8+ years is a long time. At least it looks long when you count the white hair on my beard and the big bunch of white hair hiding under my turban.
Please add one more advantage of wearing a turban to the list. The religious zealots can update their list 😊
Jokes apart! I am soon going to complete 9 years as an Entrepreneur and What a journey it has been. (get ready for one of those boring speeches you hear in your colleges. Yawn!).
There have been successes, failures, mid-successes / mid-failures (half-full / half-empty glass theory) in the list of businesses and startups I have been a part of in India (my dear country).
I wouldn’t have learned so much had it not been for all the closed ventures.
Most of our ventures were either funded from our pocket or were funded from the unsecured business loans from banks.
Hence, i am not a spoiled entrepreneur who does not have to think twice before spending money.
I am the frugal entrepreneur 🙂
And the blog, Lessons At Startup is a canvas where I get to paint my learnings from running different businesses.
To celebrate 10 years of hardships, I decided to do something unique. Something which gives real value addition to all my blog readers. (who I claim to be are around 1000 but I am known to exaggerate).
So here is what I will be doing.
I will create a series of blogs where I will introspect each of my ventures and write about my failures, successes, learnings from each venture.
(disclaimer: I might not be able to reveal the name of all ventures as there were partners, founders involved with me. Nice – Noble guys who wouldn’t want me to associate their names with reasons as to why startups fail in India. Not everyone is as shameless as me (boasting about failures 😉)).
To start with, the first blog (the one you are reading) will give a list of all ventures I have been a part of and a short summary of each venture and then, in future blogs i am going to write about each venture at a single time.
Here is my 10-year journey in Chronological order:
I.T Service Company:
How did the company start: You can read about the start of my filmy IT journey at How our unplanned startup started.
This was my first venture and is my only surviving venture.
Yes. It is “The one” that survived the odds.
The one which helps me put food on the table (at times, lavish food 😊).
Company’s business model: What started as a software development company is now a competitive player in Staffing and Resource outsourcing services.
We still do development projects where I lead the technical team and at times get my hands dirty with the techie stuff (I absolutely do not mind that) but overall, we are more getting involved with staffing services than IT Services.
How far is the venture? : Thank God! It hasn’t shut and is still able to handle the whims and fancies of its founder.
Status of Venture: Success! Yay. Finally, a shining feather in my hat/turban. The venture gives us enough to survive in the over expensive Delhi/NCR. I don’t know how to measure the success of the venture in monetary terms.
We are looking at another wonderful year of work this year.
Quoting Robert Frost “there are miles to go before i sleep”.
Business Directory of a small City:
How did the company start: a Few days back i wrote an update business directory resources listing the business model of online directory website. The resource is based on our famous business directory that started out of our need to generate more revenue? The IT Services weren’t really keeping our balance sheet moving, hence we had to turn to think “out of the box” and turn to another revenue model.
No one considers my IT Company to be a startup. In fact, it is not a startup as it did not or does not “disrupt” the existing market space.
We are like your around the corner “mom and pop store”. Only with a difference – we serve IT Services and not your usual, grocery items.
Rudrapur online was my first startup experience. How it started is an interesting story.
Within a few months of starting our IT Company, we realized the demand for IT Services in a small city was not as high as we expected.
I mean, you could sell the usual website and make some money but Rudrapur was never the place to grow the business to the next level.
Our main target base “SEZ based industries” already have their solutions done by their head offices, we found it hard to survive.
And this is where we decided to “think out of the box”. One of the reasons we were in the city was because of the growing attention it had received from real estate and other investors.
We decided to start a business directory where every small business in the city could have a business page to advertise their business.
Company’s business model: Like every business directory today, we sold paid memberships, ad spaces on our website.
Why did the company shut?: Rudrapur, the city lost its sheen after a few years. The real estate market crashed or normalized and once the SEZ’s tax incentives went away, the small-sized companies moved their base to other states providing the same incentive.
There was no demand for future growth. In between, I shifted to Noida and my brother decided to shut the website to save the ongoing cost.
Status of Venture: Success! It was a success until it ran and you will be surprised to know the heights it reached. There was a time, everyone in our city started identifying their business with Rudrapur online brand.
Clients started using email ids on our domain name “[email protected]” which they got as a part of the subscription package, on their Visiting Cards.
If you were not on Rudrapur online, you were living under the rock 😉
Business Directory of Party Planners:
How did the company start: One of my very close friends pitched me the idea of starting a business directory cum marketplace for party planners. Since I was already running a business directory in profits, I liked the idea and pulled in another friend.
All of us invested money and the firm was registered.
Company’s business model: The portal was to start as a business directory and eventually, turn into a marketplace where customers can register and post their party requirements.
Vendors had the feature to offer a proposal on the requirements.
The revenue model was around memberships, ads, etc.
Why did the company shut?: The company was destined to fail from day one. To start with, there was no full-time leader in the company.
Then, we pivoted multiple times during the development stage.
Add to above, no market research, etc, etc.
We did everything wrong expected of a business.
Status of Venture: Shut! Though I still believe in the idea and have a feeling it will do well in today’s times as the market has evolved and the Internet has better penetration, we are all busy with our existing ventures and no one has the time and energy to take it up.
I don’t think there anyone of us has the energy or time to take up the project.
Job Ridge – A Job portal for small cities:
How did the company start?:
the company was an extension of what we were doing in rudrapuronline.com – only with better planning and a unique business model – It was a Franchise style of Business.
Since the portal had become famous, we launched the job portal service on rudrapuronline and then after a few months, shifted the job portal to another domain name jobridge.com .
It was one of the first job portals to help job seekers get jobs in industrial cities in India.
The company mixed online and offline business models to provide memberships to jobseekers and sell job postings to companies.
I worked as a business consultant for the venture helping them build business plans, marketing strategy and if my memory still serves me well (I am growing old and multi-tasking has kind of slowed me down), I did help them close sales.
Company’s business model:
The real USP of the portal was the ability to even cater to those who were not internet savvy. All paid job seekers (quarterly membership of 500) got vacancy notifications before anyone else and their resumes were sent first to the employers.
We were killing it!
And then, we decided to grow the business by giving franchisees in cities like ours.
Why did the company shut?: JobRidge shutting down services was a big personal jolt for me. This was one concept that was unique, was disrupting the existing market. All that was required of the venture founders was a little patience.
Unfortunately, I was not in the city where the concept was being run. I had shifted to Noida by then. The original founders could not or did not want to take it forward as they were no sales guys.
That’s the problem with techies.
They hate to go out in the market.
With Jobridge, there were a lot of field visits required to close sales which did not happen in this case.
They finally decided to shut shop.
Status of Venture: Shut! And a partial success (I am looking at the glass as “Half Full” – The optimist me 😉) .
Rank My Leader:
How did the company start:
What is our nation’s favourite past time?
From nukkad tea stalls to high-end parties, we can discuss politics and politicians for hours.
With social media, the way we discussed politics completely changed.
Now we were not discussing in small groups, we were discussing on social media platforms.
The canvas just got bigger.
Just before the last elections(2014), I decided to venture into the nation’s favourite past time “politics”.
Rank My Leader was the concept where you could rank your politicians based on the latest news.
Company’s business model: Nothing. It was an expensive hobby funded by me without a business model.
Nothing wrong in that. Right?
There are so many ventures, where VCs pump in money and ask Founders to just get subscribers.
The only issue with this venture was that it was funded by my “not so deep” pocket and as soon as the pocket started emptying, the venture started starving for funds and eventually, died a slow death.
Why did the company shut?: No Market research. Social media users rarely wanted to get away from their social media accounts. I overestimated the ability of a website to pull information from other websites.
Another issue was the “non-existence” of a business model.
The website did not have a business model to generate revenue.
Status of Venture: The website is still alive but not, kicking. We have virtually shut shutters. There are no shutters to shut as we were not selling anything 😉.
This one was a disaster!
Manja Box– Ecommerce Portal:
How did the company start: Since the whole world was gung-ho over e-commerce, we decided to try our hands at online selling and launched an e-commerce portal by the name of Manja Box.
We went to a few cities in India known for manufacturing export gift items and procured stuff for them.
Company’s business model: The firm sold on famous e-commerce portals such as Amazon and pepper fry.
Why did the company shut?: Let’s just say, we were finding it hard to scale the venture. I was already involved with my IT Services business and my wife (allergic to IT) found it difficult to deal with IT and the bloodsucking vendors who kept delaying our first installment of products despite getting all the money paid as advance.
Nevertheless, our unsuccessful ecommerce business left me with a lot of learnings and I, the noble soul has compiled a list of ecommerce tips for small businesses to help you learn the tricks of running an eCommerce business.
Status of Venture: Shut! But trust me, I have tasted blood and I will be BACK in the ecommerce market as a wiser version of myself very soon.
The Sharp Brain:
How did the company start?
The venture was launched last year. We had looked at the skill up-gradation market as a fast-growing market for quite some time.
We ventured into this market space under a new brand “The Sharp Brain”.
Company’s business model: The firm initially tied up with NIESBUD, a govt body that allowed its vendors to conduct training under the name of EDP where EDP is associated with conducting Entrepreneurship Development Programmes to train Entrepreneurs
Our target was to conduct in-house training (we rented a training room to conduct the training. Another stupid mistake without even knowing the potential of the idea).
Once the in-house training was inflow, our target was to eventually reach out to educational institutes and do a tie-up with them.
The business model for in-house was simple – flat fees on the training conducted.
For colleges, we came up with flexible training packages with affordable fees, as we expected bulk registrations.
Why did the company shut?: Although, our focus has shifted – The firm is still alive.
I will be frank here. Last year was a disaster for our core business “IT services and staffing”.
The market was slow, and payments were slower.
All the money we had earmarked for the sharp brain was pulled out and routed back to the main venture.
And all this happened, within 2 months of the launch of the venture. Unfortunately, the venture was expected to be self-sustaining within 2 months of its launch.
And though we tried very hard – we hit a roadblock in the form of a very competitive market that requires a huge inflow of money to get leads and convert them.
Status of Venture: Partial success. Although, not in a form I expected it to be. I have received wonderful feedback from students who attended our training.
On Top of that, I overcame my fear of speaking in front of a camera. All thanks to our Digital Marketing Youtube Channel for which I recorded my tutorials and we launched 3 online courses on udemy.
I did manage to make a few bucks there with decent feedback from those who attended the course.
Along with the above, there have been few hobbies/passions I have perused.
Lessons At Startup – the blog you are reading is one of them.
You must be wondering “Why so many ventures in 10 years? Why couldn’t I stick to one?
Frankly speaking, I never plan to start a new venture. Most of the time, I see an opportunity. I trust my instincts and start a venture.
Here is what I have learned – “Trusting my instincts” sounds cool when you have a lot of money in the pocket but some of the ventures, were just stupid expensive hobbies without a business model to support them (rank my leader being one of them).
At the end of the day, I consider myself lucky to have survived so many years. Thanks to my first and only surviving venture 😊
What is in store for the future?
I have my existing business that is again back on track after a year of setbacks.
We hope to take it to the next level this year and if something interesting comes in, I am all game to take an exit and join a challenging startup.
All I ask for is – free food, a couch, occasional beer, and uber reimbursements 😉.
I am indeed the most affordable guy in the town.
Do you have interesting stories to share like mine?
Well. If you do – write to me and I will share it on my blog.
—– Update: 29/11/2019——-
I wrote this article to share my entrepreneurial journey so far and guess what – Google has started ranking it for failed businesses in India and unsuccessful businessman in India.
Need I say more! Even Google cannot get enough jokes to crack at my expense 😉