One of the main lessons Shubham Jain learnt from his entrepreneurial journey was to open up about the mistakes in his start-up business. “Founders should reveal their failures and the learning they derived out of it so that budding entrepreneurs do not make the same mistakes,” shares Shubham, who has penned his experiences in the recently released Make Fewer Mistakes: Learn From The Journeys of Start-Up Founders (Author’s Channel).
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A self-help management book for aspiring leaders and entrepreneurs, Make Fewer Mistakes is less about start-up success and more about the hardships and failures that entrepreneurs face along the path.
Shubham, a co-founder of GrabOnRent, an online product rental start-up, was devastated when they had to shut down after five years in business. When he did research on the Internet to learn of how other entrepreneurs survived the phase, he got “horrific advice.” He also got examples of how Steve Jobs, when dethroned from Apple, launched Pixar in two years and how Jack Ma was rejected at Stanford, and McDonald’s; he made six attempts before tasting success with Alibaba. “ There was no mention of what Jobs or Ma did to sustain their mental health and cope with failures,” Shubham said.
The next four months entailed a life-changing experience when he called up 25 entrepreneurs including Ankit Nagori (Curefit), Mayank Bidawatka (Koo app), Richa Singh (YourDost), Neha Kant (Clovia) and Sandeep Kannambadi (MonkeyBox). He broke down while sharing his own mistakes and the start-up ecosystem but what he did not anticipate was the revelations from fellow entrepreneurs. “They told me ‘you are not alone. We all have messed up in the past and this is how we came out’. It was a huge relief to know I was not alone.”
Shubham feels success stories on start-ups often do not capture all the nuances of running a business. “Founders are glorified and these ‘heroes’ feel pressurised to keep quiet about failures. New-age entrepreneurs like me have not heard of the obstacles and different situations one has to face.”
- Empower teammates to take ownership: Most first-time founders are bad at delegating and trusting people with either decision-making or execution. This not only creates an environment of micro-management, but also prevents teammates from taking ownership. An organisation’s creative freedom is directly proportional to its productivity, and founders hold the onus to trust and empower their teammates.
- Failing is okay. It births learning: When founders run after audacious goals, not everything materialises into the desired result. However, don’t refrain from scaling the business. Each unsuccessful attempt opens the door to learning about what doesn't work, and recalibration. Smart entrepreneurs share their learnings from missteps with teammates and create an environment of fearlessly trying despite failures.
- Build repeatable systems that scale efficiently: A growth phase brings about tons of uncertainty. Intelligent founders focus on replicating and scaling what worked with a smaller audience to reduce further uncertainty. Not all products scale linearly and not all geographies are equally receptive or a service. For example, using technology to automate processes, building feedback loops with customers, and duplicating marketing endeavours.
During the time, he had also mentored 15 start-ups. Based on the experiences of helping other entrepreneurs, his own start-up journey and interviews with other founders, Shubham decided to publish a book. Keeping a daily journal helped him turn into a writer. The book is broken down in terms of lessons learnt, fund-raising and communicating the difficult news of lay offs. “There will be so many ups and downs. Your mental health will break down, funds will evaporate, the team will not believe in you but you have to keep it together. One failure will not define life.”
‘Courage and vulnerability’
The interesting part for him was to discover that courage and vulnerability are closely connected. “Founders need courage for tough decisions, but they have to be honest too. They feel their team will not respect them if they show weakness but we are humans and fail at times.”
Shubham feels the pandemic provided an opportunity for founders to re-assess what was important and what was not.
“Founders were required to find frugal ways of navigating through it,” he says and cites an example of Treebo Hotels that turned several properties into quarantine centres and also rented the hotels’ kitchens to restaurants that were delivering food to monetise its real estate.
Most urban migrants, the customers of consumer product rental start-ups, vacated metros, thus shrinking the addressable audience for such startups. However, founders in this space found simple, useful ways to capitalise upon the new work-from-home (WFH) trend for the rest. They began offering WFH packages, including workstations and chairs, for people to establish a dedicated workspace at their homes. They further tied up with corporations to ship laptops and tablets to employees who used desktops at the office premises.
Almost all founders learned to develop a thick skin as there was nothing much they could do to change the situation. Soon, opportunities presented to those who held their nerve. Some industries flourished due to the change in consumer behaviour during the pandemic.
Make Fewer Mistakes is not just for those planning to start a start-up but for those who are already running start-ups and want to scale their business. “I am not telling anybody what to do but the book is more of what not to do,” he concludes.