My Learning while building a Bootstrap Startup in India

I had written a post How I built a 1100+ users SaaS business as a Single Founder with Zero Marketing Budget some time back which got covered at YourStory. Since then I have got lot of mails asking many questions, I did tried my best (and will always be) to answer to everyone but it is not possible to reply to everyone so I thought I should write down a post putting down all my learning.

I feels most of the failed startup owners quietly disappear instead of sharing their learning and unfortunately what all I learnt, learn through failures after paying big price so I thought to share my knowledge and learning to other startup founders and entrepreneur so they can learn from it. I am writing it the way as I feel it, take it with pinch of salt.

1. There is nothing great about building a startup – You will start a startup with lot of excitement, want to make lot of money, change the world etc but the kicks will be temporary. Starting a startup, running a startup and making money from a startup are three totally different and often separate things.  Fun is in the first part but that has shortest life. Lot of people get sucked into thinking that there is something great about startups, there really isn’t. If you want kicks or wants to make money, there are less risky options available. Startups have very poor success rate, so you better understand the risk/reward and have solid reason behind doing it

2. India doesn’t have a startup ecosystem – There is lot of noise in India specially in bangalore about startups but really there is very little signal. Way too many people get sucked into this “startup” way of building business losing time and money both. There are plenty of startup trolls, advisors, accelerators, investors, has been wannabes in Balgoare who know nothing about building business and are just there for kicks, greed, ego and entertainment. If you are a startup founder, be careful. you are the only one who is taking risk, never forget this.

3. It is very difficult to build a good team – Every seasoned entrepreneur can vouch for this, it is extremely difficult to hire and retain good talent, building a strong team is even more difficult. You will not find co-founders from startup events. Indians are also very emotional people, which often causes problem in building strong team and specially between co-founders who don’t know each other before partnering.

4. Exponential growth is a myth – Very few startups grow exponentially, don’t get fooled by those who are saying they are growing exponentially. Those who say numbers openly have a reason behind it. Most of the startup and startup founders also lies a lot.

5. Never compare your startup and yourself with anyone – I never read Indian startup blogs, techcrunch, HN etc, as it is waste of time. I am least interested in knowing who has got thousands of users or who got millions of funding, as you will never know the underneath reality. There is way too much going on with every startup and startup founders which you will never know. So don’t waste time following other startups unless you can learn something from them.

6. Bootstrapping is not easy – I have found bootstrapping to be difficult specially since I am doing it from Bangalore with no local support. I do know what I am doing and understand how to manage money and expenses and have a profitable startup but still, if you are first timer, expect lot of things to go wrong. Your expenses will be 2X-3X then what you think. I have learnt to manage expenses but only by failing and losing lot of money which hurts, or at least it used to.

7. Deadlines are meaningless – I have missed all my deadlines till now. Earlier it used to bother me, now I just don’t care. I have found it very difficult to set deadlines as there are way too many unknown variables so it makes sense to not set too many deadlines and sleep well in night.

8. You need help from all corners – This is something which I have seen with all successful startups. They always have some support system in terms of family, friends or some network. There is always brother, father, close friend, spouse etc as well as office space, logistics support system with successful startups. These things often happen at background and people never realizes this or acknowledge this but this local support system plays huge role in success of startups.

9. Single founders have limited bandwidth and fast burn rate – No one talks about founder burn rate but they have limited bandwidth. There is huge difference between single founder, two founders and three founder teams. A single guy can at max manage 2-3 people, any more and things will start falling apart. I had made a huge mistake earlier when I tried to manage 5 people which I couldn’t and it became ugly. Do not chew more than what you can swallow.

10. Don’t micromanage or use metrics – using KPIs, metrics, media mentions, traffic and even earnings are often deceptive in early stage startups. As startup founder, you are anyway will always be bias and will only look at things which you want to see so don’t waste too much time on these vanity metrics. They are not as important as you think they are.

11. People are not making as much money as you think they are – Earlier i used to think all these VC funded companies who have raised millions of dollars and people who are running the startups/companies makes lot of money. In reality, very few are making that kind of money. Founders become employees the moment you form a private limited company and raise funding and are not in full control irrespective of what they say publicly. Things never look what they are anyway, so if you think are thinking that there are tons of people making tons of money doing startups, you are wrong. Contrary, I have seen lot of people doing self owned services/development business or running small online businesses are doing fairly well. So if you can successfully build a small business, do it instead of building a big failed business.

12. There is nothing great about product companies nor anything bad about services companies – I had met someone in 2012 who proudly said they are a product based company focussing on Indian SaaS B2B market. They had 80 employees and with about 8 lakh rupees in revenue. I don’t think product companies need that many people, unfortunately in India, there is no such thing as product company, every product or services or B2C or B2B company eventually becomes an Operations company. Don’t get sucked into these definitions of product or service company, there is lot of overlapping between them when you are building India focussed business.

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  • Mohd Wasi

    awful blog…

  • Dhruv Premi

    Very Negative .. And it depends a lot on the product .. However you have a experience so i will give you a benifit of doubt

  • Srinivasan
  • Sunil

    Good blog. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I usually do not put comments, but I wanted to do after reading new negative comments.

  • http://gaikwad.in Pushkar Gaikwad

    Thanks Sunil, though I don’t think there were any negative comments, people said what they felt like and I respect that :)

  • http://replyapp.io/ Oleg Campbell

    Great article! Agree with most of your thougts here. However few of my friends in NA did have some successful exits from Venture backed startups.

    Also, a lot depends on terms when you are getting funding and if it on your ones, you still maintaining a full control and have horisontal relationship with investors, treating them as partners.

    If possible, it good to leave the right to purchase all shares from investor (not sure how this techically could be done), so if partnership didn’t work out, you have the way to end it and get back full control over your company.