Tag Archives: project

Entrepreneurship is an act of self realization more than of markets, technology or customers

Over my career spanning 15+ years, I have started companies, sold successfully and also failed and shut down companies. I have also started over 25+ side projects that have largely failed. I can claim I have learned a lot from both my successes and failures to write multiple books. What I have figured out though is that the act of solving a new problem and the ideas that flow have more taught more about myself than the markets I was operating in, the customer segments I was targeting, or the technologies I was working on.

There are multiple things you want to learn about yourself. Introspection is a good thing for most parts. There are multiple ways to learn about yourself. As long as you live every day you tend to learn about yourself, but all of the major milestones at your startup provide you an opportunity to learn more about your likes, dislikes, your fears, things that make you happy and those that make you sad. You also learn about the kinds of people you like to work with and those you’d rather avoid.

The key part is to document all your learning. I recommend the question bank approach to learning from your failures.

One of my side projects many years ago was a crowdsourced solution to price transparency for *everything*. I called the project “pricearoo” and started it exactly a year before “Priceonomics”.

The key difference was to allow users to “check in” their price for any item. I have the initial screen shots as well. It was a simple “I paid XX for YY” at “automatic location

Then you can see how much other people paid for the same thing, or where you can get it cheaper. The idea was pretty broad, and I could price anything from oranges to cars.

There were a lot of things wrong with the project. I launched it for Windows Phone (2012, pretty lame, I know) and it was pretty generic, instead of focused on one vertical. I also did a poor job getting the word out. So, while the prototype and the mockup were very well received by the initial users, the project failed miserably.

I learnt a lot about consumer applications, the launch process, how to build a Windows phone app and build a back-end system with Ruby on Rails. All that was great learning, and something I will keep for a long time.

There’s one thing though about these things I learned. Most have of the items about market, customer segments and product have a shelf life of less than 3,6 or sometimes a max of 12 months.

The most important flaw in my personality that I learned through this project was I like shiny new things more than the discipline and diligence to follow through one thing.

That one piece of learning has stayed with me ever since. I have written much about discipline vs. intellect since, but since that project, I focused on building my muscle memory around being a lot more disciplined. The “I am smart enough to figure things out” has been replaced by the “grin and bear it through the worst and best of times”.

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The 5 emotions you go through as a #startup founder

I love tinkering and trying to do new stuff. It helps me figure out what entrepreneurs are going though. Whether it is learning a new language (Javascript again), a framework (Angular.JS) or new technique to get customers (Instagram FTW). Some of these projects take a few months and others a year.

For e.g. we are trying to build a periscope camera to help you take photos when you are a concert and are not tall enough or have arms that are not long enough to take them. This will be connected to your smartphone so you can look at the lens from your phone before you take the photo.

This project was my attempt to launch and manage a kickstarter campaign. We have 2 college students who have the capability to build the Raspberry Pi  based controller and I was the marketing and kickstarter campaign guy.

There’s a point in time when you fantasize about these side-projects becoming your “$19 Billion exit”. Then reality hits you daily every hour. Even if you have cofounders, you will realize quickly that being an entrepreneur is a long and lonely journey. That means you will have several conversations with yourself.

I tried to capture my own “self-conversations” or “selfies” over the last few projects to understand the moments of doubt, fear, exhilaration, stress, joy.

Lets start with the idea. Most people get exhilaration, but I get doubt as well. It seems to me that having listened to 1000’s of ideas as a judge, VC and investor, there are no new great ideas any more. Then again, if you are unable to sleep at night and want to write down, code or document all your thoughts, this is the best stage of emotion.

Then you get to joy – for me that comes from a shipped product (call it MVP, beta, alpha, anything). Not necessarily the point when customers or users are using the product, but just when you get it “out there”. The time when you can declare on your FB profile or on your Twitter stream that “Product X is live” or “Launched Product X”, followed by a call for people to try it out.

Fear hits next when you either a) get a lot of users and many complain on Twitter or a Blog post you have written that they dont “get it”. Most people rarely get version 1 of anything. You as a founder tend to then worry about whether all the time and energy you spent over the last few weeks / months / years was even worth it.

Stress comes after that when you try to pivot and change multiple times to figure out “product market fit”. The stress comes from your own internal battles to tune, fix, change and modify your project in a race against time to keep your “self funded” project from dying.

Finally this stage ends with doubt – on funding, market, customer validation, hiring, investments, a whole entire host of self critical analysis and paranoia that results in hopefully a finish that comes back to exhilaration – of the funding round, the customer traction or a new, smart hire.

Going by the numbers in my own entrepreneurial network, I’d say exhilaration post these 5 emotions is on the rise. That’s a good thing. A very good thing.

Is it a bubble? I have been asked. I usually reply – Who cares.

There’s an “orgy” going on next door (Silicon Valley) we are busy arguing the size of “condom” we are trying on. Dive in, the water is warm.