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Five Lessons from My Failed Startup

Gaurav Nemade

A year out of my undergraduate school, I decided to quit my consulting job and start a technology company — ‘Novus Minds’. I was 24. The idea was to build an e-payments platform that would enable mid-tier businesses such as educational institutes, wholesalers, etc. to accept cashless payments. In 2012, e-payments was still a big deal for average mid-tier businessman in India (it still is).

But only 8 months after the inception of the idea, I decided to call it quits. Starting a company was hard, but putting it down was even harder, after all it was not just my dream that took a hit, but also my pride. Nonetheless, I am clear about one thing, I never regretted taking the shot.

There are many reasons why my startup failed, but that’s for some other day. In this article, I want to share learnings that I got from the whole experience:

1. Courage to Stand Up

In a middle class Indian family, most of your pre- (& sometime post-) marriage life decisions are taken by your family. Fortunately, I had autonomy on the things I wanted to do but that did not mean I could by pass my parents.

My father grew up in a village, earned through side jobs to get through college, and finally made it in the Government service. In 2012, he was serving his 30th year in the same job when I told him that I wanted to quit my consulting job that I started 8 months ago. He had difficult time comprehending why I wanted to leave my well-paying job to start a business at 24. We did not have an atypical tv drama but we did lose sleep for a few days; he was worried about me and I about him. It was then I realized that our parents can be the easiest and the toughest audience.

Possibly the first time in my life, I was standing against my father’s will. I wanted lots of courage, and…. I did find it in me.

2. Learning to Embrace Failure

Securing top rank in high school and IIT entrance exam and then getting a consulting job, I hadn’t encountered a significant failure in my life; I wasn’t ready to accept one with my start up. But as days went by and the glamorous view of the entrepreneurship faded, it was clear that it isn’t going to be easy.

I used to wake up in the middle of the night thinking “What will happen if I fail?” Confident as I may have sounded in front of my parents, friends and potential investors, inside I was fearful more often than not. And I did fail to tackle the failure . After shutting down, I felt devastated and suffered from low self-esteem for a long time, after all I had flamboyantly expressed my dreams to my friends and family.

But looking in the hindsight, the experience was a vital one! Problem with people who have never failed is that they fail to embrace failure. I was one of them. It was only after I fell down that I got the wisdom to stand up, brush myself up and get on with the life again.

3. True Test of Relationships

The difficult moments of our lives are the true test of our relationships. When my father had doubts about my startup plans, my mother was standing right besides me. I am certain that she was as doubtful as my father was yet she convincingly said to my father “Don’t stop him. I know my Son can do it”. I’ll never forget that moment. Thanks Maa!

At another instance, I happened to look into a friend's handbag and saw a familiar business card — my business card which read Gaurav Nemade, CEO, Novus Minds. I asked her why does she have my business card in her wallet. She said “Well, my friend is a CEO of a startup and I am proud of it”. It was then I realized that "belief" is one of the strongest actions. That girl is now my wife.

4. No Mentors = Failure

If there was single biggest factor that led to failure of my startup, it was that I did not strive hard to get proper mentors for my startup.

My opinion about startup mentorship was a constant back & forth between: (1) the widespread belief that mentors can guide the company in right direction, and (2) my skepticism that mentors may add unnecessary supervision at the beginning. I was torn and I wanted to see the value mentors could have on my startup without committing to one. It was like “I didn’t want to enter the swimming pool, without first knowing how to swim”. And hence I didn’t focus hard enough to get mentors. Going all the way alone was my big plan, but in the end, I failed waiting on the sidelines with my swimming goggles on.

5. Thinking 10X

While my e-payments product didn’t survive to see the light of the day, there was an important lesson that I learned after joining Google (my post-startup job). If you want to be successful in technology industry, you have to imbibe the the fact that technology is advancing exponentially. Focussing on next 1–2 years can get you started, but having an understanding of what the next 5–10 years hold is essential for long-term success.

 

My thinking in 2012 was like the “living pay check to pay check mentality” — solve the pressing problem of today with tech resources of today. Even if I had succeeded in running the company then, my myopic vision might have led to the doom sooner than I would have liked. This realization has guided me since and I always strive to learn and anticipate the future.

Summing up

All in all, those few quarters were tense yet insightful months of my life and the learning from that experience was far greater than any other experience lasting a similar duration.

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