May 30, 2007

The startup that never was.../and a future of promise

Some time ago, I posted about 'Why MBA, Do business'. Several years ago, my friends and I hatched an idea to 'do something on our own'. The 'dot crash' was looming but hadn't happened yet, and it seemed like a cool thing to have our own company. We all were engineers from good institutes and good company pedigree (Motorola, CISCO, IBM...)

It never happened, and in hindsight, and here's why. It's sort of easy for many to look at these points and say 'boy, you were stupid', and that's why it's called hindsight. You don't see it when you're in the middle of it.

1. Too many cooks - Look around. Most successful ventures have one or two founder(s). Not four. Not five. You might have a great team of 5 but often there is/are one or two at the top. A mob is not exactly the right one to take cohesive decisions. We teamed as five friends! The rationale was we were bringing in different skills - and the problem was the same as putting five managers in a room - not much is going to get done. But get one effective manager and five top notch engineers/other team members and a lot will get done. We ended as five individuals with their own opinions, time pressures and priorities. The inherent understanding was that we were all partners, and this pretty much killed quick decision making.

2. True passion is not part time - For various reasons, we did not want to quit our day jobs. I believe that if you want to do it right, you have to do it full time. Same with MBA. Same with your own venture. Part time makes it extremely hard to manage - and in our case, with 'too many cooks', it became close to impossible to make tangible progress each week.

3. "Buying land without knowing what to build" - It doesn't make a lot of sense buy an expensive tract of land in the middle of a city and then wonder whether you want to build a mall, parking lot, apartment or a public toilet. You make investments with a purpose. We got gung-ho about doing our own thing, and then starting thinking of what we really should be doing. Wrong. I believe you need a purpose. You are either solving someone's problem, or you have an idea you are convinced (and are passionate) that it will work. The trouble with not having a strong purpose to start with is you spend hours debating what can even be done, without getting anywhere. The greatest reason is that no one had a deep, convincing argument that one specific idea was worth pursuing. When debates result in no particular answer, the enthusiasm dies.

4. No investment, not 'invested' - If you are putting your money, or are working on someone else's money (assuming you have a concscience), then you are invested in the idea. If you want to work cheap, put no money and hope something works - you are not invested in it. All of us wanted to get things done cheap (hey, barrier of entry is low, so let's try it really low!) and that meant no one had that overriding desire to get things done.

Self venture is hard. I have friends who have gone that road. I've participated in such discussions. And I've worked for a company as an early employee and watch it grow from less than 100 to 5000. It's a lot of work. One of my interests post INSEAD is to seek such entrepreneurial opportunities through venture funding and see if I can get a like minded classmate. But this time it will not be part-time - if I were to get into it, it's all the way. Otherwise I won't at all. If nothing, INSEAD has many alum who've done it their way, I would love to talk to them and hear from them.

(Seth Godin wrote some entry about how MBA is probably useless and all the super talented people should instead do MBA from his 'business school' - which is learn by venturing. If we were to draw an analogy, then 90% of grads from his school would have no jobs after graduating and the other 10% would be several times richer than any MBA grad. But in any case I still don't get the 'this or that' approach.)


Le blog hog said...

Nice post. I'm aiming for the same thing post INSEAD and agree you have to be 100% committed or not at all. Hopefully will find some like minded classmates to go into business together. Maybe we'll cross paths at some point in the program!

Iday said...

Thanks! It is a huge relief :)

Ketan Khairnar said...

hmm..what you said is correct..there is phase to analyze yourself..whether you are employee matter or employer matter....not literally though..there are always 20% people who carry projects to ultimate goal..startups have 80%-90% people in such mode always..If you can't act as a innovator in the current job in some ways..startup is dream talk

Sumana said...

I have always read you post but never left a comment. But, this post made me write back to you. This post is incredible. I work for a startup(its my first obviously in-experienced in some areas). Now I know why my part-time stuff dint take off as expected.Keep writing...v love your post.

- Sumana

necromonger said...


Thank you for the kind words. I hope you will continue to read!

De_Alchemist said...


Thanks a lot for the post.
For a moment I thought it is me telling me about me..
Enough of meing, but all what you wrote here, it was easy for me to relate with. Same 5 set of buddies, no buddy wans to invest, but everyone wants to be the next big thing in corporate, playing safe, saying we ll continue with our jobs till the thing planned is a success.
Now I know, never happened before.