Founding a Startup
We all want to look back and feel proud of our lives.
Here I was — one of the millennials, trying to figure out what to do with my life, pretty much like everyone else.
Having started at 15 — from a digital freelancer to joining a startup as an engineering intern to become a product designer and joining one of the largest tech cos on the planet — I’ve had an unconventional career trajectory.
Our product helps consumer food companies optimize their $Ms worth of procurements.
If this happens at scale, the cost per transaction in the national agriculture trade will go down, making the $200B Indian market more transparent, traceable, scalable and reliable.
Here’s how we plan to do that.
Starting as a 2 person show from a desk at a free office space — within a year, we’ve scaled to a few marquee customers with over ~$15M in monthly purchase volume and thousands of suppliers — with a strong tight-knit 20 people team.
We've got a long way to go — the opportunity globally is in trillions.
The state of agriculture commodity ecosystem is like Windows 98.
It works, but it can just be way better. We need version updates. We need a new operating system.
The decision to start a startup didn’t have much to do with passion. But solving for one of the largest problems in the history of mankind and taking a massively large physical trade and building it digitally is exciting.
Passion follows purpose.
Here are a few learnings I’ve had this year as we break into the world’s largest physical trade —
1. You’re always selling. Rejection is part of the game.
In our mid-20s, with a barebone product but a grand vision – just 10 months ago, we waited anywhere between 1–6 hrs outside client offices trying to sell.
People have done things in a certain way for decades. Convincing people that you can solve their problems is harder than it seems because people don’t want to be told that the way they’ve always done things is wrong.
New technology is hard to sell. It’s natural.
Trying to sell to impress investors, customers, employees – not everyone will believe what you’re doing will work. Many have and still call us crazy.
Sales is a science that no school teaches.
Here’s Bill Gates explaining “The Internet” to Letterman, 1995 —
Believing in something different takes courage with an open mind.
Morgan Housel puts it —
New technology tends to make life easier for those utilizing it, and older generations watching young people avoid the day-to-day grind that they had to endure shake their heads. “You are lazy” is shorthand for “You have technologies that let you avoid the virtue-building hard work I had to experience.”
Cars killed the art of riding a horse.
Telephones killed the art of letter writing.
Email killed phone conversations.
Urban life killed the art of living off the land.
All of these innovations can be viewed as social decline and shunned by those nostalgic for how things used to be.
The key is to keep the ego low, energy high and persevere.
It gets easier over time.
2. You have to do everything that nobody will until you find the best who will.
Family dinners, going out on weekends, taking vacations, taking hobby classes — all sound great. But the life of an entrepreneur chilling at the beach while they make billions is a myth, unless you were born into wealth.
Running a startup is about getting shit done. “Boring” — but you’ve gotta do it because no one else will.
We all would like to hire people better than ourselves. But founders fill in the gaps during the early days. People at early stage startups learn to get things done because they’ve worn different hats at different stages of the company.
In my experience, the fastest way to learn and grow is to join a fast-growing early stage startup or start one.
If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants. — David Ogilvy
We’ve been a small team trying to maximize our outputs. Sales doing support, support writing SQL, engineers designing UI — we’re the jack of all trades and masters of few.
Recruiting the right people and building the right culture is HARD. But it’s like SIP (Systematic Investment Plan) — you start small and invest consistently and reap the returns over time.
3. Belief, faith, and trust — takes you a long way.
Success = Idea * Product * Team * Execution * Luck (where luck is any number between 0–10000)
Happiness quotient is important for your emotional state while you’re building a company. It could get lonely at the top.
In a single day — you’re excited to sign a new investor, anxious for the upcoming pilot customers and fearful about not growing fast enough.
But no matter what the day is like — you hold the fort, stand confident and lead the team.
Things are ought to go wrong in any company. The only thing that keeps you going is the belief that there’s a lot out there we can’t control. We can’t drool over the stuff we can’t control.
Luck is a hidden ingredient to any success. Not a lot of people talk about it. But the world’s secret to getting over the hard parts of life is through faith and belief.
Ben Horowitz wrote this spectacular piece, for when you face the struggle —
The Struggle is when you wonder why you started the company in the first place.
The Struggle is when people ask you why you don’t quit and you don’t know the answer.
The Struggle is when your employees think you are lying and you think they may be right.
The Struggle is when food loses its taste.
The Struggle is when you don’t believe you should be CEO of your company. The Struggle is when you know that you are in over your head and you know that you cannot be replaced. The Struggle is when everybody thinks you are an idiot, but nobody will fire you. The Struggle is where self-doubt becomes self-hatred.
The Struggle is when you are having a conversation with someone and you can’t hear a word that they are saying because all you can hear is The Struggle.
The Struggle is when you want the pain to stop. The Struggle is unhappiness.
The Struggle is when you go on vacation to feel better and you feel worse.
The Struggle is when you are surrounded by people and you are all alone. The Struggle has no mercy.
The Struggle is the land of broken promises and crushed dreams. The Struggle is a cold sweat. The Struggle is where your guts boil so much that you feel like you are going to spit blood.
The Struggle is not failure, but it causes failure. Especially if you are weak. Always if you are weak.
Most people are not strong enough.
Every great entrepreneur from Steve Jobs to Mark Zuckerberg went through The Struggle and struggle they did, so you are not alone. But that does not mean that you will make it. You may not make it. That is why it is The Struggle.
The Struggle is where greatness comes from.
The struggle is real and everyone goes through it. Believe that it’ll all work out.
Don’t stress over the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff.
I met two people recently. Both in their mid-40s. One believes that they’ve peaked their careers and another who’s unbelievably optimistic that this is just the beginning.
Our attitude defines us. Learning never stops.
Time runs out fast when you’re busy. I’m slowly getting used to this.
Building and scaling Procol — still in my 20s, learning and doing things that I imagined I’d be doing — I‘m living the dream.