Hustles, Insights, Philosophies of a Startup, and How to Win

First off, let me get this clear that in this article we will not discuss how to create a loss making (5000 crore rupees) e-commerce company. I am not an expert in it. I don’t know how to do it. So, I won’t even try teaching the process.

What I do know is the philosophy of creating a boutique but sustainable enterprise, which has deeper intellectual property attributable to it. What I also know is the art of building a company without fund raises, and / or incessant madness of raising gazillion dollars in series A to Z funding.

Given my background, I can easily talk about fund raises and how to go about building a venture with venture capital money. However, as a matter of principle, I have decided not to begin any of my venture discussions by describing the venture creation process via fund raises. Instead, I truly believe that the best and most apt investor of your company is and should be your customers. I may cover venture capital route at some other place.

With the above context, let me also acknowledge that no two paths are the same, that no two people unique and that all roads converge but are seldom parallel. What I did so far, how I faired, why I course-corrected, what I overcame, trophies I won, and / or battles I lost, and the lessons and reflections thereof are uniquely unique. So, you should take this piece with a pinch of salt, and try to infer only the broader lessons / decipher philosophical directions to your goals.

Early stage startups need more than an idea : SELF BELIEF

At the earliest stages of your company, what matters most is your self-belief. Everything else – whether your idea is innovative, whether you know marketing, how hard can you work, how good is your product, etc. – DOES NOT MATTER !

Sounds counterintuitive ? Indeed, it is counterintuitive ! But, it is also true.

At the earliest stage of your venture, whether it be a small saloon, an internet portal, a mobile application, a retail outlet, or for that matter a space ship, the one thing that would make or break it is how convinced you are about the idea / venture.

I know most of you would be intrigued at this stage and would like to ask, “How does one attain high conviction ?” Tough question. And, fundamental at that.

Self-belief or attaining convinced state of being is possible only when one knows himself or herself inside out. You need to answer the question, ‘who am I?’ with really high precision in order to build conviction and / or attain self-belief. There are two ways to do so: you could spend considerable time finding answers to this really important question, and / or put yourself within a complex and tiresome process to self-realise as to who you are.

Interestingly, venturing out is one such complex and tiresome process that can lead to persistent learning, unlearning, discovering your ability to perform, fathoming the depth of your achievements and failures, identifying errors, and being intuitive to make corrections etc. This perseverance and oneness with the mission of your venture can lead to the answer of the question, ‘who am I?’. Once you know who you are, you begin to believe in yourself more. Cyclically, the convincing for your company / startup / product / idea needs to come from within.

You see how important, cyclical and confusingly paradoxical is this earliest stage that most entrepreneurs don’t know about / realise ! Most people starting companies completely miss out on this paradox, leading to either failures or outcomes that are not fulfilling. Sometimes, the outcome could be a lot of money but completely unaware of the above mentioned cycle. Such winning entrepreneurs wouldn’t learn much ! They may come out of the venture with hard cash, but won’t be able to derive life value out of their venturing.

Many e-commerce millionaires and billionaires in India have this precise problem. They have not gone through the actual process but were plainly lucky to have financially gained a lot. Thanks to the not-so-deep thinking Indian venture capital investors, who continually pushed them and many other Indian entrepreneurs into the shallow game of building companies via incessant fund raises. There are crooked rationale / reason as to why do venture capital investors behave the way they do. We will cover that at some other place.

Being convinced to do your company is like a pious romance.

Let’s come back to the question of being convinced about ones venture. Being convinced to do your company is like a pious romance. It comes from within. It is never external. It’s an in-situ process. Don’t you agree that the feeling of true love comes from within ? That it is never forced ? That it can’t be produced by an external agent ? That falling in love is not a verb but a noun !

The earliest stage of doing a company is very similar to falling in love with your plan / idea / product / company. I have fallen in love many times over. Each time, I feel the same rush – the same love – the same emotions for my companies. The only way to win in this stage is to fall in love – madly and deeply – with your company / product / idea !

Survival of a startup is the key at the initial stages

However, this earliest phase of romance is followed by a meandering and treacherous route. This is the stage in which you get to doing things and failing – every day: finding your team members, planning how to survive the winter, trying to do some odd jobs to sustain, research / read to get clarity about your product, connect with relevant folks to understand broader contours of your industry etc. Please note that I referred to ‘failing’ as though it were fun / desirable. It may sound counter intuitive as well that failing in this phase – almost every day – is a desirable thing ! I will come to discussing this part in detail at some other place as to why it is beneficial to fail many times over in this phase.

So, we concluded how ones mad and deep love needs to jump the emotive fences on to side of pragmatism and practicality every now and then. This, my dear friend, is tough. Duality, dichotomy, traversing two-paths, simultaneously, without losing the essence and the truth of different options / routes, in general, is tough. In case of startups, it becomes all the more important. As you progress into different stages of venture building, the paths increase many fold. The founders / entrepreneurs are expected to cover them all, many-a-times simultaneously, while being methodical.

In this stage, one needs to be cognisant of enormity of the problems at hand but also keep experimenting to continually find elegant and simple solutions. In many ways, this phase of the venture is like a scientific method. A scientific method is a procedure consisting of systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses that lead to an elegant solution. Experiments are a procedure designed to test hypotheses. Experiments are an important tool of the scientific method. Therefore, as you continually experiment and formulate, your odds of finding secretive code behind living duality or having multi-spatial existence increases many fold.

Now, here’s the secret sauce of living duality in such a way that your work is effective, efficient and productive: you have to do things with first principles.

First principle mechanism is an anti-dote for the fuzziness that dichotomous processes bring forth. If you base your decisions as well as workings basis logical inferences, you would be able to find the holy riverine between different paths, the chasm that has blessings of the divine light. This holy water when sprinkled on your existence brings clarity about interconnectedness of seemingly diverging paths.

Once you have mastered this divergent art of processing interconnectedness, things would tend to go easier. You would begin to appreciate and agree that the road to success was not a straight climb to Mount Everest but was more like driving through the treacherous Bolivian, Old Yangas Roads. This realisation, then, leads to increase of your chances to survive.

Product: Creativity & Innovation is the differentiator:

Then comes the stage in which one focusses on the product and service. This is the stage in which you need to inject heavy doses of creativity and innovation into your being, your team, and your company. A product or service that is the 21stsuch offering in the market would be a bad idea to build your company on. You must use your creativity / find someone who can, and think laterally to embed innovation into your product and service. Your product and service must be unique, better than others not by a whisker but by a large margin, must be affordable for the target customer, and must change the lives of people for good. This is the phase in which one needs to rummage hard to find team members who can help you and your company take discreet jumps instead of making incremental progress.

This brings me to the extremely important aspect of building team. I really believe that this is the single most important aspect of building successful companies. You need to have framework / clarity built for the kind of people you would induct in your company. The DNA of your company must be defined. I somewhere read about this classification of employees / people into four categories: Artist (who loves radical innovation), the Engineer (who constantly improves everything), the Athlete (who competes to develop the best innovation), and the Sage (who innovates through collaboration). You need to figure out whether your company needs Artists, Engineers, Athletes, or Sages or an optimal combination of more than one of these at various stages of evolution of your company. Once the DNA of the company is freezed and you have hired a bunch of folks in your company, you are set to speed up. Speeding up without finalising many aspects detailed above usually leads to accidents.

At this stage, you need to execute the company while working on a very important part of building a sustainable venture: the positioning and communication of your venture.

It can’t be stressed more that as you accelerate your venture’s growth at this stage, you need to be extremely clear about mapping your products and / or services with your potential customers. i. e. clearly stating / articulating and understanding why and how customer’s life will become easier, faster, more sustainable etc. by using your product and how your venture has the right principles, team, DNA etc. to achieve this ambitious goal. This is called positioning your company and / or products and services. We have not gotten into the nitty gritty of products and services as that is a subjective matter, and can be taken up on case-by-case basis or at some other place.

Please note that ‘communication’ era of the 21st century has undergone varied social, digital, and technological advancements. Big data, Internet of Things, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) have opened new avenues for growth and development of marketing and communication methods for varied kinds of products and services. AI will likely change the future of communication and highlights business opportunities for start-ups to market products at the convergence of AI and other verticals such as healthcare, education, commerce, etc.

If you have done all of the above well, you would start to grow. As a child learns and grows, he / she soon loses his baby fat, learning how to run. So would you. You would lose your dullness, confusion and indecisiveness, and begin speeding up. If you don’t over speed, and broadly follow rules and regulations of driving safe, you would be able to create a sustainable company and therefore win !