As the holidays slow the pace down, my mind invariably reminisces of my own journey over the past few years.. Of being self employed, employing people, starting a business, having to shut down a business, self discovery, the emotional roller coaster etc…
I have transitioned from running a SaaS company to shutting it down, then starting a consulting company, growing it, then becoming a consultant helping folks build offshore BPO and software engineering teams.
Every other day, I run into and coach folks that are looking to start a business in one way or another. Here are some lessons I learnt from my own ventures and also from/with all the clients that I have helped over the years.
Lesson #1 – know your why
I started my first SaaS firm after my last employment at VMware. I wasn’t looking to change the world or to create a name for myself. I did not find a huge, gaping business need or some amazing business model. I wasn’t looking to become a billionaire.
I was just going through midlife crisis (if you consider late 30s as mid life). I had spent enough years in the enterprise world at VMware, Informatica, IBM, Oracle etc.. could sell $MM deals in my sleep, didn’t even have to read product documentation to sell anything because intuitively, I knew the product works..
In fact, that was my problem – I could do all those very easily. I never had to read product documentation for something as complex as an in-memory data grid or a peer to peer low latency messaging software.. It was easy to guess how they worked. My last quota at VMware bored me to tears as all I had to do was to be an “overlay” rep and sell to my peers (that were carrying larger deal sizes and quotas).
I wanted a challenge of some kind – anything new to learn. That was my “why” back then.. But it was not strong enough and I shut down the business as soon as the problems with my co-founder seemed unbearable (imagined, not real). I wasn’t passionate about it.
Over the year that I ran this SaaS firm, I learnt how easy it is to start a business simply by leveraging the cloud (AWS back then), the various smaller, annoying but important things that every founder should know about and has to take care of, what it takes to hire and grow a team for a fledgling SaaS firm, how to sell to buyers when you have ZERO brand equity, how to sell to the first few employees, how to set the culture of the firm while you might be going under.. Everything..
It did make me wonder how many other “founders” were looking for the same kind of help. How many didn’t have it as easy as I did – because they were either business people or were technical founders.. Not both.
That sparked my passion – to help serious entrepreneurs go to market without having to make all the mistakes that I made, without having to learn everything that I did.
That became my “why”.
After shutting down my SaaS firm, I started an outsourced product engineering consultancy and worked solely with entrepreneurs back then.. It was excruciatingly hard work to deliver within the tight budgets that these entrepreneurs had.. But it was also a lot of fun helping them take their vision to the market.
In the first year of operation I was about $80K in the hole with clients shutting down their projects before paying their invoices. I could have laid off my employees, called it quits, gone back to the corporate world.. But thankfully, my “why” kept me going back then.
Over the years, as I worked with various entrepreneurs, I have always encouraged them to tell me their “why”.. Most could not answer that question.. To themselves.. Or to me..
It’s interesting to note that none of those are still around.. All shut down their doors… was it because they didn’t know their “why”? The consultancy that I had started is still around.. (despite having near-death experiences multiple times over years).
Maybe, maybe not.. this is just one of the many lessons I learnt over the years..