Entrepreneurs, whether successful or not, learn a lot of lessons in their entrepreneurial journey. Lessons that have helped them avoid mistakes and hustle through.
If you are starting out on your entrepreneurial journey, here are some words of wisdom from those who’ve been there before. These were lessons entrepreneurs parted with at earlier editions of UnPluggd, our mega startup conference.
The next edition is scheduled for June 19th and 20th (details). Go ahead and block your tickets!
I learnt to fail and I learnt why I fail. [Tweet This]
Pallav Nadhani, Co-Founder & CEO of FusionCharts
The product fails not because they had less features but they have more features which customers cannot use. [Tweet This]
In the Internet, it is not big that eats the small, it is always the fast that eats the slow. [Tweet This]
Naveen Tewari, CEO & Founder of Inmobi
Make sure you get the right VC because with the good VC, life is tough but with a bad VC, its hell! [Tweet This]
Sachin Bansal, Co-Founder & CEO of Flipkart
Strategic alignment with funding partner is very important. In the long terms it matters a lot. [Tweet This]
Aloke Bajpai, CEO & Co-Founder of iXiGo
If our seed investors waste time questioning which approach to take, discussing reasons why you will fail, spending weeks on building financial models and looking for revenue growth, we are never going to find the next Google in India. [Tweet This]
Manish Sharma, CEO of Printo
I failed in ventures before, taught me you should focus on cash. [Tweet This]
These are just some of the insightful and interesting quotes from startup journeys, shared by entrepreneurs and founders at Unpluggd over the years.
The upcoming UnPluggd is full of amazing insights and experience sharing – no gyaan. All real stuff.
Inspiring, to know about someone who at the dawn of her 60th birthday chose to start her own venture, even more refreshing that she chose to go the eCommerce way.
Meenakshi Datta is the CEO & Founder of Thread Turner and a makeover expert who started her apparel & fashion ecommerce platform at age 60.
Meenakshi gave up her job to devote her time to bringing up her children and once they flew the nest, that’s when she got started. She took an active interest in honing her skills and joined theatre workshops, did voiceovers, conducted communication skills workshops, held sessions as a motivational speaker and created initiatives to empower underprivileged women. Every step was learning for her, which all put together culminated in her starting up Thread Turner.
Captian Nair- The Inspiration
A year ago, on a home-bound flight, Meenakshi came across an article on Captain Nair and was surprised to know that at age 65 he started the Leela Group of Hotels. That really got her thinking that age is just a number. This was inspiration enough for her to turn into an entrepreneur.
Overcame the challenges
eCommerce, for one, was a completely new domain for her, something way beyond her comfort zone. She recollects always being at the edge of her seat as she underwent the training program to setting up the website – all the jargons, parameters, softwares.
“I always knew the great potential eCommerce held and a few days into training, I discovered its beautiful nuances and also the power of technology.”
The formalities and the wait for clearing the license process was a tedious task which demanded a great deal of patience, optimism and determination.
Unmatched Family Support
“The family has always supported each and every initiative of mine but of course working out of home was a new thing for them. My meetings with craftsmen would be monitored by the family and would take place in between rustling up an evening snack. My conference calls used to be punctuated with ‘Do you have any clothes for ironing?’, ‘Can I take the car out?’…to my mother-in-law insisting I join her for tea.”
Her success mantra seems to be simple, she says, never sit on a problem for more than 24 hours. Connect with the youth & young people; surround yourself with the energy and buzz.
Designing & Conducting Makeovers- It Just Happened
Her artistic and cultural sensibilities in making over of home, personal wardrobe as well as her aesthetic dressing sense has caught the eyes of celebrated designers at fashion weeks. Though, designing was a logical evolution, all her experience of conducting workshops with corporates on personal grooming is what eventually led her to conduct makeovers.
Meenakshi’s Vision for Thread Turner is all about seeing the brand Thread Turner being the fashion choice of every independent, enterprising and empowered woman.
Freecharge has had interesting beginnings and importantly, a lot of interesting stories while they built the rocketship. As an outsider but a keen observer, here are some of the milestones (in my opinion) that led to Freecharge’s growth story.
Naman wrote a guest piece on NextBigWhat (at that time, Pluggd.in). Kunal shah contacted him immediately (liked his insights around the recharge business model). Naman joined him as employee#1. The name ‘Freecharge’ was coined after that. Naman was leading the initial product management+feature decisions + development part (with only 1 engineer).
In short, there was no serious tech that was built – everything was based on ‘jugaad’. In fact, a lot of initial features were built on community feedback over Pluggd.in.
2. Hustle. Hustle.
This is a well known story of Freecharge. If you have been to the summer edition of UnPluggd conference (2014), you know what was shared.
Before the term ‘growth hacking’ became a buzzword, Freecharge growthhacked and hustled their way to glory.
The team created a *fake* Facebook profile of an extremely good looking girl who would share all the usual girly stuff on her page. In a very short span, she became super popular (is that a surprise?) and the GTM strategy was based on using the Facebook profile to drive traffic to Freecharge.
Did it work?
Watch this interesting talk by Kunal Shah on human behavior and tech startups at NextBigWhat’s conference.
3. Momentum and Deap Ubhi
Momentum is an extremely good thing. Very few get it and the smarter founders ride on it. Those who fail to, they need to rework on building the momentum (again!).
One of smartest decision Freecharge made was to bring in Deap Ubhi (ex-Burrp cofounder) and have him lead technology + product.
That turned out to be their biggest differentiator and defined the next growth strategy (and also the UX strategy).
I won’t be wrong to say that Deap seeded a lot of product and design thinking inside Freecharge.
4. Bringing Alok Goel As CEO
Being a CEO is more about ‘E’ (Execution) and less about C.
Luckily, Kunal Shah knows (I guess?) his shortcomings and strength. He is a great ideator – and needed somebody who can take care of execution. And Alok fits in beautifully well.
At different stages of the company, you need different skill sets in the leadership team. Luckily, Freecharge understood this at the right time and Alok’s mobile+Google experience helped them build the rocketship.
5. The Exit Timing?
Well, I guess that Freecharge hit its innovation limits (of being a freecharge/recharge company) and needed to do something more ballsy.
That’d need much more ammunition and ecosystem support – which Snapdeal will provide. Frankly speaking, Freecharge’s nearest competitors Paytm and Mobikwik are taking on much bigger play with payment tech and aren’t limiting themselves to just a recharge business.
Maybe, Freecharge will do that at a bigger scale. Maybe, they will aim to be the largest app install marketing business in India (why aren’t they doing it??). But what’er they do, the next disruption is NOT on recharge business model anymore.
Startup Lessons From Freecharge?
Now, that’s the boring part – but if you look at it, apart from hustling, Kunal Shah ended up making smart decisions and that helped him grow the business (even at a cost of giving away ownership/equity/control).
After all, a few percentage of a $400mn+ business is better than 100% of shit.
Very few founders do that. Most of them are stuck in ‘me me me’ mantra and Kunal knew his strength/weakness. He steered the company around his strength (the unique business model) and built a team that compensated for his weakness.
Chances are that you haven’t heard of Malli Mastan Babu – he happens to have achieved the feat of becoming the “fastest seven summiteer” in the world (172 days in 2006). I remember when I met him, he narrated the story of how he strategized to climb the 7 summits on 7 days of the week in each calendar month – this involved lot of preparation, waiting, grit and patience! There was no logical reason behind the ‘7 days of the 7 month’ – but he just wanted his way.
Malli was also the first Indian to summit Mt Vinson Massif, the tallest peak in Antarctica.
He died while on a climb to Argentina’s Andes mountain (he was missing since March 24th).
Malli was an alumnus of IIT Kharagpur and IIM Calcutta – I had the fortune of meeting him and talking to him several times.
The only word to describe Malli is CRAZY. No one can logically explain why he did what he did. At times, I have wondered what makes him so crazy? Why can’t he be ‘normal’? For somebody like me who is surrounded with entrepreneurs who are talking about unicorn valuation, Malli seemed like a person from a different planet.
– He had the luxury of taking any corporate job, but he didn’t even think twice about mountaineering.
– He had no formal training in the initial years of mountaineering. He scaled mountains after mountains – with literally no support from government or even sponsors.
– He never wanted to be in the limelight.
I invited him for UnPluggd conference thrice and he shied away citing several reasons. I wanted to connect him with several corporate sponsors – but he wasn’t the most sponsor-friendly person. He believed in himself and wasn’t ready to sell his freedom for anything (even though his nearest competitors have made 50X with 1/10th achievement).
In the past, he was duped by several corporates/ sponsors and that explains why he just wanted to be where he breathed his last breath – the mountains.
The most inspiring thing about Malli is him being dedicated to fulfilling his dream, his relentless effort of chasing his dreams without giving a damn to fame, money or other commercial interests. He never looked for any approval. He just did it.
Rest in peace, Malli. India has truly lost its mountaineering son.
That was Dhoni’s reaction after being asked to move to Cricket from his fav game, football during his early days of schooling!
Dhoni also served as TTE (Train Ticket Examiner) in Kharagpur and from then to now – the cool capitan is an inspiration++ to all and here are some of Dhoni quotes that just proves how inspiring and amazing he is!
Here Are Some Of Dhoni’s Inspiring Quotes
“When people talk about South Africa, it’s all about lions and elephants. But when we talk about India, we talk about tigers.” [Tweet this]
“I don’t study cricket too much. Whatever I have learned or experienced is through cricket I’ve played on the field, and whatever little I have watched.
There are plenty of people who earn 50 crores or 100 crores as businessmen or big professionals or who are really doing well in business. But what gives pleasure to your mom and dad is the fame.
I believe in giving more than 100% on the field, and I don’t really worry about the result if there’s great commitment on the field. That’s victory for me.
For me, opposition is just another opposition. [Tweet this]
One of my theories is to be captain on the field and off the field, you need to totally enjoy each other’s company. I don’t like discussing cricket off the field.
I never allow myself to be pressured. [Tweet this]
We spent $200M and we have not proven out our business model.
We spent $200M and we have not proven that we know precisely what customers want to buy.”
Jason Goldberg, cofounder and CEO of Fab, one of the biggest failure of the recent times wrote a memo to his team, as part of the final act. The company spent burnt $200mn in 2 years and well, they got into action only when they had $100mn left.
Here is probably the most important takeaways from Jason’s letter.
I have made mistakes.
I guided us to go too fast.
I enabled us to lose our core focus.
I didn’t insist on our honing in on our target customer.
I didn’t build discipline around costs and business metrics enough into our culture.
I spent too much on marketing before we got the consumer value proposition right.
I allowed us to over invest in Europe vs. insisting on scaling global teams from the start.
I didn’t build a culture and discipline that connected supply chain to merchandising to delivery. I allowed silos of teams and thinking, and that has seeded an awful an [sic] cancerous distrust.
I didn’t see the need to course correct fast enough. [Read the entire letter]
There are a lot more critics than doers. People try to bring others down. Some given in. Some stand up.
Author, Chetan Bhagat who is often a target among social media netizens posted an inspiring note to all those who have been critiquing him.
“Sometimes, I look back and wonder, how on earth did all this happen? I remember my days at the bank in Hong Kong, and getting a performance review from my boss, telling me I don’t deserve to be promoted. That I lacked something, while everyone else was ok. I remember thinking I need a drink, and wanting to get pissed drunk at his treatment ofÂ me. But right then, another thought came to me. Let me express my hurt in another way. And so I started a book, about three friends in an Engineering college.
Six books, five films and a hundred columns later, today as I see Kick release in more screens than any other film ever, I wonder. What if I had chosen the path of getting drunk to cope? What if I had not written that first sentence? What if I had believed my boss, who said I lacked something vital? Thank you God for giving me the strength and wisdom at that moment.
All of us are told we aren’t good enough. Sometimes we believe it also. But don’t. Because nobody, not even you, knows what you are capable of. The criticism will never stop, ever. As I write this, many on twitter must be posting hate tweets about me, telling me how useless I am. But all I want to tell them is this. Buddy, I heard that one before. And it is because I heard that is why I am where I am today.
Congratulations to the entire hard working team of Kick for the big release today.
And thank you boss. Thank you so much for not promoting me.”
ClearTax is the first India focused startup accepted in the most sought after startup accelerator programme, i.e. YCombinator.
ClearTax helps Individuals e-File their Tax returns online via their website. All a user has to do is upload their Form-16 PDF and the ClearTax software prepares the tax return instantly and automatically. ClearTax reads everything and fills out the correct tax form at the right places so that you don’t have to.
What’s very interesting about clearTax’s YC entry is that the company so far is purely India focused, which is quite unlike YC, as they seem to be more comfortable with ideas focused on US (and developed) markets.
Here is an interview with ClearTax founder, Archit Gupta who demystifies a few myths.
NextBigWhat: Did YC take you up for your Indian plans? Or for the global plan?
Archit Gupta: I think YC looks at founders first and then the business. Right now we are very focused on India and continuing to grow here. We applied to YC with ClearTax. With that said, we have a great example in InMobi where a strong International focus has helped accelerate the company’s growth trajectory. Taxes are country and region specific so it is not an automatic transition. We have different plans that we are validating with experiments.
NextBigWhat: What has been the interview process? what has been your learning from all of this?
Archit Gupta: We applied to Y Combinator via the standard application process. We filled out the YC application form online. At the time of application, we didn’t submit the video (a video of the founders is required as part of the application) as we were in different cities running sales or meetings. We got a message from YC to upload a video to complete the application. We recorded that and later on, we were asked to show up for a ten-minute interview at YC. We flew to California for that and then got in.
The learning is: Don’t self select yourself out. Many startups don’t apply because they make assumptions about how YC or other accelerators think. This applies to business development activities as well. We applied last minute. I wrote the application out a on the last day, few hours before the deadline.
The other learning is to be persistent and patient. Also, find friends who understand the journey to make the journey fun. For example, Vijay Shekhar Sharma (who’s startup journey has been documented by NextBigWhat), has been an incredible friend and was always looking out for us when no one else cared.
For startup founders looking for advice on the application: Writing well is key. I have learned this over time (and it requires a lot of work). For the actual interview, we prepped with six YC alumni who were really helpful. There is a lot of great application advice on ycombinator.com which is useful for applying. We are also happy to help founders in any way we can.
Now within YC, we are getting a lot useful advice from the YC partners and we are working hard to help India e-file!
NextBigWhat: Future plans for ClearTax?
Archit Gupta: We want to help every tax payer in India to e-file their Tax Return via ClearTax. The plan is to continue to grow in India and help every single tax payer e-file. If users want to self-file, we have software. If users want our CA to assist them in their tax returns, we have CAs. If users go to an outside CA, we have TaxCloud India which is India’s largest online platform for CAs to e-File today. We are very excited about Android and the opportunity it offers.
We are also excited about global opportunity that YC enables us to reach.
Here is what we asked :(A) Which font do you use in your sales proposals ANd(B) who is your target segment.
And here goes the response:
Target Segment : BIG Corporates
– Calibiri is the winner!
– Verdana, Arial and Garamond are the next set of favourites.
Looks like, there aren’t any experiments over fonts when it comes to sending proposals to corporates.
On the other hand, when it comes to SMEs/Smaller enterprises, fonts take a different color
– Tahoma, Arial and Verdana win, followed by Georgia, Segoe UI.
As far as the participation is concerned, below is the participation we had.
A Bit About Calibri
Calibri is a humanist sans-serif typeface family under the Microsoft ClearType Font Collection. In Microsoft Office 2007, it replaced Times New Roman as the default typeface in Word and replaced Arial as the default in PowerPoint, Excel,Outlook, and WordPad. It continued to be the default typeface in Microsoft Office 2010 and Microsoft Office 2013applications. Calibri was designed by Lucas de Groot for Microsoft to take advantage of Microsoft’s ClearType rendering technology.[Source: Wikipedia]
There are so many books to read and so little time. But you can’t afford to miss some of them either. We bring you a list of books that some of the greatest entrepreneurs of India are reading now. Take a look.
Kunal Bahl, CEO & Founder, Snapdeal
Reading now/ Plan to read in the next 2-3 weeks
The Evolution of Gods by Ajay Kansal.
1. Guns, Germs & Steel by Jared Diamond.
2. Being Happy by Andrew Mathews.
3. Antifragile by Nassim Taleb.
Kunal Shah, Founder, Freecharge
1. Never Before World
2. Founder’s Dilemma
Plan To Read
1. David & Goliath
2. Crossing the Chasm
Paras Chopra, CEO & Founder, Wingify
‘Good Strategy / Bad Strategy’. Excellent book — in fact, might be the best book on business I have read so far.
I really liked
‘Founders at Work’ and ‘Hard Things About Hard Things’
PJ, Founder, Wishberg
The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz.
Next In the List
a. The Everything Store – Brad Stone
b. Things A Little Bird Told Me – Biz Stone
a. Hatching Twitter
b. Little Bets by Peter Sims
c. What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith
d. Lean Startup by Eric Ries
Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Founder, One97
I am reading
Hard Things about Hard things. It is amazing and I can relate so much with it.
1. Straight from Gut
2. Hard things about hard things
3. Rework by Jason Fried
Looks like every entrepreneur out there is reading The Hard Thing About Hard Things (here’s our review). If you have a recommendations, please leave a comment.
Often you are advised not to startup if you’ve got too many personal responsibilities to take care of. It’s good advice but thats the problem with all generic advise. It’s not for people who are entrepreneurs at heart.
The story of e-commece platform UniCommerce proves it. The company started in 2012 when all founders were married, had children to raise and pay back loans.
UniCommerce has quickly scaled and now has over 250 customers. “In hindsight, if we could do it then, we could have done it anytime in the past 9 years we’ve been thinking of starting a company,” recalls Ankit Pruthi, one of the 3 Co-Founders of Unicommerce.
In this talk at UnPluggd, Pruthi recalls the journey and shares valuable lessons for entrepreneurs.
At UnPluggd, we try hard to make it not about Gyaan. This edition of UnPluggd was all about great content and amazing speakers. We were glad to host Suresh Sambadnam, the founder of OrangeScape. He shared some great learnings. Here’s an excerpt.
– Misjudging ramp up of new geography: New geographies are very different.
– Engaging experts doesn’t help always.
– Health equity worth more than sweat equity.
– Personal wealth : Putting all eggs in Startup Basket.
– Telling the bad news early is easier said than done.
– Sales is intutive, marketing is not
– Platforms need an application facade
– Money comes in different shades of green
– Networking doesn’t help beyond a point
– Mentors> Advisors > BoD. Less vested, more value.
5 Things Right
– First learn, then delegate. Make them succesful.
– Keeping cool at all times. Live the present.
– Rolling up the sleeves. Growth changes only the task.
– Spotting and hiring good talent- Team is all.
– My wife, son and dog still love me.
If you are on a world changing mission, start off with a daunting task in the morning – make your bed.
That’s a sincere piece of advice from US Naval Admiral William H. McRaven as part of his commencement speech at UT Austin.
If you did it right, the corners would be square, the covers pulled tight, the pillow centered just under the headboard and the extra blanket folded neatly at the foot of the rack-rack-that’s Navy talk for bed.
It was a simple task-mundane at best. But every morning we were required to make our bed to perfection. It seemed a little ridiculous at the time, particularly in light of the fact that were aspiring to be real warriors, tough battle hardened SEALs-but the wisdom of this simple act has been proven to me many times over.
If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another.
By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter.
If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.