Why its “never make or break” for an entrepreneur #nevergiveup #ycombinator

I had a very good entrepreneur who came by and talked to me yesterday about his company. After 2+ years of being at it, he finally claimed he “got a break” when he was selected to be interviewed for YCombinator. He had applied a couple of times before and was not shortlisted. He was obviously excited and I was thrilled as well. He and his cofounder are really awesome folks who are among those very rare breed who make everyone around them feel good even when the chips are down. They are both fairly young and an absolute pleasure to hang out with.

The last month, had been extremely tough for them. They figured out that the market in India was not quite ready for their web service, both culturally and also from the ability to monetize. They had both been in the US, and moved back to India so they could lower their costs during the prototype phase. They were facing the choice of moving out of India to the valley or just pivoting to another idea.

In the evening after the initial euphoria had died down, though, he made a remark that surprised me. He said “this is make or break time for us”.

I could understand, but there was a tinge of disappointment in my heart. Two years in a startup can do this to anyone. Two years in an Indian startup is even tougher for most founders. I have a theory about startup in India.

There’s one part of about the Indian entrepreneur that struck me as their unique value proposition.


That’s it.

You survive after starting your company, beyond the first year, you deserve an achievement award.

Survival is the Indian startups unique value proposition.

So imagine all you are trying to do is to stay alive, making some revenue, but not quite making it big. That’s the only stage you are hoping to get to. Till the breakthrough idea, investor, channel, customer or accelerator comes by. Breakthrough in the context of giving your venture a fillip.

Lets then imagine you get that break.

Chances are, that break will not suffice. Not because its not the break you wanted, but because  the chances of it being the only thing that propels you to the next step in the ladder are slim.

That’s the case to keep going and building momentum. That’s because 90% of people will give up at the stage.

If you dont get past the YCombinator interview, have a plan B. Keep going. Dont give up. That was my advice to him.

I know that’s easy to say but very hard to execute. 2 years of no paycheck is bound to turn any  person cynical and jaded.

Here’s hoping he reads this and makes up his mind to have a plan B if the YC plan does not work out.

12 thoughts on “Why its “never make or break” for an entrepreneur #nevergiveup #ycombinator”

  1. I can completely relate to this.

    A marwari proverb keeps me going “Hazaar din dhande ke” (translates to ‘1000 days of business’) …. which my dad often reminds me of … and that keeps me going. If you can survive 1000 days in business, you will succeed. This is again similar to the 10,000 hour rule.

    So, please be at it, at least for 1000 days… plan for 1000 days, you will surely succeed.

    p.s.: we are not marwaris … however, (our family business) being in a business dominated by marwaris, we are heavily influenced by them …

  2. I have also heard this proverb. Also I have found that while it would appear that if this (e.g. order, customer etc.) does not happen it might be the end of the world, I normally am able to get up, dust myself and get going… also it was not the end of the world. I am sure most of them can.
    So IMHO, have a plan B and map out what should be done in case Y Combinator does not happen. That said. I wish them all the very best.

  3. Not quite there (2 years) yet. So, may not be able to relate closely. But I hope that guy reads this and keeps at it with plan B.

  4. I belong to one of the older group – where i was also told by my wife that i have to generate enough monthly income for sustenance – Pulling on was difficult ( no angels no VCs) But I survived for 30 years with no big growth to show – But more than comfortable even for retired life – Had devised a few rules for survival the main one being no “cash loss” for any quarter – if that happens – start working on it and if you cant do it for more than three quarters – shut that line.

    Most of the big aims would require much longer time than a quarter (may be an year) for this – but the strain would be high.

  5. I see so many people who think a ycombinator interview is a make or break. Had it been so, every ycombinator company would have been a hit, AND, there would have been no hits that did not go through ycombinator.

    A startup is a very long haul. There is no single make or break. A make happens by consistent, ingenuous effort over a long period of time, and a break happens by the lack of it. Simple.

  6. With theories like ‘Fail Fast’ floating in the air, it gets really confusing for an entrepreneur. I think entrepreneurship is very tough in India and hats off to the Guys who try to become entrepreneurs. To be successful, you need to be there for a long haul and its a tough job as you need to sacrifice so many things in chasing the dream of becoming a successful entrepreneur. Also the way budding entrepreneurs are treated by VC’s/Angels etc needs to be improved a lot.
    . .

  7. Most posts of Mukund are saved in my folder, they are gems, you see.
    I could relate to these words “this is make or break time for us”. // As a single founder myself, i had “given it all” for my venture http://www.bacookie.in // and i know how it feels to let it go after 3.5 years of pure hard work. At the end of it and when things settle down, one discovers oneself in a new light.

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