve had to let go of more than just features. Sometimes, people are not a fit; either they realize it or we realize it and in either case, we must let go. This is an area where entrepreneurship has demanded a brutal personality shift from me, but I’ve risen up to this challenge!

When it is not a fit, it is better to end it early. Wishing things will automagically change results in bad outcomes.

6. Detecting the needle in the haystack

When there is so much hay, it’s hard to find the needle. When there are hundreds or thousands of things that don’t work out, it is hard to find the bright spots.

We almost missed identifying the signals that would end up being the start of engineering high engagement. But we kept at it and got to this 👇

At 30–40m a day, we were among the top social apps for daily session duration

Figuring out how to spot the needle is part art and part science. We need to know where to zoom into the data and then methodically deep dive.

7. Knowing when to seek advice

Seeking advice has always been part of our DNA and that helped us get into that mode rather easily. However, knowing when to seek advice is hard. We stumbled through a bunch of mistakes before we figured out how to go about identifying the things we need advice on.

Before we sign up an advisor for our company next time, I’d consider this.

Most people will have already given all the advice they have to give during your first meeting with them. Most people will also not deny an occasional hour or two ask if you need their casual advice. Reserve formal advisory relationships to exceptional cases when the consulting will be ongoing and benefits will be mutual.

8. Knowing what advice to discard

Especially when things are not working, unsolicited advice is abundant. Having the courage to stay our course and discard many pieces of advice will prove essential to progress.

From telling us when we should have the user login to our app to telling us to build an app for 50+ overweight women to carve our niche and everything in between, we got a ton of advice. Often times, these were tips from highly reputed and accomplished people.

We will win or lose on our terms and our terms only. Hence, it was important for us to take advice only when we can make it our own.

9. Team is fam; well almost!

We have always been empathetic leaders, but as entrepreneurs, we especially built an open culture with total transparency. We make it our mission to care about the careers of people who take the risk to join us. That builds passion and team spirit essential to any winning team.

When every contributing member feels they are building the product of their dreams and feels the ownership and responsibility for it, success begins to be a possibility.

Our default setting on our calendars is visible to everyone in the company. Our default setting on Google Drive is for anyone in the company to be able to find and read the docs. Our slack channels are transparent to everyone. Trust is fundamental to our culture!

10. Reduce insanity (probably the toughest one!)

There, Einstein said it! We cannot do the same things over and over again and expect different results. A new experiment must change some parameter! And every experiment can only change a controlled (small) set of parameters.

11. (Bonus) An Encouraging Fam

My kids are my cheerleaders. They are surer than I am of our eventual success (it helps to be children). And then there’s the man who supported and encouraged me through the years. It would be infinitely rougher without their support, perhaps even impossible!

For various reasons, we started over and built a new (even more amazing) app recently, despite the amazing trajectory that we were on towards the end of 2018. Watch out for Rizzle, coming soon to your phone!

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Vidya Narayanan

Building Rizzle (rizzle.tv), the future of video! In past life (@Google, @Qualcomm), I built stuff that you’ve likely used!