4 must haves’ — before you Start-up!
One question which I am asked at almost all forums is — ‘what is that one thing that everyone must have before starting a business?’
Now, I don’t know if I have the right answer yet, but I can happily share what has worked for me in the past.
I have tried my hands at multiple businesses.
Right from Event Management (2006 to 2010 — bootstrapped/ exited/ profitable), to handmade carpets in (2011 to 2014 — bootstrapped / wife’s venture/profitable/still running successfully) to home health care (2015–2016, angle investment/exited/failed) to holiday home project in hills (2011–2012 /exited/ failed) and Feminine Hygiene products (Sirona Hygiene, started in 2013 with PeeBuddy, joined full time from 2016 onwards, bootstrapped for 2 years, raised 2 small funding rounds, PAT positive).
Steve Jobs said, it’s only in hindsight that you can join the dots. If I were to find a few commonalities /dots between businesses which did well and which didn’t, I’d count these 4 as prerequisites for success.
My Four Must Have’s
1) 1000 day minimum commitment — Full TIME
ROME wasn’t built in a day. Neither is any profitable business.
You should be mentally prepared for a 1000 day commitment, it’s like having a baby, and a 40 week term is the ideal term. Now, anything under also survives but often faces challenges.
Or think of it like an MBA degree, you give it a good 3 years (1 year prep, 2 year at institute). But when it comes to stabilizing a business, we are all in a rush. It needs time. If you have an idea, the sooner you start the better it is as it would take time before you learn your lessons/ make mistakes, unlearn and build your ROME.
In hindsight, this has been one of the biggest factors behind the success of any business in my case, whichever project, I kept pushing for a 1000 days, all lessons were learnt and it eventually started scaling. Wherever I gave up early, it folded. Events, Carpets & Sirona (PeeBuddy) crossed this milestone, and survived, other projects did not — and the common factor was time given. One can always blame wrong decisions/ team / time / money — but I have observed, in 1000 days you usually end up finding most answers, in cases where one gives up early —postmortem is done but reality is — we gave up.
So, before you start, ask yourself — can I give these 1000 days & give 1000 days like I mean it — Full time !
Why FULL TIME?
Business is not a hobby, it can’t be done part time. Your 1000 days start from the day you decide to do this full time, not before. If there is a safety net (let me try this part time, if it doesn't work, I will go back to the job or something else), you will hit it for sure! No plan B, whenever there is a plan B, plan A fails! It needs 100% commitment. No two things can be done FULL TIME, at the same time.
2) Avoid Analysis Paralysis!
Unfortunately, in India it’s almost a crime to fail and hence founders go through a lot of emotional pressure to make decisions which are right only — every time (which is not possible). What this unsaid pressure does is — its puts you on back-foot, analysis paralysis takes over, you over analyse everything & avoid trying new things.
My take on this is — its OK to fail but don’t stop trying new things for the fear of failure. You are not god to get everything right, there are 100 other moving parts at play (who would have imaged CoVid will kill so many profitable businesses) and it’s only human to err. So err, make mistakes, learn fast, and move on — but TRY new things. In my case, any business where we tried radical routes, did new things — growth continued, wherever we stopped trying new ways— stagnation crept in.
Too much of planning / analysis paralysis / too casual / too careful — all kinds have gone right and wrong. It’s a steep learning curve and you have to be ready to take the beating! Trick is to get up & show up.
3) It’s a lonely journey!
‘Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan’ was made popular by President John F. Kennedy. Take a print out of this and keep it on your desk, because if you are a success — everyone (even your dhobhi) will be there to take the credit but if you fail — remember you stand alone & its all your fault.
To make the journey even more exciting—please keep in mind— people will come and go, you have to finish this arduous task alone.
Which makes a very lonely journey.
Just remember — you are in it all by yourself. No one to blame, no one to share. I have myself experienced extreme lows like — co-founder leaving / cheating, best team members leaving, competition copying products, legal hassles for no fault of mine, fire fighting & investor pitches falling on the same day, key hires suddenly becoming non performers /liability to name a few. Everyone has been through these, so would you.
If you are having any such day, just remind yourself — this is momentary and shall pass. And keep going. Easier said than done, but there is no other option. You just can’t afford to let negativity crawl in & stay. If you are having a bad day, stop working, go home, play with your kid, watch a movie! In any case, work happens 24x7, any committed founder doesn’t need to prove his dedication by following office hours. If one day is not going your way, take a break. Reboot and show up again!
Once again — its best to assume that while team / co founders / partners / investors are there for support and most of them can be a massive strength — its your journey and you should be prepared to do it by yourself without passing the buck. If you get support, amazing ! If not, don’t stop for the want of support. Before you start, get the expectations on this one right. People might go their own way, you need to stay on track !
Stay positive at all costs. Stay away from negative people (constructive criticism is welcome). Forgive people. Find the right mentors, a well-known mentor — if not positive in his approach, can ruin your life. Read here
4) Dignity? Money? Good life? Whats That!
Another good thing to be mentally prepared for is — survival without much money & be prepared to take multiple blows to your dignity / self respect / ego / whatever you call it ! Peers will grow / have better cars / salaries / buy houses / go on fancy holidays and your life would revolve around — paying rent / salaries / sales / problems. At the end of the day, your only prayer to god will be — no more new issues for now.
It’s good to arrange money to run the basic framework (financial requirement for each start-up varies), if you are building something which needs external capital, it’s a great sign of commitment if initial capital is arranged by you — usual places to look are friends, family, &/or fools. But you will be paid measly, and will go paycheck to paycheck. In short, the first few years, you should be prepared to survive on very little money.
But at this end of the day — when you end up doing all this & survive — the sheer joy of being able to solve problems for your customers, seeing your team members prosper & the joy of running a healthy business — makes it all worthwhile :)