Why I am writing this as my first book.
My 2015 was an awesome year. There were many occasions to celebrate and reflect upon. There is another new year that is waiting to unfold. From my growing days, I had a long harboured wish of writing. I dabbled in it for many years. I write whenever my muse takes me over. There is this sudden surge of mental activities where words start to flow seamlessly and fingers seems to capture every bit of it. I get such a joy and a ‘high’ while writing.
I am writing this post because my muse has taken me over, once again. When last year dawned, I decided to make a habit of writing often with the goal of writing atleast a week. Also I wanted my writing to reach more number of people and possibly build a network of followers.
Mostly, I achieved both the goals. I created a publication “The Last Lecture” and started writing in it regularly. It has crossed 6400 followers and counting. Also, I wrote many essays which is where my heart is. There were discussions and responses around those essays. People seem to have liked it. To sum it up, I am happy with how I have progressed with my writing.
Journey of a writer
There is a typical journey of anyone who writes. Initially, you read from many sources, especially from lot of books. Every day, there are interactions with others. Then there are your lessons from success and failure of various events in life. At times, you travel to a different city. All these things influences you. You start to form your own opinions and rationale.
Along this ride, you start to pick a tone, a voice in writing. And it is unique. But it takes years to find it. Once found, it forms the soul of your writing. After years of writing regularly, it starts to flourish. My goal has been to find that tone and I believe that it has started to emerge. It will take years to sharpen it and I am willing to patiently try it out.
All of my writing experiments in 2015 have reaped good results and has given me confidence to continue more elaborate and bolder experiments in 2016 as well. They say ‘New year, New beginnings’. I have decided to make a new beginning by writing something that I have been living with for the past three years. It has been nagging me every single day and given me sleepless nights. There are days when it has blew me away with sudden sparks of ideas. It’s something that I want to tell to the world. They say, if you want to write a book, then it has to come from within. You don’t start to write a book on one fine morning. You have to live with it for months together and sincerely believe you have a story(if there exists one) to tell the world.
Yes. I have to decided to write a book, tentatively titled — Book #1. So, what is it about? For this, I have to tell you a story.
The Startup Story
I was a naive 23 year old when I started up. We began well. We didn’t startup for wrong reasons such as being my own boss or to get rich like those internet moguls. Also we didn’t want to add to the ever-growing, ever-present statistics of people, by eternally sitting on an idea. We went ahead and built a product from ground up.
Nothing gives you the high like building something you envisioned. During a lifetime, very few people get to build something that’s theirs. It’s even rare if they get to do it more than once.
Until launch, we were in this happy period thinking that ‘Build. They will come’. Once we went to market, we soon realized the hard knocks of business, that is, product-market fit. We validated few of our assumptions and yet we didn’t close any deal.
Product-market fit was elusive. We realized that we were not building what people want, not the version that they will use. We went back to drawing board and built a new version. This time, response was better and we managed to close quite a handful of deals for few months. But again, we were not able to build a sustainable revenue channel. Again we went back to drawing board, and decided to build again. But that version never saw the end of day.
While starting up, we never took cognizance of the fact that we needed enough money to take off from the runway. We ran out of money and were not able to raise further rounds of investment. This led to infighting between co-founders and it turned ugly. We scaled too fast and did few things too soon. We did all this for that one elusive breakthrough. In hindsight, what we did was to throw a hail mary pass. Eventually we shut shop and moved on.
Why I am writing this book
The best advice I got for writing a book is to articulate the idea of your book in one page. This one page document will act as your true north. Here is my true north —
Most of startups fail for three reasons — running out of cash, co-founder fighting (usually one leads to other) and not building what people want. It is true that you learn lot out of failures and I am extremely happy to have embarked on that crazy journey of entrepreneurship.
Unlike the prevailing notion of celebrating failure by ‘Fail Fast’, failure hits you quite hard. It is devastating on many levels and has a deeper impact on your personal, financial and health fronts. It is a rabbit hole and you will never know when you will see light at the end of tunnel.
During the same time, I was noticing lot of glorification of startups and romanticising the idea of entrepreneurship. Popular media spins lot of tales about a twenty-something guy going on to found a billion dollar company and living life king-size. But what they don’t tell is for every successful entrepreneur there are thousands of others who fail. Their stories are never told. Instead, they sell the idea of mass entrepreneurship and send an unprepared person to go through a soul crushing, wilderness trip without understanding the vicissitudes and fundamentals of entrepreneurship.
Further, people who advice on startups are those who don’t have an ounce of experience in entrepreneurship. They are fence walkers, cheerleaders who haven’t taken risks by starting up.
9 out of 10 startups fail. Whole venture capital industry is built on the fact only 1–2 startups in their portfolio give 10x returns. A few startups give 2x return. Rest of the startups are loss making ventures.
Often people who startup fixate on their idea claiming that it will revolutionize the world. Though it is a good start to have a great idea, it doesn’t help you go all the way. Execution of the idea defines the success of a startup.
These, along with, my tryst with failure, got me into thinking mode. I did an objective study of what went wrong. I read lot of books and spoke to past and present entrepreneurs. I worked for few startups. Currently, I work in a fast growing startup. Something began to dawn on me. It started to emerge that success of startups can be traced back to consistently committing to fundamentals. However different the startups are, fundamentals remains the same.
So I wrote a blogpost compiling a list of fundamental learnings titled ‘Hundred things that I learnt while building my startup’ and published it, hoping it makes some resonance. But what followed was beyond my expectations. Entrepreneurs and ‘want-to-be’ entrepreneurs responded positively and wrote to me in droves. As a result of that post, I got couple of jobs too. This gave me confidence and bolstered my belief that people could identify with my theory and appreciate it. Thus, that blogpost became a minimum viable product(MVP) for writing a book.
I started looking for inspiration from other fields where sticking to basics and improvising on it is practised. ‘Kaizen’ caught my eye. Kaizen is a process of continuous improvement made famous by Japanese industries especially by Toyota’s production system. Lean Startup was partly inspired by kaizen.
Startups can’t be run like a traditional business. Because startups operate on a high level of uncertainty in trying to build and launch a product and create a repeatable and sustainable business. Principles practised in behemoths doesn’t work in startups. This was an inspiration behind Lean Startup. It gives you a blueprint on how to apply lean startup principles and build a successful startup. Eric Ries is the architect of lean startup and he devised a methodology where he believed entrepreneurship is a kind of management that can be taught and learnt.
Lean startup gave words to my thought process post my startup debacle like it had done for hundreds of entrepreneurs all over the world. But I felt that there was a greater scope to extend and extrapolate on lean startup by concentrating more deeper on lot of smaller yet fundamental things.
What are the fundamental things that I am talking about?
Though it is very well known that founder issues are one of important reasons of failure of startups, there was no definitive information to how to choose your co-founder.
It is imperative to have financial plan for your family and your startup for atleast an year. You can’t starve your family while you chase your dreams. Also you need to bootstrap initially. Heedless of the awaiting disaster, founders plough on with their idea.
You have to be two-face. Though you should love your solution for a problem statement that you are solving in your startup, you should not obsess on it. Love your problem, not your solution.
These are the smaller things that I refer to. Often, these smaller things are ignored and ridiculed. We think that these smaller things will not impact on a larger level and don’t give it’s due importance.
Startups don’t achieve success on a bright monday morning. As Jim Rohn, famous entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker, would say, “Success is a few simple disciplines, practiced every day. While failure is simply a few errors in judgment, repeated every day”. When you aggregate gains on lot of smaller things, over a period of time, it will be the difference between success and failure. It is very similar to compounding of wealth.
This theory has been around for some time and is called “aggregation of marginal gains”. It was made popular by Sir Dave Brailsford during his stint in Team Sky and British Cycling Team.
Sir Dave Brailsford was the Performance Director of British Cycling. He adopted a methodology wherein if you start improving 1% on everything and anything that goes into riding a bike, those small gains would add upto considerable improvement. He was proved right when Britain went on to win two cycling gold medals in 2004 Olympics, their highest tally in cycling event in any olympics since 1908. In 2008 and 2012 Olympics, they dominated the proceedings by winning eight gold medals.
In 2010, he joined Team Sky, a cycling team as General Manager and Performance Director. He faced an arduous task of turning things around and ultimately winning the coveted ‘Tour De France’. He applied his ‘aggregation of marginal gains’ practise and orchestrated consecutive Tour de France victories of Team Sky in 2012 and 2013.
Thus evolved my theory from its elementary state. So the higher order bit is
a) consistently sticking to fundamentals, those little things in running a startup
b) improving atleast 1% on everything wherein small gains would add upto considerable improvement over a period of time.
This will be precisely what I will be exploring in depth in this book. Now, I am waiting for my muse to take over for the entire year of 2016 and help me write my three year dream.