11 years after IRMA 3 start ups out of which 2 were personal failure doesn’t make me an authority on start ups but it does gives me some insights into what went wrong. My mistakes are particularly precious to me because I try very hard not to make the same mistakes twice ( or in some cases thrice).
Here are some lessons that I learned
1) Work for at-least 2-3 years: Starting fresh from out of college like I did might sound like a cool thing but getting a couple of years of experience in a proper organisation is extremely valuable. While there are advantages of starting fresh like not getting used to a corporate salary and perks but they don’t come close to getting experience of working in a formal set up.
2) Don’t work with people you have never worked before: Pick your co-founders carefully. My first start up ( www.ivolunteer.in) worked out well because the three co-founders had studied together in IRMA and were part of numerous class assignments. We learned about each other’s work style, strength and weaknesses and were able to support each other. In other two I was not so lucky. The worst situation for everyone in a start up is when you don’t like each other’s work styles. And I have been there at-least once.
3) You can’t run a business part time : This is the worst mistake that I made is that started the other two companies thinking that I will be able to give time to them while continuing in present organisation. Very soon I was dealing with conflicting priorities. Don’t try make something that can be good hobby into business if you cannot spend 8-10 hours on it.
4) Start working on customer database right from day one : Once you are in business this becomes your most valuable asset. Don’t wait for even a single day to start this. Once you reach some sort of scale this is the most difficult thing to start. This is our biggest pain point at iVolunteer.
5) Learn to say NO: Wrong YES sucks away time money and attention. If you don’t like some idea or proposition so NO and walk away.
6) Move ON: When things don’t work out don’t burn bridges- walk out with grace. Move ON.
7) Pretend like a big business: Don’t save money on getting good logo, website, cards etc. Save money in paying yourself less, travelling by train etc etc.
8) Don’t scale in a hurry: Actually don’t worry about it at all. Remember unless you are absolutely sure don’t fret your energies over scaling up. Done in a hurry scale impinges on quality.
9) Love it and love every moment of it: Do things from heart. Believe me the customer can feel it when you are interested only in his money and not in him. And have fun. What’s the point of doing it anyways if you are not having any fun doing it. You might as well get a job.
10) Narrower you focus the bigger you become: Focus narrowly and you will be hugely rewarded. Focus everywhere and you will be lost. We dropped 3 well paying things to focus on volunteering and it has been hugely rewarding for us.
11) Please don’t give up. I have failed but I have not given up. My newest venture is a walking holiday outfit called viawalks .Currently its more of a hobby and I won’t call it a business till I have quit whatever else I’m doing. Because I’m clear about what I want viawalks to achieve I’m loving every moment of it. You can read more about it at www.viawalks.wordpress.com