How it feels to be an ‘Entrepreneur’ — journey & learnings
There was a time when ‘how to pronounce entrepreneur’ used to be a challenging task in the classroom. Today, whoever you come across on social media, their profile reads- Co Founder at XYZ. They name it the start-up revolution in India and I consider myself fortunate enough to witness it all, very closely.
How did it all start?
Honestly, when I started my company, I had no idea that I was starting up! It wasn’t a business as such. I was yet another student who just managed to enter a decent college and hence was busy seizing the opportunity. I woke up early, took 6.45 AM’s metro to my college which was nearly 2 hours away from my house; bunked classes; enjoyed food; travelled to local places and came home in the evening. That’s what my schedule used to be but the desire to learn something and explore the world, exposed me to an idea of internship! The ‘then’ fancy word (internship), something exclusive which we used to have, specially for those who weren’t a part of any popular society… internship came to my rescue. I joined a start up after a couple of months in college and THAT exposure to the world of start ups pumped me up! It was the best thing that could’ve happened in an unpaid virtual internship where I didn’t even know who my boss was! I moved to new internship every other month when I felt that learning at that place was over. Unlike lot of people, I had no interest in collecting certificates and building my CV. Hence, I don’t even have certificates of multiple companies where I interned.
During the process of finding an internship and checking out contests in nearby colleges to participate, I faced trouble accessing information and ended up starting University Express to solve my own problem. During that time, we had limited access to information about so many things happening across the university. This was when I took the initiative to build a media platform for colleges. I left all my internships and started crafting the network along with my close friends. We built a team of students spread across various geographical locations, covering news for us. We were bridging down the information gap within the campus and had no idea about the value of this network and the content platform that we built! We were doing this out of passion. I was personally covering news, publishing it on our website and associating with various college events to increase our readership. Our entire team, from a writer to the Co Founders were like a family. Gradually, we spread like fire, became one of the most popular campus media and a premier organization to be a part of!
A group of students, solving a problem that then existed in the campus, with no financial backing and all out of passion — this was a statement in itself that something great was about to happen. We were everywhere and there was no looking back since then!
Sometimes when we indulge in our passion for which we are crazy, we tend to miss out on lot of opportunities. One such opportunity knocked our door when a company itself showed interest to advertise. That was after 1 year of our launch when we received our first cheque for something we all loved to do. That was the day when I officially turned into an entrepreneur.
It took me a year to realise that this idea can be transformed into a business. But it was rather more surprising to my parents! I did not have much idea that a great business can be built around this. Their support was good enough for me to move up the ladder and handle it all in a more professional way.
The bright side
When you’re in college and literally own one of the coolest campus startups, you tend to enjoy the kind of attention you get. I was only in the second year but by that time almost everyone in India’s biggest university, from students to the VC knew me. I got the un-asked fancy treatment at colleges and it felt really good.
Few months later, I was also giving out interviews to youth magazines, societies, video channels, national newspapers and b-school magazines. There was fame, glamour and most importantly free food. The limelight was good for a college student but was of least importance to an entrepreneur. While it all came to me, as in the case of many other entrepreneurs, it came at a cost which by default is internal and hidden from the world.
The dark side
Nothing comes without putting in hours and number of sacrifices that goes throughout the journey. While the dark side is something which is untold and mostly hidden but it is the dark side that makes us an entrepreneur (not the bright side). It took sleepless nights and days full of hunger to provide our readers with information they deserved to know. Just like my days when I wasn’t running a start up, I still woke up early in the morning and took 6.45 AM’s metro to college; it still took 2 hours to reach and I still bunked my classes. But unlike those days, I did not go for movies or travel or feed myself with the most delicious food in the town. Friends still made offers to come along and hang out with them and they always said that you’ll miss out all the fun. But I always convinced myself that if I go, I’ll miss out on a lot more! I used to attend numerous meetings with clients, youth organisations and covered multiple events in a day — all by using jam-packed public transport or walking miles, as I had to run a company with my pocket money!
Professionally, while everyone was busy building their CVs and sitting in placements, my academic scores went below par and wasn’t good enough to even qualify for placements. I spent so much time in studying CVs of those who applied as intern that in the process I never made one for myself. In my final year, I was at a stage where I had no job, my academic score wasn’t good enough to even make me eligible for post graduation and I was running a bootstrapped start-up, trying to secure future of the company by risking up my own. Failure then, would’ve asked for plan B… but I never had one!
Rejections became a part of my life. I still remember an incident when a prospective client threw cash right in our face without even seeking our services as he said that we were just students and he was doing a favour on us by donating some cash.
The biggest sacrifice came to me in the form of a disturbed personal life. For people engaged in jobs, work-life balance is a challenge. I was already engaged in 10X job where I had to make people work, had to work myself and had to manage studies as well. I spent days without talking to my parents, staying under the same roof. Amongst all my failures, the biggest one was to lose out some really good friends in the journey. But I was still learning.
A big challenge came to our way when we faced our biggest team crunch. It was when I was graduating and hence most of the people (who were in the same batch) moved on to pursue their plans.
The series of incident that took place was disturbing and I still had to clear final few papers of graduation. It was a tough decision to decide both - personal and professional direction. It was yet again when I was exposed to risk. I decided to pursue an MBA which wasn’t necessary but good to have. It also gave me some time to settle things up while running on the same schedule which I was used to. But for that, I had to crack the entrance exam and to be eligible for the entrance, I had to score perfect marks in all the papers I was left to clear. I was always my personal favourite under pressure and believed in myself. Even today whenever I face pressure situation, I back myself to be the best person around who could handle it all. I cleared all the exams with close to perfect marks, cracked the entrance with decent score but most importantly rebuilt the team to face it all, yet again.
University Express got acquired by One Impression in Sep’ 2018 as it had perfect synergy with a bigger entity. At present I am engaged in growing a social cashback platform backed by Ratan Tata and Kalaari Capitals - 'EarnKaro’.
What I learnt in my journey?
- Entrepreneurship is not an easy money making path. It takes much much more in terms of personal, professional, physical and emotional strength to live this lifestyle.
- In life we have to make choices. It’s very important to make the better choice (if not the right one).
- It doesn’t matter how many people come in your life or go out of your life. What matters is how many of them stay with you.
- Always remember — you can aim the sky only if you’re grounded.
- What you have today can vanish tomorrow. I’ve mentioned in my first paragraph that I observed this ecosystem grow very closely. I’ve seen startups boom. I’ve also seen multimillion dollar companies fall. Out of the dozen of companies I worked for, almost all have shut down by now. Hence, respect what you have.
- Don’t rush. You either win or you learn.
- ‘Building something’ is a fascinating word. The best thing you can build is yourself.
- Inspire people around you.
- Stick to your principles and believe in yourself.
- Never give up. Never quit.
I don’t have any plan as such and EarnKaro feels home to me. Further, I don’t really know where will I end up after few years. As a matter of fact, I don’t want to end up. I disown the idea of settlement. All that I know about my future is that- I’ll be doing something different, trying out new things and expanding my horizons. I am not scared of failure and I still don’t have a Plan-B!