I lost crores in my previous startup – lessons from my failure

What happened to me


In 2012, when I quit my plush job with a billion-dollar private equity fund to do a startup, I was in a mad rush. And ironically, that rush to succeed is what cost me crores of rupees and a painful failure.

To save a ton of grief and help launch your career, today, I want to share my story. Here is what happened when I quit my job.

Like most ambitious entrepreneurs, I felt I had to quickly raise loads of funding, outrun the competition, and build a big company. Hence I decided to build and launch our product (an online learning platform) in three months and then raise seed funding.

But there was only one glitch — I did not know how to code. Yikes! Now, what do I do?

Whenever I considered learning to code, my mind would scream, “Are you crazy? There is no time! Just hire someone to do that.”

So I tried hiring a CTO but failed miserably. Finally, I outsourced it to an IT services company. But since I had no idea about technology, things kept getting dragged out. Three months became six months, then a year, and then more.

In the end, I failed, for the first time in my life. I lost crores of rupees and many years.

Looking back, I wish I had just spent one year doing nothing but learning how to code. As crazy as it sounds, it would have been the smartest thing to do. That one year of learning would have saved me years of struggle later.

But at that time, it felt unthinkable. I was in such a hurry that one year felt like an eternity. Big mistake, I tell you!

Very often, the world drives us into panic by setting unrealistic expectations. Social media and online news only highlight the crazy successes, making us believe that normal life is a failure.

When an entrepreneur builds a unicorn in two years, other entrepreneurs feel they are doing something wrong. When we see a classmate getting a coveted job, we feel we have fallen behind.

This mad rush and FOMO (fear of missing out) frenzy makes us feel like time and opportunities will soon run out.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Wrong.

When we act like headless chickens in panic, we do the exact opposite of what can ACTUALLY take us forward. Instead of learning and building our skills, we get caught up in random activity. We become busy but honestly, the world doesn’t care how busy we are. It makes no difference.

Breaking news: The only thing that can change your life is building your skills and capabilities.

And yes, learning feels slow and tedious, but no matter how much time learning takes, ignorance takes more – much, much more.

So whenever your brain screams, “There is no time”, just stop and take a deep breath. There is time. There is always time to learn.

Whenever we feel like opportunities will run out, remember that people felt the same in the dot-com boom – it felt like the last chance to make it. Then, they felt the same in the Artificial Intelligence frenzy. And now they feel the same in the crypto craze.

But that is wrong.

Remember this: Tomorrow’s opportunity will ALWAYS be bigger than today’s. Always. And to capitalize on it, the only thing that matters are your skills and capabilities.

Lessons I learned


So what should we do?

Learn, sharpen our skills, and be the best we can be. And not be satisfied with just being good – be outstanding.

And none of that is possible if we are in constant panic. So, I repeat myself – let us take a deep breath, calm down, and start learning.

Specifically, here are three big reminders:

First: Life is not a ticking time bomb. If you don’t ‘make it’ by age 30, your life is not a waste. The world has limitless opportunities, which will only get bigger.

The only thing that can hold us back is our skills and capabilities. So you know what? Just keep learning.

Second: Everyone has a different journey. Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook at age 19, Falguni Nayar started at 50, and some of the smartest people I know will never start a company.

I know any number of IAS officers who envy entrepreneurs. And I know entrepreneurs who envy IAS officers. And they are all wrong – because it doesn’t matter.

What matters to you is your journey, not your neighbor’s.

I remember my IPS training, where we would line up in the firing range for shooting practice. When your goal is to hit your target, you blank out everything else and focus on your target. And the guy watching what the next guy is doing, will miss his target.

Similarly, in life, focus on your target. Ignore everyone else.

Third (and most important): There is always time to learn. In fact, to convince you that this is not just a good-sounding theory, here is my experience.

In my last EdTech startup, we had to type into our software system a ton of math equations for which we used LaTeX (a scripting language). Since we did not have time to learn, we found vendors, spent a ton of money, and had to still double-check the outsourced work.

One day, out of frustration, I spent four hours learning LaTeX, and the next day, I taught our team. Within a day, we were doing the work ourselves.

Note: It took four hours to learn something I was putting off for a year because I felt we had no time to learn.

If you think I was stupid, that is exactly how I felt.

So here is my recommendation: Carve out time every week for learning something, whether it is tech, design, marketing, or whatever will add value to your life and career.

  1. Decide the days and time slots for learning each week.
  2. Study only an hour a day – or even less. Start small and build consistency first.
  3. Don’t let urgent stuff come in the way. Learning is not urgent, but it is life-changing. Don’t postpone it. Do it now.
  4. If possible, find some partners in crime – maybe, some friends who can learn with you.
  5. Use a habit-tracker to record your streak.

Parting thoughts


I am aware that this is not the most exciting message I could be sharing with you. Had I written about making money from Web3 or NFT or some other hot jargon, it would have sounded more exciting. But it wouldn’t help you.

I would rather share something of value, even if it is not exciting.

I am sharing my failures and lessons because if they can save you from even one failure, this exercise would have been worthwhile.

Let me know what you think of this. Also, let me know of other topics you want me to address in future newsletters.

Whenever I write these newsletters, in my mind, I am talking to you, personally – one on one. Hope you also feel the same.

Merry Christmas and have a wonderful New Year’s celebration. Stay safe, and take care.

Rajan

PS: If you found this of value and you think it might benefit some people you know, please consider sharing it with them

HabitStrong Newsletter by Rajan Singh

In this fortnightly newsletter, Rajan shares inspiring lessons and stories from his career as an IPS officer, McKinsey consultant, investor, and now, as a startup founder. Join 25,000+ subscribers.

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