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Why I have 6 failed startups within a span of a year and a half?

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I have tried almost 6 different startups within a span of a year and a half. They have varied from a social venture providing sanitation solutions to low-income communities to an on campus food delivery service. Both of these have been semester long startups with many others lasting just about a few weeks. I probably didn’t do justice to any of the startups by giving up so quickly but I did learn valuable lessons which I have mentioned below –

  • Know your passions – Throughout my life, I have tried to find my passion. At one point, I thought I was passionate about art. This led me to combine my passion for art and entrepreneurship and start YouCanSee. The overall purpose of YouCanSee was to make art more inclusive to the general masses. The concept was a little too farfetched and complicated but that is not my point here. My issue was that this project was so ambitious that I didn’t want to spend this lifetime working on that and would rather choose something that I was more passionate about. So I continued to focus on sustainability, thinking that was my ultimate passion and I would rather spend all my time learning more about it and finally form a strong business around it. The more and more time I spent on it, I realized that more than “making the world a sustainable place” I was obsessed with sustainability because of the intrinsic business opportunity involved in it. Thus, I realized that it was entrepreneurship I was really in love with. At this enlightening moment, I decided to stop focusing on sustainability and start exploring my general entrepreneurial interests and develop skills that will make me a successful entrepreneur. And since then, I have essentially opened myself to any opportunity that has high business potential.
  • Be realistic – There is so much talk about entrepreneurs being extremely unreasonable people who question the status quo and drive change. I disagree with the former part of that statement. The most successful entrepreneurs I know are very rational people. There is a huge difference between being rationally optimistic and fantastically optimistic. I think it is extremely important to be honest with yourself about your current abilities, network and other factors to not live in a fool’s paradise. Think about dropping out of school. There is no reason for people to drop out of school unless necessary. I am not against dropping out but I am against pursuing the entrepreneurial whim. I am planning on my gap year now to work on my startup but I will be in school till I form the foundation. Stay in school, flesh out your concept, form a team, etc. A lot of these things can easily be done while in school. Again, this led to my failure because I was so fascinated with the entire entrepreneurial lifestyle that I started staying up at night not working on anything concrete but browsing around the web, decreasing the importance of classes and printing “entrepreneur” on my business card. The web browsing part was definitely helpful in increasing my awareness but if I managed my time more effectively, I would not have had to stay up late at night and be less attentive in classes. Overall, I was trying too hard to be an entrepreneur and gaining acceptance from the entrepreneurial community around me. But later, the more time I started spending in my room talking to close friends and not caring about what “real entrepreneurs” thought of me, I became much more confident and realistic in my endeavors.
  • Combination of patience and tenacity can make all the difference – If the above two factors are working in your favor – i.e. you are passionate about what you are working on and are realistic about your situation and what you need to do to achieve what you are striving for, you need two more things – patience and tenacity. Startups involve a lot of random crappy work that is not exciting. Especially, if you are a 20 something entrepreneur working on your first venture, it is hard to get necks moving in your direction. Whether it be convincing people to join your team or finding your first customer, everyone gives you the “you’re still a kid” look. Learning to face that with a smile and moving on towards your goal requires a lot of tenacity and patience. Patience because it takes time for things to happen and tenacity because you need to consistently be pushing in the “no success” period.
  • One more thing (Emotional attachment) – Many times we are so emotionally attached to our initial idea that we lose sight of reforming and reshaping the idea based on lessons that we learn along the journey. This is similar to what my dad told me about business once – “keep emotions out of business”. Again, I m not against emotional attachment to one’s startup, as that can be a powerful motivator for many entrepreneurs. However, it should be limited to the extent that it doesn’t interfere with one’s rational judgment. The main point here is to not be resistant to change because of emotion. I decided to drop YouCanSee when I realized that my initial model didn’t make business sense. Now when I reflect on it, I can clearly identify a few great business opportunities that could have emerged if I had allowed myself more flexibility.

Right now this is completely what my life is about. I m trying to run a startup in India while attending school in Boston. It is killing to be up waiting for things to happen back in India at their own pace while you can’t do much in terms of execution apart from make phone calls. I am currently building the foundation and planning a gap semester/year depending how things work out. I also keep questioning my rationality by thinking whether it is better to focus on school and wait to startup after I graduate when I’m physically in India. That might be a more rational decision but my ambition does not allow me to sit down and wait for time to pass.

Written by karankanodia

January 1, 2011 at 7:35 am