“From Zero to One” is a book recommended by my mentor and better half in life: Manoj, when I was about to build my dream around startup “VM3 Tech Solutions LLP”. This book always inspires me and also helps me to re-calibrate my business position from time to time. This story is about evolving my dream as an entrepreneur
Origin to December-2017:
Initial few months of start-up journey was exciting, challenges were new and I was having cash to invest in my dream. I invested all energy in building product "learningtelescope.com”, which was yet to see single penny as revenue by then. I was consistently burning allocated cash. Slowly excitement converted to anxiety, whether my business will be able to sustain in the competition. By this time, I was having 2-3 employees with me. I need to encourage them to give their 100% and channelize their energy to build company vision.
By October 2017, learningtelescope.com launched as alpha release to check business potential. We contacted professional colleges concentrated in the state of Maharashtra. We got encouraging response from 450+ colleges within a month. Institutes responded positively to our idea and provided information related to their institutes and courses. We were having a network of 450+ colleges now. It was December 2017 still, VM3 was not earning a single penny, only encouraging part was networking. Internal pressure was building on me to bring the company out of “zero revenue” image. I was reading the mortality rate of Indian startup, while few unicorns were consistently highlighted by most of the media houses on how founders become millionaire or billionaire. Reports were disturbing, greater than 70% of startups were near to death.
January 2018 to July 2019:
2018 brings some hopes to business; colleges started responding with an expression of interest to become partner/subscriber with learningtelescope.com. The trend continues until July 2019. We had about 75+ institutes on the board, which was encouraging. We earned revenue, but our expenses were multifold now. I almost burnt all cash and the situation turned out to be revenue barely meeting expenses. Rather expenses were going up, as we had a relatively larger team and higher operating expenses.
I was thinking about minimizing operational expenses. It was even more painful and frustrating to cut down something which was built with passion. While my mentor Manoj was recommending me book “Seizing the White Space” to come out of this. He read this book in hardly 2 days managing his job and work. This was even more frustrating to me, as I was looking for help and he was suggesting some theory book to me. On one of the weekend in July-2019, we had a bitter fight and disputes over help needed for my business. I was fully broken in this situation. However, he was still calm as usual and we argued for more than 2 hours. Finally, he could convince me with a better plan to come out of this and we decided to review the situation in 2-3 months. Till then he wanted to push some more investment if needed with conditions of sticking to plan with passion. In brief, the plan was
- Adjacency and White spaces (Reference from the book “Seizing the White space”)
- White spaces: Revenues from services of strength, which we gathered in the last 2 years
- Adjacency: Adjacency to market of colleges - Schools, Sports Academies. Other options evaluated to gain some more revenue from colleges and students, as links were in place
July 2019 to September 2019:
Surprise started now, I reviewed the situation in Sept-2020. There was significant progress by now. Key achievements till September-2020 were as listed below,
- Profit-making portfolio having a forecast of about 1.5 years
- Maintaining zero debt status for business and there was no additional cash burnt in the last 2-3 months
- Received orders from multiple market segments: Education (Schools), Manufacturing & Engineering, Insurance, Hospitality, Sports & Health industry
- An expanded facility having better infrastructure (Better Network, confined and access restricted space etc)
- Sharing revenue with employees for their extraordinary efforts
- Hiring and integration of new talent
September 2019 to January 2020
Profit-making orders and business growth continues...
It was a time for Christmas vacation and Manoj planned family vacation. I also planned my school alumni meet after that. When I come back on 31st Dec and I was telling all achievements to Manoj. He reviewed it well and pointed many more things to improve than anticipated. I was expecting WOW moment, as we finally converted the business to the profit-making entity and having a really good forecast for 1.5 years. I was not happy with his comments and we had the worst fight ever post-marriage, off-course there were few other reasons to fight. He was still continuing with his hobbies like reading, movies and sports. We patched up in a day and again started reviewing things keeping our emotions and differences aside. This was the most insightful and positive review. Few points come out from the review
- Need to focus more on customized services with higher margin business
- Reducing portfolio of items having fewer margins or no margins
- Do not aim of increasing the number of customers, rather aim for high margin growth
- Operational efficiency is most likely to come down if there are multiple smaller projects with different customers
- Operational efficiency improvement: Skill development of employees to involve them with better margin projects
- Customer report review planned to show delta of our services. Frequency of review planned on need basis. Reports gave a good insight into value addition using our products and services. We got additional projects from existing customers and many good references for new projects from them.
About a month after our review and follow up actions, we are in a much better stage now. The strategy laid on 1st January carved deterministic revenue with better profit margin and still certain capacity left for pitching high margin projects. Last one month was relatively better as the day was not driving me, but I was driving my day with a better plan. Even my work-life balance is improved exponentially. In between, we turned down the offer from one of an angel investor, as we felt that valuation is lower than expectations. My mentor and I decided to earn more before getting any investment.
A few months back, there was a time, when I was worried about cash in hand and how to sustain. Now it is a time when we turned down the offer of a handsome amount as the investment in exchange of equity. Time changes rapidly if your efforts are in the right direction.
I still believe in quotes from my childhood and realize it well
- “You will never get anything before your time and more than your destiny
- “Hard work is another name to miracle” Slight modification in this “Well directed hard work is another name to a miracle”
I have no fear of failure any more considering best team with me and best mentor beside me (My mentor: Man who knows future). I was supposed to write and publish post s on 1-January-2020 (official birthday of my mentor and life partner: Manoj, however it got delayed because of many good reasons). Something personal: I had the best moments of my life with my life partner and my family in the last month. Now I wonder how can someone enjoy the time while managing work, the best thing to learn from Manoj.