14 Lessons Learnt as a Start-up Apprentice




  • February 12, 2015
    star wars lessons

    BEGINNING


    What is the Secret of SUCCESS..? “RIGHT DECISIONS” How do you make Right Decisions..? “EXPERIENCE” How do you get Experience..? “WRONG DECISIONS”.


    Start-up is a wrong decision. In the start, there is nothing much to build upon. The start is the toughest part where the forces of the dark side can overwhelm you; fear, anxiety, regret and possibly hatred towards your situation.



    “It is in the nature of start-up to suck in the beginning, it looks like a mistake, it has to be worse than your situation before you made the decision to start new. If it isn’t, THEN you ought to think something is not right.”


    – Richard Robinson, serial entrepreneur


    IDEA


    “I feel a strong disturbance in the force”


    A natural feeling and phase most, if not every, first time founders go through. Some pass this phase a lot quicker than others. There is always a better team to execute your idea better. It’s ok to feel worried about someone ‘stealing your idea’ – if it is not so then something might even be wrong with the idea. I personally believe every founder should maintain a little paranoia, but not much to let it control your decisions and actions.


    If you think your idea will be stolen, it’s because you underestimate how hard it’s going to be to build a company. If you think the idea is the hard part. You probably haven’t executed on enough of it to feel like it is defensible, or to realize what a challenge it will be.


    There is nothing new in this world. If you felt the force, somebody else felt it too. Think about people in the industry working for innovation and growth. They’ve thought of everything. Passions and execution are the only things you should worry about.


    TEAM


    “Luke, the Force runs strong in your family. Pass on what you have learned.”


    Build a team that shares your vision and passion. This will be your family for the venture. Your bonds will keep you together when there is nothing else to hold on to. Yet, remember your team is to be your family, your family might not be a good team. Often family businesses are given down to generations but that is not what we are talking about. Get the right skills on-board and keep building on the relations not the other way around. That said, there is no thumb rule. Someone from family might give you a great support, I have seen husband wife founders, I have worked with them and seen them complement each other professionally and personally. Slideshare was founded by husband-wife-brother, Flexiguru is being worked by husband-wife, and many others. The gist is – the team has to be your family but family may or may not be your team.


    RESPONSIBILITY


    “With all of us may the Force be, and may the peace of this temple be ours, a place open to thought and speech, a realm of mutual respect, and a haven of shared noble purpose. Let us take these seats together, with no one above the others. May we work together, free from the restraints of ego and jealousy, at this gathering and all others to come.”


    ―Jedi Council Members speaking the traditional oath


    The JEDI counsel is structured and clearly defined. The High Council was a group of twelve wise and powerful Jedi Masters who were elected to guide the Order as well as to serve as an advisory body for the Office of the Supreme Chancellor. The Council was made up of five lifetime members, four long-term members, and three limited-term members.


    In a start-up everyone has to multi-task and own many responsibilities still as far as possible know your role and the part you play in the team. You must know your accountability. That being said, I personally do not believe in hierarchies and a homogeneous team works best with a small group of driven individuals. There are just two designations; Master and Apprentice.


     


    FOCUS


    “Your focus determines your reality.”


    As a leader it’s easy to get off track with your investment, your time, and your energy. Focus is what really matters. You need to put time and energy into activities that are the most effective for your business and its success. You want to go to every event, every speech, and every dinner. Have a litmus test for what those are and only accept invites and spend time on what passes that test. You have to make best (not just optimal) use of your limited resources. What you envision will be put on the canvas and come out as art so make sure your focus is right.


    SKILLS


    “Your feeble skills are no match for the power of the Dark Side.”


    It takes time and perseverance to develop skills in a particular area. Read the ten thousand hour rule, it might take a while to challenge the existing status quo and be heard. Don’t start rambling about what you are going to do. People don’t recognize you for what you are going to do but for what you have done. Many start-ups fall into the trap of labelling themselves with adjectives like best, greatest and ‘the only’ in their field. These kind of statements will only prove that you are naïve about the industry and an egoistic rebel. Even, if you see yourself to be Han Solo, get your skills right first.


    MENTOR


    “You need a master to learn the ways of the FORCE”


    Business mentoring and support can help strengthen both your business and your own entrepreneurial skills and can be invaluable in getting a new business off the ground. No matter how gifted an entrepreneur you think you are, you may well come across hurdles that your experience doesn’t allow you to deal with easily. Don’t be shy to seek help. I have often struggled with this part.


    As an aspiring company-builder, you always find yourself in situations where you “don’t know what you don’t know” but you have to stay in motion and make decisions regardless. Without a savvy guide, in the form of a mentor, you may wind up making crucial early mistakes that would have otherwise been avoidable. The smaller your company, the faster you need to move, often without enough information to make perfect choices. You want a confident mentor who has expertise in the skills you lack. This requires self-awareness, but big names and titles don’t always mean someone will serve as a good mentor. An “industry veteran” can be a bad match, especially early on. You want real “war time” experience where actual work and hustle was required to succeed. I’ve talked to some entrepreneurs who think good mentors (or advisors) are nothing more than impressive names for their website, a checkbox requirement for their nascent companies. The reality is good mentors have expertise and/or skills you need and importantly has had success as an entrepreneur to understand the realities at the ground.


    FEAR


    “Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose”


    There was nothing logical with the rebel forces yet the strike down the empire… sometimes you have to be a rebel even if it means to be foolish in other people eyes. For the people who have travelled it, it has been hard with failures along the way. They became brave because they faced their fear head-on, a man is bravest when he has no choice but to be brave and face their fears. There are two scarcity mindset you need to avoid, financial scarcity and time scarcity. You will have to take things such as finances, time and even age as numbers and nothing more. Disconnect the emotions and feelings around these numbers and don’t succumb to the worrying thoughts. Repeat at times “this is the nature of start-ups, now let me think how to best get out of it”.



    “Danger is very real but fear is a choice”


    – Will Smith


    FORCE


    “Use the Force Luke, Search your feelings Luke, you will now it”


    As an entrepreneur, leading your start-up has to be from the inside and managing with a strong reliance on your intuition. Of course, this has to be balanced by dated-backed pragmatism. At times of uncertainty, which there will be many, a decision has to be made without knowing all the facts. Your inner intuition is a product of your experiences which must be used wisely and calmly in such situations. Sometimes any decision is better than an indecision.



    “I make a decision and then work to make it right”


    – Ratan Tata


    CONFIDENCE


    “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”


    Your belief is what will take you forward, your belief is what will manifest into reality. Have confidence in whatever you are doing, there is no other way.



    “Try not, Do… or do not… there is no try”


    – Yoda


    Start-ups are tricky, you are working to build something even without knowing if it will work or not. Just like a science experiment. No one knows if it will and no one knows that it will not. Learning is constant and who knows when your eureka moment happens. Confidence is the key to keep moving forward and keep your allies along. There was nothing logical with the rebel forces yet the strike down the empire… sometimes you have to be a rebel even if it means to be foolish in other people eyes.


     


    PRODUCT


    “I see you have constructed a new light saber. Your skills are complete.”


    For a growing startup, what not to build is often more important than what to build. A simple task well accomplished can bring you to a stage of testing your concepts. Startups need to quickly come up with a version 1.0 that is very thin and targeted to a key problem of the customer. And they have to build the product in a way that enables scaling it down the road and building a platform around it. A simple light-saber is better than the advanced weaponry of the empire for a JEDI knight. Stick to simplicity before you begin building an all operational death star plainly because you do not have the resources. It will be enough to get you to the ranks of the fellowship.


     


    LAUNCH


    “You cannot hide forever, Luke.”


    It is very tempting to keep on developing the product and aim perfection. This is a big risk towards failure. Start lean and launch as quickly as possible market validation is your first milestone you need to reach as quickly as possible. Even though the product isn’t ready to conquer the market you need to get eye balls rolling and help coming in. Don’t bother about your idea getting open in the market… ideas don’t earn you revenue execution does. Your rate of growth is the only edge you have over the competitor. Even a strong and stable product will lose its advantage if a competitor beats it in terms of functionality and pace. Remember Orkut?



    “A good plan implemented today is better than a perfect plan implemented tomorrow.”


    — George Patton


    CONFRONTATION


    “Vader. You must confront Vader. Then, only then, a Jedi will you be”


    Leaders of start-ups need to be flexible and be able to alter (or even throw out) plans as their business rolls forward. And they need to be able to do it without getting angry, stressed, or insulted. Those emotion turn you to the dark side.


    Confront your errors, take responsibility and make corrections. Alpha launch, Beta launch are trials to validate the product market fit. Set targets, track performance and if it fails to meet expectations rinse, repeat and launch. There is an old formula that states 1st year is recovery, 2nd year is stability and 3rd year is growth.



    “No plan survives contact with the enemy.”


    – A variation on German Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke



    CHANGE


    “You can’t stop the change any more than you can stop the suns from setting.”


    All will change. It is just a start, what will define success if your endurance to change around you. Industry will change, your users will change, trends will change and technology will change. But that my friend is now not a start-up but a success story that will continue on.



    “Ah, strong am I with the Force, but not that strong. Twilight is upon me, and soon, night must fall. That is the way of things. The way of the Force.”


    -Yoda


     


    CONFESSION – I somewhat knew what I was getting to and jumped into even when the price I was paying was a lot. Leaving a handsome job in New York where I was valued for my contributions. I knew that if I didn’t do it then… I would never do it. The hardship came because of the fear of unknown. Uncontrollable, unforeseen factors that made my decisions look terrible. Many a times in the journey I have given up, many a times I wish I had not started, yet I am going on… the force carries you on when you see no way forward. I often feel destiny at play because at times all logic and reasoning fail. I just give in to the hope that all this effort will bear fruit. There is no other way but to make the best out of this endeavor. Remember – Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly upon our own point of view.


    Cheers to all me fellow start-up JEDIs and Star War fans!


    May the force be with you.
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