This is the final post in the series I started a few years back when I left US and landed in India (see first part, second part and third part). It has been an inordinately long time since I wrote last in this series, and it must be attributed to my lack of perspective on things that were unfolding in my journey. It took me time to make sense of some things!
In my last post 20 months back, I had outlined a few options around rejigging my portfolio and I had to choose one or more:
- Continue to stay 1-person army and try to become high-end (thereby increasing my per-hour revenue)
- Hire and grow Palash into a consulting practice
- Rejig my portfolio by moving from people-intensive offering to technology-intensive offering
It turns out that I had not accounted for vagaries of my mind! I ended up making a choice that was not on the list by any stretch of imagination.
I had been helping one of my friends since 2013 in building the product around his idea for virtual trials. As I was pursuing rejig of my portfolio, he was busy pitching the idea to potential investors and participating in events. He got good traction on both the front and my weekly technical meeting with his team turned slowly into conversations around whether I can come on board in a more significant capacity. Discussions continued for a few months, and he did a great job in selling the idea to me! I was always intrigued by the thought of bringing offline shopping experience to online shopping world, and I liked the fact that image processing technology can be a way to do so, at least for a specific category of goods out there (jewellery, eyewear, other fashion accessories).
Other that the technology attraction, there were 2 other reasons that I think made me agree to join him:
- This was going to be a real startup experience. What I was doing was soft startup of sorts – I was controlling the financial risk by consulting on the side, and hence the pressure to perform might not have been there. This experience, on the other hand, would have to be real deal – all-in, focused on building something that someone finds useful enough to invest in, stop other engagements, etc.
- My co-founder was in sales/marketing, and far removed from technology. This was complimentarity of skills at its best, which is important when you co-found a company. I liked this matching of skills.
Long story short, after a few months of these discussions, I agreed to come on board as co-founder and take care of building technology for the startup while we continued to pitch to investors and attend events. It was summer of 2014.
The experience has been world-changing for me. Some of the lessons will stay with me for a very long time:
- Indian startup eco-system is red hot. Lots of events, lots of money chasing ideas, lots of intermediaries trying to make a name or money (or both).. there is a lot of activity. However, most of the money is flowing into Mobile and Internet space.
- We spent most of our pitching time with angel investors, and events time with VCs. It seems there is paucity of investment leaders – too few people willing to bet on off-the-track ideas. This is not a statement only because we didn’t get funded, I say this based on the kind of startups that do get funded – too many of the same type.
- We spent inordinately high amount of time in preparing for investor pitches, building prototypes for them, and in general going around meeting them. I now feel, purely in hindsight, I would have been better off spending all my time building things rather than pitching so much.
- Making a startup work with a co-founder is as hard as making a marriage work (if not more!). You need to understand each other so well and be willing to forgive and forget so much, it is no surprise that it is hard to find co-founders. Like a marriage, bad times test you much more than good times.
- Your mind plays lots of tricks with you when you are in real startup mode. Where should you spend your time? Is this the right decision? Is this VC right when he says this is not fundable? Is that friend right when he says this is a billion dollar idea? These questions will vex you all the time, and you may feel you are on right path, and suddenly you will feel depressed. There have been so many books written on various aspects of entrepreneurship, and almost nothing written on ‘psychology of an entrepreneur’ and how to deal with it.
After 8 months of a roller-coster ride, and no investment in sight, I exited the venture a few months back. This also marked 3 years of my return to India.
The startup was not in a space that excited me, it was just the idea that did. So when it was shown by the investment community that this wasn’t worth pursuing (at least at that time), it was clear in mind I should exit, rather than try and pivot. I also felt 3 years was enough time to take a shot at entrepreneurship and stop trying if something tangible didn’t come out.
I am back in the corporate world. I had always thought I wouldn’t join back to corporate world. But when this moment came, I realized it was time to do so. I needed time to recover from the startup pace, think back on my lessons, and prepare for another attempt when the time was right again. Corporate world is the place to be!
This is the end of the beginning made in Feb 2012. It is definitely not the beginning of an end. As I turn intrapreneur, entrepreneurial spirits are strong as ever. Taking another shot at entrepreneurship is definitely on the cards in a few years from now!