Ready to endure and enjoy the startup-pain?

Most founders start companies to achieve things like : financial freedom, creative freedom, change the world, make a difference, do something different, be the master of their own fate, be known for their work, be respected by friends & family, lead people, create jobs and the list goes on.

A surprisingly a large number of folks who start companies expect these glamorous  things to start happening automatically the day they leave their job and become entrepreneurs. And since the reality is very different, very soon they start complaining and eventually quit. Here is a little secret you should know:

“Things don’t happen automatically, u have to make them happen. You have to endure and enjoy the pain. Successful entrepreneurs know it instinctively & that’s what makes them tick.”

First 2 years (or more) of a startup are extremely demanding on you as the founder of the startup. You have to endure a lot of pain before you can even get a glimpse of some of these nice things. And there is always a high probability of not making it. Its kind of being pregnant for 2 years while knowing that probability of giving birth to a healthy child at the end of it is a mere 10-15%.  People who go through this period of pregnancy and deliver successfully are the ones who enjoy the journey and the pain more than the outcomes; ones who are prepared to do what ever it takes. You should ask the same question of yourself – are you ready to endure the pain? Or are you better off in your job?

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Here is the list of some the things that you should be prepared to go through at a personal/ emotional level during your entrepreneurial journey.

  • Unless you plan to live with  your parents, be prepared to move out of your comfortable flat in Versova  with rent of 20k a month and  move to Dahisar to maintain the size of the flat but reduce the rental bill to 10k a month.
  • Flights won’t be the default mode of travel between cities (surely not kingfisher).  Every time you’ll travel you will evaluate train vs flight, usually the trains win and mostly sleeper class fare.
  • Cabs are no more allowed for travel within the cities. You gotta be using auto rickshaws,  ride buses / trains / metros or even hop on the shared cabs (yeah I have done that)
  • No staying in hotels, not even budget hotels. Make a list of friends / relatives in all cities and starting piling on. Or checkout  www.couchsurfing.org
  • Can not eat in any fancy restaurant – get a list of affordable but clean food joints – McD is a great option. Cooking at home is even better.
  • No more drinking out in pubs. If you wanna drink bring it home.
  • No movies in multiplexes. In fact no time to watch TV.
  • No phone upgrades / No laptop upgrades. Manage with what ever you have.
  • No bank will give you loan. Not even a credit card.
  • When we were doing our first venture madhouse – did not buy new clothes for 3 years. Only bought when an investor asked me come to the next meeting in formals.
  • There is nothing called a work-life balance in first 2 years of a startup. It’s only work, work and more work. So get used to it and tell your family also.
  • You are doing to work (or should I say slog) 18-20 hrs a day everyday for the whole 2 years. And in your 4-6 hrs sleep you will keep dreaming about work anyways
  • And a lot of your work time will be spent doing small things, which are not exactly intellectually stimulating  – kinda stuff you always took for granted – cleaning the loo, mopping the floor, making tea, opening your office, buying food, going to banks, dealing with govt officials, starting the generator
  • You won’t have much time with family or friends. You will regularly face – angry parents, angry wife, angry kids and angry girlfriends/ boy friends.
  • No going to family functions or weddings. Even if they drag you to the function – you will be sitting a corner on your laptop or iPhone and that would leave your relatives angry with you.
  • No holidays. No weekends. And if you really want a vacation – Use Google earth to enjoy your imaginary vacations. Feel happy when google earth has higher resolution imagery for your vacation spots. They have recently added high imagery for Kashmir region, especially gulmarg and Amarnath.
  • No time to take care of your health. Running, exercises, gyms – all go for a toss
  • Don’t expect any recognition for your efforts from friends and relatives – they wont get it – for them you are still a moron – who quit his fancy job with a big company and fat paycheck to do some thing as mundane as SELLING DVDS
  • Be prepared to a lot negative talk – all most all people around you will keeping tell you how big a looser you are and many more things.
  • Totally get used to failing. Infact failing is not bad – that’s the way to make progress. If you are building anything from scratch – you have to fail 20-50-100 times before you get it right. That’s how evolution works. That’s what happens when you try to solve hard problems.
  • Be ready, most people will reject you : customers, investors, employees you try to hire, organizers of startup showcases. You have to keep looking for the ones who will accept you.
  • Employee retention will be a pain. You will spend a lot of time finding and training freshers to find they have been poached by biggies with just 1.5x or 2x the salary as soon as training is completed.
  • Your girlfriend’s / boyfriend’s parents may tell you that they are not too keen to marry their son/ daughter to an entrepreneur
  • And if you plan to close an arrange marriage deal you can forget about it. Entrepreneurs are a total flop in arranged marriage scenarios
  • Your co-founder will chicken out and will create a bitter scene. People who seem super committed and ready to give their life for the cause would suddenly find out reality and bail on you.
  • Be ready to max your cards / pledge your Personal Assets/Share certificates to give fuel to your Business.

Lot of startups fail / shutdown, just because founders were expecting too much too soon and were not prepared for some of the hard things. I believe being aware of what is in store; can help you prepare for it. If you are prepared for the pain, it will not come as a surprise and I promise at the end of it – all the nice things that you started out for are eagerly awaiting you.

Thanks to Ashutosh Upadhyay , Ankit Maheshwari, Robin Moses, Indus Khaitan, Pankaj Guglani, Sahil Parikh and Nandini Hirianniah for reviewing the draft of the article.

Mediocrities I absolve you

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“Mediocrities I absolve you” – these are the last lines in the master piece movie Amadeus. The movie tells the life-story of  the prolific and influential composer of the Classical era- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The story is narrated from the point of view of a mediocre Italian composer Antonio Salieri – who also lived and worked in Vienna during Mozart’s Vienna years. (The story of the movie is part truth & part fiction, do watch it)

Story of Amadeus

Mozart was a gifted musician, the best of his time and one of the best mankind has produced. But during his lifetime he never really achieved financial success.  In the movie, the story is narrated by Salieri – who is a mediocre composer but was quite a success in Vienna before Mozart arrived from Salzburg.  Salieri hates Mozart, only because Mozart is a far better composer than him. From the time Mozart appears on the scene – Salieri sphttp://sameer.madhouse.in/wp-admin/post.php?action=edit&post=763ends all his life trying to defame, destroy, derail, humiliate and kill Mozart. But in the process he himself stays mediocre – he makes no attempt to improve his composing skills, to collaborate with Mozart or to discover another art in which he can excel and be the best. He choose to stay mediocre and became saint of all mediocrities and hence the last lines of the movie “Mediocrities I absolve you”.

Observe the difference – once he discovered his calling, Mozart chose to stay true to his music, gave all his life to it, he never compromised, always fought for his music – for his operas, he didn’t do things to please people, didn’t do politics – even though he stayed financially challenged most of his life.

Salieri on the other hand also discovered that music was his calling, worked for it, reached a certain level, joined the Emperor’s services at first given chance, became rich and stopped working on his music or his composing skills. He saw that he had enough skills to make the emperor happy. He chose to stay mediocre, chose to stop growing musically. And later he chose to hate Mozart. Why? Because Mozart did not stop at mediocrity, he went on to achieve mastery – he was the best, he was everything Salieri wanted to become – but without the efforts and without the sacrifices.

Discover your calling

“Find a job you love and you will never spend a day working” – its a old cliche, but still relevant. One can only excel in things they absolutely love to do. So the first step towards achieving excellence and not becoming or staying mediocre is to discover your calling. What is that you can do for hours and never get tired? What is that job in which quality of work matters far more to you than the money you get paid?

If you are one of the few lucky ones you will stumble upon your calling early in your life and after that the job will be to stay on course. But if you are like most of us, the answer wont be obvious, it is there – but it just needs to be discovered.  The problem is that for most of us even the fact that we should be looking for the answer is not obvious.  If you are one of those who is looking for the answer or wants to look – the only way is to keep trying new things – be restless, be fearless. Give-up things if you don’t like doing them and use that learning intelligently to start afresh. You must keep looking – you will automatically know when you find it. Something will click inside you. That is what happened with me.

I was restless all my life – moving from one thing to another, getting bored, moving again – never settled for something I did not love to do – made efforts to get out, took my chances. In August 2004, I moved to India to from San Francisco and had to find a new job. I thought why not try doing something on my own for 3 months and if it doesnt workout I will go find a job. That’s how I started madhouse; accidentally. But the day I became an entrepreneur – something clicked inside me.  I had discovered my calling.  Just that I had spent 27 years looking for it  and tried quite a large number of things.

Everyone has a calling (infact a person can have more than one calling!) – but we have to look for it – either consciously or unconsciously. Most people fall short when it comes to leave what they are doing right now and start again from zero – they want to keep clinging to what they are doing, safety of job, big salary, the home town comforts, etc. The ability to start from zero is the most crucial element. You must have this ability or  develop it if you want to complete the  journey to your calling.  Give yourself a chance, start that company, take that trip, quit that job, make that movie – whatever it is, do it. If you are not doing what you love to do – YOU ARE AN IDIOT.

At the end of the day if you do not discover your calling – you are assured mediocrity.

Staying on the course to mastery

The next step, after you have discovered your calling, is to get on the path to mastery and to stay on course. It could be music , entrepreneurship, sports, belly dancing or something entirely different. It takes many long years to simply be on the path to mastery. These years are sometimes dark, years filled with hard work,  where many mediocres around you are trying to make you one of them, and they will make you some tempting offers.

But if you want to achieve excellence you have to turn down these offers; continue to learn and grow. With every hurdle you cross, the terrain becomes more difficult , but going thru tough times and solving tough problems is the only way to grow.

Remember:

  • You will fail
  • You will face problems
  • You will fall
  • You will run out of resources
  • You will reach dead-ends
  • People will leave your side
  • Many people will hate your guts
  • People will humiliate you
  • At times things will not move at all
  • People will break their promises
  • You will fight, get hurt, lose morale and fight again

Amongst all of this, you have to stay true to your journey and be on the path to mastery. Nothing worthy of achieving is easy. So hang in there!

Credits: Thanks to Indus and Nandini for helping me refine the article

We dont need no Education. Just give us the money.

Excellent post from Dave – HATS OFF.

Dave has done BIG FAVOR to the new / first time entrepreneurs by speaking naked truth. Many of them are doing a great job but at the same time they really need to be shaken up.

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Here is some of what I see / hear / encounter in the Indian Startup scene and some unwanted TIPS:

– Just give me money and I will take care of every thing else (TIP: guys come to back to reality, it takes a lot to build a business. You gotta build something really significant with out external money and prove yourself, before expecting someone else to write a check)

– I have been working hard and smart for 6 FULL MONTHS, how come customers and VCs are not falling at my feet (TIP: be prepared to rot for another 12-18 months, before people really start noticing you)

– I am doing every thing right but these damn customers , bloggers are not getting it, someone should throw water at them.  (TIP – look inside, review your strategy and execution)

– I have talked to 5 VCs but they dont seem to get my product because they are fools / have vested interests / are incompetent etc. I am sure the next one I talk to will have better sense and will write be a check. Please dont tell me that I need to fix / improve anything on my end (TIP: No comments)

– I got funding, therefore now I am successful. I can spend as much as I want and have all my management stay in 5 Stars and travel Business and blah blah

– I have been running this business for 2-3 years, about time some body comes along to buy my business or give me 5 Million dollar funding (TIP: hey guys, value of your business is not a function of how long you have been runnding. Value comes from : market share, customers, revenues, traction, branding etc etc)

I dont mean to disrespect entrepreneurs, infact those are the creatures I respect the most. But some reality check will surely improve things, would love to hear from you…