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Last week, I did an interactive session on Growth Hacking at a startup workshop. First thing I mentioned was that growth is a relative term. It means different things to different people and organisations.

Massive crowd pullers like Air BnB, facebook and instagram heroic stories are plenty on internet and I hear them thrown around in forums very losely.

Here’s the thing, most of us, will not build an Instagram. What startups need to understand is, ten customers who will pay you is a good start.

I know a company housed in World Trade Centre that has only 4 clients, but their revenue is growing year on year.

I know a sillara kade ( corner grocery shop) which is surviving despite flashy super markets popping up around it. Secret is this grocery shop does not try to be a super market. They know what their customers want and offer that consistently: giving good quality food items at a cheaper price, credit limits to good customers and by keeping the overheads to a minimal. It has survived 15 years doing just that. That shop made sure the owner had money to put food on the table and send his kids to school.

What growth is, depends on your priority. It is NOT just the number of users in your app, not just the number of views of your Instagram video. For me it is the number of customers who are willing to pay you to get the services you offer. You don’t need to go after more and more customers all the time, sometimes you just have to treat the existing customers well. You will know the power of a happy customer, only when you have survived to have few of them. 🙂

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pic credit: Dialog

After the #ngage session, after the food ran out, few young people (age 20-30) asked me questions. I could distill them to this question.

” I want to do a startup on something I love, but cannot find time with my current job. Should I quit? “

My answer is A BIG NO.

I’m 37.  If you have asked me the same question when I was 30, I’d have said yes.

I remember, back then, when a uni undergrad pitched his prototype during a hackathon, I asked him, “are you gonna do a job, or continue this prototype after graduation?” He said he’d do a job, but would improve prototype as a side kick. I laughed saying “you are not serious. Hence you will not make it.’

I don’t know what happened to him or his side kick. But I do know, what I said to him was wrong. I am sorry. I have seen more of  the world since.  Hence I beg to differ.

Here’s the reality I witnessed that changed my answer from yes to NO!

 1) Work is work

Work is work, either when you are employed, or running your own thing. Actually work is very much harder when it is your thing. In both cases, you’ll be judged by the quality of the work you do- the ownership you take to improve things in you, and around you. So get good actual work experience. Take back something that you can share in interviews with a gleam in your eye.

The HR managers I talk to, say “I’ll hire anyone ( no need of certificates) who’s willing to work hard”. Because most of the educated young people today, are sitting on their certificates, and have taken advise from entrepreneurial gurus to ‘work smart’. Work smart has been tactically reduced to ” just get by doing the easiest and laziest”. ( Logic: If I am paid the same salary, why should I work harder than them)

 2) A Good boss

At young age, a good foundation is equivalent to work a good few years under a good boss. A good boss is someone who uses your strengths and improves your potential. Who instills discipline in you. Makes you go get. Inspires you.

This is so important if you want to start on your own. Many lose this opportunity for the sake of next best opportunity- usually an improved benefits package. 2 years is now considered way too long a time to spend at one place.

 3) Why start from scratch?

when you startup on your own, let’s imagine, with out work experience, you may have to learn everything from scratch. You go through the process alone. It’s a time killer, an emotional black hole.

In a job, you see the processes, you can observe. You learn from many. Your risk is low. Learning is high. Of course you have to be ultra curious  and hungry to learn and be proactive. No body gives you opportunities. You create them, or you get none.

4) You do have extra time to do a side kick.

Yes, you definitely have time while doing a full time job.

Cut down your TV time, movie time, Facebook time, Weddings ( a colossal Sri Lankan time waster) etc. etc.

5) Be stable. Learn to save. Learn to minimise risk.

Read the above point few times. Forced will power only lasts until you run out of cash to put food on the table.

6) Build a Network of people who can help you.

If you have done good work at your job, if you have helped people to do better, you can use their blessings. They’ll introduce you to people who can help you. World is full of good people.

When you have above 6 things under your belt, you are on a good launching pad. Side kicks can well be full time work, gradually.

P.S: There are many people who have taken the leap of faith and have become super stars. We hear about them on media. But we do not hear about the people who did not make it. We do not hear each of their stories. There are many. Try to take the middle path, not veering in to extremes of high risk adrenaline or lethargy. 

 

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‘Although the truth is not always pleasant… it offers the recipient of that information the chance to change the outcome’ ~Grace Choi

Last week at Global Entrepreneurship Community , I learnt ‘startup depression’ is a common problem among startup founders and team members. We were in a circle, candid and open, our hearts swelled and poured on to the open floor. That discussion released many of us, and we gained strength from each other.

Depression is not a problem. It is a mental illness that needs serious attention. I was depressed few times in my life, and I know exactly how it affects.

When it happens to people in startups, it becomes ‘startup depression’. Developed countries are good at coining terms for just about everything. One good thing about this attention to detail is, it gets the attention it deserves. But of course, too much emphasis is not good either. Let’s strike a balance. Let’s get to the basics. Let’s deconstruct.

1. Startups get enormous attention, but it is nothing but a new small business.

Anybody heard ‘small and medium enterprises?”. Well startup is a one. Startups get tons of hype because of silicon valley glamour. It gives a false impression that startup is a guaranteed success, a pass to stardom. Reality is tough: 90% of startups die. So just stay cool. You are a SME, just that you are starting up in a hyped bubble.

2. Take care of yourself. World is just fine with out you.

Running a business takes lot of toll. Personal life also becomes work, and suddenly the success and failure of the business becomes personal. It is a bubble that we create inside our selves, and it is harmful. Going on thinking like that for many months is dangerous.

If you don’t agree with me. Take a week off. I mean it. Take a week off and see if anything major happens. It is us, who think that things cannot move with out us.

Once I took a 12 day meditation retreat with no phone and internet access. No connection to the world outside.  It was the best thing to happen to me and my team.

3. Depression is not a taboo. It happens to many good people. There are compassionate people who have guts to share it. 

Deepika Padukone took the mic and spoke her heart out. She has started a foundation to help people with depression.

 

There are now many people sharing about depression. Here’s the deal. They could have easily taken the therapy, the medication and go on with their lives. But they did not. To come out and share your story requires enormous guts. I know because I’ve been there. I was so blessed to have a wife , a boss, and a team who understood me for what I am. Also credit to me, I was candid about it and was more open about it as life moved on. Yet, early in the journey I was a closed book, because I could not figure out what was going on.

Sadly many don’t get peers, bosses and families who understand them. That’s why discussion, sharing and engagement is so important to help each other.

Each person is different on how they perceive challenges. So what worked for me, may not work for someone else. In the modern world, where everything is desired ultra fast, anyone can succumb to depression.

That is why I wrote this. I feel good. Cheers !

If you think this post can improve someone’s life, please share.