Five key lessons startup founders learnt in 2017     

The year 2017 witnessed yet another ebb and flow in India’s startup ecosystem. With an unprecedented investment of $13.7 billion, companies like Janalakshmi, Ola, Flipkart, Paytm, OYO, and MakeMyTrip clinched some noteworthy deals with venture capitalists. But despite millions of dollars in funding, some of them just could not rise and shine as they were expected to. Many of them shut shop including FabFurnish, Stayzilla, Cardback, and Eatonomist. It is not the dearth of funding that resulted in their downfall, rather it was the poor market response and lack of consumer interest. Amid all this turmoil, many of these entrepreneurs have learnt some valuable lessons which will prove to be priceless in the coming days. Five entrepreneurs share the key lessons learnt in their bumpy road to entrepreneurship with The Startup Observer.

  1. Soham Thacker, Co-Founder, Fixpocket

Key lesson learnt: The audience in India is still not as tech savvy as you would assume.

Fixpocket provides a platform where individuals can turn their skills or hobbies into a business. “Being a young startup, we wanted to make sure that our portal contains every feature an online microservice platform has to offer. This resulted in a complicated user interface and an even more complicated process flow to get your work done,” explains Soham Thacker of Fixpocket. Though their portal offered all the functionalities a service marketplace should have, it resulted in multiple queries raised by the users and a constantly increasing workload on the customer care department. Fixpocket realised that it would be better to reduce the functionalities and make the portal as user friendly as possible. But this had its consequence too as they had to re-allocate funds which was otherwise reserved for marketing and technical development.

Commenting on their future strategy on dealing with such an issue, Soham Thacker says, “We have realised that it is more important to have the user experience easier than adding more features. As a startup, we are lucky to have identified this gap earlier and have made the necessary changes in our strategies and policies.”

2. Neerav Jain, founder and CEO, CityFurnish

Key lesson learnt: Be patient and persistent in your approach and focus on work rather than reacting to externalities.

CityFurnish is an online furniture rental portal in India, founded by 23-year-old entrepreneur Neerav Jain, with a vision to set consumers free from the shackles of buying expensive furniture and branded appliances. The idea was to promote the concept of renting so that people can rather invest that money in meaningful experiences and other valuable assets.

Commenting on the biggest hurdle that CityFurnish had to deal with in 2017, Neerav says, “The biggest lesson of 2017 for me was patience or the lack of patience. To achieve growth, we made plans without validating, hired for short-term goals and marketed without getting customer feedback.” But the silver lining was that CityFurnish understood the mistake quite early with feedback from their mentors and core team and went on course correction to mitigate the issues. “This has helped us as a team to focus on long-term goals and provided us with a risk-taking appetite backed with user validation,” explains Neerav. The company has adopted the policy of persistent long-term growth backed by rationally validated ideas. They have also started a continuous listening and validating program by taking feedback from all stakeholders like customer, vendors, employees, and mentors.

3. Sameer Nayar, founder and CEO, BuildSupply

Key lesson learnt: To always trust your instinct along with the rigorous analysis of a situation.

BuildSupply is a ‘proptech startup’ which brings standardisation and transparency in the real estate development and construction processes. It provides a B2B e-commerce platform for the real estate and construction industry. For BuildSupply, the sales division like any other ecommerce platform comes with its own challenges. Though an active seed and angel investor himself, Sameer Nayar believes when it comes to hiring a person for a senior position, it is imperative to not only “trust the data but always verify with your instinct.” To elaborate the issue, Sameer cites a recent example of hiring of a senior level sales person in their organisation. “All the facts and data showed this person to be a fantastic hire but my instinct said otherwise. He did not last 6 months with us for a variety of reasons most of which we couldn’t have foretold at the hiring stage.”

Subsequent to this experience, he made it mandatory for himself and the other two co-founders to spend quality non-interview time with any person they are considering for a senior position. “This has to be done outside the office environment as that puts everyone at ease and one can see the real person more up close. At the end of the day, you want to create a work environment where one enjoys the company of your colleagues,” explains Sameer.

4. Khushboo Awasthi, co-founder and CEO, Mantra4change

Key lesson learnt: It is a major challenge to get the right motivated people who are passionate about bringing social change in a non-profit startup.

Mantra4change faces a challenge which is different from other stories. It is a non-profit startup that works with under-resourced schools to provide quality education to children coming from economically under-privileged families. “One of the biggest hurdles to growth is team building. Being in non-profit sector, at times it becomes difficult to attract the right talent. To scale, it is critical to have a great team in place,” explains Khushboo Awasthi. Apart from team building they also face critical challenges in developing education models for the schools. For Khushboo, it is extremely important that their education models evolve into a replicable project that can be enacted in any schools that aspires to bring change.

Their future plan is to reach out to a minimum of 100 schools and execute their education models in schools from divergent conditions.

5. Virang Jhaveri, co-founder & CEO, Picostone

Key lesson learnt: When you are a hardware product driven startup, the biggest disadvantage could be your product itself.

Picostone is an emerging name in home automation system in India. Their products provide easy access to home utilities through smartphones. Last year, when their hardware product had a “minor glitch” in design, customer complaints started rising. Though Picostone was quick to identify the bug and resolve it, the challenge came with the deployment of the fix. “Since ours is a product that is wired into your homes, replacing each product deployed across the country looked like an uphill battle, which we eventually conquered,” says Virang Jhaveri.

Since then, Picostone has not only made innovations in their hardware design by making it more modular but also made sure every product goes through a rigorous testing phase before validation and roll out.