Taking the Plunge – start-ups that got started without being fully ready
Ready? Steady? Go….. that anxious, cortisol moment a sportsman must feel at the starting line, sort of describes what a start-up founder must feel like when setting up his company. Like a sportsman, he will spend his time, money, effort to get his product or service right.
But a sports event has a set date that participants prepare for. However, in the business world, it’s quite different. There is no set date to prepare for. A founder starts when he thinks he is ready. And often that is after he has all the elements he needs to help him in his business – man, material, money, technology and so on. Of course, when you step into the market place you always do so with your best foot forward. But there is no set date to do that.
And unlike a sportsman, entrepreneurs often wait to have all these ingredients before setting out to get started. After all, building your new product or service must not be a slipshod job. So, many will wait to get the people, technology, funds, etc. in place before even starting out.
But there are a few entrepreneurs who think it’s important to get started rather than wait for everything to be in place. And this week our members will share with you why they decided to get started with what they had or rather didn’t have and how that impacted their business. Is there value in getting started with whatever you have rather than waiting for everything to be in place?
Arijit Mallick, founder, Lydnow Edutech P Ltd
Arijit needed people, venue, infrastructure, and course material (syllabus) to get started. He could not afford a place to teach students, but he went ahead nevertheless.
“As an engineering student, I always felt the lack of practical training in colleges and even classes. It was what I call the Lego model of teaching. There are ready-made kits and a robotics engineering student will simply assemble them. But does he know what’s inside that kit, the PCB, etc? In my opinion, an engineer must have some hands-on experience building the products that they would be building in the real world. And what I saw in the market was woefully bereft of it. Even when a student was hired from an engineering college, they are kept on the bench for almost a year so that they could be trained to do the jobs they are required to do.”
“So, I saw a need and decided that I would fill that gap. I wanted to target the students between 10 to 16 years to make them familiar with technology, to learn fundamental skills like how to read circuit boards and test them, how to do simple soldering, make electronic circuits, and so on. That way they would be better prepared for engineering college. The USP of my classes would be hands-on learning, all guided by practical work.”
But setting up coaching classes more so with practical knowledge would need a venue? Labs to teach students? Which Arijit didn’t have when he started. He says, “my business needed four things – infrastructure for practicals, venue, a curriculum, and staff. All this needed money. Which I did not have. But I was very clear on what I wanted to do. I had prepared the curriculum myself. And had Rs 7000 pocket money. So, I decided that I would get started rather than wait to be able to hire a place for my classes, get teachers, etc.”
Arijit used the Rs.7000 to advertise his first class. “I made pamphlets that offered practical training on basic robotics and distributed it to the societies in my area. It worked. I got 18 students who joined. I struck a deal with a coaching class to use his venue for three days. After the course, those students came back for more.”
For about a year Arijit would use ‘borrowed’ venues or even hold his classes in a student’s home. I’d put all my stuff in a bag and go and take my classes.” But the word got around and students kept coming back. In a year’s time, Arijit could afford to rent his own place.”
It would have been easy for Arijit to get bogged down with a lack of funds and teaching staff. Says he, “I didn’t have investors or money I could borrow from. But I was very clear about what I wanted to give to students. I got started with what I had which was a curriculum and my own skills and got started. We built things along the way. I worked on an asset-light model where I would not have a large inventory. Generally, people use ready-made kits, but I felt that would compromise the quality. So, I decided that I would work on low volumes and high-ticket size.”
What’s the upside of starting your business without all the needed factors in place? “I think starting with what I had rather than waiting to get enough money did one good thing. I could test the market. I came to know if people would be willing to pay for what I was offering.” His advice to others? “I’d say if you are crystal clear about what you want to do, if you have understood that your offering will be in demand for a long time then just go ahead and do it. In my case technology would always move faster than the education system. At least it would be many years before schools and colleges caught up with technology. So I knew the gap would exist for at least 10 years. I’m glad I started when I did.” The robust growth stands testimony to his decision.
Faiz Sirkhot, founder, LineupX Technology Services P Ltd
Faiz had been heading talent acquisition at TCS for 14 years when he discovered the gap in the HR industry. “TCS is the largest employer in the world and I have worked with many recruitment agencies. I came to understand one thing – most agencies don’t even know the basics of hiring. No recruiter has any training on assessing or the hiring processes.”
Faiz realized that the market didn’t have any tool to help recruiters get efficient either. “Yes, they used Slack and google docs, but how do you do a search on google docs? I found out that on average any recruiter would have about 2 lakh CVs on their database. But I have no idea how to sort and store them out by qualification, experience, skills, etc. In my mind that was ridiculous.”
“My aim was simple. Anyone who needs to hire should get to know exactly what needs to be done. You have access to free sites and have all the channels at your disposal. But how to reach out to the masses, do mass mailings? Yes, you have chrome extensions and hashtag marketing to enable this but what to use when becomes important.”
“You have access to vendors but how do you gauge their capabilities? How would you know who is the best to work with? What domain expertise do they have? For vendors, resume parsing, calling, and scheduling all such activities take hours. They have no clue about analytics. The situation is pretty much the same for candidates. The websites like Naukri are not of much help and if they go to a vendor, they may end up randomly applying and even forget in two days. Why can’t a candidate get access to industry-specific vendors?
“I knew that technology could solve this problem. I looked around for some software but there was nothing comprehensive. I realized it was time to put technology to work.”
The only problem was that Faiz was not a tech person. And it is pretty impossible to develop a tech tool that he intended to offer to the HR industry without a tech person to develop the software. Of course, he could hire people. But as is generally the case for most start-ups money is in short supply. “To be successful I knew I needed two things in place – the tech team and the funds. I thought that since I had neither, why not start with finding a tech-savvy person. At least one of the two things needed would be in place.”
Not to be outdone by his circumstances, Faiz began hunting for a candidate on various platforms. “After some time, I found this young college student with some skills in developing a software solution for me.
“I met him and sold him my idea. I impressed upon him the possibilities of my business idea and told him that currently, I could not afford to pay him a salary, but I offered him equity instead. He agreed and when he was free from college, he would work on the solution we thought of.”
A promise of a slice of his start-up pie worked. “I felt it would be better if we worked in a phased manner. So, we started with the recruiter/vendors. And now a year since I started, we have developed a tool that helps vendors. We in fact are working with the top 20 vendors in the industry.”
What made him start without being ready for business? “Well, I’d read about people starting and succeeding. Of course, it would be foolish to start without knowing the consequences. I did. I think it was a leap of faith for me.” A jump that worked. Faiz is now serving the vendor community whilst still working on his product. “We are building it in a phased manner.” Taking the plunge into the entrepreneurship ocean sure worked for Faiz!