ixigo turned 9 years old on 3rd June, 2016. I started working on the idea over 10 years ago. As I looked back on our amazing roller-coaster journey along-with my co-founder, Rajnish, we reminisced every moment of success and failure and shared our learnings with the team. I thought I should also share some takeaways of that journey for young founders who are just starting up.
10 things I wish I knew when I was starting up!
- People: The biggest make or break for startups is not funding, not revenues, not market size, not timing, not even scale, but people. If you have the right people, you will figure out all of the above and do whatever is needed to survive & grow in any situation. The founders, the leadership team, the engineering team, the sales & marketing folks, the customer service people, the support folks, every single cog in the wheel is super important. Be very choosy when you hire, and don’t hesitate to fire misfits. The team’s passion, perseverance, creativity, responsiveness to users matters. It’s their collective determination to survive and hunger to succeed that will be your most prized asset, and not the $20 Million that you raised, coz this is priceless.
- Growth: The only sustainable way to grow startups is to build a product that people need, love, and tell others about on their own. You can trash all other gyan on this subject.
- Culture: Culture is not a poster on your walls, culture is not the music playing in your halls, culture is not the parties you throw, culture is not the free lunches & coffee. Culture is about what you actually do and how you do it, not what you say you do or how you intend to do it. Culture is about making everyone accountable for every failure and everyone rejoice on every small success. Culture gets signaled in every decision, process, policy, reaction, emotion, hire, raise, praise, appreciation, scolding, firing. Culture is how you react to failures. More than anything, Culture is about mutual trust. Culture is about being ethical. Culture is about being human .
- Emails & Conferences: 90% of e-mails that a company founder gets are from sales people trying to sell you something. The best products in the world don’t have a large sales team. If the concept of that product sounds intriguing, spend time researching the entire landscape and choose the best product for your particular needs. Also, spend less time on email and more time talking to people in person or on phone, coz it’s hard to show empathy and passion on an email. If you are starting up, don’t waste your time attending conferences, unless you’re speaking there, 0f course. If you choose to attend conferences, spend more time outside the sessions than inside them, unless it’s a workshop where they teach you how they actually did it. Real discussions and partnerships happen in corridors, not halls. You can watch most conference sessions on Youtube these days anyway.
- Investors: They will only pay attention to you and your plan when you get introduced through a trusted contact in their network. Find the most trusted and reputed contact you can go through. If you use bankers, use ones that investors trust (ask them which ones they do, they will tell you). Do not use bankers for angel, seed and Series A rounds; it can be a turnoff for some investors if you can’t even raise money on your own.
- Cash: The single most important metric for a startup to track day in, day out, is cash. The rate of depletion or accretion of cash is what makes or breaks a business. Cash-flow planning is more important than P&L budgeting for startups. The day you realize you are running out of cash is the day when you get pushed to the wall (we went through that twice in our company already), and how you react to that situation defines your company. The only valuation that is real and tenable is a Discounted Future Cash-Flow Valuation (DCF).
- Experiment but don’t hesitate to Kill: In a fast-changing world, companies that are rapidly evolving on product, pivoting and failing stuff fast, while experimenting on multiple avenues for growth are the ones that will scale the fastest, since they will discover growth hacks before others do. Some of the best companies have separate teams — one to drive growth on stuff that works and another to drive creativity and experimentation on new ideas. What’s important with experimentation is being objective about the results. Try many things, try them with 100% conviction, try it for a few months if you need enough data, but when the data says it’s not working, do not hesitate to kill it and focus more on growing the stuff that works. Do not try stuff just because your competitor did (learn from their success or failure first).
- Decisions: It’s never about right or wrong decisions. That’s always only in hindsight. It’s about how fast you can gather the right data, develop the right intuition, and have the courage to take those decisions. It’s about the follow through and commitment of the team to execute those decisions. The pace of decision-making sets the pace of execution, and the pace of execution or iteration sets the pace of growth, so the pace of decision-making is directly correlated with startup growth.
- Health: The most precious asset for your business is for you the founder to remain in the pink of your health. If you love your startup, take good care of yourself. Eat healthy, get enough sleep, and take a break at times. I realized this only after I got diagnosed of sleep apnea last year. Since then, I’ve managed to lose weight, exercise, eat healthy and sleep more, and I feel a lot more productive as a result.
- Family: Do not forget that you have a family that cares about you and that equally wishes to see you win and succeed. The least you can do is spend more time with them by maintaining a good work-life balance. Keep weekends free as much as possible for them. My mom suffered from terminal-stage cancer and though she lived in the same house, I wasn’t able to spend as much time with her as I wished to, due to my busy schedule. I saw her condition worsening one particular week, and on that Friday I told my colleagues that I will take the next two weeks off to spend more time with her. She died on Sunday morning. Don’t be that guy.