Jan 2017 would mark 8 years of me out of college and about 7 years of following the dream full-time — wanting to connect every institution in the world back to their alumni! That’s Awesome!! can be the first reaction. But wait! Is it really? People these days are building startups, raising funding and going places within 2–3 years! “What the hell are you doing?” my best friend taunted me.
The question put me in deep thought. As I discovered the connecting dots, I thought it would be good to share them:
The journey has been tough, some ups and many downs, but I enjoyed all along the way! When I started, I knew it’s not gonna be easy and I was prepared for a long haul.
Though I had ideas, I did not have a plan. After spending close to 8 months exploring various thoughts, I decided to work full-time on the idea of Vaave. We started Coherendz in the extra passage space at the guest house of BHUMI (an NGO we volunteered for). The trade off was to manage it for being allowed to use a part of it as our office. We invested the profits from our services business into building Vaave.
About 2 years ago, when our services business was doing very well, we decided to shut it down so that we can move ahead with a clear focus and mission — Vaave. We grew from a time when we struggled for an year to crack our first Vaave deal to serving more than 100 clients and 800 institutions now. Looking back, we came a long way. Looking ahead, we are 15 people, ready to take the next big leap and touch many more lives!
The connected dots!
- The Foundation: The first five years now looks like the daily practice the sportsmen take up before the world-cup. I did not know anything about business, managing teams, sales or fundraising. The five years, taught me many things from routine legal stuff to being able to make tough decisions. Yeah, maybe I learnt them the hard way with a few bitter experiences but I learnt them for life.
- The Awesome Team: This period also gave me something I consider my most important asset — My Team! They rode with me against the high tides! My co-founder Sanjeev has been with me for 6 years now, someone who is dot focused and execution oriented. He completely complements me. The rest of the team — Yasaswy, Jaipal, Aparna, Saddam, Jayanth, Srichandana — are the best I could have asked for and have worked together for at least 4 years! Only TIME can build such a team that is resilient and grounded.
- The Fundamentals: The next most important learning was the “Importance of focus” — Focus only on the Product, Customer Success & Sales. Anything else that does not add to the bottomline can wait. This simple yet profound learning directly co-relates to the ability to execute. We took 5 years to learn how to shield ourselves from new ideas we as entrepreneurs get every other day.
- Building an Organization: There was a time when we were a team of 25+, but most of the final decisions were dependent on me. It drained me and having a single decision maker will not allow a company to grow. “Flat Structures” is a fancy word in startup circles but an organization needs to have a clear hierarchy for accountability. Freedom calls in for responsibility, while they are free to take decisions, there needs to be someone who shall own the responsibility to complete the task. We learnt this the hard way after 3 cycles of the whole team leaving us.
Today, nothing in the company is person dependent, the team is fully capable enough to scale the company in my absence
- Domain Knowledge: The problem of alumni relationships is tough to crack and takes time to understand and build. Most of the startups today want quick and easy growth. Over years, we have gained deep understanding of the ‘Why, How & What’ of meaningful alumni engagement.
Like the dialogue in Dangal goes, “Gold medalist ped pe nahi ugte.. unhe banana padta hai ..pyaar se…mehnat se… lagan se…” That’s exactly how we believe alumni relationships, building a company or a rock solid team should be handled.
The journey has not been an easy one but it has been worth it. It prepped us for a long journey towards what we dream — a world in which ALL institutions are effectively leveraging the power of their alumni networks. And 2017 will be another year we will strive to take more active steps towards realizing this vision.
May the force be with us!