Perhaps the best way to picture startup life is to picture the slug-fest between Apollo Creed & Rocky Balboa in the famous underdog boxing movie Rocky. Founders are in the ring, in a seemingly never ending bout.
Sometimes, entrepreneurs fall. But then, they pick up the pieces and make a comeback. Sometimes, you just have to let go to fight another day. Letting go doesn’t come easy to entrepreneurs, who pour much of their lives working long hours at their startup. It takes time but eventually they come out as a new person with lessons learned and new perspectives.
In this post, we bring lessons from a few startup founders who are making a come back.
Realisation Of When to Let Go
The reasons might be very different from one entrepreneur to another, but when things don’t work you have to move on.
Auto404 was launched back in 2010 by Arjun Zacharia, along with a group of others, as a complaint system to tackle miscreant auto drivers and other road bullies in Bangalore.
One important lesson of letting go is, not to hold onto anything just for the sake of it or just because you started it. The sooner you realise, the better. Arjun, who moved on from his previous venture Auto404, says “We realised there would be scalability issues, because of the roadblocks we faced in working with the government agencies and we could not be sustainable due to the lack of a revenue generation model.” Arjun’s second startup is a social shopping app called Wooplr.
Shivakumar Ganeshan, aka ,Shivku is a known face in the Indian startup scene now. Most people know of his cloud telephony startup Exotel. But before Exotel, he used to run a startup called Roopit. It was launched in 2010, as a classifieds service built to work very on internet, voice, SMS, mobile app etc. But as soon as he realised that his next venture, Exotel, was doing better than his previous one, he decided to do the right thing and moved on from Roopit.
“I close (Roopit) because a part of what I was building (the voice component which later pivoted to Exotel) was selling better (without any efforts) compared to Roopit. Also, because it was B2B, people were ready to pay for it from day one and also because I was running out of my savings, the pivot was rather organic,” says Shivakumar.
Avlesh Singh of WebEngage, had a different experience with his online annotation service Webklipper, that launched in 2010. The service, which was initially offered free, did not get much support from its user community when the team decided to open a premium paid model, a move made in order to maintain sustainability of the service.
Once you realise there is not much commercial viability of a product, there is not much point holding on to it. Avlesh decided to leave behind his previous venture Webklipper, “ One of the good things I did was that I realised there is not much point holding on and moved on quickly from the idea.”
Funding can also be a major reason for letting go, especially in the case of bootstrapped startups. This was the case with Aditya Sahay, who had to close his app venture Radbox, a video watch-later app, due to funding constraints. He says, “While the app got some traction, building a product for multiple screens(mobile, TV) needed outside investment and could not be bootstrapped. However, we failed to raise a seed round. We did have Rs 5 lakhs from Morpheus and our own savings but that dried up eventually.”
Avlesh too feels the same, he adds from his experience, “In India it is very hard to raise early stage capital.”
Aditya is currently pursuing his new venture Seat 14A. He feels that this time around, he has access to a better team and mentors. “Building a big business is still as hard as before, but I’d rather do this than anything else,” he says.
Lessons From Letting Go
Most entrepreneurs come out of the whole shutdown experience with a great set of learnings. Aditya learned a few lessons about starting B2C web product (in India). He says, “Building a B2C web product, especially in India, needs good mentorship, funding, access to media and marketing know-how.”
Shivakumar feels that the the ‘build, measure, learn’ cycle is very important for the success of a startup. From his experience with Roopit he says, “Value of money and humility are very important. Also talking to customer, understanding his pain point and building a solution is very important.”
One important thing before starting up is doing your research right. Avlesh says “ We did not research on other cases in the same space and that was not good.” He also feels that research is something a person from a developer background sometimes tends to overlook. “Another important fact is that research is an ongoing process and you need to keep up with it.”
Arjun adds that perseverance and team are two important lessons he learnt from his previous experience. “Perseverance is the most important trait in building a startup and team is everything, if you have the right one, you can succeed,” he says.
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