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RodinStar / Startup

An Untold Story of a Failed Startup – 11 Lessons Learned

After working for nearly 5 years, a Kolkata boy decided to join his ex-colleagues turned friends who were starting up their own company. They had worked for tech startups in past and helped those companies to grow exponentially. There was absolutely nothing that they could not do, they thought. Three of them used to handle different aspects of web technologies – designing, coding and communication – so it was a rock solid team, they thought. They used to love each other a lot, so it was going to be a long term association with series of products, they thought.

The boy came from a middle-class, traditional family in Kolkata. No one ever started a business in his family.  The best advice parents had for their kids was: concentrate on studies and get a job preferably in Kolkata. Tradition! The boy was a bit skeptical about starting a business. What if I fail? What if I run out of money? I don’t have much fund in family, we live in a rented house, my dad does not get pension? Still he gathered enough courage and joined his friends.

First few months were amazing! Finally he got freedom from routine office hours. The kind of freedom that Tagore wrote about, he thought! They had pizza for lunch; they went to movies on Friday morning, worked whole night when necessary and slept whole day. While working on laptop sitting on a bin bag, he thought “Ah, we have started up finally!”

They got few clients from personal sources. The plan was to get a steady flow of money from services and build products in parallel. They got some product ideas and all the ideas were excellent, they thought.

But things went haywire. They made a lot of money but it did not come at regular intervals. They made a lot of commitments expecting a payment would arrive next month; but it was not that smooth. The boy started using his credit card for office expenses and paid the minimum amount which put a huge debt on his shoulder. When the money came finally, it was too small to solve the outstanding dues after getting it shared with the other two.

The boy started panicking. He just got married, he had a family to support, he had to send money to his parents! How can he manage such a huge debt? He sent a lot of mails to the other two co-founders saying “Hey, I am not drawing even 8k in a month, let’s work from our home and leave this expensive rented office, we need to save money, we need to serve our clients better, we need to work on the products, tell me what all tasks you are handling right now, seems it’s only me who is working!” He thought his friends would understand the situation, he thought.

But the other two members were flying around the clouds. Busy with beer parties on rooftop, 3 movies in a week, weekend vacations, trips to abroad, very expensive gifts for their fiancé. They hardly cared about the boy.

Enough! He quit and started working from home. He had few freelance projects which were good to sustain. However, there was a huge family pressure to go back to a full time job. By the way, he had a kid to raise then – his son! The boy also felt that something was lacking – maybe he did not know the ins and outs of starting up a business. Maybe he did not have a clear vision.

That’s exactly when he found a mentor and started working with her as an intern. This was a game changer for the boy. He got to learn the art and science of entrepreneurship from his mentor.

Fast Forward to 2014

As his own startup failed, he is now determined to make others successful. He plans to distribute his knowledge in a scalable way so that others can benefit from it.

11 lessons he learned:

  • Choose the co-founders carefully
  • Don’t be over-panicked about security; but have a plan
  • Speak up your mind; no one cares about what you think
  • Never allow the fear of going cashless get on you
  • Believe in yourself – if you do not do any bad to anybody, the Universe will protect you
  • Never neglect your family
  • Never neglect your health
  • Never stop reading and writing
  • Never compare yourself with others
  • Work to add value, money comes naturally
  • It’s good to have a mentor in life

Image Courtesy: Zen Revolution

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11 Comments

  1. Profile photo of asha chaudhry

    saikat – i sincerely believe you are lucky. not everyone finds the right mentor at the right time.

    your lesson #9 reminds me of what sumant mandal told us at the mumbai OH – don’t read techcrunch :)))

    http://therodinhoods.com/forum/topics/open-house-sept-13-no-table-with-sumant

    and about mentors, well alok wrote about how everyone needs a mentor, which i’m sure you’ve already read!

    my fav part “As his own startup failed, he is now determined to make others successful. He plans to distribute his knowledge in a scalable way so that others can benefit from it.”

    keep sharing!!

    http://therodinhoods.com/forum/topics/of-men-mentors

    My column in the May 2014 issue of the Entrepreneur magazine: 

    Of Men & Mentors

     

    This title of this article is inspired by John Steinbeck’s classic book ‘Of Mice and Men’. If you haven’t read it, get yourself a copy. You will appreciate my title better, then. 

    In Greek mythology, Mentor was the son of Heracles and Asopis. In his old age Mentor was a friend of Odysseus who placed Mentor and Odysseus’ foster-brother Eumaeus in charge of his son Telemachus, and of Odysseus’ palace, when Odysseus left for the Trojan War. 

    When Athena visited Telemachus she took the disguise of Mentor to hide herself from the suitors of Telemachus’ mother Penelope. As Mentor, the goddess encouraged Telemachus to stand up against the suitors and go abroad to find out what happened to his father. When Odysseus returned to Ithaca, Athena appeared briefly in the form of Mentor again at Odysseus’ palace. 

    Because of Mentor’s relationship with Telemachus, and the disguised Athena’s encouragement and practical plans for dealing with personal dilemmas, the personal name Mentor has been adopted in English as a term meaning someone who imparts wisdom to and shares knowledge with a less experienced colleague. (credit Wikipedia)

     

    Now, that I have set the context, let me nail the concept down by playing a mini Rodinhood Quiz with you. 

    It’s well known that one of the greatest leaders and inspirations of the world – Mahatma Gandhi mentored Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. The question is – Did Mahatma Gandhi have a mentor himself? 

    Yes he did. Gandhi learned from Dadabhai Naoroji, an Indian leader who helped to start the Indian Independence Movement in 1857. Upon learning of Naoroji’s intentions, Gandhi was eager to join in the efforts. In 1888, he wrote Naoroji a letter, which read, “…you will, therefore oblige me greatly if you will kindly direct and guide me and make necessary suggestions which shall be received as from a father to his child.” 

    Naoroji took Gandhi under his wing and instilled in him the importance of peaceful protests. Thanks to the teachings, Gandhi was able to hold the largest demonstration of nonviolent resistance in 1947, which handed the country of India back to its people. Upon describing their relationship further, Gandhi would later write, “The story of a life so noble and yet so simple needs no introduction from me or anybody else. May it be an inspiration to the readers even as Dadabhai living was to me. And so Dadabhai became real DADA to me.” (extract from DegreeScout)

     

    I assume that you would have understood the message by now – Mentors are important and can help people. If Gandhi needed one, I guess we can do with one too? 

    Let me speak from experience. 

    –          As a child, growing up in Campion School in Colaba, Mumbai, I reflect back and think that all my teachers were my first mentors. Especially the teachers that made me do stuff I was not good at (Physical Training), lazy at (mugging up Geography maps) or dumb at (learning Marathi). They pushed me to do what I had to, but did not want to.

    –          In college, I began to work with my Nana (maternal grandpa) and he gave me a free hand to experiment with ideas in his transport business. He was a different kind of mentor – someone who knew me well and was keen to make me succeed.

    –          Post college (errr…I am just an M.Com), I worked in my father’s socks factory, where the MFBS – Marwari Family Business System mentored me, in a negative-positive way! Because my Dad had to confer with his brothers for most decisions, I learnt how to be patient, precise, calculative and demanding. The MFBS faculty also taught me when to quit and walk away!

    –          As an Internet entrepreneur, I was mentored by my clients and my co-founders. The unique situation was that I was their equal and was learning from them as much as teaching them. This was symbiotic mentorship! 

    If you paid attention to the italics of my personal story, you will have picked up the key points of Mentors and Mentorship: It is personal, it is about wanting to make you succeed, it is sometimes negative as much as positive and it is about mutual help. 

    As an Entrepreneur, why do we need Mentors and what should we expect from them?

    1.      Compression of knowledge 

    Creating a business that has a chance to succeed in this age and time needs ‘knowledge compression’. It’s like asking you to read all the Wikipedia pages on your industry, trawling through all the Google links and then forming a view on what you should be doing, in a few days! A mentor that comes from your industry has that knowledge and can condense wisdom required for you in a few lines.  Consider my co-founder who helped me start my first advertising-based business, contests2win.com. He was the Creative Founder of MTV and when I started thinking of campaign creatives, he said, “Alok, focus on exaggeration. When you exaggerate something creatively, people take notice. So if you are thinking of adding a squirrel in your creative, then make the squirrel a paan-chewing dude with a black eye and foul mouth. That will get noticed.” 

    I have never stopped exaggerating ever since!

    2.      The ability to drive you to the limit. 

    Bosses demand things and torment you to deliver results. Mentors motivate you and make you do better than yourself. Take the case of a business co-founder of mine. During the dark, holocaustic days of the Internet, he told me, “Alok, you have to go out and meet 5 clients a day and convert 2 of them. That’s what I did in my previous Company.” I took his word for granted and began to pound the pavement like a mad man. Two months later I went up to him and said, “What you told me seems impossible. I managed 3 meetings a day and converted 1 client everyday.” He smiled at me and said, “That’s what I was talking about.” 

    We survived the Internet doom because he took me to the limit by motivating, not tormenting me.

    3.      To encourage you to fail!

    When I started up my gaming company, we began by trying to establish a new genre of gaming in India called MMORPG. We raised a few million dollars on that promise but soon after we hit the road, we realized that India was not the market for this genre of gaming. 

    It was my lead VC who saw through the situation and said, “Alok, shut that business down! You are an entrepreneur and you will figure out something! We will patiently wait for you.” 

    That day my VC became my mentor because he moved from being selfish or despondent to beinggenuine. I took his advice, moved to online & mobile gaming and remain standing today, to write this tale. 

    By asking me to fail, my mentor encouraged me to succeed. 

    Rather than elaborating on more examples, let me summarize who I believe become great mentors for entrepreneurs: 

    –          People who have time. Please do not go and sign up mentors that look good in selfies with you, but have no time to meet you in real life.

    –          Someone who will learn from you. Time and again I have seen that when mentors learn from mentees, the relationship really shines!

    –          A successful personality that is “extreme”! Strong, opinionated and high-strung people make me tingle. They expose the edge of achievement and make strong impressions that I imbibe and remember.

    –          People who have nothing to gain from you other than the satisfaction of seeing you succeed! A rare breed to find, but they exist.

    –          Someone who you don’t like. Usually such people represent what you are running away from, and they bring you back to reality.

     

    In Of Mice and Men, there is a line that goes “…I never seen one guy take so much trouble for another guy. I just like to know what your interest is.”  

    Mentors have only one interest – to make you succeed. That is their Karma and Dharma! All you have to do is find one!

     

  2. Profile photo of Saikat Sengupta

    Thanks Asha. 

    I will keep sharing my knowledge; going to start my own blog and I am very serious this time. 

  3. Profile photo of Krishna Gaurav

    Hi Saikat,

    Thanks for sharing your story. I am a fellow entrepreneur and would like to meet you in kolkata. Lets make the rodinhood community active in kolkata.

  4. Profile photo of asha chaudhry

    hey guys – there is already a kolkata gp – pls comment here.

    http://therodinhoods.com/forum/topics/lets-get-going-in-kolkata

    amar pratap singh is very very keen on doing a rodinhooder meetup!!

  5. Profile photo of Hardik Shah

    No journey is perfect. We all have our own set of pitfalls.

    As long as we do not make the same mistake again, we have moved a step forward from where we started.

    Had a fallout myself (which you can read here) and so can relate to your thought process.

  6. Profile photo of Anamika Joshi

    To learn from mistakes or to realize what went wrong exactly is the starting point to a new journey… I resonate with most of the points you have mentioned in your post. Keep moving is the mantra I guess. Best wishes for your journey forward!

    All the 11 points are really good. Have read it at different places.. but this is a good compilation.. something to keep in mind always!

  7. Profile photo of Alok Rodinhood Kejriwal

    FANTASTIC

    This is REAL

  8. Profile photo of Saikat Sengupta

    Yes. Sometimes I feel as if I am walking along the same path – but this time I have better control over my emotions. This helps; and this has happened because of my past experience. 

  9. Profile photo of Saikat Sengupta

    Hey Hardik, 

    Both of us seem to have gone through kind of similar situations. Quitting is the best option, at times – I believe. Lord Krishna left Mathura and settled at Dwarika because it was not worth staying back at Mathura that time. Similarly, we have to analyze our options – pros/cons – our objectives – whether we are on the right track.

    It depends on me what I will do – no one understands me as I can, no one has walked the path I did. 

    I receive a lot of suggestions from different people – even my neighbors come to my place, see me working full time from home and give me valuable advice 🙂 I don’t reject them, I don’t accept them either. I spent a lot of time with myself everyday and that’s when I get the answers of most of my questions. 

  10. Profile photo of Saikat Sengupta

    Thanks, Alok 🙂

  11. Profile photo of Rajarshi Guha

    Saikat Dada, I am with you, having Bong Blood in the veins by default we should be making Piku rather than Enterprise.Let me just give my bit :

    1. Choose the co-founders carefully : Very true my co-founder is known to me for 25 years
    2. Don’t be over-panicked about security; but have a plan : I have become quite habituated and eat an icecream when panic , it works
    3. Speak up your mind; no one cares about what you think : I do that always hence I am most hated guy
    4. Never allow the fear of going cashless get on you : Nobody knows better than me, last 3 years not a single credit card tele caller calls me. I learned how to live on paise not notes.
    5. Believe in yourself – if you do not do any bad to anybody, the Universe will protect you : That’s true. I try go to temple every week, it worked for me.
    6. Never neglect your family : Noway, you can’t
    7. Never neglect your health : Noway, do a 6km Walk every morning.
    8. Never stop reading and writing : Oops, Amazon helps to buy 
    9. Never compare yourself with others : Never did that.
    10. Work to add value, money comes naturally : Every Entrepreneur will become rich, whether you can keep staying till then or not that’s the question.
    11. It’s good to have a mentor in life : Yup

    All the best Saikat. We will catch up over an Adda someday

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