By Aljo Joseph
I would like to offer you the best job ever!
Here is the job profile.
“We want you to setup a company that we believe could do $1 Bn+ in revenues by year 5. But we would like you to tell us – HOW?.
You will have 12 to 14-hour days with no weekends, holidays or monthly salaries.
To fairly compensate you for your hard work, you will get 100% equity in the company.
No one will tell you what to do or require you to be present in office. If you need money for your expenses, you must generate revenues and take a portion of it.”
Would you take up this job?
I certainly would NOT!
This is the reality of any start-up founder who is boot-strapping. There is no safety net nor anyone else to blame for every failure. Everything good (and mostly bad) starts and ends with you.
So why do some people subject themselves and their family (for selfish reasons) to such uncertainty and difficulty?
The answer may vary depending on who you speak to.
But there is only ONE right answer – STRONG BELIEF.
Belief is the root factor responsible for you getting out of your bed every morning and pulling out those huge energy reserves that you never thought you had left. It is what has helped India’s entrepreneurs tide over recent rough waves like demonetization, GST, decline in demand etc.
Without belief you wouldn’t simply find the passion to power through all the difficulties that come your way. Without STRONG BELIEF, you would simply call yourself – a victim!
So, I have been believing and striving it out as an Entrepreneur. Now it has qualified me to subject you to my pearls of wisdom from my journey that you will hopefully find useful.
Here is my journey:
At CredSaver we arrived at a reasonable commercial solution reasonably quickly. But we had to soon strike a balance between growth and IP protection.
How much of IP protection falls on the side of being ‘over’ cautious?
There is no right answer to this and every founder must figure this balance for themselves.
All this while people throw around templatized wisdom at you “Idea means nothing. Magic is in execution.”
Another important thing to remember is, just because your solution is correct and logical, it does not mean a customer should buy it.
In B2B sales it is not so much about price, as much as it is about “Personal and Organization Risk Coverage”.
Most people know what gets their salaries and bonus in and what will get them their next increment. While they may concur that you are the next best thing since say – light bulb, it does not mean that they will risk ‘their’ jobs to help launch your idea.
Most people will not say NO explicitly and rightly so, “what if this crazy guy actually succeeds”, hence it is important that you keep asking the right questions to understand their reservations.
This cycle of asking questions, updating your solution and getting an incremental feedback must be an ongoing process in your early days and must be where you spend most of your time.
Finally, you will reach a risk-reward equilibrium, this is where the magic happens!
Also, never underestimate market sentiments. You can do everything right and try and wow the market with your brilliance but at the wrong time.
While people will acknowledge your wisdom, they may not necessarily write you a cheque.
It is important that you pick up early warning signs like impending liquidity crunch for NBFCs and put in place your plan B, C, D and E.
Flexibility and speed is a key virtue to succeed as a start-up founder.
One of the more critical things to do is investing your time and energy in activities that will help derive maximum value.
You can always invent stuff to do, focus on easier low value adding activities to fill your day and seem busy, but at the end of the day there is no boss to please here.
A useful question that I ask myself is, what must I do to make today as valuable as possible for CredSaver?
It is no longer about you, it is about the mission you are on to realize your vision. The company is bigger than you now!
While expenses are a by-product of running any business, a boot-strapped venture means that you will be burning your own money.
Hence it is important that every penny spent takes you closer to vision.
It is important to critically question each spend and check its value in getting you closer to your incremental goal.
All spends reduce your ability to sustain without income by a few days and this in the end may be the difference between making it or not.
A Startup is a fascinating world in itself that consumes, evolves and defines the future ‘You’.
The evolved you may not fit into the mould of an employee any longer and the vision will have you possessed.
A Startup is like Hotel California – “you may check-in any time you want but you may never leave”.
(The author is founder and director of fintech startup CredSaver.com. Views are personal.)