Nowadays everyone wants to do a startup. There is a general feeling that if they are not doing a startup, they are not doing anything .
I was listening to an old song by Amitabh Bachchan and took the liberty of modifying it to reflect the current sentiment :
इक रहिन ईर (Once there was Eer)
इक रहिन बीर (Once there was Beer)
इक रहिन फत्ते (Once there was Fatte)
और इक रहिन हम (And once there was me)
ईर कहा चलो Startup कर आईन् (Eer thought let’s do a startup)
बीर कहा चलो Startup कर आईन् (Beer thought let’s do a startup)
फत्ते कहा चलो Startup कर आईन् (Fatte thought let’s do a startup)
हम कहा चलो हमहु Startup कर आईन् (So I thought [what the heck] let me also do a startup)
I believe there’s a herd mentality right now when it comes to startups. Having talked to a number of folks (especially students, young professionals) and dabbled in startups myself, I think I have some things to say.
Please don’t feel that I am trying to discourage you from going down this road. I have been building products for quite some time and nothing gives me more pleasure to see people going down this route. In this post, I will comment on some of the things I observed while interacting with people who plan to go down this route.
So here we go ……
Your life will not end if you don’t do a startup now!
Contrary to the popular belief, your life won’t be over if you don’t do a startup now . Most of the folks I interact with feel that they must do a startup now. For them, it’s a now-or-never kind of a deal, which believe me is so much farther from the truth. I see a lot of resentment/frustration building in them that because they are not doing startup, their life is worthless!
I firmly believe that there’s no right age to start a business. I started it when I was 36 years old (I look much older but that’s another story ). A number of my college friends are starting now or have started in last few years (when they almost touched 40 or just crossed 40). So if you think it is now or never, you’re sorely mistaken my friend!
No, your idea is not unique!
So you came up with an idea and you think no one else is doing it. Sorry to burst your bubble my friend, but most likely it ain’t so . You just haven’t looked around closely. If you look around, I am sure you will find a number of people doing (almost) the same thing (and that’s not bad at all, more on this below). In fact, let me say this – Ideas don’t really matter; they are dime-a-dozen. What matters is how you execute those ideas. In fact, if nobody else doing it that would worry me a lot. I personally have been burnt very badly with this. Once I built a product because I thought no one else has built it only to find out there was no use for the product I built. Before starting the product I convinced myself that indeed there was a need for a product like what I want to build. Now when I look back, I realize that it was a BAD decision on my part.
Now coming to someone else doing the same thing as you’re planning on doing, let me share a story: A few months ago, I met some folks who have thought of an idea. We discussed that idea and they said they will start working on it. I met them some days later and asked them how are things with their idea. They told me that they found someone doing the exact same thing they were planning to do and hence they dropped the idea. Their reason to drop their idea just because someone else is already working on the idea is not the right reason to not pursue this idea IMHO (too many negatives in the sentence , huh!). The thing that goes in your favor in this scenario is that you don’t have to go through the idea validation phase. Someone else has already validated it for you! Furthermore the baseline for your product is already set for you.
However if you build something on an idea that is being pursued by others, you better make sure that you do a better job than the folks who are currently doing it. At the very least, you must do what your competition is doing and then some more. If you’re doing lesser than what your competition is doing, there’s no point doing it IMHO.
No, you won’t get funding just because you have a killer idea!
I don’t know what’s the reason behind this but startup enthusiasts have come to believe that VCs have a “money tree” in their backyards and they are just dying to fund any idea that come their way. WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!!! In my experience, raising capital is one of the hardest and time consuming exercise you as an entrepreneur would go through. Plus, a VC would never invest on an idea (I believe those days are gone). If you have a product, then you have a chance. If you have a product for which you have paying customers, then you have a better chance. But more than anything, you need a kickass team. A VC would never invest on a lone warrior.
A good looking website or offering something cheaper than competition are not real business differentiators
I was speaking with someone who was working on an idea. I looked up and found a number of other companies doing more or less the same thing. So I asked him how is he going to differentiate his offerings from that of his competitors. To that, he answered that he will have a user-friendly website and will offer his services cheaper than the competition. WRONG! These are not business differentiators. These things may help you retain a customer but not acquire one. To acquire your customer, you need to provide some things to your customers that the competition is not offering. Remember, your competitor can also build a better website (it’s a technology problem not a business problem) and can offer deeper discounts to the customer if they want to.
Also, depending on the kind of business you’re in, sometimes selling cheaper may not work in your favor. Depending on the services you’re offering, you would be surprised if the customers are willing to pay you a premium for the services you’re offering. If you’re selling something cheaper, depending on the kind of business you’re in your customers might think that you’re offering sub-standard services.
So identify real differentiators that would give you a leg up on your competition.
Failure hurts, and it hurts bad!
Most of the startups fail, so be prepared for that. Failure is an integral part of an entrepreneur. I go to these startup events where they invite successful entrepreneurs and ask them for their failures and more than often you hear them say – I did not fail, I learned. This is nonsense. A failure is a failure. There’re no two ways about it. When you fail (and more than likely you will fail), it will hurt bad. In fact, real bad! You got into the business with some convictions and beliefs and essentially when you fail your convictions and beliefs are proven wrong (reasons could be anything – internal or external). And when our beliefs are proven wrong, the things that we believe in did not hold true, it is bound to shatter us. After all we are human beings!
Obviously the wise thing for us to do is not to hold on to the failures and move on (and not making the same mistakes again) and this is what successful entrepreneurs end up doing (and I hope someday you will also say that – I didn’t fail, I learned) but please be prepared to get hurt when you fail. How you overcome that failure is entirely up to you.
A startup is much more than building a product
I talk to a lot of students and young professionals and they have a killer idea to build an app or a website. I think for most of them, the idea of doing a startup is to build that app or website. It is much more than that. So much more than that. A startup is a company like any other company and will have same problems (may be more) a company would face. Building the product is just the tip of the iceberg; may be the only sexy and shiny thing you would do. Running a company is anything but glamorous. There are legal issues you would need to worry about, human resources issues and many more. I would urge you to think about those issues as well before you decide to take the plunge. Though help is available to you should you need it, but it comes at a cost. Remaining oblivious to these issues is going to hurt you down the road.
Do you have it in you to do it by yourself?
One of the things I have seen is lack of core competency. I see people trying to build an app or a website but they don’t know how to code. Whatever problems you’re trying to solve, you need to ensure that either you or your core team can solve them on their own. In fact one thing I recommend to folks who are fresh out of college (or are still in college) or young professionals that if you want to start building something, do something that you can do on your own. It may be small but at least you don’t depend on someone outside and things are in your control. This could be a great way to build credibility which goes a long way when you do your next startup. Help is definitely available but like I said above, it comes at a cost and you must be prepared to bear that cost if it comes down to that. It could be in form of paying someone for their services either in form of cold cash or sweat equity.
It may not hurt to take up a job
When you’re fresh out of college, it may not hurt to take up a job and learn the tricks. One of the reasons I believe folks want to “do their own thing” is that they get to be their own boss (and hopefully boss for others as well). It is a great feeling to be your own boss but as uncle Ben told Peter Parker (in Spiderman movie): With great powers come great responsibility. Please make sure you are ready to take on that responsibility. People working with you would look up to you so make sure you don’t let them down. Trust me it’s a huge burden!
In my experience, in a job you work for your immediate boss. If you get a great boss, he would be a mentor for you your whole life (I’m really blessed to have worked with such people) so you win. If you get a lousy boss, that’s good too because now you know how not to treat folks when you become boss so again you win. Furthermore, think of it as a playground where on someone else’s dime you can try out your ideas and hone your skills to run your business someday.
Moreover when you work in an organization, you find many things you could do that would help in that or similar organizations. A friend of mine worked in manufacturing industry for a few years after graduating from college. During his work there, he identified a problem of effectively managing resources in that company. Though he’s no longer with that organization but he took that learning and now he’s actively building an application that will solve this very problem. He would have never identified the problem if he hadn’t worked with that company in the 1st place.
Through this post I’m not trying to discourage you from pursuing your entrepreneurial dreams. In fact, I encourage everybody to go down this route. But please don’t do it for the sake of doing it because everybody around you is doing it. Do it if you truly believe that you can do it. Doing a startup is like running a marathon and not a sprint. It takes a lot of courage, determination and conviction to go down this route so make sure you’re up for it. During the process, you will see many downs and few ups. Take both of them in your stride as you move forward. Make sure once you dive in, you are in for a long haul.
If I can be of any help to you should you decide to take this roller-coaster ride, feel free to reach out to me. People who know me can vouch that I’m always available for such things.
I would be very much interested in knowing your thoughts. Whether you disagree with me or agree with me or have some additional thoughts. Feel free to share them by providing comments.