Do we need to plan before starting our first business venture (startup)?
I see so many good ideas stay at the stage of ideas, as the founders of the idea are busy planning“ the next big thing”.
They never get to the stage of execution.
Are plans overrated?
If you ask me today, I will say no.
They are an indispensable part of any business (small or big). They help you to grow your company based on milestones.
You lose vision of what your company’s targets are.
Had you asked me this same question 8 year back, I would have answered “Yes”.
In startups, you need to trust your instincts at times. Plans are good but too much planning can kill your business idea. Confusion will creep in with every extra time you spend on planning.
My journey of becoming an Entrepreneur was unplanned.
Since the plan with which it was to see the light of day went kaput, we had to go-ahead without a plan.
This is how we started our first venture.
It has been close to 8 years since I said goodbye to my cushioned, decent paying MNC job in Bangalore.
I am in my early 30s (an oldie) who has aged badly with his startup 🙂
Why did I quit my job?
“Why did you quit your job?”
“What plan did you have for your venture?”
I get asked these questions a lot from startup enthusiasts.
Here is the story.
After I had put down my papers, the news spread faster than the forest fire.
The long extended family consisting of uncles, aunties whom I meet once in ages were the first one to caution my family.
More than me, they were worried about my presumed catastrophic decision to quit a decent paying job.
Some of them started filling the gossip section of the family magazine, the day I put down my papers.
The rumours ranged from me being kicked out of the job to me joining my dad in his non-existent business.
The truth was I quit because I was fascinated by the world of entrepreneurship.
Today when I look back on how easily I was let go by my company, I realize I must have been a decent, not exceptional coder.
Which gets us to the question “How did I land a job in an IT Company as an on-campus placement, if I was average with coding?”
Not to boast about myself. But I was selected as an on-campus placement in a very cut-throat competition. The students for the job interview involved students from EC, CS, IT from 3 new colleges.
When I look back. I realize I did very well in all rounds other than the technical round.
I was an average student who always scored in between 60 to 65%. Irrespective of how good or bad everyone scored in class, I always maintained my average score.
There was a time I topped my section by scoring 63%. You can imagine how bad the rest of class performed in that semester 😉
I was an average student who huffed and puffed while finishing the college race. I learned everything but coding.
Time to get out of the job race:
So one fine day after sucking at my job for a good 2 years, I decided to quit. There was no concrete plan of action for what I intend to do.
Whosoever asked me for my plans was presented a vague business. A plan that relied on the real estate boom in our tier-2 city, Rudrapur.
The truth was entirely different. A friend, who had an existing IT Company had promised to help me set up a branch office of his company in our small city.
We were to target industries for small custom solutions. Like every Indian son, I too relied on my dad to invest in my venture.
This was the perfect plan I had with me. Dad’s investment. A ready to use business model.
How bad can things get?
The plan goes awry:
This is where the plan went a little awry. Few days before I was to complete my notice period, my friend backed out.
Incidentally, his company was in trouble with a client who planned to sue them.
The dreams were shattered. I was almost jobless. My so-called dream venture was now a dream with no venture to speak off.
I was a BI developer, who knew anything but web development. A domain in which we planned to build our company on.
The family still expected me to pull this off. Since I was an engineer, who got a job through on-campus. The “chirag” of the family was to know every damn thing related to computers.
I seriously didn’t want to go through the pain of explaining the vast nature of our IT industry.
The biggest challenge for me now was to find a way out this shit for myself. I seriously did not want to go back to my company and take back my resignation.
And the family had already announced my arrival back to the rest of family.
In short. I was screwed.
How I pulled our act together:
Adversity brings out the best out of some. I have to be one of this lot.
My friend pulling out at the end moment was the kick I needed. I decided to start the same venture without help from anyone.
We decided to stick to the original idea of starting a web development company. We asked one of our friends to set up a website for us. So here we were. A web design company with no web designers to speak of.
My brother decided to learn web designing under the guidance of google guru. He was our first coder. He still remains the best designer I have ever worked with. (we don’t work together now. He has moved to bigger ventures and has found peace in the hospitality industry.)
I decided to handle Technical, sales and everything under the sun (the perks of bein a small business owner with little of no money).
We hired two resources (one developer: a fresher with no development experience. One marketing person: another person with no experience)
The “very helpful” dad decided to help us set up an office space. He also promised to not charge us any rent till we can stand on our feet.
This luxury of not paying rent was the biggest mistake I did in our startup.
An important lesson I learned at my startup was: never ever take a space where you do not have to pay the rent. Even if you do. Please add this as a cost in your accounts.
I have heard of so many business owners, who do not add rent of their owned space as an office cost. What they fail to realize is if this place was rented to someone else they would have earned some money out of it.
We never added office cost as a cost, since the cost was “on the house”.
When I moved out of Rudrapur and started afresh without any financial help from family. I realized how big a cost, rental cost is on your monthly expenses.
Getting back to our journey.
We made web designing our forte.
Market and Sales in our startup was the most difficult task:
In our small city, everyone knew everyone. I decided to work in the opposite direction of the “acquaintance strategy”.
The marketing was to be done without speaking of the family background.
In small cities, everyone is so inquisitive about you, your family, blah-2.
I changed the course of discussion on the favourite topic of the nation, Politics.
I being a boarding school student, who stayed away from home for close to 10+ years helped. It kept things simple.
No one knew me by face in our city.
So when I went selling websites (door to door marketing), I learned the art of sales and marketing the hard way.
There were times I would sit with security guards outside industries. I would become friends with them to ease my way of getting entry into industries.
I always carried Visiting cards with no designation and commuted on a bike.
Visiting cards without designation allowed me to change my role as per the convenience of discussion.
At times, I was tech lead and at times, I was the salesperson.
I was anything but a boss.
My being 24 helped too. Since no one expected a 24-year-old to own a company 7-8 years back in a small city.
Here is another lesson I learned in our startup: When you start your venture, never ever flaunt your designation. It comes back to bite you especially when you are the owner of a small firm.
Next important lesson is “Never use family contacts. I still find it easy to work with clients who are not at all related to me than those who come through some family reference.”
You cannot sell practical solutions to family references. They will be the first ones to default on payments. You cannot argue with them. You cannot easily say no to them.
Worse. They always have your dad’s number to call, if you don’t listen to their whims and fancies.
I have this simple rule in business with reference to family references. I politely refer them to another company.
Within a year, all schools, hospitals, colleges in our city and nearby cities were our clients.
The hard work and perseverance paid off.
We were on roll.
This is how our startup started without any plan.
We started with a hope hard work will land us somewhere. This was the only plan I had.
Today after 8 years of toiling hard in the market, i look back at the times we spent in the market selling websites door to door.
It was definitely worth it.
I know every single day has not been perfect but It was definitely worth all the effort we gave into this venture.