Business is like football- Do not underestimate any position – An Entrepreneur’s take

[Ankur used to work with McKinsey, got bitten by entrepreneurial bug which led him to start ‘easysquarefeet‘ (read‘s review). In this post, Ankur shares some wonderful insights/learnings he had…

[Ankur used to work with McKinsey, got bitten by entrepreneurial bug which led him to start ‘easysquarefeet‘ (read‘s review). In this post, Ankur shares some wonderful insights/learnings he had so far. Do share your opinion/comment on the same]

If I were to say 3 things

Research has shown that catchy articles titles like “Top 3 Tips”, “Top 10 stock picks” etc. do have a relatively much better mind-share with readers. Being a mere mortal, I have decided to follow that road (irrespective of what I end up saying in this article). J

I have divided this article in two parts. The first, is a quick “Story” of, the start-up venture that I am involved in. And the second, is about the “nuggets” of wisdom that I can offer at this point of time. I will try and avoid “globing” (e.g., you should form a good team, you should think through the product) and hence hopefully, most of my nuggets would be extremely specific – something that I hope is to your benefit.

PART 1: What’s the story? – Customer (and not singh) is king!

I caught on the entrepreneurship bug in my 3rd year in college when I worked for the entrepreneurship cell @ IITB. The best part of this bug is that you are always “hit” for life. So in my post-grad years, I got in touch with a couple of friends and we kick-started Urban Blocks Solutions. The idea was to change the real-estate brokerage market in India. We hated the way it functioned – the brokers and the magicbricks of the world hounding away with obscene rates and pathetic service-levels – and we wanted to do something about it. Ofcourse, as it turned out, we were quite clueless at that time J

What followed is the usual. The team got formed, the company got registered, the ideation process started, we hit upon an “initial hypothesis” (a term I use often) and took the plunge. The hypothesis (and this is a really common hypothesis) was that “Indian customers have now graduated and want convenience – something that the real-estate market doesn’t provide”. Challenges were obvious – scale and cost-to-serve.

So we went about building up a scalable, low-cost product centered on service. It involved taking the order online, ensuring it passed through to a relationship manager who interacted with the supply team (captive supply team + brokers) who’d get back with fancy pictures and bits of information about the properties. The customer would be the king – he would look at all this online, select those he likes, specify a convenient date and time to come and visit. This worked great for people who were shifting to Bangalore – 90% of the work was done even before they landed. Convinced, we launched

We started our first office in South Bangalore (Jayanagar), hired our first employees, met all the brokers, all the customer we wanted to work. We had indeed taken the plunge!

The top 3 things that happened to us in this period were:

  • Meeting countless brokers in Bangalore and learning cool kannada phrases (“matte bega sigona” – take care)
  • Getting beaten up (well, almost J) by a bunch of brokers who thought we were giving them a raw deal
  • Being pushed to the wall by revolting families who wanted us out of this “dirty” real estate market

As always, things have now moved on. We have learnt a lot from the market. Three rookie engineers now know what works and doesn’t in the real estate brokerage market. We have come a long way from our initial hypothesis. It has been refined to the T. Now, the pilot is now over and we are gearing up for a full launch.

Nuggets of wisdom (we take no guarantees!)

Based on my experience as a management consultant and as an entrepreneur, if I were to say 3 things (there you go!) to budding Richard Bransons, they’d be:

1. You always have the sixth ball – Persevere and Adapt!

Its simple. Business is a ball-ringer. You got to get hurt sometime. Its almost inevitable. Why? Because you are not the oracle in the matrix. You will end up miscalculating some downside potential somewhere. You will end up estimating your revenue to be sky-high in 2 years – which may or may not happen. And you will for sure, underestimate the effort involved in business. Trust me you will. Because there almost exists a “coefficient of reality” in every equation. And when you do face that, most startups end up “becoming the victim”. You cant do that. You got to persevere and adapt. So what if you had 5 dot balls, there’s always a sixth ball coming.

With easysquarefeet, I faced this dilemma many times. Two months in, we were making losses, the conversions were abysmal. We started questioning the model, the scalability the economics and the works. The best thing we did then was pack ourselves in a room and thrash it out. We didn’t come out for 14 hours. And when we did, we had a solution. (which btw, had to be adapted twice more in the next 2 months). For additional inspiration on perseverance and adaptation, I strongly recommend – Randy Pausch’s last lecture.

2. Business is like football – don’t underestimate any position!

More often than not, it’s the striker or the mid-fielder who is always celebrated in football. But when you meet the players, the coaches and the pundits, they’d tell you that no position is more important. A left-back is as important as a centre-forward. Likewise, in business – no function is more important. You got to take every function along. You can’t spend disproportionate time (continuously) on business development/product development and forget about HR. Ofcourse, I am assuming that all functions are relevant to your business. At easysquarefeet, we made this mistake. We had 50% attrition in the first month and we were losing hair rapidly on this. Plus, we underestimated the time needed to fill up positions. “Two weeks” is what I thought was reasonable. It ended up being a month for the first two times. We ended up losing much more on this than on anything else. The effects lingered for 1.5 more months and we lost a lot of business. We underestimated HR in our business – you shouldn’t!

3. Don’t nuke Iraq – be fact based!

Like I said in the first point, we had discovered a solution (increase the options/supply of properties) to our conversion-ratio (defined as final deals/total average orders) problem. Two more months passed when we realized that the solution isn’t very effective. So we took out our MIS (YES! We had an MIS running from the very beginning) and started number-crunching. We ended up doing a lot of math that night (till 5am in the morning) – more than all the vector calculus I ever learnt in my engineering. We realized that although site-visits/orders were increasing (people were going to see the sites more now), the conversion ratio was still small. After making an elaborate issue tree and eliminating most options, the issue became obvious – quality and not quantity of supply is important. Most of us had this hunch in the beginning, but never the courage to stand up and state it.

Moral of the story – don’t go about nuking iraq just because “your gut-instinct” says so. Be fact-based. Numbers lend an unimaginable amount of weight to what you say. And for this, ensure that you have a proper number-tracking mechanism (if not an elaborate MIS) from day one. A website should at the least track all the google analytics KPIs on a daily basis.

There’s a saying that a career is made up of 4 innings, 7-years each. And if you ask me, you got to hit a home-run in atleast 2. Or you’d end up working till 70. And wondering where you went wrong. I hope this article helps you hit that home-run.

*Views reflected in this article are personal and do not relate to any views/perspectives of my employer

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