Thursday, February 21, 2013

5 Entrepreneurial lessons learnt from starting up


Think of this for a minute: We were a good looking team, on paper at least. Our founding team had 3 professionals with 15 years experience, each from different domains – Marketing & Strategy, Operations & Finance and Technology. We knew each other before co-founding and the roles were established. The concept was agreed upon and the plan made ready. Here begins our story really…and what we’ve learnt so far (given, there is so much more to learn and do).
Lesson #1: Prepare yourself and family for the long haul
There could be a few exceptions to the rule, who could hit it in the first few months. But largely, to get the product/ service right, to be noticed, liked and more importantly used by customers it takes time. In most of the cases it exceeds a year or so. The revenue flow, break even and profitability could take a further while.
This needs serious planning, commitment and unwavering faith in your ability – by you and your family. Prepare and plan.
Lesson #2: Anything takes longer to build than expected (a home, reputation or a website), and sucks in more cash than what is in your wallet.
This maybe a known fact, which we inadvertently missed when we made the plan. Our objective was clear – hit the highway ASAP. The plan didn’t work, things were all rushed up and the ‘free online platform for buying together and sharing’ that we wanted to build was not even 20% ready on the D-day!
Apart from the frustration it brought in, we were also spending over our budget by then. This took us a while to realize that we may have had very ambitious goals to begin with, and didn’t build in enough contingency. It took us a full 6 months more to get the site in a shape that we wanted; we however, started beta testing it in the meanwhile to save time.
Lesson #3: Do enough customer surveys and build in customer voice
This we did – but little. Not enough and not across all segments. We had to do more elaborate interviews and discussion forums to figure how the target segments were receiving it (we continue to do that) later on, but it worked because we had the prototype ready by then. So, people could now SEE what we meant.
Lesson #4: Collaborate more and share costs, where possible
We were doing too many things by ourselves at the beginning and as a result were over-stretched. Things began falling through the cracks. At times, we noticed we just had to ask and there were good Samaritans willing to help.
So, do ask and take help from other entrepreneurs, startup companies, industry associations, evangelists, mentors and friends. Also, join groups of entrepreneurs like the TiE, which are amazing support to an early startup or a young has collaborated with TiE & the Startup Festival Bangalore and received its share of visibility apart from making long term relationships with great people. Also, where we collaborated with our affiliates, they were willing to share costs on joint marketing exercises, bringing our cost of promotions down.
Lesson #5: Hiring good guys is a challenge. Be smart about it.
Even for big companies and brands, hiring continues to be a challenge. It only gets bigger when you attract great talent and have very little in terms of money, perks, brand and even infrastructure.
All the people we hired till date have been through referrals and that’s probably the best way to hire for a start-up. We did try campus recruitment, spreading the word around on social media and the like, but didn’t get beyond interviews. The guys we did not favour showed interest in joining us and the ones we liked weren’t interested. While we should keep all options open, try referral hiring initially.

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