It is coming close to three years since I quit my consulting job and decided to take the plunge into entrepreneurship. No one really prepares you for what is going to take when you’re running a startup, trying to create a business from ground-up, and taking on a mammoth task like building a social network of your own.
All of your insecurities have a way of surfacing in your most vulnerable moments, and the many, many times that things go wrong, you can’t help questioning yourself. What was I thinking? Am I qualified to be a ‘founder’? What if this fails?
Six months of ideating, nine months of building, one year of testing and improving and we’re now close to finally launching.
Last week I thought to myself, what?! Has it been three whole years and I haven’t even launched yet? But when I sat down to write our milestones over this period, I felt much better — and quite proud of our journey.
We’ve worked with 9 interns, 11 full-time employees, nine different agencies, and two freelancers, all of whom have helped us build Dysco. We’ve hosted over 12 events, facilitated over 30 lakhs (US$42,000) of business, engaged with over 10,000 people online and offline, posted over features, acquired more than 2000 users and advertised 50-plus opportunities. We have an average of three minutes spent on our website and over 7,000 views on our most read post.
Anyone who has been on a similar journey will know the highest highs and the lowest lows come so frequently that no rollercoaster can prepare you for those adrenalin rushes or gut punches.
But for those of you who are considering embarking on such an adventure, here are 15 lessons I’ve learned and would like to share; some truths that have made me a substantially less stress-prone and much, much happier entrepreneur.
1. Everything takes time
And much more time than you originally planned. If you don’t spend time on it, you’re probably not thinking about it thoroughly enough. In India, things take at least twice as long as you probably expect. The younger, more naïve version of myself thought we’d launch in one year and be profitable in three. It’s now been 3 years and we’ve still not formally launched… and only recently mapped out a monetisation strategy. Just saying.
2. Get familiar with the P word
An obvious and often heard one. You will pivot and pivot again and pivot again. Some pivots fail and some help to bring you to more pivots. Our pivots with Dysco kind of seemed like a natural path — like a tree branching out into an array of little branchlets.
Also Read: What I learned about management from scaling one of Southeast’s Asia fastest growing Series B startups
But not all pivots have that result. Can I say pivot any more times?
3. Don’t try to know everything about everything
Some things you should educate yourself about or learn how to do yourself. Others you should leave to the experts or specialists in their fields.
Figure out which of the two categories things fall in. It doesn’t mean you’re not trying hard enough, it means you’re being efficient. I’m not a techie and don’t think I can learn to be one — I familiarised myself with key concepts but turned to experts to make informed tech decisions.
4. First impressions count
First experiences count more. This may not apply to everyone but investing in strong branding and good design can take you a long way. Especially if what you’re building isn’t revolutionary and unheard of, but combines elements of products and services that people are already familiar with.
No one would spend their valuable time creating profiles on one more social network if it looked boring and felt unprofessional.
5. Your friends, family and acquaintances will be your biggest strength
They’ll be your advocates, your first users, the links to your first clients and your biggest critics.
Although very often strangers will support you much more than people you know. Don’t take it to heart, just take it in your stride.
Random people who were interested in communities, platforms, culture and creativity offered me so much support and useful advice — stuff that people in my personal network probably didn’t know or care too much about. This is coming from an extra-introvert.
6.Be open and honest about your journey and struggles.
Sounding human is much better than sounding perfect. People are more willing to test your product, wait patiently while you fix bugs, and be a part of your focus groups if they know you’re in the process of figuring things out.
Anyone successful appreciates humility, honesty and knowing that you’re facing the same struggles that they faced. They’ll happily guide you in whatever way they can (write to me if this post tugs on your heart and pocket strings!)
7. Offline engagement is better than online engagement
No one really knows what’s going on behind screens. Meeting your potential audience, customers and users face to face is better — always. Especially at the start of your journey.
10 people offline is worth more than 100 likes online. Real people convert to real business much faster and for longer than online interactions which are probably bots anyway. People I met even at small and intimate events have been the most loyal supporters of Dysco, and have gone on to work on collaborations, events and campaigns with us.
8. Don’t wait till it is perfect.
You can keep aspiring for perfection, but put out all your work in progress anyway. It shows your growth, your journey, gets you feedback and helps build your next stronger/better/improved version of your product.
Everyone’s afraid of where and how to begin — but you can keep improving your logo, your web design, your social media presence and it’s bound to evolve over time. Don’t keep waiting to put yourself out there.
9. Maintain all relationships, don’t spoil them when things get rough
When you’re working closely with someone, whether it’s a collaborator or a client, you’ve invested time in building a meaningful relationship.
Sometimes things get heated and don’t go down well. It’s okay to stop working together, but try to make sure you don’t let things get ugly. A few months later it probably won’t matter that much if working relations ended respectfully.
You could both use each other at some point down the line. Be polite, be nice and don’t do/say things you might regret later.
10.Worrying about copycats is a waste of time
The biggest companies and brands copy each other — it is just the way the world works. People can and will steal ideas. They will take inspiration. They will try and do what you do, if it seems like it has potential.
You will find dozens of similar products and services in the market the longer you’re working on something. Just focus on making yours the best version it can be, and execute it fast. Keep inventing and innovating and others will always be a step behind.
Also, know the difference between ‘inspiration’ and plagiarism. Don’t be a copycat yourself — there’s no point in doing something that’s already being done very well and by plenty of others. Unless you’re offering something radically different, substantially better, or appealing to a new demographic, it is unlikely that you will take over a highly competitive or saturated market.
Differentiate yourself from the get go.
11.Focus on your niche, your market and your specific audience
Growth will come in its time and you will eventually scale into new global markets when you’ve captured the former. Planning for global domination is daunting, often unnecessary and frankly impossible from day one.
Your time, efforts and resources are much better spent on winning and delighting a smaller audience that keeps coming back. Not that we’ve reached global domination or even close, but I often panicked about achieving the impossible.
Taking things step by step helps you plan both better and smarter. Now I’m breathing better and sleeping deeper.
12. Don’t say yes to every tempting offer or catchy opportunity that comes your way
Think about whether it really fits within your core mission and offerings, and if it’s dragging you off your primary path?
Quick money or big money is attractive, but time spent there might not add any value to your main product, and could reduce returns in the longer run. I still struggle with this one, and my eyes light up when a popular brand reaches out for a partnership. But I’m learning to say no if opportunities don’t align with my objectives at the moment.
13. Be open minded
About ideas and feedback especially. You’re not building a business where you are your own only customer. You need other people’s opinions and perspectives to help design something that others will want and be willing to pay for — so don’t be offended if they challenge your preconceptions.
Hear it and mull it over — and implement it if you see relevance. If you’re a founder or entrepreneur, your baby feels very close to heart. That doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvement or modifications; but trust your gut instinct at the end of the day.
14. You don’t have to know how to monetise from the very beginning.
But don’t wait for too long before sitting down to think about it either. You can burn through cash, energy and resources at an exponential speed once you’re in the deep end and fully invested in making your dream a reality.
Make sure to step back, even stop and evaluate your business strategy and goals before powering on and on. After a year of testing, we just took a few months to plan our future — it didn’t make sense (and was quite demotivating) to keep spending money unless we figured out how to make it back, with returns.
15.Find the right people to work with, even if it takes time, trial and error
I can’t stress enough how much time we’ve lost settling for people who weren’t right for a role, or not picking the right partners to help us build our product and services. Compromising in the short term is not worth it in the long run.
In our case, we definitely couldn’t build Dysco all on our own. We needed the help of many others with the skills and knowledge to transform our ideas into reality. Finding really strong partners and team members can make or break the success of your business.
And here’s a bonus number 16 — if your startup doesn’t work out as planned, don’t think of it as a failure but a genuine, rewarding and incredible investment in your future, your growth and in your learning
There is nothing like real life experience, and that can compete with an MBA from a top-tier institution (as others have told me).
This list is far from comprehensive, and I have plenty of anecdotes, horror stories and semi-inspirational quotes to share if you’d like to know more. I’ve learned the most from other people, irrespective of their field or industry — so if you have any thoughts or comments, do comment or message me.
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