Lets take a look at some of the factors that determine success or failure of a startup in very early stages
- Having a vision
- Building a great team
- Building the product
- Finding the right product market fit
- Getting funded (if required)
In early stages, most of these tasks are done by founders.
In early stages, startup == founders. And when you say that you are working on a startup, the fact is that you are actually working on yourself.
Now most of the people are smart in most of the things but there are some critical things that they suck at. And the primary reason this happens is because we are uncomfortable in learning these things. Instead of generalizing, let me just put down some of these uncomfortable things I had to deal with in my experience as a founder. I still suck at many of these but important thing is that I am aware about this fact.
Asking for help: Recently I attended a leadership summit and one of the speakers was talking about his experience of turning from a CXO in a large company to an entrepreneur. When he was a CXO people lined up to meet him, but when he turned up an entrepreneur, he had to line up to meet people at very junior levels. It was not an easy thing to do. Similarly, when we were pitching our product to schools, some of them made us wait for hours before giving us time slots. Some times we were shown doors without even a meet. As Subroto Bagchi had put it sometime back – corporate executives are pedigree dogs, entrepreneurs are like mongrels. And its very difficult to turn from a pedigree dog to a mongrel. Asking for help is a big ego hurt!
Pitching: Have never been good with pitching. When I was working for someone else, pitching was not difficult. It was mostly about pitching new ideas to your team members. There was no time limit for pitching. And also the people you are pitching to, knew you very well. Most of the times it was actually other way round. Your boss is pitching you about the new projects. Or a candidate was pitching you in an interview to recruit him/her. In a startup, you are always pitching. You are pitching to your customers, you are pitching to investors and you are pitching to new hires. It actually needs a lot of practice.
Rejections: With pitching comes rejections. In fact just the fear of rejection made me a bad seller. Before I started Eduflix, I had worked on an interesting idea in education space. We had made a decent product but never actually sold it to anyone. The reason was that I was just too scared to call or visit customers. This time I crossed that boundary. Having a sales guy in my team helped (thanks to my cofounder). I got rejected many times. But I sold. Not just customers, we also got rejected by investors. I learnt that rejection does not mean that we are not capable or we are bad. There are n number of things that don’t work out. One has to live with that.
Doing things that you dont like: I hate paperwork. I hate doing repeatedly same things. I hate operational work. I hate processes. However at some point, these things need to be done – for sake of the company.
Changing domains: From Microelectronics to software engineering. From embedded systems to internet and mobile. From technical marketing to product marketing. From Verilog, RTL, simulations to Python, Django, Apache. From managing people who are coding to actually coding self. From B2B to B2C. Changing domains has been the easiest thing to cope with. Being a founder has meant unlearning lot of things learnt in the past and learning new things in completely different domains. I am sure two years from now, things that I will be dealing with will be completely different.
So the next time if I say that I am working on my startup, mostly it would mean that I am working on myself.