6 Obvious Entrepreneurial Lessons I Learnt the Hard Way

[Guest article by Vivek Ravishankar, Founder of Interviewstreet]

I have always cribbed about the fact that a lot of entrepreneurs in India don’t blog much. Only a handful of them actually share their experiences, struggle, etc – a look into your google reader would tell you the number of indi-startup feeds (vs) valley-startup feeds. To contribute a little towards the Indian startup ecosystem, here’s an attempt to share what I have learnt in the startup journey till now.

We started off 10 months back with a portal that would enable candidates to attend mock interviews [skype/telephone] from industry professionals. Some of the things I learnt about online businesses focusing on the Indian market and more so with the student population.

PS: When I mean people, it could be interchangeably used to refer to general Indian market (or) student crowd since that’s the segment I interacted with the most.

1. Paying for a Service

We have been used to paying for a book, dress, movie ticket that suddenly paying for an online service becomes something totally unheard of. The notion/mind-set amongst people is ‘Anything that’s online is free of cost‘.

People were ready to buy a book containing a list of interview questions & answers priced at Rs.400 rather than for an online personalized 1-1 mock interview priced at Rs.350 since they could hold onto something tangible for the money invested.

Very very very crudely speaking, they paid, for talking to someone over the phone! – unfortunately the value behind this remains in the dark.

2. Offline Model

However web-savvy you are, you need to do a good amount of offline marketing to increase the reach. This is especially true if your product could be consumed offline.For eg: to attend a mock interview on our portal, all you needed to have was a telephone. 70% of interviews that happened were through an offline medium.

| I used to stick posters in colleges saying “If you are interested in mock interview, SMS your dream job to 98408….“. This poster simplified the process to a great extent – the moment you saw the poster, all you needed to do was just send an SMS. A good share of interviews came via this route.

| We had a wonderful set of campus ambassadors who would evangelize our product in their colleges – we got quite a lot of interviews via this channel

| We put up stalls in college fests and students made on-spot payments for interviews – again an offline route.

| We conducted a lot of workshops/ppts in different colleges to market our brand.They loved our workshops and wanted us to conduct more, but rarely did it convert to getting people apply to mock interviews through the online channel.

As much of inbound marketing, SEO techniques you would be implementing, to me, it’s not wise to ignore the offline channel – people still need an SMS confirmation, call on their mobiles, etc

3. Online Indulgence

Lets talk about the majority here. 80% of the time you spend online apart from your normal work goes off on this, this & this. Either the problem you are solving has to be the topmostand you need to fare well on the search results (or) you need to hop onto one of the existing channels. Like every early stage startup, it’s wise to do the latter.

We decided to code apps for orkut, GTalk bot wherein you could get random interview questions, puzzles, etc.We missed the basic rule in all these things – it needs to be FUN, it’s okay even if it’s funny, but it can’t be serious.

The golden rule of orkut apps is – at the end, you definitely needed to slap someone, kiss a friend, kick someone’s butt, else it fails to qualify the criteria to get published. So, if you need to get onto those channels to spread the word, fortunately/unfortunately you would need to abide by the above rules.

4. No Trial Version eh?

This is something that everyone of us inherently are used to – but I realized it only after getting this far, better late than never! Be it buying a t-shirt, book, audio CD, you would always want to have a trial of the *same* product before buying it – trying out the same tee, reading the first 20 pages of the book, watching the trailer of the movie before going, etc. Similar was our case – people wanted a trial of the mock interviews.

We built a few by-products (free obviously) which we thought would get us some conversions to the main product – the logic was spot-on but the numbers were no way related to our expectations. We did give off free interviews which pulled in a lot of students to attend, but there were 2 problems

| We set it up for 30 mins (since it was a trial) and the full effect wasn’t visible in that duration

| We couldn’t have a trial like this all through, since the same student could take this 30 minute free-interview again – we needed to compensate the interviewer for every interview.

Ofcourse, the concept of trying out something before I buy has been prevalent all through, just that I realized the importance only now.

5. ‘Ssshh.. I can’t tell my friends about this website!‘

This one should be the best! This was from a student from a reputed college who took up a mock interview. He was very happy with our service and I thought he would atleast put it up as his GTalk status message if not blog about our service. I was wrong!

He said (verbatim) ‘I need a competitive edge against my friends for tomorrow’s interview and I shall maintain this website as a secret only to me’ OMG! :O I really didn’t know whether to laugh/feel-upset. But, bottom-line, I couldn’t reach out to that college through him.

6. E-mail Campaigns Don’t Work

The information overload is so much these days, that at times even personal e-mails get the stick! You are out of connectivity for 3 days, your GMail/Twitter is spammed! In such a scenario, spending on e-mail marketing is such a waste!

As most of us would do, an e-mail from an unknown source/website is archived without even reading the contents of it. Blog posts dealing with ‘10 Tips to better e-mail marketing‘, etc are absolute nonsense. Those things work only if someone opens the mail, but that itself is a rarity.

However reliable services you use for e-mail marketing to send thousands/lacs of e-mail, there is a *good* chance that your domain would be blacklisted. Now, that’s a very dangerous thing to happen – and it did happen to us, we couldn’t send any e-mail from “interviewstreet.com” for 2 days. We used a “reliable” service for the marketing experiment but still got hit. If at all you have money, you could throw to Google Adwords and get some traffic.

The above are some of my learnings. I am not criticizing/offending anyone, but it’s more like a realization on how the market is and how I should position my product. The reason I wrote this post is in the hope that some guy who is planning to start-off (or) is in the early stages could change his positioning a bit if the points makes sense. Thank you.

[Reproduced from Vivek’s blog.]

Recommended Article: “Free = Substandard Product” – 5 Entrepreneurial Lessons from an Entrepreneur

[Note from Ashish: These are Vivek’s personal experience of running his startup and should be taken in the right context.

If you are an entrepreneur and would like to share your experience with PI audience, we are all ears – shoot us an email]