It’s that time of the year on TheRodinhoods :). 2015 has been an exciting (apparently an Indian startup got funded every 8 hours!), yet an unpredictable year in startupland. The challenges were enormous. And so were the learnings. We reached out to many founders/investors to share their 5 main entrepreneurial learnings of 2015. It could be their own or observations from what’s going on in the startup eco-system.
We’re sharing some of them with you. Hope you find them helpful.
Please feel free to share your learnings, big or small, in the comments below. The best ones will get added to the main post!
“Focus on the customer, not on competition.”
1) Build a strong culture in your startup, it’s infinitely more important than either strategy or structure.
2) Focus on the customer, not on competition.
3) Create momentum and a sense of excitement around your vision and purpose.
4) Create metrics and monthly missions that align everyone in the startup.
5) Quickly let go of people who either don’t fit the culture or don’t scale. A startup can’t carry dead wood.
Satyen V. Kothari
Founder & CEO, Cube
“Pick a problem that matters. Because your time on earth matters.”
1. Don’t put “tech” in a category name unless there is real tech involved.
2. Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t make it sensible.
3. Pick a problem that matters. Because your time on earth matters.
4. Watch out for signs of some big oaks coming down…and figure out if you can protect yourself somehow.
5. Have fun while doing it. And do it with great people. YOLO, as my daughter says it.
“If you are in the New Age Tech Space, build something you will use as a User.”
1. To build a great Product needs time and persistence
Great products and companies are not built in a day and not with shallow thoughts or plans. Greatness comes from hard work, deep thinking & planning, persistence, meditation and time.
2. If you are not multitasking then you are not the Founder Entrepreneur
Every Entrepreneur should multi-task, even if there are enough resources and money. That way the Entrepreneur has a hands-on experience of the business and can lead the team with knowledge and skill and not just a designation.
3. Most Users don’t know what they want in their Product
They might know what a pain point is. But in most cases they have to be told how something can be made better for them. It’s easier to show users what it is and take their opinion than asking them what they want.
4. Don’t spend money to reach another Funding Round – Spend it to grow your business.
Any money spent should be towards growing your business or solving a problem. Fundings are always a fluid scenario and situations can change drastically over a week’s time and ruin any amount of concrete plans of funding.
5. If you are in the New Age Tech Space, build something you will use as a User
If you build something you can use as a user then you don’t need to find inspiration from anywhere to build your product. Feedback, New Ideas, Improvisations and Issues come easily when you use it on your own.
“Take risks, don’t gamble.”
- Take risks, don’t gamble.
Business is not a Casino, when things go wrong, it hurts. Employees, vendors, partners, are affected; many stakeholders can be in pain. It’s not one night of madness at Vegas, so take risky decisions up to the point where you can change quickly if things don’t go as ascertained (typically they go more wrong than right. If you have a fetish for gambling then Vegas or Macao would work better, keep the business away.
- Transition from being an Entrepreneur to a Business-man/woman
Entrepreneurship is awesome. The zeal to get things done gets you started. But a big realization this year is “it’s not always innovating” but following through with sound business practices, street smart working (I am still a Work-in-Progress). It’s needs to be a solid business with strong unit economics, store P&L’s and one that is data driven. The brutal environment rarely “gives”, it “ takes”. Strike the balance.
- Focus on product /service, build a business for the Consumer
Life starts with the consumer and ends with the consumer. Big distribution is not always the best if fundamentals are weak. Focus on operations, build a stronger product/service, even behemoths can’t displace you if you can create sticky consumers. If you are a darling of the consumer, rest assured you will be a darling of all the stakeholders.
- Resist temptation to dilute the Brand
A big channel partner, a chain hospitality brand may offer you massive business but aren’t willing to allow your brand. Resist. Balance it out between your short term goals and long term strategy. The big boys are hardened professionals chasing numbers with a limited mission pandering to the boardroom bosses. They could get myopic thus compromise on your product, brand service to the consumer. Keep the brand flag flying, that’s the only way you ensure survival and you can be valued.
- Plagiarising, copying, poaching, infringement of copyright, me too’s – hard facts of business in India.Learn to live with this, need to dedicate an independent resource to chase this. Entrepreneurs’ mind-space is limited; he/she is better off focussing on the product/service/consumer.
“It will take much longer than you think it will.”
1) Don’t think of building a scalable automated product/service from Day 1 for the ‘mass market’
2) It may be OK to be a single founder – VCs may not love you but if you have co-founders make sure you have the absolute same vision/goals
3) Crunch the numbers early on – Won’t help if you discover months later that unit economics don’t work
4) Try and hire a team to do stuff as early as possible – The ideal CEO should probably not have a computer in their office 😉
5) It will take much longer than you think it will.
Co-founder & CEO, Vidooly
“Stop doing useless networking, build business.”
1. Hire an admin guy on day one post your product launch/funding round.
I have seen many startup founders do the admin work by themselves in early days. This is good, but when you are scaling fast, you need to assign things to different sets of people who are good at it.
2. Stop doing useless networking, build business.
I have seen most of startup founders who are first timers, they don’t miss a single event in the early stage (they can miss their girlfriend’s birthday, but not an event). Attending events is good, but attend very very specific industry specific workshops/events/roundtables/ conferences that will add value to your business.
3. Focus on automation and process if you want to scale
Startups who have designed their process lean and automated things properly; can actually scale multi-fold. I’m not saying you should remove the manual intervention. Do manual stuff, but for some time. When you think the validation/experiment is finished, then go for automation to scale.
4. Inbound marketing works a lot.
Whether it is about acquiring customers or hiring or generating interest from investors; don’t approach them all for the first time. Find a way to get noticed by them. People who come to you with their own interest, will stick to you for the longer run and conversions will be higher.
5. Stop doing self-branding, start doing product marketing.
Don’t waste your time to become popular among startups. Put your marketing efforts to make your product popular and getting traction. Remember, startup folks are not going to buy your product, because most of them live their life in JUGAAD way.
“Understand when to pull the plug.”
Focus always pays off.
Choose a niche, choose priorities and stay dogged about them.
Build complementary skill sets.
Build a team in a way, that everyone can focus on their strengths.
Be a transformational leader.
Create a vision which inspires your team to build a new future.
Understand when to pull the plug.
Know when to fix the leaking pipe, and end projects that keep losing money.
Understand yourself and keep growing.
Practice gratitude, build relationships and learn new skills.
Sushrut has written a full-fledged post on his learnings. Pls do read it here.
“Hustle ALL the time!”
- The accountability that comes with being called “Founder” – This year, I changed my business cards and placed “Founder” next to my name, replacing my old designation – ‘Managing Director’. I was never big on titles and positions, after learning early in my career that real respect is earned through hard work, not titles. Calling myself ‘Founder’ (at long last!), gave me a bigger sense of accountability and an even bigger sense of pride in the venture and brand I’ve built over the years. As Founder of SatisFIND®, I realized that I am the best ambassador for the brand I’ve built. Who I am and what I do in both personal and professional aspects of my life reflect on the brand.
- Finding your Tech Co-Founder is like finding “Mr. Right” – After sharing SatisFIND® with my co-founder, Kaiz for years (we eventually got married J), we realized in 2015 that to take SatisFIND® to the next level, we need to open ourselves to a third co-founder. It felt like dating. We asked trusted friends in the industry to find us a ‘suitable match’. And when we found the one, we went out on a first date (casual meeting)! They say when you’ve found the one, you’ll know. It feels right. Trust your instincts when it comes to finding the right co-founder.
- Hustle ALL the time – I’ve always thought of myself as an introvert, approaching people I don’t know was a challenge I recently had to overcome. In the startup environment, every opportunity to be around people, whether it’s with my friends or prospective clients or people I happen to sit next to in an event, I need to be ready to make that pitch for SatisFIND® ALL the time. I usually ask a question, like “have you heard of mystery shopping?” to help me direct the flow of the conversation. Who knows, the next person you meet might be the investor you’ve been praying for!
- Wear your brand, literally. – Kaiz and I wanted to rid ourselves of the dilemma each morning deciding what to wear, so we had SatisFIND® uniforms made for the team. We have a SatisFIND® shirt to wear, be it a formal meeting with clients or a hoodie for those casual networking nights with other startups. We get compliments each time, and I know people appreciate how proud we are of our brand. We go to meetings with our SatisFIND® notepads too! (Yes, we love our brand too much!) Now, I’m thinking of having SatisFIND® umbrellas made for the monsoon! 😉
- Dream BIGGER than ever before – I love 2015 because it’s a year of discoveries and learnings. Being around other startup founders has been inspiring, and hearing about successful startups getting funded, only makes my heart beat faster. I love this world we live in now, where people who dream of building things and making this world a better place have a real shot at making that dream a reality.
“You can NOT do everything, however passionate you might be.”
Learning #1: Never, ever, ever hire average people because, “Chalta hai, yaar”. The damage is multi-fold and it brings down the performance level of the whole team.
Learning #2: You can NOT do everything, however passionate you might be. Eventually, you’ll burn out and will do more harm to the company than good. Always delegate.
Learning #3: There’s always a storm of advice (often unsolicited) that’s going to come your way. Stay focused.
Learning #4: Take care of your health. Youth, passion, never-say-die attitude will surely give you the initial advantage. But remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Learning #5: Investors don’t decide your destiny, you do. So don’t let them. Always negotiate from a position of strength, never go to the discussion table when you’re weak.
ADDED ON JAN 1, 2016.
Co-founder, Mobi First Media
“You should never build to raise money from VCs.”
1) Never look back on what you’ve built. If you have believed in something, then the only way is to move forward.
Moving forward means clearing all the roadblocks and gaps that you need to address on the product you have built.
2) Audience traction on a product built is far too difficult than aggregating audience through third party (which is where my experience always was)
3) Always play to your strengths – it’s like how it is in any other sport. Trying new things is good, but knowing when to stop trying new things is equally important.
If you don’t know when to stop the chances of entrepreneurship draining your confidence, money and self-respect is high, so always keep your eyes and ears open.
4) You should never build to raise money from VCs. This is something I always knew but forgot as a thumb rule in the whole of 2015. Now when I look back, the reason I was successful in the past was because I built businesses and didn’t start up because I needed to raise money. The focus on raising money took precedence and now stands corrected.
Money will come when businesses are built.
5) Don’t think that if someone is huge, it makes you small.
A human mind is capable of the greatest imagination and that is the key. You dream big you make big.
“Don’t be afraid of failure. Don’t make a decision based on a fear of failing. It’s OK to fail.”
1. Be confident – nothing convinces people more than your confidence in yourself, team and idea.
2. Be adaptable – listen to the experts. The final decision is yours of course, but be open to learning from someone who’s been there and done that.
3. Ask for help – don’t be shy of asking for help when you need it and leverage your network to its fullest.
4. Don’t be afraid of failure – it will make you stronger and better. Don’t make a decision based on a fear of failing. It’s OK to fail.
5. Enjoy yourself – if you don’t enjoy what you are doing, you are not doing the right thing.
Share your learnings – (5 or any number!) in the comments please!!
We’d love to read them!