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How I Recovered From My Startup Failures

The failure of my first startup was the best thing that happened to my business career.

09/12/2016 11:17 AM IST | Updated 13/12/2016 2:55 PM IST
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We started making our product, an ERP (enterprise resource planning) for K-12 schools, and completed the MVP (minimum viable product) in a few months. We hustled a lot and got some very good customers during our trial period. We were, however, not able to scale up our operations because of the great difficulty in selling to schools in India.

Despite a channel of schools and the trial period customers, we failed to make money.

I failed at sales and marketing of my first startup and lost ₹15 lakh. We shut down our venture within a year of operations, without earning even a single rupee of profit.

What should one do when there is no secondary source of income, with a wife who is not earning and a son who will soon be joining school?

We ran out of all our funds, and could not raise any VC funding. Also, I had some major conflicts with my co-founder regarding the direction of our startup. He wanted to run the company like a corporate, while I was a believer of the "lean startup" philosophy. We parted ways and I lost a great friend.

Internet startups are easy to start, but difficult to scale up.

I was clueless about what to do after the failure of my very first startup as I had already left my job. I did not want to join the corporate scene again because one of the major reasons for starting my own business was the frustration with my previous job.

So, I joined another startup as a marketing co-founder, with the first founder having already launched the product. We tried a couple of things, but stopped working on our product development after a few months, as we could not figure out a viable business opportunity even when we were able to grow in the market. While I did not lose any money in this second venture, I had invested eight months there, entailing an opportunity cost of about ₹10 lakh.

The two successive failures were really difficult for me, as it would be for anyone. What should one do when there is no secondary source of income, with a wife who is not earning and a son who, in a few months, will be joining school?

The situation was demanding an immediate source of income.

While I was still not ready to join the corporate sector again, I did not have the will power to start a third startup either.

Then, I went back to the drawing board and started laying out my plans. My wife supported me in my decision of staying away from a corporate job, which encouraged me in the execution of my plans.

I listed my skills and interests, along with areas where I could make money immediately—my next venture had to be worth investing my time in for a secure future.

I started hunting for work assignments where I could use my sellable skills to earn money. I wanted to educate people about entrepreneurship through my past experience of running startups. I also wanted to write on personal finance and to help people through my content marketing skills.

We should invest at least six months worth of effort into building a startup, blog or new skillset before it starts paying.

I approached some startups to get work in web development. I also wrote emails to colleges and incubators where I could mentor students for entrepreneurship and checked with a couple of friends on whether they needed any help with content marketing at their startup.

Within a month, I got my first assignment for paid content writing. While the amount was not very large, I was happy as I had not seen any income since I left my job. It was a ray of hope for me.

I proceeded to add more clients month after month, and eventually, I had enough work to fire clients whose work I was not enjoying.

Trust me, firing a client is a difficult decision, but it was ultimately for the best as I did not want to get stuck in boring work. While there was no option of avoiding boring work in a corporate setting, I now had plenty of options.

Freelance work can give you so much power when your basic financial needs are taken care of.

I cannot believe that with just 18 months of startup experience, I was able to get freelance and consulting work in a domain in which I did not have any formal education.

I got content writing work as freelancer and content marketing work as a consultant. In six months, I was able to generate more than ₹1 lakh per month.

Today, I am working on another startup, my third. Cash Overflow operates in the personal finance domain, and through it, I share my financial hacks to save money on travel, shopping and income tax.

5 THINGS THAT HELPED ME RECOVER FROM MY STARTUP FAILURES

#1. Embrace your failure

I do not shy away from discussing my failed ventures. Successes and failures are part of the life of entrepreneurship, and there is no businessman who never failed.

I embraced my startup failure and discussed my story openly through my writing. I was surprised that I was able to help so many people even with my story of failure.

The failure of my first startup was the best thing that happened to my business career.

People encouraged me to try even harder, and I learned so much from my mentors and fellow entrepreneurs.

#2. Get the support of friends and family

I am glad that my family and friends supported me in my time of difficulty. An emotional support system is a must to recover from depression-like situations.

Spend more time on execution than on planning. Small wins are very important when you have to recover from bad times.

You should feel good that you at least attempted starting a business. You must stay close to people who appreciate your decision and stay away from the negative ones.

#3. Income source

I never asked for financial support from my friends because I always maintained an emergency fund. I advise the same on my finance blog—you really can make multiple sources of online income. Never depend on a single source of income and don't waste your money on unnecessary things.

Don't spend beyond your financial capacity. Build a passive source of income or keep a sufficient amount in investments to support you during a personal financial crisis.

#4. Plan and execute

Learn from your failures and make better business plans next time.

Also, keep in mind that planning without execution is useless. Spend more time on execution than on planning. Small wins are very important when you have to recover from bad times.

Do something through which you can see results in one month. Start something easy and get results to keep yourself motivated.

#5. Wait for the results

I waited patiently for the reaping of rewards for my efforts, seeing my first income a year after leaving my job. It takes time to build new skills and get results.

When we go to college, we burn through three or four precious years of life without getting any income. We expect a good job after graduation; but even then, not everyone gets a decent job.

We should invest at least six months worth of effort into building a startup, blog or new skillset before it starts paying.

Now I am enjoying a stress-free life by working from home, without worrying about slaving for a salary.

A version of this article has been published on YourStory.

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