Lessons I learnt from my first start up

No one said building a company is easy. But it’s time to be honest about how brutal it really is, and the price so many of us, founders secretly pay for it.

The entrepreneurial quest is not always about success, upside and happy exits. The journey, drive, intensity and risk that come with founding, funding, and growing a business can exact a tremendous financial, emotional and physical toll on an entrepreneur.

Sometimes it’s called “The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship,” — “It’s like a man riding a lion. People look at him and think, this person’s really got it together! This person’s brave. And the person riding the lion is thinking, How the hell did I get on a lion, and how do I keep from getting eaten?”

Does it resonate ?

Many entrepreneurs share character traits that make them more vulnerable to mood swings. People who are on the energetic, motivated, and creative side are both more likely to be entrepreneurial and more likely to have strong emotional states, including depression, despair, hopelessness, worthlessness, loss of motivation, and suicidal thinking.

According to a study entrepreneurs are:

− 2X more likely to suffer from depression

− 6X more likely to suffer from ADHD

− 3X more likely to suffer from substance abuse

− 10X more likely to suffer from bi-polar disorder

− 2X more likely to have psychiatric hospitalisation

− 2X more likely to have suicidal thoughts

Well, let’s start from my story. I was not born to have my own business, though I was born in a business class family. By the time I graduated, the businesses in my town were all stale and moving out was the only option. I was the only one in a large family of businessmen, who moved out of being a businessmen and ended up being an employee.

When giving my ten-second spiel about how I got to today, one line that is always present is this: “There have been attempts at being a successful employee at 4 different organisations and one relatively successful business.”

That’s right — only one successful business. And that success doesn’t pay the lease on a Ferrari and buy a house in the Magnolias or Aralias at Golf Course.

I tried starting on my own a lot of times, but finally created a successful business of being a boutique event management company, have been running it profitably for 11 years and here’s what I have learnt that might help you create a business or run a profitable side hustle.

Don’t wait, just dive in

I was never ready to be in business. I still remember that I just wanted to quit, quit from being an employee, the day was 15th August 2009, thinking it was my independence from being an employee and charting my own path of entrepreneur.

No business plan, no office, no partners , nothing. Just simple will of starting something on my own. Dots started connecting, my old reputation of work got me partner and clients, rest is history now.

So all in all, you are never ready to be in business. You just hit go and go from there. The idea you start with is rarely the idea you end up with when the business is profitable. So just dive in before you are ready.

Be wise on choosing your business partner

This is very tricky and i have faltered a lot of times in the past. If you are looking at a business partner or a majority stakeholder, always look for someone who is unlike you and someone who compliments you.

Never give more than you receive, sometimes in the manner of being good, you give more, expecting that the other person will think alike and deliver, but when it doesn’t happen, it develops friction and develops frustration.

Trust plays a major role in the early days, everybody is your best friend. When the money comes piling in, people change and that can be bad for your business. Trust and likability are key in a business partner too.

Acquire practical skills, not education

I do not have an ivy league business education, my business knowledge comes from being on the ground and learning the hard way. I keep reading, researching and learning on the way. The idea is to keep learning and keep moving, never become stale. Focus on practical skills that are needed to make money — everything else is fluff and useless strategies. Just like the saying below :-

All great changes are preceded by Chaos

A new business is chaos. There’s no systems or structure in place. If you hate chaos then you may want to reconsider starting a business. Chaos is not for everyone and that’s why there are traditional jobs.

Big ego equals big problems, keep a watch

As a business and a founder, having a healthy ego can be a great thing. It’s your ego that can give you the self-respect and the self-confidence to take the risks it will take to start a business in the first place. However, when it’s not kept in check, your ego can run rampant and actually be detrimental to your business. You would think that the ego would make you push toward the “biggest and the best” of everything for your business. but ego is complacent and resists change

You got a business, so what? You’re not better than the next person because you started a business. Starting a business is not a badge of honor that comes with a gold medal. Pipe down your ego. Resist the urge to put “founder” and “entrepreneur” on everything you do as if you went to Mukesh Ambani College as part of your business journey.

Don’t micromanage all the time, sometimes is ok

I have really struggled with this over the years. I feel like I have to control everything, which leads to micromanaging every aspect of my business. Obviously you want to care about the details regarding your business. Here’s the thing though, you and your team aren’t perfect. There will be times when expectations aren’t met. And, that should be perfectly acceptable. But, instead of being overbearing, critical and constantly watching your team, you’re creating a culture where your team believes that you don’t trust them, so don’t do it and keep a watch.

In other words, micromanagement doesn’t work. Back off a little and give your team the freedom to shine on their own.

Being digitally present is the game

Its heartening to say that having a digital option is the key, we have come so far in the internet journey and today if we do not have a digital option, then a mystery health crisis like Covid 19 would kill your business. so think through, and see — Can I buy your product or service without leaving home and have it delivered to me? Or, can you still add value to our lives from the comfort of our home? These questions explain your digital strategy. Because digital just means business, and it’s how you stay in business.

Hire people way smarter than you, very very important

The best people I’ve hired over the years are far smarter than me. The business owner doesn’t need to be the smartest person in the room.

Find smart people who have niche skills and leverage their expertise, rather than try to be a jack of all trades, master of none.

Network, network & network and always have your mailing list

I can’t say I was late to the party on this one, I have still not reached there yet. The platforms you market your business on are not owned by you. Your social media accounts can be taken away from you at any time and you don’t own your customer’s contact details.

A follower is an unknown person you can never contact.

An email address is a prospect.
An email address can turn a prospect into a customer. so work on it and keep networking.

Learn how to lead people

People are at the heart of any business. Even if you are a one man band in business, you will have to work with people at some stage, even if they are not employees and act as freelancers.

A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.

If you know what motivates people, you can link the outcomes of their work to who they want to become. Human interaction is one of the hardest things to learn in business. People have biases, beliefs, issues, and mindsets that prevent them from being effective.

A simple business task should be easy to do but once you involve people, it gets complicated.

People make decisions not based on business logic. People act as an x-factor. That’s why it pays to understand people so you can lead them.

Going big is overrated, not required in all the scenarios

Going big in business is overrated. The bigger your business gets the more stress you take on. If you’re making enough money to cover what you need, why risk it all to go big and potentially be left with nothing? It’s a question worth asking. How big is too big?

A global lockdown ended so many businesses which tried to expand beyond their reach

So if your business can be managed and the growth can be organic, that’s advisable.

My bits, try and use your customer money to expand, that’s the best way. Customer love is the most important thing.

That’s it for now, and am sure all the above would give you lots of motivation and insights, those are my learnings and my advice. Am sure everyone is different and will look at it differently. But if my experience can help even one person then I am home.

Please share your views and advice as well.

While I move to a new journey would like to say that “Life is like riding a bicycle, to keep your balance, you should keep moving.”

Final Thought

Being an expert at failing pays handsomely. It’s only through doing, though, that you learn about business the hard way. You have to know what not to do before you learn what to do. After so many experiments and business ideas that didn’t work, you eventually find a path that works.

Ankit Sehrawat
Ankit Sehrawat

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