The co-founder of mobillionLabs, Shiladitya mallik, is as prolific a writer as are his entrepreneurial ideas. This ISB alumnus gives a seat-of-the-pants’ view of what it is to be an entrepreneur and why one needs to be prepared for the reality shock!
It has been nine months since I’ve left the relative safety of the corporate world and plunged into the uncertain waters of the startup world. Nine months is a good time to take a step back and mull over some of the lessons that I have learnt. No one said that founding your own startup will be easy. And they were right! Over the past months I’ve interacted with lots of founders and investors. I’ve read hundreds of Quora answers on startups. I’ve digested blog after blog on Medium – all on startups. Some of the stuff that I’ve learnt were already covered by others. Some realizations might be just personal to me. And I have learnt some lessons the hard way – by incurring bad losses. Anyway, here are the nine lessons that I’ve learnt over the past nine months as an entrepreneur.
Passion is overrated Ever since Steve Jobs said “Follow your passion”, the world was never the same. In reality, I found that more than passion, we need determination, grit and perseverance. Without those three ingredients, any sparkle of passion will vanish at the first brush with startup reality. Not every day will be good. In fact, most days will be bleak – we have to face rejection from customers, battle self-doubt on the product viability and fight the impending threat of running out of cash. I don’t think being passionate about entrepreneurship has helped me survive those dark days. Taking one day at a time with the determination of seeing it through and the belief that tomorrow will be a better day, has helped.
ask first, build next
It has happened to all of us – we get struck by a wonderful idea that can change the world. Being passionate entrepreneurs, we immediately start building what we see in our mind’s eyes. And we don’t stop till it is perfect. We don’t stop to ask any potential customers – what do you need? Why? Because their answers might be unsettling. Because they might not be able to articulate it as clearly. Because we are so excited to get going. Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door. But the sad truth is, any idea that is not validated by customers has a high chance of failure. Don’t do it. Talk to customers. Follow the customer’s pain and solve it. You will have the seed of a winning product.
Surveys are Meaningless, Stories are Meaningful
Talking about asking customers, most of us float a short survey trying to validate our fledgling ideas. In my experience, surveys are useless. Take your time to go and personally speak with potential customers. At least 25 of them. Yes, it will take time. Yes, it will be much more work. But you’ll learn much more than what you would have through a survey. Before building QuizPrompt, our enterprise quiz app, we had spoken to dozens of customers, trying to understand their problem in equipping sales force with the right knowledge. The more we spoke, the more we learnt. Customers shared stories of real-life scenarios, that you can never capture in a survey. And guess what – once the product was ready, we went back to those same customers to try it out. I say that’s a double win.
Entrepreneurs are risk takers. Yes, we are. But if there is one area where we can’t afford to take risk is in compliance and paperwork. Don’t risk it at all with the government and the tax folks. I know what you’re thinking – I’m just a small startup, let me grow some more, then I’ll fix these issues. Don’t. Outsource if you have to, but get someone to do the compliance stuff for you. Later on, when you’re big, it will save you a lot of hassle.
rejection is the norm
Planning to startup on your own? Then plan for rejection. The amount of rejection really took me by surprise. In my last job, getting a meeting with a CXO of any top company was as easy as writing a mail. The brand of the organization I was working for did the rest. Once I stepped out of the corporate bubble, it was entirely different. You have to be patient. People will keep you waiting. More than once, I have flown to a different city, just to meet an important customer, only to find the meeting has been cancelled. Don’t take this personally.
Perfect is the enemy of good
Your software will never be perfect. There will always be one more feature to add and one more bug to fix. Don’t fall prey to the fetish of perfectionism. I’ve been guilty of this many times, before I learnt the hard way. Ship things fast, break things early, fix as you go. The feature on which you’re spending an insane amount of effort, might not be important to your customer. As customers use your product, you’ll get real-time feedback about the actual problems. Focus on those. As startups, our resources are limited, so focus is the key.
hustle, hustle, hustle
One lesson I quickly learnt was that nothing is handed over a platter to an entrepreneur. We have to think on our feet, use our resources and get things done. With limited resources, we need to get more things done. That means having the guts to do things that we’re not good at. Over the past months, I’ve played many roles – administered our AWS clusters, designed our logo and brand identity, managed the company books, did heavy duty coding, played the role of customer support executive, led business development activities… Of course, once your ship stabilizes, you definitely want to delegate more and more. But for the initial phase, the founders have to do many things on their own.
no health, no wealth
One thing that I’ve read over and over again from many seasoned entrepreneurs is the focus on your own health while you are on your startup journey. We all have to pull off those all-nighters when the deadline hits. We all need to work without any break for weeks. We all have days when you don’t have the time to even grab breakfast. But continued disregard of health will spell trouble for both you and your company. So early on, I promised myself to do two things come what may – exercise regularly and eat timely. When I don’t have time to hit the gym or when I’m travelling, the 7 Minute Workout app is of great help. You really don’t have any excuse not to spare seven minutes every day for exercise.
balance like a Pro
Finally, my deepest realization is that entrepreneurship is all about balance. There are too many conflicting demands, too many issues vying for your attention. It is very easy to get lost on the unimportant stuff. It is all about balancing the different demands of the job. The one thing which I have found very useful is to set aside 30 minutes every day for contemplation. While the whole day is about action, spending those 30 minutes helps me to decide the priorities, both short/long term. All in all, I hope to learn and unlearn a lot of things as I continue on this exciting journey.