It was six years ago, when I was 17 that I decided to ride the wave of India’s startup ecosystem.
Seems an awfully long time ago, almost kafkaesque. Back then, Flipkart was still selling books, Snapdeal coupons, while Zomato was yet to raise its Series A funding. That was 2011.
In the years that followed, I built 4 companies, failed to go live, got jeered at, learned from my mistakes, sold my startup, failed again with startup #3, raised funds for #4, built a campaign that reached a million users across the globe, fell again, raised a loan, moved cities, worked someplace and finally sold again with cash in the kitty.
I am happy to announce that after close to eight months of closed-door talks, Pipes has been acquired by Trybeca for an undisclosed amount. But hey, does it really matter today? The question is not whether it matters in the larger scheme of things, as much as it is about mattering today.
After all, success is a function of time, isn’t it?
The iPhone was so great because it was revolutionary when it launched, not so much if it sat on shelves today. Unless you are Kunal Shah selling out at $400 Mn, is ‘undisclosed amount’ any good, today? In a market where startups are crashing and burning, is an acquisition just a trendy form of market clearance?
I must confess despite having run 3 startups before launching Pipes, when we set about building Pipes, apart from my incessant love for the product; my endgame as a business was to sell. I was unabashed by it at the time, but I couldn’t be more mortified today. Building a company to sell is not far from the worst thing you could do.
Here are a few hard lessons I learned along the way!
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Know What You’re Building
When I started my first company, Food For India, an online food ordering service, I did not know how to design, write code or anything that would help build the product. As a result, I was fooled, cheated and made a mockery of. In retrospect, it was one of the biggest reasons why we did not get off the ground.
We lost INR 6.4 Lakhs out of the INR 6.5 Lakhs we put into the company. There was nothing more depressing at 17, or indeed, at any age.
But, I learnt my lesson, and with the experience of founding my second and third companies, leading into Pipes, I found myself designing, writing code and creating videos whenever needed. Know what you are building. You won’t get spun around.
Perception Is Everything
If you look like a million dollars, you get paid a million dollars. It’s as simple as that. It is so important to make things look bigger than they are. This could entail how you dress, how your company profile looks online, your team size; you’ve got to look the part. Your business card should look and feel expensive. Fortunately, we learnt this very quickly.
When people looked at our business cards or our company web profile, there was no way in the world they could tell we were working out of a box in one corner of Mumbai.
We were strapped, but we looked funded.
Failure Breeds Insane Motivation
To be perfectly honest, my first and third ventures were rank failures. Both of them didn’t even get off the ground. And, you are going to get hated. You are going to get mocked. So many people you meet are going to say terrible things about you.
But, you have to grow a thick skin and have insane self belief. It is a test of your character and resolve.
To me, I haven’t succeeded yet, but every time I failed, I felt I had to come back and build something much bigger. And there is so much you learn from failure. Everyone is telling you that, but there’s a reason they are telling you that.
You fear to fail again, and that breeds insane motivation. Failure has a certain sense of magic about it. How you react to it, will tell you who you are.
I cannot begin to stress on how important this is. When my second company, Doodle Creatives was blowing up; money to me was cheap. I did not value the importance of being frugal. The importance of negotiating.
We actually went ahead and got a video made for Pipes that cost INR 850,000. And then, a year later when we were fighting tooth and nail for every nickel, I built this video in INR 3,000.
It is terribly important to make the most of your limited resources and punch above your weight. That is what investors want to see. The first deal on the table is never the last deal on the table, so negotiate like hell. You’ll be surprised how much you can save.
If there was only one learning I could take from all of this, I would choose the timing. I made plenty of mistakes when I launched my first company, Food For India. But, I am sure others did as well. If only I had launched Food For India in 2013 or 2014 instead of 2011, the story could have been different.
It was called DemoAppleWatch. It let you experience the Apple Watch 90 days before it was actually available. The campaign got over 850,000 hits in six days; over 500+ coverage and was used in 212 countries.
Timing can bring you so much. Timing can cost you so much.
One Thing Leads To Another
It is one of the things my father always said. And I never valued it. But, there’s nothing truer. Every time I felt down and dejected, he said this.
There is no worse feeling in the world than shutting down your own creation. When I was forced to shut down Food For India, he walked into my room, told me to keep the fire inside burning because one thing would lead to another. And, it did. I got my first clients for Doodle Creatives because of the rejections I got with Food For India. And then it happened time and again.
You have to keep the faith and meet people and network because you’re moving towards something you don’t quite know yet.
When a door shuts on you, it is only to show you another direction. These are just a few learnings. I’ve learnt a zillion other things about passion, perseverance, hustle and love but an acquisition to me is no proven success yet, the story is still being written, but it’s been a very compelling journey over the last 5.5 years as I grew out of my teens the too early 20s.
A journey that I would never trades for anything in this world. It’s been long and laborious at times, but when you can sit back and write something like this and reminisce about it; it makes all of it fully worth it.