#01 Can you start a startup?
Demystifying infamous myths which are kept as secrets among the successful few!
I remember my birthday month in the year 2017. The most dreaded year of my life, which dragged me into the world of entrepreneurship or startups, two terms that made me fearful of not living up to their literal meanings. During the eery late nights of my birthday month of 2017, my phone rang. I didn’t take the first call. Two minutes later, the phone rang again. It was Z on the other side.
I had two friends here in Pondy. Let’s keep them X and Y for the narration. Y who was the co-founder of X at that time took me aside and introduced me to Z. I have met Z once in Chennai before this and we had talked over the phone once before our encounter and after that visit, we didn’t stay in touch at all which was partly because Z’s startup had failed for reasons unknown to me at that time.
Aaah… I bought up this picture now to remind you of the fact that Z was on the other side of the phone when I was peacefully sleeping (I assume I was alone :P). He asked me to immediately come to Chennai to meet him on an urgent issue.
Morning, I told my parents and immediately left for Chennai. I still remember that day. I took my first individual step into Chennai’s soil in the Koyambedu bus stand and I had called my long-time strategy gamer friend ‘Ani’ who took me to a Biriyani shop for lunch. I don’t know what happened but 10 minutes after I had the food,
I had a sharp headache and I wasn’t able to move. Ani went and bought a cold water bottle, poured it over my head, gave it to me parching my thirst in the hottest Chennai sun, and lead me to his small room where he asked me to take some rest.
I woke up in the evening having slept at the gracious hospitality of Ani for more than 4 hours. My phone had a lot of missed calls from Z who was wondering where am I since I informed him when I boarded the bus in Pondicherry and it shouldn’t take more than 4 hours, but now it’s more than 9 hours and I haven’t come at all. I texted him that I am at a friend’s place and asked him for his google location which he kindly shared. Ani drove me on his Activa to Z’s place which was located inside a nice gated residential area opposite the bungalow of a sitting Minister of Tamil Nadu then. Since the residential area had a big Minister’s residence, I had to clear security clearance and check and it all felt surreal for a guy who wants to know more about Startups.
I arrived at Z’s place finally and Ani bid me goodbye and Z warmly welcomed me. I was welcomed by Z’s parents as Z took me to the First floor of the house where to my surprise he has formed a small team who were doing. I thought his startup had tanked and it failed and there he was working on something else. I was confused. That’s where a cabinet was opened and skeletons came tumbling down which is a big story by itself reserved for future articles.
At the end of telling his story, Z convinced me to stay over and he asked me to cancel the bus that I had booked to go back to Pondicherry in the morning within 45 minutes of talking to him, he convinced me to take up Entrepreneurship and start a startup.
But the biggest question that I had was, “Can I start a startup?”
What did these 45 minutes cost me?
I decided not to appear for the final round of interviews with a major software firm that made my college sulk in disapproval
I let go of an opportunity of a full-time job on an APAC(Asia-Pacific) team in one of Design’s pioneer software company
Dream of my parents - I would somehow go to a good salaried job so that I can help Dad help meet the family’s ends and also pay for my sister’s education which she was pursuing in merit at a big University then.
I left all of that to ‘Startup’
The next four years gave me an immense professional and personal experience that most people wouldn’t experience even in their seventies, but I would not want this to take away the fact that I am working hard right now for a peaceful life that I could have had with a salaried job.
The next four years took me to another level but that’s a one in a million chance and it doesn’t happen to anyone. It’s the least effective path to success.
If you follow the media coverage of startups, you could be forgiven for thinking they are a quick way of getting incredibly rich and famous. Every next-door Aunty would scold their son or daughter by showing the example of you as the ultimate star. You are the poster child of what Indian Parents want their kids to be.
Especially in the startup world, when a startup gets investment, there’s an explosion of triumphant articles and News which celebrate it. Behindwoods would reach out to the security watchman who was having his Tea and will bring out an exclusive special into how the startup got funded. The Founder would spend much of his time giving interviews and paid PR will carry it far and wide.
But all of them rarely reveal the journey it took to get there.
The data is clear. The vast majority of startups are destined for failure. Others do well and get acquired by larger companies/startups/corporations which gives the founders a good large $ of money. Some stay strong and go to an IPO which will often make them instant multi-millionaires.
I never got an answer when I asked the infamous question to myself and to Z who goaded me into starting up. I presume that he still doesn’t know anything about it.
I will try to demystify this piece by piece.
🤜 The Mindset of an Entrepreneur
When you read this, you might think - Hey, Jason has told me my qualities. Then, great. You are ready. Sometimes, it might not feel like you or you might feel uncomfortable. Listen to yourself. Think hard. Not every successful person’s path is startup or entrepreneurship. People became great with what they had. So, be very certain if you’d want to proceed.
Founders of startups are often unique. They are different. Their goals are different. Their ideologies are different. But most of their mindsets were often similar.
01. Ambiguity is the Devil’s volleyball
Do you remember that I mentioned that I had no answer to my questions on whether I should start up? The startup world is often filled with such ambiguities and I waded through most of them during my time in it and I decided to write so that I can clear up some of the murkiness since I no longer want the startup world to be an all exclusive zone that’s available only for the select few.
When you are running a startup, you’d never have enough information to make an important decision. You are good at Data science? Good. You won’t even have enough points to plot a graph and the best part is, you wouldn’t even know which variables are involved in a problem to plot the X and Y-axis.
You’ll be guessing most of the time and you should be comfortable with never knowing anything for certain. Are you ready to dance with the Devil without knowing what you are getting into?
02. Can you sell me this pen?
I am not Jordan Belfort nor am I Leonardo - Di caprio or this Leonardo who ?
More often in a startup, you are going to be spending much of your time selling something every moment of your day. Did you take up Entrepreneurship seeing the quote, “Why work under someone else when you can be your boss?” Guess what? Now you’d have to answer to every damn guy instead of just your manager at your salaried job.
You would be selling to your customers
You would be selling yourself and your startup to investors when they ask the reason that they have to invest in you.
You would be selling your startup to the people you are hiring to become your employees on why they should quit their stable salaried job and join a whack-ass broken pirate ship that’s making everyone get sea-sick every 5 mins
You would be selling yourself to your partners/vendors on why they should partner with you or onboard you
You would be selling yourself to your parents/spouse/partner on why they should let you destroy and damage their lives and future on a madman like you on a dream which is statistically proven to fail more than 90% of the time.
03. Can you stop being emotionally dumb?
Most founders who come up with a brilliant Idea in tech or a startup are often technically brilliant and they tend to have well-above-average intelligence. But it should be known that often such founders would fail to make great startups because of their volatile nature of not being sociable with other people.
Can you inspire and motivate your team?
Will you put your egos aside and listen to your team, advisors, and investors?
Would you place enough trust in your team without effectively micromanaging them because you distrust them?
If your emotional intelligence and the ability to empathize don’t rival or aren’t greater than your intelligence quotient, your intelligence is as good as a hired money and you can be replaced at any point in time by anyone.
04. Are you a tough Son-of-a-Gun or the Baddest SoB?
During my time in active Mixed Martial arts as an amateur fighter, my coach told me only one thing. If you can’t taste your blood and delight in it, you will never draw your opponent’s blood. It’s so true in the world of startups because someone is going to punch you every day. Any form of trouble is going to come to you at any point in time. They are going to punch you for sure and they are going to draw blood for sure. Can you taste your blood at that point and enjoy it? Are you the type of person who will keep getting up when life pushes you down? Or are you the type who will stay down KOed to the ground? Will you show resilience?
05. Are you the Caesar who inspired his troops to cross the Rubicon?
If you don’t understand the analogy TLDR: Julius Caesar, the conqueror rallied his troops who were dejected to cross the Rubicon and enter Rome effectively making him the de-facto Emperor. I recommend you to watch this video to know what happened.
Can you set a vision and mission and get people both in your team and the public excited to follow you?
More often, there’s no singular playbook on how this can be done. All that matters is getting it done by whatever means possible.
06. No one can make you feel inferior without your consent
The above quote is often over-used to state how self-confidence is one of the rarest, yet highly desirable qualities. You might say that often people are self-confident among startup founders. No. They are founders who are over-confident and they thrive on a drug dosed with endless hope, which is beautifully named ‘Hopium’
This is not the self-confidence I am talking about. I am talking about the bare minimum confidence that can help you set sail in a stable manner which will also allow you to be skeptical of things, receive opinions and advice and carefully review them.
If you are too confident, you wouldn't notice the holes in your ship.
If you are too confident, you wouldn’t listen to the people telling you that there are holes in your ship
If you don’t have enough confidence, you will spend a lot of time checking if there are holes in your ship instead of sailing which will make the ship rust and devalue to ZERO
If you have shaky confidence, you will look for the first chance to take the lifeboat, jump, and escape from the ship.
What you need is, THANOS
Now, do you know how to strike a balance?
As I said earlier, there’s no hard and fast rule on how you can achieve that. It is different for each person, unique, and only time and trial would tell you what’s best for you. Are you ready for the experimentation?
Could you see the pattern of ambiguity? Does it feel like playing volleyball with the Devil or Dancing with the Devil?
07. Startups don’t need Brilliance or Genius, but Energy.
Most people see startups or any successful journey of people as travel from Point A to Point B. More often, that would never be the case as it often would be wading through a maze that is denser than the Amazon forest and crazier than the events in Jumanji film.
The catch here is, that you can never stop. There’s no stopping or resting point here. You are not running a 100m dash or sprint here. You are running a long marathon.
Do you know what they teach in a marathon? Conserve energy. Use energy where it’s required. Be consistent. You need to keep moving at all times. The same applies to startups too.
08. The One who conquers himself conquers the World
I am talking about discipline. You are going to be a Boss. Decisions lie with you. If you are disorganized or not disciplined, your team won’t like working with you. Nor will your investors or any future partners.
Do you have a strong financial personal discipline or can you develop it? (I will write more on this topic separately)
Can you make your weekly agenda and to-do list and cross-of things and hold yourself accountable when you miss them?
Can you keep track of what’s happening over weeks and months across?
Can you keep yourself naturally in check?
If you can say Yes to the above, you are one step closer to achieving great self-discipline. The rest is up to you to figure out as you embark on this entrepreneurial journey.
🤜 Skills that make you an Entrepreneur
One of the most common mistakes that most techies often make is that they consider themselves an Entrepreneur just because they have coded and developed an application. Remember, you are just a code freak. Great code-freaks are available for hire on any freelance site to code for $/hour. Or, just because you have a great idea, you won’t be considered an Entrepreneur. Gone are those days when ideas were valued by millions of $. Implementation speaks now.
How would you implement it when you don’t know how to? Take a look at what I am writing here and ask yourself these two questions.
Can you do them?
Will, you enjoy doing them?
Trust me, Startups aren’t about the bling, shorts, and cool offices. It would be worse than corporate desk jobs. The only difference now is that you would have to juggle the job of 10 people single-handedly. Now, do you think 9-5 jobs are a lot better? They are certainly more stable and peaceful.
Here are the skills you would have to master mandatorily.
Build financial models
Learn financial forecasting
Cash flow statement
Calculate monthly burn and path to profitability?
I would recommend the following tools for this
Are you good at being unbiased during conflicts so that you can resolve them?
Are you good at keeping your anger and ego levels in check during confrontations?
Can you resolve problems between two conflicting groups and pacify both of them and bring order?
Can you put your funds and bootstrap?
Do you have connections to investors and pitch your startup?
Do you have enough charm to attract investments? (See more on Story-telling section)
Can you at least convince a bank to give your startup an easy loan?
Or do you have enough knowledge to know about various government schemes to avail finance for your startups or different pitch competitions/invitations from major VC houses or accelerators?
If you anticipate any trouble in the industry your startup is in, would you be able to wade through regulations?
Can you identify with whom to make relationships so that you will know first-hand all the policies that you would have to go through?
Would you be able to sort out competitor challenges that are thrown on your path?
Can you figure out the right decision-maker of a client/a partner/a government agency to solve things quickly because the longer it takes, the more it’s going to hurt you monetarily!
Telling the story of the Brand
Would you be able to craft a beautiful story about your startup so that the investors would love to put capital?
Will it be inspiring enough for the Media to cover you?
Will it be promising enough for potential customers to try out your prototype by paying for the MVP (Minimum viable product)?
Will it be attractive enough for people to leave their safe jobs in salaried companies to join your risky startup for far lesser pay and guarantee their growth?
After reading all of this, do you think you could do all these things? It’s not necessary that you need to know everything because most of these things can be developed with careful practice and training.
But the more important question is,
Would you enjoy doing all of this?
Would you enjoy the chaos?
I will leave you to think about these questions, while I will meet you soon on another detailed one, where I will tell you more about Startups from my Personal life.