Mistakes to avoid in your startup journey 🎱

Posted by Karan Shah · 14 Aug, 2017 · 6 min read
Mistakes to avoid in your startup journey 🎱

This blog describes my experiences with building SoluteLabs, my mistakes along the way and how could I have avoided them

I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not trying. –Jeff Bezos

I founded SoluteLabs with my friend, Prakash Donga, in Aug 2014, under odd circumstances. I had just quit my job and was actually planning to take up another one but I wasn’t quite sure of what to do (frankly, I still don’t). He had already left his job an year ago building mobile apps for customers while I had always worked with big customers and large projects — none of it was of much use in building a small scale startup (a little maybe).

Prakash proposed the idea of me teaming up with him and had a few friends who used to send work along his way; Entrepreneurship is very ingrained in many such as my partner. Reluctantly, I agreed thinking that the worst I could do was to lose some $$ but it would be a good learning experience.

Lesson #1 : Never start a venture as an alternative, work on it as if your life depends on it 👩🏻‍💻

While I always gave my 100%, it would be wrong to say that the thought of shutting shop occurred multiple times (especially when we made losses, more on that later). My father has a business of manufacturing textile chemicals and owns his factory and thus it was not the case that my family depended on my income to survive. I don’t think my venture would have survived without their immense support.

We hired our first guy, a Ruby on Rails Developer, Sachin Gevariya — who was a friend’s co-worker and at that time, we paid him the salary equal to what was mine when I left my last job. It was a crazy decision and we had no project on our hands.

Lesson #2: Sales should always come first, execution second 💰

I know this might sound crazy but even if you’re building a product startup — go ahead and create mockups and ask people if they would be willing to buy your product/service. We should have ideally sold a developer to a client before we hire someone.

None of us knew anything about Ruby on Rails except that it was a skill in rising demand and was used by startups worldwide. Luckily, we got the first project on the 2nd day he joined through a friend of Prakash. While we started work on our first project, the three of us sat in one room for more than 2–3 months while we tried to recruit people by cold-calling ourselves, building our website (yes, when he joined — we didn’t even have a website), getting the legal stuff ready and so on.

Lesson #3: Everyone needs that one break to move to the next level 📈

I believe that this is very crucial for any company, we got our break with someone who agreed to work with us ➡ first project ➡ first client with a team size of 20+ ➡ first startup to get funded ➡ first startup to go viral and it goes on. While we’re always waiting for the next break, it’s more important to work for it instead.

We soon shifted out of our first office in about 5-6 months of occupancy and went on to hire more people but we were not strong sales people; I believe people only used to come to us as we kept our rates really low (to the extent that we lost money on fixed cost projects) and then realised that we were a good dev shop as well.

Lesson #4: You cannot scale a company like looking through a magnifying glass 🔎

After we reached a team strength of 15 and we barely saw some income (no profit yet) come along the way, I assumed that we could just multiply everything by 3 and we could reap 3x times the profit. We got a project manager, went into a hiring frenzy and even hired more people without doing the due diligence and forgetting Lesson #1 as well.

It was a nightmare, we couldn’t manage projects properly nor could we find time to get new ones. I assumed that I could create a company that would run on it’s own without my interference and that money would just keep on flowing in (Remember, I used to work with a conglomerate that employed 300k people at that time).

Lesson #5: Never lose focus on what you want to really do in your career 🎯

Working long hours and still not making profits was becoming more painful due to which the vision behind creating SoluteLabs was getting lost — We wanted to be in the box and not outside it. During the expansion phase, all that was getting lost and as developers turned entrepreneurs, it didn’t go down well with us.

Right now, we slimmed down a bit and optimised the processes at the company after getting in touch with our mentor Amal. We are still very hands on tech guys, most of the times — we’re trying to be billable on the project and then there are some projects which we take on ourselves as well. I got AWS Certified last month and my partner does a lot of consulting too.

Lesson #6: Get a Mentor and try to look at things from a bird’s eye 🦉

We got in touch with our Mentor from LinkedIn and we opened our books to him right on the second meeting. He opened our eyes to things that we turned a blind eye to and didn’t recognise ourselves. He is now helping us boost employee morale and utilisation, it feels great to have so much experience on the team when the rest of the team is relatively far less experienced.

Now, I try and look at things retrospectively and see that if I had done all these things from day 1, I would be much more happier and profitable but then again, that is how you fall, learn and grow. Had I gone to work for 15 years in a company, I might not have made these mistakes or might have but I feel I squeezed the learning curve fairly tight. I’ve made peace with the mistakes I’ve done — hope you make with yours.

. . .

While a lot had gone wrong in the past few years, I’m proud of things that I got right:

Bulls Eye #1: I started the company who was a friend first and partner second. 👬

I could not have imagined doing this with someone I did not know or on whom I could not place trust on. I know that he would give 100% for the company we’ve built and finding a co-founder is like getting married — you actually spend more time with your co-founder than you would do with your spouse and there is immense trust involved. It’s important to point our flaws with each other and compete at the same time.

Bulls Eye #2: My Team ❤️

My team is something that I’m very proud of and I’ve become more choosy over time. All my team members, present and past — all of them are a very important part of the journey and I shall forever be grateful to everyone of them


Bulls Eye #3: Family support 👨‍👩‍👦‍👦

There was no pressure ever from my family to either score well in school, get a fancy job, earn or even join my dad’s business; all of this gave me immense freedom to do what I wanted with my life. It might not be important for many of you but the approval and harmony is very important for many like me.

. . .

While there is much more that I can write on this, I might as well do it on some another day. If you could relate with what I wrote, do give this a 🖤 and share it with someone who might benefit.

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